So Ed Davey has been appointed to succeed Chris Huhne as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change. Groans from Greens stage left.
I’m watching with interest. I knew Ed as a student. Along with future Green Party stalwarts Tim Andrews, Andy Spring, Maya de Souza and others, we were members of a university group called Green Action.
I was already interested in green politics though my experience of it was limited to growing up with parents and parents’ friends interested self sufficiency and food issues. An Ecology Party manifesto found its way into the house circa 1983. Green Action helped crystallise many of my impulses and give them a more coherent framework.
A lot of the impetus came from Tim who invited speakers like Sir Julian Rose, a leading light of the organic farming movement, and Brig Oubridge who came from Teepee Valley in Wales to speak to us. It was an exciting group to be a part of. There were demos against Chernobyl, green forays into student elections, attempts to educate college kitchens about catering for veggies and vegans. Ed was very much a part of it.
That said while most of us were looking towards the newly renamed Green Party, Ed was a Liberal/SDP alliance type. Ed never made any bones about it. He was a little bit square, very much ‘out’ about his politics and we were broad minded enough not to give him a hard time. But in an important way he was also ‘one of us’.
Then, as you do after university, you lose touch. I ran into Ed briefly at Westminster in the run up to the 2001 election. I’d read that he’d been somewhat surprise to be rushed into parliament in the upheaval of 1997. He still seemed faintly surprised four years on.
Now he’s Energy Secretary and taking over from a man who had a reasonably good rap amongst campaigning groups. I’m interested to know how ingrained an impression those formative years of student environmental activism left. Ed, as I’ve said, was never a political Green but he did clearly understand just how critical environmental issues were.
The big question, for me, is whether he has the clout to take a stand on issues like climate change, renewables and the democratisation of energy when he’s surrounded by a bunch of brutal uber sceptics.
Chris Huhne (who stood as a local parliamentary candidate for the Alliance while Ed and I were at uni) earned a reputation of having given as good as he got from his Tory ‘chums’. But then Huhne always came across as ambitious, self assured and slightly ego-centric even 25 years ago. Ed Davey on the other hand was quiet and thorough and not quite exciting. However he always struck me as a decent guy and a nice guy.
Huhne showed what was possible even in the nest of vipers that is the present cabinet, Ed Davey has known most of his life that the things for which he’s now responsible really matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect miracles, we certainly shouldn’t tolerate lame excuses, but let’s see how he does.