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Welcome grassroots voices at Labour conference

26 September, 2019

Elaine Donnellon

THE Labour Party conference was, at its core, an amazing expression of democracy from the bottom up.

Pundits will inevitably echo the prevailing view of culture in society – they see the ­conference as full as divisions.

But the more romantic may come to see it as a great joy, because we heard the grassroots voices speaking. It was wonderful to hear those speak who are hurt and disturbed and in need of help. That is not division, but real debate.

There are two articles in the paper this week that in a sense reflect part of what was said by delegates about England today: the dying high street and the collapse of social ­services.

The issue at the heart of the Sports Direct story is the slow death of the high street. People have watched as family-run and independent stores melted away from view.

The encroachment of online shopping and welfare reforms have also been contributory factors. But unmanageable rents and rates – caused by chain superstores muscling in on the high street – have been most to blame.

It has, paradoxically, got to the stage where landlords require these same chains to maintain a level of trade that matches their investment.
That is what LabTech is banking on with Sport Direct.

They have invested huge amounts in Camden’s three markets, and it is no wonder they are speculating about its future. There must be ­questions, too, about what will happen if Britain does leave the EU. A healthy majority of tourists who go to Camden will be tourists from EU countries.

Billionaire businessman Mike Ashley’s company Sports Direct, like it or loathe it, will bring in a different kind of people to the flagging market, which has for years been largely avoided by most people living in Camden.

Could we be about to see a globally renowned, stimulating tourist destination become more akin, say, to a practical, and morbidly dull, Brent Cross shopping centre?

As older Camden residents deal with loss of family-run and independent shops, there is also a kind of universal mourning for the younger ­generation.

The recent spate of murders and stabbings has not abated.

The cycle continues, debate often feels futile.

What can be done about it? Even in a progressive society, where everybody was educated, had jobs and access to decent services and housing – you would still have crime.

But if society is fragmented, is in decline, in crisis, you are going to have more crime.

That is obvious.

Elaine Donnellon put her finger on the causes when she spoke at ­conference. She was right, too, to call out the Labour Party for having no tangible policy on knife crime.

A criticism of Momentum has been that its activists are too immersed in “high politics”, while ignoring what is on their own doorsteps.

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