Countless politicians make a smooth transition to non-executive roles in banking and industry after leaving government.
Even the most cynical and hardened observers of Conservative party sleaze will be suffering from an intense outbreak of cognitive dissonance around events in the coming weeks, which starkly highlights the difference between UK Government statements and around the climate emergency in the run-up to hosting COP26.
On the one hand, Boris Johnson announced this week that following recommendations of the government’s statutory climate advisors, carbon dioxide is to be cut by 78 percent by 2035 compared with 1990 levels - an increase from the current target of a 68 percent reduction by 2030.
On the other, Grant Shapps, secretary of state for transport, hosted an online event which posed the following: “When and how can international travel reopen? What approach offers the best route to do so safely, promptly, and to the greatest benefit for passengers and the wider economy? After a year of unprecedented disruption, how soon will things return to normal, and what will normal look like?”
In the meantime, the same government has applied to the Supreme Court to send Tim Crosland, a barrister, of Plan B to prison for symbolically breaking the embargo on its reversal of the Court of Appeal’s decision - previously endorsed by the government - on Heathrow Airport expansion and the third runway.
Crosland has said: “I have taken the decision to break the embargo on that decision as an act of civil disobedience. This will be treated as a ‘contempt of court’ and I am ready to face the consequences. I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the Court’s ruling.
“In February 2020 the Court of Appeal ruled that Chris Grayling [then Secretary of State for Transport] should have relied on the Paris Agreement temperature limit and consequently ruled his decision unlawful. Boris Johnson informed parliament that the government would accept that decision and abide by the Paris Agreement".
However under pressure from an army of lawyers hired by Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited the Supreme Court reversed the decision.
He continued: “I have deep respect for the rule of law and the vital role of the judicial system in holding power to account. That is why it is a duty to protest a decision that so gravely betrays that purpose. I take this act of protest for the sake of my two children and in memory of all those who have lost their lives on the frontline of the climate crisis, in the UK and around the world”.
Crosland’s outrage should be compared with Boris Johnson’s statement after he won his seat in Uxbridge: "John McDonnell, I will join you. I will lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction of that third runway.”
We are now so inured to Johnson’s lies and flip-flopping, first from making speeches supporting Britain’s EU membership to campaigning and winning power on Brexit, to this tacit support of Crosland’s proposed jailing by the Supreme Court.
It is difficult to imagine a starker contrast between the actions of a government and the promises and rhetoric. This is particularly important when Britain will stage the COP26 summit of world leaders and be under a global spotlight. Is there a way to understand a single government that is so conflicted in its opposing messages?
Perhaps a clue comes with the current Greensill scandal, in which it was revealed, among other things, that civil servants appointed by David Cameron also retained their jobs in industry. Countless politicians make a smooth transition to non-executive roles in banking and industry after leaving government.
And a fairly random search of the parliamentary register of interests brought me by chance to a more direct connection.
Lord Deighton, a Conservative life peer and former minister, and former commercial secretary to the Treasury, is currently the chairman and non-executive director of Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited.
This is not to suggest any wrongdoing on Lord Deighton's part, or any influence on the decision to pursue any case against Tim Crosland. But what this does suggest to me is that there is at the very least an appearance of an all-pervasive system of cronyism and revolving doors.
Some politicians may genuinely be invested in the COP26 process and achievement of its goals. But others may be thinking more about their non-executive positions after they have finished being ministers. This would go some way to explaining the cognitive dissonance we see in our political leadership.
Rob La Frenais is an arts writer and curator. Additional research by ClimateKeys. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Resurgence Trust, publisher of The Ecologist, or its staff.
A webinar titled Jail the Messenger? featuring Tim Crosland will take place on Sunday, 2 May 2021, with a diverse range of speakers concerned by and affected by the direct effects of the climate emergency, organised by ClimateKeys and including performances by National Theatre playwright April De Angelis and musician Dan Spanner.