Faith Schools in the UK

When you look at the results of opinion surveys and polls, you might think that Christianity is on its last legs in the UK. So can the non-religious majority happily put it to the back of their minds, and imagine that it really doesn’t matter much anymore? In September 2017, Humanism UK referred on its website to recent findings of the British Social Attitudes Survey, published on the 4th of that month, revealing that 71% of 18-24 year olds say they belong to no religion, while just 3% say they are Church of England and 5% say they are Catholic. Most of us in the UK probably get on with our lives pretty much unaffected by what the religious minority get up to. We might have a beef about bishops in the House of Lords, or the monarch being Defender of the Faith, or Thought For The Day on Radio 4 being always presented from a religious standpoint, but really, is this such a big deal?

Where it is very much a big deal is schools, especially primary schools.

If our task were to devise a way of ensuring that society is divided, we’d be hard pressed to improve on segregating our primary schoolchildren into separate schools based on the religious affiliation of their parents. That way we can bring up generations of young people into adults who mistrust “other” on grounds of religion. If we do a great job, we might even be able to achieve separation of the community along religious /sectarian lines. We could deliver a society where many adults have never had friends who are Muslim, or Roman Catholic, or Church of England, and who regard such people with mistrust or even contempt. It worked extremely well in Northern Ireland, so why not try it in the rest of the UK too?

Crazy? You might have thought so, but it’s the road our Government seems determined to drive down, with ever more determination and vigour.

To understand the issue, we need to consider the phenomenon of how the quality of primary schools in the UK is perceived, on a spectrum of excellent at the top, to poor at the bottom. Primary school children generally can’t travel too far from home to school, so there’s a captive audience. But it’s even more specific than that: admissions relate to catchment area, so the choices of school a child can attend are to a significant extent influenced by the precise location of the family home. Where a primary school is situated in a relatively privileged area, with a catchment of predominantly well-educated middle-class families, it will tend to have better results than another school which draws most of its pupils from lower-income families. It might not be popular to say this, and of course results for individual children do vary widely, but it is the perceived results of a school as a whole which matters here, and the data is incontrovertible: parents who are well-educated tend to be better off, tend to be more proactive about the educational attainment of their children, provide better support and environment at home for learning, and tend on average to produce more academically able children. This is reflected in the overall results of the school. The introduction of SATS, and publication of school league tables, have made academic results highly visible, and a major motivator for parents seeking the “best” school for their children. We observe a sort of self-fulfilling catchment-area polarization based on house price. When better-off families move house, they preferentially relocate into the catchment area of a school with good results, thus pushing up house prices still further; lower income families are priced out, and the cycle is reinforced, with if anything an increasing disparity in perceived performance between good schools and so-called “sink” schools.

What has this to do with religion? At first sight, not much, but look more closely. What we have in England in particular is a large number of Church of England Primary schools, many in relatively well-to-do neighbourhoods, and which have benefitted from this self-reinforcing “good school” reputation. There are two notable consequences:

• The Government identifies the correlation between faith schools and better results, and attributes causation. “If we make more schools into faith schools, we will improve outcomes overall.” This is bizarre and flawed thinking, but can perhaps be better understood if one recognizes that many of our politicians, including the Prime Minister Theresa May, espouse devout Christian faith themselves, so might be open to the accusation that they are seeking to further their own religious views, rather than being wholly objective.

• The C of E quite understandably sees a position of influence in control of schools and their admission policy. They know that keen parents will jump through hoops to get their child into the school they want. The higher the proportion of intake they can require to be from families who fulfil certain criteria for being C of E, the more they can persuade people to change their behaviour to fulfil those criteria. Thus, non-churchgoing parents “discover” a sudden interest in attending church regularly, being checked off on a register each Sunday – often for two years or more – and might even gain extra points by volunteering for additional church duties. It’s a win-win for the church. More adult bums-on-seats on a Sunday, and more young children attending Sunday school, and more acceptance of overt evangelizing to young minds within the school environment. Catch more and more children before they’ve reached the age of reason, and there’s a higher chance you’ll keep them.

I could describe this sort of behaviour as cynical, and manipulative. However, from the standpoint of the church, which must by definition regard its work and its message as good, proper, and worthwhile, it is fair game.

But it can only succeed with the connivance of Government, by
• Encouraging the establishment of more faith schools
• Changing the law to allow schools to discriminate on the basis of the religion of the parents. At present, the law requires new faith schools to admit at least 50% of pupils from the local area, irrespective of the faith or beliefs of the parents. Present proposals would scrap this restriction, and allow wholesale religious segregation.

I find this prospect appalling. Evidence shows that religion-based admission policies not only deliver reduced access for local children to attend their local school, but also lead to greater segregation of society on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. This is an outcome to be deplored and fought against, not encouraged.

If you find this disturbing, and please do what you can to fight the proliferation of faith schools, and to eliminate the right of schools to discriminate their intake on the basis of the religion of the parents.

Make a noise about it. Write to your own MP. Write to the Secretary of State for Education, at present the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP. Join Humanists UK (formerly the British Humanist Association) , who are actively campaigning in this direction.

Please consider the above, and make your voice heard.

The Great Brexit Debate – what next?

The UK referendum on EU membership happened well over a year ago now, but for from settling the matter, it continues to raise more questions and dispute, and ever more strong feelings. If one judges by social media, there is a clamour of people who feel strongly that the referendum result is not legitimate, and must be revisited or somehow overturned. This viewpoint is typically characterized by two things: a conviction that Brexit will be a very bad thing for the UK, and a claim that many of those who voted  to leave the EU did so because they were cynically misled by the Leave campaign, and now regret their decision and would vote to remain if given another chance. Brexiteers often style such people “Remoaners” – which I think is condescending and unhelpful. I need a shorthand term for this post: I will simply call them “Remainers”.

There is no doubt that many of the referendum campaign messages were intemperate, exaggerated, and misleading.  Remainers cite this image ad nauseam to illustrate the point. They challenge Brexiteers with “When will this £350 million ever find its way to the NHS?”, and revel in the backpedalling which ensues.

The campaign also revealed some fairly nasty xenophobic attitudes amongst a highly vocal minority of the great British public. Like it or not, it is clear that at least some of the vote to leave was driven by a perception of excessive immigration into the UK from EU countries, especially eastern European ones, “taking our jobs”, and putting demands on our infrastructure and services -schools, hospitals, housing, etc -which they couldn’t cope with. UKIP, and Nigel Farage in particular, were a big part of that – and I found myself repelled by their narrative. It is also regrettably true that some unsavoury xenophobes have felt emboldened by the referendum result, and engaged in thoroughly nasty behaviour towards those they regard as “not welcome here”. It is important to emphasize that such views and behaviours, though heavily publicized,  are those of an extreme and tiny minority, and don’t represent mainstream UK values.

However, there was no shortage of exaggerated claims made by the remain camp. A prominent spokesman, then Chancellor George Osborne, made dire predictions about economic disaster, should the vote go the “wrong” way. A punishment budget, economic collapse, and soaring unemployment were some of the perils we were led to expect. If Remainers seek to argue that some people voted Leave because they were misled by false information, they must also concede that “Project Fear” dissuaded many voters from voting Leave, who otherwise would have done.

All this, however, is a matter for conjecture. What matters is where we go from here.

A common theme I’ve seen on social media, such as Twitter, is that leaving the EU offers no benefits at all: it will be an unmitigated disaster, a mistake of monumental impact; we must “come to our senses”.

I have never had sympathy with that view, neither before the referendum nor since. When I studied the situation in detail in the lead up to the vote, to help me crystallize my views, it was clear to me that there are arguments on both sides. Which should carry greater weight is a matter of judgement, and that judgement is likely to be better if one has better information. So I wrote a blog post called “The EU: Should we stay or should we go?” in an attempt to provide some factual background to what the EU is and how it works, and to set out the pros and cons of the UK remaining a member. If you’re interested, you can find it here

I wrote it some months before the referendum of June 2016, and have gone back to re-read several times since, to see if my views have been invalidated by events. Perhaps surprisingly, I find the answer is “no”. What I wrote then still pretty much stands up, but in taking that view I would seem to be very out-of-step with current UK public opinion.

However, there are some people prepared to make the case for leaving, and they have largely – and thankfully – left the xenophobia behind.  I am heartened that I’m not a lone voice in the wilderness.

I read an article in The Times of 21 August 2017, by Matt Ridley, and I found it captured rather eloquently the free trade /tariffs arguments, and pointed out some of the less-well-publicized aspects of EU policy which certainly tarnish the “halo” which some commentators ascribe to all things EU. It is well worth a read, so I reproduce it in full here. I commend it for your consideration.

Best hope for free trade is to have principles
Matt Ridley, Times, Monday 21 August 2017
Britain should argue against the rules-based system of the EU and China and champion the ways of the Anglosphere

Why does the European Union raise a tariff on coffee? It has no coffee industry to protect so the sole effect is to make coffee more expensive for all Europeans. Even where there is an industry to protect, protectionism hurts far more people than it helps. Last October the EU surreptitiously quintupled the tariff on imported oranges to 16% to protect Spanish citrus producers against competition from South Africa, and punish the rest of us. It imposes a tax of 4.7% on imported umbrellas, 15% on unicycles and 16.9% on sports footwear.

I find that many Twitter trolls do not even realize that the European “single market” is actually a fortress protected by high external tariff walls. Yet external tariffs are pure self-harm; they are blockades against your own ports, as the economist Ryan Bourne has pointed out. We impose sanctions on pariah regimes, restricting their imports, not to help their economies but to hurt them. The entire point of producing things is to consume things (the pattern of pay shows that we work to live rather than vice versa), so punishing consumers is perverse. As Adam Smith put it, describing the European Union in advance, “in the mercantile system the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer”.
Therefore, after Brexit, Britain should try unilateral free trade no matter what everybody else does — and even if the United States turns more protectionist. So argues a group of 16 distinguished economists, Economists for Free Trade, the first part of whose manifesto From Project Fear to Project Prosperity is published today. They calculate that unilateral free trade would benefit the British economy to the tune of £135 billion a year. One of them, Kevin Dowd of Durham University, has also written a powerful new pamphlet for the Institute of Economic Affairs entitled A trade policy for a Brexited Britain.
He argues that unlike in every other kind of negotiation, unilateral disarmament works with trade. Dismantling barriers to imports — removing sanctions against your own people — reduces the costs of the goods for consumers, reduces the costs of inputs for most producers, lowers inflation, creates employment and boosts growth.
So the best negotiating strategy is liberalize first, talk second: dare others to follow suit. As Sir Robert Peel told the House of Commons in the Corn Laws debate in 1846, the government would cease “haggling with foreign countries about reciprocal concessions, instead of taking the independent course, which we believe to be conducive to our own interests”.
Like socialism, pure free trade has probably never been tried, but unlike socialism, the closer countries get to free trade the more they thrive. Consider three examples of unilateral economic disarmament: Britain after 1846-1860, Hong Kong and Singapore today. In all three cases, economic growth was far faster than the global average. Even China unilaterally reduced its tariffs significantly (albeit not to zero) some years ago — to great effect.
Free trade is the very opposite of elitism. Its benefits accrue disproportionately to the poor; its costs to the crony-capitalist rich. However, if this is to be another Corn Laws moment — a major economy taking the plunge for unilateral free trade — then we need to think through how best to dare the world to follow us. For we will run into the problem of how to deal with other blocs’ non-tariff barriers.
The big issue today is not tariffs but standards, or regulatory rules behind the border. How do you ensure that an import is not toxic or unsafe or made with slave labour? And how do you stop such concerns becoming an excuse for barriers against imports?
Tariffs are now mostly low, except in agriculture, but non-tariff barriers, especially in services, are high. As an economy dominated by services, Britain has a strong interest in trying to lead the world into services liberalization.
Here is where the big battle is to be fought in future between two competing approaches, says Shanker Singham of the influential Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission. One, espoused mainly in the EU, is the prescriptive, rules-based system that specifies exactly how a product or service must be produced if it is to be allowed in. In the tradition of Roman civil law, this approach essentially prescribes the method as well as the outcome. China, too, increasingly works in this way, though its regulatory regime — “global standards with a Chinese character” — is something of a regulatory black box.
Such policy is essentially agnostic about consumer welfare: it is driven by producer interests and revenue maximization for government. Our challenge is to shift the world trading system towards a better, common-law approach, which is principles-based, outcome-focused, consumer-friendly. Because of our history and the nature of our economy, Britain can be an effective champion of this challenge.
The issue boils down to defining the word “equivalent” as something other than “identical”. For the EU, the dominant approach has been harmonization rather than mutual recognition: things must be done the same way everywhere within the single market. But outside, mutual recognition of outcomes is gaining ground: for example, between Australia and New Zealand, there is an agreement that “your agency judged this medicine or foodstuff safe, and that’s good enough for us”. Even the EU has accepted this approach of mutual recognition with other countries, although sparingly. This has to be the way to go. To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping, it does not matter what colour the cat is, so long as it catches mice.
The World Trade Organization does provide a mechanism for this kind of equivalent mutual recognition. In the “technical barriers to trade” (TBT) and “sanitary and phytosanitary measures” (SPS) agreements, countries should mutually recognize their systems if the overall objective (safety etc) is the same, but the technical way of getting there differs. So the EU could arguably be breaching WTO rules if it argues that equivalence requires identical regulation.
Free trade works. I live in Northumberland, and it no more makes sense to deny Northumbrians access to products and services from abroad than to deny them cars from Sunderland, whisky from Scotland or lamb from Cumbria.
As Adam Smith said, you should never “attempt to make at home what it will cost [you] more to make than to buy . . . What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”

There. I hope you made it to the end, and I hope it will make you think a little.








