We’re publishing a guest post by an academic economist about why Boris, who used to be a borderline climate change sceptic, has passionately embraced a ‘Net Zero’ agenda. Could it be because he wants to curry favour with Joe Biden?
Many of his supporters are dismayed that Boris Johnson seems to be buying in so deeply to the hardcore green agenda. This is doubly so when we consider how this agenda might overlap with the powers the Government has accrued over the course of repeated lockdowns. You need not be a full-throated believer in the coming Great Reset to see that green activists are angling to leverage these new powers to impose their radical program on the population.
Those that are dismayed by this latest evolution of Johnson’s politics have been scrambling for an answer. Johnson does not personally seem like an enthusiast for hard green policies. Yes, he used to bike around London as mayor – but this hardly indicated that he was interested in the more totalitarian aspects of the green agenda.
Some have turned to the influence of Johnson’s latest wife: Carrie Symonds. The profile fits. Symonds seems like a squishy ‘right-thinking’ London liberal with an instinct finely-tuned to get as close to power as possible. Sorry Boris, but she probably did not marry you for your looks or your dependability.
In what follows I am not dismissing this personal dimension but think that it needs to be viewed in a broader context. Johnson may bend to Carrie’s will behind closed doors, but this cannot explain why the whole Tory Party has painted itself green.
The real explanation for this turn lies across the Atlantic. To understand this, you need to get into the minds of the post-Trump American liberal establishment. Trump drove these people crazy – literally, crazy. He challenged their power, which they thought unchallengeable. He also did it in a way designed to get under their skin. It drove them around the bend.
By the time that Joe Biden was elected, this entire class of people had formed an echo chamber rife with conspiracies both foreign and domestic. Calling the atmosphere in the contemporary American liberal elite ‘paranoid’ is an understatement. And so, after Biden was elected these people turned their rage outwards in search of targets.
The American elite are infamous for their lack of familiarity with the rest of the world. Never before has the world seen an imperial power so blasé and disconnected from the cultures of other countries. This blindspot has led the American elite on a feckless witch hunt for Trump-like movements and politicians that they vie to exterminate. But being so myopic the Americans are in turn easy to fool.
This is where Johnson comes in. By cosying up to Trump – not to mention by being, well, Boris – Johnson made a name for himself in American liberal political circles as a Trumpist and a populist. They really started not to like him. They also convinced themselves that Brexit was simply a Trumpist movement in disguise. So, when Biden entered the Oval Office, relations between the White House and Downing Street were frosty at best.
The American liberals were serious about this too. Drunk on the power of controlling the most powerful nation in the world, the American liberals started to lash out in ways that seemed to violate geopolitical norms. Take Poland for example. In American foreign policy, Poland is an enormously important NATO ally. It is extremely reliable, set right on the Eastern front and doesn’t have an insignificant army. Yet Biden went out of his way to insult the Poles by calling them totalitarians due to having a right-wing government. If you are au fait with Polish history, you will know well how insulting – not to mention downright stupid – this insult was.
You can bet the British Government and her diplomats were paying attention. They needed a strategy to cool relations between the White House and Downing Street. The offensive started with a puff piece on Johnson in the American liberal magazine the Atlantic. The piece is a fine example of public relations done right. Its goal is clear if you read behind the lines: Johnson is signalling to the American liberals that, whatever he is, he is not Trump; British post-Brexit populism is, he tries to convey, a different beast entirely.
When the Atlantic journalist asks Johnson about the relationship between his politics and Trumpism, the Prime Minister does not miss a beat.
“Well, how ignorant can they be?” he said.
I ventured that the curse of international politics is that each country looks at others through its own national prism.
“They do, they do”, he admitted, before continuing: “I’m laboriously trying to convey to an American audience that this is a category error that has been repeatedly made. The point I’m trying to get over to you and your readers is that you mustn’t mistake this Government for being some sort of bunch of xenophobes,” he added, “or autarkic economic nationalists.” (Here even Johnson’s critics would have to concede one difference: Donald Trump is unlikely to have ever used the word autarkic in conversation.)
What immediately stands out if you read the article is the focus on internationalism, especially as it is related to the green agenda. Read between the lines and you realise that this is the Johnson Government’s wedge issue to normalise relations with the Biden administration. The Johnson Government has figured out that this is a core issue they can use to reach across the Atlantic and keep the Biden administration on board.
Now look at the pictures over the weekend from the absurd climate get together in Glasgow. They all make sense. This is a political operation. Boris likely could not give a tinker’s cuss about climate change – although a bonus point if pretending to care keeps the wife happy. Instead, Johnson is wholly focusing on keeping Biden sufficiently well-buttered.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not trying to give Johnson a free pass on their green agenda. I fully agree with those who say that a cocktail of green politics and lockdown powers is the political equivalent of a ‘speedball’. But there is little point in misleading ourselves as to why the position is being adopted. If enterprising journalists and political activists think that taking Symonds down a notch and highlighting her impact in Government is going to roll back the Great Green Reset – or whatever you want to call it – they are only kidding themselves.
Stop Press: A clue that Boris isn’t as committed to ‘Net Zero’ as his rhetoric implies is that he flew back to London from COP26 yesterday evening by private jet, not so he could attend a Cobra meeting or anything like that but because he was a guest at a Garrick Club dinner for Telegraph journalists. The Times has more.