Lunch with... Greg Barker MP

Written by Anoosh Chakelian on 18 February 2013 in Culture
Culture
Anoosh Chakelian and energy minister Greg Barker chat about green government over some tuna and couscous in Lombard Street. Photo by Josh Kearns

This article is from the March 2013 issue of Total Politics

Who? 
Greg Barker is energy minister and Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle. He served as shadow energy spokesman when in opposition, and has recently launched the government’s Green Deal initiative, which he calls “my baby”. He accompanied the PM on his husky-hugging trip in 2006. 
The restaurant 
1 Lombard Street
This glistening brasserie sports a huge central dome that casts a purplish glow over its large circular bar. The cornicing and low-lighting give it a distinctly European feel, reflected in the impressively varied menu.
The menu
Starter Tuna tartare with wasabi; roasted chestnut soup. 
Main Lemon chicken breast with couscous; entrecôte steak, chips and béarnaise sauce.
Dessert Sticky toffee pudding and a cup of English Breakfast tea.
We drank Gavi di Gavi, Camporosso white wine; Fox Pinot Noir red wine.      
We discussed
The Green Deal In opposition, we began a big rethink of energy efficiency and how we would retrofit homes in a way that was affordable, and that’s how the Green Deal was born. I’m very proud that it was the Conservatives who first came up with this very robust model. This is the result of David Cameron’s famous trip to the ice cap with the huskies – that sense of the need to confront this environmental challenge.
Having a Lib Dem boss The Lib Dems are natural partners on the green agenda. We haven’t always arrived at the same conclusions on policy, but on the Green Deal, we’ve been absolutely at one. You can quibble about who came up with the idea first, but it’s fair to say that in government Ed Davey has bought into this. We share the same objectives. 
Being pals with the PM I have a very good personal relationship with Cameron, having been, as he described it, “One of the first people in the taxi of [his] leadership campaign – and there was plenty of room.” At the beginning! But that’s no guarantee of a job. While occasionally it’s good to be on good terms with the PM, it’s certainly no guarantee of preferment if you’re not up to the job. If anything, I think Cameron sets his friends almost at a higher level. You’ve got to prove yourself above and beyond other ministers.
Reshuffles Cameron has shown, quite rightly, that he’s ruthlessly meritocratic. His reshuffle was extremely difficult. Although there were some excellent ministers, like Charles Hendry in our department, who everyone agreed did a brilliant job, the bottom line is that Cameron wants to bring in new talent. All of us only have a short-term contract. Politics is a bit like the army – you go where you’re posted.
Modernising the party In the 2020 Group, which I chair, we meet each week to talk through policy ideas, supporting the PM’s project to continue modernising the party. The centre-ground isn’t defined by trying to make yourself a bit more like Labour, or aping the Lib Dems, it’s about identifying the issues of the centre-ground – social mobility, economic empowerment, driving aspiration, and devising new ways to deliver that. That’s when the Conservative party’s at its best. It’s an optimistic agenda, which sometimes sounds out of tune with the austere messages we’re getting from the government.
The EU referendum I think the PM’s speech was fantastic news. There was a danger that this lingering European issue and concern about UKIP was acting as a tug towards the right. By making the position absolutely crystal clear, Cameron has completely obliterated the need for UKIP – they’re a totally pointless vote now. I think he can now be equally audacious in camping on the centre-ground. There are some voices among the media, backbenchers and party members who are alarmed by the UKIP rise, and were positing a variety of prescriptions to deal with that. Cameron has come back very clearly and shot their fox.
Perfect for
Hordes of City workers sealing deals, impressing clients – and nobly eschewing their bonuses, of course.
Not suitable for
London explorers and holidaymakers seeking an adventurous lunch venue. 
The cost
Quite pricey – glasses of wine are mainly around the £8 mark – but it seems company credit cards are in abundance.
To book a table at 1 Lombard Street, call 020 7929 6611 or email reception@1lombardstreet.com

Tags: Anoosh Chakelian, Conservatives, Energy, Green Deal, Greg Barker, Issue 56, Life, Lunch With..., March 2013

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