'Hoon is the real vandal'

UK Green Party leader Caroline Lucas gives her take on this week's runway protest by direct action g

Environment Secretary Ed Miliband should be careful what he wishes for. No sooner had he told the Guardian that more popular mobilisation on climate change was needed, than the activist group Plane Stupid kindly obliged.

Using tried and tested tactics from the book of non-violent civil disobedience to make their protests heard far and wide, campaigners took to the runway at Stansted first thing on Monday morning to protest about Ministers’ continuing inaction on the climate agenda.

With 52 cancelled flights, 57 arrests on the last count, and pole position on TV, nobody could say they were unaware of the group’s concerns, least of all the government.

However, the prime minister’s disingenuous response saying ‘everybody has a right to protest, but people also have a right to be able to travel without unnecessary hindrance” clearly shows which corporate lobbyist he remains most loyal to.

The decision to push ahead with the expansion of Stansted airport is environmental and economic madness, and Ed Miliband will need to prepare for many more such actions unless the government starts acting on the climate agenda with the urgency and ambition it requires.

Forget the much criticised “vandalism” of Plane Stupid. The real climate vandalism belongs to Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, who has been more than willing to brush aside the huge public opposition to the expansion of Stansted, not to mention the wishes of the local authorities.

It seems increasingly clear that peaceful direct action is fast emerging as the only way to focus the government’s attention on the climate challenge.

At Kingsnorth Climate Camp earlier this year, we gathered peacefully to register our disgust at the government’s ongoing commitment to coal. On the Campaign Against Climate Change’s Global Day of Action last weekend, we gathered to demand rapid changes to safeguard our environmental future. This week, Plane Stupid showed that those who care about our planet and its people will not be silenced.

With climate emissions from air travel at an all time high, the government is living in a fantasy land if it thinks it can allow aviation to grow at such an alarming rate, while also committing to significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

As one of the MEPs involved in the negotiations on the EU’s energy and climate package, I’ve seen at first hand – and watched in horror – as government leaders of EU member states, including our own, water down key elements of the package, which were never ambitious enough in the first place.

So it’s a bit rich of government ministers to suggest that politicians can’t make progressive climate policies in the absence of the popular mobilisations.

What we need from our politicians right now is genuine political leadership - and if Labour MPs can’t provide it, they should move out of the way and leave the job to the politicians, like the Greens, who can.

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, Green Party

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.