GE 2019: Of Policies and Pogroms

Michael Liebreich
Dec 7, 2019 · 17 min read
Labour’s 2019 election manifesto — hold on to your Che Guevara berets, we’re going in!

This week, in preparation for an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s flagship environment programme, Costing the Earth, I forced myself to read the Labour Manifesto promises on energy and transport. OMG! It’s even worse than I thought.

Imagine the bastard love-child of a treehugger’s wet dream and a Marxist developing country’s five-year plan from 1970, and you’ll get the idea. Hold on to your Che Guevara berets, we’re going in…

The energy section of the manifesto kicks straight off with the sixth-form politics that has made Jeremy Corbyn such a hero among those below the age of taxation: “The Tories wasted a decade serving the interests of big polluters”. Really?

The Conservatives have been in Government for 8 years. During this period, UK emissions fell 18%, despite GDP growth of 16% — a rate of decarbonization that puts the country at the top of the G20 and that is allowing us to play a leadership role on the global scale “despite Brexit” as the saying goes. We didn’t win the bid to host the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in December 2020 because of our abject subservience to big polluters.

How does Labour’s historic performance compare? In its 2007 Energy White Paper, Labour was targeting 10% renewable electricity by 2010, the year it was dumped out of office for fiscal incompetence. It achieved only 6.8%. It left behind a 2020 target for renewable electricity of just 20%. Eight years later, renewable electricity will hit 37% this year and 40% by 2020 — double the target inherited from Labour.

I know what you left-leaning softies will say: all credit for this magnificent showing should go to Ed Miliband for piloting the 2008 Climate Change Act through Parliament, and to Ed Davey for the 2013 Electricity Market Reform (EMR) Bill. And then you will list a bunch of things that no sensible person can defend about Conservative energy policy, like the effective ban on onshore wind and the failure to implement scalable policy on energy efficiency and distributed generation.

But be honest, and give credit where it is due. The three policy interventions that were most decisive in delivering the UK’s rapid decarbonization since 2010 were the Carbon Floor Price, which drove coal off the system; the 2025 coal phase out, which locked it out; and the switch to reverse auctions for CfDs, which unleashed the low-cost offshore wind revolution. The rest is noise, more or less.

Between 1997 and 2010, including the time when Ed Miliband was Minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, CO2 emissions fell by just 1.1% per year. Since the Conservatives took over, emissions have been falling by 2.4% per year. Even in 2010, Labour was targeting only a 60% decarbonization of the UK economy by 2050; this year Theresa May adopted a legally binding 100% net decarbonization target for 2050, and since taking over, Boris Johnson has embraced it.

If this is a lost decade, I say let’s have more like it!

So much for history, today’s Labour Party is not that of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (sadly, but more of that later) so let’s get back to the 2019 Labour Party Manifesto. What does it actually say about energy, transportation and the environment?

First, timing. And it’s slippery.

Despite this September’s Labour Party Congress backing net zero emissions by 2030, all the manifesto promises is only a net-zero carbon energy system, and only “during the 2030s” — i.e by 2040. While you are invited to assume that the energy system includes heating, transport and industry, there is no time limit on emissions from agriculture and waste, which are among the toughest sectors to decarbonize.

So on the timing front, in reality the Labour manifesto is not that far from the clear, economy-wide net zero target of 2045 for the LibDems and 2050 for the Conservatives, but with a bit of added slipperiness.

Trees! We all love trees! One of the only endearing features of this year’s General Election is the tree-planting arms race it seems to have triggered. The Conservatives are promising to plant 30 million per year. The LibDems 60 million. The Greens 70 million. Labour promises 2 billion by 2040, or 100 million per year. Victory for Labour! But wait: a tree promised is not a tree planted. In 2016, Sadiq Khan promised to plant 2 million trees in his first term. Today, with six months of the four years to go, he had planted just 175,000. Apply the same 90% discount rate to Labour’s manifesto promises, and you get just 10 million trees planted per year, barely ahead of the “millions of trees” promised by the Brexit Party.

Let’s move on.

