I like a good boris johnson speech. its a shame there arent any. thats a joke. the uk prime minister often gives a good speech. sadly it tends to contradict his last one.
At this weeks virtual conservative party conference (the conference was virtual, and so was the conservatism), mr johnson declared that he had had more than enough of coronavirus. was this the same man who, six days earlier, told us there was only one way of doing this, and thats by showing a collective forbearance, common sense and willingness to make sacrifices? reader, it was.
Mr johnson also said that the only reason the country had been able to cope with the pandemic was that in the previous years we had sensible conservative management of the public finances. was this the same man who won the brexit vote and the 2019 election by declaiming the heartless austerity of those years? im afraid so.
Best of all was mr johnsons pledge to make the uk the saudi arabia of wind. this came shortly after an invocation of the new jerusalem. we wondered what mr johnson achieved as foreign secretary here is our answer: a couple of epithets. one day well make northern ireland the qatar of hydrogen and east anglia the palestine of potatoes itll be a road to damascus moment.
I see no similarities between the uk and saudi arabia, a badly run country whose egotistical leader flouts the rule of law and wastes billions on overly ambitious technology bets. but mr johnson is not the first to be tempted by the comparison. in 1990, the saudi arabia of wind was north dakota. in 2003, it was new zealand. by 2007, it was scotland.
The uk became a leader in wind farms, little thanks to mr johnson, who described them as white satanic mills and moaning seagull-slicers. no one seriously believes that wind turbines are the answer to our power shortages, he wrote in 2013. instead he recommended nuclear and shale gas. no laughing.
Tory mps are mocked for believing mr johnson can be all things to all people. but history shows he will hold every possible position eventually. hes the uae of u-turns, the iraq of inconsistency. his flexibility makes a flip-flop look like a concrete boot. he doesnt just want to have his cake and eat it; he wants to lose weight too.
The problem is that being the saudi arabia of wind isnt easy. saudi arabia exports oil. it has a state oil company that drills much of it. british companies dont build most of our wind farms or make the turbines. we are a windy place, yes, but other countries have wind too. our farms dont yet cover our own homes. mr johnson thinks that last point is fixable. in 10 years time, offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, he said. your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle the whole lot of them.
But this isnt quite how wind power works. wind is wonderful, but its inconsistent, sometimes too strong, sometimes too weak. saying youll get 100 per cent of your power from wind is like saying youll get 100 per cent of your calories from pasta. at least it is until theres a way of turning excess wind power into hydrogen cheaply.
Will mr johnson follow through and create the conditions for tens of billions of pounds of investment in wind and hydrogen capacity? he likes moving on to the next shiny thing. he talks fast on green issues, but acts slower. the environment bill, intended to turn british farming green, has stalled. grouse moors are being burnt, despite the governments pledge to stop that practice.
I wouldnt find it painful if i wanted mr johnson to fail. but i want him to succeed. by the time my kids (and his youngest son) reach secondary school, the planets future will have been significantly determined. i would love it if mr johnson were really going to make britain the saudi arabia of wind, but i fear hes taking us for a riyadh.