Category: British Labour Party

Corby by-election: British Tories all talk on wind power

by Adam Corner

There are few cardinal sins in politics – but campaigning on behalf of your opponent has to be one of them. So when news broke this week that the British Conservative Party MP Chris Heaton Harris had boasted on camera of providing resources and support to an opposition anti-wind farm candidate in order to “cause some hassle”, it was widely expected that the axe would fall.

But instead, as the story developed, it transpired that this was a trail that led to the very centre of the Conservative Party.

In the end, the manouverings came to naught – Labour won the by-election easily, the first time it has taken a seat from the Tories in a by-election since just before Tony Blair’s seismic 1997 general election victory.

Heaton-Harris was caught in an undercover sting by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace. He was bragging that he had backed the anti-wind farm election campaign of the blogger and self-publicist James Delingpole, a far-right commentator whose pantomime-villain outbursts are typically treated as undeserving of serious engagement. Among the climate-sceptic elements of the Conservative Party, however, Delingpole appears to have carved out a role for himself as the mouthpiece for views that they dare not air in public.

Delingpole stood down as a candidate in the Corby by-election several weeks ago, prior to the video emerging. But not before the energy minister, John Hayes, gave an interview declaring that “enough was enough” for on shore wind. This was seemingly in direct contrast to official government policy, which favours a range of renewable technologies as part of an increasingly low-carbon energy mix.

And in potentially even more serious developments, a second Greenpeace film appeared to show the Chancellor, George Osborne, implicated in a plot to withdraw government support for onshore wind. This is despite its huge value to the British economy as a fully operational low-carbon technology.

When David Cameron boldly proclaimed that his would be the “greenest government ever”, following his election in 2010, he must have known the boast would come back to haunt him. And, although the UK is (currently) a world leader in terms of legally binding carbon reduction targets, some members of the Conservative Party look like they are doing everything they can to ensure these targets are unlikely to be met.

The Conservative central command would like to paint anti-wind zealots like Heaton-Harris as existing on the lunatic fringe of the party. But increasingly, it is looking like the MPs who represent the rural constituencies where wind turbines are typically sited are having a disproportionate effect on the Conservative Party. Although there has been no formal shift in energy policy, the “mood music” around the environment on the British right is worrying.

To be clear: opposing the siting of a wind farm cannot be equated with climate change scepticism. But the willingness of Conservative party representatives to promote and publicise the views of hardline anti-environmentalists like James Delingpole does not send out a good signal. And opposing on-shore wind without suggesting an alternative policy for reducing levels of carbon dioxide is tantamount to dismissing the risks that climate change poses.

The relationship between climate change scepticism and political ideology has been documented repeatedly and consistently in the US, the UK and Australia. But how to address it is an altogether trickier question.

There is a proud tradition of conservation and respect for the natural environment in the history of British Conservatism. But the “conserve” part of conservatism currently seems to apply only to the hyper-local, with debate focusing on the aesthetics of wind-farms instead of the value of clean, green energy for the whole of the UK.

Ultimately, the Conservative Party will lose its hard-fought status as an (allegedly) moderate, modern, compassionate, centre-right group if it associates itself with the extreme views of individuals like Delingpole. If the Conservatives don’t want wind farms across the UK, their challenge is to identify and implement another set of policies that will allow Britain’s carbon targets to be achieved – with the consent of the electorate.

Despite the noises coming from climate-sceptic Conservative MPs, wind farms – and renewable technologies in general – are very popular with the public. They are certainly more popular than nuclear power or fossil fuels.

Few credible energy future scenarios see no role for on-shore wind. If the Conservatives have evidence to the contrary, they should speak up. If not, they need to find a way of convincing their voters that climate change is the biggest threat to the environment that they supposedly want to conserve so much – not the wind turbines that can provide clean, abundant energy for the future.

Adam Corner is  a Research Associate in the Understanding Risk research group at Cardiff University.

This article was first published at www.theconversation.edu.au

 

Liberal social democracy, fairness and good capitalism

by Will Hutton
 
The left needs a new language to differentiate between good and bad capitalism; a radical, shared conception of fairness – based on equity rather than equality – to underpin an economy of reciprocity, proportionate reward and mutual ownership

The European left is bewildered, in denial and in retreat. If electorates should have learned anything over the last two or three years it is that financial capitalism is a menace to itself and the economy and society beyond – and that governments are the peoples’ friend.  It is true that bankers are hardly popular, but opinion has not swung behind the liberal left. Instead, the enemy everywhere is government, debt and deficits − scant reward for being the saviour of the hour.

Opinion polls in Britain show that the majority believe that welfare cheats, immigrants and government waste are to blame for contemporary ills, with bankers a long way behind. It is not a dissimilar story across Europe. This is a tough climate in which to build any constituency for liberal left activism, and indeed the liberal left itself is not wholly certain what any such activism should be. What is socialism anyway? What would a good economy and society look like? And what would the popular values be that underpinned them? Does the left in any European country offer a convincing answer?

In this vacuum ugly nationalist movements are flourishing, and on the left one of the few dynamic elements are the Greens. The conventional left needs to do a great deal better, not least for the working people it purports to represent.

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What Future for ‘This Great Movement of Ours’?

by Martin Upchurch

Trade unions in Britain are at a watershed. This month’s public sector strike on November 30th, involves 3 million workers from 27 different unions. It follows the largest ever trade union organised demonstration held in March and the public sector strike of three quarters of a million workers in June. This wave of strikes and protests must be viewed from a wider perspective. The student demonstrations late last year, followed by the Arab Spring and then the Occupy Movement have given  union members confidence to take the plunge and vote to strike. Protest has returned.  In 2010, the number of strikes in Britain were the lowest since records begun, now the masses are taking part.

But do the strikes also mark a major change in the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party? In the post War period trade unions swam with the stream for thirty years. Full employment provided the opportunity for unions to expand their membership, notably in the public sector and among women. When membership peaked in 1979 at nearly 13 million, governments were willing to do business with the unions. Concessions were made to expand the welfare state so long as trade union leaders held back the wage demands of their rank-and-file.

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A UK Recovery Program: Go Keynesian (Part 2)

by John Weeks

The latest statistics show that real household earnings in Britain fell by 3.5% over the last year (The Guardian24 November 2011), a decline unprecedented in peacetime.  What can be done to stop this unfolding disaster? While the private sector is dangerously in debt (“over-leveraged”), the public sector is not as I showed in my last article.  On the contrary, by any accepted financial measure, the UK government is under-indebted, the ratio of net debt to GDP, debt service capacity or marginal borrowing cost.

The solution to falling comes and the looming second recession is for the government to borrow and spend.  If that sounds like bad economics, it is only because the economics profession degenerated into free market metaphysics long ago, turning out reactionary propaganda against rational policy.

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Plan B: The Building Blocks of a Progressive UK

by George Irvin

By now, even the most die-hard Tory must realise that the UK economy under George Osborne has flat-lined; like the Python’s dead parrot, it wouldn’t ‘voom’ if you pumped 4 million volts through it.[1]

The highly respected National Institute of Social and Economic Research (NIESR) defines a ‘depression’ as that period of time during which the country’s economic output (GDP) has not returned to its prior peak. During the Great Depression of 1930-34, UK output fell by 7.5% and did not return to its pre-depression level for four years (48 months). Since the 2008 peak, UK output has fallen by about the same percentage. But here’s the rub: NIESR predicts that we’ll take 61 months to escape depression. Moreover, as Osborne tightens the economic thumbscrew, the pain is increasing to such a degree that even City financiers are now worrying about the real economy.

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