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Editorial: Labour's environmental backsliding gets worse as the world heats up

THE Labour right go on the attack in the holidays: the pattern was most marked in the annual summer offensives against Corbyn, but its Christmas messaging this year is no exception.

Not Keir Starmer’s Christmas message, which stood in a longstanding ruling-class tradition of mouthing Christian pieties while failing to spot any implications for the here and now. 

Priests and ministers across the world saw the need to mention Israeli terror in the “Holy Land” while calling for peace on Earth: not so Sir Keir. The Labour leader praised churches for “providing a safe haven” — while telling reporters his party was considering offshore camps for processing asylum-seekers analogous to the Tories’ Rwanda deportation scheme.

Labour has used the holiday lull to do what it does best: lower expectations. 

Starmer’s team brief that we should expect “further watering down” to the party’s green prosperity plan, this being the flagship £28-billion-a-year investment in green jobs and energy transition, which shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has already significantly diluted.

Anonymous “senior party sources” differ on whether it should be scrapped entirely or recast so the focus is not on what they cost but what they will achieve. Translation: much less money will be forthcoming.

The official justification is the same used previously to weaken the promised “new deal for workers:” green spending will be a major Tory attack line during the election.

But just because Rishi Sunak, flailing around for a mission, thinks scrapping environmental pledges is a vote-winner doesn’t mean it is. None of his rebrands yet has put wind in the Tories’ flagging sails. Labour seems bent on convincing everyone it is identical to one of the most unpopular governments in British history: a peculiar electoral strategy.

The rationale may reflect the poisonous influence of an outdated Blairite clique. The insistence on sticking to a 1990s electoral playbook despite huge economic and geopolitical shifts since then, like the weird pursuit of old grudges against former “Brownites” from Andy Burnham to Nick Brown, does suggest Starmer is trapped in a timewarp conjured by Peter Mandelson.

More likely, though, fear of Tory attack is an excuse designed to fob off disappointed activists and unions. Labour policy mimics Tory policy not because it’s what the electorate wants but because both party leaderships serve the same masters in the boardrooms and City counting houses.

The environmental crisis is real. 2023 has seen our warmest June on record, the warmest Christmas in 20 years. 

Storms of increasing severity buffet our shores: scientists forecast that the more severe droughts and wildfires that have swept the rest of the world, including mainland Europe, are on their way. 

All this cries out for investment: investment in flood defences, in land and water management. Investment in a just transition, not least to demonstrate that workers in fossil fuel sectors will not be abandoned like the miners of the past.

Instead, our politicians use one excuse after another to do nothing. Labour’s environmental backsliding accompanies powerful lobbyists trying to ditch green policies on anti-China grounds: the Centre for Economics & Business Research warns this Christmas that pursuit of “net zero” will weaken Western economies and benefit a China that dominates renewable energy markets — when China’s lead is precisely down to the serious investment in green tech that Labour is now threatening to abandon.

Pretending climate change is an issue that can be addressed without significant redistribution of resources is desperate folly. And imagining it is unconnected to other questions politicians prefer to dwell on — such as reducing refugee numbers — is a delusion.

A Labour Party that turns its back on every acute problem we face — as the Tories already do — will do no good whatever for workers in office. The internal revolt sparked by Starmer’s disgusting apologism for the Gaza war should be used to challenge his disastrous leadership across the board.

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