Leading article: The test for Mr Cameron: will he take on his party?


It will come as no surprise that The Independent agrees with the majority of the recommendations in the Conservative Party's Quality of Life policy group report. We have been calling for such measures for several years now. Take aviation. The report demands the removal of effective tax breaks on flights and a moratorium on the expansion of UK airports. This is sensible. Aviation is the UK's fastest-growing source of carbon emissions. If we are to have any chance of slowing climate change, it is vital that the runaway growth of the aviation sector be curtailed. The argument that such measures would merely penalise the poor is weak. It is the middle classes, not the less well-off, who are responsible for the massive increases in the use of budget airlines in recent years.

The report also sensibly balances proposals for penalties on environmentally damaging behaviour with incentives for those who make more environmentally sensitive choices. For instance, it proposes that higher tax on fuel-inefficient cars be balanced by a substantially lower rate for smaller, cleaner cars. It calls for a reduction in council tax on energy-efficient homes and a lowering of business rates for greener offices. While air travel would become more expensive if the report were implemented, the travelling public would benefit from greater public investment in the train network. Despite the slurs of the vested interests in the transport industry, there is as much carrot as stick in this report as far as the general public is concerned. And the report's authors are careful to stress that there is no contradiction between economic prosperity and environmentally sound policies. Again, this is an approach The Independent has championed over the years.

David Cameron deserves credit for drawing attention to the plight of the environment since he became Conservative leader. Of course, he finds himself treading in the footsteps of the Liberal Democrats, the most consistently "green" of the major political parties. But most Liberal Democrat supporters have long been conscious of the need to protect the environment. By pushing environmental concerns so strongly over the past two years Mr Cameron has been going against the grain of his party. And this focus on the environment from the main opposition party has increased pressure on the Government to live up to its own rather modest promises in this area.

But despite the merits of these proposals, what matters now is that they are transformed into party policy. In recent weeks Mr Cameron has moved in a rather unsavoury direction, talking about "anarchy in the UK" and highlighting issues such as immigration and crime to appease his party critics. The question is whether this is merely a short-term stutter to shore up his position in the polls and fend off an early election, or whether Mr Cameron is retreating into the same reactionary comfort zone that doomed his predecessors.

If Mr Cameron wants to convince the electorate that he is fit to be prime minister and that his party has really changed, he must make a stand on green issues. He has to accept that the free market has failed to protect the environment and argue that a more interventionist approach is required if we are to confront climate change.

This will be anything but easy. Already there are complaints in his party over the implications of these recommendations. But to row back on his environmental pledges now would deliver a fatal blow to Mr Cameron's credibility. This policy group has furnished the Tory leader with the intellectual arguments for the adoption of a revolutionary environmental policy. He must now use them. The defining moment of Mr Cameron's leadership has arrived.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power