Response to terrorism

Emotions are running high, and rightly so. Reports of innocent people, including young children, slaughtered and maimed as they came out of a pop concert in Manchester are top of the headlines across the world.  Many world leaders have stopped what they were doing to make comment, and express their outrage and solidarity with the people of Manchester and the UK.  General Election campaigning was put on hold. The TV news relegated almost everything else to coverage of the outrage, and responses to it, for a good few days.

As always when such atrocities occur, we agonize over the possible causes, the motivations of the people who commit them,  and the means we might have to “ensure it never happens again”. Some of us rush to apportion blame. The level of hatred of “other”, on social media, ramps up a few notches. We hear the cry “Something must be done!” all around.

Well, of course something must be done, and by and large, as a society we’re doing it. Fighting terrorism involves rigorous intelligence to intercept and prevent terrorist acts before they can be implemented,  security measures to make it harder to commit atrocities, and working hard to understand and combat radicalization. It’s a long haul, and difficult.  So long as there are people with the will and the means to do harm, whatever measures we take, we can never be 100% successful. But the more we enlist the help of all who might be able to help us, the better our chances.

I guess all of this is no more than restating the obvious. But here, I want to ask a slightly different question: what gives terrorism its terrific ability to affect the lives of all of us, not just the arbitrarily unfortunate few: the direct victims, their families, friends and loved ones? If we can address that, and work to neuter the impact of terrorism on the lives of the vast majority of us, those who are not directly affected, could we eat away at its power?

If you were espousing a terrorist cause, what might you count as “success”? Maximum carnage, probably, would be high on the list.  But you know, as a terrorist, that however many you manage to kill and maim, the numbers will be tiny compared to the size of the populations you seek to influence. Even 9/11, the most egregious of terrorist atrocities inflicted on the west, the death toll was less than 0.001% of the US population. The 2005 London bus and tube bombings of 7th July 2005 killed 52 innocent people. Appalling, but about 0.00008% of the UK population. Since most of us still recall those events vividly and with horror, many years later, it’s clearly about something much deeper than head count. What tugs hard at our emotions are things like the randomness of who lives or dies, our human empathy with the innocent victims, utterly  disconnected from the terrorist cause being “furthered” by the attack, our bewilderment at the pointlessness, an affront at intrusion into the places where we live and work, an assault on our values, and, I’d suggest, some fear: could it be me next, or someone close to me? I’ve picked my daughter up after a concert at the Manchester Arena, and exactly the same thought must have struck many thousands of parents.

Most of us are not very good at assessing risk. For example, would you think deaths from terrorism in Western Europe are on the up, perhaps approaching the scale of an epidemic? Have a look at this chart. Surprised?

And how would you rate your own risk of ending up as a statistic of terrorism?

The common thread to the disconnect between actual and perceived risk is publicity. Information which bombards you from the TV, and which anyway strikes a chord as “something important”, is likely to have a disproportionate impact on perception. I contend that an organization engaged in terrorism would place huge value on the amount of publicity any atrocity attracts. It is real “success” if world leaders comment, and TV coverage is widespread.

So, what I’d suggest is that reporting is done at a far lower level of intensity and hand-wringing. Report, certainly, with accuracy and dignity, but keep it concise and low-key. World leaders should take note: we all fully understand  the urge to express outrage at atrocities and solidarity with the victims, and even the negative implications which might attach to failure to speak out.

It might be an over-used and hackneyed phrase, but the oxygen of publicity  sustains terrorism.

The next great paradigm shift : vehicle transport and pollution


I am stimulated to write on two closely linked topics, for two reasons. Firstly, there’s a great deal of noise and “demand for action” on the vexed issue of diesel vehicles,  with various proposals to ban private diesel cars from cities, or at least charge them at prohibitive rates for entering cities. Secondly, there seems to me to be a paradigm shift at play right now, which will affect how vehicle transport works in a very fundamental way – which if well understood, will allow a wholly different approach to how we move about, including what infrastructure we need to build for our future needs, how urban planning is tackled for the longer term, and what we should do to best tackle air pollution.

If we are prepared to stand back for a few moments and consider the evidence, we can see that the issue of emissions from diesel vehicles, and indeed internal combustion engines generally,  is a subset of a much bigger picture. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of air pollution. There is no question that it has a huge impact on health and quality of life, even if some of the numbers of deaths per year being quoted in the media might be challenged. I will come back to the subject later, and in detail  in Appendix 1 to this post, where I will attempt to explain the various types of emissions, their sources, and their effects.  I think it’s quite important to do that, as there is much confusion, even in the quality press, about what the problems are. If we don’t understand them properly, any action to mitigate is likely to be less effective than it might be; in the worst case action will merely be political expediency, to “be seen to be doing something”, leaving actual pollution levels largely unchecked, and causing harm/adding costs to activities which are an easy target but which aren’t the main problem.

But let me return now to the main thesis of this post, a paradigm shift in vehicle transport.  To explain what I mean, let’s cast our minds back to London in late 19th century, and the “great horse manure crisis” [1]. As in many major cities around the world, transport depended on horses, and the growth in their numbers was causing huge and seemingly intractable problems. For example, in 1894, The Times newspaper predicted… “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.” All manner of experts were called in to devise a solution, but no solution was forthcoming. So things just stumbled along, worsening steadily, and the doom-mongers were having a field day. There was the smell of horse manure and urine everywhere, exacerbated by flies and spread of disease, especially in hot weather.

What happened in practice to make the problem go away was a change of paradigm. One might say “something turned up”, but the cause of the paradigm shift was already out there, in the form of the gasoline engine; its real significance had just not been recognised.  Carl Benz had already designed and built his first gasoline engine, operating it for the first time on New Year’s eve 1879. Although it was a stationary engine, it was so successful that Benz was able to focus on his dream of using it to power a lightweight car.  In July 1886 the newspapers reported on the first public outing of the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car, model No. 1.

The timing here is significant – the Times leader on the “great horse manure crisis” was written some 8 years after Benz’s motor car made its debut. The motor car at that time was regarded as no more than a curiosity, not a game changer – no-one had much idea of the impact it would later have. What eventually made the difference was affordability, and the mass market penetration which ensued. When Henry Ford starting manufacturing his Model T in 1908, the motor car became cheap enough for the ordinary public to buy, and very quickly horse power was displaced by the internal combustion engine – a classic paradigm shift.

As I write, over 100 years later,  motor vehicles with petrol or diesel engines are ubiquitous, and it might be hard to imagine a world without their dominance. But come with me, as I explore what things will almost certainly look like not very far into the future – perhaps in another 10 years or so.

The paradigm shift for vehicle use

The essence of a paradigm shift is that it’s not about incremental improvement, or tinkering around the edges of an issue. It’s about a whole new way that things are done. We have seen many examples in living memory: motor vehicles replacing horses is one. They are not all necessarily a good thing – many come with huge risks and downsides, such as the atomic bomb, which  changed the paradigm of international warfare. Some other examples of paradigm shifts, with their inevitable upsides and downsides are

  • The internet, making virtually all human knowledge ever recorded instantly available to anyone, with just a few keystrokes –what is the future for printed textbooks, and even for our libraries, now?
  • The electronic calculator: when I sat my Engineering degree final exams in 1972, I was still using log tables and a slide rule.
  • Mass passenger air travel as a means to get around the world quickly, providing ordinary citizens like me the opportunity to go to pretty much anywhere we want to on the planet.
  • The contraceptive pill, which became available in the early 1960’s, transforming the lives of women in the developed world, by allowing control of when, and if, pregnancy occurred.
  • Email and attachments, replacing handwritten letters and printed documents in the post.
  • Mobile phones, allowing near instant communication almost anywhere; it’s hard to imagine a world without them, yet the first cellphone systems appeared as recently as the early 1980’s, and the first smartphones at the beginning of the 21st century.
  • Digital photography, making the 35mm camera largely a museum piece, multiplying enormously the number of photos people take, and replacing images printed on paper with digital files, viewed on a screen. Who needs a camera any more, when you have a great app on your smartphone?

You can probably come up with quite a few others without too much head scratching.

So what is the paradigm shift for vehicle use? It’s not about more car sharing, or more cycle lanes, or urban fast-tram systems, or Uber, or even replacing internal combustion cars with electric (though that will follow as a consequence). It’s not even about more working from home, taking advantage of email and video conferencing. Those are all helpful, but they are not game changers. The game changer, the paradigm shift, is driverless cars.

I am well aware of the risk of trying to be prescient about a new paradigm. Even those who have seen many paradigm shifts in their lifetimes tend to scoff at predictions of new ones, because they seem at the time to be unlikely, to the point of being completely preposterous. So please bear with me, suspend your disbelief for a few minutes, and follow where this leads.


Why driverless cars?

If we think about the paradigm for car use that we’ve lived with ever since car ownership for the general public became commonplace, and consider for example the UK situation as it is today, it involves the following characteristics:

