Sunday, 17 September 2017

Boris Johnson the Liar is Still Lying

Apart from his over-inflated ego, Johnson’s habitual lying is his most persistent character trait. Like Trump he really seems to live in his own post-truth world or perhaps, as Chris Patten says in this BBC interview, he can't tell the difference between fact and fiction. Nevertheless if you repeat a lie that many people want to believe often enough, some of them, who are happy to have their prejudices reinforced, will believe you and you have created a new factoid.

Boris Johnson is still lying about sending £350 million a week to Brussels. He is ignoring the rebate that Thatcher negotiated. This reduces the amount actually sent to Brussels to £240 million per week. Then the EU pays back £5.8 billion/yr into the UK in the form of subsidies, regional aid and support for scientific research. This reduces the net amount paid to the EU to £136 million per week, still a significant sum but until brexit we get unfettered access to the EU's markets in exchange. But if you’re Boris Johnson, pitching a leadership bid to the Tory right wing, then you can ignore all that, can’t you! After all, his lies won him the Leave votes that he needed to validate all the false anti EU stories that he wrote whilst he was a journalist.

Does he really believe that he could run the country? He must have recovered from the fear that showed on his face after the referendum result. But then if you live in a post-truth world you can believe anything you choose, especially if you're Boris Johnson and you lie to yourself!  However, having been let off the hook as the potential Prime Minister by his erstwhile friend Michael Gove stabbing him in the back, he was rewarded with the post of Foreign Secretary, and his clownish gaffes and bumbling incapability have elevated him to legendary status among world political leaders. 

Johnson is an international joke but a potentially dangerous one! Faced with a very weak Theresa May, who daren't sack him, he could yet become leader of the Tory Party and hence Prime Minister.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

All Electric Cars by 2040?

The man who said "who needs experts" is still inventing new ways to mislead the public. Michael Gove, as Environment Secretary, has announced that from 2040 the UK will ban the sale of non-electric cars and vans. This is following France who made a similar announcement some weeks ago.

Thankfully Gove will be long out of office by 2040 but the planning needs to start now. 

Putting aside the criticisms that this does not address the immediate air pollution problems in our cities, it all sounds fantastic until you look below the surface spin! I wonder if Amber Rudd (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) and her civil servants have done the calculation below, which shows that we would need to build between 3 and 7 new power stations every year from 2020, in order to supply the demand from charging electric vehicles. Is that going to happen? Did Gove ask her opinion?

We would also need to build the publicly accessible charging infrastructure and improve the energy density of batteries and their longevity significantly. At the moment the typical range of an all electric vehicle is about 100-200 miles and battery packs last 5-8 years. Since they are very expensive to replace this is important especially for the used car market.

I'm in favour of reducing air pollution, and maybe even reducing the carbon dioxide generated by road transport by using renewables and nuclear instead of fossil fuels to generate the electricity. It could all be done if there was a real political will behind it, but to achieve this transition by 2040 needs some funding and sustained joined up thinking across government departments. I don't know whether you've seen much of either recently but I haven't, certainly not from Michael Gove and his erstwhile friend Boris the liar!

1 US gallon is 3.785 litres
l /US gallon
so to replace all road fuel would need
or per day
or an average instantaneous demand of
allow double for peak load
so it would need this many new power stations
or over 20 years
per year

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Options for Tackling Climate Change

Dear Michel,
In a brief conversation the other day you expressed the commonly held view that nuclear power is unacceptable due to the very long-lived waste that it creates. I anticipate that you are also concerned about safety and the risk of contaminating the environment as a result of a release of radioactive material. I don’t have sufficiently good French to sustain a discussion on this complex issue, which is also for many people a very emotional topic, and so I said little or nothing, but I've finally decided that I wish to express my views on the subject. 

Climate Change - Conservation is not Enough
I’m sure that we can both agree that climate change is the single most serious challenge facing the world today. The question is: what is the best way of tackling the problem of rising energy demand at the same time as limiting the emission of man-made greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide? 

Whilst we can make progress within developed economies by improvements in efficiency, conservation and demand management, the net result of these measures will be grossly insufficient to counter the legitimate requirement for more energy from developing economies. In this video “The Magic Washing Machine” by Hans Rosling (now sadly deceased) he explains why we in the developed world have no right to tell people in developing economies that they can’t use more energy because of Climate Change.

The Role of Renewables
So as well as conservation measures what is the best way forward?  Clearly renewables have a significant part to play in the future of energy production and they are getting cheaper, but they are still being subsidized. 

