Conservative Diary


8 Dec 2012 15:16:10

The developed world may soon be compensating the developing world for climate change

By Matthew Barrett
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At the climate talks currently being conducted in Doha, there is a radical proposal that, it seems possible, may be accepted by many of the major developed countries in the world. The UN talks look like they will conclude with an agreement that developed countries will compensate developing countries for the impact of climate change. 

The principle of compensating the third world has been discussed since 1992's climate talks in Rio, but many industrial Western countries, especially the United States, have resisted such an idea. The US appears ready to consent to it this time, because the wording of the proposal caps compensation payouts by wealthy countries at a nonetheless-eye-watering €100bn a year.

A9g0gOtCAAA1xsOOur man in Doha, Gregory Barker, pictured as part of the British delegation, right, has been keeping followers updated on Twitter. By all accounts, delegates at the Qatari capital's conference centre are extremely tired, and the talks have frustratingly stretched on for longer than expected, having been supposed to have finished last night. It is still unclear what the final outcome of the talks will be, or if the radical plan will finally be adopted, but the signs so far point to definite progress.

The effect of the resultant climate change bill on Britain is not likely to be a happy one; countries have signed up to a further reduction in carbon emissions, which usually means an increase in fuel prices for British consumers, a less competitive atmosphere in which to do business, and so on.

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28 Nov 2012 12:35:20

Nick Boles’s proposal for solving Britain’s housing shortage? Build beautiful

By Peter Hoskin
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BolesJudging only from the headlines in today’s papers, you might get the impression that Nick Boles wants to pour ugly, ugly concrete over Britain’s countryside. They’re taking their cue from the minister’s claim, spoken in a Newsnight interview which airs tonight, that:

In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about nine per cent of land developed. All we need to do is build on another two to three per cent of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.”

But, actually, it’s beauty — not ugliness — that Mr Boles is keen to spread. In a speech that he’s delivering to the Town and Country Planning Association’s annual conference tomorrow, he suggests that a lot of the resistance to new housing developments comes about because the developments are often “pig ugly”. This creates a “vicious cycle”, which he describes thus:

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23 Nov 2012 07:38:29

Osborne and Davey both claim victory over green power deal. Green groups attack it.

By Paul Goodman
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  • Screen shot 2012-11-23 at 07.30.11Householders and business pay £2.35 billion per year towards the costs of green power.
  • Under the deal agreed by George Osborne and Ed Davey, this will rise to £7.6billion a year by 2020.
  • Energy bills have more than doubled since 2004 to more than £1,300 a year per household.
  • They will rise under the deal over the next two decades by an estimated £178 a year.
  • The contribution to nuclear and renewables making up £95 by 2020.

These are the headline points for consumers  in the Daily Telegraph's front page account of the Osborne/Davey agreement.

Then there is the question of which Cabinet Minister got his way, after negotiations between the two that have stretched for weeks.

  • "Lib Dem sources said that the party was “extremely pleased” to have won support for the reforms that would mean more wind farms and nuclear power stations were built."
  • "Conservative sources were claiming the compromise deal was a victory for Mr Osborne, after he secured concessions limiting the level of taxpayer cash spent on green energy in the long term."

The Chancellor apparently "threw out Lib Dem demands for a target that would have forced Britain to get all its power from green sources by 2030".  Treasury spin?

Well, Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth says that the deal “banged the final nail in the coffin of [David] Cameron’s pledge to lead the greenest government ever”.  So judge for yourself.

14 Nov 2012 20:54:58

Now George Osborne is dragged into the Greenpeace sting

By Peter Hoskin
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Turns out that Chris Heaton-Harris wasn’t the only person to fall foul of Greenpeace’s camera lenses. The video above was published by the group yesterday, but has only just been reported, by the Telegraph and the Independent. It includes Peter Lilley and Lord Howell of Guildford in its cast list.

Both men mention George Osborne in relation to the Government’s green energy policy. First, Mr Lilley, speaking about the recent reshuffle:

“Basically I think Osborne wanted to get people into key positions who could begin to get the government off the hook of the commitments it made very foolishly.”

And then Lord Howell, who also happens to be the Chancellor’s father-in-law:

“The Prime Minister is not familiar with these issues, doesn’t understand them … Osborne is of course getting this message and is putting pressure on.”

In many respects, this is unsurprising. It has already been widely reported that Mr Osborne is pushing to cut the subsidies handed out for renewable energy. And it doesn’t take any secret insight to see the recent reshuffle as part of that battle.

But it’s still far from ideal when the Chancellor has to release statements, as he has done this evening, emphasising that he “supports Government policy”. And it’s even less ideal that the green policies the Conservatives do have — and the ones they should have — are being subsumed by so much camera footage. Now might be the time to reinvigorate that agenda, as I suggested in a recent column

14 Nov 2012 10:30:14

Chris Heaton-Harris MP’s remarks typify David Cameron’s wind farm troubles

By Peter Hoskin
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There’s no denying it, this morning’s Guardian story about Chris Heaton-Harris is an embarrassing one for the Conservative Party — and a troublesome one for David Cameron. Mr Heaton-Harris, who is the Tory campaign manager in Corby, was recorded suggesting that he encouraged the writer and anti-wind farm campaigner James Delingpole to involve himself as an independent in the by-election. You can watch the footage here and here, but the gist of it is contained in Mr Heaton Harris’s remark that:

“I suggested to him that he did it … Please don’t tell anybody ever … He just did it because it’s a long campaign, it’s six weeks to cause some hassle and get people talking … Maybe we’ve just moved the [wind farm] agenda on.”

