“They simply don’t get it!”

Jan RoyallA weekend campaigning in Cornwall leaves Jan Royall in no doubt about emerging views of the Cameron government

I spent last weekend in Cornwall, campaigning ahead of the elections this May. In the course of 48 hours, it became clear that the county is crying out for Labour councillors, not just to sort out the chaos at the local authority but to provide leadership and introduce policies to help struggling small business and families.

The last Labour government did some great things for Cornwall, making great use of European funding in poorer areas. I drove down the A30, which has transformed access to the county and the ability of businesses to get their goods out to wider markets. I met students in Falmouth at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus, which simply wouldn't have been built without the determination of a Labour MP and Labour Ministers. 5,000 students now flourish in this new seat of learning, breathing new life into the community. I ate some wonderful Cornish food, now sold all over the UK and the EU thanks to our investment in its production and marketing.

Anyone who has visited Cornwall knows its beauty, but this belies many problems. GDP is only 75% of the EU average and human lives, tough for a long time, are reaching breaking point – in some part due to Coalition policies. I had lots of conversations this weekend, in meetings and on the doorstep – some with Labour members and supporters, some with people who have never backed us. 

They included a working woman in tears, not knowing how her family will cope when tax credits are cut next month; a 30 year old cancer survivor with multiple health problems, assessed by ATOS on several occasions as fit for work and who each time goes through an appeal process that concludes he’s not; the farm labourer concerned about low wages, and one of over 20,000 in the county who will be affected by the scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board; another working woman, well educated with a young son and in sub-standard private rented accommodation, struggling because her monthly budget is impossibly squeezed by rising prices; and elderly parents worried about their 32 year old daughter who would like to buy a house but whose teacher's salary makes it an unattainable dream.  

Not one of these people said ‘we’re all in it together’; indeed all thought David Cameron and his Ministers were hopelessly out of touch, and clueless about the daily challenges of the striving poor and those needing a safety net. In the words of one of the women: "They simply don't get it!".

I hope the government is listening and will use this week’s Budget to act. One of the main concerns I heard this weekend was about housing. Of course, some people want their children to be able to buy a house, but many others want more and better social housing. Together, they understand that building new housing is a means of rebuilding Britain, providing both much needed homes and much needed jobs in the construction sector.  

While Cornwall’s breathtaking views might sustain the soul, they cannot sustain the body. As with the rest of the country, people there don’t want to be struggling with the increasing costs of living. Nor do they don’t want to be at the end of their tether. They want to better themselves and provide for their families. And most of all, they want hope for the future. 

Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords

Published 19th March 2013

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