UKIP: the last 1,000 days

There were two programme on the box over the last week about UKIP, and its probably not the sort of press attention they are looking for. Firstly there was the Beeb’s “meet the UKIP’ers” in which a group of generally angry old pensioners, in a deprived ex-seaside town, wandered around blaming foreigners (rather than budget airlines) for their town’s demise, constantly complaining about how they had to watch what they say in case the media labelled them as “racist”. Well that’s never been a problem for me! If you’re worried about accidentally saying something racist, that’s probably because you ARE a racist! I mean one of these guys, the local UKIP chairman for Farage’s constituency, was ex-National Front. Yet he seemed oblivious to the fact that this either implied he was a racist, or a complete brain dead moron to join an organisation like that, hang around with them for several years, surrounded by skin heads, giving the nazi salute, and it didn’t occur to him that they were more racist than a Chelsea supporter :no:

The other programme was C4’s “UKIP: the first 100 days”, which portrayed the effects of a theoretical UKIP government’s first hundred days in office. Needless to say, UKIP weren’t happy, giving them yet something else to be angry about. However I’d argue that actually Channel 4 gave UKIP a pretty easy ride, they failed to tackle the many obvious hypocrisies and unworkable policies within UKIP’s manifesto. My fear for UKIP won’t be the 100 days, it would be the thousand days after that as they would likely prove to be the last 1,000 days of the United Kingdom.

For starters there’s UKIP’s plans to leave the EU. I had a go at the Catalonians a few months back (and how unworkable their proposed independence was) and I’ve pointed out how one of the flaws in the SNP’s plans, probably something that ultimately cost them the referendum, was their inability to answer basic questions about an independent Scotland. Well UKIP’s plans include many far worse howlers.

Trouble with Trade
So Farage wants independence from the EU, okay then and how long would that take to organise? You do realise you’ll need to negotiate a deal with the EU and that’s likely to take time, and I mean a good few years? If there’s one thing the EU doesn’t do and that’s work in a hurry.

As I’ve discussed before, the economic consequences of leaving Europe would be severe. The, LSE predicts a significant drop in GDP, even in the best case scenario. So there would be quite significant job losses, as many of the UK’s companies rely on integrated manufacturing processes, which means tight co-ordination of manufacturing across the EU and the wider world. Any sort of interruption to trade will inevitably make it very tempting to move factories across the channel (or up the M6, or across the Irish sea), not least given the lower wages in certain parts of Europe (or lower taxes in countries like Ireland).

A crucial requirement of UKIP’s plans, is to secure a free trade agreement with the rest of the EU and the EEA. However, that assumes the EU will grant such an agreement on terms UKIP would favour. And the likely terms of such a deal are already knownand they aren’t exactly UKIP friendly! They would require the UK agreeing to take on all EU law relating to trade and allowing free movement of people in support of commerce. In essence Nigel and his UKIP members presence in the EU parliament (and Britain’s veto over EU policy) will be replaced with a fax machine in Westminster, through which the EU will tell the UK parliament when to jump and how high. Regardless of your views on the EU, how could anyone consider this an improvement on the current status quo?

I repeatedly hear from UKIP types their prayer “the EU has more of a need for the UK than the UK needs the EU”. Well the economic figures say the opposite is true. Hence in these negotiations the EU will know it has the UK over a barrel and the UK will ultimately have little choice but to cave in. And even if it were true, the culture of the EU (which means they will not bow to threats from petty bigots, they made that mistake back in 1938 and we all know how that one worked out) prevents them from doing so. This was fairly obvious during the Eurozone crisis and recent events regarding Greece.

And it’s not just the EU UKIP would have to negotiate with but the US, China and numerous other countries, some of which have already warned the UK of the economic consequences in the event of Brexit. They would argue that the UK leaving the EU would be sufficiently disruptive to trade that it would invalidate any existing trade agreements. The US has already been very clear that they will exclude the UK from existing trade treaties if the UK leaves the EU. Inevitably the UK will not get the same sort of deal it got with the rest of the EU backing it up. After all, the Chinese can’t play brinkmanship with the EU and risk being shut out of the world’s largest economy. But they can certainly afford to do so with UK, particularly when they know the UK can’t afford to leave the room without a deal.

In the meantime the UK economy will be in limbo land. Inevitably investors will shuffle their cash off somewhere safe (Eurozone, US treasury bonds offshore tax havens, gold bullion, canned food ;D), investment will grind to a halt as businesses wait to see what happens next. In short economic paralysis. Inevitably interest rates will go up as the UK’s credit rating is cut and inflation will rise.

This will mean in simple terms, that the interest on your mortgage will go up, as will the cost of living. But wages or the interest and returns paid to shareholders will not increase by nearly as much. This would be particularly bad news for anyone who has retired and is on a fixed income…So if C4 were being genuinely alarmist perhaps they could have shown UK pensioners living off food scavenged from bins and burning furniture for heat.

Government by chaos
Of course we have to factor in the UKIP factor to any negotiations. As UKIP have shown by their past behaviour, government by them would be chaotic, disorganised and gaffe prone, with much dictatorial micro-management by Farage. Consider how UKIP treats its own when they step out of line. Rather than any sort of enquiry or due process, there’s simply a dictate from HQ (usually by e-mail or text!) and the individual in question is pretty much taken out back and shot. There is for example, the jostling and backstabbing regarding party candidate selection. Or how Farage sacked the entire leadership of UKIP Scotland (including climate denier and former deputy leader Chris Monckton) when they failed to toe the party line and failed to perform.

Now all well and good this happening with a party whose basically in the Monster Raving loony category, but imagine it continues when some of them are minsters. The effect on any negotiations will be to drag things out, if not convenience other countries that the British have lost the plot, walking away from any trade deal until someone sane is in power. Naturally the effect of such chaotic and inept national leadership would have a severe effect on the stock market and the UK’s credit rating. This is why tin-pot dictatorships in Africa can’t get a loan, because investors never know whose going to be in charge when the time comes for the loan to be paid off!

Brexit…or Englandexit?
Then there’s the possible breakup of the UK to worry about , how are UKIP going to handle that? The SNP have pointed out that Scotland would have to sign off on an EU exit, with similar noises coming out of Wales. This would likely mean either giving these region’s sufficient economic independence via Devo Max that they could effectively become an EU member themselves in all but name (which would of course render much of UKIP plans moot). Or fight with Hollyrood (and Cardiff) and trigger another independence referendum or two.

And what about Northern Ireland? The Good Friday agreement all but assumes an open border between the Republic and the North. Getting around that would mean negotiating with Sinn Fein, and we already know what their terms will be – a referendum on reunification of Ireland. While polls do suggest a No, I suspect if such a poll were put in the context of an EU exit (i.e. you’re expecting the non-sectarian voters who are currently saying No to maintain the status quo, to vote in favour of a tax increase, a cut in services and higher living costs just to stay part of the UK) there’s at least a 50/50 chance of a Yes vote. How are UKIP going to deal with that one? And resisting it would probably mean reigniting the troubles.

It is for these reasons that I consider the greatest threat to the “United” part of the UK is UKIP. The UK self-destruction party would seem a better name for them.

Labour shortages
Then there’s the labour shortages, its a pity this programme didn’t point out that if you arrest lots of migrant workers, well that does kind of mean they won’t be able to do their jobs. The whole reason why migrants are over here, is because there are labour shortages within the UK and thus jobs available and not enough people with the necessary skills to do them. Immigration from the Eurozone represents a net boost of £5-10 billion, which rises to £25 billion if we include the whole of the EEA.

Now its all well and good pointing to the many unemployed in jobs centres, but that’s not much help to an employer who needs a few hundred skilled brick layers or the NHS which needs doctors and dentists, or in my field where we need to bring in academics from abroad with expertise in a particular narrow field. I might add that this is why I support labour’s plans to encourage apprenticeships, as its this “reskilling” that’s a far more effective way of reducing labour shortages and unemployment, compared to beating up Romanian and Chinese immigrants.

Also, more often than not, the problem in the UK is there are jobs available, just not were people currently live. The main reason why immigrants are taking them is they are prepared to move and many British aren’t (for various reasons). This is why UKIP tends to poll well in deprived areas with relatively little migration, such as ex-resort towns in the South east.

So chuck people out of the country and suddenly you have crops rotting in fields with nobody to harvest them, engineering projects put on hold due to a lack of staff and NHS waiting lists increasing due to a lack of nurses and health care workers. And as I’ve discussed before there is a certain hypocrisy towards claiming to be right wing and in favour of free markets (as UKIP do) and then equally want to impose a series of massive trade barriers that will simply make it impossible for some British businesses to function.

Indeed the one set of jobs the programme showed UKIP, hiring ex-soldiers as immigration enforcement officers (which is based on actual UKIP policy), does actually show the nativity of the party. Most ex-army types I know would probably be insulted at the thought that the only thing they are good for is breaking down doors and beating up minorities. Many of them took the time in the army to develop various “skills”, be it management skills, IT, repairing equipment (electronics, mechanics), expert driving skills, etc. They have therefore gone on to get jobs in a variety of different roles (emergency vehicle drivers, health care, IT, engineering, etc.) and would probably be unsuited to this sort of a job (and probably not very fit anymore!).

Power cuts
And if you think I’m being alarmists, well I haven’t even started talking about the power cuts yet. The UK, and in particular England, is heavily dependant on imported energy. Half of the UK’s energy is now imported and the main source of domestic energy production is of course within Scotland, which might well be a separate country after Brexit. About 7% of the UK’s electricity is imported, mostly from European nuclear and renewable energy plants, which is crucial to making up the growing winter gap in UK generating capacity. Scotland is responsible for about 15% of UK electricity, as well as supplying most of the gas, either domestic gas or gas imports from Norway (the other major source of Gas coming in via pipelines from Europe). So the consequences of the UK leaving the EU would be to hand England’s energy fate into the hands of…well Scotland and the rest of the EU.

And while the other parties have been at least trying to pretend they are angry with the big six energy suppliers over the high cost of bills and lack of progress on the construction of new power stations, UKIP’s spokesman on this issue has suggested he is “sympathetic” to the power companies.

Again, it suggest enormous naivety and ignorance of the issue on the part of UKIP. They seem to believe that it is the fault of over-regulation by the government and that the only reason why the power companies build wind farms is to claim subsidy money. However if anything the opposite is true. Subsidies represent only a small portion of the lifetime costs of renewables (about 13%, so 87% of the cost of a wind farm comes from the energy company). The reason why power companies have been building them is because they represent a hedge against future rises in gas prices, with the subsidy intended to sweeten the deal slightly to hedge against drop in gas prices, such as has been the case recently. And most people would argue the reason for high bills is down to a lack of any effort to reign in the power companies, with Ofgem basically asleep at the wheel :zz:

The problem with energy is that it is a long term problem requiring long term solutions. It takes decades to build a power station or develop a new gas field and nobody in the right mind will finance such projects unless they are sure that the government isn’t going to change policy and render it unviable. The main political parties have been very good at making well meaning speeches committing to renewables, fracking, nuclear or whatever is the current flavour of the month, but then basically kicking the can down the road and not implementing the policies to bring about long term investment in the industry, hence the alarming drops in the UK’s generating capacity.

UKIP’s policy of taking their hands off the wheel and then letting the “magic of the market” solve everything would likely just lead to the big six giving us all a right royal shafting, building even less power infrastructure (after all, as ENRON showed in California, an artificial shortage means their profits go up) until the resulting blackouts get s embarrassing and disruptive that they force government intervention.

But any attempt by the state to solve such a problem would be problematic. While I’ve heard noises out of UKIP proposing to copy France’s policy on nuclear for example (which is again somewhat at odds with their supposed free market values), one has point out the decades that would take to implement, the massive numbers of foreign workers who would have to be allowed in to work on these projects (destroying any attempt at immigration quota’s) and the hundreds of billions it would cost. And whose going to pay those costs? The whole reason why Hinkley C is being subsidised (to the tune of 68% of the cost of every kWh) is because the markets refused to lend money to the project….and that was in an environment where gas prices were high and credit cheap. Farage will be trying to do the same when gas prices (and renewable prices) are low and credit expensive. How do you think that’s going to work out? So in short, vote UKIP…then invest in candle makers!

