BY JIM WEBSTER
It’s interesting that both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have spoken out against covering farmland with solar panels. You do wonder if finally, people are beginning to wake up a little.
Personally I think that, whether he intended to or not, Putin has created a watershed in history, but not perhaps in the way he intended.
If we go back to the start of the century, Ed Miliband as a minister put the green levies on energy. But at the same time a lot of other things were put in place, all nicely set – ten, twenty or even thirty years ahead. Politicians were kicking unexploded bombs into the long grass secure in the knowledge that by the time these things happened and the public started feeling the pain, they’d be long retired, on a good pension and their successors could take the flak.
When they were announced, the ban on the installation of new gas boilers in homes (2025) and the ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars (2030) seemed a long time off. But the aim was that energy was always going to become more expensive. Fewer people would be able to heat their homes to the level they were used to, people would learn to wear more clothes indoors and probably cut back gradually on non-essential spending. This was always on the cards, you cannot increase the proportion of somebody’s income they have to pay on one thing and expect them to keep spending as much on anything else. Over a period our economy would have evolved. Some people, perhaps those in hospitality, or perhaps in fast fashion, would take a kicking, but people would switch industries.
Yes, from the politicians’ point of view, this was safely a long way off. But time has moved on. The next general election is in 2024, and whoever wins that has to take all the flak for boilers and try and cope with the chaos as they frantically try to create enough charging points for electric cars. I do seriously wonder if the Labour party leader has been smart enough to work out that the next election is one you don’t want to win and feels for the good of the party it would be better to be out of office until 2029?
And then we have Covid, which utterly screwed both work patterns, but also expectations. When we had lockdown a lot of people just sat at home and were paid damn near their full salary for doing nothing, whilst a lot more ‘worked from home’ and got full salary for doing so. When trouble hits, government will dance amongst us like some frenetic Easter bunny, bountifully casting largesse at random.
Finally stir Putin into the mix. With regard to energy, Putin has merely forced EU and other states to do what they were supposedly intending to do, but in six months not over thirty years. The politicians who assumed all this stuff would hit when they were collecting their pensions are watching with horror as the political slurry washes around their beautiful polished leather shoes.
Let us acknowledge this fact first. When Putin’s tanks crossed the Ukrainian border, the world changed.
Even if Putin falls, will anybody dare rely on Russian energy ever again? Or will the continued rush into renewables and nuclear continue, leaving Russia a minor raw materials producer with an aging population and an embarrassing dearth of young men?
Also, from a farming point of view, Putin massively dislocated the production and distribution of basic foodstuffs. Even a UK politician cannot ignore that effect.
Indeed, it may be that one of the best things that happened to British farmers was a drought this summer. On top of a world food crisis, and world energy crisis, it soon became obvious that we cannot take our own food production for granted.
Suddenly bold schemes for rewilding and/or covering vast areas with solar panels and trees are starting to look a tad silly. Hopefully they’re obviously silly enough for even politicians to be embarrassed at being seen to promote them.
So what will this winter be like?
I suspect we’ll be sick of seeing underdressed but photogenic people (probably in the Home Counties) complaining their houses are cold because they’ve had to turn the central heating down a couple of degrees. Elsewhere less photogenic people in poorer areas will be wearing every garment they have. But then this isn’t new, last year at our foodbank a company donated a heap of nice new fleece blankets which we handed out to people. They could sit under them in an evening and not spend so much on heating. They were much appreciated. So if you’re in the supermarket and pass the basket that they have for the foodbank, don’t be embarrassed to drop something into it. Everything is appreciated.
Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.