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Climate advocacy in the ‘Red Wall’: Loyal Nationals and fairness

By David Powell on May 25, 2022

Workers install a new electric vehicle rapid charger.
Photo credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Climate campaigning groups are increasingly interested in how to connect meaningfully with people who haven’t been a big part of the conversation. One of the seven values-based British segments in particular – Loyal Nationals – is an acid test for whether they can do this properly. Our Climate Engagement Lab is shares key recommendations in this blog, which includes a link to the recording of our recent webinar on this topic. 

Australia has just had its first climate election. The next UK general election, whenever it happens, will need to be one too. The urgency of climate change means the days are long gone of politicians being able to reel off lists of vague commitments – it’s all about specifics now, shifting beyond headline climate concern to popular plans that make sense to people’s daily lives. For example: Whose homes get insulated, and who pays? Where do the green jobs go, and what happens to the high-carbon ones? Who will get a say in what changes and when – and will they trust it?

Perhaps most importantly of all, climate action must be seen to be fair for it to stick, not least by those for whom times are only getting tougher as costs soar. This is critical for British values-based segments that are less engaged with climate activism, such as Loyal Nationals. This part of British society feels threatened, yet remains patriotic; is left leaning on the economy, favouring the redistribution of wealth, yet right leaning on social issues, such as crime and punishment. These values are a broad proxy for those driving the electoral mechanics of pivotal ‘Red Wall’ seats that will partially determine the outcome of the vote. 

(Disclaimer: Loyal Nationals are slightly more likely to be found in the North than the South, but not all Red Wall constituents are Loyal Nationals, and vice versa. Indeed the ‘Red Wall’ is not a term Climate Outreach often uses precisely because we focus on understanding how people see the world and themselves as citizens, rather than reducing them to the political constituency in which they live). 

Webinar recording: dos and don’ts for UK climate advocates

Loyal Nationals represent many millions of people who have not been deliberately brought into the climate conversation by and with activist-dominated NGOs. But they are politically engaged: they vote in large numbers, and they care about politics a great deal.  If the next election is to be a climate election in practice, then work on a better story has to start now. 

The good news is that many of the climate advocacy groups we work with in our Climate Engagement Lab are keen to better engage Loyal Nationals. This is not (just) because of their near-term electoral and political significance, which is encouraging. Viewing any broad group of people as simply instrumental to campaign wins is, in a disillusioned age, part of the problem. Rather there is a growing agreement that the deep and wide social mandate needed for climate action is dependent on bringing many more people (from across society) into the climate conversation, as Climate Outreach has long argued. This is great to see and it matters now like it never has before, as the distrust Loyal Nationals and related segments feel for elites is at risk of being weaponised by opponents of net zero. 

There are some significant challenges for nationally-based campaign groups to overcome. A core one is that while Loyal Nationals are supportive of climate action in the abstract, they are turned off by slogans and narratives that feel distant, technical or elitist. ‘Environmental charities’ are the third most trusted messenger to talk about climate change itself, but that masks considerable hostility to the tactics of activists, and the perceived hypocrisy of environmentalists. The implication is that Loyal Nationals trust environmental groups to be right about the importance of climate change – but not necessarily on what should be done about it, nor that it’ll be fair for them and in their interests. 

This makes sense for an audience that feels distant from elite level political change and which overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. This mindset is distinct from that of many Progressive Activists, and bridging it requires empathy and an understanding of the distrust many people in the UK have for politicians and political processes. Simply asking audiences like Loyal Nationals to ‘write to their MP’, for example, won’t work: most don’t see the point. But different types of ‘action’ – starting with how to help people make a concrete improvement to where they live and for the communities they live within – is more likely to be well received, particularly if championed by locally trusted groups or messengers. 

A woman cleans the inside window of her wine bar after flooding in the North of England in December 2015
Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images

There is also more common cause around what ‘fairness’ means in climate policy than might immediately seem to be the case. Loyal Nationals have strong fairness concerns – more accurately, ‘unfairness’ concerns – particularly as this plays out where they live. As explored in an April 2022 update to the Britain Talks Climate research and toolkit, Loyal Nationals and Progressive Activists both believe that those with the least ability to pay should not have to bear any costs of net zero policy, and that grants for measures like home insulation should mainly go to those who most need them. There are other unifying frames, such as intergenerational fairness, the importance of protecting nature, and – if it’s thought to be believable, tangible and obtainable in practice – the benefits to communities from ‘green jobs’ and financial savings as a result of, for example, using less energy. Our new guide for advocates on how to navigate ‘fairness’ in climate engagement digs deeper into this. 

Climate campaign groups can and must better engage Loyal Nationals in the climate story. A good place to start, as we explore in our new guide, is starting all campaigning and engagement planning with a good hard look at the issue of ‘fairness’ and how it’ll be truly received by non-activist audiences. It’s not necessarily easy – it includes changing the language and frames used in communications – and genuinely empathetic engagement and connection might also mean rethinking existing models of activism, as well as forging new partnerships rooted authentically within communities around the country. But it’s important. Over the coming months and years, the Climate Engagement Lab will be supporting and championing the work of organisations that are willing to give it a go. 

 

For campaigning and advocacy organisations in the UK serious about building narratives and engagement plans to reach Loyal National audiences, the Climate Engagement Lab is holding a free online training and strategy workshop on Wednesday 15 June 2022. This practical session will help attendees develop their own strategy for better engaging Loyal Nationals with narratives around fairness. It is particularly appropriate for groups that may have Loyal Nationals in its supporter base, or that are planning to to actively engage them in the coming months. Spaces are limited. We are also hosting a webinar open to all on Thursday 9 June to share key findings from the report below, ‘Fairness in UK climate advocacy: a user’s guide’. 

Reports & guides

Reports & guides

‘Fairness’ in UK climate advocacy: a user’s guide

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By David Powell

David leads our Climate Engagement Lab, which helps UK climate advocacy and campaigning organisations deliver innovative and evidence-based engagement plans. He has 15 years experience as a campaigner, communicator, researcher and strategist on environment and climate change. He’s worked as senior campaigner on economics and resources at Friends of the Earth and most recently as Head of Environment and Green Transition at the New Economics Foundation.  He has a MA in English Literature, an MSc in Environmental Strategy, and a Graduate Diploma in Economics.  He’s particularly interested in the intersection between systems change and individual psychology, and how to build campaigns that harness the deeply held concerns we all have about the climate crisis.

Outside of work he plays jazz saxophone and clarinet, and is the co-host of two podcasts, Sustainababble and Your Brain on Climate. He is also the chair of Somerset Wildlands.

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