  1. People buy cars. The car they choose is typically a compromise between various functions – a handy vehicle for getting to the shops or to work, and easy to park, cheap to run, yet big enough to use for family holidays or to carry the occasional large load, for example. There are about 31.7m cars in the UK, out of a total population of 65m of whom about 52m are above 17, ie old enough to drive. That represents 6 cars for every 10 people old enough to drive.
  2. Cars are status symbols – people who can afford it often want their car to make a statement about their wealth/ status. It’s desirable to have a stylish, expensive, and even fast, car in one’s drive, as a demonstration of one’s affluence. Most 4×4 vehicles rarely if ever leave the tarmac, and the speed and power capability of  most cars is way in excess of what can ever be utilized. Even the number plate indicates how new a car is, so people wait to make their purchase until the new plate comes out. This was a problem in the UK when a new plate letter was issued annually, as a disproportionate number of new registrations were issued in one month, distorting manufacturing schedules and the business model for dealerships. It is less acute now in the UK with twice yearly change, but it’s still a problem.
  3. Cars are an expensive purchase. For many people, a car is the second most expensive thing they ever buy, second only to their house. Unlike a house, the value depreciates: the average new car will have lost around 60% of its value by the end of its third year.
  4. Cars are only in use a small proportion of the time; the rest of the time they’re occupying space in a garage, a driveway, on the street, or in a car park. If we assume a typical car does 10,000 miles per year at an average speed of 25mph, that’s 400 hours of use per year, out of 8.746 hours – ie 4.6%. The other 95.4% of the time, it’s lying idle, using space, and of course depreciating while not offering a counteracting benefit, other than being available for the next time it’s needed. Street parking is a cause of congestion in towns and cities, limiting the amount of road space for traffic movement. One only has to walk down a typical suburban street in London to see that there’s hardly any kerb space not taken up by parked vehicles;  two-lane roads are effectively narrowed to one lane available for moving traffic. Finding a parking space, whether as a resident or a visitor, is a regular headache.
  5. Congestion is a problem in most towns and cities, and on commuter routes, especially at peak times, so journey times can be unpredictable, and a lot longer than they would be if traffic were light. Average speed achievable in central London is now 7.4mph. [2], about twice as fast as  brisk walking, and well under a normal cycling speed.
  6. The growth of car use has marginalized other transport services such as scheduled buses, rendering them uneconomic except on busy city routes. This has made life more difficult for those who live in villages or rural environments, if they have no access to a car, for example if they cannot drive, or cannot afford one.
  7. The growth of car use has led to proliferation of out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets, with an associated decline of local shops and services in the high street or village. This is very convenient for the households who do have access to a car, especially those who are money-rich but time-poor, as shopping can be done outside normal business hours. However, it has a negative effect on community cohesion, and on quality of life for older or disabled people, whose lives become more isolated.
  8. Safety and accidents: UK is one of the safest countries in the world in terms of road vehicle deaths, at 2.97 deaths per 100,000 people (2014 data). [3] In 2015, there were 1,732 deaths from road traffic incidents; however, there were 22,137 serious injuries, and 186,209 casualties of all severities. [4]. The main cause of accidents was driver error [5], characterized by (1) failure to look properly, (2) failing to judge another person’s path and/or speed, (3) being careless, reckless or in a hurry, (4) losing control, and (5) alcohol. If you’re on a bicycle, you are 17 times more likely to be killed  than if you’re in a car, and 75% of all cyclist serious accidents or deaths happen in urban areas. [6]. Motor vehicle congestion, and inconsiderate behaviour by drivers and associated safety concerns, provide significant  disincentive to commuting to work by bicycle.
  9. Car insurance is expensive. According to the AA, the average annual motor insurance premium stood at £747 in 2014. For younger drivers, the cost is even more, averaging £1,743 for 17-22 year olds.
  10. Alcohol and driving cars does not mix well. Since drink-driving laws were introduced in the UK in 1967, the taboo associated with drink driving has steadily increased. During the 1980’s, the UK saw a 50% drop in UK drink-driving offences. Nowadays, most people if going for an evening out, which involves going by road and drinking alcohol, will make arrangements to use a taxi, or to delegate one member of the group to be the driver and not drink. The incidence of drinking and “taking a chance” has fortunately  declined, though alcohol is still the 5th highest cause of vehicle accidents. [5]. Another consequence of drink driving laws is a general decline in the viability of pubs, restaurants, sports clubs, and social clubs, especially those accessible, for all practical purposes, only by car.
  11. All-electric or electric hybrid cars are a tiny share of the market. High capital cost and range limitation are key issues which mitigate against them becoming more popular. We seem wedded to the internal combustion engine.
  12. Vehicle transport is responsible for significant air pollution, especially in towns and cities, causing health problems, and probably significant numbers of premature deaths.

The above 12 points characterize, pretty adequately, I hope, our modern car-owning paradigm. Now let’s consider what the situation would be like with a completely different paradigm, namely autonomous vehicles, or driverless cars. The technology already largely exists [7], but what I ‘d like you to imagine is so-called “level 5” or full autonomy: where cars would be moving around our roads with no need for anyone on board to be in control, or even the need for anyone on board at all, as cars moved around to the location where they were required to be used. That might seem far-fetched, and there are indeed some crunchy issues to be resolved before it becomes reality. However, none of these issues is insurmountable, and the prize, as we’ll see, is enormous.

The issues I’d suggest are the greatest hurdles to fully driverless cars are as follows:

  • Technology being adequate to fully replace the human driver.
  • The interaction between the user and the vehicle, in terms of trust, and ability to intervene if required.
  • Regulation, legislation and insurance: while autonomous vehicles would be much safer than human driven vehicles, no technology is 100% and some accidents would occur. There is an important issue requiring clarity about allocation of responsibility.
  • Cyber security: preventing the systems from being hacked into, with nefarious intent, such as taking control of vehicles and causing them to crash or behave in a way that the users do not want.

Before attempting to comment on our prospects of solving these issues, let’s think about what the new paradigm might look like, and what it would enable.  All of us who wanted to would be able to summon a vehicle to turn up reliably at the time and place we chose, and take us to the destination we wanted; the vehicle could then go away again to serve another user. That would be ideal for a single journey such as going to work; we’d simply call up another one to take us home at the end of the working day, or even have a regular set booking for journeys we undertake regularly.   If we wanted to keep hold of the same vehicle for extended use for a number of days, for example, and keep some personal possessions in it, then when we arrived at a destination  we could send it away if necessary to park itself, to return when we needed it. We could choose the size, passenger and luggage capacity, and comfort level we wanted, so we’d be much more likely to be using a vehicle suited to our particular needs at the time, rather than the present system of compromise. Ultimately, as the technology became commonplace and accepted as reliable, the requirement for on-board driver intervention would recede, and we wouldn’t need a driving licence: children being born now would be grow up to a world where “passing one’s driving test” would be a rather specialized activity, that most would have no need to bother with.

If we wanted to go out for the evening, we could have a drink if we wanted; the breathalyzer would be obsolete. While travelling by car we could do whatever we liked: admire the scenery, read a book, watch on-board TV, sleep, catch up with work on our laptop, or whatever. There would no longer be an issue of driving while tired. People at present unable or unfit to drive, eg because they are old and infirm, or disabled,  need no longer be isolated. City centre multi-storey car parks would become largely obsolete, and towns and cities would become much more pedestrian-friendly. There would no longer be problems finding a space in the hospital car park. Ambulances could focus on  their primary purpose, rather than routine transport of patients between home and hospital; specialist vehicles suitable for wheelchairs could be  available, and turn up right to the door. The road network use would be optimized, and traffic would flow better and faster – helped by a reduction in the sclerotic effect of street parking as far fewer people would choose to own a car, and by a parallel revolution in road freight transport, which would also be autonomous, and take place at times when most other road users were asleep in bed. Pricing by time of day / congestion would also serve to smooth out peak road-use.

Electric vehicles would come into their own, as they lend themselves well to automation, and problems of range and how/when to recharge would be much more manageable. A vehicle getting low on charge could just be parked up at the next depot or off-road space, and a freshly charged one summoned; longer journeys could be staged in a planned way, not relying on a single vehicle. Airports could be cited well away from population centres, as access would be readily available to everyone, and they wouldn’t need much car parking space. We wouldn’t be stuck on a path of ever expanding our road network, as what we already have would be more than adequate; instead, we’d be optimizing it for the new paradigm. The blight of air pollution from road vehicles in towns and cities would be eliminated.   I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve got the idea. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Who would be the providers, and how would we pay for our car use? All sorts of models are possible, but one is that companies would compete, much as car hire companies compete now. Indeed, it is likely that existing car hire companies would be first in the market with their driverless fleets. Each individual could have a unique user account, charged when the service was used. Use for most people could be via an app on their smartphone.

Let’s look at how the 12 descriptors of our present paradigm which I cited above would change with the new paradigm.

  1. People buying their own cars: with a reliable driverless system in place, there would be less incentive to own a car.  There would no longer be the compromise of having something too big for everyday use so that it would be suitable, for example,  for the annual holiday. There would no longer be discussions about “who has the car today”, as any adult member of the household could have access to a car when they wanted it. The total inventory of cars would reduce markedly, because utilization would increase.
  2. Cars as status symbols: there would be an inevitable period of transition, while privately-owned cars co-existed with fleets of driverless vehicles. But as the system of driverless vehicles gained the confidence of users, and evolved to best meet their personal needs, the advantages of owing and driving a car would recede. It is likely that cars chosen on the basis of their cachet as a status symbol would wither away. Cars would therefore be much more matched to their application, rather than too large, with speed capability far in excess of what might ever be used on the road, and 4WD where 2WD is only required.
  3. Cars being an expensive purchase: as private car ownership declined, capital cost to the consumer would transfer to capital investment by providers, and the user would experience his motoring costs as a revenue item of everyday life, like the utility bill or food shopping. Overall costs would decline, as increased utilization equates to fewer cars being needed – probably far fewer than the 6 for every 10 adults we have in the UK at present.
  4. Cars being only in use a small proportion of the time,  wasteful of resource, and occupying space the rest of the time which would often be useful if it were freed up: it is hard to predict by how much utilization would increase with driverless cars, but there is enormous scope from the average of less than 5% at present. Hire cars within the present system typically have mileages about double the average private car, but that would be a pessimistic guide: driverless cars offer much better opportunities for optimizing utilization.
  5. Congestion in towns and cities and commuter routes: reduction in congestion would be dramatic, with ultimately hardly any cars parked on the street, less traffic in towns and cities, and, with computer optimized vehicle spacing, speed, and route choice, much smoother traffic flow on commuter routes.
  6. Marginalization of bus services, and isolation of people living in villages or rural communities: bus services would largely cease to be required and would wither away, being replaced by autonomous vehicles. But the effect would be very helpful to those people who find transport services inconvenient and infrequent, and who are isolated by the present paradigm. Transport would be available to all when required, at reasonable cost.
  7. Proliferation of out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets, with an associated decline of local shops and services in the high street or village: the effect of driverless cars on this issue might not be great; however, the isolation, choice, and cost disadvantages this brings at present to those without access to a car would be swept away.
  8. Safety and accidents: elimination of the main cause of motor vehicle accidents, ie human error [5], would lead to a significant reduction in death and injury. It would also make cycling, eg for commuting to work, safer and less stressful.
  9. Insurance: ultimately, insurance cost would be built in to the cost of driverless car use, and be indifferent to the age or driving experience of the user. It would therefore cease to discriminate against younger users.
  10. Drink driving, and alcohol-related accidents, would be eliminated. We could also see an upsurge in the viability of pubs, restaurants, and sports and social clubs, especially those largely dependent of accessibility by car.
  11. Market share of electric cars would increase enormously, with beneficial effects on pollution and noise, especially in cities. There are several reasons that the driverless paradigm would foster a far greater market share for all-electric vehicles: they lend themselves to autonomous driving, with their technical simplicity / reliability; better matching of specific function (eg distance of journey planned) to vehicle choice would favour electric vehicles, as many journeys are short; capital cost would no longer fall directly on the user, but on the service supplier, who would be able to make vehicle choice based on an overall lifetime use cost model – with high utilization the running cost per mile would assume greater importance; and range would become less of an issue, with the user able, for example,  to summon a newly charged vehicle, or to stage a longer journey, dropping off a vehicle at a charging depot  and setting off with a newly charged one. In our new paradigm of driverless vehicles, the all-electric car is king.
  12. Air pollution in towns and cities would reduce, largely because most internal combustion engines would be replaced by electric, and would cease to have the impact on quality of life, health and premature death which it does today. Another benefit would be to reduce one of the  disincentives to cycling to work.

So I hope you will by now have bought in to the attractiveness of a new paradigm for vehicle transport, the fully autonomous car.  But probably, like me, you have some doubts about really how feasible it is. Let’s go back to the four main problems that would need to be solved: technology being adequate to fully replace the human driver; the interaction between the user and the vehicle, in terms of trust, and ability to intervene if required;  regulation, legislation and insurance; and cyber security. Of these, far and away the most important is the first one, technical feasibility. I would argue that once that is proven, accepted, and observed to operate highly reliably in practice, the issues of user/vehicle interaction, and regulation and insurance, will tend to fall away quickly. Insurance, and allocation of cause in the event of accident, would be dealt with using universal on-board camera/dash-cam and black box data recording systems. The problem of cyber security would attract the development effort  required to resolve it too; systems would be designed from the outset from the point of view of robustness against cyber threats.

So, what of technical feasibility? Many of us, myself included, are already experiencing some of the benefits as early features are built in to modern production cars, such as autonomous parking, adaptive cruise control, lane assist, and automatic recognition of speed limit signage. There is already a vast amount written on the topic. One approach which I like is exemplified by the innovation foundation Nesta [7], who take an objective look at the technology, its problems and limitations, and describe the various technologies which are developing in the field, such as Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR).  Machine “vision” and decision making are the two key areas which determine whether the technology is truly workable, and they depend in turn on machine learning algorithms. This is an area of exponential progress, as it has applications in countless fields, not just driverless cars. It is probably true that we have not yet reached the stage where they are ready to fully replace human control, but we are not far away.

If you doubt this, a good reality check is to look at what manufacturers and transport companies are doing. [8] Autonomous vehicles are no longer just about Google or Tesla /Elon Musk.  In 2016, GM invested $500m in Lyft (a US transportation network company which facilitates peer-to-peer ride sharing by connecting passengers with drivers who have a car), bought  self-driving technology start-up Cruise Automation for >$ 1bn, and  announced in July 2016 that it would build its first self-driving cars for use within the Lyft fleet as self-driving taxis. In May 2016, BMW announced that they would have a fully autonomous car on the market within 5 years. Uber, which acquired autonomous truck start-up Otto for $680m, is now beginning field trials of fully self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh: CEO Travis Kalanick has said Uber’s survival depends on being first to roll out a self-driving taxi network.

