Party conference tour - navigating the current political maelstrom

Emma Crane By: Emma Crane
Date posted: 11 October 2019

The old saying “A week is a long time in politics” needs to be updated to an hour for today’s febrile political climate.

The party conferences this year took place after the most extraordinary sequence of events seen in recent times. The Supreme Court held that the Prime Minister acted unlawfully in suspending Parliament, opposition MPs took control and passed legislation to force the government to request an article 50 extension, 21 MPs had the whip removed for voting against the government, and angry scenes in Parliament followed.

Westminster

Of course all of this has a big impact on the ability to influence and see policy changes implemented. The ongoing saga of the Fisheries Bill – which will set out our post Brexit fisheries policy - is just one such example. After its progress through Parliament was delayed for months due to the lack of a government majority, it fell when Parliament was prorogued and was revived again following the Supreme Court ruling that Parliament hadn’t actually been suspended and all bills could carry on where they left off. It fell again when Parliament was prorogued last week but can now be resurrected once again following inclusion in the Queen’s Speech. It’s hard to keep up with, but more importantly, the risks for our marine biodiversity from a chaotic Brexit are high and a no deal risks regression from existing EU environmental standards.

Liberal Democrats Party Conference

So amid all the Brexit shenanigans, I packed my bag and headed to the party conferences, determined to get marine on the agenda. First up was the Liberal Democrats conference in Bournemouth. The sun shone and the mood amongst delegates was buoyant with 18 MPs and a new leader. Whilst the top Lib Dem priority is to stop Brexit, a number of policies to tackle climate change featured in Jo Swinson’s closing speech including the introduction of a wellbeing budget. Strong rhetoric….but away from the main stage in the stiflingly hot fringe event venues (the air conditioning was broken!) there wasn’t much mention of sustainable fisheries or the important role of ocean conservation in tackling the environment emergency.

Labour Party Conference 2019

Next was a visit to Brighton to join Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman and Shadow Fisheries Minister Luke Pollard who took part in MCS’s Great British Beach Clean weekend which coincided with the Labour Party Conference. It was a great opportunity to speak about our marine policy plans and particularly to highlight the urgent need for an all inclusive deposit return scheme to help tackle marine litter pollution. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech also highlighted the climate emergency by pledging to kickstart a green industrial revolution but reports from colleagues attending the green fringe events reported that firm commitments to tackle the wider ecological crisis were absent.

Boris speech - Conservative Party Conference 2019

Finally onto the Conservative conference in Manchester – with a parliamentary recess having been rejected it wasn’t clear until the last minute that it would take place. There were lots of well attended environment fringe events including one focused on protecting the UK’s marine life. Whilst environmentally minded Conservative MPs seem committed to addressing the climate emergency, policy announcements were focused on animal welfare. There was no mention of the environment in the PM’s closing speech but…coffee cup-gate certainly helped raise awareness of the issue of single use coffee cups!

Boris Coffee Cup The moment Boris Johnson’s coffee cup was snatched from a close colleague

I couldn’t be at the SNP conference but I did head to Edinburgh to attend a debate in the Scottish Parliament about our Great British Beach Clean and the importance of tackling marine litter through legislation such as Scotland’s deposit return scheme. It was great to see cross party consensus on the issue and to hear MSPs thanking MCS staff and volunteers.

The recently issued State of Nature report makes for troubling reading and the recent UN intergovernmental report on biodiversity highlights that overfishing is the biggest cause of marine biodiversity loss in the last 40 years. My hope is that one day soon our politicians will stop fighting about Brexit and start addressing the urgent issues facing our marine environment.