Friday, 17 April 2009

Electric cars are not the answer - yet

It must be my week to bash environmental ideas. Yesterday's announcement by the Government for grants of up to £5,000 for people to buy electric and plug-in hybrid cars from 2011 will do precisely nothing to curb the UK's carbon emissions.

Well, not quite precisely nothing. Road transport currently accounts for about 21% of the UK's carbon emissions. The £250m the Government announced yesterday is aimed at trebling the number of electric cars on the road, which sounds impressive until you realise that they would still only account for 0.3% of vehicles. If you do the maths, that means the increase in electric vehicles will get rid of approximately 0.063% of the UK's carbon emissions (actually slightly less than that, as the production and recharging of electric cars would still produce a certain amount of carbon emissions).

I would gently suggest that this is utterly irrelevant. I suspect it would be far more effective to encourage people to convert from gas guzzling cars to more fuel efficient motors, such as the Fiat Panda diesel that I drive.

And another reason why the £250m the Government's spending on this is going to be wasted is that electric cars are not yet at the stage where they are a reliable enough form of motoring for most people. Most electric cars have a fairly limited range and take a significant amount of time to recharge the batteries. Until electric cars have a range of about 200 miles and take about half an hour to recharge their batteries (ie the amount of time many motorists would spend in a motorway service station), I suspect I, like 99.7% of motorists, will not be interested in buying one.

The £250m would be far better spent on helping manufacturers improve battery technology substantially rather than being used to subsidise the purchase of the inadequate electric cars we have at the moment. Yesterday's announcement was far more about the Government wanting to be seen to be green than about any practical action to reduce carbon emissions from road transport.

File under: "You couldn't make it up"

Came across this on Daily Kos. The Republican congressional candidate in a special election caused by Kirsten Gillibrand being elevated to the Senate in place of Hillary Clinton is suing to be declared the winner, even though he's currently 178 votes BEHIND.

I know Republicans have a history of being declared the winners of elections when their guy got fewer votes, but someone really ought to tell them that the basic principle of a first past the post electoral system is that the person with the MOST votes wins.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Is Brown the new Nixon?

The other day, I made a joking comparison between what seems to have become known as Smeargate and Watergate.

But this rather more serious comparison of Gordon Brown and Richard Nixon by Dominic Sandbrook in the Evening Standard is well worth reading.

Danny Finkelstein: apology accepted

In the run-up to the G20 protests, Times columnist Danny Finkelstein wrote a piece expressing surprise that a number of Lib Dem MPs were acting as official monitors of police behaviour at the demos, describing it as an insult to the police.

Well, Danny is now man enough to admit that he got that wrong and he's to be applauded for doing so. There aren't too many journalists who do that. It's to his credit that he was able to do that.

A day to remember

Saturday 15th April 1989 seemed like it would be a very good day. In Folkestone, where I was at the time, the sun was shining and it was a lovely spring day.

In the morning, I was going to the launch of the local Democrats' (as we still were then) campaign for the county council elections, the first major set of elections I'd be taking part in since joining the party the year before. And then in the afternoon I had the prospect of a couple of FA Cup semi-finals to enjoy.

The election campaign launch was an enjoyable occasion. The party locally was then in the midst of a good run of election results which would eventually see us take control of the district council. Everyone was in good heart and looking forward to the battle.

When it was over, I walked home and got in at about 3.15pm. I immediately turned on the telly and tuned in to Grandstand for news of the cup semis. At first everything seemed normal. For the first couple of minutes I think there was some horseracing being shown.

But a couple of minutes later, the presenter (was it Des Lynam? That's one of the few things I don't recall) said they were crossing to Hillsborough as there had been an 'incident'. We then got John Motson telling us that there had been some sort of problem with the crowd at one end of the ground. Details were sketchy, but he feared there might be casualties.

A few minutes later came word that we were looking at fatalities. And it was with mounting horror that the full scale of the tragedy at Hillsborough gradually became apparent.

