Thursday 21 September 2023

What makes a concern 'legitimate'?


It’s not clear whether Sunak actually believes a word of what he had to say yesterday. Perhaps he does, perhaps he doesn’t – either way the one thing that is clear is that his perception of the short-term political needs of his party trumps the long term needs of planet Earth. It’s a perspective which certainly fits with his background in what are euphemistically called ‘financial services’, where short term profit always trumps longer term considerations. The one semi-honest thing that he did manage to say was that he wasn’t abandoning the aspiration of achieving a zero-carbon economy by 2050. It’s just that he failed to add that he was abandoning or delaying most of the methods by which that aspiration could be realised. At a time when science tells us we need to act faster, he's deliberately choosing to slow down. And he did so largely on the basis of avoiding ‘unaffordable’ costs for families and individuals. 'Leading the world' on climate change turns out to be nothing more than rhetoric - who'd have thought it?

Labour’s response hasn’t been much better, with an obvious disinclination to promise to undo the damage being caused by Sunak. A spokesperson for the GMB put the so-called dilemma in these terms: “…we have to listen to the legitimate concerns of ordinary people, many of whom are struggling to get by”. It’s a sentence which could have been uttered by Sunak himself, underlining two things: the common fear in both parties that people won’t like the costs of doing something about climate change, and the common rejection by both parties of collective action led by the government rather than leaving individuals to pay those costs.

‘Legitimate concerns’ sounds very grown-up, and something which any party should do, but it is a smokescreen. The question we should be asking of those who use the phrase, are: what are those ‘legitimate concerns’ driving the policies of both parties, and who decides whether and to what extent they are indeed ‘legitimate’ before changing policy on the basis of them? What if the ‘legitimate concerns’ turn out to be little more than a regurgitation of baseless fears grounded in the daily diet of lies, half-truths and propaganda served up by the Sun, the Mail, and the Express? ‘Listening’ to those concerns then begins to look an awful lot like outsourcing policy development to the leader writers of the right-wing tabloid press. And that’s exactly what the Tories and Labour alike seem to be doing.


dafis said...

Those "legitimate concerns" are indeed legitimate when they are declared by ordinary working people and likes of union officials who have seen their members' purchasing power eroded and the future employment prospects of those members prejudiced by promises of the new green economy which never materialise. No doubt the challenges of re engineering how we power things and how we make things could and should create top class employment opportunities here in Wales and wider UK. So far our governments have been far too quick to source too much of the work from outside our countries thus robbing the workforce of those opportunities they promise to provide. No wonder likes of GMB have identified "green" along with fuel and energy "crisis" as threats rather than opportunities. If the government/big business axis persists with this way of doing things then working people will get to a point where the opposition to any change regardless of merit will become even more entrenched. I can't see Sunak, Starmer or any of the other sock puppets changing their stances so be ready for some serious turmoil.

John Dixon said...

The problem though is that what you describe is concern about the way the costs fall on individuals - an approach which seems to be common to both Labour and the Tories. As I noted in the post, however, that isn't the only way of doing things. And many of the fears about costs and implications are based on half-truths at best, promulgated by those who don't want to do anything about climate change if it might harm profits. Sunak's 'scrapping' of the proposal for every household to have 7 recycling bins, something which the govenment never proposed in the first place, is a classic of the genre. Legitimacy for an objection doesn't stem from who or how many support it.