David Cameron’s energy ‘remarks’ leave media to create their own narrative
- 26 Apr 2012, 14:15
- Ros Donald and Christian Hunt
When is a speech not a speech?
With the Clean Energy Ministerial hosted in London for the rest
of the week, the occasion of a David Cameron keynote speech to open
the conference had been billed by government as the beginning of a
great green fightback", planned since January. Damian
Carrington for the Guardian said energy and climate minister Greg
Barker had told him Cameron would take the opportunity for a "
major policy intervention by the prime minister" on the green
But, over the course of the week, number 10 has apparently been
trying desperately to
downplay expectations, and Cameron's eventual brief remarks
don't seem to have contained anything particularly substantive.
With expectations duly managed and without much to go on, the media
Interpret-o-thon 3000 went into overdrive, casting about for
meaning in the runes. So it's no big surprise that the range of
takes on the content in the media was quite wide - here's a
The news that the speech would be dramatically curtailed had
already met with disapproval earlier this week.
Geoffrey Lean for the Telegraph said yesterday the "abrupt
downgrading of the occasion … just adds to the impression of a
government in disarray", adding with displeasure that despite
privately giving high-level assurances in recent months, the
government is now pretending there was never going to be a whole
speech from the PM in the first place.
What was behind the shift? Lean suspects a combination of
jitters resulting from Chancellor George Osborne's most
recent budget, news the country is heading back into recession
and uncertainty about green energy policies following Osborne's
hostile comments them. Carrington agreed, calling Cameron's sudden
shyness an "
extraordinary betrayal and abject failure of leadership".
Both of those pieces were written before the 'remarks', when
journalists still thought there would be an opportunity to ask
Cameron questions about the government's green policies.
Indeed, BusinessGreen yesterday invited readers to submit the
questions they'd like answered. But questions weren't on the
agenda, with journalists reportedly watching the statement over
video link from another room. Cameron gave short opening remarks to
the Ministerial, and then left. Telegraph reporter Louise
Gray wasn't impressed.
So has the much-trailed "
great green fightback" (this speech was in the diary for
months) turned into another omnishambles?
BBC science editor David
Shukman suggests today that "confusion" about promised
subsidies is marring the UK's green revolution, leaving
entrepreneurs "confused and a little angry", subject to a boom and
bust cycle as a result of changing or ambiguous policies. Shukman
notes the ambiguity of Cameron's remarks today:
"David Cameron spoke of his pride 'that
Britain has played a leading role at the forefront of this green
"But he also stressed a new challenge: 'we need to make it
financially sustainable too.'
"Those at the forefront will want to know exactly what that
The BBC's environment analyst,
Roger Harrabin, stated that Cameron's "warm words" about
renewables contained no substantive discussion of the numbers
- what would happen if offshore wind doesn't drop in price, or
discussion about more ambitious
carbon reduction targets for 2030.
Guardian, meanwhile, contrasted Cameron's assertion that the
government has lived up to its promise to be the greenest ever with
comments by disappointed stakeholders. Mark Kenber, chief executive
of the Climate Group told the Guardian that instead of sending a
"clear signal to investors", Cameron "effectively reiterated the
false dichotomy between 'non-affordable' renewables and
'affordable' fossil fuels." He added: "Today the PM sided with
those in his government that feel that the green agenda is a
Well, maybe that's what you get in seven minutes. It's probably
true that the government has other
things on its mind this week. At least poor old Greg Barker is
keeping his end up, tweeting determinedly
that David Cameron was "really fired up" at the meeting,
calling for a "second energy revolution" in the North Sea with wind
and carbon capture and storage.
There are other signs of an internal effort to bolster the
coalition's green standing - Barker's boss Ed Davey was similarly
rumbustious yesterday over
prospects for green policies to drive growth - just as we were
coming to terms with news of a return to recession. Foreign
Secretary William Hague also came out to bat on the issue in an
article on the
Huffington Post site yesterday, which might strengthen a belief
that the Tories are taking climate and energy issues seriously,
although none of the national papers chose to run it,
according to Barker.
The Telegraph's piece on the remarks - written before the event
- might give them some solace. Louise Gray wrote Cameron used the
speech to "commit to wind farms", backing plans for 70 new offshore
wind turbines as well as a new onshore wind farm. And James Murray
of Business Green was similarly upbeat about the
that he was "Honestly confused as to what speech some of Cameron's
critics were watching..."
Read the transcript here and judge for yourself who's
But it's worth pondering that for all the hay the Conservatives
have made out of green issues, Cameron still hasn't actually ever
given anything that's been billed as a major speech on the
environment, and this week doesn't appear to have changed that.