Election Blog 5: UKIP manifesto

I was planning to write the latest addition to my short and instantly forgettable election blog series, but then the first of the winter bugs came along and knocked me off my perch. I’m back on it again (sort of) and am inspired by the high point of any election campaign, that being the publication of UKIP’s manifesto.

To say UKIP is a spent force in British politics would be an understatement. But it is worth remembering that they managed to reach 27% of the vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections. And it’s reasonable to conclude that this incredible showing influenced both David Cameron and Ed Miliband, to commit to a Referendum on EU membership, in their respective 2015 manifestos.

How have the mighty fallen. Cameron ran away after cocking up the Referendum and is now hiding in a Shepherd’s Hut, stoking the wood-burner with remaindered copies of his autobiography. Miliband sits on the back benches musing over what might have been, if whoever came up with the Ed Stone idea had never been born; and UKIP.

UKIP. I always thought, at least from the time when Farage mounted a coup and took it over after the ’97 general election, that UKIP was a deniable asset of the extreme right wing of the Tory party (formerly known as The Monday Club). Its goal was always to get us out of the EU, other policies were irrelevant, except insofar as they would deliver that goal – immigration (as a proxy for racism) being the card they always played, year in, year out.

There was another faction operating over the same time period – we’re talking about 20 years ago, which also wanted out of the EU – though for a subtly different set of reasons. These were the Hayekians, the libertarians, which morphed into the Hard Right group of Think Tanks and their apparatchiks orbiting 55 Tufton Street, with their wealthy US billionaire funding. This group wanted the UK to be free of the shackles of EU legislation – directives which the UK were required to sign up to – on everything from workers rights, to environmental protections. One particularly influential source of funding was the Koch Brothers, who supported the Tufton Street conspirators very generously. They made their billions from fossil fuels and weren’t going to allow any quasi-commie EU legislators stop them from destroying the planet in the name of Big Profits.

The two factions have worked together over the past couple of decades, though I think it’s fair to say the relationship has been fractious. It’s been suggested to me that this fractiousness is just a cover and they are really one group. I am not convinced, but history will tell us in the end. That they split into Vote Leave (the Tufties) and Leave dot EU (the far-right) during the Referendum campaign is illustrative, even if they did evidently work together when it suited them.

Anyway, enough ancient history. Is there anything worth saying about UKIP’s manifesto? Arguably the best thing to do would be to ignore it. But that would be a mistake, because UKIP still represents a small proportion of the electorate. People really do believe the stuff they write.

The manifesto is a weird mix of state-authoritarian and low-tax libertarian and in that sense politically it makes no sense whatsoever. However, this accusation could equally well be applied to the Tory party manifesto, so that doesn’t get us anywhere.

On agriculture, UKIP is of course thrilled that we are leaving the hated Common Agricultural Policy. Everybody seems happy about this, aside from farmers, and agricultural policy experts who have been thinking very carefully about what the consequences might be if the replacement is even worse.

Aside from the bleedin’ obvious that leaving the CAP means we will have to produce a “tailor-made” policy (duh), UKIP’s first priority for UK farming is anti-microbial resistance.

“a wide range of grants with tackling anti-microbial resistance as a major priority.”

this is the top priority.

Following that UKIP are very concerned about “traceability and origins of raw materials”, “country of origin, method of production, transport and slaughter.”

They finish with the neat idea that they will ” incentivise more British students and young people to pick the harvest during their summer holidays rather than relying on foreign labour.”

No detail is provided as to the methods of incentivisation   – cattle prod? or perhaps just making a summer of hard manual labour a requirement for any EU student wanting to come and study in the UK.

On methods of slaughter, I’m not going to sully this piece with any comment about the rampant Islamophobia which reeks from this document, other than to say it’s there.

The agriculture section is mercifully brief, but Energy gets its own page. But this is mainly used to reconfirm UKIP’s climate denial position. Marine Plastic is a big problem and Deforestation (remember the far-right loves trees) but – and just to emphasise the point, it’s in bold so you can’t miss it “there is no climate emergency.”

UKIP would reintroduce coal burning power stations and fracking, because, of course, energy autarchy is the goal they seek. But this is where it gets weird. On the one hand UKIP argues there is no climate emergency, but on the other they argue that there is no need for action because the UK’s GHG contribution is so small.

Well, which is it to be? Climate Chaos either exists or it doesn’t. Why would UKIP want to invest in carbon capture and storage technology (they do), if CO2 isn’t a problem?

On the environment, UKIP is terribly keen on the Green Belt, but are desperate to build houses all over brownfield land. Has no-one pointed out to them how much of the Green Belt is brownfield land?Apparently it’s “uncontrolled mass immigration” which is the main threat to the Green Belt. who knew.

There’s the usual guff about allowing farmers to drain their land – they already can and do.

Apparently, after  leaving the EU UKIP “will uphold high environmental standards that protect our air quality, waterways, woodlands, farmland and other habitats.”

Well yes everyone’s saying that, aren’t they. But the truth is the standards will slip, whoever gets in power.

And Forest. UKIP loves forests, and trees. They “will protect our woodlands and end the sale and privatisation of woodland managed by The Forestry Commission and National Parks.” In this respect UKIP makes the same basic error as every other party – confusing woodlands with conifer plantations.

There isn’t much else to say, aside from UKIP’s position on Science. UKIP feels that science has not been kind to their world view. UKIP feels it is the only party that truly understands the scientific process and that all its policies are based on the best available science. They use some interesting examples to illustrate their scientific underpinning.

The first one is – yes you guessed it – ritual slaughter. Then it gets weird. Science is apparently causing too many road signs.

“Transport, where suspect ‘scientific’ studies have often been used to justify excessive signage, usage restrictions and road furniture which allegedly increase traffic flow and reduce congestion, and the over-zealous introduction of monitoring cameras and deterrents like speed bumps which allegedly improve road safety and reduce accidents, though common-sense, anecdotal evidence and other, arguably less partisan and more objective academic studies, suggest they frequently achieve the opposite.”

Yes, they’ve fallen over their own hurdle. It’s “common-sense, anecdotal evidence” which is what’s best, if you don’t like the science.

Then comes climate change. “Dogma is no replacement for objectivity, especially when there is so much at stake financially.” Well, yes – it’s difficult to argue with the sentiment.

But UKIP, never being more than a few metres away from a racist dog-whistle, then gets all confused again that maybe there is something in this climate change conspiracy after all, suggesting that the UK’s GHG footprint is “comparable to that of some single cities in the third world.”

Blame the poor!

