The Green Agenda could inspire and challenge this generation – and help us take on UKIP and the Tories

16th June, 2013 8:56 am

In 1997 “Things could only get better.”  In 1963 Harold Wilson’s “White hot heat of the technological revolution” matched President Kennedy’s goal of “sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade”.

They inspired, challenged and set the agenda for their generation. Whatever else one thinks about the recent keynote speeches made by the two Eds, few would want to go into the next election claiming that “it’ll be less worse under Labour”.

On Thursday, Lewis Coyne developed the argument that New Labour had left blue-collar workers behind. Even accepting his analysis, changing how we select our candidates for 2015 won’t put new faces on the TV before the election.

As Aristotle might have put it “politics abhors a vacuum”. In the mid 1980s voters looking for a ‘safer’ alternative turned to the SDP rather than the Tories. Like the SDP, UKIP is ‘NEW’. It is well funded and is supported by a right wing press that hasn’t forgiven the Party for not choosing their preferred candidate as our Leader. But unlike Thatcher’s Government, riding high on a wave of patriotism after the Falklands War, Cameron’s Tories have been consistently behind Labour in the polls since the end of 2010. The SDP had a coherent manifesto, while UKIP’s belief that leaving the EU is the answer to every problem is simplistic in the extreme.

In YouGov’s poll on 1st June, voters wanted the Government to change course and focus on growth rather than deficit reduction, by 42% to 31%. In contrast LabourList’s own poll, published on the same day showed nearly half voters believe Labour “cannot be trusted with the economy”.

No doubt Ed Balls’ speech was meant to square that circle. Unfortunately rather than building trust, most of the press coverage was about the fallout in the Party. It was and will always be a difficult task. Osborne has the perfect lie, which he and his press will trumpet forever: “The crisis was Labour’s fault, the slow recovery is Europe’s.” – two birds, one stone.

We need to shift the agenda.

In his Q&A at last year’s Conference Ed Miliband said “the environment was ‘absolutely central’ to his vision for the future.” He just forgot to mention it in his keynote speech the day before. If it is central to his vision, it could and should be the basis on which to build an attack on the Government and defend ourselves against UKIP.

In 2012 once-in-a-century disasters became commonplace: temperatures in Russia sparked wildfires destroying 74 million acres of the pristine Siberian Taiga forest; Hurricane Sandy killed hundreds from Port-au-Prince in Haiti to New York, while running up a bill of over £50bn.

During our Winter, just about every heat record in its history was broken in Australia. And so it goes on: our coldest Spring in 50 years; the biggest tornado ever; and floods in Central Europe topping previous records by two and a half feet.

Global warming and climate change are now accepted as facts by all scientists. That is, all except those funded by oil and coal producers. And the links between climate change and individual events are becoming clearer by the day. Living with Environment Change Partnership’s recent report not only gives detailed examples of the changes we are already seeing, but sets out the evidence for why these changes must be manmade.

Around the world the need for action is not only being recognised, it is beginning to happen. Carbon ‘cap and trade’ is working in California. China is piloting it in seven areas including Shanghai, with the aim of rolling it out nationwide by 2020. In the first three months of this year renewable energy supplied 70% of electricity produced in Portugal.

Unfortunately all is not well. The EU’s cap-and-trade system is failing badly and in the US, Obama’s Arctic strategy focuses on how to exploit areas made accessible by global warming, rather trying to limit its impact. In Britain, David Cameron’s promise that his Government would be the “greenest ever” has been sunk over the last three years by George Osborne, and other deniers (or ignorers) in his Cabinet.

Replacing grants with loans has cut the number of homes installing cavity wall insulation by 97%, no doubt throwing builders and staff down the supply chain out of work. A switch to a low-carbon future would save households £1,600, but Osborne’s ‘dash-for-gas’ is putting Britain’s carbon reduction commitments in jeopardy. As car use has fallen Osborne is planning uneconomic road building instead of repairing those we already have and is considering further cuts in bus subsidies.

There are massive employment opportunities in Green Agenda, which could help boost the economy. Building on our plans to register private landlords we could extend the ‘Decent Homes Standard’ to the private sector and create tens of thousands of building jobs; the UK recycling industry has the potential to create 10,000 new jobs; and the development and deployment of heatpumps would reduce CO2 emissions, create export opportunities and skilled employment in engineering.

