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July is “virtually certain” to have been the hottest month on record globally, the UN has said. Yet climate change deniers are still being given airtime on GB News, while Conservative backbenchers heckle ministers about “green crap”.
We are likely to look back on this period as a definitive low point in our political culture. Particularly when voters – despite the overwhelming media narrative – are broadly supportive of pro-climate policies.
How is it that a by-election in one seat, Uxbridge and South Ruislip – won by the governing party on 495 votes – is currently at risk of overhauling both the Government’s climate agenda and the Opposition’s?
How can a small margin in one by-election, pinned on a clean air policy (Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone expansion), potentially be knocking the UK off its climate targets?
Following the Tories’ win in the constituency, Rishi Sunak has launched a review of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – which prevent residential streets turning into rat-runs – and is set to approve more than 100 new licences for oil and gas projects.
The Government is also considering delaying the phase-out of gas boilers, while rules on stronger energy efficiency ratings for private landlords are set to be watered-down.
Yet voters think the Government is not doing enough to tackle climate change, according to a new poll commissioned by this newspaper’s Substack, Byline Supplement.
Omnisis’ poll found that 60% of the public believes the Government is falling short in tackling the issue. The sentiment is especially pronounced among Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters –with 72% and 71% respectively expressing their dissatisfaction with the Government’s actions on the issue.
Just 23% of all voters surveyed said they feel that the Government is doing enough to address climate change. The sentiment rose among Conservative voters, with 43% expressing confidence in the Government’s current efforts. In contrast, only 15% of Labour supporters and a mere 18% of Liberal Democrats shared this optimistic view.
Byline Supplement has also delved into public opinion on getting polluting cars off the road – a key issue in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election earlier this month.
A majority of 55% backed a reduction in the number of motor vehicles on Britain’s roads. This actually rose to 57% of Conservative voters, alongside 55% of Labour supporters, and an even more resolute 65% of Lib Dems favouring a decrease in vehicles on our roads.
In contrast, a mere 8% of respondents said they held the belief that we should increase the number of private vehicles. Just 9% of Conservative voters backed that view – the same as other major parties.
And only a quarter, 26%, of all respondents said they were content with maintaining the status quo. Again, it was roughly the same for Conservative voters, 28%, as Labour supporters.
The Meat-Free Masses
Voters said they were also willing to take action themselves to reduce their climate impact. A significant chunk, 41%, of those surveyed said they would be willing to eat less meat if it could contribute to tackling climate change.
This sentiment was notably higher among Labour supporters, at 47%. Likewise, an impressive 52% of Lib Dems also embraced the idea of eating less meat to combat the climate crisis.
But even among Conservative voters, the figure stood at 42% – demonstrating a cross-party agreement among voters for lifestyle changes to tackle climate change.
In news that will worry the Conservatives’ rural ally, the National Farmers Union, one in ten (11%) of Conservative voters said they would give up eating meat altogether, alongside 10% of Labour supporters.
Voters were, however, split roughly down the middle on the issue, with 42% of the public reluctant to alter their meat consumption habits to address climate change. The figure was highest (43%) among Conservatives.
A minority of respondents, 7% overall, said they already adhered to a meat-free lifestyle, which included 5% of Conservative voters.
Up the Agenda
When asked ‘how important on a scale of 1-10 do you believe it is to reach “net zero” emissions in the UK by 2050, where 1 is not important at all and 10 is very important?’ – the results were even more eye-opening.
Almost a majority – 47% – of voters overall placed reaching net zero at 8-10 in importance for the country. By contrast, just 10% ranked it as 1-3 – the least important. Just 8% of Conservative voters put it in that category – compared to 42% who said it’s very important (8-10).
Tory voters – and the wider public – do not appear to view reaching net zero carbon emissions as ‘woke nonsense’, as GB News and many Conservatives backbenchers in the Net Zero Scrutiny Group would have it.
By a 10-point margin (28% to 18%), the poll’s respondents said they believed that Labour is best placed to deal with the environment and climate change – but there was even stronger support for the Green Party on this issue, with 31% of voters saying the Greens would be better suited to tackle the environmental crisis.
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Even 17% of Conservative voters said they believe the Green Party would be better than their own party on the issue.
Again, on new oil and gas licences, 39% of voters said they think ministers should cancel all new oil and gas projects – compared to 31% who disagreed (many said they don’t know).
What about Labour’s plans?
In 2021, Keir Starmer’s party promised to spend £28 billion a year on green projects, if it won the next election. The money would come from borrowing (Byline Supplement made this clear to the public in Omnisis’ polling). While Labour has since watered-down the commitment – kicking it into later in the next Parliament – it needn’t be so frightened.
Nearly a third, 31%, of the public said they back Labour’s £28 billion a year plan outright – compared to 25% who said they opposed it and 30% who said they are on the fence. Conservatives, admittedly, said they were against it. But they are far fewer in number given that Labour has a 20-point lead nationally.
Perhaps Starmer doesn’t have to be so meek and mild on the most pressing issue of our generation.
Omnisis surveyed more than 1,000 GB adults between 26-28 July 2023 online. Results were weighted to be representative of the wider public
This article was first published on Byline Times’ Substack, ‘Byline Supplement’, which publishes exclusive features and analysis every week. Most content is subscriber-only. Find out more and sign up here
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