STRAIGHT TALKING March 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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Launch Meeting: UKIP Immigration Policy
On March 3rd I attended the launch meeting and Press Conference for our Immigration Policy for the General Election. It took place in the Emmanuel Hall in Marsham Street, London. And I have to say it was just about the best such event I have seen in politics.
This was for two reasons: first, because it was clear that a lot of work had gone in to ensure we had a logical and workable plan, with clear answers to all the likely questions. And secondly because both Nigel Farage and our Immigration Spokesman Steven Woolfe MEP did an excellent job presenting the policy and fielding questions.
The press were obviously deeply upset that we had challenged their stereotypical view of UKIP by presenting a policy that was not only well-conceived and consistent, but which was clearly fair and reasonable and non-discriminatory. I was hugely impressed by the responses from Nigel and Steven.
One journo sought to question the “Spectacular U-Turn” represented by the fact that we were no longer necessarily talking a specific cap or target, but rather a whole policy direction — including a five-year moratorium on unskilled migrants. It’s typical media hyperbole that they can interpret a slight shift of emphasis, a small refinement, as “a spectacular U-Turn”.
During the event, I Tweeted a couple of photos. Quick as a flash, someone out there responded “Obligatory shot with a brown person to show you’re not racist”. I replied: “If we show all white faces, we’re racist. If we show non-white faces, that’s tokenism. So what do you want us to do?”.
Of course the press doggedly reported the “spectacular U-Turn” and failed to recognise a refinement of policy. Indeed the reporting was so misleading that I saw someone on Twitter complaining bitterly that “UKIP had lost interest in controlling immigration”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed the new element of a five year moratorium on unskilled immigration represents a significant (and very welcome) toughening of our position.
Energy Policy event
On March 2nd, I spoke at a pre-election event organised by the Energy Institute at the offices of City law firm Cameron McKenna. I was alongside Tory Dr. Philip Lee MP; Dr. Alan Whitehead MP (Labour); and a Lib-Dem called Nigel Orchard. The bold Natalie Bennett of the Green Party had agreed to join the panel, but pulled out at short notice — I wonder why!
I pointed out that all three of the old parties accepted an energy policy dictated by Brussels, and that to make matters worse, their party leaders had adopted a common position on climate change — so there was little to choose between them. Only UKIP offered an alternative.
I mentioned in passing that we in UKIP are less paranoid about CO2 than the old parties, but the main focus of my speech was that current EU/UK policy failed in its own terms: it undermined competitiveness and cost jobs and investment, while arguably increasing global emissions (by driving production off-shore to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards).
But of course the Tory couldn’t resist a cheap shot on climate change. “Stupid to argue — CO2 is a greenhouse gas — that’s O-Level physics”. Indeed it is, Dr. Lee. But it’s not degree-level climatology , or post-graduate atmospheric physics. Of course we all know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas — as is water-vapour. But the idea that the earth’s complex and chaotic climate system can be reduced to a single variable is (as Dr. Lee implies) no more than O-Level thinking — if that.
Dr. Lee’s position reveals a lamentable lack of geo-historical perspective. Compared to much of the earth’s history, today’s CO2 levels are very low indeed — they have been much higher during ice ages. And over the long term there is almost no correlation between climate and CO2 — but a rather strong correlation between climate and solar activity.
After the event, something happened that I have often experienced before. Having been vilified by the politicians, I was approached by an elderly man who had spent his entire career in the energy industry. “Thank you” he said. “I agreed with every word you said”.
Futility Writ Large
I have always argued that our UK/EU Climate policies are ineffective, because (A) renewables deliver marginal reductions in emissions when you take account of the inefficiencies exported to the fossil fuel back-up; (B) because there are 1200 new coal-fired power stations in the global pipeline (including a couple of dozen in über-green Germany).
But there is another more fundamental reason. The price of oil and other fossil fuels is driven by global supply and demand. Suppose our policies did in fact achieve a significant reduction in our use of fossil fuels (they won’t), what would be the consequence? A reduction in global demand. This would lead to somewhat lower prices, which in turn would lead to more consumption of fossil fuels in countries which had not adopted our irrational green policies. Think of all the millions in the emerging middle classes in India and China, who are buying cars and will drive more miles if petrol is cheaper.
So we haven’t saved global emissions. We’ve merely exported jobs and industry and investment and wealth – and emissions – to other countries.
The Greens would respond by saying that we are seeking a global agreement on emissions, which will bring down emissions around the world. To which I reply: seek away, you guys. But don’t hold your breath.
And Futility writ even larger
Britain’s remaining steel-makers are calling on the Chancellor for further relief from green levies, which are making them even less competitive against global (and even European) competition. Not only do they have the ETS and all the other EU “green” rules, but they also have George Osborne’s “Carbon Floor Price”, imposed because in his judgement the EU’s ETS wasn’t doing enough damage.
But we now have the bizarre position that energy-intensive industries have to be offered special deals to lessen the burden, or even more of them will go bust, or move abroad.
Given that these industries produce the lion’s share of emissions, where is the logic of imposing the prices floor and then giving energy-intensive businesses an opt-out?
Quite apart from the folly and futility of taking with one hand and giving back with the other, it offends a basic principle of fair taxation. Taxes should be clear and well understood. But we’re creating a situation where major industries are, in effect, negotiating their tax on an ad hoc basis. That is an administratively wasteful process, but worse, it invites all kinds of graft and special pleading and patronage and sweetheart deals. That’s not how we do things in Britain – it’s Banana Republic stuff.
