WHILE councils across the UK fell into Tory hands at last month’s local elections, the Labour Party in Preston had different ideas.
In all, Labour lost a net total of 327 councillors, as well as control of eight local authorities.
This was, according to polling from J.L Partners, down to poor leadership from Keir Starmer.
However, in Preston, where a radical model of ‘Community Wealth Building’ has been in place for almost a decade, Labour bucked the national trend to hold onto every seat they defended – meaning they still dominate the local authority.
Councillor Matthew Brown, who played a key role in developing the Preston Model in 2011 and now heads up the council, told Redaction Report that the local party’s “compelling and direct vision” helped them maintain their control.
“We have some fantastically hard working councillors who successfully defended all their seats,” he said.
“However, we also had a compelling and direct vision which is seeking economic and social transformation in our communities.
“There has been lots of publicity locally and nationally about the boldness of our policies and I feel that was also a key factor.”
The Preston Model, inspired by the Cleveland Model, works on the basis of creating an inclusive, local economy.
It encourages ‘anchor institutions’ – such as hospitals and universities – to procure their goods and services locally, and using the institutions to lever in additional investment for the area. It also focuses on creating a committed, well-paid workforce and supporting worker-dominated models of economic governance.
In a nutshell, the aim is to spend, procure and invest locally while building up strong public services and paying the Living Wage.
While it seems radical, Cllr Brown said the model is a perfect response to the failures of the market.
“In terms of the wider Community Wealth Building movement this is becoming an international movement with New York and Chicago implementing aspects of it in response to the failures of free market economics,” he said.
“This is something we can tap into and is quite exciting in terms of its potential.”
In the disastrous 2019 General Election, Labour were deemed to have lost seats due to a mixture of the Brexit question and Boris Johnson’s austerity-ending populism cutting through more effectively that Jeremy Corbyn’s leftist message.
Starmer has led with an aura of attempting to be responsible and moderate – but with Labour languishing in the polls, it has clearly failed.
Cllr Brown said: “People have had it really tough in the last couple of decades with the worldwide financial crash, austerity, Brexit and now the worst public health crisis for generations which exposed the structural inequalities in our society.
“I think the Labour family at all levels need a friendly debate about ideas and how to win back support.
“It is my position to do that we need to offer transformative policies at a local and national level.”
Labour councils have, to some, missed opportunities to provide resistance to cuts imposed on them by central government.
When voters go to the polls in any election – be it national or local – they won’t only look at Westminster, but how their day-to-day lives are affected by cuts to local services and increasing council tax.
If all Labour-run councils had adopted the Preston Model, there’s a feasible notion that, having seen social democracy in action, voters would want even more of it, instead of blaming their local authorities for a regression in living standards.
Cllr Brown said it may not have affected the 2019 election, but adopting a similar model dedicated to Community Wealth Building would go some way to reviving the party in seemingly lost areas.
“I don’t think what we are doing now would necessarily have affected the General Election result as that was mostly about Brexit,” he said.
“There is also the fact applying transformative policies to communities takes time and cannot be done overnight.
“However, if over the next few years Labour Councils, Mayors and Assembly Members support policies locally and regionally which attempt to lift up working people this, I feel, will also help the Parliamentary Labour Party.
“We did see a trend when Labour had a compelling vision in areas like Salford and Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Wales we performed really well.”
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