Saturday, 26 March 2016

How Brexit could make UKIP the largest party in the UK

As the the prospects for the 'Leave' campaign winning on June 23rd rise comes the realisation that this result can only but strengthen UKIP perhaps making them, for a time at least, the largest party in the opinion polls. Parallel, to this, the attitude of some on the left in still wanting to leave, or being uninterested in the outcome, is likely to be its biggest strategic mistake since it supported the 'winter of discontent' strikes in 1979 that helped Mrs Thatcher gain power.

This ostensibly unlikely outcome seems much more likely if you consider one highly plausible scenario.

Directly after a vote to 'leave', there will then be a debate on what future relationship the UK should seek to negotiate with the EU,  outside of the EU. Essentially there are two options - do we stay within the Single Market (often also called the internal market) and be like Norway and Switzerland, or do we, as Boris Johnson appeared initially to suggest, be like Canada and merely seek a free trade deal.

These two different options have, unknown to perhaps the vast bulk of voters, much bigger implications for the life and future politics of British people than whether we actually stay in the EU or leave in a formal sense. Remaining in the single market is much closer to the status quo than leaving it.

If we 'remain' in the Single Market we are, as has been widely suggested, still going to be bound by a high proportion of the EU legislation as at present, and also we are quite likely to have to pay much the same net amount to the EU as we do now. The difference will be that we will have no direct say over the laws that bind us within the EU's democratic framework.

What perhaps is woefully misunderstood, and will lead to political problems later, the UK would have to accept the same labour market rules as we do now - our control over immigration from other parts of the EU would remain as it is at the moment. These are the conditions that face Norway and Switzerland, and a lot of the Swiss are wishfully thinking otherwise to their displeasure.

Any hopes that this might be loosened by a surge of euroscepticism in other EU countries is likely to be dampened by the fact that the Eastern European and southern European countries are likely to oppose this. They will identify it as Treaty change, thus effectively thwarting any prospects of the free movement principle being abandoned or seriously altered for the forseeable future. Such a Treaty change will not be approved this side of some political nightmare that we really should not wish for. It's not so much (as bad as it would be) that the break-up of the EU would be the nightmare, but rather it is the sort of hellish circumstances that could trigger this event.

So after the leave vote the UK Government (led by some Tory or other) would have to get Parliamentary approval for a 'leaving' package to be agreed with the EU. Inevitably, whatever happens, the Government will be bitterly attacked by UKIP (and Tory fellow travellers) for negotiating a bad deal. What seems to be likely is that there will be a majority in this UK Parliament for a deal which involves staying in the Single Market (internal market).  Labour, a small number of MPs apart, would support that, the SNP would certainly support that, and so would a substantial proportion of Conservatives. It would indeed be interesting if Boris Johnson or whoever else became leader tried to negotiate leaving the single market - a great split would appear within the Conservatives that may even produce an early general election.

But so long as the British Government negotiated a package involving staying in the internal market then UKIP would become an emboldened, much strengthened, focus of opposition to remaining in the Single Market. It would campaign vigorously that the so-called elite will have 'betrayed' Britons, who would discover that under the Single Market so little would change. They would probably  gain MPs at the next General Election, quite probably at by-elections before then.

For left wingers wanting to leave it would be turkeys voting for Xmas. Back in the 1970s the hard left fought hard to smash the social contract, an agreement between the then Labour Government and trade unions over wage levels. The tactic was successful, but only gave a powerful push to a strategic shift to the right in British politics. They helped to discredit the centre left thinking that they (the hard left) were the alternative. They were in cloud cuckoo land of course, because the hard right was the electorally favoured alternative to the centre-left.

And much the same today as George Galloway etc urges a vote to Leave. I am saddened by this disavowal of the politics of internationalism in a world that desperately needs more international cooperation, not less of it. The only bright spot in this campaign for me has been the approach of Caroline Lucas, to whose words people should listen carefully on this subject. See for example and also

Of course the large majority of the left don't want to leave the EU. But unfortunately many of them are not very strong-willed on the subject, and Labour has a leader who certainly gives the appearance of failing to understand that he is making a terrible strategic blunder by not giving the highest priority to fighting to stay in. Some on the left are beginning to realise that opting to leave might not be such a good idea after all. But just thinking that something is not such a good idea is not good enough. We need some stronger passion than that. Alas the momentum seems to be with UKIP, the arch-climate sceptics themselves.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Green energy academics to be gagged by new government grants policy

Academics who receive research grants will no longer be allowed to 'lobby' the government for policy changes in their areas of research expertise under rules being introduced by the government from May this year. This will have the effect of silencing the bulk of academic experts if they happen to be critical of the government. If this rule had been in operation before most, if not all, of the posts in this blog could not be published.

This represents a 'soft' version of a new authoritarianism.

Democracy, under this trend, remains formally in place, but people putting forward alternative ideas to that of the dominant corporations are increasingly silenced. Indeed, arguably, in this sense British academics will often be less free even than Chinese academics. They may not be able to challenge the role of the Communist Party, but they can at least take part in public debates about policy options. Under these proposals, British academics will fear even to write letters to newspapers on their own expert policy areas.

