Friday, 30 September 2011


A bit of good news, at last:
The government plans to raise the speed limit to 80mph from 70mph in a victory for the transport secretary, Philip Hammond.

Hammond said on Thursday he will launch a consultation later this year with a view to introducing the new limit in 2013.
Or perhaps not ...
Hammond is expected to couple the increase with an expansion of 20mph limits in many urban areas.
Oxford's 20 limits are ludicrous, and widely ignored.

Besides the safety-obsessed killjoys, Hammond can expect resistance from the eco-loons:
Greenpeace's senior transport campaigner Emma Gibson said: "The Saudi oil minister will rub his hands with glee when he learns of Philip Hammond's decision. At a time when North Sea oil production is going down and we are ever more reliant upon unstable regimes and fragile environments to fuel our cars, the transport secretary's decision will raise oil consumption and carbon emissions when we need to cut both."

The policy package represents the end of a drawn-out Whitehall battle with Hammond having to fend off the concerns of the climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, and the health secretary, Andrew Lansley.

Huhne fought against it as the 10mph increase will see cars use more fuel and so increase pollution. Lansley's department raised concerns it will see a rise in road casualties. It comes before a conference in which the Tories announce popular policies to remind activists of their own party's instincts outside the coalition.
Personally, I don't have much faith in the Conservative party's instincts, inside the coalition or out. They might not harbour anyone quite as crazy as Huhne, but Lansley is one of their own.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Britain's shale gas miracle

It was through The Register that I first learned of the potential of shale gas, but recent finds have exceeded expectations, as the GWPF report:
Last week the drilling company Cuadrilla Resources announced that it had discovered an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas under a small patch of land in the north-west of England. The find suggests that Britain has considerably more shale gas resources than earlier estimations predicted – possibly by an order of magnitude.

Despite the fact that typically only around 10-30 per cent of gas locked in shale formations is recoverable, the astoundingly large discovery may turn out to be one of the biggest gas finds in the past decade.
And there could be more ...
Britain may be sitting on a huge gold mine of cheap, abundant and comparatively clean energy that could supply the UK's energy needs for a century or more. No wonder then that a growing number of MPs want the North Sea to be at the heart of a new offshore shale gas industry.

The knock-on effects of a shale gas revolution could be just as staggering: cheap energy would make UK manufacturing more competitive, gas and electricity bills would fall significantly and the rising trend in fuel poverty could be reversed. If there ever was a potential silver bullet to tackle Britain's economic and financial problems, shale gas has placed it on the government's table.
What could go wrong?
Vested interests have turned against shale, using flawed and misleading environmental arguments to protect their market share. Chris Huhne in particular is renowned for his uninhibited antagonism towards natural gas. At the Liberal Democrat party conference in Birmingham last week he promised to halt a new "dash for gas" because it would undermine the UK's unilateral climate targets.

Huhne's main concern, however, is not CO2 targets that could be met quite adequately if Britain were to switch from coal-fired to gas-fired power generation. His real apprehension is that if a significant amount of cheap shale gas were to enter the UK market, it would almost certainly deter investment in expensive renewables.
The story has also been covered by DK and James Delingpole, neither of whom mince their words.

Andrew Orlowski's coverage concludes on a pessimistic note:
Environmentalists are the political establishment, and the UK's planning and regulatory regime are designed to make cheap fossil fuel innovation much much more expensive than it need be.
But the good news is that the shale gas will still be there if and when we ever get a sensible government in Westminster.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cheap education abroad

BBC Breakfast just ran a segment about British students going to Amsterdam for university. We're told it's the low fees rather than the drugs that are attracting them.

Curiously, there was no mention of the situation in Scotland, which was explained in a Guardian article from January of this year:
Scottish ministers claim that thousands of European students are exploiting Scotland's free university system to avoid paying escalating fees in their home countries.

The latest admissions figures show the number of students from other EU countries taking up places at Scottish universities has nearly doubled in a decade to almost 16,000 last year, at a cost of nearly £75m.
Because university education is free for residents of Scotland, under EU law students from all other EU member states are entitled to the same free places. Students in some countries such as France face annual fees and other costs running to thousands of euros a year.

But under a quirk of European law and the UK's system of devolved government, English students are not able to attend for free because they are regarded as citizens of the same member state as Scotland – the UK.
So the English subsidise the EU, and we subsidise Scotland, but we don't enjoy the same benefits. How much longer will we put up with it?