This final point broke my irony meter. It could almost be a straight steal from any number of reports critiquing the climate denial movement:

“While considering published research, UKIP recognises that it is important to determine who fund-ed it, and what the aims might be of the funder, and also examine the record of the researchers concerned so as to determine if they too are likely to have an agenda. There have been instances when data has been falsified, or analysed only selectively, so as to support conclusions that fit the requirements of a lobbying group. That is not good or acceptable science and needs to be exposed.”

I’ll finish (as this is already way too long) with a final thought. UKIP will halt the rollout of 5G mobile phone technology until it can be proved that the waves are “fully safe for human beings, animals, plants and microbes.”

The clues are littered through this manifesto. The obsession with food origins and contamination, microbial resistance, litter, and now, to crown it – mutation of plants and microbes into new and terrifying monsters.

Yes, it’s Colonel Jack D Ripper explaining that the Commies are poisoning his “precious bodily fluids.”

And people will vote for them.

 

Posted in 2019 general election, UKIP | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Election Blog 4: The Manifestos

too radical for Corbyn’s Labour party

Now that all of the party Manifestos (and the Brexit Party’s “contract with the people”) have been published, it’s possible to make some comparisons between them  – what are they offering to the electorate, and particularly those who place the environment high up their list of priorities?

Interestingly, some recent yougov polling suggests the environment is second only to Brexit as the most important issue for young voters. And given that 1.6 million people (mostly young voters) have registered since the 10th November, what the parties are saying about the environment matters. Whether it will have an effect on people’s voting, considering that Brexit is still by far the most significant issue people will be voting on, is another matter.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s start with the Brexit Party as we can get that out of the way quickly. The Brexit Party is already a spent force, having done it’s job, of forcing Boris Johnson to move to the hardest possible Brexit, thus occupying the ground TBP had made its own (albeit briefly). They have now returned to the sort of surreal nonsensical territory that UKIP previously occupied. Farage’s big headline one day last week was that he was seeking to work with Donald Trump on a global tree-planting campaign.

Bearing in mind Trump genuinely believes global warming is a conspiracy theory created by the Chinese, and Farage just doesn’t believe in it, it’s plausible that this is a dead cat story, intended to divert from something else – perhaps the fact that TBP has thrown in the towel. Indeed, despite TBP’s contract with the people claiming that they would have a massive tree-planting campaign to “capture CO2” they fail to mention climate change once. Do they have some other reason for capturing this gas? Elsewhere it’s much as you would expect – relax planning rules around housing (BXP chair Richard Tice is a developer).

Another BXP policy is to reduced tariffs on “certain” foods imported from outside the EU (the US perhaps?). This would very quickly destroy large parts of the UK farming industry, freeing up more land for Mr Tice and his friends to build houses on, I guess. You get the picture.

The Green party manifesto is normally pretty radical and this one doesn’t disappoint. They consistently push for a wholesale change in land taxation to introduce Land Value Tax – even for undeveloped farmland, it seems. An LVT charge based on 1.4% of the current land value would mean a hectare of farmland worth £10,000 would generate a tax charge of £140 a year. GP state exemptions would apply – hopefully they would apply to land with high nature or historic value, land owned by charities  – proper charities mind, not “tax- efficient” Trusts; and land where food is being produced under the most environmentally friendly practices – organic being an obvious example.

Labour’s manifesto is striking by the amount of public spending they are signed up to – £80bn a year, apparently. This sounds like is an unfeasibly large amount of money  but then again the NHS costs around £130Bn a year to run, so it’s not that big. And anyway a lot of the spending planned is actually investment.

But that’s not the point. Because the Tories have committed to very little extra spending in comparison and this is the comparison they will now drive home, with the electorate. I think it was a big strategic error for Labour to make this huge spending commitment at a time when people are still feeling the full effects of the last 10 years of massive public sector funding cuts. It creates space for the Tories to argue that they are now abandoning “austerity” and turning on the public spending taps, while still appearing they have that mythical fiscal discipline they always claim is the natural policy of the Tory party (it isn’t.)

Another interesting thing about the Labour manifesto is that they rejected the proposals from the “Land for the Many” working group. LFTM, produced some radical ideas about land-use and the way land is taxed and subsidised. The report was attacked relentlessly in the right wing press – every smear tactic known to hard-right thinktanks was deployed. It appears to have worked and scared the Labour party into backing away. This is a pity as there were some excellent proposals in the report.

I was pleased to see Labour intends to review the tax break on Red Diesel though. This was something I raised in the People Need Nature report on farmland tax breaks.

There is remarkably little in the way of new policy proposals in the Tory manifesto, and even fewer on the environment. A few interesting snippets have come to light in the costings document – namely that they will implement the Glover Review on national parks. But disturbingly for Defra, the costs of the Glover Review, setting up the Office for Environmental Protection, meeting air quality targets; and creating a new northern coast to coast path, will all come out of the existing Defra departmental budget. There will be no new money for the environment.

On agriculture, all the main parties have offered something similar as a post-Brexit farm policy, with most of the money going towards public goods. And everyone has said they will build hundreds of thousands of new houses a year – all on brownfield land! I would take both of these with a big pinch of salt.

There is every prospect that, whichever party or coalition gets in, there will be much more pressure (from the NFU of course) to adopt a productivist policy for food. While Gove was there or thereabouts, an environmentally focussed agriculture bill was in play. If we were to get another Owen Paterson in Defra, that would go out of the window.

As for housing, I can confidently predict that hundreds of thousands of new houses will not be built, regardless of who is in power, or how much more of an axe is taken to planning controls. This is because planning is not holding back the creation of new housing. Read Land for the Many – it explains very clearly what the reasons are.

Finally, I feel duty bound to mention the parties proposals for climate action. Tories have stuck with net zero by 2050 (which is far too late as far as I understand what the climate scientists are now telling us) and the Libdems by 2045 (ditto).  Labour abandoned their conference decision to go for net zero by 2030, now promising to get “a substantial majority” of emissions reduced by 2030. And they’ve certainly committed to spending a lot of money to reach that target.

Labour’s is probably the most sensible and realistic position to take on climate action, but I don’t think the public is yet sufficiently aware of the threat to their way of life, to be willing to vote for it.

UPDATE

one of the LFTM authors Guy Shrubsole, has been in touch to suggest that actually Labour has taken on board a lot of the recommendations from the report, albeit not the more radical ones.

Guy says

” there are plenty of our asks in there, from opening up info on land ownerships to supporting county farms, reviewing allotments act, reviewing whether business rates should be replaced with LVT, letting public authorities buy land cheaply again,  higher council tax on empty homes, tax on second homes, and an offshore property levy.”

