Michael Fallon is the Spectator’s Minister of the Year, nicknamed the ‘Minister for Royal Shale’ for his dual role in the privatisation of the postal service and getting fracking going in this country. He’s also the minister whose thinking most closely mirrors Number 10’s stance on the energy market at present, and so his speech at the Spectator’s energy conference yesterday wasn’t just an important glimpse into current government policy, but also future Conservative policymaking on energy.
Significantly, the Energy Minister told the conference that the most important issues were ‘security of supply, affordability, and playing our part in combating climate change. And that for me is the order.’ This is an important shift: decarbonisation is no longer the government’s priority but ensuring that this country has an adequate and reliable energy supply and that consumers can afford to use it now take precedence. The Labour government theorised that higher prices would drive lower consumption: now that has been turned on its head.
Fallon also explained the shift in focus on government interventions in the energy market – and argued that there are many different ways of being green.
‘We will now concentrate help on those who need it most: the poorest and most vulnerable households. We will be more rigorous in ensuring that each scheme now delivers better value for money. Nor should we put our industry at a disadvantage against Europe and the United States. Decarbonisation must not mean deindustrialisation.
‘That’s why in cutting emissions, we should be going no faster but no slower than other European countries. So being green doesn’t mean being Greenpeace. Signing up to yet more targets irrespective of the impact on consumers and business is deeply irresponsible. By contrast, being cost-effective green is caring. Caring for the worst off, careful about our industry.’
Fallon isn’t dismissing decarbonisation: he just doesn’t want it to be an end that justifies a number of means that could wreck the energy market for consumers. This new hard-headed greenery is the new government stance. You won’t hear boasts of ‘the greenest government ever’ anymore, but you might hear more talk of the ‘most pragmatic government ever’.