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Green policy can unite Labour and recover our reputation in our heartlands

Labour's environmental policy offers a virtuous circle around which we can gather our forces and argue the case for a Labour government in deindustrialised communities. 

By Bill Esterson

It’s true what our parents told us – greens are good for us. It is Labour’s green policies which can deliver electoral success, too. They can bring back our base and help save our planet at the same time.

In the valleys of Wales, the ports around our coasts, the pit villages of the North of England and in the former manufacturing heartlands of the Midlands, we have seen decades of Tory policies fail those people whose natural vote lay with Labour. Yet many of those same people turned away from Labour last month. There are many reasons we are not now in government – trust, leadership, strategy and Brexit were all issues in this election, but we have to be honest with ourselves. We were not clear enough in what we said to communities that would have benefited from what we were proposing.

The kind of better future that so many people want, the hope that eludes working people in de-industrialised Britain is available if we want to pursue it. The Green New Deal offers a virtuous circle around which we can gather our forces and argue the case for a Labour government. We sold the policy to our members and to climate change campaigners, but we did not present a vision of a more prosperous Britain to the areas we lost. We are not facing facts if we claim otherwise.

A plan which delivers jobs and prosperity in new, low carbon industries can unite us, differentiate us from our opponents and offer a new chapter for a winning manifesto. We must begin that work now, building on the framework already in place, which was developed by my shadow ministerial colleague, Alan Whitehead and his advisers.

That means demonstrating the potential for investment in a new generation of high-skilled, well paid jobs using new technology and maximising the economic opportunity of taking radical climate action. We can and we must rebuild and redesign our economy to respond to the threat of climate change. Our planet is on fire, and Boris Johnson is content to keep fiddling.

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Our future offer must be about generating jobs in making electric cars, providing a massive increase in battery production and recycling, making homes energy efficient, boosting wind energy capacity and developing new industries like tidal energy such as the plans for a tidal barrage in the River Mersey.

The boost to the economy of our green industrial revolution, can and will deliver the revenues to pay for better health, education and police. It can be central to our regional policy targeting those towns and villages which lack high technology employers.

Our green industrial revolution and the Green New Deal are excellent plans for the transformation of our economy in a sustainable way – but we must sell our ideas in a way which resonates.

We have to ensure people believe that investing for the long term at a much larger scale is economically as well as environmentally literate. We have offer hope that these jobs really can be created and that Labour in power is crucial to this happening.

There are role models available to us. Norway made the decision to switch to electric cars by 2025 by changing its tax system so it is now financially advantageous to buy electric. The result? Most new cars in Norway are already electric. It must be possible for us to make transformative changes of our own in transport, energy, housing and agriculture.

Developing new industries at home offers opportunities for international trade as well as domestic. With technology in areas like off-grid wind and tidal energy or hydrogen for buses, lorries and to replace diesel trains, our Green New Deal can help the developing world as well as generating export revenues from other developed countries.

To maximise the benefits of trade, we need good trading relationships with our nearest neighbours. A Green New Deal and co-operation on climate action go hand in hand with close economic and environmental ties and standards with the EU and other partners around the world. The Green New Deal can help create domestic economic justice, global environmental justice and justice in international trade.

Labour has five years before an election, but the planet won’t wait that long. The news over the holiday period was dominated by stories of unprecedented bush fires in Australia, record losses of ice at both poles and unseasonal mild weather in the UK. The figures are indisputable, the six warmest years on record globally since 1880 will be the last six years since 2014. The evidence of the crisis and the immediacy of its impact are there for all to see. There is no time left to act.

This is about new jobs and economic success. It is about reinvesting in public services. It is about revitalising communities. And it is about having a future for our children and grandchildren. Our new leader can start to recover our reputation in those communities which turned sharply away from us with a low carbon strategy for them and for all of us. The Green New Deal must be at the heart of a strategy. Rebuilding Britain, saving our planet.

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