Thursday, 21 July 2011

Asking Ed Miliband Questions

This afternoon I cycled up the canal from Digbeth to Fort Dunlop where Ed Miliband had come to answer questions from readers of the Birmingham Post and Mail.

Ed spoke first to give his thoughts on phone hacking, responsibility, cuts and jobs, but then it was over to the audience to ask questions in batches of three.
I was expecting more of a business focus to the event, which would fit in with the Birmingham Post's usual agenda, but what we actually got were a lot of questions from people in the voluntary and public sector who are being affected by the cuts. The answers were always very carefully done to use the person's name and address them directly (as is Miliband's style from other appearances I've seen) although there was very little in terms of concrete policies that he could offer on most things and just stuck to fairly general platitudes. I suppose that is about as much as you can expect, as the leader of a political party will not be able to keep updated on every subject in depth.

It took a while for them to come to my question, but I did eventually get to ask him the following:
"What would you do about development which is in direct conflict with achieving the UK's legally binding Climate Change reduction targets and clearly unsustainable, such as the expansion of regional airports, putting a large parkway station for HS2 on greenbelt near the airport and developing car-centred infrastructure along the M42 corridor?"

On airports he was quite good in that he said that Labour had been wrong on Heathrow and that we can't continue expanding aviation without a framework to cut greenhouse gases and suggested emissions couldn't go any higher than now (although that's much too high still). He was very gung-ho on HS2 (it's a symbol of modernity, apparently) and didn't really want to hear the bit about locating stations in the wrong places - he said he wouldn't go into the route. Also, he totally ignored the part about the M42 corridor and the sustainability of where development is located, which was disappointing.

Our lead campaigner on Energy and Climate Change also managed to ask a question on the situation in Africa, where they have the worst droughts for 60 years and the link to that and climate change. He asked why he wasn't taking more of a lead on challenging Cameron's supposed "Greenest Government Ever" when he used to be minister on this issue.

Miliband said that he pushed very hard to ensure that the coalition didn't abandon the climate change committee's recommendations, but couldn't really give any other examples of where he has held them to account (and they really aren't doing very well according to our report). He did also say that he was very concerned about climate change and that "his kids will judge him by how he deals with it", but I'm afraid I didn't find what he said very reassuring, overall.

The other questions I wanted to ask, but didn't have the opportunity to were:
"What measures would you take to help the 20% of Birmingham's households who are in fuel poverty?"
"Over a third of households in Birmingham don't have access to a car, yet policy is all designed around car users. Do you think more should be done to help these people?"

I really hope that Labour does step up and hold the government to account over their environmental policies, as we really need the greenest opposition ever at the moment to make sure we don't look back at another lot of missed opportunities and a time when unsustainable development ruined not only the economy, but our climate, too.

Joe Peacock

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