This month represents the beginning of a bonanza of summer events across Britain that will excite and unify millions of people, whilst at the same time many will be forced to look on in dread. Either way the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, England playing in Euro 2012 and the London Olympics will propel the notion of our ‘national pride’ to the top of the media agenda. Whether people feel British, English, European or perhaps have more affinity with their region, home town, local community or even street is a matter of personal identity.
However, our national identity is important, just as is the role we play in our local communities. Both, whether we like it or not, are important features in all our lives. The shootings in Horden on New Year’s Day brought the whole community together in sympathy with those directly affected by the tragedy and all of us feel the effect when one of our neighbours loses their job as over time it depresses our communities emotionally and economically.
As the Member of Parliament for Easington I pack my bag each week and travel to Westminster to speak up for our communities but also to vote on issues of national and even international importance. Over the last two years I have seen how this government has talked-up the ‘national interest’, the ‘British economy’ and the ‘Big Society’. Whilst the policies it pursues have done little to create such national unity. Proposals for regional pay in the public sector, imposing the biggest cuts on the most deprived areas and tearing up workers’ rights in favour of a free-for-all for unscrupulous bosses is all part of the wrong divisive agenda.
Here in Peterlee, Caterpillar, on the North West Industrial Estate, has won a prestigious Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development award for human resources performance. Rather than following the government rhetoric, pitting management against workers, the workforce was restructured to support the business, forge closer relationships with management and promote the best use of workers’ skills. Such local examples of excellence should inform national political ideas.
Whether it is at the national or local level we are all stronger by working together. Whilst our Government seeks to protect a privileged elite and seeks to divide society along as many lines as possible, Ed Miliband is reaffirming Labour’s agenda on the key issues of fairness and equality. The last Labour Government took important steps on social mobility, but this Government is taking the country backwards. Instead it is cutting support for Sure Start children’s centres, it has scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowances that had supported over 70% of pupils at East Durham College, and has increased tuition fees to £9,000 per year putting many young people from disadvantaged areas like ours off the whole idea of going into higher education.
Britain, the North East and our local communities need a new political settlement that has fairness at its heart. I am no party pooper but it will certainly take more than a Jubilee party and a summer of sporting events, however much people may enjoy them.