One of the big lessons from Dominic Cummings’ country school is that people don’t really understand the numbers.
The most famous, or should be infamous, ‘350million a week’ sounds like a lot, although it is both a gross rather than a net number, and not that much anyway. .
Cummings may have been exiled to Substack Island, but the government has completely internalized its use of digital communication, deploying it to become a past master at talking about the scale of its green investments.
Last summer’s £ 12 billion green ‘stimulus’ seemed large enough to be touted as the key part of a Rooseveltian stimulus package, for example, although it was only a fraction of the cost. size of the original New Deal. The government is touting its multi-billion pound climate finance pledges and calling on other governments to increase spending commitments, while ignoring associated cuts to overseas development aid budgets. A myriad of low carbon infrastructure funds, clean tech grants and £ 9bn in energy efficiency funding all sound impressive and are certainly welcome. But the government’s clear hope is that no one is looking too closely at the lingering gap between the UK’s emissions trajectory and its upcoming carbon targets.
This is the challenge the Labor opposition has faced for years as it tries to make the argument that it broadly agrees with the government’s net zero strategy – it’s just that ‘she would perform it much better.
Over the past few days, Ghost Secretary Ed Miliband and Ghost Chancellor Rachel Reeves have had a largely impressive tilt in the face of this ever daunting challenge. Their messages may have been frustratedly overshadowed by Labor’s now usual internal slashing and clumsy provocations, but when it comes to the green agenda, the opposition is finally showing a fight.
Outlining how a Labor government could catalyze the green steel industry, remove activity rates to encourage investment in clean technology, build the resilience of the energy system, and pursue a just transition, Miliband and Reeves provided the framework for a strategy that is both sufficiently ambitious and clearly different from the government’s approach.
But at the heart of it all was a catchy number from Labor. Reeves’ pledge of £ 28 billion a year of green investment is what Joe Biden would call a BFD.
The parallel with Biden is instructive, as it was the emphasis on massive investment in green infrastructure that was central to both his electoral appeal and his ability to build a coalition that incorporated both trade unions. the old school and left-wing millennial activists. As Torsten Bell observed yesterday, it is now the standard playbook for Social Democrats around the world.
But as Reeves noted when pointing out his credentials as a former Bank of England economist, it also makes tremendous economic sense.
The economy is crying out for a Keynsian stimulus based on long-term infrastructure and capacity building even before considering the global net zero trend and the need to avoid persistent climate crises.
Reeves said yesterday that she wanted to become the “UK’s first green chancellor”. In many ways, it wouldn’t take much to secure that particular title, but it’s also true that the country may be in desperate need of a Green Chancellor right now to supplement the net zero rhetoric of the various Party leaders.
Whether the Labor Party can send its green message to the public depends on how well it can prevent its warring tribes from sabotaging the ground (watch out for the various left-wing attackers attacking the leaders due to their reluctance to fully embrace the the unachievable Corbyn-era goal of achieving net zero by 2030); whether or not the government reacts by finally stepping up its own green policy ambition and proposing a net zero strategy suited to its objective; and whether Reeves and Miliband can make the public understand that £ 28bn a year is both a really big and eminently reasonable figure.
Whatever happens next, it is at least encouraging to see an opposition doing what the oppositions should be doing. Namely, coming up with credible alternative plans, asking awkward questions, and urging the government to step up its game.
A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing newsletter, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.