Dealing with an unwanted guest

There is a lot about Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment as Labour leader that is similar to rediscovering your first boyfriend/girlfriend. You know the one you thought about very weak reasons to dump such as ‘I just need some time on my own to get in touch with the real me’ or ‘she didn’t believe in the moon landings’.

 

You thought you loved them when you when you were 18 but you have just grown out of their unrealistic view of things.

 

Take Jeremy Corbyn for instance. Who predicted he would be Labour leader now? Who can remember how he cut his political teeth in Islington? Aka the socialist republic of Islington by some wits.

 

Labour’s surge in new membership has not been solely down to Corbyn. Lower subscription fees have played a big part.

 

But his appointment has not been welcomed by some. Arch pragmatist Tony Blair said that Labour faces ‘annihilation’ under Corbyn.

 

One of his publically stated aims is to renationalise the railways and that he would be “much happier” with a “regulated, publicly run service delivering energy supplies”. His original statement that the energy industry should be renationalised has however been adjusted since he won and the vision now is that it should be ‘democratised’ to allow more communities to develop their own energy projects, possibly along the lines of the German system.  And there would be a moratorium on environmentally ‘dangerous’ fracking. Curiously the mechanisms that the Coalition put in place eg the right for the Secretary of State to instruct Low Carbon Contract Co to sign specific contracts should work fine for Corbyn – he could contract as many Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) stations as he wanted. But there are suspicions that he would less enthusiastic about contracting with EDF for Hinkley Point C.

 

He should be quite happy with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) proposal to have a default tariff (which is a price cap by another name) administered by an offshoot of the state. Between these two mechanisms the State has so much control that nationalisation per se is actually pointless, though of course that will not necessarily stop him calling for it.

 

The Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) and its impact on coal plant-lifetimes just comes down to taxation – if the State reduces the tax on burning coal in power stations then they will stay open and increase the CO2 levels. If it keeps the tax they will close and eventually Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGTs) will run and provide the necessary response and Grid will pay them for the service.

 

While much attention has been focussed on Corbyn, the UK’s Hinkley new nuclear plant has quietly taken a step forward. The project by French energy company EDF is going to be partly backed by China through a £2billion deal that the UK Government has said it will guarantee.

 

Chancellor George Osborne has said that will allow “unprecedented co-operation” on the construction of more nuclear plants. A fine quote but he still be around when it does not happen as planned? There are already reports that a Chinese-designed nuclear reactor could be built in Essex.

 

Not everybody backs new nuclear largely because of its poor record for delivering on time and to budget. “Nuclear power plants are astonishingly expensive,” says Stephen Thomas, energy policy expert and a retired professor from the University of Greenwich Business School.

 

Future election results are at best uncertain but what we can say with confidence is that if Corbyn gets into No 10 the nuclear issue will be waiting for him like an unwanted guest at a dinner party. Inviting them seemed like a good idea at the time but they will just not go away.

 

Dom Maclaine

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