From curriculum rows to Niall Ferguson’s remarks on Keynes, our past is the fuel for debate about the future
The bullish Harvard historian Niall Ferguson cut an unfamiliar, almost meek figure last week. As reports of his ugly suggestion that John Maynard Keynes’s homosexuality had made the great economist indifferent to the prospects of future generations surged across the blogosphere, Ferguson wisely went for a mea culpa.
So, in a cringeing piece for Harvard University’s student magazine, the professor, who usually so enjoys confronting political correctness, denied he was homophobic or, indeed, racist and antisemitic for good measure.
Of course, Ferguson is none of those things. He is a brilliant financial historian, albeit with a debilitating weakness for the bon mot. But Ferguson is also part of a worryingly conservative consensus when it comes to framing our national past.
For whether it is David Starkey on Question Time, in a frenzy of misogyny and self-righteousness, denouncing Harriet Harman and Shirley Williams for being well-connected, metropolitan members of the Labour movement, or the reactionary Dominic Sandbrook using the Daily Mail to condemn with Orwellian menace any critical interpretation of Mrs Thatcher’s legacy, the historical right has Britain in its grip.
And it has so at a crucial time. The rise of Ukip, combined with David Cameron’s political weakness, means that, even in the absence of an official “in or out” referendum on our place in Europe, it looks like we will be debating Britain’s place in the world for some years to come. And we will do against the backdrop of Michael Gove’s proposed new history curriculum which, for some of its virtues, threatens to make us less, not more, confident about our internationalist standing.
For as Ferguson has discovered to his cost, history enjoys a uniquely controversial place within British public life. “There is no part of the national curriculum so likely to prove an ideological battleground for contending armies as history,” complained an embattled Michael Gove in a speech last week. “There may, for all I know, be rival Whig and Marxist schools fighting a war of interpretation in chemistry or food technology but their partisans don’t tend to command much column space in the broadsheets.”
Even if academic historians might not like it, politicians are right to involve themselves in the curriculum debate. The importance of history in the shaping of citizenship, developing national identity and exploring the ties that bind in our increasingly disparate, multicultural society demands a democratic input. The problem is that too many of the progressive partisans we need in this struggle are missing from the field.
How different it all was 50 years ago this summer when EP Thompson published The Making of the English Working Class , his seminal account of British social history during the Industrial Revolution. “I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand loom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artist … from the condescension of posterity,” he wrote.
He did so in magisterial style, providing an intimate chronicle of the brutality inflicted on the English labouring classes as Britain rose to be the workshop of the world. Thompson focused on the human stories – the Staffordshire potters, the Manchester Chartists – to build an account of an emergent, proletarian identity. It was social history as a political project, seeking to lay out all the tensions and conflict that really lie behind our island story.
As his fellow Marxist Eric Hobsbawm put it, social history was “the organisational and ideological history of the labour movement”. Uncovering the lost lives and experiences of the miner and mill worker was a way of contesting power in the present. And in the wake of Thompson and Hobsbawm’s histories – as well as the work of Raphael Samuel, Asa Briggs and Christopher Hill – popular interpretations of the past shifted.
In theatre, television, radio and museums, a far more vernacular and democratic account of the British past started to flourish. If, today, we are as much concerned about downstairs as upstairs, about Downton Abbey‘s John Bates as much as the Earl of Grantham, it is thanks to this tradition of progressive social history.
It even influenced high politics. In the flickering gloom of the 1970s’ three-day week, Tony Benn retreated to the House of Commons tearoom to read radical accounts of the English civil war. “I had no idea that the Levellers had called for universal manhood suffrage, equality between the sexes and the sovereignty of the people,” he confided to his diary. Benn, the semi-detached Labour cabinet minister, felt able to place himself seamlessly within this historical lineage – lamenting how “the Levellers lost and Cromwell won, and Harold Wilson or Denis Healey is the Cromwell of our day, not me”.
But despite recent histories by the likes of Emma Griffin on industrialising England or Edward Vallance on radical Britain, the place of the progressive past in contemporary debate has now been abandoned. So much of the left has mired itself in the discursive dead ends of postmodernism or decided to focus its efforts abroad on the crimes of our colonial past. In their absence, we are left with Starkey and Ferguson – and BBC2 about to air yet another series on the history of the Tudor court. How much information about Anne Boleyn can modern Britain really cope with?
This narrowing of the past comes against the backdrop of ever more state school pupils being denied appropriate time for history. While studying the past is protected in prep schools, GCSE exam entries show it is under ever greater pressure in more deprived parts of the country.
Then there is the question of what students will actually be learning. Michael Gove’s proposed new syllabus has rightly been criticised by historian David Cannadine and others as too prescriptive, dismissive of age-specific learning and Anglocentric. While the education secretary’s foregrounding of British history is right, experts are adamant this parochial path is not the way to do it. Indeed, cynics might wonder whether Gove – the arch Eurosceptic – is already marshalling his young troops for a referendum no vote.
For whether it is the long story of Britain’s place in Europe, the 1930s failings of austerity economics, the cultural history of same-sex marriage or the legacy of Thatcherism, the progressive voice in historical debate needs some rocket boosters. Niall Ferguson’s crime was not just foolishly to equate Keynes’s homosexuality with selfishness. Rather, it was to deny the relevance of Keynes’s entire political economy – and, in the process, help to forge a governing consensus that is proving disastrous for British living standards.
That is what we need an apology for.
The inaugural Bad Grammar award has gone to a group of academics for an open letter in which they criticised education secretary Michael Gove. Are we too hung up on the correct use of language?
Charlie Higson, comedian and author
Language is a uniquely human attribute, one of the things that makes us what we are. We are all born with the faculty to use it and all languages conform to the same basic patterns and structures. The idea that we might need a huge rulebook telling us how to use it properly is ludicrous. People all round the world, and for thousands upon thousands of years, have been using language to communicate perfectly well without needing to be told how to do it by a bunch of grammar Nazis who think that the way they talk and write is the correct, unchanging way.
I once met a very interesting guy from the OED who was fed up with people misunderstanding what a dictionary is. It’s not a set of rules about how to use language, it’s a set of observations about how it’s used, which is why it needs to be constantly updated. Language changes, it is not fixed, and the only function it needs to perform is to be understood. For Toby Young et al to pretend not to understand perfectly clear English in the academics’ letter to Gove is pathetic. Over to you, Adolf (I’m playing the Nazi card early on this one).
