Tuesday, 16 January 2018

House-training the Labour Party for the 21st Century

The great genius of British society since the demise of Queen Mary 1 has been its ability to tolerate, absorb and generally house-train groups and factions that were ostensibly locked in life-or-death opposition to the establishment - without undue violence.  Since death and destruction in these islands didn't stop in 1558, obviously it isn't difficult to adduce some counter-examples (Civil War and Jacobites heading the list) but I'll stick with my generalisation and point to the significantly greater bloodshed in most other European countries after the mid 16th century.

We'll consider some recent examples later; but first let's briefly consider the reign of Good Queen Bess.  Unlike her sister, who set out to exterminate Protestantism by burning 'heretics' in their hundreds, Elizabeth sought no window into mens' souls and only had Catholics pursued to their deaths if they were actively out to kill her, that is, on account of treason and not religion - a very important distinction.  The Catholic question concerned the obvious civil criminality of seeking the Queen's assassination under a mandate from Rome.   Doctrinally the Church of England was more troubled by puritanism.

In the 19th century, Catholics were re-admitted to the body politic with no particularly baleful consequences that that can be identified today.  Perhaps even more remarkably, one hundred years later the would-be Marxists - including some out-and-out revolutionaries - of the first Parliamentary Labour Party were house-trained (indeed, House-trained) to the point when in 1929 Margaret Bondfield (a relative of mine and one-time firebrand union militant) was mostly concerned about whether or not she should wear a hat when she went to accept her office as Britain's first woman Cabinet minister from the King.  (Her instinct was that she should: but in discussion with the Cabinet Secretary they decided it might get in the way when she knelt to kiss His Majesty's hands ...)

Which brings us to the challenges of the hour, notably militant Islam, and revolutionary Corbyn/McDonnellism.  Defusing the obvious nightmare scenarios in the British Way is a work in progress, and the outcome(s) may fairly be in doubt.  But, not for the first time, I offer you Sadiq Khan as a significant phenomenon - possibly on both counts.

What's he been up to lately?  Here are two interesting straws in the wind.  Firstly, and in the headlines just now, he has responded to the London New Year knifings by announcing a "significant increase" in stop-and-search.  In so doing he is trampling on a lot of left-Labour sensibilities, not to mention going back (again) on a campaign promise.  David Lammy doesn't like this at all, and he won't be alone.  It all confirms Khan as a kneejerk politician in the (in)glorious British tradition.

But there's more, albeit not headlining in quite the same way. 
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Pubs across the capital are often at the heart of our communities or of historic value and should be protected by local authorities in order to protect the capital’s unique character. From historic watering holes to new pop-up breweries, nothing defines the diverse and historic character of the capital better than the Great British Pub. That’s why I’ve set out measures in my draft London Plan to protect pubs against redevelopment, ensure they can co-exist peacefully with nearby residential properties and ensure that councils across the capital recognise their importance to the city’s cultural fabric” ... Sadiq Khan committed to working together with the Campaign for Real Ale ...   (City Hall Press Release)
I put it to you that he didn't need to say all this.  Not every London announcement carries a direct Mayoral quote: he has plenty of deputy mayors to front for initiatives if he doesn't wish to put his personal fingerprints on them. Nope: he's making a point here, and not one that will go down well in every religious quarter.  

The great British genius for sweeping everyone along is still at work.  There is of course, a lot of Momentum moving in a nasty direction.  But who knows: maybe that tide will be turned as well by the time Corbyn kneels to kiss hands.  Continuity Rules ...


Monday, 15 January 2018

Carillion goes under - first reactions

There is plenty elsewhere on the not-so-swift demise of this huge UK corporate that the Government trusted with some very large infrastructure projects.

- The Government awarded them contracts last year because, according to the Govt advisers, not to do so would have sent them under sooner. HELLO!! Does anyone speak capitalism - if a comnpany is rocky, giving them more business creates a bigger hole for you down the road when it collapses. They are called profits warnings for a reason.

- Much criticism there is of outsourcing, but actually I wonder the role here of Government pushing for too harder a bargain and crazy contractors signing up in the belief that somehow they can deliver to the budgets. They can't and instead we have this. There is a lot of this in the building sector at the moment, Mace has seen profits turned into losses, Lang O'Rourke managed to lose £141 million last year. These are private sector companies doing private deals, but the market has really turned against them. Companies and Government want cheap builds and the greedy company directors are either not walking away or are too afraid of foreign competition.

- Brexit does have impacts, falling investment has reduced the number of projects in the UK, with more competition for those that are left on the table (some big ones like Crossrail are ending).

- The Construction industry is a lot less healthy than the markets think, even house building is coming off what have been an amazing run - inflation costs and a slowing housing market are taking the margins right off the sell prices and the land banks were all acquired at market peaks of late.

- Finally, the siren labour call will be for this kind of work to be done direct by the Government, I really don't see how that helps with the price controls or quality control for the government. It will only stop the projects failing, because, umm, the Government can throw more money at it. So trying to move this work into the public sector will simply create a big moral hazard problem.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

It's OK to Love Nigel Farage?

Do you get why?

You see, today, Mr Farage has pulled a complete blinder. Sat around for months on end he has witnessed the remain-led London media-political complex world banging on and on about a second referendum.

