Sometimes the wonderful wacky world of Westminster becomes a little weird. I’m suffering slightly from weirdness as I write this. It all started with my attention being drawn (as they say) to a speech a few weeks ago by David Cameron that didn’t in fact exist. He had, apparently given a lengthy speech to the Royal Society on renewable energy and climate change, all prepared notes etc. which was quite interesting and more onside on climate change and renewables than not. I’ve seen the speech, which was mercifully fully recorded on the day, and I have to say it is not at all bad, and certainly not what John Hayes would have wanted to hear, had he still been Energy Minister.
And then… it disappeared. Normally, every utterance of the PM especially pre-scripted and publicly delivered would be posted up on a relevant website, distributed with ‘check against delivery’ etc etc, but not this time. Nothing on No 10 website, or anywhere, in fact. Indeed, as Charles Clover from the Telegraph (here) who reported the non-speech found, no 10 denied that Cameron had ever made such a speech , and had been merely ‘dropping in’ on his chum Greg Barker when he (Barker) said his piece at the same event. It was a little like those early clumsily airbrushed Soviet photos where one minute Trotsky is waving on the balcony with Stalin and the next there is merely a grey space beside the great leader.
I had been intending to do a piece on the non-speech , but I saw that Charles Clover had done far better than I could (and hats off to him for a detailed story about nothing) so I didn’t.
So far a bit weird, you’ll agree. But then, on 15th April, up pops Nick Butler in the Financial Times making an argument that the Government is letting sleeping dogs lie on climate change, which remains an unresolved issue in the coalition. ‘The Prime Minister has not spoken on climate change issues since the election’ he confidently asserted. Well, not quite true Nick, but I guess you would have had to have been at the Royal Society to know that. So the airbrushing was working.
And then calamity. In the debate on ‘Decarbonising energy supply’ in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, responding Minister Greg Barker (yes, it is he again) suddenly starts quoting great chunks of the speech that doesn’t exist, and even, in front of the assembled hacks from Hansard, tells everybody where the speech didn’t take place. Naturally, concerned for the welfare of the Minister, I attempted to intervene, to warn him of the possible dire consequences of his actions, but no, he wouldn’t give way. Don’t say I didn’t try. All I can advise, Greg, is don’t go on any mountaineering holidays in the near future.
So what is going on? I don’t know really. I might ask the Minister to place a copy of the speech that doesn’t exist in the House of Commons Library. After all, he must have a text somewhere. But then I might get an answer back along the lines of ‘there never was a minister called Greg Barker and if you know what is good for you you won’t be asking again’. So maybe I won’t. I don’t want anyone harmed.