U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron moved Energy Minister John Hayes, an open critic of the environmental policy of their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, to a new post working with the premier.
Hayes will be replaced at the Department for Energy and Climate Change by a fellow Conservative, Michael Fallon, who also remains a Business Department minister. Fallon, who has a business background, has been working closely with Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable.
“Delighted John Hayes joining me as a senior parliamentary adviser -- and Michael Fallon adding a key energy role to his brief,” Cameron said in a posting on his Twitter feed today. Hayes will attend twice-daily strategy-team meetings and has also been appointed a privy councilor, a position awarded to elder statesmen. His new title indicates Cameron may be looking to him to liaise with rebellious rank-and-file Tory lawmakers.
Hayes’s relationship with his Liberal Democrat boss at Energy, Ed Davey, was strained. In October, Hayes said in an interview that the government should give more weight to aesthetics and take more account of local people’s opinions when deciding whether to approve wind farms. “Enough is enough,” he was cited as saying by the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Davey promotes wind power as “one of the cheapest renewables” with “an important role to play” in U.K. energy policy.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that when Cameron appointed Hayes to the energy portfolio last year he’d urged him to “deliver a win for our people” on wind power, underlining Tory skepticism about Davey’s plans.
Tensions between the coalition partners have continued in recent weeks, with the Liberal Democrats initially siding with the opposition Labour Party against Cameron over a new system of press regulation before agreement on a cross-party compromise. The Tories slumped to third place in a House of Commons special election won by the Liberal Democrats a month ago, and the parties are starting to position themselves for the next general election in 2015.
“Whereas John Hayes’ ‘say it as you see it’ approach was useful a year ago, nowadays Cameron needs to be more careful in his relationship with the Lib Dems as the coalition gets more fragile in the run-up to the election,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University, London, said in a phone interview. “While a Tory hawk, Fallon is an emollient hawk.”
Cameron is also having to deal with dissent within his own party as well as the splits with his coalition partner. Rank- and-file Tory lawmakers have staged rebellions in the House of Commons against the premier’s plans to legalize gay marriage and to demand looser links with the European Union
The move comes at a critical time for the Energy Bill, currently passing through Parliament. Hayes is being moved away from the energy brief less than eight months after replacing Charles Hendry.
The outgoing energy minister was also involved in negotiations on the construction of the first new nuclear reactor for 25 years at Hinkley Point in western England with Electricite de France SA. Fallon’s experience will give a greater business focus to energy policy, a spokeswoman for Cameron said.
The draft law aims to stimulate the 110 billion pounds ($166 billion) of spending that the government says is needed to replace aging power stations and upgrade the electricity grid by 2020. It includes measures to guarantee power prices for renewable generators and nuclear plants through so-called contracts-for-difference and set up a capacity market to pay producers for back-up supplies when wind, solar and marine power fall short.
“Disappointed to see energy minister move so close to Energy Bill report stage, but Michael Fallon very capable minister,” Tory lawmaker Dan Byles said on his Twitter feed. “Energy in good hands.”
Labour’s business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, took to Twitter to condemn the move. “Looking like the Business & Enterprise ministerial post has been downgraded and spread between two depts.,” he said.
-- With assistance from Alex Morales in London. Editors: Eddie Buckle, Andrew Atkinson
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