David Cameron: he was for the environment before he was against it forgot about it

by Stephen Tall on October 1, 2008

If you listened carefully, you will have heard David Cameron mention the environment in his speech to the Tory party conference today. Here are his remarks in full:

I want a clean environment as well as a safe one.

and

[We] didn’t champion green politics as greenwash but because climate change is devastating our environment because the energy gap is a real and growing threat to our security and because $100-a-barrel oil is hitting families every time they fill up their car and pay their heating bills.

So, there you have it: two sentences. That’s 59 words in a speech of 7,134 words – or 0.8%, if you prefer. The environment didn’t even merit its own section in Mr Cameron’s speech, though ‘experience’, ‘enterprise’, ‘broken society’ and ‘families’ all did.

Compare the near-absence of the environment from Mr Cameron’s speech with his ringing declaration when he became Tory leader that the environment was “one of the most important issues facing our country and the world” and spoke of his mission “to put green politics at the top of the national and international agenda”. Putting green politics in his speech would be a start.

Am I being unfair? There is, after all, one proposal in his speech which addressed the environment:

… the right thing to do is not go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow but instead build a new high speed rail network linking Birmingham, Manchester, London, Leeds let’s help rebalance Britain’s economy.

Wonderful stuff, and good Lib Dem policy to boot. Yet the Tories’ policy U-turn – which is by no means popular with the party’s MPs or activists – comes just days after London mayor Boris Johnson (currently the most powerful Tory in the country) proposed building a massive new four-runway, 24×7 airport in the Thames estuary, as a means to expanding airport provision in the South East. So are the Tories for or against airport expansion in general?

Or is it just another case of Mr Cameron and the Tories back-pedalling on the environment?

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“Boris Johnson (currently the most powerful Tory in the country)”

I thought that was Lord Ashcroft (Is he in the country?)

by Cheltenham Robin on October 1, 2008 at 6:35 pm. Reply #

Super high-speed railways are NOT environmentally friendly.

Not even if they’re Lib Dem policy.

by crewegwyn on October 1, 2008 at 7:14 pm. Reply #

He’s a committed Unionist, but only wants the high speed rail link to go as far as Manchester and Leeds….

by Terry Gilbert on October 1, 2008 at 10:39 pm. Reply #

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

We used to have a clear, far-sighted policy. We were going to bring in massive new green taxes to deter carbon emissions, and then balance them with an equally massive 4p income tax cut. But with Making It Happen, we are now emphasising bigger income tax cuts, while going very quiet about the new green taxes. Quite how big a policy change this is we do not know, because every time Nick is asked the question, he gives a different answer.

Then we have Clegg’s “Apollo programme” to spend huge sums of money on renewable energy. Sounds great, except that we can’t possibly be the people who will “make it happen”, because we have promised those tax cuts instead. So it’s just empty rhetoric.

It’s always sensible to distrust the Tories. But let’s admit it, Cameron has done well to come so decisively off the fence on the Heathrow third runway. Yes, I know we oppose the runway too, but our policy is largely buried within the small print of a long document, hidden amongst a lot of unconvincing high-sounding flim-flam about targets for 2050 and the like. Cameron has understood the need to take a key green decision, and to cement it with a blaze of publicity. We are in no position to sneer.

by David Allen on October 1, 2008 at 11:03 pm. Reply #

David Allen – I’m not sure what you’re worrying about.

Green taxes (offset by cuts in income tax) are just as central to the party’s policy as they’ve ever been, if not more so. Nick referred to them in his conference speech. They are one of the top lines picked out in ‘Make it Happen’.

It’s fair to say the media emphasis has been on the proposal to reduce the overall tax burden, but that is (a) because it is new, (b) because it is, to many, initially counter-intuitive, and (c) because it suits the narrative of some in the media who want to put pressure on the Tories to follow our lead.

Your post implies the proposals in ‘Make it Happen’ to cut the tax burden have somehow trumped and undermined the ‘Apollo programme’ energy independence (including massive expansion of renewables) proposals. Not so.

First of all, Make it Happen was launched in July, and the energy independence proposals in August, so the chronology doesn’t work.

