A Popular Environmentalism – nature, place and climate in the Labour Policy Review

13th June, 2014 4:19 pm

The Fabians’ new report ‘Pride of Place’ presents a challenge to the environment movement – to spend less time lobbying and more organising, to attend to the local case for action, rather than assuming top-down consent, and to consider how a relationship with ‘place’ fits into a wider politics of the common good.

But it also sets a challenge for us in Labour to think differently about the land upon which we stand.


We did some remarkable things in office – not least ensuring public access to huge areas of countryside, passing the Climate Change Act and kick-starting an industrial revival through the clean technology sector which, if nurtured, could help create thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs.

But we too often treated the environment as if it were the exclusive domain of a technocratic state – monetising, commodifying and managing – rather than supporting communities to protect something which is at the heart of our national life.

As we develop our new manifesto, we will remember that for people whose experience is one of neglected parks, littered streets, dog waste and sheer ugliness. The feeling of abandonment this embodies is felt acutely and deeply each day, in the journey to work or to school.

More widely we will think about people’s relationship with nature. To fishing families in our coastal towns, our seas are not merely a nice to have, or a fish-mine to exploit and leave for dead. They hold the story of a shared past, and should also contain real hope for the future. The right and duty to fish them sustainably cannot be reduced to a trade-able commodity – and nor should tending to their health be the exclusive concern of Whitehall or Brussels.

And on the same premise, the case for tackling climate change must surely rest firmly on the risks it poses to our common good, to our homes and health, to our infrastructure and our businesses, to our wildlife, woods, rivers and gardens, as well as to those affected across the wider world.

Putting people and the places they live first provides a leaping off point for some really exciting ideas.

First, I am looking forward to working closely with Caroline Flint’s team as she develops Labour’s proposals for extending democratic engagement in the energy system – building on Labour’s energy price freeze. New opportunities for cities to establish their own generation companies, start-ups looking to crowd-sourced funding for clean energy projects, and street – by -street energy efficiency programmes delivered alongside training for young people, can all help to increase our energy security, engage people in the effort to reduce climate pollution, and ensure that we benefit as a people from harnessing indigenous energy supplies.

Secondly, I’ve heard some brilliant ideas about how environmental partnerships can create value in the local economy. Farmers, retailers, conservationists, schools, hospitals, water companies – all have a huge shared interest in building markets for local food that is produced sustainably and gives a fair wage to employees and fair price to growers. But to make this a reality, central Government will need to let go of some its control of centralised budget streams.

Thirdly, we must pay more attention to our green space. There is no question that pressure on local authority budgets is going to hit our parks hard. And that whilst there is a real appetite among conservation groups to help protect them, building the capacity to do so will not be easy, or instant. Moreover, suspicion of David Cameron’s Big Society is a barrier to many who might otherwise have welcomed a plan for shared responsibility.

Our Policy Review’s has a strong focus on devolving and sharing power and we believe this will increase capacity within communities. This is one of the key challenges for our whole programme of sharing power and renewing civic life, not just our policies on the environment. Following the Fabians’ report and with an eye on the excellent work done by Ruth Davis at Greenpeace, I am looking forward to suggestions from green groups as to how we build this popular environmentalism.

Jon Cruddas MP is leading Labour’s policy review. You can read the Fabian “Pride of Place” report here.

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  • gunnerbear

    This article is so full of it….

  • gunnerbear

    “To fishing families in our coastal towns, our seas are not merely a nice to have, or a fish-mine to exploit and leave for dead.”

    No, the boats that wrecked entire areas were massive Spanish ones – partly funded by payments to the EU from UK taxpayers that the EU then gave to the Spanish.
    Clearly yet another benefit of the UK being in the EU for the average UK worker.

  • gunnerbear

    “kick-starting an industrial revival through the clean technology sector ”

    What? More jobs manufacturing jobs were lost under Labour from 1997-2010 than under the previous govt.

    • PeterBarnard

      Not true, GB (“More manufacturing jobs were lost ….”)

      There were 7.2 million people employed in manufacturing in 1979, and 4.2 million in 1997.

      In 2010, there were 2.4 million employees in manufacturing.

      Job losses 1979-97 : 3 million ; job losses 1997-2010 : 1.8 million

      • gunnerbear

        Apologies, I framed the statement poorly:

        – the share of manufacturing jobs as part of the economy declined faster and further under Labour than in it did under the Conservative Party….

        “Manufacturing accounted for more than 20 per cent of the economy in 1997, when Labour came to power critical of the country having too narrow an industrial base. But by 2007, that share had declined to 12.4 per cent.

        Although the recession of the early 1980s dealt a permanent blow to the industrial heartlands, the relative devastation of manufacturing during the past 12 years has been almost three times faster.

        Manufacturing also bore the brunt of output losses in the most recent recession, sending its share of the economy lower, to a little over 11 per cent.

        The near halving of the importance of manufacturing to the economy over 12 years is in stark contrast to the reduction from 25.8 per cent to 22.5 per cent of output that occurred under the Conservative governments of the now Lady Thatcher…..”

        (“Manufacturing fades under Labour”, Chris Giles, Economics Editor, Financial Times, Dec. 2009)

        Apologies for the slack wording in the original post.

        • PeterBarnard

          Thanks, GB, and I apologise for not responding earlier.

          Mr Giles has a strange way of presenting things (“share of the economy”) ; a sector can grow, and its share of the economy can, at the same time, decrease.

