A positive policy snippet ahead of the Conservative manifesto appeared in today’s press. Apparently Theresa May intends to compensate diesel drivers, whose cars now turn out to be far more polluting than they believed when previous governments encouraged them to buy them.
It’s obviously a preferable and more popular – though also more expensive – solution than the alternative, which was to punitively tax motorists for a supposed “sin” which was not there own. Plus, of course, sin taxes have tended to be used as revenue raisers, even if they were originally introduced for supposedly moral and positive purposes, so they are best avoided in general.
If the Conservative Party is banishing one possible source of pain for the population, though, there’s another dark (smog) cloud on the horizon. After a defeat in the High Court, the Government must now publish its strategy to reduce air pollution next week.
To an extent, the diesel scrappage scheme is intended to head this off, but it’s hard to see that policy alone being enough to satisfy the demands of the courts that the strategy live up to current legal requirements. (Remarkably, the High Court deemed that as air pollution was a physical risk to people, the normal purdah on new policy should be over-ruled – a rather dubious precedent to set.)
That puts the Government in a bit of a spot. Diesel vehicles are a sizeable source of pollution, so they could have to announce other measures intended to make life more difficult for those who drive them. That would be politically controversial in itself.
But that’s only the start of the issue. More Nitrogen Dioxide is produced by London buses than by private cars in the capital. And more still is produced by burning gas to heat homes and commercial premises. The last thing any politician wants to do is to announce measures intended to make it more expensive to heat your home. Quite how that knot will be cut, we will see next week.