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7 June 2023

Starmer makes oil and gas central to the future of British energy

In a radical speech to the GMB union, the Labour leader showed he is tailoring different messages to different audiences.

By Freddie Hayward

When Starmer first announced his mission for Britain to become a clean-energy superpower, there were some grumbles in the shadow cabinet that the pledge hadn’t fallen under the mission to grow the economy. The argument was clear: people care about jobs and not, in the infamous words of David Cameron, the “green crap”.

This dilemma has dominated the Labour leader’s past few days after Gary Smith, the general secretary of GMB, one of the more moderate unions, condemned the clean-energy policy as “naive” and lacking “intellectual rigour and thinking”. Last September, he told Rachel that Labour should back fracking, hydrogen and nuclear rather than bowing to the “bourgeois environmental lobby”.

Speaking at GMB’s conference yesterday (6 June), Starmer said, emphatically: “I want to be absolutely clear – oil and gas are going to be part of the mix for decades to come, into the 2050s. I don’t think that part of our argument is heard loud enough or clearly enough. For decades to come, oil and gas will be part of the mix.”

Starmer added that Labour’s new deal for workers – a series of workplace rights developed by his deputy Angela Rayner – will be implemented in the first 100 days of a Labour government.”

He was, of course, speaking to a certain audience: to members of a union, many of whom work in the energy sector, that two days before was criticising the party’s energy policy. Policies have to be sold in different ways to different audiences. This speech is worth bookmarking because it represents a shift away from selling the £28bn green prosperity fund purely in terms of the environment, towards emphasising its economic impact. The question is whether a change in messaging results in a change in policy.

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[See also: Will Labour’s green energy plans last much longer?]

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