Are the Conservatives Becoming Enemies of Conservation?
The adoption of the tree by the Conservative Party five years ago appeared to signify more than an image re-spray. It built on an important historical strand of conservation running through the Conservative Party which understands in a world of chaotic change, continuity and conservation is increasingly important and reassuring.
Tim Montgomorie described this sentiment earlier this year. â€˜For us the preservation of the natural environment and good stewardship of the planet’s resources should be a central feature of conservatism. You can be a sceptic about unilateral action to combat climate change and still believe that conservation should be at the heart of our party’s mission.â€™
Yet now this goal appears in disarray. The ill-thought High Speed Rail 2 programme is slicing through Areas of Outstanding Beauty and is set to â€˜cause serious and irreversible damage to the Chilternsâ€™ It will cause widespread uproar, bring questionable benefits to the North and may cause a Cabinet Minister to resign if she isnâ€™t allowed to vote against it on behalf her Buckinghamshire constituents against the Governmentâ€™s plans.
Meanwhile the Conservative Governmentâ€™s Planning Minister Greg Clark is picking an enormous fight with the National Trust, its 3.5 million strong membership and the Campaign to Protect Rural England over new planning proposals. The CPRE argue they â€˜will place the countryside under increasing threat and leave local communities and planning authorities largely powerless in the face of developer pressureâ€™ accusation that the National Trust is defending rural towns displaying â€nihilistic selfishnessâ€ has certainly raised the temperature.
Politically, this is causing real anxiety in some Conservative circles. The Daily Mail commentator Stephen Glover wrote yesterday â€˜the Conservative Party could once be depended on to do its bit to resist the gradual concreting over of England. At any rate it was better than Labour. No longer, I fear.â€™ The Guardian adds that â€˜one prominent Conservative council has said the proposed changes contained in the draft National Planning Policy Framework will be “undemocratic” and “against the principle of localism”.â€™
The demand for economic growth at all costs is going to mean some tough political judgements. Eventually it will reach the door of Downing St. Policy and ministerial decisions will be have to be made or unmade.
David Cameronâ€™s own political identity and reputation is directly tied up into this debate. He was the one who urged the country to â€˜vote Blue, go greenâ€™ He was the one who had a photo-shoot in the arctic to symbolise his emphasis on environmental issues.
The Conservatives have already had to perform a u-turn on the sell-off of publicly owned forests. If High Speed Rail 2 and the planning reforms go through as outlined then it risks a backlash from voters the party may have taken for granted in years gone by. The Conservative Party must soon decide if it wants to be a Conservation Party. Time to fell that tree?
HenryG Manson @henrygmanson