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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Cause and Causality


Friday, May 27, 2022

How ditching green policies cost us money

The Chancellor of the Exchequer may have finally relented and decided to hand out the proceeds of a windfall tax to poorer households but, as the Independent reports, earlier decisions by the Tory Government could have saved us all a lot of money, and done so on an annual basis.

The paper says that a new analysis has found that households could have saved more than £500 a year on energy bills during the cost-of-living crisis if the government had not scrapped a green policy for homes:

UK parliamentary research - seen by The Independent - increased previous estimates to reflect soaring household bills, which are expected to rise even further later this year.

It estimated the missed potential for savings will rise to as high as £525 a year by autumn - up from around £370 a year currently.

The Liberal Democrats - who commissioned the research - said shelving tough environmental rules for new homes was “short-sighted” and ended up “slapping hundreds of pounds” onto bills.

The Zero Carbon Homes policy would have prevented new houses from releasing a net amount of carbon into the atmosphere during day-to-day running.

Among other factors, this would have been achieved through good energy efficiency – considered key to keeping bills, as well as emissions, down.

It was scrapped in 2015 - the year before it was due to kick in.

A subsequent report estimated the zero-carbon homes policy would have saved recently-built houses up to £200 a year on energy bills.

The House of Commons library has been revising these estimates in line with the changing cost of energy bills.

It previously found large family homes built within the last six years would be saving up to £370 a year on bills under the current energy price cap, had they been covered by the scrapped green rules.

When the price cap rises by an expected 42 per cent in October, it said the figure would rise to as high as £525 a year. At minimum, the figure would be £376 a year.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary researchers said terraced homes would be missing out on between £227 and £312 a year of savings on energy bills. For flats, it would be between £142 and £199 a year.

As Wera Hobhouse, the Lib Dem climate change spokesperson, says, the Tories have a “shameful record on energy efficiency”.

“Many are having to choose between heating and eating because of the Conservatives cost of living crisis,” she said. “Scrapping zero carbon homes was a shambolic and short-sighted policy that is hitting people hard.”

Perhaps it is time government planned for the long term instead of always going for the quick fix.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Johnson hangs on in the face of revolting Tories

Despite a damning report from Sue Gray and photos of Boris Johnson at a party during lockdown, the Prime Minister continues to hang onto his job, and senior Tories can still be found to defend him in the media. However, not all Tories are so supportive.

The Mirror reports that three more Tory MPs have broken ranks in the wake of Sue Gray's report. One of them, Conservative MP John Baron, said he did not believe Johnson's claims that he was unaware of the scale of lockdown boozing in Downing Street laid bare in the dossier, and that his repeated assurances in Parliament that there was no rule-breaking is simply not credible:

In a statement on his website, the Basildon and Billericay MP said: "Having always said I would consider all the available evidence before deciding, I'm afraid the Prime Minister no longer enjoys my support - I can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt."

The Brexiteer backbencher tore into the "shameful pattern of misbehaviour during the pandemic as the rest of us kept to the Covid regulations" in No10 and Whitehall, adding: "Those responsible for setting the rules have a special duty to adhere to them."

Conservative David Simmonds, who was elected in the 2019 Tory landslide, also added his voice to those urging Mr Johnson to quit.

The Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner MP, whose constituency borders the PM's Uxbridge seat, said: "It is clear that while the government and our policies enjoy the confidence of the public, the Prime Minister does not. Accordingly, it is time for him to step down."

It comes after York Outer MP Julian Sturdy said the PM should go as Ms Gray's report "clearly shows the Prime Minister has presided over a widespread culture of disregard for the coronavirus regulations".

He added: "While I thought it important to wait for the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police investigation and the publication of the Sue Gray report, I am now unable to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt and feel it is in the public interest for him to resign."

Mr Sturdy's statement landed as the Prime Minister gave a speech to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers on Wednesday night to try win back the trust of his party.

Tories can mount a leadership challenge if 54 MPs send letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady. There is no indication if that is likely to happen, but my bet is that it will not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How long can Johnson survive as Prime MInister?

