Oxford East Ask The Climate Question

On Wednesday April 21, I went to the Oxford East Ask The Climate Question. Ask The Climate question is a series of political hustings specifically about climate change. The candidates for Oxford East fielded questions from the public in attendance about what their views on certain things related to the environment. It was meant to be the Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates, but it ended up including the Socialist Equality Party and UKIP candidates.

There were questions about tar sands, cycling… and some other things that I can’t remember. I had my notebook with me, but chose not to make notes.

It was an event that both highlighted some things for me, and made my decision on who to vote for harder. I thought I was clearly going to vote for Green Party, but each of the candidates (except the UKIP candidate, unfortunately) said things that made a lot of sense. I suppose nobody in that position would say they love flying, haven’t heard of climate change, and would like to see all oil reserves expolited. Still, Andrew Smith (of Labour)  in particular sounded to me like he truly believes in doing as much as possible. He spoke of his history of voting against his party (in a good way) on certain matters and, though he obviously isn’t the most knowledgeable person on so-called green issues, he certainly seemed genuine, and I started to wonder if I should vote for him.

There was something about Edward Argar, the Conservative candidate, that I didn’t like. He didn’t seem very passionate about what he was saying, unlike everybody else. Steve Goddard, the Liberal Democrat, had no effect on me, either.

I thought that Julia Gasper, the UKIP candidate, was treated unfairly. She did say some things that didn’t allow me to take her seriously, regardless of the point being valid or not. For instance, she said that sooner or later somebody would break an energy saving lightbulb and “suck it and die” because of the mercury. Her point alludes to the fact that these lightbulbs are better than the incandescent lamps, but ultimately the materials used in them are questionable. What she said made her look even more like somebody who can’t be taken seriously (even though it was funny).

Yelling things out at her, however, I thought was unpleasant. There seemed to be a concensus amongst a lot of people there that evening that she is not somebody worth listening to. Like the Labour candidate, she made me doubt what I thought I knew. She made me very briefly doubt if climate change is happening. It doesn’t really matter to me, though, if it is or not. I simply think that this is an excellent opportunity to completely change the way we live our lives. Admittedly, though, a couple of times people called out that she didn’t answer the question; it seemed that in every answer she gave she managed to get in something about the EU, going off on an EU-hating tangent and forgetting that she had to answer a specific question.

The hecklers also made me realise something new—it seemed like there is a “you and us” feeling amongst socially responsible people, and I wonder if doing something for the environment is no longer just about doing something positive for the environment. It is as though some people have completely forgotten about the reasons for what we do, as though the doing is enough. It feels like it is a game of who is the most hardcore in their “responsible” actions, when it should be about tackling causes of issues. I understand that this is not explained very well. Put very, very simply, it is like the person who shops in Planet Organic, recycles and receives a weekly fruit and vegetable box not because these things matter to them, but because what matters to them is what other people see them doing, and these things afford them a good image and allow them to feel better than people who don’t do as much as they do.

The Socialist Equality Party candidate, David O’Sullivan, said some things I agree with. He spoke of the combustion engine, that the technology is the problem because it is outdated. If a clean alternative is invented, then, that means we can continue to fly and drive, and relieve oil dependency. A lot of his answers to questions mentioned that the root of many of our problems is capitalism, that there are some things that cannot work as well as they could whilst we still have such a culture, where people are motivated by money.

I don’t know who I am going to vote for, but I wonder if it might be Labour. I plan to look at the manifestos of the four main parties, if only really quickly, to try to understand more about what each is saying.

One final thought to come from the hustings is this: why do we have to have one party in power? Why can’t the best bits be taken from each party and used to govern? Why doesn’t somebody who doesn’t care for the history of politics form a new party that takes the best ideas from all of the political parties?


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