Labour: Go green or go home

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Labour members have to wake up and smell the coal. The environment cannot be a luxury issue while we focus on the cost of living crisis. That’s because the environment is the key to solving the cost of living crisis. Scarce natural resources push up the price of food, water and energy. We must preserve and replenish them to keep bills under control. But there are cynical reasons to improving our green credentials too: being perceived as weak on green issues is hurting us in the polls.

In December 2012 the Fabian Society published research showing that support for the low-carbon economy was high among voters of all parties. The research crucially showed that support among swing voters was even higher.

When that research was published Labour was polling at 43%. Labour has recently been at the 38 – 40% level. New analysis today confirms what the Fabian Society research told us last winter: a key part of the swing voter pool that will decide the next election vote on green issues.

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Labour are losing former Lib Dem voters to the Green Party who are polling at a historically healthy 3-4%. The independent report that 8% of former Lib Dems are opting for the greens, up from 5% a few months ago.

Some Labour party members have been far too dismissive of the importance of the green agenda. That they ignore the overwhelming majority of science and the links between the environmental crisis and the crisis of capitalism that we’re living through is bad enough. But there will be no addressing the squeeze on living standards if Labour doesn’t get back into government. There are no excuses for Labour if it doesn’t improve its environmental offer.

So what can Labour do? As I’ve pointed out before, Ed Balls has moved Labour along on the green agenda by making a series of pledges to prioritise the low-carbon transition in his speech to the Green Alliance. And it was welcome to hear Ed Miliband talk so passionately about the need to avoid dangerous climate change in his conference speech in Brighton. But it’s not enough for the two Eds to do all the heavy lifting. As a movement we need to understand green issues instinctively and realise that if we have nothing to say on the environmental crisis than we are of no use to communities now or in the future.

Labour members and politicians both locally and nationally need to connect with the challenge of climate change but also with the local environment. The sell-off of the nation’s forests revealed a deep attachment to our green spaces that Labour must understand. John Cruddas talks of work, family and place being the things that matter to people. The pillar of place in our policy review is really all about our local environment.

Absolutely crucially Labour members must understand that the green agenda is not a trade-off between preserving the planet and economic prosperity. They are the same thing. And the same goes for bills. You cannot bring down bills in the long run without a strong environmental offer.

Today Nick Clegg made a speech about his commitment to the green agenda. This is the same Nick Clegg whose Liberal Democrat party voted against the 2030 decarbonisation target and voted for the gagging ball that will limit the efficacy of green campaigning groups. Labour should be hammering the Liberal Democrats on these issues not losing voters to the Green Party.

The Fabian Society will be publishing lots of new research on what more Labour can be doing to advance the green agenda between now and the general election. But what today’s news confirms is that as a movement we not only making the wrong policy call by ignoring the environment, we will be punished at the polls for it too.

Natan Doron is a senior researcher at the Fabian Society where he leads the environment and citizenship programme.   

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