My husband Ian and I disagree on Scottish Independence. He is a Canadian of Scottish descent and I am English, but our ethnicity has nothing to do with it. He is an historian who has spent his career examining the question of nationalism and the harm it causes. He’d vote for the union. Like him I’m wary of all nationalisms, but I know full well that if I were a Scot, then I’d be voting yes in September. My heart would rule my head, and the chance to make sure I was never ruled by a Conservative government again would trump any other consideration.
Archive for British politics
5.30 pm, -18°C with windchill, snow.
We try to make sure that we give at least 1% of our net income to charity. That is not overly generous, but in our defence, we do normally give more. My policy with regards to charitable giving has been fixed for several decades: With some exceptions for local and environmental charities, I try to make sure my donations go to the developing world. But, I was made to think about my charitable giving for two reasons this year.
The first was the issue of executive pay as reported in the Telegraph in August. The fifteen leading foreign-aid charities pay six figure salaries to their chief executives, and these are the charities which receive the bulk of my donations.
My problem with this is the same as with politicians pay: Both I and my husband are educated to post-graduate level. Neither of us has ever had a salary even approaching that of an MP. Yet, we don’t feel poor or badly paid. On the contrary, we have a good lifestyle and feel very fortunate to be so well off. We still have incomes and savings well above the average in either Canada or the UK. So, it is very difficult for me to understand when I’m told that six figure salaries are necessary for charity executives. Nevertheless, for the time being I haven’t changed my pattern of giving, but I will be looking out for the report of the Public Administration Select Committee’s.
Secondly — Food Banks. I’ve blogged on this before, so I’ll keep it short. When I visited the UK before Xmas, I saw that the Food Bank industry has taken another step forward in the march to the domination of most pernicious, inefficient and wasteful means of poverty relief to ever undermine the welfare state. In Tesco’s I was mugged by staff handing out food bank vouchers. The supermarkets love these in Canada too – always less than enough to buy a substantial item of food, so you will add to it with your own money. The next step is to pile excess stock on the counter, so if you haven’t used your voucher, you can spend it on almost time-expired tinned tuna, or something similar. Outside Waitrose a woman volunteer had set out a table and asked me to remember to buy something to donate. Yes, that is such a good idea, paying over the odds for Waitrose tinned tomatoes to be given to someone on benefits, who could have bought two tins for the same money in Poundland. I told the Waitrose woman that I didn’t think the upmarket supermarket needed charitable help. I don’t think she understood me. I resent being made to feel like Scrooge by Christians with more good intentions than common-sense.
My politician of the year is George Osborne, though I say it with an embarrassed wince. He seems to be loathed equally by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, which suggests he is doing something right. While I take the opinions of the CEBR with a pinch of salt, the fact is that the UK economy is doing OK, unemployment figures ain’t too bad, and appointing Carney to the Bank of England was inspired. It looks as if Labour will get landslide in 2015, and that is a pity if it means Balls takes over.
Happy New Year everyone.
Edmonton Alberta, 5.30 pm, -26°C with windchill, snow.
2013 has been a good year for me personally, though it hasn’t felt like that all of the time. The big event was selling our house in Edmo and buying a coastguard’s cottage in Devon. I thought it was the right time to sell and move our capital back to Blighty, and for once my financial judgement seems to have been correct. And we have avoided a lot of the stress of repatriation by selling well in advance of our move next June. I’ve also had a couple of articles published this year, and I’ve got a credit in a book; although my real ambition is to finish my novel and get it published, these small achievements boost my confidence.
As far as politics is concerned, I end the year a far less enthusiastic Lib Dem than I was at the beginning.
There were a couple of things this year that really got to me emotionally. The first was Thatcher’s funeral. I loathed Thatcher. So did a half the population during the time she was in power. There was no way she was entitled to a
state ’ceremonial’ funeral. It was an insult to great leaders like Wellington and Churchill who had state funerals, and it was an insult too, to great Prime Ministers like Attlee or Lloyd George who didn’t. The funeral was divisive, and reflected badly on the politicians of all parties who attended it, showing them up as shallow opportunists.
Shallow opportunism was also in evidence after the death of Mandela. It was unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the same MPs who’d fallen over backwards to praise the supporter of apartheid, and bosom friend of torturer General Pinochet, were a few months later wanting to remind the world they’d once shaken hands with Mandela, or if not, knew someone who did. Mandela’s long march to freedom would have been significantly shorter without the Iron Lady.
Overall, the intellectually vapid and histrionic performance by MPs of all parties in 2013 left a bad smell, and will have done nothing to counter the general cynicism with which politicians are viewed nowadays.
