It’s not often I write a blog post, but with the EU Referendum nearly upon us, I thought I’d better hack at the keyboard and bleat out my opinion – just in case I regret not doing so.  Every little helps and all that…

Implications for the United Kingdom

Firstly, lets consider what would happen in the UK were to leave the EU.  What exactly would be leaving the EU?

Put bluntly, if we leave the European Union, Scotland will almost certainly leave the UK because the polling suggests Scotland is overwhelmingly in favour of the EU – indeed it was a central plank of the SNPs post-independence plan (whatever your opinion of the plan itself!).  The SNP would push for a second referendum very much sooner rather than later.

The result?  Two of the most successful partnerships in the UK’s history will be ripped apart within a couple of years of each other.  This would be a legal, diplomatic, economic, financial, social and political upheaval which would deeply damage the UK for years to come.  Just think of all the money being spent on lawyers trying to disentangle all that integration!  It’d be like going through a divorce whilst disowning your family.  It would not be pretty.

There’s also a bizarre irony in this situation – with Scotland in the EU and the rest of the UK outside, we would likely end up with a land border with the Schengen Area.  So if you are worried about uncontrolled migration or the ability of the UK to control its borders, this is not the way to address it.

The peace in Northern Ireland could also be affected, especially if border controls were to be reinstated along the Irish border.  The Republic of Ireland is currently outside the Schengen Area, but if we leave the EU and Scotland leaves the UK that might change.  Any move that would endanger peace in Northern Ireland would simply be reckless.

And finally, we have to consider Gibraltar and the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.  Leaving the EU could make arrangements in both cases more difficult, especially in Gibraltar where the population desperately wants to stay in the EU.

The Economy and the Single Market

This is possibly harsh on economists, but it does seem as though economics is less a science and more an art form at times.  We can’t crystal ball gaze.  We don’t know what the EU will look like economically in 10, 20, 30 years time – it certainly has some difficult times ahead with instability in the Eurozone.  We can’t say the UK will thrive or wither outside the EU either because it is an unknown quantity.  So I’m not going to crystal ball gaze either on the general economic outlook.

What is clear though is that the Single Market makes trading goods and services in the EU easier than anywhere else in the world because we’re all working to the same standards.  The same standards mean assured quality and no additional checks when moving good and services around Europe.  By its definition this gets rid of lots of day-to-day red tape and makes life simpler overall.  There are frequent claims that this in fact creates red-tape – but if the ‘red-tape’ ensures, let’s say, that standards in food production covers what can be included in meat products, then I’d say that was quite important.  Think the horse meat scandal

I’m sure there probably are regulations that need reforming, but to get bad regulations reformed we need to be in the EU to influence the reform process.  If we leave the EU we simply won’t have that input anymore – either we have to live with the decisions of the EU or not have access to the Single Market as we currently do – and life would get that bit more complicated.

Migration

We have an ageing population due to increasingly life expectancy and decreasing birth rates.  The ageing population is going to become increasingly reliant on the taxes, care and support of younger generations.  Without immigration we’ll simply end up with a labour shortage, including in the NHS and social care.  So in the EU or not, we’d still need large scale immigration.

There is a bizarre claim we need an Australian style points system for all immigration, even though Australia has higher immigration per head of population than the UK.  Australia also has a worrying policy of detention on its outlying islands – not an approach I am inclined to support.  However, we do have a points-based systems for non-EU migrants!  The irony here is that there are complaints that it is too restrictive from various organisations such as universities, and the Leave campaign itself has refused to commit to lower levels of immigration.

A further twist to the immigration story is that EU migration is currently lower than non-EU migration.  So the area of migration we have direct control over is apparently too restrictive despite it accounting for over half of net migration to the UK.

Leaving the EU, however, wouldn’t necessarily allow us to limit EU migration even if we wanted to.  Access to the Single Market depends on free movement of people – just ask Norway!  And we can’t seriously be considering a world in which – in the EU or not – we wouldn’t want access to the Single Market.

EU Army or NATO

Since World War 2, the UK’s primary defence relationship has been the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).  NATO faced down the Warsaw Pact in the Cold War, with many of those countries now either members of NATO or with cooperative agreements in place.  Countries that 30 years ago had nuclear missiles on their soil pointing at western Europe are now joining in union with us.  NATO is a massive success, but it’s biggest problem is that far too many of its members don’t meet the 2% of GDP spending target for NATO members.  We need to be actively engaged in Europe to encourage our European partners to meet their NATO commitments, especially in the face of renewed Russian aggression.

Talk of an EU Army would require the unanimous and explicit consent of all EU member nations, as does deploying existing European combined formations.  However, the UK does not have any interest in abandoning control of its Armed Forces, and I doubt nations such as France do either – France have traditionally been reluctant to integrate into NATO.  NATO provides the EU with collective security alongside the USA and Canada, and various internal partners.  Only our government could hand control to of our Armed Forces to anyone else.

Turkey

Turkey will probably join the EU, at some point, after it has met all the requirements of membership, after all EU member nations approve its accession.  At the present rate of progress that’ll be in 20-50 years time.  I’m plucking numbers out of the air here because, honestly, no one knows when Turkey might join the EU but we do know that it will not be any time soon.

