Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kinder Cops

Over 200 blogs have picked up on the "Climate Cops" – mostly American, but including blogs from Canada, Australia, Holland, Spain and Germany. Unsurprisingly, we find only a smattering of British blogs - although Devil's Kitchen has done us proud.

One of the German sites has dubbed the planet savers as Kinder cops. Another labels them Green shirts while yet another awards them the title of Climate Jugend.

However, it seems someone got there before npower. Apparently, in 2007, a former UN Undersecretary General was calling on Canada to spearhead a drive to establish a permanent World Climate Commission with authority to act as the planet's climate cops.

He didn't get as far as suggesting a UN Climate-Keeping Force but, when it comes, I suppose they will be wearing green helmets.


Don't panic!

Something we should have picked up yesterday, and now covered fully by Watts up with that, is the story run by The Telegraph (and many others), headed, "Arctic ice shelf splits in big melt".

A part of the Arctic ice shelf has sheared off creating two huge ice islands, we are told, covering an area of seven square miles (our emphasis). This, journalist Paul Eccleston breathlessly announced, "marked the biggest break up of the ice for three years."

Needless to say, it is not very long before we come to the punch-line, "The scientists say they believe the split was almost certainly caused by the warming climate which is affecting polar regions more than anywhere else. The break-up of ice, known as calving, is regarded by scientists as being symptomatic of the warming of polar areas."

Er, right! This is why arctic sea ice is reported to be around a million square kilometres greater in extent than it was this time last year (see pic below) – nearly 400,000 square miles … and they're writing stories about seven square miles?

However, there is no need to panic! Warmists will be comforted to learn that this does not in any way impact on the AGW theory.

According to Mark Serreze, a senior research fellow at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), there is a 90 percent match between rising greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from use of fossil fuels, in recent decades and observations of a retreat of the ice. "Ninety percent ... of the decreasing sea-ice extent is empirically 'accounted for' by the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," Serreze says.

He adds that, if the match continues to hold true, the annual average ice extent would be several million km smaller by 2050 than predicted by the UN Climate Panel. He thus stands by a prediction that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer by 2030, decades before predictions by the Panel.

The NSIDC, by the way, suggested in May that it was "quite possible" that the Pole could be ice-free this year.


Prattling while Rome burns

We never, ever thought we would find ourselves in agreement with an EU commissioner, much less Peter Mandelson. But his view on the failure of the Doha round talks, expressed in an opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph today, is unarguable:

The technical nature of the negotiations has all too often hidden the fact that they are about real lives and real lost chances in the developed and developing worlds. The fall-out from this collapse will not be clear for some time. But we can be sure of one thing: we would all have been winners from a Doha deal. Without one, we all lose.
This is so similar to our own view that we could be forgiven for wondering whether the commissioner reads our blog.

What is also remarkable, though, is that the comment comes from the EU trade commissioner and not from a British politician. On the failure of the talks, it seems, our own political "leaders" have no comment, hence our own somewhat jaundiced view which we expressed earlier:

But in the here and now, with dry technical subjects on the table, and decisions being made which will affect the livelihoods of hundreds of millions and threaten the very basis of world stability, everything is far too complicated and boring to merit any attention. It is so much easier to prattle on about a "political earthquake" in the nether regions of Glasgow, as if it actually meant anything.
Interestingly, in the United States - a land where some grown-up politics does still exist – we see the Wall Street Journal actually offer political comment, declaring:

The U.S. political class also bears a substantial part of the blame. In its waning months, the Bush Administration has less power to persuade. But part of that weakness goes back to the original trade sins of its first two years. With its steel tariffs and overstuffed farm subsidy bill of 2002, the Administration sent a signal that domestic politics took precedence over U.S. global trade leadership. Its credibility never recovered.

Democrats in Congress have also spooked the world with their blatant protectionism - from their recent veto override of a farm bill jammed with trade-distorting subsidies, to their refusal to ratify bilateral trade deals even with such vital U.S. allies as Colombia and South Korea. Barack Obama's promise to repudiate Nafta if Mexico and Canada won't go along with his ideas was also a trade shock heard 'round the world. For all their talk about listening to America's partners, Democrats are the world's biggest trade bullies.
Nothing of that could apply here as neither main party has an opinion on the subject – other than to fall into line with what the EU has agreed, and then to ignore the outcome because it is entirely out of their hands.

Similarly, do we see comment on yesterday’s publication of the UK Drug Policy Commission's report, but couched in entirely apolitical terms with, of course, no linkage with the failure of the WTO talks – and definitely no political input.

We also see the news of the massive increase in gas prices, but this again is treated at a superficial level without any political dimension. Instead, we see this razor-sharp analysis. Yet, as we remarked recently, this has major political implications, stemming as it does from political failures - which actually span several administrations.

Three major issues, therefore, are all on today's agenda, trade, drugs and energy, but the domestic politicians and the prattling political commentators are silent on them, focusing yet again on the soap opera.

I spoke at length about this earlier with a journalist friend – and exchanged notes with another who was bemoaning the fact that an important and interesting story he had filed had been ignored by the news desk. The conclusion to be drawn is that the political classes are retreating into a second childhood.

Unable to cope with the complexities of the modern world, and their own impotence – having handed on their powers to the EU and other tranzie bodies, and to the quangos at the other level – they devote their time to inane prattle, to fill the void of their own making.

In that very real sense, we are seeing the death of (domestic) politics – not so much fiddling as prattling while Rome burns.


Try looking in the mirror

Six columns of the front page on "Labour at war"; reports on pages 2 and 3; Mary Riddell takes up the op-ed and the lead editorial opines at length.

In this, the paper has the nerve to say: "The electorate will, rightly, look on with disgust at such self-obsession…".

Has The Daily Telegraph editorial team looked in the mirror recently?


The final insult

Far too little attention was given to the Metock case last week, when the ECJ ruled that failed asylum seekers could stay in the EU if they married a citizen of an EU member state while they were waiting to be deported.

The one thing that the ECJ did concede, however, was that, if it was a "sham" marriage, the right to remain in the EU did not apply – but no more.

In a judgement yesterday our own Law Lords decided that the government cannot even ask such people to demonstrate that their marriages are valid. Such an idea is "arbitrary and unjust" - even for those who are here on a temporary visa and are getting married only weeks before their permission to stay in Britain runs out.

This follows a crackdown introduced by the government in February 2005 after the number of suspected sham ceremonies - often arranged by criminal gangs who could earn £10,000 a time - reached 3,700. It was cut this to around 300 a year.

But now, the Lords have ruled that the government's procedures breach of Section 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to marry. In future, the Home Office will be forced to consider the merits of a union being made even at the very last moment before a migrant is due to leave the UK.