Mr Heaton-Harris is this morning downplaying the story, claiming that some of it can be attributing to him “bragging about things beyond my control,” and pointing out — in a statement that’s included in the first video — that Mr Delingpole was never actually a candidate in the election because he never actually submitted a deposit, and has since pulled out of proceedings anyway. “I always hoped that James Delingpole would not formally enter the race,” reads one part of the statement, “as I hoped to convince him that I and the Conservative Party represent his views across a broad spectrum of issues.”

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31 Oct 2012 10:36:14

John Hayes lets his rhetoric get away from Coalition policy — but does he have the blessings of the Tory leadership?

By Peter Hoskin
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“Death knell for wind farms,” blares the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph. “Minister signals the end of the wind farm,” trumpets the Daily Mail. Both were taking their cue from John Hayes’s declaration that “enough is enough” when it comes to on-shore wind farms. It was a declaration that even had Christopher Booker wondering whether the end is now in sight for those vertiginous wind turbines.

Except there’s a problem: the minister probably let his rhetoric run ahead of the situation. It turns out that Mr Hayes’ departmental superior, Ed Davey, blocked him from attacking wind power in a speech he delivered yesterday — but the attack made it into interviews anyway. Lib Dem sources are now putting it about that an end to on-shore wind farms isn’t, and couldn’t ever be, Coalition policy.

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23 Oct 2012 12:46:08

There is no "u-turn" on a badger cull - Owen Paterson is doing the right thing and temporarily postponing it

By Matthew Barrett
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PATERSON OWEN NWOwen Paterson, the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has announced in the House of Commons his department's decision to postpone its planned badger cull until next summer. This morning, the Guardian reported that he would "return from an official trip abroad to oversee the U-turn", and said that the delay "represents another setback for the government... the latest in a string of embarrassments for No 10".

The reality is quite different. Far from being cancelled or disorganised, the delay is the result of a proper and thorough process. As Mr Paterson has just noted in the House, a letter from the National Farmers Union confirms that because of factors including unusually disruptive weather conditions, clashes with the Olympic and Paralympic Games, legal challenges by outside groups, and most importantly, surveys showing a higher than expected badger population, the optimum time for a badger cull to take place this year has passed, and the NFU has requested that Mr Paterson proceed with the policy next summer.

The arguments in favour of a badger cull are clear. The farming industry suffers badly from the spread of bovine TB, which is carried by badgers. The cost of dealing with bovine TB is projected to total £1billion over the next ten years - but the argument is not simply an economic one: farmers' lives and livelihoods are devastated by the impact of TB, and more than 26,000 cattle were slaughtered last year. Farmers not only have to take on the economic burden of dealing with the immediate impact of TB, but the farming industry also takes on other badger-related costs, through, for example, research into the badger population.

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20 Sep 2012 12:26:45

The seven government departments David Cameron should scrap at the next reshuffle

By Matthew Barrett
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At the last reshuffle, David Cameron did something quite unusual: he didn't change the name or purpose of any of his government's departments. During the Blair and Brown years, changes like these were rather common. People may remember the poor Department for Constitutional Affairs, or the old Department of Trade and Industry, or its successor, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which lasted for only two years.

At Mr Cameron's next reshuffle, he could consider changing tactic, and start reducing the number of government departments by merging those which have similar purposes. There are obvious spending benefits to be considered - by keeping some staff from one department, but not retaining those whose function is already performed at the newly merged department - and there are also good reasons for Parliament to want to reduce the number of departments. Many backbenchers complain about the over-mighty executive, and the ability it has to undermine backbenchers by appointing minor payroll jobs like Parliamentary Private Secretaries, as well as the obviously necessary Secretaries and Ministers of State. Reducing the number of these jobs would hand more power to Parliament. 

At the very least, there are some anomalous ministerial postings which could easily be dealt with. Why should the Minister with responsibility for Universities, for example, work at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and not Education?

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1 Sep 2012 07:16:55

Housing - if not radical reform now, then when?

By Paul Goodman
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Policy Exchange's housing plan might have been written to offend vested interests...

Screen shot 2012-09-01 at 08.42.33In our Comment Section today, Alex Morton of Policy Exchange urges the creation of a Secretary of State of Housing in the coming reshuffle, so that this new Cabinet appointment can drive through radical planning reform.  He also argues that the current centralised system has failed and that localism will succeed: under his scheme, set out in the think-tank's paper Cities for Growth and in previous Policy Exchange papers, planning would be taken away from local councils and given to local communities.

In short, these would vote on development proposals for their own backyards, and yes votes would bring compensation for those affected.  NIMBYs would thus have an incentive to become YIMBYs - Yes-In-My-Back-Yardies.  Local plans would be stripped down.  Section 106 agreements would go.  Quality control would be more about local material, less about high density and zero car spaces.  When supported locally, building would be easier on brown field and green field sites - but there would be a green belt improvement levy to improve the parts of it that aren't built on.

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24 Aug 2012 15:28:34

As the growth row over Heathrow goes on, don't forget the one over housing - and building on the Green Belt

By Paul Goodman
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There was more in ConservativeHome's newslinks this morning about Ministerial disagreements over Heathrow, which are being projected by suggestions that Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, may be moved.  The report was from the Financial Times (£).

The lobby is writing less about the other big divergence of view over building and growth - namely, over housing and the green belt  This is probably because are no suggestions that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, will be moved in the reshuffle.

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