Corbynism -Attack on the Wealthy

Jeremy Corbyn/John McDonnell have announced their brave new world of far-left socialism. What will be the impact of trying to tax the rich and business to engage in unaffordable social engineering and to destroy the UK economy? Let us illustrate this in terms that Labour supporters should understand. It’s a sobering message.

Suppose that once a week, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to £100. If they paid their bill the Corbyn expects to collect our taxes, it would go something like this:

  • The first four men (the poorest; out of work, zero hours, etc) would pay nothing
  • The fifth (labourer) would pay £1
  • The sixth (skilled worker) would pay £3
  • The seventh (professional) would pay £7
  • The eighth (management) would pay £12
  • The ninth (executive) would pay £18
  • And the tenth man (richest) would pay £59

The ten men drank in the bar every week and seemed quite happy with the arrangement until, one day, the owner caused them a dilemma. “Since minimum wage, corporate and income taxes have been increased” he said, “I have to increase the cost of your weekly beer by £20.” Drinks for the ten men would now cost £120.

They realised that £20 divided by five is £4 but if added to everybody’s share then not only would the first five men be drinking for free, but the sixth man would have his contribution increased by 133%!

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. The first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free but what about the other six men – the paying customers? The fifth member was employed by a small business which could not cope with the increases so was made redundant thus joined the first four and paid nothing. How could the remaining five divide the £20 increase so that everyone would pay his fair share?

The bar owner suggested that it would be fairer to increase each man’s bill according to the principle of the new tax system and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.

The result was that the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (a 100% saving).

  • The sixth man now paid £4 instead of £3 (a 33% rise)
  • The seventh man now paid £9 instead of £7 (a 28% rise)
  • The eighth man now paid £15 instead of £12 (a 25% rise)
  • The ninth man now paid £22 instead of £18 (a 22% rise)
  • And the tenth man now paid £70 instead of £59 (a 16% rise)

Each of the last five was worse off than before with the first five now drinking for free.

But, once outside the bar, the paying men began to compare their rises.

“I paid 33% extra; double the tenth man,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, “his share was much less than mine!”

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he only pay 16% when I paid 28%? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first five men in unison, “we can’t get a job because of this new system. This new tax system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up demanding a greater contribution from him.

The following week the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important – they didn’t have enough money between them to pay for even half of the bill!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Corbyn/McDonnell tax system will work. The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally consider their position. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just might not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier, and take their business with them. This happened in the late 1970s when higher rate tax rates were 83%. Didn’t work then; won’t work now.

Lest we forget when Labour lost the General Election to the Conservatives in 2010. Liam Bryne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Gordon Brown, left a note for his successor stating, ‘I’m afraid there is no money.’ This has been the case with every Labour Government since the war.

Any political promises more than 5 years away are pure fantasy because they exceed the term of a Government and thus why spades of such promises are put out there to woo the gullible. As for free broadband (re-nationalise BT with 5G driving future internet access??  – whoops), there is no such thing as a free lunch. Even the air you breath leaves you exposed to pay taxes. Anything for free will be abused, as we see in the NHS. Someone has to pay at the end of the day.

There is also an assumption by Corbyn/McDonnell that the financial community will agree to fund an additional £55 billion p.a. for 10 years – not likely, not least because much of this funding is not directly linked to increased productivity. A more likely consequence of a Corbyn Government would be a downgrade in the UK credit rating which would increase the cost of any available borrowing thus negating the McDonnell argument that borrowing will be cheap. The more modest extra £20 billion p.a. for 5 years spending pledged by the Conservatives will raise eyebrows in the financial markets; even with a majority Conservative Government.

It is only possible to spend if you have a strong underlying economy. Without the rich, and wealthy businesses to provide jobs and generate profits upon which the Government depends to accumulate tax revenues, there is no money to spend.

BREXIT – The Use and Abuse of Political Statistics

The European Elections delivered a fragmented wake-up call to Brussels; a comfort in political terms, but hardly a vote of unity. As per usual politicians from all factions engaged with the use and abuse of statistics to shed some light on the outcome in their favour, even if only to say their message needs to be clearer.

Within the UK it would be laughable as these inept politicians squirm if the issue upon which they have failed the electorate is not such a challenge to the UK constitution.

