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Why I’m disappointed with Tim Farron over his nuclear comments

Tim Farron today spoke to the Huffington Post about his dismay over the new nuclear power station and why he personally isn’t supportive of it. I have no problem with this. He can have an opinion just as well as the next person. It is part of what makes being a member of this party good in my view – people can openly express opinions even if they differ from the party line. However I am disappointed because it doesn’t seem like a grown-up and mature reason for being unhappy.

The popular MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale believes that, ‘an equally ambitious investment in renewables would be a better solution,’ than investing the money in this nuclear power station. Quite possibly but that is an idealistic approach. I’m not privvy to top-level government talks but I’d be somewhat surprised if any company – either UK based or foreign – are ready to invest £16bn in renewable energy schemes in the United Kingdom. So this means that Tim is calling for the UK tax payer to fund these schemes and last I heard, money wasn’t exactly swilling around the government coffers.

Of course if the Lib Dems were in control then money could be found, heck the Tories or Labour could find the money as well. There is money but it is all a question of what people see as a priority. High Speed Rail 2 is a costly exercise and opinion seems to be split on whether this is value for money to the UK tax payer. We all know that the Lib Dems wouldn’t write a blank cheque to replace Trident so money could be found there. However that isn’t the situation as it stands but remember none of this investment is coming from the UK tax payer. They are in effect getting 7% of their electricity at no start up cost to them.

The money is coming from overseas and Tim isn’t completely down with that either, talking in the same article he did ‘seriously question what is going on when so much of this investment is going to bleed overseas.’ Now if a UK company was willing and prepared to fund the new build then good times, however the long and short of it is K businesses do not have that type of money to invest long-term. The economy isn’t strong enough and therefore foreign companies – and money – from countries who have capital to invest in long-term is the most sensible way forward. They say 25,000 jobs will be created in the construction phase of this project and the vast majority will be from UK sources. Whilst it isn’t ideal, it is the grown-up approach.

It does seem to me that Tim is talking to the left of the party and further positioning himself to be Nick Clegg’s successor. He is well liked by the left and the centre of the party. After Nick then I do think those in the left of the party will want a Tim Farron to lead, the only question is whether the left of the party will have enough members to elect Tim when the time comes or whether they’ll have given up their membership and/or departed for Labour.

Do I personally disagree with what Tim has said? No. The difference is I think these kind of deals are where the real world is at the moment and we don’t live in an ideal world. This is why I was pleased with the party at Conference to get behind nuclear power in limited circumstances. I felt it was the sound of the party growing up. Nuclear power isn’t great but is it better than fossil fuels? I’d argue that it was and it is a step in the right direction.

Also this deal means that the UK tax payer isn’t burdened with the build cost and if the costs spiral out of control then we might be extremely grateful for that. Remember how a significant number of the population were pissed off at the spiraling cost of the Olympics? Imagine what they would say at a publicly funded nuclear power plant doing the same?

Would I prefer lots of money going into renewable sources? I would but again I don’t see that the UK tax payer would be so willing and I don’t see foreign companies lining up to fund this. Renewable energies are moving forward but until they become more cost-efficient for the power they give out then the tax payer will not be getting value for money. The Severn tidal barrage started off with a £15bn estimation for cost but now it’s £25bn and would provide just 5% of all energy requirements in the country – also it would have needed thirty years of state support. It would be good long long-term but would it be value for money? No.

The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project looks set to cost between £550m and £650m and would provide power for all the homes in Swansea (for 14 hours a day). It is an interesting project but they are looking for investment. Does Tim believe that this investment should only come from UK firms or is foreign investment ok for renewable schemes?

To cut a long rambling blog post short, I would love to see more renewable projects funded but when budgets are so tight it is hard to justify it. The Late 90s and early 00s was the perfect time to invest in large long-term capital projects like these and hopefully towards the end of the decade, when the economy is flourishing once more then it would be easier to get value for money for these projects. If foreign companies want to invest in the UK infrastructure then I’m all for it, whether it be for nuclear power, renewable energies or whatever.

Sometimes ideology has to take a back-seat to the realities of the world and that is where myself and the good MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale seem to differ.

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