Thursday, 11 September 2014

Eurosceptic Lite

Thanks to the tenacity of Witterings from Witney, he has managed to procure a copy of David Campbell Bannerman's IEA submission, a copy of which is available here. On his blog WfW had done a fine critique of DCB’s flawed submission, with an added piece from Richard North.

With those comprehensive critical pieces I don’t have much to add, only to express that it saddens me deeply, as someone who wrote a 20,000 word submission as part of a history degree, to read the utter poor quality of DCB’s work. This is not supposed to be a GCSE homework project, but a submission into the IEA competition, or indeed a Brexit plan in general.

WfW rightly highlights the basic errors - for example capital letters appear to have been inserted at random – and certain arguments are fundamentally incorrect for example DCB’s assertions that the four freedoms can be negotiated:
The ‘Four Freedoms’ is regarded by the EU  as a non-negotiable part of the Single Market acquis – something stated quite categorically by Viviane Reding whilst she was an EU Commissioner.
As a result one has to question the thought processes of anyone who proffers an amendment to something that cannot be amended. Another example of the poor standard of the submission can be seen below from a random couple of paragraphs:
Citizens from the original group of 15 EU member states, including Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Portugal, originally had unrestricted access to the Swiss labour market. but in May 2013the [sic] Swiss Government moved to tighten the immigration tap, extending restrictions to these older EU member states, setting a cap of 53,700 for 12 months.

But [sic] most significantly, all immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, two of the newer EU members, was severely restricted and will remain so for years. This Swiss safeguard quota model is designed to limit numbers from the .least [sic] economically developed nations - those often with one sixth of UK average wages, whilst allowing free flow from more developed nations, and EEA Lite follows this logic. .[sic]
This sort of sub-standard work, with a complete lack of proof reading, would have been chucked out of the window as a degree student. Yet DCB as a Conservative and a former UKIP MEP who has "prestige" it is taken seriously. A demonstration indeed of the failings of our so called media and establishment.

If this is the best the eurosceptic movement as a whole can accomplish then we deserve to lose any referendum. We seriously need to up our game.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Outside The Wall



It's long been this blog's view that the status quo effect will prevail in the Scottish referendum, especially when the "don't knows" are hovering around the 23% mark. Thus while the polls recently have become neck and neck in terms of in or out, bookmakers are still offering odds-on regarding a no vote.

With Scotland there is understandably a clear anti-establishment vote which has been relayed to the pollsters. Yet experience shows that this only translates to referendum results, or indeed other elections, if the resulting vote has no dramatic consequences.

An example of this is the non-binding referendum in New Zealand in 1992 regarding political reform. We also see the same apply in mid-term by-elections where anti-etablishment kicking is prevalent only to return to a default candidate at a General Election. Ireland proves to be another example when they rejected the Lisbon Treaty first time around only to approve at the second time when it was made clear "rejection would have consequences" regarding EU membership.

