Reform’s road to ruin

There is so much wrong with today’s Reform report, ‘Road to Recovery’, it is truly hard to know where to start. It would take a full-length counter-report to rebut the vast array of mistakes, misinterpretations and missteps contained in it but here’s a start:

1) The report is premised on the assumption, for which no argument is offered, that Britain’s objective ought to be returning to a ‘business as usual’ pathway of economic growth while there are well-evidenced warnings that economic growth is fouling its own nest in a way that is unsustainable. The report is in this regard a significant step backward.

2) ‘Road to recovery’ criticises government initiatives such as Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) as “green corporatism.” There are real grounds for criticising ROCs including their bolstering climate-dangerous agrofuels but such grounds are not mentioned in ‘Road to Recovery’. Instead, the report offers a cliched and profoundly-dangerous attack on renewable energy and on public transport.

3) The report calls instead for backing for a new road-building programme and new nuclear power. It even has the chutzpah to claim that this would “reduce carbon emissions.” With regard to roads, this is nothing more than a bare-faced  lie. With regard to nuclear power, the situation is more complex, but it is extremely important to remember these two (linked) facts. First, there is still no solution to the nuclear waste problem. This means that nuclear power requires a continuing open cheque, both financially and ecologically (including in terms of vast potential future carbon emissions likely to be incurred in looking after nuclear waste indefinitely), in order to operate. Second, Britain has had a deregulated energy market since the 1990s. So why haven’t electricity companies simply gone ahead and invested in new nuclear? The answer is that it is uneconomic and will remain that way so long as the waste bill is not picked up by the taxpayer. So much for the ‘free market’ case for nuclear.

4) Lucy Parsons of Reform writes at Conservative Home that, “politicians have been blinded by the ‘green heat of technology’,” and argues that “market mechanisms should be used more” to deliver infrastructure. If the Conservatives were to adopt the proposals in ‘Roads to Recovery’ it would fly in the face of Cameron’s promise that voters can ‘vote blue go green.’ Left Foot Forward would be very interested to hear what Zac Goldsmith, author of a recent book on the need for a steady-state economy, would make of Parsons’s article and the enthusiasm with which the Conservative faithful are greeting it at ConservativeHome. Is there really any room within the Conservative Party for any questioning of the pro-growth orthodoxy?

5) More disturbing is the support by Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesman and “national treasure” Vince Cable for the report. The explanation is that, despite the financial crisis, Cable (former Chief Economist at that icon of ethical business, Shell) favours an enhanced role for the private sector in infrastructure provision at the very time when the suitability of privatisation as a solution to the nation’s (and the world’s) ills has been thrown most drastically into doubt. (Think the recent failures of outsourced government IT projects, the disasters of the Private Finance Initiative, or above all that biggest ever market failure that is the ongoing financial crisis.)  Only concerted government action saved the international banking system from complete bankruptcy.

6) There is still a strong case for a Green New Deal which is not even addressed, still less rebutted, by the Reform report.

Nature does not do bailouts; this report is nothing more than a throwback to the innocent days before it became clear to almost everybody that only large-scale government action can secure our common financial, economic and environmental future.
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