Gus Woody argues that the Tories’ latest environmental U-turns are part of a cynical power grab that all socialists should resist.
Yesterday, Rishi Sunak announced that he was watering down many of the already meagre measures the Government was taking to the breakdown of the environment.
These included delaying the phase out of the sale of fossil fuel using cars by another five years, to 2035, reducing the 2035 target of phasing out all gas boilers to just 80% of them, and removing the requirements for homeowners and landlords to meet energy efficiency targets. He also indicated that he had scrapped plans for taxation on flying and policies identifying the emissions impacts of meat.
In 2022, the government itself indicated that between 28,000 to 36,000 people died prematurely due to poor air quality. Britain has the worst insulated housing stock in Europe, resulting in winter deaths, health impacts from mould and cold, and the shortening of lives. This is before we get into the widespread ways in which Britain is a key funder, insurer, and legal advisor for polluting projects globally – and deeply complicit in the widespread death that is ongoing from planet breakdown.
Why is Sunak doing this? What is the logic behind watering down Britain’s environmental commitments? His speech spoke of a ‘more pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic approach that eases the burdens on families.’ This is really a shameless attempt to cling to power, sacrificing environmental stability to keep control of the British state.
Sunak plans to make environmental commitments one of the centrepieces of the coming election. The Conservatives retained the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency against Labour in July 2023, despite the widespread unpopularity of the Tories. This has been partially attributed to the base of support built around ‘small business people’ and others through opposition to the expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in London.
Sunak wants to argue that the rising cost of living isn’t due to the profiteering of the capitalist class, but is instead due to Britain’s ‘over-delivery’ on environmental measures. The fact that such an ‘over-delivery’ is a lie, and that this means the Tories are wholesale allying themselves with a conspiracist Right talking about ‘forever lockdowns’, presents no problem to Sunak.
The message is simple – ‘cut the green crap.’ This, along with their attacks on trans people and their doubling down on xenophobia, is the Tories’ attempt to re-cohere something of an electoral base, whilst splitting Labour. The Labour Party, already vacillating on its opposition to new oil and gas, may bend to the criticisms of Sunak, as it has done on much already. Yet the rollbacks have prompted protests even from Tory MPs and the car industry, and early polling indicates a mixed reception from Tory supporters.
In Britain, humanity is free. Free to freeze in uninsulated rented accommodation. Free to continue to pay gas companies for heating. Free to sit in congested roads and to breathe polluted air. Free to experience the flooding, food insecurity, heatwaves, and storms that are now endemic as climate breakdown rolls ever forward. This is the vision of the future that Rishi Sunak has championed.
What do we counterpose to it as socialists? Sunak wants to present all environmental activity as necessarily an affront to individual liberty and costly to people across Britain. This is a false dichotomy. The costs and limits to human life that come from the breakdown of our planet are indescribable. We need all critical infrastructure – transport, water, energy – immediately taken over and put into the hands of the working class. We need the mobilisation of people for a mass biodiversity plan, developing domestic food production and the rewilding of much of our currently monopolised land. We need to shut down the production of luxury products for the rich, seize the assets of the ruling class, and put them into collective forms of social organisation – screw the Maseratis, give us free mass trains.
The working class have already lost their freedom to swim in our rivers and beaches, whilst the water companies are free to profit from sewage dumping. The working class are already paying rising costs for basic foodstuffs, as megafood corporations make record payouts. The working class shiver in cold homes, breathe in toxic air, sit in traffic jams, get rinsed for train tickets, all whilst Sunak and his class reap in the benefits.
Not only does Sunak want to destroy our planet, he wants to make you a mug while he does it – smiling and telling you condescendingly it’s for your benefit. Tell him and his ruling class pals to do one – don’t mug yourself.