 

Posted in 2019 general election, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Election Blog 3: Tory Dirty Tricks

When I started thinking about the Election I thought that it would be good to write a series of blogs exploring how the environment was being treated, both in the Manifestos and in the Campaign. But, as has happened with Brexit over the last nearly four years now, other things keep catching my eye.

Once the Tories reveal their manifesto I will do some compare and contrast on environmental policies – suffice to say that offerings from the Greens, Libdems and Labour hold few if any surprises – aside from the fact that Labour in the end decided not to enter the Tree-Planting bidding war, and merely said they would plant lots of new trees.

The thing that has really come to the surface this week has been what I call Tory Dirty Tricks. Now you may think, isn’t that just what Tories do anyway? Well, yes… but this week has seen them take this to a new level of egregiousness. Of course, Propaganda is as old as politics – and all parties, all persuasions use it to some degree. I’m old enough to remember those billboard adverts telling us “Labour isn’t working” back in 1979, during that fabled Winter of Discontent. While the strikes were real, the label was itself a creation of the right wing media, and it resonated with the public, fed up with a Labour Government fighting with the Unions – who were supposed to be its friends.

Somehow billboards covered in pictures showing ridiculously long queues for the job centre, where it was obvious who was putting across the message, seem quite quaint by today’s standards. We’ve been treated with two examples this week of propaganda of quite another stripe – more akin to the sort of thing Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL does to swing elections – otherwise known information warfare or psyops.

Firstly during the Leadership Debate the Conservative Press Office twitter account rebranded itself as a fact checking website, and proceeded to spew falsehoods about Labour’s policy positions. This, as digital law expert and commentator Paul Bernal points out, is in direct contravention of Twitter rules on verified (blue tick) accounts. Further, Bernal notes that it undermines legitimate fact checking sites  – and this may actually have been the reason they did it. Twitter told them off but took no action to stop them.

As if spurred on by the fact that they got away with this brazen act of propaganda (way beyond what might be termed Fake News), the main Conservative Party account activated a campaign on the day Labour launched their manifesto. This was based on the hashtag #costofcorbyn, but it built upon a previous action on the 10th November, when the Tories launched a website called http://www.costofcorbyn.com – which various frontline Tory politicians promoted during the Sunday round of political programmes, when they spread the lie about Labour’s £1.2Tn spending plans. This website is actually there to grab personal data (Add you name to Stop Jeremy Corbyn!) so gullible voters  can be targeted with much more propaganda via email or micro-targeted Facebook ads (yes we’re back to Cambridge Analytica again)  – the website is there essentially as a “lead capture trap”, for gathering personal data. So far, typical Dominic Cummings.

What happened yesterday was far more concerning, in that  the Conservatives created a fake website by buying a relevant web domain LabourManifesto.c.o.uk and using this to attack Labour and Corbyn specifically. Once you get to the website it’s made reasonably clear that it’s a spoof/fake. But the tweets that the main Conservative Party account put out all through the day yesterday did not make that at all clear. Far from it. It was obvious that they were trying to deceive. Here’s one of the offending tweets.

 

 

 

 

 

When I mentioned that I had reported this and several other tweets to twitter for misleading voters, various people suggested that it was obviously a spoof and all part of the electoral cut and thrust. This is nonsense. Social Media operates on the basis that people have limited time to scrutinise what passes in front of their eyes, and that much information (including ads) is absorbed subliminally. This is why so much advertising spend is now focused on social media, and is increasing every year. This is why advertising is such a huge industry!

We’ll see whether Twitter takes any action  – but I’m not holding my breath. No doubt further emboldened by the fact that they have once again got away with something that would never be allowed in a newspaper or tv ad, we can only guess what will come next.

Perhaps they have created some “deep fake” videos of Jeremy Corbyn building a bomb for the IRA. Or uttering some foul anti-semitic remarks.

It doesn’t really matter what the next move is. The point is that the Tories (so far only them of the main electoral contenders) have decided that there are no lines that cannot be crossed, all tactics are acceptable to use, because winning is all that matters. When you consider this in the context of suppressing the report on Russian interference in UK elections, the Parliamentary dirty tricks around prorogation; and abandoning efforts to get the Brexit deal through Parliament, in favour of this election, a clear pattern emerges.

The only thing that Johnson cares about is winning, even if that means undermining and damaging what is already a crumbling edifice of democracy – and democratic accountability, in particular. Obviously there are policies (which we shall see clearly once the Tory manifesto has been published) that everyone should be worried about. But actually I think these are less important than what’s happening now.

Because the idea that elections are “no holds barred”, any tactics can be used, will become the norm if we allow it.

As I wrote previously, I thought people argument’s in favour of a second EU referendum were deeply flawed, principally because nothing had been done to stop the widespread cheating and lying that epitomised the first one. That point still stands. But what is clear is that the Tory team running this campaign (many of whom worked in the Vote Leave campaign team) is using exactly the same approach as they did  in the Referendum.

Well… it worked for them last time, didn’t it.

 

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Election Blog 2: Floods and Tree-planting

It has been a bit of a surprise to see the environment figure so prominently in the election campaign over the last week or so – usually it’s so far down the list of priorities, or perhaps more accurately the list of issues that generally interest the media, that it never breaks through the surface. Thanks in part to Boris Johnson’s decision to hold a General Election in December, it was the terrible flooding in Yorkshire and Derbyshire which grabbed our attention.

The focus of that attention was Fishlake, a ominously named village neat Thorne – of the notorious Thorne and Hatfield Moors – the large lowland raised bog which was mined for horticultural peat despite a long running campaign to save what was left of it for nature. I have seen suggestions that Fishlake was originally also part of the Raised Bogs of this area, which might explain its name (the lake left after the peat was dug out) and its low lying status. It’s still not clear exactly why Fishlake flooded this year, and not in 2007 when there was a much larger flood in South Yorkshire. But what was clear was how badly the Johnson team failed to react to the flood, turning up to meet the victims over a week late, and looking, as ever, as if he was only seeking a PR opportunity.

There were the inevitable calls to “Dredge The Rivers” from farmers whose farmland had disappeared under flood water. And the conspiracy theory – from the 2014 Somerset Levels floods  that it was the EU which had banned Blighty from dredging also reappeared and did the rounds. That the dredging went ahead in Somerset despite those dastardly EU dredge-police, seems to have passed that particular group of conspiracy mongers by. Quite apart from the fact that it is only likely to help in very limited circumstances, whether there will be any money available for the extremely expensive practice of dredging in post-Brexit Britain, remains to be seen.