I'm a football fan. Although at that time I'd never been to a really big game (I then used to follow Folkestone in the Southern League), I knew that the tragedy was something that could have happened to me, could have happened to any football fan. 96 people were there supporting their team and hoping to witness a great occasion. They never came home.

I remember in the days following the tragedy my eyes welling up when I saw the pictures of the floral tributes which were laid at Anfield. It was an emotional time for any football fan.

It is a disgrace that no-one was held responsible for the tragedy. I can only imagine what the families of the victims have gone through, what they are still going through.

That is why at 3.06pm today, the exact moment the crush happened 20 years ago, I stopped work for a minute and just paid a silent tribute to the memories of the victims of Hillsborough. I think football fans all over the country will have done the same.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Insulated from the real world

"Ere, Fletch, what are you inside for anyway?"

"Well, Godber, my son, it was just a bit of the usual - armed robbery, the odd car theft, like. Oh, and I didn't get me 'ome insulated."

"Yer what?"

"You 'eard me, son. The eco cops came round and found me 'ome was emitting about as much 'eat as Her Maj's gaff at Windsor a few years back. Gave me six years for that, they did. Only got five for the armed robberies."

That, at least, is what Dr Richard Dixon might wish to see. He's the director of WWF Scotland and wants to see it become a crime for people not to insulate their homes properly.

Now, I generally support ideas to help make people take the environment more seriously. But every so often environmentalists come up with some absolutely barmy ideas, like this one.

Just think about it, at a time when the prison population is bulging, Dr Dixon thinks it would be a good idea to drag people into the courts and turn them into criminals for not having a home which is sufficiently energy efficient for his liking. That is just bonkers.

Dr Dixon also suggests that the state could have the power to carry out insulation works on a home without permission and then bill the owner for the work carried out. That sounds like extortion to me.

Let's be clear: it is a good idea for people to insulate their homes and make them energy efficient. But the way to do that is by encouragement, through the use of grants and things like feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. Turning people into criminals because their homes aren't green enough would only create massive resentment.

Sometimes environmentalists give the impression that they are insulated from the real world. Whichever planet Dr Dixon is trying to save, it's certainly not the same one I'm on.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A few random questions

1) Which is McBride - Haldeman, Ehrlichman or Chuck Colson?
2) Would that mean Derek Draper is Gordon Liddy? And which of these two should be more insulted by that comparison?
3) Who's going to play Graham Norton in the film version of his epic TV interviews with disgraced Prime Minister Gordon Brown?

Brown just doesn't get it

One of the reasons why people close to Gordon Brown have been thinking about a smear campaign is that the Labour Party is in a desperate situation. In general, when things are going well for a party, they don't feel the need to indulge in those sort of tactics. If you're confident of victory, why risk things by engaging in dubious tactics?

But if you want to know just why Labour is in such desperate straits, have a look at the latest wheeze from Brown: compulsory "voluntary" service for young people. Now let's leave aside the fact that if something is compulsory, it can't in any way be seen as voluntary. Let's look at the merits of the scheme.

Firstly, why single out young people? Doubtless it is good for them to be involved with their communities, but surely the same also applies to everyone. Why not just make it compulsory for everyone to do a certain amount of community work per year?

Next, why would such a scheme require a new National Youth Service? There are already plenty of opportunities for people, young or otherwise, to do things in their community, whether it's coaching a sports team, working in a charity shop, working for a conservation body, helping care for an elderly relative and so on. A National Youth Service just seems like a bureaucratic means of controlling things so that the community service is channelled towards things our New Labour masters approve of.

Also, what about the contribution young people already make towards our communities? Not all young people are drunken, promiscuous, knife-wielding, drug-addled, granny-bashing hoodies. Many young people already play a significant role in their communities - how would that be recognised under this new scheme?

And why does such a scheme need to be compulsory anyway? Gordon Brown doubtless thinks that because it's a good idea for young people to be involved in their communities, it's a good idea to make them be involved. That's the Labour mindset: force people to do something that many are doing anyway but some have no interest in doing at all. Rather than encouraging young people to feel they're making a contribution, Labour wants them to feel they're doing something because they have to.

