Ditch ‘net zero’ commitment and lose 1.3 million votes, Boris Johnson warned

Voters will ‘punish any party that reneges’ on climate emergency commitment, Tory think tank finds

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 25 April 2022 00:02 BST
2050 net zero: Government is falling short of target, says Committee on climate change CEO

The Conservatives will lose 1.3 million votes if they water down the commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions, Boris Johnson is being warned.

A poll carried out by Onward, a think tank close to the party, has found much stronger support for sticking to the 2050 policy than abandoning it, even as the economic clouds darken.

It comes as a powerful group of backbench Tories, including former ministers Steve Baker and Esther McVey, put pressure on Mr Johnson to accept the costs to voters of net zero are too high.

They want to slam the brakes on CO2-cutting moves to replace gas boilers and insulate homes – which have already been condemned as feeble by many experts.

Last month, the Conservative chair Oliver Dowden attacked “net zero dogma”, as he insisted new drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea must go ahead.

Oliver Dowden has been critical of ‘net zero dogma’ (PA)

But Will Tanner, Onward’s director and a former No 10 adviser to Theresa May, said its research showed voters will “punish any party” that reneges on the landmark net zero pledge.

It found that two in every five people who voted Conservative at the 2019 general election would be less likely to back the party again if it abandons its commitment to reach net zero by 2050.

Only 18 per cent of former Conservative voters said they would return to the party after such a U-turn – which would cost the Tories up to 1.3 million voters, the think tank estimated.

And support for net zero is higher among northern Conservative voters than southern Tories, suggesting many of the crucial Red Wall seats snatched in 2019 would be put at risk.

“It is not only untrue to say that the Conservative party’s electoral prospects are undermined by a commitment to net zero, but the opposite of reality,” Mr Tanner said.

Boris Johnson with his wife Carrie (PA)

“Voters overwhelmingly back action to protect the environment, support the deadline that parliament introduced ... and will punish any party that reneges on those promises.

“This is as true, or truer, for the Conservative party’s new coalition as for its old guard.”

Mr Johnson has insisted he will not scrap green levies on energy bills, to pay for clean energy investments, after briefing that the move is being considered.

The poll also found that 55 per cent of all voters believe the war in Ukraine is a reason to press ahead with net zero targets, while just 28 per cent want the UK to slow down.

Overall, almost two-thirds of voters support net zero policies while just 9 per cent oppose them – and 58 per cent agreed that “even if it’s going to be expensive, we need to stop damaging the environment”.

Rachel Wolf, founder of Public First, which carried out the poll, said: “It is striking that, even in the midst of a terrifying cost-of-living squeeze, voters from different social backgrounds want politicians to stay the course on green policies.”

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