At the Greener Britain Hustings, senior party representatives debated with the general public what they will do, if they get into power at the next election, to create a greener Britain. Unlike some of the other election debates on offer, they did so in the same room and at the same time.
Here’s five things we learned:
1. Climate change is now a moral issue
Back in the 2010 election, politicians framed the issue of climate change as predominantly about new sources of jobs and growth. At Greener Britain there was a big focus on the need to raise the ambition of the Climate Change Act, to legislate the decarbonisation of the electricity sector. And, from the audience, there was a sense of the urgent need to divest our economy away from the ‘bad’ of fossil fuels. What was interesting is that this was framed by the politicians less as an economic transition and more as an essential act of moral leadership from the UK, as a country with a role in the world.
2. Nature is back on the agenda
One of the big issues missing from the last election was a vision for nature. This time around, the Conservatives are pointing to the budget’s awarding of a marine reserve to the Pitcairn islands (see video at 7:45 minutes) and threading together the importance of tackling climate change with issues of habitat protection and air quality (see video at 12:15 minutes). Labour too backed plans to restore nature, while the Liberal Democrats and Greens would legislate to deliver it.
3. Energy efficiency is a hot topic
All the topics had their tensions but the debate became really heated around energy efficiency. The ding dong between Caroline Lucas and Ed Davey over whether the government had delivered on its promises to keep more homes affordably warm shows how important this issue is going to be after the election.
4. A greener Britain is a popular idea
The 300 capacity venue was packed to the gills and just as many watched it on the live stream. Meanwhile, those following the debate on Twitter ensured that #GreenerBritain was trending across the UK, (though it never quite overtook the popularity of National Puppy Day). So, despite its relatively low status in the last parliament, the environment matters to the public.
5. People aren’t convinced the next government will make progress on the environment
The parties’ enthusiasm fell apart slightly when they were asked whether they would make cuts to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Both Labour and the Conservatives (see video at 11:17 minutes) said they would but wouldn’t explain exactly what they would cut, which has left some jeopardy around the specifics of what would be protected and what would be lost. This may have contributed to the concluding audience poll which showed a drop in the number of those who were optimistic that the next government would make any progress on the environment, compared to the same poll taken at the outset.
The Greener Britain Hustings, chaired by the BBC’s Tom Heap and featuring the Rt Hon Ed Davey MP (Liberal Democrats), the Rt Hon Liz Truss MP (Conservative), the Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP (Labour) and Caroline Lucas MP (Green), took place on Monday, 23 March 2015. It was a joint initiative of Green Alliance, Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Greenpeace, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF.