Labour Conference: Nurturing the Green Economy - In Conversation with Clive Lewis MP, Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury

25 September 2018

Labour Party Conference

ACC Liverpool

SME4Labour together with Labour Business and SERA hosted Shadow Treasury Minister Clive Lewis at Labour Party conference for a discussion on nurturing the green economy. The event was chaired by Polly Billington, journalist and executive member of SERA.

A selection of photos can be found here.

Billington began by asking Lewis where he stood on the debate within the Labour Party between those who want to focus on economic growth and those who emphasise sustainability, to which he answered, ‘good growth’. He argued that shifting from a 19th century economic infrastructure and decarbonising it would take significant investment and could provide the sustainable jobs for the future. At the same time, he said, we have to recognise the limits of economic growth, which requires new thinking and cultural changes that challenge the idea of consumption for consumption's sake.

Asked how this was going to translate into Labour’s economic policy, Lewis said he was putting forward proposals on green finance, sustainable transition and food security as well as looking at the metrics the Treasury uses to measure environmental issues. Crucial, he said, was changing the culture of the department towards looking at long term issues rather than five-year cycles, and a working group of economists and climate scientists has been set up to provide the technical details.

The treasury’s wide remit, Lewis argued, put it in a strong position to effect environmental change. For example, none of the treasury’s £500billion transformation fund, he argued, should be spent on projects that are going to add carbon and be unsustainable if we are to meet tight climate change targets.

On the issue of Heathrow expansion, Lewis said he understood why some trade unions had an aversion to decarbonisation because, as member-led organisations, they are thinking about their workers’ jobs. The solution, he said, was to prove to trade unions that a Labour government would put those most effected by a sustainable economic transition at the centre of the change, and not abandon them like the mining communities. At the same time, he reiterated that we should not be building any more airports as, ultimately, we cannot negotiate with the scientific reality of the enivornmental situation.

Lewis criticised the government’s decision to suddenly cut subsidies for the renewable energy sector, which he said had significantly damaged investor confidence and seen funding for projects rapidly decline. The Brexit the country is moving towards under this government, he said, was also likely to be devastating for the green economy, with few guarantees of continuity in terms of environmental legislation.

Challenged on what a socially just environmental transition would look like, Lewis said the issue of redistribution was key to a post-growth agenda. The wealthiest, he said, would have to pay for the clear majority of climate change given they account for the most carbon emissions. He also criticised the idea of natural capital, which allocates a financial value to natural resources, saying it could only ever be a guide to something that is a fundamentally unquantifiable.   

Lewis ended on a positive note, arguing that the 21st century emphasis on an environmental agenda could help win Labour the next election, providing modern, efficient and sustainable solutions to people’s problems.


Clive Lewis is a Shadow Treasury Minister and the Member of Parliament for Norwich South