Blog Archives

COVID-19 bulletin 11: in future, rely on fossil-fuelled imports or reorient agriculture?

Some shortening of global supply chains is inevitable . . . the pandemic has exposed just how far even the richest nations are from strategic self-sufficiency (associate editor, FT).

Certain vested interests are increasingly un-nerved by the Government’s acknowledgement of the crucial role played by food producers

As the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) notes: post-COVID-19, politicians have learnt to celebrate ‘more than four million hidden heroes’ who work in Britain’s farm‑to-fork supply chain (but not yet to insist that they receive a fair price for their heroism, we add). There is a growing recognition in political circles that food security requires a return to post-war levels of production. 

Processors, export/importers and commodity speculators call to arms . . .

The FDF said – in a letter co-signed by 30 trade bodies this week – that ministers must fight to keep goods moving around the world after the pandemic has shown how essential global supply chains are for feeding consumers. On 18th March it launched a survey (above), hoping to gain support for its cause.

In a Telegraph article FDF warns that long supply chains must continue, stressing that ‘free trade’ is critical to economic recovery – aka their profits? 

They write: “The British food and drink industry is an international success story. The country exports more than £23 billion worth of high-quality products each year”. This ‘success’ depends on exporting British produce and importing not only tropical fruits but beef, lamb and apples, easily available here – see The Great Food Swap, Lucas, (research: Hines, Hurd, Jones). And who profits from this polluting activity? Certainly not the average British farmer.

The alternative: more local, accountable and inclusive

As huge numbers of small suppliers are currently left stranded by the closure of local cafes, hotels and restaurants and vulnerable households can’t even get onto the telephone or internet queues for supermarket deliveries, Alan Simpson (right) – in a recent paper – notes that we grow only half of our own food needs.

“Internationally, buffer stocks of food are getting caught up in siege mentalities. Domestic needs will come before international trade . . . It won’t stop there. Floods and drought across Europe and beyond will cause mayhem with global food supply . . . food security is not going to be delivered by any compact between government, the army and the big supermarkets. The alternative needs to be more local, accountable and inclusive”.

William Sitwells (British) sheep farmer friend seethed

“Freezing lamb, putting it on a ship and sending it on a 12,000-mile journey to a country that produces the best lamb in the world is simply ridiculous . . . Supermarkets would retort that they stock the best cuts, when in season – which suggests there is not enough British lamb currently available”.

Not so, Sitwell points out: “Breeds such as the Dorset, for example, can lamb in November, but a lack of grass in winter makes the meat more expensive as farmers have to pay for feed”. Supermarkets have failed to invest in farmers rearing these types of animals in favour of cheaper meat from, say, New Zealand, causing a vicious circle: less British lamb available, so demand remains low and prices stay high.

Arch-exponent Helena Norberg-Hodge (left) addresses the issue of local, accountable food production and distribution in the latest episode of Russell Brand’s podcast, ‘Under the Skin 

Pre-COVID-19, Pantheon Economics recorded that world trade had already fallen “sharply,” dropping 1.4% in the year to June 2019 (text & photo: Business Insider). Arjun Kapur, New York Investment strategist, asserts in a letter to the FT’s editor that “2020 will go down as the year of ‘deglobalisation’ “.

He suggests, “Company leaders and world leaders would be wise to ditch their reliance on vulnerable supply chains in favour of more resilient, self-sufficient means of delivering health, economic, and business outcomes for their constituents and shareholders. The ship of globalisation is sailing away”.




Presenting today: cross-party UK Future Generations Act to transform hearts, minds and policy-making

Today, the FT reports that MP Caroline Lucas – a powerful, long-term advocate for reducing trade ‘swaps’, just defence, a Green New Deal and a healthy environment – will present a cross-party case for a UK Future Generations Act to transform how we think, plan and budget by embedding sustainability at the heart of policymaking.

