9 December 2010
The citizens of Derby, Leicester, Northampton, Lincoln and Nottingham are currently being treated to the sight of giant posters in prominent locations, featuring the face of Roger Helmer, the Conservative MEP for the East Midlands constituency.
Against a background of wind turbines, the portrait of Helmer is accompanied by the slogan: "Green climate change policies: Probably unnecessary, Certainly ineffectual, Ruinously expensive."
"Probably Unnecessary" might be a somewhat less than convincing phrase for a politician to use when trying to win over potential voters, but what is, perhaps, more striking about the two-week poster campaign is that it has been launched outside of an election cycle. Roger Helmer, a prominent climate sceptic politician, has decided to launch the highly unusual campaign to coincide with the Cancún climate talks, an event which he is currently attending. Here's a sample of the campaign press release:
An East Midlands MEP has launched a campaign to challenge what he calls "Climate Hysteria". Conservative Roger Helmer MEP believes that current changes in climate are entirely driven by natural forces, and that policies designed to mitigate climate change by cutting CO2 emissions, although hugely expensive, will achieve nothing. He explains his thinking on his web-site at http://www.rogerhelmer.com/.
He will be unveiling billboards in major cities across the region...as soon as the sub zero temperatures currently affecting the United Kingdom subside. The poster campaign is backed by electronic media, including a banner on the popular Conservative Home website. The icy temperatures, which prevented the billboards being erected on time, highlight the claim that the green policies are probably unnecessary...
He notes that recent opinion polls show that a majority of citizens in the UK and the USA no longer believe the hype on climate, and the public are increasingly tired of being blamed by politicians and the media for a non-problem. They are especially reluctant to pay green taxes and higher power bills "to combat climate change". Helmer notes that increasing numbers of scientists are also challenging the climate orthodoxy. A recent reader poll in the prestigious journal Scientific American showed 77% no longer believe that human activity causes climate change.
Anyone familiar with the climate sceptic's oeuvre will recognise such statements, which tend to delight in the picking of cherries and revel in the promotion of half-truths. (For example, the Scientific American online poll was aggressively targeted by climate sceptics blogs to warp the result - a point conveniently not noted by Helmer.)
For those that enjoy a good session of climate sceptic bingo, head over to the full statement on Helmer's website. (Tip: for extra enjoyment, see how many statements you can find that tally with Skeptical Science's list of climate sceptic canards.) Helmer even modestly lists his own book (published by the anti-EU Bruges Group) first in the list of recommended further reading, a list which, itself, says more about Helmer's political predilections than it does climate science. (But isn't that ever the case with climate sceptics and their sources of supporting evidence?)
That Helmer has opted to push his own brand of climate scepticism on his East Midlands constituents is not entirely surprising. But poster campaigns don't come cheap. So one obvious question is how is the campaign being funded?
A call to his office reveals that the two-week campaign has cost £9,000. And the source of the funding? I'm told that the "information fund" of the European Conservative and Reformist Group, of which all the Conservative MEPs are members, has covered the costs. Indeed, each poster carries the ECR logo, as the rules of the funding allocation demands. Another call to the ECR's office in Brussels confirms that the group - as is the case with all seven of the EU parliament's political groups - is entirely funded by the parliament. (A noteworthy aside: during the televised leaders debates before the general election in May, Nick Clegg described the Conservatives' allies in Europe as containing "nutters, anti-semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes". Helmer, of course, has his own interpretation of what the term "homophobia" really means.)
So, what we appear to have is a Conservative MEP who, as a TaxPayers' Alliance supporter, likes nothing more than complaining about how the EU loves wasting taxpayers money, using just such a source of funding to buy prime advertising space to promote his own pet beliefs and theories. After all, Roger Helmer's stance on climate change does not represent the views of either the Conservative Party, the ECR, or even the grouping of Conservative MEPs who call themselves "Conservative in the European Parliament". We know this because they all say so.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party who studied Helmer's poster and press release said: "This does not represent the view of the Conservative Party."
A spokesman for the ECR said: "Mr Helmer does not represent the ECR Group on environmental issues." (As you might expect, the ECR certainly has some gripes about proposed EU climate policy, but doesn't seem to question the science that underpins our understanding of climate change, or the basic principle that a 'business as usual' approach is not sensible.)
And the Conservatives in the European Parliament website is currently heavily trailing a link to a page which states: "Conservative MEPs are committed to tackling climate change and enhancing the quality of the environment in the UK, Europe and the wider world. We are working towards a truly low carbon economy and are committed to increasing energy efficiency and improving our energy security."
It would appear, therefore, that Helmer is speaking for no one other than himself when he talks about climate change. The poster campaign, which has been funded with the same EU taxpayers' money he is otherwise so eager to see not wasted, represents not the views of a political party or grouping, but that of one man. Imagine if each and everyone of the taxpayers he evidently wishes to see protected from the EU's largesse had £9,000 of EU funds to spend on a poster campaign to promote their own personal views.
The ECR says that the funding for the poster campaign was signed off by the ECR's UK national delegation treasurer, who is currently the Conservative MEP for London, Syed Kamall. The ECR also says that it does not vet or stipulate the message being promoted in any campaign reliant on its "information fund".
We stand for a fairer society, and making the green option the easiest and cheapest one is part of that. We think ‘Fair is Worth Fighting For' on many issues including:
Community - Greens campaign to revitalise our communities and want to save public services from cuts.
Education - We would ensure education is free, including school meals.
Environment - Greens will make it easier to recycle and compost household waste and help you reduce your waste.
Transport - We will prioritise schemes for pedestrians, cyclists, bus and rail travel.
Health - Greens want publicly run care that is properly funded, free at the point of use for all.