The big one: spending. This is where it gets a whole lot slipperier. As slippery, in fact, as a bucket of eels on slippery night in Slipperyville. And then even more slippery. You are going to need more than a Che Guevara beret to keep a straight face here…

“We will launch a National Transformation Fund of £400 billion. Of this, £250 billion will directly fund the transition through a Green Transformation Fund dedicated to renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and environmental restoration.”

I read that as a £250 billion budget for the stuff we are looking at. That’s a lot of money. Shall we see what it’s going to buy us? After all, it is our taxes, right?

Pause. We are going to be seeing a lot of billions flying around. Let’s just spend a second triangulating. UK GDP is around £2.1 trillion. Total Government spending is around £840 billion. Last financial year, the government deficit was £25.5 billion, or 1.2% of GDP, down from a crippling £147 billion, or 9.3% of GDP in the last year of the last Labour government. What the hard-won current health of the country’s finances means is that you could, if you chose, spend another £40 billion per year — or £400 billion over ten years — without blowing up the deficit beyond the 3% generally regarded as prudent, but that’s it.

Got it? £400 billion. Let’s dive back in.

Electricity. Labour are promising to to get to 90% zero-carbon electricity by 2030. In 2018 the figure was 53%. Assuming demand neither rises nor falls — i.e. energy efficiency gains are counterbalanced by increased electrification of transport and heat — new zero-carbon electricity generation would need to deliver an additional 123 TWh. That means something like 40GW more renewable capacity, along with associated grid investments, which is going to cost about £130 billion. If electrification of vehicles and heating picks up pace, demand should grow by 2030. Let’s call it £150 billion.

Energy efficiency. This is what the Labour Manifesto says: “We will upgrade almost all of the UK’s 27 million homes to the highest energy efficiency standards, reducing the average household energy bill by £417 per household per year by 2030 and eliminating fuel poverty.”

What’s not to like?

Quite a bit, actually. First of all, to achieve £417 per household of energy savings per year means doing a deep retrofit. This is what the Dutch call an “Energiesprong”, a Great Leap Forward in efficiency (how apt!), not just replacing old boilers, doing cavity wall insulation and scattering a few draft excluders around. The Institution of Engineering and Technology and Nottingham Trent University have estimated that this sort of retrofit could cost £17,000 per home — which comes to £460 billion for all 27 million UK homes. And deep energy retrofits are disruptive — I should know, I’ve done one, which you can read about here. So you really should add in the cost of temporary accommodation during months of building works for perhaps half a million people at a time, because you really don’t want the kids at home when the demolition and construction crews are doing their thing.

In their report in May this year on what it would cost for the UK to achieve net zero, the Climate Change Committee estimated £15 billion per year for 30 years, or £450 billion. Let’s be generous to Labour and go with their figure.

Does the full cost of home energy retrofits have to come from the £250 billion Green Transformation Fund? There are no clues in the manifesto. But it either has to come from there, or Labour is talking home-owners undertaking them at their own expense. How does Labour intend to force 2.7 million families annually to spend £17k that they might not have on work that saves them just £417 per year? Knock on the door in the middle of the night? Oh wait, we’re not talking about the Pogroms yet.

Despite being silent on how it will be funded and how the scheme will operate, the Labour manifesto is very clear about doing all this by 2030. Ten years. That means shoe-horning £45 billion per year worth of home energy work into a supplier network currently handling a twentieth of that, in an economy with just 4% unemployment. What could possibly go wrong? And that’s before adding in demand from decarbonizing office and commercial space, about which the manifesto is predictably silent because well, its owners are the enemy, right?

Of course the UK will never hit its net zero target in 2050 unless it gets serious about building retrofits, and the support offered by the Conservatives is sub-scale in the long run. But it helps no one for a major political party to pretend that upgrading the entire UK housing stock is a task that can be achieved in a decade, without a serious plan and a serious budget. Under any grown-up view of the world, we will spend the better part of a decade ramping up the capacity to get the job finished over the subsequent twenty years, ending in 2050. Now if only one of the parties were promising something like that? Oh hang on, one of them is, but it’s not Labour.

Transport. When it comes to transport, Labour’s un-costed giveaway accelerates like a Tesla Model S in Implausible mode. State-owned vehicle charging infrastructure! Restoring 3000 unprofitable bus routes! All buses and public sector vehicles to be emission-free! Build three gigafactories! Free bus travel for the under 25s! Crossrail for the North! HS2 to Scotland! Rail electrification across the country! £7 billion for cycling (OK, that is not in the manifesto, it was promised after the publication deadline). A third runway for Heathrow! Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right. Airports and nuclear construction sites are big providers of unionised jobs. For all the virtue signalling on climate, Labour is too in hock to the unions to campaign on a policy of cancelling either Heathrow’s third runway or Hinkley Point C.

So the manifesto is full of expensive commitments, but none of them are costed. It’s hard to see them come in for under £200 billion between now and 2030.

Remember that £250 billion Green Transformation Fund? So far we have commitments to renewable electricity, energy efficiency and transport which add up to £800 billion. That’s already double the £400 billion which would blow up the 3% sensible deficit limit. We could add some more bits and pieces for the trees, the state-owned plastic recycling plants and so on, but these are mere bagatelles, it’s not even worth it.

We have much bigger and more slippery fish to fry.

Nationalisations! Nationalise the National Grid! Nationalise the District Network Operators! Nationalise the supply arms of the Big 6 utilities! Nationalise the bus companies! Nationalise the rail companies! Nationalise water! A National Investment Bank! A network of Regional Development Banks! A local development fund in each English region, plus one in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland! And so it goes, on, and on.

Now John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor has said you don’t need to raise debt to fund nationalisations because you can just use bonds, and anyway you end up with an asset.

Two problems, John. First, bonds are debt. Did you even know that? A bond is just a debt contract that can be traded between different creditors. Say after me: bonds are a form of debt. And that doesn’t change in any way if you use the proceeds to buy an asset: if I take out a mortgage to buy a house, I can’t pretend I don’t have a mortgage just because I now own a house. Basic stuff, but apparently news to the Shadow Chancellor. Second, if you borrow money to nationalise something — say a water company, or all 200 providers of broadband internet — and then you trash its business model by giving away its products for free, you don’t have an asset any more. But you still have the debt.

Except, let’s be honest, John won’t have the debt, will he? Because the capital markets won’t extend credit to him. In fact they will run a mile the first time he gets within a hundred yards of the red box because, you know, they have seen this script before, lots of times. Usually the financial crisis comes at the end of a Labour term in office, this time it would come at the start.

But back to the manifesto. Add to the £800 billion of investment promises another £200 billion or so compensating the current owners of the stuff Labour wants to nationalise, and you are looking at a cool £1 trillion. That’s just energy and transport. We haven’t started building council houses yet, or providing all the other free things that Labour’s student admirers want to get their hands on , without realising that by the time they did, they would have become tax-payers and it would be them picking up the tab. Doh!

A trillion pound of spending, a £250 billion Green Transformation Fund. Wait, maybe the windfall tax on oil companies — ruled out by John McDonnell just two days before publication of the manifesto, but in there anyway — miraculously fill the gap?

That would be a no. The missing billions are two orders of magnitude bigger than any possible windfall tax. In fact, under the manifesto there are new commissars overseeing the financial system, who are certain to find oil and gas companies guilty of the crime of “failing to contribute to tackling the climate and environmental emergency”, for which the punishment is delisting from the London Stock Exchange.

Turn their assets into liabilities, and oil and gas companies will walk away from the UK, taking with them the billions of pounds they pay out annually (yes, net of rebates!) in taxes, royalties and dividends to the country’s savers and pensioners. How not to fund a deficit.

A trillion pounds of spending, a £250 billion Green Transformation Fund. There’s no way around it. But, but, but Modern Monetary Theory! We’ll just print the money! Yeah, whatever. Zimbabwe. Venezuela. Father Christmas. Let’s move on.

So who is going to be running energy and transport in this Brave Green New World?

