Had a certain Mr Dickens been around this year, I like to think that his Christmas-themed morality tale might have gone a little differently…


It was a cold, dark Christmas eve, and the Prime Minister, like most other souls in the land, was fast asleep. Until he was shaken awake by a cold hand. Groggily, he opened his eyes, to see a small, sinewy figure, dressed all in white.

“What on earth…!” exclaimed the Prime Minister.

“Not on earth, exactly, but I am the Ghost of Christmas Past,” replied the figure.

“My past, or the distant past?”

“That is relative, but no, not your past. Rise, and walk with me.”

Study at 10 Downing StreetThe Spirit beckoned him, and at his touch, they passed through a wall and found themselves in a small yet strangely familiar room.

“What is this place?” asked the confused Prime Minister.

“The study, in Number 10.”

“What, my study? Oh, yes, I suppose I can see that. But who are those people?”

An elderly couple sat in wing-backed chairs on either side of a roaring fire. Candles sat in sconces on the walls and in candelabra on various side-tables. In the corner of the room was a Christmas tree decorated with coloured ribbons, pine cones and candies. All in all it was a cosy scene.

“My dear, you have excelled yourself with these final decorations,” said the man. “It is quite the transformation from a year ago.”

“Thank you dear,” replied the woman, “A man of your station should have a home suitable to his status.”

“This is certainly an improvement on the sorry condition of the place when we first arrived.” The man shuddered. “All that damp!”

“Indeed, but that is behind us now. I instructed the servants that you will take a bath before bed.”

“Ah yes, the bath. Hot and cold running water…I really am very pleased we were able to install it, even if I was obliged to pay for it myself!”

“Who are these people?” asked the Prime Minister.

“Benjamin Disraeli and his wife, Mary Anne. They have just completed renovations on the house, which was in very poor condition when they moved in – it had been neglected for some time and, unlike other contemporary homes, there was no paraffin or gas lighting, and no plumbing. Disraeli installed the first working bath with hot and cold water, and in 20 years from now, Gladstone will install electric lighting and a telephone. There won’t be any central heating for another 80 years.”

“Well, this all looks very jolly,” declared the Prime Minister, “I really can’t see why you are showing me this. I’d like to go home now.”

“Very well,” replied the Spirit, as the two of them passed back through the wall and into the present.

The Spirit vanished and the Prime Minister grumpily returned to his bed, muttering about other ghosts that might arrive.

No sooner had he fallen asleep than he was again woken. This second Spirit looked quite different from the first, with a cheerful face, and being all dressed in green.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit, and indicating for the bemused Prime Minister to touch his robe, he took him on his second journey of the night.

This time everything looked very familiar, and yet there was something not quite right…

[BORIS JOHNSON]: Well this is all very festive and atmospheric! A bit dark, but very atmospheric! Let’s have a fire…I fancy a great big fire, roaring in the fireplace. And a brandy, or better still, mulled wine!

[PERMANENT SECRETARY]: I’m not sure a fire is advisable, Prime Minister…

[BORIS JOHNSON]: Nonsense! A good fire is exactly what we need…

[VOICE FROM THE DARKNESS]: It’s not very green, Prime Minister…we did just commit to net zero…

[BORIS JOHNSON]: Alok? Is that you? I didn’t see you there…while these candles are absolutely marvellous, it does make it a bit tricky to see. So how about that fire – I’m sure one teeny weeny fire isn’t going to hurt our carbon emissions much. And we could do with the extra light…

[PERMANENT SECRETARY]: Unfortunately there is also the Clean Air Act, Prime Minister.

[BORIS JOHNSON]: Bother it. Why are we using candles, by the way?

[ALOK SHARMA] There’s a blackout.

[BORIS JOHNSON] Of course there’s a blackout!! It’s dark!! But why do we need candles? Just switch on the lights!

[ALOK SHARMA] No, there’s a blackout. A power cut, across most of the South East – maybe further afield, we’re not sure.