An interesting observation though is despite the obvious anti-Westminster vote within the Scottish referendum, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have decided to encamp in Scotland for the day so that there will be no PMQs, thus demonstrating a wonderful illustration of arrogance and complete political blindness - seemingly unaware that their presence is more damaging than helpful to the Union cause. Subrosa is not impressed and rightly so:
Interesting times aren’t they?  Yesterday, in a token gesture to Scotland, the Saltire was raised over 10 Downing Street.  I believe it is to stay in place until after the referendum.  How happy I am to see such benevolence from London. Do I feel patronised?  Of course not.
Be prepared for the media to be overflowing with reports about the London heir bummers’ visit to our country and don’t forget to smile at their ignorance (or should that be arrogance?).
A point echoed by Norman Tebbit:
The political establishment down here in the Westminster village has been stung into hyperactivity by the sudden surge of support for the Yes campaign in Scotland. Without very much discussion with their own parties Ed Milliband and David Cameron have reached a joint conclusion: that Scotland's discontent can be overcome and a "No" vote secured by promising the Scots that they can have independence in all but name if only they vote to stay within the Union. Devolution by the bucketload, it is implied, would allow the Scottish assembly to tax and spend as it pleases while still remaining under the cover of sterling.
It seems to be a perfect example of why so many Scots are supporting the severance of the Union. In short, it typifies the remoteness of that Westminster establishment, not just from Scotland, but the people of England and Wales.
And again, more forcefully by Dan Hodges:
By the evening Gordon’s chat with a few of his constituents had become a full-blown plan to recast the Union. It was, Brown said, nothing less than a move towards a federal Britain. “A new Union is being forged in the heat of debate”, he said.
Great. But what debate? I’m not involved in it. You’re not involved in it. Unless I’m missing something, no one in England, Wales or Northern Ireland is being given a say over this radical new constitutional arrangement.
I’m not missing something. Gordon Brown was crystal clear yesterday. “These reforms will confirm that Scotland has helped changed not just our own country but the United Kingdom,” he announced. Well, thanks for that. But I’m afraid that’s not Scotland’s prerogative.
Scotland is currently holding a referendum over whether it wishes to secede from the Union. It’s a simple Yes/No question. Do you want to stay, or do you want to go? Not, “do you want to unilaterally establish the English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh Federation.”
’ll repeat, what do our politicians think they are doing? Whether or not Scotland remains a part of the Union is a matter for the Scottish people alone. It’s right they are having their referendum, and that they should have sole say over their destiny. But that is no longer what is on the table.
What is now being proposed – we are being told – is nothing less than an entirely new constitution for the United Kingdom as a whole. And no one other than the people of Scotland appears to be getting a say on whether they agree with it or not.
Actually, let me rephrase that. No one but the politicians appears to be getting a say.
Alex Salmond has some justification when he refers to "Team-Westminster". Team Westminster are clearly panicking and are offering overtly devo-max, this though is not new, it was offered quietly by Cameron some time ago. But how arrogant is it for Gordon Brown et al to now brazenly offer such terms without reference to anyone else in the Union  - it's our Union as well.

If nothing else the Scottish referendum demonstrates acutely that the arguments are less about Hadrian's wall and more about a circular symbolic wall around London, universally known as the M25.

We need this...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Brexit And Telephones (1)

One of the greatest revolutions of the 20th Century is the obvious but often forgotten advancement in mass electronic communication technology. The rather humble telephone, along with devices such as the likes of television, came to dominate the 20th Century.

Although the telephone was commercially available in the late 19th Century it took until 1912 before a unified telephone system was available throughout most of Britain with the National Telephone Company providing for over ½ million subscribers. By the early 1930s radio, while in its infancy, emerged nationally; mass television though was still a distant dream, and the internet was not even a vague concept.

Thus from the outset, before the emergence of the internet (and other data networks), telecommunications had a simple clear meaning: the telephone and its elder brother, the telegraph. The relative simplicity meant that placing a conventional phone call used what is known as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), informally known as the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) - using copper wires which carried analogue voice data over the dedicated circuits.

Described as circuit-switched telephony; the system worked by setting up a dedicated channel (or circuit) between two points for the duration of the call. Nothing illustrates this better than images in the early days of telephony showing operators needing to physically connect a call, moving cables from one place to another, as pictured below.
The basic principles of telephony endured during 1960s even after the innovation of the modern “fax” pioneered by Xerox and the digitisation of the PSTN. Facsimile sent via the PSTN, adding the ability to communicate documents and data at a distance, was still considered a telecommunications issue because it was still carried over a PSTN.

That changed after the 1960's when advances in telecommunications continued with indecent haste aided by significant advancements in computer technology. Thus as a consequence in recent decades electronic communication expanded to include data, video conferencing, e-mail, instant messaging, and web browsing.

Telecommunications therefore as concept has also moved away from traditional copper wires to include microwave, terrestrial wireless, satellite and diversification of broadband via mobile phones. The modern industry therefore is far more diverse including not only software-based applications with a communications emphasis but also being suppliers of telecommunications equipment and software products as well as the telecommunications service provider.

Ironically the unprecedented relatively recent divergence in the types of electronic media to communicate, via voice, audio, video, or data, has led to a path of convergence of telecommunications hardware. Telecoms architecture has become increasingly integrated. Previously the PSTN, cable, and data networks coexisted as separately owned and operated networks carrying different types of communications.

Now most media is increasingly being communicated over a single common network as telecommunications has moved from the traditional circuit-switching to computer based packet-switching. A transition that was probably best epitomised by technology such as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) - which achieved faster dial-up speeds on the traditional circuit switched network before it was killed off by packet switching broadband which led to BT Home Highway being withdrawn in 2007.

To give but one example of convergence; the existence of a private telephone exchange (PBX) within a company usually means two separate networks - one for telecoms and one for computer data. This meant two sets of cables and two types of incompatible sockets (RJ45 for network sockets and Type 600 for BT sockets) which would run throughout the building.

