March 21, 2023 - 7:00am

Last week, Dutch voters went to polls to elect their provincial councils and the country’s Senate. The full results are now in — and show that the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) has won an even bigger victory than expected.

With over 19% of the vote, the BBB finished clearly out in front in a very crowded field. What makes this triumph all the more remarkable is that the party didn’t even exist four years ago. It has come out of nowhere to redefine the political landscape. 

The dramatic rise of the BBB is a warning to the green movement. That’s because the party was formed in opposition to anti-pollution laws that threaten the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers. For this kind of movement to make so much headway in so little time in such a progressive country shows what can happen when green laws go wrong.  

Nor is this a one-off. Most dramatically, there were the French gilets jaunes protests of 2018 and 2019. Though this violent eruption was motivated by discontent with life in general and President Macron in particular, the spark that lit the fire was anger at an increase in fuel duty. The tax rise was justified on environmental grounds, but the protesters saw it as an attack on the living standards of hard-pressed workers. Macron was forced to scrap the policy. 

In Germany, support for the Greens — which is part of the coalition government — is now on the slide. Some polls show the party falling to fourth place behind the Right-wing populist AfD. Part of the reason for that is a proposal to accelerate the phasing out of oil and gas heating in homes. Householders will have to fork out thousands of euros for heat pumps instead. It doesn’t help that much of the electricity needed to power the heat pumps will come from coal-fired power stations — which Germany still relies on thanks to the Greens’ insane crusade to shut down the country’s existing nuclear power stations. 

Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan is encountering vociferous opposition to his plan to extend the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) — and especially his attempt to link the anti-ULEZ movement to the far-Right.  

So are we seeing a popular uprising against greenery in all its forms? Probably not — as UnHerd’s own polling shows, big-ticket environmental objectives like Net Zero still command widespread support. The likes of Nigel Farage have tried to turn ecoscepticsm into the new Euroscepticism, but they’ve failed. 

Inane slogans like “Net Zero is net stupid” are clearly not hitting home. However, what does rile up the voters is when green measures impose disproportionate costs on large parts of the population. Whether we’re talking Dutch farmers, German householders or motorists in the outer London suburbs, this is the worst possible time to be demanding large sums of money from struggling businesses and families. Such costs are even harder to swallow when fossil fuel companies are making record profits and the world’s virtue-signalling panjandrums are still rocking up to Davos in private jets. 

It’s time to stop giving policymakers a free pass. It’s not enough for their policies to be green: they also have to be fair, and be seen to be fair. In this respect, the environmental movement needs to take the lead — because if its supporters don’t hold governments to account for badly designed and inequitable green policies, then others will.  

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.