A future Labour Government would seek to nationalise broadband and build up to 300,000 new homes a year, a leadership hopeful has revealed, as he sets out a vision to make the South West the “California of the UK”.
Making his pitch to Labour members in Devon and Cornwall ahead of his Exeter visit, Owen Smith has pledged to shake up the housing sector and reinstate wage councils in a bid to raise living standards across the region .
He has also hinted at plans to nationalise the country’s broadband services, to help rural areas like the Westcountry reach their full potential.
The ambitious policies were revealed exclusively to regional journalists in the midst of an unprecedented party leadership campaign.
Sparked by a coup and overshadowed by two separate court cases, the contest has brought Labour to the brink of division as MPs and campaigners tussle for the heart and soul of the party.
So far, Mr Smith has secured the backing of the majority of MPs, as well as the influential GMB and Usdaw unions.
But he has a difficult fight ahead of him if he is to stand any chance of victory over Jeremy Corbyn’s seemingly indomitable support base.
Jeremy Corbyn in Exeter
Despite the recent ruling that 130,000 newly registered member should be allowed to vote, the Welsh MP seems undaunted by the size of the task ahead of him.
He said: “you’ve just got to look at the numbers” to realise success is “absolutely” achievable.
“I am doing really well in the older membership, and that’s the bulk of the membership,” he explains
“Yes there have been lot of new people who have joined, but I think a lot of the more established members are definitely very keen to see Labour become a much more robust opposition.
“And there’s this big assumption that these new members have joined for reasons other than wanting a powerful Labour Government.
“They want exactly the same thing I want – they want to improve their communities and see our principles put into practice.”
Mr Smith’s flagship policy is a £200 billion “British New Deal”, which would see the Government investing heavily in infrastructure, health, education and housing.
He views the current housing crisis as a significant challenge for the UK, and has pledged to create 300,000 new homes a year – including 29,800 in the South West.
This would be funded through central Government, as well as by allowing councils to borrow against their assets. But he has is also expected to make a big announcement in coming days about the creation of a new national housing body.
Another key issue in the Smith campaign is wages, with a promise to introduce a “real living wage” of £8.25 an hour for everyone over 18.
He has also pledged to establish a series of industry wage bodies – including reviving the old agricultural wage boards.
He said that Wales had kept its board despite Tory attempts to abolish the system in 2013.
And he points out that agricultural wages in Wales “are now 6% higher than in England as a result”.
The self-styled “radical pragmatist” is not afraid to talk up the idea of state intervention, even toying with the idea of nationalising broadband.
He argues that something so “transformative” for communities should not be left solely in the hands of the private sector.
“Why haven’t we thought much harder about how we could be nationalising the next generation of broadband in this country,” he asks.
“Why do we think that’s something that could only be delivered through the private sector when its so massively important?
“It’s perfectly possible that Cornwall, for example, could be the California of the UK, where people are living there in a broadband digital age.
“So why are we constantly wrangling with BT as opposed to getting on with it ourselves?”
Mr Smith will be at Exeter University between 12.30pm until 1.45pm for a talk and question and answer session on Sunday, August 14. He will also be visiting Plymouth as a part of the campaign.
He has the endorsement from Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw who welcomed the news of his upcoming visit and said the part could learn a lot from how things are done locally.