Power generation from wind and solar energy is, however, based on diffuse energy sources and is consequently land hungry. The graphic below illustrates the areas required for different energy sources for a generation capacity of 1000MW. The units are in square miles.  In terms of area, a gas fired plant would be comparable with a nuclear power station and a coal fired plant would be a little bigger due to the space required for stockpiling coal and ash.

In addition, at the time when demand peaks on cold winter evenings when there is no sunlight, if there is also no wind, both solar and wind generation will be unproductive. 

Depending on location, wind power is normally expected to produce electricity 30-50% of the time, but like solar it can be unproductive for days. 

Solar photo-voltaic panels produce most efficiently in hot sunny places, like sparsely inhabited deserts.  Long transmission lines, with their associated costs and losses (in the USA in 2007 transmission losses were estimated at 6.5%), would then be needed to deliver the power to centres of population. In some locations this may be an economic proposition if geo-political constraints involving distance and international borders can be overcome. 

Both solar and wind are, by their nature, highly variable and cannot provide continuous reliable power. Electricity utility operators therefore have to predict the weather conditions, and hence the output from renewables, in order to schedule the right mix of flexible and inflexible power generation capacity from different types of generators to meet the demand. If there is an unpredictable drop in output from renewables, then flexible generation capacity must be quickly brought on line. Electricity from flexible sources commands a much higher price in wholesale electricity markets than that from inflexible base load plants, getting this right is therefore important for both utility companies and consumers. This paper from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory explains the problem in detail.

So as the proportion of total generating capacity that wind and solar power occupy increases, there is either a need for grid scale energy storage or backup power supply systems, or more likely both, to satisfy the demand when renewables can't. 

Energy Storage
There are many ways of storing and recovering energy. For electricity the one we are most familiar with is the use of batteries.

The following graphic, which plots energy density in MJoules/litre against MJoules/kg, puts into context the energy density of Lithium Ion and Zinc-Air batteries relative to other substances. The significance of energy density is that gasoline, for example, effectively stores about 50 times more energy per kg than lithium ion batteries and so is much more portable. 

Battery storage technology is developing slowly; but current batteries are still expensive and have a limited life. In my view both energy density and longevity would need to improve by at least one or possibly two orders of magnitude before the use of batteries to smooth out variable production from renewables would become economic on a grid scale.

Other energy storage systems are being proposed and investigated, and some may be promising in the long term, but most are not yet proven to be economically viable or available for widespread deployment. 

An interesting example is the idea that, when required, electricity could be fed back into the grid from the batteries in electric vehicles: and therefore at some future date a large battery storage capacity would be available to smooth out shortfalls between generating capacity and demand. Although this concept is now being marketed by Nissan and Ovo, it's unclear how it would be managed on a large scale, but it would probably need an infrastructure that had connection points at the majority of parking places; as well as some form of metering that credited the vehicle owner if stored electricity, that had already been paid for, was drawn out of the vehicle's batteries. These connection points, or the vehicles themselves, would also need to be equipped with inverters capable of converting DC battery current into AC power synchronised with the grid.

One system that has been proved to be viable for energy storage is pumped hydroelectricity, which has had plants in operation for decades.  They require two large lakes, one several tens of metres above the other. Water is pumped up when electricity costs are low and released through turbines to generate electricity when required. But, due to pump/turbine efficiencies and the two way conversion, the electricity recovered is only about 70-80% of the electricity input. The opportunities for such installations are few, and so far they have only been used for providing flexible power at peak times when the feed-in tariff for electricity is high. There are ten such schemes under construction in Europe totalling 1,339MW of capacity. To put this into context, this adds less than 0.1% of the total energy consumption of the 28 EU countries in 2015 as storage capacity. (This was 12,609.246TWh, equivalent to a continuous consumption of 1.439TW. A Terawatt TW is 1 million Megawatts).

Other Renewables
Except in particular locations bio-fuels are heavy consumers of agricultural land and are unlikely to provide more than marginal amounts of electricity on a global scale but they have a role to play. In Brazil, for example, they are successfully replacing fossil fuels for vehicles with blends of gasoline and ethanol derived from sugar cane. Biodiesel, in various blends, is established in North America and Europe. Biofuels are being encouraged by the EU, but there are concerns that by displacing food production from agricultural land and clearing forests, which are net absorbers of CO2, the production of biofuels could actually release more carbon dioxide than they save.

