PM’s Weakness Will Hurt UK Industry
Watching his performance at PMQs on Wednesday was embarrassing. When he announced he would be ‘rolling back the green levies’ it was like watching a school play in which a child is suddenly overwhelmed and promptly wets himself on stage.
We have seen this sort of policy incontinence before. Who can forget that a slightly smaller puddle was found on the House of Commons floor when Cameron announced ‘we will legislate to make energy companies put everyone on the lowest tariff’ in October last year.
While the leader of the opposition can throw around populist policies like candy, it is for the PM to think carefully, speak calmly and act reasonably. An opposition policy shift can make the electorate go weak at the knees; a U-turn from the PM can send whole industries into crisis.
And so it is this week with the energy industry. The coalition’s flagship plan to reshape the energy market – Electricity Market Reform – has been making slow (but steady) progress for the past three years. It is designed to unlock billion of pounds in private capital and underpin massive investment in energy projects in the UK. It is not perfect, but an agreement on the basic level of subsidies for renewables has provided enough certainty to keep investors around the table for the time being.
Three years of progress, billions of pounds of investment and thousands of UK jobs have been jeopardised by Cameron being caught short on Wednesday.
We should have expected this. Despite touting green credentials in opposition Cameron’s green record in government is pathetic. When the squeeze has come on from colleagues – George Osborne, Eric Pickles, Owen Paterson and John Hayes, to name a few – his environmental credentials wilt and fade to nothing.
Had it not been for tireless work of Lib Dems in government, particularly Chris Huhne and Ed Davey, carbon budgets and support for renewable energy would have been eviscerated. Davey has already pledged to ‘fight like a tiger‘ to defend the renewables industry against this latest attack. So serious is this issue that if Cameron’s review results in a cut in renewables’ subsidies, I would fully expect Davey and perhaps even Clegg to resign.
With strong opposition from Clegg and Davey, there is some hope that (as with the single-energy-tariff-accident) Cameron will back-track and subtly try to mop up the wet patch he’s caused.
But no matter what he does next, he can not mask his weakness. People want to reduce their energy bills, but focusing on the small proportion that is spent protecting the poorest and providing a better planet for our children is reprehensible.
Failing to meet the anger of consumers with a truthful response and a thoughtful, progressive solution shows Cameron to be an intellectual and political coward.