Winter is Coming

The abandonment of the environment during the climate catastrophe is just one aspect of the Conservative’s programme of darkly venal, richly ideological politics. Their corruption is fractal, from the personal to the global and is a moral abomination.

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The soubriquets Thick Lizzie and Leaky Sue for the former Prime Minister and the returning Home Office minister Suella Braverman offer some light relief in dark times.

Braverman is Sunak’s totemic gift to the party’s far-right, though the degrees of political extremism on a left-right spectrum within this Tory party range from Ghengis Khan to the newly-departed Jacob Rees-Mogg. It’s a spectrum, but not a very broad one. But if this government is littered with the hard-right Barverman is off the map, famously declaring at party conference that “a plane taking off to Rwanda … That’s my dream. That’s my obsession.”

But more than that her (re) appointment is a quick crash landing for Sunak’s attempt to re-frame the Conservatives as possessed of integrity or professionalism.

Yesterday, the ex-party chair Jake Berry told TalkTV that far from committing what she described as a “technical infringement of the rules”, “from my own knowledge, there were multiple breaches of the ministerial code”. The cabinet secretary, Simon Case, is said to be “livid” at her reappointment after just six days, and Keir Starmer called it a ‘grubby little deal’. Today more stories of their furtive corruption spill reluctantly into the public domain.

As we live through a balmy October and France heads for the hottest ever November recorded the consequences of such a right-wing government are revealing themselves. In the week when the UN environment report declared there to be “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place”, what did our new Prime Minister do? He announced he wasn’t even going to COP27 meeting in Egypt.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the regrettable Dr Thérèse Coffey MP was asked this week what she does for the environment and what she would recommend people do. ‘Permanent cups’ was her derisory reply. Her appointment, given her appalling voting record on the environment is an insult to the intelligence of us all. She is at the apex of a government riddled with vested interests and climate denialism.

Given the reality of where we are this isn’t a party-political matter, it is just terrifying.

This week’s UN environment report analysed the gap between the CO2 cuts pledged by countries and the cuts needed to limit any rise in global temperature to 1.5C. It concluded that the progress towards the internationally agreed targets has been “woefully inadequate”.

According to the UN if the current pledges for action by 2030 were delivered in full, it would still mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C and catastrophic extreme weather around the world.

It’s in this context that Leaky Sue’s glee at longer prison terms for peaceful climate protesters should be noted: “We’ll keep putting you behind bars,” she said. And they will, they have all the legislation in place for the coming battles.

Braverman is allies with all of the hard-right in the Tory party. Take for example Sir John Hayes, who is said to be her mentor. As Polly Toynbee has noted: “His Common Sense Group, launched two years ago in the wake of Black Lives Matter with about 40 MPs and reviving the old Cornerstone Group (faith, flag and family), inhabits the shifting sands of rightwing diehards. “Common Sense” is a useful catchphrase suggesting anything less than hard right is nonsense…”

“Here are his views: a Brexiter, he has voted to restrict access to abortion, and is against equal marriage and onshore wind turbines. He’s for standing up in football stadiums and capital punishment. One of his outside jobs is as strategic adviser to BB Energy, a global energy trader. In the middle of the summer heatwave, Hayes condemned “a cowardly new world where we live in a country where we are frightened of the heat. It is not surprising in snowflake Britain.”

Ah ‘snowflake Britain’. The irony is your children and grandchildren may not see a snowflake in the near future due to the climate denialism of Braverman and Hayes. That’s chilling isn’t it?

It’s difficult for anyone to care about the climate catastrophe when we are faced with food and fuel poverty, and the culture wars mean that any direct action in defence of the planet will be mocked and shredded. Our downfall at the hands of this political cult is being watched around the world. In The Atlantic Derek Thompson writes (‘How the U.K. Became One of the Poorest Countries in Western Europe‘):

“The past few months have been rough for the United Kingdom. Energy prices are soaring. National inflation has breached double digits. The longest-serving British monarch has died. The shortest-serving prime minister has quit.”

He goes on: “When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers — anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.”

None of that Brexit-reality will change with a Labour government, that’s been made very clear, but it’s the convergence of climate crisis and the cost of living that is most tragic. As Alok Sharma hands over the reins to the next COP leader, the reality is that Big Oil has just posted newly obscene profits.

The reality is that the UK is facing a cost of living crisis and the Treasury needs to fill an estimated £50bn hole in the country’s finances. Yet this week Shell admitted it had paid no windfall tax despite having made a record $30bn in profits for the year so far.

None.

The oil company said it had taken advantage of a loophole exempting companies that invest their surplus in increasing oil and gas extraction. On Friday, the US fossil fuel firm ExxonMobil reported a quarterly profit of nearly $20bn, $4bn more than forecast. If that doesn’t make you angry nothing will.

The appointment of Thérèse Coffey to the Environment brief and the abandonment of COP27 is a failure of leadership of historic proportions quite in keeping with the corrupt shambles that runs through their time in office.

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