Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 68: How’s Brexit Going?

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IT HAS NOW been more than three years since the United Kingdom formally left the European Union. Since then, the UK, and the world, has gone through a pandemic that has caused enormous economic and political upheaval.

In this podcast, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins take stock of the situation.

What have been the advantages of Brexit so far? Being outside the EU’s procurement programme led to a far swifter rollout of the vaccine, which inevitably saved many lives and allowed society to return to a larger degree of normality far more quickly than it otherwise would.

Beyond that, why is our political establishment being so slow to take advantage of the freedoms and flexibility Brexit allows? Who are Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt actually working for?

It appears as though the price to be paid for a broadly-favourable Brexit deal was throwing Northern Ireland under a bus. Can the Northern Ireland Protocol be made to work?

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and the iTunes app.

Written by Marcus Stead

February 16, 2023 at 2:39 am

The Real Ukraine

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AT WHAT POINT did the mainstream media stop treating Ukraine as the most corrupt nation in Europe, with a political system where some very nasty Nazi-sympathising elements have significant political sway?

The BBC’s Newsnight has never really recovered from Jeremy Paxman’s departure and is pretty much unwatchable nowadays, but eight years ago the programme did make this excellent short film about the links between the Ukrainian government and neo-Nazis.

At some point in the run-up to Vladimir Putin’s invasion, almost all mainstream media outlets started reporting on Ukraine as though it was a saintly country that could do no wrong.

Phrases like ‘Azov Battalion’ and ‘Right Sector’ are completely missing from news coverage of Ukraine.

Deviation from this line is rare, so I am pleased to be able to share this short article from Christopher Miller of the Financial Times with a wider audience. It’s several days old so has no ‘news value’, but issues like this matter.

Yes, Putin is a bully and a tyrant. But the truth about this is far more complex than we are being told.

Written by Marcus Stead

January 31, 2023 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Politics

NEW PODCAST: Twenty Minute Topic Episode 67: Britain’s Energy Crisis

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In this specially-extended Christmas edition of Twenty Minute Topic, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins look into Britain’s energy crisis.

We’re all spending a lot more than we did this time last year on energy bills, and Marcus and Greg explain this situation was entirely avoidable. It came about because British governments of all colours have made the country increasingly dependant on foreign energy sources and market forces over many years, all in the name of combatting climate change.

The poorest members of society are being hit the hardest, but it goes beyond that. Millions of people who go out to work for a modest income and have £100 or £150 left at the end of each month to treat their families are seeing all that money swallowed up by high energy bills and soaring inflation. This has consequences for restaurants, theatres, cinemas and family-owned cafes.

Why did the government get it so wrong, and who is REALLY pulling the strings?

Later in the podcast, with Christmas upon us, and with millions of people feeling the pinch, Marcus and Greg share their advice on how to have a very pleasant, memorable Christmas without spending a fortune.

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and the iTunes app.

Written by Marcus Stead

December 24, 2022 at 4:56 am

Christmas in Britain – where people celebrate a festival they don’t understand at the wrong time

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TODAY IS THE First Sunday of Advent, though you’d never know it from the lack of attention it’s given in the mainstream media.

I haven’t spotted a single programme on any of the main TV channels to mark the occasion, and BBC radio long ago pushed almost all of its Christian programming to the margins of the schedules, usually when most people are still in bed.

We’ve all heard it said that ‘Christmas has become too commercialised’. That has become a cliched thing to say, as well as a tedious phone-in topic on those BBC local radio stations that are set for major cuts in the months ahead. It’s up there as a phone-in topic with ‘what’s your favourite biscuit?’ and ‘how bad is the dog poo in your area?’

A more original, and perhaps more accurate description of the modern British Christmas came in a poster I saw doing the rounds on social media a few years ago, where it was described as ‘Christmas – where people celebrate a festival they don’t understand at the wrong time.’

That sounds about right. But it wasn’t always like this, and other countries are far better at marking the season appropriately.

First of all, let’s look at how the season unfolds:

  • Today, Sunday, 27 November, is the First Sunday of Advent. This always falls four Sundays before Christmas Day. Advent is supposed to be an austere time of preparation and charity, and is not a time of celebration.
  • Christmas itself begins as the light fades on Christmas Eve. This is the BEGINNING of Christmas. It DOES NOT end once Christmas Day is over. It ends following the Feast of the Epiphany.
  • Boxing Day is the Feast of St Stephen, also a day of celebration.
  • 27 December is the Feast of St John the Evangelist, roughly marking the mid-winter.
  • 28 December is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, not a day for celebration, where we remember the massacre of young children in Bethlehem on the orders of King Herod. In the modern context, it is a chance for us to reflect on the disregard so many Western societies have for the lives of unborn children.
  • New Year’s Day marks the Circumcision of Christ.
  • The Feast of the Epiphany falls on 6 January, where we celebrate the visit of the Magi to Jesus Christ (we do not know how many of them there were, but they brought with them three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh).

Many people in modern Britain treat the Advent season as a long Christmas. I prefer not to really acknowledge the arrival of Christmas until Christmas Eve, which vastly improves it for me.

Yes, the shops start displaying their Christmas stock from September, and Christmas lights are switched on in shopping centres from mid-November, but this is ultimately a ploy to get people to spend money.