In our earlier piece, we wrote that we were being taken for mugs and this confirms it. In fact, this is a negation of any idea of territorial integrity as, increasingly, we are forced into opening our border to any Tom Dick or Hacene that thinks he – or she – wants to take up residence here. It is the final insult (until the next one).


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Drip, drip, drip

Yes it is boring and tiresome to keep repeating the same things over and over again, be they about the European Union, the UN, assorted tranzis and NGOs or the evil that aid does in developing countries. We are not alone in doing this and there are people whose dedication to this duty fills me with the most astonished admiration.

One such organization is the Palestinian Media Watch that keeps on dripping water on rock of political stupidity and self-righteous victimology (though I would like them to keep their website a little more up-to-date).

Their director, Itamar Marcus, visited Norway recently and managed to spark something of an important political debate there about the money that goes to the Palestinian Authority and what use it is put to.

It seems that the shocked Norwegian politicians and media pundits (a.k.a. news readers) had known nothing about the psychotic mouse, named Farfur, his cousin and successor as presenter of children's programmes, Nahul the Killer Bee or the homicidal rabbit named Assud who thinks he is a lion with a diet exclusively of Jews. Even if they had heard of all these horrors the Norwegians appear not to have worked out that possibly the money they so generously hand over to the Palestinian Authority pays for some of this.

At least now they are debating the subject and, at least, one political party is calling for the cessation of payments though, I have no doubt, that if ever that became serious government policy the weeping and wailing about humanitarian crises would go up.

Still, it is good to know that the media and politicians of at least one donor country are beginning to wake up. Of course, we wrote about this problem extensively in February when the Taxpayers' Alliance produced a report on the subject, and referred our readers back to previous postings. We wrote about NGO funding that goes on hate-filled books and children's programmes in May. I have no doubt we shall return to the subject again. Who knows: maybe Norway will, by then, have shown the way to do things and cut off aid to the pernicious Palestinian Authority.

That complaint

Having sent a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority about the attempt by npower to recruit children to become "climate cops" and root out "climate crimes" we have received an incredibly swift response.

The reply (illustrated – click to enlarge) comes from "Complaints executive" Suzanne Thomas who wastes no time telling us that "we have viewed a copy of the press ad and considered you (sic) objections but do not feel it have (sic) breached our Codes on the basis you suggest." She then goes on:

The ad is indeed aimed at parents, asking them to get their children involved in environmental issues. They are then free to look at the website and decide if they wish for their children to participate in the campaign. It appears to be an attempt to encourage children to learn about climate change and to educate them in ways they can help save energy. While it warns that you may "being watched", there is no one your children could actually report to and this does not appear to be a sinister campaign that could be linked to propaganda of any kind. It seems to be just an educational way to engage children in this topical issue. We do not feel the ad to be misleading through omission and do not feel any further intervention from us to be necessary on this occasion.
The interesting thing about this is that we did not actually frame a complaint to the ASA. We wrote asking for their assistance in framing a complaint – a rather less than subtle difference – not least because we were aware that there could be multiple issues involved.

But, so keen is the ASA to exonerate npower - it would seem – that they have rushed to adjudicate on the very limited basis put to them, without exploring any further issues.

They could, for instance, have looked at their own rule 47.2, which states that: "Marketing communications addressed to, targeted at or featuring children should contain nothing that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm."

More particularly, rule 47.4 then states: "Marketing communications addressed to or targeted at children: a) should not actively encourage them to make a nuisance of themselves to parents or others and should not undermine parental authority".

These are rules specifically applicable to children, but there is also rule 49.5, applicable to environmental claims. This states that: "The use of extravagant language should be avoided, as should bogus and confusing scientific terms. If it is necessary to use a scientific expression, its meaning should be clear."

Taking these in turn, we argued on the forum that:

1. the designation of certain lawful actions - desirable or not - as "crimes" is an unwholesome distortion of our moral code. It confers moral equivalency between not turning off a light and, say, shoplifting or vandalism. It seeks to impose a moral judgement on a normal activity, blurring the line between something which is lawful and something which is not. This confusion, especially when children are the focus, cannot help define and communicate our moral code, with which many children have only a distressingly limited acquaintance;

2. the recruitment of children to pass judgement on their parent's "crimes" is wholly malign, not least in undermining the authority of adults;

3. in that the campaign seeks to align children with an external agency, which is setting the parameters by which the children should judge their own parents and other adults, it creates an alternative authority which purports to be superior to that of the parents and other authority figures. That is confusing to the child, and also creates a potential area of friction ...;

4. not only does the campaign encourage the child to believe it has the moral right to pass judgement on the behaviour of parents and other adults, it actively encourages the child to "enforce" that judgement, distorting the normal relationships between adults and children.

5. by asking the child to record the "crimes", it undermines the bonds of loyalty which should exist between child and family. The children are being encouraged to put the notional and highly contentious objective of "saving the planet" above that of family cohesion and loyalty.
This would seem to be covered by quite adequately by rules 47.2 and 47.4. There would thus, on the face of it, appear to be a clear breach of the code.

As to rule 47.4 specifically, we have now an article from the Islington Tribune, where we have an npower spokesman happily admitting that: "I don't apologise if a bit of pester-power goes home with the kids but I don't see George Orwell looming round the corner."

Notwithstanding the "George Orwell" bit, there is quite clearly an admission here that the intention of the campaign is to employ "pester power". This, by any other description, is an attempt to "…encourage them [children] to make a nuisance of themselves to parents or others …".

And then there is rule 47.2. Here, we would point to the injunction in the advertisement which effectively, enjoins their "climate cops" to "save the planet this summer". Whatever else, we would have difficulty in accepting that any of the activities to which the "climate cops" are directed could actually "save the planet", to which effect, is not the language a tad "extravagant"?

Anyhow, in the ASA's opinion, this "… seems to be just an educational way to engage children in this topical issue."

We have made our views known to the ASA, and will keep you all posted.


A one-dimensional view

Playing big in the news today is the report from the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) that drug seizures by the police have little impact on Britain's (illegal) drug market.

In a market estimated to be worth some £5.3 billion, expenditure of £380 million on reducing the supply of drugs in 2005/6 had no measurable effect, despite seizures of Class A drugs having more than doubled between 1996 and 2005.

One author of the report, Tim McSweeney, noted, "We were struck by how little evidence there is to show that the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on UK enforcement each year has made a sustainable impact and represents value for money."

The report, necessarily, deals with only the UK enforcement perspective but, in so doing, is wholly one-dimensional. The so-called "end of pipe" solutions are only one tiny part of the bigger picture, an essential part of which is measures to reduce the quantities of illegal drugs produced.

