Sunday, 16 November 2014

Intermittent, inefficient, inadequate and blighting the Northumberland skyline.

After years of educating myself in order to campaign effectively with local people, I remain sceptical of the UK Government's £3 billion a year spend on subsidy to the renewables sector which I consider to have serious inadequacies in meeting our modern, long-term energy needs. 

I believe that the Government needs to adopt a common sense and mixed energy policy, tapping into the huge potential of indigenous shale gas, and investing for the long-term in nuclear power.

I have a particular interest however, in the specific and controversial issue of on-shore wind turbines, an issue which countless, concerned residents have raised with me.  I believe that onshore wind is, as a source of energy, intermittent, inefficient, inadequate and is blighting the skylines in many parts of rural Northumberland. This is why I have spent the last ten years campaigning against their relentless spread and working with residents to oppose inappropriate applications.

There is mounting evidence to support the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lawson's assertion that “windpower is about the most stupid way of generating electricity you can imagine, it produces very expensive electricity only when the wind is blowing at the right speed, which is only 25% of the time”.

A recent study published by the Adam Smith Institute and the Scientific Alliance, concluded that wind farms, considering both in-shore and off-shore wind turbines, were “expensive and deeply inefficient.” Their research found that wind farms produced 80 per cent of their potential power output for less than one week annually and they managed 90 per cent output for only 17 hours a year. The accepted industry norm seems to be that on a long term basis they work at around a 20-25% efficiency.  No rational person would invest in a car which only worked 1/4 of the time.

As well as being inefficient, the building of these wind turbines have been subsidised by the taxpayer & every family in their electricity bills, putting up their monthly bills.  This is an entirely unacceptable situation affecting the poorest the most as they struggle to pay their fuel bills. These policies were set in place by Labour, with Ed Miliband MP, the Energy Secretary at the time, and run under the coalition by Ed Davey MP, a Lib Dem.  I just do not understand how Labour and Lib Dem MPs claiming to support the poor should think that this subsidy culture to the investor at the direct expense of the poorest is acceptable. 

As well as being expensive and inefficient, further controversial aspects of on-shore wind are  the negative visual impact and devastatingly detrimental affect on the Northumberland skyline including in areas of outstanding natural beauty.  Anecdotal evidence of the death of rare birds in the blades is starting to emerge which is deeply concerning.

We have made great strides in fighting off large scale onshore turbines thanks to the policy set in place in 2013 by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities.  He has given local planning committees leave to properly take into account the views of local people. Where this has not been done, he has been looking again, at developer applications, and determining whether the application should be rejected. 

I am committed to supporting David Cameron's pledge, opposed by the Liberal Democrats, to end the public subsidy for on-shore wind turbines. Conservative Ministers have said that we can meet our EU renewable energy obligations without building any more wind turbines in rural locations. I will be ensuring that the manifesto commitment on this is robust.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Climate Change and Energy Policy

The UK needs a mixed, common sense, robust and efficient energy policy.

I will be blogging up until the election, on all sorts of matters but especially in relation to policy, issues of national importance and public interest. It is important that electors know what I believe in, as someone who hopes to become the MP for Berwick in May 2015, and see how I will contribute to national debate.  These views are my own- they may well be, but are not necessarily, shared by all my political colleagues. 

Firstly, I will be setting out my thoughts on energy policy and the renewables sector.

Owen Paterson MP, the former Environment Secretary, made a very important contribution to this debate in his recent speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation when he called on Government to scrap the Climate Change Act, because we should be abandoning  our current climate change targets.

Since leaving the Cabinet, Owen has conducted some detailed analysis and research. His findings include the startling figure that the cost of the current Climate Change Act policy will be £1,300 Billion up to 2050. He maintains that it fails to meet emission targets (to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050) and that this target is unrealistic because, for example, it would require the complete abandonment of natural gas in all homes and for 65% of private cars to be electric. He points out that, because the targets are unrealistic, no other EU country, apart from the UK, has made it a legal requirement to meet these.

Personally, I am sceptical about the effectiveness of our Government subsidising the renewables sector to the tune of £3 billion a year for technologies which are still so intermittent & inefficient, and in many cases are not even carbon neutral.  I am very concerned that the inadequacies of the renewables sector to meet modern energy demands has long-term implications, and I am keen to see the UK Government do more to tap into the huge potential of indigenous shale gas. Reducing our reliance on the import of foreign electricity from Europe should be a key target for us.