What we saw in the UK was a fledgling BREXIT Party who platformed honouring the 2016 Referendum vote to leave Europe with or without a deal. They polled 32% of the vote and won 29 MEP seats. By far the winner. General Elections have been won at this level of vote.

Then we have the Liberal Democrats who platformed a single message of scrap BREXIT and remain in the EU. How a so-called democratic party can ignore a clear democratic referendum outcome is beyond me, but they polled just 20% of the vote and won 16 seats.

Following them we have the Greens which I think is a singular, more idealistic vote. I would suggest, based on the fact that all interviews I witnessed with Green Party officials and candidates regarding BREXIT reverted to climate change within 30 seconds of the interview, that the issue of political remain or leave was not a factor in such votes. If one believes the commentators, the Greens attracted predominately younger voters who may not have a political view/understanding of BREXIT, or are more preoccupied with climate change and want a voice. Thus, I don’t think it statistically robust to consider the Green vote in the leave/remain argument.

I think that the above parties all profited from a unifying sense of belonging to a singular cause.

Of the remainder there will always be the hardcore Labour or Conservative voters who have always voted in a singular way. We don’t know with any reasonable accuracy where any such voter stands on the leave/remain argument.

The remainder of smaller parties are a mix of rebel causes on the fringes of the system. If there is an argument to put any one of these parties in either camp, then you would also argue that the UKIP vote should be added to the BREXIT Party vote. The sum of these votes does not change the political landscape, so again not relevant to the argument.

In 2016 the result of the Referendum was 52% in favour of leaving the EU. The polarised nature of this result has fragmented and frustrated politics since – a clear demonstration that UK politics is neither democratic nor fit for purpose. Why ask for the majority will of the people who turned out in numbers never before seen in any election, and then ignore it? The European Election results would suggest that Nigel Farage is right. Leavers have hardened to some 60%.

Since then the anti-democratic remain side of the argument has tried everything to scupper BREXIT bolstered by Teresa May’s deal that cannot possibly be approved whilst it challenges the sovereignty of the UK. No true, blue-blooded Brit will allow sovereignty to be under the control of Brussels. It is clear that the backstop agreement is fully intended to be activated with the only way out for the UK is to concede Northern Ireland back to the Republic of Ireland – the game that Leo Varadkar has been playing all along. It will be interesting to see how he feels when staring into the face of a no-deal with the consequences to the Republic losing its largest trading partner. Ireland’s economy decimated again? For sure Teresa May will go down as one of the worse Prime Ministers ever, even worse than Tony Blair.

The motion passed through the House of Commons taking a ‘no-deal BREXIT’ off the table was a shambolic demonstration of abuse of the political system. The EU will only capitulate to a sensible deal when they are faced with ‘no-deal’ as the real alternative. As professional negotiators well know all options must be on the table, and it is certain that the EU will capitulate at the eleventh hour if no-deal is the option facing them – with most of the EU either in or approaching recession they cannot afford this outcome. There is no such person as a hardliner Brexiteer. They are the people who understand the protocols of negotiation.

Jeremy Corbyn has always played politics with BREXIT pushing for a General Election rather than respect the BREXIT result, relying on the younger, gullible voter who will believe promises that cannot possibly be delivered. Opportunist indeed, but I think be careful what you wish for. Climate change has captured the imagination of this younger voter so they can easily drift to the Green Party as throughout Europe. Then we have the hardcore Labour constituencies who voted for BREXIT and demonstrated their disdain with their party by voting for the BREXIT Party. If the BREXIT Party do indeed contest a General Election, I would reasonably expect Labour supporter to move to the BREXIT Party thus decimating the Labour Party. Justice indeed.

As for the Conservative Party the ill-consider snap election called by Teresa May without any understanding of her failings in the Party Manifesto find themselves in a difficult position and need to bring their own MP’s fully into line and then attract dissenting Labour MP’s in fear of losing their seats if they are not seen to support BREXIT to restore order to the BREXIT process. Perhaps it’s time to ask local constituency party association officials to encourage their MP to back the party or surrender their seat to someone more understanding of collective co-operation and respect democratic outcomes.

