The Lib Dems and Labour helped push the green economy up the political agenda, they must now work with the Conservative government to make sure it stays there
People will be forgiven for thinking the post of Energy and Climate Change Secretary is cursed. Ed Davey was today one of the most high profile victims in the brutal Lib Dem cull; his predecessor Chris Huhne was forced to fall on his sword and make his way directly to jail; his predecessor, Ed Miliband, has just seen his dreams of Number 10 go down in the most unexpected of flames.
It will be of little comfort to either Ed Davey or Ed Miliband as they reflect today on political careers gone awry, but they did the green economy a significant service over the past five years.
Davey, who less than 24 hours ago may have harboured realistic ambitions of being the next Lib Dem leader, can look back on a record of considerable achievement at DECC. There were inevitable missteps and it remains to be seen how effective the electricity market reform programme ultimately proves, but it cannot be denied Davey helped deliver a trebling in renewable energy capacity, continued improvement in the UK's energy efficiency, and put the Green Investment Bank on a stable footing. Scare stories about blackouts also proved wide of the mark and after a woeful start the Green Deal is finally showing some signs of life.
Most importantly, in his fierce battles with George Osborne's Treasury Davey locked in the decarbonisation path for the rest of the decade and beyond by helping to secure a strong fourth carbon budget and over £7bn of funding for clean energy through to 2020. Davey was also scientifically literate enough to know none of this was enough when set against the scale of the climate challenge and even indicated that he understood the tension between cutting emissions and maximising fossil fuel production - a realisation that is all too rare among politicians. Moreover, like his Tory colleague Greg Barker, he achieved all this while remaining that rarest of things: a frontline politician who very few people have a bad word to say about.
Miliband's gift to the green economy is perhaps less clear cut, but no less significant. He laid the policy foundations for much of the decarbonisation that is now underway during his own stint at DECC and brought a genuine commitment to climate action and the green economy to the Labour leadership, even if he did not talk about it enough in public.
One of the upsides of the environment not featuring heavily in the election campaigns means that as the Lib Dems and Labour rake over the wreckage it is highly unlikely the green aspects of either parties' pitch to the country will cop much of the blame. In fact, I'd expect quite the opposite conclusion to be drawn. In a thoughtful blog post on Labour's disastrous showing, Labour List's Mark Ferguson argues the party's campaigning has become too narrowly focused on the NHS and inequality and needs to take steps to better represent working people. It is a similar analysis to that of the Blue Labour grouping and demonstrates there is a clear opportunity for the old party of heavy industry to harness the job-creating potential of modern, green industry as a core campaign message.
Miliband started this thinking, but never went far enough; it is critical his successor, whoever it may be, builds on it. The green economy and the promise it brings is one part of the Miliband agenda that needs to be strengthened, not ditched. This is not a New Labour or Old Labour issue, it is a highly popular part of the economy that promises good, well-paid jobs through innovation and investment. It should be a crucial part of a centrist Labour pitch to the whole country.
Labour, the few remaining Lib Dems, the SNP and the other opposition parties also need to recognise they now have a crucial role to play in ensuring the green economy builds on the success it has enjoyed in recent years under Davey.
In a gracious acceptance speech, David Cameron vowed to serve as a One Nation prime minister while delivering on the Conservative manifesto, a manifesto that includes the retention of the Climate Change Act but is light on the detail of how to ensure its long term carbon targets are met. The Prime Minister will need all the help he can get to push a credible green economic programme past climate reckless backbenchers and pollutocrat donors who will already be preparing to try and seize the whip hand over Number 10.
It might seem strange to call for cross-party co-operation following the election of a majority government following the most bruising campaign in living memory, but that is precisely what the green economy might yet need, particularly if the mixture of devolved powers to Scotland and Tory backbench hostility to environmental policies combines to create a two-speed green economy in the UK.
Davey, Miliband, and the green Tories they worked with over the past five years, including David Cameron, have helped put the green economy on a stronger footing than many people realise. When the dust settles, their respective parties may need to work together once again to ensure their good work does not go to waste. After all, that is what One Nation politics, be it from the left or right, is all about.
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