The Tories haven't gone green

Tackling climate change is the lowest priority for Tory candidates

David Cameron may have used the slogan "Vote blue, go green" in the past but, judging by the views of his party's candidates, it's one he'd be wise not to repeat at the election.

A new survey of 141 Tory candidates in the party's most winnable seats by ConservativeHome and ConservativeIntelligence has found that reducing Britain's carbon footprint is their lowest political priority (see chart). Just eight of the party's candidates said it would be a top priority for them in the next parliament.

If Cameron can't persuade his own party that the environment should be a priority, he's unlikely to persuade the electorate that it should be. And if this is the state of affairs under an ostensibly green leader, just where would Tory opinion lie under a climate-change sceptic such as David Davis?

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But the truth is that Cameron's own interest in the environment has diminished visibly in recent times. His green credentials were discredited by his decision to court Václav Klaus, the climate-change-denying Czech president. He has refused to advocate the levels of taxation and regulation needed to reduce environmentally damaging behaviour.

The Conservative Party seems increasingly to have assumed that Cameron's initial focus on the environment was merely part of his early mission to ''detoxify" the Tory brand. He has said little since to disprove this assumption.

It is now clearer than ever that no environmentally responsible individual can risk a vote for the Tories at the election.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.