How you will soon be paying for Trident on your electricity bill

Whether you support or oppose Britain’s very costly renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent  you  would expect to pay for it through general taxation.

You wouldn’t expect to have to subsidise it by paying even higher prices for essential and already expensive electricity to light and heat your home.

Yet this exactly what is going to happen following a  disclosure this month after a very short exchange between MPs and senior civil servants at a  hearing of the Commons Public Accounts Committee this month. And you won’t be seeing this spelt out in your bills.

The hearing was not into Trident but into the rapidly increasing costs and management of Britain’s first nuclear power station for decades at Hinkley Point.

But the issue was raised from a paper submitted to the committee by the Sussex University Social Science Policy Research Unit from Prof. Andy Stirling, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and Dr Phil Johnstone.

Its key words were: ” an undetermined part of the full costs of this expensive, controversial – but officially highly-prioritised [3] – military infrastructure are in effect (without clear public acknowledgement or justification), being loaded into electricity prices. With costs of alternative large-scale domestic low-carbon energy resources like offshore wind power confirmed as significantly more favourable than HPC [4], it seems a hidden subsidy is being imposed on electricity consumers.”

“If a UK withdrawal from civil nuclear power on grounds of uncompetitive economics were to leave these shared costs borne entirely on the military side, then UK military nuclear infrastructures would be significantly more expensive.

“If civil nuclear commitments are being maintained (despite adverse economics) in order to help cover these shared costs, then it is this that amounts to a cross-subsidy.”

The problem was that these academics could only speculate they have no proof. Until now.

Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the committee, without referring  to all this detail from Sussex University got an admission. She questioned Stephen Lovegrove, former Permanent Secretary, Department for Energy and Climate Change, on the issue.

This is the exchange:

“ Mr Lovegrove, there has been an argument put forward by Sussex University that Hinkley is a great opportunity to maintain our nuclear skills base. With your hat on at the Ministry of Defence, are you having discussions with the business Department about this?

Mr Lovegrove: “We are, yes. In my last year at DECC, I was in regular discussion with Jon Thompson, former Permanent Secretary at the MOD, to say that as a nation we are going into a fairly intense period of nuclear activity…. We are building the new SSBNs (nuclear armed nuclear submarines) and completing the Astutes.

…We are completing the build of the nuclear submarines which carry conventional weaponry. We have at some point to renew the warheads, so there is very definitely an opportunity here for the nation to grasp in terms of building up its nuclear skills.

“I do not think that that is going to happen by accident; it is going to require concerted Government action to make it happen. We are speaking to colleagues at BEIS ( Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) fairly repeatedly about it, and have a number of forums in which we are doing that.”

So it is true. The two programmes ARE linked. And with  the cost of nuclear powered electricity at £92.50  per unit compared to £57 from other sources including renewable energy you are going to pay substantially more.

One company that is publicly delighted by this is Rolls Royce.  They are quoted saying : “that “expansion of a nuclear-capable skilled workforce through a civil nuclear UK programme would relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability. This would free up valuable resources for other investments”.

Well Rolls Royce got £100m out of the submarine order and are happy for you to pay for the nuclear research. So it is more profit for them, higher bills for you.

The original article is published in Tribune magazine this week.

 

 

 

Time for MPs to take back control of Parliament

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John Bercow, the Speaker Image credit: bbc

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There has been much debate about populist slogans from Brexiteers about Britain needing to take back control of the country from so called Brussels bureaucrats when we leave the European Union in 2019.

The very same MPs are remarkably silent about a decision taken seven years ago by the UK Parliament to set up an independent committee to  take  back control of how the government can present its legislation to Parliament.

Put it very simply we are supposed to live in a Parliamentary democracy but in fact MPs allow the government to monopolise and control Parliament  through the Whips system without so much as a whisper of discontent.

The fact that nothing has been done was highlighted ( though you won’t have read in mainstream media) by John Bercow, the Speaker, in an address given in Parliament to the Hansard Society this week. You can read the full speech here.

