— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) January 31, 2015
Now the Tory hope is vote Green get blue
The pictures still remain a defining moment of his leadership: surrounded by a pack of huskies and against an Arctic backdrop, David Cameron pushing his vote-Blue-go-green message. It seems a long time ago and it is, almost nine years as the clock ticks and an era politically â€“ before the Credit Crunch changed the entire political landscape.
That early focus on the environment is perhaps one reason why Cameron remains distrusted by the Thatcherite right. After years of being fed the messages they wanted to hear on Europe, immigration, crime and the like (and suffering electoral defeat at the same time), not only did the strategy of focussing on the environment unnerve them as indicating that he wasnâ€™t One of Us but was also rapidly overtaken by events once the recession hit. Green issues are for times when people have enough money to feel morally content about paying a bit more for organic food or petrol.
Whether it ultimately had the desired effect at the election is questionable. The softer, gentler hue cast a contrast with the Hague / IDS / Howard era but thereâ€™s a small cross-section between those who are willing to vote Conservative and those who place environmental concerns high on their priorities. For all that the detoxification strategy was edging up the Tory vote under Blair, it was one tax-cutting speech by Osborne and one dither by Brown that scuppered Labourâ€™s chances in 2007. By 2010, the agenda had long moved on.
Five years on and looking at the rising Green Party scores, one could be forgiven for thinking that the environment was actually rising in the publicâ€™s concern. Itâ€™s not: in the Mori issues index, Pollution and the Environment scores in the mid- to high-single figures, just as it has done for years. What is driving the rise in the Green vote is not its core issue, the environment, but its extreme left-wing economic denialism, which makes it attractive to those of an oppositional mind-set, unhappy with the Lib Dems in government or Labour preparing for government.
The problem, of course, is that under FPTP, switching from Labour or the Lib Dems to the Greens is most likely to help the Tories. Bar charts can and no doubt will be deployed demonstrating how the Greens â€˜canâ€™t win hereâ€™ but such arguments have a limited appeal to voters whoâ€™ve (wrongly) come to the conclusion that the rest are all alike.
Itâ€™s not difficult to see why Cameron wants the Greens on stage in the debates. Unlike in a one-to-one interview, Natalie Bennett could sloganeer far more easily without being challenged on particular policies in anything like the depth that Andrew Neill went into last weekend. With UKIPâ€™s bubble deflating a little, itâ€™s the Greens who are timing their rise just right and giving themselves the chance to be this electionâ€™s breakthrough party. Yet if they are, itâ€™s unlikely to be Bennett or Lucas smiling if the country votes Green but goes Blue.