On Friday I was at a conference for Lib Dem environment portfolioholders in London. A really good event with lots of interesting speakers, including Chris Huhne MP, our environment spokesperson. I came away with a long list of new ideas.
One of the highlights was the leader of Richmond upon Thames, Serge Lourie, who explained the thinking behind their proposals for variable residents parking charges based on the carbon emissions of the cars. He also described the crazy amount of media coverage they got over it.
One of the most striking things about the Richmond proposals was how quickly politicians from other parties rushed to support them, with endorsements from both David Cameron and David Milliband within hours. It wouldn’t have been that long ago that they would have been jumping up and down to label such a proposal as another example of the “loony liberals”. That they feel such a need to get behind the Richmond proposal, in a way that mirrors how they have also jumped quickly on the green tax bandwagon, is a good example of a key theme that came out of the conference.
Both Chris Huhne and Lord Redesdale made reference to how fast the political agenda on the environment is moving. No longer is climate change an “if” question, but has become a “when”. Environmental issues are firmly in the mainstream, not on the fringe. Political parties are advocating policies they wouldn’t have touched a couple of years ago, and some of them actually mean it!
At the heart of this is of course climate change and the recognition by those across the “mainstream” of british politics that if we don’t get on with doing something about this then we (and I mean the human race “we”) are FUBAR. So witness the hugely important launch of the Stern Report on the economics of climate change. With Gordon Brown going green we can be confident that Westminster and Whitehall have recognised that, as Huhne says, this is the “most important policy agenda for the next 20 years”. Whether they have the ability to do something about it is another question, and I suppose that should be where we come in.
But I think there is something crucial we all should grasp. That is that on this issue the public are way ahead of the politicians. That Labour and the Tories are trying to signal how green they are is not a demonstration of leadership. It is a recognition that sufficient numbers of the public have shifted their perception about what matters within society and they feel that they need to do some bandwagon jumping to catch up.
I believe that the Liberal Democrats have shown a great deal of leadership on environmental issues. But we should not rest on our laurels. The speed at which environmental politics is developing could easily leave us behind, as easily as it could the other parties, if we are not prepared to be sharp, bold and flexible.
So, Richmond, respect!
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.