This blog post tries to answer two key questions – what is going on, and what do “we” do next. It’s published on Manchester Climate Monthly because it reflects only the views of Marc Hudson, one member of the core group of CEM. (1)
What is going on? Why?
For over a year Climate Emergency Manchester has been trying to get Manchester City Council to take climate change seriously, as more than just a cynical photo op.
CEM set up a petition on the Council’s horrendously clunky website (btw petitions on sites like change.org or avaaz, while easier to sign, have precisely zero legal standing).
CEM wanted the Council to match its fine words (e.g. a unanimous declaration of a climate emergency back in July 2019) with regular scrutiny of climate change. Up till now, the climate issue has been discussed – haphazardly – once or twice a year, and usually with a flurry of confusing and diverting statistics and graphs.
Despite a pandemic, CEM managed to get around 1700 signatures – a load on the awful Council website, which seems designed to actively discourage people – and another load from socially-distanced collecting.
In February 2021 at Resources and Governance, the Council agreed “something must be done.” CEM made (with help from others) good suggestions about what could be done. CEM also organised an open letter – now signed by loads of organisations – calling for the strongest possible scrutiny arrangements.
The Council, predictably, is ignoring this and going for the smallest possible action, a tokenistic re-branding of existing scrutiny arrangements. The 98 per cent of the city’s emissions that are not the Council’s own emissions will continue to be ignored. Of course they will.
This leads to the obvious question of why is this so?
In my view, it’s as they say in the movies – “follow the money.” NOT in the sense of brown envelopes changing hands, classic Stephen Seagall corruption. No, it’s about the “friendly to inward investment at all costs” atmosphere that Manchester City Council has, under the 25 year tenure of Richard Leese, spent creating. Academics call it the spatial fix, or the sustainability fix.
A scrutiny committee empowered to look closely at what was and was not being done – by the city – would spoil that.
Look a this from Richard Leese’s view point. Why would he want to create a venue where the Council leaderships friends, their mates, might be exposed to scrutiny?
A climate emergency scrutiny committee would create an official venue where all of those awkward questions which Manchester has been dodging for the last 30 years would be on the table. (2)
What they’re afraid of is it in a year’s time, if the committee does its job, then the green sheen, the light green paint will be stripped off a whole bunch of organisations. And they will turn around to the Council and say “Why did you let this happen? Why did you give these activists and malcontents an official venue in which to expose us? These are not the actions of a friend, Richard.”
So he’s gambling, that he can re-brand existing arrangements: adding the words climate change (but not climate emergency) to the title of a scrutiny committee is somehow adequate. He’s gambling that the Council can keep telling the same old story about how wonderful it is, and can keep lulling people to sleep with tales of its own emissions reductions (which are mostly down to austerity and partial grid decarbonisation.)
Meanwhile, there just are not enough councillors who fulfil the two crucial criteria you need for climate action
a) you genuinely understand what is at stake/what is going wrong.
b) you care enough about the city and its future – more than you do your party loyalty or your career – that you are going to try to get together with other councillors and citizens and insist that the Council actually do the things it could and should have done ten years ago.
There are simply not enough councillors who meet both of those criteria.
What do “we” have to do next (you, me, next week, next month)
There’s a few things
- Decline their invitation to despair
That’s what this re-branding is. It’s an attempt to demoralise us, to say “you can’t fight City Hall. Our resistance is stronger than your campaigning. Now do go away you poisonous little oiks.”
2. Expect their nonsense
Once the committee is created (i..e the existing set up essentially rebranded) they will say
“We’ve done this, you should be grateful, matters are now in hand.” They’re already trying to claim it was their idea all along. They’re already spinning out the nonsense about Glasgow and Manchester as a “leading city”.
Understand that if you step back, the “ambition” will disappear
We have seen what happens when there is a die-back of citizen activism. The ambition dies. We have seen what previous re-brandings achieve (nothing).
We have seen how the quarterly carbon reports that activists got established in 2014 were abolished in 2018 by the current Executive Member for the Environment, in a move that she said sent the right message.
3. Celebrate a real (minor) victory
We got constitutional change. Is it big enough? Of course it bloody isn’t. Could we have done more? Maybe, at the margins. But CEM and its allied collected a load of signatures in a pandemic. We did the best advocacy we coil in the circumstances. We learnt a lot. We did not cook ourselves: we are stronger rather than weaker now. We should take a moment to thank each other (CEM is doing that).
4. Use the local elections
Make sure real specific individual commitments are made by candidates (some of whom will become councillors) are made during the election campaign running up to Thursday 6th May
5. Be able to persist
Make sure we – collectively – can keep going. That we have the skills, knowledge, relationships and morale to keep going, effectively, strategically.
Climate Emergency Manchester has its Monthly Meeting on Tuesday 6th April from 8.30pm. It’s an opportunity for you to meet other people, compare notes, propose action. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Date for your diary – Climate Hustings – Monday 19th April,7.45pm
- The other members of the core group may or may not agree with the contents of this post.
- There are various books (e.g. City of Revolution, Detonation,) that study the process of Manchester getting in city council, getting into bed and saying “we love business”. It predates the 1996 bomb, it actually goes back to the Hulme Development Agency and Heseltine and all the rest of it. But it’s 30 years of protecting business. and picking fights only with central government or with other local authorities.