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In Coalition Energy Policy It’s All About Diversity

Last Updated: Friday, March 18th, 2011

Chris Huhne, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, has asked the Chief Nuclear Inspector to consider the implications of the Japanese nuclear incident but, overall, I’m getting very robust noises from inside the Coalition (from both the blue and yellow halves) about the future of nuclear power. The report from the UK’s nuclear officer Mike Weightman is expected to offer reassurance rather than recommend a change of direction.

My sources are saying privately what they are saying publicly: there is no read across from what has happened in Japan. As well as the fact Britain is not seismically active the Fukushima plant was forty years old. The technology that will be used for a new generation of British nuclear builds is completely different and vastly superior.

We are, I’m told, in a similar position to the situation after the BP/Gulf Oil Spill; media sensationalism and over-reaction.  Then we were told offshore drilling was over. It has, of course, resumed at full pace. The Weightman report gives the Coalition an opportunity for the hysteria to die down.

Four factors drive Coalition energy policy: public safety, green goals, price and diversity but the greatest of these is diversity.

DECC ministers are aware of the concerns – particularly of manufacturers – about higher energy prices because of the determination to build so many renewables into the plan for Britain’s future energy mix. Nonetheless they see renewables as an essential part of the energy security vision that will protect Britain from vulnerability to foreign oil and gas price inflation.

Cost of renewables is high but coming down. Fossil fuels, they believe, are a one way upwards bet in a world where population numbers are heading towards nine billion and mass industrialisation is unstoppable.

I’m told to expect a much greater emphasis on energy efficiency in the months ahead. Greg Barker MP, Tory DECC minister, argues that we should see energy inefficiency today in the same way we saw poor productivity at British Leyland in the 1970s – deadly to our economic competitiveness.

Before new nuclear plants come on stream and before renewables become cheaper, the greatest gains ministers believe are to be found in better use of existing energy. The plan is for 14 million homes to be ‘green-dealed’ by 2020. The next phase of Huhne’s push is for industry to be ‘green-dealed’ too.

Tim Montgomerie


Today, Britain has a new foreign policy – and it isn’t neo-conservatism. It’s the politics of “it depends”.  Today – in the wake of the British-and-French led UN resolution on Libya – it will be claimed that there’s now a new Conservative foreign policy – that we’re back to Tony Blair, the Iraq War and liberal internationalism, as set out in Blair’s Chicago speech. This is wrong… The Libyan decision doesn’t mean that we’re now back-to-the-future, with a neo-conservative foreign policy rampant in Downing Street. 

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First Budget whispers emerge: Much of the Whitehall machine is working overtime to prepare for George Osborne’s Budget next Wednesday. And today has seen a flurry of speculation about what may or may not be included in the Chancellor’s statement, to be delivered next Wednesday at 12.30pm. Here are the three main stories floating around today: 1. The potential merging of income tax and national insurance; 2. More tax breaks for “business angels”; and 3. Airport tax to be increased.

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Charlie Elphicke MP recommends policies for growth: Smaller businesses account for six out of ten UK jobs. Yet smaller businesses find it hard to raise the capital they need to expand. Investment would be helped by the expansion of the business growth fund.  Reform of the tax incentives for smaller business investment like the EIS and VCT schemes would help entrepreneurs grow their enterprises faster. Smaller businesses need greater help when it comes to exports – a fundamental reform of Britain’s export assistance could get such businesses the help they need to expand overseas.

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Andrea Leadsom MP proposes more competition in the banking sector: Splitting up the banks along rigid lines will not prevent the institutions themselves being too big to fail. It does not go nearly far enough. What is needed is a flexible case by case investigation of individual banks and their various multiple complex activities to ensure the triumph of free market principles. There must be the possibility of entry for new participants and an orderly exit for those that fail. Only then with a truly competitive banking industry will the taxpayer be protected from the prospect of having to bail out institutions which cannot be allowed to fail.

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Edward Timpson MP appointed to strengthen Number 10’s relations with ‘Class of 2010′: Edward Timpson MP, the winner of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, will be joining Downing Street’s political unit, to work alongside the PM’s Political Secretary, Stephen Gilbert, on campaigning and building better relations with the new intake of Tory MPs (half of the parliamentary party).

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How do the whips discipline rebellious MPs? Something that a number of MPs tell me has happened after they have been rebellious is to find themselves being put onto a tedious public bill committee or Statutory Instrument, where they are expected to turn up, sit tight and say nothing for hours at a time, but to be present in case of a division – the equivalent of a parliamentary detention, if you like. Historically, whips could have denied a prized select committee seat to a rebel they wanted to punish. But they no longer have power over who sits on select committees, now that those places are allocated by election, so that option is no longer open to them. In fact it may be rather further down the line that the whips get the better of MPs who have crossed them.

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Jeremy Hunt MP: Why local TV is vital in the context of our localist agenda: The media is incredibly important in shaping society. We will not succeed in our localist objectives if we do not also relax the centralised grip of the London media on the way local issues are portrayed. If you look at local TV affiliates in Boston, they also have national and international news – but read to you by someone in your city. The Big Society is about harnessing the energy, enthusiasm and ideas of individual citizens to achieve shared social purposes – the media needs to play its part.

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Councils’ dependence on Whitehall grants could be ended: A vision of ‘self-funded’ councils that keep their local business taxes with central grant dependence scaled back except where it is needed to protect the interest of taxpayers is being put forward today by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles. The first phase of a review of council resources is being launched today to consider ways to establish a new system for Business Rates and Government Grant, which protects the interests of taxpayers, rewards local growth and job creation, and delivers a more self-sufficient income for councils.

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Cross-party campaign for in/out EU referendum will target marginal seats: Last week David Cameron rejected the idea of an in/out referendum on the EU – confirming the Tory leadership’s commitment to continuing EU membership…. But tomorrow will see the formal launch of a new campaign to get the EU referendum that 61% of the British people want. The cross-party campaign will encourage people to sign what will be called The People’s Pledge. Signatories will pledge to only vote for candidates who, themselves, are willing to vote for a referendum. The internet-based campaign will initially focus on the 100 most marginal seats in the country.

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