Things are getting rather hot for Boris Johnson at the moment, and it doesn't look good for the Metropolitan Police and their apparently selective pursuit of the parties in Number Ten either.

The Guardian says that Downing Street officials have started briefing the media anonymously, going so far as alleging partygoers in Downing Street were so cramped together at a leaving do attended by Boris Johnson that some were forced to sit on each other’s laps:

No 10 officials speaking anonymously to BBC Panorama said they sometimes arrived at work to find bins overflowing with empty bottles from parties the night before and security guards who tried to stop one illegal gathering taking place were laughed at.

Their testimony comes as the prime minister braces for fresh embarrassment with the long-awaited publication of a report by the senior civil servant Sue Gray, likely to be completed on Wednesday.

Some of those who worked in Downing Street said social events became routine during the pandemic despite strict laws forbidding indoor and outdoor mixing.

After Johnson was pictured drinking at a leaving do for his then director of communications, Lee Cain, in November 2020 when England was in its second lockdown, one of those who attended told the BBC: “There was about 30 people if not more in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each others laps.”

They described staff in Downing Street reacting with disbelief when Johnson claimed in parliament all rules had been followed when the Partygate scandal first emerged last December. The source recalled: “We were watching it all live and we just sort of looked at each other in disbelief like: why? Why is he denying this?”

They said they had felt like Johnson had given “permission” for the events to take place, adding: “He was there! He may have just been popping through on the way to his flat because that’s what would happen.

“You know, he wasn’t there saying: ‘This shouldn’t be happening!’ He wasn’t saying: ‘Can everyone break up and go home? Can everyone socially distance? Can everyone put masks on?’ No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself!”

Another Downing Street staff member suggested parties were held “every week” in the office, with “wine time Fridays” a regular feature in the press team’s diary at the end of the week.

The source said life appeared to continue as normal during the pandemic in No 10. “We saw it as our own bubble,” they admitted.

Once more the Metropolitian Police have serious questions to answer as to why they seemingly targeted junior staff and left the bosses relatively untouched. But with those staff now talking freely, surely it is only a matter of time before Tory MPs decide that enough is enough, and that Johnson must go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Cost of living crisis gets worse

The Guardian reports that Ofgem is on course to raise the cap on household energy bills to about £2,800 in October.

The paper says that the increase in the cap would push up the average annual bill by more than £800, after the regulator increased it by £693 in April to £1,971. The regulator’s chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, told parliament’s business, energy and industrial strategy committee the figure was provisional but was based on the most accurate current estimate:

He said he would be writing to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on Tuesday afternoon to confirm the soaring cost of wholesale gas, which has risen by as much as 10 times the normal price in recent months, and a rise in electricity costs, were to blame for a 40% increase in the average bill.

Brearley said: “The price changes we have seen in the gas market are genuinely a once-in-a-generation event not seen since the oil crisis of the 1970s.”

Energy prices pushed the consumer prices index (CPI) to 9% in April, fuelling criticism that the government has failed to protect millions of low-income families from making the choice of feeding themselves or heating their homes.

The Resolution Foundation thinktank said raising the energy price cap to around £2,800 in October could mean 9.6 million families across England fall into fuel stress this winter, defined as spending at least a 10th of their total budgets on energy bills alone.

“At the moment 5 million families are considered to be in fuel stress, while across the poorest 30% of the population, up to three-quarters of families could fall into fuel stress,” the thinktank said.

It just gets worse and worse.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Households hit harder by inflation than official statistics show

There is not much good news about at the moment, and this article in the Guardian underlines that trend.

The paper says that the cost of basic goods and services needed by the average two-child household in the UK has risen by £400 a month, according to an analysis that suggests families are experiencing faster inflation than official figures indicate:

Costs for families with two children have risen by an annual rate of 13%, according to the research from Loughborough University, faster than the 9% rate of inflation found in official statistics – itself a 40-year high.

UK households are grappling with a cost-of-living crisis, as prices rise significantly faster than wages, cutting spending power.

Energy price rises have been a particular driver, with the recovery from coronavirus lockdowns followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine driving a global price surge. The UK wholesale natural gas futures price was £148 per therm on Friday, well over three times higher than a year before.

