STRAIGHT TALKING – September 2015
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
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Renegotiation? What renegotiation?
There are now regular stories emerging of splits in the cabinet over David Cameron’s “renegotiation”. UKIP raised concerns over his paucity of ambition long ago. Now Tory back-benchers — and apparently some Tory Cabinet Ministers — are starting to see the light.
What has he asked for? Slightly less favourable welfare terms for EU migrants. Big deal. That’s fiddling at the margin, and will make no real difference as long as massive wage differentials exist between EU member states. Theresa May is slightly more realistic, arguing that free movement should be restricted to EU citizens with job offers. But it’s still nowhere near enough.
We must be able to control our borders. We must be able to admit applicants on the basis of skills, regardless of country-of-origin. We cannot tolerate a situation where an unskilled Romanian (even with a job offer) takes precedence over a Canadian brain surgeon, or an Australian nuclear physicist, or an Indian software engineer. Brussels tells us that free movement in the EU allows employers to choose from a wider talent pool. No chaps. You’ve got it wrong. It restricts us to less than 10% of the world’s population.
Then the euro-zone. Just recently, the risk of a eurozone/non-eurozone split (in which the larger eurozone will have a structural majority) has emerged as a threat. Indeed it is, and we need action to resolve it. But that doesn’t address all the other problems of the EU that have been with us for decades.
What about employment law? Energy policy? The right to make our own trade deals? Agriculture? Fisheries? An independent British judiciary, free of interference from Brussels or Strasbourg? Cameron hasn’t even raised these issues, so far as we know.
There also seems to be increasing pressure amongst Tory MPs to prevent the government using public money for the YES campaign. When the referendum comes, Cameron’s renegotiation will be clearly seen as a mere PR exercise, with no substance. I think we’ll see rather large numbers of Tory MPs, and activists — and also some Labour MPs and activists — enthusiastically embracing the NO campaign.
Immigration: Cameron’s Catch 22
Both Germany and Austria have attacked the UK for failing to take its “fair share” of migrants (apparently Germany expects to admit 800,000 this year). Both have threatened that unless we do so, they will withdraw cooperation on Cameron’s renegotiation initiative. But a key aim of the proposed renegotiation is to help the UK to control immigration. So let’s get that clear. A pre-condition for negotiating to regain control of immigration is that we accept more immigrants. You couldn’t make it up.
We told you so!
For years now I’ve been arguing that wind power is excessively expensive, and doing huge damage to energy prices and economic competitiveness – never mind the damage to households and pensioners affected by high energy prices. Recently the wind industry has been claiming that its costs have gone down, and that they are “cheaper than coal”. If this is the case, it’s difficult to see why the industry in the UK is so upset at government proposals to reduce its subsidies. If they’re cheaper than coal, they don’t need subsidies.
There is a whole series of cost factors that the industry fails to take into account. Most notable is the cost of back-up. You need to invest not only in wind, but in back-up fossil fuel capacity (usually gas), for when the wind drops. Worse yet, the back-up is run intermittently, and therefore inefficiently. It uses more gas, and costs more, per megawatt, than would be the case if run properly. So the cost “benefits” and emissions savings of the wind turbine are partly offset by the inefficiencies exported to the back-up.
Then there’s the cost of grid connection. Our grid was structured around a small number of large power plants (originally coal). Connecting a large number of relatively small generators, geographically dispersed, is a huge task costing many billions. Balancing the output of intermittent wind and solar with existing base-load and back-up is another expensive headache.
Then there is emerging evidence that wind turbines degrade and become less efficient over time (partly because of the blood and feathers of birds that adhere to the blades). The industry bases its costs on a new turbine, and ignores the fact that after few years output drops significantly.
I’ve often quoted figures, for example from the work of Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University. But I’ve not seen a comprehensive analysis. So I was pleased to find a paper from the University of Utah which analyses these costs, and proves my point.
When I drew attention to this report on Twitter, I was immediately attacked on the grounds that the Utah University study had been funded by sponsors with oil industry connections. A typical alarmist response – shoot the messenger. They seem oblivious of the fact that the alarmist reports we read are funded by the Green Blob – often by commercial organisations with interests in “green energy”. It is notorious in academic circles that only true believers in climate alarmism can expect funding or publication or tenure. Science used to be done on the basis of facts – like the lack of global warming for nearly twenty years. Now it seems to be done more like religion – based on the consensus of true believers.
