Having met the Lib Dems in Brighton I'm off to Manchester for the Labour Conference this afternoon. I wonder if we will be hearing as much about things green this week – there seemed to be hardly a speech or conversation in which the environment didn’t crop up in Brighton.
The Labour front bench teams on environment and climate change are assiduous in asking questions to test the Coalition Government’s credentials. And that is the first task of any opposition - to oppose!
But the second task is to develop a compelling alternative vision to the party in power. After 13 years in power, I get the impression that the party is still a little introspective. That’s no bad thing – and it presents an opportunity for the third sector. As we found while the Conservatives were in opposition, this is the time when good ideas get the best reception. It's a chance to highlight the big issues that need some political vision, and come up with ideas about how problems can be fixed. Which gives an opportunity for us to move the environment centre stage into their thinking.
And last night, speakers from both the Defra and the DECC Labour front bench teams have taken part in our environment question time panel event. We have been pleased to welcome the Shadow Defra Secretary, Mary Creagh, to Hope Farm to see practical ideas for improving the farmed countryside, and even more pleased to hear that experience reflected in her subsequent speeches. But it is time to hear fresh thinking on the economy and the environment is going to make its way into the next Labour manifesto.
The recession makes a challenging backdrop. Firstly the squeeze on spending looks set to last whoever is in power. And since some environmental problems would benefit from a bit of investment, making the case for that investment is going to be a challenge – even when a bit of spending now could help the recovery. Second, nobody much seems to want to talk about regulation at the moment, despite the evidence that it has a good track record in improving the environment and often saving money: tackling the scourge of invasive species being a good case in point. And finally, the folk with arguably the greatest impact on the environment live in the Treasury teams, and they are busy people who can be hard to get to and even harder to influence. So I’m particularly pleased we are meeting Cathy Jamieson, the Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury in Manchester to highlight the new publication we have produced with the think tank Green Alliance, showing that there are now around a million jobs in the “green” sector, and that further investment in more sustainable technologies should be top of the list for a recovery. It really is very good. Have a read.
There’s all sorts of things Treasuries can do to help the environment – shifting taxes from people to finite resources such as peat and minerals being one; and prioritising investment in the right sort of renewable energy being another.
My worry is that the longer the recession goes on, the more tempting it becomes for parties to reach for short term solutions to recovery, whether ill-advised infrastructure projects, or eye-catching rhetoric about sweeping away red- (or green-) tape. So that’s why I will be spending as much time listening and talking to those with a business and economic brief as with those who are already tuned into the environmental message in Manchester. Who knows – maybe next year we will even have someone from the shadow Treasury team at our environment fringe event...
I agree Martin about your comment regarding short term ill-advised infrastructure solutions being more tempting as time goes on in this economic situation. So far, with firstly your yellow hat on and now with your red hat, we have not heard too much about the EU, but I am sure you will when you put your blue hat on. So in preparation for that I think it is worth emphasising the achievements of the EU. Our air, rivers and seas are all much cleaner now than they used to be 20 or 30 years ago and our wildlife is also better protected thanks to the Birds and Habitats Directives and these improvements occur right across Europe. When I first started in industry as an Environmental Manager (a long time ago!!) the recurring theme I always heard from industry regarding improving environmental standars and protection was "Oh we can't do that because it will put us at a disadvantage to our continental competitors". One of the major achievements of the the EU has been to afforded a level playing in all these matters and so removed this excuse from industry.
So our politicians need to take on board all the achievements of the EU and not just grumble at its problems. However as in your point of making ill-advised short term decisions, they are notoriously poor at being able to do that..
Redkite - thanks for that. I'll try and pu that right over the next few days.
Martin, I can't find the new publication through your link above, has it got a title?
Glossy Ibis - I've just changed the hyperlink so it should now go straight through to the publication.
For some reason I cannot fathom all politicians find it harder to do the things when in Government than what they prattle on about when in opposition.A typical case is Ed Balls today got the brilliant solution of spending the 4 billion £s from new mobile phone licences(I think it was)to build new affordable housing.
I may be less intelligent than all those labour politicians but why didn't they do that in the 13 years or whatever it was when in charge.
It was just as relevant then or even more so as it may have prevented Gordon Brown taking us into near bankruptcy.