“We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap”, David Cameron is said to have told one of his senior ministers in November last year in a rare moment of vaguely conservative conviction.
So why this week did he choose to sack Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – the only minister in his cabinet with the courage, commitment and knowledge to take on the various entrenched green interests which are driving up energy prices, wasting taxpayers’ money and hamstringing the economy?
Because surrendering quietly to Big Green – as Cameron has just effectively done – is going to generate far fewer unfavourable headlines than if he had stood up and fought it.
Paterson – despite fierce resistance from his own government department which had been heavily infiltrated by green activists – was fearless and energetic in tackling environmental lunacy wherever he found it.
During the floods he was quick to establish that the one of the main culprits was EU-driven environmental policy which had prevented the rivers being dredged – and poured more money into flood defences.
He fought hard against the EU’s ban on neonicotinoids, the safe, effective pesticide blamed by greenies – on no solid evidence – for causing bee deaths.
And he masterminded the cull of Britain’s vastly excessive, disease-ridden and unsustainable badger population, not because he hates badgers – he kept two as pets when he was a child – but because as a farmer and a countryman who has researched the subject more thoroughly than the rest of parliament put together he understands that this is the only way the country can ever be rid of the horror of bovine TB.
This is why Paterson earned a standing ovation at the Country Landowners’ Association game fair this week: among farmers and country folk he is recognised as a total hero.
But David Cameron, though a countryman himself and also – like Paterson – a former foxhunting man, has lost any appetite he might have had for defending rural interests. (Which probably explains UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s presence at the same CLA game fair, preening before an adoring crowd, and pointedly praising Owen Paterson). He has been advised by his electoral guru Lynton Crosby that in the run-up to next year’s general election the Conservatives should steer clear of doing anything that makes them more unpopular than they already are.
As Charles Moore puts it:
Politicians like to say that “doing nothing is not an option”. Now doingnothing is the main policy of Her Majesty’s Government.
But while this may – possibly – be canny politics, it represents the most terrible betrayal of conservative values. Cameron’s promise, shortly after being elected, that he wanted to lead the “greenest government ever” can be excused, just about, on a mix of newbie’s exuberance and the influence of his ardently greenie wife Samcam.
Since then, though, as Prime Minister, Cameron has had access to more than enough expert advice which could have made it perfectly clear to him how much damage is being done to Britain’s interests by environmentalists: everything from their opposition to fracking to their ardent championing of the bat-chomping bird-slicing eco-crucifixes despoiling the British landscape.
Conservatives, as a rule, are supposed to believe in economic growth, small government, cheap energy, conservation, nature, free markets and liberty. The green vested interests which the Cameron administration is tacitly supporting don’t believe in any of these things. So it’s no wonder so many natural conservatives, especially those in rural constituencies, continue to feel so badly let down by Cameron.
This is more or less what Owen Paterson said to Cameron at the fraught meeting where he was given the push. “Do you want to win the next election or not? Because what you’ve just gone and done is kicked twelve million rural voters in the teeth,” Paterson told Cameron.
(But he insists, contrary to some reports, that no voices were raised and no swearing took place.)