It says something about politics that a single gaffe tells you more about a high-profile figure than a hundred well-crafted ministerial speeches. So it was with Andrew Mitchell’s supposed “plebs” outburst, and so it is now with the revelation that George Osborne refers dismissively in private to something called the “environmental Taliban”. That Osborne sees people who work to promote sustainable energy as irrational extremists shows how the Chancellor has become both out of touch with the modern world and increasingly isolated even within the Government itself.
The Taliban reference smears all of us who care about the future. It is also the opposite of reality. It is not those working to avert dangerous climate change who are the faith-based ideologues, but those who deny the overwhelming scientific evidence on global warming, who use smears and dishonest rhetoric in their desperate battle to defend fossil fuels and stymie the progress that this country is finally making towards cleaning up its energy supply.
Maybe the Taliban smear is a joke. But misplaced attempts at humour can reveal a lot about a person’s prejudices – and with Osborne the picture does not look good. Here is a man whose gut feelings are reactionary: he opposes change and refuses to see opportunities – even economic opportunities, as the green sector is one of the few currently in growth – as he panders to vested interests who simply want to carry on only with business as usual.
So who are Osborne’s “environmental Taliban”? These days, it is more than just Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace activists who will feel offended. So will the entire renewables industry, which has notched up a significant success as Britain becomes the leading nation worldwide in offshore wind-installed capacity (albeit with turbines manufactured abroad). So also will the Nuclear Industry Association, which depends for the future of its members on the aggressive government decarbonisation programme for which Osborne now seems to be the main opponent.
Make no mistake: the Taliban coalition in favour of sustainable energy is broadening all the time. Under the guise of the CBI, whose director, John Cridland, is a strong backer of the greening agenda, it now includes probably the majority of British business. And it also includes much of the Government, not least the entire Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Osborne should watch out – the environmental Taliban are everywhere. We have the Chancellor surrounded and firmly on the defensive.