(The long read)
Labour Conference 19 saw overwhelming support for a Green New Deal which aims to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Following the longest composting meeting in our Party’s history, after 10 hours, 2 GND policy motions were brought forward by 128 Constituency Labour Parties. The motions were fairly similar but composite 17 (the motion from the Fire Brigade Union) kept the 2030 emissions target date, whereas composite 16 did not. A reason for this difference came down to the debate over what is ‘realistically achievable’.
An article in Open Democracy (1) argues that Labour was right to have set a ‘necessary’ target inspite of some climate experts arguing it will not be credible without huge changes in public behaviour; changes that people just may not be ready for. Yes. These experts may well be right (certainly judging by comments on a local Eastbourne Facebook Page where climate change was recently debated following a post of Greta Thunberg making a speech). Yes. We have a long way to go in bringing the public with us. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the science by setting a more palatable and ‘realistic’ target date. A date that only fails and falls way short of getting the job done and averts the climate tipping points that will hasten our planetary demise.
And here is the Socialist nub. It isn’t just the general public that will need to change. It is global corporations, big business, the elites and the powerful as well as the rest of us. Or, to be more exact, it is they that need to change the most. A recent Carbon Majors Report showed that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.
But the rich and powerful will NOT change willingly. This is not how it works. Change has never been handed to us by the elites without a fight.
Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigade Union was crystal clear about the need to be truly RADICAL when proposing the ‘Socialist Green New Deal’. First, he spelt out emphatically that humanity IS facing a climate crisis. He spoke about fire fighters in the UK dealing with the effects of climate change in extreme weather conditions every day of their working lives. He spoke about fire fighters in the US dying when fighting wild fires. He spoke about whole communities being destroyed in those the countries that aren’t the richest in the world. He spoke about death and destruction taking place now in the global south.
And yes. With no excuses he then went on to proudly proclaim “We ARE setting a bold and radical target for net zero emmissions (by 2030). Yes it IS more radical than the IPCC and yes, it IS more radical than the Committee on Climate Change. We make NO APOLOGY for doing so, because if their agenda is based on current policies, current power structures, then frankly Conference we are doomed to failure. We need RADICAL TRANSFORMATIVE ACTION.
They’ll say that this is impossible. They’ll say that we are setting an impossible agenda. WE’VE BEEN TOLD THROUGHOUT HISTORY THAT WHAT OUR PEOPLE WANT IS IMPOSSIBLE AND IF WE LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE IN POWER WE’D NEVER MAKE CHANGES. They told us abolishing slavery was impossible. They told us winning the vote was impossible. They told us creating the National Health Service was impossible. But we did it. We will only make changes when we think together, act independently, organize and fight together. I move”. (2) Full speech.
And Conference WAS moved. His passionately delivered speech was enthusiastically received by delegates and party members in the balconies.
Labour has already begun and gone quite some way in its work of developing climate justice policies. Last year we published the Green Manifesto. The Shadow Treasury has been researching sustainable economics, with Clive Lewes especially joining the front bench for this purpose. There have been numerous advisory reports written for Labour on such things as democratising the economy, alternative models of ownership, bringing about land reform, greening the banking system et al. There is the newly formed left wing think tank Common Wealth which has published its Road Map to a Green New Deal series (3).
There was the Green Industrial Revolution announcement creating over 400,000 good, sustainable jobs (“quality unionized green jobs” RLB); installing solar panels on nearly 2 million homes; building public transport all across the country; making sure 60% of the UK’s electricity and heat comes from clean, renewable and low carbon sources by 2030; creating a new Clean Air Act. Work and preparation has been and IS being done. And we will go further and NEED to go further.
At Conference it was fantastic to hear Rebecca Long Bailey‘s Speech about disaster Capitalism and the need for a Green Industrial Revolution. And about the new announcements such as:-
1) the ‘People’s Power Plan’ to supply electricity to 57 million households through boosting the number of offshore windfarms (over 50% of which will be publicly owned). Or (setting aside for a moment the debate on the need to reduce car usage and improve public transport and active travel),
2) the “mammoth expansion” of electric car usage by increasing the number of charging points for vehicles; offering interest-free loans to help people purchase electric cars; and 30,000 vehicles to share within publicly owned community car clubs.
Rebecca Long Bailey was very clear in her commitment to addressing the climate emergency and in her support for a Green New Deal. And no doubt Labour’s green policies will now need to be adjusted and further developed to meet the new 2030 net zero target date (assuming that this date gets through the process to make it into our next manifesto).