Secondly, I still feel upset about the prejudice being whipped up towards the Roma people. I’m not able to view this issue with emotional detachment. I’m not sure why: I am not Roma, and my connections with the Roma community are historical and tenuous. But, I find the hatred being expressed to the Roma both appalling and quite frightening. At the very best, it takes our society back to the levels of prejudice shown against the Afro-Caribbean population in the 1960s. At worst we are part of a European trend that will end in ethnic cleansing, 1930s style.
And that brings me on to the subject of Nick Clegg. I’ve come to the conclusion that Clegg is just not an instinctive liberal. Time and time again, when he has to think on his feet, his pronouncements are illiberal, and then have to be corrected at a later stage, if at all. He had been described as a Europhile Tory, and that is probably correct. His comment about the Roma, quoted by Tanya Gold in her excellent Guardian article this week, was the last straw. It is really shameful that the comment of a Liberal leader gets quoted as an example of racism. I don’t like him as leader of the party. If we are to continue in coalition, then we need a leader who is liberal to the core. Until he is replaced, I’m going to be picky about what campaign work I involve myself with.
I end the year despondent about environmental issues. When we get to Devon, we will be retrofitting our cottage to reduce our carbon footprint as much as is practicable, or we can afford; but, it seems a futile gesture; no more than a means of reducing our fuel bills and placating our consciences. With no international agreement in sight that will result in significant reductions in emissions, anything we do as individuals, or as a country, is just pissing in the wind. In that context the coalition’s failure to live up to its green promise seems almost irrelevant.
Here are a few reasons why the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, on 18th June 2015 should be marked:
- Its importance. Because it was the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars which had been going on since 1804, and Britain had been at war with France intermittently since 1793. Some would argue about its significance: for the British, the Battle of Trafalgar had been more important militarily, and it is true that if Napoleon had not been defeated at Waterloo he would have been defeated by the Allies at one of the battles that followed. But, putting hypothetical history aside, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, leaving Britain the pre-eminent world power, making the nineteenth century “Britain’s century”.
- The casualties. More than six thousand British soldiers were killed or wounded. In the Napoleonic wars as a whole (1804-15). British dead or missing totalled more than three hundred thousand. The total dead for all nations was around two and a half million military personnel and one million civilians. Proportionate to Britain’s population at the time, the losses were greater than in World War One. After Waterloo, Britain and Europe were not going to endure that scale of casualties again for nearly a century.
- The impact on the civilian population. Jane Austen’s novels give a false impression that the civilian population was barely affected by the war. If a soldier was sent overseas his family were left to fend for themselves. Bereaved women received no widow’s pension. Sick troops returning from Spain spread disease among the civilian population. Some women followed their men overseas as camp-followers and into battle and died. Hundreds of British women and children died in Spain in 1808, on the retreat to Corunna. These casualties remain uncounted.
- The war had been a popular patriotic war. Napoleon had planned to invade Britain. His prospects of success were actually slim, but prior to 1804, he’d had an invasion fleet preparing at Boulogne. Patriotic anti-French sentiment was whipped up by propaganda, but it is also true that the peasant class had good reason to fear a looting invasion army. From 1808 the British army fought its way north through occupied Spain, welcomed by Spaniards of all classes who, even if the British also looted and raped, regarded them as liberators from a hated occupying force.
- National pride in defeating a dictator. The Napoleonic Wars were the first of three occasions on which Britain has played a prime role in ensuring that a militaristic expansionist dictatorship does not get to determine Europe’s destiny.
- Commemorating the dead. Strangely, there is still no memorial to the British dead on the battlefield.
Reading the latest article on this appalling man, I was struck by the words “Lambert who now works as a university academic”. He holds posts at St Andrews and Exeter, according to his Wikipedia page.
Why doesn’t this read “Lambert, currently suspended from his work as an academic” ?
In view of the allegations, if I was an undergraduate I would be very unhappy about taking courses taught by Lambert. If I had a daughter at Exeter or St Andrews I’d be very unhappy about his presence on campus. Surely, in view of the ongoing police investigation which may lead to prosecution, it is inappropriate for him to remain in his post?
I am puzzled by the DECC commissioned study that reported a significant increase in property prices for making energy saving improvements to homes. The report makes the claim that, on average, a home which has been upgraded from category D to B, or from G to E, will sell for more than £16,000 more.
Now I have spent the last few years house-hunting and I’ve downloaded dozens and dozens of EPC reports for houses I’m interested in. I am someone who takes notice of the EPC report and I would certainly be prepared to pay a little more for a house that had been improved. But £16,000?
Most of the houses I’ve looked at, all in a price range a little above the average, have had a rating of D. To upgrade them to B generally requires work costing in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 for estimated fuel savings per annum of between £200 and £250. So why would anyone, except a complete idiot, pay £16,000 extra for a house that already had cavity wall and loft insulation rather than one that didn’t? It defies common sense.
Can someone explain why Stephen Harper has been invited to address Parliament? The last time a Canadian prime-minister did this was in 1944. Canada had, of course, contributed enormously to the Allies’ war effort, keeping Britain supplied with food and materials via the Atlantic convoys (my late father-in-law took part in The Battle of the Atlantic), and supplied a million troops.
A comparison with WW2 is apt, because the struggle to combat climate change is also a fight for survival, and this time Canada is on the wrong side. Harper has muzzled his own scientists, obstructs international negotiations on emissions reduction and lies, prevaricates and obfuscates in order to protect Canada’s dirty oil industry.
Inviting him to Parliament makes as much sense, in terms of British interests ,and ethically, as inviting Henrik Verwoerd to invite Parliament in 1962. Except that we didn’t do that, of course.
We have sold our house here in Canada, and are buying a house in South-West England with a south facing roof — a prime property for solar panels. It is a bit early to be considering the question, since we haven’t exchanged contracts yet, and we won’t be moving back to the UK until next year, but an article in The Guardian got me thinking about it.
Financially, for a retiree like myself, it makes most sense to compare what I’d make from the feed-in tariff with the income I’d get if I invested the money in a retirement annuity instead. In both cases I lose the capital invested in return for a regular income. At my age, I could get an annuity rate of around 6%. In comparison the return from the feed in tariff is estimated to be around 4% of the money invested in panels. But, unlike the annuity, the tariff is linked to the RPI. RPI linked investments are rarer than hens’ teeth nowadays, so the solar panel investment could be a good deal.
But can I trust the government to go on doling out the feed-in tariff, and linking it to the RPI in the future? I used to have a RPI linked local government pension; it’s CPI linked now. I had a “guaranteed” annuity rate of 10% on my Equitable Life pension; I’ve been compensated £75 for its loss. Based on experience, I’m not hopeful that the government will continue to honour its commitments on the feed-in tariff in the long-term.
The other way I could lose the income from my investment is if I move house. I’m hoping we will live there for at least twenty years but I’ve had similar intentions in other houses, and yet the average period of time I’ve spent anywhere as a home owner is merely seven years.
The second, and equally important consideration, is ethical. Do I think it is right that I should receive a subsidy for installing solar panels?
Researching this post, I came across Jeremy Legett’s bet with George Monbiot in 2010 that solar power would have reached parity with conventional electricity for domestic power by 2013. He bet £100. Has he already paid up, or is he waiting to the end of the year?
On the other hand small scale solar installations on rooftops have the virtue of being inoffensive. My mother’s home in Sussex is within sight of Glyndebourne’s solitary wind turbine. It is too far away from the village to be heard (and if it could have been heard over such a distance Glyndebourne Opera would have been unlikely to have invested in it); yet some of her neighbours have told me, in all sincerity, that the turbine lowers the value of their homes. I’ve heard no such fears expressed about the solar panels that have sprouted on roofs all over the village.
Nevertheless, the feed-in tariff is an expensive subsidy, that goes mainly to middle-class home owners and is paid for by all power users.including the poorest. It is regressive in effect. The money would be better spent on wind (preferably large installations), tide and nuclear power.
Even if England continues to de-carbonize its power generation, which I think it will, the feed-in tariff for solar power should be dropped and eventually I think it will be. So, I’m not planning to make the investment. I might check out whether it is worth putting a wind turbine in the back garden, but they’ll probably drum me out of the CPRE if I do.
The following is the substantive part of an email I sent to Norman Baker a couple of days ago:
I should have written to you about the Fuel Quality Directive before now. After all, I am in a unique position as both a member of the Lewes Liberal Democrats, whose MP is responsible for Britain’s vote in the EU on the FQD’s implementation, and a resident of Alberta, home of the tar-sands industry lobbying against implementation.
In 2011, when The Guardian newspaper started reporting that you were going to vote against implementation, I simply did not believe what I was reading. Damian Carrington, who was taking the lead on the issue, is not a journalist whose accuracy I trust (I note in today’s Guardian that, despite reporting on the tar-sands issue for several years, Carrington still thinks that Canada has a president). At first, I treated the reports as so much anti-coalition propaganda, because I could not imagine that you would consider voting against implementation.
I was wrong, but by the time I realized there was substance to the reports, I also knew you were listening to environmental lobbyists, and when you abstained on the vote on implementation I thought you had listened, but were probably constrained from voting for implementation by a promise made to Stephen Harper by David Cameron. Since it is reported that you may be intending to vote against implementation now, clearly I was wrong again.
