The run up to the 2015 general election is beginning and political battlegrounds are being reconoitered. Whilst the Liberal Democrats’ credibility has suffered immeasurably as the hapless stooge in the Coalition’s double act, they have played an early gambit with their Green Growth and Green Jobs policy paper for their Autumn Conference. All the bases seem to be covered: transport, heating, electricity, decarbonsiation and behaviour change are all mentioned. This is encouraging news for those who want to see green issues rise to the top of the national political agenda. However, it does not necessarily mean we should jump aboard the yellow sustainability train to Greenville, and it certainly doesn’t mean the Lib Dems have found the magic ticket that will regenerate them into the electable force they were last time round. Rather than the content of their proposals, perhaps the most interesting aspect of their paper is the decision to choose the Green Economy as the issue upon which they strike out on their own and distinguish themselves from their Coalition partners.
The success of communicating their new message will probably hinge on the reputation of Ed Davey, Lib Dem MP and Department for Energy and Climate Change Secretary. His ability to push a greener agenda for the rest of this term will be the key indicator that the Lib Dems mean business.
Of course the Lib Dems deserve a pat on the back for their commitment (whatever that may be worth nowadays) to a ‘Zero Carbon Britain’, but the reason to be cheerful is that the electorate’s concerns on environmental and social issues are finally being reflected in mainstream politics. The Lib Dems are upping the stakes and hopefully this will lead to some healthy competition over the next 18 months across the political spectrum. Even those with the most cynical outlook towards Britain’s parliamentary democracy have to admit that an increase in awareness will lead to emerging benefits for those people working hard at the grassroots. Previous elections have been dominated by foreign affairs and economic turmoil- perhaps 2015 will be the year that Green will dominate the agenda. As ever, the real challenge will be to hold whichever party is in power accountable to their policies.
Coinciding with this paper, the escalation of the fracking debate is fast becoming an uncomfortable dilemma for the Conservatives. As we know the Conservatives are proclaiming to be leading Britain’s greenest ever government, however they have eagerly dispensed with the mask so they can sink their teeth into another economic opportunity based on fossil fuels. Their approval and greasing of the wheels for exploratory drilling in the Sussex, is being resisted by many groups including, most notably, their own NIMBYs of the Tory heartland (see here and here for the concerns on a fracking led energy strategy). There is a serious risk that the party will be driving a wedge between themselves and their core supporters so long as fracking remains a local issue. This is unlikely to change since this is a battleground that, by definition, cannot be moved; one side or the other will have to compromise. Public opinion has been reported to be split down the middle, but also strongly polarised, and this should keep renewable energy as a top priority for the foreseeable future.