The cynical politics of emissions targets and COP26. How government is poised to declare success while delivering failure.

25 Jan

Dissenters can go figure.  Yes, China is still stacking up new coal plants.  But it is also the world’s largest invester in renewables.  Meanwhile, America was pouring record amounts into them – even under Donald Trump.

Those on the right who don’t believe in man-made climate change can protest as loudly as they like about this shift in the zeitgeist.  Their own capitalist system is turning its back on them.

BP’s plan to increase its renewables twenty-fold, cut oil and gas production by 40 per cent, and not to enter new countries to explore for either is only the tip of a non-melting iceberg.

Slumps, black swans and wars could slow the pace of change.  But the direction of travel is unmissable.  Fossil fuels are out – at least as traditionally used – and renewables are in.  The rejectionists might as well seek to shout down a hurricane.

In many ways, this is all to the good.  Energy security demands decreasing our reliance on, say, Russian coal.  Emissions reduction suggests not looking to our own for a replacement.

We have no quarrel with “the science”: as Roger Scruton pointed out, “the greenhouse effect has been known for over a century and a half”. But giving the shift to renewables a thumbs-up in principle is not necessarily the same as doing so in practice – that’s to say, when a plan is on the table.

The Government has a series of targets for reducing emissions.  Two of the best-known are the ban on the sale of new diesel, petrol and hybrid cars, and the zero emissions 2050 target, rushed in by Theresa May as a legacy policy.

We want to look at these targets, and the pace of change which they suggest, through three lenses: those of people, politics and Parliament. First, people.  Our columnist James Frayne writes on this site that he “has probably done more work on the environment than any other single issue”.

He finds a class and age divergence among support for environmental policies.  They’re important to everyone, more so to younger, urban voters – and in different ways.

To many of those people, Greta Thurnberg is a hero.  Lots of those older, provincial ones have never heard of her.  Their concerns are concrete, not abstract: “excessive use of plastics, the destruction of areas of natural beauty and animal welfare.”

Yes, there’s an overlap.  But how will they react when or if governments tax their hybrid cars, bar the coal they use for their fires, hike their electricity bills, export their jobs and ban them from eating meat?

Cambridge University is blazing a trail for that last policy – a reminder that urban, younger people are concentrated in Planet Remain, and provincial, older ones in Leave Country.  Welcome to the latest version of culture wars.

Now, it’s true that voter protest so far has been muted.  Which brings us to our second p: politics.  Britain’s democracy is geared up to a five-year election cycle.

It is built into the very stuff of Parliament, therefore, for MPs to fixate on the date of the next election (due in this case to be May 2 2024) – and often to look no further.

To make a complex story simple, green technologies mean subsidies, subsidies mean jobs, and MPs want those jobs for their constituents.  Who can blame them?

Hence the rush of articles on this site, more numerous by our count than on any other subject, from backbench MPs making the case for green technologies that will mean “green jobs” in their seats.

What about the bills?  They will mostly arrive on the doortsteps of taxpayers, consumers and business in the medium-run, if not the long-run.  And “in the long run we are all dead,” as Keynes put it.

So, third, to Parliament.  We quoted Scruton earlier on the known factor of the greenhouse effect.  But withheld until now the context of the quote.

The greenhouse effect “implies that, other things being equal, the accelerating production of carbon dioxide will cause the earth to warm”, he added, before briefly citing one of those other things: “fluctuations in solar energy”, he added.

There is more detail in his book Green Philosophy, but one would have thought that this position (the greenhouse effect is a cause of global warming – even the main cause, but not the only cause), would be shared by some on the Conservative benches.

Even if not, one would certainly have imagined that, by now, a band of Tory MPs would be pointing out that the bills for this green programme will come in sooner or later – at which point, a choice may open up between mulcting the taxpayer or losing those jobs.

Perhaps we are not reading Hansard closely enough, but we can find no evidence that such a group exists.  That suggests a new dimension to change in the Commons.

It’s often said that modern MPs are increasingly rebellious (not least by this site).  But they are so in a particular kind of way.  More stand ready to put the interests of their constituents ahead of the blandishments of the whips.

But the Commons seems to be producing fewer Andrew Tyries – the awkward, angular former Treasury Select Committee Chairman, now a peer, who campaigned against climate change orthodoxy, for all his establishment status.