One aspect, which causes me significant concern, is the fact that the renewable energy subsidies result in an increase in energy bills, affecting the poorest most as they struggle to pay their ever rising fuel bills.  The inexorable increase of electricity bills for people on lower incomes to pay huge subsidies to wealthy landowners and mostly foreign investors seems inately wrong, and I believe that we should stand up to those in a Government who think this is an acceptable way forwards.  These policies were set in place by Labour, with Ed Miliband MP, the Energy Secretary at the time, and run under the coalition by Ed Davey MP, a Libdem.  I just do not understand how Labour & Libdem MPs claiming to support the poor should think that this subsidy culture to the investor at the direct expense of the poorest is acceptable.  

In my opinion, Government policy should do its very best to provide energy security for its population & its businesses.  Labour's policies talked the "carbon free" talk, but in practise much of our taxpayers money spent so far has not improved our carbon reduction targets as it should.  Shale gas is, for instance, a good step in the right direction which would allow us to stop burning higher carbon fossil fuels without compromising the economic development of our nation.  I will continue to speak up for Government support in the energy sector to go towards those technologies which help our CO2 emissions reduce without crippling family budgets or forcing business shut downs.

Next time...
My thoughts on the controversial issue of on-shore wind turbines which are blighting the sky-lines of many parts of rural Northumberland.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Crimea- a really uncertain outcome?

My Mum used to talk about the Cuban crisis as a defining moment in her young adult life, when the whole world held its collective breath in case a nuclear war started between the US and The USSR over the Russian missiles on Cuba.

I have been reading Max Hastings' great work, Catastrophe, about the outbreak of World War 1, and looking at the leadership reasons for bringing their countries to a war footing.

In each case, fear of invasion by the Russians has been the driving force: in 1914 the German Kaiser wanted to pre-empt Russian military growth and check their military strength before they got too strong for German forces to rebuff on the Eastern front. The unexpected murders of the Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife provided an opportunity for Germany & Russia to square up against each other with Serbia as the excuse.

In 1962 Cuba became the equivalent Serbian pinchpoint,  and now in 2014 it seems that the Crimean Peninsula - known to us all by name thanks to its 19th century war, but probably hard for most people to pinpoint on a map until a fortnight ago - has become the focus of the present day crisis.

Should we be anxious? Have all the world's leaders got nerves of steel & do they actually want to do the right thing? Is Putin actually bothered about maintaining stability, or is he driven by a longstanding desire to see Russian territory return to USSR size?

News this morning is that Russian money in the western markets is being pulled out fast, for fear of sanctions & blockage. Might it be the case that the oligarchs' vast personal fortunes - including Putin's - may be the key to stability? That childhood phrase which my Mum's hippy musician friends used to disparaging sing about.... That  "money makes the world go round", may prove key to the aversion of military aggression in Crimea.



Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Broadband 4 All Northumberland

I am very dismayed by today's announcement that Northumberland County Council have decided to make the recently appointed director at Arch, responsible for broadband rollout, redundant- just as all the key work needs to be done to reach the 90% of premises included in the first rollout, and then work on some clever planning for the last 10% presently not planned for.

Perhaps the Labour administration's focus on making these bad budget cut decisions (which will have longterm negative impact on the future economic development of rural Northumberland), explains why no-one from County Hall was lobbying Westminster to ask for a fair proportion of the next £250 million announced today.

Due to Labour councillors' lack of interest in the economic future of rural Northumberland, we have only been allocated £650,000- against North Yorkshire's £10million or Durham's £3.8 million.  When will our elected representatives start fighting our corner?

I have written to the Secretary of State, Maria Miller MP, at DCMS today to try to find out why we have had such a poor commitment, & what we can do to access more funding, since we have one of the hardest to reach areas left to get
broadband to in Northumberland.  Funds should flow to these areas rather than to those easy-to-fulfil (& probably economic for BT anyway) through expected growth.

Rural Northumberland deserves a better deal & a fair share of resources from local & central Government.

Friday, 3 January 2014

A New Year brings new challenges

It seems to be the fashion for politicians to make predictions about the coming new year, mostly on issues over which they have no influence or control.

I am no fortune teller and as I have never been of a gambling nature, I prefer to look at those issues coming forward on my horizon over which I might- with hard work & perhaps a little luck- make a difference to the outcome for those issues & people I care about.

I expect my 2014 to be dominated by:-

1. Continued lobbying through my Dual The A1 campaign to get the last stretch of this English road brought into the 21st century with a safe dual carriageway which can draw in new investment to the North East for the economic benefit of our region.

2. The great and urgent challenge to the United Kingdom of the Scottish Referendum on 18th September this year. For us Borderers, and most especially the people of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the prospect of Scotland becoming a foreign country has no upside. Families would be split, doctors surgeries & schools cut off, and hundreds of years of happy co-existence brought to an abrupt end.

