This directionless, policy-lite government is doing terrible damage to our environment

The Queen's Speech made clear that the Tories aren’t willing to lead


The Tories election manifesto has become the subject of jokes today, as many of the most contentious promises have been dropped, leaving the Queen’s speech remarkably policy light. But while we can heave a sigh of relief that we have been spared the return of fox hunting or fast tracked fracking, a government with no policy direction at all will be deeply damaging for the environment.

Our air is toxic, we have legal climate targets to be met and the renewable energy market is changing rapidly, with reduced costs and new technologies, offering huge potential. The environment desperately needs leadership; today’s Queen Speech made clear that the Tories aren’t going to provide it.

There was no mention of domestic action on climate change, decarbonisation or air quality.  As a result, we are left with uncertainty and the responsibility to act of these vital issues will fall on other actors – from businesses to local councils – with limited resources to try and intervene. The speech also failed to mention the mandatory Clean Growth Plan. We’ve been told for months that its publication is imminent – but if this is the case why not include it in on the agenda? If a Queen’s Speech is meant to set the roadmap for a Parliament, then this is one that has no green vision.

And some of the policies ditched for the Queens’ Speech include the few green glimmers of hope from the Tories’ manifesto – gone is the energy bill price cap, and the independent commission on energy bills. Their replacement is vague and tiny in scope – a possible consultation on energy tariffs and support for switching initiatives and smart meters – hardly the radical action we were promised.  Action to reduce waste and litter is similarly dropped, along with animal welfare reform.

What scant mentions of environmental policy there were are contradicted by the Tory’s woeful record. Much was made, for example, of the promise to ‘support international action against climate change, including the implementation of the Paris Agreement’.  Yet this was the self-same government which was unwilling to join other world leaders calling on Trump to stay in the agreement, and again refused to join them to condemn his decision. It was also the same government that’s been attempting to water down key energy efficiency legislation across the EU.

Likewise, while the plans for an Agriculture Bill is welcome news to farmers facing an uncertain future post-Brexit, the Tory record on farming is worrying. We’ve been waiting for over a year for the 25 year plan for farming to be published, while the new Secretary of State for DEFRA, Michael Gove made the incomprehensible claim that the UK can have both cheaper food and higher production standards. Coupled with calls from Tory backbenchers for cheap meat imports from the US, this is a piece of legislation that will need to be keenly watched.

There are further dangers with the Repeal Bill. For all the apparent innocuity of the powers of delegated legislation ‘enabling corrections’ and technical amendments, there is significant potential for their misuse. As the GreenerUK coalition have highlighted, the government’s own White Paper includes worked case studies where a key oversight mechanism would be removed under ‘technical amendments’. Further questions remain over the enforcement of legislation once transcribed.

It is perhaps ironic that, on the same day that the Queen’s Speech proved how little this Tory Government has to offer, Labour in government was showing exactly what bold leadership looks like. Sadiq Khan’s London Transport Strategy – published today – doesn’t shy away from the big challenges, setting ambitious targets for reducing car use and air pollution.

Whilst it could have hidden behind Brexit and a short-term agenda, it instead addresses the real challenges facing London. Likewise, Labour’s manifesto agenda didn’t shy away from a transformational vision, with clear, bold ambition on the environment.

It’s not only on the environment that this Queen’s Speech is lacking. But at such an important moment for energy, clean air and climate action, for it to be silent on these issues is damning.

Melanie Smallman is Co-Chair of SERA – Labour’s Environment Campaign

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5 Responses to “This directionless, policy-lite government is doing terrible damage to our environment”

  1. Jim Lockie

    Interesting article. I am a Labour Party member, for all my life. I have never heard of anyone in Labour, apart from Sadiq Khan speak about the environment, or try to actually do anything to improve things. There may have been something, a lot perhaps, buried in the multi-page manifesto. No Labour spokesperson actually mentioned or led on it.
    Along side the economy (Brexit), the environment should ber absolute priority for Labour; in or out of Government. Will it be? Why not an experienced big hitter, like Milliband, up against Gove and May?
    Since 2010, My local CLP, nor my multi-constituency Council Labour Group have never had a single discussion on the environment. Of course that makes me partly responsible! We need better environmental leadership from the top. Its not there at the present

  2. patrick newman

    Jim, why dont you look in the 2017 Manifesto – there is plenty there and much the Tories wont touch. It does not take a long time to read. However I dont care much for the comments on SE airport capacity (i.e. Heathrow third runway which I think is not viable). I would like to have seen a reversal of the decimation of FIT’s for domestic panel installation. This was a very stupid decision that will cost us more in terms of power generation (in case anybody wondered I have solar panels with the 12.5p FIT i.e. before it was reduced to about a third).

  3. Alma

    Great article! Totally agree with you!

  4. Philip Pearson

    Well said. And for good measure, Theresa May put Michael Gove to lead the environment department. We just published the Greener Jobs Alliance’s take on the election and some union comments. Caroline Lucas said, “It beggars belief that this election has been almost environment-free when we face an air pollution crisis, a climate denier in the White House, the threat of an extreme Brexit and accelerating climate change.” She’s right of course. Both Labour and the Green Party manifestos presented voters with some of the most progressive and democratic environmental choices ever. Yet in reality the issue disappeared from the debate.

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