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 The decision was based on 1999 EIA Regulations which have been superseded (on 24 August 2011) by new Regulations.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.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

UKIP: Losing Us The Referendum

This from PoliticalBettting highlights the latest poll on a possible EU referendum, the "in camp" have moved to an 8 point lead:

Combined with the "status quo" effect, the 'outers' are currently going to lose - and are going to lose heavily. A referendum doesn't come under subjective marking where there are points for "artistic impression", as in ice skating. Instead it will be decided by Boolean outcomes - we either win or we don't.

And let's not forget that YouGov were the most accurate pollster when it came to predicting the Euro elections.

Despite receiving millions of EU money UKIP since 1999, via its MEPs, still fails to come up with a coherent exit policy or indeed any kind of research department that can counter the 'establishment'. And this is the result - a majority of the UK population wishing to remain EU members.

UKIP is rapidly becoming the enemy of EU exit....

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Brussels: The European Quarter

During my otherwise very enjoyable stay in Brussels, I did at one point venture over to the European Quarter where most of the EU institutions are located.

Despite a visceral dislike of the EU, or more accurately the UK's membership of it, I felt it important to see for myself what the European Quarter looked like - a lot can be garnered about any institution just from observing its buildings.

Therefore what follows in this piece is a 'day-tripper's' first impressions and initial observations without any particular direct intimate knowledge of the buildings themselves. Naturally given the standpoint of this blog the following views won't be without any bias but I'll try to make it as fair as possible.

Nevertheless I suspect that it will come as no surprise that I will begin this piece by first making a criticism of the European Quarter -  particularly the EU Parliament. However it is a criticism which I wasn't expecting to make.

Given the historic nature of the centre of Brussels with its cobbled streets, there was an expectation of difficulty of disability access, yet what came as a surprise is that this difficulty extended itself to the European Quarter - a much more modern construction. In short disability access around and near EU buildings is an absolute shocker.

To give but one example, here's a picture of a road crossing within the confines of the EU Parliament (and we found no exception to this example around the EU Parliament):


As can be clearly seen there are no dropped kerbs (or certainly not ones that are level with the road) which made wheelchair access when crossing a road much more difficult; those with a keener eye will notice there is also an absence of 'tactile paving' for the blind or visually impaired. Nor did any crossing with lights indicate with a noise when it was safe to cross. Thus basically if someone has sight disabilities near the EU Parliament (and other EU institutions) they can expect to be run over.

We did discover one 'dropped kerb' near the EU Parliament which 'helpfully' wasn't actually near a designated crossing. Rather than be a gentle slope as is normal in the UK as shown below...

 ...it instead was a sharp 45 degree sudden drop; difficult enough to navigate with a wheelchair with anti-tilt mechanisms even more so we suspect with an electric wheelchair which has a longer wheel-base which would become somewhat stuck.

Another feature of the European Quarter is that it is not flat - there are significant gradients to navigate between the EU Parliament and other EU institutions nearby which surround the Schuman Roundabout. The EU Parliament in particular appears to be built on two levels as a result of it being rather 'hilly'. An example is shown below:

On the left is the Paul-Henri Spaak part of the Parliament which houses the hemicycle for plenary sessions and on the right is the Altiero Spinelli building(s) which as can be seen is connected by a two-floor pedestrian bridge.

A problem arises though for someone not inside the building. Entering via the pedestrian access through the Altiero Spinelli building(s) - which makes up the front of the EU Parliament - to the Henri Spaak part which forms the 'chamber tour' involves a great number of steps (clearly seen on the right). And it is via these numerous steep steps that the (visit EP) signs indicate the way to go to the chamber tour

At no point is disability access clearly marked or catered for to easily navigate between the two. Instead through 'trial and error' we found the only way round was to take a path involving a very steep slope which went well outside the 'footprint' of the EU Parliament. To add insult to injury the entrance to the chamber tour involved wheelchair unfriendly cobbles.

And by no means was this confined to the EU Parliament. Access outside other EU buildings was equally poor and, despite a genuine emergency, showing the following MS card (below) which in a number of languages advises that Mrs TBF occasionally needs toilet access urgently, the officials in the Berlaymont building (EU Commission) informed us in no uncertain terms that they had "no disabled toilets" which she could use.

