Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Bedtime for Boris

Finally, if disingenously, cabinet ministers have had enough.  Why it takes l'affaire Pincher, a trivial and sordid little occasion, to precipitate matters is a bit of a puzzle, but here we are.  A Geoffrey Howe / Nigel Lawson moment; and it's off to the bookies for MSM editors everywhere.  Of the runners & riders I noted here less than a month ago, Mordaunt appears to have risen to the top just now.  And Starmer's puppetmaster will be hoping and anticipating there's more than one Big Vacancy in the offing as the dominos fall.  That strategy of simply being there looks better than ever. 

... Johnson is always going to self-destruct: possibly sooner rather than later: the key is to be in position for when it happens ...

So what happens now.  My guesses:

  • Boris, being copper-bottomed shameless and utterly desperate, not least for money but also for fame and glory, will not quickly see his way to the exit
  • The remaining Cabinet ministers will be in agonies of indecision.  Has Sunak stolen a march on them all and restored his earlier, pre 'non-dom moneybags' standing?  Or does the rule about wielding the knife hold good?
  • The 1922 Committee, proven to be able to act with lightning speed when the mood takes it, will move into permanent session, making it clear they have the power to change the rules in whatever manner they choose (just watch them) 
  • Team Boris (which exists, and will also be pretty desperate now) will have been up all night plotting his next moves.  They may be fairly adroit, in a last-chance sort of way.  Expect to see him abroad very soon (he is scheduled to be in Poland next week, and there may be ways of advancing this), wrapped in the Ukrainian flag again.  Mention of tax cuts was near-instantaneous.  Expect also to see hints that if directly threatened, he'll bring down the pillars of the temple in some unspecified way.  
'Unspecified'?  Obviously all his instincts are for aprรจs moi... but I'm not at all sure he can call a GE unilaterally: all he can do is go to the Queen, who must then cast around for someone who can form a government.  But remember always: the lines of logistics in politics are very short, and power in the hands of someone with imagination is a mighty thing.  For example, unilateral commitments made publicly to international parties would be very difficult for a successor to row back from.

We must thank the Lord there is no UK equivalent of the Presidential Pardon, or there'd be no saying what else he might do. 

Have at it!

ND

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Putin's next roll of the dice

Can you believe it, Putin declined my carefully reasoned military advice of 8 weeks ago

... much as he evidently wanted to achieve more, Putin's orders must surely now be: Define a defensible subset of what we now occupy - categorically including whatever it takes to water Crimea.  Dig in; set up the resupply lines; and hold that territory to the last mercenary.  Lay waste and abandon the rest.

... and plugged on with his "main aim" (as hastily re-defined shortly after the attack on Kyiv foundered in such a humiliating manner), being to take the whole of the Donbas.  In practical terms this meant rolling up the major Donbas towns of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk which, 8 weeks later he has just "achieved" (by levelling the former and all-but levelling the latter) - at a formidable cost in blood and treasure ... and time.

Although he was always going to be able to do this - he has the artillery - this was a highly questionable enterprise.  At best, he's gained a PR point for use with his compliant home media.  (Nobody else is even slightly impressed, and his homegrown 'milibloggers' are scathing.)  At worst, his casualties may very well force his hand as regards some kind of call-up by stealth, should he wish to carry through with his stated whole-Donbas objective.

The aforementioned towns were not at all ideal for the defenders.  Even so, the Ukrainians inflicted high casualties on the attackers, as street-by-street fighting does - the very reason Soviet military doctrine was clear that it should always be avoided.  And (unlike at Mariupol), the surviving defenders were able to withdraw before total encirclement, their job complete. 

But the next objectives to the west will be a different story, despite all the diversionary hints of reopening the fronts at Kharkiv and Kyiv.  In particular the next target necessarily to be engaged (if he seriously intends to take the whole of Donbas) is the area around Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, an even better-prepared killing ground than the two riverside towns that have occupied him for two months.  And Ukraine is tooling up with long range artillery.  As noted here and elsewhere many times already, Russia has proved itself surprisingly inept at the offensive; and such "lessons" as it may have learned in the field during the "victories" in built-up, unfortified Mariupol, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk will not serve for very much in the next phase.  Everything the Russians plan is being telegraphed to its opponents and meticulously prepared-for:  up and down, up and down, fly the planes of NATO aerial reconnaissance.  

How much of his airforce is he willing to hazard in this operation?  What can he hope to achieve before winter, when his gas-supply weapon finally comes into its own against his NATO tormentors?  Unhappy will be the troops of the first echelon for the next stage of Putin's adventure.  

