Energy crisis: Liz Truss's King Canute-style pledge about energy rationing shows a lack of serious leadership – Scotsman comment

When facing a major crisis, leaders need to strike a balance between instilling confidence and helping people to prepare for the worst.

The problem with Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss’s confident assertion about the prospect of energy rationing this winter – “I do rule that out, yes” – is that it is beyond her power. It is, instead, a matter of supply and demand.

If there is a particularly cold winter, supplies of energy from Norway and France to the UK could dwindle so there might have to be four days of emergency measures in January to conserve gas. We know this because it is laid out in plans, published by Truss’s own government last month, for a “worst-case scenario”.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has stressed the government believes there will be enough energy to meet demand this winter, but that it is sensible to have a plan in place in case things go awry. “Responsible governments prepare for extreme scenarios, however unlikely they may be,” explained the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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This is, essentially, the correct answer and the one that Truss should have given.

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Her actual answer was demolished by Gavin Barwell, chief of staff to Theresa May during her time as Prime Minister. “So if it is a cold winter and there simply isn’t enough energy to go round, which is a real risk, we are just going to have random blackouts rather than the government rationing non-domestic use so that vulnerable people don’t find themselves without heating.”

With a new report by energy consultancy Wood Mackenize warning that an extremely cold winter could force Europe to reduce its use of natural gas next winter, it is clear this is a problem that may be with us for some time. And that means good leadership is all the more important.

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Liz Truss is widely expected to become the next Prime Minister (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Serious times call for serious people. Companies need to know what they are facing, so they can plan ahead and make decisions that affect their businesses and the lives of their staff.

When King Canute ordered the waves not to break upon his land, he did so to show the limits of kingly power. Truss has just given an example of the later retelling of the story, that he was a fool who thought himself all-powerful.

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