Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Revolt on the Right" - the story of UKIP

"Revolt on the Right - Explaining support for the radical right in Britain" by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin When I revealed on Twitter that I had bought a copy of "Revolt on the Right" Patrick O'Flynn, UKIP's "Director of Communications" and previously the Political Correspondent of the right wing and populist Daily Express told me to "read it" as I might "learn something". It was a classic line from Mr O'Flynn with whom I have crossed swords amicably (mostly) in the past. Whether he thought I had bought the book to look good on my bookshelves I don't know (unlikely as it has a bright photograph of Nigel Farage pint and fag in hand on the cover). Anyway I bought it to read it and I have now done so. And, yes, I did indeed learn something from this outstandingly good book about modern British politics. "Revolt on the Right" is, of course, about the United Kingdom Independence Party - but it is a great deal more than this. This is because it places UKIP's rise firmly in the context of not just the political world of the UK but our social circumstances as well. It also places UKIP in Britain alongside the new Right of Centre and often "insurgent" parties elsewhere in Europe as well. This is a book for political anoraks, like me, but it is as I say, much more. This is for three reasons. First the book is exceptionally well written - it is immensely readable and very well structured. Secondly it is extremely well researched - there is quantitative and qualitative support for every statement and assertion. Thirdly it is a cracking good story! The rise and rise of UKIP does matter - and for reasons that go beyond Party politics as well, of course, for the established political Parties. Back in the 1980s I was an early recruit of the Social Democratic Party - the SDP. It is the only political party I have ever joined and I am proud of having been a member. This is because I strongly still associate myself with the values and policies of the SDP. The SDP story is told in "Revolt on the Right" because it is the only comparable example of a fourth party being successful - albeit briefly. It is worth dwelling on the SDP for a moment because in 1983, in alliance with the Liberals, they secured 25.4% of the UK vote - and yet just 3.5% of the seats (23). It was scandalous. In that year Mrs Thatcher garnered 42.4 % of the popular vote but 61.1% of the seats in the House of Commons. That is the First Past the Post political system that distorts - I would say invalidates - much of our politics. In the 2015 General Election the same rules will apply and the authors confirm that the chances of UKIP securing any seats are slim. The UK’s iniquitous voting system contributes to the disillusionment with conventional politics that emerges as one of the three main reasons for UKIP's rise. There is a "populist backlash against the established political class" among UKIP voters. It is "None of the above" politics at its most raw. "Revolt on the Right" documents what is elsewhere often referred to as contempt for "LibLabCon" - the idea that all three main parties are the same led by the same Oxbridge educated elite who all cluster around broadly the same political imperatives. As the authors put it both Labour under Blair and the Conservatives under Cameron tried to build "election winning coalitions in a middle class society" and this created a class of "left behind" voters (or often non-voters). This has become the recruiting ground for UKIP, as it was for the British National Party (BNP) before. In “Revolt on the Right” the authors quote David Aaronovitch who said that both parties attract “ordinary” people who feel “betrayed by the political class”. More specifically they are the “older, less skilled and less well educated working-class voters”. This analysis is crucial and it may come as a surprise to those who see UKIP’s potential support as being among Eurosceptic Conservatives who are disenchanted with David Cameron. Certainly some UKIP voters are middle-class defectors from the Tories – but the vast majority are from the “left behind” blue collar population. That UKIP has replaced the BNP as the right wing Party of protest is clear from the authors’ analysis. As recently as the 2010 local elections the BNP secured nearly 350,000 votes to UKIP’s 226,000. By 2013 UKIP had risen to an astonishing 1.14 million while the BNP had fallen to a derisory 13,000. The jibe that UKIP’s leaders are the “BNP in blazers” is unfair and untrue. But a significant proportion of their recent voter support in elections clearly does come from those who voted for the BNP in the past – perhaps holding their noses as they did it! What are these voters voting for and to what extent is UKIP a Party whose appeal is that it allows a respectable protest vote to be made without there being a charge of racism – as of course there had been with the BNP? And to what extent are UKIP’s policies important as opposed to their status as a repository for votes against the liberal, metropolitan elite of the three main parties? The authors analyse UKIP’s policies as really only being in two areas – Europe and immigration. True there are some other totemic right of centre policies thrown into the mix, including a social conservatism (e.g. against Gay marriage) which will attract older Tory defectors. But in essence UKIP is about two things – withdrawal from the European Union and an end to immigration. Over recent times these positions have become inextricably linked as the doors have been opened to EU citizens from countries like Bulgaria and Romania – something that UKIP has successfully exploited among its target group. The unease that many in the “left behind” group feel about immigration and the directly linked opposition to the EU is the driver of UKIP’s success. You can regard UKIP as being like a three-legged stool with the legs being (1) Opposition to the current political class (2) Opposition to the European Union and (3) Opposition to immigration. Take one of these legs away and the stool falls over. Interlink them, as UKIP has increasingly realised it needs to do, and you have a sturdy construct that it’s hard to push over! What UKIP is against is clear. What it is for is another matter. And the same applies to its supporters and prospective voters. The social group that UKIP aims at used to be that which “Old Labour” could rely upon. Here an appeal that cites immigrants and the devilry of the EU as being the causes of unemployment, housing problems and difficulties with school places will be successful. Where Old Labour delivered public sector jobs, council housing and good non selective education the new political class of any established Party fails to do this – in the minds of the “left behind”. Making the EU and immigrants and the Oxbridge educated political elite responsible for the current malaise goes beyond scapegoating, though it certainly is that. It gives a concerted focus which although it has been present in the appeal of Far Right parties across Europe has previously been absent in Britain. The rise of UKIP has changed that. The BNP did the same but was clearly lacking totally in respectability. Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin are miles apart, but many of their erstwhile and current supporters are the same. “Revolt on the Right” tells how good luck (e.g. the formation of the Coalition) and sometimes smart judgment has given UKIP its current strong position. It does not presume to analyse the intellectual logic of UKIP’s main policy positions. Those of us who oppose UKIP completely – this reviewer cannot think of one UKIP position with which he agrees – need to do more than just be contemptuous of what we may see as bigotry and prejudice. The case for Europe and the case for the benefits of past immigration are strong, but they need to be put far better. The case for believing in the inherent decency of politicians like David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg is also strong – but the more they distance themselves from the people and the more elitist they seem the more difficult it is to make. I would offer one reason why UKIP despite its recent successes lacks real credibility as a political movement that will endure. Unlike the SDP UKIP has attracted no politician defectors from any other political Party – a few minor characters aside. There are, I would guess, at least twenty or thirty Conservative MPs whose views are more in line with UKIP than they are with Cameron’s Conservatives. Not one of them has done what a similar number of Labour MPs once did and move to a new Party. This curiosity is not discussed in Ford and Goodwin’s book at all and I wonder why. But if in the run up to the 2015 election a few Tory MPs do defect then that election could be very interesting indeed! If not then we can expect a UKIP vote of 15% - 20% to deliver no MPs at all (Farage aside if he chooses the right constituency). The palpable injustice of that might just cause a revolt for electoral reform – and that really could change the face of British politics!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The silly irrelevance that is the"Commonwealth"

