Friday, 30 May 2008

Too cheap to meter

Electricity. That's what they said all those years ago, and our politicians still appear to cling to the forlorn hope that it's true.

The context in which the Government is planning a new round of nuclear power stations is becoming clearer by the day. A succession of shutdowns recently has left British Energy with only six of it's sixteen facilities operating. The loss of Sizewell B meant that large numbers of homes were left without power.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has just reviewed its estimate of the costs involved in cleaning up the UK's current nuclear facilities, and not surprisingly the estimate has increased by a very considerable amount, to £73bn, and admitted that there's a 'high probability' that costs will rise further.

Then there's Sellafield; if it weren't so deadly serious it'd be farcical. It's out of action more often than not, when it is 'reprocessing' it's not doing a very successful job - supposedly reprocessed waste is being returned as unsatisfactory; the Japanese recently sent back a batch of fuel that had falsified quality control documents. So Sellafield, far from making the promised profits, is needing to be propped up to the tune of £3bn a year. Because it's facilities are more often than not out of action, Sellafield is now running out of space for storing nuclear waste. This means that the AGR reactors are facing the possibility of needing to be closed until that problem is resolved.

If there's one thing that's for sure, it is that any nuclear power comes at a high price to the public. Any private company taking on such a project will do the same as we saw recently with the London Underground PPF deal - take the quick profit and then wind itself up when the expenses start to mount. The Government of course will be obliged to step in at that point, as it can scarcely leave nuclear power stations simply to rot.

In the end though the money is almost an irrelevance set against the environmental impact of our nuclear industry. The UK is one of the world's worst for radioactive pollution. Until Chernobyl pushed us into second place, Windscale was the world's principal source of radioactive contamination, and the 1957 fire the worst nuclear disaster. When the then Government responded to the aftermath of that catastrophic incident at Windscale, it was little more than to rename the site Sellafield in the hope that people would forget, and that just about says it all. It trivialises the surreal absurdity of it all to suggest the possibility that consultants would have been paid a very large sum to come up with that suggestion.

It may be that there is a way forward with nuclear power, although I very much doubt it. But the Government cannot continue to build their plans around the impossible dream that Sellafield will work as originally promised. It plainly doesn't and never will.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

It's official. Harriet's hat is in the ring.

Funny, isn't it. You wait days for a Harriet post and then, just like one of Ken's bendy buses, two come along at once.

You know, Harriet's a smarter girl than she looks, and she's played a very clever game over the past few months. She's got her own vision, her own policies - basically let women run everything, that's about it really. Oh well, they couldn't make a worse job of it than the current lot.

She's tested her policies with the party members already (who can forget the deputy leadership election?) and knows they go down well, even if they don't with her parliamentary colleagues. And she's always out and about, an endless stream of walkabouts meeting and greeting (all recorded in mind-numbing detail on her blog) so she's got a strong recognition factor with the public. She's been photographed patrolling with the police in her stab-proof vest (she should have hung on to that awhile) so she's sent the message out - she knows there's a problem, particularly with knife crime, and she'll make sure the police get the resources to tackle it.

Then there's her personality; strong but not strident. She doesn't indulge in the dreary hectoring so often associated with female politicians. Actually Jack & Harriet are pretty much the Richard & Judy of the political world. I can see it now - PMQ given the boot entirely, and 'Policy Club' on Channel 4 filling the very slot left vacant by R&J's departure. If she's not already made it to Number 10, there's a pretty good chance that the highlight of Labour's autumn conference will be Harriet's boob 'accidentally' bursting forth; that'll certainly play well with the tabloids and the male voters.

And then there's loyalty. Party loyalty is an unwritten essential when it comes to leadership elections, and Harriet has delivered loyalty in spades. All those promises she made during the deputy leadership campaign appeared to have been discarded as soon as Gordon offered her a Cabinet post (I took her to task over that more than once, now I'm looking rather foolish). And now, when her colleagues are bunkered down just hoping they'll wake up and find it was all just a bad nightmare, she's out there fronting up to the media. With style, too. "He's the right man to see us through this crisis", "I don't think that will happen" (that in response to suggestions of a move against Brown, although she acknowledged "discordant voices"), the classic "We need to listen more and address voters' concerns" and "He'll still be in Number 10 come the next election".

