Opinion: Labour Environmental Campaign Offers New Hope

Let me take you back to 1963 and a dark and smelly biology classroom populated by 36 scruffy and inattentive 13 year old boys. We had just tidied up the nauseous remains of an unspeakable experiment but the break time bell was still a few minutes away. Our teacher, desperate to keep order, started to tell us about a fascinating new book that he was reading. I can remember jotting down the details inside the cover of my exercise book, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. A few days later I was asking our town librarian if they had a copy. It had to be ordered but in two weeks the book in my hands and for the first time I realised how carelessly mankind could irreversibly alter the balance of nature. The book is credited as being a defining moment for the creation of the environmental movement.

The movement has taken a variety of forms over the past 50 years, Friends of the Earth, Green Peace, The Soil Association, The Ecology Party and now Anti-Fracking, Surfers Against Sewage, Waste Watch, Campaign to Protect Rural England/Wales/Scotland and so many more. The one common element is that they are pressure groups, trying to influence government via the force of public opinion. It saddens me that decades after Rachel published her seminal work we are still doing battle against forces that take no heed of global warming or the despoliation of our beautiful landscape. In fact we face threats that were never dreamt of back there in the 1960’s, the threat of polluting our water supply for decades to come with fracking and underground coal gasification or turning an ever increasing number of locations into radiation hot spots at nuclear plants for untold centuries.

It became apparent that pressure groups were not enough and a number of academics, concerned industrialists and committed members of the public decided that the best way forward was to influence government policy from within, by creating in 1973 the Socialist Environment and Resource Association (SERA). Affiliated to the Labour Party the organisation became a conduit for established and emergent pressure groups and helped bring about much of the pioneering legislation in the UK. SERA has developed a respected expertise, influencing Labour Party policy in transport, energy (most notably in the area of nuclear power), water, waste and biodiversity.

The name has recently been changed to Labour Environment Campaign (SERA) and it is under this banner that the Belper & Duffield Labour Party are hosting a foundation meeting for a local SERA branch to be formed in Derbyshire. We have secured guest speakers from Derbyshire County Council and representatives from environmental groups (for instance anti-fracking activists) will be welcome to voice their concerns. This is a public meeting giving people the chance to have their say on issues that affect our county, country and planet.

That 13 year old boy naively believed that as we came to better understand the mechanisms that drive our planet, its weather, ecology be it plant life, animals or people; that we would develop the ability to live in harmony with our world. Perhaps the thought processes were not so well defined at that age but there was the basic trust that those who knew about these things would ensure the right outcome. It is obvious that this did not happen, that the trust was misplaced. Now, at a point where our country is turning back to the exploitation of fossil fuels and ignoring the potential inherent in alternative and sustainable energy production, now is the time to redouble our efforts so that future generations will not feel as I do, that we and our planet have been let down.

By John Porter

Labour Environment Campaign (SERA) Meeting No.28, Market Place, Belper on 6th April at 19:30. Hosted by Belper and Duffield Labour Party

8 thoughts on “Opinion: Labour Environmental Campaign Offers New Hope

  • 26th March 2016 at 8:15 am

    Good to see Labour’s awakening on the environment, and looking forward to their policies being changes to match. For example, last year, there was a vote in parliament for a moratorium n fracking. If the moratorium had gone through parliament last year, fracking would have been halted in the UK. At that opportunity, 52 MPs voted in favour of a fracking ban, but 308 voted against. Most Labour MPs abstained – which means they didn’t vote either way. Just let that sink in. Labour MP’s had a chance to vote against the government and for a stop on fracking – and they did not.

    I am a member of the Green Party, I’m against fracking, and want to do everything I can to stop it here in the UK. I went over to Preston to stand in solidarity with the people there when they were trying to get the planning permission denied last year for test wells at Rosacre and Little Plumpton. I have signed and shared the petition against fracking in Amber Valley – and lots for other places.
    I know we have to work together on areas of common ground but, as far as I know (and I would be happy to be proved wrong), Labour party policy on fracking hasn’t changed – that, with a “robust” environmental and regulatory regime, fracking can take place.

