New councillors, new pledges! New hope for climate action in Manchester?

Tl:dr The 2021 elections are over, while the climate crisis continues. It’s a council of 94 Labour, 1 Lib Dem and 1 Green until next year. Climate Emergency Manchester will work with any councillor who thinks that the climate emergency, which the Council declared in 2019, remains an emergency. This blog discusses what can be done, by who, and how.  If you want to get involved, email us on contact@climateemergencymanchester.net, whether you have a regular hour a month or an irregular hour a day…

On Thursday 6th May, against national trends, Labour picked up seats in Manchester. They now have 94 of the 96 council seats, spread across the 32 wards of the city. The Liberal Democrats did not gain any of their target seats and were unable to defend their second councillor in Didsbury West, leaving them with just the one councillor (John Leech), who is defending his seat next year. The Greens were successful in the southern-most ward of the city, Woodhouse Park, where Robert Nunney unseated a long-serving Labour incumbent. He is the first Green councillor in 13 years.

What does it mean for climate action?  

Climate Emergency Manchester did two things during the election period. We ran an election hustings (see the recording here) and we asked candidates if they support three simple climate commitments. 

More than forty candidates replied positively to these commitments. Eleven of them were elected. We hoped these numbers would be higher, but many Labour candidates resolutely ignored us when we asked for their views on Twitter. We followed up with recorded delivery letters to 19 Labour candidates asking them for an answer, and we received replies from none of them. This includes some who like to be thought of as courageous supporters of environmental action. 

In spite of whatever pressure may have been put on Labour candidates to stay quiet, the following councillors had the courtesy and courage to respond with either a total or a partial YES.

Name Ward Position
Marcia Hutchinson Ancoats and Beswick 2 and 3
Linda Foley Didsbury East All three
Debbie Hilal Didsbury West All three
Ekua Bayanu Hulme All three
Eve Holt Chorlton 2 and 3
Gavin White Old Moat All three
Chris Wills Withington 2 and 3
Emily Rowles Moss Side All three
Jill Lovecy Rusholme All three
Sam Lynch Northenden All three
Robert Nunney (Green Party) Woodhouse Park All three

So, there is now a small group of newly elected or re-elected councillors who have publicly committed to supporting specific actions that would improve climate governance. This is progress. CEM plans to contact all the other councillors in an effort to find out what their stances are. We will report back on this.

These Manchester wards have at least one elected councillor who is supportive of two or three of the climate commitments. You can navigate the map here.   

Who has to do what?

These councillors (and hopefully others who join them) will need support, encouragement and ideas. It’s a lonely business going up against bureaucratic inertia and obfuscation. It takes effort to create venues to discuss problems left unsolved by the “get the inward investment at all costs” model that Manchester has pursued with vigour over the last three decades.  All these councillors, with the exception of Nunney, are likely to be asked in private if they are sufficiently loyal to their party. Some may be intimidated by that question, which can have a chilling effect. The best response is to provide support and ideas about what to actually DO. 

  • If you live in or near one of these wards, or if you otherwise know any of these councillors, you could send them a gesture of support. A message to say ‘well done on being elected, and thank you for supporting these climate commitments’ is a small gesture, of course, but it can help. 

Here is what we think can be done regarding each of these commitments. 

Commitment one – honesty!

The first commitment promotes honesty about the current situation in which Manchester is burning rapidly through its science-based carbon budget (a quarter gone in two years!). It is exasperating when the Council talks about its zero carbon 2038 target but without noting the failing situation in the present. The lack of progress on the carbon budget needs immediate remedial action, not vague hope of salvation next decade. Soothing futurism provides a recipe for leaving action until too late (again!). 

CEM is planning Operation Climate Honesty (OCH). (OCH is also a Scots expression sometimes used to highlight exasperation. As in, “Och, yer bum’s oot the windae!” – Translates: Och [i.e. disagreement, annoyance] Your bum’s out the window, you’re talking rubbish!)

Cultivating honesty relies on us all keeping our eyes and ears attuned to the usual guff that comes out about Manchester’s stance on climate. We need to push back – politely, firmly, persistently, against the habit (or “tactic”) of using the existence of a target as a deflection against questions of actual progress. Councillors can do this, but so can other citizens and residents of Manchester. If you are an artist, a cartoonist, a video maker, or other visual content creator please get in touch – we want to develop some resources around this.

Our goal is that by the end of the year nobody is talking about “zero carbon by 2038” without at least mentioning that Manchester is massively behind on its carbon budget.

Commitment two – scrutiny!

