Boris Johnson has done his first really, really bad thing since becoming Prime Minister.
It’s bad, at least, if you think the job of a Conservative leader is to stand up for stuff like innovation, prosperity, moral principle – and for the little guy who wants lower energy prices, a higher standard of living, and a jobs and an economic future for his kids…
…Really great, though, if you think canny politics is to blow with the wind, allow your policies — Blair- and Cameron-style — to be dictated by whatever random focus group you spoke to last, ignore the evidence, stifle entrepreneurship, and give an almighty boost to the kind of people who are always going to hate you.
I’m talking, of course, about the Conservatives’ announcement that they are going to ban fracking for shale gas. And also about their even more fantastically stupid announcement that they are going to invite 30,000 randomly chosen people to take part in a ‘citizens’ assembly’ on the ‘climate emergency’.
In the short term, I can see, these eye-catching initiatives might make a sort of sense.
It’s possible that the fracking ban might win over a few swing voters — and stymie the Brexit Party — in a few of the northern seats where fracking is an issue.
Here's a map of the '17 election results.
There is a streak of Labour seats across the northwest of England, coinciding with some potential fracking sites, perhaps.
But how pleased will they be with Labours anti-jobs, anti-industry, anti-cheap energy, anti-Brexit policies? pic.twitter.com/Eu14pluz0y
— Ben Pile (@clim8resistance) November 2, 2019
And it might be that when they hear about the ‘citizens’ assembly’ at least two — and possibly as many as three — Extinction Rebellion supporters might hover their pencil for all of half a second over the Conservative box on their ballot paper before they go to themselves ‘Naahh!’ and waste their vote on Green or Labour or Lib Dems instead.
But in most other respects this is a disastrous unforced error for the Conservatives.
First, it will reinforce the impression many right-wing voters have that this is just the same old, squishy, crony-capitalist, nervous, ideology-free Conservative Party of the Cameron and May eras — and that Boris’s claims to be reinvigorating it are just a sham.
Second, it rewards and panders to an increasingly aggressive and demanding green movement — as currently represented by Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg — whose aims are utterly inimical to anything a Conservative administration might reasonably aim to achieve. Conservatives have always been natural conservators but the modern environmental movement has other aims entirely: it’s explicitly anti-capitalist, it rejects economic growth and it sees any form of compromise as weakness to be exploited. This was why when I met the Godfather of Environmentalism, James Lovelock, the other day he told me: “I am not a green.” Nor should anyone else be if they have an ounce of common sense. Why pander to these extremists?
Third, it defeats part of the object of leaving the European Union. Isn’t one of the reasons people voted to leave that they wanted to be free of all those burdensome regulations imposed on Britain by the EU’s unelected commissars — regulations which are killing jobs, stopping businesses growing, and driving up the cost of living? Sure there’s nothing wrong with having strong environmental protection laws in place: but isn’t the point of having these decisions made by our own people, rather than foreign bureaucrats, that an element of transparency is involved? That is, if we’re going to have red tape imposed on us, shouldn’t we, from now on, be shown the justifications for this red tape?
Fourth, shale gas and oil have worked wonders for the U.S. economy, making America energy-independent, making its industry more globally competitive, and bringing down the cost of living for consumers. What possible reason could the United Kingdom have for not wanting to follow suit, especially since some of Britain’s shales are actually deeper — and potentially more productive — than those in the States? Boris Johnson has been campaigning on an optimistic message of giving Britain a brighter, wealthier future outside the EU as an independent trading nation. Shale gas could — and ought — to be one of the main pillars of his economic plan.
Fifth, one of the reasons successive Conservative governments have proved so disappointing since the Eighties is that, unlike Margaret Thatcher, they never had the courage or the conviction to argue difficult cases for causes which they nonetheless believed would benefit Britain. The reason that fracking is a hard sell is not — contra Britain’s mainstream media which routinely, lazily describes it as ‘the controversial process known as fracking’ — that there’s anything wrong or dangerous with the process. It’s simply that green propaganda (some of it funded by Russia, which has its own gas to sell and doesn’t want its clients producing their own) has been allowed to proceed largely unchecked, which means a lot of people have got needlessly frightened. Scare stories about water tables being polluted, about ‘earthquakes’ (in reality barely noticeable tremors), about methane leaks causing global warming or making your kitchen taps catch fire are easily debunked: but successive governments have had no appetite to do so, which means that fracking has a terrible, but thoroughly undeserved, public image. If Boris Johnson persists with this kind of moral cowardice then it augurs very ill for the kind of Conservative administration he intends to lead.
A handful of sensible people are quite properly appalled by what Boris is doing here:
The decision to halt shale gas will eventually be seen as a historic mistake. It followed the same script as genetically modified foods: well funded and unprincipled opposition resulting in environmentally more damaging alternatives getting their way. https://t.co/yIiceu9Ewo
— Matt Ridley (@mattwridley) November 2, 2019
The Conservatives cheering on Boris’s idiocy should be ashamed of themselves.
has been in No10 for 100 days and we are seeing the results.
Boris Johnson to ban frackinghttps://t.co/0xoEc0j12j
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) November 2, 2019