Defining the General Election battleground

It may be more than a year away, but Rishi Sunak has now started to define the battleground for the next General Election. In a major speech, brought forward after the content was largely leaked to the BBC, Sunak announced significant changes to the government’s net zero agenda, delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and the replacement of gas boilers, while also recommitting to the North Sea oil and gas industry and grid infrastructure investment.


On the face of it, net zero – an issue that enjoys broad public support – might seem a curious spot for the Tories to stand and fight. Indeed, coming after the unexpected Conservative Party victory in Uxbridge and South Ruislip – where they held on amid anger at the Labour Party’s plan to expand the ULEZ – it also runs the risk of looking knee-jerk, cynical or both. Affected businesses, not least major car manufacturers, have not held back in their criticism of the policy change, either.


Yet there is more to Sunak’s apparent volte-face than first meets the eye. As an individual, Sunak has always been more personally sceptical of the net zero transition than his most recent predecessors, Boris Johnson and Theresa May, and this switch is instinctive as much as ignoble.


But it is also profoundly political. Sunak thinks he has found a chink in Sir Keir Starmer’s otherwise robust armour, believing the Labour leader will be forced by the green lobby into reimposing measures – such as the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars – that will prove deeply unpopular. Equally, given Sunak’s unequivocal support for oil and gas, which is also a popular cause among some key trade unions, he hopes to sow discord among Labour’s ranks.


Meanwhile, private polling by the Conservative Party apparently shows that, while 2019 Tory voters are broadly supportive of the current climate targets, they are opposed to specific policies – such as a ban on gas boilers – that they believe will be financially costly. Sunak lent heavily on this in his speech, frequently tying the change in policy to his desire to ease cost of living pressures and the burden on families.


So far, the SNP has come out firmly against Sunak’s changes, suggesting the Prime Minister was “pandering to short term populism”, but Labour has been more coy – evidence, perhaps, that Sunak’s manoeuvre has, at least temporarily, unsettled them. While that is unlikely to remain the case indefinitely, it is nevertheless clear that net zero will be one of the central issues of the coming General Election campaign.

Read the prime minister’s full Net Zero speech here

The key points from the Prime Minister’s speech:

  • A ban on new petrol and diesel cars will be delayed from 2030 to 2035.
  • No new taxes on air travel, with the Prime Minister stating proposals that “discourage flying” will be scrapped.
  • Commitment to scrapping a range of environmental measures including “how many passengers you can have in your car and the idea that [government] should force you to have 7 different bins in your home”.
  • No plans to “harm British farmers” by taxing meat.
  • UK’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050 remains in place.
  • UK’s commitment to international climate targets remain, including those contained in the Paris Agreement.
  • Reforms to be introduced to speed up the delivery of energy and grid infrastructure.
  • Delayed switchover from gas boilers to heat pumps.
  • Cash grant Boiler Upgrade Scheme to by increased by 50% to £7,500.
  • Restatement that Conservative government would not ban extraction of new North Sea oil and gas.
  • £150 million Green Future Fellowship fund to support scientist and engineers to develop “breakthrough green technologies”.
  • A hint towards further announcement on the UK’s environmental agenda at COP28, taking place in early December.

Read other news and analytics from True North here


Andrew Liddle

Andrew Liddle

Senior Advisor

Keep in touch

Sign up to our newsletter.

"*" indicates required fields

Insights & news

Oil Rig
Keystone COP for transition mission
COP28 presents a major challenge to governments around the world. This is certainly the case for the hosts, the United Arab Emirates, who have been embarrassed by inauspicious revelations they intended to use the conference – which is aimed at securing a commitment to end fossil fuel use – as cover to broker new oil and gas deals. But it is also true for both the UK and Scottish governments, who face a growing domestic challenge to balance the competing demands of climate targets, tight government finances, and consumers concerned about the costs of achieving net zero....
Read more
  • COP28
  • Insight & Analytics
  • Labour
  • Oil & Gas
On the Hunt for growth
In an age of political surprises – most recently the return of former Prime Minister David Cameron to the cabinet – Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement felt surprisingly straightforward. There was no rabbit-in-the-hat moment, no grand reveal. In fact, it was all rather Conservative, with both a small ‘c’ and a big ‘C’. This did not mean Hunt was boring – he effectively ribbed his opposite number, Rachel Reeves, and poked fun at Sir Keir Starmer – but rather just conventional. As anticipated, there were tax cuts for both individuals and business. Among the headline announcements, national insurance (NI) contributions for both employees and the self-employed were cut, saving a typical employee about £450 a year...
Read more
  • Insight & Analytics
  • Political Analysis
  • Tax
  • Uncategorized
Making his mark? Humza Yousaf’s speech to SNP Conference 
Humza Yousaf did not have his troubles to seek ahead of his first SNP Conference as party leader, with a comprehensive and bruising by-election defeat to Labour in the marginal seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West the week before last, and the defection of a sitting MP to the Conservatives in recent days.  Those woes have, however, been overshadowed by the unimaginably difficult personal circumstances he’s faced over the last ten days with close family members trapped in Gaza. Under such pressure he’s looked more statesman-like than at any point in his leadership to date..
Read more
  • Events
  • Insight & Analytics
  • Political Analysis
  • SNP
  • Tax