Greece bites back
Dangerous to kick a man when he’s down. You never know what he might do. The Greeks are feeling painted into a corner by the intransigence of the Troika and Germany and Angela Merkel. So they’ve come up with a novel – but all too credible — threat. Their Defence Minister Panos Kammenos has threatened to let loose a million illegal immigrants(including jihadists) and send them to Germany.
Of course it’s difficult to see how anyone can prevent the Greeks carrying out their threat. We’ve seen Spain more than once offer an amnesty to illegal immigrants – creating thousands of new “European Citizens”. And we know that other recent member-states have offered citizenship to all and sundry, either in exchange for money, or perhaps just to get illegals to move on.
But Mr. Kammenos has done the UK – and UKIP – a favour. He has dramatized one of the major dangers of the EU’s “free movement”. Remote countries like Greece – or Croatia – can give permission to anyone at all to come and live in Market Harborough. Or Boston, Lincs. And as long as we are in the EU, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
Hi-Tech Triumph – or Green Posturing?
I think most people will feel inspired by the story of Solar Impulse Two, the solar-powered plane bidding for the first circumnavigation of the world by a solar-powered aircraft. It is (or will be) a soaring achievement – in both senses of the word.
And yet I have nagging doubts about the project. If successful, it will have carried one pilot (at a time) in very cramped and impractical conditions. With its massive wing-span and light weight, it is extremely fragile and (I should think) rather vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. And it is reportedly not very manoeuvrable, and rather difficult to fly.
“So what?”, you may well ask. The Wright Brothers’ plane was cramped, fragile and difficult to fly, yet it led on to the aviation industry we know today.
True. But there is a clear developmental path from the Wright Brothers to the Boeing 747. Powered heavier-than-air flight, driven by engines and, in both cases, by energy-dense fossil fuels. But neither solar nor wind power is energy-dense. The sun’s power is unimaginable. But as it impinges on the widespread wings of Solar Impulse Two, it is diffuse.
The contradiction between the need for massive solar arrays and the need for some semblance of aerodynamics leads to grotesque design compromises, and it is difficult to see a solar-powered aircraft carrying any worthwhile payload, still less 200 passengers and their luggage across the Atlantic.
Admittedly the plane might be a test-bed for advanced lightweight materials – but these are rapidly being developed elsewhere, not least in the auto industry.
I fear that Solar Impulse Two is less a tribute to the human spirit – more another depressing example of green posturing.
BBC lauds EU initiative
Watching BBC World in my hotel room in Straz in the early hours, I saw the corporation getting excited about a new EU initiative – having cut mobile phone roaming charges, they’re now about to put a cap on credit card fees. In its usual impartial way, the BBC reported that viewers would feel that at last the EU was doing something useful for ordinary people. Apparently the percentage paid to credit card companies is to be reduced from around 0.7% to 0.3% — and 0.2% on debit cards.
Wonderful! This will cut charges by some $6 billion a year across Europe. So retailers will make more money, and prices to the consumer will drop. Or will they? How much of that reduction of 0.4% will actually get back into the consumer’s hands?
More generally, government price controls almost always do more harm than good. In extreme cases (as we saw in the old Soviet Union) they lead to empty shelves and food queues. So what will the impacts of this new EU initiative be? I suggest at least four consequences.
1. A two-thirds cut in the percentage will reduce the profitability of banks and credit card operators. So what, you ask. We all hate bankers, don’t we? But let’s remember that virtually all of us are part-owners of the banks, whether through pension funds or ISAs, or simply as tax-payers, given that some UK banks are part-owned by government. We cut their profits – we cut our profits.
2. Then if the business is less profitable, firms will invest less in development and innovation – and perhaps even in maintenance. The exciting future developments in the pipeline will take longer to arrive.
3. And thirdly, the credit card companies will no doubt review their agent base, and conclude that many smaller shops are simply not worthwhile at 0.3%. So they will withdraw the service, and you’ll find that you’re obliged to carry more cash because fewer outlets will take cards.
4. And perhaps the first thing the banks will do is to try to recoup the lost revenue by increasing charges to users of credit cards, and perhaps to erode further the idea of “free banking”. Be assured – the consumer will continue to pay one way or the other.
That’s the EU for you. Seeking positive headlines with populist initiatives, but careless of the outcomes and the collateral damage. Perverse incentives and unintended consequences.
Idiot of the month
A Japanese “artist” Fujiko Nakaya has covered a bridge in Bristol with artificial fog. Her objective was to stimulate debate about climate change and to illustrate man’s ability to change the climate.
I find that people occasionally accuse me of not understanding the difference between climate and weather — though of course I understand it perfectly well. But I’m afraid that Fujiko’s climate demonstration with artificial fog is not climate. And it’s not even weather. It is, in short, an absurd waste of time, money and energy.
Quote of the Month
It’s amazing how prescient some writers have been. I’m very fond of quoting John Stuart Mill “Where peoples lack fellow-feeling, and especially when they speak and read different languages, the common public opinion necessary for representative government cannot exist”. He was a hundred years too early, but that is a perfect explanation, in two dozen words, of why “democracy at the European level” is a non-starter.
Then Kipling wrote a famous line in his poem “If”: “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken/Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”. Surely this must be the first reference in literature to Internet Trolls?
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org