After Claire Perry O’Neill was unceremoniously dumped as the president of the COP26 UN climate change summit in Glasgow, it was revealed today that Boris Johnson had been casting his net wide in search of her successor. It has been reported that Boris asked none other than David Cameron to take Claire Perry O’Neill’s place, before moving on to William Hague.
As neither were available (Cameron has said he had ‘a lot of things’ on his plate, Hague said he preferred writing books), Jeremy Corbyn’s office helpfully suggested that Ed Miliband should be given the top job. He certainly has the time, although Mr S thinks he’s unlikely to be asked by Number 10 to represent the UK in front of world leaders in Glasgow this November.
So who is the favourite to succeed Claire Perry O’Neill? Below are Mr Steerpike’s runners and riders:
When dispatching Claire Perry O’Neill, Number 10 claimed that they were after someone who could represent Britain on the world stage, and confidently petition global leaders to adopt ambitious climate targets. Could Michael Gove be the man for the job? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster certainly has the green credentials. As environment minister he was behind a swathe of green regulations, declared war on disposable plastics, and was nearly subject to a fatwa in the home counties when he proposed banning wood-burning stoves. But, as ‘CEO of the government’, in charge of no-deal preparations, Gove has a lot on his plate at the moment, and the PM may be unwilling to have him working on another large project.
What do you get for the man who takes every job going? Another job, of course. George Osborne, the editor of the Evening Standard, is rumoured to be interested in becoming head of the climate change summit, and his allies are pointing out that his links with China would make him well-suited to the role. Arguably, the conference will only be considered a success if China signs up to the environmental pledges agreed at the shindig, so who better to lead the conference then the man who heralded the start of a ‘golden era’ of Sino-British relations when he was Chancellor in 2015? Word is that Osborne has had a Christmas bust-up with Evgeny Lebedev: he published pictures of the Dear Leader with the Prime Minister at a homeless centre. So far, so uncontroversial. But the rumour mill in Derry St is that Lebedev didn’t think he looked good in the photo and is furious, and that relations with his editor have not recovered. Luckily, Osborne has six other jobs at the moment. But chairing COP26 could be a seventh.
Like Hague, Miliband is a former Foreign Secretary who was also a big environmentalist when in the Labour government. He has been at Thunderbirds HQ (or ‘International Rescue’) at New York for a few years now and fancies himself as a man who can work magic on world leaders. This is, more than anything else, a diplomatic job. But could he resist the temptation to go all partisan and accuse the Tories of betraying the planet?
Rishi Sunak is a rising star in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, and is being increasingly relied on by Number 10 to defend the government’s position in media interviews, making him a perfect fit for the conference. Currently Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Sunak is also said to be in line for a promotion in the next reshuffle. The climate conference could be a way for Boris Johnson to either reward Sunak for his recent work, or sweeten the deal. And, a triumph at COP26 would be the perfect stepping stone to No. 11.
This week, after Claire Perry O’Neill was sacked, Boris Johnson said that the UN climate conference would now be under the jurisdiction of the business department, led by Andrea Leadsom. It would make sense then for Leadsom to head up the conference as well. As a Tory leadership contender, Leadsom was certainly on message and vowed to declare a ‘climate emergency’ if she was appointed PM. Leadsom’s job though is not looking particularly secure ahead of a potential reshuffle, which means her successor at the business department may be the one to take the position.
Zac Goldsmith has long been a favourite of Boris Johnson, so much so that he was given a life peerage after the election last year. He could take the COP26 job and stay an environment minister in Boris’s government. Goldsmith has also been a constant supporter of environmental issues throughout his career, and as long as he doesn’t resign over Heathrow (again), he could be an articulate representative for the UK at the Glasgow summit. This has, after all, been his life’s work.