I hope to spend a couple of days at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow. To ensure that my attendance has some purpose, I will be dishing out a leaflet promoting Contraction and Convergence, in what will probably be a vain attempt to get people to think about what is missing from the whole shebang—that is a framework that imposes discipline on the ‘battle’ against climate change. I put the word battle in inverted commas to make the point that as a report yesterday from the UN shows, nations are still investing more in fossil fuels than clean energy. The UK is one of the worst offenders. It is reported coincidentally that Brazil's Bolsanaro could be indicted for crimes against humanity because of his non-response to Covid. Perhaps similar indictments need to be launched against all those political charlatans who are holding up or diluting action on climate change.
“State pension: Britons forced to wait longer for free bus pass after rule change”
“1.6 million pension savers to be hit with 55% tax charge amid Sunak's freeze on allowances”
+For some reason the Microsoft news feed features quite a lot of rubbish from the Daily Express. Here we have two leading headlines from today. Both stories are basically true, so perhaps I am being overly harsh calling them rubbish. What is rubbish is the inability of this right wing rag to put two and two together. The government is reducing the eligibility for pensioners’ bus passes because it wants to save money (and probably doesn’t think they deserve them anyway) and at the same time it is desperately trying to raise revenue in ways it hopes nobody will notice. So yes, if you have a pension pot of over a million quid you may have to pay a bit more tax (it won’t amount to much) on your pension savings, but if you’re a poor pensioner you will probably be proportionately better off with a bus pass. So the Express’s stance is to pretend to be on the side of the poor pensioner and on the side of the rich pensioner whilst offering no solution as to how the government might raise the cash to help the poor pensioner. It’s the sort of populist claptrap, also found in the other Tory papers which helps sustain the Big Tory Lie (e.g. levelling up, we’re all in it together, we’re on your side).
+The horrific murder of David Amess was a shock. Is this sort of thing going to become more frequent in the UK? Who or what is stoking up this murderous climate? Some blame social media, and I think that may be a reasonable charge, especially in cases of radicalisation and indeed in other forms of harm, such as teenage suicides. But it reminds me of the Mary Whitehouse argument that increased sex and violence on TV was having a deleterious effect on society—was that ever proven to be the case? It is my theory that in the case of ‘terrorist’ murders, many (if not most) of the perpetrators will already be deranged. How else to describe somebody who kills complete strangers? Perhaps they ’hear the voice of God’ or have some other personality disorder which compels them to do what they do. I am sure that the latest ’terror’ killer will now be examined by pyschiatrists. I would love to see ’social’ media reined in, but we will have to face the fact that there will always be deranged people out there. Perhaps we should adopt Sgt Stan Jablonski’s (Hill Street Blues) dictum ‘Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.’ But I’m not sure how that could be achieved in a civilised way.
+I was away last week enjoying a grand tour of the north of England. What a splendid place it is.
I confess to having had to steel myself to read ‘The Road Ahead,’ Keir Starmer’s essay on What Is To Be Done. I picked up a copy of said pamphlet at the party conference last week. It was light in weight and content. Naturally, much of it deals with the failures of the Tory government. There’s lots to go at there, and much criticism to agree with. But it’s not just about the Tories is it, Keir? What lies underneath the Tories, what is the underlying economic system that promotes them? Not a word. It’s as if all we have to do to fix the system is change parties at the next election, rather than change the system. In other words, we will be better managers of capitalism (a word Keir steers clear of entirely) and simply by being a partner of private business everything will be rosy. Does this mean we accept Boris Johnson’s claim that capitalism was the driving force behind the Covid vaccine, rather than taxpayer funded research? Does it mean that Keir believes in more privatisation of the NHS?
