May’s self-inflicted chaos cannot be used to water down climate commitments

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For a prime ministerial candidate to campaign against a so-called ‘coalition of chaos’, only to deliver one herself the day after the election, is a political machination House of Cards’ chief protagonist Frank Underwood would be proud to call his own.

But this isn’t a Netflix drama, this is modern British politics, and the UK is about to be forced to watch the difficult second season of Theresa May’s leadership unfold.

This time yesterday it was beginning to look increasingly like May, in spite of a resurgent Labour Party, would comfortably record the necessary majority. But that all changed the moment the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll was broadcasted, confirming the government’s worst fears.

Jeremy Corbyn’s message had resonated with a young, engaged electorate who’d taken to the polls in great numbers. Instead of strengthening its majority, the Tories had managed to lose seats. Insistence that the exit poll must be wrong was short lived. Seats fell. Government ministers – including the highly regarded Ben Gummer – were ousted. It would prove to be a night to forget for May’s leadership.

It did not take long however for a solution to present itself. May left for Buckingham Palace not long after midday and within 40 minutes she was back outside Number 10, stressing the oft neglected ‘Unionist’ title in the party’s moniker, as she confirmed she would be forming a government propped up by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

Regardless of whether or not this government gets off the ground, it should be cause for concern within the renewables lobby.

The DUP’s – shall we say indifferent – stance on climate change goes against the grain and direction of every major British political party’s energy policy. Its former environment spokesperson, in a move not too dissimilar from one particularly derided US president, is on record labelling climate change as a ‘con’. The DUP election manifesto for 2017 made no reference to climate change at all, and its vague mentions of energy policy were limited to keeping bills low and the island connected.

Of course, this could just be because Northern Ireland’s most recent stab at a renewable energy policy didn’t exactly go swimmingly.

But it’s this party that May is now desperate to rely upon to legitimise her government.  

Energy and climate policy is already in the balance. We’re now nearly a year behind schedule for the publication of the Clean Growth Plan and this morning the renewables industry called vociferously for it to not fall too far behind more pressing matters. Further political upheaval only stands to delay this even further, and 2027 is fast appearing on the horizon.

There is also early talk of a cabinet reshuffle which could begin as early as this afternoon. BEIS secretary Greg Clark is not expected to be on the move, but if this political period has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected.

For now at least it looks as if the UK’s political uncertainty will continue for at least a few more months. If it was House of Cards that May was channelling, a house of cards is what she’s ended up with. And climate commitments appear perilously placed towards the bottom, waiting to bear the full brunt of any collapse at the top.