Tag Archives: General Election

Election Focus 2017: Voting for hope

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the day we decide, individually and collectively, what we want from our government for the next five years.  This is our opportunity to show politicians our values, our hopes, and our vision for the UK. I urge you to make the most of this opportunity – please vote, and encourage others (particularly young people) to vote too.

Vote based on policies

When you vote, don’t do it based on what the media (or social media) say; vote based on policies. Much of our media has vested interests to protect, which may not be the same as what is in your, or our collective interest. Look beyond the headlines at what the parties intend to do.

Obviously, environmental policy isn’t the only thing you’ll think about when you vote, but please do take it into account, as there are important differences between some of the parties. I hope my blog posts comparing what the party manifestos have to say on various environmental issues have been helpful to you.

If you’re not sure who to vote for…

Having spent so much time immersed (reluctantly) in the manifestos, I’d got to the point where I wasn’t sure who I was going to vote for. Three of the UK-wide parties (Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens) had quite good policies on environmental issues. And my constituency is such a Tory safe seat, my vote will have no impact on the outcome. (More on this later, if you’re in the same position). So I spent some time working through the ‘Vote for Policies‘ tool, covering all the issues I was remotely interested in. It’s more time-consuming than other similar tools I’ve tried, but I’ve found it the most helpful. If you’re not sure who you should vote for, give it go – it’s worth investing a bit of your time today to make sure you make the right decision.

If you’re considering voting for the Conservatives…

Please remember that, by voting for the Conservatives you are giving them permission to:

  • make fracking easier, including taking power to decide on whether fracking should be allowed away from local councils, and allowing exploratory and monitoring drilling to take place without the need to get planning permission.
  • try to bring back fox hunting
  • weaken environmental protection laws once we leave the EU (unlike Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens, the Tories do not make any commitments about keeping or enhancing the current levels of protection)

They make a few, vague but seemingly ambitious environmental claims (on climate change, air pollution and the environment in general), but consistently provide no details on how they will achieve them. This undermines their credibility, and is in keeping with the way they’ve run this whole campaign – refusing to answer questions on what they will do or how, and treating the voters as idiots who’ll happily write them a blank cheque. Soundbites are not going to reduce air pollution-related deaths or bring down our carbon emissions.

If you’re considering voting for UKIP…

If you think that there’s a chance that 97% of climate scientists might be right about climate change, please do not vote for UKIP. Climate change is too big an issue to pretend it isn’t happening, and we don’t need to do anything about it. Their policies on this issue would make the problem worse. We cannot afford that.

Vote tactically to keep the Tories out

As well as thinking about whose policies you like best, if your constituency is not a safe seat, please think about tactical voting. I truly believe that five more years of a Conservative majority government will be very bad news for the environment (and our health service, schools etc. etc…)

Is it worth voting if you’re in a safe seat?

Where I live is one of the safest Tory seats in the country. How I vote will make no difference to who ends up as my MP. So does it matter if I don’t vote? I believe it does. I can vote with my heart for the party I believe has the best policies – I don’t need to compromise to keep the worse option (the Tories or UKIP) out. But what does that achieve? When people look at the total number of votes each party received nationally, they will see my vote, and know that I support those policies and that vision for the UK. Opposition parties get “Short money” from the public purse, based on how many votes they receive. So by voting for my preferred party, I am also increasing the amount they receive (by a tiny amount) to support their work.

Tomorrow I’ll be voting for hope. Please join me.

Voting for hope

Election Focus 2017: protecting our seas

For today’s Election Focus, I am looking at what the parties say about how they will protect our seas. I have split this into several headings: protected areas around our shores; international marine protection; plans to tackle plastic pollution; and fishing.

Click on the image to see it full size.

How the parties say they will protect our seas
How the parties say they will protect our seas

My reflections

  • The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems are all a bit vague on UK marine protected areas. How much (more)  will they protect? What does that protection include? The Greens give a bit more detail.
  • Only the Tories talk about marine protection around British Overseas Territories, and their plans sound ambitious. I am not sure if they are referring to the marine protection zone already announced, or if this is additional.
  • Labour, the Greens, UKIP and Plaid Cymru all talk of introducing (or investigating) a plastic bottle deposit scheme to reduce waste. The Green Party seems to be the most ambitious in this area.
  • With Brexit, future fishing policy is a big topic, and now is a good opportunity to improve management of our fish stocks. The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems all mention sustainability in their plans. UKIP have a lot to say on fisheries, but it’s all about taking back control, with no mention of sustainability.
  • Plaid Cymru and the SNP are both very quiet about protecting our seas.

