A plea to Keir Starmer: put community at the heart of all of Labour’s policies

by Joanne Harding

Roll up, roll up, there’s a new show in town.

We are going to do things differently now, we are going to call it PLACE BASED WORKING.  This just makes me want to breathe into a brown paper bag as I think, here we go again.

Another slogan, more jargon. Can’t we just keep it real and talk about what we really mean?

Communities and people.

The word community means something to all of us.

A sense of belonging, a sense of togetherness and at the heart of it lies people.

As we recover from the past, horrific year we must surely recognise the value and importance of communities and people.

I am therefore making a plea to Labour, under Keir Starmer’s leadership, to put community front and centre in all the policies we develop. Labours policies need to be genuinely relatable to the people we aspire to govern. Speaking a language that we all understand. Let me make myself really clear here, I do not mean Labour Party community organising, I mean genuinely listening to people.

As executive lead for adult social care, I see regularly first-hand just how amazing people are. From the huge outpouring of kindness as the pandemic took hold, the letters that were dropped through neighbours’ doors with an offer of shopping, collecting prescriptions, walking the dog. Those WhatsApp groups that became known as “ mutual aid networks” (subtext: people, communities stepping up and finding their own solutions) , the Marcus Rashford campaign to make sure children didn’t go hungry during school holidays, people and communities stepping up and helping each other.

Here in Trafford I was proud to be part of a team that led on the setting up of 6 community hubs. Hubs that have proved to be a lifeline to the people they have supported. We broke down barriers in the space of ten days that in ten years as a councillor had caused endless hours of frustration.

We built on an already-existing alliance of voluntary sector, volunteers, faith communities and business leaders that responded to the needs of our diverse neighbourhoods. Networks that at times have been taken for granted and seen as “nice and fluffy”.

Let me tell you they are anything but: they are vital, essential, creative and now must be seen as a crucial part of the “build back better”. One size did not fit all but, critically, we developed the fit together. We are continuing this work together, to find solutions that will help us address the health inequalities that this pandemic has shone a huge great spotlight on.

Full disclosure here: when I first got involved with politics it was all about the national stuff for me. That was where the sexy stuff was at. I thought this was where all the fixes were made…how wrong I was.

As a newly elected councillor back in 2011 I soon came to realise that nobody really knows communities better than councils and councillors. We have the local intelligence, the local plans and more importantly we have an incredible asset – the people who live in our streets and neighbourhoods, those people that stepped up during Covid. We are bold, ambitious and quick to develop solutions.

Local government has truly been one of the heroes of this pandemic, all this against the backdrop of 10 years of austerity where councils will have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for us to run services. Cuts that have absolutely contributed to the rising levels of inequality.

Do not be fooled by this Tory government, who are currently on a “vaccine roll”. The money that they have handed over to local councils to support rapid hospital discharges and prop up a totally broken social care system is, as we all know, too little, too late and not enough.

10 years ago Sir Michael Marmot was commissioned by the then Labour government to review the true state of health inequalities. The writing was on the wall back then.  Marmot ten years on does not make for pretty reading. However some of the recommendations capture exactly what I feel is needed to genuinely make the changes we so desperately need to see.

“Delivering these policy objectives will require action by central and local government, the NHS, the third and private sectors and community groups. National policies will not work without effective local delivery systems focused on health equity in all policies. Effective local delivery requires effective participatory decision-making at local level. This can only happen by empowering individuals and local communities.”

So, how can we do this?

Firstly, Labour needs to fight for the citizen voice to be heard loud and clear, as part of the White Paper on “Working Together to Improve Health”.

All I see and hear is the same old rhetoric (what’s not to love about partnership and collaboration? but the words on a page have to convert to action).  Fundamentally, I want to know how this huge restructure will actually improve health outcomes such as cancer wait times and the mental health and wellbeing of our young people. Not just be a huge power grab by health bureaucrats.

So far, nobody has been able to answer this for me…

Yes, we all love the NHS. But the conversations that take place during policy sessions with members, where the mantra is “end all privatisation,“ are frankly not helpful The NHS and social care would simply not have coped during Covid without the amazing support of charities, community groups and yes, private business innovation that all stepped during this pandemic. I worked with some amazingly compassionate care providers who went above and beyond.

