The mark of the man was the email he sent to staff at DECC after his departure (something not many departing Ministers do). He thanked what he called “incredibly diligent and dedicated teams” and said the progress on policies “owes much more to the ideas, expertise and focus of the officials that make up DECC than to individual Ministers.” The end of Charles Hendry’s tenure as Energy Minister, in many people’s eyes and indeed ENA’s, was premature.
John O’Hara the American writer put it best when he wrote of the premature death of George Gershwin in 1937. He remarked that “George died on July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe that if I don't want to”. There is that feeling around Westminster, one of Parliament’s genuine nice guys had been dealt a bitter blow and he would be missed. Missed by his Private Office (I doubt there was a dry eye there), by colleagues and by an industry that had grown to respect his diligence, common sense and knowledge.
ENA’s Bulletin has long reported the exploits and work of Charles Hendry MP. He seems to have been on the energy scene forever. There was not a fringe meeting, reception, briefing, dinner, awards giving or debate that he did not seem to be engaged upon in the energy arena. We were proud that he graced many of our events, including the setting for his first speech as a Minister.
For six long years he has toiled at the coalface (sometimes literally!) on energy policy. For most of that time he did it unpaid, in the background with no more than one research assistant. Quietly he built up a level of knowledge and respect in the energy sector almost unsurpassed in the history of that policy area. This respect was founded upon hard graft. Slowly chipping away at the issues, talking and more importantly listening and engaging with an industry which is always full of passion and was feeling sometimes a little unloved. Not to say that he didn’t confront us with challenges but with the respect he had earned it made it easier. We were always reassured that the hand on the energy policy tiller was sure and experienced.
As a result he did something not many politicians can say. He shaped policy. There was something else that always struck you about his style and approach. Many Ministers operate with one eye always on what Disraeli called the “greasy pole of politics”. Somehow we were always sure that Charles wasn’t doing this. The reason? Because he was that rare phenomenon in politics, the contented politician, happy in what he was doing. We were grateful of this and of the certainty that his ever presence provided. A record number of Energy Ministers preceding him was not a positive state of affairs.
That is over now and he has returned to the backbenches. However his replacement (of more below) shares something of his spirit. John Hayes has shown a passion for his ministerial policy area. That is an encouraging trait. Energy policy needs this more than ever.
This is not a political obituary for Charles Hendry MP and ENA hopes and anticipates that we have not heard the last of Mr Hendry. Think of Patrick Jenkin. A similar figure in the energy firmament. A man who has built up two quite separate political careers, first as a respected and long serving Minister and secondly as a crusading energy policy expert. Charles has earned his place in that pantheon now, alongside Lord Jenkin and Malcolm Wicks, and we look forward to his continuing role in our energy future.