The Libdems have realised renewables is the area where they can regain popularity and they mean to hammer it home
I went to see the Saatchi exhibition of chess boards by artists like Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Tracy Emin this week, and came away thinking that none of these artists had a clue about the dark heart of this wonderful game. Chess is war, vicious, brutal, dirty, political war, played through tiny gestures, with small pieces of wood on a simple checkered board. The artists had made boards with dollshouse furniture, dead animals or ceramic pumpkins, and totally missed the subtlety, the pleasure of polite decimation. For a better image, Saatchi should have turned to the coalition government as it lines up along two sides for a royal battle over the environment.
This is where, it has become clear over the last few months and particularly during the Liberal Democrat conference, a tumultuous battle is going to be fought between the rightwing of the Tory party and the liberal democrats. To a casual onlooker it may look like nothing very much. But beneath polite statements to the press will be teeming rage and frustration, an epic fight over what the Libdems have finally remembered is one of the most vital issues for a generation - and, perhaps even more importantly, one of the only areas in which the Libdems can have genuine, powerful traction.
They made this realisation extremely clear at conference this week. Ed Davey is the cabinet minister for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (one of only a handful of libdems in actual positions of power). He has finally moved completely out of the shadows of his predecessor Chris Huhne and is rapidly becoming one of the most notable figures in the party – a fact testified to by the rumours of his secret bid for the libdem leadership.
He has set out his position extremely clearly. He sees renewables as the way forward; he believes that, as well as generating power, they will generate jobs and industry. And he is well supported in this belief by people from all across the spectrum, including the Confederation for British Industry, (CBI).
The libdems, it was obvious at conference, have realised that this is potentially a policy area on which they can regain popularity, and they mean to hammer it home.
To add to the joys – being in the right, having lots of popular support – they even have 'baddie' opponents in what they are now calling the “tea-party” part of the Tories. Interestingly Davey’s new Tory energy minister John Hayes has employed for a number of years a researcher who also works for the Taxpayers Alliance – often known as the British version of the Tea Party. I wondered then if there was a dig at this and so have contacted the Hayes office many times but they have refused to return my calls and emails to confirm whether Dr Lee Rotherham is still working for them.
Why the silence?
Chancellor George Osborne as we all know remains dubious about renewables; if you’re going to have an opponent, who better than the man already so unpopular he has been publically jeered?
This is an area where the Libdems can legitimately cast themselves as the brave warriors fighting for the people against those evil Tories. It must feel wonderful after the last couple of years of abject misery.
So. The opening moves in this battle have now been made and positions established.
We now need to watch closely how Davey will proceed. He needs to work out ways to outflank Osborne and the Tory rightwing, and to get Cameron’s support. He needs to hammer home his case – green jobs, industry, a clean future, and meeting decarbonisation targets. The next few months will creep by in tiny, subtle political moves. We had better pray that Davey is a good chess player.
Bibi van der Zee is political correspondent for the Ecologist