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Huhne V Osborne on Climate Change and The Liberal Democrat Peer and Conservative MP who hold the Health Bill….

Last Updated: Friday, May 20th, 2011

It’s been a busy week for the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. He’s been on the front pages for all the wrong reasons but more important for the nation has been his announcement of new, binding climate change targets.

A week ago, in heavily-briefed spin to The Observer, it appeared that Huhne had teamed up with David Cameron to win unilateral commitments to reduce Britain’s carbon footprint. We later learnt, however, that the commitments would be tied to multilateral agreements. George Osborne and Vince Cable – representing business – successfully forced UK targets to reflect international agreements and measures of progress. In saying that “it is important that we move at the same speed as the EU” Huhne, himself, was acknowledging the fact that the UK was not going to be a go-it-alone leader on global warming.

Huhne has nonetheless succeeded in getting the UK to aim for the UK’s emissions to be half of their 1990 level by 2025. Most environmentalists, like Geoffrey Lean at The Telegraph, regard him as almost irreplaceable in Whitehall. They compare him favourably with Caroline Spelman at DEFRA and note that half of the Coalition Agreement’s green goals (that fall within his portfolio) are already implemented or progressing rapidly.

The Climate Change Secretary may have had to concede some multilateralism in order to overcome the Osborne veto but that will only encourage him to accelerate his efforts to ensure Brussels stays deeply green. He already has close relationships with his opposite numbers in Berlin and Paris. If he survives the allegations about the speeding fines he’ll also use the three years until 2014 – a key milestone for reviewing climate change policies – to make as much policy as irreversible as possible.

Huhne may be Whitehall’s most controversial minister but it could also be argued that he is one of its most successful. He dominates his department and although his junior ministers are Conservative he uses the fact that he is the only one with special advisors to maximize his firepower. Polling from Lord Ashcroft this week found that floating voters think that it is on environmental questions that Liberal Democrats have made the most difference inside the Coalition.

Conservatives worry that Huhne is good on the big picture but AWOL on the details of initiatives. John Redwood, for example, recently asked a series of questions about the “Green Deal” whereby people borrow from energy firms to insulate homes. Will you be able to buy double glazing? What would be the rate of interest on the insulate-now-pay-later nature of the Green Deal borrowings? He didn’t get answers.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, led attempts to dilute Huhne’s programme. Partly motivated by the concerns of British manufacturing and, perhaps, affected by the Liberal Democrat’s high octane attacks on him, Osborne seems to be positioning himself as something of a climate change sceptic. Osborne is a great student of electoral tactics and he’ll know that scepticism about climate change is fashionable and potent among Anglosphere conservatives. Stephen Harper in Canada has eschewed change-the-world environmentalism in favour of a micro-environmentalism (including encouragement of recycling and protection of habitats of outstanding natural beauty). Harper’s strategists say the Liberal Party of Canada’s heavy emphasis on climate change at the last two elections partly explains their two defeats of historic scale. Tony Abbott, in Australia, has reached the same conclusions. Julia Gillard’s predecessor as Australian PM, Kevin Rudd, was ousted because of over-reach on green taxes. Abbott stopped Labor winning a majority by constantly highlighting the economic cost of Gillard’s climate policies. The Labor Party’s working class base have felt least able to afford them and Abbott has capitalised on this. US Republicans have done the same in manufacturing states, especially Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Before the last election a ConservativeIntelligence survey of Tory candidates revealed that reducing Britain’s carbon footprint was their lowest policy priority. My guess is that that hasn’t changed. If anything the scepticism has become more mainstream. Only this week the former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Turnbull, issued a report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation that criticised Whitehall’s acceptance of all climate change science, Huhne’s position on nuclear power, subsidy of green jobs and also the “scandalous” feed-in tariffs. “It is astonishing,” he wrote, “that the Liberals who attach such importance to fairness turn a blind eye to this transfer from poor to rich, running to £billions a year.” When individuals such as Turnbull are adopting such positions it can only embolden the likes of Peter Lilley, Andrew Tyrie and Nigel Lawson on the Tory benches.

Tim Montgomerie

 

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PEER AND CONSERVATIVE MP WHO HOLD THE HEALTH BILL’S FATE IN THEIR HANDS 

  

As far as I know, I was the first political journalist to raise the prospect of the Liberal Democrats opposing Andrew Lansley’s health reforms.  On January 17, I asked on ConservativeHome: “Will the next big Liberal Democrat revolt be over the health bill?” – pointing out that the plan to scrap Primary Care Trusts wasn’t in the Coalition Agreement.  “Were I a Liberal Democrat MP…who believes that the best way of gaining public support in coalition is to fight the Conservatives publicly over policy, I’d brief today that Lansley’s plans are deeply worrying.”

