Ed Miliband: I’d relish fighting an election on net zero

LONDON — Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said he “relishes” the prospect of fighting an election on net zero, as Rishi Sunak accused politicians of not being straight with the public about the cost.

Speaking at the launch of POLITICO Pro Energy & Climate U.K., Miliband said Labour would ask people who they trust most to implement a fair transition to a lower-carbon economy. 

“I relish the prospect of going toe to toe with this government on saying who can make this transition work economically for the British people,” he said. “The idea that Rishi Sunak, who is seen as out of touch with the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation, is the answer … I mean, come off it, frankly.”

He told POLITICO the Labour Party would revert to a 2030 deadline for banning sales of new petrol and diesel cars, which Sunak announced Monday would be shifted to 2035.

On the transition from gas boilers to heat pumps, Miliband said only that Labour would come up with a plan before the next election, whereas Sunak promised more time and bigger incentives for households making the switch. 

And the shadow climate secretary recommitted to the party’s biggest climate pledge, seen by some as unrealistic: a commitment to remove fossil fuel power from Britain’s electricity grid by 2030, five years quicker than the Conservative government’s own target. 

His comments came on the same day that Sunak gave a hastily arranged speech at Downing Street confirming a slow-down of several flagship green policies, after the plans were leaked to the BBC. 

The prime minister said: “No one in Westminster politics has the courage to look people in the eye and explain what’s really involved. That’s wrong, and it changes now.” 

He stressed he would not “abandon any of our targets or commitments” but they would be carried out in a more transparent way. 

However, Miliband launched a personal attack on Sunak, saying: “I think he [Sunak] simply sees net zero as an obligation to be managed, not an opportunity to be seized. That is the way he behaved at the Treasury, and that is the way he’s behaving as prime minister.”

Sunak’s intervention, criticized for its timing during a parliamentary break when MPs do not have the chance to ask questions, seems designed to draw a dividing line with the opposition ahead of next year’s general election.

Senior Conservatives have been keen to draw links between the Labour Party and environmental protest group Just Stop Oil, while many in the governing party have interpreted the backlash to taxes on high-emission vehicles as a political opportunity. 

Miliband shrugged off criticism of anti-pollution measures in London, saying: “What we are about is cutting costs for people and tackling the cost of living crisis.”