“This is the DNA of Labour: green and fair” – Miliband’s green recovery speech

© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband this morning on his vision for a green economic recovery.

I am glad to be doing this speech as part of Labour’s 2021 election campaign. As a country we have been through a year of trauma, pain and loss. In this crisis, we have seen the best of the British people. But we have also seen how the way our country is run has fallen far short of that spirit—from the state of our welfare safety net to our public services to the pay of our key workers. That is why as Keir Starmer has said, we want to go back to normal but we cannot just return to business as usual. The battleground in politics in the years ahead is this fight for the future and who can rise to the challenge of rebuilding our country in a way that tackles the insecurities and inequalities we face and which matches who we really are. At the heart of that fight for the future is the climate emergency.

My argument today is this: first, the climate emergency is a daunting threat and the scale of change we need is enormous. But it is solvable. Second, we must meet this challenge in a way that addresses the deep inequalities and insecurities we face, creating a fairer society, not baking in unfairness. Third, I do not believe the Conservatives can secure the transition we need because they don’t fundamentally get the role of government, to make the transition happen and make it happen fairly. Fourth, I will set out today how the approach we need can meet the moment for both workers and consumers in a crucial sector of our economy—the automotive industry— a litmus test of whether we can plan a greener fairer future or not.

So first, we know we are in the decisive decade when it comes to the climate emergency. The science tells us that the actions we take as a country and a world between now and 2030 will be defining for generations to come. And while climate change can often sound like an abstract threat, it isn’t. In my constituency in Doncaster in 2019, we saw floods which led to thousands of families being evacuated and hundreds of homes being flooded, often for the second time in barely a decade. An event which was characterised as a ‘1 in 100’ year happening, occurring twice in 12 years. You can’t imagine the pain, loss and heartache of being flooded out of your home until you have experienced it—or been with those who have.

Climate change is not some future crisis. It is here now. And it will get worse if we do not act. And it will be those who can least afford it who will be hit the hardest. That’s why tackling the climate threat is central to building a fairer society. And just as we need to act internationally together at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November, so too here at home. That takes me to my second point: The need to tackle the climate threat in a way that addresses inequalities and creates a fairer country.

As we rise to this challenge as a country and as a world, we will have to transform many of the things we do. The way we travel and the cars we drive. The way we heat our homes. The way we use our land. The way we power our country. That sounds daunting and it is. Nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of the task we face. Yet there is something absolutely crucial so often missed in this debate. As we go about making this transformation, it forces us to think about what kind of country and economy we have now – and what kind of country and economy we want to have in the future.

This green transformation could make us a fairer country; creating good, secure, jobs wherever people live; cleaning up the air we breathe and tackling air pollution; protecting nature and giving people access to the green spaces we have all valued so much during lockdown; ensuring everyone has a warm home with affordable energy bills, and helping to tackle the deep inequalities we face between our regions. All of these issues can and must be tackled as we confront the climate threat. What we cannot do is put a green coat of paint on our unequal, insecure economy.

For Labour, tackling these injustices is the absolutely central mission we face when it comes to the climate emergency. As we transform our economy, we need to do so in a way that makes it fairer, more equal, more just. And we must ensure we do not bake in unfairness; by failing to protect workers and to invest in skills; by failing to back our manufacturing businesses and supporting them to decarbonise or imposing unfair financial burdens on people across the country. As an MP in Doncaster, I know the dangers of an unplanned transition. We saw it in the closure of the pits by the Tories in the 1980s. It still scars our country today.

We cannot have the government repeat that mistake again. We cannot let working people pay the price of the government’s failure to put fairness at the heart of the fight against climate change. Every worker whose job might change and every consumer who may face change has got to be at the centre of our concerns. This is most certainly not an argument against taking action because failing to act on climate would be a betrayal of this and future generations. But we must make sure that we have the idea of fairness and equity at the heart of the change we bring. This is the DNA of Labour: Green and fair. Green and red together.