To put these difficulties into context, the EU likes to promote itself as a defender of disability rights - as promoted here (in typical EU speak):
The European Union policy on disability is built on an explicit commitment to the social model of disability.

The EU perceives disability as the result of the dynamic interaction between a person and their environment, including social constructions, which lead to discrimination and stigmatisation.  It is therefore the environment that should be adapted to each individual person, including people with disabilities, by removing these barriers.

Disability is a right-based issue, discrimination should be eliminated.  Disability policies should follow a socially inclusive and individualised approach: rights have to be supplemented by actions, which provide access to rights, that is to say with equal opportunities...
The legal basis for EU action in this area is provided by Article 13 of the European Treaty, dating from 1999, which permits the European Council to ‘take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation’. It has been expressed in a variety of forms, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
It would be nice if they actually applied those same principles to themselves. It can be safely said that in terms of disability access in public buildings and public highways the UK is miles ahead of the European Quarter.

Those criticisms aside, onto more general observations. We began 'our tour' at the EU Parliament. Pictures cannot do justice on how big this complex is. The building, or should we say buildings, is bloody massive and it's difficult to know sometimes where the Parliament complex actually ends given the number of 'linked' buildings.

The size though is about the only impressive thing about it; a mixture of concrete and glass it is grey and soulless. Perhaps then the perfect metaphor for the Parliament itself - a gargantuan and very expensive monument to powerlessness (and we must remember this is only one of the EU parliament buildings - there's one in Strasbourg and it has substantial administrative offices in Luxembourg). As an example here are a selection of pictures which show the front entrance:




Running in front of the entrance, along the entire length of the complex is a wide long pedestrian walkway which seems to serve little purpose other than to provide access to the EU Parliament's own train station seen here:

Below are a number of pictures to give an idea of the scale of the walkway (all buildings shown are part of the Parliament):



Dotted along this walkway are numerous plaques dedicated to those people significant in EU history, with one or two references to Auschwitz. Also strangely there is a tribute to the Solidarity movement in Poland. Quite why this was on an EU building I'm not sure, even the EU plaque made no mention of itself. Along this walkway is a visitor's centre where "dynamic, interactive multimedia displays" informs us of how great the EU is. For very obvious reasons I gave it a miss.

Now we moved through the Altiero Spinelli sector and across the road which separates it from the Paul-Henri Spaak part which houses the chamber. Part of the back of the Spinelli building (and only part) can be seen below:

And the Paul-Henri Spaak building as seen here which has more than a passing reference to aspects of the Crystal Palace:


We were unable to take part in a Chamber Tour visit as for reasons unknown it was closed on the day we went. It's worth noting that via its website that tours are limited anyway to just twice a day - 10am & 3pm. A stark contrast to our own Parliament where generally visitors can turn up anytime to visit the public gallery or lobby their MP. Even greater freedom can be found in the Capitol building in Washington where, after passing the usual security checks, you are at liberty to wander about almost where you like.

That said, the EU Parliament is model of openness compared to other EU buildings where visitors (taxpayers) were most certainly not welcome. And it's here we move on to next. I'm not sure if it's deliberate but it's symbolic that the majority of EU institutions (the important and powerful ones) are clustered around the Schuman Roundabout around a 15-20 minute walk away - the Parliament is out on its own...almost on a limb.

Next up was the Berlaymont (or Berlaymonster to its friends) home of the EU Commission:
Note the lack of English; it's worth pointing out that many EU buildings have notices and plaques in just two languages - three if they include English which is always third on the list. The first language is invariably French revealing the true soul and origins of the EU.

Well what can one say about the Berlaymont other than it looks like a glorified office block on stilts. If ever a building epitomised Monnet's vision of an "organised world of tomorrow" run by anonymous unelected civil servants this is it. No grand entrance, little information for visitors and no fuss, just a large functional dull grey building with lots and lots of windows by undoubtedly lots and lots of desks:

One interesting observation though (probably a slightly mischievous one) is when the BBC do (occasionally) report on the EU they do so with the Berlaymont as a backdrop but with the only side which has copious numbers of flagpoles with EU flags as below:

Perhaps the BBC do this for aesthetic reasons or if we're to be very cynical for bias reasons due to the number of EU flags they can achieve in a camera shot. However directly opposite is a British themed pub called "The Old Hack Pub":

A coincidence I'm sure. Opposite this pub (to the right) and opposite the Berlaymont is another EU Commission building - Charlemagne, another glorified office block...

