So writes Alan Simpson (left), formerly Labour MP for Nottingham South.
Labour has to shift the focus to the health of the planet that is perilously at risk. More than 1,000 doctors (including 40 professors and former presidents of royal colleges) now call for widespread “non-violent civil disobedience” over Parliament’s failure to address the unfolding ecological and health emergency staring us in the face.
Everything, absolutely everything, must focus on two things. Labour has to block any prospect of a no-deal exit from the EU on October 31.
The trouble is that Labour is in almost as much of a mess as the Tories. At a time when the government is in complete disarray, Labour’s standing in the opinion polls is actually falling. Labour isn’t seen as offering the bigger, alternative vision and Brexit ambiguity looks more like weakness than leadership.
Mischief-makers are having a field day with identity politics in order to deflect attention from the structural issues that divide society, the deeper grievances; poverty, unemployment, squalor, ill-health, hopelessness, the towering evils the 1945 Labour government set out to tackle. As you set out to address them, the divides of race and religion melt to the sidelines.
We have to address the real “health disruptors” that stare us in the face:
- London’s current heatwave doesn’t compare with temperatures in France; 1.5°C higher than their 2003 heatwave in which thousands died.
- Catalonia is on fire.
- Guadalajara, in Mexico, woke up to find districts buried in two metres of freak hailstones, the size of golf balls.
- Similar “golf balls” had shattered windscreens in southern France only two weeks ago, just before the climate roller-coaster raced into overheating.
- The last 40 years has seen an 80% fall in bee and insect populations that pollination (and biodiversity) depends on.
It is all part of the unrecognised war we conduct upon ourselves (and our children)
So, back in Britain, where is the press challenging politicians on the existential crises facing our soils, water supplies, air quality, ecosystems and biodiversity?
On all the really big issues of the day, the press (and most politicians) have gone AWOL. One reason is that there are now no answers that don’t involve systems change.
The situation cries out for an urban mining, circular economics, that reclaims compounds and elements from products and buildings, reusing and recycling materials – including IT and electronic waste – that are finite rather than infinite. Product lifetimes have to be dramatically increased (along with the repair services to underpin them).
- There is as much copper circulating in the economy (or accumulating as scrap) as probably remains in the earth.
- Britain imports all of the 17 rare earth elements we rely on for everything from lasers to cancer drugs, from mobile phones to surgical supplies. Virtually all are currently lost as exported waste or inefficient recycling.
- We import 12.3 million tonnes of iron ore each year but produce 10m tonnes of scrap iron and steel, the bulk of which gets dumped abroad.
- The weight of clothing we discard is equivalent to the weight of clothing we import. And Britain discards the same weight of electronic equipment each year as the equipment we buy.
The Tory leadership race is dominated by prejudice and pandering to the rich and powerful. It will chase neoliberal delusions, no matter what social divisions or ecological disasters come in their wake. Labour must step beyond the politics of “me” and into the survival of “we.”
Simpson ends, “In doing so, I don’t care if my culture, my race, my sexuality, nationality or religion comes a poor second. The changes Labour must deliver, within the coming decade, will determine whether our children and grandchildren have the chance to sort these things out for themselves”.
Alan Simpson now advises the party on environmental issues. His article may be read in full here: