Boris Beware: The Political Storm Over Green Targets Will Be Even Bigger Than Brexit
People did not vote to take back control only to surrender to an even more imperious and destructive strain of metropolitan ideology.
Just when we thought the war was over, it is starting to dawn on some London hacks that it has only just begun. Beyond the Red Wall are rumblings of a new revolt, utterly unanticipated by No 10 and overlooked by a liberal media still shell-shocked by the election. With its drive to “green” the economy at any cost, the Tory party has seemingly decided to celebrate its populist landslide by bogging down the country in zero-carbon paternalism. And so we career towards another People vs Establishment conflict that could be more explosive even than that sparked by the referendum.
A savvy politician like Boris Johnson can still reverse No 10’s green strategy, which moved on this week from banning petrol and diesel cars to the revival of onshore wind farms. He must – all the ingredients for another seismic uprising are already simmering.
First is the drift towards disaster at the Treasury. With the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, reportedly poised to end the freeze on fuel duty for all motorists, voters are referring to zero carbon as “the new austerity”.
Indeed, the message to voters is sonorously clear – elites have learnt precisely nothing from the past 10 years. In 2008, people paid the price for dysfunction in the banking industry; today they must foot the bill for shortcomings in the energy industry, which is further away from a carbon-free breakthrough than it should be. Still, why tackle the source of problems when you can administer “tough medicine” to the masses?
Second is the rising sense that the UK is still being sabotaged by the zealotry of unaccountable elites. Just as the EU establishment derives its legitimacy from the teleological assumption that the future is borderless universalism, the green establishment poised to take its place sees the planet rather than the people as the highest authority. As a result, the country is heading in a direction at odds with the ambitions of ordinary people.
In particular, it is becoming disturbingly apparent that the Government prizes green targets over “unleashing” Britain’s potential. The cast-iron case for a road-building revolution, for example, clangs a little too harshly against the hollowness of eco-politan sensibilities. Whitehall is genuinely convinced that Red Wall utopia is cycling to work from a rabbit hutch on the outskirts of Birmingham. They find the idea that people might actually aspire to drive to their downtown office from their semi-detached in Dudley, and at the weekends cruise, sunroof down, to the Bullring for shopping, completely ghastly.
The gulf in understanding was ever thus. As innovation professor James Woudhuysen alludes to in his writings, after decades of post-war policymaking hostile to the very concept of cars, what with them disrupting the working classes’ “community cohesion” and causing urban sprawl, in the Blair era there was the glimmer of intellectual breakthrough. Politicians finally recognised, at least in principle, that post-industrial towns can only be revived if they are an attractive commute from thriving cities.
But there was a catch: elites could not bear to prioritise hard logic over their whimsical blueprints for car-free city centres and visceral disdain for the selfish individualism of the open road. Mr Johnson’s green-era promises to be equally irrational. There will be no relief for congested roads. A Cummings-style plan to connect the rustbelt tech hubs of tomorrow with superhighways is for the birds.
The green agenda is also botching public transport. The epitome is HS2, a serpent-shaped monstrosity which slithered from the depths of a conniving political mind to appease the environmental lobby. True, it’s not exactly common knowledge that, in 2009, Andrew Adonis persuaded the then transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, to announce a high-speed railway to placate eco-activists spitting venom over a third Heathrow runway. But with former Brexit Party campaigners organising once again, it won’t take long for people to realise that green tape is suffocating our potential on a scale that rivals red tape from Brussels.
All the more so given how quickly the project to “level up” the country has descended into fatuous virtue signalling. There is a joke going around the North that you can predict the metropolitan mayors’ latest gimmick about solar panels and cycling routes based on whatever nonsense Sadiq Khan has tweeted three weeks before in London. Architecture firms hungry for contracts are churning out plans for triple-glazed “affordable” homes too expensive to build on a mass scale, and offices with bike basements. One source told me that, all the while, “disenchanted employees squint at each other in meetings waiting to see if anyone dares to speak out”.