EU Referendum

Politics: the march of the Omicrons


I did check yesterday to see whether there were any of them Omicrons hiding in the bushes, but there was only next door's cat peering through the fence, wondering whether to chance the brick I was about to throw at him. In the event, he decided that discretion was the better part of valour and buggered off. And I still haven't spotted any Omicrons.

A lot of Tory MPs also seemed unconvinced about the great Omicron invasion, rumoured to be about 60 or 70 until Johnson met them in the Commons to reassure them that he was only doing his best for Queen and Country.

According to The Times, the prime minister mounted a last-ditch charm offensive as he told Tory MPs that he had "absolutely no choice" but to introduce his measures. He told the 1922 committee that only a small proportion of those infected by Omicrons would need to go to hospital before it became a "real problem".

Health secretary Sajid Javid then told MPs to "think of the chillun", stressing that if they didn't deal with the "grave threat", the Omicrons could "overwhelm the NHS" and child victims of car crashes would be left untreated.

Earlier, a gruesome warning had been delivered by the government's "top public health adviser", Dr Susan Hopkins, to the effect that the Omicrons had been doubling every two to three days in the UK but the pace appeared to have speeded up.

Now, she is saying, they could have infecting a million people a day by the end of December. And, by that reckoning, a week later the entire population of the UK will be infected every day.

However, the net result of all this endeavour was to have the number of rebels soar to one short of a hundred, or slightly less, depending on which paper you read. The parliament's website lists 98 Tory MPs as voting against Covid passports, but rebels claimed there were two others who forgot to scan their pass to register their vote, which would take the total to 100.

These are the people who would rule the country - when they can't even check-in with their own ID cards. You can see why they are opposed to passports. Many of them might forget to bring them.

With or without the forgetees, though, the refusniks amount to close on half of all backbenchers - the rump that excludes the so-called payroll vote, amounting to about 214 MPs.

Under the headline, "Tory Covid rebels deal hammer blow to Boris Johnson's authority", the Telegraph has joyfully describes the events in the Commons, characterising them as "the worst Parliamentary rebellion" of Johnson's premiership. It dwarfs last December's record, when 55 Tory MPs opposed a new tiered lockdown system.

As Starmer's Labour Party, with a few exceptions, had already decided to back the government, there was no chance of the measures being rejected. It may well be, therefore, that Starmer gave the Tory backbenchers a free hit, allowing them to vote against their leader without having to take responsibility for dumping the new controls, which they can now blame on the opposition.

One now wonders whether this will have any impact on tomorrow's by-election. Electoral folklore has it that voters tend to dislike divided parties so, in theory, last night's result should work against the Tories - assuming the news reaches North Shropshire in time to influence the vote.

Should the result go against Johnson, all that will save him is to have the Omicron's rally and strike down the zillions of innocents awaiting their booster jabs, stuffing NHS hospitals with the dead and dying, with the bodies spilling into the streets as the morgues fail to cope with the extra trade.

Then, at least, The Great Leader will be able to mount another prime-time television appearance - perhaps replacing the Queen's message on Christmas day.

After artfully mussing up his hair once more, he will be able to declare "I told you so", as Comrade Whitty reels of the latest batch of statistics and implores the diminishing band of the living to attend one of the remaining vaccination centres for their self-administered boosters - the resident vaccinators having long departed the scene.

On the other hand, if the Omicrons refuse to cooperate, and insist on making people only a few people mildly ill, Johnson may be facing a nightmare scenario. Already, there are suggestions that the illness "may be no worse than flu", while the first real-world study "finds that excess natural deaths are significantly lower than in previous waves".

Having pressed the panic button, Johnson may thus have to explain why he has committed billions of taxpayer pounds to a vastly expanded vaccination programme, when most of the population remains robustly healthy - apart from the thousands dying from undiagnosed cancers and other ailments - despite not having had their jabs.

It is at that point that even Tory MPs may decide they have had enough of The Great Leader. Already there are rumblings, with Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, saying that, after yesterday's vote, a leadership challenge in the new year was now possible. "I think that's got to be on the cards. He's got to realise that he's got to change", Sir Geoffrey says.

We are told that Tory whips are working on the assumption that the number of letters of no confidence submitted by Tory MPs is already in the double figures. If 54 letters are handed into the 1922 committee, a "no confidence" vote is automatically triggered.

The thing is that, despite his hopes of diverting attention from "Partygate" and other irritating distractions, The Great Leader's campaign hasn't the slightest chance of working.

Before he pressed the panic button, the jabbers were processing about 400,000 people a day. Yet, despite the new, enhanced hype level, and the lengthening queues, the daily rate seems to have struggled to reach half a million on Monday, having peaked at 530,000 on Saturday.

As the Guardian points out, to meet the target of vaccinating all adults by the end of the month, 1.24 million have to be processed every day - assuming a pause on Christmas Day.

Thus, however much he tries, Johnson's Omicrons are a declining asset. If infections do shoot up and the NHS is overwhelmed - the roads littered with car wrecks full of dying children - he will be criticised for not ramping up the booster campaign early enough, and for not taking more robust measures.

If the dead bodies fail to pile up, and the wards are full of happy children being treated for injuries sustained from car crashes, he has to explain why he has spent over half a billion pounds on a failed campaign that wasn't really necessary in the first place.

For the next few days, though, there is likely to be something of a hiatus as health trusts and GP practices work out how they are going to manage the accelerated vaccination campaign. By then, we will be in the run-up to Christmas with people thinking of other things, and it will be hard to motivate them to spend hours in queues waiting for jabs.

Come Christmas week, running into the new year, my guess is that the jab rate will plummet and then will struggle to pick up momentum. Unless by then the hospitals are groaning with new victims, with queues of ambulances waiting to deliver fresh loads, Johnson's "dead cat" ploy will be over. And, with luck, he will be gone by Spring.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Energy: Germany leads


Any number of times one harbours a treasured quotation only to find that, when it is brought out for an airing, either the quote is false or the person to whom it is attributed never actually said it.

Nevertheless, it is reasonably safe to trot out the aphorism often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, to the effect that you should "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake". Even if he didn't use those precise words, there is little dispute that he tendered such advice to his marshals.

What brought these words to mind was prime minister Johnson and his current "dead cat" strategy, gambling all on dealing with the latest iteration of Covid with a massive booster campaign and its unreachable target.

It may be not much more than a gut feeling at this stage, but I am of the view that this could be his biggest mistake of an error-strewn career. As such, for a day at least, one can leave Johnson to his own devices and look at another field replete with errors, the nature of which might in the long-term be more serious and of longer lasting effect.

Here, I am referring to the insanity of "net zero" and, in this particular instance, to the impact of the new coalition government in Germany. If possible, this administration is even more determined to commit collective suicide than Johnson's government which, so far, has been in the lead with its asinine ideas.

Before we go there, however, we need to look at the latest developments on Nord Stream 2 where, it seems, the new German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has intervened to say that the pipeline could not be given the green light in its current form "because it did not meet the requirements of EU energy law".

This announcement, though, is a little bit odd. As far as I was aware, the matter is still with the German Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) which, as an independent agency, is supposed to make the appropriate determinations on technical grounds, for the Federal government to forward to Brussels.

However, that this is a political intervention is indicated by Baerbock who says that the "escalating tensions" on Russia’s border with Ukraine is "also a factor" because Berlin had agreed with the US that the pipeline should not be used as a political weapon in Moscow's deteriorating relationship with Kiev.

The response of Moscow doesn't yet seem to have been recorded, and the pipeline operator says that it cannot provide comments on political statements about the pipeline's non-compliance with the EU's regulation.

Yet Putin does seem to have an ally in the Austrians. The news agency Tass reports Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg saying that European attempts to challenge the Nord Stream 2 project are unreasonable. He thinks it is a "totally acceptable" project, so it is wrong to challenge it every time Russia comes up in a discussion.

Baerbock, though, is not on her own. She has the support of her boss, the newly appointed chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had words to say about the project on his first visit to Poland.

There, he promised that his government will do "whatever it takes" to ensure that natural gas continues to flow through Ukrainian territory and to prevent Russia from using the new pipeline to blackmail its pro-Western neighbour. Germany, he said, feels responsible for ensuring that the gas transit business continues to provide income to the Ukrainian economy.

Such impact as there has been has, so far, been financial. The European benchmark gas price climbed by around 10 percent yesterday to a high of €116.75 per megawatt hour (MWh), with the year-ahead price later recorded as topping €200 – an unprecedented level. The UK price climbed to 296.35p a therm, just below the record closing price of 298.475p on 5 October.

But if this presages misery for future energy users – commercial and domestic – this is only one of the steps by the new German seemingly directed at disrupting their energy market.

At the end of November, for instance, the new coalition pledged to cease coal production, to quadruple solar PV installations on all rooftops and push renewable energy capacity to 80 percent of the country’s electricity mix – all by 2030.

The 80 percent renewables target will require meeting a demand of 750 TWh, which will require 2 percent of land to be reserved for onshore wind power, and more than triple offshore wind capacity (to 30GW). The current renewable energy capacity in Germany is 53 GW for solar, 7.7 GW for offshore wind and 54 GW for onshore wind, delivering 251 TWh in 2020.

And for the additional electricity to be delivered, the country's electricity grid will need considerable development. "Not only renewables expansion needs to switch on its turbo boost, also the expansion and optimisation of the grid has to happen much faster", says grid operator Tennet.

Om top of that, the government is to close down its remaining three nuclear plants, one by the end of this year and the other two by late 2022 (one pictured).

Such is the lack of coherence in the new coalition, though, that the plan relies on an increase in gas-powered electricity generation, by about one-third or more, up from 90 TWh in 2020 to about 120 to 150 TWh in 2030. And this, supposedly, is to be achieved at a time when Germany's gas supply has never been less secure, with the government going out of its way to increase its vulnerability to disruption.

What does not seem to have been factored in is that the Ukrainian pipeline infrastructure is ageing and badly maintained so, even without the political issues, the Russians are looking to redirect flows to Nord Stream 2. If this pipeline is not approved by the regulators, Germany (and Europe generally) can expect a reduced supply of natural gas from Russia- and more so if the situation in Ukraine kicks off.

If that wasn't bad enough, a reduced gas supply in the absence of nuclear and other fossil fuel generation, increases the reliance on intermittent renewables to unprecedented levels. Not only will the grid have to deal with the inherent variability, there is also the question of whether the system will have sufficient inertia to protect it from unplanned drops in capacity.

It is not even certain that a national grid of the size on which Germany relies can operate with the high proportion of renewables that will emerge if Russia cuts back on the gas supply. Furthermore, because the European grid is heavily integrated, problems in Germany risk destabilising the entire system.

As I have indicated before, the UK would not be insulated from such perturbations, which look as if they might be hitting us sooner than expected. With the loss of nuclear generation by the end of next year, the system will already be fragile and any action by Putin could cause the collapse of the entire European system, dragging down the UK grid as well.

The only consolation we might draw from this is that Germany looks set to provide us with a working example of how not to manage a national electricity system, early enough for us to amend our policies before it is too late. Whether or not our government will have the sense to learn the lessons is another matter. It may take prolonged periods in the cold and dark before the penny finally drops.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Politics: unfit for office


It looks very much as if Johnson isn't waiting for his war, even if the Russians are doing their best to get one going. Instead, it seems as if he's relying on Covid OMG V.3.0 to serve as has "dead cat", having delivered an 8pm pre-recorded video last night declaring an "Omicron emergency".

From the look of today's crop of front page headlines, it does seem that Johnson's plan for "a million jabs a day" to halt the "tidal wave" of Omicrons is getting prominent coverage. If nothing else, it's given a new meaning to boosterism.

Despite that, a lot of people are not buying the hype, even if they only constitute a fractious if vocal minority. The assumption is that the overwhelming majority will turn up for their booster jab if called.

However, it seems the media are not happy, with the Telegraph remarking in today's editorial: "Voters and MPs are exhausted and angry - and it's easy to see why", adding: "For all lessons that should've been learnt, the cash spent, and the boosterism, our anti-Covid strategy remains a game of Russian roulette".

The government, the paper says, cannot help the fact that the world is now being confronted by the omicron variant, but it has to take responsibility for its failure to do enough to prepare one of the richest, most advanced countries for the oncoming storm.

It then goes on to say: "No wonder so many voters, and, increasingly, back-bench MPs, ministers and Cabinet members, are cynical, angry and exhausted. Two years into this crisis, the authorities appear to have learnt little".

