What do the panel think of the Green party candidate’s view that we should have, and it would be desirable to have, a greater fraction of our population working to obtain our food and energy? Wouldn’t that be terrible for the economy and result in food and energy prices increasing?”
- Green Tony Juniper clearly restated his position that he does not want to see investment in nuclear power on the grounds that such an investment would result in fewer jobs being created than if that money went into renewable energy sources.
- Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert and Tony Juniper would both like to see energy prices rise.
- Julian Huppert and Labour’s Daniel Zeichner are proposing the taxpayer should increase pensions, and benefits as energy prices rise; Juniper would provide everyone an essential ration of affordable energy.
My view is that one of civilisation’s major achievements has been releasing us from having to spend so much time working to obtain our food and energy. In this, as with other areas, the Green party appear to want to turn back the clock and take us back to time where as a country we don’t have the time and resources available to spend on other endeavours such as science, education and improving healthcare. I think that Tony Juniper does an excellent job of highlighting the problems and challenges which we face; all the candidates agree that we need more resilient energy sources and to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels. I don’t think though that it makes sense to vote for a representative who’s only good at identifying, and drawing attention to problems; what’s more important is the solutions they’re offering to pursue. I think it is a key role of government to keep the lights on and keep energy and food prices affordable; preventing people from falling into food and energy poverty. I am concerned that if Juniper and the Greens obtain any influence on national policy will not focus on those basic priorities.
When Tony Juniper did move away from describing the problems onto addressing the question he first addressed a tangental point – that of “green jobs” in the UK, highlighting that the UK has fewer people working on renewable energy than Germany. I too think that statistic highlights a problem, we do need to be positioning the UK to benefit economically from renewable power; we need to be encouraging UK companies, and providing incentives to companies from other countries to base themselves in the UK. What I disagree with is that the driving force ought to be finding things for people to do.
I was quite surprised to hear Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert join Green Tony Juniper in calling for higher energy prices. This prompted a member of the public present to heckle him asking if he’d pay his gas bill. In typical Lib Dem fasion as it was a predominantly green / environmentalist audience Huppert took the approach of trying to associate himself as closely as possible with Tony Juniper’s views. Huppert claimed that high energy costs could be prevented from hitting people like pensioners badly by better insulating their homes. Huppert also appeared to make a commitment to increase pensions ie. for the taxpayer (or public borrowing) to fund the increased energy costs; the Conservative Nick Hillman questioned if this spending commitment had been costed and if it was in the manifesto. Socialist Martin Booth said he found it hard the believe the Lib Dem and Labour assurances that public money would be available to offset increased energy bills for the poorest people and expressed concern about the effect of higher energy prices on the least well off. Tony Juniper had an interesting proposal to deal with increasing energy prices – he suggested variable tariffs with everyone being given a ration of cheap energy and having to pay much more if they went over that – to discourage waste.
Conservative Nick Hillman gave a very lacklustre performance; and while he said he thought Juniper was coming at the problem from the wrong starting point, really make a substantive contribution to the debate. After the event Mr Hillman said he felt he didn’t have to do much as I’d already done a good job of highlighting the absurdity of the Green policies.
I thought it notable that none of the candidates mentioned tidal power. The UK is the best placed country in the world to benefit from tidal power; we should invest in two or three major tidal schemes which can produce a significant fraction of our national energy usage.
On food Tony Juniper explained his view that intensity of production could be obtained either through increased human effort or from putting in energy and fertilisers. Unlike Juniper I don’t think we’ve got lots of people in the UK who are aspiring to long days of hard work as farm labourers; I think that there are better things we can do with our efforts, and we need to be more productive with our time so we can compete as a country. Labour’s Daniel Zeichner pointed out that currently many agricultural jobs are very low paid, exploitative, jobs carried out by migrant workers saying if there are to be more jobs in that sector then they will have to be better paid. Tony Juniper and the Greens have other policies which will force food prices up too; they want to introduce protectionist policies reducing food imports into the country, and even local protectionist policies requiring more food to be produced within the county. Neither Zeichner or Juniper addressed the food price increases which would result from their policies at all. If they were to adopt similar approaches as they were proposing with respect to energy – the Greens would be offering everyone an essential food ration and Labour borrowing money the country doesn’t have to give poorer people money so they’ll be able to buy food.
I think new nuclear power stations on the existing sites are essential for resilience, reducing our dependence on imported oil and gas, and keeping energy prices affordable. If we do not renew them within a decade’s time, we will be enormously dependent on unreliable imports of gas. While increasing the contributions renewable energy makes to our energy mix is desirable the “energy gap” will be with us well before renewable energy can make a significant contribution. Of the Cambridge candidates UKIP’s Peter Burkinshaw is strongly in favour of renewing our nuclear power stations. Lib Dem Huppert and Labour’s Zeichner are both more anti-nuclear power than their parties. Nick Hillman says he has no moral objection to nuclear power but isn’t convinced by the economics. Green Tony Juniper is opposed to nuclear power on the grounds it doesn’t employ many people. To his credit, Huppert has been the only candidate in any hustings I’ve attended to mention research into nuclear fusion as an energy source. I think it is really important for the UK to maintain involvement in the field, both as part of the major international collaborations, and also smaller research groups within UK universities so that we are well placed to benefit from the technology when it is made to work. Nick Hillman’s view is in-line with the Conservative manifesto which says they propose:
clearing the way for new nuclear power stations – provided they receive no public subsidy;
though other Conservatives are much stronger advocates of nuclear power, with shadow energy spokesman Greg Clark saying they would allow energy companies to open at least one new nuclear facility every year and a half to boost the country’s power supply.
The Labour party manifesto states: “We have taken the decisions to enable a new generation of nuclear power stations”. And the Lib Dem manifesto says they will: “Reject a new generation of nuclear power stations; based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy.”