Why Green Labour Is Losing the North

  • Date: 12/12/09

The Times: Forget the polar bears. The true endangered species is the solvent Northerner, and it’s Southern eco-vanity that’s killing him.

For many years whenever I returned to the North, it was my dietary needs that exposed me as a Southern ponce. My rampant coffee snobbery; liking my veg “al dente”, not boiled to buggery; my failure to own a deep-fat frier — these were all manifestly funny London ways. But nowadays you can’t move up North for flat-vowelled folks ordering skinny macchiatos, and my old school has a salad bar. No, the new North-South culture clash is over saving the planet.

This week, in my home town of Doncaster, I was chatting to the new mayor, Peter Davies, about how the fancy Frenchgate shopping mall keeps afloat when no one has any cash. “It’s pretty bad,” he said. “Around 87 per cent of its shoppers come in on the bus.” But hang on, I replied, isn’t that a good thing? “Oh, don’t you start,” said the mayor. “In Doncaster we make it our business to be extremely welcoming to cars.”

It made me wonder why Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary and MP for Doncaster North, who has been battling all week for lower emissions targets in Copenhagen, doesn’t sort out his own flock first. Mayor Davies, an English Democrat, regarded by many as an ocean-going idiot, but beloved of Jeremy Clarkson, is such an envirosceptic you feel he might holiday in the Amazon basin just to enjoy some logging. Recently, he said that a proposed local wind farm would “have no beneficial effect on the planet’s climate in response to the great global-warming scam”. Scam! Ed Miliband, who doesn’t get language that strong even from Lord Lawson, declared himself “shocked and appalled”.

But what the mayor meant about buses, of course, was that people who use them in the North tend to be poor. While in London, we’ve grown accustomed to damning car-use as selfish ecocide, in Doncaster it is an indicator of economic hope. To a struggling community, cars bring cash, customers and trade. Doncaster parking costs buttons if you’re used to being fleeced in Camden or Westminster; fees are often waived for Christmas shopping days; acres of town centre are turned over to ugly parking lots; and strip malls encircle the town like in some soulless American burg.

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Benny Peiser: A green miscalculation

[…] Labour’s foolhardy policies are shaped by the conviction that, in the words of Miliband, tackling climate change is “the mass mobilizing movement of our age.” The principles of fairness and equality used to stand at the heart of centre-left governments. Protecting the interests of poor and disadvantaged members of society was essential to the popular appeal of left and labour parties. Those parties have substituted these ideals with an environmental program in which saving the planet for the generations of the future has taken priority over the principle of liberating the underprivileged and disadvantaged from poverty and restitution today.

In effect, the Labour Party is gradually pricing the working and lower-middle classes out of their comfort zone. With these core voters counting the rising cost of green taxes, tariffs and restrictions, the Labour Party’s chances of re-election are dwindling. Labour’s fundamental miscalculation has been to bank on the strength of the environmental movement and climate change anxiety in an attempt to “modernize” its agenda. Labour’s climate policy, however, is now backfiring, turning into one of its biggest political liabilities. A recent survey suggests that more than 70% of British voters are no longer willing to pay higher taxes to fund climate change initiatives. In fact, two-thirds of those surveyed believe that the green agenda has been exploited in order to increase taxes.

Britain’s Labour government may believe that its climate policies are saving the planet. But in the process they are destroying the foundations of the party.

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