Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Lib Dems' mainstream decision to get behind nuclear power
“It was all very well having principles, but you cannot live on principles...”
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Sunday 15 September 2013
The Lib Dem conference abandoned its opposition to nuclear power, a policy it had held to pretty well since before the atom was split. A Clause IV moment! And a triumph for Energy Secretary Ed “green man” Davey, who warned the conference that it would be “reckless” to “take off the low-carbon menu a low-carbon option”. Though prosaic, this was in line with his ambiguous boast that his party was “making the weather” on the environment. Lib Dems don’t just talk about climate change. They change the climate!
But it was a close-run thing. The conference nearly backed a call to refer back – i.e. annul – the entire energy motion it was debating on the grounds that it was neither detailed nor “long term” enough – a bizarre claim given that it contained 10 separate proposals covering three pages and 114 lines of the printed agenda, including one to ban all but electric – or at least “ultra-low carbon”– cars by er… 2040. What exactly do these people want? A pledge of fossil fuel-free mass space travel by the end of the millennium?
But while this was endearingly reminiscent of Lib Dem conferences past, something is changing. The activists who take part are slowly undergoing a journey a bit like that of the dissident-turned-conformist Winston Smith in 1984, with Nick Clegg playing the role of O’Brien, as the menacing thought police leader who explains to Orwell’s hero what needs to be done to serve the party objective, namely, power. “There is learning, there is understanding, and there is acceptance.”
Unlike Smith, the party activists are not actually being tortured, though Davey’s jokes from the platform came close to achieving that. “Tory backbenchers long to be Sancho Panza to the Ukip Don Quixote,” the Energy Secretary declared. “Well, let them tilt at windmills.” (Davey is keen on windmills, or at least wind turbines, which if it were not for Davey’s own heroic struggle for the planet, his Tory Cabinet colleague Owen Paterson “would cull faster than he can cull badgers”.) And, most painful of all, in a passage stressing the need for regulating the extraction of shale gas: “I’ve been fracking responsible.” This provoked so many groans that Davey had to do the laughing himself.
But the effect is the same. True, they weren’t quite ready to ditch all their opposition to tuition fees. But gradually, not just ministers but the party itself is replacing its old “signature tunes” –the phrase Clegg coined on The Andrew Marr show – in pursuit of being in government. Perhaps for ever, as Clegg implied it might be with his declaration that “coalition is good”. Like Winston, it is “learning, understanding” and beginning to accept. It was all very well having principles, said Lancashire councillor Bill Winlow (also talking about fracking) “but you cannot live on principles.” Welcome to mainstream politics.
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...
£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...
£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...
£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...