What next for the environment under the new government?

May 13, 2010

- Juliet Davenport is founder and CEO of Good Energy, a renewable electricity supplier. The opinions expressed are her own. -

When parliament resumes, roughly a third of all MPs will be taking their seats in Westminster for the first time.

The key question now is, what are their views on the issues that matter? What do they believe needs to be done to tackle climate change?

How do they think the government should encourage people to move towards a low-carbon lifestyle?

What do they believe should be for the government to decide and what should be left to the market to deliver?

Of course, all of these questions will be framed by the backdrop of the largest budget deficit since the Second World War; this is something that will obviously restrict ministers’ ability to use public funding to implement policy.

That means there will be more competition between Whitehall departments for what money is available, so the twin issues of energy and climate change will need more allies and champions in parliament than ever.

Good Energy will be working hard to identify the new generation of champions and be seeking to build new relationships with them once parliament returns in a few weeks’ time.

In recent years, those of us having to deal with government policymaking first hand have grown used to dealing with successive administrations with comfortable majorities.

On the one hand this has meant that there has been a greater degree of certainty about policy implementation, but on the other it has meant policy has more often than not been dealt with through procedure and bureaucracy rather than through politics.

A Conservative- LibDem coalition government completely changes this situation. Ministers will have to pay far more attention to the concerns of individual MPs in order to woo their support and get proposals passed.

The government will have to work harder to ensure that frontbench policy is broadly aligned with the range of opinions amongst backbench MPs by providing concessions in some areas of policy in order to get other proposals passed.

So what does this mean for Good Energy’s campaigning efforts in Westminster? Well, it means that there will be a more diverse, vibrant debate around the issues that affect Good Energy’s customers and generators.

And it will mean less certainty in policymaking. We can expect to see weeks of hard work by civil servants undone by a single vote in parliament if the minister responsible hasn’t done his or her homework on the probability of their proposals being passed.

But with this political risk comes opportunity and with that, Good Energy’s work in building relationships with politicians across the political spectrum becomes all the more valuable.

There is greater scope for building networks of supportive MPs on key issues who can act as a important force in the debate in Westminster, and it is those individuals that the government will have to spend more time and effort paying attention to in order to push through their policy programmes.

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