Blessed are the cheese makers….for they shall be ASBO’ed

This week those not-so-happy little elves from the high-vis jacket wearing world of elf’N’Safety killjoy’s tried to end a thousand year old tradition of cheese rolling in Gloucester. Even to the point where the coppers went around and threatened the 86 year old cheese maker who supplied the cheese with legal action if she did so.

As a result, while the “cheese run” did go ahead, instead the double Gloucester cheese was replaced with a foam replica. Ya, that was always the big health and safety issue with rolling down a steep hill in a massive group, you might whack you’re head of off a lump of semi-soft cheese! :no:

Apparently its now illegal to roll a lump of cheese down a hill….I’d best not let the coppers know my lunch box rolled down the stairs last night! ;D Could end up in court! While I’m not normally the sort to agree with Osborne, clearly Gloucestershire police can make a few cut backs given that their officers have sufficient free time on their hands to go around harassing grandmothers about lumps of cheese when they could be out catching burglars or something!

…then again, I knew someone who worked in narcotics and he lamented that any time he and his mates talked about doing a big drug bust, uniform would suddenly develop the urge to go check up on parking meters on the other side of town or something. I mean those drug dealer types are dangerous psycho’s, someone should lock them up…oh wait! that’s our job!

But back to the cheese. Much of this nanny state malarkey is driven by the morbid fear of councils or police forces about them being sued by someone for some reason. Hence they have to react to the “threat” of being sued, rather to a clear case or risk of it. This is largely due to the lack of a UK constitution as one can never be sure what a judge or jury will come up with.

Basic common sense would tell you that chasing a lump of cheese down a steep hill is for the very brave and very stupid (more the latter than the former me thinks!) and any injury you suffer is the fault of nobody but yourself(save the parent who dropped you on you’re head as a weein!) :)). But courts, the police nor councils don’t do common sense! Hence the value of creating a law (or getting a written constitution) on the books that requires you to exert it at all times. And if you “forget” well that’s why you’re brain has these things called pain receptors for, to “remind” you of danger! ;D

And speaking of Swivel Eyed loons…..

And is if to show the world is not short of nutters, we have the crazy and demented actions that played out on a Woolwich street this week. Now I suspect you’ll struggle to find anyone (Muslim, Christian or Atheist) who actually thinks that what these two did was anything other than the actions of a pair of psycho lunatics.

I mean what did they think was going to happen? Were they expecting Cameron to appear on telly announcing his conversion to Islam and the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq…..oh wait! we did that last year! Indeed its likely the outcome of this attack is that the authorities to clamp down on Islamic communities in the UK all the harder. I won’t be surprised if something pops up soon about arming off duty soldiers (which was normal practice in parts of Northern Ireland during the height of the troubles) or police in certain districts. I expect that “snoopers charter” that they tried to sneak through recently will also make a come back.

Inevitably of course had this been two (white) guys who were high on crack or drunk out of their skulls who killed someone, I doubt it would have been front page news. However because it involved those two magic words “Muslim” and “Terrorist” the media when into its 24/7 news cycle mode over it. Indeed after awhile the story became the story as the media started to complain about why they were giving so much air time to this….by giving yet more air time over!

Of course it is important to put clear blue water between lunatics in the wannabe jihadi brigade and normal god fearing Muslims. It is often said that Islamic extremists want to take the world back to the middle ages. actually its more a case of them trying to hark back to the 1750’s. For this was when the Al-Wahhabi sect had its origins in Saudi Arabia. They were an extreme puritanical sect who basically sought to ban everything remotely modern such as radio, electricity, art, dancing, music (even traditional islamic stuff!), drinking, smoking, etc. everything that is except one modern invention – the rifle! So in many respects when we call someone a “muslim extremists” we should really call them a Wahhabist.

However this crazy warped cult has expanded massively in recent years, acting as a sort of “counter-reformation” to modernisation and development in many Muslim countries over the last few decades. Unfortunately, like the Tories I discussed in my last post, many mainstream Muslims are reluctant to challenge the Wahhabists for fear of being labelled “not true Muslims“. While they inevitably deplore and condemn the violence that results from it, they end up sounding like a load of Jerry Adam’s clones, droning on about how horrible terrorism is… then starting preaching from the same hymn sheet as the terrorists!

For example, the Koran, like the Bible, has a number of wacky creation myths. Now while the vast majority of Christians (a couple of Bible literalists to the contrary) now accept that the formation of the world took a lot longer than seven days, far too many Muslims are reluctant to reject these myths (even thought privately they surely except it can’t possibly be true).

Similarly, there is nothing in the Koran that forbids portraits, or cartoons for that matter, of Mohammad. Indeed there were many depictions of him going back many centuries after his death before it started to be frowned on (around about the same time in fact that the Wahhabists sect arouse). And largely the reason for stopping it was the issue of Idolatry (i.e. worshiping of Idols….like Justin Bieber fans!). Muhammad was supposed to be just god’s messenger, direct you’re prayers at the guy upstairs not the guy at the front desk was sort of the point. Of course that would imply that so long as nobody got down on their knees and started worshiping those Danish cartoons then there was nothing blasphemous about them and certainly the threats of violence directed against Western newspapers was wholly unjustified. But you try finding a Imam who will publicly admit that!

Again my prescription to Islam is the same as it is to the Tories. These extremists are they’re worst enemies. They give the EDL/UKIP/Israeli right-wing all the ammo they need to stir things up. There is a need for moderates within the religion to start to challenge such outdated views and drag the religion into the 21st century.

Swivel eyed Tory loons

One story doing the rounds the other week was how Cameron apologized for one of his staff apparently not calling Tory grass roots activists “Swivel eyed loons”. The Lady doth protest too much me thinks!

I think Cameron (or one of cronies) was referring (or they would claim NOT referring) to the tendencies of a certain class of Tory supporter. I supposed we’d now call them UKIP Tories. These individuals are basically caught in a time warp. I mean, I reckon that when one of these types (and the same goes for Farage) appears on the TV the Beeb should turn off the colour and HDTV sound and the result would be a more appropriate representation of them and their views (like one of those Harry Enfield sketches).

As I mentioned in a prior post many of them don’t seem to understand that this thing called “globalisation” has occurred, nor that the UK has any longer got an Empire to call on (indeed more of UK industry is owned by Indian or Canadian multinationals these days that the UK owns Indian or Canadian based firms). Thus they don’t understand why the policies they favour, such as pulling out of Europe or “shutting the door” on immigrants is just plain unworkable and would probably bankrupt the UK.

They seem to think the UK is swamped with immigrants, unaware that its closer to about 11% of the population. They blame immigrants for claiming the bulk of benefits. But again, only a tiny fraction of the welfare budget is spent on immigrants (easily cancelled out by the tax revenue gained via immigrants). And jobseekers allowance, also is only a small fraction of the overall welfare budget (about 3% in fact!), the bulk of it actually being spent on tax credits to people who are working!

There is indeed a certain class of Tories who have their priorities all wrong. For example the recent legislation on gay marriage. I think for the vast majority of the country this is not a major political issue, but to a large chuck of the Tory base it’s the most controversial bill passed by parliament in a long time. They object to gay marriage not necessarily for religious reasons but because they fear “the gay agenda” which presumably will now involve making Gay marriage compulsory for all Tories and the refounding of Sodom and Gomorah in England’s green and pleasant land…or as its otherwise known “Essex” 😀

They also don’t understand the nature of international politics. e.g. they don’t understand how crucial it is the US to keep the UK in the EU (and thus how damaging it would be to the UK to leave), nor that China is now a bigger influence over US affairs than the UK.

And they have, to say the least, a warped view of history. I’ve come across some crazies in the UK who are convinced that EU is part of some German revenge plot for the bombing of Berlin, or in another case he thought that the reason for WW2 was to protect the British Empire (not because Hitler invading Poland/Czechoslovakia/the Rhineland/persecuting Jews, etc.).

And many, as I’ve previously highlighted, have something of a technophobic streak, suspicious of these “smart people” in lab coats telling us to take vaccines, the value of stem cell research or the need to take action on global warming, which they see as some sort of lunny left wing plot.

And lest you think the sorts of people who I’m referring too are you’re ex-military sergeant major types with probably a few screwballs loose from shell shock, well no, quite a number of the Tory “swivel eyed loons” are across all generations. A few years ago on the Channel 4 series Shipwrecked one young toff let slip that she thought slavery had been a jolly good idea. Her parents claimed that she was “young and naive”…ya, too young to have learnt not to air such views within earshot of a load of plebs! Had she said such things at her local country club many would have agreed with her.

In short, there is a certain class of Tory and UKIP supporters whose views would not be out of place in the 1930’s. There is a desperate need for the Tories to confront these views if they want a modern party, rather than the caveman troglodytes of the past. However, perhaps fearing of being labelled a faux Tory or conservative lightweight (otherwise known as Tony Blair ;D) many in the Tory party are still holding back from challenging these views.

How the 1% do Disney

I happened upon this story over the week, although my initial source was RT (Russia Today who are developing a reputation for journalistic honesty that the Sun or Daily Mail would be proud of….indeed they’re sort of becoming a 21st century version of “Pravda”) but it seems the story was originally broken by the New York Post, so it appears to be genuine.

Anyway the story goes that a particular tour company in Florida is hiring out disabled people to escort rich tourists around Disney world Florida for thousands of dollars a day. Disney world is known as “the magic kingdom” however it should perhaps be known as “the queuing kingdom” due to the massive lines that build up at popular rides (with waits of several hours in some cases, indeed most of a day at Disney world will be spent queuing rather than anything else). And after almost getting in a fight with someone in the US national archives I can report that the Yanks don’t know how to queue like brits (indeed I’m wondering with all the guns in the country why there isn’t more violence!), hence the value of jumping the queue.

But by showing up with a disabled person in tow (as it is alleged a number of wealthy Americans are) you can skip the queues and better still get carted around the place on a golf cart rather than having to walk. Hiring out the disabled person guide will set you back several thousand pounds and the company hiring them (dream tours Florida) out will not let any old pleb hire them out, no you need a reference from a previous customer. Apparently the phone number for this tour is being passed around the tennis clubs of rich affluent NY parents, so that their sniffling little brats can get a tour of Disney without having to rub shoulders with the great unwashed.

Apparently Disney are now aware of the problem and hopping mad about it….although that’s probably more because they offer a sort of expensive VIP service that allow the better off into faster moving lines, which this practice is obviously undercutting. They have promised to take action…no doubt by sending Tom and Jerry around to drop a 100 Ton Acme Anvil onto the head of the person behind this scam :))

Am I surprised or shocked by this? No. It’s unfortunately true that the indoctrination of being a toff starts quite early on. It is inevitably the attitude of “the 1%” that any problem or issue that affects us mere mortals (you know like all those pesky little “laws” the government imposes on us plebs like not stealing, etc.) they will try and find a way around them, as the laws, like taxes are only there for the little people to worry about….and I ain’t talking about the seven dwarfs!

Road twits

There is a case ongoing on Norwich of a young lady (Emma Way) who ran over a cyclists, then boasted about it on twitter (the twit! :no:) apparently trying to claim it was the cyclists fault because:

“I have right of way, he doesn’t even pay road tax”

Naturally this has been brought to the attention of both Norwich Police, who have since twitted back (nicked via Twitter, what is this world coming too!) that she should come see them as she is now under investigation for leaving the scene of an accident, dangerous driving…and texting while driving (she sent a photograph taken while driving a few weeks ago too!). And indeed her employer has also been contacted (I think she can rule out that big promotion!). A cyclist has since come forward, and while it seems he wasn’t badly injured, naturally he was a bit shook up by the whole thing.

I have noticed this attitude gradually creeping in across the UK among some motorists who seem to think that because cyclists “don’t pay road tax” you’re entitled to break the rules of the road and basically behave like a complete twat…if that’s the case I’m going driving around London with a sticker on the back of my car saying “I don’t brake for Non-dom’s tax dodgers” and enforce it ;D

And I’ve seen plenty of such antics from motorists where they seem to assume that someone on a bike has less rights than they do, e.g. I once nearly got run down by some woman who was turning off a side street (onto a main road) and decided that the white line and stop sign didn’t apply to her, when she was forced to brake as she realised I wasn’t going to stop (I sort assumed she was going to obey the rules of the road, silly me!), she then beeped me for getting in her way! And that’s just one of many examples (same thing happens all the time when I’m walking across a road, even at pedestrian crossings). If you cycle regularly in the UK for example you often become accustomed to the sound of a taxi’s engine behind you, as that usually means trouble. I’ve actually stopped cycling to work recently as it’s just too dangerous on UK roads, largely because they are not the least cycle friendly and motorists are just too rude and incompetent.

Now before anyone starts with the “I saw a cyclists who broke the lights/on the pavement/thro a zebra crossing” yes and I suppose car drivers are perfect and never break the rules of the road! There are as many bad drivers as bad cyclists, probably more in fact. Indeed as both a cyclists and a motorists, I find that when cyclists do this they are often cycling defensively (i.e. they’re trying to avoid being killed by some idiot motorists whose not looking where he’s going).

And perhaps motorists need to remember that intimidating cyclists off the road is not in their long term interest. As inevitably it will just mean more people driving to work instead, hence the queue at rush hour grows ever larger and taxes go up to pay for road improvements.

No road tax? Neither do drivers!
Indeed while were talking about it, not only do cyclists not pay road tax but neither do car drivers either! Instead there is Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) which is charged to certain vehicles based on engine size. Not all vehicles pay it, electric cars, farm machinery, police, cars, army, vehicles built before 1973 and the Queen (another foreign tax dodger!) are all exempt from VED. I presume said aggressive motorists are going to try and ram cops, farmers, the queen, army and milk floats off the road too?

And of course, lest we forget some cyclists (such as me) also drive and thus also pay VED. Does that mean I can expect a written apology from every taxi driver or bus who’s ever cut me up?

There are of course several major taxes on motorists, VED is one, petrol duty being another, but the question is do these raise enough in revenue to counter the costs associated with running the UK’s highway network? The Clarkson brigade would say that they are being fleeced, but the environmentalists would argue that once you factor in the costs of building (important given that money would likely have been borrowed and were still pay the interest on it via part of the national debt) and maintain roads, plus the costs of fire, police (what do you think we invaded Iraq for?), etc. the truth is that its car drivers who are the worthless scroungers, not cyclists (at least those cyclists who pay income tax!).

The need for a road budget
Again, part of the problem here is that there is no set “road budget” like there is for say, the NHS. Instead the funding of roads has always been this ad-hoc arrangement whereby government doles out cash on road building projects via various local, national and even EU budget headings. Then, usually in economic hard times, the government suddenly realises that roads cost money and it needs to squeeze motorists for some cash and the state invents some arbitrary tax to slap on motorists that may (or may not) take in sufficient cash to cover the relevant costs, or might (or might not) over charge motorists.

And this is still going on. I’ve pointed out for example, how the Highway’s agency is now starting to charge for various costs associated with police time and road repair in the event of accidents (whether the accident was the victim’s fault or otherwise). Inevitably this will sneak into people’s pockets in the form of higher insurance costs, so it’s a stealth tax on motorists. And with plans by the Tories to privatise motorways expect more of the same in future.

To me the solution is simple, set up a properly audited road budget that will give the true costs of motoring and allow government to make informed decisions about how much it plans to spend on roads and how we’re going to charge people for it.

….and road pricing
And the way I would favour charging would be to abolish VED and petrol tax and replace it with road pricing, where everyone is charged (based on vehicle size and CO2 emissions) a fixed price per mile. This would be not only fairer but also set a clear link between what one pays to use the roads and what it actually costs.

Of course the opposition of the roads lobby to such a process does tend to suggest that secretly they agree with the environmentalists and think we’re undercharging!

But going back on topic, clearly many motorists need to learn the rules of the road, the “I pay my taxes and therefore can drive like a cu&t” argument doesn’t stand up, either morally nor (as Emma Way is I suspect about to find out) in a court!

Blogging Hazards

I had a slightly disconcerting message the other week. Another blogger whose blog I occasionally followed seems to have upped and deleted his entire blog. He said in an e-mail (it was linked to a page that disappeared with his blog so I never got the full picture) that he seems to have had a rather bad encounter with another blogger (don’t ask me who) after making a comment on his page. Now I would consider his decision to delete his entire blog a bit of an extreme reaction (then again I don’t know the full story) but certainly given that I’ve had a few bruising encounters with people before online (never much on Blog.co.uk mind) I can certainly sympathise with his position.

Not only do I blog here, but also I keep an energy blog, and am an occasional contributor to a number of other blogs, as well as a regular commenter on various blog strings around the internet, so I do “get around” and unfortunately there are some people for whom the term “troll” doesn’t quite do it justice.

My problems largely occur due to my habit of pointing out pesky little “facts” to people, notably right winger types, in particular US Tea Party or UK Tea Party (otherwise known as UKIP) types. Reality it seems has, as they see it, something of a ”liberal bias” so they prefer to wallow in fantasy and get quite upset with people who come along and burst their bubble. Just look at Nigel Farage’s meltdown on in Scotland over a bit of heckling from some rowdy students. As I’ve learnt (the hard way!) these guys do not understand the concept of irony, humour or context, nor can they absorb any fact that contradicts their position. As you can imagine this has led me into quite a few nasty encounters online.

For example in one post on my energy blog I was doing a critique of various nuclear reactor designs and I included a quib (i.e. an amusing comment) at one point. One pro-nuclear fanatic immediately took exception to this quib (even though I’d labelled it as a quib) and promptly began running up vast blog strings on my site and his over it…then again, I’m sure Gollum in Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be happy if I made a joke about his “precious”.

Some seem to have an attitude not out of place with the Spanish Inquisition, that if they burn the heretic, the heresy dies with him (you know, pesky little facts like the Earth revolving around the Sun). I blame Fox News and the Murdoch tabloids for this attitude, as this is essentially how they operate, so its no surprise to see the people who read/watch them using the same tactics.

