Monthly Archives: June 2015

For the love of

cromer storm
Almost unprecedented winter storms damage the sea front and pier in Cromer, December 2013. Picture: Duncan Abel

It’s hard to be bothered too much about global warming when I’m sitting in my chilly kitchen in the middle of June wondering when summer will finally arrive. But I am bothered, and it figures on this blog, which is mainly concerned with poverty, equality and justice, because climate change is a justice issue.

Global warming, caused by the activity of people, is happening now. The 10 hottest years across the world have all occurred since 1998. Global warming is causing catastrophic climate change through systematic changes to global climate and weather patterns. This includes extreme cold, drought, flooding and the increasing strength and frequency of winds and storms.

The impact of climate change is not something we can leave to worry about in the future. Its impact is being felt already around the world. Glaciers, which provide vital water supplies, are retreating in South America. Drought leading to food scarcity is leading to hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, from Mali to Ethiopia. Rising sea levels are inundating low-lying countries like Bangladesh, where villages become uninhabitable and land uncultivable and people flee to the cities. The current refugee crisis in Southeast Asia will only worsen and spread as more land succumbs to the sea.

The one theme running throughout all these examples is that the impact of climate change is hitting hardest amongst the poorest. That’s why climate change is not just an environmental issue, or a health issue, or an economic issue, but a justice issue. The poorest are least able to cope with the devastating impact of drought or flood or storm because they are already living on the edge with limited resources to adapt. Not only this, but poor communities have also contributed the least to the carbon in the atmosphere which is causing the temperature to rise in the first place. In the UK, plenty people are outraged that the pain resulting from bankers’ folly and greed is being felt by the poor, sick and disabled when income and services are cut. We should feel this anger and outrage multiplied exponentially when it comes to the injustice caused by climate change.

In the dying days of the last parliament, a law was passed committing the UK to giving 0.7% of our national income to other countries as international aid. We should be rightly proud of this achievement. Britain may have many faults, but a generous spirit towards those in need has long been part of our identity. We do care what happens to our global neighbours, we are moved by their plight and our giving has transformed many lives. But all this is at risk of being undone if we do not roll back the tide of devastation wreaked by climate change.

So, let’s not negate our hard work in ensuring we are committed to generosity. Let’s take responsibility for our impact on this planet, being caused by the wealthy but being felt by the poor. Let’s recognise that climate change is a matter of justice, and a matter which needs to be addressed now, not in some dim and distant future.

Our government is committed to cutting carbon emissions (and we know how good they are at cuts!) by 80% by 2050. This will mean better energy efficiency at home and in businesses, and investment in renewable energy. But more than this, these kinds of carbon cuts need to be implemented around the world, and Britain needs to lead the way in talks being held in Paris at the end of the year. We also need to stand in solidarity with those poor communities whose lives are already being devastated by climate change. Britain must continue to support the International Climate Fund, which helps developing countries adapt to climate change. We also need to see climate change as a thread running through all the new Sustainable Development Goals as well as a specific goal to tackle climate change. Our government must take the lead to bring about these goals at the SDG summit in September.

So there is plenty that we can do as a nation. But what about as individuals? I’m sure there are many changes you have already made in your lifestyle in an attempt to be more environmentally friendly, and there’s lots more ideas all over the internet. But we can also bridge the gap between individual and national action. Government, after all, is made up of individuals, and each one represents a whole constituency full of individuals. We have a responsibility to hold them to account for the commitments they have already made, and to encourage them to take further steps to tackle climate change now. Governments don’t operate in a vacuum. A movement of people can create an environment which allows politicians to take bold action, knowing they are supported by their citizens.

ftlo heart

So I’m calling you to take action. I’ve talked about communities round the world whose lives and livelihoods are imperilled by climate change. I’m sure there are people and places close to your heart which are under threat, far away or close to home. So come and join me in London on June 17 to tell your elected representative about the people and places you love and why they must act to tackle climate change. Lots more information here. And if you can’t make it, you can write or arrange to meet your MP back at home.

Reframing the Debate

Labour should stop talking about the deficit and talk about investment instead.

