Energy strategy chaos exemplifies poor leadership

Green peer Natalie Bennett expresses dismay and disappointment at the strategy and its delivery, released a month later than promised despite urgent geopolitical crisis.

Natalie Bennett

It’s possible to imagine an absurdist explanation for how the Government’s energy security took its form, the result of a terrible wind blowing through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

Here’s the picture. All of the bad ideas had been dumped in the bin – new nuclear, fracking, extra oil and gas exploration. The good ideas were set out, laid out sheet-by-sheet, on a table: a massive programme of home insulation and energy efficiency; a deliverable but stretching target for one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation – onshore wind; a dirty profit tax on North Sea Oil and Gas to take the windfall profits of the fossil fuel companies and subsidise struggling households, already made £150 a week worse off by David Cameron’s conversion from ‘hug a husky’ to ‘green crap’. 

But then came the terrible wind, and what was in the bin ended up on the table, the good ideas consigned to the bin. 

It seems that isn’t too far from the truth of what happened over the long, chaotic period that led to the launch yesterday of the strategy. The wind you might blame on ‘Storm Sunak-Rees-Mogg’; the chaotic production system on the inability of the current administration, with Boris Johnson at its head, to organise even the writing and launching of a long-needed strategy made even more urgent by geopolitical crisis.

For it was on Monday 7 March, just over a month ago, that the strategy was promised – with the pressing issues of Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the cost of living crisis – ‘by the end of the week’. 

The final delivery came at about 1 pm yesterday, 7 April. This might surprise you if you woke yesterday morning reading accounts of it in every newspaper and on every website in the land, but all of those were based on four pages of a press release (two pages of that being supportive quotes) released after 7.30 pm on Wednesday evening (too late for the early evening news bulletins or the first editions of the papers).

It forced the distinguished crossbencher Baroness Hayman, co-chair of Peers for the Planet, to apologise for inadvertently misleading the House. For she’d enterprisingly tabled a private notice question (deadline 8.30 am yesterday) to secure the one and only piece of parliamentary scrutiny that could take place before the House of Lords rose for recess (the Commons being in the middle of a two-week break) about the strategy. 

Baroness Hayman assumed, very reasonably, that by 11.47 am, when the question started, the actual document would have been published. But that 15-minute question session had to take place without reference to the actual document. I got an email at 1.35 pm from the BEIS minister Lord Callanan, announcing its publication.

The idea that this government, which can’t even launch a strategy document without a month of chaos, could set in train eight new nuclear reactors, one a year to 2030, and actually get them generating electricity would be laughable, were it not so terribly important. This from Boris Johnson, of garden bridge, estuary airport and Irish sea bridge/tunnel fame, last seen drawing stiffly polite smiles from the offshore wind industry at his suggestion of giant floating windfarms in the middle of the Irish sea.

What’s been going on over that month of non-strategy? Well, there’s been a continual flurry of news stories – what passes for political coverage in the UK – leak and counter-leak, briefing and counter-briefing from unnamed sources. None of that was from the Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, or the Green Party.

That was from various factions of the Government, with, it appears, the Rees-Mogg part of the storm whisking away the sensible target of 45GW of onshore wind generation by 2030, the Sunak part destroying the hopes of grandmas shivering now in freezing homes, and parents looking miserable at ill children, their conditions worsened, or created, by cold and damp for relief in the form of an emergency insulation and energy efficiency programme.

I’ve increasingly been forced, as I was yesterday, to resort to a hashtag, on many different issues, procedural, policy and political. This is #NoWayToRunACountry – in a climate emergency and poverty crisis. Or at any time. The energy strategy debacle is one more example of that reality.