On 13 September, BBC Newsnight asked shadow business and energy secretary Ed Miliband about Labour for a Green New Deal’s Labour Party conference motion calling for public ownership in energy, water, transport and other sectors:
“We’re in favour of common ownership… Keir Starmer said in his leadership campaign he was in favour of public ownership in those areas. We haven’t changed that commitment... And why is that? Let me just explain this to you. Because in particular, in relation to natural monopolies, if we’re going to make this green transition, then public ownership is the right way to go. We don’t resile from those commitments.”
All the more relevant now the Tories are considering handouts for the big energy suppliers to persuade them to take over supply abandoned by small energy companies going bust — due to fossil gas’s soaring energy prices.
However, Miliband also said: “There’s always management of these things at conferences… It’s always messy at these things.”
Not messy enough! Two days later Labour’s Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) had “managed” the issue by ruling the LGND motion out of order. On 20 September the CAC ruled that motion back in. Other Green New Deal motions to Labour conference, submitted by the Fire Brigades Union and Bakers’ Union, include clearer calls for democratic public ownership of the banks and finance, energy industries, and public transport. Political work to win the labour movement to such policies is as important as climate action on the streets.
Despite Miliband’s comments, Starmer has certainly not campaigned for the left-wing policies he pledged in his Labour leadership campaign. Senior spokespeople have suggested those policies are being abandoned. As Gordon Brown’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, in 2009, Ed Miliband steadfastly refused the demands of occupying Vestas wind turbine workers on the Isle of Wight to nationalise their factory and prevents its closure.
Still, he is right to say (now) that expanding public ownership is essential to tackling the climate crisis. State ownership by itself is no solution, but suppressing the profit motive is necessary to radically change the way key industries and services are run.
To shut off the funding from high finance for fossil fuels and other high-emissions environmentally-harmful projects will be hard enough without taking them over.
To mobilise their vast resources to enable and fund a just transition, including the creation of millions of green jobs, without doing that — impossible.