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Threats and fears

- The year, 2015, is vanishing at spectacular speed

I don’t think I understand what the Paris climate-change conference has achieved beyond enough promises of positive action for everyone to be allowed to go home, if not quite as early as most had hoped. I always have the feeling with such promises, based in any case on lower goals than anticipated, that their implementation becomes someone else’s problem as soon as the accord is signed. None of the promises is legally binding; there will be ‘transparency’ through regular reports on progress from individual countries but penalties for lack of it, beyond naming and shaming, are vague to non-existent. Possibly the poison air enveloping Beijing will encourage the Chinese to take the problem of emissions seriously. The sea washing over island nations like Kiribati and Palau, the Maldives too, is less likely to make the world change its ways. After all, we might say, islands come and go, don’t they? Look at the legend of Atlantis. Whether the sea can be pushed back now seems like wishful thinking but we have to hope that the grandchildren of living islanders, as well as our own who may live on higher ground, will at least be able to breathe the air around them and that governments now stick to the promises they have made, ours included.

Our energy policy, like our education policy, appears to ebb and flow according to fashion or the opinion of the last person with a problem or a mission and a loud enough voice to be heard in Parliament. Recent plans for a 90 per cent cut in solar subsidies, more to do with stealing from Peter to pay Paul than any particularly well-thought-out policy, will need to be reversed if the energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd, is not to be accused of blatant hypocrisy. Well, she is already being accused of blatant hypocrisy as she starts the instant paring down of promises with slogan sentences like “providing better value for money for consumers”, meaning no reversals on solar subsidies or wind farms. 

The chancellor, George Osborne, is right behind her, clawing back the cash where he can. We all know that alternative energy is both difficult to harness effectively and expensive, but prices won’t come down until we buy into it whole-heartedly and possibly save the world for future generations as an add-on that politicians would rather not think about. Looking forward has become dreadfully unfashionable.

Jeremy Corbyn, after a rough week or two, has been able to make statements on climate change with which most of us can agree — it must be nice for him to feel on the side of Right, or perhaps one should say that unreconstructed old Left is Right in this instance. He said, with no great originality, it must be admitted, “The challenge now is to turn the Paris agreement’s fine words into the strong action the planet and its people need... The Prime Minister has so far failed to show the leadership this agreement demands. In fact the government has been taking us backwards on climate change action...” And so say all of us, but Corbyn’s voice is hardly more likely to carry weight than any ordinary voter. He has blown the leadership of the Labour Party to such an extent that even when he makes sense nobody will take him seriously.

The Labour win at the Oldham by-election was something of a fillip for the party leader, but appears largely to be due to an excellent local candidate and the fact that the United Kingdom Independence Party was Labour’s closest rival. Most people would rather have even a Corbyn-led Labour Party than anything to do with Nigel Farage and, as parties tear themselves apart, personality becomes ever more important. A decent local candidate who will speak up on local issues from almost any party except perhaps UKIP is the best a constituency can hope for. So, poor old Jeremy could celebrate, if on somewhat spurious grounds. In the House of Commons, he looks miserable with every good reason. The last straw for his credibility came with Hilary Benn’s remarkable performance closing the debate on United Kingdom’s air strikes against Daesh in Syria, which must have persuaded many waverers and possibly had his father — the old Labour left-winger, Tony Benn — spinning in his grave. Benn junior’s line was essentially that we had to fight a present threat from a form of fascism that had to be defeated now.

Hilary Benn has a good reputation and a reputation for good sense. He is believable and he certainly persuaded me, whatever the nagging ifs and buts. The nagging continues and not just from the Scottish Nationalists, their Westminster leader, Alex Salmond, showing himself in his least attractive and most vicious light in this instance. Nevertheless, concerns over another plunge into military action will not be appeased, I fear, until we can look back with the wisdom of hindsight, something from which we rarely seem to learn. Hilary Benn, I am sure, looked at all that has gone before with clear eyes, picked it apart and worked out what was different this time and delivered his call to arms with a passion that is rare to non-existent in Parliament today. That something must be done about Daesh few can doubt. Whether the sort of hands-off, at-a-distance war we and our allies wage now against a common threat will be enough, none of us yet knows. It seems unlikely but we have to hope. Wishful thinking, ideally supported by positive action, seems to be the only way forward whether we fight for nature against our own depredations or against the more immediate enemies of distant others, and, after Paris, for ourselves and those closest to us.

So, the end of another year looms — 2015 is vanishing at spectacular speed. I suppose I can hardly hope for the years to slow down even if there is a faint chance that global warming may. We have had a ridiculously warm autumn and winter so far, daffodils are beginning to flower and the grass is still growing in gardens up and down the country unless they are underwater. Winds and floods have destroyed infrastructure and homes in the northwest and Scottish borders. My son, who lives in South America, tells me that the weather there is also unseasonable but they do not talk about climate change per se but only about El Niño — the same idea, but somehow it sounds less threatening. Threat and fear would seem good things in this case.

There must be some good news in the lead up to Christmas and New Year festivities. Women have been elected to local councils in Saudi Arabia, a small step it seems but huge when taken in a context where the Grand Mufti can describe women in politics as “opening the door to evil”. The door has been closed, temporarily at least, on another evil in France where Marine Le Pen and the Front National have been stopped by mass tactical voting — at least, it gives sanity some breathing space. Shaker Aamer, the last Briton held at Guantánamo, has been freed to live here with his family after 14 years imprisonment and, after torture, possibly condoned by British intelligence, and so many lost years, is speaking out as an articulate champion of true and peaceful Islam. A British man arrived at the International Space Station this month.

Unfortunately another British man, the appalling Tyson Fury, has become World Heavyweight Champion — he and the Grand Mufti should get together soon judging by his remarks about women. The latest Star Wars film is out, I never saw the old ones so I’m a bit behind the times on that — perhaps they would be a way to revisit lost youth. Do I think things can only get better in 2016? Bah, humbug, but you never know.