Nigel Farage’s opposition to windfarms is totally specious and it has to be recognised most of our environmental protection is based on European Directives. Farage is a libertarian and opposes such “interference”, but global warming is by definition a global problem which will need international, as well as national and local solutions.

We could and should argue for an active and constructive EU membership to find those solutions.

As the first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband must know the needs of the next and coming generations are part of the ‘One Nation’ debate.

It took nearly 60 years to overcome the deniers (and ignorers) on smoking and cancer. We cannot afford to waste even the 60 months between the 2015 and 2020 elections before we make a start on this most pressing problem.

The Green Agenda could inspire and challenge this generation and give us the platform to take on both UKIP and the Tories.

Steve Cohen is a CLP Secretary, former member of Tyne and Wear County Council and founding secretary of the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA)

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  • JoeDM

    Today it is reported: ” …that wind turbine owners received £1.2billion in the form of a consumer subsidy, paid by a supplement on electricity bills last year. They employed 12,000 people, to produce an effective £100,000 subsidy on each job”. See

    Also, it seems that most of the production jobs for this new industry are overseas, so the British taxpayers are effectively subsidising non-British workers and boosting foreign economies. Not really a vote winner for any party !!!

    What we need is a good dose of economic reality when it comes to anything labelled “green”.

  • TomFairfax

    I’ve lost count of the number of times there have been these items on climate change, except of cause it used to be climate warming. In any other politically sensitive subject that change in vocabulary sounds like backtracking has started.

    My general image is that those with a whiff of a science/technical background scorn the blind faith of the article writers who are without fail merely repeating received wisdom uncritically and usually screech ‘denier’ at reasonable contradictory points, because they simply aren’t equipped with the knowledge to argue their point rationally on a scientific basis. That behaviour tends to disuade the agnostics.

    Frankly I don’t believe the PLP has anyone who could make this an issue that wouldn’t end up damaging the party’s image or making us seem at least a me too alternative to the Greens and Lib Dems.

    The climate is a dynamic system. That means it is always changing. That means it is possible to point out that in certain areas the Greenland iceshelf is currently of greater extent than that shown in photos from the 1930’s. Do you even know where to begin in dealing with that? Does anyone in the PLP?

    It doesn’t mean the overall climate is cooler or warmer when taken in isolation, but it sure looks convincing to those who want to believe climate warming is unproven.

    My current objection to reducing the polution from power generation is that we are in effect merely exporting the polution to Denmark/Germany for wind turbines, and China for solar panels. The whole direction of the previous and current governments is therefore fundementally flawed.

    How about for proposals on this subject which involve more than exporting jobs/wealth and blighting the landscape? That would be more of a vote winner even if the climate change argument is not accepted by all voters.

    • Steve_Cohen

      That’s just risible!

      You show me your photo and I’ll show you recent ice loss events:

      Between 2000 and 2001: Northern Greenland’s Peterman glacier lost 33 square miles (85 km2) of floating ice.
      Between 2001 and 2005: Sermeq Kujalleq broke up, losing 36 square miles (93 km2) and raised awareness worldwide of glacial response to global climate change.
      July 2008: Researchers monitoring daily satellite images discovered that a
      11-square-mile (28 km2) piece of Petermann broke away.
      August 2010: A sheet of ice measuring 260 square kilometres (100 sq mi) broke off from the Petermann Glacier. Researchers from the Canadian Ice Service located the calving from NASA satellite images taken on August 5. The images showed that Petermann lost about one-quarter of its 70 km-long (43 mile) floating ice shelf.
      July 2012: An iceberg twice the size of Manhattan (100 square mi) broke away from the Petermann glacier in northern Greenland.
      For the record, it was never “climate warming”. You’ve concertinaed
      ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’. And before you start banging on about
      the increase in air temperatures having stalled for 17 years, deep sea
      temperatures have continued to rise throughout that period. The deep seas are part of the globe we live on.
      Your comments about members of the PLP are patronising in the extreme
      and I have no qualms about advocating policies that those on the right would
      liken to the LibDems and Greens, if it means leaving future generations a
      better place to live.
      How do you feel about us being accused of accepting levels of austerity being pushed by the Coalition?

