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In June 2008, David Cameron opened a speech with the following words:

“Today, I want to tackle an argument that seems to be as cyclical as the economy. The argument that when times are good, we can indulge ourselves with a bit of environmentalism – but when the economic going gets tough, the green agenda has to be dropped.

“According to this argument, protecting the environment is a luxury rather than a necessity – and it’s a luxury we just can’t afford in an economic downturn. I want this generation to be the one that bucks that trend: to be the generation that finds a way to combine economic, social and environmental progress.”

In what I imagine was a shot at critics who thought that the huskies and the cycling (with his papers in the car behind) were a stunt, he made the following  very firm statement:

“Today I want to make my position on this absolutely clear. We are not going to drop the environmental agenda in an economic downturn.”

At a press conference this morning David Cameron gave a list of ten reasons to vote for the Conservatives.

The environmental agenda did not feature at all.

The green agenda has been dropped. Completely. And, ironically, as Britain continues to teeter along the brink of recession.

Spend a moment looking at those two documents and then tell me Cameron’s long-term critics weren’t right. Cameron’s environmental credentials have been exposed as the cynical exercise in hoodwinking they always were.

This should ring alarm bells across the South East, and particularly in Basildon and Thurrock, where the threat to our green spaces and natural environment is ever-present. With DP World’s recent announcement that they will be deepening the Thames to allow the largest cargo ships in the world to dock at the proposed London Gateway port, voters should now be clear that making sure developments like this – which are important for jobs and regeneration – don’t wreck our environment is not a priority in any way for Conservatives.

Back in October last year, at the Tory conference, Cameron called for more leadership on the environment:

“And to be British is to have an instinctive love of the countryside and the natural world. The dangers of climate change are stark and very real. If we don’t act now, and act quickly, we could face disaster.

Yes, we need to change the way we live. But is that such a bad thing? The insatiable consumption and materialism of the past decade, has it made us happier or more fulfilled?

Yes, we have to put our faith in technologies. But that is not a giant leap. Just around the corner are new green technologies, unimaginable a decade ago, that can change the way we live, travel, work.

And yes, we need global co-operation. But that shouldn’t be difficult. It just takes leadership, and that’s what we need at the Copenhagen summit this December.”

By contrast, a recent survey of Tory PPCs by ConservativeIntelligence (!) revealed what looked like a shocking gulf in thinking between prospective Conservative MPs and David Cameron’s leadership team. Reducing Britain’s carbon footprint was their lowest priority. Even protecting the English countryside from over-development, something Tory councillors have been preaching for years, was way down the list of priorities.

Then, following ‘Climategate’ and the sceptics’ even more outrageous and very public manipulation of scientific evidence (i.e. flatly denying it), public opinion has shifted on global warming. The BBC recently reported a drop of 8% in the numbers believing it is taking place.

Does Cameron show the leadership he demands, attemting to lead public opinion rather than follow it? No, like his candidates, he limps on behind, dropping environmental commitments that might dent his chances.

When it comes to the environment, David Cameron has been playing us for fools for a long, long time. His environmental commitments were just the latest in a long line of rebranding exercises, designed to get votes by saying whatever people want to hear.

The 75% of people who understand global warming is taking place should stop giving him and his party the benefit of the doubt and take a long hard look at the evidence.

Cameron and the Conservatives cannot be trusted on the environment.

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In a decimal point slip of breath-taking ineptitude, David Cameron’s Conservative Party proclaimed an increase in the number of teens getting pregnant in Britain’s most deprived areas that was hugely in excess of the official figure.

Yesterday, the Tories published a document on Labour’s “Two Nations” that, as well as serving as a vehicle for cribbing Lib Dem policy such as the pupil premium, loudly proclaimed that 54% of Britain’s poorest teenage women became pregnant before the age of eighteen. The document, issued in David Cameron’s name, laid responsibility for this 54% increase squarely on the shoulders of Gordon Brown and his Government.

The actual figure is 5.4% – and this latest row comes just ten days after the Tories were lambasted by Sir Michael Scholar, the head of the UK Statistics Agency for misusing crime figures in a way that could damage public trust in official statistics.

So how did the Tories make such a stupid mistake?

The first question is did they? A cynic might assume this was a deliberate ploy, designed to fuel the prejudices of traditional Tory voters whilst inflating a general sense of outrage at the country’s moral breakdown. It would certainly fit with the apparent Tory habit of manipulating statistics for sensational political effect.

More likely, though, it was cock-up. In that case, one has to ask how on earth such a blatantly ridiculous statistic made it past the combined fact-checking powers of the Shadow Cabinet, their advisers, the Tories’ Parliamentary Research Unit (who I assume was asked to check it) and the Conservative Party Press Office – especially when David Cameron put his name to its foreword.

The frightening thought is that perhaps they are that out of touch with the country that they simply passed it over, shaking their heads as they collectively “tut-tutted”, assuming it was true.

An increase of 5.4% is nothing for Labour to be proud of.

Britain is regularly reported as having the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. The most recent figures for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) puts the rate of teenage births in the UK at 24.8 births per 1000 women aged 15-19. (Note – this is teenage births. Pregnancies would be higher – and this statistic does not account for births in teenagers under 15.)