In 2010 a committee chaired by Tony Wright, a Labour Mp who did a very good job scrutinising Whitehall on the public administration committee, proposed a series of reforms to  allow MPs to take back control of the running of Parliament from the government. One reform giving backbenchers a greater role in debates got through. Another reform giving Mps much more control over government business was also approved – but guess what the government did nothing about it.

As John Bercow said in this extract from his speech:

” It is missing in action, confined to something akin to parliamentary purgatory. Nailed to its perch.”

He goes on in this longer extract:

” As a matter of basic democratic principle this will not do. The House decided to back the concept of a House Business Committee along the lines of the Wright Committee recommendations. One of three courses of action should follow. The House should have its decision implemented. Alternatively, it should be consulted on some other design for a House Business Committee. Or the House should determine in a vote that it has changed its mind on the issue. It should not be side lined in this fashion. It is quite wrong for there to be a vacuum. This is as inappropriate as, for example, legislating to hold a referendum on a major question of the day and then simply ignoring the outcome. The longer that this state of affairs persists the more profoundly unsatisfactory I believe it to be.

“The Wright formula, to remind enthusiasts in the room for such detail, was very balanced. It did not seek to defenestrate the Whips Offices. It recognised that the Government of the day had a right to have its business tabled. Elections would be rendered impotent affairs if this were not the case. Ministers are, therefore, in my view entitled to a majority but not a monopoly on a House Business Committee. The legitimate issue for the House as a whole is the balance of allocation of time across the various measures that constitute a legislative programme. The Wright Committee also underlined the importance of the Official Opposition – and other opposition parties – being given more say on scheduling their business, and envisaged, I am reliably informed, the House Business Committee as the forum for such discussions. I dare venture that some of the recent tensions over scheduling Opposition Days or more accurately not scheduling Opposition days, might have been avoided if there had been a House Business Committee to hand.

“Any such Committee should be chaired by an independent figure. Wright suggested the Senior Deputy Speaker. It should have a backbench component as well as representation from the smaller parties. It would also be desirable to link the chamber to the select committees perhaps via the presence of the Chair of the Liaison Committee. Finally, if not instantly but over time, it should include the direct election of the backbench members in the spirit of the various other reforms which Wright offered to the House more than eight years ago and which the House chose to adopt.”

Now you might say -particularly after this long extract –  why should I be bothered about this arcane Parliamentary stuff? You should for two reasons.

First though she won the most votes Theresa May did not win enough Parliamentary seats to have a majority in Parliament but is ruling – because of the deal with the Democratic Unionist Party – as though she does using every statutory wheeze to try and stay in power for five years.

This measure will put Parliament as a whole in control as it will give greater bargaining power to Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable, the Scots Nats and the solitary Green MP – to influence how the government timetables its legislation and how Opposition Mps and backbenchers can get issues debated.

Second whatever your views on Brexit the government is planning to try and by-pass Parliament by using the Brexit bill to take power to change all sorts of laws and regulations by   ministerial diktat – the ” so called Henry VIII clauses ” – named  after the monarch who dissolved Britain’s monasteries – with little chance of debate.

These could be used to  change rights for the disabled, curb worker’s rights to holidays , drop environment protections , cut benefit entitlement and amend health and safety protection, – like for example reducing safeguards on working with asbestos ( this has actually been suggested by one Tory).

This will affect you in your daily life and Parliament needs to defend itself by making sure that ministers can’t  avoid being challenged by manipulating the Parliamentary timetable.

So what we need are some bolshie backbenchers of all parties to put up a motion to set up this committee. From what was said  week they would get a fair wind from the Speaker.

 

 

 

 

 

Footballer Justin Fashanu and the Westminster “back to basics” sex scandals

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Forbidden Games; New film on Justin Fashanu available on demand from iTunes,, Google Play and Amazon

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While mainstream media concentrated on the furore and fall out over the police investigation into  Sir Edward Heath, a new film revealing the troubled life of Britain’s first millionaire black footballer  with links to Westminster was released on Friday.

