The Symbolic Departure Of Britain’s Climate Change Minister

  • Date: 15/07/14
  • Jim Pickard, Financial Times

Greg Barker, the Tory climate minister – who posed with David Cameron in the Arctic eight years ago – is stepping down from the government in a vivid symbol of the Conservative party’s changing priorities. His position had become increasingly precarious as the Tory leadership is shifting away from its one-time pro-green rhetoric.

Mr Barker, who as climate change minister was the number two in the energy department, is also set to quit politics altogether by stepping down as an MP next May.

In the meantime he is set to hold a temporary role as a green adviser to Mr Cameron, the prime minister.

The MP for Bexhill and Battle was one of the most influential modernising figures among the so-called “Cameroons” who re-figured the Tory party in the wake of three consecutive general election defeats.

In 2005 he stepped down from his then role as a whip in order to focus on aiding Mr Cameron in his successful bid to win the leadership.

Within government he also founded the “2020” group, which includes Nadhim Zahawi and Claire Perry, which has pushed to maintain the “optimism” of the early-days Cameron leadership through to the end of the decade.

At one point Mr Barker cautioned his party against following the anti-Brussels Ukip into what he called “swivel-eyed rhetoric”.

Yet his position had become increasingly precarious as the Tory leadership shifted away from its one-time pro-green rhetoric.

In 2010 Mr Cameron entered Downing St promising: “This will be the greenest government ever.” Mr Barker said he wanted Britain to become the “Saudi Arabia of green energy” while London could become the “global hub of green finance”.

But the arrival of Lynton Crosby, the Australian pollster and lobbyist, as the Tory’s election supremo in November 2012 marked a shift in direction towards a more right-wing message focused on the economy, immigration and welfare.

At the same time David Cameron was quoted last autumn saying that he wanted to cut the “green crap” – referring to the environmental measures which added to household energy bills.

George Osborne, the chancellor, has been the key figure in pushing for a more hard-headed government approach to green issues, to the frustration of many senior Lib Dems.

Recently Mr Osborne said: “We are not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business. So let’s, at the very least, resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.”

It was in 2006 that Mr Barker travelled to the Arctic alongside Mr Cameron to study climate change, both photographed being pulled by huskies on a sledge across the ice.

The images became a vivid symbol of Mr Cameron’s attempts to modernise what Theresa May, now home secretary, once decried as the “nasty party”.

At that point the Tories were opposed to a third runway at Heathrow; supported nuclear power only “as a last resort” and were committed to tough carbon reduction targets.

Since then, however, ministers have embraced nuclear power whole-heartedly. They have privately swung their weight behind the expansion of Heathrow. And emission reduction targets have been the focus of major rows behind the scenes between the Tories and Lib Dems.

The next Conservative manifesto will suggest that a Tory-led government would enforce a morarorium on new onshore wind turbines beyond those already in the pipeline.

Full post