When all else fails, try democracy

Steve Baker MP. Image: Steve Baker

The coming general election is the perfect moment to vote for MPs that support climate action - and to hold their feet to the fire.

This straight-forward approach is empowering. And re-energises two area in which it is easy to despair: climate and democracy.

Sir David King has famously said that we have five years to set the climate on course for the next millennium.  During that time, there will be one enormous national event on which we can depend - a UK general election.

And during the campaign period media attention should be focussed on us, the voters across the country, and what we want.

This is a rare, timely opportunity to tell politicians we need carbon net zero. So let’s make the most of it.


Exactly when the election will take place is hard to call. The Tories want to retain power for as long as they can, so it could well be at the very last moment January 2025. This gives us time to prepare. 

Our national politics are both noisy and fragile. Climate disinformation and obfuscation pollute our traditional and social media. Today, not all voters yet know the risks we face despite of the uniformity of scientific opinion on climate.

Indeed, George Marshall from Climate Outreach observes that many people still don't know that planetary warming is the result of fossil fuels.

What if we concentrated on dynamic campaigns in people’s neighbourhoods and workplaces? What if we talked to voters, one human being at a time?

What if we listened to their concerns, and where appropriate showed how these were caused by the same energy companies, and the same government policies, that also worry us.


The future we now face will be much harder because of the management of the pandemic, the cost-of-living and the energy crisis.

What if we told voters that we need to face all this together? Because that’s the sweetener in all this: when we organise together, no one needs to face this alone.  

And when voters move, the political parties should have to follow.

The effort involved in such a strategy is daunting. But if it were successful, it would lead to a new clarity and urgency at a national level.

This campaign would also begin to build the necessary local allegiances, and neighbourhood networks that we will need as we go forward to face the potential food and energy shortages, financial vulnerability and other practical problems like flooding.


It’s a wildly ambitious idea, but the good news is that many environmental activists are already beginning to move in this direction. 

So, what have we got to lose? Almost a year ago, I and three others set up Steve Baker Watch to combat the work of the most effective climate denier in parliament, who has a marginal constituency in Wycombe.

Last weekend, we put pressure on the local Labour Party to make sure that they chose as their next parliamentary candidate, and likely next MP, someone who is interested in the environment rather than the other fancied front-runner: an ex-MP advocating Heathrow expansion.

This straight-forward approach is empowering. And re-energises two area in which it is easy to despair: climate and democracy.

We lobbied hard, and were successful. Our local group will now have meetings with winner Emma Reynolds.

And Steve Baker Watch is not our only group across the country. We now have five others – including Mogg Watch in North East Somerset set up to alert people to the policy positions of Jacob Rees Mogg.


His seat is safer, but many are hoping that we can achieve an ‘Portillo moment’ and oust him too.

We have plans to launch at least one new group a month next year and have a crowd funder open for the national coordinating network MP Watch.

Our focus so far has been on eliminating climate deniers. But what if, come next election, there were such a group in every constituency, dynamically pushing local politicians towards climate net zero and holding them to account if their performance is lacklustre?

People love our campaign because of its simplicity. We ask: is your MP representing your climate views? They work for us, so if you don’t like what they’re doing, get them to change. Or change your MP.

This straight-forward approach is empowering. And re-energises two area in which it is easy to despair: climate and democracy.


Jon Alexander in his recent book Citizens pointed out that we will have to abandon the consumer model of democracy for something more participatory.  

In the consumer model, you vote in a similar way to buying Christmas presents: examining the wares in the light of the over-inflated claims on the box, make a purchase and then have up to five years to rue your choice.

Instead, Alexander advocates a citizens model in which we play a much more active role, engaging and shaping the local and national political landscape.

Most of us feel time poor and may not love the sound of that. But we have seen what happens when we don’t pay attention.

We languish in our atomised homes, each with our washing machine, TV and coffee machine, feeling unloved.


Rich people stop paying taxes, siphon off profit from utility companies and raid our tax money. The NHS is quietly privatised.

The planet degrades to such a point that our life on it becomes literally unsustainable. It’s clear the consumer model has had its time?

I can hear objections already. Where, for instance, will the army of people needed to help this transformation come from? Even in our more deluded moments, we at MP Watch know we can’t do this alone.

But the great news is that many other groups are also thinking in similar ways.


We believe the people we need are already out there across the country in local environmental and political groups such as Labour Green New Deal folk, Transitions Towns,  the Climate Party, Divest groups, Community Climate Action, Zero Hour, GreensCAN, RSPB, National Trust, nature lovers and also local Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil groups.

As well of course as the venerable Green Party. Indeed, some Green candidates might be considering sitting on their hands during this election -  in order not to split the progressive vote. 

How much better to be active supporting this neighbourly and non-partisan initiative with their considerable organisational powers?

When the world is failing to address the urgency of Carbon Net Zero, this has to be worth a good shot. Let’s follow the Teal movement in Australia and really go for it.  Let’s make climate ignorance history.

This Author

Jessica Townsend is cofounder of MP Watch.

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