According to the Times this week, when Rishi Sunak returned from his holiday he had a list of priorities for the second phase of his premiership. Such was the desire for secrecy that each of them was given a code name.
The code name theme for the policy group was trees. Net zero was cedar, education was elm, HS2 was redwood and health was hawthorn. “It’s been quite surreal,” a Downing Street official said. “People keep saying things like: ‘I’ve just got to go into a meeting on elm.” "Off to a session on Dead Wood". "Health is a thorny subject". That sort of thing.
The first of those plans began to emerge this week as Sunak unveiled the result of Project Cedar, a significant watering down of green policies on the route to net zero.
The ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars has been put back to 2035. There will be no ban on buying new boilers. Households will not be required to sort the rubbish into seven bins. There will be no new taxes for eating meat, no travel tax for frequent flyers, no compulsory car sharing.
As Sunk explained in his speech ...
"The proposal for government to interfere in how many passengers you can have in your car. I’ve scrapped it. The proposal that we should force you to have seven different bins in your home. I’ve scrapped it. The proposal to make you change your diet by taxing meat. I’ve scrapped it. The plan to create new taxes to discourage flying or going on holiday. I’ve scrapped that too.
The good news, there will be bigger grants for new boiler installations and assistance with home installation. I know people in our country are frustrated with our politics. I know they feel that much gets promised, but not enough is delivered. It's a bit like HS2 ...
Rishi Sunak set to scrap the second leg of HS2 to Manchester ...
Apparently [I] am considering scrapping the second leg of HS2, which would have linked Manchester to Birmingham and London. Concerns are rising that costs of the project are “out of control”.
My Ministers have also discussed terminating trains at Old Oak Common in west London about six miles short of Euston. Passengers will be able to use bus or tube to complete the journey. A new terminal "Uber on the Common"" is under consideration. This will save money and be very handy for Tory voters in the South East.
The Prime Minister has been told by Boris Johnson and David Cameron to drop plans to scale back HS2. Johnson has warned amid warnings that a “mutilated” line would be “insanity”. George Osborne has also made clear his opposition to abandoning the northern leg. He has spotted that scaling back the project would be a “big blow” to the leveling-up agenda.
There are also divisions within the government over the plans for the second leg, which have been code named "The Dead Wood Stage". Michael Gove, the leveling-up secretary, is said to be pushing for the line to be built in full. "It would be “very stupid” to scrap the northern leg entirely.
Education is also under review. The Times disclosed this week that Sunak was planning a radical reform of A-levels with a new style of British baccalaureate. The Prime Minister could announce plans to scrap A-levels entirely. English and Maths would become compulsory until the age of 18. This, it is said, would assist in the future with cost calculations and forecasts for large scale infrastructure projects, if more people could add up.
The cheaper option would be to avoid another radical change in education just for change sake. Keep the A levels in place, just allow students to use excel and AI as part of the curriculum.
But then some policy planners just can't see the wood for the trees ...
The Saturday Economist
John Ashcroft publishes the Saturday Economist. Join the mailing list for updates on the UK and World Economy.
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