50 Shades of Frost.

Lord Frost must have choked over his freshly ironed copy of the Daily Telegraph this morning. Spread across the wide open spaces of its front page – because, as long as there is an England, the Telegraph will forever be a broadsheet – was a map with the whole of Southern England coloured red.

This is to show the areas in which – in the current drought – wildfires are just a flicked match, barbecue ember, or suns rays concentrated through a thrown away bottle away. As the wildfire in Wennington showed at the end of last month, if vegetation and buildings are dry enough, and the winds are strong enough, a small fire can spread out of control and burn down whole streets. We should note that Wennington is on the edge of Rainham marshes, not an area we would normally expect to catch fire. In fact, we got lucky that time, because the winds were quite low. So, anyone who owns a property in that red zone, which stretches right across the Tory heartlands of the soft South, has real reason to be worried.; which would be why the Telegraph published it.

But, this is where ideological dissonance slips in. The Telegraph puts a lot of effort into bigging up all the forces on the Tory right, from Lords Lawson and Frost, to Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, who like to argue that Climate Breakdown is all a woke plot; that because dealing with it requires a fairer society that would be uncomfortable for people like them, not dealing with it, while hoping with Mr Micawber that “something will turn up”, is the better option.

Indeed, this is just two days after Frost opined in an essay on Public Exchange, that “there is no evidence” that the UK faces a climate emergency.

One can only conclude that he goes through life with his eyes. and ears firmly shut, and has not bothered to read very much. He could just look around him. Perhaps, like so many “non elite” Brexit supporting members of the House of Lords, he hasn’t been around to notice what’s going on here because he’s off on holiday somewhere continental. But, he can’t really miss it there either. If he is in Italy, perhaps he has noticed coverage of the drought that has cause the Po river to dry up on parts of its course. If he has passed through Germany, he might have noticed that the Rhine is now so low that shipping is being restricted. If he has gone to the United States, he can’t have missed the epic drought and wildfires there this Summer which have produced fire tornadoes in California; or the floods in Kentucky that washed whole houses down streets turned into torrents. Had he popped up to the Arctic for a bit of whale spotting, he might have been made aware that it is heating up four times faster than the rest of the planet.

If he wants some written evidence, maybe he should just read the latest IPCC Report. Current policies, which he thinks are too fast, have us heading for a 2.7C average temperature rise by the end of the century. Crisis? What crisis?

But, of course, he is from a political current that dislikes “experts” and prefers its own prejudices whenever that’s more convenient.

Frost’s proposals are designed to make other people, in poorer parts of the world, pay the price for the over consumption of people like him.

He blathers complacently on – with that blithe self confidence that so many upper class people have, that if you state total bollocks with enough conviction you can disregard any evidence to the contrary – “the prevailing mood is one in which individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy and in which unsatisfactory renewables technology is touted as the best solution to our problems. Instead of focusing on technological solutions that enable us to master our environment and get more energy in a more carbon-efficient way — nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion – we have focused on managing demand so we can use medieval technology like wind power.”

This is such flabby thinking that it beggars belief that he can be taken seriously by anyone with a fragment of critical intelligence. But, let’s look at them one at a time anyway.

