#10 Energy – the high cost of low calibre leadership

UK Energy

You couldn’t make it up

You really, truly, couldn’t make it up.

With more than nine million people in severe debt difficulties, the Red Cross sending food parcels to Britain for the first time since 1945, and the choice between eating and heating confronting millions of the poorest households as winter looms and the cost of essentials soars, the Westminster Punch-and-Judy show is now doing its best to imperil the country’s energy security.

First, Ed Miliband promised to force energy suppliers to freeze bills after the next election in 2015. Now, David Cameron may have asked the same companies to freeze them until the election as well.

Of course, Cameron’s initiative doesn’t stop there. If only it had. He now plans to scale back the valuable home insulation programme (putting perhaps 13,000 jobs at risk), and dip into the taxpayer’s pocket as well, in order to take £50 off annual fuel bills.

This, Cameron clearly thinks, will boost his electoral chances. If only percentages were taught at Eton…………. As electoral bribes go, £50 really doesn’t cut it, when set against dual-fuel bills of £1,500 – which are likely to go on rising anyway

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Whilst all this vote-grubbing nonsense is going on, no-one is giving a thought to how to keep the lights on. Just as Nero fiddled whilst Rome burned, our so-called leaders are playing politics whilst Britain heads for the deep-freeze.

Indigenous energy production has slumped by 53% over ten years. Of the production capacity that remains, a further 33% is likely to disappear by 2020, by which time output will meet only 37% of our current consumption.

The bottom line is that we need huge investment in energy if we’re to keep the lights on. It should be obvious – obvious, that is, to anyone whose IQ exceeds his shoe-size – that companies are not going to deliver this investment if pricing is turned into a political shuttlecock.

Are the Chinese, the French – or anyone else, for that matter – really going to be daft enough to invest in building capacity in a country that threatens them with price-freezes? 

Instead of a strategy – one that invests in replacement nuclear capacity, promotes waste-to-heat conversion and expands gas storage – we get waffle, political posturing over energy prices, and far-fetched hyperbole about shale from ministers who seem to be completely clueless about energy issues.

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First we had Teflon Tony. Then we had Gormless Gordon. Now we have Calamity Clegg and Devious Dave. Where on earth do we get these “leaders” from?

The answer, I’m afraid, lies in the degradation of the political system. Not that long ago we had mass-membership parties, high turnouts in general elections, active local participation in politics, local democracy, and a string of checks to executive power including robust constituency parties, independently-minded MPs, influential cabinet ministers and an impartial Civil Service.

Over two decades or so, all of the mechanisms so painstakingly constructed to give us capable and accountable leadership have been sacrificed on the altar of executive power concentrated in 10 Downing Street.

Local parties have been subjected to control from the centre, and are often deprived even of the right to choose their own Parliamentary candidates. Local authorities have been turned into service providers financed and controlled from the centre. Mass membership parties are a thing of the past, because joining a party has become pointless. Cabinet posts are given to nonentities who are largely excluded from decision-making anyway. Civil Service counsel and restraint has been degraded by the insertion of an army of ‘political advisers’ and spin-doctors between civil servants and their political masters.

The result is that the country is governed by a narrow, self-perpetuating clique of professional politicians, with virtually no real-world experience, who gather around the Downing Street sofa much as the place-seekers and manipulators of an earlier age gathered around the throne.  

The only objective, it seems, is to cling on to power within the Westminster bubble.

Never mind if efforts to create a feel-good effect ahead of the 2015 election create a housing price spike and burden the public with yet more debt.

Never mind if political posturing deters investors from replacing our deteriorating energy infrastructure.

Never mind, even, if the lights go off – just so long as it doesn’t happen before the next election.  

A former Home Secretary once said that his department was “not fit for purpose”.

Neither, frankly, is our debased system of government.


3 thoughts on “#10 Energy – the high cost of low calibre leadership

  1. Absolutely right about politicians, they are drawn from a far too narrow section of society, all we get is the “often wrong, never in doubt” personality. I see another problem in the power of the lobby groups, big business can afford to hire these outfits to do their bidding, effectively undermining democracy. There is not a lot of point in voting if all you get to do is elect someone to work for the large corporations.

  2. Indeed. There is a nexus here – the economy is too concentrated, with many industries dominated by small numbers of large companies, and this links to over-concentrated political power through lobbying.

  3. Totally agree on the energy isssue, and its link to ‘sustainable growth’, which is the key factor here. At the moment we have totally lost the plot in the UK, and put ourselves at the mercy of short-term volatile spot-market energy pricing, by failure to invest in nuclear – and especailly thorium- power, and long-term planning for gas storage.

    Only one country in Europe made the correct long-term strategy correctly – France, while Germany is now in the process been driven by green-power politicians into energy cost hyper-inflation, highjacked and stoked by Russia’s increasing control of Euro gas prices.

    One way out is if Japan succeeds with their exploitation of methane hydrates-but only if they can manage to do so without causing a global climate catastrophy should the technology not be up to the task.

    There are several other technologies that also directly address the future energy shortfall. One energy route is to hasen the development of LFTR nuclear power generation – as India, China, Norway and France are already doing. All these countries are taking the very long-term view on energy planning and technology.

    The other is to exploit the coal resorces that the UK is so richly endowed with via either in situ coal bed methane (CBM), and underground coal gasification (UCG). The then DTI produced review of cleaner coal technology, published as Energy Paper 67 (June 1999), but this appears to have died a death, as the last official mention of this technology was in late 2010! Additionally the USA under the EPA is now looking to control this technolgies exploitation via the

    As long as short-terminism dominates UK energy poloicy, UK industrial production will be severely handicapped by overly-costly energy prices.

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