Corbyn's victory presents a big challenge for green businesses and investors, as well as those political centrists who want to build a low carbon economy
As everyone thought, the unthinkable happened. The Labour Party is now led by a happily unreconstructed socialist and after a pretty chaotic 48 hours he has appointed a shadow cabinet that, for all the talk of inclusiveness and the perennial commitment to the 'new way of doing politics', will be tasked with delivering on his avowedly left wing agenda.
Meanwhile, almost an entire front bench of senior Labour figures from the right of the party have (for the most part politely) declined to join the Shadow Cabinet, meaning the Corbyn camp will always be one gaffe away from coup speculation. Over at Conservative HQ they have the popcorn out. At Number 10 a brutal, yet no doubt effective effort to paint Corbyn as a threat to national security is in full swing. And at Number 11 the master plan to reshape the British state and push through a host of reforms that never appeared in anything as democratically accountable as an election manifesto continues unencumbered. It's been a very strange and extremely eventful political summer.
The response to the Corbyn victory from the business community is pretty easy to predict. It will lean heavily on Conservative attempts to characterise the new Labour leader as a vest-wearing, tax-and-spend, deficit-denying, 1980s throwback, who will harm the UK's economic and national security and has little of value to say about the modern world and mainstream business concerns.
We live in volatile times politically and as such there are risks in this strategy. The savviest business leaders will recognise Corbyn's views on austerity and the need for economic stimulus are actually far closer to mainstream textbook economic thinking than George Osborne's and his stance on the relationship between the state and the private sector in a modern industrial economy is far more nuanced than the anti-business caricature suggests. They will also recognise it is not completely inconceivable he could tap into the anti-politics mood in a way other political insurgents have across the globe. That said, precisely the same was true of Ed Miliband and a fat lot of good it did him. Do not expect much in the way of a nuanced critique of the Corbyn surge from the bulk of British business leaders - a combination of all-out attack and barely concealed contempt will be the default setting.
However, the green business community does not have the luxury of simply dismissing Corbyn as an extreme figure - not when he is promising a suite of energy and climate change policies that are, on the face of it, significantly more ambitious than the currently confused and contradictory package being pursued by the government.
If Ed Miliband offered green business leaders a difficult choice in the form of a specifically pro-renewables, pro-energy efficiency, pro-climate action programme tempered by ultimately unresolved concerns about his economic credibility, affinity for business, and willingness to deploy price controls in markets, Corbyn offers the same dilemma on steroids.
Much of Corbyn's green policy detail will need to be worked out, his new team will have to demonstrate it has the political nous and experience to deliver, and legitimate questions about whether it is wise to oppose new nuclear and muse on the merits of coal mining will have to be answered. But the promise of an unapologetically pro-renewables agenda, coupled with Corbyn's commitment to drastically beef up energy efficiency programmes and generally push climate action much higher up the political agenda will be hard for many green businesses and campaigners to resist, particularly at a time when environmental policies are taking such a battering from the government.
Others will hope that even if Corbyn's green programme remains flawed in places, his desire to bolster Labour's green credentials will result in the opposition actually opposing the government's summer bonfire of green policies. As such, pressure will increase on Ministers to ensure their promised autumn unveiling of a more cost effective decarbonisation strategy is sufficiently ambitious. An opposition calling for more, not less, ambition on climate change and the environment should help keep the issue in the public eye and make it harder for the government to ditch its long-standing commitment to decarbonisation.
For these reasons, many within the green community, including a fair few low carbon business leaders, will cautiously welcome Corbyn's surprise victory even if they continue to harbour concerns about other aspects of his agenda.
However, Corbyn's victory also poses a complex challenge to an environmental movement still battling to challenge the caricature that it is an inherently left wing concern. Corbyn's assertion we need to take much bolder action on climate change is to be welcomed, but there is a serious risk that further entrenching decarbonisation as a 'left wing issue' alienates supporters green campaigners and businesses need to win over and helps centrist politicians offering watered down climate policies position themselves as the reasonable alternative.
In a brilliant recent blog post, US climate hawk David Roberts detailed how the flawed approach to viewing politics as a neat left-right spectrum running between two extremist 'crazy zones' represents a massive problem for action on climate change. As he puts it: "The right-wing base has a coherent position on climate change: It's a hoax, so we shouldn't do anything about it. The left-wing base has a coherent position: It's happening, so we should do something about it. The "centrist" position, shared by conservative Democrats and the few remaining moderate Republicans, is that it's happening but we shouldn't do anything about it."
This problem is nowhere near as acute in the UK, but you can see how it is starting to emerge. Much of Corbyn's economic agenda is already being firmly characterised by the media as being in the extreme left 'crazy zone' - a scenario that somehow allows a government pushing through a Trade Union bill one of its own backbenchers describes as having 'Franco-style' sections as moderate and centrist. Business Secretary Sajid Javid seems to reckon Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is the best book ever written and Chancellor George Osborne makes no secret of his desire to transform the UK through one of the most drastic state-shrinking exercises in history, and yet it is Labour that will now be characterised as being run by ideologues. The Conservatives appear to have fully mastered the old adage about how you campaign from the centre and govern to move the centre.
If this consigning of all Corbyn's political priorities, including bold action on climate change, to the 'crazy zone' succeeds then the green economy as a whole has a serious problem. If you look at how this dilemma is playing out in the US, the only people talking about sufficiently ambitious climate policies are mostly to be found in the 'crazy zone' of the far left, but, as Roberts notes it "doesn't seem that crazy to me". Me neither.
To avoid this worrying scenario being repeated in the UK a huge amount depends, as always, on the few remaining radical centrists in British politics on both sides of the house. As we brace ourselves to once again watch everything in Westminster forced through the out-dated prism of the left-right divide, strong political and business leaders are needed to highlight how climate change and the response it demands defies this reductive binary division. What is needed, as always, is the harnessing of the innovation, competition, and market forces associated with the right, coupled with the active state and strong legislation more commonly associated with the left.
As the government prepares its crucial new climate change strategy for the next five years and beyond it is to be hoped Jeremy Corbyn understands all of this, just as it is to be hoped the defeated Labour centrists currently considering their next move and the Conservative modernisers who remain quietly committed to decarbonisation also understand this. It is similarly to be hoped all these constituencies are willing to work together to deliver the credible and ambitious energy and climate policies the UK so desperately needs.
Because the alternative is an overtly left wing climate strategy from Corbyn that simply helps an underpowered climate strategy from the government somehow look reasonable and credible. And that is the main reason many within the green business community will remain somewhat conflicted about the election of a leader of the opposition who has promised to champion their concerns.
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