Opinion: Shilly-shallying with our future

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By John Gaskell, Chair, Farnham & Bordon Labour Party

I think most people would agree that the two biggest problems facing the nation at the moment are the crisis in the NHS, and the cost of living. Yet Rishi Sunak failed to deal with either of them during his hour-long speech at the Conservative Party Conference. What did stand out was a mishmash of policies that seemed to have little relevance to our part of the world.

The shilly-shallying over HS2 seemed desperately ironic for a conference with the title ‘long-term decisions for the future’. The decision to truncate the high-speed railway line to the North of England at Birmingham is short-termism at its worst, and this appeared to be characteristic of all the announcements.

Two announcements with some relevance here in Farham and Bordon are the so-called ‘war on motorists’ and the related watering down of Tory environmental pledges.

It’s not clear to me who is waging war on us car-drivers given that this government has been in power for 13 years. But the anti-20mph policy is problematic in Farnham where the council has only just got around to introducing it. The evidence that it drastically reduces the chances of road deaths is compelling, but I fear it will now be significantly more difficult to enforce. The recent progress towards CCTV enforcement of the HGV lorry ban is also a possible target for Rishi Sunak? How can keeping giant lorries off our historic narrow town centre roads count as a ‘war on motorists’?

Similarly, Sunak’s pre-conference move to drastically delay green policies was deeply disappointing. In an area like ours, with higher levels of electric car ownership, it is likely to act as a brake on the introduction of desperately needed charging and servicing infrastructure locally.

It was noticeable that many of Sunak’s friends were exasperated by this flip-flopping on environmental policies, including a large contingent of business leaders who had previously weighed in to support him.

In his defence, Sunak has pointed to his support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The danger is that this is just a smokescreen designed to allow polluters to carry on polluting, and for the massive public subsidies that we pay to the oil and gas companies to continue.

The truth is that we have tried and tested British technologies that can provide better, cheaper, more secure and more sustainable energy – we just need to ramp them up urgently. This it at the heart of Labour’s green prosperity plan. The next Labour government aims to invest £28 billion a year in developing green jobs in the fast-developing sustainable energy sector, harnessing solar and wind power to decrease carbon emissions and reduce British people’s fuel bills at the same time. And, in contrast to the Tories who abolished the energy task force, Labour will invest in measures to insulate homes to cut bills further. For the sake of our economy and our environment this can’t come soon enough.

It’s time for change

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