On the morning Rishi Sunak unveiled what he billed as an ambitious long-term investment plan to solve NHS staff shortages, Lord Zac Goldsmith quit as his environment minister with a slow-burn but scathing resignation letter that accused the prime minister of being “simply uninterested” in the climate crisis.
The timing was unfortunate for Sunak, and a gift for Labour. Wilder conspiracists might speculate that the resignation was a pre-arranged stunt to detract attention from a rare positive moment for the government, carried out as part of a guerilla campaign by allies of a once-mighty big beast, now defanged, disgraced and disgruntled – whomever that might be.
Goldsmith – who has described Boris Johnson as an “old friend”, who received a peerage from Johnson in 2019 after losing his seat, who is close to Johnson’s wife Carrie and who funded the couple’s 2021 holiday at a luxurious Marbella villa – is clearly a man of principle who would not have indulged in anything so sordid. But Sunak’s suggestion that he walked away only after being asked to withdraw his comments about Johnson’s sanction by the Privileges Committee bears closer inspection.
Goldsmith retweeted a tweet calling the inquiry a “witch hunt” and “kangaroo court”, and added: “Exactly this. There was only ever going to be one outcome and the evidence was totally irrelevant to it.” Again, this might be viewed by the excitable as being part of a guerilla campaign by allies of a once-mighty big beast, now defanged, disgraced and disgruntled. But whatever else it is, it is an appalling, untrue slur – something for which Goldsmith has form.
The vile mayoral campaign he ran in May 2016 featured dog-whistle claims about Sadiq Khan’s supposed past associations with alleged extremists and reached its nadir with a Mail on Sunday article illustrated by a photo from the 7/7 bombings and headlined: “Are we really going to hand the world’s greatest city to a Labour party that thinks terrorists are its friends?”
Goldsmith might be right to say Sunak is “personally unmoved” by the climate crisis – earlier this week, the government’s own advisory Climate Change Committee warned that its net zero targets are being missed on nearly every front.
Yet the former minister fails to understand that his response to the Privileges Committee report, his close links with a discredited prime minister and his shameful dog-whistling against Khan leave him so completely discredited that few will listen to him even when his criticisms are justifiable.
Despite all the recent evidence, it remains possible that at some point in the future, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries, Michael Fabricant and even Boris Johnson himself might say something that is true. But after all the lies and all the guff, nobody sane will be listening to them either.