What matters to me, as a vegetarian, is less detail than vision – one of a long journey towards a better future.

9 Mar

As someone who hasn’t eaten meat for 18 years (albeit I have been pescetarian for some of this), I was delighted by two recent stories in the papers. The first was that the Government plans to ban imports of foie gras with its new Brexit freedoms. The second was that pig farmers will be banned from confining sows in cages. At present they are allowed to keep thousands of sows for up to seven weeks in narrow metal cages before and after giving birth.

Personally I find the practice of making foie gras, and the idea of caged pigs, horrible. But I know not everyone is as excited about the measures to tackle them. Currently, Britain imports an estimated 180 to 200 tonnes of foie gras a year, which shows how much demand there is for the product, and some farmers say the ban on cages for sows will result in them crushing piglets. There will be arguments about whether Britain should dictate imports in this way. Where does it end? And so forth.

These are all reasonable concerns. But I have to confess that if someone wanted a long debate about these points I would have a limited amount to say. Do I know what’s best for pig farmers? No. Or whether the foie gras import ban counts as evidence of the “nanny state”? No. Like anyone else who shares my views on meat, I see things through an idealistic, rather than technical, lens; a move towards a wider, long-term goal. I simply believe that societies (that can) should phase out eating meat and using animal products, and support changes that take us closer to that idea.

I know what you may be thinking at this point. “Phase out meat! Are you mad?” That or “Have I stumbled onto the Extinction Rebellion blog?” I don’t tend to broadcast my views on animal rights because they are quite “radical”. I also don’t want to lecture people because of that stereotype, captured by the joke: “How do you know someone is a vegan? They’ll tell you”. Although I find the opposite is true, as most veggies want a quiet life, while others ask repeatedly: “why don’t you eat meat?”. Perhaps we should all say that we “just love rescuing things”, as Meghan Markle said of her chickens while talking to Oprah.

Luckily the Veggie Crew, as I shall shorten it, hasn’t needed to be too preachy in recent years as there are now so many dietary options and there’s been a huge cultural shift towards *whispers it* veganism. It’s now cool to do veganuary (well, I think so at least) and if you tell a dinner party host you’re vegetarian, you’ll find others coming are too. The speed at which these things have happened is amazing, with so much choice for Team VC.

Choice does take me back to the Government’s import ban, which I want to make one point on. I do agree with the direction it’s gone in given how cruel the aforementioned practices are, but as a general rule I don’t believe you can force attitudes to meat/ animal rights. For instance, was it really a good idea for universities to ban meat from campuses? It’s surely counterproductive as no one likes being told what to do, and they might rebel by way of a McDonald’s splurge. Just make everyone watch Babe is my solution.

That being said, one reason the Government has enacted these policies is to send a strong message on post-Brexit Global Britain. Militant Remainers argued before and after the referendum that Brexit would be a “race to the bottom” for animal welfare, but the Government can now show that’s wrong. As a Brexiteer, I never believed in those scare stories anyway, because of the enormous shift we’ve seen in dietary habits.

Either way, I am excited to see Conservatives show how much they care about animal rights. Sometimes these areas are portrayed as “woke” ones, but I believe they are important steps – not least for the economy (it’s fantastic to have all this choice). Fundamentally it’s not really a “policy” thing for Babe lovers like me, though; it’s one of a long journey towards a better future.

Ben Houchen: My advice to the Prime Minister. Go green for more jobs in the Red Wall – and double down on levelling up

19 Nov

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of Tees Valley.

2020 has been a tough year for Britain, and people across the world. At a time when the Government should be delivering on its manifesto pledge to level up the North, it is fighting for lives and livelihoods while fending off partisan attacks from supposed statesmen.

Mounting criticism from the opposition, fuelled by partisan political interests, and a changing of the guard in Number 10 have yielded talk of a “reset”. This is music to the ears of the Prime Minister’s opponents, both outside of the Conservative Party and within it. Quite what a reset would entail remains to be seen – it is a vague enough concept at this stage to allow anyone to dream.

