Just now, politicians think there are lots of votes in green panic. They will learn too late that they are exaggerating.
You have already been told that Jeremy Corbyn’s new Labour general election manifesto closely resembles Michael Foot’s manifesto of 1983, when Labour crashed to its biggest-ever postwar defeat.
You have been told right. Mr Corbyn, one must remember, is rather old. He came into Parliament in that election and has dreamed ever since of revenge on Margaret Thatcher. Labour is using the phrase “irreversible shift” in this campaign. It deliberately echoes Mr Corbyn’s hero, Tony Benn, who spoke of an “irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families”. By “working people and their families”, Benn/Corbyn meant/mean “the state”.
There are two important differences between 1983 and now, however. The first concerns climate change, a subject not mentioned then. Shakespeare’s Macbeth speaks of “making the green one red”. Mr Corbyn is trying to make the red one green. His project for state control of the economy in 2019 appears under the title of “A Green Industrial Revolution”. This makes it more enticing to young voters than all that old-fashioned stuff about the commanding heights of industry.
The other important difference is that, in 1983, the Conservatives offered a clear, confident approach which overwhelmed the Labour one. This time, on all green subjects, they do not. They have accepted the alarmist premises of the other side.
On May 1 this year, Parliament voted, without a division, to declare a “climate emergency”, on a motion tabled by Mr Corbyn. The then environment secretary, Michael Gove, agreed that there was a climate emergency, but said he did not like the idea of declaring one. The Tory Government put up no fight.
An emergency has legal meaning. The Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 defines it as “a situation or series of events that threatens or causes serious damage to human welfare, the environment or security in the United Kingdom”, and the Cabinet Office applies this to “no-notice or short-notice emergencies requiring UK central government engagement”. With an emergency Act go emergency powers by which the Government can remove normal freedoms.
This, in effect, is what Mr Corbyn proposes to do. Yet the Tories, though they repudiate him, go into this election signed up to the idea that the end of the world is nigh. When they make arrangements to prevent this (“zero carbon”) by 2050, they look weak beside the zealots who want to move even faster. It should be 2030, shouts Labour (with a get-out clause slipped in to please its carbon-emitting trade union backers). The Tories won’t kill new petrol cars till 2040, whereas Labour will do it by 2030. And so on.
Early in this election campaign, I emerged from Sloane Square Tube station to be presented with a Conservative Party leaflet proudly announcing that “Kensington & Chelsea Council has declared a Climate Emergency”. I gave the same hollow laugh as in the Eighties when Mr Corbyn’s own borough of Islington declared itself a nuclear-free zone. The politics of posturing has triumphed.
The Labour manifesto contains a long list of stupefyingly expensive and intrusive green actions – a windfall tax on oil firms (where is the “windfall” when their chief source of income is under unprecedented attack?), a £250 billion green transformation fund, a delisting of all naughty CO2‑producing companies from the London Stock Exchange, a carbon-neutralising of “almost all of the UK’s 27 million homes”, the nationalisation of all energy “supply arms”, 3 per cent of GDP to be spent on green research and development by 2030, “one million well-paid, unionised green jobs”, and attacks on taxis and private hire.
Just as the Leave campaign put £350 million a week for the NHS on the side of a bus, the Labour manifesto writes “100 per cent electric” on the picture of the back of a bus which heads its transport section. It even promises “enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches”. I propose to spin this as a green attempt to suppress our national game.
All of the above spell doom to prosperity, choice and affordable, reliable energy supply. But the thing to focus on is the ideology underneath. Here are the key sentences that disclose the Labour manifesto’s underlying beliefs: “2019 saw the blossoming of a global movement calling on politicians to wake up and act on the climate and environmental emergency. Labour welcomed that movement and, as a government in waiting, we have turned its demands into detailed, credible plans for real change.”
The global movement is not named. It is Extinction Rebellion (XR). Its doctrines and origins are detailed in a pamphlet published earlier this year by Policy Exchange, Extremism Rebellion. XR is the classic child (“child” is the right word: think how the movement exploits Greta Thunberg) of protest as a way of life. Not only is it anti-Western and anti-capitalist, XR is also a sort of death cult. It protests at extinction, yet is in love with death for the cause.
Listen to online talks by one of its two founders, Dr Gail Bradbrook. Punctuated by pauses – “Let’s just breathe, while we can” – Dr Bradbrook teaches that “hope is the creature of privilege”. Good people should “grieve” instead. She calls for a few hundred “upstanders” who will sacrifice themselves, thus moving millions to act, because “so much in humanity is about emotion” rather than arguments. “It feels really different when you break the law, especially when you get away with it.” Thus will the righteous few take power and save the planet through “world government to introduce world mobilisation”.