Demand Affordable Energy!
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This month sees the launch of a “European Citizens Initiative” (ECI), demanding the suspension of the EU’s Climate and Energy Package, at least until other major economies like the USA, China and India sign up to similar measures. This is the Package that imposes eye-watering targets for renewables. It’s the reason why our government is covering the countryside with wind turbines.
It’s also driving up the cost of energy, undermining competitiveness, forcing energy-intensive businesses off-shore, taking their jobs and investment with them — and it’s forcing households and pensioners into fuel poverty.
The ECI amounts to a web-based petition, needing a million signatures across Europe (including 54,000 in the UK). If successful, it requires the European Commission to conduct hearings, and to issue a formal response. Sadly, it doesn’t force them to act, but it will hugely raise the profile of the issue and put great pressure on them.
Please visit www.affordable-energy.eu and sign up now — and forward this message to your e-mail list!
Cameron’s speech: Delayed again.
Cameron was right to postpone his big EU speech from last Friday while he dealt with the unfolding events from Algeria. The sympathy of all decent people will go out to the victims, the hostages and their families. This is no subject for flippancy: it was outrageous that Sir Graham Watson MEP, Leader of the Liberal Group in the European parliament, saw fit to Tweet: “Al Qaeda 1: Cameron Nil”.
Nonetheless, I suspect there may have been a sigh of relief in Downing Street when they realised that the proposed speech could not go ahead. I’m sure that Cameron had realised long ago that his speech would not please everyone. But the awful truth is now dawning on him: it will please no one, and probably alienate everyone. Eurosceptics want an In/Out Referendum now. Europhiles don’t want a referendum at all. And Michael Heseltine is right about one thing: an extended renegotiation leading to a referendum in five years time will indeed create damaging uncertainty. The nation is minded to look again at our EU membership, so the sooner we get on with it, the better.
The broad outline of the speech (when it comes) seems pretty predictable. He’s going to propose negotiations to repatriate powers from Brussels — we’ll see how specific he dares to be on which powers, and how closely he’ll stick to the Fresh Start Group’s shopping list. He’ll then promise a referendum where the options will be (A) His renegotiated settlement; or (B) Leaving the EU. We’ve been here before, of course. This is more or less what Harold Wilson did in 1975. His concessions from Brussels were fairly nugatory, and are long forgotten. I doubt if Dave will do much better.
Dave has pretty much abandoned the only threat which might extract concessions from Brussels — the threat of leaving the EU. But the referendum proposal is a poor substitute. He’ll say “Unless I have concessions, the people may vote against membership”. I can imagine him at the close of fraught negotiations, somewhere around three in the morning, saying “Please guys — you have to give me something — anything — that I can take home, and spin as ‛Game Set and Match for Britain’”.
He’s taking a big risk. Of course if he were to get major concessions, some voters who now say they’ll vote OUT would change their minds. But I don’t think he’ll get those concessions. He’ll get little or nothing, which will anger the media and the voters, who will then be even more determined to vote OUT. This could be good. But before we get excited, let’s remember that right now, the Conservatives seem to have little chance of winning a majority in 2015. And I don’t think a promise of a referendum in 2018, on a question yet to be decided, is going to swing the 2015 General Election for them. Sorry, Dave, but we just don’t trust you on referendums any more.
Europe: The Big Lie
As the pro-EU forces start their campaign, there is one huge lie we shall hear again and again. It comes in slightly different forms, but we’re already hearing it daily: “50% of British exports depend on the EU”. “Leaving the EU would damage our trade”. “Three and a half million jobs depend on EU membership”. I’d like to say that this is an honest mistake by the pro side. But the facts are well known.
In 1999, the National Institute of Economic & Social Research, NIESR, published a report which said that 3½ million jobs depended on trade with the EU. This was immediately jumped on by pro-Europeans, like Robin Cook (remember him?) and others. But they said the jobs depended on membership of the EU. It may seem a subtle point, but the meaning is totally different. It may be true that 3½ million jobs depend on trade with the EU — but if so, around 5 million continental jobs depend on trade with the UK. The only jobs that depend on membership of the EU are mine — and Baroness Cathy Ashton’s. I can’t speak for her, but for myself, I’d be very relaxed about losing it.
The NIESR Director at the time, Dr. Martin Weale, described the use of his report and his number as “pure Goebbels”. But of course the lie was half-way round the world before the truth had its boots on. And the lie has been deliberately repeated ever since, most recently by Clegg and Miliband. Read it here.
They will try relentlessly to argue that trade depends on membership, but that’s simply nonsense. When we leave the EU, we will have a free trade agreement, for two reasons. First, because it’s overwhelmingly in the interests of both parties (the EU certainly can’t afford to put at risk those 5 million jobs), and second because the Treaties explicitly require the EU institutions to negotiate such a deal with a member-state that leaves.
When we leave the EU, we will retain our trade with Europe, but we will be much better placed to develop trade with the rest of the world, where the growth is. Let’s keep repeating the truth: that independence for Britain will be good for trade, good for jobs, good for exports.
Influence in Europe?
Now that a real debate is starting on the UK and the EU, we’ll keep hearing about “loss of influence” when we leave. But let’s recall that we have around an 8% say at the moment in the EU, which will decline as new countries join. And we’re subject to majority voting. Because liberal economics and free markets are minority concepts in Europe, we’ll always be out-voted. My day-to-day experience in Brussels is that the UK in fact has very little influence. Cameron calls for limited repatriation of powers, and instead of entering a debate, EU leaders queue up to say No.
Around 75% of our new laws are made in Brussels. So which influence is more important? A foot-note in the deliberations in Brussels? Or the democratic right to make 100% of our own laws?
I recently Tweeted (@RogerHelmerMEP) “We’d have more influence as an independent nation than as an off-shore province”. There’s a parallel here with the Tory MEP delegation, which used to be in the federalist EPP group. They heard dreadful warnings about their “loss of influence” if they left to form a new group. Yet they were routinely ignored while in the EPP. Now they’ve formed a new group, the EPP does have to seek their support from time to time. You tend to have more respect for independent actors than for people you can control.
And another Big Lie: UKIP’s “isolationist” foreign policy
We’ve allowed Europhiles to characterise EU membership as modern and internationalist. So by extension, anyone who opposes EU membership is backward-looking and isolationist. Recently I’ve seen several references to “UKIP’s isolationist foreign policy”.
It’s the EU that is inward-looking, self-referential, protectionist, over-governed, over-borrowed, over-regulated, over-taxed. UKIP wants to leave the EU not only because we favour independence and democracy, but because we believe the EU’s old-fashioned Customs Union model is sub-optimal and damaging. We want to be able to establish normal trading relations with the rest of the world, free from the dead hand of Brussels.
On leaving the EU, there is every reason to believe that we will retain our trade with Europe, while enhancing our trade with the rest of the world. We especially believe we should work on trading links with the Anglosphere, where common language and shared history (and, to an extent, similar institutions) give us an edge. Far from isolationist, we believe in international trade and cooperation, which is restricted, not enhanced, by our status as an off-shore province in a statist, corporatist EU. Britain has for centuries been a great global trading nation: we want to restore that role.
Michael Howard: One. Ken Clarke: Nil.
“Prison Works”, declared Michael Howard. “Not sure it does”, answered Ken. And of course the hideous regiment of bleeding hearts and penal reformers was shocked rigid by Howard’s assessment.
I’ve followed these debates, however peripherally, for many years. The perennial call is for rehabilitation. Let’s take old lags into jail and turn them out after their sentences as model citizens.
Brilliant objective. The only problem is, no one has the first idea how to do it. When I worked in the commercial sector, the sacred principle of recruitment was, “The best guide to what a guy might do next is what he did before”. I’m afraid the same goes for old lags. When the man who has burgled a hundred houses is let out of jail, the betting is that he’ll go and burgle some more.
Of course we should all be in favour of finding new ways to rehabilitate criminals. The latest wheeze is “restorative justice”, for which great claims are made. If it works, fine. But don’t hold your breath.
So in what sense does “Prison Work”? It may be a deterrent. It may give some solace and redress to victims (or at least protect them from the offender for a few years). But the one unanswerable benefit of prison is this: If the guy’s in jail, he’s not out burgling. Many prolific offenders will commit several crimes a week. While they’re banged up, however, they can’t do that. And given the huge costs of offending in terms of police and court time, damage to person or property, and insurance, it may be cheaper to keep the offender behind bars than to let him out.
So it’s gratifying to see Justice Secretary Chris Grayling making exactly this point. “Don’t let hardened criminals out early” screams the headline. After the soft liberal approach of Grayling’s well-upholstered predecessor Ken Clarke, a little hard-headed realism is refreshing. Let’s hope that Grayling really means it, and is not just going for a populist headline.
Tory Party runs out of ideas
The Tory 2020 Group — who seem to think they’re the hot-shot blue-sky thinkers — have come up with a list of radical policy ideas that they hope may get into the next Conservative Manifesto.
Did I say “radical”? They’re billed as radical, but in fact they are marginal, vapid and unimaginative, from a party that seems to have run out of ideas. They’re scraping the barrel. They want to raise the retirement age, and get more disabled people into work. Fine, but I thought they were doing that already? They want to change school hours and have new exams in the holidays. Extend mortgage repayment periods. Adjust welfare payments to reflect regional costs.
Where are the radical supply-side reforms? Simplification of the tax system? Deregulation? A growth strategy? Infrastructure investment? Action on immigration? And on Europe? We need breakthrough policies in these areas. They’re fiddling at the margin — and fiddling while the economy stagnates. Must try harder. But former Tory voters who’re fed up with the lack of vision from the party do have an alternative. Many will take it in local elections this year, the Euro-elections next year, the General Election in 2015.
Should Shakespeare become a “European Laureate”?
Last week I wrote about this proposal. So far the reactions are split between “Vote Against” and “Abstain”. Any more comments would be welcome.
Quote of the Month
Janet Daley in the Sunday Telegraph, Jan 6th
“There is nothing intrinsically modern about the totemic modernising issues — green policies, gay marriage, international aid. They are simply the preoccupations of a specialised metropolitan élite, which takes pride in regarding the anxieties of the great mass of the population with contempt. To adopt these issues as political priorities is modern only in the disreputable sense: it is designed to indicate that you have embraced the fashionable snobbery — a kind of post-democratic chic in which the concerns of ordinary people are unworthy or unenlightened”.
(Or as Cameron might put it, “pretty odd”).
Quote of the Month 2
Liam Fox on same-sex marriage: “The principle of altering the accepted legal status of the majority of the population in order to satisfy what appears to be a very small, if vocal, minority, is not a good basis on which to build a tolerant and stable society”.
Tax credits and moral hazard
One of the few good things that this government is doing is to try to get a grip on Britain’s soar-away welfare bills, and its plan to cap annual increases in welfare to 1% nominal (a small cut in real terms) is a first step in that direction. Labour is rushing to point out that this will hit not only those who have opted for a welfare as a lifestyle choice — those who, as George Osborne says, are lying in bed behind closed curtains while their neighbours set off to work — but also those on low wages, who currently receive Gordon Brown’s “tax credits”. These, so far as I can see, are a sort of negative income tax for the low-paid.
I am constantly appalled by the way socialists and leftists fail to realise that changes in government rules or provisions result in changes in behaviour, and that those changes may have perverse effects. The example I love to quote is taxes, where higher tax rates cause tax-payers to change their behaviour (and sometimes their address), so that the predicted increases in revenue are not realised.
But tax credits also have perverse effects. If an employer knows that low wages will be topped up by government tax credits, then he has no incentive to pay higher wages. His rational economic choice is to let the government pay. Equally, the employee will be prepared to accept lower pay if she knows that she’ll get a government top-up. So the system provides incentives for both sides of the deal — employer and employee — to tolerate lower wages. And the left responds by campaigning for a “living wage”.
Meantime Labour proposes that all long-term unemployed should be offered a six month contract. By whom, one wonders? Where will these jobs come from? Ed Balls says that growth is a priority. Let me offer you a new insight, Ed. You get growth by lowering taxes. Not by raising them to pay for headline-grabbing government gimmicks.
Health Fascists in Westminster
Normally I have a lot of time for Westminster Council, who have done some sensible and practical things, and been pioneers in a number of areas. But their latest idea is an astonishing intrusion into the liberty and autonomy of the citizen. It is, quite simply, an unwarranted attack on individual freedom and responsibility. They are actually proposing financial penalties for the overweight. Strictly speaking, I should say for the overweight poor, since their mechanism is to dock welfare payments. If you’re too well-off for welfare, you can be as obese as you like.
They argue that “lifestyle choices” — like biscuit barrels and obesity — impose costs on society, so they should take coercive measures to address the problem. They’re right on the premise — obesity does impose huge costs on society. But they’re wrong on the prescription.
Many people do many things that potentially impose costs on society. Motorcyclists have lots of accidents. That costs the NHS, too. So ban motorcycles? And while we’re at it, should we bring back the Red Flag Act, and have a man with a warning flag walking in front of every motor car, to cut accidents? Ban shell-fish because of food poisoning? We’ve practically banned smoking, but should we ban drinking too? Ban swimming in the sea, because of the costs it imposes on rescue services? And mountaineering? And hang-gliding? Where does it stop?
You may think I’m being alarmist. But it was this same Westminster Council that proposed to ban rare and medium-rare burgers (and steaks) in restaurants, for health reasons.
Just because politicians are elected, that doesn’t mean that they should have unlimited power to interfere in every detail of our lives. They may think it’s for our own good. But many of us will think that freedom is more important than nannying — and that we have the right to take moderate risks. All together now: “Westminster Council: Back Off! None of your damn business”.
Security: “Any Liquids?”
Passenger: “No, but if you’re offering, I’ll have a whisky”.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org