Chris Skidmore and the scourge of the Tory eco-zealots

His political tribe has done untold damage to his country.

Andrew Orlowski

Topics Politics Science & Tech UK

Former UK cabinet minister Chris Skidmore has resigned his seat several months before a likely General Election. Since Zac Goldsmith was ousted from the Commons in 2019, Skidmore has been the most influential and effective environmentalist in Westminster. As an energy minister under Theresa May, he signed into law one of the most radical pieces of legislation that parliament has ever passed, committing the UK to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, without any prior public debate.

Last week, Skidmore quit parliament with a performative flounce, objecting to the Tory government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which will issue new hydrocarbon-exploration licences in the North Sea. Apparently, Rishi Sunak’s government has helped to ‘destroy the UK’s reputation as a climate leader’ by approving new oil fields.

Skidmore’s resignation has created a headache for Sunak by triggering a by-election. But the problem for the rest of us has not been caused by him leaving parliament. It’s been caused by him staying in parliament for so long and flourishing. Like a squatter pushing at the rotten door of an uninhabited, dilapidated property, Skidmore was able to make himself at home in the Conservative Party. In fact, he probably could have stayed as long as he liked. No one was going to evict him.

Skidmore has had quite the political journey. A contemporary of Liz Truss at Oxford, he was once an ardent free marketeer who fulminated against crony capitalists. As recently as 2012, he co-authored Britannia Unchained with Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng and Truss. This was a stirring call for deregulation and growth. Today, he acts as a Gauleiter of the powerful environmental lobby. He represents vested interests that depend entirely on environmental regulations and taxpayer-funded subsidies. At some point in his career, Skidmore seemingly heard a higher calling.

As a backbencher, he was a keen member of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN). According to the CEN manifesto, an MP’s primary duty is not to serve the voters who elected him or her. Nor is it to serve the poorest and most vulnerable. Nor even is it to further human flourishing by promoting freedom, opportunity and abundance. Instead, as CEN’s first pledge has it, it is MPs’ ‘duty to preserve and restore our planet for future generations’. And in case you missed the pseudo-religious quality of this pledge, it is followed by a pious dirge about how ‘transformational change starts with the responsibility of the individual’. Every religious order requires a similar sort of pledge. In the case of the green religion, your duty is not to other people or to a god, but to ‘nature’.

The CEN caucus is not a grassroots organisation dependent on member contributions. It lists 13 staff and acknowledges the support of ‘a network of private donors… and foundations’. Among these are Chris Hohn’s Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (via the European Climate Fund), Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and WWF UK. Hohn, who earns £1million per day from his hedge fund, initially helped fund Extinction Rebellion. The same people and organisations are currently funding a network of political consultants to encourage extreme green policies at the local level, against the wishes of voters. In post-democracy environmentalism, it is billionaires, NGOs and technocrats who set the policy agenda, not voters or elected representatives. And their ambitions extend to changing every aspect of our lives.

Indeed, Net Zero is a totalising objective. It will regulate personal mobility, housing, heating, education, our diets, workplaces and more. Accordingly, last year Skidmore launched the Mission Zero Coalition, a new body which aims ‘to bring together sectors and communities to establish four Mission Zero Networks’, including ‘a Local Mission Zero Network, an Industrial Mission Zero Network, a Buildings Mission Zero Network and a Solar Mission Zero Network’. Little escapes the remit of Net Zero.

Tragically, Skidmore’s work at Westminster has long been done. He has successfully set the policy agenda and secured all the regulations he wanted. He has kept MPs in line with Net Zero, too. Now, outside of parliament, he can move to policing those regulations, and profiting from the subsidies. He is already paid £80,000 per year as an adviser to a carbon-capture company. And he became a ‘professor of practice’, focussing on Net Zero and sustainability, at Bath University last summer. But Skidmore is not just lining his own pockets here. He is an ideological fanatic on a quasi-religious mission. He is a Waitrose Robespierre.

‘China’s useful idiot’ is how Ross Clark describes Skidmore in the Telegraph, arguing that the industrial destruction that will result from Net Zero will enfeeble Britain and make us more dependent on potentially hostile powers. He was ‘everything that was wrong with the Tories’, agrees Tim Stanley, who blames David Cameron for opening up the selection process for Conservative parliamentary candidates to ‘wets, bolters and defectors’ like Skidmore.

Yet the Tories have always been a broad church and its patrician wing has long been soaking wet. The real problem is that, over the past decade, very few Conservatives have been willing to take a stand against the greens. Few have made the moral case for cheap energy, for the benefits of hydrocarbons and nuclear power, or for personal freedom. Until they do, the likes of Skidmore and his fellow Net Zero zealots will continue to call the shots. And we will all be far poorer for it.

Andrew Orlowski is a weekly columnist at the Telegraph. Visit his website here. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewOrlowski.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics Science & Tech UK


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