“You’re not getting me to read that out. It’d cause a riot.”
One of MCFly’s many admirers within the Manchester/Greater Manchester climate bureaucracy has sent us an advance copy of the Mayor’s speech, urging us to publish it as part of a cunning marketing strategy….
And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Sydney I am willing to sell you. Cash only.
No, this little beauty below fell through a wormhole from a parallel universe where humans decided not to waste their timey-wimey on more bullshit, but actually take the climate change problem they’ve known about for half a century seriously…
(The MC does the usual sycophantic pleasantries and fluffing. Then the man himself, the Right Honourable Andy Burnham takes to the lectern. He smiles for the camera(s) and looks out at the audience.)
Andy: First I want to ask you a simple question. Stick up your hand if at some point in your life you have heard a long boring speech by an elected official, full of sound and fury and signifying nowt?
(All hands go up, except for one bilateral upper limb amputee, who nods so hard his head almost falls off).
Andy: Great. Because that was actually a vote taken on false premises – a bit like that June 2016 one. What you just did was vote, about how long – and blunt – my speech should be. If more hands had stayed down than went up, I’d have given you the whole “motherhood and apple pie thing”, with cheesy anecdotes, the tag line about believing in the power of people and some more guff about ‘the first industrial revolution began in Manchester blah de blah.”
But despite the summit organisers’ best efforts to weed out malcontents, you’re still clearly a clued-up audience.
So instead, you’re gonna get something much shorter, much more uncomfortable, hopefully for all of us. And much more productive. Because if there is one thing you should take away from this it’s that the normal way of doing policy creation and implementation is not going to get us out of this mess, and that we all have to behave very differently from now on.
Okay that’s two things. But you get the point.
And though, to channel my inner Gordon Brown “I agree with Marc” when he says have a LOT to learn from the past ten years of failure in tackling climate change in Manchester, and that failure to learn the lessons of the past probably condemns us to repeating them, I am going to put that to one side for today at least. Today I am going to keep this future-focussed, and as positive as I can make it.
But do not confuse positive with “hopey-ness.” Because there is such a thing as false hope, there such a thing as cruel optimism. These are a short-term drug, and lead to disappointment and demotivation.
So this is not a speech about hope. Because, anyway, thanks to the inaction over the last thirty years, there is very little hope to be had.
We need something different anyway. We need something far more difficult than hope. We need, as Kate Marvel, a climate scientist recently said, not hope, but courage.
Okay. But does courage look like? What does it MEAN, in concrete, in practice, in Manchester, in the coming months and years? That’s what I want to talk about now. I want to address my fellow politicians and the bureaucrats who feed on them. Sorry, feed them ideas. I want to address business, and I want to address the young, the academics and the activists.
First, to my fellow politicians and bureaucrats
Courage means abandoning our training, and our instincts for self-preservation. We have been trained, we have been rewarded when we spin we prevaricate, we equivocate. We have been trained to attack anyone weaker than us who dares criticise us. Some of us are very good at that one.
But all this creates and amplifies the cynicism, the distrust, the refusal to engage on the part of so many people and organisations whose energy and ideas are desperately needed. We need citizens to be citizens, and yet we treat them like mushrooms – to be kept in the dark and fed on bullshit.
So courage means being honest about the gaps between promises and delivery, and not simply blaming everything on central government.
It means being honest about the failures that have happened and will happen.
It means having advisory panels that aren’t just stacked with the obedient, the pliable, who will tell you what you want to hear in exchange for trivial amounts of funding.
We need you to have the courage not just to innovate in not just your products, but your financial models, your processes and so much more. We need you to help your customers and consumers reduce their carbon footprints. We need you to focus on the kinds of products that are long-lasting, give real value. We need you to join with government in making sure that regulations are obeyed to their spirit and not just their letter, and that costs are not dumped on the broader public, other species and future generations. Of course, that’s how a lot of you make your money, so I’m not holding out much hope. The only people who can really keep you honest – and strip you of your ‘social licence to operate’ when it needs to be – are civil society actors, up on their hind legs. And so that’s who I turn to now.
And now to “civil society.” That’s a vast category, so I will focus only on three groups today: the young, academics and environmental pressure groups.
To the young
Someone once said “never trust anyone over 30”. They were right. We have failed you. We have known about the climate problem since 1988. And we have failed to take real action. We’ve made some nice sounding promises, but when the going got tough, we kicked the can down the road, we kicked it into the too hard basket and we let ourselves believe that some LED lighting and a couple of solar panels would do the trick. Do not trust us. Hold us to account. Remember the promises we make to you. Demand that they are specific, measurable, that we can’t weasel out. This wretched stupid ‘charter’ would be a good place to start.