As my small part in trying to encourage those Scots with a vote to say NO to Alex Salmond's nationalistic hue & cry, I am organising the Border Union Rally with Rory Stewart, the MP for Penrith & the Borders. We will be leading a great walk along 28 miles of the most magnificent & wild part of the Border Ridge on 19th July this summer, hopefully with hundreds of other intrepid walkers who want to share their love of the Union.

Do sign up to support & join us at www.borderunionrally.com

We are also going to encourage all walkers to raise some sponsorship funds to support a British military charity of their choice. In this 100th anniversary year of the start of World War I, support for our brave armed forces who put their lives on the line for our safety has never been more important.

In WW1, so many died in battle - today modern warfare & medecine has reduced deaths, but leaves men & women with extensive life changing injuries (both visible & invisible). We want to play our small part in highlighting the extraordinary work of so many British military charities who support ex-forces personnel across the UK, in wach of our four corners. I do not want a new border which cuts Scotland off from Great Britain.





Monday, 25 November 2013

We want to keep our Union together

I am in the throes of organising the Border Union Rally next summer, with the help of Rory Stewart MP, the man who walked across Afghanistan and will think nothing of a gentle stroll along 29 miles of our invisible border between England and Scotland. 


As a voice for North Northumberland, I am deeply conscious of the fact that our border with Scotland (all 96 miles of it) is simply a spectacular part of the northern landscape, a stretch of Great Britain rarely visited and not stopping anyone from one side or the other.  But if Scotland were to vote FOR independence next September, the market town of Berwick-upon-Tweed would become a frontier town, a border outpost which would create a break in family ties and business networks, in school bus routes and dentists patient lists.

I hear every day from folk on the English side of the Border that they don't want the UK broken up. So we are organising this Rally and encouraging as many people as possible to join us in showing the Scots how much we love them being in the Union, and calling on them to vote NO to independence.

To sign up to join the Rally, register now at www.borderunionrally.com and follow us on Twitter @BorderRally.

I will be inviting Boris Johnson to join our Rally, following his moving article this week which I have included here in full:

Boris writes:
"I have a faded sticker on the back of my car that reads: I (heart) Scotland. I have a feeling it was stuck there by some fellows from Strathclyde police when they came down to help with the Notting Hill carnival, and I keep it there because it reflects my general feelings. I (heart) Scotland in the way that so many of us Sassenachs do: you know, fabulous place, lovely people, gorgeous purple moors, great white beaches and an incomparable contribution to Western thought and civilisation, from Adam Smith to Andrew Neil.

I (heart) Scotland so much that I once made a doomed attempt to become rector of a Scottish university, in which I destroyed a massive poll lead by announcing that I was not only English but in favour of top-up fees, and ended up coming third and having beer poured over my head. But still I (heart) Scotland. I (heart) the bagpipes and the porridge and the view from Arthur’s Seat and swimming with seals and the funny prehistoric cows with ginger fringes and the see-you-Jimmy tam-o’-shanter that I keep as a memento of one holiday; and so I find it positively (heart) breaking to find that serious people are now worried that the union between England and Scotland – a gigantic political fact for 306 years – is under threat.

Never mind the sentiment, the fuzzy warm feelings I have about the place. Whatever happens, tourism will continue, after all. We are on the verge of losing something even more precious – to both Scotland and England – and I don’t think people have woken up to the full lunacy of what is afoot. In its desultory complacency, the conversation reminds me of some middle-aged couple deciding to get divorced. All they can think about is the liberation – the new beginnings, the excitement. So more and more English people are thinking, what the hell: if the Scots want to walk out, why don’t we just let them?

We won’t have to subsidise them any more via the Barnett formula, people think; and there are plenty of Tories who secretly agree with John Major, and reckon that getting rid of all those Scottish Labour MPs would be a fine thing for England and the Conservative Party. As for the Scots — well, I can see the attraction: your own nation, your own government, and the chance to join the ranks of those small and dynamic countries that seem to be happiest and most prosperous.

What both sides are forgetting – and they have this in common with divorcing couples – is that it may look OK on day one, but on day two the lawyers come in. There is the division of property to work out, the rights of access to be determined. The longer the marriage has lasted, the more there is to unpick, and the more hellish and self-flayingly painful the whole process becomes.

After three centuries of union, England and Scotland are not just woven together by sentiment, but by a cat’s cradle of intricate legal and political ties. Fibre by fibre that would have to be sliced apart, and the result will be agony and endless recrimination.

