By Paul Goodman
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Michael Fallon will have had a twinkle in his eye when he told the Daily Telegraph that “Energy policy shouldn’t be ideological". The Climate Change Department Minister is one of the few Thatcherites from the lady's era in government, and little to him comes ideology-free – not even, one suspects, his choice of breakfast marmalade as he reads the paper's report this morning. It says that he is to give local communities the power to veto wind farms near their homes: the proposed scheme seems to be similar to the take-or-refuse-money-for-new-homes Policy Exchange housing scheme that Nick Boles has taken up. Local residents will have the choice of accepting money and approving wind turbines or refusing it – and thereby vetoing them.
Readers will be mindful that deep blue pledges of this kind tend to pop up just before the local elections. Downing Street's reminder to me earlier this week that "the Prime Minister is the first Lord of the Treasury", a mild dig at George Osborne's resistance to tax breaks for married couples, provides another example. But Fallon claims that he has got "a package of proposals ready", and the Telegraph says that "it is understood that the “relief for the shires” package, to be unveiled next
month, will include new planning protections and a community benefit scheme".
John Hayes, Fallon's predecessor, was told by David Cameron when appointed: "I want you to deliver a win for our people on wind farms." Hayes pushed for restrictions on building them – very publicly – and clashed with Ed Davey in doing so. Fallon's claim that energy policy should be ideology-lite shows that he prefers to catch his monkey softly. (Hayes, who amuses and impresses the Prime Minister in just about equal measure, is now busy pepping up the Prime Minister's political operation.)
The Energy Minister was also in the news yesterday, telling the Daily Mail that Royal Mail will be sold off within a year, and shares in it sold to the public – in an echo of the privatisations of the Thatcher high years. Cutting red tape is notoriously hard to do but, as Tim Montgomerie reported earlier this year, employment tribunal appeals have been streamlined, the one-in-one-out regulatory trade-off has been toughened and the Red Tape Challenge, Fallon claims, has eliminated or simplified more than 300 regulations
identified by business. There are more glamorous candidates for promotion, but I can't think of one who is more purposeful, gets less flummoxed, has the authority required in a Cabinet Minister – and actually gets things done.