Forbidden Games charts the rivalry between the two footballing brothers Justin and John, Justin’s meteoric career, his fall from grace, his penchant for the high life and his coming out as gay.

It  reveals his links to the seedier side of Westminster, the exposure of his gay relationship with a Tory MP who lived a double life in Westminster hiding his gay sexuality from his wife and family until he was exposed but not named in The Sun.

Justin  Fashanu also had a penchant for under age boys ( much younger than 17) and tragically killed himself at the age of 37 when he was about to be prosecuted in the States for molesting a minor aged 17.

For today’s much more tolerant society people would not understand that in the 1980s and 1990s exposure in the tabloid press or on TV  for being gay was often the kiss of death to a political career. For a footballer to come out in a Sun exclusive –  and that is  true even today – was either extraordinarily brave or foolhardy.

Forbidden Games includes a cameo commentary from me on the context of Fashanu’s connections to Westminster where celebrities would party with MPs and which is in danger of being airbrushed in the current climate.

It coincided with former PM Sir John Major’s infamous ” back to basics” speech to the 1993 Tory conference which was then used by the media to expose a string of sexual scandals from minister Tim Yeo fathering a child out of wedlock , David Mellor’s  extra marital romp allegedly in a Chelsea football  stripe to the tragic  auto erotic death of Stephen Milligan ,  Tory MP for Eastleigh.

Justin Fashanu became involved in Westminster on two levels. His relationship with the Tory MP for Bournemouth east was revealed when the Sun exposed Justin’s connection to a ” South coast” Mp. His wife and children immediately realised that it was David Atkinson, as Justin had stayed regularly at their home. He was confronted by her and he admitted he was gay and had been for years.. He stood down in 2005 and died in 2012.

An article by Robert Mendick in the Daily Telegraph based on an interview with  his son Anthony  who describes him as “predatory” with many young lovers, and reveals much of the background from his own researches on his father.

From examination of the story myself,  there is evidence that Atkinson was being blackmailed by a member of the Commons catering staff, had relationships with young Parliamentary researchers ( one of whom he had a nude photo) and had an erotic photo sheet  of another person he was closely connected.

There was also as yet unverified allegations of a much wider hidden gay scene at Westminster involving other closeted MPs  which Justin at one stage – following the death of Stephen Milligan – threatened to expose for a large sum of money to the tabloids,.

He backed off when the police visited his home in Edinburgh and wanted to interview him about it.

What this sad story  does  is to contradict the trend, following the collapse of Scotland Yard’s  Operation Midland into the allegations brought by ” Nick”,  of a Westminster paedophile ring, to try and forget this piece of Westminster’s sordid history as though it never happened.

While there is no conclusive evidence that David Atkinson was himself a paedophile ( in the modern sense of boys under the age of 16) it seems certain that some of the people he knew were.

This moving film about the troubled life of Justin is well worth watching even if it does make uncomfortable viewing at times.

See a trailer and interview with one of the directors, Jon Carey – the other is Adam Darke  – here on Sky Sports.

 

 

 

Sir Edward Heath: Paedophile or No Paedophile?

edward heath

Sir Edward Heath Pic credit: BBC

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The long awaited Operation Conifer report  by Wiltshire Police into allegations against the former late Prime Minister  Edward Heath sums up the dilemmas investigating historic child sex abuse when the alleged perpetrator is now dead.

Child sexual abuse – because it is essentially a shameful and private act – is one of the most difficult crimes to prove and even more difficult when it is historic and the person accused is dead. An adult rape victim may be able to recognise their assailant, a child will have more difficulty unless it is a member of their close family or a teacher or youth worker.

Wiltshire Police have been attacked for spending public money investigating these claims and as a result damaging the reputation of a very prominent public figure when he can’t answer back.

