Archive for October, 2011

In yet another example of the abdication of central responsibility big society the government has decided to get stuck in to the energy price debacle debate.  The regulator OFGEM has stated that due to the lack of transparency of the tariffs consumers are finding it near impossible to get the best deals.  There has been speculation that some form of intervention is required in order to redress the balance a little more in favour of the consumer given that the average price rise over the last 12 months has been £100 per household.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne however does not feel that focusing on the energy companies is the correct strategy, after all “They aren’t the Salvation Army” and infers that it is the consumer that is to blame for not insulating and finding the cheapest tariff.  The argument that the high cost of energy has been due to the contraction of players in the market from 40 when energy was deregulated in 2000 to 6 now has been refuted.  Phil Bentley the MD of British Gas claims that the sole driver of consumer energy prices is the wholesale price of gas in the international marketplace and cites the fact that we currently import 50% of the gas we use.  According to figures quoted in the Daily Mirror though the energy companies have made an ­estimated £30billion in profits since 2006 of which £8billion has been paid out in dividends.  British Gas themselves reported a 24% jump in profits to a record £742m last year adding 267,000 customers to its 16million customer base.  In addition operating profits at British Gas’s parent company Centrica broke through the £2bn mark, increasing by 29% to £2.3bn, which is also a record.  At the same time around 8 million British Gas customers were hit with a price rise on 10 December 2010, raising the average customer’s dual-fuel bill from £1,157 to £1,239 a year.  Centrica mounted a defence of its prices when it announced the figures, pointing out that British Gas made only £4 profit each month per customer and that it would pay  £761m in tax during the year.  One wonders therefore whether it is Arthur Andersen who is doing their books since £4 x 16million = £64 million – £761 million does not come anywhere close to + £742 million… or am I missing something like a fucking decimal point or a 0 somewhere here?

It is all very well for Huhne and Cameron to say that the consumer should be looking for cheaper tariffs in the morass of variations and that loft insulation should be carried out but let’s look at this a little more closely.  The switch sites are very often on commission based on the deals they offer, it is therefore in their interest to get you to switch supplier since staying on your existing one denies them any revenue.  The myriad assortment of deals and their terms and conditions is baffling to anybody’s mind and this has been admitted by this government and the previous one, both of whom have failed to do anything about it.  On the subject of loft insulation let us ask what the position is for the few remaining council tenants, do they all have insulation?  If not then what provision is being given to councils to do it?  Presumably the same that is given to them to install solar panels to increase self-sufficiency.  What pressure is there on private landlords to ensure all of their properties are sufficiently energy efficient?  Where are the schemes for the worst off to receive free loft insulation since such moves would be more likely to reduce their bills and increase their ability to live from day to day, perhaps even to not have to solely rely on state benefits?  It would seem to be a far better method in getting people off benefits by raising their household income and lowering their expenditure rather than arbitrarily removing them from certain benefits whilst not advising them of others to which they would be entitled.

Labour have attacked the energy companies and the government however whilst Ed Milliband may talk a good game he did little to stop the rampaging energy company profits whilst he was Energy Secretary in the last administration.  This would suggest that he either did not wish to do so or that he was unable to do so, either way what exactly has changed to make it more likely now?

In perhaps the most cynical comment of the debate Chancellor Gideon George Osborne thinks that keeping to our climate change goals on emissions will hurt business “Britain makes up less than 2% of all global emissions so we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business.”  For a man who went to one of the best schools that his parents could pay for he seems to have a quite catastrophically inept grasp of logic.  If the planet is not saved there won’t be a country let alone businesses in it.  For the wider universe this must represent a tantalising prospect.  Or again am I missing something here?