Quentin Letts, columnist and sketchwriter at the Daily Mail
Ah yes, the grammar Nazis. Ve haf ways of making you parse! Like you, Charlie, I dislike the ideas of incorrigible pedants – I imagine them with wheedling voices and maybe leatherette patches on their sports jacket elbows – who pick up writers on their grammatical solecisms. Yet I can see the value of grammar, and I am not so sure that Toby Young, who is doing more for poor kids than Anthony Crosland ever did, is wrong to insist on grammar being taught in schools.
Grammar is the coat hanger on which language can hang. It provides structure for sentences the way door lintels can prevent a house collapsing. I will not do a Lynne Eats, Shoots and Leaves Truss on you but it is worth remembering the old chestnut, “Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off”. Without punctuation/grammar the sentence makes no sense.
Some lefties put it about that grammar is a horrid thing because it is “elitist”. They say grammar should not be taught in state schools because it perpetuates privilege. What rot. This approach simply smacks of indolence by teachers who are putting grammar in the “too hard” basket.
We should teach grammar to our poorest pupils to make sure that they have the ability to express themselves clearly and compete with children who have been to private school.
CH: For God’s sake, Quentin, they do teach grammar in state schools. You can’t teach English without teaching grammar, it’s inherent. All three of my boys have been through the state system, and they’re perfectly able to read and write. And our teachers are not indolent: indeed, I think you’ll find that teaching is considerably harder work than tossing off a few lightly opinionated columns once in a while. They are the ones working at the coalface, struggling day to day to educate our kids with limited resources, and I think they know a great deal more about teaching than Michael “let’s make things better by fucking them up” Gove.
Surely the question being asked is whether children should have separate grammar lessons, specially designed to put them off reading and writing for ever? If you really want the poorest kids to compete with those who have been to private school, double the education budget, pay our state school teachers more and invest in their schools.
QL: My goodness, you make our teachers sound like a veritable convocation of saints. Both my parents were teachers (private sector) and I have come across plenty of thumb-twiddlers and work-dodgers in the school common room.
Separate lessons for grammar may not be required – 40 minutes on sentence construction would drive anyone mad – but I would welcome a strong emphasis on grammar. Sometimes I receive letters and emails which are so badly written they read like drunken Esperanto. I simply do not believe this image you create of a kingdom in which smiling children are currently being taught everything they need to know if they are to write clear English. As for today’s spelling standards, aieeee!
The goal of enabling all children to write a clean, clear sentence is not just some airy-fairy desire to recreate the prose of Kipling. Michael Gove is not, as his critics lazily claim, a throwback. He is a real meritocrat in that he is trying to make the educational system see that excellence is the greatest liberator of talent, not a suppressor of the poor. Teaching children the “boring” rules of grammar will help them with job applications. It will also, by the by, train their minds. Grammar is not just about grammar: it is also about logic and intellectual rigour. We need those skills if our country is to compete with the likes of China, India, Russia and Brazil.
CH: Yes, we British once ruled the world with our firm grasp of grammar, applying its rules to oppress and exploit the ungrammared dusky hordes. And now we are in danger of being swamped by the dastardly Chinese, Brazilians and Russians who will hammer us into the floor with their superior grasp of split infinitives.
I’m not claiming our schools are perfect, though I do suggest that investment is more important than constantly fiddling with the curriculum. Halve the classroom sizes and you’re halfway there. Of course there are many state school teachers who are “thumb-twiddlers” and “work-dodgers”, and I’m sure there are many in the private sector (just as there are failures and successes among the pupils). English teachers do work hard to instil the basic rules of spelling and grammar, but we can all make mistakes, and (sorry to be a spelling pedant, here) your initial email to me contained at least two. But not everyone has a newspaper subediting department on hand to clean up their prose.
QL: It would not worry me if Russians split infinitives. We need to be more wary of them splitting atoms.
I repeat my belief that grammar is good for the grey matter, not to mention the beauty of English prose. The theory here is the same as in, say, painting or music: I feel that the best abstract artists are likely to be those who have mastered traditional drawing techniques. Great jazz musicians tend to know quite a lot about musical theory. Similarly, the best free-roaming verse is likely to have been written by people who have learned the concise, precise art of good grammar.
On your point about the British empire, was there not a comment from Dame Jacqueline Wilson the other day – no rightwinger, she – that her overseas fans now write to her in better English than do her British correspondents? Our education system cannot be insular: it must be alive to the international competition our country will face in coming decades, and rigorous schooling, not least in “fusty” grammar, will help us to train world-class minds. Grammar is not everything, but it is surely more important than citizenship classes or sex ed. Anyway, Charlie, if they lose all sight of grammar, they will never want to buy your books, and that would be a pity.
Friends Life does U-turn on £100,000 life insurance payout to bereaved family of cancer sufferer
The bereaved family of a man whose £100,000 life insurance claim was rejected has now been awarded the money, after their plight was publicised in The Observer.
The newspaper reported last December on the case of Nic Hughes, who died in October 2012, less than a year after being diagnosed with cancer of the gall bladder with secondary tumours in his liver. His critical illness and life insurance provider, Friends Life, rejected his claim for a payout and cancelled his policy, alleging Hughes had failed to disclose information.
Hughes had declared that he suffered from ulcerative colitis when applying for the policy, but Friends Life said he had not admitted to suffering from pins and needles, or being asked to reduce his alcohol intake by his doctor – symptoms his doctors said were unrelated to the cancer.
This left his wife, Susannah Hancock, and their eight-year-old twin sons, without the support of his £100,000 life policy.
The Observer story was picked up by the Daily Mail and the family’s campaign was supported via Twitter by celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Miranda Hart. The Observer encouraged the family to take the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Last week the ombudsman ruled that the policy was wrongly cancelled. In a letter to the family it said: “While the firm remains of the view that Mr Hughes did not disclose some things at the time of the application, it accepts that any non-disclosure was not deliberate or relevant to the claim he later made – so the firm accepts it was not entitled to rely on that and it should have paid the critical illness claim when it was submitted.”
Friends Life has decided not to take the case to review and has instead agreed to pay the £100,000 claim in full, plus interest. This is in addition to an ex-gratia payment already made.
The life company said in a statement: “While we continue to have concerns about this case, we are sympathetic to the circumstances of Mr Hughes’s family and believe it would be unfair to prolong the claim process any further.”
