Malcolm Tucker would call it a cluster****. You could call it an omnsishambles. The combination of EVEL and the Branch Office rebellion, the naked class war being waged through Tax Credits and QE, where a new report shows the £325billion QE programme gave £600billion boost to the rich and nothing for bottom 50%, all combine to make this a spectacular week for our dysfunctional Union.
In the wonderful world of Parody Britain, this week the unelected House of Lords stands as the defender of democracy and the protector of the poor, set to oppose the Tories Tax Credits bill. You couldn’t make it up. Matthew d’Ancona explains: “Since tax credit reform is not explicitly mentioned in the Tory manifesto, they do not believe that the so-called Salisbury convention (under which the Lords will not vote down a measure enacting an election pledge on which a government was elected) applies. Having consulted the parliamentary authorities, they are no less confident that the new tax credit rules cannot be classified as a money bill and do not, therefore, enjoy the immunity from Lords veto enshrined in the 1911 Parliament Act.”
No doubt the media coverage will focus on the heroic efforts of ermine-clad class warriors to defeat the Tory plans, rather than the tragic absurdity of the whole edifice.
Any one of these actions could normally be taken as extraordinary game-changing acts. The passing of EVEL puts a lie to any notion that we are an equal partner in a family of nations once and for all, as the real power relations are now laid bare. As Tommy Sheppard commented: “History made today. For first time ever parliament restricts rights of Scottish MPs to represent their electors.” A sentiment repeated by Chris Bryant MP, who said: “EVEL debate has been profoundly bitter. I fear this will put a worm of grievance in people’s heart. It’s a charter for breaking the Union.” Indeed it is but no one could quite sum up the new reality with greater eloquence than Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg who claimed that the “price of the union” for England was asymmetrical devolution and that “by virtue of being over 80% of the population and the richest part of the union” England could not be afforded the same level of devolution as it would “overwhelm” the other parts of the UK. He said he therefore appreciated the proposals because of their “modesty”. Such charm.
As Alec Finlay has put it: “As of today no future Scottish MP will be able to hold any of the major offices of the UK – PM, Chancellor, Home Secretary. No Scottish MP will be responsible for the Defence of the realm, etc. We live in a form of constitutional proto-apartheid; bantustan-scotland. The Scotland Office has been renamed ‘The UK Government for Scotland’.”
But let’s set aside these seismic shifts to the precarious constitutional balance of Britain. If the Conservatives weren’t recklessly hellbent on pursuing their ideological economic agenda you could have forgiven them for their own actions if they had been able to, in trying to hold together the exhausted myth of a coherent united Britain develop their dodgy notion of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Instead having sacrificed Redcar to the Siamese Twin of the Chinese super-state and globalisation, the Conservatives have given a turbo-boost to the south-east. More China House than Powerhouse. Investing in Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex, does two things. It signals clearly that the Northern steel industry is dead, and northern communities dispensable, and it further distorts and re-focuses the entire British energy investment, going hand-in-hand with the recent withdrawal of support for Scottish renewables industry.
The move may be a travesty for human right and human decency but it’s a massive boost for private companies such as Laing O’Rourke, Balfour Beatty, and Cavendish Nuclear who are all in line for significant contracts, with G4S a bidder for security contracts. The sight of the British royal family, slavering over these despots was extraordinary but the development is more than a celebration of global elite power – a massive fuck you to democracy – it is primarily an ecological nightmare.
As President Xi Jinping and George Osborne declared ‘a new nuclear dawn for the UK’ lets look at some of the realities. As Jonathon Porrit wrote in his prescient review of the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ (see PDF p. 22 here) written in May this year:
“the environment movement is increasingly concerned at the massively distorting effect that this obsession with nuclear is having on the rest of the UK’s low-carbon strategy. Both onshore wind and solar will be competing with nuclear, on a subsidy-free basis, by 2020 at the latest; the dramatic improvements in storage technologies that are now imminent will greatly reinforce that case. The combination of energy efficiency (as our ‘first fuel’), plus renewables, plus smart local grids, now clearly provides a better alternative to large-scale nuclear generation. But the fear is that the UK’s remarkably resilient nuclear fantasy will continue to block these alternatives, to cause the misdirection of massive amounts of both public money and private sector investment, to confuse the general public, and generally set back our prospects for secure, affordable, low-carbon energy options here in the UK.”
Last week that reality came to pass.
Leaving aside that the EdF’s EPR (the reactor of choice for Hinkley Point) had already proved to be a disaster at both Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland, we see nowhere in the plans a detailed account of costs for dealing with the nuclear waste from these plants. Only in July the BBC reported: “The troubled European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) under construction in France is one of the standard bearers for the next generation of nuclear power plants.It is of the same design as that planned for Hinkley C in Somerset and its collapse would deliver a major blow to the so called nuclear renaissance.” Not much word of such issues last week as Royals feted Xi Jinping and his cash.
What are they going to do about the waste? They don’t really say because they don’t really know. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority currently estimates that the cost of decommissioning and cleaning up just one of our current plants (Sellafield) is £53 billion and rising at a rate of £5 billion year. It’s expected that the bill for cleaning up the Cumbria site will rise even higher as operators struggle to assess the full scale of the task.
Stop and think for a second what an investment of £53 billion in home insulation and renewable energy would look like?
Hinkley Point will be the most expensive plant in the world, at £24bn. It will cost more than the London Olympics, new Heathrow and Crossrail put together. It will need to be subsidised until at least 2060 and will make any previous PFI projects look like a sweety-jar. This is an ecologic disaster that we are tied to for hundreds of years and our great grandchildren will pay for.
As Aditya Chakraborrty commented: “Nuclear power is merely the punchline to this whole rotten joke. We won’t build it, we won’t own it, we certainly won’t control it. But we will pay for it: in lost jobs, in vanishing taxes, in whopping great winter fuel bills.”
Abandoning or low-carbon future is a constitutional question. Completely re-writing our energy future is a constitutional question. Handing over significant parts of your infrastructure to a foreign country is a constitutional question. There is a massive and growing ecological case for independence to set us on a different path from this madness.