Immigration: fair dealing

Sunday 28 November 2021  

Matthew Parris has done it again, coming up with a halfway decent article, this one headed: "It's time we re-examined our obligation to refugees".

The sub-heading sets the framework for the piece, with the assertion that [the] "Convention sets up a false moral framework by suggesting we have a duty to care equally for all", the reference to "Convention" meaning the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

However, before dealing with the substance of the issue – how we treat refugees – Parris makes an essential and important political point. Voters on an island, he says, will never soften towards settlers arriving uninvited in boats, and politicians who must govern by consent cannot ignore this.

He goes on to say that foreigners in significant numbers try to settle here without permission "absolutely infuriates British people", and this is "a rock-solid truth that cannot be wished out of existence".

In a democracy, he adds, "our politicians have to respond". Referring to his liberal self and "fellow liberals" - who have the luxury of sermonising – he then remarks that politicians do not have that luxury. They must, he says, "negotiate with powerful national sentiment", a process he does not regard as "disreputable".

A little while ago, on this blog, I quoted from Kipling's poem, Norman and Saxon and, although it was cited in a different context, it applies in great measure to the issue of asylum seekers.

The essence of the poem is about "fair dealing", a principle buried deep in the psyche of the English people, so deep that many of our foreign readers – and some others – have failed to understand its significance – it washes right over their heads.

But the Guardian tendency, the rest of the media and all the "liberal" apologists for illegal migrants can write all the words they like. They can wringing their hands and churn out as many the deeply emotional sob-stories as they can get published, in as many sources as they can reach.

Nothing of this torrent of words, though, or even the finest crafted arguments, will have the slightest effect if the English people believe that would-be migrants are taking advantage of the system, and exploiting their inherent good nature. If what they see acquires the taint of a lack of "fair dealing", then you can talk and argue until you are blue in the face. It will not make the slightest bit of difference.

And that's where we are with the dinghy people. Rightly or wrongly (and mostly rightly), the ordinary English person – the man on the fabled Clapham omnibus, who is firmly embedded in English law – sees the people who are by-passing our laws, and rocking up to Dover or the beaches if Dungeness (illustrated), as "taking the piss". That is the perception, and no amount of sermonising or sob-stories will change it. It ain't "fair dealing", and that's the end of it.

Although many of his columns are tedious and self-referential, I think Parris understands this, a perception which marks him out from the run of the mill commentator who thinks we can be bludgeoned into line by dint of a hectoring tone.

Thus armed, he addresses two subordinate points. First, he wrote:
… with the partial exception of China, most countries where persecution is most oppressive are poor; and most countries where individual rights are most respected are rich. This has resulted in a hopeless tangling of human motives: there exists no categorical distinction between wanting to be richer and wanting to be safer, but asylum and immigration tribunals must attempt that distinction, because economic motives supplement and supercharge the quest of many of the world’s four million asylum-seekers.
Second (and in consequence), he tells us, British policy on asylum-seeking, is to thwart the intention, while keeping to the letter, of the 1951 Convention. This, he says, had a transparent purpose: to enable and facilitate, after the Second World War, the resettlement in friendly countries of displaced peoples fleeing serious persecution at home. But, in the world of 2021, such a tidying-up is impossibly open-ended.

Out in the world, billions are oppressed by both poverty and persecution, potentially billions would take the chance to move, and with modern means of transportation potentially billions could. So, with an irritated nod towards our international treaty obligations, we put every possible obstacle in their way. And our rich neighbours do the same.

The long and the short of it all, according to Parris – to paraphrase a lengthy argument - is that the 1951 Convention is no longer fit for purpose. And the reason, he argues, is because it sets up a false moral framework to which we do not in our hearts - or lives - adhere. "It posits an equal duty on the part of all to care for all: a duty blindfolded against our particular relationship with individuals who seek our help".

Real life, he goes on to argue, recognises no such duty. It sees levels of obligation: first to family, then in declining order to friends, neighbours, community, country and mankind in general.

Then we get to the punchline: "We cannot offer an implicit invitation to the whole world’s oppressed but may (for instance) feel special obligations to our former servants in Afghanistan, or threatened citizens in our old empire, such as Hong Kong".

And that's the truth of the matter, although Parris actually misstates the case. The original Convention related to events occurring before 1 January 1951, and therefore, limited states' obligations. It also gave the option to limit the scope of the instrument to Europe.

What then did the damage was the 1967 Protocol which removed the temporal exemption and any geographical limitation. With that, we forged an unending commitment to accepting peoples from anywhere in the world who could meet the definition of refugee. What Parris then says fits this to a tee: a treaty blind to the hierarchy of obligation that individuals and nations can see, cannot be timeless, he assets.

But what he then suggests probably will not work. Britain, he says, "should not act unilaterally but start exploring other minds, other governments", positing that: "The 1951 Geneva Convention is out of time".

Actually, it is the Protocol we need to get rod of, and that is surprisingly easy. Article IX on "Denunciation" simply requires a notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Such denunciation shall take effect, the Article says, one year from the date on which it is received. And, with that, it's over.

In practical terms, this would probably achieve very little. Economic migrants would still rock up on our shores, and the French would continue to play their shitty games. And, in the end, we would probably allow many of the undeserving to remain, simply because it was so difficult to get rid of them.

But, in the absence of the Convention, we would be able to rewrite our laws, and alter our procedures – a provision which should then extend to the European Convention on Human Rights. And if the outcome would not be very different in the short-term, at least they would be our laws, and not a set of international tools that can be manipulated by activist judges and partisan NGOs.

That would, to an extent, restore a sense of control to the system, and do much to return a sense of fair-dealing that would rebuild the public consent which is currently lacking. And, with the pretence stripped out that we can be the resort of any migrant who fancies living here, we can talk to our neighbours to craft a more sensible international code for real refugees.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 28/11/2021 link

Immigration: economic migrants

Saturday 27 November 2021  

The Telegraph tells us that Baran Nouri Hamadamin, a 24-year-old Kurdish woman from northern Iraq, has been identified as one of 27 migrants who drowned in the Channel last Wednesday.

The woman, also known as Maryam (with her full name spelled differently in other accounts), had been a student and was newly engaged. and had left her studies early to be with her fiancé in the UK (another account describes her as married. She had an Italian visa and travelled from Istanbul to Italy on 2 November, then spent six days in Germany.

The BBC has published a photograph of Maryam, said to be located in Germany on 10 November. The picture shows a well-dressed young woman, clean and apparently healthy, in what seems to be a parkland setting (illustrated).

Maryam's best friend, Imann Hassan, has told the BBC that her friend was "very humble" and had "a very big heart". "When she left Kurdistan she was very happy, she couldn't believe that she was going to meet her husband", Hassan said. "At her engagement party she was telling me: 'I will buy a house and live nearby you ... we are going to live together'".

The Guardian publishes another photograph of Maryam (also on the front pages of the Telegraph and Times), well-groomed and wearing a tiara, apparently with her fiancé/husband, a well-dressed young man in suit and tie.

The accompanying text has Maryam coming from the town of Souran in the north-east of Iraqi Kurdistan, near the border with Turkey and Iran,. A relative says of her: "Her story is the same as everyone else – she was looking for a better life. One of her uncles was one of the people closest to me. He cared for us when my father was a political prisoner. But the family have had such a tragic life".

In another BBC piece, we are told why migrants leave France for the UK. In a survey of 402 people at the former Calais "Jungle" camp, we are told, researchers from the International Health journal found only 12 percent wanted to remain in France, while 82 percent planned to go to England.