There can, though, be only one man who bears the ultimate responsibility for the failure – the man who seeks to hide behind the "emergency" which he has just declared but, for which, he and his government is singularly unprepared.

Thus, if Johnson thinks his "emergency" will cleanse the nightmare that his tenure in office has become, he may be mistaken. The media show no sign of giving up the pursuit of "Partygate" and allied matters and some are determined that the prime minister should not be given a free pass.

Predictably, the Observer is up-front in making its view known, declaring: "The prime minister is unfit to govern the UK in its worst post-war crisis". And, every month of Johnson's premiership, it says, "brings a new reminder of his rank unfitness for office".

Joining the Observer is Clare Foges, a columnist for The Times since 2015 and previously chief speechwriter in 10 Downing Street for David Cameron. She writes the lead op-ed under the headline, "Tories can't let Johnson brazen this one out", her theme being: "The PM's party must recognise that his carelessness and dishonesty destroy public trust and make him unfit for office".

Of her piece, one passage in particular passage stands out, where she declares:
Surveying the wreckage that is the British government’s reputation I am less angry at Johnson himself than at those who enabled his ascension to No 10. Like some organism that single-mindedly divides its cells over and over again, he was always going to single-mindedly reach to fill the highest office that would have him. It was up to Conservative MPs who knew he was wholly unsuited to the job to block his path to Downing Street, but a callow and shallow party kept repeating the old line about Johnson being a winner and they wanted a piece of the power.
For me, that has special resonance. Back on 24 July 2019, the day after Johnson had become party leader and the day he was appointed prime minister, I published a piece for EU Referendum headed "A day of shame".

We had seen, I wrote, the result of the Conservative collective losing any sense it might ever have had, bringing to office a man "I would struggle to recommend … for the post of public toilet attendant".

I thus placed on record my belief that the Conservative Party action had broken the political compact, "that invisible bond which binds us in our nation to accept the authority of a prime minister, regardless of who we voted for or where our party loyalties lie, if indeed we have any".

As far as I was concerned, garnering the votes of 90-plus thousand paid-up members of a political party did not entitle anyone to call themselves a prime minister of this country.

That Johnson subsequently led his party to victory in the 2019 election – the second anniversary of which was yesterday – is neither here nor there. A choice between Johnson and Corbyn was no choice at all. Yet it was forced upon us by the Conservative Party which failed to elect a credible leader. It had brought shame on us and on our nation, choosing as our supposed representative a man who was so manifestly unfit for office.

For the tenure of his occupation of the post of prime minister, I then wrote, "we will watch his posturing and prancing, not in the expectation of anything coherent emerging, but with the sense of frozen horror that one watches a major accident". I had no expectations from Johnson, I added, "other than of incompetence, and cannot wait for this nightmare to be over".

The point, of course, is that anyone with a pulse knew that Johnson was unfit for office, long before he became prime minister. As Parris put it on Saturday, he is (and always was) a "wrong un". And, as Foges now observes, it is up to the MPs to right an historic wrong. She thus writes:
If those MPs wish to repair the damage done, they must move sooner rather than later to replace the prime minister. Each further month of lying and chaos damages public trust and demeans the country. Britain deserves better. And who knows? It might even come as a relief to Johnson when the party's over.
To that extent, "Partygate" and all the rest don't matter, except as an excuse – if one is needed – to get rid of the man. If the rebels can't bring him down on Tuesday, mainly because Starmer will cast his lot with the prime minister, then it will be the turn of the voters of North Shropshire.

If "Partygate" et al have soured opinion to the extent that the Tories lose the seat, then the furore over the last week or so will have served its purpose. But, whether the Tories win or lose, it will still need 55 MPs to call for a leadership election, with a view to ousting Johnson.

It will be too late for anything to happen before Christmas and, by the time parliament re-convenes in the New Year, the results of Johnson's "million jabs a day" gamble will be known.

Most likely, the target will be missed which then leads to two possible outcomes. Either the OMG variant will rip through the population flooding the hospitals with new victims, overwhelming the NHS, or the disease will not manifest itself either in numbers or severity, suggesting that the prime minister has over-reacted.

Whatever the outcome – short of a miraculous completion of the vaccination programme followed by the epidemic subsiding – Johnson will not fare well, possibly spurring on more MPs to submit their letters to the 1922 Committee.

For Johnson to go down on the grounds of his own incompetence would be highly appropriate, but if it is the trivia of "Partygate" that finally brings him down – with or without the help of the voters of North Shropshire – then so be it. In the final analysis, it matters not how we get rid of him, as long as he goes.

But we then have to confront Matthew Parris's fears about a successor. A Conservative Party which is stupid enough in the first place to vote Johnson as its leader is capable of any level of stupidity – even voting for Liz Truss. Getting rid of Johnson, therefore, is only the start.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Politics: in Putin's hands


In the scheme of things, probably the most important item on the news agenda is the Ukraine situation – some might even go far as to call it a crisis. That's what Reuters is calling it, regaling us with the news that the G7 is united in seeking to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine.

From what I can gather, this unity extends to every one of the "Group of Seven" richest democracies being determined to do absolutely everything needed to prevent a war, short of actually doing anything.

Nevertheless, Washington is sending its top diplomat for Europe, Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried, to Ukraine and Russia on 13-15 December to meet with senior government officials. He will "emphasise that we can make diplomatic progress on ending the conflict in the Donbass through implementation of the Minsk agreements in support of the Normandy Format", the US State Department said in a statement.

Beyond that, there is nothing very much more than anyone can do. The Russians have the initiative, and unless or until they make they make their move, there's little more to be said – or written. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the British media have focused on the drama closer to home - the life and (political) death of prime minister Johnson.

The Sunday Mirror, I guess, is the newspaper closest to wielding the fatal blow as it devotes its front page to a "new PM Xmas scandal", running a long headline reading: "Tinsel, Santa hats and bubbly as Boris hosted this Covid rule-breaking No10 Christmas quiz". This culminates in the assertion that he was "Taking us for fools (again)", in block capitals.

This is not one of the three parties which the media have been reporting but the strength of this piece by political editor Pippa Crerar, is that is has Johnson accused of personally breaking Covid laws on 15 December last year. He is pictured on-screen, sitting underneath a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, reading out questions. flanked by two members of his top team, one wearing a Santa hat and the other draped in tinsel.

London was then under Tier 2 regulations banning any social mixing between households – which Johnson appeared to have breached by mixing with the aides. Official guidance also stated: "You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier".

More detail is furnished by Crerar, sufficient to support a view that technical breaches of the regulations had occurred on a day when 459 people had died from coronavirus, while another 33,828 had been infected.

As might be expected, the papers are vying with each other to dig the dirt on Johnson, with Tim Shipman doing his bit for Queen and Country in The Sunday Times.

Shipman picks up on the dog days of 2020 when he writes that members of the No 10 press team met after work every Friday evening. Wine was opened, gallows humour shared. He tells of Jack Doyle, who was then deputy director of communications, "was in the habit of giving awards for those who had gone above and beyond the call of duty".

But, he writes, the 18 December was different. E-mails and WhatsApps were sent out by junior civil servants in the press team urging people to attend. One of Doyle's colleagues phoned special advisers in other departments to invite them.

About 40 people gathered in a foyer outside the main press office room. "Everyone was packed shoulder to shoulder", said one who attended. "If it looks like a party, sounds like a party, stinks of booze and goes on until 2am, it is a f***ing party".

Of Johnson's denial, the growing evidence that many present were "completely rat-arsed" has led to a hunt for other potential breaches of the rules, says Shipman. Those present say Johnson did not visit the Christmas gathering, although Cummings has pointed out that: "To get upstairs [to his flat] he has to walk past that area where he could see it".

Johnson, we are told, did turn up for two other events. On 13 November he gave a farewell speech for Lee Cain, who left No 10 with Cummings that day after losing a power struggle with the egregious Carrie. Closer to home, it is claimed that Carrie Johnson held a party for friends that night in their flat. This is emphatically denied by No 10 and by one person alleged to have attended.

Then, on November 27 Johnson gave a short speech at farewell drinks for Cleo Watson, his deputy chief of staff and a close friend of Cummings. But he did not stay long.

And that, it seems, is the extent of Shipman's "dirt". Whether it sticks, or not, there are already repercussions. This, the Observer makes clear with its headline: "Scientists fear falling trust in Boris Johnson could harm bid to curb Omicron surge". Researchers, we are told, say new rules may be needed to cut deaths, but there are concerns that "fed-up" people will ignore the government.

This is only to be expected, with senior behavioural experts warning that reports of Downing Street parties, where Covid rules were allegedly flouted last year, "have caused widespread anger and resentment".

"It is always more difficult to re-apply restrictions because people are fatigued and generally fed up", says Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at Edinburgh University. "But now it’s going to be even harder, because trust has been eroded to a very significant level. People are really fed up with the government. And if you don’t trust the government, why would you do what the government asked you to do?"

The Observer has Bauld saying that it was likely that far more people would flout rules if they were asked to limit numbers allowed indoors at one time, as happened last winter. "Many are likely to say: I'm fed up, I don't trust this government, and I want to see my friends and family, so I'm just going to ignore the rule".

Now, says Shipman, Johnson faces rebellion from 60 Tories and, after the unedifying farce of Partygate, even MPs who owe him their jobs are beginning to wonder what's next.

In Saturday's Times, though, Matthew Parris has no doubts about what's next. "The prime minister has been rumbled", he writes, "and for Johnson it's over". His concern, though, is that the Conservative Party might replace a charlatan with another sham. Someone decent needs to stand up and rid us of Johnson but they are "championing an empty vessel in Liz Truss".

Yet that battle is to come. For the moment, we are in the throes of the decline and fall. Even his old supporters are deserting him, with Janet Daly headlining her column with: "The collapse of trust can be traced to the fatal flaws in Boris Johnson’s personality". The latest crisis in No 10 is no fleeting embarrassment, she writes, but a game-changer that has stripped the PM of any remaining credibility.

In her text, she says: "I can't see any way out of this for Boris Johnson. The political crisis hinges entirely on his personality. His policy decisions are in question on the grounds that they may be a consequence of his own character flaws".

Yet, for all that, while all eyes are turning to North Shropshire, I don't think an immediate resolution can be taken for granted. For the Lib-Dems to take the seat would be a huge leap and, if the Tories keep it, Johnson may live to see another day or two, even if one long-time associate is predicting: "I think for the first time that it won't be him fighting the next election". Cummings said the “silent artillery of time” would do for Johnson, predicting: "He’s done, gone by this time next year, probably summer".

To prolong his active life though, the prime minister may be hoping that the Russians do make a move over the Christmas break – the ultimate "dead cat" which could divert attention from his troubles and focus minds on more serious issues. Ironically, for a fundamentally unserious man, Johnson's immediate fate could lie in the hands of a very serious man – Mr Vladimir Putin.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Politics: a people's government?


According to the venerable Charles Moore, the "brilliant" Boris Johnson has been let down by his own carelessness, allowing himself to get "ensnared" by a venal media led, of course, by the BBC with the Today programme in the vanguard.

Yet, despite being so laughably partisan about his hero, Moore has a point. "The foetid air of Westminster intrigue, hypocrisy and moralism", he complains, "stifles the important things we need to know about our country and our world in these weird times".

Indeed it does, but the point he misses is that coverage is not a matter of either or. One problem is, as I see it, the media's tendency to obsess about one particular issue, elevating it to such an extent that it dominates the news agenda.

But there's another dynamic involved here, to which I alluded in an earlier piece. This is what we might call the "Al Capone effect", where a transgressor is brought down over a relatively minor issue for want of evidence on the greater sins.

Here, it could be argued that we have a seriously inadequate prime minister but such are the ways of British politics that it is very difficult to bring senior politicians down over substantive issues, so the media focus on the trivia where the weakness is apparent and less easy to defend.

Actually, that is not altogether true as Sir Anthony Eden resigned in the wake of the 1956 Suez affair, ostensibly for health reasons, but primarily because the venture had been an unmitigated disaster.

Possibly, there are substantive issues over which the media could take Johnson to the cleaners. My issue of choice might be the burgeoning energy crisis, although such is the timescale that it would be hard to pin all the blame on one man.

The same goes for the clumsy handling of the Covid-19 epidemic, where the fault goes all the way back to Blair and involves failures of every administration since. Johnson merely had the misfortune to be left standing when the music stopped.

