Zac Goldsmith is the most prominent green Tory. Will he prosper in a Cameron first term?by James Crabtree / August 27, 2009 / Leave a comment
If David Cameron wins the next election his mantra of “vote blue, go green” will be quickly tested. Cutting emissions. Taxing pollution. Solving a looming energy crisis, possibly without nuclear power. All will make a Tory first term the most environmentally conscious in British history. And all should provide a platform for the political rise of Cameron’s most recognisable eco-supporter: Zac Goldsmith.
One of only a tiny handful of “green Tories,” Goldsmith is also by far the best-known new Conservative candidate. Few others in politics can match the star power of this handsome, thoughtful multimillionaire, friendly with glitterati and monarchy alike. One might think this alone would assure Goldsmith a position at Cameron’s top table. Yet doubts remain over whether he will accept the compromises of frontline politics—and whether the Tories will green their business-friendly instincts. His first-term progress will test the size of Cameron’s big tent.
Goldsmith has certainly been on an intriguing intellectual journey. In his late teens, after being expelled from Eton, he ignored university and travelled the world. Returning from one trip he remembers picking up a book given to him by his father, the billionaire businessman James Goldsmith. The inscription said it would be the most important he would ever read.
The book, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, told of the visits of environmentalist Helena Norberg-Hodge to a primitive but beautiful corner of northern India in the 1970s, and her subsequent horror at the province’s economic development. Inspired, Goldsmith met her, worked for her organisation, and also went to work in Ladakh itself.
Norberg-Hodge, along with Zac’s uncle Teddy Goldsmith, had a powerful effect on Zac’s thinking. Both espoused a “deep green” philosophy concerned with the preservation of natural ecology and tribal societies, and a strong scepticism of capitalism and globalisation. Such ideas, in turn, underpinned Goldsmith’s early campaigns—as editor of his uncle’s Ecologist magazine—against everything from international trade and GM food to nuclear energy and climate change.
Now Goldsmith wants to be an MP, and is using an upcoming book, The Constant Economy (Atlantic), to take on some of his previous beliefs about “no pain, no gain” environmentalism. He remains anti-nuclear, anti-GM and the rest. But where once he shared his father and uncle’s mistrust of Britain’s political and business establishment, he now seems to have found faith in market mechanisms and mainstream public policy to avert environmental calamity—a change of heart he partly credits…