It is here, in fact, that the failures are even greater. Respectively, the two major locations for heroin and cocaine are Afghanistan and Colombia and, in both those countries, production has increased. And, as we have pointed out, a significant part of the problem in Afghanistan and Colombia is the failure of developed nations to open up their markets to legitimate agricultural produce from these countries.

Essentially, we are faced with a choice – either take their farm goods or we get their illegal drugs. And that was where the Doha round was supposed to come in – precisely to open our markets to third world trade. The failure of the talks will have a direct impact on the quantities of illegal drugs that are flooding into this country.

Yet, in our piece earlier today, we noted that very few people – particularly amongst our political classes - "will link events to come with the failure". This report today is a classic example of that fatal disconnect. Much will now be heard of the "caring" agenda, trying to deal with the social and personal consequences of our drug epidemic, but when it comes to addressing the root causes, comment there will be none.

Nor will you hear widely - or at all in the MSM - the view expressed that, by handing over our trade policy to the EU, we have also handed over our capabilities to take unliateral measures which could - and most certainly would - have a real impact on the illegal drugs trade.

Such linkage is far to complicated for our media, politicians, social commentators and the massive counter-narcotics industry. All of these will remain in their one-dimensional rut, unable to see the connection between the lack of free trade and people dying in our cities through drug overdoses.

And so does our society decline, without us even beginning to understand the causes and thus failing entirely to address the issues, but nevertheless spending hundreds of millions in getting nowhere.


Where others lead …

There is general agreement that the Doha round of the WTO talks has collapsed, to no great surprise and, no doubt, to the delight of Sarkozy and the other protectionist tendencies which are happy to see the process of "globalisation" brought to a halt.

The proximate cause is a dispute principally between the US and India - which also included Indonesia and China - over a safeguard mechanism to protect farmers in developing states from agricultural imports.

There are, however, deeper causes and much will be written in specialist magazines and in learned papers over the coming months and years about the these. For the moment, no one is particularly interested in playing the blame game.

Certainly, the US has left its offer "on the table" and the game remains to be played. It is unlikely though, that there will be any progress this side of the US election or, for that matter, until there has been an Indian general election.

In that senses, therefore, the collapse of the talks is just another hiatus in a process that has already taken seven years and which can be resuscitated once the global players decide to have another go.

This notwithstanding, that lack of any progress is raising serious questions about the viability of the WTO, articulated by the Irish Times. What may now happen is that the system disintegrates, to be replaced by a series of bi- and multilateral agreements outside the WTO framework.

Interestingly, that was suggested on the BBC Radio 4 report this evening, the BBC having led its new bulletins all evening on the collapse of the talks. That in itself says something about the level of interest, the collapse having attracted far more attention than the progress of the talks.

On the domestic political front, there has also been little interest. Apart from a ritual statement from Gordon Brown six days ago, there has been little reference to the talks, and almost no comment from the Conservatives. The issue has been all but completely delegated to the EU and thus depoliticised.

Despite that, the repercussions will be felt politically. As The Daily Telegraph remarks, "the failure of the talks is economically disastrous and could be politically destabilising." A deal, it says, could have been worth several hundred billion dollars in increased global activity, a fillip that national economies could use now. "Even more worrying," it adds, "when nations fail to cooperate on trade, it makes conflict more likely."

That, unfortunately, is the truth but it is not one that will impinge directly on our political system. The impact will be felt more directly by the developing world, in continued poverty, instability and, indeed, conflict.

But, for the moment, our political classes are more concerned with the domestic soap opera. Few, if any, will be asking what we as a nation could have done – if anything – to have brought the talks to a successful conclusion – and even fewer will link events to come with the failure.

Having ceded leadership in world trade, we have become impotent by-standers, so bereft of power and influence that we do not even notice its passing. That too is another casualty of the Doha round, the confirmation that the UK is no longer a serious player on the world stage. Now, where others lead, we simply follow.


Perhaps they insist on organic milk

I picked up this story on Little Green Footballs but Charles Johnson, its online begetter, had it from some of his readers. There are some sharp cookies out there reading blogs and websites. Anyway, the story comes in Israel Today together with some highly entertaining pictures, issued by Hamas. For once, our own journalists did not get to the pictures in time to present them as the gospel truth (a particularly apposite phrase as we are talking about that part of the world).

The story and the pictures purport to prove that the so-called smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza (a wall runs along that border but that is rarely mentioned by the reporters) are not used for guns, explosives and "heavy mortar shells, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles". Goodness me, how could you think that? Whatever next?

No, they are used by selfless and dedicated Hamas fighters, pictured with their faces hidden, to bring in milk and babyfood. What else could you possibly use such tunnels for?

The Israelis have demanded that the Hamas leadership shut those tunnels down but Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister, refused in a refreshingly honest fashion:
"We cannot talk about stopping smuggling because it is something beyond our ability as a government and we did not give a commitment in this regard," Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told worshippers at a Gaza City mosque on June 25 as the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was being finalized.
It would appear that Hamas is no more in control of its territory, despite the periodic purge of Fatah supporters, than the latter is in the West Bank where there are also periodic purges.

Egypt has never denied that the tunnels exist and has, every now and then, shut a few down.

But we were all wrong. The tunnels quite clearly exist for humanitarian purposes. Understandably, Israel is a little sceptical. Israelies tend to be sceptical about most things, especially their own leaders, but this time they go beyond that and pronounce themselves to be extremely dubious.
Between 100 and 150 trucks carrying humanitarian aid from Israel and international aid organizations enter Gaza on a daily basis. Out of that number, the 50 or so daily shipments that enter via Gaza's central Sufa Crossing contain milk and baby food, according to the manifests.
A long way from the humanitarian disaster we keep hearing about but, of course, this all contributes to the social and political disaster that Gaza remains. What of the smuggled milk, though? I can only suggest that the Gazans prefer the organic stuff and the nasty Israelis insist on providing them with Longlife milk. Enough to make anyone's blood boil.

ADDENDUM: Actually I wrote "onlie begetter" about Charles Johnson, getting a little carried away with the Shakespearian references but the boss changed that. He doesn't like me getting all greenery-yallery.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another stealth tax

It was yesterday that we saw reports of MPs calling for a multi-billion pound windfall tax, to "top slice" utility companies' profits allegedly made from the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS) for carbon dioxide. Yet, unacknowledged by those self-same MPs, moves are already in place for the government to grab the income from the scheme.