The Guardian, who described her as one of Gordon's key allies (she's not, they can't stand each other) accused Harriet in their leader of platitudinous burblings. Now the Guardian fancies itself as the thinking man's paper, so how come they missed the subtext? 'No way, no man's going to see us through this crisis. A woman might, though'. 'I don't think it will, I know it will'. Gordon wouldn't know how to, but I do'. 'Only if I put him on the domestic staff'.

Harriet has another terrific advantage. She's posh, seriously seriously posh. Middle-class voters go for that (particularly when she's already been pretty forthright in denouncing the tactics used in Crewe) and Dave looks rather like an immature schoolboy set against her obvious class and style.

So, you read it here first. I got 16-1 yesterday, but you'll need to be quick.

I've surprised you, haven't I? I bet you thought Harriet was just another 'yes' girl, but you were wrong. Obviously this blog has already declared for Harriet, and will in due course have a series of Back Harriet posts. I wonder if she'll give us an interview?

Friday, 23 May 2008

Impressive new schools and children's centres - North West and Yorkshire.

Those who read my sidebar will no doubt have noticed that the lovely Harriet has now officially joined the team; I feel slightly guilty because I've been somewhat ignoring her since. However it's been a depressing week for politics (so far, at least) so it seems like a good time to make amends.

As impressive as all those new schools and children's centres no doubt are, it is difficult to believe that Harriet has spent more than five weeks hanging around Manchester, Bolton, Oldham and Sheffield being impressed. In other circumstances I'd think that she'd simply forgotten that a blog requires the occasional post just once in a while if it's to retain its loyal readership. Or more likely forgotten her new password. But of course she's rather busy right now making sure her campaign troops are on a full battle footing and ready to swing into action at a moment's notice. Maybe she's even planning to wield the knife herself.

I'm sure that she draws much of her inspiration from Maggie, and since she's considerably prettier than Maggie ever was it's a near cert that she'll be the next occupant of Number 10, probably before the summer's out. Think I'd better pay a quick visit to Ladbrokes while they're still offering odds.

Harriet, your hour has come. Your country needs you!

Crewe and Nantwich


Even if our current Government were making a fair fist of things, which obviously they're not, they thoroughly deserved the good kicking they got yesterday. If only it had been even more severe; I'd have happily voted Tory myself if I lived in Crewe. Labour's negative and frequently xenophobic campaign seemed to plumb new depths with its willingness to 'play the race card' and resort to personal attacks on the Tory candidate that were knowing and outright lies (at the same time 'sexing-up' Ms Dunwoody by misrepresentations that defied credulity), anything it seems that evaded meaningful debate on Labour's record, let alone its policies.

It's hard to comprehend, but Labour seems to be sinking into the same stinking electoral cesspit as the BNP. Right now, they appear rotten to the core, and quite unfit to govern.

The irony of course is that the voters did exactly what Labour asked them to - they voted for the thoroughly decent local candidate and told the toff to f*** off back to Burke's peerage and her Welsh mansion. Good on them, I'd have done the same.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Human Fertilisation and Embryology

There's been a fair amount said about this week's big parliamentary debate already, but not enough I suspect. Gordon Brown has offered his personal opinion in The Observer today, in an effort to drum up support from the uncertain for the uncertain.

I'm no pro-lifer, don't think myself unduly conservative on such matters, and have a certain amount of apprehension about the amendment to shorten the period in which women can obtain an abortion (apprehensive because I fear that it might be supported). But I object most strongly to the proposal that IVF should no longer require clinics to consider the child's need for a father. It's not that they're saying that a child has no need for a father (they'd have difficulty providing evidence for that proposition particularly as they regularly blame 'absent fathers' for teenage delinquency). It's this curious belief that in some way they're denying human rights to gays and lesbians. Whatever happened to the notion that it's the child's need that should be put first?