Investment in renewable energy sources by the energy companies is 5% of their total investment, in the last year the UK has gone from 3rd to 13th in its investment in renewables.  The government claims that green energy will cost £300/year per household in order to make itself sustainable, why should it, surely the latent sustainability of this form of power generation would in fact guarantee the energy companies revenue long after fossil fuels have run out.  In fact is it not the case that the government is doing British business a grave disservice by not ensuring their long-term future?  Is it not sensible to take no chances with regard to whether or not impending climate doom may befall both from a moral and economic perspective?  The argument as to whether wind farms are an eyesore or not should be devolved so that communities be permitted to opt out of central funding for renewable energy generation on the proviso that they be removed from the National Grid and thus responsible for their own power generation.  Why when profits are increasing, in contrast to often the dropping of wholesale prices, is the difference not ploughed back into investment in renewables?  Why in the age of fuel imports, tightening of belts, “rising wholesale prices” is the head of RWE npower, Volker Beckers, getting a £1million compensation package last year while EDF Energy’s Vincent de Rivaz has got a 30% rise to £1.3million?  Former Scottish Power boss Nick Horler received £1.3million, E.On’s Paul Golby £1.2million and Ian Marchant of Scottish and Southern £1.2million.

Putting the onus on the consumer is merely an example of the cosy relationship between government and business and the utter contempt for which government holds for the vast majority of the population who are facing real-terms pay cuts, pension obliteration, rising food prices and huge fuel bills both at home and on the road.  The consumer does not have the power to change energy policy, the consumer does not have the ability to force investment in renewable energy, the consumer does not have the lobbying power or influence to put any pressure on the energy companies merely to blithely accept what they are all doing multilaterally which is to raise prices at the very time that demand is likely to be highest.  It isn’t a wonder that people are out on the streets it is a wonder they haven’t been out prior to now.  After all for most currently the streets may well be warmer than our homes.

Song Of The Day ~ Blue Screaming – The Close

It is almost heartening really to find that the Tories, in spite of protestations to the contrary, are still the same old sleazy lot as they have always been. Of course they have changed now in as much as their ability to handle the media has improved and they have managed this through what Orwell had described years before as Newspeak. A case in point is the currently beleaguered Defence minister Dr Liam Fox who is accused of impropriety regarding the conduct of himself and “a friend” with whom he has been seen at various functions where it would have been expected that only authorised MoD personnel or government officials would have been present.

Rather than blazon out the storm and simply say that nothing had happened, or to come out ashen-faced and say he screwed up and throw himself on the mercy of the Prime Minister as might have happened in the media-naive pre New Labour days, Fox has been a great deal more crafty and ended up doing a combination of both. Let’s have a look at what he said:

“I do accept that given Mr Werritty’s defence-related business interests, my frequent contacts with him may have given an impression of wrongdoing, and may also have given third parties the misleading impression that Mr Werritty was an official adviser rather than simply a friend”

Let’s deconstruct this tangled web woven by the minister, the phrase “given the impression” implies that despite how it might look no impropriety took place.  To then use the same term again in that the impression may have been given that Werritty was an official advisor implies that somehow people have jumped to the wrong conclusion on both points.  In fact Fox did not stop here but went on to cast aspersions in the more than a little right-wing biased Sunday Telegraph stating that “underlying issues behind these claims and the motivation is deeply suspect”.  Clearly of the belief that being held to account for his actions was a task well beneath a minister.  So did he actually do anything wrong or is this another ‘expenses defence’ in that no actual rules were broken despite the morally questionable nature of the conduct being pretty plain.

In the Ministerial code it clearly states that ministers “must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests“.  That would appear to make it quite clear that at least in respect of Parliamentary conduct Fox has transgressed.  Moreover since Werritty attended meetings with Fox and had business cards printed that referred to him being a direct advisor it is pretty clear why such an impression might have been arrived at.  What is also interesting about the latter point is that Fox claims that he told Werritty in June not to hand out these cards because they gave the wrong impression.  Given that he was aware so long ago why was the matter not made public at this point in order for Fox to be open and honest about the situation, rather than waiting until late August when confronted about it by MoD Permanent Secretary, Ursula Brennan?  After all in the Sunday Telegraph interview Fox had said that he had “absolutely no fear of complete transparency in these matters” which doesn’t quite seem to tally with the months of silence.

