David Cameron’s promise to lead “the greenest government ever” was the high-water mark of efforts to modernise the Conservative Party that embraced huskies as well as hoodies. Since then, the trend has been almost entirely downhill. From the debacle over subsidies for household solar panels, to incentives for shale-gas development, to the reduction of green levies on energy bills, the Coalition has proved a disappointment at almost every turn.
Against the backdrop of recession, it could perhaps have been predicted that environmental pledges might suffer. The long-term benefits of, for example, a vibrant green-energy industry are undeniable. But with politicians facing elections after just a few short years, their focus on the short term should be little surprise. And it is even less surprising, or so the standard rhetoric runs, given that the Government is led by the Conservatives. The dispatch of greenery is merely a reversion to Tory type.
But the divide between environmentalism on the left and rapacious, resource-looting big business on the right is not as inevitable as it seems. Quite the reverse, in fact. Conservatism, as the name suggests, is fundamentally about stewardship, about taking care of what we have inherited from our forebears and passing it on to those who follow. That goes for the natural environment as much as for society.
At least some leading Tories grasp that fact. A right-leaning think-tank publishes a report today that not only sets out a very Conservative case for environmentalism, but also offers a series of free-market mechanisms for putting it into practice. Suggestions include expanding carbon trading and using imaginative financial products, such as Social Impact Bonds, to fund innovative infrastructure. Tellingly, the philosopher Roger Scruton, the industrialist Sir James Dyson, and the Education and Environment Secretaries have all made contributions.
To applaud the Conservative Environment Network is not merely to welcome a burst of intellectual consistency. It is to recognise a real hope of progress. The scale of our environmental challenges are such that we need all to be looking for solutions.