In the short term, I was wrong.  There was no briefing against the bill from the Liberal Democrats.  And there was no rebellion against it at second reading on January 31, either.  No fewer than 48 of the party’s 57 MPs went through the Aye lobby with the Conservatives: one, Andrew George, abstained.  At this point, it was possible to imagine that the Orange Book tendency within the party had won out.  In opposition, Nick Clegg had said that “breaking up the NHS is exactly what you need to do to make it a more responsive service”, refusing to rule out the kind of insurance-based models supported by David Laws.

It was not until over a month later – the weekend of March 11/12 – that the revolt surfaced.  The former Liberal Democrat MP, Evan Harris, led the protests, warning that the party wouldn’t accept what Clegg had championed: the “fragmentation…of NHS services”.  His successful conference motion effectively called for the recreation of Primary Care Trusts – though under local democratic control – to run commissioning, and restrictions on buying services from outside the NHS.  Clegg scrambled to patch up the differences, declaring “Yes to reform of the NHS – but no to privatisation of the NHS.”

By the following Wednesday, David Cameron was insisting that the Government had already ruled out price competition, and that there would be no cherry-picking of patients by the private sector.  The announcement of the “pause” to the bill came on April 4.  The news proved that the ability of the Liberal Democrat left in general (and of Dr Harris in particular on healthcare issues) to pressurise first Clegg and then Cameron into making policy concessions shouldn’t be underestimated.  The final shape of the bill should become clear later this month, and the two party leaders are today meeting the NHS Future Forum.

Cameron and Clegg are maneuvering to claim credit for further coming climbdowns on the bill.  Clegg is desperate to prove that he has the power to force concessions, and Cameron to show that the Liberal Democrats aren’t the Coalition’s conscience on the NHS: how he ever believed that Lansley’s proposals were easily compatible with “decontaminating the Tory brand” on healthcare remains a mystery.  But amidst the focus on Harris, the Liberal Democrat conference motion, and the designs of the two Party leaders, one detail is easily missed – the role of Liberal Democrats in the Lords in general, and that of Shirley Williams in particular.

Like Paddy Ashdown, David Steel and the older generation of Liberal Democrats who now sit in the Upper House, Williams is by background and inclination instinctively uneasy about coalition with the old enemy, the Conservatives.  The Lords is already the focus of the row over the Government’s plans for elected police commissioners.  And it was a passionate speech by Lady Williams at the March conference which helped swing Liberal Democrat delegates behind Harris’s motion.  She penned an aggressive article this week in the Guardian listing a series of demands in relation to the health bill: in particular, she insisted on strict controls over competition in the NHS.

It seems certain that Lansley’s original plan to scrap PCTs, and replace their commissioning role with groups of doctors sitting in private, will be drastically overhauled.  A crucial sticking-point, however, is how much competition will be allowed.  Stephen Dorrell, the former Health Secretary who chairs the Health Select Committee, said colourfully yesterday that the idea that there’s no competition in the NHS already is “just bonkers”.  He thus seemed to be lining himself up with Lansley – and with the rest of his party’s MPs who gave the Health Secretary an enthusiastic reception at Wednesday’s 1922 Committee meeting.

But a deeper probe finds a different picture.  This history of the Coalition NHS row demonstrates that it has all the rationality of a midnight scrap in a bar: that it’s been driven throughout by politics, rather than policy.  But work on the latter has been taking place beneath the turbulence of the former.  It’s worth noting that Dorrell’s committee has produced recommendations remarkably similar to Lady Williams’s, and that her article praised “the excellent fifth report of the House of Commons Health Committee”.  She is an important voice within her party on healthcare.  He has emerged as a vital though guarded critic of Lansley’s original proposals.  Both are now key figures in settling the bill’s future.  Without their consent, it will not pass.

Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FROM CONSERVATIVEHOME

The story of the AV campaign: Yes2AV advocates still can’t decide if they should have reached out to Conservatives or kicked them harder
“One week after Yes2AV was soundly defeated it is interesting to read the Left’s continuing confusion as to whether the big mistake of the Yes campaign was its failure to build any support on the Right or whether its biggest failure was not to set out to destroy the Right and David Cameron, in particular.  At UnLock Democracy Peter Facey argues that electoral reform must not be seen as a left-wing issue…Angela Harbutt of LiberalVision notes Yes’s failure to use Nigel Farage…Sunder Katwala at the Fabian Society blogs that the Yes played the anti-Cameron card far too late…Matt Wootton at LeftFootForward is more concerned at the failure of the Left to unite against FPTP…Steve Gummer at LabourList also blames AV’s failure on disunity on the Left and, in particular, Ed Miliband’s refusal to campaign with Nick Clegg.” Tim Montgomerie.  Read more: http://is.gd/VfmLlO