To that extent, whether it is "wallpapergate", or "partygate" or the intervention on Owen Paterson's suspension, these are issues which can be placed unequivocally and exclusively at the door of Johnson. The buck stops with him and he can't pass it on to a predecessor or another agency.

Apart from the very obvious example of Suez, therefore, one wonders if it is actually possibly to bring down prime ministers on substantive grounds – their roles will either be so bound up in secrecy, or the responsibility will be so diffuse that it is almost impossible to make any charges stick.

The trivia, in the context, become the proxy issues, for which prime ministers can be sanctioned when other, graver charges might not stick. But, as proxies, they can be taken fairly to represent a situation where the politicians have lost the trust or confidence of the public, in between elections where casting a vote is too blunt an instrument or too slow.

And, although – as Moore has done – it is easy (and sometimes entirely justified) to cast aspersions on the motives and behaviour of the media, in this instance, it could well be that the public get a significant voice in determining the fate of Johnson, through the medium of next week's by-election in North Shropshire.

Already, the Telegraph is calling the election Johnson's "own personal referendum", suggesting that: "If the Tories lose their 'safe seat', it could be the tipping point that sees the Prime Minister facing a leadership challenge".

Coming up to the second anniversary of the 2019 election victory, The Times is reporting that Johnson's cabinet rivals are circling, with the prime minister in "crisis mode".

Yet, it will be the voters of North Shropshire who will most likely take the decisive step. In effect, they will be acting as the proxies for the rest of the nation. There is no other mechanism by which a prime minister can be called to task, mid-term, any more than the people can appoint (or approve) a new premier in between general elections – and then, not at all because, in theory, we vote for MPs not leaders.

Perhaps if we had direct elections for our prime ministers, things might be different. With proper separation of powers, where MPs were elected to scrutinise the executive instead of acting as a (shallow) ministerial gene pool, we might then have the possibility of impeachment, with parliament taking a hand, or the process of recall. In neither event, would the media be the ultimate arbiters.

Thus, it really isn't sufficient for the likes of Moore to whinge about the ways of the media. The headline of his column says that Johnson "makes life far too easy for his enemies in the Westminster village", and that the PM's "fumbling excuses about a party taking place last year in Downing Street gave the press all the ammunition they needed".

But if it is only such issues over which the media can make life difficult for prime ministers, then they will exploit them for that very reason. If, on the other hand, we had a professional and combative parliament, freed from the constraints of party politics, we might see MPs taking the lead, with effective, real-time evaluation of policy.

As it stands, where we have an ineffectual parliament, populated by low-grade party hacks and wannabe ministers, we will not have any serious or effective scrutiny of the executive.

We can see this in particular from the lacklustre performance of select committees, and from the way their hearings and reports are largely ignored by the media. If the system was strengthened, not least by giving committees the power to summon witnesses (including ministers and civil servants) and to demand that evidence be given under oath, then what was produced might have more gravitas.

Such power might extend to the approval of ministers before they could be appointed by prime ministers – a power that the European Parliament has in respect of Commissioners - together with the ability to dismiss individual ministers on specified grounds, a power the EP does not have.

Generally, a more powerful parliament might have had a beneficial effect on the ongoing management of Covid OMG v. 3.0. As it stands, there is a widespread suspicion that the current round of controls are a "dead cat" response by a weakened prime minister to divert attention from his own troubles.

If, on the other hand, such measures were examined swiftly and effectively by a select committee, supported by its own independent experts and able to call a wide range of witnesses, any vote in the full House would be taken on the basis of the committee's recommendations, and thus be elevated beyond the party political.

As it is, when parliament votes on Wednesday, we may see a significant backbench rebellion – which may or may not be tempered by electoral and party political considerations – with the opposition deciding whether to vote for or against in accordance with the political advantage it might secure.

Whatever the outcome, the measures will lack conviction and authority, and compliance levels are expected to be poor. Yet, if measures are needed, it serves no-one to have a system which is unable to secure the trust and willing cooperation of those who it affects.

What has been going on over the last weeks, therefore, is far more than a media storm. Judged objectively, we are seeing the effects of a dysfunctional system of government, which has lost the trust of the people and which exposes vulnerabilities which can be exploited by an equally dysfunctional media, for reasons which are not necessarily in the interests of the people.

Some might suggest that this sort of glorious muddle, for which the British are famed, eventually produces the right result, but there seems less and less confidence that we have a system that is fit for purpose. If there came out of this mess a realisation that fundamental reform was necessary, than perhaps what we are going through would be worth it.

In the event, though, we are likely to see more of the same. If there is to be reform, the impetus will have to come from elsewhere. We are a long way from the "people's government" that Johnson claimed we had back in those heady days (for some) in December 2019.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Politics: fin de siècle?


From being a tedious interlude, "Partygate" is building in energy: one party has become three, with an added quiz. And the details on the original party that are emerging do not look good. The Times is telling us that it was planned three weeks in advance with invitations sent to officials and political advisers on WhatsApp.

ITV News is saying that Jack Doyle, the prime minister's communications director, gave a speech at the event and handed out awards. Spontaneous it was not. The BBC says that there were as many as 30 people present from the press team, and wonders whether Doyle can keep his job.

On top of that, "wallpapergate" is making an unwelcome (for Johnson) repeat appearance after the Tory Party has been fined nearly £18,000 for improperly declaring donations towards the refurb of Number 11.

Particularly damning, though, is the report by Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers' interests, which records Johnson claiming that he "knew nothing" about payments for the refurbishments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.

However, it now turns out that three months before he claimed he had first found out about how the payments were being made, Johnson was in fact asking the Tory donor - who was setting up a blind trust - for more cash to pay for the refurbishment.

This has the Mirror running a front-page banner headline, "Another day … another lie", while the Telegraph's front page has Lord Geidt "on the brink of quitting", in protest at being misled.

What adds to the energy is the prospect of a backbencher rebellion when the Covid OMG v.3.0 "Plan B" is put to the House next Tuesday. Some papers like the Guardian are suggesting that 30 Tories might vote against their own government, while the Mail puts the number at 50. According to The Times, some Tory MPs think that the number of rebels could be closer to 100.

Whether the rebellion materialises is impossible to predict but the very fact that it is being mooted itself makes a statement. Furthermore, it comes on top of a YouGov poll which puts Labour at 37 percent against the Tories' 33 percent. This gives the opposition a four point lead, its biggest since January when the country was in the middle of the winter lockdown.

This result is backed up by a Survation poll published by the Mirror, which has Labour "soaring" to 40 percent and the Tories slumping to 34 percent – a six-point lead. Says the Mirror, this is the highest poll lead for Starmer since Johnson took power.

The real political energy, though, comes from that small event in North Shropshire next Thursday – the by-election for Owen Paterson's replacement. And with the Lib-Dems making a strong pitch, there is an outside chance that they could win the seat.

Should that happen, it could transform that small event into the perfect political storm. It would signal the beginning of the end for Johnson, the tangible proof that he is no longer a winner.

There is a major imponderable in that scenario though. For the Tories to lose one of the safest seats in the country, one they have held for 200 years, would be nothing short of a political earthquake. But, despite the hype and the fond-hopes of the Lib-Dems, it remains an outside chance.

Whatever the outcome, the election should be the last major domestic political event of the year. If the Tories keep the seat, it will buy time for Johnson. He will have the whole of Christmas in which to consider his next moves, while taking "family time" after the birth of his latest child – the seventh that we know of.

On the other hand, of the Tories do lose the seat, there is probably very little he will be able to do to save himself. Doubtless, the men in suits will be using the holiday to plot his replacement. If that isn't immediate, it could only be a matter of time before potential successors are ready.

Tory MPs, The Times says, are speculating that more letters of no confidence in the prime minister are already being submitted to Sir Graham Brady, leader of the backbench 1922 Committee.

However, even if one of his friends in the Telegraph thinks that Johnson's position is already irrecoverable, the view is that there is little chance of him being forced out immediately.

This is articulated by an anonymous minister who says that Johnson will remain in post by default because there is no challenger around whom his critics could coalesce. "It's a series of unforced errors", The Times has the minister say. "People’s inboxes are glowing white-hot. Because nobody is there to challenge him he's effectively there by default.

Whatever might transpire, though, it will be a distraction, and a dangerous one. Given the events stacking up elsewhere, the very last thing this country needs is a lame-duck prime minister who will combine political impotence with his own brand of incompetence.

The distraction point is made by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who observes that "there has never been a more unsettling strategic landscape" in his lifetime. It is time, he thinks, for us to turn our attention to the prospect of conflict.

Ambrose doesn't mince his words, arguing that the world is at the most dangerous strategic juncture since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He points to escalating threats on three fronts: Russia's mobilisation of a strike force on Ukraine's border; China's "dress rehearsal" for an attack on Taiwan; and Iran’s nuclear brinkmanship.

On Ukraine, though, Tass conveys a statement by Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov, to the effect that Moscow "will thwart any provocations by Kiev in Donbass",

But it then adds a commentary by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who says that this poses no threat to Ukraine. "I would not like to interpret the signals of our military representatives, high-placed commanders. Each perceives this signal in his own way and correctly, I hope. There is no element of a threat".

Earlier, Gerasimov had claimed that the hype spread by the media about Russia allegedly bracing for an invasion of Ukraine was "a lie", while military activity on Russia’s own soil requires no notifications. So there were are then – as long as Ukraine doesn't "provoke" Russia, there's no problem.

However, on the teensy-weensy chance that the Russians might just be implementing their classic maskirovka doctrine, Ambrose is right to be unnerved – we could be in for a surprise over Christmas or the New Year.

This could be more so if the Israelis launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran, and there is absolutely no way of knowing what the Chinese might get up to. But there is a possibility that all three hotspots could erupt at the same time, "linked by unknown levels of collusion".

Certainly, any one of the three – to say nothing of a major energy crisis - could drive our current domestic political obsessions off the table. But, even if he wasn't mired in his political troubles, the prime minister will be taking "family time" and will hardly be best placed to deal with these emerging threats.

Rather than speculating wistfully about whether we were approaching the fin de siècle, we might find ourselves wishing that it was already over, and someone else was in charge – before Tehran is converted into a glass-lined car park.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Media: opportunity costs


Even with the story spread all over the papers and dominating the broadcast news, I am still finding it very hard to get excited about Allegra Stratton and the Downing Street party – or parties.

I do understand, however, that the Downing Street shenanigans (alleged) add a further layer of disgust in the eyes of many, about the arrogance of our political élites and the impression that one rule applies to "them" and another to us – another Dominic Cummings "eye test" moment.

This goes along with the widely-held view that Johnson is lying through his teeth again – which is what he always does when confronted with an uncomfortable truth. But there seem very few people prepared to believe his denials.

As far as can be measured at this early stage, something of these negative sentiments are spilling over into the reaction to the prime minister's announcement yesterday that the government is to renew its guidance about home-working, is to require Covid passports for certain large gatherings, and is to extend the rules for mask wearing. There is also a hint that mandatory vaccination is being considered.

One must be careful here, not to take the social media reaction as an accurate indicator of public opinion, but if the immediate responses are any guide, the authorities are going to be struggling to enforce these new measures, given the multiple pledges of civil disobedience.

Commentators are thereby suggesting that Johnson has been badly damaged by the affair, with Pete suggesting that, politically, he is "dead man walking". Once again, one is reminded of Matthew Parris's prescience, now nearly a month ago.

And, although I look forward to the day when we finally see the end of Johnson, rather like Pete I would sooner see him taken down over a substantive policy issue than what amounts to an essentially trivial issue. But, rather like the FBI bringing down Al Capone over tax evasion, I suppose we must take what we can get.

I cannot help feeling though, that if we had serious political parties, and especially a serious opposition, we would be seeing Johnson being torn to shreds over important issues such as his stance on climate change, his energy policy, over defence and many other matters – not least his false promises over the NHS.

If anything, though, the furore over a noisy cheese & wine party that took place 12 months ago in Downing Street is having the effect of drowning out substantive issues. For instance, as one commentator remarks, on the grid yesterday was Priti Patel's Borders Bill to stop illegal migrants. Yet scarcely anyone heard the message.

This is an effect about which we hear too little. For every story entertained by the media, dozens are spiked and when – as is the case with the contemporary media – they start obsessing over such a narrow spectrum of events, all sorts of things get left out. We are paying a heavy opportunity cost and the currency is public ignorance.