Hancock said she was “overwhelmed with relief and joy” and “so thankful to The Observer for picking the story up and taking it on.” She said that her children danced around the kitchen at the news. “It means we can carry on living here,” she told them – and they cheered.
Swede who briefed MPs on peril of pre-school daycare admits he has no academic degree
A Swedish childcare “expert” who was called to brief MPs last month on the dangers of subsidised daycare has been attacked as “unscientific” and “unqualified” by the author of the main study on which he drew.
Jonas Himmelstrand, the keynote speaker at a House of Commons event organised by the campaign group Mothers at Home Matter, linked near-universal pre-school daycare in his country to an alarming decline in adolescents’ mental health and educational achievement, as well as to rising youth suicides. “This is a dream which failed, which any country attempting to emulate should be warned about,” he said.
After the talk, David Davis, a former Conservative party leadership candidate, commended Himmelstrand for his “startling figures”, which he said demonstrated that “separating children from their mothers at an early age and putting them into care while the mother returns to work can have damaging consequences”. However, Dr Sven Bremberg, a researcher at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute who led the 2006 inquiry into youth mental health cited by Himmelstrand, said his study had ruled out daycare as a cause. “There is no substance whatsoever behind Himmelstrand’s statement that a decline of mental health in young people in Sweden is related to daycare. That was one of the points we specifically investigated,” he said. Bremberg said that Himmelstrand should not be taken seriously by British MPs. “Himmelstrand does not have scientific qualifications as far as I know. By misquoting, he is handling arguments in a very unscientific way.”
The Mothers at Home Matter event was hosted in the Commons by Claire Perry, a Conservative MP who is David Cameron’s official adviser on parenting and childhood. It was attended by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary. The group, formerly known as Full Time Mothers, gained prominence earlier this year after the government announced measures aimed at helping mothers return to work, including shared parental leave and, last month, a new tax break on childcare worth up to £1,200 per child per year.
The government’s reforms reflect the influence of Nordic family policy, which combines generous shared parental leave with heavily subsidised daycare to keep mothers in the workforce. In Sweden, 83% of one-to-five-year-olds spend time in daycare, with the cost to parents capped in Stockholm at around £130 a month for the first child, £85 for the second and £42 for a third.
Himmelstrand’s talk received enthusiastic coverage in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, which referred to him respectively as a “researcher” and “psychologist”. Lynne Burnham, the secretary of Mothers at Home Matter, told the Observer that Himmelstrand’s research was “all based on proper scientific figures”. She said: “He works quite closely with an American professor and sociologist. I can certainly send you some of his research papers.”
When contacted by the Observer, however, Himmelstrand said that he had been “self-taught”, although his late father was an internationally known sociologist. “I cannot say I have an academic degree, and I have never claimed to have one,” he said. “Some British media have mistakenly written that I am a sociologist. This is not correct.” In the introduction to his House of Commons talk, he said that he was the founder of the Mireja Institute and a “faculty member” of the Neufeld Institute, founded by Canadian psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld. Last week, however, he conceded that Mireja was a “one-man outfit”. The Neufeld Institute says on its website that it invites people to become “faculty members” if they complete an advanced course in home-schooling and a two-year internship at its “virtual campus”, at a cost of more than £8,000.
Himmelstrand blamed Bremberg’s criticisms on “a misunderstanding”, saying he had only cited the study to support his claim of deteriorating youth mental health in Sweden. The link to daycare had come from other studies, particularly a 2001 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the US. “I am convinced that I have a strong argument, strong enough to question whether a system like that in Sweden should be adopted without further study by other countries,” he said.
HeHimmelstrand conceded that there had been no study since the 1980s to investigate the links between high enrolment in daycare in Sweden and mental health in later life. “The Swedish government shows no signs of wanting to study the effects of daycare,” he said. “It is like a totalitarian system defending its ideology at any price. A study showing that the Swedish daycare system is not in all children’s best interest would shake the Swedish political system.”
He argued that this also meant that Bremberg, whom he described as “on the extreme pro-daycare side in Sweden”, was overstating his case. “Dr Bremberg is making too strong a claim in saying: ‘There is no substance whatsoever … that a decline of mental health in young people in Sweden is related to daycare.’ No one can claim this either way scientifically. There are simply too many factors.”
When challenged on Himmelstrand’s qualifications to brief MPs, Burnham noted that he had given speeches on daycare in other countries. “He travels the world speaking on these issues, so I guess there must be some credibility to these figures,” she said. “It’s not just Himmelstrand who’s been saying this; there are other people saying the same thing.”
As well as Bremberg’s study, Himmelstrand’s cited research by a Swedish psychologist, Magnus Kihlbom, which he said demonstrated that a decline in the quality of Swedish daycare meant that it was now actively harming many children. When contacted, Kihlbom dismissed Himmelstrand as “probably a conservative”. “I don’t think it’s a question of either/or,” he said. “Even for very small children, daycare of good quality with reliable relationships between the carer and the small child is good for most children.”
A review of the evidence on daycare by the Institute for Public Policy Research, to be published next month, has concluded that the overall impact on child development is beneficial. “There’s now a fairly strong body of evidence that high-quality care has a positive effect on both cognitive development, and also emotional, social and behavioural development,” said Imogen Parker, the author of the paper. “There are some studies that found that, for the under-threes, there might be a trade-off between positive cognitive effects and negative behavioural effects, but where that is the case these negative effects are short-lived and not particularly pronounced.”
Himmelstrand, who is a fervent advocate of home schooling, has moved his family to Åland, a Finnish island a three-hour ferry ride from Stockholm, because he fears that the “trigger-happy” Swedish social services might take his children into care. He supports himself primarily through his work as a consultant promoting the “mentoring” ideas of Mike Pegg, a British management writer, and doing presentations on Neufeld’s work. He denies being a political conservative, but is a regular speaker at the Stockholm Freedomfest, a Swedish offshoot of a gathering for radical libertarians set up by Mark Skousen, a devout Mormon free-market economist.
Perry and Davis both declined to comment for this article.
The BBC’s decision to censor the protest track from The Wizard of Oz recalls the Chinese Communist party
In 2011, Chinese censors tried to erase mentions of jasmine from its state-policed web. They banned shops and markets from selling the plant. They cancelled the 2011 China international jasmine cultural festival. They even plucked from the web a video of President Hu Jintao singing Mo Li Hua, a Qing dynasty paean to the jasmine’s delicate flowers.