At any rate, climate change sceptics outside Parliament warn of terrible things to come – higher electricity bills, for example.  We take the point, but query the scale – because we suspect that rebellion will finally come when the proverbial hits the fan.

To put it plainly, try telling Robert Halfon that his Harlow constituents must pay higher fuel duty to help meet some government target.  He will revolt.  As will all those other backbenchers who have no ideological or constituency stake in the push for zero emissions.

Maybe government will manage the transition, after all.  But with COP26 coming down the tracks, and with a mass of coporates, lobbyists and cheerleaders clinging to its wagons and rooftop, this is a good moment to take stock.

Reducing emissions and securing supply are only two of a quartet of main policy objectives, the other two being keeping the lights on and keeping prices low.  Remember: the Tory manifesto promised to lower energy bills for those in social housing.

How can these objectives be squared?  Finding an answer doesn’t require a drive-by shooting of green policies.  In some cases, we need more. For example, Rachel Wolf and others have made a strong case for a carbon tax, which is robust regardless of targets.

Nor are these wrong in themselves.  For example, it would make sense to have a timetable for the take-up of Flood Performance Certificates – documents that set out the severity of flood risk for homes, and steps that could be taken to mitigate it.

And there are worse things in the world than politicians declaring success (“we’ve made great progress towards our zero emissions target”) while delivering failure (i.e: backing off some of the tax hikes necessary to actually hit them).

But the landscape ahead looks to be one of conflicting policy objectives, punts in new technologies that won’t always come off, pressure on consumers, business and taxpayers, jobs that won’t always be sustaintable – and further damage to the standing of politics.

In which case, a small boy ought to halt the wheezing emperor of government policy, and point out not that he has no clothes, but that he is overdressed amidst this warming weather.  And would move more lightly were he to cast off the 2050 target.

ConservativeHome will run a mini-series on climate change policy tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday.

The Peter Pan-demic

17 Oct

Over the last decade, there’s been a recurring question put to our leaders. That is, “what about young people’s future?” It is a line that has seemed cynical at times; used by anti-Brexit groups, for instance, to encourage support for overturning the EU referendum result. More recently it became the favourite among climate change activists. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you”, Greta Thunberg famously told world leaders at the United Nations climate action summit.

And yet, during the pandemic, it is a question that has been curiously absent – right around the time it is most needed. What is going to happen to the young with our Coronavirus policies, after all? I don’t think it’s selfish to wonder this; young people know that the crisis has presented leaders with impossible choices; they’re prepared to take on the huge tax bill coming, and they are deeply concerned about protecting their elders, whatever the newspapers suggest. Even so, they are not immune to the toll of this virus, and need to know that there is some hope for them at the end.

I don’t count myself as young, incidentally, as I’m 31 and going steadily grey. But I’m young-ish – a millennial, and I wonder about my future too. The Government’s recent Tier 2 restrictions, which – like many others – I am subjected to from today, has left me with deeper concerns than whether I’ll be able to meet friends. To me, it signals the continuation of what could best be described as “Economic Neverland”. Once my generation had aspirations for homes, families and the rest, but alongside the double whammy of 2008’s financial crisis, it feels that we are unable to grow up.

This crisis has, in many ways, been a “Peter Pan-demic”, if I may. It’s devastating for everyone. But we are consigning multiple generations to not being able to reach the markers of adulthood.

The first sign has been housing. Forget the picket fence, many people are moving back home with mum and dad. I know because I was one of them (lucky enough to be able to self-isolate first). My studio flat would have been intolerable over lockdown, and several friends made the same decision. Others are now back because they’ve lost their job or had to take a pay cut. No matter how much you love home, this is not the direction life is meant to go in.

Then there are the other challenges. I’ve been sad to watch friends cancel weddings this year, and the idea of having babies is almost certainly out of the question (even though many of us are in the pressing decade of our thirties). Conservatives have made massive advances in changing these facts – the housing algorithm was a very positive sign that MPs want to better the system – and yet the virus is a case of one step forward, two steps back.

I can only write this from a millennial perspective, but 16-24 year olds have been one of the worst affected groups; the most hit by job losses, as the number of people made redundant in the UK has risen to the fastest rate on record. Many cannot enjoy a full university experience, with Zoom replacing face-to-face teaching and Fresher’s Week now on hold for the foreseeable future. And it doesn’t bear thinking about what lies ahead for children, caught in the middle of school reopenings, which have increasingly become a political football.

Quite simply, I wouldn’t mind a Thunberg of the Coronavirus crisis – to remind leaders that “the eyes of all future generations are upon you.” Yes, the priority is to navigate the present – but our sleep-deprived politicians also have a duty to cast their minds to the decades ahead; to think about the sustainability of their policies, and what’s being asked of existing generations, and of those to come. From young people’s job security, to knowing they can settle down, there must be a way out of Neverland eventually.

Damian Grimes: Out of office but in power. How the Left keeps losing elections, yet gets its way nonetheless.

26 Aug

I appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live last weekend. To put it bluntly, I was surprised to get the bid from the producer (who was a delight to work with) to speak about education. I know the BBC is set to spend £100 million on boosting its diversity and inclusion, but I felt that diversity would stop short at cultural conservatives from working class backgrounds who don’t have degrees.

The appearance itself was over in about ten minutes. I felt it went pretty well. I argued that we have a relentless focus on the 50 per cent of kids that finish their 16-18 education taking A-levels, at the expense of the other half that do not – who tend to be our country’s least well off.

And that it’s wrong to attack the seven per cent of kids that go to private schools, instead of discussing why it’s no longer the case – as it was for an astounding 33 years, from Harold Wilson to John Major – that our Prime Ministers are educated at state schools.

Yet later – as I was sitting down preparing to stuff my face silly with Yorkshire puddings – I had a text from a mate informing me that I was trending on Twitter, and that the mob was outraged.

“What the hell have I done now?” I pondered aloud, as I read tweets going viral with their own alarming R rate, including offerings from an Oxford professor and those with EU flags in their Twitter biographies.

I grasped that my crime was to be “uneducated” – an ignorant oik with ideas above his station. How dare someone who once worked as an apprentice hairdresser offer his views on the BBC? And more importantly to them, how dare the BBC offer up the opinions of Someone Who Isn’t Like Us?

Ben Norton sagely pointed out on Twitter that the same Oxford professor who places such a high bar for TV slots, with general snobbery for the likes of me, applies a different standard when it comes to the terrier-sized teenager Greta Thunberg, who lectures us all on the science of climate change without any of the qualifications you would generally associate with such a platform.

The incident got me thinking about why the Left keeps losing.  It focuses too much on issues that appeal massively to city-dwelling Twitter, so reinforcing its own biases. It convinces itself that the endorsements of actors and pop stars will see them through to victory. They believes that there’s a majority which cringes Rule Britannia, and dislikes rituals of national celebration, or having pride in place and nation. And it seems to think that the only issue which matters right now is self-ID reforms for trans men and women.

Does any of this matter? You might wonder why I’ve chewed your ear off for 500 words on how much of a left-wing cesspit Twitter is: why the hell I even bother myself with it? As Jonathan Swift once said, it is “the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom.”

The same can be said about Twitter. But the problem arising from it is that those on the platform are disproportionately in the media – policy-makers and commentators who are in a position to shape public policy and shape the national debate to their liking. Their views, mirroring Twitters, are reflected in our institutions.

For a Conservative Government serious about levelling-up, focusing on those that don’t do A-levels upon leaving school and ignoring the blather about private schools should be a priority. For a Conservative Government serious about challenging the Marxist march through our institutions, getting conservatives into positions of power should be a priority. And for a Conservative Government serious about winning again, sorting out the immigration crisis in the English Channel should be a priority.

The consequences of ignoring all this, and comforting yourself with the knowledge that the loony Left keeps losing elections, is this: each time a politician bends the knee, the BBC indulges itself by removing anthems, a museum removes a bust to rewrite history, and rioting is ignored by the police, we move one stop closer to allowing a tyrannical Twitter-dwelling minority to become very powerful indeed.

In responding to the news that only orchestral versions of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia! will be played at this year’s Last Night of the Proms, Boris Johnson said: “I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness.”  Wise words, Prime Minister, wise words – but what are you going to do about it?

It might not be fashionable for people like me to express my views about our national broadcaster on Twitter, but for a Government with an 80-seat majority to also be rendered unable to focus on and fix these pressing issues is a sign that, yes, whilst the Left does indeed keep losing, it’s not really all that far from the levers of power.