Key features of Southwest England and Cornwall
1.1 Congress notes that many workers and their families in the Southwest of England and Cornwall continue to experience acute poverty, lack of access to services and, in a growing number of cases, isolation and exclusion. Families whose breadwinners are in full employment and part-time or casual work, as well as those who are unemployed, are all affected, and analysis of recent statistics indicates that in-work poverty is rising significantly. Our region has neighbourhoods which rank amongst the most deprived in the country, where low wages, lack of housing and child poverty are rife. Many of these are in Cornwall, where thousands of children who live below the breadline are shown to come from families where at least one adult is in work. But the list of deprived areas also includes neighbourhoods in Bristol, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Portland, and Weymouth, as well as a number of remote rural localities.
1.2 The situation has been exacerbated since our last District Congress by ‘macro factors’ including the reaction of government and big business to a global economic crisis gaining momentum since 2019, the effects of the Covid pandemic on individuals and communities, repercussions of the war in Ukraine, soaring energy prices and the ensuing cost-of-living crisis. These have hit our region particularly hard, and the current cost of living crisis is affecting even workers who hitherto have been ‘comfortably off’. For the poorest, soaring prices present life-threatening difficulties.
1.3 Yet privatisation and the profit-focussed policies of the Conservative government, the latter’s gross mismanagement of public infrastructure and continuing austerity have so far done little to significantly shift public opinion against those with wealth and power. The overwhelming majority of MPs from the region are Tory and local government is predominantly in Conservative control.
1.4 The contrast between wealth and poverty is stark. This is reflected in both land ownership and big business. Massive concerns include the Pennon Group (privatised utilities); billionaire Chris Dawson’s ‘The Range’ (retail); Babcock International (dockyards and military), Leonardo (military helicopters) and Clarks (shoes). Construction of the nuclear power plant at Hinkley in Somerset is one of the biggest investment projects Europe has ever seen. But while some big businesses prosper, many traditional sectors such as agriculture, aeronautical engineering and fisheries have been allowed to dwindle. Skilled workers have lost their livelihoods and found few ‘real jobs’ to replace them. Seasonal work in tourism and on the land offers little.
1.5 Huge privately held estates are found the length and breadth of our District – from the Duchy and Lord Falmouth’s holdings in Cornwall to the estates of Henry Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort, and tycoon, James Dyson, both in Gloucestershire. Just ten individuals own a sixth of Dorset. They include Richard Drax MP with his 14,000-acre Charborough estate, as well as a vast holding in the Caribbean, formerly a slave plantation. Jonathan Harmsworth, the 4th Viscount Rothermere, controlling shareholder of the Daily Mail, has land in both Wiltshire and Dorset. The Pennon Group holds 16,000 acres mostly in Devon and Cornwall. At the same time, by stark contrast, affordable housing to rent or buy is scarce, while homelessness is a growing problem in many parts of our region.
1.6 The Ministry of Defence uses 38,000 hectares of Salisbury Plain and a further 18,000 hectares elsewhere in southwest Britain for military training, including live fire exercises. The Porton Down military science park in Wiltshire has research facilities into weapons of mass destruction, and there are Royal Navy operating bases at Portsmouth and Devonport. Portland port now has the capacity to host nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Navy and Dorset County Council has been asked to produce a radiation emergency plan. Much military land is polluted as a result of live fire activities across training ranges, the storage of toxic substances, the dumping of contaminated equipment, including in mine shafts, and the ‘parking’ of decommissioned nuclear submarines still complete with nuclear rods. All this puts the public and communities in close proximity to military facilities at high risk, including of catastrophic accident.
This District Congress therefore resolves to:
2.1 Campaign to bring the estates of the landed gentry and big business into public ownership and for the holdings of the military to be decontaminated and made safe and brought into peaceful and productive use.
2.2 Campaign against the austerity programmes of local and national governments and articulate an alternative to the present status quo in our District and its localities. We will build, promote, and support the People’s Assembly Against Austerity here in southwest Britain.
