+R.I.P. Gorby. I was privileged to chair a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Parliament around 16 years ago, when he came to talk about his environmental campaigning. He arrived at Carriage Gates with a single police outrider (which we had to argue for) and as his Jag pulled through the entrance he was 'warmly' greeted by a group who mistook his car’s passenger for Tony Blair. Such is life. My memory of him is firmly of a warm, friendly and modest man. People may now ask what is his legacy? That is a very mixed picture which contains a lot of unintended consequences. The end of the ’Iron Curtain,' the Cold War and all the rest—the reunification of Germany—are consequences of his actions, but where it went wrong was the unmitigated disaster of Gorbachev’s removal by that piss artist oligarch’s friend, Boris Yeltsin (and his anointed successor). Gorbachev was not working to transform the Soviet Union into a free for all capitalist state, but clearly wished for a reformed mode of socialist democracy. The triumphalists in the West wanted no truck with this. Gorbachev’s dream was thwarted by forces whose friendship, a la Thatcher was as cynical and destructive as one could imagine. These ‘friends’ are reaping what they sowed—and we’re all paying the price.
+I was disappointed to hear Martin Rees on the radio yesterday talking about the best way to go to the Moon, Mars, etc., etc. Martin Rees—the former Astronomer Royal and president of the Royal Society—is an admirable scientist but I think he’s lost his way. He asserted that it would be better for the likes of Elon Musk to spend their billions on seeking to send humans on space explorations rather than national institutions such as NASA. This suggests that the exploration of our near planetary orbs will be better served by capitalist ambitions. What Rees seemed to be saying is that governmental exploration should focus on pure scientific objectives. In other words, the taxpayer should not be paying for NASA’s Artemis program. In a short interview it could be that Rees didn’t convey the complexities of the issues, but I would have thought he could have had more sympathy with the views of many of his astronomer colleagues that Musk’s peppering the sky with his satellites is destroying their vision of the heavens—all in the name of making money. And just wait for the lawyers to get their hands on disputes about who can claim territorial mineral rights in the Mare Crisium (for example)?
The appalling news from Pakistan, where severe flooding in a third of the country leaves little to the imagination about how bad climate change will, and is devastating people's lives will be in the headlines for a few days. But it's not just Pakistan. China is in the grip of a severe drought, as are parts of the United States, as is much of Europe. You might think this would concentrate leaders' minds, but no, the current energy crisis has not been brought about by climate change but by comparatively petty territorial claims which must be classed as the biggest distraction activity of all time. Now we must worry that China's claim on Taiwan (which historically at least has some justification) could lead to a nuclear showdown. What really worries me is that here in the UK it seems we are about to get a 'leader' who is more bothered by where lines are drawn on the map than the crisis that doesn't recognise any borders. Meanwhile, at Cape Canaveral our hopes of starting a new life on the Moon have been temporarily halted by engine problems. Damn.
+A minister, allegedly the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK’s Zombie Government, has come out of hiding to reassure us that more help will be on the way with paying energy bills, which we’re told will rise by 80% on the 1st October. This is indeed reassuring news, not least since we’re also told that the civil service is looking at various options to present to either Rishi Slick or Liz Thick on their enthronement as PM on the 5th September. It has to be said that at the present time, the founder of the Money Saving Expert website, Martin Lewis would be the No.1 choice for PM for the vast majority of struggling Brits. I doubt very much that whatever the next Tory PM comes up with will stave off serious civil disobedience. On that subject there will be measly words from HM Opposition, just as there has been regarding the recent spate of strikes. Anyway, let’s hope the civil servants come up with something that meets the challenge, but I do worry that this is the same civil service that Jacob Rees Mogg wants to take an axe to, with a cut of 91,000 posts envisaged. Perhaps as in Yes Minister they mightbe tempted to leave their useless ministers to carry the can?
+Here’s the first line of a story in the Mail on Sunday:
“Britain must not bow down to ‘Project Fear 2.0’ scare stories if it is to stave off a recession, experts warn today.” (emphasis added)
Careless talk costs the economy it seems, especially when it’s inspired by a shadowy (i.e. un-named) cabal of hardened Remainers. To substantiate its story, the Mail on Sunday has been in touch with a serious group of (two) ’experts.’ One is the former head of the British Chambers of Commerce John Longworth, who appears to be the inspiration for this non-story. Deploying his expertise he asserts:
‘It is clear to me that a clandestine cabal of well-funded campaigners is once again gathering. I call it Project Fear 2.0,’ he said. ‘Be in no doubt that there are grave issues facing this country. But sewage in rivers has nothing to do with Brexit, nor the European Union.’
