(apologies to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
Bernard Ingham: ‘Green’ costs hit bills
ALLOW me to introduce you to the Mods and Rockers of modern politics. They are a curious lot. The Mods are led by Chancellor George Osborne and include Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, probably Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, at least 100 Tory MPs and UKIP.
The Rockers (otherwise known as Totally off their Rockers) comprise Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Energy Secretary Ed Davey, most Liberal Democrat MPs, Tory Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker, the Green and Scottish and Welsh Nationalist parties, and – of course – Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Caroline Flint.
The Prime Minister is lost between the two, recognising that things cannot go on as they are but desperate to seem trendy to the voters.
The Mods belatedly recognise that rising energy bills are hurting the consumer, not to mention forcing industry to wonder whether it should move abroad, and agree green taxes and levies are part of the problem. Scottish and Southern, the first big energy company to raise its prices this autumn, reckons they add £110 to the average household bill.
The Rockers, regardless of the evidence, believe passionately that man is heating up his planet and must curb rising CO2 emissions. They insist we set an example to a world that has no intention of following it and regard the consequences for bills as cheap at the price compared with the damage global warming will eventually wreak on this Earth.
Their best advice to the consumer is to shop around unless you are the Labour leader, who proposes to freeze gas and electricity prices for 20 months. This is an open invitation to the energy companies to load their prices now or when the freeze is over, assuming they are still in business then, or to take their expertise elsewhere.
But that is not the worst of it. Whatever the National Grid says, we face a supply as well as price crisis with reserve generating capacity down to five per cent this winter and likely to fall further.
This is what happens when governments take the line of least resistance and allow common sense to fly out of the window.
The first mistake was by the Tories in privatising electricity. To make it more attractive to investors they dropped a statutory responsibility to supply that had concentrated the nationalised industry’s mind wonderfully on how to cope with the worst imaginable winter.
Nobody is now statutorily responsible, even though electricity (and gas) have been regulated by Ofgem since privatisation. This will not let the Energy Secretary off the hook if the lights go out. His political career will be hanging from the nearest pylon.
The second was also a Tory error. Early in the 1990s they subsidised wind power to test whether it could ever become economic, in spite of work I was involved in during the 1970s that showed it was a fond dream. Twenty years later consumers are footing an ever-increasing bill.
With oil and gas pouring from every North Sea orifice, successive governments then built only one nuclear power station, at Sizewell in Suffolk. They fell for the nonsense that renewable sources of energy – wind, waves, tides, solar, geothermal, hydro and biomass – combined with energy efficiency and all sorts of “smart” technology, rendered nuclear redundant. Labour actually wrote nuclear off as “economically unattractive” until 2006.
It is said that we are now about to get agreement with the French, with Chinese help, to build a big new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Let us give two cheers. With at least seven years before it generates any electricity, it will not help us over our current supply or price crises.
This brings me to the collective Labour/Lib Dem/Tory mistake of messing about for very nearly 20 years when any discerning person knew that we were storing up energy and certainly electricity supply trouble for the future.
Even now I doubt whether the Rockers will allow the Mods to scrap or reduce “green” subsidies to help the consumer. The Rockers can freeze prices as much as they like but, scrap or freeze, neither can prevent blackouts in the worst of weather. The Mods have woken up far too late to prevent a return to candlepower.
It’s as messy as the old Mods v Rockers clashes on the Brighton seafront – and much more dangerous.