Tuesday’s speech by Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was noteworthy for focusing largely on two policy areas – high streets and the environment.
This focus on the latter seems to indicate a growing importance for climate policy in Labour’s shadow business team. Perhaps more tellingly, Long-Bailey started by saying that the market has proven “uniquely incapable” of addressing climate change.
The headline was her commitment to a net-zero emissions target by 2050, one that goes further than the current 80% in the Climate Change Act. She also wants 60 per cent of electricity to be from renewable or low carbon sources by 2030. Labour sees offshore and onshore wind, as well as solar, as being the ways that this is achieved, alongside improving domestic energy efficiency.
These targets are ambitious but realistic, in fact the electricity target is slower than that set by Ed Miliband during his tenure as leader. It is also not clear from her speech how she intends to deliver it, though she makes clear the market will not be left alone.
Long-Bailey also made high streets a major feature of her speech. She said Labour has a policy group examining the tax treatment of bricks and mortar retailers versus online and a planning commission. Together, these groups will create a “long-term strategy” for the high streets, she said.
She announced a five-point plan aimed at “saving Britain’s high streets”:
- Ban ATM charges and stop Post Office and bank branch closures.
- Provide free bus travel for under-25s.
- Provide free WiFI in town centres.
- Establish a register of landlords of empty shops in each local authority.
- Introduce annual re-evaluation of business rates, exempt new plant and machinery from re-evaluations, and fundamentally review the entire business rates system.
Yet there is a lot of detail omitted. Will Labour create a public sector vehicle to invest in renewable energy, and what does that mean for private investment? How would she prevent Post Office and bank branch closures? And how would it all be paid for, anyway?
With a snap election after Brexit a possibility, she needs answers soon.