He talks about the ‘contribution society’ and how ‘hard’ working people must be rewarded, but offers no suggestions as to how the meritless non-hard working people (e.g crony capitalists, hedge fund vultures, offshore tax haven devotees, etc., etc.) should be penalised, or indeed eradicated. His approach sounds like we’re all going to be slightly better off, but wage slaves nonetheless. But in what must be seen as a repudiation of the Blair/Brown years, Keir tells us that “We would start with a promise to ensure we buy, make and sell in Britain” and “All major infrastructure projects currently in the pipeline would be reviewed to ensure we maximise the use of British materials and firms.” Gone, then, are the days of global free trade so beloved of New Labour, the only way to go, as Blair would have had us believe. I imagine that Blair, being the same age as me will remember the days of earlier ‘Buy British’ marketing campaigns. I recall one such from the 1960s—it was a spectacular failure. I wonder, now that we are all focused on supply chains and ‘just in time’ how exactly we will be able to rebuild a purely British manufacturing base, since the word ‘infrastructure’ points more to things than services. For some reason the French and the Chinese seem to be the only people capable of building our new nuclear power stations. Are they to be shown the door? (Yes please, and let that be the end of new nuclear power stations, which as shown by Amory Lovins in a recent Counterpunch article are of no use in the battle against climate change)
How do we ensure we buy, make and sell in Britain? The flipside to such a patriotic pursuit must surely be some form of protectionism. Is a touch of Trump creeping in here? Should we raise tariffs on Chinese goods? How would that go down with the British consumer? If we are to resile from globalisation it would be better to say how it can be achieved, rather than simply sloganise. Gordon Bown’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ also rang hollow.
+Careful film editing of the BBC’s news coverage of the Tory Party conference gave the impression of a full to capacity conference hall, even showing a clip of stewards trying to get people into an already rammed venue. There were no panning shots of the audience as a whole, but only a series of close-ups and low angle shots. But it was clear that there was no balcony filled with supporters—just black spaces where curtains had been drawn. The Labour Party only drew the curtains on one and a bit of the balconies in the Brighton Centre. Hurray! We’re winning!
+A comment on another BBC programme about Blair and Brown referencing the Clinton victory in 1992 annoyed me—that he had won a ‘landslide’ in the US presidential election. Not quite. He won a landslide in the electoral college, but not in the popular vote. Little attention is given to the fact that third party candidate, millionaire Ross Perot took 19% of the vote—likely most damaging the support for Republican incumbent H.W. Bush. In fairness, Clinton did just manage to win 0.1% more of the vote than his chief rivals in 1996 but without the Perot factor in 1992 there may never have been a President Clinton, and the Democrats’ famous ‘modernising’ influence on New Labour may have been somewhat curtailed.
I have to say you learn a lot with the Microsoft news feed which takes stories from our national press. Here’s a non-story that really made me laugh, from the Sunday Hate Mail:
“Three Labour MPs are considering defecting to the Conservatives because they have become disillusioned with Sir Keir Starmer's leadership, The Mail on Sunday understands. The MPs decided during last week's Labour conference in Brighton to 'open lines of communication' with Tory whips about switching parties. They are understood to be in despair at Sir Keir's failure to make inroads into Boris Johnson's opinion poll lead – as well as Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner branding the Conservatives as 'racist' and 'scum'.”
Why would three Labour MPs choose to go to the Tories because of their despair at Starmer’s ‘failure to make inroads into Boris Johnson’s opinion poll lead?” I know one of the authors of this story, Brendan Carlin, formerly of the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Telegraph. I fear tabloidism has got to him. Or somebody is taking the piss. I guess it’s a conference thing. Of course, at a rather sticky juncture for the Tories they would love little else but speculation that some Labour MPs might defect to them. What is far more likely however is that Labour will be welcoming back the MP ‘Change Party’ rats who jumped ship a while back. Anytime now, wait and see.
