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Westminster's green evasion won't wash


It’s more than three months since UKIP swept the boards at the European elections and still the debate over our relationship with Europe rages on, stoked by Douglas Carswell’s audacious defection to UKIP. Carswell’s act of political treachery (or heroism, depending on your perspective) will have intensified the debate within Conservative HQ about how to persuade eurosceptic voters (not to mention MPs) to resist the lure of UKIP and pledge their allegiance to the Tories at next year’s general election. But far shorter shrift has been given to the rise of another party, whose manifesto is resonating with an increasing number of voters.

Over a million people voted Green at May’s European Elections giving the party triple the number of MEPs as the Liberal Democrats. What’s more, the 10% share recorded by Ipsos Mori’s general election voting intentions poll in July 2014 was the highest ever number recorded for the Green Party and put it ahead of the Lib Dems and only 2% behind UKIP.

Yet while the main political parties scrap to placate UKIP converts none of them seem remotely interested in wooing voters who might otherwise stick a cross in the Green box come the election. It seems particularly strange that the Labour Party, whose natural supporters share many of the same concerns as Greens over the environment and social justice, has given voters of a green persuasion little cause to vote red in 2015.

A new report from the Green Alliance aims to give political parties the ammunition they need to secure the green vote at the next election – a vote that could be critical in securing a majority for either the Tories or, more likely, Labour. The report, which is authored by some of the largest organisations from the environment and conservation sectors, states that the biggest challenge to achieving a greener Britain is the “hesitant approach of political leaders” and challenges the parties to strengthen environmental policies in their manifestos.

Among the policies suggested are setting a 2030 power decarbonisation target at 50g CO2/kWh; tackling overfishing by creating an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in UK seas; setting up a permanent arm’s length body to ensure the sustainable use and restoration of natural resources; and reducing Britain’s resource use through actions such as enforcing a landfill ban for food waste.

Such policies, whilst progressive, do not require a radical shift in political thinking; yet engagement with the green agenda remains weak. Why? Has Labour been scared off green policies by a Conservative narrative that they come at a cost to the economy, as articulated by David Cameron in his alleged “green crap” outburst. Or is the party scared of alienating the business community?

Such fears should be set aside. The public is by and large convinced by the reality of climate change and the need to act upon it and, in any case, the report argues that a greener Britain would mean lower energy costs, greater energy security, better protection from resource price increases and growing natural capital. Many businesses, meanwhile, are already taking positive action to reduce the environmental impact and improve the resilience of their supply chains and would surely welcome the certainty and level playing field that comes with progressive government policies on environmental affairs.

UKIP may be stealing the headlines but politicians should ignore the burgeoning green movement at their peril.

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