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The Policy Ask with Paul McNamee: “The prospect of Rachel Reeves becoming the first female chancellor is exciting”

The director of Labour’s Climate and Environment Forum on building self-confidence, the importance of devolution, and backlash against onshore wind farms.

By Spotlight

Paul McNamee is the director of Labour Climate and Environment Forum. He has 15 years of experience working in the political and environmental sphere. This has included advising on environment and energy in the mayor of London’s office; being head of politics at the environmental think tank Green Alliance; and on the public affairs team at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). He started his career working for a number of Labour MPs in Westminster.

How do you start your working day?

My train journey into Waterloo gives me just enough time to have a coffee, get my brain firing with the New York Times mini crossword and Connections, and then read the morning Politico email. And then it’s a sit-down at my desk to get through as many emails before the day’s meetings start.

What has been your career high?

Being given the opportunity to run an organisation that brings together my twin passions of environmental ambition and labour politics.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

I started as head of politics at the environmental think tank Green Alliance on 20 June 2016, three days before the EU referendum. Whatever the job I thought I was starting was, it turned out to be completely different as decades of environmental consensus suddenly had to be reconsidered. But from that initial shock came opportunities to unite the environmental sector to work together in a way that had never been done before.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

You’re better at networking than you think you are. Just go and talk to more people and stop cowering in a corner with a glass of warm wine. Everybody else is in exactly the same boat. In general, I wish I could give my younger self more confidence.

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Which political figure inspires you?

I was never a fan of Superman when I was young: one person with perfect superpowers held up on a pedestal is boring. I much preferred X-Men, a diverse group finding strength through common struggle. Those groups are usually the backbone of any successful social justice and environmental movement. Having said that, the prospect of Rachel Reeves as first female chancellor and self-professed first green chancellor does excite me.

What policy or fund is the UK government getting right?

Increased devolution to metro mayors and combined authorities has been a real success for policy delivery across England and will be fundamental in helping to deliver on the climate and environmental ambitions of the coming decade. We now need to see more powers being passed on to the devolved nations and local authorities (as well as giving them the funding they need to thrive).

And what policy should the UK government scrap?

The ban on onshore wind still exists and shouldn’t. The majority of the general public are supportive of renewables powering their communities and one objection being able to stop vital infrastructure development does not bode well for the productivity and growth of the UK. See also: building reservoirs.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

If Labour wins the election, its green prosperity plan will be a world-leading industrial strategy. Whilst public investment is crucial, we mustn’t forget the importance of a vision and policy north-star to give clear indications to business and global investors that Britain is the place for private investment. It has the potential to fully address the long-standing issues that continue to be a drag on our economy and society: stagnating growth, low productivity, and deep regional inequality.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

Whilst President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act rightly gets a lot of attention from the international climate movement, the progress Anthony Albanese has made in Australia should also be recognised for turning around the entire approach of a country that for a long time had been a global outlier in cutting emissions. The Australian Climate Change Act isn’t perfect but was created through engagement, negotiation and consensus-building – the only way to ensure policies are embedded for the long-term.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

We already have many of the targets and legislation we know are needed to deliver a secure, healthy world with thriving nature, but we seriously lack well-funded and robust government agencies and bodies to deliver this legislation. Stronger bodies would help to set out the strategies to deliver policy holistically across government departments whilst also having the teeth to penalise those who do not meet standards.

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