It has emerged today that the prime minister has blocked the launch of a public information campaign designed to encourage the public to save energy this winter. Work on the campaign was in the advanced stages and had been signed off by Jacob Rees-Mogg, but Downing Street have blocked it amidst claims that Liz Truss is ideologically opposed to the concept and doesn’t want to “tell people how to live”.

The failure to launch a national public information campaign to reduce demand during a war with the UK facing an energy crisis is deeply irresponsible and the reasoning behind it is childish. This is not the “nanny state” gone mad, this is a sensible move that can inform the public, save them money and most importantly, potentially prevent blackouts. A serious government wouldn’t hesitate.

The public are being alerted to the danger by the front-page news that the National Grid has issued severe warnings that the country faces blackouts in a few months if the supply shortage in Europe means we can’t import enough gas. If we do experience blackouts that could have been averted by reducing demand, the government will have to accept a share of the blame for abdicating its responsibility now. It would be a long time before the public forgive the Conservative Party for failing to keep the lights on.

The proposed £15 million information campaign had planned to urge the public to turn down boiler temperatures, turn off radiators in empty rooms and turn off heating when they go out. As campaigns go, it’s relatively unambitious and would likely pay for itself in household savings of an estimated £300 a year. Yet in defending the PM’s wrongheaded move, Maria Caulfield MP said Liz Truss was right to question whether it was the “best use of taxpayer’s money”. This is a very muddled way of considering the economics.

£15 million is a rounding error in government terms, especially compared to estimates of up to a £100 billion to pay for the government’s energy package. The campaign need only reduce energy usage fairly modestly to reduce the cost of that energy package and then more than pay for itself. The cap on the price of energy, be making gas and electric more affordable, could also disincentivise people to reduce demand, therefore they need to be encouraged to use less and informed in how to do so.

In Europe the problem is being taken seriously. EU member states agreed collectively to reduce demand by 15% this winter and have launched initiatives far more ambitious than the plan Liz Truss has blocked. France, Germany and other European nations have introduced reduction measures such as: urging retailers and advertisers to turn off overnight lighting, turning off hot water for hand washing in public spaces, overnight lighting on public buildings and monuments turned off, no public buildings to be warmer than 19 degrees, lowering the temperature of swimming pools. This is what our government should be doing right now.

People need to have the seriousness of the situation emphasised. There is an energy crisis. There is a war in Europe. Britain may not be fighting, but it is very much involved in this war by proxy, by providing its support financially, militarily, and diplomatically, and that comes with negative consequences. The government should call upon the public’s sense of duty, patriotism and morality, and tell them they can support their country, Ukraine and each other by doing what they can to reduce their use of energy.

The government must prepare the public and be honest with the country. By providing practical advice it could at best avert disaster and at worst save people money. However big or small the risk of blackouts and rationing is, the risk is real and must be managed and mitigated appropriately.

This isn’t about the nanny state or a libertarianism vs interventionism debate. It’s about responsible government acting in the face of a crisis. If Liz Truss doesn’t understand this, she is not qualified to be the prime minister. 

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