by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 7
October 2020
Spotted
07:00

Boris Johnson’s U-turn

No politician is better at turning on a sixpence than the Prime Minister
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Bracing stuff from Boris in his conference speech today. He promised a “green industrial revolution” with a special emphasis on offshore wind power — including a commitment to floating wind farms:

Far out in the deepest waters we will harvest the gusts, and by upgrading infrastructure in such places as Teesside and Humber and Scotland and Wales we will increase an offshore wind capacity that is already the biggest in the world.

As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind — a place of almost limitless resource, but in the case of wind without the carbon emissions, without the damage to the environment.

- Boris Johnson

Great. But while I was listening, I couldn’t help noticing that the PM’s words had a familiar ring to them. Take a look at the following extract:

Literally and figuratively our North Sea is still a sea of energy. Where else in the world do renewable resources coincide, in such abundance, with unusually shallow waters and enormous energy markets — not just on one coast, but two? We possess the world’s best offshore wind, wave and tidal resources. Britain could and should be the Saudi Arabia of marine energy.
- Greg Clark

No, that’s not from an earlier draft of today’s speech, but from a speech given eleven years ago by Greg Clark (who, in 2009, was the Conservative shadow minister on these issues).

I remember it well, because I was working for him at the time. Back then, it wasn’t easy being green — and especially not if you were also blue. In fact, those of us who fought for the environmental agenda in the Conservative Party were under constant attack, from within and without.

One day the full story will have to be told, but I vividly recall the intense lobbying effort from the dinosaur energy industries and their allies at Westminster. The fact that Boris Johnson delivered the speech he did today tells you who won in the end, but for a while it was touch-and-go.

For instance, David Cameron’s “vote blue, go green phase” was followed by the utterly cynical “green crap” capitulation to the anti-environmentalists. Fortunately, the clean tech industry has made such rapid progress in cutting costs that the situation was recovered.

This country has thrown away green industrial opportunities before and it was heartening to see the current PM determined not to do so again. The moment was especially sweet because, as Boris half-admitted, he was once one of those who contributed to the torrent of anti-green crap.

I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to describe the advances now being made by offshore wind as a “revolution”. The economics of energy are changing so fast that governments are racing to catch up with the new possibilities. As a word, ‘revolution’ also provides a pleasing allusion to the sweep of a wind turbine — and to the ability of a politician to turn on a sixpence.

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