Anyone, that is, but the millions of first time Conservative voters in the North of England who want the policies they voted for enacted. Their dream of a better life and a better Britain was made clear in 2016 and again in 2019, while the prospect of them becoming loyal Tory voters in future elections hangs in the balance.

If a reset means a return to the Notting Hill set’s 2010 vintage policies, with their almost slavish devotion to the Green Book and its bias towards investments in London and the South East, then it also means abandoning the North’s new Blue Wall. I know voters in the Tees Valley and similar regions won’t stand for this, and that their new Tory MPs won’t either. Going back to 2010 is no reset at all.

The Government cannot merely flick a switch and suddenly appeal to the same coalition of voters that supported it a decade ago. While many have remained loyal, some were put off by our determination to deliver Brexit and our decision to prioritise left behind communities over the metropolitan liberal elite. Conservative majorities in seats lost to the Lib Dems in the South and the SNP north of The Wall won’t just rematerialise overnight.

The Prime Minister has rightly identified that a Green Industrial Revolution can deliver both post-Covid-19 economic recovery and his Levelling Up agenda. This policy, whilst surely popular with middle class voters in the South, will also go down well in the UK’s industrial communities.

Many of the people I represent have little time for the Hug a Husky politics of the pre-Johnson era, or the increasingly bizarre publicity stunts of extremists like Extinction Rebellion. They’re just as into clean air and against pollution as anyone, but the real draw of a Green Industrial Revolution is that it will mean more good jobs, both skilled and professional. Good jobs close to home too, not roles necessitating long commutes and weeks on end away from family.

The latest clean technologies, including carbon capture and hydrogen power, can simultaneously bring the UK closer to net zero while creating good-quality jobs in the places they’re most needed. The Government has already announced the Tees Valley as the home of Britain’s national Hydrogen Transport Hub and has signalled its support for the Net Zero Teesside Carbon Capture project, which will deliver on these new, well paid jobs of the future.

Projects like these can yield thousands of jobs in the Teesside area alone, and tens if not hundreds of thousands nationwide, but that’s only part of their appeal. By decarbonising our existing energy intensive industries we can secure their future for decades to come, rather than let them become uncompetitive as penalties for emissions build up.

Another key plank of the Government’s levelling up agenda for the North is the creation of Freeports. These low-tax zones encourage trade, and investment in industry by making it easier and cheaper to do business. A Freeport would be an economic boon to any of the UK’s port towns, especially Redcar where I am bidding to create the largest such zone in the country.

Freeport incentives alone can incentivise inward investment and job creation, and even bring about the reshoring of some of our long-lost manufacturing activities. When combined with net zero technologies, especially carbon capture, they can cut the cost of going green and bring about net zero sooner.

A low-tax Freeport with on-site access to carbon capture facilities, that store CO2 miles under the sea rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, could be the perfect home for a clean steel making plant. This would mean all the benefits of domestic steelmaking without reliance on coal, by using electric arc furnaces. This steel could even find itself used in the production of offshore wind turbines for multi-gigawatt windfarms like Dogger Bank, just 80 miles of the North East coast.

On top of new industrial jobs and a general shift of the UK’s centre of economic gravity in a more northerly direction, another big Government promise that could yield results in this parliament is the relocation of the Civil Service. It’s easy to understand that moving public sector jobs to towns like Darlington and Stockton means more opportunities there and a commensurate uptick for the local economy, but there is a much more important rationale for this long overdue reform – taking back control.

When the people of the North voted to leave the European Union they did so in hope of a better life, and in the knowledge that their vote was one to take power from an unelected and unaccountable elite and bring it closer to home. Moving decision making from Brussels and Strasbourg to London and other big cities like Manchester just won’t answer that demand.

If we are to affect a fundamental shift in the way our country is governed then the civil servants that design and implement legislation – real decisions with real world consequences – must be drawn from a much wider area. Meaningful change will only happen when Whitehall moves north, but it must be to the ‘blue wall’ and not just another metropolitan city. That will do nothing for voters in Teesside and will be the façade of levelling up without actually levelling up.

