Archive for June 2014
FOREIGN policy is, by definition, messy. To be too ethical and moral would result in no oil imports from the Middle East, no gas imports from Russia, and no cheap clothes and electronics from China, not to mention the economic investment they’re giving this country. Yet if we have an ‘anything goes’ policy, we are accused of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and aiding terrorism.
It’s a fine line all world leaders need to tread, and the correct answer is not always obvious. President Obama is cautious in relation to the unfolding chaos in Iraq. He’s a second term President, so doesn’t need to worry about re-election, but at the same time, he knows he leads a country weary of the human and economic cost of military conflict, and, for the time being at least, he has decided against sending the troops in to fight ISIS.
Depending on who you believe, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was about overthrowing Saddam Hussein, an evil dictator who apparently had weapons of mass destruction, or it was about American oil interests in the Middle East.
Oil may or may not have been the agenda, but there is no escaping the importance of oil supplies to the Western world. Or, at least, that used to be the case. By the time President Obama leaves office in early 2017, US oil imports from the Middle East will have reduced to almost nothing as it moves towards oil self-sufficiency, and it already imports absolutely no gas from the region. From the USA’s point of view, energy dependence is becoming less and less of an issue all the time. The two major factors behind it are shale gas ‘fracking’ in the US itself, and oil drilling from within its own borders. If foreign policy is a priority of Obama’s at all, his primary interest is now the Pacific.
In other words, the only questions Obama needs to ask in relation to Iraq and ISIS are political rather than economic. That’s not to say these questions aren’t important. If ISIS were to conquer a large part of Iraq and establish a Taleban-like terror state, that would have serious consequences for the security of the wider region and indeed of the United States itself. Yet at the same time, sending the troops in would result in the bodybags coming home, and would largely scupper the economic recovery. Send the troops in, and this will be inevitable; stay out, and he risks going down in history as the President who sat back and did nothing while Iraq fell into the hands of terrorists.
These are the thoughts that will be going through the minds of Obama and his administration. For the time being at least, Obama has decided that his war-weary nation doesn’t need another conflict, either in terms of economics nor in human life. Oil doesn’t come into it. This is a luxury Obama has due to the energy independence his country will soon enjoy. It’s a very different story here in Britain.
Ours is a country sleepwalking into an energy crisis. Anyone under the age of about 45 will have no meaningful recollection of the regular power cuts of the early 1970s when Edward Heath’s government had to deal with the coal strike, the Arab oil crisis and the consequences of a three-day week.
Those over 45 (and I am still many years away from it) will have no idea what it’s like to have to endure regular power cuts. It’s assumed that with the flicks of switches and the pressing of buttons, all the devices in our homes will work. Actually, regular power cuts now would be far more damaging to our lives than in the early 1970s. Manual typewriters and shop tills have been replaced by electronic versions. Coal fires have been replaced by gas or electric alternatives. Shopping by candlelight before coming home to spend an evening talking and singing around a coal fire with your family would not be possible. The shops would be forced to close and the evenings would be spent shivering in darkness, while the most serious consequences would inevitably be for the elderly and vulnerable. It is perhaps good to remind ourselves that ‘change’ and ‘progress’ are two very different things.
If you’re under 45, you have no comprehension at all of what long, regular power cuts are like. If you’re over 45, it’s worth reflecting on how much more severe the impact would be this time around.
European Union carbon quotas mean that it’s highly likely that Britain will cease to be self-sufficient in electricity generation within ten years. Last year, Didcot ‘A’ power station in Oxfordshire, which had many years of life left in it, was mothballed to fulfil the quota. Meanwhile, our countryside is ruined with useless wind farms, which, combined with solar panels, cannot come close to producing the levels of energy Didcot ‘A’ and other closed stations once did. The fact remains that quite often the sun doesn’t shine and it’s not that windy.
Similarly, and very unlike the United States, we are dithering on shale fracking. Once we look beyond the scaremongering of Caroline Lucas and her allies, it becomes clear that provided sensible safety precautions are taken, those living near fracking sites have nothing to fear. Add into the mix the possibility of Scottish independence and the inevitability that North Sea oil will one day run out, it’s easy to see how Britain is facing an energy crisis.
They say beggars can’t be choosers. We are already seeing this is the case with our economic dependence on China. Just last week, our Queen received Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, even though he was not on a state visit and therefore not entitled to such a meeting. Similarly, do not expect the Dalai Lama to be given a warm welcome at Downing St or Buckingham Palace any time soon. Britain’s subservience to China on economic matters is very real and is here to stay. We are going to have to get used to it. The days of Britain lecturing China on ‘human rights’ are now over as well.
Soon, we will face a similar situation with regards to our energy needs. As we shiver in the cold and dark, our leaders, possibly including Ed Miliband who, as Energy Minister, did much of the damage that led to the shortage, doing deals with Russia and Saudi Arabia. President Putin or his successors would no longer take moralising lectures from Britain about its policy on Ukraine, and we’d just have to shut up about the limb amputating and woman oppressing that goes on in Saudi Arabia. They would sell us their oil and gas, but on their terms, just as the Chinese are currently bailing us out of our economic crisis.
The sad fact is that this coming crisis is entirely avoidable. By withdrawing from the European Union, we would no longer be subject to its absurd carbon quotas, based entirely on dodgy science and the dubious cult of man-made climate change. We could have kept Didcot ‘A’ and other power stations like it open; we could have developed modern, clean, open-cast coal mines, lots of them, in our vast coal fields of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and South Wales; we could have built nuclear power stations whenever and wherever it suited us.
We have chosen the wrong future for ourselves. The question is: do we have the will and courage to reverse it before it’s too late?
The annual Bilderberg conference took place this weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark. A full list of participants is below.
Among those in attendance was the head of MI6, the former director of the NSA, the boss of Google, as well as George Osborne, Ed Balls, Justine Greening and Peter Mandelson. Henry Kissinger was also there at the age of 91. I don’t think he’s missed a single Bilderberg meeting since it was founded.
The BBC and the rest of the mainstream media didn’t mention it at all. I don’t think all these big names gathered to discuss the weather or to look at one another’s holiday snaps.
Here’s the full list:
FRA Castries, Henri de Chairman and CEO, AXA Group
DEU Achleitner, Paul M. Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Deutsche Bank AG
DEU Ackermann, Josef Former CEO, Deutsche Bank AG
GBR Agius, Marcus Non-Executive Chairman, PA Consulting Group
FIN Alahuhta, Matti Member of the Board, KONE; Chairman, Aalto University Foundation
GBR Alexander, Helen Chairman, UBM plc
USA Alexander, Keith B. Former Commander, U.S. Cyber Command; Former Director, National Security Agency
USA Altman, Roger C. Executive Chairman, Evercore
FIN Apunen, Matti Director, Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA
DEU Asmussen, Jörg State Secretary of Labour and Social Affairs
HUN Bajnai, Gordon Former Prime Minister; Party Leader, Together 2014
GBR Balls, Edward M. Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
PRT Balsemão, Francisco Pinto Chairman, Impresa SGPS
FRA Baroin, François Member of Parliament (UMP); Mayor of Troyes
FRA Baverez, Nicolas Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
USA Berggruen, Nicolas Chairman, Berggruen Institute on Governance
ITA Bernabè, Franco Chairman, FB Group SRL
DNK Besenbacher, Flemming Chairman, The Carlsberg Group
NLD Beurden, Ben van CEO, Royal Dutch Shell plc
SWE Bildt, Carl Minister for Foreign Affairs
NOR Brandtzæg, Svein Richard President and CEO, Norsk Hydro ASA
INT Breedlove, Philip M. Supreme Allied Commander Europe
AUT Bronner, Oscar Publisher, Der STANDARD Verlagsgesellschaft m.b.H.
SWE Buskhe, Håkan President and CEO, Saab AB
TUR Çandar, Cengiz Senior Columnist, Al Monitor and Radikal
ESP Cebrián, Juan Luis Executive Chairman, Grupo PRISA
FRA Chalendar, Pierre-André de Chairman and CEO, Saint-Gobain
CAN Clark, W. Edmund Group President and CEO, TD Bank Group
INT Coeuré, Benoît Member of the Executive Board, European Central Bank
IRL Coveney, Simon Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
GBR Cowper-Coles, Sherard Senior Adviser to the Group Chairman and Group CEO, HSBC Holdings plc
BEL Davignon, Etienne Minister of State
USA Donilon, Thomas E. Senior Partner, O’Melveny and Myers; Former U.S. National Security Advisor
DEU Döpfner, Mathias CEO, Axel Springer SE
GBR Dudley, Robert Group Chief Executive, BP plc
FIN Ehrnrooth, Henrik Chairman, Caverion Corporation, Otava and Pöyry PLC
ITA Elkann, John Chairman, Fiat S.p.A.
DEU Enders, Thomas CEO, Airbus Group
DNK Federspiel, Ulrik Executive Vice President, Haldor Topsøe A/S
USA Feldstein, Martin S. Professor of Economics, Harvard University; President Emeritus, NBER
CAN Ferguson, Brian President and CEO, Cenovus Energy Inc.
GBR Flint, Douglas J. Group Chairman, HSBC Holdings plc
ESP García-Margallo, José Manuel Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation
USA Gfoeller, Michael Independent Consultant
TUR Göle, Nilüfer Professor of Sociology, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
USA Greenberg, Evan G. Chairman and CEO, ACE Group
GBR Greening, Justine Secretary of State for International Development
NLD Halberstadt, Victor Professor of Economics, Leiden University
USA Hockfield, Susan President Emerita, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
NOR Høegh, Leif O. Chairman, Höegh Autoliners AS
NOR Høegh, Westye Senior Advisor, Höegh Autoliners AS
USA Hoffman, Reid Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, LinkedIn
CHN Huang, Yiping Professor of Economics, National School of Development, Peking University
USA Jackson, Shirley Ann President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
USA Jacobs, Kenneth M. Chairman and CEO, Lazard
USA Johnson, James A. Chairman, Johnson Capital Partners
USA Karp, Alex CEO, Palantir Technologies
USA Katz, Bruce J. Vice President and Co-Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution
CAN Kenney, Jason T. Minister of Employment and Social Development
GBR Kerr, John Deputy Chairman, Scottish Power
USA Kissinger, Henry A. Chairman, Kissinger Associates, Inc.
USA Kleinfeld, Klaus Chairman and CEO, Alcoa
TUR Koç, Mustafa Chairman, Koç Holding A.S.
DNK Kragh, Steffen President and CEO, Egmont
USA Kravis, Henry R. Co-Chairman and Co-CEO, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
USA Kravis, Marie-Josée Senior Fellow and Vice Chair, Hudson Institute
CHE Kudelski, André Chairman and CEO, Kudelski Group
INT Lagarde, Christine Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
BEL Leysen, Thomas Chairman of the Board of Directors, KBC Group
USA Li, Cheng Director, John L.Thornton China Center,The Brookings Institution
SWE Lifvendahl, Tove Political Editor in Chief, Svenska Dagbladet
CHN Liu, He Minister, Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs
PRT Macedo, Paulo Minister of Health
FRA Macron, Emmanuel Deputy Secretary General of the Presidency
ITA Maggioni, Monica Editor-in-Chief, Rainews24, RAI TV
GBR Mandelson, Peter Chairman, Global Counsel LLP
USA McAfee, Andrew Principal Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PRT Medeiros, Inês de Member of Parliament, Socialist Party
GBR Micklethwait, John Editor-in-Chief, The Economist
GRC Mitsotaki, Alexandra Chair, ActionAid Hellas
ITA Monti, Mario Senator-for-life; President, Bocconi University
USA Mundie, Craig J. Senior Advisor to the CEO, Microsoft Corporation
CAN Munroe-Blum, Heather Professor of Medicine and Principal (President) Emerita, McGill University
USA Murray, Charles A. W.H. Brady Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
NLD Netherlands, H.R.H. Princess Beatrix of the
ESP Nin Génova, Juan María Deputy Chairman and CEO, CaixaBank
FRA Nougayrède, Natalie Director and Executive Editor, Le Monde
DNK Olesen, Søren-Peter Professor; Member of the Board of Directors, The Carlsberg Foundation
FIN Ollila, Jorma Chairman, Royal Dutch Shell, plc; Chairman, Outokumpu Plc
TUR Oran, Umut Deputy Chairman, Republican People’s Party (CHP)
GBR Osborne, George Chancellor of the Exchequer
FRA Pellerin, Fleur State Secretary for Foreign Trade
USA Perle, Richard N. Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
USA Petraeus, David H. Chairman, KKR Global Institute
CAN Poloz, Stephen S. Governor, Bank of Canada
INT Rasmussen, Anders Fogh Secretary General, NATO
DNK Rasmussen, Jørgen Huno Chairman of the Board of Trustees, The Lundbeck Foundation
INT Reding, Viviane Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, European Commission
USA Reed, Kasim Mayor of Atlanta
CAN Reisman, Heather M. Chair and CEO, Indigo Books & Music Inc.
NOR Reiten, Eivind Chairman, Klaveness Marine Holding AS
DEU Röttgen, Norbert Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, German Bundestag
USA Rubin, Robert E. Co-Chair, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Secretary of the Treasury
USA Rumer, Eugene Senior Associate and Director, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
NOR Rynning-Tønnesen, Christian President and CEO, Statkraft AS
NLD Samsom, Diederik M. Parliamentary Leader PvdA (Labour Party)
GBR Sawers, John Chief, Secret Intelligence Service
NLD Scheffer, Paul J. Author; Professor of European Studies, Tilburg University
NLD Schippers, Edith Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport
USA Schmidt, Eric E. Executive Chairman, Google Inc.