This follows and complements Lord Bird’s Future Generations Bill, which offers “the UK’s opportunity to systematically address these issues”. It passed its second reading in the Lords on 13 March and now moves to the committee stage

SUMMARY: A Bill to make provision for requiring public bodies to act in pursuit of the environmental, social, economic and cultural well-being of the United Kingdom in a way that accords with the Future Generations principle; to require public bodies to establish and meet well-being objectives and report on these and their actions; to require public bodies to publish Future Generations impact assessments and account for preventative spending; to establish a Commissioner for Future Generations for the United Kingdom to advise, assist and oversee public bodies in doing things in accordance with this Act; to provide for the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Future Generations; and for connected purposes

The FT also reproduces a letter written by the cross-bench peer, (below, the founder of the Big Issue) and signed by many others from all parties: The complete list may be read here.

The following text was reproduced in the FT and on the Big issue’s website.

Yuval Harari is right to ask us to plan for the long-term as we think about what kind of planet we will inhabit after COVID-19 (The world after coronavirus, Life & Arts, FT Weekend, 21 March). The pandemic requires immediate global action, and governments are now responding with emergency measures to cope during this escalating crisis.

Crucial though these measures are, we must not lose sight of addressing the longer-term risks – the climate emergency, unchecked technological change and future pandemics – which Toby Ord, in his new book The Precipice, tells us add up to a one in six chance that human life won’t see the century out.

Above: snapshot of the final paragraphs.









Corbyn’s proposals: the Murdoch version – or the FT account?


FT: Jeremy Corbyn set out proposals in a letter to the leaders of other opposition parties and senior backbench MPs to form a temporary government which would request an extension to Article 50 in an effort to avoid a no-deal Brexit. 

Sun (‘demanding’ and ‘begging’) Jeremy Corbyn has demanded rebel MPs make him caretaker PM as his price to stop Boris Johnson’s No Deal Brexit. He said he will only strike if they promise to give up on their plot to install a Caroline Lucas-style national unity government and hand him the No10 keys. In return, he would beg the EU to delay Brexit yet again and promise to hold a swift election.

FT: in the ensuing general election, Labour would stand on a platform of holding a second referendum on the terms of leaving the EU, including an option to remain in the bloc.

Sun: Green MP Caroline Lucas was also critical, and called for a new Brexit referendum.

FT: No reference

Sun: Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson mocked Mr Corbyn’s plan as “a nonsense”.

FT: Ms Swinson said: “This letter is just more red lines that are about him and his position and is not a serious attempt to find the right solution and build a consensus to stop a no-deal Brexit.”

Sun: The SNP’s Ian Blackford chucked cold water on his plot, for now.

FT: Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s leader in Westminster, welcomed Mr Corbyn’s proposal and said the party would support any no-confidence motion table aimed at bringing down Mr Johnson’s government. “I will be pleased to meet with the Labour leader and others at the earliest opportunity to work together,” he said.

FT: MP Liz Saville Roberts (left), the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, also welcomed Mr Corbyn’s plan and said “the crisis we find ourselves in goes beyond personalities”.






Conservative, Labour & Greens to serve on EJC

On Tuesday, the Institute for Public Policy Research launches its Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) and people are coming together across Conservative, Labour and Green parties to serve on it – leading figures from business, academia, civil society, trade unions, youth and climate activism.

Ed Miliband, Labour MP for Doncaster North and a former leader of the Labour party; Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion and Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP for South Thanet, have written about this and many readers’ comments are well worth reading. Important points made are summarised below

Too often the issue of climate change seems marginal to the public’s concerns, when it is in fact central.

The task is to ally the issue of climate change with the economic and social transformation that our country needs.

This will be done by committing to a Green New Deal (GND), with an unprecedented mobilisation and deployment of resources to tackle the accelerating climate crisis and transform our economy and society for all. Read more on the Green New Deal website.

