As u-turns go, the one the Tory leadership has performed over green taxes is more like a supertanker changing course – slow and utterly deliberate. The signs of change have been there since the Coalition came into being, with senior Tories battling against former-minister Chris Huhne and his policies. But the real spin of the wheel came when John Hayes was appointed as Ed Davey’s shadow in the Department of Energy & Climate Change, last year. Hayes may have moved on since, but David Cameron and George Osborne haven’t: with energy prices as Westminster’s plat du jour, and UKIP nibbling away at the side, they’re now more eager to cut, rather than to raise, green taxes.
This became most apparent in this month’s Autumn Statement, which contained a number of measures to curtail the trickle-down levies that increase people’s energy bills. And those measures have now been awarded the U-turn of the Year prize by Conservative members who took our Christmas survey – by some margin:
- Green taxes: 42 per cent.
- Cigarette packaging: 22 per cent.
- Minimum alcohol pricing: 19 per cent.
- Plans to scrap GCSEs: 13 per cent.
What’s more, I imagine Conservative members regard this as not just a significant u-turn, but also a good one: in a survey before the Autumn Statement, they put cutting green taxes at the top of their list of economic priorities.
But it’s not all cheaper bills and Tory huzzahs. The Party leadership’s shifting attitude towards green taxes – and towards greenery in general – doesn’t say much for their convictions. As I wrote a few weeks ago, if you’ll forgive the self-quotation:
“This wavering exacerbates one of the main problems with the Cameron premiership. Who is this man? What does he believe? It’s never been entirely clear whether he was committed to the green agenda all those years ago, or whether it was simply a branding exercise. And that means that – now – it’s not clear whether he’s had a change of heart, or whether he thought it was c**p all along, or whether he actually believes it all but is making concessions for electoral purposes. It’s fine for a politician to change his mind, but they have to be clear about where their mind is. Otherwise, what are voters to think?”
In fact, this has been the main quality of this year’s u-turns: from green taxes to cigarette packaging to payday loans, they have been less about competence and more about conviction. If Cameron has one New Year’s Resolution, it should be greater clarity about what he truly believes.