Labour Party manifesto

Recent Labour Party manifestos have been disappointing on environmental issues. How does this one shape up?

Here are my thoughts on likes and gripes (restricted to the environmental issues):

Good things:

  • We will defend and extend existing environmental protections.’ – will we see anything similar in the Tory manifesto? I doubt it’. But The Greens say something very similar.  This is a crucial commitment.
  • A Labour approach to Brexit will ensure there can be no rolling back of key rights and protections and that the UK does not lag behind Europe in workplace protections and environmental standards in future‘ – so important that this commitment is made twice. Yippee!
  • Labour will introduce a new Clean Air Act‘ – good, I wonder what it will say.
  • We will safeguard habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans’ – how?
  • We will protect our bees by prohibiting neonicotinoids as soon as our EU relationship allows us to do so‘ – this will be very unpopular with farmers but may get the bees’ vote.
  • We will work with farmers and foresters to plant a million trees of native species to promote biodiversity and better flood management‘ – Labour has, at least, understood that land management is essential to reduce flood risk fundamentally rather than building more and more solid defences.
  • ‘Replace our dysfunctional water system with a network of regional publicly-owned water companies’ – this opens the door to public ownership of quite a lot of land, and more sustainable management of that land, some of it in National Parks.  It opens the door to stopping driven grouse shooting in large areas.  I wonder whether anyone had noticed that?
  • We will cease the badger cull, which spreads bovine TB‘ – a pity that this is in a section under animal welfare as it is also a part of farmer welfare.
  • ‘A Labour government will end the uncertainty for our farmers and food producers
    by securing continued EU market access allowing British farmers and food producers to continue to sell their products on the Continent’ – but under what conditions? Yes, I know, it’s difficult to say – so it’s a bit difficult to believe (there may be loads of this in the Tory manifesto).
  • ‘Labour will also protect our farmers and rural economy by ensuring Britain continues to set the highest standard+s in food quality and welfare. We will not allow Brexit to be used as an excuse to undercut our farmers and flood Britain’s food chain with cheap and inferior produce‘ – this is where the environment and consumers should have been mentioned because farmers’ interests do not necessarily coincide with those of the shopper in an inner city deprived area.  It’s quite witty to say that farmers are being protected by setting high standards in quality and welfare but isn’t this an area which farmers regard as being red tape? Which side is Labour on – the few or the many?
  • Labour will insulate four million homes as an infrastructure priority to help those who suffer in cold homes each winter. This will cut emissions, improve health, save on bills, and reduce fuel poverty and winter deaths‘ – excellent.
  • Labour will ban fracking because it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline‘ – popular but not actually very strategic.
  • We are committed to renewable energy projects, including tidal lagoons‘ –  good.
  • We will support further nuclear projects‘ – personally, I agree with this.
  • Building a clean economy of the future is the most important thing we must do for our children, our grandchildren and future generations. Yet recent years have seen a failure to progress towards our targets. A Labour government will put us back on track to meet the targets in the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement‘ – a very clear commitment.

Gripes:

  • Pathetically silent on the £3bn that the taxpayer gives to farmers (largely as income support) through the Common Agricultural Policy which represents the great environmental opportunity of Brexit.  What would Labour do to make sure that the many (consumers, taxpayers, voters) get good value from that money currently given to the few (land owners)? Would a Labour government slash the £3bn pa to fund increased social services or keep the spending at current levels but ensure that we all get much better value from it? We voted to leave the EU almost a year ago – no excuse really for not even mentioning it here.  Off the pace rather than setting the pace.
  • Whatever the level of continued funding, Labour’s view of the relationship between the farming industry, government and consumers is very unclear in this document.
  • Strong on climate change, much weaker on nature in the countryside.
  • Labour has often talked about reviewing all fieldsports to look at their environmental and animal welfare impacts, before deciding what to do about any of them – this may still be the intention but it didn’t make it into the manifesto.

 

Overall assessment: I’d give it a B+ – the same as I gave the Green Party.

