Jeremy Corbyn today called for the nationalisation of the energy industry in order to work towards preventing climate change and other environmental crises facing humanity.
The Labour leader this afternoon told a one day party conference on “alternative models of ownership” in Central London that “the challenge of climate change and the threat of climate catastrophe requires us to be at least as radical” as the Labour party that came to power after the Second World War in 1945 to establish the National Health Service.
He said: “The challenge of climate change requires us to radically shift the way we organise our economy. In 1945, elected to govern a country ravaged by six years of war, the great Attlee Labour government knew that the only way to rebuild our economy was through a decisive turn to collective action. Necessary action to help avert climate catastrophe requires us to be at least as radical.”
Corbyn told the conference that “to go green, we must take control of energy”. The comments echoed David Cameron’s 2010 general election campaign slogan, “Vote Blue, go green” which had been devised by his advisor Steve Hilton as the Conservatives fought the threat from the Green party.
However, Cameron was fiercely opposed by a faction in his own party which hated the prospect of environmental policies limiting industry – and later was instrumental in the Brexit vote that led to his resignation as prime minister. Corbyn dismissed Theresa May’s Tory government saying it was leaving a “trail of environmental destruction”.
The Labour leader argued that his plans for a “modern mixed economy” would be part of a “great wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities.” This would be in response to what he characterised as the failure of privatisation and the demands of a modern economy.
The Labour leader also wanted to present nationalisation as modern, rather than a return to the past. He said: “A green energy system will look radically different to the one we have today. The past is a centralised system with a few large plants. The future is decentralised, flexible and diverse, with new sources of energy large and small, from tidal to solar.
“The greenest energy is usually the most local. But people have been queuing up for years to connect renewable energy to the national grid. With the national grid in public hands, we can put tackling climate change at the heart of our energy system. To go green, we must take control of our energy.”
He said the radical changes in the UK were part of an international transformation to a low carbon world. “We can put Britain at the forefront of the wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities. From India to Canada, countries across the world are waking up to the fact that privatisation has failed, and taking back control of their public services.
In order to shore up his base in the Labour party, Corbyn went on to argue that “it cannot be the workers who pay the price” for the transition to a low carbon economy. He promised a comprehensive programme of retraining and employment for any employees displaced by energy transition.
He said: “The devastation wreaked when our coal mines were closed is a brutal reminder of what can happen when communities are silenced and disregarded in the process of change. Never again.
“Our energy system needs to change, but it cannot be workers who pay the price.” He looked to the historical precedent of the GI Bill in the United States which “gave education, housing and income support to every unemployed veteran returning from the Second World War.”
He added: “[T]he next Labour government will guarantee that if anyone is displaced by energy transition they will be: offered retraining, a new job on equivalent terms and conditions, covered by collective agreements, and fully supported in their housing and income needs through transition.”
Corbyn concluded his speech by rounding on the Conservative party. He said: “Nobody is fooled by Michael Gove’s reinvention of himself as an eco-warrior. Behind the rhetoric lies a trail of environmental destruction.
“This is a Government that has licensed fracking, declared a moratorium on renewable levies, while massively subsidising fossil fuels, dithered over tidal, held back onshore wind, u-turned on making all new homes zero carbon and is failing to take the necessary measures to meet our legal commitments to reduce CO2 emissions.”
A Labour party spokesperson added after the speech: “We will work with farmers and foresters to plant a million trees of native species to promote biodiversity and better flood management. Unlike the Conservatives who attempted to privatise our forests, Labour will keep them in public hands.
“We will safeguard habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding our island. We will set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, working with food manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste.”
The Labour party promised at the last election to ban fracking, insulate four million homes, invest in rail and bus networks to reduce traffic on our roads, invest in tidal and wind and deliver 60 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2030.
The Labour manifesto, the spokesperson added, promised to “regain control of energy supply networks through the alteration of the National and Regional Network Operator license conditions, support the creation of publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist and author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries. He tweets at @EcoMontague.