Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The universal politician

It is a common complaint, voiced by an increasingly disenfranchised electorate, that all the main political parties are the same.

While denying it on the one hand, however, we find that the two main parties are only too anxious to agree with that proposition – at least as far as "green" issues are concerned.

Thus we learn that, "with the recent release of the Treasury's Strategy for National Infrastructure and the Tory Energy Policy, spending on renewable energy and modernizing UK energy infrastructure has emerged as unique common ground between the major parties."

The "common ground" is, of course, far from unique – virtually every aspect of this policy area is shared by the two main parties, with only marginal differences on matters of detail.

But this particular bit of "common ground" concerns the £2 billion Green Investment Bank, announced by chancellor Alistair Darling in the budget speech, "which will focus on investing in green transport and sustainable energy, in particular offshore wind power."

Any sensible opposition would, of course, be howling with derision at the prospect of investing heavily in offshore wind power, to say nothing of the wholly unrealistic sum allocated, barely one percent of what might be needed overall.

But the response of Conservative shadow energy and climate change minister Greg Clark is simply to declare: "The announcement in the Budget of a Green Investment Bank is welcome - it is an idea that the Conservatives first proposed last year".

So, we learn, with agreement on the scale of low carbon energy and transportation infrastructure needed in the UK, renewable energy looks set to grow significantly. What remains to be seen is who will be in government.

To deal with the increasingly likely possibility of a hung parliament, unprecedented contingency plans are being drawn up by the most senior civil servant to avoid any economic crisis.

Officials under the direction of Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, are finalising details to ensure a coalition government can be agreed swiftly. For the first time, opposition parties will be able to call on civil servants to analyse policies that may be part of a deal.

Thus, win, lose or draw, whichever parties get to be in government will not make the slightest whit of difference, across a vast range of policies. We have come to the age of the universal – and interchangeable – politician.