Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Finding the key to Julia Gillard's political narrative

Last week, the Australian Labor Party installed Julia Gillard as prime minister in the hope that she can win this year’s election. “Reconnect with the voters” is the operative phrase.

Now the hard questions are coming. Can she win? What does Julia Gillard stand for? As night follows day, the n-word – narrative – is starting to appear in the Australian media.

Michelle Grattan, veteran political correspondent for The Age, says that Gillard needs a narrative.

As she grapples with the three issues the government must neutralise - mining tax, asylum seekers and climate change - Julia Gillard has a broader challenge. She needs to fit her solutions into a story that defines, rather than confuses, her political identity.

Kevin Rudd's popularity plunged when people became unsure about what he stood for. But now Gillard's own narrative is becoming rather hard to follow.

Julia Gillard’s challenge is both easier and harder than it looks. She already has a brand, a personal narrative. “The Gillard narrative so far is one of a fresh face with talent in spades: the first female prime-minister-in-waiting,” political commentator Per Van Onselen wrote last week, just before Labor switched leaders. Gillard projects authority with personality, says The Australian’s Paul Kelly. Sid Astbury has called her “famously calm, never impetuous and never flustered . . . Labor's best parliamentary performer”. My friend Karin Sowada (who was a Democrats senator in the early 1990s) wrote last week that:

Julia Gillard is a formidable opponent – tough, smart, a clear communicator with a measured political judgement and manner of personal presentation which is confident and reassuring. The public quite like her and she reflects a common touch in her voice and manner.

So far, however, the well-chronicled story has been all about Julia Gillard and not about the Australian people, where they’ve been and where she wants to take them. Margaret Thatcher stayed in power for so long because she was a brilliant teller of a story that was both easy to understand and resonated with the emotions and the deepest-held, shared values of most British people.

If Julia Gillard wants to “reconnect” the Labor government with Australian voters, she too will need to tell a story that enables them to develop (or to confirm) a sense of who they are; and that enables people to reframe their thoughts and plans for the future.

Margaret Thatcher’s story was successful because she embodied her narrative. She came from the very ‘little England’ she so revered. The grocer’s daughter from Grantham worked all hours. Her language and rhetoric often reflected Thatcher’s ‘black-and-white’, ‘us-and-them’ way of seeing the world. So Gillard’s brand will be important too.

Some people may be uncomfortable with the Thatcher lesson but it wasn’t a one-off. The Hawke and Keating governments successfully deployed a narrative that was originally about the need national unity and reconciliation, in the face of a grave social and economic crisis. Over time, they told a story of transformation and renewal, based on giving Australia a strong and modern economy, so that it could face a tough, changing world. The first story became a bridge to the second. Bob Hawke embodied the narrative with his record as a solver of industrial disputes in his 1970s; his history as a folk hero and his very “Australianness” put him above party. As treasurer and prime minister, Keating was strong and determined; above all, he delivered (with some accompanying blood and gore, rays and hail). In their very different ways, and despite all their disagreements, both men were accomplished storytellers.

Like most senior politicians, Kevin Rudd has a strong personal brand – as a competent technocrat and, until recently, an election winner. His policy wins were not insignificant. But he failed to put them all together and tell a story that evoked his country’s values, archetypes and myths and painted a compelling picture of its future.

Julia Gillard will find it hard to rewrite the Labor government’s entire policy programme. There’s very little time until the election and she was, after all, part of Rudd’s inner circle. (Therein lies the opposition’s counter-story – this is no fresh face, they are saying). And no politician ever won by just reeling off a list of policies. No, her mission is to tell a story that is emotional and engaging, compelling and connecting, and to embody it. If Gillard fails in this, Rudd’s fate will be hers also.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley

Monday, 28 June 2010

Pollwatch: British people like clean energy more than fossil fuels or nuclear, worry about energy costs and supply security

The energy regulator Ofgem has recently published Energy Issues 2009: Survey of British Public Opinion. The survey was taken by Ipsos MORI last December.

Here are the main points I have taken from the Ipsos MORI report:

· The various forms of clean, renewable energy are most popular with the British public as sources of electricity. Coal is the least popular and nuclear energy comes second to bottom in the public’s scale of preferences. Hydro, tidal, wave, offshore wind and large scale solar power are very popular. But onshore wind energy lags behind the other renewable sources, which should come as no surprise after the negative media it has received over recent years. Anti-nuclear and anti-onshore wind campaigners should both approach these figures with some caution, however. The survey merely offers a scale of preferences, with no energy sources ruled out altogether. Respondents were not asked to make trade-offs between the options.