The UK now need a capable Prime Minister who understands how to negotiate with the EU. A no-deal option must be on the table, and a hard position taken with the EU with the certainty that no-deal will be the outcome should the EU not take a more reasonable stance.

Unifying the UK is best addressed once the people see that all the remain fear tactics are nonsense, even with a no-deal outcome. The UK is the fifth largest economy in the World and has global influence the EU can only dream of. The EU cannot ignore the UK.

The European Elections have pushed the real statistics back in support of BREXIT with, or without a deal, knowing an agreeable deal will most certainly be forthcoming from the EU at the final hour. The other statistic that will be interesting to watch is how many of our current MP’s are serving their final term as in the next General Election voters express their wrath with them for failing to respect the majority will of the people.

 

Has Democracy As A System of Government Run Its Course?

 

In a speech in the House of Commons on 11 November 1947, Winston Churchill said: No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Since then democracy has shown itself as a far from perfect system in that the inherent assumptions are that every voter has the capability to understand the issues, and the people elected to deal with the issues have the appropriate experience and wisdom to conduct the majority view of the people. Recent elections throughout the World demonstrate that neither assumption is reasonable. The result is a range of governments derived from populist to unwitting authoritarian.

My attention was drawn to the breakdown in democracy in Europe during the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, and later the Lisbon and Nice treaties, where various EU member Governments were unable to achieve ratification of these treaties on a free vote but were instructed by the Brussels apparatchik to continue to poll until they achieved the required result, i.e. undemocratic attrition.

In the UK we have two clear examples. The BREXIT referendum attracted the largest turnout of any election in recent times by percentage of votes, and numbers who voted, thus should be deemed to be compliant with the fundamental principle of democracy. Using the fundamental principles of democracy the outcome should be accepted by all, and the Parliament of the day thus mandated by the people to conclude the exit process. Yet the remainers, or remoaners as I prefer to call them, are so vehemently opposed to the democratic result that they continue to attempt to thwart the BREXIT process without any consideration of the damage that they inflict on achieving a good divorce settlement for both the UK and the EU. To these people I say that you have no regard for democracy, the history and future of the UK, and the turnout for this important vote, but are instead far too consumed with blinkered argument with little concern regarding the damaging consequences for the people who voted, and subsequently respected the outcome of the referendum. I can assure these people that if this referendum were to rerun the vote would be more overwhelming.

Who are these people who cannot accept a democratic majority, and why do they think that they can abandon the principles of democracy in favour of a minority? I noted during the Andrew Marr show last Sunday that Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, was stating that BREXIT is so important that it should ride above party politics or personal ambition of Government members but every sentence he uttered was both party political and promotion of his own ambitions. During this week he has furthered both by stating that Parliament should have a legally binding vote on the BREXIT deal before it can be ratified – yet another attempt to thwart the process, and thus the will of the people. What a hypocrite. For balance I can also identify a Conservative MP, Anna Soubry who caused eyes to roll on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons this past Monday when she continued to vent her vehement attack on BREXIT and her party leaders. If she does not understand the principles of democracy why is she in Government?

Then we have the devastating miscalculation of the recent General Election. Short-sighted and blinkered arrogance in the extreme.  My thoughts on reading the Conservative Party (latterly described as Presidential) Election Manifesto are already published. Why did no one with political clout in the Conservative Party face down Teresa May and alert her to the inevitable consequences of such a poorly considered manifesto? I can suggest that study of the ‘Art of War’ by Sun Tzu is required study by her in future campaigns.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn understood such consequences and saw an opportunity to seize power. He used the rise of a populist vote, especially with younger voters more consumed in their smart phones than in the real world. He promised them anything for their vote even though it was clear from the outset that none of these promises were remotely deliverable, as per populist socialist governments in South America and Africa. His was a particularly exaggerated socialist agenda that had none of the subtle argument proposed by the likes of Tony Blair. This was blatant abuse of process with the certain outcome of bankrupting UK plc. But why did these voters not see the inevitable outcome?