It wasn’t that the communists objected to jasmine in particular or climbing and rambling plants in general. They were frightened because, after the “jasmine revolution” in Tunisia, anonymous voices had called for a jasmine revolution in China. The paranoid authorities were censoring jasmine’s symbolic meaning; the hidden message known only to initiates.
The worst that can be said of the Tory press and the BBC is that they have now sunk to the level of the Chinese Communist party. Since MGM released The Wizard of Oz in 1939, few have found the Munchkins’ chorus – “Ding dong! The Wicked Witch is dead/ Wake up sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed” – obscene or subversive in the least.
But Britain’s surreal conservatives did not want the BBC to ban the song because its words were libellous or a breach of the criminal law. They hated the song not because of what it said but because the intention of the left wingers who bought it was to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher.
The silencing of the Munchkins must rank as one of the most inept acts of censorship Britain has seen. The days when the Radio 1 playlist made or broke a song’s chances went with the invention of the web. Neither the Daily Mail nor the parliamentary Conservative party appeared to know that if you want to ban a single today, you need to compel YouTube and iTunes to take it down.
Ham-fisted though it may be, the attack on The Wizard of Oz tell us much about the authoritarianism of British conservatism and the cowardice of the BBC. It proves that the right can be just as politically correct as the left. Thatcher’s supporters might have tried to win the argument. They might have said that it is contemptible to celebrate the death of a sick old lady, who had been the democratically elected leader of a free county. They might have directed our attention to her grieving friends and family. They might have pointed out that Mrs Thatcher left power 23 years ago and it is politically illiterate to blame her for the ills of the present. They might, in short, have tried to have convinced their opponents of the justice of their cause in free debate. Instead, they tried to silence.
As for the BBC, what is there left to say about it? Can it show The Wizard of Oz again? Can it only run the film after the 9pm watershed? Must the announcer warn: “This children’s story contains Munchkin choruses that some viewers may find offensive”? Its decision to ban every part of the song except for a five-second clip in a news report shows clearly something that many people outside the media rarely understand: the BBC folds under pressure.
During the debate on the politicians’ plans to regulate the press and news websites, many people have asked why journalists should worry when regulation works so well at the BBC. The behaviour of the BBC last week explains why. Tory MPs and the Daily Mail picked on the BBC rather than iTunes or YouTube because they knew they had a chance of winning. Any other media organisation might have said it stood by the principles of free speech. If music buyers had, for whatever reason, put a song in the charts they had a duty to play it.
Because the BBC is funded by a licence fee everyone must pay, because it is in the end a state broadcaster, it is far easier to intimidate. “Free speech is an important principle,” said Tony Hall, its director general, as he struggled to explain his behaviour. Politicians know he doesn’t mean it. They understand that if they make life hard enough for the corporation it will abandon its principles.
Why do you think that during her decade in power Margaret Thatcher never privatised it?
Good riddance to a Labour politician who wants to be admired for not standing by his own brother
Will David Miliband ever be back in frontline politics? Lord Mandelson and others say he will. The rest of us should probably hope not. It strikes me that he has never demonstrated the danger of his political aspirations more clearly than in the abandoning of them.
Having been unable to overcome the resentment that followed a leadership battle with his brother, Miliband Senior is off to do charity work in America.
Our country must never be led by a man who would fail to build bridges with his own brother. (You might say the same applies to Ed Miliband, but, having won, he obviously isn’t the one who remains bitter.)
The feud jars with too many principles of our national character. “Blood is thicker than water”, that’s what we say. Deep down, family is all we really care about. We bicker and recover, argue and forgive. When the chips are down, we know whose side we’re on. We might be furious with a sibling, parent or child – but if that person is criticised or attacked by an outsider, the attacker has us to deal with.
Imagine how often those attacks and criticisms come, if your brother is leading a political party! And where is David? In the Club Class cabin to New York.
Neither does it work, if you aspire to lead the British in world affairs, to cope so badly with loss. Tut tut, that’s not the idea at all. Not what Kipling said. In the poem that we always vote to be our national favourite, we are reminded to “meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”; to “watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools”.
There’s nothing there about running off to a £300,000 job abroad.
David Miliband says the move is “right not just for me but for the Labour party as well”, asking rhetorically: “Has it been hard for me to accept I can best help the Labour party by giving not just the space between the frontbench and the backbench to Ed but the space between the frontbench and 3,000 miles away? Yes, that’s hard for me but I think that is right.”
We are so used to the waffly constructions and double negatives of political language, it’s worth re-reading those lines a few times to grasp how awful they really are.
In being unable to forgive his brother, after nearly three years, Miliband asks for both our pity and our applause. He wants us to see this exile as the hard, noble, gallant decision of a brave and selfless hero.
But we can see how easy it would be to throw his weight behind his brother and the past behind them both. All it would take is one fully supportive speech, a swallow of pride and a pat on the back, and they could be a powerful symbol of unity to inspire us all. Yet he wants not just to skip town but to be admired for doing it.
This reminds me of nothing so much as Tony Blair, who not only refuses to admit that the Iraq war was a ghastly and terrible error but still wants to be revered for the “morality” behind it. We must break free from these men who see their own failings as glories. They are the keenest to seek power over the rest of us, but that way lies the end of the world.
Go, then, David Miliband. Turn your back on the brother you can’t forgive and leave him to it alone. I do believe it has been hard, and I hope the charity gig goes well. But you must not come back and try to rule over me and my family, while you don’t even know that charity begins at home.
The other night, at the theatre, I watched two simultaneous plays.
This was not an avant-garde fringe production (although “two simultaneous plays” sounds exactly like the sort of terrible idea with which a group of hopeful drama students might bankrupt themselves at Edinburgh) but a performance-double intended by nobody and witnessed, I think, only by me.
The first play was The Book of Mormon, which I enjoyed enormously. The second, unfolding simultaneously across the aisle, was a darker and more complex piece of work entitled Quentin Letts Watching The Book of Mormon.
Both plays were on a fish-out-of-water theme. In The Book of Mormon, a bespectacled missionary is surrounded by sceptical Ugandans whose problems he can’t solve. In Quentin Letts Watching The Book of Mormon, a bespectacled theatre critic is surrounded by laughing people whose amusement he can’t understand.
One of the plays ended happily, with a merry musical finale. The other ended with an angry review in the Daily Mail that talked of “cynical profanity”.
