A personal comment piece from Barry White
In the run up to the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week, we have been bombarded with a series of policies aimed at diverting attention away from the government’s failed economic policies and the cost of living crisis by offering a number of contentious measures which they hope will be popular and restore their dismal opinion poll ratings.
Whilst many see them as a series of populist measures aimed at promoting division in society and seeking to expose the Labour party as not being on the side of the people, the truth is that for many years there has been an influential group of Conservative MPs with support outside Parliament who are climate change sceptics. Many have their roots in the Brexit campaign https://bylinetimes.com/2023/09/29/from-brexit-to-clexit-delaying-climate-action-is-the-rights-next-big-political-culture-war/
One such extra parliamentary group is Net Zero Watch a ‘think tank ‘based at 55 Tufton Street , SW1 which in its own words “…. highlights the serious implications of expensive and poorly considered climate change policies….” Last year a Open Democracy investigation revealed that, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) a registered charity, which also campaigns as Net Zero Watch, has received more than half a million dollars through a fund linked to the controversial billionaire Koch brothers. Net Zero claims, on its website, that it won’t take cash from fossil fuel investors.
It was the Uxbridge by-election result in June which gave a boost to the net zero sceptics, although strangely enough it was opposition to the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to the city’s outer boroughs, which had nothing to do with climate, which resulted in a Conservatives victory – albeit with a majority of only 495 votes reduced from 7,210 in 2019, a 6.7% swing to Labour.
However, the unexpected victory was seen as a route out of low opinion poll ratings and giving them a better chance of holding onto some of the red wall seats which were seen to be ditching their support for the government. The start of a damage limitation exercise was underway.
Since then we have had announcements about limiting English council’s ability to introduce 20mph speed limits and bus lanes (a surprise to councils as it was announced without consultations them). Also reported to be under scrutiny are so called 15-minute cities. This is an urban planning concept in which most daily necessities and services, such as work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure can be easily reached by a 15-minute walk or bike ride from any point in the city. The approach aims to reduce car dependency, promote healthy and sustainable living, and improve wellbeing. Some regard it as a conspiracy to limit people’s ability to travel.
The Guardian reports that in July the prime minister announced a review of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), which seek to increase active travel by restricting through traffic on smaller residential streets. Councils in England have since been instructed by the Department for Transport to return lengthy questionnaires by the end of September on any schemes they have installed since 2020, including the consultation process used before they were introduced.
The paper went on to report that the transport charity Sustrans said the “plan for motorists”, if introduced, would mean Sunak was yet again failing those people who did not drive or own a car.
A spokesperson said: “Why is the prime minister going out of his way to clog our roads with cars – what kind of legacy is this supposed to leave? What about the 45% of people on low incomes who don’t own a car?”
“Prioritising cars in this way serves no one – not pedestrians, not cyclists, not users of public transport. It doesn’t even benefit drivers, who will face more congestion.”
Then of course is the continuing debate over HS2 coming to Manchester, not so much one about the environment, but rather the escalating costs which some now put at over £100bn. When it was first given the go-ahead by the government in 2012, (the project was inherited from the Labour government) the whole network was supposed to cost £32.7bn, including a north-eastern leg to Leeds. That’s now been scrapped. Given the official commitment to a spur to the east Midlands, and general inflation since 2019, a current estimated cost of about £100bn at 2023 prices seems reasonable: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/sep/25/why-has-hs2-ended-up-being-so-expensive
To soften the blow of scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester route, the government could announce additional funding new transport improvements in the north.
We await an avalanche of Government announcements in Manchester against the background of right wing press attacks on climate activists, complaints that the UK is doing too much and other countries too little, and growing criticisms of the cost – particularly to that Conservative mantra, “hard-working families” – of achieving net zero by 2050.
Part of our campaign as climate activists must be a demand that the cost of achieving net zero must not fall on working people and their dependants. The climate crisis was created by the polluters and they must pay to clear it up. Drastic cuts in emissions are needed by 2035. The later they leave it, for perceived short term political advantage, the more drastic the cuts in emissions will have to be made later to achieve net zero by 2050.
The 2023 Climate Change Committee’s progress report to Parliament said “….our confidence in the UK meeting its medium-term targets has decreased in the past year. The increased transparency embodied in the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) is welcome, but a key opportunity to raise the overall pace of delivery has been missed …“ https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/2023-progress-report-to-
When it comes to saving the planet there is no room for electoral opportunism, our very futures are in the balance!