New job opportunities, whether they be in engineering and manufacturing on Freeport sites, in relocated Government departments, or in the professional services firms that will move north to support these institutions, will be of a quantity and quality not seen in decades. They would represent a step change in economic opportunity for people outside of the capital that was unimaginable even a decade ago.

For the first time in my lifetime we have a Government ready to make the right investment to redress the imbalance between the regions and London, and a reset cannot be allowed to stop this. The Prime Minister, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, are on the cusp of delivering a once in a generation change in the fields of politics and economics. Now is the time to forget about the reset and double down on levelling up.


Alex Game: Students are the key to environmental progress – but we need to lose the tribalism in our debates

9 Oct

Alex Game is a Campus Coordinator with the British Conservation Alliance. He studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is the founder of the British Conservation Alliance Society.

With a new academic year now upon us, around a million students have returned to their campuses after a strange summer, to say the least. This is where environmentalism has to be forged and nurtured in the very near future. Student activism within our universities is an important part of our democracy. It’s a perfect environment for students to gain confidence in their own ideas, and debate with those whose opinion differs from their own. This is not only because they are usually echo chambers of one’s ideas and views, but they give students confidence to explore different opinions that they wouldn’t probably hear if they weren’t on a university campus.

It is for this reason that I have in recent months become a lot more pro-active in this area. I have joined the British Conservation Alliance (BCA) as a campus co-ordinator and set up my own BCA society at my university, Manchester Metropolitan University, both to promote the BCA’s ideas and policies and to help bring about change on a broader scale.

The BCA is important in this conversation about the environment because we offer students an alternative, not just the same anarchism that most students seem to want to follow. This is why we have set up an extensive network of campus leaders at over 30 UK universities to promote our ideas. Environmentalism is something I have always felt passionately about. But I sat on my hands for far too long. Then, I stumbled across the BCA and, as they say… the rest is history. Students are essential to environmentalism, because we are going to be dealing with the mistakes made by past generations unless real change is made soon.

Recently we have seen Extinction Rebellion (XR) causing havoc in Londonlimiting our free press and even a flash mob outside Buckingham palace. They are asking the Government to employ reckless policies, such as committing to net-zero by 2025. A policy such as this simply is impossible. We do not have the capacity to achieve this yet and our economy isn’t robust enough either. The process of reaching net-zero has to be a gradual process achieved through market-solutions, the BCA supports the Government’s legislation of reaching net-zero by 2050.

XR doesn’t really propose many policies; its activists just shout and scream about us wishing to turn green at a ridiculous rate. XR’s actions are often not productive or helping save the planet, it is more often than not just turning people away from environmentalism completely. Not only that, but when policy is proposed by the Government, it is shouted down as “not going far enough”. This must not be the case going forward. We must encourage any change no matter how small or incremental it is. Of course, we can always encourage our government to go further but we must not criticise it when it does commit to real change.

The BCA over recent months has released a book called Green Market Revolution. This states simply how we can change our economy to a green one, not recklessly but carefully and intuitively. It includes real ideas and policy propositions that can help governments understand what they have got to do to. These policies will help turn our economies green and achieve carbon neutrality through market mechanisms such as clean tax cuts or “green loans” for businesses aiming to pursue solutions which are advancing to our goal of preserving the environment for future generations to come.

The conversation about our environment is well overdue and students need to be at the heart of it. They will be the ones suffering if we don’t take real action soon. They are also the ones who will be making decisions in future governments. This means we must make people aware now of what they can achieve in government towards helping preserve our environment.

But we must soon come to a cross-party consensus on how to move forward on our environmental issues and end the tribalism. The sooner we do that, the quicker we can act and more effectively.

The police must be politically impartial. That includes being even-handed in upholding the law on protests.

