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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Will the switch to electric vehicles cause the UK to blow a fuse?

Just how prepared is the UK for the new Government policy of phasing out petrol and diesel cars by 2040? According to this article in the Daily Telegraph, there is still some way to go.

They say that electric car owners have been warned that if they attempt to boil a kettle while charging their car it will blow the fuse:

The National Grid have expressed concerns that an average size 3.5kW battery charger would take 19 hours to fully charge a car battery, even when it is 25 per cent full.

A “thought piece” document obtained by the Financial Times warned that a more powerful 11kW device would still take six hours to charge a car battery and during that time, the use of everyday items such as kettles and ovens would blow the fuse.

“The average household is supplied with single phase electricity and is fitted with a main fuse of 60-80 amps,” the National Grid said.

“If one were to use an above average power charger, say 11kW, this would require 48 amps. When using such a charger it would mean that you could not use other high demand electrical items...  without tripping the house's main fuse.”

The National Grid went on to say that most electric cars will require a battery capacity of 90 kilowatt hours (kWh) to make journeys of around 300 miles. It suggests that the ability to travel longer distances without stopping to recharge will be a “must have” if motorists are to abandon petrol or diesel cars.

We await the UK Government investment needed to counter these concerns and to fulfil the vision they have set out.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The broken Tory promise that could have helped millions

Failure to secure a majority in the House of Commons can often be a valid excuse for not delivering on an election promise, but when there is cross-party support and overwhelming backing for a proposal in the House of Commons, the abandonment of a popular proposal makes no sense whatsoever.

That is certainly the case with Theresa May's manifesto pledge to cap energy prices. No sooner had she stepped back over the threshold of Number 10 Downing Street than the idea had been shelved.

It is not surprising therefore that she is now facing a significant backlash from rebellious Conservative MPs, who are feeling a little miffed that the 17 million British people who stood to benefit from the cap have been abandoned to the oligopolistic power companies.

The Independent says that 53 MPs, including 20 former ministers, have now called on the Prime Minister to fulfil her electoral promise to introduce a cap for all families on a standard variable tariff. The protest, organised by former minister John Penrose, has the backing of 38 Labour and SNP MPs, and includes prominent Conservative figures such as the former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

It is noteworthy of course that weeks after the General Election, British Gas hiked prices by 12.5 per cent for 3.1 million customers, which led to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy saying they were “concerned” the price rise would hit many people already on poor value tariffs”. It now means that all the “Big Six” energy companies have increased bills for consumers this year:

In their letter, which will be delivered to Downing Street following the parliamentary recess, the MPs demand that Ms May extends Ofgem’s proposals to introduce a price cap on bills for 2.5 million vulnerable consumers to all of the 17m originally promised during the election campaign. 

“While these proposals are a step in the right direction, it is clear we must do more to protect the further 15 million households who continue to be preyed on by the Big Six energy firms,” they add. 

”As you can see from our signatures below, the idea has substantial cross-party support.

“It was promised in the three leading party manifestos and a temporary, relative price cap has support from most of the 'challenger' energy firms - the insurgents who are challenging the dominance of the Big Six incumbents, and providing choice and stronger competition, which benefits consumers."

It is time for Theresa May to keep her promise.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why the Tories are living on fantasy island over the ECJ

When I first got involved in politics the Tories used to claim that they stood for the rule of law. Now, through the machinations of Brexit, it is becoming much clearer that the only law they are interested in is the narrow, paternalistic, inward-looking law of a little Englander.

This article in the Observer sums up the inconsistencies and selfishness of Tory thinking, which will leave the UK isolated economically, legally and politically. It is a shame that the so-called Labour opposition is acting to reinforce this sterile viewpoint instead of actively opposing it.

The paper says that the former head of the government’s legal services has ridiculed the prime minister’s claim that the UK can break free of all European laws while continuing to reap the economic benefits of the EU’s single market.

Sir Paul Jenkins, who was the government’s most senior legal official for eight years until 2014, insists that if the UK wants to retain close links with the single market and customs union it will have no option but to observe EU law “in all but name”.

