Billionaire PM Sunak is in Scotland today, no doubt travelling up in his solar powered helicopter to announce 100 new oil and gas exploration licenses, as well as new carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. An energy minister on the BBC said that this will keep us on track for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and also keep us out of the clutches of energy rich tyrants, mentioning only Putin (but not bin Salman of course). Around the world, it appears (as of 2020) that 40 million tonnes of carbon were captured in CCS plants—compared to the 38 billion tonnes emitted each year, so 1,000th of the total. So the question for the energy minister, but not asked, should be how much of the new gas and oil carbon emissions in Scotland will be accounted for by CCS? If all the gas went to power stations one could theoretically say most of it if those places had CCS installed. Large oil using industrial complexes may also be able to employ CCS. But a lot of this new oil and gas will be used where it is totally impractical to install CCS. What happens to those carbon emissions? And to date a lot of CCS plants which do exist are economically viable only because the pressurised carbon is used to force more oil out of the ground. But not to worry. The same people who used to publicly decry climate change models will now be talking up their own models to demonstrate that CCS is the solution. And as the minister implied CCS will help us get every last drop out of the North Sea. Another point not raised this morning was how much will all this cost? The more efficient CCS is, the more energy the process consumes. Hence there will be few CCS plants that are designed to operate at 100% efficiency. 75% might be seen as quite good. At least Labour has said it will not approve new exploration licenses. But I wonder, given Starmer’s U-turns, what level of policy capture and storage that commitment is predicated on.
Addendum: I came across this today, from Inside Climate News. It’s from an article about climate change denial propaganda materials being sent to US schoolchildren:
‘Big Oil’s climate misinformation machine has been operating for decades, despite the industry’s early awareness of the crisis. In 1965, American Petroleum Institute (API) President Frank Ikard gave a speech directly acknowledging that burning fossil fuel would cause climate change, saying “there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out.” In 1978, Exxon Mobil’s own scientists published an internal report confirming that rising carbon emissions would lead to global warming, and by 1980 industry giants were discussing the “globally catastrophic effects” of temperature rise.’ (emphasis added)
In 1965! I hadn’t seen warnings from that long ago—lots of people reference NASA scientist James Hansen’s evidence to Congress in 1988 as the moment the truth was told. Hansen now expresses “a sense of disappointment that we scientists did not communicate more clearly and that we did not elect leaders capable of a more intelligent response” (Guardian 19th July 2023). Perhaps there’s some truth in the former part of that statement. There’s 100% truth in the latter.
I’m reading Asa Winstanley’s excellent book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby brought down Jeremy Corbyn. It is a thoroughly referenced account of the smear campaign which was pursued over several years up to 2019. For those of us who followed the twists and turns of this fractious period, it is a fascinating read even if much of it is familiar. Hopefully it will be a book that is referenced in the future by historians of the time when briefly the UK took a left turn—the sort of turn the establishment couldn’t permit. But one of the most egregious episodes of the Corbyn period is somewhat glossed over, which is the background to and legal actions arising from the Panorama programme, broadcast a few months before the general election of 2019, Is Labour Anti-Semitic? This was in many peoples’ opinion a not-so-subtly delivered hatchet job, fronted by Britain’s most respected, multi-award winning and totally impartial journalist John Ware. Ware is a litigious person, so perhaps that explains why Winstanley (or his lawyers) resisted digging too much into the creation and fallout of this programme. I do find it odd however that Winstanely didn’t comment on the fact (at least as reported in the Guardian) that Ware in 2020—less than a year after his programme was broadcast—had participated in a buyout consortium for the Jewish Chronicle, a paper which had vigorously taken up the cudgels against Corbyn (and which had suffered a number of defeats concerning the accuracy of its reportage.) The Guardian reported (23rd April 2020):
"The winning bid was led by Sir Robbie Gibb, a former BBC executive who worked in Downing Street throughout the Brexit negotiation process. It is also backed by a group including former charity commission chairman William Shawcross, ex-Labour MP John Woodcock, and journalist John Ware who made a recent Panorama investigation into allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party. Others whose names are attached to the consortium include broadcaster Jonathan Sacerdoti and Rabbi Jonathan Hughes of Radlett United Synagogue, along with a number of financiers and lawyers."