· People are more likely to consider gas and electricity in terms of their cost than their impact on emissions. The price of domestic energy is the most frequently mentioned concern overall, with 52% of first or second mentions. Next comes affordability for everyone eg the vulnerable, with 43%. In other words, the public may be more likely to see energy policy as being about “social” policy – or, perhaps, “fairness” – than the environment. Of the factors listed, “being able to save the environment by reducing emissions” comes in third, with 36% of first or second mentions. That’s a significant figure. So is the 39% of first or second mentions for saving costs by being energy efficient. Still, no less than £200 billion of investment is needed in the UK’s energy infrastructure over the coming decade and the potential cost to consumers is one of the biggest political headaches that the government faces in energy and climate change policy.

· Making sure that Britain can provide all the electricity and gas people want is least mentioned as a first or second level concern. Yet people are clearly concerned about Britain’s energy security. 69% are very or fairly concerned about future imports from abroad. Three in four are concerned about Britain running out of gas. So, future energy options need to be framed, at least in part, in terms of supply security.

· More surprisingly, barely more than half those surveyed recognise that the government is responsible for having enough gas and electricity. All sorts of culprits, such as energy suppliers and Ofgem, are in the frame and one in ten said they don’t know who is responsible. But the government would surely be the first to be blamed if there was ever a real energy supply crisis.

· Most people don’t seem to be very prepared to change their energy use behaviours. Respondents were asked to give their opinions of five energy-saving measures. As the report says:

there is considerable interest in some of the proposed energy saving measures, though none would find overwhelming majority acceptance, and some are unpopular.

Later, the report explains:

the option of heating water at different times of the day attracts the highest likelihood of adoption. This is followed by using appliances (dishwashers, washing machines etc) after midnight. Both of these options are thought very/fairly likely to be adopted by a (small) majority of the population. Slightly less popular is the concept of technology that would automatically switch off appliances when prices are high, though this still attracts more rating it as likely than unlikely. The public are evenly split on carrying out household tasks including cooking during cheaper periods. Least popular is the use of electric storage heaters – 47% rate this as very/fairly unlikely while only 35% see it as likely.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Coalition's key test for the Liberal Democrats

I often wonder whether, in all the shock and awe of the last couple of months, Liberal Democrats have grasped fully one of the biggest potential “wins” from the coalition government.

Surely, we should be pinning our hopes on the environmental agenda. The Liberal Democrats can now drive faster progress towards a zero carbon Britain.

The point is well made in an article for The Guardian by Matthew Spencer, the new head of Green Alliance. He says that the delivery of environmental policies is a major test - and a major opportunity - for the coalition government. He points out there was little difference on green issues between the Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos and argues that the need to bring down the public deficit will force the coalition to use regulation to achieve its environmental goals.

Spencer picks up on some the implications for the Liberal Democrats.

Along with civil liberties and electoral reform, the environment is central to the Liberal Democrats' sense of political identity. As one Lib Dem insider recently told me: "If we can't make progress on green issues it wouldn't have been worth joining the coalition." It's an agenda that Nick Clegg will hope to use to bind the Lib Dem base into the coalition over coming months.


Being the greenest government ever may not seem like a big achievement given the patchy performance of previous administrations, but for the coalition it will be a major test. If they can't achieve rapid progress on green issues their legitimacy will fade in the eyes of Liberal Democrats supporters and those who voted Conservative in the belief that it was a reformed, modern party. If they do manage to deliver on their commitments it will be a badge of honour for the new politics of Cameron and Clegg.

There is another, important reason that the Lib Dems can and should deliver for the environment. The party has cornered many of the relevant jobs in government.

Let's start with the obvious one: the Lib Dem secretary for energy and climate change, Chris Huhne, has his capable hands on the levers for regulating the electricity generation sector, which accounts for 37% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. He is also responsible for energy efficiency policies and for this country’s efforts to shape EU energy and climate change policy.

The Lib Dem BIS secretary, Vince Cable, leads the department that is best placed to provide this country’s businesses with the certainty they need to invest in low carbon, sustainable prosperity and enable them to make the best of the opportunities offered by the £3 trillion global market for environmental goods and services. Vince alluded to this in his first major policy speech, on 3 June.

