Energy secretary Ed Davey and his team will today be subjected to a thorough pasting in the Commons. Questions from not only back and opposition benches, but from sources further afield – noticeably Brussels – have, and will continue to be fired Davey’s way. Labour, spearheaded by shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint, will no doubt play on unfavourable views expressed by MEPs of the EU Parliaments Committee, concerning the government’s decision to plump for shale gas over greener alternatives.
Last month’s publication of the Energy Bill has been a source of much dissent within the coalition, whilst sparking much ridicule among the opposition benches. This is not least because the Lib Dem’s original manifesto pledge, to cut carbon emissions produced by generating electricity to a specified level by 2013, has not been adhered to. The increased burden homeowners will be expected to shoulder, alongside additional price hikes outlined in the chancellor’s autumn statement, are sure to hang heavy for Davey and his team as they take to the dispatch box.
However, recent comments made in direct response towards aspects of Osborne’s autumn statement, look set to threaten both coalition unity, alongside Britain’s already strained relationship with the EU. The government’s decision to employ fracking as a means of obtaining gas quickly and (as the chancellor argues) cleanly has invited some in the European Parliament to err on the side of caution; most notably German MEP Jo Leinan who resides on the Parliament’s environment committee.
Leinan suggested that the committee would consider new regulations designed to “manage, to discipline” the sector. Referring specifically to the UK, Leinan went on to state that “in Great Britain they give green light for industrial exploitation but they have to know what they are doing. I don't know if they can be so sure and clear about what they are doing." An MEP based in Brussels to sound such alarm over the government’s strategy will no doubt play into the hands of those opposed to the measure; emboldening Labour and strengthening opposition amongst campaign and pressure groups.
Supporters of the proposals have come out fighting, not least Boris Johnson who issued a direct retort to Leinan’s comments. The mayor, who recently claimed that the UK should look for a new "pared-down relationship" with the European Union, slammed what he considers to be further intrusion from those in Brussels: “Regulations? From the Euro-parliament? And these people wonder why we in Britain are increasingly determined to have a referendum on our membership of the EU. I am sure that the SPD politician means well, but just what in the name of hell has it got to do with him?”
Today’s round of questions will no doubt provide many Conservative backbenchers the chance to rally behind Johnson’s sentiments, whilst others will believe that being in coalition – or more bluntly the Lib Dems remain their biggest problem. This is in spite of the concessions made on Davey’s part – namely the shelving of the 2030 pledge as outlined at his party’s conference earlier in the year.
An alternative strategy could be put forward, a new type of energy, harvested not from a shale gas site in Blackpool, but from the abundance of hot air routinely expended in the commons.