Normally perfectly attuned to what right-wing newspaper press barons want, Boris Johnson made an uncharacteristic blunder when he announced he wanted to see offshore wind farms generating enough electricity to power every home in the UK within a decade.
“He had no idea the Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere, a substantial landowner, considers wind farms to be unsightly and has long been resolutely opposed to them,” whispers my man in Whitehall. “Johnson was dismayed when the Mail immediately ran a piece saying the initiative could set the taxpayer back by £50bn and quoted a Tory MP wondering if the PM would actually deliver on the pledge.”
Johnson has been concerned about his relationship with the Mail – read by so many Conservative members and voters – after the paper became strongly critical of his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, and had earlier demanded the scalp of Dominic Cummings after he broke the lockdown rules.
The paper’s most recent headlines about wind farms ought to have made its position clear enough to Johnson: “Wind farms ‘could CAUSE global warming’ by heating up the planet’s surface and taking up huge amounts of space”, “Wind farm FARCE” and “Offshore wind farms built to provide clean energy to the UK could be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for more than 1,000 endangered seabirds, RSPB warns.”
Johnson also managed to antagonise a number of Brextremists around him, who have little time for what David Cameron once called “the green cr**”. In 2017, when Johnson backed the Daily Telegraph’s “war on red tape” campaign, he cited the UK’s renewable energy strategy as the number one most costly “EU-derived” policy at £4.7bn a year.
Environmentalists naturally welcomed what Johnson had to say about wind farms, but, all things considered, they’d now be well advised not to hold their collective breath.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, may be professing his loyalty to Boris Johnson in public, but to his fellow MPs – who regularly receive his “News from Number 11” emails, adorned with a big flattering picture of himself – he’s looking as if he’s very much in campaigning mode.
He’s the bookies’ favourite to succeed the hapless Johnson, but he nevertheless faces a rival in Michael Gove.
I reported the other day how his long-time fan Lord Harris of Peckham had boosted his war chest by £35,000. Now, the Aberdonian property developer Alan Massie has given £20,000. He donated £10,000 towards Gove’s last failed leadership bid. Massie’s official residence is listed on Companies House as tax haven Jersey.
Sunak hasn’t so far declared any donations, but he’s unlikely to be short of money when the leadership contest begins officially. His father-in-law is
N. R. Narayana Murthy, the billionaire and co-founder of the Infosys conglomerate.
After the former Daily Telegraph editor Charles – soon to be Lord – Moore ruled himself out of contention as the next chair of the BBC, Kelvin MacKenzie – the former Sun editor – threw his hat into the ring. I gather Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor who has been mooted as the next boss of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, has been watching these shenanigans with a mounting sense of despair.
“Paul always saw himself as an infinitely superior editor to Moore and found it humiliating that Johnson’s people didn’t have him in mind for what was obviously the more important of the two jobs,” one of Dacre’s friends tells me. “The idea that Paul would give up the vast salary Lord Rothermere still pays him to shift around bits of paper at Ofcom’s office in south London is frankly preposterous. Paul has made no public comment about it as he feels the whole situation is demeaning.”
How Boris Johnson must miss being able to stoke up a big and gloriously distracting row between Leavers and Remainers. It’s all passion spent now and the focus is solely on him and his innumerable failures.
Few, if any, represent the mood of reconciliation better than Elizabeth Hurley and her former boyfriend, Hugh Grant. She was Leave’s poster girl, as he was Remain’s poster boy. The other day, the former wished the latter a belated happy 60th. “A magnificent, monkey-faced addition to our heavenly world,” she said. ”Love you forever.”