Barnsley will blame Boris Johnson if lights go out in this Winter of Discontent – Jayne Dowle

I’M (just) old enough to remember the power cuts of the early 1970s, which seemed particularly grim and frightening to a child. And I never thought I would live to see them again.

Boris Johnson continues to come under fire for his complacent speech to the Tory party conference.
Boris Johnson continues to come under fire for his complacent speech to the Tory party conference.

Yet with dire warnings from the energy industry, and a government seemingly blinded by the global scale and warp speed of events threatening to create the biggest UK energy crisis in generations, living by candlelight is looking increasingly like a potential necessity rather than a lifestyle choice.

Could there be a better metaphor – the candle – for just how skewed this country has become? A fancy designer scented candle can cost anything from £50, far in excess of what many families have left to spend on food every week, once housing costs and bills are met.

Yet does the Prime Minister or any of his Ministers grasp this fact? No, not when they are blithely removing the £20 addition to Universal Credit they so generously doled out at the height of the pandemic to help those on the lowest incomes.

Is Boris Johnson doing enough to tackle the energy crisis?

And not when they hold an annual party conference in Manchester where their misplaced optimism, led by a bumptious Prime Minister, was an insult to the people struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. At the very least, Labour really must seize the mettle on the cost of living at every turn.

The scale of issues facing us, however, goes beyond party politics. You may remember that both Edward Heath, a Conservative Prime Minister, and Labour’s James Callaghan were both undone by inflation, shortages and general industrial unrest in the 1970s.

Back then, whilst adults worried about getting to work and tracking down bread in the shops, I lived in fear of the shadows cast by candlelight on the wall.

During periods of industrial unrest, such as the run-up to Christmas 1970, when the country was crippled by electrical shutdowns as a result of industrial action, we children went to bed in the dark with only a night-light to reassure us.

Boris Johnson continues to come under fire for his complacent speech to the Tory party conference.

Three years later, just before Christmas, Heath announced the “three-day week” in the face of miners’ strikes, with the aim of conserving coal stocks for essential industries and hospitals.

Even the lights on the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square were switched off until Christmas Day itself, which just about summed it all up.

And the rest, as we know, is history. I was six by then and had developed a fanciful imagination. As we ate our tea by kerosene lamps, I would think about the children who lived in our old terrace house a century before us and how they didn’t even know what electricity was.

I’m feeling this keen sense of history once again. And I feel almost as trepidatious as I did back then going upstairs to bed with my night-light.

Labour premeir Jim Callaghan during the 1978-79 winter of discontent.

I couldn’t imagine there would ever be a day when our daily lives would be threatened by power cuts. Sure, we’ve all had to scramble around in the kitchen drawer for matches and household candles on the odd occasion, but nothing like what hangs over us this year as winter approaches.

The National Grid’s annual winter outlook, which assesses its readiness to keep the lights on, has prompted the blackout fears.

It’s not scaremongering, but fact. The outlook has forecast an electricity margin of 6.6 per cent capacity, meaning that at peak times, it expects to have 6.6 per cent of supply left over on average. As a comparison, the margin last winter was 8.3 per cent.

Add to these estimates that bills for both electricity and gas are set to soar because of the rise in the wholesale price of gas and oil. This is also sending smaller UK energy firms out of business, switching customers onto higher tariffs from other providers.

That the whole situation is seemingly being engineered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is using the supply of Russian gas to Europe as leverage to gain approval for his Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, makes us feel even more vulnerable.

And this is before we even begin to consider inflation, forecast by one City analyst to hit levels not seen for 30 years.

During the pandemic, Boris Johnson grew accustomed to transferring responsibility onto us, as individuals. It’s our fault if we don’t wash our hands, or wear a mask, or get vaccinated.

It’s not our fault, however, if the lights go out. He cannot shirk ultimate responsibility for this one, so please, Prime Minister, don’t allow us to slip back to the dark ages.

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