The ETS itself is that mad scheme whereby the EU member states have agreed maximum carbon dioxide emissions which specific industries in each member state can produce each year, then awarding to individual enterprises permits for given tonnages of emissions. To date, since the scheme started in 2005, these have been given out free of charge but companies which exceed their individual quotas have to buy permits for the excess, from companies which under-produce (via brokers).

In theory, electricity companies have been able to make millions of pounds a year in "windfall" profits from this sceheme, being allowed to pass on the notional costs of their permits to customers in higher charges. And it is those millions which the MPs want to target.

However, there is serious argument as to whether the income derived actually represents additional profit. The case is made that, since the generators work to basic margins on their sales, had they not been able to benefit from the free permits, electricity prices would have gone up even more than they have already.

This notwithstanding, from this year, the EU is allowing member state governments to auction off up to a third of emissions permits allocated to electricity companies. This will be a nice little earner for Gordon Brown, the Financial Times estimating that it will bring him in nearly £2 billlion over the next four years, after which the first phase of the scheme comes to an end.

Come the next phase, which starts in 2013, the government is likely to be an even greater beneficiary, standing to make about £2 billion a year from auctioning permits, if the power sector is forced to buy all its permits as the EU commission proposes.

According to the FT, though, this should not increase electricity prices to consumers, as the costs have already been factored into to current prices. But this optimism may be misplaced. The electricity industry has to find upwards of £100 billion in new investment to fund improvements in generation capacity and infrastructure and, if the government is set on taking £2 billion a year out of the industry, that shortfall will have to be made up from somewhere. And, in the way of things, that "somewhere" will be our pockets.

What makes this even more reprehensible, however, is that the current price of an emissions permit, at around £25 per ton, is generally acknowledged to be insufficient alone to incentivise switching to low emissions technology such as nuclear generation – which was the whole point of the scheme in the first place.

On the other hand, the abstraction of large sums of money from the industry and the variability in costs of emissions permits actually deters investors, and adds to the confusion on energy policy.

Shorn of any economic or other rationale, that makes Gordon's latest cash grab little more than just another stealth tax, this one made all the more malign for having been legitimised by the European Union.


A political black hole

Very often it is The Sun which has its finger on the political pulse of the nation, leaving the politicians (and many of the more self-important political bloggers) floundering.

It is of some significance, therefore, that today this paper should run a major story on the energy crisis, pointing out the implications of spiralling energy costs for the less well off.

Thus, under the headline illustrated above, the paper notes that, "It's odd to talk about heating bills in the hottest spell of the year, but many Sun readers must be scared about the coming winter." Last week's rises of 22 percent for gas and 17 percent for electricity are terrifying, it adds, then predicting: "There's worse to come. Prices are sure to rise AGAIN in the winter, and by Christmas families could be paying £30 a week or more for light and heat — nearly double last winter’s bill."

Later in the story, we see the political slant, with the observation that, "The Government appears clueless. Labour have been asleep on the job as the rest of the world has been busy building nuclear power stations. Our own nuclear stations are years away." The paper adds: "Thanks to Labour inaction we can store only 13 days’ worth of gas compared to 122 days in France. That leaves us at the mercy of sudden global price changes."

Then we come to a damning, if not muted conclusion that: "Instead of plotting to remove Brown, Labour ministers should be plotting how to avert misery for millions this winter," with the payoff line, "Lives will be at stake. It is as serious as that."

It is indeed as serious as that, and the final point is well taken, but should have wider application. We have noted how the chatterati have been obsessed with the political theatre, relentlessly pursuing soap opera narrative of Brown’s supposed impending demise, all built on the thinnest patina of idle speculation.

Yet, in the here and now, we have an energy crisis of massive proportions building up which, in time, will become the main political issue of the day. But, at a time when – even at this eleventh hour – urgent and well-founded action could at least mitigate some of the worst effects, the political classes are silent. Energy simply is not on the political radar as a mainstream issue.

Part of this is due to the neglect of the main opposition, the Conservatives in what, as we remarked yesterday is not a technical issue but a politically induced crisis. By pursuing its soft, social agenda – and letting its "green" obsession overtake it - the Party has dropped the ball on something of far more importance and much greater urgency: the impact of spiralling energy prices and impending energy shortages, which as The Sun points out will affect most those who can least afford it.

It is actually no exaggeration to say that "Lives will be at stake," and it is thus a damning indictment of the political classes that they indulge their petty obsessions with soap opera politics and evade their greater responsibilities to deal with those issues which will have a massive and increasingly damaging effect on the welfare (and prosperity) of this nation.


It's a mad, mad world

Readers may be intrigued by a headline in the IHT retailing a report from AP, telling us that, "South African says it will shift energy policy from coal to combat climate change."

The thrust of this piece is that the South African government has declared that it is planning to move away from cheap "dirty" coal as its primary source of energy – accounting for nearly 90 percent of its electricity - and embrace nuclear and renewable energy "in a bid to combat climate change".

However, less than a week ago, we recall a report that pointed out that South Africa was forecasting a 100 million ton shortfall of coal by 2017, and, unless its government restricted its exports, its local supplies would suffer.

Add to that little snippet, the information that the biggest customer for South African coal is Germany. Then note a report from last year reminding us that Germany is to shut down all of its 17 nuclear power plants - currently its biggest source of electricity - by the early 2020s and that coal will cease to be mined in that country by 2018.

Also note another report which tells us that, to replace its nuclear power, German utility companies are planning to set up a total of 26 new coal-fired power plants. As a result, Germany will need to increase its demand for coal from abroad from around 30.6 million tons a year to 56-66 million tons by 2020 – the bulk of it to be imported from South Africa, which is planning to increase its export capacity by 20 million tons a year.

Now put all the pieces together in sequence.

Germany – in order to go "green" - is abandoning nuclear power and turning to coal-fired generation, relying on imports of South African coal. South Africa currently relies on coal-fired generation, but has insufficient production to service both its domestic and export demands, and it is planning to increase exports. Thus, as we have just learnt, South Africa is going nuclear – and is telling us that this is in order to go "green".

Are we going mad, or have we missed something?


Monday, July 28, 2008

Always good for a laugh

One of my daily must-reads is James Taranto's Best of the Web of the Wall Street Journal. (I must admit to rather dreading what News International and its myridons will do to the newspaper and its website.) Today's collection of stories, analyses and amusing juxtaposition of quotes had the following item:
Well, Maybe Not as We Speak

• "As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic . . ."--
Barack Obama, Berlin, July 24, 2008 •

"New data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute shows that there is more ice than normal in the Arctic waters north of the Svalbard archipelago. In most years, there are open waters in the area north of the archipelago in July month. Studies from this year however show that the area is covered by ice, the Meteorological Institute writes in a
press release."--Barents Observer (Kirkenes, Norway), July 24
He should stick to parables.