Today Jeremy Corbyn sees himself as the socialist saviour and although verbally supporting the BREXIT outcome he is using it as a party-political football in an attempt to unseat the Conservatives to seize power for himself. For the remoaners who think that BREXIT will be bad for the UK economy I ask them to consider the devastating consequences of a Corbyn led Government. The centre left government under Tony Blair left the Treasury coffers empty (as with all previous Labour Governments since WWII) – but this will be nothing compared with bankruptcy as Corbyn pursues a left socialist agenda. Perhaps his followers should consider the irony in my past blog ‘General Election 2015 – A Sorry Tale’.

The BREXIT campaign was bruising but, from my dialogue with people, they understood why they wanted to vote as they did irrespective of the blindingly aggressive rhetoric from both sides. My view is that the politicians were so outrageous that their words became an incoherent noise. The doom-and-gloom merchants such as David Cameron and George Osborne hid behind rigged outpourings from the likes of OECD and IMF clearly geared to frighten voters, but subsequently found to be completely false and unfounded. The UK economy has prospered post-BREXIT, and the EU is beginning to understand that THE UK is not about to bail out Europe for the third time in the past one hundred years. Teresa May has offered what the International Court of Arbitration would likely deem as legally obligated under the Lisbon Treaty. Any more requires valuable reciprocity from the EU. The second largest contributor to the EU is obviously a real loss to them, but they had the opportunity to address the needs of the UK people, but chose in their blind arrogance, to ignore such needs. Now they want to put valuable trade for both parties at risk to continue to prop up a failed system which is blatantly undemocratic. My instinct tells me that there will be substantial turmoil within the EU countries if trade is not maintained with the UK. The interview with the Foreign Minister of Spain, Alphonso Dastis, by Andrew Marr last Sunday was very revealing as he clearly stated that the close relationship between the UK and Spain pre-dates the EU. He argued that seventeen million UK visitors to Spain each year plus some 750k of UK citizens choosing to retire in Spain is not something they intend to put at risk.

So, what does all this say about our current form of democracy. We have politicians who choose the ignore the majority will of the people. We now have far too many career politicians who clearly lack the experience and wisdom needed to execute their office. We have an unelected powerhouse in Brussels who have no regard for the will of the people when it does not concur with their agenda. We have multiparty systems in many countries that govern by painful compromise (rather than strong leadership). We have too many politicians who have little regard for the ability of people to think for themselves and thus govern by fear tactics. And we have an electorate who feel disconnected from the process and thus disinterested. Instead of democratically thinking about an issue in the interest of all, they concern themselves with what matters only to themselves. Is democracy about to implode, and what phoenix will rise from the ashes?

 

 

The General Election 2015 – A Sorry Tale

univestThe General Election 2015 – A Sorry Tale

Are we all now completely disillusioned with the current General Election? Whatever happened to integrity of manifestos and campaigning? Now it’s down to who has got the biggest ……

It is also noteworthy that Ed Balls has been demoted to the second rank of campaigners. The stench of his part in the last Labour Government, plus the number of times he stood at the dispatch box during the recent term condemning economic policy which actually worked in spite of the debacle in the Eurozone. So much for the Eurozone signally the end of Rule Britannia as and when we leave the EU –  it’s the EU that will collapse as well it should – for the third time.

Whilst I appreciate that some greedy bankers created havoc in the financial markets right under the eyes of the so-called regulators, this was mainly in the USA. The previous Labour Government had still spent all of the people’s hard earned taxes on populist social experiments that all failed, or left the public sector in substantial dire straits, e.g. PFI for hospitals and school that can no longer afford the poorly negotiated high payments. Indeed I am struggling to recall one Labour Government since WWII that did not leave the country bankrupt or near bankrupt with the banks being called upon to use the might of the London financial markets to beg, borrow, or otherwise as much foreign money as possible to keep the country afloat. Thus why Maggie Thatcher spent so much energy putting the “Great” back into Great Britain. I also remember that when Tony Blair took office the previous Conservative Government left him with a surplus in the Treasury.

So what about our lefty Ed Milliband; what will he do? An accountant friend of mine has put together a little tale of how our tax and benefits system will work using Ed’s plan. It is a sobering message.