Thursday, 22 September 2011


The Register reports:
Earlier this month the European Commission formally adopted eCall, which requires all new cars sold within the EU to be fitted with automatic tracking, and an embedded cellular phone, by 2015. eCall will call up the emergency services in the event of a crash, but it will also put a mobile phone into every car in Europe, which opens up a host of options.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

£5bn 'spending boost'

BBC News reports:

Ministers are discussing how to inject up to £5bn into the economy without abandoning their deficit reduction strategy, the BBC understands.

Some Cabinet members believe Chancellor George Osborne could raise capital spending on infrastructure, BBC political editor Nick Robinson says.

The government has faced calls for a "Plan B" on the economy amid flagging growth and rising unemployment.

The Treasury previously said any change in strategy would risk its credibility.

The news emerged as the International Monetary Fund said world leaders must take strong action to prevent the risk of a double-dip recession.

It's sad that such Keynesian quackery lives on.

The proposed "spending on infrastructure" might not be quite as wasteful as digging ditches and filling them back in again, but it's not going to be as efficient or effective as spending by those from whom the money was taken.

The best thing the government can do to improve the economy is to step back:
  • simplify taxes, and reduce the rates;
  • cut red tape;
  • stop wasting money on windmills;
  • end needless wars;
  • eliminate disincentives for job-seekers and employers;
  • scrap the quangos;
  • stop nannying;
  • end the war on drugs;
  • generally do less.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Fiscally responsible states

In a recent article, James Delingpole wrote:
Sure a "successful Euro" would be massively in Britain's interests if we lived in a parallel universe where: the EU were a democratic entity which prized, above all else, the sovereign rights of its constituent states; the EU were not a two-speed economy where the interests of heavily socialised, terminally corrupt spendthrift southern whacko member states like Greece diverged enormously from those of stolid, hardworking, fiscally responsible states like Germany;
Though I accept the spirit of what he's saying, I took issue with his last point:
Last time I checked, Germany had a massive national debt (1.8tn euro according to this site: ).

It's only fiscally responsible by comparison to other states!
To be fiscally responsible, a government must balance the books, and take steps to eliminate past debts (personally, I think default is the best option, but failing that, debt should be steadily paid down to zero by running budget surpluses).

I'd also suggest that there's nothing responsible about balancing the books on a high-taxing, high-spending model, as government control of large portions of national income will make citizens poorer than they otherwise would be. Bureaucrats have neither the knowledge nor the incentive to spend efficiently.

But as it happens, I can't think of a government that has consistently balanced the books on a high-spending, high-tax model. It would seem there are limits to how much revenue the government can collect through taxation alone.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Ban on junk food ads

From 2008:
A ban on adverts for junk food during television programmes aimed at children under 16 has come into force.

Regulator Ofcom has outlawed adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar in an effort to tackle rising childhood obesity levels.

But broadcasters say the quality of children's programmes will be hit by the loss of an estimated £39m in advertising revenue.

Health campaigners had called for a complete ban before the 9pm watershed.

The move is the latest stage in a phased crackdown on advertising during programmes aimed at or appealing to children.

In April 2007, junk food ads were banned during programmes made to appeal to seven to nine-year-olds.

The BBC is always talking about this sort of thing, but I hadn't realised that it had actually happened. I must have been distracted that day, busy earning a living, perhaps.

As Christopher Snowdon says, "heaven forbid that parents should have to say no to their own children".

Greek default and the euro

The long-expected Greek default looks like it will soon be upon us.

Detlev Schlichter has another good article on the subject:

The idea that Greece would have to leave the euro does not make sense to me at all. I don’t see any reason for it. Greece should default – in fact, the Greeks should just stop paying on their debt, period – and the debt should be restructured. None of this has anything to do with the euro.

What if California defaulted on its debt, or Illinois? Mind you, these are hardly improbable scenarios. Would that mean these states had to leave the United States of America? Or that they would have to issue their own currency? Would you take out the dollars in your New York bank account because one of these states had just declared bankruptcy? As long as others accept your dollars or euros in exchange for goods and services it doesn’t matter how solvent the state is under whose jurisdiction the money was issued.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Government budget as a family budget

thevoiceofreason2 posted an interesting comment on Daniel Hannan's latest post:
Somebody needs to do this for the Greek economy

US financial position is as follows:-

US tax revenues$ 2,170,000,000,000
Fed Budget$ 3,820,000,000,000
New Debt$ 1,650,000,000,000
National Debt$14,271,000,000,000
Recent budget cuts$ 38,500,000,000

Now just remove 8 zeroes and pretend it is a household budget

Annual family income$ 21,700
Money the family spent$ 38,200
New Debt on the credit card$ 16,500
Outstanding balance on the credit card$142,710
Total budget cuts$ 385
Okay, so the US isn't yet paying credit card interest rates on its debt, and it has options that ordinary households don't (like stealing and money printing), but it's shocking nonetheless.

