How the chickens came home to roost

The worsening situation in Iraq has seen Islamic militants, who have spilled across the border from Syria, taking city after city, laying bare the fractious state of the Iraqi government the Americans left behind them. In last night’s Question Time the panel were asked what should be done? And the response seem to be, there’s nothing we can do!

Give weapons to the Iraqi government? Funnily enough most of the weapons and armoured vehicles the ISIS militants are using look remarkably similar to kit given to the Iraqi army, which they seem to have abandoned as they fled (no doubt ISIS will be selling them on e-bay soon, almost undamaged, only dropped once!). Indeed one could draw a direct parallel between the current Iraqi army and the South Vietnamese army after the Americans withdrew from the country.

Obama seems to favour drone strikes, but one has never won a war for towns and cities with air power alone. Direct intervention in the war with Western troops seems unlikely given the quagmire G. W. Bush and Blair got the world into the last time.

In short what’s happening now is the direct consequences of the Bush/Blair plan of invading Iraq for all of the wrong reasons (oil!) with no clear thought as to what the end game was going to be and inadequate equipment and troop numbers for a long term occupation. Hence while the US was busy guarding the oil ministry, Iraq’s museum’s were looted and violent sectarian gangs took over the streets….and now whole cities!

The worst case scenarios aren’t pretty. The chances of Iraq breaking up, with the Kurds declaring independence, something almost certain to result in a three way war between them, whosever left in charge of Syria and Turkey. There are murmurs from Iran that they might send in troops to quell the uprising. And as noted, this current situation is directly linked to events across the border in Syria. An ethnic conflic within Iraq might now break out (in parallel to events in Syria). And if the Islamists prevail, we could see an Islamists state spanning right across the Middle East.

And while the supporters of Bush and Blair’s folly need to take a fair amount of the blame, so too those who argued against western intervention in Syria. There was a window opportunity at the start of the Syrian uprising where western intervention (and not necessarily direct military action) would have likely toppled the Assad regime, with the minimum of bloodshed. Instead, thanks to Western hesitation and Russian support what had started off as a conflict between more secularist pro-democracy forces and the Assad regime has morphed into a bloody rerun of the Yugoslav civil war, but this time with hard line Islamists now dominating the rebel forces. And those Islamists aren’t afraid to push into neighbouring countries and threaten to destabilise the whole region.

So this rise of ISIS is direct consequence of both the unjustified invasion of Iraq and a failure to take action in Syria. The chickens have indeed come home to roost as far as Western Middle Eastern policy. I seem to recall French President Chirac warning that a war in Iraq would stir up such a hornet’s nest of trouble that it would lead to the US facing off against “a thousand Bin Laden’s“. While he might have been engaging in hyperbole, he’s certainly been proved partially correct.

Tories plan to decimate Green energy

Hidden away within the recent Queen’s speech was a series of commitments to dismantle many of the Green energy policies brought in under both the last government and indeed the previous Major government. Obviously fearful that labour might win the next election, the Tories are taking a leaf out of G.W. Bush’s play book and trying to hammer through as much legislation as possible favourable to their pay masters.

The Tories, aided by their lib dem lackies, firstly plan to make it easier for shale gas drillers to frack under people’s homes (wonder what that will do to house prices?). And this comes on the back of news that the US shale gas boom is running out of steam (not that this should come as a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention to the facts rather than the propaganda) and that even the US is now talking about the need to kerb emissions. Its as if the Tories were living in a cocoon through the winter storms (presumably in a coffin holding a handful of grave soil ;D).

And should protesters against fracking try to stop this drilling, the Tories are also seeking to tighten up trespass laws with another bill they’ve slipped into the queen’s speech.

Perhaps more serious is the threat to fiddle with building standards. The Tories are now proposing to relax current standards for new buildings intended to ensure that new build structures are more energy efficient.

This is a hugely significant move. As I’ve pointed out before, as much as 30-40% of the UK’s final energy consumption involves providing heat to buildings. By contrast electricity is just 20% of the UK’s final energy consumption (and quite a bit of that goes towards heating!). So any measure that can reduce the energy consumption of buildings would go along way to both reducing the UK’s carbon emissions and reducing the peak demand for energy in winter (thus improving energy security).

