Friday, October 21, 2005

A load of Milliband

Todays House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. The printed version now appears with a spiffy coloured background. See what you miss by not subscribing?

Hot coals

Suddenly everyone is talking about coal. On Wednesday last week two of New Labour's brightest young things - Ed Balls and Edward Milliband - took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the industry. So did Paddy Tipping, but he sounds like a practice favoured by unscrupulous Victorian mine owners.

Why this sudden interest? In part it's down to the way Labour gets trusted new blood into Parliament.

Imagine a former mining seat. If veteran Labour MP Reg Snood announces he is to stand down, the constituency party will choose another socialist in his place: the very thing New Labour command tries to avoid.

But if Snood is persuaded to wait until a general election is called before he quits, the selection is taken out of the hands of the local party. Then one of those bright young things can be hustled through instead.

While Lord Snood of Royston Vasey enjoys life in the upper house, the new MP will be patiently taught what coal is. ("You mean people used to dig this out of holes in the ground?") Eventually he or she will feel confident enough to talk about it at Westminster.

But there is more to the revival of interest in coal than this. It's not just a load of Milliband.

As another Westminster Hall debate (called by Vince Cable) showed that day, the future of Britain's oil and gas supplies is not as secure as we would like. Of the alternatives, wind and wave power can be more controversial than their supporters admit.

And then there is nuclear power. The waste problem has never been solved, its safety record is a worry and, most damning of all, it has never looked remotely able to survive without enormous subsidies from the taxpayer. Which all shows why people are becoming interested in coal again - last Wednesday there was a Commons debate on clean coal technology too.

Incidentally, there is another argument against nuclear power that opponents used to deploy. They said that meeting more of our energy needs that way would require unprecedented levels of surveillance and security precautions, leading to what they called the "plutonium society".

Today we have that plutonium society, but no plutonium. It's like being a banana republic without the bananas.

No comments: