It surely takes a special kind of skill to get yourself painted into three different corners at the same time, yet that is what David Cameron seems to have achieved. He’s on the wrong side of policy and public opinion on HS2; on immigration and open borders; and on energy prices.
On immigration and energy, he’s scrabbling to catch up with the curve.
He’s seen the opinion polls on immigration. 85% of respondents say we should not open our borders to a new wave of impoverished immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria in four weeks’ time. One of his own government minsters Kris Hopkins (all credit to him) has called for us simply to leave the current barriers in place. Ineffective as they are, they’re surely better than nothing. And now immigration is going up.
UKIP has staked out a clear position on immigration (and in case any Guardian reader has strayed onto this site by mistake, UKIP policy is based not on nationalism, ethnicity, or religion – or xenophobia. It’s based on two criteria: numbers and skills). If we were in power today, we’d be saying to Brussels: “Look guys. We’re sorry about this. We know that previous British governments signed up to the treaties, which include free movement of people. But we have what amounts to a national emergency, and fierce public opposition, and we just can’t do it. We know that you will probably bring a case against us in the ECJ. But we’re telling you now that we won’t obey any ruling or injunction that goes against our national interests. And we certainly won’t accept any penalty, or pay any fine”.
And by the way, we’d have said the same thing about the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD). Sorry, but we can’t close those coal-fired power stations, because we need them.
If we were in power tomorrow, we’d be taking Britain out of the EU altogether, so the free movement rules and the LCPD would not apply.
On energy, Cameron has been unnerved by the popular reaction to Miliband’s price freeze pledge. Of course the Labour pledge is economically illiterate, and it would do more harm than good. It would immediately block the new energy investment we desperately need to keep the lights on. But Cameron is caught like a rabbit in the headlights by the public reaction.
Cameron has been complicit in the dishonest and damaging effort by all three of the old parties to try to blame energy companies for the politicians’ own decisions. It’s government decisions driving up costs – the Climate Change Act; the obsession with ineffectual and expensive renewables; the refusal to keep coal power stations open, or to choose cheap American coal over expensive Russian gas; the dilatory approach to shale gas exploration.
So now he’s running around like a headless chicken and fiddling at the margin with green subsidies and taxes. Not good enough, Dave. We need, in your phrase to “cut the green c**p”, and focus on grown-up technologies like coal, gas and nuclear, not playground renewables.
And then there’s HS2. Recent studies show that as few as 21% of the public want the wretched thing, while 68% are opposed, or at least think the decision should be delayed while other options are considered. As I’ve often said, the question isn’t “Is it worth spending £50 billion on HS2?” (although I suspect the answer would be NO). The question should be “If we have £50 billion to spend on transport infrastructure, is HS2 the best way to spend it?”. And here the answer is clearly NO. We need more airport capacity in the South East (which will benefit the whole national economy, not just the South East). We need up-grades on roads and on existing railways. These would deliver much more bang for our buck, if less opportunity for posturing by Transport Ministers.
On HS2, more and more of Dave’s own back-benchers are lining up to condemn it, and public opinion is implacably hostile – especially in some of those heartland Conservative constituencies in the Chilterns. Never mind Dave. If you’re determined to leave your natural supporters with no option but to vote UKIP, we shan’t complain.