Who are these people that John Ware joined with? Clearly Robbie Gibb’s political leanings are clear, having worked for Theresa May. William Shawcross has drifted politically and is now firmly on the right, as Wikipedia reports:
"In a 2010 article for National Review Shawcross described Britain as a "mere piece of the bland but increasingly oppressive Bambiland of the E.U., promoting such PC global issues as gay rights (except in Muslim lands) and man-made climate change." He also criticised "postmodernism"; defining it as "disastrous creed that there is no objective truth and that everything is relative" and likened it to a form of appeasement. In the same article, Shawcross described Labour's " 'multicultural' ideology" as a "catastrophe" and implied that Labour's immigration policy was designed to "dilute Britishness.""
Ex-Labour MP John Woodcock, promoted to the Lords by the Tories (but who sits as a crossbencher), a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, was an outspoken critic of Corbyn. Jonathan Sacerdoti, according to Wikipedia, was a founding trustee and former director of communications for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a body whose charitable status has been questioned given its overtly political critique of Corbyn.
One might feel entitled to question John Ware’s motives, given these associations. How did he become a member of the consortium that bought the Jewish Chronicle? Was he asked because of Is Labour Anti Semitic? Was he already ‘well in’ with these people, who could all be described as arch enemies of Corbyn? We’ll never know. Perhaps a future Panorama could look into the question.
Beethoven’s Ninth was performed at the Proms tonight and televised on BBC 4. Sort of. I thought I would tune in—not least since the orchestra was the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra which plays at the heart of the challenging Tectonics festival each year in Glasgow. But something was wrong. The picture was a pyschedelic mash, and the sound was continually interrupted. It seems a bit of bad weather can impact the delivery of the digital wonderland. Hence I turned off the TV sound and tuned into Radio 3 which was simultaneously broadcasting the concert. This resulted in the sound being two seconds ahead of the picture. At first I thought the conductor (who looked like a youthful Stewart Lee) was over-performing at the end of each movement, and it was hard to understand why the timpani made no sound whilst the performer was still drumming away. But none of this discombobulation could distract from the music of course. In fact, if I have to express annoyance (yes I do), it is about the audience's now de rigueur clapping between movements. It’s like the crowd is duty bound to insert itself into the music, to let itself know it was there, like some collective selfie lunged into an artwork. Sometimes surely a sense of awe might be better expressed in total—perhaps stunned—silence? But no, whooping and hollering is now the norm. I don’t know. Perhaps early 19th century audiences applauded whenever they pleased, and they I imagine would be drawn from a rather less varied bunch of people. Going back a bit further I suspect Regency audiences were quite boisterous. Perhaps my taste for classical music, largely drawn from a non-live, recorded experience tends towards quiet appreciation. I suppose I’m just a prissy snob when it comes to classical music. (I was rather pleased with myself the other day, turning on Radio 3 at 5.45am to pass a test I set myself each morning. Coming in halfway through a piece of music can I identify the composer? It was an obscure piano piece. I thought Ravel. I was right. Apart from Bolero, nobody’s heard of Ravel. There you are. I’m a snob. Having said that, if they’re playing something from the 19th century which isn’t always immediately recognisable I just assume it’s Brahms and more often than not I’m right.) In these ways we amuse ourselves, or should I say in this way I amuse myself.
+Three cheers for the Brussels-based Transport & Environment group which this week published its new report 'Clean and lean: Battery metals demand from electrifying passenger transport'. This calls for a reduction in the size of new vehicles, in particular the new breed of behemoth electric SUVs. These have an enormous appetite for metal, and such relatively rare minerals like lithium for their batteries. I guess their owners think they’re doing the right thing for the planet, and it must be great imagining that tackling climate change requires new levels of outsized comfort and luxury. A win-win situation! No doubt the manufacturers have grasped the opportunity to increase their profit margins on such monsters—there’s more money to be made in big vehicles than titchy little cars. Like the pharmaceutical industry they will argue that they must make untrammelled profits in order to invest in new technologies. In the context of climate change this is cognitive dissonance at its worst. Listening to Prof. Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this morning on the Today programme talking about the heatwave in southern Europe and elsewhere, it is clear that the target of limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5C is easily going to be missed. (It has to be said this was obvious eight years ago when it was set.) I hope that those countries suffering these intolerably high temperatures now take the lead. They must know such extremes will occur increasingly often. If our economic approach to climate change is not reordered soon, nature will reorder our economics.
