Immigration: the wrong target

02/12/2021  


It is hard to disagree with Emmanuel Macron's reported view that prime minister Johnson is "un clown" in charge of a "circus", but one might stop short of endorsing his claim that he is guilty of creating "phoney wars" against France to placate a Brexit-weary public.

Even if the latter was true, we don't need Johnson to ramp up the tension, when it is becoming increasingly obvious that the French president also has his own agenda, playing to his own constituency, with the forthcoming election in mind.

Central to the current tense relationship, of course, is the surge of dinghy people and the feeling in some quarters that France isn't doing nearly enough to interrupt the flow of illegal immigrants or deal with the activities of organised crime and the exploitation of what has become a lucrative trade.

On the other hand, we have interior minister Gérald Darmanin accusing the British of making the UK "too attractive" to migrants while Europe minister Clément Beaune is pointing the finger at us for adopting "an economic model of, sometimes, quasi-modern slavery".

By making "illegal work" too easy, and "not going back to a certain number of checks, on more humane, more compliant labour market regulation", Beaune says, "this attraction will remain".

There are those, including the French themselves, who claim that it is extremely difficult to prevent the dinghy armada launching towards England, and therefore that the ultimate resolution lies in the UK reducing the "pull" factors which draw the immigrants to these shores.

Having thus exculpated themselves from any responsibility for the crisis, therefore, Johnson's letter to the French president - setting out measures that he believed would solve the crisis – went down like a bucket of cold sick, not least because it put most of the onus on the French authorities.

Amongst Johnson's proposals was a suggestion that the French used "airborne surveillance" to assist in monitoring and intercepting the migrants, using manned and unmanned aircraft, "perhaps flying under joint insignia".

The idea of joint patrols, however, was quickly turned down by France, citing concerns about "sovereignty", even though the French are quite happy to accept UK support in Mali, where RAF Chinook helicopters provide a heavy-lift combat support role.

But, while British assets are employed in support of French operations in Mali, what has subsequently emerged is how little effort is being expended to stem the flow of migrants on French soil.

This becomes clear from the recent news that France is to co-opt the EU's border and coastguard agency, Frontex, to assist in policing its coastline, to which effect the agency has provided a single patrol aircraft.

As it turns out, the aircraft is a Bombardier Challenger 604 maritime patrol aircraft, owned and operated by the Royal Danish Air Force, on loan to the agency, having been used previously in Greece and the Mediterranean.

Thus, although the French are being prissy about UK assets being used, they seem content to have a Danish-operated aircraft patrolling its shores under the aegis of the EU. This, it would appear, does not affect their "sovereignty", although a UK or jointly operated aircraft under French operational command would be an unacceptable breach.

Furthermore, while Challenger is a capable aircraft, fitted with side-looking radar, forward-looking infra-red and an advanced communications suite – capable, amongst other things, of intercepting and locating mobile phone signals – it is only one aircraft. To maintain credible, 24/7 coverage (even if only for a short time), more than one aircraft would be needed.

This raises the question as to why the French are not prepared to use their own aircraft. Not least the Gendarmerie operate a fleet of 15 Airbus EC145 helicopters, some of which are fitted with Wescam MX-15 imaging systems, or equivalent. These aircraft are thus superbly equipped for shore patrols, and for delivering rapid response interception teams.

In terms of maritime patrol aircraft, the French also have their Bréguet Atlantic fleet, including the highly capable ATL 2 upgrades which have enhanced detection systems, including the Wescam MX-20 electro-optical turret.

Inevitably, none of these assets are cheap to operate, but Frontex has been experimenting with aerostats, specifically for border surveillance. They are in the final stage of testing in Greece, where they have been patrolling 24/7 in the vicinity of Alexandroupoli and on the island of Limnos.

The fact, though, that Frontex is only now bringing such equipment into use is perhaps part of the problem, especially as its use of UAVs for border surveillance has been unsuccessful (so far), indicating a lack of member state commitment to the EU's border operations.

Certainly, Greece has been voluble in its complaints about the lack of EU support, which has had Greek coastguards beating a dinghy full of migrants and opening fire into the water close to the vessel.

Italy, on the other hand, has long felt abandoned by the EU, as has one of the other so-called "front-line countries", Malta. It has its minister for European and foreign affairs, Evarist Bartolo, complaining that, for too long, Europe has buried its head in the sand when it comes to tackling migration.

Front-line countries, he says, cannot be left to face migratory pressures alone, and solidarity among member countries should not be limited to the ad-hoc approach of the past few years whereby only some governments occasionally intervene and alleviate some of the burden experienced by the front-liners.

And then, there was very far from a harmonious approach when it came to the "hybrid warfare" on the Polish-Belarus border, where member states failed to agree on the line to take.

Looking at the migration problem in the round, therefore, it seems that France and the UK are misdirecting their efforts by fighting each other. In many senses, they have common cause in being adversely affected by the failure of the EU and the rest of the member states to get their acts together on "irregular" migration.

In this context, it is entirely fair to say that "Europe" is not doing enough to police its common borders, or to resolve the myriad of legal issues that stem from an obsolete international system which is no longer fit for purpose (if it ever was).

This aside, when it comes to the maritime border between France and the UK, we can with justice argue that, on a technical level, the French are by no means doing all that they could.

The French government might thus argue that it has other, more pressing problems, but its failure to intervene would be a political decision rather than a reflection of physical limitations. If France wanted to stop the boats, it could – given that it was prepared to spend the money and allocate the necessary resources.

At the very least, the French government could be more candid about where the problems lie, while the UK might be better advised to direct its wrath to Brussels rather than Paris, if it wants to see a long-term solution. As it stands, the French are the wrong target. This is an EU problem, and the EU must solve it.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 02/12/2021 link

Climate change: government contempt

30/11/2021  


A full month after we launched our "net zero" petition, the government has finally responded to our demand for a referendum – as it was obliged to do.

It is fair to say that our expectations of this response were never high, so we cannot say that we are in any way disappointed. The government has simply behaved as expected, expressing its usual degree of contempt for voters and the principles of democracy.

In short, its refusal to consider a referendum rests on a single, apparently newly-minted principle, that: "National referendums are a mechanism to endorse major constitutional change".

Certainly it is the case that the referendums held so far in the UK have dealt with major constitutional issues. But there is nothing in law or framed in any constitutional instrument which prevents their use for other purposes.

Therefore, the government's case rests on is subordinate assertion that, "debates about national policy are best determined through Parliamentary democracy and the holding of elections". That too has no legal or constitutional provenance and stands as no more than a matter of opinion – and one based on extraordinarily fragile assumptions.

The first of these, of course, is the very existence of "Parliamentary democracy" – the idea that parliamentarians necessarily (or at all) represent the will of the people, or indeed are even acting in their interests. As we have long averred, "Parliamentary" is to democracy as "wooden" is to leg. The only genuine expression of democracy is direct democracy, of which the referendum is a fundamental part.

As to the holding of elections as a means of determining or approving national policy, this surely must be a joke. Specifically, in this country, national elections are used to choose MPs and, through them, the government.

For sure, governments (usually) produce manifestos prior to elections, but they are not bound by them, and nor are the restricted by them. Crucially, such is the range of issues included in the typical manifesto that it could not be rightly said that voters will necessarily agree with them all.

However, in its detailed response, the government makes great play of the have that it "made a key manifesto commitment to reach 'Net Zero by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution'". It was, it says, one of the top six pledges in the government's manifesto, alongside policy commitments to help achieve the target.

To then assert that this gives the government a mandate to act is, to say the very least, disingenuous – another way of saying "thoroughly dishonest". As is well recorded, the 2019 election turned on one issue and one issue alone – Johnson's pledge to "get Brexit done". Those who voted for this cannot be said in any way to have endorsed "net zero". Many fundamentally opposed it, and still do.

Equally to the point though, all three main parties – which could realistically form a government or be part of one – supported the principle of "net zero". Therefore, if the holding of elections is seen as a means of determining or approving national policy, then the 2019 election was an egregious failure. The electorate were not offered a meaningful choice – whichever government they had elected, the policy would have been much the same.

Despite this, the government tells us that the "net zero target" was passed into law by Parliament with strong cross-party support, as if this was an affirmation of its "democratic" credentials. It has learned nothing from the Brexit referendum, where remaining in the EU also had "strong cross-party support" yet MPs were at variance with the majority of those who voted to leave.

Presumably seeking to shore up a weak case, though, the government moves on to tell us that "it is clear that public concern about climate change is high, having doubled since 2016". Citing a BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker (Wave 37, 2021), it asserts that 80 percent of people in the UK were either "concerned" or "very concerned".

But, given the torrent of publicity on global warming, this finding is hardly surprising. Once again, though, the government is being disingenuous. Concern about global warming does not translate directly – or at all – to approval of measures to deal with it, such as "net zero".

Even the assertion that people and businesses "recognise that change must happen", with the claim that 80 percent of respondents in a recent survey "believe the way we live our lives will need to change to address climate change", does not comprise a mandate for the "net zero" agenda.

Nevertheless, relying on the same survey (BEIS, Climate change and net zero: public awareness and perceptions, 2021), the government asserts that – in the artificial circumstances of "being provided with information on net zero", 78 percent of all participants said they "strongly" or "somewhat" supported the "net zero" target.

Yet this propaganda exercise amounts to nothing more than an abuse of statistics. When the survey examined participants' knowledge of "net zero", 13 percent know nothing about it, 18 percent knew "hardly anything", 30 percent knew "a little" about it, 30 percent "a fair amount", and 9 percent "a lot".

On that basis, only 39 percent were even in a position to offer an informed opinion while the majority (61 percent) were not. Only after the survey provided participants with a brief statement "clarifying what net zero is" were their views sought on whether they supported or opposed the target. That statement amounted to:
The UK government has set a target for reducing UK carbon emissions to "net zero" by 2050. By achieving "net zero" emissions, the UK will no longer contribute to climate change. This will involve significantly reducing emissions from many different activities, such as driving cars, the food we eat, and the electricity we use. Any remaining carbon emissions would be balanced out by technologies and actions that reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
There was no mention of banning gas boilers, and forcing people to buy massively expensive and unreliable heat pumps, nor anything about the electric vehicle programme, nor about the attendant risks of power failures or any of the potential downsides.

This being the government's substantive case for refusing a referendum, it then moves on to eulogising about the advantages of "moving away from fossil fuels and towards net zero". That it again offers none of the downsides is possibly one of the strongest arguments for a referendum when the issues would be openly debates.

But what we then get stretches credulity to breaking point. "Recent volatile international gas prices have demonstrated that we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels", says the government. "We need to protect consumers and businesses from global gas prices by increasing our domestic energy security through clean power that is generated in the UK for the people of the UK".

Yet, in the real world, the reason why we are vulnerable to massively increased gas prices is because of the governments reckless and premature destruction of our coal-fired generation capacity, and the successive failures of our nuclear plant replacement programme.

This has left us with an unbalanced generation fleet where we are excessively and dangerously reliant on gas generation to make up for the inherent unreliability of renewables. More reliance on renewables (which is what is intended) would simply make the problem worse.

These worst of this, though, is that we are not even being taken for fools. Rather, we have fools in government who actually believe their own propaganda.

Picking through the rest of the propaganda, we then come to a paragraph which is pure Goebbels. "Transitioning to net zero", the government claims, "is not about telling people what to do or stopping people doing things; it's about giving them the support they need to do the same things they do now but in a more sustainable way".

In any sense that any ordinary person might understand this claim, the government is lying. Progressively, it intends to ban the use of gas boilers, thereby stopping people from using the most cost-effective form of domestic heating available. It is to force people to increase insulation in their houses, even where inappropriate. It is intending to ban cars with internal combustion engines, forcing us to buy massively more expensive and unreliable electric cars, or resort to walking, cycling or public transport.

And this, it tells us, is "to get a head start on this worldwide green industrial revolution and ensure UK industries, workers and the wider public benefit" – on the day after heavy, and unseasonably early snowfall (pictured), where the media have gone strangely silent on the perils of global warming.

But, as long as the government can avoid a referendum, it can lie, dissimulate and propagandise to its heart's content, aided and abetted by a corrupt media. The very last thing Johnson wants is an open debate on "net zero" or a public vote. We, the plebs, should know our place. Our task is to suck on the tit of government propaganda – and believe.

Thus are we regarded with contempt. But the government needs to be careful. The feeling is mutual and growing in intensity.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 30/11/2021 link

Covid: a loss of authority

22/11/2021  


A little while ago, I wrote of how Spanish environment and energy minister Teresa Ribera had sought to reassure consumers about the security of electricity supplies, only to trigger panic buying of lanterns and camping stoves.

This was not dark humour on my part but exactly the sequence of events experienced, where there was no general response to the news of an interruption in energy supplies until the minister issued a statement.

In a sense, that bears out the somewhat cynical wisdom of the old saying that nothing is true in politics until it has been officially denied. But I wonder of something of that sentiment is not driving the sharp reaction on the continent to government plans for further Covid controls, culminating in mass demonstrations in Austria, and prolonged rioting in the Netherlands and now Brussels.

Actually, I wouldn't set too much store on rioting in Brussels. From what I've seen on social media and elsewhere, the level of disturbance seems par for the course – about typical for weekend in a city which boasts a world class fleet of riot control vehicles, in numbers which would provoke the jealousy of a third world dictator.

But the Netherlands – or Rotterdam, initially - is rather different. To have to stolid, dependable Dutch – the "yes" men of Europe – out on the streets protesting seems rather unusual from the perspective of the average – i.e., ignorant – Brit: the goody two-shoes Dutch don't do such things, especially over public health measures.

No doubt there are complex reasons for the rioting in Rotterdam, described by the city's mayor as an "orgy of violence", where crowds of several hundred rioters torched cars (and bikes – only the Dutch could burn bikes!), set off fireworks and threw rocks at police, leading to the police responding with warning shots and water cannon.

But at the heart of this may simply be the situation where a significant number of people no longer accept uncritically the instructions of their political masters, and are no longer prepared to do as they are told. And, if that is the case, we may be looking at something potentially quite serious – an erosion of the authority of the state.

As far as the UK is concerned, it is interesting to note that, alongside Covid controls, there seems to be a convergence of issues, common to roughly the same group of people.

Thus, we see that group described as Brexiteers also expressing opposition to climate change orthodoxy and also Covid measures such as vaccination and vaccination passports. This group also tends to be vocally opposed to immigration and multiculturalism.

To this group is often applied the description "libertarians", the essential characteristic of which is strong advocacy of individualism, and individual responsibility – combined with a general antipathy towards state control and collective action.

The ironic thing here, though, is that while proclaiming the virtues of individualism, this group is as much a collective as the conformists whom they seek (quite often rightly) to deride.

Not only is there commonality in the causes espoused, there is a distinct conformist tendency, where "membership" of the group demands uniformity, where opposition must be expressed to the entire range of "libertarian" issues. Cherry-picking is not allowed – the whole package must be accepted.

For my part, while I strongly support Brexit and retain a powerful scepticism of the outpourings of the climate worshipers, a rather regret that opposition to Covid control measures has been become an obligatory component of the "libertarian" mix.

