At the “The politics of climate change : from economic crisis to business revolution” conference on 5th June 2009, Peter Mandelson’s face was all puffed and pale. He looked rather like a middle-aged drag queen who’s had an allergic reaction to her démaquillant. Or it could be all those late night supposed emergency mini-conferences with Gordon Brown. Or Alan Sugar. You never know.
Roger Liddle introduced his keynote speaker with aplomb. “What really matters are policies to [control] Carbon [emissions]…a consistent set of long-term policies can only be achieved with cross-party consensus. Something unusual in British politics…who better [to explain our position] than Lord Peter Mandelson, Business Secretary, at least for the moment [laughter in the audience]…and President of the Policy Network”.
Peter Mandelson said, “It’s good to have a sense of perspective and pri- orities…[the conference was chosen for a Friday] because Friday is always rather a quiet day [laughter in the audience]…” This Friday of course, was not, with the New Labour experiment imploding.
Mandelson asserted, probably from a script written for him, “it’s a difficult time for politicians…cynicism and scepticism of our politicians and parties is high. We need to counter this by fixing the system…[that has] scandalised so many. [We]…need wider constitutional and political reform for empowering citizens. We have a core of positive reforms…need to harness political energy…Rebuilding political trust matters for its own sake, but also politics is the only way to make huge [response] to the challenges…also the challenge of Climate Change. Politics is the multiplier for [a] sense of renewal. Politics is the agent of change. New Labour will remain the change-makers. If you can’t fix politics you can’t fix anything else.”
Peter Mandelson spoke of the politics of Climate Change – about how the core challenge was getting people to change their choices now, with the future, and other people in other parts of world, in mind. “It’s going to cost, now.” But he asserted that despite this offputting reality, “people often find change energising”, and that people raise their awareness to the opportunities. There are personal choices and national choices, he said. The Low Carbon Economy offers substantial opportunities. Around £3trillion per year. “How can we shape a positive environment for Low Carbon services ?”, he asked. “[We need] long-term strategies. Short-termism simply won’t work.”
For developing the Low Carbon Economy he said that until recently there had been uncertainty. Clear leadership over the last year has unlocked billions of pounds. He said we need to keep clear strategies and direction. He said we need a clear and stable framework of policies in which business and other communities make decisions. “Market dynamics alone will not create [that environment]”, he oriented us, “[we] cannot be ideological about markets…it has to be a partnership…Intervention in the market [setting the] cost of Carbon to make a genuine change in behaviour.”
He pointed the way towards an “intervention” so that Britain can support Climate Change technology. (For “Climate Change”, read “Clean Coal”, as in Carbon Capture and Storage, to be financed by the public purse). Mandelson brought up the issue of investment in the National Grid and other infrastructure necessary to implement the Low Carbon policies. He mentioned Ultra Low Carbon vehicles. He mentioned the need for a quality science base, and a technical strategy, skills, Low Carbon skills.
Peter Mandelson predicted a “public-private innovation fund” to provide sources of growth capital for medium and large businesses in Low Carbon. He might have added “small” as well. He said that it was necessary that the Government intervene in the market to generate demand. He mentioned the Government procurement programme. He said that the Government has the responsibility to ensure that the UK-based companies are competitive. His mantra was “new industry : new jobs”. He said that a full range of policies could win contracts and jobs for Britain.
“Green politics sometimes presents Business as the enemy of Climate Change policy”, he whinged, “for as long as business resists change, it will be the case. But, mainstream Climate Change policies cannot be anti-politics, anti-business and anti-growth as we see in the green movement. We can’t just throw green slime at the problem, as I know to my own cost.” There was much laughter in the room again, but some people were laughing at Mandelson and not with him.
Peter Mandelson said we need a different approach to growth. “We need to take on the energy of the green movement, but not the dogma.” At which point I muttered, “what a stupid thing to say !”
Mandelson continued his thread, “[we are] not going to get people to embrace change by being afraid of the future…negative incentives to change can only harm the story.” He talked of offering positives instead. I thought that sounded like spin.
He talked of a long-term strategic approach, appropriate to the role of both markets and state and recognising and equipping people. He said this was “all the more important in a recession”. He said that the transition to Low Carbon can play an important part in recovery. He hinted that we have a choice, either to get cynical “or we can have a sensible debate to get politics back on track”.
“A positive politics of Climate Change depends on us all deciding that politics works…[and] focus on a different future for our society.”
I did not applaud Peter Mandelson. I kept my arms neatly folded. He was most probably reading from a speech prepared for him by someone else. Most likely they weren’t his own words. What was there about his own words and ideas to praise ?
I must say though, that despite his former slavery and slavering to neo-liberal economics, he is now sounding remarkably Keynesian. Perhaps that’s just the effect of the speech-writer. Or perhaps he has found out what the social state is for, finally. Or perhaps he just wants to bleed the public purse dry for the benefit of his business allies.