The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Monday, January 23, 2006
Joe Otten on the environment
by Peter

Joe Otten has an excellent post on the environment on his blog on the strengths and weaknesses of environmental thinking. (He doesn't mention the fact that he used to be active in the Green Party).

There are two passages that particularly struck me. One on keeping things in perspective:

The idea that the environment is so important that everybody should focus on it is an unfortunate consequence of the green lifestyle movement. If it actually happened it would do immense damage to every other aspect of public service. In practise of course it makes nobody responsible and so nothing much happens at all.

But the environment is like other policy areas. If we neglect it, people and other life forms may suffer and die. If we neglect healthcare people will suffer and die. Or crime. If we neglect education or strangle business, we will be poorer in the future and will therefore neglect healthcare, crime or the environment more than necessary then.

A second on the limitations of tax as a policy insturment:

However I don't expect higher fuel costs to change behaviour all that much. I think people will largely cough up and curse. The choice Huhne offers is between energy tax and income tax. Both distort economic choices, but one distorts them in favour of the environment, and the other distorts them against employment. I support fuel taxes because I like one distortion and dislike the other. But there are limits - there comes a point when fuel taxes are too grossly distorting and unfair. My hunch is that this limit comes before very significant changes in behaviour, so I would not like a policy of escalating the taxes until behaviour changes.

The last time there was such a policy, behaviour was changed to that of blockading the fuel depots.

i might go further than Joe on this, but this sort of argument illustrates why some of us have become so disillusioned with the Huhne leadership campaign (I don't know how Joe intends to vote).

If we want to reduce carbon usage we need a long-term framework in which people know that the cost of carbon sources is going to rise faster than that of other sources of energy. Given the issue of peak oil, it is likely that many businesses are on the verge of planning on that basis anyway. But what we don't need is a short, sharp shock. Nor am I reassured by quotes like this (from the FT)

"A rise in taxes on petrol and a new levy on household energy are the key to electoral success, Chris Huhne, one of the three contenders for the Liberal Democrat leadership, has said."

If only it were so simple!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:47 am  
  • At 23 January, 2006 17:44, Blogger Joe Otten said…

    The peak oil point is pertinent.

    Part of the argument for resource taxes, before global warming came along, was that they would make for an easier transition to scarcity. But for that to work, when the scarcity actually arrives, the taxes should come off again.

    I don't suppose the scarcity argument was ever particularly compelling, but then I don't demand big pretexts for new taxes which can reduce old taxes.

    But there is something out of balance when we will tax road fuel over 300% on environmental grounds, and yet we won't pay 50% extra for renewable electricity generation. (and 50% is generous, even including standby gas.)

  • At 24 January, 2006 13:28, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Peter, I'd be perfectly happy to have Ming as leader (even forgive his treachery with Brillo-pad) and ordinarily he'd get my 2nd pref. However, I find your propensity to 'play the man' when it comes to the other candidates doesn't reflect well on Ming as your favoured choice.

    Joe Otten's comments on policy are perfectly fair debate (even if I don't agree) but some of your own comments on have been OTT in my opinion.

    I think this may be a little counter-productive in terms of what you seek to achieve.

  • At 24 January, 2006 16:06, Blogger Peter Pigeon said…

    I suspect there is some mutual disquiet on this. Sorry if you think I have said anything OTT. There has been some ramping to which I have taken exception (and which was leading me to consider Simon as 2nd preference). In fact I don't think it should lead me down that route. His merits are independent of the comments of some of his supporters.

    I was very pleased when Huhne entered the race, and have not yet written him off. But he will need to embace a wider agenda to get me on board.

  • At 24 January, 2006 16:47, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm sorry, but the "ramping" comment is surely ironic ??

    I think you're missing the fact that there *has* been a genuine groundswell of support (at least amongst activists) for Huhne over the last week or so.

    No doubt Campbell will still win comfortably based on the armchair-recognition vote, but his campaign has been very poor so far.

    In fact you're one of the very few who's been keeping Ming's end up, so to speak.

    Actually, in view of recent events, that's probably an inappropriate phrase, for which I apologise!

  • At 24 January, 2006 16:50, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, and further to the above, since when did the Apollo blog become the Peter show. That's hardly your fault, but isn't it about time some of your colleagues started posting here?

  • At 24 January, 2006 22:08, Anonymous Alex said…

    Hi, anonymous, as a member who would be happy with all three of the contenders based on their personal qualities (although Huhne's small majority rules him out for practical purposes in my opinion), there has definitely been a disproportionate element of Huhne-ramping on, both from Mike Smithson understandably and openly talking his book, and from the newly-surfaced Sam who appears to bear the same relation to the Huhne camp as did the dubious Wat Tyler to the David Davis camp. By that I mean someone who only surfaces for the first time for the purposes of talking up a candidate. It is much more interesting to see who the long-standing posters are backing (e.g. Peter and Tabman for Ming, or Mark Senior for Hughes), because we know they did not first come to the site just to talk up a candidate.

    Regarding Peter's blogging, it's excellent but the rest of us should certainly contribute more, you're right! If you've Lib Dem bona fides of your own then that invitation certainly extends to you to.

  • At 24 January, 2006 22:58, Blogger Peter Pigeon said…

    For the record - as Alex knows - I have pressed supporters of other candidates to put something on the blog. And I hope they do.

  • At 25 January, 2006 07:42, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Alex - think you're being selective in your list of (& Apollo) contributers. Think you'll find that many of these good people have been regular contributers to over the years (though some use noms de plume):

    You'll also find that there are plenty of people who only make the occasional post on or are 'lurkers', and have now started to post. No doubt 'Sam' is one of them (though for the avoidance of doubt, he/she isn't me). That doesn't make them 'rampers'.

    What seems clear is that Huhne is running a far better campaign than Campbell, and has been picking up more activist support in the process. I don't think you should be surprised, therefore, that contributers say positive things about him (balancing off some of what you might terms as 'ramping' by Peter for Ming). There's no harm in any of that. What I object to is Peter slagging off other candidates, not when he talks up his own.

  • At 25 January, 2006 08:35, Anonymous Spartacus said…

    Interested by Alex's throwaway line about the marginality of Huhne's seat.

    Surely that's a complete irrelevance were he to become leader.

    The publicity attracted by a Lib Dem leader (or indeed a Tory one, as with Howard in 05) during the 4 week General Election campaign alone (let alone previously) is sufficient to ensure they are returned pretty much irrespective of their local campaign.

    Surely his majority is a complete red herring?

  • At 25 January, 2006 11:13, Anonymous Alex said…

    Anonymous: I agree that we must avoid gratuitously slagging off candidates. Fwiw I think Peter's comments fall into the sphere of policy criticism and positioning, a legitimate debate that all Lib Dem bloggers are having. So once again: write a positive piece on Huhne, explain why he's better placed than Ming and Hughes!

    Spartacus: I don't agree Huhne's majority is an irrelevance. A quick look at the 2005 campaign shows that even senior figures like David Davis are forced to stay at home when other parties launch a major effort. Where they don't they get felled, as Tim Farron wil tell you.

    If Huhne becomes leader -- is it likely that he will eventually hold his seat and increase his majority? Yes. But will he be able to do that by detaching himself from the constituency battle and rising above it, like Michael Howard was able to do? No - his far smaller majority and the Tory-friendly, Lib Dem-phobic press mean that is not a risk I'd like to take.

    At best it would be a massive distraction; the worst case doesn't bear thinking about.

  • At 25 January, 2006 13:17, Blogger Peter Pigeon said…

    Who'd go to war over it? But I have tried to count the views of regular Lib dem pb.c posters

    Hughes - Paul Lloyd, John 13 (I think), Mark Senior, Chrisco (leaning iirc)

    Huhne - Stodge (I think)

    Anyone but Huhne - Jon (West Country) (strong version) Alex (weak version)

    Was Oaten - Bullseye

    Ming - Icarus, Valerie, James, Tabman, Me, GoodLiberal (I think)

    Not declared - Book Value, Cicero, xsiaweZebidee (AFAIK).

    This probably isn't complete or accurate. and I am happy to accept that others who have emerged to laud Huhne were previously lurkers. So what?

    I'm not sure what I have said that is so bad about Huhne in any case. He still has every chance of getting my second preference, and I welcomed his candidature.

  • At 25 January, 2006 14:28, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Cicero has declared for Ming

  • At 25 January, 2006 15:47, Anonymous Oxonian said…

    Am watching this debate with some interest.

    Maybe it's a symptom of his rather under-developed campaign for the leadership, or maybe it's just the company that I keep, but thus far there seems to be a distinct absence of enthusiasm for Ming Campbell as leader.

    Sure, I know of a good few members who plan to give him their first preference, but almost all of them seem to fall into one of the following camps:

    1. Those who see him as 'a safe pair of hands' who can't do much damage.
    2. Those who'd really like some other 'young Turk' (usually Nick Clegg) as leader, and see Ming as a stop-gap till such time as more inspiring choices have earned their parliamentary spurs.

