A climbdown on net zero? Sunak’s strategy for electoral success

Yesterday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out his government’s new approach to achieving net zero. But in many ways, just as clear, was his new approach to politics.

The speech most notably announced a delay to the ban on new petrol and diesel cars. It was the first of, what one assumes, will be several attempts to demonstrate to the electorate that Sunak is a Prime Minister who is honest and pragmatic with voters; who is prepared to take tough decisions to protect households.

But what about business? Here are three takeaways for what the Prime Minister’s speech means for how businesses should engage with the Government, the Opposition, and wider political stakeholders in the coming months.

Everything must be viewed through an electoral prism

While the slogan on the PM’s lectern may have said “Long term decisions for a brighter future”, in reality the Government’s new approach to net zero is a clear short-term appeal to voters.

Next year will almost certainly see a general election, and every policy decision and announcement, from all the parties, will now be made almost entirely through the lens that the public will be going to the polls in the coming months.

Where businesses have policy or regulatory proposals, particularly if there is a potential cost to consumers, they must consider it through that same electoral lens. How can your idea be positioned as a vote winner? Ensuring proposals are properly costed, and the impact on the public considered, will create the most compelling case to policy makers.

A conundrum for Labour

Sunak’s announcement rather boxes Labour into a corner.

On one hand, there is clear public support for policies to achieve net zero. On the other hand, the cost of living crisis is the number one issue facing politicians on the doorstep.

With Sunak seizing the position of pragmatism, to reduce the burden on households, outright opposition and criticism from Labour risks painting the party as being out of touch with the struggles of ordinary households.

The Labour Party needs help to navigate this tightrope, and businesses that can offer full-costed and practical solutions, with demonstrable benefits for voters, will receive a warm welcome from Labour stakeholders.

The opportunity for businesses to take the lead

Even before the PM’s speech was delivered, Ford led a backlash from businesses, stating that the Government risked undermining its “ambition, commitment and consistency”.

The perceived watering down of net zero policies presents an opportunity for businesses with clear, tangible and implementable sustainability policies to seize a position of leadership.

By demonstrating to political stakeholders that you are committed to net zero regardless of the Government’s approach, you convey authenticity; something hugely prized by both consumers and policy makers.

If you’d like to have an informal chat about what yesterday’s announcements on net zero might mean for your business, please get in touch via [email protected].