The impact of upland farming. Part 1 of 4 – economics.

Upland farming has come under attack recently from a number of sources. Criticism is often levelled at hill farmers because they require large public subsidies to keep them going. Grumbling is also directed at hill farmers because they are perceived to be responsible for ‘overgrazing’ and thus denuding the upland landscape of its ability to hold back large quantities of water during periods of heavy rain. This is alleged to cause or exacerbate flooding downstream in urban areas. But the most vocal challenge comes from George Monbiot of The Guardian in his book Feral∗. In this book, George Monbiot explains that our uplands are no longer clad in trees as they were thousands of years ago. No longer  are our rivers and forests teeming with so much fish and game that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were able to pluck it out at will. George mourns the loss of this Pre-Arcadian idyll and so is agitating for our uplands to be afforested with native trees and populated with wolves, lynx and beavers, just as they were two thousand years ago.

However, there are a number of practical, environmental and ethical difficulties with  Monbiot’s vision.

The impact of upland farmers upon their local environs is much more subtle than at first appears. It can be briefly summarised as in Figure 1 below:

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Figure 1Venn diagram of farmers as influencing three aspects of the local area, as well as producing food.

From this, it can be seen that farmers affect economics, culture and the natural environment as well as contributing to the nation’s consumption of food.

This first post in the series will look at the way in which upland farmers affect the economy locally, nationally and internationally.

In brutal economic terms, UK agriculture struggles to produce much more than 0.6% of total UK GDP (World Bank figures 2004 – 2015). The livestock part of this figure is an even smaller share. As we become more numerous, urbanised and affluent, this percentage will inevitably diminish further. Or so it would seem, provided food continues to be considered as a mere commodity which can be purchased elsewhere whenever the need arises. However, in strategic terms, UK agriculture still provides just under 60% of the nation’s food. As our population rises, in common with that in the rest of the world, the cost of imported food will only rise, leaving UK produced food ever more important in terms of cost – especially for the lowest paid in our society.

Because of the low percentage contribution by agriculture to our GDP, there has been a tendency by politicians to dismiss farming and suggest that the 70% of the UK land area which is farmed can simply be turned over to ‘nature conservation’ – a glorified country park if you will – and that farmers become mere providers of ‘environmental goods’. However, the contribution that agriculture makes to the UK economy is a little more subtle than an isolated category on government statistics.

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Figure 2The cone of economic dependency upon livestock farmers.

Figure 2 is a conceptual sketch of the dependency of other parts of the economy upon farmers. For example, food processing dwarfs agricultural output in financial terms, but is  entirely dependent upon agriculture. That is, the value added to food as it leaves the farm gate is considerable by the time it is sold to the consumer. Food processing is the largest part of our manufacturing sector; whilst that in turn is much smaller than the food retailing sector – which is a very large component of our services sector. So it is apparent that the tiny value of livestock (and other farm commodities) as they leave the farm gate  don’t just contribute, but generate a very large part of our overall economy.

In broad terms, that is the view at national level. But farmers should also be looked at in terms of what they contribute to the local economy and how they interact with it:

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Figure 3 An economic matrix generated by the upland farmer. Directions of arrows indicate the direction of travel of money from the farmer outwards.

Whilst this diagram is designed around upland farmers, similar models apply to farmers, whether livestock or arable, in the rest of the country. A Fenland farmer has just as much impact upon the local economy as a Welsh hill farmer. What matters is that the money that originates with the farmer, pushes outwards into the rest of the economy, gathering added value as it goes. Much of this money, and added value, stays within the local economy within a web of interactions which revolve around the services required by the farmer.

As money circulates within the economy, growing with each transaction, that wealth is mostly retained within the local area. Often, the rural uplands are low income and/or deprived areas. Although upland farmers are heavily subsidised, this taxpayers’ money is well spent because it helps communities which would otherwise be considerably more impoverished than they already are. Furthermore, the jobs entailed in the agricultural and related services are all productive and as such are intrinsically satisfying from a n employment and psychological point of view.

The removal of upland farmers (by virtue of closing down their subsidies, by mass afforestation of the uplands, or by other forms of ‘rewilding’) would leave a huge hole in the local economy which would be extremely difficult to plug in any way, other than by greater social security payments. This creates a dependent and severely depressed society and becomes a recipe for a political vacuum. Furthermore, there is a greater risk in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland of calls for further breakup of the UK.

∗ Monbiot G, (2013) Feral: Penguin Books, London.

 

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Obesity and sugar – is Public Health England right to demand a sugar tax? Part 1.

There has been much chuntering (for example here and here) recently about sugar and whether or not it should be taxed. This is because there is a rising and worrying incidence of obesity. Excessive consumption of sugar is blamed for this and there is a powerful school of thought that thinks that taxing sugary drinks will reduce the problem. A report published by Public Health England sets out PHE’s case for taxing sugar on sugary drinks like Coca Cola. It does not provide any scientific evidence for sugar being a principle cause of obesity – it is taken for granted that it does; and then sets out evidence for sugar taxes being effective in reducing consumption. Criticism is also thrown at supermarkets for putting these products on special offers and near the checkouts to encourage impulse buying; and so policies are offered to force supermarkets to reduce this kind of temptation.

