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Politics: the last hurrah


2021-11-13 08:41:59


So, it's extra time on CoP26! So there's a surprise. Talks are expected to last into Saturday afternoon, says the Guardian. And delegates have been told they must reach a deal or future generations will be forced into violent competition for resources.

Not to be outdone, the Independent reports that the world's hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change were hanging in the balance, as the deadline for a global deal passed without agreement. Johnson warned: "We risk blowing it".

Delving into the details, though, is rather less enthralling than watching the paint dry, even if it is marginally entertaining collecting some of the rhetoric for future reference.

Johnson, for instance, is urging his fellow leaders to show "conviction and courage" by allowing negotiating teams to make the compromises needed to keep the world within sight of the self-imposed limit of a 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels – insofar as it can even be measured.

Interestingly, the BBC initially had its report placed down page on its website, presumably waiting for the big denouement which is expected to take place on Saturday afternoon, with the weary delegates emerging into the Glasgow drizzle to announce some sort of deal, or not.

Actually, there's always a deal, but then there are deals, and deals. This one at the moment is lacking an agreement on subsidies for coal and other fossil fuels, and financial help to poorer nations.

A commitment to phase out fossil fuels altogether has already been junked, and with Johnson making it clear that there will be no improvements on a draft text, environmental campaigners are already taking a pop at him for being "too weak" on the crucial issues.

That raises the delicious prospect of Johnson attracting the ire of just about everybody – the hard-right "destroyers of worlds" for being too green, and the bunny-huggers for not being green enough.

In retrospect, the prime minister might have known he was on a loser – he was never going to please everybody, and the greenies would never be satisfied with anything short of an immediate global shutdown, and self-immolation of the human race – except for them, of course.

Whatever else, Johnson certainly seems to have lost middle-England, with the Mail reporting that Labour have leapt ahead in the polls, turning last week's three-point deficit into a staggering six point lead – according to Savanta ComRes.

The paper attributes the sudden turn-round to the "scale of public anger" over Johnson's handling of the latest iteration of "Tory sleaze. One wonders, though, whether a more nuanced finding might also point to his green epiphany, and his government's ongoing failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration across the Channel, as a record of 1,200 cross in a single day.

Once the Sunday papers have had their fill of CoP26, it is likely that the media collective will turn its attention to other matters, and there is definitely as head of steam building on the immigration issue, especially when there is additional drama of the situation om the Polish/Belarussian border to report.

When that latter crisis also ties in with Alexander Lukashenko's threat to cut off gas supplies to Europe, and the Russian troops massing on the Border with Ukraine, we could be in for a period when all these issues merge and start to dominate the headlines.

Irrespective of what emerges, Johnson will be confronting developments from a position of weakness. That, at least, is the opinion of Matthew Parris in today's Times column, under the heading: "Flight Bojo2019 has begun its final descent".

His thesis is that Johnson's premiership is now in terminal decline. It may prove fast or slow, and the time he has left may be years or only months, he writes, but it's now only a matter of time.

Nor is it just (or even) "Tory sleaze". Simply, this has awoken a whole pack of sleeping dogs, for which Johnson "will not be forgiven". Writes Parris, "Everyone always knew he was a rascal but we knew too that he always seemed to get away with it. This time, for the first time, he hasn’t. A kind of virginity, a magic, an untouchability, has been lost, and such things cannot be retrieved".

Contrary to widespread belief, he continues, Johnson's popularity rating (unlike his six contemporary predecessors) did not even start with a positive "net satisfaction". Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May all had more altitude to lose.

Johnson, see-sawed a bit, peaked in early 2020 but only in the sub-20s, and is now on a steep downward path at minus 27. There's unlikely to be any coming back from that, says Parris. And, while MPs' personal respect for a leader can help a bit, Johnson commands no affection at all. He's no longer a winner.

Furthermore, that much seems to be confirmed (or reinforced) by another story in the paper which talks of a "deepening Tory civil war", with Johnson facing "a bitterly divided party". The "sleaze" crisis has confirmed many of the backbenchers' worst fears about him, "that he's chaotic, disorganised and only in it for himself. That he sees himself as above probity".

So far, it would be fair to say, his premiership has been defined first by Brexit and then by Covid. With the Northern Ireland Protocol still a running sore, with his dire pandemic handling rescued only by the early vaccination programme, which is fast losing its lustre, Johnson might have thought that his new-found green credentials would restore some of his fading popularity.

As an indication of a gamble that might have failed, none of the national papers today feature climate change as their lead story, and only one (the Guardian) even mentions it on its front page. And you have to hunt really hard to find any mention at all in the Telegraph, while Times features the dinghy people for its front page lead.

No amount of Cop26 headlines on Sunday, therefore, are likely to save the prime minister, while future coverage might increasingly address some of the technical issues on "net zero" which have yet to be resolved – and where Johnson is extremely weak.

For instance, while the BBC prattles on about "ways to curb climate change", regurgitating the climate worshipers' death wish of keeping fossil fuels "in the ground", no one in the legacy media seems seriously to be addressing the problems raised if we attempt to rely on renewable energy.

We some technically illiterate commentary about reliance on grid-level battery back-up, but an amount of reading round the subject, and especially this piece and this, suggest that the idea is a non-starter.

The latter piece argues that building enough systems for 12 hours of storage for the US alone would entail mining materials equal to what would be needed for two centuries' worth of production of batteries for all the world's smartphones. And that doesn't count the additional minerals needed for the transition to electric cars or the "energy minerals" needed to build wind and solar machines themselves.

Where the UK is in competition with the rest of the world for scarce and expensive resources, green electricity starts to look even less attractive than it is already. Yet this is the very foundation of Johnson's "net zero" policy. If Parris already charts him on a downwards trajectory, as each technical issue is examined – from heat pumps to electric cars – as indeed it must be, the decline can only accelerate.

Nothing that comes out of Cop26 today, therefore, is likely to provide much succour for Johnson, and certainly not on a long-term basis. He may try to "spin" a success out of the wreckage of the conference, but one suspects that it would be the last hurrah before the terminal rot sets in.

Also published on Turbulent Times.