Letts clearly never expected to like it; even as he took his seat, he looked like a man who’d just run over his own dog. Every time I laughed or clapped with the rest of the audience, I could see him in my peripheral vision, making another gloomy note on his pad.
What I loved most about TBOM is that it is – radically, in modern comedy – kind and friendly about religious faith. Sure, it’s a toothy satire of specific beliefs, but it shows belief in general as a warm and hopeful instinct that can make people happier.
Perhaps it just chimed with my own view of the human search for God (a good and natural principle, resulting in some inevitably clumsy guesswork over the specifics), but I saw an amazing irony in Mr Letts expecting a rant against religion and thus seeing one. It was the play, not he, that had an open mind and heart. He had no faith. Happy Easter.
By giving the tabloids just enough red meat, Johnson has been able to speak out against a British exit without coming under fire
On Tuesday, Boris Johnson made his latest thinly veiled bid for the Tory leadership, outlining his own distinctive vision of Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of David Cameron’s crucial, defining speech on Europe later this month. He called for Britain’s EU membership to be “boiled down to the single market”, scrapping the social chapter and other pesky regulations from Brussels. He then went on to suggest that Britain should join the “outer tier” of Europe along with Switzerland and Norway, while maintaining an active role in shaping single market legislation.
Never mind that neither Norway nor Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is purely based on free trade, never mind that minimum social and employment standards are an inextricable part of the single market: Johnson knows how to play the keys of Eurosceptic press like a concert pianist. This may just be because when it comes to British Euroscepticism, Boris Johnson invented the Steinway. As Sonia Purnell points out in her biography, during his stint as the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent from 1989 to 1995, Johnson pioneered the kind of acerbic anti-European polemicism that dominates much of the press today. One of his articles referred to the “noxious aromas emanating from Holland”, a reference to the fumes of Dutch pig manure reportedly being detected in Essex. Another accused a French minister of trying to ban the use of certain English words.
The Murdoch newspapers in particular followed Johnson’s lead. In a BBC poll on the most memorable front page of the century, Johnson paid tribute to this by nominating an edition of the Sun from 1990 which called on readers to “tell the filthy French to frog off”. The article went on to say that “they insult us, burn our lambs, flood our country with dodgy food and plot to abolish the dear old pound”.
Johnson last night described David Cameron’s stance on eurozone integration as “intellectualy and morally wrong,” calling for a policy rooted solely in Britain’s long-term interests. Yet when it come to Euroscepticism in the press, vested interests are likely to play a much stronger role. Rupert Murdoch has a deep commercial and ideological aversion to the EU, viewing its anti-monopoly laws as a threat to the expansion of his media empire and its social policies as antithetical to his economically neoliberal worldview. Other newspaper proprietors, the Barclay brothers of the Daily Telegraph, Richard Desmond of the Daily Express, and Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail, have similar political and business interests in advocating British withdrawal from the EU.
Undoubtedly, the economic pressures facing newspapers have also played a part. Not one of the rightwing tabloids currently has a full-time correspondent in Brussels, leading to a reliance on freelance reporters who are in constant competition to come up with the most ludicrous story about the EU. Having helped foster deeply Eurosceptic attitudes, the rightwing press must now compete to pander to them.
As a consequence, over the past two decades the EU has been subjected to a daily barrage of attacks, ranging from gross exaggeration to outright fabrication. Screaming headlines denounce the latest sinister plot from Brussels, whether it is banning selling eggs by the dozen, stopping children from blowing up balloons, or even plotting to liquify corpses and pour them down the drain. Many of these “Euro myths” have now become deeply embedded in the popular imagination. It is perhaps no coincidence that 18- to 24-year-olds, who are more likely to get their news online than from traditional print media, are the only UK age group in which a majority would vote to stay in the EU.
Johnson now finds himself wrestling with the Eurosceptic monster he has helped to create. The mayor of London is torn between the broadly pro-European voices of the City of London and business leaders, who want to see their interests protected through constructive engagement with the EU, and the Tory grassroots, who are baying for the blood of Brussels bureaucrats. Already, he has faced criticism from those in the party who see his latest speech as a betrayal of his previous support for a straight in-out referendum.
Nevertheless, as a seasoned Eurosceptic journalist himself, Johnson knows all too well how to play the rightwing press, which has come out in force to support his call for partial disengagement. His description of the euro as a “calamitous project” could have come straight from a Daily Mail editorial. Crucially, by giving the tabloids just enough red meat, he has been able to speak out against a British exit without coming under fire.
The recent conclusions of the Leveson inquiry have shown how Murdoch and other media moguls have been able to significantly influence Britain’s policy on the EU, pressuring successive governments to adopt a particular line. In Boris Johnson, however, they may have just met their match.
As the Leveson proposals split the party leaders, newspapers have a final opportunity to prove a law is not needed
I hear Australia is nice at this time of the year. It must certainly be a more pleasant climate for Brian Leveson, who left for the other side of the world as soon as he had unveiled his opus about the British press, rather than stay here to listen to David Cameron lavish thanks on the Lord Justice for all his labours, speak of his boundless admiration for the report’s principles, before going on to explain that the prime minister had no intention of implementing the central proposal.
Imagine we were talking about a 16-month, £5m, government-commissioned inquiry into abuses perpetrated by doctors or lawyers or members of the armed forces. Imagine that this inquiry had catalogued repeated illegality, systematic breaches of the profession’s codes, the corruption of public officials, the compromising of political integrity and outrageous misconduct that had maimed innocent lives. Imagine that the report had arrived at the verdict that, while this profession mostly “serves the country well”, significant elements of it were “exercising unaccountable power”.
Imagine the prime minister who had set up that inquiry then responded that it was all very interesting, with much in it to commend, but he was going to park this report on the same dusty shelf that already groans with seven previous inquiries and allow this disgraced bunch one more chance to regulate themselves. We know what would be happening now. The newspapers would be monstering the prime minister as the most feeble creature ever to darken the door of Number 10. But since this is about the newspapers themselves, David Cameron has received some of the most adulatory headlines of his seven years as Tory leader. “Cam backs a free press,” cheers the Mirror, for once in full agreement with the Daily Mail, which salutes as “Cameron leads the fight for liberty”, and the Daily Telegraph, which hails “Cameron’s Stand For Freedom” and the Sun, which stands to “applaud David Cameron’s courage in resisting Lord Leveson”. The prime minister’s staffers are chuckling that he has generated some of his most glowing headlines by rejecting the cornerstone recommendation of his own inquiry.
