Friday, 18 March 2011

The 'Greenest Government Ever'?

LibDem environment minister Chris Huhne recently announced the government's new energy agenda.

It was hailed by Prime Minister David Cameron as a sign that the coalition would be 'the greenest government ever'.

OK, so let's look at these claims in a bit closer detail.

Chris Huhne MPImage by David Spender via FlickrYou can read Chris Huhne's speech in full here.

Highlights included a green investment bank, introduction of floor rates for carbon trading, funding for 1000 'green deal' apprenticeships, zero-carbon housing standards, introduction of a strategy for electric car infrastructure, reforms to home generation feed-in tariffs and additional departmental measures to allow NGO's to monitor government progress.

Huhne's main line of argument was to reduce dependency on oil and fossil fuel consumption, on the one side to prevent economic insecurity stemming from near-term price spikes in the wake of geo-political uncertainty (such as in Libya) and the longer term concern of limited supplies, while on the other to reduce carbon output and be seen as good environmental guardians.

However only a few days later and with the Japanese earthquake causing ruptures in nuclear reactors he was forced to address Britain's continuing support for nuclear fuel and answer why he hadn't followed the lead of Germany where immediate shut-downs were made and a 3-month moratorium on nuclear power was called (though the electoral strength of the anti-atomic lobby heading into elections probably had more to do with that given Germany's distance from active tectonic boundaries).

According to one analysis Huhne's explanation to party activists at last weekend's LibDem spring conference in Sheffield showed he is responding positively to concerns. As he said, "safety is absolutely the top priority for us in all our energy sources. Safety is the nuclear industry's first priority."

Most LibDems tend to be cautiously realistic about nuclear power (and weapons), arguing any hasty or unilateral pull-out is undesirable as it would destabilise the supply chain relationships and have wide-reaching consequences, although thit should remain the medium-to-long term ambition. For the time being, at least, nuclear remains part of the mix.

Despite the good proposals they are perhaps more modest than they might have been.

On the private side subsidies for solar microgenerators below 50 kilowatts have been cut (primarily because minimal incentive is required and the current scheme was proving too successful). Some specialist environmental advisory services have also been merged.

On the business side the Green Investment Bank has had some of it's envisaged functions peeled off, while the government decided not to compel greater provision of information to consumers through better labelling - something the CBI is now encouraging voluntarily.

And Huhne hit the headlines with the declaration that 250,000 new jobs would be created by 2030 through greening the economy.

This is somewhat more difficult to measure, although the left-leaning Work Foundation suggests 3 scenarios how this could happen, including a low-carbon implementation sector, manufacturing-led growth in low carbon activities and a low carbon services-led sector.

But stronger criticism of the claims were made regarding efforts regarding house-building, an area dominated by large corporate insterests.

Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors president Robert Peto spoke out against the overcomplicated and inconsistent nature of environmental legislation which many found off-putting and easily became subbordinated into wider government spending plans.

As Michael McCarthy explains in The Independent, responsibility for environment is split between climate policy at the Department of Energy and Climate Change under LibDem Chris Huhne and other policy at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under Conservative Caroline Spellman.

The effect of this can be more clearly seen when we remember Caroline Spellman was responsible for the botched and widely derrided consultation to privatise Forestry Commision woodlands.

So clearly this government isn't as friendly to the environment as it could be, or indeed claims, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of positives to be taken out of the recent proposals.

Maybe Cameron simply lapsed into an error of language when he said his would be 'the greenest government ever', and he should really have said it was 'the greenest government yet' - because activists in opposing parties certainly won't be passified if he remains there in perpetuity!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Of potential banana skins and splits

This is my requested response to the Evening Standard about Nick Clegg's speech to the LibDem Spring Conference in which he vowed to protect his party's 'soul' despite being forced to make compromises as part of the deal to be in coalition.

Protests are, he said, "the price of power" (and any classical scholars among you may like to consider the Milian Dialogue on exactly this point) - suggesting that if you want to any some influence on the world then you'd better learn sooner than later that 'you can't please all of the the people all of the time'.

It's a cliche, but it is because it's about as close to the truth as it's possible to get.

You can watch a clip of him speaking here.

And here is a full transcript of his speech.

