Jolly Green Hypocrite: Tory MP earns £140,000 from green firms and wants to carpet Britain wind farms (except in his own back yard
He’s the Tory who chairs the Commons climate committee but earns £140,000 from green firms. And he wants to carpet Britain in wind farms (except in his own backyard).
During a debate in London a few weeks ago organised by a think-tank, most Tory MPs were unwilling to make the case for spending even more money on green energy in a time of austerity.
But there was one.
Tim Yeo jumped at the chance to display his eco-friendly credentials. In fact, the only surprise is that Yeo, a nondescript Environment Minister in John Major’s Government, didn’t charge for his contribution.
For Mr Yeo has been milking his connections to the green industry for years.
In the past year, he raked in £140,000 from directorships with six ‘green’ companies which are developing expensive renewable energies.
One senior Tory figure said: ‘Every time Tim moralises about why we must go more green, I hear tills ringing in the background.’
Of course that would be entirely his business, but for one thing: he is chairman of the influential Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, which is supposed to examine Britain’s approach to renewable energy with a cold and neutral gaze, unencumbered by outside interests.
By contrast, the Commons’ other 22 select committee chairmen, on subjects ranging from health to defence, have scrupulously avoided any potential rows over their business interests.
Little wonder, then, that there are now moves by MPs to depose Mr Yeo from the chairmanship of his committee. Allies of Mr Yeo, the MP for South Suffolk since 1983, insist he will give up the committee – which he is paid just £15,000 a year to chair – rather than resign his lucrative directorships.
Only last month Mr Yeo burnished his green credentials again as the sole Tory to attack Chancellor George Osborne when he cut subsidies for a new generation of wind farms.
‘We have to work harder to find places where wind farms are acceptable to communities,’ he said. ‘Frankly, we need to be prepared to bribe them.’
Unless, of course, the community happens to be in his backyard. At a public meeting in September, 2010, he backed his own constituents, who were understandably outraged by plans for a wind farm at the Chedburgh airfield beauty spot.
‘I understand why anybody in a community as beautiful as this will be concerned. Onshore wind turbines are visually a very considerable intrusion on any landscape. This happens to be one of the most beautiful parts of my constituency. There should be local choice in these issues,’ Mr Yeo said.
‘There are some parts of the country where people are perfectly happy to have onshore wind farms. In parts of Scotland, they are quite popular.’
So the champion of the renewables energy industry is willing to forget his principles and the danger to the planet when it comes to currying favour in his own constituency.
But this isn’t the first time the smoothly self-assured Yeo has been open to charges of hypocrisy.
In an interview on GMTV in 2007 he urged the then Labour Government to price internal flights beyond the reach of the average family. ‘There is no reason why people should fly around the UK from London to Edinburgh . . . … Manchester . . . … Newcastle. Those flights should be knocked out.
We should tax domestic flights heavily and use the money to improve the railways.’
Only a few months earlier Mr Yeo, in his capacity as golf columnist for the Financial Times, played at three of Britain’s finest courses in one day courtesy of the private jet company NetJets. There were also golf trips to Gibraltar, New Jersey, San Diego and Cuba. Hardly essential work for a backbench MP.
Timothy Stephen Kenneth Yeo, 67, son of a radiologist, had a privileged upbringing, attending Charterhouse School and studying history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
In 1970 he married the vivacious Diane Pickard, a doctor’s daughter, who worked in children’s music at the BBC. He was in the City but his company, Security Selections, was subjected to a Stock Exchange investigation over its share dealings in a company called Bonsor Engineering. His firm was acquitted of any wrongdoing by the Department of Trade in 1977.
Bowing out of the Square Mile in 1980, he excelled in his new role as director of the Spastics Society, increasing donations from £8 million to £23.5 million in two years.
He was selected for the safe seat of South Suffolk in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1990 that Yeo, on the dripping wet liberal side of the Tory Party, finally became a minister.
Few political observers can recall anything of any significance about his time as a minister in the Health and Environment departments.
