Opinion: A manifesto for green conservatism

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By Sam Hall

The Conservative Party manifesto for the upcoming UK General Election should feature a bold, positive offer on the environment. Importantly, protecting and improving the environment is popular with the Conservatives’ base: recent polling for Bright Blue found that many environmental policies are supported by a majority of 2015 Conservative voters, including those that voted to remain in the EU and those that voted to leave.

At the last General Election in 2015, the Conservatives were anxious about losing voters on the Right to UKIP, while the Liberal Democrats’ unpopularity meant that the threat from the centre ground was weaker. But in this election, the dynamic is reversed. UKIP is now weak, and its voters’ desire to have Brexit implemented is seeing many already switch their allegiance to the Conservatives.

The greatest electoral challenge for the Conservative Party at the upcoming General Election comes from their left flank, not the right: the Liberal Democrats in Southern England, Labour in the North and Midlands, and the SNP in Scotland. To win a big majority, Theresa May must reassure Remain voters that she has a liberal, outward-looking vision for Britain as it leaves the EU. The 2017 Conservative manifesto, therefore, must look to the Centre, not to the Right. It must reassure Remain voters that Theresa May has a liberal, outward-looking vision for Britain as it leaves the EU. The environment should be an important part of this proposition to the voters of liberal Britain.

Our polling found that concern about the environment was particularly strong among Remain-voting Conservatives. For instance, 81% of Remain-voting Conservatives are concerned about the impacts of climate change, compared to 70% of all Conservatives. Similarly, 80% of Remain-voting Conservatives are proud of the UK being the first country in the world to set legally binding emission reduction targets, compared to 71% of all Conservatives.

Drawing on the findings in our recent report, Green conservatives?, we propose several environmental policies that are supported in general by the mainstream of Conservative voters, but also particularly by Remain-voting Conservatives. Together, they form Bright Blue’s 2017 manifesto for green conservatism.

High-level ambitions

  • The UK should continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change.

Seventy percent of Conservatives are concerned about the impacts of climate change

  • This generation should be the first to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited it.
  • A big majority of Conservatives (71%) are concerned about the state of the UK’s natural environment (such as wildlife, landscapes, waterways, and forests). This level of concern is consistent across the different kinds of Conservatives, including Remain- and Leave-voting Conservatives. Eighty-nine percent of Conservatives think that policies to mitigate climate change like tree planting also benefit the natural environment.

Energy and climate

  • Further deployment of renewable energy in the power sector should be encouraged.

The most popular environmental issue Conservatives want to see the Government deliver is increasing renewable energy generation, which 53% put in their top three. The most popular energy sources among Conservatives are all renewable, ahead of nuclear and fossil fuels: first, solar power; second, tidal; third, offshore wind; fourth, biomass; and fifth, onshore wind.

  • Further development of onshore wind should be permitted, provided local people have the final say and there is no subsidy.

A majority of Conservatives (59%) support the further development of onshore wind farms, provided they receive no subsidies. Bright Blue’s policy is to enable new onshore wind farms to be awarded zero-subsidy fixed-price contracts, which are now required to help the financing of all new capital-intensive energy infrastructure.

  • Britain’s remaining coal-fired power stations should be phased out, by 2023 at the latest.

Phasing out the remaining coal-fired power stations in Britain by the mid-2020s is supported by two-thirds of Conservatives. Our commissioned analysis has found that there is more than sufficient time to build enough new gas and renewables capacity to guarantee security of supply as coal is phased out, in a range of scenarios.

  • Air pollution should be tackled through an expansion of low emission zones and a targeted diesel scrappage scheme for the oldest cars in polluted areas.

Our campaign to establish more low emission zones in pollution hotspots is supported by 57% of Conservatives. Sixty-seven percent of Conservatives support a diesel scrappage scheme, under which motorists would receive a cash payment from the government in return for trading in an old diesel vehicle. The second most popular environmental issue Conservatives want to see the Government deliver is improving air quality, which 30% put in their top three. Thirty-seven percent of Conservatives are concerned about local air pollution, rising to a majority (65%) of Conservatives in London.

  • Private investment in domestic energy efficiency and decentralised renewables like solar photovoltaics and heat pumps should be incentivised by providing government loan guarantees.

Sixty-six percent of Conservatives support our policy to introduce government loan guarantees for households to reduce the interest rate for Green Deal loans. The loans would fund the upfront cost of home energy improvement measures, which is then paid back through energy bills. Our polling finds that many Conservatives were interested in installing energy improvements in their homes, but a high upfront cost was the main barrier.

  • All homes that are sold should have to meet a basic minimum energy performance standard.

Seventy percent of Conservatives support a new rule, proposed by us, that all homes being sold must first meet a minimum energy performance rating (EPC), with some exemptions, such as for listed buildings or fuel poor households. Just 12% are opposed.

  • The UK should continue to lead internationally on tackling climate change.

A clear majority of Conservatives (71%) are proud of the UK passing the world-leading Climate Change Act in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% relative to 1990.

Natural environment

  • Current environmental protections that derive from the EU should at least be maintained after Brexit.

Large majorities of Conservatives want to at least maintain, and in some cases strengthen, existing EU environmental regulations after Brexit: 96% of Conservatives want to maintain or strengthen water quality and beach cleanliness standards; 93% protections for habitats and wildlife; 92% air pollution reduction targets; 91% household waste recycling targets; 85% renewable energy generation targets; 85% regulations to increase energy efficiency of household appliances; 85% restrictions on use of pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture; and 64% fishing quotas. Large majorities of Conservative Leave voters also want to at least maintain all these EU environmental regulations after Brexit.

  • Farming payments should continue after Brexit once the UK has withdrawn from the Common Agricultural Policy.

Most Conservatives (61%) want to see payments to farmers, which currently support food production and farming practices that improve the environment, continue after Brexit.

  • After Brexit, improved grants for farmers for tree planting should be a priority in a future domestic agricultural policy.

Of those Conservatives who want farm payments to continue, 41% think they should be targeted on farming practices that improve the environment such as tree planting or natural flood management, as recommended in our campaign. Half of Conservative voters think that the government should give forests priority when awarding new funding and planning protections, making them the most popular natural space.

  • After Brexit, the UK should assume an international leadership role on environmental issues, such as reversing deforestation and increasing ambition to tackle climate change.

Reversing deforestation is the most popular global environmental issue that most Conservatives want the UK Government to prioritise, with 67% putting it among the top three. Fifty-one percent of Conservatives want increasing ambition to tackle climate change to be prioritised.

Originally published at Bright Blue.

Sam Hall is a Senior Researcher at Bright Blue.

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