A FEW days ago the Times broke the story of a leaked memo from Whitehall, in which it was claimed that the government is considering economy-wide carbon taxes. Amongst the most troubling of these interventions were demands from academics and campaigners that the price of domestic gas, meat and cheese must be increased to change our behaviours. Such was the scale of the instant blowback that by the evening the Sun reported the idea had been thoroughly nixed by Number 10. Poof! The ambition which had for decades underpinned climate lobbying and policymaking evaporated in hours.
As science writer Matt Ridley explained the following morning on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s TalkRadio show, the era of banal ecological platitudes was over: ‘It was always going to be clear that the cost was going to land on ordinary people because there’s no way you can change people’s behaviour without putting up their gas bills etc.’ The green crap had just got real, and the cold reality of setting emissions reduction targets had been revealed.
For years, I have been arguing that the climate change agenda lacks any democratic foundation and that its ideological underpinnings have neither been exposed nor tested at the ballot box. The points are abstract, but the questions are simple enough: what kind of world do environmentalists want to create, and how do we get there? We should not take them at face value, but detail is hidden behind the abstract nature of climate policymaking: remote supranational political institutions, far-off targets, meaningless percentages, and ideologues hiding behind scientific factoids. (Not to mention an atmosphere of high-pitched moral screeching against ‘deniers’.) Most people have better things to do than unpick it all: bringing up families, working, running businesses.
In my recent research on the Climate Assembly for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, I pointed out the consequences of policy-making without mandates. Carbon technocrats have been desperate to find ways around the problem of democratic legitimacy that has haunted climate policy-making since the 2008 Climate Change Act made emissions-reduction ‘legally binding’. The green blob, and the MPs that seem to hang on their every word, knew that voters do not share their view of the ‘climate emergency’. The Assembly – a supercharged focus group – was therefore convened to stand as a sample of public opinion, the logic being that if you could persuade 108 ordinary people of the need to get to Net Zero, the wider public would accept the Assembly’s ‘recommendations’.
But these recommendations were manifestly tortured out of the Assembly. As I reported here on The Conservative Woman, the Assembly Report’s apparent support for interventions to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy was a simple lie, put into the report by the conveners. Similarly, demands for a tax on domestic gas use had come from the Green Alliance – an organisation heavily involved in the Climate Assembly. The Green Alliance claimed that the Assembly supported the idea, but deeper inspection of the Assembly’s 500-plus-page report reveals that it was very much against the use of punitive taxes. The appearance of support for them was made possible only by lumping together carrot and stick and forcing the assembly to vote on the two methods together, having only emphasised incentives. Green cynicism towards the public is pathological. They cannot help themselves.
So it was somewhat satisfying to see within a week of the report’s publication something just shy of a vindication of what I had concluded. A rare, perhaps unprecedented, moment of convergence, in which the ideology and reality of climate change policies were exposed to all. Democracy was perhaps being slowly roused from its slumber.
In the Sun, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds is quoted as saying that ‘the UK is in the middle of the worst economic crisis of any major economy – now is not the time to be hiking taxes on families across the country’. On Channel 4 News – a bastion of climate change alarmism – an incredulous Krishnan Guru-Murthy asked an agitated, short-tempered and waffling chair of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben (the former John Gummer MP), ‘Weren’t we being told that the transition to a greener economy wasn’t going to cost us, that it would be all about carrot rather than stick?’ Gummer’s reply was an incoherent, vague and impossible promise of ‘fairness’, the only sense that can be made of which is a claim that the pain can be spread equally.
It would be too soon to declare that the political and media class had been hit by a pandemic of common sense. Nonetheless, the welcome development of the government’s accelerated Net Zero and ‘build back better’ agendas has been to provoke questions that should have been answered decades ago: how is going to be done, how much is it going to cost and who is going to pay for it? The answers to these questions have been, like Gummer, vague, obtuse and disingenuous – motherhood-and-apple-pie ecological platitudes, naked fearmongering, or ossified socialism. ‘Fairness’, my foot. If we do not get to debate and choose the policies and principles guiding climate policy, then ‘fairness’ is an already broken, worthless, cynical promise.
We should also not be complacent if this new-found questioning of green orthodoxy ever achieves anything like critical mass. The Government’s desire to put climate policy-making out of democratic reach continues apace, ahead of the scheduled COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year. Moreover, the struggle to take control of policy-making away from only slightly less remote (albeit domestic), intransigent and self-serving technocrats is more urgent than ever, as the last year has shown. There is much institutional weight, financial backing and political momentum behind the climate agenda, a vast democratic deficit to overcome, and many nasty PR weapons at the technocrats’ disposal, as the reaction to lockdown scepticism demonstrates.
All the same, we can now hold at least the shadow chancellor to her statement that now is not the time to increase the tax burden for the empty promise of ‘building back better’. And it has been established that it will be the voter, not self-serving degenerate technocrats, who decides what ‘fairness’ is. The Net Zero agenda has been shown to the world for what it is: a power and wealth grab, at the public expense, which has been so poorly conceived that none of its advocates bothered to ask themselves ‘What the if the public object to it?’ And by object, I mean really, really, really object. We must keep the pressure on.