Yesterday, the Mail on Sunday revealed that a private company owned by Lord Deben had received more than £600,000 in undeclared payments
Oh look, another member of the great and the good is in the soup. And, not for the first time, it’s one of those who preaches to us about our duty to ‘save the planet’.
Yesterday, the Mail on Sunday revealed that a private company owned by Lord Deben (who, as John Selwyn Gummer, was Environment Secretary under John Major) had received more than £600,000 in undeclared payments from businesses which come under the purview of the Government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC), which he chairs.
The most significant payment came from the firm Johnson Matthey, which makes batteries for electric cars.
It paid Gummer’s company, Sancroft, almost £300,000 over five years — before he urged the Government to speed up plans to make all new cars on British roads battery-powered.
All MPs and Peers are required to declare any outside earnings and interests in order that the public (and fellow legislators) can determine if there is any conflict of interest.
Gummer declared his chairmanship of Sancroft, but apparently not these payments — including one from so-called ‘green energy’ producer Drax, which paid Sancroft £15,500 while Gummer’s committee was writing a report about its activities.
Gummer’s solicitor insists that ‘allegations of conflicts of interest and other improprieties are wholly false … [he] has at all times made disclosures in accordance with the advice he has been given by the House of Lords and the CCC’.
In which case, one wonders at the advice he receives.
There does seem to have been an unfortunate series of incidents involving legislators most associated with preaching the green gospel.
A few years ago, Gummer’s Tory colleague Tim Yeo, as chairman of the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, was caught out by Sunday Times reporters posing as representatives of a solar energy company pushing for new laws to help their business.
Yeo appeared to gobble at the chance to act as their paid advocate. After the Sunday Times published, Yeo sued.
But the judge in the case, Mr Justice Warby, said the story was ‘substantially true’, and that parts of Yeo’s evidence were, variously, ‘unreliable and untruthful’, like ‘a fish wriggling on a hook’ and ‘unworthy of belief’.
This was, at least, nothing like as bad as the dishonesty of the former Energy and Climate Change secretary of state Chris Huhne. The Liberal Democrat was the most influential advocate of carbon emission reduction in the Conservative-led Coalition of 2010-2015.
Perhaps it was because he didn’t think getting a speeding ticket would sit well with those credentials that Huhne fraudulently got his then wife, Vicky Pryce, to say that she had been driving the family car at excessive speeds (when it was, in fact, Huhne behind the wheel).
Even after his wife told a journalist of the deception, Huhne continued to lie repeatedly, looking straight at the lens of the TV companies’ cameras to declare he was ‘innocent of these charges and I intend to fight this in the courts, and I’m confident that a jury will agree’.
Not that confident, it turned out. At the last moment, when he realised the game was up, he pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.
Still, after seven weeks served at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in 2012, Huhne immediately found a remunerative refuge on the board of a ‘green energy’ company: he is European chairman of Zilkha Biomass Energy.
Two years earlier, it was a couple of Labour MPs, who were much admired within the Green movement, and were sent to prison for fraudulent expenses claims (out of the total of just four such MPs convicted in 2010). These were Elliot Morley and David Chaytor.
All MPs and Peers are required to declare any outside earnings and interests in order that the public (and fellow legislators) can determine if there is any conflict of interest (Pictured, Gummer with John Bercow)
The latter was the long-serving secretary of the British branch of an international network of environmentalist parliamentarians, while Morley’s conviction prompted a howl of disbelief from The Independent’s environment correspondent: ‘This man spent all his long ministerial career defending the environment. Most of all, he became concerned about climate change.’
Well, that, and lining his pocket with money illicitly purloined from the taxpayer.
It is interesting to speculate why men such as Morley and Chaytor, devoted to ‘saving the planet’, were at the same time able to engage in acts of fraud apparently without any conscience.
I think an answer was supplied in 2010 by a team of Canadian psychologists in a paper entitled Do Green Products Make Us Better People?
The authors’ answer was: no, and possibly quite the opposite. Their study, based on experiments tracking 156 students from Toronto University, found that ‘purchasing Green products may produce the counter-intuitive effect of licensing asocial and unethical behaviours by establishing moral credentials’.
This is a bit like the charge against the Pharisees in the New Testament: that they confused ritualistic acts with genuine morality.
We saw something similar at the recent summit of global business and political leaders at Davos.
An unprecedentedly large number of private jets landed at the local airport in Switzerland—whose plutocratic passengers then piously applauded Sir David Attenborough as he told them how man-made CO2 emissions were threatening life on Earth.
Also flying into Davos by private jet was Bono. This climate change campaigner told the assembled suits that capitalism was ‘amoral’. As he should know: U2 moved its tax affairs from Ireland to the Dutch Antilles after the government in Dublin decided it was time such artists paid tax on their royalties.
The moral of this tale? By all means listen to what the Green preachers say. But, above all, watch what they do.
DIGGING FOR PAST MISTAKES? TAKE A LOOK AT THE SPEAKER
It is said that the past is a foreign country. But it is not so far away, these days, for politicians.
They are increasingly targeted by so-called grievance archaeology, in which youthful indiscretions have become deadly weapons in the hands of opponents.
The latest casualty is Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Ralph Northam. His well-established reputation as a social liberal has been rocked by the unearthing of photographs from his college yearbook almost 35 years ago.
John Bercow headed the Federation of Conservative Students at a time when its members disgraced themselves by wearing ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ T-shirts
They purported to show Northam and a friend, one dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, the other ‘blacked up’.
Northam at first accepted he was in the picture, then denied it, and is now fighting to remain as Governor.
Interestingly, the same form of archaeology has not been deployed by Tory MPs who would dearly love to end the career of the irascible John Bercow: they regard Mr Speaker as disgracefully biased against them (not least for dismissing the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, as ‘a stupid woman’).
For although Bercow is now seen as a scourge of the Right, his own student days were… different.
He headed the Federation of Conservative Students at a time when its members disgraced themselves by wearing ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ T-shirts.
He went on to become secretary of the immigration committee of the far-Right Monday club, campaigning for those who’d come here from the Commonwealth to be ‘repatriated’.
As his then colleague Derek Laud observed in the Mail some years ago: ‘I remember how vile some of John’s views were. He believed, more than most, in repatriating immigrants. Watching John in action could be stomach-churning.
‘I remember trying to interject as he was spouting more prejudice, but John doesn’t do listening well and barked at me to pipe down. I persisted and he went into a rage.’
In that respect, at least, John Bercow hasn’t changed.