Also, defining leave voters as evil, thick, ignorant racists (well, that is the before the watershed version). Hating the world and wishing they could wind the clock back to happier, Cameron-Blair times. Listening to endless Alibhai Brown on screech-repeat.

But also, rather awkwardly in retrospect, declaring Nigel Farage as the devil incarnate and Nazi etc. etc.

And his response; to agree with them. We should have a second referendum.

Of Course!

Now the dilemma, to agree with ignorant, thick, devil incarnate Nazi or to oppose him. To stand  against everything he is as any true Hate not Hope believer simply has to do.

Which today, now means, errr....to argue against a 2nd referendum. Worse, once you consider for about, oh say 9 seconds, what on earth the question on the ballot would actually be given where we are...you realise this is a terrible idea and complete non-starter. Pity to have been pushing it so hard for 18 months then - but can you be seen to agree with Farage?

No, now the only righteous choice is to continue disagreeing with Nigel and declare there is no necessity or capability to hold a second referendum. Mrs May can lead us best to the hoped for remain holy land of leaving the EU in name only.

So, for all his many faults, Mr Farage remains quite capable of showing up time after time how thick and ignorant the metropolitan remain cheerleaders really are.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Battery Mania

Drawing a kindly veil over Mrs M's pathetic attempt to recharge her government, let us pass swiftly on to recharging of a different sort.  It's been brewing for a few years; and now large-scale battery mania has well and truly struck energy markets in the UK and elsewhere.  'Large-scale' applies both to the batteries and mania.  Electric vehicles are an absurdity phenomenon we've discussed before; but it's batteries used on a macro scale that interest us here.

Focussing on the UK: the mania has in large part been driven by the structural evolution of the grid.  The grid has been landed with an ever-more challenging problem of how to sustain our electricity supplies, sandwiched between two unhelpful trends: ever-increasing intermitency from windfarms, distributed generation etc on the one hand, and relenteless closures of reliable coal-fired plants on the other.   Well, the engineers are clever chaps and when money is no object (thank you for the guaranteed rate of return, Minister) there is generally a solution to be found.  We may be grateful, I suppose, that there is a bit of a competitive flavour to the solutions they are deploying: an auction for Capacity Mechanism contracts and a tender process for the plethora of services the Grid buys in to sustain the system.  And to fairly widespread surprise, battery-farms have been among the winners.

Now auctions and tenders are not true markets: there is always a distinct "free-money-on-offer" aspect, and inevitably the Law of Unexpected Consequences cuts in.  Ministers, ever keen to pick winners, had been hoping the winners would be new, ultra-efficient CCGTs (gas-fired turbines), and "demand-side response" (DSR) from large industrial energy users.   They were advised before they started (by myself and others) that what they would actually get was a new industry of less-efficient OCGTs instead - a fairly easy prediction to make when you looked at the numbers.  That's what has happened, to their dismay.  

Even more dismaying - and not widely forseen, though it should have been - was the rash of diesel-farms that also won a lot of the early contracts; a third-world "solution" if ever there was one.  For the future, that's largely been fixed by changing the rules (the usual trick); although the other dirty secret is that the dissappointingly small DSR sector often turns out to be factories that, in order to reduce their load on the grid at peak times, will simply fall back on diesels of their own - not what DSR is meant to be about.  Still, them's the rules.

The final surprise was batteries, the other big winner for capacity- and grid service contracts.  This is less dismaying for Ministers, because (a) everyone knows energy storage will play an ever greater role in any realistic scenario, it's just a question of what and when; and (b) unlike diesel gen-sets pouring out black smoke, batteries aren't a manifest abomination.   They can even be made to sound kinda green (by someone who doesn't know what goes on, out of sight, in the manufacturing process).

However, it wasn't as benign as all that for the Grid, because batteries of today's technology are a fairly suspect long-term source of the flexibility the Grid requires.  They run down in minutes rather than hours; and if hammered, their lifespan is as pathetic as a Mrs May re-shuffle.  We all know this will get better over time (battery performance, that is) but we ain't there quite yet.

So, very sensibly, the Grid has re-specified its requirements more exactly, and the rules have been changed (again) accordingly.  When the next Capacity Auctions take place later this month and in February, the first wave of battery mania should prove to be over; and I'd personally be quite surprised if the prediction of 12 GW by 2021 comes to pass ...

But strange things happen when public money is on offer.  What do all our C@W engineers out there think?


Is May worse than Brown?


  May Brown
  Policies Management Competence
Positives Brexit  
  No Spending Splurge  
  Nationalising Banks  
  No Euro  
Negatives PC drivel like equal pay Mandelson
  Dementia taxes Phone throwing
  Great Crash McBride
  Spending Splurge Non Election
  Selling gold at $300 Walking into Cupboard
  Tax Credits 2017 Election
  Energy Policy screw-ups Reshuffles jokes
  Hinkley point Conference speech
    Dodging Corbyn debates
    2017 Manifesto

Monday, 8 January 2018

Live UK Cabinet re-shuffle!

In a non-exclusive first for C@W we are going to cover the Government re-shuffle as it happens.

However, it seems none of the Foreign Secretary, Chancellor, Home Secretary will change or the Brexit Head - so the response of our man on the scene so far is this....

Updates later...