      • TomFairfax

        Well Steve, I”d rather once in a while somebody would resist the attempt to prove me right about the reaction of climate changers to any criticism.
        If you had stopped to read what I’d written you’d realised I was pointing out that it is possible to explain such things as variation in ice coverage compared with the 1930’s, but someone would have to get past first base in knowing what a dynamic system is.
        Unfortunately just quoting recent history is no more valid than sceptics over reliance on short timescale reference points.
        I’m agnostic on this as neither side can prove their case in a way that is scientifically valid.
        For the record, the climate is changing. It has been changing ever since the Earth gained an atmosphere.
        You can’t say climate change is an issue without explaining why. If it’s not warming, then what is it you are concerned about, because the UN was certainly clear it was concerned about warming.
        And if you”d frequented Labourlist over the years you’d know I’m a Labour Party member, but not an unthinking sheep, and my opinion of George Osborne’s aptitude for economics is a bit on the low side.
        P.s. Do a search on TheRegister for the Danish Greenland shots from the thirties.

        • Steve_Cohen

          Tom, given the number of links I wouldn’t have expected you to have read them all – yet.

          But they are there for a purpose. If you take the trouble to read the report from the ‘Living with Environment Change Partnership’ you will, as I said in the article see “the evidence for why these changes must be manmade”.

          • TomFairfax

            Hi Steve, Thank you for the change in tone. However, realistically I’d have to hunt through the whole website because their search facility isn’t exactly top notch.

            However, having seen some of the articles, which are of the inference and cross reference to work by associated groups, it’s not exactly trying to put the case in a neutral fashion, but it at least hasn’t played fast and loose with the numbers.

            The thing that makes me wonder about the grasp of political classes on climate issues would be as following.

            1) Reducing emission levels in itself doesn’t reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, it merely slows the rate of increase. Even zero emissions tomorrow doesn’t reverse the effect, so actually the climate would still get warmer over yours, mine and our grandchildrens lifetimes at least, if the hypotheses are correct in that area. (Clearly plant growth increases with CO2 and temperature, but dynamic equilibrium and the emission levels for that to occur at x% below today is never mentioned.)

            2) The reason energy consumption is increasing, to put not too fine a point on it, is because the number of consumers is rising faster than efficiency improvements can be made.

            3) Polution and destruction of habitat will continue to endanger bio-diversity regardless of emissions. It wasn’t emissions that put paid to the Mastadon and the others.

            So logically it’s a political issue which nobody intends to solve, or, they simply haven’t thought it through, or, actually they’ve been told it’s not really a big deal but don’t want to let a vote winner go so easily. Take your pick. Mine’s the ‘haven’t thought it through’ one, which is probably the kindest.

            The scare factors have already diminshed enormously since I left Uni, as actual real data has accumulated. e.g. 10’s of metres predicted rise in sea levels from the late 80’s climate models has now been reduced to worst case of 69cm by 2100 in the site you’ve referenced. Likewise the predicted temperature increases have been scaled back.

            The Green’s have policies that would address the CO2 issue but in my opinion would have side effects going beyond a mere fall in living standards unless reversed almost as soon as implemented.

            The new Tories ‘natural’, err, reliance on markets, means by definition the measures would be taken after they were needed and therefore would need to be harsher.

            It is entirely possible for Labour to plot a course with rational precautions, and modification based on the feedback from real data, but that does mean backing down on some issues, such as on massively subidised onshore wind farms in low wind speed midland areas, and going more in the sustainable low polution environment direction and not being tied exclusively to CO2 emissions.

            BTW, one of the factors given for higher temperatures in the later decades of the 20th Century is all those clean air acts in the industrialised world that reduced the sulphate polutants going into the sky. However, that just meant a background temperature rise was being masked by polutants that had a cooling effect. Likewise in the aftermath of 911 with all those thousands of flights cancelled there was a clearly measurable increase in temperatures globally. Therefore CO2 emission reduction might not work, but clearly a mechanism exists that does.

          • Steve_Cohen


            Yep that’s the problem with interlinked issues like ‘The
            Environment’ it takes time to your head round the different issues and as we’re repeatedly told the attention span of the modern audience is getting less, if not by the day, certainly by the year. It’s much easier to dismiss it all with a headline saying windfarms require a subsidy – therefore they must be bad without explaining why we need them.

            I think you agree there is a problem. I certainly agree that
            alarmist predictions from the 80s make it easier to dismiss/ignore the more measured science of today. But even if sea levels aren’t going to rise 30 feet in the next few years, we ARE seeing the effects of climate change now – I linked to a few of them in the original article and could add many more articles detailing damaging impacts on society in general and individuals in particular.