The Commonwealth is an idea whose time should never have come - and a very bad one. In the main Britain's withdrawal from Empire was swift if not entirely peaceful. But we got out, as we had to, and those Nations we had subjugated became independent. The detritus from Empire is sadly still there to be seen in all too many cases and our hands will never be entirely clean. But we are, thank God, no longer an Imperial power - a few embarrassing possessions aside.

The Commonwealth was the invention of those who could not come to terms with the loss of Empire. It was, remember, initially called the " British Commonwealth". Gradually, however, the old Imperial ties became largely unimportant - the notion of "Commonwealth Preference", for example, withered on the vine. And what are we left with? Not a lot. Some still peddle the notion that there is an "Anglosphere" (the Commonwealth plus the United States) - but few pay this much attention.

We may not all like the modern political and economic realities but they are not going to change. They are (1) China and ASEAN - the Pacific Rim. (2) The United States and Canada. (3) The European Union. (4) Africa (5) The Middle East (6) South America - oh and (7) Russia and its friends of course. Each grouping has geographical and economic logic. Britain has one home and one home only - in the EU.

The Commonwealth is at best a talking shop and one that is largely ignored by the rest of the World. It has no political or economic relevance. It can do nothing. Pass no laws. Create no wealth. Protect no citizen. It's a preposterous anachronistic irrelevance long past it's sell-by date. And its "Games" count for nothing in a world which has events of real substance galore.

(Just a post script for avoidance of doubt. I am not saying that Supra-political bodies are not important.  Just that they need to be universal, like the UN, and have a logic to their construct. The Commonwealth isn't one and can't ever be.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lord protect us from a Banker Prime Minister !

There is no evidence that successful businessmen make successful politicians - Hezza aside maybe.  I see nothing in Sajid Javid's story that makes me thing that he is anything more than a clever, ambitious self-promoting neo-liberal who believes that Britain can be run like a business. 

His equanimity about Britain being outside the EU is self-interest. There is a hardly a respectable business figure who would agree with him. I see no evidence of any beliefs other than those that hit the Tory hot buttons. Everything he says is designed to build his CV - and Cameron has fallen for it and helped him on his way. If you read through his tweets over the past few months there is no humour,no hinterland no originality. Just slavish approval for Cameron/Osborne and dismissive rudery about Labour

I appreciate that Tories are clutching at straws - Stephen Pollard has already said he wants Javid in Number 10 NOW!! - but Mr Javid is a curious choice. Because the business world is so discredited that the last thing most of us would vote for is a Banker Prime Minister. What a ghastly idea ! 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

UK Inflation is significantly understated

In a post on the ConHome website today Mel Stride MP celebrates Britain's "low" inflation and castigates Labour for getting it wrong. But it's Mr Stride, not Labour, who is being delusional about the Cost of Living. 

The CPI and RPI measures of inflation significantly understate the inflation that most of us experience. It will emerge in the weeks ahead that real consumer inflation is nearer 8% than the 2% the indices suggest. Some wages are increasing as well but not at this level. For those living on Pensions the CPI cap means that their standard of living is reducing and many are suffering. An inability to afford food means that the poorest are and will increasingly be suffering from malnutrition as they spend what they have on cheaper food with empty calories. Food Banks in our cities have to provide emergency relief for increasing numbers of the poor. Meanwhile the inevitable return to normal interest rates though maybe not in this Parliament for electoral reasons will further exacerbate inflation and make a bad situation worse.

This Government has nothing to boast about on prices. The figures are fixed - not least because the inflation of assets like housing costs are excluded from CPI. There are lies, damn lies and statistics. And politically nuanced statistics are the biggest lie of all. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The dangers of nationalism

Patriotism, as we know, is the last refuge of a scoundrel or, as Oscar Wilde put it, the “Virtue of the Vicious”. And yet still today there is patriotic tub-thumping on, it seems, every occasion. And we even have a political Party, UKIP, and a wing of the Conservative party predicated on what they see as patriotic principles.

Some patriotism is benign if a bit daft (worship of the Monarchy) and some rather engaging (support for sporting teams which represent the Nation). But when patriotism is blind and when it is strongly negative about those who are seen as not being of our tribe it becomes dangerous. This is when Patriotism becomes Nationalism.

“My Country right or wrong” that jingoistic aphorism is the war cry (often literally) of nationalism. We saw it at its most venal during the Falklands war. Nationalism from the Argentinians when they invaded the Falklands and nationalism from Britain when we took them back. Was the shedding of so much blood really worth it to take a nationalistic stand to either annex (Argentina) or recover (Britain) some sparsely-populated dull and distant islands just because the Union Flag flew there and a couple of thousand vaguely British types lived there? One combatant was to die, and three times as many were to be injured, for every two Falkland Islanders in this absurd nationalistic adventure.

Whilst the situation in Gibraltar is not so lethal (two EU powers are hardly likely to come to blows over such a territorial dispute) the case has similarities. Gibraltar is part of Spain geographically but was taken by force by Britain 300 years ago. The case for British sovereignty, as with The Falklands, is legally strong but it is so archaic and anachronistic that it needs urgent review. It is worth remembering that Britain had sovereignty in perpetuity over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Only the New Territories had to be handed back to China in 1997. But Real Politick determined that the whole Territory was handed to China – the idea that some nationalistic fervour should have caused Britain to dig its heels in and try and hold on Hong Kong is absurd

The cases of The Falklands and Gibraltar are not dissimilar to that of Hong Kong. In both cases only a misplaced and out-of-date nationalism makes Britain hold on to them. But what about the people I hear you cry? Don't they have rights? Indeed they do. But if we could put nationalism in its guise of “Sovereignty” off the table the problem would be solvable. Britain could concede sovereignty to Argentina and to Spain but lease the territoires back for say a hundred years and co-jointly with the sovereign power undertake to protect the interests of the residents of the two territories. Britain would confirm that these people would have full British nationality and Argentina and Spain would grant them self governance. The Argentinian and Spanish flags would fly, but the people of the territories would run the places. That is what happened in Hong Kong (the British nationality aside, shamefully) and it works!  

