PMQs: Our witchfinder-general, aka Ed Miliband, wants to burn climate change deniers at the stake

The Labour leader implied Owen Paterson was one, inaccurately as it happens
  • @johnrentoul

The long-fingered witchfinder-general began the inquisition quietly. This was one of those weeks in which the Labour whips had thrown the switch in their office to Wall of Noise: Off. There was no mistaking the menace in the young inquisitor’s questions, however. Monsignor Miliband brushed aside the defence by the heretic of his spending on flood defences as “phoney”. He demanded to know “the truth” about climate change. The defendant, who had been calling himself the Prime Minister, tried to change the subject. He accused the inquisitor’s assistant, Ed Balls, of carrying out a “zero-based spending review”. This is a kind of papal indulgence that allows anyone under interrogation to refuse to answer questions.

Unfortunately for the defendant, who declared bravely that he would be Prime Minister for all of five years, the inquisitor foiled this attempt to close the windows into a man’s soul. Monsignor Miliband asked the defendant to “set out for his party and the country his views” on climate change.

A sudden change came over the suspected heretic. “Man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats for this country,” he recited, with a great show of passion. Monsignor Clegg, supposedly the friend of the defendant in the papal court, nodded slowly and deliberately.

“Excellent, excellent,” said the inquisitor. “We’re getting somewhere.”

Now that the defendant had confessed, the next stage in the interrogation was to get him to name his fellow heretics. “There are people in the most important positions,” said Miliband, who do not “believe” in man-made climate change. He put the names of two suspects to the defendant, referring to them by their code names in the organisation. The Environment Secretary and the Energy Minister, he said, and he quoted sermons they had delivered that his spies had reported back to him. Everyone in the court knew who he meant. Owen Paterson and Michael Fallon. They had failed to recite the holy catholic and apostolic creed of environmentalism. They had to be cast into the fire eternal unless they, too, could be persuaded to confess.

It is no use leaving it up the consciences of individuals as to “whether you have to believe in man-made climate change” or not. “We cannot have doubt and confusion,” said the inquisitor-general. These people are “climate change deniers”.

The Prime Minister knew better than to try to engage his zealous interrogator in theological argument. He knows that Paterson and Fallon do good works, and that they haven’t actually denied that man-made climate change is happening. He knows, too, that “the truth” can be understood differently by different people: that honest people can accept that human activity is causing global warming but disagree about what, if anything, should be done about it.

He knows, too, that strict adherence to the creed requires the believer to say that the price of energy will have to rise, and that Monsignor Miliband has recently made a name for himself by demanding the opposite.

But a witch trial in the House of Commons is not the place to debate such things.