Of those that wanted to travel to England more than half (52 percent), said they already had a family member there. "They have a connection to the UK, they speak some English, they have family, they have friends and people in their networks". "They want to come and stay and rebuild their lives", says Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

This would clearly apply to Baran Nouri Hamadamin who, from the testimonies of her friend and of her fiancé/husband, was indeed attempting to join a family (or about to be family) member in England and, to paraphrase the words of Enver Solomon, was not so much seeking to rebuild her life as to create a new one.

Tragic and untimely though her death was, it would be very hard to describe this young woman as a refugee in the sense defined by the UN Convention and Protocol, to whit:
Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Enver Solomon, in an earlier piece argues that displaced people have a right to seek safety in Britain.

But even if we conceded that, Maryam seems to have left Iraq of her own accord. Although her means of travel is not specified in any narrative, it is reasonable to assume that she flew to Italy – possibly from Turkey. She then was able freely to travel to Germany, where she was clearly not roughing it, and then travelled to France.

The fiancé/husband – who providing some of the tragic details to the media, having tracked Maryam by GPS for the four hours that she was in the dinghy – is named as Karzan Asaad. He is said, by the Mail, to have British citizenship and is working as a barber in Bournemouth.

Therein lies something of a puzzle. If he was – as some accounts state – married to Maryam, and was lawfully in this country with residential rights, then there is provision to take advantage of family reunion rules for a "pre-flight" partner.

On that basis, Maryam could well have joined her husband (if that was the relationship), quite legally – although not as fast, given the formidable bureaucracy involved.

This notwithstanding, we must not let the regrettable and tragic circumstances of the death of Maryam blind us to the facts which strongly indicate that she was not in any meaningful sense a refugee. On the facts as we know them, she was an economic migrant with no grounds for seeking asylum.

Before embarking on her fatal journey across the Channel, she had been (apparently legally) in three EU countries, all within the same month. And, quite clearly, in those countries, she was in a safe place. Had she felt unable to return to Iraq – for reasons set out in the Convention and Protocol – one assumes she could have applied for asylum in any one of those countries.

Over time, more details may emerge of the background of Maryam, as will details of the other victims. Without those details, though, we already have well-funded NGOs exploiting the tragedy to argue for relaxed controls, to enable the dinghy people to enter the UK legally.

Bizarrely, though, when it comes to Iraqi Kurds, there is no attempt to conceal the economic motivations. In this piece from the BBC, headed: "Why Iraqi Kurds risk their lives to reach the West", we learn that the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq has oil resources and a reputation for being relatively secure, stable and prosperous.

But, we are told, "many of the Iraqi Kurds stuck at camps dotted along the northern French coast and Belarus-Poland border say they are trying to escape economic hardship in the region and build better lives".

They complain, says the BBC, about high unemployment, low pay and unpaid salaries, as well as poor public services, widespread corruption and the patronage networks linked to two main families - Barzani and Talabani - and their political parties, which have shared power for almost three decades.

A young man at a camp in Dunkirk is cited, saying that: "There is no hope in Kurdistan. Every young person has to migrate, except for those backed by the ruling parties". A woman at the same camp said her husband had served in the region's Peshmerga security forces for years, but that they had left for Europe after he was not paid for months. "We have hope for a better life once we reach [the UK], a better future for our kids," she said.

Uncomfortable though some of these personal circumstances might be, what the BBC is describing are the very embodiment of economic migrants. Such people have no rights to come to the UK. Should they choose to enter the country by-passing normal immigration rules, as individuals, we owe them nothing.

However many times the Guardian might squeal "xenophobia", this latest tragedy does not change a thing. Where our collective responsibility does lie - alongside France - is to stop the boats.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 27/11/2021 link

Immigration: the final frontier

Friday 26 November 2021  

Once upon a time, prime ministers used to make their announcements public via the Commons, but such is the general contempt for the House that now we get Johnson revealing developments by Twitter.

Broken up into eight parts, his message told us that he had written to president Macron offering "to move further and faster to prevent Channel crossings and avoid a repeat of yesterday's appalling tragedy".

The substance of his message was to propose five steps which should be taken "as soon as possible", two of which were set out in my piece yesterday.

The first, I suspect, is a bit of flim-flam for the media - joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches. This has already been fully aired in multiple newspapers, and has had a mixed (and not altogether hostile) from the French.

It is the second proposal that makes more sense: "deploying more advanced technology, like sensors and radar", which was the first of my suggestions. Readers will recall that I mentioned ground-located cameras and radar.

It also occurs to me that the French could also use tethered surveillance blimps, also known as aerostats, which have been used with success in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. I also mentioned the use of UAVs and airborne synthetic-aperture side-looking radar, systems.

There has much ill-informed chatter about the difficulties of policing the length of beaches involved but, given the right technology, the problems are vastly over-stated. Technology massively enhances surveillance capabilities and, for once, Johnson has been well-advised.

Next on Johnson's list is a proposal for reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters, to which is tacked on "airborne surveillance", which could also be tacked on to the technology proposal. In a full copy of his letter, also posted on Twitter, he refers specifically to manned and unmanned aircraft "perhaps flying under joint insignia".

This makes sense, as does the idea of reciprocal maritime patrols. Something similar has been agreed with land-based customs between Norway and Sweden, where both countries have the same enforcement powers in the border zone. The precedent could be useful.

Johnson then proposes deepening the work of our Joint Intelligence Cell, "with better real-time intelligence-sharing to deliver more arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel". That also makes sense.

But the pièce de resistance is Johnson's final step – one which I also suggest in my piece. This, in his words, proposes: "Immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement".

"An agreement with France to take back migrants who cross the Channel through this dangerous route would have an immediate and significant impact", writes Johnson. "If those who reach this country were swiftly returned the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced".

He says that "this would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs", concluding: "I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday".

And tucked in there is a phrase which will infuriate the NGOcracy – Johnson refers to " illegal migration", which effectively sets the seal on the description used by most ordinary people, no matter what the purists and rent-seekers would have us say.

That aside, with the possible exception of dedicated control centres directing rapid-response "interception units", on the Spanish model, and digitised environmental exception mapping, utilising the very latest in AI technology, Johnson (or his advisors) are offering a strategy which has a good chance of working, even if – as the Mail asserts - traffickers are forcing migrants into the boats at gunpoint.

Whether or not the French will respond favourably is anyone's guess, but it certainly puts Macron on the back foot if he rejects the plan. Offered something which could bring the cross-Channel traffic to a halt, he is prone to accusations of "blood on his hands" if there are further mass drownings.

The signs look quite promising, especially in the context of a returns agreement, with a reference in Johnson's full letter to an agreement with the EU. There, he notes that France is soon to take over the EU presidency and has "committed to make "a reaching systematic returns agreement" between the UK and the EU.

The letter notes that the EU has readmission agreements with countries including Belarus and the Russian Federation (for what good it does), hoping that an agreement can be reached rapidly with the UK as well.

This will not please the NGOcrats, given full expression in the Guardian in the person of Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

He argues that displaced people have a right to seek safety in Britain and hold that the government must rethink its "punitive policy" and find some compassion. Central to this is the idea that, in order to avoid the risky journeys, "people could be allowed to apply for a humanitarian visa to enable them to travel safely to our shores to claim asylum".

This is not dissimilar to the concept of eradicating burglary by leaving house doors open overnight and inviting thieves to help themselves – after all some of the burglars may be near-destitute and a little bit of compassion is all that is needed.

What the likes of Solomon never do, though, is state where the limits lie. Effectively advocating an open borders policy, they talk glibly about addressing the factors "that force people to seek safety", without proposing alternatives if measures fail.

