In the space of four days, the chairs of both the environment and energy committees, Anne McIntosh and Tim Yeo, have been deselected as members of parliament. The government’s locker of sustainability credentials is becoming increasingly bare.
McIntosh has served her Yorkshire constituency of Thirsk and Malton since 1997. She has been the chair of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee since the 2010 general election. Meanwhile, Yeo has been South Suffolk’s MP since 1983. He is a former environment minister and is the chair of the energy and climate change select committee.
Committee chairs set aside significant amounts of time for committee work, compared to regular MPs. They are among the most respected politicians in their particular areas.
However, neither McIntosh nor Yeo will be allowed to stand for re-election in 2015. McIntosh said she was determined to fight against the ruling, after losing a vote of confidence among local party members; Yeo – who was ousted after a secret ballot – has been gracious in his deselection.
“It has been a privilege to serve as MP for South Suffolk since 1983. I will continue to work for all my constituents until the general election next year”, he said.
“I am immensely grateful to all those Conservative party members who voted for me to continue as their MP. I now ask them all to campaign for my successor with the same loyalty and dedication they have shown to me.”
Yeo turns 70 next year. He added that his successor will have his “unqualified support”. The South Sussex MP briefly stepped aside from his position as chair of the energy committee amid claims that he had conducted illegal lobbying. However, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said that reports from the Sunday Times – which had made the initial accusations – were based on “subterfuge, misrepresentation and selective quotation”.
The decision to oust both him and McIntosh represent blows for the sustainability space, which has so far been largely failed by a Conservative-led government. This is the same party that had pledged, pre-2010, to be the “greenest government ever”. It has been nothing of the sort, opting instead to laud shale gas as Britain’s saviour – because another polluting fossil fuel is what we need in the face of a climate crisis.
But there is a small and determined section of the party that does seem to understand the importance of a healthy environment. This includes, most notably, the environmentalist and Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith; energy minister Greg Barker, a champion for renewable energy, and in particular, solar; and long-time sustainability advocate Laura Sandys, the MP for South Thanet who herself is stepping down in 2015.
Most worrying about the green divisions within the party is the fact that key roles are filled by people renowned for anti-green rhetoric.
Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne – the man in charge of public money – once described environmental campaigners as the “environmental Taliban”. Meanwhile the position of environment secretary is taken by Owen Paterson – who is sceptical about manmade climate change. John Hayes, a prominent critic of wind power, previously held a senior role in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
At the top, David Cameron’s support for fracking has seen him criticised by campaigners. The prime minister’s husky hugging antics made headlines in the run-up to 2010. He is rarely vociferous in his condemnation for the green agenda, but on an issue like climate change where strong political leadership is crucial, neither does he fill voters with confidence in British action.
We should not forget that this is happening within a party for whom environmental protection and conservation should be central to its political thinking. As another green Conservative, the former shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth, told Blue & Green Tomorrow, “Conservatism is about conserving, protecting, looking after, nurturing and being responsible. It’s utterly and deeply embedded in my sense of what conservatism is about. You only have to remind people of that and they get it.”
The departure next year of Anne McIntosh and in particular Tim Yeo is disappointing for the Tories and worrying for the sustainability space.
Regardless of the reasons for which they have each been ousted, it is unfortunate that both held senior committee roles in the environmental and climate space. This will likely damage the Conservative party’s reputation in environmental quarters.
The last thing we need is more speculation over a possible Tory anti-green revolt. One thing is for sure: the party will be in a worse place without them both – environmentally, at least.