Again, I’m not saying the UK isn’t entitled to have a referendum on leaving the EU, but at the risk of sounding like Alastair Darling, independence would be for life not just for Christmas. And I don’t think many UKIP supporters realise that. The UK would be paying a huge price for what ultimately will turn out to be a futile and meaningless gesture that will in all likelihood have the completely opposite effect that they intended.

Week in review

Time to print Drachmas?
The optimist in me is looking at the climb down by the Greeks in negotiations with the EU, as promising. While its clearly not a workable deal, it shows that the Greek’s need to kerb their enthusiasm while the Germans need to cut them some slack. So it could be a step towards something more positive. Meanwhile the pessimist in me thinks that the real reason why the Greeks finally gave in is because they need to kick things into the long grass for a few months to give them time to print Drachma’s.

Actually, if I were the Greek’s, I’d start printing Drachma’s anyway. It gives them the extra option, if the Germans refuse to back down, to walk away from the Euro as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if the Germans learn in the middle of negotiations (via a suitably timed leak) that the Greeks might actually walk away and leave them with a three hundred billion bill to pick up 88|, it might serve to scare them straight. So they have literally nothing to lose.

When Tes-goes
I came across a article recently about Britain’s abandoned Supermarkets. One of the problems with the aggressive expansion program’s of supermarket chains such as Tesco’s or ASDA has been to drive local stores out of business. This causes all sorts of local issues, destroying town centres, increasing the need for cars to reach out of town retail parks, which imposes various costs on councils for new road building and reduced council tax revenue. Then what happens? Tesco’s closes its store and leaves the town without any shops at all!

Such closures can therefore have a double whammy impact on council budgets. Often in order to support such stores councils have to spend money. For example, putting up new road signs, new roundabouts and integrating approach roads and footpaths from the store into the local road network. Which, to avoid queues might also need further widening and expensive modifications. Normally something referred to as “section 106 agreements” will act as compensation to the council, releasing funds that can be ploughed into various community schemes. But with the store closed the council looses these funds, quite apart from the loss of tax revenue. The result is an an inevitable squeeze on already tight council budgets.

Its a trend very familiar to many in the US, notably thanks to ASDA’s parent company Wal-Mart, who have successfully turned many US towns into a ring of strip malls with a ghetto in the centre. And of course should Walmart for any reason be displeased with local politicians, by them for example introducing some new taxes or ordinances (pesky government, promoting local democracy!), they can and will hold the town to ransom by threatening to shut down the store. And don’t even mention the word “union”, as Walmart has a policy to close any store where staff successfully unionise.

Of course what this show’s is exactly why Councils should have been more considerate in the first place. As in, if you let Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s build a massive superstore, you do realise the economic implications for that? It would seem sensible to me in future for councils to therefore be a bit more clever. E.g. refuse any single mega store, but be clear they will allow the construction of a number of smaller stores, thus ensuring they aren’t dependant on one single supermarket chain. I would also suggest a ban on stores above a certain size is probably a policy worth considering.

Dead man’s switch
There’s been a number of accidents recently involving lorries running out of control. The tragic events in Glasgow and Bath for example. It raises the question as to whether they could be avoided somehow, by for example fitting a “dead man switch” which would automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle went out of control. Well technically yes, such systems are not new and have been fitted to many vehicles (forklift trucks, railroad cars, light watercraft, etc.) for many decades. The problem is guaranteeing that the switch will be disengaged in an emergency.

Perhaps a better way would be to use software. Many vehicles these days rely on drive by wire, i.e. when you turn the steering wheel, all you do is generate signals that go to the car’s ECU, which then communicates with the power steering system what to do. Similarly in some cars the pedals are merely transducers connected to the ECU instead of to the carburettor throttle or brakes. This is central to such features as traction control, cruise control or automatic braking.

So technically, you could easily configure all large lorries such that in the event of the driver losing conciousness, or behaving erratically, e.g. excessive sudden acceleration in an urban area, lane departure, the ECU would detect this and automatically apply the brakes. Such features could also include parking sensors around the vehicle to cover blind spots, with the brakes again being applied if, say a cyclists was detected. Consider that of the four cyclists killed in London this year, all have involved a collision with a lorry.

However, there are downsides. Costs obviously, as such vehicles system would be a little bit more expensive and would be difficult to retrofit into older vehicles. So there would have to be a transition period for such technology to be brought in. Also the problem with lorries is that you’re dealing with an awful lot of mass. Once something that big runs out of control, there’s not a lot the driver, nor a computer, can do to stop it. Which is why perhaps we need to consider perhaps simply banning such large vehicles from town centres altogether and insisting on the use of smaller vehicles to do the same jobs. More costly yes, but certainly safer for all.

Russian bombers
Several times now Russian Tu-95 Bear’s have been intercepted by the RAF close to UK airspace, provoking a furore within the press and the usual “Britain under threat” stuff. Actually no. The sharper among you may have noticed something important about the Tu-95, i.e. the fact that they are so old and obsolete they still use propellers, hardly a surprise for an aircraft designed in the 50’s! There main role in the Russian airforce these days is actually long range maritime patrol rather than as bombers. For, as a bomber aircraft, they are pretty much useless against any country with an airforce or any form of of air defence system (SA missile’s for example). This is why most countries got rid of such bomber forces decades ago, as they are simply obsolete and of questionable military value.

Certainly the situation in Russia is worrying, but parallels with 1939 are inappropriate. As I’ve discussed in a prior post, the fact is that NATO enjoys an enormous military advantage over Russia. Consider that the Russian airforce has, at most, about a hundred half decent fighter aircraft (i.e. aircraft that aren’t flying museum exhibits and are of some actual military use) against a combined NATO force of over a thousand similar aircraft or better, with tens of thousands of less advanced aircraft in support! In the event of a shooting war the Russians would be outnumbered in the sky’s ten to one, often by superior aircraft. There is no question that NATO could stop Russia and bomb Putin into submission any time they choose to do so…and shoot those Tu-95’s out of the sky before they came anywhere near the UK!

