THE government’s mismanagement of the economy and energy supply continues to astound. Its vainglorious obsession with net zero is now also being felt in the food sector.
As I have demonstrated before, the obsession with wind and solar power had driven up electricity prices long before the global gas price rises. Those rises are caused by soaring global demand and constrained supply. Part of that is due to the Ukraine war and embargos on Russia. In the UK, which has substantial gas reserves, the solution is for the oil and gas companies to increase production. That involves investment. Rather than supporting that, the government has slapped a windfall tax on them – in part to pay for the domestic energy subsidy and rather more to pay for the borrowing costs of the disastrous, unnecessary lockdown.
As energy is at the heart of all economic activity, rises in energy prices drive up the cost of everything, including food. Tractors and combines run on diesel and fields need fertiliser. Making the fertiliser is energy-hungry, so the rising gas price has caused one of the UK’s fertiliser plants to close, permanently. Previously the government had supported it, now it has decided not to. Which rather raises the question of where the UK’s agricultural sector will get its fertiliser from.
One part of the government is exhorting us to buy more food from the UK while another is encouraging farmers to rewild, plant trees or install solar panels – pointless activity intended to move us closer to the net zero utopia. Where’s the best place to install solar panels? On south-facing land in the south of England. Where’s the best place to grow crops? South-facing land in the south of England. Some of the most productive agricultural land on the planet is in East Anglia; there are plans to build solar parks there too.
Large-scale solar power makes little sense in the UK. It generates usefully only in the summer, when the days are longer and the amount of solar energy landing on the panel is ten times what it is in winter. But there is not yet a way of storing that energy (all the batteries installed in the UK together can supply under ten minutes of the UK’s average demand.) So why build them? Simple: landowners make more money from solar power than they do from agriculture. As government actions contribute to the rise in electricity prices, so they increase the financial attraction of solar farms.
To be fair, part of that problem is the astonishingly low prices that we are prepared to pay for food, or rather that the supermarkets are prepared to pay farmers. One of the things that Brexit was supposed to give us the freedom to fix is sorting out the mess of the EU’s agricultural subsidies scheme. It hasn’t happened, mirroring the lack of delivery for fishing.
Of course, the climate change gang are chipping in too. They want us to go vegan to reduce the emissions from cattle and sheep, whose methane contributes perhaps 5 per cent of UK emissions. What they don’t tell you, and our inept government and pusillanimous mainstream media don’t point out, is that arable agriculture generates almost as much (note also, these are government estimated figures). What do the greens want us to eat?
Having one part of an organisation working directly against another is a sign of weak, incompetent and confused leadership. That starts at the top. The advisers, political and civil service, who could not see that a drinks party was against the laws that they themselves had created are demonstrably incapable of supporting the Prime Minister in developing coherent policy to get the country through these challenging times. It’s his job to hire a good team; he’s failed, not least because of his tendency to support the latest thing that he has heard; apparently he’s now having a rethink on rewilding. It’s his typical behaviour on big decisions: lockdowns, energy windfall taxes – indeed everything but HS2. Harold Wilson thought a week was a long time in politics – Mr Johnson views that as long term.
As the extent of this government’s multiple failings becomes apparent in every household budget, no amount of new schemes, ridiculous announcements, or blaming this mess on Putin, the pandemic or Brexit, will disguise the stark reality that the entirety of the government is not fit for purpose. It’s time for reform.