Ford has announced plans to provide mobility services with fully autonomous self-driving Fords by 2021. It is a huge commitment of resource:  Ford is doubling its development staff in Silicon Valley, aimed to have the largest fleet of self-driving car prototypes by the end of 2016, and will triple the size of this fleet again in 2017. It has also purchased 3 companies related to autonomous driving technology, and a stake in Velodyne, the leading manufacturer of LiDAR technology.

The momentum is unmistakable. Driverless cars are the future. The present car driving paradigm is in its death throes, just as much as the horse and carriage was in the early 1900’s. Electric cars will be a huge part of this future. Governments and local authorities need to be alive to the trend, to avoid expensive white-elephant investments, overtaken by a world which has moved on. They need to plan actively for the sort of infrastructure that the new paradigm requires. Individual citizens can make smarter choices, for example, about where to live, where they work and how they will get there, and even whether a drive or garage is an important facility to have. Don’t be saying in 5 or 10 years’ time “If only I’d realized……”



Appendix 1: The downsides of the internal combustion engine: congestion, pollution & climate change, and inexorable increasing demand on finite fossil fuel resources

As I write, over 100 years after the internal combustion engine displaced horse-drawn transport, all major cities of the world, and developed countries with high population density, face a set of problems we all recognize. No-one worries now about our streets being buried in horse manure, but we do worry about traffic congestion and air pollution, and increasing demand for fossil fuels. We see a seemingly unstoppable rise in the desire to own and move around by car. Worldwide, the issue looks to be out of control, as the increasing wealth of developing countries adds more and more aspiring car-users to the mix. The chart [9] shows that the increase is most significant in Asia, but hardly a large town or city on the planet is not troubled by the situation.


There is a large human cost to congestion, as more man-hours are wasted in traffic jams:  people have less time to spend with their families and in various activities they’d like to be doing, are sometimes late for work and often exhausted when they get home. A recent report [2] shows that even in the past  4 years, average traffic speed in central London has declined by nearly 20%. Cities struggle to manage the trade-offs between more cycle, bus, and taxi lanes, and demand for road space for ordinary cars, and with carrying out road improvement measures which exacerbate congestion while they are being done. And an extraneous factor, the mushrooming of ordering goods on the internet, with home delivery by the ubiquitous white van, has added further stress on the system.

There is a significant business cost too, for example as the efficiency of commercial vehicles is reduced, delivery deadlines are missed: things take longer and cost more to achieve.

Then, on top of all that, there is of course the problem of vehicle emissions, from the point of view both of greenhouse gases (GHG), and of local pollution and impact on health and quality of life. In terms of climate change, road transport contributes about 20% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the EU, and transport is the only major sector in the EU where GHG emissions are still rising. Pollution is also a major concern for its impact on health, especially in densely populated areas.  The effects of NOx (oxides of nitrogen) are highly topical in the popular media today, with demonization of diesel cars, and calls for them to be banned en bloc from cities- irrespective of whether they are old and dirty or new and relatively clean.  There is little doubt that NOx poses a real threat to health, but knee-jerk is not the best way to make the situation better. There is very clearly lack of public discernment about what constitutes pollution. Various types of pollution are often conflated and confused, not only on TV, but even in the so called “quality” press.  The right approach is to really understand and quantify the sources, tackle them rationally, and to keep measuring to ensure that our actions are delivering the required improvements. So let’s look at the various types of emissions, how they arise, and what we might do about them.


Pollution, greenhouse gases, etc: what are they?

While some emissions contribute both to pollution and to global warming, and there is no absolute demarcation between the two, we can broadly say that pollution is about localized effects, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions / climate change are about global effects. Greenhouse gases are predominantly carbon dioxide and methane, though some other gases contribute too.  A key point is that it doesn’t really matter much, in terms of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), where on the planet the GHG’s are emitted: a ton of CO2 released in London will have the same impact on global GHG levels as a ton of CO2 released in New York or Moscow or Shanghai. Another point sometimes not understood is that not all GHG’s are equal: we tend to measure them in “equivalent CO2”, because CO2 is by far the greatest contributor. But different gases have different “Global Warming Potential”: weight for weight, methane (CH4)  has an effect about 21 times greater than CO2, and nitrous oxide (N2O) about 321 times greater than CO2. Some man-made gases such as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) – often used as refrigerants- are much more potent still. A common one, CFC12 (CCl2F2), has a potency about 10,900 times that of CO2. The absolute amounts released are small compared to CO2, but the effects are significant. And CFC’s have another global effect in addition to global warming: they cause destruction of the ozone layer, an important factor in filtering out harmful UV radiation, and for that reason their manufacture is now banned.

Global warming and ozone-layer destruction might seem like distant, obscure issues to many people, and there is indeed a school of thought which still has some political traction, especially in the USA, which claims that global warming is at best a hugely exaggerated problem, and at worst is a complete hoax.  I deal with such anti-science ideas in another post [10]. Fortunately, most governments are more responsible than to subscribe to them, and at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. It became international law on 4th November, 2016 [11]. I view the climate change rhetoric of Donald Trump with dismay, as his intent seems to be to set international progress back by decades. If his expressed desire to encourage a return to widespread coal-fired power generation in the USA is realized,  history will judge him as reckless, backward-looking, ignorant, and wrong, and a force for great harm to humanity. As a professional engineer and scientist, who has spent much of his career in the energy business, I am well qualified to comment, and I am doing my best to contribute to acceptance of the science and commitment to address anthropogenic global warming   – but that’s another story.

Pollution, as opposed to GHG emissions and climate change,  is something most people can relate to, and few would deny is a real problem. It covers a wide range of phenomena, and can be very obvious, such as foul smell,  or can be imperceptible yet damaging to health, such as tiny particulates or oxides of nitrogen. It can be naturally occurring, such as  sulphurous fumes from volcanic activity, or animal or human faeces in a water course used for drinking. Pollution is especially problematic when human beings live together in large numbers in cities, which is now over 50% of us worldwide. London has a rich history of pollution: in the summer of 1858, the “great stink” occurred when hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated sewage and industrial effluent in the Thames. The problem had been getting worse for a long time, as most of the sewage from the city was discharged untreated into the river, and was associated not just with foul smell, but also transmission of disease.  Three outbreaks of cholera in London, prior to the “great stink”, were blamed on it. The solution was a radical system of new Victorian sewers and treatment plants, which serve rather well even up to the present day.

When we talk of pollution nowadays, however, we usually mean man-made, rather than from natural processes.

(Aside: I have not focussed here on events such as the Bhopal disaster of 1984, an accidental emission of methyl isocyanate gas with a huge death toll,  or the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in Ukraine in 1986. Although horrendous, these were the results of specific accidents, rather than ongoing “chronic” emissions, and are therefore somewhat off-topic for my present purpose.)

The first law restricting industrial emissions was the UK Alkali Act of 1863, in response to the problem of emission of hydrochloric acid  gas from the now obsolete Leblanc process for  production of soda ash (sodium carbonate, used primarily in glass manufacture) and caustic soda.  Extremely effective it was, too: prior to the Act, acid gas emissions from Alkali works in England were almost 14,000 tons per year, but after it came into force, it reduced to only 45 tonnes. The technical solution was simple and cheap, but it took an act of parliament to make it happen. History is littered with dreadful examples of deadly pollution: Minamata disease in Japan in the 1950’s/60’s, from industrial emission of methyl mercury over a period of 36 years, which bio-accumulated in shellfish, an important part of local diet; leakage of hexavalent chromium into a water course in Hinkley, California, was the subject of the well-known film Erin Brockovich, and did much to bring industrial pollution into the popular consciousness; the scandal of lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, began as recently as April 2014. All these are high profile dramatic cases of the effects of industrial pollution, and serve to highlight the importance of understanding what we do when our ongoing activities release chemicals into the air we breathe or the water we drink.

I can’t just let “chemicals” pass here, however, as it has acquired the status of a dirty word in some circles, as if life could somehow be “chemical-free”. This is of course a nonsense for at least two reasons.  Firstly, everything, including ourselves, is composed of chemicals. We are  all about 70% dihydrogen monoxide, that dangerous chemical that accounts for about 3,500 deaths per year in the USA. I refer of course to deaths from accidental drowning- dihydrogen monoxide is none other than H2O, ie water.  You mightn’t be too tempted if I offered you a plate of (C6H10O5)n laced with some NaCl and CH3COOH, but as “chips with salt and vinegar” it sounds a bit more appealing.  The NaCl is sodium chloride, or common salt, a compound of two dangerous elements sodium and chlorine, which individually are very harmful, but when combined into a simple molecule, are perfectly safe to ingest – provided one doesn’t overdo it.  Secondly, chemicals are useful – even essential – in our everyday lives. Chlorination of potable water, making it safe to drink,  is arguably the biggest single contributor to the improvement of human health over the past 100 years.

So chemicals can be benign, or deadly, and everything in between. It depends on what the chemicals are,  in what quantities, and in what circumstances. Consider the infamous “great smog” of London. On 5th December 1952, a suffocating pall settled over the city, and remained for 4 days, killing over 4,000 people. The circumstances were a deadly combination of very cold and still anti-cyclonic weather, and a temperature inversion, with a layer of cold air trapped beneath a warmer layer higher up. In response to the extreme cold, Londoners lit up their coal fires, pushing smoke pollution into the stagnant, foggy layer from which it couldn’t escape.  Smog was not a new phenomenon – it was well-known in London and other major cities – but this one was so bad that “something had to be done”.  In due course the Clean Air Act of 1956 successfully addressed the problem; deadly London smog was a thing of the past, and  December sunshine in the city increased by 70%. Those of us UK householders who still burn coal in open fires are required to use smokeless fuel. But the lessons of London have not been transferred across the globe. Smog is still a huge problem in Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, and only recently (November 2016) in New Delhi, reportedly the most polluted city on the planet, schools were closed and construction work halted for three days, and shops ran out of face masks. “The smog is acrid, eye-stinging and throat-burning” “Levels of the most dangerous particles, called PM 2.5, reached 700 micrograms per cubic meter on Monday, and over the weekend they soared in some places to 1,000, or more than 16 times the limit India’s government considers safe.” [12]

This brings me neatly back to my theme, which is road vehicles.  Diesel engines operate at higher temperature than petrol engines. (For my American readers, what we call “petrol” in UK, you call “gasoline”, or “gas” for short).    This brings a benefit of higher efficiency –higher miles per gallon, or lower litres per kilometer (depending on which units you favour). This is great from the point of view of reduced use of fossil fuels, and lower GHG emissions, and this efficiency argument has driven a significant shift from petrol (gasoline) to diesel for ordinary private cars over the past 20 years or so, despite the diesel engine being more expensive to manufacture. But diesel engines have two problems which make them potentially worse than petrol engines in terms of pollution: particulates, and oxides of nitrogen. We have all seen an old diesel lorry labouring up a hill belching out black fumes. The exhaust gases are laden with particulates, small particles of carbonaceous solids, ie soot. The more worn a diesel engine is, the more particulates it emits. But even modern diesel engines in good condition emit particulates, but these are not easily visible. The size of the particles is very important in the health hazard they pose. You might have seen them described as “PM10’s” or “PM2.5’s”. To explain, PM10 is particulate matter 10μ or less in diameter, and PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5μ or less in diameter. (μ means micrometers, or 1/1000 of a millimetre). The smaller the particles, the longer they remain airborne, and the more they penetrate and lodge in the air sacs (alveoli) in the deepest part of the lungs, and the more dangerous they are, causing respiratory diseases and even lung cancer.  Large particles drop out before they can be breathed in,  or are intercepted in the mucous membranes, and so don’t pose such a serious health hazard. Typically, PM2.5’s are  considered an important health hazard, which is why you will often see pollution levels reported in terms of PM2.5’s, and why air quality standards quote permissible levels of PM2.5’s. Now, fortunately for diesel engines, the technology to clean up particulates from the exhaust gases is cheap, reliable, and very effective. They are diesel particulate filters, or DPF, and worldwide, legislation is increasingly stringent in requiring that they are fitted and tested to be operating correctly. The particulate problem from diesel engines is worst where there are many older engines in use, and/or where legislation has yet to catch up, and DPF’s are not the norm.  New Delhi is an example of where such measures are desperately needed.

