A botched anti-consumer Net Zero agenda will infuriate the very voters that propelled Johnson to No 10 and create space for a Brexit-style party focusing on a new set of issues.
Like Saturn, revolutions have a habit of devouring their children. Boris Johnson should beware: the biggest danger to his historic project to rebuild Britain in his image comes not from the useless Left, but from another potential populist insurrection from the culturally conservative Right.
So far, of course, he is safe: the Government is supernaturally popular, Nigel Farage has retired, the public believes that immigration is under control and anti-lockdown activists have made little impact. The PM has plenty of opposition from the Left – from Labour, cultural institutions, the blob – but little from the Right.
Yet some early hints of the sort of Brexit-style revolt he could eventually face can be spotted in the most unlikely of places: in London and other cities, large numbers of residents are up in arms against so-called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Invented by No 10 and backed by Sadiq Khan and other hopeless technocrats, these idiotic schemes have shut certain streets to cars without consultation in the name of reducing emissions, with the predictable consequence of ruining residents’ lives and horribly increasing traffic (and pollution) on other roads.
The fury is off the scale: one suburban Labour council, Harrow, has become the first to ditch these plans in their entirety, as well as its shockingly under-used cycle lanes, after it discovered that they were opposed by up to 91 per cent of residents. More councils will follow suit: passions are running even higher than Brexit.
For some reason, No 10 is tone deaf on this issue. It shouldn’t be. If Johnson mismanages his broader plans to decarbonise Britain, and sacrifices aspiration, consumerism, choice and mobility on the altar of greenery, the suburban, car-driving, jet-setting, home-owning, meat-eating coalition he spent so many years painstakingly assembling will quickly and pitilessly turn against him.
A few years ago, Johnson, with the help of Dominic Cummings, did something remarkable. He bothered to listen to the suburbs, to the lower middle and working class voters who voted for Churchill, for Macmillan and Thatcher. He visited new build estates in the North, with their open plan kitchens, trampolines in the garden and Nissan Qashqai mini-SUVs on the driveway. He fashioned an agenda that reflects their aspirations, their fears, their love of nation, their instincts, their interests. When it comes to vetoing the football Super League, cracking down on crime, spending more on the NHS, focusing on Northern cities and of course pulling out of the EU, Johnson is their man, their defender, their Prime Minister.
There is one glaring exception to all of this, and that is Johnson’s greenery: he wants to slash carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. They had fallen 44 per cent by 2019, driven by a two-thirds reduction in the power sector and the decline of manufacturing, in a shift all but invisible to the public. In the next phase, however, consumers’ lives will have to change drastically. There is no political upside here for the Tories and a massive potential downside.
The Conservative base wants a cleaner environment – who doesn’t? – and is moderately worried about climate change but those issues are low down their list of priorities. They certainly don’t want their lifestyles to suffer for it. It is equally true that a green agenda, however extreme, will not convert metropolitan Remainers or woke agitators to the Tory cause. But a botched anti-consumer green agenda will infuriate the very voters that propelled Johnson to No 10, and, paradoxically, create space for a late 2020s Ukip or Brexit-style Party focusing on a new set of issues.
The hair-shirt, hard-Left, anti-materialistic, anti-progress version of environmentalism would be toxic to the Johnson coalition. The real Tory version should be to electrify cars, not ban them; to greenify fuel, not restrict flights; to decarbonise central heating, not to force the public to freeze. But it is a gamble as to whether these technologies will be ready in time, and at what cost.
Which Boris will triumph? Will it be the techno-optimist who understands all of this, the pro-aviation but anti-Heathrow mayor who backed a gigantic new island airport, the supporter of electric cars and of having your cake and eating it? Or will it be the LTN Boris? Will he allow his Government to turn into a controlling, authoritarian nightmare intent on restricting how much people can travel and what they can eat? Will he trash the economy and Global Britain? [….]
Who will pay for insulating 30 million homes? Who will stump up for converting gas boilers to electric heating or to heat pumps? Consumers won’t tolerate a green poll tax of £20,000 per home. If the Red Wall is Johnson’s River Styx, and Brexit his ambrosia, green utopianism is our Prime Minister’s Achilles’ Heel.