Back in 2014, I posted this blog article where I reflected on what used to happen every Christmas morning at the church I attended in the mid-late 2000s near my former home. It’s worth repeating here:

Years ago, I attended a church where every Christmas morning the priest went through a routine at Mass that has stayed with me ever since.

It was the same every single year. He would begin his sermon by inviting all the children to sit in a semi-circle at the front. Then he would ask them what presents they’d received for Christmas. Excited hands shot up and the answers were much as you’d expect: games consoles, footballs, dolls houses and so on.

Next he would ask them what presents they had last Christmas. No excited hands shot up this time. A small number, maybe 10% of those assembled, cautiously raised their hands and could just about answer.

Then he would ask them what they received two Christmases ago. Not one hand went up. Nobody had a clue. Then he would turn to the adults and ask them the same question. In a congregation of around 300 people, not one individual could remember.

Now it’s your turn. What presents did YOU receive two Christmases ago? Can you really remember what you got last Christmas? There may be the occasional reader of this blog who received an engagement ring from their partner from the top of the Empire State Building, but for the most part it’s long forgotten.

This year, a great deal of media attention has been drawn to the phenomena of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Manic Monday’. I first became aware of the former around a decade ago from America, where apparently it crept in during the late 1990s, but until now was unfamiliar with it in a British context. I can honestly say I was completely unaware of ‘Manic Monday’ in any sense until this year.

Those crazed scenes of stampedes of people  charging through supermarket doors before they’ve had a chance to open properly and those arguments between customers over who put their hand on the last cut price 42” LED TV first have become extremely ugly, unhealthy aspects of Christmas.

Whether you’re a child or an adult, ask yourself how much the presents will matter to you next month, let alone by next Christmas. In reality, people are sucked in by cleverly-pitched marketing campaigns and alliterative tabloid headlines. They are told that aspiring to own that TV or that computer game will make them happy and their life complete.

The truth is that excessive consumerism offers us no such thing. The more you have, the more you want. What you currently have will become the norm, and you will want more. This leads to neither happiness nor contentment long-term. In fact, the novelty will wear off in days or weeks, months at the absolute most.

Think back to your old childhood Christmases. Most people, including those youngish like myself, can remember a time before Black Friday and Manic Monday, when there was very little hype until well into December, and shops weren’t afraid of putting up Nativity scenes in their windows – the official excuse for not doing it is that it’ll offend people of other faiths. The reality is that it’s generally the aggressive secularists and radical leftists who dislike it the most.

Can you remember many (or even any) of your presents from those Christmases? Probably not. What you are more likely to remember, especially if you were fortunate enough to have a happy childhood, are family gatherings, nice meals, sitting in front of a warm fire watching TV or playing games together.

If you consider yourself a Christian, you’ll want to remind yourself every year of the Christmas story – of the baby Jesus born in a stable to give hope to a troubled world. But even if you’re not, it’s time to go back to basics, to a Christmas of families, long days spent with people who won’t be around forever, children appreciating the magic of the season.

These are the things you’ll cherish in your hearts in years to come. The other stuff, the forced jollity, the Black Fridays, the Manic Mondays, the big-screen TVs and games consoles that seemed so important at the time will all be long forgotten.

I wrote those words in 2014, but they’re every bit as true now, particularly in this age of high inflation and soaring energy bills.

Nativity Scene
Nativity scenes, once a familiar sight in shopping centres and department stores, are now seldom seen in Britain

At a push, your young children will be able to remember their main presents from last Christmas, but the rest, which seemed so important to be bought and wrapped at the time, has now been forgotten. It was all forgotten within weeks, or months at the most. As the story above demonstrates, even the main presents aren’t remembered all that well a year later.

A prospect of a simpler Christmas is something to be welcomed in this time where money is tight. Yes, it’s true to say that the last two Christmases have been far from normal due to the pandemic. Christmas 2020 was held in lockdown conditions, where we effectively had to stay within our ‘family bubble’. Christmas 2021 was somewhat less restrictive, though still far from normal. There were limited social gatherings, and while I was able to attend Midnight Mass, we were asked to wear face coverings when not in our places and there was no communal carol singing.

While Covid is still very much with us (I know several people who have been unwell in recent weeks), we will be free to socialise and mix as we’d wish this year.

But that’s not to say that this Christmas will be ‘normal’. It’s not only the poorest in society who are affected by the current economic situation. Savings are being wiped out by inflation (if interest rates are lower than the rate of inflation, your savings are losing value). The millions of people who have maybe £150 left over every month for treats are seeing that money wiped out by rising prices in the supermarkets and soaring energy costs (an entirely avoidable crisis caused by the government closing down – and blowing up – perfectly good coal-fired power stations, and dismantling gas storage facilities in the name of ‘climate change’ dogma).

If you are tempted to spend more money than you have in the name of giving your family an enjoyable Christmas, just ask yourself how much any of this will matter come mid-January. Do you really want to risk hefty credit card bills coming through the post a few weeks after the decorations have come down? It’s your love and warmth that will be remembered most of all when looking back on this Christmas.

