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National debate on nuclear power (UK 2005-2006)/Blair's pro-nuclear Cabinet

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The Pro-Nuclear Cabinet

The Cabinet is seen as pro-nuclear. In a study undertaken by The Times newspaper, of the 22 Cabinet members in November 2005 (before the latest reshuffle), some 19 were seen as broadly favourable with only Margaret Beckett; Peter Hain and Patricia Hewitt as undecided. [1]. The Times gave three stars if Cabinet members were "Committed" to nuclear power; two if they were "For" it and one if they were "Wary". The results were as follows:

  • Tony Blair ***: Believes all arguments point to nuclear power as answer to security of energy supply and lower carbon emissions
  • John Prescott (Deputy Prime Minister) **: Takes pragmatic view and believes energy gap must be met
  • Gordon Brown (Chancellor) **: Believes potential longterm benefits outweigh costs but keen to seek consensus with green lobby
  • Jack Straw, (Foreign Secretary) **: Provided the Government's review makes a realistic case, he is likely to back it
  • Margaret Beckett, (Environment Secretary) *: Persuadable. Important departmental voice on environmental side
  • Alistair Darling, (Transport Secretary) ** Practical minister likely to support nuclear power if the case is made
  • John Reid, (Defence Secretary) **: Heading separate consultation on Trident missiles, so likely to be keen
  • Geoff Hoon, (Leader of the Commons) **: Familiar with nuclear issues as former Defence Secretary
  • Patricia Hewitt, (Health Secretary) *: Deferred issue as Trade Secretary in 2003 White Paper. Wants more done on renewables
  • Tessa Jowell, (Culture Secretary) *: Loyalist likely to follow Blair's lead
  • Hilary Armstrong, (Chief Whip) **: Highly pragmatic and likely to side with nuclear power provided convincing case is put
  • Charles Clarke, (Home Secretary) **: Very interested in environmental issues but pragmatic in terms of national energy supply
  • Peter Hain(Northern Ireland Secretary) *: Not opposed outright but chief concern is long-term cost (but see below)
  • Ian McCartney, (Minister without Portfolio, Labour Party chairman) **: Will insist there is full debate among Labour members
  • Baroness Amos(Leader of the Lords) **: Will probably go with the majority view in Cabinet
  • Lord Falconer of Thoroton, (Lord Chancellor) **: Loyal to Blair. Likely to want to test the arguments
  • Hilary Benn, (International Development Secretary) **: Utra-Blairite, likely to go with the tide
  • Alan Johnson, (Trade and Industry Secretary) **: Officially neutral but convinced nuclear is part of solution
  • Ruth Kelly, (Education and Skills Secretary) **: Has enough on her plate with school reforms
  • John Hutton (Work and Pensions Secretary) ***: Champion of nuclear industry as MP for Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, where Trident submarines were built
  • Des Browne, (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) **: Must satisfy himself on costs
  • David Miliband (Minister of Communities and Local Government) **: Background in Downing Street policy unit suggests he is likely to be strongly in favour.

In November 2005, Margaret Beckett had to deny she was anti-nuclear, saying that "Nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source - no-one can dispute that, and it has a contribution to make." [2]

Peter Hain Breaks Ranks

Four months later, in March 2006, The Independent reported how Peter Hain had become the "first cabinet opponent of nuclear power to break ranks in public, arguing that new nuclear power stations would have 'vast' implications for security and unknown costs". Hain was quoted as saying that it would be "significantly preferable" to move towards renewable energy. [3]

Darling Sticks the Knife into Ming Over Renewables

Later that month, on the 28 March, Alistair Darling addressed the Scottish Renewables Forum in Glasgow. He made a hard-hitting attack on the Liberal Democrats' energy policy and vilified Sir Menzies Campbell's decision to rely on wind, wave and tidal power.

Darling said: "[The LibDems' policy] is an excuse not to face up to some tough decisions. We will need to look at all possible sources of generation, including nuclear energy. There is not going to be one solution which meets all our demands." Darling argued that renewables will never meet the country's energy requirements. [4] Darling was made Secretary of State for Trade & Industry in the recent reshuffle, and is now nominally responsible for the energy review.

Clearing One Obstacle for Nuclear

After the Government reshuffle in May 2006, Margaret Beckett was moved from Environment Secretary to Foreign Secretary. Her replacement was David Miliband. His appointment, said the BC, is “widely seen as clearing one obstacle to building more nuclear plants”. [5]

Cabinet Baulks At Cost After Blair Backs Nuclear

The day after his a speech in which Blair told the CBI that he backed a new generation of nuclear power plants, the Prime Minister was said to be “facing cabinet-level opposition over his plans” following “Treasury predictions of ‘eye-wateringly large’ costs”.

One former cabinet member told The Guardian: "What's the point of having an energy review if you don't have that energy review? Nuclear power is not the New Labour energy message, sustainability is the New Labour energy message, though you can argue that nuclear is part of it." [6]

Elliot Morley, who had been sacked as the environment minister two weeks before also said publicly that building new nuclear reactors would cost the taxpayer "very large sums of money". [7]

Brown Backs Pro-Nuke Blair

Gordon Brown is said to be backing Blair's plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations, even before the full costs and benefits have been fully assessed. Just days after Blair pre-empted the energy review by giving the go-ahead for nuclear, the Chancellor "friends" said that he believes a nuclear element must be part of the solution to Britain's energy. [8]

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