Author Archives: Neil Stockley

Green Book Pod 2: the net zero debate

As the world’s nations gather for COP28, we need no reminding that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity.  It is directly contributing to humanitarian emergencies from heatwaves, wildfires, floods, tropical storms and hurricanes and they are increasing in scale, frequency and intensity.

How should the UK – and politicians vying for office – respond?

Polling by More in Common consistently shows that British voters see “climate change and the environment” as one of the top three issues facing the country.  This is a remarkable increase from just a few years ago.

But the UK is doing nowhere near enough to meet its legally binding “net zero” target – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Over recent months, Rishi Sunak has backtracked on key net zero policies as he tries to draw new political dividing lines.

Labour have promised a multi-billion-pound green prosperity plan, but they keep pushing back its timetable and planned scope.

And what about the Liberal Democrats?  In the mid-1990s, we were the first UK political party to publish a comprehensive programme to address climate change.  Sixteen years ago, we were the first to set a net zero target for 2050.  Liberal Democrats in coalition presided over a quadrupling of renewable energy and established the world’s first Green Investment Bank.

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Shirley Williams: Liberal Lion and Trailblazer

When Shirley Williams died in April 2021, Sir Ed Davey paid tribute to a “a Liberal lion” and remembered her as a “trailblazer” and an “inspiration to millions”. 

There were many other affectionate tributes. Unusually for a politician, Shirley was widely loved during her lifetime. David Steel once described her as “a national treasure, rather like the late Queen Mum”. As a Liberal Democrat icon, she stood alongside Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy.

Shirley Williams was, after all, the most popular of the “Gang of Four” who broke away from Labour in 1981 and formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Roy Jenkins and David Owen provided the political weight and gravitas, but Shirley provided the personal warmth and empathy. With her stunning victory at the Crosby by-election in November 1981, she was the first candidate to be elected as an MP under the new party’s banner. “Shirl the Pearl”, as she was known, later became the first president of the SDP. 

Even so, her broad and enduring popularity was, in some ways, remarkable. Shirley last held government office in 1979 –as education secretary in Jim Callaghan’s ill-fated Labour government, from when she was best remembered for expanding the comprehensive school system. She passed up the chance to contest the SDP’s first leadership election in 1982 and lost Crosby the following year, a victim of adverse boundary changes, and never returned to the Commons. 

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Labour claims credit for the NHS, but Liberals laid the foundations

One of the enduring myths of British politics is that the Labour Party was uniquely responsible for founding the National Health Service. “It was the Attlee government’s introduction of the National Health Service which will rightly go down as Labour’s greatest achievement,” says the party’s website. “Labour created the NHS,” maintains the party’s shadow health secretary.

But this partisan, somewhat sentimental version of history has been demolished over the years by historians of the welfare state. In 1995, Nicholas Timmins started his magisterial (and recently updated) study, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State, by highlighting the vital role …

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Towards a world free of nuclear weapons

At Spring Conference in York, Liberal Democrats will debate a new policy paper, Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons. 

This is an important debate for Liberal Democrats, because we understand all too well the catastrophic consequences of detonating nuclear weapons. The ethical questions they raise go to the heart of our party’s values: we believe that any nuclear war is morally unacceptable and must never be fought. We appreciate that as a founding signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the UK has a legal responsibility to reinvigorate international nuclear disarmament initiatives. And we have always recognised the Government’s duty to protect the British people from attack and to play a full part in protecting the UK’s NATO allies.

We are reviewing our nuclear weapons policies because the international security situation has changed, and not for the better, since 2013 when they were last updated. With Russia’s growing military adventurism, increased instability in the Middle East and a changing balance of power in Asia, the world is a more dangerous place than it has been for many years. In this challenging environment, strengthening NATO solidarity, military capability, and coherence should be the highest priority for the UK’s defence policy, especially if we leave the EU. The policy paper concludes that this is not the right time to renounce our nuclear weapons. The UK should maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent. 

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Opinion on Nick’s second anniversary: Neil Stockley – People are listening, now’s the time for Nick to tell our story

I came across an old Liberal Democrat Voice post the other day. In May 2007, Nick Clegg called for the party to develop a “narrative” to accompany its policies. Just over six months later, Nick was elected Lib Dem leader and was thus in the best possible position to make such a narrative happen.

During the leadership campaign, his abilities as a communicator were the most frequently heard point of “the case for Nick”. So, after two years as leader, how is he doing?

Well . . . there were more misses than hits in …

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Opinion: Are we going into a climate trance?

Britain (and most of the world) was in “shock” about climate change for a few years. But the credit crunch and the economic recession have now caused a climate “trance”. A trance? In this, of all years. A new global deal on emissions targets needs to be reached at December’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Not long after he was elected president, Barack Obama spoke of the “shock” and “trance” syndrome, that brings panic and then paralysis over America’s reliance on fossil fuels. Andrew Revkin, of the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog, has traced two international climate “shocks” in the last century. The first shock started in the summer of 1988, with the northern drought and James Hansen’s first dire warnings about global warming. It was followed by a trance, as energy prices fell and the first Persian Gulf War erupted. The ensuing trance lasted for much of the 1990s.

The second shock began with the European heat wave of 2003 and intensified from 2005 to 2007 as Hurricane Katrina and “An Inconvenient Truth” put climate change in the headlines. The peak was reached in 2007, as the fourth IPCC report was published.

Evidence of a new British (and, possibly, Europe-wide) climate trance has piled up over the last year. People have become much more worried about their jobs, cash flows and house prices. In January 2007, Ipsos MORI found that 19 per cent of voters saw the environment as a top issue facing Britain. By the end of 2008, just 6 per cent held the same view. Over the same period, the proportion seeing the economy as a top issue went from 14 per cent to 66 per cent.

The media may also be falling into a climate trance. Maxwell Boykoff of Oxford University, who studies the way 50 newspapers in 20 countries (including the UK) cover climate change, told DotEarth last month: “Apart from that Oceania blip in mid-2008, it does seem like stagnation or decreasing coverage.”

Consequently, politicians may be less inclined to take forward “costly” climate policies. For years, the EU has been a world leader on climate change policies. But some members have become more worried about the possible implications for their industries and economies. December’s European summit kept the targets to cut emissions by 20 per cent (compared with 1990 levels) by 2020, with an offer to raise this to 30 per cent if other countries joined in on an agreement. But the EU emissions trading scheme will now include big concessions and opt-outs for heavy industries. Last month’s big UN climate change meeting in Poznan showed how hard it may be to reach a deal at Copenhagen.

Those concerned about the future of the planet need not despair, just yet. Whilst the climate “shock” may be over, the last year also showed that a 1990s style “trance” simply will not be an option.

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Recent Comments

  • David Langshaw
    Just to add to the Singapore imagery, it's worth remembering that the Japanese advanced all the way down the Malayan peninsula on bicycles....
  • Geoff Reid
    In the midst of the alarms and excursions of an election campaign - and the necessary simplifications - it is very refreshing to be reminded of the ground on wh...
  • Bill Le Breton
    Fantastic piece. Thank you....
  • Neil Hickman
    Sadly, Martin, I fear you’re right. Labour apparatchiks would far rather a monopoly Labour government than one dependent on the Lib Dem’s (and kept honest ...
  • Martin Gray
    If Labour - as predicted win by a landslide I can't see a change in the voting system anytime soon. PCC and local elections have a poor turnout - no amount of a...