The debate about industrial policy always raises the spectre of ‘picking winners’. But in a globalised economy its time to move this debate on a bit – be clear about what this means. Because in some ways we have to be picking winners . . .

. . . What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to micromanage the economy at the level of individual companies or so-called national champions: trying to supercede the judgement of markets.

The green technology revolution is a good example, and a potential source of huge opportunity for Britain. The Government is, and should, support development in a variety of renewable energy technologies and a variety of environmentally friendly vehicles – it does not have to be prescriptive.

Liberal Democrats in other departments can also make a difference. Norman Baker, a transport minister, is responsible for regional and local transport, buses, walking and cycling and alternatives to travel. The Committee on Climate Change has found that "smarter choices" - influencing people's travel behaviour towards more sustainable options - offer significant low-cost potential for reducing transport emissions.

Andrew Stunell, a communities minister, has building regulations as part of his remit. That may sound a little dry, but 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from energy consumed in buildings. The Carbon Trust has shown that tighter Building Regulations can be part of a strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of non-domestic buildings by more than one third by 2020.

No, these ministers will not be able to stop climate change on their own. Important as they are, their roles cannot provide the cross-departmental, multi-faceted approach that is needed to drive the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

But Liberal Democrat ministers now have an historic opportunity to join forces, link together the policies that they control or influence and ensure more rapid progress towards the party’s goal of a zero carbon Britain.

That’s a very good reason for the party to be in the coalition. It’s also one of the best ways that I can see of judging the Liberal Democrats’ effectiveness in government.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A few more reasons why my generation isn't saving the world

Over on Huffington Post, Will Bunch has an interesting piece about Generation Jones, the cohort of people born between 1954 and 1965. He argues that Generation Jones is coming to power all over the world. But he’s not satisfied that we’re trying hard enough to solve its problems. Bunch believes that pragmatism has won out over idealism because our underlying anxiety about careers and personal economic security has left Jonesers with an innate aversion to taking risks.

The Next Greatest Generation? Hardly. The reality is that Generation Jones is showing up just in time, when the planet really does need saving -- and we are blowing it, big time. The challenges faced not just by the United States but by the entire world -- global warming, a deadly addiction to fossil fuels, governments addled by debt yet unable to stop spending billions on weapons -- require bold, boat-rocking risk-takers, people who have looked into the abyss of humankind and are not afraid to make daring moves.

This is simply not my Generation Jones . . . We are careerists -- clinging to our conviction that we can change the world not by forceful ideas but by the mere force of our own often-coddled personalities, even if the ideas and passions that once animated our humanity have been buried under pages of resumes and cover letters.

Ouch. Bunch goes on to describe Barack Obama and his new supreme court nominee, Eliza Kagan, as case studies of our generation’s cautious careerism and reluctance. And he wonders if the progressive ideals of Obama, Kagan other Jonsesers have now lain dormant for so long that they might never rise again.

I have argued previously that the leaders from Generation Jones need to start putting their political cards on the table and showing what they stand for and what they are going to do with their time in the sun. That applies to leaders from the moderate left, like Barack Obama and Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd, and to those from the moderate right, like New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key. All have been criticized, including by their own sides, for not being bold or visionary enough.

So I can relate a lot of what Bunch says. I grew up in New Zealand and not the US. He may be exaggerating parts of his argument for effect. Yet I can relate to his basic argument. When I was at secondary school, in the late 1970s, the senior teachers gave us stern lectures about how gruesome the job market was going to be. They were correct. By the time we got to university, unemployment had reached levels unknown since the great depression of the 1930s. The two oil shocks added in inflationary pressures and made a grim economic cocktail. But in my home country’s case, Bunch may be going too far when he claims that for Generation Jones, “progressive ideals were buried”. For instance, most of our Generation Jonesers supported the ban on nuclear warships visiting New Zealand.

And I suspect that it’s more than just the graduate job market of the 1980s that has made the leaders from Generation Jones wary of taking big political risks and reluctant to embark on big policy projects. The broader sweeps of politics and the fates of previous risk takers and visionaries have been important too.

Take Barack Obama. He came of age during the triumph of Reagan and witnessed the death of post-war American liberalism. American politics was fundamentally transformed during the 1980s and Bill Clinton did not try to turn the clock back – or forwards.

Kevin Rudd would have seen Gough Whitlam’s Labor government come to office in 1972 promising big shake-ups, especially in social and foreign policy. But Whitlam and co flamed out after just three years. When Labor returned, in 1983, they were led by Bob Hawke. Hawke’s government achieved a great deal, especially in the economic areas. But he branded his administration as reformist rather than radical; Hawke’s leadership style was based on the quest for consensus rather than promoting grand ideological designs. When his successor, Paul Keating, tried to paint big pictures, Australians just wanted the family snapshot. In 1996, they showed Labor the door – and Rudd himself failed in his first attempt to enter parliament.

His opponents used to mock John Key’s lack of interest in New Zealand’s turbulent politics of the early 1980s. But he and his Joneser senior ministers remember all too well what happened in the 1990s, when their National Party abandoned the safety of the conservative middle ground and undertook major cuts in social spending and broke the promises they had made to superannuitants (pensioners). The fourth National government saw its popularity plummet and at the 1993 election saw nearly all of its huge majority melt away. For many years, the memories of those years provided their opponents with a powerful political weapon.

Now for the big questions: what have Obama, Rudd, Key and the other generation Jonesers who are running the world learned from their predecessors’ sometimes bitter experiences? How do they plan to apply that knowledge to the massive challenges they face – most notably in saving our environment for future generations? And how are their leadership styles different from those of the political leaders that Generation Jones watched on TV in the 1970s and 1980s?

I have a sneaking fear that, in different ways, they don’t know the answer to the first two questions and that the answer to the second is based more on electoral tactics – polls and focus groups – than a clear sense of political ideals and policy strategies.

Let’s hope this concern is misplaced. There may be a new cause for hope. The UK has a new coalition government, whose prime minister, deputy prime minister and half of cabinet were born between 1954 and 1965. Perhaps they will show us what my generation is really all about.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley

Friday, 11 June 2010

Pollwatch: Ipsos MORI helps to explain disappointing Lib Dem performance in 2010

Ipsos MORI has just published a digest of polls conducted during, and just prior to, the 2010 election. Their findings are interesting and offer some explanations for the Liberal Democrats’ disappointing performance.

Here are the main points that I have taken from the Ipsos MORI material.

· The Liberal Democrats won the “young women’s” vote. The Lib Dems were the preferred party of women voters aged 18-24, where we had a 4% lead over the Tories. This is the only demographic group in which we clearly prevailed; our support from younger women was 8% up from 2005. Conversely, older men were least likely to vote for us: just 16% of men aged 55 or older voted Lib Dem. Overall, Lib Dem voters were more likely to be female than male – but then so were Labour’s. [click here]

· The Liberal Democrats performed best amongst younger voters and worst amongst older people. 30% of 18-24 year olds voted Lib Dem, putting us level-pegging with the other parties in this cohort The Lib Dems did well amongst 25-34 year olds too. But voters were inclined to vote for us in inverse proportion to their age: just 16% of those aged 65 or older voted Lib Dem. The support patterns amongst age groups were even more pronounced than in 2005. [click here]

· The Liberal Democrats performed best amongst higher income voters and worst amongst lower income voters. Voters voted Lib Dem in inverse proportion to their social class. We had 29% support amongst “ABs” but only 17% from “DEs”. [click here] Now, put some of these trends together: just 13% of “DE” men voted Lib Dem.

· Liberal Democrat support grew during the campaign but was still soft. Just before polling day, 43% of Lib Dem voters though it was “very important” who won the election, compared to 53% of Labour voters and 59% of Conservatives. This might explain why the Lib Dems were vulnerable to “late squeeze” messages from the other parties. But we shouldn’t get too carried away with Ipsos MORI’s data on this point. 34% of Lib Dem voters thought they might change their mind before they voted, lower than the 20% of Conservatives who thought they might switch but about the same figure as for Labour voters (32%).

· Nick Clegg’s personal support shot up after the first two debates – but that did not strengthen his party’s vote. Just before polling day, voters still saw David Cameron as the most capable prime minister and the Conservatives as having the strongest team of leaders -- with the Lib Dems a poor third. This mattered: for the first time ever, leaders were as important as policies in driving the way people voted. Yet the reasons for the lack of a “Clegg effect” may be more deep-seated than anything that happened during the campaign. The chart on page 15 of the overview (pdf) document shows that Nick Clegg’s positive ratings prior to the campaign did not pull up the Lib Dem share of the vote. In other words, whatever people thought of Nick’s performance in the debates, they may not have been disposed to take the party all that seriously.

