Ed Miliband addressing Labour Party Conference as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in 2009. Photo: Getty
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Leading on climate change must form an essential part of Labour’s foreign policy

It's one of the biggest political issues we have ever faced.

The context of the foreign policy of the next Labour Government will differ significantly from the last. With the drawdown from Afghanistan, for the first time in over decade the UK’s role in the world will not be primarily defined by a prolonged military engagement. As Ukraine and Syria show, international flashpoints are never far away, but with substantially reduced armed forces and the need to reflect on experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, the question will be where and how should the UK focus our considerable influence and resources?

One of the answers must certainly be in the UK leading international action to tackle climate change. Today’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays bare the scale of the task – climate change is already happening, it is set to get much worse, and there will be profound consequences for the UK and the world if action to mitigate it is not stepped up now.

The Paris Conference in December 2015 will therefore be a global summit of huge importance. It will provide an opportunity for the world’s leaders to reach agreement on a legally-binding treaty to ensure we have the ability to prevent a global temperature rise above 2 degrees. The success of this conference is vital, and the UK – under the leadership of Prime Minister Ed Miliband – could be pivotal in making that happen.

Much is made of the influence and diplomatic clout provided by the UK’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council, or as a principal nuclear power, but the influence and goodwill generated on the world stage by being in the vanguard of tackling climate change should not be underestimated. As the first country in the world to pass binding legislation to tackle emissions the UK has a great deal of credit in the bank – credit that, unfortunately, is beginning to be eroded by the increasingly agnostic view of the Coalition Government. Labour must restore and build on that.

What would success look like? An agreement that includes for the first time all of the major emitters and which contains quantified mitigation commitments and legally binding rules, including short commitment periods and regular reviews to avoid lock-in to low ambition. It will also need to address issues of finance, deforestation and climate adaptation. Many people worry that such a treaty is too difficult to achieve given the unlikelihood of any US President persuading the Senate to ratify an international treaty. But over the last year, under President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, there has been a fundamental shift in US attitudes to climate change. Though declining to ratify many treaties the US often does comply and the possibility exists for the US to take on commitments by Executive Order under the already ratified UNFCC Convention. It can also introduce new policies under the existing Clean Air Act even if new domestic legislation is currently difficult to achieve. The attitude of the US and what it does will invariably impact on the approach that China takes, but we should recognise that climate change, and related issues around air quality and environmental degradation, are issues that China’s leaders take extremely seriously.

The politics of this will naturally be challenging. Many perceive a conflict between addressing climate change and ensuring economic growth, or are concerned about the impact of low-carbon generation on the affordability of energy. But for the UK this agenda also represents an enormous opportunity for the future – we should remember that the green economy is one of the few areas where the UK currently has a positive balance of trade with China. It also brings with it a host of related benefits in terms of energy security, better housing, and greater sustainability for business. For countries where this will be more of a burden, however, the UK should use its considerable international aid resources to assist with their transition.

For a safe and prosperous future, and for a chance to engage a new generation in one of the biggest political issues we have ever faced, leading on climate change and the Paris Conference must form an essential part of Labour’s foreign policy during the next Government.

Jonathan Reynolds is the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde and a Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change.

Jonathan Reynolds is Labour/Coop MP for Stalybridge and Hyde and Chair of Christians on the Left.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.