28 Sep

Soldiers are not able to pick and choose which wars they fight in. Nor can the police decide the laws they are tasked with upholding. Naturally, there are practical limits, but we rely on our elected representatives to show some consideration and exercise restraint in the burdens they impose on public servants. It is hard to think of a greater change in the requirements expected from the police than the coronavirus restrictions.

In some ways the lockdown made their work easier  – for obvious reasons crime levels fell. If we are at home then the opportunities for burglars are diminished, as they are for muggers. When most shops were closed it was unremarkable that a reduction in shoplifting took place. On the other hand, enforcing the restrictions meant the police had to rapidly absorb considerable new duties.

The role of the police should not be to go beyond the regulations in restricting our activity. There were unfortunate instances of this – going through supermarket trolleys for “non-essential items” or ordering people not to sit in their front gardens. But I suspect these were exceptions and genuine misunderstandings due to the rapid pace at which the new rules were introduced.

What has been more concerning is the police force expressing an opinion on the merits of the lockdown. The police can and should advise on the practicalities of enforcing it. Individual police officers will have their own views. The majority of the public agreed with the lockdown as necessary to save lives. A minority of us felt (or feel in retrospect) it was disproportionate and may well end up costing more lives than it saved. The police as an institution should not have a view on that. Nor on the array of the details that arise. Some police officers may feel the 10pm closing time for pubs is a mistake – that doesn’t mean they are entitled to allow the pubs to stay open. In Scotland and Wales the “rule of six” exempts children under 12. In England, it does not. The respective police forces should get on with applying it accordingly. We all need to try and follow whatever the law happens to be where we live – whether or not we think it is a sensible law. The police have a duty to ensure we comply – but it is impertinent for them to tell us we should agree with any particular law even though we are obliged to accept it.

Nothing can be more important in terms of the police’s political neutrality than the conduct of demonstrations. Yet the blatant lapses by the police have been alarming. The regulations have changed but, quite properly, make no distinction as to the allegiance of the protestors. The problem is over the selective way in which they are enforced.

Before July 4th, public gatherings were limited to no more than six people. The law defines a “gathering” as a meeting involving “social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity”. That includes protests – even if social distancing was maintained, even if they are entirely peaceful.

So when 19 people (included Piers Corbyn, brother of Jeremy) were arrested at an anti-lockdown demonstration in Hyde Park on May 16th the police were doing their job. But have they shown consistency? On May 31st there was a Black Lives Matter protest outside the US Embassy and there were five arrests – two for assaulting a police officer. In many other protests – in Bournemouth, Coventry, Liverpool and elsewhere – no arrests were made. Criticism has been made of the passive police response to a statue being pulled down by a mob in Bristol and vandalism, in Westminster, of the Cenotaph and Winston Churchill’s statue. But these demonstrations were already illegal even before such instances took place.

On June 13th rival demonstrators came to London supposedly to “protect” statues and monuments. They included a cohort of racists and another of drunken football hooligans who were mainly were “up for a ruck” rather than having any very clear political motive. One of them urinated outside Parliament next to a memorial to PC Keith Palmer. 113 arrests were made which would seem a suitably robust response. But why the leniency shown on other occasions?

An indulgent response is usually given to Extinction Rebellion. The group organised several demos on May 30th, in defiance of the lockdown rules. The police could not give “precise numbers” on arrests.

Since July 4th, the rules changed so that demonstrations were allowed but with a requirement for organisers to carry out a health and safety risk assessment. The pressure group, Liberty, objected that demonstrations should have a full exemption. It argued that:

“The risk assessment is impossible to meet because: It is a workplace assessment which makes no legal sense when applied to a protest. There is no guidance on how a protest organiser should manage risk, or what a proper assessment looks like. No information has been provided on how assessments will be monitored.

“This means that anyone attending or organising a protest could find themselves at risk of arrest because it is impossible to know if a satisfactory risk assessment has been carried out.”

Another concern is that it gives the police great discretion over which particular “risk assessments” come up to scratch. 16 arrests were made on Saturday after an anti lockdown protest – where speakers included Piers Corbyn and the conspiracy theorist, David Icke. Apparently, a risk assessment was sent in but it was not complied with.

