A full month after we launched our "net zero" petition
, the government has finally responded to our demand for a referendum – as it was obliged to do.
It is fair to say that our expectations of this response were never high, so we cannot say that we are in any way disappointed. The government has simply behaved as expected, expressing its usual degree of contempt for voters and the principles of democracy.
In short, its refusal to consider a referendum rests on a single, apparently newly-minted principle, that: "National referendums are a mechanism to endorse major constitutional change".
Certainly it is the case that the referendums held so far in the UK have dealt with major constitutional issues. But there is nothing in law or framed in any constitutional instrument which prevents their use for other purposes.
Therefore, the government's case rests on is subordinate assertion that, "debates about national policy are best determined through Parliamentary democracy and the holding of elections". That too has no legal or constitutional provenance and stands as no more than a matter of opinion – and one based on extraordinarily fragile assumptions.
The first of these, of course, is the very existence of "Parliamentary democracy" – the idea that parliamentarians necessarily (or at all) represent the will of the people, or indeed are even acting in their interests. As we have long averred, "Parliamentary" is to democracy as "wooden" is to leg. The only genuine expression of democracy is direct democracy, of which the referendum is a fundamental part.
As to the holding of elections as a means of determining or approving national policy, this surely must be a joke. Specifically, in this country, national elections are used to choose MPs and, through them, the government.
For sure, governments (usually) produce manifestos prior to elections, but they are not bound by them, and nor are the restricted by them. Crucially, such is the range of issues included in the typical manifesto that it could not be rightly said that voters will necessarily agree with them all.
However, in its detailed response, the government makes great play of the have that it "made a key manifesto commitment to reach 'Net Zero by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution'". It was, it says, one of the top six pledges in the government's manifesto, alongside policy commitments to help achieve the target.
To then assert that this gives the government a mandate to act is, to say the very least, disingenuous – another way of saying "thoroughly dishonest". As is well recorded, the 2019 election turned on one issue and one issue alone – Johnson's pledge to "get Brexit done". Those who voted for this cannot be said in any way to have endorsed "net zero". Many fundamentally opposed it, and still do.
Equally to the point though, all three main parties – which could realistically form a government or be part of one – supported the principle of "net zero". Therefore, if the holding of elections is seen as a means of determining or approving national policy, then the 2019 election was an egregious failure. The electorate were not offered a meaningful choice – whichever government they had elected, the policy would have been much the same.
Despite this, the government tells us that the "net zero target" was passed into law by Parliament with strong cross-party support, as if this was an affirmation of its "democratic" credentials. It has learned nothing from the Brexit referendum, where remaining in the EU also had "strong cross-party support" yet MPs were at variance with the majority of those who voted to leave.
Presumably seeking to shore up a weak case, though, the government moves on to tell us that "it is clear that public concern about climate change is high, having doubled since 2016". Citing a BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker (Wave 37, 2021), it asserts that 80 percent of people in the UK were either "concerned" or "very concerned".
But, given the torrent of publicity on global warming, this finding is hardly surprising. Once again, though, the government is being disingenuous. Concern about global warming does not translate directly – or at all – to approval of measures to deal with it, such as "net zero".
Even the assertion that people and businesses "recognise that change must happen", with the claim that 80 percent of respondents in a recent survey "believe the way we live our lives will need to change to address climate change", does not comprise a mandate for the "net zero" agenda.
Nevertheless, relying on the same survey (BEIS, Climate change and net zero: public awareness and perceptions, 2021), the government asserts that – in the artificial circumstances of "being provided with information on net zero", 78 percent of all participants said they "strongly" or "somewhat" supported the "net zero" target.
Yet this propaganda exercise amounts to nothing more than an abuse of statistics. When the survey examined participants' knowledge of "net zero", 13 percent know nothing about it, 18 percent knew "hardly anything", 30 percent knew "a little" about it, 30 percent "a fair amount", and 9 percent "a lot".
On that basis, only 39 percent were even in a position to offer an informed opinion while the majority (61 percent) were not. Only after the survey provided participants with a brief statement "clarifying what net zero is" were their views sought on whether they supported or opposed the target. That statement amounted to:
The UK government has set a target for reducing UK carbon emissions to "net zero" by 2050. By achieving "net zero" emissions, the UK will no longer contribute to climate change. This will involve significantly reducing emissions from many different activities, such as driving cars, the food we eat, and the electricity we use. Any remaining carbon emissions would be balanced out by technologies and actions that reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
There was no mention of banning gas boilers, and forcing people to buy massively expensive and unreliable heat pumps, nor anything about the electric vehicle programme, nor about the attendant risks of power failures or any of the potential downsides.
This being the government's substantive case for refusing a referendum, it then moves on to eulogising about the advantages of "moving away from fossil fuels and towards net zero". That it again offers none of the downsides is possibly one of the strongest arguments for a referendum when the issues would be openly debates.
But what we then get stretches credulity to breaking point. "Recent volatile international gas prices have demonstrated that we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels", says the government. "We need to protect consumers and businesses from global gas prices by increasing our domestic energy security through clean power that is generated in the UK for the people of the UK".
Yet, in the real world, the reason why we are vulnerable to massively increased gas prices is because of the governments reckless and premature destruction of our coal-fired generation capacity, and the successive failures of our nuclear plant replacement programme.
This has left us with an unbalanced generation fleet where we are excessively and dangerously reliant on gas generation to make up for the inherent unreliability of renewables. More reliance on renewables (which is what is intended) would simply make the problem worse.
These worst of this, though, is that we are not even being taken for fools. Rather, we have fools in government who actually believe their own propaganda.
Picking through the rest of the propaganda, we then come to a paragraph which is pure Goebbels. "Transitioning to net zero", the government claims, "is not about telling people what to do or stopping people doing things; it's about giving them the support they need to do the same things they do now but in a more sustainable way".
In any sense that any ordinary person might understand this claim, the government is lying. Progressively, it intends to ban the use of gas boilers, thereby stopping people from using the most cost-effective form of domestic heating available. It is to force people to increase insulation in their houses, even where inappropriate. It is intending to ban cars with internal combustion engines, forcing us to buy massively more expensive and unreliable electric cars, or resort to walking, cycling or public transport.
And this, it tells us, is "to get a head start on this worldwide green industrial revolution and ensure UK industries, workers and the wider public benefit" – on the day after heavy, and unseasonably early snowfall (pictured), where the media have gone strangely silent on the perils of global warming.
But, as long as the government can avoid a referendum, it can lie, dissimulate and propagandise to its heart's content, aided and abetted by a corrupt media. The very last thing Johnson wants is an open debate on "net zero" or a public vote. We, the plebs, should know our place. Our task is to suck on the tit of government propaganda – and believe.
Thus are we regarded with contempt. But the government needs to be careful. The feeling is mutual and growing in intensity.
Also published on Turbulent Times