These are weak excuses for not having lobbied you on the issue myself, and even though I know that you have spoken with Dr James Hanson, who is a million times more qualified than I am to put the argument for FQD implementation, I want you to know that I think you are mistaken, and are overly influenced by the Canadian and oil industry lobbyists.
If I understand your position correctly (and I’m not sure that I do), you do not want the FQD implemented until it includes all unconventional crudes, not just tar-sands. Your critics say this will simply push the FQD into the long grass, which is exactly what the oil industry lobbyists want. You deny that this will happen.
I do not know enough about the way the EU works to know whether a no vote by Britain will result in implementation delayed or indefinitely postponed, but two things are obvious to me:
Firstly, the FQD already includes provision for review in 2015, allowing the other unconventional crudes to be added. This undermines your argument, but your only reply is that you have ‘no faith’ in the review. Why?
Secondly, it is very clear to me, from here in Alberta, that a no vote hands the Canadian Government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers a propaganda coup. This may seem unimportant compared with the substantive task of reducing the carbon content of European fuel, but it is not. Canada has no realistic plan for reducing its carbon emissions, and no intention of putting one in place. It would have to close down the tar-sands industry, and nobody in Canada wants to talk about that – and I mean nobody. There is an air of unreality about most climate change discussion in Canada that is probably best described as ‘the view from Planet Exxon Mobil’, which infects even environmental organisations. So, for example, we have the environmental group Pembina Institute which does good work on some issues, but on the tar-sands talks about ‘responsible development’. Dr Hansen will have explained to you that there is no responsible development of the tar-sands; the only responsible course of action is no development at all. 350 org has no local groups in Canada.
There are good reasons for the silence about the elephant in the room. No Canadian, however concerned about climate change, wants his or her house and pension fund to devalue, or to lose his or her job. In the federal election of 2007 the Liberal Party presented Canadians with a ‘green shift’ manifesto which would have used carbon taxes to shift development away from the tar-sands and into green industries. Even then, the Liberal leader Stéphane Dion denied it would prevent tar-sands development, although it certainly would have done. The ‘green shift’ was attacked, not just by the Conservatives, but by the New Democrat Party, who objected to the cost to middle-class families; not mentioning that their preferred option, of a carbon trading scheme, would only have been cost free if it was also as ineffective as Europe’s has been.
The ‘green shift’ was rejected by the electorate. The Liberal party has been very careful since then never to say anything sensible about climate change, and it was at that point Canada adopted the perspective of Planet Exxon Mobil.
To give one example: Thomas Mulcair, leader of the official federal opposition (NDP), visited Washington in March this year, where he compared unsustainable development to slavery, but found himself unable to say whether or not he opposed the Keystone XL pipe-line, even though it is as good an example of unsustainable development as can be found anywhere on Earth.
To give another: Justin Trudeau, newly elected leader of the Liberals, has supported tar-sands development, saying it should be defended when foreign critics call for a halt. The Liberal website, nonetheless, states that Canada’s energy policy should be sustainable.
The governing politicians of Canada and the Canadian journalists who support them, use rhetoric that makes it clear that they see the emissions issue as purely one of greenwash. They tend to assume that foreign governments are as cynical as themselves – only paying lip service to the issue as a sop to a tiresome green lobby. I have no doubt that is how Stephen Harper sees David Cameron (perhaps rightly), and possibly you Norman. A no vote will confirm him in that view.
Moreover, it is possible the vote will take place before President Obama has made a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, sending the wrong message at the wrong time to the USA about the importance Europe places on the issue.
Your advisors may have emphasized the importance of Britain’s friendship with Canada, but true friends are truthful with each other, and in the long run it will not help Canada if it is allowed to continue its delusory path. As you know, Nicholas Stern has recently warned of the risk of ‘stranded assets’, and Canada is at risk of becoming The Country of Stranded Assets. Honest speaking about the tar-sands industry, and a vote in favour of implementation of the FQD, would be a friendlier act to Canada than giving in to its lobbyists. …………..
There is one point I wish I had included in the email, which is that it is a very strange situation, when a Liberal Democrat MP expresses a lack of faith in the ability of the EU to do what it says it is going to do (carry out a review of the FQD in 2015), but no such scepticism is being expressed by Greenpeace.
So the bells of Big Ben are to be silenced. What else? There’s the suggestions of a statue in Trafalgar Square and a USA style library. Maybe we should have a national holiday on her birthday, a two minute silence every anniversary of her death, and a flag day in her honour. Maybe they could insert a special prayer for Thatcher’s soul into the CofE prayer book. There are so many ways in which we can not only honour Maggie more, but devalue the memories of really great Britons like Churchill, and cheapen our traditional ways of registering respect and remembrance.
After all, as Cameron has pointed out, the world has expectations, and we are nothing more than a theme park nowadays, so what the hell.