But oxides of nitrogen is a more challenging problem for diesel engines, where the high temperature of combustion, higher than in petrol engines, causes more nitrogen in the inlet air to be oxidized, to form nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). These gases are commonly referred to generically as NOx. This matters because NOx gases react to form smog and acid rain, and contribute to fine particulate formation and ground-level ozone, which have adverse health effects, especially respiratory irritation and disease. Modern catalytic converters can reduce NOx emissions, in addition to their other exhaust clean-up functions, but it is very difficult for diesel engines to meet modern EU and US emission standards for NOx, without additional technology. The scandal which hit the headlines in September 2015, involving Volkswagen using software in its engine management systems to defeat emissions testing,  has had a huge and chastening impact on the finances and image of the company and its products, and on the way diesel engines are viewed overall in terms of their environmental impact.  Since the  VW scandal erupted, diesel’s image has gone from “green” to “dirty”, and some cities are now considering draconian measures to limit diesel engine use within their jurisdictions. It needn’t necessarily be so, since technologies are available which drastically reduce NOx emissions, and alternatives and improvements are being developed all the time. An example is SCR (selective catalytic reduction), which involves injecting a fine mist of urea plus water (also called diesel emission fluid or DEF, proprietary name AdBlue) through a catalyst into the engine’s exhaust stream to create a chemical reaction to turn NOx into nitrogen and water. New VW diesel vehicles sold in the UK now come with SCR as standard. The downside is that the vehicle requires an additional separate reservoir to store the DEF, typically 10 to 20 litre capacity, and the reservoir  requires refilling regularly. The consumption rate is about 1.5 litres per 620 miles, but this depends very much on the type of driving, whether long distance or stop/start.  The present cost is ~£1/litre, so it is not prohibitive, adding perhaps 2% to fuel costs. However, it all adds to capital cost and complexity of the vehicle, and additional hassle, as well as the higher operating costs, and it is understandable, but not forgivable, that manufacturers might try to beat the system, especially if they thought that regulators were colluding with other manufacturers to do so, and who might then gain an unfair competitive advantage.

In summary, internal combustion engines are now designed to comply with very stringent new environmental standards. In the EU, this is called Euro 6 [13], applicable to all new vehicles since September 2015. After the VW scandal, a manufacturer would be reckless indeed  to risk his reputation and business by attempting to cheat. As older vehicles are progressively replaced, environmental pollution from the internal combustion engine can become a  non-issue.


Appendix 2 : The future of electric vehicles – some more detail

I have described in Appendix 1 how diesel and petrol engines can be, and are being, made environmentally much cleaner than in the past, through technologies such as catalytic converters, particulates filters, engine management systems, and selective catalytic reduction to tackle NOx  emissions.

What then is the future for electric vehicles?  There will always also be an argument in terms of pollution, since an  all-electric car can deliver effectively zero local emissions, and internal combustion engines will always emit some measurable level of pollutants, however good the technology.  There is also an argument in terms of fossil fuel use, as electricity can be made entirely by non-fossil fuel means; however,  that is a long way from reality at present:  the all-electric car cannot be truly claimed as emission-free, since the process of manufacture, and electricity to charge it, involve GHG emissions, and will do for the foreseeable future.  If you’re in UK, you can see the grid carbon intensity on your smartphone or computer at any time, using the free app “GridCarbon”, which also displays the amount and % of feed to the UK grid from each type of generation, eg gas, nuclear, coal, wind, hydro, import /export from the French interconnector, etc. The average value for 2015 was 367gCO2/kWhr.[14]

There are two major barriers which prevent all-electric cars from gaining market share, with the present paradigm of car ownership and utilization: capital cost, and range.

To illustrate the capital cost problem,  consider the Nissan Leaf: it is the market-leading compact 5-door all-electric hatchback in the UK. A new one can be bought for just under £20,000; however, the petrol equivalent is the Nissan Note, which  can be bought new for just under £11,000 (prices as at November 2016). There is of course a fuel cost saving with an electric car: a 24kwhr Nissan Leaf costs about £2.40 for a single full charge, assuming off-peak electricity at 10p/kWhr. The nominal range for a fully charged battery is 124 miles, so the approximate fuel cost is 2p/mile. The equivalent vehicle’s petrol cost would be about 11p/mile, assuming 45 mpg and current fuel prices. There some other savings for the electric vehicle too, such as road tax, and if used in London, congestion charge.  But, using reasonable depreciation rates and annual mileage, if one does the arithmetic it is hard to see how the Nissan Leaf can compete with the Nissan Note on purely cost grounds. Although this is mitigated to some extent by Government financial inducements [ 15] to encourage electric car ownership, the high capital cost remains a significant disincentive.

But the principal downside with the electric option is range. Despite huge effort and expense in technical development, battery technology remains a fundamental limitation for electric vehicles: they are heavy, expensive, poor on capacity, and slow to recharge, compared to filling your tank at a filling station.   If one is dependent on charging at home, the electric car cannot be used on long journeys – about 60 miles from home is the maximum distance for a 24kWhr Nissan Leaf, not taking into account “stress-buffering” – the desire to have at least 20% charge in reserve for fear of being stranded and having to be towed.  There are charging points at Motorway service areas, for example, and a fast charge to 80% full takes about 30 minutes. Planning longer journeys has to be done with care to ensure one does not get stranded with a  flat battery.  The network is expanding though. As of 7 October 2016[update], the UK had 11,903 public charging points at 4,215 locations, of which 2,140 were rapid charging points at 696 locations. These fast-charge locations are the crucial ones: the 696 compares to just under 8,500 filling stations in the UK, a ratio of about 1:12.  Unless and until there is a much more complete network of charging points, market penetration for the all-electric car looks to constrained not just by cost, but also by convenience/range.

So are these difficulties and constraints reflected in the numbers of electric vehicles actually being bought? Care has to be taken with the figures, to distinguish between hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, and all electric, such as the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.  My purpose here is to focus on all-electric, but I’ll quote hybrids as well, for comparison. Market penetration has been growing quite sharply, from even lower levels in the past, so recent data is most relevant. In the UK, total new car registrations in the first 9 months of 2016 were 2,150,495.[16]. Of these, 29,185 (1.36%) were electric, including hybrid [17]. This comprised 21,078 hybrid (0.98%, and 8,107 (0.38%) all-electric.[17]

This market share  for electric and electric /hybrid vehicles was delivered with the assistance of the UK Plug-in Car Grant [15] which covers 35% of the cost of a car, up to a maximum of either £2,500 or £4,500 depending on the model, or 20% of the cost of a van, up to a maximum of £8,000.

Even the most ardent enthusiast for electric vehicle technology would have to admit that these numbers are somewhat disappointing.

It’s not possible to argue that this is due to a lack of effort by manufacturers to make attractive offerings. Driven by legislation [18] on emissions targets, there’s a wide range of options on the market [19], both all-electric and electric hybrid, covering most types of vehicle, for example a tiny city car (Renault Twizy), compacts (VW e-Up, Renault Zoë),  family hatchbacks (Nissan Leaf, VW e-Golf, Toyota Prius, Audi A3 e-tron, BMW i3),  larger family cars (Kia Optima, VW Passat GTE), cross-overs/ SUV’s (Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Audi Q7 e-tron), and even up-market sport cars made by Elon Musk’s Tesla. You can’t argue that if you use an electric vehicle, you’ll be seen as a tree-hugging beard-and-sandals type – whether that image appeals to you or not.

One might argue from this evidence that electric vehicles are condemned forever to the margins of vehicle use, unless much greater financial incentives are made available, and/ or much more draconian legislation is introduced on vehicle emissions at the point of use. However, this ignores the paradigm shift which, as I’ve argued in the post, is almost upon us: autonomous vehicles. I hope that the main thrust of this post, that we are living through a paradigm shift, will convince you to be optimistic.



[1] The Great Horse manure Crisis,

[2 ]  London’s Traffic Really Is Moving More Slowly

[3] Road Traffic Accidents Death Rate Per 100,000 Age Standardized

[4] Reported road casualties in Great Britain, main results: 2015

[5]  Major causes of UK road traffic accidents

[6]  Cycling Accidents Facts & Figures, RoSPA

[7] Are we there yet? The journey towards driverless cars

[8]  Driverless car market watch

[9]  Global car sales

[10]   Man-made Global warming is/ isn’t real

[11]  The historic Paris climate change agreement just became international law


[12]  Smog Chokes Delhi

[13]  Euro emissions standards

[14]  Variations in UK/GB Grid Electricity CO2 Intensity with Time

[15]  Plug-in car and van grants



[18] Cars and Carbon Dioxide

[19]  Choose your electric car












Politics, Zionism, anti-Semitism : what on earth is going on?

Jeremy Corbyn 02Ken Livingstone


We live in very strange times. We are in an election week in UK, when Thursday 5th May will see UK citizens go to the polls to elect the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, English local councils, Police & Crime commissioners, and English Mayors, including notably the new Mayor of London. Perhaps naively one might have expected a barrage of electioneering, with manifestos, election broadcasts, etc.

But the backdrop against which all this pans out is most peculiar indeed. We have a majority Conservative UK Government which seems to be doing its best to get as much wrong as it can, and alienate its “natural” electorate: examples are the March budget and the forced U-turn on benefits for the disabled;  appalling mismanagement of a proposed new contract for junior doctors, resulting in the first all-out strike of health professionals in the history of the NHS; a needless attempt to force all schools to become academies;  a “strike” by parents against a regime of excessive testing of young children; and a woeful performance on safeguarding our steel industry against foreign dumping. And all this in the context of an upcoming vote on EU membership: as I write the outcome looks likely to be in favour of “remain”, but it’s far from certain: conflicting views are strongly held and expressed within both main political parties, leading to a state almost approaching political civil war – inevitably much of the focus and energy of government will be devoted to this over the coming weeks, at the expense of running the country.

With the Tory Government in such disarray, and with its resources spread so thinly,  we ought to be seeing the Labour party in ascendancy – more open goals to shoot at than might ever have been dreamt of. But what do we see instead? A Labour Party riven with its own leadership crisis, which has rumbled on since the disastrous election of Jeremy Corbyn last September – unelectable, yet un-removable. Maybe these should have been bumper times for the Liberal Democrats, but they were almost wiped out in the May 2015 general election: 57 seats down to 8.

It’s in this context we’ve seen a most extraordinary political development – instead of challenging the Government, and campaigning for success in the May elections, Labour has been obsessed with…………………..a debate about anti-Semitism.

Israel peace flag

There’s no doubt that certain figures in the Labour Party have form on this subject, and a wiser leadership would have pre-empted the issue many months ago, so the fact that the issue has come up to bite at this inopportune time is something of  an own-goal. However – and here is my contention- it’s not hard to get this right, and put it to bed.

I have just watched again Sunday’s (1st May) BBC The Big Questions, where a studio audience debated the topic of trying to distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Wow! As is usual with such topics, there was a great deal more heat than light, with most people intent on shouting down what they perceived as an opposing and unacceptable view, rather than listening, and attempting to identify and build on common ground. Yet there were good solid points being made. Here is my take on a set of views which most could and should be able to subscribe to. It is in effect three fundamental principles of civilized behaviour.

1                     Hatred and vilification of any group of people on the grounds of who they are is unacceptable: this goes for country of origin, mother tongue, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disablement, congenital disfigurement, and any other characteristic which is not a matter of choice. It goes too for religious affiliation, which is a matter of choice (or at least ought to be!). So by this token anti-Semitism is a complete no-no: it is vilification of people on the grounds that they are ethnically Jewish. There are many other examples, some sadly common, some rarer but nonetheless abhorrent: by far the commonest is misogyny; other common examples are racism expressed as dislike / mistrust  of people with different skin colour, and  dislike/mistrust of “all Muslims”, or “all Hispanics”, or “all atheists”; homophobia is prevalent in many countries of the world, in some cases encoded in the law of the land, and in some (eg USA and UK) propagated by certain religious groups. Albinism, though rare, is a source of severe prejudice eg in Tanzania, where albinos live in fear of their lives.

2                     Challenge, even ridicule, of ideas is not only fair game, it is essential for human progress. This goes for political ideas, government policy, and religious ideology alike. There is no place for blasphemy laws, nor is there a place for governments or regimes to restrict criticism of their political views or policies. Religions must never have a “free pass”- religious views should stand open challenge and scrutiny as for any other ideas and viewpoints. If people find them ridiculous, they should be free to say so, and why. If others espouse them devoutly, they should be free to do so, and defend their views in argument and debate if they so choose.   Satire and a free press are healthy – openness to ridicule and criticism is a bellwether of the robustness and maturity of a political system.