+I was very impressed (not) with our head of MI6 (who I can’t name for obvious reasons) who has taken to the stage to tell the world that the Secret Service has already recruited some Russian spies and has issued an appeal for more to come forward. He said MI6 will treat them with all due discretion and secrecy. I can’t quite tell if this was a joke, a barb aimed at Putin or just a silly error of judgement. Why alert the enemy to what you’re up to? Surely you can leave that kind of thing at arm’s length to Bellingcat?
The website Electoral Calculus is currently suggesting Labour at the next general election will have an overall majority of 317 seats—with the Tories on just 100. One could say that if this came to pass, the British electorate will have roared like a lion their disdain for the current state of things. But in inverse proportion to their roar, they will only hear a pitiful squeak from Keir Starmer, who will continue to downgrade expectations in the hope that when in power a couple of minor promises fulfilled will signal that No.10 really is under new management. You might think that with public opinion so firmly against the Tories it would be a good time to propose real change. But no, our mouse of a leader can’t even summon up enough courage to have a walk-on role in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. He squeaks that he can’t promise the investment in public services that is so desperately needed. Climate change will come second to economic growth (but hearing an interview he did this weekend it seems his policy on the growth front is simply to repeat the word ‘growth, growth, growth,’ echoing Blair’s ‘education, education, education.’) He has no plan—sorry, I should say that he does have an idea about devolving powers to the regions, but that, in the light of his power grab of local democracy in the Labour Party rings hollow. He won’t commit to repeal many (or any) of the pernicious laws passed by the Tories. If he had any desire to really change the way things work in the UK he would use his predicted massive majority to embrace in his first parliament electoral reform—to embed a shift to the general ‘progressive’ majority amongst the UK’s voting public. But no, that would demonstrate far sighted leadership, a quality he doesn’t possess. If Starmer does win a landslide it will go to his head. He will tell himself it happened because of him. It will be another disaster, brought on by EHS—Early Hubris Syndrome. God help us.
In a secondhand bookshop in Settle the other day and I came across a Fabian Society pamphlet Europe: the way back by arch Eurosceptic, the late Peter Shore, published in 1973. I wondered how it stood up 50 years later, and so shelled out a quid (original price 30p) for it. Shore really wanted the UK out of the then EEC, a decision he thought should be determined by the British people in either a general election or a referendum. But, not wishing to be too much of a negative chap he did make a number of recommendations for how the Treaty of Rome and our accession arrangements could be altered. None of which of course would stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being accepted by the six existing member states. Things like reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and returning democratic lawmaking powers to national parliaments. Within the EEC, Shore felt that the UK could perhaps gain headway by being disruptive, using its veto power to bring business to a virtual halt, and he cited de Gaulle’s similar tactics from 1965.
Shore didn’t hold back. Referring to the projected UK financial contribution to the EEC’s budget he had this to say: ‘It takes us into an area of surrender on the one hand, dictat on the other: into something akin to reparations payments of the kind which Prussia imposed on France in 1870 and which the victorious allies imposed upon Germany at Versailles in 1919.’ Perhaps if so much of the EEC budget wasn’t spent on the CAP supporting small French farmers it would have been more acceptable, but even when changes were made and more support was put into regional development policy (surely a Leftwing sort of thing) it would still be unpopular especially since, in the case of e.g. Hungary such money could be misappropriated by Orban’s regime.
Much of Shore’s faith was invested in the development of free trade outwith the EEC, not least with the Anglo-Saxon Commonwealth countries and the US. This of course was when growing free trade seemed a surefire bet, even before China was in a position to join the party. Now things have changed, with e.g. the collapse of the ‘Doha round’ of the World Trade Organisation talks, the return of protectionist talk a la Trump and the growing threat to world food supplies caused by climate change. The rosy picture anticipated by Shore for the UK outside the EEC/EU came head to head with the inevitablility of things going belly-up. Now we have accusations that Preident Biden is punishing Brexit Britain by stymieing a trade deal. Very naughty!