The new policy is ridiculous on several levels. One laughable example is the pressure that academics are under to earn brownie points for 'disseminating' the public policy importance of their research. But if they can't discuss and comment upon policy options open to government, how can they 'disseminate' their research in any seriousness?

The universities are likely to be the enforcers of this policy. They  will no doubt be very worried about being attacked and losing grant income, and so are likely to impose blanket bans an academics making policy statements, at least if they receive grants on that subject. Possibly (depending on the university) all academics will be effectively banned from making criticisms of government policies, or at least made to go through some bureaucratic process of requiring permission - by which time the point of making any criticisms will be passed and the effort required will put people off doing anything.

Of course academics at research universities are impelled to apply for grants. Career progression is at least partly (in some areas mainly) dependent on winning grants. In some situations they may even be made redundant for not winning them. So academics will be forced to make a choice. Their democratic freedoms will be severely curtailed as a result.

I know in my case, since I have received grants from the ESRC to do with renewable energy policy, that I would not be able to engage in the policy debates that I have done - including campaigning for feed-in tariffs for small renewables in which I can claim to have played a noticeable role, and more recently criticising the government's cutbacks in contracts available for wind and solar power. The new rules would prevent me from talking to MPs, civil servants, ministers, lobbying political parties - of course I did/do these things, but won't be able to in the future if I win research grants in that area.

 I daresay my anti-nuclear comments would come under scrutiny, or at least it would be much more difficult  for me to make them as an academic. If I win grants in the future to do with energy policy then I won't be able to criticise government policies on energy - like me many campaigners for renewable energy, and of course critics and sceptics of nuclear power, will also be effectively banned from putting forward their views.

There's also a similar crackdown on NGOs who get money from the Government and charities (see the recent pressure on Friends of the Earth for example). Soon, in the energy sphere, you won't be able to say anything unless you are funded by one or other of the Big Six energy companies. And we know what they will and will not pay for us to say!

You can do something to at least bring this piece of creeping authoritarianism into public debate (whilst we still can) by signing the petition at this weblink (please copy and paste this in your browser):

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Government figures on energy consumption exaggerated - just as usual

Glance back to the Government's 'Energy Challenge' White Paper of 2006 which promoted the importance of having more nuclear power and you will see that the Government projected that between 2005 and 2015 electricity generation would increase by around 12 per cent. In reality - it has decreased by 13 per cent!, see page 93 and compare it with electricity supply (annual) tables at

But this is not unusual. Consistently UK governments ignore and underplay the importance of reducing energy consumption, and in their projections, having said a few soothing words about the importance of saving energy (to please our feminine side), revert to the 'real' world macho importance of increasing electricity generation. 

So we achieve energy reductions by hardly trying! Just imagine what could happen if we started our policies by out thinking of how to save our energy! Instead, now we're seeing an immense shift to please Rolls Royce and the male-dominated engineering lobby who want us to waste money on 'small nuclear reactors' (SMRs). Never mind that big ones can't even be delivered with massive support both sides of the English (-EDF) Channel or indeed that the only reason we got big ones in the first place is that building small ones was hopelessly uneconomic. 
Of course the vast and always unrealised projected increases in energy consumption have always been linked to promoting nuclear power. How else can they persuade people that renewable energy can't do the job properly!

There is a long history of this sort of thing. in 1976 the UK Government projected that UK annual energy consumption would increase to between 500 and 550 million tonnes of coal equivalent (tce) by the year 2000[i]. In fact it has never risen above 280 million tce. Then of course, the Government were not only promoting lots more nuclear power, they were promoting fast breeder reactors. These things never got to work properly and created an awful radioactive mess (Dounreay). Forgotten now, or never remembered by those who still say that 'fast reactors' are a 'new' technology.

As Andrew Warren, the Honorary President (and founder) of the Association for the Conservation of Energy has commented:

'For fifty years,  continuous improvements in the energy efficiency of technologies and buildings has led the most successful revolution in improving security in the entire energy market. So why on earth do our political leaders continue to  wilfully  pretend it just isn't happening?'

[i] Elliott, D., (1978) The Politics of Nuclear Power, London: Pluto Press, page 86

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Onshore wind schemes now being installed are more than 30 per cheaper than Hinkley C!

Electricity generated from onshore wind now being installed in the UK is over 30 per cent cheaper than Hinkley C - and that's using official market data. Onshore wind schemes now being installed are being paid over 30 per cent less than what Hinkley C would be paid under the UK Government's current agreement with EDF if it was generating now. Of course this 30 per cent is really a big underestimate of the price difference because Hinkley C is offered the prospect of a loan guarantee for around two thirds of the capital costs - a commitment that is, metaphorically, worth its weight in gold, and one that is simply not available to onshore wind schemes.

You don't believe me? Well work out the sums yourself. Onshore wind's income stream essentially consists of two items, first the wholesale power cost, which since December has been running at around £30-35 per MWh, and then it receives 75 per cent of the value of a renewable obligation certificate (ROC) which at the latest e-auction price was valued at £42.70. So that gives you a price paid to onshore wind schemes being set up now of £67 per MWh.