    For the avoidance of doubt, the Green Party stance on fracking is
    EN260 A green government will phase out polluting and unsustainable power sources.
    EN264 We will halt the development of coal-bed methane, shale gas and similar hydrocarbon exploitation since it is not needed to meet UK energy demands, is environmentally destructive, and will lead to increasing GHG emissions.

    Currently, the Green Party is the only party totally opposing fracking in the UK.

  • 26th March 2016 at 1:47 pm

    My attempt at putting environmental issues front and centre and giving people of all persuasions a chance to feed into political policy making has been ridiculed. My heart sank when reading Sue Macfarlane’s comments.
    The snide (dictionary definition: derogatory or mocking in an indirect way) remark, “Good to see Labour’s awakening on the environment” is saddening and inaccurate. SERA and the People’s Party (which became the Ecology then the Green party) both went public in 1973. There were many who were members of both organisations; Labour supporters being sympathetic to the Ecology Party under Jonathan Porritt – and vice-versa. I prominently displayed the famous sunflower poster in the 1979 election even though I voted labour. The point was that it was the environment that mattered and we were prepared to put policies before party. We knew then, as we know now that infighting will only split the vote and let in the Tories and their backers who will despoil our planet.
    I also feel compelled to take issue with the claim that Labour did not vote against fracking. That is a gross distortion and needs to be corrected. The 16th December 2015 vote shows that 192 Labour MP’s (including Jeremy Corbyn) voted against fracking with 39 abstentions. The official labour Party policy is against fracking and I refer you to this article in the Daily Mail ww.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3362736/Labour-demands-moratorium-fracking-MPs-vote.html. Sue Macfarlane would have you believe otherwise when she writes, “Most Labour MPs abstained – which means they didn’t vote either way. Just let that sink in. Labour MP’s had a chance to vote against the government and for a stop on fracking – and they did not.” This false impression has to be challenged.
    Sue Macfarlane goes on to say that she will be happy to be proven wrong about her perception that the Labour Party supports fracking ….. well I have good news for her. I attended the Labour Party conference last September and witnessed Lisa Nandy (the Shadow Environment Secretary) and Kerry McCarthy speak out against fracking; the resultant vote being anti-fracking. Let there be no mistake ………………. Labour is against fracking.
    I could go on and on with this but I want to avoid any further division of the left. Many of us in the Labour Party have green credentials that go way back, from anti-nuclear sit-ins and demonstrations in the sixties and seventies, to Greenham Common, transport protests and much, much more. I changed my profession happy that in so doing my work was be less harmful to the environment, latterly doing much to alleviate the excesses of unwise capital investment by banks. My article pointed out that for all that effort we still face a government that appears unheedful of the dangers current policies pose for our planet. It is time for us to pull together.

  • 26th March 2016 at 8:16 pm

    John, your piece was entitled, ‘Labour Environmental Campaign Offers New Hope”, so I was commenting that environmental campaigns are not the sole preserve of the Labour Party. My intention was definitely not to ridicule you, but to point out that putting environmental issues front and centre is something that the Green Party has always done. My remarks were not intended to be ‘snide’, and I am sorry that this was your interpretation. I stand corrected and, given your remarks about Labour in the late seventies, I should have said ‘re-awakening’.

    The vote I was referring to was in January last year when MP’s voted on a call for fracking to be suspended for up to 30 months while an assessment is carried out. The bid to suspend fracking was defeated by 308 votes to 52 – with most Labour MP’s abstaining. The vote you talk about would not have been necessary had the bid to suspend fracking in January gone ahead.

    If, as you say, Labour party policy has now changed on fracking, I am happy about that. Green Party policy hasn’t changed, we have always been against fracking.