This blog attempts a number of exploratory statistics to work towards a testing of the PHE hypothesis that dietary sugar is a cause of increased obesity.

Whilst researching datasets for use in another line of inquiry, I discovered a wonderful dataset, going back to 1974, where food consumption by households is presented as consumption per person per week. This shows food consumed under sufficient categories to cover our food consumption as a nation. The data has been gathered consistently since 1974 and so provides a fairly accurate indicator of our national diet and how this has changed over the last 40 years. Given that seriously obese people were something of a rarity 40 years ago, and now they seem to be commonplace, it would suggest that something is going wrong with our eating habits. Another dataset, this time from Public Health England, which is much shorter and dates only from 2000, is graphed below in Figure 1. It should be noted that the vertical axis starts at 21.2% and so the total rise in incidence of people with a BMI (Body Mass Index) greater than or equal to 30 is about  4.4%:

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Figure 1: Percentage of people with BMI greater or equal to 30, since year 2000 to 2014. Source data – Public Health England

Even though the percentage increase of 4.4% is small, it still seems an inexorable and alarming rise in only 14 years. So there is some justification for the panic amongst public health officials that more more obese people will lead to more type 2 diabetes, heart disease and so on.  Sugar in soft drinks are known to be very high and consumption of these products are increasing, so perhaps PHE has found the culprit and is correct to target them.

However, the Defra family food datasets show up some trends which provoke the curiosity of those of us who are mildly sceptical of claims from a department which has set off a number of wild strategies in the recent past. In fact, the total consumption of many of the broad categories of food has dropped:

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Figure 2: Changes in consumption of main categories of food since 1974. Graph from Defra dataset.

A shorter dataset from 1992 to 2014 is available for three other categories not specifically collected from 1974:

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Figure 3: Changes in consumption of soft drinks, confectionary and alcohol since 1992. Graph derived from Defra dataset.

It can be seen that several large categories of foods which have been variously branded as ‘unhealthy’ by assorted health officials over the years, have declined dramatically – bread, potatoes, table sugar and preserves, meat and dairy produce and so on. These figures are in grams per person per week (I have approximated 1ml of liquid as equivalent to 1g). If there have been so many reductions, then what has happened to the total food consumed?  Figure 4 shows us:

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Figure 4: Total consumption per person per week for all food categories since 1974 and 1992. Graph derived from Defra dataset.

This suggests that for all categories excluding soft drinks, confectionary and alcohol, the national consumption of food has declined by 2,142 g/person/week; from 10,629g in 1974 to 8,487g in 2014. The consumption of soft drinks, confectionary and alcohol has risen slightly by 2,56g from 2,095g in 1992 to 2,351g in 2014. In other words, our total consumption of food has dropped by about 2,000g/person/week. On the face of it, this does not seem to indicate a nation which is overeating huge quantities of food. In fact this suggests that we are eating about 18% less food than we were in 1974. As this is not a picture of a nation of gluttons, there is obviously something happening to our national diet which is affecting some of us. Sugar in drinks may be a big part of the answer, and may suggest that PHE is justified in conducting their ‘war against sugar’. We need to take a closer look at the numbers for each main category of food:

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Figure 5: Milk and cheese consumption

 

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Figure 6: Fats and Sugar

 

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Figure 7: Bread, cakes, biscuits and cereals.

 

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Figure 8: Meat, meat products and fish.

 

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Figure 9: Potatoes, vegetables and fruit.

 

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Figure 10: Beverages and other food and drink.

 

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Figure 11: Soft drinks, confectionary and alcoholic drinks

 

It should be noted that the above graphs mostly show only very small variations from one year to the next and that the trends are fairly easy to discern. This suggests that the data is collected consistently from one year to the next and that the errors in sampling are fairly small. However, there are one or two big fluctuations in some of the time series. For example, in Figure 9, there is a large uptick in 2007/2008 in the curve for fresh and processed fruit. This is most likely because of a government drive to get people to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables (the ‘five-a-day’ campaign). Like wise, in Figure 10, there is another sharp fluctuation in ‘other food and drink’ which I cannot explain at the moment. In Figure 9, there was a very pronounced decrease in the amount of potatoes consumed in 1976. This was because of a very bad harvest in 1975 and prices rising by three or four times in a few months. Questions were asked and statements made in the House of Commons and this Hansard entry shows the exchange. The data shows a sharp reduction in consumption and this coincides with my own memory of that time.