If you can briefly suspend your cynicism about the whole thing and block your ears to the sound and fury that has accompanied the publication of Leveson, you’ll see a fairly broad consensus about what needs to be done. Across the political parties and in much of the press there is considerable agreement that the report’s principles are generally sound and many of the proposed remedies are sensible. The stark division is over whether it needs law – “statutory underpinning” in the rather hideous jargon – to put those principles into practice. As Nick Clegg rightly observed to MPs, it is an argument about “means” rather than “ends”. The battle is no less fierce for that. And no less infected with some base motivation, among both politicians and the press, about what best serves their interests. In rejecting any legislation, even along the modest lines proposed by the judge to guarantee the independence of the regulator and compliance with its judgments, there is both liberal Tory conviction and low calculation at work in the mind of David Cameron.
The prime minister took this position conscious that he would fail the “Milly Dowler test” that he originally set and later came to regret once its implications sank in. “We knew DC would be accused of betrayal,” says one of his senior aides and so he has been by many of the victims of press abuses. He’s taken a calibrated gamble that it is better to be attacked for breaking previous promises to implement Leveson than to engage in a protracted fight with the national press on an issue over which his own party is divided.
By taking the opposite view and backing the judge’s opinion that regulation will not be robust or durable without some statute, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg expose themselves to being pilloried by the same newspapers, which is a bit of a risk, but not that large a one since those papers habitually either ignore or trash them anyway. Every leader builds a story in which he is the hero of his own narrative. For Mr Miliband, one of his defining moments was leading the charge against Rupert Murdoch and that spurs him to take the uncompromising stance on Leveson he talks to us about today. The Labour leader was a bit rash when he initially pledged himself to support the report’s proposals “in their entirety” before he could have possibly read all 1,987 pages of the heavy tome. He has now drawn back from that somewhat, joining those who had immediate reservations that the recommendations about the application of data protection legislation could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism in the public interest. But his overall position remains inflexible.
Nick Clegg’s stance is more nuanced as he tries to seek a solution that both guarantees the freedom of the press and the right of innocent people not to be wronged. Some found it remarkable that David Cameron’s statement to the Commons was followed by a conflicting one from the Lib Dem leader. I thought it was a mature way of handling the differences between the prime minister and his deputy. Better, surely, than sending out their spinners to brief against each other.
In theory, Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg have the numbers in Parliament to force through a press law against the opposition of the Conservative party. In practice, this is highly unlikely. The Labour and Lib Dem positions are similar, but not identical. The Lib Dems will probably not react well to the threat by the Labour leader to “pull the plug” on cross-party talks unless they very rapidly produce a legislative proposal. While Mr Miliband is convinced that nothing less than a new law will do, Mr Clegg is a bit more open to persuasion that it might not be absolutely necessary.
It was one thing for Mr Clegg to make a parallel statement to Mr Cameron. The coalition can survive that. It would be quite another for the Lib Dems to engage in detailed co-operation with Labour to try to push through legislation against the wishes of the prime minister and most Conservatives, the largest party in both the Commons and the government. I just don’t think that is going to happen and neither, privately, do senior Labour people.
So we will now see what one member of the cabinet calls a “beauty contest” between those who want a press law and those who don’t. I’m not sure that’s an appropriate metaphor given the contestants, but this is what he means. Those who think a statute is essential to prevent future abuses will need to show us what it would look like and how legislation could protect the innocent without compromising the freedom of the press. A battle is already being waged within government about the draft law being written inside the Department of the Culture, Media and Sport.
When Maria Miller, the culture secretary, gave interviews saying the purpose of this exercise was to show why a law wouldn’t work, I am told that Nick Clegg “got very heavy with her”. The Lib Dem leader has assured colleagues that he will be “crawling all over it” to ensure this is a proper attempt to draft a workable law. Yet within Number 10, it remains the view that they will publish a law simply to demonstrate why it shouldn’t be enacted. According to a senior member of the prime minister’s team: “When people have looked at all the pages, all the amendable clauses and all the appendices, they will see why David came to the conclusion that a press law is a bad idea.”
This deadlock among the politicians creates space for a case to be made by those who contend that it doesn’t require legislation to guarantee truly independent and rigorous regulation of the press. Newspapers themselves have the biggest incentive to prove that it can be done. If they are serious, they will have to do a lot better than the so-called Hunt-Black plan, authored by two Tory peers in a belated attempt to pre-empt statutory regulation, which comes nowhere near meeting the test because it would leave the invigilation of the press essentially in its own hands, a privilege enjoyed by no other power in society, including MPs. To have a hope of gaining the confidence of the politicians and the public, the press will have to do much, much better than offer a mildly beefed-up version of the miserably ineffective, hopelessly compromised, utterly discredited Press Complaints Commission.
Leveson rightly called for regulation that was independent of both proprietors and editors and politicians and government. He was correct again when he insisted that there has to be swift, affordable and meaningful redress for those who have been wronged and penalties with bite for those who transgress. The British press has been given what may be a very last opportunity to show that it doesn’t need a law to stop sections of Panorama behaving as if they were beyond the law.
All of us who work in newspapers should be acutely conscious that this is a chance that many of our fellow citizens think is utterly undeserved.
Comments will be turned on later
• Covert footage reveals MP’s links to independent candidate
• Energy minister denies collusion with anti-wind campaigner
The Conservative MP running the party’s byelection bid in Corby has been secretly filmed apparently supporting the campaign of a rival candidate.
Chris Heaton-Harris, who is campaign manager for the Tories in Corby, was recorded saying he encouraged an anti-wind farm candidate to join the election race against the Tories, adding: “Please don’t tell anybody ever.”
The footage, covertly recorded by the environmental group Greenpeace, captures the MP saying the independent anti-wind farm candidate, James Delingpole, had announced his candidacy as part of a “plan” to “cause some hassle” and drive the wind issue up the political agenda.
He is also filmed claiming he helped Delingpole by providing him with “a handful of people who will sort him out”, including the deputy chairman of his own constituency party, who had stood down and then became the anti-wind candidate’s campaign agent.
Delingpole, a Telegraph writer and climate change sceptic, withdrew from the race two weeks ago the day after the energy minister, John Hayes, gave a controversial interview to the Daily Mail in which he said the development of onshore wind farms in Britain should be reined in.