In my view they were completely right to do so because of the number of people who came forward making these allegations. To refuse to do so would amount to complicity in a further cover up of these allegations and to assume  that all the people who made them were liars without examining any of the facts.

And it would compound the present scandal of  child sexual abuse – which is why we are having an inquiry- because across society in churches, schools, family, politicians ( like Sir Cyril Smith) and entertainers ( Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris) there are now real examples of hidden child sex abuse going back 30 to 40 years.

The police investigation to my mind has been proportionate and fair. They have not said every one of the 42 ( actually 40 because three cases were the same person under different names) people who came forward totally proved Edward Heath abused them. And of the seven cases , including an 11 year old boy, where they believe Edward Heath should have been questioned under caution, that this meant Edward Heath was automatically guilty. It was just that other facts  suggested their allegations  sounded serious enough to warrant the ex PM being questioned. about them.

And where they think the accusers have been wrong or misled  they have said so. In three cases they decided it was mistaken identity.

And in two worse. -one is a live investigation into misleading the police and the other has been cautioned for wasting police time.

They seem to have gone about their job in a meticulous way – just as in these circumstances  any serious journalist would do – by looking for corroboration of the allegations from people who were not abusers or the abused. The fact that one case merited attention, for example, came because in questioning government chauffeurs ( which as any lobby journalist knows are some of the best sources for revealing  occasional indiscretions), one of them mentioned Heath visiting an area where separately a person alleged he was abused there.

They have also revealed what looks like one of Edward Health’s best kept secrets that he could drive and owned two cars.

They also appear to have uncovered another possible case of child sexual abuse – unconnected to Edward Heath – by contacting male sex workers in Salisbury which is still under investigation.

In their inquiries they seem to have scotched a specific rumour that he abused people on Morning Cloud and other racing yachts,  By chasing up the crew it looks extremely unlikely that he would have both the space and the privacy to do so.

The report says:”There is no indication from former crew members that children were ever taken aboard the different Morning Cloud yachts. There was no information or evidence that any of the identified crew members were complicit in child sexual abuse or witnessed Sir Edward Heath engaging in abuse.”

And it debunks suggestions that Heath was ” asexual”.

“During the investigation the issue became relevant as it was publicly implied that it was implausible for Sir Edward Heath to be an alleged suspect in child abuse related offences as he was considered to be ‘completely asexual’.
“Witnesses who were interviewed by investigators from Operation Conifer offered different opinions about Sir Edward Heath’s sexuality. However two witnesses, who have not disclosed abuse, provided evidence that he was sexually active with consenting adults during parts of his life.”

On the security services the report baldly says; “Enquiries were undertaken with UK Security and Intelligence Agencies and there was no information that progressed the investigation any further.”

I note a much fuller report is to go to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the intention is to attach the findings to more general inquiries about paedophiles in Westminster which will be a controversial part of the investigation – given what happened to the Operation Midland inquiry.

What this report doesn’t do is lift the lid on the alleged Westminster paedophile scandal and change the direction of the inquiry. Rather it adds to the whole problem of not proven allegations and how to balance how much and what should be investigated.  It rather leaves some matters in limbo. I notice with great interest that Wiltshire Police did appoint an independent scrutiny panel to oversee their investigation – which should stop people accusing the police of time wasting – and they fully support they way Wiltshire went about it.

But I entirely reject the idea that we need another judicial review after such a meticulous investigation. That would be a waste of public money.

Full report HERE.

 

 

 

 

Theresa May’s wasted £11.2 billion of taxpayers money on initiatives Tory youth doesn’t want

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The Tory conference was supposed to be the point when Theresa May announced a raft of policies to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s wooing of the youth vote.

If she had  left the main platform of the conference and slipped into a packed Adam Smith Institute fringe meeting at the Manchester conference she would have been sorely disappointed.

The meeting chaired by a young Times journalist ,Grant Tucker, was meant to be a discussion on what  the millennial generation want and how they can get young voters away from Jeremy Corbyn.