The UK government’s position is to help Turkey on this path – but it is a long path Turkey must tread.  The Remain campaign should be honest about this point, especially as Turkey has historically had quite a secular society, being sandwiched between Europe and the Middle East.  Whilst that secularism has been endangered recently and Turkey is going through a turbulent time, one day I think it’ll make a fine addition to the European family.

‘Take Back Control’, etc.

Firstly lets lay something to bed.  The European Parliament is composed of directly elected MEPs.  The European Council is composed of the elected heads of European national governments.  The European Commission is composed of the commissioners appointed by national governments.  There are a number of European presidents – none of which are like the President of the USA.  Is any of this less democratic than our unelected House of Lords?

The above begs the following questions.  Take back control from who?  What control do you think we’ve lost?  Which bit of control do you want to take back?

Answers to these questions all rather depend on your perspective:

If you consider yourself to be, say, a Scouser (as I am) above all else, then you might think Liverpool should unilaterally declare independence from the UK and ‘take back control’ from the UK government.  If you’re Scottish you might think the same for Scotland (as some do).

But what if you start from the point-of-view that you’re a human being.  That, as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are all valuable regardless of creed, colour, ethnicity, beliefs, or nationality.  In the wake of the horrors of World War 2 we decided to setup and work within international institutions like the United Nations – to work for a better future for humanity free of avoidable misery and despotism that has so far plighted human history.  Would we seriously consider withdrawing from the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, UNICEF, the Geneva Convention, UN Convention on Law of the Sea, UNESCO, the World Health Organisation or the Antarctic Treaty?  These are all treaties or bodies that place restrictions on our government but, just like the EU, we signed up to these organisations of our own free will because they were good ideas that continue to have value.

Of course, different types of governance belong at different levels.  Your local council should provide local services, your national government should exercise sovereignty, and national governments should work in regional and global cooperation.  Doesn’t that make sense?  The historical alternative have included dictatorships, war, civil war and sectarian violence – or a combination thereof.

It may be centuries for the human race to be truly united in common endeavour (and all other such good stuff), but peace and prosperity in Europe is not a bad step towards a better world.

Remain

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the UK has the opportunity to forge a new path.

If we leave, we will have to forge a new path outside of the EU, with all the uncertainty that brings with it.

If we remain in the EU, we must decide what our place will be.  Will we remain a reluctant partner sat on the side lines trying to protect our special status in the EU?  Or will we step up to take our place as a (the?) leading nation in Europe, leading the debate on what is right for all of Europe?

If we renew out commitment to the EU, maybe we should then think about what that means to us.  Maybe we’ll start caring about who we elect to the European Parliament.  Maybe we’ll also start caring a bit more about the future of the Commonwealth of Nations and how that fits with our EU membership.  Maybe the UK public can regain its national confidence on the world stage and brighten the beacon for those less fortunate.

Maybe, just maybe, we stand on the precipice of a Golden Era for the United Kingdom – being the willing counterpoint for the EU, the Commonwealth of Nations, the USA and the United Nations – if only we have guts to stand up and lead.

So let us Remain and Stand

Sign this Petition

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to write a blog article – but something happened last week that has motivated me to write a post.

The town of Kirkby, along with 48 other locations a across the UK, have officially found out that Tesco will not be proceeding with the building of a new superstore.  Now that might not sound like horrendous news to some people, but for the town of Kirkby it sounds the death knell of a much needed and much delayed regeneration scheme pursued by Tesco and their partner: Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council (KMBC).

KMBC entered into an exclusivity deal with Tesco in 2006 as part of the “Destination: Kirkby” project which aimed to bring Everton football club and a large retail development to the centre of a town of ~45 000 people.  The Labour government of the day called in the planning process for a public inquiry which led to the Secretary of State to reject the plan in 2009 due to the inclusion of the stadium.  Knowsley Council and Tesco decided to plough on with the retail development.

Since then not a single new retail building has opened whilst the town centre has been hit by blow after blow.  The only things we have to show for this alliance between Tesco and KMBC is a loss of green space, piles of demolition rubble, derelict houses, a building site of a town centre, the overall loss of community facilities and the overall loss of space for small traders.

Kirkby has its problems – it is one of the most deprived towns in the country.  There are high levels of unemployment, elevated levels of health problems, and public services were inadequate even before the recession.  It needed investment, redevelopment and regeneration, but time and time again the council ignored calls from community groups for a different plan.  Some of these groups collected petitions with over a thousand signatures – well in excess of the council’s own meagre attempts at public engagement.

Now it would be easy to turn and point the finger at Tesco and complain about the actions of this particular huge corporation – but frankly no one is surprised when a profit making company puts profits first.  However, the other partner in this tragic affair – Knowsley Council and the Knowsley Labour Party who run it – need to be held accountable for their failure to act in the interests of the people of Kirkby.

As a result of this catastrophic announcement I have been driven to start an e-petition to the national government calling for a public inquiry into the Knowsley Council’s handling of the project, and the failure of democratic representation within the town to look after the best interests of the local population.

