Politics – available in any colour, so long as it’s green

The eco-signalling frenzy among the Tory candidates confirms how elitist and conformist green politics has become.

Ben Pile

Topics Politics UK

The Times last week reported that three Conservative Party leadership candidates – Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Rory Stewart – had pledged their support for its clean-air campaign. All the candidates now seem to have put the environment and climate at the top of their campaign pitches. While many will rightly see this as virtue-signalling, what it really signifies is a toxic political consensus that has been festering in Westminster for a long time.

Rory Stewart, speaking favourably of clean-air campaign, told The Times, ‘My child’s lungs could be as much as a third smaller than normal, because he’s growing up in London’. This is how we can be sure that the candidate does not believe what he says. If he did, his child would have remained far from the smog, at the family’s home in Cumbria, and never allowed in the capital any more than he would be allowed 20 Marlboro Reds. And this is how we know that alarmist statistics are false. Males born in 2012-2014 in London have a life expectancy of 80.3 years, whereas Cumbrian male babies are expected to live the slightly shorter life of 79.1 years. Clearly, the difference between London’s lung-stunting ‘toxic’ atmosphere and the Lake District’s fresh mountain air is not what green virtue-signallers claim it is.

On Twitter, the contest favourite, Boris Johnson, emphasised his green credentials, tweeting that if he won, his government would ‘legislate for net zero emissions by 2050 and embrace the opportunity of green growth for the UK as a global decarbonisation leader’. This was followed a week later by Theresa May stealing Boris’s thunder, to make the Net Zero target her own ‘legacy’, not the future leader’s promise.

To the bland, myopic Westminster commentariat struggling to explain this blue-on-blue competition to be the greenest of the green, the Conservative green consensus is something new. By eco-signalling, the candidates are trying to tap into a public mood that has shifted greenwards. But this is wishful thinking. It is only the political and media establishment that have convinced themselves that Greta Thunberg, the school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion group represent the public’s newfound environmental consciousness. In pushing this idea, they overlook recent political history.

It was in 2006 that then Conservative Party leader David Cameron tried to shed the party’s ‘nasty’ image by posing in the Arctic in a self-consciously stage-managed, hug-a-husky photo opportunity. ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’, he urged voters. A year later, the future PM of the ‘greenest government ever’ climbed on to the roof of Greenpeace’s London headquarters to talk to experts about the ‘decentralised energy revolution’. ‘I believe passionately’, he said, reading from his script, ‘that a greener world will actually be a safer world’.

It wasn’t until 2013, when energy prices had doubled, that Cameron realised that evincing his ‘passionate’ beliefs had been for nought, and rumours that he had instructed his cabinet to ‘cut the green crap’ were leaked to the press. Too late. Far, far too late. Because the green crap was not the monster invention of the Conservative Party alone. It existed in all parties. Indeed, today’s competition between Tory leadership candidates echoes the competition between political parties in the late 2000s.

As the Climate Change Bill was being drafted, the three legacy parties began a green-policy arms race. The Labour government initially proposed a 60 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050. Cameron’s Conservatives, eager to be seen to be competing for the green prize, said the target should be 80 per cent. The Liberal Democrats said it should be 100 per cent, and that petrol and diesel engines and nuclear power should all be abolished.

To gauge public support for the government’s and opposition parties’ plans, we are left to opinion polls. In the wake of Theresa May’s Net Zero announcement, Sky News revealed that, when asked ‘Would you support or oppose raising taxes to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050?’, just 36 per cent of respondents said they would support it, and 41 per cent said they would oppose it. And as I have argued before on spiked, increased taxes would barely be the start of it. The Net Zero target implies such massive costs and such radical transformation of lives and lifestyles that the 36 per cent would soon shrink as the actual consequences of vapid green sloganeering were felt – in the form of real economic pain.

