Cost of Living Crisis vs Net Zero?
The narrow win by the Conservatives in last weeks Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election has thrown the UK political establishment into a tailspin over the cost of net zero policies in a cost of living crisis. The backdrop of wildfires and other extreme weather events around the world does not seem to be informing this debate half as much as it should.
The winning candidate based his campaign on opposition to the expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to the outer reaches of Greater London as proposed by the Labour Mayor Sadie Khan. The level of approval for the ULEZ extension from the Conservative Government is a matter of debate, but brings more than a whiff of hypocrisy to the Tory campaign. The Labour challenger, presumably sensing opposition to the policy which would lead to drivers of non-compliant vehicles (5-10% of the fleet) paying a daily charge of £12.50, said he would support a delay to implementation until the cost of living crisis was over.
After a weekend of anti-Net Zero voices claiming a range of green policies would cripple the poor, today the Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reaffirmed his commitment to Net Zero but said he would take a ‘more pragmatic’ approach. According to ‘sources’, this may mean the watering down of various headline Net Zero policies. Labour leader Keir Starmer has also been making ‘too soon’ noises, promising to raise the issue with Khan – thus letting the Government dictate the narrative when the real news was the collapse of their vote in two other by-elections on the same day.
Here’s my take:
- Nuanced positions do not work in the heat of a by-election battle. We can never know for sure, but I suspect the weak support for ULEZ from the Labour candidate may have cost him the election – the Green Party received more votes than the winning margin, and the mixed messages from Labour may have dissuaded other pr0-green/left of centre people from voting.
- The people claiming “we can’t afford Net Zero in a cost of living crisis” would oppose Net Zero whatever the circumstances – they were doing so before the cost of living crisis and they will do so afterwards.
- In any case, the cost of living crisis is being driven by the cost of fossil fuels. The Government’s own Office of Budget Responsibility recently concluded that Net Zero will be much cheaper in the long run than fossil fuel reliance.
- The very poor do not own cars. I’ve never heard any of the anti-Net Zero brigade call for higher public transport subsidies or more cycle lanes to alleviate those people’s travel costs.
- “Can we afford a stable environment?” is a ridiculous question to ask.
- There is always an excuse to do nothing.