The new Independent Group of MPs could help embed bold climate action further in the mainstream, or it could revert to tired triangulation
What is the goal of the new Independent Group of MPs? No, this is not another snarky, borderline offensive, hot take slamming people who have clearly wrestled long and hard with their consciences before taking a gamble that could either reshape the landscape of British politics for the better or detonate both their careers and any hopes of a centrist or left-leaning government being elected for a decade or two.
It is a genuine question. On the long term issue that will shape the 21st century - climate change and our response to it - what is the goal of this new grouping and putative new party?
The concise but necessarily vague statement of values from the new group provides an important pointer in declaring that "we have a responsibility to future generations to protect our environment, safeguard the planet, plan development sustainably and to act on the urgency of climate change".
So far, so boilerplate, but what does that statement actually equate to? Should anything be read into the fact it is included near the bottom of the new group's list of principles? Or should the commitment to act on the "urgency of climate change" be taken at face value?
How are the seven MPs who have led the breakaway defining "urgency"? In the same way as the backers of the US Green New Deal plan, last week's School Strikers, and indeed Jeremy Corbyn, who interestingly today highlighted tackling climate change as a key part of the Labour manifesto the departing rebels were elected on? Or do they think it is as urgent as the government, which is considering a net zero emission target and mobilising huge new investment in clean energy, but at the same time backing fracking and soft-pedaling on energy efficiency and a lot more besides?
These could prove to be crucial questions for the future of Britain's green politics and decarbonisation policy landscape, especially if the rumours prove to be true and more disaffected centrist leaning MPs and peers join the group in the coming weeks.
The potential for any new centrist party to be a room temperature re-tread of the Blair years, a tribute act with little to offer beyond late 90s triangulation is obvious. It is easy to envisage a grouping that talks a good game about the urgency of climate change, but then pivots to attacking Corbyn's 'green taxes', tacks towards support for fracking and Heathrow in an attempt to bolster 'pro-business' credentials, and limits its overtly green proposals to backing onshore wind and solar.
But are there reasons to hope an alternative narrative could emerge - a climate hawk narrative that broadens the new movement's appeal and drags the government towards a bolder stance on decarbonisation?
The ice hockey great Wayne Gretsky used to say the secret was to skate to where the puck was going to be. The message from everything from last week's School Strikes and the IPCC climate report to Davos and all the latest studies on clean tech competitiveness and deployment is that bold climate action is 'where the puck is going to be' over the next decade and beyond.
Just this week we have seen CBI call on the government to deliver a more ambitious Sustainable Development Goal strategy and a host of Blue Chip firms urge the EU to deliver a net zero emission target for 2050 at the latest. The puck is on the move, and it is being driven towards bolder climate action by both the pro-business, centrist constituency the new party wants to appeal to and the left-leaning voters it will still need to attract. Moreover, the Venn Diagram showing 'massively disaffected Labour and Tory voters who may be attracted to a new party' and 'pro-fracking energy security 'realists' who are indifferent to climate change' is surely just two circles with not an overlap in sight.
Luciana Berger is a former Shadow Climate Change Minister, Chuka Umunna is a former Shadow Business Secretary with close links to the modern, progressive business community, Gavin Shuker was a former Shadow Environment Minister. They can't claim to be unaware of these issues, nor their import.
A savvy new political movement would seek to own the green economic narrative and seize on the idea that climate change is a genuine emergency. They would seek to build on Labour's growing commitment to delivering a net zero emission economy and offer an alternative approach to delivering the same end goal, with less nationalisation and fewer foreign policy noises off. They would slam the government for not moving faster to drive green economic growth.
Such a message would speak to the constituency they need to reach and inject some much needed passion into a nascent movement that will inevitably be dogged by accusations of bloodlessness, cynicism, and opportunism. Moreover, it would simply be the right thing to do, a clear signal that the pursuit of a net zero emission economy has to be at the core of any centre ground political project for 21st century Britain. It is notable,of course, that Macron (before the business of governing made life a little more difficult) made climate action absolutely core to his new Party's political identity.
What is the new Independent Group for? We will soon find out precisely how savvy the self-styled Independents are.
This post first appeared as part of BusinessGreen's exclusive daily Overnight Briefing, which is available to all subscribers.