The thing is, although the media hyperventilates about the stuff they put before us, much of it is essentially very tedious. Are we really interested in how many parties there were in Downing Street last year?

On the other hand, some of the stuff which is being left out – even if not of immediate, earth-shattering importance – is really interesting and may have important implications over the longer term.

In the absence of media attention, therefore, I found myself last night looking at online copies of The Siberian Times, with the edition from 3 November reporting an unusual shortage of snow in southern Yakutia, the world's coldest permanently inhabited region, with temperatures between 4-12ºC above the norm.

This ties in with many other stories which have made the legacy media, all on the theme of the climate change and the melting permafrost, a subject to which a number of papers have given unstinting coverage. The Independent, as late as 28 November, was featuring the adventures of a father and son team carrying out investigations in the Yakutia region, where they could "find no sign of permafrost as global warming permeates Siberia’s soil".

What makes this really interesting, though, is the piece in The Siberian Times of 3 December, which reports: "Classes cancelled at the world's coldest school as temperature in Oymyakon plunges to -60ºC". Winter had finally caught up with Oymyakon, in the Yakutia region, producing near-record low temperatures – and plenty of snow.

One place where the record has indisputably been broken is in St. Petersburg. According to the news agency Tass, cold weather in the Russian city had broken a daily record set 128 years ago as temperature dropped to about -21ºC on the night of 5 December - 0.4 degrees lower than on the same day back in 1893.

Incidentally, St. Petersburg is not the only place breaking records. In Sweden on 6 December, it was reported that in the remote Swedish settlement of Naimakka, the temperature plummeted to -43.8ºC, setting a new seasonal record. This had been accompanied by heavy snowfall in the region, with up to 14 inches in one area.

And yes, we do appreciate that this is "weather", but it is interesting all the same, especially as a contrast to the legacy media's tendency to harness stories of severe weather to the climate change bandwagon.

Speaking of which (interesting stuff, that is), we can finally put to bed the Northern Sea Route and the ice-trapped ships story, which I broached on 15 November, when the drama was already more than a week old. As of 8 December the last convoy of seven vessels has been escorted by a nuclear icebreaker out of the ice, free to continue their journeys independently.

Interestingly, the Russian authorities are now considering a ban on foreign vessels using the NSR.

"Favourable ice conditions of past years distorted the impression of some shipowners how to work in the waters of the Northern Sea Route", General Director Mustafa Kashka says, suggesting that the authorities need to pay more attention to the choice of vessels operating in the last months of summer-autumn navigation.

All's well that ends well, but armed with the knowledge of this season's drama, we can revisit the area in years to come with a better understanding of the situation, which is more than could be done if we had been reliant on the British media.

And yet, while the focus is on Downing Street parties, the "net zero" beat goes on, largely unregarded, even though the indications are that the policy is unaffordable.

Thus, while at least one newspaper headline complains that Johnson is "taking the public for fools", so is the media, feeding us on a diet of trivia and ignoring many of the substantive issues. Still, if it brings the resignation of Johnson that bit closer, it may just have been worth it, although the opportunity cost is unnecessarily high.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Energy: the doomsday scenario


"Unless we're willing to avert our attentions from [the legacy media] output and set our own agendas", writes Pete, "they'll continue to spit on us and rub our faces in it". This is his comment on the venality of contemporary media coverage, and a view with which I heartily agree.

Certainly, I don't think any of the issues which fill the front pages of today's papers would have made it there, had I been involved, with the exception of the Financial Times lead, which tells us: "US [is] to demand halt to Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades Ukraine", a story partially replicated on The Times front page.

We don't, of course, know if the Russians do intend to invade – the recent troop movements could be sabre-rattling, or a not-so-devious ploy to put pressure on Germany (and the EU) to speed up the Nord Stream approval process. But my guess is that, if they do, they will move on Christmas Eve, as they did when they invaded Afghanistan.

However, if Russia does go into Ukraine and Germany reacts as Biden wants, the likely outcome will be the closure of the Ukraine natural gas pipelines serving the "western corridor".

If this happens, there is no doubt that it will precipitate a Europe-wide energy crisis, the like of which we have never experienced before – especially as Russia has already been withholding supplies, limiting deliveries to the spot market.

As different states struggle to make up their energy shortfalls, the UK will not escape the fallout. Norway, in the first instance, will be under huge pressure to divert gas supplies to mainland Europe, cutting down on UK pipeline flows. We can expect the Netherlands gas interconnector to be shut down and, as France diverts electricity to the European grid, we will be lucky to get anything through their electricity interconnectors.

There will be some LNG available, but there will be strong competition for supplies, and prices will be astronomical. And no amount would be sufficient to keep the UK grid going, simply because of flow constraints.

With the UK unable to meet more than half of its gas consumption from its own resources – less during winter peaks – and with only six days storage, there will have to be implemented a programme of severe gas rationing.

First to go will be the major energy users – of both gas and electricity. The latter will be necessary to cut the demand for electricity generation and thus eke out gas supplies.

The domestic distribution system was be protected at all costs: a drop in pressure might allow air into the system leading to multiple and possible fatal gas explosions. Thus, the next to go will be gas generation, which will almost certainly lead to widespread brownouts.

On the upside, if the gas shortage is predicted, at least the electricity cuts can be managed, with warnings given and, with sufficient rotation, the durations limited. People (those who can afford to) will be able to prepare, and most of the damage contained.

Without plentiful supplies of gas, though, the [electricity] grid will be extremely vulnerable to any perturbations because, as we have seen, gas generation performs the dual role of producing electricity and balancing the system.

Given that we will be heavily dependent on renewables, a sudden a collapse in wind generation – could force widespread, unplanned power cuts. Worse still, a sudden, unexpected drop in output could trigger what is known as a cascade failure, where local overloads cause others power stations to drop out, until the whole system shuts down.

In such an event, restoring power to the grid is not a simple matter. Sections of the grid must be isolated and a single unit reconnected to one part, and stabilised. The next plant must then be synchronised with the first before it too can be reconnected, and then the next, and the next, and so on. Restoring full functionality, even without glitches, can takes days if not weeks.

As the victims of storm Arwen have been finding, there is an enormous difference between coping with a short power outage, and being without power for several days. And even in rural Scotland and Northumberland, where power supplies are never truly dependable, what was remarkable was how ill-prepared many people were.

Translate this to a London power cut and it takes little to imagine what the effect might be on community life and law and order. Probably within hours, there will be looting and then rioting in our more "diverse" districts.

The police may well have serious communication problems, and many staff might find it difficult to get to work, as the transport infrastructure fails in the absence of power. Large areas will be unpoliceable, and unpoliced, as available resources are directed to protecting vulnerable and priority areas.

If this sounds too much like a doomsday scenario, we need to be conscious of just how fragile UK generation already is, even without the Ukraine situation blowing up.

For instance, on 3 December this year, the National Grid ESO issued its first Electricity Capacity Market Notice (CMN) of the winter for the same evening, posted because the capacity margin had fallen below the threshold set out in the Capacity Market Rules.

For the period, there had been an expected transmission demand and therefore operating margin of 42,518MW. However, there had been only 42,472MW of aggregate capacity of Balancing Mechanism (BM) units expected at that time.

Although the notice was cancelled later the same day, it does indicate quite how tight margins actually are, when the system is supposed to be fully mobilised to meet winter demands. The previous notice had been on 8 January of this year, with an expected demand of 45,081MW.

On the mainland, other countries even now are struggling, with Spain struggling as Algeria has failed to meet its gas export target. Supplies are down and costs have spiralled, with the price of electricity four times more than what it was this time last year.

Elsewhere, Poland is having to rely on a Swedish oil-fired power plant, to help ease an electricity shortage. The country was facing difficulties in balancing its system due to low wind generation and outages of several units.

Nor is this a one-off, with the system operator admitting that the situation is far from under control. If there are severe frosts this winter and not too many winds, experts do not rule out the possibility of blackouts.

But, while Poland can blame legacy problems going as far back as Soviet times, the UK has no excuse. That system is so fragile speaks to the utter stupidity and short-sightedness of allowing our fossil fuel generation system to deteriorate, while relying excessively on renewables.

The potential consequences have even been pointed out by the boss of Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company. He warns that attempting to switch to renewable energy "virtually overnight" would lead to soaring prices and erode public support for the changes, while unleashing social unrest.

This is hardly rocket science, but evidently way above the comprehension level of our politicians. At the end of last month, we even had Liz Truss urging Nato allies to block Nord Stream 2, even without waiting for Russia to invade Ukraine.

The stupid woman is worried that Moscow would exploit its position if European nations became reliant on it for energy, apparently unaware that the new pipeline simply replaces part of the decaying Ukrainian system and brings no additional capacity to the table. Europe is already reliant on Russia for energy, and especially Germany.

Yet, if it is real stupidity you want, you just have to look at the media front pages (with the honourable exceptions), to realise how badly we are served when there are potentially life-changing events on the horizon.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Energy: pointing the finger


One undisputed power which falls to incumbent prime ministers is the ability – barring tumultuous events outside their control – to set the media agenda. Thus we have the fool Johnson yesterday, raiding the dressing-up box yet again, this time to announce a "drug policy" which, by all accounts, is much the same as every other failed drug policy.

The great privilege of blogging, on the other hand, is that we can ignore the set agendas and focus on issues which are less fully covered but in some respects of more lasting impact than the crise du jour.

With that in mind, I was entertained yesterday by the report that a 1.3GW coal-fired power plant is under construction at the former Yokosuka thermal power station site near the port of Kurihama, in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

Even more entertaining was the additional news that Yokosuka is one of the 22 new coal-fired power plants planned to be built in Japan by 2025, a plan that has the BBC squealing with anguish that Japan is increasing its coal consumption "at a time of great concern about coal's impact on the climate".

The reasons for this development, of course, are obvious. Since the run-down of the indigenous nuclear programme, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant closure, Japan has been finding that reliance on gas-fired power stations is too expensive and the supplies uncertain. Hence the Japanese government has decided on a massive expansion of the coal-fired generation fleet, powered by cheap coal imported from Australia.

Interestingly – some might say tragically – we were in much the same position a decade or more ago, in 2009 when I picked up in the EU Referendum blog a letter in the Telegraph written by energy expert Tony Lodge.

Since 1997, he noted, the government had approved over 30 gigawatts of electricity generation from gas-fired power stations, with gas on 2009 generating over 43 percent of UK electricity. No other conventional power plants, such as clean coal or nuclear, had been approved in the period to boost energy diversity and get prices down.

Thus, wrote Lodge, a present 90 percent of current and proposed power station construction in Britain is gas-fired. By 2020, he added, 60 percent or more of our electricity will come from gas, 80 percent of which will be imported by pipeline or LNG ship. Gas prices are tied to oil prices and, though low now, will rise again and remain volatile. With that, he warned, "all our energy eggs are in one basket".

None of us at the time appreciated the extent to which successive governments would pursue the development of renewables – in particular wind and solar – rigging the market to make it appear that this generation was economically viable. Lodge actually called for the approval of a new supercritical coal plant, proposed at Kingsnorth in Kent, in order to reduce our reliance on gas.

However, after the intervention of Greenpeace, and the acquittal of its activists, the project was abandoned in late 2009 - the last attempt in the UK to build a new coal-fired power station. And, although Lodge got some of the detail wrong, we are nonetheless now in the position where we are over-reliant on gas, with prices rising precipitately.

The Japanese action, therefore, provides a remarkable contrast, as between a government which has the interests of its people and economy at hears, and our virtue-signalling fools who are in charge of our energy policy.

And, in the refusal to address the needs of the country, it seems that the UK government is very much on its own. Already, we're familiar with the stance of India, which dispatched 291.72 million tonnes during April-October 2021.

Now we learn that the government has ordered the state-owned Coal India Limited to ramp up coal production to one billion tonnes by 2023-2024, up from 828.5 million tonnes this financial year.

Similarly, China is ramping up production and also expects to hit peak levels by 2024, reaching at 2.48 billion tonnes of standard coal equivalent – although coal-fired electricity is not expected to peak until 2028.

In Russia, coal is still king and, as this report indicates, the government wants still more. It has called for increased annual production to reach a minimum of 485 million tons by 2035, up from 441 million tons in 2019. Optimistically, the government says, production will hit as much as 668 million tons in that period.

Even in Biden's United States, which has committed to decarbonising the power grid by 2035, coal is making a comeback as high natural gas prices limit its use in electricity generation.

Annual US coal-fired electricity generation is set to rise this year for the first time since 2014, and the share of coal in America's power generation mix is set to rise to 23 percent in 2021 from 20 percent in 2020 as electricity demand rebounds and the delivered natural gas price for electricity generators more than doubles.

But it isn't only the giants who are turning to coal for salvation. Ukraine, under the military cosh from its Russian neighbour, is also being deprived of exports from the Federation. Stepping into the breach is the United States: the second of seven ships with 66,000 tonnes of American coal has just arrived in Ukraine. Some 470,000 tonnes is expected by the end of January 2022.

Landlocked Kyrgyzstan is also suffering an energy crisis and it too is relying on coal, to the extent that it is supplying subsidised coal for home heating after a shortfall of hydroelectric power, following a drought across the region.

For all the rhetoric at Cop26, when it comes to a choice of meeting international targets and keeping the lights on – to say nothing of keeping warm – self-interest invariably prevails. And, for the moment, that is an extremely sensible stance. While the warmists continue to wibble about the "climate emergency", the real world is intruding to confound the modellers' predictions.

Latest of the poster children to fall is Greenland, where it is reported that the ice melt, which has slowed significantly during the past decade, has swung to one of growth. Satellite measurements showed a gain last Sunday of 9 Gigatonnes of slow and ice, amongst the largest daily accumulations ever seen on the ice sheet.

But even while Johnson dresses up and blathers about whatever it is that takes his fancy, the destruction of the UK's energy resources goes on. Within three years, what is left of the legacy coal generation fleet – on which we are currently reliant to keep the grid from falling over – will have been taken out of service, while there is still no in-service date for Hinkley Point C.

As some residents in the Northeast and Scotland have been finding after six or more days without electricity, normal life pretty much stops once the power goes off. In the greater scheme of things, there are very few things more important than the security of our electricity supply.

Regardless of the political and media agendas of the day, therefore, we'll continue to do our own thing. As least if we are descending into darkness, we should know why, and where to point the finger when it happens.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Energy: a question of balance


Dominant in the thinking of many people who follow the burgeoning energy crisis is the increasing unreliability of wind generation and the runaway costs of balancing the grid when the wind fails.

One egregious example of this came on 2 November when the grid was so short of power that the Electricity System Operator (ESO), with its control room in Warwickshire, was paying the giant Drax power station £4,050/MWh, against the July wholesale electricity price of £70.59/MWh.

Somewhat behind the curve, we now see the Telegraph pick up the story with a piece written by Rachel Millard, headed: "Britain heads for an energy shock", telling us that: "National Grid ESO, the body responsible for balancing electricity supply and demand, is investigating soaring charges".

The day Millard picks, though, isn't 2 November but the 24th, when the grid was having similar problems. It was a cold day on both sides of the Channel, she writes, and as demand rose, cheap nuclear power from France was not being sent to Britain via the interconnector. Instead, electricity was being sent the other way due to high prices that day in France.

With wind speeds down, coal and gas were once more picking up the load, but at a steep price. Shortages in the morning, though, turned into too much power in the afternoon and by the end of the day, the operators had spent a record £64 million balancing the system.

Millard goes on to say that it was an exceptionally expensive day, but not without warning. ESO is having to spend increasing amounts on system balancing, "heaping costs onto industry and, ultimately, consumer bills".

The costs, she adds, have triggered alarm in the company and among regulators at a time of steeply rising household energy bills, triggering a review by the ESO. It has also raised questions about the design of the market, the readiness of the system to shift to green energy, and whether power stations are profiteering by bidding in with sky-high prices.

What she doesn't say, though, that it isn't just ESO which is getting worried. On 17 August, last year, the regulator Ofgem got involved, noting that the GB electricity system had seen an increase in balancing costs during the spring and summer of 2020, coinciding with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Specifically, the regulator said, the period from March to July 2020 had seen balancing costs of £718 million, which had been 39 percent higher than the ESO had expected for the period.

These costs, Ofgem noted, had increased at the same time that the nationwide lockdowns had changed consumer electricity consumption behaviour and reduced industrial activity. Moreover, some of this period had also seen high level of renewables output, which had required the ESO to take a large number of actions to balance the system and ensure system operability.

As a result, Ofgem published an open letter stating its intention to evaluate the high balancing costs on the GB electricity system, and to "identify lessons that need to be explored further in order to reduce costs to consumers going forward".

Millard now brings in her own take on the data, telling us that the ESO spent £1.29 billion on this market between April and October 2021, compared to £986 million during the same period in 2020. Monthly costs, she writes. have now breached £200 million for three months in a row.

Actually, that is an understatement. The ESO has published figures up to the end of October and the spend for that last month was £315.61 billion. November is likely to be higher.

According to Millard, the growing need is only part of the picture. She relies on "experts" to point to the high prices commanded by generators, which the ESO has little option other than to pay. Here, she recalls that Drax had been paid £4,000 per MwH to switch its remaining coal turbines in North Yorkshire on during particularly cold and still days since September.

However, these exceptionally high balancing prices are now distorting the entire generation market. While the bulk of power is sold on contract, with fixed prices over agreed terms, many fossil fuel power station owners – squeezed by high gas prices and other costs – are dropping out of the capacity market and registering as balancing services providers.

Even though the wholesale price of power has climbed above £200 per MwH, power station operators have realised that it is far more profitable to sell at the higher rates on offer through the balancing mechanism.

Phil Hewitt, director at market specialists EnAppSys, cited by Millard, believes that roughly 4GW has been switched out of the capacity market to be redesignated as balancing services.

"Typically", Hewitt says, "this means now that National Grid is paying the equivalent of 20p/kWh [spread over the entire power output], to balance the system on days which are not very tight, but where stations have exited the wholesale market to participate in the balancing mechanism".

This, though, is by no means the only distortion creeping into the market, about which Millard is not particularly forthcoming. In an extremely complex market, there are many different types of balancing services required.

There is, for instance, the "enhanced frequency response" where the generator contracts to provide a highly flexible service, responsive within one second to frequency deviations, and able operate in a frequency sensitive mode. This attracts a considerable availability payment, even if the service is not called upon.

Then there is the "firm fast reserve", which provides "rapid and reliable delivery of active power through increasing output from generation", deliverable within 2 minutes at a minimum ramp rate of 25 MW/Min. This is different from the "fast start", where generators attract an availability payment to being able to deliver power, synchronise and achieve full load within 5 minutes of a frequency excursion beyond a pre-set limit.

The ESO lists over 60 different service options, which makes balancing the grid more like conducting a vast orchestra, and is clearly not a task for the fainthearted – or the amateur. The wonder is, with a system so complex, that it works at all. It certainly does need reviewing.

Millard, however, seems to be unaware of the Ofgem review – which does not appear to have reported – although this is difficult to tell amid the welter of reports produced by the regulator.

But, with the ESO having become a legally separate function within the National Grid from 1 April 2019, the whole system has been reviewed, with the report issued in January this year. Admitting that it has not yet considered the specific lessons from the balancing cost increases, it nevertheless concedes that the role of the ESO is "becoming increasingly challenging".

With an eye on "net zero", it reports that, "Balancing an electricity system with a high proportion of intermittent, renewable generation already presents a significant challenge, which has contributed to a significant increase in electricity system balancing costs between 2015 and 2020". It then adds that, "Cost-effective management of an increasingly complex and renewable power system will play an important role in achieving net zero at least cost".

There, we have something that the Telegraph doesn't tell us, that it is the renewables that have "contributed to a significant increase in electricity system balancing costs" – something that should really have been the lead headline.

But more worryingly, in considering "net zero", Ofgem states that "existing market arrangements may need to evolve and innovate to enable a flexible but resilient resource mix and support efficient system balancing".

Noting that "a large fleet of unabated CCGTs is not consistent with achieving a net zero power system", it also states that there could be "significant consumer benefit in developing new long-term approaches to planning how the necessary increase in low carbon flexibility can be incentivised to enable more efficient energy balancing".

Reading between the lines, together with the rest of the report, this rather indicates that effective balancing system for a "low carbon" network have yet to be devised. In her headline, therefore, telling us that: "Britain heads for an energy shock", she was closer that she possibly knew. The only real question is how big.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Media: the cynical view


I seriously don't want to write about the OMG version 3.0 of the coronavirus which seems to have reached global circulation in record time (even if it seems to have been around much longer than was initially thought).

From very early on, Covid primeTM seems to be following the typical (and expected) pattern of epidemic viral diseases – increased infectivity combined with reduced virulence, which is the final cover for such diseases as they fade into to background to become endemic illnesses of very little concern.

As such, it is very difficult to avoid the suspicion that the government response (along with some others) is a massive over-reaction, the timing of which conveniently diverts attention from other, more pressing problems, - especially with the legacy media which is so easily distracted by the soap opera of the ongoing booster campaign.

At times such as these, it becomes necessary to watch even more closely for what is not being widely reported, a task which is inevitably more difficult by dint of the fact that the material isn't being widely reported.

An important endeavour in this respect is to follow through climate-relevant information, filling the post-Cop26 vacuum with stories which don't fit the warmist narrative – an endless source of entertainment as this winter is already cofounding the worst predictions of the keepers of the faith.

Some of the greatest entertainment comes from the contrast between the earnest warmist propaganda and the real world reports, which brings me to a recent article in the New Scientist, widely cited elsewhere.

This is headed with the legend: "Orcas are spreading further into the Arctic Ocean as sea ice melts", telling us that, "Orcas – also known as killer whales – used to be unusual visitors to the Arctic Ocean off Alaska, but they are becoming more common there, which might be bad news for local ecosystems".

The story is down to Brynn Kimber at the University of Washington and her colleagues, who have found more and more orcas in the ice-covered Arctic waters near Alaska there in recent years - a region that these mammals tend to avoid because sea ice makes it "difficult to access and also leaves the mammals at risk of becoming trapped below the surface".

To track orca populations, Kimber and her team used underwater acoustic recordings of north-western Arctic waters. They collected data between 2012 and 2019 from four recorders that were attached to anchors dotted around the area, ranging from the northerly edge of the Chukchi Sea to the more southerly Bering Strait, just off the Alaskan coast.

We are the told that the researcher found that in the southern regions near the Bering Strait, orcas now make a regular appearance each summer. What's more, they were arriving in these areas up to a month earlier in the summer of 2019 than they did in the summer of 2012, possibly due to earlier ice disappearance.

In the northern Chukchi borderlands, they also found that orcas were present more frequently and consistently by 2019, again perhaps due to reducing ice cover.

I suppose it was just bad luck that Kimber chose to publish shortly after the Anchorage Daily News reported: "November ice extent in Chukchi Sea is well above average of past 30 years".

This comes from climatologist Rick Thoman who, with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, has Chukchi Sea ice data going back to 1979. Current sea ice extent in northern Alaska waters is the highest it's been in November since 2001.

Interestingly, we find that this is not just a function of the colder temperatures – although these do help. According to Thoman, in addition to the persistently cold pattern since early October, there have been sustained northern winds. Thus, he says, "we didn't have our thumbs on the scales with very warm waters that had to be extracted out".

This wind shift possibly accounts for the fact that sea ice formation at the opposite end of the Artic Ocean, in Hudson Bay, is lower than average, leaving the wibblers clear to wail that "Arctic sea ice is disappearing and it’s harming polar bears".

That story, though – along with others of its ilk – is over a month old, geared to extract maximum impact for the Cop26 eco-fest, but the wailing has died down somewhat as the ice is returning and the iconic polar bears are heading out to resume feeding before winter sets in.

While reporting the slow development of the ice in the Bay, however, the reported, this sudden freeze was picked up by the legacy media in late November, with the news that ice-breakers were on their way to rescue the trapped ships.

Some indeed have been freed and the research and expedition ship Mikhail Somov is reported safely back in her home port of Arkhangelsk, as of 2 December – not that this news has reached the legacy media.

There are fascinating details here as it appears that the ship was not released by ice-breakers. Instead, in one instance, the gas carrier Boris Davydov, sailing from China to Sabetta, on 23 November, came to its rescue. On the following day, the ship once again got iced-in, this time near the entrance to the Nordenskiold Archipelago. Its rescuer this time was gas carrier Rudolf Samoilovich.

With that, and especially with the lack of any reports to the contrary in the legacy media, one might think that the crisis was over – all's well that ends well. But in one of the remotest regions on earth, where news is very hard to get, it seems that the situation is very far from normal.