The history of the twentieth century was one of clashes of nationalisms. The most evil of the various ideologies – Fascism and the  “Communist” totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and China - were selectively countered by the democratic West. Hitler was defeated militarily, as he had to be, but the not much less evil and no less nationalistic Stalin was an ally. The United States disastrous adventures in Vietnam and in the twenty-first century in  Iraq and Afghanistan were carried out under the nationalistic banner of the “Stars and Stripes”. The dangerous and unquestionably nationalistic dogma of American and “allied” Neo-Conservatism caused untold misery and distress – and it still does.

The very basis of Nationalism requires us to define the Nation we promote or defend. Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea is nationalistic in that he declares, with some justification let it be said, that Crimea and the Crimeans are Russian. In essence this has been welcomed by Crimea because they see themselves as more Russian than Ukrainian and the decided that they couldn't be both, so they chose Russia.

Which brings me to Scotland. The de facto Scottish National Anthem, “Flower of Scotland” contains the following lines:

“Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again”

The key words here are “We can still rise now, And be a nation again”. Nominally this refers to Bannockburn (1314) but in fact, of course, it is to a Scottish Nationalist equally applicable today. Many of them will mean when they sing it be an independent nation again. Only with a positive (“Yes” vote) outcome to the referendum to be held in September 2014 will, they believe, this occur.

Scotland is a Country, historically and actually and nobody would question that. If “Nation” is used as a synonym for “Country” then Scotland is a nation and there is no need for it to rise and become one. It already is! But the word that takes the argument one step further is “State”. Here we are talking about governance and in that respect Scotland is only partly a “State”, but mostly not. It has a Parliament but that is effectively a regional assembly because it is, or could be made to be, subordinate to the Parliament of the United Kingdom – which is the “State” to which Scotland belongs, of which it is a constituent part.

The question that the Scottish voters will be answering in September is:

"Should Scotland be an independent country?"

The key word here is, of course, “independent”. For the Scottish citizen however it is rather more complex than that. It is essentially a nationalistic question. He or she is being asked whether they wish to give up their British citizenship and exchange it for a Scottish one. But trim away the citizenship issue and if we must accept that Scotland cannot be a “Nation State” within the United Kingdom. It can be, as it is, a “Country” within the UK and arguably also a “Nation” – but it cannot be a State without being independent.

Scots have two choices. The status quo under which they are (mostly) residents of and emotionally connected to Scotland as well as being citizens, not of Scotland, but of the UK. They are Scottish as well as British. That's choice one. Choice two sees the Scots breaking all governance links with the rest of the United Kingdom and in this case “Country”, “Nation”, and “Nation State” would become synonymous.

It is not for nothing that the SNP are “Scottish Nationalists” – it is the rawest form of Nationalism to seek to be independent. This is very similar to the pitch of UKIP regarding the UK and Europe. UKIP believes that all decisions in respect of the governance of Britain should be taken in Britain, not in Brussels. The SNP believes the same about Scotland and the UK - Edinburgh not London.

Those of us who abhor nationalism, especially in a British context, would argue that the interdependence of Nation States these days makes it inconceivable that Britain should not be a member of the European Union. Is the EU a “SuperState” as critics charge? Well yes up to a point it is. But do the French or the Italians or the Germans feel any less French, Italian or German because their countries  are also members of the EU. I very much doubt it! And nor should we. Similarly I see no problem with Scots being proudly Scottish and proudly British at the same them. There is no anomaly here. Britain is an entity that was arguably as much created by the Scots as it was by the English (and the Welsh and some of the Irish as well of course). But that is for the Scots to decide. Back to patriotism. Can you be patriotically Scottish and patriotically British at the same time. Of course you can. Look at Andy Murray, or Chris Hoy. Can you be a British Nationalist and a Scottish Nationalist at the same time? No. And my hope is that none of us will want to be either of these things. Nationalism has left too many war graves around the world, led to too much slaughter of the innocents and is inclusive and profoundly dangerous – as history teaches us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The ghastly "Bash the BBC" brigade are out in full force again. Let's Fight them !

The ghastly "Bash the BBC" brigade are out in full force again. Let's Fight them ! Let's be crystal clear about this. The idea that the funding system of the BBC needs reviewing comes only from Right wing obsessives who cannot stomach the idea of Public Service broadcasting. They are the same people who want EVERTHING to be privatised. The Health Service included. It is pure ideology and it only gets media space because the rest of the media (BBC aside) would benefit. Pure self-interest mixed with flawed ideology is a dangerous mix.

We are all to ready to run down our institutions in Britain - unless there is obsequious mileage to be gained. The Monarchy for starters in the phoney "Best of British" category. But when we have something genuinely special, genuinely unique, genuinely world class the shallow obsessives of the Right come along to knock it. The BBC is first in line. And yet travel the world over and you'll be told that Britain is held in esteem - when it is - because of the BBC not in spite of it. And when you tell those who praise the breadth and depth of the broadcasting in the BBC output that it costs every household 40p a day they look at you incredulously. How can it be so little for so much. What a bargain. Which of course it is.

The Licence Fee is an essential element of the BBC. Even if you only listen or watch a small part of the Corporations output it is still a bargain. I pay more for my Times online subscription! And for Sky I pay four times as much for a tiny fraction of the benefit. Rupert Murdoch has stolen British sport and I have to pay his take it or leave it rip-off charges to watch football and cricket. I despise him and what he has done but I have no alternative. That is the model the "Subscripion" enthusiasts seem to want for all Broadcasting! Well it is nonsense and to suggest that the BBCs output be paid for in the same way is preposterous and offensive. 

We will fight to the limit the BBC bashers. They will not win. 

The Predictable, and boring, Mr Hodges


Dan Hodges has become the Pub bore. The person who inspires you to move seats or even pubs to escape his predictable rants. He recycles the same old anti Ed Miliband polemic in every article. Here is the latest version. It is neither informed nor original any more, if it ever was.

Journalism is about more than having an opinion and then peddling it at every opportunity. A degree of balance would be welcome. But failing that how about Mr Hodges actually thinking whether he has anything new or original to say before he drafts another piece. Or how about the Comments Editor saying to him "Come off it Dan, you've done this. Again, and again and again. I'm not paying for it any more.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

So am I one of your "Hardworking people" then Dave?

So how's the "Big Society" going for you then? Remember that idea - we all work together for the benefit of society at large and volunteer in droves to do so? Well I haven't heard much of it recently have you? No the new slogan is about "Hardworking people" who are lauded - as compared with? Well what? Slackers I suppose. Well I worked, quite hard at times, for 37 years. Certainly over those years I worked the hours I was paid for, and some that I wasn't paid for as well. If you're an Ex-Pat, which I was a lot in the latter half of my Shell career, you don't clock in and out. It's, as we didn't say at the time, a 24/7 job! 

When I retired I did so to do other things. That's how it was ten or so years ago. The Pension gave you the chance to choose. So I chose. Some of it was voluntary - doing things that seemed worthwhile and not seeking to be paid for them. Some of it was vocational - writing a book and enjoying the thrill of having it published. Some of it was quite well rewarded - the odd bit of consultancy and specialised journalism. That's how I balance my time today. I'm busy doing, mostly, things that I enjoy. Lucky me. Am I "hardworking" ? Not really. If I need a day, or a week or even a month when I do very little I take it. I'm quite energetic when I do do things. But pretty laid back when I don't.

So David Cameron am I one of your "hardworking people" ? You call my State Pension "Welfare" - that's not how I see it. I worked hard for 37 years, paid my taxes and the State Pension, to which I contributed with National Insurance, is my right. Deferred benefits if you like. My Shell Pension is the same. Deferred remuneration. So where do I fit in your "hardworking" model? A burden on the State, the Health Service and the rest? Or someone who deserves your respect. Someone who deserves more than to be marginalised or even vilified as your colleague David Willetts has done with his cheap shots at the Baby Boomer generation. Do let me know, Dave. There's an election around the corner. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The UK Economy is a long way from Happyland

You don't have to travel far to find a Conservative politician who'll tell what we need is tax cuts. You don't have to look hard to find a Labour politician who'll argue that cuts to public expenditure are a sin. But in reality on both sides they are living prematurely in Happyland - and there is a long way to go before we have arrived in such a place where either becomes possible. When we get there, if we do, then it would be useful for both main Parties to say what they would do. How we give the peoples' money back to them is a matter of ideology. Traditionally Conservatives favour lower taxes (though rarely deliver them). Traditionally Labour favours new and/or improved Public services (though rarely provides them cost-effectively). But we are so far away from the point where this debate would be for real that it is profoundly unhelpful to have it now. The hard reality is that the gap between Government expenditure (including interest payments) and Government income (primarily tax) is so large that neither ideology-driven choice is remotely possible.

The economic future is bleak. Internationally China looks highly problematic and the global spin off from a Chinese crash would catch the UK as it would all major economies. The Eurozone has made considerable progress but only a fool would say that Europe's recovery, such as it is, is assured. And in the USA there are signs of greater protectionism and inward-looking attitudes, especially on energy, which substantially decouple the world's largest economy from the rest of us. 

In Britain there is no alternative to moving towards getting a balance in the budget before any tax cuts and/or increases in public expenditure are achievable. Labour knows this and whilst there are some contradictory rhetorical flourishes from some Labour politicians which catch the headlines Miliband and Balls know that "tax and spend" would not only be a dishonest electoral pitch, it would be irresponsible. They won't do it. Similarly, as the smarter Conservatices like Mark Field are saying, to promise tax cuts when you know you can't deliver them for the foreseeable future would be to cheat the electorate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ukraine is a European problem and needs a European solution

In a post on the ConHome website Garvan Walsh, who was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008, says this:

"Military action to defend Ukraine from Russia may be out of the question, " 

May? MAY ? There is no "may" about it surely. Would he seriously suggest that there is the tiniest doubt on the matter? That the UK could launch some attack on the forces of Russia over Ukraine? Of course not, even the most deluded of Neocons would not suggest that. So why "may" ? 

Walsh's proposals might give the rather self-satisfied anti Russia orators of the moment a warm glow and let them claim the moral high ground. But they will have little effect given that they are mostly words, or how you say them, than action. 

He also says "...developing a coordinated Atlantic response takes time".  Why "Atlantic response"? This suggests that Britain would determine its actions on Ukraine in a bipartite way with the United States when of course the primary partners for action are the fellow members of the European Union. Walsh fails even to mention the UK's role within Europe to help solve the problems. Ukraine is in Europe's back yard and is indeed a candidate for EU membership in time. With or without Crimea. Primarily European problems need European solutions and it is with our European partners that we must primarily work.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Brief thoughts on the BBC and the Licence Fee

The BBC is rightly considering all aspects of its operation in the light of the stringent real terms cuts imposed by the current Government. I very much doubt that they will acquiesce to the abolition of the Licence Fee, and nor should they. I agree it's regressive. But exceptions are made and the quantum of 40p per day per household is peanuts and affordable by nearly all. 

It is a British disease to slam what is good whilst doing nothing about what is bad. The BBC is not perfect, but it is our greatest institution by far and the envy of the world. It is under scrutiny, and should be. But those on the Right who lambast the Corporation - backed as they are by those like the Murdoch media who would be beneficiaries of the BBC's decline - do our nation a huge disservice. If only they were just as vocal about bankers' bonuses and tax avoidance! 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Andrew Neil is right. "Peak Oil" is a very long way away!

Back in the early 1980s I worked in Energy forecasting for Shell in the Netherlands. Energy supply and demand is a complex and interesting subject. On the supply side we analysed all Primary Energy sources - basically oil, gas, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables. For the first three (the hydrocarbons) we were dealing with finite resources. Every tonne of them we consumed depleted that finite resource. That was not in dispute. The areas where there were differences of opinion were about the size of the reserves per se, and the amount of these reserves that could be commercially exploited. How much did we have and what percentage could we extract?

