The next government could deliver a golden age for green businesses or condemn the UK to a position amongst the world's climate reckless pollutocrats - every vote matters
In several important respects the result of next week's election is of little consequence to many of the UK's green businesses. The three main party leaders have all committed to prioritise climate action in the next parliament, and as a consequence the manifestos, while containing important differences, remain wedded to the continued decarbonisation of the UK economy.
Meanwhile, the big trends impacting the global clean tech sector - plummeting low carbon energy costs, fast-expanding green vehicle markets, multinationals' pursuit of sustainable business models, the prospects for an international climate deal - will pay Friday's results little heed. The varied likes of IKEA, Apple, Unilever, ArcelorMittal, and HSBC, are not about to tear up their global sustainability strategies based on whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband makes it to Number 10, just as the clean tech start-ups of Old Street and Cambridge and the ‘Northern Powerhouse' and ‘Silicon Glen' are not about to shut up shop if their preferred candidate loses. The White House and the Chinese Politburo will be similarly indifferent to a result that will have no impact on their wide-ranging climate strategies.
And yet, at the same time this is an election that could still prove hugely consequential to the UK's green economy and the levels of confidence and investment flowing into its potentially transformative clean tech sector.
As I argued previously, it is perfectly plausible the next parliament will usher in a golden age for the green economy as decarbonisation really steps up a gear and the next government introduces a wave of policies designed to accelerate green infrastructure investment.
However, it is also plausible an anti-renewable energy government battling to avoid a lost decade, distracted by an EU referendum and a constitutional crisis north of the border, reliant on climate sceptic backbenchers to maintain a majority, and led by a prime minister who is nakedly hostile to the idea of the UK leading the world in tackling climate change, will push the green economy to the bottom of a very long list of priorities.
Consequently, who forms the next government really matters for green businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs. The challenge now is translating this realisation into a decision on who to vote for, when each of the parties have their own distinct mix of strengths and weaknesses - with the exception of UKIP, obviously, where the strengths from an environmental perspective are all but impossible to determine.
The first point to make in any assessment of who to vote for is not a referendum on a single issue. This is particularly apparent for green businesses who often marry broad corporate concerns with specific environmental concerns. Mirroring those Tory-leaning business leaders who are fearful about the destabilising effect of an EU referendum, it is possible many green business entrepreneurs will simultaneously despair of Conservative wind energy policies but be won over by the prospect of lower taxes and a more aggressive deficit reduction plan.
Equally, the green economy is not a homogenous whole, regardless of how often certain former Environment Secretary's attempt to force the phrase "green blob" into the political lexicon. Energy companies with substantial renewable energy interests may warm to Labour's plans for a decarbonisation target, while being put off by its talk of a price freeze. Green car firms may be impressed by the coalition's record on electric vehicles, even as solar farm developers revel the opportunity to punish Ministers at the ballot box over their management of the sectors' boom and bust cycle.
The second crucial point to remember is that the on-going iniquities of our electoral system mean the only logical response to the question ‘who should I vote for?' is ‘where do you live?'
There are those who believe that failing to vote with your conscience is some form of democratic betrayal, but the real democratic betrayal is a system that forces people to calculate whether the satisfaction of voting for a preferred candidate who is destined to lose outweighs the frustration of seeing a candidate diametrically opposed to their values elected with little opposition.
A green-minded voter in a UKIP target seat may conclude their vote is best used backing whoever is best-placed to block the march of the English Breakfast Tea Party and its climate reckless policies. Similarly, some centrist voters in Brighton Pavilion may make a calculation similar to those celebrities who signalled their support for Caroline Lucas as an essential parliamentary voice while declining to specifically endorse the Green Party's policies.
But, all other things being equal, which of the parties offers the best prospectus for the green economy and the million or so people it now employs?
In a series of blog posts over the next few days I'll be looking at the green business pitch offered by each of the main parties and how the election may play out for the green economy in the event of these various prospectuses holding some sway in the next parliament. I'll be starting today with the Greens and their fellow anti-austerity travellers the SNP and Plaid Cymru, followed by the Lib Dems, Conservatives and Labour.
With the polls as tight as ever in this most unpredictable of elections and the final result likely to rest on both the outcome in a handful of desperately close marginal seats and the vagaries of coalition negotiations it is currently impossible to predict with any confidence whether this election will deliver a golden age for the UK green economy or five years when this previously buoyant sector is forced to fight for its survival. The worry for many of those working for green businesses is that at this late stage both extreme scenarios remain plausible. As such, with just a few days to go, only one thing is clear: every vote matters.
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