However my biggest anxiety is over the main focus of the bill, the proposal that scientists should be allowed to create animal-human hybrid embryos. Whether MPs are ever likely to have sufficient grasp of the scientific arguments is uncertain; For myself, I'm deeply suspicious of them. The scientists say (in effect) that if we permit this technique they'll solve all known illnesses before Christmas comes around. And that if the MPs reject the proposal they are condemning the ill to suffering and that would be immoral. It's an absurd argument, driven by scientists' desire to experiment regardless of consequence. The success of existing stem cell treatments is wildly overstated, and published research is about as one-sided as the stuff emanating from drug companies. But the politicians seem to have bought into this misplaced conviction.

Bad science always promises the moon; just look at the Nuclear industry. Governments are very reluctant to appear sceptical, they remain ever hopeful that those promises will actually deliver, and they will benefit electorally.

It worries me how the debate is being conducted not least with its undue haste, and it's all too reminiscent of the Iraq farrago from four years ago. Scientific breakthroughs are more likely to be made than Saddam Hussein's WMD were to be found, certainly, but only marginally. Gordon's zeal in pushing this through is not unlike Tony's was, and his assessment of the outcome is likely to be about as deficient.

There's worse though. "Britain is at the forefront of this research and responsible for much of the worldwide progress" Gordon writes. So that's what it comes down to. Money.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Telly Addicts

You'd have thought that it was the job of the police to be out there catching criminals, and the CPS to be prosecuting them (or, all too often, deciding not to). Not one bit of it. In the West Midlands they have different priorities; they seem to fancy themselves as TV critics. Literally. Really.

It's a rather curious case that seems to have been rumbling on for some time now, where the West Midlands police and the CPS took exception to a C4 Dispatches programme Undercover Mosque. They referred the programme to the TV regulator Ofcom, and issued a very strongly worded statement accusing the programme makers of 'inciting criminal activity' through malicious editing of undercover footage. You'd have thought that they'd just have got on and prosecuted the broadcaster, given that incitement happens to be an offence in the UK. But not a bit of it, just a well-publicised press conference. Now the affair has finally reached some sort of conclusion, leaving several unanswered questions in its wake.

Presumably the police originally issued their highly critical statement because they preferred to turn a blind eye to what was going on in a few mosques in their patch, and weren't grateful to the Dispatches programme for screening fairly damning evidence. So who was it who took the decision to refer the programme to Ofcom, let alone issue that statement? It's hardly likely to have been PC Plod returning from patrolling the streets of Brum, far more likely Sir Paul Scott-Lee, the Chief Constable. And who from the CPS decided that they should lend their support? Most importantly, what are the police and CPS now going to do about those three preachers, and others of a similar bent? Don't hold your breath.

A very considerable sum from the public purse has been wasted on this scandalous exercise in evasion and resignations should follow. But they won't, of course; that sort of thing went out of fashion years ago. Sir Paul, prove me a cynic for once.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Will we learn from the Iraq invasion?

I said in an earlier post that arguing about the rights and wrongs of invading Iraq amounts to little more than debating history; the important issue is what we should be doing now. We're where we are, and we can't turn the clock back.

But history is also important, not for political point scoring, but because we (hopefully) learn from it. And if mistakes were made in the way we decided to go to war we need to identify them. The current threat the (very unpleasant) government in Iran poses means there is a real risk that we will face a similar scenario; our actions at that point need to be informed by an acceptance of the tragic consequences of the Iraq war and a recognition of our moral culpability for them.

We do have a moral responsibility to do more than stand by in the face of evil; but our Iraq venture has been a disaster that we mustn't repeat.

Iraq: will we ever get out?

We might, if only because of the cowardly way our Government is keeping its head down and hoping that no-one really notices when we do. But our coalition partners have a bigger commitment, and face a bigger loss of prestige from admitting the failure of the enterprise. Then there's Afghanistan, for somewhat different reasons another disaster; we're almost certainly trapped there for the long term.

The purpose of this post is to draw attention to this article in the New York Review of Books which looks at the reasons things went so badly wrong, and the policies of the three main candidates seeking the US Presidency; it is well worth reading.

