Mayday? The Green Guide to the new UK Cabinet
So, another momentous week in UK politics. We get our second ever female Prime Minister in Theresa May and a very new looking cabinet. Here’s my quick guide as to who’s who from the point of view of the green/Sustainability agenda.
Theresa May, Prime Minister
As with much about Mrs May, her attitude to green issues is a bit of a mystery. Her initial speeches were big on One Nation values when it came to socio-economic issues, but the environment didn’t even get a token mention. This isn’t encouraging, however BusinessGreen reports that a delegation of ‘green Tories’ including key lieutenant Amber Rudd sought and secured assurances that a May Government would pursue climate change goals. As always, leadership is key, so Mrs May will need to make her position clearer if the green economy is to thrive.
Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Predecessor George Osborne was regarded as a serious brake on the green economy over his tenure. Not quite a climate sceptic himself, the ‘lukewarmer’/anti-renewables/pro-fracking lobby got a sympathetic hearing from Osborne. The 2010-2015 Coalition Government saw a whole series of pitched battles between the Chancellor and Lib Dem energy and climate secretaries.
Hammond may be seen as exceedingly dull, but in his former role as Foreign Secretary, he made a number of very important speeches on climate change. One in particular caught my eye as it made a case for action from a Conservative point of view to the American Enterprise Institute – using Green Jujitsu in the lions’ den. I’m always more interested in right-of-centre arguments for cutting carbon than the traditional lefty case as we need to speak to the unconverted, not preach to the choir.
Overall, we should see the economic brakes easing as Hammond gets into gear.
Amber Rudd, Home Secretary
There’s little in Rudd’s new brief linked to the low carbon agenda, but given her commitment to the cause, the new Home Secretary will be a key supporter in Cabinet and importantly, as we have seen, she has the PM’s ear.
Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary
May’s post-Brexit strategy has been to hand the poisoned chalice right back to those who ‘won’ the referendum – certainly this is the only explanation I can think of for this appointment. If Leadsom fails to disentangle UK law from EU environmental directives while meeting the requirements of a European single market, Brexit itself could stumble into the long grass, never to be found again.
When Leadsom took up her previous post of junior energy minister, she asked civil servants whether climate change was ‘real’. While she accepted the unequivocal answer, the need to ask suggests she is at the bottom of the learning curve when it comes to other key issues such as the shift to a circular economy. She’s pro-fracking, and if I was a badger or a fox, I’d be very worried indeed.
Greg Clark, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary
The most controversial move in May’s reshuffle was the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This has caused cries of anguish from many green commentators, but I’m not so sure it’s a retrograde step in practice. By making climate change the responsibility a separate department, DECC was always seen as a bit of a target for the neanderthal right. Integrating it into business/industry could lead to a much more joined up approach – more ‘the new normal’ than ‘special’.
And if it is to thrive in a bigger department, Greg Clark is our best bet of delivering a low carbon agenda. Clark is most definitely from the modernising end of the Tory party, and is well regarded across the political spectrum for his work on devolution to city regions. He has a track record of championing the low carbon economy and his first statement on his promotion put it front and centre:
“I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.”
Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary
Nicknamed ‘Failing’ Grayling for his track record in other departments, the new Transport Secretary is a classic fence-sitter on green issues. He acknowledges the problem of climate change and supports renewables subsidies, but thinks we have too much onshore wind power already and is strongly pro-fracking. I could dig up nothing on his attitude to low carbon transport and he will have meaty issues such as airport expansion and HS2 waiting in his in-tray.
While there are some less than ideal appointments – Leadsom, Grayling – the presence of Hammond, Rudd and Clark in powerful positions should see the low carbon economy move forward over the next few years, even accelerating slightly. The big question mark is whether the boss herself will step up and put make sustainability a top tier priority or whether it will continue to be subject to a tug of war between others’ agendas.
It’s up to you, Mrs May.