Book groups are jokingly known as the preserve of mums meeting in Costa coffee shops, blocking the gangway with their oversized prams.
But it seems a bit of a craze for the gatherings could be budding in Westminster. Where? Why, in the Lords’ EU subcommittee for agriculture, environment and energy, of all places. Why not!
When Energy Secretary Ed Davey visited subcommittee D’s weekly hearing into EU energy issues, one of the Lords asked whether anyone at the Department of Energy and Climate Change had read a particular tome about energy returns on investment.
The Earl of Caithness (addressed as Lord, natch) earnestly enquired: “Have your officials read the Tullett Prebon report ‘The Perfect Storm: Energy Finance and the End of Growth’?”
“I haven’t read that particular report, no,” replied the honourable MP for Kingston and Surbiton.
Most people would have asked him to take a peek and leave it at that. Not so for this Lord.
“If I could just ask your officials to have a look at that and comment on it because there are a number of serious consequences, if this is right and its predictions on energy returns and energy invested are right. That would have a major implication on everything the Government does,” he said.
In book group terms, it was the equivalent of turning up without having read the right novel but asking everyone about your own favourite trashy read, then expecting them to know what happens in it.
The Energy Secretary stuttered slightly, almost certainly confused (just as I was to be hearing the exchange), asking in return: “Can you tell me what the conclusion was?”
Inevitably in this situation, the naughty book group member has to sum up the whole plot so everyone knows what they’re banging on about. It’s time-consuming, utterly pointless – and exactly what the eminent Earl proceeded to do.
Lord Caithness rambled on: “The conclusions are that the amount of energy that is, ah, required, ah, that has been invested to get a return has diminished hugely and is almost at critical point now. Even for shale gas and things like that, that we are entering a period of life after growth. And that we will not be able to stimulate the economy in the usual way and therefore our investment decisions have to be taken in a different form.”
There were a few moments of silence. Then Davey gamely, tentatively, (dare I say, sympathetically) suggested that from the general thrust of things, it sounded a bit like what he and his department were trying to do, prepare for changing economic circumstances. Thankfully, for the whole book group – I mean, committee – he was allowed to leave it at that.