Inside 10 Downing Street[BORIS JOHNSON] Is this because of all those wretched suppliers going bust all over the place? I seem to remember our supplier went pop a few weeks ago – mind you, we only chose them because of the name – I simply couldn’t not sign up with Zog Energy! Did you know that there was a King Zog of Albania? He served as Albania’s youngest ever prime minister before being elected as Albania’s first ever president, and then made himself king! Not a bad career progression if you overlook his unfortunate subsequent exile. It’s really quite fascinating….

[PERMANENT SECRETARY] (mutters) and before Zog it was Igloo, and before that Tonik…at least now it’s Centrica, and if they go bust we’ll just have to buy them…

[BORIS JOHNSON] Someone fetch Kwasi. I want to know what’s going on…Doesn’t Ofgem protect people whose suppliers have gone bust? Yet here we are, sitting in this murk.

[ALOK SHARMA] He’s on his way. Ofgem does protect customers of failed suppliers from getting cut off. But we’re not cut off because of a supplier going bust – it’s a blackout.

[BORIS JOHNSON] You keep saying, but all I can see, or rather not see because the blasted lights aren’t working, is that the lights are all off!

[KWASI KWARTENG] Prime Minister, I’m so sorry….I’ve just been on with National Grid. They said there’s not enough power to meet demand. Something to do with cold weather, it not being windy and some nuclear reactors breaking down.

[BORIS JOHNSON] Crikey, some nuclear reactors have broken down? Is that safe? Are we all going to be pulversied into a billion tiny pieces by a mushroom cloud? Chernobyl on Thames?

[KWASI KWARTENG] Um, no, it just means they’re not currently running. Apparently they’re getting a bit old and unreliable.

[BORIS JOHNSON] So what are we going to do about it?

{KWASI KWARTENG] Well, as part of our commitment to delivering a net zero electricity system by 2035, subject of course to security of supply, we intend to build a lot more wind farms.

[BORIS JOHNSON] Marvellous. (Pause) Hang on a minute – didn’t you just say something about it not being windy. How will more wind farms help?

[KWASI KWARTENG] They’re important for our transition to a net zero electricity system by 2035

[PERMANENT SECRETARY] (mutters) At least we still have gas heating…

[BORIS JOHNSON] What’s that about gas heating?

[PERMANENT SECRETARY] I was just observing, Prime Minister, that if we had electric heating the heating would be off as well as the lights.

[BORIS JOHNSON] Good grief, that would be terrible! Thank goodness we don’t have electric heating, that would be a disaster!

[KWASI KWARTENG] Um, the thing is, our policy is to get people to get rid of their gas heating and install green, efficient heat pumps.

[BORIS JOHNSON] That sounds like a marvellous idea – why don’t we do that?

[PERMANENT SECRETARY] Heat pumps require electricity in order to operate, Prime Minister. They wouldn’t work in a blackout.

[BORIS JOHNSON] That sounds like a terrible idea – we definitely shouldn’t do that? So when will the blasted lights come back on? What are the chaps at National Grid doing about it? And what about Ofgem? Why didn’t they protect us from this? Kwasi?

[KWASI KWARTENG] I believe they’re working on it. Something about inertia.

[BORIS JOHNSON] They have an inertia problem? That’s simply not good enough…they need to get their un-mentionables in gear and sort it out. Inertia!! My word, this is definitely NOT the time for inertia!!

[KWASI KWARTENG] I couldn’t agree more, Prime Minister. Let me get them on the line and have them explain themselves.

Some moments later with someone senior from National Grid on the phone…

[BORIS JOHNSON] So what’s this I hear about having inertia and not being able to get the lights back on?

[VOICE OF NATIONAL GRID] I think there may have been some crossed wires, Prime Minister. Inertia is an important property of the electricity system which resists changes in system frequency. If there is a mis-match between supply and demand the frequency can change, and if it changes too much network equipment is disconnected for safety reasons. Today, we had more demand than supply because of low nuclear availability and a couple of gas power stations breaking down. We had to instruct distribution networks to disconnect demand in order to protect the grid. We’re working on getting everyone re-connected, and hope everything to be back on within the hour.