For sure, it is very easy to be extremely dubious about the efficacy of government measures, and the competence of the government team. And with Johnson at the helm, it is entirely rational to listen to what the man says we need to do, and to do exactly the opposite.

But then, in respect of the UK's Covid epidemic, I do have something of an advantage in having several qualifications in the public health field, and a lifetime of experience the prevention, investigation and control of communicable disease.

While I can thus discount much of what the government clones tell us – such as the absurd and largely counterproductive advice on frequent handwashing to control what is an airborne disease – I can form my own views on the seriousness of the disease and the measures that should be applied.

And, contrary to the noisy, self-appointed "experts" in the libertarian camp, I do take Covid seriously – very seriously indeed. From a very personal perspective, I am acutely conscious that, at my age and with my underlying health conditions, should I succumb to the illness, it will probably kill me. And I have far too many people whom I need to piss off, for me to retire early to my grave.

More to the point, as I wrote in this piece, more than 18 months ago, in terms of overall mortality, highly infective illnesses, which have a severe impact only on a relatively small proportion of the population, are far more dangerous than killers such as Ebola.

Here, as I set out in my piece, there is a failure to appreciate the distinction between absolute mortality and mortality rate. Coronavirus produces a relatively low death rate but, because of its infectivity and the disease profile, it is capable of killing far more people (absolute mortality) than a less virulent organism.

The reason why this virus is so dangerous is exactly because of its relatively low virulence, causing only mild illness in the majority of the population that it infects. Ebola, by contrast, killed as many as 90 percent of the people it touched, so it never spread. It killed off its victims too fast.

The same goes for the clinically indistinguishable Green Monkey (Marburg) Disease which is so deadly that investigators in the early days were stumbling on whole troops of dead monkeys in the forests of Equatorial Africa, with no spread to their neighbours.

By contrast, coronavirus is our worst nightmare. The high proportion of asymptomatic infections and mild illness means that it can spread undetected throughout the population, where most people remain mobile even when infected. Thus, infected people are capable of spreading the disease to the vulnerable, who are so often tragically killed.

The underlying point, therefore, is that this illness cannot be ignored. Even a government as inept as ours must take action and, in the nature of a viral disease, the most effective control is mass, pre-emptive vaccination – a herd response to a pathogen to which individualism is of no consequence.

Immediately, one can see why, intuitively, the individualist would reject the conformity of a herd – i.e., collective – response, each demanding the right to make an individual decision based on an appreciation of the risk.

It is here that the government has been at its most inept in failing to explain that vaccination is primarily a collective response to a collective threat. The issue. Of course, is that vaccines, as with any applied drug, has its own risks and a proportion of those to whom it is administered will be damaged by it, or even killed.

Perversely, it is a measure of the success of a mass vaccination programme that there will come a point where the incidence (or severity) of the disease is driven back to such an extent that more people are damaged or killed by the vaccine than the disease.

At this point, or approaching it, a case can be made that the balance of advantage for the healthy, less vulnerable cohort lies with refusing vaccination – the benefit is for the herd, not the individual.

This being the case, the government should be stating very clearly the underlying purpose of the vaccination programme, and it should be totally open about the risks involved. And, as each individual is being asked to contribute to the greater good, generous compensation should be paid rapidly to those damaged – or their dependents.

There are many technical issues involved – far too numerous and complex to address in this post – but the core issue it that, sometimes, the needs of the individual must be subordinated to the needs of the group.

The trouble is, I suspect, is that governments have lost the moral authority to make that case, while libertarianism has begun to assume to status of a cult, mirroring the very collectivism it seeks to oppose, without heed to the values it supposedly represents.

Since the collective too is capable of dissent – as we see with Insulate Britain – we see weak governments, lacking the moral authority to pursue their own agendas, presiding over increasing disorder. In that, Rotterdam may be the signpost to our future.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 22/11/2021 link

Immigration: something of interest

21/11/2021  


It has been a facet of the flood of illegal immigrants crossing the Channel in dinghies that the media have been behind the curve in reporting events. The running has been made by a few individuals, in the teeth of official opposition, posting photographs of the "invasion" on Twitter and other social media.

But if the media have been slow off the mark, MPs have been even slower publicly to acknowledge the scale of the problem, as I observed of Wednesday PMQs, when "sleaze" seemed to be the major preoccupation.

Despite being only a few days away from a terrorist bomb incident by a failed asylum seeker, in the context of tens of thousands of unvetted potential terrorists reaching our shores in dinghies from France, I wrote, not one MP, nor the leader of the opposition, thought to raise the issue with the prime minister.

Pete, on the other hand, has been raising the asylum issue on multiple occasions recently, with his latest offering as recently as yesterday. And, in so doing, it seems, he is far closer in touch with public sentiment than either the media or the politicians.

A hint of this came in The Times yesterday, which ran a piece headed: "Even Boris Johnson loyalists 'are worrying for him'", covering recent concerns over the prime minister's performance.

What marked out this piece as especially interesting was the observation that one of the biggest concerns in the Conservative parliamentary party was about small boats. While nothing had been raised in public, the prime minister had been repeatedly questioned about the issue at a Downing Street reception for the 2019 MP intake and at the 1922 Committee.

The Times cites a senior Tory MP (anonymous, of course), who tells the paper: "Everyone was saying that illegal immigration was the single biggest issue in their inboxes". Another Tory MP said: "The message at the last election was Get Brexit Done. People will not believe that when thousands of migrants are turning up on beaches in Kent every day".

According to the paper, Johnson reassured MPs that he viewed the issue as "a priority", and appeared to accept that present measures would not be enough. "He asked for our support for other measures, without saying what they were", one MP is cited as saying. "He said that they will be challenging and incur a lot of political flak".

The paper's report adds that Johnson is said to be "exasperated" by the lack of viable measures to deal with the crisis. He has ordered ministers to redouble efforts to find new solutions. Finally, we learn that, at the 1922 Committee, Johnson was greeted with the usual emphatic desk-banging from MPs. But as one of those present put it, "the louder they thump the desk the more trouble the PM is in".

If this is first hint, however, the sentiment becomes explicit in a Sunday Telegraph article headed: "Migrant crisis puts Tories in peril", with the sub-heading reading: "Senior figures warn PM as poll shows 77pc of Conservative voters believe Government approach to Channel crossings is 'too soft'".

As to the text, we are told that Johnson has been warned the migrant crisis could "destroy" the Conservative Party, as a Telegraph poll showed the overwhelming majority of Tory voters believe the Government's approach to Channel crossings is "too soft".

On top of that, a prominent party donor has declared that ministers must do "far more" to tackle the problem, warning that immigration is "going to destroy us and there is going to be a [Nigel] Farage-style party".

This anonymous donor has accused Johnson of mirroring David Cameron's drift to the centre during the Coalition administration, branding the situation "catastrophic". "When you move to the centre, you open up a gap in your right flank and somebody comes in and sets up there. You can't get a majority there", the donor says.

Johnson is also facing wider criticism coming from his own ministers, including those usually seen as loyalists, says the Telegraph, while an ex-frontbencher cautions that migration was hurting the party worse in the polls than the recent sleaze scandal. "If we don't deliver on migration, this is really damaging to us", he says.

This source adds that: "People are genuinely fed up with this. So I think you can be pretty tough. That will mean that we will end up in the courts, but the Government has got to fight this".

Another MP says that "right-wing activists" are already "getting organised" in seats in which they could cause damage to the Conservatives, who adds that the Tory party only clung on in some areas at the last election because the Brexit Party "stood away in all the key seats for the most part".

We then get James Frayne, described as "an influential pollster", who echoes warnings that the Conservatives are "seriously vulnerable" to a new political party emerging from the right, due to "perceived failings on fiscal policy and asylum and immigration".

This will not be Richard Tice's Reform party which is has border control and immigration well down its list of priorities. Rather, we may see the re-emergence of Ukip or even a revival of a BNP clone which is able to capitalise on the ground-swell of concern about uncontrolled immigration.

This can hardly be a distant, academic prospect. Frayne notes that, "For the first time, small boats were brought up in a focus group of working-class voters in Long Eaton a couple of weeks ago". This, he says, "was before recent coverage of record numbers arriving", adding: "I expect this to be a more significant feature of the groups I run this week".

The Telegraph also adds more detail the rendition offered by The Times about last week's 1922 committee meeting. Apparently, some of the MPs who confronted Johnson were "livid". Sources in the room said Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, was the first to challenge Johnson, saying: "Migration was in our manifesto, it was in our DNA. If we don't do it, they won't forgive us".

It was that intervention, we are informed, which prompted dozens of MPs to bang their hands on the desks and walls of the committee room - the traditional display of support in 1922 meetings . At least three other MPs are said to have expressed similar concerns.

The immediate response to this has been to draft in Steve Barclay, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to lead a review on prevention measures. He will be responsible for exploring what ministerial departments can do in an effort to make the issue more of a priority in government and the civil service.

This has not gone down too well with MPs, one having said: "It's all very well putting Steve Barclay on it. What's he going to find out? That they need to get on with the bloody thing. The Prime Minister should be backing up his Home Secretary. She's come up with options".

And with that. things do seem to be moving. The possibility of Ghana entering "third country asylum partnerships" with the UK has been raised, and Whitehall has confirmed that Britain is in talks with other countries about offshoring processing.

Immigration is now said to have dominating the agenda in Downing Street more than any other issue bar Covid since Johnson entered No 10. He has told allies he is committed to pursuing all possible solutions.

However. Adam Holloway, a Conservative member of the Commons home affairs committee and MP for Gravesham, in Kent, points to another "key issue" – the courts who "will let people stay, even though most of them are the relatively wealthy people ... most are economic migrants".

This is leading to calls for legislation to "neutralise" the Human Rights Act in order to allow the government to take tougher action. No doubt, we will also be seeing calls to modify the application of the UK Refugee Convention and related measures.

And while the Observer is doing its best to project the "dinghy people" as "fleeing persecution or conflict", that paper is going to find it hard going.

According to the Telegraph, the issue is beleaguering MPs far beyond the east coast of England, where the dinghies are arriving. David Jones, the former Brexit minister, said that even though he represents a seat in north Wales not directly impacted by Channel crossings, it is "the biggest political issue in my correspondence".

With each illegal migrant having paid up to £7,000 a year ago, and between £1,500 and £3,000 currently, enriching criminal gangs to the tune of tens of millions, few are going to be convinced that these institutional queue-jumpers are anything but criminals themselves.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 21/11/2021 link

Energy: already too late

19/11/2021  


If we had a country where the media was run by adults, rather than emotionally-retarded bed-wetters, the coming energy crisis would be staying high up on the list of stories being covered at the moment, alongside high-profile parliamentary activity.

This is especially the case as the Mail is reporting that energy prices are a bigger worry than Covid for almost half of Britons, with third leaving the heating off in cold weather and four-in-10 wearing more clothes to curb soaring bills.

Current headlines, therefore, simply reinforce the great disconnect that we saw in PMQs on Wednesday, where MPs seem neither to know nor care what concerns their voters. In this respect, the media is simply part of the continuum – an extended, noise-making bubble.

The nearest thing we get to informed commentary is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph, who offers a rather wonky piece, headed: "An energy crisis is coming, but I'd rather be in Brexit Britain than the EU", telling us that "Europe is at the mercy of Russia's gas supply, and a showdown with Brussels looks certain to blow up".

But for that, I might have been wondering whether my Wednesday piece had veered too far in the direction of alarmism, the sole boy crying "wolf" in the darkness over an issue which seems to be generating little media or political traction.

The strongest indication of preparatory action I have been able to find is from Reuters a week ago, telling of camping gear such as gas cookers and lanterns "flying off the shelves of hardware stores in Spain as people fearing energy shortages and potential blackouts prepare for the winter".

The immediate trigger for the Spanish worries has been the news last month that Algeria, which had cut off diplomatic ties with Morocco, was planning to stop supplying natural gas to Spain via the Maghreb-Europe pipeline, which transits through Morocco.

Despite Algeria undertaking to keep supplying Spain using the Medgaz undersea pipeline, with an annual capacity of 8 billion cubic metres (bcm), this means a loss of a facility with as capacity of 13.5 bcm annually, feeding a market which consumes over 30 bcm a year.

But, if that was not enough, the Spanish environment and energy minister, Teresa Ribera, claiming that reserves were equivalent to 43 days of consumption, recently declared: "We absolutely guarantee quality electricity and gas supply" – which seems to have set off the rush to the shops. To be fair, prime minister Johnson hasn't made such a declaration (yet), which might explain why we have yet to experience similar panic buying.

Anyhow, AEP is trying his best to make up for Johnson's silence, reporting that Europe's energy crunch "has returned with a winter vengeance". We are. He writes, "back to warnings of power rationing and industrial stoppage, a looming disaster for the European Commission and the British government alike".

In his previous pieces, Ambrose has shown a strong predilection to blame Vladimir Putin for our woes, and this article is no different. We learn that he has "tightened his stranglehold on gas", driving up futures contracts for January by 40 percent in barely a week. Prices, he says, are nearing the levels of September’s panic.

What makes the difference this time, he thinks, is that the underlying geopolitical crisis is "an order of magnitude more serious". Russia has mobilized 100,000 troops near Ukraine's border, indicating a "high probability" of military attack this winter.

That would almost certainly lead to Russia shutting off supplies of gas to Europe currently routed through Ukraine, to a continent which is already facing a supply-deficit of 32 million cubic metres a day.

For all that, it is hard to know whether Putin is simply reacting to Europe's declared intention to decarbonise its energy market, thereby favouring China as a customer with greater long-term potential, or whether his "energy squeeze" is a prelude to a Ukrainian invasion.

In an attempt to clarify the issues, though, AEP cites Thierry Bros, a former energy security planner for the French government. His view is that Brussels has stumbled blindly into a Kremlin ambush. "Putin set his master plan in motion last July and August", he says. "I didn't believe it at first but now there can be no doubt. He told us we’d be getting more gas in October but it never came, and November has been worse".

One sign of the Kremlin "closing the trap" is that Gazprom booked "nothing" for December through the Mallnow metering point on the Polish-Belarus pipeline, which means that the current supply deficit is likely to intensify.

Bros continues: "Europe has failed to follow the Churchillian precept of security of supply and has got itself into an existential crisis of its own making out of sheer incompetence. This could cause a break-down of the EU’s integrated energy system and lead to the collapse of the whole bloc".

Some may revel at the idea of EU member states bickering over scarce energy supplies, redolent of the crisis situation following the 1973 Yom Kippur War when OPEC boycotted individual European states which were left to fare for themselves as any semblance of European unity broke down.

AEP notes that EU states resorted instantly to health nationalism at the onset of Covid-19, with Germany blocking exports of PPE equipment without compunction, even within the Single Market and after the goods had been paid for.

Mr Bros thinks that we could see the same dynamic if gas runs short. Member States may invoke national security laws and hoard whatever energy they have rather than feeding it into the common pool, he says, He reminds us that we're running into a presidential election in France. People will scream if our industries are being shut and we're told we have to accept rationing in order to heat the Germans.

If mainland Europe has problems, though, the UK will not be immune. Rather than storing our own gas, we are in effect relying on continental supplies – passed to us either through the Dutch interconnector, or indirectly as electricity via the network of interconnectors that can supply as much as 10 percent of our demand.

With European gas inventories currently at 52 percent in Austria, 61 percent in Holland and 69 percent in Germany - at a time of year when they should be near 100 percent – there will be little available to service the UK market if supplies become tight.

Some small relief might be gained from the Emir of Qatar, who has proved willing to diverted LNG cargoes to the UK and, says AEP, "offshore wind is working as it should and has dented the exorbitant bill for imported gas".

To back this staggering claim, he says that renewables have made up 32 percent of the UK's power over the last week, whereas the grid actually reports only 20 percent – on average. At times, wind has been down to around 2 percent of generated capacity, with coal, gas (including open cycle), pumped storage and biomass thrashing away to meet demand.

But, with gas having supplied over 40 percent of generated electricity over the last year, this is a source of supply we cannot afford to lose. But, says AEP, the UK could follow Japan and switch some gas plants to oil, currently trading at half the price of spot LNG ($180 equivalent).

The UK could also, in extremis book LNG cargoes and hold the tankers at anchor as emergency storage – if it can get the supplies. Then the Government could extend the life of the Hunterston B nuclear plant for a few months until we got through the worst.

But the penultimate word goes to Clive Moffatt, an expert on energy security. He says it is already too late. "There's no short-term fix to this. The grid is going to have to shut down industrial gas users. That is the only way to keep hospitals open and homes heated", he argues.

Even that might not be enough if we have a run of cold weather coinciding with a low wind state, but AEP nevertheless suggests that, if he had to choose, he'd "rather be in Boris's Britain this winter, than Ursula's Europe".

Bluntly, though, it won't make any difference. Blackouts are the same, whatever the language.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 19/11/2021 link

Propaganda: the relentless demand for conformity

16/11/2021  


Of late, we've seen the actions of the Liverpool terrorist bomber – who turns out to have been a failed asylum seeker of Syrian origin – the continued flow of illegal immigrants across the Channel, and the situation on the Poland Belarus border.

These events may be close enough in time and have sufficient commonalities for them to be linked by many observers and raise in them their already high level of unease at the conduct of the UK's immigration policy.

On the other hand, others appear to be content with the way things are developing or, in the context of this blog's comment facility, are so dedicated to offering contrarian views that they will automatically disagree with any line taken by its authors.

There are even those who, for reasons best-known to themselves, will dispute the veracity of fundamental details such as the entirely correct use of the term "illegal immigrant" to describe the dinghy people who are crossing the Channel in ever-increasing numbers.

But immigration is but one subject of many where it is increasingly difficult to offer any useful contribution without attracting dogmatic intervention from the naysayers. Climate change is another and the basic fare of this site – Brexit – continues to attract a cascade of tedious, mind-numbing commentary.

More recently, I did not help myself with yesterday's post, wrongly labelling the title "climate change". In fact, it wasn't really about that subject – it was more about the use of propaganda in the promotion of a particular view on that subject, in the contest where one is increasingly under pressure not to deviate from the received wisdom.

The point I sought to make was that proponents of climate change Armageddon consistently seek out data which supports their view, neglecting or ignoring material which does not support their increasingly lurid claims – as well as displaying a distressing propensity of some advocates simply to lie.

To illustrate my point, I drew attention to how multiple media sources had in 2009 completely misrepresented the passage to two ships though the Northern Sea Route, falsely claiming that these were the first to complete the commercial navigation of the route, thereby supposedly illustrating the effect of climate change.

I also drew attention to the tendency to highlight "bad" news, such as record low levels of ice cover, and the relative silence when the news does not support the desired narrative. Ships sailing in clear water get the headlines – many ships trapped in unexpectedly severe ice get no coverage at all in the UK media.

Then, there is the ongoing determination of some pundits to exaggerate already fragile data, typified by the one example I gave of a pundit claiming that the Arctic would be ice-free by 2020.

Oddly enough, another example of this tendency came to light yesterday, via a post in Twitter, which lined to an archived piece from the AP news agency dated 30 June 1989, headed: "UN predicts disaster if global warming not checked".

This had Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) claim that "entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels" if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.

Not only this, coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of "eco-refugees", threatening "political chaos", while melting polar icecaps would cause ocean levels to rise by up to three feet, enough to cover the Maldives and other flat island nations.

Coastal regions will be inundated; one-sixth of Bangladesh could be flooded, displacing a fourth of its 90 million people. A fifth of Egypt's arable land in the Nile Delta would be flooded, cutting off its food supply.

Brown said that governments had "a 10-year window of opportunity" to solve the greenhouse effect before it went beyond human control, citing "the most conservative scientific estimate" that the Earth's temperature would rise 1 to 7 degrees in the next 30 years.

This, of courses, was pure, unsupported alarmism, but the only real difference between then and now is that protagonists have become more canny- they no longer forecast a mere 30 years ahead – within a timespan where failed predictions might be remembered.

Instead, they have settled on the date of 2050 for implementation of their plans, in order to save the planet at the beginning of the 21st Century – a period so far in the future as to render predictions conveniently unfalsifiable.

Returning to my original point, the issue at hand is not that there may or may not be some outliers in weather events, which seem to contradict the climate change narrative, but that such events are so rarely publicised by a media besotted with warmist dogma.

Interestingly, we have another example of that in a current report from the online Chinese newspaper Xinhuanet which records record snowfall in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, telling us that its Tongliao City has been "walloped" by the strongest snowstorm ever recorded, after a "powerful cold wave" that began on 9 November.

Actually, extreme snowfall is not that rare in the wider region: I recall in February 2010 reporting that disaster areas had been declared in Mongolia proper, where in 19 out of 21 of the country's provinces there had been heavy and continuous snowfall, blizzards and a sharp fall in daily temperatures – dropping below minus 40 degrees Celsius.

This, incidentally, was at a time when the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report was predicting that "a rise in surface air temperature and decline in precipitation is estimated to reduce pasture productivity in the Mongolian steppe by about 10 to 30 percent".

Thus, three years after Mongolia was projected to be "dry and hot," while winters would be "milder with more snowfall", the country experienced its worst winter in 30 years.

And therein lies our real problem. News reporting, politics and even (or especially) science are about agendas these days. Objective reporting and factual evidence is not allowed, errors are never corrected and false statements become the prevailing currency.

Thus we see with the current situation on the Polish/Belarussian border, the BBC report focusing on the "humanitarian crisis" affecting "vulnerable migrants". But the fact is that thousands of mainly young men are intent on forcing entry into Poland, in what is plainly an illegal act tantamount to invasion.

Such thoughts, though, are not allowed to percolate the minds of the BBC audience. Nor is it remarked upon that the small minority of women and children are placed strategically to the fore, in the confrontation between the migrants and Polish police and troops.

Yet, however distorted the agenda, there are always plenty of weak minds willing to leap to the defence of the established viewpoint, demanding conformity with whatever received wisdom is on offer, across a wide range of subjects. Immigration, climate change and Brexit are just a few of the front-line issues.

To conform to this orthodoxy, one must resist calling for border controls to be imposed, and for illegal immigrants to be refused entry and returned from whence they came. We must accept, without demur, the bogus and constantly changing "science" of climate change. And, or course, Brexit is a horror perpetrated on the nation by malign xenophobes who briefly managed to take control of an unwilling nation.

The thing is, there are many outlets for this mindless conformity of view. One wonders, therefore, why this small reservoir of independent thought has to be brought into line. There are plenty of other places to go.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 16/11/2021 link

Politics: the last hurrah

13/11/2021  


So, it's extra time on CoP26! So there's a surprise. Talks are expected to last into Saturday afternoon, says the Guardian. And delegates have been told they must reach a deal or future generations will be forced into violent competition for resources.

Not to be outdone, the Independent reports that the world's hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change were hanging in the balance, as the deadline for a global deal passed without agreement. Johnson warned: "We risk blowing it".

Delving into the details, though, is rather less enthralling than watching the paint dry, even if it is marginally entertaining collecting some of the rhetoric for future reference.

Johnson, for instance, is urging his fellow leaders to show "conviction and courage" by allowing negotiating teams to make the compromises needed to keep the world within sight of the self-imposed limit of a 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels – insofar as it can even be measured.

Interestingly, the BBC initially had its report placed down page on its website, presumably waiting for the big denouement which is expected to take place on Saturday afternoon, with the weary delegates emerging into the Glasgow drizzle to announce some sort of deal, or not.

Actually, there's always a deal, but then there are deals, and deals. This one at the moment is lacking an agreement on subsidies for coal and other fossil fuels, and financial help to poorer nations.

A commitment to phase out fossil fuels altogether has already been junked, and with Johnson making it clear that there will be no improvements on a draft text, environmental campaigners are already taking a pop at him for being "too weak" on the crucial issues.

That raises the delicious prospect of Johnson attracting the ire of just about everybody – the hard-right "destroyers of worlds" for being too green, and the bunny-huggers for not being green enough.

In retrospect, the prime minister might have known he was on a loser – he was never going to please everybody, and the greenies would never be satisfied with anything short of an immediate global shutdown, and self-immolation of the human race – except for them, of course.

Whatever else, Johnson certainly seems to have lost middle-England, with the Mail reporting that Labour have leapt ahead in the polls, turning last week's three-point deficit into a staggering six point lead – according to Savanta ComRes.

The paper attributes the sudden turn-round to the "scale of public anger" over Johnson's handling of the latest iteration of "Tory sleaze. One wonders, though, whether a more nuanced finding might also point to his green epiphany, and his government's ongoing failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration across the Channel, as a record of 1,200 cross in a single day.

Once the Sunday papers have had their fill of CoP26, it is likely that the media collective will turn its attention to other matters, and there is definitely as head of steam building on the immigration issue, especially when there is additional drama of the situation om the Polish/Belarussian border to report.

When that latter crisis also ties in with Alexander Lukashenko's threat to cut off gas supplies to Europe, and the Russian troops massing on the Border with Ukraine, we could be in for a period when all these issues merge and start to dominate the headlines.

Irrespective of what emerges, Johnson will be confronting developments from a position of weakness. That, at least, is the opinion of Matthew Parris in today's Times column, under the heading: "Flight Bojo2019 has begun its final descent".

His thesis is that Johnson's premiership is now in terminal decline. It may prove fast or slow, and the time he has left may be years or only months, he writes, but it's now only a matter of time.

Nor is it just (or even) "Tory sleaze". Simply, this has awoken a whole pack of sleeping dogs, for which Johnson "will not be forgiven". Writes Parris, "Everyone always knew he was a rascal but we knew too that he always seemed to get away with it. This time, for the first time, he hasn’t. A kind of virginity, a magic, an untouchability, has been lost, and such things cannot be retrieved".

Contrary to widespread belief, he continues, Johnson's popularity rating (unlike his six contemporary predecessors) did not even start with a positive "net satisfaction". Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May all had more altitude to lose.

Johnson, see-sawed a bit, peaked in early 2020 but only in the sub-20s, and is now on a steep downward path at minus 27. There's unlikely to be any coming back from that, says Parris. And, while MPs' personal respect for a leader can help a bit, Johnson commands no affection at all. He's no longer a winner.

Furthermore, that much seems to be confirmed (or reinforced) by another story in the paper which talks of a "deepening Tory civil war", with Johnson facing "a bitterly divided party". The "sleaze" crisis has confirmed many of the backbenchers' worst fears about him, "that he's chaotic, disorganised and only in it for himself. That he sees himself as above probity".

So far, it would be fair to say, his premiership has been defined first by Brexit and then by Covid. With the Northern Ireland Protocol still a running sore, with his dire pandemic handling rescued only by the early vaccination programme, which is fast losing its lustre, Johnson might have thought that his new-found green credentials would restore some of his fading popularity.

As an indication of a gamble that might have failed, none of the national papers today feature climate change as their lead story, and only one (the Guardian) even mentions it on its front page. And you have to hunt really hard to find any mention at all in the Telegraph, while Times features the dinghy people for its front page lead.

No amount of Cop26 headlines on Sunday, therefore, are likely to save the prime minister, while future coverage might increasingly address some of the technical issues on "net zero" which have yet to be resolved – and where Johnson is extremely weak.

For instance, while the BBC prattles on about "ways to curb climate change", regurgitating the climate worshipers' death wish of keeping fossil fuels "in the ground", no one in the legacy media seems seriously to be addressing the problems raised if we attempt to rely on renewable energy.

We some technically illiterate commentary about reliance on grid-level battery back-up, but an amount of reading round the subject, and especially this piece and this, suggest that the idea is a non-starter.

The latter piece argues that building enough systems for 12 hours of storage for the US alone would entail mining materials equal to what would be needed for two centuries' worth of production of batteries for all the world's smartphones. And that doesn't count the additional minerals needed for the transition to electric cars or the "energy minerals" needed to build wind and solar machines themselves.

Where the UK is in competition with the rest of the world for scarce and expensive resources, green electricity starts to look even less attractive than it is already. Yet this is the very foundation of Johnson's "net zero" policy. If Parris already charts him on a downwards trajectory, as each technical issue is examined – from heat pumps to electric cars – as indeed it must be, the decline can only accelerate.

Nothing that comes out of Cop26 today, therefore, is likely to provide much succour for Johnson, and certainly not on a long-term basis. He may try to "spin" a success out of the wreckage of the conference, but one suspects that it would be the last hurrah before the terminal rot sets in.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 13/11/2021 link

Climate change: coming our way

11/11/2021  


They say that actions speak louder than words, but that surely can only hold true if the actions are reported. In too much if the media, though, the words are reported and actions (or some of them) are barely noticed. The world has been turned upside down.

That is very much the case with China where the Guardian is hyperventilating about a surprise press conference in Glasgow from which has emerged a joint China/US plan for the two powers "to work together on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the crucial next decade".

This is the same China, incidentally, which has built life-size mock-ups of US warships, including an aircraft carrier, as part of a new target range complex in the Taklamakan Desert in in southwest Xinjiang. It is the same China which is ramping up the pressure in the South China Sea, and making threatening noises about the invasion of Taiwan.

The idea of China and the US working together on climate change, therefore, is about as credible as a fox discussing the today's menu with a flock of chickens – from inside the hen house. It will last as long as it provides a convenient smokescreen for the two parties, to further obscure their lack of action.

In terms of action, however, actions really do speak for themselves, with my report from yesterday on the record use of coal by China, which is unlikely to abate any time in the foreseeable future.

And while the reasons for China's actions has been discussed, more detail is coming through in the form of a report from Reuters. This tells of snowstorms wreaking havoc in northeast China, with record snowfall in some parts snarling traffic, disrupting train services.

Since the arrival of a cold wave on Sunday, temperatures in north eastern China has plunged by as much as 14ºC in certain areas. Meteorological departments in Liaoning and the province of Jilin have issued red alerts for snowstorms, the most severe in a four-tier, colour-coded weather warning system.

Zhou Chunxiao, chief forecaster at the Liaoning Provincial Meteorological Observatory, has said that recent snowfall in western Liaoning have been the heaviest since records began in 1951. A maximum snow depth of 21 inches was recorded in the Liaoning city of Anshan on Tuesday.

The point here, of course, is that while the totalitarian Chinese government is all powerful, it is also vulnerable. Unless it keeps the lights on, and its population warm and fed, it could very easily lose control. Western climate change rhetoric is well down its list of priorities.

While China is a long way away, according to the Mirror and a number of other papers, the UK is about to get its share of the white stuff. Freezing temperatures and snowfall are around the corner, starting on Sunday, 14 November.

And, as an indicator of what's coming our way with "net zero", yesterday saw another low wind day. According to the National Grid, by 5pm, with coal churning out the electricity, fossil fuel was taking 57.5 percent of the load. Wind was struggling to provide 6 percent, one-ninth of the power produced by CCGT .

This, however, does not stop the idiot Johnson grandstanding in Glasgow, following the publication of the first draft of an agreement to put the seal on the CoP26 process.

The seven-page script focuses on adaptation and finance for the less developed countries while urging parties to "revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally-determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022".

Some of the parties are distinctly unhappy, with the Guardian reporting the views of several negotiators. One says:
The draft covering decisions text has not come up to the global great expectations. The whole world wants a more ambitious outcome at Glasgow CoP26. But the draft covering decisions text waters down those ambitions and is not consistent with Paris agreement 1.5ºC goal, nor with raising ambitions [on cutting emissions].
If the conference actually buys this, it means that – very much as expected - failure has been dressed up as a success, while kicking the can down the road the next CoP, and presumably the next. The process has become more important than the outcome.

Even another of Johnson's pet projects – aimed at getting all the major car manufacturers to agree to stop selling new petrol and diesel cars globally by 2035 – seems to have foundered.

Although the plan has gained the support of a handful of brands, including BYD, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes and Volvo, other major marques have refused to sign up. Two of these are Toyota and Volkswagen, the latter stating that the deal wouldn't work for countries that lack renewable energy sources and EV charging infrastructure.

The company argues that it would be more environmentally friendly to continue selling new petrol and diesel vehicles in these regions for the time being, as the carbon emissions would not be reduced if the electricity to power them was produced from fossil fuels.

With that, I have heard some suggestions that, once CoP is over, Johnson may tone down his green aspirations in order to calm down his increasingly fractious back-benchers, especially as they are facing a number of by-elections and are being battered over "Tory sleaze".

But this may be unduly optimistic. Apart from the fact that he is embracing his new religion with the fervour of a recent convert. the "net zero" targets are locked into domestic law and are thus driving policy irrespective of international developments and domestic politics.

Possibly more likely, after the media overkill during the last weeks – where people are even more bored with climate change than they were Brexit – the issue will drop down the agenda and disappear from general sight. And therein lies the danger as the Climate Worshipers will remain focused on their agenda, as they have been since the late 70s.

In this, we are our own worst enemies. People are too easily distracted and unable to focus on any one issue for very long. As a result, when it comes to countering government actions, the crucial element of concentration of forces never happens. Energies are spread over a multitude of concerns, with infinitely small groups which are constantly fragmenting and reforming without ever achieving critical mass.

Temperamentally, most people are also intellectually idle, and disposed to negativity. They are mostly content to whinge, rather than actually do anything. If anyone does offer a course of action, many will find multiple reasons for not supporting it, often expending far more energy on this process than they would have, had they backed the idea.

Such campaigns as are mounted, therefore, tend to be shallow, ill-supported and short-lived – a risk to which our petition is exposed. They are rarely capable of creating more than an amount unfocused noise which can easily be disregarded by government. There is no magic wand to resolve all of this so, as I remarked yesterday, we end up getting the government we deserve.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 11/11/2021 link

Politics: other worries

09/11/2021  


In common with what is probably the majority of people in this country, I will be heartily glad when the CoP26 eco-fest is over. But therein unfortunately lies great danger.

While we all go back to sleep, the Climate Worshipers will not stop. In what Pete calls "the fight of my lifetime", they will continue the unswerving pursuit of their agenda which has been in progress since at least the 1970s, building momentum with each passing year.

I don't know exactly when the year 2050 came into vogue as the time when the grand plan was supposed to be complete, but it was sometime late last century – then far enough ahead for the doom-mongers never to have to account for their predictions if they failed to come to pass.

But, since the 70's, fifty years have passed – a solid half-century of warming. And, with less than 30 years to go before the onset of Armageddon, you would think that the Worshipers would be able, by now, to build a solid base of direct evidence that unequivocally pointed to a planet warmed by the intervention of man to such an extent that a "climate catastrophe" awaits.

In other words, the High Priests should by now be able to take us beyond their rather dubious temperature models. As one commentator puts it, the record is so riddled with statistical errors that their realistic assessment would render any supposed "trend" to have an extremely low significance.

The assertion that "the earth is warming" is, in any event, without scientific basis, since it is impossible to measure the average temperature of the earth's surface. Thus, we need to see more than claims of warming based on theoretical constructs. By now. there should be distinct, hard-wired warming trends based or real, measurable phenomena.

As we saw yesterday, though, some of their poster child causes, such as wildfires in the United States, simply don't stack up, once the confounding factors are taken into account. And yet, such is the determination to make the case, the same evidence is endlessly reinterpreted until it provides the right result.

The same can be said of global sea levels, where there is no evidence yet of a global warming signal in European waters. But this does not stop Hull University propagandists producing an entirely misleading video purporting to illustrate the effect of climate change on the east coast community of Withernsea.

Yet, the reality is rather different. The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book and in 1444 Withernsea church was abandoned due to coast erosion. Over the next few years the original village of Withernsea was washed away by the sea. The villagers moved further inland to build anew in the location where the town is today.

Another little game is the way the have been treating data from the Antarctic, keeping the focus tightly on the Antarctic Peninsular, claiming air temperature increases of 3°C, without mentioning the influence of the underlying volcanic activity.

Then we have the World Economic Forum which jibbers about "global human activities" eroding the isolation of the Antarctic region in major ways, "melting the continent's ice sheets and influencing weather". Even before this winter's record cold, though, NASA was reporting that the mass gains of Antarctic ice sheet were greater than its losses.

Any discipline which was sure of its ground would not have to resort to such cheap tricks. yet, throughout the history of the climate change movement, we have seen no end of devious ploys – from Hansen's "overcooked" Senate Committee evidence in June 1988 to Mann's fraudulent "hockey stick". No one who has followed in detail the history of the movement can be impressed with its protestations of scientific purity and objectivity.

That, in many respects is the crunch point. Very few of us are technically competent to evaluate the basic technical work which underpins the Climate Worshiper's claims so, in the final analysis, it boils down to a matter of trust. And there is nothing there which would inspire sufficient confidence to accept the need for the draconian changes which the movement seeks to impose upon us.

This is especially the case when there are even more cost implications to "going green", as the costs of making electric cars is set to soar, while Spiegel, in a lengthy and well-researched piece, lifts the lid of the "dirty truth" about clean technologies.

But, if the single-minded determination to pursue their obsession is the greatest strength of the Climate Worshipers, it is also their weakness. Real people in the real world have other things to worry about and do not afford the same priority to the Great Climate Terror.

For long enough, Brexit has been the focus of our attention on this blog, and current developments indicate that we may soon have to return to the subject. Then, of course, there is Covid-19 and, in particular, the government's inept handling of the epidemic.

We have not heard the last of this, and the related question of NHS performance. This is given a further twist by the Telegraph which reports that "11,600 people caught Covid in hospital and died".

Such a headline cannot come as any surprise to readers of this blog, despite the "exclusive" tag that the Telegraph appends to its front-page report. In May of last year, I wrote a piece suggesting that something over 10,000 of the deaths from Covid-19 reported in UK hospitals related to patients who had acquired their infection in hospitals. That, I went on to say, would make the NHS the largest single cause of death in this national epidemic.

As I am wont to say of the legacy media, "they catch up eventually". But, in one respect, the papers are well ahead of me as they have been charting (albeit badly) the growing illegal immigration crisis – a subject I have barely touched recently, although Pete has written a word or two about it.

This is not just about the extraordinary situation in the Channel, where each week seems to bring a new record for the number of "illegals" who come to these shores in rubber dinghies, aided and abetted by the RNLI and the "Border Farce" marine taxi service.

Now, coming into high profile is the situation on the Polish/Belarus border where illegal immigrants are gathered, trying to force their way into Poland. Here, we see a stark contrast between the weak response of the British authorities to our "invasion, compared with the Poles who have fielded troops and other resources to keep the intruders at bay.

And, while contemporaneous reports are clear that the Belarus government is precipitating the problem there, by shipping migrants to the border and then forcibly pushing them into EU territory, we get a perverse headline from the Guardian which writes of a "column of people including children led by border guards", describing the Belarus forces as "escorts".

In another piece, the paper somehow makes out that Poland's robust response is an example of the country "toughening up, as if in preparation for climate displacement". Everything, it seems, comes down to climate change, and there is almost nothing which cannot be attributed to it.

Even the Guardian, however, would have trouble blaming climate change for a mask-free Johnson's and his craven behaviour in scuttling up to Wrexham for an entirely unnecessary visit to a hospital (as if he hadn't seem the inside of enough hospitals), in order to skip what has been widely labelled as the "sleaze showdown" in the Commons.

This, I suppose, is a warm-up for later in the week when the prime minister attempts to put further spin on the "success" of CoP26, a stance which is winning few friends. António Guterres, the UN secretary general, dismisses recent optimistic assessments as "an illusion".

The New York Times, on the other hand, sees a curate's egg, citing Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute. "The reality is", she says, you've got two different truths going on,” said. “We’ve made much more progress than we ever could've imagined a couple years ago. But it’s still nowhere near enough".

Despite this – or perhaps because of this - there is no getting away from the CoPists just yet, and even after the event we'll have to keep a close watch on them. Meanwhile, our petition continues to show solid progress, although we have yet to break 18K. Really, we need the climate change obsession to go away, though. There are far more important things to worry about.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 09/11/2021 link

Climate change: the edge of dishonesty

08/11/2021  


In the Sunday Times yesterday, there was a lengthy piece by the paper's colour-writing expert, Tim Shipman, who also disguises himself as the chief political correspondent.

It is headed, "Johnson’s green machine gathers steam to turn Cop into a coup" yet, despite its length, is deeply uninformative, telling us little more than we already knew – that Johnson has approached CoP26 with the zeal of a convert, and is now planning a "spectacular" to give the uninspiring conference a veneer of success by the time it closes.

What precisely this might be is not specified but other papers are suggesting that a global deal on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars might be on the cards, a 2035 deadline to be set for richer countries and 2040 for developing countries. A major announcement is expected in Glasgow on Wednesday.

The Telegraph is running this story, with the added news that Biden is resisting the idea. This, though, is hardly surprising. Any US president who wants to live would be unwise to stand between Americans and their love affair with the automobile.

Germany, still in the throes of selecting a government, has been unable to sign up to such a deal and China has also opted out. This leads Juan Pablo Osornio, head of Greenpeace's delegation at Cop26, to complain that, for any Johnson initiative to have "credibility", all major auto manufacturing countries need to be part of it, including Germany and the US. And that ain't going to happen.

But such is the fevered atmosphere of the conference that no-one is pointed out that, if every major auto manufacturing country did join in the scheme, there would be nowhere near sufficient raw materials to go round.

Careful and guarded reports from the likes of Reuters are ignored, despite the agency point out that shortages are driving process up which, even in the short-term, would make climate change targets unachievable.

Although unreality is the staple fare in Glasgow for the moment, there are times when climate change coverage brings us to the edge of dishonesty, witness a piece in the Guardian (where else?), written by Heidi Peltier, a senior researcher at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and director of programmes for the Costs of War Project.

The heading and sub-heading reveal the thrust of Peltier's piece, the former stating, "It's time to shift from the 'war on terror' to a war on climate change", while in the latter she declares: "Climate-related disasters have killed more Americans from flooding and wildfires than the 2,996 people who died in the 9/11 attacks. Let's treat the climate crisis with equal seriousness".

Compared with the 2,996 people who died in the 9/11 attacks, she writes, climate-related disasters have killed more Americans from flooding and wildfires. Wildfires, she claims, have resulted in over 3,200 deaths in the US since 2000, according to recent research in The Lancet. Hurricane Katrina alone killed over 1,800 people in 2005.

As so often, there is this blithe assumption that these recorded events are climate-related, with the ever-present (although in this case unstated) assumption that they are increasing. As regards wildfires, though, official US data (conveyed by the Congressional Research Service) has it that the number over the last 30 years has actually decreased slightly.

The area burned, however, has increased but, as the linked briefing note makes clear, the reasons for this are complex, while some fires may have a beneficial impact on ecological resources.

Where damage to structures has occurred, most of this has been experienced in California. In that state, the number and extent of the fires has been attributed in part to overgrown forests caused by decades of fire suppression, and poor forestry management. The rapid population growth along the edges of forests has contributed to the property losses.

Climate change has, as one might expect, been cited as exacerbating the problem, but to assert that forest fires are solely a function of climate change - and that the deaths arising are thus attributable – is disingenuous to the point of dishonesty.

The position on wildfire-related deaths, though, is doubly disingenuous. While Peltier cites 3,200 deaths in the US since 2000, i.e., in 21 years, many of those are entirely due to that rapid population growth along the forest fringes. There are, quite simply, more people in harm's way.

But, just as significantly, if one looks at official US fire statistics, one sees that the average death rate from all fires is over 3,000 each year, and rising. Of those, 72 percent occur in residential premises. As aside, in 2019, there were recorded 131,400 accidental deaths in homes and communities in 2019.

If ever there was an example of cherry-picking data, therefore, is it. Despite "climate change" – even at the most generous assessment – causing a fraction of the deaths due to other causes, Peltier would have the US divert the trillions of dollars and millions of lives fighting a war on terror, to "mobilising to combat climate change".

It is this sort of argument that provokes much of the cynicism attendant on claims of climate-related disasters, and climate change in general. From the same wellspring, we have former green leader and now MP, Caroline Lucas stomping the streets of Glasgow, prattling: "The oceans are rising - and so are we".

And yet, a dispassionate view of this issue, from a paper in 2017 has it that "no consistent or compelling evidence (yet) exists that recent rates of rise [in sea levels] are higher or abnormal in the context of the historical records available across Europe, nor is there any evidence that geocentric rates of rise are above the global average".

On the other hand, of some of those Pacific islands threatened with extinction because of rising sea levels (for which there is no discernible global warming signature), we learn that hundreds are actually getting bigger.

As to the generality, of the case for there being a "climate emergency" – now largely downscaled to "climate crisis", we have been having a robust discussion in the comments on previous posts – with the usual quota of time-wasters.

But what some commenters fail to realise – with some not bothering to find out – is that while I make no claims to being a climate scientist, I have spent over 30 years examining the scare phenomenon (sometimes known as "moral panics"), having cut my teeth on the Salmonella in eggs scare of 1988.

With Christopher Booker, I wrote a book on the subject, first published in 2007, called "Scared to death", which included a long chapter on global warming. There, we found that this had all the hallmarks of a scare.

As time progresses and the noise-level increases, I am less and less inclined to accept the claims made by the purveyors of peril. And I am not alone. The greater the hype, the more ordinary people are left cold.

That notwithstanding, even if one was to accept that there was a treat, there are no circumstances where I would accept that Johnson's "net zero" policy was an adequate or necessary response. Again, that sentiment is shared, with a survey reminding us that few people are willing to change their lifestyles "to save the planet".

With that in mind, despite a disappointing absence of dark money coming our way, we continue to promote our petition which, at the time of writing, was very close to 17,000 signatures after 11 days, placing us in the top 60 in the list of 1,625 petitions.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 08/11/2021 link

Climate change: we don't need no referendum …

04/11/2021  


The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite; But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right; When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own; And grumbles, 'This isn't fair dealing,' my son, leave the Saxon alone.
This is from Rudyard Kipling's poem Norman and Saxon and goes to the heart of the English psyche. Our masters neglect it at their peril, as does the oaf Johnson whose been caught out again, living high on the hog.

This is the man who sneerily dismisses calls for a referendum, telling reporters: "I think this country has probably had enough referendums to be getting on with for a while".

His comment had followed high-flown rhetoric about being at “one minute to midnight to prevent climate catastrophe", and the need for a hair-shirt response, and yet, shortly afterwards, he was on a private jet winging his way to London to attend a reunion dinner for Daily Telegraph journalists at the exclusive Garrick Club, accompanied by Telegraph columnist Charles Moore.

Earlier, the flight had been justified by his staff, claiming that the prime minister was facing "significant time constraints" - implying but not actually stating that important matters of state were involved.

For once Labour got it right, calling it out as "staggering hypocrisy", even though it's water off a duck's back to the likes of Johnson who have no sense of shame and even less self-awareness, and who have elevated their sense of self-entitlement to a higher art form.

The presence of Moore, and Johnson's "reunion" with Telegraph hacks probably explain why we're getting nowhere with the petition, despite numerous approaches to the newspaper after Alister Heath had called for "a referendum on net zero to save Britain from the green blob".

Interestingly, someone who quite evidently had not got the memo is Allison Pearson, whose Telegraph column this week is headed: "I refuse to be lectured on climate change by the Keystone Cop26 brigade", with the sub-heading: "It has swiftly become apparent that it’s we who must make sacrifices to ‘offset’ the frictionless pleasures of the global elite".

Although a few days behind the curve, she makes exactly the same points that I have been making, as she writes:
Around 400 private jets landed at Glasgow airport, carrying world leaders and billionaire businessmen, which did slightly undermine the summit's key message that we need to reduce our carbon footprint in order to reach net zero by 2050. It swiftly became apparent that by "we" they mean poor people, who must make sacrifices in order to "offset" the uninterrupted, frictionless pleasures of the global elite.
Her piece then concludes with quite a strong statement:
You know, my strong sense is that most of us want to do our bit. To do whatever we can to protect the natural world and make the air fit for our children and grandchildren to breathe. We want those things, but we recoil from the Us and Them contempt shown this week by the world's leaders – and there's still 10 days to go. Hydrogen is not the H word they should be worried about; it's hypocrisy.
That message, reinforced by Johnson's latest excursion, is more powerful than anything else that will come out of CoP26, and while you will not see people marching the streets or storming No.10 (yet), it will not be forgotten. In time, as "net zero" measures begin to bite (unless they are stopped), it will come back and haunt the entitled ones. As Kipling warned, when we grumble: "This isn't fair dealing", leave the Saxon alone.

Even now, though, the spectre of popular resistance is obviously worrying the climate worshipers. The New Statesman sees a climate referendum as "a deadly threat", enjoining its readers "to stop talking about heat pumps and carbon budgets and start talking about capitalism, wealth and power".

Pro-Europeans such as myself, writes author Paul Mason, "lost the Brexit referendum because we didn't understand the depth of cultural opposition to science, reason, social liberalism and cross-border solidarity. Nor did we understand that, faced with a reactionary minority backed by the dark money of the elite, you need to defeat those you cannot persuade".

This is a seriously disturbed bunny, who then goes on to warn that, "If we don't want another referendum to be triggered and then lost, we need to get serious about something Johnson and Sunak have rejected: a transition plan whose costs are funded through borrowing, that is driven by the state not the market, and under which the taxes of the rich rise, rather than the fuel bills of the working class".

But, although Mason refers to Tony Parsons in The Sun, to Alister Heath and Farage, and burbles on about his "dark money" and "right wing networks", he also fails to notice our petition, creeping in under the wire with barely enough funding to keep the lights on. Funny enough, what I was last accused of taking money from "big oil" (by the Independent) was in the process if fending off the bailiffs who were after my (unaffordable) Council Tax.

By contrast, the very well-funded Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit - promoting an "informed debate on energy and climate change" – has launched their own pre-emptive poll, telling us that people, after all, don't want a referendum.

The poll found that only 21 percent of the public - 1 in 5 - wanted the government to hold a referendum on "net zero" before attempting to meet its climate change target, compared with 50 percent who said that there is no need to hold such a referendum as the commitment was in the government's last general election manifesto; the remainder chose "don’t know".

This is an organisation, incidentally, which has published a briefing note about "decarbonising heat", without once mentioning quite how expensive heat pumps are.

However, in a stance which is redolent of the strategy used against Eurosceptics - attempting to marginalise their concerns by pretending that no-one was interested – its poll "finds" that backing for a referendum on "net zero" is lower among British adults than a vote on many other issues, including assisted dying, privatisation of the NHS, clamping down on corporate tax avoidance and raising taxes on high earners.

With the same lack of self-awareness that afflicts our elites. Sepi Golzari-Munro, acting director of the Unit, says:
There's overwhelming public support for ending the UK’s carbon pollution and most people just want the government to fulfil its manifesto commitment and get on with the job. Parties that promised "net zero" in their manifestos at the last general election won 94 percent of the vote. The democratic mandate is overwhelming.
It's how you tell 'em, I guess. But if you go back to an earlier opinion poll published by the government in April of this year, we see that the research found that 87 percent of participants had heard of "net zero", although only 9 percent stated that they knew "a lot" about it.

To elicit the responses, participants were first given a brief statement "clarifying" what net zero was, the text of which read:
The UK government has set a target for reducing UK carbon emissions to 'net zero' by 2050. By achieving "net zero" emissions, the UK will no longer contribute to climate change. This will involve significantly reducing emissions from many different activities, such as driving cars, the food we eat, and the electricity we use. Any remaining carbon emissions would be balanced out by technologies and actions that reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Needless to say, there was nothing there about closing down the domestic gas supply and forcing people to buy expensive, inefficient heat pumps, nor of them being required to ditch their cars in preference to electric vehicles at many times the cost.

Nor was there any mention of the fact that the government was embarking on a reckless experiment with Britain's electricity supply, leading us down a path which will almost certainly massively increase the price of electricity while exposing us to real risks of prolonged power cuts.

Thus, despite the confidence of the Climate Intelligence Unit, once people do find out what "net zero" entails, and in particular the degree of deprivation and discomfort which will be forced upon them, they may find that support for "net zero" evaporates.

The name of the game, though, is to get the policy entrenched, before people have a chance to mobilise opposition. As a sign of the times, though, our petition has topped the previous petition asking for a referendum, which only reached 7,628 signatures in the six months leading to 6 September 2020.

We sailed past this figure at about 3pm yesterday and went on to finish at over 8,000, a mere seven days after the launch, with no media exposure or support from any of the big hitters. We have high hopes of reaching the first hurdle of 10K signatures, whence the battle will start anew.

Meanwhile, there's always Ben Pile's latest episode of #FLOP26 to watch, this one on Climategate.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 04/11/2021 link

Climate change: project fear II

02/11/2021  


It seems that a lot of people are having some difficulty detecting where the line is drawn between politics and science at the CoP26 eco-fest. But this is hardly surprising as the distinction has been deliberately blurred, so much so that we have people who purport to be scientists making overtly political statements.

On the other hand, the buffoon Johnson is acting like a born-again climate worshiper, asserting:
We are in roughly the same position, my fellow global leaders, as James Bond today – except that the tragedy is this is not a movie and the doomsday device is real. The clock is ticking to the furious rhythm of hundreds of billions of pistons and furnaces and engines with which we are pumping carbon into the air faster and faster … and quilting the Earth in an invisible and suffocating blanket of CO2 raising the temperature of the planet with a speed and abruptness that is entirely man-made.
This, of course, is verbose dribble – quasi-scientific flannel that a politician of Johnson's ilk has no business making, and no qualification either to assess or make on behalf of those who tell him that this is the case. If he believes this, on the basis of what he has been told, then the tenor of the speech he made at the opening of CoP26 should have been to acknowledge that he accepted the advice he had been given and was working on a policy to deal with it.

But Johnson, quite clearly, has lost track of the fact that he is a politician. He has no business acting as an advocate for the climate worshipers. His task is to work round the issue, take soundings from as wide a range of professional advisors as he can muster, and then respond with a measured policy which protects the interests of the UK and the British people.

If that, in turn, demands a global response, then he needs to be spending his time assessing what is practical in the context of any realistic timeframe, and then seeking the cooperation of his counterparts.

But, as we know, Johnson has gone to this madcap conference with policy ideas already set out, in the form of his "net zero" obsession. His specific purpose has been to use the self-destructive aspirations of the British government as an example for others willing to follow – and not many are. They really are not that stupid as to fall for such a transparent ploy.

Thus, even with nearly the two full weeks to go, it matters not in the least what the outcome of CoP will be. Johnson has already committed to a form of outlandish stupidity which goes far further down the path of national self-destruction than any other nation's leader will countenance.

And, to assert thus is not to make a judgement on the science – such that it is. We need a political response to the fears and predictions of a gang of people, many of whom aren't actually scientists – much less climate scientists – who purport to convey certainty about a future which in all truth is so larded with uncertainties that any predictions should be treated with extreme caution.

That is something for Johnson to ponder about as he departs, flying back to London on a private aircraft, after spending two days warning world leaders to reduce their emissions.

He leaves the frenzy in Glasgow closely approximating the social phenomenon of a moral panic – a type of mass hysteria that one sometimes sees in girls' schools where pupils (but not staff) are suddenly caught up in a wave of sickness which has no discernible cause. It is probably no coincidence that some of the more prominent actors in this grotesque drama happen to be teenage girls.

Within this emotionally-charged melee, as much as it is Johnson's task to calculate a policy response, his responsibility should also extend to addressing the possibility that he is being confronted with an outbreak of mass hysteria, with much of what he has been told being either wrong or grossly exaggerated.

Needless to say, that line of thought is not being encouraged, with the wilder climate worshipers insisting that we are facing irreversible climate change which brooks no deviation from the most extreme of their nostrums, even if only the weak-minded will give them house room.

At least, though, the Independent recognises the fragility of Johnson's position, having journalist Sean O'Grady writing under the headline: "A referendum on Britain’s net zero policy? It’s Brexit all over again".

"Those who want 'net zero' to happen", O'Grady writes in his sub-heading, "have to learn the lessons of the lost battles of Brexit – and start to take on the arguments against the net zero plan that are resonating with people".

The piece starts by telling us that Johnson understands that it's not what the politicians or the corporations think about the "climate crisis" that matters, but what the "punters" think. This is a premise with which O'Grady agrees.

However, while Johnson also asserts that people are demanding change, there is also that opinion poll that suggests a sizeable chunk of the population – arguably a majority – wants a referendum on whether or not we should pursue the government's "net zero" policy.

O'Grady notes that are "a few voices being raised in support of the idea". He cites MPs Steve Baker and Iain Duncan Smith, and a small social media campaign, Car26, which was responsible for the opinion poll and has set up a petition for a referendum on its website.

Interestingly, O'Grady doesn't mention our petition, which is now topping 5,000 signatures, after a slow weekend. He has all the hallmarks of a "white-stick" journalist, who must be led everywhere before he actually notices anything.

He has noticed Nigel Farage, though, who has belatedly declared that the referendum might be his next campaign. In reality, that would probably mean that he did very little, waiting – like he did with the EU Referendum – for other people to do the heavy lifting before stepping in and claiming the credit. Nevertheless, that is enough for O'Grady to announce: "So, yes, it's Brexit all over again, folks".

Despite general public support for the principle of climate change measures, O'Grady accepts that there is little enthusiasm for paying for them. The danger, he concludes from this is that, "if any opportunity arises for that uncertainty to bubble up into political influence it will weaken the resolve of political leaders to hold the line against it – just like Brexit". 

To put it crudely, he says, "the movement for a referendum on 'net zero' is being used as a kind of Trojan horse or entry drug for full-on climate crisis denial and the abandonment of the target by the UK, just as the campaign for an 'in/out' EU referendum ended up with the pretty hard and antagonistic Brexit we have today".

This is a somewhat distorted view, and the comparison with Brexit is laboured, but exactly what you would expect from an Independent writer. The idea of "people's consent" for an expensive and intrusive policy doesn't enter into his mind.

Instead, he sees the situation through the filter of his own prejudices, arguing that all a referendum needs is for the anti "net zero" lobby to capture the Conservative Party through a combination of external pressure and internal activism. This, he asserts, was what forced David Cameron to promise a referendum, when he was threatened with being ousted in around 2013-14.

To counter this, O'Grady suggests learning the lessons of the lost battles of Brexit, taking in the arguments against "net zero" that are resonating with people. The climate change version of project fear, he says, won't make people support prohibitively expensive change. Even Switzerland has rejected its government's climate "crisis plan".

In what might be seen as encouraging, O'Grady fear that "the climate deniers" will win the arguments. The term "democrats", it seems, is not part of his vocabulary. "There is lots of complacency around the climate crisis", he adds, "but the most dangerous of all is that the arguments have been won, and the case has been made, and all we need to do is to get on with it".

But, he warns, "the arguments have not been won, and the punters are not yet pushing their leaders to implement the necessary changes". Quite the opposite, he notes, and "that's the scary thing".

What O'Grady can't get his little head round, though, is that idea that, if the measures that constitute "net zero" are so well-founded and necessary, he should be welcoming a referendum campaign as an opportunity to make the case, and push Johnson into action.

But, here we do have a similarity with the Brexit campaign. When push came to shove, the Remainers were no more able to make their case than can the climate worshippers. Project fear is common to both and, as experience shows, it won't be enough.

Also published on Turbulent Times.


Richard North 02/11/2021 link

Climate change: descending into farce

31/10/2021  


Saturdays are the slowest days on the blog, so it's not surprising that our petition has also slowed down a bit. Thus, we didn't make our quota for the day, coming in short of 4,000. Today, the battle continues.

Meanwhile, the Glasgow shindig seems about to descend into farce as the Guardian reports on the squabbles between Johnson and Macron in Rome over fishing rights.

It is said that "scientists and environmentalists" are exasperated at the distraction, with the prospect that CoP26 would be derailed by the re-emergence of the old enmities between Britain and France, despite Johnson declaring that the summit would be "the world's moment of truth" which could mark "the beginning of the end of climate change".

Certainly, the Sunday Telegraph is completely distracted, taking time out from reporting on the end of the world (not) to tell us that Johnson is demanding that the EU "rein in" Macron, claiming that France's fishing threats show the Brexit negotiations were "not in good faith".

This, apparently, is in response to comments by French prime minister Jean Castex in a letter to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that the UK had to be shown that it "causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in".

Johnson got as far as a meeting with von der Leyen, to whom he complained about France's "aggressive rhetoric" and demanded an explanation of Castex's letter. This, it seems – in Johnson's mind – translates into a suggestion that the EU may not have been negotiating in "good faith" over Northern Ireland.

Discussions will continue over today, but whatever the outcome it takes the shine off Johnson's credentials as the great eco-warrior, set to save the planet. Even if this piece of theatre can be resolved, it will leave a nasty taste that is bound to have a hang-over effect.

But, as the climate worshipers gather for the great eco-fest, even Covid-19 is taking a hand, with Scottish Greens co-leader, Lorna Slater, testing positive for Covid hours before the summit starts. Sadly, she will not be able to attend the opening today, which could still turn out to be a super-spreader event, especially if the Delta Plus variant has taken hold.

One hopes that the 120 world leaders have upgraded their vaccine status, or we could be seeing some early departures. As for the plebs, we could be seeing the beginning of the end of climate change activists – not exactly what World King Johnson has in mind.

Such considerations, though. haven't got in the way of another happy little distraction, as we are reminded that the chief executive of Sky - one of the main commercial sponsors of CoP26, has been regularly commuting by private jet from her home 3,500 miles away in the United States.

Dana Strong was appointed in January but remained based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, close to the headquarters of Sky's parent company, the American cable operator Comcast. An industry source says this arrangement has meant frequent trips back and forth for Ms Strong on one of Comcast’s jets every few weeks until she moved to the UK in June.

Vital information for well-heeled delegates attending the summit, conveyed in the CoP26 guide and retailed by the Glasgow Times, are the instructions on where to park the private jet, something Prince Charles's pilot will be keen to know, as his eco-warrior passenger jets in from the G20 summit in Rome in time to for him to pronounce that the private sector must help with climate change.

The Mirror also takes up the private jet theme, laying bare Johnson's "luxury private plane habit". The prime minister, it tells us, has spent £216.000 on more than 20 flights on private aircraft since becoming PM, pumping 52 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The paper also notes that research commissioned by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy was pulled from the government's website last week, shortly after it was published.

The document called on politicians to "lead by example" in reducing their air travel, stating that "Actions can speak louder than words". The decisions of government and members of government "signals the importance, validity, credibility, and moral authority of the net-zero message", it added, warning that: "Perceived hypocrisy can do a lot to undermine efforts to build public engagement and support".

But it's not so much "perceived" hypocrisy, as the real-life, ocean-going, in-your-face hypocrisy that sticks in the craw as the elites practice the doctrine of "one rule for us and another for the plebs", without even troubling to hide their disdain for the great unwashed.

As for building "public engagement and support" for net zero, I am sure that the ringing of church bells did a great deal to call the faithful to the new secular religion, but it would see, that the Mail on Sunday isn't particularly bothered, to judge from its front page.

There, it features a "massive cyber heist", where a Russian gang has hacked into the records of "high society jeweller Graff" and is demanding a multi-million ransom or they'll leak the private details of the rich and famous. It would be enough, methinks, to leak their carbon footprints, assuming that any care to hide them.

Inside, though, the paper gives pride of place to Bjorn Lomborg, writing about "the great ecological delusion", pouring cold water on the aspirations of CoP26.

I met this guy at a conference in Aspen once, and he was far too much of a true believer for my taste, but he's nevertheless talking a great deal of sense when he dismisses the "implausibly extravagant policies" of the CoP summits, which have never achieved anything of substance.

However, he too is wedded to the magic wand solution, arguing for more research on green energy, suggesting that returns from green energy R&D are hundreds of times more effective than current policies. We will get to the point, he suggests, where the price of efficient green energy drops below fossil fuels and everyone will switch.

The trouble is that, as he admits, "we don't know how long it will take to find the breakthroughs that will power the rest of the century", but still asserts that "this is the path that will solve climate change".

Sadly, it is extremely unlikely that there will be a "breakthrough" of the type Lomborg hopes for, yet the vainglorious attempts of the likes of Johnson to solve this over-hyped "crisis" are also doomed to failure. And, even if by some miracle, he came up with a solution, the public would not be interested if it cost more than a fiver a week.

However, according to a survey carried out for the Mail, there is considerable unease about the prospect of the lights going out. Wiser leaders, who have good cause to fear the backlash from their peoples, tend to prioritise electricity production over climate change rhetoric, hence the attitude of China which is refusing to adopt net zero, as indeed is India.

This brings to the fore that these grandiose eco-fests are a complete waste of time and energy. With the refusal of the major emitters to cooperate, CoP26 was a failure before it even started.

Lomborg, in his time. was a great advocate of mitigation and, in the real world, that is probably the only strategy that will ever work, reacting to events as they happen. And, for the most effective response, we need a supply of cheap, accessible energy and reliable transport.

Ironically, the only long-term effect of the World King's new-found obsession with climate change might be terminal damage to our ability to deal with it. But then, that would be entirely in character.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 31/10/2021 link

Politics: the people's consent

28/10/2021  


The fate of the nation is already miserable enough but, according to some, the intervention of Rishi Sunak is likely to see any economic recovery delayed as the state spends a greater proportion of our wealth, and levies an increasing burden of taxation to feed its insatiable appetite.

But those pundits who hold out for a better future as we seek to chart our way out of the abyss do not seem to have not taken account of prime minister Johnson's attachment to his irrational "net zero" policy. Left unchallenged, this is likely to choke off any chance of economic recovery, keeping us colder, darker and poorer than any of us deserve.

Thus, there can be no question that the Telegraph was on the ball yesterday, running the results of a YouGov survey on attitudes to a referendum on Johnson's "net zero" plans.

It turns out that 42 percent of adults said they supported a vote on the plan, whilst 30 percent opposed it, and 28 percent did not declare a preference. When the "don't knows" are excluded, a majority of 58 percent wants a ballot on the issue.

The findings, writes Lucy Fisher - who has authored the piece for the Telegraph - will come as a blow to Johnson "just days before the start of the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow on Sunday". While he is preparing to convince global leaders to take tougher action, she adds, "the survey suggests more work is needed at home to convince voters that reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 is necessary".

In this context, the idea of a referendum is entirely appropriate. Even those who currently support Johnson's plan acknowledge that, for it to succeed, it must have the people's consent. And there is no better way of demonstrating consent than to put the proposition to the people by way of a referendum, in order to seek their permission to proceed – which is the essence of consent.

Arguably, as it stands, Johnson could claim that he has an electoral mandate for his policy, as the Conservative Party Manifesto for the 2019 general election did commit to leading "the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as advised by the independent Committee on Climate Change".

But, at several levels, it would be entirely disingenuous to assert that this constituted a mandate. Currently, it has taken Johnson's administration 367 pages to articulate the substance of his plan, so the short paragraphs set out ibn the manifesto on climate change could not be taken as setting out the detail of his policy.

That goes to the single, all-important concept of informed consent – the electorate should have been fully advised of the nature and consequences of such a policy. A brief, opaque mention cannot be considered sufficient.

At another level, it has to be said that the 2019 election was not fought on climate change. The defining issue of the election was, indisputably, Brexit, with Johnson campaigning on the promise that he would "Get Brexit done". And there will be few who would disagree that he won the election on that promise.

But, had climate change been an issue in the election, there could have been no meaningful choice for the electorate. In its manifesto, Labour committed to kick-starting "a Green Industrial Revolution", aiming to "achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030". Although the term "net zero" was not used, the effect of the policy, had it been implemented, would have been little different to the Conservative offering.

Nor were the Liberal Democrats any different, with an explicit commitment to achieving the "net zero climate goals" set by the 2020 UN climate conference in Glasgow.

In many respects, this mirrored the situation on the European Union, to the extent that no general election could be taken as a public endorsement of our membership as all the major parties were in favour of staying in the union. The only way this question could be settled by the electorate was by the mechanism of a referendum – which indeed it was.

In her piece, Lucy Fisher alludes to this dynamic, citing Lois Perry, director of Car26.org, who says: "We must not let political consensus drive us into carbon poverty. Let the people take control of the wheel". Perry accuses an "arrogant, remote elite" of "charging ahead in pursuit of costly and futile carbon policy" without due consideration for the families that will have to pay the price.

Basically, this is where the fault line shows up in our system of governance, where the general election – and non-binding manifestos – are treated as a carte blanche to adopt all manner of policies even though the mere mention could hardly be taken as invoking informed consent.

It is this weakness, we felt, struck at the very heart of our pretentions to be a democracy, when we framed The Harrogate Agenda, after our inaugural meeting in July 2912. At the very heart of our six demands, framed in the manner of the original Chartists, is the concept of the people's consent.

No law, treaty or government decision, we wrote, shall take effect without the consent of the majority of the people, by positive vote if so demanded, and that none shall continue to have effect when that consent is withdrawn by the majority of the people.

The "positive vote" in the particular circumstance of "net zero" is the referendum, addressing a crucial deficiency in our system: the absence of restraint on legislative incontinence. Johnson is making laws without our consent. We need a mechanism to get rid of those laws that we do not want, if that is the wish of the majority.

To that effect, Niall Warry – who is director of The Harrogate Agenda – has launched a petition on the UK government and parliament website, calling for a referendum on whether to keep the 2050 "net zero" target. Writes Niall:
I believe net zero target lacks legitimacy and without a referendum the current climate change policy lacks the explicit consent of the people, as argued by The Harrogate Agenda. This exposes a massive democratic deficit in our system of government.
It took the parliamentary petitions committee a week to vet and approve the wording of the petition which, with minor amendments, was posted yesterday here. In a remarkably short time, and without any media publicity, it has attracted nearly 700 signatures. Readers of this blog should easily be able to add a couple of thousand.

At 10,000 signatures, we are guaranteed a government response to the petition and, at 100,000 signatures, it will be "considered" for debate in parliament. This is a far from perfect mechanism, but it is a start.

Furthermore, if we do get the requisite number of signatures, it is a win-win situation for us. If we get a referendum then, once again, the principle of people's consent will have been tested and we are closer to making it the norm.

On the other hand, if a referendum is refused, we can rightly say that the "net zero" policy lacks democratic legitimacy, leading to what will undoubtably become a widespread popular rejection of those parts which require public participation.

And, as long as Johnson insists on pursuing a policy which leaves us colder, darker and poorer, I have no doubt that, should we actually be given a referendum, it will be decisively rejected.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 28/10/2021 link

Climate change: a fantasy world

23/10/2021  


With so much going on, not least a resurgence of Covid-19 and fears of a winter flu epidemic, it is perhaps unsurprising that we're seeing little in the way of media focus on the technical aspects of Johnson's net zero plan.

At 368 pages, it is probably the case that very few journalists have read the whole document and most of the very few who have would doubtless be struggling with the practical implications.

For anyone to have difficulty with the document is not be entirely unreasonable. There are so many sweeping assertions, backed by so little detail, that a careful evaluation would take weeks (if not longer) of careful study, taking readers into multiple areas of uncertainty.

However, one thing that leaps out of the pages of the document is the aim to quadruple the UK's offshore wind capacity to 40 GW by 2030. This is to precede full decarbonisation of electrical generation, which is supposed to be completed by 2035.

The enormity of the offshore wind programme is hinted at – but only hinted – by the acknowledgement that capacity has to be quadrupled - the current offshore capacity is a mere 10.4 GW, spread over 2,297 turbines, clustered in 40 operational projects.

But this does not begin to convey the enormity of the enterprise. It was only 20 years ago, in December 2000, that the first offshore wind farm was installed, off the Northumberland coast. Now, in the space of a mere nine years – less than half the time - three times the capacity must be installed.

We actually shouldn't be too surprised by this, though. The intent was signalled in the Energy White Paper published in December last year, although with both Brexit and Covid-19 on the go, it hardly got the attention it merited.

Actually, there is something deeply dishonest in government "sneaking" out such a major proposal when attention was quite evidently elsewhere, and especially as the publication date was 18 December – just a week before Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, the event hardly registered in the national media, with even the eco-enthusiastic Independent merely telling us that the White Paper "also outlines a plan to develop 40 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030".

Yet, with this target having slipped virtually unnoticed into the system, ten months later we are seeing it assuming the status of a settled plan, even if the scale of the ambition means that nothing quite like this has ever been tried before.

However, that ambition does not seem to have percolated into the consciousness of the offshore wind industry, which seems to be working to a target set by the Climate Change Committee of 35 GW by 2035 and refers to a government target to 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Even here, it is not good news. A report from the industry trade body Renewable UK, dated yesterday, tells us that the total pipeline of offshore wind projects either operating, under construction, consented or being planned has grown to nearly 33 GW.

If every project in this current pipeline was to go ahead (suggesting that some may not), it is proudly claimed that the UK would reach 30 GW by 2030 –more than double the current operational capacity (this site says current capacity is 13.9GW).

But the trade body does warn that this is less than the capacity needed to meet the "net zero" target date (which it sees as 2035), noting that only 600 MW "is being given the go ahead by the UK each year". We should, it says, be reaching 1,250 MW a year to stay on course, more than twice the level being consented.

Confusion over the target, though, is only one of the problems confronting the industry. The Reuters news agency is retailing a report by the engineering consultancy, Arup.

Under a somewhat misleading headline, the news conveyed is that, in order to meet the industry's 2030 target, offshore wind developers are building larger projects to increase economies of scale. For instance the Dogger Bank project, located 80 miles from the English coast and due online from 2023, will have an installed capacity of 3.6 GW.

Such projects are putting greater pressure on local and regional grid infrastructure. Congested landfall zones on the East Coast, diminishing land availability for onshore substations, and falling onshore grid capacity, are slowing down developments.

Bruce Turner, Head of Asset Management at Transmission Investment, says that new onshore grid improvements need to be in place "or the 2030 target will not be met".

Additionally, the timelines for the allocation of project leases and contract auctions mean that the projects awarded leases this year will not come online until the second half of this decade or later. These delays will extend the overall timeline, so a faster "build-out" of commercial-scale projects is also "critical", if targets are to be met.

Then, should we ever get to see 40 GW of offshore wind capacity commissioned, the problems will be far from over, as the Climate Change Committee regards this as an interim step, and is calling for up to 125 GW of offshore wind to meet UK electricity demand by 2050, which will include hydrogen electrolysis.

Even with 40 GW of offshore wind, though, we will be in uncharted territory, with Renewable UK asserting that "net zero changes everything we know about the energy system", calling it "a fundamental challenge".

The energy white paper sees only a minor role for gas, and then only in conjunction with carbon capture, while the proposed nuclear programme will barely have started by 2035, when the majority of the nuclear plants drop out of service. Renewables – and especially wind - will be supplying a higher proportion of the UK's energy than has been experienced in any power system.

To ensure that the necessary level of system reliability is maintained, two major issues will have to be confronted. The first is the variability of wind which, with the sheer volume of wind power generated, will place considerable demands on the short-term operational reserve (STOR), and require a longer-term back-up capability for extended low wind periods.

The second pressing issue is the system stability where, as reliance on spinning generation reduced, the inertia declines to a point where an unplanned failure could precipitate a collapse of the grid, if the system can no longer react in time to major frequency drops.

National Grid is working on mechanisms to maintain system stability without a spinning reserve, but is coy about specifying the operational parameters.

Research elsewhere indicates that there are as yet undefined limits to the degree to which inertia can be allowed to decline. This currently restricts the permitted level of penetration of wind energy, and the provision of alternative control systems have major cost implications.

All of this points to considerable uncertainty in just one corner of Johnson's grandiose "net zero" scheme, pointing to the near certainty that his "low carbon" generation target for 2030 will not be met, much less the more ambitious 2050 target.

Doubtless, once a searching light is played on the other areas of his fatuous "build back greener" scheme – such as the ambition to up the installation electric heat pumps, from 30,000 per year to 600,000 per year by 2028 – this too will prove to be equally unrealistic.

His fantasy of "leading global action", despite the UK accounting for less than one percent of annual global emissions, seems equally unrealistic, but that is unlikely to prevent him wrecking the UK economy in pursuit of bolstering his already over-mighty ego.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 23/10/2021 link

Climate change: King Coal

22/10/2021  


From a week ago, when I was reporting on the global energy crisis which was dominating the headlines, a report from New Delhi tells us that the situation in India is improving slightly.

Out of 135 thermal power plants with a cumulative generation capacity of over 165 GW, only 59 have less than four days' coal stocks. This compares with 19 October when there were 61 plants with less than four days' supply, and 64 on 13 October. As for the number of power plants with zero days of coal, the number has dropped from 15 on Wednesday, with cumulative installed capacity of 16.3 GW compared to 17 projects with 17 GW capacity a week back.

Furthermore, more help is on its way. A giant train, 2½ miles long, its trucks filled with coal, is on its way from the eastern coal fields. Many are calling it the "Coal Express" and believe it will solve the coal crisis in the country. And, irony of ironies, the train is painted green.

As a country, India in 2020 consumed approximately 942 million tonnes (MT) of coal, accounting for 70 percent of India's electricity generation. Some 730 MT of the coal was produced domestically, employing directly 1.2 million workers, according to one estimate.

Looking at the picture in the longer term energy situation, power secretary Alok Kumar is talking on the need for strategic reserves of coal and gas.

At least in the foreseeable ten years or so, he says, "all the countries, especially major economies, will be dependent on fossil fuel supplies for base load and for grid balancing". He does not believe that his country will ever be able to insulate itself from supply shocks from imported fuel, and therefore thinks that a strategic reserve of gas, oil and imported coal, sufficient for "a month or so" will enable the economy to ride them out.

That, says Kumar, "will be a small cost vis-à-vis the cost of these disruptions", pointing out that there were 17 GW of power plants based on imported coal and 24 GW of gas-fired plants which virtually went out of play when prices rose too high.

Now, compare and contrast this with the UK response to the same supply shock. Rather than any talk of insulating us from future shocks with the idea of strategic reserves, both Johnson and Kwasi Kwarteng have focused on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing the amount of electricity produced by renewables, particularly wind.

But, while our government plays its games, European generators are engineering their own salvation, upping coal production to such an extent that more of it has been used to generate electricity than gas for the first time since 2018. Coal, including lignite, we are told, generated 110 terawatt hours of electricity, while gas generated 92 terawatt hours, in the three months to 30 September.

Stresses are also building up in the European Union, where Poland, amongst others – including the Czech Republic and Hungary - have called on the Commission to consider revising or postponing plans to reduce emissions where they could have "a negative impact on the energy price". Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has gone so far as to dismiss EU climate policy plans as a "utopian fantasy".

There is not much comfort to be gained from the United States either, where power plants are set to burn 23 percent more coal this year than last, while in China, state coal mines have been ordered to produce "as much as possible" to try and tackle fuel shortages.

China, in fact, is having an interesting time. In the northern part of the country, the winter heating season normally starts on 15 November but has started earlier due to extreme cold weather.

China's Central Meteorological Observatory issued a cold wave "blue" warning at 10 am local time on 15 October, followed by the China Meteorological Administration initiating a "level four" emergency response. As a result, coal supplies have been diverted for power generation, with 13.47 GW and 12.20 GW of coal-fired power units in northeast and east China respectively have been reactivated after being paused temporarily during August and September.

To cope with this, and to ensure sufficient supplies through the winter, China's coal production for the fourth quarter has been increased by an estimated 55 million tonnes. Around 976 coal mines had been reviewed, out of which 153 coal mines have qualified for production expansions, driving production growth of 220 million tonnes.

With power generation rising 10.8 percent year-on-year and utilities sitting on coal stocks of 81.99 million tonnes, equivalent to 15 days of coal supplies, with gas storage reaching 27 billion cubic metres, combining domestic production, pipeline and LNG imports, the immediate crisis is under control.

This makes a nonsense of the CoP26 aspirations for reducing emission levels and demonstrates that, when grown-up administrations are involved, the first priority is to keep the lights on, using any fuel source available – including coal. But that option is not available In Britain, where most of the coal-fired power stations have been shut down. There is limited ability, in the short-term, to reduce reliance on expensive gas supplies.

Not only this, but Johnson's ambitions to lead the world into an emission-free nirvana also seem increasingly precarious as multiple fossil fuel producers, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Japan, are lobbying the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to remove recommendations that the world needs to phase out fossil fuels.

Even if the IPPC manages to hold the line, it appears unlikely that Chinese president Jimping Xi will attend the conference, while Vladimir Putin has said he definitely will not be present. And without these two key players, the gathering will lose much of its force, fatally damaging the prospects of a binding agreement Without China’s leader "in the room", the conference is being compared to Hamlet without the prince.

The 25-30,000 delegates are at risk of being marooned in Glasgow in what will become a vast talking shop, with the smaller, developing states trying to squeeze money out of the Western powers, but with the overall conference delivering very little more than high-flown rhetoric.

All that leads to what are described as "official collywobbles" about the outcome, potentially leaving Johnson to "CoP the flop" and tone down his somewhat overblown expectations. Post-Brexit Britain, the Independent says, is supposed to be emerging from its EU cocoon like a gorgeous bright butterfly, attracting the delight and inspiring the hope of all around. Instead it's been swatted and squashed by the old men of Beijing.

For the sake of his vainglorious posturing, though, the UK is still to be saddled with his unrealistic plans for "net zero", forcing the nation progressively to decarbonise, dragging down the economy and impoverishing its citizens. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is paying homage to King Coal, and only lip-service to emission targets.

Fed on a diet of inaccurate and misleading statements from Kwasi Kwarteng, British citizens can only wonder who the British government is working for. It certainly isn't for them.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 22/10/2021 link

Politics: the chasm widens

18/10/2021  


The eulogies on the saintly David Amess continue to pour in, recalling amongst other things the campaigns fought by the veteran MP.

Strangely though, one of those which hasn't been mentioned yet is the spirited campaign he ran on behalf of his son – of the same name – after he had been imprisoned for four years after smashing a man over the head with a champagne bottle, after "wielding it as a club.

Amess Senior was partially successful after his son's sentence was cut to three years on appeal, even though judges rejected claims that the conviction had been "unsafe". After the hearing, a statement from the Amess family said: "Some progress has been made in our endeavour to clear our son's name and to secure justice for him. That we intend to pursue with renewed vigour".

There is no record of whether that "renewed vigour" achieved its intended effect, but there is certainly no lack of vigour in the wake of the Amess Senior's murder, as MP look at measures to enhance their own safety. It is axiomatic that, if they prevailed on the government to pursue measures to curtail Islamic extremism, we might all be a little safer. But if MPs are at all concerned about enhanced public protection, they have been extremely reluctant to show it.

Nor have we seen Johnson, Starmer, Patel or any other of the Southend mourners hot-footing it up to Glasgow to lay wreaths at the site of the latest knife murder, this one of a 14-year-old boy who was stabbed outside a railway station. It seems that politicians are reserving their public displays of grief for their own.

No one, of course, can be anything but horrified by the barbaric murder of David Amess, but that should not stop us observing that the reaction of the establishment – the politicians and media - are as inept after the event as they were before. Thus, the opportunity to unify the nation in a common cause has been lost, while the issues – if the Observer most-read list is any guide (pictured) – have been lost in a wave of public indifference.

Those looking for broader public support will not be encouraged by the MP's defensive responses, which can do little to bridge the chasm between "us and them".

Under consideration is a system where constituents who book in meetings with their MPs could have their backgrounds checked. All of us will be treated with the same degree of suspicion as an Islamist terrorist, changing forever the relationship between the public and their elected representatives.

An individual requesting a meeting with an MP would have to allow their details to be checked against terror watch lists. Other databases, such as lists of known criminals and the electoral roll, could also in theory be cross-referenced, with the latter revealing whether the person seeking a meeting lives in the constituency.

Other ideas include getting police officers to attend constituency meetings, airport-style security to check voters before they enter and MPs being urged not to meet voters alone. No one is as yet suggesting armoured screens, but anything is possible.

The ideas so far proposed follow an intervention by speaker Lindsay Hoyle, in the Observer, who wants "an end to hatred" against MPs and "a kinder form" of political discourse.

Hoyle is worried that, while the security offered to MPs must now be reviewed, there is a wider problem about the levels of hatred and intimidation in politics that must be addressed. "If anything positive is to come out of this latest awful tragedy", he says, "it is that the quality of political discourse has to change. The conversation has to be kinder and based on respect".

Many MPs privately confide that they face death threats on a regular basis on social media. One senior Westminster source said the numbers of people now in prison or awaiting trial for threatening MPs or abusing them was "staggering". The source says, "It is a British disease. The numbers are horrifying. It is an epidemic".

Conservative MP Shailesh Vara says the kind of language used by people when communicating with MPs, either on social media or by other means, is becoming more hostile and aggressive all the time, affecting MPs' staff as well as elected representatives.

"To call me the C-word or to refer to politicians like me as bastards and to use unpleasant and aggressive tones is normal for some people these days", he concedes. "What they don’t realise is that it is not just us they are abusing. It is our staff, people who are just trying to do a job, trying to earn enough to put food on the table, pay their mortgage and the bills".

The MP also tells us that, with the volume of correspondence received, staff are essential. "Not so long ago", he says, "MPs would get about 20 letters a week, they shared one secretary between them all and an MP could write 20 handwritten letters to those constituents and all was well and good. Now I can get more than 25 emails in less than an hour".

Another senior Tory MP, Charles Walker, says: "Living in fear has become a routine part of many of my colleagues' lives. Many have the incredible ability to compartmentalise that part of their existences but it should not have to be that way".

The Observer also cites Jade Botterill, a former assistant to Labour MP Yvette Cooper. She left politics because of the abuse directed at her boss. "I would get in and all I would do is go on Facebook and report death threats and delete them", she said. "I reckon I reported over 1,000 death threats. I couldn't sleep".

All this has Hoyle observing: "The hate which drives these attacks has to end. Disagreements with politicians should be solved at the ballot box not via threats, intimidation or murder". And therein lies more evidence of the divide. Hoyle is no more realistic in putting his faith in the ballot box than are those who would further restrict our access to MPs.

But one has to marvel at Hoyle's naivety. He must be the only person in the country who is unaware that the political system is broken and that elections have become an empty charade. Would that he knew it, much of the hostility MPs and their staffs experience simply reflects people's frustration with the broken system.

But it must also reflect the growing dismay at the inability of parliament to curb the power of the executive, or to hold it to account. After the Brexit debacle, with policy wreckage strewn around like discarded confetti, people now face impositions such as heat pumps, and massive hikes in energy costs, supply shortages and galloping inflation – while military age Muslins rock up at Dover in their thousands, with no effort to stop them. Can there be any wonder that MPs are roughly handled?

At least the Sunday Times has it half right about the safety issue, acknowledging that MPs "should take greater precautions in the way that they interact with the public, and they should, if necessary, be given greater resources to make themselves, their staff and other constituents attending their surgeries more secure".

But, the paper says, "what we should not do is allow this senseless murder to change one of the essential features of our democracy. That would give the terrorists, assuming this is proved to be a terrorist attack, a victory that they do not deserve".

"If MPs were deprived of direct contact with their constituents", it adds, "the democratic process would suffer and the country would be poorer as a result". David Amess, who was aware of the dangers, would not have wanted that, the paper concludes: "Neither should anybody else".

But there needs to be more than clichéd generalities. On the one hand, the Guardian reports that UK Muslim groups are braced for a rise in "hate crime", while the Telegraph warns that "Britain faces 'wave of terror attacks plotted by bedroom radicals'".

In the middle is MP Rupa Huq, who typifies the vacuous "something must be done" brigade. "After two killings, serious thinking and action is needed to drastically reduce the chances of there being a third", she says.

Like the rest of her ilk, she has little idea of what should be done, and there is nothing worthwhile on offer from any other quarter. Thus, this ghastly drama still has a long, long way to go, and it seems that the only direction is down. If MPs feel unloved now, in a year's time they might be looking on this period as a golden age.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 18/10/2021 link

Politics: the wrong type of issue

14/10/2021  


With Northern Ireland back in the headlines, I'm almost tempted to write about something completely different, such as the mating habits of the lesser spotted shrew, if there is such a thing, just to register my protest about how this stunningly overstated issue has been allowed to occupy such a dominant place in our politics.

The situation is not made any better by the rantings of an ex-government employee whose compulsive attention-seeking has just sufficient plausibility to make it attractive to weak minds, and to engage those with a limited grasp of the issues.

One can only hope, therefore, with the adults back in the room, EU’s offer to scrap up to 80 per cent of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland that we are on our way to a temporary resolution of the issues (nothing is ever permanent, when it comes to Northern Ireland) – enough at least to take them out of the headlines and return the province to the obscurity that it so profoundly deserves.

Had I been capable of dredging up enough interest, I might have been tempted to review the detail of the Commission proposals, but the recently ennobled David Frost might be treating these as a "starter for ten", seeking to imprint his mark on them in much the same way a dog might urinate on its bounds, to mark out its territory. Thus, what we see is not necessarily what we will get.

Certainly, that is the way the Telegraph seems to be reporting the latest developments, with the headline: "Let the talks begin, says Lord Frost as EU offers new Northern Ireland deal".

Frost, thereby, seems to be assuming that the Commission's offer is mere foreplay, a precursor to another interminable round of talks which will allow him to gain further concessions – particularly on the role of the ECJ - thus affording him the opportunity to ride off victorious in the general direction of the sunlit uplands, to the applause of General Johnson and his merry band of nonentities.

What the Commission gets out of this is anyone's guess, although the Independent is bearing on its front page, the legend: "EU prepares for worst as Brexit divide remains".

Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic wants Frost to engage "earnestly and intensively", when they meet tomorrow for renewed talks. But Frost is merely saying that he will look "seriously and constructively” at the proposals "over the coming weeks".

Frost is drawing his line in the sand on the removal of ECJ jurisdiction over the deal. Thus, we are told, he is setting the scene for a "Christmas showdown", with observers unsure whether the EU's initiative has provided enough "wriggle room" for Frost and his boss to back down.

This is almost a question of "who cares, wins". The chances of this drama gripping the nation through into the festive season seems to be rather less than the UK government meeting its quota for foreign lorry drivers applying for temporary visas.

So far, we learn, just 20 have been issued to HGV drivers from abroad, with about 300 applications received – somewhat short of the 5,000 that the government is prepared to offer to tide us over until the end of next February.

Meanwhile, multi-millionaire Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, is calling for a "reset" on pricing to reflect the true cost of producing food – presumably to top up his personal fortune, where adverse trading conditions have left poor man's fortune dwindling down to his last £500 million.

None of us could possibly disagree that we need lectures from multi-millionaires about the price of food, with Boparan sternly admonishing us that rising inflation was "decaying the food sector's supply chain", while complaining that the government cannot fix the problem.

"The days when you could feed a family of four with a £3 chicken are coming to an end", he says. "We need transparent, honest pricing. This is a reset and we need to spell out what this will mean", he adds, telling us that, "Food is too cheap, there's no point avoiding the issue. In relative terms, a chicken today is cheaper to buy than it was 20 years ago".

In a different universe, I probably would agree with him, although the message coming from the mouth of a multi-millionaire, in whose poultry plants slave workers have been found, is a little hard to take.

Nevertheless, this and parallel issues, in the run up to Christmas, might be more likely to seize the popular imagination than the arcane matter of whether the ECJ has the final say over interpretation of some technical aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Similarly, people might be more entertained by the growing backlog of imports at Felixstowe, estimated to be worth in the order of £1.5 billion.

Felixstowe used to be the poster child for the efficiency of Britain's private ports system, but it has been dogged by problems with its cargo handling software which have taken the shine off its reputation. The immediate problem this time is the backlog of containers, apparently caused by the shortage of HGV drivers, delaying some of the docking of large ships and increasing unloading times.

Shipping company Maersk says that congestion at the port has been building for the past two weeks, forcing the company to dock as many as one in three of its large vessels at continental ports such as Rotterdam. Containers then destined for the UK will then, presumably, be offloaded and despatched to the UK on HGVs, further intensifying the driver shortage.

Even now, while the Westminster bubble is obsessing over the Protocol, the Mirror is running the "shortages crisis" on its front page, with the headline, "Rush to save Xmas", the story warning consumers not to delay buying their Christmas gifts.

Behind all this, the gas crisis grumbles on. Yet another two energy suppliers have bitten the dust, making 14 so far this year, with no indication that they will be the last. And, despite assurances to the contrary from Kwasi Modo, billionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe is warning that Britain could run out of gas in a cold winter, forcing industry to shut down.

I suppose we might be ill-disposed to take such warnings from a billionaire, but this one is the boss of Ineos, the petrochemicals giant. From this vantage point, he says that gas prices were likely to remain high throughout the winter and that it was possible there would be insufficient supplies for consumers and businesses alike.

Actually, such is the risk that this blog is not accepting assurances that energy supplies are secure over the winter. If we escape power cuts, it will be more by accident than design. We are taking measures, therefore, to ensure continuity of service, even if the electricity supply goes down.

Bluntly, it is such real-life problems such as these – and the attendant expense – which are of far more concern than the posturing of Frost over matters which should have been settled long ago, and which have simply gone on far too long.

But there is perhaps a new peril in the willingness of the EU to make concessions over Northern Ireland. One might see the Commission using the reduced checks on goods as leverage to secure a similar deal for EU goods entering the UK – thereby locking in the trading disadvantages suffered by agricultural and other sectors.

At that point, farmers – and the rest of us – might rediscover that inalienable law of the universe: no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 14/10/2021 link

Politics: a common thread

09/10/2021  


We knew it all along, but it's useful to have iNews confirm it. Throughout the petrol supply crisis, deliveries to filling stations barely fell. Massive levels of panic buying were the leading cause of fuel shortages, borne out by an analysis of fuel data carried out by the paper.

In the run-up to the fuel shortage, deliveries did fall in England although only marginally, says the paper. At the start of September, fuel deliveries fell by around 200 litres per filling station on average. But just months before, fuel deliveries had fallen by considerably larger amounts.

But, at the start of September, an abrupt uptick in demand for fuel coinciding with the slight drop in deliveries created a slight mismatch between supply and demand. This mismatch barely registered when comparing supply and demand earlier in the year, when far larger mismatches had occurred.

However, as more people became aware of the shortage – triggered initially by the report on ITV News - sales of petrol skyrocketed. By the 20 September, a Monday, buying across England started to increase, with sales increasing by a third on that day alone. With that, we were in the midst of a massive scare and all it needed were the media pictures of queues to keep it going.

This, of course, will have no impact on certain high-profile remainers. In their eyes, this will always have been caused by Brexit, along with every other ill affecting this country at the moment and forever more.

But, whether Brexit or not, there is a discernible tendency in the media at the moment to link some of the high profile problems affecting us, to form a continuous narrative. The bundle of woes thus becomes greater than the sum of its parts, leaving an overall impression of a nation in despair and disarray.

The print edition of iNews captures this tendency, with a headline heralding a "Winter and spring of discontent". It not only ladles in in the familiar travails, such as the disruption in "Britain's food, fuel, gas and labour markets", but adds the shipping crisis, the prospect of imposing tighter Covid rules this winter, and even the Insulate Britain protests and a growing strike threat in our refineries.

There was something of this in the BBC main 6pm television news yesterday, when it ran energy as its lead, with a complaint by "steel bosses" that the government had failed to find solutions to halt soaring energy prices.

This came via UK Steel boss Gareth Stace, speaking after leaders of energy-intensive industries met with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. "We can't wait until Christmas and beyond. Or even a few weeks. We need action now, it needs to be swift, decisive action", Stace said.

All they got, though, were a few dead-bat phrases. The government would assess the options put forward by the industry, Kwarteng's spokesperson burbled: "We recognise the recent increase in global gas prices will be a cause of concern for businesses in the UK", saying: "We are in regular contact with Ofgem and business groups to explore ways to manage the impact of rising global prices".

Kwarteng himself descended from on high to stress the government confidence in the security of gas supplies this winter. "Nothing can go wring, go wring, go wring… ", seems to be the government line, so much so that it is not planning to increase the UK's gas storage capacity, claiming that questions over storage were a "complete red herring".

Following its first report, illustrated by steel furnaces emitting showers of sparks, the BBC moved quickly on to the pig crisis, interviewing a tearful East Yorkshire farmer, Kate Morgan, declaring that it is "criminal" that she may have to cull her animals while "there are people starving in the world".

Morgan said that unless the government acts to solve a nationwide shortage of butchers and abattoir workers she may have to kill the pigs. She complains that, "Even in this country there are people who can't feed their families, yet Boris [Johnson] is quite happy to let us waste good healthy food - healthy protein he's prepared to put in the bin" "We're desperate for Boris to listen to us".

Kate Morgan is good value for money as she also gets a showing on Sky News, offering much the same fare. Huffpost even runs the story, having Kate "on the verge of tears", as she says: "We are doing our jobs. This is not the farmers’ fault".

If there is a common thread here, it's basically, that it's the government to blame – and it's for government to take action, whether on gas prices or the availability of abattoir workers.

The government is certainly in the frame on a related issues for, as Kate Morgan contemplates killing her pigs, the Independent reports that cheap EU pork is flooding UK,. while the government "are standing by and watching this happen".

German producers, it seems, have been limited in their ability to export pork to China, a crucial market, because of EU-wide episodes of African Swine Fever. This has created a surplus on the EU market, which is being diverted to the UK, taking advantage of the delay in imposing border checks – which should have started this October.

According to one "leading supplier", a normal animal that goes to slaughter weighs around 85kg and the cost of producing it is around 160p a kilo. But UK producers are being undercut by European prices. Some processors have been buying pigs at 75-80p a kilo. With these prices, British farmers could be losing £20,000 a week.

Meryl Ward, who runs a family farm in Lincolnshire, is cited, saying that retailers' shelves are being filled by foreign-imported pork that doesn't meet our welfare standards. And this, as much as the fabled abattoir worker shortage, might be the reason why pigs are backed up on farms.

Pig farmers, however, don't seem to be getting any sympathy from environment secretary George Eustice. He suggests that they might have to slash their prices in the short term, to clear the backlog. Yet, if there really is an abattoir labour shortage, it is not clear how this can have any effect.

Then, sneaking under the radar is yet another problem, reported recently in The Times - the perennial shortage of vets. This has arch-villains Eville & Jones whingeing about the "big challenges" for the supply and trading of meat next year if English-language requirements for overseas vets are not relaxed.

Charles Hartwell, chief executive of the company, which has a contract to supply vets to abattoirs in England and Wales, says he was "just about managing" to keep up with demand after the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) scrapped an English test exemption for European Union vets.

The RCVS said this week that it would make it easier for overseas vets to pass the test. It has also temporarily relaxed the requirements to a greater extent for abattoir vets. However, Hartwell said it needed to go further to avoid disruption to food supply chains next year. If the language requirements were not permanently made easier, then the country would not be able to recruit abattoir vets, he said.

Thus, Harwell is looking to perpetuate the situation where cheap foreign vets are used in British abattoirs to enforce British law, who can't even speak English properly. Once might ask of Johnson, in what way does this signify that Brexit has been "done"?

Such is the shortage of vets, though, that in the Veterinary Times we see a report that many practitioners have reached a "breaking point". Writer Jordan Sinclair tells of "impossible" workloads, and fears that "many practices and ultimately, the whole profession, will implode".

Never fear though, Pizza takeaways are doing good business, as the Home Office spends £6,000 on Domino's pizzas to feed Channel migrants. At least, the government can claim, it is supporting British business. Who said Brexit was all bad?

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 09/10/2021 link

Energy: not even trying to succeed

08/10/2021  


Not for the first time am I regretting dropping my monitoring of and commentary on energy (and particularly electricity generation), in preference to covering Brexit.

But the complexity of energy as a subject has always presented a challenge and even had I given it more attention over the last decade, there is no guarantee that I would be much further forward in my understanding of current events, and especially the hike in gas prices that is causing so much concern.

Back in the day, though, when Cameron's idea of an energy policy was to turn a crisis into disaster, one prominent critic in the field was Oxford University's Dieter Helm, whom we followed closely.

While the piece to which I have linked was written in February 2010, a year earlier, Booker was writing on energy policy and, in particular, of the latter-day "dash for gas" which all the experts agreed was "crazy" when we were "fast running out of our own gas and prices are likely to soar".

In my my own blogpost, I noted that the shortfall in generating capacity was being made up by new-build combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants, observing that:
… in the absence of any strategic planning and coherent policy, the generation industry is getting on with the job, making up the shortfall in the best way it knows how. But it is taking a short-term view, with massive price implications and long-term penalties – although the increased capacity will probably ensure that at least the domestic lights are kept burning.
I then added:
This, of course, presupposes that we have security of supply on gas deliveries which, given the Russian situation and the political instability of our major LNG producers, is somewhat optimistic. It also depends on the provision of additional storage capacity, as we rely more and more on gas-fuelled generation. Again, that is by no means certain.
Helm joined the fray two months later, expressing reservations as to whether a supply of gas could be maintained. And, if it was, he suggested that there would be a very significant price penalty as more and more nations compete for available supplies.

Over the years, he has stayed the course and has recently been active on Twitter. Now he is complaining that the gas price hike represents a "big regulatory failure". For more detail, he directs us to a piece by John Authers on Bloomberg.com.

Authers long piece is headed "Gas Market's Wild Ride Shows Some Machiavellian Traits", with a sub-heading which asserts that: "The extraordinary surge in futures prices is a dangerous crisis that’s been fuelled by Russia and policy mistakes in western Europe". Illustrated by copious graphs, it makes compulsive reading if you're that way inclined.

Predictably, Helm is quoted extensively in the piece and, as a media-favoured pundit, he also features in an article by Ben Wright in the Telegraph which refers to yesterday's National Grid Winter Outlook Report which is being interpreted as warning that Britain is facing a greater risk of blackouts this winter.

It turns out though that Helm's input is covered in far more detail elsewhere, firstly in an independent Cost of Energy Review, published in October 2017, and then in a piece he wrote on 4 October, published on his own website, headed: "The gas and electricity crisis – causes, consequences".

In a quote used by Bloomberg's Authers, Helm writes of the failure of nine (so far) gas suppliers, who have bought gas on the spot market and are now unable to cover their costs as retail prices are capped. He says:
… it is remarkable that any supplier could hold a licence whilst being unable to meet its contractual obligations with customers under the price cap in the event of commodity price rises. There has been a big regulatory failure, and behind this lies the core issue of the reliance on spot real-time pricing and the relative absence of long-term contracts. This bears a remarkable resemblance to the failure of Northern Rock, which relied on spot market funding. The socialised cost of supplier failures may cost over £1 billion. The state – in the guise of the regulator – has to step in to make all customers pay. So much for the one-way bet of supplier competition.
But Helm also adds:
It is easy for ministers to pretend that the current gas price crisis is a shock that will go away, as demand responds to higher prices. Closing down a fertiliser factory does indeed reduce demand and in the process make other customers a bit more secure. But this simply illustrates that the distinction the Secretary of State makes between physical security of supplies and price is wholly bogus. There is always a price that makes supply equal demand. But that price is not necessarily optimal, and currently we are discovering how seriously suboptimal it can turn out to be.
As to the cause of the price rise, Helm disputes ministers' claims that this was the result of the "unexpected" global bounce-back from Covid-19. The "bounce" was anything but unexpected, he says.

As to the proximate cause, which has been attributed to Russia withholding supplies to Europe, he asks: "Did nobody see what was going on, as storage in Europe remained unfilled, the German election approached, and Biden engaged with the Ukrainian government?" He continues:
The Russian motivations surrounding Nord Stream 2 have always been in plain daylight for all to see. There have been repeated attempts to manipulate supplies through Ukraine since Putin came to power, and the Nord Stream pipelines have all the hallmarks of a Russian–German project bypassing the Baltic States and Poland, and deliberately isolating Ukraine. The EU failed to centralise its buyer bargaining power, as Donald Tusk once proposed, and allowed Russia to divide up the market and exploit its market power. Nothing unpredictable about all this.
For the UK, Helm says, "there are obvious implications". Despite the claims of ministers and officials, we are not decoupled from European gas markets as we once were with North Sea gas and storage facilities like Rough. Fast-track depletion and the closure of Rough in 2017 have changed the game. We now need European supplies, notably from Norway, and Norway is part of the European gas market". Thus, the European supply situation matters, and European prices profoundly influence the UK.

Even more surprising, Helm notes, ministers apparently believe that LNG is a good substitute and frees us from such concerns. But while we have indeed diversified supplies, not all supplies are equally secure. It turns out few are on anything other than a spot price basis. Ministers, Helm says, should have seen Gazprom and the associated problems coming and taken precautions. They clearly did not.

Summarising these aspects, before going on to look at other causal factors for the price spike, he asserts that the shock was predictable, Russia's conduct was predictable, and (in the absence of longer-term contracts and with little storage) relying overwhelmingly on spot markets, successive ministers and officials have been asleep at the wheel.

As a summary, I would not disagree with that. And that makes it another avoidable crisis to add to the growing list for which successive governments are responsible and which Johnson is failing to resolve. As such, this is becoming the persistent feature of his administration, but with a novel twist. Far from merely failing in its endeavours, it isn't even trying to succeed.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 08/10/2021 link
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