Labour “does not properly understand energy”, says GMB’s Gary Smith

Caitlin Prowle

GMB general secretary Gary Smith has told a party conference event that the Labour Party “does not properly understand energy”.

The event, organised by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) and the Dods Group, looked at the nuclear sector and its role in Labour Party policy-making.

Smith, who was elected as the new GMB general secretary earlier this year, said that “too much of the debate over energy has been hijacked by the renewables lobby”.

He added that, while Keir Starmer decides who leads on energy in the shadow cabinet, “people are too keen to play to the gallery and conference hall rather than doing their homework and studying what is a very complicated subject”.

The trade union leader complained that renewable energy is “not creating the jobs it was promised” and there are “real jobs in nuclear” yet Labour has been unwilling to engage with the opportunities it offers.

Smith was critical of the current Labour leadership, but he argued that the deteriorating relationship between the party and the nuclear sector started during the 2017 Copeland by-election.

Copeland, which is home to thousands of jobs in the nuclear industry and thousands more across the supply chain, was gained by the Tories following former Labour MP Jamie Reed’s resignation.

Conservative Party election material distributed during the by-election focused on the constituency’s reliance on nuclear and then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to new nuclear power stations.

Smith told the event that a Labour reliance on soundbites had failed to recognise the complexity of energy policy and led to a position that is “not credible” and “embarrassing”. GMB represents energy workers and has long called for more nuclear jobs.

Despite GMB’s concerns over a Green New Deal and other climate-based proposals, Keir Starmer’s recent Fabians pamphlet stated that Labour would “set ambitious targets to eliminate the substantial majority of carbon emissions by 2030”.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the NIA, agreed that Labour is “afraid” to talk about nuclear energy and the “high-skilled, well-paid jobs” provided through nuclear power stations.

He argued that nuclear can play its part in “economic, social and environmental justice” and that not only can it contribute towards net-zero targets, it also delivers jobs.

Greatrex made the case that a new nuclear power station could support two generations of workers, and investing in nuclear would be a powerful contribution to a green industrial revolution.

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols said that a commitment to jobs in the nuclear sector should be part of the conversation about winning back the so-called ‘Red Wall’. Nuclear should be “something to be proud not ashamed of” for Labour, she added.

Labour conference was presented with two Green New Deal motions this week. One was supported by the campaign group Labour for a Green New Deal and the other by GMB, after the compositing meeting did not reach a consensus on a singe policy.

The GMB-backed GND motion committed Labour to nuclear power and “green gas”, while the version submitted to conference by most local parties did not. The GMB proposal went to a card vote after a show of hands was inconclusive. Both passed.

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