Its aims are to:

  • mobilise a carbon army of workers to retrofit and insulate homes, cutting bills, reducing emissions and making people’s lives better
  • move to sustainable forms of transport and zero-carbon vehicles as quickly as possible, saving thousands of lives from air pollution
  • end the opposition to onshore wind power and position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for renewable manufacturing
  • protect and restore threatened habitats and
  • secure major transitions in agriculture and diets that are essential if we are to meet our obligations.


People have been asking how we can revive communities that have been left out of prosperity. They ask whether they and their children will be able to get work and also what the quality of that work will be and what skills will be needed. ECJ believes GND has the potential to do this.

The areas of policy mentioned above answer the immediate economic concerns of people for jobs and hope. Green jobs must be secure and decently paid, with a central role for trade unions in a just transition for all workers and communities affected.

The commission will aim to help the UK to take a lead, believing that there is economic and societal advantage in doing so. An increasing number of people, young and old, see that the way we run our economy is damaging our climate, our environment and our society, but that, crucially, it is within our power to change it for the better. And change it we must.







Fracking – 1: will government listen to corporate friendly MPs or to research evidence?

 1. Advocate MP Peter Lilley

MP Peter Lilley regularly makes the case for fracking – and was once again interviewed on Radio 4 today. Hansard records that he expressed gratitude for the reassurance given by John Hayes, when Minister of State for Energy, that in the US experience, “so far as we know there has been no confirmed instance of any person being poisoned by water contamination or of buildings being damaged by earth tremors as a result of fracking.”

Vested interest

tehys petroleum logoMr Lilley is currently Vice Chairman and Senior Independent Non-Executive Director at Tethys Petroleum, sitting on all its committees. For this position he has received $400,000 worth of share options, in addition to regular payments – over £23,000 from January to June this year for 12 working days.

As MP Caroline Lucas, describing him as ‘a senior oil industry figure and well-known climate sceptic’ said: “Lilley’s position as a oil executive means that he is likely to be far more concerned with the short-term profits of the dinosaur polluting fossil fuel barons than tackling the huge threat posed by climate change – or recognising the opportunities of switching to a green economy.”

Latest news: Conservative MP Tim Yeo, who chairs the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, is alleged to have used his position to help a private company influence Parliament, secretly filmed by the Sunday Times investigators.


2. Gwen Harrison: working for a transition towards an environmentally sustainable future.

Gwen is an environmental consultant who recently made her case with clarity and force in the Financial Times, (Factors to consider before you invest in shale gas). After reading its recent articles on fracking, she presented three important issues which had been largely overlooked:

First, methane leakage and groundwater contamination. Whatever fracking companies tell us, anyone in the gas industry knows that well-integrity failure is a fact of life. This is particularly true when you subject your well to sustained explosions (fracking), then leave your cement-filled hole marinating in a cocktail of aggressive chemicals. If just a fraction of the anticipated tens of thousands of wells fail, it doesn’t take a clairvoyant to foretell investor gloom in the form of delays, clean-up costs (if clean-up is possible) and tighter regulation.

Second, climate change. Sceptics have done a splendid job persuading Joe Public that the 97% of climate scientists believing in man-made climate change are wrong. Nevertheless, organisations that, until recently, would not have deigned to mention climate change, are now popping up everywhere, warning us to ignore it at our peril; PwC, the International Energy Agency – they’re all at it. The tide of public opinion is turning and, when it does, the government must turn with it, leaving the gas industry and its investors high and dry.

Third, of course, public opposition, the true extent of which is severely underestimated. Locals have already repeatedly thwarted Cuadrilla Resources’ adventures in Lancashire in the UK, and that’s before anything much has happened; Cuadrilla has drilled just four wells, and fracked one. It proposes 800 more in Lancashire alone.

Your article “UK shale Eldorado – just off the M62” (Companies, June 3) quotes Andrew Austin, IGas chief, as suggesting northwest Britain could hold enough gas to rival America’s richest shale plays. Even in the US, opposition has led to fracking bans. To think it could be developed on anything approaching the same scale in the UK, where a more environmentally aware public has a head-start, and with a countryside so full of people, is absurd.