  1. “Individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy”. At the moment, the biggest pressure forcing people to reduce their use of energy is the rapid increase in fossil fuel prices (and the profits of the energy producing companies that flow from them). Frost does not favour taxing those profits to give people a break. He stands for the free market (in this context). Nor does he favour an insulation programme that would allow people to keep warm and cook food, using less energy and getting lower bills as a result. Using less energy means less demand for fossil fuels, therefore fewer profits for the producers. Can’t have that, can we? This is of a piece with his complaint in the Brexit campaign that the EU was introducing standards to force vacuum cleaners to become more efficient – on the grounds that a proper clean needs to burn lots of joules. Vacuum cleaning for petrolheads.
  2. That “unsatisfactory renewables technology”, overtook fossil fuels in UK electricity generation in 2020. “Medieval” wind power produced 24% of UK energy demand in 2020, increased 715% from 2009 to 2020 and is now much cheaper per Kilowatt hour than fossil fuels or nuclear; and steadily getting even cheaper. That reduces bills. Once the turbines are up or the solar panels installed, the wind and the sunshine is free. “Unsatisfactory” for fossil fuel producers, no doubt. Very helpful for the rest of us. Oddly, Lord Frost does not seem so keen on “the market” here. He wants to restrict renewables as such. Perhaps not as suicidally keen as France’s Marine Le Pen, who wants to “tear down” turbines that are already up; but in the way that the Conservatives have restricted onshore wind with all sorts of planning “red tape”. You’d think, with onshore wind being among the cheapest energy sources, he’d want to cut the restrictions and “let the market work its magic”; but not a bit of it. You’d think, as a patriotic Brexiteer wedded to notions of “energy security”, he’d want to make the most of an energy source that doesn’t have to be imported. He could make a bit of a campaign of it, painting them red, white and blue and calling them “Freedom Farms”; with banner headlines in the Tory Press screaming “It’s Britain’s Wind!” But, no. If its low prices for energy users with fewer carbon emissions on the one hand, and sustained fossil fuel profits generating billowing clouds of carbon dioxide on the other, its no contest.
  3. In full macho mode, Lord Frost prefers “technological solutions that enable us to master our environment” (my emphasis). So butch. 50 shades of Frost. Let’s see what he has in his special room. “Nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion“. While its in the nature of denial for people to clutch at straws, this is a peculiarly old fashioned vision of modernity. Taking them backwards, which seems an oddly appropriate thing to do… “Fusion” has been the holy grail for nuclear power that has been full of promise for at least 50 years; but has never actually arrived. This year, next year, sometime, never. He might as well argue that “one day” we will power ourselves with Unicorn farts. “Fracking” for oil and gas. No one wants a fracking site in their backyard. Presumably Frost wants to enforce them on unwilling communities “in the national interest” of the profits made by the fracking companies. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that oil and gas are fossil fuels. So, not a solution to a problem created by burning too many fossil fuels. And not a “carbon efficient” way to generated energy. “Carbon Capture and Storage.” The IPCC Report made it very clear that this is not a technology capable of economic deployment at the scale needed. Indeed, given that this would be such a “get out of jail free” card for carbon intensive industries, you’d think that it would have been developed by now. Instead, rather like fusion, it is the solution that’s just around the corner; and has been for decades. “Nuclear”. There is an argument about how “low carbon” nuclear energy generation is. What is in no doubt is that it is immensely costly. Costlier than fossil fuels. Costlier than renewables. And slow. By So, Frost’s “solutions” are a mix of unproven wishful thinking combined with a cavalier disregard for costs; both environmental and financial. And, that’s it.

With the whole of Southern England a tinder box, perhaps the threat of wildfires in the backyards of prosperous Tory speissburgers might make a few of them pay attention – especially if house price values start being affected. But, with Frost highly influential with Liz Truss, and medieval thinkers like John Redwood slated for cabinet posts in our new and unimproved Conservative government, we can expect a lurch even further to the right. Their problem is that its only possible to safely deny reality so long as that reality isn’t imposing itself on people’s lives, as climate breakdown is. It has been argued that climate is “above politics”. It isn’t, as Lord Frost and his ilk demonstrate. But the reality of it is foundational to any politics that is relevant from here on. We’re not in the Holocene any more Toto.

Why it will be Truss

The Conservative Party is full of racists and Rishi Sunak is not white.

Watching the Sky hustings yesterday, Sunak came across as much cleverer than Truss. Very quick on his feet. Slightly puppyish public schoolboy enthusiasm. Close your eyes and, y’know, it could be Tony Blair. Look at him and he even has some of Blair’s mannerisms – the parallel chopping hands, the way of remembering the names of questioners in the audience to engage “personally” with them, the fake self deprecation. But being clever could be a problem. “Too clever by half” to lead a Party full of people “tired of experts”. The Conservative Party is full of people who employ people like Sunak to do their accounts. They don’t want to be bossed by smartarse backroom nerds, however slick.