Suppose that once a week, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to £100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

  • The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing
  • The fifth would pay £1
  • The sixth would pay £3
  • The seventh would pay £7
  • The eighth would pay £12
  • The ninth would pay £18
  • And the tenth man (the richest) would pay £59

So, that’s what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every week and seemed quite happy with the arrangement until, one day, the owner caused them a little problem. “Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your weekly beer by £20.” Drinks for the ten men would now cost just £80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free but what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they divide the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

They realized that £20 divided by six is £3.33 but if they subtracted that from everybody’s share then not only would the first four men still be drinking for free but the fifth and sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fairer to reduce each man’s bill by a higher percentage. They decided to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.

The result was that the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (a100% saving).

The sixth man now paid £2 instead of £3 (a 33% saving).

The seventh man now paid £5 instead of £7 (a 28% saving).

The eighth man now paid £9 instead of £12 (a 25% saving).

The ninth man now paid £14 instead of £18 (a 22% saving).

And the tenth man now paid £49 instead of £59 (a 16% saving).

Each of the last six was better off than before with the first four continuing to drink for free.

But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.

“I only got £1 out of the £20 saving,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, “but he got £10!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved £1. It’s unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!”

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get £10 back, when I only got £2? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “we didn’t get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next week the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important – they didn’t have enough money between all of them to pay for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works. The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy and they just might not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

Are we at a collision point between socialism and capitalism, and is the global energy business driving this collision?

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Are we at a collision point between socialism and capitalism, and is the global energy business driving this collision?

Two events have occurred over the past few weeks which appear to encapsulate an observation that I have been considering for some time, i.e. whether or not capitalism has moved to the extremes of greed, and socialism has no answer to counterbalance this behaviour. Politicians and the media would have you believe that banks are the ultimate in capitalist greed. Whereas I have serious reservations about the activities in certain banks, I feel that the major energy companies from oil & gas production through to energy generation consider their power above that of politicians at the highest level, and that of the major trade unions. If my observation bears credible scrutiny then who are the winners, and who are the losers.

The two events that I would like to use in this debate, because they encapsulate the major drivers in this debate, albeit not the only events of concern, are the Grangemouth Refinery & Petrochemical plant debacle in Scotland, and the UK Parliamentary Committee meeting with the major UK energy companies this past week.

Perhaps a little background on the energy footprint in the UK will assist readers not familiar with the situation here.

According to Ofgen, the energy regulator, the UK has installed capacity for electricity of some 73GW of conventional generation and 9GW of renewable with ACS peak demand expectations around 60GW. Uncertainty around government policy (UK and EU) and future prices continues to limit investment in conventional generation and no new plant is expected before 2016. In the UK it is  estimate that around 1GW of new gas plant will come online before the end of the decade and the installed capacity of wind power will possibly more than double over the same period albeit that this must surely now be in question. In any event, given the variability of wind speeds, they estimate that only 17% of this capacity can be counted as firm (i.e. always available) for security of supply purposes by 2018/19.

More than 2GW of LCPD opted-in plant have also closed or converted to biomass since October 2012, resulting in less pollutant plant but with significantly reduced capacity. Around 0.5GW of nuclear capacity is reaching the end of its technical life and is expected to close by 2014/15, though extensions now have to be considered. Around 2GW of CCGT plant should be retired by 2018/19 for the same reasons, but will this happen?

As installed capacity falls in the next few years, all else being equal, prices can be expected to rise and it is possible that this will lead plant, especially coal fired, that is currently mothballed to come back online to keep prices affordable.

According to National Grid, the expected drop in peak demand is mostly due to increased energy efficiency in the domestic sector and increased Demand-Side Response (DSR) insulation of buildings, etc. I consider this to be a convenient explanation politically where the truth may be more damning.

For completeness the interconnection capacity between the UK and mainland Europe and Ireland is currently 3.8GW. Assumptions about the likely direction and size of interconnector flows therefore have a significant impact on the calculation of the risks to the UK security of supply.

Ofgen expect that, in a situation of tight margins (please), ahead of mitigation actions being implemented, prices would rise resulting in higher interconnector flows into GB. However, GB is not the only European country expecting de-rated margins to fall in the next six winters. France, Ireland, Germany and Belgium are also facing security of supply challenges, and have very similar patterns of demand and supply availability.

