Gummer will quit politics to take on eco-role

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Indy Politics

The former Tory cabinet minister John Gummer is to quit the Commons at the general election to take on a wider international role in combating global warming, he announced today.

The MP for Suffolk Coastal said the failure of the recent UN climate change summit in Copenhagen to secure a legally-binding deal had prompted him to look beyond Parliament.

A former party chair, Mr Gummer served as both agriculture minister and environment secretary and infamously tried to feed his daughter a beef burger to convince the public it was safe from mad cow disease.

Announcing his decision not to contest the election, he said: "Since the very disappointing results of the Copenhagen negotiations, I have been forced to rethink my plans for the future.

"In discussion with colleagues in the rest of Europe and the United States, as well as with international NGOs, I have realised that I cannot commit myself to the work that they believe has to be done and continue to serve my constituents as I would want.

"The things that I am urged to take on will demand a good deal of absence from home, which is simply incompatible either with the inevitably heavy legislative programme of a new parliament or with attendance at the many constituency functions upon which I have always laid great stress.

"During the 35 years that I have had the privilege of being a Member of Parliament, I have always put my constituency work first and I am not prepared to skimp on it now.

"It is therefore with very great sadness that I have decided it is simply not possible to contest the next election and still promise the kind of service that my constituents have rightly grown to expect.

Mr Gummer is one of more than 120 MPs who have declared they will step down at the election - with dozens more expected to quit in what is set to be the largest such exodus in living history, fuelled in part by the expenses scandal.

The former cabinet minister emerged relatively unscathed from the revelations, although he faced criticism for claiming £9,000 a year for gardening at his second home.

Explaining his decision not to fight the election, he said: "As agriculture minister and then as environment secretary, I had the opportunity to play some part internationally in awakening the world to the dangers (of climate change) and, since then, it has been a constant theme in my work as a backbencher.

"I had hoped that I would continue on that course in the next Parliament, under the leadership of David Cameron whose commitment to combating climate change is so refreshingly direct and determined."

He went on: "Climate change is not only a crisis without historic parallel - it is an urgent political threat.

"We will never win this battle if we diminish people's lives or preach at them. The threat must not be used as an excuse for unnecessary state direction and control.

"Instead, it is all of us, as citizens, entrepreneurs, and consumers, who will make change happen. Politicians and campaigners have to enable that change: they must unleash the power of the free market; they must harness the skills and innovation that drive it; and they must create the opportunities for competition to deliver new answers to this entirely new challenge.

"Those of us who have any chance to influence the course of events, even in a small way, have simply to make that our first priority, however difficult the choice."

He welcomed the recognition of local activists that "the international battle against climate change makes such serious personal demands that I cannot properly avoid them".