If you agree with me that the people of Kirkby deserve to have answers about this catastrophic failure by Knowsley Council:

Sign this Petition

 

I want to give more detail though, because my summary just doesn’t do this justice:

The Third Centre for Learning

In 2007, Knowsley Council decided that it’s Building Schools for the Future programme no longer needed the 3 new secondary schools in Kirkby that it had planned for, but instead would build only 2.  The site that was vacated was the old All Saints High School site that, coincidentally, was required for the Destination Kirkby plan.  It would have made more sense to abandon the old Brookfield site which was much less central to the town.  Please draw your own conclusions.

Kirkby Library

As part of the plans to redevelop the town centre, the now closed Kirkby Library in Newtown Gardens was due to be replaced by a new build on the old site of Kirkby Swimming Pool (demolished a few years ago) – this is on the outline planning applications from 2010.  According to Knowsley Council staff, it was to be built by Tesco and leased back by the council.  With the onset of the economic downturn Knowsley Council realised it could not afford this and, with the old library set for demolition to make way for retail units, a plan B was needed…

The Kirkby Suite

A fantastic entertainment venue, with the biggest dance floor in the northwest, 3 function rooms, a fully equipped stage for performances, bars and wonderfully helpful staff.  I had my wedding reception there and it proved to be an excellent venue.  But with the collapse of the replacement building plan for the library, it was decided that the axe would fall on the Kirkby Suite – £5 million was spent remodelling the building to take the contents of the library, and move in services from the neighbouring council One Stop Shop building.  The Adult Disability Day Service was also moved in from the soon to be demolished specially outfitted Sedburn Centre in Southdene.  All the entertainment facilities were lost when the Kirkby Suite closed in March 2012, despite me providing this detailed study to Knowsley Council about its costs and value to the community and local economy.

Kirkby Suite

Dressed to impress – the Kirkby Suite before closure of its entertainment facilities

Kirkby Market

Kirkby Market was supposed to be totally refurbished by summer 2013, however it wasn’t until April 2014 that it was finally opened.  The market traders were forced to operate out of temporary stalls for Christmas 2013.  But even now it remains unfinished – coloured fascias are absent and the car park for traders to use is still a building site.  But there was a more sinister upshot to the market being finished…

DSC_0562

An incomplete Kirkby Market – fascias remain missing months after its supposed completion.

Scaling down

In October 2013, Tesco finally decided the scale of its development outstrips even its own expectations for footfall as its profitability slumps. The store in the new plan could have been housed in the north of the town centre where previous owners of the town centre had planned to redevelop the old Asda store site, but they pressed on with attempting to clear the land to the south of Cherryfield Drive.

The InShops

The Inshops was an indoor market providing permanent stalls to independent traders and small super markets.  It was scheduled to be demolished to make way for new retail units as part of the final stages of the Tesco redevelopment.  As I understand it, Tesco was pushing up the rent cost to the operators of the InShops, forcing them to drive up prices for the traders, resulting in a loss of stalls.  When InShops went into administration in winter 2013/14 the Kirkby site had to go.  Knowsley Council stepped in to take over the InShops lease – the council which had facilitated the buying of the InShops complex by Tesco through the exclusivity deal, was now renting the property back from Tesco.  Shortly before the 2014 local elections the council promised they would keep it open for at least 12 months.  It closed in autumn 2014 forcing the remaining traders either to shut up shop or move into the new Kirkby Market.

Closure of Kirkby College

The Kirkby site of Knowsley Community College was closed in summer 2014 as part of a ‘rationalisation of the college estate’.  The college has another site in Roby, and had previously bought an additional site in Huyton.  It then decided it had a surplus in its estate and needed to discard part of it.  It discarded Kirkby.  Since then Knowsley Community College has relocated again to the former site of a Knowsley secondary school which closed due to a lack of students – this school was still costing money though as it was covered by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) used in Knowsley’s Building Schools for the Future programme.  I don’t know what decisions were taken or why, so please draw your own conclusions…

Start here, go to Huyton

An (electronically) defaced Knowsley Community College sign – outside the now closed Kirkby campus.

Kirkby Bus Station

We were told in June 2013 that Kirkby Bus Station would see massive investment to transform it into a modern facility.  To that end, a road and taxi rank have been closed to enable it to happen.  But we’re now in January 2015 and apart from another reassurance in November 2014, there is no sign this project will come to fruition.  In fact it has been stated the reason this hasn’t already happened is because it is tied to the Tesco development – but that is no longer happening.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that I remember the redevelopment of the bus station being touted in 1998 – so the project is at least 17 year behind schedule!

South of Cherryfield Drive

In March 2012 – just prior to the 2012 local elections – the Golden Eagle hotel, nursing home, Dickie Lewis’ bar and the petrol station were all demolished.  The Golden Eagle rubble pile remains there to this day, along with £20,000 worth of advertising hoardings about Tesco’s development which was paid for by Knowsley Council.  Around the same time a number of community support organisations left small buildings along Cherryfield Drive, depriving the town of their services.

Just prior to the 2014 local elections, work was completed on building new houses on St. Kevin’s field a half mile away to provide new homes for the residents of Cherryfield Crescent and Eagle Court.  Their houses were due to be demolished to make way for the Tesco development, but currently stand empty, derelict and surrounded by a range of horrendous-looking fencing.  Prior to the fencing it was well known that the site was attracting anti-social behaviour.

