I read this morning that David Cameron was in the States shedding well paid tears at an oil and gas shindig over the UK's lack of ambition advancing fracking. So it was appropriate that I also received an email today requesting my signature on a petition about fracking, namely to get the government to release a report on the subject to a parliamentary select committee. The battle goes on, even if Third Energy's planned Kirby Misperton site is currently in abeyance. Here's the petition, please sign it!
Here in Scarborough the selection contest for the next Labour Parliamentary Candidate is well under way. Given how marginal the seat has become again, there’s been much interest from potential candidates. An initial list of 20 applicants has been whittled down to five, and with party membership much greater than previously, they all have a lot more work to do before the final selection meeting on the 7th April. Already the standard of presentation is very high, even featuring professional looking videos. Of course, the candidate who meets the most members prior to the selection meeting will have the edge, nothing comes close to personal contact in garnering support. I wish the successful candidate a happy next two years knocking on Scarborough and Whitby’s doors – and of course winning. Thankfully they all seem to be of the left of the party, so Jezza shouldn’t have any problems there.
In a letter to his brother Theo dated 19th February 1876 Vincent van Gogh writes “No answer yet from Scarborough.” This was at the time when he was about to resign from art dealers Goupils and so would have been looking for a new job. He was 23 years old. He had a variety of jobs in his youth and at one time even became a priest. I wonder who he wrote to here in Scarborough? In a letter dated 7th February, the only other reference to this job application is ”they asked whether I could teach French, German and drawing, and also requested a portrait.” Obviously he never got the job and it’s not mentioned again, although he had promised to tell Theo how he got on. So it was probably to a school that van Gogh applied. In 1871 Scarborough’s first school board was established to bring together many smaller schools and they proposed to build three new schools, one in the north west for around 800 pupils, one half the size in the south east and an infants school. The one in the north west sounds the most likely school needing a foreign languages and art teacher. This, the Central School (on Trafalgar Street West) opened in 1873 and “John Brown and his wife, joint heads of this school, were loved and honoured by generations of boys and girls.” (Arthur Rowntree, The History of Scarborough, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1931 p.363) So in all likelihood it was the Browns who either rejected van Gogh’s application, or perhaps never replied. Perhaps with Victorian punctiliousness, the latter possibility can be discounted. Whether Vincent told Theo of this rejection clearly is a moot point since not all his letters survive. There we have it. Had the Browns given Vincent the job, we would have had an abundance of sketches and paintings of Troutsdale, the harbour, castle and sea, and he would have settled down here providing us with yet another reason why Scarborough is the 2019 European Town of Culture.
As I go about switching energy suppliers for the second time in a year – hopefully saving me around £450 on my annual dual fuel bill – I was pleased see a report which showed that wind and solar energy are now not only cheaper than nuclear power but are each outstripping nuclear power generation globally. It reveals the government’s folly in building new nuclear capacity. By the time Hinkley C nuclear power station is commissioned (if it ever is) at a cost of £20 billion-plus the price of renewable energy will have tumbled even further. Of course (Freudian slip: I nearly wrote ‘Of curse’) our nuclear imperative has a lot to do with having Trident – the one is economically dependent on the other for survival. The combined cost of building these follies on current estimates is up to £61 billion. However, nuclear has always suffered cost over-runs and there is no reason to suppose this won’t happen again, if one looks at the problems building new nuclear power stations in France and Finland.
One reason I can switch renewable energy suppliers is because there is more competition. That’s a feature you won’t get with nuclear power, which relies on up-front fixed price agreements which lock in the price. Without such agreements, the things would be too expensive to build. So the price of nuclear can’t come down. Renewables like wind and solar are reaching a point when many smaller companies will enter the market, some of them community owned. At some point this should be recognised in what we all pay for electricity (and eventually gas) – to coin a phrase it will become too cheap to meter.
Our idiot Foreign Secretary has been at it again today, claiming there's no truth that the Vote Leave campaign exceeded legal spending limits during the EU referendum. He's left himself a bit exposed there, since the whistleblower who made the claim says he has proof. We'll see. But in the last few days Boris has also asked us to believe that the Russians were categorically responsible for the 'Novichok' nerve agent attack in Salisbury, citing as an authority the Porton Down CBW research establishment. Former UK ambassador Craig Murray has something to say about that - worth reading here. We can all rely on Porton Down of course. When I was in the RAF in the 1970s I turned down an offer of an extra £10 a week for two weeks to go there to help them find a cure for the common cold. That's what they told gullible service personnel their CBW research was actually all about (CBW: chemical & biological warfare).
A comment made by Jeremy Corbyn six years ago about a street mural is now the hot topic of the moment. How it has taken so long for this to come to light is a mystery to me. In his brief Facebook comment in 2012 Corbyn appeared to side with the artist who made what has been described as an obviously ‘anti-semitic’ picture. About to be whitewashed, it seems the artist was appealing for freedom of expression. That is what Corbyn seemed to be responding to. Now he’s apologised for not scrutinising the image closely enough. The current row seems part of a sustained campaign to destabilise Corbyn’s leadership on an issue which is fraught with difficulty, despite Corbyn’s vehement protestations that he is not and never has been anti-semitic. It is the same group of Labour MPs who are promoting anti-Corbyn stories and opinions. Along with differences over Brexit and Russia perhaps they now scent an opportunity to strike. They are desperate to get rid of him and return Labour to its rightful owners. I think it is time for them to outline their objective more clearly, rather than seeking to portray Corbyn as compromised on anti-semitism. The more they pursue that approach the more it will backfire on the Party as a whole and will ultimately prove self-defeating. Perhaps the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs have already chosen their own Gang of Four.