Another interesting change in the debate has happened as a result of Brexit, namely around calls by farmers to be paid to hold flood water on their own land. It’s not clear why all farmers – especially ones which farm in the floodplain – should be expected to be paid when their farmland floods. After all, flooding is a perfectly natural event  – just as natural as, say, when it doesn’t rain for weeks on end, as happened last year. Both have an effect on the production of crops. Should farmers be paid for every incident when nature affects the growth of crops – such as a pest outbreak, or disease?

It needs to be thought through carefully, but in principle, the means for paying farmers to provide “public goods” like reducing downstream flooding of urban areas, was going to be made available through the new Agriculture Bill – you remember, the one which nearly made it through Parliament before Boris Johnson closed it down so he could have this election. Whether it comes back in anything like the same shape or form is debateable. The opportunity for farmers to be paid to reduce downstream flooding may turn out to have been just a phantom.

The NFU, bless them, were arguing for payments for flood storage, upstream catchment management, and dredging – the belt and braces approach. If the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss get into serious positions of power in the next Government, they will be looking to make a quick deal with the US allowing in their super cheap food. In which case all of this will be academic as farmers will be unable to compete on price, however many rivers are dredged. But the impact of Climate Chaos is now really starting to make itself clearly heard. Potatoes are rotting in the ground, because there has been so much rain as to make it impossible to lift them – or they are so wet that its preferable to leave them in the ground, rather than risk introducing rot to those already in stores.  I suspect pictures of farms surrounded by thousands of acres of flood water in Lincolnshire will become a regular sight. And what was once regarded as the best agricultural land in Britain will be grazing marsh, then salt marsh, then intertidal mud. Lincolnshire farmers may shout “build the wall” but it’s not going to happen. Still, all that’s for another election in a few years time.

On Friday last week we were treated to an auction between the Tories the LibDems and the SNP as to who could promise to plant the most number of Trees. I suppose this qualifies as an environmental story, albeit one from the Ladybird book of environmental activities. It’s easy to set targets for tree-planting and sound like you’re doing something for the environment. Michael Gove on Saturday’s Today programme pointed out that it was a Tory Government that had achieved the lofty heights of 30,000ha of new trees planted in a year, back in 1989.  What he failed to mention was that this was mainly thanks to planting commercial conifer plantations on the globally important peat bogs of the Caithness Flow Country in northern Scotland. Nor did he mention that it was fuelled by tax breaks for millionaires.

I was reminded of a small but significant action at the time, when Friends of the Earth Scotland arranged for a group of kilted Scotsmen (with Piper) to head down to Buckinghamshire and plant some conifers on Terry Wogan’s lawn, as a protest. Also worth mentioning at this point is that the “Environment Secretary” at the time of this environmental outrage, was none other than Viscount Matt Ridley’s uncle, Nick Ridley. There must be something in the water under the family estate, leaking out from all that coal.

Strangely this cautionary tale of the dangers of over enthusiastic tree planting targets did not make it into the coverage. Gove did make a rather pathetic claim that the EU was to blame for the Government not meeting its tree-planting targets though. Again, somehow he managed to ignore the fact that it was his predecessor Owen Paterson who had decided not to transfer across the maximum allowed amount from direct farm subsidies (Pillar one of the CAP) into Pillar 2 (which includes grants for tree-planting) back in 2013.

The Tories have claimed they will plant 30 million trees a year, and the Lib Dems 60 million! at 1500 a hectare that translates into 20,000ha a year for the Tories and 40,000ha for the LibDems. The SNP pointed out that last year only 1400ha of new plantation was achieved in England, compared with 11,200ha in Scotland. Taking individual responsibility is a key tenet of both Conservative and Liberal political philosophy – and that’s been reflected in the Tory attitude to tree-planting – hand out small packs of trees to individuals and community groups and let them find places where they can be planted. This usually means trees end up being planted in the wrong place, where they can damage or destroy wildlife and historic features  – or that they die for lack of water or poor soil. The same problem applies to small scale woodland planting supported by farm subsidies or grants. Farmers tend to plant trees where they won’t interfere with cropping or grazing – and these can often be the last places on the farm where wildlife survives – the scruffy corners, or small patches of agriculturally unproductive grassland – which happens to be rich in wildlife.

Good places to plant trees (or even better allow them to develop naturally) are in the upper catchments of rivers. Add in a few beavers and you create, for very little public cost, wooded wetlands which capture water and release slowly into the downstream rivers. The perfect was to reduce the risk of flooding. Knepp provides a very neat example of how an upper catchment willow carr can develop on former arable land.

PS Congratulations to Craig Bennett for being selected as the next Chief of the Wildlife Trusts.

 

 

Posted in 2019 general election, farm subsidies, farm tax breaks, flooding, tree planting | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Election Blogs 1: setting the scene

 

 

 

 

 

There’s an election coming! yes of course you know. But this could be the most interesting and bizarre election in decades. The old tribal boundaries between Left and Right are really breaking down, and it’s difficult to see how they will be reconstructed after 2019.

Staunch Labour heartland constituencies that voted strongly to leave the EU are unlikely to be persuaded by Corbyn’s ambiguous Brexit position. But will they really be able to vote Tory, or perhaps more likely for the Brexit Party. At the other end of the country (well England, anyway), are strongly pro-Remain Tory heartlands, such as those constituencies John Harris talks about in this article. Local Council and Euro election results show clearly  that the historic bonds to the Tory party are loosening. Will they break completely this time, with a wholesale shift to the LibDems, alongside former Tory now independent MPs? Will the Remain Alliance achieve anything in our creaking, no failing, First Past The Post system, other than larger opposition votes.

Added to this extra dimension of Remain/Leave, is the continuing rejection of the old Westminster parties in Scotland, and perhaps also in Wales, especially South Wales.  This is another former Labour heartland now looking like it may finally lose that old bond.

To add to the electoral strata of old tribal loyalties, the Remain/Leave split; and burgeoning nationalism (especially in Scotland), there is a profound distrust in politicians in general. While there has always been a healthy scepticism around politics at all levels, there’s no question that the voting public now view Westminster politics in an extremely poor light.

The Brexit Party in particular has exploited and fanned the flames of this distrust, making best use of the Betrayal Narrative, which I wrote about earlier. It remains to be seen whether Farage will pull back from his threat to field candidates in constituences where they could split the Leave vote. That peerage offer may be simply too tempting for the politician who has failed on seven previous occasions, to make it into Westminster via the electoral route.

