Thank God it’s over. Except, of course, it’s not over. Not even close.
Liz Truss’ shamefully disastrous premiership has come to an end, the final blow dealt by the clumsy attempt to get gang MPs to march down the hall to allow fracking schemes that virtually no one wants, that are extremely unlikely to supply gas, and which they promised to ban. The overweaning ambition of a life destroyed by the bizarre assumption that Lancashire is Texas and climate change isn’t so bad.
But while the defenestration of a Prime Minister so obviously unfit for the job is as welcome as it was earlier this summer when Boris Johnson’s lies and laziness finally caught up with him, there is still no sign of a drawn line, of a certain order and rediscovered seriousness.
The Conservative Party has become ungovernable. Destroyed by the rising waters of economic mismanagement, the unleashed storms of Brexit and a decade-long drought of new ideas, serious leadership and able ministers.
There has not been the slightest hint of self-reflection on the part of the think tanks, advisers, media and ministers who have caused this crisis. In his wholly inadequate resignation speech, Truss referred to the “situation” that necessitated his resignation. There was no glimmer of contrition or even understanding as to what this “situation” was and who had caused it. No attempt to explain the many direct mistakes made and the soaring interest rates, financial instability and general insecurity that directly resulted from his choices.
The tragedy of Trussonomics was that it diagnosed precisely the right problem – the UK’s stagnant productivity and growth and the consequent degradation of the public sphere and deterioration in competitiveness – and then established a prescription so arrogant and so detached from reality that it quickly made everything worse.
And so begin the dangerous myths and backstabbing narratives. Libertarianism failed because it was not tried properly. The Deep State and irresponsible markets have brought down anyone who dared to challenge orthodoxy. The only solution now is austerity 2.0 and all that that entails.
Immense damage has been done to the cause of an economic and political experiment that had no mandate beyond Truss’ truly pathetic assertion that it was trying to enact the mandate given to it by a modest majority of Conservative Party members – an argument that once again relegated the rest of the population to second-tier consideration.
It’s really hard to keep track of all the ways the UK has been weakened over the past six months. But it’s worth unpacking where the country is on its net zero transition given its immense importance to our long-term economic and planetary health.
The UK is a true global leader in climate action, having passed one of the world’s first climate change laws, building a globally significant offshore wind industry and dramatically reducing emissions over the past 20 years. while pioneering a multitude of clean technologies.
And yet this summer the Committee on Climate Change warned the country was on the wrong track to meet its emissions targets from the 2030s. The High Court agreed, ruling the government’s Net Zero strategy was illegal . On energy efficiency, electric vehicles, sustainable farming, hydrogen, carbon capture, nuclear, behavior change and countless other areas where the UK had the potential to gain an advantage competitiveness, stimulate the economy, strengthen its security and reduce emissions, companies remain stuck in a waiting pattern, their investments have been suspended or undermined by a lack of political clarity and political leadership.
For all his encouraging rhetoric about climate action, that’s the challenge Johnson left Truss with. And he postponed that shaky transition at a time when the US, China, EU and many other major markets were doubling down on their climate policies because they rightly recognized that clean technologies held the key to protecting them from climate change. Putin’s aggression and unlock a new era of economic development that, according to the latest data, could soon begin to drive down global emissions.
And what did Truss do? She talked about banning solar farms, reviving fracking and extracting every drop of oil from the North Sea. It ignored energy efficiency and launched an attack on nature. She went to war with the markets and the RSPB. She may have promised to lift the de facto ban on onshore wind farms and pledged to continue investment in low-carbon infrastructure. But she didn’t last long enough in office to deliver either. She put Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of climate action and energy security, failing to force him to relinquish his earlier climate skepticism and thus burning what little credibility he had left with the business community. . It has driven up interest rates and undermined financial stability, making it harder to realize the capital-intensive projects that are at the heart of the transition to net zero. All in all, it was an investment-destroying, confidence-shattering, and pollution-promoting waste.
And now his successor must try to clean up this full-spectrum political chaos, while maintaining the support of a coalition of MPs who range from outright climate skeptics to unapologetic climate hawks, from populists to fiscal conservatives, from centrists to conspiracy theorists who would like to insert themselves directly into the modern Republican Party. It is an impossible task.
Are there silver linings? Well, the UK’s parliamentary system and unwritten constitution worked in bizarre and flawed ways, kicking out yet another Prime Minister who was clearly not up to it.
Meanwhile, the rational, popular and economically essential way forward is more evident than ever. Invest in energy efficiency, call on businesses and the public to support the national interest by saving energy at all times, remove barriers to the deployment of renewable energy, accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles, reform energy markets. electricity to reduce our dependence on gas, clarify CCS policies, hydrogen and nuclear, maintain R&D spending, implement a national green skills program, ask people to consider eating a little less meat, reforming farm subsidies, restoring relationships with our closest neighbors in support of continent-wide decarbonization, borrowing to invest in productivity – building green infrastructure and taxing those with the broadest shoulders to help pay for everything, and relegate those responsible for the last six months of a truly disastrous government and extreme political choices. detrimental to the furthest margins of public life.
It is a program that would prevent the UK from squandering the leadership position it had begun to carve out for itself in the industries of the future, would have real public support and would finally begin to unleash growth and dynamism after a decade of economic failure. Could Sunak, Mordaunt or even Johnson offer such a program? Maybe, but then could they bring their grumpy band with them? It seems increasingly likely that if the UK is to get the net zero driven economic agenda it so desperately needs, we will need an election to deliver it, and there is no guarantee we will get one. so early. The chaos is not over yet.
A version of this article first appeared as part of BusinessGreen’s overnight news email, which is available to all BusinessGreen members.