What do the party manifestos say about sustainability?
It’s Friday 2nd June. This is the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m Anthony Day.
Yes, it's the report you’ve all been waiting for: my analysis of the different promises on sustainability in the UK election manifestos from the main parties. I’ll tell you who I’m going to vote for and why. I also include a guide to the UK electoral system for those of my many listeners who are based outside the UK.
Before we start let me welcome Johan Thorstenson, my latest Silver Supporter. Johan is based in Stockholm, Sweden. Let me also welcome author Manda Scott based here in the UK. She too has signed up as a Silver Supporter. Welcome to you both! A big thank-you to all my patrons for your support. You can join them at patreon.com/sfr
First today, party by party, here are their pledges. What will they do on energy, air quality, pollution, climate change and transport?
Of course, only one party can win and even then there’s no guarantee that their promises will be fulfilled. I’m looking in detail at the Conservatives, sometimes called Tories, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Only the Conservatives or the Labour Party have any chance of winning a majority. (At the outset of this campaign nobody expected anyone but the Conservatives to win, but more of that later.) It is possible that the LibDems could hold the balance of power, but they have made it clear that they will not go into coalition with either of the other major parties.
I briefly summarise the positions of the Greens and UKIP. As I explain later, the SNP has a surprising degree of influence over the politics of the whole of the United Kingdom but their manifesto came out too late to be included in this review.
You can download the complete manifestos here:
Let’s talk first about Energy. The Conservatives will set up an independent review into how we can ensure UK energy costs are as low as possible, while meeting the 2050 carbon reduction objective. They plan a diverse energy mix which does not rule out coal although it does rule out onshore wind except on Scottish islands. There will be support for fracking. The Conservatives don't use the F-word but prefer to refer to “natural gas from shale”. They will give more of the Shale Wealth Fund to local communities and they will install smart meters in every household by 2020. They will introduce a safeguard tariff cap that will extend energy price protection to more customers on the poorest value tariffs. This sounds like the tariff cap that was proposed by the Labour Party at the 2015 election, and dismissed by the Conservatives at the time as a reckless Marxist initiative.
Unsurprisingly, Labour remains committed to an energy price cap, but is more specific than the Conservatives:
“Introduce an immediate emergency price cap to ensure that the average dual-fuel household energy bill remains below £1,000 per year.
“Take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.”
They talk about a fundamental reorganisation of the energy market with the creation of publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives, and about bringing the national and regional grid infrastructure into public ownership over time. They talk about insulating 4m homes and providing homeowners with interest-free loans to improve their properties. Diametrically opposite to the Conservatives, Labour will ban fracking because, they say, it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas use must sharply decline. They will support tidal lagoons and other renewables, although they don’t specifically mention wind. They will support the development of nuclear power as well as the development of that philosopher’s stone, carbon capture and storage. The Conservatives do not mention CCS, insulation, tidal lagoons or nuclear power. Just to be on the safe side, Labour commits to supporting the oil and gas industry in the North Sea.
The Liberal Democrats will also insulate 4m homes. They are more specific about energy than the other two parties. For example, they will expand renewable energy, aiming to generate 60% of electricity from renewables by 2030, restoring government support for solar PV and onshore wind in appropriate locations (helping meet climate targets at least cost) and building more electricity interconnectors to underpin this higher reliance on renewables. (Interconnectors, you’ll remember, are undersea cables allowing us to import electricity from other countries.) They will
Support investment in cutting-edge technologies including energy storage, smart grid technology, hydrogen technologies, onshore wind, and tidal power (including giving the go-ahead for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon), and investing heavily in research and development.
Support an ambitious carbon capture and storage programme, (well, at least they realise it’s ambitious!)
Oppose ‘fracking’ because of its adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix, and the local environment.
They cautiously support nuclear power, “provided concerns about safety, disposal of waste and cost are adequately addressed, new technology is incorporated, and there is no public subsidy for new build.”
The LibDems will also pass a Zero-Carbon Britain Act to set new legally binding targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and to zero by 2050. The current legal target is an 80% reduction by 2050. A zero target is almost certainly unachievable, but cynics might say that it’s a promise the LibDems will never have to fulfil.
The LibDems do not promise an energy price cap. Instead they say they will reduce energy bills permanently by improving home insulation and encouraging small-scale, community and local-authority renewable schemes. They will make saving energy a top infrastructure priority, slashing energy bills and carbon emissions, creating thousands of jobs and helping end the fuel poverty crisis once and for all. They will restore the zero-carbon standard for new buildings.