I don’t think I was ever a particularly big fan of forced jollity or organised happiness, but my sense of disliking it has heightened as I’ve got older.

True happiness is spontaneous, and comes in short bursts, often unexpectedly. Contentment is a more realistic aim for living daily life.

Trying to appease ‘jolly types’ is a part of Christmas those of us who don’t fall into that category find difficult. They feed off the energy of others, yet they can be very draining company, though expect everyone to conform to their plans.

We try very hard to keep the peace with such people, but I do ask that those ‘jolly types’ do please read and try to understand this: Not everybody is like you. Some people have good reasons for not enjoying Christmas, and others just prefer to spend the season quietly.

There are many reasons why people might not enjoy Christmas – family bereavements, separation, estrangement, not having access to their children, bad childhood memories (very often linked to alcoholic family members).

People go to great lengths to try and keep ‘jolly types’ happy before and during Christmas, but in turn, they ought to respect people who don’t have the inclination to join in.

It’s also important to understand that we live in an era where stepfamilies are the norm rather than the exception. Half of 16-year-olds do not have a father living at home with them. That’s an astonishing statement, but it’s true.  

With that in mind, it’s very, very hard to keep everybody happy, particularly in terms of where they spend Christmas Day. A greater understanding of the fact that Christmas isn’t a single day, rather a season of 12 days, would help avoid many family arguments.

There lies one of the big problems with the modern British Christmas. What lies beyond Christmas Day is flat disappointment. If you’re lucky, you will have given and received a few presents, and again, if you’re lucky, you will have had an enjoyable family meal without any difficulties. But then what?

For weeks, if not months, every sense has been stirred to expect something marvellous, but what follows is flat disappointment as the country goes into ‘zombie mode’ for a week as we ‘celebrate’ Heathmas, that long, empty holiday instigated by former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath which saw New Year’s Day become a bank holiday from 1974.

Proof that the shops don’t really care much for the true meaning of Christmas can be found in the fact that many have taken down their decorations by the time Christmas actually arrives, and during Heathmas the branding is all about the sales (which usually aren’t particularly generous nowadays).

The town centre festive lights continue to glow once those inside the shops have been taken down for Heathmas, but the days are grey, short and damp. There’s work to be done, but staff levels in many places are low, nobody seems sure what day of the week it is, and the pace of life seems sluggish for nearly two weeks after Christmas Day.

The evenings of Heathmas are long and dark, and it’s around this time that I have a habit of standing on the balcony of my flat with its spectacular views of South Wales and across to Somerset, and wonder where we will all be twelve months from now. This week may feel much the same as last week did in your life, but if you look back five years, you will very likely see that a huge amount has changed. For better and for worse, life does not stand still. The life you led even ten years ago is gone, never to return.

New Year’s Eve arrives exactly a week after Christmas Eve, but it completely fails to recapture its warmth and spirit. The Scots have their own historic reasons for wanting to celebrate the New Year, but south of the border, it feels somewhat contrived and wasn’t a big deal in the pre-Heath years. Those who are most keen to eradicate Britain’s Christian culture and heritage seem the most keen on celebrating the New Year, and that’s not a coincidence (the Soviet government was also big on New Year celebrations).

The Epiphany is not marked at all in modern Britain, except in churches, around the time that the country awakens from the zombie-like state it’s been in through Heathmas.

It doesn’t have to be this way, indeed, in many Christian countries, Christmas is very different. In Spain and Italy, it has an altogether different tone: The build-up to Christmas really begins on 8 December with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is a public holiday. This is the point where Christmas stock starts to appear in the shops, and decorations and lights are put up.

Christmas Eve is the time for a large family meal, after which those who are inclined to do so go to Midnight Mass.

Christmas Day is essentially a religious public holiday with a laid-back feel where people attend church and have another family meal. Children may receive a small gift from Santa, but this isn’t the main present-giving day.

St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) is also a significant public holiday. In Italy, Christmas Day is a ‘stay-at-home’ day, whereas on St Stephen’s Day, people meet with family and friends in public places and the streets are bustling. It’s traditional for people to visit the nativity scenes in local churches, where they make a small donation.

An unusual quirk is the Feast of the Holy Innocents in Spain. From a religious point of view, it is a day of solemnity and not a celebration, but in Spain, it has a long tradition of being a day where people play practical jokes on one another, much like the British April Fools Day, but also with a strong element of gathering together to eat with family and friends.

New Year’s Eve has a longer sense of tradition in Italy and Spain than in England and Wales. The evening normally begins with a family meal, before people go out to celebrate into the night in town squares, and the partying goes well into the early hours.

The Epiphany is a huge event in both Italy and Spain. In Italy, on the eve of the Epiphany, it is traditional for many cities to celebrate with a bonfire in the town square.

There are lots of wonderful regional traditions in Italy to mark the Epiphany. This is when the children receive their main presents from La Befana, , a kindly witch riding a broomstick.  For naughty children she leaves only a lump of coal. 

La Befana
La Befana

According to legend, the Magi asked La Befana for directions to Bethlehem in order to find the baby Jesus to bring him their gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. 

Being a cranky old lady, she refused to help, but soon after they left, she regretted her harshness and set off to find the infant herself, bringing with her an assortment of sweets she had been baking.    Sadly, La Befana couldn’t find the baby, but being the sort who never gives up, still to this day she flies around at Christmastime looking through windows and down chimneys leaving gifts for all children, just in case one of them happens to be that special infant.

Florence and other cities host elaborate parades led by elegantly costumed men on horseback representing Three Magi. A live nativity, presepi viventi, with real people dressed as the Christ Child, Mary, Joseph that includes actual farm animals is set up in Piazza Duomo.

The Marche city of Urbania, thought to be the home of La Befana, hosts the annual National Befana Festival, where where upwards of 50,000 attendees watch parades and fireworks and witness La Befana “fly” down the town’s main bell tower. 

Venice hosts a yearly Regata delle Befane, regatta of the witches, on the Grand Canal. Participants from retired gondoliers to rowing club members, all dressed as La Befana, race their gondolas to the Rialto Bridge, where a huge stocking is hung.

The race festivities include live music and volunteers who hand out hot chocolate, spiced wine and cake to the spectators.

In Spain, Epiphany Eve is a special day where TV shows the Magi Kings arriving on the shore by boat. Later in the day, there are huge Epiphany Parades in towns and cities where the Magi come through the streets on horseback or floats, throwing sweets into the crowd.

Spain Epiphany Parade
An Epiphany Parade in Spain

Overnight, children place straw or grain in their shoes as food for the king’s horses. These are left on balconies and refilled at night by parents with cookies and gifts, much like the stocking at the end of the bed at Christmas.  King Melchior represents Europe, King Caspar comes from Asia and King Balthazar is supposed to be of African origin. Children in Spain write letters to the “kings” and post them in special post boxes in department stores.

Epiphany Day itself is a public holiday, where children open the presents left by the kings, and adults exchange gifts with one another, and the kings are seen visiting hospitals and other community venues.

This all sounds like good fun, doesn’t it? There’s ‘modern Britain’, where we have months of commercialism, followed by that mix of joy and deep thought that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day brings, and then a long, dull anticlimax, where few understand or celebrate the feasts that follow in the days after.

Or there’s the Italian and Spanish way, where Christmas really consists of a series of celebrations over several weeks in December and January, each feast having its own special meaning, with lots of time made for faith, family and friends.

I know which I prefer.

Written by Marcus Stead

November 27, 2022 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Comment, Consumer, Opinion

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 66: Truss and Sunak – What Next for Britain?

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WHAT ON EARTH is going on with British politics right now? Liz Truss lasted 44 days as Prime Minister, during which time her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, delivered a mini-Budget, which Ms Truss approved of…and then she sacked him for doing what she asked him to do!

Confused? How about this – a governing party with a majority of about 80 seats was struggling to get the legislation Liz Truss wanted through the House of Commons.

So now, here we are, Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister. Unlike Liz Truss, Mr Sunak was a Brexiteer in the 2016 referendum, and the markets have reacted well to him becoming Prime Minister. Should we take comfort in the grown-ups being put back in charge after the Truss debacle? Or should we be wary? Mr Sunak has already put a block on future fracking projects, and he’s committed to the appeasing the climate change cult with absurd ‘net zero’ targets, much like Boris Johnson was.

Liz Truss
Liz Truss
Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

As for the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, this is a man who during the David Cameron years was in charge of the rollout of city TV channels – the business model was flawed from day one, lots of them have pretty much closed, and none have made much of an impact.

During during his years as England’s Health Secretary, Mr Hunt did little to endear himself to the medical profession. As Foreign Secretary, he shamefully supported Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen – an ongoing seven-year conflict that the BBC doesn’t bother to tell us about. Mr Hunt actively continued to support and endorse arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Fills you with confidence, doesn’t it? Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins try to make sense of it all.

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and the iTunes app.

Written by Marcus Stead

November 6, 2022 at 3:03 am

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Politics

Marcus Stead discussing snooker on Talk TV 02 October 2022

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Marcus Stead on Talk TV with Jonny Gould

On the evening of Sunday 02 October 2022, I appeared on Talk TV’s Sunday Night Club with Jonny Gould to discuss the ongoing British Open snooker final, and to assess the state of the professional game.

Written by Marcus Stead

October 31, 2022 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Consumer, Opinion, Sport

NEW PODCAST: A Tribute to Her Majesty

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A Tribute to Her Majesty

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II

For more than 70 years, the Queen was our country’s Head of State, and she was also Head of the Commonwealth, a body of nations that clearly meant a huge amount to her. 

In this podcast, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins look back on the Queen’s reign, and assess what sort of a King Charles III will be. 

You don’t have to be a Royalist to have a deep respect for the life the Queen led. It was a life of duty and service. 

We live in an age where politicians frequently say and do inappropriate things – maybe it was always thus.

But for the last seventy years, the Queen has been the one person in public life we could always trust to behave appropriately, and say the right things. 

Guided by her Christian faith and sense of duty, Her Majesty set an example that can and should live on. 

We should be grateful that just three months ago, we as a nation, and as a Commonwealth, indeed as a world, had the opportunity to tell Her Majesty just how much we appreciated her lifetime of service. 

So much has changed in three months. We have a different Prime Minister, and a different Monarch. But we’re also going to have some fun.

The Queen had a tremendous sense of humour and mischief, and Greg is going to tell us about the time HE experienced it first-hand.

Written by Marcus Stead

September 18, 2022 at 9:25 pm

The energy crisis – terminology explained

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ON THE DAY when the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, is set to announce a wide-ranging package to help with the energy crisis, it’s worth taking a moment to cut through the jargon.

There are two key reasons why our bills are going up so much:

  1. Successive governments of all colours have dogmatically followed ‘climate change’ targets, based on wobbly science.
  2. Successive governments of all colours have been too cowardly to make the necessary long-term investments to secure Britain’s energy independence.

Both of these realities have left Britain dangerously exposed to global energy market fluctuations.

Furthermore, the mainstream media makes little effort to explain:

  1. What the term ‘energy price cap’ really means.
  2. The reasons WHY energy is so much more expensive now than it was even a year ago.

What is the ‘energy price cap’?

The energy price cap is the maximum amount a utility company can charge an average customer per year for the amount of electricity and gas they use, but customers who use more than average will still pay more. 

The cap, set by the regulator Ofgem, only applies to customers who are on a standard variable tariff, which is usually the energy provider’s default and most expensive option. 

The rate is reviewed every six months and the spring cap, announced on 3 February, saw a 54% increase as the figure rose from £1,277 to £1,971 for an average usage household, which took effect from April.

In May, the then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that all UK households are to receive a grant that will reduce energy bills by £400.

Over the course of six months from October, direct debit and credit customers will have the money credited to their accounts, and those with pre-payment meters will have the money applied to their meter or paid via a voucher. However, this now looks woefully inadequate when we consider the scale of the price rises ahead.

On 24 August, Ofgem announced that the energy price cap would rise to £3,549, taking effect from next month, marking an 80% increase on the February figure.

The new Prime Minister is thought to be planning to freeze household bills at around the £2,500 mark, £500 higher than current levels but more than £1,000 below next month’s energy price cap.

An announcement of help for business customers struggling with soaring bills which are not covered by the domestic energy price cap is also set to be made this week.

The plan is unlikely to be paid for through general taxation, as Ms Truss campaigned for the leadership on a platform of radical tax cuts, meaning it is likely to be funded through increased borrowing.

The overall emergency package to help households and businesses is set to cost more than £100 billion, substantially more than the £70 billion the government spent on furlough payments during the pandemic.

How did the crisis occur?

On a typical day, around 50% of the UK’s energy needs are met through gas. About half of the UK’s gas comes from the North Sea, a third is sourced from Norway, and the rest is made up of imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported to the UK by sea from countries such as Qatar and the USA.

Last winter saw volatility in the global energy markets as demand increased with the easing of pandemic restrictions.

The conflict in Ukraine led to further surges in global gas prices. Many European countries were heavily-reliant on Russian imports of gas, and while the UK only imported a tiny percentage of its gas from Russia, demand by other countries for gas from alternative sources has led to a surge in global gas markets.

The UK has become much less self-sufficient in meeting its energy needs in recent years. As recently as 2014, 30% of the UK’s energy was supplied by coal, but in the past year that figure has dropped to just 1.7%, with only three coal-fired power stations remaining in the country, all of which are due to close by 2024.

The phasing out of coal a consequence of successive governments dogmatically following policies based on the very wobbly theory of man-made climate change. Most have not only been closed down, they have been blown up, making them impossible to reopen in a crisis such as the one we’re experiencing now.

Didcot Power Station
Didcot Power Station, which was closed down and blown up

Even if the theory was correct (it isn’t), and even if the UK gave up using electricity completely, it would make no difference whatsoever to CO2 emissions due to the likes of China and India continuing to build coal-fired power stations.

To put things into perspective, there are 1,110 operational coal plants in mainland China right now. Yep, you read that correctly. It is planning on building a further 43.

At its peak in 1997, nuclear accounted for 26% of the nation’s energy mix, but that figure has now dropped to around 18%.

Since 1997, 11 of the country’s 16 nuclear power stations have closed, and while four new nuclear power stations are being developed, only one is currently under construction and none are expected to begin generation until at least 2026.

Last Thursday, in one of his final acts as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson promised £700 million of government funding for the new Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk, but it will be up to his successor to provide the rest of the funding to push the project through in a deal with French-owned utility firm EDF.

The government previously said the £20 billion power plant would take just under a decade to build and could provide energy for six million homes.

In his speech, Mr Johnson praised the history of nuclear discoveries in the UK, but asked “what happened to us?” and claimed British nuclear energy was “in paralysis”.

Mr Johnson criticised the “short termism” that has led to no nuclear power plants being built in the UK for nearly 30 years (though construction of Hinkley Point C in Somerset began in 2018 and may start generating by 2026), while France had built four in the same timeframe.

The outgoing Prime Minister criticised past leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, saying it had been a “chronic case of politicians not being able to see beyond the political cycle” by not investing in nuclear – though he made no reference to his own party’s time in office, which consists of 17 of the last 30 years.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned fracking. You can read more on that in this article from February.

