Climate politics: the many versus the few. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Tories stand up for the privileged few on climate change

The Tory lurch to the right has shattered the cross-party consensus on climate change policy

This week has seen a major shift in the politics of climate change. Where there was once consensus there is now a struggle between the many who want climate action and the privileged few who want to preserve the status quo.

David Cameron’s former environment secretary Owen Paterson wants to rip up the Climate Change Act 2008. Since his speech on Wednesday not a single Conservative minister has come out to say that they disagree. The lack of protest suggests that repealing the act would be policy under a Conservative majority in 2015.

No one should be in any doubt that Owen Paterson speaks for the majority view in the Conservative party. Three quarters of Conservative party MPs don’t agree with the scientific consensus on climate change. David Cameron is the Prime Minister who went from leading the "greenest Government ever" to ditching the "green crap".

The Committee on Climate Change – the government’s own independent advisers have warned that the UK under David Cameron are likely to miss the carbon targets the last Labour government committed us to meeting. The Tory-led government failed to set a 2030 decarbonisation target. They’ve held back green growth and jobs by refusing to give the Green Investment Bank any borrowing powers. They even removed flood protection from the priorities of the environment department when Owen Paterson was in charge.

The loss of the all-party consensus achieved to legislate for emission reductions caused by the Tory lurch to the right is bad news for those who wish to tackle climate change. It must make Labour even more determined to be resolute in reducing emissions.

Our food, our water, the air we breathe – the future of our planet as climate change threatens – nothing could be more important than these things for our generation – and for our children and their children too. These are the people that the Labour party stands up for. They are the many who Ed Miliband stood up for when he brought the Climate Change Act into legislation and it’s why he’s put climate change at the heart of his vision for the new economy.

The Conservative party only stand up for the privileged few who deny that climate change is even happening. The vested interests who want to preserve the old economy that can’t work for ordinary people or the planet. It was against these interests that hundreds of thousands of people marched on the streets of the world’s capital cities last month in support of climate action.

That’s why the next election will be the most important for a generation. We need a government that will take climate change and the environment seriously. That can only be a Labour government led by Ed Miliband that champions the green agenda to build a cleaner, greener economy for the many not the few.

Maria Eagle MP is Labour MP for Garston and Halewood and shadow environment secretary

Maria Eagle is the shadow secretary of state for defence and Labour MP for Garston and Halewood

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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