Slim Sustainability Pickings from UK Political Leaders
Every year I sift through the leaders’ speeches at the UK political party conferences so you don’t have to. My theory is that, no matter what is discussed in the rest of the conference, the content of the leader’s speech shows just how much of a priority is put upon green policies. Last year, I concluded the content was disappointing, this year makes that look like a low carbon bonanza. All the conferences were dominated by one word – Brexit – and most of the party leaderships where in something of a state of flux, but still, this was poor stuff. Here goes:
I honestly can’t say, because I missed the speeches, there is no text on-line that I can find, and, most importantly, at the time of writing no-one knows who, if anyone, is the party leader as newly anointed Diane James has just quit. Next!
You might think the Green Party would be the exception to the Brexit obsession, but you’d be wrong. Newly elected/re-elected co-leaders (very Green Party) Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas gave a joint and wide ranging speech, but one which spent a lot of time on Brexit and electoral reform. A Green Industrial Strategy was promised but its contents were not spelt out beyond a commitment to community energy and “no fracking, no nuclear, no compromise”.
At the current rate of change of British political leaders, Tim Farron is, relatively speaking, an old hand. Whereas the Lib Dems normally revel in their ‘mango’ policies (green on the outside, orange in the middle, as opposed to the Greens’ watermelons who said to be red in the middle), Farron only gave sustainability 3 mentions: the role of the EU in fighting climate change, a broad commitment green future and a jibe at the Conservatives’ attitude to green subsidies.
The Labour Party conference was dominated by the ongoing war between the party’s MPs on the one side and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his fanbase in the party membership on the other. As with Farron, Corbyn limited his references to sustainability issues to three passing comments, claiming the UK was lagging behind Germany and the US on renewable technology (not sure about the veracity of the latter), the impact of Brexit on environmental protection, and a broader mention of the need to tackle climate change.
New Prime Minister Theresa May gave a debut speech which veered widely across the political spectrum from left to right and from liberal to authoritarian. But the only environmental issue mentioned was a commitment to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. At least it was a concrete commitment, but there was no bigger vision for a low carbon future.
Update 17 October 2016 : SNP leader Nicola Surgeon made no Sustainability reference that I could find in the transcript of her conference speech.
Other issues of note
Given the paucity of substance from the leaders, I thought I’d look further down the bill in each conference:
- Greg Clark, Conservative Business Minister said “Our global leadership in combating climate change now presents us with a massive opportunity to enjoy industrial success as we put clean energy at the heart of our industrial future.”
- For Labour, shadow minister Barry Gardiner said “We will consult with our colleagues in industry and the Trade Unions about the best way to transition our energy industry to create the vital jobs and apprenticeships we are going to need for the UK’s low-carbon future.” although he ran headlong into a fight with the GMB Union by promising to ban fracking.
- The Lib Dems passed a motion on investing in the Green Economy, promising to “improve the efficiency of resource use and decarbonise the economy, which will help create high skills, high value-added industries able to compete in the new global markets for low-carbon and resource-efficient products, technologies and services, and create jobs throughout the country.” Another passed motion laid out plans for zero carbon transport.
So, I suppose sustainability was there at the conferences, but has had to take a back seat across the spectrum of leaders’ speeches due to the shock and awe fallout from the Brexit vote (whenever the Greens don’t talk much about environmental issues, you know something is up). Ho hum. There’s always next year!
Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats and an elected Councillor