The summer recess has come and gone, the Conservative Party Conference takes place soon – and there was a mass of Government-related trails and leaks over the weekend, about matters as different as HS2, inheritance tax, smoking, the triple lock and conversion therapy.
Indeed, this week’s news is coming so fast that last weeks’ risks not being fully reviewed: in particular, Rishi Sunak’s change of tack over Net Zero. What do Conservative MPs make of it? Here’s what some of them told us.
“I’ve changed my view on climate change. I still think it’s real and a big challenge but I don’t think the world is coming to an end. There simply isn’t the evidence to back up the rhetoric over those claims. So I think Rishi has got us into about the right place. My guess is that it will be popular despite the outcry in the media. I’m a bit more confident of keeping my seat than I was a week ago.”
“Huge step forward in acknowledging what many of us have been saying about the unaffordable and unrealistic measures in place to reach Net Zero. The tech just isn’t ready yet at a price people can afford. The extra time gives much-needed breathing space for our innovators to come up with better.”
“I agree entirely with what the Prime Minister has done in changing our approach to Net Zero. It’s a good first step towards restoring some kind of reality on this. The ‘Net Zero religion’ is going to force us to change our lives radically, make us poor and cold, without any certainty that it will actually achieve anything. It’s all gone too far and has lost the support of the British people.”
“It’s embarrassing to retreat from targets. But I don’t blame Rishi for that. It was Theresa and Boris setting impossible targets – so they could say they were very brave and had this important legacy. Then Rishi is left to provide the reality check. You can pass any law you like. You can pass a law declaring the Moon is made of blue cheese. But that doesn’t change the reality.”
“It’s a bloody good thing. Let’s hope he goes even further.”
“Apart from the patricians, those making money from the green industry, Skidmore et all, most will be very happy.”
“I was very happy. We are remaining committed to our overall target but being pragmatic about what we have to do and how we do it. A lot of what he said re taking people with us I have been saying for months. So very positive.”
“Mostly good. Common sense, telling the truth etc – only a few zealots or those with vested interests will mouth off.”
“I thought it was the most comfortable and authentically Rishi that I’ve seen for months. Realised when he was talking that Net Zero is a policy area suited to his explaining the trade-offs in politics and life and the need to get technology and finances right. There are also loads of people quietly worrying about changing cars and boilers and thinking the eco loons aren’t telling the truth, so if they decide he is the one levelling with them, it will be good for the country and more interesting politics for us. Question is whether it’s too late to have a reset and whether MPs can pull together on something so emotional. National grid announcements also overlooked as a big ticket item for business confidence.”
“I am all for hard-headed pragmatism and fairnesss in getting to Net Zero but I am not at all comfortable with him trying to make political capital out of rolling back environmental measures. He did need to change the rules on oil boilers, but there was no need to push back the ban on the sale of petrol cars. I don’t actually think it is good politics. What with measures like stopping nutrient neutrality, he is sending a strong message that he does not care about the environment. First PM for a very long time not trying to be Green. Danger is we are seen as the nasty party, and he is seen as a cold-hearted technocrat. It only tickles the base but risks alienating mainstream voters.”
“Really good. I am all for improving the environment but in a practical way. I support energy security strongly. The PM has listened and been bold. The start of the fightback?”
“By definition, climate change is a global issue. The UK accounts for approximately one per cent of global emissions, compared to over 30 per cent for China, whilst the US and India are also major emitters. Even if we closed down the entire UK economy, it still wouldn’t scratch China opening one and sometimes two coal fired power stations every month. So, while we should certainly continue to ‘do our bit’ on climate change the PM is quite right to say we should do it in a sensible and proportionate way.”
“It was a much-needed outbreak of common sense that many of us have been calling for some time – particularly those in the Blue Collar Conservative group that represents the views of the hard-working British public. The Prime Minister’s statement was simply a statement of the blindingly obvious, and he was right to say that if the Government had ploughed on regardless, the backlash to those measures – and the costs they would have incurred on people – would have been seismic. The Prime Minister is on to a winner here.”
“The Prime Minister has absolutely nailed it. He is completely right to say that those who advocate the Net Zero bans and restrictions never set out what that actually means and what it will actually cost. The PM has positioned himself and the Conservative Party on the side of hard working families and on the side of being sensible and pragmatic. Keir Starmer’s Labour Party have abandoned the working classes Labour was set up to represent and is on the side of the billionaire global elites and eco-fanatics. I know where I would rather be!”
“The first Prime Minister for many decades to have the courage to take on the supremacy of the British Green lobby who tolerate no dissent from their views. Britain produces less than one per cent of Global CO2 emissions and we are reducing them at a faster rate than almost all of our major G20 industrial competitors. Rishi understands that reduction of emissions essential but at rate which does not harm the British economy and put us at a disadvantage to our European competitors.”
“I was impressed by it. He only said what most ordinary people with busy lives and mounting bills are thinking – be responsible towards the environment but don’t lose sight of the challenges we face today – and don’t try and do the work of other countries for them. A couple of other things. I think people are mixing up targets (where we’re going) and milestones (the things we do along the way). He’s not changed the former – Net Zero 2050 staying. But he’s moved some of the latter (e.g. dates relevant to boilers and cars).”
“Very happy with Prime Minister’s Statement. I much prefer pragmatism to ideology.”
Our Editor wrote last week that four audiences might prove problematic for the Prime Minister, and that –
“The first is Conservatives who are committed to the Net Zero project on its present terms. Some are true believers, including many of the 133 Tory backbenchers who make up the Conservative Environment Group. Others are subsidy chasers, seeking the benefit of green projects for their constituents. Who can blame them? Their coalition stretches from Zac Goldsmith through Alok Sharma and Skidmore to Simon Clarke and Ben Houchen in hydrogen-friendly Teesside.”
It may be that the MPs we quote above are not typical of the Parliamentary Party, that some of the initiatives recently trailed will do Sunak more harm than good, or that he fails on Net Zero with his other three audiences – business, the hard right, and the public.
Nonetheless, any fair observer would be struck by the near-uniformity of the responses above. One might have thought that parts of a Parliamentary Party containing over 130 members of the Conservative Environment Network would have cut up rough.
Instead, we can’t help wondering if it’s a bit of a paper tiger. In terms of party management, Sunak seems to have pulled it off on Net Zero – at least for the time being and as far as Tory MPs are concerned. That wasn’t at all certain in the speech’s immediate aftermanth.