By Joseph Willits
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Zac Goldsmith would rather be known by the term "effective backbencher", than "rebellious backbencher". In a BBC Hardtalk interview today with Zeinab Badawi, rebellion and party dissent over Europe and the environment, proved to be the main focus. Although critical of the Government over its handling of an EU referendum, Goldsmith insisted that he remained loyal to the party:
"I have voted with my party more than 90% of the time … if that is anything other than loyal, then I think we need to rethink those terms"
However, Goldsmith indicated his delight for fighting political causes and holding the Government to account as a backbencher, rather than in the "hellish existence" of a junior minister. "I didn't stand for election in order to have a lobotomy and to be programmed by a party leader", he said.
Goldsmith defended the Government on environmental policy, saying it had been "unfairly chastised" and that "twice as many environmental commitments as anything else … [are] being delivered". He praised both the Green Investment Bank, saying it was "a step in the right direction", and the Green Deal. Although the Government was "beginning" to understand the priority behind environmental policies, he said, the Green Investment Bank, however, was "not big enough, or soon enough", and it was essential that Treasury got "behind… and turbocharged" the Green Deal.
The Treasury was "more open to these ideas than ever before", said Goldsmith, but:
"I can't pretend that the entire body of the Treasury has fully understood that this transition we're going to have to go through, one is inevitable, and two is a great opportunity. I can't pretend that they've all got their heads around that yet. For many people in the Treasury, environmental policy is still a cost, a burden"
Goldsmith raised concerns over Osborne's conference speech, where he outlined business would take priority over the environment. Osborne was not wrong, Goldsmith said, but he would have preferred it to have not been said, as the "biggest risk is political uncertainty" which could raise doubts from businesses looking to go green.
Badawi cited comments made by Tim Montgomerie, where he said that "the government has decided that this is now a vote-losing issue" following on from governmental briefings. Goldsmith conceded that this was "not the most immediate concern" for the general public, however this "doesn't mean that the environment isn't the most important concern. Without a healthy environment", he said, "we don't have an economy, we don't have a future".
Solutions had to be found that "work with the grain of business, and human nature. Not against them", Goldsmith said, which was something "a responsible Government" needed to recognise.
Asked about the unelected Governments in Italy and Greece, Goldsmith said that certain "decisions made in this country are made by unelected technocrats." He said:
"I have seen 3 or 4 examples in Parliament, where Parliamentarians have voted unanimously for a particular measure, and where because of the European Union, our Government has had to ignore Parliament. I think that's a really serious thing, where Parliament speaks with one voice, and is ignored by Government. You have to wonder what is the point of elections in this country, what is the point of Parliament."
Goldsmith stated that "in an ideal world" he would like to see "genuine renegotiation", and "all sorts of powers … restored to this country" but that it was "impossible without a referendum". The Government would not "be able to negotiate for repatriations without a referendum behind them", he said, and that the best option would be withdrawal from the EU,"to decide what kind of future we want with Europe, and then opt back in".
You can watch Zac Goldsmith's Hardtalk interview in full here.