Rishi Sunak likes to present himself as a safe pair of hands. After the chaos of the Boris Johnson administration was followed by the complete failure of Liz Truss’s ideologically driven economic experiment, he promised to set a new tone and direction. He wanted us to believe that he could be relied upon to steer the ship of state through troubled waters. Effectively he set out to bore his way into the affections of the electorate.
Given the flamboyant failure of his two predecessors this was not necessarily a bad thing. There are times when the nation is in serious need of a bit of quiet competence. Steady as she goes would have been quite an achievement in comparison with what had gone before. Careful management of the nation’s finances might have proved to be a welcome change.
Unfortunately, what we got instead were some heavily over-promoted reckless wastes of a great deal of public money. This is, after all, the former chancellor who built his reputation on wasting billions on encouraging the nation to ‘eat out to help out’ in the full knowledge that the scheme would increase Covid deaths and require a return to lockdown.
One of his first major decisions as prime minister was to throw £37bn pounds into subsidising our fuel bills at exactly the same time as he was allowing just two oil companies to pocket £55bn in record profits by increasing those very same fuel bills. Effectively he chose to use public money that we didn’t have to subsidise astonishingly high profits for fossil fuel companies. He tried to sell this bizarre policy as support to help you pay your power bill.
Sunak: boring no longer
If that wasn’t bad enough, what happened after the Conservatives scraped a narrow win in the Uxbridge by-election was much worse. The party narrowly won by pumping out scare stories about the clean air policies adopted by the mayor of London. Seeing the margin of victory drop from 7,210 to 495 was viewed as such a wonderful result that everything had to change.
Sunak decided to stop being boring and go on to the attack. He decided to actively campaign as the man who could be relied on to go slowly and do little on environmental problems whilst extracting every drop of oil from the North Sea. Effectively he followed David Cameron in ditching the ‘green crap’ despite all the evidence of how much Cameron’s ill-judged petulance cost the nation.
To any rational person, it must seem a strange time to be deciding to move slower and do less. Because this is a time when the problems of a rapidly deteriorating climate are starting to become more obvious. Global temperatures this year have risen above the critical 1.5 degree barrier for the very first time for month after month.
The climate point of no-return?
That is the level that the scientists told us was most likely to indicate the point of dangerous no-return. They warned us that we couldn’t afford to go over that level and told us we needed to put policies in place to prevent that happening before 2050. Almost none of the scientists put into their models the possibility that we might reach 1.5 degrees in 2023.
The vast majority of them are shocked rigid by the record lows in ice levels we’ve seen this year, and the record high sea temperatures. Acapulco just followed New Orleans into the record books to become the second major world city to suffer extreme damage from a weather event fuelled by global warming and the British prime minister’s reaction was to tell us all that we should move slower on addressing the problem.
Deliberate ideological choices
Sunak is not, it turns out, a particularly rational person. He is a hard-right political theorist pretending to be a moderate. There is a worrying consistency to his policies. Reduced taxes for financial speculators – tick. Real terms wage reductions for doctors, nurses and teachers – tick. Early and enthusiastic support for Brexit – tick. Weakening of EU environmental rules – tick. Signing of bad free trade deals – tick. Trying to blame problems on immigrants – tick. One sided approach to human rights in Israel and Palestine – tick. Appointing Suella Braverman as a minister – tick.
These aren’t accidentally unpleasant outcomes of unavoidable decisions made in hard economic times. They are deliberate ideological choices made from someone who holds hard to a very particular and very strange set of economic theories. In his very first speech as prime minister he told us that Truss had her heart in the right place. He meant what he said. They share the same belief that the best way to help our nation is to let free markets loose so that the rich can get richer and the poor can benefit from the trickle down.
The prime difference between the Truss government and the Sunak one is that the current prime minister is doing dangerously daft things with more stealth. That is less likely to panic the financial markets but every bit as likely to lead Britain down the wrong path. The nation deserves better. We were sold a lie about Brexit at the last election and millions of people are struggling to cope with the economic consequences. The solution to that problem is not to change the name of the liar who is in charge. It is to kick the liars out of office and put some more honest people in charge.