Monday, 1 September 2014

Jennifer Lawrence

Isn't it interesting that reaction on the internet of hacking celebrity phones and publishing pictures of naked women doesn't quite elicit the same response as hacking celebrity voicemails?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Carswell Defects To UKIP

"[The Tory] Parliamentary majority was slashed from a healthy 100 to a - by comparison - fairly feebly twenty. If the truth be told, John Major and the rest of us were relieved to achieve even that result. It was a workable majority, or so the PM thought. The debates on the Maastricht Treaty would prove otherwise. With a majority of 100 a rebellion would have been futile. But with twenty, a group of determined backbenchers can change government policies. The government can no longer allow itself the luxury of doing just as it likes"
Teresa Gorman MP, "The Bastards".
In news that has seemingly come out of the 'blue', Douglas Carswell has defected to UKIP. In some ways this is not really surprising. His political views have increasingly been at odds with the party he represents. It maybe more a factor that the party has left him not that he has left the party. As we remember he is one of the few Tory MPs to vote against EU measures.

However we also remember that Carswell has not been entirely consistent in EU views, often clearly putting his party first above his 'principles'. He has backed Cameron when it is readily apparent that Cameron is not only a Europhile but has no intention of being a Prime Minister that leads the UK out of the EU. Despite Cameron's clear deception on the issue Carswell noted in January 2014 he was wrong to rebel against the party line:
“What is it we now want, guys? We’re going to face a reckoning with the electorate in just over a year’s time. We’re two points behind the Labour Party. We can do this – we really can do this. If we lack discipline, we’re going to have five or six appalling years in opposition to dwell on it”
The Spectator concludes as a result of the interview:
Here’s a sneak preview of what was supposed to be a debate about the wisdom of rebelling – but ended up being Carswell explaining why he believes his colleagues should now stop defying the government, and support the PM.
And this was the same man who in 2012 that claimed (my emphasis):
One of the reasons I backed David Cameron to be party leader early on in his leadership campaign was because I wanted to see a different kind of Conservatism. I still do – and I’d vote for him to deliver it if there was a leadership contest tomorrow. 
Even though there is obvious evidence that Cameron is not...
...a secret patriot waiting for the chance to rip off his expensive tailoring and reveal his inner Thatcher. He is exactly what he looks like, an unprincipled chancer with limited skills in public relations".
So with this in mind we have a couple of observations or more accurately a number of questions regarding Carswell's motives.

The first is why defect? As it currently stands (and currently is the operative word) the Tories are the only party in a position to possibly win the next General Election who offers an in/out referendum on membership of the EU. Labour have chosen not to unless there's a new Treaty and the Lib Dems... well they, to no-one's surprise, have no intention of doing so.

As we have noted on here before Cameron has categorically promised a referendum in 2017 and one in circumstances which are most favourable to the "outers":
Thus the EU is in a mess, Cameron has been shown up publicly that he cannot deliver on reform or influence and he almost certainly cannot recommend an "in" vote in 2017. Add to that his general incompetence and it's difficult to envisage a better framework for the 'outers' to win a referendum. The chances of winning a referendum has improved significantly.
Understandably there is much scepticism of Cameron's promises given the "cast iron" one over Lisbon - which turned out to be one of Cameron's greatest mistakes and which more than likely cost him the 2010 election.

However political reality suggests that he won't have much choice to attempt to try the same again. Poll ratings, Labour bias in the electoral system and Labour's superior ability to manipulate the postal vote means if the Tories do win the next election any majority they gain will be relatively small in number.

With this in mind we refer to Teresa Gorman's quote above that a small majority gives the backbenchers far more power over the government - "the government can no longer allow itself the luxury of doing just as it likes". Nothing illustrates this better than the constant rebellions over current coalition government policies such as the EU rebellions over an EU referendum.

In other words, with a small majority the political reality would be that Cameron will be forced to hold a referendum on terms which will be the most favourable possible for the 'out' camp. This is reflected in the fact that Cameron only promised an EU referendum precisely because he is "unprincipled chancer". He will do what ever his party tells him particularly with a small majority.

Of course we are under no illusions of the Tory track record on the EU or that party positions might change in the meantime, but as it stands:
  • A vote for Labour is EU membership

  • A vote for UKIP is EU membership by virtue of they can't possibly get enough MPs based on current poll ratings

  • A vote for Lib Dems is EU membership
     
  • A vote for Tories is a possible referendum we can win.
We wonder therefore why Carswell has jumped ship, just under a year away from a General Election, when statistically a Tory win might give him the EU exit he craves?

We appreciate that we're in the middle of silly season and crucially the news is understandably being dominated by the appalling deficiency of Rotherham Council and Police. So why would Carswell defect when he maybe unable to guarantee dominate coverage to ensure Cameron is fully embarrassed? The answer may lie in the fact that the Tory party conference is taking place towards the end of September which is four weeks away. If the by-election is moved quickly it will occur just in time for the result to be the main discussion point at the Tory conference.