Election Focus 2017: air pollution

Air pollution is a very important issue,  and we’ve been letting our politicians off the hook on it for too long. When I studied for my MSc in Public Health I learnt about the health effects of air pollution, and was amazed more people aren’t up in arms about it.

It’s estimated to contribute to 40,000 deaths each year in the UK. It makes children ill, and life unpleasant for those of us who work in cities. And it affects the poorest in society the worst – those who can’t afford to live further from major roads.

As a country, we’re really not doing well on this issue. The EU sets legally binding limits on air pollution, which we repeatedly exceed. The government were taken to court in 2015 for failing to do enough, and they lost. Last year a cross party committee of MPs criticised the government’s revised plan and called air pollution a public health emergency.

Given this, you’d hope all the political parties would have robust plans to deal with this problem in their manifesto. Let’s see what they have to say.

I have split this into several headings: legislation, diesel vehicles  (a major source of pollution), other related transport policies, and other measures.

Click on the image to see it full size.

What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution
What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution

My reflections

  • I am not sure if the sentence from the Tory manifesto about planting trees is how they plan to tackle air pollution, or an unrelated point. It’s all in the same paragraph, along with promises to reduce litter and fill in potholes. It’s certainly not a robust response to a public health emergency.
  • Many of the other manifestos spend quite a bit of time criticising the government’s record on air pollution. It’s an open goal and well deserved. But successive governments have failed to get a handle on it (including the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition, and Labour before them).
  • There’s not a single mention of diesel in the Tory manifesto, despite it being a big contributor to the problem.
  • I think the Lib Dem manifesto is the most convincing on this issue.
  • UKIP and SNP give no indication of wanting to reduce air pollution, and UKIP’s policies may well make the problem worse.
  • On a side issue, while searching for ‘air’ in the UKIP manifesto, I came across six mentions of Tony Blair. Given how long he’s been out of power, this seems a bit weird to me.

Election focus: protecting nature

For my second election focus, I’ve chosen the issue of protecting nature. Looking through the manifestos was a lot quicker for this topic than climate change, as the parties had a lot less to say. I’ve grouped what they have to say into the following topics:

  • wildlife legislation
  • protected areas (NB. I’ll do a separate post on marine conservation areas, so haven’t included that here)
  • international wildlife protection
  • fox hunting
  • the badger cull
  • neonicotinoids
  • woodland
  • other wildlife issues

Remember, this is just based on what they say in their manifestos (some of which had lots more detail than others) – I’ve kept my own thoughts out of the table. Click on the image to see it at full size.

What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues

My reflections

  • The Lib Dems had the most to say on these issues, and generally it looked pretty good to me. I particularly like their promise to set legally binding natural capital targets.  I’m disappointed they didn’t come out and say they would keep the fox hunting ban. Their phrasing on the issue of bovine TB is obviously carefully selected not to upset anyone, but I find it’s lack of a direct statement on where they stand on the badger cull unsettling. The badger cull isn’t  effective, humane and evidence-based, but the current government is fond of saying it is.
  • I was surprised how many of the parties had things to say on woodland – they obviously think there are votes in protecting trees rather than bees or badgers. The Tory promise to “continue  to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation” made me laugh, given their previous (failed) attempt to sell off publically owned forests. They must think voters have very short memories.
  • Once again the Tories make bold claims (“We pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”) withour providing any information on how they will achieve it. But they say they will produce a 25 Year Environment Plan. We’ll just have to imagine what might be in that plan.
  • The Greens have surprisingly little to say on this topic – maybe they feel it goes without saying.
  • UKIP don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic, but what they do say doesn’t look too bad.
  • SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic either.

Election focus 2017: climate change and energy policy

Thanks to Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election, three years ahead of schedule, I have to leave the lovely world of hedgehogs, dormice and baby birds to delve into the murky world of politics. Over the next week, I’ll try to summarise where the major UK parties stand on various environmental issues, based on their published manifestos.

I’m starting this series with the biggest challenge facing our generation: climate change. Where we mark our X on the ballot paper next week will have big implications not just for the next five years, but for much longer. And there’s a real difference between the parties on this issue as well.