It’s no wonder the Betrayal Narrative is working so well as a political strategy, when MPs are generally viewed as self-serving, money-grubbing and completely uninterested in the views or needs of their electorate. I don’t agree with this view  – many MPs serve the public – both their constituents and wider civil society, work very hard, sacrifice their home life; and now have to work under a constant barrage of abuse, even physical threats of violence. And it’s not just from the far right, but extremists on all sides.  Who would want to be an MP in these circumstances? This, among other factors, is creating a feedback loop, where MPs are selected from within the existing political parties, from within the very small Westminster bubble, and become ever less representative of the wider public.

I am not going to say much more now, other than that I am waiting for the party manifestos and when they are published I will write more blogs, with a particular focus on the various party’s commitments (or aspirations anyway) on the environment, farming, food and housing.

If you’re looking for predictions, forget it. And certainly don’t trust the polls, unless they are at or near constituency level.

And watch the weather, it could play a very significant role in this, the first December election in nearly a century.

 

 

photo by:  The joy of all things [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

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The Brexit Charade

The Brexit charade continues to play out.

Increasingly shrill, even hysterical threats emanate from what we can only assume to be the new bunker built by Dominic Cummings’ dad under Number 10 Downing Street. The latest one, picked up and amplified by the Spectator no less, involves Cummings threatening EU member states with the Brexit equivalent of excommunication if they allow an extension beyond the Halloween deadline – but now we realise why this portentous date was chosen. In the coming days, expect promises of the dead rising from their graves, and the spirits of the damned being unleashed on Cummings’ enemies.

Does Cummings see himself as a Gandalf on his white charger riding to glory across the plains below Minas Tirith?  quite possibly. I see him more as Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, playing with power he has no control over, causing a mess for others to clean up.

Whatever the state of Cummings’ delusions, it seems to me that Johnson is going through the motions of threatening a crash-out scary Halloween Brexit, while having no intention of actually doing it.

As yesterday’s Scottish court finding concluded, there was no need for the court to legally force Johnson to write the letter asking for the extension, as he had written to the court saying he would write that letter. Johnson might get his minions to lie to the Queen, and he may lie about giving favours to his friends, and he may well lie about just about everything else, but lying to a High Court would land him in very hot legal water. So it looks increasingly likely that Johnson will write the letter, and the EU will give a further extension, possibly with a caveat that it will only operate until there is an election or a second referendum.

What then could all this bluster, threats and invocations of the ghosts of Brexit past, present and future, mean? I think what Johnson and Cummings are doing is building the betrayal narrative. The betrayal narrative is a well worn tactic, where when something hasn’t worked out, it’s because of all the dark forces preventing it from happening. In this case it will be

a) Parliament

b) remoaners conspiring with the EU

c) traitors in the High Court

d) remoaner civil servants in Whitehall

e) the EU; and

f) the Irish.

The Irish have traditionally played the role of scapegoat in British political pantomime and there’s no reason why they won’t be brought on this time, possibly in a surprise last minute starring role.

This is all preparing the ground for the next General Election, when Johnson can position himself as champion of the people (his hero is Pericles – another champion of the people) fighting against the Elites.

Johnson – Eton and Oxford educated, scion of several European Aristocratic & Royal houses – fighting against the elites……..

anyway.

The narrative being built is that the elites, the establishment, the deep state and so on, are undermining Johnson – Champion of the People – in his quest for the Holy Grail. Sorry his quest for the one true Brexit. If only all these dark forces (and naughty French kniggets) weren’t conspiring to stop him, he would have found the Holy Brexit by now, and unleashed the golden light of freedom on the grateful people.

King Boris seeks the Holy Brexit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok I exaggerate for effect but the point remains the same. Which means that there is an election coming, and soon. Johnson will stick to his dream of a crash-out Brexit, or “Freedom Brexit” as I expect it will be rebranded. He has to do this even if he doesn’t believe it. Because if he moves away from the Hardest Possible Brexit, he will lose ground – to the Brexit Party.

Have you noticed how quiet Nigel Farage has been? He knows that Johnson is approaching the time of greatest risk, when, having been forced into requesting an extension beyond Halloween, he is vulnerable to being attacked as an apostate, a fallen believer. Farage’s Brexit Party will have to decide whether they want to accept the Betrayal  Narrative and cosy up to the Tories (and risk political oblivion); or reject Johnson’s betrayal narrative as a false one – and urge the Electorate to accept that the Brexit Party’s Betrayal Narrative is the one true narrative.

One problem the Brexit Party has, it that it has no policies other than Get Brexit Done. And Johnson has stolen that from them.

Regular readers may recall that I am a long standing student of the environmental policies of UKIP and now the Brexit Party. Remember the heady days of Dr Earth, for example? Or Stuart Agnew and his problems with gases?

I’ve been trying to find a few clues as to what TBP’s electoral position might be, on things like the environment and agriculture. Needless to say it’s a very confused picture.

TBP MEP Rupert Lowe for example wants farm subsidies to continue after Brexit – including a pay off to compensate for the effects of a crash-out Brexit. But then he would as he owns a very large Cotswold estate and trousers over £50k a year in Euro farm subsidies – oops!

Housing developer and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice wants to see the UK grow much more of its own food  – from the current 60% or so, up to 80%. Increasing self-sufficiency to 80% would have a devastating effect on the countryside – as it did the last time the UK approached this figure through the 1980s. Then again Labour has also proposed this target.

Climate denialism is rife within the Brexit Party – as one would expect with the UKIP origins. One suggestion for new National Parks on the Welsh border included a ban on wind farms and solar farms within them, though it’s not clear whether TBP would re-open all of those Welsh coal mines.

Farage is on record as denying the reality of human-induced climate change. But recently he did suggest that “if we’re worried about CO2” (he isn’t) then the answer – lots of tree planting. Farage on last week’s Any Questions, responding to a question about the State of Nature report, suggested that “too many pesticides and insecticides” (insecticides are pesticides but never mind) were used in farming and “we have a problem with habitats, especially wetlands” (Farage is a keen angler).

Bringing all of these clues together gives us a few pieces of the puzzle. It suggests that TBP will reinstate an agriculture policy which pays farmers to produce more food, but possibly using fewer pesticides and insecticides. And there will lots of tree planting as well – and lovely clean rivers for angling. Wind and Solar farms will be banned, because there is no problem with climate change or need for renewable energy.

It’s a mess of course, because it’s just Tice, Farage, Lowe etc shooting off remarks without any further thought.

Given that the environment is now one of top issues for the electorate, according to recent polls (yes of course if you believe them), this would seem to be a big tactical mistake. And it’s certainly noteworthy how the Tories are pushing environmental stories on a regular basis – notably on animal welfare, and international wildlife trade. Expect much more of this as the election approaches.

Posted in Brexit, Dominic Cummings, The Brexit Party, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Climate Action, food and farming: a seismic shift for the NFU?