Predictably it was hostile to any Corbyn programme of  rent control and nationalisation but what was extraordinary was the hostility to the May announcements earlier in the week.

The meeting was  heavily dominated by the housing crisis facing the young Tories – almost to a man and woman – all privately renting and paying up to 50 per cent of their monthly post tax income for small rooms in shared flats.

The £10 billion put aside to massively expand the Help to Buy programme was universally condemned from both the platform, by Madsen Pirie from the Adam Smith Institute, and by the audience as exactly the wrong thing to do.

Madsen Pirie

Madsen Pirie Pic credit: wikipedia

They saw it as putting up house prices even more beyond reach and doing nothing to aid the supply of affordable homes. Nor did they want a big council house building programme.

What they wanted was a liberalisation of the planning laws and a mass release of land to allow not a few thousands but a million, yes a million, homes built  in three years to totally change the affordability of housing and bringing back mass home ownership.

Nor were they impressed with a £1.2 billion spent freezing student loans at £9250 and raising the pay back level to £25,000. What they wanted was instead the abolition of the new 6.1 per cent interest rate on loans, pointing out that this could add £5000 to payments soon after students graduated.

So how has May got this so very,very wrong. The answer was plain to see. The Tory leadership is not listening to them. What came over to me was that thus young strand of the Tory’s future had no influence on what their leaders did and were very frustrated and even angry about it.

Unlike at Labour where it is clear that young people – as members of the party had an input – these young people seemed to be treated as election fodder to get the mainly elderly Tory vote out.

There was other thing I noticed at this gathering.There was not a black or brown face to be seen, they were universally white, again unlike Labour. Yet they were not all from the Tory shires, some were from multiracial Bristol, and another from Camberwell and Peckham. Given what diverse place this is, I was surprised there was no ethnic minority representation. I had seen a more diverse audience at an earlier fringe organised by Westminster council.

What this augurs for the future of the Tory Party is not good for them. Their membership is already elderly and falling. If they don’t take any notice of their young membership they are doomed to oblivion – just as Tory campaigner John Strafford said earlier this week.

 

 

Exclusive: Tories face “oblivion” says party campaigner as membership plummets to 100,000

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One of the Tory’s longest serving campaigners is predicting the party is facing ” oblivion” after losing nearly 40,000 members this summer following Theresa May’s failure to secure a majority government at the general election.

John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, in an  eve of conference exclusive interview  on the Tribune magazine website, says the real membership of the party has plummeted to around 100,000- way below the 149,500 figure and 134,000 figure used by the party in 2013.

Mr Strafford said: “The party is facing oblivion. If you take the fact only 10 per cent of the membership is likely to be very active they will not have enough people on the ground to fight an election – they won’t even have enough people to man polling stations on the day.

“They are keeping council seats because often the families of the councillors are campaigning with party members to get them re-elected. They simply don’t have the local resources to do this in a general election.”

According to Mr Strafford in 300 of the Parliamentary constituency parties  – nearly half the MPs in Parliament – membership has dropped to 100 people or fewer.

The contrast with Labour could not be stronger – with the party already having 569,500 members and launching a further on line membership drive after their conference.

Membership could also be lower than the Liberal Democrats who have also seen a jump in members from 61,000  to 102,000.

He said a series of recent events had led to this parlous state of affairs. The leadership contest after David Cameron announced his resignation initially led to the Tories recruiting an extra 40,000 members who wanted a say in voting for the next leader and Prime Minister.

But when Andrea Leadsom pulled out from challenging Theresa May – there was no vote for the leadership- and Theresa May became PM without an election.

The situation was compounded when Theresa May called a snap election and rather than allowing constituency parties to select their own candidate – imposed candidates in seats that did not have one selected.

John Strafford pic credit Conservative Home

John Strafford Pic credit: Conservative Home

The bad handling of the campaign irritated party members – as many activists assuming Jeremy Corbyn had no chance  were sent to Labour held seats with large majorities with the aim of toppling the  sitting MP – while leaving Tory marginals undefended. One example was Slough – where instead of the Tories taking the seat the new Labour MP was returned with a huge increase in his majority.