ND

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Greta & the childrens crusade: it's over

We all saw Greta in action back in 2019-20 and - promoted by whatever adult agency was lurking in the background - how she captured attention and captivated gullible politicians; and how the 'Greta phenomenon' briefly led children out of the classroom, to stamp their feet a bit in public and demand that the grown-ups do, errrr, something.  Now, it seems, that's all over; and leftie-greens are, as so often, left to puzzle over how the Revolution didn't quite happen - again.  Here's a convoluted piece from the Grauniad, Where have all the young climate activists gone? which offers the thesis that they have gone quiet because they want to avoid being coopted for ‘youth-washing’ by nasty politicians and corporations.  (That's 'youth-washing' as in greenwashing, not as in ... and get yer bloody hair cut!, much as though some of them need a bath.)  Oh, and they realised they were distracting the world from the plight of the Global South, and other piteous gems: 

... climate politics was awash with ideas around children, the future, and intergenerational justice ... For a time, it seemed that a climate movement was emerging in which children acted simultaneously as the spark, inspiration and energy. This wave seemed unstoppable. But that moment has passed. [Now] media focus and activists themselves are placing less emphasis on age; it is often incidental, and less central to activists’ strategy ... a critical repositioning in parts of the UK climate movement, recognising climate breakdown is not a future issue, but a devastating present reality ... world leaders and corporations were “youth-washing” by co-opting child climate activists  -  inviting them on to platforms and into private meetings to burnish their own images; but their demands - from urging for financing for loss and damage, an end to the racist Home Office or an end to capitalism itself  -  were not heard ...

(An end to capitalism itself?  Surely not!)  Finally, avoiding the obvious possibility that it was all a fad, the piece concludes by clutching at straws: 

It’s a good thing that young activists are now viewed less as angelic saviours, and more as political actors in their own right.

So that's alright.  It also cites an earlier piece of detailed navel-gazing by the earnest folk at Novara media - who naturally offer a convoluted leftie analysis; but at least they also have the intelligence and self-awareness to recognise that the sheer nastiness of 'progressive' politics had a role to play in causing the whole thing to fizzle out.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Longtime C@W readers will know my 30,000-ft view on this.  In the real world, Peak Greta might be thought to have happened in mid 2019 when for example the desperate Theresa May strikingly committed the UK to 'Net Zero by 2050', way ahead of the pack, causing some people to credit Greta with this result.  But actually, the tectonic plates really shifted at the end of 2018 (when Greta hadn't yet got much further than her truant picket line in Sweden), when a key UN committee backed 'adaptation' and 'resilience' to climate change as being officially Green.   At this point, every traditional steel-n-concrete industry on the planet realised that instead of non-stop opprobrium and decline, there could be plentiful government-underwritten contracts in this for them, too!  The banks weren't slow to draw the same conclusion and Bingo!  Net zero carbon quickly became the only game in town.  Nothing to do with Greta, except that the timing looked like she might have had something to do with it.  But correlation doesn't mean causation, eh?

And now Putin has de-railed much of this, at least for the time being.  Hell, lignite-burning is coming back into fashion!   And the armaments industries. 

None of it looks like a youth movement now.  Where will all that enthusiasm and energy find an outlet?   I guess we will have to wait and find out.  Can't see them all joining the Young Conservatives though, Boris.

ND

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

'Ask C@W': your energy questions

Nope, we're not setting up in competition with Martin Lewis: but a couple of BTLers have raised some specific energy questions of late, so here we go with another issue of the 'ask C@W' energy helpline. 

Won’t the lack of LNG landing terminals in Europe mean that the UK will be alright? If the gas can’t be physically landed in mainland Europe and the UK - Europe link only has so much capacity then won’t that mean lower gas prices through winter in the UK?  (Al)

Basically, yes, that's correct, although with absolute prices being sky-high whatever the physical sufficiency and price relativities, the definition of "will be alright" could be queried.  UK (also Spain) is well served with LNG regas capacity and both countries are enjoying lower wholesale gas prices than the continentals, exactly as market logic would predict.  Correspondingly & likewise, the UK is exporting as much gas as the pipelines to the continent can manage, based on that clear price differential.  There's every reason to assume this will continue through winter; including the exports unless things get so bad that HMG introduces rationing &/or export restrictions. 

This sufficiency of LNG capacity is a great free-market success story that we've written about before, contrasting with the dismal failure of central planners, particularly in Germany and, to some extent in France.  Italy ought to be better off, too, but local planning laws there are skewed 99% towards NIMBY considerations and generally fatal for building regas.