Simply chucking a few pounds at the natives won’t cut it – apart from anything else, it’ll take some sweetener to compensate for the likely drop in local house prices.

I, for one, would not want to be the investor sinking millions into gas that may never see the light of day.


Gwen recommends the 38degrees petitions

1. to stop Centrica investing in fracking in Lancashire:

2. to demand that communities be given the power to block fracking projects:


Next: mainstream research evidence supporting the case against fracking



Bad decisions by government – 33: defended in 1993 & reversed but misdirected in 2013

On Wednesday the FT reported that the governor of the Bank of England wanted to inject more money into the economy and that the BoE has so far bought £375bn-worth of ‘gilts’ – gilt-edged securities – mainly held by insurance companies, banks and pension funds.

The Treasury spent many years abruptly dismissing any increase in government issued money as inflationary – sending its juniors to monitor the seminal parliamentary meetings sponsored by MP Austin Mitchell and organised by Sabine McNeill (Forum for Stable Currencies).  At one of these the writer sat with a very sceptical young investment banker who afterwards admitted he was won over by a presentation by James Robertson.

QE?  Sterling would collapse!

Below can be seen the now-sidelined argument that this would create inflation and sterling would collapse, committed to paper by Anthony Nelson, then Economic Secretary to the Treasury in John Major’s Government, who became Minister of State at the Treasury, Minister for Trade and Industry, before passing through the revolving door to become Vice Chairman of Citigroup.



Earlier this month, the voice of sanity, MP Caroline Lucas, wrote:

caroline lucasThis week, the Bank of England is expected to announce a new batch of quantitative easing to the tune of £50bn or more. A new report from the Green New Deal Group and Southampton University economics professor Richard Werner, who coined the term quantitative easing, is calling for such cash to be injected into green investment to support badly needed renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Rather than handing the money over to the banks, who then sit on it, green QE would put money into the wider economy – creating thousands of new jobs, improving energy security and tackling climate change at the same time.

In other words, as MP Austin Mitchell’s 2008 EDM also advocated, use this money to create real work in the real economy – the unproductive financial institutions can do without it!


A new year wish for our malign corporate sponsored plutocracy to wither and be replaced by true democracy

john cryer mp smAt present, as MP John Cryer explained:

“There’s a far too close relationship between the corporate world, lobbying, the city, big financial interests, big business and the heart of government.

It’s an access and an influence that isn’t available to resident associations, trade unions.

Ordinary citizens don’t have that sort of access . . .”


alt logoCampaign group ALT adds: “Right now lobbying happens in secret: we don’t know who is being paid to influence our government, its policies, our laws, and how public money is spent, whether it’s the private healthcare lobby pushing for the current NHS reforms; or banks lobbying against reform of the financial system; or the construction industry wanting to get their hands on greenbelt land, the activities of lobbyists affect our lives in countless ways”.

A step forward? Jim Pickard, political correspondent of the Financial Times, reports that a new regime monitored by a compulsory register for lobbyists will be introduced within a few weeks. But lobbying – and political influence bought by donations to political parties – are not the only problems.

The revolving door

caatFor years CAAT has diligently recorded interchange of employees between government and the arms industry, known as the revolving door, drawing on the website of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA). See its latest findings here.

Lucrative employment offers

There is a half-way version of this – a foot in both doors – when large corporations offer directorships and other salaried positions to senior civil servants, politicians and their family members, while still in post.

The taxpayer pays corporate staff to work in government – standard practice

There is evidence of this influence in other sectors – most obviously in those of health and biotechnology. Today a Shirley reader adds news of the latest concern in the energy industry.

caroline lucas -(damian carrington2Damian Carrington (opposite) reports that MP Caroline Lucas and others made Freedom of Information requests which revealed that 23 employees from companies including British Gas and npower are working at the Department of Energy and, in most cases, are being paid by the government. Oil companies such as Shell and Conoco Phillips also have staff inside the department, and civil servants have travelled in the opposite direction to work for the companies. Government comment: this is standard practice . . . self regulation ensures no conflict of interest . . .

