STEPHEN GLOVER: How I pine for a Tory government

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a real Tory government rather than the neo-Blairite confection that has been served up by Boris Johnson?

A Tory government that sought to lower taxes rather than increasing them to their highest level for 70 years since Clement Attlee — a fine man but a committed socialist —was prime minister.

A Tory government that wouldn’t allow an 80-year-old, chronically ill former soldier (I speak of Dennis Hutchings), who had loyally served Queen and country, to face charges in Northern Ireland of which he had been twice cleared. And there, far from his home in Cornwall, the poor man died of Covid.

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A Tory Government that didn’t produce revolutionary and uncosted proposals for dealing with climate change, which seem likely to bankrupt the country if future governments are daft enough to follow the Prime Minister’s madcap plan. 

Before he entered No 10, I had doubts about Boris’s temperamental suitability for high office. Was he serious enough? Would he master his official briefs? Could he be trusted to keep his word?

But one thing about which I was pretty sure was that Boris was a genuine Tory. I knew him a bit, and was for many years a keen reader of his excellent columns in The Daily Telegraph, in which he made no attempt to conceal his Conservative beliefs.

Being a Tory means that you don’t get a kick out of spending other people’s hard-earned money. It means that you are instinctively in favour of smaller government, and do not believe that it is the job of politicians to boss law-abiding citizens around.

Above all, Toryism involves putting practicality before ideology. A Conservative is interested in what works — not in using the electorate as a laboratory to test economic theories that are liable to end in disaster.

By all these definitions Boris Johnson does not look like a proper Tory, and this is not a Tory government as the term has been traditionally understood.

Look at the latest roll-call of climate-change measures which the Prime Minister unleashed with revolutionary zeal on Tuesday — measures which surpass in scope and speed those being adopted by any other country. Being Boris, he claimed with characteristic boosterism — and a total lack of evidence — that his wildly ambitious net-zero targets will be met ‘without so much as a hair shirt in sight’.

The old, sceptical Boris would have greeted such an assertion with protestations of incredulity, and doubtless an undertaking that, if such wildly unrealistic plans were ever fulfilled, he would eat his entire hat garnished with bacon.

Already people who know about these things are speculating that buyers of old, poorly insulated houses may struggle to get a mortgage. The cost of a heat pump —which seems roughly to be at the same stage of development as was the internal combustion engine circa 1910 — will be devastating.

As for the Government, it will be squeezing the already hard-pressed taxpayer to bankroll its elaborate schemes (which have nonetheless been dismissed already as inadequate by the voracious green lobby, as well as Labour spokesman Ed Miliband).

If you don’t believe me, listen to the Treasury which, unlike Boris, knows enough about money to have serious reservations. It foresees a £37 billion black hole in its finances because of a loss of revenue from fuel duty.

It also estimates that from 2026 the additional public and private sector capital investment required to decarbonise will amount to more than £50 billion a year. In the Treasury’s view, it is ‘uncertain’ how much of this increased investment will result in long-term GDP growth.

With his broad-brush approach to finance, Mr Johnson is not interested in such boring details. At a press conference on Tuesday, billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he had agreed to match the Government’s investment of £400 million in a new green fund.

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The Prime Minister thought that each party had agreed to stump up £200 million. In fact, he was right. But he seemed easily persuaded by Mr Gates that the true figure was £400 million apiece. What’s a couple of hundred million pounds between friends?

The rapid transformation of Boris from a Tory sceptic with his feet firmly on the ground to a climate-change fanatic is one of the most amazing political phenomena of modern times.

Not long ago, he was expressing sensible caution. In a newspaper column from January 2013 he wondered whether solar activity might not be a contributory factor to global warming. He confessed that he had an ‘open mind’. In 2015, one of his columns was faithfully headlined: ‘I can’t stand this December heat, but it has nothing to do with global warming.’ 

Over the years he has doubted the efficacy of wind power and advocated more nuclear power stations. He has also championed fracking for gas, which the Government under his leadership has comprehensively, and very unwisely, kiboshed.

We are not talking here about juvenile scribblings that can be easily disowned. The mature and grown-up Boris of the very recent past did not believe that climate change presented such an immediate danger that the economy had to be turned upside down, and taxpayers required to fork out endless dollops of cash.

The usual reason given for Mr Johnson’s sudden conversion to being the Che Guevara of climate change and evangelist of higher taxes is the influence of his wife, Carrie, who is something of an eco-zealot. No doubt this is part of the explanation.

But I think there is something else in play — Boris’s unconquerable love of drama. He’s not prepared to sit down with the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and go through the figures painstakingly, weighing up the pros and cons of reaching net zero in record time. 

He is not detained by the argument that the UK, which produces a mere 1 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, shouldn’t hobble its economic future while other countries make hay, and China is building hundreds of new coal-fired power stations. Something in his mindset renders him predisposed to grand gestures and apocalyptic solutions.

For the time being, of course, he gets away with it because the hikes in taxation which will have to pay for his revolution are some way down the track. Even the painful increases already announced have not yet happened. He is still seen as a mesmerising force who cracks good jokes and adds to the gaiety of the nation.

Conceivably he will continue to get away with it. For although he has turned out not to be a Tory as the word is normally understood, he is obviously more of one than Sir Keir Starmer. Nor is there any alternative Conservative Party to which voters can defect.

Yet Tory voters with Tory values haven’t gone away. When runaway tax increases hit home, and people find they can’t get mortgages on uninsulated houses and are forced to impoverish themselves with expensive and inefficient heat pumps — why, then there will surely be a political backlash.

Sooner or later there has to be an adjustment. Tory voters will demand authentic Tory policies. Someone promising to supply them will emerge —though Boris being Boris, he may then decide that he has become a Tory again.

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