Boris Johnson's Bargain Basement New Deal Hits A New Low

We don’t need a dressed up New Deal – we need a Green New Deal, and this isn’t it, Caroline Lucas writes.

We’ve grown used to Boris Johnson’s Boosterism – talking up every initiative as “world beating” or setting a “blistering pace” for others to follow, only to see the detail fall well short.

But his “Rooseveltian New Deal” on infrastructure spending hits a new low. The sums involved are derisory, the ambition non-existent. The great American president must be turning in his grave at the hijacking of his name for such a paltry, bargain basement plan.

The point about Roosevelt’s New Deal was that it was visionary – for the 1930s. Ninety years on, we face a very different challenge in the climate and nature emergency. We don’t need a dressed up “new deal” – we need a Green New Deal, and this isn’t it.

There is nothing here which suggests that the prime minister has understood the size and the scale of the transformation that’s needed at this pivotal moment. Nor that he’s listened to the overwhelming majority of people who want change – only 6% say they want a return to business-as-before in the wake of coronavirus.

He talks about generational fairness and issues which have been neglected for decades, but fails to make the clear link that the greatest inter-generational injustice is ignoring the climate and nature crises, so irreparably damaging the planet we are handing on to our children and grandchildren.

If record flooding in the UK last winter, and temperatures of 38C in the Arctic in June, aren’t enough to wake up this government to the scale of the crisis, then what will? The climate emergency is accelerating and all we are seeing is Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

This is the moment when we will set our country’s path for the next generation. The nature of infrastructure spending could not be more significant. Either we lock ourselves into high carbon dependency for the next few decades – and essentially say goodbye to any chance of avoiding the worst of the climate catastrophe – or we lay the foundations now for a greener, safer, fairer future.

“The fixation with the pursuit of GDP growth is driving the climate and nature crises. It can no longer be the key measure of progress.”

The number and range of voices calling for a Green New Deal is growing louder by the day, and they are coming from across the political spectrum. Today, thousands are lobbying their MPs calling for climate action. Only last week, the Committee on Climate Change provided a list of investments urgently needed to put us on the path to net zero, from retrofitting homes to reskilling workers from high-carbon to low-carbon jobs. The prime minister was silent on all of these.

As we begin to emerge from the peak of the coronavirus crisis, we urgently need to invest in our future, in a way which will create jobs in a resilient, green economy. A Government-led transition to net zero – which we need to achieve far sooner than the 2050 target date – could create millions of jobs in home insulation, nature restoration, renewable energy projects and more.

Creating cycle lanes and upgrading and electrifying railways would also create more jobs and offer better value for money than the Government’s eye-watering £27 billion road-building plan. With pollution from traffic a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, we should be building a transport and planning system that makes car-free travel for shorter distances the norm for the majority.

But we need to go further and completely change our approach to managing our economy. This is not a new idea – it’s been a principle of the Green New Deal group, which I co-founded back in 2007, before the financial crisis. Its moment is now. Coronavirus has exposed for all what many of us already knew – some of our most important workers have barely enough to live on, and millions are condemned to financial insecurity, inequality and food poverty.

On top of this, the fixation with the pursuit of GDP growth is driving the climate and nature crises. It can no longer be the key measure of progress.

The success of our economic recovery programme should instead be measured by its impact on the health and well-being of people and nature – a point I have made in an amendment to the Finance Bill, currently going through Parliament.

The economic rulebook has already been discarded during this crisis. We should go further and take this opportunity to rewrite it, to prioritise the things that matter the most in our lives: mental and physical health, income security, community resilience and the health of our environment. Other countries are developing well-being economies – we should do the same.

That is the way to create a society which would stand the test of time – for everyone.

Caroline Lucas is Green party MP for Brighton Pavillion.


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