As for gas, DECC reports suggest that gas consumption reached a record high in 2004 of 1,125 TWh. Since then, consumption has seen an overall decline, and in 2012 total gas consumption was 845.6 TWh, around 25% below its 2004 peak. These longer term trends are driven by commodity prices, energy efficiency and, for domestic use in particular, temperature. However domestic demand in 2012 was high, up almost 16 per cent on 2011, reflecting the colder, protracted winter, but gas demand for electricity generation fell by almost a third to 214 TWh largely as a result of coal replacing gas use due to high gas prices.

UK gas production peaked in 2000 and has since been declining. With declining production the UK has become increasingly reliant on gas imports to meet demand. Since 2000 net imports have steadily increased year on year, with the exception of 2011 which saw a 3 per cent decrease on the previous year’s level. The recent fall in imports can be attributed to the reduced gas demand from electricity generators, being replaced by coal.

Imports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) through the two terminals at Milford Haven remain substantial, but their shares of total imports have dropped from 46% in 2011 to 27% in 2012. Demand for LNG on the global market remains strong but the UK has a diverse pipeline infrastructure (from Norway, the Netherland and Belgium) and the proportion delivered through each route will depend on global market conditions.

It is probably also worth noting that Europe, as a whole, has over capacity in crude oil refineries. The UK has 7 refineries. According to HIS Purvin & Getz Research Group the UK imports 47% of its diesel fuel, and 50% of its aviation fuel. However the UK has a 20% surplus of petrol which it exports.

Now let us look at the politics. In March 2007, the European Council agreed to a common strategy for energy security and tackling climate change. An element of this was establishing a target of 20% of the EU’s energy to come from renewable sources. In 2009 a new Renewable Energy Directive was implemented on this basis and resulted in agreement of country “shares” of this target. For the UK, by 2020, 15% of final energy consumption – calculated on a net calorific basis, and with a cap on fuel used for air transport – should be accounted for by energy from renewable sources. There was much grandstanding by the politicians at the time, especially directed towards the USA, indicating that Europe was a good citizen of the world, and would be a leader in the climate change revolution, setting targets that many reasonably minded people thought optimistic. However there followed much uncertainty surrounding the implementation of this and and other market reforms thus having as much impact on plant investment and retirement decisions as the expectations of the impact of evolving energy prices. This uncertainty means energy companies suffer much frustration of their long-term strategy through muddled energy policy, or indeed the lack of any definitive energy policy by various governments.

On the other hand the USA refused to sign up to Kyoto and, other than a little dancing at the edges, ignored the grandstanding of Europe and other countries and allowed the market to determine the future. The USA gets many things wrong, especially much of its foreign policy, but when it comes to protecting its own market it invariably gets it right. Developing new technologies and techniques such as fracking, the USA is now energy independent, energy prices are around 20% less than Europe, and they can export enough cheap fuel to disturb the markets in Europe.

In the UK the previous Labour government blindly signed up to all of the EU energy initiatives, could not fund these initiatives through already excessive taxation, so the current leader of the Labour Party, then Energy Secretary, came up with stealth taxes in the form of environmental and social levies to be collected by the energy companies from the domestic consumer, currently £117 per household, to fund these initiatives making a number of people in the renewable energy market very rich without delivering any tangible value today, or tomorrow. We now have a coalition government where the predominant Conservative Party want to repeal these stealth taxes and no longer subsidise renewable initiatives from public money but find themselves frustrated by the minority Liberal Democratic Party who see some value (to them) of continuing to wave the environmental flag. In addition the Labour Party, who created these woes for the consumer now wants to go to the dark ages of socialism and freeze energy prices. Maybe a good soundbite for the uninformed, but ridiculous in the world of global energy markets.