Instead Mr Yeo, who as a new MP campaigned to end discrimination against illegitimate children, is remembered for his dramatic fall from grace at Christmas 1993 over the revelations he had fathered children out of wedlock.
It emerged the suave, smoothtalking minister had a six-month-old child, Claudia Marie, with his mistress Julia Stent, a Tory councillor in East London. He then admitted he had also fathered a child, which was immediately put up for adoption, during a student relationship at Cambridge.
Only months before the scandal broke Mr Yeo, who had a son and a daughter with his wife, had enthusiastically applauded John Major’s speech at the Tory conference when he unveiled his new Back to Basics policy. It was designed to usher in a new era of traditional family values.
There was a major revolt in his Suffolk constituency, and the embattled minister was forced to resign his post because of the double standards in his private life. Thus Yeo became the first ministerial victim of the Back to Basics policy.
Two years later, at his 50th birthday party, the family had recovered enough to put up a banner: ‘Fifty but frisky.’ His wife, who became chief executive of the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, stayed with him. He regularly sees Claudia Marie, who worked briefly for him in his Commons office.
After such a public humiliation, his career as a frontline politician was apparently over. But he astutely backed William Hague for the party leadership in 1997, even though as an ardent pro-European it was assumed he would back the former Chancellor Ken Clarke. He was recalled to the frontbench by Hague and his last role was shadow environment secretary.
When he returned to the backbenches, Mr Yeo exploited connections and contacts forged through his frontbench work in the environment department under Major.
Today, he is regarded by many of his colleagues as insufferably pompous. With his thinning grey hair, ruddy cheeks, well-upholstered frame and plummy voice, he looks increasingly like a character from The Archers.
But the haughty Yeo has had the last laugh on colleagues who continue to enjoy high office, for he has consistently earned more from his outside interests than just about any other MP at Westminster.
His first big directorship was with Genus, a public company involved in biotechnology, where he served on the board from 2002-2004. He is director of ITI Energy Limited, which converts waste into biofuel; AFC Energy, which develops alkaline fuel cell technology; Group Eurotunnel, serving on its Environment and Safety Committee; and Eco City Vehicles.
He is also chairman of TMO Renewables, a consultant for Regenesis, a Californian company which markets technologies for the restoration of natural resources, and president of the British Renewable Energy Association.
And his campaign to try to save Britain from the dangers of global warming is paying rich dividends. Last year, he grossed around £250,000 – including his MP’s salary of £65,000 as well as other interests – dwarfing the £140,000 paid to the Prime Minister.
It’s no wonder he can afford a large house in East Bergholt in his Suffolk constituency, as well as a London flat by Vauxhall Bridge with panoramic views of the Thames. Curiously, the ownership of the house is registered to a company called Locana Corporation, of which Mr Yeo and his wife are the only directors. (Though of course he may have his own reasons, many individuals who use a company to buy a house often do so because they can avoid stamp duty when they purchase it.)
Yet none of the properties has any visible eco-friendly devices such as solar panels or wind turbines, for which Mr Yeo professes such admiration. (Even the Prime Minister managed to put a turbine on the roof of his house in West London.)
Despite his blossoming outside interests (there is also the £30,000 a year he is paid to advise an educational group in Dubai) he found time to speak in the Commons chamber just four times in the past year, which is well below average, but at least he was consistent. All his comments were on environment-related issues.
When he won the ‘most green MP’ award last year, the judges referred to the fact that his climate change committee ‘has repeatedly pushed the government to adopt more ambitious and effective green policies’.
But that cut no ice with heavyweight Tory figures such as Lord Lawson, one of the most successful of the post-war chancellors. He said: ‘It is sad that fashionable obsession can lead an intelligent man like Tim Yeo into such a farrago of factual error and economic illiteracy.
‘The reason why there is no economic case for going green is simple. It is that green energy is hugely more expensive than carbon-based energy, it always has been and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.’
Lord Lawson is right. But don’t expect Tim Yeo to take his advice – not if his bank manager has got anything to do with it.
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