The Committee on Climate Change would like to make our lives a little more miserable. Its latest proposal is to outlaw sales of new petrol-engined cars by 2032, forcing us all into electric motors or ageing old bangers. The committee also wants to ban new domestic gas boilers after 2035, to complement the existing ban on them in new homes just five years hence.
Never mind that electric cars, despite subsidies, are hugely unpopular outside the UK’s affluent cities, or the little matter of replacing over £30bn a year in fuel tax. Never mind that gas is the obvious choice for urban central heating. Instead, we must all start drilling in the garden to install electric heat pumps, or buy thicker jumpers.
The Committee is one of those crowd-pleasing political initiatives designed to give the impression of a green government. The chairman, Lord Debden, is better known as John Selwyn Gummer, the man who forced his young daughter to eat a burger to show it was not going to give her mad cow disease. He was searching for an encore, and the committee seems ideal.
It’s not all his fault that he is making these fatuous recommendations. The Climate Change Act (another commitment which offered MPs the warm glow of do-goodery today and a nightmare for a far-future administration) demands that the UK is “carbon neutral” by 2050. We have not got far in the 12 years since the act was passed near-unanimously by parliament; only two of his committee’s 31 recommendations for 2019 and 2020 have been met.
There is no serious analysis which shows a credible route to meeting the act’s absurd demands without causing grief. Unless we can generate power from moonbeams, the British face being stuck in their cold houses, afraid to start their ageing motor because the petrol tax has been raised again. As they do so, they could contemplate the hundreds of coal-fired power stations the Chinese empire will have built by then, producing enough CO2 to make any reduction here irrelevant.
As for the impact of a 2032 deadline on the UK car industry, the consequences are too horrible to contemplate. Twelve years is not long to plan for an industry which was already reeling from the war on diesel, started shortly after we had been encouraged to buy the cars to get more miles from a barrel of oil. Next year the European Union is imposing a brutal penalty regime on those manufacturers which cannot meet new CO2 emission targets.
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Then came the lockdown and car sales almost stopped. The UK industry is gasping for further state aid, pleading for additional and tailored finance schemes, tax relief, business rates deferral, all topped off with a scrappage scheme. The carmakers’ sales pitch is yet to include a plea to buyers to look after their new petrol car because it may be their last, but the committee’s fantasy recommendation does bring the day a little closer.
He Tyried, but failed
Andrew Tyrie’s defenestration at the hands of his colleagues at the Competition and Markets Authority is a grim demonstration of why meaningful change is so difficult in Britain. He was forced out because he believes in competition (the hint is in the title) rather than the legalistic niceties of endlessly re-defining markets until the proponents have whittled their share down to below 25 per cent.
Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the proposal to merge Sainsburys and Asda. The bankers and lawyers argued that careful use of definitions, coupled with a programme of selling stores, would deal with local monopoly problems. Somehow the fact that the two businesses would start with a 40 per cent share of the grocery market could be glossed over.
On that occasion, Tyrie’s common sense view prevailed, and it appeared that at last Britain had a competition regulator to match Margrethe Vestager’s robust approach to big company interests in the European Union. This week a CMA study concluded with a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, finding that Google and Facebook between them control 80 per cent of the £14bn digital advertising market, so no-one else can get a look in, and consumers are suffering “substantial harm”.
The conclusion? “We recommend that the government passes legislation to establish a new pro-competition regulatory regime.” The new body could be run by Lord Tyrie, answering the old question: Why is there only one Monopolies Commission?
Build, build, build, but don’t build this
The national lunacy that is HS2 was barely there in the prime minister’s build, build, build exhortation this week. Compared to the £109bn being poured into the decade’s worst vanity project, his pledge of a £5bn programme of infrastructure building is just a rounding error. Scrapping the railway would allow him to give £5bn each to 20 of the UK’s northern cities to spend as they see fit, and still have change.
Meanwhile, a government-sponsored group has redrawn the pretty lines on the map to incorporate trans-Pennine trains from Manchester to Leeds (HS3). According to its proponents, this plan would save money, but on examination it is the sort of saving money familiar to anyone buying expensive clothes in the sales.
It adds the current £39bn estimate for HS3 to that for HS2 and finds that there is a (marginally) cheaper alternative. Nobody outside the Department for Transport (DaFT) believes any of these numbers anyway, and like Crossrail, that semi-mythical new line under London, the new idea incorporates a tunnel right under Manchester. What could possibly go wrong?