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my critical views on the National Farmers Union, the NFU – over the years. So be prepared for a shock, brace yourselves and read on.

Or stop now if your cognitive dissonance klaxon is blaring.

The NFU has released its long-awaited vision for how farming (in England of course) can reach net zero – that is no net contribution to the unfolding climate crisis, by 204. I say vision rather than plan, because it lays out its stall without necessarily revealing the cost of each individual item. Some items are a bit sketchy, and some are fantasy, but we’ll come on to that. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within the farming community, this is a very bold move on the part of the NFU and in particular its newish President Minette Batters.

The NFU accepts that agriculture makes a large contribution (10%) to the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. I say domestic, because of the way emissions are calculated. Country emissions ignore the GHG footprint of imported goods and services, as well as major contributions from air travel and international shipping. This means our domestic emissions may underestimate our total contribution to the global climate crisis by a large amount. Still, that’s another story. Agriculture’s emissions are mostly Methane – from ruminants like sheep and cows; and Nitrous Oxide, most of which is released from the soil when artificial nitrogen fertilisers are used.

The NFU’s solutions to addressing these pollutants fall into three categories –

  • techno fixes to improve productivity;
  • bioenergy with carbon capture & storage (BECCS); and
  • farmland carbon storage.

Of the total of 45 megatonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) greenhouse gases emitted per year from farmland in England, a whopping 22 Mt ie half, is going to be dealt with via BECCS. By comparison NFU sees new tree-planting on farmland as delivering 0.7MtCO2e.

Starting with the technofixes, the idea is to produce more food with less environmental impact – something which is known as sustainable intensification. This covers a wide range of things, from precision farming using satellite-controlled tractors, developing GMOs; and creating food additives to make cows fart less. Sustainable Intensification has been around for quite a while now and has been enthusiastically adopted as an idea. The odd thing though is that farm productivity overall has not increased during that 10 years.

 

 

 

 

Perhaps, like communism, it just hasn’t been done properly yet. And is there really any appetite among the British public for GM crops now, any more than there hasn’t been for the last 20 years? So I think it’s fair to say the NFU is being optimistic in thinking it can get one quarter of its target delivered through this route, but of course we won’t know until it’s been tried.

One thing that I noticed wasn’t mentioned is shifting away from using fossil fuels to power farm machinery. As I wrote about earlier in the year, Red Diesel use on English farms generates 1.1Mt of CO2 per year – fuel that is heavily subsidised by the tax payer. Cheap fuel is no incentive to drive fuel efficiency or innovative tech. Redirecting this £550M a year into supporting low carbon farming, or research into electric vehicles and farm robots, might be a good idea.

The NFU has nailed its colours firmly to the mast of Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage – BECCS. What this essentially means is that farmers grow crops which are used to create energy rather than food. The report helpfully points us towards what this means in practice on its front cover – Anaerobic Digesters, or AD plants. There are now nearly 350 AD plants across the UK – mainly driven by crops such as Maize and increasingly hybrid Rye. These are very heavily subsidised and they also have a host of environmental and social problems associated with them.

I have written a number of times about the problems with AD and personally I do not believe they are part of the solution to climate chaos. Then there is Carbon Capture and Storage – where carbon dioxide is drawn out of the air and stored underground for, effectively, ever. This is an idea which has been around for a long time, but there is no functioning system for doing it. Like nuclear fusion, the tech always seems to be five or 10 years away. Interestingly the Government’s own advisor on climate action, the Climate Change Committee, also depend on future developments of BECCS as part of their strategy, though they do recognise the danger  – that giving over large areas of farmland to bioenergy production can displace other land-uses (food mainly) elsewhere, including abroad.

The NFU specifically state that they want to avoid sending our GHG footprint elsewhere in the world, so how will they do this? What area of England would need to be covered by bioenergy crops, to create a 22MtCO2e saving per year? At the moment around 50,000ha of farmland is used to grow bioenergy Maize and other feedstock like sugar beet and hybrid Rye – and the NFU has previously stated its vision of 200,000ha of England’s farmland under such crops. Germany currently has seven times as much farmland under bioenergy as the UK – perhaps this is the target. We need to know. I previously calculated that half the arable land in Dorset would be needed to provide gas (not electricity) for Dorset’s residents.

The last leg of this stool is carbon storage on farmland. There is very little detail in here other than wider hedgerows and a smattering of farmland tree planting. There have been various claims (elsewhere) that changing from arable cultivation to no-till or min-till farming has the capacity to capture lots of carbon in soils, but so far the evidence is not there – what it does suggest is that there is movement of carbon from the surface layers of the soil into deeper layers, and vice versa. Traditionally soil carbon has only been measured in the top 6 inches – providing a very partial picture of soil carbon storage.

Extensively managed grassland does store a great deal of carbon in its soil though – as much as 1ooo tonnes of CO2e per hectare, according to research recently carried out by the Duchy Business School Soil Carbon Project (Matt Chatfield pers comm).

Perhaps the most intriguing suggestion is 3MtCO2e from peatland and wetland restoration. Peatlands across the UK currently emit 23MtCO2e a year – an incredible amount. Peat converted to arable – in the intensive farmland of East Anglia, is the biggest emitter and I don’t suppose the NFU is proposing that this area be converted to wetland – although sea level rise will do that, probably before the century is out. Perhaps they are thinking about the peatland converted to intensive grassland which emits 6.3MtCO2e per year. Seeing half of the Culm grassland (yes it’s peat) that was lost to intensive pasture in the South-West of England restored to its former wildlife-rich glory would be a marvellous outcome for everyone, although presumably not the farmers who currently farm it (some of it already being used to grow bioenergy crops for the plethora of AD plants across Devon.)

You may feel I am being unduly critical – even dismissive – of the NFU’s vision. I actually think it’s amazing that the NFU has produced this vision at all and it’s a great thing to see them place an environmental issue at the heart of their work.

Perhaps the biggest omission from the report is to ask the question “what sort of food should we be producing in the UK?”. Because that underlies everything else. If we were to produce more fruit and vegetables, more pulses to provide protein for people, less meat, less dairy and fewer crops to feed livestock, that would change all the equations for methane and Nitrous Oxide. But the NFU is not yet in a position to consider those questions.

And I suppose that sums up the approach which the NFU has taken in this report – trying as hard as possible to find ways of addressing farming’s climate footprint, without changing what farming produces. This has caused the authors to perform contortions which necessitate applying  – well let’s say aspirational – approaches such as BECCS and other techno fixes, rather than reducing their climate footprint through dietary changes of their consumers. In a way this illustrates how farmers are so constrained in what they do by all the other actors in the food chain – from machinery and chemical suppliers, the big retailers, policy wonks and politicians; and, ultimately, the consumer.