Overall, the trend has been steadily downwards for many traditionally British foods such as dairy produce and fresh red meat, potatoes and so on which have halved in many cases. There have been commendable rises in the amount of fruit that we eat and a very slight decrease in the amount of vegetables. Bread, cakes, flour and biscuits have all decreased. Fats and table sugar, jams and honey have plummeted. Sugar, in particular, has dropped to about 25% of its 1974 amount. Conversely there has been a small but discernible increase in the amount of fish consumed. Looking at these items, we should have a lot of very happy dieticians and public health officers because they have, at some stage or another, encouraged us to eat less of the things that have dropped in consumption and more of the ‘healthy’ things like fish and fruit. However, despite the nation dutifully heeding the strictures of these officials, we are getting much, much fatter as a nation.

The clue must therefore rest in the things which have risen in consumption. These are the categories ‘Other cereals and cereal products’, ‘Non carcass meat and meat products’ and ‘Other food and drink’. (Figures 7, 8 and 10 respectively). Analysis of these three headings will proceed in Part 2 of this series of blogs.

The main target of PHE’s ire is that of sugary drinks, i.e. ‘soft drinks’. Data for this category only started to be gathered in 1992, but is shown in Figure 11. Here the curve for soft drinks is a curve which peaks at 2003/4 and then declines to not far above its 1992 level. The 2014 consumption was only 98ml above the 1992 consumption, which corresponds to a 6.7% increase. However, the peak in 2003/4 was 485ml above 1992 figures, corresponding to an increase of 33.5% above the 1992 figure. So there has been a considerable drop in consumption of sugary drinks since 2003/4. On its own, this consumption behaviour should raise question marks about the link between sugar and obesity. When it is added to the Figure 1 curve which shows a steady increase from 2000 to 2014 in obesity, rather than a peak (assuming obesity is also a transient characteristic), then we would expect a flattening out of the obesity curve, at the very least.

The reduction of consumption of ‘sugars and preserves’ and the increase and then decline of consumption of ‘soft drinks’ begins to make the position of PHE on sugar look open to question.

Part 2 of this series will drill down deeper into the data and examine statistical links between the various categories of food consumption. Part 3 will look at the sugar content of each category of food and will balance that against actual consumption.

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Populism, the Hate/Victim dialectic and why the Left need to insult us.

Even the BBC are at it now. Populism is the new racism. It is the new buzzword. Everything we don’t like is now ‘populist’. David Cameron is blaming his own political demise on populism and everyone else thinks its just fine as an explanation for the electorate not doing as they were told. So now 17.4 million voters who have almost got used to being described as thick, racist, uneducated, old, poor, white etc are now having to cope with a new insult whose repeated misuse implies that we are all just a bloodthirsty rabble. I explained here why populism is almost exactly synonymous with democracy and not something altogether nastier. But a further question is begged: Why do the Left have to resort to continual insults in order to further their political aims? The answer to this problem goes back into the depths of Marxist history and runs something like the following:

The Marxist theory of dialectics is a bastardised re-statement of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’, but applied to economics and politics. According to the theory of Marxist dialectics, there is an original state – a Thesis – and its opposite, the Antithesis. When reaction between these two states is completed, a higher state is reached – that of Synthesis. As humanity and politics evolves, this Synthesis then becomes a new Thesis which finds its match in a new Antithesis, and so on. So, according to Marxist theory, the story goes something like this: a socio-economic condition, say Feudalism (the Thesis), is matched by the conditions of the feudal slaves and serfs (the Antithesis). When revolution occurred between these two as it did during the French Revolution, then the resultant Synthesis produced Capitalism. Likewise, when Capitalism becomes the new thesis, it is matched by the Proletarian antithesis. When revolution between these two occurs, we get Communism. Communism is deemed to be the highest state of political and economic achievement and further evolution cannot occur.

Note that there some common characteristics pertaining at each stage of this progression. The first is that there must be revolution (preferably a bloody one) between the thesis and antithesis before the synthesis can be achieved. The second is the unstated, but implied need for an educated middle class elite to act as the guiding hand to direct the antithesis stage into the synthesis. It must be remembered that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and all the rest were highly educated middle class intellectuals. A third common factor is that in each case, society must be divided into two antagonistic groupings in order that the revolution is effected. The final characteristic is that the thesis in each case becomes an object of opprobrium and hatred, whilst the antithesis deserves our sympathy. In other words, society is divided along the lines dictated by the élite.

It is easier to think of the two groups in a divided society divided in this way as a ‘Hate’ group and a ‘Victim’ group – instead of ‘Thesis’ and ‘Antithesis’. The labelling of each group is essential in order to differentiate ‘Them’ from ‘Us’. For example, in the turmoil of revolutionary Russia in August 1919, there were leftist political groupings such  as the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, as well as the Bolsheviks of Lenin. In an article in Pravda, Lenin accused these groups of being “accomplices and foot-servants of the Whites, the landlords and the capitalists”[1]. Note that two whole groups of people – nominally allies of the Bolsheviks – were routinely labelled as allies of actual enemies of the Revolution who had already earned themselves a place in the ‘Hate’ lexicon of Bolshevism. Having thus categorised these Socialist groups as a threat, this extract from a Cheka (Bolshevik Secret Police) internal memo dated 1st July 1919 shows the next steps:

Instead of merely outlawing these parties, which would simply force them underground and make them even more difficult to control, it seems preferable to grant them a sort of semi-legal status. In this way we can have them at hand, and whenever we need to, we can simply pluck out troublemakers, renegades, or the informers that we need….As far as these anti-Soviet parties are concerned, we must make use of the present war situation to blame crimes on their members, such as “counter-revolutionary activities”, “high treason”, “illegal action behind the lines,” “spying for interventionist foreign powers” etc. [2]

This categorisation was constantly used in order to control and ultimately eliminate whole groups of people. Dividing society in this way, whipping up up hatred against one group or another made it easier for the Bolsheviks to gain acquiescence from the remainder of society to commit the mass murder of the first fifty years of Soviet Communism – roughly 20 million (although estimates vary). Categorisation and societal division was a process which led inevitably to wholesale slaughter or imprisonment in gulags. This in turn terrorised the whole population and gave justification for even greater excesses.

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Photographs: Soviet executions of Russians (dates unknown). Images from Wikipedia. The Left do not do this sort of thing anymore in the West. But the process of getting to this point is still the same.

In our modern society, such slaughter is illegal and in any case is deemed counterproductive by the modern day Socialist. Nearly all societies throughout the world are much better informed than they have ever been before. The internet has ensured that governmental excesses are generally well broadcast and so the sheer brutality of previous regimes has become, for the most part, a thing of the past. The obvious exception to this is North Korea which has succeeded in keeping its population largely ignorant of the outside world. The other exception is ISIS or Da’esh which actually wants news of its excesses to reach the outside world in order to spread terror.

This leaves us with the modern, western Left which nevertheless uses the same basic principles to divide society and thus create conditions whereby the Leftist élite are able to occupy the moral high ground, point the finger at their enemies and so (they hope) rally the rest of society around them in order to bring about whatever revolutionary vision is in their minds. Where before the victim group was ‘the worker’ or ‘the masses’ or ‘the proletariat’, this has had to be modernised into a variety of victim groups such as the LGBT community, ethnic and racial groups, women, the poor, the disabled and so on. Once again, these ‘vulnerable’ groups are given the dubious pleasures of special protection from the Left, so that another identifiable sub-section of society can be stigmatised as the Hate group. The Tories, people who voted Leave, bankers, ‘the 1%’, racists, Islamophobes, sexists, white van drivers, people you wouldn’t want to invite to an Islington dinner party, and so on, are all popular groups for provoking the ire of the Left. In fact, pretty well anyone who is unfortunate to have made a distinction between one person and another, will find themselves attracting the opprobrium of the Left. In generating this societal division, the Left insert themselves into positions of power and/or influence, from whence they begin to a) earn money at taxpayers’ expense; b) manipulate events to their own satisfaction.

So the whole thing is a very simple process. Those who obstruct the path of the Left are placed into a Hate category. A Victim group is sought and then exploited by using inflammatory language against the Hate group. This drives a wedge into society. Into the divisions thus created, drops the middle class Leftist élite who utilise this lacuna as a means of gaining power. It does not need very many Leftists to carry out this process, especially in this age of social media. What matters is that a huge number of (often unwitting) fellow travellers latch on to the idea and use it in public discourse. David Cameron is a particularly good example of a useful fool in this respect. It is also necessary to point out that the two groups do not have to be antagonistic towards each other in the first instance. What is important, for the Leftists, is that the two groups are identifiable as different. The process of division deliberately foments, or even manufactures grievances which are then used to open the gap.

It is the oldest rule of warfare of them all: Divide your enemies and then conquer them.

References

[1] and [2]: Courtois S, Werth N, Panné J-L, Paczkowski A, Bartošek K, Margolin J-L; (1999): The Black Book of Communism – Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Populism and the Semantic Creep of the Left.

There has been much talk of populism just recently. The use of this term has gained currency during and after Brexit – and also during the rise and election of Trump. Newspaper correspondents and EU apparatchiks are looking nervously at the resignation of Matteo Renzi, former Prime Minister of Italy, after another one of those horrid referenda. Meanwhile, a so-called ‘populist’ government – Syriza – is in nominal power in Greece (although it is the EU troika that is actually in charge). There is a far right party in Hungary called Jobbik which is gaining ground. Marine Le Pen is looking like a serious contender for the President of France. Austria has narrowly avoided a right wing president and Geert Wilders is gaining ground in the Netherlands. The collection of incredibly polite German professors in the form of AfD is snapping at the heels of Angela Merkel. Whilst much of this movement is is described as ‘right wing’ it is not exclusively so, Syriza being the obvious Far Left exception. Newspaper and television correspondents are beginning to notice a pattern and are looking nervously over their shoulders. The fixed establishments, with whom those correspondents hold a sometimes questioning and sometimes uncomfortably incestuous relationship, are terrified.