Climate change is a huge issue, and overlaps with many other areas of policy. I’ve split up each party’s position into a few headings, to make it easier to follow:

  1. Targets & commitments
  2. Legislation
  3. Power generation
  4. Britain’s place in the world response to climate change
  5. Homes
  6. Mitigation
  7. Transport
  8. Science & industry

NB. I’m not going to report on all of their policies related to homes / transport etc – just those they link to carbon emissions or climate change.

The manifestos of the parties varied greatly in length, meaning some give much more detail than others. I didn’t ask them for further information, or search their websites. Having said that, the longer manifestos didn’t always mean more information about how they were going to achieve their stated goals.

The following tables are, I hope, an accurate reflection of what the parties say in their manifesto.  Of course, we all know that manifesto promises don’t always materialise, but, without a crystal ball, the best we can judge parties on is their prior actions and what they say they will do in the future. Click on the tables to see them full size.

Where the parties stand on climate change targets and commitments, legislation, and power generation
Where the parties stand on climate change targets and commitments, legislation, and power generation
Where the parties stand on Britain's role in the world response to climate change, and homes
Where the parties stand on Britain’s role in the world response to climate change, and homes
Where the parties stand on climate change mitigation, transport and science and industry

 

My verdict

I’ve tried to be fairly neutral in my reporting of what the parties say, and you can draw your own conclusions. But since it’s my blog, I thought I’d add a few of my reflections, which you can ignore if you want to.

  • The Tories provide very little detail about what they will actually do to combat climate change. They don’t spell out what their power generation mix will be, but their support for shale gas shows that they just haven’t got the idea that fossil fuels are not the way forward. They pay lip service to our carbon reduction obligations, but provide no info on how they will meet them. They even try to claim credit for the Climate Change Act that was introduced by the Labour government in 2008.
  • Some of the parties refer to climate in change in many different sections of their manifesto, showing that they get that this issue is not just about power supplies, but will reflect many aspects of our life.
  • Some of the parties (Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP) present a clear vision of how they see Britain playing a role internationally,  – I found this quite inspiring.
  • Some of the parties (Labour, Lib Dems, SNP) presented the climate change challenge as an opportunity to develop new technology, industries, exports and jobs in the UK.
  • A vote for UKIP is a vote for climate catastrophe.
  • The Green Party manifesto was about a quarter of the length of some of the others, so inevitably has less detail. I’m not sure how the Tories managed to write 88 pages while saying so little about what they will actually do. Labour and the Lib Dems both have quite long, detailed manifestos.

Election focus: Marine Protected Areas

We’re an island nation. The seas surrounding us help to give us our identity, provide food, power and recreation for many of us. They’re also an important ecosystem. For example, British seas are home to half the world’s population of grey seals. But for a long time, this ecosystem has been unprotected against damaging activities such as scallop dredging and bottom trawling.

One of the two main campaigning areas for the Wildlife Trusts this election is calling for more Marine Protected Areas. These are recognised areas of sea where damaging activities are not allowed. They help wildlife to recover from decades of industrial fishing. So far there are 27 Marine Protected Areas in English waters, and 30 in Scottish waters. The Wildlife Trusts have identified many more sites of ecological importance that they believe should be protected, covering all the different types of marine habitat and species found around the UK. Restoring our fisheries through this approach could bring economic benefits of up to £1.4bn a year, as well as the non-financial benefits of improving our environment, and protecting our wildlife.

This election focus post explores what the political parties’ views are on this, although it’s limited by most of them not having much to say on the topic. Where I wasn’t able to find information on their websites, I emailed to ask them for their views. Only the SNP have replied with information so far. If I hear back from any of the others I will update this post.

Conservatives

I can’t find anything about this on their website, and they replied saying they haven’t announced a data for the release of their manifesto yet. But the recent budget did announce the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, which are UK Overseas Territory in the South Pacific. What they would do closer to home is less clear.

Labour

I haven’t been able to find any election promises about this from the Labour party, but last year Angela Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Water and Animal Welfare Minister, responding to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on Marine Protected Areas, said:

“The Labour Party recognises there are significant pressures on the marine environment around the UK. In Government we committed the UK to establishing an ambitious ecologically coherent and well-managed network of marine protected areas, including new powers to designate Marine Conservation Zones in UK waters.

“Yet after four years of mismanagement and total lack of commitment under this Tory-led Government the future of the Marine Coastal Zones now look extremely uncertain.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats are promising a Nature Bill, if they get into power. This includes ambitious proposals for two further tranches of Marine Conservations Zones in English seas by 2015-2016.