100-150 words is a good rule of thumb for providing a comment, but I enjoy playing with formats to mess with people's minds, so I wrote double and split it into two parts to make a wider point.


I think it works best as one combined, but you can feel free to choose either depending on how they complement other viewpoints. Your choice will be an indicator of which side of the debate you're on.

1) Every LibDem leader is habitually criticised for a percieved inability to stage-manage the appearance of unity, but it is this openness about any real differences which keeps the LibDems such a vibrant force in British politics. It is a refreshing change from the old left-right axis and is the well-spring of constant revitalisation, though at times it can feel like a queasy rollercoaster ride.

The 'soul' of the LibDem party and what distinguishes it from other parties is that it is driven by the membership rather than the leadership, so Nick Clegg's ability to demonstrate that he enagages in active debate and actually reflects the majority view is more important than his immediate poll ratings in one the top jobs. His performance in Sheffield showed he is a master at tempering idealism without becoming overly-pragmatic, but good politics doesn't always make for good headlines.

2) Contrary to claims that vocal dissent over specific priorities indicates a split in support, this is in fact nothing more than par for the course. Nick Clegg knows LibDem politics isn't about him, he knows it's about doing politics in a way which produces effective and positive policy, but he also knows his opponents are trying to personalise things in order to distract from the underlying issues.

Where determined resolution to enact principles shapes events reactionary opinion always lags idly behind, so despite any current concerns about his popularity levels Clegg can stand tall as the most successful LibDem leader of the modern era and he can be sure this will stand his party in good stead. And as the economy starts to pick up again you can be confident that he will have earnt his electoral bonus - though whether that can come soon enough for this May is another matter.


I think the basic point I'm trying to get across is the need for balance in any debate.

The scenes of angry protesters directed at the LibDem leader is a big change from days when Charlie Kennedy lead protests over the misconceived invasion of Iraq, but it's not a new experience for a party with a strong grassroots activist membership who won their spurs mixing it for decades against the 'hang em and flog em' brigade, racists, militant pro-lifers and a whole host of blinkered utopian opportunists and absolute cynics for whom being human isn't good enough for a potential government-in-waiting.

The hard lesson that there is rarely any quick fix to perceived or real problems and those that there are aren't easily transferred to subsequent generations who are rightly impatient for improvement.

However impatience can also easily spill over to cause the hasty presumption which leads to unfair and damaging favoritism and is prime amongst the evils to the liberal tradition.

So having made the decision to join the coalition, Clegg and his party are forced to tough it out and prove themselves all over again, or provide a perfect demonstration of flakiness to give their critics all the evidence they need.

So it may not be just about whether LibDem MPs can keep hold of their soul, but whether they have the stomach to stick it out and also the good sense to chart a sustainable strategy in this delicate and volatile situation when events beyond control could have seismic consequences - literally.

With the Nikkei predicted to fall by up to 20% as insurance losses from the massive 8.9 quake and Tsunami are expected to top $35bn, European markets have shuddered just when the return of market confidence was beginning to be felt in the real economy.

Add to this the possibility of the explosive Libyan situation and there are clear and immediate triggers for impending global disaster - on a timescale which even the most doom-laden climate fearmonger would avoid like the plague.

 Watch out for those banana skins.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

100-word letter: A stolen heart

I don't tend to do much personal blogging, as I'm pretty enigmatic and I just don't like talking about myself.

Breaking this rule for once, I was moved to quickly stream off an entry to a bloggers' 100-word letter competition (I like letters, me, see). The object is to write 100 words to someone, anyone of your choosing - so go on, you know you want to try it too!

Mine was inspired by a real incident which happened about a month ago and I've been bottling up since.

I hope you like it... and hopefully it will uncork that rare elixir of blogging again.

To my mystery man,
Though I never caught your name, still you conjure images of transient romance and a life lived on the edge.
I won't ever forget those few snatched moments for they are etched into my memory.
You didn't ask my name, yet that wouldn't change a thing.
Your caring nature was immediately evident just as your concern for animal welfare was obvious.
Your rough hands were passionate with desire and your eyes pulsated with a sense of destiny.
Nobody could resist the deep urging you instilled.
It was primal.
It was pure.
It was intense.
But it was fleeting.
Now give me back my wallet.