Rachel Reeves and Ed Miliband are starting to lay the foundations for a serious green challenge to the government's still underpowered net zero strategy
One of the big lessons from the Dominic Cummings' school of campaigning is that people don't really understand numbers.
Most famously, or should that be infamously, '£350m a week' sounds like a lot, even when it is both a gross rather than a net figure, and not actually that much either way.
Cummings may be have been exiled to the Isle of Substack, but the government has completely internalised his use of numerical communication, deploying it to become past masters at talking up the scale of its green investments.
Last summer's £12bn of green 'stimulus' sounded big enough to be touted as the key part of a Rooseveltian recovery package, for example, despite being a fraction of the size of the original New Deal. The government touts its multi-billion pound climate finance pledges and calls on other governments to up their spending commitments, while glossing over the associated cuts to Overseas Development Aid budgets. Myriad low carbon infrastructure funds, clean tech grants, and £9bn of energy efficiency funding all sound impressive and are definitely welcome. But the government's obvious hope is that no one looks too closely at the continued gap between the UK's emissions trajectory and its upcoming carbon targets.
This is the challenge the Labour opposition has wrestled with for years, as it attempts to land the argument that it broadly agrees with the government's net zero strategy - it's just that it would execute it far better.
Over the past few days, Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have had a broadly impressive tilt at this still daunting challenge. Their messaging may have been frustratingly overshadowed by the now standard internal Labour ructions and clumsy provocations, but when it comes to the green agenda the opposition is finally showing some fight.
In setting out how a Labour government would catalyse the green steel industry, scrap business rates to encourage clean tech investment, bolster energy system resilience, and pursue a just transition, Miliband and Reeves provided the framework for a strategy that is both suitably ambitious and clearly different from the government's approach.
But at the heart of it all was an eye catching number of Labour's own. Reeves promise of £28bn a year of green investment is what Joe Biden would call a BFD.
The parallel with Biden is instructive, as it was the foregrounding of massive green infrastructure investment that was right at the heart of both his electoral appeal and his ability to stitch together a coalition that incorporated both old school unions and left wing millennial activists. As Torsten Bell observed yesterday it is now the standard playbook for social democrats everywhere.
But as Reeves noted in highlighting her credentials as a former Bank of England economist, it is also extremely economic sensible.
A Keynsian stimulus based on long term infrastructure and skills capacity building is what the economy is crying out for even before you consider the global net zero trend and the need to avert rolling climate crises.
Reeves claimed yesterday that she wanted to become the UK's "first green chancellor". In many ways it would not take much to secure that particular title, but it is also true that the country could desperately do with a green chancellor right now to complement the net zero rhetoric of the various Party leaders.
Whether Labour can land its green messaging with the public depends on the extent to which it can stop its warring tribes sabotaging the pitch (watch for various left wing outriders attacking the leadership over its reluctance to fully sign up to the unfeasible Corbyn era target of achieving net zero by 2030); whether or not the government responds by finally ramping up its own green policy ambition and delivering a net zero strategy that is fit for purpose; and whether Reeves and Miliband can impress on the public that £28bn a year is both a properly big and an eminently sensible number.
Whatever happens next it is at least encouraging to see an opposition doing what oppositions should. Namely, coming forward with credible alternative plans, asking awkward questions, and inviting the government to up its game.