Energy security at risk
There was a powerful piece by Andrew Critchlow on Sept 4th, warning of the risk of blackouts as more power stations close. Particular points that struck me included: “Things are moving into uncharted territory in terms of security of supply,” said Peter Atherton, utilities equity analyst at Jefferies. “We have never had such a low ratio of conventional power plant capacity compared with renewables and the problem is going to get worse.” And then: “The problem is that the closure programme for conventional plants like Eggborough is running to time but the new build programme is now about four years behind schedule. There is a big mismatch between what is getting shut down and what is getting built to replace it”.
Sense of humour failure
One of the key characteristics that opponents of UKIP seem to share is an hilarious inability to understand irony.
On July 30th, during the Calais crisis, the Police Commissioner for Surrey called on the government to send the Ghurkas to Calais to stop the illegal immigrants. I Tweeted: “Calais was British until 1558. Maybe it’s time to take it back”.
Suddenly the Twittersphere erupted in a storm of synthetic indignation, from UKIP opponents who thought (or pretended to think) that I’d made a serious proposition rather than a joke. I really can’t believe they’re so stupid that they can’t recognise irony when they see it. Or maybe they are so stupid. Who’s to say?
Note for pedants: OK, I should probably have said “English”, not “British”. But British sounded better at the time.
ALEC Annual Meeting
In July, I attended the 42nd Annual Meeting of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. I’ve been attending these meetings on and off for a decade, and indeed a few years ago I was awarded their “International Legislator of the Year” accolade.
ALEC cops a lot of flak from the extreme left, who describe it as “a forum for big business to lobby legislators behind closed doors”. My own view is that legislators have not merely a right but a duty to consult with organisations which are likely to be affected by their legislation. And if the Annual Meeting is “behind closed doors”, I wonder what that prominent Guardian journalist was doing there?
I addressed two of their working groups — one on energy and the other on International Relations. On energy, I remarked that President Obama seemed to be using Executive Orders via the Environmental Protection Agency to by-pass Congress, and I noted that the European Commission had already perfected the art of driving through legislation without effective democratic scrutiny. I said this simply as an observation of fact, and was surprised when my comment was greeted with amusement and applause. Clearly Obama is also planning the same extra-democratic process in terms of driving through any commitments the US might make at the forthcoming Paris Climate Summit — because there is no way that Congress will agree such a programme.
In the International Relations debate I talked about TTIP from a European perspective, both the process in Brussels and the rather strident and misinformed campaign against it. I was gratified to find that our American friends took very much the same attitude as I did — that a free trade agreement would be good in principle, but that there were real and substantial concerns that must be clarified during the negotiation process.
As I have remarked so often, after the stultifying atmosphere of Brussels, a visit to ALEC is like coming up for air.
Shortly after we arrived at the ALEC Conference in San Diego in July, there was a welcome reception where the Mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, said a few kind words. He was very proud of the way that his administration had addressed the city’s finances. Apparently for the four years preceding his election, the city’s accounts had not been signed off. San Diego, he said, was becoming known as “Enron-by-the-Sea”.
I hadn’t the heart to tell him that the EU’s accounts haven’t been signed off in nearly twenty years (coincidentally, that’s about as long as Global Warming has not been happening).
Ayn Rand: “Atlas Shrugged”
I wrote a blog post about this remarkable novel recently. I’ve now actually finished all 1067 pages, and I’m impressed, and alarmed, by the parallels with today’s society. . Loss of respect for institutions and the political process. Political correctness run mad. Perverse regulations and policies destroying enterprise. Plants closing, jobs moving abroad. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
And while I’m (mis)quoting Yeats, he seemed to have a handle on differential turnout in referendums: “The INs lack all conviction, while the OUTs are filled with passionate intensity”. I believe we could win the referendum on the day, based on differential turnout, even if the opinion polls were against us.
“I’m from the European Commission, and I’m here to help you”
The European Commission decided in its wisdom that credit card operators like Visa and Mastercard were charging retailers excessive commissions, which would be passed on to consumers in higher prices. So they imposed a cap of 0.3% for credit card transactions (0.2% for cash). So why not send the Commission a postcard right now thanking them for their efforts to keep prices down?
