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Has the UK election run out of energy?

Energy ,Government Affairs
energy_gas_ring

What are the implications for energy policy following last week's launch of party manifestos? There are of course points of divergence in the pledges of the main parties, but broadly the finer details reveal wafer-thin differences in many policy areas. With a political system so delicately balanced, Britain remains unlikely to make any radical policy moves.

“It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice,” is the oft-cited quote attributed to Deng Xiaoping, commonly recognised as the leader of modern China’s transformation from agrarian state to economic superpower.

The phrase sprung to mind when reviewing the party election manifesto pledges on energy ahead of the UK’s upcoming general election. The policy pledges reflect the UK’s long-standing stance towards energy which is based on a mixed portfolio of energy sources for power generation.

While many other countries including EU neighbours France and Germany have prioritised one form of energy over another, the UK has pragmatically chosen a blend of coal and fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables to provide its energy.

The contours shaping the pre-election rhetoric in the UK do little to suggest a dramatic change of course. 

Fresh ideas

There are of course points of divergence in the pledges of the main parties. Some will point to Ed Miliband’s long-standing pledge to freeze energy bills until 2017 and reform the UK’s energy market as ground-breaking.

Labour’s promise, made last year, remains the main area of policy difference between the three main UK parties.

Less celebrated has been Labour’s manifesto commitment to establish an Energy Security Board (ESB), which will, “plan and deliver the energy mix we need, including renewables, nuclear, green gas, carbon capture and storage, and clean coal”.

The scope of the Board’s remit remains undefined but hints at a more interventionist approach to energy from Labour.

The Lib Dem manifesto contains no surprise energy policies. The most “green” and Europe-focused of the three main parties, the Lib Dems, interestingly accept nuclear as part of a low-carbon electricity supply mix. This had previously been a “red line” for the party’s grassroots.

The Conservatives meanwhile remain the main party most committed to natural gas fracking and to energy security.

The “safe-hands” approach of the Tory manifesto repeats a previous commitment to set up a sovereign wealth fund for the north of England to give back wealth created by shale gas to communities in which fracking takes place.

Spot the difference

Broadly though, the finer detail of the respective party manifestos reveals wafer-thin differences in many policy areas.

On the big issue of climate change, there was demonstrable alignment back in February when David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg issued a joint commitment to seek “a fair, strong legally binding global climate deal” and the “phasing out” of unabated coal for power generation.

The announcement garnered column headlines at the time but has contributed to taking the steam out of a deeper conversation about UK energy policy.

Just as the rapid arrival of spring has led to central heating being turned off all over the country, energy has seemingly slipped down the list of “hot topics” covered by the media in the run up to the election.

Unanswered questions

This is a shame. Energy security, the tumbling oil price, the spectre of climate change and domestic electricity provision, remain central challenges facing the UK.

The need for an honest and open dialogue on Britain’s future energy policy is undeniable. The party manifestos remain weak and woolly with regard to detailed energy policy.

Without deeper discussion and focus on energy, it is likely that the UK will continue to “hedge its bets” with regard to energy for decades to come. This results in incremental policy shift.

As the joint party statement on climate change suggests, the extraordinary times in which we live require root and branch leadership.

With a political system so delicately balanced – in part because of the rise of “outsider” parties like UKIP, the Greens and the SNP – Britain remains unlikely to make radical policy moves such as the phasing out of nuclear power in Germany or the prioritisation of renewables and energy efficiency measures like in many EU countries.

Post 7th May, energy will no doubt move up the political agenda regardless of the government’s composition. Why the UK puts energy on the back-burner as other policy areas heat up is a lost opportunity.

Written by: Michael Zdanowski, Associate Director at Edelman

Red Lines & Clear Blue Water
General Election 2015

Government Affairs
Downing Street

The publication of the party manifestos is always a much anticipated event in the election campaign and this time has been worth the wait as all three parties sought to respond to the realities of their polling. In this week’s Edelman Election Briefing we provide a guide to the key measures from each of the main parties’ manifestos, while also assessing what impact – if any – these might have on the race for Number 10.

The publication of the party manifestos is always a much anticipated event in the election campaign and this time has been worth the wait as all three parties sought to respond to the realities of their polling. The Labour Party sought to reposition itself as the party of fiscal responsibility, meanwhile the Conservative Party made a number of allegedly unfunded spending commitments and sought to hide its ambitions to slim the state.

