Steve Whittaker is an activist in Stretford and Urmston.
David Cameron’s focus on the environment has been
one of the most striking features of his attempts to re-brand and
reform the party, and the party remains fairly divided on the issue.
Some members, me included, do believe that climate change is a reality.
Others do not. That is not the debate I want to raise, however.
Renewable energy has been one of the major talking-points of the last
year. I’d like to try and explain why I think that an incoming
Conservative government should be willing and ready to invest heavily
in both renewables and nuclear power; and why the renewable cause has
something to offer Conservatives from all sides of the party.
Both renewables and nuclear are undoubtedly going to be the key to
energy security. At a time when Russia is using oil and gas as a
renewable and nuclear could be the route to energy self-sufficiency.
Add onto this the fact that imported oil is in the hands of un-free
nations and their un-free markets, and the case for alternatives is
compelling. This self-sufficency might well take many years to achieve,
but why not start now? Regardless of the cost of renewable power now,
why not plough the research and development money in now and see
results faster? A Britain self-sufficient in energy is a Britain that
will never have to kow-tow to foreign energy interests (unless of
course, we have a Labour government!).
Renewables and nuclear alike could be excellent tools for regional development- if appropriate for the area in question. Geothermal power in Cornwall; wind power off Britain’s coasts; nuclear power in less inhabited areas. Renewable and nuclear energy have the potential to deliver jobs to some of Britain’s poorest areas. We are currently paying enormous prices for oil to foreign oil concerns and those who outright oppose our democracy and our foreign policy. Would it not be better to have that money flowing into our less well-off regions?
As these technologies advance, Britain should be in the vanguard. British research and British manufacturing should be leading the way, and a Conservative government should be willing to offer tax breaks for research and development in these areas. Some of these technologies are hardly new and untested: nuclear’s track record is self-evident, and even geothermal has been helping to power Southampton since the late 1980s.
The tax issue leads me into my final point. A new environmentally-conscious Conservative agenda need not be seen as mutually exclusive to our small-state heritage. We can actively use tax reduction as a weapon, and as a result in itself. For example, the Dutch government does not charge tax on renewable energy, meaning that renewable energy costs little more than conventional energy. What could be more Conservative than encouraging changes in behaviour by offering the chance to reduce one’s tax burden? It certainly would work better than taking a stick approach, as Labour surely would do. Green taxes could be a method of cutting taxes rather than raising them- if done with the right, low-tax intentions. Something I’d imagine neither Labour nor the Liberals would have.
The case for renewable and nuclear energy should not just be seen through the prism of environmentalism- the case for it is broader than that. From my point of view, and I daresay that of many others, energy change could be a powerful tool in delivering the domestic and foreign changes than we as Conservatives would like to see brought about.