Government will push for green coronavirus recovery, says Tory MP

The government is poised to push for a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis, one of the new Tory party MPs has said, in a way that could wipe out the mistakes made in shutting down the coal industry under Margaret Thatcher.

“I very much hope we will hear about a green recovery soon from ministers,” said Alexander Stafford, who took one of Labour’s “red wall” seats in northern England in last December’s landslide election victory. “We want a recovery, we want it green, so we will work for a green recovery.”

Stafford is MP for Rother Valley in Yorkshire, site of the infamous Battle of Orgreave during the miner’s strike in 1984. He said the move away from coal in the 1980s under the Conservatives had produced upheaval and job losses, which could be avoided in a green recovery if people’s skills were redeployed to renewable energy and other clean technology.

“If people lose their jobs and their livelihoods, they are not going to be on board with the green message,” he said. “In the 1980s under Thatcher, the closure of the coal mines, there was a cliff edge, a cut-off, that created lots of social problems and economic problems. We need to manage the transition better. We can’t leave anyone behind. If we leave people behind, we will lose goodwill and public support.”

The UK was in prime position to create a “huge bonanza of jobs” in renewable energy and other green industries, he told the Guardian. “In the 1980s there was no support for mining workers. People were not properly equipped to look to new jobs. We have to support people into jobs.”

The coronavirus crisis had heightened people’s awareness of how the economy could be changed, he said. “We have the opportunity to reshape our economy.”

He contrasted the public’s willingness to look to green economic growth with the activism and civil disobedience of Extinction Rebellion. “They are extreme, and it is not working,” he said. “It needs to be done in a way that shows the economic benefits that a green recovery could bring.

“Extinction Rebellion has made [the climate crisis] very visible, but they have gone far too far with their direct action, way beyond the pale, and that puts people off.”

Stafford, who worked for the green campaigning charity WWF and then oil giant Shell before entering parliament, said the influx of new MPs was supportive of green measures. “This is one of the most effective internal lobby groups in the party,” he told a webinar on the green recovery held on Thursday by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a green advisory group.

One of the first policies for a green recovery could be home insulation, he said. The government currently has no overarching strategy for improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s draughty homes, an omission that has caused a slump in the number of homes being insulated in the last five years.

The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s statutory adviser, has written to the prime minister to urge measures including a boost to home insulation, renewable energy, electric vehicle infrastructure, tree planting and the restoration of peatlands, all of which it said would create new green jobs quickly and reduce the UK’s emissions in line with long-term low-carbon goals.

A study by Oxford University earlier this month found that focusing on the green economy would produce greater returns for public money, in the short and long term, than pouring cash into a conventional fossil-fuelled recovery.

Ministers have said little publicly on how the recovery from the coronavirus crisis might be achieved in a way compatible with the UK’s long-term goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, as attention has focused on the immediate health and economic crises.

On Thursday, the business secretary, Alok Sharma, announced GBP40m in new funding for fledgling green startups.

Earlier this week, the Labour party told the Guardian of its proposals for a “low-carbon army”, building on the plans for a “green industrial revolution” in the party’s manifesto last year.

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