On Tuesday, the Scottish government will publish a vast White Paper explaining how on earth it is supposed to work. So here are some of the questions I hope that document will be able to settle. We are told that the proposal is that Scotland would keep the Queen as head of state and the pound as the national currency – though presumably both of these commitments could be varied by a future Scottish parliament.

But on what basis does Scotland get to keep the pound? Will they use sterling informally, just as some Latin American countries rely on the dollar? And why should the Bank of England take any notice of Scotland in setting monetary policy? Why should the governor travel to Edinburgh and be interrogated by Scottish MPs? After independence, after all, he will owe his appointment entirely to an English-Welsh-Northern Irish government. Or will Alec Salmond come south, and sit in an ante-room in Threadneedle Street, hoping for an audience?

Then there is the basic question of what this independent state of Scotland is supposed to be, and how it is meant to relate to the rest of the world. We are talking about a secession from the Union of the United Kingdom, and many EU diplomats have now made it clear to Salmond that this is exactly the same as seceding from the EU. If the Scots wanted to remain in the EU (and they seem, for some reason, to think this is necessary) Scotland would have to seek an immediate accession – and the question is: who would conduct the negotiations?

Why should this be done by UKrep, the UK office in Brussels, when Scotland has voted to leave the UK? The Scots would have to equip themselves instantly with a new cadre of diplomats. There would have to be a Scottish foreign office around the world – wouldn’t there? And if not, why not? What about Britain’s nuclear missiles, and the need to use submarine bases in Scotland? What about Scottish regiments in the British Army?

There are endless opportunities for confusion and bickering. Then there is one final point that no one seems to have grasped: that this is not just the end of the United Kingdom. It is the end of Britain. Yes, of course, there will still be an island called Great Britain, the largest in the British Isles. But Britain as a political entity will be annihilated. This very name of our nation only gained currency after the Act of Union, and makes no sense with the top section lopped off and “independent”.

And then what? What happens to British sporting teams? What happens, for goodness’ sake, to the “British” Broadcasting Corporation? Nobody has the faintest idea. I am appalled that the pro-independence vote is up at 38 per cent. We need someone — the Americans? — to step in as a kind of marriage guidance counsellor and tell us to stop being so damn stupid. Divorce will diminish us both. It will be unutterably wretched and painful, and it will eliminate the most successful political union in history."

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Syrian Challenge - is it Britain's job to take on Middle East religious wars?

I am deeply concerned by the Syria debate taking place today, and the seeming lack of information from Government or media outlets about the realities of the battleground taking place in Syria and the wider Middle East. 

Whilst I totally agree that the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, I am very nervous about the proposed action from Western Governments to determine who is at fault.  There seems to be no clear evidence presented yet  which proves that Assad ordered this attack, and I hope that if the UN Inspectors determine that chemical weapons were indeed used, the UN then decides to take it upon themselves to identify the leader of this attack & those which allegedly have gone on before (in smaller attacks).

I do not know what Ed Miliband's motivations for standing up to Cameron at the 12th hour were yesterday, but he has my respect for doing so, if only to allow MPs more time to challenge the international (US-French-UK) determination to wade into this ghastly war.

I am receiving information from contacts in the Middle East from Egypt & Syria who are telling me that all is not what it might seem from Western media reporting - that whilst Assad may not be a good or nice man, he is fighting to stop the Muslim Brotherhood from taking over with a view to torching all Christian Churches, Shia mosques, and further extermination of non-Muslims.  I am not an expert, and so I would like to hear a wider debate with source information on what is actually going on out there.

Is this really simply an evil Assad exterminating his people?  Or is this a similar battle to the one raging in Egypt, where a year into Muslim Brotherhood power all who are not Sunni seem to be their enemy to be overcome and the country's army are trying to prevent their doctrinal domination?

The Motion before the House of Commons today is below, and whilst it is measured in its tone,  it leaves many questions to be answered.  I shall be listening closely to the whole debate in the hope of being given a clearer indication of why our Government is seemingly so desperate to wade into this situation.  I hope that the UN Security Council will start to take charge of this situation rather than leaving some of its members to take up arms unilaterally.  Chemical weapons are not an acceptable tool of war, and any and all who use them must be punished.  But is Great Britain the one to do that, or should it be led by international law only?

The Government’s motion

SYRIA AND THE USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS

The Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister
Secretary William Hague
Secretary Theresa May
Secretary Philip Hammond
Mr Dominic Grieve

That this House:
·         Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
·         Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;
·         Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;
·         Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;
·         Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;
·         Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;
·         Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
·         Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;
·         Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and
·         notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.