Tidal power could also contribute more to renewable energy production, and some plants have been in operation since the 1960's, but tidal barrages and lagoons have an impact on ecosystems and the energy generated is on a lunar cycle which does not coincide with diurnal demand. There are few suitable sites in North America, China or India and its contribution is likely to be marginal.

Although there are opportunities for improving output by replacing old machinery, and also by installing small scale plants, hydro-electricity is largely fully developed in Europe, the USA and some parts of Asia.

My conclusion is that, in the absence of economic grid scale energy storage technologies, over any specific 24 hour period, renewables can only satisfy a proportion of the total energy demand on any supply grid.

Backup Power
Backup power production capacity is therefore necessary to supply the demand for energy when wind and solar can’t and, because it takes time to bring generating capacity on line, some backup systems have to be kept running even when the demand is being satisfied by renewables.  

Under the German EnergieWende, in which it is intended to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear power to a low-carbon energy economy, they have been running lignite and hard coal fired power plants (red and dark green) to replace the energy generated by nuclear plants (lime green) which have been taken out of service, and to provide backup to wind and solar (blue). During the last few years the consumption of gas (yellow) has also been reduced: so the increase in energy from renewable sources has been offset by the reduction in the least carbon dioxide producing sources i.e. nuclear and gas.

Coal is the most polluting of all the fuel options since, due to lower efficiencies, legacy plants produce more carbon dioxide per MWh than other fossil fuels and release, into the environment pollutants: including particulates; sulphur and nitrogen oxides; and ash. The latter contains uranium and is 100 times more radioactive than nuclear waste. It also contains heavy metals which will never decay and become less polluting. This ash is typically dumped or stockpiled with minimal control and has caused serious ash-slides. Air pollution from burning coal is even more serious because it travels further. You may remember the acid rain arising from UK coal burning power stations that acidified Scandinavian lakes in the 1980's. The horrific air pollution in China also dramatically illustrates the results of burning coal and is responsible for many premature deaths

There is a debate in Germany about the phasing out of coal but the government has made no definite commitment as yet. It will clearly be very difficult to phase out both nuclear and coal fired generation which represent more than 50% of current capacity.

Another effect of relying more and more on renewables has occurred in Germany on some sunny and windy days. Because German law forces the Grid to accept renewable energy in preference to that from fossil fuels, and electricity production from fossil fuels cannot easily be ramped down, on occasions the price of electricity has become negative in response to an over-supply, meaning that commercial consumers are being paid to burn more electricity!

In effect the German EnergieWende amounts to an experiment on a national scale.

More recently gas and oil have become cheaper internationally, as a result of fracking and the exploitation of shale oil in the USA, but gas and oil, while more efficient and less polluting than coal, still produce carbon dioxide.

Environmentalists for Nuclear and Renewables
So what would it really take to limit or even reverse climate change if today's renewable technologies by themselves aren't enough? Ross Koningstein and David Fork are engineers at Google, who worked together on the bold renewable energy initiative known as "RE>C"  Their research led them to think that a new technology is required, which will disrupt the existing status quo, but they don't specify which, or deal with the need to act now and not wait in the hope that some new technology will emerge.

Taking all this into account I've come to the conclusion that, alongside renewables, the only energy production technology that is available to be deployed on a global scale over the next twenty to thirty years, which will not contribute to climate change, is nuclear power.

In this video James Hansen explains why he has reached the same conclusion.

Other environmentalists also expand on their reasons for changing their view of nuclear power in this video.

So, together with a growing community of engineers, scientists and environmental campaigners, I am proposing nuclear power alongside renewables as the future for reducing carbon emissions.

But Not Pressurized Water Reactors!
I am, however, not happy that solid fuel, second generation pressurized light water reactors (PWRs), the most common type of reactor currently in service, are the best option for the future other than as a short term stop-gap solution. They were originally intended to be used in submarines, for which they are ideally suited, and represent a design that dates from the late 1960's. There has been little improvement since then. 

I don’t like the fact that, in order to generate high temperature steam at around 300 deg C, PWRs run at a pressure of over 300 bars and therefore carry an inherent risk of explosion. To guard against a reactor vessel failure they need enormous reinforced concrete containment vessels. They burn enriched uranium fuel which generates waste with very long lived radioactive transuranics and actinides. Also they can only burn a small proportion of this fuel before the fuel rods deteriorate and must be replaced. 

