The Liberal Democrats have long had ‘pro-green’ views and in this sense they have been close to the Green Party on such issues. The party’s traditional focus on individual responsibility for the wider community has meant that they are therefore broadly sympathetic to environmentally friendly policies such as green taxation, emissions targets, environmental building regulations and supportive of international treaties such as Kyoto (1997), as outlined in the comments below:
Never has it been so important for all the UK's major political parties to put plans to curb harmful emissions and protect our environment at the heart of their agenda.9
(Then Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg (right),
21st September 2009)
This environmental focus on tackling the global ‘carbon footprint’ has now been established as a long-term Liberal Democrat policy commitment. In the context of the recent rise in environmental issues up the political agenda due to increased levels of public interest, the Liberal Democrats argue that the two main parties’ views on this issue are too moderate, not genuine and that they are merely reacting to this issue for electoral reasons and to maintain electoral support.
As Deputy Prime Minister from 2010 onwards, Clegg had a fairly significant role from which to influence environmental policy in line with the views that he and his party have publicly expressed in the past. For example, in the party’s 2010 general election manifesto the Liberal Democrats called for the introduction of a ‘green stimulus’ package to create thousands of jobs linked to renewable energy. However, Clegg needed to be vigilant in persuading and keeping on board his Conservative coalition partners to support his commitment to this area of policy, as they seemed less enthusiastic about this policy agenda as time progressed.
As an example of this, in 2013, the Liberal Democrats were lobbying for the inclusion of a ‘decarbonisation target’ by the year 2030 to be inserted in the government’s Energy Bill that was working its way through Parliament, although the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne was resisting and seeking to delay such an element due to the potential expense involved (at about the same time as Cameron’s ‘green crap’ comments). This demand was in the context of a new report indicating that UK carbon emissions caused by energy production rose by more than any other European country in 2012, leading to further demands for a ‘greener’ source of national energy production going forward.
There were also divisions between the coalition partners over the issue of nuclear power and energy, with the Conservatives broadly in favour and the Liberal Democrats against further extension of its usage. The Liberal Democrats have subsequently been criticised for over-emphasising ‘renewable energy’, which only makes up a relatively small percentage of the country’s overall energy output. It was, however, a position of strength for Clegg on this issue that a Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne, was appointed Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change within the new coalition government from May 2010, with key responsibilities for green issues. Following Huhne’s enforced resignation in 2012 due to criminal allegations, he was succeeded in this role by Ed Davey, another Liberal Democrat minister, who held the post until 2015. During the lifetime of the coalition government between 2010 and 2015, the Liberal Democrats were generally said to have clashed with their Conservative cabinet colleagues over green issues.
The Green Party formally emerged on to the national political scene in 1985, having previously been known as the Ecology Party since the mid-1970s. The party has explicitly promoted views that emphasise the need for politicians to take responsible stewardship of the environment and the earth’s resources. The party’s breakthrough on to the national scene came when it achieved 15% of the national vote in the 1989 European Elections. On a positive level, this set in motion the growth of environmental policies on the political agenda; however, the Greens were hampered in their progress by the mainstream parties adopting various environmental policies. In this context the party struggled to make further significant impact on a national Westminster level at least.
However, the Green Party have continued to win seats at local council level from the 1990s onwards and gained their first national representation by gaining two MEPs under proportional elections for the European Parliament in 1999. This was followed by winning three seats in the high-profile London Assembly elections in 2000, again using a proportional electoral system, and they have retained seats at these levels in subsequent elections (and also within the devolved Scottish Parliament). Their growth has been further fuelled by concerns within the broader ‘green movement’ that the mainstream parties’ commitment to green issues has been half-hearted and opportunistic in general.
While the Green Party have clearly benefited from such systems of proportional representation, the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system has traditionally penalised them (and other small parties). However, they managed to make a breakthrough at Westminster level in 2010 when Caroline Lucas (see above) was elected the party’s first ever British MP as the member for Brighton Pavilion. The party’s overall national share of the vote (just under 4% in 2015) indicates that they proportionally do deserve more MPs, but while Lucas retained her seat in 2015, she remains the party’s sole Westminster MP, and no others were elected. Further electoral success (or lack of it) will provide an effective illustration of just how contemporary voters view such environmental issues as a factor in determining their party of choice, and also whether they see the Greens as having a credible range of policies and offering a valid alternative to the more established political parties of the UK.
Environmental Politics – Political Spectrum in the UK
Environmentally friendly Pro-business (anti-regulation)
Questions and Talking Points
1. Why have environmental issues risen up the agenda in British politics over recent years?
2. Explain why green policies have the potential to be costly in terms of electoral support.
3. Provide examples of both global and domestic pressures on environmental policymaking in the UK.
Using the information above as well as your own knowledge about party positions in relation to environmental taxation, outline the key advantages and disadvantages of the policy:
The above debate is a key political issue and you would be expected to be able to analyse these rival points of view about green taxes in the examination.