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GE2019: Can net zero cut through the Brexit fog?

Image: Getty.

Spare a thought for Brenda from Bristol this week. So exasperated was she at the news that Britain would face another general election in mid-2017 that she delivered one of the most memorable lines of that campaign. I daren’t think of how she’s feeling today.

The election bill having now passed the House of Lords, Britain will, indeed, be returning to the polls on 12 December 2019, the third such general election in just over four years. While it’s not quite as clear cut as this, there’s a distinct choice – A Boris Johnson-led government that will persevere with Brexit at any cost, or chaos with Ed Miliband a Labour-led parliament that will return the final verdict to the people.

Brexit has been the principal topic of political discourse for more than three years now, perhaps so inescapable that there is a palpable sense of fatigue emanating across the country, with Westminster at its source. Earlier this year, at the Everything EV conference in London, Labour MP Peter Kyle spoke candidly not only of a government paralysed by Brexit, but of the frustration felt by politicians at the policy backlog it had created.

Now, with Britain once again returning to the polls, one wonders how all-encompassing a topic of discussion Brexit will be.

All the way back in 2017, during the last GE campaign, then-Conservative leader Theresa May sought to make it a single-issue election. In search of a strengthened majority to push through any prospective Brexit deal, the Conservative Party was clear; Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour could not be trusted to take Britain out of the European Union.

Her public appearances were famously limited and of such short nature that it was difficult to cut through the rehearsed lines and soundbites. So choreographed and automated was the Prime Minister that she was christened the Maybot in the media.

Meanwhile, Labour and other parties campaigned on a wide variety of issues, as most other general elections have been. They sought to cut through the Brexit fog and discuss wider societal and economical issues. The Tories’ line that Labour could not be trusted with the economy was effectively negated by the notion that seven years of effective austerity had seriously damaged social services, leading to unjust harm felt by large swathes of the country in their day-to-day lives.

The result was a crushing blow for Theresa May’s government, losing 13 seats and the Conservative majority in a result that was unthinkable at the start of the campaign. Labour gained 30 seats and Corbyn’s prowess as a campaigner was heralded, even if he could not deliver the kind of result needed to steer his party to power. That election, and the resulting hung parliament, effectively created the two-plus years of uncertainty the country has endured to date.

Which is why it will be of considerable interest to see the extent of Brexit’s role in this GE. Given the aforementioned fatigue, campaigning on the single issue of ‘Getting Brexit Done’ could well be the correct move, but elections should not be contested on one central policy, not when they effectively hand the country’s reins over to a party for five years (or less, as is the trend).

And in Britain’s net zero target, parties have the kind of topic that presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for them. Here is an agenda that so many people feel so strongly about that hundreds of thousands of people are willing to take to the streets in protest over, a topic that people of all walks of life and of multiple generations are actively engaged with. A target that, if pursued correctly, can deliver unprecedented change to this country’s economic and societal standing.

Net zero and climate action is, or should be, a golden ticket for parties facing a general election. Labour are seemingly aware of this having documented an exhaustive strategy as to how it will upscale renewables deployment and overhaul the energy sector in pursuit of net zero. The Lib Dems have, too, set a more ambitious date for net zero at 2045, and established a suite of policies to achieve that at its party conference last month.

All eyes will, then, be on what Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has to say. Net zero plans have so far been found wanting and the government’s energy white paper has been pushed back from June to Q1 2020. Johnson’s hint towards a ban on fracking in the country, made yesterday during the last PMQs prior to parliament’s dissolution, will be welcomed, but does not make a comprehensive net zero suite.

Yesterday’s PMQs all but set the stage for a GE campaign which looks to be more embittered and entrenched than any before. Brexit will undoubtedly play a lead role, but you’d be foolhardy at the very least to expect net zero and climate to take a backseat.

Liam Stoker's photo
Editorial

Liam Stoker Editor-in-chief, Current±

Liam is editor-in-chief at Solar Media, the publisher of Current± and other titles including Solar Power Portal. Liam edits the UK-facing titles and has done since 2015, having joined the publisher as a reporter the same year. Previously, Liam has held positions at other London-based B2B publishers such as Pageant Media and Progressive Media.

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