As part of the Coalition government they may well claim some of the credit for creating the Pitcairn Marine Protected Area.

UKIP

UKIP don’t say anything about Marine Protected Areas on their website, and said their manifesto hasn’t been finalised yet. The only related thing I could find on their website is “Foreign trawlers would have to apply for and purchase fishing permits to fish British waters when fish stocks have returned to sustainable levels.” But they don’t say how they would help fish stocks to return to sustainable levels, and whether British trawlers will be restricted in any way. From an environmental point of view it doesn’t really matter which nationality the damage is being done by…

The Greens

The Green Party will continue to work within existing legislation to fully implement a large-scale, ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the UK’s seas as soon as possible. As part of this network, 30% of the UK’s exclusive economic zone should be established as no-take reserves closed to commercial fishing and other extractive activities. These reserves should be properly representative, and always include at least 30 percent of the most productive and sensitive areas, such as spawning grounds. These proposals would be developed in collaboration with scientists, the public and stakeholders. The boundaries and existence of such reserves would be open to periodic renewal.

Increasing the protection of Britain’s seas will be beneficial to the fishing community in the long term, as stocks increase and profitable species start to return in high numbers. However, the Green Party recognises that in the short term fishermen may face difficulties. We would seek to enable a just transition for the local fishing community, and would work with them to ensure that the creation of MPAs, and particularly no-take marine reserves, do not damage their livelihoods.

Internationally, the Green Party would promote the establishment of a large-scale comprehensive system of MPAs in seas outside of national jurisdiction. Additionally we would support and encourage other nations looking to establish MPAs within their own waters. Globally, we will advocate high levels of protection, with 30% of the world’s oceans completely closed to extractive activities, and with a shift away from large-scale industrial fishing to locally-based sustainable models.

Scottish Nationalist Party

The Scottish Government recognises that the marine environment and wealth of industries reliant on it are hugely important and should be carefully maintained and developed. Cleanliness, safety, productivity, diversity and sustainability are key objectives for Marine Scotland and are borne in mind as stewardship of Scotland’s seas is undertaken.

Marine Scotland has compiled their tripartite Nature Conservation Strategy (NCS) which outlines how the protection of marine biodiversity can be ensured. The three pillar approach of the NCS can be broken down into:

  • Species Conservation
  • Site Protection
  • Wider seas policies and measures

A National Marine Plan was laid before the Scottish parliament in December 2014. It sets out the Scottish Governments vision for the marine environment and its sustainable development. The plan sets out social and economic policies as well as climate change and marine ecosystem objectives and is set to cover Scotland’s sea out to 200 nautical miles.

The Plan includes policies for the sustainable growth of fishing, aquaculture, salmon and migratory fish, oil and gas, carbon capture and storage, offshore wind and marine renewable energy, recreation and tourism, shipping, ports, harbours and ferries, submarine cables, defence, aggregates.

The National Marine Plan will introduce a single framework to manage all activity in Scottish waters and provide clarity to developers and decision makers on Scotland’s priorities for sustainable use of the sea. Our seas are a vast and vital natural resource which provide energy, food and recreation, this plan will ensure it remains a prized asset for future generations. This is an important step towards achieving sustainable growth and protection of the environment.

Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, commented “Scotland’s rich seas are of huge economic and environmental importance. The seas bring a vast array of benefits not only in terms of the importance of scenery and wildlife – but also the economic gains through industry, the contribution to food and energy security and the provision of a wide range of goods and services. Protection of our marine environment is at the heart of Scotland’s first national marine plan”.

Plaid Cymru

I haven’t been able to find anything relevant on their website, and they have not yet replied to my email (other than to say they’ve forwarded it to the relevant person, who is very busy). I will update this when I hear more.

Conclusion

It was quite hard to find information about this from some of the parties, which may be indicative of the importance they give to this issue. One way to try and get it higher up the agenda would be to get involved:

Election focus: the badger cull

If you live in the UK you’ll have noticed the political parties have started jostling for position, ready for the general election in May. As much as it would be nice to avoid the murky world of politics, who we vote (or don’t vote) for will have a big impact on our environment, as well as society and the economy. So, over the coming months, I will examine the main parties’ policies on various issues that I think are important for nature.