Let us also not forget that this is not someone just taking their mate to an office party to avail of a free bar, this is a man who has already brokered deals between Fox and businessmen being admitted to a circle that inevitably involves highly classified information of a national security nature.  How this could be construed as anything other than a serious conflict of interest and abuse of ministerial privilege is beyond me.  David Cameron on the other hand believes that Fox should be given the chance to explain, a pity the latter was not keen to do so before the revelations were made public by the media investigations and I’m afraid this is where I lose sympathy.  If you have done something wrong and you are aware of it and wish to atone you come clean and ask for forgiveness, if absolution is given then you may return to the fray hopefully a wiser person and with your integrity intact. After all we all make mistakes but it is what we do with them both during and after that defines our true conduct.

The truth is that Fox has been caught with his hand in the till but was not clutching any money at the time and would have us believe that the money in his pocket is not the result of the pilfering and that to suggest otherwise is to accuse without substantiation.  [Rather like the accusations of those on Incapacity Benefit all being scroungers that sort of thing, the Tories know a thing or two about unsubstantiated accusations.]  The fact is that Fox is trying to make a great fuss about the accusations about the contents of his pocket in order to deflect his attention to his hand being in the till in the first place.  Cameron has shown himself to be either too weak to do anything about a member of his cabinet or unwilling to take a stand to preserve the semblance of moral integrity of the government.  There may be multiple reasons for this.  Firstly Fox is a senior figure on the Tory right, given that the Tory centre is to the right of Genghis Khan this means Fox leads the rabid section of the party (you can make the jokes up at this point yourselves!)  Cameron is not keen to have such a senior member languishing wounded and angry on the backbenchers where he may snipe at an already frail government.  Additionally Cameron probably feels that Fox has been foolish but not outright criminal, but this misses the point, very often ministers and MPs have to leave their positions in order not to bring the government into disrepute because they have lost the confidence of their colleagues, this as stated at the beginning though is a new Tory party, one with the same politics as before and very often the same figures but more adept at smoke and mirrors.  Let us not forget that the Health bill is going through the House of Lords this very week so further deflection from this is also very much to the government’s advantage, especially since the Lib-Dems are having to try to pressure their own peers who are reluctant to support the bill and are not subject to the same political control as their colleagues in the Commons.

All in all it is yet another example of power and privilege, of the contempt that the national politicians show the wider population, if there is anyone out there who did not know this already then where the fuck have you been?

Song Of The Day ~ The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy – Down The Drain

Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine — the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, whereby those important events of the past, usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, are celebrated with a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you.”  – V For Vendetta

Do not let the media whitewash dictate what you believe, do not let the media or your leaders tell you what you should be thinking.  If in another context someone was consistently failing to be able to build something and charging you a fortune for the privilege of their mistakes you might think of getting another builder.  Capitalism isn’t broken, it was never the raw materials to build a fair society.  It is time to tear it down and start again, what the new structure will look like we’ll have to discuss and try some things out, but let’s not live in a house with no roof just because we’re scared we’ll have to live in a tent for a while whilst we build a proper house.

These are our countries, our cities, our streets, our homes.  We owe it to our children, our children’s children and our disenfranchised and dispossessed brothers and sisters across the world and their children.  It may be the only way we may look ourselves in the mirror.

Song of The Day ~ Moloko – The Time Is Now

To Be Or Not To Be

For National Poetry Day and the work of The Philosophy Shop

If what I think is what I know
and is because I tell me so
what if I am lying though
I might have to ponder that a mo’

the things of which I cannot see
are they of relevance to me
if I should live empirically
then nothing that’s not here can be

And what of that which I know not
outside my sphere I know not what
I don’t really understand a lot
yet what I know is all I’ve got

can I declare that I exist
or is there something that I missed
if so am I a nihilist
or just an enquiring pessimist

and what of you my reader dear
how can I prove that you are here
or just a dream, it isn’t clear
perhaps I might learn more next year