As Deputy Leader of West Northamptonshire Council, I often think to myself that I need to take both halves of that title seriously: both the work I do in deputising for the Leader to share his burdens, and the duties I have as a political and community leader. That leadership role requires me to have difficult conversations with my political allies, and to be willing to listen to the views of those who may consider me to be a political opponent, particularly when it comes to an issue that is as emotive and meaningful as our climate and tackling the emergency that confronts us all.
Many advocates of environmental causes will believe that they lack support from my colleagues in the Conservative Party. I won’t deny that my party is still home to a stubborn caucus of climate change sceptics, and people who for various reasons are unwilling or unable to accept that we must confront the immense choices that the Climate Emergency presents us with. I believe, however, that those people and those views are in an ever-dwindling minority, and moreover they do not represent conservatism in its truest sense. There is also a new generation of Conservative members and elected officials who are united by a philosophy which holds that to be a true Blue you also need to be green.
One of my favourite political texts is “Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet” by the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton. In “Green Philosophy” Scruton argues that conservatism and conservation are inseparable and that, “The goal is to pass on to future generations, and meanwhile to maintain and enhance, the order of which we are the temporary trustees”. In a nutshell – we are merely custodians, and our job is to bequeath a better world to the next generation. After all, without a safe and viable planet on which to raise a family, start a business, or earn a living, what is there to conserve?
Very often the message and the mission being sold by those who care deeply about the environment is lost either in pessimism, or through a failure to translate a global issue into a local problem, and all politics is local. As a Conservative I believe strongly that there is a small ‘c’ conservative argument to convince people to make changes that will in turn benefit the whole planet. Talk to people about safeguarding the River Nene, their local park, or their garden and they will feel a sense of ownership and protectiveness that they wouldn’t feel about Emilia Romagna or the Amazon. Talk to them about the quality of the air they breathe on their street or in their village and it takes on far more significance than an abstract argument about air particles. Talk to them about supporting local food producers and appeal to their sense of local pride and they are far more likely to make better food choices, because all politics is local.
Through our commitment to become a net zero Council by 2030, our membership of UK100 (a network of the most ambitious local leaders across the UK tackling the climate emergency), and our Sustainability Forum which embeds climate responsibility into the Council’s thinking and connects us to the wider community, I am confident that we are on our way to doing what is required here in West Northamptonshire. Plans are now translating into actions, with renovations of Council homes underway to decarbonise our housing stock, investment beginning in active travel schemes, and leisure centres being upgraded to enhance their energy efficiency. The future will entail a far greater level of ambition and investment, as well as a display of community leadership which will aim to ensure that the Council takes the whole of West Northamptonshire on this journey towards a cleaner, greener future, ensuring that regardless of political affiliation we will bequeath a better world to the next generation.