As Grace Blakeley writes over at the Tribune: “On the same day that climate scientists announced the world had breached the warming limit of 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, Starmer effectively announced that he had given up the fight against climate breakdown.”
The surrender is not at all surprising, indeed its been trailed for weeks, a media tactic of foreshadowing your decision by leaking it and have it discussed over weeks, so that when you finally announce it much of the energy from the thing has dissipated.
Rachel Reeves declared that she would be ‘the first Green Chancellor’ when she announced their flagship policy, which had been developed after careful study and interaction with the Biden team.
Almost daily we see Labour abandon previous pledges, commitments and ideals. Politicos say this is clever, tactical and reassuring, the rest of us wonder out loud what the point of such a denuded and hollowed-out Labour government will be. A few weeks back Starmer abandoned the ten pledges he made when he was elected. These have now been removed from his website:
But today’s abandonment is different. This is the abandonment of the cornerstone of their economic policy, their core belief, carefully honed and developed and heralded as such. It fused the ‘white heat of technology’ with an attempt to improve the crisis of fuel poverty by investing in jobs and insulation and improving homes. This has been a green standard policy for thirty years and is, as they say, a no-brainer.
With the real possibility of a Trump victory we will see a frenzy of oil and gas promotion, a slashing of any environmental legislation and a complete assault on all of Biden’s climate efforts, inadequate as they are.
He would scrap government considerations of the damage caused by carbon emissions; compel a diminished Environmental Protection Agency to rule out pollution rules for cars, and trucks and power plants; and would undoubtedly nullify the Paris climate agreement by withdrawing the US again. He would also open up the Arctic to drilling for oil. The projections for the cumulative effects of emissions on a second Trump presidency are horrific.
It’s in this context that Labour’s abandonment of its plans land. That and the darkly ironic timing. Yesterday for the very first time, the EU’s climate change service confirmed that global warming has exceeded 1.5C above preindustrial levels for an entire year. This is the threshold that climate scientists have been warning us of for years.
Further, as Simon Evans from Carbon Brief shows, there is some context for their figures:
Context for today’s £28bn kerfuffle:
The UK spent a staggering £265bn on energy in 2022 – the most recent data available – including more than £100bn on imported oil and gas alone
Insulating homes + expanding domestic green energy supplies wld bring those numbers down… pic.twitter.com/Dx8gBtTGeX
— Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) February 8, 2024
But I think there is something deeper being abandoned here than their industrial strategy and their climate goals. They are abandoning a commitment to invest. As others have repeated this gets into a cyclical self-fulfilling dynamic. As James Meadway put it: “The Treasury Doom Loop in action: we can’t invest any money, because the economy is in such a bad state. Why is the economy in such a bad state? Because we didn’t invest any money. Why didn’t we invest any money? Because the economy was in such a bad state…”
Later we see Reeves quoted in the Financial Times explaining that ‘its not government that creates jobs.’ So what we are seeing here is not just disastrous for the environment or for the possibility of a Green New Deal it is the abandonment of a promise to invest.
This is a race to the death and its one we’re losing. For a long time Starmer has been framed as an Heir to Blair, a pragmatic response to the ideology of Corbynism, an electorally palatable man. This outline needs junked now. The void at the party’s core has been filled with conformism and careerism.
The abandonment of the commitment means the end of the fantasy about a ‘Green New Deal’ coming round the corner, the centrepiece of the left-green movements hopes for the last ten years. But it also dispels another myth, another inconvenient truth, that you can have economic growth at the heart of a green strategy.
It is also disastrous for Scotland – we had been promised tens of thousands of jobs as part of this programme to create a viable renewables industry. At the moment despite shipyards lying empty on the east coast, renewables parts are built on the other side of the world and then brought over to offshore wind farms just miles off the Scottish coast.
What distinguished Blair’s government, and could have distinguished Starmer’s was the promise of constitutional change. Even if their economic policy was barely distinguishable from the Tories in actuality, the promise of structural change – the mythical reform of the House of Lords – some form of federalism (blah blah blah) – enhanced devolution – gave Labour some credence as alternative. That’s all gone. Expect Mayors, or something.