Insights from the UK minister for tax

I met our MP David Gauke on 26 June.  All I can say is that he is an expert at the brush-off.  I have to admit that it is a strong feature of our democracy that I was able to meet the UK government minister for taxation one day after phoning his office, but that doesn’t mean the system is working.

I shook his hand, and congratulated him on the election result.  I was brought up to be polite.  He thinks it was the late actions by Miliband that gifted the Conservatives a majority – sticking by spending priorities before the 2008 crash in the TV question time for the leaders; the pre-election promises etched in a fake stone; and meeting Russell Brand.  He’s probably right – how depressingly shallow.david-gauke-on-bbc

He was overrunning, and I was the last to meet him, so he did cut our conversation shorter than it should have been, so I was unable to do all of my points justice.

To cut a long story a little shorter, he did take a couple of actions from our meeting – which I’m glad to say I think he may have followed through, at least to some degree.  They were both to talk to Amber Rudd – the new Minister for Energy and Climate Change.  One was to raise with her the idea of David Cameron standing alongside BP, Shell, churches, science and health organisations and addressing those people who are still misinformed about the realities of climate change, to let them know that climate change is real, the temperature increases over the past few decades are human-caused, and because the consequences of ineffective action would be dire that the public need to get behind climate policy.  The second action was to ensure that community-driven energy projects get particular support in such policies.

I have to say though that Gauke himself, while toeing the party line that climate change is a serious issue, still does prioritise a lot above it – he listed Russia, Isis and growing the economy as more important during our meeting.  He even went as far as quiting Bjorn Lomborg, the infamous climate policy sceptic, saying that for the money needed to address climate change you could instead purify all of the water in Africa.  I should have come back with something about that being all very well, but useless in the face of a massive drought, but my wits didn’t play ball.  And of course he wasn’t for a moment suggesting that we should invest in improving Africa’s water, it was just an absurd argument.

On why they are curbing support for wind farms, he said they’d just run out of money.  Again, I accepted this during the meeting, but realise now that it is just a policy stance – the conservatives don’t believe in raising money in taxes to rebalance the economy or raise funds.  Missed opportunity on my part given I was talking to the minister of tax.

I’ll follow-up in a few days with how the actions Gauke took panned out, but you’ll have to wait.

I gave him my notes at the end of the meeting – here they are for your perusal:

  • Missed Gauke at the Speak Up lobby – too many people outside for everyone to be able to get in to meet their MP, and at the BDCC BBQ
  • People often assume I must vote Green or label me an “eco-warrior” because I’m concerned about climate change – it’s ludicrous that being concerned about arguably the most serious long-term issue affecting human society and economic prospects means you must vote for a marginal party. People assume it is just about “the environment” and fixed with energy saving light bulbs and recycling – but a much more fundamental change is needed, which needs people’s understanding and agreement
  • Why I am concerned about climate change
    • Yes, impact on the environment
    • Yes, unfairness of developed world being largely responsible and developing world being largely impacted
    • Yes, unfairness of future generations being the most impacted
    • But most of all, the uncertainty.
      • Agriculture was developed during the last dying stages of the last ice age about 13000 years ago, and the climate has been stable since then, allowing our great civilisations to develop.
      • The world climate has been steadily predictable for millions of years, with 100000-150000 year cycles of ice ages. We are supposed to be at the top of a plateau of temperature now, between ices ages, with a new natural ice age starting slowly in tens of thousands of years. 
      • Instead, temperatures are rising.
      • Scientists just don’t know for sure what that will mean, as we deviate from the natural course. When will tipping points kick in to move us to a different world?  What will Britain look like?  I find that scary.
    • Current international commitments are nowhere near enough to give a reasonable change of avoiding a 2 degree rise in temperatures (source: e.g. IEA) – 50% chance of 2.6 degrees by 2100, 3.5 degrees by 2200.
    • Need to be able to press for ambitious deal in Paris
    • Would conservative party be willing to go beyond the Climate Change Act to get that deal?
    • Public opinion – most understand climate change is real, but a lot don’t, particularly older conservative voters, and some back-benchers.
      • Was only the other day that I was talking to two local town councillors, and they were saying off-hand that they didn’t think global warming “was real” – was not an appropriate moment to have an in-depth discussion about it – it is crazy
      • Some parts of press at best not helpful. Could be the nub of the issue.
    • But other notable and influential bodies accept the problem:
      • BP / Shell called for a tax on carbon
      • Church of England divesting, pope encyclical, Quakers divesting
      • UK health community calling on phase out of coal
    • There would be cross-party support for a bold public declaration, with fanfare, from David Cameron, BP, Shell, NGOs, religious bodies and Royal Society to all stand up and say “sorry, climate change is real, caused by us, and is bad. We need to stop it, and need to get a good international deal in Paris – give us that leeway”.  Leadership is needed.
    • Then tax, planning and subsidy policies need to be in line with the rhetoric.
    • Committed to keeping bills down
      • Onshore wind farms are the cheapest form of energy we have
      • Early ending of wind farm ROG means needing to invest in more expensive technology
      • Why?
      • If because wind farms unpopular, why promoting less popular fracking?
      • If because wind farms are established technology, then why increasing support for oil?
    • Renewable community energy of all sorts is the way forward – I know we will run up against problems locally as we try to move things forward if there remains scepticism about our motives and the issue in the first place, so what can you do to help (e.g. write to sceptical councillors or keep incentives for community schemes)