Written by Marcus Stead

September 8, 2022 at 3:41 am

Posted in Business, Consumer, Politics

Have I Got News For You’s spiteful jibes are a symptom of the left-wing bias that runs through the BBC’s very DNA

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THERE IS NOTHING NEW in claims that the BBC is institutionally biased towards the left. The claims have been around since the 1960s when Hugh Greene was Director General.

During his tenure, he gave the green light to revolutionary satire series That Was The Week That Was (TW3) and other programmes that took a less-than-deferential tone towards the establishment.

We now know that in private, Greene not only encouraged programme makers to reflect the revolutionary social changes in the 1960s, and saw the BBC as a campaigning vehicle for those changes, showing scant regard for impartiality and balance. He said: “We are going to use this organisation to change the way the rest of the country thinks. We want them to see stuff they don’t like. We don’t really care if they complain.”

Yes, at the time of TW3’s launch in 1962, there was a need for broadcasting institutions to have a less deferential relationship with the establishment. Sir Robin Day’s no-nonsense yet good-humoured interviewing of leading politicians, which continued well into the 1990s, is perhaps the best example of ‘change for the better’.

The late Christopher Booker, who was part of the writing team at TW3, yet no ally of the BBC, wrote about how the BBC subtly imposed its world view on its audience many years later. In 2011, he wrote:

We were masters of the techniques of promoting our point of view under the cloak of impartiality. The simplest was to hold a discussion between a fluent and persuasive proponent of the view you favoured, and a humourless bigot representing the other side.

With a big story, like shale gas for example, you would choose the aspect where your case was strongest: the dangers of subsidence and water pollution, say, rather than the transformation of Britain’s energy supplies and the abandonment of wind farms and nuclear power stations.

And you could have a ‘balanced’ summary with the view you favoured coming last: not “the opposition claim that this will just make the rich richer, but the government point out that it will create 10,000 new jobs” but “the government claim it will create 10,000 new jobs, but the opposition point out that it will just make the rich richer.”

It is the last thought that stays in the mind. It is curiously satisfying to find all these techniques still being
regularly used forty seven years after I left the BBC.

Christopher Booker
Christopher Booker

Andrew Marr, a man of the left, and somebody clearly very bright and well-informed, worked for the BBC in various guises as its Political Editor, a documentary maker and latterly on his own Sunday morning political discussion programme, summed up the BBC’s institutional bias at a seminar in 2006, when he said:

“The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities, and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.

Former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis got rather carried way during her recent comments at the MacTaggart Lecture.

Ms Maitlis was rebuked because of the little homily she delivered about Dominic Cummings at the start of an episode of Newsnight. For it, she was gently rebuked, nothing more.

If a similar homily had been delivered by, say, Andrew Neil about the absurdities of ‘Project Fear’ in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum, he would have been dealt with far more severely.

Andrew Marr, John Humphrys, the late Peter Sissons and former Director General Mark Thompson are all examples of people who have worked within the BBC over many years, yet have the decency to acknowledge that a left-wing bias runs through its very DNA.

Ms Maitlis’s claims about Conservative Party influence at the BBC are absurd, and she appears to have got carried away with her on sense of self-importance as the years have gone by.

Emily Maitlis and Peter Mandelson
Emily Maitlis and Peter Mandelson

The big change of recent years is that a generation of producers and senior executives who at least kept up the pretence of impartiality have retired and been replaced by younger people who are far less bothered.

This is reflected by the tone of BBC news bulletins. No longer do they stick to facts and analysis. The BBC has an ‘editorial line’ on most of the major issues of the day: The theory of man-made climate change is treated as an absolute truth, and any unusual weather at home or disaster caused by weather anywhere in the world is used as an excuse for scaremongering stories; Ukrainians are treated as saints and Russians as evil villains, despite the fact that both sides have committed great wrongs in the ongoing, complex conflict; Trade unions are treated as good things and their leaders are portrayed sympathetically; The Conservative government in Westminster is treated as a bad thing and its mistakes are rightly scrutinised, but the SNP’s administration in Holyrood and Welsh Labour’s administration in Cardiff Bay are given a much softer ride, despite both having made equally serious errors during the pandemic; Brexit is portrayed as a bad thing and at the root cause of many of our ills, despite the fact that high inflation, high energy bills and problems with food supplies are a very real problem throughout the EU; Migrants crossing the English Channel illegally are treated as victims fleeing persecution, despite the fact almost all of them are males of military age. The list goes on.

The BBC’s bias is not confined to its news and current affairs coverage. It penetrates the storylines in its dramas, soap operas, lifestyle programmes and even at its generally rather lame attempts at comedy (the BBC has made very, very little that has really made me laugh for at least 20 years).

Among the areas where the BBC’s institutional bias shines through on a weekly basis is on Have I Got News For You, which once had a legitimate claim to be at the cutting edge of satire, but has looked tired, sneering and increasingly spiteful as the years have gone on.

The fact that last Friday’s programme contained vulgarities aimed at Boris Johnson and cruel, personal jibes against Liz Truss shouldn’t come as a surprise. I strongly suspect we haven’t heard the last of it, and current BBC Director General Tim Davie will be in for a rough ride when he appears before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday.