· Once again, the Lib Dems did not win any of the key policy arguments. Policies are another basic test of credibility. In February, voters perceived the Conservatives (by a 2% margin) as having the best policies overall, with the Lib Dems in third place. In March – just before the official campaign started – the Conservatives were the preferred party on two battleground issues, asylum / immigration and crime, with Labour leading on health and unemployment. The only issue on which the Lib Dems led was climate change. But the party had a margin of just 2% (over Labour) here. And climate change was the area in which voters were most likely to rate no party as having the best policies. There’s more: only one voter in 20 saw climate change as “very important”. Crucially, on the issue of most concern to voters – the economy – no party established a clear ascendancy.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Narrativewatch: Canada's deficit cuts are not a simple story for UK politicians

As the prime minister, David Cameron warns of the need for massive spending cuts to bring down the UK's huge public deficit, the coalition is citing the experience of Canada's Liberal government during the 1990s. In 1992, Canada had a budget deficit of 9% of GDP. By 1997, they were showing a surplus. When they were in opposition, senior Conservatives studied the Canadian experience in some detail.

At the weekend, deputy PM Nick Clegg praised the way the Canadian Liberals consulted the public over where to make cuts -

"taking the people with them".

This is a political version of what Stephen Denning calls a springboard story:

a story that enables a leap in understanding by the audience so as to grasp how an organization or community or complex system may change.

He explains:

A springboard story has an impact not so much through transferring large amounts of information, but through catalyzing understanding. It enables listeners to visualize from a story in one context what is involved in a large-scale transformation in an analogous context.

But springboard stories need to be handled with care. There's usually more to them than the politicians let on, or understand. And context is key.

Today, the FT recounts how external developments - low interest rates, a rebounding global economy and a falling Canadian dollar - helped the country's numbers to come right.

Larry Elliott of The Guardian has described some of the differences between Canada's economy then and the UK's now:

Canada was aided by the pick-up in the global economy in the 1990s, and especially the strong US expansion. Britain does not have a fast-growing US for a neighbour: it has a eurozone mired in crisis.

There are other reasons why the Canadian experience may not be exported so easily. Today, The Guardian's Heather McRobie points to some important political-cultural distinctions. She says that the Canadian government took a comprehensive approach to deficit-cutting, with a high level of co-ordination between departments. She doubts that this country's Conservative-dominated coalition government could do the same.

Neil O'Brien of Policy Exchange has stressed that the Canadian government took a consistent, "no exemptions" approach -- and devolved responsibility for finding savings to officials. The latter would be a major departure for the UK's centralised model of government. O'Brien also points out that the size of the UK deficit gives the coalition a much bigger mountain to climb than Canada faced.

Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph highlighted the downsides of what happened in Canada:

The science budget was halved, while agricultural subsidies, overseas aid and transport were also badly hit . . .

. . . As provincial governments saw their health grants slashed, thousands of nurses were sacked and hospital waiting times soared. The shortage of new buildings also led to overcrowding and higher infection rates on wards.

But a report from The Times last year gives a somewhat different perspective:

. . .the federal administration of the Prime Minister, Jean Chr├ętien, a Conservative [sic] elected in 1993 . . . targeting the cuts carefully and calling on different departments to make very different sacrifices.

There were big cuts in fisheries (22 per cent), defence (more than 15 per cent), transport (50 per cent) and international aid (20 per cent) departments but benefits for the elderly increased by 15 per cent over six years and spending on aboriginal peoples and children rose by around 10 per cent.

[In May 2009, David Halpern of the Institute of Government developed some of these points in more detail.]

Perhaps we should be wary of the way UK commentators can cherry pick factoids from other countries' experiences (that is, tell stories). I speak from experience -- I sometimes think that New Zealand post-1984 has been used to back up every policy argument in the UK.

Here's another example. Andrew Sparrow of The Guardian has used an anecdote of how at least one hospital in Canada was blown up. But this was done under the provincial government in Alberta, which had targeted health and education spending.

Nick Clegg may have been on safer ground when he stuck to the way Canada's Liberals managed the politics of fiscal consolidation. Last year, Brian Tobin, another former Liberal minister who was involved in the Canadian deficit cutting exercise, was asked what were the lessons for the UK. His main conclusion:

"What needs to be to speak frankly, openly and honestly.

