No one comes to a Boris Johnson speech for in-depth political analysis – and good work, too. Everyone knows what to expect: alliteration, knowingly terrible jokes, partisan attack lines, all wisely mixed with free market ideology and culture war postures, and seasoned with crude political cunning. The Prime Minister spoke in Manchester yesterday in spades.
And yet, despite all the rave reviews from those in the room and Johnson’s many media cheerleaders, this latest effort seemed ominous of complacency. And it’s not just Johnson’s avowed political opponents and those angry at the lines at gas stations who are saying so.
The reaction of the CBI was marked by notable frustration. “The Prime Minister presented a compelling vision for our economy,” said Managing Director Tony Danker. “High wages, high skills, high investments and high growth. But the Prime Minister only expressed his ambition on salaries. This must be supported by action on skills, investment and productivity. Ambition on wages without action on investment and productivity. is ultimately just a path to higher prices. It is a fragile time for our economy. “
It is indeed a fragile moment, and this fragility was not at all recognized by the Prime Minister.
This overview of the challenges the UK currently faces has come at two levels: politics and rhetoric.
Politically, it may have been a deliberate decision not to make any new announcements in Manchester, but it is not true that everyone expected a complete lack of new politics, beyond the proposals. warmed up for more science teachers. The temperature had been informed that a new objective of total decarbonisation of the network by 2035 would be confirmed. Other journalists were awaiting information on rail links in the north of England. Neither materialized.
The absence of such announcements means the government now only has a few weeks to make massive decisions that should be at the heart of its net zero strategy. It is strange that the Prime Minister did not want to drag some of these measures yesterday. It’s an absence that suggests crucial decisions have yet to be finalized.
As always, time is running out and as three reports yesterday made it clear that the opportunity for a truly green recovery is being slipped. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s failure to mention climate change in his speech earlier this week suggests that the Treasury still has not internalized the scale and importance of the global green industrial revolution. There comes a time when this failure becomes so blatant that it must be more of a conspiracy than a scam.
The absence of any political framework for Johnson’s speech meant that the rhetoric had to stand on its own feet. One wonders if he was up to the task.
Johnson’s idiosyncratic style is an acquired taste, but what was worrying here was how the Prime Minister had singularly failed to connect what are in many ways the two fundamental long-term goals of his administration: net zero and upgrade.
There were some encouraging words about the potential of wind and rail links at sea, a reminder of the importance of COP26 and the Prime Minister’s first approval of rewilding. But it was not really clear to what extent clean technologies and decarbonisation are the driving mission that can stimulate economic recovery, enable an “upgrade” and succeed in Brexit.
Number 10 spent months quietly positioning net zero as one of their top priorities, then decided to barely mention it.
Johnson could have condemned Isulate Britain activists while saying he would make the investment in energy efficiency that would shield Britons from soaring energy prices. He could have made a commitment to make the United Kingdom, the world leader, the first country on the planet to decarbonize its network. He could have talked about the reliability and attractiveness of electric vehicles and the value of rewilding in building climate resilience. He could have drawn a line over the past 10 years by highlighting how his government will take climate action to the next level.
But to do so would have undermined Johnson’s boosterism and forced him to recognize that the UK faces serious challenges. Therefore, he did not speak of any of these things.
Net zero apparently dominated the sidelines of the conference and we are only a few weeks away from the dominating COP26. The government has an overall positive and rapidly evolving story to tell. The UK is truly the world leader in the development and deployment of the clean technologies that will shape the century. All this makes it even more difficult to explain the virtual absence of a climate crisis and the green opportunity of the speeches of the ministers.
As Johnson would be the first to admit, words matter. As such, it is difficult to see the final days as anything other than a missed opportunity, at a time when the green economy and the country as a whole are in desperate need of both reassurance and a reassurance. clear focus on the most serious short and long term problems. challenges.
It’s only been a few days since Greta Thunberg called politicians’ climate commitments “blah, blah, blah”. Thunberg’s repeated insistence that governments do nothing to cut emissions is often unfair, but after Johnson’s oddly muffled speech, you’d be hard pressed to argue with her.
A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing newsletter, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.