What about the Tories? It is good that they acknowledge the threat of climate change. They are not climate deniers. But after over a decade in power, they have shown they are not up to the task of the transformation we need. Their own advisors the climate changes committee say they are well off track from meeting their legally binding climate targets. The government is good at the rhetoric, the reality not so much. Take their ten-point plan. As the government’s own industrial strategy council said on Tuesday – it is “not yet a practical roadmap for delivering Net Zero…” So not a plan, but a list. Secondly, the list is already falling apart. The flagship policy was the green homes grant for home insulation. It was privatised and outsourced, as we have become accustomed to under this government. It has been a fiasco, installers not paid, homeowners unable to get grants, and rather than fix it, they are cutting £1bn from it. Thirdly and most importantly, their list comes nowhere close to the scale of ambition we need.

At this moment when the country is crying out for a green economic recovery because of the jobs crisis and the climate crisis, they have flunked the test. President Biden is developing a plan to invest as much as $3 trillion over the next ten years in clean energy and infrastructure. France and Germany have committed tens of billions of euros over the next two years including in hydrogen, electric vehicle battery development and retrofitting homes. In the ten-point plan, the UK has pledged just a tiny fraction of that. PWC says we need £40bn of public and private investment each and every year over the next decade to get back on track for net zero. The government’s proposals offer barely that amount over the next ten years put together. And then they add insult to injury, by equivocating about whether a coal mine in Cumbria might be the answer for jobs in the future. As if this is a substitute for the long term investment in green manufacturing jobs, including in steel, automotive and aerospace.

But if the Conservatives recognise the climate threat, the question is why are they not acting as required Fundamentally it’s because they are not willing to accept the central, active role of government at the scale we need. The Chancellor has acted in the crisis to rescue businesses—with big gaps, but he has acted. But for him and the Business Secretary this seems to offer no lessons about the role of government and private sector and the need to work together to take on the future challenges we face. Indeed, they are going backwards.

They have torn up the commitment to an industrial strategy. Years of work by local leaders and businesses contemptuously chucked in the bin. The industrial strategy council abolished. Just at the time, that we need government, business and unions working together to rebuild our country, to develop a plan for the future. We profoundly disagree. And so does British business. As Tony Danker, CBI director general put it a few weeks ago: “Build Back Better is easy to say but it is much harder to do. It needs a vision, a plan and a consensus as a nation to pursue it.” So the government’s approach is not an accident. It’s what they believe. The Business Secretary has written contemptuously of the “false belief in the value of industrial policy” based on a “sense of entitlement” in our country.

They believe the market, mainly on its own, can solve the problems we face. But the climate challenge is so great, so urgent, so profound, this will not work. The risk of the Conservative approach is that they won’t take the action equal to the threat. They will squander the opportunities of the green transition. And what’s more, because of their faith in the market, they risk the transition being unfair to workers and consumers. The climate transition will bring big change. Government is the essential instrument to ensure the benefits and burdens of that change are fairly shared and if you are sceptical about the role of government, and they most certainly are, you will never achieve the transformation to a fairer, more equal economy.

So what would Labour do differently? It starts with the call we made last November for a £30bn green stimulus to be brought forward to create 400,000 jobs across the country – the first step in a green new deal. There are so many jobs that need doing. Manufacturing jobs across our country; jobs in creating the green spaces we need, not just tackling the climate emergency but the nature and biodiversity crisis; jobs insulating homes; jobs building infrastructure in our towns and cities for walking and cycling; jobs building the flood defences our country needs, to protect places like Doncaster; jobs installing the digital networks part of a green economy; jobs that could tackle the unemployment crisis, particularly facing young people and set us on the right path for the green transition and tackle the deep inequalities we face.

Today, I want to focus on one specific area where this investment is essential—our automotive sector. Our car industry is a vital test of how we manage the green transition. This industry is essential to our country and rightly a source of huge national pride. It matters so much to so many communities. It matters to every part of the country in the supply chain jobs it provides. Thanks to the actions of the Labour government after the last financial crisis, and the development at speed of an industrial strategy, the car industry has thrived. But it has faced massive challenges as a result of Covid. It faces ongoing challenges from Brexit. And it faces a profound transition with the need to take more than 30 million petrol and diesel cars off the road.

