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From ‘greenest government ever’ to ‘get rid of all the green crap’: David Cameron, the Conservatives and the environment


The environment was David Cameron’s signature issue underpinning his modernization agenda. In opposition the ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ strategy had a positive impact on the party’s image: the environment operated as a valence issue in a period of raised public concern, particularly about climate change, and Cameron’s high-profile support contributed to the cross-party consensus that delivered radical change in climate policy. Although the Coalition government has implemented important environmental measures, the Conservatives have not enhanced their green credentials in government and Cameron has failed to provide strong leadership on the issue. Since 2010, climate change has to some extent been transformed into a positional issue. Conservative MPs, urged on by the right-wing press, have adopted an increasingly partisan approach to climate change, and opinion polls reveal clear partisan divisions on climate change amongst public opinion. As a positional issue climate change has become challenging for the Conservatives, showing them to be internally divided, rebellious and inclined to support producer interests. This article makes a contribution to our understanding of Conservative modernization, while also challenging the dominant assumption in the scholarly literature that the environment, particularly climate change, is a valence issue.

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Figure 1


  1. The BES 2010 in-person survey was obtained from the BES 2009–10 website:

  2. A search of prime ministerial speeches on Gov.UK revealed a short speech on climate change to the 2012 Clean Energy Ministerial Summit, and a short address to the UN Climate Summit, 23 September 2014, and no speech on any wider environmental issues.

  3. The data from the opinion polls presented in Tables 1, 2, 3 were obtained by the authors from the polling archive section on the YouGov website, available at:

  4. Although others pointed to his incompetence in handling the floods during the winter of 2013–2014 as a key factor in his demise (Lean, 2014).


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The author would like to acknowledge that some of the material used in this article was gathered for the ESRC funded project ‘Climate Policy and Political Parties’ (ES/K00042X/1).

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Correspondence to Neil Carter.

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Carter, N., Clements, B. From ‘greenest government ever’ to ‘get rid of all the green crap’: David Cameron, the Conservatives and the environment. Br Polit 10, 204–225 (2015).

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