Please, Brussels, may we cut energy prices?
Two ideas mooted for an immediate cut in energy prices are decisions we’re not allowed to make, without asking Brussels first. It’s been suggested that VAT on domestic fuels should be cut from 5% to zero. But 5% is the minimum allowed under EU law — any reduction would need permission from the European Commission, which is unlikely to be forthcoming.
In a second initiative, the government has applied to the European Commission for permission to extend the special remote-areas petrol duty discount, currently available to a limited number of remote islands, to several new areas on the mainland. The areas that would benefit are mainly Lib-Dem strongholds, and Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander seems to be leading the charge, opening himself to suspicions of politicking.
This shows just how much control we’ve given up to Brussels when our own elected government can no longer make small changes to fuel taxes, at a time of national concern over energy, without going cap-in-hand to Brussels to ask for permission.
In any case these proposals are little more than fiddling at the margin, and don’t address the real problems. Therefore, I offer a three point plan:
1 Terminate, with immediate effect, the government’s complex and expensive structure of green subsidies and taxes. No more subsidies for new wind farms or solar panels. Abandon EU emissions targets.
2 Make a new commitment to coal, which is a low-cost fossil fuel. Currently, on Brussels’ instructions, we are closing perfectly good coal-fired power stations.
3 Get a real sense of urgency behind prospecting for indigenous shale gas, which is expected to be significantly cheaper than imported gas from Russia and elsewhere.
The government says that it can do nothing about global energy prices. But it can choose to back cheaper fuels, like coal, and it can get on with the huge opportunity represented by shale gas.
Nuclear lobby group backs UKIP energy policy
On October 21st, I was invited to attend the AGM of an organisation called SONE, Supporters of Nuclear Energy. (Originally they invited Nigel, but diary pressures didn’t allow him to accept, so I’m afraid they got the monkey, not the organ grinder). Their General Secretary is none other than Sir Bernard Ingham, one of the great names from the glory days of Margaret Thatcher’s government. I saw several faces I knew, including former Labour MEP (but supporter of nuclear energy) Gordon Adam; Philip Foster, a well-known campaigner on climate and energy; and broadcaster Johnny Ball.
I was given ample time to set out UKIP’s energy approach, which favours a mix of grown-up technologies including coal, gas and nuclear, but eschews playground technologies like wind and solar. I seemed to be well received, and we had a lively Q&A session.
Earlier I had seen a copy of SONE’s newsletter, which included the following:
UKIP TAKES OUR EYE
We should now perhaps explain SONE’s references to UKIP in its letter to our Parliamentary representatives. As the letter says, SONE is a non-political organisation. We would not normally single out any party for the mildest of praise. But the unfortunate truth is that not one other party on mainland Britain has an energy policy worthy of the name. However uncomfortable some Conservatives may be with Coalition energy policy, theirs is a strategy failing on all counts. ……
We were therefore struck by the similarity between UKIP’s declared energy policy and SONE’s approach and took the view that we should acknowledge this.
Neither the Coalition nor Labour is falling over themselves to engage with SONE this autumn. This is perhaps understandable in view of the Government/EDF stalemate and the reluctance of the average politician to be seen to advertising his support for nuclear power. Not so UKIP. We are therefore pleased to say that Roger Helmer, UKIP MEP and the party’s industry and energy spokesman, has agreed to address SONE’s AGM on October 21. His talk will lead us into a debate on where and why UK energy policy has gone wrong and how we might get back on track.
Plenary Speech Environment Oct 23rd
The EU’s climate and energy policies are probably unnecessary, certainly ineffectual, and prohibitively expensive.
Unnecessary, because the theory of man-made climate change is increasingly disputed, and there has been no global warming for nearly two decades. The earth’s climate system is complex, chaotic and poorly understood, and it is absurd to think that man-made CO2 is the only driver of climate.
Ineffectual, because with 1200 new coal-fired power stations in the global pipeline, nothing we do in the EU will make a scrap of difference. Atmospheric levels of CO2 will rise for decades, whatever we do.
And prohibitively expensive. Energy Commissioner Oettinger says that Europe cannot continue to follow a unilateral climate policy. Commissioner Antonio Tajani says we face “an industrial massacre”, and he’s right. Businesses are moving out of the EU, taking jobs and investment with them.
Households are being forced into fuel poverty. Thousands of pensioners will die of cold in Europe this winter.
It’s time to abandon our obsession with CO2, and start to prioritise reliable and affordable electricity generation.
