The Tory green brigade now tends to be heavily concentrated in the House of Lords, where Zac Goldsmith recently joined John Gummer, now known as Lord Deben. This pair were jointly responsible for the Conservative party ‘Quality of Life’ report of summer 2007, which argued: ‘Beyond a certain point – a point which the UK reached some time ago – ever-increasing material gain can become not a gift but a burden.’
Had the hard-bitten Andy Coulson not arrived to reframe the Tory message, the party could well have gone into a general election in the autumn of that year with its central charge against Gordon Brown being that he had made the British people too well-off.
A lower-profile Tory environmentalist is Lord Duncan, a former MEP who resigned from the European parliament in 2017 to fight a winnable seat in Scotland but narrowly lost it amid the ‘Maybot’ meltdown. Fortunately for him, the soft red-leather benches of the upper chamber cushioned the blow.
On Saturday, Duncan went on Radio 4’s Today programme to warn off those Conservative MPs who have drawn the lesson from the victorious Uxbridge by-election that the Tories should ease back on what David Cameron is once alleged to have described as ‘the green crap’.
Duncan spoke up for an ongoing ‘bipartisan approach’ between the big parties. It was this, he said, which had allowed the UK to be a world leader in reducing carbon emissions. When politicians talk of bipartisanship, they usually mean disarming the electorate. If both the incumbent and the main challenger have adopted the same position in a first-past-the-post system, then there is almost no way for the public to shift the dial. As Henry Ford might have put it: ‘You can have any colour so long as it’s green.’
Duncan was, in effect, telling elected colleagues for whom grubbing for votes is a regrettable fact of life, not to make the pace, scale and cost of Net Zero a dividing line with Labour.