Then we had the very effective disruption of newspaper deliveries by Extinction Rebellion in the early hours of September 5th. The reason it succeeded was due to the police being so feeble. Hertfordshire Police said:

“Our officers are engaging with the group, which consists of around 100 people, and we are working to facilitate the rights of both the protestors and those affected by their presence.”

But those involved in criminal obstruction should have been arrested and removed without delay. The police should be aware there is no “right” to “protest” in such a way – even if they had sent in a “risk assessment” which would seem unlikely.

Some may dismiss such complaints on the grounds that in the past the police have been accused by the Left of bias. Certainly, during the mass pickets of the Thatcher era there was great controversy. Sir Keir Starmer, before he became Labour leader, put out a video stressing his “solidarity” with coal miners and striking print workers. The police were accused of “taking sides” – but in allowing those who wished to go into work to do so, they were upholding the law.

So far as the police are concerned, they would presumably deny any political discrimination at the number of arrests at different demonstrations. Operational decisions are not always easy. No doubt. But the credibility is undermined by the police “taking the knee” to some demonstrators (indeed being advised by their superiors to do so) and not to others. I am not proposing they should kneel before Piers Corbyn. They should not do so before anyone. Equality before the law is vital to a free and democratic society. The political impartiality of our police is a matter of historic pride for our country. It has been eroded and must be restored.

James Roberts: Woke ideology has brought with it an entire industry – and, even worse, it’s the taxpayer who’s funding it.

22 Sep

James Roberts is political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance

With all the talk of post-Brexit state aid rules and subsidies for cutting-edge tech, other sectors propped up by the taxpayer are often overlooked. That includes our super-subsidised social justice sector.

The wave of woke has brought with it an entire industry. It has all the hallmarks of a successful sector: thousands of employees; quarterly results in the form of constant corporate releases on diversity; legions of lawyers; and incomprehensible industry jargon, repeated ad infinitum in its trade press, the BBC. It enjoys the backing of its own (captured) regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and it parasitically preys on millions of pounds of public money.

You would have thought the social justice sector was big enough to look after itself. In 2003, an American professor noted that companies were spending an estimated $8 billion a year on diversity efforts. Today, business is booming. 

Diversity demagogues have successfully roped gullible civil servants into their agenda. Annual reports from every government body are filled with endless initiatives (the Civil Service Commission’s “diversity forum” and Network Rail’s “Race Matters” programme, to name but two).

In 2018, we estimated that the Equality Act alone (which spawned a great deal of this diversity doctrine) would cost the taxpayer £49 million annually by 2020. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are government jobs a plenty for these cultural commissars: everything from Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Specialists at UK Research and Innovation (£49,708pa) to Head of Inclusion at Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (£47,544 – £53,459pa).

Nowhere is this clearer than with the EHRC. The body once headed by Trevor Philips has become the engine for social activism.

It starts with subsidies. We identified £40 million of taxpayers’ money being given to a sample of organisations last year which campaign and lobby for political causes. EHRC was one of the main suppliers. Lucky recipients of EHRC grants included £10,169 for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, £18,000 handed to think tank Bright Blue for “event costs”, and £19,000 to Diverse Cymru, having been commissioned to create films highlighting refugees’ issues in Wales.

Even this year, with a global pandemic, the right-on racket continued. Self-proclaimed “specialist in Gender and LGBT Equality” Julie Scanlon received £8,305 in April from EHRC for “research”. Topics from her blog include “Has your organisation ever celebrated Lesbian Visibility Day” and (somewhat ironically for taxpayers) “Is your privilege losing you money?”.

Then we have TS4SE, a provider of “refugee and migrant awareness training”. The EHRC gave it a grant of £9,191. Justice Studio Ltd were paid a total of £65,560 between April 2019 and July 2020. Before the final payment had even been made, the founder and managing director felt it appropriate to condone the desecration of Winston Churchill’s statue, claiming he “had it coming”, as well as pronouncing extensively on the existence of white privilege.  