The public, then, seems not to have been very convinced by politicians’ alarmism and green posturing. The problem, visible to everyone else, is that whereas politicians’ green targets make neat political slogans, they mean very little. Promising to provide ‘safe clean air’ to children might get a standing ovation in Westminster circles. But if it means that few people can afford transport, and the destruction of the car industry, nobody will be cheering. Similarly, though the blobs that dominate Westminster and the media have welcomed the Net Zero target, the public is aware that it is they who will pay for the green grandstanding. Anyone might well conclude that climate change isn’t as bad as climate-change policy.

So what is the virtue, and to whom is it being signalled, if not the public? The simple fact of the greening of British politics is that politicians from all parties have embraced the green agenda because of the hollowing-out of their parties and the political sphere. Something has to fill the void. Politics has degenerated to nothing more than slightly different pathways to ecological austerity – ever more urgent and banal platitudes barely concealing the fact that little exists between them. From banning shopping bags and drinking straws to banning petrol and diesel engines, the politicians who claim to champion these causes do so because they can offer us nothing at all. Ultimately, then, green virtue-signalling is merely a signal to other virtue-signallers that the pretence that ‘saving the planet’, ‘protecting future generations’ and holding back the ‘climate emergency’ are meaningful will be sustained, rather than revealed to have nothing to do with the environment at all.

Ben Pile blogs at Climate Resistance.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Jerry Owen

22nd June 2019 at 2:34 pm

Winston Standley
How am I supposed to know who you are when you change your name ? You should have told me you change your name periodically.

John Findlay

21st June 2019 at 2:36 pm

I see the green stain that infects today’s politics as merely a new form of piety. A 21st century secular piety. Being ‘green’ is simply expected of everyone inside and outside of politics, just like church attendance used to be. It shows you’re a good person. We’ve almost got to where fossil fuel usage is seen as sinful, and you must buy indulgences, sorry carbon credits, to ‘offset’ your evil ways. A clue is the reaction you get when you dare to disagree about some ‘green’ policy. I tried to engage in conversation with one of the Extinction Rebellion protesters when they blocked our streets this week. When he realised I wasn’t on-message, he just said that he wasn’t interested in talking to me any more and walked off. Easier meat elsewhere, I guess. Try asking people what primary evidence they have seen that convinces them that fossil fuel derived CO2 is a problem, and they don’t have an answer. They rely on accepting what they hear in the media, and might as well be listening to a preacher in the pulpit.

Jerry Owen

22nd June 2019 at 2:31 pm

I’m surprised he didn’t say ‘ I don’t talk to Nazis’. I expect if you had challenged him robustly enough he would have spluttered out those default setting words.

Chris Hanley

20th June 2019 at 10:09 pm

“Clean air” has a nothing to do with carbon dioxide that is invisible, odourless and essential for life on Earth.
Conflating carbon dioxide and genuine air pollution (particulates and other chemical pollutants) is a habit of the ignorant or dishonest.

Winston Stanley

20th June 2019 at 9:51 pm

I put on The Medici – Masters of Florence today on Netflix, in the hope of some entertainment/ displacement and I was abruptly arrested by the opening theme song (you have to hear it). The contemporary 4/4 rhythm, the first fourth used as a lead in, and the abrupt, simple and soaring triadic vocals, chordal descant, a verse that then presents itself as the chorus. It is exclamatory and anthematic, if that is a word.

Renaissance Italy is sort of our Year Zero after 1500 years of Christianity, arguably which we have never really recovered from. 15th century Italy with all of its power play yet hope, the resistance starts there. I hope that music and song is not banned on this forum b/c it “speaks” to our condition, and may I never be “embarrassed” by my love of music and song.

The TV version does not seem to be on YT but this is the whole thing.


Anthony Thompson

20th June 2019 at 8:49 pm

I am a bit disappointed spiked have punctuated their articles with links to non related articles because I had been printing them out and they had been very neat until now. Hmmph oh well.

James Knight

20th June 2019 at 6:31 pm

A recent Guardian editorial stated “the unicorns are back” in reference to no deal Brexit. Actually the unicorns never went away at the Guardian. They have spent the last months cheer leading Extinction Rebellion and demanding zero carbon emissions that the chancellor guesstimates would cost of the order of a trillion pounds. Green austerity is far more disruptive and costly than any no deal Brexit, real pie in the sky.