By comparison, UKIP will support a diverse energy market based on coal, nuclear, shale gas, conventional gas, oil, solar and hydro, as well as other renewables when they can be delivered at competitive prices. They support fracking, but not in National Parks. They will make use of cheap fossil fuels wherever possible.
The Green Party will replace fracking, coal power stations, subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear with the clean green efficient renewable energy of the future. They will invest in community owned energy and in a public works programme of insulation to make every home warm.
Air Quality and Pollution
All the parties have something to say on air quality. Labour will introduce a Clean Air Act and so will the Greens. Labour will retrofit buses to reduce emissions. They will encourage more use of the railway which will also reduce air pollution.
The Lib Dems have an Air Quality Plan. The Tories will take action against poor air quality in urban areas. In addition to the 11 million trees they are planting across the nation, they will ensure that 1 million more are planted in our towns and cities, and place new duties on councils to consult when they wish to cut down street trees.
UKIP will not put penalties on diesel cars but will introduce a
scrappage scheme with special incentives to change to electric or hybrid vehicles. They will promote evidence-based environmental schemes.
The Tories will do more to reduce litter, including by supporting comprehensive rubbish collection and recycling, supporting better packaging, taking new powers to force councils to remove roadside litter and prosecuting offenders.
LibDems support the Circular Economy to minimise resource use, waste and pollution, and will introduce a Zero Waste Act. They are the only party to mention the Circular Economy and to hint that there’s a better way of doing things. They will establish a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England and extend separate food waste collections to at least 90% of homes by 2022. Building on the success of their plastic bag charge, introduced while they were in coalition, they will introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups to reduce waste. The Greens will introduce a deposit scheme on plastic bottles. UKIP will investigate deposits on plastic bottles. The Labour Party will
set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, but the Labour Party doesn’t seem to say much else about litter or recycling.
set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, but the Labour Party doesn’t seem to say much else about litter or recycling.
What do the parties have to say about Climate Change?
After all, stabilising the climate is fundamental to preserving life on earth and everything that we do here.
UKIP will repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act which, they say, has no basis in science, and its aim of cutting greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050 is unachievable.
They will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, to enhance our industrial competitiveness.
On the other hand the Greens would strengthen the global deal on climate change, including by delivering climate justice and promoting ecologically sustainable development so that poorer countries can cope with the impacts of climate change.
The Conservatives tell us that we are at the forefront of action against global climate change. They will continue to lead international action against climate change… They are committed to leaving the environment in better condition than we inherited it. That is why, they say, they will continue to take a lead in global action against climate change, as the government demonstrated by ratifying the Paris Agreement. We were the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act, which Conservatives helped to frame, and we are halfway towards meeting our 2050 goal of reducing emissions by eighty per cent from 1990 levels.
The LibDems are not convinced by this at all. “The Conservatives,” they say, “seem determined to take Britain back to the 1980s, when the UK was the ‘dirty man of Europe’. They have cut support for renewable energy and home insulation, sold off the Green Investment Bank and failed to control air pollution. Their actions put not just Britain’s environment at risk but the health of its citizens and its economy, undermining the increasingly successful green industries which already employ more than half a million workers.”
The LibDems support the Paris Agreement and will ensure that everything is done to maintain the high standards of EU environmental regulation in UK law, including the closest possible co-operation on climate and energy policy.
The Labour manifesto addresses climate change in several contexts. A Labour energy policy will ensure we meet our climate change targets and transition to a low-carbon economy. A Labour government will put us back on track to meet the targets in the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement.
A Labour government will reclaim Britain’s leading role in tackling climate change, working hard to preserve the Paris Agreement and deliver on international commitments to reduce emissions while mitigating the impacts of climate change on developing countries.
And what about Transport?
The LibDems remain opposed to any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and any new airport in the Thames Estuary and will focus instead on improving existing regional airports such as Birmingham and Manchester. Part of their air quality improvement policy is the introduction of a Green Transport Act.They support HS2 and HS3, the East-West rail link for the north of England. They want to shift more freight from road to rail and upgrade the whole public transport system, including improving the customer experience. They will introduce a diesel scrappage scheme and ultra low emissions areas which only the cleanest vehicles will be allowed to enter.
UKIP opposes the HS2 North/South railway and a 3rd runway at Heathrow. They will improve east-west rail services and connections across the north of England and they will abolish road tolls. They will install more charging stations for electric cars. As we’ve heard, they will not impose penalties on diesel cars travelling into city centres - or anywhere - but they will introduce a scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles with special incentives for drivers who change to electric or hybrid vehicles. UKIP will first freeze Air Passenger Duty and scrap it in long term. They will introduce a Britdisc to monitor foreign vehicles entering the UK to make sure that if they commit any traffic violations they can be tracked and penalised before they escape back to the continent.