    Don't misunderstand me: there's nothing 'wrong' with Ming as such. I'd be contented enough with him as leader and I certainly won't be cutting up my membership card (as indeed I wouldn't were any of the contenders to be successful).

    I'm not concerned that Ming's first outing at PMQs wasn't the greatest success - I'm sure he'll be a safe pair of hands and won't embarrass us. Trouble is, I don't see him as any more than that. The 'tread water' candidate, if you like.

    Scraping the frost off my car this morning reminded me of what I'd call the 'Elbow Grease to Pain Barrier Test'. These days the margin between success and failure at the constituency level is increasingly narrow. For the Lib Dems above the other 2 parties so much depends on how much work we do on the ground.

    So which candidate will motivate our activists not just to do the work but really to push that extra bit harder? My worry is that Ming just doesn't inspire anyone to go the extra mile.

    Compare the other two candidates: Simon Hughes' sheer charm and charisma has always encouraged a near-fanatical support in some quarters. Meanwhile Chris Huhne's campaign has been the revelation of the contest so far, with supporters pulling out all the stops to proselytise on his behalf. It may irritate the likes of Peter when they see people 'ramping up' Huhnes's support - but at least there are those who clearly care enough to do so.

    By contrast Campbell's campaign has been so low key as to drop below the audible spectrum. He has some very talented MPs supporting him, but we've heard very little from them. One can't help but feel their hearts really aren't in it. They might 'prefer' Ming as their leader, but how much do they really 'care'? Perhaps that's because they're more interested in their own future prospects than they are in Ming as leader in his own right. Or perhaps it's complacency on the part of a Campbell Campaign who feel they have victory in the bag (which indeed may well be the case). But neither really augurs well.

    At the outset of this campaign I felt so angry about the 'coup' against Charles Kennedy that I seriously considered spoiling my ballot with a 'write in' vote for 'Kennedy 1'. I'm now resigned to the fact that we are where we are, and have now to move forward. That's why I feel that if I am to vote, it should be a positive vote for one of the candidates. That's why I really can't bring myself to make Ming my first choice. I'll be giving that to someone who really does inspire me - and seems to be inspiring most of the activists I know. That's why I'll be voting for Chris Huhne.

  • At 25 January, 2006 18:28, Blogger Peter Pigeon said…


    Interesting. But on the contrary I find many people who are enthusiastic for Ming. Chris Davies put all this well the other day.

    It is certainly true that Simon came out best in the Guardian test. But you and I both know that that is not all you get with Simon. Second - by a consdierable margin - was Ming.

  • At 26 January, 2006 08:39, Anonymous Oxonian said…

    Peter - I think the Guardian poll is pretty meaningless.

    However, I stand by my point, even if you are the notable exception. Hardly come across a single activist who has shown any enthusiasm for Ming.

    He'll be perfectly OK, but SO uninspiring ...

  • At 26 January, 2006 11:39, Blogger Peter Pigeon said…


    I don't knwo where you get your information from! You Hunnys are keen as whatever and we Mingers are just going thought the motions.

    No way! The message I am getting from many people you know well is that Ming will be great and they are very enthusiastic about him.

    Incidentally, I previously said this

    Ming - Icarus, Valerie, James, Tabman, Me, GoodLiberal (I think)

    Not declared - Book Value, Cicero, Zebidee (AFAIK).

    But I now see that Cicero and Book Value Ç(and GoodLiberal) are all on the list of Campbell supporters. You can ask Phil how enthusiastic he is - I know that Cicero is!

  • At 26 January, 2006 12:01, Anonymous Oxonian said…

    Peter - that's my point, though. Where (apart from your good self) is the Campbell campaign?

    You're doing a valiant job in keeping his end up, but apart from that, there's been the best part of bugger all.

    Meanwhile, there are people sufficiently inspired to be emailing & telephoning furiously for Huhne & Hughes. I've seen plenty of activity for both of them, from lots of different sources, but nothing for Ming.

    Campbell has some fantastic assets at his disposal, with the likes of Nick Clegg on his team, but they seem to have been doing diddly-squat. Perhaps they're secretly very enthusiastic, but their silence makes them look half-hearted.

    That's also reflected in the activists I know. There are certainly a good few who will vote for Ming, but almost all of those seem to be going on the basis that 'he's the best of a bad bunch' or 'we need some stability in these turbulent times' or 'he's a decent caretaker' till the next leadership contest. It's all pretty negative stuff by contrast to the supporters of BOTH the other 2 candidates, who seem to be doing so much more positively and with a great deal more enthusiasm.

    With respect, even your postings for Ming seem to be more about the other candidates rather than about what he has to offer to the party.

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