Securing Britain's energy

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg warns Gordon Brown not to go ahead with a new generation of coal power pla

Gordon Brown is about to make a decision that will bring into sharp focus his true attitude towards energy policy and climate change.

If the government gives the go ahead to construct a new dirty coal power plant at Kingsnorth, it will send a clear signal of their intention to build a new generation of power stations that will leave Britain reliant on coal power for future decades.

Today there is widespread concern at the rising cost of living. Rising prices at the petrol pump, growing electricity and heating costs and inflated food bills are a direct consequence of the rising price of oil. Fossil fuels are showing a frightening degree of price volatility. Coal is no exception. Once regarded as cheap, it too is now rocketing in price. Only a year ago the government was planning on the basis that coal would reach $70 a tonne over the next decade, at worst. But coal has already topped $140 a tonne - and analysts predict that the price will keep on rising.

Supplying Britain’s energy through coal is not only increasingly expensive, it is also less than secure. The UK’s declining coal reserves means we already import nearly three quarters of our coal. We now burn more Russian coal than British. With gas reserves also dwindling a decision to build more coal power stations will render us even more reliant on imported fossil fuels.

There is another way of doing things. Creating genuine energy independence in the UK if the government makes the necessary investment in renewable electricity from known technologies like wind and tidal power.

Once onshore wind turbines were dismissed as expensive. Today they are our cheapest source of electricity - £34/MWh compared to £38/MWh for gas. Offshore wind is more expensive, but unlike fossil fuel technologies, it is projected to fall in price just as onshore wind has done. With a revolution in renewables and improved energy efficiency we can also use our domestic gas and coal to supply necessary back up power when the wind doesn’t blow. This will minimise the need for imports and improve the security of our energy supply.

It would also help to protect the environment.

To his credit, Gordon Brown has adopted a bold renewables target. The stated aim of the government is to ensure that 15% of our energy is generated from renewable sources by the year 2020. That’s a meaningful ambition which has generated support across Britain’s political parties. But the government’s business department seems set on paying for renewables in other countries as a means to exempting itself from meeting the 15% target in Britain itself. By following that course we will not only sacrifice potential energy security gains but the government will send a clear signal about its lack of commitment to tackling climate change.

The Business Secretary, John Hutton, assures us that Kingsnorth and any other coal power stations constructed in the near future will be ‘carbon capture ready’. In other words they will come into service as conventional coal power stations, with all the carbon emissions that involves. The government hopes that the technology for capturing that carbon can then be developed, scaled up and retro-fitted to the new plants. That is unacceptable. By giving the go ahead to new coal power before carbon capture technology is fully functioning, the government will only lessen the incentive to develop it.

WWF’s report this week reminds us that the concerns about acid rain of the 1980s led to power plants being made sulphur capture ready. But despite the technology having been demonstrated decades ago, it is only now that plants are being made to clean up or close. We can’t risk our climate on such feeble foundations. Of course we must trial carbon capture technology. But that must not be an excuse for allowing other plants through until they can capture carbon from day one.

China – along with other developing and polluter countries - will only be convinced to act when wealthier states, including the UK, demonstrate real resolve to deliver a genuine low carbon economy. Investment in renewable energy and operational carbon capture on conventional plants are key steps to reaching that objective. So let’s seize the opportunity to increase our energy security and while putting our economy on course for a low carbon future. The stakes could not be higher.

Nick Clegg is leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Sheffield Hallam. Clegg initially trained as a journalist before working as a development and trade expert in the EU. He was elected as MEP for the East Midlands in 1999, stood down in 2004, lectured at Sheffield and Cambridge universities, and was elected to the UK parliament in 2005.
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.