Amber Rudd Interviewed

By Forsyth, James | The Spectator, March 19, 2016 | Go to article overview

Amber Rudd Interviewed


Forsyth, James, The Spectator


Energy Secretary Amber Rudd on ending green rackets, supporting Scottish oil and staying in the EU

Amber Rudd isn't a flashy politician; her office at the Department for Energy and Climate Change has almost no personal touches. She has a poster on the wall for the new Edinburgh tram (she was a student there). Her one concession to vanity is a framed 'Minister of the Year' award from this magazine: awarded for uprooting the legacy of the Liberal Democrat energy policy and being (in the words of the commendation) the 'slayer of windmills'.

It was, perhaps, an exaggeration: she hasn't brought down any of Britain's 5,215 onshore wind turbines. But she has been busy pruning back the green subsidies that her department had become used to doling out. She is driven, she says, by anger at the green racket -- or, as she puts it, 'people making huge returns on bill-payers' money'. She tells me that when she was first appointed she asked the department how much it was spending in subsidies, and the figure 'came in about 20 per cent over what had been agreed with the Treasury in the last parliament'. The green agenda was running out of control, so she acted.

The problem, Rudd says, was that under Labour and then Lib Dem control, the Department of Energy had not been run much like a department of energy. 'It had been run a bit like a green think tank or a green NGO; very pure of heart, very noble. But not enough focus on bills, on the future, on planning, trying to look 20 or even ten years ahead.' British energy policy had been set by a succession of zealots. 'You had Ed Miliband, Chris Huhne, Ed Davey -- there hadn't been a Conservative one for nearly 20 years.' Her predecessors, she says, had prided themselves on 'their approach to climate change rather than their approach to delivering cheaper bills'.

Rudd believes that global warming is man-made, and says that most people in her party agree with her. But her priority is how to respond in a calm, sensible way. 'We account for just over 1 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. For China, it's 26 per cent -- more than the whole of the EU and the US combined,' she says. 'So we can't do this on our own. But we can show leadership.' Which means continuing a move towards renewable energy, while acknowledging that it will be expensive. 'We must be frank about it: there is a bit of a cost. We're not going to be able to have renewable energy cheaper than coal and gas.'

Oil is certainly cheap at the moment -- over the past two years the price has fallen from $110 to $40 a barrel. But this has brought its own problems, in the form of collapsing North Sea oil revenues (as set out in shocking detail in this week's budget). Under the plan that Alex Salmond put to Scots two years ago, Scotland's 'independence day' would have been next week -- Thursday 24 March, to be precise -- and he estimated there would be up to £8 billion of oil revenue to ease the transition. …

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