Another energy shambles from the coalition

Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey and Tory energy minister John Hayes go to war over wind farms.

On the day that Michael Heseltine's growth report called for the government to adopt a "definitive and unambiguous" energy policy, ministers are offering anything but. In an interview in today's Daily Telegraph, the recently appointed Conservative energy minister John Hayes, launched a full-frontal attack on wind farms, declaring that they could no longer be "imposed on communities" and that "enough is enough".

He told the paper:

We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities. I can’t single-handedly build a new Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land.

We have issued a call for evidence on wind. That is about cost but also about community buy-in. We need to understand communities’ genuine desires. We will form our policy in the future on the basis of that, not on a bourgeois Left article of faith based on some academic perspective.

Unsurprisingly, his outburst hasn't gone down well with his boss, Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey. The Department for Energy has let it be known that Davey removed the remarks from a speech Hayes made yesterday and that his comments "will not be government policy". One source tells the Guardian:

What he planned to say was not government policy; will not be government policy. It might be what the Tory party would like to be energy policy, but it is not. He is not in charge of renewable policies on his own, he has to follow the coalition agreement which is in favour of renewable energy and meeting our legal EU targets for 2020.

He has been very silly to give interviews to the Telegraph and the Mail on a speech he was not allowed to deliver.

The only way we are going to meet our targets is if we include renewable energy which is ultimately a cheap form of energy, and in parts of Wales and Scotland is popular.

The row is another example of how coalition discipline is breaking down. Earlier this week, Nick Clegg denounced Defence Secretary Philip Hammond for "jumping the gun" by announcing £350m of new funding for the renewal of Trident and last week the Lib Dems declared that they would veto Iain Duncan Smith's plan to cap benefits for larger families. Even taking into account the reduced standard of collective ministerial responsibility in a coalition, the degree of disunity is striking.

After David Cameron's botched announcement on energy prices earlier this month (which Davey did not receive prior notice of), it's also further evidence of the government's increasingly chaotic approach to policy in this area. Expect Ed Miliband to point out as much at PMQs later today.

The turbine sails of the Scout Moor Wind Farm in the South Pennines. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.