Bernard Ingham: Where is the sane energy policy in this election debate?

Picture by James Hardisty
Picture by James Hardisty
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Now here’s a teaser for you. Amid all the sound and fury of claim and counter-claim, spot the forgotten issues of this election. They happen to be fundamental to the nation’s existence – to wit, food and fuel.

If we cannot feed or power the UK, we are on our way out fast. Yet the two subjects have scarcely been mentioned in this weird campaign.

Let’s deal first with food. In one sense, I am not surprised it does not figure on the hustings. After all, Brussels essentially controls our agriculture and we shall not win back responsibility for it unless we are astonishingly successful in the forthcoming renegotiation of our membership or walk out of the EU.

That means that Britain has no prospect of controlling its food production if Labour, the nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Greens have anything to do with it. All of them are seriously in love with the EU.

Meanwhile, according to the National Farmers’ Union, we supply only 60 per cent of our national larder. Domestic production has fallen 20 per cent in the last 10 years. This indebted nation has a £6bn a year trade gap in food products and Owen Paterson, the former Tory Environment Secretary, has said that the UK and Europe are set to become the museum of world farming.

While supermarkets screw the farmers and our prosperous tastes become more internationally exotic, we are also faced with a huge movement of people from Africa and the Middle East towards the West. Unless we control that flow, they will massively increase our dependence on external sources of food and so, among other things, raise our national debt.

Meanwhile, we are bent on spending 0.7 per cent of our GDP on overseas aid, thereby helping to prop up the failed continent of Africa and its mostly nasty and corrupt leaders who oppress their people instead of willing them to farm, build and work their way to prosperity – as we have done haltingly across the centuries.

This, then, is a peculiarly insular election preoccupied with bribing the voters instead of manifestly looking after their longer-term interests.

Which brings me to fuel – or more properly energy. Only Ukip shows signs of constructing an energy policy worthy of the name, though the Tories encourage us to hope since they are going off wind and solar power.

For too long, we (and the EU) have not had an energy policy. Instead we, have an “environment” policy, which, while wrecking the countryside, almost guarantees power supply difficulties in the future.

The very point is conceded by the National Grid. It is assembling highly expensive stand-by diesel generation for when, the politicians having shut down our coal and nuclear power plants, the wind does not blow.

Germany, in going a bundle on renewable sources of energy, is burning carbon-rich brown coal as insurance. India is set to overtake China as the world’s biggest coal importer.

And, while trying to develop nuclear, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea between them plan to increase their coal-fired generating capacity by 60 per cent by 2019 – and blow all this 20-year Kyoto talk, as distinct from action, about curbing global carbon dioxide emissions to which the UK contributes a mere two per cent.

I do not suggest we ignore the possibility of global warming. It makes sense to avoid depleting fossil fuels if economically we can avoid it. But a rational energy policy would employ a mix of coal, gas, including shale gas, and nuclear and ditch the expensively subsidised and ineffective renewables whether wind, waves, tides, solar, geothermal or, God help us, biomass (i.e wood).

After 20 years of nonsense, we shall not return to energy sanity until we get rid of Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy, and prevent Ed Miliband, the Nationalists and the Greens from making it worse.

A successful nation needs to eat, to fuel its workforce and to be able to rely absolutely on its sources of heat, light 
and power.

Complacency stalks the body politic if this election is any guide. Through a mixture of ignorance, greenwashing, scientific jiggery-pokery. idealism 
and a lamentable lack of strategic thinking – always assuming that 
most of our politicians are equipped 
to do anything other than swap 
tactical soundbites on TV – we are a vulnerable nation.

We would be less vulnerable if the aforementioned Owen Paterson, MP 
for North Shropshire, were in charge of food and fuel supplies. He clearly knows the score.