James Murray argues that just a few minutes of positive rhetoric from the Prime Minister could do wonders for the green economy
What should David Cameron say about the environment and the green economy this afternoon?
Given the shale gas mania that appears to have afflicted many of his Party colleagues, green business leaders might take a complete silence from the Prime Minister on environmental issues as a perverse sort of victory.
Cameron and his advisors will certainly be tempted to go down the silent route. Any vaguely positive words on renewable energy and the urgent need to cut carbon emissions risk an even more luke warm reception from the hall than George Osborne's commitment to increase taxes on the rich. Moreover, it is not like there aren't plenty of other important issues to address.
The Prime Minister has become adept at offering no public pronouncements on environmental and energy issues beyond occasional platitudes, deployed for a positive press release on new green investment or wrung from him at Prime Ministers Questions. In some respects, this is astute politics. As several of his backbenchers (and cabinet colleagues) work themselves into a frenzy over renewable energy subsidies and the "burden" of environmental regulation, Cameron keeps his powder dry, waiting for the point at which the polls make it clear whether he should either smack down his anti-green critics or concede to their wishes. It is astute politics, but it is lousy leadership.
Thankfully, the Whitehall rumour-mill suggests the Prime Minister has belatedly realised this and is willing to take action to try and restore his battered green credentials. According to various sources, he is planning to bang heads together at DECC and the Treasury to secure a more stable low carbon investment environment and might even be willing to start repeating the privately positive sentiments he is said to hold towards the green economy in public.
It would be nice to think the Prime Minister could begin this strategic shift in this afternoon's speech. It could easily be inserted just after the inevitable section where the Prime Minister makes the case for the creation of a more resilient economy suitable for the demands of a highly competitive century and it could reinforce the conference's over-arching theme that the Conservatives are the party of responsible government. It might go a little something like this:
"Of course, no discussion of the long term challenges we face is complete without recognising the threat presented by climate change.
I know some within this hall do not accept that manmade climate change is happening.
But try telling that to the families and communities that are seeing once in a 100 year floods afflict their homes every few years.
Try telling that to the business leaders that are deeply concerned about the impact of droughts and storms on their supply chains.
Try telling that to my government's Chief Scientist, who has repeatedly warned that climate change poses a serious threat to the long term health of the UK's economy.
Manmade climate change is happening and urgent action needs to be taken to tackle it.
That is what responsible government is about: taking action now to benefit us all in the long term.
So let me be clear. This government is the greenest ever, it will continue to be the greenest ever, and it will never U-turn on its commitment to lead the world in the fight against climate change.
I accept there is debate on how best to win this fight. Yes, there is a debate to be had on balancing short term costs and long term gains. Yes, there is a debate on the extent to which we will subsidise new green technologies. Yes, there is a debate to be had on the right mix of energy sources for our economy.
But we cannot debate for ever. Responsible governments make decisions.
We cannot repeat the 13 years of Labour inaction on reforming our energy markets. Voters have not forgiven the last government for a market that is too reliant on volatile fossil fuel prices that have forced bills up, and they will not forgive us if we are the administration that allows the lights to go out.
We need new energy investment and we need it to be both low carbon and cost effective.
So let me again be clear. Our Energy Bill will make it easier for companies to invest in all forms of low carbon energy generation: wind, solar, biomass, nuclear, wave and tidal, and, yes, gas.
Today I am making it crystal clear to any investor interested in the UK energy sector: if you can deliver new energy capacity in a cost effective manner while complying with our carbon targets then we will support you.
And if you need help delivering these projects, I urge you to call me - not the newspapers.
I will make sure the stable policy and investment climate you need is in place, because that is what responsible government is about.
And that is what a responsible Conservative government is about. Not endlessly throwing taxpayers money at a problem, but using intelligent policies to drive private investment, exploit new technologies, and create highly skilled jobs.
Unashamedly pro-business, taking tough decisions, a Conservative government correcting Labour's years of inaction and driving investment that improves our energy security and holds down our long term energy bills.
A Conservative government working to conserve the environment for future generations."
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