These Guardianistas can’t have it both ways
I recently criticised Chris Huhne over his absurd and insulting proposal to launch an investigation into the extent to which the Tory MEPs’ decision to oppose an increase from 20% to 30% in the EU’s 2020 emissions reduction target had been influenced by “fossil fuel lobbyists”. This was picked up by a website previously unknown to me: http://www.hopenhagen2009.com/?p=1662. This appears not to be a Guardian project, but the piece was by two Guardian journalists — moonlighting, perhaps? — Damian Carrington and my old friend Leo Hickman, who wrote “More widely, it has been interesting to see the reaction of the Tory MEPs to close scrutiny of their register of contacts with lobbyists. We seem to have hit a nerve. Roger Helmer, a prominent climate sceptic, used his blog to rail against Huhne’s “absurd and insulting” request for an investigation. Meanwhile, his colleague Julie Girling wrote to the Guardian, telling us not to “get too carried away”.
Bad news for Carrington and Hickman. There’s no evidence here of “touching a nerve”. Rather the reverse — my complaint was that Huhne’s initiative bore so little relation to reality as to be absurd. But when I, or more generally Conservative MEPs, are treated by a government minister in a way that is both ignorant and insulting, I see no need to apologise for issuing a robust rebuttal.
The point of C&H’s piece was partly to express their shock/horror that we MEPs would have so little concern for the environment that we would cut the ground from under the feet of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and second, that we should have talked to wicked lobbyists from the evil fossil fuel industry.
Several points here. First (and I think I can speak for most Tory MEPs here) we don’t believe that the higher target would have done anything for the environment. Indeed it could have actually increased emissions by forcing energy-intensive industries out of the EU altogether, to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards. We could have seen two tons of CO2 in Thailand rather than one on Teesside. Secondly, the measure would have undermined European competitiveness (even more than the 20% target is doing); driven up energy costs even higher; and resulted in — quite literally — the deaths of thousands more pensioners from winter cold.
In other words, the 30% proposal was gesture politics writ large, and would do more harm than good. In that case (I assume Hickman would ask) why is it Coalition policy to support 30%? And the answer is, I don’t know — you’ll have to ask Chris Huhne. But for the avoidance of doubt, I have already described Huhne’s green policies as “deranged”, and I see no reason to change that view.
Then the lobbyists. My policy (and that of at least some of my colleagues) is to do my best to see anyone who reasonably asks to talk to me. But in fact over the most recent reference period (Jan/June 2011) my records show that I did not meet with any fossil fuel lobbyists — and if I had, it would not have changed my voting intention.
The C&H piece strongly criticises my good friend and colleague (and leader of the Conservative MEPs) Martin Callanan for seeing a number of fossil fuel and auto industry lobbyists. But Martin is on the Environment Committee, and was recently rapporteur on a major piece of EU legislation on auto emissions. This proposal as originally drafted could have done huge damage, especially to the British car industry. By imposing fixed fleet averages for emissions, it would have decimated companies like Aston Martin, Bentley and Jaguar/Land Rover. Martin has been widely hailed as having successfully delivered the best available outcome in the circumstances, which will protect the future of British companies and British jobs.
But any MEP acting as rapporteur on legislation affecting an industry has an absolute duty to talk to the industry. What do C&H want? Ignorant and damaging legislation which totally fails to recognise the reality on the ground? Don’t we see enough of that in the EU already?
The fact is, chaps, you can’t have it both ways. I’d like to see Britain out of the EU altogether, and then we wouldn’t need to obey EU laws, or participate in making them, or consult with industry during the EU’s legislative processes. But I gather that the Guardian wants us in the EU. In that case, you can’t complain when MEPs do the job they’re paid to do, and do it well, as Martin Callanan has.