I have been really pleased to hear someone standing up and coherently giving both barrels against the bizarre idea that a crisis caused by a complete failure to control the extremes of the private sector bankers can be cured by cutting back on public services. It has also been encouraging to see arguments for creating a coherent railway service under the control of the taxpayers and customers who pay for it instead of the current complex and expensive mess. He also seems to get the idea that the best way to develop the north is to put some decent resources into local transport infrastructure instead of talking about a northern powerhouse which turns out to amount to a mayor with no money.
But I also have my doubts. For me the central issue facing the world at the moment is the environmental challenge. We are facing a visceral struggle for the survival of much of life on the planet. That is not an exaggeration. That is a scientific description of the speed of species destruction that is already taking place. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is already higher than it has ever been since the human species was on the planet and we are running a giant experiment with the globe. No one knows the safe level of CO2. We do know that it acidifies the oceans and bleaches coral reefs. We do know that it increases weather instability and tends to raise temperatures. We also know that the removal of much of the tree cover of the planet is destroying habitats, creating soil erosion and reducing rainfall. We also know that the vast majority of the fuel we use is a fossil which means that we are living off capital not revenue and sooner or later that has to stop.
In the face of such catastrophic short sightedness there is a need to take urgent and large scale local, national and global measures to drastically cut fossil energy consumption, stop any over intensive use of agricultural land and reduce waste. We will shortly have 900,000,000,000 on the planet. If they all want a washing machine and a car driven by fossil fuels then the planet cannot possibly cope. We need a circular economy if we are going to have any chance of improving living standards.
It seems to me that there are people in all parts of the political perspective who understand this urgency and want to do something about it. The first UK Prime Minister to actually do anything to counteract global warming was Margaret Thatcher. It is, of course, just possible that as a politician she might have just been slightly influenced by record polling for the Green Party in the European elections before she spoke out. But there is also the remote possibility that as a scientist she genuinely understood the problem. There are plenty of people in the Conservative Party who do seriously recognise how scary the environmental crisis is. There are also people with very strong environmental views in the Liberal Democrats and in the Labour Party. In Skipton & Ripon even the local UKIP candidate at the election was proudly claiming to run a green energy company!
I think the crisis in the environment is so fundamental that we cannot afford to be over precious about where we find support for tackling the issue. I absolutely hate the approach that the German chancellor has taken towards punishing Greece and believing that making Greek people unemployed will ensure that they pay their debts. But I admire and support the way her government has gone about trying to get free of buying Russian oil and gas by having a major investment programme in creating a modern low energy economy. I don't like the dictatorial Chinese government. But the serious efforts it is finally making to generate green energy and reforest large areas are impressive. If environmentalists are going to win enough of the battles that we are fighting then we are going to need to embrace support for far sighted policies wherever we find them. We need to get much wider recognition that the environment has become the central issue. The fight to wean a conservative away from believing that climate change is a left wing plot and to get them on side with serious measures to tackle it is not one we can afford to neglect.
There is, however, an equally important battle for hearts and minds to be undertaken on the left. Many good honest left wingers believe that the most important thing is that you get a lot more state ownership of the economy and invest in public services. This can leave them seeing tackling environmental issues as something of a luxury. A side issue that we can tackle after we get on top of the other things that really matter. A return to strong state control will sort all that green stuff out seems to be the attitude of too many.
But you only have to study the history of the environment under communism for a very short while before you realise that this simply isn't good enough. Leave aside for the moment the complete destruction of liberty in the Soviet Union and Mao's China and the massive loss of life due to government oppression. Appalling levels of pollution were churned out by inefficient heavy industry. The entire Aral Sea was destroyed as a living entity. Frightening levels of nuclear pollution were carelessly released even before the Chernobyl disaster. Huge amounts of DDT were sprayed over China destroying bees and other insects. China remains the world's largest polluter and Russia manages just about the highest amounts of pollution per level of production of anywhere in the world.
Environmental problems aren't just a product of the free enterprise system. They are the product of short sighted priorities by governments of all stripes. For me it is just as important that the left protects and promotes liberty as equality. And in the current circumstance it is even more important that it is absolutely committed to making a serious start on re-orientating the entire economy to transform it onto a low energy basis. And so this is my central worry about Corbyn. I've heard him say some very good things about action on climate change. That is very welcome and considerably better than Cameron's attempts to ditch environmental policies as a costly irrelevance. But what kind of environmentalist will Corbyn turn out to be if he ever gets to power? Is he someone who will say at the end of a speech "and finally I support the environment". Or is he someone who sees tackling environmental issues as the central task of the next government?
Having had my hopes raised on many occasions by Labour politicians I have decided to adopt one sure and simple test. When a Labour government has actually implemented sound policies throughout a year in office then I will give it my trust. Until then I welcome the words but have my doubts about how seriously any of the Labour candidates really take the environmental issue.
The environment is not one of the issues. It is the central issue for our future.