Asked by the Guardian whether his comments to the Daily Mail were timed to coincide with Delingpole withdrawing his candidacy, Hayes said: “James Delingole was never a candidate in this byelection.” He did not deny he had been communicating with Delingpole via Heaton-Harris.
Heaton-Harris also denied supporting Delingpole’s candidacy, saying that because Delingpole pulled out before submitting a deposit he was not technically a candidate. He added: “James Delingpole was never a candidate in this byelection, there was no conspiracy or ‘conspiring with an opposition candidate’.”
Delingpole wrote an article on 17 September saying he was “standing as an independent candidate in the Corby byelection” and had already been meeting prospective voters. The same article described how he had told prospective voters they should not vote Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative “whatever you do”.
The evidence that their own campaign manager covertly supported a rival candidate in order to “write [the anti-wind agenda] into the DNA of the Tory party” will be intensely embarrassing to the party, already trailing in the seat vacated when Louise Mensch announced she was unable to reconcile the demands of her family life with being an MP.
The first secret film was recorded about a month ago when campaigning was underway for Corby. A Tory councillor in Sussex registered Delingpole’s campaign website, in which he declared himself to be an “independent anti-wind farm candidate for the Corby and East Northamptonshire constituency”. He had sought support of local constituents and even tweeted he “kissed a baby” during a public rally.
He was campaigning against candidates from all three main parties, including the Tory Christine Emmett whose campaign was being run by Heaton-Harris, MP for the nearby constituency of Daventry.
Against this backdrop Heaton-Harris agreed to meet Greenpeace undercover film-maker, Chris Atkins, who approached him at the Tory conference pretending to be a representative of a fictional lobby group called ‘Windefensible’.
“There’s a bit of strategy behind what’s going on,” Heaton-Harris told him. “I’m running the Corby by-election for the Tories … And Delingpole, who is my constituent, and a very good friend [inaudible] put his head above the parapet but won’t put his deposit down … It’s just part of the plan.”
In another section that is difficult to hear, Heaton-Harris appears to say he “suggested to him [Delingpole] he did it. Which puts me in a very awkward [inaudible]. Please don’t tell anybody ever. But he will not be putting his deposit down. He just did it because it’s a long campaign, it’s six weeks to cause some hassle and get, and get people talking.”
Heaton-Harris also says: “Next week hopefully John Hayes, James Delingpole and I will have a meeting somewhere”.
Hayes and Heaton-Harris said on Tuesday that a meeting with Delingpole never took place. Delingpole did not respond to a request for comment.
Hayes firmly denied any involvement in a plot to raise the profile of the anti-wind campaign: “My views on onshore wind energy are longstanding and well known and certainly not contrived as an “elaborate plan” involving Chris Heaton-Harris, James Delingpole or anyone else.”
The undercover film also captures Heaton-Harris saying: “James Delingpole can go and endorse the Ukip candidate, don’t give a toss about that. Maybe we’ve just moved the agenda on.”
He added: “I’ve managed to provide him [Delingpole] with a handful of people who will sort him out. So my deputy chairman, political, resigned from my local party and is running his campaign as his agent. So it’s all professionally done. The whole point of that is to actually just put it on the agenda.”
Heaton-Harris was asked by the film-maker if the plan was to get the anti-wind farm campaign on the agenda.”Exactly,” he replied. “And it will go through way past the Corby byelection stuff. I’m trying to write it into the DNA of the Tory party.”
The former deputy chairman of Heaton-Harris’ constituency party, Trevor Sherman, had indeed resigned his post on 15 August. He remained a member of the Tory party and was described by Delingpole as “a superb election agent”.
The Conservative councillor who set up Delingpole’s campaign website was Donna Edmonds. She said she did not believe there was a conflict of interest because she “knew all along” that Delingpole would pull out.
Heaton-Harris is one of the Conservative party’s most prominent opponents of wind turbines. Earlier this year, he persuaded 101 Tory MPs to sign a letter to the prime minister saying that subsidies to the industry should be “dramatically cut”.
Greenpeace said Heaton-Harris was one of a number of Tory politicians they secretly filmed in an attempt to assess whether the government was rowing back on its commitments to combat climate change.
The campaign group shared its footage exclusively with the Guardian. Heaton-Harris gave further details about his knowledge of Delingpole’s campaign during a second meeting with the undercover reporter, which took place three weeks after the first. That encounter was on 31 October, the day the Daily Mail and Telegraph carried front-page stories based on an interview with Hayes who had called for an end to the spread of wind farms, announcing “enough is enough”.
It was a dramatic intervention which came on the same day as the deadline by which candidates in the Corby byelection needed to submit their £500 deposit. Delingpole had not done so, just as Heaton-Harris had predicted weeks earlier.
Informing the undercover reporter that Delingpole was “pulling out” of the election, Heaton-Harris said the timing was “contrived”. “So you have the speech [by Hayes], two front-pages,” the undercover reporter said. “And then Delingpole stands down and that’s all sort of, saying ‘my work is done’?”
“Yeah, there’s been a bit of leverage that he’s given me,” Heaton-Harris said. “I’ve been working on this since the ministerial teams changed.”
The MP reflected on how Hayes was now a minister “in a department that absolutely hates him”, but still had the support of the cabinet. Hayes’s remarks about wind farms had caused “quite a nice bust-up between the Lib Dems and us”, the MP said.
Heaton-Harris predicted that after Hayes’s anti-wind intervention Delingpole would announce his support for the Tories. “So tomorrow in the Daily Telegraph Delingpole’s writing a big piece about government going in the right direction,” he said. “You know, nice piece for the boss to see. Why he [Delingpole] has pulled out [of the byelection] and why these things are essential in what he’s doing.”
The undercover reporter asked: “Was Hayes sort of smiling on that whole adventure?” The MP replied: “Nothing in politics, even if it happens by accident, nothing happens by accident.”
The next day Delingpole wrote in the Telegraph: “Have I just broken the record for the shortest and most successful election campaign in the history of politics?” Delingpole praised Hayes’s remarks on wind farm policy. “And did my own brief involvement in the Corby byelection play its part in concentrating David Cameron’s mind and shifting government policy? Well obviously I’d like to imagine so, but I’m not going to boast.”
Responding to the Greenpeace allegations, Heaton-Harris said he had “always hoped” that Delingpole would not formally stand in the constituency and insisted: “I would never betray a party I have been a member of for 25 years.”