Or maybe not. The Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in. Competition being what it is, many card operators offered significant cash-back deals. They are now cutting back those deals (like Tesco, RBS, NatWset and Capital One), or thinking about it. Sainsbury’s Nectar points could be at risk.
So the EU’s interference in markets has caused an immediate and quantifiable loss to consumers, while offering a remote possibility that lower card fees may, sometime, deliver lower prices. Some hope. Thank you Brussels.
In Brussels, every day is All Fools’ Day
I simply couldn’t believe it when I read it. In the press on August 15th. The EU wants to put “corrosive substance” warnings on …. Fairy Liquid. Honest. I’m not making it up. Mild green Fairy Liquid. They also want similar warnings on the anti-bacterial hand-washes that we are all urged to use to fight super-bugs in hospitals and elsewhere.
This is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. But surely if we’re going to draw attention to a hazard, there has to be — well — a hazard? I have to declare an interest — I started my career in 1965, in Newcastle on Tyne, with Procter & Gamble, the company that makes Fairy Liquid. And for decades I have used Fairy Liquid, or other washing-up liquids, and even (so help us) antibacterial hand-washes. Not too often, but on occasion. Perhaps hundreds of times in a long career.
I have never noticed that washing up liquid is corrosive. I’ve never heard of anyone finding it so. No doubt if you look hard enough there’ll always be someone somewhere who is allergic to just about anything, but the idea that washing up liquid is a danger to the public is simply farcical. It would be a much greater danger not to wash-up.
And here we get to the nub of the problem. If we deter the public from washing-up liquid and anti-bacterial hand-washes, perhaps we save a handful of people from the odd skin-rash. But more likely, we kill hundreds or thousands through bacterial infections. (There’s a parallel here with banning e-cigarettes — and forcing smokers to stick to the dangerous kind).
Then there are the commercial implications. Manufacturers won’t want to have health warnings on their Fairy Liquid. So they may re-formulate. The public will get a less effective product, quite possibly at a higher price. Smaller firms who can’t afford the re-formulation could go bust. Then in ten years’ time we’ll find that the re-formulated product has worse problems than today’s kind.
But that’s Brussels for you. A total failure to understand risk and hazard. Utter ignorance of the way markets work. A determination not to think through the consequences of their actions. And an arrogant belief that they are entitled to regulate every detail of our lives.
Unintended consequences (again)
I’m very pleased that the government has increased the inheritance tax threshold on house property. Indeed I’d like to see the Death Tax scrapped altogether — “No taxation without respiration” — and I believe that there is an economic case for doing so. But the change on house property seems likely to have a perverse and unintended consequence. We say we want elderly couples to down-size, to make larger homes available for families. But by offering favourable inheritance tax treatment for one asset class — houses — we’ve created an incentive for elderly people to stay in large houses — or even to move to a larger and more expensive house — simply so as to protect their legacy from the tax-man. I bet George Osborne never thought of that when he made his decision.
Human Rights work both ways
I was struck by a story in the press about a clerk in Kentucky who has defied the US Supreme Court by refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. Reportedly the American Civil Liberties Union said it would push for financial penalties against the clerk.
Whoa there! What about the civil liberties of the clerk? What about the right of an individual to live by his religious principals? As a libertarian, I respect the right of same-sex couples to form their own relationships. But I also support the right of individuals to live according to their consciences.
Same applies to the great euthanasia question. If you think euthanasia is morally reprehensible — then don’t do it. But equally, don’t think you have the right to impose your moral views on others. And respect the right of doctors and other medical staff to decline to perform euthanasia if it’s against their consciences.
In August, I decided it was time to replace Henry, my trusty vacuum cleaner. So I went back to the little specialist retailer in Leicester from whom I bought the last Henry. The proprietor looked strangely tentative and embarrassed. “You know they’ve cut the power by half? It’s only 600 watts right now. I had a builder in recently. Bought two of them, but brought them back. Said they were no good — not enough power”. But apparently some sharp entrepreneur has gone to China and had a comparable machine built with a proper motor, to squeeze in under the bar before the EU rules finally bite. I’ll try to get one of those.
