The Prime Minister declared, at a hastily convened Downing Street news conference, that he was out to strain the consensus on climate action – and was willing to risk a degree of unpopularity in so doing. It would appear that he has got his way.

The line-up of critics included his political opponents, his own independent climate adviser and the Ford Motor Company.

But here’s a thought – which, I am certain, has occurred to his partisan rivals. What if Rishi Sunak is right? Electorally, that is.

Is it possible that the good and sensible people of these islands could use a break from disruption and radical change, beset as they have been by the hideous plague and economic stagnation?

Be quite clear what I am saying here. I am not commenting upon the detail of the announcement. It may prove to be the case, as the Scottish Greens assert, that Mr Sunak is guilty of “climate surrender”. His actions may be “unforgivable”, as the First Minister declares.

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We will only truly know once we see the pattern of consumer behaviour. Do folk say to themselves: “OK, I can forget about changing my car or my household boiler. The PM reckons that’s fine.”

Or do they, as the PM argues, work with the new, flexible targets – and avoid a resentful backlash which, he claims, would undermine the collective drive to reduce carbon emissions.

Most environmentalists, scientific or campaigning, would argue that it is vital to sustain pressure upon the populace, given the gravity of the global crisis and the need for speed, identified at sundry international events such as COP26 in Glasgow.

That there is, in short, a psychological imperative, as well as a physical one. Not my immediate concern here. Rather, I am examining whether Mr Sunak may have found a formula which has the potential to be popular, at least with a section of the electorate. Which may, therefore, marginally improve his own chances of retaining power at the UK General Election, expected in roughly a year’s time.

And which may also enhance the pressure upon his opponents. Let us first dismiss a few canards trotted out by the PM in his Downing Street declaration. (I like to get my canards in a row.) He said that he was pursuing an entirely new style of politics. Radical and innovative. Earnestly honest about the tough choices presented by climate change. Piffle.

He resembled nothing more than a politician in a large hole – much of it dug by his predecessors – who chooses to set aside his spade. This was not a transformation in the body politic. It was a manoeuvre. Rather than new politics, this was a well-established tactic: to set oneself apart from one’s rivals and, hopefully, resonate with public opinion.

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It was classic triangulation. Depict your opponents as veering between two extremes – climate scepticism and zealous environmentalism. And seek a third way.

Further, he said that his approach was motivated by courage, a determination to “look people in the eye” and give them the facts. He suggested that such courage had been lacking in previous Conservative and Labour leaders.

This eclectic mix scarcely masked his true target. He meant Boris Johnson.

Whenever a politician talks of a “courageous” decision, I think instantly of the TV show Yes Minister and the episode where Sir Humphrey advises against such ambitious folly.

Still, I understand what the PM was trying to do. He was trying to create clear water between himself and his opponents, most notably Labour. But this was principally a climbdown, not courage.

Thirdly, he said that his new grand design would be entirely founded upon long-term thinking. Drivel. In practice, he is thinking as far ahead as that next UK General Election.

The polls paint a melancholy picture for the Tories; a work by Bruegel the Elder, perhaps, or Edvard Munch. This was an attempt to lighten the palate and placate the electorate.

But, once again, what if it works? What if it proves relatively attractive to fretful property-owning, car-owning voters?

Those, in short, frequently inclined to consider supporting the Tories. Labour’s Ed Miliband says he would relish a fight on these grounds, prepared to advance his party’s environmental credentials. Maybe so.

But Sir Keir Starmer has been notably cautious on pretty much everything else from tax to benefits to Brexit. If the Tories unite behind their new climate project – and if it proves tempting to segments of the populace – will Sir Keir remain content to be defined by contradistinction to his rival’s altered stance?

You can guarantee one thing. The focus groups and opinion pollsters will be on standby to provide a more thorough assessment than the initial frenzy offers.

Then there is Scotland. It took less than a New York minute for Humza Yousaf, conferring on climate in the Big Apple, to condemn the PM’s revised approach. He said Mr Sunak was “pandering to short-term populism”. Well, quite. But, to repeat, what if the plans are indeed popular with folk already fretting about their household budget?

There is another point. The new targets adopted by Mr Sunak will have a direct impact upon Scotland – and upon more ambitious targets set by the Scottish Government. That is because energy and industry policy are almost wholly reserved to the UK Government – while, with devolved policies, the cross-border influence of UK decisions is substantial.

Indeed, Scottish Ministers are now rethinking their Net Zero strategy, while adhering to the 2045 target date.

This week, Douglas Ross, who leads the Scottish Conservatives, chose a narrow aspect, focusing on North Sea oil. He discerns a Tory vote-winner in the north-east.

But how about the much wider issue? Humza Yousaf seems ready for a fight – from genuine conviction, bolstered by the pact with the Greens. There are some sceptics in his own ranks but he is adamant that an appeal to save the planet will unite his party – and resonate with voters in Scotland.

In his absence, Shona Robison faced Holyrood questions. She didn’t miss. The Sunak plan, she said, was “unappealing, negative, backward looking and small-minded.” Again, maybe so. But might it just strike a chord with some anxious voters?