The Politics of Oil
This weekend the global oil situation finally made its way onto the front pages of the UK press with, for example, The Guardian’s report on Energy Secretary Chris Huhne calling for the UK to wean itself off oil and fast. By chance I’ve been reading Andrew Marr’s excellent ‘A History of Modern Britain’ and came across this apposite paragraph:
One could write a useful political history which did not move beyond the dilemmas of energy supply. We can follow it from the winter of 1947 when the frozen coal stocks blew Attlee off course, through the oil-related shock of Suez and the destruction of Eden, to Heath’s double confrontation with the miners, ending in his defeat in 1974, the rise of Scottish nationalism fuelled by North Sea oil, and then the epic coalfield confrontation between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill taking the story up to today’s arguments about global warming and gas dependency on Russia. The simple fact of a small and crowded island energy dependent in an uncertain world has toppled prime ministers and brought violent confrontation to the streets.
Marr could have added many more in here – the rise of Al-Qaeda out of the murky world of the Saudi oil world, Saddam Hussein’s original invasion of Kuwait – and many would say the US war on Iraq in 2003, the near bankruptcy of Russia by the oligarchs and a whole host of grubby, bloody little conflicts and kleptocracies all around the world.
Back here in the UK, being Energy Secretary used to be an extremely important role in Government, but it seemed to be relegated to the lower tiers during the North Sea oil and gas boom in the 1980s. Given the way oil prices and unrest are going, this could suddenly be reversed. Knowing Chris Huhne – a very shrewd operator – he’s fully aware of the political risks and opportunities. In my opinion he’s singing the right tune, but he’s got the Herculean task of getting the Treasury to listen if he’s going to succeed.