Reserves are a function of man's capability to find hydrocarbons. The extractability is partly technical - did we have the actual ability to get the reserves from the ground so that we could use them? It is also a commercial issue. Given the current price of energy was it economic to produce? Could you cover your production costs and make an acceptable return? 

The oil companies assessed reserves, as did independent bodies and governments. One of those involved with whom I had some contact was the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and especially their Professor in the appropriate Department Peter Odell. He was a colourful and clever man one of whose claims to fame was that he believed that oil companies, including Shell (for whom he had once worked) were far too conservative in assessing reserves. 

Over time Peter Odell was proved right. The main driver of this was technology improvements. The ingenuity of scientists and engineers to extract more oil or gas from a reservoir just grew and grew. This was helped by a rising oil/gas price. At higher prices fields that were not economic at lower prices became attractive. This was a virtuous circle as the commercial driver facilitated the technology advances. Similarly the search for new resources was done in the context of a paradigm which said (say) if it cost $10 a barrel to produce but the market price is $20 it's worth doing.

The idea of "Peak Oil" - a point in time when oil/gas production peaked before falling back was and is in the lexicon. But Peter Odell never believed it and, after a while, nor did I. The most obvious area where this is currently true relates to oil and especially gas from Shale. Twenty years ago the ability to exploit these reserves did not exist. Now it does and this means that, for example, the United States can become self-sufficient in hydrocarbons. An almost unthinkable possibility as recently as five years ago! 

Any exploitation of commodities like minerals and hydrocarbons must be done in an environmentally friendly way. Shale reserves can only be utilised if environmental controls exist. But if they do there is no logical reason why these massive reserves cannot be used. 

Intellectually it is true that at some point in the future oil and gas production will peak. But it is a long way off. Before then technology,  ingenuity and political will should  allow us to use resources that not long ago we didn't even know we had let alone how to exploit them. Peter Odell told us this thirty years ago - he was right. He still is!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tories playing the man not the ball is likely to backfire

In a blog on the Conservative Home website today Tory cheerleader Mark Wallace writes about "the horrors that a Miliband government would bring. ". And what "horrors" are they? Could they be any worse than those brought to us by this incompetent, uncaring, foolish Tory-led administration? I very much doubt it. The reason Cameron has failed so abysmally is not because he has been held back by the LibDems. They have largely been compliant. No. The reason is that they have a warped ideology and frankly don't know what they are doing. The venal combination of trying to do the wrong things and doing them badly. The badger cull is emblemic of this. Wrong thing to do, based on selectively chosen science while ignoring real experts and utterly bungled in execution. 

Ed Miliband has gently taken command of a once divided Labour Party and united it. The Blairite/Brownite divisions are a thing of the past. He has also significantly modernised the Party and removed the last remaining blocks on its credibility as a potential Government. Meanwhile the Conservatives still tear themselves apart over Europe (especially) the economy etcetera. Etcetera. Divided parties don't win elections.

Ed is a social democrat, or a democratic socialist if you like. But he is no ideologue and the "Red Ed" charge is as preposterous as it always was. Ed articulates well the benefits of a mixed economy and he has a good team behind him. He is also, self-evidently, a decent man. His slight geekishness and occasional social discomfort is unlikely to be a block to his election once the public get to know him. The more they get to know Ed the more attractive the prospect of him in Downing Street will seem. The Conservatives think that they can win by playing the man not the ball. It could backfire on them.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why do ill-qualified non scientists make so much noise on ClimateChange - on both sides of the debate?

There is rather a good blog on Conservative Home today by Peter Franklin saying we should be more trusting of scientific experts.  

Indeed we should  (mostly) "trust the experts" - which is why the Global Warming debate is so sterile. Climate change is highly complex and the study of it requires deep and expert scientific knowledge. It is not a subject for the layman. And yet because denial of Global Warming has become a totem of right wing credentials (why?) we have a plethora of those prepared to tell us all about it. And why it's some sort of Lefty conspiracy. From Nigel Lawson to James Delingpole, from Nigel Farage to Owen Paterson the Right unites to rubbish Global Warming. And their scientific credentials to to do this? Zilch.

How this has happened I've no idea. True the early warnings of how man was damaging the planet and it's climate were spread by some politicians of the left. Al Gore the classic example. But that didn't, or shouldn't , have meant that it was a Left/Right divide subject. Even a non scientist should be able to see that it is facile to have Climate Change divisions with the deniers on one side saying its bunkum and the Greens on the other saying we're doomed. The truth, of course, rests somewhere between these extremes and it is only the deepest most thorough application of science that will eventually tell us where. We are not there yet by a long way. Until we are is there any chance we could cut our the stridency ? I doubt it ! 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

We don’t need to choose between flood protection and HS2 and other projects. Just measure their costs and benefits better.


I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Business Studies in 1970 which, to save you the math, is 44 years ago. Virtually everything that I studied on that course is relevant today – indeed more relevant because most of what we learned was unencumbranced with the MBA bullshit that was later to infest this area of study! In the Economics part of the course we covered the subject pretty thoroughly and in a linked area we looked at private and public investment. The latter was particularly interesting as unlike the former social considerations were uppermost.

The social (including environmental and other consequences) impact of private investment projects has been seen to be increasingly important in recent times. That said the main consideration has to be the potential returns over time for private shareholders. They are businesses after all. But for public sector investment it is different. Here return on capital and profit potential are far less important than the total benefits (and costs) of proceeding with a scheme. This is where, on my course all those years ago, Cost-benefit Analysis (CBA)  comes in – and it still does. The definition of CBA in Wikipedia seems to express what it is rather well:

“In CBA, benefits and costs are expressed in monetary terms, and are adjusted for the time value of money, so that all flows of benefits and flows of project costs over time (which tend to occur at different points in time) are expressed on a common basis in terms of their "net present value."

The key point about CBA as a tool in project evaluation is that it requires that values are placed on consequences where the effect is not necessarily easy to determine in monetary terms. So, for example, the actual monetary cost of a construction project ought to be forecastable with a reasonable degree of precision. However the social cost of (for example) the disruption during the construction phase is much more intangible and assumptions have to be made. A project that we looked at in some detail was the construction of the Victoria Line in London and the CBA that was carried out on it:

Victoria Line 

You get the general idea of the approach from this brief summary. Which brings me to both HS2 (the High Speed rail line going North from London) and to capital expenditure on flood protection projects – both very much in the news at the moment. 