The danger is the long term implications of this activity. e.g. the reason why the UK isn’t buzzing Russia with its long range patrol aircraft is because we don’t have any of those (cancelled by the Tories) and NATO closed down its forward operations base for long range maritime patrol (in Iceland) some years ago.

So the risk is that NATO will respond to Putin’s actions by putting aircraft and troops in positions more threatening to Russia (such as in Ukraine!), which in itself raises the risk of conflict between the two kicking off accidentally. Also I reckon its only a matter of time before the Americans start bringing up missile defence again. They and the Israeli’s have been quite busy developing these systems, which are getting quite advanced and reliable. Deployment of such systems in the Balkans or Ukraine could be very destabilising, as it would effectively counter much of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, perhaps forcing them into a more hair trigger stance with what few missiles they have that can counter the NATO ABM systems.

And this is also worrying, because the very reason Putin is engaging on this strategy, even thought its undermining Russian security by doing so, is because he’s an ego-manic surrounded by Yes-men who dare not confront their boss with the truth.

A resigning matter
One subject that didn’t get a lot of media attention, particularly within the right wing media was the spectacular resignation of the Daily Telegraph‘s long standing political editor Peter Oborne, citing the lack of coverage the Telegraph had given the HSBC scandal. He accused the paper of pulling stories purely to protect advertising revenue, as well as the exertion of editorial bias by the paper’s reculsive owners (and tax exiles themselves), the Barclay brothers.

Needless to say this is a rare insight into the goings on of major newspaper and it does suggest a lot we should be worried about. We rely on newspapers to be objective in their work, as otherwise the result isn’t news, its for said media outlet to be reduced to that of a propaganda organ that plays the master’s tune, much like RT and Fox News. The justification for allowing the likes of the Barclay’s or the Murdoch’s to own multiple titles is the assumption that they will keep their noses out of editorial matters. If they can’t do that and the phone hacking scandal certainly suggested that they can’t be trusted, then these media empires should be broken up.

And of course credit due to Oborne. He might be a right wing hack, but at least he’s an honest right wing hack! ;D

The Tories are slashing the welfare budget because they argue there are many claiming benefits who aren’t genuine hard up cases and that benefits should be more effectively means tested and that there should be a cap on how much you can received regardless of circumstances. Yet when it comes to pensioners, they intend to dole out a full whack of benefits, winter heating allowance, free TV license, bus passes, etc. without any form of means testing, even though these benefits cost the country far more than we ever spend on the unemployed.

Now I’m not saying pensioners aren’t entitled to these benefits, I’m merely pointing out the obvious hypocrisy. If you’re going to means test the very poorest people in the country, what’s wrong with applying the same rule to everybody, as labour and the lib dems have suggested? Or has it something to do with the fact that the bulk of the working class are likely to vote labour, while the bulk of pensioners are more likely to vote Tory?

Of course, many pensioners are quite likely to vote UKIP, even thought if there’s anything more threatening to the retirement income of pensioners its UKIP. Their current spokesman on the matter has in fact recently talked about a UKIP policy to scrap the state pension and replace it with a privatised system.

As I’ve said in the past, any pensioner tempted to vote UKIP, I would advise to first buy a tin of cat food and decide if you think you could live out you’re days eating it, as that’s likely to be the stable of your diet if UKIP ever got into power! :))

Its a sin
The church of England joined with other Christian groups over the last few weeks, with much fire and brimstone, lambasting corporations >:-[ for non-payment of tax and their failure to pay a living wage. No doubt chief executives need to remember the bit about how it is harder for a camel to ride through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter heaven, and all that…

…However their attempt to take the moral high ground was somewhat undermined by news that the Church doesn’t pay the living wage either, advertising several posts paying just the minimum wage. Of course one could argue, such hypocrisy is nothing new, its generally be a case throughout history for the clergy to say do as we say, don’t do as we do.

Also one has to remember that churches are non-profit organisations, every penny saved on salaries, goes to other worthy causes, such as getting the leaky cathedral roof repaired. And in fact, many churches these days, in the UK, are under huge pressure from the enormous repair bills to keep their churches and cathedral’s functioning. By contrast any money saved by Starbucks or Poundland on lower wages goes on the Chief exec’s private yacht, or the champagne breakfast at the next shareholders meeting. So there is something of a difference!

The hypocrisy of the UK’s climate policy

As I’ve pointed out before, there is huge hypocrisy when it comes to the UK’s energy policy. Like many vaguely sane countries, the UK is legally committed to taking action on climate change. Laws have been passed in parliament and the UK has signed into EU legislation which sets targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has also signed international agreements, with legally binding targets.

However despite all this, the UK government is intent on promoting fracking for yet more fossil fuels, even though falling oil and gas prices hardly give any obvious justification for this policy. This in itself would be bad enough, if it weren’t for the fact that the Government have been actively working against the deployment of renewables, as well as energy saving measures which would allow people to lower their energy bills while at the same time cutting carbon emissions.

Take for example the town of Balcombe at the centre of the Fracking debate. Tory plans to change the tax laws governing community owned energy schemes threaten to undermine the attempts by locals to build community funded (and locally supported) renewables….while down the road they attempt to steamroller over local opposition to fracking, even thought the are basically reneging on multiple international treaties and violating the law of the land to do so. Needless to say it makes a mockery of Cameron’s “big society” propaganda.

And of course, this promotion of shale gas continues despite falling fossil fuel prices, which likely to led to cirb the ethausiasm of many companies for fracking. The reasons for this price drop are I fear not fully understood. Contrary to media reports, the drops in price are almost certainly not related to fracking or other unconventional sources, as these only represent a tiny fraction of global output (a little less than 5% in fact). Changes in supply and demand factors and improvements in EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery) seem a more likely explanation.

However the drop in prices has, along with expanding renewable energy, led to much lower wholesale electricity costs. Although despite this there have been few if any significant drops in the price of electricity by the major producers. Consumer magazine Which? recently estimated (prior to recent wholesale price drops) bills could be on average £145 cheaper.

So you may ask, where is the regulator in all this, after all Ofgem are legally required to take action at this point. And what has been Ofgem’s response? Suggest that people should save energy by eating a packed lunch? And what next? If a pensioner is sure they are going to die of hypothermia this winter will they suggest that they should burn the house down to save on the energy needed to defrost your frozen corpse?