More substantially, “its the economy stupid”.

Truss, 2D cardboard figure though she is, rapidly reduced to speaking clock responses when caught out, represents a continuity of the “triumph of the will” style delusions that fuelled Brexit.

The sense that she is both a Margaret Thatcher tribute act and “continuity Boris” – having been loyal to the shameless charlatan ’til the end – nevertheless indicates that a cosplay version of the real thing is the best they can do now. Thatcher was PM at a time before the reunification of Germany, when the UK cut a more powerful global figure than it can possibly do now. Johnson could genuinely embody “cakeism” because of who he is – Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon, the Spectator. That shameless sense of entitlement that he could always eat his cake because someone else would keep supplying him with more – and his projection that the country could reassert its imperial habits of doing the same – were quite genuine in his case. Bone of his bone. Blood of his blood. For Truss, middle class girl from Leeds, taught, like all of us are in the state education system that the way to get on is to impress others, can’t convince in the same way. At Eton, they are taught that, whatever their limitations, they are the people that others have to impress. Truss can, at the most, impersonate that. And she tries very hard. And it shows.

Nevertheless, on the economics, she is trying to make out that the only reason we are heading for a recession is because people are saying we are (“talking us into a recession”)- thereby neatly inverting reality. Her formula for the immediate crisis is to

  • hold down wages and “stop unions holding working people to ransom”,
  • a Kamikazi Brexit, slashing and burning all residual EU regulations on labour and environment standards within 18 months and possible trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol,
  • trying to keep the economy from tanking with immediate tax cuts, which by and large benefit those who are least badly hit.

This may be based on a calculation that whatever they do, they are likely to lose the next election, so they might as well try to “move fast and smash things”, as they say in management, safe in the knowledge that an incoming Labour led government under Starmer would be too wed to ruling class interests to overturn very much of it.

Her rapidly withdrawn proposal to cut public sector pay to match local cost of living figures – claiming that it was “misunderstood” because it was understood only too clearly that, if you put out a press release claiming “savings” of £8.8 billion based on figures calculated on “savings” from the salaries of nurses, teachers, and police officers, it is not a “misunderstanding” to conclude that it is precisely those people whose wages would be cut – indicates how badly thought out so much of this is.

The fundamental flaw in her idea is that seeking to boom an economy by boosting consumption without investment was exactly what started the global inflationary surge when Joe Biden did exactly that with his stimulus package last year. Underlying all this is the low level of private sector investment, which none of Truss’s programme will boost. Inflation will bite hard into living standards.

Sunak, by contrast, is a “sound money” man. He seems to think it doesn’t matter if human civilisation perishes in rising floods and fires, so long as the books are balanced when it does. The Governor of the Bank of England thinks likewise, hence the rise in interest rates this week. This signals an impending series of clashes between Downing and Threadneedle Streets as the crisis intensifies.

This goes to the heart of the Conservative conflict and the impossible dilemma they face; given that they exist to politically block any solution that might actually work, if that was based on state investment or greater equality. Raise interest rates, keep money tight, and zombie companies, those that are only able to keep ticking over if the interest rates on their debt stays near to zero, go bust. Everyone employed by them loses their jobs, and have to claim benefits. Everyone with a mortgage gets squeezed and cuts back (and landlords with mortgages put rents up). Measures taken to curb inflation leads to recession. Measures taken to avoid recession fuels inflation. Snookered.

On other matters, they are agreed.

Both see the solution to the inflationary spike in gas prices fueled by the Ukraine war – which hits the UK very hard because we have such a high dependence on gas for cooking and home heating in the draughtiest houses in Europe – as a Ukrainian victory. Its increasingly evident that this is a fantasy. The options are a negotiated compromise peace; or a long term frozen conflict (which NATO will go for so as not to lose face). The only way to get an immediate cut in gas, and therefore energy prices, is to push for peace, not keep fuelling the war. Jeremy Corbyn was right to call for the UK to stop supplying arms this week.