Food prices have also increased by 9.3% over the past year, while childcare costs are up 6.7%. The researchers found that families are spending about an extra £120 per month on energy, £90 more on transport including petrol, and £65 on childcare.

The figures form part of research on the minimum income standard (MIS), an ongoing programme to work out budgets for different household types to match people’s perceptions of a “minimum acceptable standard of living in the UK”. They are widely used by charities and government, and form part of the basis of calculations of a living wage.

Families are rationing showers to once a week, giving up milk in their tea and eating cold meals to avoid using the oven to keep costs down, said Peter Matejic, a deputy director at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a charity that funds the MIS research.

It doesn't get any better, does it?

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Money can't buy me love

In the same week that Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and his wife, Akshata Murty, made the rich list, as the 222nd wealthiest people in the UK, with a combined £730m fortune, the Independent reports that he is not above using other people's money to fix his standing with the electorate.

The paper says that Sunak is spending a further £500,000 of taxpayers’ cash on focus groups and polling, sparking a claim that he is trying to “repair his image”:

Researchers have been hired to carry out two focus groups and one national online poll each week until February 2023 – taking the total outlay over two years to more than £1.35m, Labour has said.

Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said the chancellor had shifted from testing public opinion about the Covid pandemic to making such spending “a permanent fixture”.

The new contracts were awarded after Mr Sunak “told the British people he has no money to ease the cost of living crisis and that cutting their energy bills would be ‘silly’,” she alleged.

“The government apparently has half a million to spend on spin doctors while Jacob Rees-Mogg is threatening to axe thousands of civil service jobs in the name of cost saving,” Ms Rayner said.

“At the start of the pandemic, the Treasury justified their spending on focus groups and polls as an emergency measure to test the impact of different policy options. But now this is little more than a taxpayer-funded vanity exercise for a chancellor desperate to repair his image.”

There was controversy when the first contract, worth £81,600, was handed to a Tory-run PR firm called Hanbury Strategy, founded by David Cameron’s former director of strategy.

The government said the purpose was “to inform immediate policy-making decisions and communications”, after Covid struck in 2020.

Two further contracts worth £205,680 and £552,862 were given to Hanbury in August and December 2020, again to test public opinion on the Treasury’s response to the continuing crisis.

But a new £500,000 contract with Deltapoll, described as being for the “provision of public opinion focus groups and online polling”, makes no mention of the pandemic, Labour pointed out.

Perhaps Sunak should take a lesson from Paul McCartney and his lyric 'money can't buy me love'. The sooner the better.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The cost of living crisis and food prices

There has been a lot of publicity of the impact of the cost of living crisis on energy and fuel costs but, as the Guardian reports, there is also an impact on basic food costs.

The paper says that a Which? analysis has found that cereal, mushrooms and cheese among the items to have risen the most in cost, with some grocery prices rising by as much as twenty per cent:

Which? said the items that had recorded the biggest price rises included a 500g box of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut corn flakes cereal, which had gone up by 21.4% at Tesco, Asda’s own-label closed cup mushrooms (250g) which were up by the same percentage and Cathedral City extra mature cheddar (350g) which rose by 21.1% at Ocado.

The consumer group said it had examples of shrinkflation – where products were smaller but selling for the same price – and that between December 2021 and February this year the availability of some value ranges had been more limited than previously.

These ranges recorded the lowest inflation overall, with prices increasing by just 0.2%, while standard ranges rose by 2.8% and own-label premium ranges were up by 3.2%.

Across the 20 categories of groceries Which? looked at, fizzy drinks had the biggest average price rises, at 5.9%, followed by butters and spreads, at 4.9%.

On Wednesday, the Office for National Statistics reported food and drink prices were up by an average of 6% year on year, but some everyday products, including milk and pasta, had increased by more than 10%. Its figures, which cover the year to April, suggest many of the items Which? reviewed will be even more expensive now.

Sue Davies, the Which? head of food policy and consumer rights, said “eye-watering” price rises were being exacerbated by other factors to put “huge pressure” on household shopping budgets.

