Whatever you think of this speech, you can be sure that Ed Miliband did not enjoy being made to go to TUC conference to deliver it. That he had to is a testament to the campaign of the Vestas workers and their supporters in the trade union and environmental movements. Their achievement is also reflected in the emergency motion passed at the TUC today (17 September) [see separate post].
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband’s address to Congress. Liverpool, 16 September 2009
Can I… pay tribute to the green reps throughout the country who are doing such a fantastic job. I recognise that we cannot build the low carbon revolution we need with Government alone. It needs people to make it happen, and all round this country trade union green reps are showing the way to the low carbon future that we want. I think, Congress, we should pay tribute to them and their work.
I also want to thank you, and in particular the TUC, for what Sheila talked about in terms of the ‘just transition’, because you have brought together during the last year, and your slogan here at Congress of ‘Jobs, Justice and Climate’ says this, trade unions from north and south around the demand for a just transition at the Copenhagen Summit in December of this year.
I can tell you that it will not just be the TUC position that we need a just transition, but it will be this Labour Government’s position that we argue for at the Copenhagen Summit this December.
Congress, I am the first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to address you but, as so often in politics, I find that my brother got here first. He came to you in 2006 as the first Secretary of State for the Environment. Sometimes he and I get confused, not by everyone in the trade union Movement but by some people. I have to tell you, briefly, about my low moment. It was in 2005 at the Labour Party Conference. There I was, as a new Member of Parliament, and I was standing at the bar and who should I see waving at me across a crowded room but Tony Woodley. I thought, ‘I’ve really hit the big time here. Tony Woodley wants to come and talk to me.’ Anyway, he fought his way across the room and to the bar, and he clutched me by the arm and he said, ‘David, David, I’m really sorry I called you ‘Ed’ earlier on today.’ He was a bit alarmed when I said, ‘Derek, don’t worry, it’s no problem.’
Yesterday, Congress, Gordon talked to you about how we tackle the economic crisis. I want to talk to you about the climate crisis and how we tackle that. The most important thing in my view is that both of them demand our values, because they have a proper cause: markets without proper regulation. They have a common victim, not the people who caused the crisis but the people who you represent. And they have a common solution: strong and active government which does not leave people to their fate. We need to learn the lessons of these crises. We need to learn the lesson that vast inequality is bad for our society. We always knew it was bad socially but we also know that it is bad economically as well, and that includes unjustified City bonuses. We need to learn the lesson also that you cannot build your economic future on one industry alone, and I will be talking about green jobs in my speech. We also need to learn the lesson that climate change is no longer just about the environment. It has got to be about jobs, energy security and fairness as well. Do we need to learn the lessons and we need to show that we are equal to the climate crisis and the economic crisis, but we need to do something else as well.
The task of labour politics has always been to see that politics is shaped by crisis but not to be imprisoned by it. So the task in the years ahead, in my view, is at this moment of crisis to work out the kind of society we believe in and to build it. I want to talk today about what that means in my area of climate change and energy.
Some people think that the issue of climate change is some theoretical prospect for the future, but you know in your campaigns with the trade unions from the south that that is not the case. I was in Bangladesh recently and I visited people who live on sandbanks or chars. There are two million people living on sandbanks in Bangladesh. They are at the frontline of climate change, and they showed me how high the waters had risen in 2007. In this small village, all but four houses had been damaged or swept away. They cannot wait for a solution on climate change. That is why the world needs to agree an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen this December. But what you know and what I know is that climate change is not just about Bangladesh. It’s also about people here at home and future generations.
My constituency is Doncaster North. Also in 2007, I saw my local high street in a place called Toll Bar – some of you would have seen it on the news – (I arrived there on a Wednesday evening) with people in canoes rescuing people from first floor windows. Congress, I cannot tell you definitely that that is caused by climate change, but what I can tell you is that there will be many more Toll Bars if we do not act this December in Copenhagen.
But what I have learnt during the past year that I have been doing this job is that it is not enough just to talk about the problem. It came home to me when a Labour Party member in Manchester said to me: ‘Look, Ed, you’ve got to remember that Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream’. If he had said ‘I have a nightmare’, nobody would have followed him.’ What he was telling me was that in making the low carbon transition, we also have to paint the picture of the good society, the good society in jobs, in energy security and fairness. That is my argument today.
So let’s start with jobs. I was at the Sharp factory in Wrexham. Some of you will know it. It used to make video recorders. About five years ago it stopped making video recorders and it started making solar panels, shifting from high carbon manufacturing to low carbon manufacturing. But what I know from you and what you have told me is that it is not enough simply to transition one industry to another. This low carbon revolution has to be about new industries, new jobs and new opportunities. The most obvious one of all is in coal. I listened to the debate and the very good contributions from the NUM, BACM and from the other unions. Coal is the biggest dilemma we face in energy and the environment. The speakers reflected that, and I think we all know it, because it is the cheapest and most flexible fuel but it is also the most polluting.
The great thing is that there is a solution to the problem of coal and coal-fired power stations. There is a solution and it is called carbon capture and storage, which some of the speakers talked about. But you have to ask the question: why, over three decades, when people have known about carbon capture and storage, has it not been properly developed? There is a very simple reason. It is because we cannot leave it to the market alone to develop carbon capture and storage technology. That is why we are putting forward legislation in the next session of Parliament to build up to four carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. I heard the speakers who said that we need more than four, and of course that is a message I will take back to my friends in the Treasury. But four carbon capture and storage demonstration projects would be world leadership.
However, it is not enough just to put the public investment in, billions of pounds that we will be mandating through legislation. You also need the regulation because the other reason why there has been no shift to clean coal technology is because companies have not had the incentive to make that shift. That is why alongside the public investment we are putting forward the toughest conditions on new coal-fired power stations in the world. People estimate that this could create 30,000 – 60,000 jobs by 2030 in this country, jobs constructing the power stations, jobs designing and manufacturing the components, jobs laying the pipes to carry the CO2, jobs at every level of skills. It is not just jobs in coal but it is jobs in nuclear as well.
Congress, I have to confess to you that I did not grow up in a pro-nuclear family, but the truth is that climate change should change everyone’s view about nuclear power. Because nuclear power no thanks today means climate change no doubt tomorrow. That is why we were right to end the moratorium on nuclear power stations in this country. That is why it is right that we are part of the global renaissance in nuclear power. I applaud the unions like Prospect, Unite and the GMB which have been campaigning on nuclear power as well.
Now I want to come to renewables, and I see people in this hall asking questions, and we will be getting into this in discussion about Vestas.
Let me just say about Vestas, I am very sorry for what happened to the workers of Vestas. It was a tragedy for those people concerned. We talked for many months to the company about what we could do to stop the closure of that factory. They said the issue for them was not money from government, the issue for them was quite simple, they did not have the orders for onshore wind turbines to justify keeping the factory open.
Congress, we have to ask the question, why did they not have the orders? They did not have the orders because up and down this country local councils are turning down wind turbine applications; 60% of applications made to Conservative councils are turned down. Congress, you cannot be a centre for onshore wind manufacturing if all round the country councils are turning down wind turbine applications.
But, Congress, I do believe there is a big future for us both in onshore and offshore wind. Today we are announcing resources for Clipper. Clipper will be building a factory in the North East of England to make the largest offshore wind blade in the world. That is a sign of our commitment to green jobs and we are willing to invest another £120m to make us the centre for the offshore wind industry. But there is a bigger truth that Vestas highlights, Congress, and it is a truth that we cannot get away from and someone referred to it in the debate. In coal, in nuclear, in wind, there will be thousands of people round this country who say these projects should not go ahead, so your voice needs to be heard on these issues. The voice was heard at the time of Vestas, at the time of crisis, but all through the debate around these issues your voice needs to be heard. You realise how high the stakes are, how high the stakes are for the environment, how high the stakes are for jobs, and how high the stakes are for energy security.
