The ministerial statement on the Cumbrian coking coal mine approval turned out to be an amusing culmination of the whole disorderly process. When Minister Gove finished speaking and sat down, the Speaker waved his copy of the text saying it was thin – too thin, the thinnest ever. Gove had smuggled in much more material to the despatch box and sprung it on his unprepared audience. The Speaker suspended the sitting for five minutes – which turned out to be 25 minutes – in order to get a transcript to all Members. Business Questions was due, so that took precedence and occasioned another delay.
“Sorry about this,” the Speaker said, “this is not the way we do good government.”
Gove took a lot of pretty unpleasant abuse from the previous Speaker but none of it would have stung like this. His apology was, for him, perfunctory.
To return to “good government”. If we remember, the mine was approved two years ago but then our hosting of COP26 made coal mining an embarrassment; the final decision was postponed in case we lost our reputation for global climate leadership (let’s not go into that). After COP26, there was the Tory leadership which caused another delay, and before we knew it – it was time for COP27.
And here we are, this is where we came in – Michael Gove approved the decision, and came to the Commons to make a statement on it.
His case was firmly based on the fact that the Planning Inspector recommended the project and that critics should read the 350-page report before criticising the decision.
With Ed Miliband mourning in support beside her, Lisa Nandy put in a blistering attack. Bad policy, bad politics. Absurd decisions from a government in chaos. Steel companies didn’t want the coal. Emissions! Two hundred thousand cars-worth of emissions! People in Cumbria deserving a long term future. And ten thousand jobs from new nuclear. Chaos. Indefensible. “Where is the ambition! Where is the leadership!” she cried.
Gove’s soft answer turned aside her wrath: “Where is the ambition and where is the leadership? It is sitting right across from me.”
She laughed. Was it guilt? No matter, laughter suits her
There was another positive point about the project. It was, after all, the first coking coal mine in the world that aspires to being a net zero mine. “Aspires” was doing a lot of work there. It gave Kerry McCarthy thr opportunity for the best point: “A net zero coal mine doesn’t take into account the burning of the coal.”
As young people say: LOL.
There is no real argument about the matter. Everyone has their own position. The SNP spokesman said that the decision had been “Condemned by the chair of Committee for Climate Change, and its CEO Chris Stark retweeted, ‘This is climate vandalism with economic incompetence on a scale that is difficult to believe.'”
On that basis, we all of us know exactly what to think.