The Conservatives have been window dressing their commitment to climate change for a long while. But their policies and actions are as rotten as the compost heaps at the bottom of many people’s gardens.
Most Conservatives on Shropshire Council don’t get climate change and don’t get that tackling it is a local emergency as well as a national and international emergency. Their approach to development is fossil fuelled, building huge new roads such as the North West Relief Road and lusting to extend the M54 into Shropshire. They worry that going green will damage the economy not realising that the future of our local economy and of economies everywhere is green.
This needs to change. Whoever is in power after today, the council leadership must appoint a cabinet member to whose sole responsibility is tackle the climate emergency, greening the council and greening Shropshire’s economy.
Tackling the climate emergency is overseen by cabinet member Dean Carroll who also must deal with health and adult social care. I don’t doubt Carrol’s abilities but the vast portfolio means that climate change and greening are marginalised in the cabinet’s decision making process.
That’s not the main problem. That lies in the council leadership. The first council leader in 2009, Keith Barrow, was a climate sceptic of the Owen Paterson mode. The second, Malcolm Pate was a caretaker. Peter Nutting, the current leader is now only reluctantly accepting that the council must become green, though not at the expense of new roads and development that is barely green.
It doesn’t matter what Dean Carroll thinks about the environment, all the shots on policy direction are called by Peter Nutting and cabinet members that don’t support his increasingly outdated views will be shown the door. That is undoubtedly why we saw a debacle over the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE) Bill at the last meeting of the council in February.
The cross-party bill asks the UK to take responsibility for its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, to actively restore biodiverse habitats in the UK and to stop damage to the environment through the production, transportation and disposal of the goods we consume.
A straightforward motion asking the council to support the bill was submitted by Julian Dean (Green) and supported by Kate Halliday (Labour) and the Lib Dem group.
Everyone had assumed that the motion, which required no more than the council writing an expressing of support for the bill would be passed.
But the Conservatives were not having it. Dean Carrol proposed an amendment referring the matter for deliberation by a task and finish group claiming, “there is no doubt this is a technical subject.” Since when is common sense a technical subject? He admitted: “I can anticipate that this will be claimed to be kicking this into the long grass and that this is a wrecking amendment.” Yes. That much was obvious. He then pleaded that the council could not consider all the private members bills in parliament because there are literally hundreds at any one time. Where did he get that from? The Commons allocates time for only around seven private members bills in any session and those selected in the Lords rarely get any time for debate. And we were not of course asking the council to consider all private members bills. Just one. But it suits Shropshire Council to exaggerate in order to procrastinate. Why deal with the climate emergency today when it can be dealt with the day after tomorrow is the leadership’s attitude.
I urged the council to reject Carroll’s amendment. I was followed by David Minnery. He is the Conservative member for Market Drayton West until Monday. He has been deselected by the Conservatives and is standing as an independent against Conservative candidates.
At the time of the meeting, he was the cabinet member for finance. He opposed the motion to support the bill saying:
“I cannot support anything that effectively writes a blank cheque. The very thought that Shropshire should be taking responsibility for everybody’s carbon emissions and all the implications for costs that may go with that is too great to enable us to just say oh yes, we support the general thrust of this.”
Saying he did support the general thrust of the bill, he said he had grave concerns about the implication for this council and its finances.
What planet was he on? Not a rapidly warming Planet Earth for sure. Julian Dean responded that he was not sure what Councillor Minnery was on about. (None of us were.) The council was being asked to send a couple of letters and if the council were concerned about the stamps, he would pay for them. He pointed out that the council already has a climate change task and finish group but it hasn’t met since 2019.
The amendment went to the vote without the Speaker, Vince Hunt, calling Kate Halliday to speak. (Hunt always seems confused about the rules). The voting was online so we could not see who voted for or against.
After too short a time, the Chief Monitoring Officer said over half of members had voted and there were 26 votes for the wrecking amendment and 16 against. At that point only two-thirds of the members present had voted but the Speaker took that count as the final vote. The second vote, which makes the amendment the substantive motion, was declared when there were 33 votes for the task and finish group, with six against and three abstentions. Again, only two-thirds of councillors had voted before the vote was declared.
This is typical of the Conservatives at Shropshire Council. Most don’t care about tackling climate change. They don’t care about democracy either, calling votes before all members have had a chance to vote. That’s a bad way to run a council and a bad way to tackle climate change.