I have just been out in my car and worry this may have made me a bit right-wing. In my defence it’s raining.
I didn’t cycle as my wife complains about having a croggy in the wet. Or she would if I ever dared suggest such a mode of transport. And anyway, the usual helicopter wasn’t available. I did think about hiring a private jet, but the daughter’s house is only two miles away.
Thanks to that narrow Tory by-election win in Uxbridge, said to have been swung by the extension of London’s the ultra-low emission zone, prime minister Rishi Sunak has decided there are votes in exhaust fumes.
“I am on the motorists’ side,” he told the Telegraph.
That’s doubtful coming from air-miles Sunak, who got all prissy-snippy the other day after a Scottish radio host asked why he’d flown to Scotland in a private jet.
Of course, the usual suspect newspapers are launching pro-car campaigns. And you can’t open some newspapers without tripping over a columnist moaning about how their electric cars are useless. It’s almost as if they’ve been told to say that by their fossil-fuelled dinosaur owners.
Plug me in, please. I’d go for an electric car now if I had their money.
Chasing after the motorists’ vote is just the latest desperate ploy after 13 years of nothing getting better. Things could only get worse and all that.
Yet motorists come in all shapes and inclinations. They also come on bicycles if it’s not raining. Lumping us all together as if we’re going to nod along and go, “Oh, yes, Rishi – I drive a car and you are so speaking for me” is as lame as a flat tyre.
Motorists also step out of their cars and walk sometimes. Motorists live by busy roads (this one does).
Motorists have children or grandchildren and worry about clean air. Motorists may themselves suffer from breathing problems. Especially if they are spluttering after hearing another right-wing lecture from the prime minister no one voted for.
What Sunak seems to be saying about cars is, foot to the floor, burn as much petrol as you like, sod the green agenda. It’s only trees and fresh air; no money in that.
Of course, he’ll swear such criticisms of him aren’t fair, but then he does sit on blatant contradictions much as a puppy might on a wee-stained cushion.
On a phone-in for LBC, Sunak was just arguing the toss with a junior doctor, spinning out the soft-soap thanks “for all your hard work”, then responding to her criticisms of the state of the NHS with the usual supreme condescension: “You and I are going to disagree on this.”
True, it’s tricky. Who you gonna believe – a multi-millionaire prime minister who uses private medicine and flies everywhere, or a doctor walking the wards?
If the Tories, and possibly Labour too, see political mileage in rowing back on their commitment to net zero, then we really are in a shameful place. We can’t just keep putting off sensible green measures to placate the oil lobby (big donors, surprise-surprise, to the Conservative Party).
What’s so bad about clean air? Sir Keir Starmer should proclaim that he supports climate action, that he supports a safer, cleaner future for our children.
But I wouldn’t bet your pocket money on it. Nervously trudging after the Tories seems to be his way, more’s the pity.
As for slippery Sunak, he says we should be drilling for more oil and gas to make it “more affordable” for British customers. As Ciaran Jenkins pointed out in an excellent analysis for Channel 4 News, we export 80% of our oil and only 4% of our gas comes from Russia. And as the price is set internationally, producing more gas will not make it cheaper.
But the green story should also be a positive one. Costs of solar and wind energy are falling and are now cheaper than fossil fuels. Who but a fossil fool wouldn’t want to take advantage of green technology?
OF COURSE, Rishi Sunak is disconnected from normality by his wealth, a point well made by David Olusoga.
Writing in the Observer last weekend, the historian detailed how the leisure centre in Gateshead he grew up using is threatened with closure. He made the comparison with Winchester college, where the prime minister was head boy, which has been building itself a spanking new sports centre.
“The place will include a swimming pool, squash courts and a rifle range,” Olusoga writes.
“It is beyond what even many local authorities at the top of the deprivation indices could afford. Other private schools have comparable facilities and 65% of the current cabinet attended such schools, more than nine times the number among the general population.”