17th June 2014
Britain has just experienced a global economic crisis that has had a similar effect upon our country as a world war. This crisis may be over, it may simply be in abeyance, but for the people living in Britain’s peripheral communities the national media, politics and politicians have yet to fully understand the effects of this period on those towns, smaller cities and villages, away from our metropolitan bubbles. If it is the job of politicians to make life better for those people they represent, then this task is being stymied by the notion that most people in Britain’s areas of ‘market failure’ do not believe that the politicians who are supposed to represent them understand the first thing about their lives.
All of which creates an environment that is hard going for progressive politics, even when progressive politics holds the answers to the problems our nation and these communities face. Ed Miliband has called this a crisis of political legitimacy – and he is right to do so. Legitimacy is rooted in accountability and ‘authenticity’. Right now, it is the widely perceived lack of both qualities within our politics that is enabling a toxic disconnection between the governed and the governors to flourish.
Nowhere is this disconnection more keenly felt than in that forgotten Britain largely ignored by the political mainstream and the national media; in the towns people have heard of, but have never been to. For all their complex problems, outside of the major urban conurbations, daily life looks and feels very different in our de-industrialised towns, our often struggling rural villages and our smaller cities. Life is different on the edges of the Empire.
In many places, the community fabric is being destroyed and the very pillars of society and community are disappearing. The plight of the high street is well known. Local newspapers are struggling and disappearing in increasing numbers – stripping out local identity as a consequence. Town halls, courts, police stations -the very symbols of permanence, community strength and civic identity are closing. The post office and the local school remains under the threat of closure or reorganisation. Public transport usually isn’t worthy of the name. Many local authorities can see a financial tsunami on the horizon and are unable to respond.
In our Rugby League towns, in our lower-league football cities, a quiet crisis is beginning to unfold. Communities like this are now used to dealing with the consequences of factory closures – but a new challenge is on the horizon. What happens to these communities when government pulls out? Nationally and locally, the effects of austerity aren’t just crucifying town halls in these areas, but they are causing the ‘social capital’ – those capable individuals who can help ensure the survival of a community – to flee.
The people in these communities – I am one of them and I represent such a community – are being failed by this government but also by the way in which we undertake politics in our country. So when the Prime Minister tells people suffering from rising energy bills to put another jumper on, it amounts to more than an imitation of Marie Antoinette. It demonstrates where power lies. Faced with such political impotence, people understandably reach the conclusion, that if the most powerful politician in the country can’t help them with an issue as simple and fundamental as their energy bill, then politics has no useful purpose.
The truth is that Britain is involved in an industrial revolution of which it is neither the progenitor or principal beneficiary: we call it globalisation. This revolution didn’t begin in May 2010, but as the public sector has drawn back, austerity has been purposefully allowed to let rip. This policy of aggressive dereliction has caused the ground to churn in that abandoned Britain where most people live.
The political party that can be seen to listen to these communities and to bring forward solutions to the problems they face will reap an enormous dividend. Labour must not fail to be this party.