We can glean this from a very recent report from The Maritime Executive which tells us that Atomflot has mobilised its two heavy icebreakers, the brand new Arktika and the veteran 50 Let Pobedy, which are on their way to provide assistance to trapped vessels.

With three other Atomflot nuclear icebreakers said to be already on station - the Vaygach, the Taymyr and the Yamal, this suggests that the problems are rather more serious than are being admitted. Leonid Irlitsa, First Deputy Director General for Navigation at Atomflot concedes only that: "It is the first time that we are providing icebreaker assistance at this time of the year".

Doubtless, there are more important stories that our legacy media could be reporting but, when one sees the torrent of trivia that daily fills the pages of the British press – and clutters their websites – it is very easy to take the cynical view that readers are being fed a diet of garbage to keep them from addressing the more substantive issues.

But there is some sense also that hard-edged technical stories of the likes of ice-clearance in the Northern Sea Route are too complex for today's media reporters, who are more at home with soft-focus "nature" stories about killer whales and not-so-cuddly polar bears.

Either way, we need to be acutely conscious – as always – that the media narrative is precisely that, a narrative. But what we are being told is rarely the extent of what we need to know.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Energy: the insanity of the Guardian


It is very much a feature of the media that some of the most important stories get the least attention – t'was ever thus. But the news that Royal Dutch Shell had scrapped plans to develop the North Sea Cambo oilfield is a major event.

Reuters noted that the field, situated off the Shetland Isles, had become a "lightning rod" for climate activists who had been seeking to halt all development of oil and gas resources. And now, it looks as if Shell has given up the unequal struggle.

Following "comprehensive screening" of the field – which could potentially yield hundreds of millions of barrels of oil - it has "concluded the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays".

This doesn't necessarily mean the end of the project though. Shell is only a 30 percent minority partner. The private equity-backed Siccar Point Energy owns a majority stake and, for the moment, is to continue the development.

However, it didn't take the Guardian to get on the case, gleefully announcing that Shell's "U-turn" on Cambo "could mean end for big North Sea oil projects", noting that private companies don't typically have the track record in project development which Shell brought to the table.

Furthermore, despite Siccar Point's determination to continue, the paper cites anonymous "industry sources" who say will struggle to find new partner to take on Shell’s stake in the oilfield. Therefore, it believes Shell's decision could sound the "death knell", not only for this project, but all large-scale North Sea projects.

According to the Guardian, the trigger for Shell's decision to scrap the project was the government's insistence that the company would need to meet certain "climate concessions" to win approval for the development.

It was following this that the company decided that the "economic case for investment" was not strong. But this had been on top of the UK regulator's "unexpected" decision to decline Shell's application to develop a separate North Sea project at the Jackdaw field.

There is now "a huge amount of uncertainty" around the government's support for new oil and gas development in the North Sea, a situation which environmental campaigners are keen to exploit.

Caroline Rance, speaking for Friends of the Earth Scotland, says: "Both the UK and Scottish governments must now officially reject Cambo, say no to any future oil and gas developments in UK waters and get on with planning a fair and fast transition for people working in this industry".

But this is nothing compared with the stern line from the Guardian. In yesterday's editorial, it exhorts the government to keep North Sea oil "in the ground", stating that "Britain won't convince anyone else to ditch fossil fuels when it won't do so itself".

It expresses the hope that the decision by Shell to pull out of the Cambo oilfield does in fact mark the end of oil and gas investment in the North Sea. "for planet's sake". Nevertheless, it thinks it more realistic to see the act as "a first victory in a longer war to keep hydrocarbons in the ground".

It accuses, in lurid terms, the UK government of wanting extractive industries "to suck the seabed dry" and complains that it has failed to join an alliance of nations – led by Denmark and Costa Rica, and including France and Ireland – which have set an end date for oil and gas production and exploration. Instead, Johnson "will allow companies to keep exploring the North Sea for new reserves".

For a moment, one has to do a double-take here. This is not some wild rag from an extremist environmental campaign group, but a supposedly responsible national newspaper. And even by its own measure, what the paper is supporting is barking mad.

It recognises, for instance, that even if the world achieves "net zero" emissions (which it won't), it will not mean the end of oil and gas. The International Energy Agency (IEA), we are told, projects that if the world reached the goal by 2050, it would still be using nearly half as much natural gas as today and about one-quarter as much oil.

This would mean, it says, that as the UK constrains its domestic fossil fuel output, wealthy Gulf states that can produce oil cheaply will increase their market share. It would also see Moscow's significance to Europe’s energy security rise before it falls.

As if this was not bad enough, the paper makes no attempt to explain to its readers what will happen between now and 2050, with the UK winding down its offshore industry, long before alternative provisions are in place.

Even yesterday, as darkness fell and solar energy fell off the edge, wind power dropped to less then 10 percent of the energy generation mix, and fossil fuels were taking nearly 60 percent of the overall load.

Even if nuclear can be ramped up significantly – which looks unlikely, even by 2050 – the intermittent nature of renewables (wind and solar) will remain. Even a doubling or tripling the wind fleet would not support today's demand, much less the massively increased demand which comes with the decarbonisation agenda.

To close down the North Sea, therefore, would leave the UK in an even more perilous position than it is at the moment, having to import massive amounts of natural gas to keep the lights on, as well as the oil to sustain the transport industry which will be relying on fossil fuels well past the 2050 cut-off.

All of this, though – in the Guardian's book is directed towards the UK "setting an example", to which effect it wants us to enter a new era of energy poverty in the hope that alternative technologies will catch up. Without that, it says, "It is hard to see how Britain will convince anyone else to ditch fossil fuels when it won’t do so itself".

With the UK producing less than one percent of the global CO2 emissions, though, the only way it can have an impact is to hope that the rest of the world does follow its example, but to expect that is beyond the barking mad. It verges on the insane.

Already, the governments of both Indian and China have made it abundantly clear that they will do what it takes to keep the lights on, and that includes expanding their coal generation fleets, while also fuelling the growth of the car numbers.

Looking at the bigger picture, though, what we see is an example of a newspaper which has sold its soul to the climate change cult, just as it seems the global temperature is insisting on showing signs of declining, while different parts of the globe are breaking records for new temperature lows.

For those who are interested in such things, there are indications that we are approaching significant period of minimum sunspot activity, compatible with the phenomenon known as the Maunder Minimum, triggering a "little ice age". The last time this happened, between 1645 and 1715, the Thames routinely froze over and Londoners were enjoying hog roasts under London Bridge.

The prospect of a repeat is roundly dismissed by the current batch of high priest of the climate cult, who stick to their mantra that the 2.225 percent of man-produced carbon dioxide, of the 0.04 percent of the total in the atmosphere, is set to bring us to the end of times.

Anyone with a reservoir of sanity though – which clearly does not include the staff of the Guardian, or even members of this government – might like to hedge their bets. By 2050, when the full extent of "net zero" is due to kick in, we could be celebrating the event with ice-barbies on the Thames once again.

In the meantime, as average temperatures slide inexorably downwards – as they show every sign of doing – I almost pity the government officials tasked with persuading us to dispense with our gas boilers. Some may find what it is like to wear a heat pump.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Immigration: contradictions and hypocrisy


Those with longer memories will remember the comedy programme Drop the Dead Donkey which, if nothing else, underlined the cynicism of the tabloid press in pursuit of headlines.

It would be very easy to make the case that the reporting of the recent deaths of 27 migrants in the Channel was an unscripted version of the programme. After all, there was a vast tumult of publicity for not very many deaths compared with the enormous losses elsewhere, the reasons for the attention residing in the golden triangle of news values: proximity, novelty and topicality.

By comparison, the report in early October of 18,000 migrants dying in the Mediterranean simply did not qualify for inclusion in the British media.

This particular set of deceased have clearly made the mistake of dying in distant waters, at a time when migrants in the Mediterranean weren't a "thing" for the British press, and there had been plenty of dead bodies earlier so there was nothing especially novel about reporting on what, after all, was the cumulative effect of serial drownings over a lengthy period.

Without the "creative touches" of an attractive (dead) young lady, or a winsome child plucked from the unforgiving waters, even drowning events with a cast of thousands couldn't compete with a Facebook outage, a potential Christmas turkey shortage, the aftermath of the fuel crisis and a smattering of rapes – one of them attributed to a police officer.

Fortunately for their concerned readers, though, on the back of the Channel drownings, the Guardian has revisited the earlier dead, with an article headed: The most unsafe passage to Europe has claimed 18,000 victims. Who speaks for them?"

The piece is written by Lorenzo Tondo, a Guardian correspondent "covering Italy and the migration crisis", and his secondary theme is that: "As Europe outsources its border policing to Libya, rescue operations by NGOs are hampered by criminal inquiries in Italy".

Starting off with the obligatory "human interest" element, we are told of the gripping news that, in the early hours of 21 June, somewhere in the vast expanse of the central Mediterranean, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team on board a rescue vessel received a distress call. The motor of a small boat carrying asylum seekers from Libya had broken down, and the vessel was taking in water.

These, we learn, are the first dramatic scenes in Unsafe Passage – a Guardian Documentaries film by Ed Ou for the Outlaw Ocean Project. The film was released yesterday, which also serves as a topical hook for the piece, but the scenes depicted are said to represent "the first moments in a race against time that repeats itself again and again in the stretch of sea separating Europe from Africa".

From this scenario, there are three possible options. The first is that the Libyan coastguard makes it to the boat before the rescue crew. Then the "refugees" will be pushed back to Libyan detention centres at gunpoint. If the MSF reach the boat, the occupants will be carried to Italy but, if neither reach the vessel, "other lives will be lost in this giant watery graveyard that has already claimed thousands of asylum seekers: more than 1,300 have died or gone missing while attempting to cross the central Mediterranean so far this year alone".

The point that the paper clearly wants to emphasise is that Europe has "not only cast a blind eye on the horror", it has also "made the rescue of these people, and the lives of the rescuers, increasingly complicated".

In February 2017, it asserts, Europe ceded responsibility for overseeing Mediterranean rescue operations to Libya. The deal, struck between Rome and Tripoli, aimed at reducing migration flows across to Europe. And, since then:
… Italy has spent millions of euros to train the Libyan coastguards, and to supply them with numerous patrol vessels. The goal is to help them stop migrants from reaching Sicily and return them to Libya, where they frequently suffer violence and torture in detention centres.
There is more of this in the Outlaw Ocean Project website - a lot more – leading the Guardian to observe that the result of the Libyan "outsourcing" has been disastrous, "exposing the contradictions of that agreement and the hypocrisy of the EU toward the migration crisis".

Thus, the paper continues: the foremost paradox is represented by Libya, a politically unstable country still licking its wounds after its civil war. Italy has indirectly defined Libya as a safe country, even though the Italian authorities have often granted international protection to asylum seekers in recognition of their having been subjected to torture and sexual abuse in Libya. While Rome criticises Libya for its abuse of refugees, just last year Italy renewed its agreement with the country’s coastguard. And yet:
The coastguard is made up of many ex-militia men with allegedly strong ties to human traffickers. In October 2020, authorities in Tripoli arrested Abd al-Rahman Milad, known as Bija, a coastguard commander, over allegations of being behind the drowning of dozens of people. In 2018, the UN alleged Bija was a facilitator of human trafficking and part of a criminal network. Libyan authorities dropped the charges against him in April, citing a lack of evidence, while Milad has denied any links to human smuggling. Last year, an investigation by the Italian newspaper Avvenire claimed he was present at a series of official meetings in Italy in May 2017.
Those readers who are particularly interested can follow the links back to the two sources I cite, and neither make happy reading. But the two key words to take away from the reports are "contradictions" and "hypocrisy", as per the title of this blogpost.

The two words go hand-in-hand: the "liberal" EU, champion of human rights and purveyor of the very highest quality milk of human kindness is at the same time turning a blind eye to unspeakable cruelty and deprivation, all in the name of an immigration policy that it has never been able properly to organise, nor gain unanimous support from its member states.

At the heart of the hypocrisy are two instruments, the 1951 Refugee Convention (as amended) and the earlier (by a year) European Convention on Human Rights. In theory, the EU and its member states fully subscribe to both, yet they all realise that following them to the letter would result in Europe being swamped in an unending tide of migrants which the region simply could not support.

Thus, while paying lip service to the grand principles to which it subscribes, the European collective – of which the UK must be considered a part – imposes increasingly complex procedural and physical barriers to prevent migrants taking advantage of the "rights" which are supposedly available to all.

While, clearly, there is no obvious or single answer to this problem, that does not mean there are no answers. Like so many things in this life, there are probably multiple solutions, with no one of them providing anything other than messy, partial answers.

But a very good start would be to dump the hypocrisy. As long as we, the collective, send out mixed messages to the rest of the world, pretending to hold true to principles that exist only on paper and apply only to the lucky few who manage to circumvent the barriers, we cannot be surprised that so many are prepared to take their chances.

Before we get anywhere with this problem, we have to reconsider both the Refugee Convention and the ECHR. We need new instruments which make it very clear that entry to outsiders is limited and conditional.

For those whom we are prepared to allow entry, we must define a safe, legal procedure, while committing to return those who buck the system – or prevent their entry in the first place, using the appropriate barriers and technology to make that a reality.

Immigration, therefore, should be legal, and it should not be a lottery – and neither should it reward the queue-jumpers and the criminal gangs. And then, while there will always be those who will attempt to cheat the system, we have to stand firm on the principle that those who attempt illegal entry are authors of their own fate, risking hardship and worse for no reward.

With that, we have the technology and the systems to ensure that no one drowns but, if the consequences of humanitarian actions mean that we are them forced to accept those rescued as long-term migrants, then the world cannot be surprised if contradictions and hypocrisy become the de facto policy drivers.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Immigration: the wrong target


It is hard to disagree with Emmanuel Macron's reported view that prime minister Johnson is "un clown" in charge of a "circus", but one might stop short of endorsing his claim that he is guilty of creating "phoney wars" against France to placate a Brexit-weary public.

Even if the latter was true, we don't need Johnson to ramp up the tension, when it is becoming increasingly obvious that the French president also has his own agenda, playing to his own constituency, with the forthcoming election in mind.

Central to the current tense relationship, of course, is the surge of dinghy people and the feeling in some quarters that France isn't doing nearly enough to interrupt the flow of illegal immigrants or deal with the activities of organised crime and the exploitation of what has become a lucrative trade.

On the other hand, we have interior minister Gérald Darmanin accusing the British of making the UK "too attractive" to migrants while Europe minister Clément Beaune is pointing the finger at us for adopting "an economic model of, sometimes, quasi-modern slavery".

By making "illegal work" too easy, and "not going back to a certain number of checks, on more humane, more compliant labour market regulation", Beaune says, "this attraction will remain".

There are those, including the French themselves, who claim that it is extremely difficult to prevent the dinghy armada launching towards England, and therefore that the ultimate resolution lies in the UK reducing the "pull" factors which draw the immigrants to these shores.

Having thus exculpated themselves from any responsibility for the crisis, therefore, Johnson's letter to the French president - setting out measures that he believed would solve the crisis – went down like a bucket of cold sick, not least because it put most of the onus on the French authorities.

Amongst Johnson's proposals was a suggestion that the French used "airborne surveillance" to assist in monitoring and intercepting the migrants, using manned and unmanned aircraft, "perhaps flying under joint insignia".

The idea of joint patrols, however, was quickly turned down by France, citing concerns about "sovereignty", even though the French are quite happy to accept UK support in Mali, where RAF Chinook helicopters provide a heavy-lift combat support role.

But, while British assets are employed in support of French operations in Mali, what has subsequently emerged is how little effort is being expended to stem the flow of migrants on French soil.

This becomes clear from the recent news that France is to co-opt the EU's border and coastguard agency, Frontex, to assist in policing its coastline, to which effect the agency has provided a single patrol aircraft.

As it turns out, the aircraft is a Bombardier Challenger 604 maritime patrol aircraft, owned and operated by the Royal Danish Air Force, on loan to the agency, having been used previously in Greece and the Mediterranean.

Thus, although the French are being prissy about UK assets being used, they seem content to have a Danish-operated aircraft patrolling its shores under the aegis of the EU. This, it would appear, does not affect their "sovereignty", although a UK or jointly operated aircraft under French operational command would be an unacceptable breach.

Furthermore, while Challenger is a capable aircraft, fitted with side-looking radar, forward-looking infra-red and an advanced communications suite – capable, amongst other things, of intercepting and locating mobile phone signals – it is only one aircraft. To maintain credible, 24/7 coverage (even if only for a short time), more than one aircraft would be needed.

This raises the question as to why the French are not prepared to use their own aircraft. Not least the Gendarmerie operate a fleet of 15 Airbus EC145 helicopters, some of which are fitted with Wescam MX-15 imaging systems, or equivalent. These aircraft are thus superbly equipped for shore patrols, and for delivering rapid response interception teams.

In terms of maritime patrol aircraft, the French also have their Bréguet Atlantic fleet, including the highly capable ATL 2 upgrades which have enhanced detection systems, including the Wescam MX-20 electro-optical turret.

Inevitably, none of these assets are cheap to operate, but Frontex has been experimenting with aerostats, specifically for border surveillance. They are in the final stage of testing in Greece, where they have been patrolling 24/7 in the vicinity of Alexandroupoli and on the island of Limnos.

The fact, though, that Frontex is only now bringing such equipment into use is perhaps part of the problem, especially as its use of UAVs for border surveillance has been unsuccessful (so far), indicating a lack of member state commitment to the EU's border operations.

Certainly, Greece has been voluble in its complaints about the lack of EU support, which has had Greek coastguards beating a dinghy full of migrants and opening fire into the water close to the vessel.

Italy, on the other hand, has long felt abandoned by the EU, as has one of the other so-called "front-line countries", Malta. It has its minister for European and foreign affairs, Evarist Bartolo, complaining that, for too long, Europe has buried its head in the sand when it comes to tackling migration.

Front-line countries, he says, cannot be left to face migratory pressures alone, and solidarity among member countries should not be limited to the ad-hoc approach of the past few years whereby only some governments occasionally intervene and alleviate some of the burden experienced by the front-liners.

And then, there was very far from a harmonious approach when it came to the "hybrid warfare" on the Polish-Belarus border, where member states failed to agree on the line to take.

Looking at the migration problem in the round, therefore, it seems that France and the UK are misdirecting their efforts by fighting each other. In many senses, they have common cause in being adversely affected by the failure of the EU and the rest of the member states to get their acts together on "irregular" migration.

In this context, it is entirely fair to say that "Europe" is not doing enough to police its common borders, or to resolve the myriad of legal issues that stem from an obsolete international system which is no longer fit for purpose (if it ever was).

This aside, when it comes to the maritime border between France and the UK, we can with justice argue that, on a technical level, the French are by no means doing all that they could.

The French government might thus argue that it has other, more pressing problems, but its failure to intervene would be a political decision rather than a reflection of physical limitations. If France wanted to stop the boats, it could – given that it was prepared to spend the money and allocate the necessary resources.

At the very least, the French government could be more candid about where the problems lie, while the UK might be better advised to direct its wrath to Brussels rather than Paris, if it wants to see a long-term solution. As it stands, the French are the wrong target. This is an EU problem, and the EU must solve it.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Climate change: one to savour


A great many of us remember with some affection the proud announcement on 20 March 2000 of Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia.

Courtesy of Charles Onians of the Independent, we were told that, "within a few years winter snowfall will become 'a very rare and exciting event'". Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside were all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture.

In an attempt to save the paper from embarrassment, the report is missing from its carefully nurtured archive. But these people never seem to understand that the internet never forgets. It can be found on the Wayback Machine, there for all time to mock the innocence of climate scientists.

From this debacle, however, these innocents have learnt their lesson. Instead of making predictions that can be falsified in the space of a few years, they now point to years in the distant future. That way no one can call them out until they are safely retired.

A classic example of this tendency now graces the Guardian, telling us: "Rain to replace snow in the Arctic as climate heats, study finds", with the sub-heading: "Climate models show switch will happen decades faster than previously thought, with 'profound' implications".

At the very least, one has to acknowledge the chutzpah. As reports from the Arctic tell of a healthy ice-extent, and an increasing trend since 2012, Michelle McCrystall, at the University of Manitoba in Canada, has been leading "new research", using "the latest climate models" to predict that with all the Arctic's land and almost all its seas will be receiving more rain than snow before the end of the century if the world warms by 3ºC.

No doubt this scary story has been produces to keep the faithful pushing for their 1.5 ºC by the turn of the century. But, to up the ante, the period when the rain starts has been cut from 2090, as previously predicted, to an earlier but still safe 2060 or 2070. It is then that the autumn rains it the central Arctic will become rain dominated if carbon emissions are not cut.

Impacts for the region are, of course, dire. They include the melting of vital ice roads, more floods, and starvation for herds of animals. When rain falls on snow and then freezes, it stops the animals feeding. Reindeer, caribou and musk oxen won't be able to break through the layer of ice, so they won't get to the grass they need to survive and will suffer huge die-offs, says McCrystall.

Not to be outdone, though, the modern-day Independent has moved away from snow (and rain) predictions and is now telling us "why climate change could make flights a whole lot bumpier".

The layer of atmosphere closest to Earth, the troposphere – we are diligently informed - has been rising by around 164ft per decade because of climate change. Interestingly, the paper has failed to convert this into metric, possibly because 164ft sounds more impressive than 50 metres.

According to the paper, it is in the troposphere that all the turbulence occurs, as opposed to the stratosphere above it, where passenger jets tend to fly in search of smoother air. So now, it seems, aircraft will have to fly, on average, 164ft higher otherwise their passengers may occasionally get a bumpier ride.

Even this paper, though, admits that the troposphere varies in depth from five to nine miles (approximately 25-50,000 ft), so one wonders how these wondrous climate scientists manage to estimate an impossibly accurate figure of 164ft.

Nevertheless, Bill Randel, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has no uncertainties about what this all means. He calls it an "unambiguous sign" of changing atmospheric structure, the study which calculated the magic figure providing "independent confirmation", in addition to all the other evidence of climate change, "that greenhouse gases are altering our atmosphere".

However, this pales into insignificance compared with the news that divorce rates amongst albatrosses are increasing due to climate change. These seabirds are known for their loyal monogamous relationships, with only 1-3 percent of pairs separating. But now, according to a new Royal Society study, the warming water temperature has pushed up the separation rate to 8 percent.

Researchers, we are told, say lack of food due to warming waters, working longer hours to find food, and logistical difficulties faced by a travelling partner, may cause stress hormones to rise and eventually lead to break-ups.

In the same vein, climate change has caused older seal mothers to give birth to pups earlier. This observation, we are told, favours a hypothesis that climate affects phenology by altering the age profile of the population.

Warmer years are also associated with an older average age of mothers, the scientists found. Grey seals typically start breeding around 5 years old and can continue for several decades after. But the older the seals got, the earlier they gave birth.

Then there is the dreaded news that polar bears are inbreeding due to melting sea ice, posing risk to survival of the species. Despite earlier predictions that the species has been on the verge of extinction, ever since Al Gore took an interest in climate change, it seems they are not dying out fast enough. In fact, rather embarrassingly, overall numbers are increasing. Global population is now almost 30,000 – up from about 26,000 in 2015.

Thus, "scientists" are having to turn to a loss of genetic diversity, brought about by the "rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice". As the ice has melted, the polar bears' habitat has become fragmented, resulting in an equally rapid increase in genetic isolation and inbreeding among regions due to reduced contact with polar bears from the outside.

Meanwhile, as much of the country has just been through a period of early snow – with more forecast - the chief executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, is warning that homeless people "are feeling the awful effects of flooding and heatwaves". Horror of horrors, rough sleepers have even had their tents washed away in flash floods this summer.

The point to take on board from all this is that, even while other events dominate the headlines, this sort of climate dribble goes on – a steady drumbeat of alarmist stories with no apparent attempt to filter out the many absurdities and contradictions.

With such endless propaganda, it is unsurprising that so many people are gulled into thinking that the end of the world is nigh. The Guardian piece, though, is one to savour. If Wayback Machine still exists in 2060 or 2070, it would be such fun to revisit today's piece and see if it betters Onians for its predictions.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Climate change: government contempt


A full month after we launched our "net zero" petition, the government has finally responded to our demand for a referendum – as it was obliged to do.

It is fair to say that our expectations of this response were never high, so we cannot say that we are in any way disappointed. The government has simply behaved as expected, expressing its usual degree of contempt for voters and the principles of democracy.

