Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The recent actions of the British government reveal a contempt for the principles so loudly proclaimed in Paris climate agreement

Some 195 countries came together in Paris last December to sign a ground breaking agreement on the need to address climate change.

Prime Minister David Cameron was one of those foremost in urging the need to act but looking at the Conservative government’s record at home it is difficult not to wonder whether the apparent gap between rhetoric and reality could expose the Achilles heel of the whole Paris agreement?

The main achievement of the UN sponsored Paris Climate Agreement in December was that 195 nations came together and agreed that climate change was a major danger to the future of the world and something needs to be done about it.

Big deal, those might say, who have recognised the damage being done across the world as a result of climate change over recent years. This has seen changing weather patterns, bringing more extremes of weather such as flooding, drought and tornados. The most recent example in this country has been the terrible floods in the north of Britain.

The agreement reached in Paris saw the nations recognising the need to keep the warming of the planet to no more than 2 degrees, with an ambition to stay at 1.5 degrees or under.

The individual nations commitment to limiting carbon emissions come under the Nationally Determined Contribution , which at present levels will see warming levels of 2.7 to 3.5 degrees, causing much damage. So there is a lot to be done.

The financial commitments made in Paris mean that developed countries are pledging £65 billion a year to developing countries in order that they can develop, without destroying the planet.

The need for the funding is most easily illustrated with the case of India, whose government is seeking to ensure access for the 300 million of its 1.2 million population who lack electricity. The cheapest way to ensure such access is via coal powered power stations, which emit high levels of carbon dioxide.

So in order for India to develop in a way that is environmentally sustainable, using renewable technologies, rather than the damaging fossil fuel coal, extra funding subsidy will be needed.

Indeed, according to scientists, 80% of the fossil fuels, like coal and gas, that exist around the world need to remain in the ground if the Paris targets are to have any chance of being met.

The Paris agreement also includes stipulations that see participants reviewing and ratcheting up their commitment to reduce emissions every five years – this will mean increasing the financial commitments of developed to developing nations. Signficantly, in the second half of the century, the commitments see nations moving to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, not just ensuring that what is already there is not added to as at present.

There are many perceived problems with the Paris climate agreement, such as the exclusion of areas like aviation, agriculture and shipping, which all contribute large amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Critics also point to the lack of agreement on an international global tax on greenhouse gas emissions, while pointing out that there is no attempt being made to cut subsidies to the damaging fossil fuels. It is estimated that one third of emissions between 1980 and 2010 were driven by such subsidies.

So the feeling on the agreement generally is that it was good in expressing the collective will of the world to address climate change but lacking somewhat in binding criteria. Strong on rhetoric but weak on the actuality.

Perhaps the potential weakness of the agreement can be illustrated by a look at the recent behaviour of the British government.

Prime Minister David Cameron went to Paris making powerful pronouncements on the dangers of climate change, asking “what we would have to say to our grand children if we failed.”

The PM boasted that: “Britain is already leading the way in work to cut emissions and help less developed countries cut theirs and this global deal now means that the whole world has signed to play its part in halting climate change.”

But then he returns to the UK, where he slashes subsidies to the emerging renewables energy market, whilst agreeing to support fracking for shale gas across the UK and the flagging nuclear industry. The UK also provides £6 billion in subsidy to fossil fuels.

Ever since coming to power last May, the government has seemed determined to destroy the renewable energy sector in the UK. First, it removed subsidy support from one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy - on shore wind turbines. Then it announced that there would be 87% cuts in subsidy to solar panels. More than 500,000 households now generate their energy from this source.

In the event, following much lobbying, the government agreed that the cut would be 65% to the subsidies for solar. It also admitted that the cuts could see 18,700 jobs lost out of the 32,000 jobs in the industry.

This all came at a time when renewable sources of energy provided 25% of electricity last year.

By contrast, the government has bent over backwards to help both the nuclear and fracking industries. Whilst it taps into the austerity agenda to justify cutting renewable subsidy, no such criteria applies to nuclear power.