So we lost green space, we lost community services, we gained a pile of rubble, and we gained bunch of empty houses.

Cherryfield Crescent

Derelict housing in Cherryfield Crescent

Public Realm Works – the Elephant in the room

Currently there is a lot of apparent work being undertaken in Kirkby town centre.  Shortly before Christmas 2014, work began on extensive public realm works to install a new public square by the bus station, and a rework of Newtown Gardens.  In doing so a car park used by many  shoppers visiting the Co-operative food store was been lost, a taxi rank has been closed, a bandstand has been demolished, and public artwork in the shape of a clock which was designed by children of Kirkby schools has been scrapped.  Over Christmas these areas became building sites, restricting access to shops and banks and generally creating an eyesore at the busiest time of the year for retailers.  The closure of the taxi rank has had knock-on effects with poorly placed temporary taxi ranks causing traffic problems on Cherryfield Drive.  All this to provide some new block paving, chairs with wings, a metal tree and an elephant in a boat – none of which has been asked for by the people of Kirkby.  The money could have been better spent in numerous ways improving the public realm across Kirkby.

PublicRealmDec2014

Newtown Gardens was reduced to a building site over the Festive Season

Beyond the town centre…

I have only briefly detailed what has gone on in our town centre – when you look across Kirkby there are many more worrying decisions that have been taken that deprive us of services due to a lack of competence by the council.  If you care about your future – wherever you live – please start taking an interest in what is going on in your area, and do something about it.

Sign this Petition

The coalition government released a paper in July 2013 – the Trident Alternatives Review – examining different ways of providing the UK’s independent strategic nuclear deterrent.  I’ve been a bit busy since then, but here are my thoughts on the matter.

What is the UK’s nuclear deterrent?

So what is the independent strategic nuclear deterrent?

  • It is an independent system which we are capable of deploying by ourselves without the permission of another state;
  • As a ‘strategic’ weapons system it is designed to inflict massive indiscriminate damage on a potential opponent, as opposed to ‘tactical’ battlefield weapons for engaging a particular military target;
  • It is a nuclear, as opposed to conventional, weapon system with many complex considerations required in order to develop, operate, maintain, decommission and – hopefully never – deploy;
  • It is there to deter those who might consider launching a nuclear attack against the UK from doing so, as in the event of such an attack the aggressor would be faced with Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  Without a deterrent our only option would be to surrender.  As a deterrent it is not there to be used for the purposes of pre-emptive strike or for use against a non-nuclear state;

A continuous at-sea deterrent is currently provided by the 4 Vanguard-class, nuclear-powered, ballistic missile armed submarines (known as SSBNs): HMS Vanguard, HMS Vengeance, HMS Victorious and HMS Vigilant.  They carry the Trident II D5 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) system.  One of these V-boats is always at sea, submerged and undetectable beneath the waves.

We don’t need nukes, do we?

Some would have you believe that the world, at some point since the end of the Cold War, has magically become safe and free from threats.  This is demonstrably untrue:

Russia is recovering economically and is investing in the regeneration of its military.  It is one of the most corrupt and most influential nations on Earth.  President Putin is not exactly a centre-ground politician and in the future there is nothing to suggest Russia doesn’t have the potential to be an active threat to the UK.  In fact in 2010 Russia engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse trying to track one of our SSBNs in the North Atlantic and there are repeated attempts by Russian bombers to enter UK airspace just to test our ability to respond.

China is a growing economic might, with a single-party political system and territorial desires in the East & South China Seas.  It is also engaging with Africa in what appears to be a quiet form of economic imperialism.  China is nuclear armed and has a modernising and growing military capability.  They have engaged in dangerous naval tactics with Japan and other east Pacific nations in territorial disputes, and are known to be engaged in widespread cyber espionage against foreign governments, militaries and companies.

There are a range of other nations that pose an existing or potential threat to a peaceful world such as the nuclear armed North Korea, the nuclear ambitious Iran (whether that is purely for civil electricity generations or not remains to be seen), and the nuclear armed but extremism plagued nations of India and Pakistan.

And let us not forget Israel, which almost certainly has its own nuclear weapons – they just won’t admit it to the outside world.  Surrounded by an Arab world with which Israel doesn’t exactly have the best of relations, and you have another potential nuclear melting pot.

Like I said, some people seem to think we live in a ‘safe’ world.  I do not.

But nukes don’t stop terrorism, cyber attacks or conventional threats!

It is entirely true that our nuclear deterrent does not directly protect us from a range of other threats.  To begin with, a nuclear attack on the UK (or anyone else for that matter) could not only take the form of a missile or air-dropped bomb, it could take the form of a smaller suitcase nuke or radiological ‘dirty’ bomb.  Terrorists the world over would probably like nothing more than to get their hands on a nuclear weapon.  But we are active in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, deploying our intelligence and security services to disrupt any such threats before they reach our shores.  Of course, such intelligence-driven measures don’t offer any protection from a conventional nuclear weapon threat.

We likewise counter cyber threats through digital counter-measures headed up by the Government Communications HQ (GCHQ).  The current government has wisely chosen to invest in our capabilities in this arena.  One of the reasons that cyber attacks have risen is that conventional and nuclear threats are simply not a practical option for hostile nations to actively challenge our interests, and so the damaging but digital impact of cyber espionage is preferred.  Should we dispose of these capabilities just because they aren’t capable of stopping a tank on a battlefield?