And what does the Guardian do when the absurdity of their editorial line is pointed out? They censor it as not in accordance with their “community standards”. So it seems there is a unicorn in the room, but nobody is allowed to mention it.

Winston Stanley

20th June 2019 at 5:20 pm

I suspect that there is an element here that the state is moderating the demands of the demos for higher wages and living standards in the face of the collapse of productivity growth. If people are aspirational for a better economic future then there might be discontent. But if people can be given a feeling that maybe economic growth is a bad thing anyway then they are more likely to be docile toward the state when it fails to develop the productive means. It smacks of authoritarian dystopianism.

Will we ever see the day when the economy goes into recession and the government has the front to spin it as “good for the environment”? They could put up big screens in the cities showing natural scenes with messages like “aspiration is destructive, humility and contentment are virtues, accept your lot.” I can feel a movie coming on. The PM could dress up as St. Francis and scatter seed for the pigeons for a shoot on top of the Greenpeace building to show what a “good and decent geezer” he is. Asceticism, penance, self-depreciation and -flagellation could make a come back. “Save a tree with every stroke.”

Steve Roberts

20th June 2019 at 5:07 pm

I agree with many of the points Pile makes here, the hollowing out of political life within the traditional parties has led them to jump on many bandwagons of virtue signalling, and to some extent inevitably as they are devoid of ideas and unable to offer and do not desire any substantial transformative change in society, that would mean a denouncement and demolition of the status quo which is exactly what this managerial class avoids at all costs.
They are presentist’s if little else, of course environmentalism fits in with this need for the sustainable, it is a serious brake on progress both at the material /political level but also on the very ideas of potential for transformation from what we have to where we could be, this they are complicit in dampening – despite their empty platitudes – because to be productive, innovative and for a massively growing economy is to be against environmentalism.
For the political class it also has another obvious advantage in that they can be heard , though not necessarily seen, to be doing something, resources are ploughed in, votes are bought, the middle class state employee/ NGO/charity, chattering class socialites are passified and yet it does little relative genuine harm to the vast majority of society even in its imposition across many sectors, yes it creates a large degree of grumbling and fuels the fire of disdain that most people have for the political class but that has been the limit so far.
However with the increasing activism of the chattering classes the deepening indoctrination of our kids at school and the increasingly direct effect it is starting to have on our ordinary lives the jungle drums are banging, people can only be pushed so far, cultural imposition is one thing but when the impact becomes more direct and demanding people may kick back and there could be a change from disgruntlement and laughing at the PC crowd to refusal to conform, the political class are playing a dangerous game now.
I have no doubt this situation played a part in the rejection of the political class in the referendum along with many other issues that have festered for years but not manifested themselves previously.
What Pile has not considered , and i do not believe this only relates to the issue of environmentalism , is the seemingly illogical pursuit of this agenda in relation to electoral support, if as he suggests there is little support or a minority of support let alone enthusiasm among the wider demos why does the elite continue along these lines ?
They of course , as they do regards the NHS and other “gods” blame the electorate saying that to question these issues is electoral suicide, the truth is they are political cowards , useless and unable to provide any alternatives to put to the people, i have no doubt that if there was a transformative alternative to the huge political issues it would be extremely popular with the demos, certainly at worst creating a wide ranging debate which can only be positive from where we are at present.
I think the answer to the electoral conundrum can be widened to many other issues, the elite pursue all this signalling because they are taking a calculated gamble also, one that is a variant of the red rosette and donkey scenario i have written about previously, and published on Spiked, the old parties believe that they will keep enough support generally – even from the old voting heartlands they are presently ignoring vis a vis brexit – for these regressive ideas to not be enough to turn their traditional voters away, they will be buried in other matters of a wider manifesto, much like they hope to do regards brexit.
My lived experience of the environmental agenda and other matters in the culture wars, is that it has had nowhere near as much ideological impact and acceptance among most people living ordinary lives as is thought. Yes it affects us, it is imposed after all, but that is a very long way from acceptance or hegemony of the ideas.
Certainly it is becoming more problematic as new generations are been indoctrinated with little else, and the previous generations are now parents themselves so we have a generational doubling down, and there are metropolitan centres where it is particularly acute, but i think it is wise to understand that there is still an underlying resistance to all this nonsense, and fortunately the older generations generally have not bought into it wholesale at all. Additionally there is a class divide that impacts here too, the shock waves that recently occurred in Australia against the environmentalists and their hatred of the coal industry is indicative.
As usual what is lacking is an organisational form of some kind to provide a focus, a bulwark against this mainstream but weaker than believed regressive politics, until that alternative emerges, the elite and their parties still have a fighting chance, the emergence of TBP has provided a glimpse of what could be achieved, but the direction it will go in is yet another concern.

