Sunday, 22 March 2015

Why Miliband should firmly rule out a coalition with the Tories

As the election date nears and it looks like the Conservatives may not (after the election) be able to win a confidence vote in the House of Commons we can see the first shots in a campaign to win the election by other means - by inveigling Labour to join in a 'government of national unity'. Everybody on the left and centre-left of British politics should resist this in the strongest possible terms. First because a 'grand coalition' would thwart a Parliamentary majority in favour of a range of measures that would come with a Labour administration, and second because it would deliver a crippling blow to the left from which it would not recover for a generation.

On the one hand Labour is pledged to carry out a perhaps unspectacular, but nevertheless healthy, list of centre-left measures: getting rid of the bedroom tax, curbing persecution of people receiving benefits, reforming zero hour contracts, increasing the marginal rate of tax for rich people, cutting back public spending a bit less than the Tories, giving incentives for onshore windfarms and solar farms...........

Not much of this will be left with a coalition led by a Conservative Prime Minister. And no doubt, to boot, we would end up with a referendum on the EU with the Labour Leader watching helplessly as the Conservatives negotiate with the EU to allow greater discrimination against immigrants from the EU.

The Labour Party would be terribly divided (much more so than the Tories). The SNP would announce that there was no difference between Labour and Conservatives, satirising Jim Murphy's 'vote SNP get Tory' call by saying 'vote Labour get Tory'. Far from defending the union as some top Tories are suggesting, it would deal it a further blow as nationalists would point to such  a national coalition government as proof perfect that the only way to have a different sort of government was to support the SNP, and independence for Scotland. In England UKIP would be given a powerful fillip. The Green Party might gain a few votes, but only at the expense of creating a generational shift to the right in British politics. The Tories would benefit most.

All the major historical precedents suggests that for the Labour Party, joining a national coaltion would be a disaster. We all know (or should know) about how Ramsay Macdonald nearly destroyed the Labour Party in 1931 and that in the ensuing election Conservatives trounced the now truncated Labour Party in the polls. Then there is the more recent example, in Germany, of how the SPD were in a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU from 2005 to 2009, and at the 2009 General election the SPD lost a third of their vote, a result from which they have still not recovered.

The SPD have repeated the exercise in 2013, of course, apparently in the absence of better alternatives and after some hard bargaining. But before we follow Gisela Stuart in thinking that the SPD (so far bad) experience with grand coalition politics is something to consider we should remember that in the UK there is a healthy tradition of minority governments.

Labour formed minority governments in 1923 (then being only the second largest party), in 1929, and also in February 1974. The latter proved to be a good foretaste of a small majority a few months later for Harold Wilson's Government.

Of course the Conservatives will do all that they can to deflect the public mind from the very workable possibility of a Labour minority government. In the aftermath of a campaign where David Cameron is left unable to form a majority government we will see a massive campaign in the Tory press for a grand coalition. All sorts of 'wise' elder statesmen will pop up to support this self-serving Tory proposition. They already are - John Major, Ken Baker, and of course, notably, Ian Birrell, the speechwriter for David Cameron.

We need now to start up a campaign against a grand coalition, and put pressure on Ed Miliband to rule it out. This is a fundamental threat to progressive politics in the UK.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Osborne's fantasy tidal lagoon announcement

UK Treasury PR gimmickry entered a new phase last week when George Osborne 'announced' what was, according to the Daily Mail 'the centrepiece of ambitious renewable energy plans'. That is, progress towards the building of a tidal lagoon scheme in Swansea, Wales.

Alas, none of the rest of the press saw through this empty facade, either, although one might expect papers like the Guardian to be a little more questioning of this sort of hype. Nevertheless the announcement had lots of energy analysts scratching their heads as to what exactly the Chancellor was suggesting that was actually well, never mind new, but actually happening about the scheme in terms of Government giving financial incentives. The answer is absolutely nothing (other than the government will talk about things).

