Sarah Ingham: A blue party + green promises = yellow vests

29 May

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

Among the Met Office’s list of storm names for 2021 are Heulwen – Welsh for sun-blessed if not for irony – and Saidhbhin.

Probably only those of us who won’t be needing to fill sandbags have enough time on our hands to fret about the tricky pronunciation of dhbh. The millions living in flood-risk areas will instead surely cheer this week’s announcement by the Environment Agency that it will default to low carbon concrete when constructing the nation’s flood defences.

With man-made climate change being blamed almost every time it rains – or fails to rain – on Britain’s green and pleasant land, it seems fitting that the quango charged with protecting us from flooding should be leading the charge on cutting carbon, arguably the cause of all the storms from Aiden to Wilson and the accompanying floods which have beset the country in recent years.

During the week political attention was focused on Dominic Cumming’s truth bombs in his marathon select committee appearance (which rivals the Duke of Sussex’s vengeful confessionals with Oprah), the EA’s dash towards carbon neutrality by the end of the decade will surely be welcomed by the Government. At least this State offshoot is fizzing with enthusiasm about Carbon Net Zero, rather than tipping a bucket of reality over it.

When it comes to ripping out the domestic gas boilers which currently provide the heat and hot water for 30 million homes, ministers might be following the net zero science, but cautious householders would probably prefer to listen to experts.

Just as the EA was issuing its statement, Pimlico Plumbers’ boss Charlie Mullins, who probably knows his way around condensate drain traps better than most MPs, was pouring cold water on targets to substitute our trusty gas combis for net zero-friendly alternatives, including heat pumps or biomass boilers. Mullins’ message to the Government, as reported by the Daily Mail? ‘Get real.’

Deadlines for Britain to go greener are fast approaching. Gas boilers are to be banned from new homes in 2025, and banished forever by 2035, while sales of new petrol and diesel cars are to be outlawed by 2030. As the recent Queen’s Speech reminded us, the United Kingdom is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A legally binding target was set by the May administration and waved through in June 2019 by the discredited Zombie Parliament, probably hoping to bathe in redemptive greenwash. Last month, the Johnson Government trumped this by enshrining in law a new target to slash emissions by 78 per cent by 2035.

Conservatives are meant to conserve, so why not save the planet? But the warm glow of doing the right thing is not going to make up for the absence of central heating when our gas boilers are consigned to the scrap heap. Hydrogen boilers are hardly off the drawing board. In an interview with Andrew Marr, Jo Biden’s Climate Tsar, John Kerry, conceded the highly inconvenient truth that half the technology to get us to Net Zero has not yet been invented.

The global lockdown delivered the sort of cuts to energy use and emissions which were beyond the wildest dreams of Greta Thunberg, Greenpeace and Plane Stupid combined. According to the National Grid, demand for power in Britain fell by as much as 20 per cent. Flexible working has reduced the EA’s emissions from business travel by 48 per cent and from buildings by 22 per cent.

Kerry insists that we don’t have compromise our quality of life in order to cut emissions. Step forward Elon Musk, able to square high-end conspicuous consumption with the circle, nay halo, of eco-responsibility. Unlike the pious Prius, Musk’s Tesla makes electric cars the objects of desire. Available next year, the Model S Plaid+ will have a projected top speed of 200mph. And a price tag of about £140,000, which won’t be payable in Bitcoin. Musk recently tweeted that Tesla would not accepting the cryptocurrency because of its environmental impact – just before his Gulfstream landed in Luton.

As the Government ushers us towards the net zero future, it had better be sure of the science. The unintended consequences of getting this wrong will dwarf Labour’s debacle over diesel. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown levied cheaper car tax on diesel vehicles, which emitted lower carbon but higher pollutants, ultimately contributing to Britain’s poorer air quality.

Similarly, the pursuit of biodiversity was a factor in the EA’s decision not to dredge the Somerset Levels. Man-made ignorance of historical practise rather than man-made climate change caused the catastrophic floods of 2013/14.

If polls show that voters favour going green, they are not voting Green. In 2019, when we were in the grip of the Climate Emergency apocalypse now, with Greta berating the UN (‘how dare you?’) and Extinction Rebellion clogging London’s streets with its crusties, pink boat and showboating actor Emma Thompson, the Green Party won two million votes and seven seats in the Euro Elections. A fair result but outshone by the Brexit Party. Although they wanted a very different outcomes, both the Greens and Nigel Farage’s followers demanded seismic national change.

In this month’s elections, the Greens failed to gained seats to Wales’ Senedd, won just six per cent of the seats in the Scottish Parliament and garnered 358 votes in Hartlepool. A reasonable showing in the Bristol mayoral race is hardly a national mandate for the policies they advocate.

‘Let them drive Teslas’. The 2018/19 Gilets Jaunes protests in France were in part provoked by green taxes imposed by the Macron government, whose well-to-do members were perceived as increasingly out-of-touch.

Vote Blue, Go Green was a Cameron-era slogan for the Conservative Party. In going green, the current government must ensure voters in the blue and red walls never have to reach for their yellow vests.

It’s pronounced sigh-veen.