One is quickly forced to the conclusion that the Tory party is beholden to their cronies within the energy industry. Community owned energy schemes were central to the large increases in renewable energy use in Germany, as well as threatening to break the monopoly power of the the big six energy firms. So its obvious why the Tories are so anxious to kill them off, lest more people work out there are alternatives to taking a shafting every quarter from you’re utility. Promoting fracking has little to do with lowering bills and everything to do with some back door cash handouts and tax breaks. In much the same way that Cameron’s assault on “Green crap” had nothing to do with lowering bills and everything to do to helping the energy giants pocket yet more cash.

And the massive subsidy to nuclear, which as I recently pointed out on my energy blog, works out at a subsidy rate per kWh of roughly 68% over the 50 year lifetime of the plant, versus a subsidy rate of at most 13% for wind (over 10 years) and 25% for solar (over 35 years), is clearly so blatantly excessive its true purpose is merely to provide a slush fund to fuel the profits of many energy firms, many of them foreign owned I might add, for decades to come.

Let us be clear, this is corruption of the highest level, little different from G. W. Bush and his war for oil. Climate change after all, will have a dramatic impact on some parts of the world, wiping out certain low lying countries. The only difference is that they’ve found a way to do it without having to invade a foreign country first and getting us to foot the bill!

And this side of the Pond….

The student vote
An interesting article from the Guardian regarding the role several universities will play in a number of the UK’s marginal seats. In the last election a number of labour MP’s lost seats by only a few hundred votes, several in districts with universities in them. Such seats often went to the lib dems (or Tories) who had made promises on tuition fees, which of course they’ve since reneged on. As a result it could be revenge time for students, as some stand a good chance of unseating a number of Tories and lib dem MP’s in the upcoming election, given how tight the margin’s in some seats are.

Indeed even Nick Clegg himself could be vulnerable. Now while normally a majority of 15,000+ votes would seem to be comfortable. But in Sheffield, where his constituency is based, there are two universities. Its entirely conceivable that if enough students, their cash strapped parents and staff voted against the backstabber lib dem leader, then its very easy to see that majority quickly wiped out. While personally I reckon he’d still get in, quite a few of his party members are due a close shave.

The Greens also have a fighting chance of winning a second seat in the University town of Bristol as well as Norwich South, home of the UEA.

The world’s local tax-dodgers
Am I surprised by the latest allegations regarding HSBC?, Am I shocked by the degree to which the UK’s wealthy, including several donors to the major parties are dodging tax? No not in the least! non-news as far as I’m concerned. In fact these allegations are pretty mild compared to prior dealings HSBC have been embroiled, such as money laundering for drug dealers and terrorists.

What I am surprised by is the “shock horror” from the media and politicians. I mean, the way the law works at the moment, the worst that can happen to them is they’ll get caught and pay a small fine, while the balance of probability is they’ll get away with it and win big.

To draw an analogy, let us suppose we change the law on burglars, bank robbers and car thieves to follow similar rules. We rely on these ne’er-do-wells to simply hand themselves in if they break the law, let them keep the money they steal and guarantee no prison sentences, just a small slap on the wrist fine. Do you think the number of robberies would go up or down?

Until we start seeing tax dodgers and greedy inept bankers being led into court in handcuffs, given massive fines (enough to wipe out even the richest of them) and lengthy prison sentences, scandal after scandal will continue to occur.

Warnings from history
UKIP, who are currently smarting from them mistaking Westminster Cathedral for a Mosque (okay I know UKIP’s anti-Catholic but that’s a bit much!). But now they may actually have something to complain about. A head teacher in Derby compared UKIP in a school assembly to the nazi party of Germany.

Of course on the one hand, this school principal has a point. As I’ve pointed out before, UKIP are not the free-market right wing party they like to imagine themselves as, but they are in fact very much a party of neo-nationalist big government. If one were to ask which party has policies closest to the third reich, you would have to say UKIP. And their own membership being caught saying nice things about Hitler or Farage paling around with known neo-nazi’s hardly helps.

Okay, UKIP aren’t advocating death camps…..(yet!). But the fact is that they much of their xenophobic rhetoric is fairly dangerous talk that could easily lead to all sorts of things, one of them being a breakdown of the UK’s multicultural society if not a breakup of the UK itself.

Perhaps another point to be made is about politics and education. Its somewhat dangerous to mix the two, as no matter what you say, bring up politics in a school and you’ll always upset someone. So regardless of the rights and wrongs of what was said, this head teacher was skating on thin ice. I see nothing wrong with teaching evolution, global warming or telling kids about the importance of vaccinations. But this is teaching them science not politics, as its the choice of certain people on the right to politicise what should be a politically neutral matter.

Across the pond

A couple of stories from across the pond in America have caught my eye recently, the sort that may have been overlooked by the media over here…

US Cadbury ban
Ex-pats and other fans of UK made Cadbury’s chocolate products are currently stockpiling large quantities of their favourites, as a ban on the British made stuff is about to come into effect to prevent “brand confusion”…or perhaps because the leading US firm Hershey doesn’t want to face up to any competition.

You may enquire, don’t we have a free trade agreement with the US? How can they just ban stuff like this? Well because there are loopholes in such trade agreements covering issues such as health regulations, corporate branding and environmental legislation. And suffice to say, there ain’t a lot a lawyer needs to drive a bus thro such rules.

If you think they’re being a bit hard on Cadbury, try buying Haggis in the US or Marmite and Irn Bru! It is literally easier to buy crack cocaine in parts of the US, given the consequences of US government regulations. Yes, to the yanks an AR-15 or uzi can be safely handled by a 11 year old, but letting people eat offal or drink a can of ginger is just downright reckless endangerment. :??:

Americans like to pride themselves on being the land of free enterprise and small government, however the reality is that they are nothing of the sort. Many of the same Tea party type who wave their “get big government off my back” placards will be the first to start whinging if foreign or out of state competition threatens their jobs. Congressmen in Washington therefore come under enormous pressure, both from well funded lobby groups for one industry or another, as well as from their constituents, to try and protect jobs within their state and free markets be damned.

