The response from Jane Hunt MP
The vigil was started to a large degree to hold Hunt, the local MP, to account, challenge her to push for stronger action on climate, and put pressure on her and the government generally. In the early days of the vigil, Hunt would often come out and engage with those outside her office – “almost weekly” – and would also bring out cups of tea for them.
But engagement with Hunt wasn’t necessarily seen as productive by those at the vigil. Olivia Venning, a founding member of Loughborough Climate Vigil, said: “it quickly became apparent that she did not see [climate change] as a pressing issue, in fact telling us that the government are already doing enough.”
Her status within the party and willingness to toe the party line mean that it’s “often … pretty pointless having a conversation because we never know what she really thinks about anything”. This engagement from Hunt has dropped off recently; those at the vigil say she has not come out to speak with them at all in the last six months, with one member going as far as to say her and her staff are “avoiding” them.
Dr John Barton, who lives in Loughborough, attends the vigil every few weeks. He said that when he writes to Hunt, she copies and pastes standard government replies, describing policies that do not go far enough. John stressed the fact that emissions are still rising and that we are perilously close to ‘tipping points’ and as others in the vigil argue too, the government is absolutely not doing enough.
There have been minor successes but crucially Hunt’s priorities didn’t seem to change. “Our one success was asking Jane to complete the carbon literacy course, which she did, but judging by her voting track record I can’t see how it’s made much difference to her behaviour,” Olivia added.
Similarly, Evo Kerslake, who sometimes attends the vigil, thinks Hunt doesn’t see the bigger picture. “She pays lip service to the vigil when it’s there, outside her office, but she isn’t following through,” Evo said. “She’s in a position to begin to make the systemic change that is needed to address climate change issues, and she’s singularly failing to get to grips with it.”
With Hunt seen by some in the vigil as a dead end, there is talk of moving their weekly picket from outside her office to another location, one that perhaps engages more foot traffic. This has always been another goal of the vigil, to engage the public as well as put pressure on the government.
Loughborough: an important swing seat
The Loughborough constituency is seen as an important swing seat. Hunt retained the seat for the Conservatives in 2019 by 7,000 votes over Labour’s candidate Stuart Brady; this came after the previous MP Nicky Morgan, formerly education secretary, stood down. The seat was red during the Blair and Brown years, and is one Labour is hoping to win if they are to enter government; symbolically, the way Loughborough goes has reflected the national election outcome every election since 1974.
Jeevun Sandher, an economist who works in a progressive think tank and has worked at HM Treasury, is Labour’s candidate to unseat Jane Hunt. Asked about the vigil, and whether he supports their calls for stronger action on climate, he said he did: “That’s what I want to see, what the Labour Party wants to see.” He further stressed the importance and urgency of climate change and the commitment of himself and the Labour Party to net-zero; tackling climate change is “the key issue”, he said.
An interesting split in those who attend the vigil was whether, if Sandher is elected, they would picket his office. Some said they would, to remind him of his commitments and of his constituents’ wishes on this; another member said they would give him and a Labour government one or two years before they started to put pressure on him, to see what action Labour and Sandher were taking.
Asked if he would support a vigil outside his office if elected, Sandher said he absolutely would. “I’d bring them tea and biscuits,” he added.
Pressuring Jane Hunt has been a large part of why the vigil was started and why it has continued. But the majority of those who attend now think that for real change on climate, a systemic change, including in government, is required. What is certain is that they have no plans to stop the vigil any time soon.
Jane Hunt MP was contacted by Central Bylines for comment. To date she has not responded.