William Murphy

20th June 2019 at 4:57 pm

Calling the three main parties “the three legacy parties”….surely this article is yet another point in favour of Peter Hitchen’s description of them as The Three Rotting Corpses. No new ideas for decades, no relevance to much of the electorate, no reason for continued existence apart from the desperate desire of any dying organism to stay live as long as possible – and extract as much income from the taxpayers while they exist.

Jerry Owen

20th June 2019 at 2:59 pm

Selective argument.. no, proven and salient facts to keep it simple for you.
I have studied climate change for years ever since the green ecoloons told me it was an issue caused by man. It isn’t.
Global warming precedes a rise in CO2 levels not vice versa. Geological history proves this.
The IPCC no conspiracy theory outfit confirm there are no increases in extreme weather patterns such as hurricanes etcetera.
The BBC, Chris Packam , David Attenborough all believe in AGW .. Their scientific credentials ? A big fat ZERO !!
And if you have a problem with your health don’t come to me go and see your doctor , what a moronic thing to say.

gershwin gentile

20th June 2019 at 3:21 pm

“David Attenborough”

The man who knowingly lied about the footage of Walrus’?

Jerry Owen

20th June 2019 at 4:09 pm

Yes the very same bought and paid for BBC activist !

gershwin gentile

20th June 2019 at 1:12 pm

Once again I suggest readers to enter the phrase Eco-Fascism into your local friendly search engine.

Neil McCaughan

20th June 2019 at 12:18 pm

The green pretence reflects the depressingly low intellectual calibre of the candidates for last leader of the Tory Party. Anyone who could take seriously the ideas of those sad sacks of self-righteous bourgeois idiocy, Caroline Mucus and Ed Miliband, really needs locking up for their own protection.

Ian Wilson

20th June 2019 at 11:45 am

The point of the article surely is to explain that ALL the main parties talk the same tosh even it comes to AGW. Find me a political person outside of Trump that doesn’t kowtow to every stupid green policy possible – we have no options at the polling station when everyone agrees.
On a related note, looking at my Electricity switching options, why are all the cheapest ones always 100% renewable? It’s certainly not because wind is cheaper than coal, where are the subsidies coming from…

Jerry Owen

20th June 2019 at 11:28 am

To be more accurate to Ben’s article, he is right in that it is a topic of some obsession to the media and political elites, Ben may agree with AGW I have no idea.
However most people are more concerned about earning enough money to pay their mortgage and put food on the table. Drinking out of a plastic straw at Costa’s doesn’t mean they are destroying the planet ( it is degradable and goes in land fill anyway ) it means they are enjoying timeout in a shopping centre with their families on a Saturday morning.
AGW zealots need to learn to enjoy themselves instead of worrying about how others choose to live their lives.

James Chater

20th June 2019 at 8:33 am

Hard to know what the actual point of this article is. Climate-change denial wrapped up in regular anti-elitism? It can’t be denied the anthropocene age we are in is damaging so much and our elected representatives should be involved in trying to rectify this now. Agreed that if politicians just repeat slogans but do nothing, then they aren’t helping active environmentalism. People switch off and don’t modify their behaviour because there are no, or not enough, ‘nudge’ facilities in place.
No one has ‘rights’ to a holiday in the sun, a plastic straw or to ‘exfoliate’, using micro-beads of plastic. We shouldn’t need laws – just mature self-control and awareness.

