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Ill met by candlelight

Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire,
but most by calm and prudent forethought.

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s will remember the excitement – depending on your age – of going to bed by candlelight because there was no electricity that evening.

Youngsters these days look at you as if you are mad when you tell them that, in those days, there were times when you couldn’t just switch on the light because the generating plant had been switched off.

It happened. It really did happen. That was way back in the days of the Three-Day-Week, under one of several measures introduced to conserve electricity in the UK by Edward Heath’s Conservative Government being held to ransom by a combination of striking NUM coal miners and the oil shortage caused by war in the Middle East.

I remember the bed-by-candlelight as that was quite exciting if you were six, but I had to look up some of the other emergency measures introduced at the same time: 50mph speed limit on all roads, heating limits of 17C in offices, shops and commercial premises and factories and businesses reduced to only consuming electricity on three days instead of five.

That was all ancient history though, wasn’t it? I mean, we’d never get to that stage again because we’ve got rid of most of the coal-fired power stations and replaced them with…Oh.

Yes, this morning (October 21) we’ve had the announcement that the Chinese will be investing in Hinckley Point so we’ll get our nuclear powered station in time for Christmas. That’s Christmas 2025 of course. So it’s a good thing we’re not shutting any of the existing coal fired power stations because they’re environmentally illegal or anything…Oh.

We are facing the very real possibility – sod it, probability, that some of our factories will be forbidden from firing up at various points this winter. There are manufacturers out there – you know who you are – who have already received notification from the power companies that they should get ready for ‘brown-outs’- days on which they will simply not receive enough juice to power their manufacturing lines.

All it’s going to take is another cold snap like 2010, an exciting Strictly Final that requires a million kettles to be boiled when it finishes on Saturday evening and wham, there goes Mr Manufacturer’s chance of making anything on Monday morning.

This isn’t just the fault of this Tory Government. It’s not just the fault of the Coalition Government. Nor even of the last Labour administrations.

The blame lies with most of our previous and successive governments. All have systematically failed to plan sufficiently for the future. All have systematically failed to take control of our energy needs or even to view energy as anything other than a political football, to be tossed back and forth between successive administrations without ever actually solving any problems, instead building up more for the future.

If it’s going to take 10 years to build Hinckley Point then shouldn’t there have been plans for something to take up the slack in the interim? Where was the recognition that it’s not really a good idea to reduce your existing power capacity without making sure you have something to replace it? Oh yes, that recognition was lost in the mire of political rhetoric and electioneering.

Energy policy is, surely, too important to be left to politicians? Like health, like education, it requires a long term strategy instead of being copped and changed every five years.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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