Greater Manchester Labour for a Green New Deal

The fight against climate breakdown is one in which mutual support is imperative and the GND Councillor Support Network is our contribution to that fight, explain Adam Williams and Sean Benstead

GM LGND is the Greater Manchester branch of Labour for a Green New Deal, a campaign that took Labour’s 2019 conference by storm. LGND’s 2019 campaign permanently changed the focal point of the Labour Party’s policymaking, reorienting it around climate consciousness. It culminated in the most radical climate policies put forward perhaps by any major party in the Western hemisphere.

When Jeremy Corbyn took over as leader of the Labour Party, one aspect of his leadership that is often overlooked — and sometimes even derided — was the trust he placed in the Labour membership to decide what issues should be on the Party’s list of priorities. This trust was not without its risks. But we believe it was worthwhile due to one significant and irreversible outcome: the membership overwhelmingly demanded that Labour become a party that is serious on the existential threat of climate breakdown.

This demand identified the ticking clock that is now placed on our shared struggle for economic democracy alongside a genuine recognition for the need to break with the fossil fuel economy. As an alternative, Labour began to form a new, radical industrial strategy capable of neutralising the threat of our climate emergency, guided by the demands of a reinvigorated membership. This was embodied in the Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto commitment to a Green New Deal.

However, in any healthy democracy, regular elections mean that leaders come and go, and priorities are regularly reviewed. With this, despite Keir Starmer’s commitment to “put the Green New Deal at the heart of everything we do”, there has been no guarantee that the Labour Party will remain faithful to the radical Green New Deal from the 2019 manifesto. 

The Party’s organised left appear to have fallen from grace. So how can grassroots political activists continue to develop and build within a space in which they once found favour, but which now seems to be ever decreasing as we are marginalised from Party decision-making processes?

We must not treat the climate crisis as an issue to be tackled by a radical Labour government wielding the levers of parliamentary power, but as an issue that will need to be solved whether Labour are in government or not. This means that Labour members who now prioritise our ecology need to act like it, regardless of the positions or non-positions of the Party leadership. Now, we must look beyond the internal machinery of the Labour Party and nestle ourselves within the existing, and flourishing, community networks that are not stifled by Party positions on policy. 

In many ways, GM Labour for a Green New Deal operates as if Labour was as radical on ecological issues as it was in 2019. Indeed, it is likely the party will become more radical as time goes by, for two reasons. The first is that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that there could be another leadership change, with all factions now frustrated with the current direction, performance and strategy of the Party leadership.

Secondly, due to exacerbating extreme weather events, climate breakdown is becoming a real crisis to more people around Britain. As the objective conditions of life worsen, there will be more demands for the radical change that is needed. Climate breakdown is no longer only affecting the worst-off in the Global South, able to be reduced to an abstraction by policy makers and their lobbyists. It is now here on our doorsteps.

An example of this can be seen in the recent flux in climate-conscious politics here in Greater Manchester. This is a result of climate change becoming an inescapable fact of life in Manchester, evidenced by the Saddleworth Moor fires last year, and the floods of Storm Christoph. The 2020 local elections have shown that many Labour Party councillors are aware of our climate breakdown, and that they understand that climate and biodiversity have to be intrinsically connected to local government politics. 

Around Britain, activists find themselves at a watershed moment, stuck within tormenting local authority responses: rhetorical recognition of the climate emergency and pledges of radical actions which rarely come to fruition.

In Manchester, the Janus-faced response could not be more contradictory. On the one hand, we have seen Mayor Andy Burnham and the Combined Authority respond to popular demands by taking buses back into public control, commit to an integrated public transport system and launch a Retrofit Task Force — key components of any municipal Green New Deal. On the other hand, councils pander to developers intent on ripping up ecologically essential land, and are stubbornly inactive regarding dangerously rising air pollution.

Our task is to galvanise councils into taking action by supporting willing representatives who step into the breach to fight tough political battles. To meet this objective, we have developed and launched our new ‘Councillor Support Network’. This tool provides Greater Manchester councillors 24/7 access to expertise on a range of knowledge areas, including retrofitting, fair and just employment, climate education, pesticide phase-out, disability justice, recycling, urban planning, biodiversity, climate policies, circular economics, community wealth building & procurement processes — and even more. Whatever support a councillor requires to implement municipal Green New Deal policies, we can provide.

The Councillor Support Network has been the result of years of mutual organising, building solidarity and having conversations within our communities about where seemingly disparate struggles intersect in a shared future. This is not a battle that can end at the constituency boundaries of Greater Manchester. It is a strategy that can be replicated in any local authority, and it muststart in your local communities and in your local struggles. 

As voluntary activists, we are confident that we have played our part in the fight against climate breakdown and the political inertia that allows it to destroy our communities. Now our councillors must play theirs. 

Adam Williams and Sean Benstead are members of Greater Manchester Labour for a Green New Deal. To get in touch, email mcr.lgnd.national@gmail.com

Image: IMG_7356-no-planet-B-climate-emergency, by John Englart (Takver), marked with a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

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