3                     Separation of religion and state is an essential for human progress and harmony. This means that all citizens are free to follow whatever religion they want, without fear or favour. It also guarantees freedom FROM religion – no one religion is given special favoured  status by the state , so that laws and education systems are wholly indifferent to whatever religion any individual or group choose to follow. In this way, for example, a country with a huge majority Muslim population, such as Turkey, should operate with minorities of other religions happily co-existing in mutual respect. Israel, while it remains a democracy which respects the rights of its (approximately 1/3) non-Jewish population, is a far better example of how a country should best be run that say Saudi Arabia, where Islam is both the state religion and the political system of government. History shows us that setting up political boundaries based on the ethnicity or religion of populations is fraught with problems, even disaster. Obvious examples are the partition of India into a predominantly Hindu India and a predominantly Muslim E & W Pakistan in 1947, and the partition of Ireland into a predominantly Roman Catholic south and a predominantly Protestant north in 1921. If we could go back and try again we would certainly seek to avoid those mistakes. There are interesting tensions in this area now in the USA and UK.  The USA was founded on secular principles, and the constitution has been an enormously powerful agent for tolerance, mutual respect, and prosperity: but even now that is under threat from a Christian right who would seek to dominate , and try to turn the country into a Christian theocracy. The UK, in contrast, is constitutionally religious, with the reigning monarch the ex officio head of the C of E and “Defender of the Faith”; yet in practice it is amongst the most religiously tolerant and diverse countries of the world. Secularism is the de facto way things work in the UK, but that is not without threat from a minority Christian right. Secularism has many battles ahead, but  it is worth fighting for.

I contend that if politicians could just get these three principles firmly on board, they would be much less likely to be trapped into espousing views which might trip up their careers. They would also be able to express clearly and simply what views are to be encouraged within their parties, what views are to be discouraged, and what views are beyond the pale. We might also see a much more constructive approach to reducing racism and religious intolerance, and to the protection of minority views. In summary, more healthy government.


Religion: a good thing or a bad thing?

Pope Francis and dove

The question I’m addressing here isn’t “Is religion true” – I offer my views and arguments on that question elsewhere in my blog. The question I want to tackle today, especially in the light of further terrorist atrocities in Brussels this morning, is “Is religion a good thing or a bad thing?”

There are unquestionably some very positive aspects to religion, and some appalling ones. Why should this be? It is clear that evidence for the truth of any particular religion does not exist in any conventionally understood sense of the word “evidence”. I don’t need to base this assertion on my own personal view of the quality of evidence religious people present to support their views. Rather, I observe that as a  consequence of differences of cultural and geographical origins, not all religions are mutually compatible; in fact, many religions contain elements which are fundamentally incompatible with others. This leads to the position of many (or indeed most) religious adherents that their particular religion is true, and that all other religions, which have conflicting dogma, are false. Such statements are made with seemingly equal conviction from many conflicting standpoints, but all fail to convince those of a different religion that theirs is wrong and another is right. It can therefore be asserted with confidence that no objective evidence can be presented for the truth of any particular religion: acceptance of any religion has to be based on faith rather than evidential proof. Indeed, religions commonly recognize this and try to present it as a virtue, imploring people to “have faith”, rather than rely on what can be demonstrated to be true.

Acceptance of a worldview on faith implies a bypassing of the normal processes one uses to decide whether to accept something as true, ie one’s rational judgment. It follows that buying into a religion is like opening your brain to a sort of Trojan horse: corollaries which the religion brings with it also bypass the rationality filter. Once this has happened, one’s humanity, which would normally prevent one behaving badly to others, is at risk of being bypassed too.  If the religion requires abominable behaviour, then abominable behaviour can result. Blaise Pascal recognized this when he said: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Voltaire on absurdities and atrocities

For most people, fortunately, the effects are fairly benign: they survive quite happily with this Trojan horse in place; their natural humanity is robust and persists unscathed, or even enhanced. But for others, the outcome is not so agreeable.

Let’s consider for a moment some of the beneficial effects of religion- this should help explain why it is so popular – why so many people are attracted to it and stick with it – and why societies generally value and support it. I have no wish to be cynical here and talk about religion as a means of exerting power and control over the masses – I will confine myself to more upbeat aspects.

For some people, religion offers great comfort, and helps them in dealing with the inevitable prospect of their own death, and with personal tragedies such as loss of a loved one or the affliction of serious illness, or with dreadful hardship and poverty. It provides some people with answers to difficult and deep questions about the purpose of their existence and the origins of life – answers which they presumably find satisfying and coherent.  Religion inspires some people  to devote their lives to good deeds and the caring for others, much more than they might otherwise have done, which is not only objectively beneficial, but also provides a strong feel-good factor. For huge numbers of people throughout the world, belonging to a religious group provides support, friendship, and a sense of community. Religion can promote a less selfish outlook on life, a consideration for others, and a willingness to give to good causes. Religious groups have engaged, and do engage, in a myriad of activities to help the poor, the lonely and isolated, the needy, the starving, and whole communities when afflicted by natural disasters or wars. Religion has inspired brilliant art, music, architecture – some of the most wonderful and uplifting of all human creativity.

The constraining effects of religion on human predilections and sexual behaviours has also been beneficial in practical terms, reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies, for example, over the centuries when there wasn’t much we could do about such things other than abstinence. Religion also could be argued to have a beneficial effect on human relationships by attaching opprobrium to promiscuity and adultery, and virtuousness to fidelity. (I do of course  realize that religious attitude to sexual matters is a double-edged sword , and I will come back to that in a moment).

That might not be an exhaustive list in support of religion, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless. But even the most devout would accept that there are risks and downsides, as well as all the good things I’ve just listed, and other benefits I might have missed. So let’s now consider some of the downsides.

What sort of perversion of religion would result in indiscriminate suicide bombings such as the events in Brussels today, 22nd March 2016,  or the twin towers of 9/11, or the gunning down of innocent concert-goers in Paris last November, amongst countless examples I could mention?  Perhaps the key is the word “perversion”. Those intent on  playing a part in Islamic terrorism would not regard it as a perversion at all. Rather, they would see it as a fulfilment of fundamental truth and purpose of their religion, carrying out to the ultimate extent the teachings of their faith. Are those people somehow “outside” their religion, having lost sight of what it should be telling them, or are they the real “insiders”, more true to the tenets of their religion than the millions who behave in a manner most of us would find unthreatening and perfectly tolerable?

To answer that question, we don’t need to look too deeply into the history of religions. The Christian church has a brutal history of oppression and violence – torture and burning of heretics and “witches”, the Spanish Inquisition, support for slavery, anti-Semitism (and arguably some  connivance with the holocaust), religious crusades, etc. In recent times, all that is rather swept under the carpet, as secular morality has tempered Christianity’s excesses to a large extent.  But the content of the Bible hasn’t changed, only the way in which we respond to it. Modern Christianity air-brushes out the nastiest bits, and presents itself as benign and a “force for good”. But not too far under the surface there lurk some rather nasty ideas and attitudes.

For some, the worst that happens is they tend to become a little self-righteous and sanctimonious, imagining their religion makes them superior in some way, which makes them a little less pleasant to know. But some people’s religious convictions are much more harmful. An egregious example is the attitude of many Christians and Muslims to homosexuality – they seize on parts of their religious texts to justify their dislike of “other”, which drives dreadful attitudes and behaviours towards LBGT people.  In many countries this is even translated into the law of the land. Misogyny, with all its ramifications on society and the treatment of women, is another product of Christian and Muslim orthodoxy.

Religion also causes some people to lose a little of their freedom to enjoy their lives fully, because of the religious notion that personal denial is somehow virtuous, and will be rewarded in the “next life”; we have all seen such ideas taken to extremes. And this brings me back to the topic of the Church’s attitude to, or even obsession with, matters sexual. I’ve already conceded its beneficial consequences in the past, in reducing teenage pregnancies, inhibiting the spread of STD’s, and valuing fidelity. But the other side of the coin is hugely negative: repression of sex as part of life’s joy, attaching a sort of “dirtiness” and guilt to natural sexual desires and behaviours (calling masturbation “self-abuse”, for example); propagating the notion that sex for a woman is a “marital duty”, and she must “submit” to her husband’s “demands”; resisting proper sex education and preaching abstinence rather than safe sex for young people, which is shown to produce much worse outcomes in terms of unwanted pregnancies and STD rates, than where a more “liberal” evidence-based approach is followed.

Many of us will be aware that the Roman Catholic Church is at present in the process of beatifying Mother Teresa, yet she was known for withholding palliative relief to those in her care who were dying horrible painful deaths, on the belief that “more suffering brought people closer to God”. To many, she will be “Saint Teresa” – to the rest of us, an evil, sadistic, and misguided woman, responsible for huge amounts of human suffering.

The Roman Catholic Church is also a force for great harm and human misery in its approach to use of condoms. This has a regressive effect on family planning, increasing avoidable poverty, and proscribes one of the cheapest and most effective ways of limiting the spread of HIV and other STD’s.

All that would be bad enough, without religion’s trump card, fundamentalism. Christian fundamentalism, you might argue, isn’t a great problem these days – we don’t see too many Christian fundamentalists fire-bombing abortion clinics (a few, maybe, in USA) but “Christian suicide bombers” is not a thing we need to worry about. But Christian fundamentalism does have its bad effects – there is  whole anti-science movement in the USA, preaching Young Earth Creationism, and doing enormous harm to the education and life chances of young Americans.  If you think I’m exaggerating, the data shows that about 40% of Americans believe the universe is less than 10,000 years old!

But where the fundamentalist approach is so dangerous is Islam. The core teachings of the Quran support it, and it is all too easy for a culture which holds up its one book as infallible truth, to be followed ahead of everything else, to produce the effects we see across the world today. Genocide of Yazidis by ISIL, religious civil war in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Yemen, Mali, the bombings in Brussels today – the list of slaughter and suffering is almost endless. Islam is in sore need of reform to bring it into line with the modern world, rather than trying to drag it back to the dark ages, but it is not clear where or how that reform can occur. In the meantime, millions of peaceful Muslims are at risk of being vilified and marginalized by association with Islamic extremists. It is very sad and alarming that the rancorous ramblings of Donald Trump have the traction they do.

People – human beings – are doing lots of very bad things in the name of religion -people who have lost their humanity to the Trojan horse of religion. The question I started with was “Is religion a good thing or a bad thing?”. I have to conclude that the bad  vastly outweighs the good.

Can we keep the good bits and discard the bad? Great if we could, but the evidence points the other way. Atheism is not an answer, at least not on its own. Atheism is merely a lack of belief in a God or gods, based on a lack of evidence for any. It has no creed, no doctrine, no rituals, no special book saying what is to be believed, or how to behave. Perhaps the way we should try to go is Humanism – a positive idea that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. Humanism is based on trusting the scientific method, evidence, and reason to discover truths about the universe.  By following  a Humanist approach, we can place human welfare and happiness at the centre of ethical decision making. We can be tolerant of the religious beliefs of others, but be very firm indeed about keeping them away from law, schools, and government, and from any attempt to impose them on others of different religious beliefs,  or none.

The EU: Should we stay or should we go?

At the time I write this, the referendum date has recently been announced, and already a few high profile conservatives, including Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, have declared their position against David Cameron’s “in” recommendation. The voting date of 23rd June is a few months away, and there’s going to be a huge amount of air-time and column-inches devoted to the topic of UK’s EU membership – many people will be sick to death of it, if they aren’t already.

The new (and rather ugly) word “Brexit” has entered the lexicon, since a UK referendum on EU membership was first mooted. That was probably inevitable, given that the “Grexit” word has been in and out of the headlines for some years now.  The Eurozone has been staggering from crisis to crisis with the economic woes of Greece for a long time, and the issue is still very much unresolved .

As we move towards decision day, the UK in- and out- camps will be occupied by very strange bedfellows indeed, much as the last vote was in 1975. I can’t say it fills me with joy to be in the same camp as George Galloway or Nigel Farage, but there it is – I’m confident we have rather different rationales for our positions, so I’ll just have to get over it and stick to what I think is right, on its merits.

