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End of the Piers show?
From Australia to the UK to California, climate emergency strikers and protesters turned out in force across the planet today. In London, Jeremy Corbyn joined students to praise their direct action and ambition. “Thank you for educating us about the climate crisis,” he told them.
In his speech, Corbyn also said that Boris Johnson had as recently as 2015 (in this Telegraph column) called global warming a ‘primitive fear without foundation’. To be precise, Johnson had said milder UK winters were unrelated to climate change, even claiming the science showed such fears were “without foundation”.
Now, it’s true that four years ago, so-called ‘attribution’ science - attributing extreme weather to man-made climate change - was in its infancy (though several months before Johnson’s scribblings, this landmark study found a real link). But for the then Mayor of London, his focus was Corbyn’s brother Piers, a crank amateur meteorologist who told him the world was getting colder not hotter.
Johnson has uttered many untruths and deceptions over the years, but one of his most egregious lies was his line in the Telegraph that Piers Corbyn was “in agreement with the vast majority of mainstream science”. He’s as mainstream and scientific as Trump’s own tweets suggesting severely cold winters are evidence that the planet is not overheating.
For some, today was a tale of two Corbyns. Piers was ploughing on with his flat-earth-style views at the London protest today, while his brother Jeremy was on the side of the majority. You could say the Labour leader is with ‘the many, not the few’ in the scientific community.
Yet there may also be two Corbyns on Labour’s climate change policy too. On the one hand there is the idealistic party leader encouraging the radical demands of the next generation. “The next Labour government will welcome your pressure and hear your demands for change,” he said today.
There is however another, more pragmatic Corbyn. And when his party conference meets this weekend to devise a ‘composite’ motion on climate change, there will be a rude awakening for some of his younger admirers.
I’m told that a Green New Deal motion demanding zero (not ‘net zero’) emissions by 2030 (not 2050 as at present) is almost certain to be gutted and reshaped into something more palatable to trade unions (worried about impact on jobs in heavy industry) and the leadership.
There’s an obvious echo here of Corbyn’s compromises on Brexit. He may displease some of the young members who joined Labour precisely because of his lifelong commitment to green causes.
However, just as on EU policy, he wants to unite the different parts of the Labour movement, and the country, while contrasting his plans with the ‘extremist’ Tories. As with Brexit, it looks like it will be a bumpy ride.
British politics often looks like one extreme weather event after another, with populism overheating our discourse as it has around the globe. But Corbyn’s allies think he’s the only one with the cool head to lead his party through it. Let’s see.
Quote Of The Day
“The Lib Dems have gotten kind of Taliban, haven’t they?
– Emily Thornberry, goading a yellow backlash over Jo Swinson’s plan to revoke Article 50.
Friday Cheat Sheet
Thousands of people in the UK joined a global climate change protest, from school strikers to workers taking part in stoppages. Around the world, millions took part in “climate strike” day.
Harriet Harman said ‘I won’t back down!’ after HuffPost revealed her local Labour party in Camberwell and Peckham voted to urge her to withdraw from the race for Commons Speaker. Jeremy Corbyn gave her his backing by stressing Labour would stick to the convention of not standing against a sitting Speaker.
Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings told colleagues that next week could be ‘complete carnage’ if the Supreme Court finds against the Government and orders the recall of Parliament. The Times’ Steve Swinford says he added a second Brexit referendum for Remainers would be like ‘shooting yourself in both feet and then shooting yourself in the mouth’.
Several Conservative Party members were suspended for posting or endorsing Islamophobic material online, after the BBC highlighted over 20 new cases to the party.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay met chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and afterwards said they had “serious detailed discussions” and things were “moving forward with momentum” on Brexit compromise talks.
What I’m Reading
Labour Conference WaughZone Live
Join me in Brighton for our ‘in conversation’ event with Emily Thornberry this Sunday. She knows how to make news.