Desperate Tory government drives environmental destruction

North Sea oil rig. Photo: Gary Bembridge/CC

Facing a potential electoral landslide against them, the Tories are desperate. Hundreds of Tory MPs threatened with losing their jobs are desperately clawing to find a ledge to cling onto. Narrowly holding onto Boris Johnson’s old constituency, Uxbridge and South Ruslip, in the July by-election, where they achieved 11,386 fewer votes than in 2019, is deemed good enough for a populist bent towards anti-climate measures.

But, like other desperately attempted ‘populist’ stances – against trans rights, building migrant barges, and others, it won’t salvage the political careers of hundreds of Tory MPs. In fact, it will drive further splits in the party which splinters and fractures – at times under the surface, at others in front of our eyes.

Tory MP Chris Skidmore, described plans for over one hundred new North Sea oil and gas licenses, announced at the end of July, as “the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time”. However, more revealing was his comment that it would put the party “on the wrong side of modern voters”. The party is much less concerned about how best to protect the environment than on how on earth it can survive being so deeply unpopular.

When the government-created Climate Change Committee released a report in June about net-zero plans, it said: “Our confidence in the UK meeting its medium-term targets has decreased in the past year”. Since then, we have lived through the hottest July month ever recorded.

“Eco-zealots at Just Stop Oil are writing Keir Starmer’s energy policy”, so says Rishi Sunak. In fact, Labour politicians have refused to commit to revoking the new licenses. And the party under Starmer’s leadership has dropped its planned start date for green investments worth £28 billion a year, yet another policy sacrificed at the altar of ‘fiscal responsibility’.

Starmer and Co. viewed  London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (Ulez) as a major reason why Labour could not mobilize enough voters to beat the Tories in Uxbridge. From 29 August, 5 million more people will need to pay £12.50 a day to use their car in their own London neighbourhood if it is deemed too polluting – poorer drivers with older vehicles are more likely to be effected and less able to buy new vehicles.

Under pressure, Khan has expanded the car scrappage fund from £110 million to £160 million, and to beyond just those receiving means-tested benefits. But the new amount is only enough to help around 40,000 drivers, a long way short of the estimated 300,000 owners of non-compliant cars in outer London.

The extra £50 million was found in Greater London Authority reserves. Why not fund what’s needed to replace and upgrade all polluting vehicles, scrap the planned fees, and give the government the bill? After all, BP, just one of the big oil and gas companies, reported £2 billion profits in the three months to the end of June. Even just a fraction of oil and gas profits could pay for it.

91% of the world’s population live in places where air quality is unhealthy, that includes London. Ulez expansion is supposed to address the issue. But what of the Edmonton Incinerator expansion, where construction has recently begun after being given the green light by an authority made up of entirely Labour councillors in London?

And why is Transport for London, headed by Khan, proceeding to run down the tube network by threatening workers’ jobs and pensions, and implementing a 4% cut to bus services – instead of investing in extending public transport networks to meet need?

Significant, planned, and coordinated investment is needed to prevent an even more severe climate and environmental crisis. But that’s not how capitalism operates. Instead, capitalists compete with each other to maximize profits. Capitalist nation-states, representing the dominant interests of their own capitalist classes, compete too.

Far from more global collaboration to address climate change, the world is heading in the opposite direction. The Ukraine war is the sharpest expression of this. In fact, ‘energy security’ was Sunak’s justification for more oil and gas licenses.

A rational system, motivated by providing a safe and fulfilling life for ordinary people, would prioritise the health of people and the planet. Instead, profit and the private ownership of wealth and industry lead to poverty, war, and climate destruction.

BP invested eleven times more into oil and gas than low-carbon energy in the last quarter. The company, previously majority state-owned until Thatcher’s privatisation in the 1980s, should be fully nationalised – this time under the democratic control and management of the working class. The same is true for the other oil and gas giants, as well as other major industries and the banks. On the basis of democratic public ownership, production and investment can be planned to meet need and not profit.

As it stands, no mass political force is set to contest the next general election putting forward these demands. The Socialist Party fights for a new mass workers’ party with a socialist programme. Such a party, if launched by even just a few of the fighting trade unions, would attract hundreds of thousands of working-class people wanting an end to the cost-of-living crisis. It would also be a forum in which working-class people could discuss and agree on policies to address environmental and climate destruction.

This year’s RMT transport union conference voted unanimously to support Jeremy Corbyn’s standing in Islington North at the general election. Why not Emma Dent Coad too, another anti-austerity former Labour MP, who has announced her candidacy in Kensington, London? Or Jamie Driscoll, who has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds in a matter of weeks to stand in the North East Mayoral contest after being blocked from standing for Labour? A workers’ list of candidates, backed by the trade unions, contesting the next general election, would be a huge step forward.

If such a stand doesn’t get off the ground in time, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, in which the Socialist Party participates with others, will stand. It has put the call out to prepare for the roughly 100 candidates required to get ‘fair media coverage’ during the election campaign – seeking to bring together all those who see the need for a fighting, working-class alternative to pro-capitalist Tories and Labour.

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August 2023