  • 27th March 2016 at 1:05 pm

    It’s always worth checking the facts before making statements that suggest the Labour Party is new to the environmental agenda. Here are a few of those facts, there are many more if Sue McFarland wants to spend sometime on her search engine.
    The Labour Government introduced the Climate Change Act 2008, the first Country in the World to legislate on carbon emissions.
    The Labour Government put climate change on the agenda of the G8.
    The Labour Government doubled renewable energy generation & established Britian as a world leader in offshore wind, marine & tidal energy.
    The Labour Government passed the Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 to create an ecologically coherent network of new Marine Conversation Zones, national parks for the sea.
    Labour enshrined the right to roam in law, giving universal rights of access to the countryside & coast and the creation of our National Parks is thanks to a Labour Government who passed the National Parks Act 1949.
    Some of the groundbreaking legislation has been repealed by this current Tory Government whose interest in our planet is purely driven by profit but Labour remains committed to campaigning for action on climate change and the protection of nature. The Labour Party did have a ‘Green Manifesto’ in 2015, it got little publicity as the media focused on bacon sandwiches & other spurious nonsense. This Green Plan remains our environment policy along with being against fracking, the Green Plan will be available at our Public Meeting on 6th April and will give people a chance to read for themselves Labour’s commitment to our Planet.

  • 27th March 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Sue, I know you are desperate for more votes (though why, after your admission to us that the Greens have no realistic chance of winning a seat in Belper) , but your attacks on Labours environmental credentials (where many in the local party have decades of environmental activism, from the Derbyshire eco centre, greenpeace membership, marches, cnd etc.) are starting to wear a little. You appear to have ‘appeared’ in politics relatively recently, and I am prepared to accept that you may have had no alternative but to work for, I understand, Santander UK private bank (correct me if I am wrong about that – you have to have 50k to open an account there don’t you? They help people avoid tax, right?) If you are truly concerned about the environment, then take my offer to work with us to ensure the tories are kicked out, and to get the most important environmental issues to the top of the councils agenda. The holier than though act is starting to grate.

  • 28th March 2016 at 2:46 am

    Let’s be clear about fracking. Corbyn was one of the MPs identified by Sue as voting the way she wanted in January 2015. Corbyn’s team issued their policy on energy in August 2015. It is unequivocally opposed to fracking. It’s not difficult to find the document if you are genuinely Interested. Corbyn was elected with an overwhelming majority because he is in tune with the membership on this and most other matters and vice versa.

    Before the general election the Green Party leader solemnly informed a Belper audience that there was only a cigarette paper difference between Labour and Tory. Presumably the wealthy corporations and individuals who overwhelmingly backed the Tories, and the right wing media ditto, and every single right wing think tank and lobbyist ditto, were all deluded ? They could all have relaxed and stopped rubbishing Labour every single day, in every way they could get away with, on every platform, because they had nothing to fear from the ‘cigarette paper gap ? ‘ Must have been a bloody big cigarette.
    That was Milliband’s Labour which Bennett was talking about. The one which Caroline Lucas urged the Greens to work in a progressive partnership with just two days after the election. Bennett was playing up differences which she knew she was grossly exaggerating for a hoped for political gain. Sue is playing the same worn out old tune, and playing it very badly. Let’s have the optimistic, forward looking kind of meeting John Porter is hoping for on the 6th of April.

  • 28th March 2016 at 8:59 am

    Firstly, Carol, thanks for taking the time to write about Labour’s environmental record – it was helpful, and I am grateful.

    Secondly, Ben, I am doing exactly what you are doing, asking the voters in my ward to vote for me – I don’t call that desperate, I call it the democratic process. During what I thought was a private conversation (every day is a school day) I said that it was unlikely that the Greens would win a seat at the forthcoming Borough Council – unlikely, but not unrealistic or impossible. I did not say that we have no realistic chance of winning a seat in Belper. The Greens will win a seat in Belper, it is just a matter of when.

    Lastly, attacks based on personal life, which are intended to wound and discredit , are not something that I want to engage in – so this will be my last comment on this thread.

  • 30th March 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Ben, this nasty personal attack on Sue MacFarlane is exactly why I will not involve myself in party politics. It is unwarranted and will serve only to further divide our society instead of bringing people together to work out how best to tackle issues. It is as bad as the childish yah boo we hear in the Commons whenever Jeremy Corbyn tries to speak. It is so negative and disappointing when what we are looking for from Labour is a positive embrace of all caring and fair thinking minds that can rid us of the nasty party and all they stand for. Oppose the nasty party – don’t become them.

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