The month of May for the UK has been dominated by the general election and arguments about the dawn of a so called “new politics.” Certainly the election results had a different look than the UK parliament has seen for a long time. A hung parliament, a new Green Party MP catch the eye as does the “new” and “historic” they tell us, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats coalition doing a policy debate, sync and regenerate exercise under the watchful gaze of the media.
And so it has gone on…this politics, that sure feels different (if you weren’t a voter in the 1970’s at least) but which hasn't proved itself yet - like a home appliance with a novel Dyson look that comes with an earnestly proffered 5 year guarantee. Post election developments fill the news agenda and the claims continue from No 10, Westminster and from some journos that we are in the grip of a New Politics of cooperation.
Do people like politicians working together? An interesting quirk of the election this time was "The Worm" the instant reaction graph that showed approval of undecided voters as the leader debates ran realtime and The Worm turned favourably for Clegg when he talked about "working together" - Obama in the US and Kevin Rudd in Australia similarly won the approval of The Worm with the same sentiments in leaders debates.
The question being asked now in the UK is what kind of working together is it? Is it a New Politics of progressive consensus building that will empower government ministers, backbench MP's, public servants and citizens or is it the old style horse trading with a layer of double gloss - blue and yellow stripes – colours for a political marriage that will fade, crack and split beyond the flashbulb honeymoon. New arrangements yes but is it a new culture? Some watching on as Cameron and Clegg share a platform will give an instinctive answer this question, others will pick through the queens speech and sit on their judgment.
However you look at this it is a sharply relevant question for action on climate change, because primarily of the policy that comes out of the coalition. It is yet also a basic conundrum of politics to which the climate change challenge more than any other needs forward progress. We need stronger consensus building, better working together to meet the challenge of climate change and straight up vested interest horse trading - the Old politics - won't do it, the lack of progress from Copenhagen showed that.
Nick Clegg is in the public gaze the embodiment of this so called “new politics” (ahead of David Laws still yet as things stand!) and his fate will probably reveal whether May has seen begun a genuinely new phase of progressive politics. And there are 2 persons whose fortunes may reveal how positive or not this new political context will be for action on climate change.
Lib Dem Chris Huhne the new energy and climate change secretary was one of David Cameron's first coalition ministers to venture into the news agenda. He told us "There are a whole series of compromises which have been struck in this agreement which I think are obviously unpleasant for each of the parties"
A refreshingly honest characterisation of cabinet and coalition politics you could say. He expressed these sentiments in the context of his explanation of the coalition policy on Nuclear power; New nuclear power stations will be built if they are funded by the private sector and Lib Dems can continue to hold to their election manifesto position of disagreeing with nuclear power generation. Huhne reconciles himself to this policy by speaking loud the belief that the private sector hasn't and probably won’t be able to build nuclear without state support - refreshing or regressive change? Ed Miliband Labour ex energy and climate change minister came up with the memorable line Huhne in his job was like “putting a vegan in charge of MacDonald’s.”
Caroline Lucas is the First Green Party MP in the Uk parliament, cheered on by many sympathizers outside and in her constituency, how can she make a difference in Parliament? Will the coalitions new politics permeate the whole of Westminster’s benches or if she wants to be more than a pressure group with a Westminster head office should Lucas roll up her sleeves harder and faster for a old style fight. Lucas provides the answer that she will be going after change on her own terms
"I passionately hope it is possible to demonstrate that you don't have to get your hands filthy in terms of doing politics."
Climate Change has been hungry for a taste of some new politics for a long time and if a progressive partnership ethos is to burst through the left right binary and horse trading Lucas as principled advocate and Huhne as government green light monitor will have to put a shift in, get noticed by us and most importantly be allowed get things done - if they don’t it may tell us that the new politics is old and the latest dawn for big strides on climate change is false.