Greg Clark is your man for combing through documents for fine detail, but not for getting his knickers in a twist about what he finds (and at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth second, too). So it was never very likely that he first got into a last-minute lather over the Hinkley Point project, then talked Theresa May into doing the same – and finally succeeded in getting the whole project called in.
Henry Hill was correct in anticipating on this site yesterday that, rather, the Prime Minister made the crucial decision herself – over the heads of an out-manoeuvered EDF, protesting unions, bewildered business chiefs and Chinese businessman preparing to celebrate the deal over a “Somerset/French/Chinese fusion menu” featuring Cantonese-style pork crackling, Hoin sin lamb skewers and Thai-scented beef fillet.
Three lessons can be drawn from these events.
First, that though it would be wrong to claim that Nick Timothy now runs the Government, it is fair to point out that he and the Prime Minister tend to think as one. Her co-Chief of Staff and former SpAd made his security concerns about George Osborne’s Hinckley Point deal plain in his very first column for this site. This morning’s papers are full of quotes from it. Were ConservativeHome even more commercially-minded than it is, we would throw a paywall around the lot and make our proprietor an additional fortune.
Second, that May has not abandoned her Home Office habit of taking important decisions herself, and thus calling for more paper rather in the manner – as Ferdinand Mount once wrote of Keith Joseph – of looser people calling for more wine. What she is doing over Hinkley Point she has already done recently over the takeover of ARM Holdings. “This is my method,” she told Francois Hollande. It shows an admirable devotion to duty. But whether what was sustainable as Home Secretary will be so as Prime Minister is another matter.
Third, that the Age of Osborne, as Janan Ganesh almost titled his biography of the former Chancellor, is well and truly over. His plan for a surplus no longer exists (though it is uncertain what will replace it). The future of his Northern Powerhouse strategy is a questionmark. Now his tilt to China has been smartly reversed. Out goes an instinct for tactical “dividing lines” and bold strategic gambles. In comes the view that politics “isn’t a game”, and a stress on security concerns.
In addition to these political points, there are wider ones. Energy policy involves balancing a) security of supply; b) value for money; c) reducing carbon emissions, and d) keeping the lights on. You might not like Osborne’s Hinkley Point plan, but at least he had one – after years of dithering by successive governments – that would help meet at least two of these four objectives. If May doesn’t care for it, we need alternative proposals, and soon.