The Net Zero anti-hero

Steve Baker compared aspects of climate activism to child abuse. Now the climate contrarian has a key role pushing against the government’s carbon net zero target.

MPs are supposed to work for us. We are saying, safeguard our children’s future on the planet, or change your job.

Gemma Rogers and five other Wycombe constituents asked their MP, Steve Baker, for a meeting to discuss the climate crisis two years ago. Baker, the "hard man" of a hard Brexit, was at a loose end and they hoped to persuade the arch political agitator to come on side and defend the planet.

She failed. Today, Steve Baker is leading the charge against climate policy in Britain. He has formed the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, remains a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and pushed back against legislation against gas boilers before COP.

And recently he has used the Conservative party leadership crisis to increase his public profile. Baker put on a giddy display at the beginning of contest. 

Disaster

First he announcing to Twitter followers that he was standing for the top role, which would make him the UK Prime Minister, but only after giving in to the ‘imploring’ of supporters.

Then after making fool of himself on the BBC by bragging about how he would deal with ministers after he "seized power", he finally threw in support behind Suella Braverman.

It was an open secret that they were looking for a bigger gun to follow their agenda of low taxation and scrapping the carbon net zero by 2050 target. And they got one in Liz Truss.

Truss appeals to a wing of the party that supports the resumption of fracking, the continuation of the covert privatisation of the NHS, removal of the BBC licence fee, selling off Channel 4 and the dismantling of the Arts Council.

A Truss government would frankly be a disaster for British climate policy, threatening to set it back years. And there isn’t much resistance.

Arms

The Conservative Environmental Network, although claiming a hundred MPs, has a weak voice within the Tory party. In fact, Baker dismisses them as ‘wind-socks’. The fiercest resistance is coming from Zac Goldsmith - the former owner and editor of The Ecologist - in the House of Lords. 

Baker does seem to be a masterful backroom lobbyist. But in front of the cameras and closer to power, it seems he has a tendency to become over-excited and self-destructive.

But we shouldn’t underestimate him. Baker has the ability to think for himself , unlike many of the current Tory MPs. He knows that conflict - even with those at the very top of his party - does not diminish you if you win: he fought tooth and nail to get the Brexit he wanted.

Perhaps it is that as a devout Christian that he seems to have allegiances and moorings that are even bigger than the Conservative party. It’s just a shame he is wrong, profoundly and disastrously wrong, on the climate issue.  

Baker was educated in a comprehensive school and went on the serve in the Royal Air Force. He also worked in software as an MP was a consultant for an arms company.

MPs are supposed to work for us. We are saying, safeguard our children’s future on the planet, or change your job.

Promised

He loves to brag about his action-man ways: he likes to imply in interviews that if he weren’t talking to the reporter, he’d be jumping out of the back of a plane or on a motorbike heading for the mountains. In real life, he was an engineer.

There is often a tigger-ish glint in his eye. And actually, if Steve Baker weren’t an existential threat to our grandchildren, the chutzpah he brings to everything he does might gain him a sneaking fan base even among those of different political persuasions.

How did Steve Baker get to be so significant for the anti-climate action faction?

Let’s go back to the beginning of this piece in which Steve Baker met a number of his constituents to talk climate.

Gemma Rogers told me: "At that point Baker didn’t seem to know that much about the climate issue, but promised to meet us again when he’d had a chance to look into it.

Switched

"A couple of months later, I learned that he’d become a trustee of the notorious denialist group the Global Warming Policy Foundation. When asked later why he joined, he said it was ‘because Lord Lawson asked me.’"

But if Baker were flattered into that choice, he has since made climate contrarianism his own, and founded, with the ex-UKIP Craig Mackinlay, the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of 20 MPs who reject the carbon net zero target.

And he now has brought that policy into the newly relaunched, pro-market, hard-right Conservative Way Forward group.   

But if the meeting with constituents meant little to Baker, it was of key importance to Gemma Rogers who made a decision to fight him on the issue. 

"He’d stood on the 2019 Tory manifesto which included the net zero target. It didn’t feel right that he switched sides without explaining why to his constituents."

Dismantling

So, she reached out to some others: first of all, Stephen Morton from her local Friends of the Earth group and also to me and Tom Hardy who had been working on anti GWPF issues at a national level. Together the four of us cofounded Steve Baker Watch.

Are aims are: informing the constituents of Wycombe what their MP is doing in their name; persuading Baker to either change his climate stance including leaving the GWPF, or to change his job and finally, setting up a resilient, democratically-minded network of citizens.

Because for all Steve Baker’s swagger, he only has a 4,000 vote majority in his constituency. And so he is vulnerable.

So far, the campaign has been a tremendous success. An initial crowd funder brought in triple the original sum aimed for and some donors volunteered to make a monthly payment.

Leaflets have been distributed to every home in the constituency pointing out Baker’s work with the Global Warming Policy Network, now rebranded Net Zero Watch. This August we are running an ad campaign in the local paper to explain what the MP is doing and dismantling his climate arguments.

Energy

Ms Rogers added: "MPs are supposed to work for us. We are saying, safeguard our children’s future on the planet, or change your job. People love it. Because it feels like not only can you do something active and straightforward about climate, but also you can make your voice heard democratically.

"People have spontaneously emailed Steve Baker Watch offering to help, including the comedian Stewart Lee who offered profits from a comedy gig in the area. And a local football player who has asked what he can do.

"We’re not party political. If there were dynamic pro-climate MPs in the Conservative Party, some of our members would support them. But the Conservative Environment Network is a lame duck. They need to up their game. There just isn’t any more time for green wash and delayism."

Steve Baker Watch is not a stand-alone group: the idea is taking off elsewhere too. There are two further Watch groups already launched – Craig Mackinlay Watch in Thanet and Robert Courts Watch in Witney. Ten further groups are planned by the Autumn.

Ms Rogers concludes: "By the next election we hope there will be Watch groups up and down the country. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Steve Baker has inadvertently started a phenomenon that will reinforce carbon net zero and ultimately be his downfall? There’s a lot of energy in our campaign. I wouldn’t bet against us."

This Author

Jessica Townsend is a founding member of Steve Baker Watch. 

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