THE campaigns by David Cameron and Theresa May to ‘detoxify’ the Conservatives’ image brought some unusual people into the party. I wondered about these characters: some of them didn’t look or sound much like conservatives at all. Claire Perry, for example, had campaigned for overthrow of capitalism during her student days; Greg Clark had been in the SDP, a party not noted for its advocacy of freedom, private ownership or liberal markets. But the media liked what it saw, and positive press and electoral success duly followed.
I thought about the detoxification campaigns again recently when reading a manuscript sent to me by my colleague, Dr John Constable. His paper, which has just been published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, concerns a rather obscure Statutory Instrument on energy efficiency, changes to the regime for carbon reporting, and the use of criminal penalties for misreporting. Nasty in itself, but his account is even more important for what it says about the soul of the Conservative Party, raising the question of whether it is, in fact, a conservative party in any real sense.
The laudable aim of streamlining the emissions reporting regime for companies was the brainchild of the Treasury during David Cameron’s time in office. Plans were announced in the summer of 2015 and a consultation paper followed soon afterwards, but with the fall of the Cameron government the following year the trajectory of the review was completely reversed. Within weeks of taking power, Theresa May handed responsibility for the review to Greg Clark, shortly to be joined by Claire Perry, to whom she had given the command of her brainchild, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In the hands of Clark and Perry, the Treasury’s business-friendly plan was quickly and entirely subverted.
First, the scope of the reporting regulations was expanded to cover much smaller companies than originally envisaged, and Limited Liability Partnerships and unregistered companies were brought into the net too. More importantly, where the original intention had been to set out the revised carbon-reporting regime in dedicated legislation, Clark and Perry used powers contained in Tony Blair’s Companies Act 2006, which allows ministers to introduce new company reporting requirements via Statutory Instrument and, if they choose, to criminalise breaches.
Yes, you have understood that correctly. From 2018 onwards, if a company misreports its energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, the directors are criminally liable, and may be subject to an unlimited fine.
The idea that criminal offences can be introduced in this way is monstrous, of course, and something that might once have been seen as a feature of banana republics rather than developed nations. But that was the road down which the Blair government decided to lead us, and down which the Conservative governments seem to have followed with some alacrity.
In reality, we are unlikely to see the government dragging company directors into the dock at the Old Bailey. It just doesn’t have the motivation or the resources. But NGO campaigners are another matter. The Clark-Perry legislation has issued an open invitation to environmental extremists to use ‘lawfare’ to blackmail companies into doing as they wish. ‘You want to dig a new mine, do you?,’ they will say. ‘Let’s just take a look at your carbon reporting, shall we?’
Expect business donations to environmental causes to experience a sudden and dramatic increase.
If the new regulations are the first step along the road to a banana republic, that is only half of the story. The government, obsessed as it is with the (alleged) ‘climate emergency’, will surely not stop here. Criminalisation is a dangerous precedent. As Constable suggests, the regulations are probably a prelude to the introduction of penalties for greenhouse gas emissions, and the criminalisation of energy use beyond an allocated ration.
Under Cameron, under May, and now under Johnson, the Conservative Party has apparently embraced the ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’ model espoused on the one hand by Klaus Schwab and his World Economic Forum, and on the other by Blair’s Labour Party. As Constable shows, the Conservative Party is systematically undermining the model of shareholder capitalism that kept this country free through World Wars I and II, to say nothing of the dark years of the Cold War. Government ministers and their placemen – such as former Bank of England head Mark Carney – have engaged in a prolonged campaign to pressure company directors to abandon the interests of shareholders and to pursue instead a nebulous conception of the ‘common good’, otherwise known as civil service policy. As Constable warns, the Government is also working to divert your pension fund to what it considers better ends than your retirement.
I’ve voted Conservative all my adult life, but having read Constable’s paper, it’s hard to imagine doing so again. If I wanted authoritarian, collectivist, environmentalism, I would have voted for Caroline Lucas and the Greens. If I wanted my pension fund used for the state’s preferred ends I would have voted Corbyn. Why the Conservative Party leadership thinks I want a policy platform that would make this grim future inevitable is completely beyond me. Perhaps they don’t care about me, or the many people who for years believed this party represented them.