Ann Clwyd and Tony Blair

Ann Clwyd deserves respect, not least for her longstanding commitment to investigating and publicly denouncing the human rights abuses of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. She supported the invasion of Iraq because of those abuses, and there was no doubt whatever that her position was consistent throughout, and that there was immense moral strength to her argument.

If only one could have said the same of Tony Blair. In 1995 Ms Clwyd was the Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, only to find herself sacked for taking a trip to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq 'without permission'. The atrocities she had already exposed there were on an appalling scale, but the briefings from the Leader of the Opposition's office were to say that she was 'mad', and 'obsessed with Iraq'.

If Tony Blair had been a man of principle, he would have recognised that the position he took in 1995 left him looking hypocritical in his subsequent support of the US invasion, called into question his motives for doing so, and required that he resign. As a Prime Minister who was so happy to apologise for the failings of any Government bar his own, it's no surprise that he lacked even the decency to offer Ms Clwyd a public apology.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Operation Mavhoterapapi (where did you vote)

It's depressingly predicable that Zimbabwe has just about dropped out of the news entirely; our press prefers to concentrate on one tragedy at a time.

Zanu PF are of course in their stride right now, conducting the predictable campaign of terror in order to 'encourage' the Mugabe vote. We're little more than helpless spectators here, although we should hope that the international community will do more to increase the pressure on South Africa to end their support for Mugabe's regime.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Jacqui Smith

It's been a busy couple of days for the Home Secretary. Yesterday she was lecturing the House on the evils of cannabis and announcing it's return to category B status. Ms Smith has previously admitted that she used to smoke it herself when she was younger, and I can't help feeling she could do with the occasional spliff right now to be honest. Unsurprisingly she says that she's sending out a clear message to young people but she isn't of course. The message is to the same electorate who declined to vote Labour last week, and are unlikely to do so again before Ms Smith is long since gone. Drugs strategy (is there one?) is a mess right now, and this latest move hasn't made it any tidier. Jacqui likes to think it makes her look a lot tougher though.

If that weren't bad enough, today she's declaring "I want police and local agencies to focus on (persistent offenders) by giving them a taste of their own medicine: daily visits, repeated warnings and relentless filming of offenders to create an environment where there is nowhere to hide."

I'm not sure that any comment is needed beyond the obvious conclusion that Ms Smith hasn't got what it takes to be the cabinet's tea lady, let alone Home Secretary. It's something of a surprise that she didn't just come straight out and give the police a direct instruction to duff up anyone they took a dislike to; she can't resist playing to the tabloids and causes considerable damage to whatever residual respect this government commands in doing so. But she is not alone in sucking up to the tabloids unfortunately; the Tories and Lib Dems, fearful that it might prove popular, have already leapt in, "We thought of it first!".

I see that Alistair Darling is another of the 'I used to when I was young' crew. So maybe there is a case for recategorising cannabis after all. Far more so for the police to be giving these self-confessed former users in the Cabinet 'a taste of their own medicine'. Given the mood in the country right now, that last suggestion would probably play best of all with the third estate.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


We reject without qualification the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking. This is not a case of seeing the US as a model society. We are aware of its problems and failings. But these are shared in some degree with all of the developed world. The United States of America is a great country and nation. It is the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition behind it and lasting constitutional and social achievements to its name. Its peoples have produced a vibrant culture that is the pleasure, the source-book and the envy of millions. That US foreign policy has often opposed progressive movements and governments and supported regressive and authoritarian ones does not justify generalized prejudice against either the country or its people.
Article 6 of the Euston Manifesto, Opposing anti-Americanism.

In one sense it's right; the US is not the source of all the worlds ills and cold-war era lefties who think it is need their heads examined. But it is not true to say that it's problems and failings are shared to some degree with all of the developed world. It's enthusiasm for capital punishment, for detention without trial, for torture, for 'rendition' and it's contempt for the Geneva Convention are pretty much conspicuous by their absence in the rest of the developed world. It's one thing to oppose anti-Americanism; it's quite another to fail to judge it's government by the same moral criteria as we judge others less democratic.

