David Cameron’s the front man for this government, doing his PR act flitting from one issue to the next, trying to plug the holes in the dyke whenever they regularly appear. George Osborne is the real power behind the throne, the custodian of the government’s agenda. So when Cameron gets himself photographed cracking the whip on a dog-sleigh in the Arctic, it’s all smoke and mirrors. When Osborne said in the Autumn Statement: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers”, that’s the authentic voice of brown-nosed anti-environmentalism retoxifying the Tory party.
Just as poverty reduction has been abruptly thrown out of the window as soon as the funding tightens and the real mettle of the government is exposed, the same is being meted out to climate change and a greener Britain. It’s not even private affluence and public squalor, rather stuff the planet and don’t think about the consequences.
The Autumn Statement cut the legs from under the solar energy industry. The planning regulations are being relaxed so that the construction industry can buy up land all over the green belt and build houses on it, with no right of appeal for local people. The so-called Green Deal is starting life hamstrung by its inability to borrow on the open market, so there’s no real bank for green projects at all. Fuel poverty now afflicts no less than a quarter of the population. And the big polluters get their reward for all their corporate donations to the Tory party with the tax breaks just handed out by Osborne to the energy-intensive industries.
Oh yes, there is one major concession to the environment – £500 million is being found for a tunnel under the Chilterns for the new high-speed rail link from Heathrow to the north; it’s amazing how half a billion of public money can suddenly be conjured up when there’s a rebellion in the Tory ranks. What if pensioners, public sector workers and the disabled had been living along the route?
And now we learn that nuclear is crowding out renewables. Total investment in UK renewable energy fell last year by 70%, the £200bn needed to create a low-carbon UK energy sector by 2020 is nowhere to be seen, and fossil-fuel gas-fired power stations are being given the go-ahead everywhere. The addiction to fossil fuels, so far from being broken, is actually tightening, even though over-dependence on gas exposes Britain to big energy bill rises from high and unpredictable world market prices.