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When Sir Robert Peel wrote the Tamworth Manifesto, he advanced from conventional, Wellingtonite Conservatism and gained nearly 100 additional seats in the 1835 general election as a result. So too must Rishi Sunak’s government reject conventional responses to fuel poverty and pave the way to a majority in the next general election. This essay will propose three measures to counter fuel poverty, one each for the short, medium, and long terms. The first measure, for the short term, is drastically increasing the UK’s energy stockpiles. The second, for the medium term, is to use fracking as a ‘bridging’ energy and follow a similar path to the U.S. in attempting to achieve energy independence from Russia and the Middle East. The final measure, for the long term, is to invest in the development of nuclear fusion technology which, if successful, will permanently alter the discussion surrounding fuel poverty. In Peel’s own words, Conservatives must ‘reform to survive’.

For the short term: increasing energy stockpiles

Firstly, the UK must substantially increase its energy stockpiles. Many proposals for short-term measures to tackle fuel poverty include V.A.T. cuts on energy; however, this is the wrong approach. Such a reform offers poor value for money and would do little to abate fuel poverty, as eliminating V.A.T. on energy bills only shaves £100 for the average household while costing the Treasury approximately £3.5bn per year. Larger homes owned by the wealthier also receive a greater benefit from such a cut despite being unlikely to languish in fuel poverty. This is not in tune with the simple Conservative value of fairness, from the Tamworth Manifesto to Baldwin’s dream of a ‘union of all classes’.

The solution to the energy crisis can, however, be found in its cause: our dependence on foreign gas, on which 85 per cent of homes in the UK rely. The UK’s gas supply is sourced from abroad, principally Russia, Qatar, and Norway, making our country’s energy security putty in the invisible hand of global energy markets. As international crises like the War in Ukraine have left patent, shifts in energy prices and production have reverberating effects on international diplomacy. Any answer to fuel poverty must, therefore, include increasing our energy independence; and a short-term method of doing so is increasing our energy stockpiles.

Strategic energy stockpiles are held by governments to alleviate short-term supply disruptions, maintain national security, and safeguard the economy during energy crises. Energy prices are dynamic, and unlike certain other commodities, market reaction to changes in supply and demand can be instantaneous. If a country’s stockpiles indicate a well-supplied market and are continually increasing, energy prices can react with downward pressure. On the other hand, if stockpiles are low and dwindling, the opposite is true. However, our country has some of the smallest energy stockpiles on the continent, leaving us vulnerable to serious disruption. The UK has a total of zero days’ worth of government-owned net oil imports in its stockpile as of June 2022, the same amount as Turkey and Greece. This is significantly exceeded by other western countries such as the United States (924 days), Germany (115 days) and France (80 days). Instead, the UK obliges industry to hold minimum stockpiles, though there is no reason for this to reduce the energy bills of consumers and thus fuel poverty, relinquishing entirely the role of government in holding its own stockpiles. Therefore, there is potential low-hanging fruit in tackling fuel poverty through the government significantly increasing its strategic stockpiles for release in crises.

For the medium term: fracking as a ‘bridging’ energy

Fracking is the technique of recovering oil and gas by drilling into the earth’s shale rock layers at high pressures. Globally, fracking has altered the energy landscape in a drastic manner: the fracking revolution in the United States has propelled it to leading the world in oil production, creating a chain reaction with Russia attempting to find a new market in China, and the Middle East recalibrating its oil exports away from North America. Neither has its use of fracking been relatively expensive. With a highly complex geological structure, in contrast to the relatively simplicity of United States’s, there is no suggestion that fracking will trigger a similarly significant energy revolution in the UK. Moreover, it is in no way a panacea to fuel poverty in Britain as opinion is divided on the extent to which an increase in energy supply from fracking will cause major improvements to prices. However, it decreases our dependence on foreign energy (making us less vulnerable to international events and large price fluctuations) and acts as a bridge until cheaper, long-term measures are implemented, as discussed in the subsequent section. The growth of a fracking industry will also boost productivity and benefit the economy, creating jobs for those facing fuel poverty.

Owing to the controversy surrounding fracking, notably with those living close to fracking infrastructure, the issue must be handled with care. For example, where onshore fracking infrastructure is built, neighbouring communities should be compensated through ‘Community Benefit Schemes’ for enduring the experience. Such a scheme would provide a fund of money (to which the company conducting the fracking should contribute) for use in the community as compensation, in an arrangement redolent of the film Local Hero. Another reason for this essay listing fracking as solely a medium-term, bridging measure is its environmental impact: as Bright Blue has previously outlined, fracking is susceptible to methane leaks, a chemical up to 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This evidently contradicts the country’s transition to renewables; however, it is submitted that the current energy crisis necessitates all options being under consideration, especially for use as merely a bridge to renewable sources.

For the long term: investing in nuclear fusion

Every country faces the same question about the future of energy: will renewables dominate? Although it is fair to say that while the destination is set (reaching carbon neutrality by 2050), the precise road to it is less clear. Nuclear fusion, however, offers a choice of renewable energy separate from wind and solar and has historically received woefully low funding. In essence, fusion consists of burning lighter elements to create heavier elements, similarly to how the sun is energised by burning hydrogen into helium. This process, in turn, releases energy. Fusion will
undoubtedly ease fuel poverty through its relative cheapness: one estimate claims that $25(£22)/MWh is an optimistic cost of energy derived from fusion, yet not unachievable. The August 2022 average standard rate for gas from the six major gas suppliers in the UK equates to £83/MWh, thus fusion may comfortably half this as well as increasing the overall energy supply, lowering costs further.

There is an old quip that fusion is 30 years away and always will be. However, the sums currently invested indicate that it is nearer than ever. The UK declined to participate in Europe’s EU-DEMO development, instead opting to build a large, spherical tokamak by 2040 (‘tokomaks’ are a specific type of fusion experiment, essentially aiming to bottle the conditions at the core of the sun). However, the key in developing fusion is diversity of risk: there is a likely chance that any individual attempt at fusion will fail, whereas a diverse range of countries attempting fusion
needs only one to succeed for everyone to reap the benefits. Therefore, it is essential for Britain to commit itself to the development of fusion and the continuation of its own fusion experiment. One can easily envisage the strawman argument being posited by a future political leader that, as our own experiment is statistically likely to fail, it does not represent value for money and should thus be scrapped. This argument, however, ignores the importance of diversity of risk and the necessity for global unity in achieving fusion, a ‘declaration of interdependence’ on energy. Not only must the UK maintain its commitment to developing its own tokamak, it must also invest greater sums to accelerate its development where possible, ensuring that fuel poverty is alleviated without delay.


When Sir Robert Peel was appointed Prime Minister, it was a move contrary to public opinion leading Peel to demonstrate that his Conservative philosophy was in fact in the best interests of the people. Nearly 200 years on, Rishi Sunak must show that his answer to fuel poverty is a departure from past failures and delivers for the British public. This essay has proposed three measures to tackle fuel poverty. Firstly, the government must significantly grow its energy stockpiles; secondly, it must capitalise on fracking as bridge to long-term, renewable energy; and finally, it must invest in the development of nuclear fusion. Limiting fuel poverty by achieving greater energy independence will not only improve the quality of life of those in the UK, but allow us to act with less constraint on the international stage without our dependence on foreign energy being exploited.

Jude D’Alesio, Councillor for Long Ashton Parish Council and a law graduate from the University of Bristol, is our winner of the Tamworth Prize 2022. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Krzysztof Hepner]