‘Good intentions are not good enough…ultimately we are measured by our actions.’
In recent years, environmental issues have gained a lot more weight within political agendas all over the world and if one believes the latest developments, Britain’s main political parties have one thing in common: they all claim to have gone green. This essay will examine what is behind the sudden ‘change in colour’, what the real motives of Britain’s ‘environmentally friendly’ parties really are and what the current government has done to tackle climate change. I will attempt to demonstrate that environmental consciousness in British politics, with respect to the two main parties, is used as an instrument to gain the public’s sympathy and that the current government’s performance in sectors, such as waste management and energy efficient housing suggests that there is still a long way to go until the protection of the environment will become an important issue in British politics.
Currently, environmental concern seems to be on the forefront of political agendas within Britain’s main parties. From waste reduction, raised recycling targets, cleaner communities, and the battle against climate change – it seems that Tony Blair and David Cameron are engaged in a battle of environmental ‘one-upmanship’. However, the stress on environmental issues is a rather recent phenomenon in British politics. Looking at the general election campaigns in Britain in 2005, it appears that although all parties had put forward plans to tackle CO2 emissions, neither Labour’s six campaign policy documents nor the Conservative manifesto had mentioned any environmental issues.
The handling of environmental affairs began to alter with the election of new Tory leader David Cameron in 2005. Mr Cameron started raising environmental issues to the voters in a skilful way, and created an image that appears to have helped him to gain popularity. During the 2006 local election campaign he used the slogan: ‘Vote blue, go green’ to underline the Conservative Party’s new ‘main’ focus: the environment. Mr Cameron also cycles to Westminster from his home in Notting Hill on a regular basis and has raised personal concern about the consequences of global warming on several occasions.
Further the Labour Party has recently focused itself much more on environmental issues and even appointed Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the UK Government Economic Service, to analyse the economics of climate change. This independent report was published in October 2006 and Tony Blair called it the most important report he had received since becoming Prime Minister. Furthermore Mr Blair described the evidence of climate change ‘overwhelming’ and the backlash ‘disastrous’. Chancellor Gordon Brown declared that he had recruited Al Gore, the former US Vice President, as an environmental adviser, assuring that the UK would take international response to challenge global warming.
All this suggests that protection of the environment has recently gained a lot more attention in British politics. The intentions for this rather sudden move towards greener policies are controversial, however. Certain facts suggest that Britain’s politicians feel under more pressure to react to public concerns about global warming, as these have increased significantly over the past few years. According to a survey conducted in 2001 of public attitudes of quality of life and the environment by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), 46% of people interviewed expressed concern about climate change. Four years later, in 2005, a poll carried out by the ICM for the Guardian showed that by then 90% of people questioned raised concern about global warming and believed that 'the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent. These figures may have put pressure on Britain’s politicians to present themselves to be more environmentally conscious and thus the sudden demonstration of ‘environmental friendliness’ appears to be a direct reaction of public demand for it.
Consequently Cameron and Blair’s deliveries were dismissed as ‘window dressing’ by environmental groups across the UK and also the British Green Party. Indeed, not many ostensibly green policies emerge as such when put under closer examination and as a result there are several factors which indicate that the protection of the environment does not have as much weight in British politics as politicians would like their voters to believe.
 Due to the restricted length of this essay, I will only concentrate on Labour and the Conservatives, as these are Britain’s two main parties.
 BBC News. 04/05/05. 1 screen.
 Telegraph.co.uk. 01/11/07. 1 screen.
 Defra, 16/09/03, 2 screens.
 Guardian Unlimited, 2006, 2 screens.
 Green Party, 19/04/6, 2 screens.