Personally I would advocate a different approach;

Changing our national diet – through education, incentives and taxation. Sustain is doing great work on this and I would recommend you read what they produce.

Producing less and better meat – rare breeds of beef and lamb, which is only produced using grassland and other forage, not cereals or importing soya beans from Brazil or Argentina. Chicken and Pork grown from domestic cereals produced extensively in mixed farming systems.

A massive increase in the production of domestic fruit and vegetables; and pulses. This is probably going to have to happen anyway as the supply of cheap fruit and veg produced in Spain & elsewhere is cut off by Brexit.

Shifting agriculture to Agro-ecology. This means farming in ways which work with nature not against it. Organic farming, small-scale horticulture, producing fruit and vegetable for local markets and communities.

A hundred Knepps. Developing large area of extensively grazed wood pasture which act as carbon sinks, wildlife refuges, produce excellent quality meat and provide places where people can enjoy and benefit from nature. Think of 100 Knepps, but on public land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in agro-ecology, Anaerobic Digester, biofuels, biogas, climate action, NFU | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Brexit Coups, Communism and Civil Assistance; some history.

The Army at Heathrow Airport 1974

It feels like things are coming to a head.

Talk of a coup may be overblown, but the Prime Minister has indicated that he may refuse to abide by an Act of Parliament – you know, the one that will receive Royal Assent tomorrow, which forces him to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50, should he have failed to reach a deal with them on how we leave on the 31st October.

An article in the Mail on Sunday today reveals that the Army is already stockpiling fuel and will distribute it (presumably to strategic locations where it can be accessed by those with the proper papers) in the event of a disruption to supplies caused either by a crash-out Brexit or industrial action in response to it, or both. Last week’s Private Eye led with the story emanating from leaks of Operation Yellowhammer: that in the event of a crash-out crisis, Local Government officials would be drafted in to work in Whitehall – presumably after the remainers have been purged – and the Army would be called in to run local authorities. The Army – or more specifically the Territorial Army, as what remains of the regular Army will be busy defending food dumps and escorting fuel convoys and providing a defensive perimeter around strategic locations. Oh and not forgetting a rapid deployment to Northern Ireland.

Let that sink in. Territorial Army members (some of whom no doubt already work in local Government – many of whom do not and wouldn’t know one end of a local council from the other – think Mark Francois) will take over Local Government roles. This is not a drill.

We already know that the Army Reserve, as it’s formally known, has been placed on standby since January. Thanks to the Yellowhammer leaks, we now know what it is expected that they will do once deployed.

Talk of a coup may be excessive, but in the event of a no-deal Brexit – the Prime Minister’s preferred option – the Army will be on the streets and in the council offices.

This reminds me of a strange story I heard, about a time not so different from now, when the country was wrestling with the knotty question of whether to stay in the European Union, or the Common Market, as it was known then. The time is 1974. Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson is in power, having seen off Ted Heath the year previously. Harold Wilson was a socialist though I would suggest nowhere near as left wing as Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell. He was a popular leader in the country – he presented an affable front which played well with the electorate. And Labour’s policies at the time created a country where inequality was at its lowest in the 20th century (and 21st).

But there were rumours that Wilson’s soft socialism (and the power of the unions at the time) hid far more malign intentions, of aligning with the Soviet Union – the old “reds under the beds” trope was still a big thing in the 70s. A small group of very right wing operators, led by SAS founder David Stirling, came together under the banner of GB75, to topple Wilson. One such character was General Walter Walker. Walker toured the country raising the spectre of a Communist take-over under the disguise of Wilson’s Socialist Government. He was recruiting for a group called Civil Assistance and claimed that at its height it had 100,000 members. The plan was that when Wilson had been toppled, should there be any civil unrest, the self-appointed members of Civil Assistance would take control of strategic locations – electricity sub-stations, telephone exchanges, council offices – the smaller scale infrastructure which a much larger Army, as it was back then, would have been stretched to cover.

You may find this difficult to believe, but it’s true. I heard an anecdote from an acquaintance who confirmed that people he knew, landowners, members of the elite even, were members of Civil Assistance. They made it clear that trouble makers would also be rounded up at the same time.

Something else also happened. The Army turned up, in force, at Heathrow Airport – a training exercise apparently – in June and July 1974. Wilson had not been informed – it was reported that he believed a coup was in progress. We now know that he was in the early stages of developing Alzheimer’s disease and this may not have helped his paranoia. Shortly afterwards he resigned. The Wilson Plot  has been rejected as just another cold war conspiracy theory. Perhaps it is.

With the ascension of Margaret Thatcher to the leadership of the Tory Party  – in Feb 1975, there was new hope for the far-right wing of the Tory party and the plotters diverted their attentions elsewhere. Wilson resigned, suddenly, a year later.

There is no known equivalent to Civil Assistance being organised at the moment, though I think we can all imagine people who would jump at the opportunity to get involved. To save the country from Communism as in 1974? Well there are plenty who would make the same claim about Corbyn the Communist – or indeed make absurd comparisons between the EU and Soviet Russia.

What else do we know? We know that Dominic “Colonel Kurtz” Cummings has indicated that he has plenty more shock tactics up his sleeve. Described as a revolutionary on the right, Cummings, it would seem, would like nothing more than seeing the existing structures of society swept away, with a new order created along his own ideological lines. I don’t think there’s any doubt he is a dangerous individual in a position of great power. Times have moved on and Cummings doesn’t need a volunteer army of 100,000 Civil Assistance members. Look no further than how he used Social Media to manipulate the 2016 EU Referendum Campaign. Only now he has the apparatus of Government at his fingertips. Watch him carefully. Perhaps Cummings is aware of the history of 1974-75 perhaps not. But we should all be alert to the possibilities in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Brexit, Civil Assistance, Harold Wilson, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Another top wildlife site trashed – landowner given paltry fine and let off costs

News has been dripping out, about a significant incident of damage to an SSSI in North Yorkshire.

The first we heard was on 21st August, when Defra announced a successful prosecution of a SSSI owner in North Yorkshire. The owner admitted three offences of damage to Newtondale SSSI, a large and complex site on the edge of the North York Moors National Park – including illegal track construction, illegal felling of trees and “significant earthworks”.

Presumably he was not building new long barrows or a hillfort.

Defra explained that the owner “was handed down a fine and ordered to make a contribution to Natural England’s costs.” Normally the amount of fine and the costs would have been detailed, and that it was left innumerate raised eyebrows, including my own. ENDS reporter James Agyepong-Parsons contacted Defra and asked them for more details, as did his colleague Gareth Simkins.