The first thing to say is that it is intellectually bereft of reason to say that we should either do one or the other of these projects as if capital rationing is such that we can only afford to do one! Nonsense. In an economy the size of Britain's, particularly in the context of a European Union which not only supports infrastructure projects but often part-funds them, every project must be looked at on its own. So this sort of thing in a letter in the Daily Telegraph is drivel:

SIR – Looking at the photographs of storm wreckage along the east coast and up the Thames, it seems that the proposed HS2 money would be better spent on flood defences to prevent the catastrophic flooding of London in the future.

Save London rather than a few minutes’ journey time.

Kate Foster
Malvern, Worcestershire

In short if the CBA for both projects is positive then by definition they can be afforded and ought to proceed – all other things being equal. But let me emphasise that it is essential that the cost of intangibles is fairly assessed. For example HS2 involves a huge number of Compulsory Purchase Orders – people and businesses (etc.) will lose their homes to make way for the line. The compensation paid is only part of the cost – what about the social and personal costs to those whose lives are disrupted? They must be properly calculated in so far as it is possible to do this. This does not mean that the line should not proceed – far from it. Every railway line since the early nineteenth century to today has involved disadvantages to those who live on the planned route. But these disadvantages can be assessed, and must be.

In The Netherlands the massive Delta Works were constructed at huge capital cost but the overall benefits unquestionably exceed the costs. Similarly with the Thames Barrier in London. Cost-benefit Analysis techniques helped prove the cases for these projects and they are essential for HS2 and are being used – as you would expect. The same applies to the potential capital projects for the creation of effective flood defences so that, like the Dutch, we actually protect our citizens in future.

My argument here is for more science and more calculation and less emotion. This may seem a tad callous for two projects which really do affect people’s lives and which have oodles of emotion in them. But if we look not at the macro level, where complexities get lost, but at the micro-level where real and intangible costs and benefits can be assessed we have a better chance of actually doing the right thing! 


Saturday, February 01, 2014

It's not the role of the Tax system to punish the wealthy and penalise success

At the Fabian conference a week ago, which I attended, Polly Toynbee said that the 50p tax rate should return even if it doesn't bring in much revenue. Since then many others on the Left have been using the construct that it will "increase HMRC receipts" (or some such). This is of course true. But it isn't the point. Studies suggest, as Paul Johnson of the IFS actually said at the conference, that the overall effect of having a 50p top rate of tax compared with the current 45p rate is neutral. Some go further and say that overall government revenues would actually reduce. Which is why some Labour peope are using the "increase HMRC receipts" evasion. So is it the role of taxation to punish the rich? Moral grounds if you like. I find the idea repugnant.

I pay my taxes and always have. I do this willingly as my obligation to society. I pay them for things I don't need, like education or maternity care and hundreds of other things Government spending looks after. I accept that on the margin I pay 40% (not 45% - I'm not in the 1% !) because it seems morally right that if I can afford it, which I can, I pay more than someone who can't. But I am not being punished for this fact. That would be punishing me for having been more successful (financially) than someone else - why would you do that? 

If it can be shown beyond doubt that the 50p tax rate has no fiscal benefit compared with the 45p rate then Labour should drop the idea. Because it would be vindictive to go ahead with something that discriminates against success with no benefit at all other than some rather unworthy feeling that you have bashed the rich. That would bring politics into disrepute. And it would be bad politics as well. In the 1950s the top rate of tax was something like 90%. I always though this iniquitous and still do and governments gradually came around to the idea that it was as well. But where you draw the line (what the tax rate range should be and at what levels the bands should be drawn)  is problematic. The challenge is to find the system that maximises revenues and honours the principle that richer people should pay more taxes. That principle is important but it does not mean the the driver is punitive - it should be pragmatic as well as being perceived as fair. But not punishment. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Celebrating a very good school

“You don't make something that’s bad better by making something that’s good worse.”

I visited my old school last week. Now the very term “old school” gives you a hint as to what sort of school it is – add “tie” and you’ll get it. “The Leys School”, where I spent my teenage years, is an independent school in Cambridge. Originally a Methodist foundation it is now a very modern coeducational secondary school which, whilst not secular, is far from a non-conformist truth factory. Actually it wasn't particularly religious when I was there in the 1960s either - despite our having to go to chapel twice a day, every day! Christopher Hitchens, a contemporary, remarked late in his life that he had “Learned more in the chapel than anywhere else in the School”. I know what he meant, paradoxical it may seem for atheists to say so.

I was at The Leys to see the opening of the new “Great Hall” its new centrepoint for gatherings of all sorts. It is a 300+ seat theatre but is so designed to be flexible and to be swiftly capable of being transformed into a wide range of configurations depending on what is needed. It has cost £9m substantially from bequests and donations including a modest contribution from me – which is why I was there. The Hall was opened by the Monarch’s youngest son and, republican though I am, I have to say Edward did the job very well.

In some respects The Leys is typical of the very best of the independent schools sector. Well I would say that wouldn't I ? Back in the days when I was there and for a while after I left The Leys and schools like it were described as “minor Public Schools”. That term has fallen away a bit – although it is used by Charles Moore in his biography of Margaret Thatcher. Moore is an Old Etonian – nuff said! Anyway minor or not it is a very good school indeed and as such surely to be supported? This is where for a Leftie like me things start to get tricky. At best I can be accused of hypocrisy and at worst of defending privilege and elitism.

If we were creating an education system from scratch today would there be a place in it for schools like The Leys? Well not as selective, expensive indulgences for the middle-classes there wouldn't. Does the school confer advantages on its pupils that the State system does not? Of course it does – that is the main reason parents send their children there. Does your “bog-standard comprehensive” have a Great Hall – of course it does not. So if you believe in “Equality of Opportunity” you cannot defend The Leys can you? Well here’s the rub – we are not creating an education system from scratch. We have what we have. In Britain there is a diversity of schools which is unique in the world and even within the state sector in any area there is likely to be bewildering range of school types: High schools, Church schools, other “Faith” schools, Grammar schools, Academies, Free schools – and so on. They operate with different teaching methods, recruit from different cohorts of society and even teach against different curriculums. Its a shambles. Along with this muddled State sector there is the fee-paying independent sector, of which The Leys is part.

