The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report in April has predicted climate catastrophe if the world does not dramatically cut its carbon emissions by 2025, against a predicted increase by 2030. Despite these frightening predictions, the UK Labour Party has to date not mentioned the IPCC report on either its website or on social media.
Conversely, the party’s main Twitter account condemned the actions of Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion – who are asking the government for new fossil fuel licences to be halted immediately in light of the crisis – by calling on the government to “impose injunctions to put a stop to this disruption”. This was viewed by many as a direct attack on those groups currently engaged in civil disobedience.
While the party may be angling itself as the new party of ‘law and order’, coming out against a protest movement that is driven by fear of climate collapse and an unliveable planet may push young people look elsewhere. In the first quarter of 2022, YouGov reported that XR was most likely to be popular with millennials, with 18 per cent expressing a positive view of the charity. This may well be higher among Generation Z, who were not identified as a distinct group in the survey but are the generation most likely to suffer the immense consequences of the climate crisis. Given that the IPCC report was published after the results of this survey were collected, it remains to be seen whether the British population feels even more desperate about climate change than they did at the time of this survey.
While XR may be relatively unpopular even among millennials, many voters from across the political spectrum want to see action on climate. Another YouGov report from March this year (also prior to the IPCC report publication) said 49 per cent feel that the government is not doing or spending enough to combat carbon emissions – compared to just 19 per cent who thought they are doing or spending too much, and 14 per cent who thought that the balance was about right. Even 33 per cent of Conservative voters feel that the current UK government is not doing enough. This is fruitful territory for the Labour Party, who must be seen to be prioritising its climate-friendly policies in tandem with its social and economic policies, in order to ensure it does not alienate potential voters.
The reality is that Labour has a number of policies that those looking for climate action are likely to support. The party has been vocal in the media on home insulation, which – despite the unpopularity of the Insulate Britain protests in 2021 – has become a key battleground. As energy prices skyrocket, there are growing concerns that many in the UK will face the choice between starving and freezing come winter. In a recent study carried out by Stack Data Strategy, one in ten parents have reported that they are likely to need to use a food bank in the next three months. These pressures are likely to become more and more acute as inflation soars. The lack of any provision for home insulation in the most recent government’s energy strategy risks seeing the climate crisis and the impending social crisis unite. Labour has highlighted the need for insulation in its response to the government’s energy strategy,declaring that they would ensure that “19 million homes are warm and well-insulated, saving households an average of £400 a year on bills”. This should undoubtedly be a popular policy among both those who would like to see bills going down, and those who are concerned about the climate.
However, the party’s position on XR may well damage its green credentials and may result in a loss of support from its young base. The announcement of this policy on Twitter received considerably less attention that its condemnation of protestors: 58 quoted the tweet at the time of writing, compared to 1,892 for the tweet on injunctions. Similarly, these green policies are poorly highlighted on the party’s website, which, coupled with the complete silence on the IPCC report, may lead voters to consider Labour’s climate policies non-existent.
By contrast, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats – both of whom have highly visible climate-friendly policies on their website and on their social media channels – have not condemned the protesters, so they may offer an alternative political home to those who want to see climate action prioritised. They also represent a risk to the Labour Party in the upcoming local elections, having made gains from both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in 2021. In Sheffield, the Labour leader of the council was ousted by a Green candidate and the council is now in no overall control. Labour must ensure that those who want climate action do not turn towards those who are saying more.
In condemning the protestors, Labour may detract from its genuinely climate-friendly policies. It must instead ensure that it focuses on amplifying those policies to its key demographics, while acknowledging the scale of the crisis at hand. The Labour Party are currently performing well in the polls for the upcoming local elections, but inadequate communication on climate may risk losing support to those smaller parties who embed climate action in their brand – and whose position on climate issues are easy to find.