Britain's 'energy policy' - carried out by Tories, made by UKIP?

| 17th November 2014
Wind turbines in Powys, Wales. Even if you don't like them, would an open-pit coal mine, or landscape dotted with fracking wells, be an improvement? Photo: vicirabi via Flickr.
Wind turbines in Powys, Wales. Even if you don't like them, would an open-pit coal mine, or landscape dotted with fracking wells, be an improvement? Photo: vicirabi via Flickr.
As the governing conservative party lurches ever further to the right, writes Kyla Mandel, it feels like UKIP has already won the election - six months before it's even happened. Tory ministers are already executing UKIP policies, with their ignorant but implacable hatred of renewable energy in all its forms.
Ministers are making statements espousing emotive, populist viewpoints that are based on no evidence whatsoever but rather on prejudice and a fetish for technologies such as nuclear and shale.

The coalition government's muddled approach to renewable energy is beginning to undermine climate change mitigation and technological innovation say industry leaders.

It's also starting to hurt the viability of both UK businesses driving the development of alternatives to fossil fuels and of hard-pressed English farmers.

Panic over the rise of UKIP and policy u-turns aimed at placating the most ferociously conservative of Tory constituents are playing a role in the disarray.

This is combined with ministers looking for easy popularity points and a willingness to make blanket statements presented as facts, despite a complete lack of evidence.

This jostling for profile and power - both within the Tory ranks and as a response to voters switching party allegiance - is playing into the hands of Lord Lawson and Owen Paterson's anti-renewables crusade.

Since leaving his position as environment secretary, Paterson has called for the Climate Change Act to be dismantled and spoke at the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

In a Pickle - 17 of 19 wind farms shot down

RenewableUK's Rob Norris said: "The likes of Pickles and Paterson are using the vital issue of renewables to raise their own profiles and promote themselves within their own fiefdoms.

"Ministers are making statements espousing emotive, populist viewpoints that are based on no evidence whatsoever but rather on prejudice and a fetish for technologies such as nuclear and shale."

Ministers - from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - responsible for local and rural economies as well as the environment are not only actively working against these interests but are doing so with scant regard for economic or scientific fact.

DCLG's secretary of state, Eric Pickles, for example, has now weighed in on 50 onshore windfarm applications, rejecting 17 of the 19 decided on so far.

This has led Ed Davey - the Lib Dem actually in charge of energy and climate change - to claim: "Mr Pickles doesn't seem worried about climate or energy bills. Pickles, who claims to be a champion of localism, has been calling in every onshore wind planning application he can, interfering with the independent Planning Inspectorate process [and] over-riding decisions of elected councillors.

"Pickles is in danger of bringing the planning system into disrepute, of abusing ministerial power and so preventing Britain getting the green power revolution it needs."

New Defra head Liz Truss has also announced changes to the Common Agricultural Policy aimed at thwarting solar farm developments as she "does not want to see the productive potential of English farmland is wasted and blighted by solar farms".

Shortly after, however, it was shown in the Commons she had no evidence to suggest this is happening.

Amber Rudd, another Tory at DECC under Davey and in charge of solar, climate science and innovation, has also waded in saying: "Solar farms are not particularly welcome because we believe that solar should be on the roofs of buildings and homes, not in the beautiful green countryside. We are proud to stand on that record."

Investment at risk

Not only do these ministers have real power to undermine the increase in renewable generation they're tasked with supporting but their actions risk choking off investment, sinking start-ups and depriving the very farmers whose votes they're after of much needed income.

"Pickles running riot has resulted in a pathetic amount of consents, chilling the blood of investors, who are likely to go elsewhere with their money, driving up cost and putting innovation at risk when we need to be encouraging developers and taking the technologies forward", said Norris.

"UKIP has banged on about three 'big issues' - the EU, immigration and bizarrely onshore wind - which they say represent everything that's wrong with modern Britain. Pickles is using his position to intervene as often as possible in an attempt to recapture lost ground.

"He now wants to take away the right of local government altogether to approve wind developments, a development that would be sinister as well as against his professed policy of localism."

Climate-skeptic Owen Paterson a future Tory leader?

The rightwards drift of the Tory party is illustrated by the celebrity status of the sacked environment secretary Owen Paterson on the right-wing think tank circuit - notably the 'free market' Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and Lord Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which is fanatically opposed to renewable energy, most of all on-shore wind.

After a recent IEA 'political economy supper' Paterson dodged questions on whether he's organising a challenge to the Conservative Party leadership in the run-up to next May's general election, answering only "it's a private dinner, you better ask the organisers."

Bankrolled by Big Oil and Big Tobacco, the IEA helped Thatcher's rise to power. More recently, DeSmog UK revealed in September that Neil Record, IEA trustee and Lord Vinson, 'Life Vice-President' of the IEA are both funders of the GWPF.

Paterson, who gave the keynote speech at the GWPF last month arrived at the event with the head of his newly launched conservative think tank UK2020. Among its goals, UK2020 seeks to free Britain from climate change regulations and targets.

While Paterson mentioned UK2020 "several times" at the IEA event according to dinner guest Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds, the event was not connected to the new think tank, and the 20-30 male dinner guests mostly talked public policy.

"We didn't talk much about climate, it was really free market stuff", he explained. "It was a discussion about how we win the ideas of the centre-right of British politics ... How are we going to promote those [free market ideas] and be able to make sure the electorate actually votes for a centre-right government?"

UKIP brothers under the skin

In addition to IEA staff, those in attendance included former conservative MP and current UKIP deputy chairman, Neil Hamilton, Alistair Hide of British American Tobacco, Allan Rankine of BP and Edgar Miller, a Texan-born venture capitalist and GWPF funder.

Several MPs were also there such as Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripon, as well Lord Glentoran and academics Jeremy Jennings, head of department and professor of political theory at Kings College London and David Myddelton, professor at Cranfield School of Management.

Daniel Johnson, founding editor of Standpoint, and Sir John Craven, a director of Reuters and former director of Deutsche Bank, were also there. Christopher Chope, conservative MP for Christchurch said: "I think most of us are singing off of the same hymn sheet as one might say."

Lord Howard Flight, deputy chair of the Conservative party and member of the IEA's advisory board, described the evening's conversation as "fundamentally [about] why the economic model that Russia and China used to employ was such a disaster and caused so much starving and death and why by contrast the model which the West has followed has been successful."

None of which explains their enthusiasm at throwing vast public subsidies at nuclear power, fracking and other fossil fuel developments - in far larger volumes than ever granted to renewable energy generators.



This article was originally published on DeSmog UK. It also contains additional reporting from DeSmog UK.


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here