Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Sean Fear’s Friday slot

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What’s the political impact of the Quality of Life Report?

Yesterday, the Conservative Party’s Quality of Life Policy Group issued a report calling for radical economic and social changes in this country in order to combat climate change. It struck me as being a “courageous” report (in the Yes Minister sense). Proposals included new taxes on short haul flights and cars, a ban on plasma screen televisions, restrictions on the establishment of supermarkets, requirements for businesses to recycle, moratoria on new airports, runways, and road widening schemes, restrictions on street lighting and road markings, and an end to the incineration of rubbish.

Even more radical was much of the underlying philosophy of the report, with its arguments that increased material wealth was making people in this country more unhappy, and that the government should replace measurements of GDP with a measurement of economic wellbeing which indicates that the high point of economic development in this country came in 1974, which may surprise some people who were alive at the time.

The Guardian and Independent have both welcomed this report, the latter declaring “This policy group has furnished the Tory leader with the intellectual arguments for the adoption of a revolutionary environmental policy. He must now use them”. It would be fair to say that the rest of the Press were rather less complimentary.

My own view is that if the Conservative Party were to adopt a “revolutionary environmental policy”, then Labour’s 1983 manifesto would cease to be the longest suicide note in history. I could easily see such policies appealing to affluent Southern Liberal Democrats, who Cameron has cultivated assiduously, as well as some people who currently vote for the Green Party (and such voters are quite numerous in London). Unfortunately, I could see many more voters, both core Conservatives and floating voters, being thoroughly alienated by such proposals. In particular, people on average incomes are likely to react very badly to proposals that their taxes should rise sharply, or that things they enjoy doing should be banned, for environmental reasons.

But am I wrong about this? Is this report, in fact, what the British people are looking for?

This week saw a large number of by-elections. They were generally good for Labour, mixed for the Liberal Democrats, and poor for the Conservatives. As always, though, one must be cautious about reading too much into one week’s results:-

Chelmsford BC, Broomfield and the Waltons. Lib Dem 1,198, Conservative 742, Labour 76, UKIP 57, Green 53. Lib Dem gain from Conservative. This was held on a Tuesday, and resulted in a huge swing from Conservative to Liberal Democrat.

Mendip DC, Glastonbury St. Edmunds. Conservative 432, Lib Dem 348. Conservative gain from Lib. Dem. This was a good result for the Conservatives, on a council that the Liberal Democrats nearly took from them in May.

Rossendale BC, Goodshaw. Labour 634, Conservative 300, BNP 80, Lib Dem 52. Labour gain from Conservative. Labour won this ward in 2006, so it is not surprising they won it yesterday. However, the scale of Labour’s victory in a marginal seat was impressive.

Rossendale BC, Irwell. Labour 379, Conservative 312, BNP 281, Lib Dem 46. Labour gain from Conservative. The Conservatives won this seat by just two votes in May, but a small swing to Labour was enough to take it this time.

Rossendale BC, Whitewell. Lib Dem 606, Labour 399, Conservative 152, BNP 91. Lib Dem gain from Conservative. The Conservative vote here has collapsed since they won the seat in 2004.

Lewisham LBC, Whitefoot. Lib Dem 986, Labour 901, Conservative 536, National Front 95, UKIP 89, Green 52. Technically, this was a Liberal Democrat gain from an independent, but as the independent was elected as a Liberal Democrat, it is really a hold, with a considerably reduced majority.

Brent LBC, Stonebridge. Labour 1,432, Lib. Dem. 864, Respect 237, Conservative 177, Green 51. Labour hold. This is one of Labour’s safest wards in London, and it’s no surprise the party held it easily. The Liberal Democrats did well to come a clear second, and the Conservatives did badly to come fourth.

Liverpool MBC, Warbreck. Labour 1,796, Lib Dem 1024, BNP 146, Independent 131, UKIP 52, Green 45, Conservative 40, Community 32. Labour gain from Lib Dem. This was a very strong performance from Labour, and perhaps indicates that the party will gain control of Liverpool next May. Incredibly, this was once a safe Conservative ward.

Tunbridge Wells BC, Pantiles & St. Marks. Conservative 788, Lib Dem 364, Labour 94, UKIP 71. An easy Conservative hold.

Sean Fear is a London Conservative activist and the 2006-7 poster of the year

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