TTIP must be challenged

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement being negotiated in secret between Europe and the US to ‘harmonise’ trade.

TTIP will benefit big companies at the expense of ordinary people. It will open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies and, effectively, lead to the privatisation of the NHS – because US Companies will be able to sue the British government if they can claim to have been prevented from competing for contracts.

It also will mean lower standards – currently a company has to prove a substance is safe before it can be used in Europe whereas,  in the USA, any substance can be used until proven unsafe. As an example, the EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics; the US just 12. These lower standards will be imposed on Europe if the TTIP is endorsed

The EU accepts that TTIP will cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower – and has advised that  European support funds are needed to compensate for the extra unemployment.

Another change, if the TTIP is approved, will be the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) to allow companies to sue governments for “loss of profits”. This will mean that unelected transnational corporations may dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.

ISDSs are already operating elsewhere and, for example, have enabled a Swedish energy company to sue the German government for billions of dollars over its (welcome and correct) decision to phase out nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

This is anti-democratic and totally at odds with the capitalist ethos that profits are a just reward for risk-taking. With TTIP and ISDS, investors will be guaranteed a profit however stupid the investment and whatever the danger to the public and their workforce.

If elected to Westminster, I would oppose implementation of TTIP.


Selective islamophobia

Hardly a day goes by without a press story about Moslems somewhere or other doing something bad or evil – usually poor Moslems in Britain or foreign Moslems unable to respond. The drip-drip effect of these stories over several years has created and exacerbated irrational prejudice – “Islamophobia”.

But these press stories are selective. There is only rare mention of government-sanctioned monthly beheadings in Saudi Arabia or its vile discrimination against women. Rich and powerful Moslems who buy British arms exports and consort with our Royalty are never the target of these press stories. With good reason – because the rich and powerful will hit back and even governments fear their anger.

Just now, Sweden is being targeted by the Saudi government for speaking out against these practices. It is noteworthy that these actions against Sweden get barely a mention in the British media – or comment from UKIP and others.

For all its flirtation with islamophobia, UKIP has yet to condemn British arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the equally abhorrent regimes in Qatar, Bahrein and the UAE – who use these weapons to suppress democracy at home and, with US/UK approval, launch attacks on other Moslems in Yemen.

Yemen Irony alert: 7 monarchies & 1 military regime are bombing Yemen to restore democracy!

UKIP’s islamophobia is selective – targeted at the gullible for electoral gain. If UKIP (or anyone else) is concerned about the actions of a few people in the name of religion, it could start by condemning Saudi Arabia for its actions against women and minority religions.

Radioactive waste

nuclearwastea The government has been trying for years to bury radioactive waste. In January 2013 this was vetoed by Cumbria County Council.  To overcome this opposition, on the very last day of the 2010-2015 Parliament, the government changed the regulations about the geological disposal of radioactive wastes so that a County Council may not object in future. Previously eminent geologists and the Inspector of the 1995-6 Nirex Planning Inquiry looked at the disposal of intermediate nuclear wastes in Cumbria and concluded that the geology is too complex. The only reason for changing the planning regulations is to allow the government to do so even though the geology is known to be unsound.

See also (25 March 2015)   **Radwaste**

Today Her Majesty’s government quietly removed the power of local and county councils to say no to burial of existing and future nuclear wastes beneath their homes. The predetermined decision to “Implement Geological Disposal” now lies with the Secretary of State under Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This vicious NSIP ruling overrides any considerations on the land such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, heritage or conservation areas. Using the most undemocratic tool of “delegated legislation” this decision has been forced through, not by open debate but by Committee Room decisions.

Radiation Free Lakeland 25th March 2015

The M4 relief road

No one disputes that the Bryn Glas tunnels are a bottleneck – but there are major disagreements over what precisely needs to be done.

The Welsh government wants a completely new road through the south of Newport, costing over £1 billion. Others think it would be better to improve Newport’s southern distributor roads. The technical options for a new M4 are examined in

In my lifetime I have seen hundreds of miles of motorways built. My subjective impression is that they do ease congestion for the first 1-2 years – but then this encourages more vehicles to the road and journey times revert.

My preference would be, if the Welsh government has $1 billion to throw around, to make a massive investment in better public transport (such as the proposed South Wales metro system) to reduce the number of cars on our roads. Transport Their choice of the very expensive £1 billion road option is, naturally, preferred by the powerful roads’ lobby who have influenced the UK’s transport policy ever since the first motorway was opened in 1957. But journey times have hardly improved at all during the past half-century.

I believe it’s time for a rethink and reversion to public transport.

Opencasting and Land Reclamation

Living by The British, as I have done for 36 years, I am very aware that Torfaen has not achieved the government target to clear all derelict land by the Year 2000.

The primary fault for this lies with those Councillors who, in the 1970s, effectively gave away the then Council-owned land to private speculators who, ever since, have bought and sold the land for ever-increasing prices but done nothing to prevent the historic artefacts and buildings deteriorating.

We are now faced with the situation that HSBC, having foolishly advanced £5 million to the last bunch of speculators, are demanding that they receive something close to this sum as compensation. But just because HSBC were conned into paying such a sum (its true value is, if anything, negative as it will require public money for anything worthwhile to be done), that is no reason why public money should be wasted to help them out.

Meanwhile, another bunch of get-rich-quick entrepreneurs have resubmitted their proposals to extract 350,000 tonnes of coal from Varteg Hill whilst providing us with nothing of long-term benefit to the community.