These campaigners, openly and aggressively pursuing a political agenda, should not be receiving taxpayers’ money. For the record, we pursue an agenda. So does Greenpeace. But neither of us takes a penny from the state.

With political activism in full swing, woke warriors have been looking for other ways to influence policy-making at the taxpayers’ expense. Once again, EHRC has obliged. The EHRC panel of counsel is a list of preferred providers of external legal services for the quango, including representation and advice. The panel is the linchpin of a network of activist lawyers, pursuing contentious political causes with no regard for the effective cross-subsidy coming their way from taxpayers, via the EHRC.

Unlike the attorney activism of the past, this doesn’t need a penny of legal aid money. EHRC panel lawyers are able to claim and continue campaigning as they please. Catherine Meredith, of Doughty Street Chambers, enjoyed payments totalling £3,264 in January and February of 2019, before claiming Britain requires “radical institutional and social change” following the death of George Floyd.

Lawyers from Matrix Chambers have received almost £600,000 since 2017. Yet one represented the organisation that blocked a recent Jamaica deportation flight. He got £86,900. Another, Emma Foubister, defended Extinction Rebellion activists after their eco-antics. Her EHRC bill came to £55,934. Helen Mountfield QC, who represented “The People’s Challenge” in the Gina Miller Brexit case, herself pocketed £190,688.

The persistent campaigning of the publicly-funded progressives has been a remarkable vehicle for influencing public policy. With a few notable (and noble) exceptions, like Ben Bradley and Neil O’Brien, now MPs themselves have been bounced into (taxpayer-funded) lectures on woke ideology via “unconscious bias” training.

For all the talk of fighting for the values of “forgotten man”, remarkably few figures in this “People’s Government” have joined the battle. Priti Patel put her head above the parapet in battle against activist lawyers, and became a hate figure in return. One Matrix lawyer publicly mocked Patel as “not smart” or “deliberately misleading”. Last year an organisation called Race on the Agenda happily took almost £20,000 from EHRC, but had no qualms about signing an open letter to the Home Secretary accusing her of a “regressive and counterproductive policing policy and cheap political point scoring”.

Ministers need to wake up. The social justice super-blob will never stop campaigning, attacking any government policy they can, driven on by professional zealotry and perks of public funding. Popular policies (from any party) will always be targets. For the activism industry, the world truly is black and white.   

So what can be done? First, defund the committed crusaders. Organisations that campaign and lobby for political objectives shouldn’t receive taxpayers’ money. The EHRC, which began recruiting a new chair and board members in June, should cut them off. The new leadership would do well to remember, as Trevor Philips himself has found out, that the activism industry inevitably turns on its own supporters. It’s better to starve the beast. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidise this agenda any longer.

Sam Hall: Extinction Rebellion is completely wrong in its approach to climate change

15 Sep

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network

As a Conservative environmentalist, I believe passionately in the need for stronger action on climate change. I initially regarded Extinction Rebellion as wrong, but well-meaning. I’ve now come to the conclusion they are not only wrong, but actively harmful to the cause they claim to champion.

During their first action in 2019, I was sympathetic to the urgency with which XR demanded action on climate change, and the importance they attached to the issue. I shared, to some extent, their frustration that it wasn’t given the prominence in political debates that its seriousness merits. And I admired their skill in triggering a national conversation on climate change.

However I now believe Extinction Rebellion have gone badly off course with their use of polarising tactics, and that their approach to fighting climate change is completely wrong.

It has become apparent, for example, that they predominantly direct their protests against people and organisations on the right of British politics. Boris Johnson, the Centre for Policy Studies, and the Telegraph are some of their recent targets. But to address climate change effectively over multiple political cycles, we need the support of all political traditions – particularly Conservatives.

We need messages and messengers that will appeal to those groups among whom support for climate policies is lowest, not attacks on the political leaders and institutions they trust. We need to celebrate when once-sceptical Conservatives put forward good climate policies, not criticise their lack of purity.

