Yesterday I pointed out that none of the contestants in the recent UK local government elections seem to have benefited from the hype surrounding the supposed dangers of anthropogenic climate change: here. There is also agreement among political commentators of all persuasions that there has been a convulsive change in the UK’s political landscape and that this has nothing to do with the government suffering from mid-term unpopularity; the expectations of the electorate have shifted fundamentally.

During a decade when politics in the UK has been conducted at a level of superficiality that, until now, has cultivated public indifferent to the electoral process, there are one or two MPs who stand out from the mass of lobby-fodder for their willingness to speak their mind in spite of the consequences. Such a person is Bob Marshall-Andrews, a somewhat haggard and care-warn barrister turned Labour MP for Medway. In recent years he has become the conscience of the Labour Party, never failing to ask awkward questions when his party’s policies are at odds with its stated principles. Of course many of his colleagues would like to portray his outbursts as disloyalty, but others with clearer consciences perhaps may secretly admire his integrity.

So at the weekend there was no surprise in finding Marshall-Andrews laying into his party leadership in our most right-wing Sunday newspaper under the headline, ‘Captain Brown is steering his ship onto the rocks’. At the end of his article, after lambasting those among his colleagues who would like to write off the recent electoral disaster as a short-term blip, he thoughtfully suggested a list of six measures that would help steer the ship clear of all danger. One of them was this:


Announce that there will be no third runway at Heathrow or anywhere else, and [impose] levies on oil companies and aviation to enhance renewables research.

Now no one in their right mind relishes the idea of increased noise pollution that an expanded London Airport would cause over the most densely populated part of the country, and those who believe that CO2 released from aircraft is affecting the climate would certainly welcome such decisiveness. But allowing an aviation bottleneck to become worse is not very smart either. Efficient communications is an essential part of any healthy economy.

Nor would many people object to research being directed at developing energy sources that will eventually reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Cheap, reliable and plentiful sources of energy are also essential to economic growth. But why should the aviation and oil companies be forced to fund research into alternatives energy that will be directed and administered by central government? The age of cheap and secure oil supplies seems to be drawing to a close and market forces will lead them to explore these new technologies in any case.

What Marshall-Andrews is suggesting sounds very much like punitive taxation, but what is their crime?

These industries are responsible for carbon emissions because they provide goods and services that we all consume and see as being essential for our well-being, not because their managements are bogeymen driven by a desire to destroy the planet. Without oil and aviation, economies worldwide would crumble and our living standards with them. The poor, as ever would be the first to suffer.

Recent troubles in the financial markets are a sign of hard times ahead, and governments are going to have to look far more closely at the economic consequences of their actions in coming years. If these putative offenders against environmental rectitude are to be penalised by ‘levies’, the increased costs will, in any case, be passed on to the consumer.

Fear of climate change may have been a useful political device when the going was good, but from now on everyone will be looking at the bottom line far more carefully than they did during a decade of global economic growth and stability. The days when governments could confidently disburse funds to subsidise any politically convenient initiative are over. Politicians will have to be certain that they can justify expenditure if they are to retain the support of an impoverished electorate who are expected to pay the bills.

The so-called ‘battle against climate change’ will be expensive, and taxpayers expect value for money. A far higher standard of evidence that anthropogenic global warming is taking place will be required than is presently available. Perhaps what little evidence there is will at last be considered objectively, rather than through the filter of environmental activism, commercial interest and political expediency.

Bob Marshall-Andrews seems oblivious to the fact that that the advice he is offering to ‘Captain Brown’ is that he should set a course that will inevitably cause his ship to founder. The days when self-indulgent idealists in affluent countries could exploit fashionable concerns about a dimly perceived threat are over. We face a period of economic turbulence that may be more or less severe, but there are few reasons for thinking that it will be short lived. Our leaders will be facing a far more hard-headed electorate who demand realism, not vague but well meaning promises to save the planet.

The old certainties that New Labour have thrived on during a decade of worldwide economic growth and prosperity have lost their political magic. Already the sanctimonious, controlling, and authoritarian approach that Bob Marshall-Andrews is advocating seems to belong to another age.

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