STRAIGHT TALKING January 2014
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 on email@example.com
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The EU debate hots up!
95 Tory MPs have told Cameron they want the right to block new EU rules – and repeal old ones (though that virtually amounts to leaving the EU – and a good thing too). William Hague tells them it’s unrealistic, and he’s right, so long as we’re EU members. He wants a “Red Card” system where ten member-state governments can block proposals. But the problem of getting ten to agree means it would be unworkable. And it’s the job of the Council to approve EU rules anyway, which is much the same thing.
But watch out for ideas like that – it’s just the sort of thing that Cameron might hope to get out of his renegotiation. He’ll present it as “Game, Set & Match for Britain”, when it fact it’s mere window dressing.
UKIP: Winning the energy debate
New developments vindicate UKIP policy positions
At last the coalition government has got serious about shale gas. As with their Hinkley Point nuclear decision, we approve in principle, though we have serious questions about the detail. But we’ve been arguing strongly for the benefits of shale gas (properly regulated) to our economy: jobs, tax revenues, energy security, and probably lower energy prices (see below).
We’re glad that they’ve finally got it right, even if they’re stealing our clothes.
And the Commission questions its renewables targets: Reportedly the Commission will next week outline new proposals which would drop its draconian renewables targets. They’re scared to death that European industry is being undermined by high energy prices – and they’re right. We’ve been saying so for years.
We’ve also been saying that if you want to cut CO2 emissions (not that we do), you should set emissions targets, not renewables targets. Defining a renewables target simply distorts the market towards some low-emissions technologies (wind & solar) and against others (like nuclear).
The Commission has also called on the British government to phase out wind farm subsidies, or face accusations of illegal “State Aids”. There’s a turn-up for the book.
Will shale gas lower energy costs?
Like Eeyore in Winnie-the-Pooh, it seems some people can never believe good news. I keep hearing from people who say they don’t believe that shale gas in the UK, even if extracted in commercial quantities, will ever lower energy prices. They say the benefits will go to foreign utilities, or shareholders, or fund managers — not to householders. Others with perhaps more knowledge of the EU’s trading rules point out that any UK gas will, in effect, be sold into a Europe-wide gas market. UK production, though potentially large, may not be enough to have a major impact on pricing in Europe (though don’t forget that other EU countries are believed to have major reserves as well).
This is despite the dramatic effect which shale gas has had in the USA, cutting energy prices and kicking off an industrial renaissance. So it was good to read a new study showing that leading City fund managers generally believe that UK shale gas will indeed reduce prices.
But the pessimists are missing the point. Discovery and extraction of a major new energy resource in the UK will create massive value. How that value gets divided up will depend on how we manage it, and what trading and tax rules apply. But there will be new jobs, new businesses, wages to employees, business for the supply chain, tax revenues for the Treasury, a massive boost for the UK balance of payments. If gas companies make massive profits by extracting cheap gas and selling at high EU prices, I daresay that the Treasury will look to some kind of windfall tax, as it did with North Sea Oil. We shall all be better off. There may well be (and I, and City fund managers, believe there will be) lower energy prices as well.
Shale gas can ensure the UK’s energy security and provide a massive, long-term boost to our economy. Politicians have a duty to clear the way and get on with it. Anything less would be deeply irresponsible.
Misconceptions and prejudices
Recently I had someone on Twitter taking me to task for using a circumflex accent in the word “rôle”. “Haha, going native?” they asked.
This comment may be trivial, but it illustrates a misconception which is all too widespread. If you’re a Eurosceptic, you must also be a xenophobe. You must hate foreigners, and foreign languages, and foreign culture. You must oppose international cooperation (and perhaps trade?). You must build protectionist barriers, and ideally put up a wall around the UK to keep it pure. Oh, and let’s blow up the Channel Tunnel, while we’re at it. Above all, never use a circumflex accent. It’s too – well – French!
You might think that this attitude would crumble under the weight of its own absurdity. But it’s remarkably resilient. It crops up again and again, and each time we have to knock it down.
For a start, given that English is now the undisputed Number One language in the world, we might at least have the good grace to show a decent respect for other people’s languages – especially as so many of our English words are derived from foreign languages in the first place. It’s difficult to think of an English word that isn’t derived one way or the other from a foreign language (except perhaps “selfie”?).
In my office in recent months I’ve had three “foreigners” working – an Italian, an Irish girl and an American. Not bad for a “xenophobic” Eurosceptic. I love German and Austrian music, and Italian opera (and textiles). And South American wines. And Swiss watches. And American software. I drive a British car, but the company is owned by Indians.
We live in a globalised economy, and we live by trade. Britain has been, and must continue to be, a great global trading nation. That’s not an argument in favour of EU membership. On the contrary, it’s a powerful argument for looking beyond the borders of a declining Europe to the vibrant economies elsewhere in the world, where the growth is (and including a large part of the Anglosphere). We, not the Little Europeans, are the true internationalists.
