Have Conservative ministers lost the battle on sewage? Once again, Tory MPs have been engulfed by a tide of fury from campaigners and constituents who say they’ve ‘voted in favour of dumping sewage’ in rivers and the sea. This is not the first, or indeed the second, time they’ve been on the end of these accusations, and frustration is bubbling over in the party.
I’ve been passed some WhatsApp exchanges in which backbenchers have been kicking up a stink about the way ministers and officials keep failing to roll the pitch on sewage ahead of key votes and debates. The latest row concerns a deferred division on 25 January on water regulations, which set a target for an 80 per cent reduction in phosphates in rivers by 2038, all of which sounds very technical.
Deferred divisions take place without a debate in the Commons, which means they are quick and easily overlooked. However, the way this one was then packaged up by the Liberal Democrats and Labour was that ‘new regulations passed by Conservative MPs will allow water companies to continue dumping sewage into our rivers and seas for another 15 years’. Now that sounds scary – it went viral.
In these WhatsApp messages, MPs rounded on Environment Secretary Therese Coffey to complain about the way they’d been left once again to defend themselves from a deluge of anger from celebrities and opposition MPs on social media. Robert Courts was irritated that something he’d posted back in September at the time of the last sewage row remained true now. He added: ‘We have walked into another social media drive-by on sewage because nobody thought to look for the obvious bear traps in advance, and avoid them.
‘All of these lines, graphics etc could have been commissioned in advance and all backbenchers tee-d up to make the arguments as the vote happened.