US culture? Yes it's certainly vibrant, and no doubt the pleasure, the source-book and the envy of millions; count me among them. But I doubt if that's of any consolation whatever to someone being tortured in Guantanamo Bay right now.

Now they're all at it

Gordon's pumping our money into sustaining house prices and risky mortgages as fast as he decently dare (only pausing long enough to promise the precise opposite, affordable housing for all). Despite all that, it's definitely not been a good week for him at the polls, and that's an understatement if ever there was one.

It could be worse. We could be living in the US right now. They only have two big mortgage companies writing new business, they're all so nervous about their housing market. Their currency's getting to be like Monopoly money, no longer the mighty dollar of old and unlikely to be so again. So maybe George Bush is starting to grasp that if you cut taxes too far, and give your wealthiest supporters tax breaks with loopholes big enough to drive Fort Knox through, however rich your best mates end up, sooner or later your economy is going to suffer regardless of the mortgage industry; if you haven't got the money, you can't bail anyone out, however much you want to, or your currency just keeps falling. So what's he doing about it? You'd scarcely credit it, but he's looking for the European Central Bank to pump money into propping up the dollar. This of course is the same Europe he lambasted not that many years ago because they considered his Iraq invasion ill-judged, and told him so. Why on earth should they help him out?

Well, help him out they probably will, because several European countries, France in particular, are worrying over the rapid decline in exports to the US. So we have an absurd merry-go-round, everyone propping everyone else up, money bleeding from every orifice; will it make a difference? Of course it won't. You can't buck the market, that's what they said not that long ago, and there's a lot of truth to that. Remember Black Wednesday? Norman Lamont making the same futile attempt to save the Tories from the consequences of a series of bad economic decisions? Right now our overheated economy is going from boom to bust, something Gordon promised to put an end to eleven years ago. Exactly the same for our coalition partners; since their economy is bigger the collapse is going to be more spectacular.

Only one thing can save us now. The sooner we get our hands on all that Iraqi oil the better.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Harriet's Blog returns!

Those who share my bizarre enthusiasm for the blog of the Labour Party's deputy leader will be pleased to hear that Harriet's Blog is finally back online; they're reposting all the old entries even as I speak (I wonder if my comments will still be up?). Like the result of the London mayoral election, this had been expected some time ago (Harriet promised for Monday), but I expect it's taken this long for her to settle on a new password.

I've taken a further look back now, and most of the old posts are back, with the comments intact. She's taken her tribute to Gwyneth Dunwoody down for some reason. She definitely needs to sort out her html though; I left a comment just in case she hasn't noticed yet.

From my stats it seems that Harriet has actually paid a return visit here. Great excitement! I wish she'd leave a comment; I've left enough for her over the past months.

Election Fever II

I am surprised at the way Hillary Clinton seems to have just about pulled herself back into contention in the race to be the Democratic nominee for US President. Last time I posted she looked dead in the water.

The election of the most immediate interest right now is of course the one for the new London Mayor. At the time of posting here there is still no declared result (We had been led to expect one several hours ago). The interesting thing though is the size of the turnout. However much voter attitudes have been manipulated by a rather unpleasant campaign in the Evening Standard, what it shows is that people will turn out to vote if they think that it's going to make a difference. People do still care about politics, hell, people well away from London are following this one. The notion that most of Boris' support stems from his recognition as a TV personality is something of a myth, I think. After all I doubt if anyone stupid enough to vote for him is bright enough to appreciate 'Have I Got News For You!'

Then there's the local council elections. Gordon Brown has very modestly described it as a 'bad night'. At least there's something he learnt from Tony; how to put positive spin on a damaging story. He'll go far.

Once again, the real election story comes from Zimbabwe where the electoral commission have just announced a run-off poll. They also concede that Mugabe came second. Sadly, we know that the whole thing is going to be a fix, because it's already a fix, that there's little we can realistically do, and that the people of Zimbabwe are condemned to four more years of rule from that stinking despot. Just as last time I posted this, it's not exactly front page news with our media here although it should be.