What would different coalitions mean for energy and climate?
Whether you see it as a damning indictment of the choice on offer to voters or a bold new form of multi-party politics, come May 8th, it is likely that no party will have won the election.
Instead the British people will be served up a range of compromised options resulting from secretive deals in the corridors of Westminster.
Whether through confidence and supply agreements, or formal coalitions the next government’s programme will differ from those set out in their manifestos.
But what does that mean for UK energy &climate policy? Unearthed looks at the likely scenarios come May 8th and what that will mean for the new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Okay so this is absolutely not happening. No siree. Labour will have absolutely nothing to do with the SNP. Nothing. Nada. But, let’s just assume what people say isn’t necessarily what they do.
Like Labour, the SNP state that Britain should be a world leader when it comes to the global climate change conference in Paris. The party would push for the Westminster government to match Scotland’s carbon reduction targets – which includes a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
With neither party committed to offering a referendum on the EU, a Labour government with SNP support would be able to provide leadership on energy and climate change in Brussels – if it wanted to
The party’s also find common ground when it comes to wanting to expand the powers of the Green Investment bank – which could mean more money for renewables.
On energy policy too, the party’s broadly agree. With Labour looking to freeze energy bills and beef up regulations of the Big Six energy companies, and the SNP challenging Labour to commit to cutting energy bills. Both party’s could appease their bases by making the case that they were taking the fight to the Big Six while in government, even if the SNP have to acquiesce to Labour’s demands.
Notably both parties therefore face a tricky dilemma between their desire to push forward on clean energy and commitments to freezing/cutting bills. A coalition could be expected to make some messy compromises when it comes to funding new forms of power.
On fracking, their views start to diverge. The SNP have announced a moratorium on fracking in Scotland, but have stopped short of calling for an outright ban and they may not care what happens south of the border. Labour have flip flopped on the issue, somewhat. The word is not mentioned in the party’s manifesto but they give it tacit support, so long as effective regulations are in place.
With left-wing Labour MPs publicly opposed to fracking, and a minority Labour government relying on the support of the likes of Caroline Lucas, as well as Plaid Cymru and SDLP MPs, any bill in favour of fracking would need Tory support to make it through parliament. Secondary legislation is needed in the infrastructure bill around protected areas and water protection, although that is unlikely to attract enough attention to voted down in the commons.
Nuclear could also be a sticking point for any Labour/SNP deal. The SNP are publicly opposed to the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons and nuclear power more generally. This will mean that the Hinkley deal will face a lot more scrutiny, but with government ministers able to sign up to the project without a vote in parliament, that doesn’t mean it will be derailed.
By committing to prevent the Tories taking power, the SNP may have put themselves in a weak negotiating position with Labour on this – and other issues. Their best hope is that they can create enough difference between themselves and Labour by publicly opposing fracking and nuclear, while cooperating on the issues where they broadly agree.
Who the Lib Dems decide to buddy up with in Westminster could well be decided at 4.30am tomorrow morning.
This is when the result from Sheffield Hallam will come through and Nick Clegg will know whether he’s kept his seat or not. As the FT reported last week, assuming he keeps his seat, Clegg and Cameron will look to move quickly to form a coalition after the election.
A Labour/Lib Dem coalition would be short of a majority, according to recent projections, but could make a working minority government, provided they received tacit support from the left-wing parties (see SNP above)
The Lib Dems echo Labour on energy bills, with the party committed to capping energy bills for 20 months after the election and making it easier for consumers to change energy suppliers.
The party’s pledges on efficiency are also similar. The Lib Dems are offering voters a council tax discount if they make significant improvements in energy efficiency in their homes. Labour is promising a million interest-free loans to allow people to make their homes more energy efficient.
Both party’s commitment to remaining in the EU would mean Britain was in stronger position to lead on climate change in Brussels, while both party’s talk up the country’s role in the coming talks in Paris.
The Lib Dems support for fracking could open up fissures with those on the left of the Labour party, not to mention the left wing parties in parliament. Though with no major legislation on fracking expected in the next parliament after the passing of the infrastructure bill, this shouldn’t provide too much of an obstacle to a coalition deal. If they can get over the Clegg thing.
Assuming he keeps his seat, you would expect that Clegg would be keen to sidle up to the Conservatives again, so long as the numbers add up.
At the moment, a renewal of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition would have a little over 300 seats, though this could increase if the Tories experience a 1992-style late surge.
On climate change, beyond the usual commitments to make sure Britain is a “world leader” at the climate talks in Paris this year, there is little that unites the Tories and the Lib Dems.
Having said that, despite the Lib Dems devoting a large chunk of their manifesto to the environment, Nick Clegg recently said that he will not set ‘red-lines’ in any coalition negotiation around support for wind energy and power sector decarbonisation.
This commitment, or rather lack of one, sits well with the Tories vociferous opposition to offshore wind.
On renewables, the Conservative manifesto is pretty hostile. David Cameron and co have used the ‘must be cost effective’ caveat again and again. With the Lib Dems backing back a “legally binding decarbonisation target to green our electricity”, renewables could be a major barrier to coalition agreement on climate change. But then there are no red lines on climate.
On the surface, the Tory commitment to insulate more than a million homes in the next parliament sits well with Lib Dem plans. Though as we pointed out in our Tory manifesto analysis, this figure it actually represents an 80% cut in the number of home treated compared to the last parliament.
Having green-lit the subsidised nuclear station at Hinkley Point, it’s little surprise that the Tories and Lib Dems are on the same page on nuclear, though the Conservatives are more keen to roll out new power stations across the country.
They are very much not on the same page on Europe, and the planned referendum on British membership of the EU would open up significant rifts between the party’s, not least on the subject of the country’s place in the climate change debate in Brussels.
After making substantial pledges on climate change in their manifesto, including introducing a Zero Carbon Britain Act (which would ensure Britain has net zero emissions by 2050), the Lib Dems would risk losing compromising their programme significantly to deal with the Tories. Though they could use any concession on energy policy from the Tories to point to Lib Dem influence on the government.
If the Conservatives want to retreat completely into the warm embrace of climate change denial, they may well do a deal with UKIP and the DUP, a set up which would see them as by far the most concerned about climate change of the bunch.
A late boost for UKIP would leave them with a small but significant number of seats in a fragile parliament.
With this mandate, Farage’s party would push for an aggressively climate sceptic agenda. Taking their manifesto as a guide, they would call for the department of energy and climate change to be scrapped, repeal the climate change act, get rid of green taxes and leave the EU so the UK can get away from all those pesky emissions targets and the Emissions Trading Scheme.
On top of all that, the party hate “ugly” wind turbines, support fracking and call coal “the future”. Climate change is mentioned only four times in the party’s manifesto, and even then that’s only when they discuss things they would like to get rid of.
The DUP, with a likely nine seats after the election, also has a history of denying climate change.