“During an unrelenting cost of living crisis, consumers should be able to easily choose the best value product for them without worrying about shrinkflation or whether their local store stocks budget ranges.”

The causes of these price rises are many, but Brexit may well be one of them, and it is almost certain that if the UK Government provoke a trade war of the Norther Ireland protocol, then things will get worse.

Friday, May 20, 2022

International repercussions for Truss's rejection of the Northern Ireland protocol

As predicted, the legislation proposed by the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, is already making waves abroad. The Guardian reports that the US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has warned that unilateral UK legislation affecting the Northern Ireland protocol could endanger British prospects for a free trade deal with the US.

The paper says that Pelosi’s bluntly worded intervention came two days after Truss, confirmed that the government was planning to table legislation that would nullify parts of the protocol by exempting some goods moving between Great Britain and Ireland from EU customs checks:

Pelosi made clear that she viewed the protocol as essential to maintaining the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement which minimised border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Northern Ireland protocol was the outcome of negotiations with the EU on how to keep the frictionless border between the Irelands and maintain EU customs boundaries after Brexit.

“As I have stated in my conversations with the prime minister, the foreign secretary and members of the House of Commons, if the United Kingdom chooses to undermine the Good Friday accords, the Congress cannot and will not support a bilateral free trade agreement with the United Kingdom,” the Speaker said in a written statement. The EU has already warned of a potential trade war if the UK moves ahead with its legislation.

“It is deeply concerning that the United Kingdom now seeks to unilaterally discard the Northern Ireland protocol, which preserves the important progress and stability forged by the accords. It continues to enjoy strong bipartisan and bicameral support in the United States Congress,” Pelosi added.

The warning follows a visit to Washington by the prime minister’s newly appointed special envoy for the Northern Ireland protocol in the US, Conor Burns, to explain the UK position to the Biden administration and to Congress, which is to blame the EU for inflexibility.

US officials were irritated however that Burns, having emphasised his close personal relationship with Boris Johnson, had not warned them that Johnson was about to visit Northern Ireland. Burns assured them that no decisions had been made on whether to pursue new legislation, days before Truss made her announcement.

“Respectful of the will of the British people and of Brexit, I urge constructive, collaborative and good-faith negotiations to implement an agreement that upholds peace,” Pelosi wrote on Thursday evening. “The children of Northern Ireland, who have never known the bloody conflict and do not want to go back, deserve a future free of the violence where all may reach their fulfillment.”

The big question of course, is whether this government really cares that their single-minded pursuit of legislation to appease a small minority of little Englanders, isolationists and their rich backers is going to wreck businesses across the UK, while making the cost of living crisis worse for millions of people?

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Why Derry Girls should be compulsory viewing for all politicians

I haven't had a chance to catch up with the final one hour Derry Girls special yet, but perusing Twitter, I see that it finished on a note of hope, as the characters go to vote in favour of the Good Friday agreement.

For all the grandstanding by unionist politicians, it is easy to forget that when that agreement was signed in 1998, it was subject to a referendum on both sides of the border. Northern Ireland voted in favour by 71.1% to 28.9%. The Republic of Ireland was even more emphatic, with 94.39% agreeing to its terms.

Derry Girls is both funny and bitter-sweet. It captures perfectly the horror and the tragedy of the 1990s in Northern Ireland, together with the fortitude of ordinary people, as they somehow got on with their lives amongst the bloodshed, the intimidation and the hatred.

Nobody wants to go back to that, and yet the almost casual rejection of the EU by the British people, in another referendum, threatens that peace process. The hope encapsulated in the line; 'What if no-one else has ro die', cannot be discarded so easily.

The fact is that now we have left the EU, arrangements have to be put in place to protect the Good Friday Agreement, to protect that hard-won peace. 

As Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organisation says in this Guardian article, the UK has to accept that a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is inevitable, if the measures put in place to stop the fighting in 1998 are to endure.

We cannot allow selfish unionist politicians and self-interested little Englander Tory Ministers to wreck all that has been achieved. They should be made to sit down in front of that Derry Girls special and made to watch it over and over again, until the point is driven home.

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