Then, do the hard work of scrutinising us, of monitoring us. Don’t let us fob you off. And we will try. It’s in our DNA.
One piece of advice and one warning.
The advice: As angry as you get at our lies and our evasions, try to stay polite, for the simple reason that it makes it that much harder for we politicians and bureaucrat to dismiss you.
The warning: what I am describing is much much harder than going on the occasional march, signing an online petition. It is time consuming and emotionally exhausting. Your lords and masters will ignore you, fob you off, smear you, demonise you.
Therefore this has to be done in groups, in teams. Do it alone, and you will burn out, and serve as a warning to other would-be activists. Do it together.
Somebody, I forget who, said it was the role of intellectuals to expose lies and tell the truth. Well, not all intellectuals are academics, and it is certainly the case that not all academics are intellectuals. But I digress. I want you to do three things.
First, if you are being pressured by your university and/or a local authority into going quiet on important research that is politically embarrassing, come straight to me. Tell me what has happened. I will work with you to keep the flow of actual data – even if , no, ESPECIALLY if – someone has tried to water it down, to bully you. That’s courage, and I intend to display it, and support you.
Secondly, for every seminar you hold among yourselves, for every policy briefing you give to elite actors, please give AT LEAST one, preferably more, to trades unions, community groups, church groups. Make youtube videos about your research, and why it matters to your ultimate funders – the taxpayer.
Thirdly, you have to write in plain English, and SPEAK in English. Not everyone has a PhD, not everyone is confident with jargon and endless sentences hedged with conditionalities and whatifferies. If we politicians and bureaucrats have to escape our training, so do you. That’s courage.
Finally to the campaigning groups
I am sorry to be blunt, but for god’s sake, grow a spine. The last thing this city needs is more fig leafs, more softly softly approaches. You’ve been trying that for ten years, and what has it got you? Be honest and let the cards fall where they may. Don’t collude and provide cover for awful anti-democratic process and pure waffle, as you have done.
And for god’s sake, sort out your meetings. They’re so boring and cliquy that thousands of people who want to be involved are repelled and never get involved. That’s been going on for decades. Show the courage to innovate as much as you demand government and business innovate.
And don’t expect your political or business masters – including me – to do anything meaningful about Manchester Airport’s expansion plans. I mean, seriously.
Too many of you make too little noise. I know that under David Cameron a truly appalling piece of anti-democratic legislation, the 2014 Lobbying Act made it more difficult for you to speak out at elections. I am certain that when – not if – we get a Corbyn government, one of the first things that will happen is the repeal of that despicable act. Jeremy has promised this.
I am almost done. I will show the courage – though a cynic would call it cowardice – to lower your expectations of me and of the Labour Party.
Firstly, I am human. I get tired. I get confused. I get scared, especially when I think about the future of a climate changed world. Actually, I get terrified.
Secondly, I am not Mayor of Greater Manchester in the same way my brilliant colleague Sadiq Khan is Mayor of London. I do not have his budget, I do not have his legislative power. I have ‘soft power’, which I will wield as best I can. I can lead – that is what you pay me for after all, why you elected me – but I have much less power to actually REGULATE anything, or FUND anything, than I want or you want.
Finally, don’t wait for Saint Jeremy to save us all. I will work as hard as I possibly can for a Labour victory at the next General Election, which cannot come soon enough. But a Labour government in power will face huge opposition from small and large c conservative interests, in the British state, in the security state, in business and civil society. And the Labour Party in power will be, as any government, a rat’s nest of competing factions. And for many of those factions, climate change will not be priority one, for all the fine words.
So a Labour government is one small necessary step. What we require now and forever, is courage. Courage to challenge our elected leaders and our unelected ones. Courage to innovate, admit failure and learn from it, learn to do it better next time.
And finally, this . Some of you know that I came – late, but I came – to support the incredibly brave people who fought for justice for the 96 who died needlessly at Hillsborough. They faced years – actually, two decades – of being fobbed off, lied to, smeared, told justice had been done, justice was impossible. They did not quit. They acted with unbelievable determination, unbelievable courage. That word again. If we want to achieve ANYTHING on climate change, beyond the usual bullshit, we need that determination, that courage. So, most of all, this:
Be honest and display courage. Courage is contagious. It is the only hope we have.
Anyone lucky enough to have been selected (and srsly, what were the criteria?) to attend this wonderful wonderful summit, could possibly print this off and give him it to read out… Strictly for the lulz, as the young people say…