I haven't checked whether the figures are accurate, but they look about right, and it's a great way of presenting the problem. I'll try to find time to knock up a similar example for the UK.

Toby Young on the Malicious Communications Act

A good post from Toby Young:

As a blogger, my first reaction on learning about the jailing of Sean Duffy, an Internet "troll", was jubilation. "Next time some Left-wing critic of free schools posts an anonymous comment beneath one of my posts accusing me of raping a 14-year-old schoolgirl I can report him to the police," I thought.

But on further reflection, I've come to the conclusion that Sean Duffy should not have been jailed, no matter how stomach-churning his comments. Duffy was prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act, legislation first passed in 1988 that made it illegal for someone to send a letter which was indecent and/or grossly offensive. As it stands, the legislation is an affront to free speech, not least because people have a perfect right to be offensive. But to broaden it to include anonymous comments left on Facebook pages or beneath blog posts is completely unacceptable.

Quite apart from the question of whether offensiveness should be unlawful – and I don't think it should – there's the issue of who should judge whether a particular comment is grossly offensive. Is it sufficient for one person to claim they're offended? That's too broad since virtually everything is offensive to someone. But if we don't rely on wholly subjective criteria, how should offensiveness be defined? It seems far too open-ended and woolly to be the grounds for curtailing free speech. If we condone it in the case of Sean Duffy – whose remarks were unambiguously offensive – we make it harder to object in more ambiguous cases
He concludes:
I've often complained about being abused by trolls, particularly on Twitter. Nevertheless, I don't wish to see any of them sent to prison... Their existence is a price worth paying for unrestricted free speech.
I quite agree. And I couldn't resist adding a comment from a technical angle:
There's plenty that the grieving family could have done to prevent this abuse, without resorting to the police. For example, they didn't need to allow random people to post to the page.

Sure, they shouldn't have had to do this, but I shouldn't have to lock my front door. I do it anyway, because I must.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cheeky card charges from easyJet

Mercifully, it's been a while since my last easyJet flight, but I just booked with them again for a trip to Portugal. At the final stage in the process, I was confronted with this:

Not very nice, but hey, nobody was holding a gun to my head.

Apparently the Office of Fair Trading wasn't content to leave it to the free market to punish such tactics:
Travel companies have been ordered to end the use of hidden surcharges for passengers paying by card.

Airline, ferry and rail passengers typically have to click through four to six pages of an online booking before the charge is added to the price.

Now the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has ordered them to make all debit or credit card charges clear immediately.

It also wants the law changed to abolish altogether charges for using debit cards.
Much as I may prefer this, it's not the sort of restriction I can condone.

Libya's rebel forces committed abuses

BBC News reports:

Amnesty International has called on Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) to take steps to prevent human rights abuses by anti-Gaddafi forces.

In its latest report, the group says that while the bulk of violations were carried out by loyalist forces, anti-Gaddafi fighters have also been involved in torture and killings.

Quelle surprise!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Steyn: Gagging us softly

Via Daniel Hannan, I discovered this excellent article by Mark Steyn:
There were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown” is legal or illegal according to whosoever happens to hear it. Indeed, in my very favorite example of this kind of thinking, the very same words can be proof of two entirely different hate crimes. Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary moderation he’s been knighted by the Queen. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal was interviewed on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was “immoral,” was “not acceptable,” “spreads disease,” and “damaged the very foundations of society.” A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard’s “community safety unit” for “hate crimes” and “homophobia.”

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a “barmy doctrine” growing “like a canker” and deeply “homophobic.” In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for “Islamophobia.”

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for Islamophobia.

Two men say exactly the same thing and they’re investigated for different hate crimes. On the other hand, they could have sung “Kung Fu Fighting” back and forth to each other all day long and it wouldn’t have been a crime unless a couple of Chinese passersby walked in the room.


