• A Brief History of Eco-Issues in General Election Campaigns in the UK
• The General Election Campaigns in the UK in 2010
A general election is an opportunity to examine global, national and local environmental politics.
The image of the Earth as a circular object with clearly defined limits is perhaps the most succinct and pervasive image that can be used to express concern for environmental management. In circulation since 1969, the year that startling images of planet Earth were relayed from the surface of the moon, they fundamentally recast environmental perceptions and legitimated the environment as a major political issue. The subsequent message of a key book published in 1972, The Limits to Growth, that infinite consumption of non-renewable resources within a finite system is impossible, was the starting point for the Green Party of England and Wales, contesting its first general election in February 1974.
There was a shift in the 1960s and 1970s away from previously deeply entrenched party loyalties, and towards “judging parties according to their stances on the issues of the day” (Pattie, 1990).
Environmental issues reached an electoral high point in the 1989 European elections, where the 14.9 per cent share of the vote won by the Green Party was the highest ever won by a Green party in any national election in any European state (Garner, 2000). However, the ‘first past the post system’ meant that the Green Party won no seats in the European Parliament. In 1999 the European elections were run on a form of proportional representation, and the Green Party elected Caroline Lucas and Jean Lambert to the European Parliament (Dobson, 2000).
By May 2001 David Watts, Liberal Democrat candidate for Broxtowe, wrote in the Nottinghamshire Evening Post that “The protection and preservation of the environment is the single biggest issue facing the world”. The Ecologist published the results of its ‘Great British Environmental Survey’ in May 2001, revealing that over half of the electorate were about to vote, to some extent at least, on the basis of environmental policy.
The Liberal Democrats worked with Friends of the Earth to produce their 2001 election manifesto. FoE helped them to integrate a green column onto every page of the manifesto, rather than bolt on an ‘Environment’ page at the end. In contrast, the Labour manifesto placed climate change policy at the end of the manifesto, rather than being integrated into other policy areas.
During my interview with David Watts in 2001, he revealed that many local environmental policies were actually justified to voters on social or economic grounds. For example, the proposed bus lane on the A52 in Nottinghamshire was justified for its social and economic benefits rather than environmental. Similarly, local campaign leaflets justified energy efficiency policies in economic terms rather than environmental.
With the General Election in 2010 approaching, it appears that the environment is steadily moving up the political agenda, but driven by social and economic rather than purely environmental incentives. I will be watching the election campaigns carefully to see how social, economic and environmental incentives are expressed in 2010!