30 September 2015: Labour is talking climate again

In his party conference speech yesterday afternoon, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the essential contribution of green investment:

This is the only way to a strong economic future for Britain. That’s sustainable. That turns round the terrible trade deficit. That supports high growth firms and businesses. That provides real economic security for our people. The economy of the future depends on the investment we make today in infrastructure, skills, and schools.”

As if on cue, the Governor of the Bank of England said in a speech last night that climate change poses a huge financial risk. This echoes the repeated warning of IMF boss Christine Lagarde that climate change is by far the greatest economic threat of the twenty-first century.

Lisa Nandy Labour’s new Shadow and Climate Change Secretary, also spoke to party conference yesterday. She said:

“The pollution caused by our existing energy system poses one of the greatest risks to our health, our wellbeing and our collective future. The transition to clean energy is one of the biggest challenges this country has ever faced. It’s comparable in scale to the industrial revolution. And it requires the same shared determination and collective will to act that helped us to rebuild Britain after the war. It demands that we draw on the creativity, innovation and talent that Britain has to offer. But it also demands leadership.

Jeremy and I don’t want to nationalise energy. We want to do something far more radical. We want to democratise it. There should be nothing to stop every community in this country owning its own clean energy power station.

With the right support, community-based energy companies and cooperatives could be a new powerhouse, and a path to a more secure energy future. Labour in local government is already leading the way, effectively bypassing the big six entirely.”

(see http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/opinion/2427966/lisa-nandys-speech-to-the-labour-party-conference-in-full)

This political support for community energy is very encouraging: I must now send Lisa a copy of Prashant and my book on Repowering Communities (see http://climateanswers.info/2011/08/daring-to-dream/). More generally, it is a relief to hear the shadow energy and climate change secretary talk about both halves of of her portfolio. Lisa’s predecessor, Caroline Flint, talked only about energy: Labour’s proposed price freeze and the need to break up the Big 6 energy companies. One of the few times she mentioned decarbonisation was when she supported a renewable gas initiative in her own constituency, so more as a local MP than as a shadow secretary of state. I once asked her why she didn’t talk about climate change. Her answer: it doesn’t come up on the doorstep. So much for leadership.

So Corbyn’s Labour is taking a sensible line on climate change. Corbyn himself is also taking a sensible line on nuclear weapons. He believes that he has a mandate from Labour members to adopt a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, and points out that many military personnel now think that Trident is not the best use of defence spending. The Guardian’s Political Editor Patrick Wintour, who knows what is going on inside the Labour Party better than any other journalist, writes in today’s paper that:

“Corbyn is understood to regard unilateral disarmament as a red line and the most important issue on which he had campaigned for the leadership. He has been forced to retreat on a variety of other policy issues and a battle looks certain as the shadow defence secretary, Maria Eagle, starts a review that may need to come to conclusions ahead of a vote on renewing Trident in the Commons next year.”

(see http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/29/corbyn-tells-labour-dont-accept-injustice-stand-up-to-prejudice)

Maria Eagle therefore has an opportunity to draw up a policy which is both radical and rational: unilateral nuclear disarmament combined with a substantial increase in conventional defence spending. Maria is an impressive politican: she was the most outspoken member of the shadow cabinet on climate change in the last Parliament, even though it was not strictly in her portfolio. She shadowed the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for adapting to the floods, droughts etc that climate change will bring but not for cutting emissions. Nevertheless, she spoke out on mitigation (see my reaction to one of her speeches at http://www.fabians.org.uk/climate-policy-is-worth-a-speech/).

However, a promise to increase in conventional defence spending would not carry much weight if the person seeking to be prime minister is a pacifist. This is an issue on which Corbyn has yet to speak any sense. He said in yesterday’s speech:

“We have to be very clear about what we stand for in human rights. A refusal to stand up is the kind of thing that really damages Britain’s standing in the world. I have huge admiration for human rights defenders all over the world. I’ve met hundreds of these very brave people during my lifetime working on international issues.”

‘Standing up’ can mean many things. To Corbyn, it seems to mean simply standing on a soap box and talking. It does not mean taking action; he will vote against any UK military action in Syria. He claims that the solution lies in a negotiated political settlement. That’s a negotiated political settlement with Islamic State. Unless and until the leader of the opposition recognises that we do not live in an ideal world, the UK will not have a credible Labour opposition, and Jeremy Corbyn will not be fit to be prime minister.

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