Another problem is their uninspiring message of despair. Remember XR founder Roger Hallam’s claim that climate change will see billions of deaths, or children at school today will not survive to adulthood?

Of course, unmitigated climate change is incredibly dangerous, but fighting it requires us to be hopeful. We must believe that, if we act, we can succeed in stopping the most severe impacts. We shouldn’t dwell on apocalypse, but rather focus on solutions that create jobs and bring new industries to Britain, while making our towns and cities more prosperous, greener, and healthier places to live.

We also have to bring people with us. Yet by letting an all-powerful assembly, made up of a tiny unelected minority, decide our pathway to net zero, XR is attempting to short-circuit the democratic process.

We do need comprehensive public engagement on climate change, and there is certainly a useful role for assemblies in developing policy. But decisions should be taken by elected politicians that the voters can hold accountable and kick out of office if they choose.

Vital public consent for climate action would quickly be shredded by the pace of change they are demanding. Net zero by 2025 would be eye-wateringly expensive, and cause huge economic dislocation. Instead, we need a transition that is as quick as possible, but which gives people time to adjust, and companies the opportunity to invest for net zero as part of the normal business cycle.

Disagreeing with this 2025 target doesn’t mean you aren’t worried about climate change. Far from it. Environmental ambition should not – although frequently is – measured by the earliness of a target date or the scale of government spending. Truly ambitious policies must also be feasible, costed, and command the support of the public.

Nor is it about being ‘anti-science’. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change agrees that a 2050 net zero target meets our obligations under the Paris Agreement.

While I would be delighted if technological innovation meant we could reach net zero before 2050, it is the case that our 2050 net zero target has a much sounder basis in science than XR’s 2025 deadline.

Nor should we excuse their extreme actions as creating political space for moderate proposals on tackling climate change. For one thing, that is not what most XR campaigners are aiming to achieve. They do not accept compromise.

More broadly, the media and parliamentary debate around Extinction Rebellion is increasingly focused on policing and human rights issues. Note that the statement on XR in Parliament last week was given by the policing minister, not the climate change minister.

Even the climate discussion they provoke is unhelpful. In the media, sceptics of climate science who opportunistically elide XR with mainstream environmentalism, are pitched against left-wing climate activists. XR’s demands and tactics are inimical to a reasoned, evidence-based debate on climate.

But enough negativity. Here is my alternative approach. We need a credible, deliverable and affordable plan to reach net zero by 2050. One that creates millions of well-paid green jobs across the country, that revitalises our towns and cities with the clean industries of the future, and that harnesses the genius of our scientists and the creativity of our entrepreneurs. One that gives consumers freedom to choose between attractive and compelling solutions, and where private-sector competition and government support make them affordable for all.

We need to create the frameworks for businesses to invest in clean technologies, including an appropriate balance of fiscal incentives, regulation, and market signals. And the government needs to make it easier for people to make greener choices in their daily lives, to gain skills to work in clean industries, and to participate in community efforts to improve their local environment.

We have so much more to do to get on track to, and reach, net zero. We need major programmes to upgrade homes, restore nature, and build out renewable energy. We need to deploy new technologies such as green hydrogen, carbon capture storage, and heat pumps, and bring down their costs. In sectors like aviation and shipping, we need to develop and commercialise technologies that are still in their research phase. And we need to do all of this while bringing the public with us and keeping the UK economy competitive.

We have a great prize within our grasp – a clean, reindustrialised Britain, and nature restored to our beautiful landscapes – but we should be clear that achieving it will be hard work.

XR is making that vision even harder to achieve by alienating the public. I fear they are coarsening and toxifying our public discourse on climate change, and fuelling the extremes. For the sake of the climate, I hope they change course.

Ben Bradley: I will not be undertaking unconscious bias training – and call on my colleagues to take the same stand

15 Sep

Ben Bradley is MP for Mansfield.

The evidence is growing that many of our institutions are dominated by a metropolitan “groupthink” that is intolerant to any diversity of views, whether it’s the BBC, the British Library or even government departments. The latest such evidence is the further rollout of unconscious bias training here in the Commons.