Another major concern is that, when a reactor shuts down unexpectedly, and there is no power available from the grid, they need backup power supplies in order to run pumps and therefore maintain the cooling needed to remove the heat from radioactive decay. This was what failed at Fukushima Daiichi, where the backup generators were in a location which was only designed to resist a 3 metre tsunami.

Other types of reactor like the liquid metal fast breeder, which typically use molten sodium as the coolant medium have other disadvantages. Sodium metal in liquid form is a good coolant, which operates at higher temperatures and lower pressures than water, but it reacts with air and violently reacts with water. So the possibility of a leak between the liquid sodium and the steam generating sides of the primary heat exchangers is a serious safety concern. These types of reactors also have a positive temperature coefficient of reactivity, meaning that as the temperature rises nuclear reactions increase and create more heat.  If there is a power failure, and the circulation of coolant stops, they are therefore inherently unstable.

Nuclear Safety
In spite of all these objections, and the age of most of the plants currently in service, on a global scale, there have been very few incidents involving nuclear reactors which have had major consequences, and two of those were at plants with fundamental design flaws. At Chernobyl, where 64 people died of acute radiation sickness after emergency work, the reactors were never provided with containment vessels and at Fukushima Daiichi the backup power plant was located such that it was flooded by the tsunami that we tend to forget killed over 20,000 people. At Three Mile Island operators did not react appropriately when a pilot valve failed and, by sticking open, allowed coolant to escape. This fault had occurred on 11 previous occasions. 

Estimates of future deaths related to radiation exposure from these accidental releases of radioactive material vary widely depending on their source, the methods used and the assumptions made. For example for Chernobyl in 2006 the WHO estimate of radiation related premature deaths was 4,000 whereas the Greenpeace estimate was 200,000! In 2008 another WHO report urged caution in the development and use of projections (paragraph 110). 

These estimates, and the methods used to prepare them, are controversial and a full discussion would occupy too much space in this context, as would an examination of the number of fatalities in other industries associated with energy production, like coal mining. All energy production carries risks and is responsible for premature deaths. The specific point I wish to make is that much safer nuclear options are available than those which are currently in operation and these will be discussed below. 

Liquid Fuelled Reactors for Safer Nuclear Electricity
In view of these potential safety issues a shift away from PWR’s and fast breeders designed in the 60's and 70's towards inherently safe plants would be very welcome. Ideally these should: 
  • operate at atmospheric pressure and so couldn’t explode; 
  • be unable to overheat or meltdown; 
  • be designed to be walk-away-safe in the event of power failure; 
  • have a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity; 
  • allow load following and rapid output changes;
  • produce much less waste with a much shorter radio-active half-life.  
Of the various proposed Generation IV nuclear reactor designs there is one which fulfills all of these criteria, the liquid fuelled thorium reactor (LFTR).

On 14th July 2011, thanks to Ken Pottinger of French News Online (now also sadly deceased) I became aware of an alternative to current PWR technologies, which is based on liquid fuelled thorium reactors LFTRs and the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment. At the time I had no idea that nuclear reactors could have many design variants and even work in the liquid phase.  I spent several days researching the topic and wrote this piece on my blog summarizing my findings. A prototype molten salt reactor, operating at atmospheric pressure, ran at Oak Ridge National Nuclear Laboratory (ORNL) in the 60’s and this film, made at the time, shows how this pilot scale plant was designed, built and operated.

The Molten Salt Reactor Experiment ran for more than 13,000 hours at full power, without significant materials problems, and successfully demonstrated the viability of the concept. To turn it into a commercial product there is more development work needed on the optimization of the waste processing stages, and also on the materials necessary to resist the high temperature and intense radiation environment over the long term. At the time that the project was shut down, ORNL had already started to work on these areas. We are fortunate that the work on the MSRE at Oak Ridge was very fully documented and these documents are in the public domain.

Kirk Sorensen has been actively promoting this technology and he explains in this video how he came to rediscover molten salt reactors and Thorium as an alternative fuel.

What About Nuclear Waste?
But your specific concern was with the management of nuclear waste from PWR’s running on the Uranium 235/238 fuel cycle. 

The composition of nuclear waste depends on the fuel used in the reactor and the degree to which the fuel is burned. Solid fuel reactors can only burn about 1% of the fuel contained in their fuel rods which have to be replaced every 18 months. During this operation the reactor is taken out of service.

Liquid fuelled reactors can burn a much larger percentage of their fuel than solid fuelled reactors because it is so much easier to remove gaseous fission products like Xenon 137, which poison nuclear reactions by absorbing neutrons. Also by incorporating on-line processing to remove waste from a side stream of the main molten salt fuel, there is no need to shut down the reactor to change fuel rods. Therefore, for the same amount of energy generated, molten salt reactors can produce 35 times less waste. 

LFTR versions running on Thorium also produce waste with a much shorter half-life of 300 years as opposed to tens of thousands of years. This very clear video, again from Kirk Sorensen with others, explains how fission products are created and what they can be used for.

In this rather more detailed video Kirk Sorensen projects forward the results of radioactive decay over time on waste from the Uranium 235/238 fuel cycle. He expands on the idea of recycling nuclear waste and asks, is it really all waste? 

But as he says you can also dispose of waste from PWR’s using liquid fuelled waste burning reactors. Leslie Dewan explains how in this video.

Energy Cheaper Than Coal
But without internationally agreed and binding carbon taxes, which would make fossil fuels more expensive, safer nuclear power just won't happen unless it is cheaper than other options. 
Robert Hargraves develops the argument that in order to replace fossil fuel burning power plants you must be able to generate electricity by low carbon methods at an overall cost less than that of fossil fuels. 
In this detailed talk he examines the costs of generating electricity from different sources including wind and solar. He also proposes using liquid fuelled reactors and points out that the higher operating temperatures of such reactors offer higher power generation efficiencies.

If you’ve got this far you are probably suffering from information overload but congratulations on your persistence! I hope that you are now beginning to question the dogmatic opinions of anti-nuclear campaigners because there are plenty of numbers and facts which support the statements above.

Why Hasn't it Been Developed Before?
When I first researched liquid fuelled reactors burning thorium I found it hard not to think that there was something that was being hidden from me. Such as some reasons that explained why such obviously better technology hadn’t been developed! Finally I was convinced that there isn’t anything of the sort and the reasons why it has languished for 60 years are almost entirely political in origin. This google tech talk, again by Kirk Sorensen, explains the background. 

Where Will Safer Nuclear Power Happen First?
This brings me finally to the current political environment. 

With an American President in place who doesn’t believe in man-made climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions, and in spite of his recent public statements supporting the US nuclear industry, I feel that there is little or zero chance of any US government funding for this technology, at least for the next few years while he remains in office. It’s a complex subject difficult to explain to non-specialists, or the general public, and can’t be fitted into a few tweets for people with short attention spans or other priorities. Contrast this with the ease of invoking fear among the public of accidental releases of radioactive materials.

There are numerous privately funded companies which have announced programmes to develop liquid fuelled reactors. It remains to be seen whether this multi-pronged effort can surmount the burdensome costs and difficulties that will arise when they submit their designs for approval by regulatory agencies which are entirely unfamiliar with this technology. In the case of the USA, and at the risk of being called negative, it seems to me unlikely that these companies can persuade regulatory agencies to reduce the estimated one to two billion dollar cost and ten year timescale that the US Government Audit Office currently estimates it would take to certify and license a fundamentally new design. Faced with this private investors just won't bother or, if they are really keen, they will migrate to jurisdictions which are more welcoming.

There are research programmes in several countries, including France, and the International Atomic Energy Agency technical meeting on the status of molten salt reactors in 2016 represents a good summary of recent progress. It's also clear from these proceedings that the only government which is investing serious effort and resources in molten salt reactors is China. They will be the first to recreate the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment and develop it further. They will then patent their designs and sell them internationally. I wish them every success!

A bientôt

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Horror, Shock, Grief, Anger and Shame!

We still don’t know how many people died at Grenfell Tower and probably won’t for some time. It will certainly be dozens and dozens.  I have thought about them, the horrific way that they died and the grief of their families and friends every day since the tragedy. Sadly, adding to the distress of family members, the identification of the victims may not even be possible in some cases.

The government has announced a public enquiry and said that the terms of reference will be agreed with input from local people, although they are already back-tracking on that committment and we will see what the final terms of reference are. But public enquiries can take years to report and so I feel justified in pre-empting the lengthy public enquiry process and expressing my opinion about the causes of this multi-fatality fire, based on what has been revealed so far by the press and the media.

It seems clear to me that this was a completely avoidable disaster and like some of the local residents I’m angry! 

The following BBC newsnight video analyses how the fire that caused this disaster developed and why it spread so quickly. At 2 min 55 seconds a fire in France shows how this happens.