In addition intriguingly via a by-election Carswell might ensure that by winning he would become the first elected UKIP MP - UKIP defections have occurred before of course but not with an electoral mandate. Carswell winning a by-election would pose a problem for Farage, if not a threat. For a man who has made UKIP his own party it could be that the first elected UKIP MP would not be himself - "let's make history" Farage's latest email says:
Last night I was selected by local party members to stand as UKIP's Thanet South candidate for the upcoming general election.
With recent polling showing that UKIP can win the Thanet South seat in May, I look forward to the forthcoming campaign where we can set out a positive vision, for a free and independent Britain outside of the EU.
Farage calls 'Carswell's' move "brave" but we wonder whether that for Farage himself this is a "be careful what you wish for" moment. Another question is where does this leave Daniel Hannan, who co-authored the Plan. Hannan seems reluctant to make the same jump.

Perhaps rather cynically we might consider if this is attempt of a coup d'etat of UKIP by the Tory party just before an election. Its consequences mean there will be splits in the eurosceptic camp - to the convenience of the establishment. A Labour government in 2015 will result in 5 more years of EU membership.

There is no ulterior motive on this blog, apart for campaigning for EU exit. We make no suggestions apart from the fact that as it currently stands Carswell's defection actually makes EU exit less likely not more, and he is not a man to be entirely trusted. Split parties do not win elections.

The ultimate question is what do Eurosceptics want? Destruction of the Tory party or EU exit?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cameron: Being Less Than Candid

Witterings from Witney back in June requested a meeting with his MP - David Cameron - in order to try to take him to task on being less than candid on matters EU.

Yesterday WfW had such a meeting with his MP. Time constraints meant, due to the involved subject matter, a verbal meeting would be inadequate to cover the issues sufficiently, so instead a dossier was handed over to Cameron in person to reply to in writing.

The contents of the full dossier submitted to Cameron can be found on WfW's blog, where, in themes familiar to us, questions have been asked about the "veto that never was", the "European budget cut that never was" and that "Norway is not governed by fax".

Interestingly WfW notes (my emphasis):
I only spent just over 5 minutes with David Cameron as I did not wish to give him the opportunity of providing a short verbal response, wishing him to commit himself to a written response. Skimming through, he repeated that he had vetoed a treaty and cut the budget; although he made no mention of negating any bailout. The section on Norway appeared to ‘stop him in his tracks’...
A couple of interesting points emerge here. Cameron is happy to reiterate inaccurately to a constituent that he vetoed a "non-existent" treaty yet at the time in 2011 he could not make the same commitment to the House of Commons.

On a slightly more optimistic note, having spoken to WfW last night, it appears that the arguments against the "Norway governed by fax" may have come as something of a surprise to Mr Cameron. It leaves us wondering whether he has been poorly briefed on this matter.

Sometimes it shouldn't be underestimated how ignorant most MPs are about the EU and how much they are susceptible to a meme that is well established and doing the rounds by those with prestige.

The view that ignorance not conspiracy is often the cause is understandable particularly when we consider that the eurosceptic movement is not immune to this either, as illustrated by the continuing nonsense over November the 1st.  The below graphic is doing the rounds on Facebook:
Thus if Cameron has been poorly briefed he might subsequently have a "Pauline Conversion". We suspect not of course and his written responses will be interesting. But one thing remains true - thanks to WfW Mr Cameron can no longer deny he wasn't told...

Monday, 11 August 2014

Hanging On The Telephone

Given that this blog has been a bit quiet of late, for which I apologise, it is of some irony that blog silence is broken by a piece about communication devices - notably telephones. Part of our radio silence has been the result of continuing frustration to the point of despair at trying to keep disputing the relentless repetitive media and blogging nonsense which fails to acknowledge the presence of the EU or accurately describe its actions - there are only so many times we can keep banging our head against a brick wall.

The other is, as a former PBX programmer, time has been taken up by researching competences of the EU regarding telecommunications with a view to the UK leaving the EU. In particular a referendum on the EU will need to reassure voters that exit will not result in major disruption with mobile phones when traveling across Europe or phoning from the UK. On this subject we will return to soon in detail.

Strangely both of these sentiments have been partly encapsulated by Owen Jones' article in the Guardian regarding mobile phones and, in his view, the need to nationalise them:
It may sound like off-the-wall leftiness, but there are clear and convincing arguments for a nationalised mobile phone network.
Owen Jones' always seems to be of the ilk of; "if we can see it, nationalise it". However despite the arguments for and against nationalising the mobile phone network, what the silly little boy doesn't seem to realise is it is not possible while we remain members of the European Union. Strange we might think when we note that EU competence over mobile phones was laid bare by his own newspaper a month ago:
The cost of using your smartphone to surf the internet while you travel in Europe will be halved as the EU introduces a new cap on roaming charges.

From 1 July the chance of suffering "bill shock" when you return from a break in more than 40 countries has been reduced, after European leaders slashed the amount that mobile phone operators can charge for data downloads, and also made big cuts to the caps on texts and phone calls.
And this is no surprise given that telecommunications has been a competence since the Maastricht Treaty (Article 129 b, page 31, my emphasis):
1. To help achieve the objectives referred to in Articles 7a and 130a and to enable citizens of the Union, economic operators and regional and local communities to derive full benefit from the setting up of an area without internal frontiers, the Community shall contribute to the establishment and development of trans-European networks in the areas of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures.
Consequences which as an example resulted in this. And how the EU views competition within the telecommunications sector can be found with great clarity when the European Commission reviews mergers between rival mobile phone operators. In September 2013, the European Commission cleared Vodafone’s acquisition of Kabel Deutschland, the German cable operator (my emphasis):
The European Commission has cleared under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of Kabel Deutschland Holding AG, a German cable operator, by Vodafone Group Plc. of the United Kingdom.

The Commission's investigation confirmed that the activities of the merging parties were mainly complementary. While Kabel Deutschland primarily offers cable TV, fixed line telephony and Internet access services, Vodafone's core business consists of mobile telephony services.

To a certain extent, it also offers fixed line telephony and Internet access, as well as IPTV. The Commission found that in markets where the parties' activities overlap, the increase in market share resulting from the proposed transaction is insignificant and will therefore not appreciably alter competition. 
And in April 2013 the European Commission reviewed Liberty Global’s acquisition of UK cable operator Virgin Media concluding (my emphasis):
The European Commission has cleared under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed acquisition of UK cable operator Virgin Media Inc., registered in the US, by the US-based company Liberty Global, Inc.

The transaction, with a value of €17.2 billion, would bring together the second largest Pay TV operator in the UK (Virgin Media) and the largest cable operator in Europe (Liberty Global).  

The Commission's investigation confirmed that the transaction would not raise competition concerns, in particular because the parties operate cable networks in different Member States and because of the merged entity's limited market position in the wholesale of TV channels in the UK and Ireland.
And in contrast in 2012, the European Commission fined Telefónica and Portugal Telecom €79 million when a provision represented an agreement not to compete with each other in their respective home markets of Spain and Portugal.

One wonders therefore why he is so reluctant in the Guardian to mention the EU aspect particularly when he has acknowledged the "free competition" EU consequences of membership elsewhere.

I guess you take your money...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Demolition

Despite on a personal level having a great view of the Didcot cooling towers coming down, for some reason I failed to capture decent footage on my mobile phone. Thus instead I've uploaded footage from a mate who was camped in a field nearby (1:05 mins in):



Interestingly the Express noted on the demolition that:
About 1,000 earybird [sic] spectators gathered to watch the fall of Didcot power station, which has stood in Oxfordshire for more than 40 years.
Yet the 1,000 'earlybird' figures put forward by the Express were contradicted by the Daily Mail, the Independent and the Guardian which reported identically:
Hundreds of locals are thought to have defied the guidance issued by power company RWE npower to stay away from the site and watch the demolition via a webcam livestream.
Given that the power station can be seen for miles around, the figures reported spectators gathering to view the demolition are undoubtedly completely wrong. The area where I chose to watch the spectacle was standing room only - filling up from midnight onwards five hours before the actual event.

Plenty of other areas surrounding the power station were the same in terms popularity. Thus there was no way of accurately judging the number of locals given the scale of the viewing area which amounted to a large part of the county.

Again we see a media not interested in facts just making up spectators figures to suit lazy journalism.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Didcot Power Station: The Final Countdown

With around 12 hours to go until three of Didcot Power Station's iconic cooling towers are demolished I took the opportunity this morning to take a last few pictures. As it turned out I wasn't the only one with the same idea, the area is currently teeming with photographers, both amateur and professional, though hampered slightly by some road restrictions that are already in place.

Talking to a number of 'sightseers' it appears that many have made the journey from all over the county for one last look. One theme is consistent, within Didcot and outside it, despite the undoubted joy by the likes Greenpeace, the overwhelming mood is one of frustration, disappointment and sadness. And not just because of the jobs lost in the process. There is no doubt where the blame lies.

So here are a selection of pictures taken this morning of Didcot power station's last stand:













Thursday, 17 July 2014

Blowing Up Didcot Power Station.

Time is soon to be called on the structures of Didcot A power station which, despite being in working order when it was closed last year and being an iconic landmark in Oxfordshire, was thrown onto the scrap heap over a year ago due to EU laws regarding coal-fired power stations.

As a consequence Didcot A power station and three of the six iconic cooling towers which have dominated the skyline for 40 years will now only dominate for just over a week as the countdown marches on relentlessly towards their demolition.

