Tory Climate Policies are ‘Socialist’ Says New Head of Policy at Influential Westminster Think Tank

Matthew Lesh will be joining the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free market think tank which played a significant role in advocating for a “hard” Brexit and has criticised the government’s approach to climate action as expensive and ineffective.
Tory Climate Policies are ‘Socialist’ Says New Head of Policy at Influential Westminster Think Tank
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The Institute of Economic Affairs has its headquarters on Lord North Street, Westminster. Credit: Des Blenkinsopp (CC BY-SA 2.0)

An influential think tank with close ties to MPs has hired a head of policy who called the government’s climate policies “socialist” and likened proposed green legislation to a “Soviet Five Year Plan”. 

Matthew Lesh, who was head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, this week confirmed he would be taking up a new role at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free market think tank with a history of criticising green government policies. 

The appointment comes after IEA director general Mark Littlewood co-hosted an “in-depth conversation” with chancellor Rishi Sunak at the Conservative Party conference last week, during which Littlewood quizzed Sunak on the government’s climate policies. It was one of at least ten IEA events at the party conference. 

In a statement posted by the IEA on Twitter, Lesh said he was “extremely excited” to be joining the think tank, adding: “The IEA kept the flame of liberty and classical economics alive against the stagnant post-war consensus.”

‘Five Year Plan’

The IEA has a record of opposing the government’s approach to climate change, which IEA director Mark Littlewood has described as too expensive and ineffective. Andy Mayer, IEA chief operating officer, on Saturday argued that the current energy crisis proves that the 2019 UK moratorium on fracking was an “extremely bad decision”.

A 2018 Greenpeace investigation revealed that the IEA had taken funding from British oil company BP since 1967. 

IEA director Mark Littlewood recently told Politico the IEA is planning “boot camps” with MPs “to present to them the way we see problems in the world today.” He said there has “never been greater urgency to re-inculcate free-market thinking inside the Conservative Party”.

Weeks before his appointment, Lesh wrote a column for the Telegraph criticising “top-down” government policies to tackle climate change, including bans on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and phasing out gas boilers, which he called “tools from the old socialist handbook”. 

He also wrote that the Environment Bill currently going through parliament has “a delightful Soviet Five Year Plan feel to it”. 

Lesh has argued that the private sector can solve the climate crisis, writing in 2019 that “climate change is a serious problem” but that “broadly speaking, the market system is perfectly capable of responding to these issues”.  

The same year, Lesh called environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion a “doomsday cult, devoid of any association with reality”. In his Telegraph column last month he said that while climate activists “are finally losing the war on the streets, their ideas have never been more influential in the halls of power”. 

Political Affiliations

The IEA played a significant role in advocating for a “hard” Brexit and was named by whistleblower Shahmir Sanni as one of nine organisations based in and around Westminster’s 55 Tufton Street that coordinated a campaign for a “hard” exit from the EU. DeSmog has previously mapped the extensive crossover between some prominent campaigners for Brexit and opposition to action on climate change. 

Liz Truss, who recently became foreign secretary, met with the IEA twice last year when she was international trade secretary, and later tried to remove the meetings from the public record. 

In 2019 the IEA claimed 14 members of Boris Johnson’s then-cabinet were involved in the group’s activities. 

The IEA also hosted a number of events featuring Tory MPs at this year’s Conservative Party conference. In one, Steve Baker, a leading opponent of the government’s net zero policies and a trustee of the climate science denying Global Warming Policy Foundation, claimed that much climate science is “contestable” and “sometimes propagandised”.

Molly Scott Cato, Green Party spokesperson on economy and finance, said: “While the IEA sound like a neutral, academic research institute they are in fact a shadowy organisation exercising a great deal of power and usually against the public interest. 

“We need to see the end of spokespeople from these secretly funded organisations offered access to top politicians and media platforms, to act as mouthpieces for the wealthy and for those who would hold back climate action.”

She added: “It’s clear that an urgent and just energy transition will require widespread government intervention. Attempts to prevent this by market ideologues will guarantee greater climate chaos and a dystopian future for us all.”

The IEA and Matthew Lesh have been contacted for comment, as has the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Update: The IEA and Matthew Lesh have been asked to provide written comment on the content of this story. 

Tory Climate Policies are ‘Socialist’ Says New Head of Policy at Influential Westminster Think Tank
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.

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