In short, its refusal to consider a referendum rests on a single, apparently newly-minted principle, that: "National referendums are a mechanism to endorse major constitutional change".

Certainly it is the case that the referendums held so far in the UK have dealt with major constitutional issues. But there is nothing in law or framed in any constitutional instrument which prevents their use for other purposes.

Therefore, the government's case rests on is subordinate assertion that, "debates about national policy are best determined through Parliamentary democracy and the holding of elections". That too has no legal or constitutional provenance and stands as no more than a matter of opinion – and one based on extraordinarily fragile assumptions.

The first of these, of course, is the very existence of "Parliamentary democracy" – the idea that parliamentarians necessarily (or at all) represent the will of the people, or indeed are even acting in their interests. As we have long averred, "Parliamentary" is to democracy as "wooden" is to leg. The only genuine expression of democracy is direct democracy, of which the referendum is a fundamental part.

As to the holding of elections as a means of determining or approving national policy, this surely must be a joke. Specifically, in this country, national elections are used to choose MPs and, through them, the government.

For sure, governments (usually) produce manifestos prior to elections, but they are not bound by them, and nor are the restricted by them. Crucially, such is the range of issues included in the typical manifesto that it could not be rightly said that voters will necessarily agree with them all.

However, in its detailed response, the government makes great play of the have that it "made a key manifesto commitment to reach 'Net Zero by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution'". It was, it says, one of the top six pledges in the government's manifesto, alongside policy commitments to help achieve the target.

To then assert that this gives the government a mandate to act is, to say the very least, disingenuous – another way of saying "thoroughly dishonest". As is well recorded, the 2019 election turned on one issue and one issue alone – Johnson's pledge to "get Brexit done". Those who voted for this cannot be said in any way to have endorsed "net zero". Many fundamentally opposed it, and still do.

Equally to the point though, all three main parties – which could realistically form a government or be part of one – supported the principle of "net zero". Therefore, if the holding of elections is seen as a means of determining or approving national policy, then the 2019 election was an egregious failure. The electorate were not offered a meaningful choice – whichever government they had elected, the policy would have been much the same.

Despite this, the government tells us that the "net zero target" was passed into law by Parliament with strong cross-party support, as if this was an affirmation of its "democratic" credentials. It has learned nothing from the Brexit referendum, where remaining in the EU also had "strong cross-party support" yet MPs were at variance with the majority of those who voted to leave.

Presumably seeking to shore up a weak case, though, the government moves on to tell us that "it is clear that public concern about climate change is high, having doubled since 2016". Citing a BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker (Wave 37, 2021), it asserts that 80 percent of people in the UK were either "concerned" or "very concerned".

But, given the torrent of publicity on global warming, this finding is hardly surprising. Once again, though, the government is being disingenuous. Concern about global warming does not translate directly – or at all – to approval of measures to deal with it, such as "net zero".

Even the assertion that people and businesses "recognise that change must happen", with the claim that 80 percent of respondents in a recent survey "believe the way we live our lives will need to change to address climate change", does not comprise a mandate for the "net zero" agenda.

Nevertheless, relying on the same survey (BEIS, Climate change and net zero: public awareness and perceptions, 2021), the government asserts that – in the artificial circumstances of "being provided with information on net zero", 78 percent of all participants said they "strongly" or "somewhat" supported the "net zero" target.

Yet this propaganda exercise amounts to nothing more than an abuse of statistics. When the survey examined participants' knowledge of "net zero", 13 percent know nothing about it, 18 percent knew "hardly anything", 30 percent knew "a little" about it, 30 percent "a fair amount", and 9 percent "a lot".

On that basis, only 39 percent were even in a position to offer an informed opinion while the majority (61 percent) were not. Only after the survey provided participants with a brief statement "clarifying what net zero is" were their views sought on whether they supported or opposed the target. That statement amounted to:
The UK government has set a target for reducing UK carbon emissions to "net zero" by 2050. By achieving "net zero" emissions, the UK will no longer contribute to climate change. This will involve significantly reducing emissions from many different activities, such as driving cars, the food we eat, and the electricity we use. Any remaining carbon emissions would be balanced out by technologies and actions that reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
There was no mention of banning gas boilers, and forcing people to buy massively expensive and unreliable heat pumps, nor anything about the electric vehicle programme, nor about the attendant risks of power failures or any of the potential downsides.

This being the government's substantive case for refusing a referendum, it then moves on to eulogising about the advantages of "moving away from fossil fuels and towards net zero". That it again offers none of the downsides is possibly one of the strongest arguments for a referendum when the issues would be openly debates.

But what we then get stretches credulity to breaking point. "Recent volatile international gas prices have demonstrated that we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels", says the government. "We need to protect consumers and businesses from global gas prices by increasing our domestic energy security through clean power that is generated in the UK for the people of the UK".

Yet, in the real world, the reason why we are vulnerable to massively increased gas prices is because of the governments reckless and premature destruction of our coal-fired generation capacity, and the successive failures of our nuclear plant replacement programme.

This has left us with an unbalanced generation fleet where we are excessively and dangerously reliant on gas generation to make up for the inherent unreliability of renewables. More reliance on renewables (which is what is intended) would simply make the problem worse.

These worst of this, though, is that we are not even being taken for fools. Rather, we have fools in government who actually believe their own propaganda.

Picking through the rest of the propaganda, we then come to a paragraph which is pure Goebbels. "Transitioning to net zero", the government claims, "is not about telling people what to do or stopping people doing things; it's about giving them the support they need to do the same things they do now but in a more sustainable way".

In any sense that any ordinary person might understand this claim, the government is lying. Progressively, it intends to ban the use of gas boilers, thereby stopping people from using the most cost-effective form of domestic heating available. It is to force people to increase insulation in their houses, even where inappropriate. It is intending to ban cars with internal combustion engines, forcing us to buy massively more expensive and unreliable electric cars, or resort to walking, cycling or public transport.

And this, it tells us, is "to get a head start on this worldwide green industrial revolution and ensure UK industries, workers and the wider public benefit" – on the day after heavy, and unseasonably early snowfall (pictured), where the media have gone strangely silent on the perils of global warming.

But, as long as the government can avoid a referendum, it can lie, dissimulate and propagandise to its heart's content, aided and abetted by a corrupt media. The very last thing Johnson wants is an open debate on "net zero" or a public vote. We, the plebs, should know our place. Our task is to suck on the tit of government propaganda – and believe.

Thus are we regarded with contempt. But the government needs to be careful. The feeling is mutual and growing in intensity.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Immigration: going home


I've already posted the definition of a refugee from the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but let me do it again. It is a person who:
… 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 is unable or, is unwilling to return to it.
Now let's have a little gander at The Sunday Times which yesterday, amid its other coverage of the events on Wednesday, has a piece entitled: "If you lived like us in Kurdistan, you might risk it all to reach Britain".

This, as indicated by the title, explains why some people from the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan are so keen to come to the UK, and it begins with this passage:
Every summer, in their small town in the Kurdish region of Iraq, Dana Mohammed, 20, and his brother, Arav, would meet local people who had left years before and made the journey to the UK. They would come back to Ranya on holiday, wearing nice clothes, and talk about how good life was in Britain compared with home, where corruption, repression and poverty make life hard and work very difficult to find.
Frustratingly, the piece doesn't specify how these "local people who had left years before and made the journey to the UK" had got to the UK, and under what terms, but given UK immigration rules, it is safe to assume that they presented themselves as asylum seekers, gained refugee status and then successfully applied for and were granted leave to remain.

With that, let us paraphrase some the key elements of the refugee definition, specifically, that there has to be a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion", and that the people are unable or, owing to such fear, are unwilling to unwilling to return to the country of their nationality.

On that basis, people who have come to the UK, made a new life there, and then felt able to return to their country of origin for holidays, are not – by definition – refugees. If they entered the UK on those grounds, then they must have lied to the UK immigration authorities, in order conceal their true status.

That true status begins to come clearer from the next part of the ST piece, which moves on to tell us that:
For young people with ambition, the brothers believed, there was little prospect of a future there. When Dana asked a local smuggler about going to the UK himself, he was told that it was easy, so he set off. It was not easy, it turned out. But this month he made it across the Channel on a small boat. Now he is in the UK. If he is granted leave to stay in the country, he will start to work and send money back to his family.
Here, though, is an interesting comment: "When Dana asked a local smuggler about going to the UK himself, he was told that it was easy, so he set off". As it turns out, the "smuggler" was not telling the truth, but it was enough for Dana to launch his expedition.

In the next part, we see an intervention from the piece author, Louise Callaghan, the paper's Middle East Correspondent. She suggests that "when we think of people coming to Europe, we might picture refugees fleeing bombs raining down on their homes". Or, she writes: "we might think of economic migrants, who leave their country solely to find a better job elsewhere".

Mirroring Parris's observation from his column, though, she asserts that: "Often, reality lies somewhere in the middle, where need and opportunity meet". Repression, corruption and poverty, she says, "drive people to look to Europe for a better life: a smuggler provides the service". Understandable though this might be, it seems to be a long way from people being driven from their country by so great a fear that they dare not return.

If there is any doubt as to the motivation, this is dispelled by a quotation from Arav, brother of Dana, the pair having finished secondary school, only to find that there were no prospects for them. "People don't have an income here, they have no opportunities", he is cited as saying: "We're young and can't find any opportunities, so we try to go to a country that gives us an opportunity to be independent and take care of ourselves and make a living", adding, "If we stay here we’ll never become anything".

Note that there is no reference to be being driven out of the country by a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion". The motivation is entirely economic.

Callaghan acknowledges that there is "no active conflict in most parts of the region, and people are not starving to death". But, she says, "for those without connections to the ruling class, many young people say, the nepotism means that it is very difficult to advance in life". Just because you are not going to die, as one university graduate told her, does not mean that you do not want to live.

She then refers to unspecified "rights groups" who claim that, in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) area, there is no free local press and little freedom of expression. In Sulaymaniyah, an eastern city, thousands took to the streets last week to protest against what they say is rampant corruption. They were met with violence from the authorities.

Unemployment, we are told, is endemic. Many poor families survive on remittances sent home by relatives in Europe. One cousin with a steady job in Birmingham can keep many heads above the water.

However, Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the KRG, described as a "multibillionaire" does get a word in edgeways. He dismisses the claim that his people were desperate to leave. "Many want to go to Europe in search of a different opportunity", he is quoted as saying. "It's not a flight of desperation. I hope the world knows that these people went there like every other immigrant wants to travel and go in search of different parts of the world. But if they want to return, they can always return here".

That last statement is, in fact, supported by the piece, which returns us to the motivation for travel. Like people around the world, Callaghan writes, young Kurds in Iraq have mobile phones that allow them to access the internet and see how people in other countries live. They can see that life is better elsewhere.

Concluding her piece with a further reference to brother Arav, Callaghan has him say: "If I had the money for it I'd leave tomorrow in any way. I believe if you came from the UK and experienced living here like a local, you'd hate it and try to leave, too".

However, only a few days ago, Radio Free Europe was reporting that 600 Iraqis stranded for weeks on the Belarus-Poland border have returned home on repatriation flights organised by the Iraqi government (one family pictured).

Most of these are Kurds, misled by Belarus propaganda and the lies of the smugglers. And, as Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad al-Sahaf says that these citizens were being "voluntarily repatriated", with more flights planned, we can assume that none of them are unable or unwilling to return to their home country.

None of these Kurds, it would seem, have applied for asylum in Belarus and they are returning home because the Polish government would not let them cross their border into the EU.

And there are multiple lessons for the French and British governments. Any people who identify as Iraqi Kurds – possibly with some very rare exceptions - are not refugees. They are economic migrants.

By stamping down on smugglers, the French government could reduce the attractiveness of the Channel route, and those migrants who are intercepted can be legally repatriated to Iraq. For the British, any that arrive here should be put on an aircraft to Iraq with minimum delay.

What one must ask, therefore, is why – at least in respect of Iraqi Kurds – this migration is happening at all. In a matter of weeks, the Polish government stopped it dead. Yet the governments of two powerful, mature nations, seem powerless in the face of a flotilla of rubber boats, procured by criminal gangs.

I think we are entitled to know what is going on.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Immigration: fair dealing


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.

Immigration: economic migrants


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.

Immigration: the final frontier


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.

Immigration: political expediency


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.

Climate change: a supreme arrogance


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.

Politics: decline and fail


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.

Covid: a loss of authority


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.

Immigration: something of interest


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.