Actually, Mr Longworth, action against sewage on beaches and rivers was mandated by the E.U. That there are still problems is more to do with a lack of investment by the privatised water industry, whose excuses are as offensive as the outpourings of a sewage pipe.
The Mail on Sunday article breathlessly continues:
“Last night, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith agreed. ‘We have a core of people who never wanted to leave the EU and they have dedicated themselves to getting us back in,’ he said.”
There’s another expert! Duncan Smith reminds me of the definition of an expert: a has-been under pressure. What’s really behind this non-story? Both Duncan Smith and Longworth support Liz Thick to be the next Tory leader. So the next time Michael Gove decries ’experts’ I may have some sympathy for him.
The race continues to lead the Zombie (Continuity) Government. In the absence of grand plans and innovative schemes from Mr Sunak and Ms Truss to rescue the UK population from grinding misery, we’ll just have to look for our own solutions. I wonder how much you can wash in a one minute shower? It seems incredible that on one commonly used measure of fuel poverty (spending more than 10% of net income on energy) it is possible that a household earning £50,000 p.a. could technically be ‘fuel poor’ next year. I read today that we should turn our backs on our ovens and look to using microwaves and air fryers to cook our food instead. Just one of many helpful suggestions online. There’s going to be a big take-up of ready meals. M&S could do quite well out of this. I will be looking for their macaroni cheeses (preferably with yellow labels). In the meantime a big energy company has apparently come up with a big loan scheme, for energy companies, which would guarantee them £100 billion over 20 or so years to keep energy costs today at the current capped level (and their profit margins too, presumably). With a government guarantee the borrowing costs could be kept low. The repayments would be met from our bills over the loan period. When we hear how terribly expensive this all is, let’s just remember the c. £500 billion in ‘quantative easing’ that bailed the banks out in the financial crash of 2008/9. What a boost to asset prices—and bonuses—that was! It has to be said that that huge injection of dosh, at the time, did not lead to an inflationary spiral, apart from house prices, led from demand at the top filtering down (as well as a shortage of supply).
So where’s the big plan now? Sadly it seems that our Zombie Government is only matched by our Zombie Opposition. Where's socialism when you need it?
+Keir Starmer was found to be in breach of parliamentary standards for not reporting income when he should have done. Now, Labour frontbencher David Lammy has also been caught out for the same offence, to the tune of £40,000. In the latter case he claimed it was due to ‘administrative errors on my behalf’ - in other words, blame my staff. But to me, these ‘oversights’ smack of a casual approach to standards which politicians in senior positions should find inexcusable, especially after the MPs ‘expenses scandal’ which permanently damaged what was left of MPs reputations. In Starmer’s case the problem is more serious, since he has already blown his image for being trustworthy and honest after it became clear he had misled Labour’s membership with a policy platform he had no intention of sticking to. And whilst Durham constabulary may have let him off over ‘Beergate’ many people will have concluded he is exactly the kind of person to get away with it, with all his much touted lawyerly skills. We probably don’t need reminding that some MPs went to prison for making ‘administrative oversights’ (in their own minds, at least).
+Jeremy Corbyn has recorded an interview on Doubledown News ( TOP SECRET: Jeremy Corbyn on the Report Mainstream Media Doesn't Want You to Know About (doubledown.news) ) which I think makes it pretty clear that he will be standing as an independent candidate at the next general election. There is no sign that the grovelling apology Starmer seeks for Corbyn’s response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party will be forthcoming. Quite the contrary, Corbyn (rightly in my opinion) has doubled down on his view, borne out by academic research, that the problem was overstated for political purposes. Should Corbyn be forced to stand as an independent candidate in a year or two’s time, I am sure there will be severe consequences for the Labour Party. There will be an alternate focus (and widespread campaign) in the next general election, with a great many Labour members and supporters ceasing to back Starmer’s increasingly authoritarian, right wing shadow of an opposition. The Tories will certainly be hoping for such an outcome, since splits in the ’progressive left’ vote (can we possibly include the LibDems in that category?) always benefits the Tories. Perhaps this is Starmer’s game plan?
+Isn’t it time we heard chants at American rallies of ‘Lock him up!’ As may be said—in this case with some justification—Trump’s pleading the Fifth in order not to incriminate himself is a big clue to his guilt. He also refused to hand over his tax records when entering the White House. He’s got a lot to hide, evidently. But to say that Trump is merely a common crook takes us nowhere—politics will save him, just as Johnson will walk away with a smile on his face. Truss says she would vote to stop the parliamentary inquiry into whether Johnson lied to the House over ‘Partygate.’ For some reason, these people remind me of the saying ‘the best way to rob a bank is to own one.’
