Possibly lost amid the panicked and rushed “serious incident” announcement from Croydon Labour on Tuesday was one of the most significant statements to emerge from the 2019 Labour Party conference staged in Brighton.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey revealed plans for a multi-billion-pound government investment in green energy technologies, including a “gigafactory” to produce batteries for electric cars to be built in Croydon.
Long-Bailey made the announcement in a lengthy speech which offered real solutions to the global climate emergency. Her speech was quickly interpreted by some political commentators as a clear pitch to position herself as the natural successor to Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.
In her speech, Long-Bailey tapped into the sensibilities of the left of the party when she quoted Corbyn’s political hero. She said, “The late great Tony Benn once said ‘Hope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison in which you put yourself’, and for too long our communities have been afraid. Afraid of not having a job to go to, afraid of not being able to pay the bills and afraid of what the future might hold.
“That hope of the future, that belief that life will get better for every generation coming through seems to have been lost. And that hope will be trampled on once again.
“If the right-wing free market Brexiteers in No 10 get their way with No Deal, there’s no two ways about it, we do face the destruction of industries yet again. But it’s going to be okay for them and their rich disaster capitalist friends as they bet against our economy and laugh all the way to their tax havens.
“And faced with the threat of climate catastrophe, well, they laugh their way through that too, ‘a primitive fear without foundation’ Boris Johnson said.
“These are the very people who loaded the costs of the bankers’ crisis on to the backs of the poor. So be under no illusion, it will be the poor and the vulnerable who are forced to shoulder the human and economic price of climate breakdown.”
Long-Bailey went on to describe how her vision for jobs and industrial growth in Britain will be in those green industries which seek to harness wind and solar power, and which will accelerate markedly the shift to cleaner, electric-powered vehicles, and the abandonment of carbon-fuelled cars.
Most of Long-Bailey’s proposals have the weight of reality behind them, and acknowledged the need to roll-out the green technologies to all generations and all sectors of society, not just the wealthy.
One key plank of her proposals would be the development of three gigafactories for the production of batteries for electric vehicles, in a real drive towards a carbon-zero future.
“The Met Office, the IPCC and others describe a potential future of extreme weather, rising sea levels, and water and food insecurity,” she said. “And if we allow this to happen, if we don’t stand together as a society and define the battle against ‘climate change’ as a battle for ‘social justice’ it will be seized upon by those who would divide us.”
It was Long-Bailey who last year announced the Labour plan for a Green Industrial Revolution – the seeds of a Green New Deal, involving, “Government intervention to rapidly decarbonise our economy and push aside decades of neoliberal policy to create the industries of the future.
“Quality, unionised, green jobs, a proper industrial strategy, public ownership of our water and energy, and intervention in the economy to make sure that the technologies of the future are manufactured, assembled and installed here.”
Saying that “we need to go further, faster”, Long-Bailey said, “If the height of our ambition is softening the ravages of unfettered capitalism and signing up to some watered-down version of austerity, well, we may as well all go home now.”
Calling her proposals “the People’s Power Plan”, Long-Bailey warned that to deal with the climate emergency, “We can’t rely on the market to act fast enough”, as she unveiled a range of connected measures, such as a seven-fold increase in offshore turbines in 12 years, with revenues being re-invested into the country’s many struggling coastal communities, and a National Transformation Fund that will allocate £6.2billion to jumpstarting a home-grown renewable industry.
The Green Industrial Revolution is “the biggest economic lever we have to rebuild Britain after decades of deindustrialisation and to usher in a new era of public luxury; ‘a modern standard of living’,” Long-Bailey said.
And, counter-intuitively, Long-Bailey wants to turn to the cause of much of the ecological disaster confronting the world – the car industry – as a means to re-energise British industry while helping to solve the immense environmental issues facing us.
“Austerity politics has led us to believe that healthy lives, a nice home, useful work and the ability to buy the technologies of the future are not within our grasp any more. If you are in the wrong income bracket, well you just can’t have it.