            What you seem to be saying is we don’t have politicians who understand, who care, or who believe they could tell people the truth without going down to a heavy electoral defeat.
            If that is true, I take my first comment back. It’s not risible, it’s
            lamentable and it’s our children’s futures we should be mourning!

  • AlanGiles

    “Whatever else one thinks about the recent keynote speeches made by the two Eds, few would want to go into the next election claiming that “it’ll be less worse under Labour”.”

    Sadly for you, however, with all their “iron discipline” rhetoric that is exactly what Miliband and Balls ARE saying, and I am sure the public hear that message, however much you dress it up with “fairness” and “one nation”.

  • Steve_Cohen

    Yes it’s an interesting article, but it is in the Telegraph and they have a reason for supporting Osborne’s dash- for -gas. Unfortunatelyyour final comments demonstrates all too clearly the problem with living today and hoping others will be able to live with the consequences tomorrow.

    Google the words Germany renewable energy then ask yourself why Angela Merkel’s government and companies like Seimens are investing so much in the green agena. The links in the article to the Potugese experience and the switch to the low-carbon future also make interesting reading.

  • Smithersjones2013

    By all means. I agree Labour should go big on the Green Agenda

    • AlanGiles

      Provided it is genuine, and not a mere box-ticking exercise. Mrs Thatcher had a “Green conversion” in 1989, the year prior to her dismissal. She later (2002) wrote in her memoirs that she regretted what she then regarded as some sort of aberration on her part.

      I think most people who are sceptical of Labour’s scattergun approach, will view this sudden re-awakening of interest in Green issues will take such a conversion with a pinch of salt.

      They would be well advised so to do
      AG 17/6/13 0500BST

  • David_Herdson

    So regaining touch with Blue Collar workers will be achieved by promoting the Green agenda which to date has resulted only in – and hence is associated only with – higher taxes and more restrictions and regulations? These being the people who are struggling to afford running a car, for example, but who certainly aspire to keep their motor on the road. Well, it’s a view.
    As for Climate Change, even accepting it’s happening, there’s still a huge argument to be won for whether adapting to the change or attempting to roll it back is the better course of action – even if either could be achieved given Britain’s paltry share of global emissions as against China, the US or – increasingly – India and other developing countries.
    Your article demonstrates precisely why Labour has lost touch with working class voters. Climate Change is an obsession of middle class Guardian readers. It is UKIP who is increasingly speaking for the working class on issues like this. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with campaigning to seek to change people’s minds and indeed, it’s a noble aspect of politics to do so. On this issue, if Labour wants the support of lower-income households, it’ll have to.

    • AlanGiles

      “So regaining touch with Blue Collar workers will be achieved by promoting the Green agenda ……Climate Change is an obsession of middle class Guardian readers.”

      David, if you will allow me to say so, this is a somewhat patronising view of “blue collar workers”. I suppose that means that anybody who worked, in say, heavy engineering, should not read the Guardian, and be concerned about the future well-being of the planet for their children and grandchildren?. I suppose it IS rather precocious of us. Sorry!. We should know our place.

      Oh well, thanks for telling me. If I were still doing my dirty job, I would take out an order for the Daily Star, and instead of worrying my ignorant little head about pollution, I would just concentrate on what slapper said what to which muppet on “Big Brother”, and write xenophobic texts to the letters page, and ogle the “model” of the day!.

      AG 18/6/13 0538BST

  • Steve_Cohen

    The debate has probably already moved on, but for the record, you’d only need to roll back the clock a few years to have heard comments about the science linking smoking and cancer being disputed and unproven.

    We were told that banning smoking from pubs and clubs was a middle class fad and if I looked hard enough, could probably find people in the 1950s making economic arguments against forcing hard up families to use
    smokeless fuel.

    Unfortunately there aren’t different sciences for different classes and as the coal owners and oil barons will eventually realise, we all live on the same planet.

    It’s the politicians job to work out the policies we need to cope with those realities.

    Blue collar workers have just as much interest in their children and grandchildren’s future as everybody else and want them to have better lives than their own.

    As the links between global warming and climate change become clearer with each extreme weather event, people in all groups will start looking for solutions that make sense to them.

    Burying our heads in the sand for another few months and hoping it will all go away might not seem the best option on offer.

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