Judging by the stories and pictures filtered through the Microsoft news feed, most of the worst petrol and diesel queues in the UK are happening down south. This may simply be because more people live there. But I find it a bit weird, since for that very reason they also have the best public transport links in the country. Why do you actually need to drive a car around London? More to the point, why do you have to drive a Chelsea Tractor around London? It’s not possible to visit the place without noticing the huge number of humungous vehicles devouring the limited road space. So it made me laugh to notice one story which featured a petrol station on Sloane Road (or maybe street) in Kensington charging £2.68 a litre—twice the normal price—for petrol. Sadly, this disadvantages car drivers who have to get to their care work appointments, etc. and no doubt the better-off Sloane Rangers will send their serfs out to queue. Perhaps fuel should only be served to the car’s registered owners (with a UK address, not the Cayman Islands). Or perhaps it should only be served to people in small cars.
Away at the Labour Party conference for most of last week, savouring the newly confident, surging, poll-topping euphoria that comes with the first big opportunity to see our great leader run rings round the government and its hapless chief buffoon. Well, not quite. I didn’t really pick up a sense of any of that. Sitting in on Starmer’s set-piece speech, which at 90 minutes (including statutory clapping interruptions) I felt a kind of dullness creeping in, a definite sensation of being present at some routine, passionless briefing in an accountancy firm’s head office. Of course the whole thing’s scripted as they always are, including the retorts to heckling. I particularly liked a heckle in a pause after Starmer’s reference to his own stunning leadership of “Where’s Peter Mandelson?”
Despite going on and on and on there were many things Starmer left out or underplayed. I thought his reference to climate change lacking in conviction—perhaps he assumes that the party’s commitment to spend £28 billion a year on a green new deal is sufficient, and all can be delegated to more junior colleagues. It would have been striking if he led on the subject and made a big thing of it. But it’s not his thing. Nor did he seem terribly bothered by the cuts to international aid. Would he restore Tory cuts? No mention. But he did tell us that Gordon Brown would lead a new commission to look at the state of the UK’s union. Perhaps this is the extent of Starmer’s internationalism. In choosing Gordon there’ll be no need to wait with bated breath for the Commission’s conclusions.
Starmer spoke a lot about his background, his family life and being the land’s top prosecutor. In this last regard I was a bit surprised to hear him confess how stunned he was when his team told him that 98% of rape cases don't end in prosecution. I would count that as a dismal failure—who was in charge? As is often the case for prominent Labour leaders he had to make claims to a humble background, so his father the toolmaker featured a lot. This led to an unfortunate and off-colour joke about Boris Johnson’s father having ‘made a tool.’ Not a particularly gracious thing to say when Johnson’s mother had just died a few days before. Starmer would have done better to offer condolences. But maybe he doesn’t emote quite the way he should. Physically bringing into his speech the parents of a murdered daughter was I thought manipulative, even if he said they had become friends because of his role as DPP.
Hardly surprising was the absence of any analysis of why we’re in the state we are economically and why capitalism underpins one failure after another. More and more people will have hopefully heard about ‘just-in-timeism,’ the all-pervading capitalist view that costs should be passed back along the supply chain to the lowest cost producer, ridding the whole chain of any spare (costly) capacity. Nor was there a word about the vultures driving this voracious ‘efficiency’ machine. Now, the UK’s largest food producer, supermarket chain Morrison’s has been auctioned off to an American hedge fund, hundreds of thousands more workers in the UK will fear insecure futures.
But Labour’s grassroots still has teeth. Mass expulsions have not yet shattered some Corbyn era truths, and it is now Labour Party conference-agreed policy to describe Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ engaged in an illegal war against Palestinians. It had to be said.
I have to plead guilty to a climate change defying secret. The other day was spent at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway annual Steam Gala, a celebration of steam engines on the famously beautiful heritage railway in the North York moors. With beer tents along the way. There could come a time when heritage railways are the last big users of coal in the UK. God knows what will happen when coal sells for more per ounce than gold, or indeed when it ceases to be available at all. The nostalgia of these events can’t just be about steam engines—many people never experienced the original era of steam which expired in the mid-sixties. These fearsome machines now preserve memories of an innocent age, when little of what industrial society did was seemingly of much consequence and the nightmare of climate change was unknown.
