Labour leader Keir Starmer will be dumping on voters if he kills his £28bn green policy, says Fleet Street Fox. There are 24m of us who’ll never forget it
There is almost nothing Keir Starmer could do to lose the next General Election. He’s 40 points ahead in the polls. He’s facing a Prime Minister who has more in common with the Microsoft Paperclip than any carbon-based life-form. And a Chancellor who looks and thinks like a duck.
All Keir has to do for the next 6 to 9 months is to ask Rishi Sunak in Parliament: “It looks like you’re trying to run a country. Would you like some help with that?” Every Windows user in Britain would march to the polls to reboot the government.
But we’ve been here before. I’ve written this before. In the run-up to the 2015 election, Labour were more than 10 points ahead and Ed Miliband had a Tory austerity-built goal that was not so much open as horizontal, and he still fluffed it, with a chaotic bacon sandwich and pledges carved in a stone best forgotten.
Now Keir is committing his own act of self-harm, with news that he’s dumping a pledge to spend £28bn on green policies which was his first, best, and so far only memorable plan for government.
That promise to invest in making Britain greener was not a small side-issue, nor a half-baked idea that hadn’t had much work done on it. It was stress-tested, sold, speechified, repeated, and if you ask the average bloke on the street what the difference is between Tory and Labour on environmental issues, the least-engaged answer you’d get is “Labour are going to do something, Tories are going to do nothing”.
News broke last night, ahead of a planned Labour announcement later this afternoon, so he may yet insist it’s not quite as billed. He’s probably going to say there’s still a plan but the amount to be spent is unknown, which will just make the flip-flop all that voters will remember.
Even the Human Paperclip called it Labour’s “signature economic green spending policy”. Dumping it, or even looking or sounding like you might, shows the same level of self-awareness as the wolf building his own house out of straw. No wonder that former Blair adviser John McTernan last night called it “the most stupid decision the Labour Party’s made”.
When Keir first promised to spend £28bn on a national green energy firm, jobs, investment and a sovereign wealth fund to profit from becoming a world-leader in the technology of the 21st century, it was the first time he inspired voters with a plan for meaningful change. To a nation that – thanks to climate change – is either flooded, aflame, furious, or on strike, it was a light at the end of the tunnel. And now it looks like a bulb of such low wattage you don’t even know if it’s on.
There are 5.3m Britons aged 18 to 24. Polls show 57% of those registered to vote intend to back Labour. That’s exceeded by the 22.6m people aged 25 to 49, of whom 60% reckon they’ll vote red. Just under half of the 10m people over 50 and under 65, and 22% of the country’s 11m pensioners, say they’ll back Keir at the ballot box. That’s about 24m potential Labour voters. Depending on age group, between half and a quarter of them rate the environment as the most important issue, ahead of tax, immigration, or crime.
The Tory environmental policy is to let the world burn, and hope Net Zero takes care of itself. The fact Labour now has next to no green plan at all is simply astonishing, even more so when it seems to have happened as a result of a spending row over a scheme that would create thousands of jobs, generate millions in tax, and actually do more to guarantee a second term in power than anything else.
Whatever other plans Labour may have for its first years in office will take decades to come to fruition. You can’t fix the NHS, the housing market, or structural issues in the economy, overnight. But you CAN pay someone to install better roof insulation, and you CAN bring down energy bills next winter, and you CAN incentivise green technologies. More importantly, you can see the results of that in the short-term, so that by the next election in 2029 voters could say “well, the NHS is still a bit rubbish, but my house is definitely warmer”.
To throw the second election away before you’ve won the first is something Ed Miliband could not have managed, even if he’d tried eating a doner kebab on a hamster wheel.
Maybe there are 40 other more brilliant policies on the way. Maybe he’s going to come out this afternoon and say “we’re don’t want to spend £28bn on that, we want to spend £50 BILLION!” But the simple fact is that the environment is a more totemic issue than it has ever been, more urgent, and to lose your headline green policy – the one that says you only borrow if there’s a profit, that you’re committed to helping the little guys, and you mean what you say and say what you mean – over some kind of accounting row is electorally insane.
It won’t lose Keir the next election, because only perverts like the Paperclip and a 40-point lead will never drop to zero. But by taking away the easiest, quickest solutions a new government could deliver, it puts a second term, the one in which you’d actually hope to see everything else come to fruition, in real peril. It may well be a different party that could then take credit for whatever worked, and Keir’s legacy will be claimed by someone else.
When they get their hands on the cash box, Labour will be firmer about what they can spend. Perhaps all that’s happening right now is a bit of fiscal caution, and when they take power he’ll have enough political support to push through the big ideas that make Rachel Reeves suck her teeth like a bank manager reading a loan application from a single mum.
But the only way he gets to be a powerful leader, with a party that does as it’s told, is if he somehow convinces 24m voters to forget climate change, home insurance, energy bills, winter deaths, and a lack of well-paid, skilled jobs in a booming industry. Because that was the solution he offered them, yesterday, and the reason they were prepared to hand him that much power. Now he either has to come up with something better, or pick up his ball and go home.