This "safe routes" policy, as it is known, has however, attracted the observations of former home secretary Lord Blunkett. Acknowledging that the politics of migration are "toxic", he warns Starmer against softening the asylum system.

Even if such an approach would likely not result in a "huge" spike in asylum claims, the Labour peer stated: "Well, the numbers might not be but Nigel Farage might end up being prime minister and that could even be worse than what we have got at the moment".

One thing that Solomon does suggest is multilateral action, and it is there that we are likely to see most progress – but not of the sort that he has in mind. All round the EU's land borders, the fences are going up, blocking the easy routes into Europe. This – and other preventative measures – is essentially, is driving the boat traffic. To that extent, the sea is becoming the final frontier – apart from the activities of rogue states such as Belarus.

A particular weak spot is the Mediterranean, with Greece, Italy and Malta on the front line – joined latterly by the UK which now also has to deal with the boat people. Australia, of course, was one of the first, in what is a global problem, with no "magic bullet" solution.

Eventually, though, tolerance for immigration with no set limits, and the associated loss of control, wears thin. An immigration policy which can be by-passed by asylum seekers demanding entry is no policy at all. Potentially, this leaves the UK in a pole position when it comes to crafting solutions, where the alternative is more drownings and endless recriminations.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 26/11/2021 link

Immigration: political expediency

Thursday 25 November 2021  

Just about every sentient being with a keyboard and internet access seems to be writing about yesterday's incident in the Channel, which means that there is very little new or original that can be said. Such is the prominence of the incident, though, that it would be otiose to write about anything else.

The one thing I'm not going to do though is call this an accident - the death of 31 migrants (so far reported), said to have drowned in the sea some five miles north of Calais. By common accord, it was only a matter of time before something of this nature was going to happen, which means that it can't qualify as an accident, by any proper meaning of the word.

That leaves the various actors and pundits to play out their grotesque versions of the blame game, each varying according to stance and political disposition. But it has to be said that the primary responsibility for the deaths lie with those who put themselves in harm's way – with the possible exception of the women and the young girl reported dead. They may not have been entirely free agents.

Many would profoundly disagree with this assertion but, if we are to believe in the concept of free will, and self-determination, then we cannot and must not absolve those who risked their own lives from the consequences of their own actions.

Certainly, it is said that people smugglers were involved in procuring the craft, and organising the perilous journey but nowhere have I seen it claimed that any of the passengers (apart from the aforementioned exceptions) have been anything other than volunteers, in the main having made substantial payments for their places.

Nevertheless, the case has been made that these are desperate people driven by extreme circumstances, and thus have been "forced" to take the risks they do. It may also be argued that, in view of the intervention of the authorities – British and French – that the risks were relatively slight, on the basis that rescue was fairly well assured in the event of mishap.

Despite all that, though – and whatever other arguments may be adduced - the people who drowned yesterday must have made their own calculations of the risks they were taking. That in this case they did not pay off does not change the calculus.

However, in law – English law, at least – it is well accepted that blame for any one incident can be apportioned to multiple parties, with relative proportions attributed. Thus, in holding that those who died were primarily responsible for their own fate does not necessarily (or at all) absolve others.

If one looks at the passage of people in flimsy craft across the Channel in terms of a health and safety issue – skirting for the moment the immigration issues – then blame can also be directed at the French authorities.

It has been said of the French (and by them in their own defence) that policing the beaches to prevent migrants launching their dinghies is very difficult to the point of being impossible. This argument, though, I don't even begin to accept.

For one thing, there is considerable experience in dealing with this type of problem. For instances, in April 2015 I wrote of the Spanish experience of boat-borne migrants and of the same outcome that the media are currently reporting, where in 2003 200 migrants were presumed dead after an overladen refugee boat had sunk in the Mediterranean.

The response of the Spanish, I wrote at the time, had been to strengthen their defences. They had already installed from 2001 a $140 million surveillance system called the Integrated External Vigilance System (SIVE), first in the Strait of Gibraltar and along the Andalusian coast, in the province of Cadiz. It was gradually extended to other areas of Andalusia, the Mediterranean coast and the coasts of the Canaries.

This system combined three elements: radar stations distributed along the coast (pictured), dedicated control centres where specialised agents could control the movement of the cameras and radars scattered along the coast and "interception units" (patrol boats, helicopters and vehicles) that received orders from the control centre.

Since then, technology has moved on, with the availability of reliable, high-endurance UAVs (drones), equipped with high-resolution cameras covering visible and infra-red spectrum, and synthetic-aperture side-looking radar which is said to be so sensitive that it can pick up fresh footprints in the sand.

Combine that with real-time, digitised environmental exception mapping, utilising the very latest in AI technology – which can quickly flag up suspicious movement - and it would be eminently possible to identify preparations for dinghy launches in time to prevent them from happening.

For sure, such systems don't come cheap and the Spanish budget for their operation between 2001 and 2006 was €106 million, while in 2005 and 2008 its total cost was €130 million. Given equipment price inflation, it would now be much more, but then – with the UK also contributing – cost is hardly a factor.

Where the Spanish also scored was in brokering a deal with Morocco so that any boat people who were picked up were immediately shipped back, sending a message to would-be migrants that investing in boat rides was a complete waste of money.

Translated into the Channel scenario, that would require the French government to give an undertaking to the British that any dinghy people picked up by the British would be accepted back in France, without question or delay. By that means, the same message would be conveyed – that investing in dinghy trips was fruitless.

Remember, we are not talking politics here, nor seeking to decide immigration policy or the treatment of asylum seekers. We are addressing this solely on a health and safety level. And both technically and procedurally, there can be no argument that the means existed to prevent migrants putting to sea.

On that basis, the one group that could not be blamed for this particular incident is the British. For a start, the dinghy sank in French waters and, as we've been seeing, the French police have hardly been diligent in preventing dinghy launches.

Had this dinghy made it to British waters, Border Force or RNLI vessels would have doubtless have intercepted the craft, and the occupants by now would be safely ensconced in the Dover reception centre, scoffing taxpayer-funded Dominos pizzas. Although such actions have been (and still are) highly controversial, we can feel particularly smug about pointing the finger in other directions.

It almost goes without saying that one of those directions leads to the people smuggling gangs, who are profiting mightily from their disgusting trade, but if the French were stopping the launches, and those who slipped the net were sent back, there would be no trade to be had. Nevertheless, these criminals bear a portion of the blame.

Despite all that, there are those of the NGOcracy - of which Pete writes so lucidly – who would have it that Britain was entirely to blame, through not providing a "safe corridor" by which migrants could seek asylum in the UK without putting themselves at risk. Pete effectively deals with this special pleading, which – when one looks for where the blame lies, outside that of the migrants – puts the ball firmly in the French court.

While obviously there are strong political influences at play here, make absolutely no mistake – the deaths recorded yesterday could have been prevented by technical and procedural measures implemented by the French, had they chosen to employ them.

Doubtless, the French may believe they had sound political reasons for not intervening, and it would not be the first time, by any means, that lives have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. But, in the tumult of breast-beating that we will see over the next few days, we should be in no doubt that the means to prevent these deaths were not employed.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 25/11/2021 link

Climate change: a supreme arrogance

Wednesday 24 November 2021  

The coprophagic tendencies of the legacy media were well in evidence yesterday, and more so today, as the papers finally wake up to what has been going on in the Northern Sea Route (NSR) – a story we covered over a week ago, in greater depth.

Leading the charge yesterday was the Telegraph with the headline: "Dozens of ships stuck in Arctic as ice freezes early in reverse of recent warming winters", with a picture captioned as "the research and expedition ship" Mikhail Somov , apparently stuck in the ice in the Vilkitsky Strait – the passage between the Kara and Laptev Seas.

The text tells of "more than two dozen cargo vessels" stuck in Russia's Arctic ice, waiting for ice-breakers to come to their rescue. Their plight is attributed to an "inaccurate forecast" from the country's Met Office, which failed to predict the earlier ice formation than has been recently experienced.

The captain of the Mikhail Somov, Viktor Gil, is actually cited, his quote attributed to the news agency Tass, although it doesn't appear in the agency's report.

The Mikhail Somov is identified in the Telegraph's text as "one of the ships stranded along the Northern Sea Route" and Gil describes the situation as "quite dire". He reports: "The ice is up to one and a half metres thick here", but adds that the crew had supplies enough to last until an ice-breaker reaches them in around a week.

What we're not told is that the Mikhail Somov itself is a capable icebreaker with a high ice class, and an interesting history. It is no stranger to being ice-bound. The very fact that she needs assistance is indicative of the severity of conditions in the region.

The Tass report, dated 22 November – the day before the Telegraph report -, gives much more detail, telling us that the Russian commercial operator, Atomflot, has its three nuclear-powered icebreakers working the Northern Sea Route - the Yamal, the Taimyr and the Vaygach. The Vaygach left the Pevek port (Chukotka) on Monday, leading a five-ship convoy, headed for vessels, drifting near the New Siberian Islands.

The Vaygach convoy, Uhl Fusion, Golden Pearl, Golden Suek, Nordic Qinngua, Nordic Nuluujaak have reached Dezhnev Cape (the NSR's easternmost point) and are now proceeding independently, with no further icebreaker assistance.

Due to the conditions in the easter NSR, though, three icebreakers are no longer sufficient to deal with the number of ships currently trapped. Atomflot’s director, Leonid Irlitsa, is cited, warning that the ice situation prevents icebreakers leading convoys west to the east.

In the Tass report, he is quoted as saying only "tugged escort" is possible there. "Thus", he says, "the navigating companies must pay special attention to what vessels they are using during the final months of the summer-autumn navigation".

This is an interesting observation. In light to moderate icing conditions, an icebreaker will sail ahead of a convoy, opening up a lead for the following ships, which are able to pass through before the ice closes up again.

In heavy conditions, though, the icebreakers use a special technique, which I reported on (and illustrated) back in 2011, called the "close coupled tow". The icebreaker is fitted with a deep niche in the stern, into which the escorted ship fits, whence it is literally dragged through the ice, on a one-to-one basis.

The technique, also adopted by the Finns (video), is not for the faint-hearted. To avail themselves of the tow, ships must be specially ice-hardened and even then, will often incur hull damage as they traverse the ice – hence Irlitsa's comment about paying "special attention" to what vessels are used.

In any event, Atomflot is somewhat sniffy about claims of faulty forecasts. It stresses that the favourable ice conditions of recent years have misled some ship owners. State regulations require that the navigation near the Pevek marine port continues from July to October, and this period may be extended in favourable ice conditions.

"For the first time in recent seven years, the ice formation in certain areas of the Northern Sea Route began two weeks earlier," Atomflot's director general Mustafa Kashka says. "Realistically, from early November, at certain locations it is impossible to sail without icebreakers".

Despite that, the extremely severe ice conditions are unusual so early in the season – a situation somewhat understated by The Times, which also picks up the story, also illustrating the Mikhail Somov, referring to ice a mere 30cm thick, when 2 metre thick multi-year ice is also being encountered.

The Times headline tells us, "Early Arctic sea freeze traps 18 ships in ice near Russia", suggesting that some "could be stranded for months as they wait for icebreakers to reach them". That, actually, is unlikely. If push comes to the shove, the Russians will call in the 50 Let Pobedy and the Arktika, which can cope with up to 3 metres of ice.

Unable to help itself, this paper paints the background in terms of warmer weather in recent years "triggered by climate change", which has allowed ships to cross parts of the NSR in November without the help of icebreakers. Ship owners, the paper says, "had assumed this month would be no different".

This theme is also addressed by the Express, which runs the headline: "Climate change: Ships stuck in Arctic ice as region freezes over in bizarre reversal".

For the benefit of its readers, it translates The Times's 30cm, adding: "Dozens of ships have become grounded in 12-inch thick ice after an earlier-than-predicted deep freeze struck the Russian Arctic". And to add to its litany of inaccuracies, it blithely informs us that the "first vessel to ever cross this route [NSR] only did so in 2017, completing a six-and-a-half day journey".

The Independent, which broke the false story about the 2009 crossing, also covers this event with the headline: "Several ships trapped in ice after Arctic sea freezes early near Russia".

The copy, however, is almost identical to the Times report, revealing that the papers are probably retailing undisclosed agency copy – all the reports having staff reporters' bylines.

Thus are we served by the fabled legacy media. Not a single newspaper bothers to look at the bigger picture, suggested by this event. For, while the climate worshipers have been so keen to exploit reports of shrinking Arctic ice relying on the trend since 1979, National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) ice-extent data from 2012 show that the overall trend is upwards.

Based on that more recent trend – which is not incompatible with a long-term cyclical effect – the current ice conditions perhaps should not have come as such a surprise. One wonders whether Russian forecasters were taking "climate change" for granted, especially as October was milder than normal. Such is the enthusiasm for predicting Armageddon, it is possible that signs of a turnround are being missed.

After all, there is good evidence that, over many millennia, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been far from constant. For several thousand years, there was much less sea ice in the Arctic Ocean – probably less than half of current amounts.

Nevertheless, the eastern section of the NSR has a reputation for being highly unpredictable, with ice extent being determined as much by wind direction and strength as temperature. But it is a supreme arrogance to assume that, on the basis of short-term trends, we can predict future ice extents, when the forecasters couldn't even see the current situation coming.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 24/11/2021 link

Politics: decline and fail

Tuesday 23 November 2021  

We're back to Matthew Parris again, with his theory that "Flight Bojo2019 has begun its final descent". And, to use Parris's analogy, prime minister Johnson has passed the outer marker and is well-established on the glide path.

But, from the evidence of his widely publicised train-wreck speech yesterday to the CBI, he's just cut the engines, pulled the stick back hard and given the aircraft a boot-full of rudder.

Mind you, I'm not sure modern flight systems will allow such a manoeuvre - ending up in a terminal spin and a rather large, smoking hole in the ground – any more than political systems are supposed to allow a prime minister to self-immolate in public.

However, given that we have a man who seems to think that the rules don't apply to him, it should come as no surprise that a very public performer should play out his own demise in a very public forum.

The crucial moment, which will doubtless live in people's memories, occurred just after he had lost his place in his speech, uttering "blast it!" followed by multiple pleas to "forgive me" as he riffled through his papers. At that point he regaled his baffled audience with a eulogy about Peppa Pig World, telling the captains of industry, "Peppa Pig World is very much my kind of place".

Previously, we've often seen Johnson visiting schools and, while he may be hazy about the words of songs about busses, he seems to be more at home surrounded by nursery-age children than he is when in the company of adults – other than when he is raiding his dressing-up box, that is.

Thus, is should be no surprise at all that this shambolic man should have been so taken by his visit to a kiddies' theme park that he felt compelled to share his experiences with his audience, not least because it seemed to offer some of the very things that his government had failed to provide in the real world: safe streets; discipline in schools; and heavy emphasis on new mass transit systems.

Needless to say, the Guardian has gone overboard, declaring it its report: "Johnson ‘losing the confidence’ of Tory party after rambling CBI speech", amplifying this with a sub-heading that observes: "Senior party members concerned after chaotic fortnight, with PM said to be losing his grip over key policies".

The paper retails the view of a "former cabinet minister" stating that there was "an accumulation of things building up, really relating to his [Johnson's] competence and that is beginning to look very shaky" after a "pretty bad bloody fortnight". It cites another senior backbencher saying that the speech had been a "mess" while a third Tory MP said: "I thought today’s performance was the most embarrassing by a Conservative prime minister since last week's PMQs. Someone needs to get a grip. He is losing the confidence of the party".

That much we would expect from the left-of-centre press, but something is definitely up when the ultra-loyal Telegraph chips in with something very similar. Its headline reads: "'It’s just not working': Concerns grow about Boris Johnson after bizarre Peppa Pig speech", with the sub-head telling us: "Disquiet grows about potential dysfunction at Number 10 after rambling CBI speech which Prime Minister says 'went over well'".

That last bit is possibly the most incongruous part of the whole affair. Having so publicly demonstrated that he was losing his grip, later in the day when he was asked by a solicitous BBC reporter, "is everything ok?", Johnson ducked the question and referred to his speech, saying: "I think people got the vast majority of the points I wanted to make. I thought it went over well".

Even then, the paper tried to salvage something from the wreckage, having the confused Tim Stanley trill that: "Boris Johnson's rambling Peppa Pig speech was an inadvertent success", on the grounds that it got "coverage most speeches to the CBI conference can only dream of".

Unfortunately for Johnson, though, he's not an actress, for whom there is no such thing as bad publicity. Yet, one has to marvel of the desperate attempts of the paper to shore up their hero, with Stanley writing: "There was a knife-edge moment when he lost his place and a few seconds of rifling through the pages, before he appeared to make the rest of it up - but only us professionals would notice. Joe public never clocks a thing".

There we have this embarrassing interlude making virtually every television news bulletin in the country, and abroad as well, while the whole episode can be revisited on YouTube under the heading: "The moment bungling Boris Johnson loses place during CBI speech". But this is something Stanley would have it that "only us professionals would notice".

As to the content of the speech, this is someone overshadowed by the "shambolic" delivery, contradicting Stanley's view about the degree of coverage.

And yet, on another day when wind generation was being bailed out by fossil fuel, Johnson was boasting that when he was a kid, 80 percent of our electricity came from coal, in 2012, we were still 40 percent dependent on coal while, "today – only ten years later – coal supplies less than 2 percent of our power".

The day previously, coal had actually supplied an average of 5 percent of our generated electricity and at times yesterday it had ramped up to an average of 7.3 percent. By 2024, Johnson says, it will be down to zero. If that year coincides with a general election and we have similar weather conditions, we will be voting in the dark and Johnson will be history – if he even lasts that long.

One could hardly guess that this is the fate awaiting this man as he fantasised about a "new epoch", where – amongst others - the young people of today, "the disciples of David Attenborough", were to force radical change to: our cars; our trucks; our buses; our ships; our boats; our planes; our trains; our domestic heating systems; our farming methods; our industrial processes; our power generation; and much else besides.

Wrapped up in that fantasy world, he "confidently" predicted that "in just a few years' time it will be as noisome, offensive to the global consumer to open a new coal fired power station as it is to get on a plane and light up a cigar". Clearly, neither Modi nor chairman Xi have got the memo.

But if ever there was an illustration that this man is imbued with the zeal of a convert to a new religion, this was it. The speech itself was embarrassing for its gushing embrace of greenery, as he eulogised about the "row after row stretching out to the North Sea, of beautiful white mills as we claim a new harvest, rich and green from the drowned meadows of Doggerland".

It was only a few days ago, however, that we saw a report telling us that the much lauded Dogger Bank development would be "unprofitable" for its Norwegian developers, with the view expressed that "Committing to a very large capacity in bottom-fixed offshore wind is putting too many eggs in one basket — possibly also not in the right basket".

Nothing of this will ever percolate the hazy brain of prime minister Johnson. Way past his sell-by date, his incongruous comments in his speech were a testament to a cluttered, disordered mind.

In this context, the reference to Peppa Pig was perhaps significant. A few years ago, when my daughter Emma was completing her art degree, she was tasked with painting a picture showing a discordant contrast between two objects. She chose a child's Peppa Pig bag holding an unexploded bomb (illustrated).

In his own way, Johnson painted himself an unexploded bomb yesterday. It is one which, in time, will blow him out of office. Not for him will there be the glidepath to a gentle touchdown. With a boot-full of rudder, his will be a screaming descent with a smoking hole in the ground at the end. Despite the probability of collateral damage, it cannot come too soon.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 23/11/2021 link

Covid: a loss of authority

Monday 22 November 2021  

A little while ago, I wrote of how Spanish environment and energy minister Teresa Ribera had sought to reassure consumers about the security of electricity supplies, only to trigger panic buying of lanterns and camping stoves.

This was not dark humour on my part but exactly the sequence of events experienced, where there was no general response to the news of an interruption in energy supplies until the minister issued a statement.

In a sense, that bears out the somewhat cynical wisdom of the old saying that nothing is true in politics until it has been officially denied. But I wonder of something of that sentiment is not driving the sharp reaction on the continent to government plans for further Covid controls, culminating in mass demonstrations in Austria, and prolonged rioting in the Netherlands and now Brussels.

Actually, I wouldn't set too much store on rioting in Brussels. From what I've seen on social media and elsewhere, the level of disturbance seems par for the course – about typical for weekend in a city which boasts a world class fleet of riot control vehicles, in numbers which would provoke the jealousy of a third world dictator.

But the Netherlands – or Rotterdam, initially - is rather different. To have to stolid, dependable Dutch – the "yes" men of Europe – out on the streets protesting seems rather unusual from the perspective of the average – i.e., ignorant – Brit: the goody two-shoes Dutch don't do such things, especially over public health measures.

No doubt there are complex reasons for the rioting in Rotterdam, described by the city's mayor as an "orgy of violence", where crowds of several hundred rioters torched cars (and bikes – only the Dutch could burn bikes!), set off fireworks and threw rocks at police, leading to the police responding with warning shots and water cannon.

But at the heart of this may simply be the situation where a significant number of people no longer accept uncritically the instructions of their political masters, and are no longer prepared to do as they are told. And, if that is the case, we may be looking at something potentially quite serious – an erosion of the authority of the state.

As far as the UK is concerned, it is interesting to note that, alongside Covid controls, there seems to be a convergence of issues, common to roughly the same group of people.

Thus, we see that group described as Brexiteers also expressing opposition to climate change orthodoxy and also Covid measures such as vaccination and vaccination passports. This group also tends to be vocally opposed to immigration and multiculturalism.

To this group is often applied the description "libertarians", the essential characteristic of which is strong advocacy of individualism, and individual responsibility – combined with a general antipathy towards state control and collective action.

The ironic thing here, though, is that while proclaiming the virtues of individualism, this group is as much a collective as the conformists whom they seek (quite often rightly) to deride.

Not only is there commonality in the causes espoused, there is a distinct conformist tendency, where "membership" of the group demands uniformity, where opposition must be expressed to the entire range of "libertarian" issues. Cherry-picking is not allowed – the whole package must be accepted.

For my part, while I strongly support Brexit and retain a powerful scepticism of the outpourings of the climate worshipers, a rather regret that opposition to Covid control measures has been become an obligatory component of the "libertarian" mix.

For sure, it is very easy to be extremely dubious about the efficacy of government measures, and the competence of the government team. And with Johnson at the helm, it is entirely rational to listen to what the man says we need to do, and to do exactly the opposite.

But then, in respect of the UK's Covid epidemic, I do have something of an advantage in having several qualifications in the public health field, and a lifetime of experience the prevention, investigation and control of communicable disease.

While I can thus discount much of what the government clones tell us – such as the absurd and largely counterproductive advice on frequent handwashing to control what is an airborne disease – I can form my own views on the seriousness of the disease and the measures that should be applied.

And, contrary to the noisy, self-appointed "experts" in the libertarian camp, I do take Covid seriously – very seriously indeed. From a very personal perspective, I am acutely conscious that, at my age and with my underlying health conditions, should I succumb to the illness, it will probably kill me. And I have far too many people whom I need to piss off, for me to retire early to my grave.

More to the point, as I wrote in this piece, more than 18 months ago, in terms of overall mortality, highly infective illnesses, which have a severe impact only on a relatively small proportion of the population, are far more dangerous than killers such as Ebola.

Here, as I set out in my piece, there is a failure to appreciate the distinction between absolute mortality and mortality rate. Coronavirus produces a relatively low death rate but, because of its infectivity and the disease profile, it is capable of killing far more people (absolute mortality) than a less virulent organism.

The reason why this virus is so dangerous is exactly because of its relatively low virulence, causing only mild illness in the majority of the population that it infects. Ebola, by contrast, killed as many as 90 percent of the people it touched, so it never spread. It killed off its victims too fast.

The same goes for the clinically indistinguishable Green Monkey (Marburg) Disease which is so deadly that investigators in the early days were stumbling on whole troops of dead monkeys in the forests of Equatorial Africa, with no spread to their neighbours.

By contrast, coronavirus is our worst nightmare. The high proportion of asymptomatic infections and mild illness means that it can spread undetected throughout the population, where most people remain mobile even when infected. Thus, infected people are capable of spreading the disease to the vulnerable, who are so often tragically killed.

The underlying point, therefore, is that this illness cannot be ignored. Even a government as inept as ours must take action and, in the nature of a viral disease, the most effective control is mass, pre-emptive vaccination – a herd response to a pathogen to which individualism is of no consequence.

Immediately, one can see why, intuitively, the individualist would reject the conformity of a herd – i.e., collective – response, each demanding the right to make an individual decision based on an appreciation of the risk.

It is here that the government has been at its most inept in failing to explain that vaccination is primarily a collective response to a collective threat. The issue. Of course, is that vaccines, as with any applied drug, has its own risks and a proportion of those to whom it is administered will be damaged by it, or even killed.

Perversely, it is a measure of the success of a mass vaccination programme that there will come a point where the incidence (or severity) of the disease is driven back to such an extent that more people are damaged or killed by the vaccine than the disease.

At this point, or approaching it, a case can be made that the balance of advantage for the healthy, less vulnerable cohort lies with refusing vaccination – the benefit is for the herd, not the individual.

This being the case, the government should be stating very clearly the underlying purpose of the vaccination programme, and it should be totally open about the risks involved. And, as each individual is being asked to contribute to the greater good, generous compensation should be paid rapidly to those damaged – or their dependents.

There are many technical issues involved – far too numerous and complex to address in this post – but the core issue it that, sometimes, the needs of the individual must be subordinated to the needs of the group.

The trouble is, I suspect, is that governments have lost the moral authority to make that case, while libertarianism has begun to assume to status of a cult, mirroring the very collectivism it seeks to oppose, without heed to the values it supposedly represents.

Since the collective too is capable of dissent – as we see with Insulate Britain – we see weak governments, lacking the moral authority to pursue their own agendas, presiding over increasing disorder. In that, Rotterdam may be the signpost to our future.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 22/11/2021 link

Immigration: something of interest

Sunday 21 November 2021  

It has been a facet of the flood of illegal immigrants crossing the Channel in dinghies that the media have been behind the curve in reporting events. The running has been made by a few individuals, in the teeth of official opposition, posting photographs of the "invasion" on Twitter and other social media.

But if the media have been slow off the mark, MPs have been even slower publicly to acknowledge the scale of the problem, as I observed of Wednesday PMQs, when "sleaze" seemed to be the major preoccupation.

Despite being only a few days away from a terrorist bomb incident by a failed asylum seeker, in the context of tens of thousands of unvetted potential terrorists reaching our shores in dinghies from France, I wrote, not one MP, nor the leader of the opposition, thought to raise the issue with the prime minister.

Pete, on the other hand, has been raising the asylum issue on multiple occasions recently, with his latest offering as recently as yesterday. And, in so doing, it seems, he is far closer in touch with public sentiment than either the media or the politicians.

A hint of this came in The Times yesterday, which ran a piece headed: "Even Boris Johnson loyalists 'are worrying for him'", covering recent concerns over the prime minister's performance.

What marked out this piece as especially interesting was the observation that one of the biggest concerns in the Conservative parliamentary party was about small boats. While nothing had been raised in public, the prime minister had been repeatedly questioned about the issue at a Downing Street reception for the 2019 MP intake and at the 1922 Committee.

The Times cites a senior Tory MP (anonymous, of course), who tells the paper: "Everyone was saying that illegal immigration was the single biggest issue in their inboxes". Another Tory MP said: "The message at the last election was Get Brexit Done. People will not believe that when thousands of migrants are turning up on beaches in Kent every day".

According to the paper, Johnson reassured MPs that he viewed the issue as "a priority", and appeared to accept that present measures would not be enough. "He asked for our support for other measures, without saying what they were", one MP is cited as saying. "He said that they will be challenging and incur a lot of political flak".

The paper's report adds that Johnson is said to be "exasperated" by the lack of viable measures to deal with the crisis. He has ordered ministers to redouble efforts to find new solutions. Finally, we learn that, at the 1922 Committee, Johnson was greeted with the usual emphatic desk-banging from MPs. But as one of those present put it, "the louder they thump the desk the more trouble the PM is in".

If this is first hint, however, the sentiment becomes explicit in a Sunday Telegraph article headed: "Migrant crisis puts Tories in peril", with the sub-heading reading: "Senior figures warn PM as poll shows 77pc of Conservative voters believe Government approach to Channel crossings is 'too soft'".

As to the text, we are told that Johnson has been warned the migrant crisis could "destroy" the Conservative Party, as a Telegraph poll showed the overwhelming majority of Tory voters believe the Government's approach to Channel crossings is "too soft".

On top of that, a prominent party donor has declared that ministers must do "far more" to tackle the problem, warning that immigration is "going to destroy us and there is going to be a [Nigel] Farage-style party".

This anonymous donor has accused Johnson of mirroring David Cameron's drift to the centre during the Coalition administration, branding the situation "catastrophic". "When you move to the centre, you open up a gap in your right flank and somebody comes in and sets up there. You can't get a majority there", the donor says.

Johnson is also facing wider criticism coming from his own ministers, including those usually seen as loyalists, says the Telegraph, while an ex-frontbencher cautions that migration was hurting the party worse in the polls than the recent sleaze scandal. "If we don't deliver on migration, this is really damaging to us", he says.

This source adds that: "People are genuinely fed up with this. So I think you can be pretty tough. That will mean that we will end up in the courts, but the Government has got to fight this".

Another MP says that "right-wing activists" are already "getting organised" in seats in which they could cause damage to the Conservatives, who adds that the Tory party only clung on in some areas at the last election because the Brexit Party "stood away in all the key seats for the most part".

We then get James Frayne, described as "an influential pollster", who echoes warnings that the Conservatives are "seriously vulnerable" to a new political party emerging from the right, due to "perceived failings on fiscal policy and asylum and immigration".

This will not be Richard Tice's Reform party which is has border control and immigration well down its list of priorities. Rather, we may see the re-emergence of Ukip or even a revival of a BNP clone which is able to capitalise on the ground-swell of concern about uncontrolled immigration.

This can hardly be a distant, academic prospect. Frayne notes that, "For the first time, small boats were brought up in a focus group of working-class voters in Long Eaton a couple of weeks ago". This, he says, "was before recent coverage of record numbers arriving", adding: "I expect this to be a more significant feature of the groups I run this week".

The Telegraph also adds more detail the rendition offered by The Times about last week's 1922 committee meeting. Apparently, some of the MPs who confronted Johnson were "livid". Sources in the room said Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, was the first to challenge Johnson, saying: "Migration was in our manifesto, it was in our DNA. If we don't do it, they won't forgive us".

It was that intervention, we are informed, which prompted dozens of MPs to bang their hands on the desks and walls of the committee room - the traditional display of support in 1922 meetings . At least three other MPs are said to have expressed similar concerns.

The immediate response to this has been to draft in Steve Barclay, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to lead a review on prevention measures. He will be responsible for exploring what ministerial departments can do in an effort to make the issue more of a priority in government and the civil service.

This has not gone down too well with MPs, one having said: "It's all very well putting Steve Barclay on it. What's he going to find out? That they need to get on with the bloody thing. The Prime Minister should be backing up his Home Secretary. She's come up with options".

And with that. things do seem to be moving. The possibility of Ghana entering "third country asylum partnerships" with the UK has been raised, and Whitehall has confirmed that Britain is in talks with other countries about offshoring processing.

Immigration is now said to have dominating the agenda in Downing Street more than any other issue bar Covid since Johnson entered No 10. He has told allies he is committed to pursuing all possible solutions.

However. Adam Holloway, a Conservative member of the Commons home affairs committee and MP for Gravesham, in Kent, points to another "key issue" – the courts who "will let people stay, even though most of them are the relatively wealthy people ... most are economic migrants".

This is leading to calls for legislation to "neutralise" the Human Rights Act in order to allow the government to take tougher action. No doubt, we will also be seeing calls to modify the application of the UK Refugee Convention and related measures.

And while the Observer is doing its best to project the "dinghy people" as "fleeing persecution or conflict", that paper is going to find it hard going.

According to the Telegraph, the issue is beleaguering MPs far beyond the east coast of England, where the dinghies are arriving. David Jones, the former Brexit minister, said that even though he represents a seat in north Wales not directly impacted by Channel crossings, it is "the biggest political issue in my correspondence".

With each illegal migrant having paid up to £7,000 a year ago, and between £1,500 and £3,000 currently, enriching criminal gangs to the tune of tens of millions, few are going to be convinced that these institutional queue-jumpers are anything but criminals themselves.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 21/11/2021 link

Media: nothing of interest

Saturday 20 November 2021  

There are occasions when I set out on the long process of writing my daily blogpost that nothing gels. A good day is when I am clear on what I want to write about from the very start of my day, and I can work towards it, researching the material until I'm ready to start tapping the keyboard.

But, on the bad days, it can be past midnight and I am still bereft of a theme, leaving me cycling though multiple sources looking for the inspiration which simply doesn't come. And this is a bad day.

For instance, when it comes to headline issues in the media, I really do not want to write about Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal. It's primarily a US story and not one about which I have any great knowledge - certainly not enough to allow me to make any useful comment.

I seriously don't want to write about Covid – especially in Austria – and I am largely indifferent to the HS2/Rail issue – not that I don't have an opinion on rail transport, having been a major consumer of rail services throughout my life. But the issues are complex and technical and while, on balance, I favoured the full extent of the HS2 scheme, I could probably be fairly easily persuaded against it. Again, I am not in a position to make a useful comment.

Belarus and migration can rest for a while but, as an alternative, I could have picked up on the piece by William Davies in the Guardian, headed: "If Boris Johnson were a stock, canny investors would be looking to unload", and explore the author's views on the uselessness of the current prime minister.

This goes alongside a not dissimilar piece by Jonathan Freedland in the same paper, this one with the heading: "The dishonesty of Boris Johnson has finally infected the entire government".

Freedland may be right, and I certainly believe Davies is, but I've done two pieces on Johnson recently, and these pieces are just the Guardian playing catch-up. The new pieces don't really add a great deal to what we know already, and there really isn't much value in rehearsing the same issues, again and again.

Speaking of catch-up, the Guardian had a piece for its Friday addition, asking, "Why are British Indian voters abandoning Labour?". In a nutshell, it tells us that the Indian Hindus are tending to gravitate towards the Conservatives, while Moslems and Sikhs go for Labour. Thus, we read:
British Indians' views are highly polarised on religious grounds. A majority of Muslim and Sikh respondents would vote Labour in a snap election, but among Christians and Hindus the Conservatives would be the most popular party. Given Hindus’ relative demographic weight, Labour's problem with British Indians is largely driven by the flight of Hindu voters from its ranks.
The piece then goes on to talk about the influence of Kashmir on political sentiment, but the thing is that I wrote about this in December 2019. And it was then that I observed:
Thus, in the UK, we have two electorally important Asian communities, polarised on religious grounds, with tensions stoked up over Kashmir, which is being reflected in UK politics, where the Indians are increasingly supporting the Conservatives while the Pakistanis support Labour.
I expanded on this in May this year, further observing that Johnson appeared to be pandering to the Indian community for electoral gain, expressing concern that UK domestic politics were increasingly being influence by south Asian issues.

As I recall, I attracted some hostile comment for that piece, marking me down as a "racist" for even daring to write an analysis of this phenomenon. But it's alright now for the Guardian to bring up the subject – even if the paper doesn't draw the obvious electoral implications. Thus, I suppose I'd better leave them to it.

This is especially the case with a piece covering an allied field which has Bhikhu (now Lord) Parekh, former chair of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, berate us with the view that rejection of multiculturalism by successive governments has helped fuel "vulgar racism" of the kind experienced by Azeem Rafiq – the very same Rafiq who has had to apologise for his anti-Semitic remarks.

This, however, is far too hot to handle. Whatever comment I might make will have me branded a racist, so leaving me to trawl through less incendiary potential material.

There, I happened on this article detailing how the Arctic sea ice extent is currently at its second-highest level in 15 years, and growing. Articles of "catastrophic ice melt" still pepper the global news feeds, the author observes, even as signs point to a cyclical shift in the northern polar region.

This makes an interesting contrast with the Independent of 6 November, sombrely headlining: "Ice on the edge of survival: Warming is changing the Arctic ". From this, we learn:
The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet and is on such a knife's edge of survival that the UN climate negotiations underway in Scotland this week could make the difference between ice and water at the top of the world in the same way that a couple of tenths of a degree matter around the freezing mark, scientists say.
Despite earlier warnings that the Arctic was going to be free of ice by 2020, I'm afraid we will have to wait a little longer, as the prediction here is that "In the next couple of decades, the Arctic is likely to see summers with no sea ice".

However, through the course of CoP26, I've done "climate change" to death, so to speak, so I need to give it a bit of a break before returning to the subject. In any event, I need to be a little careful or I will be targeted as a denier and singled out for special attention. That would never do.

There is not much scope for following developments on energy either, mainly because there is still very little to report. About all I could dredge up was a piece inspired by the GMB Union, complaining of high fuel prices, attributable to: "Inaction and a lack of gas storage". This, we are told, has left the UK hostage to a global fuel crisis, left millions of households in fuel poverty and our national security under threat.

According to the Union, the answer is that "Ministers must secure our energy future committing to new nuclear to hit net zero and address the wage crisis to tackle the cost of living and recruitment crises". There it is then, all sorted. I need write no more, unless you want to hear about the Long Duration Energy Storage Council - which I'm sure you don't.

Then, there's always the BBC. Some writers, recently, have been making their living taking a pop at the Corporation and, while I am in general agreement, I do find the subject terribly tedious. I just mark the BBC down as loathsome, and (largely) leave it at that.

In desperation, I could have a whinge about how badly our petition is doing, but I think I'll save that for another day. So that leaves me with very little to write about. I think, therefore, I'll leave to blog for today, and let the commenters write about whatever they please – which is what they tend to do anyway.

With luck, there may be something worth writing about today.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 20/11/2021 link

Energy: already too late

Friday 19 November 2021  

If we had a country where the media was run by adults, rather than emotionally-retarded bed-wetters, the coming energy crisis would be staying high up on the list of stories being covered at the moment, alongside high-profile parliamentary activity.

This is especially the case as the Mail is reporting that energy prices are a bigger worry than Covid for almost half of Britons, with third leaving the heating off in cold weather and four-in-10 wearing more clothes to curb soaring bills.

Current headlines, therefore, simply reinforce the great disconnect that we saw in PMQs on Wednesday, where MPs seem neither to know nor care what concerns their voters. In this respect, the media is simply part of the continuum – an extended, noise-making bubble.

The nearest thing we get to informed commentary is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph, who offers a rather wonky piece, headed: "An energy crisis is coming, but I'd rather be in Brexit Britain than the EU", telling us that "Europe is at the mercy of Russia's gas supply, and a showdown with Brussels looks certain to blow up".

But for that, I might have been wondering whether my Wednesday piece had veered too far in the direction of alarmism, the sole boy crying "wolf" in the darkness over an issue which seems to be generating little media or political traction.

The strongest indication of preparatory action I have been able to find is from Reuters a week ago, telling of camping gear such as gas cookers and lanterns "flying off the shelves of hardware stores in Spain as people fearing energy shortages and potential blackouts prepare for the winter".

The immediate trigger for the Spanish worries has been the news last month that Algeria, which had cut off diplomatic ties with Morocco, was planning to stop supplying natural gas to Spain via the Maghreb-Europe pipeline, which transits through Morocco.

Despite Algeria undertaking to keep supplying Spain using the Medgaz undersea pipeline, with an annual capacity of 8 billion cubic metres (bcm), this means a loss of a facility with as capacity of 13.5 bcm annually, feeding a market which consumes over 30 bcm a year.

But, if that was not enough, the Spanish environment and energy minister, Teresa Ribera, claiming that reserves were equivalent to 43 days of consumption, recently declared: "We absolutely guarantee quality electricity and gas supply" – which seems to have set off the rush to the shops. To be fair, prime minister Johnson hasn't made such a declaration (yet), which might explain why we have yet to experience similar panic buying.

Anyhow, AEP is trying his best to make up for Johnson's silence, reporting that Europe's energy crunch "has returned with a winter vengeance". We are. He writes, "back to warnings of power rationing and industrial stoppage, a looming disaster for the European Commission and the British government alike".

In his previous pieces, Ambrose has shown a strong predilection to blame Vladimir Putin for our woes, and this article is no different. We learn that he has "tightened his stranglehold on gas", driving up futures contracts for January by 40 percent in barely a week. Prices, he says, are nearing the levels of September’s panic.

What makes the difference this time, he thinks, is that the underlying geopolitical crisis is "an order of magnitude more serious". Russia has mobilized 100,000 troops near Ukraine's border, indicating a "high probability" of military attack this winter.

That would almost certainly lead to Russia shutting off supplies of gas to Europe currently routed through Ukraine, to a continent which is already facing a supply-deficit of 32 million cubic metres a day.

For all that, it is hard to know whether Putin is simply reacting to Europe's declared intention to decarbonise its energy market, thereby favouring China as a customer with greater long-term potential, or whether his "energy squeeze" is a prelude to a Ukrainian invasion.

In an attempt to clarify the issues, though, AEP cites Thierry Bros, a former energy security planner for the French government. His view is that Brussels has stumbled blindly into a Kremlin ambush. "Putin set his master plan in motion last July and August", he says. "I didn't believe it at first but now there can be no doubt. He told us we’d be getting more gas in October but it never came, and November has been worse".

One sign of the Kremlin "closing the trap" is that Gazprom booked "nothing" for December through the Mallnow metering point on the Polish-Belarus pipeline, which means that the current supply deficit is likely to intensify.

Bros continues: "Europe has failed to follow the Churchillian precept of security of supply and has got itself into an existential crisis of its own making out of sheer incompetence. This could cause a break-down of the EU’s integrated energy system and lead to the collapse of the whole bloc".

Some may revel at the idea of EU member states bickering over scarce energy supplies, redolent of the crisis situation following the 1973 Yom Kippur War when OPEC boycotted individual European states which were left to fare for themselves as any semblance of European unity broke down.

AEP notes that EU states resorted instantly to health nationalism at the onset of Covid-19, with Germany blocking exports of PPE equipment without compunction, even within the Single Market and after the goods had been paid for.

Mr Bros thinks that we could see the same dynamic if gas runs short. Member States may invoke national security laws and hoard whatever energy they have rather than feeding it into the common pool, he says, He reminds us that we're running into a presidential election in France. People will scream if our industries are being shut and we're told we have to accept rationing in order to heat the Germans.

If mainland Europe has problems, though, the UK will not be immune. Rather than storing our own gas, we are in effect relying on continental supplies – passed to us either through the Dutch interconnector, or indirectly as electricity via the network of interconnectors that can supply as much as 10 percent of our demand.

With European gas inventories currently at 52 percent in Austria, 61 percent in Holland and 69 percent in Germany - at a time of year when they should be near 100 percent – there will be little available to service the UK market if supplies become tight.

Some small relief might be gained from the Emir of Qatar, who has proved willing to diverted LNG cargoes to the UK and, says AEP, "offshore wind is working as it should and has dented the exorbitant bill for imported gas".

To back this staggering claim, he says that renewables have made up 32 percent of the UK's power over the last week, whereas the grid actually reports only 20 percent – on average. At times, wind has been down to around 2 percent of generated capacity, with coal, gas (including open cycle), pumped storage and biomass thrashing away to meet demand.

But, with gas having supplied over 40 percent of generated electricity over the last year, this is a source of supply we cannot afford to lose. But, says AEP, the UK could follow Japan and switch some gas plants to oil, currently trading at half the price of spot LNG ($180 equivalent).

The UK could also, in extremis book LNG cargoes and hold the tankers at anchor as emergency storage – if it can get the supplies. Then the Government could extend the life of the Hunterston B nuclear plant for a few months until we got through the worst.

But the penultimate word goes to Clive Moffatt, an expert on energy security. He says it is already too late. "There's no short-term fix to this. The grid is going to have to shut down industrial gas users. That is the only way to keep hospitals open and homes heated", he argues.

Even that might not be enough if we have a run of cold weather coinciding with a low wind state, but AEP nevertheless suggests that, if he had to choose, he'd "rather be in Boris's Britain this winter, than Ursula's Europe".

Bluntly, though, it won't make any difference. Blackouts are the same, whatever the language.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 19/11/2021 link

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