John Hayes, like the government energy policy he helps to oversee, is a work in progress.
We have had his chutzpah-rich statement explaining away David Cameron’s impromptu promise to make the ultilities charge the lowest tariffs.
We have had his undermining of his own (Liberal Democrat) boss by declaring on wind farms that “enough is enough”.
Today we had Hayes, the newish minister struggling – and anyone would struggle – to master a brief of mindbending technical complexity and changeability in the presence of the handful of people who purport to understand it: his own civil servants and (some) members of the Energy Select Committee. But if this Hayes was a shade less cocksure, glancing hesitantly now and then at notes being written out for him by Jonathan Brearley, an official with the God-like title of head of energy strategy and futures, you could hardly accuse him of a crisis of confidence.
Self-doubt is not in his make-up. Even when he waffles he does it with aplomb. When the Tory MP Dan Byles pointed out that even after publication of the Energy Bill potential investors were being put off by uncertainty about future policy, he explained – a minor masterpiece this – that a “framework of certainty” had been created which had been “incredibly helpful”.
Unsurprisingly, MPs pressed him on the future of renewables in view of the dash for (inevitably cheaper) gas for which the Chancellor will fire the starting gun tomorrow.
A study in orotund courtesy in his answers on wind power to “Alan” [Whitehead, Labour], he declared: “My powers of prophecy are sufficient to have anticipated your question, but not sufficient to anticipate the answer.”
Skilfully batting away another tricky question to an official, he announced: “I don’t want my civil servants to come here and not have their moments in the sun. Or wind.”
The committee chairman Tim Yeo asked him what he would do if offshore wind power turned out to be a more expensive option than the onshore alternative.
If there was a moment that Hayes might have bared his teeth, lived up to his reputation as the” Hulk”and run amok denouncing the wind farms he seems to hate with every fibre of his being, this was it.
Instead, he said blandly, the “essence of the Bill” was a “broad technological mix”. We had hoped for something crazier, exposing the story of the dysfunctional relationship between the Energy Bill’s parents, the Lib Dems, Hayes, and of course the Treasury –“Meet the Frackers”, it might be called. But the moment may yet come.