[BORIS JOHNSON] So what about all the wind farms we’ve been building?

[VOICE OF NATIONAL GRID] Unfortunately it isn’t windy at the moment.

[BORIS JOHNSON] Even in Scotland? It’s always windy in Scotland?

[VOICE OF NATIONAL GRID] There is very little wind across Northern Europe. There’s a high pressure weather system sitting across the Continent which means it’s cold but still.

[BORIS JOHNSON] And what about those interconnectors. Can’t we import what we need?

[VOICE OF NATIONAL GRID] I believe we’ve been exporting for most of the day due to high demand in France where they have mostly electric heating so demand rises quickly when it’s cold. However, we’ve entered into some trades with the French system operator so are now importing, although capacity is reduced due to a fire at the substation in Kent a few months ago.  

[BORIS JOHNSON] I’m finding this quite baffling. Am I understanding you correctly that when it’s not windy and cold we can run out of electricity and there’s not very much we can do about it?

[VOICE OF NATIONAL GRID] Capacity margins are falling, and there has been an unfortunate conjunction of events with four nuclear reactors off-line for un-planned maintenance, two gas-fired generators tripping, coinciding with wind generation being low.

[KWASI KWARTENG] Fortunately our plan to approve another large-scale nuclear power station before the end of this Parliament should solve the problem, in addition to a significant increase in off-shore wind generation.

[BORIS JOHNSON] It doesn’t sound as if building more wind farms is going to help. When can we get the new nukes built?

[VOICE OF NATIONAL GRID] A new large-scale nuclear power station takes about 10 years to build, or, at least that appears to be the case for the ones EDF is building.

[BORIS JOHNSON] So what are we going to do in the meantime? This all seems to be quite shaky to me. What about that trilemma I kept hearing about – wasn’t that supposed to stop anything like this happening?

[KWASI KWARTENG] As you know, Prime Minister, the trilemma was officially abolished by Greg Clark.

[BORIS JOHNSON] That sounds as if it may have been premature. So we think the lights will be back on in an hour, but how on earth are we going to stop this from happening again?

[KWASI KWARTENG] With more wind farms and by approving a new nuclear…

[BORIS JOHNSON] Seriously Kwasi, what about this winter? Even if we did build all of that stuff, we won’t have it this month or next month. How do we keep the lights on now?


[BORIS JOHNSON] That wasn’t a rhetorical question, I want an answer. I NEED an answer!! The public is already fussing about our small entertainments last year, and now we have energy bills going up and up and we’re not even keeping the lights on! It’s a nightmare…a complete disaster….

[KWASI KWARTENG] I propose we conduct a review into security of supply in the energy markets.

[BORIS JOHNSON] Didn’t you just announce a review of the energy markets?

[KWASI KWARTENG] Yes, but that is a review into the retail energy market – this would be a review of security of supply

[PRIVATE SECRETARY] (mutters) Of course he wants a review, then he can claim to be doing something about it without actually doing anything about it….

“Spirit, this is horrible. This can’t possibly be the Present? For one thing I’m here with you, and before you brought me here I was asleep in bed and not in my study…”

“I’m afraid it is. This is your tomorrow – you will wake up, and in the evening this will happen.”

“Can I stop it?”

“Unfortunately, no. Events are already in motion. But you can still change your future….”

“Technically, tomorrow IS still the future,” muttered the Prime Minister as he returned to his bed.

By this stage sleep was impossible, so he sat waiting for the inevitable third Ghost. He did not have to wait long.

While the first Ghost was, well, ghostly, and the second was more like a kindly uncle, this third Spirit was terrifying. It sucked all warmth and light from the room – it felt like staring into the void.

