Like newspaper reports of a doomed celebrity’s final hours or messages from Elon Musk announcing yet another exciting change at Twitter, the thoughts of Conservative Party members always make for grimly fascinating reading. This week’s poll of the Tory faithful on the climate crisis and Net Zero (spoilers: they don’t see what all the fuss is about) is no exception.
It’s easy to laugh at the Conservative membership. Mostly male, mostly over 60 and 97% white, at the end of last year they named their favourite backbench MPs as ‘30p’ Lee Anderson, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, while their current favourite Cabinet minister is the tetchy, ineffective Kemi Badenoch, whose recently launched flagship CPTPP deal was quickly laughed into obscurity.
In leadership elections they have voted for Iain Duncan Smith over Kenneth Clarke by a margin of 61%-39% in 2001, gone 66%-34% for Johnson over Jeremy Hunt in 2019 and backed Liz Truss by 57%-43% in 2022, even after being warned by challenger Rishi Sunak that her policies would cause economic meltdown.
Some 65% of them then backed the Truss/Kwasi Kwarteng growth plan before it DID cause economic meltdown and first his sacking, then hers. And four years ago, 61% of members said they would be willing to see “significant economic damage done to the British economy” if that was the price of leaving the EU. Careful what you wish for and all that.
But laughing at them is dangerous. Out of our last five disastrous prime ministers, Conservative members have elected three – disgraced hubris merchant David Cameron, disgraced charlatan Johnson and disgraced ideologue Truss. These 170,000 or so mostly old, white men are therefore directly responsible for the diminution of Britain. The odds are that they will continue to make bad decisions in future leadership polls. The odds are that the winners of those bad decisions will end up in No.10 Downing Street.
Which makes the latest poll of Tory members for Conservative Home all the more disturbing. Since the Margaret Thatcher era, modern Conservatism has required a villain to weaponise for votes: the shirkers, the unions, the loony left, the chattering classes, the crusties, the ravers, the Europeans, the Calais migrants, the Remoaners, the enemies of the people, the North London lawyers, the boat migrants, the tofu-eating wokerati, the blob.
The new villains, who seem to have become more villainous since the Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election appeared to offer a flicker of Conservative hope where none previously existed, are those of us who believe urgent action is needed on the climate crisis – or tree-hugging Gretas in the Tory vernacular.
Could this be the wedge issue that secures an improbable fifth straight general election victory? The Conservatives badly need something to campaign on, and it can hardly be their record in government, or the busted flush of Brexit, or fears about wokeism which barely register with voters worried about paying their bills.
So here is what Conservative members think of what Cameron called “the green crap”: Only 6% of them support low-traffic neighbourhoods, with 66% opposed. Some 83% want the government to reverse its ban on new petrol and diesel cars being sold post-2030. An incredible 40% do not support the aim of achieving Net Zero by 2050; a further 40% say they support the target but it should not be written into law, giving big energy and the government a handy opt-out.
And now the really crazy stuff: 12% say global warming is not happening, 33% think global warming is not driven by human activity and 66% think there is not a climate emergency at all.
As well as villains, modern Toryism demands a big project: Monetarism, austerity, Brexit. All were offered as panaceas, all failed. Could climate change denial and anti-Net Zero be the next blind alley the Conservative membership leads us down, thanks to a referendum on Net Zero offered by a desperate Sunak or his successor?
We are now damaged and isolated on our own continent. We could soon be damaged and isolated in a burning world. It’s no laughing matter.