Even as the young Year 2013 begun to make its first few tentative steps our Energy Minister John Hayes was busy firing up the debate and at the same time entertaining us with his repartee. Regaling us in the House Magazine (the trade mag for Parliamentarians) about his boxing exploits and his childhood on a council estate in South London. And yet this is a politician who has also wowed the political arena with his knowledge of philosophy and his soaring rhetoric. The Speaker has praised him for having the “eloquence of Demosthenes”. He also revealed a close connection with energy. “My father worked in a power station. He was a turbine driver in Woolwich power station for 45 years, interrupted only by his war service when he was sergeant in the 8th Army in El Alamein, Monte Cassino and Anzio” he said.
Returning to his boxing story he said “It’s all about the hips and the feet...not the fists,” he explained. But our Energy Minister was perhaps providing a metaphor for his political ability to change Government direction without alerting his opponents. Despite his avowed enthusiasm for the Coalition he has almost certainly laid down a few clear policy differences with his departmental, if not political boss Ed Davey. The fact that he has done this whilst retaining his political ground unaffected and with the continued support and even affection of the DECC Secretary is perhaps revealing. Indeed it may be because of his style and approach that he CAN enjoy the Coalition. “My passion is the promotion of Conservatism; my pursuit is the purpose of Government” he said.
When he got the job last September one Conservative MP told us he was “a real Tory”. And yet he appeals across the political divide as illustrated by Ed Davey’s enthusiasm, saying that though they “occasionally disagree on issues of substance…I have to say I really admire his style.” This was also illustrated by his recent award of The House magazine’s Commons Minister of the Year voted for by all Parliamentarians. It is perhaps telling that he is the only Conservative Minister who has served two Liberal Democrats, having previously been at BIS under Vince Cable.
As we have commented before, the Minister came into the Department with a remit from the PM to “deliver a win for our people on windfarms”. His response was to say that “enough is enough” with onshore wind. He has also championed the role for shale gas in the energy mix. Along with DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson a strong political drive for this unconventional gas has been created, egged on with approval by the Chancellor. “Not to explore, not to investigate would, it seems to me, be a mistake, and that's a decision, as a Department, we've come to” Hayes said.
And what of the Energy Bill? It is currently before Parliament and has Mr Hayes’ strong support insisting that the policy is now settled and all sides are on board. He said that the prospective changes to the way Britain is powered, are “bigger than a single government, bigger than a single party, about strategic changes in the way that we deliver power, the way we deliver energy for both national economic interest and to maintain wellbeing”. He said the Bill is a “defining piece of legislation for him [Davey] and me, I guess, in terms of our ministerial careers - that’s bound to create a coincidence of interest, as well as a coincidence of purpose.”
The Energy Minister despite his philosophical retorts retains a populist edge. “Unless we can appeal to a broad range of people from a broad range of backgrounds it makes it very hard for us to win” he said. This doesn’t mean declaring war on energy companies though. “As soon as I spoke to the energy companies I found that they recognise there’s got to be work done here. Energy companies are playing their part in that debate because it’s partly about building and maintaining trust. They really need to develop the right kind of relationship with their consumers built on trust” he said.
The Energy Minister speaking at ENA’s Party Conference fringe meeting last October, his first as Energy Minister, entertained the packed out room, many were turned away such is the interest surrounding him. What was perhaps most interesting to look at was who filled the seats. It wasn’t the energy professionals (though they were there) but the party activists, the people whose beliefs shape the political soul of his Party which in turn shapes the policy. It is clear when you listen to Mr Hayes that what you are hearing is the voice of the heart of his Party and that indicates perhaps more clearly the policy direction than any amount of rational analysis. Politics is an emotional process essentially that is tempered by experience and debate. That sums up Mr Hayes’ approach very well.