Today the cross-party climate consensus in place for many years was shattered.
Minutes after Rishi Sunak’s press conference concluded, Labour announced they would reverse the most incendiary of all the PM’s promises – to move back the date to ban new petrol cars, from 2030 to 2035.
This puts Labour and the Tories differences on climate at loggerheads going into the election. Climate politics will now inevitably get much uglier.
Sunak used a press conference today to set out not only a new approach on climate, but a new argument about himself.
Sunak 2.0 is a politician who says that politics doesn’t work, must change, and insists that only he can take decisions in the long-term national interest, puts aside party politics and can take emotion out of heated subjects.
It is quite a claim, and a big journey he needs to take the public on in a small amount of time.
Might the public struggle to be convinced by the protestations of motivational purity?
Today was a climate announcement which many Tory MPs saw as a consequence of the Uxbridge by-election win credited to their opposition of the Ulez emissions scheme – at a point where he is 18 points behind in the polls.
But it helps Sunak that a YouGov poll showed that, individually, these messages are popular – with 44% supporting Sunak’s decision to delay or drop some net zero commitments.
By 50% to 34%, Britons supported the government proposal to push back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035.
Labour wants to use this moment to cast the Tories as an anti-business party at the mercy of his right flank.
They aren’t keen to have a fight on environmental arguments themselves, conscious that an Ed Miliband led fight might lose the support of some hard-pressed voters.
The danger for Sunak lies elsewhere.
When he took over from Liz Truss almost a year ago, he was chosen to reduce the political temperature and end the chaos.
Today we had a string of business leaders openly attacking the PM for destabilising business, with blue-on-blue violence as Tory MPs reacted badly to the U-turn.
At the same time, Sunak was insisting that the changes do not represent a watering down of the UK’s climate ambitions, which felt a little redolent of Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” moment.
Sunak’s USP with voters is as someone who channels seriousness and stability. The kinetic response to this announcement may jar with his image.