For example I was on a blog with a discussion with a scientist who was critiquing (via a peer reviewed paper) a number of ideas close to the heart of libertarians (nuclear power and the limitations of mineral resource supplies, notably those of Uranium). Their response was to resort to the good old fashioned “gish gallop” where they would posse many irrelevant and quite frankly silly questions to the guy one after the other. When inevitably he got sick of answering the same question (phrased slightly differently) over and over again and stopped replying, they declared “victory” on the basis that they’d managed to shut him up…even thought they had not contradicted a shred of the evidence he had presented!

After a number of encounters with libertarians (notably on Reddit, my advice, stay away from there!) I’ve seen sudden increases in the level of spam into my various page accounts. My e-mail address (the one I published on one page) was actually hacked and I lost access to it (fortunately its not the one I control that website with). In another unrelated encounter one blogger even put up a page on his blog wishing I’d get cancer or something.

So all in all I think we can conclude there are some genuine crazies out there in the blogsphere and one has to be careful where you threat…or simply develop a thick skin…or don’t learn the hard way what I’ve learnt, let right wing freaks putter in their sandbox and don’t annoy them with a lot of pesky little “facts”. If they wanted to base their opinions on fact’s they’d have gone to university rather than bible school!

A storm in a Whisky bottle, or UKIP jumping the Shark?

I’ve long been making the point that UKIP and euro skepticism is largely an English phenomenon. Yes, there are some euro-skeptics in Scotland (otherwise known as “the Scottish Tory party” 😀 ), but by and large only a tiny fraction (0.8% of the vote in the 2012 local elections to be exact) of Scot’s feel that leaving the EU would be in Scotland’s best interests. Given the country’s large export industry (oil, whiskey, smoked salmon, meat, bagpipes, NEDS, dodgy bankers, Prime ministers ;D ) leaving the EU would be catastrophic to the Scottish economy.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage :crazy: got a stark reality check in this regard on Thursday, when he was mobbed by protesters in Edinburgh and ultimately forced to take refuge in a pub (what’s with him and pubs?). Farage tried damage limitation via his tabloid allies by blaming the Scottish nationalists, even though the evidence points to the protestors actually being linked to lefty anti-racist university groups (which means, ironically enough, a lot of them would probably have been English born students!).

Nazi Tourette’s
Of course predictably Farage (no doubt ignorant of Godwin’s law) promptly labelled the protestors “fascists” (he also cleverly implied flag burning, something the tabloids could then pick up and create the impression that a flag was burnt when in fact, no such action occurred…although it was suggested that he might want to insert said emblem into his neither regions before heading south :)) ).

When confronted by the realities that his damage limitation spinning had backfired Farage actually hung up on a BBC Scotland radio interview, then called the BBC fascists also. As SNP leader Alex Salmond pointed out when he commented on the whole matter, it is clear that Farage exists in a fantasy right wing bubble and when it pop’s he, like so many in the US tea party, immediately goes into full fanatic birther mode and develop a nasty case of “Nazi tourette’s”.

The auld alliance reborn?
The contrast between Scotland and England on Europe could not be starker. Indeed I would argue that major factor in any independence referendum defeat for the SNP will be the issue of EU membership and a lack of realism from the SNP.

I for one had always assumed that Scotland would have to apply for EU membership post-independence (as the Eastern Europe countries had to post-communism), but that as Scotland are already an EU member it would be fast tracked (but fast tracked in the EU still takes a few years!).

Of course given that there would inevitably be a lengthy period of negotiations on independence between Westminster & Hollyrood and a transition period to implement that, it’s likely that the period where Scotland was neither part of the UK nor an EU member state would be short (months to a year or two depending on how quickly the SNP negotiated with both Brussels and London).

Where I feel the SNP may have jumped the shark on Europe, is their failure to be realistic about these geopolitical facts of life. As well as a failure to accept that an independent Scotland’s best course of action (for the moment) would be to set up its own currency and join the EU with that (euro membership being a matter to debate after the present Eurozone crisis is resolved). But the SNP have not made the case on these issues and shown themselves to be a bit unrealistic about the process and the timetable for achieving independence.

However, UKIP and the lurch to the eurosceptic extremes by the Tory party could present the SNP with an opportunity. For in the event of the UK…or more to the point England…leaving the EU and Scotland (possibly joined by Wales) looking to stay in, one simple solution would be for the EU to simply allow Scotland to either steal England’s seat, or enter as some sort of “commonwealth of Ex-UK states” ticket. Such a move, if the SNP can get the right noises out of Brussels, could easily tip the scales of the balance back in favour of a Yes vote in the 2014 vote.

This incidentally would mirror an incident in 2009 where Farage went walkabout in Ireland looking to join the No campaign on the Lisbon treaty. In the days after his visit opinion in favour of Lisbon actually increased! No doubt this was because many Irish concluded that if this bigoted right-wing upper class twit was against the EU…then we were in favour of it! Dick Roche (Ireland’s then Europe Minster) even cheekly congratulated Farage for helping out with the Yes vote!

And speaking of jumped sharks
And if we can accuse the SNP of being a tad unrealistic about independence, they pale into insignificance next to the ridiculous naive fantasies we hear coming out of Farage and David Cameron’s mouths, notably on Europe.

Cameron’s policy seem to be a belief that after the next election, he and Farage can burst into the EU chambers in Strasbourg holding a gun to everyone and scream “who do we have to fu%k to get out of this joint!”…of course what will actually happen is the other EU leaders will sit him down and start to talk…then talk…then talk some more…until 6 years later he’s gotten them down to an agreement that the European Human rights act will be altered such that they can build a giant supergun on the white cliffs and fire Qatada back in the general direction of Jordan in return for which he abolishes the UK’s rebate…and renames Trafalgar square “Place de Mitterrand” ;))

The idea that the Tories could re-negotiate an entire membership treaty with the EU in just 2 years is so dumb and divorced from reality it seems difficult to believe it’s actually now being debated in parliament. And even if it were to succeed it would likely play right into the hands of EU Federalists, who would like nothing better than to downgrade the UK’s EU membership status (or get the UK to leave altogether).

I mean what does Farage do over in the EU? (he is supposed to be an MEP…or something..). Don’t you think he’d at least have worked out by now how things work? Or is he still struggling to get a taxi from Brussels airport (the British policy of talking loudly to foreigners in English doesn’t really work in Brussels, I know, I’ve tried!).

