TH E ENFORCER: Dr . Jac k an d th e Compan y h e Keep s Dr. Jack Cunningham, the 'cabinet enforcer', is a key figure in the Blair government. He is influential on many scientific issues confronting New Labour, including GMOs and nuclear power. He is also a man with powerful business connections, a love of untested new technologies and a disregard for the Green movement. In this way, Jack Cunningham is almost a personification of the government's attitude to the environment. Here, The Ecologist lays bare his record, his connections and his politics. By Mark Hollingsworth
On Friday 8 May 1998, a group of British, German and French MPs descended on Chevening Place, a palatial country estate near Sevenoaks in Kent. The 17th century house is the official country residence for the Foreign Secretary. Set in a vast parkland with exquisite gardens, it is an ideal location for entertaining foreign dignatories. For decades, parliamentarians have been seduced by the luxury of its surroundings.
But this was not just a political gathering to discuss trade and the European single market. It was a private two-day conference organised by a commercial lobbyist who represents the interests of the mighty Monsanto Corporation. The lobbyist was Evie Soames, head of Charles Barker BSMG Worldwide, the powerful political consultants. She organised the meeting in her capacity as director of the Franco-British Parliamentary Committee which paid for the translation services,
In this grimy interface between Labour and the commercial polluters, no politician looms larger or more significant than Dr Jack Cunningham. some catering and a portion of the travel expenses. As Monsanto partially funds that Committee, the meeting was, in effect, sponsored by the corporation.
Seven British MPs attended the conference: Stuart Bell (paid advisor to Bell-Pottinger, another lobbying company on Monsanto's payroll), Thomas Brake (member of the Commons Select Committee on the Environment), Roger Casale, David Curry (former Agriculture Minister), Quentin Davies, Ian Davidson and Giles Radice. All seven declared that the meeting "was partly funded by Monsanto and Generale des Eaux". The latter, now known as Vivendi, is a French conglomerate with a range of commercial stakes relevant to the ecology movement. It has a foot in the UK's sewers through Onyx UK, a waste management company. Last year, a factory owned by another Vivendi subsidiary released a 300-foot plume of noxious gas over a Derbyshire village, killing pets and vegetation.
Vivendi has long been interested in exerting political influence. Its subsidiaries include General Utilities pic, a waste and water management company, whose "environmental director" is John Selwyn Gummer, the Tory MP and former Cabinet Minister. Gummer is a useful politician to have on the payroll: until May 1997 he was the Agriculture Minister and then
Environment Secretary. Another Vivendi subsidiary is energy management company Dalkia pic whose Chairman is Lord Ezra, a prominent Liberal Democrat peer.
Welcome to the mysterious world of political lobbying and influence-peddling, where the tentacles of big business stretch far and wide. In the debate over biotechnology, nuclear power and waste disposal, the web of connections linking ministers, MPs, peers, PR operators, lobbyists and companies is fundamental. In industries which are so heavily regulated, political influence is viewed as integral to profitability. And for New Labour, of course, commercial prowess reigns supreme.
It was not always the case. During the last General Election, Labour publicly promised to be "the first truly green government". But in private, Tony Blair neither liked nor trusted environmentalists, and he has not implemented many of his 'green' manifesto promises. While New Labour made proecological noises for the voters, behind the scenes it was anxious to appease its business friends. "Labour is driven by the need not to alienate its new voters, which it has identified as middle-class, affluent, car owners living in the south-east", says Ian Wilmore, former policy adviser to Michael Meacher, confirming from the inside what many environmentalists suspect. "It is also desperate to be 'the party of business'".
Th e Cunningha m Effec t In this grimy interface between Labour and the commercial polluters, no politician looms larger or more significant than Dr Jack Cunningham. For nearly 20 years he has been a dominant political force as the senior Shadow Minister for the Environment and then in government as Agriculture Secretary. Now he is the Cabinet Office Minister responsible for co-ordinating government policies, and chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology. Cunningham is symbolic of Labour's dismissive attitude towards environmental concerns,
While New Labour made pro-ecological noises for the voters, behind the scenes it was anxious to appease its business friends.
and he embodies a decaying political culture.
Born in 1939, Jack Cunningham was brought up in Whitehaven, Cumbria, where his father, Andy, was head of the northern region of the powerful General and Municipal Workers Union. The family lived an ostentatious lifestyle, with Cunningham senior driving around town in a 3.8 litre Jaguar.
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999 The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999