This week, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell signed the pledge for the Fossil Free UK campaign to Divest Parliament, writes Joe Walsh
The Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund is the pension scheme for current and former MPs. It is a £612m fund in total with multi millions invested in fossil fuel companies like Royal Shell and BP. Other firms in the top 20 holdings include Rio Tinto, British American Tobacco and tax avoiding tech firms Amazon, Google and Apple as well as Jersey offshore unit trusts.
The divestment campaign is supported by 100 MPs from different parties, including Caroline Lucas (Green Party) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative). Whilst this is a significant number of MPs publically supporting the campaign, it does not align with the interests of the current British government and there is no working group in Parliament on this issue.
This movement started from Pennsylvanian students campaigning in solidarity with coal miners five years ago and has grown to the point that in September 2017, the British TUC passed a relevant climate change motion proposed by the Bakers’ union.
McDonnell and Corbyn’s support comes weeks after comrades in Young Labour proposed and passed a complementary motion supported by Socialist Resistance members. In 2017, the most important support for this movement is at a grassroots campaigning level, with various degrees of co-ordination nationally and with probably hundreds or thousands of activists and supporters in the UK
This development can be used to facilitate specific ecosocialist demands for the labour movement in the medium-term. This could range from reinvesting the total fund in to a National Investment Bank with an ecosocialist mandate or for minimal shock reinvesting the multi-millions of pounds as national bonds in offshore wind farms or loaned to local councils and social housing associations for fixed-returns.
Ecosocialists should question where to keep their own finances in the current British capitalist system but there are few suitable options, we have elements of cooperative and mutual banking which are limited and underdeveloped in this country. Europe has green capitalism here also in various forms as online retail banks and with other large public and private funds investing in our new infrastructure, the British government is missing an opportunity here and could benefit from leadership in this area.
An interesting financial product that any ethical investor should consider are Self-Invested Personal Pensions; arguably a version of democratic capitalism with all the associated risks, where investors get to choose where their pensions are held, this could be used as a way for politicians to align finances with their values independent from the interests of the government and the fund manager.
Supporters should lobby their elected representatives to back the Divest Parliament campaign and make specific demands for reinvestment in key areas.
At a local level, grassroots campaigns aimed at several key influential councils who control the Local Government Pension Scheme funds would yield most financially. Specific Northern and Scottish regions would yield most financial gains as well as large capital investments from local authorities in London and the south. Nationally there is £16bn of public money invested in fossil fuels out of a total fund of £295bn. For detailed information, you can read the joint report from Friends of the Earth, Platform London, Community Reinvest and 350.org called ‘Councils: Fuelling the Fire’ this is just another branch of the government’s “magic money tree” which should be used further.
In the long-term ecosocialists in Britain should co-ordinate efforts in the labour movement and TUC to campaign for a Just Transition industrial strategy.