The Tories appear have upped the stakes on the issue of a greener agenda. Initially they seemed to be trying to be too cute by pretending that reducing carbon emissions was possible without imposing policies that might be electorally difficult to sell.
Now, Steve Norris, the ex-transport minister and London mayoral candidate who is chairing the party’s working group on transport, has been braver by recognising that there can be no such gains without pain. He is arguing the need for higher taxation of both motoring, through reintroducing the fuel tax escalator, and aviation.
Norris inevitably faced a barrage of tabloid outrage ranging from the Daily Mail which screamed ‘Tories to milk the motorist in green tax blitz’ to the Daily Mirror, which said the Tories wanted to tax people’s holidays. This blitzkrieg immediately elicited predictable statements from the party’s terrified hierarchy that nothing had yet been ruled in or out.There is only one way to break this cycle of fear, and that is for the parties to work together on the climate change issue.
In the past, New Labour ministers like Stephen Ladyman have responded to suggestions of higher tax on flying with the incredibly dishonest and electorally cynical argument that poor people would no longer be able to go on holiday.But, Stephen, the whole basis of the capitalism that your party has embraced so uncritically is that this is how markets behave. Sure, such taxes on consumption affect poor people more than the rich, but then that also stops everyone buying Rolls Royces or personal jets. It’s tough but that’s life.Tony Blair takes another tack.
First, he says that such taxes would be impossible to impose because the public would not like them. Well Tony, the public does not like paying any tax but if you and your ministers began to articulate the extent of the danger we face from climate change, people would start to understand the urgency of the situation.Secondly, Blair uses another dishonest argument, saying that what we do in Britain is not significant in terms of the global impact as we are a small nation. That line of thinking could apply to anything and suggests that we are powerless to influence other countries.
But hey, don’t we have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council?All this is fiddling while Rome burns and there is only one answer – developing a cross-party consensus. The Tories should not be able to dodge out of what they have started, and the fact that their new symbol is a green oak tree suggests they are trying to move in a radical new direction.Rather than scoring cheap political points as Ladyman and Blair have been doing, New Labour should embrace the Tories’ change by agreeing to an all-party commission on the issue whose results would be binding on its members.
As evidence pours in daily about the damage being caused by carbon emissions, it is becoming obvious we face a national emergency that is on the same scale as when Hitler’s armies were massing in Europe. Indeed, the threat is greater – at least we knew how to defeat the Germans, whereas on climate change, we may have gone too far already.
Treating the issue as a national emergency is the only way to ensure that the politicians could stand up to those with a vested interest in failing to reduce carbon emissions, ranging from the Daily Mail and the other ranters in the press, to the aviation and motor industry lobbies. Otherwise, the Tories will wriggle out of their promises and New Labour will continue to try to play this issue solely for short term electoral advantage.