Labour has lost the argument about how to run the economy – people chose the Tory way. I think this is because essentially it sounded as though they were saying the same thing – Labour was using the Tory language. It doesn’t matter that it was saying different things, because it was using the same words. George Lakoff talks about the frames and metaphors that shape the way we see and understand the world. If what we hear doesn’t match the frame, the facts bounce off. If you refute the metaphor, you just repeat and reinforce the metaphor. When Labour says it will cut more fairly, people just hear “cut”. And who is the natural party of cuts? The Tories, of course.

Labour should use this to its advantage – reinforce that the Tory party is the party of cuts. Labour should be the party of the people. Not “working people”, or, God forbid, “hard working people”, but just people. All people are intrinsically valuable – see previous posts on this blog.

Ed Miliband missed a trick when that chap on Question Time said Labour had overspent. If I get to the weekend, he said, and I don’t have enough money for a pint, I don’t have a pint. What Ed should have asked him is what he would do if he got to the weekend and his boiler broke and he didn’t have enough money to fix it? Or his car broke down and he couldn’t work without it? Or his daughter phoned in a terrible state needing to borrow money? If he didn’t have enough money, what would he do then? Sometimes we’re doing ok and then we have to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Like the potential collapse of the banking sector.

Among many disservices from Mrs T I would place her metaphor of the country’s finance as a household budget. This is far from the truth. Running a country is more like running a business, constantly investing in its future. Virtually all countries borrow money to invest in their future. Does the UK borrow a lot? As a proportion of total income, no. But Labour borrowed less most years during its time in government than most years Mrs T was in charge. And right now, interest rates are low, borrowing is cheap. Perhaps now we should be borrowing more to invest in our future, so that we need to borrow less later when interest rates rise? Remember, our lovely Mr Osborne owes more now than at the start of his term of office.

Labour should change the framing of the discourse and talk more about investing in people. Investing in people at the start of their lives – that’s what Sure Start was all about – all but disappeared now. It should talk about investing in workers, and about asking businesses to partner with them in terms of investing in workers by paying a Living Wage. It should talk about investing in our students, abolish fees and loans, restore grants, and students could repay that investment with a graduate tax. Investing in apprenticeships. Spending on healthcare and eduations is an investment. Spending on renewable energy and energy efficiency is an investment to protect our future. Being part of the EU is an investment in our ongoing relationship with our trading partners, and our allies who help us make the world a better place. (Well, the EU has the potential to do this, for example the vote last week to stop the trade in conflict minerals.) You get the idea. Investments bring returns, and these don’t necessarily have to be material.

Labour also needs to encourage those with the means to contribute more to this investment in our country. Businesses enjoy the benefits of healthy, educated workers, peaceful society, transport and technology. Those who can, have the privilege of contributing to all this through their taxes. And Labour can level the playing field for smaller UK companies by ensuring that multi-national companies don’t hide UK profits overseas and shirk their responsibility to contribute. Clamping down on tax dodging should also help poor countries invest in their own infrastructure while we continue to suppor them while they need it by investing in overseas aid. The Tories become the party of cuts and pain. Labour becomes the party that believes in people and invests in their future.

Everything can be framed in this way – challenging the effective monopoly of energy companies, getting them to invest in renewables, public ownershop of the railways – investment. Raising revenue – enabling others to partner or share in investing in our country, supporting where it is needed. We don’t need wealth creators if they keep of of the wealth to themselves.

It’s a rather transactional metaphor. But it can be added to, framing it like the “investors in people” creditation. Labour wouldn’t just invest money, but also time. It would develop skills. It would value people, believe in them. We will see returns because people live better lives. There will be material returns too – if we believe in people they have confidence to re-enter the workplace. But we will also see returns like improved health – physical and mental, a happier more cohesive society, less crime. We need to measure more the GDP and invest in the wellbeing of our nation.

This is my offering as regards the post-election post-mortem about why Labour lost. There may be lots of other reasons, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve got alternative frame right, but I’m absolutely sure that what is really missing is a coherent alternative narrative or metaphor to pull Labour’s values and policies together. I’d love to hear your suggestions!