Thursday, 31 October 2013

Green taxes

That is a bit of an oxymoron, except where energy is concerned.

The two sides of Britain’s coalition government are lining up for a prolonged argument about how and whether the UK should remain committed to reducing the country’s reliance on sources of energy that produce greenhouse gases.

When they took power, David Cameron and Nick Clegg promised to lead ‘the greenest government ever’. But three years later, their environmental strategy has been blown off course. Why? Because an eye-catching proposal by the opposition Labour leader to freeze household energy bills if elected has focused public attention on what is being called ‘the cost of living crisis’.

The government rejects the energy price freeze idea. But the policy is popular, with more voters naming high energy prices as a threat to the economic recovery than any other potential danger. Over 80% of people also believe the energy companies exploit their customers.

As a result, the prime minister is under pressure from MPs in his own party to cancel the subsidies for investment in renewable energy, some of which push up the cost of ordinary household bills.

Is it disappointing that politicians abandon the high-minded aspiration to make the UK a more environmentally responsible economy when hardship strikes ordinary voters? Or is this a welcome dose of reality: the recognition that ordinary consumers cannot be expected to enjoy – or indeed vote for – policies that push up the cost of living, even if the goal is saving the planet?

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