And as I’ve discussed before on this topic, EU membership is not an al-a-carte menu. Many other EU states want changes to the EU. The French & Germans what more integration, the smaller countries (such as Ireland) want a greater distribution of powers (at the expense of larger nations like the UK), the Eastern Europeans what a more even distribution of EU funds (it is grossly unfair that a relatively prosperous EU member like the UK gets a rebate and Poland or Romania do not). As we Irish have learnt (when we’ve been forced to renegotiate EU treaties) getting the slightest change out of Brussels is teeth pullingly difficult, painful and time consuming, largely as it involves getting multiple governments to agree to it (of course the same thing applies in the WTO, UN, NATO or any other international organization). Cameron will come back from Brussels in 2017 with his tail between his legs, simple as that.

The Price…
But either way what Farage’s Scottish adventure proves is that the UK will pay a heavy price for his policies on Europe. And as I’ve long argued, the first part of that price will be the UK itself.

And even if the Tories dodge the bullet in 2014, remember that if the vote is tight, come Cameron’s referendum in 2017 (if that even happens) the “Scottish question” will re-emerge, as the SNP will no doubt argue that Scotland cannot be dragged kicking and screaming out of the EU by English euro-skeptics. i.e. they may insist (as might the EU) that any in/out referendum in the UK is done on a regional basis, something that will almost certainly lead to the breakup of the Union.

…and the lesson
And this wee Scottish tale also shows us the realities of UKIP. It is with good reason I compare them to the Tea Party. They are a party of loud mouth right wing fantasists who go around in some sort of public school boy bubble oblivious to the realities of geopolitics or even the internal politics of the UK.

When this bubble bursts (as it did yesterday for Farage) rather than accept they might be wrong, they perform various feats of mental gymnastics to create a new fantasy to replace it (that the mostly English students lefty students who were heckling him were nazi Scottish nationalists burning English flags, when the Beeb pointed out this was not so and how tiny his support was in Scotland, they became nazi’s too apparently).

And Alex Salmond is wrong when he say’s Farage has “lost the plot”. The truth is, Farage never had “the plot” to begin with.

How dare they

This week mega giant corporation BP were among a number of UK oil companies caught up price fixing of petrol prices at the pump. Of course that this is going on should come as little surprise to those watching energy prices. For quite awhile its been obvious how any increase in oil or gas prices results in a rapid near lock step increase in prices from the energy companies. Yet when wholesale gas or crude oil prices fall, they tend to be relatively slow to pass on these savings to customers.

Now this would be just plain annoying any other time. But then we have today the appeal for help from BP to Cameron with regard to the rising cost of compensation for the Deep water Horizon Spill. My response to this is to tell them to sod off.

If there’s one thing that annoys me about capitalism its how those who claim to support it are so quick to ignore its most basic principles. In a capitalist system there are winners and losers. Companies who do silly idiotic things that impact on other people’s business (such as using substandard oil drilling equipment) get the ass sued off them. Those that break the law see exec’s sent to jail. This serves as a future deterrent to them and other companies.

Instead what many plutocrats seem to favour is excessive reward for reckless risk taking (regardless of whether the risk pays off or not) without having to deal the consequences when things go wrong. Heads they win, tails we lose. In short what they favour isn’t capitalism, but feudalism.

Barmy UKIP stuff

A few months back I reviewed the danger posed to the Tories by UKIP, aka the UK Tea Party. I pointed out how the worse thing the Tories could do would be to try and out flank UKIP by lurching to the right.

This is exactly what the republicans did in America and it likely cost them the election. As faced with the choice between Obama and some loony climate/evolution/science denying “rich white guy” even many conservatives felt inclined to vote for Obama. This also applies in the UK, a lurch to the right with the promise of an in or out referendum on Europe might appeal to the Tory base, but the vast majority of the UK population are more interested in politicians who’ll keep the country running, sort out the economy and get them jobs, not pander to the ideological extremes of Daily Mail readers.

However, it seems that this is exactly what the Tories are doing with attempts to put through a bill which pretty much requires Cameron (in the unlikely event of his re-election with an overall majority) to commit to an unworkable in/out referendum or presumably go and commit Hara-kiri. An apt metaphor as what the Tories are committing to is essentially a form of political suicide. As well as economic suicide for the whole country.

The general view is (as I discuss here) that pulling out of Europe will have a largely negative effect on the UK economy. Indeed I find it deeply hypocritical how the Tories go and try to scare the Scot’s out of voting for independence (highlighting the negative effects on the Scottish economy caused by this) then turn around and argue that withdrawal from the EU will have no negative economic effects on the UK :??:

Effects on the Shop floor
Casing point I was in a car factory the other week and I noticed two things. Firstly about 75% of the cars coming off the line were being built in Left Hand Drive mode (i.e. for export to the EU, US and Asia). And secondly, while many of the parts are made in the UK, they were relying on parts shipped in from all over the world, notably from the EU, to build the cars.

UKIP seem to be unaware that in the last fifty years this thing called “globalisation” occurred (its had good effects and bad, something we can debate another day, but suffice to say it’s happened). They don’t seem to understand that if they start chucking up trade barriers it’s going to look awfully tempting to said car manufacturer to shorten its supply chain by moving production overseas (thus avoiding the need to ship parts into the UK and then finished cars back out to Europe again).

And remember many so-called “British” brands are often foreign owned these days. British Steel has now been merged into the Tata group. Even that most iconic of British products, the London Taxi is Chinese owned. Needless to say, they will drop the UK like a sack of spuds if the global economic winds blow unfavourably.

It is this “chilling effect” on the UK economy that now has me worried. As I suspect many companies will now begin to factor in the possibility of a UK withdrawal from Europe into their business plan. Which given how crucial trade with Europe is to many firms, essentially means a halt to long term investment into the UK in certain industries.

Would the last one out please turn off the lights!
For example, I’ve highlighted before how the combination of lassie-faire polices on energy and the Tory obsessions with Nuclear has largely scared off many companies looking to add new power generating capacity (either with coal, gas or renwables) from setting up in the UK. Despite having a huge energy demand and one of the best wind and offshore renewable resources in Europe very little power generation hardware is built in the country. And don’t blame China, because countries like Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Germany have tens of thousands employed in these industries.

It is, like I said the unpredictable nature (not the unpredictable nature of wind…we have these things called “weather forecasts” you know!) of the business environment that UK government’s have created that is preventing new infrastructure from being built. And naturally putting the threat of an EU withdrawal into the equation does not help matters. If the light do indeed go out in the near future it will be due to a failure of the UK’s energy policy….or more to the point a lack there-of a policy!

Immigration and the EU
And of course, UKIP core proposal isn’t just that of withdrawal from the EU but also shutting the door on all those nasty evil immigrants. i.e. they want a full moratorium on inward migration. The Tories again seem to be pandering to this paranoia, as laid out in the queen’s speech.

But again, the problem with UKIP’s policy here is that it is divorced from the realities of us being in the 21st century, as like I said, UKIP don’t seem to understand the effects that globalisation has had on international trade. Such a bar on immigration will represent a substantial trade barrier imposed at a time the country can ill afford it.

In the past the term “transnational” company used to apply to a handful of mega corp’s. But now it applies to hundred’s of thousands of companies of many varying sizes (e.g. I know a company with a few hundred employees who specialist in lenses for lasers with a few dozen employees in Germany doing research, couple more in the UK, several offices in the US, bigger manufacturing hub in Singapore, more offices in Asia, etc.).

Many of the employees who work for these firms (particularly given the reluctance of companies to offer permanent employment anymore) are fairly mobile. Which is just as well as the pace of technological change often means companies will need to hire in expertise from wherever the latest developments are being made (and that’s generally Asia these days!) in order to keep up to speed (as I mentioned in a prior post my uni’s had to hire quite a few people in from overseas).

Nuclear Options
By way of example, UKIP are very keen on nuclear power (why? don’t ask me, likely because many on the left are against it I suspect!) as they want to get 50% of the country’s energy from nuclear. Their budget manifesto proposes to spend £3.5 Billion on Nuclear power….Of course, given the price tag of £7 billion for one reactor, this would buy them…half a reactor….and you’d need at least forty or more to achieve that target (so they’re off by a factor of 80!)…and that’s just the UK’s electricity (which is only 20% of overall UK energy consumption, i.e. you’d need about 5 times this amount to get 50% of the country’s energy from nuclear). All in all I don’t think they sort of did the maths on that one!

But putting such issues aside, building a nuclear plant is very much an international effort these days. The lead contractor will probably be either AREVA (French), Hitachi (Japanese) or Westinghouse (American). While some parts will be built in the UK, others parts will come in from all over the world. The most crucial part of the reactor, the pressure vessel (the bit with all the nuke stuff in it!) will almost certainly come from the Japanese Steel Works factory on Hokkaido Island in Japan.

In order to provide quality assurance (i.e. make sure that it doesn’t leak!) all of these international companies will need to send employees to the UK to assist with the build and make sure everything runs smoothly. Given that a nuclear build program can take many years or decades (particularly if you’re planning on building lots of reactors) they’d likely need to relocate to the UK along with their families and thus we are talking about tens of thousands of people here looking to move to the UK.

How then can UKIP proceed with its immigration policy and expect to commit to new nuclear reactors? Indeed, even the alternatives to nuclear be they shale gas (American drilling companies dominate…as do increasingly the Chinese!), wind farms (those Eurotrash UKIP just mooned….and yet more Chinese! While we hand wring about a few turbines they’ve plants to build the world’s largest power station with some 20 GW’s of wind power!) or solar power (Germany, US and China again…are the Chinese on to something you think that the rest of us are missing?).

Furthermore, as I pointed out in a prior article both UKIP’s & the Tory policy on nuclear will mean overturning a number of Thatcher era policies, completely contradicting their own political ideology in the process. Also wind power is now regarded as a much cheaper means of generating green energy….of course with Lord Monckton as their science advisor, its hardly surprising that UKIP’s energy policy is as divorced from reality as all their other polices.

Its ironic indeed I heard one UKIP’er advocating voting for UKIP…to keep the lights on…when in fact they would make it all but impossible for any company to build power stations in the UK and guarantee the lights will go out!

Flat Tax falls Flat
A couple of weeks back I caught sight of UKIP’s budget manifesto (here it is again). Needless to say it highlights just how bonkers these guys are.

For example UKIP also indulge in that other libertarian fantasy of a flat tax (its another favourite of the Tea Party). This is largely driven by ideological principles as they simply can’t understand what all that money the state takes from us pays for. In the libertarian world roads build and maintain themselves, the sick cure and health miraculously, anyone on benefits is a lazy scrounger, even those with serious disabilities or long term illness, natural disasters never happen, pollution, rubbish and industrial waste vanishes into thin air, nor is climate change a threat, etc.

Libertarians often try to argue that a flat tax will be fairer, however that seems doubtful. The whole point of having multiple tax bands is for reasons of fairness as it equates the rate at which you pay tax to one’s ability to pay. Any gains to those at the bottom by dropping out of the tax window will be offset by the withdrawal of public services. Similar tax cuts by G. W. Bush (which were not nearly as radical as UKIP’s proposal) led to increased inequality in the US and are largely blamed for America’s crippling budget deficit.

Another fatal flaw in UKIP’s tax proposals is that of merging NI with income tax. Again this merely betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how the tax system works. One could characterize income tax as the tax we pay for the things that government does, running the NHS and other public services, the police, the army, keeping the Queen in her palaces, etc.

National Insurance, by contrast, is arguably our money that the government holds in trust and uses to pay your dole money (if you become unemployed) and ultimately helps pay for your state pension on retirement.

Both labour and the Tories have long seen good reasons about keeping clear blue water between these components of tax because of the danger presented if they were merged, i.e. it would be all too tempting for the government to not adequately fund pensions into the future (then go bankrupt trying to pay them!). Worse the state would also get its hands on the country’s pension reserve fund, or to put it more starkly UKIP are proposing to let the government pick the pocket of every pensioner in the country!

Privatise the NHS
While Cameron and Osborne are electing to privatise the NHS by stealth, UKIP come flat out and propose it.

There policies seem to assume that we can roll back the health care service to how it was run in the 1900’s, relying heavily on mythical “charities” to run hospitals rather than the taxpayer (again this is a common but entirely unworkable proposal of many libertarians)…of course they seem to be clueless to the fact that technology and population means that health care costs are a tad higher now. Plus the main health care charities prior to the NHS happened to be religious orders (obviously they’ve not visited a church recently!). So all in all, sort of a non-starter.

The UKIP kool-aid
Oddest of all the UKIP manifesto promises are a lot of major and substantial spending commitments (at the same time as they are cutting tax, obviously they don’t teach basic arithmetic at British public schools any more!) notably a 40% increase in military spending. why? don’t ask me! but I do know that other right wing slightly xenophobic parties like them in the past liked to have a big army…for parades and stuff…in Nuremberg!…:no:

Of course I would actually blame these ideological obsessions with Europe and immigration for all of the other fantasies above. UKIP have long deluded themselves that EU membership costs the UK some ridiculous amount of money (they often quote figures in the hundreds of billions, while its probably more like a few hundred million and this ignores the economic gain from trade with Europe) and that all the benefits budget is spent on immigrants (not so! Actually immigrants are likely to represent a net gain to the economy as I discuss here). Naturally having drunk their own brand of kool-aid, they then assume that ditching Europe and shutting the border will save vast amounts of money to fund all their other right wing fantasy ideas listed above.

And ironically, if UKIP’s policies came to pass, it wouldn’t be manufacturing, but the city of London (that they claim their policies will defend) who would take the biggest hit from the policies they advocate. As “the city” is often even more reliant than other sectors of the economy on bringing in overseas investors to keep going.

Many of the UK’s top investment firms would be forced to relocate out of the UK…or up the M6 to Scotland. As I’ve long pointed out the scales are tipped against Scottish independence but a UK withdrawal from the EU could easily tip the scales the other way, particularly once the Scot’s realise they can steal the UK’s seat at the EU table (in essence Scotland and possibly Wales would stay part of the UK and in the EU with England getting independence and leaving the EU) and soften the economic blow of independence by stealing a host of British based firms to boot!

UKIP are not a “new” face on British politics. Their policies assume that the last hundred years of history and economics never happened. They want to take Britain backwards to some sort of mythical cartoon version of Britain that never actually existed. They are in short like some crazy right wing version of pol-pot’s Cambodia. The worse thing the Tories can do is to try and emulate this policy, when they should instead be confronting UKIP and pointing out the glaringly obvious flaws in their franlky barmy proposals.

What happened to Economic Growth?

The financial crisis that struck the world back in 2008 seems to have no end. Four and bit years in we’re in the middle of one of the longest economic stagnation in history. Already some are calling it “the Long Recession” or “the Great Recession”. But why is it that economies, particularly those in the West can’t seem to dig themselves out of the mud?

One can concoct various theories. Certainly the mess left over from what amounted to a thinly disguised Ponzi scheme (otherwise known as the Housing Bubble….or perhaps more accurately “the Thatcher/Reagan Bubble”) didn’t help matters. Normally governments would rely on good old fashioned Keynesian policies to get them out of danger here. However the sheer volume of debt for some countries has largely prevented a recovery. While America under Obama (who has attempted to spend his way out of trouble) seems to be handling things better than the UK or parts of Europe, the good times are certainly not rolling again across the pond.

Others would pin the blame on the policy of austerity pursued in several countries. As I’ve discussed at length as regards Europe and the UK, such polices are almost certainly inhibiting growth and slow down economies. So clearly this is having an impact. Indeed a couple of weeks ago, two free market economists who have long argued in favour of Austerity were caught out by a Grad student, who pointed out a load of errors in an economics paper that they had published (should we really be letting people this bad at maths run the world economy?). The ratings agencies seem to agree and yet another one chose to cut the UK’s credit rating recently.

What about peak oil?

However, perhaps the most radical idea is that is that the real reason why the global economy has stagnated is due to the fact that oil prices hit and unheard of high of £147 per barrel in 2008….right about the same time as the crash, likely (so some believe) due to the fact that our planet had essentially hit the limit of oil production capacity (i.e. we just “discovered” one of “the limits to Growth”). I mentioned before how Wikileaks discovered that the Bush Adm. was applying considerable pressure then on OPEC to raise output, but when they failed to do so, many in the Adm. considered the possibility that this was because OPEC didn’t have the production capacity any more (i.e. OPEC production capacity had peaked).

In this article James D. Hamilton, an energy economist, argues the case that one of the key causes of the present recession was the high oil price and we’re not recovering because of constrained supplies of oil.

Others, notably the Post-Carbon Institute from California (a few video’s from them available here) argue that the spike in prices in 2008 represented the world crossing the Rubicon of the end of cheap oil. While there is still plenty of oil, coal and natural gas left, what’s left is much more expensive to produce and cannot be sucked out of the ground at any arbitrary rate of our choosing. They suggests that unless or until some means of growing the planet’s energy supply is initiated, the global economy will simply never recover, indeed we ain’t seen nothing yet!

And before anyone starts wailing about Shale Gas/Tight oil, as I discuss in this post, it’s probable that much of the hype about Shale gas is just that (hype!). In a further more recent post I point out that data (from the EIA and DoE) suggests that the amount of Shale gas/oil that is commercially viable is not nearly as large as previously thought and that output in the US from these resources is never going to be able to meet more than a fraction of the America’s current energy needs.

The Energy – Growth link

That energy and economic growth are linked is not in itself a controversial statement (this paper discusses the topic). I recall a few years ago being at an energy conference where this guy stood up and stated that growth in any economy boiled largely down to two factors:

1) Available energy resources and

2) Technology, notably any technology that allows one to better utilise energy resources

Political issues, whether the regime is led by hardline communists, fascists, free-marketeers or lefty-liberals, matters little. Without a good reliable source of energy an economy will collapse, with it in spades even the most incompetent and clueless government can still see an economic boom.

Energy slavery

And if you think about it they’ve got a point. The industrial revolution was heralded in by the availability of coal. An elite athlete can output about 500 Watts of energy, an ordinary human about 250 Watts while doing hard manual labour, a horse roughly 750 Watts (i.e. literally 1 hp). 1 kg of coal contains about 35 MJ of energy …..or if you consumed that kg over an hour (and used it with say 30% efficiency) enough energy as generated by 6 stout men, 12 labourers or 3 hefty horses. Consider that back at the beginning of the industrial age a bag of coal cost just a few pence it should give you a good idea of why the global economy took off in such spectacular fashion. As it meant a factory owner could literally buy the labour of hundreds of additional “energy slaves” for the price of a few shillings.

Indeed we can trace many boom’s in economic history to booms in energy production. The roaring twenties matches the oil boom in the US, the industrialisation of Communist Russia ran parallel with them opening up the nation’s vast coal and oil reserves. As I mentioned in a prior post Thatcher and Reagan’s “boom” happens to coincide with the end of the 1970’s oil shocks and the North Sea oil industry boom. Clinton happened to be in power at the same time that oil prices dropped spectacularly (graph of that here), likely leading to an increased rate of economic growth.

And the economic downswings? Well the collapse of the Soviet Union (nice article about that here) just happened to start a few years after the country hit a peak in oil production (Russian oil output has since recovered, implying this was an artificial peak caused by soviet mismanagement of oil fields). To make matters worse the soviets had also mismanaged their farming system (overuse and over dependence on fossil fuel based fertilisers, this is also how they ended up draining the Aral Sea). Also at about the same time (in March 1988) a dispute broke out within OPEC . Several countries, notably Iraq and Iran (who were at war), had been cheating on their quotas (selling more oil than they were supposed too). The Saudi’s responded by very publicly cheating on their quota. But they miscalculated and pumped too much oil and the price of oil collapsed. This drove down the revenue the Soviets gained from their diminishing oil output, quickly bankrupting them.

The recession under G. Bush senior happens to coincide with a spike in oil prices due to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The 70’s recessions of course occurred at the same time as the oil shocks of that era. And as noted the 2007 crash happens to correspond to a flat lining of supply and a spike in oil prices.

Critiques?

Of course I would note that I don’t personally quite buy into this “energy is the root of all growth/good/evil in the world” view point. As I noted earlier, what policies a government applies to its management of resources can have a huge impact on their utilisation.

While the economies of the West are in the doldrums, the economy in China and the other so-called “BRICS” are still growing (not as spectacularly as before yes, but still growing). There is also no link between the Wall Street Crash and the great depression of the 20’s and 30’s (the greatest economic downturn in history) and a decline in energy indicators (indeed the opposite is true, energy prices were falling, supplies increasing).

Germany is currently one of the few European economies that is growing, yet energy prices have risen slightly (due to their efforts to increase the use of renewable energy) while overall energy consumption per capita is falling (due to energy efficiency programs). This sort of suggests it’s possible to still grow an economy in the absence of cheap energy while actively reducing energy consumption.

So clearly there is more to economic growth than simply “energy”. Economic policies are important as well as numerous other factors. That said, its certainly not easy to maintain an economy without a reliable supply of energy and I do worry that outside of a few so-called “energy economists” few mainstream economists seem to factor in the importance of energy to economic performance as much as they should.

There may be trouble ahead…..

And that last point is worrying because I’m also unfamiliar with any mainstream economist who seems to have factored in the consequences of our fossil based energy supply entering into a state of terminal decline, so called “peak oil”.

Now I’m not going to split hairs over when peak oil is going to happen (or indeed if it’s already struck), but suffice to say the world’s reserves of fossil fuels are finite, we’ll hit a peak eventually. And even the more optimistic voices suggest the 2030’s and as the Hirsch report points out, that’s still too close for comfort and not nearly enough time to get ready.

If indeed this energy – growth link is true, the result is going to be that post-peak the global economy will stagnate and decline for decades on end with little or no respite. In other words we could see a lengthy period where all the economic indicators are either flat or pointing downwards.

Now if that were to happen one has to ask how then are nations going to pay off their sovereign debts? How indeed are most people going to pay off their mortgages? Who’s going to pay you’re pension? Who will feed China? (actually that’s a silly question President Hu has retired, I should be asking “how will Xi (pronounced “she”) feed China?” :DD).

There are of course solutions, a couple of which I discuss here and here. However, as I also point out many of the “unconventional” fossil fuel based options simply aren’t compatible with a policy of averting dangerous climate change. Indeed a recent report suggests that such a policy could be little more than a fool’s errand. However, the problem with all these options, be it more renewables, nuclear, or again unconventional fossil fuels, is the time it takes to build these systems on the scale we’d need and the enormous capital costs involved in the initial construction phase (we’re literally talking many tens of trillions of dollars here). And in a falling economy who is going to pay for all of that?

Again just to put a number on things, if we assume a modest post peak oil (and only oil) decline rate of just 3%. To offset that and maintain business as usual, would mean bringing online 169 GW’s of power generation capacity (operating with a capacity factor of 90% and boasting a 100% conversion efficiency to end users! ). To replace it with unconventional fossil fuels, 3% per year would necessitate an annual loss of 2.5m bbl/day of production capacity. To put that in context, a recent report by the PCI suggests that the entire Tight oil/Shale oil output across North America will peak in 2017 at an output level of about 2.2m bbl/day (i.e. twenty years of drilling of unconventional oil across America will struggle to cancel out 1 year’s loss of production post-peak oil….what do we do the following year?).

Don’t Panic….we’ll not yet!

There are some in the peak oil movement (so called “doomers”) who seem to delight in going around scaring people about it. In the energy research field it’s the equivalent of sneaking up behind someone and saying “boo”. I’m not trying to do that. There are like I said, solutions. Indeed arguably the best solution is simply energy conservation and better recycling of materials (costs little or nothing to do and saves money!).

But the point is that any solutions to this problem aren’t the sort of thing we can string together the night before. We’re talking here about long term problems that require long term solutions, which will take decades to gradually implement. Solutions which, in order to be successful, require long term commitments both from governments, corporations and international bodies. And indeed most important of all, us the people who are going to pay for all of this, to recognise that we have a problem here and the longer we ignore it, the harder it will be to fix.

For example, many complain that the hysteria over the millennium bug was silly. We spend several years worrying about it and nothing happened. I would counter however that perhaps the reason why nothing happened was because we spend several years worrying about and did everything possible to ensure that the bug won’t bite. The same equally applies to issues such as climate change and peak oil.