I’m one of the senior citizens old enough to have voted in 1975, and I voted “in”. But what I was voting for was a Common Market, the European Economic Community. If that’s what we were voting on this time, I’d still be for “in”. But what the EU has morphed into over the past 40 years is a very different beast.  Though there’s a European Parliament, with elected MEP’s from all member countries, the European Commission has acquired a life of its own.

Before I try to make a case about the pros and cons, it’s probably worthwhile to set out in simple terms how the EU is organized. Otherwise, we are highly likely to be at cross purposes, or at least making rather different assumptions about the significance and validity of certain arguments.

There are 28 countries at present in the EU:

  • an original bloc of 6 in 1958: Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg
  • a second group of 3 joined in 1973: UK, Ireland and Denmark
  • Greece joined in 1981, and then there were 10.
  • Spain and Portugal joined in 1986. Now there were 12.
  • Austria, Sweden and Finland joined in 1995. Now there were 15.
  • A big expansion occurred in 2004, when 10 more countries joined: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, Cyprus, and Slovenia. The number of countries was now 25.
  • Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007.
  • Croatia joined in 2013.

Of the 28, 19 are in the Eurozone, and 9 retain their own currency. Those nine are UK, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia, which together account for just over 1/3 of the EU population. The Danish and Bulgarian currencies are pegged to the Euro.

EU currency map

Even in defence there are differences: 22 of the 28 are members of NATO, and 6 are not: Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Austria, Cyprus, and Malta.

 The following table provides a summary. I’ve arranged it by date of joining, with the founder members at the top.

EU countries table 1

I must admit, when I pulled this information together, there were a few things that I didn’t know, and I take an interest in such matters. How many people in the EU could even name all the countries which are members? And say which ones are in the Eurozone? Would you have got it all right? If you would, I’m impressed.

These countries represent a huge spread of geography, language (there are 25 main languages spoken across the EU), economic prosperity, culture, and history, developed to a large extent separately over many centuries. They include mature democracies such as the UK, and poorer countries in the east of Europe which were until relatively recently part of the Soviet bloc, on the “other side” in the cold war.  Unlike the USA, a young country which has by and large never been anything other than the USA, and benefits from (pretty much) a single language, most of the countries of Europe have developed very differently from each other. The challenge of language shouldn’t be underestimated – whilst many Europeans can manage reasonably well in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German, it’s a different matter trying to communicate in Czech, Hungarian, Croatian, or Bulgarian. Few are fluent in say Swedish and Romanian, or Greek and Polish, or Hungarian and Portuguese, so communication often has to take place in a language which is not the mother tongue of either party to a discussion or debate. In practice, the procedural languages of the EU organization are English, French, and German.

The EU was born out of noble ideals – after the horrors of two great wars in the 20th century, putting together an alliance of countries in western Europe was seen as a way of greatly reducing the chances of any repeat. And building a large trading bloc with access to each other’s markets was very sensibly seen as an instrument to deliver prosperity and development to the people of the countries which joined in the enterprise.

Things did proceed according to those ideals for some years, and when UK held a referendum in 1975, the question was about joining up to those ideals, for what was then a group of 9 countries, with a centre of gravity in the north-west of Europe – though stretching as far south as Italy. The UK voted to join, and I believe rightly so. We are now facing a referendum about membership of a rather different geographical entity of 28 countries. But it’s not just the geographical spread which has changed – it’s the whole ethos of what it’s about.

To understand what I mean, we have to look at how the EU operates. Perhaps you should go and grab a strong coffee before trying to get your head around this – it does seem at first sight somewhat complicated and confusing.

There exists a body called the European Council, which comprises the heads of state or of government of each of the member countries  (or “member states” as they’re called in Eurospeak), along with the Council’s own president and the president of the European Commission. It was established at an informal summit in 1975, and later formalized as an institution of the EU in 2009, when the Treaty of Lisbon came into force. The current President of the European Council is ex-Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk.

But the European Council doesn’t run the show. That is the job of the European Commission, the ruling body of the EU. The European Commission is an executive team which operates like a cabinet government,  responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties, and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. It comprises one member, or “Commissioner”,  from each member country, irrespective of size, so tiny Malta has one Commissioner just as Germany has, and there are 28 in all.  These Commissioners are expected not to behave in a factional manner in the interests of their own country: they swear an oath at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to respect EU treaties and to be completely independent in carrying out their duties. The leader of the European Commission is the Commission President, proposed by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament – at present Jean Claude Juncker of Luxembourg.  The European Council appoints the other 27 members of the European Commission in agreement with the nominated President, and the 28-member body is subject to approval as a whole by the European Parliament. Do you know who the UK’s representative is on the European Commission? It is not a well-publicized role, but the name is Jonathan Hopkin Hill, Baron Hill of Oareford.  (Yes, I confess I had to look it up.)

The European Parliament is a directly elected parliamentary body, which together with the European Commission and the European Council, exercises the legislative function of the EU. It comprises 751 members (or MEP’s), since 1979 elected by “direct universal suffrage” every 5 years.  Somewhat telling is the rather low voter turnout – in 2014 only 42.5% of the electorate cast a vote. It is huge and unwieldy, the second largest democratic electorate in the world (after the Parliament of India). Although the European Parliament has legislative power that the European Council and European Commission do not possess, it does not formally possess legislative initiative, ie the right to propose new law, unlike most national parliaments of EU member countries. The European Parliament is the “first institution” of the EU, and shares equal legislative and budgetary powers with the European Council (except in a few areas where the special legislative procedures apply). The European Commission is accountable to the European Parliament. In particular, the European Parliament elects the President of the European Commission, and approves (or rejects) the appointment of the Commission as a whole. It can in theory require  the European Commission as a body to resign, by adopting a motion of censure.

You might have heard the term European Commission used in a very different sense from the 28-member executive body of the EU, i.e. to refer to the vast and growing band of European Civil Servants (often unflatteringly styled “Eurocrats”). The European Commission is divided into departments known as Directorates General (DGs), roughly equivalent to ministries. Each covers a specific policy area or service such as trade or environment, and is headed by a Director-General who reports to a Commissioner. Around 33,000 people are employed by the European Commission. They are the people who we sometimes like to disparage for costing a lot of money, and making up ever-more unnecessary, unworkable, and nit-picking rules and regulations that drive us to distraction. As I’ll come on to discuss, some of that sort of criticism is unfair, but some isn’t.

Another very important point to make is the distinction between the EU and The Council of Europe. The Council of Europe was founded in 1949, and is a regional intergovernmental organization whose stated goal is to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in its 47 member countries. Its spread is much greater than the 28 countries which comprise the EU –  it covers over 800 million people. It is sometimes confused with the EU, in part because they share the European flag, in part because they share the word “European” in their titles, and in part because “Council of Europe” and “European Council” sound interchangeable: they are not; the latter is a body of the EU.

Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws. The Council of Europe adopted the European Convention on Human Rights, and established the European Court of Human Rights, which sits in Strasbourg, France. This should not be confused with the European Court of Justice, which is an EU institution, in fact, the highest court of the EU. The European Court of Human Rights is not an institution of the EU, so whether or not the UK is a member of the EU makes no difference whatsoever to its influence on the UK. It hears applications alleging that a contracting country has breached one or more of the human rights provisions concerning civil and political rights set out in the Convention and its protocols. An application can be lodged by an individual, a group of individuals or one or more of the other contracting countries. If you hear anyone arguing “we should get out of the EU because we don’t want our decisions meddled with by the European Court of Human Rights”, they have got the wrong end of the stick. Not surprising, given the plethora of European institutions with similar sounding names, but wrong nonetheless.

Another word that gets bandied about is Schengen. What’s that? Does it give everyone a free pass into the UK from Europe, and there’s nothing we can do about it? As I guess you probably already know, that’s not so.

The Schengen Agreement is a treaty which led to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area. It was signed in 1985 by five of the ten member countries of what was then the EEC (the European Economic Community – if you’re old enough, you’ll remember that’s what we once had). It got its name because it was signed near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg. It proposed a process towards abolition of checks at borders between signatory countries, so that vehicles could cross borders without stopping, residents in border areas could freely pass back and to, away from fixed checkpoints,  and visa policies could be harmonized. In 1990 the Agreement was supplemented by the Schengen Convention, which proposed the abolition of internal border controls and a common visa policy. The Schengen Area operates like a single country for international travel purposes, with external border controls for travelers entering and exiting the area, and common visas, but with no internal border controls. Originally, the Schengen treaties and the rules adopted under them operated independently from the European Union, but in 1999 they were incorporated into European Union law by the Amsterdam Treaty, and are now part of core EU law. This law provides for opt-outs for the only two EU member countries which had remained outside the Area, namely UK and Ireland, but requires that all EU member countries which have not already joined the Schengen Area, and which do not have a an opt-out,  do join when technical requirements have been met. There are four such countries: Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania.

The Schengen area at present consists of 26 European countries: the 28 in the EU, less UK and Ireland who have an opt-out, and less the 4 just mentioned which currently do not meet technical requirements, plus 4 non-EU countries: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

So, UK and Ireland are not in Schengen, and have no requirement to change that status. We have the freedom to have in place whatever border controls we see fit.

Right, glad we’ve got all that clear!

So what’s my beef with the EU? I’ve disposed of the red herring of the European Court of Human Rights, because it isn’t part of the EU.

Also, haven’t I disposed of two further concerns, the red herring that EU law (or “Schengen”) prevents us controlling our borders, and the oft-alleged “undemocratic” set-up of the EU?  I’ve reminded you that the UK has a permanent opt-out of the Schengen agreement, and I have described  the organization of the EU as a thoroughly democratic body, exercising the collective will of the citizens of the EU, via elected MEP’s. Well no, I haven’t actually, on these two vital points, and it’s absolutely key to my argument to say why.


Free movement of people

First, I need to address control of our borders and the vexed question of immigration. Whether you or I like it or not, this is bound to be one of the crucial aspects that will affect how people vote on 23rd June. Schengen, which is  about free movement without the need for a passport, is not really the point. When you enter the UK, since we have a Schengen opt-out, everyone is required to pass through border control, which means that everyone, whether a  UK citizen, an EU citizen, a Commonwealth citizen, or a citizen of any other country, has to show their passport. But requiring to show your passport, and having right of entry with a passport, are completely different things. Right of entry is the crucial point.

A fundamental plank of EU rules is that every EU citizen has freedom to move about anywhere within the EU [1], and to settle and work there. To come to the UK, all the person needs is to be an EU citizen and to hold a passport of an EU member country. As an EU member, the UK cannot restrict the number of EU citizens who come to settle in the UK, nor can it impose any restriction on employment rights of any EU citizen, eg by imposing a work permit system.  That is a great principle, when considered in the context of a group of countries intent on moving towards political union. You might or might not agree it’s a good idea for the UK to be part of that, but it’s not what we voted to join in 1975. It is however a significant part of what we’ll be voting about in 2016, so I do need to comment on the pros and cons of this arrangement from the perspective of the UK.

An important consideration is the motivation to move from one country to another. Without much differential motivation, we would see some general movement of people as they chose to live in a different country, perhaps for reasons of employment, family links, better climate, or whatever, but different countries would see influx and efflux, perhaps not in perfect balance, but not generating a large change in relation to their overall populations. But if differential motivation is high, as we see with big disparity in wealth, quality of life,  and employment opportunities, then a free-for-all carries significant risks, and that’s what we observe in practice. It puts stresses on the countries gaining people, as well as on those losing them.

The UK is a particularly attractive destination for a number of reasons. A cold, damp climate isn’t a great draw, but job opportunities are. The UK, being outside the Eurozone, has been able to sustain higher employment levels than most of the rest of the EU, and, compared to some countries, spectacularly so.  With a mature democracy, rule of law, a comparatively generous and comprehensive welfare benefits system, a good health service free at the point of use, and job vacancies for a wide range of skills, and for unskilled people too, the draw is obvious. A further factor is language – English is the de facto world language of trade and business, IT,  and entertainment– even in France and Germany – so the attraction of living and working where one can learn English is relevant too.

Where the numbers of EU citizens choosing to move to UK is manageable, most would agree it is a good and healthy thing all round. But when the rate of migration becomes too high, a range of problems ensue.  Obvious ones are pressure on housing, schools, and services, which cannot develop fast enough to accommodate the influx. Another is a drain of population, wealth creation and skills from the countries from which the migrants come: if most of the best bricklayers and plumbers in Poland work in UK, how do you find a decent plumber or bricklayer in Poland? And when that applies to trained healthcare professionals,  problems can become quite serious.

