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Beyond Wellie Boots and Photo Ops: Exploring the Politics of Climate Change in the U.K.

18 February 2014 Wiley

Keen to appear responsive to flooding across the U.K., politicians from across the Westminster divide competed to be seen wading through water in front of cameras. Writing in WIREs Climate Change, Dr. Neil Carter, from the University of York, explores how the politics of climate change has shifted from one of consensus, to overt tribalism, and asks how this may be changed by the rise of hitherto fringe political parties.

“Between 2006 and 2010 climate change rose rapidly up the U.K. political agenda and the Labour Government, with cross-party support, introduced major changes in domestic climate and energy policy,” said Carter.

However, while cross-party consensus on the issue was initially sustained by the Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition, it was soon put under severe strain by Tory backbenchers, turning climate change into a highly partisan issue.

Carter analyses the political motivations behind the gradual rise in prominence of climate change as a political issue throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s, the unexpected setbacks during Labour’s long period of office, and the growth of cross-party consensus on the issue, as polls revealed it to be an important issue to voters.

While this consensus has now become gridlocked by tribalism, Carter suggests that the political fringe may change the dynamic. While the Green Party continues to emerge from the wilderness, the significance of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party in devolved, and potentially independent, local parliaments, may make climate change a more pluralistic and multileveled political issue.

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