RWE NPower, who owns the site and associated land, is due to bring down three of the 325ft southern cooling towers with explosives between 3am and 5am on Sunday 27th July. A process which is subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment:
The Court of Appeal ruled in March that demolition projects previously excluded from the need for planning permission will require environmental impact assessment (EIA) where they are likely to have significant effects on the environment. The practical implications of the decision are far - reaching. The decision was based on 1999 EIA Regulations which have been superseded (on 24 August 2011) by new Regulations. But the same principles will apply, since the new Regulations make few changes.
The 1999 EIA Regulations are naturally subject to EU law as per this Statuary Instrument (my emphasis):
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, as respects England, and the Secretary of State for Wales, as respects Wales, being designated(1) Ministers for the purposes of section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972(2) in relation to measures relating to the requirement for an assessment of the impact on the environment of projects likely to have significant effects on the environment, in exercise of the powers conferred by that section and section 71A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990(3) and of all other powers enabling them in that behalf, and having taken into account the selection criteria in Annex III to Council Directive 85/337/EEC(4) as amended by Council Directive 97/11/EC(5) hereby make the following Regulation.
RWE npower has called this "Deconstruction of Didcot A" a process which it has "handed over to the appointed demolition contractors, Coleman and Company". Naturally "deconstruction" of a power station is a very complex process, and much of it has already undergone "deconstruction" as detailed by the RWE website. An example is this Daily Mail article from November 2013:

Traffic came to a standstill for the biggest load ever transported on Britain's roads - a power station transformer weighing an earth-shattering 640 tonnes.

The giant transformer, a vital component used to transmit energy at power stations, and specialised transporter vehicle combined are heavier than a space shuttle.

The enormous vehicle is 100m long and 5m wide and took up two lanes of the motorway while it crawled to its final destination at just 4mph. Such an epic undertaking has never before been attempted in the UK and took a team of six heavy haulage experts nine months to plan, as well a team of 20 accompanying the vehicle as it inches its way along the road.
It began its slow journey from Didcot power station in Oxfordshire on Friday and caused 13-mile long tailbacks when it wound its way along the M4 on Saturday.
Demolition of the cooling towers themselves were apparently due to happen in January earlier this year but had been delayed as the train loop around parts of the power station was until recently being used as temporary sidings (trains are now being moved to Banbury) while the Great Western Railway from London to Bristol undergoes electrification, a track which passes right next to Didcot A.

As an aside it's worth noting that electrification of the GWR is of course being carried to help comply with climate change targets and according to National Rail "presents a huge opportunity and is vital for long-term, low carbon economic growth". Nor will it come as a surprise that the overhead line electrification (OLE), rather than a third rail, has been chosen as a solution because it has to be compatible with the European rail network, notably Directive 2001/16/EC.

Installation of OLE has resulted in massive disruption along the route and the major reconstruction or partial destruction of many grade listed bridges and other buildings. The Box Tunnel, near Bath, for example will require a lowering of the railway to accommodate OLE thus requiring significant gradients to enter and exit. Given that Brunel prided himself of how level and flat the railway was to be; his obsession described as "Brunel's Billiard Table", we would imagine that he would have a duck fit over current alterations in order to comply with EU Directives. 

However regarding bringing down the towers what has apparently vexed a number of local residents most - supported by members of the local council - is that demolition is due to take place in the early hours of the morning. RWE NPower argues that the pre-dawn demolition is to ensure 'safety' and 'minimal disruption'.

But residents are demanding, maybe understandably, that the demolition be pushed back to 6am so that there is more opportunity to witness the 'historic event':
Some of us have lived with the towers on our doorsteps for the last 40 years. Demolishing them whilst it is dark robs us of our chance to say a final goodbye. We are stakeholders in this project, yet our voice has been ignored. 
Another example of such objections regarding the timing of demolition is illustrated by chief executive of South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) David Buckle (my emphasis):
On behalf of my two councils I am writing to say how disappointed we were to hear that RWEnpower’s contractors are planning to blow up the first 3 cooling towers at Didcot Power Station between 03:00 and 05:00 on Sunday 27 July.
The cooling towers are of huge significance to Didcot and the wider area for many local residents they have lived with them all their lives. Whilst the vast majority will be pleased to see them go they would also like to witness the event and your timing will make this very difficult.
We would like to suggest that you look at pushing the demolition time back to 06:00. I think that many people would see this as a reasonable compromise; it is still early enough to avoid significant disruption to road and rail services but is late enough for local families to get up and watch this once in a lifetime special event.
It's probably worth noting at this point that David Buckle's grasp of details and due process on such matters is rather undermined by his previous actions regarding cocking-up elections as a returning officer:
OFFICIALS had no idea until after elections in southern Oxfordshire that thousands of people didn’t get their voting papers, the returning officer has said.

More than 2,250 polling cards were not printed and 2,035 postal votes were not delivered for May’s council elections in South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse district, an independent report revealed.
Funnily enough he didn't lose his job despite admitting responsibility stopped with him:
"...I was a little naive and I’ve learned lessons for the future...Mr Buckle said the buck stopped at him and said more checks would be done in the future to make sure Royal Mail received the expected number of cards"
But no matter David Buckle's sentiments regarding the timing of the demolition are echoed by the local Tory MP Ed Vaizey:
"...I believe that it will be much better, and much safer, if they can do so in an organised way a little later, perhaps around 6am."
Interestingly the words "I believe" betray "lazy" Vaizey's impotence - the only realistic option available to him is to jump on the bandwagon of Facebook campaigns in an attempt to make it seem he is being active. Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail puts forward a slightly cynical motive for the timing:
I wonder why the electricity company npower wants to demolish the mighty cooling towers of Didcot ‘A’ power station in the middle of the night, between 3am and 5am on Sunday, July 27.
Didcot ‘A’ has been shut to satisfy EU rules against coal-fired power stations, themselves driven by unproven fantasies about man-made global warming. Even if this were true, it would be futile. As Didcot falls, China will no doubt be opening two or three coal-powered stations.

