Was climate change the right battle ground for the Greens in the General Election?
A year ago, I wondered whether climate change was really the leading issue. But when the election was finally announced, I had to stop wondering and decide on campaign points. Over the year, a lot had happened. Greta Thunberg had happened. Extinction Rebellion had happened. Climate Strikes had happened.
Another relevant point was that the Labour Party was offering an ambitious programme to reform and invest in public services. Electioneering is limited to simple slogans. A few hundred words on a leaflet. Two minutes at a hustings. So differentiating us from the Labour Party at that level was a challenge. And, as has been cogently argued elsewhere in Bright Green, in some ways we ought to be less differentiated from Labour, adopting a more positive view of trade unions.
So, as the Green Party Parliamentary candidate in an exceedingly safe Tory seat, I decided to go all out on environmental issues. The whole of one side of the campaign leaflet we designed locally was about climate change, pollution and loss of wildlife.
The other side of the leaflet talked about how we truly are all in it together. We all suffer harm from global changes. And this led up to my one short paragraph on the need to build a stronger society through fairness and better public services.
I would have liked to leave out Brexit. Although I feel strongly about it, the issue has become poisonous. There is little that can be added to the millions of words already uttered. We didn’t have a three word slogan to match “get Brexit done”. Reluctantly, I included a single sentence on the need for a People’s Vote to take us out of the mess of Brexit options.
When the nominations closed, we found the usual four parties. The Brexit Party had pulled out of Conservative seats. We also had four outsiders, the Yorkshire Party, two independents, and the Social Democratic Party. Yes, I thought it had died long ago, but for some reason it fielded around a dozen candidates this time, mostly in Yorkshire.
At every hustings, our SDP candidate picked on a weakness of climate change as a campaign point. He insisted that UK emissions are scarcely more than 1% of the global total. We should, he claimed, simply carry on as usual, aiming for the maximum short term benefit for the UK. Climate change was, he thought, an issue for countries like China, USA and India.
To the extent it is possible to develop an argument at a hustings, I pushed the point that the USA is key to the problem. China won’t change so long as the USA is equivocal. And China won’t listen to us. The USA doesn’t listen much, but its limited commitment is likely to be weakened if a bunch of European countries are claiming to be exempt from change.
All the same, it is a weakness in the climate change argument that people cannot see visible results. We have cut UK carbon emissions. Even though much of that is fortuitous and despite Tory government negligence, it has happened. Yet global emissions continue to rise. If we make a bigger effort, will we see any results?
So far as the SDP candidate’s arguments are concerned, my consolation is that his tally of 127 votes made my 2263 look pretty impressive! Unfortunately, the Conservative candidate took 35,634. Well, the Conservatives have won this seat in every general election since 1855. So not much of a surprise.
Should I regret the way we chose to run the campaign? I think not. Although it’s hard to see results from efforts on climate change, the various environmental issues belong together. Climate change happens to be the one that is getting most publicity. Pollution and the risk of mass extinctions are just as important, and our actions can have more immediate results.
All of these environmental problems have the same causes. Our unbridled appetite for development without regard for our impact on the only world we have. The solution is clear, if unwelcome. We have to find different ways to live rewarding lives. For many citizens, that means we must create a fairer society. There’s an undoubted logic to the familiar Green Party arguments. The fact that it is hard to persuade the electorate is no reason to stop. And at least I did get more than twice the number of votes as in 2017.