The person or persons who, in the recent refurbishment, proposed to use cladding material with a flammable polyethylene central layer that would melt and de-laminate with heat, exposing the full surface of the core to the flames, is or are criminally responsible. As David Lammy MP suggests charges of corporate manslaughter may be appropriate.

For £2 per square metre more, or about £5,000 for the whole block, in the context of an £8.6 million refurbishment, panels with non-combustible cores could have been used and many lives saved.  Ian Abley comments intelligently on the background technical details here

Ronnie King
Ronnie King, Honorary Secretary of the parliamentary All Party Fire Safety and Rescue Group, interviewed here by the Guardian, recounts his frustration when confronted by the inaction of government ministers concerning a review of fire regulations. Four ministers were warned that the risk was urgent and action needed to be taken.

In an earlier BBC interview he described how the use of double glazed PVC windows, the frames of which melt in a fire, allows fires to spread from one flat to another via the building exterior. He also gave the costs for retro-fitting sprinklers in existing high-rise blocks.

The next level of responsibility lies with whoever agreed to this proposal, whether it was one person or a committee. Who did what and their level of knowledge will be established by the public enquiry and the criminal investigation just opened by the Metropolitan Police.

one of several fires in Dubai
Then there is the responsibility of a series of government ministers including Liberal Democrat MP's Steven Williams and Brandon Lewis; Conservative MP's James Wharton and Gavin Barwell; and Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who by their inaction delayed the updating and tightening of fire safety standards. They ignored the numerous reports, and expert recommendations, which warned of the hazards of some cladding systems, as well as ignoring UK fires and international fires in tower blocks, notably in Dubai, that graphically demonstrated the hazards. 

Lakanal House
Sajid Javid, who has recently discovered that even in politics people instead of dogma are important, was as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills responsible for implementing the policy of "Cutting Red Tape”. He also bears responsibility for creating an atmosphere of reluctance to agree to changes to building regulations. Under this arbitrary political doctrine, promoted by the Cabinet Office, to get one new regulation approved, two others must be removed. This has subsequently been changed to three. To class building regulations relating to fire safety as "Red Tape" shows where we are with government attitudes to human life!

Together ministers effectively blocked all attempts to revise fire regulations.  They have also shelved, for the last four years, a detailed Coroner’s inquest report on the Lakanal House fire in Southwark in which six people died. Such a policy and attitude from the centre of government has prevented the review and updating of building regulations applying to fire safety. 

Recently on the government's website ministers congratulated themselves for reducing the duration and thoroughness of fire inspections.

These ministers will probably escape criminal liability, but they are just as responsible as those more closely involved. They should be publicly shamed and not be allowed to sleep soundly in their beds. It would be too much to hope that they might feel guilt or remorse, because they will almost certainly justify and rationalize their actions in some way. The Nuremberg defence “we were just following orders” leads you back to the policies promoted by successive Prime Ministers and the cabinet which put people's lives below business interests.

Westminster politicians have lost sight of their duty to protect people in favour of political dogma and doctrine. The UK used to be a progressive country, that since 1974 led the way with Health and Safety, but not anymore. In 2012 Cameron announced that he was committed to killing off the Health and Safety culture. Killing off not revising or reforming! Such foolish and dangerous political claptrap deserves, like Cameron himself, to be confined to the dustbin of history! He and his family should try living in a "refurbished" tower block with flammable cladding, PVC windows, no sprinkler system and only one staircase. In fact I challenge him to spend a single night on the top floor of such a building!

I end up being ashamed to be English!* 

To consider fire safety regulations as “red tape” is outrageously insulting to the families who have lost loved ones! People should not have to die to demonstrate that ignoring expert professional advice to change building regulations relating to fire resistance is criminally irresponsible!

There are systemic failures of government here which I hope the Public Enquiry will point out. There's clearly a case for taking regulation relating to fire safety out of the hands of ministers, who have failed the public, and placing it with an independent agency.

I fear for the forthcoming bonfire of EU generated regulations that currently protect us and the environment from the ravages of political dogma, financial and business interests.

*(I say English and not British since Scotland has had regulations since circa 2000 requiring external cladding used above 18 metres either to be completely non-combustible or to meet the requirements of BR 135 - 2003).

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

“Oh Jeremy Corbyn”

After a spectacularly bad campaign Theresa May is endeavouring to cling on to her post with the support of a minority party from Northern Ireland, the DUP (Democratic Unionist party). The ten MP’s of this party of creationists, climate change deniers and anti-abortionists, which will block the passing of the law on same sex marriages, will keep her in office until there’s a rebellion on her back benches over something important, probably the terms of brexit. 

