Can they keep the lights on?

This summer I ran a series of articles on this site about crumbling Britain. I challenged the government to bring forward the permits and the plans to allow private sector investment in electricity, gas, oil, water, and transport systems. Today we learn that a combination of government dithering and EU regulation will close down coal power stations just as we have to close nuclear stations reaching the end of their design life. It will leave us short of power, with a threat that the lights will literally go out in a few years time.

It would be a fitting finale to this government, long on rhetoric and short on action. If only they would listen and act, instead of listening and copying people’s rhetoric, we might get somewhere. Now is a good time to bring forward privately financed infrastructure projects, especially if the nationalised banks have any money to lend! I see no sign of it. There may be more announcements – like the much heralded Crossrail, announced before every general Election but not so far built. I see no sign of contracts ready to be issued to make sure we are not all buying candles in 2016.

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7 Comments

  1. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Worrying, and even more so after listening to Energy Minister Mike O'Brien, on "Today", who gave me no confidence at all that he even has a grasp of the subject for which he now has ministerial responsibility.

  2. Lola
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Now then Mr Redwood I do not know why you are surprised by this further evidence of this Governments basic incompetence. It's not as if they ever had any pretence at actually running anything properly. All their policies are designed to give the appearance of action and the maximum political capital. It matters not to them whether anything they do actually works as longs as it gives them a good soundbite. When that policy fails they just have another soundbite policy ready, which usually involves spending a shed load more of our money. This is tragic because I am sure than on the New Labour benches there are MP's that really do care about this sort of stuff, but they are usually 'difficult' characters that the Whips cannot 'manage'.

  3. not an economist
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    If this happens and "the lights go off", I do hope the Tory front bench is ready to fight off the inevitable accusation that this is all the fault of the Tories for privatising the energy companies in the first place which have subsequently failed to invest appropriately .

    I know you would dismiss this in an instant but the reasons such an argument is blatantly false has to be spelt out otherwise Brown will score up another victory against the tories – as they have been doing in the banking fiasco.

  4. Mark Wadsworth
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Now is a good time to bring forward privately financed infrastructure projects

    Exactly, I couldn't agree more. So why are Tory MPs lining up to argue against Heathrow Third Runway? Does perhaps NIMBYism trump economics and commonsense?

    • Andrew Forbes
      Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Nobody who lives under Heathrow airport should be expected to live with more noise (and the claim that there will be no noise is an easily explained lie. by the way). We don't need the 3rd runway because we're about to run out of oil. Let's try building something useful instead.

  5. Andrew Forbes
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    In truth, it's been a rare Labour cabinet minister who was ever interesting in mastering his brief beyond his department's press & spin office. Energy & transport have merely been a series of empty green initiatives. The actual provision of energy and transport needs are beyond the intellectual interests and aptitudes of modern professional politicians.

  6. mikestallard
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Today I drove through the Fens and saw the wind turbines. They were working fitfully in the gusty winds. In no way were they reliably churning out electricity.
    Also, there was an interesting programme on this very subject on Radio 4. At last the BBC has woken up to the danger.
    I remember the lights going out under Ted Heath. It was not pleasant. And there were no computers or colour TVs then for ordinary people.
    We have just bought a Calor gas fire with our winter fuel allowance. Even the gas central heating won't work, you see, if there is a power cut.
    Meanwhile, Mr Miliband chugs on with his fears about climate change and the EU breathing down his neck.
    Atomkraft? Nie danke!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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