Secondly, the expansion of renewables has never been based on huge government spending. There would be some additional resources that, under Labour, would have gone into nuclear. But more significant would be changes to the regulatory framework for the energy companies and the introduction of feed-in tariffs which would guarantee minimum prices for generators of renewable energy (with a premium rate to renewables).

Additionally, the energy efficiency measures we would make the energy companies take would incentivise renewables in general and microgeneration in particular, as this would lessen the energy loss in distribution around the country.

To put it simply, government has a lot of tools at its disposal in terms of energy strategy. It’s not just about spending taxpayers’ money.

Renewables is also, of course, only one of five areas in the energy independence (‘Apollo programme’) plan. See http://www.libdems.org.uk/assets/0000/7676/Energy_Independence_for_the_UK.pdf for more details.

by George C on October 2, 2008 at 11:47 am. Reply #

And on Heathrow, it’s not fair at all to say our policy is hidden away. Google “Nick Clegg” and Heathrow and you get 24,900 results, including, on the first page, a Daily Mail article on Nick’s conference speech which picked out this policy.

There was a big chunk of Nick’s speech on this. Yes, it’s irritating that Cameron gets more coverage, but again this is because (a) it’s new, (b) it’s counter-intuitive (people expect us to want something green, but not the Tories), and (c), most of all, most people expect them to win the next election.

It’s testament to the strength of our policies – as well as the tenacity of our media team and the effectiveness of our local campaigning – that we still usually come out ahead on ‘best policies for the environment / tackling climate change’ poll questions (eg Populus in July).

by George C on October 2, 2008 at 12:05 pm. Reply #

George C – So, it’s all the fault of the evil Tory press, is it? It was’nt us Lib Dems who wanted to make such a big thing of the tax cut policy. It was all blown horribly out of proportion by our opponents and the media.

Well, at least you are showing a bit of shame about what we have done. That’s progress, I guess!

by David Allen on October 3, 2008 at 12:18 am. Reply #

George C – “The expansion of renewables has never been based on huge government spending.”

Well, then it has been based on smoke and mirrors, hasn’t it. Yes, perhaps we could rewrite the regulatory framework and force private industry to make all the investment (always assuming we could find a more powerful clunking fist than Gordon Brown has managed to do). But even if that worked, the consumer would still end up paying for it.

The investment is big, but it is vitally necessary, and it will have to be paid for. If we pretend otherwise, then we’re getting uncomfortably close to allying ourselves with the climate change deniers.

by David Allen on October 3, 2008 at 12:25 am. Reply #

George C:
“It’s fair to say the media emphasis has been on the proposal to reduce the overall tax burden, but that is (a) because it is new, (b) because it is, to many, initially counter-intuitive, and (c) because it suits the narrative of some in the media who want to put pressure on the Tories to follow our lead.”

You don’t think it’s because that’s what Nick Clegg is desperate for the media emphasis to be on? Because he has been talking tax cuts at every opportunity? Because he has said that is what the party will be focussing all its attention on?

by Clegg's Candid Friend on October 3, 2008 at 12:35 am. Reply #

“Google “Nick Clegg” and Heathrow and you get 24,900 results,”

If I have a pet hate at the moment it’s people using this as a rhetorical tool.

“sarah palin” heathrow gives 32,000 results, “Joe Biden” heathrow, 62,000 and “paris hilton” heathrow 232,000 and I doubt if any of them have made a substantive statement on the need for a 3rd runway to the west of London.

by Hywel Morgan on October 3, 2008 at 12:41 am. Reply #

@David Allen, ultimately there isn’t much difference between the government funding renewables and the energy companies doint it and passing extra costs to customers (although they could just shock horror be forced by the regulator to make less money) given tax payers are energy customers.

by Peter1919 on October 3, 2008 at 12:56 am. Reply #

Peter1919:
“David Allen, ultimately there isn’t much difference between the government funding renewables and the energy companies doint it and passing extra costs to customers (although they could just shock horror be forced by the regulator to make less money) given tax payers are energy customers.”

You must be joking.

Paying for renewables by raising the cost of energy is a regressive measure that will hit the poor hardest.

If there is a cost – and there must be – it should be shared fairly. Doesn’t the party keep banging on about “fair taxation”?

by Clegg's Candid Friend on October 3, 2008 at 1:05 am. Reply #

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