The ballot papers are out, canvassing has entered overdrive and yet still energy and the environment appear to be little more than afterthoughts for the four candidates for the Labour Party leadership.
Such indifference to the green economy should come as surprise given how obvious a vote winner it could be. In the three months the Conservatives have been in power, David Cameron has culled no fewer than nine green energy schemes and looked to fast-track shale gas extraction.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has accused Cameron of rolling back the green agenda, yet there has barely been a mention of climate change from three quarters of those vying to lead the opposition for the next five years.
Much of this has been left to shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint, who is herself running for deputy leader. It’s a point not lost on much of the party’s membership including MP Angela Eagle. Writing for the Guardian last week, Eagle – who is challenging Flint for the deputyship – accused her party of treating the environment “as an afterthought”.
Running through the campaign manifestos and pledges only seems to reinforce Eagle’s point. Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall make no specific mention of the environment nor the UK’s creaking energy market in their own policy documents, while Andy Burnham merely states his desire to place a moratorium on fracking until more detailed science can either prove or disprove its effects.
Only last-minute entrant and runaway favourite Jeremy Corbyn has given the environment the attention it deserves. Corbyn released his manifesto earlier this week and dedicates 11 pages – albeit mostly refuting current Tory government policy – to how Labour would look to bring about an “energy revolution” in the UK should he lead the party to an election victory in 2020.
His model takes a huge amount of inspiration from Germany. Corbyn wants a significant amount of distributed generation in the UK and far more choice for consumers, extolling the benefits of Germany’s more-than-1,000 energy suppliers over the UK’s Big Six.
Central to Corbyn’s vision is the establishment of an Energy Commission whose aim it will be to progress a “fundamental shift in UK energy thinking”. Technology will resonate throughout with Corbyn extolling the benefits of localised storage, new distribution mechanisms and grid balancing systems. The shift in thinking will, he hopes, result in a far greater reliance on renewable energies which would in turn help the UK meet legally binding climate change commitments.
The benefits of the vision extend far beyond the environment, however. Corbyn has also pledged to create one million additional “climate jobs” under his leadership – estimating the green economy to currently hold around 275,000 – while a National Investment Bank offering rates of approximately 1% would also be established to stimulate uptake of domestic energy generation technologies.
A “root and branch review” of all energy subsidies pledged by Corbyn, while interesting, might not be all that fruitful for technologies such as solar which would certainly hope to be well on the way towards being subsidy free – if not there already – by the time a Corbyn-led Labour Party could form a ruling government.
His manifesto has not been without its critics however. Corbyn’s policies would certainly be expensive and there has been considerable doubt expressed over the £120 billion figure he would look to recoup from chasing tax avoidance from big business. A large number of Labour MPs past and present have suggested a Corbyn victory would set the party back years and that his vision, while gaining incredible popularity with traditionally left Labour supporters, would not resonate with the wider electorate. Kendall, Cooper and Burnham have also recently expressed dissatisfaction with how his campaign has been run, although this certainly appears to stem far more from sour grapes than any nefarious effort to rig the vote.
Corbyn could well alienate Labour from the general public and might not be capable of galvanising a party in disarray following May’s shock general election performance, but he remains the only candidate who has given renewable energy and the environment the credence as a central theme in his campaign. Labour’s failure to respond to the Conservative’s green culls could be regarded as yet more evidence of how out of touch the party has become.