Labour needs a Green New Deal

| 22nd March 2019
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the 'End Austerity Now' march on the State Opening Of Parliament, 27th Ma7 2015. Photo: Sleeves Rolled Up via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the 'End Austerity Now' march on the State Opening Of Parliament, 27th Ma7 2015. Photo: Sleeves Rolled Up via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
The future will surely be ours if we all come together to demand a Green New Deal.

We should also be clear that without backing from Labour, the Green New Deal stands no chance of success in the UK.

Amid turbulent political times, the shaky coalition between Brexit factions within the Labour Party is given much attention.

Relevant though this may be, another strategic divide held together within Labour is far more important beyond the Brexit moment. Although it rarely plays out in the public sphere, competing strategic priorities around climate change could have a far more significant impact on Labour's ability to deliver a transformative economic program in government.

The most striking example of this divide played out around the vote on Heathrow expansion in June 2018. Unite lobbied hard for Labour MPs to back the expansion while Labour members and MPs with roots in the climate movement felt the free vote afforded to Labour MPs a travesty.

In reality, the vote was indicative of a schism over climate that should never have been allowed to develop in the labour movement. At the time I argued the dichotomy between jobs and climate is counter-productive for both. Its time to work together heal that divide.

Environmental justice

The Green New Deal has been successful in defining mainstream debate around climate change in the US in recent months because of its power as a framework in making our response climate, economic and social crises inseparable.

In the popular imagination, there no longer needs to be a trade off between transitioning our economy from fossil fuels to renewables and a good standard of living for all.

In fact, the Green New Deal helps us understand that only through a transformative program of investment to fully decarbonise the entire economy can we secure a prosperous future for the many.

At present, Labour's environmental policy platform The Green Transformation is a mixture of radical ambition and pragmatic compromise underpinned by a powerful justice-oriented narrative. Labour will ban fracking; create 400,000 green jobs across the country; invest £2.3bn to insulate homes; expand public transport by bringing rail back into public ownership, fare caps and electrification; ensure UK aid does not support fossil fuel projects; and promote UK Export Finance support for the energy sector towards low-carbon projects.

For all of these positives, Labour's target of 60 percent renewables within 12 years of government pales in comparison to the need for 100 per cent renewables by 2030; they are yet to commit to banning all new fossil fuels and fully transitioning away from oil, gas & coal; there is no discussion of reigning in private finance over their support for fossil fuel companies; airport expansion is not ruled out; and, overall, the scale of investment need to upgrade energy infrastructure, guarantee a green job for all and equitably re-industrialise every part of the country is just not there.

Policy formation

The Labour Party is regularly chastised for its shortcomings on climate both within and outside the party. As outlined above, these criticisms aren't misguided.

However, Labour is a democratic party with a mass membership. It also happens to be the only party representing the interests of the majority of our society with a strong chance of entering government at the next general election.

It is clear that the Green New Deal offers Labour a framework to translate the politics woven through The Green Transformation into a coherent policy platform advancing in tandem workers, climate and global justice.

We should also be clear that without backing from Labour, the Green New Deal stands no chance of success in the UK.

In appreciating the constraints Labour's leadership are under when it comes to policy formation – climate in particular – we can organise from the grassroots to support them to go further. Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, called for Labour members to exert this pressure from below in February.

Pressure from members

The radical framing of The Green Transformation makes it clear there is space to push. Members have a key role to play in building support for the transformative vision of a Green New Deal.

Together we must make the common sense argument that austerity ideology must be abandoned to win popular consent for the massive levels of public investment needed to transform the UK's economy and revitalise green industry.

This week Labour members have started to do just that. The new Labour for a Green New Deal campaign seeks to activate Labour members, supports and trade unionists to make the case for a transformative Green New Deal to deliver the shared solutions for our crises of climate, work, poverty and inequality.

Labour has over 500,000 members. If we all come together to demand a Green New Deal, the future will surely be ours.

This Author

Chris Saltmarsh is co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal. He is also co-director of Climate Change Campaigns at People & Planet. He tweets at @chris_saltmarsh.

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