Thursday 1 September 2022

Boris Johnson's Frustrations

A couple of things about the first of Boris Johnson's valedictory speeches.

In the interests of accuracy, he never said that buying a new kettle can help cut electricity bills. He knows not to be crass when the camera are rolling. Rather, it was an analogy. Railing against short-termism of successive governments over nuclear power, Johnson argued that if you had an old kettle that took ages to boil, spending £20 on a new one that saves £10/year on electricity bills makes cost-saving sense in the long run. That's all. It wasn't an energy saving tip. Sorry to spoil the fun, but really can't complain about his misconstrual. Dishonesty and lying have never been obstacles he's shied away from.

Second, this was a celebration of nuclear energy. Or rather, the history of nuclear energy here was foil for a polemic. Having pioneered civilian reactors, he lamented that Britain had let a technological advantage go to seed. Why? Johnson's answer was myopia, and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were to blame. Discussing the new Sizewell C reactor, if that was on stream now he said some six million homes would be powered and its contribution to the country's energy mix would mean £3bn off our collective energy bill. While his figures were right, Johnson could resist getting economical with the actualite. Blair was always very pro-nuclear, and Brown had signed off on new power stations in 2009. Someone who was less than keen was Dave and the Coalition government. There was nothing in the 2010 Tory manifesto apart from their favouring an "energy mix", and by 2015 the Tories were committed to Hinkley Point only. Right now, we're still five years away from completion - despite the operating licence getting granted in 2012. Leaving aside the debate about nuclear power, it's not difficult to locate blame for the dithering and delaying.

What was more interesting was Johnson's evident frustration. During the last three years, he's been most enthusiastic when unveiling infrastructure projects of various kinds. With a record in which (never built) vanity projects loom large, such as Boris Island in the Thames estuary, the ludicrous Garden Bridge and subterranean orbital motorway in London, and a bridge across the Irish Sea, the attraction to big projects are brick and mortar "achievements" his legacy can be weighed by. Unfortunately for him, his brief stopover in office has meant no infrastructure has materialised. Instead we get the talking up of Brexit, the vaccine programme, and latterly the shipment of weapons to Ukraine. Further, Johnson's modernisation project was stymied and stifled by the Treasury and his former protege, Rish! Sunak. This wasn't because of "ideology", but the character of the Tory coalition. They have little interest in seeing underdeveloped parts of the country returned to imagined past glories, nor in new housebuilding programmes. Asset price inflation has suited them well enough.

There were also elements of a warning to Liz Truss. He talked about the inadvisability of fracking given the difficulties, and especially when offshore wind is much cheaper. And though the pressure is on to fix the immediate crisis, long-term decisions have to be made to the benefit of future generations. In fairness to Truss, her ludicrous blend of nuclear and fossil fuels is exactly what she wants and fits the "long-term" bill, except she likes to pretend this is an immediate solution. She'd be better off following Johnson's advice.

And with that, Johnson was done. He wouldn't be drawn on much else because he has to hold something back for the memoirs. But because he came across as someone frustrated by circumstance, and with Tory papers and much of the membership already clamouring for his return, unfortunately there's a very good chance we haven't seen the back of him. If we're particularly unlucky, he'll be back in front rank politics in no time.

Image Credit


Robert Dyson said...

You are probably right about Johnson's reasons for the speech. I argue for nuclear fission power and have done for a long time. We must have it until we know that we do not need it, which may be never in this country. What type of reactor needs a longer discussion. I shared the frustation of the sell off of Britain's nuclear industry. There was no reason why we could not have been at the forefront of R&D. Fracking, certainly in this country, is just daft. We should be developing 'renewables' tech & storage. As you say financialization and asset price rise is all for the Tories, actual investment in useful real stuff is pretence. I hope there is no Johnson come back.

Blissex said...

«There was no reason why we could not have been at the forefront of R&D. [...] actual investment in useful real stuff is pretence»

Productive investment has three big defects:

* It creates employment, in particular skilled employment, and this increases the pressure for higher wages, and also increases the chances for unionisation.

* It requires vulgar industrial skills rather than prestigious trading skills.

* Its profits are much lower than asset price and rent speculation.

The elite of this country seems to prefer for productive investment to be done offshore.

«no reason why we could not have been at the forefront of R&D»

For a tory there is no reason why R&D should be done in this country: it is riskier and has lower returns (for "investors") than property and finance. Boring, unprofitable work like that is much better done in cheaper offshore locations. Accordingly the current tory idea is to stop funding research and even degrees in what they call "legacy" areas like engineering and computing, because this country can import much cheaper products and graduates from China and India.

Ban Franklin wrote that “When old men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit, society flourishes” and R&D is like trees, and an increasing number of voters uphold “There is no such thing as society”, "After me the deluge" (and "Blow you! I am alright Jack") as their voting guidelines.

Blissex said...

«Instead we get the talking up of Brexit, the vaccine programme and latterly the shipment of weapons to Ukraine.»

And 15% per year property price and rent growth, what really matters to his lobby.

The vaccine program was delivered, taking a big risk(but it worked, so far) with little-tested technologies that paid off, but that is vastly overshadowed by the colossal failure of the preceding "half-baked lockdowns" approach compared to some variants of the zero-COVID approach (consider also the colossal failure of the testing and tracing programme, and the undermining of self-isolation, in the UK).

But since Starmer, Sturgeon, Davey have been entirely complicit with that colossal failure, all the media keep quiet or put the relevant data in obscurity, when they don't attack malevolently the zero-COVID approach for propaganda purposes, despite these being the excess death rates per million residents between March 2020 and March 2022:

Half-baked lockdowns:

- Peru 6,291, Hungary 4,661
- Poland 2,997, USA 2,905, Italy 2,679, UK 2,845
- Iran 1,592, Switzerland 1,554, Germany 1,539, Israel 1,126

Some variant of zero-COVID at least for a while:

- Finland 539, Vietnam 434, Norway 4323
- Thailand 345, South Korea 287
- Singapore 228 Australia 227, Japan 222
- New Zealand 53, Taiwan 36, China 3.24