I chair the residents committee for The British and have been active in the “No Opencast” campaign for Varteg. With the support of our excellent Assembly Member, Lynne Neagle, we have succeeded so far in preventing the despoliation and disruption that would be caused by opencasting here. [Note my commendation of our Labour AM – if elected as your MP I hope this cooperation will continue.]

Frack off

As mentioned earlier, I am a chemical engineer and a Partner in a small Consulting Engineering practice that does its best to develop eco-friendly solutions to various problems. Unlike many of my friends in the “green movement”, I am not ideologically anti-technology but, on the contrary, all my training and work experience directs me to seek rational engineering solutions wherever possible.

The problem we have in Cameron’s Britain is that decisions are made because powerful lobbyists have the ear of the Prime Minister and press for solutions that make them money – often regardless of the consequences for the environment. The recent revelations about Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind offering to arrange meetings with government decision-makers show how far down the road of corruption we have travelled with this government.

healthyeconomyI don’t subscribe to view that fracking is so bad that it is inconceivable that it can be made safe – with a serious effort to minimise all possible side-effects, almost any technology can be made safer (maybe at too high a cost). The problem is not technology as such but that vested interests push for money-making technologies and cut corners.

A classic example of this was at Fukushima where the design engineers knew full well about the risks of tsunamis but, to reduce pumping costs, lowered the base of the plant and increased the risk of damage from a tsunami.

However, living as we do in a real world where decisions are made to maximise profits rather than safeguard the environment, I do agree wholeheartedly that the fracking companies (and their friend David Cameron) should not be given a go ahead to proceed with their plans. They have been whittling away at our democratic rights, through the planning process, to object to eco-dubious proposals.*

So long as we have a government in power at the beck and call of big business, we are right and the green movement is right to be wary of any new technology that involves a potential threat to the environment.

* For example, in the fag end of the 2010-2015 Parliament (25th March) the government has asked parliament to extend the categories of “Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs)” contained in the Planning Act 2008 to “geological disposal facilities to store radioactive nuclear waste”. This would remove the democratic right of the public to say no the dumping of radioactive wastes underground – whether under Cumbria or anywhere else.

Tax dodgers

Tax dodgersTo read the Sun, Mail and Mirror, you might think that our financial problems are due to poor people and immigrants living on benefits.

In reality, benefit cheats account for very little – the big drain on government income is due to very rich people not paying their fair share of tax.

The government and the right-wing press and media run stories against poor people (whether they be on benefits or immigrants or whatever) to divert attention from their own relative affluence (72% of the current crop of MPs are millionaires!).  They want you to vote to allow them to continue to accumulate wealth at your expense and at the expense of the poorest in Britain.

This explains why the government has more officers working away to identify “benefit fraud” than to identify tax dodgers. The benefits cheats routinely face the threat of prosecution and imprisonment whilst, in contrast, when HMRC do discover £ multi-million tax evasion, their policy is not to prosecute but to politely ask for their money retrospectively.

This encourages would-be tax dodgers to try their luck as they’re in a classic “can’t lose” situation. Tax evasion has become yet another way of discriminating against the poor and in favour of the already-rich.

Renationalise all public services

Public opinion polls consistently show 70-80% support for the railways to be renationalised but the establishment parties (and UKIP) all ignore public opinion on this matter. When Caroline Lucas, the truly excellent Green MP for Brighton, tabled a Bill in Parliament to do so, she only received a smattering of support in Parliament.

Her arguments and those of other campaigners, are well argued on this YouTube video

I have three points to add. When our railways were denationalised, it was claimed this would improve services, cut fares and reduce public subsidies. The first two claims are obviously absurd – the third also false but the current £1+ billion/year subsidy is hidden from easy view.

The way it now works is that the government subsidises the non-profit-making railways and infrastructure whilst privately-owned companies receive the fares. After paying Network Rail an unrealistic low cost for using the railways, the companies then have enough left over to pay dividends to their shareholders.

In effect, denationalisation is a con trick in which government money subsidises the railway network so that the private companies can profit. It’s yet another instance of “us” (the passengers) being fleeced to support “them” (the shareholders).

Similar financial arrangements have enabled the utility companies to profit whilst us consumers pay more and more. The Conservative-initiated nationalisation of public utilities is simply a mechanism by which a rich share-holding minority accrue wealth at our expense.

Europe – in or out?

This is not a simple question. For many on the political left, the EU is simply a rich man’s club – there to bolster the dominant position of banks and finance capital and to put pressure on member states that attempt to expand the state sector or resist EU-imposed austerity measures – as the people of Greece are finding to their cost. If Britain were to elect a left-wing government, the EU would not be helpful.

On the other hand, many on the political right (notably UKIP and right-wing Tories) view the EU as an interfering creation of the liberal left, imposing human rights and environmental legislation to prevent big business doing  whatever it pleases to do to maximise its profits.

Both viewpoints contain more than a grain of truth and it is hard to decide whether the overall impact of the EU on our lives is for better or worse.  Living as we do in Wales, we are net beneficiaries of EU funds designed to assist poorer regions – if we lived in London and the South East (UKIP-land) we might well be net losers.

I know that candidates for an election are supposed to have a ready answer for every question but, on this one, I admit to being a “Don’t know yet”. If there is to be a referendum based on xenophobic prejudice, it’s likely I would vote to stay in. If there is not to be an in/out referendum, we need to make the most of the many good aspects of the EU and do whatever is possible to minimise its bad aspects.