I felt a great sense of relief and elation when I heard that Labour had decided to back my outright rejection of the government amendments in the Lords that would have scrapped the rules that stop new housing developments from polluting some of the most sensitive waterways in the country, such as the Broads and the lake District. But why was I celebrating Labour doing something so obviously right? Protecting our waterways from becoming even more polluted should not have been an issue for Labour, but it was.
When Gove announced the proposal, Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow spokesperson for Housing, had told journalists that the official opposition will ‘support effective measures that get Britain building’. This was followed by briefings from the Labour Party that while they wanted to see the exact wording of the amendment before finally confirming its position, it was ready to support reforms to the nutrient neutrality rules.
Campaign groups were furious, but started to support sensible amendments to the government amendment in the Lords as a way to make it less awful. This is something the Lords are good at, but it relies upon the government listening to us rather than the property development industry, which has provided a third of the Conservative Party donations in the last decade.
I immediately wrote to all peers pointing out that we had the power to vote the government amendment down, as long as we didn’t vote to amend it, as this would allow MPs to change it back when it reached the commons. My legal person explained this to the NGOs and I did the rounds in the Lords, explaining to any peer who would listen. I also made a lot of noise on social media and tried to get some journalists to carry the story. The campaigners started their own conversations with Labour and it is nice knowing a few people who have the ear of Labour’s new Levelling Up spokesperson, Angela Rayner.
The Lords voted to protect our waterways and the BBC reported it as a Labour-led rebellion – which shows just how little attention they were paying. I’m not complaining, except that I am. People need to wake up to the fact that unless we have a strong Green voice in parliament after the next election, with a group of Green MPs backed up by a big vote for the Green Party, then Labour won’t do half the things that are needed to deliver on a green new deal, transform our economy and bring about some social justice.