Labour Needs Rebecca Long Bailey for a Green New Deal – Chris Saltmarsh, #RLB2020 takeover


“Climate breakdown will increasingly define our politics as impacts like wildfires, hurricanes & drought grow worse at home & abroad. Rebecca Long-Bailey is best placed to translate Labour’s proposition of a Green New Deal into the election winning common sense solution to these climate impacts.”

Chris Saltmarsh

Over the last year the Labour Party has begun to take climate breakdown and its relationship to wider social and economic injustices seriously. Hundreds of members and activists took part in the campaign for Labour to adopt a Green New Deal platform at National Conference 2019. Quickly, the Green New Deal has become the common sense way for Labour supporters to understand the need to rapidly decarbonise through the same means as eliminating inequality, guaranteeing basic rights and needs, and promoting global justice. 

This was clear at the first hustings of Labour’s candidates to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Party. In front of the Liverpool audience, candidates from across Labour’s political spectrum cohered around a commitment to take forward the Green New Deal policies from the 2019 manifesto. There is one candidate, though, who stands out from the crowd when it comes to taking Labour’s Green New Deal forward. 

Rebecca Long-Bailey worked closely with grassroots campaigners and trade unions in developing Labour’s Green New Deal and continues to demonstrate a commitment to upholding its most essential transformational elements. At the same time, it’s not always apparent that other candidates fully understand the Green New Deal as a decisive break from a recent history of failed climate policy, rather than a superficial rebrand of business as usual. 

Already Long-Bailey has challenged other candidates to join her in pledging to continue Labour’s support for the public ownership of key industries: rail, mail, water and energy. This comes after some have suggested they could row back on some of Labour’s 2019 nationalisation commitments. Long-Bailey’s commitment to expanding public ownership of the economy is vital to the Green New Deal. The private sector and free market has failed to deliver a climate transition. The profit motive keeps getting in the way. Bringing energy into public ownership means we can build a clean energy system that works for people and planet, not profit. It means we can make sure that transition is just for workers and people experiencing fuel poverty. But it’s not just energy. Every sector of the economy must contribute to rapid decarbonisation and the more of it the public own, the quicker and fairer that transition can be. Any candidate not committed to expanding public ownership across the economy is quite simply not serious about climate justice.

Long-Bailey has already laid down the gauntlet regarding ambition for the scale and speed of Labour’s Green New Deal. The date by which Labour would reduce carbon emissions to net-zero was a key site of contention at National Conference 2019, but eventually it was only the GMB trade union that opposed it. Long-Bailey was key in bringing activists and unions together around that ambition and she has restated her commitment the 2030 target during the leadership contest. Lisa Nandy has suggested we shouldn’t be arguing over dates, but the argument made by Green New Deal campaigners is that the target sets the pace for the scale of ambition for wider policies. Commitment to a ten-year decarbonisation plan requires a level of investment in home insulation, public ownership, renewable technologies and new industries that simply wouldn’t be forthcoming with a relaxed target or none at all. 

When I heard Long-Bailey speak to activists at a rally in Oxford recently, she demonstrated a great ease with communicating the central elements of any Green New Deal worth its salt. She revisited the line introduced at her speech at National Conference 2019: a call for public luxury. This isn’t just a rejection of austerity – Labour’s ultimately inadequate 2015-2019 comfort zone – but a proposition for what society could be like post-austerity. Drawing on George Monbiot’s call for private sufficiency and public luxury, this is a promise of building an economy that works for the majority within our ecological limits. We necessarily reduce our collective consumption, but through the provision of universal basic services to meet everyone’s rights and needs. 

Central to this is Long-Bailey’s commitment to reindustrialisation to create new industries, green jobs and strengthen trade unions. She has prioritised economic democracy so that workers, service users and communities have a say in how the economy is run as it changes. She has said we will invest in the technologies of the future so that we can live 21st century lives while efficiently using new clean energies. 

Climate breakdown will increasingly define our politics as impacts like wildfires, hurricanes and drought grow worse at home and abroad. Rebecca Long-Bailey is best placed to translate Labour’s proposition of a Green New Deal into the election winning common sense solution to these climate impacts. That’s why she’s the person to lead Labour into the 2020s.  

  • Chris Saltmarsh is a socialist, climate justice organiser and city council candidate in Oxford. He writes about climate politics and social movements. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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