“Success,” declared Winston Churchill, “is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” It’s a maxim the Tory Party has adopted with requisite gusto over the course of its protracted leadership ballot. Certainly, both of the final two contenders seem hellbent on outdoing the other in their efforts to expose the multiple failures of twelve years of Conservative administration.

The problem with just a tiny handful of citizens choosing the prime minister is that it skews the debate towards fringe issues

There are, after all, so many to celebrate. Brexit is “done” – bar ripping up an international protocol or two – and what a glorious fiasco it has proved. Trade with our European neighbours has plummeted, without the suggested surge in trade with the rest of the world. The Leave campaign’s promised Wonderland of lower costs and high wages has also failed to materialise. Instead, we have the worse cost-of-living crisis in decades, rampant inflation and declining real wages – expected to be 7% below the pre- Covid trend by 2026. All these problems have been exacerbated by Brexit. One member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee said recently that Britain had “declared a trade war on itself ”, and that 80 per cent of our higher-than-average rate of inflation was the result of Brexit complexity. Even supposed successes, such as the much-trumpeted increase in numbers joining the workforce post-pandemic, simply disguise the collapse of thousands of small businesses and the dramatic expansion of the underpaid and under-protected gig economy. Add the woes of practically every major institution, from the armed forces to the NHS, and you have a failure fest sufficient to keep politicos in a state of enthusiastic rapture for a generation.

So as Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss go about their show trials of policy disasters, it seems strange that both have remained perfectly schtum about our greatest collective malfunction, the burgeoning environmental crisis. The conspiracy of silence on what each would do as prime minister (and on what their government has so far failed to do) in the face of climate chaos and eco-system collapse, is because the environment has the ability to split the Conservatives more than any other issue. The reason is, of course, that their parliamentary party still boasts a significant cadre of climate sceptics, who congregate in the innocuous-sounding Net Zero Scrutiny Group.

That’s the problem with just a tiny handful of citizens choosing the prime minister – it skews the debate towards fringe issues. But whichever one takes the reins of government, they will rapidly need to get over their obsession with the culture wars and give climate and environment policy their enthusiastic attention. The good news is that this is exactly what the vast majority of the broader electorate want them to do. Indeed, Net Zero and other green policies have the ability to galvanise broad cross-party and cross-community support. After the years of polarisation and division under Boris Johnson (see Jonathan Lis, The Fall of Boris Johnson), a leader who could provide not just One Nation Conservatism, but One Nation Conservationism, would be a more than welcome relief. Not to mention the Tories’ best chance of staving off electoral collapse at the next general election (see Simon Heffer, Pond Life).

But we don’t need to wait for their lead. For all the iniquities we collectively continue to inflict on the planet, as many of our writers in this issue attest (see our Cover collage, Reasons to be cheerful), “going green” increasingly offers humanity both enormous hope and burgeoning opportunity. Some scientists and activists have even suggested that we are on the cusp of a new age that, because of our great leaps in knowledge and connectivity, has unprecedented potential for renewal (see Dermot O’Gorman, The First Regenerative Revolution).

So if this summer we find ourselves stranded at home for want of a flight or ferry, or simply for the lack of lolly needed for a holiday, we can still get out and seek inspiration from the natural world closer to home. Each of us can take a personal leaf out of Churchill’s book and garner our enthusiasm to participate in that transformation. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, we can’t always solve the world’s problems, but we shouldn’t underestimate the role we all can play in facing them. As she put it so well: “courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.

Peter Phelps, Editor

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