Wednesday, 7 December 2022

More LNG imports from the US

 Today's announcement of a deal between the UK and US governments "to increase energy security and drive down prices, as part of a new energy partnership" raises worries over increased dependence on the United States. It was the too-close linking of financial interests which led to the crashing of our economy in 2008. One notes that the States promise only to strive to supply 9-10 billion cubic metres of liquefied natural gas during the next year.

There will be cooperation over the use of hydrogen as a fuel, but no guarantees about the means of production. While there are promising developments in the field of "green" hydrogen (such as Atome's in Paraguay), most industrial hydrogen today (about 95% by some estimates) is derived from fossil fuels, in processes which themselves add to carbon dioxide emissions

The net effect of the agreement it seems to me is to provide a safety net for US-based oil and gas producers and do nothing to accelerate the transition to non-carbon energy production/


Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Fair votes: one of the things that the LibDems are for

 Activists for the two big conservative parties often pose the question: "what are the Liberal Democrats for?" in attempts to squeeze our vote at election time. I fear we have rather played into their hands in the current parliament in spending more time responding to current events than publicising our core beliefs or at least our unique political positions. I am as guilty as anyone in that, but at least I have emphasised that merely getting rid of the Conservatives in national government or breaking up the Labour fiefdoms locally is not an end in itself. One must have something to put in their place. "Oppositionism" is not enough.

That is why I was pleased to receive from federal HQ this link to a speech by Sir Ed Davey to a leading think-tank. To be sure, it is peppered with attacks on the last decade of Tory government, but its main point is that of improving democracy, something that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have always stood for. As Sir Ed said:

This year marks a century since the Liberal Party made its first commitment to proportional representation. One hundred years on, our Liberal Democrat commitment to PR is stronger than ever.

This may surprise you but I see electoral reform as part of our great patriotic mission. After all, it was the nineteenth-century Liberal John Bright who famously described England as the “Mother of Parliaments”. And for a long time, the world looked to British democracy as a beacon - as the quality standard. Regrettably, that’s no longer the case.

So as someone who wants my country to lead the world once more, in the quest to build strong, vibrant democracies, I firmly believe we have to strengthen our democracy at home. To re-establish Britain’s democratic reputation in the world.

I should note for historical completeness that John Bright also coined the phrase “flogging a dead horse” in relation to his own efforts to reform our electoral system.

So our job is to revive the horse, and finish the work!


Monday, 5 December 2022

Is Sir Keir serious about replacing the House of Lords?

Or is the Labour leader merely seeking to divert headlines from criticism of his Blairite following of the agenda set by a Conservative government? His rather vague proposals have certainly achieved press and broadcast media coverage but there are few who would argue with the Opposition's contention that the basis for filling the Upper House is  indefensible in a modern democracy, 

Younger readers may not realise that the Liberal Democrats went into the 2010 general election with detailed proposals for an elected Upper House, There were sympathetic noises from Labour who under Tony Blair had gone no further than hobbling the hereditary appointments system. Yet when it came to the presentation of the Reform Bill under the coalition, Labour refused to support a timetable for the Bill which would have prevented Tory extremists (and some Labour backwoodsmen) filibustering it out of existence. We need a cast-iron assurance from the Labour leadership that they will not similarly weasel out of their responsibility when a future Reform Bill comes to the House.

One aspect of Labour's reboot of Lords reform to be welcomed is tying it to regional representation. The major flaw of the Liberal Democrat scheme was that it did not address the built-in metropolitan bias of the Lords, though one hoped this could have been tackled during Committee Stage if the 2010 Bill had been allowed to proceed. 


Amazing win in Pakistan

 While the attention of sports fans and the media is dominated by events in Doha, the achievement of the MCC tourists under Ben Stokes may not receive due recognition. Not only did the England team (actually England & Wales, though there was no direct Welsh participation on this occasion) succeed in a country where only 4 England Test teams had won before, but the victory was achieved on a flat Rawalpindi pitch which the groundsman had admittedly prepared to help batsmen. There was minimal help for spinners and seamers on the final day, yet Anderson, Leach, Robinson and captain Stokes achieved the virtual impossibility of bowling Pakistan out. Stokes has melded the morale and togetherness of Root's period as captain with a boldness at the opposite extreme to Root's caution. Stokes also appears to be learning from experience and able to adjust tactics when needed. One should also stress Root's contribution to the victory both with the bat and in the field when he was far from 100% well.

