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Local power to tackle climate change

It’s always nice when your policies are stolen. Jeremy Corbyn’s recent speech on climate change is welcome both for the attention he is giving to the issue but also the focus on community-owned energy as a key part of the solutions.

The Green Party has of course being saying this for many years, and it remains a key plank of our strategy on climate change. Communities ‘taking back control’ of their energy supply and use is a reflection of core Green values of local democracy and decentralisation of power, and the renewable energy revolution we need to get rid of fossil fuels fits very well with such decentralisation.

So again, nice to have your policies stolen. But we should perhaps think a little more about what this represents when the Labour Party takes up the idea of community-owned energy.

First, it is worth thinking about whether or not Labour can be trusted as a champion of decentralisation. It was, after all, the Labour governments after WWII that centralised ownership of energy resources at the national level: most of the energy industries that were ‘nationalised’ in that period were not taken from private to public ownership, but from municipal to national ownership.

Second, the shift to ‘municipal socialism’ that Corbyn talks about in relation to energy and climate change is something which harks back to the 1980s, i.e. the last time Labour was out of government for a long period of time and all they had was control over local government in large parts of the country. Labour in government was relentlessly centralising. David Blunkett, champion of municipal socialism while leader of Sheffield City Council, was hardly the decentraliser as Home Secretary!

Third, while local ownership of energy is important to dealing with climate change, it is likely insufficient. Corbyn’s speech (at least as reported) was good on rhetoric but short on the details of how Labour imagines the details of the extraordinary shifts that taking the fossil fuels out of the economy entails.

Nevertheless we welcome this shift. We should remember that one of Corbyn’s early announcements on becoming Labour leader was that Labour would seek to re-open coal mines. It is in part because of the electoral heat the Labour Party feels from the Greens that Corbyn has been forced to abandon such disastrous ideas and embrace Green ideas. Only a strong vibrant Green vote can keep that pressure up.

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