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The Populist Policy Problem

The forthcoming local and European elections are now less than two weeks away, and contending parties have been doggedly campaigning to increase their chances of securing seats both at home and in Brussels.

9th May 2014    |     Peter Rolton: Chairman, Rolton Group

One party above all others is attracting the most attention, however, and its colour isn’t the traditional red, blue or yellow. In fact it is UKIP whose supporters are currently riding a rather large wave of coverage, with membership successes and controversies in which the party has recently been embroiled splashed across tabloids, broadsheets and television sets, providing more free publicity than they could have otherwise dreamt of being able to afford.

Unfortunately for voters who appear to be turning in their droves towards the comparatively young upstart, UKIP is all about the outrageous headlines and not at all about the supporting substance. The media has encouraged this superficiality, resorting to histrionics over the offensive billboards and the questionable characters of its representatives but paying no attention to the rather more worrisome vacuum that exists behind UKIP’s pantomime performance.

The danger with aligning yourself to a political party without reading the fine print is that you cannot truly be sure of what you’re signing up for, and, in the case of UKIP, searching out these elusive answers means wading into very murky water. A web link that used to redirect to the party’s official energy policy now brings up a screen stating ‘The webpage cannot be found’, rendering any attempt to pin down firm policy commitments about the future for UK power almost impossible. Is it not slightly suspicious that a political party would take down their energy policy in the run-up to an election? It’s almost as though they don’t want anyone to see what they’ve said… Luckily for any interested parties, I wrote a blog on the document when it was released and you can read it here.

The only snapshots to be found regarding their current stance on energy are interspersed within the two online election manifestos, and it appears that not much has changed. UKIP promises to end subsidies to so-called ‘renewable energy scams’, to ‘drop the EU Landfill Directive’ and, through their abandonment of the EU, reverse the UK’s Climate Change Act obligations and halt the closure of oil and coal-fired power stations that Europe deems harmful to human health. Their manifestos blame EU membership for the possibility of energy blackouts, and blame subsidies for rising consumer bills, whilst simultaneously refuting the very existence of anthropogenic climate change. This is laughably backwards: without investment in renewable energy sources, the nation is committed to a future of imported fuel and volatile supplies that in turn increase the chances of blackouts along with end user costs, the very thing UKIP claim to want to reverse.

It’s not just UKIP, either; Cameron’s promise to roll back on green levies and cancel subsidies for onshore wind if Conservatives win the next general election is exactly the same type of pandering to short-term mob mentality. The most startling fact is that it’s a very small mob stirring up the furore; DECC’s latest public attitudes tracker survey, published on 29th April, reveals that 80% of the public actually support for the use of renewable energy in the provision of fuel, and that figure is consistent with results from the same survey in 2012 and 2013.

The nation’s future energy security shouldn’t be put at risk just because the NIMBY few shout the loudest, or because weak politicians daren’t put their heads above the parapet to campaign for what is ethically, commercially and logically right. UKIP have built their reputation on vociferously fighting clean energy, but they have laid their foundations on sand; the public supports its growth and it is the only viable commercial option for reliable power provision going forward. It is time to debunk UKIP’s myopic populist policies so that voters can make informed decisions come 22nd May.

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