The Political Economy of Energy Regulation in the UK 1945-2007 – Paradigms and Policy

Dr Shane Fudge, University of Surrey

This paper considers the current and historical debate that has taken place around energy policy and government regulation in the UK.  Exploring Helm’s (2005) idea that the regulation of energy policy in the UK has been characterized by three different phases or paradigms, the paper explores the dominant ideological agenda that has characterized each of these periods and how energy policy has itself been enmeshed within particular political and economic goals.   Exploring the circumstances that precipitated firstly the post-war nationalization of energy policy, and then the transition to a market-led approach, the paper problematizes Helm’s claim that there has been a post-1998 paradigm shift in response to issues such as climate change and energy security.  While his work has been influential in suggesting that UK policy-makers are in the process of redesigning the market for energy approach to energy regulation, the paper challenges the claims for an accompanying ideological transition as could be evidenced in previous energy regime changes.  It is suggested that while issues such as climate change and supply security may suggest a paradigm shift in regard to the circumstances in which energy policy takes place, there remains a dominant political consensus on the fact that it is the market which will solve these problems; albeit within a commitment to ‘sustainable economic growth’.   The paper therefore considers the implications of the argument for this ‘third way’ in UK energy policy and concludes by exploring the possibilities for a real paradigm shift and what this could entail.

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