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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 September 2007, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Cameron faces tough policy choices
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

If government is about making choices, would-be prime minister David Cameron has just been landed with some corkers.

John Gummer and David Cameron
Mr Cameron must chose policies from Gummer report
In some key areas, the contrast between recommendations made by his policy groups on the environment and the economy could hardly be more stark.

Yet they reflect what many believe are the real, hard choices all countries will have to make if they are to "save the planet".

On the one hand, the group led by former environment minister John Gummer has listed a huge number of changes on everything from limiting power consumption by domestic electrical goods to a moratorium on planned airport expansions and "grandiose programmes" of road building.

On the other hand, the group led by John Redwood proposed the creation of more privately-funded road schemes and a continuation of airport expansion.

At the same time, Mr Cameron has been insisting the Tories are the greenest of all the parties and will tax polluters, while also claiming he would run a lower tax economy than Labour.

He says he can square this circle by shifting the emphasis of taxation, so polluters would pay more while families would pay less, while not increasing, and eventually even lowering, the overall tax burden.

He has warmly welcomed the report and said much of it will end up in his manifesto - but he will not yet say which bits.

Global business

But that is unlikely to answer critics who claim stopping airport expansion and taxing air transport would hit Britain's competitiveness, damage the economy, threaten jobs and prove electorally disastrous.

Mr Gummer has suggested his group's proposals need to be taken in the round, declaring: "Any politician who wanders about the world complaining about this or that little bit of the proposal really has to get the big picture and the big picture is that we either save this planet for the next generation or they will never forgive us."

You can't fiddle about with aviation and make gestures, price people out of flying and make it an elitist activity for the wealthy
David Wilshire, Tory MP

And he has dismissed suggestions the package is anti-competitive, saying: "I see no contradiction between greenness and economic success."

Yet Tory MP David Wilshire, whose constituency includes part of Heathrow, has insisted the report misses the point.

"Aviation is a global business. British aviation produces 1.6% of global emissions. If we fiddle about on an entirely unilateral basis, we will damage the British economy, cost my constituents jobs and then we can watch the Chinese open up another 49 airports.

"You can't fiddle about with aviation and make gestures, price people out of flying and make it an elitist activity for the wealthy," he said.

Not binding

It is now up to Mr Cameron to make these choices. There is common ground between the two sides - both agree the environment is a major policy area and that "something needs to be done" - including some extension of green taxes.

There are many things in Mr Gummer's report which are uncontroversial - encouraging the use of energy efficient appliances, for example.

Heathrow traffic
Roads and airports are central to recommendations

Indeed, this report is already being viewed as a major and important piece of work in much the way former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith's report on social policy was.

That, of course, does not mean it will prove uncontroversial and on big issues like road and runway building there is no obvious middle way or compromise and rows are inevitable.

It has already been noted that Mr Cameron has distanced himself from one suggestion floated earlier this week, to charge shoppers to park at out-of-town supermarkets.

None of the policy review reports are binding on Mr Cameron and, now they have all reported, it is up to him to pick and chose which policies he wants to take forward to the election manifesto.

Until now he has been in the happy position of being able to have it both ways - taking the credit for coming up with radical proposals on every area of policy, while not having to commit himself to anything.

On this occasion he was happy to join Mr Gummer at a popular London wildlife reserve to offer his support for the package and show his green credentials.

But now the really hard bit begins where he has to pick and choose which the policy ideas to adopt, and which to drop.

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