This post is by Georgina Collins of Hope for the Future
In the aftermath of a draining election period, there can be a tendency to assume the hard work is done and the result is set. The winning party is free to implement the policies they choose; in essence, the role of the electorate is over until the next election in four years’ time. This tendency ignores a key tenet of parliamentary democracy: ongoing political participation and discussion. In fact, the aftermath of an election is when the hard work should begin.It’s not just about ensuring that national and local government tackle climate change, but how it will be done. Climate policy affects all the choices people make on a daily basis; how you get to work and what you pay for your fuel bills. It even affects your life expectancy. Ongoing engagement with local representatives is more essential than ever if the UK is to move towards a fairer, more sustainable society for all.
The new government is a new chance to engage
Hope for the Future is working with communities, groups and individuals across the country to communicate the urgency of climate change with local politicians. We have found that, if constituents engage with decision makers and educate them about the risks and opportunities of climate change, it is possible to convince even the most sceptical to take action. Gary Streeter is an excellent example of an MP who, through public engagement, made the choice to take seriously the risks of climate change; an experience he wrote about on this blog.
The most recent election has resulted in an unusually high number of new MPs (140 new members, the highest turnover since Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997). This influx is a unique opportunity for constituents to engage with their new representatives on climate change; at the same time as the MPs are looking to build relationships with their new voters and establish themselves within parliament. We must not become complacent. Whether our preferred candidate won or not, all our MPs must be held accountable to the promises they made about climate action during the election period.
Giving local politicians a mandate to act
Many may question the value of working on a local basis, seeing climate change as a global issue, to be tackled on a global scale. However, meeting net zero targets is fundamentally about transitioning to low carbon infrastructure. Many decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level. If targets are to be met it is essential that the public holds local politicians accountable, as well as providing them with a mandate to take decisive action.
This includes councils, often left out of the equation by campaigners. This is despite the fact that they will play a key role in many of the changes needed to tackle climate change. So, as well as lobbying parliament, it is important to engage locally with council representatives. Great strides can be made by councils where central government has failed, such as in low carbon public transport. Nottingham City Council, for example, introduced a Workplace Car Parking Levy which subsequently raised £64 million which was then used to fund their new electric tram network (powered by renewable energy). This tram network has since become the most well-used in the country.
Local activism can be challenging and tiring, dealing with bureaucratic barriers, apparent apathy and seemingly small victories. However, in 2020, with the challenge more urgent than ever, the value of all of us playing our part in communicating this to all our decision makers has never been more clear.
Hope for the Future is running projects focusing on councils, schools, welcoming new MPs and more.