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Is Purple also Green?

In 2011, Progress, the New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century, launched their ‘Purple Book’ which lays out what they describe as ‘a progressive future for Labour’.  SERA’s National Secretary Melanie Smallman was invited to speak when the Purple Book Tour visited Bristol.  Here she outlines her argument why missing out a chapter on the environment was significant but perhaps deliberate and right.   Progress’s Purple Book, subtitled ‘Leaving the State Behind’, looks at some very thorny issues that Labour needs to address if we are to get back into power – from immigration and housing to social mobility and fairness.  But a discussion of the environment – and how we are going to achieve all of these things against the backdrop of climate change – is distinctly missing.  I don’t think it’s an omission however.  I think it’s right that these issues aren’t included.  Because the kind of solutions being put forward in the purple book alone won’t do it for the environment.  Yes, these issues need a modernising and progressive approach and empowering communities and citizens will be key.  But, addressing the issues around energy, the environment and climate change will also need a bigger and stronger role for government.

The task ahead is absolutely enormous – modernising our energy infrastructure is arguably the challenge of our generation as it will underpin everything we aspire for life in the future.  It needs us to think at a much more local scale, but also, paradoxically for the purple book, at a much bigger national and trans-national scale.

Firstly, as the book argues, we need to be handing power to people.  But in the case of energy we mean that literally – giving communities and citizens a stake in renewable energy generation so that hosting such developments becomes more appealing and our relationship with energy is changed.  If we own it, we’ll use it differently.  And building a distributed energy network, whereby electricity and heat is generated and distributed at a much smaller, more local and less wasteful level, bringing more renewables and community-owned energy generation into play.

But that alone won’t be enough.  As well as upgrading our energy infrastructure to accommodate community level generation and renewables, we also need to expand it.  We need to make our network becomes part of a much bigger European Supergrid if we are to become more reliant upon renewables, so we can be confident that if there were no waves or wind in the UK during the break in Coronation Street, there’s likely to be some somewhere Europe.  That will need strong National Government vision and leadership.

Sorting out the UK’s energy is an incredibly exciting and inspiring project that definitely deserves a place at the heart of progressive politics.  But while we need citizens, communities, the market and private investment, it’s big huge government (and not the current coalition) that’s going create the vision, drive and force to make it happen.

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