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Climate negligence and economic decline define the UK, political reform is needed

A country siding into recession, Tory U-turn’s and Labour abandoning proposed multi-billion annual green investment are the latest proof Britain’s two leading factions are not fit for office. A change to the governance system is long overdue. 

Big Ben, London

It’s been just over one week since the UK’s shadow leadership announced its proposed £28billion annual spend on the green transition may never materialise even if Labour wins the next election. This investment was supposed to set Britain on a more effective route to net zero and create much needed jobs, driving private companies to splash cash around the country, something successive u-turns by the incumbent Conservatives have so far only managed to jeopardise. 

Only last month, Environment Journal ran an op-ed on how the local economy in Port Talbot, and the wider fortunes of southern Wales, had been dealt a body blow with news that Indian-owned Tata Steel would be making around 2,800 redundancies, mostly in said small town which is home to less than 40,000 people, as a result of switching to greener blast furnaces. Many pointed to the current administration’s outright failure to make sure the nation’s move to net zero would be as painless as possible, and not involve entire communities being left in employment limbo, risking a repeat of the talent and hopes lost during the deconstruction of the mining industry.

In the past, we’ve published innumerable interviews featuring both those working in sustainability and associated sectors, and politics, which pointed to a major disconnect between four-year electoral cycles, the careerists hoping for our vote, and the longer term changes, strategies and schemes needed to tackle the climate crisis and mitigate the potential economic impact of that action. Simply put, any chance of getting to grips, slowing and even reversing the ecological emergency are weakened when we see how often a change of government, local or national, means abandoning the policies of those who were previously charged with creating them. Two steps forward, and — if we’re lucky — one step back. 

Under Rishi Sunak, the Conservatives have proved it doesn’t even take a change of party to bring about this vicious cycle. Along with constant shake-ups within the cabinet lineup itself, the party has turned abandoning its own ideas, and introducing hastily conceived new ones, into a clumsy art form. The sheer rate at which this has been happening is dizzying, and the impact felt in today’s news the country is now officially in recession. All this should provide easy wins for any opposition on net zero and the economy, yet confidence in a new administration improving things is scarce. 

bench with polling station sign

In what is essentially, historically, and practically a two-party system, having endured more than a decade of brutal austerity measures, it had been hoped that a Labour government could begin to right some wrongs. The most obvious, and politically neutral, being the glaring holes around environment and sustainability. Many expected a degree of watering down on the original multi-billion annual spend pitch, but last week’s announcement that the degree of green spend is yet to be decided, or confirmed, is hugely disappointing and massively worrying.

Neither of the major parties seem to be anywhere near as concerned about the unfolding emergency as they should be, and given UK progress on this has so far either been largely condemned as non-existent, or in need of urgent improvement, there’s little time left to catch up and change path. 

Nevertheless, it’s also unlikely we’ll see an outcome other than a Labour or Conservative election win, albeit there is a potential for no majority leading to another two-pronged coalition. But this would still leave one of the two biggest forces in UK politics wielding most power. Forces that keep showing us they are incapable of providing the kind of direction the country, its environment and economy, so desperately need. Meanwhile, low engagement among younger generations — those that will be most effected by future climate change — continues to disenfranchise, or, worse still, silence the most important stakeholders in this conversation. 

It’s the latest evidence of a Britain teetering on the brink of financial and political bankruptcy — a situation where the powers that be, and have been, are so complacent in their dominance, and so sure in their British exceptionalism, it’s almost unbelievable, with voices that truly represent people outside the most visible demographics at voting booths thin on the ground. Two decades ago, or thereabouts, we were given the option of switching to proportional representation. Then, fears of the system opening doors to extreme right wing parties drove many to stick with the hugely problematic first-past-the-post approach.

As many critics have long-pointed out, a far right backroom takeover of mainstream conservatism has taken place, evident in everything from Rwanda immigration plans to blind denial at the mounting cost of an ill-conceived and terribly executed Brexit, among other things. So, it doesn’t seem like things could get much worse if wholesale reform took place. In comparison, sticking with the status quo increasingly feels like a masochistic act of self-sabotage, bordering on death sentence. 

More opinion: 

Port Talbot: an omen of environmental and economic policy disconnect

Message to Davos: only proven climate solutions can regain public trust

Image: Deniz Fuchidzhiev (top) / Steve Houghton-Burnett (Bottom)

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