During his keynote speech at the recent Energy Event in Birmingham, Alastair Campbell commented on the recent cabinet reshuffle and what it means for the energy industry in the UK.
He began by unusually singing the praises of a Tory MP when he lauded the efforts of outgoing minister for energy and climate change, Charles Hendry, a move that has been met with a large degree of consternation within the industry. He stated, “He is a minister that knows his brief, who’s on top of detail, and who’s managed to build coalition support around a complex area.”
With Hendry now being replaced by John Hayes, Campbell went on to point out that his experience of cabinet reshuffles were akin to piecing together a jigsaw, when sometimes the bigger picture can be lost when pieces are put in the wrong place.
So now that Hendry has been replaced the energy industry has to learn to work with someone new, and Campbell pointed out that when these reshuffles occur and ministers bed in to new roles, it’s vital that people make their voices heard.
Campbell commented, “To be fair to David Cameron, he hasn’t reshuffled often but this one I think he has got a lot of the judgments wrong, because ultimately leadership is as much about strategy and overall positioning as it is about individuals or even detailed policy.”
Addressing the Energy Event Insight Conference, Campbell continued, “This reshuffle represents a major strategic shift. Some of you may not of even heard of John Hayes until last week, but he is going to have a material impact upon your businesses and the things that you believe in and are important to you, so you have to make yourselves heard.”
On the issue of the country’s carbon reduction targets, Campbell added that while the climate change sceptics are pointing out that a lot of the environmental targets are being met, the recession has made this a “convenient truth, for the use of a big lie”, stating, “We’re only doing well on some of these targets because people are working less, have less money to spend, and therefore, are using less energy.
“However, the energy needs of the future are enormous, and they represent a massive challenge to governments and businesses around the world. And some challenges are so big that they cannot be met by one government or company, no matter how powerful they may be. So, there does have to be a sense of international corporation built around a big argument, so big strategy and positioning is what will make policy detail become clear.
“In addition, the whole point about agenda is important. Before Kyoto if you’d conducted a global survey on what the major challenges for the world were, climate change would have been right up there near the top of the list – at least in the top five. By the time of Copenhagen it had dropped to around six, seven or eight. I don’t know why that has happened because the pressures that we (the last Labour government) felt under at the time of Kyoto were massive – from parliament, the public, pressure groups, the media – we felt real pressure to deliver change.
“However, it was easier to do because other world leaders and other governments were feeling similar pressures. So, a deal was done at Kyoto. By the time of Copenhagen the pressure had started to abate – other issues were coming in that we thought to be more important, and you must never underestimate the power of political will, as this will decide what a global policy agenda looks like – what are the things that the world leaders really care about?
“For example, look at the current US election. When Barack Obama was first elected the whole issue of energy was big – it was part of his platform for change. Now Mitt Romney makes jokes about it i.e. ‘Obama got elected to save the future of the planet, I just want to save your job.’ That is a downgrading of an issue and care must be taken when that happens.
“I recently spoke to a number of energy experts including a broadsheet energy correspondent who stated that the problem was that energy isn’t front page news, and indeed, maybe the energy regulators don’t get into the news as often as Ofsted or Ofqual, but flooding, drought and tornados do, and the three day week did a long time ago – if the lights went out, that would be front page news – so it’s big stuff but it’s not at the top of the agenda.”
It’s all about the argument
Campbell further highlighted that when a large issue like energy arises, it often gets politicised and stressed the importance of getting the argument right. He added, “I can’t understand why this (energy) has become a left/right issue and it’s a dangerous place that we’ve allowed ourselves to get into. If you think about the way the world is changing, for example in the US – they are coming to terms with the reality which is that the political and economic power is moving from the west to the east, and that is their big challenge at the moment, and by not facing up to that they’re allowing these arguments to run away from them.
“We’ve been debating for about ten years about another runway at Heathrow. Meanwhile China has been building airports at about the same rate that we build supermarkets. We’re not going to change their behaviour by telling them not to grow and develop at the sort of rate that we used to take for granted for ourselves – you have to win arguments that you can do growth and do development in a different way.
“That’s why events such as this are so important because a greener economy and building a more sustainable future has to be a part of building a stronger economy too. And if ever there was a time for people in Britain to be making big arguments – this is it!
“Yes legislation is important, but things change because of people’s attitudes, not just because of legislation – they change because of what we know about the world around us, so we all have to change our way of thinking in regards to our concepts of sustainable growth and the green economy – they can’t just be concepts, they’ve got to become real, and we’ve got to make them real by building arguments, joining up the dots and over time, making change.”