After a sustained period of silence from the shadow front bench on green issues, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have emerged on the right side of the debate.
It’s been a good week for Labour and the environment. After two years of virtual radio silence on the issue from Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, we’re now starting to hear a genuine green voice emerge on the front bench.
Ed Miliband visited a Scottish wind farm last Thursday to commit his party to delivering carbon-free electricity by 2030. It’s what the government’s independent climate advisers and a vast coalition of NGOs and businesses are calling for – and he’s right to back it.
The shadow chancellor visited renewable installation company Eclipse Energy in Leeds, seeing at first hand the green industrial growth taking shape all over the UK.
And shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint, adding to a series of recent interventions, made a compelling case for clean, green energy on Radio 4 at the weekend:
“If you think the long-term future is gas, you’re mistaken”
These timely interjections have put Labour on the right side of a widening political divide around energy and the environment. While Miliband and Flint are making the case for renewables, energy-saving and weaning the country off expensive, polluting fossil fuels, George Osborne is focussed on one thing only – gas – and lots of it.
Osborne’s gas fetish is locking consumers into soaring household bills for decades to come. His determination to build 20 new gas power stations makes no environmental or economic sense – the government’s own scientific advisers have written to him saying so.
Nevertheless, the Treasury backing of gas continues apace, with massive tax breaks dished out to big oil and gas.
Osborne even announced plans for a “generous new tax regime” for shale gas ‘fracking’ in October, when the rest of the country deals with falling living standards and stagnating incomes. Simultaneously Osborne and his henchmen have made repeated attempts to pull the rug from under green energy – despite its falling costs and massive jobs and growth potential here in the UK.
So what next for Labour and the environment? Labour is the party that delivered the world leading Climate Change Act and the game-changing ‘feed-in tariff’ for small scale renewables. It is heartening Miliband and Balls are at last starting to articulate a genuine progressive alternative to Osborne’s ‘dash for gas’. It’s not before time – even the CBI has been more vocal about the case for going green.
De-carbonisation and energy efficiency must become a systematic part of the Labour Party’s alternative to the economic crisis – protecting ordinary working people from the impacts of carbon-fuelled price hikes and the devastating costs of extreme weather events linked to climate change.
Friends of the Earth criticised Ed Miliband for leaving the environment out of his conference ‘One Nation’ vision. We hope this week marks the start of a Labour ‘One Planet’ vision.
• Friends of the Earth: “Green needs to be at the heart of Labour’s election strategy” – October 5th, 2012