The poetry of a better world is beyond Rishi being Rishi

by Jonathan Todd

Let Rishi be Rishi, say his advisers. Let him try to set up a dividing line with him and hard-working families on one side and Labour on another. Let him talk gibberish about seven bins and attempt to associate Labour with this. Let him make a solemn speech to the nation from Downing Street, supposedly about tough choices for a shared future, when only a changed government, making different choices, will save our future.

The veneer of competence, which Sunak brought to his office when succeeding Liz Truss, was wearing very thin by the speech’s end. This is the latest phase of his benighted reign. There was the relative calm after the chaos of Truss and Boris Johnson. There were the five priorities for 2023 – which, for Sunak’s misfiring administration, are much more stretching than they initially seemed.

Having not stopped the boots, the role of ULEZ in the Uxbridge byelection appeared as a rubber ring. Many Uxbridge voters who will be unaffected by ULEZ voted Tory in misplaced protest. The latest phase of the Sunak is even more firmly rooted in desperate dishonesty than earlier ones.

The 2030 target for electric cars was achievable – because of investment unlocked by clear and consistent regulation. Instead of applying a similar approach to the 2035 target for boilers, Sunak has watered down both targets. Creating a dividing line between himself and the businesses that, with the right regulatory backing, would make such investment, while claiming to stand-up for hard-pressed households.

What would really help such households is to rapidly push green technologies along the S-curve: “a well-established phenomenon where a successful new technology reaches a certain catalytic tipping point (typically 5-10% market share), and then rapidly reaches a high market share (i.e. 50%+) within just a couple more years once past this tipping point.”

We see market trends in green technologies that align with the S-curve. Wind and solar power generation, for example, is now 12% of the global total from less than 1% a decade ago, growing at 20% per year. By effectively banning onshore wind farms in England for the past eight years and botching a recent auction for a major offshore wind farm, the UK is failing to fully take advantage of this emerging era.

Electric vehicles are also moving through the S-curve – with this vehicle type (battery; plug-in and hybrid) accounting for over half of sales in the UK during the first quarter of this year. Sunak might have backed this success and applied its’ lessons to heat pumps – but is easing off the accelerator.

My last piece for Uncut promised to explore the role of technologies, such as green, artificial intelligence and life sciences, in fulfilling Labour’s ambition to make the UK the fastest growing economy in the G7. Insofar as green is concerned, the message is simple: do not do what Sunak has done.

Eric Lonergan and Corinne Sawers signpost a different approach in Supercharge Me:

If we want to collapse the cost of sustainable technologies or change our spending patterns and behaviour, we need to deploy extreme incentives for change, or EPICs … Electric vehicles need to be priced well below their petrol-fuelled alternatives. We need extreme incentives to install home solar, to replace gas with electricity, to insulate, and to change our shopping and consuming habits.

These EPICs require partnership between the public and private sectors: on investment, regulation, and the ambition to drive through the S-curve as quickly as possible.

Rather than this partnership, Sunak strips away government. Rather than the future benefits of investment, Sunak fixates over near-term costs – a trait that now threatens HS2. Rather than unify the right, Sunak’s speech has brought new questions – for example, GB News immediately pressed him for a referendum on net zero.

“If anyone in Downing Street believes that (cutting inheritance tax) is a policy that will replicate the positive political impact of Osborne’s announcement of 2007,” wrote David Gauke in July, “they are deluded”. Yet such a cut appears another feature of Rishi being Rishi.

Equally, if anyone in Downing Street believes that scaling-up the ULEZ-focused by-election campaign of Uxbridge is the road to general election success, they are deluded.

Being Rishi is to endlessly play all the right notes (cutting inheritance tax; ULEZ campaigning) in the wrong order (right in 2007, wrong in 2023; right in Uxbridge, wrong in the general election).

The right notes in the right order for Labour means to govern and campaign in poetry. President Biden is delivering policy in poetry (e.g., the massive green investment of the Inflation Reduction Act) and campaigning in awful prose (e.g., few Americans connect Biden to the benefits of this investment).

Labour rightfully takes inspiration from Bidenomics. But this should be more than a policy of green investment and EPICs. It should be a narrative of renewal, plenty for all, and excitement about a better world within our grasp, further up the S-curve, beyond Sunak’s delusions.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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