Good examples include the US steel industry, the debacle over the KC-X tanker aircraft (where a European aircraft beat a US designed one to the contract, prompting congress to restart the competition & re-write the rules to make sure the “right” aircraft won), generous farm subsidies (which makes it almost impossible for other food producers in Africa or South America to compete on grain prices) as well as the Medicare budget (a massive free subsidy to big pharma) as well as numerous subsidies to the US fossil fuels and nuclear industry.

And if you think that Congress is bad, the individual US states are even worse. Take for example, the recent banning of sales of electric cars from Tesla Motors in several US states. In part this was due to the pathological hatred of many Republicans for anything green, but mostly it was done to protect vested interests in the established auto industry, as well as jobs in local auto dealers from an upstart company like Tesla.

These policies are so engrained in the US political system it can lead to all sorts of laughable absurdities. Such as arch-climate denier Rick Perry talking up the success of Texas wind farms in reducing America’s carbon footprint (Texas has more wind farms now than any other US state). The rest of the GOP seems to develop selective deafness whenever this comes up. Same as the Democrats will ignore one of their own from a coal mining state voting against the president on any climate change issue. As its assumed that he will do whatever needed to protect local jobs, regardless of the implications for party politics….or the polar bears!

I’m reminded of the situation in Nigeria, whereby corruption is so endemic within the country, its simply assumed that any politician who wins office will “share the cake”, i.e. reward his friends and family with cosy jobs and kick backs. A politician who actually tried to tackle the country’s corruption would likely be in for a very short stint in power and likely be ostracised by his community afterwards.

Anyway, I bring this matter up as it does represent one of the dangers with UKIP and the Tory proposals for leaving the EU. Crucial to such a move would be securing a free trade agreement with both the EU and most of the rest of the world (as existing treaties with other trading blocs would have to be renegotiated). And much like the SNP seemed to assume they were entitled by right to sharing Sterling, there is no guarantee whatsoever that UKIP will get what they want here.

But as events in the US show, even if they get a free trade agreement with the EU, it will be all too tempting in many situations for politicians, either side of the channel, with jobs in their district under threat, to try and find loopholes in any such trade agreements allowing them to restrict the sale of UK goods (or visa versa).

As one libertarian blogger points out (hardly the sort of person we can accuse of pro-EU basis) if a company ships its goods across the channel and the French ceases them (for a perfectly legal custom’s inspection….which they are then very slow to complete), what is he supposed to do in a Brexit situation? Well at the moment he could go directly to the EU or failing that his MEP…hoping and praying that MEP isn’t a member of UKIP, as they aren’t terribly active in their jobs. With the UK outside of the EU, it has to be raised with the department of Trade, who talk to Foreign affairs, who would then talk to the EU (possibly via the WTO), who would then pass it down the food chain the other side. And knowing how governments work that means it would be six months to year before anything gets done (in the best of circumstances), by which stage most SME’s will have run out of operating capital and gone bust, rendering the whole argument moot.

So anyone in UKIP deluded enough to think that leaving the EU won’t have a negative economic impact (for some crazy reason some seem to think it will have a positive impact!) is living in cloud cuckoo land.

Climate liabilities
Its becoming increasingly difficult for climate change deniers to counter the weight of evidence in support of anthropogenic climate change. Increasingly deniers are forced into relying on crack pot conspiracy theories that often accuse scientists of being part of some giant global conspiracy. When its pointed out to them that such claims are libellous, they promptly retreat behind the bastion of free speech, that they are usually very quick to deny their critics, on issues such as gun control for example.

However, a court in Canada has now ruled that no, this isn’t a free speech issue, such comments are libellous and has awarded a cash settlement to a climate scientist who had been accused by a tabloid of having “a warmist agenda”. This case does have much wider implications, notably as a much larger and more significant case is looming between Micheal Mann and the Republican CEI and National Review.

It is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that what shut the tobacco lobby up wasn’t government legislation, but a constant barrage of expensive litigation. Could we be seeing the start of the same for the fossil fuel lobby?

US Measles epidemic
There’s a measles epidemic ongoing in the US. While infection rates are low so far (as in “only” a few thousand) but one of the problems with this disease is its highly contagious nature and hence its ability to spread like wildfire. This is having all sorts of implications, with health advice to avoid bringing kids to parks, public areas or daycare centres.

And just so we’re clear, measles is not a harmless disease. While many of those reading this blog, who got measles before vaccines were widely available, may not have suffered serious ill effects. Keep in mind that globally, measles kills tens of thousands per year. So the advice would be, vaccinate you’re kids and get vaccinated yourself if you’re not sure you’ve had it.

Who do we have to blame for this? Well, all of these tinfoil hat wearing anti-vaccine types…who seem to have a habit of also being climate change deniers as well as believing in other crack pot conspiracies (MH17, 9/11 was a setup, Kennedy, etc.). Are they willing to admit their error? well no, of course not!

Ultimately one could argue the real disease here isn’t measles, but a condition called Republican Mental Lock-in Syndrome :crazy:. Whereby, those on the right can’t admit that they are wrong about anything, ever. Even when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they will instead perform acts of extreme mental gymnastics to concoct all sorts of outlandish conspiracy theories to satisfy their ego.

Scary Nukes
An ongoing story that’s some elements of the US media have been ignoring is the state of America’s nuclear weapons. Crippled by funding and obsolete and maintenance hungry equipment, questions are being raised as to the safety and reliability surrounding America’s nuclear arsenal. Some stories talk of blast proof doors propped open with a crow bar (as the mechanism has failed), of missile units with only one set of tools (so they can only do maintenance on one missile at a time….they have to Fed Ex the tool kit around and hope it doesn’t get lost in the post when a war starts!). Oh, and apparently the computers that arm the missile rely on floppy disks….and I mean the really big old floppies! 88|

To make matters worse, morale within the US nuclear weapons program is very low. :zz: Largely because if you want to kill your career as a US officer, the surest way to do so, is to go on Armageddon watch. While you’re fellow officers are getting that all important front line experience, or learning new skills (useful in their future career outside the military), you’re stuck in a bunker underneath hicksville, playing solitaire while surrounded by equipment that should have become museum exhibits many decades ago. Indeed one has to question whether its such a good idea to put clinically depressed officers in charge of the nukes? |-|

Either way, so long as country’s like the US choose to have nuclear weapons, they have an obligation to maintain these weapons in a safe and secure manner. And personally I’d question the point of spending hundreds of billions on a weapon system you don’t plan on ever using. And if the US, or other superpowers, are unable to maintain their stockpiles then they have invalidated their right retain them.

weekly roundup

Been ill with a cold and now the flu :oops:, tiss the season I suppose! Anyway, a round up of a few of the week’s stories.