The company says the pre-dawn demolition is to ensure ‘safety’ and ‘minimal disruption’. But could they be influenced by the fact that film of the levelling of a perfectly viable power station might become a lasting symbol of our insane energy policies – the deliberate, dogma-driven destruction of scarce generating capacity just as we face a severe risk of power cuts?
Hitchens clearly implies that the early morning timing is a policy by RWE NPower to try to reduce the symbolism of EU-inspired insane energy policies. Yet RWE NPower have made no attempt to disguise this as noted in a previous post RWE sent out a letter to all residents of Didcot and surrounding areas specifically mentioning the EU right from the outset:
This is because we were required to limit the lifespan of the power station under the Large Combustion Plant Directive - an EU law aimed at reducing emissions across Europe.
In addition, destroying an iconic landmark in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside which can be seen for miles and miles around, as pictured below, can hardly be done discreetly and will be filmed regardless. Someone is going to notice missing cooling towers whatever time it is destroyed:

Hitchens therefore is reading a little too much into this. In contrast it is reasonable to conclude that the timing has instead been influenced by other factors. The power station is not out in the middle of nowhere, instead it is close to residential areas and also has to take into account other significant considerations.

Didcot lacks an "X Factor" appeal in terms of a desirable place to live but there is no denying that one of its main attractions is superb transport links. It has excellent train links into London - a consequence of Mr Brunel's "Super Iron Snake" which arrived in 1839 and transformed Didcot into a place of major significance. It became a junction on the Great Western Line to Bristol, London, Oxford and Southampton (the latter line closed due to Beeching), so much so it became an important part of military logistics - Vauxhall Barracks is still there.

Therefore Didcot's rail links are precisely why the power station was built where it was (even after the Beeching Axe). The rail links near the power station can be seen below:

Thus due to the importance of the Didcot junction, in the early hours of the morning when passenger trains are not running, it is still very busy with freight traffic. On average 20 - 30 freight trains pass through Didcot at such time, around 10 came from London for example - oil wagons pass through Didcot to Bristol and a similar number pass through coming from Bristol to London. Other traffic comes from north of Didcot such as from Oxford.

For example the Cowley car plant in Oxford produces Mini's and over 35% of its cars are moved by train much of it going to Southampton docks via Didcot. Then Swindon pressing plant provides most of the body panels and body sub-assemblies for the Mini models which are produced at the Oxford plant in Cowley. Again this is moved by rail through Didcot.

Due to the proximity of the power station to the railway lines they would need to be shut, before, during and after the demolition. Freight trains would need to be held back. Thus by moving the time of the demolition to 6am would increase the risk of impacting on the scheduling of passenger trains.

After demolition train tracks need to be checked for debris, damage and other problems associated with blowing up 325ft towers made of concrete and bricks. Any delay especially if the demolition doesn't go according to plan would have a significant knock-on effect with the rest of Sunday's passenger train's timetable with freight trains held in the wrong place completely out of position.

And demolitions don't always go to plan, an example in the UK was the iconic Tinsley Towers in Sheffield which were very close to the Tinsley Viaduct on the M1 motorway - towers which featured in the film The Full Monty. They too were brought down at 3am:

Thousands of people turned up to watch the planned demolition of the Tinsley Cooling Towers in Sheffield at 3am on Sunday 24th August 2008.
Yet:
A section of the north tower remained pointing into the sky. Two hours passed while  the Highways Agency and the owners of the towers - energy company E.On - debated what to do.
Given the unpredictability of explosions it's not unreasonably that a window of opportunity is necessary to account for unforeseen problems.

And nor are trains the only problem. Two major trunk roads pass very close to the power station, notably the A4130 which is busy with heavy goods vehicles not only to Milton Park, but Southmead Industrial Estate which has among other things distribution centres for Asda and Tesco stores across the county. Deliveries to and from these distribution centres begin at around 5am. A 6am demolition proposed by Vaizey and others therefore would have a significant impact on deliveries given that the main roads out of Didcot would be closed.

Other problems may include that blowing up at a later time cooling towers which are very visible from major roads such as the A34 and the M40 motorway is likely to induce rubbernecking to the detriment and safety of other road users.