Our nuclear deterrent has helped to preserve the nuclear peace.  The risks associated with nuclear warfare helped to deter conventional confrontations between the USA/UK/France and the USSR.  But we rightly need strong conventional forces to protect us from conventional threats.  By way of example, the Falklands War was a purely conventional affair.  But this isn’t an argument against having a nuclear deterrent; it is an argument for having strong conventional forces as well.

So, in summary, our nuclear deterrent is part of a range of defence systems that together provide safety not just for the UK, but also our allies around the globe.

But why the UK?

We’re a third rate power aren’t we?  It’s none of our business what the rest of the world gets up to, right?  We should spend the money for the replacement of the current SSBNs on hospitals, shouldn’t we?

Except we’re one of the richest countries on the planet: riches gained through building a global reaching empire.  And after that empire came to an end we continued to have influence and looked after our business interests.  We have strong economic, political, social and historical ties with European and Commonwealth partners.  We have an obligation as an economic and military might to preserve and enhance the freedoms of people the world over because doing so makes the world a better, safer place to live; and every human being should have the same opportunities as the British to make a good life for themselves.  Such aims can only be achieved if we are prepared to spend the money on both conventional and nuclear defences.

If we were to unilaterally disarm ourselves of our nuclear capabilities, we would quickly lose influence around the world, influence which on balance we generally use for good (although that’s a whole different topic for discussion).  We would eventually lose our position on the UN Security Council and we would be sending out a signal that we are no longer interested in shaping the world through defence diplomacy, and would increasingly be at the mercy of aggressive foreign powers.

This isn’t a nuclear bombs vs. hospitals debate.  Or a nukes vs. foreign aid debate.  The entire programme of sustaining a strategic nuclear deterrent has created and sustained 10 000s of jobs across the supply chains for the submarines, within and beyond the nuclear industry itself, and thus adds to our economic activity.  If you remove the activity you damage the economy.  Furthermore, NHS England alone has a budget of £95.6 billion for the coming year, compared to an estimated £25 billion cost of replacing the Vanguard-class over the next 15 years – that’s just (a rough) 1.7% per year of the NHS’s budget to help to provide security to the world.  Without security from the greatest of threats our truly wonderful NHS and everything else in the country could simply be wiped off the map.  Or rather an aggressive foreign power could threaten our interests, harm our economy and make our existing economic problems look like a minor nuisance.  It might be tempting to wave such comments away as being sensationalist but the reality is that we enjoy our peace and relative prosperity as a nation because of our global standing – lose the global standing and that prosperity will ebb away.

But what about our conventional forces?  We can’t afford both a well equipped navy/army/air force and have a nuclear deterrent!  Except we can, if we choose to.  Our government’s spending priorities can be changed.  We can choose to reform the defence industry so it doesn’t fleece the taxpayer for commercial gain and improve the entire procurement process to ensure projects are delivered on time and to budget.  But that would take political courage and willpower – something which has been sorely lacking in the past.  Don’t think for one minute that HM Treasury would happily let the Trident replacement budget be retained by the MOD if we ended our nuclear weapons programme – because it would disappear into the abyss of wider government expenditure and conventional forces would be unlikely to see an extra penny.

Of course we could leave it to the French and USA to pick up the cost and we could sit under their protective shield.  Except both of these countries are struggling to fund their own military spending, just as we are, and frankly we shouldn’t be depending on the USA for our defence.  For too long Europe has failed to shoulder its fair share of the burden of its own defence.  It would be cowardice to shrug our shoulders and say, “Not our problem,” and it would send a message to the world that we no longer care about our alliances, our global reaching interests and responsibilities, and our standing as a beacon of democratic light in an all-too-shadowy world of unstable oppressive nations.

Remember the Libya crisis?  What was the first thing we wanted to know as a nation?  That’s right, what our Armed Forces were doing to get our people out of there safely.  We want to know that wherever we are in the world, the British government can offer us protection.  And since the 1960s we have been provided with protection from nuclear war.  The presence of nuclear weapons may have produced the Cold War, but it almost certainly stopped a conventional World War 3 from breaking out between the USA and the USSR, into which we would have unavoidably become embroiled.  The nuclear deterrent has deterred the deployment of nuclear weapons by hostile states: it has been supremely successful in carrying out its role.

We would be mad to discard our capability if this ever uncertain world.

Scottish Independence

A rather practical consideration is the basing of our nuclear powered submarines at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde in Scotland.  The Scottish National Party want nuclear weapons removed from Scotland and in the event of independence they want it to happen practically overnight.  However, there is a hugely complex and expensive infrastructure in place which would take many years and untold sums of money to move to a location in England, whether we renewed the nuclear deterrent or not.  But simply put, nuclear weapons are safe because it requires an active effort to detonate a nuclear weapon.  Scotland isn’t at serious risk from a nuclear weapon accident.  A greater risk probably exists from the Hunterston B nuclear power plant, and that is a rather minimal risk itself.

As for independence, the whole issue risks ripping apart the fabric of the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK and, as is the case for so many issues, we can only hope the Scottish population vote overwhelmingly no in the 2014 referendum.

