I have never had much respect for Boris Johnson. I think he is one of those politicians who doesn't really know what he thinks or what he wants to achieve. I think his most sincerely held principle is that he wants to be important and Prime Minister would be particularly nice thank you very much. This is accompanied by a habit of opening his mouth before he has thought about the implications of what he is saying. Not habits that I normally admire. But when a British Foreign Secretary shoots from the hip and says something clear and honest about Saudi Arabia I think it is important that everyone in the country backs him to the hilt. Theresa May thought it was appropriate to threaten him with the sack for upsetting her friends.
There could be a number of explanations for this. It is possible that our Theresa thinks that Saudi Arabia is a lovely country and that it really would be a crime against the one true God if she was allowed to drive a car and take off her headscarf. I doubt it. It is also just possible that she thinks that at home Saudi Arabia may be deeply reactionary but abroad it fosters positive inspirational change. Like being the prime source of money and weapons for ISIS or being the country of origin of most of those nice men who flew those planes into the twin towers and all of their money. I doubt that too. So we are left with just one possible explanation. Theresa May thinks the UK should shut up about what Saudi Arabia is doing because that country has bought our silence.
This is what is so very damaging about having an economy that depends on fossil fuels. Your politicians may enter Parliament with every intention of fighting for truth and honesty but they are under huge financial pressure to ignore it completely because so much oil money has ended up in the hands of some very unpleasant regimes. The only conclusion any reasonable person can draw from May's behaviour towards Johnson last week is that the UK government gets too much money from sales to Saudi Arabia for its Foreign Minister to be allowed to say anything honest about the place. The UK Prime Minister knows she must shut up and seek the money and now Johnson knows it too. Within two days he was in Saudi Arabia assuring them that he didn't really mean it and they had the full backing of the woman at the top.
Saudi Arabia's money is clearly of more importance to British foreign policy than small matters like our nation's foreign policy interests. The vast majority of UK citizens admire people who are open minded, tolerant, funny and let others get on with living their life in whatever way they choose. Our close ally has spent decades trying to export religious intolerance and deeply authoritarian male rule.
It therefore seems that the only way to make UK foreign policy reflect our true values is to remove our dependence on oil and cash from unpleasant regimes like Saudi Arabia and Russia. There are some very simple ways to do this. You invest in research into alternative forms of energy generation, new ways of storing it, and products which help cut down your use of fuel. Then you help the companies that come up with innovative new ideas to turn these research ideas into practical products. Next you help consumers to be able to afford the early pioneering products that aren't yet economically competitive but will be in time. You go on to incentivise reduction in energy use by homes, business, schools, offices, and hospitals.
Every measure like this that the government implements has clear benefits. It makes us more energy secure massively more quickly than investing Chinese money in a high risk vanity project at Hinkley Point can ever do. It cuts our import bill thus giving us a chance of sorting out the huge UK balance of payments problem. It cuts bills for consumers by cutting their use. It cuts bills for consumers by increasing supply of energy whilst cutting demand thus driving down prices. It also just happens to be helpful to the survival of the planet by reducing CO2 emissions strongly.
There is only one possible practical downside to the economics and politics of this kind of energy policy. You have to use taxpayers money to consciously create change. Instead of giving business a cut in corporation tax - as the Chancellor has just done - you would have to give them tax breaks to change their energy use. Instead of capping fuel duty on petrol - as the Chancellor has just done - you would have to give people incentives to cut their electricity bill. Instead of giving building developers £5 billion of taxpayers money and promising them no meaningful planning controls - as the Chancellor has also just done - you would need to insist on every new building generating more energy than it used.
These are not radical far left policies. They are common sense practical policies - most of which are already in place in Germany under a right wing Chancellor. The consequence of implementing them would be to equip the UK economy to compete effectively throughout the next era of technology.
But our Prime Minister doesn't seem to want to look to the future and prepare us for the huge changes that are coming as the world moves away from a fossilised approach to technology. She seems rooted in the old ways of doing things and determined to ensure that no one in her Cabinet does anything to upset our Saudi allies. Perhaps I have got her wrong. Her policies are so very reactionary that perhaps she really does believe Saudi Arabia is a forward looking country. I just hope she doesn't go the whole hog and start cutting the heads of people who refuse to believe in her one true God.