In the spirit of Downing Street’s active new engagement with Conservative MPs, we suggest that it takes a special interest in the following: Simon Clarke, Alexander Stafford, Virginia Crosbie, Jo Gideon, and Mark Jenkinson.
Why? Because they may come in useful for the ten-point speech that Boris Johnson plans to make about the environment.
You may counter that Saving the Planet is not top of the list of concerns of voters in the former Red Wall, and that this initiative is a sign that the Prime Minister is tacking left.
Which invites debate about whether that’s what such a move would mean. But this may be to misread the purpose of the speech, which will apparently seek to tack post-Coronavirus recovery – “building back better” – to green jobs.
Our columnist Ryan Bourne argues that free markets should be used to help reduce emissions, not “industrial strategies, picking winners, and seeing the green energy sector as some sort of jobs machine”.
Whether you agree with this view or not, it is a fact of political life that once Government begins to pick winners, MPs want their constituents, and others, to be among them.
Clarke writes that heat pumps could create tens of thousands of jobs all over the country”. Stafford says “green hydrogen is promoted as strongly for its regional growth benefits as much as its importance for decarbonising heat”.
For Crosbie, new nuclear will help in “driving economic growth outside of the south east of England”. Gideon supports “accelerating the transition to electric vehicles”.
Jenkinson is the odd man out, since he makes the case for coal – an older technology – writing in favour of Banks Mining’s application for an opencast coal mine on the Northumberland coast.
Nonetheless, he maintains that “part of the route to net-zero is to bring back some of our carbon footprint that we’ve offshored by importing from countries that often have dubious environmental protections”.
All of these MPs bar Clarke won their seats last December, and three of them are embedded in Red Wall country: Stafford in Rother Valley, Gideon in Stoke Central, Jenkinson in Workington.
Ynys Mon has not been held by the Conservatives since 1983. Clarke’s Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland seat was one of the Red Wall forerunners of 2017.
In short, parts of this Blue Wall, as we’re now told it should be called, are going green. Elsewhere, those critical of the strategy are a spectrum ranging from those who don’t accept that global warming is taking place at all…
…To those who believe that it is, but think that markets, the private sector, incentives and research are more reliable means of tackling it than targets, government, subsidies, regulation and tax rises.
They also point to the consequences for firms and families in lost jobs and higher bills, and to the role of the 2030 zero carbon emissions target.
It is certainly the case that this was a Theresa May legacy item issued with no clear plan of how it might be met. But we are struck by the absence of noisy, organised protest to date from consumers and business.
(Though as with regulation more widely it’s bigger business that has the capacity to absorb costs that smaller firms don’t – and so has less of a stake in dissent.)
Indeed, the brake to these green jobs to date is being applied principally by our old friend the Treasury, which has been counting up the potential cost of the Prime Minister’s plans.
These apparently include more zero-carbon housing, nuclear power, support for hydrogen and the phasing out of new diesel cars.
The Treasury will argue that there is less scope than ever for subsidies post-Covid. Conservative MPs both in Red Wall seats and others will disagree.