By Gabe Trodd
The red-green dissent and action over the imminent closure of the Vestas’ turbine manufacturing factory on the Isle of Wight is brightly gathering momentum, and from whatever way you look at it, there are legitimate reasons to nationalise Vestas’ Isle of Wight factory.
In the short-term, this moment not only represents significant ideological crossroads for the party, but a chance to save 600 preciously skilled jobs. At a time when the party is staring down the barrel of a gun and New Labourism is drawing to its natural close, nationalisation of the plant could be the platform Labour needs for a dramatic late reversal of its fortunes – a seminal, telling moment of vision, clarity and innovation. In the longer-term, this red-green chorus may well be a glimpse at the future.
The truth is that despite rising profits, Vestas as a Danish company and corporate profiteers, do not have sufficient orders and are closing the factory to make the turbines more cheaply in the US, where there is greater demand. As Ed Miliband points out in his piece at Comment is Free:
“We are unlikely to be a centre for onshore wind production, if up and down the country, and on the Isle of Wight, onshore wind applications are consistently turned down.”
It should be noted that SERA had previously flagged up the fact that Conservative-run councils had opposed 80% of wind farm applications submitted to them since David Cameron became the leader of the Conservative party, whereas Labour councils had approved 70%.
The UK is the windiest country in Europe, so much so that we could power parts of our country several times over using this free fuel. The fact is we will need a mix of both onshore and offshore wind energy to work towards the targets on climate change and the UK’s energy security.
To overlook wind energy or put too high a reliance on offshore wind generation and fledgling micro-generation technology would condemn the UK to: missing our renewable energy targets; falling short of our commitment to tackle climate change; drifting away from energy independence at a time when it is essential; and contributing to a significant deficit in the country’s short-term energy supply. At this stage, it is unclear as to whether David Cameron appreciates or even fully understands this.
Glancing over our shoulders, many members of the Labour party will have been deeply affected by the impact of coal-pit closures, and also the pernicious influence of the West’s oil addiction on global foreign policy. For these reasons, there is a genuine sense of hope and optimism when the UK’s renewable energy potential is cited as the “Saudi Arabia of green energy”. As an island, Britain has 40% of Europe’s wind resource, with strong winds both on and offshore – this is a position we should maximise as a country. Most promising of all is the glittering potential that exists for green collar jobs.
It is clear that the previous tensions between trade unionists protecting energy industry and jobs, and green campaigners protecting the environment, represent a fractious relationship of the past. At a time when there 60 applicants for every vacancy on the Isle of Wight, this growing red-green consensus recognises that to endanger 600 jobs and disperse a skill base that has been nurtured on the Isle of Wight within a fledgling green industry would be disastrous for the country, its manufacturing base and the climate change agenda as a whole.
Although Ed Miliband has met with the sit-in protestors, offered assistance in re-training those made unemployed, awarded £6m to the wind turbine firm’s research centre to create some new jobs and promised to shake up the planning system to speed up wind projects, if Labour is seriously committed to preserving the skill base that has been nurtured on the Isle of Wight within a fledgling green industry, and also providing UK industry with an accessible source of turbines (as opposed UK firms shipping over turbines from Germany and Denmark), the substantive solution is nationalisation of the plant. This outcome would also inevitably see Ed Miliband graduate from activists’ favourite to the party’s new best hope.
In electoral terms, nationalisation would surely claw back some of Labour’s disillusioned, dejected and dispersed masses – after Norwich, Labour activists need some hope. But looking ahead, I think this current red-green resonance may be a prophetic allegiance and a natural consensus to build the future foundations of the party, regardless of whether or not this happens in the political wilderness.
For further resources on wind power and sustainable enegry, see David MacKay’s “Without Hot Air“.