A politically-induced crisis

After the recent eye-watering increases in gas (and electricity) prices, The Economist is telling us that the situation is going to get even worse.

Britain's gas market, it says, is changing fundamentally in ways that make it much more vulnerable to higher gas prices. As domestic supplies dwindle, Britain must make up the shortfall from overseas, either through pipelines from Europe or by buying shipfuls of liquefied natural gas (LNG) on the global market. Currently, North Sea production can supply around two-thirds of Britain's maximum demand; that will fall to around half as soon as 2010.

Expensive gas is particularly painful for Britain, which relies on the stuff to heat around 85 percent of its homes. The country also uses gas to generate around 40 percent of its electricity, a particularly high proportion that is set to rise still further over the next decade.

The reason cited for this is the closure by 2023 of all but one of Britain's "doddery nuclear plants" and new environmental laws (aka the EU's large combustion plants directive – although The Economist does not state this) which "could mean that up to half of coal stations will have to shut down over the coming years."

The magazine then tells us that, "On current plans much of that capacity will be replaced by cheap, quick-to-build gas plants, boosting demand and making Britain even more reliant on flaky supplies from the international markets."

Herein, though, lies another story which the Economist does not tell us. In written evidence to the Environment Audit Committee, from our favourite energy company npower, the true causes of the excessive reliance on gas are sketched out.

Specifically, the company states that the UK has benefited from a diverse energy mix which has helped to ensure security of supply through the balance of nuclear (around 16 percent), gas (around 31 percent) and coal (around 35 percent) generation. In recent years, it says, there has also been an increase in renewables, which now constitute between 2.5 and 3 percent of the UK generation portfolio.

However, even with energy efficiency measures reducing demand growth below historic levels, the company says that it anticipates that peak demand will grow by almost 9GW between 2005 and 2015. During the same period, 7.5GW of nuclear plant (Magnox and AGR) is expected to be decommissioned as well as up to 4GW of older Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) stations.

This, we are told, requires investment in 20GW of new plant by 2015 in order to maintain a 20 percent capacity margin. With peak demand then forecast to grow by almost 4GW between 2015 and 2020, and the retirement of old coal and oil plant under the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) by the end of 2015, the UK would require almost the same amount of new plant again to maintain security of electricity supplies.

Thus, the company asserts that there is a "a need to consider the more serious concerns to electricity from 2008."

These concerns, it tells us, "are avoidable with suitable infrastructure investment if action is taken now." But, whilst the National Grid's Seven Year Statement shows substantial planned new capacity, very little of this is actually under construction.

And then we get to the beef:

A major impediment to commitment is absence of clarity on two important environmental issues: LCPD and Phase 2 of the EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS) beginning in 2008, and also whether there will be any successor to the Kyoto Protocol or even any carbon trading post-2012.

We are concerned that the definition of a combustion plant currently being proposed under the LCPD will curtail the life of "opted out" coal plant even further. In summary, we have strongly urged the UK Government to implement the LCPD on the basis of plant="boiler", rather than plant="stack" at least for plant opting out under the terms of the 20,000 hour derogation. If the LCPD is implemented in the way currently proposed, the UK would be deprived of the security that retiring coal plant can provide during the challenging transition from a high carbon generation industry to a low one.

There is no clear view of the availability or cost of CO2 emission allowances from 2008, during the second phase of the EU ETS and therefore no market view of the value or cost of power. Yet the UK energy industry urgently needs to commence investment in new forms of generation to meet demand and further reduce emissions. We propose that the UK Government resolves the issue of the allocation to the electricity sector urgently, in advance of finalising the National Allocation Plan and submitting to the European Commission.

In light of such fundamental uncertainties, it is difficult to evaluate the outputs, costs and revenues for investment appraisal purposes with any degree of confidence. Any appraisal would need to factor in a variety of adverse regulatory scenarios or apply a marked cost of capital premium to reflect the risks. In these circumstances investment decisions tend to be postponed, the risk of supply disruptions inevitably increases and the costs of responding to shortage are ultimately higher. The principal impediment to effective markets and investment decision-making is uncertainty regarding the environmental legislative and regulatory framework.
Note, please, that last sentence: "The principal impediment to effective markets and investment decision-making is uncertainty regarding the environmental legislative and regulatory framework."

When the lights go out, it will not be because there have been any technical impediments to the supply of the power we need. The cause will have been regulatory failures which have inhibited and distorted investment decisions. And, because of that also, the power we do get will be that much more expensive.

The piece we have quoted, incidentally, was in October 2005. "If we act now …" it said. But we didn't. That we did not is through the combined effect of the dead hands of both Whitehall and Brussels, setting the scene for an entirely avoidable crisis. That makes it a politically induced crisis, which is now virtually unavoidable, the issues raised by npower still largely unresolved.

Yet still it has not registered, with the bulk of the chatterati frittering their time away on mindless speculation about the fate of our prime minister. You can see why we get so irritated and despondent.


Those "climate crimes"

Following our post yesterday on "Climate Nazis", reproduced on Watts up with that, a number of commentators – across both sites – have suggested we contact the Advertising Standards Authority.

We did contact the ASA this morning and, as one might expect, making a complaint is not so simple. The basis of our complaint lies not so much in the advertisement (illustrated - click to enlarge) as in the campaign itself, which is essentially website based.

The remit of the ASA, however, is limited to advertisements in the media and it cannot directly concern itself with the content of websites. Should we wish to complain about the npower website, we were advised to contact Trading Standards – which is unlikely to yield dividends.

However, there is possibly a way forward. The advertisement itself does not refer to "climate crimes" or in any way state explicitly that the purpose of the campaign is to recruit children to spy on friends, family and relatives, to accuse them of "climate crimes" and to keep records of their "infractions".

In that sense, the advertisement is possibly misleading, to which effect we have written a draft letter, published below, which might allow a formal complaint to proceed.

Dear Sirs,

With a view to making a formal complaint about a newspaper advertisement, I wish to seek your advice on its framing in order that it comes within your remit.

The relevant advertisement was in The Sunday Times dated 27 July 2008, placed by or on behalf of npower (attached). In my edition, it was on page twelve.

The substance of my complaint, at first sight, is that it is misleading, in that it addresses parents, inviting them to direct their children to apply by e-mail for a "free climate cops challenge diary", with an additional "offer" of "interactive games and fun downloads", available from a company owned (or managed) website (

However, the tenor of the website is very different from the print advertisement. There, a direct appeal is made to children, inviting them to enlist as "climate cops", with a view to searching out "climate crimes". The website urges its recruits to spy on families, friends and relatives, inviting each of them to build up a "climate crime case file" in order to help them ensure their putative criminals do not "commit those crimes again (or else)!"

I understand that, on their own, websites to not come within your remit and, while I find the tenor of the "offer" made on the website disturbing, it would thus appear that you would not be able to act in respect of that "offer".

This notwithstanding, it would appear that the advertisement is misleading in that it is couched in terms of its address to parents who are invited to "get your kids to help you switch-off this summer". In no way does this advertisement indicate that the company is in fact seeking to indoctrinate children, encouraging them falsely to attribute lack of "energy saving" as "crimes", and encouraging them to spy on families, friends and relatives, inviting each of them to keep records of these "crimes" for future use.

It would be my contention that, were parents fully aware that the intent of the website was to brand them, through the eyes of their children, as perpetrators of "climate crimes", many would feel deeply uneasy – if not very angry - and would not allow or encourage their children to visit the website.

I would ask you, therefore, whether the framing of a complaint which referred to the lack of references to the true intention of the advertisement could fall within your remit, and whether any such complaint should be couched in terms of the advertisement being "misleading", or whether any other issues should be identified.

Yours faithfully …
I am inviting (constructive) comments before sending it – which I will do, with or without amendments – tomorrow.

This aside, it would appear that, if npower wishes to recruit children as "climate cops" to root out "climate crimes", there is very little that can be done to stop them via any statutory authority … unless you know different.


First the bad news …

Friday's growth figures suggested Britain is tipping into recession.

And now for the good.

Across the Channel it suddenly looks as if the eurozone might beat us to it.

That is, at least, according to The Guardian, which has Ashley Seager telling us that the news from the single currency bloc is bad and the prospects look even worse.

The data flow last week from the 15-member bloc, Seager writes, was simply awful and will undermine the argument that while the UK's housing market, construction industry, banking sector and just about every other part of the economy are slowing rapidly, we could export our way out of trouble. Since we do half our trade with the rest of western Europe, that idea is looking increasingly shaky.

Er … perhaps it's not such good news after all, except that if the result is a collapse of the euro, it would be worth the pain.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Climate Nazis

Can I be the only one more than a little disturbed by the latest campaign to be fronted by energy company npower?

Launched today with large colour ads in the Sundays, it appeals directly to children, urging them to enlist as "climate cops", to root out "climate crimes", and thus "save the planet".

In a luridly-designed website, mimicking the style of "yoof" cartoons, it offers a bundle of downloads, including a pack of "climate crime cards", urging its recruits to spy on families, friends and relatives, inviting each of them to build up a "climate crime case file" in order to help them ensure their putative criminals do not "commit those crimes again (or else)!"

Quite what the "or else!" should be is not specified, but since the "climate cops" are being encouraged to keep detailed written records (for those who can read and write), there is nothing to stop these being submitted to the "Climate Cops HQ" for further sanctions, the repeat offenders being sent to re-education camps. And for those "climate cops" that successfully perform the "missions" set (or turn in their own parents), there is the reward of "training" in the "Climate Cop Academy".

In a system which has echoes of Hitler's Deutsches Jungvolk movement, and the Communist regime Pioneers, perhaps successful graduates can work up to becoming block wardens, then street and district "climate crime Führers", building a network of spies and informers.

How nicely this ties in with James Hansen's call to put the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming.

No doubt, with a willing band of "climate cops", the prosecutors can spread their nets wider, reaching into the homes of all climate change deniers, until the insidious virus of doubt is exterminated (final solution, anyone?). Then we can all march on the sunlit uplands of a "carbon-free" planet – to the tune of Ode to Joy no doubt.


A complaint to the (UK) Advertising Standards Authority is being actively considered. However, it is not entirely straightforward. More details here.


If you have any doubts as to why this is dangerous and offensive, see here, and see also comments on Watts up with that.


A climate of deception

click the pic to enlargeOne of the interesting phenomena of our times is the parallel between euroscepticism and "global warming denial": those that are antagonistic towards the European Union also tend to disbelieve the hype on anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

On the other side of the divide, there is also a close relationship between europhilia and belief in AGW, the EU having enthusiastically embraced the dogma of the warmist religion, not least because of the opportunities it affords to pursue the integrationalist agenda.

But there is another link. As is the EU built on a foundation of deception, so too is the global warming hype, so much so that it has become not "climate change" but a climate of deception.

One strand of that deception is brought home to us to day in the Booker column, which highlights to extent to which the great climate change guru James Hansen, of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), is manipulating temperature figures to promote his own beliefs and to pursue what is quite evidently a political agenda.

What is fascinating about this is that Hansen's data manipulation brings home an essential truth about modern politics: he who controls the statistics controls the high ground. It does not matter what the reality it – what matters is how that "reality" is portrayed.

We actually saw this in graphic form right at the beginning of the modern "scare" cycle, with the great "salmonella in eggs" scare. Then, the public perception was greatly influenced by the appearance of a new database on salmonella food poisoning, produced by a certain Dr Bernard Rowe of the then Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre.

Almost as a free-lance operation, in 1987, he started producing his own weekly digest showing what appeared to be a massive upsurge in food poisoning outbreaks, to which he – and he alone, in the early stages – was able to attribute a cause. And it was that database which provided the raw material which was to fuel the salmonella scare which dominated the media through late 1988 and early 1989.

That is not to say that there was not a problem with salmonella at the time, but it was the ability to shape the data which allowed Rowe, behind the scenes, to turn a statistical phenomenon into a highly political agenda.

To demonstrate the power of the figures, while the UK media in 1999-9 was dominated with scare stories about food safety, based on statistics produced by the ever-willing authorities, back in Holland, which had and even bigger problem with salmonella, there was no such diet of scares.

The way this was managed was breathtakingly simple and ingenious. While, in the UK, salmonella food poisoning was a "notifiable disease" which meant that all cases had to be reported to the authorities, the Dutch authorities made sure that this did not happen.

What they did in fact was change the law on diagnosing and reporting salmonella food poisoning, in a devilishly clever series of moves. Firstly, while the laboratory service to doctors for identifying the presence of salmonellas in patients was free, they introduced swingeing charges for identifying the type of salmonellas involved. Then, they introduced a rule that said salmonella notifications could not be included on the official database unless the isolations had been typed.

The entirely predictable result was that, while doctors continued to use laboratory services for basic diagnosis, to treat their patients they did not need to know the type of salmonellas involved, and stopped calling for typing information. The consequence was that, while the reported incidence of salmonella food poisoning was rising everywhere in Europe (and America), the Dutch authorities were able to show that their figures were falling. And, with an apparently declining incidence, there was no material to fuel a scare.