A peerless blue sky. A cool breeze like a gentle mountain stream. A flock of cyclists. Fag smokers outside in their pyjamas taking their first puff. A sunlit speckled sea, clear and calm to the horizon. The castle cliff welcoming back a thousand Kittiwakes after their Atlantic winter. The church bells ringing in crystal air. Ah, the joys of the first day of British Summer Time! I’m afraid I’m not one of those who bangs on about the iniquity of changing the clocks back and forth. It reminds me twice a year to pay attention.
Tom Steyer is a Californian billionaire who is spending rather a lot of money on seeking the impeachment of Trump. It's possibly a good thing that a real billionaire is taking on the fake billionaire. Steyer's efforts do not seem to have attracted much media interest over here but his TV adverts calling for Trump's defenestration have caused a stir in the US. It's quite refreshing. Californian Governor Jerry Brown is also challenging Trump on a range of issues, and as usual Trumpo's response is simply to Tweet personal abuse. It's highly unlikely Trump will be impeached, even with a possible Democrat success in the House of Representatives in November. They could start the process, but how long would it take? The Senate, where the House impeachment bill has to go for enactment requires a two thirds majority to remove the president - and the Democrats don't have the votes. One wonders what Steyer hopes to achieve by spending millions on his campaign. In the end it might all be seen as a rich man's game.
I've just been on a brief trip to Bruges and now fear for one of (my) life's little pleasures. After visiting the art galleries (more on that elsewhere) I like to have a cigar and a large beer in a bar by the old colonnaded fish market. There, between mid-March and mid-November they have an outside canopied space which is generally filled with locals (the bar is off the beaten track, i.e. more than 20 metres beyond where tourists generally venture) having a quiet friendly lunchtime drink and a fag. Sadly it was a bit wet and windy when I visited which meant the windows were shut and smoking was prohibited. I had to use a small dedicated smoking room at the back instead. I only mention this because it is my theory that with a series of weak or no governments Belgian smokers are not the targeted group of miscreants they are in most other places. Putting up tobacco taxes, etc., may not be the route to electoral success. But I sniff a change in the air. Another well-known smoker's destination in Bruges is Jerry's Cigar Bar which used to have a smoking room separated from the rest of the shop by sliding glass doors. But one day the plainclothes police showed up and found a door had been left open - sufficient reason then to close the smoking section. I wonder if another plainclothes cop had gone in first to open the door. Perhaps I am being paranoid. But one of the pleasures of Bruges may be under threat. It's an existential crisis.
Whilst I was away Gen. H.R. McMaster was sacked as Trump's National Security Advisor. As predicted here only a few days ago. His replacement with John Bolton isn't healthy. The 'adults' whom many hoped would keep Trump in check are being exiled.
Spring is here, or just around the corner. It’s always possible to feel cheered on the spring equinox when the first increased energy bill announcements arrive in a flurry of profuse and sincere apologia. I’ve been buying my energy from small renewable energy companies for 15 years, but as they get bigger so it seems do their price rises. This is happening at the same time as the market share for renewable energy has risen dramatically and consequently according to the law of supply and demand costs should have come down. But it doesn’t follow in the UK market. The renewable energy companies blame the wholesale market, and this is out of their control. It’s Ofgem’s job to see that things are fair, but who has any confidence in that outfit? I think the phrase ‘not fit for purpose’ comes to mind. There is something fundamentally wrong when the regulator treats renewable energy in precisely the same way as fossil fuels. Haven’t they heard of climate change? Anyway, I’ve decided to join the growing army of switchers, and will be looking for a supplier who is a bit more competitive. It shouldn’t be too difficult since my current supplier wants to put up my Economy 7 tariff by 26.5%
Part of the problem in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack is the UK's government's attitude towards Russia which sees that country as being a wayward child, rather than one it can talk to as an adult - albeit against a background of genuine and justifiable - suspicion. Boris Johnson talked on the Andrew Marr show today of there being evidence from the last ten years of Russia producing the nerve agent Novichok. Sadly Marr didn't ask Johnson what the government had done about that. Why hadn't we heard about it before? A major breach of international treaties? And why has it taken nearly two weeks to call in the independent international analysts of the OPCW to test the samples of the nerve agent used in this attack? Why couldn't Johnson give Andrew Marr a categorical commitment to allow physical Russian involvement in the investigation? Was he afraid they would tamper with the evidence beneath our noses? Or learn how we protect our precious bodily fluids? (Yes, I watched Dr Strangelove again the other night.) The Russian ambassador told Andrew Marr that they had offered co-operation and had been rebuffed. There's myth-making on both sides, and it would serve us all better if at least one side started behaving rationally.