Joss Garman, political director of Greenpeace, says that corporations making huge profits from the fossil fuels have “a clear financial interest in putting their people into key positions where they can exert a malign influence that runs counter to the public interest.”

Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Close the Revolving Door Act of 2010 to end lobbyist abuses, and get Congress back on track to move America forward. It was not enacted, but we can still hope that John Cryer, Caroline Lucas or some other honest parliamentarian will gather sufficient support for a similar bill to be passed in this country.




Bad decisions by government – 22: penalising savers, who vote!

The £275bn created by quantitative easing rebuilt banks’ balance sheets and funded commodity speculation, instead of being used for constructive purposes as advocated by Professor Richard Werner and Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in a recent post.

Another adverse consequence was highlighted yesterday, when the Financial Times reported that more than a million savers face further cuts to their pension income, following this week’s decision by the Bank of England to resume its “quantitative easing” [QE] programme.

Advisers warned that by driving up the price of the government bonds issued, the Bank would depress their yields – which determine how much income can be generated from a pension fund. Financial services group Saga estimates that since QE started in March 2009, the income paid by pension annuities has fallen by a quarter.

It would be socially and economically beneficial to ensure that interest on savings never falls below the inflation rate  and that pension funds and other savings are used to build a modern, green economy and bring a fair return.

Bad decisions by government – 21: £275bn created by quantitative easing rebuilt banks’ balance sheets and funded commodity speculation

Professor Richard Werner advocates an economically, socially and environmentally beneficial use of quantitative easing 

As the news breaks that the Bank of England is to extend its quantitative easing by  £50bn this year to buy government-issued bonds, Professor Richard Werner, Director of the Centre for Banking, Finance and Sustainable Development at the University of Southampton, advocates a better use for the money.

Economist Richard Werner, who proposed the term “quantitative easing” in Japan in the 1990s, and Caroline Lucas MP, of the Green New Deal Group, are calling for a £70 billion programme of “Green Quantitative Easing” in order to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and set the country on course for a transition to a genuinely green economy. In a report launched today, Professor Werner makes the case that Green QE can reach parts of the economy that traditional QE has failed to do, making a real difference in terms of jobs and the environment. 

 He said that the £200bn of QE1 announced in 2009 and the £75bn of QE2 largely ended up with the banks in the futile hope that it would result in a substantial increase in UK lending to business. Instead it was used to rebuild their balance sheets and invest in commodity speculation: 

“To ensure that this does not happen again, we need a different kind of QE, to help the wider economy directly and to implement some badly needed green projects that would enhance the sustainability of the economy and improve the environment—as well as creating thousands of new jobs.” 

The Green New Deal group has called for Green QE to initially spend up to £20 billion on fitting free solar PV for the occupants of the roughly 3 million south facing roofs, best suited to capture the maximum amount of energy. Based on last year’s figures when around 20,000 installation jobs were created putting PV on 150,000 dwellings, a million home a year programme would eventually create 140,000 jobs. If that were to be extended to all the potential 9 million homes that could benefit from PV installation at a cost of up to £55 billion, then the employment growth would be much larger still. The households involved would save up to £250 per annum in reduced electricity bills. 

A further £16 billion of Green QE could be spent kick-starting the Government’s Green Deal energy efficiency programme for homes. The Government expects this to support at least 65,000 jobs in insulation and construction by 2015. Local authorities, many of whom are already involved in planning to make tens of thousands more local homes energy efficient, could access a QE Green Deal fund to initially finance such work. 

Professor Richard Werner concluded:

“These are exceptional times and they call for exceptional action from the Bank of England.