The unifying characteristics of this popular movement is a dissatisfaction with the political status quo. That such dissatisfaction is a Bad Thing means there is a growing consensus amongst all those worthy newspaper columnists and other ‘opinion formers’, that populism is akin to a very nasty disease which is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst the lower orders. Furthermore, the leaders of this movement are frequently described as ‘demagogues’.

So what exactly is ‘populism’?

Populism, as spoken by the cognoscenti, is defined rather well in this article by Julian Baggini in this Guardian article. Specifically, he says:

“Populism is not defined by right and left, nor even by the virtue of its goals: think Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. Populism is rather a way of doing politics that has three key features. First, it has a disdain for elites and experts of all kinds, especially political ones. Second, it supposes that the purpose of politics is simply to put into action the will of the people, who are seen as homogenous and united in their goals. Third, it proposes straightforward, simple solutions to what are in fact complex problems.”

So that is what populism does, but in this article by Nick Cohen, the dangers of populism are manifested thus:

“If you oppose the new populists you become an enemy of the people
As neo-tribalism replaces neoliberalism, you must forget about the old checks and balances democracies erected to govern complicated societies. You must be sure to respect the “will of the people” in its unmediated rawness. You must be surer still that you are a part of “the people”. For, if you are not, you can find yourself an “enemy of the people” just by carrying on as you did before.

Everywhere, authoritarian nationalists are using populism to batter their enemies. Even before the failed coup gave Recep Erdoğan the opportunity to purge anyone capable of gainsaying him, the Turkish president presented himself as the true of the voice of the Turkish people. His critics were, by definition, potential traitors.”

But is this really what populism means? My favourite dictionary, The New Oxford Dictionary of English says this:

populist n. a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of the ordinary people. ¤A person who holds, or is concerned with, the views of the ordinary people.

That all seems to be very innocuous, so just to check, here is the definition from the Cambridge Dictionary online:

populism
noun [ U ] UK /ˈpɒp.jə.lɪ.zəm/ US /ˈpɑː.pjə.lɪ.zəm/ mainly disapproving

political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want:
Their ideas are simple populism – tax cuts and higher wages.

A little closer perhaps to the Baggini and Cohen definition, but it does not sound very much like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has closed down opposition by imprisoning thousands of people, removing professors from universities and shutting newspapers. When Nick Cohen talks about the dangers of authoritarian nationalists, he probably has Adolf Hitler in mind. But in this concept – that populism leads to authoritarian nationalism and disaster – we have a puzzle which is heightened by the fact that the actual definition is in direct contradiction to authoritarianism; and furthermore seems vaguely familiar. Here then, is the definition for democracy:

democracy n. a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives: a capitalist  system of parliamentary democracy.

It seems these two systems, populism and democracy, are in fact very nearly one and the same thing – provided we use the words correctly. But this phenomenon – where the meaning of populism has crept from a synonym of democracy into one of incipient evil – must have a purpose, especially as it is perpetrated by (principally) newspaper columnists who are all intelligent and are deemed to have access to a dictionary. So three questions arise from this curiosity:

  1. Who is doing this?
  2. Is it deliberate?
  3. What do they hope to gain from it?

The first question is answered by looking at articles, broadcast content and social media. Over the last few months. it has seemed to me that the principle perpetrators of this semantic creep are commentators who are mostly from the Left. Although not exclusively so, as this article by Danny Finkelstein suggests. Nevertheless, all of the offenders have put forward ideas which are in favour of the political status quo of the West i.e. that which is loosely termed “the Establishment”. They have all tended to rail against the physical and electoral manifestation of people expressing their dissatisfaction with the way things are currently being done. The support shown towards Brexit and Trump are all deemed “populist” by these writers.

When used in this way, the term ‘populism’ is used to convey opprobrium from the writer, even though the real meaning has absolutely no such value-judgement attached.  When it is repeated in the media as often as it seems to be, it becomes a term of abuse. And so the use of populism in this way can only be deliberate. Conjoined, as it often is, with the term demagogue (which means a “popular leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than rational argument”) then we begin to see that it is a characterisation of something that is altogether unpleasant. Indeed, Julian Baggini makes it clear:

“Think of populism and you’ll likely think of the nasty rightwing nationalism of Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders or Nigel Farage. But if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected as Labour leader, it will be a mild-mannered socialist who will have led the most successful populist campaign in Britain in decades.”

So that’s it then, in black and white. Populists are nasty (except for Jeremy Corbyn).

But who gains from all this? The answer, as so often when dealing with political discourse and the Left, lies in George Orwell’s 1984. Winston Smith, in serving the Ministry of Truth, has to engage in regular bouts of ‘two minutes of hate’, where everyone has to hate whichever enemy is current. The objective of the Ministry of Truth is to control language (and by extension, thought). Once that is controlled, power is maintained by the government. Meaning and history is deliberately shifted over time in order to suit the status quo.

