Locally-based prosperity – the Preston Model

This is my friend Peter Rankin. We shared a flat together in Dublin three floors above a maternity home in the appropriately named Hatch Street. Later we lived in Rooms together in Trinity College, Dublin – the loo was three floors down and next door which was a bit of a challenge. Among the memories … we stood in Merrion Square in 1972 as the British Embassy was burned and wondered what the future held. And Peter was my best man

Peter came from Ballymoney in Co Antrim. I never understood how this came about – but from the beginning he was a left wing socialist. He served two terms as Leader of Preston Council – another person of real political talent lost to Northern Ireland. He died just three years ago as a result of a brain tumour – far too soon and so much left to do. But it pleased him that he could surprise his political colleagues by producing a friend who was a bishop to speak at his Civic Funeral. And I was honoured that he wanted me to do that for him.

The picture shows Peter receiving a ‘Council of the Year’ Award just before he became ill. Preston Council won it because of the success of what came to be called the Preston Model – a model which sees the council work with ‘anchor institutions’ to keep jobs and investment in the city. I’ve been reading ‘Paint your town Red’ – How Preston took back control and your town can too – by Matthew Brown and Rhiannon E Jones. It tells the story of the successful development of the model – and it suggests that this kind of politics is the only way in which Labour will ever regain power.

The book sets the scene like this: ‘In 2019, a report commissioned by the UN described the effects of a decade of austerity in the UK as a deliberately imposed and unnecessary ‘social calamityinvolving ‘systematic disadvantage’ inflicted particularly on women, children, people with disabilities, older people and BAME communities’

What follows is a description of Preston’s programme of community wealth-building which ‘supports democratic collective ownership of the local economy through a range of institutions and policies‘. What that means is that they adopted ways of procuring goods and services for local institutions which kept as much of the wealth generated in the local community. They developed co-operatives, community land trusts, public and community banking.’

The result of all of this was that in the 2019 General Election, Preston was one of the few constituencies to buck the national trend which saw heavy losses for Labour in its heartlands.

When he received the award, Peter said, ‘

“I was so pleased to receive this award. It was a thrill and a fantastic credit for everything we have been doing in Preston. We created a partnership with other public enterprises to work more closely with Lancashire businesses. The Preston Model of community wealth building is working very well.

“We are thrilled that our initiative is recognised across not just the UK but across Europe as well. We are fortunate that Preston and Lancashire is home to many innovative and growing businesses. Supporting our local business community and creating jobs for Preston and Lancashire people is an important part of our work in Preston.

And now it’s time for me to go again to Preston and to cycle the Guild Wheel Cycle Path with Peter’s wife, Lynn. Peter was particularly proud of it so it is one of our ways of remembering him together.

Categorised as Books

Build the Wall!

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

‘Build the Wall’ said Donald Trump over and over again. The slogan was always a way of energising his base more than a piece of practical politics. The reality of course didn’t really matter. According to Pew Research http://www.pewresearch.org, Mexican immigration into the US has been in long term decline. The significant factor in this has been economic recession which has removed exactly the jobs which migrants find attractive. Of those who are stopped at the border, Mexicans are no longer the majority. But the US retains a magnetic attraction as a land of wealth and opportunity – and safety – for many people who are simply desperate.

American Dirt is a story which tries to get inside the experience of Lydia one Mexican migrant and her eight year old son on their flight to ‘el Norte’, the United States. I thought it was a great book – a real page turner.

Lydia has seen fifteen members of her extended family brutally murdered after her investigative journalist husband published an expose of the leader of a local cartel. She is convinced that her only hope of survival is to get to the US – somehow escaping the network of informers which the cartels maintain across the country.

The book describes the various twists and turns of the story – particlarly the experience of riding La Beste – the freight trains which run through Mexico towards the US border. This is staggeringly difficult and dangerous. Along the way, there is unexpected kindness and there is betrayal. The final part of the book describes her experience as part of a group being led by a guide – or Coyote – on a three day trek through some of the most inhospitable and desert border regions between Mexico and the US.

There has been controversy about this book – some of its popularity stems from a recommendation from Oprah Winfrey. There has been some ‘what does a person like this really know about the experience of the migrants?’ criticism. But it was the best I have read in a while.

Categorised as Books