Labour urged the government to do the right thing and accelerate the date for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030. It’s the right thing to do on climate grounds. But the government seems to think that is mostly job done. They are so wrong. You cannot impose a massive transition on an industry from Whitehall and then wash your hands of it. It is not fair. It will damage our manufacturers. And it will mean we don’t take advantage of the huge opportunities for the industry, which – with the right support – could secure its place as the world-leader in the electric vehicle market. It is estimated we will need seven battery gigafactories to be up and running by 2040. If we build those gigafactories, the Faraday Institution estimates almost 80,000 new jobs will be created. If we do not, they say we could see more than 100,000 jobs lost.

So there are massive opportunities for us as a country. But there are risks. And we are significantly behind where we need to be if we are to deliver this transition—and do so in a fair way. Though I welcome it, just one gigafactory is so far in the works. And on the issue of fairness, low income families are all too often priced out of electric vehicle ownership. You are four times more likely to own an electric car if you live in the South East, compared to the North East. It’s far easier for those in London to charge their car than it is for someone in Yorkshire, the North West and the Midlands. So the government’s approach is in danger of baking in unfairness – between families with more money, and those with less. And between the North and the South.

The bright future we want cannot happen if the government doesn’t act. It can only happen if it accepts an active role in partnership with the private sector. Government, business and unions together. With a proper industrial strategy. Green and fair, facilitated by government. Labour would invest for that future. We are calling on the government to kick start the development of three additional gigafactories in this Parliament, by investing £1.5bn, more than triple the £400m current funding available. Government should be willing to take an equity stake in these gigafactories so it gets the upside benefit. It’s time to recognise it is an investment, not simply a subsidy. City regions could be part owners or the National Infrastructure Bank. The government says that Britain and the world are in a “competitive age.” We agree. We are in a global race on electric vehicle production. So why are we still stuck in first gear?

Second, we need to make electric vehicle ownership affordable for people with lower incomes not just the better off. While the lifetime cost of an electric car will soon be less than the lifetime cost of a petrol and diesel car, that doesn’t solve the upfront cost problem. The government are cutting the plug in grant and increasingly leaving it to the market. That means the richest will be ok, but everyone else won’t. That fails the climate fairness test. For the minicab driver who relies on their car for work and is thinking the price of an electric car is simply out of their reach. For the commuter who relies on their car but is also worried about being priced out.

That’s why we propose two interventions: A loan scheme to meet the upfront cost problem head on. By providing a long-term interest free loan, we enable people to better afford the upfront cost and then as they recoup the savings from the lower running costs of the electric vehicles, pay it back. They win by being able to go electric, we all win by cutting air pollution and accelerating the green transition and stimulating the market. We propose these loans are available for second hand electric cars too. And also, we propose a scrappage scheme for one year initially to make it possible for people who want to trade in their old cars.

Thirdly, we need to tackle the problem of charging points. The current approach is not doing enough to put them in the right places. So we should invest in accelerating the roll-out of charging points, tackling the regional disparity the government is baking in. To make it easy – wherever you live – to drive an electric vehicle. We propose to give a mandate to the national infrastructure bank to do this. So this is our initial plan, a down payment on further action: three new, additional gigafactories funded this parliament; help for consumers so the transition is fair; action on charging points to tackle the regional divide; altogether more than doubling the investment in the automotive sector, competing with Germany and others; allowing British manufacturers to lead in electric vehicles and sell them to the world; a green transition which secures the industry’s future, creates jobs across the country, cuts air pollution and is fair for all; and of course, we need action also to sort out our privatised rail system, the scandal of the deregulated bus network and improve walking and cycling.

This example of what we can do in automotive is just the start. The same is true of so many of our manufacturing industries, including our steel and aerospace industries. There is a positive future to be written for our communities up and down the country. But it won’t happen by accident. It won’t happen if we leave it to the market. It won’t happen if we don’t think big and boldly. It won’t happen under the Conservatives.

Let me say this finally. The climate threat is huge and it is daunting. We are already feeling its encroachment upon us. But it is solvable. The limits we face are not mainly technical but of imagination and political will. This must be the battleground of politics in the years ahead. The next election must be a climate election because the stakes are so high. And if the Conservatives too want the next election to be a climate election, I say bring it on. We look forward to fighting it out as to who can serve our country best on these issues. Who can really tackle our injustices and inequalities as we make the green transition? We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do so. And we also owe it to ourselves for the better, fairer, more just, greener world we can create today.

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