So let us review the Grangemouth debacle. As I said refining capacity in Europe exceed demand. Furthermore cheaper energy supplies are being imported from the USA. The management of Grangemouth, owned by INEOS, (the refinery can process some 210,000 barrels of oil per day) claimed that they are losing some USD 8 million per month fuelled partly by US imports where USA refineries pay some USD 15 per barrel less than UK refineries. The management, knowing that they need to invest some £300 million in the plant, decided that they could no longer afford to run the plant with the then operating costs. They put a package of pay and pension reforms to the 800 or so workers. In essence the UNITE union, one of the largest remaining trade unions in the UK (Margaret Thatcher saw off most of the trade union power in the 1980’s) applied its usual socialist dinosaur approach threatening strike action. The refinery management refused to accept revised terms from, or to spend 3 months negotiating with UNITE (giving the Government 3 months to find an alternative buyer) so INEOS, who had already safely closed the plant facing the threat of a strike then announced that they were going to close it. Both the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmon, quickly came into play to rescue this situation. We can only speculate on what happened behind closed doors but the UNITE union completely caved in and announced that they would recommend acceptance of the INEOS terms for its members, and it was clear that INEOS had been offered some government deal towards the required investment in the plant.

What we saw during the Grangemouth debacle is an example of how commercial reality surpasses political and trade union power. It was suggested that the loss of this facility would have been devastating for the Scottish economy, and they complain about banks being too big to fail.

Then we look at the Parliamentary Select Committee interrogation of the ‘big 6’ energy companies bosses, having raised energy tariffs by some 10% average to domestic consumers against wholesale price increases of just some 1.8%. The only reasonable summary of this session is too much grandstanding by the political panel, and total indifference by the energy bosses suggesting that the high price of energy was down to the stealth taxes mentioned above. I understand that the UK domestic consumers pay the highest energy costs in the European Union. One interesting analysis on a news broadcast was that British Gas had increased their profit from £45 per customer just 5 years ago to £95 per customer today. Apparently they need these profits to satisfy investment returns for their shareholders.

So who are the winners, and who are the losers.

Winners

  • The capitalist (foreign) owners of Grangemouth
  • The capitalist owners of the major energy companies
  • The capitalist owners of the renewable energy companies who will be long gone with their accumulated wealth before the reality of this folly is known
  • It will be interesting to know who claims the victory of Grangemouth, especially with the up-coming Scottish Independence vote: David Cameron claiming a victory for a United Kingdom, or Alex Salmon who wants Scottish Independence.
  • The environmental lobby thanks to the short-sighted view of the Liberal Democrat coalition leader

Losers

  • The domestic consumer who has to bear the cost of the bailout of Grangemouth because of a dinosaur socialist union leader.
  • The domestic consumer who has to pay the cost of the increased energy tariffs, which could be indirectly attributed to the lack of energy policy by governments
  • The domestic consumer who has to bear the socialist imposed stealth taxes for renewable energy policies that are far too optimistic, expensive, and will prove to be a waste of resources. It should be noted that the socialist principal of payment according to what you earn was ignored thus betraying their core socialist vote.
  • The domestic consumer who has to pay for price increases to corporate energy users as they will pass their increases on to the consumer in the price of their goods/services.
  • The domestic consumer who will have to bear the cost of frantic, last minute efforts to maintain supply because of the lack of any firm energy policy.
  • It is claimed that reduction in demand is mostly due to the energy efficiency in the domestic consumer market. To some extent new technology and insulation will have an impact, but I fear that cost means that many domestic consumers cannot afford to heat their homes, and thus go cold. Thus the losers, again, are low income and pensioner domestic consumers – a direct reflection of capitalist greed.

I think that it was Socrates who observed that intelligent people discussed ideas, moderately intelligent people discussed events, and the vast majority, the uninformed, share gossip. Our largest selling newspapers, and to a degree some news channels, and political hype thrive on sensationalised gossip including important issues of energy policy – apocalyptic climate change gossip spread by brainwashed environmental campaigners sell more copies and buy more uninformed votes than mundane realities. There is a flaw in democracy if the noisy uninformed minority can unreasonably influence the uninformed, the impact of which is a substantial negative impact to the silent majority. It is an unquestionable fact that people united can make change happen. Therefore the people need to be properly and honestly informed.

Ironically all of this dithering means that the future is a return to non-other than the fuel which started the industrial revolution –Coal – because it is plentiful, and it is cheap, – look at Germany’s preferred fuel.

I would be very interested to hear how the above events in the UK would have played out in other countries, not least Germany and France.

References:

Ofgen Electricity Capacity Assessment Report 2013

Various DECC reports

HIS Purvin & Getz Research Group