Shadow minister vents fury on eve of world climate summit about environment being blamed for higher gas bills by climate deniers and says privatisation and deregulation are the real culprits
Labour shadow minister Barry Gardiner today accused the Tory grandee Lord Lawson of “promoting global warming” and apparent double standards after the former chancellor blamed climate change measures for high gas bills for British families.
The shadow minister for the natural environment said the former chancellor’s “militant privatisation” played a key role in increasing energy prices for millions of hard working families when the Tory was in power.
Lawson helped double gas prices over three years shortly before privatising British Gas. Gardiner added Lawson was rarely “troubled by misfortunes more likely to affect others than himself”.
The shadow minister was speaking in the lead-up to the Labour Party conference in Manchester and days before the United Nations climate change summit of world leaders in New York, being hosted by its Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon “to galvanize and catalyze climate action”.
Millions are today joining the People’s Climate March in Manchester, London, New York and 150 cities and towns around the world calling on politicians to take action to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Energy bills in Britain have increased 24.7 percent in the last three years, under the Tory-led Coalition government, according to a new House of Commons analysis of Department of Energy and Climate Change and international statistics. This is the second most rapid increase in household energy bills in the developing world.
Lord Lawson has through his charity the Global Warming Policy Foundation waged a high profile and effective campaign blaming high energy bills on government levies designed to reduce profligate use of high-carbon fuels while at the same time subsidising the transition to renewable, clean energy.
The former chancellor reportedly enjoyed lunch with Paul Dacre, editor in chief of the Daily Mail, before Britain’s most influential newspaper joined his crusade and repeated his hotly debated claims about the cost of the green levies on household bills.
However, Gardiner today reminded the public that Lord Lawson had during a Conservative party conference in 1982 forced through a continued rise in gas prices for millions of struggling families and businesses across Britain.
The Tories hiked gas prices by 10 percent above inflation each year for three years from 1979 – when prices were already rising by 14 percent. This meant the cost to homes almost doubled. The huge increase came just before the Conservative government privatised British Gas much to the delight to the City of London.
The huge rises were first implemented by the then energy secretary David Howell, now a member of the House of Lords and father-in-law to the current chancellor, George Osborne. Howell has been attacked by environmentalists for his seeming climate scepticism and avid support for the fracking of shale gas – especially in the “desolate” North East.
Avid Climate Denier
The controversial move was not supported by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and was fiercely opposed by grassroots Conservatives. Lawson was only able to force the final stages of the price rises through conference due to the support of a young Peter Lilley.
Lilley served as a parliamentary under secretary to Lawson before being promoted to the cabinet on chancellor’s advice shortly after. Today he is avid climate denier who works closely with Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Gardiner said: “Mr Lawson’s foundation does exactly what its name implies, it promotes global warming! Most people would regard that as a bad thing but Mr Lawson’s capacity for self reflection has rarely allowed him to be troubled by misfortunes more likely to affect others than himself.
“When he remarks on the current price of energy we should not be above reminding him that he was the original deregulator of the financial markets and the militant privatiser of our utilities in the first place.”
The Shadow Minister based his criticisms on a highly dramatic account of the 1982 Conservative party conference relayed in Lawson’s own autobiography, The View from Number 11: The Memoirs of a Radical Tory, published a decade later after the chancellor had resigned in disgrace.
The Rumpus Reached A Climax
“Inevitably this unpopular new policy came under severe attack…Conservative MPs were inundated with complaints from constituents, and…members of our own side rebelled,” he recalled.
“The rumpus reached a climax at the 1982 party conference in Brighton…my first party conference appearance as a cabinet minister would thus be in reply to the most hostile debate of the conference.” The conflagration only settled down when Lawson stopped the price rises in time to prevent the Tories being punished at the next general election.
In recent years, Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation has been campaigning against measures to reduce carbon emissions and reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change on the basis that such policies will have a profound impact on poorer households.
Dr Benny Peiser, who works for Lawson as director of the GWPF, claimed that 20 percent of household energy bills were the result of “so called green stealth taxes” and pointed the finger at the Tory-led government’s “stubborn but wrong headed commitment to renewable energy.”
The Daily Mail publicised his claim that £206 of the average £1,032 of domestic gas and electricity bills were because of green levies. The newspaper was then forced to publish a “clarification” as a result of Peiser’s unsubstantiated claims when Ofgem, the independent regulator, said environmental costs accounted for less than nine percent of bills.
The founder and chairman for life of the GWPF has in the last weeks been under pressure to name the funders of his charity. It has emerged that one of his secret donors made a significant return on investments in shale gas while another potential donor is a Tory member of the House of Lords who has declared shares in oil giant BP.
Household energy bills are likely to be a key election issue in 2015 with Labour and Greens attacking the Tories for allowing household bills to rise while suppliers continue to make austerity-defying profits.
Labour leader Ed Miliband called for a freeze in energy prices to protect families and businesses from excessive fuel bills during last years’ Labour conference. He said if he won the next election the energy giants and a new regulator would be introduced. This would cost the companies £4.5billion but save the average household £120 a year and firms £1,800 on average.
“Your bills will be frozen, benefitting millions of families and millions of businesses,” he said at the time. “That’s what I mean by a government that fights for you, that’s what I mean when I say: Britain can do better than this.” The announcement provoked an immediate backlash from many of the major energy companies who raised the fear of blackouts.
Miliband was responsible for introducing the Climate Change Act in 2008, the most ambitious legislation of any country in setting targets to significantly reduce carbon emissions, when environment secretary under the Labour government.
Additional Reporting: Helen Nianias