Lib Dems begin to draw ‘green’ battle lines

A new book was previewed in Westminster this week ahead of their Spring Conference launch in Brighton. “The Green Book: New Directions for Liberals in Government” is a book of the Lib Dems, by the Lib Dems and for the Lib Dems, with messages that also resonated with the attendees. There was a sizeable audience from the worlds of politics, academia, business, NGO’s and pressure groups who all welcomed the book but didn’t give the panel an easy ride.   

The panel of Duncan Brack (co-editor of The Green Book), Matthew Spencer (Green Alliance), Andrew Raingold (Aldersgate Group) and Tom Burke (E3G), was chaired by Baroness Kate Parminter - an excellent balance of inward-facing Liberal Democrat strategists and external stakeholders. At the heart of the addresses was an attempt to frame ‘green policy’ as central to Britain’s economic sustainability and make this the crux of Lib-Dem policy in the run up to their Annual Conference, and ultimately the Lib-Dem Strategy for 2015.

In their attempt to emphasise the strengths of the ‘green sector’ the panel focused on the provision of jobs. The energy sector has created new jobs for thousands of people in a hard economic climate, and this was an industry USP. The audience didn’t all buy this point. It was argued that ‘green jobs’ are simply replacing ‘brown jobs’ - they aren’t new at all. This in mind there was still general agreement that the energy sector has the potential to lead economic growth. There is money waiting to be invested in the sector, but the lack of commitment and policy from government is postponing investment into the UK.

From a business perspective and polling, it was clear that as a rule of thumb, people want to believe in a brand. From choosing where to shop to where to invest, for consumers it is less about detail and more about trust. There is a huge challenge for the Lib Dems to earn people’s trust. It was nearly consensus that a key test will be whether the Lib Dems vote in favour of the upcoming amendment to the Energy Bill, and that it would be a betrayal of their brand if they didn’t.  This is yet to be seen.

Interestingly, the issue of social responsibility in the energy sector was touched upon. Whose responsibility is it to tackle fuel poverty? Whose role is it to provide water, food and energy security? It was warned that the Liberal Democrats, and indeed Liberals in Government, can’t ignore or sacrifice these things “for the economy”: The Green economy is the new economy.

The Lib Dems want and need to take on new battles. Ones to look out for may include decarbonisation targets, fracking and carbon tax. And not to ignore the elephant in the room – how will these impact funds? The crucial battle, only skimmed in the book, is financing this innovative green revolution. If reliance on the Green Bank is too heavy, where are the battle lines?

Ultimately, this book of, by, and for, Liberal Democrats, is a book for the Treasury, the Civil Service, and people who care about the future of Britain’s economy. The Green Book is a refreshing approach to economic policy which should have a progressive impact on policy debate. 

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