The former Environment Secretary airs his highly sceptical views about climate change. Photo: Getty
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Former Environment Secretary: climate change forecasts are “wildly exaggerated”

The Tory MP and former cabinet secretary Owen Paterson voices his highly sceptical views on climate change and energy.

The former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who lost his job in the government’s summer reshuffle this year, will call climate change forecasts “consistently and wildly exaggerated” in a speech today. Although he accepts the “main points of greenhouse theory”, he will question the consensus about how urgent the situation is:

Over the past 35 years, the earth’s atmosphere has warmed nothing like as fast as forecast, and over the last 18 years it has not warmed at all, according to some sources.

The Conservative MP’s sceptical views on global warming are no secret, and he could hardly contain his distaste for onshore wind farms even when serving in the cabinet. He has since referred to the environment lobby as the “Green Blob”, in an echo of Michael Gove’s mockery of critics in the education profession when he was Education Secretary.

Paterson is now clearly using the freedom provided by his relatively new seat in the backbenches to unleash the extent of his belief that government energy policy will “fail to keep the lights on”.

He is delivering a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the think tank thought to be a hub of climate change denial headed by arch sceptic and former Chancellor Nigel Lawson.

Paterson will condemn the government’s “blind adhesion” to carbon emissions targets, and call for the Climate Change Act’s legally-binding target to be suspended:

The 2050 target commits us to a huge expansion of electricity generation capacity, requiring vast investment.

Instead, Paterson is expected to champion fracking, combined heat and power plants, and “small modular nuclear reactors”.

He will add that it was “complete nonsense” that he was unable to repeal the hunting ban when in cabinet.

This intervention is significant because Paterson represents a Tory voice far away even from the alleged “green crap” of post-husky David Cameron. On the party’s right wing, Paterson speaks for a number of Conservative MPs, and voters, disgruntled with the leadership in general. Its commitment to the 2008 Climate Change Act means politicians like Paterson can tell horror stories to rural voters about wind farms, other renewable energy sources and the cost to the taxpayer of a government attempting to be environmentally friendly.

There was some chatter at Conservative party conference about Paterson being a potential stalking horse for the Tory party leadership, possibly ready to spring into action if the party loses the Rochester and Strood by-election in November. Although this is just a rumour, Paterson is certainly clearly differentiating himself from the party leadership he once served.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

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