For me the question remains what might have the UK achieved if it had simply stayed out of the EEC/EU in the first place. For those on the Left there was always the possibility that levers denied to us through membership could have been employed, particularly for example in the absence of rules on state aid. Yet we always had the option to support ‘vital’ national interests—but classicly we Brits always managed to ‘goldplate’ the rules when other large EU countries found ways around them. How for example did other countries maintain their significant shipbuilding industries? We might also recall that of the 43 years between the publication of Shore’s tract and the Brexit vote in 2016 the Tories were in power for 25 of them. Being out of the EEC/EU didn’t guarantee local Leftist economic policies being pursued.
Where I can agree with Shore is with one of his concluding remarks ‘If there is one thing that the experience of the 1930s should have taught us, it is that no regional market however large, not even that of the United States itself, can protect its citizens from unemployment and slump if the world economy has ceased to grow.’ Well, perhaps I should make a slight emendation in the light of climate change, and supplant the last word with ‘exist.’
This story caught my eye today. Here’s the essential guts of it in the Daily Mail: ‘Shadow Minister Fabian Hamilton had said that using ‘our military forces not to fight wars and further conflicts but to save life’ would ‘pay back for our imperial past’. He also branded Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent ‘utterly useless’. The remarks were made a couple of years ago at a CND rally. Fabian is currently Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament, a role created by Corbyn and, as unlikely as it seems, retained under Starmer. I wonder what a minister with this portfolio is supposed to say? I suspect Fabian’s days are now numbered. He has in the past got into trouble with remarks made during the height of the great anti-Corbyn anti-Semitism smear campaign, when as reported by the Jewish Chronicle ‘Mr Hamilton had sparked fury within the Leeds Jewish community after he told a Jewish constituent to be “less hysterical and angry” about the antisemitism crisis [sic] in Labour.’ So, here we have two elements of a cause for deselection under Starmer’s rule—not being fully on board with NATO’s nuclear stance (Fabian spoke to a CND rally for heaven’s sake!) and not buying into the Great Labour Anti-Semitism Crisis. How will Starmer deal with this waywardness? I have an interest in this since I devoted part of my life to getting Fabian elected, as his agent in 1997—and as the Leeds Labour organiser with a role in the de-selection of his predecessor ‘hard’ left candidate, Liz Davies. What an irony it would be now if Fabian were to be barred from standing again. Mind you, at 68 years old, and having served as an MP for 26 years, maybe he wouldn’t be all that bothered. I doubt that the position of Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament will survive much longer either. What an invitation it must be for the postholder to go rogue and upset Starmer’s cart of Atlanticist apples.
I enjoy a good yarn (i.e. something not to be taken too seriously) so when on my Microsoft clickbait feed I saw a Daily Telegraph story headlined ‘Tom Clancy’s CIA secrets: why The Hunt For Red October had the US Navy running scared’ I decided to watch the film (again). The film is, it has to be said, a not so subtle piece of propaganda made in the dying days of the Cold War—it was released in 1990 but was written in novel form by Clancy in 1984. As we’ve been informed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, its demise wasn’t exactly anticipated by the West at the time. (Just like the financial crisis of 2007/8, but that’s another story.) The Daily Telegraph, as its headline suggests, hints at CIA involvement in providing or at least assisting in the development of the story, although Clancy denies that (but would he necessarily know?) The bit about the Navy ‘running scared’ is because some of the technology portrayed in the film was being researched in hush-hush circumstances at the time. Top secret stuff that would allow submarines to run silently, and the film made out that the Ruskies had got to it first. This theme is redolent of the old fiction that the Soviets had a military advantage over the West, the so-called ‘missile gap,’ subsequently revealed to be false. The Soviet arsenal never matched the West’s. Another aspect of the film, which many might say is borne out by events in Putin’s war in Ukraine, is that the Russians are rather incompetent—despite their alleged ability to manufacture superior weapons. These days, instead of silent running submarines we are to be made fearful of Putin’s hypersonic missiles. Hence, we need to up our defence budgets. In the case of the US this has led to the Pentagon being given more dollars than it has asked for. So far as I know no Russian ‘hypersonic’ missiles have been launched in the Ukraine war—Putin has relied instead rather heavily on cheap Iranian-made drones. None of this is to underestimate the damage a determined militaristic incompetent can do—he’s like a semi-bankrupt glazier who goes round smashing windows at night. He’s a boon for the military industrial complex. But he ought to watch The Hunt For Red October, which as it happens was one of Ronald Reagan’s favourite films. He would learn that our chaps are far better at dodging bullets (or in this case, torpedoes) than the bad guys.
