For Rudd, consumer is king

The Energy Secretary sticks to a favourite theme in her conference speech

Douglas McIlroy reviews Amber Rudd's speech to Conservative Party Conference

All conference speeches are exercises in political rhetoric, and the Energy and Climate Change Secretary’s address to Conservative Party conference this afternoon proved no exception. With her mentor George Osborne making most of the big policy announcements in the morning, Rudd preferred to keep things broad-brush and eschewed heavy detail about the Government’s energy policy.

An overriding theme of Rudd’s speech was the need to focus on "consumer, consumer and consumer", although there were a few "long term economic plans" thrown in for good measure. The speech essentially picked up the narrative baton from HM Treasury, as it was the Chancellor's department which originally pounced on the chance to link environmental taxation to consumer energy in light of the Levy Control Framework overspend. This argument was borne out of knowledge that is very difficult to argue against measures that will lower household bills, even if they may have less predictable long-term consequences.

A significant portion of Rudd’s speech was devoted to criticising Labour’s energy policy under Jeremy Corbyn, and the Hastings MP spent a significant amount of time justifying recent policy decisions on renewables. A reference to the Government keeping its manifesto pledge on ending new subsidy for onshore a wind was welcomed with a subtle cheer across the room. There were no big announcements on Hinkley C, carbon budgets or the newly-established National Infrastructure Commission.

A lack of policy detail was the dominant theme at a fringe event hosted by the all-party PRASEG group on renewables. Both the panel and audience wanted clarity. However, the more pragmatic probably understood that nothing is going to happen until after the Spending Review at the end of November. In the meantime, attendees appeared aware of the need to speak the language of HM Treasury and use business groups naturally more endeared to the Conservatives to make their points. Just like the Energy Secretary, industry needs to entwine itself with the "long term economic plan" and the "Northern Powerhouse".

While Rudd did not mention the new National Infrastructure Commission in her address, it was a constant at the fringe events. There was consensus that demand side must be treated the same as new nuclear or HS2 and that Lord Adonis is a politician who listens. The worry is that he will be too busy with Heathrow and Gatwick before the spending review is concluded.

The truly astonishing number of fringe events focussing on energy at this year’s Conservative conference will hopefully give stakeholders of all stripes the opportunity to put much needed questions to ministers. We will just have to wait and see how candid they are willing to be in response. 

Photograph: Peter Thompson

H+K Admin

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search