Other episodes that Steyn relates beggar belief:
Fourteen-year-old Codie Stott asked her teacher at Harrop Fold High School whether she could sit with another group to do her science project as in hers the other five pupils spoke Urdu and she didn’t understand what they were saying. The teacher called the police, who took her to the station, photographed her, fingerprinted her, took DNA samples, removed her jewelry and shoelaces, put her in a cell for three and a half hours, and questioned her on suspicion of committing a Section Five “racial public-order offence.” “An allegation of a serious nature was made concerning a racially motivated remark,” declared the headmaster, Antony Edkins. The school would “not stand for racism in any form.” In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said they took “hate crime” very seriously, and their treatment of Miss Stott was in line with “normal procedure.”
The BBC's coverage of the event (from
13 October 2006), is here. We're not told what Codie Stott actually said, but even if it had been "I don't want to sit with no stinking Pakis", the reaction would still have been frighteningly over the top. Why is it not a matter of national outrage?

Steyn's article is worth reading in full.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Committee of Wise Men

As previously tweeted, here's one from the "you couldn't make this up" department:
The European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) was established in consequence of the reforms to the structure of supervision of the financial sector in the European Union. The reform was initiated by the European Commission, following the recommendations of a Committee of Wise Men, chaired by Mr. de Larosière, and supported by the European Council and Parliament.
Am I the only one who didn't realise we had a Pensions Authority at the European level?

Still, all must be well. A Committee of Wise Men can't be wrong.

Noblesse oblige

A classic article from James Delingpole:

It has been brought to my attention that this blog owes Sir Reginald Sheffield, Bt. an apology. In a recent column entitled Green Jobs? Wot Green Jobs? (Pt 242), I carelessly suggested that Sir Reg – beloved dad of the famous environmentalist “Sam Cam”; distinguished father-in-law of the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, no less - is making nearly £1000 a week from the wind turbines on his estates.

The correct figure is, of course, nearly £1000 a day.

In other words, Sir Reginald is making the equivalent of roughly 1000 looted widescreen plasma TV screens every year from the eight 400 foot wind turbines now enhancing the view for miles around on his 3,000 acre Normanby Hall estate, near Scunthorpe.

Delingpole quotes another member of the landed gentry who takes quite a different view:
One such sentimental fool is the Duke of Northumberland, who persists in resisting the wheelbarrows-full of cash being offered by developers to build wind farms on his estates for the following reasons:

“I have come to the personal conclusion that wind farms divide communities, ruin landscapes, affect tourism, make a minimal contribution to our energy needs and a negligible contribution towards reducing CO2 emissions.”

But as Sir Reginald well understands, such antiquated notions as caring for the people who live in and around your estates or preserving the beauty of the landscape for future generations, have no place in the forward looking, post-carbon world being promoted by one’s son-in-law and one’s future king. “Noblesse oblige? Schnoblesse oblige! ” as Sir Reginald is no doubt fond of quipping to the third underbeater on one of his game shoots.

Sounds like a truly shocking exploitation of the poor by the rich. Where are all the Lefty protesters when you need them?

Schroeder openly calls for United States of Europe


Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Sunday called for the creation of a "United States of Europe," saying the bloc needed a common government to avoid future economic crises.

Schroeder, a Social Democrat who ran the country from 1998 to 2005, said in an interview with Der Spiegel that European Union leaders were wrong to expect the euro to drive the bloc on its own.

"The current crisis makes it relentlessly clear that we cannot have a common currency zone without a common fiscal, economic and social policy," Schroeder said.

He added: "We will have to give up national sovereignty."

"From the European Commission, we should make a government which would be supervised by the European Parliament. And that means the United States of Europe."

This has been the Eurocrats' objective for a long time, but it's scary to see it declared so openly by such a high-profile figure.

The article concludes:

In order to initiate these changes, Schroeder said EU member states would have to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a new treaty to replace the one agreed in Lisbon that currently serves as the bloc's institutional framework.

"In the crisis lies a real opportunity to achieve a political union in Europe," he said.

Schroeder, who says the EU can only respond to growing competition with the United States and Asia by being fully united, has long pointed to Britain as a hurdle to further EU integration.

"Great Britain causes the greatest problems. (It is) not in the euro but the British nevertheless always want to participate when it comes to designing a European economic area," he said. "That doesn't work."

Hat tip to James Delingpole.

Carswell, legal tender, and Hayek

Yesterday the BBC published a remarkable article about Douglas Carswell's proposal for alternative legal tender:

He told the BBC News website: "The government should not have a monopoly to decide what currency there is to spend.

"It would be perfectly possible for people to shop around."

Mr Carswell argues that making a basket of currencies legal tender would deter the government from further quantitative easing - or "printing money" - which effectively reduces its value.

The backbench MP argues that successive British governments have devalued the pound "in order to transfer wealth from the people to the government", and allowing citizens to shop around for currency would hand power back to them.

"If we believe in competition and choice then this is what we should be doing. Is there any good reason why would not do it?" said the Harwich MP.

It gets better ...

Mr Carswell claims the two dominant post-war economic theories - monetarism and Keynesianism - have both failed, and radical thinking is needed amid the ongoing global financial crisis.

He accepts that government ministers and the Bank of England would be highly reluctant to relinquish control of the nation's currency, but insists he is serious about the proposal.
The article finishes with this:

Giving citizens a choice of currencies was proposed in a Conservative government Treasury paper in the late 1980s, as an alternative to the single European currency.

But the idea dates back to the early 1970s, when monetarist economist Friedrich Hayek first proposed the denationalisation of currencies.

Prof Hayek - the godfather of Thatcherite economic policy - put the idea forward as a potential cure for inflation, then the biggest threat facing the UK economy.

In a 1975 paper for the Insititute of Economic Affairs think tank, Prof Hayek argues that governments should be stripped of the power to force their citizens to use currency issued by them at a price they specify.

Someone at the BBC has been paying attention!


In a rather dodgy move, the BBC article at the URL I linked to above has been changed. I wish I'd kept a full copy of the original. Here's the current version:

Parliament is to debate a call for foreign currencies to be made legal tender in the UK.

Such a move would protect savers by allowing them to hold the currency least likely to be devalued, Tory MP Douglas Carswell told the Commons.

He said people could then "extricate themselves from the monetary masters that hold them all captive".

But Labour's John Mann dismissed the plan, saying Parliament should "defend the great currency sterling".

MPs decided to give Mr Carswell's idea - set out in a 10-minute rule bill - another hearing on 20 January, but it is unlikely to become law.

Mr Carswell, a euroscpetic Conservative who represents Clacton in Essex, said legalising other currencies would allow consumers to shop around for the best deal on goods, possibly via smartphone applications.

'Credit balloon'

In the Commons he said the Bank of England's "quantitative easing" programme - effectively "printing money" - had seemed "progressive" but "turned out to be a disaster" which had cut sterling's value.

He added: "A credit balloon was created by reckless management when it came to the money supply."

Mr Carswell claims the two dominant post-war economic theories - monetarism and Keynesianism - have both failed, and radical thinking is needed amid the ongoing global financial crisis.

He accepts that government ministers and the Bank of England would be highly reluctant to relinquish control of the nation's currency, but insists he is serious about the proposal.

Wealthy individuals routinely convert their cash into Swiss francs or other currencies deemed to be safe havens to be then held in bank accounts abroad.

Some large department stores in London take euros and some other foreign currencies, such as the US dollar and the Japanese yen, but the official currency of the UK remains sterling.

No MP objected to holding a debate on Mr Carswell's plan.

However, Mr Mann, who represents Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, told the Commons during humorous exchanges: "We should defend the great currency sterling against these demands for euro-fanaticism."

He added: "He [Mr Carswell] could always ask for the Iranian Rial and other currencies to be used.

"[But] when I go to the corner shop to buy my Midget Gems, I wish to use sterling."

'Completely free market'

Giving citizens a choice of currencies was proposed in a Conservative government Treasury paper in the late 1980s, as an alternative to the single European currency.

But the idea dates back to the early 1970s, when monetarist economist Friedrich Hayek first proposed the denationalisation of currencies.

Professor Hayek - the godfather of Thatcherite economic policy - put the idea forward as a potential cure for inflation, then the biggest threat facing the UK economy.

In a 1975 paper for the Insititute of Economic Affairs think tank, he argued that governments should be stripped of the power to force their citizens to use currency issued by them at a price they specify.

Neil Mellor, a currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon, said Mr Carswell's plan would have to be executed on a massive scale for it to have any impact on the economy.

"It doesn't sound like something that would be taken too seriously at the Bank of England, but we will have to see," he told the BBC News website.

Josh Ryan Collins, of the New Economics Foundation, who helped launch the Brixton pound - one of a handful of complementary currencies designed to be spent in local shops within a specific area of the UK - also sounded a note of caution.

"I would have some sympathy with Douglas's position and his critique of the current system, which isn't really democratic.

"But I wouldn't say a completely free market in currency is necessarily the solution."

He said it could increase instability and currency speculation, and greater democratic accountability was needed instead, as well as the break-up of the big banks.


FWIW, although I was excited to see this subject raised, increasing the number of currencies that are legal tender seems like exactly the wrong thing to do. Instead there should be no legal tender. I'll explain my thinking in a follow-up post.