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The conviction that we must leave the next generation a country in a better state than when we found it drives Conservatives. In our ‘Blue Planet II’ age, that belief must apply to the environment. After all, Margaret Thatcher was the “first… world leader to recognise the threat” of “climate change” and noted that “the core of Conservative philosophy and of the case for protecting the environment are the same. No generation has a freehold on this earth”. The Government’s renewed environmental ambition is welcome in its own right, but its electoral potency in terms of changing people’s outlook on our party should not be underestimated.

It would be churlish not to give credit to the Government for a string of welcome environmental policies. These include the world’s “most comprehensive” microbeads ban, banning new diesel/petrol car sales by 2040, and extending the plastic bag charge. Enhancing animal welfare has also been prioritised with the RSPCA hailing it as “incredible news”. Plans include an ivory trade ban, increasing animal abuse sentences, banning pesticides harmful to bees, recognising the sentience of all animals in UK law, and mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses. Efforts seems to be genuinely cross-government, with DFID’s budget used to tackle pollution and the Prime Minister’s 25-year plan “delight[ing]” Keep Britain Tidy. As the Times’ Environment Editor argues, the plan is “bold”, since it includes a “commitment to publish annual reports on progress in providing cleaner air and water, restoring wildlife and reducing waste”. Britain is playing its part internationally by supporting the Powering Past Coal Alliance, upholding the Paris accord, and staying on track to meet its 2018-2022 emission targets. Laudable though these achievements are, there is more to do.

We should introduce a plastic bottle deposit-return scheme given the potential savings for local government and since versions have proved successful in Europe and Australia. While the Prime Minister’s call for supermarkets to ditch unnecessary plastic is bearing dividends, radical options are worth considering. France has banned disposable plastic cutlery, cups, and plates, while Costa Rica is seeking to ban all single-use plastic. We should also pause to reflect on the badger cull given the scepticism of some in the scientific community. The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation’s campaign to end live transport of animal exports should receive government support too. The group further calls for the labelling of meat with its method of slaughter “so consumers can make an informed choice” and “an end to slaughter without stunning”, the latter echoing calls from the British Veterinary Association. Installing solar panels on new-build council houses would be worthwhile, as well as Bright Blue’s idea of loans to ‘help to improve’ home energy performance. For a Green Brexit, EU law concepts such as the principle that the polluter pays, the precautionary principle, and sustainable development must not be diluted. Business is also key. The Environment Agency has welcomed Water UK’s news that water companies are increasing the number of national water refill points to tackle our throwaway culture. However, real change will come from transforming our daily lifestyle choices and consumer behaviour. We should all back campaigns such as Sky Ocean Rescue’s #PassOnPlastic movement to make a difference.

Embracing environmentalism and animal welfare has the bonus of stressing that the Conservative Party has compassion at its core. The Independent has cited Bright Blue’s research showing that “the top three policies that would make under-40s proud of voting for a party were all on the environment”. Conservative “private polling tells a similar story”. Bright Blue reported that the environment came second only to health on issues under 40s wished politicians addressed more and was the priority for the 18-28 bracket. Their research also found that if the Tories toned down their environmental ambition, it would not be “popular among their voters” nor Lib Dem or Labour voters who we wish to persuade. A Conservative Party seen as the custodian of the environment and a champion of animal welfare is more likely to be considered a party made up of compassionate individuals who mean well and can be trusted. Voters are then more likely to be open to our other policies, after we earn that right to be heard.

This is where 2017 went wrong. Candidates and campaign agents themselves have blamed the foxhunting free-vote for the collapse of our majority. Another article reports “fox hunting came up more on the doorstep than social care”. Rather than speaking to people’s everyday concerns on housing, schools, and the NHS, the pledge focused on something most voters, including Conservative ones, strongly oppose. From my own canvassing across Midland marginals, many voters were incredulous that this appeared to be what we considered a priority for Britain. It dented people’s impression that the party understood them, the ‘just about managing’, but instead pandered to minority interests in wealthy shires. One can argue about the fairness of that characterisation or the merits of the Hunting Act 2004, but it was undoubtedly toxic to the Tory brand. Swing voters began to question what we actually stood for. When voters question your values, they are unlikely to give you the benefit of the doubt and, as Nicky Morgan MP pointed out here, will be less likely to vote Conservative. It created fertile ground for Opposition scaremongering about a “dementia tax”. Doubts about our values and motives played into people’s fears about where the winter fuel allowance cut-off would fall. Our new focus on the environment and animal welfare will hopefully repair that damage and bear electoral fruit.

However, environmental policies alone are no silver bullet for improving Conservatives’ electoral fortunes. Reform of student maintenance, large-scale house-building to make a property-owning democracy a reality for young people, and a sustainable settlement for an integrated NHS and social care system are essential. Still, the politics of the environment should not be dismissed. 2017 was Britain’s greenest ever year with record amounts of renewable energy. It’s probably a bit much to call ourselves the “new Green Party”, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Tom Chapman is a member of Bright Blue and a former Councillor. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.