And it would also mean saving money for not just householders, but also the government (by reducing the scale of the winter heating allowance…of course the Tories want to get rid of that too!). Not to mention less cases of pensioners freezing to death in winter in leaky cold houses. Such measures are also intended to counter the mistakes of the past. The fact is that the UK has in past housing booms thrown up lots of cheaply built but expensive to maintain houses which were poorly insulated, leaky, damp and without putting much thought into support infrastructure (e.g. drainage to avoid flooding, public transport to reduce the dependency for cars, etc.).

Obviously one doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past, so given these facts, the previous Labour government introduced strict limits and tough new building codes. These went so far as to suggest that all new homes should be zero carbon by 2016. These rules were no bolt from the blue, but built on measures previously introduced by the Major government and indeed measures the current coalition originally supported.

The justification for the changes the Tories now propose (in what is another U-turn on the environment…anyone still remember that “greenest government ever” pledge!), is that these tough building standards are curbing house building (by making the costs of building homes more expensive). So given that the Troy plan for the next election is to trigger a housing bubble (and thus an artificial spur of growth), these building standards are proving more than a little inconvenient.

However its worth reflecting on the consequences of such a policy. It was all well and good throwing up cheap leaky homes in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when the world was awash with cheap fossil fuels, but that is not the case anymore. Anyone buying these homes will essentially be locking themselves into a future of many decades of ever higher gas bills (while the zero carbon homes come with much lower running costs).

And of course, where is all the gas to run these homes going to come from? As I’ve previously discussed it is highly implausible to suggest the UK can rely on Shale gas and with events in Ukraine the security of supply of the UK’s gas supplies is under greater threat than it ever has been before. Obviously in such circumstance’s creating a whole new generation of natural gas users is hardly a sensible strategy, no more than previous Tory policy to get rid of energy efficiency grants intended to allow existing households to refurbish homes (make them more air tight, better insulation, etc.)

As a token gesture, the Tories do include a measure to introduce a 5p charge on plastic bags. A good idea, as I’ve discussed before, but clearly a classic example of bait and switch, as can be observed from the fact that the Daily Mail, which is usually allergic to anything environmental, actually praised this measure.

In short the Tory plan is to gut the environmental budget, repeat all of the mistakes of the past, leading to a Britain in future with yet more leaky, badly built, flood prone homes. The unfortunate owners of these new homes will find themselves trapped with the millstone of negative equity around their neck in a home they cannot sell and cannot afford to heat (once the shale gas fantasy runs its course).

Just sayin….

Cameroon is trying to stop the election of a “federalist” John Claude Juncker to the post of EU president. Since the election of many euroskeptics, the pro-EU parties appear to be closing ranks, making it quite possible the Tories will face an uphill struggle in any effort to renegotiate the UK’s EU membership.

Of course, as I discussed in a past post, it is doubtful that any renegotiation of the type Cameroon fantasies about could be achieved according to the timetable mentioned in the Tory manifesto, even with a favourable EU President.

But either way, he and his diminishing pool of allies, are scrambling around looking for someone as an alternative to Juncker. Candidates put forward include Christine Lagarde (the world’s hottest granny) despite the fact that she and the IMF have criticized the Tories economic policies in the past (is he seriously suggesting this would be in the Tories best interest?). Tony Blair (the world’s least scary war criminal), I mean can you see the Cameroon being happy to welcome “President Blair” to Downing street?

Irish PM Enda Kenny is another choice, but given the implications for North/South relations he could make any “in/out” referendum in the UK difficult (as I mentioned before), likely insisting that it be held regionally, raising the risk that the UK would split up as a result. Indeed Enda has backed Juncker so I failed to see how he would be any better from Cameroon’s point of view. And then there’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt (think a more left wing Tony Blair…but in a skirt!…who likes taking selfies!). In short, he’s not exactly spoilt for choice as regards alternative candidates that are any better.

Of course you may ask where is Farage in all of this…nowhere of course! He’s so far removed from the discussion that those who voted for him may well have voted in a potted plant. Instead its up to the guy whose party finished 2nd to come and do the job, as UKIP lack the contacts and the clout….and the sanity, to engage in any negotiation.

Indeed, nice wee trick here, go to Google and type in “Nigel Farage is ____” and see what fills the blank. Also here’s a video of Farage being blasted in the EU parliament for wasting taxpayers money (e.g. he’s a member of various committies but has a habit of never showing up…presumably down the pub!).

This is the nasty little fact the Euroskeptics forget. If the UK leaves, the EU will carry on regardless, likely becoming more Federalist. The UK will still be directly affected by this via the terms of any free trade agreement with the EU, not to mention other agreements, which includes control of the border (as I’ve pointed out before the UK would need to do a lot more than leave the EU to achieve what UKIP want).

The UK, as it will no longer be an EU member, will go from having a diminished role in any EU negotiations (as is now the case thanks to UKIP) to having no role whatsoever and no right of veto or even to be involved in the discussion. We’ll just get a fax from Brussels telling us what to do and how high to jump.

How is that in anyway an improvement on the current situation? Even if you’re sceptical of the EU, better to stay in and try and reform it from within, than standing outside in the cold and being ignored.

The not so beautiful game

With the world cup due to kick off any day now, again FIFA is mired in controversy, amid yet more allegations of corruption at the most senior levels. And again it all goes back to the decision a few years ago to host the 2022 world cup in Qatar.

That corruption and much exchanging of brown envelopes was involved in Qatar’s world cup bid should only come as a surprise to the very naive. However, what is more surprising is the bungling incompetence of FIFA in not keeping a lid on this.

Clearly the idea of holding a world cup in +40’C of heat 😳 is something only someone who lives in a yesman bubble (like Blatter) could approve. And the heat and corruption are merely the tip of the impracticalities of Qatar 2022.

For example, of the 12 stadia Qatar has promised, only 3 currently exist (and typically have a capacity under 30,000) and its seems doubtful they could upgrade and complete the rest in time. Indeed in the case of at least one of the stadiums its host city (Lusail City) doesn’t even exist yet either! 88|

Indeed Qatar, perhaps sensing they’ve bitten off far more than they can chew, they are trying to cut the number of stadiums to just 8. Which given the projected $200 billion cost of the games, is hardly surprising, as we’re into sums of money now that would stretch the finances of even an oil rich state like Qatar.

And again just to put Qatar’s unsuitability in context, a couple of years ago Ireland along with Wales and Scotland made a joint bid to host the European championships. It was rejected on the basis that we lacked the infrastructure…yet now FIFA has awarded an event larger tournament to a country with an eighth the relative population and practically no footballing infrastructure, nevermind all the hotels, airports, transport infrastructure, etc. needed to host a major international tournament :??:.

And that’s before they build the massive air conditioned dome over the whole country!…Incidentally, a key part of Qatar’s case was that they would build air conditioned stadiums. But Qatar’s own architects and engineers are highlighting the technical difficulties in doing this!

And yes, I do realise there’s never been a world cup held in the Middle East, but there are far better candidates as hosts, notably Iran, Egypt (okay not the best choice of location at the moment!), Tunisia or Turkey (okay, not quite the Middle east, but you get the message!). All of these countries have a strong footballing tradition. And unlike Qatar all have actually qualified for the world cup at some point…although one would have to hope if the games went to Iran that America and Israel don’t qualify!

There are calls for a re-vote, however given the corruption inherent within FIFA and the unwillingness of the Swiss to do anything about it, I suspect the time has come for Western nations, notably the UK, to step up to the plate and take action.

An immediate travel ban on all FIFA officials one be one idea (or else just haul the first lot of them who land in the country away for questioning for a few days and that’s the last time they’ll stop off in a European airport!).

One has to consider whether the UK and other UEFA nations should also now consider leaving FIFA.

However I would propose a far more effective, but less radical solution – that UEFA should boycott the world cup. Not just the 2022 world cup, but also the 2018 tournament in Russia (which, like the Sochi games, will likely be little more than an ego trip for Putin). In both 2018 and 2022 we could play an interim international tournament at the same time the world cup is on, which would be particularly effective if other footballing nations, notably in the America’s were invited to join in.

Should any footie fans be nervous about the thought that they want to see if England can finally win the tournament in 2022 or 2018 (or whether Scotland or Ireland can actually remain in longer than a tea bag! :))), don’t worry it’s a nuclear option that would never have to be implemented. Sepp Blatter will blink first, resign and FIFA will re-run the voting. And they will do so for the very reason they backed Qatar – money. If none of the European and many of the South and North American teams don’t show up in 2018 or 2022 that means no major sponsors of the tournament and no sale of TV rights. FIFA would be as well off hosting the tournament on the moon!….although that would at least solve the cooling problems!