There has been much talk about what the PM said to outgoing and incoming Ministers during the reshuffle the other week. Every politician knows it is “the revolving door of politics” but despite this the shock, disappointment or jubilation is always acute.
A hint has emerged in what Mr Cameron is alleged to have said to the new Energy Minister John Hayes. “I want you to deliver a win for our people on wind farms” he is heavily rumoured to have said. What could the PM possibly mean by this? The fact that it has emerged says something itself. It is part of what has been called “the pink meat” that has been thrown to the Conservative Party’s burgeoning right wing awkward squad. The reshuffle was a lurch to the right as the Bulletin pointed out last week. John Hayes is a no nonsense right wing Conservative. A “real Tory” as one Conservative MP put it to me the other day. He therefore may well be the man to “deliver a win for our people”. So who are the people he means here? Not the general public as a whole, not the green community, not the energy industry and not Lib Dem voters. He means his own party. A party that has become ever more sceptical about aspects of energy policy. Whether we like it or not it has been slowly burning for some time, and not just in the Conservative Party. What was the “bills not bears” debate initiated by Shadow DECC Secretary Caroline Flint for if not about changing the debate, sensing the mood. This most politically astute of politicians was reading the runes. As Charles Hendry himself put it last autumn, his concern was about how the public reacted to the winter’s energy bills once they hit their doorstep in March. Only this week a DECC Public Attitudes Tracker said the public were becoming increasingly sceptical about climate change policy and evermore concerned about energy security and rising energy costs.
So what does this right wing lurch mean. Even the Lib Dem DECC Secretary is embracing the language. “There is no 'unthinking abandonment' of fossil fuels” the DECC Secretary said today in a letter to the Financial Times. “We expect new gas capacity of up to 20GW to be built between now and 2030” Mr Davey said. “Shale gas may well play a part in our energy mix too” he added. So even Mr Davey is talking up gas and indeed shale gas in a way unimaginable only a year ago. Mr Hayes was busy with the pen today as well. In a letter to the Times he said in the typically florid way of our new Energy Minister, with one eye to always to history that the “iconic infrastructural commitment, which characterised FDR's response to US economic woes in the 1930s was an investment in the energy sector - the Hoover Dam. And so it will be here; working with industry, Government will embark upon the greatest reform of the electricity market since privatisation to facilitate unprecedented new investment - with nuclear power playing a key role alongside other technologies”.
This all comes as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said in a policy statement earlier this week that “the exploitation of UK shale gas resources has the potential to create thousands of high skilled engineering jobs over the next decade.
So where does this leave us? Perhaps in a more certain world. The debate around energy usage and about developing new technologies were at the centre of the public’s concerns in the DECC survey. That leaves us with the networks. Later next month we will be showcasing a range of projects that networks companies are undertaking to see how we can facilitate the very things the public want to see. The Low Carbon Networks Fund Conference in Cardiff is to be opened by the Welsh First Minister and will be the biggest event of its kind ever held. With politicians increasingly listening to the public where once they perhaps just lectured this energy technology is one they would be wise to focus on, encourage and support. Conference details can be found here.