The nuclear industry has never operated without subsidy in its 60 year history. So the government has no problem paying out £25 billion to develop a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, with a guarantees that £92.50 per unit of electricity – more than double the present price - will be paid for the first 35 years of operation.

Hinkley will supply 7% of the UK electricity requirement but will not be up and running for another 15 years. The Chinese government will take the lead role on the Hinkley, as well as additional nuclear plants at Bradwell and Sizewell.  

Then there is the fracking industry, where the government has provided tax breaks for the companies involved in exploration. It has also relaxed planning provisions, now allowing companies to frack, almost anywhere, including the national parks. This comes at a time when the Prime minister has just committed to the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The rationale for the vast chasm between government rhetoric in Paris versus reality at home is difficult to fathom.

Oliver Hayes, political campaigner at Friends of the Earth, sees the government plugging into its austerity agenda to justify cutting “the green crap” as Cameron so elegantly put it a couple of years ago, referring to costs on energy bills linked to sustainable developments. “He is pandering to the right of his party, that he knows hates renewables,” said Oliver.

But there is also the threat that the explosion in the renewable market represents to the energy companies and their ability to make profits. Once technologies like wind turbines or solar panels are put in place they can produce energy from the sun and wind, so there is no power station that can be controlled. “You can’t package up, or control, millions with panels on their roofs in the same way as it is possible to control power station output,” said Oliver.

The great irony is that partly as a result of events in Paris, the renewable industry is likely to continue to grow internationally to the point where it is estimated within five years it will become the cheapest source of energy. At that time there will be no need for subsidy. UK consumers will flock to have these technologies fitted, the loser being British industry and workers because as a result of the government’s actions its capacity will have reduced substantially. This provides a scenario whereby the technology will be provided and installed almost entirely by foreign companies.
Daisy Sands, Greenpeace Head of Energy campaign said: "'It's positive that there was a deal achieved in Paris, but this historical deal will only be truly meaningful if it acts as a springboard for real action. It's high time for UK government to follow through their pledge with concrete action. Right now, the UK's energy policy is out of synch with the government's climate rhetoric.'

The contrary nature of the British government’s utterances versus its actions have been noted internationally and do nothing for the credibility of the country. The hope must be though that the other countries who have signed up in Paris do not follow a similar course, saying one thing on the world stage whilst behaving contrarily at home.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Shocking levels of street homeless in Manchester offer visible sign of sort of society being created in the UK

Manchester offers an insight into the society being created as a result of the inequalities of wealth recently identified in the Oxfam report (World’s richest 62 people now control as much wealth as poorest 50%, Oxfam says.  There are incredible number of rough sleepers around the City centre. They huddle up in sleeping bags and cardboard boxes in street doorways, whilst the self obsessed walk obliviously by on the other side, often absorbed in their own little mobile phone dominated worlds. This is the Britain being created today, Manchester is not alone with its growing population of homeless on the streets. Less visible are the 1 million plus going to foodbanks (no doubt including many of those rough sleepers). At the same time the government continues to cut away at what is left of the welfare net. Surely it is time to take stock of the type of society we are creating in this country of the haves and the increasingly large number of have nots. It is no answer from those who are fortunate enough to have homes and resources to shut their own doors and hope the growing chaos outside won't effect them.

*published - Guardian letters - 27/1/2016 /  Catholic Herald & Universe - 29/1/2016

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Life as a West Ham supporter - like my dreams they fade and die

The first game I saw at West Ham United was one of the legendary Bobby Moore’s last for the club.

The game was not that memorable beyond being my first. I do remember hearing the great man swear, which I thought must be ok if Bobby Moore did it.

My Dad was not a regular match goer but the guy who lived opposite, Don, was. He attended every home game, seemingly standing in same square yard of space in the old main stand every week. Though later, in the early 1980s, Don suddenly packed up going to West Ham. I think there had been a me or football ultimatum in his marriage, he opted to save his marriage. West Ham were then replaced by a dog that he took out on a daily basis.

I went to further occasional games, when I (or my Dad) could find someone to take me along. That was until I was considered old enough to go on my own to matches.

