Hanover

27 Sep 2021

“Remember the Coalition?” You know a lot of water has passed under the bridge when – as one of my senior colleagues did in a meeting the other day – people start talking about David Cameron and Nick Clegg as relics of history.

And yet in recent days, British politics has felt eerily like the Cameron-Clegg years. Controversy over benefit cuts; a Labour leader struggling to project what he stands for; and now, worries over rising energy prices and shuttered forecourts. It can’t be too long before an enterprising minister starts advising motorists to fill jerry cans.

For businesses however, more is at stake than political nostalgia. After months of politicians prioritising the net zero agenda, and the press equally as eager to go green, are we about to see a snap-back to a more populist approach to energy? Will our politicians again start emphasising the pocket book over the planet – and do companies need to get with that programme?

Businesses will need to rewire early if they are to manage thorny issues like logistics, rising prices and cyber-crime.

The signs of a backlash were stirring even before this week. Over the summer, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his Treasury colleagues raised concerns about the cost of the green transition in heating. Tory backbenchers have publicly called into question the wisdom of the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel vehicles. Suggestions from COP26 spokesperson Allegra Stratton about how householders could play their part in greening the planet were met with widespread derision.

But while pillars of the net zero policy agenda will come in for more scrutiny in the months ahead, businesses shouldn’t rush to throw out all their hard work on sustainability. There is a strong degree of political consensus that the current crisis has little to do with the drive to green energy. As climate experts have noted, there is limited sign yet that voters are interested in a US-style culture war on net zero.

The PM’s reshuffle also sent a subtle but important message that he is not about to resile from his commitment to climate action as COP26 approaches – witness the arrival of net zero advocate Simon Clarke at the Treasury and the decision to bring energy-interested Red Wall Tory Lee Rowley into the industry portfolio at BEIS. This is a Government that will still want to hear what companies are doing to make net zero a reality.

The next few months will present significant challenges to policymakers and businesses alike. As my Coalition-nostalgic colleague noted recently, businesses will need to rewire early if they are to manage thorny issues like logistics, rising prices and cyber-crime. But for the time being, our politicians seem disinclined to add confusion over green policy to their in-trays.