Tories on Standby for Labour-Saving Policy Action

Today’s Observer editorial carries the following analysis of the “Phoney War” of policy battles between Brown and Cameron, amidst rumours of an early election:

The Conservative leader is not short of policy ideas. If anything, he has too many of them and they are not marshalled into a clear political vision. 

David Cameron is not short of policy ideas? Over on page 7, there’s a different story:

In an attempt to burnish his green credentials – weeks after being accused of lurching to the right – David Cameron will offer strong support for the report that would herald a major redesign of many of today’s electrical goods. 

Policy, policy, everywhere…

In a sign of the depth of the change of thinking at the highest levels of the Tory party, whose leaders once regarded the home as beyond the reach of the state, the report will warn that many electrical goods will have to be scrapped unless they are made more environmentally friendly. The report will single out hugely popular plasma television screens – they even adorn the walls of Downing Street – as a product that consumes too much electricity. The report will say that ‘high consumption technologies’ will be banned unless they meet new standards for lower electricity consumption. 

The issue here is that the standby modes of electrical appliances are (allegedly) the cause of 2% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. But policies about the buttons on our TVs really ought to be at the bottom of the policy ideas barrel – banning them is not going to change the planet. This policy is certainly a sign of the “depth” of “thinking” going on in Westminster, but not a change.

Cameron regards the Quality of Life report – the last of six semi-autonomous commissions to report to the Tory leadership – as a key moment in demonstrating his determination to modernise his party by adopting radical green proposals. 

Expanding the matter in the same issue of the paper, John Gummer, former Conservative Environment Minister invites us to “Turn Off the TV and Join the Tory Green Revolution”… ‘Individuals as much as governments must help in sustaining our increasingly beleaguered planet’, he says. And how are we going to save the planet? Localism…

Localism is also about local food and local provision, it’s about post offices and farm shops, it’s about food miles and local amenities. Climate change puts a new cost on carbon and therefore changes the economic balance that, for too long, has driven us away from localism towards central control. 

It’s a funny kind of “modernisation” that bans the benefits of modern society. It’s also interesting how the political equivalent of the razor wars seems intent on punishing the public for their naughty indulgences in the fruits of industrial society – big tellys, flying, driving, and labour-saving (pun intended) devices – and for wanting life to be about more than what’s happening locally (whatever that means). Not only is today’s politics about limiting the size of our television screens, it is also about lowering our horizons in the real world too. It is the political parties which are beleaguered, not the planet.

Who are these policies supposed to be speaking to – apart from other political parties, that is? It can’t be the TV watching masses. And apparently it’s not even the readership of the Observer. Of the 48 pages in the main section of one of the most green-leaning papers today, 9 contained car adverts, 3 of them full page, and 5 half pages.

Carbon Neutral Policy Surfeit

Apologies for being off-line recently. It’s been summer, we’ve been busy, and there’s been less news around. Now that the Summer is over (did it ever really begin?), we’ll be back with more regular postings.


The Liberal Democrats announced last week their plans for a ‘zero carbon Britain‘ – including banning all petrol cars from UK roads by 2040, and the end of atomic power. As they tell us,

The measures, which will be debated at the party’s conference in Brighton next month, strengthen the Liberal Democrats’ position as the only major political party with specific proposals designed to face the challenge of climate change.

This indeed trumps the Labour Party’s 60% cut of CO2 by 2050, and the Tory’s 80%, and even the Climate Camp protesters’ 90%. All you need to be radical these days is to add a few percentage points more than you opponents. But this is politics by numbers, and is better explained not by some new-found commitment to environmental politics or even the consequence of scientific research, but a need to find a new niche in the face of poor ratings. There are no ideas, no principles, no philosophy, and no matters of substance separating these parties. And there are barely any differences of approach to what the Lib-Dems are calling ‘the number one challenge facing the world today‘.

If the parties only offer differences of degree, all citing the same “science” (Stern, IPCC, Tyndall – none of which are “the science”), what science can they possibly be deferring to? Where is the science which tells us what percentage cut of CO2 will save the planet? How can four readings of the same research produce such “different” policies?

The answer is, of course, that the science has little to do with it. And in spite of this being ‘the number one challenge facing the world’, as we reported before, 56% of the UK public don’t seem to see things the same way. Perhaps that’s because, in spite of the poll’s authors’ contempt for them, the public are fairly good at spotting nonsense. Which is a problem for the Lib Dems, and the political parties generally, because in their bids to out-do each other, none dare to challenge the consensus or the political orthodoxy , but attempt to demonstrate that they better represent it. What appears to be the most radical figure – the 100% – is in fact the most cowardly. The Lib-Dems are, after all, yellow.

Which party will be the first to offer a carbon negative UK? Place your bets, it’s only a matter of time, and it’s the only way to go for the exhausted party politics of “the mother of all democracies”.