The Greens offer a People’s Transport System. They will return the railways to public ownership and re-regulate buses.
They will invest in regional rail links and electrification of existing rail lines.
They oppose HS2 .
They will cancel all airport expansion and end subsidies on airline fuel and they will increase incentives to take diesel vehicles off the roads.
The Conservatives will spend £1.1 billion to improve local transport and are putting some £40 billion into transport improvements - roads and railways - across the United Kingdom over the rest of this decade.
“Our ambition”, they say, “is for Britain to lead the world in electric vehicle technology and use. We want almost every car and van to be zero-emission by 2050 – and will invest £600 million by 2020 to help achieve it. We will invest in more low-emission buses.
“We will focus on creating extra capacity on the railways, which will ease overcrowding, bring new lines and stations, and improve existing routes – including for freight. We will increase services on our main lines and commuter routes, and launch new services to places which are poorly served or host major new housing projects.
“We will continue to support local authorities to expand cycle networks and upgrade facilities for cyclists at railway stations.”
They don’t mention scrappage.
HS2 is not mentioned either. Could be a raw nerve for some of their supporters.
Labour will invest in a modern, integrated, accessible and sustainable transport system that is reliable and affordable. Nothing to argue with there! A Labour government will complete the HS2 high-speed rail line from London through Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, and then into Scotland. They will link HS2 with other rail investments, such as Crossrail of the North tying together our great northern cities and on to the Durham Freight Centre. They will build a new Brighton Main Line for the South East. They will re-nationalise the railways, taking them back into public ownership as each of the current franchise agreements expires.
Like the Conservatives, Labour will position the UK at the forefront of the development, manufacture and use of ultra low emission vehicles, supporting the creation of clean modes of transport through investment in low emission vehicles. They will retrofit thousands of diesel buses in areas with the most severe air quality problems to Euro 6 standards, but they too don’t mention scrappage.
How important is Sustainability to the parties?
Simple searching reveals that it’s not very important at all for most of them.
Three mentions from the Labour Party, but not really on message. They want to abolish the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans, to examine the future sustainability of local pubs and safeguard environmental sustainability in the face of Brexit. I’ll support that last one.
The LibDems will establish a Cabinet Committee on Sustainability, chaired by a cabinet minister, and they’ll establish an Office for Environmental Responsibility to scrutinise the government’s efforts to meet its environmental targets, and they’ll place a responsibility on every government agency to account for its contribution towards meeting climate targets in everything it does.
Like the Labour Party, the Conservatives talk about the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans, but unlike Labour they support them. The only other occurrence of the word in the Tory manifesto relates to the long-term sustainability of the Scottish economy.
The Greens want to scrap the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans, and that’s the only time they use the s-word. Of course almost everything they say in their manifesto has positive implications for sustainability. They just don’t seem to call it that.
UKIP doesn’t mention sustainability at all.
The truth, of course, is that sustainability features nowhere in the election campaign. Even climate change may be in the manifestos but nobody considers it important enough to be debated. The campaigns at present are dominated by personal attacks, Brexit, taxes and the NHS.
Incidentally, a group of academics have issued an analysis of the treatment of Brexit in the party manifestos. In “Red, Yellow and Blue Brexit” at http://ukandeu.ac.uk/research-papers/ they claim that all the parties have significantly understated the consequences of Brexit for the UK.
And so to the Election
How does it all work and what does it all mean? Here’s a guide to the UK Political System for our Friends Abroad
British democracy is the envy of the world. At least, that's what writers to my local newspaper tell me. Let me explain how it works.
In the United Kingdom we have a two-chamber system, approximately. I say approximately, because we have two chambers at Westminster in London but there are legislative chambers with various degrees of power in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. More about them later.
House of Lords
In London we have the House of Lords, so called because its members are all members of the nobility. Some of them are lords because they inherited the title from their fathers. These are the 90 hereditary peers, but they are now in a minority. A further 685 members are life peers, which means they have been made lords or ladies by a grateful Prime Minister. Twenty-five bishops of the Church of England are also entitled to take seats. Apart from the bishops, all members of the House of Lords are members for life. There are no elections.
The House of Lords can originate legislation, review legislation and delay legislation, but it no longer has the power to block legislation completely. It can still annoy the government with delays and revisions.
