Universities minister David Willetts stepped into the breach with Green’s speech in hand to extol the UK economy’s virtues as an exporter of everything “from whiskey to finance” (and their intersection, no doubt).
Taking the opportunity to make fun of his absent peer, he recalled one lord who, upon arriving at the House of Lords had demanded: “And what is the pension?”
The confused stewards looked at one another. “The House of Lords is the pension,” they said. “But maybe Stephen doesn’t need that arrangement,” Willetts observed wryly.
His speech, and a generous main course, gave ample time for star speaker Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, the world’s biggest electric car company, to write what appeared to be his speech on a scrap of paper at the top table.
But the notes scribbled under the wing of a model EL Al airlines plane placed amid the flowers on each table didn’t prevent him from wowing the international crowd of businessfolk ranging from hoteliers to shipping magnates.
Agassi didn’t quite ditch the jacket and roll up the sleeves Blair-style, but he shunned the podium in favour of a free-form motivational talk: “The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones,” he exclaimed. “And we will not end the oil age by running out of oil but by finding something better.”
But he was keen to reassure the business-minded audience: “I didn’t start as a greenie. I’m a capitalist pig,” he said, although he couldn’t resist a dig at big oil, referring to his company, Better Place, as “the other BP”.
Most of the illustrious crowd might have been revved up by Agassi’s optimism, but it didn’t take everywhere, it seems – ex-Lloyds chairman Sir Victor Blank was seen snoozing into his napkin.
No such rest for Lord Green: he had a vote to cast.