Starmer’s eco-disaster

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, during a Q&A session with sixth formers at the Liverpool Echo offices in Liverpool in 2023.

Starmer may have abandoned climate action - but that does not mean we should abandon Labour.

On climate, many voters are already questioning whether there is a substantive difference between Stamer’s Labour and Sunak’s zombified Tory government. 

Keir Starmer was elected as Labour leader in 2020 promising to hardwire a Green New Deal into every level of government. Since then, he has systematically abandoned anything within Labour’s platform that resembled anything close to ambition around decarbonisation and climate justice. 

Climate deadlines were ignored as Labour’s commitment to achieve net-zero by 2030(ish) was quickly shelved. The primacy of markets were accepted as public ownership of energy was abandoned in favour of a pathetic imitation: Great British Energy (GBE). Fuel poverty was embraced as a permanent reality of British social life as home insulation plans were massively rolled back.

The final nail in the coffin of Starmer’s green credentials came as he confirmed that Labour no longer plans £28bn a year of public investment in green infrastructure. The U-turn came less than two and half years after the policy was announced to much fanfare at Labour Conference in September 2021.

Why, though?

Labour’s green prosperity plan was electorally popular, consistently polling with widespread public support across demographics. While it always far from adequate, such investment also represented the very basics of what is ecologically necessary in this era of intersecting social, economic and climate crises.

Why, then, has Starmer made such an electorally and ecologically damaging decision less than twelve months out from a general election? The official explanation is that the Tory government’s economic mismanagement has driven up interest rates making government borrowing more expensive.

Underlying this reasoning is, shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves’ Treasury orthodoxy. A fiscal hawk, she has consistently agitated to curtail Labour’s spending commitments in line with arbitrarily adopted ‘fiscal rules’. Of course, this includes no consideration of the far greater costs that unchecked climate change will wreak in the coming years.

On climate, many voters are already questioning whether there is a substantive difference between Stamer’s Labour and Sunak’s zombified Tory government. 

Furthermore, many in Labour’s top brass believe that the spectre of Corbyn continues to haunt Starmer’s Labour. The likes of Peter Mandelson are obsessed with differentiating the party’s current incarnation from the supposedly all-encompassing failings of the previous regime. 

Public spending and climate action are too associated with Corbyn’s leadership so they must be junked, regardless of the consequences. This episode is symptomatic of Starmer’s hubristic plan to sail into the power on the back Tory incompetence while making as few commitments as possible.


Some in Labour’s shadow cabinet have a more ideological commitment to fiscal austerity, while others are simply ambivalent about changing anything other than the names on the doors around Westminster.

This is the very worst of labourism where arrogant party officials and MPs proclaim as axiomatic that any Labour government must be better than the Tories. But Starmer’s Labour is pushing this most fundamental of Labour principles to its limits. 

On climate, at least, many voters are already questioning whether there is a substantive difference between Stamer’s Labour and Sunak’s zombified Tory government. This is a grim indictment for a leader who hasn’t even had the chance to be corrupted by power yet.

The next parliament will be a historic opportunity for a Labour government to change the UK’s course on climate change. Right now, though, Starmer is pledging that under his leadership we absolutely will not play our part in global energy transition.

Labour will most likely win the upcoming general election. However, Starmer’s alienating leadership means that it may be at lot closer than many are expecting as Labour practically begs its base to stay home.

Labour government

As Starmer tacitly supports Israel’s genocide in Gaza and abandons climate change as a policy priority, it will be no surprise if Labour loses many young, urban and Muslim voters.

Nevertheless, Starmer’s real problems lie in what happens after he forms a government. With no plans to seriously confront the systemic crises he will face, he is setting himself up for resounding failure.

Over the course of the next Parliament, extreme weather will inevitably intensify while economic conditions worsen. How does Starmer expect to win a second general election, let alone survive his first term, if voters of all political stripes quickly realise that nothing has really changed.

This is a tragic and - at one point - avoidable situation. Labour members might not have elected Starmer. He might have made better decisions once he took the position.

While many comrades have chosen the leave the Labour Party in (justified) disgust at various points over the last four years, I maintain that the party is a terrain of struggle that those of us committed to social and climate justice should contest. 

As with the struggle for climate justice in general, the war of position over Labour’s climate platform requires a long view thar stretches past the next (inevitably grim) twelve months.


That said, a realistic assessment of what can be achieved is also necessary. Starmer has clearly put his Labour Party on a trajectory away from pro-climate policies. Reeves has her fiscally conservative grip on the party’s policy making and the anti-ecological Labour Right has completed its coup against the pro-climate Labour Left.

This is now Starmer’s election (and subsequent government) to haphazardly attempt – and probably botch – on his own. There is little point now exerting political energy and resources trying to save him from himself.

However, the Starmer project will very quickly unravel as soon as it interacts with the real challenges of our age. A project so devoid of ideas amid such depth of socio-ecological crisis is absolutely bound to fail.

That is why we have an imperative to keep alert. We must be ready to pick up the pieces from the mess Starmer inevitably leaves behind – whether that is in twelve months or five years. This might be through superior organisation and the right political offer advanced within the Labour Party, or some other structure.

Regardless of our chosen strategies around party politics, it would be criminally short-sighted to throw in the towel by conceding climate struggle in the political arena to the mutually doomed Sunak and Starmer.

This Author

Chris Saltmarsh is a co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal and is the author of Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice.

More from this author