Our French friends can’t understand why she’s still there. I explained that at the moment all the alternatives are either worse or non-existent.  Just imagine Boris the liar as Prime Minister!  

Personally, I’m appalled that Michael Gove, the other member of the brexit £350-million-a-week lying duo, has been brought back. He’s trying to sound reasonable in radio interviews these days, but I will not forgive him or forget what Ken Clarke said about him when he stated that in a discussion about Syria he was wild, and if he was ever Prime Minister he'd probably start a war with three countries at once. I’m also concerned that he’s not likely to prioritize climate change in his portfolio, this article by Matthew Taylor quotes Ed Davey as saying that we should be very worried by this appointment.

"Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary at the time, said anyone who cared about the environment should be “deeply worried” by Gove’s appointment." 
“I didn’t think it could get any worse but putting Michael Gove in charge of the environment is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. It’s bad news.”

I never thought that I’d say this but it’s a shame that Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win the largest number of seats. After such a personally successful campaign he could have commanded a progressive alliance which would not have to climb down from the hard brexit position that Theresa May has created with her own right wing. He now even has his own “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” chant spontaneously created by his supporters.  

And he’s enjoying his new level of support in the House of Commons!

But such a small majority for Theresa May is, I suppose, the good news because she will have to be more inclusive and consultative. Good bye to Maybot, the imperious control freak parroting untrue slogans written by Lynton Crosby, hello to the listening leader!  There are already signs of change with the possibility being floated of a cross party brexit committee  including representatives of the devolved governments.

In terms of the brexit negotiations, however much one might dislike many of their policies, the DUP has a strong interest in steering Theresa May away from hard borders and a hard brexit. They want to maintain an open border with the Irish Republic, and they also want to put the economy and jobs first! So limiting immigration would be downgraded from being a non-negotiable primary policy driver in favour of free EU market access. 

That starts to sound more like the Labour manifesto!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Thoughts from the North - Politics of course!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Hi Michael,
I expect that you’ve been keeping up to date with the latest from Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. 
With the most recent polls showing a greatly reduced lead for the Tories I feel that my blogpiece,  written last Monday, is at least partially supported by the current direction of opinion.

I’m concerned that Theresa May, as well as being weaker than she makes out, is scared of the Daily Mail, and the Tory right wing, and will tend to follow right wing ideology. If she does get elected, with a bigger majority, then a strong opposition is essential to call her to account!

So far at least, Jeremy Corbyn has had a good run in this campaign and seems to be better prepared than the Tories. Sometimes his arguments verge on being too subtle for the knockabout, sound-bite, Post-Truth, politics of today, but on the whole he’s doing quite well. I particularly like the fact that he’s not pre-announcing an immigration cap without relation to the needs of the economy. 

It’s very different from when he first took office as leader of the Labour Party and I wonder whether he’s found an appetite for the job and is learning how to lead.  I really begin to think that he would deliver a more pragmatic Brexit than the Tories, more in line with what I‘m hoping for than the hard brexit that we appear to be heading towards under Theresa May.  

As I’ve said before in an earlier blog, compared to the rest of the EU, the UK is in a weak negotiating position, and should be seeking to build co-operative relationships with other European leaders. So far all May’s achieved is various provocations guaranteed to get their backs up against the UK.

Your thoughts from the North will, as always, be greatly appreciated.


Mon, 29 May 2017

Hi John,
Yes, I am keeping fully up to date with the election campaign.

Theresa May has been disappointing recently on a number of fronts:

Nick Timothy
Fiona Hill
The dementia tax was an unnecessary own-goal, a direct result of her secretive style. If the press is to be believed (!) the dementia tax was put into the manifesto at the last minute by Nick Timothy with little if any external scrutiny. Both Lynton Crosby and Fiona Hill were against it. The sad thing is that Theresa May is at least trying to get a grip of a massive future problem, but got the detail wrong. It didn't need any detail at this point, just a
Lynton Crosby
commitment to a green paper based on Dilnot. Everyone would have been happy. She presumably felt unassailable and wanted to get a mandate for fundamental change to make things easier down the line.

