Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A political black hole

Very often it is The Sun which has its finger on the political pulse of the nation, leaving the politicians (and many of the more self-important political bloggers) floundering.

It is of some significance, therefore, that today this paper should run a major story on the energy crisis, pointing out the implications of spiralling energy costs for the less well off.

Thus, under the headline illustrated above, the paper notes that, "It's odd to talk about heating bills in the hottest spell of the year, but many Sun readers must be scared about the coming winter." Last week's rises of 22 percent for gas and 17 percent for electricity are terrifying, it adds, then predicting: "There's worse to come. Prices are sure to rise AGAIN in the winter, and by Christmas families could be paying £30 a week or more for light and heat — nearly double last winter’s bill."

Later in the story, we see the political slant, with the observation that, "The Government appears clueless. Labour have been asleep on the job as the rest of the world has been busy building nuclear power stations. Our own nuclear stations are years away." The paper adds: "Thanks to Labour inaction we can store only 13 days’ worth of gas compared to 122 days in France. That leaves us at the mercy of sudden global price changes."

Then we come to a damning, if not muted conclusion that: "Instead of plotting to remove Brown, Labour ministers should be plotting how to avert misery for millions this winter," with the payoff line, "Lives will be at stake. It is as serious as that."

It is indeed as serious as that, and the final point is well taken, but should have wider application. We have noted how the chatterati have been obsessed with the political theatre, relentlessly pursuing soap opera narrative of Brown’s supposed impending demise, all built on the thinnest patina of idle speculation.

Yet, in the here and now, we have an energy crisis of massive proportions building up which, in time, will become the main political issue of the day. But, at a time when – even at this eleventh hour – urgent and well-founded action could at least mitigate some of the worst effects, the political classes are silent. Energy simply is not on the political radar as a mainstream issue.

Part of this is due to the neglect of the main opposition, the Conservatives in what, as we remarked yesterday is not a technical issue but a politically induced crisis. By pursuing its soft, social agenda – and letting its "green" obsession overtake it - the Party has dropped the ball on something of far more importance and much greater urgency: the impact of spiralling energy prices and impending energy shortages, which as The Sun points out will affect most those who can least afford it.

It is actually no exaggeration to say that "Lives will be at stake," and it is thus a damning indictment of the political classes that they indulge their petty obsessions with soap opera politics and evade their greater responsibilities to deal with those issues which will have a massive and increasingly damaging effect on the welfare (and prosperity) of this nation.