Options for a deterrent

The Trident Alternatives Review does a very good job of demonstrating – in a non-biased way – that the only credible and cost-efficient way of maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent is to use the existing style of SLBM-armed, nuclear-powered submarines: SSBNs.  Furthermore, it outlines the options for different postures using SSBNs, and in this author’s opinion the only credible deterrent is the continuous one.

After all, if you were going to nuke someone, would you let them know in advance so they could send their counter-strike submarines to sea?  I thought not… but then you wouldn’t nuke, or threaten to nuke anyone would you?  And neither would the British government.

The same is not necessarily true of some other nations…

Today I came across this little cherub of a website about the ongoing “regeneration” of Kirkby Town Centre.

As background, some years ago Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, in partnership with Tesco and Everton Football Club, launched the ‘Destination Kirkby’ fiasco.  This was an attempt to place a new stadium for Everton alongside a new retail development, which would be adjacent to a regenerated St. Chad’s Parade: AKA the existing Town Centre.

However, a Public Enquiry decided in November 2009 that the plan should not go ahead as it was not in the best interests of Kirkby.  Since then Tesco has revised its plans, supposedly moving ahead without the stadium component of the plan.  So far there has been little evidence of any work done by Tesco and Knowsley Council to advance the project.  It can be summed up as follows:

  • The closed, dilapidated Golden Eagle Hotel has been knocked down, leaving a huge pile of rubble behind!
  • The Kirkby Suite has been gutted to make way for a ‘modern public services centre’ – you can see commentary on that at KirkbyTown.net and the closure and demolition of the existing Library will no doubt shortly follow the reopening of the ‘redeveloped’ Kirkby Centre.  The complete removal of the Kirkby Suite’s entertainment facilities will result in the net loss of services in Kirkby, not a gain of any sort.
  • They have knocked down the old market, and have started building a new one.  Which is great… except that seems to be a prelude to the closure of the InShops… so another net cut in the services offered to Kirkby’s residents.
  • And… well that’s about it really, save this recent announcement on demolishing housing…

So step-by-step, let’s rip apart this article:

Construction work is under way on the first stage of development to pave way for the new Tesco store in Kirkby’s £200m town centre regeneration.

Contractor Keepmoat is on site at St Kevin’s Drive to build 71 new homes for Plus Dane Group and Cherryfield Co-operative residents who currently live on Cherryfield Drive.

This rather suggests that the housing associations involved are doing the work, and it is not part of the redevelopment funding package.  It should be noted that with a growing population and serious social problems, Kirkby’s green space is being gradually destroyed – with this being one of the final nails in the coffin for open playing fields.

Once the St Kevin’s Drive development has been completed, the residents’ former homes on Cherryfield Drive will be demolished. This will allow construction work to start on the new 146,000 sq ft superstore and retail units in the town centre.

It may very well allow Tesco to begin construction work, but given their fall in profits, withdrawal from the USA, shift in focus to home deliveries and £804m write-down of their UK property portfoilio, one is left wondering whether they actually have any intention of delivering their planned redevelopment.  The worst-case scenario is that these houses on Cherryfield Drive are demolished and, like the Golden Eagle Hotel, remain a pile of rubble for years to come.

Cllr Dave Lonergan, Knowsley Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, economy and skills, said: “It is fantastic to see construction work under way on St Kevin’s Drive and I’m really pleased that residents can now look forward to being in their new homes. The council and our partners have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to drive the regeneration programme forward despite the ongoing national economic difficulties, and I’m delighted that residents can now see visible signs of the great progress we are making in Kirkby.”

Is Cllr Lonergan for real? A few yet-to-be built houses does not represent great progress.  Kirkby Town Centre is a shadow of its former self, Kirkby’s public services are in ruin (with the exception of the sparkly – but PFI funded – Kirkby Health Centre), and there is the imminent threat of the closure of the Kirkby campus of Knowsley Community College.

A spokesman for Tesco said: “This is a huge step forward for the Kirkby town centre regeneration programme. Once the new properties have been built, the vacant houses will be demolished to make way for the new Tesco store and other retail facilities. It is great news for residents that we are about to take such a significant step forward. This is a key milestone in the delivery of the new town centre for Kirkby.”

So, admittedly, Tesco have made a statement saying they are going to go through with the development.  But where are the timescales and what is the final plan?  It has changed frequently.  This has been going on now for a decade or more and all we have are weak statements about ‘huge steps forward’ yet no end in sight for a generation of failure.

Tesco’s plans were approved at the second attempt in 2011. Earlier plans were dismissed after a public inquiry in 2009. The scheme was reduced by 40% from 500,700 sq ft to 300,400 sq ft and a proposed stadium for Everton FC removed.

And 2 years later there hasn’t been a single new build in Kirkby Town Centre.  In fact a good number of shops have emptied because, to my knowledge, Tesco are gradually pushing up the rent of all the Town Centre tenants – as they own pretty much all of it.  In the mean time the people of Kirkby are suffering the ill-effects of years of mismanagement and under-investment.

So in short, this isn’t any major sign of progress, Kirkby Town Centre still looks half abandoned, and Tesco and the entirely Labour controlled Knowsley Council have consigned the residents of Kirkby to a bleak foreseeable future.

