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Rishi Sunak has lost the Turquoise Tories

Net zero seats. Credit: Getty

June 21, 2024 - 7:00am

The advance of Reform UK under Nigel Farage has been spectacular. But it isn’t the only direction in which the Conservatives are losing support.

According to polling data featured by PoliticsHome, “around one in six 2019 Conservative voters who want to see action taken on the climate said they will switch parties at the coming election.” These are nicknamed the “Turquoise Tories” — a reference to the blue and green political sympathies that millions of people hold at the same time. (Conservatism and conservation, who knew?)

According to the report, Turquoise Toryism is especially strong in seats like North Herefordshire, which is notable because the Ipsos MRP poll published this week shows the seat switching from the Conservatives to the Green Party.

But is it even conceivable that dyed-in-the-wool Tory seats could switch directly to the Greens, a party well to the Left of Labour? Well, yes: it’s been happening in local elections for several years now with increasing numbers of wards and county divisions flipping from blue to green. But there’s not the slightest sign that the Conservative Party under Rishi Sunak has taken the threat seriously.

What’s more, there’s a paler green option in the form of the Liberal Democrats, currently poised to win scores of Tory constituencies across southern England. Then there’s the effect of generational change — not just the very youngest voters, but older cohorts too. As the Telegraph reports, Conservatives are now less popular than the Greens among the under-50s.

One might think that given Brexit, plus the failure to tackle the housing crisis and provocations such as the quadruple lock and the return of National Service, the Tories might at least reach out to younger voters on environmental issues. But, instead, Sunak has gone out of his way to alienate Turquoise Tories.

For instance, he sacked Zac Goldsmith from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs while shuffling in the likes of ThĂ©rĂšse Coffey and Mark Spencer. In a blow to the UK’s clean tech sector, the Prime Minister dismantled the Government’s industrial strategy and simultaneously eviscerated Natural England (the public body whose job it is to protect what’s left of this country’s biodiversity). Worst of all, he misinterpreted the result of the Uxbridge by-election by authorising a general assault on the climate policies established by Boris Johnson.

The loss of Turquoise Tories isn’t even compensated for by gains among no-nonsense folk who’ve had enough of green extremism. Pro-environmentalism unites the majority of voters, including those in seats the Conservatives captured from Labour in 2019. And even if there is a potential eco-sceptic vote, it clearly hasn’t been mobilised by the Government’s anti-green posturing. The Red Wall, where such voters are supposedly found, is about to collapse back to Labour. Meanwhile, Blue Wall seats in what used to be the Conservative heartlands are in danger. According to Bloomberg, party campaigners are now withdrawing resources from Tory not-so-marginals to save their last crumbling strongholds.

There are many reasons for the fast-approaching rout, not least the wilful failure to control immigration. But prime among the plentiful screw-ups is Sunak’s decision to diminish the green Conservative legacy. Not only was it morally questionable, it was politically useless to boot.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
1 month ago

Considering the Conservative vote is projected to halve, or more than halve, compared to 2019, just one in six of Turquoise Tories switching is actually quite low. Furthermore the research showed 50% of such voters planned to switch to Labour, a quarter to Reform, and just 9% to the Greens. To accuse Sunak of a “general assault on the climate policies established by Boris Johnson” is absurd hyperbole, and the notion that young voters would have flocked back to the Tories if only Zac Goldsmith had been kept in a job is fanciful. In reality the government should have targeted Ed Miliband and the Labour green platform much more vigorously, because voters are sleepwalking into giving a mandate for policies they don’t understand and which will seriously curtail their lifestyles.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Maybe the strategy has been to circle the waggons and at least retain a certain core vote, but as Author conveys such short termism will have major consequences for the future electability of a party of the Right.
I suspect much is also because of the echo-chamber effect. The core Right rattles round amongst itself and convinces itself that a majority hold their views. You see it here regularly in the comments. Painful to see the world evolving away from one, but it is. The way the Right has hit the younger the last decade on so many levels has a consequence.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

I’m not so sure ‘left’ or ‘right’ is as valid as it was, especially to the young.