I suppose that the Labour Party has been in such disarray over recent years that I was expecting something worse than this, so I was quite cheered by it.

Much stronger, as usual, on physics and chemistry than biology. Labour gets climate change well, and can be trusted to do far better than the Tories on climate change issues. The emphasis on home insulation is one of the most joined up policies in this manifesto and is a rare commitment to manage the demand side of the issue as well as supply.

Water company privatisation would be a very good idea for many reasons – all those dividends to a few shareholders could be transformed into reduced water bills for the many.  That feels exactly the type of thing that the state should do (to me it does anyway).  But the implications for control of land use are quite significant too.  Rather than spend money trying to incentivise land owners to manage in ways that don’t pollute watercourses and increase water bills for the consumer let’s get our hands on the land ourselves through privatising some water companies.  I think we could see lots of wildlife benefitting from this move – including a bunch of Hen Harriers.

The headline to ‘defend and extend existing environmental protections’ is very important and very welcome. Will the Conservative manifesto be as clear and as positive? That will be something I look for first in the Tory manifesto.  Brexit was about many things in the voters’ minds, but in the minds of pro-Brexit politicians the prize was to unshackle the UK from a whole bunch of regulations that we agreed to as part of the EU. Dismantling of environmental protection is part of that subject and it is good to see Labour (and the Greens) making a firm commitment on the subject.

But wildlife is a bit thin on the ground in this manifesto as it is increasingly in the countryside.  Labour says the right things, and I believe that when in government again will probably do the right things too – let’s hope it isn’t too long before that happens.  But there isn’t much detail nor much sign of any real passion or enthusiasm for nature in this manifesto.

This document is rather weak on rural issues generally – Labour increasingly looks like it is for the many in the towns not for the few who can see fields in their daily lives.  The principles of fairness and kindness apply everywhere, even in the countryside.

7 Comments

  1. Rob Sheldon says:

    Why is wildlife so consistently ignored when we have so many wildlife NGOs with a few million members, and regularly providing politicians with reports highlighting the dire State of Nature? Maybe membership of wildlife NGOs is no longer a good investment if we want change?

  2. Kevin Rush says:

    I did wonder about the knock-on effect on driven grouse shooting, following nationalisation of the water industry – thank you for confirming my hunch!

  3. Dove shell says:

    Labour keep saying they will build many houses but I worry about WHERE they are going to build them? Will they protect green spaces? I also worry about overpopulation due to loss of biodiversity with more humans… perhaps these are issues only the green party mentions

  4. Mike says:

    The Greens and Labour plus the Lib Dems dont seem to worry about how many people are in the country. Wildlife can go to hell in a basket on the altar of unfettered immigration. The environment lobby has its eyes closed on this issue for reasons of political correctnesss. The Tories are also not serious on it. How people who puport to care about nature see no problem with the way our population goes on growing due to mass immigration is incredible. Lets have 90, 100, 150 million, sure go for it…
    Labour will build anywhere on any piece of green space as they are doing in Bristol and elsewhere. They will also decimate ancient woodland with HS2 because the unions call the shots and the unions see nature as getting in the way.

    • Mark says:

      Mike – which political party opposes HS2? Read my piece in British Wildlife on HS2.

      I can’t imagine which political party you support? What does the UKIP election manifesto say about the environment? Ah, they haven’t got one yet.

  5. It beats me why the British burn fuel to essentially heat the outdoors. I think housing needs a proper look at, so yes home insulation is important, but there are a hell of a lot of houses in the UK that need knocking down and rebuilding. Without bricks.

  6. Interestingly, about a week before the grouse shooting debate in Parliament I got a phone call from Dennis Skinner. I had emailed him about 3 times on the issue and he said basically that he felt broadly that these things were important and that he supported the cause, however he had other more pressing things to deal with at the time of the debate. He also questioned the value of the petition process in actually getting anything done. I was at the time trying to push for maximum publicity on the issue, felt that the petition had served its purpose well and that increased publicity was actually the point of a debate in parliament. Under the Tories Labour really do have their work cut out for them, so his reticence in this case is at least understandable.

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