The Tory stance on environment and energy issues has been wilfully vague, it leaves green-minded voters fearful of a nightmare scenario for the low carbon economy
With just a couple of days to go until the polling booths open we remain in the staggering position whereby a Conservative Party that stands a very good chance of being returned to government remains the great mystery of this election campaign.
Is this the party whose long term plan has the economy ‘going gang-busters' or the party of slowing GDP growth? Is this the party of fiscal responsibility or unfunded NHS spending pledges and tax giveaways? Is this the party of optimistic sunlit uplands or bare-knuckle character assassination of opponents? Is this the party of business and strong governance or the party of destabilising EU referendums and constant in-fighting? Is this the Conservative and Unionist Party or the party willing to play fast and loose with the entire concept of the Westminster government representing every part of that union? Is this the party that regards a coalition agreement with nationalists as despicable or the party that would happily work with UKIP? Perhaps most damagingly for David Cameron, is this the party that bridles at the suggestion it is led by patrician and aloof Old Etonians who have no idea what living with poverty really means or is this the party when quizzed about how it plans to deliver on its pledge to slash the welfare bill offers a response that can be best translated as "don't you worry your little heads about it, we'll find a way"?
The answer to these questions is all of the above. All political parties are guilty of their evasions and contradictions, and it would be great if Labour and the Lib Dems were more transparent about their own spending plans and coalition preferences. But never has a mainstream party been able to present such a confusing picture of itself to the electorate and still have power well within its grasp.
Despite the Conservative leadership's clear reluctance to talk about energy and environment issues, this identity crisis is particularly apparent when it comes to the party's now vexed relationship with green issues.
Is this the party of low cost decarbonisation or the party that wants to effectively ban the cheapest form of renewable energy and scale back energy efficiency programmes that offer the lowest cost carbon savings? Is this the party that proudly proclaims a trebling in renewable energy capacity (in conjunction with the Lib Dems) or the party where ministers have expressed open hostility to wind and solar farms? Is this the party of enhanced biodiversity protection or the party of badger culls and eviscerated foxes? Is this the party of competence or the party that (again in conjunction with the Lib Dems) could not even give away £1bn of carbon capture funding and a diamond-plated nuclear deal? Is this the party that wants British business to lead in the ‘global race' or the party that does not want the UK to lead on clean tech? Is this the party of climate action or the party of climate scepticism?
Again, you've guessed it, the answer is all of the above.
The deep splits at the heart of modern Conservatism's approach to the environment and the green economy - splits that were somewhat papered over by Cameron's ‘vote blue, go green' persona - create a serious headache for green business leaders mulling who to vote for.
The reality is the Conservative Party is not the polluter friendly bogey-man of environmentalist nightmares that many green campaigners believe it to be. The manifesto commitment to retain the Climate Change Act means a Conservative government is similarly wedded to accelerating the pace of decarbonisation through massive investment in offshore wind power, solar, nuclear, carbon capture and storage, green vehicles and energy efficiency measures. The so-called "Green Tories" may be much less influential than they were in 2010, but the Conservative leadership is, for now at least, still opposed to the flavour of Tea Party climate scepticism offered by UKIP. Some parts of the green economy would continue to prosper under a second Cameron term. Add in the pro-business, low tax, instincts of the Conservative leadership and contrast it with Labour's self-defeating failure to effectively court the business community and there are good reasons why some green investors, entrepreneurs and executives will back Cameron and co.
However, the failure of the Conservative manifesto to provide much credible detail on how decarbonisation would be achieved, coupled with the bizarrely effusive backing for all things fracking, and the arbitrary move to "halt" onshore wind farm development, has left many questioning how serious the party is about growing the green economy.
Jobs will be lost in the wind energy sector in the event of a Conservative victory and many within the solar, energy efficiency and waste industries fear previous hostility from Tory ministers could quickly be translated into damaging policies if those ministers are returned to office and given free rein. These fears are further fuelled by the complete lack of appetite in Tory ranks for wrestling with big picture environmental issues, such as the carbon bubble, divestment, the need for climate adaptation, and the transformational impact clean technologies are already having.
More worrying still, there is a nightmare scenario for green businesses that still looks entirely plausible: a Conservative government with a wafer thin majority or the need to rely on others to get its programme through could find itself under constant pressure from UKIP and UKIP-friendly Tories to water down further those green ambitions it retains.
Could Farage demand a drastic dilution of climate policies as a condition of keeping Cameron, or perhaps George Osborne, Boris Johnson or Theresa May, in Number 10? Would a Conservative leadership that never completed Cameron's foolishly abandoned modernisation effort have the nerve to face down the head-bangers and their climate sceptic demands? These are questions that no one who cares about the UK's green economy, or indeed the UK's standing in the world, wants to find out the answers to.
A vote for the Conservatives holds out the prospect of a second coalition with the Liberal Democrats (the Financial Times and Economist's preferred option) where it is to be hoped the junior partner would embolden the Tories' green instincts and block policies that appear deliberately designed to harm the green economy in pursuit of a few thousand UKIP waverers. But it also holds out the prospect of a government that would complete the transition from Cameron's green progressivism to the sort of climate reckless identity politics embodied by Australia's Tony Abbott and Canada's Stephen Harper.
It would have been great if Cameron had more categorically ruled out such a transformation with a more explicit green agenda, but the Crosby playbook left no room for such long-term strategic thinking and the failure to modernise left the Prime Minister with minimal sway over many of his backbenchers. Consequently, those green business types considering re-electing a Conservative government cannot be entirely sure what type of government it is they are electing.
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