Phil Day
Phil Day
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

I’m curious to see what share of the Gen Z vote Reform get compared to the Tories.
Personally, l don’t think the young have much to thank any of the legacy parties for.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

It is not the policies of the right that are damaging the young. All parties offer the young much the same – nothing (or rather, much less than nothing).
House prices: constrained supply, artificially cheap money, rising population (due to record high immigration). Supported by all major parties.
High cost of living: in large part due to government inflated energy prices due to Net Zero etc. Other parties would be even worse here.
Student debt: supported by all major parties. Only fixable by shrinking universities back to a sensible total size. No one is planning to do this though.
Whilst the young continue to vote for parties favouring Net Zero and high immigration, they deserve what they get.
I will agree that the current government have been too generous to rich pensioners.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

We’ll see more of what the offering is if there is a change of Govt, but undoubtedly the dire financial inheritance means change will take a bit of time.
Net zero won’t change much. The Young support it and they are right. They are the future. We aren’t.
As regards immigration – not one party is saying it supports high immigration. In fact all indicate the opposite. The difference is more in what they might do to reduce it. Even Reform has hedged it’s bets by referring to unnecessary immigration thus implying it knows we need some. What we’d agree I think is we need a proper Skills and Training strategy so we don’t need to as much immigration, and an industrial strategy that generates better jobs for our Young. Not repeatedly losing our Unicorns to the US and elsewhere has to be a key part of that.

McLovin
McLovin
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Give me your definition of net zero? Regardless any meaning of net zero on any timescale is going to cost us all money OR mean radical changes in lifestyle. Which may be the right thing to do. But nobody really shows any enthusiasm for either of those options.

McLovin
McLovin
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

The strange thing about young people is they get older. And frequently change their opinions about things.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

These “unicorns” are usually fakes that aren’t sustainable and flame out.
What we need are real growth businesses. ARM, not WeWork.
What does it matter whether “British” companies are “lost” to the US ? Whenever that happens, a lot of the UK staff and shareholders get very rich and a lot of that money gets recycled into new businesses. When tech companies reach a certain size, the people who start them up often move on and start again (they often hate working for larger, slower moving companies). This is all natural and good. You are complaining about “the problems of success” (copyright Lord Young, late 1980s).
The young don’t have a monopoly on wisdom and judgement. Or the future. Nor is it wise to generalise that the young care more about the future than the old. It’s often the reverse.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

ARM of course owned by Nvidia now as sure you know PB. Where’s that listed? Which sector has grown fastest? You get the point – if we think our City one of our strengths this constant loss will inevitably gradually undermine one of our remaining key economic strengths.
In addition once a company is foreign owned it inevitably has a gravitational pull towards it’s home Country in how it makes decisions. That doesn’t mean everything gets lifted and moved, but the gradual shift happens.
If we are so good at developing tech Unicorns (and yes some fail and that’s the nature of things) why starve them of investment capital in the UK? Why can’t we have more develop to that next stage here? That’s the question being posed.
As regards the Young and wisdom – true, but it’s not us oldies (and forgive me if I’m assuming you aren’t similar vintage to myself) generating the next phase of economic growth.

