Updated: Mar 26
Tom Costello, Greater Manchester Socialist Alternative
29 November saw a new round of protests as part of the global #YouthStrike4Climate movement, with hundreds of thousands of school and college students taking action. This year has seen the issue of the climate being catapulted to the centre of discussion. People's awareness of how severe this crisis is has grown rapidly.
On November 28, the first general election leader's debate to be devoted solely to the climate crisis was broadcast on channel four.
Unsurprisingly, Boris Johnson was a no-show. Appropriately, in his place was a melting ice statue, which generated fury at Tory HQ. In response the Tories took to the press to attack Channel 4 producers for supposedly breaching their 'impartiality'. But the statue acted as an urgent reminder of how little concern for the future of our planet they have.
Although Boris's no-show will further damage his credibility among many, he would have come out much worse had he shown up. The Tory strategy so far has been to shield Johnson from public view and to avoid opportunities for his record to be scrutinised. When he makes a rare appearance, his aim is to doggedly repeat the script on 'getting Brexit done'.
Should Johnson have appeared in this climate debate the outcome would have been a complete embarrassment. Not only would his consistent record of voting against meagre environmental protections in parliament have been brought to light, but the role played by fracking lobbyist Rachel Wolf in the drafting of his manifesto would have also been highlighted. It’s unsurprising that with authors like that, the document offers no way forward for addressing the climate emergency.
This gave Corbyn a great opportunity to show which side Boris really stands on. As he tweeted to him in the morning:
“If I was being funded by the big polluters, I wouldn't want to take part in the climate debate either”.
Empty phrases and ‘green’ austerity
Given the subject, this debate was clearly going to be seen by the Green Party as a key opportunity to have their voices heard. However, beyond stating that they were the party to talk about the climate ‘before anyone else', they actually had very little to offer in terms of policies that would benefit working people.
In reality, the Greens have not been the ones to force the issue of climate change onto the political agenda. It was the millions of youth in Britain and elsewhere bravely entering into struggle and staging their walkouts that did so.
It was, however, quite clear from Green Party leader Sian Berry's performance that the party has begun to feel the pressure of this year of radicalisation around the climate. On a number of occasions, she made a call for a 'Green New Deal', echoing the language of the self-described democratic socialist US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). In spite of this, the Greens’ policies fall short of those set out by both AOC and Corbyn.
A key idea put forward in AOC's proposed Green New Deal is that, by taking measures such as taxing the rich and investing in green jobs, a left government would be able to connect tackling the effects of runaway climate change with ending austerity and providing a decent future for working people. It’s vital that ordinary people are not the ones picking up the tab for a crisis created by the mega-rich elite.
Central to the Green Party’s policies, however, is the call for a 'carbon tax'. Socialists oppose taxes which fail to take account of a person’s ability to pay. In practice, the Green Party’s proposed carbon tax would mean a tax on the day-to-day lives of working-class people while not actually addressing the root cause of climate catastrophe. By attaching blame to the spending habits of individual consumers, a carbon tax would fail to deliver on decarbonisation, while letting the big polluting companies off the hook.
Even less impressive was the Liberal Democrats' Jo Swinson. After a car-crash performance on Question Time, she has fallen completely flat. Swinson's approach was to, yet again, steer all of the issues back to Brexit, peddling the false idea that if a Lib Dem government were to cancel Brexit, this would provide the only safe road towards decarbonisation.
Of course, a Tory Brexit would likely compound the disaster facing our environment, with Johnson happy to make a bonfire out of the limited existing protection laws. We would have to mobilise in our schools, workplaces and trade unions to fight this and to demand the change that’s needed to protect our environment.
But the future of the planet does not hinge on remaining in the capitalist EU – which itself has a tawdry record on environmental issues. Ultimately, it hinges on whether or not we have an economy that is rigged around the interests of an exploiting and polluting capitalist elite, which destroys the planet in its quest for higher profits.
Vote Corbyn – for a Socialist Green New Deal
In contrast to the meaningless platitudes of other parties present, Corbyn's policies managed to expose the rotten role that big business has played in threatening the future of the planet. He stated the fact that just 100 giant corporations have been responsible for 70% of CO2 emissions since the late 1980s.
While other party leaders bragged about driving their electric cars, Corbyn threw out some of his best and boldest anti-austerity policies. This involved public ownership of the national grid, water companies, along with the supply arms of the 'big six' energy giants, while taxing the oil companies to contribute to a £250bn “Green Transformation Fund”. This would make up a “Green Industrial Revolution”, where new policies of public investment would allow for the creation of a million climate jobs in onshore and offshore wind, housing upgrades and electric car production, along with 800,000 apprenticeships.
All of this points in the right direction – of targeting the profits of the capitalist class to invest in a green future. Socialist Alternative has been mobilising and campaigning across the country to deliver a Corbyn-led Labour government. However, there remain some serious limitations to Labour's manifesto that must be discussed by all those involved in the movement.
During the debate, Corbyn made correct points about the need for a massive expansion of rail networks in Britain and elsewhere. This would be achievable through the nationalisation of the railways. But Corbyn's current plan is to simply purchase the rail companies at their 'market value' once their contracts end.
This means that nationalisation would not be completed until 2030, limiting in terms of speed and scope the plans for the mass expansion of transport that’s needed. What’s more this approach means ripping off the public by paying off the rail bosses whose profits have already been subsidised by taxpayers and commuters for decades.
Instead, a Corbyn-led government should take the rail companies out of private hands and fully nationalise them immediately. Compensation should only be paid on the basis of proven need, for example to smaller shareholders. The owners of the giant rail companies, who have made their profits from bleeding our public services dry should not receive a further penny. To win policies like this, it will be necessary to mobilise workers and youth everywhere, ensuring that these industries could be managed under democratic control and management. In this way, it would be possible to plan the economy in order to meet the needs of working-class people, without destroying the planet.
Corbyn's manifesto has also watered down some of the policies passed at the recent Labour conference. Instead of adopting the conference's call for decarbonisation by 2030, Corbyn has only come out in favour of 'majority' decarbonisation. It would be entirely possible for a Corbyn government to pledge and deliver on complete decarbonisation by that date. But it would require it to move beyond its list of radical reforms, and instead challenge the existence of the capitalist system as a whole.
What is needed is a socialist Green New Deal, where not only the energy, water and rail companies would be taken into democratic public ownership, but all of the major banks and corporations that dominate the economy. By breaking with this rotten market system, we would be taking the steps necessary to plan for a decent and sustainable future.
Just last month in London, Extinction Rebellion unveiled a banner that read “Climate Struggle = Class Struggle”. This is absolutely correct. Now we must vote for a Corbyn-led Labour government on 12 December, while building a movement that links up strikes of workers and youth. In order to succeed, such a movement would need to be organised around socialist ideas – to finally smash the capitalists' control over our economy and planet.