Nails in Labour's coffin

Ruth Kelly has revealed another backroom farce surrounding the introduction of Home Information Pack

As the government tries again to drag us back into the bad old days of nuclear power, this isn’t the only nail in the coffin of Labour’s environmental credentials.

There have been several recently, with almost every department lining up to demonstrate its incompetence at organising and running effective green policies. The ongoing debacle of the DTI’s chronically under-funded, currently suspended, and what seems like deliberately badly planned, Low Carbon Buildings Programme (which is supposed to help householders generate their own green electricity) is now a classic example of this tendency.

On Tuesday, Communities and Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly revealed another backroom farce surrounding the introduction of Home Information Packs. These have been delayed now from June until August – and will only then apply to houses with four or more bedrooms.

The scheme has been managed in the worst way possible. Revealing the waste of a golden opportunity to create a new, skilled, green workforce, Kelly confessed that less than a quarter of the necessary inspectors had been trained to complete energy surveys for the packs. Those that have qualified were gearing up to start work in a few days time but now face unemployment until August, and even then an uncertain workload as no new timetable has been set for expanding the scope of HIPs.

There is no excuse for this kind of mismanagement. The HIP isn’t something the government thought up last year and decided to rush through. The energy component of the packs is an essential part of compliance with the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and they have had plenty of notice of this. With no firm plans for compliance now in existence, it looks like this will be another environmental Directive to add to the list of those the UK has failed to implement properly, including those on waste and air quality, among others.

When Labour came into power ten years ago, they promised to ‘make every department a green department’. Instead we have seen green policies jettisoned, left on the shelf or just plain undermined by almost every minister who gets the chance. Part of the reason that so-called Environment Secretary David Miliband is so ineffective must be that he and his ministry have little influence on – or even knowledge of – the chaos being wreaked by other departments in areas that should be within his remit.

As we watch our carbon emissions rising every year, the DTI demolishing our hopes for a green energy future, and the CLG department ditching policies to reduce the footprint of our homes, Defra seems largely confined to funding ‘communications initiatives’ around climate change and encouraging councils to spy on our wheelie bins. I suspect that only when we get an Environment department with real teeth – or better still, real Greens in government – will we see any improvement.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.