Labour can win in 2024 with my plan to tackle the climate emergency

Rebecca Long-Bailey
Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Where is Boris Johnson? As flooding devastates large parts of the north, the Midlands and Wales, the prime minister’s strategy is to hide from public scrutiny and hope the whole thing blows over. It’s now 11 days and counting since his last public appearance.

This is a huge miscalculation. Because for all of Dominic Cummings’ talk of “superforecasting”, the government is ignoring the issue that will define politics for decades to come: our response to the climate crisis. From wildfires in Australia and the Amazon, to extreme heat in India, to drought in east Africa, climate-induced extreme weather is already reshaping our planet in disastrous ways.

I have called for a Climate Justice Fund, which would make fossil fuel companies pay damages for flooding and wildfires

To win, Labour needs to make sure 2024 is a climate election. Too often we have fought on terms defined by the Tories. David Cameron and George Osborne dominated politics in the aftermath of the financial crisis, winning two elections by pinning the blame on Labour’s fabled “overspending”. Last December, the narrative was defined by “Get Brexit done”, and we failed to provide a convincing answer.

Labour can only win the next election by confidently setting the agenda. Our shift to the politics of anti-austerity under Jeremy Corbyn put the Tories on the back foot and enabled the gains made in 2017. But as our devastating loss to Johnson showed, standing still is not enough. That’s why as leader, I’ll centre Labour’s plans to tackle the climate crisis in everything we do, and make sure it defines the next election.

That starts with being clear about where the blame for climate breakdown lies: with the fossil fuel executives who are knowingly burning our planet, and with the Tories who refuse to take the action necessary to stop them.

On this terrain, Labour can win. I know that we can build a winning electoral coalition around our green industrial revolution, uniting working people everywhere with a just, aspirational response to the climate crisis. Long before the next election, people in every community up and down the country need to know concretely what this will mean for them. Well-paid, unionised green jobs in every town, city and village; economic renewal and pride for communities left behind by deindustrialisation; and a leading role for our country in combating the climate crisis across the world. This isn’t just a set of policies that need to be sold better, it has to be the core of our vision for a socialist future.

The groups of voters Labour must unite in order to win are often pitted against each other. We’re told they are polarised and hold opposing interests: city against town, young against old, homeowner against renter. But they all want a livable planet, and all aspire to a future that is healthier, wealthier and more free. Labour’s green industrial revolution can unite diverse communities across the country on this basis, forming the coalition we need to win.

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But we cannot wait until 2024. Labour needs a leader who will relentlessly hold the Conservative government to account over its failings on climate change here and now. These failings couldn’t be starker than in Johnson’s abandonment of communities devastated by flooding.

The government must take urgent steps to seriously address the crisis. First, immediate action must be taken to tackle the root cause, by rapidly phasing out the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, working to a 2030 decarbonisation target. We cannot afford to delay action any longer, with vague or distant targets. Second, the government must follow the recommendations of the Environment Agency and National Infrastructure Commission and increase its capital spend on flood defences to £1bn per year. Alongside restoring the UK’s natural landscapes, and ensuring our firefighters are properly funded, equipped and resourced, these are simple steps that could be taken immediately to protect at-risk communities from further flood damage.

Lastly, with the damage from flooding projected to increase substantially, I would question why costs should be borne by homeowners rather than those most responsible for causing the climate crisis. That is why I have called for a Climate Justice Fund, which would make fossil fuel companies pay damage costs incurred by flooding and wildfires, as well as contributing to losses suffered by countries in the global south.

Soon, all politics will be climate politics. Labour needs a leader who recognises this, and has a strategy to build a winning coalition around a plan for rapid decarbonisation and economic renewal, working with trade unions, community groups and the climate movement. This is the basis on which we will win in 2024, transform Britain – and help save the planet.

• Rebecca Long-Bailey is the Labour MP for Salford and Eccles and a candidate for the Labour party leadership