A 2001 paper by Alice MacLeod, published in the British Medical Journal said:

“In England reduced rates of teenage pregnancy have been found to be associated with proximity to youth family planning clinics.”

The lack of access to proper advice would be consistent with a more recent YouGov survey for Channel 4 that found that almost a third of teenagers want more sex and relationships education.

The experience of other European countries, who have equally sexualised societies (and arguably more-so), but more comprehensive education about sex and relationships, is that rates of teenage pregnancy are lower. For instance, there has been controversy over proposals to end the parental opt-out of sex education in English schools once pupils turn fifteen (currently parents in can opt their children out until the age of nineteen), yet no such opt-out exists in most European countries. (There is an interesting comparative paper available from the National Foundation for Educational Research which, unfortunately, doesn’t include Britain, but does look at the way sex education is structured elsewhere in the world.)

Teenage pregnancy is an issue that needs tackling with proper understanding – firmly, calmly and compassionately. That isn’t achieved when you are electioneering from the campaign scrimmage, trading the misery of broken lives for the votes of “Disgusted of Tumbridge Wells” with utterly wrong information.

Concoction or cock-up, it doesn’t leave you with any confidence about the Tories’ real commitment to tackling social deprivation beyond their election re-branding.

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Look at the websites of local Conservative parties the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and you will find the following claim:

“the Conservative Party is now the most democratic political party in the UK”

From Chipping Barnet to Epping, from Maidstone to Aberdeen, Tory websites flaunt the party’s democratic credentials.

Democracy is a term derived from the Greek terms dêmos and krátos: people and power. You would therefore reasonably expect that, if you were a member of the most democratic party in the UK, the constitution and mechanisms of the party would enshrine decision-making power with its members.

Interesting then to read the following in the Daily Mail (not usually a paper regarded as hostile to the Conservative Party):

Mr Cameron, frustrated in his attempts to change the male, middle-class image of the Conservative Party, took emergency powers last month which allow him to impose short-lists of ‘suitable’ candidates on reluctant local party activists.

Until then, local associations had been allowed to make their own broad selection of possible candidates and send a short-list to Conservative Central Office for approval.Inevitably, Central Office would add some of their own candidates for the final list, but at least the local party had some say in the matter.

But under the new emergency powers, Central Office can impose its own short-list on any local association, leaving longstanding members with no say whatsoever.

This draconian  measure has incensed local party members up and down the country, triggering a wave of protests and resignations which is in danger of spilling over into a civil war with devastating implications for Mr Cameron.”

This is clearly a very particular and expert understanding of democracy shared by David Cameron, the Conservative Party and Kim Jong-il (the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).

But perhaps that is just candidates and, with a General Election approaching, perhaps we should cut Cameron some slack if he thinks his party doesn’t yet look right and instead decides to act decisively. Of course, you might think it a little hypocritical for an Eton-educated millionaire white male Conservative to be fixing selections because the likely candidate of choice of local associations isn’t representative of modern Britain, and it doesn’t say much about his confidence in these local associations, but perhaps I am being ungenerous.

So what of policy? If the Conservative Party is the most democratic in the United Kingdom (“and possibly the Western World” if you listen to bonkers Maidstone and the Weald) you would expect a robust mechanism of participation where members decide policy.

Er, no.

Have a look at the agenda for the last Conservative conference. When it comes to policy, members are excluded from decision-making. They receive presentations, hear speeches and get to take part in panel-discussions. Things looked up in 2006 when, with polished politico-spin, they announced a “Dragon’s Den-style” session:

“Tory candidates mimic the TV series by pitching their policy ideas to Ms Widdecombe and other ‘dragons’.

There will also be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire style ask-the-audience electronic votes on conference motions.”

Admirer as I am of Mrs Widdecombe, she isn’t the first person who springs to mind when I think of modern Britain. Anyway, the reality wasn’t quite so straightforward. Conservative Home had the real story:

“At the end of the session, conference will vote for the policy they would most like to see included in the Party’s policy review and the winner will be entitled to make a submission to the policy review panel.”

That’s it folks… You get a chance to vote on what you would like to see included (not decide) – and the winner will be entitled to make a submission to the policy review panel!

Whoa! Careful! Ordinary members might end up making a submission to a review! One at least.

Contrast that with the Liberal Democrats.

Candidates are selected by local parties. One member one vote. Simple. Democracy in action. (The Liberal Democrats openly share their full constitution on the web.)

Policy is made by its members. Local parties submit motions. Local parties elect delegates. The delegates vote. Simple. Democracy in action. The full process is laid out on the party’s website.

Cameron is attempting to make the appeal that they are not the same old Tories. The mendacious claims on local Tory websites across Britain will do nothing to give people confidence that his are people who say what they mean.

They don’t.

As a footnote, take a look at the Conservative Party website.

Notice something?

There is no obvious search function. You see exactly what they want you to see and nothing else – no rooting around to find out what you want to know. Be in no doubt – this is a party of centralisers and controllers who place a premium on slick presentation and encourage creative input only so long as it doesn’t rock the Cameron boat. “We know better than you” is a sentiment that Conservatives cannot shake, no matter how hard they try.

Don’t say we weren’t warned.

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