As we were borne along in our still fusty smelling BR Mk. 1 carriages (the smell of old BR carriages never seems to disappear) through Levisham, Goathland and Grosmont it was hard not to notice that the vast bulk of passengers were all of a certain age. Being mainly pensioners I couldn’t help but imagine that most of them voted for Brexit and that somehow this kind of nostalgia trip would encourage them in their faith in the idea of a greater, lost nationhood symbolised by the best of our glorious heritage chuffing away at the front, the great British invention, the steam engine. This kind of nostalgia for a simpler time could, I thought, also be captured by the fact that despite gentle admonitions posted on carriage windows, fully 80% of the travellers couldn’t be arsed to wear Covid masks. Well, there wasn’t Covid in the 1950s was there? Oh, and by the way we’ve all been double jabbed so what’s the point?
But by way of light relief, at Levisham a tiny (by comparison) steam engine was shifting a few freight wagons up and down the track. This engaging little machine was called No. 8 Lucie, and whilst it was built in Britain in 1890, it went to serve tram services in Brussels (AARRRGGHHHH!). Brexiteers may have had to avert their eyes.
Those freight wagons at Levisham made me wonder. Why has nobody mentioned rail freight as a long term solution to some of our HGV distribution problems? Bring back the branch lines!
It appears the energy market is in meltdown, with gas prices shooting through the roof. Some of the UK’s smaller supply companies are facing ruin since it appears they didn’t sufficiently ‘hedge’ their future contracts and were offering consumers unrealistically low prices (how else do you build market share?). The problem with our energy supply is not just the result of a market blip as ministers would have us believe but a long-term lack of attention by governments of all stripes. This complacency is partly the consequence of an over-reliance on a ‘hub and spoke’ distribution model which requires large generators, such as nuclear. This model naturally concentrates more influence in the hands of a powerful political lobby, in which it has to be said nuclear is one of the most savvy. When Tony Blair wobbled on the issue of new nuclear power back in the early 2000s, the nuclear industry went into overdrive—and Blair didn’t need much persuading to get back on board. In the meantime, despite all the hype, the renewable sector was treated as a Cinderella, an expensive and unreliable sideshow. This contrasts with Denmark and to a certain extent Germany where renewables developed rapidly thanks to a different ownership model, where local communities could own and profit from their own renewable assets. This might be described as the ‘honeycomb’ model, which not only lessens local resistance to e.g. windfarms but builds resilience into the distribution system.
Couldn’t Labour ministers have learnt about this from the Danes? The answer is they could if they had the will, but despite rhetoric about mutuals and co-operation, the Labour government was in awe of big business. So when we bailed out the banks in 2008 we were too timid to use their power to invest in green energy or take on environmental concerns. Vested interests and Gordon Brown’s lack of vision partly explains how we are now hostage to the wild swings of an energy market (and climate crisis) bordering on being out of control.
After my blog on the 12th, wondering whether the ‘left’ could be resurgent, two results have come in which support the proposition. There has to be a caveat entered here of course, which is to say that how one defines the ‘left’ is very loose. If the left in the US means the Democratic Party many familiar with European-style left politics would poo-poo the idea. Anyway, the Governor of California, Democrat Gavin Newsom handsomely saw off a Republican attempt to depose him in a recall vote. I will chance my arm and say that it’s probably a bit better to have a Democrat than a Republican, not least when US Republicans are leaning further into the waters of neo-fascism. Then another result: Norway’s ‘left wing opposition’ has toppled a conservative government of eight years’ standing. Since I know nothing of Norwegian politics I have no idea what drove this result or indeed whether it is particularly good or bad. But Prime Minister Trudeau may be taking some comfort that the tide is washing his way. Canada’s election is tomorrow.