Jerry Owen

20th June 2019 at 9:13 am

Garbage post.
Current CO2 levels 440 PPM
Historical CO2 levels 3-4000 PPM , plant and animal life thrived, as CO2 is a giver of live.
At 150 PPM plant life starts to die thus humans will die.
Plant growers inject CO2 into greenhouses at 1-1200 PPM to aid plant growth.

AGW is a taxation scam.
The sun is cooling thorugh lack of sunspots and the earth will be getting cooler.t
The midwest of America has had it’s coldest winters for decades, and food production is down.
A good article by Ben in that it rightly states that this whole AGW nonsense is a figment of the imagination political and media elites.

Chris Ockers

20th June 2019 at 2:30 pm

That’s quite a selective argument. Just because some plant species show accelerated growth doesn’t mean everything will be hunky dory at 1200 PPM. The PPM metric is just as much about ocean acidity, disrupted weather patterns and the greenhouse effect. The whole point is to maintain an optimal climate balance for human existence with minimal economic costs.

Re Met Office, you can actually see mean temperature anomaly data on the Met Office and it shows increases, moreover, their projections show temperature increases. However, just looking at mean temperatures in too low resolution, you also need to look a seasonal peaks etc.

As it turns out climate science is a phenomenally complex discipline, and spending 5 minutes on Wikipedia and leafing through a few sets of temperature data doesn’t make you a credible voice. Funny how 1 hour on the internet makes someone a climate specialist, we don’t seem to apply the same logic to medicine; next time I have a health issue I’ll just ask you to piss around on the NHS website and give me a prescription.

I find the ‘climate emergency’ people and the dumbing down of science to activism as frustrating as anyone, but I wish people, particularly those on the centre right of the spectrum could get over their politically driven aversion to climate science and the inevitable requirement for some sensible regulations.

Dennis Ambler

20th June 2019 at 1:08 pm

There is no epoch called the Anthropocene, this is a made-up activist slogan to try and give validity to the false claims of climate armageddon. There is also no such thing as climate change denial. The climate changes over millennia, no-one denies that. What is challenged is that there is a “climate crisis” when in fact we are in a fairly benign period of climate compared to previous centuries. There has been hardly any change in UK temperatures in the last 30 years, clearly seen in Met office data, but not in their official pronouncements. Rainfall has hardly changed in a century. Extreme weather events are not as prevalent and with less loss of life than in previous centuries. These are facts which anyone can find for themselves without even going to a “sceptical” website.

James Knight

20th June 2019 at 6:38 pm

I think the point is that in democracy there should be a choice. I understand that “does not compute” for Green ideologues as they follow the Thatcherite line that “There Is No Alternative”.

Make no mistake the reason for the excessive fear-mongering is because Greens know their measures are likely to be very unpopular. Have you not noticed the protests in France? Maybe the Guardian don’t like to report anti-austerity protests from those challenging green ideology.

Sadiq Khan has a plan to clobber London motorists with more taxes. Why not have a proper vote on that? Who has a more vested interest in clean air in London than residents of London?

Jerry Owen

21st June 2019 at 9:22 am

Has a plan !! 24 squiddlies it cost me in the ULEZ zone the other week , then by accident I strayed into a bus lane looking for a side street .. not easy in the city, so a fine of 65 quid, total £89.00 oh yes, four pounds on a meter £93.00 !
I think his plan is already in action !!

Winston Stanley

20th June 2019 at 8:33 pm

James C, I agree with some of that. “Truth” tends to get scattered across perspectives. No one perspective tends to exclusively hold the “single and whole truth”. People tend to simplify the situation and to disclude some considerations as we become adamant in some ideology or policy, some emphasis. Policies depend on an act of will which is necessarily subjective.

“No one has ‘rights’ to a holiday in the sun, a plastic straw or to ‘exfoliate’, using micro-beads of plastic. We shouldn’t need laws – just mature self-control and awareness.”