We're exporting a bucket load of power through interconnects to Europe. Wonder who is doing the checking and paperwork forms on the receiving side to make sure it is up to scratch?  (Sparky)

Same things as gas, with the added frisson for France that half their nukes are closed for safety reasons, pending regulatory review of their endemic corrosion problems (and of course cooling-water from shallow rivers being too warm in summer, as usual.)  Oh, and nobody gets hung up about import-export paperwork.  Ireland, utterly dependent on UK for energy trade, would grind to a halt in a day or two if anyone were to get sticky about that.  (I know what you're thinking ... Time to play hardball ..?)

What’s happening with Rough storage - are there any plans to commission it before winter?  (Al again)

Not a chance: it would take years.  I'll post a longer 'history of Rough' another time - it's a fascinating case study.  For now, we can say that Centrica, once big free-market advocates but latterly joining the ranks of the shameless subsidy-seekers, have been touting for government money and/or RAB approval for something, anything, to allow them to avoid writing off Rough and taking the big decommissioning hit - very expensive indeed.  Before Ukraine they were peddling an implausible scheme for using Rough to store hydrogen on a seasonal basis; and CO2 before that.  Needless to say, Putin's War being the latest headline grabber, it's now Centrica's latest roll of the dice.  Failing that, it'll be a proposal to convert it into an offshore Nightingale Hospital; or asylum-seeker detention centre, or something.  Anything.

They were such a laudable enterprise once.  

ND

Addendum:  anon asks BTL below - 

has Gazprom contracted to deliver any gas for this coming winter? If so, with whom? If they have contracted to do so, to what extent does it mitigate the risk of Russia’s deciding to turn off the taps?

Yes they have, in large quantities, to most of their traditional wholesale customers.  Some of the latter have courageously refused to play Putin's "pay in rubles" game (a meaningless trick in economic terms, designed only to humiliate) and been unilaterally cut off.  I am guessing Gazprom has made some utterly ludicrous legal claim they were 'in breach of that new (unilaterally imposed) payment term' - there are plenty of whore lawyers in Europe who'll frame the case for them - and will claim the contracts have thereby been terminated.  But the craven realistic ones in Germany, Italy et al who've knuckled under still have their contracts in place.  I've yet to learn how either side is treating Russia's big cut in Nord Stream 1 volumes: it's possible (being summer) that these haven't impacted on contractual volumes per se, but only the amounts coming forward for the spot market: in which case no contractual issues would arise.

The biggest importer, Germany's Uniper (heir to Ruhrgas), has brazenly and loudly stated that it fully intends to carry on importing for the many years its Gazprom contracts have still to run.  What it really means is, "until you pass a law to stop us - and compensate us, kindly don't forget the compensation".

Will Gazprom consider itself 'contractually bound' to deliver?  No!  They'll do exactly as they are told.  As a matter of history, Gazprom has actually been a very reliable supplier over the decades; was initially (i.e. when the invasion first started) very keen not to burn any contractual boats - not least because they wanted to keep their powder dry for a legal challenge to Germany's prompt kiboshing of Nord Stream 2; and is always punctilious in terms of talking the language of 'inviolable contracts blah blah'.  Pft.  Meaningless in today's circumstances.    

Addendum 2:  further Q&A has developed BTL.  And our learned friend Mr Wendland has pitched in, too. 

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Mr Putin's Gas is Heating Things Up

We've several times mused over Putin's gas weapon:  how he's carefully kept Germany supplied and, in turn, how careful Ukraine has been with the transit pipelines; how 'green' ignorance on the critical and frankly irreplaceable role of gas in European economies contributed to the remarkable willingness of European countries to approve swingeing sanctions; how Putin couldn't believe this degree of ignorance really existed; how on earth Germany might do without their continual fix of Russian gas.

Well now he's done it: not content with shutting off supplies to non-ruble-compliant buyers in half a dozen 'lesser' countries, Putin has now cut back Nord Stream 1, Germany's only direct import route from Russia, to 40% of capacity, at exactly the time new German laws require that much-depleted gas storage be steadily filled, in order to be full at the start of winter.  The Germans are running around like headless chickens, busily bringing old lignite burners, FFS, back into the powergen fleet.  There isn't a country in Europe with any coal capacity that isn't actively trying to maximise it, Greta or no Greta.

The MSM in this country hasn't really cottoned on yet: hey, it's a record June heatwave!  Barring some astonishing (and right now, quite unexpected) climbdown by somebody, this makes next winter a perilous time for us all: outright gas shortages in mainland Europe, and unheard-of prices everywhere.  Oil won't be far behind gas and electricity.

What is the UK government doing?  Tinkering with a couple of coal plants.  What it's NOT doing is preparing the populace for what's to come.  Ordinarily, this would be a rather obvious thing to do: at least there's a very genuine externality to blame, however you define it.  But I guess an 'optimist' like Johnson has absolutely no interest in looking forward further than, well, the next shag.  I can't even guess how this is going to play out, socially or politically.

ND