Last week Prime Minister Theresa May announced her government’s 25-year plan to improve the natural environment, with a focus on eradicating all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.
Having seen campaign groups greet the plan with a lukewarm reception, a closer look under the skin highlights how, at best, it is a futile attempt at a quick fix rebrand, and at worst accentuates the Conservatives’ murky record on green issues.
When she became party leader, May committed to dissociating herself from her predecessor Cameron’s modernisation project, which put the environment at its core. Now, however, she appears to be intent on reviving this very issue.
During the 2010 election campaign, the Conservatives promised to be the greenest government the UK had ever seen. Cameron, the perennial PR man, sowed the seeds of the Tories’ new narrative early on, laying out his green-fingered priorities for government a long way out. In doing so, he afforded the electorate the time required to coalesce around common goals and shared values, while simultaneously constructing one of the foundational elements to broaden his party’s electoral appeal.
But times have changed. When May’s predecessor rose to power, he had everything on his side. He was a youthful, fresh-faced political operator whose only real opposition was a haggard Labour leader haunted by the shadows of the financial crisis and the Iraq War. The electorate was tired, weary and in need of a fresh new lease of life.
Today the Prime Minister’s foremost political adversary cuts a very different and more formidable figure. A straight talking left-winger who once seemed an absurdly unlikely party leader, inconceivably now sits on the brink of power.
Jeremy Corbyn’s success is born from the public’s belief in his commitment to actually delivering on his programme of policies. His appeal is predicated on the strength of his convictions, his dedication to a cause, his honesty and his long-standing principles.
In contrast, Theresa May has no clear agenda or vision for governing. She lacks compassion, and any clear sign of direction within her premiership is conspicuous by its absence. Underlying problems of this scale cannot be solved by a swiftly strewn-together speech; a fleeting effort to tap into the mood of young voters, mirror their values and focus, however briefly, on the issues that matter to them.
Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister’s sudden appetite to promote green issues is built on shaky foundations. So wobbly are they that Downing Street’s former director of communications Katy Perrior said the proposals were initially meant to be “as boring as possible”. Even going as far to say that while May’s enthusiasm for protecting the environment “may not be insincere”, but it is “certainly new”.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for establishing a meaningful connection with the electorate. Corbyn’s Momentum for example did not simply reposition him as leadership material overnight. Getting a rebrand right is a marathon, not a sprint.
Mrs May’s focus on the environment out of the blue does little to strengthen her credibility, particularly - as it has been rightly pointed out - because the eventual responsibility for adhering to her targets will fall on the shoulders of whomever is at the helm years down the line.
How, then, can this fresh set of proposals truly be looked upon any differently, especially as the Tory leader won’t be held in any way accountable for seeing them through?
Never mind her abysmally delivered conference speech, the recently botched reshuffle, the litany of ignominious front bench resignations and her inability to tame incessant Cabinet infighting over Brexit, until the Prime Minister can sweet talk voters into thinking that she genuinely has their best interests at heart, she will forever remain little more than a dead woman walking.