The wild Vikings of Iceland
I recently had an enquiry from a Party member asking why UKIP wasn’t backing a proposal for an undersea electrical power connector between the UK and Iceland. Iceland has plentiful geothermal energy — more than it can use. But to be honest, I don’t think I’d heard of the project before.
Then on Nov 6th, attending a Commission briefing on “Delegated Acts”, I heard about plans for various gas and electrical transmission projects in the EU (we’re dealing with “Projects of Common Interest” here — not to be confused with “Services of General Interest”, which are another thing entirely).
It turns out that our Icelandic friends had been down to Brussels to discuss this idea with the Commission. I immediately asked myself (and then asked the nice lady from the Commission) why a project between the UK and a non-EU state would involve the Commission — would it not be a simple intergovernmental project between Britain and Iceland?
It could be, she replied, but if done under the auspices of the EU there could be grants for preliminary sea-bed studies, and funding lines from the EIB. Thus, like Gulliver in Lilliput, do we awake to find ourselves bound with the fine cords of funding lines, and tied down with grants and subsidies.
Anna Soubry lays an egg
If you didn’t catch Question Time on Nov 7th, there was an hilarious exchange between Nigel Farage and leftish/wet Tory MP Anna Soubry. Anna represents Broxtowe, in my East Midlands patch (and I’m ashamed to say I’ve canvassed for her in the past).
Talking about the shipyard closures in Portsmouth and Scotland, Nigel mentioned what a sad thing it was that vessels for the Royal Navy were being built in Korea. Anna (who I believe is described as a Junior Defence Minister) immediately and vehemently insisted that no such ships were being built in Korea. “What about the two supply ships?” asked Nigel. Soubry was flummoxed. She absolutely refused to give a straight answer until Dimbleby challenged her from the Chair, and she was forced to admit she was wrong. Nigel was right. To mix metaphors, she ended up with egg on her face.
A parliamentary vignette
On Nov 5th, I attended an open “Conference of Presidents” meeting where Rumpy Pumpy reported on the conclusions of the recent European Council. Nigel Farage challenged him in robust terms to put his view of the EU to the people in the 2014 European Parliament elections.
As I left, I passed former Labour MEP Richard Corbett, now in a cushy job in Rumpy’s Cabinet. (Those europhiles look after their own). We used to get on quite well, so I asked him:
Richard, are you dreaming of rabbits and headlights and on-coming trains?
RC: What do you mean?
RFH: I was thinking of the €uro elections.
RC: Oh yes. Are you standing again?
RC: But two years ago, you thought you were retiring?
RFH: Yes. But then I joined UKIP and I got a new lease of life!
The whingers on the margins
There are a few sad folk on the fringes of the euro-sceptic movement who seem to resent UKIP’s recent success, and spend their time looking for things to criticise — rather than attacking the real enemy in Brussels. One of these recently published a blog piece criticising me for failing to attend a meeting of the Unemployment Committee, of which I’m a member.
Just in case anyone is interested, the fact is that most MEPs are on several committees, and meeting times often clash. I’m on Industry & Energy, and Unemployment (and Petitions). Industry often clashes with Unemployment, and as UKIP Energy Spokesman, I always prioritise Industry/Energy. Those who follow my newsletter and blog will be familiar with my work on this topic.
“Renewables Get 25 Times the Subsidy of Fossil Fuels”
Read it here.
Greenpeace in Russia
I guess we all breathed a sigh of relief when Russia decided to reduce the charges against the detained Greenpeace activists from piracy to hooliganism. I suppose we all feel a sneaking regard for young people who’re prepared to stand up for their beliefs, even at the expense of a degree of personal risk. That said, this isn’t merely a game. Energy matters (check your last electric bill). We live with an on-going energy problem, and we need a serious debate on energy issues. Indeed I spoke on the subject in Straz in October.
Greenpeace activists are entitled to their views, even when they’re wrong. They are entitled to vote for green candidates in elections. What they are not entitled to do, and must not be allowed to do, is to take the law into their own hands and disrupt the lawful activities of others – especially when those lawful activities are critical to economic progress.
I was very shocked in 2008 by the preposterous decision of a British court to clear Greenpeace activists on charges of trespass and vandalism after breaking into a power station, on the spurious grounds that their concerns about climate change justified their actions. That court decision was an attack on democracy. In a democracy, you can vote for policies you approve of. You can’t excuse vandalism merely because you disagree with the project you’ve chosen to vandalise.
