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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 11:59 GMT
Scotland: Tories go green?
Christine Macleod
The Politics Show Scotland

David Cameron
Mr Cameron says it is time for change

Could the Conservatives become the new champions of our environment?

Since becoming their new leader, David Cameron's been pushing his party as the one that will succeed in tackling climate change.

He has been going to great lengths to signal to the electorate that his party's image has changed to that of a "modern, compassionate, Conservatism."

But will they buy it? And just how serious is he?

They are, after all, saddled with the image of being the anti-environmental party.

The party that supports big businesses, like those who were instrumental in building Mrs. Thatcher's massive road building programme.

But listening to Mr. Cameron's hard talk about having the courage to set annual targets for cutting carbon emissions at this weekend's Scottish Conservative Conference made him sound as though his intentions were as pure as the snow falling outside the Perth Concert Hall, where he spoke.

Certainly, his personal efforts seem to suggest he's serious about shedding the party's bad environmental image.

Not only does he cycle to work, but it seems he's currently spending 8,000 on having solar panels installed in his West London home, while considering a wind turbine for his roof.

So could his party's new caring, green credentials help to return them to power?

According to psephologist John Curtice from Strathclyde University, it could, if people are dissatisfied enough with the current government.

He says Mr. Cameron's new softer language could be exactly what's required to erase peoples bad memories of a Tory party remembered for:

  • black Wednesday
  • not demonstrating enough concern about public services
  • nor acknowledging the need for a caring society

For the first time, the party are saying they are not just about economic growth but that "there is such a thing as society, and we do need to look after each other, even if it is not necessarily the state that does all the looking after".

So far, Mr. Cameron's plans include the establishment of a cross-party Commission to create a long term policy framework for energy in our environment. It would extend beyond the duration of a term of government.

Other proposals include a statutory framework, setting annual targets for carbon reduction, monitored by an independent body called the Carbon Audit Office.

Emphasis would also be placed on the use of more bio-fuels, solar, wave and tidal power.

But not everyone's convinced. Leading environmentalist of international acclaim George Monbiot tells the Politics Show that these new plans don't go far enough.

If the Tory leader is serious about saving the environment, then he must quit fudging the issue of stopping and indeed reversing, airport and road expansion.

At the moment, road traffic and aeroplanes are the two fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide.

He says that Mr. Cameron's actions on these will be the key test to his commitment on the environment.

Duncan McLaren, the Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, agrees that the Tories have to do much more for him to accept their new caring green credentials are anything more than a gimmick.

A good start would be for Mr. Cameron to demonstrate he's serious about curbing the power of big business.

According to Mr. MacLaren, they lobby for "destructive road schemes" and are "responsible for most of the pollution we face", whilst also being the traditional funders of the Tory party.

Green organisations such as FOE say the Company Law Bill coming before Westminster will be an indicator of where Mr. Cameron's true loyalties lie.

If he is really serious about the environment, he will use it to impose duties on business directors to take account of the environment when preparing their business plans.

On the weekend of the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Perth, the Politics Show Scotland presses leading Conservative and Scottish Green MSPs on the future of our environment.

Politics Show

Tune into Politics Show Scotland, on BBC One on Sunday 12 March 2006 at Noon.

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