“What we need is really massive radical change”: An interview with Lib Dem MP Layla Moran
Layla Moran has a lot of reasons to be happy.
She isn’t just celebrating the Lib Dem’s recent electoral successes – last week also marked two years since she won the marginal seat of Oxford West and Abingdon and entered the Houses of Parliament.
Since taking her place in Westminster, Moran has made an impact with her work on the environmental crisis, organising the first debate on climate change on the floor of the Commons for two and a half years alongside Caroline Lucas.
Inspired by schoolchildren
Moran’s drive to make the environment “a key plank” of her work in Parliament was inspired by her career as a maths and physics teacher:
I taught for the international baccalaureate where there was a whole unit where we would look at renewable technologies and we would teach the physics through renewable energy for example,
I was really inspired by the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the circular economy, so all this stuff was in my head before I got elected.
It was when the Fridays For the Future school strikes took off that Moran was prompted to arrange a Commons debate.
Young people were standing up and saying enough is enough, which is what I had seen in the classroom when I was teaching, this general sense of what the hell we need to do something.
Together Moran and Lucas also invited the sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg to speak in Parliament.
The pair’s success show why Moran is adamant that environmental politics needs to go beyond party politics:
It needs to be cross party because this is something that it is going to take a generation to solve.
It can’t be just a campaign, it’s a complete step change in how we do everything, which is more than just getting rid of single use plastics,
Moran adds, admitting that the 5p plastic bag charge brought in by the Lib Dems in the coalition was “a small thing”.
Moran, who ruled herself out of the Lib Dem leadership contest, was elected off the back of an electoral alliance with the Greens in the 2017 snap general election.
Her team were approached by a former Green candidate who insisted that the only way to kick out Tory MP Nicola Blackwood was for the two parties to work together.
It wasn’t just that the Greens didn’t stand a candidate – Moran says they “stood next to me”, campaigning for her wearing green rosettes with a “support Layla” badge in the middle.
Moran exudes tremendous enthusiasm for the positivity this has created.
It’s a very genuine good working relationship and we have extraordinary trust for each other and that comes with openness and transparency.
The Lib Dem/Green alliance has worked at local elections too, allowing the parties to jointly wrestle control of the deeply conservative South Oxfordshire District Council from the Tories in May.
In fact, in a seat for the Vale of White Horse joint leaflets were posted, branded half Green and half Lib Dem – perhaps a first for UK local elections.
Beyond election tactics, Moran clearly has huge empathy for the Green Party and its work.
She even describes herself as an MP for the Greens as much as she is a Liberal Democrat, because of the work Greens put in to get her elected.
We said this is grown up politics, we really respect each other.
What we discovered was there were huge amounts of overlap – especially on Green policies – between the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
Very often the Greens sort of lead the way and we follow a little bit, though we have always been quite good on this.
She also notes that the Lib Dems were the first party to mention climate change in a manifesto in the 1960s.
Productive alliances need to be built over time, with openness and trust, according to Moran who believes they are essential to overcoming “the dinosaur views” of UKIP and some in the Conservatives.
But with Sian Berry signalling a turn away from electoral alliances for the Greens at this year’s spring conference, there might be trouble ahead for Moran’s vision.
She expressed regret about Berry’s speech on Twitter, stating that the “attack” on the “Lib Dems while claiming to be non-tribal is such a shame.”
For an MP representing a competing party, Moran was surprisingly hesitant to suggest what her party offered that the Greens did not.
When pressed she picked out what she perceives to be the Green Party’s “slightly more purist view of socialism”:
I think the socialist strand that I’ve seen which goes through the Green Party is a little more top down than what most liberals would be comfortable with – but I think we’re splitting hairs, to be honest with you.
The economic differences between the parties rear their head again when Moran – who describes her politics as radical – discusses the friction between climate action and capitalism. She said:
Is climate action incompatible with capitalism? I don’t really know what that means in practice.
There are ways of making profit which are destructive and there are ways you can make profit which are positive – I used to work for a social enterprise which would put these sorts of values front and centre, even in how we purchased our equipment, how we disposed of things, the kinds of sanitisers and soaps we used in the bathroom.
But I do think government and society in general needs to ask more of corporations to be accountable for the longer term impacts of what they do.
Liberal Democrats and the fossil fuel industry
When it comes to big corporations making profits destructively, fossil fuel giant Shell has to meet the bill.
Outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable spent seven years working for Shell between 1990 and 1997, ending his time as Chief Economist for the oil conglomerate.
Does Moran think this is an issue for the party, considering the hard work climate activists like her have put into positioning the Lib Dems as a party that is tackling the environmental crisis?
You have to look at what the party is proposing now, I don’t really know what his role was at Shell.
Those big companies, we have to encourage them to move away from fossil fuels and if those companies were harnessing their massive infrastructure to be investing in renewables then that’s great.
In fact, we don’t need to bring down all those companies in order to rebuild them, the thing we need to do is to nudge them in a way that is helping the planet rather than hindering it.
Brexit and the Green New Deal
Leaving the EU will make it harder to incentivise big businesses to become sustainable, in Moran’s opinion, as there won’t be as wide a market for them to apply new and more efficient technology in.
Besides Brexit, she is clear that the greatest challenge when pushing through environmental legislation is the Tory Treasury.
Moran believes the way the department calculates value for money still puts human convenience before the planet.
But she’s optimistic that the tide is turning.
She doesn’t just support the Green New Deal – she thinks it’s a vote winner across the country:
Most people out there want politicians to be focusing on this much more forensically and much more radically.
What we need is really massive radical change and to achieve that we really need everyone to get on board with that.
That’s certainly a message that can be supported by all green progressives, no matter their colour.