Friday, 24 September 2010

A liberal path to green growth

[Edited text of my speech opening the debate on a topical issue, “Building a Low Carbon Economy” at the Liberal Democrat conference, 21 September 2010]

What a year it’s been for the planet!

Last December, we saw the disappointing conclusion to the UN climate change summit at Copenhagen. We’ve seen the US Senate fail to even vote on a bill to cut carbon emissions. We’ve seen heat waves scorching Russia, and nearly one-fifth of Pakistan submerged underwater, vindicating predictions by the IPCC that such events will be more frequent in a warming world.

Whatever the climate sceptics say, the evidence is clear: we are increasing enormously the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. 2010 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record. New data shows that the air temperature over land is going up and so are humidity and sea levels. The arctic sea ice is thinning and glaciers and snow cover in the northern hemisphere are declining.

Our government’s independent advisers on climate change keep saying that we need a step change in the pace of emissions reduction and in our use of renewable energy in order to meet our emissions targets.

It’s been quite a year for another reason. Chris Huhne has taken charge at the Department of Energy and Climate Change and we have Liberal Democrats in key portfolios across government. Vince Cable at BIS is committed to spearheading a green industrial rebirth; Andrew Stunell at CLG is in charge of the regulations for energy efficient homes; and Norman Baker at the DFT handles alternatives to transport.

With these ministers working together, Liberal Democrats have an historic opportunity: to make our dream of a low carbon economy a reality; to promote green growth that helps rather than harms our environment.

A low carbon economy with green growth can give us more energy independence, greater security and new sources of prosperity and jobs. The global market for environmental goods and services is already worth around £3trillion and could grow to more than £4 trillion by 2015.

The path to green growth must take the carbon out of the energy we use. But the current carbon price provides a poor incentive to green investment. So we should welcome Chris’s plans to provide more certainty and support to the carbon price. And we should all back his campaign to raise the EU target for cutting emissions; from the current 20 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020.

But the path to green growth can’t stop there. The government’s advisers have concluded that £200bn worth of investment in a new green energy system is going to be needed by 2020. Most of that will have to come from the private sector in difficult financial conditions. But the existing energy market arrangements are not up to the challenge of delivering investment on that scale. So we look forward to seeing reforms that will give clean energy generators the incentives and the certainty they need.

We shouldn’t forget that the coalition’s programme for government echoed our manifesto in promising an emissions performance standard, meaning that no new coal fired power stations can be built unless they are equipped with highest level of carbon capture and storage. The government should also look at having such a standard for gas generation.

Study after study has shown that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to cut emissions. I welcome Chris Huhne’s Green Deal, a pay as you save energy efficiency solution for all householders. That’s a Liberal Democrat idea and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! And Chris is now extending it to non-residential buildings as well. We’ll also need an ambitious national programme, to insulate the walls and lofts of existing homes and more clarity about energy efficiency polic, right across government.

When it comes to boosting clean, renewable energy the most urgent actions the government can take are to give the industry more certainty about the financial support that will be available, especially for renewable heat.

We must deliver on our promise of a Green Investment Bank. Let’s be clear: the GIB will need at least £2 billion to stimulate investment in the infrastructure that we need, and have the ability to issue bonds, if it is to underpin a green industrial revolution.

This, then, is the liberal path to green growth and a sustainable future for our children and our children’s children.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley's posterous

Thursday, 23 September 2010

How to rebuild the Liberal Democrats' identity

[This is an updated version of my speech to the consultative session on party strategy at the Liberal Democrat conference, 19 September 2010]

We Liberal Democrats need to think seriously about the party’s identity – but we need to understand how the voters see us, not about how we see ourselves.

Remember the Times-Populus polls we hear about year after year. In 2007 and 2008, clear majorities saw the Liberal Democrats as being “made up of decent people but their policies probably don’t really add up” and “basically a protest vote party because they have no chance of ever winning”. Many think that a vote for the Lib Dems was a wasted vote.

It’s not all bad, however. As Labour’s flame flickered and died, the Liberal Democrats were seen as the nicest, most empathetic party: “for ordinary people, not the best off”, the most honest and principled -- as we’ve proved ourselves many times. By the middle of the 2010 general election campaign, Nick Clegg was perceived as, by far the most honest leader and the one most in touch with ordinary people.

But the 2010 British Election Study has found that we didn’t win any of the arguments on the policy issues that mattered most to voters. According to Ipsos-MORI, we weren’t seen to offer a credible team of leaders.

Then the coalition came. Now the big story people hear from government ministers is that they are to fix the crippling deficit that Labour left behind. By paying off our bills and living within our means, we will have fiscal redemption. It’s little wonder the familiar Lib Dem messages have been crowded out.

So we – all of us - have to get back into the persuasion business and start telling people about the difference we are making in government on the issues that matter. They’ll judge us on what we do, not on what we used to say.

No, that doesn’t mean being like the town cryer in the square – “hear ye, hear ye, here’s a big list of policies”. And no, it doesn’t mean dusting down the old manifestos, leaflets and slogans of yesteryear and pretending that the last coalition never happened. I’ve never met a liberal who thinks who you can go back.

What I’m talking about is telling people stories about what Liberal Democrats in government are doing now. Stories because that is the way people have communicated for thousands of years. Stories about the difference Liberal Democrats are making – giving the specifics. Most of all, stories about the people whose lives will be better as a result.

Here are two quick examples. I can remember Nick Clegg, years ago, calling for more money to be focussed on the most disadvantaged pupils. We worked up the idea and campaigned for the pupil premium at the election and now our ministers in government are making it a reality and thousands and in time millions of people will have a better start in life.

And we can’t forget the area where we have shown a strong commitment for decades, and reaped some political benefits: looking after the environment and tackling climate change. Chris Huhne and Vince Cable have reaffirmed their joint commitment to building a low-carbon economy that will meet our ambitious climate-change targets, deliver energy security for all of us and help our economy to recover. They are telling us how the Liberal Democrats government will do it.

So, let’s start telling people the stories.