There has been a lot of publicity lately about the new, 'caring, compassionate Conservatives'. Amid all the hysteria over 'hug a hoodie', David Cameron has been falling over himself to show how environmentally friendly he is, that the Blues are the Greenest party ever to exist, (conveniently forgetting, perhaps, Margaret Thatcher's famous dismissal in 1982 during the Falklands Conflict: "It's exciting to have a real crisis on your hands when you have spent half your political life dealing with humdrum things like the environment.") and eager to demonstrate his dedication to tackling climate change and saving the planet. Fourteen months ago, Cameron wrote an article for The Independent (01/11/05) saying that 'For too long, politicians of all parties have treated the environment as an afterthought, something they need to pay lip service to but can safely ignore. This has to change, for it is central to our existence both as a nation and as individuals - which is why the quality-of-life agenda is at the centre of my political vision.' Cameron has also declared that if he were leader, climate change would be a 'priority, not an afterthought' for the Conservative party.
Polly Toynbee wrote in The Guardian in December that 'David Cameron has done well by stealing green iconography to repaint the image of his party. His 'Vote Blue, Go Green' message and fuzzy oak tree do have green roots in conservative tradition - their green-welly rural heritage. He challenges Labour to introduce tough annual targets for CO2 emissions, pledging to cut some taxes and increase green tax'.
Much has been written about how Cameron's ideas are all hot air and he is all style and no substance. While not doubting his sincerity in his desire to tackle climate change, we have to look at how compatible these beliefs and values are with the Conservative, free-market, capitalist agenda.
David Cameron has also paid lip-service to social justice and global poverty, saying that the Conservative "mission is to produce practical policy recommendations that the UK government can implement to help alleviate suffering and promote social, economic and political progress in the developing world".
Unfortunately, for the Conservatives to say they are really dedicated to social justice, global poverty reduction, and the environment is fundamentally incompatible not only with everything their party stands for, but the way those policies will in fact be implemented. Looking on the Conservative website, it is almost impossible to find any actual firm policy commitments to anything at all. There is a good reason for this: the Tories cannot make any firm commitments either to tackle climate change or poverty, because that would go against what their members believe, and be anathema to their values.
This is a party dedicated to the creation of wealth, the free market, big business, and helping the rich to get as rich as they can. This is a party that advocates the ridiculous nonsensical ideology of the 'trickle-down effect', as if creating enormous wealth for the few at the top could ever somehow magically spread to help the poor. The Tories believe in cutting taxes: how then would they be able to get the money to improve public services, tackle the causes of poverty and inequality? Are they really going to promote personal carbon credits and green taxes necessary to tackle climate change? No, of course not, as the very idea of limiting ambition and a wealthy lifestyle would lose them the support of all of their party members. You cannot pick and choose aspects of capitalist ideology to suit you. A system based on the creation of profit, wealth creation, and exponential economic growth at all costs, which the Conservatives have at their heart, cannot suddenly be expected to take account of the damage it is doing to the environment, society, or the planet at large.
That is why Cameron's seemingly earnest promises to tackle climate change ring hollow. Capitalism is incompatible with caring for anyone or anything other than wealth creation at all costs. Only a completely alternative system that puts social justice and respect for the environment at its heart, and above the creation of wealth at all costs, will ensure that promoting the health of the planet and of society is put first. This necessarily entails wealth re-distribution so that money can be invested in those who need it most. This system is democratic socialism. It is simply a self-evident truth that you have to be red to be green.