Talking Point: Conflicted interests

Written by on 19 June 2013

The latest MP plunged into the murky depths of the Westminster lobbying scandal could prove to be a very big scalp indeed.

Tim Yeo, the chairman of Westminster’s Energy and Climate Change Committee, was caught on camera, apparently admitting to coaching a paying client on how to influence MPs. Claims which he strenuously denies.

He also appeared to have boasted in the undercover sting by Sunday Times reporters that his prominent role meant he was close to “all the key players in the UK in government”.

It is not the first time his financial interests in green energy companies have been raised, but each time he has refuted them and denied any conflict of interest.

In an interview with this magazine in January, he said: “My views on renewable energy were formed long before I had these interests. I developed an interest on this subject in the early 1990s and I have not changed my views about the need for more low carbon energy.”

He added: “This is something which my peers on the committee are the best judge of and if they expressed any concern about this I’d listen carefully to what they had to say.” Well, he now will have to listen very carefully to what other MPs make of the current development after referring himself to the Parliamentary Standards Committee – while still insisting he had not broken any rules.

As an ex-Tory minister who admitted he had no further political ambition, Yeo, who has stepped aside from the chair while investigations take place, has felt confident to challenge his own party and even the Prime Minister.

Earlier this month he staged an attempted rebellion in the House of Commons over the Energy Bill, with an attempt to set a clean energy target for 2030.

The comings and goings of those politicians who influence energy and environment policy is under constant scrutiny, particularly if there is any suggestion that it could strengthen the perception that the Westminster Government is buckling under pressure from the Treasury over plans to favour a ‘dash for gas’ rather than commit to seriously addressing climate change. As a firm advocate of greener energy, Yeo would be one less notable voice.

Tensions over the environment are high, particularly over the placing of wind farms and campaigners – in Scotland too – are quick to grasp at any suggestion of conspiracy. These allegations will do nothing to allay that fear.

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