Sir Alok Sharma’s announcement that he will be standing down at the next election (‘It was not an easy decision’) deprives Rishi Sunak of a talented, principled and conscientious MP. Admired across the political divide, Sharma will be a loss not only to Westminster but to the wider electorate. TCW’s Political Editor met him at his office to learn about his future and the reasons behind his decision to leave Parliament.
THERE are few politicians who have such an impressive CV as Sir Alok Sharma. He has been MP for Reading West since 2010. He served as Minister of State for Housing from 2017 to 2018, as Secretary of State for International Development from 2019 to 2020 and as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from 2020 to 2021. Most illustriously he was President for COP26 from 2021 to 2022.
In every position he has excelled, his valuable contributions through drive, determination and hard work yielding impressive results that people still talk admiringly of today. Knighted by Charles III in 2022, Sir Alok Sharma is very much a man at the top of his game.
In person, he is good company, he laughs easily and has a self-deprecating manner that engenders an immediate rapport. Impeccably dressed in a tailored dark blue suit with an enamelled Ukrainian lapel badge, he is eager to talk.
I start by asking him if he enjoyed his political career.
‘Firstly, let me just say this. It has been an absolute privilege to serve as an MP: there is no greater honour than to serve your country. Working in the Houses of Parliament, I have realised just how blessed the British public are in having such a venerable institution. It is not called the cradle of democracy for no reason. Accountability and a desire to serve the electorate are the hallmarks of all MPs, regardless of their political party.’
How did he feel upon learning of his knighthood?
‘My overwhelming emotion was one of unbridled pride. But pride tinged with sadness: I still feel we have a long way to go to achieve Net Zero. Rishi’s recent pronouncements on electric cars and boilers are, in my opinion, a step in the wrong direction. Sometimes it seems that all the talk of Net Zero is just that, talk. Britain needs to lead the world and be the first to go Net Minus.’
I haven’t heard this expression before and ask what it means.
‘Quite simply the globe is at boiling point, and it is incumbent on every individual, however they identify, to do their bit in making sure future generations have a world that is not constantly ravaged by fires, floods, tornadoes, cyclones, heatwaves, storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, melting glaciers and tsunamis. All of these are directly attributable to manmade climate change. Going Net Zero won’t save us: we need to be bolder and braver.
‘If we stopped using all fossil fuels tomorrow it couldn’t come soon enough. Petrol, diesel, natural gas, they are two sides of the same polluting, climate-destroying coin.’
In 2021 he wept openly at the conclusion of COP26 in Glasgow.
What prompted this emotional display?
‘It had been a long conference, and we were in touching distance of reaching an agreement to ban virtually all forms of traditional energy – it was something all the participants desperately wanted. At the last minute, as the press communiqué was being drafted, India and China objected to the expression “phase out coal”. This was tragically watered down to “phase down” coal’.
‘It was, frankly, the straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t mind saying how distraught I was. All I could think of was that we had sold out future generations, all those children we had collectively condemned to live in a world of unending meteorological disasters. It was heartbreaking, and I firmly believe that the British public saw it as a watershed moment. My tears were on behalf of humanity, humanity that was weeping silently and uncontrollably at our failure. All I could do was apologise; I had failed completely.’
What does the future hold for this dynamic and forward-thinking individual? Still only 56, he has so much to offer.
‘I am taking a short break to get politics out of my system, but after that I fully intend to step into the climate fray again and will be in the vanguard of shaping and directing change. Maybe there are some renewable energy companies who could put my expertise to good use in a non-executive position.’
Our time is almost up, but I want to read aloud his citation that accompanied his knighthood: ‘For his contribution to combating climate change through his leadership at COP26 and driving the UK to agree a historic agreement from individual countries that will have a major impact in addressing climate change in the future.’
He is silent, and his eyes become moist. One cannot help but appreciate the magnitude of his contribution to the betterment of society. In a world where the value of honours has been tarnished, it is heartening that there is still recognition and reward for individuals of exceptional calibre.