A chance missed or an opportunity to gain?

On the question of an English parliament, Labour has a critical choice to make.

What's happening? Is democracy for England trying to reassert itself?

In the past few months, and especially since the general election, a number of Labour MPs have talked openly about a new politics for England. Now David Miliband and Jon Cruddas have gone public about what the public in England has known for some time: that Labour, in its love affair with multinationalism and its rushing through of devolution, had forgotten England and English needs. Most people accept it was Labour that created the current unstable and unbalanced Union of nations laughably still called the United Kingdom.

As we await Labour's new dawn, the question has to be whether the party is willing to correct this -- or will it become a marginalised pressure group within the UK, with only Welsh and Scottish interests at the party's heart? The party needs to rediscover itself in England, as England is home to 55 million people and is the power base for establishing real change and influence within our group of nations and Europe. In short, Labour needs England.

Devolution didn't just fail England; it failed the UK and all the nations within her. The future in England could easily be Labour's if it tackles this subject. We all know that democratic accountability has to be protected and the current situation has to change. Labour's denial of this situation will rob us all of stability and democratic cohesion.

With Labour out of government, the party now has the perfect opportunity to take over the Conservative ground of expressing English concerns. What's to say that if more Labour MPs started to engage in meaningful debate on the subject the people of England wouldn't embrace them and the party again?

The coalition, or potentially the new evolving "Liberal Conservative Party, has failed to capitalise on this new public awareness and mood. Nick Clegg's focus is more towards voting reform, and for him, constitutional reform for England is on the back burner. He said as much at Hay-on-Wye when he rejected out of hand the need for an English parliament.

What Clegg fails to realise is that he now speaks for a government which includes traditional conservatives, and yet this group of conservatives procrastinates about what to do or say. A wiser Labour Party can step in, not so quietly, and take up the baton for English democracy.

If Labour waits too long, the procrastination will end and the party's opportunity will be missed when the Conservatives establish a clear mandate for England. Labour needs to be brave, because along with the public having had enough of empty words and MPs' expenses scandals, the wounds of partial devolution have cut deep.

It will be interesting to see which of the leadership contenders takes up the baton and expresses England's mood, because finding the courage to do so might win not just the leadership race, but also win back the people of England. It's easy to forget that the Liberal Democrats finished third in the elections and didn't have much English support.

Many academics are privately saying that the referendum on AV will fail, because the public wants simple solutions to restore political faith and AV isn't understood or wanted. A federal system is a much simpler solution to restoring political faith and it gives long-term stability for the future of the UK.

Let Labour boldly campaign for English democracy and the party may be resurgent far earlier than pundits expect.

Eddie Bone is a council member of the cross-party Campaign for an English Parliament.

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Did Titantic do more for climate change than Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary?

Sex, icebergs and individual plight: the actor’s earlier outing teaches us more about vast disasters than his new docufilm about global warming’s impact, Before the Flood.

“Now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me . . . in every way that a person can be saved.” Or did he? For Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio, there is one way in which Jack never did rescue Rose: from the threat of climate catastrophe. 

Over the last 15 years, DiCaprio has made the issue a personal mission. Yet even in his role as UN climate ambassador, he stills feels far from heroic:

“If the UN really knew how I feel, how pessimistic I am about our future . . . I mean to be honest, they may have picked the wrong guy.”

So begins his new documentary, Before the Flood. A quest for answers on climate change, the film sees Leo racing around the world, marvelling at the sound of endangered whales, despairing at the destruction caused by tar-sands – “it looks like Mordor” – and interviewing a series of concerned experts, from professors to Barack Obama to the Pope.

There are plenty of naysayers to stand in his way and put him down. “Who better to educate world leaders on made-up climate change and a crisis that doesn't exist, than an actor with zero years of scientific training?” mocks one commentator from Fox News.

But if DiCaprio can gather enough evidence to believe in himself – AND believe that there are viable solutions out there – then so can we. Or so the story arc promises. His journey thus stands as a guide for our own; a self-education that will lead to salvation for all. 

It's all a little messianic. The film is even named after a biblical painting. And will those who don't already know who DiCaprio is even care? 

The sad fact is that, while DiCaprio’s lasting popularity still owes so much Titanic, the 1997 box-office smash that made his name, his new documentary fails to recapture the dramatic wisdom that put him there. It doesn’t even quip about the icebergs.

This is an oversight. Titanic didn’t win 11 academy awards for nothing. As well as a must-see rite of passage (pun intended) and soundtrack for infinite school discos, it taught me something invaluable about storytelling. Though I was not initially a DiCaprio fan, over the years I’ve come to accept that my lasting love of the film is inseparable from my emotional investment in Leo, or at least in his character, Jack. What Titanic showed so brilliantly was that the fastest way to empathise with suffering on a vast scale – be it a sinking ship or a sinking planet – is to learn to care for the fate of one or two individuals involved.

Every part of Jack and Rose's story is thus intimately linked with the story of the ship. Even that famed sex scene gains its erotic force not from the characters alone, but from their race through the blazing engine room (situated as it is between the foreplay of the naked portrait and the famous post-coital ending in the back of the cab).

And such carefully crafted storytelling isn't only essential to great entertainment but to great activism too. It can literally inspire action – as evidenced by fans’ desperate attempts to prove that both Jack and Rose could have climbed to safety aboard the floating piece of wood.

So would Before the Flood have been better if it had been a little bit more like Titanic and less like An Inconvenient Truth? Yes. And does that mean we should make climate films about epic polar bear love stories instead? Not exactly. 

There are many powerful documentaries out there that make you emotionally invested in the lives of those experiencing the consequences of our indirect (fossil fuel-burning) actions. Take Virunga, a heart-wrenching insight into the struggle of those protecting eastern Congo’s national park.

Sadly, Before the Flood is not one of them. Its examples of climate change – from Beijing air pollution to coral reef destruction – are over-familiar and under-explored. Instead of interviewing a Chinese official with a graph on his iPad, I would have preferred visiting a solar-panel factory worker and meeting their family, who are perhaps suffering from the effects of the smog in a way I can't yet imagine.

If you want a whistlestop tour of all things climate change then this necessary and urgent film is the movie for you. But those hoping it will give new depth to climate activism will be disappointed.

DiCaprio's distant relationship with the effects of climate change leave him stranded at the level of a narrator. He makes for a great elderly Rose, but we need a Jack.

Before The Flood is in limited theatres from 21 October and will be shown on National Geographic on Sunday 30 October.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.