The Government seems all out of luck – now it needs some courage

The world of politics can be a particularly unforgiving place.

Like football managers, no matter how much success politicians might have along the way, the vast majority of their careers will ultimately end in failure. 

There are numerous factors that will impact the longevity of any political career, from the policies they stand for, through to how they present on television, but the one aspect they can seemingly do little about and yet seems to wield the greatest influence, is luck.

This week it was Rishi Sunak’s time to shine again as he delivered his latest Spring Statement and yet judging by the almost universal headlines in this morning’s newspapers, it would seem that the Chancellor’s luck is beginning to run out.

Less than two years ago the Chancellor was being hailed for his decisive action during the pandemic with the introduction of the furlough scheme and the billions of pounds of support that was provided to keep the UK afloat during the darkest days of Covid.

Sunak was being touted as a future leader of his party and potentially the country and ever since we have been treated to a steady flow of soft-focus shots of this new man of the people who wears hoodies and enjoys pizza as he prepares for his big day at the dispatch box.

But then Ukraine happened, energy prices soared, the cost of living crisis deepened almost overnight, and as we saw from yesterday’s Spring Statement, the Chancellor has been left with very few places to go.

As inflation hit a 30-year high of 6.2%, the Chancellor increased the National Insurance threshold by £3,000 to bring it in line with the basic rate of income tax, reduced fuel duty by 5p a litre and scrapped VAT on energy saving materials such as solar panels and heat pumps.

The impact of the announcements are unlikely to be felt to any great extent by those facing the greatest challenges in the months ahead, but the precarious state of the public finances meant he was never likely to be able to pull any particularly meaningful rabbits out of the hat.

While the thin gruel of yesterday’s announcements were not particularly surprising considering the Government’s current economic position, what was again most disappointing was what wasn’t said – particularly in light of the fact that energy is front and centre of the challenges the UK is facing today.

In the coming weeks we are expecting to see the publication of a new energy supply strategy, which is likely to include an uplift in nuclear, solar and offshore wind as we attempt to wean ourselves off Russian oil and gas imports and exposure to the highly volatile commodity markets. 

All of this is absolutely critical and should be wholeheartedly supported by all and yet once again, one has to question how much genuine political will there is to fundamentally change how we generate our energy, how we think about energy as consumers and how committed we are to taking the important steps needed to potentially save our planet!

The decision yesterday to remove VAT from solar panels, heat pumps and insulation could be seen as a step in the right direction, but in reality they were no more than a tiny step forward at a time fwhen only enormous strides will do.

Encouraging home-owners to go green is going to be the key to solving the UK’s long term energy conundrum, as well as reducing the country’s carbon footprint, but reducing the cost of 10 premium solar panels from £3,180 to £3,021 is unlikely to be the answer.

In the UK, more than a third of homes still have no insulation and yet for every four million homes that are insulated, the reduced carbon dioxide from lower energy use would be the equivalent if planting nearly 700 million trees, not to mention significantly lower household energy bills. 

The narrative around energy has to change – the renewable opportunity, providing genuine support for households to go green and having a grown up conversation about our own consumption must be front and centre of any future political discourse.

The Chancellor’s promise to reduce the basic rate of income tax by 2024 may be welcome, but is also nothing less than short term electioneering when we need a Chancellor and a Government that is prepared to look beyond the next electoral cycle.

In the words of the America actress Meryl Streep: “If you make the tough decisions, people will hate you today but they will thank you for generations.”

If we don’t start to make those tough decisions, we are in danger of sleepwalking into a dystopian future because the alternative was not cost effective and that really would be unforgivable.

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