At this election the manifestos are both more and less important. More because they set out the public opening bids, common ground, redlines and potential deal breakers for coalition talks in the days, and maybe weeks, after May 7th. And less important as at this election it will be highly unlikely that any one party will achieve the votes to have the opportunity to try to implement its manifesto in full.

Increasingly the parties will need to become more honest with the voters and indicate which policies are cast iron commitments and which are aspirations that they will amend, trade or cast aside in coalition negotiations. If multi-party government is to become the new normal for the UK political system, then the manifestos will need to evolve too.

In this week’s Edelman Election Briefing we provide a guide to the key measures from each of the main parties’ manifestos, while also assessing what impact – if any – these might have on the race for Number 10.

To view this week’s briefing, please click here.

Does press support make any difference to voters?

Government Affairs ,Media
newspaper_press

It’s a British phenomenon which always becomes more evident at election time: Britain is essentially a pretty liberal country with a pretty conservative press. So, does press support make any difference to the outcome of a General Election?

It’s a British phenomenon which always becomes more evident at election time: Britain is essentially a pretty liberal country with a pretty conservative press.

To judge from the partisanship of Fleet Street alone, a foreign observer would have to deduce that if the people who buy national newspapers are politically in tune with their chosen titles, the UK was decidedly right of centre.

In circulation terms, loosely calculated, about 72% of UK daily newspapers are right of centre (Sun, Times, Mail, Express, Star), about 10% are in the centre (Independent, FT, Evening Standard – I’m counting their distribution as circulation) and only 18% are left of centre (Guardian, Mirror).

The way Britain votes, however, is significantly different.

Taking the voting share of the eight elections since 1979, adding them together and dividing by eight, an average result has been:

CON – 37.7%

LAB – 34.7%

LIB/SNP – 19.9%

Nats (SNP/PC) – 2.1%

Others – 5.5%

On the basis that the Nationalists are predominantly left of centre voters and that the “Others” – principally the Northern Irish parties would, if combined with the Nats, cancel each other out, we can draw the conclusion that the UK is, in unscientific terms, 58.4% liberal and 41.6% conservative.

But does press support make any difference?

Famously, the Sun claimed to have won the 1992 election – and something certainly seems to have happened in the last 100 days before the final poll, according to this excellent article from May2015.com.

Conservative support rose from about 38 per cent to about 43 per cent while Labour’s share crashed from 44 to 35, the second largest fall it has experienced in the course of an election campaign in the past 40 years.

That might suggest that powerful lobbying by the press – which was particularly hard on Neil Kinnock’s party that year – had a serious effect.

But what was the largest fall in Labour’s support during a campaign in the last four decades? It was five years later for the Tony Blair landslide, a result that came despite polls that started at LAB 54 CON 31 LD 12 changing to LAB 44 CON 31 LD 17.

Why was that significant? Well, in that year, the Sun was campaigning FOR Labour and most of the traditionally conservative press were either following suit or reluctantly backing the Tories.

So it’s hard to argue that the press has any claim to influence the outcome of British general elections.

In fact, the continued dislocation between the political colour of newspapers bought by Brits and the way those same people vote in the only poll that really matters suggests that Fleet Street neither leads nor follows its customers.

 

Written by: Ben Fenton, Senior Consultant at Edelman

What branding challenges do political parties face?
General Election 2015 - Update 4

Government Affairs
election_debates

As the election continues, all the political parties are under increased scrutiny. This week, Edelman examines the branding challenges the parties will be confronting in this year’s campaign, while also providing a roundup of the latest developments on the campaign trail.

As the election continues, the increased scrutiny which is the feature of modern campaigns is being brought home to all the political parties – threatening to throw their strategies off course, force them to defend policy proposals in forensic detail, and deal with the potentially vote-losing consequences of damage to their brands.

While marketing a political party to the electorate used to be comparatively straight forward, both the main political parties are now confronted with the task of delivering the kind of retail offer which voters have become accustomed to receiving as consumers.

This week’s Edelman Election Briefing will guide you through the branding challenges the parties will be confronting in this year’s campaign, while also providing a roundup of the latest developments on the campaign trail.

To view the Election Briefing, please click here.

Image: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

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