In the days before Ed Miliband went all Marxist/brave on energy (delete as tribally appropriate), the debate around energy was more about fracking than it was about freezes. Shale gas has taken a back seat while ministers wonder what on earth they can do about bills to take the wind out of the Labour leader’s sails. But the political problems haven’t gone away.
The debate is still about whether the incentives on offer are enough for local communities to accept fracking pads in their area. MPs whose constituencies sit atop the Bowland Shale don’t think the government is offering enough, and have continued to tell the Prime Minister that. He recently held a meeting with MPs interested in fracking, but those who attended complain that they got little out of it. Then at political cabinet, David Cameron told colleagues that he had managed to get the MPs on side, presumably because he thought that simply holding a meeting was enough to persuade anyone.
But I hear that Environment Secretary Owen Paterson gave Cameron a ticking off, saying that he hadn’t persuaded any of the MPs yet. The fear is that the current incentives on offer – £100,000 for the local area directly affected by shale exploration and 1 per cent of revenues when the extraction begins – won’t outweigh local nervousness about the upheaval.
One of Cameron’s weaknesses is that he doesn’t think that he needs to preach to the unconverted in his party, but that they will trust him, or be dazzled simply by the offer of a meeting. But Paterson has a keener eye on the mutterings below deck: and for those mutterings to quieten down, the PM needs to do more than just hold a meeting.