By Siân Jones
The gas price rises hitting the headlines this week have been a gift for journalists keen to find the next crisis, now that pandemics and vaccines are slowly slipping down the news agenda. Doom-laden talk of power-cuts, the three-day week and a return to the 1970s all make great copy, particularly for journalists keen to have a another crack at securing the Prime Minister’s seemingly Teflon-coated political scalp.
But the truth is that this latest challenge, like so many others, is unlikely to be much more than a minor irritation for the Government. For one thing, our civil service is long practised at dealing with issues like this and has well-established protocols in place – whether it’s a natural disaster, a banking crisis, or a gas supply crisis. Crises are what governments, for the most part, manage fairly well. Yes, the pressures of COVID were unique, but the current pressures on the gas supply don’t – yet – come anywhere near that.
Of course, there is a debate that needs to be held around our ongoing over-reliance on gas, the increasing apparent volatility of the market in the face of political turbulence in the Middle East and Russia, and how best to create a sustainable, secure energy supply that is less susceptible to shifts in the global geopolitical climate. And clearly low-cost, home-grown renewables will be an essential part of the solution. That’s a transition that is already in progress, even if it’s not as quick as it perhaps should be.
But right now, will Boris Johnson care? Realistically, all this is unlikely to be much more than an inconvenient blot on his political radar. He has his highly able Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, dealing with the issue, whose calm statement in the Commons yesterday will have done much to settle jitters. The Government has moved to reassure its populist base by guaranteeing the continuation of the energy price cap; a welcome assurance in the face of what may be a cold winter. And Johnson will be gambling on voters understanding that, in a market economy, there will be realignments every so often and businesses fail. Like so many of his other gambles, it’s likely to pay off.
The Prime Minister has weathered the announcement of the national insurance rise with ease. His reshuffle last week – by the standards of most reshuffles – was smooth. And this week, he’s delivered a compelling call to action at the UN, and is now about to hold a summit with President Biden with the ending of the US travel ban finally in sight. After almost two years of dealing with the pandemic and all the humdrum detail that goes with it, the Prime Minister now has a chance to showcase what he does best – showmanship on the world stage. And Keir Starmer’s Opposition – yet again – are nowhere to be seen.
As a child, Boris Johnson said that his ambition was to be ‘world king’. This week, he must be feeling he’s come pretty close to achieving that goal.