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Energy takes centre stage in policy debate

Leading politicians took to the stage on Monday to debate energy policy in the run-up to the general election.

In addition to the high-profile party leader debates, the BBC is treating TV audiences to several policy debates between key party representatives. First was the Environment and Climate Change debate chaired by Andrew Neil and Roger Harrabin. The panellists were Caroline Flint, Labour’s Shadow Energy Secretary, Matthew Hancock, Conservative Energy and Business Minister, Ed Davey the Liberal Democrat DECC Secretary and Andrew Cooper and Roger Helmer who are respectively the Green and UKIP energy spokespeople.

In a lively debate, each party remained largely true their recent policy pledges. Caroline Flint, Labour’s Shadow Energy Secretary, spoke of her party’s commitment to tackle climate change and create low carbon jobs and fired the opening salvo against the Conservatives when she accused their manifesto of lacking a firm stance on climate change.

Davey followed suit and said the Lib-Dems stopped the Conservatives from cutting energy programmes, namely the fuel poor element of ECO and stressed that his party had overseen massive renewables growth while in charge at DECC. He criticised Hancock for not being ambitious enough on energy efficiency but was generally respectful toward his Coalition colleague.

Responding to these criticisms, Hancock presented his party as one that had balanced green commitments with fiscal stability, following its long term plan to "secure clean energy in a way that doesn't cost the Earth". He also said energy efficiency expansion was possible without large-scale government intervention, to which the chair Roger Harrabin said that Conservative plans to insulate a million homes every five years would take “300 years” to complete.

The Greens and UKIP levelled their criticism toward the panel as a whole. Roger Helmer voiced strong scepticism on climate change policy and criticised what he sees as the “disaster” of UK energy policy. He criticised all his opponents as misguided and damaging to Britain’s economy.

Conversely, the Greens' Andrew Cooper argued the three main parties could not meet their emissions reduction commitments without a more ambitious approach to decarbonisation. He also reminded the panel that both Coalition parties had undermined energy efficiency by cutting parts of ECO, accusing them of “walking the walk, but not talking the talk”.  

With smaller political parties having a stronger role in this election than any previous recent election, voters concerned about climate change and fuel poverty have a real choice in terms of the parties stated positions on climate change – from the climate change deniers in UKIP to the Greens who would put sustainable energy centre stage.

However, we also have to bear in mind coalition negotiations. Since a hung parliament looks certain, will the party or parties that form the next government maintain or change their commitment to climate change and fuel poverty as part of negotiations to form a stable government?

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