“Take zero-emission vehicles. Over 40 areas of the UK have illegal levels of air pollution, yet the government does nothing to make clean vehicles affordable for the majority of people…
“… We know the Tories’ game, we know they are quite happy to let the heart be ripped out of industrial communities. We’ve seen it before.
“Today conference I can announce that Labour will secure this iconic industry’s future as part of the Green Industrial Revolution.”
Labour would introduce a vehicle scrappage scheme to take 400,000 of the dirtiest cars off our roads, offering interest-free loans for the purchase of electric vehicles, giving a massive boost to manufacturers of those cars. Long-Bailey promised that under Labour, the entire government car fleet would be electric in five years – using 70,000 new electric vehicles.
There is joined-up thinking in the Long-Bailey plan, as it would include breaks on company car tax, and the installation of electric car charging stations in workplaces for those businesses that move to EV fleets by 2025. They will invest £3.6billion into building charging networks – with more than 72,000 charging banks. At present, in Croydon, there are just eight electric charging points, all within one mile of the Town Hall.
“In this way, Labour will ensure the right conditions are in place for an electric vehicle revolution on our roads,” she said.
Announcing a raft of finance investment schemes to encourage the motor industry to electrify their plants and apply new, cleaner technologies, Long-Bailey also said, “We’ll invest £1.8billion in collaboration with private investors, to build three huge battery production facilities, called ‘gigafactories’ in Stoke, Croydon and South Wales, bringing thousands of jobs to these areas.
“And to create a new ‘sustainable’ industry we will invest £500million into four metal reprocessing plants to reprocess cobalt and minerals used in batteries, and a further £50million will be invested into drop-off points and battery collection sites.
“But, what if even the dream of owning a car is still out of your reach? Well, Labour will invest £300million to support the creation of ‘community car clubs’ owned by the community so everyone has access to this technological revolution as easy as ordering a pizza.
“Through this bold package of measures Labour will drive forward the electric car revolution and everyone will be a part of it.”
This is certainly a lot more “joined-up thinking” than whacking £300 parking permit fees on the poor and the elderly, as the Labour-run council in Croydon is doing next month, or the pie-in-the-sky excuse for cosying up with Gatwick Airport, as offered by council leader Tony Newman with his sci-fi solution to air and noise pollution from airports, suggesting that “solar-power aircraft” might be achievable any time soon.
For Long-Bailey’s gigafactories are not something from a Blade Runner-style future, but from the present, with multi-billionaire industrialist Elon Musk, the Tesla car developer, having already built three – at Reno, Nevada, Buffalo in New York state, and in Shanghai, China.
Long-Bailey’s speech suggested that one of the next Tesla gigafactories might be in Croydon, although exactly where might be problematic, with land alongside the Purley Way probably most likely.
Croydon Council has already announced its plans for 12,000 homes to be built on the site of existing retail show rooms and the light industrial park beside the A23. It is an area which less than 100 years ago, when Croydon Airport was first operational, saw car manufacturing factories operating in the area.
Tesla’s gigafactories take up, as the name suggests, giga-amounts of land.
The Tesla Gigafactory 1 in Reno, at 4,600,000sqft, has one of the largest footprints of any building in the world – close to the size of the mammoth Jaguar Land Rover factory in Solihull or the Nissan plant in Sunderland.
The Nevada plant, which opened in 2016, supplies the battery packs for its electric vehicles and stationary storage systems and employs around 3,000. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval has estimated that the economic benefits of the Tesla factory to his state could amount to more than £800million over 20 years.
The plant is has been designed to be entirely energy self-reliant, powered through a combination of on-site solar, wind and geo-thermal sources.
Musk is known to have plans to build similar factories in Europe, having calculated that in order to maintain and preserve the electrical power for one day for the whole world, there is need for 100 gigafactories.
Under Long-Bailey’s plans, it seems, one of those could be coming to Croydon.
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