The Prime Minister swallowed his dread…

“Are you the Ghost of Christmas Still to Come?” he asked.

The Spirit indicated assent, and for the sorry figure of the Prime Minister to follow him.

He found himself once again in the study in 10 Downing Street. The room was rather gloomy, a couple of table lamps providing dim illumination, and a Christmas tree in the corner decorated with what looked like pine cones, ribbons and candies.

“Is it Christmas?” asked the Prime Minister. “Where are all the lights? And the tinsel. I love tinsel!”

“Christmas lights are considered a frivolous waste of energy, and other materials derived from hydrocarbons for frivolous reasons are banned,” intoned the Spirit.

A couple sat, with blankets across their laps, in front of the empty fireplace. The woman’s face was illuminated by the laptop on her knee, and around her shoulders was a thick shawl. Beside her sat a man, also using a laptop.

“Seriously, it’s freezing in here. Can’t we just put the heating on?” asked the man.

“You know we can’t. Our energy audits are public, and we can’t have the Prime Minister being profligate with electricity….think of all “selfish Tory” the headlines we’d get.”

“But it’s really annoying when we can afford more heating to have to sit in the cold. I really didn’t sign up for this.

“Well there’s not really any choice. We HAVE to reduce everyone’s energy use to meet net zero targets.”

Inside 10 Downing Street“You know, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth it. I mean, people are literally dying from the cold, and in the past twenty years since net zero was announced we’ve drastically cut emissions, but there’s still just as much climate change. What’s the point? Why should we suffer if it isn’t making any difference?”

“We made a commitment, and if we don’t follow through in it why should any other country? It’s the right thing to do.”

“I don’t know if I agree with that any more. People are miserable – I’m miserable – and we never had any choice about this because you lot all stitched it up between you.”

“What do you mean “you lot”?”

“Politicians. You’ve all been trying to out-do each other on this environmental hair-shirt b___t, and I’m sick of it. I think a lot of people are. And it’s un-democratic – we never chose this.”

“It was part of our election manifesto, so you definitely did choose this.”

“Don’t give me that – it was part of everyone’s election manifesto. You know this is exactly like Brexit – not giving people a say because you know deep down that you won’t like the answer. Well it has to stop. I’m putting the heating on.”

The man stomped out of the room and slammed the door.

“Why are they arguing about the heating?” the Prime Minister asked of the Spirit. “Surely no government was asking people to sit in the cold for net zero….”

“Electricity is too expensive for many people, so they wait for the Mandatory Cheap Period every evening when by law all energy companies must provide an affordable tariff to allow people to cook a hot meal for dinner. They also put their heating on for a couple of hours because it’s the only time they can afford to. But it doesn’t really warm the house because the heat pumps are inefficient and the house is not well insulated.”

“That sounds so depressing. Why is it like this?”

“Governments pursued net zero policies with enthusiasm, but they did not plan the energy systems properly. They forced people to move to electric heating but it is not efficient and many homes are not well enough insulated for low-grade heating systems. The electricity system is very unreliable, and it costs a lot to maintain the service, so people self-disconnect as much as possible. Also, energy audits are widely used, so people can see how much energy other people use. People that use a lot tend to get cancelled. Although in rural areas people still burn wood, despite the fact that technically it’s illegal. Many people die each winter from the cold.”

“That sounds like some kind of East German cold war nightmare. And people put up with this?”

The Prime Minister shook his head as he looked glumly at the scene before him. “How can I prevent this future? We can’t have people dying of cold just to get to net zero – that makes no sense at all! What should I do?”

“That is not for me to say.”

And with that, a deeply troubled Prime Minister found himself back in his bedroom. The Sprit had gone. The next morning the Prime Minister woke up and immediately – before he had drunk his first coffee of the day, or eaten his marmalade toast – ordered his officials to build a fleet of shiny new gas-fired power stations and a large new seasonal gas storage facility.


I would like to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy & Prosperous New Year!


Merry Christmas

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