Its worth reflecting on the victory of Syriza in the recent Greek elections. Radio 4’s John Humphry‘s, who has a son in Greece, has done a number of pieces on the hardship of ordinary Greeks in recent years. If you’re wondering why so many Greeks voted for Syriza, its worth having a listen.

As I’ve been saying since the beginning of this crisis there has been a distinct lack of leadership within the EU. The EU’s one shot solution to all ills has been, until very recently, austerity with much tightening of belts and privatisation of public services. The end result is that listening to the ECB has tended to remind me of that scene in father Ted where they organise a disco and play the same record over and over again. Needless to say the Greeks have decided the time has come to change the record.

In part this has to be blamed on the German Chancellor Angel Merkel, who is a fairly risk adverse and unimaginative politician. To Merkel doing something radical would involve changing her brand of toothpaste, living dangerously would count as having cornflakes for breakfast rather than porridge! Also there has been a tendency to not consider the economic and political consequences of austerity, which has seen much hardship for ordinary Greeks and a rise in support for many radical parties.

Ultimately, the concept of solving Greek’s debit crisis using austerity alone was flawed from the beginning, as this assumed that Greece would one day be in a position to pay off its debts. As Syriza have been pointing out there seems to be no economist in the world who believes that was ever going to happen. This was an unspeakable truth that nobody in the EU, nor the Greek government would say , because they feared the consequences.

It is for example worth reflecting on the differences with the Greek bailout and, say the bailout in Ireland. In Ireland, it was never the Irish governments debt that was the issue. It was the huge amounts that Irish people had privately borrowed (approximately ten times Ireland’s GDP! as compared to an Irish government debt a tenth of that!) from banks and international lenders to fund the property bubble. Prior to the crisis the Irish government had been posting surplus budgets year on year, even when Germany and the UK were reporting deficits and doing so despite a string of tax cuts over the course of the boom.

In essence the Irish bailout was a case of a bridging loan to tide the Irish government over until it de-toxified the private debt mountain, and got people working and paying their taxes again. In theory, this should enable the Irish to pay off its debts, although the crash has left a lot of Irish in a precarious financial situation.

The situation in Greece however was very different. And given that the Greek debt has actually increased since the bailout its quite clear that austerity isn’t working and never was going to work. If this was an individual or a company, then this is the point where bankruptcy proceedings would start. Creditors need to realise that lending money involves an element of risk, after all why else do they get to charge interest? So in such a situation, Greece would settle its debts to the best of its ability, paying off what it realistically could, with the rest of the debt being written off.

However, this hasn’t happened in Greece, there’s been some debt write down, in the form of a “debt swap” back in 2012 , but that’s about it. Previous Greek governments feared heading down this road as it could lead to them being kicked out of the Euro. While the rest of the Eurozone feared that it would undermine the credibility of the currency, quite apart from the fact that the bulk of those euro’s are owned to other parts of the Eurozone.

So in short, anything Syriza does can’t be any worse that what the prior regimes have done. My concern however is that I’m worried if they understand the risks they are taking, or the consequences of engaging in what will effectively be the negotiated bankruptcy of a country. Particularly as Syriza has made various populist, but outlandish promises, ranging from creating hundreds of thousands of jobs to free electricity to cutting property taxes (the sort of thing left wing governments are usually imposing!).

How exactly the Greeks will be able to afford these measures isn’t explained. They could only do so by borrowing money, at least in the short term. But in the event of a debt write down, nobody, not even their eurozone allies, are going to be willing to lend them money. This again, is normal in any bankruptcy proceedings, nobody is going to lend you money (other than Wonga) if you’ve a pile of CCJ’s to your name. That’s why you should generally avoid going bankrupt at all costs! As Robert Peston at the BBC points out, the speed at which the Greek economy could collapse, if the ECB cut off the life support, is pretty swift.

The Greek’s could leave the eurozone and return to the Drachma, then simply print money, but that would wipe out the pensions and savings of most Greeks, as well as bring down their entire banking sector, quite apart from the normal problems caused by hyper inflation. I don’t want to have to be avoiding Ryanair flights to Greece because I can’t squeeze all the Drachma’s I’ll need for the taxi to my hotel into my hand luggage!

Inevitably there’s going to be a need for compromise. The Troika need to realise that holding Greece over the fire is not going to result in them paying anything, when they clearly don’t have the means to do so. There is a need for a little bit of European solidarity here. But equally, a need for a bit of realism from the Greeks. They can hardly be expected to see money lavished on them at the same time their creditors are having to take a fairly hefty hit.

My concern is therefore, what happens if one or either side refuses to compromise. The consequences are likely to be Grexit. And while I tend to doubt the more extreme UKIP fantasies of what happens after that, it is likely to have a pretty disastrous effect on the Greek economy (out of the frying pan and into the fire) and a knock on effect on the European economy, including the UK.

Syriza also have this strange thing about Russia and Putin, which is not entirely explained.

Rise of the Populist parties?
The victory of Syriza has also had the media speculating that this might signal a radical change in European politics, whereby new parties populist parties begin to take over from the old guard of politics.

I think its important to remember however, that there is nothing new about Syriza. They are pretty much saying the same things they’ve been saying since before this crisis even began, its just the presentation is a little different and given the massive mess Greece is in, more are willing to listen.

Similarly, as I discussed recently, there is nothing new about UKIP. Their message isn’t that much different from that of the likes of the BNP or the EDL. The presentation might be different, they tend to prefer talking in code, rather than being more openly racist. But essentially dress Enoch Powell up in a cheap suit, put a pint in his hand, make him laugh occasionally and you’ve got Farage.