And so there we have the explanation for the semantic creep which is so typical of Socialist political discourse. It is deliberate, designed to obscure the truth and it maintains power to the establishment by attempting to turn whole groups of people into enemies. In the case of revolutionary Marxism, it is used to usurp an existing establishment and substitute a new (Socialist) one.

But one further question is posed from all this: Is this technique of deliberate shift of meaning effective in helping to maintain power? To the best of my knowledge, the demagogues have not sprung upon their soapboxes to harangue and incite the assembled crowds into acts of violence. Here in Cornwall, the village smithies do not seem to be humming with the sounds of whizzing grindstones and the shriek of swords, pitchforks and scythes being sharpened. Twenty thousand Cornishmen have not crossed the River Tamar and wanted to know the reason why. Instead, what has happened in June of this year is that 72% of the electorate have trooped off to the polls and cast their votes. The majority of them, 17.4 million, have very politely stated that they wish to leave the European Union. In the United States, a majority has done likewise for Donald Trump. And in Italy there has been a 60/40 split in favour of “No” and Mr Renzi has resigned.

So is this really the populism of the fervid imaginations of our columnists? Have there been pogroms and book burnings? Of course not. But the grip of the current establishment has been loosened ever so slightly by the express democratic will of the people. Democracy fails if it does not listen to the people – and fails to evolve with the will of the people.

That is the purpose of populism.

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Richmond by-election: Why the Liberal Democrats should be worried.

It’s very sad that Zac Goldsmith – a very good and honourable MP – has lost  his seat in the Richmond Park by-election. He always said that he would resign from the Conservatives if they decided to build the third runway at Heathrow. The Conservative government has decided to do just that and so, being a man of honour, that is precisely what Zac did. He has been replaced by a Liberal Democrat, Sarah Olney, who has managed to endure 2 minutes 59 seconds of being questioned by Julia Hartley-Brewer in this extraordinary interview before being taken away by her minder. Not a good start for Sarah Olney’s views on accountability.

The Lib Dems ran the campaign in Richmond as if it were a re-run of the EU referendum. They asked the good people of Richmond to judge the Liberal Democrat policy position of being opposed to the UK exiting the EU. They punched this message repeatedly, whilst at the same time splitting Zac’s core message of opposing the third runway at Heathrow, because Sarah Olney is also opposed to the third runway. Or at least, so she says, even though her husband has made a lot of money from helping to expand Heathrow’s Terminal 5. She may not be quite so solid on this subject as she says she is. Her record in Parliament will be worthy of a close watching brief.

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Picture: Sarah Olney campaigning with Bob Geldof during the Richmond Park by-election campaign, November 2016.

Naturally, having won the by-election, the Lib Dems are shouting about how it is a vindication of their opposition to leaving the EU. By contrast, Twitter was yesterday alive with people making comparisons between the similarity of the margin of their win with that of the Leave margin in the EU referendum – 4.5% compared with 3.8% for the referendum. Those of a waggish nature suggested that as the vote was so close, the people of Richmond obviously did not know what they were voting for and so there should be a re-run; that the result should be overturned by the courts, and so on. In other words the intrinsic hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrat and Remainer positions have been exposed for what they really are – an assault on democracy and the biggest mandate for anything in the history of the United Kingdom. Julia Hartley-Brewer caught Sarah Olney nicely with this and caused the dear lady to cut and run.

But there is another aspect of the results of this by-election which deserve deeper analysis. According to the Evening Standard, the EU referendum results for Richmond-upon-Thames are that 75,396 people voted for Remain, whilst 33,410 voted for Leave. This means 69.3% voted for Remain in Richmond during the referendum. However, that was in June of this year and much has happened in the ensuing debate about how and when we should leave. A huge amount of effort has been expended by the Remainers in attempting to find any means possible to overturn the referendum result. And even some of those who voted Remain are now beginning to express impatience with those persistent Remainers who think they can overturn that result. If the Richmond by-election really was about about being a re-run of the referendum then we should look carefully at the fact that Sarah Olney’s percentage was a mere 49.68% of the votes cast.

In the EU referendum, Richmond-upon-Thames (a bigger area than the Richmond Park constituency) was 69% in favour of Remain in June. But it is now only 50% in favour of Remain. In other words, the swing away from Remain and towards Leave is about 19% or 20%. If this swing was reflected in a further national referendum, the Leave/Remain margin would increase to about a 60/40 split in favour of Leave.

Moreover, the by-election result shows a severely reduced turnout of 53.44%. The national turnout for the EU Referendum was 72.21%. Working these figures back into Richmond Park constituency, it suggests that about 26,000 voters stayed at home – who otherwise went out and voted in the June referendum. This further adds credence to the idea that enthusiasm for Remain (and the Lib Dem support for this) has rapidly declined in the country as a whole since 23rd June.

Whichever way you do these calculations, it suggests that a huge chunk of the electorate are completely turned off by the Lib Dem attempts to overturn democracy. Even though they have just increased their Members of Parliament by one, the Liberal Democrats are heading for big disappointment at the next General Election unless they change their message.

