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Behind The Headlines
by Bibi van der Zee
November 2nd, 2012
After yet another week in which our national politics bore rather more resemblance to a slow-motion car crash than one would really like, Bibi van der Zee decides to get to the bottom of things.
‘Energyshambles’ begs the question what’s really going on?
Leaving aside Cameron’s defeat on Europe (never been a good look for a Tory leader), ash dieback (too depressing to even think about) and the comments by the wonderful Dame Helen Ghosh – at one point the most senior woman in the civil service and now the new director of the National Trust - that Cameron has a “clique” and that women tend not to thrive in Old Etonian cliques (although I’d be happy to just repeat that, over and over again, like tory party tiling), most policy watchers were actually pretty bemused to see energyshambles, as it is now fondly known, hitting the headlines again.
Even as the Daily Mail and Guardian argued about whether energy minister John Hayes had really promised an end to all wind farms before being told off by the secretary of State, Paul Waugh, editor of PoliticsHome, mused on Twitter; “It takes a particular kind of political genius to give a second showing in a fortnight.”
But how has this happened? Why did David Cameron sack the apparently popular Charles Hendry and bring in anti-wind John Hayes instead, leading to a row that surely any half sane person could have seen coming a mile off? Didn’t the CBI tell the government to sort itself out and get its energy policy organised? I, like most people, was under the impression that the CBI ran the country.
So what is going on? In my quest for enlightenment (you don’t work for Satish Kumar without picking this sort of phrase up) I emailed all my favourite energy and politics wonks and promised them anonymity if they would tell me their favourite conspiracy theories for energyshambles. They kindly responded. And so, in no particular order… the main theories are that:
- Hendry was too pro-wind and the Chancellor wanted him out so that he could carry on with his Dash-for-Gas. Hendry, my industry expert mate points out, has been working on energy for six years now and has far more expertise than most politicians in this area. The fact that he (and Greg Barker and Ed Davey too) are all enthusiastic about renewables is based on empirical evidence of their usefulness. But the Chancellor just lurves gas …
- Another theory about Hendry, however, is that actually perhaps he had made a right mess of the energy bill? Although he’s much loved by the industry, perhaps number 10 looked at the bill over the summer and realised that it is – as it is – a terrible mess and felt that Hendry had messed up? “There is some credibility in this when you actually look at the bill and realise how many problems there still are with it,” says one observer. “But it is also very strange as the single best person to try and finalise it - and clear up the mess once and for all - was the one minister who really understood it – Hendry.”
- What about John Hayes? Why on earth was he chosen for the job? One theory is that Cameron is simply politically stupid and “truly thought that by adding an anti-wind, pro-gas and pro-nuke junior minister like Hayes he'd create 'balance' at DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) and get Osborne and all the Tory anti-renewables people off his back. Now, what he actually gets is an embarrassing cat fight, which makes the government look untrustworthy to energy investors of all stripes.”
With this theory, Hayes was not supposed to make too much actual difference - simply please the right-wingers and keep everybody happy. But obviously, if this was THE PLAN, then it has all gone horribly horribly wrong, with Hayes making the front page of the Mail and Telegraph within weeks of getting into the job. At least one expert sees this as just a terrible miscalculation. “Hayes was meant to be the cuckoo in the nest at DECC. But he may become a victim of his own ‘success’. His comments were worthy of a few column inches on page 5, but were hardly Front Page News. His stated comments should jeopardise his position as a Minister – they certainly marginalise him in the Department – but will have no impact on Coalition policy.”
But is that right? Or was there a more devious agenda at work?
Cameron is “rumoured to have told John Hayes to ‘deliver a win for our people on wind farms’”. Was he supposed to defeat the whole wind agenda? A few people are wondering if the whole thing was cooked up to undermine onshore wind altogether. And one expert points out that Hayes does have a hold over Cameron, because he has delivered him the Cornerstone group – an ultra-conservative group of politicians whose website promises: Faith, Flag and Family.
According to this pundit, the most worrying thing is that “The more you look at it, the more clear it becomes clear that we have the weakest prime minister since Callaghan. Even Major managed to win an election and get his party to occasionally do as he said”.
Any clearer? A little…but definitely no more reassured.
Bibi van der Zee is the Ecologist's Political Correspondent; @bibivanderzee
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