We must continue to ensure we always fight for fair pay, terms and conditions etc. but let’s accept that not all private is bad. Since the inception of the NHS GPs have always been private and charities have always complemented healthcare. Health is everyone’s business and, if we want to support people to make healthier life choices, we need to think about the conversations we have with them.

Secondly, if we are serious about wellbeing and preventing ill health, as opposed to trying to fix the sick, then ensure public health is never just considered an area that is added on to health. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  Accept, too, that this will be not be a quick fix. The things we want and need to see change will require a generational shift. Be patient and stay firm.

Finally, I repeat, make sure communities are front and centre of the vision we want for the future. I mean genuinely using the skills and expertise of local government and councillors. Investing in local government means investing in the communities that people need to be able to live healthy and happy lives.

So, next time we are sat in our policy sessions, heading towards the next manifesto and telling each other as members what we think we need, remember, Covid has rightly changed the way things happen in communities. Labour do not want to be left behind by doing the same old. Shape our vision for government by making sure people are truly part of the story.

Joanne Harding is a councillor in Trafford, Greater Manchester – Executive Member for Adult Social Care and NCC Candidate

Tags: , , , ,

5 Responses to “A plea to Keir Starmer: put community at the heart of all of Labour’s policies”

  1. Vern says:

    You do know that all those brilliant community efforts throughout the pandemic have been achieved under a Conservative government don’t you?

  2. Tafia says:

    3 policies Lbour has to accept and endorse to win an election this side of 2035.

    Enshrine it as policy that you will not seek to re-join the EU, the Single Market or the Customs Union, and you will not seek to align the UK with the EU.

    Move to a position of economically ‘soft Tory’ as per Tony Blair/New Labour.

    Forget any chance of keeping Scotland in the UK.

    Unless you do all three (not two out of three or a hallf hearted attempt at any of them) you don’t stand a snowball’s hell in chance of winning an election.

  3. Anne says:

    Excellent article – written by someone who understands what it is like really working at grass roots level to make things work. Community groups have been the backbone of the recovery from this pandemic and really highlight how out of touch many of our MPs are.

  4. Deman says:

    Public prosecutors and those external advocates briefed by them, uphold the rule of law and deliver justice for and on behalf of their communities. That function is central to the maintenance of a just, democratic and fair society.

  5. Mohammed says:

    The Labour party attaches such great importance to community life that as a matter of national policy, it wrecks communities which have been in existence since the industrial revolution by imposing mass immigration on them – forcing together wholly incompatible cultures and then using threats and shaming when the inevitable conflict ensues. This leaves the communities on the receiving end of such unnatural and universally unpopular change feeling bullied and invaded. Take towns such as Oldham and Blackburn as examples. These places are at least 30% Pakistani Muslim now and contain a number of areas where the native population fears to tread. The new book by former jihadist Ed Hussain reveals that in Blackburn racist attacks against white boys as young as 12 have been perpetrated by Pakistani men in their early 20s. And that elderly white people have been intimidated out of homes they lived their whole lives in having been offered barely a third of the value of the house by thugs from the new incoming community.

    And that’s before the scale of organised child sex abuse is discussed. In Rotherham, to name just one town where, in the words of Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berlowitz, ”the most sadistic child abuse we have ever seen” was perpetrated, the local Labour council covered up said outrages for over 15 years. This in a town where the Muslim population is less than 10%.

    What scale of atrocities will be finally be exposed in Blackburn, Burnley, Bradford, Oldham, Birmingham, Luton, Batley, Leicester etc?

    I am told by a mental health nurse that the psychiatric wards are now full of the victims of these monstrous crimes.

    And yet despite a tiny handful of brave Labour MPs like Ann Cryer attempting to expose the deep seated religious and racial bigotry which drives these crimes, the Labour party as a whole continues to try to terrorise anyone who seeks to hold the organisation to account.

    THAT’s how much they care about ‘communities’ and the people who live in them.

    Online, we see much hot air from Labour’s BAME activists about how they are ‘gaslighted’ by government reports which deny the existence of institutional racism. In truth, it is the poor inhabitants of places in East Lancashire, West Yorkshire, the West Midlands and East London who have been told that the mass ethnic crimes being committed against them were not happening and that to speak up about them was to be that most evil of things – a racist.

    When the Labour party finally breathes its last breath – hopefully with hundreds of its officials and elected representatives in prison – perhaps it will finally face the fact that its stunning demise was entirely because it imposed a living hell upon its heartland communities and treated them like dirt.

Leave a Reply