So it is with James Hansen. As long as he has control of an apparently authoritative dataset which shows that global warming is increasing, he can sustain the climate change scare. And, as Booker observes, it is on his alarmist figures that our politicians are basing all their proposals for irrevocably changing our lives.

Thus builds the "climate of deception", based on a strategy that is now becoming completely transparent. But, as long as the hard-core warmists, the media and politicians continue to give Hansen's tarnished figures their credibility, this dangerous man will get away with it.



"New Lisbon vote would be suicide for Cowen" headlines The Observer today, with the strap: "Public would punish party, says poll".

The poll had been commissioned by Open Europe and it suggests that Brian Cowen and his Fianna Fáil-led government would suffer a "Gordon Brown-style electoral meltdown" if they held a second referendum. More than half of those asked said they would be less likely to vote for Cowen and his party in an Irish general election if he decided to re-run the referendum

Some 71 percent of voters were opposed to holding a second vote while 62 percent would vote "no” compared to a "yes" vote of 24 percent compared with 47 percent in the June referendum.

Significantly, 17 percent of those who voted "yes" in the referendum would vote "no" if asked to vote again, while only six per cent of those who voted "no" would now vote "yes". Of those who did not vote last time, 57 percent would now vote "no", against 26 percent who would vote "yes".

If the weight of sentiment for a "no" vote continues, the "colleagues" might feel distinctly uneasy about running a second referendum, which would leave Sarkozy’s EU presidency high and dry. Although, the EU has made more comebacks than Frank Sinatra, options seem to be narrowing and the "Euro-chickens" may be running scared.

It really is going to be interesting to see how they break the impasse.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Taking us for mugs

"The European Union's top court," reports the BBC, "has ruled that non-EU nationals married to EU citizens are entitled to live in their spouse's country." It goes on to tell us that the court has overruled a law in the Republic of Ireland, which grants residency only to those who have previously lived in an EU member state.

This is our old friend Directive 2004/38/EC again, on which the court relies for its judgement.

Interestingly, though, neither the BBC, nor a similar report in the Irish Times, gives us any detail or background to the case, the BBC confining itself to the anodyne information that the case against the Irish justice ministry "was brought by four African men married to EU citizens resident in Ireland (pictured above). The men had been refused residence permits."

This is the so-called Metock case (Mr Metock pictured below left) - the essence of which is that failed asylum seekers have now established "rights" under EU law to reside in EU member state countries, having married citizens of EU member states while awaiting deportation. But, if this is not bad enough, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

For more detail, though, you have to go to the original press release from the ECJ and then, via that to another case report, the so-called Akrich case, upon which this judgement also relies.

No one seems to be writing about this background - although The Sun had a few comments at the time - so we've summarised the judgement on this Akrich case. Before you read it, you need to be sitting down on something very solid, with nothing breakable in reach.

And so we begin… hold tight.

This case, then - which dates back to 2003 - involved a Moroccan citizen by the name of Hacene Akrich. Since 1989, he had attempted on a number of occasions to enter and reside in the United Kingdom. Having no such rights, his applications for leave to remain had always been refused.

But, in 1992, less than a month after he had been deported for the second time, Akrich returned illegally to the UK and, in 1996 – having remained here illegally for the best part of four years - he married a British citizen.

Thus married, he again applied for leave to remain, claiming rights as the spouse of a British citizen. Unsurprisingly, the British immigration authorities refused him leave and, in August 1997, he was deported to Dublin, where his wife "happened" to be working.

There he remained for a time but, in August 1998, his wife took up work in the UK. Akrich then applied again to enter the UK, relying on previous EU case law relating to a certain Surinder Singh (of which he seems to have been advised). This stated that nationals of one member state who had worked in another could, when they returned, be accompanied by their spouses, of whatever nationality, provided they had been in that other country lawfully.

Both Mr and Mrs Akrich were questioned by the UK Embassy in Dublin, whence it emerged that they had always intended to return to the UK, "because [they] had heard about EU rights, staying six months and then going back to the UK". In other words, the period in Ireland had simply been a ploy to enable Mr Akrich to acquire residency rights in the UK.

Akrich was thus refused entry on the basis that the move to Ireland "was no more than a temporary absence deliberately designed to manufacture a right of residence for Mr Akrich and to evade the provisions of the United Kingdom legislation."

Mr Akrich appealed against this refusal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, which referred the case to the ECJ. There, the court decided that, on the basis of the Surinder Singh judgement, the UK had been right to refuse Akridge entry. For him to enjoy rights in accordance with that judgement, he would have had to have been lawfully resident in the UK before he had moved to Ireland.

However, as to the "abuse" engineered by the couple, this the court declared was irrelevant, even though Akrich had entered the UK illegally, and then it delivered its bombshell. Notwithstanding the fact that he had been an illegal immigrant when he had married, the UK had to take account of the right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights, now enshrined in Directive 2004/38/EC.

Thus, the court held that "a non-Community spouse of a Union citizen who accompanies or joins that citizen can benefit from the directive, irrespective of when and where their marriage took place and of how that spouse entered the host member state."

Akrich was then able enter the UK with his wife and take up gainful employment, setting the important precedent that illegal entry or residence was no bar to claiming EU rights of establishment. It is that which this current judgement "developed", so extending its application. As it now applies to Metock and his co-plaintiffs, because they have married citizens of EU member states, they can remain in the country to which they first came, even though they were unlawfully resident in that member state when they married. By this means, they acquire their rights of residence.

So, what we have is the ECJ confirming, through a series of incremental judgements, that there is an open door for illegal immigrants, over which member states have no control. As long as third country nationals can get here or to any other member state by any means (whether illegal entry or by falsely claiming asylum) and evade the authorities long enough to marry EU citizens (who themselves may have been recent immigrants, as was Metock's spouse), EU law gives them an absolute right permanently to stay here or anywhere else in the EU.

And, of course, once they have been resident for five years, they too become "EU citizens" which means that, under Directive 2004/38/EC, they are entitled to bring over their mothers and fathers, any children they might have, and even grandparents and cousins, if they are dependants.

No wonder the Beeb and others didn't want to give us any details of this case. They, the EU and the ECJ are taking us for mugs, and they really would not want us to know that.


Hibernia girl has some useful background links, particularly here. This is not going to play well in Ireland, as some 1500 cases there are to be reviewed.

It is interesting to note that, to illustrate its piece, the BBC shows the hands of a white couple (above), as does the RTE news report embedded by Hibernia girl. Yet, all the appellants were black Africans. Also of interest is that, although this is an EU judgement and applies thus to the UK (and any other member state), the British print media has not reported the story.