All this shows that Brown and the Labour Party just don't get why they are so disliked. They don't accept any responsibility for the big things they've got wrong, like the economy. And on the smaller things, all too often they don't think things through.

That means they're likely to remain widely disliked until being kicked out of office next year. And that unfortunately means they're likely to indulge in more dubious tactics in the months to come.

Guido and the politics of personal destruction

Although Guido has undoubtedly performed a public service in helping get rid of the odious Damian McBride, I have to say that I very rarely read his blog.

Why? Well, basically he indulges in the same sort of personality based politics that he rightly condemns McBride for. Guido's basic stock in trade is that all politicians are lying, thieving, self-serving, hypocritical, perverted scumbags. Indeed, he takes his pseudonym from the apparent belief that Guido Fawkes was the last person to enter Parliament with any honest intent.

Now, unlike what McBride was up to, doubtless much of what appears on Guido's blog is actually true, or at least an approximation of it. But Guido is only human and makes mistakes like the rest of us. And I suspect it wouldn't be entirely unknown for people to feed Guido titbits which aren't true, knowing that they're likely to appear on his blog.

I think we need to get away from the view that all politicians are rogues and fair game for anything that's thrown at them. By all means, when any engage in any wrongdoing, that must be exposed. But the more that people feel that politics is not a profession that good and honourable people can have a part in, the more likely it is that such people will be put off from taking part, leaving the way clear for the rogues to take over.

Let's face it, what right-thinking person is going to get involved in politics if they feel their partner's mental health is going to be questioned or their opponents are going to make up lies about them having had an affair? Many people would think it's not worth the hassle.

We need to recognise that the politics of personal destruction has no place in public life. And that means we need to see McBride and Guido for what they are: two sides of the same coin.

Brown has questions to answer over McBride emails

The fact that Damian McBride has quit his post as Gordon Brown's special adviser over the attempt to smear the Tories shouldn't be seen as the end of this affair.

In my view, this episode is far worse than the recent various MPs' expenses scandals. Those have been mainly about politicians exploiting generous rules to the full and it is not clear to what extent those rules have been infringed, if at all.

By contrast, even thinking about indulging in the politics of personal destruction is, or should be, a big no-no. There can be no conceivable justification whatsoever for launching smears against opponents and that sort of behaviour must be stamped out.

But the fact that McBride has fallen on his sword is not enough. There are plenty of questions that need answering.

1) Will Brown launch a full independent investigation into whether this was a one-off or whether smear tactics have been discussed before?
2) Will he ensure that all relevant emails and other communications are disclosed to such an investigation? After all, if there's nothing to hide, he's got nothing to fear...
3) Given that Brown himself has a reputation for being someone who operates through a small but trusted team of close-knit advisers, is it the case that McBride never discussed these tactics with his boss? Is that really credible? Given that people like Brown's former spin doctor Charlie Whelan were copied in on the emails, is it really credible to suggest that none of them thought to mention the exchange to Brown?
4) McBride worked closely with Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson, another close adviser to Brown who is referred to in emails between McBride and Draper. He denies any involvement in the smear campaign. However, Watson does have form in spreading smears and innuendo: for instance, he was sacked from his role as campaign manager in the Hartlepool by-election after claiming that Lib Dem candidate Jody Dunn was 'soft on drugs' because she'd represented drug addicts in her capacity as a barrister. Is it really credible to suggest that an attack dog like Watson had no involvement with planning smears, especially given how closely he and McBride worked together?
5) Derek Draper is a long-time associate of Business Secretary Peter Mandelson. Given that Draper's return to active politics coincided with Mandelson's return to British politics from Europe, did Draper have any discussions with Mandelson about these tactics?
6) Will Brown give a commitment to sack anyone else in his government who is found to have taken part in discussions about smear tactics?

I can see this saga running and running.

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