Around 25% of the intake of the 24 elite “Russell Group” universities comprised independent school sixth formers - although these schools educate only 7% of all of Britain's pupils. And by virtually every other criterion the products of these schools have a better chance in life then the average pupil from a State school. Its pretty iniquitous and I find it impossible to defend what we have. So do I want to abolish the independent sector or at least make life more difficult for it by removing the charitable status that the schools have as educational establishments? Emphatically not! Would one State school be improved one iota if The Leys was forced to decamp to (say) America because it was no longer welcome in Britain? Would teachers who chose to be in the independent system suddenly willingly return to the State system – some might, others might follow the School to America (or wherever). What is good about The Leys, and the rest, can be a model to which State schools aspire. And if this is patronising (it is!) it is also true.

I am proud to have been at The Leys and proud that it has blossomed as a fine School by any standards. I don't like inequality in education any more than I like inequality anywhere in our society. But:

“You don't make something that’s bad better by making something that’s good worse.”

Saturday, January 25, 2014

This is what Ed Balls said today about the revenues from the 50p tax rate:

"The latest figures show that those earning over £150,000 paid almost £10 billion more in tax in the three years when the 50p top rate of tax was in place than when the government conducted its assessment of the tax back in 2012."

If there is disagreement over this claim (and there is) let's see the rationale from those who question it. And if Ed Balls needs to defend his claim - which I think he does - let's see that defence, in detail, as well.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The smoking ban in pubs is here to stay - and landlords who improve what their pubs offer the consumer will prosper.

In a piece in The Daily Telegraph today Peter Oborne blames pub closures on the smoking ban in such premises and calls for it to be reversed. He even says that the ban was Labour's "defining legacy". You are never quite sure with Peter whether his tongue is in his cheek - I  suspect that on this one it might be - but if not it needs to be said that he is fundamentally and preposterously wrong ! It is not just the British Pub that has had to bow to public pressure but bars and restaurants across the civilised world. "Public pressure" ? Absolutely. In the modern world the vast majority of adults are non smokers. And even smokers accepted that smoking in such facilities was wrong - or many did. The arguments  should not really need restating and anyone who remembers the bad old days will despair that there are those who think that our right to sip a pint and munch a pie in a smoke-free environment should be questioned. 

Even CAMRA supported the smoking ban in pubs and they were right to do so. And the idea that this was some Labour Party vendetta against the smoking classes does not stand up at all. Remember the first major city to ban smoking in bars and restaurants - it wasn't Labour's London but Bloomberg's New York. The New Yorkers, not known for their easy acceptance of rules and regulations, complied. As did the French when France did the same. If men and women can forgoe their Camels, Lucky Strikes and Gaulois in the common good we could do the same - and we did! Hooray!

The closure of so many pubs is to be regretted and no doubt in a few cases they closed because patrons could no longer smoke (and cough and spit) there. But if a pub relied on its smoke filled bars to sustain its business it couldn't have been much of a pub - and if it couldn't change we are well rid of it. Many pubs did change, of course, and many of those that modified what they did and how they did it have prospered. The Pub is the classic free enterprise business but like all such businesses, especially those running public service offers, there have to be rules. Above all the environment has to be safe. A room full of smoke is a threat to those who go there and especially to those who work there. Ask the family of non-smoking musician the late Roy Castle, who died of lung cancer, if you doubt that one.

Pubs close because the offer they make to the public is rejected - it's as simple as that. In the main the landlords who prosper are those who look at what they do in the light of understanding what prospective customers might need. They will never compete with home consumption of alcohol on price and no fiddling with supermarket prices will change that. And if people want to smoke when they drink then they better do that at home as well - unless the pub can provide a decent, heated outdoor area for them that is - many do. Pubs which offer better beer, better wine, better food, a better welcome and a more convivial as well as clean atmosphere will do well. Those whose landlords winge and moan and seek scapegoats for their own failures will close. That's how it works, and ultimately the consumer benefits.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The ECHR is a pillar of European values. The UK will not withdraw from it

The European Union is a political partnership. It is of course an economic partnership as well, but above all the Union unites 28 nations who over history have often been at one another’s throats in various combinations! Never again. The unification of Europe after the horrors of the twentieth century is a major achievement. To live in peace with our neighbours is something that my parents and grandparents generations could not even dream of. But now it is a reality.

To live in harmony does not mean to agree with each other on everything or all the time – ask any family! But the substance of the European partnership is common interest and common values. That is why something like the “European Convention on Human Rights” (ECHR) is so important. Yes there is a surrender of national sovereignty in the ECHR – so there is in any treaty or alliance. The ECHR is something that goes well beyond the EU of course and is not owned by it. The European Council of 47 states owns the ECHR and runs its European Court of Human Rights. To oppose the ECHR as some British politicians are doing at the moment and even suggest withdrawal is nonsense. Are we really going to be the only European nation not party to the ECHR? Obviously not!

When you negotiate to find a common agreement with partners in the end you either bow to the majority (if you disagree) or you walk away. If 46 members of the European Council are happy with the ECHR and you are the only one less than content that suggests you might need to look to yourself doesn't it! Unless you think that Britain is uniquely wise. Which at the very least is a questionable proposition!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Our Electricity generation needs to be diversified, low cost and green.It isn't easy!

The whole subject of energy supply and demand seems to generate rather more heat than light in the public discourse. Although the decisions that are made do have far-reaching consequences the level of the debate is often trivial and ill-informed. One of the problems is that our energy choices do not just impact upon our own citizens but have regional and even global consequences. We have a duty to, for example, or neighbours in Europe and cannot export our pollution to them – or vice versa of course. The interdependency of modern economies is well illustrated by Energy the price of which is set not within our borders but by international factors. Increasingly this is the case with environmental matters as well. The extent of the carbon emissions we as a nation generate is not just for us to determine but is governed by international treaty. Some uses of energy have choices to make – others are much more limited. For the foreseeable future only oil will drive our road vehicles and aircraft and only electricity or oil our trains. But for electricity generation there are choices to be made – and very long term choices as well.

The Coalition, give or take a decision of two, is broadly doing the right thing on electricity supply at present. There are three aims. First assure the future - that has to be a diversified range of fuels. For Britain that means a mix of Gas, Nuclear and Renewables. I would add Coal - there is room for at least one new large coal-fired power station. We have the coal and there is no reason why we should not use it in modern, low-emissions plant. But sadly the Government won't commit to this. They should.