But as a member of the Campaign Group of MPs, Rebecca Long Bailey is a proud Socialist And, it was for her SOCIALISM that she received her first standing ovation. After talking about the Green Industrial Revolution (“the seeds of a Green New Deal”), she rightly began her new policy announcements by first reminding us all that all Labour’s green and sustainable policies (going forward) HAVE to be underpinned by the principles of CLAUSE 4.
Quote. ” … we need to go further, faster. And we need to ask who will really OWN the future the Green Industrial Revolution brings. And you know this question goes right to the heart of why all of us joined the Labour Party. If the height of our ambition is softening the ravages of unfettered Capitalism or signing up to some watered down version of austerity well we might as well go home now. But I know you’re all here because you share a powerful belief passed through our movement through generation to generation, that every financial and political decision made by Government and industrialists should be underpinned by ONE FUNDAMENTAL AND POWERFUL PRINCIPLE ●to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership…..●”
She added “It may not be on our membership cards anymore but it is in here (our hearts)”. She didn’t need to finish the quote to get Conference to its feet. (4)
Clause 4 did not make it through Conference this year but we are closer to it becoming party policy again. It was decided at Conference that a working group will be set up to agree the exact wording. Clause 4 will be returned. The Green New Deal, if done properly, will be true Socialism in word and deed. We get this. Rebecca Long Bailey get this. Conference got this. (5)
And, it was the SOCIALISM at the heart of Matt Wrack‘s speech that Conference was so moved by. A Socialist Green New Deal recognises that climate justice and social justice are different sides of the same coin. We can’t truly achieve one without the other.
Our planet has been brought to the brink of disaster by an economic system that promotes selfish, corporate greed over communities, caring and compassion. An economic system that ruthlessly extracts wealth from the many wealth producers (us) whilst punishing those that it has no need of. A system that treats with contempt the sick, the vulnerable and those people with a disability or with special needs. A system that is insatiable in its pursuit and glorification of money. That externalises risks whilst extracting the natural resources of both people and the planet. That pollutes and destroys environments and societies whilst dangerously driven by its abandonment to perpetual growth and expansion. A system that justifies profits as ruling supreme in the name of ‘legal duties’ towards its shareholders. A system that has given the world grotesque levels of inequality whilst destroying the natural world . Enough.
We need Governments that will radically change our laws. That will stand up to the powerful world wreckers. That will make them pay their dues. That will turn on its head the way economics is done. That will usher in a system that works for and with people and the planet. A system that will to tackle the climate emergency and bring about a fair, just and sustainable world. That economic system is an international Socialist Green New Deal. Labour in Government will join with others around the world to ACT and get things fixed.
One particularly relevant World Transformed Festival fringe event was hosted by War On Want:- The global story of climate change. From slavery to now. Speakers from West Pupua and Colombia implored those of us in the Labour movement NOT to overlook the needs of those countries on the front line of climate change. Countries that are being threatened right now. Their environments already having been exploited by the mining industries. Their forests now being decimated by the palm oil industries (so we in the West can eat biscuits and clog up our arteries). Their communities being impoverished whilst incoming global companies wantonly carry on exploiting. And now their very existence is being threatened by extreme weather events that others are chiefly to blame for.
John McDonnell has spoken about the need for Labour in Government to make reparation to those places that we as empire had exploited and that we as part of the Western World continue to exploit. We need to cut our emissions more than those in the Global South as we have already overspent on our carbon budget whilst becoming industrialised and expanding our territories. So to address the imbalance, the Global South now needs to be aided by us so they can develop. And ‘develop’ in this context means to achieve their human rights to basic needs like electricity, water, housing, hospitals and schools.
This is International Socialism. Addressing the imbalance in global equality. Bringing about a worldwide fair and equitable distribution of resources. Gone are the days of profit, privilege and plunder. Or least they need to be gone if we are to avoid disaster. This is the task ahead. Together as a country and together as part of One World. As part of a World Transformed.
There is much work to be done. The campaign group Labour for a Green New Deal was only launched 6 months ago. (6). They decided to operate by thinking big and expecting the most. This has proved to be a method for success. The Socialist Green New Deal also thought big by insisting it kept its ‘necessary’ target date and didn’t have it composited away. (Well done FBU). And this is how we need to continue if we are to achieve our climate and social justice aims. We need to think big together, work hard together, organize and fight together and together expect and plan for a miracle.
Eastbourne Labour Party
(2) Matt Wrack FBU full speech:-
Also a great speech from Angela Brown, first time delegate, who seconded the motion:-
(4) Rebecca Long Bailey’s speech:-
(5) Clause 4 “to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”