RWE NPower have confirmed that the site will be floodlit - no surprise given health and safety considerations - so the argument that it occurs in the early hours when it is 'dark' has no bearing on whether we can actually 'see' it and given it is a Sunday morning (not a school night) the hour should be inconsequential:
They'd been camping out since teatime. Some had portable gas stoves, some brought their young children tucked up in duvets in the back of their cars - all were there to watch the demolition of the Tinsley Towers.
So the choice is clear if we want to see the Didcot towers fall, we either get up or stay up. In truth getting up at 3am on Sunday morning is not really that difficult or inconvenient.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Ruled By Muppets

As Richard North notes:
As it does on such occasions, the juvenile media is going into gushing overdrive at the "launch" of the Queen Elizebeth II in Rosyth, the latest in the saga of Britain's aircraft carrier programme, set to deliver one operational platform with no aircraft to fly until 2020.
Naturally any acknowledgement of EU involvement goes entirely unmentioned:
...but then one recalls that the main purpose of our carrier is to fulfil our commitments to the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF). It is considered to be a shared resource, as part of the 2010 Headline Goal
...when you delegate your foreign policy to a supranational entity, as in the EU, and then gauge your defence requirements to servicing that posture, it was always on the cards that we would end up with an unbalance defence capability, fielding equipment that had no role in projecting our own national interests.
One could suspect a conspiracy of silence regarding the EU but then when the BBC refers to the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier as a "boat" we can't help come to the conclusion that many of today's journalists are just simply thick muppets:
...the BBC risked the wrath of some of the British navy's most senior officers after describing HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will be official named by the Queen today, as a "boat".

Business reporter Justin Rowlatt was swiftly correctly by Admiral Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, who phoned the programme to point out the slip - prompting a speedy correction.
My father-in-law who was part of the last crew on HMS Belfast before it was decommissioned would be in deep despair at the lack accuracy by the BBC regarding "boats" and "ships".

And nor is this "muppetary" unique to matters military. This morning the Telegraph had an article "England has become a nation of losers again" with a picture underneath of the Scottish tennis player, Andy Murray. The oldest comments say it all. The Telegraph have now amended their headline...
 
...which raises a couple of questions, why wasn't an obvious mistake spotted from the outset and can the commenters below the piece now invoice the Telegragh for doing their sub-editing for them?

Sunday, 29 June 2014

EU Exit Has Become Closer

Not unsurprisingly across most of the Sunday papers today are reflections on the fallout of Juncker's election as EU Commission President. While humiliating for Cameron, Juncker's election is great news for those wishing EU exit. The exit door as a result has become somewhat closer. As this Mail on Sunday article highlights with their latest poll:
[Britons] believe Mr Juncker’s victory has probably killed off Mr Cameron’s hopes of persuading people to vote to stay in the EU by grabbing back powers from Brussels before a referendum.
Had Cameron had his way and the European Council blocked Juncker, it would have greatly enhanced his 'reform rhetoric' and his claims of infleunce within the EU. This particularly so when coupled with his untrue claim that he vetoed a Treaty. But with Cameron so publicly humiliated by the EU, his ambition to reform the EU, as Christopher Booker observes, is the casualty of the vote. Any claim that Cameron could somehow negotiate a new relationship for Britain with the EU, then lead a " yes" campaign for us to remain a member, lies in ruins.

This even more so given that Juncker has spent his entire career advocating further EU integration an appointment which is a clear message to Cameron regarding his reform agenda.

Also as Booker notes Juncker's appointment is not good news for the EU either. Not only have they antagonised a major member state but they have landed themselves with a candidate who no-one wanted, including Juncker himself, and who is utterly unsuited to the job:
What is even clearer, however, is that Friday’s debacle has left the EU itself in an even sorrier state than Mr Cameron. It was the Prime Minister who was, forlornly, trying to uphold the rules of that same treaty, by insisting that it is not the right of the European Parliament to nominate a candidate for the presidency. And we are now left with the astonishing spectacle of his colleagues having landed themselves with a man who many of them privately agree is hopelessly unfitted for such a taxing job: a chain-smoking boozer, a bad-tempered loner who hates paperwork... 
Normally initial candidates for the EU top jobs don't end up in the position...the rule of thumb being if you don't want the job put yourself forward. Initial candidates are used as stalking horses which then allows a compromise candidate to emerge - in line with the EU's desire for consensus.

To give an example we can go back to the President of the European Council in 2009. Four candidates were put forward; obviously Tony Blair (who was never going to get the job), Dutch Prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, Felipe Gonzalez and Jean-Claude Juncker (he sounds familiar). As we now know Van Rompuy emerged and was chosen - a chap most people had never heard of. Van Rompuy noted at the time confirming EU consensus:
"I will consider everyone's interests and sensitivities. Even if our unity is our strength, our diversity remains our wealth. Every country should emerge victorious from negotiations. A negotiation that ends with a defeated party is never a good negotiation."
What a stark contrast with nomination of Juncker now, there's certainly no consensus, a major member state has been insulted and the EU has chosen an initial candidate against form. And as Richard North argues they did so by breaking Article 17 (7) of the Lisbon Treaty:
In reality, though, the Council would not, by preference, have nominated Juncker. In accepting the Parliament's nomination, they have ceded the power to the Parliament.
That, in my view, breaches the rules at two levels. The Council has not fulfilled its duty, in making the nomination. Secondly, it has allowed another institution to take over its power.
The treaty is very specific in splitting the two functions - nomination on the one hand, and approval on the other. If the intention had been for the Parliament to take over the entire process, it would have said so.
To cede the power entirely to the Parliament is a clear break of the treaty.
Thus the EU is in a mess, Cameron has been shown up publicly that he cannot deliver on reform or influence and he almost certainly cannot recommend an "in" vote in 2017. Add to that his general incompetence and it's difficult to envisage a better framework for the 'outers' to win a referendum. The chances of winning a referendum has improved significantly.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Article 50: The Premier League Of Exits (Part 1)

