25/4/2012 Guardian David Cameron downgrading of ‘keynote green speech’ to ‘remarks’ is an utter
betrayal.In an extraordinary failure of leadership, the prime minister has backed out of
making his first major green intervention. The nation’s ailing economy and
energy bill payers will bear the cost. – by Damian Carrington.
When you are in an omnishambles, stop shambling. Yet prime minister David
Cameron has at the last minute downgraded a planned “keynote speech” on the
environment, trailed as a “major policy intervention”, to just five minutes of
introductory “remarks” (see Thursday morning).
It is an extraordinary betrayal and abject failure of leadership. Cameron
pledged to lead the “greenest government ever” and was elected with photogenic
huskies and a “vote blue, go green slogan”. But after two years in No 10, he has
given no speech dedicated to the issue at the heart of his Tory decontamination
The speech on Thursday, at a clean energy ministerial (CEM) in London and
attended by energy ministers from the world’s 23 biggest economies, was set to
break that silence, as I reported on 4 April. In a government document I have
obtained, the event is described as “PM keynote speech to CEM participants”.
Cameron’s contribution will now be five minutes of introductory remarks to a
roundtable, followed by a Q&A with the ministers.
Those remarks are being used as green fig leaf by the prime minister’s office,
who say the form of Cameron’s contribution was never finalised. Not in public
perhaps but everyone, including ministers at the department of energy and
climate change and green campaigners who had been canvassed for ideas, were in
no doubt whatsoever that a keynote speech was in the diary.
“It will be a major policy intervention by the prime minister,” climate change
minister and Tory moderniser Greg Barker told me on 4 April. He described the
speech as a major keynote on the green economy. “All the big players in the
energy sector will be there: China, US, Germany, France, Brazil, Abu Dhabi and
Why does Cameron’s U-turn matter? Because a section of the Conservative party,
led by chancellor George Osborne have been openly hostile to green initiatives,
talking of “putting our country out of business” and burdening businesses “with
endless social and environmental goals”.
The reality is the polar opposite. The green economy already contributes 7% of
GDP and employs 900,000 people in the UK, more than teaching. Moreover, it is
that rarity in these austere times: a growing sector in which the UK has a
competitive advantage. The coalition has brought forward a series of good
policies, from the green investment bank to the green deal, yet the investors
who will fund the nation’s transition to a clean, sustainable green economy
desperately need wholehearted backing from the top of government.
The festering uncertainty its absence leaves infects confidence, leading to
cancelled jobs and piling billions in costs onto energy bill payers, who have to
stump up the extra cost of political uncertainty. With the dream of new nuclear
power plants in the UK crumbling in the face of high costs, a deafening
committment to energy efficiency and renewable energy is essential. What we get
is a cancelled speech and a craven capitulation to the Daily Mail over the
“conservatory tax” that never was.
Why can’t Cameron step up to the plate? There are plenty of theories, all
inexcusable. Perhaps he didn’t want to be talking about windmills on the day
growth figures may show the UK economy back in recession. The green economy is
the solution to that, not the problem.
Perhaps he is worried about the elections across the nation on 3 May. If so,
he’s read the opinion polls: people want renewable energy. Jim Pickard at the FT
reports that: “Cameron decided it was more useful to do a roundtable with
executives and politicians – and issue a press release on the side – rather than
a grandstanding speech.” That insults our intelligence, but it gets worse. “This
wouldn’t require the work of five speechwriters, was how one aide put it,”
writes Pickard. If that was a real issue – which it isn’t – Cameron could have
used the speech I wrote for him for free.
The truth is likely to be simpler. For a significant number of Conservative
supporters – though a small minority of the nation overall – talking green is a
vote loser. If there was any lingering doubt about the lack of genuine
committment to the environment at the top of the Conservative party and this
government, none now remains. The prime minister has not spoken.
Go to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2012/apr/24/cameron-green-speech-clean-energy