A very large number of the guests who appear on HIGNFY are cut from the same cloth: Oxbridge-educated, middle class, left wing comedians, who have a very similar world view that goes something like: Brexit has been a disaster and people who voted for it were a bit thick, racist or both; unlimited immigration is a good thing and anyone who says otherwise is a racist; abortion is a good thing and anyone who says otherwise hates women; the Royal Family is a bore, outdated and silly; woke causes are always good things; the environmental lobby is a good thing and everything they stand for should be championed, and so on.

Liz Truss is going to have to develop a very thick skin against these comedians and their army of trolls on social media if she is to become an effective and resolute Prime Minister. She ought to focus on the people who gave the Conservatives their vote in 2019, in both traditional and red wall seats, and not place any emphasis on appeasing the comedians of whom the BBC approves.

One of the main problems with these alleged comedians is that I can’t tell, and they probably don’t know themselves where their act ends and their true selves begin. For example, I don’t really trust John O’Farrell’s humour when he wrote many years ago that he’d wished Margaret Thatcher had died in the Brighton Bomb. I don’t think the late Sean Lock was joking with his spiteful jibes about Baroness Thatcher following her death in 2013. Stewart Lee really does seem to believe he is morally-superior to right-wingers and others (including Brexiteers, which come from across the political spectrum), with the tone he takes in his comedy.

Right-wingers don’t tend to talk about their opponents in such spiteful terms. We don’t tend to wish our political opponents dead, in humour or otherwise. There is a mindset among some on the left that they are better and morally-superior to others BECAUSE they are leftists, and they also believe they have a monopoly on kindness and compassion. Their ‘jokes’ and behaviour towards those who take a different view is often anything but kind or compassionate.

HIGNFY was at its peak during its years on BBC Two, when all episodes were hosted by Angus Deayton. Panelists in those years included the likes of satirist John Sessions, who was a eurosceptic and opponent of devolution. He seemed to fall out of favour with the programme’s producers years before his death in 2020; Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn appeared on the programme between 1991-99. He’s still very much alive and well, but hasn’t appeared on there in 23 years, despite being a witty, humourous writer from a right-wing perspective; Conservative-supporting legendary comedian Bob Monkhouse didn’t appear on the programme after 1997, despite the fact he lived until late 2003; Right-wing comedian Lee Hurst hasn’t appeared on the programme since 1995; Of the younger generation, right-winger Geoff Norcott has only appeared on the programme once, in October 2021.

Richard Littlejohn Paul Merton
Richard Littlejohn and Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You in the 1990s

The BBC’s bosses, who live, work, marry (if they believe in marriage) and socialise entirely within their goldfish bowl of likeminded people will struggle to see the bias of HIGNFY, because they seldom encounter people in real life who take differing views.

But it goes beyond HIGNFY. In 2020, researchers found just four out of 364 BBC comedy slots in a month were given to Conservative or pro-Brexit views.

One of the most interesting elements of the attempts to keep studio-based programming going during the lockdowns was just how unfunny a lot of these fashionable left-wing comedians were when they didn’t have an audience of fawning sycophants in front of them. The jokes on HIGNFY and the various Radio Four panel shows fell very flat.

The BBC was a ‘good turn’ that has gone on for too long. It no longer leads the way in very much at all. For foreign news reporting, I turn to Al Jazeera for the most part. For high-brow speech-based radio, Times Radio leads the way. For news talk and discussion, we have Talk TV, GB News and (sometimes) LBC. ITV’s sporting portfolio is now so impressive that it can legitimately claim to be the home of sport on free-to-air TV.

The classic BBC comedies of yesteryear wouldn’t get made nowadays. The Oxbridge leftists in charge wouldn’t dream of allowing somebody like former Head of Comedy Jimmy Gilbert take charge today. Gilbert oversaw the likes of The Frost Report, The Two Ronnies, Last of the Summer Wine and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? among many others.

The idea that a writer from a working-class background like John Sullivan would be allowed to write sitcoms for the modern BBC is unthinkable, despite the fact he gave us Only Fools and Horses, Citizen Smith and Just Good Friends.

John Sullivan
Legendary comedy writer John Sullivan

When was the last time the BBC actually gave us a funny, edgy, slightly naughty sitcom that several generations of the same family can watch together? Nowadays, it would be impossible, as they don’t employ writers who understand how life is for most people in most parts of the country, and besides, every joke would have to pass through several layers of management to censor any offence that might be taken by certain sections of society… but jokes against Christians and Brexiteers are fair game, no matter how cruel or spiteful, because BBC types aren’t keen on them.

In 2022, there is no reason at all why a public broadcaster that is so detached from so much of its audience, and treats their views and attitudes with such contempt, should be funded by a compulsory tax by anyone who wants to watch television.

Written by Marcus Stead

September 5, 2022 at 2:16 am

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Politics

The conflict in Ukraine is dangerous and unpredictable – but does the US and Britain actually WANT peace?

with 2 comments


WHY HAS SO little effort been made by mainstream media outlets to put the ongoing conflict in Ukraine into any kind of wider context?

By watching news bulletins on the BBC or ITV, you would never be aware of realities including that the conflict has been running for the last eight years, or that a US and EU-backed revolution in Ukraine in 2014 saw a lawfully-elected, non-aligned government led by President Viktor Yanukovych overthrown by an unconstitutional pro-NATO regime. A substantial number of those involved could fairly be described as far-right thugs.

