Whatever happened to the likely facts?
Greg Clark, the business secretary, has been reluctant to become too embroiled in energy issues since it became part of his brief. But in recent weeks he couldn’t put off making decisions any more. So, in quick succession he is:
Backing fracking development - in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – by revising planning guidance;
Approving a financial deal to support the building of the Wyfla Nuclear Power Station in Anglesey;
Expected to reject a deal for the Swansea Bay tidal power project.
It is tempting to see this as a poke in the eye for the green lobby. We have seen not only Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Green Party, but also sections of the Labour and LibDem leadership attack these decisions. The core of the campaign waged by the greens has been that all investment in energy should be in renewables – and anything else is at best a diversion, at worst a betrayal.
Next Friday Tim Prizeman and I will host a webinar about campaigning and within it we will discuss why the green lobby has been so successful in shaping public opinion. At the same time we will show why it lack of nuance, and problem with dealing with factual challenges, has allowed governments to justify ignoring it.
So, what did they get right?
Focus – they know what they want and won’t be diverted;
Guerrilla or submarine campaigning – spotting issues that would really resonate with the public and then slipping the green agenda behind them. For example, by targeting heath risks on fracking they built support for an anti-fossil fuels agenda that would never have flown on its own;
Relentless social media pressure – using supporters and volunteers who will post on Twitter, Facebook etc constantly. As these are not officials of the organisations they often can get away with not exactly sticking to the facts.
However, points 1 and 3 weakens the green lobby’s case when they get to pushing policy. No-one who studies the issue closely believes this is an either/or situation. When four fifths of households use gas for heating, and over 60% for cooking, you aren’t going to replace that with electricity form renewables without major disruption, even if you could build all the wind and solar farm (which you can’t). And if you play fast and loose with the facts, you will ultimately be found out even if the public can be won over with the convenient untruth.
As you saw with the Brexit debate, campaigning and nuance are uneasy bedfellows. The challenge for those mounting campaigns is to deal with these subtleties, and for those defending to exploit the likely facts their challengers are trying to gloss over.
For more information about the webinar and how to register, visit http://publicrelations.kelsopr.com/mounting-and-fighting-hostile-campaigns-seminars-2018