Since it’s something that I’ve covered a bit here before, I thought I’d start with the badger cull. (As the badger cull is only being done in England, I’m only going to look at English parties for this issue). Both the Conservatives and Labour have announced the line they will take on the badger cull in their manifestos. But since other parties are likely to play an important role in the outcome, I’ve also contacted the Lib Dems, UKIP and Green Party for their position on this issue.

The Conservatives

Speaking to the National Farmers Union, Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss has announced that the Tories will roll out the cull to other areas of the country, if they are elected. “We will not let up, whatever complaints we get from protesters groups. We are in it for the long haul and we will not walk away.”

The Tories see the cull as a central part of their 25 year strategy to end bovine TB. They have promised farmers to roll the cull out to other areas with high levels of TB. This is despite the pilot culls failing to reach their targets for number of badgers killed, being expensive and being found to be inhumane. When the independent committee set up to monitor the cull reported unfavourably last year, the Tory-led government disbanded the committee and carried on the cull without independent scientific oversight.

The strategy does say that any culls should (eventually) be funded privately, although the government will consider providing transitional financial support. The strategy is decidedly luke-warm on badger vaccinations, which it says should be developed, implemented and financed privately.

Labour

On the other side of the House of Commons, Labour have announced that they will scrap the “ineffective and inhumane” culls, if they are elected. Instead, they will bring in stricter measures to limit transmission between cattle, and increase both badger and cattle vaccination.

Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, said this week: “Labour has consistently said that to get bovine TB under control we need to bring in stricter cattle measures and prioritise badger and cattle vaccinations, but these culls are not the answer. It’s time the Tory-led government stopped ignoring the overwhelming evidence and got together with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of bovine TB under control.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have been quieter on the issue in public. When I asked them for their position, a Lib Dem spokesperson said: “We need to maintain a consistent government strategy including developing science-led ways to control this terrible disease. Badger cull trials in Gloucestershire and Somerset will continue, alongside investment in a vaccine. But we would only support further culls if they are shown to be effective, humane and safe. The TB Eradication Strategy will be fully implemented, to make England TB free within 25 years, while maintaining a viable cattle sector.”

So, it seems like, regardless of whether they are effective, humane and safe, the pilots will continue. Further culls will have to pass this test.

Perhaps their quietness on the issue is because their policy is unlikely to please the National Farmers Union, who are keen for the culls to be rolled out more widely, and also unlikely to appease the campaigners who think the cull has been a costly failure.

The commitment to implement the TB Eradication Strategy is important to note, as this document says: “The Government considers that licensed badger culling, delivered effectively, is an important bTB control measure in areas with high and persistent levels of bTB in cattle epidemiologically linked to endemic TB infection in badgers.”

UKIP

When I asked UKIP for their position on the badger cull, their press office replied: “UKIP supports the trial culling of badgers for the control of Bovine TB, if veterinary opinion substantiates it.”

This is rather more nuanced than the Tory approach (which seems to be to continue the cull regardless of what anyone else thinks). The crucial “if veterinary opinion substantiates it” is interesting. So far the British Veterinary Association (BVA) have supported the culls. However, when data from the second year of the pilot culls was released back in December, the BVA expressed some reservations “The headline data continues to raise some concerns on humaneness and reveals a mixed a picture in terms of effectiveness”, and said that they needed more time to consider the data. Presumably, if the BVA came out against the pilot culls UKIP would also oppose them…

The Green Party

Like Labour, the Green Party have come out strongly against badger culling. They have repeatedly condemned the badger cull as cruel and unnecessary, and called for an immediate end to the killing. They say it is unethical and unscientific, pointing to the Independent Expert Panel report as evidence for this.

Caroline Allen, Green Party Animals Spokesperson and vet, said:  “It is unbelievable that this Government is continuing to fund animal suffering after the shambles of last year’s pilot culls and the news so far suggests that this year is just as bad. In the meantime Wales has been doing what we suggested: concentrating on cattle. The results in Wales are impressive, the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as a result of TB testing having fallen by more than 50% since 2009 without a single badger being killed.”

Conclusion

If you’re really keen on culling as many badgers as possible then the Tories are the party for you. If, on the other hand, you’d like to see an end to the pilot culls immediately, and no further roll-out, then vote for Labour or the Greens. The Lib Dems and UKIP both sit somewhere in the middle, although UKIP are probably slightly closer to the Labour and Greens on this issue than the Lib Dems are.

Of course, few people will vote based solely on a single issue. Over the coming weeks I’ll explore where the parties stand on other key environmental issues. Let me know if there’s any particular topic you’d like me to investigate.