That is all true but potentially also false depending on possible implicit metaphysical assumptions. Rights are accorded by society, they do not have a “natural” or pre-social existence. Otherwise we are back to the rut of “god” and the reification of the subjective and of the socially constructed, which is just another way of insisting on a certain perspective and policy. We are radically free in our human existence in so far as we communally and democratically decide upon “rights” as we see fit.

Obviously there is a massive democratic deficit in our society and we get to decide very little, if anything, among ourselves, to extent that it is perhaps rhetorical to call it “our society” at all. Society presents itself to us as an objective fact and the majoritarian two-party parliamentary indirect system is designed to perpetuate the bourgeois status quo and the needs of the capitalist state. All else is mainly window dressing for the capitalist state.

Yes I agree that microbeads for exfoliation are “ridiculous” and an assault on reason but I am not a woman, or man, who is focused on physical presentation to that extent, although to be fair I do not entirely neglect personal imagery. If what is said about beads is true then yes I personally would vote to ban them.

I can understand the desire to get out of this society, if only for breaks, and I desist any sneer at “packaged” holidays. Ideally we would all be free to explore this world in all of its variety, and not be shut into this society. Maybe one day we will establish an economic and social order that allows us all to act like early 20th century tourists without any impact.

I tend to be quite pessimistic about the future, I doubt that humans, or at least our established societies, will be able to square all of the circles. We tend to resort to partial perspectives as a substitute. And the geopolitical order presents itself to us as deeply messed up, the disorder is massive and foundational.

It would be great if we could assert the value of the human experience at the same time as the value of the natural environment (if they are really distinct, in their subjectivity). Maybe we are still in backward “middle ages” and the future will be much better, we just cannot see the reality yet, just some ideas that hint at it. The ideal must be to embrace both, otherwise we have deeply failed as a civilisation in one regard or the other.

Jerry Owen

21st June 2019 at 9:25 am

People do have a right to a holiday in the sun and to exfoliate with plastic beads, there is no law against it, they have every right. Everyone has the right to lead the life they choose within the law and must not be bullied by those puritan fanatics that try to impose their values on others.
We all have different values and beliefs, we must choose as we personally see fit.

Winston Stanley

21st June 2019 at 10:51 am

By your own definition you only have the “right” to do what you want unless we pass a law to stop you, and we have every “right” to do that, in so far as there is no law to stop us from passing a law against you. If we want to ban you from exfoliating with microbeads then we will, get over it, it is within the law and our right to do so. It is called a democracy.

Jerry Owen

21st June 2019 at 12:51 pm

I’ll try to keep it simple for you. A law can stop any activity , a self important bossing puritan nerd like you can do nothing , see the difference ?

Winston Stanley

21st June 2019 at 7:26 pm

Jerry, it is sad that at your age you still have not learn basic manners and how to talk to people in an acceptable manner. I have asked you before not to address me and I repeat that request. I am willing to discuss pretty much anything with anyone but it is unreasonable to expect me to put up with your rudeness. Please have the dignity to acquiesce with my request.

I really think that you may be happier with the level of social skills on display at Breitbart than on here. Normal people do not behave in that manner. If you think that I am going to join in with some vulgar abuse fest then you will be disappointed.

Stephen J

20th June 2019 at 7:43 am

Delingpole wrote a book that describes greens as being a chimera, he famously called them watermelons, green on the outside, but red when you cut one open.

Greens employ just the same set of devices and mechanisms of the confidence trickster as do the cultural marxists.

We have and are being destroyed by deviants who have no understanding of how the animal kingdom (of which we are a part) works.

The Greens, just like the above mentioned, base their whole theses on the idea that human characteristics can be removed with the stroke of a pen, or at the point of a sword.

I would counter that the seven deadly sins will be with us for a very long time, since they are implicit in our biology, which weirdly hasn’t changed one jot since Lucy was wandering around in the Great Rift Valley.

Jerry Owen

20th June 2019 at 9:16 am

I have read JD’s book as well.
Check out Dr Patrick Moore on YTube, the original founder of Greenpeace. He is an environmentalist that I am happy to identify with.
Incidentally Dr Moore will also confirm that GP has been hijacked by the left.

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