The only way Labour can win again is by sending power out of Whitehall and into communities
5 min read
Meaningful powers, delivered locally and responsive to community needs can drive economic change and let people once again feel part of their own story.
Last week I joined countless other dedicated Labour Party campaigners from across the UK by campaigning in the Batley and Spen by-election.
And while tensions were a little bit high between us for 90 minutes on Friday night of the Scotland v England game, it was a privilege to see a local champion like Kim Leadbeater speak to people about their hopes and fears for where they live.
In this election she has shown that she is the only candidate working to unite her community, rather than divide it. This is a lesson that Labour must take to heart, we are the only party that can unite our country - and we will not win again until we do.
Like Glasgow, Batley and its surrounding areas are filled with passionate and caring people. They want a fairer shot at life for everyone, and to feel like their voice is heard. But it is also a community reeling from more than a decade of disinterested and distant government. And that’s why, despite shared values and solidarity, different places need different solutions. The same is true for the Labour Party.
We will lose if the party behaves as a national monolith, inflexible to the needs of people's real lives
We created the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd and for the first time in hundreds of years brought power closer to the people. But that isn’t enough. To create the fairer Britain that only Labour can deliver, we need to go further - and make it part of everything we do.
Across the country, frustration with Boris Johnson's Tories and a faraway capital is real. London can feel as remote for people in England as it does in Scotland or Wales. The solution to this feeling of political isolation isn’t to break up the UK or seek comfort in reactionary politics – it’s giving people the choice to make decisions about things they care about closer to home while remaining part of something bigger.
But it must recognise that it is also about emotion - it is about making the case that people's lives and futures can be better - and we must come together to achieve that.
At its best, the UK can be an engine for fairness. But it can also feel removed from people’s lives as they live them. The answer to this isn’t divisive nationalism or a Tory ideology that wants to pull communities apart. These are just two sides of the same coin – an attempt to make people turn their backs on their neighbours.
Instead, meaningful powers, delivered locally and responsive to community needs can drive economic change and let people once again feel part of their own story. This isn’t about moving a few thousand jobs out of the Treasury - but actually giving communities a meaningful say in their future.
Labour wants every part of our country to be the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in. We are the only party that seeks to represent all of Great Britain and speaks for everyone in the country. But the solutions required in Swansea will not always be the same as those needed in Manchester.
And if we are to have a recovery from Covid that works for everyone, then it has to work for every nation and region. A commitment to send power out of Whitehall - and Holyrood and Cardiff - and into all of our communities is the only way that Labour can and will win again across the UK. It is essential now more than ever.
During the pandemic we saw what powerful local leadership can achieve. While Andy Burnham powerfully stood up to the central government which strangled his region of the support it needed in lockdown, other cities weren’t so lucky. In Glasgow, the SNP-run city council was notable only from its absence from the debate about the city’s extended stay in lockdown and the Scottish government’s myriad of mistakes in its handling of the pandemic.
As restrictions started to bite, its silence for fear of angering party bosses in Edinburgh put thousands of livelihoods at risk.
Keir Starmer has launched Labour’s UK-wide constitutional convention, which will listen to people right across the country about what powers should be devolved away from our parliaments. At its heart is the principle that power should be closer to communities.
Pundits often remark that Labour cannot hold together its support in the nation's biggest cities with its more traditional base. They say we will be a party torn apart because of the diversity of people who will consider voting for us. Strange as that might sound, they are right. We will lose if the party behaves as a national monolith, inflexible to the needs of people's real lives.
But devolution recognises that people across our island can share values, without having to agree on the same solution. Real devolution strengthens the bonds of the United Kingdom and will deliver a Labour government that will transform every community in the country.
But to do that we must be more like Kim - listening to our communities and working to bring them together.
Anas Sarwar is the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.