Kamikaze Cameron

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Tory Diary’s Tim Montgomerie turns his attention to the grotesque, supposedly Green, extravagance of Britain’s coalition government:

Although George Osborne has recently tried to protect manufacturing, in particular, from the high costs of climate change policies the reality is that Chris Huhne  [a Liberal Democrat, who was, tellingly, a major advocate for British membership of the Eurozone, amongst other insanities] is a remarkably successful and powerful minister who is delivering very bold (and expensive) action on climate change. Tim Yeo, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons energy and climate committee, acknowledges this in remarks to The Observer:

“We are getting a change of rhetoric, with more emphasis on the burdens that green projects could put on the economy. But it is out of step with what the government is doing, much of which is radical and forward-looking.”

Exactly. The rhetoric has changed but the same Government policies continue. Policies that are increasing energy bills for every British consumer but, in the absence of global agreement, are doing nothing to reduce the world’s carbon emissions. In a leading article The Sunday Times (£) makes a very good point about today’s news that Huhne is planning another 32,000 wind turbines. It points out that current green technologies are immature and a “rush to invest” now could lumber Britain with expensive and out-of-date energy sources. More sensible nations (I guess they are thinking of the BRIC economies) will wait until today’s huge investments in green technology have delivered fruits.

Indeed they would. Sadly Britain does not have a sensible government. It merely has one that is somewhat better than an opposition that lurks even further to the left. That’s enough, I suppose, but it’s sad to see what the Conservatives have been reduced to.

In his fine review of a new history of Britain’s Conservative party, John O’Sullivan says what needs saying:

[T]he more Cameron modernization is explained, the less anyone understands it. There is something elusive and will o’ the wisp about it. Initially, it defined itself negatively as a movement opposed to the unreconstructed Thatcherite Tories. It proudly announced that there was such a thing as society. It renounced any foolish intention of “banging on” about crime, immigration, Europe, or other supposed obsessions of more traditional Tories…What followed was a series of photo-ops and exercises in gesture politics – the windmill on the roof, the bicycle to work, the dash to the Pole. This development of the Cameron project was a sort of cultural make-over – “the Dianification of Toryism” as I have argued elsewhere—to render the Tories an entirely different party…Cultural make-overs are notoriously hard to pull-off, however, since those being culturally transformed notice the process more quickly than anyone else. And they don’t always like it. The main result of this make-over, visible in the 2010 election results, was to strengthen UKIP by driving dissed-off Tories towards it. It made only modest inroads in the voting bloc of Liberal centrists who had many other suitors.  

The 2008 financial crisis made these cultural gestures look frivolous—as well as shocking the Tory leadership which had rooted the Cameron project in the assumption that economic growth would continue smooth and uninterrupted under New Labour. That was a curious assumption to start with: every previous Labour government had ended in economic crisis—why should this one be different? If the crisis embarrassed Cameron and Osborne, however, it also rescued them by imposing a more realistic economic policy upon the party—and by giving them a serious purpose in office. They have to save the British economy by public spending cuts that eventually reduce the deficit. That political commitment is now fully half of the Cameron project. 

Not going bankrupt is, however, a very inadequate political philosophy. It is an aim shared by all parties (even if their methods for achieving solvency differ) and it does little more than lay the groundwork for positive policies. Such policies exist – Michael Gove’s education reforms, Iain Duncan-Smith’s welfare changes – but there is little about them that is distinctly Cameronian. Much the same could be said about the flagship idea of the Big Society which amounts to a re-working of the traditional conservative celebration of mediating institutions but one without a manual of instructions. Other signature Cameron issues, such as his ultra-Green commitment to carbon reduction, look both doomed and embarrassing as their costs become apparent. Yet those issues on which the Cameron modernizers had imposed a vow of silence on the party – immigration, Europe, and crime – now constitute the main topics of public debate as they spiral downwards in a series of crises. Those crises – especially the crisis over the Euro – would represent welcome political opportunities for almost any imaginable Conservative party. But these opportunities drive the Cameron Tories into silence and paralysis – and not simply because they are in a coalition with Lib-Dems. Cameron modernization, as originally conceived, has run into a dead end…

Indeed it has.

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