Ed Davey has a good story to tell his party about fighting the Tories to get a Lib Dem vision for energy policy into government. His speech today was supposed to underline that, and to a certain extent it achieved this, using the word ‘fight’ 15 times, and ‘battle’ four times. It was just rather undermined by the Energy Secretary’s decision to whack a load of jokes into his speech without much heed to whether they were funny, or whether he could deliver them in a manner that highlighted to graduates that they were funny.
The worst joke was about shale gas. ‘I’ve been cautious on shale,’ said Davey. ‘Avoiding hyperbole. Weighing up the evidence. Insisting on firm regulation. I’ve been fracking responsible.’ Lib Dem conference delegates, usually a generous breed when it comes to dealing with appalling attempts at stand-up by their elected representatives, cringed at this. It wasn’t even entirely clear what Davey meant.
But his speech was most notable for what was a pretty full-throttle attack on Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. The two men have been publicly scrapping ever since they started working together (or against each other) in their respective briefs. But Davey’s speech today represented a significant increase in the heat of this fight. It was perhaps the met aggressive attack from one Coalition minister on another at any conference.
Davey even pronounced the Environment Secretary’s name as one might say ‘Cruella Deville’, with deep disdain. ‘Working with Owen Paterson of all people,’ he said with a snarl. ‘David Heath had to fight tooth and nail to save Natural England – and he won.’
Then he mocked Paterson for making ‘the case for Britain’s membership of the EU better than any Conservative I’ve ever heard’, as well as cracking yet another joke about ‘the badgering of Owen Paterson or the Pickling of Eric’.