The starting point for Labour’s approach has to be an acknowledgement that there is no single homogenous place that is rural Britain.

Communities outside our major cities have different histories, cultures and economic profiles and Labour will not make the mistake of assuming that our national policy offer can be simply imposed on a grateful set of constituents in exchange for their votes.

There is a further distinction to be made in the non-urban sector between rural communities and our coastal towns and market towns. These are of equal importance as rural communities and as results showed in the recent European and local elections, there are some important battleground seats in those areas that could hold the key to a Labour victory.

A further priority for Labour is to understand the extent to which the Tory-led government’s policies affect communities outside London and the south-east.

The bedroom tax is a perfect example of this.

Under the bedroom tax, working-age social housing tenants who are receiving housing benefit have their payments cut if they are deemed to have one or more spare bedrooms.

Last year the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee said the coalition’s controversial under-occupancy policy is a particular problem in rural areas because there is typically less social housing, and larger properties.

It therefore has a disproportionate impact on people outside our cities.

Similarly, the Tory-led government’s sign on requirements for benefits claimants cause massive problems for people in non-urban areas.

A lack of adequate transport in the countryside and the amount of time needed to travel the long distances necessary to make a claim is a significant cost to those seeking work.

So Labour’s mission is to understand the impact of the Coalition’s policies and develop and promote a positive set of ideas that address the concerns of people and lifts their standards to those enjoyed in all parts of the country.

My colleague in the shadow Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs team Huw Irranca-Davies is doing valuable work on exactly that.

Our proposals will look at solutions to the challenge of providing off-grid energy and properly addressing the less-than-equal rollout of broadband services that has seen some areas miss out on the latest improvements in communications technology.

A final priority for Labour will be to look not just at our policies but who are the candidates advocating them in non-urban communities.

Candidates who are rooted in their local community and understand the culture and history of those communities are best placed to take Labour’s ‘one nation’ message forward.

Localism is highly valued political asset in non-urban areas of the country and more than any other party Labour can lay claim to genuinely being the voice of non-urban Britain.


Maria Eagle MP is shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs


Photo: Ian Britton