***UPDATE***  A common shout by Labour and other Lefties, who were defeated in a perfectly fair election, is that a newly successful government only speaks for a small percentage of the people. So a government which obtained, say 45% of the votes cast, by the time turnout is taken into account, perhaps only 30% (or less) of the total electorate voted for them. This argument has been used in various ways by Labour in the past; and more recently by the SNP when contriving various reasons for a re-run of the Scottish IndyRef. If we were to apply the same logic to the Richmond by-election then Sarah Olney’s share of the potential vote is: her share of votes cast multiplied by the turnout percentage, i.e.: 49.68 x 53.44% = 26.5%. So if only 26% of the people voted for her, then clearly, this is an excuse for another election, just to make sure.

Posted in Beyond Brexit, Political Debate | Leave a comment

There is no Plan! Where is the Plan?

One of the more persistent memes since the referendum has been the regular claim that the government has no plan as to how it intends to negotiate our exit from the EU. We are now five months after the referendum and many of those who voted on the wrong side of history are still in a state of collective anguish. Conversely, plans are being made to subvert the will of the British people. Various people of stature – Tony Blair, John Major, Richard Branson and a host of acolytes are reputedly gathering funding and so on for a campaign to take us back into a wheezing, sclerotic EU before we have actually managed to leave it. But the principle charge still stands – that the Brexiteers have no plan. This couple of recent gems from Matthew Parris are good examples (my thanks to Andrew Atter and Marie Le Conte for bringing them to my attention):

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And again, just to make sure that we get the message:

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The fact of the government not providing a running commentary on progress, thinking and planning is provided succinctly enough by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis here, from about 15.09 onwards, but especially from 15.12 onwards. From this we can conclude that David Davis is not going to tell us; whether we, or the Remainers, like it or not.

Not telling the opposition your plans in advance is generally considered to be a useful tactic, whether in playing chess, negotiating a business agreement or prosecuting a war. General principles can be established at the outset between the parties i.e. that you are going to negotiate an agreement or go to war with each other. But the detail as to how events actually proceed is down to planning and not letting the opposition know which cards are in your hand. Outcomes are also dependent upon how each party responds to the events as they unfold.

For instance, in 1933, the British government responded to Hitler’s getting power and then setting out an aggressive agenda, with caution. After the annexation of Austria in March 1938, there came the Munich Agreement on 15th September 1938. This was followed by the Sudetenland Crisis in October 1938 and the invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Until this point, appeasement was the plan – giving Hitler what he wanted in return for peace. Then on 1st September 1939, Poland was invaded and Britain declared war upon Germany. Note that there was no particular plan invoked up to this point by the UK, only broad principles which changed as time went on. The only tangible thing which happened was the quiet re-arming, which Chamberlain’s infamous ‘peace in our time’ speech gave us approximately 12 months to do. At the time none of this was evident to the public. After Poland fell to the combination of German and Russian invaders, the policy changed from ‘appeasement’ to ‘containment’. The British and French hoped to contain Germany, at least in the West. In the summer of 1940, this plan was also abandoned with the fall of France. From that moment on, the plan was ‘defence’, because that was the only option available to us. Only after the battle of El Alamein in October and November 1942 was the plan turned around from ‘defence’ to ‘offence’ and then total victory in 1945.

To ram the point home, the following is a summary of one of those wonderful wartime obituaries that the Daily Telegraph does so well. It concerns a young Royal Navy Commander – an engineer in peacetime – who found himself summoned to 10 Downing Street in early 1941. At this time, most of Europe was occupied: shipping was being sunk in the Atlantic faster than we could build ships to replace them; North Africa was in flames and Rommel was doing all the running; the Russians were retreating back to Moscow and Stalingrad; Singapore had fallen to the Japanese; and Repulse and the Prince of Wales had been sunk. The Americans had not yet entered the war. The young man (whose name I have sadly forgotten) entered the underground bunker of No. 10 and was brought into the presence of The Great Man. His future duties were outlined to him; whereupon Churchill, in typical stirring form, summed up thus: “Whilst all those around you are preparing for defeat, you are to go into a room and prepare for victory.” And so he did – into the blackest of the deep bowels of The Admiralty, and in the deepest of secrecy, he began the logistical planning for sea-borne landings onto hostile shores. This work was put into practice in Operation Torch in North Africa, the Allied invasion of Sicily and then Italy – and culminated in the biggest of the lot, in Normandy.

Once again, the point is that the plans were kept secret. In the latter case, even the principles of turning round defeat into victory was completely unknown to the public. For very good and obvious reasons.

So it is extraordinary that the Remainers should continue to demand that the government reveals their deliberations to the public – and especially to a group of people who have sworn to do everything in their power to overturn the decision of the British electorate.