However with the emergence of Voice over IP as a technology (as popularised by programs such as Skype), which uses packet-switched telephony - voice information travels to its destination in countless individual network packets across the Internet -  means voice calls can be transmitted over computer data network. This not only makes voice calls free but eliminates the need for a separate voice network in businesses.

This voice/data integration of architecture offers economies of scale in both capital expenditures and operational costs, and also allows different media to work within common applications. Convergence has now meant that both telecoms technology suppliers and service providers are in the business of providing telecommunications in all media simultaneously rather than specializing in a particular type such as voice, video, or data.

The increasing technological advances and diversity has been significantly reflected in the continuous development of telecommunications regulation in the UK with government policy makers often struggling to keep up with rapidly evolving technology.

Beginning in 1901 with the licensing of private telephone companies, telecoms was then nationalised in 1912 and remained so until 1984 - the simplicity of regulation being directly related to the fact that it was a direct provision of the government - essentially it was a regulated monopoly

Then with privatisation in 1984 we had a regulated duopoly consisting of BT and Cable and Wireless who were able to provide competing telecoms services. In 1991 the existing duopoly in telecoms services was ended and licensing of multiple service providers permitted for domestic service only. International telecommunications remained within the duopoly framework. In 1996 the international duopoly was ended, and other operators were free to offer international services within the UK.

Thus we can see that the UK has progressed from a state regulated monopoly in terms of telecoms to one of a myriad of regulated markets. Yet it's not only internal pressures and technological changes that have lead to a diversification of the UK's telecoms regulation. Electronic communication very obviously has worldwide implications and not unsurprisingly is affected by international regulatory bodies notably by governance systems such as the EU, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The EU for example began "liberalising" the telecoms market in 1990 with Council Directive 90/387/EEC - "the establishment of the internal market for telecommunications services through the implementation of open network provision". This was during a 10 year period leading up to 1998 where the EU imposed on member states, via a series of green papers, directives, and recommendations obligations with respect to equipment markets, regulatory structures, value-added services, and regulation of infrastructure and service competition where it existed.

Then in 1998 the European Union issued framework directives to liberalize entry into telecommunications markets effectively trying to end monopoly provision in EU countries:

In order to accompany the opening of the sector to competition, the European Commission began the huge task, in 1999, of recasting Europe's regulatory framework for telecommunications. The general aim was to improve access to the information society by striking a balance between regulation of the sector and Europe's competition rules. This regulatory framework for electronic communications is made up of five harmonising directives, focussing in particular on the framework directives, access and interconnection, authorisation, universal service and users rights and protection of privacy. To these were added the Decision of 2002 on radio spectrum policy and the Regulation of 2002 on access to the local loop.

By 2003 further European directives removed the need for telecommunication service providers to be licensed by national regulators which in the UK led to several existing regulators merging to form Ofcom via The Communications Act 2003. EU involvement has probably been more immediate to telecoms customers by the privatisation of directory enquires as per EU Directive 2002/77/EC and mobile phone roaming charges within the EU.

Thus with the enthusiasm of the EU for increasing political integration, a process which is not yet complete, coupled with international bodies and a multitude of domestic authorities we see a muddled regulatory system that is not only less than ideal but also deeply embedded in the UK. The telecommunications regulator, OFCOM now sits amidst a number of ancillary and overlapping bodies in the United Kingdom, including horizontal or cross-sector regulators which include advertising, competition and data protection.

That there are various almost competing regulatory bodies which can intervene at all levels raises concerns about effective coordination and the risks of a lack of transparency. Too many ministries, agencies and authorities inevitably creates a danger of responsibility overlap and blind-spots in the formulation, implementation and oversight of policies.

This undoubtedly creates considerable confusion for customers, where awareness is often limited to only to domestic bodies such as the ASA and OFCOM, and perhaps Parliament. EU and International involvement remains hidden as is so often the case.

Telecommunications is one of Europe’s most important economic sectors. It's worth around £38.8bn for the UK and  €234 billion in total for the EU. Revenues are equivalent to the gross domestic product of a mid-sized country. EU and UK companies have invested in building businesses in every continent and the services they provide, in particular the broadband and wireless infrastructure, are central to many other sectors of the economy and to the daily lives of almost every citizen.

Therefore the complexities of European political and regulatory networks present significant challenges when considering Brexit, With this in mind we will be returning in more detail to this subject over the next few blog pieces.

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.