Secondly cost. Indigenous gas - in the future substantially from Shale - will  not be much cheaper than imports but it could have exchange rate benefits and it is OUR gas so Government could ring fence it's price to some extent. Subsidised Wind Power is expensive - more expensive than Gas and much more than coal. But it does provide diversification, the same applies to Nuclear.

Finally the Environmental aim. Here the main goal is low carbon emissions. Wind gives this as does Nuclear and the inclusion of Wind in the mix is only really justified on environmental grounds. But too much Wind would be too costly, it is far from a panacea. Environmental targets are not and must not be local and the UK must meet international standards. So must the Germans by the way and they still have Coal in the mix!

There are no easy answers and every major decision is a judgment call - especially between cost and environmental concerns. But we cannot, and must not, rely on any one primary energy source for the generation of our electricity and we must have a national policy which puts the consumer not the private sector first.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Proper surveys should avoid leading questions


The Market Research Society defines a “Leading question” as one that is “…badly constructed [and] tends to steer respondents toward a particular answer.” It is for obvious reasons never a good idea to have such a question in any poll whose findings you want to use seriously.

The leading pollster YouGov has recently published poll results which purport to show British attitudes to immigration. The answers to two of the questions have generated headlines. This is how YouGov themselves presented the results:

“Moving onto the issue of immigration, 76% of people support David Cameron’s stated aim of reducing immigration to the “tens of thousands”, but the overwhelmingly majority (83%) of people think it is unlikely he will achieve it, only 9% think it is likely. When YouGov asked the same question two years ago 15% thought it was likely Cameron would hit his target, so while net immigration has fallen somewhat over recent years, its not registering with the public.”

But when we actually look at the survey results and in particular the questions this looks like very sloppy research and the comment is tendentious. Here are the questions:



Both of these questions are “leading”. In the first one the respondent is lead by the “David Cameron has pledged to reduce net immigration” introduction into believing that such a policy must be a good thing. There is no attempt at balance in the question. Obviously if reducing immigration is a good thing then the bigger the reduction the better. So 76% agree that it’s a good thing. Hardly surprisingly.

In the second question the very nature of the question suggests that for Cameron to be able to “deliver the pledge” is questionable. And given inbuilt attitudes to politics and politicians at the moment the respondent is likely to disbelief the pledge – as 83% of the respondents do.

You could ask the same questions in a different way and get completely different results. For example if you said in place of the Cameron pledge intro “A recent study by University College London has shown that immigrants have a net positive effect on the UK economy…” then respondents would answer very differently. This would, of course, be equally wrong! Leading questions are always wrong.

A fellow twitterer, @baggins_dil , has drawn my attention to this from “Yes Minister” which makes the point very well and humorously. Essential viewing !

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Miners' strike - a personal story I haven't told before.

I was the Commercial Manager for Shell in Scotland from 1983-1986. In this job I had the overall responsibility for serving the needs of our customers in (inter alia) the Road Transport sector. As the miners’ strike intensified concern was expressed about the future of the huge Ravenscraig steelworks. The furnaces at Ravenscraig required coal to keep them functioning and if the fire in a furnace was extinguished then that furnace was lost – at huge cost. To keep the furnaces operating, even at a low level, required huge quantities of coal. This was normally supplied directly from Scottish mines – mostly by rail. Because of the Miners’ strike this supply source was stopped so British Steel sourced their Coal from overseas and imported it through a Terminal at Hunterston in Ayrshire. The coal then had to be road-bridged by truck from the Terminal to the Steel Plant – a distance of about 50 miles. The Haulage contractor appointed by British Steel for this task was a company called “Yuill and Dodds” of Hamilton run by the well-known Mr James Yuill (known to all as Jimmy). Yuill and Dodds was a Shell customer for the diesel and the lubricants their trucks needed. One day I was asked by one of my staff to visit Jimmy Yuill who was concerned that the supplies of diesel he needed might be interrupted because the Transport and General Workers Union (T&GWU) would order their members working for Shell not to make fuel deliveries to him.
Inter-union cooperation was a key part of the Miners’ strike and the Railway Unions were Full Square behind Arthur Scargill and his National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The position of the T&GWU was more ambivalent and I think quite local in its application. I realised that if Mr Yuill was to be kept in business and more importantly if Ravenscraig was to be kept open then Shell would need the cooperation of the local T&GWU. I arranged a meeting with the Senior T&G shop steward at our depot at Grangemouth alongside the BP refinery. This gentleman was not only the senior Shell Union official but one of the Union’s top men at a National level. He sat on the various negotiating panels that negotiated terms and conditions with the Oil industry. I had met him before and we got on well. He was a shrewd and very fair man – strong in his views but not a militant. Together we reviewed the situation. We agreed that the primary motivation must be to keep Ravenscraig open – it employed huge numbers on site and many more in service industries in the area and across Scotland. On behalf of his members I was given an assurance that there would be no disruption of fuel supplies to Yuill and Dodds.
This story is a complex one in the febrile conditions of the time. My Shop Steward colleague was naturally supportive of the Miners in their strike – as indeed was I (though, given my position, not openly!). On the other hand I had a Shell customer to protect both in the Company’s interests and in that of the wider business community around Ravenscraig and, of course, the huge plant itself (it was a large customer for Shell lubricants). I was largely on my own in seeking this accommodation with the Union via the Shop Steward. I reported the details to my boss in London. He rang me early one morning and asked me point blank (he was like that!) whether I could assure him that I believed what I was doing was the right thing to do (I did) and that no flack would hit Shell as a result of the deal (more difficult!). He backed me 100% and locally we got on with the task. Yuill and Dodds got their fuel. Ravenscraig stayed open and there were few if any reports in the media about Shell’s involvement. (There were plenty of reports about Yuill and Dodds though as secondary pickets tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the coal trucks getting into Ravenscraig!).
I have not told this story before but have been prompted to do so by the report that Margaret Thatcher was prepared to use the Armed Forces to help defeat the miners. Some are saying that this would have been to help the movement of essential supplies. I do not, of course, know the truth of this claim. All I can report is my own experience which was that locally essential supplies were kept going and with the cooperation of a major Union. My guess is that this was replicated across the Country and that there was little need for Mrs Thatcher to use the Army to provide transport. So if the Forces were on standby it was for other reasons.