“Beyond the pandemic; building back greener; renewing community assets; transforming energy to reach net zero; transport connectivity and levelling up; putting green jobs at the heart of recovery ...” the list of official Conservative Party Conference fringe events in Manchester this week reads like a resume of Keir Starmer’s speech to the Labour Conference. And that isn’t a list of events held by charities and lobby groups, but the Conservative Party’s own fringe agenda.

These are strange times we live in. This used to be called “triangulation” by policy wonks – stealing elements of your political opponent’s agenda to fool voters into voting for you. But this isn’t so much triangulation as intellectual grand larceny. Boris Johnson has managed to sound more green than Keir Starmer recently, and not much less socialist.

Don’t believe me? Consider the Prime Minster’s speech to the United Nations last month, appealing to the world to “grow up” and face the climate crisis. “We cling with part of our minds to the infantile belief”, Johnson said channelling his inner Greta, “that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure and we combine this narcissism with a primitive assumption of our own immortality.” Ms Thunberg could do with a few lines like that. Her own speech last week accusing adults of “doing nothing but blah blah blah” was puerile.

Of course, everyone says Boris is just trying it on, used to be a climate sceptic, a denier even. But that doesn’t really wash. Late converts are often the most ardent in their faith. Nor do Labour’s claims that Johnson is all talk and no action stand up. He is within sight of getting the rich nations to start paying £100 billion a year to help developing countries. This is to atone for the West’s history of releasing “untrammelled pollution for generations”. He has bet the house on the COP26 green agenda. And the measure of this is the extent to which his troops are not happy about it, not happy at all.

As they gather in Manchester this week, they’re in a state of mute revolt over what they see as the PM’s extravagant and reckless pursuit of net zero. A lot of Tories still think carbon neutrality is undesirable even if it were achievable. They claim that support for renewables is putting around £200 on every household energy bill and contradicts “levelling up” – a green ”poll tax”. The costs of the future green schemes – like replacing every domestic gas boiler, electrifying transport, and pouring money into renewable energy – is making MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg giddy. Especially since this Government has already spent more in the past year than Jeremy Corbyn planned in the 2019 Labour manifesto that Keir Starmer disowned in his speech last week. It is not hard to see the battle of the forecourts as the shape of things to come. Don’t try to separate the British voter from their cars, unless you want to see a gilet jaunes revolt of the masses. The French “yellow jacket” demonstrations began, remember, with Macron’s hike of fuel duties. Civil servants may happily commute by train, if they commute at all, since most of them are now home working – but 60 per cent of voters go by car – especially in the red-wall seats.

It is likely Britain will become evermore prone to these energy shocks now that we are dependent on Vladimir Putin to keep down the cost of wholesale gas. And gas is a dirty fuel we are supposed to be phasing out. Johnson’s target is a world-beating 78% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2035. That’s a reduction on 1990 emission levels and includes shipping and aviation. There is no clear plan of how to achieve this.

Then there is tax. Tory MPs and their press supporters in The Daily Telegraph have been in open revolt at the PM’s reneging on the Government’s tax pledge, even if the voters seem to be taking it largely on the chin. Tories hate all tax rises, which they believe stifle economic growth, but they loathe business taxes like National Insurance most of all. Boris Johnson had already put Corporation Tax up from 19% to 25%. Many see this as tantamount to betrayal.

We won’t hear Tory climate deniers holding up green cards and heckling Johnson’s speech this week – Tories just don’t do that. But the Conservative Party is, arguably, as divided right now as Labour. Many think he is simply no longer “one of us” as Maggie Thatcher used to describe party loyalists.

Their great hope is Rishi Sunak. Conventional conservatives believe the Chancellor is sound, even if he’s been spending like there’s no tomorrow. Investment banker, filthy rich, wealthy wife, doesn’t spout greenwash all the time – what’s not to like? He has been making strangled noises about the state of the public finances recently, and Tories hope he will act as a bulwark against reckless Boris. Sunak will probably be one of rhe few star turns this week as he brings the furlough programme into what looks like a soft landing. A future leader perhaps.

But the real star as always is Boris Johnson. He may look a state, and is building up crises as if he’s on speed dial to The Joker, but he still dominates this party. His recent Cabinet reshuffle was a demonstration of his authority. He was ruthless in excising unpopular ministers, demoting ambitious types like Dominic Raab, and bringing in buzzing Boris-boosters like Liz Truss as Foreign Secretary and the ostrich anus-eating Nadine Dorries at Culture. He reshaped his Cabinet in his favoured image, which is green, gender-friendly, BAME – and slightly bonkers. Journalists will be pursuing the outspoken Ms Dorries in the hope of eliciting something gaffe-worthy. One suspects she might be tempted to advise Keir Starmer about the location and purpose of the cervix.

Boris will give his usual speech laden with colourful images and jokes about the fuel crisis, which fortunately for him seems to be abating just in time. We can expect promises about ending fuel poverty, restoring the NHS, building more freeports and saying No to Nicola Sturgeon’s independence referendum, about which even even her enthusiasm appears to be waning. Expect jokes about the First Minister marching her troops to the top of Ben Nevis only to send them home to think again.

But the centrepiece will be levelling up. Johnson will likely hail the increase in pay, post-Brexit, as proof that his party really cares about red-wall Brexit voters. Britain’s bosses will just have to start paying decent wages and not rely on cheap labour from abroad.

Johnson remains unapologetic about Brexit, despite the labour shortage, the Northern Ireland protocol, fishing rows, and the endless paperwork afflicting exporters.

Business may be in despair about all this, and about the exploding cost of energy. But they should recall that this is a Conservative Prime Minister who once famously said “ f*** business”.

A previous column regarding pay and immigration claimed that Professor Jonathan Portes“accuses anyone who makes the obvious connection between immigration and pay as a right-winger bent on demonising foreigners”. This claim was false. In fact, Professor Portes’ own research has explored the connection between immigration and wages, and he has never suggested that it is illegitimate to discuss this topic. We are happy to apologise for the error.