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27 September 2019

UK Labour promises zero Carbon intervention, but must win first

For those who do not live in the UK, its politics must be “impenetrable” and the promise by its Labour party, currently not in power, to spent £83 billion on 37 offshore wind farms – wind farms that will be government owned and profitable – with the profits spent to regenerate deprived coastal areas – all sounds highly commendable. But it is unlikely to be enough to turn the heads of the UK voting population, as the party is about as unpopular as it could possible be due to Brexit.

To some extent these pledges are even ahead of the renewable avowed Green party. Perhaps this is because the Green party is not really gearing up for an election, so it is dealing with generalities right now.

These new ideas are coming out of the Labour party’s conference in Brighton and added to that £83 billion, there is another £3 billion for pushing Electric Vehicles. But this particular push is not one a US citizen could recognize – a government led effort which involves taking stakes in car companies and potentially controlling them – more in keeping with the Russian way of doing things, than UK based socialism. Presumably Labour thinks that £3 billion is enough to build charge points throughout the UK, and so it would control EVs forever. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seems to have borrowed all his rhetoric from the 1960s, when the UK left was in love with the Russian Communist experiment.

We have written in Rethink energy enough times that governments can affect renewable energy in two ways, potentially three – first by policy changes, which cost nothing, then by stimulus spending, which drags more investment with it, and then finally by negotiations in trade deals to motivate other countries to follow suit.

The biggest issue facing the UK is heating, and a government intervention to set up a business which sells electrical heating alongside some rooftop DER underwriting, and a home battery, might be the type of thing needed here. Certainly a watertight promise to bring in an immediate ban on building any more houses with natural gas boilers in them would go a long way to help.

But the Brexit issue is the “blocking” issue that will win the next election. The current government is a minority government and cannot push through its bullish thinking of just bullying the EU to cut it a deal, or we leave without one. The opposition led by the Labour party has stymied every attempt to close out Brexit and has made it clear it will have an election, either when the current government’s term is up, or when it is sure the UK cannot crash out of Europe without a deal.

A conservative might say that this has tied one arm behind the government’s back as it tries to negotiate with the EU, and a Labour party remainer would say that this is essential.

So it depends upon the conditions at the time of the next election. If the Boris Johnson government gets its way and falls out of Europe on October 31st, then the election will be about things like climate change, and workers rights. But if it is successfully forced to delay Brexit until January or beyond, the election will be about those who want to obey the vote of the people in the 2016 referendum and those who think they know better than the voters, who demand we stay in Europe or at least consider it, on the understanding that people may have changed their minds.

In the latter case, Labour is likely to be destroyed at the polls, coming in a miserable 5th (after conservatives, liberal democrats, the Brexit party, and the Scottish nationalist Party) and this climate change proposal will remain nothing more than a campaign pledge.

One recent poll suggests that Conservative has 37% of the vote, Labour some 22%, Lib Dems 17%, the Brexit Party 12% and Green 4%.

But if this is after a crash out of Europe, it is anyone’s guess who might win a UK election, probably a 4-way coalition government with no power to do anything.

From our point of view, it would be best if Labour chose a new leader who did not want to nationalize the new EV industry or the power generating business, and then Labour won, because this is exciting stuff. But as it sits currently this seems doomed to be just another vague series of voter pledges that gets torn up and forgotten.

A more worrying outcome would be Boris Johnson winning the election in a landslide over the Brexit issue, and then his climate adviser (who seems to be none other than Jeremy Corbyn’s brother) who is a known climate change denier. He may do right by the country on Brexit and then ruin our economy slowing down climate change mitigation.

As we approach any vote in the UK these issues will be clear and climate debate may indeed be a significant issue, as it could become in the US elections next year.4