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Gloves Off As Lib Dem and R4GV Coalition Scrap Over Fossil Fuel Vote

Published on: 13 Dec, 2022
Updated on: 13 Dec, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

A motion to request Surrey Pension Fund moves away from fossil fuels investments by 2030 was lost on Tuesday, December 6 as Lib Dem and R4GV coalition partners accused each other of inaction over climate change.

In a signal that the battle for the May 2023 borough council elections had started, Zoe Franklin, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, complained of “difficulties of getting meaningful action on climate change passed by a no-overall-control council”.

In a stinging riposte, the R4GV leader said his party preferred “real action over virtue signalling motions that achieve nothing”. He added: “They [Lib Dems] are more about words than action, remember that in May 2023.”.

The vote was tied by 13 votes for and 13 votes against with 11 abstentions. The mayor, Dennis Booth (R4GV, Christchurch) declined to use his casting vote and the motion failed. The vote was mainly cast on party lines with ten Lib Dems supporting the motion. Five R4GV and seven Conservatives voted against.

George Potter proposed the motion on fossil fuels.

The lead for climate change for GBC, George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham and Guildford East) said it was not a controversial motion which aligned with the council’s values. In a jibe at those abstaining, he said: “Choosing not to express an opinion is expressing an opinion.”

In a statement to The Dragon, Potter said: “Fundamentally the vote was a question of what our values are and which ones we want to prioritise. Given the overwhelming vote in favour of declaring a climate emergency in 2019, I had honestly hoped the motion would prove uncontentious, but the vote illustrated that different councillors have very different values and principles.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Deputy council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said he didn’t feel “money in the Surrey Pension fund is anything to do with councillors”.  He said “he would support a motion suggesting Surrey set up a sub-fund without fossil fuel investment and offer investors the choice but Potter ignored the idea.

Bigmore continued: “As a general point R4GV prefer real action over virtue signalling motions that achieve nothing, the Lib Dems passed a motion declaring a Climate Emergency three and a half years ago, however three and a half years on we still don’t have an adopted Climate Change Action Plan.

“They are more about words than action, remember that in May 2023.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

GGG leader Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford) said they abstained from the motion. He said a Google search “shows this is not a local Lib Dem motion but yet another pushed by Lib Dem central office and therefore is political.”  GBC, he said, have no “real power or even a vote” on the pension fund.

“GBC has already declared a Climate Emergency but on many occasions Lib Dems have not given due weight to this when assessing planning applications which will add to carbon emissions whether through developments with gas boilers to ones heavily car-dependent or with consequences for biodiversity and nature.

“GGG call for serious action by GBC on the areas that they can directly control and make a real contribution in the fight against climate change rather than political gesturing.”

Cllr Diana Jones

Diana Jones (Green Party, Tillingbourne) said: “The oil industry has been outwitting the rest of us since the 1950s when it was first discovered that the gasses released by burning fossil fuels was the major driver behind heating the atmosphere.

“The oil industry’s response was to employ ‘scientists’ to cast doubt on the science of global warming. That was until the facts become impossible to deny.

“Now they talk about ‘investing’ in green technologies. This investment frequently only involves one or two per cent of their vast profits, so just another way of keeping the oil flowing.

“Pension funds don’t want to be left with stranded assets, so it’s in the interests of both planet and people to divest from fossil fuels. It sends a message to the government as well as to The City. The more signals the better… the very best being at the next general election.

Brian Creese, chair of the Guildford Labour Party.

Guildford Labour Party chair Brian Creese defended Angela Gunning’s (Labour, Stoke) abstention saying: “The Labour Party is committed to creating a fairer, greener future and establishing an industrial strategy which puts green energy at its heart for the benefit of future generations.

“Sadly, money given to private energy companies making token noises about green sources has no such accountability, and their prices reflect market forces, not people’s needs.

“A Labour government would establish Great British Energy, an energy company owned by the public which could be trusted by all the political parties to create green energy at a not-for-profit price for consumers. Although Labour’s Angela Gunning felt it important to stand by the council’s current pension commitments, the direction for Labour is absolutely clear and we will not support any further investment in fossil fuels.”

The Conservatives were invited to comment.

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test 2 Responses to Gloves Off As Lib Dem and R4GV Coalition Scrap Over Fossil Fuel Vote

  1. Jemma Thomas Reply

    December 14, 2022 at 9:18 am

    I always get the “icks” when someone doing something net positive is accused of virtue signalling.

    A thing is either good or it isn’t and we shouldn’t be putting people off trying to do good by throwing crass labels at them. It’s more indicative of the lack of virtue on the part of the accuser I would say.

    And as for the inexcusable lack of action on climate – wasn’t the R4GV deputy leader of the council in fact its leader for much of this period?

    I believe until recently the Lib Dems only had leadership of the council when they were required to focus all energies on steering us through a global pandemic. Something I think we can all agree they did admirably.

    • Joss Bigmore Reply

      December 14, 2022 at 3:46 pm

      For reference, I took over the leadership in late September 2020, for 2 years, which covered a significant amount of the pandemic period. However, I have to say that the Council Officers deserve the majority of praise for the admirable GBC response.

      Joss Bigmore is the leader of R4GV and borough concillor for Christchurch ward.

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