General Election 2019: Raucous hustings reveals Cambridge candidates’ climate policy strengths and weaknesses
A raucous climate and environment emergency hustings on Friday (November 22) saw four candidates for the Cambridge seat pitch for the crucial votes of those who want to see more action taken on climate breakdown.
Sharing a stage at Anglia Ruskin University were Labour’s Daniel Zeichner, Rod Cantrill of the Liberal Democrats, Green Party candidate Jeremy Caddick and Peter Dawe of the Brexit Party. The event was chaired by Terry Macalister, former energy editor for the Guardian.
The candidates were given five minutes to introduce themselves. The entrepreneur and farm-owning businessman Peter Dawe wryly described himself as “a superhero”, suggesting a vote for him would help save two billion lives.
“My understanding is that XR is talking about a sustainable human population of one billion people, and if you vote for me I can raise that to three billion.”
How? “Consumerism has to change - and you can forget about tourism,” said Mr Dawe.
Rod Cantrill said that the UK faces “two once-in-a-lifetime challenges - Brexit and climate change”. Mr Cantrill sees the two as linked. “Stopping Brexit is an absolute must because if we don’t then tackling climate change is going to be much more difficult - 80 per cent of our environment laws come from the EU,” he pointed out.
Daniel Zeichner invited the audience to look at his track record as the city’s MP. “I’ve always been a red-and-green politician,” he said after thanking Extinction Rebellion for “being inspiring and getting people to tell the truth”. Mr Zeichner unveiled a new policy signed off the previous day - Labour would scrap the Oxford-Cambridge expressway.
Jeremy Caddick said: “We have 10 years to change absolutely everything, from the way we produce our energy to how we produce our food.”
The Green Party’s manifesto states it will spend £100billion every year for 10 years on building a sustainable zero-carbon society.
“It’s a lot of money but still less than the government made available to the financial system, and if the financial system is worth that much, how much is the environment worth?” The comment that “BP and Shell need to be stopped in their tracks” earned the biggest cheer of the first round.
The Q&A produced a mix of jeers, gasps of disbelief, heckling, interruptions and laughter.
Peter Dawe said that the UK’s tragedy isn’t the unemployed, it’s “the poor buggers who have to go to work every day”.
“What about those of us who don’t have farms?” asked an audience member. Before Mr Dawe could answer the question, an audience member shouted out: “Russian money” to more mirth.
Jeremy Caddick’s advocacy for proportional representation produced applause. He proposed a “just transition” to a zero-carbon society via a “green new deal” and a citizens assembly. Daniel Zeichner added that “our system has some very severe power imbalances” which he said would be addressed by Labour.
“What the Conservatives are doing is what they always do - retain power and wealth,” he said.
Rod Cantrill tried to suggest that political parties need to work together on climate change. “Some parties have tried to co-operate...” he started, but the room filled with laughter.
Terry Macalister wanted questions about the role of corporations in climate breakdown. A member of the audience said: “Some people would rather see the end of the world rather than the end of capitalism” and added: “One of the candidates has BP as a client, and I’m not getting any feeling of confidence about that when we address the climate emergency - we should be keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”
Mr Cantrill, whose company, Millington Advisory Partners, advises on acquisitions and mergers, replied: “I worked on an advisory panel 15 years ago for BP - not on an oil project, it was for solar panels, and I’ve had no money from BP since.”
Another questioner, David Carter, seemed unhappy about this and asked about Mr Cantrill’s work for other clients including Ineos, which is now involved in fracking, and OMV, the oil and gas giant accused of involvement in war crimes in Sudan, and the Carlyle Group, a private equity group with former Saudi links that were highlighted by film-maker Michael Moore in the film Fahrenheit 9/11.
“One client like BP seems unfortunate but having four seems like carelessness,” said Mr Carter.
“All these companies we did projects for in the early 2000s,” Mr Cantrill replied. “We’re now moving towards green companies and the clients are now in wind turbine blades and tidal power and other companies focused on sustainable technologies, so I’ve worked for none of those companies for the last 15 years. I’m glad to put the record straight.
“We’re all on this journey and I admit I’ve got a long way to go as has everyone here. Has anyone accepted hospitality in the last 15 years? I’m not going to put that on a manifesto. I have no such clients now and no intention of working with fossil fuel companies going forward - my focus now is on wind, turbine and tidal.”
Mr Caddick noted: “Capitalism isn’t working even on its own terms. You cannot perpetuate growth on a finite planet. Oil companies are a significant part of the problem and I’ve been campaigning for Cambridge University to divest from fossil fuels [applause] because we need to be clear of fossil fuels. We simply need to put them out of business.”
Mr Macalister asked candidates about reversing colonialism and debt “in countries being destroyed by our policies”.
“I can’t say I see a solution,” said Mr Dawe. “The people who get it worst are the poor. To some extent we’ve got to sit here and be quite smug that we live in a developed country... because you’re not going to change…”
He added: “I live quite a modest life.” And he concluded some advice he’d seen on Twitter. “Party like there’s no tomorrow.”
Responding to a question on water security Mr Caddick said: “Water companies balance profit against leaking pipes. I was shocked to discover that for every three litres coming out of the tap one litre has leaked out along the way.”
The four candidates - the others were invited - deserve credit for their honesty and enthusiasm.
The full list of candidates standing in Cambridge for the General Election on December 12 is:
- Jeremy Caddick - Green Party
- Rod Cantrill - Liberal Democrat
- Peter Dawe - The Brexit Party
- Keith Garrett - Rebooting Democracy
- Miles Hurley - Independent
- Russell Perrin - Conservatives
- Jane Robins - Social Democratic Party
- Daniel Zeichner - Labour