House of Commons
The House of Commons is the elected chamber where the prime minister and cabinet, their supporters and the opposition parties all sit. Just before the General Election was called there were 650 members of parliament, made up of 330 Conservatives, 229 Labour, 9 Liberal Democrats, 54 Scottish Nationalists and 38 from minor parties. The Conservative government had a small, but absolute majority.
First Past the Post
Members of parliament are elected for geographic areas - constituencies - by the first past the post system. This means that the candidate with the largest number of votes wins, even if the combined votes against are greater. These opposing votes are discarded as only first preferences are taken into account. This leads to some curious results.
For example, the 2015 election gave the Conservatives 37% of the votes cast and 331 seats, which is 51% of the total seats. The Labour Party received 36% of the seats for only 30% of the votes. 11.3m people voted Conservative to give them their 331 seats. The Green Party polled 1.1m, about a tenth of that, but got just one seat. The Liberal Democrats polled 2.4m and got 8 seats. Ukip polled 3.8m and got 1 seat, but the Scottish National Party polled only 1.5m and got - wait for it - 56 seats.
Voting is not compulsory in the UK and 66% of those eligible actually voted in 2015. This means that the Conservative government was elected by only 24% of those entitled to vote.
The West Lothian Question - or why Scotland is important.
It’s worth exploring the Scottish situation. The Scottish Parliament which meets in Edinburgh has powers in Scotland over
• education and training
• health and social services
• law and order
• local government
• sport and the arts
• tourism and economic development
Members of Parliament from Scotland can vote on how these issues are handled in England, but English MPs have no say on how these issues are handled in Scotland. Members of the London Westminster Parliament from Scotland are different from the members of the Scottish Parliament, although they are entitled to stand for election to both, and to hold a dual mandate. Lords may not be Members of Parliament at Westminster, but they are eligible to be elected to the Scottish Parliament.
Now can you see why my newspaper correspondent said that British democracy was the envy of the world?
No, nor can I. The worrying thing is that he’s not alone in believing it.
Why are we having this election?
In the past, the prime minister could choose any date whatever to hold a general election. The best time to do this would obviously be when the opposition was in difficulty. To prevent unscrupulous prime ministers from disrupting the work of parliament for unnecessary snap elections the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was introduced in 2011. Under this, elections would be held on specified dates every 5 years, and this could only be varied with the approval of 66% of MPs.
Prime Minister Theresa May is on record at least six times saying there would be no general election before the next scheduled date in 2020. The she noticed that the opposition Labour Party was indeed in difficulties so she announced that there would be a General Election on the 8th June. What stuns me is that not only did she announce the date before she had Parliament’s approval to overturn the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but the Labour opposition actually voted to overturn the Act when they could have easily blocked it. That would have kept Theresa May on the back foot nursing a small majority.
At the start of the campaign a landslide victory was predicted for the Conservatives. Theresa May has led a presidential style campaign promoting herself over her party. Recent policy U-turns have done her no favours and there are increasing mutterings about the indecision of Theresa Maybe. Will she get the result she’s looking for, or will she be the second prime minister to misjudge the voters in 12 months? Her opinion poll ratings have declined significantly, and suddenly it’s all about the Conservative Party, not about the cult of Theresa May. Results on Friday 9th June.
You won’t get the results on the Sustainable Futures Report of that date because my recording deadline comes before the polls close. Instead you’ll hear about Sustainability in the real world.
How will I vote?
Oh, and I did promise I’d tell you how I’m going to vote. The Conservatives offer a lot of very good and plausible benefits in their manifesto, but I do not trust Mrs May to keep her word after her denials that there would be an election, after her conversion from Remainer to ultra-Brexiteer and after her U-turns on policy in the middle of the election campaign. I do not support any form of Brexit, as I sincerely believe it will be a disaster for our country. I believe the Conservatives want the hardest possible Brexit in order to convert the country into a tax haven to the benefit of the wealthy few and the serious disadvantage of everyone else.
I will be supporting the LibDems - indirectly. I’m doing a vote swap. How it works is that I will actually vote for the local Labour MP - the first time I have ever voted Labour in my life - to help ensure that she won’t be unseated by the Tories who came second here in 2015. In recognition of this a Labour supporter in the neighbouring constituency will vote LibDem. In that constituency the LibDems came second to the Conservatives. It’s by no means an ideal situation, but in the face of the chronically undemocratic British electoral system one has to make what gestures one can.
That’s it for another week.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Here’s hoping we wake up to a sustainable future on Friday 9th June.