"The fate of my country rests in your hands"

Today's highs and lows at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen

Talks have stalled in Copenhagen today, after the G77 nations pulled out of the debate to "avoid a train wreck at the end of the week". Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International, who works with the G77 nations, said: "Australia and Japan are crying foul while blocking movement on legally binding emissions reductions for rich countries. This tit-for-tat approach is no way to deal with the climate crisis."

The conflict is over the difficult issue of mitigation, the financing of emission reductions, and green development in developing countries. Developed countries are stalling in putting a figure on the table.

World leaders have started to roll in to Copenhagen today and the heightened tempo of the agreements is obvious outside the Bella Centre, where accredited negotiators, press and observers are facing four-hour queues to get in. The organisers of the summit have issued 35,000 passes for a centre with a maximum capacity of 15,000: not exactly a pillar of Danish efficiency.

As negotiations heat up, one of the main concerns among NGOs today focuses on the transparency of negotiations. Yesterday, a group of 48 country representatives met outside the conference. The meeting, known as the Green Room, was hosted by the COP presidency. Pablo Solón, Bolivian ambassador to the UN, said: "We are asking for a transparent, democratic, and inclusive process. It seems negotiators are living in the Matrix, while the real negotiation is taking place in the 'Green Room', in small stealth dinners with selective guests." There is a real sense of uncertainty among smaller nations. The threat of walkouts is constant and promises to provide continued drama during the week.

Yesterday, the Tuvalu delegate Ian Fry made an emotional speech to the conference, outlining the powerlessness that smaller states are beginning to feel. He addressed the summit president, Connie Hedegaard: "I am a humble and insignificant member of the government of Tuvalu . . . I woke this morning and I was crying, and that's not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands."

However, contrary to my earlier post, it's not all doom and gloom inside the centre. One of the most positive outcomes that this conference is set to achieve is in forest protection and reforestation, known as REDD. I talked to delegates from Gabon last night, who represent a country that is 80 per cent forested land and has the lowest rate of deforestation in the world. They were very positive about outcomes for a treaty to protect forests and forest communities.

Yesterday the REDD lobby succeeded in getting the signature of the governor of Amazonia and environmental economist Nicholas Stern as well as hundreds of others. Leaders are expected to use REDD to buy themselves time and carbon credit. But opposition to the movement comes from the Congo Basin and Papau New Guinea, which argue that developed nations will not commit to binding land-use regulation.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird: “Another week would have won us more seats”

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the shadow cabinet – and campaigning with Gordon Brown in his old constituency.

On the night of 8 June 2017, Lesley Laird, a councillor from Fife and the Labour candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, received a series of texts from another activist about the count. Then he told her: “You’d better get here quick.”

It was wise advice. Not only did Laird oust the Scottish National Party incumbent, but six days later she was in the shadow cabinet, as shadow Scottish secretary. 

“It is not just about what I’d like to do,” Laird says of her newfound clout when I meet her in Portcullis House, Westminster. “We have got a team of great people down here and it is really important we make use of all the talent.

“Clearly my role will be facing David Mundell across the dispatch box but it is also to be an alternative voice for Scotland.”

At the start of the general election campaign, the chatter was whether Ian Murray, Labour’s sole surviving MP from 2015, would keep his seat. In the end, though, Labour shocked its own activists by winning seven seats in Scotland (Murray kept his seat but did not return to the shadow cabinet, which he quit in June 2016.)

A self-described optimist, Laird is calm, and speaks with a slight smile.

She was born in Greenock, a town on the west coast, in November 1958. Her father was a full-time trade union official, and her childhood was infused with political activity.

“I used to go to May Day parades,” she remembers. “I graduated to leafleting and door knocking, and helping out in the local Labour party office.”

At around the age of seven, she went on a trip to London, and was photographed outside No 10 Downing Street “in the days when you could get your picture outside the front door”.

Then life took over. Laird married and moved away. Her husband was made redundant. She found work in the personnel departments of start-ups that were springing up in Scotland during the 1980s, collectively termed “Silicon Glen”. The work was unstable, with frequent redundancies and new jobs opening, as one business went bust and another one began. 

Laird herself was made redundant three times. With her union background, she realised workers were getting a bad deal, and on one occasion led a campaign for a cash settlement. “We basically played hardball,” she says.

Today, she believes a jobs market which includes zero-hours contracts is “fundamentally flawed”. She bemoans the disappearance of the manufacturing sector: “My son is 21 and I can see how limited it is for young people.”

After semiconductors, Laird’s next industry was financial services, where she rose to become the senior manager for talent for RBS. It was then that Labour came knocking again. “I got fed up moaning about politics and I decided to do something about it,” she says.

She applied for Labour’s national talent programme, and in 2012 stood and won a seat on Fife Council. By 2014, she was deputy leader. In 2016, she made a bid to be an MSP – in a leaked email at the time she urged Labour to prioritise “rebuilding our credibility”. 

This time round, because of the local elections, Laird had already been campaigning since January – and her selection as a candidate meant an extended slog. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Gordon Brown, who stood down as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2015.

“If you ever go out with Gordon, the doors open and people take him into their living room,” says Laird. Despite the former prime minister’s dour stereotype, he is a figure of affection in his old constituency. “People are just in awe. They take his picture in the house.”

She believes the mood changed during the campaign: “I do genuinely believe if the election had run another week we would have had more seats."

So what worked for Labour this time? Laird believes former Labour supporters who voted SNP in 2015 have come back “because they felt the policies articulated in the manifesto resonated with Labour’s core values”. What about the Corbyn youth surge? “It comes back to the positivity of the message.”

And what about her own values? Laird’s father died just before Christmas, aged 91, but she believes he would have been proud to see her as a Labour MP. “He and I are probably very similar politically,” she says.

“My dad was also a great pragmatist, although he was definitely on the left. He was a pragmatist first and foremost.” The same could be said of his daughter, the former RBS manager now sitting in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496