By Paul Goodman
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Ed Davey is the Climate Change Secretary, John Hayes is his junior Minister, and the Coalition must be preserved (in the view of the Conservative leadership) – all of which points to Mr Davey getting his way on wind farms, or enough of it to save face, at any rate. It doesn't matter how many reviews Mr Hayes commissions or how many interviews to the Daily Mail he gives. Nor does the process-ology behind his recent intervention matter much: whether or not he was due to make an anti-wind farm speech that was cancelled on Mr Davey's instruction; whether or not he was put up to his Daily Mail interview by Downing Street. In any clash between Mr Davey and Mr Hayes, Mr Davey will find a way of winning, at least in the short term.
Yet Mr Hayes is a medium-term winner as well as being a short-term loser from his clash with the Climate Change Secretary. Let me explain why.
Most Conservative MPs oppose wind farm subsidies at present levels: over 100 of them signed a letter to David Cameron saying so. In career terms, it is therefore win-win for Mr Hayes. If Mr Davey blocks his attempts to scale back subsidies, the Energy Minister can represent himself as the plain-speaking champion of Tory common sense, frustrated in his good intentions by those perfidious yellow b**tards. But if Mr Hayes can force concessions from Mr Davey – in alliance with Octopus Osborne, a wind farm subsidy sceptic – the Energy Minister will rightfully be able to claim that he is a winner as well as a warrior. He also had an outstandingly successful Commons outing recently – see here, here, and here.
Now that Chris Grayling, Grant Shapps and Maria Miller have been promoted to Cabinet, it's worth asking: could Mr Hayes make it next time round?
I declare an interest. I've known the Energy Minister for the best part of 30 years, and have written about him before on this site. In one sense, he is such a vivid and buoyant character that it's surprising he has flown, so far, beneath even the Westminster Village radar. In another, his job is giving him the breakthrough opportunity which has evaded him to date: his previous post at the Business Department saw him drive, with his usual brio, the Government's apprenticeship programme – an important scheme, but not one which catches the eye in the same way as wind farms, with their attendant controversies. What makes the Energy Minister interesting – if not unique – is the kind of conservatism he champions.
As I've put it before, Mr Hayes is a kind of Merry England Tory – pro-free market but sceptical, to put it no more strongly, of capitalism, at least in its Big Business incarnation.
He is also an operator – the co-founder of the Cornerstone Group, a player in the network of right-wing caucuses within the Parliamentary Party. He has been immensely helpful to the leadership, speaking up for David Cameron's Coalition plan at the crucial meeting of the Parliamentary Party which endorsed it. I add with some regret, though, that Messrs Cameron and Osborne probably won't give him a Cabinet place. There is a shortage of them; there are other claimants of roughly his seniority (think Greg Clark, think Mark Harper); there is a new generation from the 2010 intake (think Sajid Javid, think Elizabeth Truss, think Nicholas Boles). Number 10 may think, too, that with his eccentricities and ambition Mr Hayes is, potentially, trouble.
For as long as they're in charge, then, they'll probably keep him busy in senior but non-Cabinet posts until he reaches his mid-50s, by which time "we need some younger people, John".
Then again, they may not always be in charge. Don Quixote tilted at windmills without success. Like him, Mr Hayes is a romantic. Unlike him, he means business, and has a steely side.