+If Truss wins the Tory leadership, she’ll no doubt find a place for one of her more vocal backers, the economically retarded Iain Duncan Smith. The only person on the planet who thinks Universal Credit is a great system. On the radio the other day he revealed just how economically illiterate he really is, when whilst supporting Truss’s tax cutting, state shrinking agenda he claimed that government spending is not part of the economy. Quite what he meant by the ’economy’ wasn’t entirely clear. Did he mean that the NHS, the UK’s largest employer has no economic footprint, or contributes nothing to productivity (e.g. by getting people well enough to continue as wage earners)? Or did he mean that taxpayers' money spent on the products of BAE Systems wasn’t of any use (and most of it, ultimately, isn’t)? Did he mean that crumbling infrastructure helps grow GDP? It is truly depressing that such ‘thinkers’ have influence in the so-called top flight of politics and even more so that they are allowed to regurgitate their specious claims unchallenged.
The Tory leadership candidates are in a bit of a bind. On the one hand they have to appeal to Tory party members to win the leadership of their party—and that’s an appeal that has to be made to a fairly well-off southern constituency of relatively wealthy and elderly people—and on the other hand, they are trying to make their pitch look Prime Ministerial, which is to say they must have a credible message for the rest of us. I don’t think they’ve figured out how to marry the two. Me being the generous person I am, I have to say anybody wanting to lead this country at the moment with all the challenges we face, are in a pickle--if they are addressing the problem from the centre, or the centre right (hence including Starmer). The latest prediction for the energy price rise in January is £4,200 per annum per household. In what way can this level of cost crisis be met by a political centre-right ideology which clings to orthodoxy?
It’s hard to see. I think part of the problem lies in the personal circumstances of the people who govern us. MPs (as I know well) will not have to worry about the everyday cost of living. Today, one might ask what’s £4,200 to somebody who’s on £80,000 plus? But Cabinet members, many of whom are millionaires will see this whole crisis through the wrong end of a telescope. And the only thing that could bring it closer to home is serious civil unrest.
Their answer to that of course would not be to address the underlying problem but the symptoms, perhaps with a few more draconian laws (and who better than Pritti Patel to deliver them?) So the underlying cause will be left to fester. Some people have bravely suggested a solution, making a point of going further than the Tories. Gordon Brown spoke of an emergency budget, the leader of the LibDems wants no increase in the next energy price cap. But no, nobody is talking of renationalising energy. What can you do if the state owns the means of power generation? According to Wikipedia, across the Channel the French government will ‘use its powers to squeeze the state-owned electricity company EDF to lower the cost of electricity by charging well below the market rate for the electricity it generates.’ Maybe Macron isn’t such a dogmatic centre-right toady as many portray him to be.
The point here is that for our orthodox establishment masters (and mistresses?) thinking outside of the box is strictly not allowed. Thus when Corbyn came along, he had to be put down like a dog with rabies. The consequence of our collective inability to think laterally is going to cost us. Indeed it already is, since our slack approach to renewable energy sources which don’t go up in price—but only down—is now costing us dear. For this Labour is to blame as much as the Tories. There’s a bit of hindsight here on my part, it is true, but there’s plenty I had to say about it nearly 20 years ago. So much could have been done. So, answers on a postcard please, why wasn’t it done?
+Clearly, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives cares deeply about national independence, thinking of e.g. Taiwan and the right of its people to choose self-government. I wonder if she’ll be visiting Scotland anytime soon?
+During the 1970s, when inflation rose to a post-war high, it was largely down to two factors: the ‘oil shocks’ when OPEC raised oil prices dramatically, and the Barber/Heath boom and bust, which tends to get less attention. It took the successor Labour government some time to get inflation down again, but politically it was too late—Margaret Thatcher very effectively planted in people’s minds the thought that Labour governments will always be economically incompetent, a thought which lasted until the Tories’ own economic incompetence was exposed when the UK crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on ‘Black Wednesday,’ 1992. That kept the Tories out of power for some considerable time. Now that it is becoming once again clear that the Tories are indeed the party of economic incompetence, I long to hear Labour ramming that message home again and again, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. I suspect that somewhere on our frontbench there is the thought floating around which says, ‘Let’s be fair, inflation is up globally, it’s not all their fault.’ This would fit in well with Starmer’s predilection for abstentionism, which has seen so many government bills through without genuine opposition. The only people it appears who are making any headway in talking up Tory economic incompetence are Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Or should I say they are doing a good job exposing it.
+What the government could do to even out the pain of the ‘cost of living crisis’ which is largely driven by energy prices is to introduce something like Domestic Tradable Energy Quotas—which would cost profligate users more and light users less. It was the subject of a private member’s bill of mine back in 2004. Another possibility is to re-introduce a luxury goods tax and share the proceeds out with the deserving poor. The longer term solution of course is to diversify our renewable energy sources. We produce enough shit to drive an anaerobic digestion revolution—the technology already exists, but it seems to be treated as a joke in poor taste. We could if we wished develop tidal power—a very predictable and reliable source of energy. But no, in 15 or 20 years’ time we’ll have a new nuclear power station or two. There may be talk of economic incompetence, but soon (I hope) we’ll hear more about energy incompetence.
The Tory leadership candidates are sinking to grotesque new depths in their bid to appeal to their self-satisfied, sm-ugly obnoxious fan base. The key message is ‘shrink the state!’ Sunak would do it by slashing income tax by 4p in the pound, with the inevitable consequences for public spending. Perhaps in an even more nasty move, Truss claims she would slash £11 billion of ‘Whitehall waste,’ largely through reducing the pay of civil servants based in the regions. At a time when just about everybody’s income is being slashed by inflation, and government austerity has already reduced the purchasing power of government employees, not least in the NHS. And what about ‘levelling up?’ Truss clearly wants to institutionalise regional disparities, and keep poverty where it belongs, i.e. in the sticks. In the meantime real government waste, such as the £11 billion spent on useless equipment during the pandemic goes unremarked. Maybe that’s because the exorbitant contracts were let to the Tory chumocracy.
I am wondering when a poll-tax style resistance movement will start, with widespread civil disobedience. Perhaps now is the time to invest in the shares of glue manufacturers.
*I'm pleased to report that following this blog this morning, Liz Truss has announced a complete u-turn on her levelling down policy of introducing 'regional pay.' Of course, I'm not claiming all the credit - I'm not a LibDem after all - but all the same . . .
I was trawling through some old articles and came across this which was published in The Independent (still in print version at that time) on the 28th March 2006. It didn’t create a stir. There was no headline in the Daily Mail saying ‘Labour MP accuses West of genocide!’ The main reason for that of course is that newspapers are loathe to report what appears in other papers. And of course, the science wasn’t certain. Indeed all the much derided climate models have been proven wrong. They underestimated it all. Well, apart from that not much has changed since 2006. Enjoy!
The Independent 28/3/2006
Climate change means that business as usual is dead. It means that economic growth as usual is dead. But the politics of economic growth and business as usual live on.
What needs to change to bring about a political tipping point? What is stopping us from taking the radical path we need to follow today if we are to avoid dangerous climate change tomorrow?
We are imprisoned by our political Hippocratic oath: we will deliver unto the electorate more goodies than anybody else. Such an oath was only ever achievable by increasing our despoliation of the world's resources. Our economic model is not so different in the cold light of day to that of the Third Reich - which knew it could only expand by grabbing what it needed from its neighbours.
Genocide followed. Now there is a case to answer that genocide is once again an apt description of how we are pursuing business as usual, wilfully ignoring the consequences for the poorest people in the world. The DfID submission to the Stern Review on the economics of climate change makes it clear that climate change will do untold damage to the life chances of millions of people.
To accept responsibility is not merely to say "sorry". Too often saying sorry seemed to be enough, like saying we're sorry for the slave trade. Rarely do such apologies come with compensation. But the strength of our relationship with climate change is that it gives us the power to change - it is not the past, it is the future. We can discharge our responsibilities by changing our behaviour. This will only be worthwhile if we can measure the impact of our policies within an overall framework which allocates responsibilities fairly and sustainably. This was indeed the assessment at the heart of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), that so many countries including the US signed up to.
We know that we need to reduce our carbon emissions so that we arrive at a safe concentration in the atmosphere - perhaps 450 parts per million. We also know that without developing countries being part of a global agreement, it won't work. The US Senate rejected Kyoto because it wasn't inclusive enough. The UNFCCC spoke of equity. DfID told Stern that the " mitigation of greenhouse gases poses a fundamental equity problem".
The answer is convergence - we should aim to contract our emissions while converging to a per-capita basis of shared emissions rights. If our framework is disciplined by science, and not what is simply the current economic model, we may be able to break the Faustian pact we have entered into before it ends in tears.
Contraction and convergence at the domestic level could be addressed by introducing tradable carbon rations. A national carbon budget would be set each year, with year-on-year reductions, and equal per capita quotas would be issued annually - perhaps starting at around 10 tons or 10,000 " carbon units" each. For those who didn't use all their units, they could sell their surplus to those more profligate. Such an approach would stimulate investment in both energy reduction and alternatives.These policies are a radical departure from business as usual. But since none of the mechanisms we currently have in place are solving the problem faster than it is being created, we must look to forging a new consensus which can think the unthinkable - and take the electorate along with it.