The language rights of the predominantly Russian-speaking population in Donbas were signed away at gunpoint in the Ukrainian Parliament. If the Canadian government treated the French-speaking people of Quebec the way the Ukrainian government treats the Russian-speaking people of Eastern Ukraine, there would rightly be international outrage and condemnation. But instead, hardly anyone is even aware of it.

In 2014, those lovely, angelic, saintly, perfect Ukrainians blocked off the water supply to Crimea in a nasty, uncivilised act of spite. How many people are even aware of this?

How many people know that President Volodymyr Zelensky (who I believe to be essentially a decent man), was elected on a mandate to implement the Minsk II Agreement, which would have brought an end to the long conflict.

Minsk II Agreement
The leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine at the February 2015 summit where the Minsk II Agreement was formed

The implementation of Minsk II would’ve given Donbas a substantial degree of autonomy while still being a part of Ukraine. But when President Zelensky tried to do as he promised, he was blocked by parts of his own army, who publicly confronted and humiliated him. At the same time, his neo-Nazi rivals took to the streets to denounce any sort of a deal.

The 2014 Western-backed revolution was the beginning of all the horror. While this does not excuse Vladimir Putin’s vile actions, it goes a long way towards explaining them.

How many people in Britain are even aware of the existence of the Azov Battalion and the Right Sector? How many know that the Azov Battalion proudly wear Nazi SS emblems on their uniforms?

This conflict is long and complex, with serious wrongdoing on both the Ukrainian and Russian sides, and it is absurd to pretend otherwise.

President George HW Bush saw the dangers of an independent Ukraine in his 1991 speech, now often derided as his ‘Chicken Kiev’ speech. Three weeks later, in August 1991, Ukraine declared its independence. In the speech, President Bush said: “Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based on ethnic hatred.”

George HW Bush Kiev
George HW Bush in Kiev in 1991, where he delivered his famous speech

President Bush Snr rightly feared an outbreak of ancient tensions in Ukraine, which had a recent history of deep ethnic passions. He had a point.

During the Clinton administration, the USA backtracked on promises made to Russia at the end of the Cold War about NATO not expanding to the east, which led to great mistrust between the Kremlin and the White House.

The great Cold War diplomat George Kennan (nobody’s idea of a Kremlin apologist) came out of retirement to condemn Bill Clinton’s support for the change of policy. He said: “I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. 

“I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. 

“This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. 

“We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. 

“[NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs. 

“What bothers me is how superficial and ill-informed the whole Senate debate was.

“I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe.

“Don’t people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime.”

George Kennan
George F. Kennan

The 2014 revolution and the failure to implement Minsk II is the root cause of this conflict. But in reality, it is a war between the USA and Russia, being fought on Ukrainian soil. What national interest is there of Britain in prolonging this conflict?

Must Britain yet again be the fifth wheel in America’s cart? How much extra tax must we be willing to pay for it? The knock-on effects, in terms of rising food and energy prices will lead to a grim winter ahead.

Is this a price you are willing to pay to take sides in a complex conflict in which both sides have already committed great wrongs? How does any ‘moral dimension’ tally with Britain turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s aggressions in Yemen?

The word ‘nuclear’ is being banded about far too casually. Yes, it’s easy to see how this war in Ukraine could easily escalate (let us remember that World War I began as a regional conflict).

Those under the age of about 45 (and that includes myself) cannot recall how the nuclear threat was very real until the late 1980s. How many have really given deep thought to what a nuclear attack would entail?

In 1984, the BBC, in conjunction with Western World Television Inc and Australia’s Nine Network produced one of the most powerful and disturbing dramas ever made about the realities of a nuclear attack.

The early phase of the drama centres on an ordinary family in Sheffield, where a couple in their early 20s are expecting a baby. Under the backdrop of this standard family drama are news reports of growing tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union following the latter’s invasion of Iran.

As the situation becomes more ever more serious, panic buying and looting ensues, and the government broadcasts farcically-inadequate public information videos and radio broadcasts about what people should do in the event of a nuclear attack.

And then, the attack happens, and we see the nuclear mushroom crowd above a shopping district in Sheffield. This is where the real horror begins.

The second half of the film focuses on the agonising deaths, the breakdown of law and order, the disease, the inability to grow crops, and a much-reduced population living in barbaric squalor.

Threads was shown on BBC Two in September 1984, and repeated on BBC One in August 1985. No British channel showed it again until a repeat on BBC Four in October 2003. There were two further showings on UKTV Documentary in September 2004 and April 2005. It hasn’t been shown on British TV since.

Threads BBC 1984
A scene from Threads

This bootleg (though rather good quality) copy is available online, and I’d urge everybody to watch it. Yes, elements of it now look rather dated in terms of the computer technology used, and the family relationships and attitudes in the first hour are very much of their time, but the essential truths it shows about the realities of nuclear war are all too real.

At a time when the nuclear threat is at its highest for decades, this is something everybody should watch. Is a peace deal in Ukraine built on an imperfect and messy compromise (like Minsk II) really such a bad idea?

Written by Marcus Stead

September 2, 2022 at 4:36 am

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Politics