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FEARS were growing within Labour today that PM Rishi Sunak’s abandonment of key net-zero targets might resonate with many working-class voters.
One leading backbench MP said privately: “If Sunak can make the charge stick that the cost of the transition will fall on working people, then there is no doubt he will get traction.”
Labour’s front bench has rejected Mr Sunak’s U-turn on banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and other modifications of climate change commitments.
Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband called his announcement “an act of weakness from a desperate, directionless Prime Minister dancing to the tune of a small minority of his party. Only Labour can tackle the climate crisis.”
Many Tory MPs remain unhappy at the new policy too, which Mr Sunak denied today will compromise Britain’s ability to hit net-zero goals. “We are absolutely not slowing down efforts to combat climate change,” he said.
But a survey by right-wing academic Matt Goodwin showed that nearly 60 per cent of working-class voters feel that taxes and penalties on motorists have “gone too far.”
And polling expert John Curtice said that Mr Sunak had “picked up the zeitgeist” on the issue.
Left MPs are concerned that given the poverty of Labour’s other ambitions, and the insistence on tax and spending curbs, the policies that might soften the change will not be adopted.
One Labour parliamentary candidate conceded privately that “the Tories are going to use this issue and Labour needs a strong offer,” adding that other candidates were also concerned that the importance of cars outside inner cities with good public transport was not always appreciated.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham outlined an alternative approach, saying that “kicking the can down the road on petrol car sales is no substitute for a proper industrial strategy setting out a just transition to net zero.”
She said Mr Sunak should be “putting forward a serious plan to bring down costs and boost critical industries, such as automotive and energy, as well as safeguarding jobs in exposed sectors.”
In the automotive industry this should include reskilling workers, a programme for installing charging points across the road network, bringing energy into public hands to cut costs and investment in green hydrogen and gigafactories, Ms Graham said.
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