“A new radical transformation of our economy fit for the 21st century, built around a new green industrial revolution, could revitalise working class communities.”
By Ian Lavery MP
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece for the New Statesman on the importance of ensuring that the interests and voices of working class people were placed in the centre of the fight against climate change, in order to understand the effects they will have on the long term in the lives of ordinary people already struggling to put food on the table throughout the cost of living crisis.
This was written in the midst of the government’s slim victory in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election fought in the context of a backlash against the potential costs of expanding the ULEZ for ordinary working class people.
While the climate deniers on the Tory benches were in celebratory mood, we would be foolish to deny that the costs of tackling climate change has become a significant wedge issues that cannot be ignored. Working people are concerned about what effect these policies may have on their livelihoods and we must recognise and work to ensure that effect is mitigated in every way possible.
But this is also a debate where, once again, working-class people and their communities are being failed by a political system that serves only the wealthy or the middle-class. As usual, workers are treated with disdain by those who assume they have no interest in climate change and the push for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
This is the opposite of what I find on the doorsteps and in conversation with my own constituents up here in Wansbeck. I speak to allotment holders aware of the disruption being caused to the changing of the seasons, to people in poor quality housing complaining of sweltering heat in the summer and frosty mornings in the winter, to residents affected by flash flooding in recent years and others who have abandoned holidays to flee wild fires.
But while working-class communities are no less concerned than others, people are worried about the cost of the green transition and the impact on their livelihoods.
And many of them feel ignored and left out of the national conversation. Campaign groups such as Just Stop Oil have dominated political discourse on the subject over the past year. While their cause is noble, their actions disproportionately impact working-class people. Their TV spokespeople are erudite and confident but there is a notable lack of working-class voices. The latter are more aware of the impact their actions may have on people struggling to put bread on the table and understand the harm arrest and prison terms may do to their career prospects, something well-connected, middle-class activists are less likely to consider.
The radical change we need in this country – both on the climate and the economy – can be achieved by harnessing the power of the working- and middle-classes in pursuit of a shared goal. That goal must be defined by both groups rather than, as so often, by the latter alone.
The radical economic transformation our country underwent in the 80’s has decimated former industrial working class communities who are still feeling the effects today. A new radical transformation of our economy fit for the 21st century built around a new green industrial revolution could revitalise working class communities, creating thousands of jobs while reducing our reliance on energy sources abroad.
This is the time for ambition yet all we see is a failure of the government and too few people calling for the investment we need. Investing in net zero and mitigating against the worst impacts of climate change could be the biggest means in generations to bring investment into our communities. To fight the coming culture war on climate the Labour Party must be bold and go further than it has so far. We have no alternative but to grasp this opportunity, put the needs of working-class people first and send the bill to those who’ve made their money destroying our planet.
- Ian Lavery is the MP for Wansbeck, you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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