British Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans of a “green recovery” in early July, which intends to simultaneously tackle the socio-economic impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the looming reality of climate breakdown within Britain. The plan consists of green investment into various state entities to facilitate the transition from a fossil-fuel dependent economy to one that is green, resilient and protective of the natural environment. This includes a £2 billion grant for green homes and £1 billion to improve the energy sufficiency of public sector buildings, as well as £50 million towards the decarbonisation of social housing. The announcement appears to politically align with the Conservative Party’s previous socialist-leaning policies since the pandemic outbreak, such as the furlough scheme that provided financial support for those unable to work due to social distancing requirements.
In the context of a global pandemic, the Conservative Party responded to the virus’s impact in a radically interventionist way. Journalist Chris Saltmarsh accurately writes that, “austerity ideology has been obliterated with major spending on the furlough scheme.” Yet there exists criticism of Sunak’s “industrial green revolution” on the far left. For Saltmarsh, the Labour Party must emphasize a “recovery for people and the planet,” rather than a, “recovery for capital.” This criticism is situated within the Corbynist movement – the shift towards a more authentically socialist politics under the direction of erstwhile leader Jeremy Corbyn – that also signaled an identity crisis within the Labour Party in recent years. This tension between a progressive left to a centrist left within the party is the reason Corbyn suffered such an unfortunate defeat in the last election. A traditional, working-class following clearly felt disassociated with the policies advocated by Corbyn, which ironically consisted of a combined emphasis on social inequality and the climate crisis within the U.K.
Thus, problems arise when we consider the direction that the Labour Party must take if it is to reclaim back political support in a post-Corbyn socio-political landscape. For Saltmarsh, a far more radical stance must be established by the left, specifically in terms of Labour’s approach to tackling the impact of the pandemic and the climate crisis. Unsurprisingly, Sunak’s “green industrial revolution” falls short of realistic action, especially when compared to the degree of investment towards the green transition by other European countries. For instance, Germany has committed to £86 billion worth of green investment to create jobs and decarbonize its rail system, as well as £36 billion towards economic recovery. These figures then express a disparity in the level of commitment by the Conservative Party towards tackling the climate crisis in comparison to other countries.
Arguably, this then creates an opportunity for the left to advocate more appropriate policies that tackle the current economic situation and climate breakdown as a crisis, which would require greater state intervention than the Sunak “green recovery” model. But would taking a more radical stance on the left in a post-Corbyn climate further disassociate working-class communities from the Labour Party, which is in fact supposed to represent them? These are the complex circumstances within British domestic politics today that are affecting how the climate crisis is tackled. Therefore, we must continue to critically engage with how politicians address the transition, in order to ensure that efforts to overcome the climate crisis are effective and long-term.
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