With the England football team's, not entirely unexpected, dismal early exit from the World Cup in Brazil, we see the usual media post-mortem analysis of where it all went wrong. Two themes always emerge when attempting to analyse what went wrong; that footballers are paid too much and that there are too many foreigners in English football.

However given England's international record since 1950 both theories can be seen to be clear fallacies. 1966 aside, England's record in international tournaments has generally been very poor. England has never reached a final on foreign soil and they have won only five knockout games in any World Cup played outside their own country; none of them against any so-called 'football superpowers' such as Germany or Italy.

This poor record occurred during the maximum wage era - ended by the landmark Eastham case in 1963 - as well as during the far more prosperous English Premier League (EPL) incarnation. And no one could argue that a half-fit Luis Suarez playing for Uruguay against England only showed passion because he is on minimum wage when playing for Liverpool. Thus that the fault lies with players' lack of passion due to being paid too much doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The other criticism is of too many foreigners in the EPL (foreign players currently make up over 60%). However when the English leagues consisted of almost only British players during the '70's and '80's it's worth noting England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and 1978, and as for the European Championships in 1988...well that's best forgotten.

England's record has been largely abysmal regardless of how many or how few foreigners play in the English game. And as Soccernomics argues England's record has actually improved since 1992 (the beginning of the EPL) - averaging 1.69 points per game up from 1.4 per game pre-1992.

Yet the obvious fallacies behind the proposed reasons of England's poor international record doesn't stop the likes of the 'award winning' Telegraph football correspondent Henry Winter putting forward 'solutions' to England's perennial abject performances. He complains bitterly:
When England were blown away by the fast, intelligent, ruthless movement of Germany in Bloemfontein at the last World Cup four years ago, this newspaper carried a “10-point plan to save the face of English football following shame in South Africa”. Only three of the points have been achieved, leaving little surprise that England continue to lag behind more sophisticated footballing nations.
And one of his solutions that was not adopted?
The issue of quotas, suggested in Point Eight of “Six plus five adds up”, focused on the influx of foreigners into the Premier League and the blocking of the pathway for younger English players, an issue at the heart of Greg Dyke’s FA commission.
It seems to have escaped the 'award winning' Mr Winter's attention that such quotas, even if they worked, are against EU law. And nor is this an obscure EU ruling. Instead it is one of the most well known infamous moments in English football history - the Bosman ruling. And not just Bosman but also ECJ judgements regarding Dona, Kolpak and Simutenkov.

One of the consequences of Bosman in particular was that it prohibited domestic leagues in EU member states, and UEFA, from imposing quotas on foreign players to the extent that they discriminated against other EU states. The judgement was hardly a surprise given that free movement of people is one of the fundamental freedoms of the Single Market - based on what is now Article 45 (2) of the Lisbon Treaty which established the rights of EU nationals to work on a non-discriminatory basis in any Member State.

Previously UEFA had a rule which prohibited teams in its competitions, namely the Champions League, Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Cup, from naming more than three "foreign" players in their squads for any game - a rule which had led to the embarrassing defeat by Barcelona of Manchester United in 1994. After the ruling, quotas could only be applied to non EU-players only.

Mr Winter should (and I suspect does) know better but it's revealing that he fails to acknowledge this. Thus it appears that it is not just Telegraph political correspondents who have myopia when it comes to the UK's membership of the EU but football ones as well.

The Bosman ruling had profound consequences right across the EU - in all sports but one of its greatest impacts was felt in the Premier League. To maybe understand why, we need to revisit the consequences of the establishment of the Premier League in the early '90s.

The Hillsborough disaster in 1989 was a watershed in British sport and it essentially resulted in two main legacies - safer stadiums and its more dubious cousin the birth of the Premier League. 

Football in the UK has largely been governed since the 19th century by an uneasy alliance between two bodies; the Football Association (FA) and the Football League (FL).

The FA can rightly claim to be the first such football body in the world which not only first codified the rules but helped develop the popularity of the game. And, not unusually for a Victorian sporting institution, it has always retained an amateur ethos - a determination to remain a "purity" different from commercial interests. It was a public school cocooned world.

