Seizing hold of a single major issue, and dedicating time to pursuit of that issue, is in the finest tradition of parliamentarianism in the UK, and if Peter Hain had stated last week that he was going to dedicate the rest of his parliamentary career to championing a switch to renewable energy, I’d be forced to seriously reconsider my opinion of him. That isn’t quite what he said, however. I don’t expect to be eating my non-existent hat for a while at least.
Rather than pursuing a commitment to the adoption of renewable energy, he is committing himself to a single scheme being promoted by a single consortium, and his statement seemed to suggest that the attraction of that scheme is more to do with the size of the investment involved and the number of jobs created (albeit temporary) than with the energy generated. Indeed, the fact that it would produce green electricity seemed to me to be almost a bonus rather than being core to the scheme.
I think he’s backing the wrong horse of course; whilst I support the exploitation of the tidal energy in the estuary, I think that there are better ways of doing that than building a giant barrage with all the environmental impact that would have. That isn’t my main concern about his action, however.
I also rather suspect that the viability of this ‘private sector’ scheme is in reality highly dependent on the public sector coughing up large sums in order to build the barrage higher and run rail and/or road links across the top of it. But that isn’t my main concern, either.
There is a fine line between campaigning for a particular outcome on the one hand and becoming a parliamentary spokesperson for a particular company promoting a particular scheme on the other. And it seems to me that he’s in real danger of crossing that line. MPs are not employed to promote the interests of specific private companies through their parliamentary activity; and that’s my main concern about his statement.
To date it has been claimed that he has no paid position with the consortium concerned, and I have no reason to doubt that. There is, though, a long and not very honourable history of politicians helping companies whilst in office and reaping their rewards at a later date; cynicism is often, sadly, justified.
Hain is, by his nature, something of a bruiser. He seems to have difficulty seeing an issue without wanting to disagree vehemently with someone else about it. But he would probably actually achieve more – and leave a more worthwhile legacy behind him – if he turned his attention from the specific to the general, and tried to build a consensus around that.