What can we know, what is to be done? Another hot-take, but specifically on Manchester climate action.
With the usual disclaimers (1), there are a few things we can confidently say about the large Conservative/”Brexit” win (for what the Conservative Party now is, see this by Peter Oborne) at yesterday’s general election.
At a personal level, for activists, this will be very demoralising. The impact on activists of XR and youth strikers will be profound: it is an overused term, but “devastating blow” is about right. Most will have thought a minority Corbyn government would be a possibility, and at least some elements of the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ (2) might come into existence. More on that in the ‘what is to be done’ (WITBD) section.
It will also be massively demoralising for councillors (esp the left wing ones), who are Labour and spent many hours/days in marginal constituencies trying to get a different result. Those councillors, and the new candidates standing in wards across the city (Hulme and Whalley Range among them) will know that over the coming five years, they will be overwhelmed with more case work as the remaining vestiges of the post-World War 2 welfare state are hacked to buggery. That has implications for activists trying to get climate change up the agenda and keep it there – more on that in the WITBD section.
A little bit of the outcome here depends on what the newly energised Momentum-y types do. Will they engage meaningfully and in the long-term on local authority action? Will that energy go to the immediate issues of housing, homelessness, and – I can’t believe I am writing this about one of the richest countries in the world – hunger. Hunger ffs.
Overall, “backbench” councillors, activists etc will almost certainly have less mental, emotional and actual time/bandwidth for issues that central government really ought to be leading on
The “leadership” of Manchester City Council on climate issues (and the quote marks are well earned) will have a baked in “blame central government” defence for five years (and they’ve been using it for ten already). And let’s face it – the Johnson government is likely to continue cutting funding to unfriendly local authorities, meaning they have to cut all the ‘nice to haves’. The funding the Council gets from its 35.5% share in the Airport (45 million quid per annum) will loom ever more important. More broadly, the City Council is hardly agile or inventive at the best of times. These are not the best of times. And asides the funding issue, don’t even think about the economic consequences of a hard Brexit… (3)
The local authority elections next May will probably be dominated by Brexit and its fall out, with the elections basically a proxy for national dilemmas. Activists need to try at least to make climate policy and the failure to actually act on the climate emergency declaration as an issue, in as many of the 32 wards as possible. However, it’s unclear that the political landscape – 93 Labour Councillors versus 3 Lib Dems – will change significantly…
At a national level, although Johnson was able to avoid all climate discussions (remember the ice-sculpture) he will neither be able to nor in fact want to in the coming year. The UK government bid to host the COP26 conference (9-20 November 2020) precisely to maintain (the illusion of) its diplomatic power post-Brexit.
Whether he likes to or not, Johnson will have to big up the climate issue (but see footnote 1). So, the COP, to be held in Glasgow will loom EXTRA large. Government will want to talk about it, the big NGOs will see it as an opportunity to keep climate on the agenda, and the activists, at a loss for something else to do, will probably oblige by turning out. But it won’t be Santiago… Focusing on Glasgow will continue, imo, to be a mistake.
Fine, so, those are my predictions and most of them are probably wrong. Who cares. More importantly –
What is to be done?
- We, as people terrified of the coming climate shitstorm (4) are going to have a serious job of work to do to look after ourselves and each other. We need to start talking about and doing collective mental health, collective “resilience.” This, done right, is both prefigurative and necessary.
- Simultaneously we need to be aware of the danger of retreating into fugue state- apathy, despair, religious millennarianism, magical thinking- and support each other away from those.
- Groups are going to need to collaborate and co-ordinate better, sharing knowledge and skills, especially around holding decent meetings, retaining new members and sustaining morale.
- As ever, we need to get beyond the ghettos (of place – the Hulme, Chorlton, Didsbury triangle) and people who vote think, dress, speak etc the way we do. Not with missionary zeal, but in collaboration.
- Learn from history so that we’re less likely to repeat it. We have been here before. The history of failure on climate and environment policy goes back before 2018, 2009, to the mid-1990s. Same patterns and some of the same people.
- Continue to insist that democratically elected local politicians do what they can and put good ideas in front of them in formats they are likely to be able to cope with (given the enormous strains on their time and attention thanks to the butchering of the welfare state and the immiseration of so many).
- The need for accurate information, radical policy proposals which are simultaneously achievable is greater than ever
- Did I mention looking after our mental health?
The final word on this goes to @PriyamvadaGopal In two tweets last night, she pointed out
We are not going to win this election by election. This is going to take long, patient, varied work & global alliances. We’ll have to do our best to throw our bodies between vulnerable groups & immediate attack from this regimes,while commencing, as many already have, the slow patient long-term work of making truth & facts fashionable again, finding ways to disseminate them & get them their due DESPITE a fawning media landscape populated by thugs, fantasists & billionaires.
(1) Wtf does anyone know? Srsly. I thought Miliband was going to be Prime Minister right up until Cameron got a stonking majority. Yesterday I was thinking maybe a 20 seat Tory majority. Nostradamus I ain’t.
(2) Yes, it was Keynesianism with an IPCC spraypaint, predicated on growth etc etc. But still..
(3) Will Labour at a national level tack away from ambitious policy proposals like Green New Deal (2) – who knows?
(4) And the shitstorms feed off each other. And people of colour have been living the shitstorm for a long time. As have the other species we ‘share’ this planet with.
in his editor of Manchester Climate Monthly capacity