So if we love foreign products and cultures, what is our problem with the EU? It’s a problem of governance. It’s that we also love freedom and democracy and self-determination. There’s much to appreciate in Europe in terms of trading partnerships and tourism and culture. But we choose not to be governed by anti-democratic foreign institutions where we have no control and little influence.
My Written Question to the European Commission
The Commission will have seen press reports indicating that some member-states, and especially Bulgaria and Romania, have been issuing their national passports to citizens of non-EU countries including Macedonia, Moldova, Turkey, Serbia and Ukraine. It is reported that tens of thousands of such passports have been issued by Bulgaria alone.
Is the Commission aware of these allegations? Does it believe they are true? Does it agree with me that if so, these member-states are making a mockery of the EU’s free movement rules, and undermining any pretence of EU border controls? What action will the Commission take to address this problem? Does the Commission agree with me that existing member-states should be able to close their borders to immigrants from the countries implicated until the matter is investigated and resolved?
Elderly care – solution postponed
We’ve heard a lot recently about the problems of elderly people forced to sell their houses to fund their care in old age. Most political parties agree that something must be done, and the government raised hopes with its Dilnot Report. This proposed setting a cap for elderly care spending of £35,000, after which the state would pay. It also wanted to raise the limit at which means testing should apply from £23,000 to £100,000.
The costs of this proposal were too high in a time of economic stringency, so the government instead set a figure of £72,000. But recent reports suggest that even this may be a serious underestimate. It does not include the “hotel and accommodation” element of care, which would only cover the strictly medical and nursing aspects. So while an elderly person is spending their £72,000 on care, and waiting for government help to kick in, they are also spending on bed’n’breakfast costs. So they could have burned through £150,000 while waiting for the state to step in.
Bear in mind that many elderly people are married, so the cost for two could be £300,000. I suspect that there are rather few elderly couples who have £300,000 available in savings. So it seems we’re back to selling the house, which was the one thing the government was trying to avoid. There is one thing worse than having the government ignoring a problem, and that is the government promising a solution, but failing to deliver.
I hate to disagree with Prince Charles
I love his views on architecture. I applaud his skill with watercolours. I can cope with his talking to plants. But I’m afraid he’s wrong when he says “We can’t afford to ignore climate change”. First of all, there hasn’t been any Global Warming for nearly two decades, and the theory of man-made climate change is looking increasingly threadbare. Second, countries around the world are building coal-fired power station like they were going out of style. Emissions will go up whatever we do: get used to it.
Then there is growing evidence that the things His Royal Highness wants us to do — like renewable energy — don’t actually reduce emissions significantly anyway, as readers of my blog will be well aware.
And renewables are ruinously expensive. Literally billions of pounds. Check your electricity bill — that’s the cost of “fighting climate change”. We’re forcing pensioners into fuel poverty. We’re forcing businesses aboard, often to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards — so potentially increasing emissions. We’re ruining our economy and mortgaging our children, based on speculative science, and technology that doesn’t deliver.
So, Your Royal Highness, it’s not that we can’t afford to ignore climate change. It’s that we can’t afford the vastly expensive — but futile — policies designed to do something about it.
So which party is feckless and irresponsible, Anna?
The Tories have always tried to paint UKIP as a wild bunch of “cranks and gadflies”, unable to take a serious approach to politics. And to be fair, we are an insurgent party, and insurgent parties tend to attract colourful characters and a swashbuckling style. Recently, however, it’s clear that it’s the Tory Party being blown hither and yon by events, and by focus groups, and opinion polls, and the Lib-Dems. UKIP, by contrast, is clear and principled. Broadly libertarian (but not extremist about it) we have a strong and principled commitment to freedom, democracy, self-government and independence, as well as to free trade and international cooperation. We see Britain as a great global trading nation whose best days lie ahead — not as an off-shore province in a country called Europe.
Unlike the Tories, we have clear and rational (and popular) policies on the EU, on energy, on immigration and a host of other areas.
If we wanted proof that the Tory Party has lost its way, surely it was furnished by Anna Soubry MP, a Tory MP on my East Midlands patch. On a recent morning television show (way before the watershed) she came up with a comment so obscene and objectionable that I’m not prepared to repeat it in a newsletter designed for family reading around the fireside — but you can find it here.
This woman is a Conservative minister in this Tory-led government. And as I write, she has not yet been sacked. Time for an “interview without coffee” in the Whips’ Office, Anna.
During December, I became aware of photos on Twitter where my head had been photo-shopped into other pictures — for example, onto a jockey jumping a fence. Or in one case Anne Widdecombe had been photo-shopped into a car with me, with her head on my shoulder. These photos were somewhere between amusing and silly, but we politicians can’t afford to be too pompous to laugh at ourselves, and I was happy to let them go.
It was a different matter when I came across a real photo of myself beside a Saint George’s flag — but the flag of St. George had been photo-shopped out and replaced with a Nazi banner, Swastika and all. This was beyond a joke. I took legal advice. It was clearly defamatory, and unacceptable. Colleagues assured me that no one would believe it was genuine — but I had one Tweet asking “Is that really you?”, so clearly someone thought it might be real.
A few minutes on the internet established the name of the guilty party, who seemed to be a schoolboy at a school in the East Midlands. I could of course give the name of the boy and the school, but perhaps it’s kinder to draw a veil of charity over the details. My UK office sent a photograph of the suspect to the Headmaster’s office, seeking confirmation that the lad was who we thought, and at the school. He was. And the Headmaster was particularly exercised because the photo showed the lad in school uniform, on school grounds, and making an obscene gesture at the camera.
The boy was summarily brought out of his classes to the Headmaster’s study for an “interview without coffee”. Confronted with the school-uniform photo, he burst into tears. The school then took him through his Twitter account, where the pictures I’ve described — including the swastika — came to light. I understand that the lad was seized with paroxysms of anxiety and remorse at this stage.
I believe I could have pursued the boy — and his parents — with an action for defamation, and sought exemplary damages. In the circumstances, however, I decided he’d learned his lesson. I’ve now received a letter admitting liability, apologising, and undertaking to remove the offending photos and to desist in future from any similar activity. At the suggestion of Paul Oakden, I have offered to go to the school to meet the lad and his class-mates, for a discussion about appropriate ways to express political dissent in a democratic society.
I should add, by the way, that if similar circumstances arise again, or if anyone publishes a similar image, I shall certainly be looking for exemplary damages.
There’s our Prime Minister, suddenly alarmed at the UKIP threat, especially in the context of the row over Bulgarian and Romanian immigration, especially now we’ve opened the borders. He’s trying to tighten the rules on immigration and welfare in ways that the European Commission says are contrary to EU law. If it gets to an ECJ ruling, will Cameron pay the fine?
And Dave tells us that it makes him physically sick to think of being forced to give jailed convicts the vote. We can only speculate how he must be agonising over the Commission’s decision to challenge the government’s (admittedly flawed) funding mechanism for Hinkley Point. The project could well be further delayed — or lost altogether.
It seems that our Prime Minister is just starting to understand the degree to which we’ve given up control of our own affairs — the degree to which our elected parliament has to stand aside while unelected judges rule on how we run our affairs. But he hasn’t quite grasped the fact that on all these issues (and a host of others) we’d be Better Off Out.
Reflections on the London Underground. And syntax.
Recently on the tube I heard the following statement. It was pre-recorded, and therefore presumably the object of mature reflection, not spur-of-the-moment: “All doors do not open at the next station. Please use other doors”. My son is equally bewildered by the request “Please use all available doors”. He finds he can only use one at a time.
Quotes of the month
I was struck recently by two totally unrelated quotations — unrelated, that is, except that they are linked by a random homophone.
Tolkein: “All the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as the slew, for the joy of battle was on them”. Jingle Bells: “Oh what fun it is to laugh and sing a sleighing song tonight”. I sure that the host of Rohan enjoyed its slaying/sleighing song. Whether the hosts of Mordor did is another question.
I recently had the opportunity of comparing two interpretations of the same story: that of Violetta in the 1852 play La dame aux Camélias, adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, first performed on 6 March 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice. The heart-rending story has been re-interpreted over and over again, perhaps most notably in Verdi’s opera La Traviata . It was only fairly recently that it occurred to me that “La Traviata” means, in effect “The Working Girl”, with all that that implies. No wonder it caused a scandal when first performed.
Both the versions which I have recently seen were ballets. The Paris Opera has recorded “La Dame aux Camélias”, a two-hour plus production with music by Chopin and choreography by John Neumeier, with Agnès Letestu as La Dame. It is a very fine show, though at times it seems as if the simple tale has been padded out with elegant but random dancing to fill the schedule. Letestu is a fine dancer, but for me at least, not quite the part.
The other version is a very different animal indeed. “Marguerite and Armand”, from the Royal Ballet, is only around 35 minutes, but it provides an intense and moving experience. It is set to the music of Liszt, which has all the beauty of Chopin but perhaps more emotional depth. The wonderful Tamara Rojo, in the title rôle (and in her farewell performance with the Royal Ballet before moving across to ENL), lives the part, and conveys the love, the hope, the anguish perfectly. Beautiful, vulnerable, desperate. She manages, at the same time, to be both totally credible and yet (in the other sense) utterly incredible.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org