Our existential threat is from climate change. This summer’s areas of extreme heat and of ice sheet melting make it feel as if we have already passed a tipping point.
But our Government does not see electoral advantage in carrying through truly radical policies. Such policies are certainly not on the list of priorities it repeats ad nauseam. Its most radical recent new legislation has been to suppress protests about this. This week’s successful by-election campaign focussed on opposing a specific environmental policy.
It is actually impossible really to quantify the last of these. This is for the usual reason that reduced turnout and protest and tactical voting makes a distorting mirror of any by-election. It is also for the unique reason that the last General Election was won by a showman with a single issue slogan which raised his party’s support to 29% of registered voters, and it was he who was elected here then.
I suspect that the active opposition to the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (as opposed to the wider spread passive resentment of it) wasn’t as large as all that.
How many people actually voted Conservative in Uxbridge because they were already committed to supporting the Government? How many more did so because they wanted to oppose the Zone extension?
The number of registered voters who voted Conservative was 21% (compared with 12% in Frome and 15% in Selby). So, a wild guess would be, the core Conservative vote was about 10% and the extra anti-ULEZ vote was about 10% - whilst four-fifths of the registered voters didn’t vote Conservative at all.
But the 10% mattered – it mattered because the seat would have been lost without it – and it matters now as the source of the calls today to halt the Zone extension (despite the estimated 4000 London annual excess deaths attributed to air pollution) and row back on green policies generally (despite the evidence beneath our noses of the existential threat).
And, to be up front myself, I type here while conflicted about the approaching dates which will outlaw my gas boiler and petrol car.
The thirty year old boiler failed here at the end of last year and my superficial effort to identify an affordable alternative to replacing it failed (although the installer of my new gas boiler reassured me that its much greater efficiency makes a significant difference).
I keep thinking about replacing or even doing without the twelve year old car but fail to act because I’m equally mesmerised by the cost and infrastructure problems of doing so (although I’ve sharply reduced my use of it by walking and taking public transport, and we did avoid flying when we went to Sicily in 2019).