The environment may point the direction to restoring Labour’s economic credibility

It’s the Environment – Stupid

There is little doubt, in amongst the disappointing opinion polls and leader ratings, that Labour faces a problem with electoral and crucially economic credibility.  I do not believe it is not the issue of personnel that should try the party the most, but of economics. For all the focus on personality and leadership in these vapid times, it is still the economy that matter s most to voters.  But.

It is undoubtedly somewhat peculiar shall we say, to address this issue with a topic that registers lower on most people’s priorities than the EU. When times are good, saving the planet from global warming is a luxury most are prepared to spend a little more on. However, when in times of austerity, environmental sustainability is the first thing out of that poorly insulted window.

So why focus on it? The first reason is that it is quite simply the right thing to do. In politics, most issues are presented on a sliding scale of middling grey. Environmental sustainability is largely a black and white issue that forms an essential plank of any enlightened campaign. Labour simply cannot claim to be progressive without it.

Second it also makes electoral sense. Pursued correctly, environmental sustainability is likely to make few enemies that weren’t already in the blue corner while winning plenty of friends, and votes, from supporters of the coalition’s junior partner. The Liberal Democrats can no more claim to be part of the greenest government ever than Labour can of having a perfect economic record. It’s time we took advantage of this particular weakness.

What’s more the coalition’s attempts to promote a green agenda are being attacked by the right, as well as the left.  Even The Daily Mail this week acknowledged families will face a double whammy from green taxes and that one in three households could face fuel poverty. The media climate around this issue allows Labour to plot a clear middle path that allows them to rally public support around an issue.

The key to making all  of this work, and to claim some of the electoral prizes on offer, is to present a clear, pragmatic and economically viable alternative. Dogma will not work. Nor will fluffy policy speeches attempting to create a new middle ground on the issue. What might well work is a fully costed plan that demonstrates living, working and behaving sustainably will save the average family money. And not just ‘some’ money. A definitive amount, clearly evidenced, perhaps even trailed by a willing local council. The desired outcome should not be some European defined target, but to improve the lives of families whilst making that little bit of difference.

We know voters aren’t going to magically trust Labour with the economy again overnight; it is a long and hard slog and one that requires innovative solutions.  However environmental sustainability is a small step on the path to power and it is a step that can help convince voters Labour can be trusted with their money. Yes the work to regain credibility begins here, and believe it or not, it starts with the environment.