‘Things have to change’ says MP but ‘painful’ climate emergency can’t be allowed to hit the worst off hardest

Catherine West with local activists presenting Haringey’s demands from the Time is Now group to Down

Catherine West with local activists presenting Haringeys demands from the Time is Now group to Downing Street. Picture: Catherine West MP - Credit: Archant

Speaking on the morning a climate protester was dragged from the top of a DLR train in east London by angry commuters last week, Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West said that to make real progress, green campaigners need to “make sure we bring people with us”.

Ms West said politicians needed to ensure the cost of going green didn't fall on the most hard-up.

Referring to the controversial Liveable Crouch End scheme, which trialled road alterations to encourage less driving and polarised many is the west of Haringey, she said: "It's a good example. Everyone kind of knows things have to change, but the way it happens is painful - because people need to really give up the car."

For schemes like that and Sadiq Khan's Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to work, she believes, people need some sort of incentive to give up driving.

She told the Ham&High: "One thing we definitely need is a vehicle scrappage scheme. For people to make the right decision they need to be compensated for that. [Otherwise] it's not fair for people to have to do that when they still have bills to pay."

Money for your old petrol or diesel car is one thing, but more generally Ms West would like to see government take the lead with more urgency. In the last month she has been a signatory to the Labour Party's early day motion in support of a so-called Green New Deal, while she also criticised the government's current target to reduce carbon emissions to "net zero" by 2050.

She added: "We are really up against it. It's not enough." She added the country needed to see harder targets or "we will still be here trying it in 2099".

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The MP added the onus was on the private sector, too. "Industry has got to move with us," she said. "Elements of industry have been very good - business has in some ways been ahead of government."

Ms West said her party's green industrial strategy would create jobs "that we aren't even be able to imagine yet", and that it was important to make sure areas of the country which are reliant on jobs in carbon-heavy industries are considered "so that the children of people working there have jobs in 20 years' time".

"At the end of the day, we need to see two or three big things. Like Sadiq Khan's expansion of the ULEZ."

Ms West backed the right for protesters to demonstrate, and said she was concerned about the police response to the Extinction Rebellion Autumn Uprising.

She said: "I feel the protests have really had an effect. Protesters do need to understand we don't want anyone to miss a serious hospital appointment or a medical emergency, though.

"We have to get a balance where people are able to protest - I don't agree with someone standing on top of a train, but someone should be able to dress as a broccoli without being arrested by four police officers."

The MP said she had been "really conscious" of green issues since her time leading Islington Council, and had worked with a Hornsey and Wood Green Labour environmental group that was set up shortly after she became an MP in 2015.

Catherine said: "It's always been something I'd been passionate about, but I think it's been a surprise by how quickly it's become a really mainstream thing."

This month also saw Catherine begin a public consultation designed to hear local concerns about the environment. It's early days, but she said the message seemed to be getting through.

She said: "We have had a lot of public support from the local community. Some really good things are coming through, the en10 Sustainability Group that put solar panels on top of schools and sells energy back to the grid; young people who've come to Parliament.

"I have been very impressed by some schools, I visited St Gilda's in Crouch End, and usually you talk about the things the children want to talk about - football, what they watched on TV - but they want to talk about the environment.

"That gave me hope."