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has produced a report which suggests a greater role for the private health sector. Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health minister seems to be in tune with this line of thinking although he claims he doesn’t want to see patients being forced into paying for healthcare. We’ll have to wait and see how long that resistance survives. Blair writes of the benefits that will come from each of us having a personal NHS account, which it seems will grant us more choice—indeed autonomy over health services and from whom we get them. This idea has been around for quite a while. Weren’t we supposed to be able to choose our own, preferred doctors and consultants under previous reforms? The idea that patients are well informed players (aka patients) in a properly functioning market place? This is one way the service would be enabled to draw in more private operators—all in the worthy pursuit of ‘freedom of choice’ - and who’s against that?
But a ‘personal NHS account’ (made possible according to Sir Tony by the marvels of digital technology) reminds me of something the Tories were bent on introducing into the education system back in the 1990s. Their 1997 manifesto said:
‘We will give more talented children, from less well-off backgrounds, the opportunity to go to fee-paying schools by expanding the Assisted Places Scheme to cover all ages of compulsory education, in line with our current spending plans. We propose to develop it further into a wider scholarship scheme covering additional educational opportunities. The freedoms and status of fee-paying schools will be protected.’
In other words, the Assisted Places Scheme would have been the foundation of a personal education account, allowing the consumer to enjoy the benefits of fee paying schools at the taxpayers’ expense, importantly maintaining the principle of ‘free at the point of delivery.’ But I’m sure that the consumer would be enabled to buy little extras, which in the case of the NHS could be a private room for example (and for starters).
It seems that digital technology has an unseen power to make our two main political parties speak the same language. Back in the somewhat pre-digital days of 1997, Labour’s famous ‘Five Pledges’ card, bearing Tony’s physog pledged, numero uno, to scrap the assisted places scheme and use the money saved to reduce class sizes. It did, and it did. Let’s see how in the digital age the parties, despite rhetorical differences, continue to merge. (N.B. I touched on this subject in an article in Lobster 86 at https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk)
Today the House of Commons is debating the government’s bill designed to stop ‘public bodies’ from supporting boycott movements, but it is of course only concerned with the boycott movement BDS targeting Israel. It serves no other purpose. This on a day when Israel is blasting away with jets, drones and troops on the ground at Palestinian targets—in areas which if it ever happened would be considered Palestinian sovereign territory. Labour MPs have been told to abstain on the Second Reading of the bill if the party’s ‘reasoned amendment’ fails. Labour may oppose the bill at Third reading. Lisa Nandy, Labour’s relevant shadow minister is reported in the Jewish Chronicle: ‘An email seen by the JC and sent to all Labour MPs by Gove’s shadow, Lisa Nandy, says that Labour has long had “concerns” about BDS, because “it has been used by some to seek to apply a standard to the State of Israel that is not used against other countries.’ The irony here is that the bill specifically singles out Israel, whose illegal occupation of Palestine has been many times condemned, not least by the UN. But the bill obviously allows boycotts when it suits, e.g. against Russia. So the irony is that Israel, despite its defiance of UN resolutions can be singled out as a special case. Rather makes a mockery of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and its ‘examples’ doesn’t it?
Well, there’s a whole set of arguments on that side of it. On the other, we have a full-on attack on free speech, and the much touted idea of local democracy. One of the pleasures of being a councillor in the 1980s was to be able to defy the Thatcher government—I’m thinking particularly of nuclear free zones (NFZs). I won’t assert that NFZs changed the course of history, but they did represent a groundswell of opinion at the time, which clearly chimed with the sense that Thatcherism in all its manifestations (not least her love affair with Reagan) should be opposed. Unfortunately in our system trudging to the polling station to vote in a local election is not as rewarding as the same exercise in a general election. Some votes are worth more than others. And when it comes to taking an ethical stand, it seems only Whitehall may decide.