IMMENSE climate strikes taking over cities and towns the length and breadth of Britain and in many other parts of the planet should set the tone for Labour’s week in Brighton.
The message taken up by schoolchildren the world over is that the system as it stands is accelerating towards global catastrophe and politicians must be forced, not asked, to act.
This is no ordinary time in politics, and as Jeremy Corbyn has said, the looming election will not be an ordinary one either. Our country stands at a crossroads.
We can plump for more of the same. Privatisation of public services. Deregulation allowing big business to cut corners with the environment, our health, the safety of the places where we live and work.
A Tory government in hock to major polluters, that not only cuts investment in renewable power but actively subsidises the dirtiest forms of energy generation such as fracking.
Whose politicians are addicted to a failed market dogma that only serves to make their corporate and hedge fund masters richer and richer while homelessness and hunger reach levels not seen in decades.
As author and campaigner Naomi Klein has put it, we are entering an era of climate barbarism. US President Donald Trump has torn up environmental protections, slashed funding for the federal agency responsible for enforcing them — resulting in a sharp drop in the number and size of fines for companies breaking the law — and walked away from agreements mandating international co-operation on mitigating the threat.
Further south, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, having stolen an election in which the socialist frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was barred from running and chucked in jail, is presiding over a dramatic increase in logging and mining in the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the world, tearing up indigenous rights as he does so.
On the other side of the planet a similar process has been undertaken by the Narendra Modi government in India, as adivasis are evicted from their forest lands and applications for jungle clearance and mining are fast-tracked.
This is scandalous, but “respectable” politicians who accept the reality of climate change have not done much better. Of all signatories to the Paris Agreement, only China is ahead of schedule when it comes to meeting its global warming commitments and most Western countries are way off track.
Meeting a challenge on this scale requires fundamental change to our whole economic model: the Lib Dems might prattle about “green capitalism,” but a system based on the relentless pursuit of private profit and dependent on constant expansion is not capable of changing direction. We need a revolution.
In Britain, Labour can be the party that begins to deliver that. Already it is the only major party in Britain with a serious programme for addressing climate change, a process that will require taking our transport and energy systems into public ownership so they can be rationalised and designed according to sustainability and need, not private profit.
Only Labour has the ambition to think about reshaping our agricultural sector, growing more of our own food and moving away from a model based on constant carbon-intensive trafficking of foodstuffs from one end of the planet to the other.
Most important of all, only Labour understands that the vested interests that control our society must be confronted and defeated if we are to succeed.
Too often its radical message has been drowned out by a hostile media, scurrilous smears and a focus of too many of its MPs on seeking to discredit its leader rather than come out and bat for a policy agenda that puts other parties’ to shame.
This week, delegates will have a chance to shape and refine that agenda, but most importantly must come together to look to the practicalities of overcoming the obstacles in our movement’s way and winning power.
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