AUT Scholten, Rudolf CEO, Oesterreichische Kontrollbank AG
USA Shih, Clara CEO and Founder, Hearsay Social
FIN Siilasmaa, Risto K. Chairman of the Board of Directors and Interim CEO, Nokia Corporation
ESP Spain, H.M. the Queen of
USA Spence, A. Michael Professor of Economics, New York University
FIN Stadigh, Kari President and CEO, Sampo plc
USA Summers, Lawrence H. Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University
IRL Sutherland, Peter D. Chairman, Goldman Sachs International; UN Special Representative for Migration
SWE Svanberg, Carl-Henric Chairman, Volvo AB and BP plc
TUR Taftalı, A. Ümit Member of the Board, Suna and Inan Kiraç Foundation
USA Thiel, Peter A. President, Thiel Capital
DNK Topsøe, Henrik Chairman, Haldor Topsøe A/S
GRC Tsoukalis, Loukas President, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy
NOR Ulltveit-Moe, Jens Founder and CEO, Umoe AS
INT Üzümcü, Ahmet Director-General, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
CHE Vasella, Daniel L. Honorary Chairman, Novartis International
FIN Wahlroos, Björn Chairman, Sampo plc
SWE Wallenberg, Jacob Chairman, Investor AB
SWE Wallenberg, Marcus Chairman of the Board of Directors, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB
USA Warsh, Kevin M. Distinguished Visiting Fellow and Lecturer, Stanford University
GBR Wolf, Martin H. Chief Economics Commentator, The Financial Times
USA Wolfensohn, James D. Chairman and CEO, Wolfensohn and Company
NLD Zalm, Gerrit Chairman of the Managing Board, ABN-AMRO Bank N.V.
GRC Zanias, George Chairman of the Board, National Bank of Greece
USA Zoellick, Robert B. Chairman, Board of International Advisors, The Goldman Sachs Group
And here’s the agenda of what they were apparently going to discuss:
- The key topics for discussion this year include:
- Is the economic recovery sustainable?
- Who will pay for the demographics?
- Does privacy exist?
- How special is the relationship in intelligence sharing?
- Big shifts in technology and jobs
- The future of democracy and the middle class trap
- China’s political and economic outlook
- The new architecture of the Middle East
- What next for Europe?
- Current events
Look, I’m not daft. I knew when I agreed to take part in this programme that it was a bit of a send-up and I’m fine with that, just as a long as some of the very real achievements that have come as a result of my complaining are in there.
I actually quite like the feature – the main picture is brilliant and the speech bubble made me laugh. Most of the write-up is a true account of what’s gone on.
Less understandable is why the reporter, Laura Armstrong, has chosen to lie about certain aspects of it.
The statement underneath the main headline reads: “Marcus moans to council every day for a year.” This lie is then repeated in the opening paragraph.
My telephone interview with Laura, conducted around the middle of last week, lasted about an hour. During that time, we covered a lot of ground: My complaints as a child about children’s TV programmes and the privatisation of children’s music services; My experiences of life as a student in Liverpool, especially the dreadful quality of street lighting in most residential areas; My work as co-ordinator of my local Neighbourhood Watch; The things I’ve done in my career as a journalist; My complaints to all layers of government, and so on.
As an aside, I discovered that Laura, an NCTJ-trained journalist, as am I. We were taught by the same legendary Public Affairs tutor, David Kett, though she obviously didn’t pay much attention in class, because I had to spend a fair amount of time explaining to her where power lies in post-devolution Wales.
Here’s where it gets extraordinary: Following our phone conversation, I had an exchange of emails with Laura where she asked me to clarify how many complaints I’d made to the council. You can read it for yourself by clicking on the three scans below:
There you have it! Lying Laura completely made up the ‘every day for a year stat’. It’s blatantly obvious it’s not true anyway. That screenshot of a map is taken from the FixMyStreet.com website, which is my main means of complaining to the council. That screenshot dates back to June 2009, FOUR MONTHS BEFORE I EVEN MOVED TO THE AREA.
As you’ll see from the email exchange, I counted 72 acknowledgement emails from FixMyStreet.com. If I’ve counted the dots on the map correctly (you have to zoom in to take a proper look), 42 are from the area in the newspaper’s screenshot. The others will mostly come from the area in and around where my elderly grandmother lives on the other side of Cardiff, while the remainder will come from other parts of Cardiff Bay. When asked how many emails I sent between myself and the council, I said more than 100 over a two year period, and that includes letters and phone calls. As you can see, this is well short of the claim that I ‘moaned to the council every day for a year’.
Other less serious untruths in there include:
- I have never reported a ‘stolen bollard’ in my life.
- I do not report something ‘almost every time I leave home’.
- The ‘dead fox’ refers to something that happened at least four years ago, when I lived at my old house. It wasn’t in a garden, it was next to a main road which hundreds of children going to the biggest secondary school in Wales walked past every day.
It’s a shame that Laura has chosen to ruin what should’ve been a fun and interesting feature with these lies.
The irony is that I’ve come full circle with my complaining. The article mentions one of my very first complaints about the privatisation of music lessons in Wales. One of my first letters was to David Hunt, the then-Welsh Secretary. He is now Lord Hunt, and is now chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. He’ll be hearing from me soon.