Following the Hacene Akrich judgement, Lord Tebbit tabled a parliamentary question asking, whether, following the ruling, "the United Kingdom remains sovereign in respect of its immigration policy."

Bizarrely, when the question was asked, it became:

Following the European Court ruling in the case of Hacene Akrich, the United Kingdom remains sovereign in respect of its immigration policy.
To that, Baroness Scotland answered:

Following the European Court of Justice case of Surinder Singh, which was delivered in 1992, the non-EEA family member of a British national, who has legally resided in another member state, may claim a right to enter and remain in the UK under EC law instead of the UK's Immigration Rules.

In the European Court of Justice case of Akrich, the court was asked to determine whether a member state could refuse to apply the Surinder Singh judgment to a British citizen who had deliberately moved to another member state with the express intention of creating an initial right of residence in the UK for their third country national spouse.

The court found that third country national spouses of EU nationals can only benefit from EC law if they have legally resided in another EU state before they first came to the UK.

This court ruling supports the UK's view that third country nationals who are illegally in the UK, and marry British citizens, should not be able to use EC law to remain here. It will allow the UK to continue to be able to apply its national immigration legislation in such cases.
The answer is, to say the very least, disingenuous. To say that the court found that third country national spouses of EU nationals can only benefit from EC law "if they have legally resided in another EU state before they first came to the UK" is hardly true.

Akrich may have legally resided in Ireland, but he had been deported there having entered the UK illegally. What the court had actually found was that, even though he had first entered the UK illegally, his "rights" under the Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights took precedence over UK law and his illegal entry could not be taken into account.


Friday, July 25, 2008

So human rights do not matter?

How often have we heard this from pompous businessmen, commentators, politicians and officials: well, of course, human rights matter but really there are far more important things in the world such as business relations, trade, the Olympics and other suchlike matters that make the world go round.

I have news for these people. Human rights, as I have said before, make a difference in matters economic. For one thing, a respect for human rights means (usually) a respect for the law and that, ladies and gentlemen of the business and political world, means respect for contracts.

The sad story of the TNK-BP conglomerate and the enforced departure of its CEO from Russia has been covered in the business sections of most newspapers. Today's Times and Daily Telegraph do a reasonable job.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Deputy Chairman of TNK-BP made stirring statements:

There is a legitimate way of bringing about change in a company - through negotiation and discussion. AAR's efforts to wrest control of the company through illegitimate means are damaging the company and, regrettably, Russia's reputation among international investors.

Anyone who cares about the security of international investment, and corporate governance should be concerned. This is not about British versus Russian interests as AAR has tried to portray it. It is about the actions of AAR and its affiliated executives and the resulting damage to the company and to Russia.
The trouble is that the sentence that springs to mind is "we told you so". The writing appeared on the wall when the Yukos affair played itself out, though British business looked the other way, muttering about trade links being more important than huffing and puffing about illegal destruction of a successful business and imprisonment of various people connected with it.

The writing intensified last year with the shenanigans over Shell and BP while the Russian state gathered more and more of the energy resources in its collective grubby hand, bullied partners and ... well, and what? It certainly did not invest those profits in further development or infrastructure.

It's the human rights, stupid.

Cost in space

Courtesy of the invaluable Open Europe daily press digest, we learn from Le Figaro that the "colleagues" have been plotting their next moves in developing a fully-fledged space policy, with a decision to allocate space spending a specific "budget line" in the EU budget.

This took place during a meeting in Kourou, French Guiana, home of the French Ariane space rocket launcher, where 27 ministers from EU member states warbled happily about wanting to make Europe "a global actor" in space policy.

Proclaiming that, "Space is a powerful catalyst for European integration", EU commission vice-president Günter Verheugen, called for "increased funding" allocated to space and for a "clarification" of the funding. However, the real money will not flow until 2013, when the next multi-annual budget period starts.

Nevertheless, Le Figaro reports that the decision to allocate the budget "seems irreversible", even though the space policy has no legal mandate unless or until the constitutional Lisbon treaty takes effect – something which the "colleagues" still cannot guarantee.

Despite this, they have been pursuing their policy ever since 2004, after it had been included in the failed constitution, progressively building their policy infrastructure without so much as a blush.

The fact that the EU is going ahead regardless, therefore, represents yet another manifestation of their contempt for us, the people who will ultimately have to pay the bills for their grandiose ambitions.

The only thing that really matches the arrogance of the "colleagues" is the complete indifference of the British media, which has consistently failed to take note of the gradual development of a massive new competence of the EU, the cost of which will eventually run to many billions – of which the French will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

No doubt, in due course, the BBC will wake up and produce a gushing documentary about the wonderful new European space policy. One suspects, though, that its title will not be "Cost in space".


A political earthquake

"No-one can possibly underestimate the scale of the disaster which hit Gordon Brown and the Labour Party in the Glasgow East constituency in the early hours of this morning," writes Angus Macleod, Scottish political editor for The Times.

He is one of the many journos hyper-ventilating over the result, declared long after most sensible people had gone to bed. This had the SNP overturn Labour's 13,507 majority to bring in the hitherto unknown John Mason into prominence as the victor.

He, if he excels in nothing else, certainly has a good line in hyperbole, declaring: "This SNP victory is not just a political earthquake, it is off the Richter scale. It is an epic win, and the tremors are being felt all the way to Downing Street."

In the round, however, this does nothing more than confirm that which we already knew – that the political tide has turned and, short of an electoral miracle, in 2010 we will see the Labour government turfed out of office, to be replaced with an equally lacklustre administration which, by all accounts, will continue as before.

If you want a real "political earthquake", however, look not to Glasgow East but to Geneva, where it appears, the latest talks in the Doha round of WTO negotiations are going belly-up.

Ignored entirely by the political chatterati with news confined to the inner reaches of the business pages of the few newspapers that can be bothered to report it, the talks reached an impasse yesterday over disagreements between the EU and the major, non-aligned trading nations over the degree to which developing countries should open up their markets to industrial goods, against a commitment from the EU to reduce its subsidies and tariffs on agricultural produce.

Since the need for third world countries to have access to the richer, developed world markets is absolutely essential to their future prosperity and thence political stability, a failure of these talks will have profound and long-term implications. These will become apparent in diverse ways for decades to come, many of which will over term be the stuff of front-page headlines.

But in the here and now, with dry technical subjects on the table, and decisions being made which will affect the livelihoods of hundreds of millions and threaten the very basis of world stability, everything is far too complicated and boring to merit any attention. It is so much easier to prattle on about a "political earthquake" in the nether regions of Glasgow, as if it actually meant anything.