Both see the solution to the increased costs of energy from fossil fuels is to double down on fossil fuels. Sunak’s responses to “Net Zero Questions”

New coal mines? “Yes” to avoid coal imports, even though he knows that the projected coal mine in Cumbria would export 80% of its production.

Fracking? “Yes” – where locally supported.

Onshore wind? “No”. Not caveats about local support. In the immortal words of Hermione Granger. “What. An. Idiot”.

And Truss wants to cut the “green levies” on energy bills, even though this is marginal and their effect over the years, in paying for what little insulation has been done, is to reduce bills. She has also made noises about letting the 2050 Net Zero target slip; thinking, like Johnson, that we can get away with a “Climate Pass”. As if the laws of physics will bend because she wants them to.

Both are fully paid up Cold War Warriors against China and both will ramp up military spending, not noticing that Nancy Pelosi’s brinkmanship this week was not at all popular in Taiwan; where, by and large, people are quite content to fudge along with the current ambiguity in relation to the People’s Republic rather than be used as a causus belli by the US (which is a long way away from where the fighting would take place – as it is from Ukraine).

Both favour using racism – deportations to Rwanda just a start, a new definition of Refugee based on the Australian model that dumps desperate people on far off Pacific Island camps, imprisoning and criminalising people for being desperate (and actually wanting to come here and make a contribution) restricting of access to “legal routes” that don’t actually exist. None of these restrictions apply to people who can buy their way in of course.

Truss adds a petty twist all of her own that goes down really well with her audience, in seeking to keep the UK together by goading Scots nationalists. This goes down a ton at 19th holes in Hampshire. Not so much in Glasgow.

With 16 million people already cutting back on food and essentials, even before energy bills go through the roof in October just as the weather gets colder, with the war in Ukraine increasingly going badly for NATO and voices for peace getting louder, with unions taking up the fight to defend their members and even non union workers in places like the Amazon warehouse in Tilbury expressing collective self respect by holding a sit in against wage cuts, with arguments now being heard that we need to redistribute wealth away from profits back to the people whose work made those profits, and the likelihood that our next Prime Minister will be someone who wants to go for confrontational broke on all fronts; we are in for a Winter in which there will be desperate struggles and serious political shifts.

Facing the realities of climate breakdown, the slippage of US global hegemony (with everything that flows from that), the global economic impasse of neo-liberalism – given a local twist of Brexit deepening the stagnation and slow disintegration of the UK, there is almost an imperative for the Conservatives to double down. As the old gods fail, the true believers worship all the harder and the old songs take on a willed manic quality that will be increasingly shrill. We will get political leaders to match. Far from looking after the apple stall, they will kick it over to see which way the apples roll. “Steady as she goes” does not fit times in which time is not on their side.

That’s why it will be Truss.

Beauty Contest?

And then there were eight…

Suella Braverman; the Marjory Taylor Green of Titchfield.

Liz Truss, who, is trying very hard to be a 2D cardboard replica of Margaret Thatcher.

Tom Tugendhat, MP for MI6 Central, who has the rare talent of making Keir Starmer seem exciting by comparison. “I am ready to serve”. We are ready to sleep.

Jeremy Hunt, a man who is 110% smirk and wants to do for the country what he’s already done for the NHS.

Nadhim Zadawi the mad axeman, who would cut 20% of everything to show how wild and free he is.

Rish! Sunak whose response to climate breakdown is “drill baby drill” in the North Sea.

Kemi Badenoch who thinks the only thing holding back the private sector is the state support it gets.

Penny Mordaunt  “I officially request to be removed from this video…anything but blue please.”

None of them gets the climate crisis.

All of them want to pursue the new cold war, regardless of the blowback.

None of them will deal with the cost of living crisis – as they are in favour of letting wages decline relative to prices.

All of them want to keep deporting refugees to Rwanda.

All of them want to cut taxes instead of investing.

All of them want to this country to be more like the USA in ways that most people just don’t.

They sum up the exhaustion of the Brexit project as optimistic nostalgia. No jam today.

If the answer is any of this lot; the wrong questions are being asked on our behalf.