Labour-left commentators have been stumbling over each other to congratulate Rebecca Long-Bailey on her strong words for climate change in Prime Minister’s Questions and in her video on the “green industrial revolution”.
Strong words on climate change are welcome, as are bolder visions. But what does it boil down to, and is it bold enough?
In PMQs, the scale of her vision is seen in her claim that “to safeguard our future, we will need to mobilise all of our resources, just like we did when we rebuilt Britain after the second world war.” We certainly do need to take climate change seriously, mobilising vast resources for it. Did “we” do that after the second world war?
Threatened with the prospect of wide-scale working-class unrest – perceived by some even as the threat of revolution – the ruling-class gave widespread concessions. Much of the welfare state was created, and various key industries were nationalised, under the direction of a left-wing Labour government.
The country’s fundamental capitalist social relations, and most of the wealth of the rich, remained intact. Coal was one of the nationalised industries, and, like most, resembled a state-owned and backed private corporation. It was not run democratically, by the workers in the industry by businessmen, often the same large capitalists who had been running it before. The regime was still, at root, the despotism of profit. The whole of industry, or the wealth of the rich, was not then mobilised. What about Labour’s modern vision?
The closest we can see to that is Labour’s Green Transformation document, co-authored by Rebecca Long-Bailey, and released during Labour’s most recent national conference. In terms of funding, it promises £25 billion a year, a meagre proportion of what is available in the pockets of the rich, and woefully inadequate for tackling climate change. In her video, Long-Bailey emphasises that they are going around the country talking to people about these transformations.
While this, some nifty video-editing, and some emotive rhetoric might give you that squishy feeling inside and make you feel valued, it lacks substance. At best it’s a consultation, whose input and results will be interpreted, ignored or highlighted selectively to justify whatever environmental policy. What we need is not that, but democracy over any such proposals.
Making such policy with reference to existing democratic structures, like Labour’s national conference, rather than using such conferences as a PR event to showcase policies developed behind closed doors, would be a start.