THE BLOG

The Tories Are Retoxifying

25/11/2015 16:43 GMT | Updated 25/11/2016 10:12 GMT

The retoxification of the Conservative Party is in full swing. Years away from a general election, and with an official opposition divided, ministers are dropping any pretence of compassionate conservatism. The heady days of huskies in the Arctic and hugging hoodies are long gone.

Cameron's pre-2010 plan was clear: soften the brand, appeal to the centre ground and ditch the 'nasty Tories' political baggage. The party appeared to be changing: more women were rising to prominence, green issues were being taken seriously and anti-Europe sentiment was fading. Then the financial crisis happened.

The meltdown in 2008 gave the Tories the cover they needed to revert to type. They blamed a financial crisis on too much public spending, and the false assertion stuck. The last Parliament saw biting austerity, privatisations and the scaling back of environmental protections.

Tragically, as we've seen from the Comprehensive Spending Review today, things are about to get even worse. For all of their faults the Lib Dems did manage to act as a brake on some of the Tories' worst instincts - without their voices at the Cabinet table ministers are emboldened, and dangerous.

The Government is on a mission to strip back the state to its barebones. UK Government spending, as a proportion of GDP, is set to drop faster than any other major economies, and possibly to levels below even the USA. Our welfare state is already creaking - further cuts to local authority grants and are likely to have devastating results on people across the country. In Brighton we're already facing the threat of children's centres closing and cutbacks in special educational needs (SEN) provision, further cuts to local government grants will put even more services in jeopardy. The human cost of this biting austerity is compounded by the fact the cutbacks have failed in economic terms too: the deficit remains stubbornly high, and the Government's approach has seen public sector debt taken on by individuals in the form of soaring student loans, credit card bills and pay day lending.

And then there's this Government's climate change plans. Just days before the crucial Paris Climate talks we've seen Osborne unveil a spending review that utterly fails the answer the biggest challenge of our time. The CSR should have been climate-proofed, with all spending commitments assessed as to whether they help cut carbon emissions - but instead we've seen the gutting of both the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for the Environment. Just as it was announced that there were 43,900 excess winter deaths last year, we see nothing like the kind of action on cold homes we desperately need to save lives and cut carbon emissions.

The Chancellor failed to announce support for energy efficiency in infrastructure budgets and he put forward plans for significant cuts to existing funding through the Energy Company Obligation and the Renewable Heat Incentive. According to the UK Green Building Council "These cuts are likely to see a significant reduction in installation rates for energy efficiency over the next five years." Furthermore the Government pledged to create a £1billion fund for fracking and millions of pounds worth of funding for nuclear technology.

These latest, disastrous announcements, come hot on the heels of recent news of Government support for nuclear and gas growing while help for renewable energy firms, and the thousands of jobs they create, is slashed. It's curious that some ministers in the Government seem to really understand climate change. The Foreign Secretary, for example, made an excellent speech on the subject only recently. The underlying ideology at the heart of the modern Conservative Party, and especially in the Treasury, boils down to an endless commitment to a fossil fuelled free market economy - meaning that sensible voices on climate are drowned out.

David Cameron will go to Paris next week - riding on a wave of warm words and hot air from his Government on climate change - but whilst overseeing the dismantling of British efforts to play our part in tackling the climate crisis.

Many of us didn't believe it when the Tories attempted to detoxify, but it's a cold comfort that we were proved right. Now, with Cameron and Osborne riding roughshod over our environmental protections and welfare state, the toxicity is back with a vengeance.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton