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Conference diary: all together now

Alastair Harper is Green Alliance’s senior policy adviser on Political Leadership and  roving party conference diarist.

Here his is second posting from the Labour’s conference in Manchester, first published on Business Green.

There is a serious problem with the party conference system – one that risks annihilating our chattering classes altogether. For three weeks our media, business leaders and charitable advocates chase the political elite around the country.

They stay up late, live off croutons and crowd together in rooms without natural lighting and with a lot of hot air. As a result, they soon start to deteriorate. The enthusiastic buzz at the start of conference season is replaced by a wheeze. Immune systems collapse, eyes turn redder, panelists cancel at the eleventh hour – by the end, we’re lucky the Houses of Parliament doesn’t resemble a zombie apocalypse.

No such worries for me though – I was tucked up safely in bed before attending an early round table on the green economy, my only barrier a shower than only did boiling hit. (from freezing showers in Brighton to lava-flow in Manchester – there are many perks attendant on working for the UK’s leading environmental think tanks, but flashy hotels isn’t one of them).

Still, it was worth braving minor burns, as the meeting proved to be one of the best green discussions I’ve had. Ed Milliband may have, twitter rumours claim, forgotten to say the green bits, revealing how it’s just not the political priority it should be, but elsewhere it was clear how much the politicians are missing out on an issue that brings business and NGOs together like no other.

Present were Caroline Flint, Baroness Worthington and Huw Irranca Davis representing the current Labour team, flanked by Brown’s former adviser Michael Jacobs. From the business world, CBI boss John Cridland was accompanied by representatives of manufacturers like Siemens and Philips, and energy companies like E On and Shell, amongst others. Then members of the broad NGO spectrum, from WWF, RSPB and Greenpeace. We’d all tamed our evening in order to have the energy to investigate how we ride green growth out of recession.

I can’t attribute comments as we were under Chatham House rules, but that ensured a far more collaborative discussion between business and environmentalists. It wasn’t all milk and honey, just honesty. It made the talk all the more engaging. We agreed that, getting green and growth means more collaboration between DECC, Treasury and BIS than the insular world of ministries like. Political indecision is costing the country major investments, today, and we need post-2020 certainty to get business spending again.

We also discussed how the green sector needs championing, not defending. Since it’s largely reliant on policy, it needs the public’s support to get political traction. Not enough has been said about why these policies are the things that bring prices down, not drive them up.

We all know what this country needs and what it doesn’t; where we need to be in 2030 and where we can’t afford to be; where we can invest today, certain of a long return, and where it’s all dead ends. Now it’s up to all of us to be loud and clear in getting it across to politicians – making clear the need from business and civil society. I’m hopeful we’ll see that happening on both sides in the weeks to come.

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.

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