And Sinn Fein, who have gained a lot of support recently, as I discussed in a prior post, haven’t changed their message or core policies since 1920. The reason for this upsurge in support is driven by a lot of angry and confused people, taking it out their frustrations on a ballot box.

So yes its possible we’ll see populist parties figure in future governments. But its worth remembering that they are advocating polices that are actually quite old and not very new. So anyone expecting instant miracles is going to be sorely disappointed.

Election debate
Cameron and the Tories appear to be running scared from any debates in the run up to the next election. It started off quite amicably, once they learnt UKIP would be invited, they insisted the SNP would be included. Okay, makes sense, would be silly to exclude the ruling party of Scotland, particularly if the debate was held in Scotland, or the topic of Devo Max is likely to feature.

Then Cameron insisted that the Greens come along. Again, fair enough, they represent an obvious counter to Farage. While I won’t expect them to feature in every debate, but then again I’d be against the SNP, UKIP or the lib dems being invited to all of them either. But its reasonable to include them to some degree.

However now Cameron wants ALL the major parties to be invited, the Unionist, Sinn Fein, SDLP, the Welsh Nationalists, etc. I mean while we’re at it why not invite the Monster raving loony party, or how about George Galloway? By the time they all introduce themselves the debate will be over. I also have this vision of Galloway getting Farage in a headlock while Nicola Sturgeon tries to give him a Glasgow smile, as Miliband and Clegg take it in turns to give Cameron wedgie’s and the Unionists try to march their “traditional route” past the podium of Martin McGuinness, while the Welsh and the Greens sit in the corner discussing rugby and minted lamb :)).

The reality is that debates run counter to the Tory election plan. To those on the right they plan to point out that Farage is an insane racist and a fan of Enoch Powell. And to those who don’t read the Daily Mail, the Tory message is to point out that Cameron looks much better while eating bacon rolls….assuming they put some caviar in it first!

The danger with a TV debate is, that there’s likely be many “I agree with Miliband/Farage moments” and as a result they are very likely to lose support, no matter how the debate goes.

Education woes
One of the battle grounds in the election could be education. This doesn’t bode well for the Tories, as there is a growing view that their policy of favouring academies has not had the benefits that the Tories claim.

This is important, given that the Tories policy is to push any school that is “failing” into the category of an “academy” or “free school”. This robs the school from any local government control and hand that control over, more often than not, to various Tory party cronies and public school boy chums. It kind of makes Thatcher’s great milk snatch pale in comparison, given that they now seem to want the entire school.

Meanwhile, Ed Miliband has also been proposing a cut in tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. I would dismiss criticism of this policy from various overpaid “Jonty De Wolfe” types in academia, who are clearly more worried about the gravy train they’ve profited from coming off the tracks, than student welfare. Much as we can ignore the opinions of a tax dodging head of Boots.

However the BBC’s Sean Coughlan has a more intelligent criticism of this policy. He points out that its the issue of student loans to pay for maintenance, plus the fact that said loans seldom cover all a student’s living costs, that is the major cause of stress on household budgets. In other words, cutting fees may not deliver all the benefits that Labour, or their supporters in student unions, suggest.

Not an issue
Those on the right have been making hay out of the brutal beating of a university law lecturer by POLISH criminals 88|. However, if you’re wondering why the Daily Mail hasn’t been interviewing him, its because he doesn’t agree that this the attack on him should be seen in that context, that it has little to do with immigration. There is a need yes, to deal with criminals crossing borders. But the solution to this (as he sees it) is more co-operation with EU partners not less.

Last week saw the fiftieth anniversary of the funeral of Winston Churchill….and no I’m not talking about the dog from the insurance ads! ;D Inevitably, the Tories, who have a nasty habit of excessive hero worship, tried to make a big deal out of it.

Such behaviour is dangerous as it often leads to a warped tabloid style view of history. To say that Churchill had his flaws is to put it mildly. He was, as some critics have pointed out, a racist who considered non-white races (or Catholics) as inferior. The first gassing of the kurds may well have been launched by the British in the 1920’s, not Saddam, acting under orders from Churchill, who endorsed the use of gas to put down rebellions in Afghanistan and Kurdistan, as well as against Russian forces during the civil war.

It is perhaps ironic that he is known as a great war time leader. In the first world war, his actions led directly to the disaster at Coronel. This occurred because Churchill vetoed the sending of reinforcements to the British forces in the Falklands, against the advice of the admiralty. Churchill seemed to be more worried at the time in preventing a German born aristocrat friend from loosing his job at the Admiralty than fighting a war. Fortunately, after the battle, the RN was able to rush several ships south to save the Falklands before the Germans could attack the Islands directly. Churchill was also involved in planning of the mess otherwise known as Gallipoli.

And he only became PM in 1940 because of the British military mess in Norway ….that again had Churchill’s finger prints all over it! This would be a bit like G. W. Bush resigning in the middle of the financial crisis only to be replaced as President by Alan Geenspan!

And above all else, there was his role in Ireland. As I discussed in a prior post, he was involved in undermining the case for Home rule by loudly proclaiming that Westminster would renege on its pre-WWI commitments to implement it after the war was over (playing right into the hands of the IRA). The Black and Tans who terrorised Ireland were also his idea.

This behaviour had many long term implications, Irish independence became a matter of time rather than a possibility. Britain’s credibility was undermined in many corners of Empire, which probably played a role in the break up of the Empire later. Irish neutrality in WW2 was largely a consequence of the Irish seeing an alliance with the man responsible for the burning and looting of Cork as being little different from that of an alliance with Hitler.

Churchill has his high points but its also important to remember he had his flaws and certainly made many mistakes, as is the case for many historical figures. There are, for example, many Irish who hold up De Velera in the same light as Brits look on Churchill. However, to describe Dev as a “flawed” character is to put it mildly. One could argue the Irish civil war was largely a consequence of him putting his pride before country (he refused to sign the oath of allegiance…until it became politically convenient to do so!). He also often seemed to be more interested in scoring political points against his rivals (such as Churchill!).

If you want to promote a one sided propaganda version of history, then I recommend you watch the film “Churchill – the Hollywood years”….with Churchill played by…Christian Slater….well its got a good song!