Sir Paul is backed by several other leading experts on EU law. Their expert view casts serious doubt on the central plank of the government’s latest thinking on Brexit:

This week more papers will be released, including one spelling out how legal disputes could be resolved between the UK and EU once the European court of justice (ECJ) no longer has direct jurisdiction in the UK. Leaving the ECJ has been one of the totemic aims of Eurosceptics and any government U-turn on the issue would provoke an outcry among Tory Brexiters. May has repeatedly said that the UK will break free of the ECJ and leave its jurisdiction on the day of Brexit.

UK and EU legal experts are becoming increasingly vocal in asserting that the prime minister’s policy is unrealistic and impossible to achieve. Jenkins, now employed by barristers Matrix Chambers, said: “If the UK is to be part of something close enough to a customs union or the single market to remove the need for hard borders, it will only work if the rules are identical to the EU’s own internal rules.

“Not only must they be the same but there must be consistent policing of those rules. If Theresa May’s red line means we cannot be tied to the ECJ, the Brexit treaty will need to provide a parallel policing system.

“That may be a new court but, in reality, any new court will have to follow what the ECJ says about the EU’s own rules, otherwise the new system won’t work. So, never mind Theresa May’s foolish red line; we will have the ECJ in all but name.”

The other downside of The government’s insistence that the UK must leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ after Brexit could be that Northern Ireland will lose tens of millions of pounds in funding for its peace and reconciliation programmes:

Open Britain, which campaigns against a hard Brexit, claims that unless the government gives ground, the EU’s Peace programme – which under its fourth round of funding covering the period 2014 to 2020 is set to receive a total of £208m from the European regional development fund – is in jeopardy. The programme, which aims to boost “cohesion between communities involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland” and “economic and social stability”, applies to Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic.

And yet it appears that the Tories do not care about this or any other consequence of their hard Brexit policy.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why are mainstream politicians starting to use terrorist attacks to make political points?

There was predictable and justifiable outrage yesterday when Plaid Cymru's leader tweeted to suggest that the Barcelona attack was "far right" terrorism. Thirteen people died when a van drove into pedestrians in the Spanish city, with so-called Islamic State (IS) saying it was responsible. However, Leanne Wood suggested that far-right ideologies are driving both IS and white supremacists.

Both UKIP and the Tories condemned here remarks with Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, saying it was "unbelievable" Leanne Wood had speculated it might be linked to a far-right group:

His fellow Tory assembly member Janet Finch-Saunders said the comments were "at best poorly timed and ill-judged, at worst cynical and morally depraved".

"Politicising terror so fresh after an attack can never be acceptable, and only adds to the hysteria and toxicity of debate.

Leanne Wood's explanation was tendentious at best. some would say superficial, ill-judged and misconceived:

"I am staggered by the reaction to the point that Isis and white supremacism both have far right ideologies driving them.

"Both see their group as superior to others. Both see people who are not in their group fair targets for abuse, violence and even death. Both hate minorities and consider women to be less than men.

"Both believe in using extreme violence to repress people with different views. This is far right/ fascism ideology. How can it not be?"

But wait, what is this? Another politician seeking to make similar points only this time the target is the 'far left'. According to the Independent, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has been accused of using terrorism for scoring “political points” by sharing a post attempting to link a Barcelona attacker with the left-wing campaign group Momentum:

Less than 24 hours after 14 people were killed in the popular Spanish city by terrorists, Mr Goldsmith’s brother, Ben, commented on a post which suggested one of the men involved in the attack had shared an anti-Semitic video, alleging “a global Jewish conspiracy to take over the world”. 

Responding to the post on Twitter, Ben Goldsmith asked: “Maybe he got it from Labour’s Momentum movement? They make for weird bedfellows, Islamism and hard-leftism, but they’re joined at the hip.”

The Richmond MP, Mr Goldsmith, then shared his brother’s provocative remarks.

Strangely neither the Welsh Tories nor UKIP appear to have responded to these equally inappropriate remarks.

What is wrong with these politicians? People have died, their families are grieving, the authorities are still hunting suspects and all they want to talk about are dubious similarities with other groups (some of whom may have been involved in violence elsewhere) who had nothing to do with these attacks.