I could write another paragraph about the perverse folly of these apparatchiks in their ivory towers in Brussels, and the huge damage they are doing to ordinary people. But you get the idea. Yet another reason why we’ll be Better Off Out.
Douglas Hogg’s peerage
I was disappointed to see a front-page headline in the Telegraph of August 28th “Peerage for shamed moat expenses MP”. I might disagree with Douglas over many political issues, not least over the EU. But the fact remains that he is a decent and honourable man with a lifetime of public service to his credit. He served as an MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham for over thirty years, and as a Minster in John Major’s government. I had some dealings with him in those days, and he always treated me with great courtesy and consideration.
In the matter of his expenses claim, it was perhaps ill-judged, but my understanding is that it was legitimate under the rules at the time, and that he was actually urged by the Commons Fees Office to submit expenses en bloc “to reduce administration”. It is a sad comment on our public life, and our media, that he should now find that one incident tied permanently around his neck, like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross, while his lifetime of public service is ignored. He deserves better. I wish him well in his new role in the House of Lords.
For various personal reasons it’s been a long time since I had a proper holiday, so I was very pleased to be able to take a week in Ischia in August this year. It’s an island in the Med, off Naples. Think of it as the younger brother of Capri. I’ve been telling people that “of course it’s more exclusive”, but I think the truth is that Capri is a lot smarter and more expensive than Ischia. One of the most striking features of Ischia is the Castello Arogonese, a fortified promontory guarding Ischia’s harbour, linked to the main island by a causeway and a bridge. There is evidence of fortification on the site dating back to 474 BC. There was major rebuilding in 1441. And in 1809, when the Castle was held by the French, it was largely destroyed by the British Navy, shelling and blockading the island. Considerable rebuilding and restoration has occurred since.
Checking the other sights and excursions available on the island, I was struck by a link with one of the UK’s best-known 20th Century composers, William Walton. He it was who composed music for Her Majesty’s Coronation in 1953, including the “Orb and Sceptre” march, still heard from time to time today. He also composed some quirky and amusing music for “Façade”, a work of poetic recitation (Edith Sitwell wrote the words, and spoke them through a megaphone).
While I like some of Walton’s better-known pieces, much of his output leaves me fairly indifferent. A parallel, perhaps, to my view of his contemporary Benjamin Britten — although much of his stuff, operas and his ballet score, leave me not so much indifferent as intensely unappreciative. I have a DVD of Britten’s ballet “The Prince of the Pagodas”. The plot is preposterous (even for a ballet), the music is painful, and but for the inimitable and radiant dancing of Darcey Bussell, the DVD would be unwatchable.
So, the Walton/Ischia connection. Walton had a very beautiful Argentinean wife, Susana, and they had a home in Foria, Ischia, from 1949. In the early fifties they acquired a tract of rather unpromising volcanic land, and proceeded to transform it, with the aid of landscape architect Russell Page, into a remarkable garden, with extensive water features and a huge range of exotic plants from around the world. The site includes a “Greek Theatre”, and also recital rooms, maintaining the Waltons’ combination of interests — music and gardens.
The place is called “Giardini La Mortella”. “Mortella” means myrtles — not to be confused, of course, with Mortadella, which is something quite different. Well worth a visit if you find yourself in Ischia.
I bet you’ve never hear of Harriet Frishmuth — and neither had I until I went to the ALEC Conference (see above). There in the Grand Hyatt Hotel was a shop — Agora — dealing in antiques and objets d’art.
For ages I’ve been hoping to find a really nice Art Nouveau bronze — or perhaps I’ve been just waiting for one to fall into my lap. And in San Diego, it did. Frishmuth was a sculptress working mainly in the 1920s — though I see that she survived as late as 1980, when I was not only around and about, but pushing middle age. She produced a remarkable sculpture called “Crest of the Wave”. . Originals cast in 1926 by Gorham Co are now selling for very high prices indeed, but later copies are available (thankfully) at much more reasonable prices, and Agora had one. Even so, it was a once-in-a-decade purchase.
Interestingly, the sculpture was based on a particular model, Desha Delteil, a Slovenian model and dancer. Apparently she was a ballet dancer who worked with the prominent choreographer Michel Fokine. Two of my cultural interests brought together.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org