One of the most memorable early games was the FA Cup final of 1975, when West Ham won 2-1 against Fulham, who by then included Moore in their team.

It was an exciting day for a 13 year old. There were three kids and two adults in our party at Wembley stadium that day. We nearly got crushed after one of the West Ham goals but that didn’t matter West Ham had won the cup. Expectations were raised, with a new young team. In the true traditions of West Ham, the club went from the bottom, losing games and battling relegation, to the top, winning the Cup and promising to go on to bigger and better things.

The pattern had already been established 10 years earlier when West Ham won the FA Cup for the first time in 1964. The team were back at Wembley 12 months later to win the European Cup Winners Cup. Moore was the captain on both occasions in a team that included two other members of what was to become the only England team to win the World Cup in 1966. Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were to become part of West Ham and England folklore. Supporters still boast to this day that West Ham won the World Cup in 1966. After all, the club did have three of the outstanding players, who scored all four of England’s goals on the day.

Things though declined after 1966, West Ham always played attractive football but didn’t always win. Fans were guaranteed entertainment but not always the result they most desired. As a result a team of World Cup winners spent much of the late 1960s and early 1970s at the bottom of the old First Division, fighting off relegation, rather than challenging for the title.

I became a regular at the Boleyn ground from around 1975, attending most home games. The club were relegated in 1978 but then rebuilt a team to win the FA Cup again - this time in the second division. Unable to get a ticket to see Trevor Brooking score the goal that humbled the mighty Arsenal, I was part of the jubilant celebrations outside East Ham town hall the next day when the FA Cup was brought back to East London. Thousands filled the streets for a unique East End celebration.

West Ham then got back into the First Division, building another strong side that in the momentous 1985/86 season nearly won the league. The team came close but in the end was edged out by the Merseyside duo of Liverpool and Everton. It was as close as West Ham have ever come to lifting the title.

In those days, my weekends were dominated by football, playing for a football team on Saturday and Sunday mornings, going to West Ham on Saturday afternoon and watching highlights on the Sunday afternoon.

The West Ham fortunes were though again set to fade, going from championship challengers to relegation contenders inside a couple of seasons. By 1989 they were back in the second division. There then came a yoyo period with the club going up and down between the top flight and the second tier of English football.

A new age dawned in the mid-1990s, when a crop of excellent young players came through the West Ham ranks. The new stars included Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Jermaine Defoe and Glenn Johnson, all of whom were to go on to become seasoned England internationals. The sad thing was that unlike Moore, Hurst and Peters most of this crop of players reached the height of their performing skills playing for clubs other than West Ham.

The days of mega money and adulation had arrived with the Premier League. Lampard and Ferdinand left first whilst the remainder of this group of players shipped out over the next few years, most going after another unfortunate relegation for the club in 2003.

But again they were back a couple of seasons later.

Another trip to Wembley beckoned in 2006, with the club just a few minutes away from FA cup victory, prior to Liverpool’s Stephen Gerrard stepping up with a wonder goal to rescue the game for his team. The game remained deadlocked, going to penalties which Liverpool won. No open top bus celebrations this time.

My own final metamorphosis at West Ham began in 2008, when I started covering home games for a national newspaper. This has offered a glimpse of football from another angle. I do ofcourse have to be scrupulously objective in reporting the games and may, being aware of a tendency to bias, be overly generous to the opposition teams at times.

Football reporting offers a different aspect, with the manager’s views and insights offering a different pitch side view. Weirdly, sitting adjacent to the press box is a lad I used to play football with back in the 1980s. Little seems to have changed with him, he now targets the abuse he threw at team mates toward those he has paid to watch on a Saturday.

Possibly the most memorable game covered as a journalist was another play off final in 2012. West Ham had gone down again but bounced back under the manager ship of Sam Allardyce, winning the play off final 2-1 against Blackpool. Another great day, even if viewed this time from the refined seats of the Wembley press facilities.