"Don't try to over-simplify the issue. Don't try to put all the blame on the previous administration. Because if you're in a fiscal mess, it's often generational or structural."

This level of candour will be a new experience for UK politicians and voters. All the major parties were slated during the campaign for not being straight with people about the deficit and their plans to reduce it -- although I have to say the Liberal Democrats came off more lightly than the others.

Still, coalition ministers will need to get their narratives in order, and quickly. In today's FT, Paul Martin, who was Canada's finance minister in the 1990s, agrees that informing and consulting the public were hugely important elements in his success. But the article also points out that:

events beyond Canada's borders helped. The Mexican debt crisis broke just two months before Mr Martin was due to deliver his belt-tightening budget in early 1995. Canadians were jolted by a much-quoted Wall Street Journal editorial that described the Canadian dollar as the northern peso.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Narrativewatch: we've had a gutful, says leader of NSW Liberals

Labor pains... the new Minister for Transport John Robertson and Premier Kristina Keneally.

Labor pains... the new Minister for Transport John Robertson and Premier Kristina Keneally. Photo: Simon Alekna

PREMIER Kristina Keneally is resisting demands to let NSW decide the fate of her tattered administration by calling an early election.

The resignations of cabinet ministers Ian Macdonald and Graham West were greeted yesterday with a near-universal ''enough's enough'' two days before the state budget.

The latest scandal has also started an ugly internal power struggle, with backbenchers keen to get their hands on a ministerial pay packet and pension before Labor faces electoral annihilation.

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell led the attack, urging Ms Keneally to call a poll and end the farce that has seen 215 Labor ministerial appointments in five years.

''People have had a gutful. They want the nightmare to end and would welcome an election,'' he said. ''Kristina Keneally should call an election because the people of NSW are desperate for one.''

Barry O'Farrell, leader of NSW's centre-right Liberal party, says that people have had a "gutful" of the state's Labor government.

O'Farrell is using Australian vernacular to trigger the most basic story told by main opposition parties: it's time for a change; this government has got to go. Just like David Cameron in the UK election campaign, except that he did not quite succeed in convincing his compatriots that the Conservatives were the solution.

This is not the first time an old narrative wine has been put in Australian bottles. One of O'Farrell's predecessors, Nick Greiner, used the "gutful" message in the run-up to the 1988 state election, in which he defeated another burnt-out Labor adminstration.

In 1980, Don Chipp, the founding leader of the Australian Democrats invited his compatriots to "keep the bastards honest". What he was saying was: with the single transferable vote, you can elect Democrat senators to hold the major parties to account. This was a more direct version of the "plague on both your houses" story that UK voters have heard for some fifty years, from Jo Grimond, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg.

Posted via web from Neil Stockley

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The BP oil spill and reframing climate change

Today, the FT's Fiona Harvey has provided a quick, useful summary of the politics surrounding this week's climate change talks in Bonn. This year, "climategate", whilst overblown, has helped to make the public less receptive to messages about climate change. She concludes:

. . . the recession has grabbed all attention, and now the crisis in the Eurozone means European Union countries are far less interested in climate change than they are in the survival of the single currency. As finance is central to any progress on climate change negotiations, the recession could yet be the rock on which these talks founder.

I agree. But Fiona Harvey also notes that the BP oil spill has brought a whole new focus on to environmental issues and enabled environmental groups to broaden the issue to the way the US sees energy. [Here's one good example]
She says that the oil spill:

could yet be the most important thing to happen to the public discourse on climate change. Obama has in the past week linked the incident to both the dangers of fossil fuels, and pledged to try and get the climate bill through - both statements well overdue, in the eyes of environmentalists.

David Roberts of Grist has discussed at length the rhetoric used in Obama's latest speech on the climate bill, making the case for moving to a clean energy economy. Interestingly, the president explained that:

our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security. It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.

He made no mention of "climate change" or "global warming".

Over the coming months, Chris Huhne and other ministers in the coalition government will be making the case for a low-carbon economy, with more ambitious renewable energy targets - and, almost certainly, higher costs for energy consumers. They will be making it to a public that is more sceptical and less receptive to frames based on the dangers of climate change.

Will they follow Obama's lead, by bringing in the BP oil spill and, just as important, using new, potentially more powerful frames?

Posted via email from Neil Stockley