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Climate Protest MP Tells Voters To Use Locals To Shift Net Zero Plans

Mayors Steve Rotheram, Tracy Brabin and Andy Burnham at last year's Convention of the North (Alamy)

5 min read

Former Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, who resigned over the government's plans to offer new oil and gas drilling licences, believes voters should "go local" to encourage policy to achieve net zero by 2050.

Skidmore stood down as a Conservative MP at the start of this year in protest of the government's Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, prompting an upcoming by-election in his seat in Kingswood. Following his resignation, Skidmore told PoliticsHome that he felt the mayoral and local authority elections in May would be as important – if not more important – than the upcoming general election in determining The Path To Net Zero

"The May [local and mayoral] elections are absolutely critical for delivering on net zero and reducing our emissions, and actually, the metro mayors can do far more, if empowered to do so, than national governments," he said.

"We need to go local if we want to actually succeed in delivering and implementing net zero and anyway when it comes to the general election, it doesn't really matter who wins because it's the responsibility of whoever gets in to deliver on our 2030 commitment to reduce our emissions by 68 per cent."

Skidmore explained that he had decided not to defect to another party rather than resign as an MP entirely as he believed that advocating for net zero should transcend party politics. Despite having been a Tory MP, he has been working with Labour Mayor for West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, on the agenda for the Convention for the North in March, as well as co-chairing a report with her on net zero power. 

Brabin agreed with Skidmore that as mayors, she and her counterparts were able to put "place over politics" when it came to delivering on net zero.

The Labour mayor said she was therefore fighting for further devolution, particularly around the skills and education agenda, which she believes is instrumental in ensuring the UK's regions can play their part in contributing towards net zero.

"I've got a job to do as a mayor, and actually, my challenges will be shared with Conservative mayors across the country, we've got different local priorities. Challenges and opportunities are different to coastal Cornwall or rural East Yorkshire, but fundamentally we all have our plan," she said. 

"When it is politicised around by-elections or prior to a big conference speech when we saw the pulling of the plan for HS2, this is where we have the problem; that it's being used as a political football."

Now that Skidmore has left behind his duties as an MP, he plans to embark on a "roadtrip" of sorts, in a bid to demonstrate the importance of cross-party action on net zero. He said he wanted to move the topic "out of an arena where politicians squabble a fixed amount of the pie".

"I'll support a Conservative mayor, I'll support a Labour mayor, if they're willing to focus on what needs to be done to decarbonise and insulate their housing supply, to build new green industrial facilities to bring that inward investment in," he continued.

Chris Skidmore was Minister for Energy and Clean Growth in 2019 (Alamy)
Chris Skidmore was Minister for Energy and Clean Growth in 2019 (Alamy)

In his mind, party politics was not as important as each individual candidate's commitment to recognising the "economic solutions" to the climate crisis.

But Steve Rotheram, Labour Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, disagreed with the idea that party politics does not matter and that mayoral elections would be more decisive than the general election.

"One is reliant on the other," he said.

"We want to do so much more than what we've already done, for instance, on ensuring that as many properties as we possibly can can be retrofitted. This is the problem with governments, it doesn't look strategically at something."

However, he said that when carrying out their work as mayors, they "never do things in a party political way". There is value, he said, in working with mayors from other parties, such as the Conservative West Midlands mayor Andy Street, especially when it helps to gain "credibility" for regional issues with the central government.

"We always look to see if we can put party politics to one side and we've been demonstrably successful in doing what we're doing because we've had a succession of ministers coming to us for our ideas and we can work collaboratively; which is different from when I was an MP, when most of it was about party political point scoring," he said. 

"You can put place first as a devolved area with a metro mayor."

Rotheram and Brabin told PoliticsHome that the devolved regions had a greater ability to understand and deliver on the unique strengths of their areas. While Rotheram wants Liverpool to become Britain's renewable energy coast, Brabin said that West Yorkshire's industrial past meant it was well-placed to lead in manufacturing to make the UK less reliant on foreign supply chains.

Both Brabin and Skidmore said that while the electoral cycle did mean governments can be prone to carrying out policies that are only relatively short-term in outlook, mayors perhaps have more freedom to create strategic long-term plans.

But Skidmore said that it was important to learn to operate within this cycle and create institutions and structures that can survive changes in government. In his Net Zero Review, published last year, a recommendation was put forward suggesting the Treasury commit to long-term spending plans across elections. The recommendation was not taken up.

Brabin and Rotheram said that the cross-party M10 Mayors group, which Brabin chairs, was a space where mayors could engage in cross-party working. They said that while Tory mayor for Birmingham Andy Street had attended, the only other Conservative mayor, Ben Houchen, was yet to attend a meeting.

Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Tory mayors Houchen and Street were approached for comment.

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