The power of communities can be taken for granted, but really comes to the fore during times of crisis. When my sister Jo was murdered, our community came together and surrounded us with love and support. When Covid hit, communities across the country sprang into action, neighbour looking out for neighbour and sustaining vital human bonds through that dark time.
But why should it take a crisis to recognise this power and potential? Instead of being the last resort, we should build connected, compassionate communities and look to them for the answers that our national system is struggling to find. As Keir Starmer has set out, the promise to ‘take back control’ is a distant memory – people feel less control than ever. Too many are disengaged from society and politics. Re-engaging them will mean making them feel invested in the system again, which will require transforming it so that their voice and lived experience is heard and valued.
That’s why a new report published today is so important: A Labour Vision for Community Power. Co-authored by a group of Labour council leaders who have firsthand experience of achieving change locally, it brings fresh ideas to how Labour nationally could achieve this in practice. It shows how an active local state and empowered communities working together can be the route to addressing the big challenges we face as a society – from loneliness and poor health and wellbeing to deep structural problems like inequality and rising levels of alienation from traditional democracy.
This has got to be a combined bottom-up and top-down endeavour – grassroots initiative matched with national level action. I often find myself in the Westminster Bubble hearing people discuss policy and I think “take that to Dewsbury and they’ll tell you to get lost”. We need to bridge the worlds of the distant corridors of traditional power and our communities where life happens. The reality of daily life varies massively between different neighbourhoods, even those in close proximity to each other. So, it stands to reason that the best people to make decisions are those who live there day in and day out.
A big part of this is collaboration and working across different sectors – public, voluntary and private. The local voluntary sector is often the lifeblood of communities, and building trusted relationships with the public sector where each can bring their insights to bear is vital. The role of businesses locally playing their part should be recognised too. For those of us working at a national level – particularly politicians and civil servants – we need to recognise our role supporting these trusted relationships to flourish locally.
We desperately need some optimism for our communities, who have been through a lot in recent years. The report gives us that – a vision for community power that we can all get behind and get excited about. It’s my hope that we can keep this conversation going and build our ambition together. The Labour Party has a once in a generation opportunity to bring about meaningful change for our communities and we should all grab hold of it.
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