But even if their demands were reasonable, which they are not, is there not also a case for demanding of the Remainers, what their plans are? The simple fact is that the European Union is not what it was even a year ago. It is increasingly apparent that the EU has become a burden to many of the countries who are members of it. Increasingly, the peoples of the EU are starting to wake up to the realisation that their political masters have some sort of agenda which does not include the opinions, needs or demands of the vast majority of the people who elected them into office.

Southern Europe – Greece, Portugal, Spain and particularly southern Italy, are economic basket cases. They have been driven to the brink of poverty by the economic demands of the ECB; which is run principally in the interests of Germany. Whether Le Pen is elected as president in France; and whether Renzi is thrown out and his banking reforms fail or not, is almost irrelevant. The fact is that a tide of popular protest is sweeping across Europe, driven by the twin toxic issues of the incompetence of the Euro and the huge dismay of untrammelled migration into Europe of an alien people, religion and culture. This last   seems intent upon swamping a Judeo-Christian culture which has evolved over the last two thousand years. And the political class all seem Hell-bent on making this happen without the slightest courtesy of asking their own people if they want this.

In the light of all this growing chaos, my questions to those who would usurp the decision of the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are these:

  • How much is it going to cost us to bail out the EU banking system?
  • How much will our continued membership fees rise by if we stay in?
  • How many unwelcome migrants are we going to take in?
  • How much is this going to cost us in terms of extra benefits, schools and hospitals?
  • What will be the cost to society for the increase in crime – particularly rape and other forms of violence?
  • What will happen to our Rule of Law – are we going to have one rule for the migrants  and another, harsher, set of laws for the non-muslims?

So Remainers, what is your plan?

Posted in Beyond Brexit, Democratic Deficit, Political Debate, Taxpayer | Leave a comment

Flooding, maize and undersowing.

It has been raining a lot throughout England and Wales just recently. According to the map below (H/T Phil Latham) parts of Devon, Dorset and throughout the Midlands, there has been in excess of 55% of the average rainfall for November, in just three days.

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Inevitably, there has been debate about how much of the flooding is down to wicked farmers growing horrid maize to feed their cattle. Some of this debate has been quite lively and extended between Phil Latham (angry dairy farmer), Miles King (botanist and ‘boring ecotroll’) and Phil Brewin (waterlevel manager and freshwater ecologist). It has been entertaining to watch.

Normally, my default position is to fly to the defence of farmers because I feel strongly that they get a rotten PR deal from the media, which tends to broadcast the eco-nuttery of George Monbiot without balancing it with any common sense from actual farmers. But on this occasion, Miles suggested that the problem of run-off from maize stubble can be mitigated by undersowing grass which will stabilise the soil over winter and the high risk period. For his part, Phil Latham wondered about the yield reduction caused to the maize by the undersown grass.

I have a lot of sympathy for the undersowing idea, so I shall explain. Some years ago, I had a grazing licence on some land near Kingston Maurward near Dorchester. So on a daily basis, I used to drive out, using the back road between Tincleton and Dorchester. (Miles  might know this road). Along this road are a number of farmers, some of whom grow maize for their cattle. One winter was especially wet and the maize stubble became waterlogged, compacted and then shed the water with a rush. Great gullies were cut into the soil and large amounts of sediment were dumped onto the lane as well as flooding it. This confirmed my view that leaving bare soil over winter was not only environmentally damaging, but also a waste of good agricultural land, because the land is doing nothing for six or seven months of the year.

I suspect that conventional farmers have been slow to adopt the idea of undersowing maize because it is yet another operation and there are valid fears of reducing the maize yield. Farmers have enough to do already without giving themselves extra work. If they can get away with cutting the number of operations on a farm whilst maintaining margin, then the minimum amount of work is a sensible strategy.

A little time spent on Google reveals that the practice of undersowing maize with various grass and grass/legume options is now common practice in Denmark. It is under trial for the purposes of flood prevention in Wye and Usk. I have no doubt that farmers in the catchment of the Somerset Levels will be encouraged to do something similar. I certainly hope so.

The characteristics of the late growing season demanded by maize (it needs a soil temperature of about 10 degC to germinate) mean that it provides a long window of opportunity for farmers to get a catch crop in between their main crop. The grass can be grazed or silaged and offers an effective increase in the quantity of dry matter produced from a given area of land. In addition, it can be viewed as a green manure (so beloved of organic farmers) with the root mass being returned to the soil to provide the basis of an improved soil structure – rather than an increasingly depleted one. Furthermore, the catch crop of grass does not need inputs of N, because it is helping to restore the soil Nitrogen balance after the high inputs of the maize crop. In the end, this system seems to me to provide the farmer with lower costs (easier cultivation), better compliance with environmental standards in cross compliance; lower risk of run-off during periods of high rainfall; and above all else, the opportunity for additional income for the farm.

There will be times and some farms for which this system is difficult or expensive to operate, but I suspect that reluctance in take-up of this idea is more due to caution on the part of farmers, than any real objection. So it would be good to see this happen across the country.

Posted in Environment, Farming | Leave a comment