Idling our future away

When it comes to actually making changes to the way we live to lessen the impact we have on the climate, I can typically see both sides of the argument.  Take wind farms as an example.

As a child I used to look round at the views on Anglesey and strain and struggle to find any view that did not contain signs of human activity.  Even looking into the skies did not help as I realised that the slowly dissipating stringy clouds were produced by planes soaring across the heavens.

So I totally get why people would not want our beautiful landscapes further derided by human structures with the erection of turbines*.

What I don’t understand and really can’t abide is where people needlessly waste energy and pollute.

In particular: idling cars.  Bloody people sitting in their cars with the windows down in a car park with the bloody engine on.  What on earth are they thinking?  Really makes my blood boil.Exhaust fumes - do not loiter - smaller

I have at times resolved to ask people, or confront them.  I’ve tried a lot of different tactics.

I might open with “Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind me asking, what is the reason for you having your engine on at the moment?”

“What’s it to you?” would come the rather indignant reply.

“I’m worried about the fumes and the effect on the climate, not to mention that it’s wasting your money”

“Good point, thank you” was a recent response from someone sitting in a sports centre car park in their car.  They left the engine running.  I left them to it.

Or I might say “Excuse me, could you please turn your engine off?  My children are walking past your car and I’d rather they didn’t have to breathe in the fumes”.  More success with that one, but people can still get a little uppity.

Not many people realise that you only need to be stationary for 10 seconds or more before you would have saved money had you switched the engine off.  It is almost always worth switching off your motor if you stop at a traffic light (other than a pedestrian crossing – you don’t get much time to walk across the road), let alone when you are waiting outside someone’s home, or in a car park.

If you stop at a traffic light 10 times a day, and sit idle for 20 minutes a day on average, you would save between £180 and £632 per year on your petrol bill (depending on the efficiency of your car)**.  And your engine would last longer.  Imagine how much taxis could save.

I know at some times of the year people have the engine on to run the air conditioning or the heater.  Seems utterly daft to me – running a large petrol engine to heat a car?  Imagine doing that in your home, you’d feel a little daft.  But it’s when people leave the car running for no reason at all that really gets under my skin.
small image - no idling car sign
Oh, and by the way, it is illegal in the UK to have your car running while being on the mobile, even if it isn’t moving.  You need to switch it off and take the key out.

Thoughts on how (or whether) I should approach people much appreciated.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

* The way I think of it, though, wind turbines are temporary.   If we want to cook, heat, watch telly, have loads of lights on in the house – we need electricity.  So we have a choice, do we generate that electricity in a way that will arguably spoil some views for 20-30 years?  Or do we instead burn gas, oil and coal, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to damage our climate – and hence our views – effectively forever?  Nuclear is another matter – I say let’s put a load of reactors round the coast as well as build the wind farms.  Bring on nuclear fusion.

** Calculation: 10 stops of 20 seconds per day = 20 hours per year.  20 minutes idling per day = 120 hours per year.  140p per litre of petrol = £6.36 per gallon.  Saving between 1/5 or 7/10 of a gallon per hour = saving of £180 to £632 per year.