There have been concerns from some environmentalists that Labour doesn’t ‘get’ the importance of political leadership on climate change. Any such fears can now be banished after Ed Ball’s speech to the Green Alliance.
It was a speech about infrastructure that provided a sense of what can be expected from a Labour government on the green agenda in 2015: New powers for the Green Investment bank; a promise to prioritise global leadership for a global deal on emissions at Paris 2015 and a position on shale gas that is sensible and led by evidence.
This was a serious policy speech by a shadow chancellor thinking hard about how to place the low-carbon transition at the heart of economic policy and industrial strategy. The focus was on the need for investor certainty as well as how to maximise value for the UK. That’s why there was talk about the supply chain and the expertise for renewables being fostered under a Labour government. We don’t just want to decarbonise, we want that skills and UK jobs that go with it.
Perhaps more important was the way in which Balls explored the idea of the global race. Cameron and Osborne have talked about the global race for some time now but it’s not very clear what their vision of where this race leads is. Is it a global race to the bottom of pay and conditions? Osborne’s idea of allowing the trading of worker’s rights for shares certainly suggests so.
Ed Balls began to illustrate that under Labour the global race would be one fought on terms of cooperation with friends abroad, not just a competition to build more. We cannot build as much as China but we can build it smarter. And then we can export that kind of expertise. The global race that Balls suggested Labour want to run is one that leverages British ingenuity. Invoking the language of Barack Obama, Balls was essentially placing faith in the ability of the British workforce and British firms to rise to the challenge of the low-carbon transition.
This was perhaps the most important aspect of Ball’s speech: the environment was not given a polite nod in terms of the policy review. It was quite clear that the low-carbon transition is an integral part of a wider vision for the economy under Labour. It’s a vision that recalls Ed Miliband’s responsible capitalism and it’s a vision that can plot a path to a genuine recovery.
The bar for success in the economy has been set low by Osborne. That’s why the current chancellor can point to meagre GDP growth and talk in terms amounting to ‘the green shoots of recovery’. Balls and Labour have made it clear that this just won’t be enough. The bars of economic success have to be set much higher and that means taking the threat of climate change seriously.