So if I feel a grudging regard for the misguided courage of these eco-activists in Russia, I also feel a real respect for the Russians in taking a robust approach to the protection of property and of lawful industrial activity. I’m glad the charges have been reduced, but I also hope that the activists will be brought up short, and will think very long and hard before repeating their irresponsible behaviour.
The BBC: Even when it’s balanced, it’s biased
I was listening to the Today programme early in November, and John Humprhys was doing a piece on the referendum on nationalisation of the electricity grid in Berlin. He interviewed one supporter, one opponent. So perfectly balanced, then? Not quite.
The case against nationalisation was based entirely on finance. Nationalisation involves spending a great deal of public money for no discernible economic benefit. The case in favour, on the other hand, was all about “fighting climate change” (though why fighting climate change necessitates nationalising the grid, I’m still not clear).
The two key points were made by the proponent of nationalisation: (A) we need to fight climate change; and (B) quoting Lord Stern, “the price of inaction exceeds the cost of mitigation”. No attempt was made to challenge either of these points. Both are highly contentious. Readers of this newsletter will be familiar with the general arguments on anthropogenic global warming. On Stern, this is just about the only substantial economic study concluding that costs of inaction exceed costs of mitigation. Most studies find the opposite. There is also a splendid and authoritative rebuttal of the Stern report by inter alia David Henderson and Richard Lindzen, which is well worth reading: here. But of course the BBC takes the Stern position as Gospel, and wouldn’t think of challenging it.
While we’re having a go at Humphrys, he did a piece on the Grangemouth dispute with the Unite union recently. In the course of an interview, he came up with the splendid line “But the Union wouldn’t have taken action without the approval of its members?” Of course trade unions constantly take action without the approval of members, which was why the law on strike ballots was introduced. But Humphrys kept digging deeper. “But the membership voted for Len McCluskey, didn’t they?”. Just think about it, John. You might as well say “The people voted for Margaret Thatcher, so of course they all approved of the Poll Tax”.
Off on a Jolly?
There are those, within the Party and beyond, who seem to believe that parliamentarians should never travel, and that if they do, it must represent “a jolly”. I was recently accused by John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, of “going on a jolly to North Korea”. This suggests to me that Mr Mann knows very little about North Korea.
Sunday Oct 27th: Drive to Heathrow. Seven hour flight to Philadelphia. (And before you ask, I flew steerage, with my knees in my mouth). Five hour wait at the airport, then a one-hour flight to Williamsport (“The Home of Little League Baseball”). One-hour drive to Mansfield PA, arriving midnight local time.
Monday: Bell 5:45, breakfast 6:30, Safety briefing 7:00; bus 8:00. Full day of site visits, followed by a working dinner, with several presentations.
Tuesday: Bell 5:00. Bus 5:45. Five-hour drive to Washington, for a meeting with Capitol Hill staff, followed by briefings from the EU Delegation to the US, and finally a reception in the Capitol Building with Members of Congress, until eight p.m.
Wednesday — a lie-in! Bell 7:00. Breakfast meeting with the EU “Ambassador” at 7:50. Full schedule of meetings at the White House Conference Centre, lunch with the Nuclear Energy Institute (the US Industry body), afternoon meetings and briefings with The Center for Sustainable Shale Development. On Wednesday we had our only “free evening”. I spent it with political friends and colleagues from the Heritage Foundation, plus my former staffer Joe Bono, now in Washington.
Thursday: Bell 4:00. Taxi to the airport 5:00. Fly to Charlotte, North Carolina. 90 minute bus journey to the nuclear site in South Carolina. Lunch, visit, briefing. Bus back to Charlotte. Two hour flight to Toronto. Two hours in the airport. Then a midnight flight overnight to London Heathrow, arriving around lunch time on Friday. Drive home, bleary-eyed.
As Energy Spokesman for UKIP, it is essential for me to understand energy issues, and the best way to understand it is to see it first hand, and talk to people involved in the business. So I make absolutely no apology for going. For the record, the air fare was paid out of the €4000 annual overseas travel budget available to all MEPs, while the local costs were borne by our hosts. It was a hugely valuable visit. I learned a lot. I enjoyed it enormously. But a jolly? You be the judge.
My former staffer Donna Edmunds has launched a new web-site, UKIP Daily, www.ukipdaily.com. Well worth a visit (and not just because she occasionally includes my stuff!).
Quote of the Month
“Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary”.
H.L. Mencken, American journalist & commentator.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org