“A real slap in the face for the prime minister’s sofa style of government”

As if it weren’t bad enough that his children won the race to the bottom of the OECD, Tony Blair met some stiff resistance yesterday to his favored nuclear energy generation plan when the High Court in London ruled that the government’s decision to adopt the plan without adequate public consultation was “seriously flawed,” “procedurally unfair,” and, finally, “unlawful.”

Shadow trade secretary Alan Duncan threw his hat in the ring, declaring that the government had been “fundamentally deceitful” and “offended the honesty of how governments should behave.” Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne played a variation on the theme: “The judgement really shows you cannot perform a U-turn on nuclear power, as Tony Blair did between the last two government statements on energy policy, without a proper public debate and a full discussion of the options,” adding, “It’s a real slap in the face for the prime minister’s sofa style of government.”

A U-turn on policy determined by backroom dealings? I don’t think so. While much hay has been made about the fact that “in a 2003 energy paper the government described nuclear power as an ‘unattractive option,'” the context of the quotation clears the government of any dramatic evil-doing:

Nuclear power is currently an important source of carbon-free electricity.
However its current economics make it an unattractive option for new,
carbon-free generating capacity.

It’s always been an option, just an expensive one. Furthermore, the report states, “We do not propose new nuclear build or rule it out.”

It may well be that Blair “had long ago decided nuclear power was bound to be part of the answer to Britain’s energy requirements” and that “the Energy Review had merely been a ‘rubber-stamping exercise,'” but the fact was hardly a secret.

In a footnote to a January 2007 DTI press release the government indicated it had taken the view that

nuclear had a role to play alongside other low-carbon generating options. We published our view as the basis for a consultation and are currently analysing responses. However, given the comprehensive analysis we undertook before reaching this view, we expect to confirm this as our final policy in the Energy White Paper this year. The supporting analysis is available from the DTI website.

So maybe it was a foregone conclusion, but I think Blair ought to get more credit for staying the course than the Liberal Democrats give him.


One comment

  1. The government’s acceptance of yesterday’s ruling only flows to the extent of that ruling itself, i.e., willing to go through the public comment process again, not revise their conclusions about whether nuclear power should be a pillar of Labour’s energy policy.


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