A new UK National Energy Agency will oversee the delivery of the decarbonization targets. 14 new Regional Energy Agencies will hold statutory responsibility for decarbonizing electricity and heat and reducing fuel poverty. A new Foundation Industries Sector Council will oversee heavy industries like steel and glass, and be responsible for doling out R&D money. A state-owned utility — formerly the Big Six — will be responsible for “helping” households reduce their energy demands. The National Development Bank will of course have a board of loyal luvvies. The Regional Development Banks will be governed by boards made up of “key local stakeholders such as local chambers of commerce, trade unions and councillors”. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Not productive ones, mind.

Hopefully none of the members of this feast of central-planning asset-allocating micro-managing quangos will be as wildly unqualified as labour stalwart and advisor, Paul Flowers, who chaired the Cooperative Bank from 2009 through to its collapse in 2013 — when he was fired for his use of cocaine, crystal meth, ketamine, sex chat lines and escorts, and eventually barred for life by the FCA from any role in the city.

Even so, it should surprise no one that, the more clearly that people remember the 1970s — the power cuts, the British Rail sandwiches, waiting lists for new phone lines and British Leyland’s Austin Allegro — the less they want to vote for this pile of statist nonsense.

To have any chance of meeting the 2050 net zero target, massive innovation needs to be unleashed across the entire economy. Every industry, every sector, in every region, needs to be turned on its head. We will need access to the best talent, the best technology, the most innovative enterprises, the most driven entrepreneurs and the cheapest capital. If anyone thinks this can be delivered and coordinated by the sort of 1970’s centrally-planned economy described in the Labour manifesto, I have a Minitel terminal to sell them.

Are we done yet? Not quite: I promised you pogroms.

I said I had to force myself to read the Labour manifesto. And in truth, I feel sullied having done so. It seems incredible to me that anyone should be interested in reading about Labour’s policies, however entertaining they might be, given how far Jeremy Corbyn is from being a fit person to be Prime Minister.

I’m not going to rehearse all the times Corbyn has done disgusting things. All the times he has praised terrorists, called them his friends, invited them to visit Parliament, joined them on stages and chat shows, taken their money, mourned their setbacks, celebrated their victories and condemned those who defended themselves against them. All the times he has liked hateful images and memes, said racist things, written laudatory forwards for overtly antisemitic books and been a general shitbag.

To all those claiming that Corbyn only ever met bad people because he was working towards peace, I have one thing to say: bullshit. I know of not one photo of him mourning the victims of terrorism rather than the perpetrators. Nor of one time he has ever met and listened to Unionists in Ireland or Israelis in the Middle East. Let’s say what is obvious: for fifty years this man who championed every nasty, violent little grouplet that has ever had the country’s worst interests at heart.

Is there racism in the Conservative Party? Sadly yes. And has Boris written some disgusting, deeply offensive things? Again, sadly yes. But let’s be clear: no MPs of Asian origin have ever had to have protection from Conservative party members at Conference. Two of the four Great Offices of State are currently held by ministers from ethnic minorities — a first. Just as the first woman to be Prime Minister of this country was a Conservative, as was the second. And nothing, nothing within the Conservative Party, no stupid and offensive joke that Boris Johnson has ever made compares with the institutional antisemitism that has established its paralysing grip on Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour’s antisemitism is so overt, and so institutionalised, that the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), which has been affiliated with the Labour Party since 1920, earlier this year declared Jeremy Corbyn unfit to be Prime Minister and instigated an investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) — only the second ever such investigation, the other being launched when the neofascist BNP banned non-white members.

The JLM’s submission to the EHRC, which leaked yesterday, makes it quite clear that the anti-Semitism in Labour comes right from the top. It accuses Jeremy Corbyn of creating a “welcoming refuge” for antisemitism in the party by “publicly supporting antisemites and antisemitic tropes”. And it provides documentary evidence and sworn affidavits by 70 current and former Labour Party staffers to prove it.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi agrees. Two weeks ago, supported by leaders from the Church of England, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities, he felt compelled to write an article in the Times begging the British people to understand that “a new poison — sanctioned from the top — has taken root”. This is unprecedented, coming from the leader of a community that has never sought to draw attention to itself, and which has historically usually been aligned with the political left. Today, nine out of ten British Jews agree that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite, and 40% of British Jews say they might leave the country if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister.