When will the voters get to judge David Laws?
“For myself, I think of the tens of thousands of pounds I spent being a Conservative candidate against Laws and yet when it came to it we fought an election on lies and deceit. But this is not about me and it is supposedly the stuff of politics”…I fully support this coalition and dearly want to see our Prime Minister win an overall majority at the next election. For that reason, I ask him to think before he picks up the phone to ask David Laws back to the cabinet. I ask him to read the Laws report and ask himself what the voters of Yeovil would want – the people who really should have a say. I would hope, that in a time when we have spoken about cleaning up Westminster and giving voters powers to recall MPs we might just say that whilst we want talented people in the cabinet, those MPs who transgress really must seek the electoral opinion of their voters before they move on and try to make us forget their past transgressions.”  Kevin Davis.  Read more: http://is.gd/rYDpMp

A week of praise for David Cameron
In case you had missed it, here’s some of the most striking.  Leo McKinstry: “Cameron is now the dominant politician of our times.  Max Hastings: “Because Cameron is comfortable with himself, he makes others feel comfortable, too.  Benedict Brogan: “Mr Cameron also displayed his intent with his solid work-rate, rising at 5.30am to plough through his red boxes.  Simon Jenkins: “The past year has seen Cameron emerge as a political leader of real ability. He won last week’s voting referendum with panache, releasing his attack dogs on the enemy while shrugging off Lib Dem cries of foul.  Philip Stephens: “Mr Cameron exudes a confidence that says the thing that counts above all else is that he is prime minister. He was made for the role.” Peter Oborne: “Personally, too, the Prime Minister is setting about his mission with grace and charm. Gone is the brooding, dark presence of Gordon Brown, skulking round the Downing Street corridors and throwing a tantrum at a moment’s notice.  Matthew Barrett.  Read More: http://is.gd/l4JaVL

Three reasons to respect the Liberal Democrats
“This isn’t a great time for relations between the Coalition partners.  Which set me thinking: is there any reason at all for Conservatives to respect the Liberal Democrats?  I can think of three.  They’re playing their part in helping to eliminate the structural deficit…Their Ministers are working well alongside ours…Not so long ago, the Liberal Democrats were unambiguously a party of the left, but since then, they have moved to the right – at least on the economy.  After the next election, I want a majority Conservative Government…But it’s worth bearing in mind that we may not get what we want: after all, we didn’t do so last May.  Which leads me to a last reason for writing this article.  I don’t want the Liberal Democrats to be driven into the welcoming arms of Miliband.  I want the option of a future deal with the Liberal Democrats in our back pocket – just in case we ever need it.” Paul Goodman.  Read More: http://is.gd/vwh31W

ConHome’s Graeme Archer wins the Orwell Prize for blogging
“Over the years of editing ConservativeHome I’m proud of many things we have done.  I’m particularly proud that we’ve been able to encourage new talent. It’s also been a great privilege to give a platform to writers who otherwise might never have found an audience for their insight and eloquence.Graeme Archer has contributed many dazzling pieces over the years to ConservativeHome. He has made me laugh out loud. His writings have changed my mind about things. His writings have always been characterised by compassion. He has a great gift for relating his own experience of life with his political worldview. Thank you Graeme for all you’ve contributed to ConHome. You and writers like Andrew Lilico and Peter Cuthbertson have made this site what it is. I am delighted that your brilliance has been recognised.” Tim Montgomerie.  Read more: http://is.gd/XwOzWY

This really isn’t a good time to be a federalist in the European Union
“Ask a typical Euro-enthusiast what the main achievements of the EU are, they will tell you: the single market, the Euro, and the border-free Schengen zone.  The first of these – the single market – is undergoing a rebirth at the moment, with strong political will from national leaders (led by David Cameron) and the European Commission. However, the other two are in turmoil.  This column is primarily intended to give you an update on events in the European Parliament. However, what strikes me nowadays is the complete lack of serious debate or even corridor chat about the immediate Euro crisis. There seems to be an inevitability of further bailouts, forcing countries that have already received significant loans to bailout others.  Finance Ministers meeting in Brussels this week are discussing the details of the Portuguese bailout, and it looks like the UK is going to make a further contribution through the EFSM – something that I have argued against here.” Martin Callanan MEP. Read more: http://is.gd/GR3eCJ

When are the people going to get the referendum on Europe?
“Opponents of an EU referendum accuse those of us who want one of being in favour of populist plebiscites. But the argument to hold them over major constitutional issues seems to be becoming unanswerable. Alex Salmond and the SNP have just won handsomely in Scotland, and partly because the SNP made a promise to hold a referendum on independence, even if the majority of Scots would probably vote ‘no’. The clamour can only grow larger and louder, as more bail outs from the sinking Eurozone beckon and more and more people begin to realise just what little democratic power is available to them as citizens of an island nation, where more and more decisions are actually made elsewhere.” – Mark Seddon.  Read more: http://is.gd/BEPiSG

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