COLUMNIST: The politics of a changing climate

It's not hard to understand why only ten to 15 per cent of people contact their MP each year.

Thursday, 1st February 2018, 13:00 pm

How many of us have balked at the smarmy politician persona brought on by a particularly unpleasant media grilling, or the playground antics of Prime Ministers Questions? Near weekly political scandals and career climber betrayals make for titillating dinner gossip but little else.

Hope for the Future is a Sheffield based charity in the business of getting climate change onto the national political agenda. With climate action seen as a ‘career limiting move’ and, when approaching MPs, met with ‘oh gosh, climate change...really?’, we were quickly acquainted with disappointing political engagement. Returning to the drawing board, we examined what we were doing wrong.

Are you aware of the terrifying fate of the polar bear?

A breakthrough came in August 2015 when accompanying constituents met a particularly prickly MP in the Peak District who gave less than five minutes to their previous meeting. Attempting to impart the terrifying fate of polar bears, I couldn’t help but notice his dazed expression, broken only by quick glances at the clock behind us. “It can be a dry topic, climate change, can’t it?” I remarked. Quick to sense criticism, he retorted that it simply wasn’t a constituency issue. “I’m not interested in making the lives of my constituents any harder than they already are,” he added. Fair enough, I thought.

Certainly rising energy prices aren’t a vote winner. Neither is unnecessary red tape, economic regression or substandard living conditions- all misconceptions plaguing the climate movement. Well, if we weren’t to convince him, we may as well learn something whilst there. What were his reservations about climate action? What solutions did he see to fill technology gaps? How can we relate the issue to everyday life? And suddenly, his attention was all ours.

In the six months that followed we interviewed politicians of all political persuasions, seeking to better understand the lives of our elected representatives. What are their hopes, fears and dreams? How would they define a good constituency meeting? Why enter politics in the first place? Just what is it about us climate campaigners that rubs so many politicians up the wrong way?

MPs were generous and often candid about their experiences, keen to see the benefits that improved campaigning could bring for everyone. Building on our findings, we developed a lobbying approach based in models of conflict resolution, counselling techniques and research into the rise of adversarial politics. Described by former Minister of State, John Battle, as ‘the best step by step guide to lobbying an MP I have seen’, remarkably, we found our approach making significant headway.

John Battle. Pic by Simon Hulme

We saw Philip Davies, one of only five MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act, lobbying the Housing Minister for improved insulation standards. Laurence Robertson had repeatedly failed to commit to any action but following a revised approach, has spoken up in Parliament supporting renewables no less than eight times. Margaret Greenwood, delighted with our constructive approach, pledged to encourage the Government to divest MPs’ pensions from fossil fuels as an election promise.

Our training is now commissioned by many of the major NGOs working on climate change and in 2017 we trained over 1,000 campaigners in our approach. We’re currently working with over 70 cabinet ministers, Government whips, and MPs ‘on the rise’ to get climate change onto the agenda. Moving forward, however, a new challenge lies ahead. Having secured Hope for the Future’s financial backing and charitable status in mid-2017, our co-founder and chair of trustees, Michael Bayley, will be stepping down from his role as chair. We are looking for someone equally inspiring and passionate to take his place. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who has the vision and expertise to take our organisation into its next adventure. For more details email or call Michael Bayley on 0114 258 5248.

Are you aware of the terrifying fate of the polar bear?
John Battle. Pic by Simon Hulme