The second commitment promotes dedicated attention to the climate emergency in each of Manchester City Council’s six scrutiny committees. The good news here is that the eleven councillors who support this commitment will be sitting on various scrutiny committees, and will therefore be in prime position to push for this to actually happen. We are aiming for two dedicated reports, in each committee, by the end of 2021. 

CEM plans to publish open letters – sending copies to the chairs and all the members of the scrutiny committees – in the coming week about what each of the committees could most urgently look at. This will be followed up by the return of CEM’s Team Scrutiny Fabulous, in which citizens review and report publicly on the monthly scrutiny committees’ activity. 

Commitment three – leadership!

The third commitment is about the Executive (the top 8 councillors) taking the climate emergency seriously. We recommend that the city’s progress against the carbon budget, and what can be done about it, becomes a standing item on the agenda of Executive meetings. 

  •  Labour councillors will need to discuss this with their colleagues who sit on the Executive, or on the wider consultative panel.
  • Citizens and residents of the city can also contact councillors whenever the Executive ISN’T talking about climate effectively.
  • When the Executive IS talking about climate effectively, citizens can offer praise, too.

Climate Emergency Manchester will try to make it easy for everyone to do this, by monitoring and assessing the Executive’s agendas in advance, and pointing out if/when and where they fall short of what we all need.

How can we get there?

These commitments and plans might be perceived as “process obsessed” but without decent processes you end up with £9million failures like Great Ancoats Street. We need better processes so that Manchester’s science-based climate targets and climate emergency declaration, having been created, are seriously acted upon – otherwise these will continue to be ignored and will end up destroyed.

More broadly, we as people who feel a sense of obligation and solidarity with future generations of human beings and other living species have to maintain our morale and our momentum (such as it is) and get better at helping other people to become more active on these issues, while understanding that people have different priorities, availability, and positions. We have to try to balance encouraging others to do more without accusation, displays of virtue or emotional blackmail.  There are some specific dangers that are worth mentioning, before we close out with “how to get in touch”.

How to manage the dangers?

No one said that it would be easy!

Recognise the Glasgow distraction

COP26 (“the clue is in the name, twice”) is coming in November, probably.  There will be ample photo ops in Glasgow for a certain number of “world leaders” with soaring rhetoric mostly unconnected to grubby reality…. The temptation to take part in a big “emotacycle” event, where people can denounce the baddies and display their virtue while ignoring the messy difficult work of local capacity building and coalition building will be enormous. The temptation really should be resisted. Meanwhile, Manchester City Council will be trying to market itself as some sort of climate leader, which would be funny if it were not so shameful and nauseating (Och, yer bum’s oot the windae!).

Manage the risks of burnout and despair

These risks are always with those who look into the abyss. We need to be better at helping each other cope. We mustn’t brightside ourselves by pretending the problems we face can be magicked away. But we cannot wallow in puddles of our own tears either. Collective morale maintenance will only get more important.

Guard our own honesty

The temptation to believe that you can only have influence if you have access leads some people who want a better world to bite their tongues, to lobotomise themselves in the hope that someday those they are applauding and protecting from criticism will do something actually worth applauding. That has been tried for a very long time in this city. Such co-optation hasn’t worked well. 

But avoid recrimination

On the other hand, it is unhelpful to denounce people who fail to act at quite the speed they said they would. Almost every councillor currently serving on council voted for the Climate Emergency declaration in July 2019.  They may not have cared very much, they may not care very much now. But it’s something to work with…

Maintain some patience

There’s a danger in expecting too much from new councillors (especially when they are outnumbered 94 to 1 as the Green Party councillor is). Even the brightest and most well-connected and well-supported councillors will need time to find their feet.

What you can do, how to get involved

If you would like to be involved with this activism, email us on contact@climateemergencymanchester.net

Here are more details about our plans for the remainder of May 2021, alternatively available as a video

On Monday 10th May, 8.30-9.30pm, CEM will be having an open public meeting. Email us for the join link, if you would like to attend.
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P.S. There is a very big opportunity that Climate Emergency Manchester is discussing over the coming days. By Wednesday 12th we hope to be able to make a detailed announcement….

5 thoughts on “New councillors, new pledges! New hope for climate action in Manchester?”

  1. I’m really sorry I only received this this morning so missed the meeting last night.
    I think these points are excellent and really important guidance for those of us keen to seriously pursue our own snd council carbon reductions .
    Support us everything and thank you for offering ideas and suggestions we may take up and use in our communities . OCH!

    1. Sorry a few typos especially ‘support is everything’ perhaps I should have said vital

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