Congress, when you think about the issue of energy security two-thirds of the world’s gas reserves are based in Russia and the Middle East. Now, Congress, if we want a safe and secure energy future we need a low-carbon future. Our UK low-carbon transition plan sets out how we will get to 40% low carbon energy by 2020. That will save us one super-tanker of imported gas every four days, but to make it happen we need those projects to be built. We need an alliance of the Labour government and the trade union Movement to make sure those projects happen and to make sure that the silent majority who support wind turbine applications that their voice is heard.
Let me also, though, say, and this has been referred to in the debate, that of course we can make the low-carbon revolution be good for jobs and energy security but there are costs and there are costs to the transition, and this is the point of your just transition campaign. There are costs that face industries and we need to help with that transition and not just in coal but in steel as well, and I acknowledge that we need to do more, and Mick Leahy and I were talking about this last night.
We also need to protect the consumers, in particular the poor and the vulnerable. How do we do that? In the last year alone one-and-a-half million people, often the most vulnerable, had their homes insulated. If you want to know the difference between a Labour government and a Conservative government, go to Newcastle on Friday and you will meet the man who is the two-millionth person to have his home insulated under the Warm Front programme, a programme that never existed before 1997. That is the difference between a Labour government and a Tory government.
But, of course, I acknowledge as Congress has been calling for that we need tougher regulation of our energy markets. You are right that we do need tougher regulation of our energy markets and that is why we will be legislating to say the regulator can no longer rely on markets alone to protect consumers and protect the environment. When you say to me it is wrong that people on prepayment meters pay the most for their energy efficiency and are unfairly ripped off, I agree with you, and it does have to end. That is why we are changing the licence conditions for the energy companies so from September 1st people are no longer ripped off in terms of prepayment meters. When you say it is wrong that energy companies can bamboozle people by not telling them what the best available tariff is, I agree with you, it is wrong and it has to end. That is why this Labour government will end that practice.
So, Congress, I think we can create a Britain that is more prosperous, that is fairer, and that is more secure. But the question we also have to ask, and Gordon talked about this yesterday, over the coming months is who can deliver on this agenda. Now, the Conservatives claim to be green. David Cameron put a wind turbine on his roof, he was photographed with huskies in the Arctic, and he rides his bicycle to the House of Commons with the car driving behind him. Congress, I say it is not green to put a wind turbine on your roof when all round the country Tory councils are turning down wind turbine applications. Congress, it is not green to go to the Arctic Circle but then to pal around in Europe with climate change deniers as David Cameron is doing in his new European groupings. Congress, it is not green either to ride your bicycle to the House of Commons and vote against public investment this year and next in green technologies.
Here is the truth, Congress, the Tories’ only vision of the good society is the small state. That is how they want to use the opportunity of the economic crisis to do what they have always wanted to do, which is cut back on public investment and just give tax breaks to the rich. There is a choice, Congress. The Tories say they want inheritance tax cut by £200,000 a throw for the 3,000 richest estates in Britain. They want to cut tax credits. And what do they say about those hard-won guarantees that Unison workers all round this country have made happen in our public services, the 18-week waiting list guarantee gone under a Tory government; the 4-hour A&E guarantee gone under a Tory government; the 2-week cancer guarantee gone under a Tory government. That is the choice we face.
Why do they want to do these things? It is because they believe in a different model of public services from us. What do the Tory councils call it now, the Ryanair model of public services, lots and lots of queuing and waiting, you pay extra for everything but the basic is a substandard service for all and the few get to pay their way. Congress, it may be an okay way to run an airline but it is not the way you should run a care home, a hospital, or school, or any of our public services.
Congress, do not let anyone tell you there are not big choices at this election. Tough times make our values more important, not less important, in this country and of course we will have our differences, the trade union Movement and the Labour Party, but let’s fight in the coming months, let’s fight for our values, let’s fight against the alternative, let’s fight for our vision of a more prosperous, a fairer, and a greener Britain. Let’s stand up and fight for the Britain we believe in. Thank you.
Minutes and agendas (3,100 words) issued 16 Sep 2009
Available from http://www.tuc.org.uk/congress/tuc-16988-f0.cfm