Andrew Dilnot
Theresa May was then between a rock and a hard place when the cap was mentioned. Do a U-turn and include a cap in the green paper but risk being called weak and wobbly? Or stick to her guns and risk losing core voters in the south?  However, at the moment I think we have the right policy position.
The dementia tax issue suggests a complete lack of cabinet involvement and therefore accountability. A very high risk management style as we have just seen. This could be a disaster in the context of the Brexit negotiations. Hopefully she will realise that things will have to change.

Theresa May then denied that anything had changed after the cap was introduced. In a way it hasn't, as currently there is no specified level for the cap. But it has been seen as a massive U-turn, which must have the EU guys rubbing their hands and thinking that she will crumble under pressure. Because of her denial she has also been seen to be dishonest, I think.

I have watched Theresa May in a number of interviews and so far she has been probably the most evasive politician I can remember. I know it's part of the job, though. I also know that she has been trying to preserve secrecy on the Brexit stuff as far as possible, and you can't really blame her for that at this point.   
However, only time will tell what she is really like if she gets back into No10 with her own mandate. She may or may not be a true Red or Erdington Tory, as I hoped last summer (though at that time I didn't know those terms), and the cap, like the cap on immigration, may just be pragmatism to get in.  Once in power she may put some sensible red tory policies into practice. 
It's looking as if I may vote Lib Dem but I will see how the TV debates this week turn out. So far Theresa May has been a disappointment, as I say, and has a lot of work to do. She may be a great politician, just not very good at projecting a politician's persona. I think confronted by a TV audience she may get a lot of boos if she doesn't come clean on things!   
Then you think about Jeremy Corbyn. In spite of his age he hasn't even had a government job of any sort as far as I know. Would you get any ordinary job with that level of inexperience?
A là prochaine
Tue 30/05/2017

Hi Michael,
We agree about Theresa May. Your emphasized words in red say it all!  Theresa May is not only secretive but also seems to lack the sensitive antennae that one needs as a politician. If you don’t have them yourself, and you don’t consult your colleagues or advisers, you will run into trouble.  I think her secretiveness comes from a desire to be in total control and not delegate. A control freak in fact! I’ve always hated that type of personality! When you say “lack of cabinet involvement and therefore accountability” are you implying that if she takes some important decision herself without consultation she may have a revolt on her hands. Half the cabinet resigning or something like that! 

I’m concerned that Theresa May will take us down the hard brexit route because she’s scared of her vocal right wing and there’s no-one who dares to push back on behalf of the 48% remainers and those leavers who didn’t want to leave the single market. It all revolves around the question of immigration. The Tories make dishonest statements about limiting net immigration to tens of thousands when that would damage the NHS along with several labour intensive sectors like construction, agriculture, catering and care providers. At the same time it would reduce growth in the economy and the number of economically active tax payers who contribute to my pension. Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto is realistic on immigration and if he isn’t capable of selling the fact that an artificial limit, not related to the country’s needs, is bad news for everyone then that’s a pity.

Erdington Tory? Does that mean a socialist brummie dressed in blue! So far if you discount what Theresa May says in the campaign and examine the policies that she has promoted before the election was announced I think she’s very right wing! Here is a detailed list comparing UKIP’s policy pronouncements with the actions or policies adopted by Theresa May’s government, the agreement is astonishing!

I’ve already voted Lib Dem by post; would your Lib Dem vote have any chance of success in your constituency?

I agree that Jeremy Corbyn has not impressed so far with his ability to get his party behind him and this may partly be due to lack of experience. When you’ve been an idealistic left winger all your life, remote from government, you can stick to your principles without risk of being called to account. He’s now going through that process, with his past statements and pacifism being scrutinized. So far he seems to be doing better than everyone expected.

As I’ve said before, I don’t agree with some of the dogmatic left wing stuff in the manifesto, but he won’t be able to pay for the industries that he has threatened to re-nationalize, so if he became Prime Minister that policy would have to be shelved. I do think, however, that he would make a better job of negotiating Brexit because he owes nothing to the Daily Mail or the UKIP wing of the Tory Party.  

I don’t worry at all about immigration, I am after all an immigrant myself.  So as I said before, it all comes down to immigration. If as a voter you really believe that the UK would be better off without migrant labour, then you should vote for Theresa May because she’s borrowed UKIP’s policies. Personally I think that the fear of immigration is artificially whipped up by the tabloids and has a whiff of racialism about it. Any argument implying that the pressure on schools and the NHS is due to  immigrants and not years of Tory austerity cuts is ill-founded. 

I thoroughly applaud Jeremy Corbyn’s resistance to setting an artificial cap on numbers just to get a few more votes.

A bientôt