You can look at the data on the following websites:
For ROC prices see  
For wholesale power prices see:

Meanwhile the much quoted price offered for Hinkley C (and even that is not enough it seems) is £92.50 per MWh (over 35 years - onshore wind contracts only last for 20 years). But this £92.50 price, much quoted as it is, is out of date. This is a figure, according to the agreement between the Government and EDF, expressed in 2012 prices, and which is subject to uprating using the Consumer Price Index (CPI). If you uprate the 2012 figure into today's prices you get something more like £97.50. Compare that with the £67 being paid to newly installed onshore wind farms! And, there are quite a few going up as they race to meet the Government deadlines of being established within the next year or so. According to RenewableUK figures there are over 2.5 GWe of onshore wind under construction at the moment.

Of course even the £97.50 for 35 years with a two-thirds capital underwriting is not enough, it seems for EDF. They are now demanding that the French Government throw more subsidies at them to build the project. Imagine that, a British power station subsidised in full view by French taxpayers and electricity consumers! Meanwhile the British Government will not let onshore wind developers (or solar farm developers) compete for any future contracts to supply electricity. The British Government much prefers to throw subsidies at conventional power stations through the capacity market in a failing effort to get more gas fired power stations built and also offer much higher contract prices to nuclear power developers who can't deliver their projects!

They throw money at dirty power and give none to the cheapest clean energy sources!

What an energy policy!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Should anti-nuclear supporters now call for EDF to build Hinkley C?

Strange as it may seem, there is now a plausible argument for anti-nuclear campaigners to call for Hinkley C to be built. Why? Because the financial catastrophe that would, as a result, envelope, and destroy, EDF would mean the end of prospects for new nuclear power in Europe.

EDF are now in the position whereby they can only build the plant if they finance it on their balance sheet since the Treasury (in an argument that formed a key basis of their EU state aid application) will not sanction a loan guarantee before a European EPR has been seen to work. This criterion cannot be met until 2019 at least. Even then if similar cost overruns occurred in Hinkley as they have done in France and Finland, that would sink EDF anyway, even with a loan guarantee. EDF face bankruptcy even with their escalating liabilities from their EPR construction disasters as well as increasing costs of refurbishing their existing nuclear fleet. Don't imagine for a moment that the Chinese will come to the rescue. They have no further political interest other than they have gone so far, and certainly don't want to pay for any costs overruns on the project.

Without the Treasury loan guarantee, EDF would plunge even further into losses than it already is. The money spent on plant construction would have to be set against income and its company losses would mount. It could issue more company bonds, but these would create a debt mountain, and EDF would have to pay ever-increasing interest rates to sell the bonds.  It would face increasing interest  charges on its mounting debts which would be escalating because of the increased debt it would take. Its shares, already only a fraction of what they used to be worth would become nearly worthless. The French state would have to step in and inject large sums of money whilst at the same time closing down a lot of its operations, with very high job losses. What was left, probably sold off to private interests would be out of the nuclear business.
No more French nuclear power! No more French state subsidised effort to shore up a failing industry! That in itself would be a step forward. People have often cited French nuclear power as a 'success'. Instead, if it isn't already, it certainly would then be branded as a calamity.
True, an awful lot of resources would have been wasted on Hinkley C, (which could be spent on real green energy) and who knows when it would ever start operation? If ever...even with a decision to start building it seriously! One would have to be a cynic to wish for Hinkley C to be completed now! But at least it would be a clear silver lining for anti-nuclear forces!

People observe that Francois Hollande and David Cameron have boxed themselves into a corner by continuing to back Hinkley C. But the institutions that exist  really do make it difficult for their pro-Hinkley C public relations to be turned into reality. Maybe its far easier for them to wait for the EDF leadership to fully implode rather than take what would be pretty implausible decisions to make both the British taxpayers/consumers and French taxpayers/consumers take further, gargantuan, losses on top of the largesse that has already been agreed to fund Hinkley C. Hinkley C would be quietly sidelined in the context of what would be paraded as another triumph of a new improved design for a reactor! The leaders can come up with another PR sticking plaster,eg  that a new simpler design would come forward and be the lynchpin of future French-British nuclear 'cooperation'. Of course this would be many years down the line, and probably wouldn't happen . But, if somehow EDF were to proceed with Hinkley C, there could be no future messing about with nuclear designs (pointless anyway given the poisonous regulatory environment surrounding nuclear that prevents any projects being built within normal economic criteria).
Chris Goodall, a pro-nuclear supporter, commented a few months ago that it would be best for nuclear power if Hinkley C did not go ahead.  - because the spectacle of disaster would ruin the prospects for future nuclear power. So we, nuclear opponents and sceptics, are entitled to wonder, whether, after all, if we are a little bit cynical, whether it would be best for anti-nuclear politics in the long run, if Hinkley C was now given the go-ahead. A truly ghastly show will then follow! But it would be the end of nuclear power in Europe!