Ah, don’t you just love “regeneration”…

My musings on the Alternative Vote Referendum in the UK:

First posted on Facebook 5th May 2011, the day of the referendum

Here are 5 good reasons to vote NO to AV today:

1 – Our big problem is that so few people actually vote in elections. AV will make no difference to voter turnout, yet could result in skewed vote outcomes depending on how many alternative votes people caste;

2 – AV will not decrease or increase the chance of a Hung Parliament in the future. That is still down to how the electorate votes: whilst AV may produce a result by different means, the result is still dependent on the voting pattern, which is something we cannot mystically forsee.

3 – The argument that it will stop extremists getting in is entirely misleading: afterall if enough people vote for any particular candidate then they will win the election whether they are an extremist or not. Failure of mainstream political parties to engage with the ‘silent majority’ will not be fixed by switching to AV.

4 – Although it is not all that complicated for the voter to understand the Alternative Vote system, it is more open to electoral fraud because of the greater complexity of counting the votes. First Past The Post is far more transparent.

5 – NOW for the most compelling reason… AV has already been declared a stepping stone to Proportional Representation (PR) by the Lib Dems. This is the system by which the BNP and UKIP manage to get seats in the European Parliament! It will destroy the connection between MP and constituency, and almost certainly increase corruption and decrease local representation in the House of Commons. Voting NO to AV will kill any possibility of a future vote on PR!

So I say VOTE NO to AV – TODAY.

But whether you think yes or no to AV, MAKE SURE YOU ACTUALLY VOTE!

(Disclaimer – I am not aligned to any political party… I just think that AV is a load of old tosh!)

First posted on Facebook 29th December 2011

Firstly I would like to state that I have no military experience beyond four years at Liverpool University Royal Naval Unit, and I cannot claim to have held any high office in this land or any other.  I am not a military or naval strategist and I do not and have not worked in the defence industry.  So perhaps I am completely unqualified to offer this response.  I have, however, avidly followed the spiral of decline in our Armed Forces over the past decade or so: although I recognise that hardly qualifies me in the affairs of national defence.

I do however hold a first-class degree in Oceans, Climate and Physical Geography from the University of Liverpool and I am currently in the third year of a PhD in Physical Oceanography.  I am also an Associate Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society and a member of the European Geosciences Union.  I do not claim to speak on behalf of my university, nor the society, nor the union – but I felt sufficiently motivated to bring my education to bear on the recent paper published by the UK National Defence Association entitled “Inconvenient Truths – Threats justify prioritising defence” (specifically section 4.2, paragraph 7).

There were a number of matters dealt with by the paper which I disagreed with (but many more which I find entirely agreeable), but I thought it best to focus on the field that I have experience in – climate change.  I shall deal with each point (in bold and italics) in turn:

“The last and major handicap to long-term economic growth is that the Government is imposing large climate change burdens on industry, especially the vital manufacturing industry to which it looks to spearhead economic growth.”

Climate change is the biggest threat to the human race.  We, as a civilisation are more exposed to changes in our climate than ever before due to a large increase in population and the increasing scarcity of a range of resources.  Our economy has already proven to be susceptible to relatively small fluctuations in the price of food and fuel: whether these fluctuations were as a result of natural factors or instead were man-made by commodity speculation is another topic for discussion.  One fact is for sure though; our economy is inextricably linked to the climate in which we live.

The manufacturing industry no-doubt faces many challenges, however ‘green’ technologies such as wind turbines is a source of growth in the UK economy and represents an area in which engineering skill and manufacturing expertise is required to delivery long-lived and cost/energy efficient machines.  This is surely to be welcomed?

“Equally it is imposing heavy charges on all individual electricity consumers thus significantly curtailing their spending power. These handicaps are greater than on any other nation is imposing. In contrast the main polluters, America, China and India, besides which Britain’s 2% of global carbon emissions is puny, are doing relatively little.”

The UK population forms less than 1% of the world’s population, yet we produce by the authors’ own assertion 2% of global carbon emissions.  That means that we produce twice as much CO2 per head as the global average.  Regardless of our overall contribution to global emissions, we still emit far more per head than most of the rest of the world.  Having built Britain on the back of the rest of the world’s economy over the course of the past 300 years, and having a large historical carbon footprint compared to most developing nations, it seems only fair that we should lead the way in altering our economy to a more sustainable footing.

Surprisingly, it turns out that China is actually one of the world’s leading investor in renewal technologies: it holds the leading role in solar panel manufacturing and is rapidly expanding its renewable power generation.  China’s aim is almost certainly to provide increased energy security for itself, whilst simultaneously dominating the market in the purchase of rare earth metals upon which the likes of photovoltaics are currently reliant.

“All this, based on the belief that the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to damaging rises in global temperature, is far from clear. An article by Lord Turnbull (a very senior distinguished former civil servant), shows that the basic scientific evidence is far from conclusive. The Government should urgently review these matters before continuing its present policy. It is unwise to have placed such heavy bets on just one interpretation of the evidence. Belief in serious man-made global warming has become, in the words of the most celebrated economic journalist, Sir Samuel Brittan, an unexamined „…collective craze‟. CO2 concentrations have risen steadily since the 1940s but global temperature rises occurred far earlier. The rises in temperature experienced between 1970 and the late 1990s have stopped, with no rise and more probably a fall in the last decade.”