Praise is also due to Pakistan for their contribution to a match which looked on a few occasions when it was tilting towards them. It is only recently that the national team has been able to return from exile in the UAE occasioned by the Lahore bombing of the Sri Lankan test tourists. They have recovered well and the second Test in Multan may well go the other way.

An example of cricket bringing people together is that Burnley's James Anderson has a great following in Pakistan. If only the Islamic Republic's warring politicians could also see the positive sides of their opponents!


Friday, 2 December 2022

Horizon

 The latest reports from the judicial inquiry into the Post Office IT scandal confirm my suspicions about the roots of the disaster. Having concluded the part of the inquiry which exonerated hundreds of sub-postmasters of theft and false accounting, and put those who have survived in line for monetary compensation (though at the time of writing it is not clear how much of this has been paid), the legal beagles have moved on to the technical part of the inquiry: what was it about the Horizon system that caused it to generate the fallacious accounts which were used as evidence. 

It is clear from the evidence so far that the Horizon system was lashed up with no clear design plan, no standards and no testing strategy. Sadly, this product of Thatcher-Major outsourcing was not reviewed by the Blair government when it came into power. It was not too late in 1997 to pause the development and thoroughly recast it before any harm was done. 

For more, see Private Eye and Computer Weekly magazines.

Thursday, 1 December 2022

Sunak unwittingly lied at PMQs

 Just because Boris Johnson said it, doesn't make it true. Membership of the EU and thus of the European Medicines Agency would not have prevented the UK from pursuing her own vaccine strategy. 

I despair of those MPs who are known to be anti-Brexit who do not pull up misstatements such as that.


Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Sunak and Hunt may have repeated Clinton's error

 In his autumn financial statement, Chancellor Hunt proposed easing the tax burden on banks, reviewing regulations that originated from out membership of the EU and announced that:

Rules surrounding the amount of money insurers must hold to cover potential losses - known as Solvency II - are to be eased, freeing up billions of pounds, ministers hope, for investing in badly needed infrastructure projects, including nuclear energy. [...] The reforms have resulted in disagreements between the Bank of England and the Treasury about the extent of financial safety cushions.

The Government appears to have dismissed the regulator's concerns, as the Chancellor said the changes would "unlock tens of billions of pounds of investment". [Report by David Connett in The Independent and i]

This is all very reminiscent of President Clinton's removal of banking and mortgage regulations in the 1990s. This led to a short-term economic boom, but also to the credit crash of 2008, as this Demos blog explains. Admittedly, various checks had already been eroded over the years, as the blogger points out, but it was the Clinton dash for growth that ensured that a financial crash would ensue. This occurred after Clinton left office, distancing him from the transatlantic carnage which followed. No doubt Sunak and Hunt have made a similar calculation: if a major insurer fails, it will be on the watch of their successors.



Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Windfall taxes are slanted towards Big Gas & Oil

 The last chancellor but three, a certain Rishi Sunak, reacted to public outrage at oil and gas companies making huge profits by introducing a Windfall Tax, which came into operation last May. Opposition parties immediately criticised the scheme because it also lets firms claim tax savings worth 91p of every £1 invested in fossil fuel extraction in the UK. 

Under prime minister Rishi Sunak, chancellor Hunt has announced an Electricity Generator Levy which hits all electric power suppliers whatever their source of power. Because of the way that electricity is priced, the huge rise in the cost of gas on the international market has meant big rises in profit for green suppliers in particular. The cost of renewables has been steadily decreasing such that they are now the cheapest form of generation in the UK. However, the government is not proposing to grant offsets to green providers who intend to increase their investments in research or further wind- or solar-generation facilities. So green providers are not playing on a level field, and already Perth-based SSE (which incorporates Scottish Hydro) has announced that it is to look again at its renewables investment as a result.

Together with its reluctance to encourage the spread of charging points for road vehicles and the reintroduction of Vehicle Excise Duty for electric cars, the government's strategy is clearly to impede competition for the fossil-fuel suppliers.