The Green Agenda could inspire and challenge this generation – and help us take on UKIP and the Tories

SERA is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2013. Our founding Secretary, Steve Cohen, has written for LabourList on the green opportunity for Labour.

In 1997 “Things could only get better.”  In 1963 Harold Wilson’s “White hot heat of the technological revolution” matched President Kennedy’s goal of “sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade“.

They inspired, challenged and set the agenda for their generation. Whatever else one thinks about the recent keynote speeches made by the two Eds, few would want to go into the next election claiming that “it’ll be less worse under Labour”.

On Thursday, Lewis Coyne developed the argument that New Labour had left blue-collar workers behind. Even accepting his analysis, changing how we select our candidates for 2015 won’t put new faces on the TV before the election.

As Aristotle might have put it “politics abhors a vacuum”. In the mid 1980s voters looking for a ‘safer’ alternative turned to the SDP rather than the Tories. Like the SDP, UKIP is ‘NEW’. It is well funded and is supported by a right wing press that hasn’t forgiven the Party for not choosing their preferred candidate as our Leader. But unlike Thatcher’s Government, riding high on a wave of patriotism after the Falklands War, Cameron’s Tories have been consistently behind Labour in the polls since the end of 2010. The SDP had a coherent manifesto, while UKIP’s belief that leaving the EU is the answer to every problem is simplistic in the extreme.

In YouGov’s poll on 1st June, voters wanted the Government to change course and focus on growth rather than deficit reduction, by 42% to 31%. In contrast, LabourList’s own poll, published on the same day showed nearly half voters believe Labour “cannot be trusted with the economy”.

No doubt Ed Balls’ speech was meant to square that circle. Unfortunately rather than building trust, most of the press coverage was about the fallout in the Party. It was and will always be a difficult task. Osborne has the perfect lie, which he and his press will trumpet forever: “The crisis was Labour’s fault, the slow recovery is Europe’s.” – two birds, one stone.

We need to shift the agenda.

In his Q&A at last year’s Conference Ed Miliband said “the environment was ‘absolutely central’ to his vision for the future.” He just forgot to mention it in his keynote speech the day before. If it is central to his vision, it could and should be the basis on which to build an attack on the Government and defend ourselves against UKIP.

In 2012 once-in-a-century disasters became commonplace: temperatures in Russia sparked wildfires destroying 74 million acres of the pristine Siberian Taiga forest; Hurricane Sandy killed hundreds from Port-au-Prince in Haiti to New York, while running up a bill of over £50bn.

During our Winter, just about every heat record in its history was broken in Australia. And so it goes on: our coldest Spring in 50 years; the biggest tornado ever; and floods in Central Europe topping previous records by two and a half feet.

Global warming and climate change are now accepted as facts by all scientists. That is, all except those funded by oil and coal producers. And the links between climate change and individual events are becoming clearer by the day. Living with Environment Change Partnership’s recent report not only gives detailed examples of the changes we are already seeing, but sets out the evidence for why these changes must be manmade.

Around the world the need for action is not only being recognised, it is beginning to happen. Carbon ‘cap and trade’ is working in California. China is piloting it in seven areas including Shanghai, with the aim of rolling it out nationwide by 2020. In the first three months of this year renewable energy supplied 70% of electricity produced in Portugal.

Unfortunately all is not well. The EU’s cap-and-trade system is failing badly and in the US, Obama’s Arctic strategy focuses on how to exploit areas made accessible by global warming, rather trying to limit its impact. In Britain, David Cameron’s promise that his Government would be the “greenest ever” has been sunk over the last three years by George Osborne, and other deniers (or ignorers) in his Cabinet.

Replacing grants with loans has cut the number of homes installing cavity wall insulation by 97%, no doubt throwing builders and staff down the supply chain out of work. A switch to a low-carbon futurewould save households £1,600, but Osborne’s ‘dash-for-gas’ is putting Britain’s carbon reduction commitments in jeopardy. As car use has fallen Osborne is planning uneconomic road building instead of repairing those we already have and is considering further cuts in bus subsidies.

There are massive employment opportunities in Green Agenda, which could help boost the economy. Building on our plans to register private landlords we could extend the ‘Decent Homes Standard’ to the private sector and create tens of thousands of building jobs; the UK recycling industry has the potential to create 10,000 new jobs; and the development and deployment of heatpumps would reduce CO2 emissions, create export opportunities and skilled employment in engineering.

Nigel Farage’s opposition to windfarms is totally specious and it has to be recognised most of our environmental protection is based on European Directives. Farage is a libertarian and opposes such “interference”, but global warming is by definition a global problem which will need international, as well as national and local solutions.

We could and should argue for an active and constructive EU membership to find those solutions.

As the first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband must know the needs of the next and coming generations are part of the ‘One Nation’ debate.

It took nearly 60 years to overcome the deniers (and ignorers) on smoking and cancer. We cannot afford to waste even the 60 months between the 2015 and 2020 elections before we make a start on this most pressing problem.

The Green Agenda could inspire and challenge this generation and give us the platform to take on both UKIP and the Tories.

Steve Cohen is a CLP Secretary, former member of Tyne and Wear County Council and founding secretary of SERA. This article originally appeared on LabourList. He tweets at @thestevecohen.

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