          In the Conservative years 1979-1997, manufacturing as an economic activity actually grew by 12% (based on the Index of Production dataset produced by ONS), but other economic sectors grew by more, and manufacturing’s share of the total economy, therefore, did decline.

          You would never have guessed it from Mr Giles’ article that manufacturing also grew under Labour, up to 2008 Q1, albeit by a very modest 3.7%. Again, the rest of the economy grew by more, hence the declining share of the total economy.

          And then – the recession, precipitating a 10.6% fall in manufacturing output, by the time Labour left office. If Mr Giles wants to make comparisons, perhaps he should have drawn attention to the 17.3% fall in manufacturing output, between the 1979 election, and the depth of the recession in early 1981.

          Mr Giles also mentions the “importance of manufacturing in the economy,” which is a bit rich coming from a mainstream “conventional wisdom” economist.

          There is no particular virtue in manufacturing as an economic activity. The purpose of an economy is to supply the people with the goods and services that they need, and desire.

          Having said that, manufacturing does have a strategic value – if we don’t have sufficient manufacturing (and its handmaiden, design) skills, we won’t have the wherewithal to produce the necessary land, air and naval equipment when push comes to shove. This almost happened in steel production before the First World War – it was only the insistence of the Admiralty on 100% British manufactures for its warships, in the years before 1914, that maintained sufficient capacity, skills and knowledge in the indigenous industry to meet the challenges after August, 1914.

  • gunnerbear

    “the case for tackling climate change must surely rest firmly on the risks it poses to our common good….”

    The UK produces a tiny, yes tiny amount of ‘climate change pollution’ – if the UK shut down tomorrow (as many Greens and Lefties seem to want), the effect would be used up within about a week (if that given the BRIC economies desire for cheap, stable power)….

    ….so the author wants to kick UK manufacturing in the teeth, drive up energy bills and pile on useless ‘green regulations’ even as the rest of the world ignore us and hoover up the jobs were putting at risk.

    Perhaps given all the Green B*****ks the most eminent author is spouting, he could ask himself this, “Why did a major aluminium smelter leave the UK” and why is the TUC – yes the TUC – producing reports about the dangers of excessive ‘green regs’ and that expensive ‘green power’ hammers industry in the UK.

  • gunnerbear

    ” Farmers, retailers, conservationists, schools, hospitals, water companies – all have a huge shared interest in building markets for local food that is produced sustainably and gives a fair wage to employees and fair price to growers.”

    So that drives up the cost of food then. We can’t all shop for organic foods….of course if the author really wanted to make farming a UK business….well….you know, we could pull out of the CAP (drives everyone’s food bills up)…

    …but wait…oh no….you’ve guessed it…we’ll have to get out of the EU.

    So is the author saying that food prices should be higher or not?

  • gunnerbear

    “Thirdly, we must pay more attention to our green space.”

    Yep, we’ll need it for housing if the author also wants to see house prices drop. Or if he’s not too keen on using lots of green space, well he could also force owners of empty homes to get them back into use and reduce demand by reducing immigration.

    Ohhh….hell….he can’t cut immigration….the only way to do that….is yes….leave the EU and get our control of our borders back…..

    • JoeDM

      A futue Labour Government could always do what they did under Blair and Brown, and sell off school playing fields for housing.

  • David Lewis

    Is it unfair to suggest that the writing is on the wall?

    • gunnerbear

      Sorry DL, that’s a bit cryptic for me!

  • PoundInYourPocket

    I look back with nostalgia at the days when honest litter lay strewn along my street. That was before the central comittess of the main political parties started to hire “gurus”. First it was the Greens, then along came the Tories with their Big Society who pushed the Greens to one side. And now it’s Labour. No sooner has a crisp packet come to rest on the pavement than an army of politically motivated community litter pickers comes charging in, together with the pre-arranged local paper reporter. Litter has become the new political battle ground. I’m all for community action groups, but please, not as political tools.

  • EricBC

    The Environment and Labour’s home building policy

    At 10,000 people to the square mile (EU urban average) and a 250,000 homes per year when are you going to come up with a figure for the area of greenfield sites needed annually in the South-East over the next 30 years?

    How much should we build upwards and how much outwards? How many 40 storey tower blocks per year do you want in London and how how many square miles of countryside do you want covered in housing?

    What is Labour Party policy with regard to the density of new housing? How many homes to the square mile in built-up areas? And how many in the suburbs and smaller towns?

    No answer equals no policy.
    My calculations are that the South East requires around 90 square miles per year for new housing once the 250,000 figure is reached.

    Do you have any figures? Should you have figures? Should the Fabians have figures?

    • PeterBarnard

      Your figures are all over the place, EricBC.

      If you say that the SE alone needs 90 sq m a year to be urbanised, at an EU urban average of 10,000 people per sq m, then that means an additional population of 900,000 per year – in the SE alone.

      ONS is projecting a population increase of 10 million, 2012-37 : 400,000 a year – and that’s for the whole of the UK.

  • Tokyo Nambu

    “Farmers, retailers, conservationists, schools, hospitals, water companies – all have a huge shared interest in building markets for local food that is produced sustainably and gives a fair wage to employees and fair price to growers. ”

    It’s like having Marie Antoinette writing the manifesto, isn’t it? “If they can’t afford the food in Aldi, let them eat artisan sourdough from Borough market”.


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