If, as has been the case since at least 1997 and arguably long before, elections are won by the party with the most adept spin operation then David Cameron would be forgiven for booking the Number 10 moving van right now.
The Conservative leader's speech today on how to marry small government and low carbon is a masterpiece in triangulation and spin worthy of New Labour at its best/worst, depending on your point of view.
In fact, it is so stock full of casual contradictions and political positioning it is hard to know where to start in attempting to deconstruct what the man who would be prime minister is trying to tell the business community.
His central premise is that "co-operation with business is always preferable to coercion" and that "we want to call time on the big government approach" of diktat and regulation. He argued that instead transparency and the "carrot" of green incentives will prove more effective at promoting low carbon behaviour from both businesses and consumers alike.
So far, so New Tory, and Cameron backs up his vision of a light touch low carbon revolution with a number of innovative proposals, including energy bills that tell you how your energy use compares with your neighbours, online reporting for council offices' carbon emissions, and incentives for people who recycle, each of which sounds promising and fits neatly into the Cameroonian's favoured concept of "nudging" people to behave in the interests of the wider society.
These are entirely valid arguments and there is little doubt that the government has failed to properly harness the power of incentives and transparency to encourage sustainable behaviour. But once he has set out his stall, Cameron then has to deliver a master class in spin as he attempts to paper over the glaring contradictions of his small government vision and his support for decidedly interventionist environmental policies.
So, at the same time as espousing the benefits of small government and incentives, Cameron admits that "in some cases... imposing tough regulation" will be necessary and reiterates that a Conservative government would introduce legislation effectively banning the construction of coal-fired power plants without CCS.
He also commits the Conservatives to putting "a realistic cost on pollution and waste" through the continuation of the landfill tax until at least 2020 and the introduction of a carbon tax. There are scant details on the scale and extent of this carbon tax, which is understandable when Cameron is trying to position these green taxes as carrots that reward environmentally sustainable behaviour, when they are as much sticks with which to beat those who fail to fall into line.
Then there is the political positioning. The Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems have been bickering for months over who was first to come up with proposals for smart meters, green home loans and feed in tariffs, and Cameron demonstrates that he is no mood to concede the argument claiming once again that these are all Conservative policies first and foremost.
He also delivers a remarkable display of brass neck, outlining plans for a new working group that would see the Conservatives co-operate with manufacturers to encourage the design of energy efficient appliances that no longer have stand-by and use "economy mode" as standard. He says that "we're not doing this to boss business around - we're doing this because we don't want to resort to regulation".
But Cameron must know full well that the EU is currently working on regulations that will mandate precisely these improvements under the Energy using Products Directive, which is due to pass early next year. Even if a Prime Minister Cameron chose to escalate hostilities with the EU and refuse to adopt the directive, most electronics manufacturers are pan-European and would simply conform to the new standard anyway. The result? The Tories will be able to say their co-operative approach with businesses has delivered more efficient appliances when in fact these firms are simply complying with EU regulations. Like I say you have to admire the political positioning, even if the whole thing smacks of mendacity.
The problem for Cameron is that arguably more than any other issue, the low carbon economy simply cannot be delivered through non-interventionist policies.
There are some great light touch ideas out there, such as incentives for recycling and measures to promote wider carbon reporting, which should all be rolled out more widely. Equally, there are plenty of grounds for criticising the government for its use of directionless quangos to promote low carbon business models and its failure to properly harness market forces to drive the development of clean technologies. But as a general rule the emergence of low carbon technologies will require high levels of government involvement. Be it through carbon pricing, bans on the most polluting activities, incentives for clean technologies or direct or indirect backing for large scale infrastructure projects such as nuclear power plants and high speed rail networks, the state simply has to get its hands dirty if it is to drive the transition to a low carbon economy.
Thankfully, Cameron's policies suggest he understands all this. It's just that the ideological ground on which he has chosen to fight the next election means that he can't say it - hence a speech that manages to spin some of the most demanding environmental regulations ever to be proposed in the UK as a prime example of small government at work.
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