If the polls are anything to go by, in as little as a year, we could have a Labour government led by prime minister Keir Starmer. The Conservatives being out of government for the first time since 2010 would be a substantial change, and one that looks set to bring with it a huge tide of unintended consequences.
Perhaps the policy area likely to be most directly transformed from top to bottom is the environment. Not content with existing government policy for net-zero emissions and energy security, Keir Starmer has made clear that he wants to completely rethink Britain’s green policy, from top to bottom.
Ed Miliband’s position on the front bench is ‘shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero’. That means he is not really shadowing a government position that actually exists, although the closest parallel is probably energy secretary Grant Shapps.
Is Ed Miliband the right person to be running Britain’s environmental policy? He is determined to nationalise the energy industry, no doubt at huge cost, through a new policy called GB Energy. He and Starmer seem to be reading from a very old playbook of out-of-date policies which have been tried and failed countless times. But Miliband was recently filmed playing a song on a ukelele outside a wind farm, so it does look like his approach to these crucial issues which impact countless Brits might not be entirely serious.
When he puts down the ukelele, Miliband and his colleagues will stand a decent chance of running the country come next year. We already have a glimpse of what that looks like. Up and down the country, local authorities – which are generally reluctant to approve planning permission for much-needed new housing – have begun giving the green light to enormous so-called ‘solar farms’, effectively signing off on covering huge swathes of Britain in solar panels.
A particularly notable new solar farm was signed off not long ago in Hampshire, the latest in a long string of such projects cropping up across the country. There are so many problems with this it is hard to know where to start. Clearly, it is not sustainable to be importing Chinese-made solar panels to Britain and covering our countryside with them (including a huge amount of perfectly arable farmland) in order to reach net-zero.
Facts like these are unlikely to stand in Labour’s way. One of Keir Starmer’s declared ‘five missions’ for a Labour government is to ‘make Britain a clean energy superpower’. He even said in a recent speech to the National Farmers’ Union: “Look, I want to see more solar farms across the countryside.”
We have a planning system. In theory, it should prevent new developments from disrupting people’s lives. Any substantial project, then, ought to be bottom-up. Whether it be related to energy, housing or anything else, if a new arrival is going to fundamentally change an area where people live and leave its mark on the map, it ought to originate from a genuine need and desire from locals.
Instead, on clean energy, we are seeing a top-down approach where solar panels have become so politicised that a Labour government may well feel comfortable imposing sweeping ‘targets’ for countless new solar farms. The floodgates will be impossible to close.
Investing in new renewable technology is great, but that does not mean taking a myopic approach which could be very costly in a number of ways. Narrow-minded government is very risky and helps no one. If Keir Starmer is determined to appoint Ed Miliband to his government, create GB Energy and continue boldly pursuing this agenda of policies which are flawed at best such as solar farms, is he really fit to be prime minister? How long will it be before voters regret kicking out the Tories, if they do vote in Labour next year?