This 'purity' was challenged in the late 19th century by the establishment of the hugely popular football league, a league competition led mainly by the rise of working-class northern clubs who could not afford such luxuries as 'amateurism'. Professionals they had to be out of necessity. In very simplistic terms such a divide between the FA and the FL can be seen as a north/south one, not too dissimilar to the divide which was more explicitly expressed in the form of two sets of codes in rugby.

Most other countries in the world which started from scratch avoided this seperation of the governing body and the League. Instead they established a single football federation governing the lot...this mistake, not replicated by other countries, would come back to haunt the UK.

From the start the FL was concerned about ensuring a degree of equality between its member clubs - on almost a socialist model it wanted to ensure that money was divided equally within the whole league structure on the basic premise that every club needed each other for a basic competition to exist. A model that largely worked for circa 100 years.

But with the influx of television money in the 1980s the bigger clubs (then known as the big five) in the top division wanted to break away from the FL's rigid formula of distributing money throughout the leagues and instead keep all the money for themselves. Despite initial resistance from the FA the big five's opportunity to breakaway came via Hillsborough.

Lord Justice Taylor, in his Final Report, had identified that one of the many failings in football at the time was due to a lack of leadership, a lack of vision, due to the inherent archaic conflict between the FA and the FL. What football badly needed was one strong governing body. In the spirit of Lord Taylor's report the FL produced a document called, one game, one team, one voice. It proposed an end to football's historic divisions and the establishment of one joint board, six members from the FA and six for the FL to run football.

However the FA, with self interest most acute, saw this as 'parking tanks on its lawn' and thus in response betrayed their own game by instead allowing the breakaway of the top division with its permission in a selfish attempt to destroy the power of the FL.

The result was a Premiership division, under FA governance, with clubs standing on the threshold of undreamt riches intoxicated by the injection of further money by Sky television. No longer would money have to be distributed throughout the leagues, instead the PL kept most of it if not all. But the unintended consequence was that the FA created a monster which it could no longer control.

This PL monster, now greedily independent of the rest of the football league, was then given a substantial steroid injection by the Bosman ruling in 1995.

After the ruling, a player was free to leave as soon as his contract expired. Thus power moved away from clubs towards players; they could now demand very large signing-on fees and salaries, on the basis that the club they were joining had not had to pay a penny in transfer fees. Clubs became powerless to stop their best players leaving at the end of their existing deals. Wages soared and in the UK this was funded by more and more television money. Not expectantly this attracted ever greater numbers of foreign players into the EPL - over 1,500 in the last 20 years and most from the EU. 169 players have come from France alone.

Yet while we take the view from a purist football fan perspective the PL has been negative innovation in destroying the integrity of the English league system, we recognise that the PL is a major contributor to the economy, we cannot avoid the fact that the economic figures it generates are staggering.

In 2011/12 for example the revenue of the 20 Premier League clubs was over £2.3 billion, while five clubs each generated revenue greater than that of the entire First Division twenty years previously.

Last year the contribution of the EPL clubs alone - just 20 of them -  to the Exchequer was over £1bn. Just Premier League football in Manchester on its own rakes in the equivalent of an Olympic and Paralympic Games combined for the economy every four seasons and English clubs spent a record sum last summer in transfers amounting to a total of more than half a billion pounds.

The financial behemoth that is the EPL means it is extremely popular with both domestic and foreign fans. In England, for example 32 per cent of the adult population state that they are actively engaged Premier League football. And it was a sector which remained resilient when the recession struck.

And in addition the EPL plays an important part in British tourism. In 2012  there were nearly a million foreign football tourists who visited the UK spending £706million – or £785 per fan - around £200 more than the average spend for a visitor to the UK.

The following of the Premier League globally is 1.46 billion – or 70 per cent of the world’s estimated 2.08 billion football fans. The EPL therefore, liked or not, is a most potent instrument of soft power the UK possesses. As an EU Commission paper noted in 2007-08:
...the Premier League has become much more than just the United Kingdom’s most popular regular sporting competition. It has also become an important economic agent, with a significant impact on employment, GDP and national and local economies. A number of related industries have benefited from the Premier League’s strength, including broadcasting, marketing and other communications industries, and the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. Premier League Clubs have become the social focus of many urban communities and are often the most prominent symbol of their cities in the UK and around the world.

The economic success of the Premier League generates significant taxation revenues for national and local government, giving the Government and local authorities a direct interest in the continued economic health of our competition. It is therefore important to bear in mind that, in considering the impact of the EU on sport, the relevant policies include employment, the internal market, economic development, trade, judicial and legal services, social inclusion, and regional policy as well as sport itself.
Thus if we are to win a referendum, reassurance needs to be made that the world's most watched league is not adversely affected.

What Margaret Thatcher seemingly failed to appreciate, but largely her Prime Ministerial successors did (albeit some superficially, not naming names - Cameron) is that the majority of football fans, and indeed sports fans in general, are above all else taxpayers and voters. Thus millions in the UK who follow the EPL need to be onside in order to win.

The Bosman ruling is by no means the only EU interference in domestic sport and interestingly there has been long running disputes between the international regulator FIFA and EU law. These we will address in part 2.