From the TUC

David Cameron’s green revolution?

17 Oct 2009, by in Environment

David Cameron was criticised for saying very little about the environment in his speech to the Conservative Party conference. “Vote blue, get green” seemed to have been forgotten.

He certainly remedied his sin of omission yesterday with a major speech on the environment which is worth reading and has some interesting ideas.

But it is also hard to pin down. Perhaps this is why Jean Eaglesham in the FT is headlined “Cameron rules out coercion on green issues” while Nigel Morris in the Independent has “Cameron: I will ban TV stand-by buttons”.

Cameron’s distinct shift to a much more traditional conservative small-state position in his speech is hard to square with concern about global warning. He is of course right in his speech that we need a big culture change to get people to shift  their behaviour. Markets and price signals will also be important, though as unions argue when we call for ‘just transition’ there are important equity issues here. A modest price signal to a millionaire makes something unaffordable to the average earner.

But market signals and culture change will not be enough on their own and are likely to be much too slow to make a difference, unless they are backed up with strong regulation of the kind that traditional Conservatives dislike intensely. I think Jean Eaglesham captures the main thrust of the speech when she says

The move marks a tonal shift by the opposition party from its “standing up to big business” rhetoric towards a deregulatory stance, chiming with Mr Cameron’s attack on “big government” in his party conference speech last week.

The Tory leader on Friday reiterated this desire to “call time on the big government approach”, saying regulation was “necessary sometimes, but it should not be the default setting of government”. Setting out his hope of building a “strong co-operative relationship between business and the next Conservative government”, Mr Cameron stressed his belief that “co-operation with business is always preferable to coercion”.

But he also left lots of wriggle room, but  I’m always suspicious of talk about stand-by buttons. It always reminds me of people who think recycling their Daily Telegraphs makes up for their frequent flights to their French second home, or who unplug their phone-chargers on the way out to sit under their patio-heaters.

The real issue with TVs is that they are getting bigger and more energy hungry. Mr Cameron is said to admire Arnold  Schwarzenegger. The Telegraph reports today that he is backing plans to ban large screen televisions.

Now that would be brave.