This particular idea, that we all need to be re-educated and taught to suppress our innate urge to be awful to each other all the time, is costing the taxpayer a bomb as it rolls through our various government agencies and quangos. Next it’s the turn of MPs to be told that all of our thoughts are offensive and should be corrected.

I found out recently that House of Commons staff have been forced to sit through this nonsense since 2016, but the course is being extended in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests – a subject on which my thoughts have been pretty well publicised – and MPs will be expected to sit through it too. Let me be clear right from the off; I will not be taking it.

Nobody doubts that racism exists and can make life more challenging for some people. Nor that sexism exists, ageism and discrimination across a whole spectrum. That much is true. What I doubt here is that these things are somehow buried deep in all of our subconscious, steering us at every turn, and that with the help of some genius “educator” I can be cured of my unseen evil. I’m yet to see the evidence of it achieving a great deal, apart from big profits for the training company.

It’s been reported this week that £7,000 of taxpayer’s cash will be spent designing a course featuring a blue “Cookie Monster-esque” puppet, who wants to tell me in its cute and furry way that I shouldn’t use “offensive” words like “pensioner” or “lady”. Apparently, the puppet also plans to tell me which version of history I must use and which bits I should delete from my memory – improving my “cultural competency” – which is going to cost us around £700,000 in total. Needless to say I’m not convinced that this is an appropriate use of taxpayer’s money.

In recent weeks I completed similar “Valuing Everyone” training, aimed at explaining how I should not be mean to my staff. I guess I blindly stumbled in to that one, not quite aware until I clicked on to the Zoom call exactly what it was I was doing. It was quite a jolly couple of hours in truth – a nice chat with colleagues, but as far as I can tell it will have achieved precisely nothing except for a sizeable bill (around £750,000).

I don’t doubt that there are more than a small number of MPs who are a nightmare to work for and who can behave inappropriately. I’m just not convinced that two hours of training will have made the blindest bit of difference, despite the huge cost. In truth, if you asked the staffers in this building they could tell you who those bad bosses and managers are in seconds – it’s not a secret – and you could deal with the actual problem rather than just “being seen to do something”.

There’s something deeply undemocratic about it too, in my view. I’m elected to this place to represent my constituents. To share their thoughts and views with the House. We’ve already seen through the Brexit debates how the views of Leave voters were characterised as racist and unacceptable, and now we’re to be “educated” about which views are appropriate for us to speak about.

Who gets to decide which issues or views are appropriate for me to raise on behalf of my constituents? I’ve been told that speaking about the challenges facing working class white boys in my community is racist or sexist more than once. If it causes offence to a handful should I keep quiet? The biggest issue filling my inbox is illegal immigration, something thousands of my constituents feel very strongly about, but it’s a bit controversial, isn’t it, so should I leave it alone? The thought police will be the death of open debate and stymie our democracy.

I’ve said it more than once, that the electoral shift in the demographics of the “average” Tory voter in 2019 are not something we can ignore. They elected Conservatives, with a clear conservative message in that election about law and order, taking back control, freedom and free speech that can give a voice to places like Mansfield that have been ignored for a long time… We need to stick to that message and those values.

It’s pretty well recognised now that this kind of imposition of one set of values on to others is wildly unpopular with what is now the “core” Conservative vote – the working class folks of Mansfield, of Bury and of Redcar. They abhor the antics of BLM, of Extinction Rebellion and the like telling them what they should think. They know their own minds. It’s that kind of conflict with the metropolitan bubble where our institutions largely exist that lead us to Brexit, too. Woke ideology seems pretty deeply embedded at this point.

In my view we should be unabashed in our cultural conservatism, sticking up for free speech and the right to “make my own bloody mind up, thank you very much”, and stepping in to block this “unconscious bias” nonsense. I, for one, will not be taking it, and I’d call on my colleagues to take the same stand. Maybe we can have a good go at some bigger reforms too. After all, this is a Conservative Government!