Labour risks loss of young voters by ‘going backwards’ on climate
Labour risks losing support among young people unless it does more to champion a radical green new deal (GND) to tackle the climate crisis and rebuild the post-Covid economy with well-paid, unionised jobs, according to climate activists and young Labour supporters.
School climate strikers and key youth groups within the party say they have been dismayed by what they see as the party’s failure to fight for the full “green industrial revolution” programme set out at the last election. And they warn that the party risks losing support among young people who have backed Labour in the past few years.
Joe Brindle, 18, an organiser of school climate strikes in the UK, said many young people who were deeply concerned about climate breakdown were becoming disillusioned with Labour.
“It is just really disappointing … The leadership will say that the GND is central to what they are doing but they hardly ever bring it up.
“Before the election it felt like their number one priority, it was absolutely central to everything the party talking about, but now it is hardly ever mentioned and it is becoming hard to persuade people concerned about climate change that the Labour party is their best option.”
Labour insisted that it remained committed to a radical environment programme to decarbonise the economy and tackle the climate crisis, adding it should be judged on its policies at the next election.
Ed Miliband, the shadow energy minister, said: “Climate and the green agenda are absolutely central to Labour’s plan for our economy, society and country. We want to be judged at the next election by our ambition in tackling the climate crisis.”
But the campaign group Labour for a Green New Deal said the party’s recent green economic recovery plan appeared to water down or abandon key planks of the previous manifesto – such as public ownership of energy companies, levels of investment, the number of homes that would receive retrofitting and solar panels, and the number of well-paid unionised jobs a GND could create.
Lauren Townsend, spokesperson for the group, which was instrumental in getting the party to back the 2019 GND policy, said: “Labour might claim it’s building on the 2019 manifesto, but in reality the party’s climate policies are going backwards. Labour’s green recovery plan abandons a 2030 decarbonisation target, scraps key public ownership commitments and fails to take on the corporate actors driving the climate crisis.”
She said this was not just a failure to address the scale of the climate crisis but would also be hugely damaging to Labour’s electoral chances.
“By scaling back its climate ambitions, Labour risks losing an election-winning coalition, ranging from Brighton to Bolsover. The green new deal agenda offers jobs, investment and security to working-class communities across the country, and last year made Labour the party of climate. Watering down our ambitions isn’t just bad for the planet – it’s bad politics.”
However, a spokesperson for Labour said it remained committed to a radical green new deal including the target to achieve the substantial majority of emissions reductions by 2030 and the nationalisation of the energy sector as set out at the last election. They said its recent green recovery plan was just a short term response to the Covid crisis, adding the party should be judged on the full green new deal it puts forward at the next election.
Miliband insisted the party was fully committed to a transformative agenda.
“That’s why our green economic plan challenged the government to bring forward GBP30bn capital investment in the next 18 months to support hundreds of thousands of new jobs in low-carbon sectors, in line with ambitious independent proposals.”
He said this was “just the start” of the party’s plans for a GND which “must both decarbonise our economy and transform our country.”
“We want to see much greater ambition in the scale and pace of the UK’s approach to the climate emergency, including eliminating the substantial majority of our emissions by 2030, exactly the same call we made in the 2019 manifesto.”
But Jess Barnard, chair of Young Labour, which represents members aged 14-26 said the party had failed to lead on the issue that mattered most to young people since last year’s general election.
“We really have not seen very much from Keir [Starmer] in his time as leader around the climate crisis.”
She said there was growing concern among many younger voters who backed the party at the last election.
“At the moment we really risk disenfranchising younger voters because they felt they had this ally in Labour and now we are suddenly absent from the debate, absent from opposition, we are absent from demanding action.”
Gaya Sriskanthan, co-chair of Momentum, the grassroots campaign group which backed Jeremy Corbyn for leader, said it appeared Labour was no longer listening to young people or the trade unions on the issue of a green new deal.
“The most fundamental question here is who is Labour listening to on this, who is informing its policy because it is not the membership, it is not the unions it is not the youth strikers.”
She said an increased focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the role of hydrogen in Labour’s recent green recovery plan would be welcomed by big oil.
“The fact that they are emphasising CCS and hydrogen is very curious – because these are exactly the sort of things the fossil fuel industry push because they want to focus on things that don’t challenge their fundamental power.”
Labour denied the claim and said it was committed to working with members, unions and climate activists to tackle the crisis.
Some MPs are also calling on the Labour leadership to do more to push a radical climate justice agenda.
Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, said: “This should be a 1945 moment, with Labour promising a radical green new deal to rebuild the economy with climate and social justice at its heart. Anything less risks not only losing support from young people, but also of abandoning the hope to avert the climate catastrophe.”