2.3 Campaign for wider democracy in Cornwall and Southwest England, including for a Cornish Assembly and Southwest England Assembly within an all-Britain progressive federal structure. The two assemblies should be directly elected through proportional representation and have powers to raise revenue and advance democratic control through public ownership, investment, and public procurement. The priority of local government must be the immediate alleviation of poverty and the provision of publicly owned and controlled services.
2.4 Campaign for a unified approach to health and social care in our region, against privatisation and for the restitution of a publicly owned service free at the point of delivery and accessible to all. This will include quality provision in rural areas. We will demand additional funding for the NHS to provide safe and responsive staff levels throughout the service, including in maternity care and dental provision. We will oppose cuts to the emergency services and demand emergency cover for everyone in our region, no matter how remote their dwelling.
2.5 Campaign to bring the utilities back into public ownership and especially those owned by Southwest giant, Pennon. We will call for as many homes as possible to be given access to mains water and to the national grid.
2.6 Call for a communications and connectivity review of Southwest England and Cornwall. This should look at public transport within and across our region by road, rail, and air. We will campaign for fast broadband services throughout the region.
2.7 Support the Cornwall Branch in its work to raise understanding of the situation of Cornwall – its oppression by the British state, the national question, and issues specific to the circumstances of Cornwall including low wages, high housing costs, second homes, seasonal work, and poor or non-existent public transport.
2.8 Campaign against all forms of racism and fascism, participating fully in the work of our Party’s Anti Racism Anti Fascism Commission and taking the struggle into the SW TUC and labour movement and the communities to which we belong. This is especially important in the southwest of Britain, in parts of which racism is particularly prevalent. We will support the mounting campaign of Stand Up to Racism and others, against the landholdings of the Drax family in Britain and the Caribbean.
2.9 Lay particular emphasis on the environment and climate change, emphasising that tackling these issues from a class perspective is central to our struggle. We will support the work of the Party’s Environment Commission and raise in that forum issues particularly pertaining to our District.
2.10 Campaign against discrimination of those with physical and neuro-disabilities in employment, education and leisure facilities and to demand the safe and easy access of the disabled to all buildings providing these facilities.”
2.11 Put greater effort into the strengthening of international solidarity campaigns and our work for peace. We will seek to build on our work with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Liberation. We will endeavour to build, support, and strengthen the work of Stop the War, CND and the British Peace Assembly in our District and will participate fully in the peace campaigning of the Party and its emerging Peace Commission.
Strengthening Party Organisation
3.1 To achieve the above, we will need to strengthen our Party organisation. This will include the building of strong branches across our District and vibrant work at District level, as well as making a greater impact in the trade union and labour movement, through our positions in union branches, trades councils and the structures of the SW TUC.
3.2 We are aware that membership of our Party is unrepresentative of those who live in our cities, towns, and villages and that this is detrimental to our understanding of the experiences, needs and aspirations of Black people, women, and young people and undermines our potential as a political force for change. We will make every effort to recruit people from these groups into the Party in our District and do everything we can to enable them to play a full part in our branches, activities, and campaigns.
3.3 We will make renewed efforts to encourage all women Party comrades to join and be active within the National Assembly of Women, which communist women were so prominent in establishing 70 years ago this year and have worked in ever since. We will promote the updated Charter for Women and use it as a basis of our District campaigns. We will form stronger links as a District with the Party’s Women’s Commission, its education programmes and campaigns, and bring together women comrades in our District to strengthen this area of work in relation to issues arising in our workplaces and communities and support the building of a strong, unified, and progressive women’s movement.
3.4 We congratulate our District organisation of the Young Communist League, not only on its increase in size and reorganisation into three branches since our last Congress, but also on the expansion of its activities and campaigns. We will continue to work closely with the YCL, especially through regular meetings between our District Party and YCL leaderships, closer liaison and participation in each other’s events and activities and through the maintenance of our Youth Assistance Fund to support YCL activities and help young comrades to travel to political events and meetings.
3.5 A critical element of our work must be to support the Morning Star newspaper in every way possible. This is the subject of a separate resolution.
3.6 We call upon the incoming District Committee to produce and implement a plan for taking the above forward as quickly and effectively as possible.