STRAIGHT TALKING April 2015
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
Please feel free to distribute this newsletter, or to quote from it. It is primarily written for euro-realists in the East Midlands, but may also be of interest to others concerned about the climate debate, or developments in the EU. If you receive the newsletter second-hand and want to go onto the e-mail list (or if you want to be deleted), please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org
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Nine days to make an impact!
Just nine days remaining to Election Day. After a slight wobble in the polls, the numbers are looking good. We need one last push to maximise the UKIP bridgehead in the next parliament. The more MPs we have, the more impact we can have on policy. Let’s go for it.
Political correctness is utterly humourless
During my long political career, I’ve learned that it is unwise to venture into humour on social media. Our politically-correct opponents simply fail to recognise humour, and treat a light-hearted or ironic remark as though it were intended in all seriousness. When the debate on badger culling broke out several years ago, I Tweeted “At least one good thing about the badger cull – it should bring down the exorbitant price of shaving brushes”.
This was immediately subjected to forensic analysis by the monstrous regiment of animal rights loonies. Surely I know that there were alternative materials for bristles? Wasn’t it wicked to exploit dead animals to provide luxury toilet accessories? (No, is the answer). Anyway, surely someone on an MEP’s salary could afford beaver bristles, even if they cost a little more? How could an MEP be so heartless? And on and on. I wanted to shake these idiots by the scruff of the neck and shout “Lighten up”
On the BBC Daily Politics Show on Monday April 20th, Andrew Neil asked me about the quote (to be fair, he was introducing the broader topic of the badger cull). I was able to point to the po-faced nature of the criticism – and to affirm my support for the dairy industry.
So I probably won’t Tweet about a mug I saw offered for sale in my local Jaguar dealer. It read “V8. I’m doing my bit for Global Warming”. It’s on my desk as I type.
And another example – the Indy
If badgers get the animal right lot hot under the collar, for the Indy it’s Global Warming. And Earth Hour.
Like so many people up and down the country, I’m exasperated by the automatic genuflection to the new religion of climate change (even though there’s been no Global Warming for eighteen years). So when I heard about “Earth Hour”, that futile political gesture on March 28th “to draw attention to climate change” by turning off the lights, I let off a humorous and cathartic blast on Twitter: “Strike a blow against Climate Hysteria. Turn all your lights on for “Earth Hour”.
Only the Independent (that least independent of newspapers) could report this as “instigating a less-than-successful boycott”. They even quoted a Twitter comment from SuzanneM that if everyone in the UK had followed my suggestion, it would have cost the country �198,000. No it wouldn’t, Suzanne. It would have cost each householder coppers, and many might think it worth it to protest against an absurd piece of gesture politics.
Vindication from Canada
Just after this minor contretemps with the Indy, I came across a beautifully argued polemic from distinguished environmental economist Professor Ross McKtitrick of the University of Guelph. He was one of the two (with Steve Mcintyre) who comprehensively debunked Michael Mann’s famous “Hockey Stick” graph, which was trotted out as proof of catastrophic Global Warming in early IPCC reports, but has now been abandoned. Mcintyre & McKitrick showed that the algorithm that Moore used would produce a hockey stick pattern even from random data.
McKitrick condemns “Earth Hour” as “a celebration of ignorance, poverty and backwardness”. In my humble opinion, he’s not wrong.
The FAC is running a quite elaborate campaign warning against investment scams. This is especially timely when the new rules allowing cashing of pensions are coming in. But I wonder if they’re making it too complicated.
I am neither qualified nor authorised to offer financial advice, but nonetheless, a piece of homespun wisdom: Never buy anything based on a cold call. Anything at all. Much less an investment product.
Immigration and productivity
Economists are constantly lamenting the UK’s poor productivity performance. It lags behind most of our major competitors.
I remember years ago when I was running a textile business in Leicester, I faced a straightforward investment decision. Should I buy an automated packing machine for the end of the line, which would have replaced four operatives? Or not? The sums didn’t quite add up, I couldn’t make the investment case, so the operatives stayed, and we didn’t buy the machine. If we had bought it, our productivity (output per capita) would have improved, and our employment level decreased.
It is easy to see how wage levels affect these decisions. It was a close call, and if wages had been a little higher, it would have been worth buying the machine. So if (as we know is happening) mass immigration, including many unskilled workers, is causing wage compression, it may be more attractive to use labour rather than automation for a range of activities. The effect: more jobs, but lower wages and lower productivity. I am forced to ask: is mass immigration a cause of Britain’s relatively low productivity?
I wrote a blog recently on the unintended consequences of ill-considered legislation. Here’s another example. We were invited to vote on the EU Commission’s proposal to cap the percentage fees charged to retailers by credit card companies. Wonderful. Bash the big corporations – help the small retailer and the consumer. Who could argue with that?
We could. And we did (though of course we lost the vote, and it went through). But to understand why, here are a couple of useful third-party quotes, following the news that Capital One cardholders in the UK will lose cashback rewards:
Capping interchange fees has been tried in some countries around the world. Despite claims that these efforts were for the benefit of consumers, the real world results have shown the opposite to be true. In every instance, consumers faced higher fees for banking services, a reduction in benefits and services and saw no return in the form of lower prices from merchants, despite promises by merchants and policy makers to pass savings to consumers. — Excerpt from the International Alliance for Electronic Payments’ November 15, 2014 letter accompanying a petition of 75,000 European consumers to the EU government
“This is a classic case of regulators, in this case European, trying to act with the consumer in mind, only for the policy to come back to bite the very people it was supposed to help.” — Moneysupermarket expert Kevin Mountford April 11, 2015.
As I said in my blog, regulatory interventions in market pricing almost invariably have perverse consequences.
On April 14th I was asked by a student from Nottingham Trent University for a comment on UKIP’s position on immigration, and particularly the effect of immigration on housing. I replied as follows:
UKIP is not “against immigration”, nor “against immigrants”. But we are against uncontrolled immigration, and against the politicians who deliberately engineered mass immigration.
We believe that mass immigration places undue pressure on social cohesion and social infrastructure – especially on hospitals, housing and schools. Last year there were roughly 300,000 net immigrants to the UK, and 140,000 housing completions. It would not be far-fetched to say that at least half of those new houses would have been needed to house the immigrants (depending on occupancy).
It is therefore a plain and incontrovertible fact that mass immigration has a major impact on housing.
UKIP proposes an Australian-style points system based on numbers and skills, not on nationality or ethnicity, and we specifically exclude any bias in favour of so-called “European citizens”. We believe that the present immigration system, in effect if not in intent, is discriminatory, in that it is biased in favour of (generally white) Europeans, and against (for example) Commonwealth citizens. Our objective is to bring down net immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.
The Labour MEP who described me as a “climate denier”
At a recent Tripartite Meeting (which I was unable to attend), Labour MEP Theresa Griffin repeatedly described me as a “climate change denier”. But the fact is that I have never denied that the climate changes, and I have publicly and repeatedly asserted that anyone who takes that view is either ignorant or stupid – or perhaps both. Her remarks were therefore deliberately false and misleading, and appeared to have been intended to be defamatory. I courteously invited her to withdraw them, and to apologise. She sent this response:
I will not withdraw comments made at the tripartite meeting two weeks ago, as far as I am concerned I used the phrase “climate change denier” in its widely accepted definition for somebody who denies that climate change is accelerated greatly by the actions of man.
Sadly, your record and opinions on this issue have made me come to the conclusion that you fall into this category.
Many thanks, Theresa Griffin
So here we have a Labour MP who is prepared to justify telling lies on the basis that lots of other people do so too. You have been warned.
Oh the irony of it!
I was out canvassing in April with a group of UKIP activists. One of them knocked on a front door, but before he could open his mouth, the householder said “I want nothing to do with UKIP. You’re all racists”.
The activist concerned was a man of Arabic heritage who was born in Palestine. You couldn’t make it up.
An advertising contretemps
When I was learning the marketing trade in the late sixties, advertising companies were very careful to avoid uncomfortable juxtapositions between competing commercials in the same break. That understanding seems to have broken down.
Recently listening to Classic FM, I heard one commercial for estate agent Prime Location, which concluded in a mellifluous tone “Find the home you deserve”. Immediately followed by a much harsher voice: “New homes can be full of nasty surprises”. The second ad was from the Government’s Money Advice Service, urging first time buyers to make sure they could afford all the expenses of home ownership.
Both advertisers had perfectly sensible and legitimate things to say. But the juxtaposition of the two contrasting thoughts was striking. If I were Prime Location, I’d be having harsh words with Classic FM.
Parliament votes draft opinion on TTIP
There’s been a lot of rather paranoid speculation about the proposed USA/EU trade deal TTIP, with wild assertions about its possible impact on the NHS, and the effect of the investor/state dispute settlement procedure (ISDS). The first thing to understand is that there is currently no text on the table, so no one knows for sure what will be in it. But UKIP MEPs in parliament (and indeed many other people) have made it clear to the European Commission that we will not accept any outcome that adversely affects the NHS, or represents a threat to democratic decision-making.
We are also clear that we should prefer the UK to be out of the EU altogether, and to be negotiating our own bilateral UK/USA trade deal . Indeed my view is that but for our EU membership, we should have had such a deal decades ago – it’s a no-brainer.
However we are where we are, and as long as we’re in the EU, the only options are a deal negotiated by Brussels, or no deal at all (and indeed “no deal at all” may not be an option either). UKIP is a broadly libertarian party that is in favour of free trade, and it would be perverse to oppose a transatlantic trade deal just because we currently find ourselves (regrettably) in the EU.
Remember also that the EU already has free trade deals with dozens of countries around the world, and we expect these deals to be “grandfathered” to the UK after Brexit – although then we shall be free to seek to renegotiate the terms on our own account. But on balance these deals represent a benefit for the UK economy, growth and jobs.
So my position is clear: I shall support the negotiations (always with the caveat that I’d rather we were negotiating independently) and I will vigorously oppose any measures that might damage our NHS or other UK interests. But I certainly will not oppose TTIP in a thoughtless, knee-jerk way, as some of the correspondence I receive seems to want.
Dolce & Gabbana
An awful lot of people (especially on Planet Celebrity) seem to be gravely offended by the criticism directed by Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana against same-sex adoption, and particularly against Elton John’s children, whom they describe as “synthetic” (their word, not mine). This despite the fact that Stefano Gabbana himself is reportedly homosexual. There is talk for a boycott, with Hollywood stars insisting they will never wear Dolce & Gabbana again.
I see that someone on Twitter was wondering if all these people were equally offended when terrorists from the ISIS death cult killed gay men by throwing them off roof-tops. It’s a good question. Certainly they don’t seem to have made so much noise about it.
Into the Lions’ Den
On Thursday March 26th I stood in for Transport Spokesman Jill Seymour MEP at a hustings event at the Institute of Civil Engineers, at One Great George Street, just off Parliament Square.
The event was organised by the RCEA, the Railway Civil Engineers’ Association www.rcea.org.uk. The other speakers on the panel were all Transport Specialists. Labour had fielded Tony McNulty, a former Labour Minister for London, where he’d been close to Crossrail and other rail projects. The Tories put up Stephen Hammond, a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport. For the Lib-Dems, we had transport spokesman Lord (Bill) Bradshaw. Even the Greens had sent their transport spokesman, Cllr Caroline Russell (who seemed to want a railway terminus in every village in England).
So, a middle-to-heavyweight team of transport experts. And an audience of railway engineers, every one of whom knew a great deal more about the railways that I do. I had been well-briefed by Jill, and by Mary-Ellen Synon from the Brussels Press Office, but nonetheless I faced the event with some trepidation. As it turned out, I need not have worried. Though I say it myself (no false modesty here!) I managed to keep my end up amongst the experts.
My rationale for our opposition to HS2 had a number of heads nodding in the audience. Asked if UKIP was unhappy about transport links to the continent, I replied “Not at all. I’ve just travelled to London on Eurostar. And I’ll let you in to a well-kept secret — there is no truth in the rumour that UKIP wants to blow up the Channel Tunnel”.
And on the question of the availability of engineering graduates for the industry, while the others mostly talked about apprenticeships, I was able to make a couple of extra points. UKIP would focus tertiary educational support on disciplines with a direct economic impact — like engineering. And getting in a quick pitch for our immigration policy, I asked “Which would do more for your industry? A couple of unskilled Eastern Europeans? Or a highly-qualified civil engineer from the Commonwealth?”
Wrong call, you guys at Open Europe
Open Europe, usually a half-way reliable organisation, has come up with the most extraordinary proposition about Brexit. They estimate that EU regulation costs the UK �33 billion a year. However, they say, if we were to leave and adopt the Norway option, we would still suffer 90% of these costs, with no say in making the rules (though as an MEP, I can tell you – we have pretty little say at the moment). Therefore we can rule out Brexit. The best option is to stay in and renegotiate. This despite the fact that we have now talked about renegotiating for forty years with any success – and despite the fact that the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has stated in clear terms that no significant changes or exceptions to the Treaties can be contemplated.
Have you spotted the vast and unacceptable implicit – or rather, explicit – assumption on which this preposterous claim is based? “If we adopt the Norway option”.
The fact is that Norway operates in a kind of ante-room to the EU – a no-mans-land where they arguably get the worst of both worlds. Most importantly, they have accepted the EU’s free movement rules, which is one of the major provisions that we want out of. Can you imagine going to the British people and saying “OK guys. We’ve left the EU. But we’re still subject to their free movement rules, and unlimited numbers of unskilled Eastern Europeans can still come to our country”?
Open Europe has made a great case against the Norway option. What it has failed to make is a case against Brexit.
We don’t want to sit in the EU’s ante-room. We don’t want the Norway option. We simply want the UK to be a free, independent, democratic, self-governing nation. We want free trade with Europe (as dozens of other countries around the world have), and we want voluntary inter-governmental cooperation. But we don’t want supranational institutions in foreign countries telling is what to do, and over-ruling our elected parliament.
The Telegraph quotes Pawel Swidlicki, a policy analyst at Open Europe, saying “Adopting a free trade relationship would leave Britain more rather than less vulnerable to red tape, because Norway has no voting powers over EU rules”. Oh yes, Pawel. The same way that the USA, Canada or Korea are subject to EU red tape?
The futility of EU climate policy … again
On Friday March 13th I spent a day with the aluminium industry, first at Alcoa in Kitts Green, Birmingham and later with Bridgnorth Aluminium — unsurprisingly, in Bridgnorth.
Since following up on former Commissioner Antonio Tajani’s claim that “we are creating an industrial massacre in Europe” (with energy prices), I’ve been horrified to see the extent of the damage. Europe has lost more than a third of its smelting capacity in the last eight years, at a time when the market for aluminium is growing. The slack is taken up by imports — which is bad for our balance of payments, and for jobs and investment in Britain. But arguably it’s also bad for global emissions too (if that worries you).
As I mentioned in my recent Conference speech, both the major UK smelters have closed, at Lynemouth in the North East, and in Anglesey. As a result, Bridgnorth Aluminium can no longer source the mighty several-ton slabs they need from the UK. Nor are they prepared to import them, because handling and lead-times create serious problems. So they import smaller ingots, and have to melt the ingots down into slabs before they can use them.
Normally, the slabs are the direct product of the smelting process. To take ingots (already smelted) and melt them again is an extra process using a great deal more energy, and creating extra emissions.
So as a direct result of EU policy, we have plants closed; jobs lost; balance of payments worsened. But also, for Bridgnorth, we have extra costs, extra emissions, competitiveness undermined. This is a lose-lose-lose policy, put in place by politicians who are keen to posture as saviours of the environment, but have no idea at all of the unintended consequences and perverse incentives they create.
Recycling: One of my cherished ideas was shot down on the visit. I had entertained the thought that maybe some of the aluminium drinks cans that I routinely collect from the verges of the lanes on country walks might have ended up in the aluminium body of my XKR. But it was not to be. Recycled aluminium has different uses depending on the source and the other metals in the alloy. And it seems that recycled drinks cans are only good for new drinks cans, not XKRs.
Home truths on Foreign Aid
Back in the Olden Days – or at least last month – journalist Ian Birrell wrote the most magnificent polemic against the Foreign Aid Bill, which commits 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid in perpetuity – despite the fact that we seem unable to back our existing NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Mr. Birrell is a master of the telling phrase. “It’s easy to be generous with other people’s money”. “Fraudulent clich�s about how the supposed fight on global poverty benefits Britain”. “Supporting highly dubious schemes abroad so that politicians can cloak themselves in compassion”. “Aid is fostering conflict, fuelling corruption, shoring up blood-stained r�gimes and undermining democracy”. “A self-aggrandising aid lobby, which feasts on the profits of poverty despite the failure of its projects”. “Capitalism and consumerism are pulling millions out of poverty, not all these pontificating Western charities”. “Preening politicians proclaiming their benevolence to the poor”.
But Mr. Birrell gets it wrong on one point. He says that the Foreign Aid law is “perhaps the stupidest piece of legislation since the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991”. No Ian. That accolade goes to the 2008 Climate Change Act.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org