Hilary Benn in Leith

Went to see Hilary Benn in Leith last night. It’s always great to see politicians, especially senior ones like him, come and meet the public in ways which aren’t primarily for press coverage. The turnout was maybe 100 people which I think was disappointingly small. It was a question and answer session about the environment. He started with a short introduction to the issue, and he’s obviously a good speaker as you would expect from a top politician, almost too good and sometimes spoke so loud and strictly I felt a bit uncomfortable in my seat.

The answers were a bit disappointing though. He started off badly when someone asked about the environmental legacy of the Polaris nuclear weapons submarines which are still at Rosyth and he replying about the tactical justification for a new nuclear submarine system rather than about the environmental nuclear issue it leaves behind. Other questions were answered more directly. Ones which stood out include should we count energy use per person or per country (per person means that a country can’t just move dirty industries abroad), he said no. How can the government reconcile building new airport runways with not destroying the planet? He said people want to fly, that’s fine but then less carbon needs to be emitted elsewhere. What about plans to build new coal power stations? Carbon capture may save us all there.

He was optimistic about the future and told us all to not be so pessimistic. You could easily consider that to be apathy on his part, or more likely the everyday needs of governments to not do things to annoy their voters like tax air travel to the extent that it would make a difference. The other problem to getting stuff like that done is keeping the UK competitive against other countries who’s voters are equally short term minded. I can see why these guys get voted in, but I’m far from convinced it is going to save the world in time.