West Ham are about to make the monumental move from their home of more than a century at the Boleyn ground to the Olympic Stadium. It will be a wrench for most supporters but with the club’s fortunes once again in the ascent, big things are expected. The team is improving and the move will see the club become a much bigger player in the football lexicon. So West Ham supporters are once again blowing bubbles and hoping for the best. Whatever the new stadium brings, what is for sure is that life as a West Ham supporter or objective journalist will never be dull.

* published Morning Star - 6/2/2016 - "The Boleyn - Home and Away"

Thursday, 7 January 2016

City of London Corporation should pay out to fix depleting lakes of Wanstead Park

Many people must have enjoyed the local treasure that is Wanstead Park over the Christmas and New Year period. While the park is a fantastic wilderness paradise, many have also been struck by the present state of the lakes which appear to be losing all of their water. Whilst much of England suffers flooding the lakes in Wanstead Park seem to be leaking water at an incredible rate.
The conservators of the park, the City of London Corporation, must be aware of what the problem is with the lakes from the hydrology study they conducted last year. Yet nothing has been done to rectify the problem.
One can only imagine that the Corporation are waiting for another public hand out in the form of lottery funding or some such to deal with the problem. Why though the need to wait? The Corporation is sitting on literally billions, yet refuses to pay out the relative small change required for the ongoing maintenance of the park.
Surely the Corporation of London should act in the spirit of Queen Victoria, who gave Epping Forest for "the use and enjoyment" of the people of London, and cough up to fix the lakes and other ongoing running repairs of the park. Wanstead Park represents an oasis in East London but without a bit or nurture in the true spirit of which it was bequeathed, this fantastic wilderness will collapse and disappear before our very eyes. 

* published - Ilford Recorder and Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 7/1/2016

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Jeremy Corbyn needs to follow up on his reshuffle by developing solid policy positions that can then be communicated by a better media operation to the wider public

Jeremy Corbyn had to reshuffle the shadow cabinet. He had to assert his authority to lead against repeated attempts by elements in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to undermine.

The attitude of many on the right of the PLP resembles that of turkeys voting for Christmas. If they do not get behind the leader and represent a cohesive party united behind agreed policies the electorate are sure to kick them out come the next general election.

Many in the PLP seem to have an attitude that resembles that of those monarchs who propagated the divine right of kings mantra. They do not seem to think they have a responsibility to anyone - the Labour Party leadership, the Labour members or indeed the voters – they are there by right of their being.

There are ofcourse those on the Blairite right, who think it is only a matter of time before Corbyn is deposed as leader. Some are biding their time on this one, whilst others do their limited best to ensure that it is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The longer Corbyn stays in position though, backed by the membership, the stronger his position will be over the dissenters. As time passes more will fall in line, as the instincts of self-preservation reassert themselves over any other concerns.

A reshuffle is a first move toward asserting authority. A second move must be to start putting out some real policy positions across the board. This has not happened so far due in part to the manner in which Corbyn became leader plus the seeming need to constantly fire fight, a combination of hostile media and dissident PLP members – with these two elements often in unison.

The policy formation process should initially primarily focus on the economy and domestic agenda. Those seeking to build division in Labour have prospered on the disagreements over Syria bombing, Trident renewal etc.

Finally, the Labour Party needs to get a proper media strategy in place. It is no good simply talking to friendly parts of the media – they are difficult to find anyway.

The ongoing attacks being launched in the press and broadcast media need to be confronted. The constant abuse on programmes like the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme have a damaging eroding effect if not countered.

There are areas of the media that have sympathy to some of the Corbyn agenda, for example in some of the business pages. Even during the Syria bombing debate, there were sympathetic noises from the likes of Peter Oborne, Simon Jenkins and Max Hastings.  Potential allies need to be courted and won over.

At present, the media operation surrounding Corbyn seems to have adopted a siege mentality, which often results in a failure to communicate at all. So much needs to be done with the media operation if a clear narrative is to be communicated to the general public.  
These changes should help shape the future trajectory of the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership. Clear policies well communicated will gain the support of the public as well as keep building the movement that began with the leadership election that brought Corbyn to power.