October 18, 2021 - 1:19pm

Boris Johnson should watch his right flank. Rebellious Tories are on the warpath and they’re coming for the Government’s green agenda. 

Leading the charge is the formidable Steve Baker. A hardline Eurosceptic, the MP for Wycombe was the unofficial chief whip of the ‘awkward squad’ during the parliamentary battle over Brexit. Few people did more to block Theresa May’s deal — and ultimately force her resignation.

Baker has now embarked upon his next crusade. Earlier this year he joined the board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) — an organisation that has campaigned against government climate change policies since 2009. 

So far, they’ve failed to change the Government’s direction of travel. ​​Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives are greener than ever and their climate goals more ambitious. However, the GWPF is renewing its efforts. This week its Twitter account suddenly vanished. A new account called Net Zero Watch appeared in its place. The website of the Global Warming Policy Forum (the lobbying arm of the Foundation) has also rebranded.

They’ve certainly picked their moment. Right now, we’re in the middle of full-blown energy crisis. The energy prices are surging — especially natural gas (but also oil and coal). Earlier in the year, gas was trading at around 50 pence per therm, by the end of last week it had spiked to almost 300 pence. It’s dropped back a bit since — but still threatens British companies and consumers with ruinously high bills. 

But the inconvenient truth for libertarian Right-wingers is that the energy crisis is the product of two things they’re very keen on: global free trade in fossil fuels and deregulated markets. What they need, therefore, is a scapegoat. With Steven Baker complaining that in transitioning to a zero carbon economy we’re “winging it”, Net Zero will do nicely.

Take, for example, nuclear, where progress has been slow. So far there’s just one new site under construction — Hinkley Point C in Somerset — and it’s still a few years from completion. That’s a far cry from the eleven new sites that had been planned by the last Labour government.  

Juliet Samuel blames the Tories for insisting that “all new nuclear plants would have to finance themselves.” But that’s not quite true. What the Government won’t do is underwrite the construction risks and that’s understandable. The type of reactor being built at Hinkley has a track record of delays and overspend. It would be wrong to put the British taxpayer on the hook for the failings of a French industry. 

Therefore if other nuclear projects aren’t happening, it’s not because the British government is unsupportive, but because it wouldn’t sign blank cheques for white elephants. Green ideology has nothing to do with it.  

Steve Baker is not entirely wrong, however. Though we’ve already made huge changes to our energy mix — while keeping the lights on — we don’t yet know exactly how the world of 2050 is going to work.

But that’s the case with every great technological transformation. We make plans where we can, but otherwise figure it out as we go along. Supported by sensible government policy, it’s what capitalism does best.

The transformation is underway. We can either make the most of these dynamic technologies — or let our competitors take the lead.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.