Photos: Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street/CC and Ryan Aldred
Photos: Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street/CC and Ryan Aldred

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1244

Tory home secretary Suella Braverman says: “We’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.”

She spoke to Sky News after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plans for substantial climate policy U-turns were leaked 72 hours early, provoking a barrage of criticism from different wings of the Tory Party and a whole range of capitalist bosses.

The same Tories that have overseen the steepest fall in living standards for a generation, and over a decade of economic stagnation, now expect people to believe that they are interested in ordinary people’s bank balances!

In fact, the Tories are overseeing an unfolding local authority ‘bankruptcy’ crisis, with commissioners sent in to oversee Europe’s biggest local authority, Birmingham City Council.

Sunak has put back the date at which no more new petrol or diesel cars can be brought, from 2030 to 2035. Landlords will no longer be obliged to make their properties more energy efficient – hardly looking after the finances of tenants who have paid record heating bills last winter! And the date by which no new household gas boilers can be installed has also been put back to 2035. “We’ll never force anyone to rip out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump”, Sunak said. But that was never being proposed anyway! Other imaginary policies to be ‘scrapped’ included a meat tax and a Westminster-imposed seven-bin recycling policy.

Tory plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 were already woefully inadequate. Lord Deben, outgoing chair of the government’s own Climate Change Committee, said  before the U-turn that the government plans “will not fulfil the commitments.”

And net zero by 2050 itself is not enough to avoid climate catastrophe. The consequences of extreme weather events are already destroying the lives of millions of working-class and poor people every year.

Electoral meltdown

Facing electoral disaster, with the clock ticking towards the December 2024 deadline to call the next general election, the Tories have been dipping further in the polls. Narrowly holding onto the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency in a June by-election, in which the Tories lost 11,000 votes since 2019, is deemed enough to attempt a populist appeal against climate measures.

In that election, anger at London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s extension of the capital’s punitive Ultra-Low Emission Zone hit Labour’s vote. Khan, chair of Transport for London, is also overseeing 600 job cuts on London Underground, which RMT station staff will strike against on 4 and 6 October.

As on almost every other issue, on net-zero policy, not all Tories agree. In fact the Conservative Environment Network has around 100 MPs as members, the climate sceptical Net-Zero Scrutiny Group only around 20. “The WhatsApp groups are a bloodbath”, one Tory MP said after the leak. Not for the first time and not for the last, as the world’s most successful capitalist party tears itself apart.

Some industry bosses have slammed the announcements, especially in the energy and car manufacturing industries, concerned with the uncertainty it puts on their investments.

The Tories’ biggest donor ahead of the 2019 election, billionaire John Cauldwell, has said he will not be donating again and failed to rule out backing Labour instead.

The section of the capitalist class that has drawn the conclusion that a Keir Starmer-led government would foster a potentially more stable environment to make profit in than the Tories will only have grown. In fact, medium-to-long-term stability will not be the reality with Starmer in office either.

Capitalist climate chaos

Facing an increasingly unstable global economic climate, the capitalist class is split on how to deal with climate change, as it is on any number of issues. Car manufacturer Ford, which has invested £430 million in upgrading its UK plants to produce electric cars, criticised the plans. Other manufacturers such as Toyota and Jaguar Land Rover welcomed the move.

The upheaval of a transition to green industry has competing capitalists clambering to defend their existing profit-making operations and to try to make sure that it is them who get the upper hand in the battle for future market dominance and profits. So too, capitalist nation states compete to look after the dominant interests of their own capitalist classes.

Despite obscene profits for energy bosses – both fossil fuel and renewables – the industry is awash with state subsidies. £80 billion has subsidised UK fossil fuel industries since 2015, and £60 billion renewables.

That includes the energy price cap, brought in to avoid the capitalist class having to face up to working-class anger over even more eye-watering bills, but effectively acting to safeguard huge profits for the likes of BP and Shell. The £500 million of public funding given to private Tata Steel, to convert the furnaces at Port Talbot to ‘electric arc furnaces’ and in doing so destroying hundreds of jobs, is another example.

The capitalists will ruthlessly look after their profit interests, ultimately attempting to make the working class pay for any climate measures introduced.

Starmer’s Labour

Labour, overwhelmingly the most likely party to lead government after the general election, has already postponed its pledge for £28 billion of green investment – citing fiscal constraints, and a desire not to frighten ‘the markets’ like Liz Truss.

The £28 billion could go the same way of other ditched pledges such as scrapping the two-child benefit cap, the pledge to abolish tuition fees, and others.

“I will introduce a new set of fiscal rules. These rules will apply to every decision taken by a Labour government. We will not borrow to fund day-to-day spending and we will reduce national debt as a share of the economy,” Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has promised the capitalists in the Financial Times.

Without that same illusive ‘growth’ Liz Truss was looking for, that means austerity. And growth of any substance is not on the cards. Over half of businesses polled in August and September reported a contraction in activity. A recession is likely.

Wholeheartedly committed to maintaining the capitalist order, and completely unprepared to seriously hit the bosses’ profits, Labour will continue to oversee attacks on workers’ living standards, and therefore at some stage face organised working-class anger. Strikes on the scale we have seen in the last year will be on the agenda under a Labour-led government.

Movements of workers and trade unions will be compelled to find organised political expressions too. The preparations for that can be made ahead of the general election by preparing a workers’ list of trade union-backed candidates which could include Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Emma Dent Coad, alongside other trade unionists and socialists.

Such a stand could campaign for a massive programme of home insulation and heat pump upgrades – at no cost to homeowners and tenants; an expansion of high-quality, reliable, comprehensive public transport made freely available to all; and a massive investment into renewable energy production and use. Those measures could be planned with the democratic oversight of ordinary people, and paid for by just a fraction of the wealth currently hoarded by the super-rich.

The enormous level of investment, global collaboration and planning needed to properly address climate change is not possible on the basis of profit-fuelled capitalism.

Only by taking the commanding heights of the economy, including the energy industry, the car industry and the banks, into democratic public ownership with no compensation to the fat-cat bosses, can society and production be planned for need and not profit.

In public hands, and under the democratic control and management of the working class, investment can be directed to developing green technology and improving working-class people’s living standards. And on that basis, collaboration internationally to meet the needs of people and the planet – the beginnings of a socialist transformation of society internationally.

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