The UK Treasury have developed a habit over recent years of announcing big plans for funding energy schemes as part of its PR for public spending reviews and budgets. This trend began under the latter stages of the last Labour Government when it announced premium price levels for offshore wind. It continued with this government with announcements about 'agreements' and loan offers to nuclear power as well as strike prices for renewable energy. There has been a trend, observable already, for such announcements to become ever more wistful. The announcements for Hinkley C look so - more like face saving devices through announcing prices and incentives for Hinkley C that are lower than what is really needed to put the project into practice (and which would be politically unacceptable).

But the announcement about the tidal lagoon project is even worse in terms of its fantasy rating. It does not even get within a hundred miles of providing the tidal lagoon scheme proposal with the means to be implemented - the tidal lagoon project needs not just a good strike price but also loan guarantees like have been offered to Hinkley C. It serves, rather, as a smokescreen to hide the cliff edge of investment cut-off that much of the renewable energy industry faces if the Conservatives regain power in May. See my last post on the Tories preparing a massacre of onshore renewable energy schemes.

So who are the Conservatives kidding? Themselves, maybe, into believing that a fantasy renewable energy programme is a substitute for a real one? Surely nobody else can believe this nonsense. They certainly ought not to do so.

The tidal lagoon technology is highly innovative, the sort of project that the UK should be proud to advance. We need to give it the real support that will make sure it happens, not the fantasy nonsense issuing from the Treasury.
For some project details, see:

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Tories preparing onshore wind power massacre as Labour misses another Scottish opportunity

Nearly 5GWe of onshore wind power schemes already given planning permission and a further 5 GWe awaiting planning consent face the prospect of not having the finance to be installed  if the Conservatives win the election in May. The Tories are promising that onshore wind and solar projects will not be funded after 2020. They will only support some offshore wind projects and solar pv on rooftops.

Some of the 10 GWe of wind power schemes under threat will not gain planning consent, and some will be awarded so-called 'contracts for difference' (CfDs) under the Government's current programme of awarding contracts through auctions under electricity market reform (see previous blog post). But I estimate that at least 5GWe of already planned onshore wind projects that have or will get planning consent will be left stranded with no premium price contracts - and won't be implemented. This represents on its own around 3 per cent of UK electricity consumption - no doubt much  more would be forthcoming if it were not for the threat of the Tory axe. No wonder the accountants are writing down the UK as an investment possibility for renewables. See report at

Labour's Tom Greatrex has missed a prime opportunity to outflank the SNP when he talked about how Scotland needed nuclear power. What he should have done is called for a bigger renewable energy target for Scotland. Labour says it wants to decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030. See and for Greatex's nuclear focus see

So don't we need some new, more radical targets for Scotland? 150 per cent by 2025 would seem moderate (perhaps even puny) in this scenario. Actually Scotland is making rapid progress towards its current 2020 target of 100 per cent of electricity demand from renewables by 2020. 150 per cent by 2025 is certainly plausible, and with onshore and offshore renewable energy prices falling, quite cheap.

The Danes, as usual the trailblazers in wind power, have just announced a contract for what will be the world's cheapest offshore wind park, at just £75 a MWh, for just a 12 years premium price contract. Compare this with the Hinkley C deal of £92.50 for a staggering 35 years and £10 billion of loan guarantees that offshore wind does not usually receive (and a nuclear scheme that is unlikely to be built even on these terms!). See

The time to increase the Scottish target is now. Instead Tom goes on about nuclear power, a technology whose credibility ebbs away as the prospect of the Hinkley C project, and any other major nuclear project, gradually wilts away. So decarbonisation depends on renewables. Greatex could also try to outflank the SNP by arguing that after 2020 that the Scots need English money to pay for more renewables north of the border. Instead, as usual, Labour is grabbing defeat from the jaws of its 'no' vote referendum victory, in this case by focussing on failing nuclear technology rather than pointing the way forward to renewables.