As a result nearly all the 40000 new members recruited by the Tory leadership battle last year have not renewed their membership because, according to Mr Strafford they have found out they have little say in party proceedings or policies. Again the contrast with Labour which is devolving more power to its members could not be stronger. ” They are just not renewing their membership with some constituency parties which recruited hundreds of members finding only a handful renewing.”

The plummeting membership is one reason why some MPs are becoming restive. One  with his ear to ground is Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow, who this week in Conservative Home  backs John Strafford’s analysis that lack of democracy is driving away members.

” I began to realise that, far from being a lunatic, John was quite sane…and it was perhaps us who closed our ears to what he was saying who were the crazy ones. For many years, he rightly predicted that a lack of democracy would lead to a loss of membership. He was right.”

The issue will be raised at the Tory Party conference fringe in Manchester next week.

On Monday the  Campaign for Conservative Democracy will hold a fringe meeting to discuss how to tackle this by injecting some democracy to attract members.

The Adam Smith Institute will hold a meeting on Tuesday to address why 60 per cent of young people are supporting Jeremy Corbyn and how the party needs new policies to attract a younger membership.

How party politics have changed. A year ago it was Jeremy Corbyn whom the Tories regarded as unelectable and a joke. Now it is the Tories that are worried they are becoming unelectable  and are running a party few people would want to join.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden in plain sight: Labour trains a new generation of political activists

labour_conference Pic credit politicshome

Labour Conference 2017: the top of the iceberg Pic credit: politicshome

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The Labour  Party conference this year was like one huge political iceberg.

The ten per cent that was visible was dominated by the passionate, football chant style support for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – as the architects of a Labour revival that had seen membership soar to 569,500. It did unveil new and radical policies.It suppressed a public row over Brexit  which I notice Danny Finkelstein on The Times saw as shrewd politics, leaving divided Tories to take the flak. It contained a dispute about whether there was anti-Semitism among  Left wingers despite the best efforts of Guido Fawkes ,the Daily Mail and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to stir the pot.

But under the eyes of the media ( who were given very restricted access to the conference hall) the hidden 90 per cent of the Labour conference was carrying out another revolution which will ensure that the current revival of political activism among the young has a long term future.

Contrary to what most Conservatives would like to think the 369,000 new party members who joined after Corbyn became leader are not all former card carrying members of the Social Workers Party, the Communist Party and other Left wing groupings. And they even applies to those who joined Momentum

Just on a micro political point, members of the local Labour Party in Berkhamsted and Tring in  Hertfordshire have jumped from about 40 to 450 as a result of Corbyn.. If they were all committed former Communists, I think I would have noticed. Having lived in Berko since 1983, the town is not known for having Marxist banners festooned all over Berkhamsted station or the civic centre.

No the truth is – thanks to lack of any political  or civic education in our schools – they have ideals, strong views but little hard knowledge of how to participate in a political democracy. Many may be savvy with social media but need to know how to use it for the benefit of the Labour Party.

There were sessions on door knocking, electoral law, what becoming a councillor is like. making Labour Party branch meetings more fun, championing equality, building up women’s forums,  getting more disabled friendly meetings and how to use the traditional and social media to get your points across. There was also advice on how to tackle the problem of success, too many new members swamping local meetings.

Jeremy Corbyn has already transformed interest in politics by doubling the percentage of people involved in party membership in Britain. Now it looks as though Labour is going to get the new membership to engage in democracy. to help them win the next election. Even if only 10 per cent of the membership become fervent activists – that is still some 57,000 people – more than half the total Tory membership, I am told.

What is going to be interesting is when that hidden 90 per cent of the Labour iceberg hits  the opposition at the next election. Will it be the  sinking of the Tory Titanic or will the Tories try and steer well clear and come up with something new.