19 June, 2023
The Guardian, by Fiona Harvey and Severin Carrell
Keir Starmer will pledge to “throw everything” at net zero and the overhaul of the UK’s energy system and industries, promising new jobs in “the race of our lifetime” to a low-carbon future.
The Labour leader will seek to regain the initiative on his plan for green growth on Monday, having rowed back earlier this month on a pledge to invest £28bn in a green industrial strategy, a figure that will not now be reached until the second half of a Labour parliament, as well as damaging rows with trade unions over the future of the North Sea.
Announcing a package of policies designed to decarbonise the energy system and industry, Starmer will say: “We’re going to throw everything at this: planning reform, procurement, long-term finance, R&D, a strategic plan for skills and supply chains … Pulling together for a simple, unifying priority: British power for British jobs.”
Labour’s plans include sweeping changes to the planning system that will allow onshore wind farms, electricity lines, transport links and other low-carbon infrastructure to be built quickly. All regulators will be given instructions to prioritise low-carbon projects, and companies will be given assurances on long-term policy to encourage investment.
Speaking in Scotland, Starmer will contrast the opportunities for investing in a low-carbon economy with the devastation of the UK’s industrial heartlands under Margaret Thatcher. “This cannot be a re-run of the 1980s,” he will say. “This is the race of our lifetime, and the prize is real.”
Labour’s plans for renewable energy, including a ban on new oil and gas exploration and development in the North Sea, have come under attack, from the Conservatives and trade unions. Grant Shapps, the energy secretary, accused the Labour leader of being “the political wing” of Just Stop Oil.
Starmer will counter by arguing net zero is vital to the UK’s safety. “We live in an increasingly volatile world. The twin risks of climate change and energy security now threaten the stability of nations,” he will say. “So we’ve got to ground everything we do in a new insight – that clean energy is now essential for national security.”
His team also rebuffed suggestions of a U-turn on the North Sea oil ban. Rescinding permission for projects that have cleared all regulatory hurdles before the general election would be costly and legally complex, so the party’s proposed ban on new oilfields will not cover projects that have achieved all three levels of consent, for exploration, development and production.
It is unlikely that many of the more than 100 North Sea licences the government is mulling would fall into that category, though one of the biggest – the Rosebank oil and gas field – could clear the final regulatory hurdles soon.
Labour’s plans also include insulating 19 million homes, setting up a national energy company, decarbonising electricity supply by 2030 and a national wealth fund to invest in green infrastructure.
Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change and net zero, told the Guardian the package would transform the UK’s economy. “This is a transformative agenda to bring lower bills, more jobs, energy security and climate leadership,” he said. “Labour is seizing the future, in stark contrast to the Tories, who have abandoned the pitch on this agenda.”
New analysis by Carbon Brief found less gas would be imported by 2030 under Labour’s plans than under Tory policies, despite the proposed ban on new North Sea drilling.
Planning policies for onshore wind and pylon construction are devolved to the Scottish and Welsh governments: in Wales, the Labour-led government is likely to be willing partners on this strategy. In Scotland, Labour needs to negotiate with the Scottish National party and Scottish Green government in Edinburgh, but would expect its support.
Labour’s plans met approval from Sam Richards, former Tory party adviser to Boris Johnson. “It’s great news that Keir Starmer has put reforming our broken planning system at the heart of Labour’s plans to deliver the clean energy infrastructure that can cut our energy bills and create jobs,” said Richards, the founder of the campaign group Britain Remade. “I’m delighted that Labour have adopted many of the recommendations set out in [our March] report, from ending the senseless ban on new onshore wind farms to speeding up the time it takes to get offshore wind farms up and running.”
Starmer’s choice of Edinburgh for the launch reflects Labour’s need to win seats from the SNP as well as the Tories in England. A new Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times put the SNP and Labour neck and neck on 34%, suggesting Labour is on course to win 26 Westminster seats in Scotland. It currently holds one in Scotland.
The headquarters of the new state-owned energy company GB Energy promised by Labour is to be based in Scotland, in a signal to Scottish voters the country would benefit directly from a UK Labour government.
Starmer will say: “Neither [SNP nor Tories] are truly invested in Scotland’s success. For the SNP, any Scottish triumph in Britain is a threat to the ultimate prize. While the Tories welcome such division because they think it works for them, politically.”