Downing Street press secretary-turned-climate change conference spokesperson Allegra Stratton has certainly been on a bit of a journey recently.
Specifically, a journey that is starting to bear an unsettling resemblance to one of those ubiquitous family holiday magazine features about trying to drive an electric car to the south of France. You must have read at least 20 of them, and if you haven’t – well, they tend to end with the stranded Tesla on the back of a pick-up truck 50 miles short of the supercharger, the kids in tears, mum in a cab and the dad, ultimately, back on Tinder.
When Anthony Scaramucci was sacked as Donald Trump’s communications chief after exactly 10 days, he set a record for this kind of thing that few thought would ever be broken. But Stratton, having taken the job of 10 Downing Street press secretary in October, and then being moved on from it in April without having taken a single televised briefing, leaves a semi-official time in post of minus six months and 13 days. That’s the kind of score that, back in the day, would have had Ms Stratton made into a waxwork and stuck in the foyer of the Guinness World Records headquarters.
It was at some indiscernible point during these six months, when Stratton and her team were taking questions over unbroadcastable conference calls about Boris Johnson’s 200-quid-a-roll wallpaper, about what he had or hadn’t done with Jennifer Arcuri, not to mention the ongoing niggles about the tens of thousands of needless deaths, that someone worked out that maybe this stuff is best kept off the TV screens after all, even though we have already built a £3m television studio for it.
Johnson, you see, is a liability. But what is becoming ever harder to avoid is the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, Ms Stratton is too. She’s been moved on to her new role now, as the spokesperson for the forthcoming Cop26 climate change conference, making her – unofficially at least – the spokesperson for climate secretary Alok Sharma. It is hard to imagine anyone finding themselves in difficulty while working as a spokesperson for Alok Sharma, which is not entirely unlike being spokesperson for a not especially brightly painted breeze-block. But she has managed it nonetheless.
One of the government’s big pushes ahead of this big conference is to get people to make small changes to the way they live, such as, for example, not rinsing the plates before they go in the dishwasher. This, we are told, is the latest brainchild, which is to say, orphan, from the government’s “nudge unit”.
The unit, we are very heavily led to believe, was also behind the big plan, in March last year, to manage the peak of the Covid wave. If we went too early, everyone would be too bored of lockdown by the time it really mattered. Look, we are all geniuses in hindsight, but I’m pretty sure I’m not remembering it wrongly when I suggest there was also some suggestion, in foresight, that people wouldn’t necessarily get bored of trying not to catch a deadly illness.
We digress. Another small change lots of people are thinking about making is getting an electric car. But not Ms Stratton, who breezily let Times Radio know she’s still driving a diesel. Who can blame her? No one should really be expected to change their personal car just because they’ve got a new job, even if that new job is as the public face of the government’s efforts on climate change. It’s expensive to get a new car, and there is more than a little irony in the fact that Stratton would almost certainly be earning more money if she had turned down the job of answering television journalists’ questions and carried on asking them instead (and if the job hadn’t also been subsequently destroyed, so there are quite a few “what ifs” to get through there, and as we know, they don’t answer hypotheticals).
As for her reasons, Stratton explained that the whole electric thing just doesn’t work for her, what with her frequent trips to see family in the Lake District and Gloucestershire and Scotland, which would be too far by electric car.
What is unfortunate is that the AA has since felt compelled to put out its own remarks, in which it explains that the average electric car has a range of 200 miles, while a recharge from a quarter full to 80 per cent only takes 20 minutes, so maybe Stratton should reconsider.
Which does beg the question: what is a climate change spokesperson for, exactly? There are, after all, a lot of people at the moment thinking about making the switch to an electric car, who also might be concerned about long trips to visit family. And it does seem more than a little surprising that it should be the actual government climate change spokesperson going on air and talking them out of doing it, by making claims that do not hold up to very much scrutiny. And it then being down to the AA to set the record straight.
It’s a slow journey and a painstaking business, all this. Changing minds and changing lives will take a long time. It’s a journey that could really do without Stratton accidentally setting it forward by about minus six months and 13 days.
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