Safe Landing at the UK Liberal Democrat party conference

2 Oct, 2023

Safe Landing visited the UK Liberal Democrat party conference in Bournemouth on Monday 25 September.

We listened to debates, took part in discussions, and engaged with party activists interested in climate advocacy and workers’ organising.

Our political position

Safe Landing is part of the workers’ movement and the climate movement. We are non-partisan, but believe in engaging with political parties to push forward our ideas for empowering workers and transforming aviation.

We will also be attending the Green Party and Labour Party conferences (both in October). The Lib Dems have fewer connections to the movements we are part of than those two, but we will still thought it important to engage. We missed the incumbent Conservative (Tory) party conference this weekend, partly due to capacity, but also as our engagement with the current UK Government over the past few years has been almost universally met by deaf ears. 

Meetings during the conference

We were pleased to meet and discuss with Green Liberal Democrats, a caucus within the party with over 1,000 members. We look forward to learning more about their ideas and activity, and continuing the discussion. We hope they can learn something from us about issues in aviation and about the centrality of workers’ role in tackling climate change.

We tried to track down the Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists, but couldn’t get hold of them in advance or find them at the conference. In general it seems a weakness of the Lib Dems that they have little connection to trade unions and the workers’ movement.

We did discover that the Young Liberals, the party’s youth wing, have recently passed policy pretty strong policy in support of strikes, a different stance from the party as a whole. We look forward to continuing discussion with the Young Liberals too.

Events at the conference

We observed the official conference debate on transport and attended a fringe meeting on energy policy. Both heard from Wera Hobhouse MP, the party’s spokesperson on climate change, energy and transport, who we will be meeting with in November.

The transport discussion was interesting but aviation was not mentioned – it only got a brief passing mention in the motion too – and neither were transport or other workers, except one reference to job losses from ticket office closures.

Lib Dem party policies

Past Lib Dem policy on aviation contains useful ideas but they don’t seem to have published anything detailed recently. Their 2019 manifesto did say significantly more than Labour’s, indicating various policies to limit expansion of the industry (see here, p47).

Lib Dems’ overall policy on reducing emissions is also more radical than what the Labour Party has said recently – “net zero” by 2045, rather than 2050, and “most emissions” by 2030. (Labour briefly said 2030 in 2019, but has since gone vague.) It’s not clear that the Lib Dems have policies anything like strong enough to achieve that inadequate goal, let alone more.

The fringe meeting on energy was organised by energy company Centrica. It did also have a speaker from the GMB union, its national secretary for the private sector, Andy Prendergast. He talked about fighting for jobs, but in a way arguably counterposed to strong action on climate. In response to a question about new fossil fuel licences, Wera Hobhouse ably attacked the Tories, but it wasn’t clear if she was arguing for something like Labour’s position of no new licences after the election, or something better. Andy Prendergast seemed somewhat reticent about defending GMB’s position of continuing licensing even after an election, but obviously didn’t criticise it either.

Where next?

We’re glad we went and will continue to engage the Lib Dems as a party and with those in their ranks especially engaged with climate and with workers’ movements – arguing with them for the centrality of workers’ organisation and voice in transforming high-carbon industry in general and aviation in particular.

Next up are the Green party conference in Brighton on 5th October and the Labour party conference in Liverpool from 8-11th October.

Wish us luck! And if you’d like to help at either get in touch: [email protected]

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