The great thing about Cameron’s recent shuffle is that it removes any residual doubt about the status of his ‘Greenest Government Ever’ claim. This is a government that clearly cares as little as it can get away with on environmental issues – and that will now remain the case all the way through to the next general election.
The principal reason for that hostile stance is simple. That’s the prevailing view of the modern Tory party – all the way through from the 102 backbenchers who first got the backlash cracking last year, up to George Osborne himself, the unrivalled star in the firmament of planet-trashing Tories. There are all sorts of sensible and occasionally progressive Tories out there (on environmental issues), but they are either too busy protecting other aspects of the One Nation tradition (like Ken Clarke, for instance) or they are hopelessly outgunned (like Greg Barker and Greg Clark).
So just sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Owen Paterson as Secretary of State at Defra, who is as close to a latter-day reincarnation of Nicholas Ridley as we’re likely to get. Arch-denialist Nigel Lawson was quick to heap praise on this ‘climate sceptic’, which bodes ill for the future UK Government’s leadership on climate change issues.
Were it not for the Climate Change Act (signed up to enthusiastically by the Tories in Opposition in 2008 and – so far – to be fair – defended by the husky-hugger-in-chief, David Cameron) and the EU’s Directive on Renewable Energy (which set binding targets on renewable energy), this would be a government in full retreat on the low- carbon agenda. Instead of which we’ve got a government stumbling around in an extremely confused state, largely in a backwards direction.
All of which puts the spotlight back on the Lib Dems. We hear endlessly about the sacrifices they’ve had to make in the national interest – in terms of getting the economy back on track. Forget the fact they’re still failing miserably in that regard, and just think what these changes mean for the Lib Dems’ green credentials.
I would suggest they are now shot to pieces. The pathetic bleating we currently hear from the Lib Dems about the Green Investment Bank (which won’t actually be a bank at all, and won’t make any impact before the next election) and the Green Deal (which will deliver a lot less – in terms of number of homes retrofitted – than its predecessor schemes), will just dribble away. The big picture idea of the Green Economy is definitively dead in the water.
That just leaves them with their pro-renewables commitments (now more than ever exposed to the tender mercies of George Osborne, with Owen Paterson egging him on to wield the subsidy knife ever more ruthlessly), and their pro-nuclear position. OH MY GOD!
It really is astonishing to contemplate what was once a progressive and intelligent party so comprehensively engineering its own destruction.