...with what I guess is supposed to be an interesting design feature:

Directly opposite the front of the Berlaymont (well I think it's the front, it's hard to tell), and across the main road, is the Council of the European Union (Ministers) the Justus Lipsius building:

And this I guess is the front entrance, not much to write home about and again not very welcoming for visitors (taxpayers):
Like the EU Parliament this is another very large complex, one that is a little more deceptive in its size as became evident when we tried walking around it - it takes a considerable amount of time. Below is a picture of another (small) part:

Next door to the Justus Lipsius building is the Residence Palace which serves as the home of the European Council and Van Rompuy which is currently undergoing construction (as is much of the European Quarter):


What is not readily apparent from the pictures nor from street view until very close up is the inside of the Residence Palace is taking shape to look rather like this below:

I'm sure readers will take great comfort in the fact that it will be eco-friendly. At this point we were running out of time, so these are my thoughts on the most 'important' buildings. There are plenty of other EU buildings around the Schuman Roundabout to visit including this one rather ironically...

Whatever the EU says about promoting democracy and freedom, nothing can disguise its true nature when visiting the very buildings it resides in. Secret, elitist, grey, soulless and a complete disregard of people's money with no attempt to disguise it. All of the buildings ooze grotesque opulence albeit with no class. They are the ultimate tribute to a fundamentally unelected bureaucratic organisation - Jean Monnet would have been proud.

I would fully recommended that any eurosceptic should visit the European Quarter to truly appreciate what we're up against.

With that in mind I'll leave the final word to Mrs TBF. She has long been tolerant of my EU obsessions, but visiting last week she became extremely animated by what she saw all around her; at last she understood:
"I resent my money being spent to build a load of crap like this."
Quite...

Monday, 9 June 2014

Brussels

Blogging will be light this week as I'm away for my birthday (the one where life starts apparently). I'll be spending it in Brussels. Before readers begin to suspect I've lost my marbles, my reason for going is not this, but instead to visit locations associated with Belgium's most famous reporter, having been a lifelong fan.

No doubt, through very gritted teeth, I'll go and see the European quarter, though I like to put it on record should any terrorist incident arise during my visit it wasn't me...

Normal service will return shortly

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Delingpole: Another MI5 Agent...

James Delingpole former Telegraph blogger and author of fine works such as this has understandably been an enthusiastic advocate of Farage's party to the extent of attempting to bid to be a UKIP MEP. Take this article from 2nd May 2014 for example:
Since the beginning of the European elections campaign, not a day has passed without some vicious new assault in the media on UKIP. But as we've seen, far from denting UKIP's popularity in the polls all this free publicity - bolstering its status as the rebel-outsider, none-of-the-above party - has seen it go from strength to strength.
The people who aren't part of this Establishment, however, not remotely, are the people in the country at large. They feel, for any of number of reasons, that they have become disenfranchised; that the Establishment looks after its own interests but not theirs.
For some the problem is political correctness; for others it's immigration; for others it's the plethora of regulations over which they feel they have no democratic control regardless of which political party is in power; for others still it's the sense that, despite this blessed recovery we keep reading about in all the newspapers, their standard of living appears to be going down.
It's not so much what UKIP stands for that is attracting so many voters as what it stands against: everything they hate.
And what is the embodiment of everything they hate? The Establishment, of course. No wonder the media arm of this Establishment is as proving as discombobulated as the political wing of this Establishment: they're all in the same boat.
The problem of course with being "anti" anything is that it only gets us so far and then a glass ceiling is always firmly hit. Eventually people will want to know what a party actually stands for. That requires well-worked out policies and detail.

In 2012 Delingpole wrote this (my emphasis):
Look at its manifesto. It's the most reasonable, people-friendly manifesto of any political party in Britain. You might quibble with the details: has its championing of grammar schools been rendered irrelevant by Gove's education reforms? Isn't it fence-sitting, rather, on fox-hunting by declaring it a "local issue." But by God, if we could get a government in power which ticked even half the boxes on UKIP's wish list Britain would once more become a land well worth living in.
Despite Delingpole's praise, this manifesto would subsequently be one that Farage denounced as "drivel". 'Dellers' betrayed like many before him.

