As members, lobbyists, reporters and NGOs flocked to Liverpool for Labour conference, there were some worries that Labour could follow the government’s rollback on climate and energy commitments that we had seen celebrated in Manchester the week before.
Instead, by the end of the glitter-strewn leader’s speech, Starmer declared that “climate change is an opportunity we can’t pass up”, and the flagship Green Prosperity Plan (GPP) remains at the heart of Labour’s much-touted “mission government”.
Given the dismayed response of manufacturers — including the auto industry — to Rishi Sunak’s goalpost shifting on climate measures the previous month, this looks like a smart move for keeping business on board. As a man with Sunak’s banking background should surely know, what businesses and investors crave above all else is the long-term stability that allows them to plan.
According to recent polling by the Labour Climate and Environment Forum (LCEF), over three-quarters of global investors said they believed that a clear industrial strategy like the GPP would offer UK businesses more opportunities than risk, and 73% agreed that government front-loading investment in renewable resources would encourage the same or more investment from the private sector.
Across the conference venues, there were upbeat suggestions of how Starmer’s mission-led government, with its themes of infrastructure, energy, and security at work, might function.
At one LCEF fringe event on farming, shadow DEFRA Minister Daniel Zeichner committed the party to supporting agriculture practices that help us meet our climate and nature targets – a contrast with the government’s continued delay on the implementation of the Environmental Land Management Scheme – a replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy that was supposed to have been one of the great benefits of Brexit.
Meanwhile, in her speech from the conference hall, Reeves said that Labour would “make long-term decisions and invest in British industry” including upgrades to the national grid — an announcement that was extremely popular with the business leaders I spoke to in Liverpool. The importance of the £28 billion Green Prosperity Plan as part of her vision for “securonomics” has never been clearer.
At the Green Economy drinks, hosted by LCEF alongside Octopus Energy, IPPR and the Green Alliance, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones said ambition on clean green industries is “fully embedded” in the party’s plans.
And in his speech, outlining plans for an energy independence bill, Ed Miliband declared that “public investment will unleash private investment”, including “£2.5bn of public money that will crowd in tens of billions of private investment” — all geared towards creating sustainable green domestic power sources and encouraging home-grown British energy.
The indications are that rather than operating in fiefdoms, departments in a Labour government will have to show how their activities are contributing to the missions: so, for example, any infrastructure plan for schools renovations will need to come clad in solar panels, and with a built-in plan for improving pupil’s health through their learning environment. What came through in conversations with the shadow top team was that collegiality is the key — with shadow teams working together to deliver on the five missions set out by Starmer.
All of this is easy to say from opposition, but the buoyancy of those assembled in the bars and cafes of Liverpool in the last week suggested that after years of internal struggle, the Labour party has arrived at a point of coherence.
This is going to prove essential in the years to come. Because, if anything, Labour is understating the scale of the task ahead. A combination of the pandemic and the Conservative soap opera of recent years has meant that 2030 deadlines for biodiversity and climate targets loom large. To describe the task ahead as an “opportunity” is a triumph of optimistic framing but the challenge has galvanised the party as they move into a more serious campaign mode.
But Britain needs this: when even the most conventional institutions, from the RSPB to car manufacturers are crying out for clear and decisive action, it’s no longer radical to think big.