Tuesday 12 December 2017

Just How Green is Labour These Days?

Labour’s shadow Business and Energy Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, wrote a piece in Monday’s Guardian titled ‘No more green rhetoric. A sustainable future is vital and possible.’ The headline is a reference to the Tory government’s, talk green, act anything other than green, the so called ‘green crap’ that the Tories dropped after getting elected to power. I must admit that I had a small chuckle when first reading the headline, thinking that Labour had finally seen the light.

The piece talks about international climate agreements, particularly the 2015 Paris agreement on carbon reduction, but most sober assessments are that this is too little and too reliant on non existent technology like carbon sequestration. Renewable energy projects are flagged up as being part of Labour’s industrial strategy, which is pretty similar in many ways to the Green Party’s ‘green new deal.’

The piece concludes by supporting Green MP Caroline Lucas and other MPs calling for the MPs pension fund to divest from fossil fuel investments, very Guardian like. Long-Bailey also mentions the part nationalisation of the UK energy market, but with John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor’s thinking in mind, not of the old variety. She writes:

‘Labour plans to achieve this mission by transforming our energy system by taking parts back into public control and exploring how we can ensure greater local control of energy generation and supply.’

This is a good aspiration, but no further detail is given here as to what was in Labour’s ten point plan released in the summer of 2016. They must be still ‘exploring’ I guess. The easiest way to do this, although community based initiatives are preferable, would be to encourage local government to set up energy companies which had community renewable energy input as a part. This is very different from localised, community owned, autonomous networks, that an ecosocialist perspective promotes, but is a step in the right direction.

This aside, I do get the impression that it is a kind of big state solution, despite some of the warm words about improving democracy locally and regionally in the ten point plan, there is no specific mention of decentralisation, with off shore wind power being promoted. There is no mention of nuclear power either, anywhere in Long-Bailey’s piece. Since she doesn’t rule it out, I can only assume nuclear power is part of the energy supply policy. How you could make that ‘locally controlled’ is a mystery, and is of course not going to happen.

There are some green thinkers who have come around to the idea of nuclear power as a solution to man-made carbon induced climate change, George Monbiot and James Lovelock for example. But most greens do not support the idea, it is dangerous, costly and still needs the raw uranium, which is finite, and burns fossil fuels in the extraction and transportation process. 

The wider Labour industrial plan is productivist in nature and intended to increase economic growth, it is a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s kind of approach. Ecosocialism, and any serious thinking about green issues, takes into account the idea that never ending economic growth is incompatible with sustainable ecology. Most Green Party members, I think, from whatever wing of the party they are from, understand this. Greens don't measure well-being by GDP figures, for example. I’m not sure Labour understands this in the same way.

I’m not saying I would expect ecosocialism on day one from a Corbyn government, or indeed a Green government, and the state is needed to push us in the right direction, and this plan does a little bit. But I worry whether this is just a bolt on policy, to appeal to green minded voters, as is often the case when left parties think about environmental matters? I do get a ‘statist’ feel about this plan overall too, which is not the green approach.

I’m not necessarily knocking Labour’s intentions entirely here, but we need a lot more detail on the specifics, before I’ll be satisfied that this is not just the usual ‘rhetoric’ of a political party trying to win an election by broadening its appeal in a green direction.


  1. Inspite of some nice sounding rhetoric (from a Green pov) by McDonnell and Corbyn at times, Labour seems to still treat the 'environment' as a bolt-on, not the central organising idea for all other policies, which is what it should be.

  2. Labour is still stuck in the centrally managed political and economic system
    That's why they are against electoral reform here in the UK
    It's much better to promote a two party system
    Tory gets into power and blames Labour for the problems
    Then Labour gets into power and blames the Tories for the problems
    And nothing ever changes...

  3. Is labour going to ditch its support for aviation expansion? I fear not. But eco-scialists need to continue to press Labour to require that luxury activities like flying be made carbon neutral.