Why is the right silent over Peter Lilley's links to the oil industry?

The Tory MP the right wants to replace Tim Yeo as chair of the energy and climate change committee has been paid £70,500 by oil company Tethys Petroleum since 2012.

After being caught allegedly offering to advise energy companies for cash, Conservative MP Tim Yeo has bowed to the inevitable and stepped down as chair of the energy and climate change committee. It's true, as Fraser Nelson argues, that his appointment was wrong to begin with. Yeo is a paid director of three renewable energy companies - AFC Energy, Eco City Vehicles and TMO Renewables - and has earned more than £400,000 from the sector since 2009. If that isn't a conflict of interest, then nothing is.

But if Yeo isn't fit to lead the committee then neither is the man the right wants to replace him: Tory MP Peter Lilley. After criticising Yeo's business interests, Nelson wrote: "It’s not yet clear who’ll replace him but Peter Lilley, who is more of a climate realist, is the likely candidate. And a recent Spectator cover boy", while Guido Fawkes tweeted: "I for one welcome Peter Lilley as our new Energy and Climate Change Select Committee Chairman. Thanks to Labour for getting rid of Yeo."

In the event, it was Lib Dem Robert Smith, rather than Lilley, who took the chair when the committee met this morning. As Guido points out, Smith his own interests, with registrable shareholdings in Shell and Rio Tinto. But they pale in comparison to those of Lilley. The former Tory social security secretary ("I have a little list") is a paid director of Cayman Islands-based oil and gas company Tethys Petroleum and has received £70,500 since January 2012 for 180 hours' work "attending meetings and advising on business developments". He has also received share options worth at least $400,000. Again, if that's not a conflict of interest, nothing is. 

But, strangely, none of Lilley's supporters thought it fit to mention any of this. One possible explanation is that Lilley, unlike the green Yeo, is a self-described "global lukewarmist" and one of just three MPs who voted against the Climate Change Act in 2008. Where parliamentary ethics are concerned, it seems it's one standard for a friend and another for a foe. 

Conservative MP Peter Lilley was one of just three MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Want to beat Theresa May? First, accept that she's popular

The difficult truth for the centre and left, and advocates of a new party, is that people don't "vote for the Tories reluctantly".

An election campaign that has been short on laughs has been livened up by a modest proposal by an immodest man: the barrister Jolyon Maugham, who used to write about tax for the New Statesman as well as advising Eds Miliband and Balls, has set out his (now mothballed) plans for a new party called Spring.

The original idea was a 28-day festival (each day would be celebrated with the national costumes, food and drink of one of the European Union’s member states) culiminating in the announcement of the candidacy of Spring’s first parliamentary candidate, one Jolyon Maugham, to stand against Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead. He has reluctantly abandoned the plan, because there isn’t the time between now and the election to turn it around.

There are many problems with the idea, but there is one paragraph in particular that leaps out:

“Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Labour’s left and moderates are bent on one another’s destruction. No one knows what the Lib Dems are for – other than the Lib Dems. And we vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative.”

Even within this paragraph there are a number of problems. Say what you like about Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty but it seems hard to suggest that there is not a fairly large difference between the two – regardless of which one you think is which – that might perhaps be worth engaging with. There are fair criticisms of the Liberal Democrats’ uncertain start to this campaign but they have been pretty clear on their platform when they haven’t been playing defence on theological issues.

But the biggest problem is the last sentence: “We vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative”. A couple of objections here: the first, I am not sure who the “we” are. Is it disgruntled former Labour members like Maugham who threw their toys out of the pram after Corbyn’s second successive leadership victory? If you are voting for the Tories reluctantly, I have invented a foolproof solution to “voting for the Tories reluctantly” that has worked in every election I’ve voted in so far: it’s to vote against the Tories.  (For what it’s worth, Maugham has said on Twitter that he will vote for the Liberal Democrats in his home constituency.)

I suspect, however, that the “we” Maugham is talking about are the voters. And actually, the difficult truth for the left and centre-left is that people are not voting for Theresa May “reluctantly”: they are doing it with great enthusiasm. They have bought the idea that she is a cautious operator and a safe pair of hands, however illusory that might be. They think that a big vote for the Tories increases the chance of a good Brexit deal, however unlikely that is.

There is not a large bloc of voters who are waiting for a barrister to turn up with a brass band playing Slovenian slow tunes in Maidenhead or anywhere in the country. At present, people are happy with Theresa May as Prime Minister. "Spring" is illustrative of a broader problem on much of the centre-left: they have a compelling diagnosis about what is wrong with Corbyn's leadership. They don't have a solution to any of Labour's problems that predate Corbyn, or have developed under him but not because of him, one of which is the emergence of a Tory leader who is popular and trusted. (David Cameron was trusted but unpopular, Boris Johnson is popular but distrusted.) 

Yes, Labour’s position would be a lot less perilous if they could either turn around Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity ratings or sub him out for a fresh, popular leader. That’s one essential ingredient of getting the Conservatives out of power. But the other, equally important element is understanding why Theresa May is popular – and how that popularity can be diminished and dissipated. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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