 

 

 

 

 

answer came there none.

Eventually, after receiving nothing from Defra, James found the details of the court case – the defendant had pleaded guilty on the 7th May at York Magistrates Court, received a £600 fine and ordered to pay £300 towards Natural England’s legal costs.

Why had it taken two and a half months between the judgement and Defra/NE making the case public? Were they embarrassed about the tiny size of the fine?

I had a look on the MAGIC website to discover that Unit 13 (ca 37 ha in area) of the Newtondale SSSI was now classified as “partly destroyed.” This is about as serious as it gets without Natural England denotifying part of a SSSI because it has lost its scientific interest (or value for nature as it is also known.)

For comparison, it’s worth noting that the area (unit 4) of Gelt Wood SSSI in Cumbria, which was damaged through track construction and illegal felling of trees (for a pheasant shoot) resulting in a £450,000 fine and £457,000 costs, is now considered to be in “unfavourable recovering” condition. An assessment of unfavourable recovering  is good enough for Natural England to  consider a site is in target condition.

Today James revealed that Natural England had spent £61,000 on legal costs prosecuting the case. So that £300 contribution from the defendant seems almost like a snub to Natural England from the Judge.

I was curious to see whether the defendant, a Brian Eddon, was in any kind of agri-environment scheme on his SSSI land, but nothing showed up on MAGIC. Here’s a screenshot of the relevant area:

the dark brown area is the SSSI unit which was partially destroyed by Mr Eddon. But the odd thing is half of it is owned by the Woodland Trust and the bottom third by another entirely innocent landowner.

There was no sign of Mr Eddon anywhere on here.

 

 

I then remembered I have a very useful dataset provided by open data mapping guru Anna Powell-Smith. Anna mapped environmental stewardship payments back in 2016 and this now provides a very valuable historic data set, as MAGIC only provides information on live agreements. Looking on Anna’s historic dataset, Mr Eddon’s land-holding (or at least the land-holding he entered into Environmental Stewardship) appears.

Aside from the southernmost section, all of the rest of Mr Eddon’s landholding lies within the SSSI. The total area he entered into Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship, back in 2009, was substantial. – around 30ha. Over the 10 year period of the agreement – with Natural England – he received around £84,000.

 

This case leaves so many questions hanging in the air.

Why did Defra/Natural England take so long to publicise this rare prosecution, especially when it was of such a serious nature?

Why did Defra ignore repeated requests for further information from environmental journalists?

And will Natural England appeal against the Judge’s extreme leniency, both on the fine and the ridiculous costs award.

Natural England is supposed to stand up for England’s natural treasures – and although it should always be a last resort, it has a duty to prosecute owners who deliberately or recklessly damage the wildlife habitats on SSSIs. In this case NE has done its job and, at least as far as we can tell, given Defra’s reluctance to share the findings with the public, done that job well.

But if the Courts will not take crimes of this gravity with the seriousness they deserve, what sort of signal does that send to other landowners who may feel they can get away with similar activities?

Posted in Natural England, SSSis, Uncategorized, wildlife crime | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

#Unchecked launches. The need for Regulation and Enforcement.

A new campaign launches today  – called Unchecked. The premise is that Regulation (yes with a capital R) is a Good Thing  – for people, communities, the environment, the climate, society. And while Regulations (ie the rule book) are vital, actually enforcing them, as opposed to just having them on paper, is also equally vital.

I don’t think many people could argue that we live in deregulatory times.

The new Government – the one created without a mandate, fronted by a Clown, with Dominic Cummings in charge, that one – illustrates the point perfectly.

It includes all manner of people, whose avowed intent is to rid the country of troublesome regulations. These include politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab, Liz Truss and others, the authors of ‘Britannia Unchained”  – unchained, bascally, from pesky regulations.  These are combined with a whole raft of Special Advisors drafted in from Hard-Right Think-Tank World – you know, the Tax Payers Alliance, the IEA, and so on. All of those groups who want to a low tax low/no regulation country.

Not that this is anything new. Dredging the muddy waters of my declining memory, I recalled having written something in 2011, about Libertarian Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing. This was back in the days of the Grasslands Trust – here it is for the ancient historians among you. Even back before 2010 the Blair/Brown Governments were keen on “better regulation”, which sometimes meant poor regulation, poorly enforced.

How we look back to those far-off days, in misty-eyed nostalgia!

Nowadays it’s a small miracle when some enforcement action is taken. Take the Environment Agency for example. Former Undertones front-man turned river campaigner Feargal Sharkey (@Feargal_Sharkey) is constantly on their backs for failing to act against polluters.We need more Feargal’s.

Occasionally someone gets a slapped wrist – this one appeared on the Government website today (despite the court case having happened nearly two weeks ago – why the delay?). It’s yet another example of pollution associated with Anaerobic Digestion – producing supposedly renewable energy from crops. In this case several 300+ tonne sealed bags of silage had burst, leaking horrendously polluted liquid into a water course. Or rather two separate sets of toxic bags polluting two separate water courses fifteen miles apart.  At the second location, 8 out of the 14, 300+ tonne bags had failed.

The company (or rather an earlier iteration of the company) had already been prosecuted for similar offences three years previously – and received a fine of £10,000. I expect they solemnly promised not to do it again.

The company concerned was fined £12500 for each offence – that’s a 12% increase from 1st conviction to second one (taking into account inflation). Court costs etc brought the total costs to a shade under £46,000. While the EA officer said he hoped the fine would act as a deterrent, I have my doubts.

Pretoria Energy Company Holdings Ltd manages around 15000 acres of East Anglian farmland, producing 360,000 tonnes of crops for Anaerobic Digestion. The crops supply the largest AD plant in the country. They’ve just arranged a £120M refinancing package, with the Allied Irish Bank. The thing about growing crops for AD is that it benefits from a double subsidy – the basic farm payment, and a subsidy for producing renewable energy. The subsidies could be worth between £2m and £3m a year.

With this amount of money on offer, you can see why paying a paltry fine would be seen as just another operating cost.

In a more recent case, the “largest fish kill ever recorded in Devon and Cornwall” saw 10,000 Brown Trout, Sea Trout and Salmon, die in the river Mole near South Molton. The Environment Agency has already concluded that Anaerobic Digester digestate caused the pollution which killed the fish. There is a large AD plant just south of South Molton, a few hundred metres from the river.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unchecked website has masses of resources, please take a look. I’m delighted to have been asked to join their advisory group and look forward to working with them.

Posted in Anaerobic Digester, pollution, regulation, regulatory reform, unchecked | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment