A year since Liz Truss trashed the British economy, Rishi Sunak is setting about wrecking the environment, and the nation’s international reputation as well. ANDREW FISHER on the business backlash against the Tory Prime Minister’s ‘meat tax’ and ‘seven bins’ announcement
Our Croydon Mayor might be administering a Facebook group glorifying pro-pollution vandalism, but now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made climate vandalism official Tory Government policy.
Speaking from behind a Downing Street lectern with the Orwellian legend “Long-Term Decisions”, Sunak scrapped long-term policies, replacing them with some hastily drawn up changes that he hoped might rescue his floundering leadership.
With his party overseeing a stagnant economy, record waiting lists in the NHS, crumbling schools and collapsing local government, the Prime Minister is throwing the environment under a (diesel-driven) bus in a desperate attempt to woo supporters.
Rather than implement the policies in his own Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto – pledges made when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer – Sunak has announced made-up new ones.
The measure that has caused the most controversy is the delay to the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, which was set for 2030 by… the Conservative Government.
This has been pushed back five years.
Today, every borough in London has polluted air that exceeds the limits set by the World Health Organization. London Assembly Labour’s environment spokesperson Leonie Cooper AM said: “The plans announced today are a huge mistake. This is bad for the climate, bad for business and bad for Londoners.”
What is often dismissed by figures on the right as “the woke left” apparently now includes big business. Car manufacturing giant Ford led the backlash against Sunak’s announcement, saying: “Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”
The chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce described Sunak’s U-turns as “flaky, unreliable, and incapable of leading the green energy revolution”.
They have a point.
As recently as the end of July, the Prime Minister told the press, “The 2030 target has been our policy for a long time and continues to be.
“We are not considering a delay to that date.”
Yesterday evening, in a particularly bizarre twist, the Prime Minister tweeted a list of policies that he was “stopping”, including “taxes on eating meat”, “seven different bins” and “compulsory car sharing”.
None of which actually exist, or are even proposed to be introduced.
In much the same vein, today I shall be stopping a herd of unicorns pooping in my garden and my cat eating the patio. I shan’t expect my wife to thank me for “stopping” these terrible policies that I have also just made up.
Sunak’s announcement made him a laughing stock, as well as attracting one of those “context” corrections from Twitter/X, like a ticking off from a deeply unimpressed primary school teacher: “Taxes on meat and flying had already been repeatedly ruled out by the Government,” the message stated. “There is no proposal to require people to have seven bins, or for ‘compulsory’ car sharing.”
The Prime Minister announced he was also scrapping plans to raise Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards for all rented homes by 2028 – an obligation that would have forced landlords (public and private) to improve the standards of the homes they rent. Energy efficiency prevents mould and dampness, and saves tenants money on heating bills. One in four private renters currently lives in fuel poverty, and the Government spent £40billion on energy subsidies to households last winter.
The Twitter context message included this note: “The announced changes on insulation only stand to benefit private landlords.” Around one-third of Conservative MPs are private landlords.
(Lord) Zac Goldsmith, until recently a minister in Sunak’s Government responsible for international environment and climate – another figure not usually thought to be a part of “the woke left” – described Sunak’s announcement as “reprehensible”, and “cynical beyond belief”.
Goldsmith said, “The PM is pretending to halt frightening proposals that simply do not exist. He is doing it to turn the environment into a US-style political wedge issue… Sunak is chucking the environment into a political fire purely to score points.
“It is reprehensible.”
In many ways, Rishi Sunak is emulating one of his predecessors as Tory Party leader, David Cameron. Cameron went from “hug a husky” to “Cut the green crap” in his latter period as Prime Minister.
Cameron was the original climate vandal in Downing Street, banning onshore wind, scrapping the zero-carbon homes standard and cutting the home insulation programme – last year we insulated 97% fewer homes than were being insulated in 2012.
Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central was moved in Labour’s recent reshuffle to be Shadow Minister for Industry and Decarbonisation. Her boss, Ed Miliband, the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Net Zero, was clear that if successful in the forthcoming General Election, Labour will stick to the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars, although he has so far been less committal on energy efficiency targets for rented homes.
Miliband said: “I think the PM sees Net Zero simply as an obligation to be managed and not an opportunity to be seized… We will lose in the global race for jobs and load more costs on to consumers.”
One issue an incoming Labour government will face is the lack of charging points for electric vehicles. This is a big infrastructure challenge nationwide, hindered by the woeful state of the privatised National Grid. Currently there are only 63 charging points installed per 100,000 people in Croydon, less than half the average across London boroughs, and below the national average.
The Government is not currently on track to reach net zero by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change chaired by Lord Deben (the former minister in Thatcher’s cabinet, John Gummer), said in June that progress was “worryingly slow”. Now it’s just got even slower.
So when Rishi Sunak says, “We are committed to Net Zero by 2050”, and then waters down several measures needed to get there, it is clear that he is not committed to Net Zero at all.
Earlier this week it was revealed that, like some sort of voyeur, the Tories’ Police Minister lurked in a social media group where vandals posted photos of their criminal handiwork.
It’s the perfect metaphor for how we all look on as a group of vandals (aka Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet) celebrate the damage that they are doing to the climate.
- From 2015 to 2019, Andrew Fisher worked as the Labour Party’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn. He is a former chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. Fisher is also the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon
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