Climate hustings in Hornsey and Wood Green

Last week I went to a climate hustings in Hornsey and Wood Green. This constituency is a smaller version of  London as a whole – a fairly well-off west (Muswell Hill, Crouch End) and less prosperous east (Wood Green, Turnpike Lane). Unsurprisingly, the hustings was held in leafy Muswell Hill. Climate change will have a major impact on the lives of Wood Green residents, but we campaigners have failed to communicate that so far, so in the east of the constituency fuel bills are a much more potent political issue.

Hornsey and Wood Green is a marginal: the current MP, Lib Dem Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone, is facing a strong challenge from the Labour candidate, Catherine West. Lynne was supposed to be on the panel, but called off at the last minute. The Lib Dems sent instead Baroness Kate Parminter (who I worked with when she was running the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and I was at Greenpeace). The Tory candidate pulled out too, and they didn’t bother to send anyone (why waste time talking about ‘green crap’ in an unwinnable constituency…). The Green Party’s candidate Gordon Peters was there, as was UKIP’s Clive Morrison.

Clive began his remarks by pointing out that he was the only black person in the room. This was a fair criticism: the green movement in the UK remains too white (and too male). Apart from that, he was unimpressive. UKIP deny that there is any climate change. Clive often said that he disagreed with UKIP policy. It’s fine for a candidate to disagree with specific policies, but to distance yourself from your party’s general approach when standing as a candidate is silly. The chair often asked him to comment on particular UKIP policies, at which Clive criticised him for ‘pigeon-holing me’. If I’d been chairing, I’d have responded that I was indeed putting him in a pigeon-hole: the one marked ‘UKIP candidate”.

Gordon Peters was thoughtful. He was good on the issue of air pollution (a major problem in both sides of the constituency: the A1 runs through the west) and the importance of EU membership for both air quality and climate action. He opposed nuclear power and fracking, as well as coal, and supported energy efficiency and renewables. Like his party leader Natalie Bennett, he didn’t say what should be used until we can get all our energy from renewables (see The Green Party implies, and possibly even believes, that we can be 100% renewable in just a couple of years. In the real world, it will take at least half a century.

Kate Parminter was also thoughtful. She highlighted what the Lib Dems have achieved in their 5 years running DECC (including tripling the installed renewable capacity) and the ambitious policies in the Lib Dem manifesto (see I asked her why Ed Davey had introduced new subsidies to old coal power stations, expecting some standard political non-answer in response. But Kate gave a straight answer: it’s a coalition, and we can’t get Cameron and Osborne to do everything we’d like them to do.

Catherine West was very impressive. She has a track record of delivery on energy issues. While leader of Islington council (2010-13) she oversaw massive improvement in the energy efficiency of rented properties. This had major social benefits to residents. Islington has a reputation as the home of champagne socialism (Tony Blair used to live there – though he would presumably reject the accusation that he is a socialist). But in fact it is, like Haringey (of which Hornsey and Wood Green is a part), a very unequal part of London; a few rich people, but many more poor people.

Catherine outlined Labour’s approach, and made clear that she supports most of it. She said that she does not support Trident. (Good, it is against our Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation for the UK to retain nuclear weapons, and there are much better ways to spend the £100 billion – including on conventional forces.) She expressed concern about waste from nuclear power stations, so if she becomes an MP I will try to convince her that advanced nuclear reactors can use nuclear waste as fuel. On fracking, she said that she is worried about the impact in drinking water – which is a legitimate concern.

On coal, she was more ambitious than the party: she said that as an MP she would argue for all coal stations without carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) to close by 2025. Labour has said that it would pass a law requiring all electricity to be low-carbon by 2030, which would mean the closure of all coal without CCS, but has not specified a date before then.

The LibDems have also said that they would close all coal without CCS by 2025. So on this policy issue, the Lib Dem manifesto is stronger than Labour’s. But UK climate action for the next 5 years will be driven not by policy but by politics. There will not be a majority government. There will be a Labour- or Tory-led coalition, or a minority government. Policies will be traded, either as part of coalition negotiations (remember tuition fees) or during constant bartering by a minority government.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has now said that he would not support a government dependent on the votes of the Scottish National Party, because of their desire to break up the UK. (He has not said that he could not support a government dependent on Northern Ireland’s homophobic Democratic Unionist Party.) Labour will not have enough MPs to form a government without SNP and Lib Dem support. So Clegg’s statement means, in effect, that in constituencies like Hornsey and Wood Green a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for another Tory-led government. This would be disastrous in many respects: inequality, the NHS, Europe. It would also be bad for climate action: the Tories oppose the cheapest form of renewable energy – onshore wind – and are now, paradoxically, the party supporting coal. In a Lib Dem-Tory marginal (such as Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Davey’s Kingston and Surbiton seat) people wanting a progressive government should vote Lib Dem. Anywhere else, including in Hornsey and Wood Green, people wanting a non-Tory government should vote Labour.




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