A Conservative climate change minister has racked up a £22,000 bill on taxpayer-funded plane tickets in just three months. Greg Barker visited Tanzania, Kenya, the UAE, China, Hong Kong, Seoul and Stockholm between April and June 2014, weeks before standing down as a minister and announcing his retirement from politics, the Sun has reported.
In 2010, Barker launched the Green Deal, the coalition government’s plan to help Britain become more energy efficient, saying “For the Coalition Government, tackling climate change, securing our future energy supplies and making an ambitious transition to a low carbon, high growth economy is an urgent and vital task.”
Yet curbing air travel was clearly not on his agenda. A former PR man, it was Barker who engineered the infamous “hug a husky” picture of David Cameron in the Arctic circle, accompanying him on the trip. He has since insisted that his commitment to renewable energy technology isn’t just an election ruse. Upon being made Energy and Climate Change minister when his good friend Cameron became PM, he spoke of his ambitions to turn Britain into the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy“.
Commenting on the recent flights, TaxPayers’ Alliance spokesman Andy Silvester said: “Politicians who lecture us about our own energy use should practice what they preach. Jetting off to exotic destinations must liven up ministerial life, but taxpayers will wonder whether video technology could have offered better value.”
And Labour’s Stephen Doughty MP said: “To spend tens of thousands on travel just weeks before the minister quit looks like waste when families are struggling to make ends meet.”
Official figures released by the Cabinet Office revealed that 259 first class flights taken by department mandarins were paid for by the public last year, the majority of which were booked by the Ministry of Defence. They managed to spend £69 million on plane tickets overall, including 207 first class flights.
Mr Barker was one of the first Conservative politicians to run up against Ukip, when Nigel Farage stood against him in the Battle and Bexhill seat during the 2001 election. Speaking to the Telegraph last January, he described Farage as “a very serious opponent,” and “quite charming on a personal level,” but said that “when he [Farage] engaged in debates he became much more ideological and the mask slipped.”
“The most unpleasant thing about Ukip were the people who arrived in the constituency, skinheads from London, people who were clearly veterans of the far-right fringe, and who scared off a lot of the very decent naturally Ukip sympathisers in Bexhill,” he added.
He also described the expenses scandal as a “personal betrayal” for Conservatives, as the details had been published by the Telegraph. “How would Labour MPs feel if the Daily Mirror had plunged a dagger into the PLP? […] I don’t think it makes the job of an MP any easier.”
And he recounted his time as a minister, saying that he “loved” the travel. He also enjoyed negotiating, particularly when it came to persuading his American colleague that “climate change is not a Trojan horse for paid-up lefties”.
Mr Barker will be stepping down as a member of parliament at the next election, after which he plans to “Go on holiday!” and work “partly here, partly abroad.”