Easy being Green? How our MPs' voting records stand up to the Kermit Test

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, at the United Na

Boris Johnson speaks to the UN General Assembly in New York this week. Inset: Kermit. - Credit: PA

This week at the UN General Assembly in New York, Boris Johnson announced - to bemused silence from fellow world leaders - that Kermit the Frog was wrong when he sang “It’s not easy being green”, declaring instead that to be green is “easy, lucrative and right.”

The prime minister was burnishing his green credentials ahead of the next major global climate change summit, COP26, which the UK will host in Glasgow beginning at the end of next month.

In light of this, we examined a cross-section of votes by Norfolk MPs on climate-related legislation which has come before them in recent years. 

Green activists in Norfolk have questioned whether our MPs will represent worried constituents and put pressure on the government to achieve real progress at COP26.

It comes as Lynn and West Norfolk Council voted unanimously earlier this month to declare a “climate emergency”.

Rupert Read, a former Extinction Rebellion spokesperson from Norwich, said: “We’re very vulnerable here in East Anglia, to sea level rise but before that to flooding and drought, and in that context the performance of our MPs has to be judged as - by and large - completely lamentable.

“The main exception is Clive Lewis who has a pretty good record, probably because he’s under pressure from Green Party voters in Norwich.

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“But the Conservatives, they support business as usual really. And business as usual is slowly but surely destroying our planetary home, destroying our children’s future and it’ll destroy East Anglia if it isn’t stopped."

In 2019 the government amended the Climate Change Act to commit the UK to achieving net zero by 2050, compared to the previous target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

It has introduced some policy initiatives to meet net zero, but the Climate Change Committee has said the UK is currently not on track to meet its carbon budget targets in 2025 and 2030.

A government spokesman said: “Our commitment to tackling climate change is self-evident with the UK having cut emissions faster than any G7 country over the past three decades.

“We are embarking on a major programme of investment to cut pollution, ramp up renewable energy, and create new jobs in green industries through recently-published plans to decarbonise power generation, transport, heavy industry and North Sea oil and gas.”

Launch of the third phase of Norwich 4 Jobs at Jobcentre Plus in Norwich. Chloe Smith MP speaking at

Norwich MP Chloe Smith is among local Conservatives who have voted against Labour and Lords amendments which would have lowered limits for carbon emissions - Credit: Archant

Norwich City Green Party councillor Jamie Osborne said: “It’s not always about what people have voted on, because government policies in this area have tended to be inadequate, it’s about what’s not even on the agenda.

“The Climate and Environment Emergency Bill, the CEE Bill, which Caroline Lucas supports and which Clive Lewis in Norwich supports, contains what we really need to do but it hasn’t got support from other MPs in our area.

“Everything the government is proposing is not enough, it’s what’s not on the table that needs to be looked at as well.”

We examined the voting records of Norfolk’s nine MPs on three subjects which have come before Parliament in recent years which address climate change in specific terms.

Agricultural subsidies vs climate targets

Agriculture is one of this region’s most vital industries.

Last October the Commons debated an amendment supported by the Opposition that would “require ministers to have due regard to the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when taking actions including setting up agricultural subsidy schemes.”

How did our MPs vote?

Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland (Con):         against
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth (Con):    against
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk (Con):        against
Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk (Con):        against
James Wild, MP for North West Norfolk (Con)    against
Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk (Con)        against        
Liz Truss, MP for South West Norfolk (Con)        against
Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North (Con):         against
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South (Lab)        for

The proposal was contained within an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, put forward by the House of Lords. It received broad support from Labour and Lib Dem MPs but almost unanimous opposition from Conservatives.

The amendment was defeated.

South Norwich Labour MP Clive Lewis Photo: UK Parliament

Labour MP Clive Lewis has a more consistent climate change voting record although many bills and amendments he has supported have failed to become law - Credit: UK Parliament

CO2 from New Homes

In 2006, then-Chancellor Gordon Brown pledged to make the UK one of the first countries to adopt a low-carbon housebuilding policy and announced that from 2016 all new homes would be zero carbon following a gradual tightening of building regulations.

But in 2015 the Conservative government scrapped the regulations, meaning there would no longer be an obligation on housebuilders from 2016 onwards to achieve zero-carbon.

In the debate over that Housing Bill, in May 2016, Great Yarmouth MP and then Minister of State for Communities and Local Government, Brandon Lewis, cited industry analysis which said making new homes zero carbon would add £3,000 to build costs, increasing house prices and “threatening to perpetuate the housing crisis”. 

How did our MPs vote on making new homes zero carbon?

Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland (Con):         n/a
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth (Con):    against
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk (Con):        against
Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk (Con):        n/a
James Wild, MP for North West Norfolk (Con)    n/a
Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk (Con)        against
Liz Truss, MP for South West Norfolk (Con)        against
Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North (Con):         against
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South (Lab)        for

The amendment was defeated.

Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth.

As a minister in the department of communities and local government, Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis spoke and voted against a policy which would have made new build homes carbon neutral. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Higher taxes on air fares

Alongside other gases, and vapour trails, the aviation industry is estimated to contribute around five per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Wealthy countries make up the vast majority of passenger flights, and in the UK taxes on airplane tickets are one policy aimed at reducing demand and thus reducing CO2 emissions.

How do our MPs line up on recent votes for higher air fares?

Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland (Con):         n/a
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth (Con):    always in favour
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk (Con):        always in favour
Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk (Con):        n/a
James Wild, MP for North West Norfolk (Con)    n/a
Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk (Con)        consistently in favour        
Liz Truss, MP for South West Norfolk (Con)        consistently in favour
Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North (Con):         consistently in favour
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South (Lab)        n/a


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Jennifer Parkhouse, an environmental activist, said: “Too many MPs don’t break the party line.

“I went to COP6 in 2000 at The Hague and here we are twenty years later, right at the precipice if not sliding over it. You end up despairing of the system. 

“In the recent map of parts of the country under threat from climate change Norfolk was right up there, so we really ought to be taking it more seriously than we are.”

climate change committee

The latest report from the independent Climate Change Committee shows the country must cut faster to hit the government's carbon targets - Credit: CCC

What do our MPs say?

We contacted all nine MPs for responses.

Clive Lewis said: "I have always advocated for and supported the most robust responses to the climate and environmental emergencies in parliament.”

Chloe Smith said: “For me, the environment is a major priority and I keep a record on my website of constituency action and information. In Parliament, we’re voting and delivering on our promises to reach net zero and build back greener.”

Duncan Baker said: “The environment is one of my key issues in the House and as such I am a member of the Environmental Audit Select Committee (EAC), the highest Select Committee in Parliament dealing with green issues.

He added “no one else in Parliament has pushed the government more, to rethink their strategy in connecting the off shore wind sector to the National Grid”.

Jerome Mayhew said the UK was the first major country in the world to legislate for net zero by 2050, with policies including increased renewable energy, the phasing out of coal power stations, developing hydrogen as a clean energy source, and reforming agricultural subsidies to refocus on increased biodiversity and reduced emissions.

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