In the face of a community feeling such fear, no true anti-racist would for an instant to try to explain that they are wrong, and select only to speak with the minuscule percentage of the community that still support him. How dare he!

I am not an observant Jew. I am not even a member of the UK Jewish community. I probably have no more Jewish friends than the average middle-class Londoner. But at a time like this, how can I not think of my family history, the 76 relatives who were murdered last century by the Nazis, the great-uncles and aunts killed, the cousins I don’t have?

I will leave you with one story, which to me sums up the gross unfitness of Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister — and the morality of you, the reader, if you do anything at all that might move him an inch closer to Number 10 Downing Street.

I represented Britain in the Olympics in 1992. I was very proud to do so, I worked hard and made sacrifices. The Olympics are meant to be one of the great forces for peace and reconciliation in the world. Once every four years the Olympic Movement calls for a truce between warring nations — or at least enough of a truce for a great competition to take place, for new and inspiring narratives to be written, for new friendships to be made, maybe for old enemies to edge away from conflict and hatred towards sporting rivalry.

Just twenty years before I represented Great Britain, at the Munich Games in 1972, the Black September terrorist group broke into the Athletes’ Village. They beat and tortured 11 athletes — cutting off the genitals of one — before killing them. A more barbaric act would be hard to imagine. That the athletes were Israelis cannot in any way justify it. These were athletes, with hopes and dreams, just like every athlete I met when I was at the Olympics 20 years later.

Now we have the leader of one of the two main UK political parties, laying a wreath at the grave, not of the victims of this barbarity, but of one of the perpetrators. Let that sink in. Jeremy Corbyn chose to celebrate the life of the murderer, not the people he murdered.

And before you try to say “Ah, but he says he did not lay the wreath, etc, etc,” I say shame on you! Shame on you! We can all read Jeremy Corbyn’s own article in the Morning Star at the time, mentioning the laying of multiple wreaths, he was not ashamed of laying a wreath at the terrorist graves, he was proud of it! We can all see the plaque, we can all find out which graves Corbyn was standing in front of, who he was honouring. We just have to open our eyes.

What utterly absurd excuse did Corbyn make when challenged, like a recalcitrant child who refuses to admit wrongdoing even when confronted with evidence? “I was present at that wreath-laying, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.” Bullshit! You were a guest of honour at a wreath-laying, so you laid wreaths. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. That’s why they call it a wreath-laying.

Even if, by some tiny, implausible splinter of probability, Corbyn did not himself physically lay the particular wreath in memory of the Olympic athletes’ killer, even if he didn’t personally lower it onto the grave, I don’t give a stuff, and neither should you. How many other politicians would you continue to support if they admitted being present at the laying of a wreath on the grave of a terrorist mastermind — even if they just stood around approvingly and marvelling how wonderful it was that Unity Was In Evidence.

Do you see why I had to force myself to read the Labour manifesto? Why I don’t think this election is about home insulation?

I refuse to normalise the fact that one of the the UK’s two main political parties — not mine, but a party nevertheless with a proud history of equality, inclusion and fighting for the underdog — is now led by a lifelong career anti-Semite. This goes way beyond Brexit, way beyond economics, way beyond normal politics. This is not casual racism, it is institutional racism, sanctioned by and stemming from the top of one of our major political parties. It is existential for the civilised political life of our country and perhaps for the safety and continued existence within our society of one of our cherished minorities.

So please, if you are tempted to vote Labour non 12 December, just don’t. Not holding your nose. Not tactically. Not by pretending you can’t see the evidence in front of your eyes and ears.

If you can’t vote Conservative and you don’t want to stay home, that’s absolutely fine: there are plenty of other parties, plenty of other candidates. And you can vote Labour again once the toxins of anti-Semitism have been burnt out after what needs to be an epic rout.

Bottom line: when you are in the voting booth on 12 December, please remember: there is one one party, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, for which you simply. can. not. vote.

Michael Liebreich
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