John McDonnell MP: It’s time politics caught up with the reality of the climate emergency

Posted On: 
20th September 2019

Millions of people have been shut out of prosperity and power for too long. A Labour government will open up politics and ensure accountability, writes John McDonnell MP

A climate protester holds up a sign reading 'Change the politics, not the climate'
Credit: 
PA

A lot is at stake for our country in the weeks to come. By the end of the year I hope that Jeremy Corbyn will be prime minister and that we will have begun the long, hard work of turning around the social and environmental decline which a decade of Conservative austerity has brought about.

Not because I want to see the clock turned back to 2010 – and those who think it can be turned back to 2005 are no less mistaken – but because it’s time politics actually caught up with the reality of the climate emergency which Parliament declared in May but which the Government seems not to have noticed.

Almost everyone now agrees about the urgency of changing the way we treat our planet, but HM Treasury has not yet been deployed to the extent required to finance the just transition needed to a sustainable economy. That, above all, is the priority which I hope to bring there in the coming months.

An ambitious programme of government investment, our National Transformation Fund, will mobilise £250bn of capital spending on the projects needed to decarbonise Britain to avert irreversible climate change.

Supported by a National Investment Bank and network of regional development banks, we will make sure the transition to sustainability is one that benefits everyone across our society, unlike the forced dislocation of the Thatcher and Major eras.

The climate emergency may be the outcome of centuries of human behaviour which too many have only recently realised, but it has coincided with more short-term crises that have come about with the collapse in political legitimacy enjoyed by neoliberal capitalism.

Graft that on to the emergence of Brexit as a political divide and you have new dividing lines being laid across others which have become clearer and starker.

Whoever is in No 11, or No 10, the last few years have led to the threat of a crisis for our democracy as well as our climate, and more direct forms of political activity have come to the fore. Not just the referendum, of course, but the regular marches and demonstrations around Parliament that followed it. The direct action of climate protestors shutting down London, and the school climate strikers walking out to protest at a lack of action. The institutions which for many have been synonymous with ‘democracy’ are faced with potential challenges on all sides.

If Labour remains in opposition I can guarantee that we will be using any means possible to hold the new government to account. Whether that be debates on the floor of the House, or continued scrutiny of Brexit legislation such as the hundreds of statutory instruments rushed through by the previous prime minister.

Whether it be a second Brexit referendum, peaceful direct action or industrial action taken by workers, we will stop at nothing to hold the prime minister accountable in his attempts to distract the country from stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure and deteriorating environment with the fantasy promises of a no deal Brexit.

And likewise, if we are in government, I hope and believe that we will be forced to deliver on the promises that put us there, and our responsibilities to future generations. I want to see the Budget-making process opened up, with discussions open to people around the country. I want to see our opaque system of regulation swept clean with transparent supervision so people can trust their interests are being served. I have pledged to make the Office for Budget Responsibility answerable to Parliament in order to guarantee its independence and right to criticise us in government. I have also asked the ‘big five’ employer organisations to tell us how we can best involve them in discussions about policymaking.

It isn’t good enough for politicians to talk about scrutiny in opposition unless they are willing to walk the walk when in office. Our authority as legislature and executive is always at the disposal of the electorate but we cannot mistake being in the House of Commons or Downing Street for a blank cheque.

Millions of people have been shut out of prosperity and power for too long in this country. I hope that if the present period of instability passes, it does not lead to a reinstatement of the status quo.

For the sake of the school strikers and everyone else who will be on the end of the climate catastrophe, we need more accountability for our actions than ever seen before – in Westminster at least.

John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes & Harlington and shadow chancellor of the Exchequer