Some of the things that have happened under the various different incarnations of this government have been so bizarre that no fiction writer would get away with publishing such an implausible storyline.
A British prime minister sent his leader of the house to tell the Queen that she needed to stop parliament from assembling and they were caught out lying about the legality of this by the supreme court. Reality not fiction. Two British prime ministers fined and the health minister forced to resign for breaking their own rules about how to control a pandemic. Reality not fiction. A British prime minister resigning less than two months after taking office because of economic incompetence then coming back a year later to tell us how wonderful her ideas were. Reality not fiction.
Now our latest prime minister is seeking to rise to the challenge of creating equally strange and worrying events. He has launched an attack on net zero policies that primarily exist only in his own fantasy world. A couple of weeks after telling us all how important it was to him to ensure that his own children had a future free of concerns over a deteriorating climate, he has gone full force on a public attack on green policies. Just days after 16 inches of rain in a day killed tens of thousands in Libya, in a year when the temperature of the whole North Atlantic Ocean has shot up, and whilst ice in the Antarctic is at record lows he appears to have decided to scrabble in the gutter for the votes of those who don’t recognise the need for serious urgent action on climate change.
Uniting car manufacturers and the green movement
The contrast between the loose assertions in his speech and the actual proposals that climate change and environmental campaigners put forward could not be more stark. On transport issues almost all green campaigners are in favour of more emphasis on good quality public transport so that we reduce the use of the private car. Britain has the most expensive public transport in Europe and consequently some of the most crowded motorways.
The Conservative government scrapped plans to modernise and properly co-ordinate the network of railways across the north of England whilst wasting billions on building a high speed rail line that seems destined to achieve nothing more than to connect Old Oak Common to Birmingham a little more rapidly. It was the Conservative government who decided to focus climate change transport policy on the announcement of a ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, not green campaigners.
The important word here is ‘new’. It was still going to be legal to buy second hand fossil fuel cars. It was still going to be legal to buy hybrid cars that primarily relied on fossil fuels. All that was being required of consumers was that if they decided to buy a brand new vehicle, then it needed to be one that was cheap and efficient to operate in return for a possibly higher or possibly lower upfront cost. There is already a fully electric car on sale in China that costs only £3,200.
British manufacturers are scared stiff that if we don’t move quickly to get our own market geared up for change then they will find themselves facing fierce competition from abroad that they are simply not ready to compete with. They were spending over £10bn on responding to the former policy of the UK prime minister in the hope of securing a positive future for their businesses.
The prime minister has now stood up and told everyone that it is fine to buy a brand new car that will consume nothing but fossil fuels until 2035. Which means people will be driving them in 2050. He has locked a lot of people into consuming petrol for another 27 years, damaged the British car industry and increased our future import bills because he thinks it will enable him to hold on to a few more seats at the next general election. He calls it responsible government.
He has also helped peddle myths about gas boilers and heat exchange units. At the moment hundreds of thousands of new homes are being constructed in Britain without solar panels, heat exchange units or the very highest standard of insulation. Instead, they rely on costly gas. Any additional capital cost of installing heat pumps or solar panels puts far less on the mortgage repayments than it saves on running costs. Heat pumps function perfectly well in cold climates and anyone that tells you differently presumably believes that their fridge will stop working on a hot day. Installing them in an old home does require a lot of thought and might require additional radiators. Installing them in new homes is a great way of cutting costs and reducing consumption of fossil fuels.
Redrow Homes have already decided that it is easy and cheap to fit heat pumps as standard in their new properties and they will be coupling them with underfloor heating to enable their customers to be toasty warm whilst paying low bills. Sunak has just encouraged other manufacturers to dither and delay and helped peddle myths that the technology can’t be made to work. He called it having the courage to tell people what is really involved in achieving net zero.
In his fantasy world there are proposals for “a government diktat to sort your rubbish into seven different bins”. What green campaigners are actually asking for is to place much more responsibility for waste on the producers instead of the consumers and to simplify collection systems. We want less waste produced in the first place and we want manufacturers to properly label their products with clear simple information about how to dispose of it and for local authorities to apply consistent high standards. Virtually every environmentalist that exists is arguing for reduce and reuse. Recycling is a poor third choice. The environmentalists who are arguing that the British people need to put out seven different bins exist only in Sunak’s fevered imagination, along with those who are insisting on compulsory car sharing.
Fossilised ideas threaten to fossilise us all
What does exist in reality is a British prime minister who has been consistently reluctant to take meaningful action on environmental issues and gone soft on the oil and gas companies. This is the prime minister who spent billions of tax payers’ money on subsidising fuel prices whilst allowing the oil and gas companies to put up those prices so excessively that they pocketed record profits. This is the prime minister who charged so much for offshore wind licences that no one bid for them whilst giving fresh incentives to lock Britain into using North Sea oil and gas for decades.
So when he tells us: “I believe deeply that when you ask most people about climate change, they want to do the right thing”, it should be clear to everyone what he actually means. He himself has no intention of doing the right thing. He believes that he is heading for a heavy election defeat and he might be able to rescue himself by targeting the votes of those who don’t care about the future and want to stick with fossilised ideas.
Those of us who are a little more responsible and a little better connected with the real world must hope that he becomes the fossil and work hard to ensure that happens at the next election.