So with this in mind it's interesting to note that like many of us ex-Ukippers Delingpole seems to have experienced the well-trodden journey of UKIP membership from hope, to frustrations to then despair - he has somewhat belatedly noticed there is something not quite right:
I'm nervous about UKIP for different reasons. My concern is that if they're not careful they're going to end up just like all the other members of the political class in the LibLabCon bubble - more interested in the pursuit and retention of power by telling special interests groups whatever they want to hear rather than in ideological principle.
The other is the apparent lack of anyone like Margaret Thatcher had — a Keith Joseph, say, or a Norman Tebbit — with the ability to underpin party policy with some intellectual and ideological heft.
What, pray, is the point of voting Ukip into power if all you’re going to get is another bunch of career politicians on the make, aping the cynical, vote-catch opportunism of the usual suspects from LibLabCon? You might get more grammar schools here, fewer wind farms there, but without a clear direction of travel you’d just get another party prey to the inevitable temptations of shoring up its power base with eye-catching initiatives aimed at grasping special interest groups.
Delingpole has spotted what a number of us have; that UKIP is bereft of substance and detailed polices (there's always always a manifesto in preparation) and that the leader is essentially trying to "wing" it.

Another (of so many) examples is Farage not bothering to campaign in the Newark by-election today but instead he has been photographed yet again on the booze accompanied yet again with another female.

Despite legitimate criticisms no doubt, as Compete Bastard notes, Delingpole's article will be "spun" as another example of "sour grapes". (how many more examples do there have to be?):
[Delingpole] is obviously out to get Ukip, and it's all just sour grapes because he didn't get selected to be an MEP.
For a party that's been about for 20 years it still doesn't have a detailed policy on how to exit the damned EU project. Therefore Autonomous Mind has it so right when he says:
This blog has long considered itself a critical friend to UKIP, despite the attacks by those who consider themselves virtuous defenders of the cause.  But if UKIP looks set to hamstring the prospects of the anti-EU side by acting as a repellant rather than a recruiter, then the friendship has to end and UKIP has to be taken on and defeated.
I wish there was an alternative to this.  But there’s far more at stake in a referendum than there is in preserving the ambitions of Nigel Farage.  UKIP’s failings must not be allowed to drag down the chances of the anti-EU side of winning a referendum.
I am often asked just what my agenda is as people cannot believe I want to leave the EU, but remain critical of UKIP.  It is very simple. We need UKIP to sort itself out and shape up, or we need to get it out of the way so we can take on and defeat the Europhiles.
It is no coincidence that so many go through the same experiences. So while Farage goes bonking and boozing around Brussels on the taxpayer, the heavy lifting of how to actually extricate ourselves from the monstrosity is left to others.

Despair and betrayal is an all too familiar pattern with UKIP. And sadly 'Dellers' is not immune either. Who to vote for is the cry. If not UKIP who? The answer is simple - the Lib Dems, currently the outcome will be precisely the same.  

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

No, Prime Minister

Witterings from Witney is in the fortunate position (or very unfortunate position depending on how we look at it) of Cameron being his constituent MP as well as being the Prime Minister.

As a constituent therefore WfW has the 'right' to request a meeting with Cameron, which he has done in order to challenge "[Cameron's] being ‘economical with the actualitĂ©’ – to borrow a phrase from Alan Clark -where ‘matters EU’ are concerned".

It appears that Cameron has agreed to such a meeting, albeit with one or two caveats;
...that as time is at a premium I advise his constituent secretary of the particular points I wish to cover so that we can both use what little time there is productively – plus it also allows time for him to put in some homework.
Nevertheless, WfW has the opportunity to personally take Cameron to task over "lies" regarding the EU, something the media seem very very reluctant to do.

Therefore as readers, and a blogosphere, we have an opportunity via WfW to challenge the Prime Minister directly over EU lies and this can be done by emailing WfW any questions regarding EU matters via this link.

We believe we can safely suggest that WfW will be more of a Brian Walden in his approach during the meeting than an Andrew Marr.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Stupid Quote Of The Day

Without clicking on the link can readers guess who said this?
"The European commission isn't like a national government. It has to remain impartial,"