Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt. Photo: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

A Tory split over onshore wind threatens to blow Sunak off course, says John Westmoreland

The Conservatives who backed Rishi Sunak to lead the party did so in the desperate hope that he would put an end to the bickering and backbiting that did for Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Some hope.

Just four weeks after getting the keys to Downing Street he looks set to lose the vote on a proposed amendment to the Levelling Up bill tabled by Tory MP Simon Clarke. The amendment calls for an end to the restrictions that virtually banned onshore windfarms back in 2014. The restrictions were put in place in a two-fingered gesture to the Green lobby by David Cameron’s government.

Back then the Tories were posing as the defenders of rural Britain, although some commentators thought it had something to do with pressure from fossil fuel lobbyists who were rather keen on fracking. A prominent spokesperson against onshore power generation was Boris Johnson, who toured northern England denouncing wind turbines as ‘white satanic mills’.

How times change. Now Boris Johnson and Liz Truss are piling in with up to forty other Tory MPs to back Clarke’s amendment, which Labour will support too. Poor Rishi is trapped in the middle of another Tory faction fight and he has to choose which one to turn into permanent enemies. Having promised to uphold the restrictions limiting onshore power, he might now have to do a U-turn.

Although climate policies are a major concern of socialists we should not offer any support to the recent Tory converts to green energy.

Simon Clarke’s amendment will make little difference to the amount of green energy that gets produced. He is asking for onshore wind farms to be approved only if there is consent from the local inhabitants. And this from a party whose mantra is that they are not afraid to make tough decisions!

The splits in the Tory party are in direct proportion to the crisis we are heading into. Divisions over green energy versus rural aesthetics are one thing. There are still huge divisions among Tories over Britain’s attitude to the EU and global outreach. Similar divisions exist over taxation and growth strategies. It is in the nature of capitalist crisis that whichever way the ruling class cuts it more problems loom into view.

The Tories are not interested in solving, nor are they able to solve, the crisis beyond their tried and tested strategy of making the rest of us suffer. But that strategy is facing some real problems too. Strikes are now an everyday feature of life in the UK, and the Tories look likely to be shredded in the next election.

The Tory renegades who are now piping up with calls for green energy and to put some limits to the building frenzy that is consuming Britain’s green acres, are motivated by their own self-interest as much as their concerns for the environment.

Labour is much stronger on the case for a green economy than the Tory renegades. Ed Miliband, the shadow climate secretary, said: “Onshore wind is the cheapest, cleanest energy we have. The Tories’ ban has kept bills high and damaged our energy security”. He is right to say too, that we shouldn’t effect change at the pace of the slowest Tory backbencher, because the clock is ticking on reaching carbon zero.

However, Labour has yet to acknowledge that to have a green economy that works, we will have to confront the market in all its manifestations – endless growth, the wastage of natural resources and the massive carbon output of the armaments industry – are just a few of the things requiring action. The decades of neoliberalism and the entrenched power of the giant corporations require more than some well-intentioned tinkering. And Starmer’s sucking up to the bosses at the CBI and telling them how their profits are essential for a functioning democracy is leading in exactly the wrong direction.

It will be good to see Sunak squirm as yet another bout of Tory infighting takes them closer to electoral defeat. But whether he does a U-turn or not we won’t see the benefits as long as the Tories remain in government.

Clarke’s amendment will still leave a highly restrictive planning regime that will limit the amount of onshore power we generate. It will serve to block the development of a green economy and it will keep energy bills high. We shouldn’t give the Tory rebels any credit for their newly found climate conscience.

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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