Jack Perschke: Why voting Blue has always meant going Green
Cllr Jack Perschke worked in international development with British and UN aid agencies in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and DR Congo. He has recently completed an MSc in Sustainability and Management and is a Director of Phronesis Consulting, a firm that provides advice to businesses looking to improve their social and environmental performance.
There is one thing guaranteed to wind me up like an alarm clock and leave me purple with a rage that I’m far too repressed to express. This particular demon of mine is roused by comments, made by people from across the political spectrum, who consider it strange that the Conservative Party has a robust and clear environmental agenda. Those people, both from the left and the right, that sneer and suggest that we’ve jumped on a band wagon that is leaving our core support and our heritage behind are simply wrong about our people, our policies and our heritage.
I don’t understand why we haven’t been promoting our environmental credentials for years. On each of the various spatial scales that environmental issues crop up it is our party, our core policies and our traditional supporters that have led the way.
Let us start with the lowest level of environmental policy, the individual level. Older members of our community - from whom we are lucky enough to receive a disproportionate level of support - will, typically, drive less, waste less, consume less and have more emotional investment in their local environment than their younger neighbours. To our ageing population, the environmental agenda is one they’ve been campaigning about for years, they just phrased it differently. They remember rationing and wartime shortages when reducing, reusing and re-cycling meant more than today’s platitude. They lamented the loss of local facilities and over-packaging years before the rest of us cottoned on to these problems. They remain at the core of our party and those that suggest we’re alienating them with new fangled environmental policies are clearly unfamiliar with the passion our older generation feel for having an environment worth passing on to future generations.
Clearly, with our younger supporters there is a problem. The Chelsea tractor brigade does nothing for our environmental image but these people don’t need to be sold a new ideal, they are already on board and, without thinking about it, have been for years. Again I’m generalising, but for the typical suburban young family with Tory voting parents, re-cycling is a normal part of daily routine and life in the countryside is an aspiration. It is this aspiration which leads us beyond the individual and up the spatial scale to local environmental issues – i.e. our countryside. Which party most resonates as the party of rural Britain? We do. We are the party of farmers, and gamekeepers and huntsmen – why? Because the countryside matters to Tories and to Tory voters. I grew up in the country and the disgusting misuse of power by this government that led to that pathetic, impotent and ill-informed piece of legislation, the hunting ban, was one of the main reasons I became a Tory. I knew that the Conservative Party understood and interacted with the countryside in a way that the Labour party never could.
So, given our empathy for rural life, who should be protecting it by leading on cutting down land-fill through reducing, re-using and re-cycling waste? Who should be promoting a local food production system that frees us from reliance on European subsidy and reduces food miles? Who should be pushing for innovative home design that ensures the new homes we need for the future can be built and occupied with the minimum impact on our local and global environment? We should - and we are.
Finally then, is the thorny issue of global environmentalism. I implore you to forget the socialists and the pop stars that have high-jacked the issue. It is a simple one that can be looked at through the eyes of the free-market capitalist system that we so embrace. We believe that the market is the best tool for solving social issues, so aren’t things like Kyoto agreement and the Climate Change Bill anti-competitive? Shouldn’t a real Tory resist them? Well no, actually. At the core of free-market capitalism is an understanding of market failure and distortion. Where small numbers of people are profiting at great social cost, settings have to be adjusted and the system must be tinkered with through governmental intervention. Sir Nicholas Stern (of the Stern report fame) is not an environmentalist, climatologist or biologist but an economist. His central argument was that 1% of GDP now will save 20%, and untold humanitarian tragedy, in the future. This seems to me to be something that even the most hard-nosed capitalist can relate to.
So why are we so comfortable talking about things like inheritance tax but remain a little embarrassed about our new green image? Environmental policies are, after all, also about being able to pass something precious onto future generations. Why do we continue to knock ourselves and consider it to be a new page in our party’s history? Whilst they may have given themselves a different name, the Conservative Party has always been home to environmentalists. Green issues resonate with our core vote, they have been part of our policy for years and they are well served by our principles. So let’s be proud to vote blue and go green and understand that it’s not about changing our views but about better expressing what we’ve always held dear.