Ken’s war economy

Austin Williams | 30 March 2008

Ken, the consummate political hack, has learned that you only need to mention carbon emissions these days and it is enough to stifle criticism. What better way to create the mandate for any old restrictive policy, rubbishing your opponents and getting away with it. Claim that you are campaigning against climate change and, it seems, you are above criticism. Well pardon me if I don’t play ball.

Firstly, core issues like the need for decent transport (rather than restrictions on transport), personal freedom (rather than increased monitoring) or more infrastructure (rather than repackaging existing infrastructure) are as important today as ever before, but by accepting Ken’s environmentalist agenda these fundamentally important issues will go unchallenged. He simply needs to suggest that they are of secondary importance to the higher ideal of ‘saving the planet’, and lo and behold, opposition is silenced.

It doesn’t mean that the big issues have gone away, it’s just that no-one dare mention them for fear of being labelled Kyoto-lite. Once the eco-framework for debate is set, arguing for individual choice is condemned as selfish, and Ken wants to make you do things you ‘don’t necessarily want to’. Personal privacy and rights will be eroded as Ken wants everyone to account for their actions. Forget liberty, Ken wants a war economy. All these restrictive practices – not necessarily only the preserve of the incumbent mayor – can all be called into existence in the name of climate change. So that’s alright then. Even the Evening Standard’s leader column – a paper that has pilloried him over the years – has been suckered into claiming that Ken ‘deserves credit’ for his ‘bold bid’ to make this a green election.

What would really make a difference would be for just one candidate to stand up for universal infrastructural improvements, non-discriminatory transport investment, civil liberties and freedom of expression. But to do that, the candidate would first have to break from the moral straightjacket of global warming. As yet, no-one, it seems, is prepared to do that.

Ultimately, if we put the environment first, Londoners will come a poor second, because if you accept that carbon emissions need to be reduced at all costs, then we’ll not have a leg to stand on when Ken makes swingeing cuts in so-called carbon-intensive activities (like travelling, heating, flying, bathing, relaxing and other aspects of living). Fortunately, only some of the more poisonous representatives of the Optimum Population Trust want to reduce that other source of carbon dioxide emissions –  breathing, but who knows, even immigration policy is rapidly becoming an environmental issue. We should refuse to accept politics becoming reduced to this moralistic, uncontested agenda.

Ultimately, it is ironic that this situation is taking place during an election because in Ken’s version of the war-economy, he is not on the side of democracy.

Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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