Ah Kemi Badenoch: the Saffron Walden slayer of shibboleths who has electrified the Tory leadership race. The former equalities minister has gone from near-unknown to standard-bearer of the right during the past fortnight. She is now seeking to pull off a shock upset and overhaul Liz Truss in the MPs’ ballot today. Much of Badenoch’s appeal comes from her perceived ability to say home truths and communicate her views clearly and coherently.
So it’s all the more of a shame then that Badenoch appears to lack such candour when it comes to the thorny issue of the current government target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. When she launched her campaign last Tuesday, Badenoch was highly-critical of the policy and its accompanying billions in green energy commitments, arguing that:
Too many policies like net zero targets set up with no thought to the effects on industries in the poorer parts of this country. And the consequence is simply to displace the emissions of other countries. Unilateral economic disarmament. That is why we need change and that is why I’m running to be leader. The Prime Minister should tell the truth, because the truth will set us free.
But at yesterday’s hustings, held by the Conservative Environment Network, Badenoch told COP26 president Alok Sharma that she backed the current target and vowed not to unpick current climate commitments. One attendee also told Mr S that she spoke ‘powerfully’ about the effect that climate change has had on Nigeria, where she spent part of her childhood.
Yet mere hours after this appearance in front of MPs, Badenoch then went on TalkTV to shift her position. Asked about the current 2050 target, she said:
Yes, there are circumstances where I would delay it, but I think that the target itself is a bit of a red herring. We need to look at the plan. We keep talking about an aspiration, we keep doing government by announcement, government by press release. What I want to see is what is a reasonable plan to get to net zero and to solve the climate change problem. I believe that there is climate change changing our environment and that is something I think that we do need to tackle and I’ve seen that firsthand, but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t bankrupt our economy. We’ve got to take people with us. The legislation we’ve put in is for 2050, that is a long, long time in the future. Practically none of us will still be here to be held accountable for it. So I think it’s a red herring. What would happen if we moved it to 2060 or 2070? We’re not going to be here. Let’s be realistic.
Such stuff may contain a lot of sense but it’s a clear shift in her position from just a few hours earlier, when she told colleagues that she backed 2050 as the target. Her supporters might protest her innocence but will MPs feel let down? Badenoch has succeeded thus far because of her plain-speaking, no-nonsense approach. Let’s hope her stance on net zero is no exception to that.