It is a big week for Sir Giles Backwoodsman, the landowner and country sportsman who has been asked to explain the Conservative Party’s new green policies to traditional party supporters across the country.
“Green really can be blue, you know,” Sir Giles told me when I interviewed him before a roaring fire in the old library at Backwoods Hall, where his family have lived for a few centuries. “What I’m going to tell the party’s traditionalists at conference this week is pretty straightforward really. David and Zac – slightly iffy name in my view, but let that pass – both went to Eton.
“Now let’s face it, Eton doesn’t turn out fools. If these two young chaps are saying the world’s going to burn to a crisp unless we all pull our socks up, we should take them seriously. Now Central Office has told me that my job as an older Tory is to show that eco-conservatism is not an oxy… an oxy…”
“Steady on.” Sir Giles glowered from the depths of leather armchair. “I may not have been top of the class when it comes to reading and ‘rithmetic but I’ve got a couple of O-levels, which is as hell of a lot more than most of my chums have. No, frankly, I’ve taken to the old eco-business like a duck to water.”
I suggested that the fight against global warming was a question of each doing our bit.
“Exactly! You’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ll give you an example. Look at Jake there.” He nodded in the direction of an old Labrador stretched in front of the fire. “Do you have any idea how many units of heat he’s absorbing from the fire?”
“No, Sir Giles. How many?”
“Haven’t the faintest idea, but watch this. Jake!” Sir Giles bellowed at his dog, who got to its feet, groaning, walked a couple of arthritic paces and then slumped at his master’s feet. “See? Energy-saving. If everyone made sure his gundog wasn’t absorbing unnecessary heat from the fire, we’d have old Kyoto jobbie sorted out in no time.”
Something in my expression must have expressed doubt because Sir Giles tried a different approach. “All right then. Eco-conservatism in action. Try this one for size. Did you know that if everyone in this country reduced their central heating by just one person, we could close a power station right now?”
“Just one person? Don’t you mean ‘degree’?”
“I mean exactly what I say. At the top of the house, Nanny – a million years old, has looked after all the sprogs in the family – has her own flat. Now, simply by switching off Nanny’s central heating, we’ve made a hell of a saving to what I call our energy footprint. I’m not boasting about this – I’m sure other people make similar sacrifices.”
“So you’re saying if everyone turned off their nanny’s heating, it would help global warming.”
“Very much so. Think of that repeated across the world. Polar icecaps would be tickety-boo in no time. Team effort, you see. Byford the gardener used to collect firewood around the estate with a tractor. ‘What’s wrong with a bloody wheelbarrow?’ I asked. ‘Think of Planet Earth for a change.’ Mrs Jones, our lady-what-does, has been told to leave the hoover in the scullery and use a brush. Little things, I know – but they all count.”
I asked Sir Giles a final question before leaving. What advice would he give to eco-Tories like him?
“Keep it simple. Put a turbine on the top of the Land Rover. Doesn’t do anything but it sets a good example.
“Those potholes in your drive: do they really need filling? By slowing down cars, you’ll be cutting down emissions. A few of my friends are seriously looking into whether we can produce environmentally friendly cartridges for the shooting season.”
It was time to catch my train home. I stood to leave but, to my surprise, Sir Giles merely reached for a nearby copy of Country Life and started reading. “Wouldn’t mind walking to the station, would you, old boy? Planet Earth, you know. Every little helps.”