Whilst I’m sure Lord Turnbull is indeed a very senior distinguished former civil servant, he is not a climate scientist.  In fact he is a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation – a nicely named organisation, which is in fact fundamentally opposed to the idea that human activity is having any effect upon global warming and the GWPF is a proponent of the idea that we shouldn’t take any action to mitigate the impact of CO2 emissions.  Its academic advisory council includes several economists (of which Samuel Brittan is one of them) and a couple of scientists – but from what I can tell none of them are climate scientists.  I wouldn’t expect a climate scientist to be an authority on defence matters: nor should you expect a civil servant (or even a theoretical physicist) with links to a highly questionable organisation to be an expert on climate science.

As someone with a background in climate science, from all the evidence I’ve seen, the vast majority of climate scientists agree that enhanced global warming due to human activity is occurring.  However, any climate scientist worth his salt will acknowledge that there is uncertainty in what our future climate will be, and that there are some things we do not yet understand: but the underlying science is sound and almost unanimously agreed upon by those in the field.  Contrary to the last line of the above quote, the consensus of scientific opinion is that climate change is continuing unabated, albeit with varying rates of change in different parts of the world.

“Our very expensive Climate Change Act ignores the fact that other EU nations are mainly doing far less and the big overseas nations almost nothing at all. We are thus imposing a major handicap on British competitiveness for negligible global benefit even if it turns out that CO2 is the principal agent of climate change. The Government can have manufacturing growth or its present climate control policies – but it cannot have both. It should think again.”

Many EU nations are doing far more than we are: heading further and faster down the road to sustainable energy production than we are: as of 2008 only Luxembourg and Malta had a lower rate of renewable energy production than the UK.  Even if you don’t accept the CO2 argument for climate change – against the vast bulk of scientific evidence and educated opinion – switching to renewable power generation increases our energy security, provides a source of manufacturing and servicing jobs for wind turbines and other technologies.  Currently, the surge in demand for oil products from China and other developing nations is pushing up the price of fuel in the UK.  If we decrease our reliance on oil products then our economy will be less dependent on highly volatile regions of the world (e.g. the Arabian Gulf) and therefore will provide a more stable and competitive environment in which to do business.

When it comes to the defence industry here in the UK, the revelations since the coalition came to power about the sheer scale of waste and incompetence both within the MOD and defence companies is far more concerning than any impacts from the Climate Change Act.  Billions of pounds have simply been wasted through contract renegotiations (e.g. the carriers), changes to system requirements (any number of procurements) and failure to deliver projects to time and budget (Nimrod springs to mind as the most recent catastrophic example).  Industry and the MOD need a more efficient and healthy relationship as a priority to stimulate industrial growth (such as a sufficient drumbeat of orders for ships to keep the shipyards active on an ongoing basis).  There are many issues which affect particularly the defence manufacturing industry, but the Climate Change Act is the least of their worries.

Ironically, climate change is actually an argument in favour of properly funding the armed forces and having a manufacturing base to properly underpin that commitment:

  • Increasing pressures on key resources (water, oil, food, etc.) is likely to increase friction between nations with competing interests – which would require more intervention by the UN and an increased chance of our armed forces being called upon to enforce Security Council Resolutions, or indeed simply defend our own territories (e.g. The Falklands and the recent discovery of oil fields);
  • Whilst climate change cannot be directly linked as the cause of any specific event, the general consensus is that climate change will lead to an increase in severe weather events and related natural disasters.  The response to such events is often best handled through the military as they are often the only body with sufficient skills, strategic lift and mobility to provide effective relief efforts (e.g. hurricane season in the Caribbean to which we already provide relief efforts through the Royal Navy);
  • Medium to long-term shifts in overall climate could very well lead to serious humanitarian and political situations whereby millions of people are internally or externally displaced (e.g. sea level rise in low-lying Bangladesh is a prime example).  The political and economic ramifications of such changes are immense and make our manufacturing woes pale into insignificance.  Whilst I’m not necessarily suggesting that Somalia’s current famine is the result of human induced climate change, it is a prime example of how adverse climate combined with the collapse of governance can severely impact on the global economy through the rise of piracy which costs the global economy an estimated $7 to $12 billion a year.  A strong international response with the necessary military and naval resources at its disposal to respond to piracy, for instance, would be of great benefit to the British and wider global economy.

My greatest issue with the paper is that it raises matters which are at best tangential to the core issue of the proper funding of the Armed Forces for the task we expect them to do.  To the most critical of readers, the paper is pushing at least one other agenda – i.e. climate change denial – which actually does a disservice to the cause of ensuring our nation is properly equipped for the dangerous modern world we live in.  It risks placing the UKNDAs campaign (or at least members who are party to it) into the political wilderness and overshadowing the many other good solid arguments in favour of the UK Armed Forces.

By failing to recognise an entire spectrum of threats to our economic and physical security, the authors have missed a key argument for why HMG should reprioritise funding a properly equipped and capable UK Armed Forces.

With hope and regards

Matthew Donnelly