Heaton-Harris added it was not uncommon or against party rules for political parties to have “open communication channels on a frequent basis” with rival factions during elections. He added he “would never dream of attempting to ‘subvert the democratic process’.”
John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, claimed that their investigation revealed “how Britain’s energy future is at risk of being hijacked by a militant faction of climate sceptic and anti-wind MPs on the radical right of the parliamentary Conservative party”.
“The Tories’ campaign manager for this week’s byelection is so opposed to clean energy that he appeared willing to betray his party and challenge the authority of the prime minister to promote his cause.”
Hayes’s row with his Lib Dem boss, Ed Davey, over renewables continued on Tuesdaywhen he told Channel Four news it was “end of story” for wind farms once the group of farms currently in the planning pipeline have been constructed.
The Department for Energy issued a statement saying its policy was to have targets in the future for renewable energy and no decision has been made on what proportion of that energy will come from different sources.
Investment worth billions in doubt with energy secretary and his Tory minister John Hayes at odds over policy
Investment in renewable power worth tens of billions of pounds to the UK economy, capable of creating thousands of new jobs, has been thrown into doubt by another coalition dispute over energy policy, ignited by the Tory energy minister’s rejection of new windfarm developments.
David Cameron was forced to intervene on Wednesday by insisting that the coalition’s energy policy was intact, despite remarks by his newly appointed minister that suggested an abrupt end to new onshore wind turbine construction – contradicting the government’s supposed support for renewables.
John Hayes, who took up the post of energy minister in the September reshuffle, said the countryside was already “peppered” with turbines; enough were planned and had been constructed to meet government targets.
His remarks came just days ahead of the planned Commons debate on the government’s energy bill, which sets out cuts in subsidies for wind power and which now may have to be postponed from next Monday until later in the month.
Investors, renewable energy companies and wind power experts condemned the energy minister’s remarks.
“This is very damaging,” said Penny Shepherd, chief executive of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association. “Investors want predictability of policy, they want to see government support. Multinational investors will look around the globe and ask, ‘Who can we trust?’ [This is a] very negative signal.”
The row erupted over remarks made by Hayes, a rightwing Tory, to the Daily Mail before a speech he was due to make before 5,000 delegates at the RenewableUK wind conference in Glasgow Wednesday night. In the prepared speech he appeared to herald the end of onshore windfarm developments, saying, “Enough is enough.”
But Ed Davey, the energy and climate secretary, instructed Hayes to tear up the speech, so that when the minister stood up to talk, he had to apologise to his audience for having no prepared remarks and speaking “off the cuff”.
But, unknown to Davey, the damage had been done as Hayes had briefed the Daily Mail ahead of the conference.
Hayes’ message was also markedly different from an interview he gave the Guardian on Monday, in which he praised onshore windfarms that had local support.
Davey issued a very public slapdown to his Tory number two: “There has been no change to government policy on renewable energy. As collectively agreed by the cabinet … [onshore wind] has an important role to play in our energy future.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman said the energy minister still had the full support of the prime minister, and Cameron suggested that a review of local communities’ acceptance of windfarms, which includes the cost of the technology, could trigger a rethink of government support once the 2020 target was met.
“All parties are going to have to debate what will happen once those targets are met,” he said at prime minister’s questions.
In a third twist, Davey’s department then insisted that the review was not expected to find any big drop in costs, so would not trigger a drop in subsidies.
“This might be the policy the Tory party wish they had, but they haven’t; this is a coalition,” said a source close to Davey.
More than 10 multinational firms are considering big investments in the UK’s low-carbon energy sector, amounting to tens of billions of pounds.
As the Guardian revealed this year, the companies have already been unsettled by a perceived ambivalence on the government’s part towards green energy.
The firms include General Electric, one of the world’s biggest companies, which is considering a wind turbine manufacturing plant in the north of England, the German company Siemens, the Spanish wind-turbine manufacturer Gamesa, and Japan’s Mitsubishi.
Matt Partridge, development director at REG Wind Power, said: “We are on the cusp of either achieving [tens of billions of pounds] in investment or blowing it. These deeply troubling comments are a huge disappointment.”
Dale Vince, founder of the green energy company Ecotricity, said: “It is a disaster for investors.” Onshore wind was one of the cheapest forms of energy, adding only about £5 to household bills, while fossil fuels added about £120, he added.
Vince called Hayes’s opposition to wind “ideological” and a stance not based on fact or economics. “David Cameron should not have allowed this energy minister to be appointed in the first place. This is a problem of his own creation.”
Maf Smith, deputy CEO of the trade body RenewableUK, said: “We are on the eve of the publication of the energy bill, a crucial time for energy policy, with huge investment decisions to be made that will lead to tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade. If we are to see these jobs and investment realised, confidence must be retained. And that means consistency.”
A participant at the RenewableUK conference said it was unbelievable that at a time when the UK was showcasing its renewable energy industry to overseas investors, at the biggest renewable energy event of the year, the government should be trying to sabotage the industry.
“How does this look to the people who are thinking of putting money in the UK?” the person said.
Renewable energy has become an increasingly sore point for the coalition, with rightwing Tories seizing on it as a “wedge” issue, despite evidence showing that the sector is helping to cut energy prices and create jobs.
This year more than 100 Tories wrote to the prime minister urging him to cease backing onshore wind, and the chancellor, George Osborne, has repeatedly attacked renewable energy subsidies while leading calls for a “dash for gas”.
Ministers were relieved on Tuesday when the Japanese nuclear company Hitachi stepped in to buy the nuclear consortium Horizon, which had previously failed to find a bidder.
Michael Heseltine, the former Tory minister, published on Wednesday a damning report on the government’s failure to create growth, in which he targeted energy policy and other infrastructure.
He said the government needed to set out a “definitive and unambiguous energy policy, including the supporting financial regime, to give the sector the certainty to invest”. He also commended the importance of wind energy to deprived regions such as England’s north-east region.
Experts and investors called on Cameron to take a lead, and said the appearance of deep rifts over energy policy within the coalition was unsettling.
Tony Whitehead, director of policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said: “The large investment and long time-scales involved in all types of energy generation need consistent, long-term, energy policies.
“Short-term uncertainty around UK energy policy, as we have seen in the last couple of days, is very unhelpful and has the potential to result in increased prices for consumers and delay much needed investment in all forms of energy infrastructure.
“It can also stop investment in new UK jobs. Remarks about wind power also affect gas, nuclear and other investments.”