They really need to get a grip.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Time for Northern Ireland to legalise equal marriage

The ruling by a judge in Northern Ireland yesterday, rejecting a challenge to the province's ban on equal marriage, underlines the need for Stormont to catch up with the rest of the UK on this issue.

The Guardian reports that Mr Justice O’Hara rejected both cases challenging the ban, insisting it did not violate the rights of LGBT couples. He said it was up to the Stormont assembly to decide social policy in Northern Ireland.

The two couples brought the case against the department of finance, which regulates Northern Ireland’s marriage laws, on the grounds that the ban contravenes the right to marriage and respect for family life under the European convention on human rights.

It is possible that they will now seek to take their case to a higher court, but wouldn't it be much easier if Northern Ireland's Legislative Assembly pre-empted them by bringing the province up to speed with other parts of the UK?

It is time Northern Ireland joined the twenty-first century on social policy.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Brexit consequences hidden behind a veil of secrecy

Vince Cable's prediction that there is a 'significant possibility' that Brexit still won't happen is rapidly becoming a reality, in substance if not in name.

The UK Government proposals for visa-free travel from the EU, no hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland and tariff-free trade leads one to the inevitable question - why bother at all? 

However, trying to recreate the rules of a club whilst resigning membership is fraught with problems, not least that the Government needs the consent of the other EU countries to proceed in this direction. And why should they co-operate?

If a country can leave the EU but still maintain the same benefits of membership then what is the point of continuing with the EU? Signing up to the UK Government's proposals would be tantamount to dismantling a political and customs union that has helped to keep the peace in Europe for over 50 years.

Furthermore, it is unclear whether the UK Government's plans fit in with World Trade Organisation rules. As I understand it you cannot apply different rules to different countries. Being in the EU created a single customs entity which was allowable. Once we have left we in a whole different ball game.

Although the weaker pound, leading to higher food prices is a direct consequence of the vote to leave, the actual ramifications of leaving the single market will not start to become apparent until the deed is done. It is bizarre therefore that UK Government studies examining the impact of Brexit are being hidden from the public. What are they trying to hide?

The Independent reports that more than 50 studies into the impact of Brexit are being kept secret for fear they could cause embarrassment to ministers. They say that Brexit minister David Jones has confirmed in a letter that the Department for Exiting the European Union had “conducted analysis of over 50 sectors of the economy”.

But ministers are so far resisting calls to publish the findings of the investigations in full, arguing that some findings “would undermine the Government’s ability to negotiate the best deal for Britain” were they made public.

A hint at how disastrous the predictions contained in these documents could be was contained in one leaked piece of research by the Department of Health, which found that Brexit could cause a shortage of more than 40,000 nurses by 2026.

It seems that the Government is trying to hide the true consequences of their hard Brexit policy from the public for fear that they will be forced to change tack.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bring on the fat cats

A change from Brexit, Brexit. Brexit today, to my favourite subject of cats. The Evening Standard reports that Parliament has racked up a £130,000 pest control bill in a bid to rid the Palace of Westminster of mice and moths disturbed by building work.

The paper says that payments to control the infestation soared to almost a third higher than last year’s bill, with the majority of the costs covering the employment of a full time pest controller and setting more than 1,700 traps. Some believe that the Parliamentary estate is overrun with vermin, and they don't mean the politicians.

The newspaper adds that some 411 mouse sightings were reported between January and June compared to just 313 the previous year. £8,900 was spent on catching moths and £16,000 spent on a hawk to control pigeons.

Apparently, all the maintenance work on the estate has been disturbing the pests and sending them scurrying for new refuges.

Some MPs have brought in their own cats to help deal with the problem. Many believe that the Parliamentary authorities should follow suit and introduce an army of cat mercenaries to sort out the unwanted intruders once and for all.

Larry, Palmerston and Gladstone would approve.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How badly will a hard Brexit split the Tories?

Dissension is starting to stir about Theresa May's approach to Brexit in the Tory Party but it is not yet clear to what extent it will divide the Tory Party as it has done in the past. At least one former Minister has indicated her willingness to quit if the final deal is not to her liking or in the Country's best interests.

