Ten years ago tomorrow (26 November, 2008) the Climate Change Bill gained royal assent and passed into law in the UK. Much has been written about the damage this ill-conceived piece of legislation has done and will do – Rupert Darwall pretty much covers it here.
After sober consideration of the dire economic and societal impacts of this Act of Parliament, it is perhaps worth a few moments to look once again at how the whole mess came about. In 2011 a talk by Bryony (now Baroness) Worthington was posted on YouTube – you can still view it here, and there is also a transcript. It’s worth watching or reading in its entirety.
We learn of the factors that came together to make the Bill a reality, the agitation from Friends of the Earth, the political ambitions of two Davids (Miliband and Cameron), the acquiescence of various different government departments – and the initial resistance from the Treasury and the Department of Business. The account of how that resistance was overcome is very revealing.
And I mean it was quite a challenge. I mean, we were a team of I think about eight of us working full time – tasked with preparing a draft bill, and not just a fairly large bill but also in a quite short period of time David Miliband was convinced he was going to be reshuffled off to another department. So he wanted action fast. So he said, ”I want this bill in three months”. So the lawyers all said, ”No, no, no… you can’t get a bill done in three months. It will take six or may be a year”. And we said, “Well, we’ve only got three months so let’s try it.”
And that speed was another key factor, that looking back on it was really important, because one thing that Whitehall is very good at doing is producing huge amounts of documents, and papers, and concepts, and notes, but if you are moving fast, often if you bombard people with huge amounts of information they will usually find a couple of things that they object to and then you have to have a process of negotiation on those one or two issues as opposed to the minutiae of every single clause, every single policy.
So we were fortunate in a way that, because… Let’s not pretend that the Government was united in wanting this. The Department of the Environment was very in favour, DFID was in favour, the FCO was pretty much in favour, but certainly the Treasury thought this was a terrible idea and the Department of Business thought it was a terrible idea and largely because they felt the UK acting alone would be really detrimental to our competitiveness. And here we were proposing a self-imposed target that was going to last to 2050. And it would introduce costs and force businesses to move overseas, and all sorts – the world was going to end, according to the Treasury. And we kept saying, “Well, we don’t think that’s true. It’s all very moderate, it’s very manageable and it’s important, because we have got to show leadership”.
And it was – so we ended up arguing with the Treasury more on the principle than on the detail. Because we were moving so fast that they only had maybe one or two policy people covering our brief, whereas we had a team of lawyers and us and all our special advisors and we basically just were able to outwit them a little bit by moving quickly so that was another element that, I think, led to it being successful.
Could it be any more obvious? Clearly there were things in the draft bill that that desperately needed proper scrutiny, indeed things that wouldn’t have got past the Treasury people if they’d had the proper scrutiny. And she knows that. But her team got this pig in a poke past the opposition, using high-pressure sales tactics (“moving fast”, “bombard people with huge amounts of information”, “outwit them a little bit by moving quickly”). And so the gatekeepers were outmanoeuvred and the damage was done.
Bryony’s words, if not her tone, are that of a scammer, sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, tequila in hand, having a quiet chuckle at all the mugs she’s just fleeced of their savings or pension money. Clever old Bryony, eh? Silly old Treasury people. And silly old United Kingdom.
So yeah, Happy 10th Anniversary, the Climate Change Act – by Bryony’s own admission, you were a con, right from day one.