Remember the sight of British Prime Minister David Cameron glissading across the Arctic ice six years ago in Norway?
His trip to to the Arctic, at the invitation of WWF, was meant to signal a turning point in the Tory’s attitude to the environment.
Pictures of Cameron speeding across a glacier and hugging a cute husky appeared in many British newspapers. Here was a politician taking the climate change message seriously.
“The electorate saw it as a symbolic moment in the ‘detoxification’ of the party’s brand”, argues David Nussbaum, Chief Executive, WWF-UK. “The message was clear: the Conservatives had changed; they were no longer the ‘nasty party’, and a deep commitment to tackling environmental problems was part of the package.”
Cameron’s Arctic trip was in 2006. Fast forward two years to 2008 and in a speech Cameron reiterated his green credentials, debunking the idea that environmentalism was a luxury that would be ditched in times of trouble. “The truth is: it’s not that we can’t afford to go green – it’s that we can’t afford not to go green,” he said.
Fast forward two more years until 2010 and a giddy Cameron became Prime Minister, albeit power came with a price as the Conservatives had to share government with the Liberal Democrats. But still the tinges of some green policies were in the Coalition Agreement – no subsidies for nuclear power; no third runway at Heathrow.
Fast forward two more years to April 2012 and Cameron said “When I became prime minister I said I would aim to have the greenest government ever and this is exactly what we have”. He also said he “passionately believed” the growth of renewable energy was vital to the UK’s future.
Fast forward a few more months and Cameron’s first major Cabinet reshuffle. The was the first time Cameron really had the chance to stamp his authority and direction on the Cabinet, after the early political dealing with the Liberal Democrats. It was a “reshuffle by the Conservative party for the Conservative party”, argues the Guardian.
The clear political consensus is that the Cabinet has moved to the right. The Financial Times this morning calls it a “tilt”. The Guardian calls it a “sharp turn to the right”
What is clear is that this is an anti-green reshuffle. As the FT argues: “Mr Cameron’s shake-up heralds a tough new Tory approach to growth, ripping up old “green” policies and putting a new focus on delivering big infrastructure schemes and cutting business red tape.”
He has just promoted two anti-renewable advocates; one who is a known climate sceptic, moved a Minister who was against airport expansion and sacked his environment secretary.
Out goes the Transport Secretary Justine Greening, a passionate opponent of a new runway at Heathrow. She was moved to international development. London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, himself a Conservative, has voiced the concerns that many people suspect, that the only reason for the switch was “to expand Heathrow”.
Out goes Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary. Although she presided over a disastrous PR disaster of trying to sell off the nation’s forests she “still she spoke convincingly, if quietly, about the value of the nation’s natural environment and the false economy of despoiling it in the desperate search for a quick fix to the recession,” according to Damian Carrington, the head of the environment at the Guardian.
Carrington, like many others, is deeply worried by Spelman’s replacement Owen Paterson, a climate sceptic who is against subsidies for wind and solar and who wants to fast track polluting shale gas. He has also spoken out against wind farms.
If further evidence was needed of reasons to be worried, Paterson has been endorsed by the arch climate sceptic and shale gas promoter Lord Lawson, who says Paterson speaks with “reason and sense” on green issues. “He is in fact one of the most able and promising young men or women around the cabinet and therefore his promotion to environment is extremely welcome… he is a man of reason and sense,” said Lawson.
Finally out goes Energy Minister, Charles Hendry to be replaced by another anti-wind politician, John Hayes. As Business Green argues “Hayes appointment will cause concern amongst renewable energy firms given his opposition to wind farms in his constituency, having previously describing wind turbines as a ‘terrible intrusion on our flat fenland landscape’”.
Back in 2009 Hayes said “renewable energy needs to pass the twin tests of environmental and economic sustainability and wind power fails on both counts”.
In summary David Cameron once said he would lead the greenest government ever. He has failed on all counts: it has become a drill-baby-drill, fly-baby-fly and kill-renewables-kill government.
The Tories have now revealed their true colours and it ain’t green. Refusing to commit to carbon targets for 2030 before 2016, a key commitment for the Liberal Democrats n this coalition marks another sad day in the departure from the pre-election environmentally friendly rhetoric from Cameron.
Unfortunately it is now clear he believe us to be the ‘greenest electorate ever!’
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