As the Guardian reports, former business minister Anna Soubry believes that her party may split if the present course is persisted with. She has also said she would be willing to resign from the Tories and join up with “like-minded people” equally opposed to this outcome if the government opted for a Brexit outcome that would “destroy the lives and livelihoods” of her constituents:

Soubry, who has become the most vocal pro-European among Tory MPs, has never before been quite this explicit about how Brexit could lead to her quitting the party. However, in her article in the Mail on Sunday, she was careful to avoid saying what would constitute the “hard Brexit” that she says she cannot accept.

The term “soft Brexit” was used to describe Britain staying in the single market or the customs unions, options that the government has now very firmly rejected. The government wants the UK to instead have a free trade deal with the EU, an outcome that many would describe as a “hard Brexit”, although not the hardest Brexit of all, which would involve leaving with no deal at all.

In her article, Soubry urged May to side with “sensible, moderate wise owls in the cabinet”, like Philip Hammond, the chancellor, “who appreciate that we need a sensible Brexit transition period to avoid plunging this country headlong into an economic nightmare.”

Soubry went on: “But if the prime minister or her successor (in the event of Theresa standing down) is not prepared to confront the ideologues, I gravely fear that the party could split – and that would change Britain’s political landscape completely.

“Many remainers like me have been true to our promise to respect the result of last year’s referendum.

“However, we must face up to the Brexit reality: it is fantasy to think we are going to get a good deal from the EU based on our current negotiating strategy. People will soon see how they have been conned by the Brexiteers. All options must go back on the table.”

The dissenters are certainly starting to speak out.

Monday, August 14, 2017

UKIP MEP threatens to resign over leadership candidate

I listened with mounting incredulity yesterday morning as UKIP's Welsh MEP, Nathan Gill told Radio Wales listeners that if anti-Islam campaigner, Anne Marie Waters was elected as leader of his party then he will quit UKIP altogether.

Nathan Gill is also a Welsh Assembly Member, an institution in which he sits as an Independent following his ousting as Welsh Leader by former Tory Minister, Neil Hamilton. He has a distinctly independent and stubborn streak, which is to his credit, as is his stand against extremism and racism.

As the BBC reports, Mr Gill has also criticised the party's delay in addressing concerns raised about UKIP assembly member Michelle Brown, following a row over racial slurs she made about a Labour MP:

The North Wales AM called Streatham MP Chuka Umunna a "coconut" in a recorded call in May 2016 to her then senior adviser Nigel Williams. She later apologised.

Mr Gill claimed the issue, which the party postponed making a decision on at its National Executive Meeting, had been "kicked into the long grass".

"I have said very clearly that I think that Michelle Brown should be expelled from the party," he said.

"We have to show, very clearly, what we are not - and we are not a racist party and I fought so strongly for that."

It is possibly a bit late for that. However, the question has to be asked of Mr Gill, if he finds it so unacceptable to be a member of UKIP led by Anne Marie Waters, how can he remain in a party which allows her to remain a member and stand for leader in the first place?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

David Miliband signs up to the Lib Dems commonsense agenda

I am sure that David Miliband will not see it this way, but his 'impassioned call for politicians from all parties to work together to avoid the Tory high command driving the country “off a cliff”', is precisely what the Liberal Democrats have been saying for over a year.

According to the Guardian, the former Foreign Secretary and Labour leadership contender, has warned that Brexit is an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm”. The paper says that he suggests that it is up to MPs of all political colours to fight back against its worst consequences. Crucially, he argues that the country’s future should be decided by another vote on the terms of a final settlement – either by referendum or in parliament.

The Liberal Democrats of course, have been arguing for a confirmatory referendum, but given the advisory nature of the first plebiscite, if Parliament were to reject any deal and opt to stay within the EU that would be a satisfactory outcome, taken in the national interest.

I don't believe that there is a need for a new party to promote this view. We already have an established party with grassroots organisation and a large membership who can put the commonsense case in Parliament and to the country. Setting up a single issue party in such a short period of time, dependent on Parliamentary defections (chiefly from the Tories), and without any democratic legitimacy or organisation could quickly backfire.

It would help though if the Labour Party took up David Miliband's call to arms and joined us in opposing the Tories instead of working so closely with them on putting in place a hard Brexit.

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