Peter B
Peter B
20 days ago
Reply to  j watson

ARM is *not* owned by nVidia !
nVidia wanted to buy ARM a year or so ago, but the attempt got canned due to competition concerns. Rightly in my view.
ARM is *still owned by SoftBank* (despite the tiny free float ARM “IPO” last year, SoftBank still holds around 90% of the shares). FWIW, SoftBank are Japanese. Not that this matters.
ARM’s worldwide HQ in Cambridge has expanded massively over the last 10 years. The precise period in which it has been “foreign owned”. That has generated huge wealth and tax receipts in the UK.
Perhaps the UK City specialises in parts of finance and not tech investment. Why should it be good at every aspect of a huge international industry ? ARM has always had the finance it needed to become a huge success. Why does it matter so much where it came from (provided it was legal) ?
I don’t care for the word “unicorns”. ARM is a real tech business and not a “unicorn”. I recall in the 1999 tech boom reading some investment pundit who claimed that Rolls-Royce was “not a tech company”, while transient website outfits who lasted only a few years apparently were.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
1 month ago

It’s far more likely that the Tory to Green switch at Council level was about local issues such as further development in the area than national “Green issues”.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

There are far more people that don’t want destructive environmental and tax policies than do. But they have just been ignored (if not silenced) for the past 20 years. The Conservative party should be pursuing practical, realistic policies and not economically destructive ones. In other words, leading and not following.
The Tories lazily allowed the eco zealots to win the public debate here. They have quite forgotten the lessons of the 1970s that you need to win the battle of ideas. They are now stuck fighting this wrong-headed eco concensus and cannot win.
The Tories no longer have a clear leadership position on *anything*. This is a certain way to lose the election. No doubt there’s a business school (or perhaps politics school) case study to be written after the election on how not to run an election campaign.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 month ago

I suspect these Tories hatched during the coalition phase, when Cameron was basically a Lib Dem. They can always vote Yellow.

McLovin
McLovin
1 month ago

What this is really about is middle class and upper class conservatives who can afford higher energy bills, can afford an electric car and have a driveway, trying to be on the “right side of history” or look good to their kids and grandkids. None of this of course stops people flying to their favourite beach resort in summer or their favourite ski resort in winter.

Louise Henson
Louise Henson
1 month ago

According to the report, Turquoise Toryism is especially strong in seats like North Herefordshire…” This is curious, and I wonder if it stems from a similar claim by the greens in the Hereford Times at the end of May.
North Herefordshire is a very rural, deeply conservative place (where I lived for 16 years) and would normally be very barren soil for the loony leftie greens. There have been serious issues with river pollution in the last decade which could influence the vote, but the former Conservative MP had a majority of nearly 25,000 which I think the greens would struggle to overturn.
Of course Nigel Farage seems about to overturn a similar majority in Clacton. But do the greens really have the same Ă©lan?

John Murray
John Murray
1 month ago

Aren’t “Green Tories” just conservative NIMBY’s who don’t want any development in their area? I’m not particularly convinced it has much to do with Zac Goldsmith or commitment to Net Zero or whatever.

edmond van ammers
edmond van ammers
1 month ago

Losing that small percentage could have easily been countered by the Conservatives having sensible policies and behaving honourably, thereby attracting a multitude of alternative voters.

Phil Day
Phil Day
1 month ago

Not sure where the author got the ‘luxury belief’ that net zero is a vote winner. Losing votes to the greens is just a trickle whereas the Tories have been haemorrhaging support from people who believe it is impractical in it’s current form and timescale.
Do try to keep up Peter.

Brian Kneebone
Brian Kneebone
1 month ago

Something novel.
Take pressure off the environment and help reduce the climate impact.
Net Zero immigration!

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago

“Pro-environmentalism unites the majority of voters, including those in seats the Conservatives captured from Labour in 2019. And even if there is a potential eco-sceptic vote, it clearly hasn’t been mobilised by the Government’s anti-green posturing.”

I do not agree with this. More careful research shows that climate-related policies are popular in principle, but not once the practical measures are spelled out in detail. Or to frame it in more traditional political terms, people support tax rises that other people will pay not themselves, and the same logic applies to climate policy, because everyone thinks that they themselves are already doing everything they can, and that the problem is other people who won’t.

It’s not actually true of course. Net Zero is going to substantially destroy the industrial/consumer economy if pursued to success, and nobody will think it’s a good idea once they’re on the path to it.