What the Labour leadership candidates are saying (or not saying)

Having been very critical of the Government’s record on the environment in its first ten weeks of office, I have spent some time trying to find out what the candidates for the Labour leadership are offering. It has not been easy.

Liz Kendall’s website has a few policy speeches, but they are light on detail and there is little of interest for CPRE’s agenda. On housing, for instance, the Guardian quotes her as saying: “I don’t want to see £27bn going on housing benefit. I want to see that money going on investment in new homes.” Quite right, but how? “We are going have to rethink what we do.”

Yvette Cooper’s website has about 80 news stories, but again it is hard to find much policy detail. Until now, it has all been quite vague. For instance, it is reported that Cooper is committed to 300,000 homes a year, but (and I accept I may have missed it) I could find no detail on this policy. Now I have seen a leaflet promising “over 2 million homes in a decade – reviving the bravery of post war governments to build new Eco towns and Garden Cities”.

Andy Burnham has issued a manifesto which at least manages to say something. But for better or worse, the candidate with the most detailed policies is Jeremy Corbyn. This is partly what has won him so much support.

Labour looks a long way from power. Does any of this matter? I think it does, not just because one of the candidates might become Prime Minister, but because an effective opposition should have influence.  One reason the newly elected government has been so abysmal on the environment is that it has faced no serious Parliamentary challenge. And when the last Labour government did good things on the environment, it was at least partly because it was challenged to do so by a credible Conservative opposition in its ‘vote blue, go green’ phase.

So I think this contest matters to CPRE, and it as CPRE chief executive that I am writing this blog, not as someone who was active in the Labour Party as recently as 1999.

What, then, do the candidates say? Reassuringly, three of them say that the environment is very important. I am sure that Liz Kendall also believes it is important, though I cannot find a statement to that effect.

Andy Burnham’s manifesto opposes fracking, supports renewable energy, and calls for greater UK leadership on the international climate change negotiations. I cannot find a policy statement from Yvette Cooper, but in an interview she too called for greater international leadership and said: “David Cameron’s ‘hug-a-husky but scrap a wind farm’ hypocrisy is setting us back years.” Part of her vision is to “transform Britain into a high-wage, high-tech economy leading the digital and green revolutions as we did the industrial revolution”.

Jeremy Corbyn is the only candidate with a full environmental policy statement, Protecting our Planet. As with the other candidates, the focus is on climate change, but he also says: “Children are being brought up without contact with nature or access to green spaces that are so important for development. The things we need to do to protect the environment also protect people and enhance our lives.”

Corbyn has also adopted the concept of green quantitative easing, though he calls it  People’s QE. On this as many topics, one may disagree with him, but it is good that Jeremy Corbyn is generating a serious debate about serious things.

None of the candidates, as far as I can see, has anything much to say about the countryside. I cannot find much on food or farming, or people’s enjoyment of the countryside (though intriguingly Yvette Cooper reveals that her first job “was about as rural as it gets, picking fruit for £2 an hour on the local farm – and learning to drive a tractor too”).

On housing, none of the candidates peddles the line that if more greenfield land is released, more homes will be built. This may be because three of them have little to say on how they will deliver the number of homes they promise. Andy Burnham promises “the most ambitious housing policy since the post-war period”, with “a new National Housing Commission to drive progress in every area, ensuring new homes are built with affordable rents”.

The only candidate to address the issue of where the homes should be built, and the one with the most detailed policies, is Jeremy Corbyn: “Developers will nearly always argue for the release of Green Belt land because it is easier for them compared to developing brownfield sites. But we don’t simply want our towns sprawling outwards with reliance on cars growing – and the Green Belt has prevented that to a certain extent.” Corbyn’s policy also touches on rural housing (he wants more rural council houses), support for regional housing targets, retrofitting existing properties and building zero carbon homes, and tackling land banking and empty homes.

The last policy area worth mentioning is transport. Here it is encouraging that Andy Burnham’s manifesto focuses on railways and buses, rather than building new roads – encouraging not least because of the involvement in his campaign of Michael Dugher, Labour’s shadow transport secretary.

Of course, policies do not win elections. Labour did not lose in May because it lacked detailed policies; nor did the Conservatives win because they had them. But I am not only interested in policy on the countryside or the environment (in its widest sense, not just climate change). Policy from the candidates may be hard to find, but words are not. It would be good if they could use a few of them to say something about beauty, place, nature, heritage, national identity, local environmental quality (litter, noise etc.)… These things really matter to people, including prospective Labour voters. I hope we will hear more about them in the last couple of weeks of the campaign.

POSTSCRIPT (21 August). Since I wrote this blog, there has been a useful summary of the candidates’ views on energy and climate change, from Carbon Brief. Friends of Earth have also produced a blog on the candidates’ policies.

2 Responses to “What the Labour leadership candidates are saying (or not saying)”

  1. 1 geoff lambert August 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    I won’t be voting for a leader. While Corbyn has the most comprehensive statements on what will be different he is 65 and will be 70 at the next election. This is not an age to be PM for the first time. What he has done is offer hope to many in the labour party by offering a different agenda. The other 3 candidates have age on their side but are weak in in offering something new. They have nothing to offer to either current labour voters or those who need to be persuaded to move to labour that is materially different from the conservatives. Reality is, therefore, that we will have a weak opposition with few ideas that appeal to a broad brush of the electorate and no real opposition to development anywhere.

  2. 2 CPRE Local Supporter September 3, 2015 at 10:33 am

    The Labour Leadership candidates’ announced policies on the countryside are not that important as the Shadow Spokespeople in the DCLG team will in the end decide on the opposition’s position. But what the above misses is that there is one candidate with a past Ministerial role in planning and housing: Yvette Cooper. And it is quite a major role. She was Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the ‘planning’ Ministry (under Labour, variously called DETR, DTLR, ODPM and DCLG) for two years from June 2003 until May 2005 when she was promoted to Minister of State (Housing and Planning). She served in that role until January 2008 – so she handled planning in Government for 4½ years in all. See her Ministerial career at

    Yvette Cooper took up her post after the controversial Planning & Compulsory Purchase Bill was lodged in Parliament in Dec 2002, but steered much of it through the Commons to enactment in July 2004. She was responsible for its detail and was the subject of lobbying (including by CPRE National Office) to change some of its bad features (including the replacement of Structure and Local Plans by statutory regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks). She refused to change the legislation and played a part in imposing it, using the Blair Government’s large majority.

    Yvette Cooper is thus as responsible as any Minister for the dismal state of the development plan system in England, made worse by the 2008 Planning Act, the 2011 Localism Act and subsequent legislation of the Coalition. It is interesting that no one seems to have looked at her past Ministerial career and address whether in the light of it she can be regarded as a suitable politician in charge of the country. She has not received the blame for the 2004 Act and its consequences, whereas John Prescott has. Yet (as was seen with Nick Boles) a Junior Minister can do damage, whether by actions or (in Cooper’s case) inability to respond to criticisms or to listen to calls for to do things better.

    If Yvette Cooper becomes Leader of the Labour Party, there will be the opportunity to publicise her harmful contribution to the planning system as a minister and put pressure on her to admit the error and (as one approach) to press her to commit the Labour Party to repair the damage done to it from the 2004 Act onwards. As she now doesn’t seem likely to become leader, though, this opportunity won’t arise.

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