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An attack on climate change sceptics by Greg Barker turns out not to be an attack

By Paul Goodman
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Barker GregToday's Guardian reports its own article on energy policy by Greg Barker, which it carries today, as part of a "fightback against sceptics on the right of the party". (The paper presumably includes in that category those who believe that human activity plays a part in climate change, but who would decarbonise more slowly, as well as those who believe it doesn't play any part whatsoever, and wouldn't decarbonise at all.)  And certainly, the Energy Minister is neither a sceptic about climate change nor on the right of the party, if the latter term is simply used to describe critics of David Cameron. Indeed, he was one of the latter's earliest backers during the 2005 leadership election, and is a leading member of Conservatives 2020 - which seeks to keep alive, in Barker's own words, "a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message".

His Guardian piece is adapted from a book of essays called: Green conservatism: protecting the environment through open markets. (We've carried another one, written by ConservativeHome's own Peter Franklin.) Most climate change sceptics won't share Barker's enthusiasm for solar power - his "personal ambition is to see over 20GW of solar deployed in the UK by the next decade" - partly because of the subsidies involved, though it's worth adding that these were reduced last year, and Cameron has toyed publicly with going further.  None the less, there is more to the article than the Guardian's presentation of it.  This site believes that higher energy and fuel bills are a key election issue - making that case long before Ed Balls, frustrated by the emerging recovery, switched from saying it wouldn't happen to focusing on the cost of living.

We've urged Downing Street to look at John Penrose's ideas about reforming regulation - such as making more use of the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading.  But more competition from suppliers is essential as well as changed rules for governance, and the Energy Minister makes precisely that point in his piece: "we need an explosion in consumer choice...the big six need to become the big 60,000," Barker says.  The Guardian reports that the Government "will help drive down energy costs by prising open the energy market to challenge the "big six" suppliers".  The Energy Minister also confronts the hostility of the green lobby to gas which, he argues, "is not a bogeyman. If used to the highest environmental standards, gas can be our ally...we will need more gas not less." (Though note: he steers clear of the word "shale".)

Barker's stress on competition is a reminder that while Conservatives can have spikily different views about the causes of climate change and pace of decarbonisation, they agree about the role of competition.  (And also, to some degree, about imported gas - though for reasons of energy security as well as sufficient supply, a shift to domestic shale and nuclear can't come fast enough).  I would like to know more about how the Government will "complement", to borrow the Minister's own word, its electricity market reforms - just how that energy market will be prised open.  But although the Guardian report contains some critical briefing of my predecessor, the thrust of Barker's article is at one with the stance of this site. Though he presumably doesn't share our view that the Government should go much more slowly on the Carbon Price Floor.


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