Local elections are coming up on May 6th. What can we do in our local areas to bring climate change to the front of both candidates’ and voters’ minds? This blog might help with some ideas. It includes details of a new SECA Pledge Card asking candidates to put their name to our ‘ABCD’ Climate Action Pledge. We want candidates to commit to four pledges if elected – to press their council to: Aim higher, Build partnerships, Communicate, and Divest from fossil fuels.
Why these elections matter
The local elections on May 6th are a key moment in the democratic process, and a chance to ensure that climate action stays centre stage and doesn’t get sidelined by other pressing issues. Councils across the country have been hammered by Covid 19. Many are facing severe budget stresses as they cope with reduced income from traditional sources, like car parks, while having to reorientate service delivery in a big way to cope with the Covid pandemic and the new demands it is creating. It would be easy for climate change to fall off the agenda just at the moment when councils have been waking up to their climate leadership responsibilities. If we get our collective act together, SECA member groups could play an important part in making sure this doesn’t happen.
Where are elections being held?
Elections don’t affect every local authority or every seat. These are the councils where seats are being contested:
County councils: Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex
Unitary authorities: Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton
District and Borough councils: Adur, Basingstoke, Crawley, Eastleigh, Elmbridge, Fareham, Gosport, Hart, Hastings, Havant, Maidstone, Mole Valley, Reigate, Runnymede, Rushmoor, Tandridge, Tunbridge Wells, Winchester, Woking, Worthing.
In the case of the County Councils and the Isle of Wight, all the seats are up for reelection. With the other councils, either a third or a half of the seats will be on the ballot paper.
Coordinating our efforts
The SECA Steering Group has been discussing how we can best coordinate our efforts. Drawing on experience from two previous elections, we’re suggesting member groups contact local candidates ahead of the election – both to hear their views on the climate, and to make sure they are aware of the breadth and depth of public concern about these issues amongst constituents. We have come up with an idea for a Pledge Card which we can ask candidates to sign saying they will back climate action if elected. This provides leverage in two ways:
- Ahead of the election – we can publicise which candidates have signed the pledge, which may help voters choose who to vote for.
- After the election – we can continue the conversation with candidates that are elected, and ask them how they are supporting climate action in practice.
SECA member groups might like to adopt other campaigning tactics, for instance by writing individual letters to candidates. The important thing is that we don’t miss this opportunity. A joint campaign has the advantage of combining our efforts and showing strength in numbers.
ABCD Pledge Card
Here’s our suggestion for the SECA Pledge Card, which you can download as a pdf file here and as a Powerpoint file here (in case you want to adjust it or add your group’s logo). It focuses on four ways that councils can step up their efforts – we’re calling it the A, B, C, D of Climate Action.
The front of the card is for candidates to sign; the reverse side spells out the pledges in a bit more detail.
The pledges focus on four areas where further action by councils is urgently needed. We have run these past several council climate officers. The feedback has been that the pledges seem reasonable and are a good test to give to candidates. Here’s the thinking behind them:
A. Aim Higher – we want councils that have not yet done so to set 2030 emission targets for their whole council area not just the council owned estate, and to align their target to at least match the UK Government COP 26 NDC target (68% reduction on 1990 carbon levels by 2030). It should be hard for candidates to argue for less ambitious targets as this is what has been set by Boris Johnson for the whole country.
B. Build Partnerships – although there have been notable exceptions, like Canterbury, Adur & Worthing, and Eastbourne, many councils have been slow to reach out and build alliances with community groups, business, and other local stakeholders. They need to step up in this area if they are to play a leadership role in galvanising climate action.
C. Communicate – this, too, is a weak spot for many councils. Some councils, like Eastleigh, are doing a good job on their website but hardly any others mention climate on their website homepage, and as this article outlines only a few pioneers like Woking have really put resources and imagination into reaching out to local residents.
D. Divest from Fossil Fuels – this is a touchstone issue for many climate campaigners. How can councils recognise the climate emergency yet ignore the impact of their multi-million pound pension fund investments in polluting fossil fuel companies? None of the county councils in our region have grasped this nettle so far and instructed their pension advisors to get out of fossil fuels. But with many of the councillors who sit on pensions committees up for reelection, now is the perfect time to apply some political leverage to change minds.
Some candidates in district and borough councils will argue that pension fund management is not within their remit, as it is delegated to the county level. But it is possible for district and borough councils to pass a motion calling on county council pension fund trustees to divest, as Adur and Worthing Council did in December 2019.
You can check what climate targets your council has already agreed to, and see how they are performing on partnerships, communication and divestment, by looking your council up on the SECA Survey. There’s a tab for each county, and details for every local authority in the South East.
Many people will be voting early by post this year due to Covid, so we need to get a move on. These are the key deadlines:
April 9th Official lists of candidates and contact details will be published on your local District Council website. Note that District Councils are responsible for organising elections for their residents, even when the election is for the County Council.
April 18th We understand that this is the date that postal votes will be sent out. Voters often post them back straight away, so a significant amount of campaigning needs to happen before this time.
May 6th election day
Before April 9th you could make contact via each party’s district or constituency HQ or via the leader of that party within the council. After April 9th you will be able to use the contact details published on your district council website.
Note that it is good practice to contact all political parties. If you are using SECA materials please make sure that you do so, as we take care to be non-party political.
Publicising who has signed
Candidates who sign the pledge will want to publicise the fact, as it could help sway voters. The best way to do this is to:
- Ask them to take a photo of themselves holding up the signed pledge card
- Send that to SECA so we can create a central roster – using our main email address: email@example.com
- Post the photo on social media using the hashtag #ABCDpledge
Given Covid restrictions, this is going to be a local election like no other. Friends of the Earth have produced some excellent guidance on their website on why this local election is important and how to campaign effectively. This includes advice on how to meet with you local candidates, which is always one of the best tactics, and also a guide to planning an online election hustings. They also have some templates to use and a series of training webinars you can sign up for:
24th Feb 17.30 Local council elections, Getting Climate action on the agenda
4th March 17.30 How to organise an online hustings
15th March 17.30 How to lobby your council election candidates
Friends of the Earth are also promoting their own pledge. It is less specific that SECA’s, but you might decide this suits you better for your council.
Winchester Climate Action (WinACC) have also produced a useful guidance sheet with questions to ask candidates, canvassers and political parties.
Depending where you are based, you may have both a county and district or borough election to think about. So you will need to decide where to concentrate your efforts. If one or other has been lagging behind in its climate efforts, that would be a good reason to target it with your campaign.
At the county level there is scope for SECA member groups joining forces, for example to organise a county-wide hustings event. Please contact SECA if you’d like to talk this over and be put in touch with other groups in your county – just email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally Barnard is Coordinator of the South East Climate Alliance, and has been closely involved in developing and updating the SECA Survey. You can contact her at: email@example.com