So the question isn’t whether free movement in principle isn’t a good thing – only the most xenophobic would demur. The question is how the pace of change can be managed to prevent the problems outweighing the benefits. I would argue that the rate of influx from other EU countries into the UK has been somewhat too high in recent years, resulting in some depression of wages (a good thing for business competitiveness,  but a bad thing for UK employees) and excessive load on schools, housing, NHS, and services. You will find some people arguing that this is not so, and others (typically UKIP and its supporters) arguing that it is a large and difficult problem which we urgently need to deal with. Your own  perspective possibly depends on your circumstances, such as where you live and how you earn your living. My own view is that it is a problem which requires a measure of control to get the best outcomes for all, and that the EU has signally failed to address this. It has nailed its colours firmly to the mast of total free movement, and is unwilling to budge on the principle. I would not argue that this is an overriding problem which says we need to vote to leave the EU, but it is a factor weighing the arguments in that direction.

A further and pressing issue on migration is the way the EU is handling the enormous humanitarian crisis of refugees, especially from the conflict in Syria. It is not stretching a point to argue that the EU has not spoken with unity on policy, nor has handled the issue with the efficiency of a huge and wealthy well-governed bloc.  In fact, the issue has seen some EU countries scrabbling to protect their own interests, erecting fences and razor wire, and looking the other way when frontier countries like Greece are having to deal with enormous numbers of desperate people. The Schengen principle is at risk of collapse. This lack of ability to address a serious crisis with unity, dignity, statesmanship and speed gives the lie to certain of the claimed virtues of the EU.

The EU: a democratic institution?

If you’re still with me, you’ll recall the second point above which I said I wanted to discuss, the issue of democracy. I described  in a bit of detail how the EU is organized– intended  to be a thoroughly democratic body, exercising the collective will of the citizens of the EU, via elected MEP’s.  I accept that the structure has that nominal intent. But we need to look at what happens practice, and it is very different  indeed – and there’s the rub.

 First, let’s consider MEP’s, the people who make up the European Parliament. This is the  “first institution” of the EU, the EU body which is elected  democratically by the electorates of the EU member countries, and which is expected to call the shots.  There are 751 MEPs, covering 28 countries.  The UK is divided into 12 regions, or constituencies, and  each region has between 3 and 10 MEP’s. These regionally elected MEP’s make up a total of 73 for the UK as a whole, just under 10% of the European Parliament.

 Do you know who your MEP’s are? Do you know how your region is structured with regard to MEP representation? Do you know if you have one MEP, or several? If you don’t know, you can look it up [2], but if you had to do that, I think I might already have made a telling point. My own region is North West England, which has 8 MEPs: currently 3 Labour Party, 3 UKIP, and 2 Conservative Party.  It’s probably fair to say the 3 UKIP members aren’t there to work on fostering the cause of the EU – they are there because they want the UK to leave. Elections were last held in May 2014. As I mentioned above, the turnout was low, about 42.6% across the EU. The figure for UK was even lower at 34.3%, and this needs to be interpreted in the context that polling was conducted alongside local elections in England, so people there didn’t have to make the effort to go out and vote just for their MEPs.  If you’re interested in more detail about turnout trends and their significance, see Appendix 1.

The history of referendums on EU treaties has not been uniformly supportive. For the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, France voted to accept with a slim margin 51.1% in favour, on a turnout of 69.7%, ie an approval of less than 36% of the French electorate. Denmark rejected the Treaty on referendum, and  negotiated and received four opt-outs from parts of the treaty (Economic and Monetary Union, Union Citizenship, Justice and Home Affairs, and Common Defence).  A new referendum was held in 1993, and the vote was then in favour to accept, with 56.8% in favour, on a turnout of 85.5%.

Famously, Ireland rejected the Treaty of Nice in 2001, with a “no” vote of about 54%. However, the EU asked Ireland to have another go to “get the right answer”, on the somewhat questionable basis that the voter turnout had been low – no re-vote was ever called for, irrespective of low turnout, when a vote was in favour of an EU treaty.  Ireland duly held a second referendum in 2002, and this time voted in favour.

There have been few opportunities for countries to vote on EU membership, except for initial votes for new countries joining . In 1972, Norway voted against, and did not join. In 1973, Greenland , having joined as part of Denmark in 1973, gained home rule in 1979, held a referendum on EU membership and voted to leave, exiting the EU in 1984. UK voted in 1975, with a result of 67% in favour of membership – but of course, that was for the Common Market of 9 countries, not the rather different institution, both geographically and politically, that it is today.

There has been considerable controversy over the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, where only four countries in 2005 did vote (Spain, France, Netherlands, and Luxembourg) Referendums were planned but never held in UK, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic, and Portugal.

The track record of the EU seeking and respecting the views of its electorate is not a glorious one. But the main point about EU democracy runs far deeper than that. Despite the theory and the avowed intent [3], there is no practical way that the European Parliament  of 751 MEPs, composed of a myriad of different nationalities, groups, factions, and ad hoc political alliances, could ever exercise effective governance of the EU. So in practice, the European Commission is free to steam ahead with its vision of Europe, a political project, with scant regard for the wishes of the electorates of any of its member countries. The perverse effect is that an institution, ostensibly designed to be the epitome of democratic ideals, behaves in an entirely undemocratic, even totalitarian, fashion.

The evidence of this is seen in the growth of a regulatory machine, which runs on unchecked, generating a mass of regulation which we have to accept, and over which we have no control. Much of the regulation burden is unnecessary, unhelpful, damaging to EU competitiveness, and places a disproportionate load on small businesses who, unlike large corporations, cannot afford specialist departments to deal with compliance. We have all heard of some of the more ridiculous examples,  such as the 1995 EU regulation on bananas and cucumbers (sensibly repealed in 2008), but the value of some regulations still in draft is difficult to justify. Did you know that the EU is proposing regulation forbidding the sale of  food items by number (eg a dozen eggs, or 3 onions) so that they must be sold by weight? Did you know that the EU is proposing to bring in regulation on prohibition from driving for people with certain diabetic conditions?

Why does it get like this? Part of the problem is the large body of EU civil servants: initially, teams are assembled to create regulations, let’s assume quite properly. But once they’re in place, the incentive is to keep generating the need for more regulation, to sustain and build the “empires” of regulatory employment. Without the reasonable checks and balances and prioritizations which would apply to, say, a national civil service, an insidious ratchet effect applies. There should of course be a financial check in the form of the EU budget,  but the evidence is damning. It is scandalous that the EU’s own auditors are not able to sign off the EU accounts, because of error and fraud.  You might recall the indignation back in late 2014, when the annual report of the European Court of Auditors was published, admitting that £109 billion of a total of £117 billion of 2013 EU expenditure was affected by material error, and £5.5 billion of the 2013 EU budget was “misspent”. That was the 19th year in succession which the EU’s auditors refused to sign off the EU accounts. The indignation in November 2014 arose because, despite its dreadful record of financial mismanagement,  the EU made a demand on the UK for an extra contribution of £1.7billion, payable by 1st December 2014; the rationale was application of EU rules requiring contributions to be increased as a function of a member country’s economic performance. In other words, the EU even by its own measures was wasting billions, yet came insisting that the UK pay in more because of the success of the UK economy. Most voices in the UK, even the most ardent advocates of staying in the EU, concede that reform is required. To say the EU requires reform is an understatement, yet no-one can yet point to any substantive reform taking place, or even being considered.  If I’m wrong there, I’d love to hear the evidence.

In case you think I’ve just been making unsupported assertions about EU regulation,  there is a lot of information available to provide details. One example is here [4], from  Business for Britain, an organization which speaks for a large number of members of Britain’s business community, who feel they have little voice, but are desperate to see fundamental changes made to the terms of the UK’s EU membership.

Business for Britain’s investigations claim to show that nearly 65% of the laws introduced in the UK since 1993 either originate from the EU, or are deemed by the House of Commons Library to be EU influenced.  They recognize that all sorts of different numbers are bandied about in this highly controversial area, so they have attempted to provide a reliable independent assessment, by combining House of Commons research and their own  examination of EU regulations. Their key findings are:

  • Between 1993 and 2014, 64.7% of UK law can be deemed to be EU-influenced. EU regulations accounted for 59.3% of all UK law. UK laws implementing EU directives accounted for 5.4% of total laws in force in UK.
  • This body of legislation consists of 49,699 exclusively ‘EU’ regulations, 4,532 UK measures which implement EU directives,  and 29,573 UK-only laws.
  • This large percentage is driven by EU regulations. This is important because EU regulations are transposed into national law without passing through Parliament. Hence, they do not appear in studies by the House of Commons Library, which therefore quotes much lower numbers. The figure quoted by the House of Commons library was 13.3%, in comparison the “real” number of 64.7%.

They maintain that analysis of the EU’s influence on British law has often been hijacked for political purposes, leading to disputes over the true number. They do acknowledge that not every EU regulation will impact UK, such as rules on olive and tobacco growing, but the rules remain in force across the UK.

Another example of EU regulation starting out with good intent, and then losing its way, is policy on climate change. The EU’s flagship policy is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, an area in which I have considerable personal experience.  I won’t bore you with the details here, but if you’re interested, please refer to Appendix 2.

An aspect of EU regulation, which I have heard cited recently as a benefit of our EU membership,  is the EU Social Chapter. The shadow Chancellor John McDonnell  said that while he recognized that the EU was in “need of reform”, the impact of the EU Social Chapter on workers’ rights in UK was a good thing. What was he referring to? The Social Chapter is a protocol tacked on to the end of the Maastricht treaty, which set out broad social policy objectives, without details, on improving living and working conditions within the EU. It enshrined the commitment of Member Countries to the separate Social Charter, signed by 11 of the then 12 European Community leaders (the exception being UK Prime Minister John Major) in December 1989, by giving the European Commission clearer powers to impose social legislation. The implication is that after ratification of the Maastricht Treaty,  Ministers from member countries have been able to agree, without fear of a national veto, directives on health and safety, working conditions, consultation of workers, sex equality with regard to job opportunities and treatment at work, and protection of pensioners and the unemployed. If they are unanimous, they can agree directives on social security, redundancy, collective representation, employment conditions for non-European Community workers, and job-creation schemes. This has led to things like the Working Time Directive being imposed on the UK. Whatever your views on the merits or otherwise of  particular regulations that have been introduced in the UK as a result of EU social legislation, the idea that we can’t make up our own minds what is appropriate for the UK, and have to have our rules made up and imposed by an external authority, over which we have no control, is inimical to our democracy.

In the UK, if we don’t like what our Government is doing, we can throw it out, and from time to time we do just that. Within the EU, the regulatory machine grinds on, intruding in ever more areas of our lives, and we can do nothing to reverse the tide.  We have to accept regulations which we think are fine, those we think are irrelevant, and those we think are counterproductive, indefinitely into the future. For me, this fundamentally undemocratic arrangement is a key argument in favour of exit.


The impact on the UK economy and jobs

So far I’ve talked about two crucial areas of debate with regard to UK’s membership of the EU: free movement of people (the control  of immigration),  and democracy (the ability to make our own laws, and the imposition of laws over which we have no control).  A third area which will be vital to how we choose to vote is impact on our economy. It is complex – it’s difficult to make accurate predictions about the economic impact of leaving the EU.  It is also the topic most amenable to scaremongering.

A difficulty we all face in making a judgment here is whose message to trust. We are already hearing doom-laden economic predictions about the consequences of exit, being expressed by politicians on the “in” camp,  entailing loss of jobs, loss of access to EU markets, collapse in confidence in the UK economy, and the like. Leaders of big business by and large are lining up on the same side. Yet other politicians and business people, especially those running smaller businesses,  are expressing the opposite view with equal vigour, saying how we’d benefit from less regulation,  and more freedom to trade with the rest of the world rather than being tied to the huge and stagnating economy of the EU, and all the structural problems with the Euro across the disparate economies of the Eurozone.

It is a statement of the obvious that EU politicians, with a vested interest in their EU political project, will be very worried indeed by the implications of a UK exit, and will propound all manner of arguments  to try to paint as unappealing a picture as possible to the UK electorate.    Scaremongering is not of course confined to economics: for example, on 3rd March we saw the French President François Hollande, threatening “consequences” if UK voted to leave, hinting that France would wash its hands of working with UK border control, with the implication that migrants near Calais would be “sent” to the UK. Unedifying as such statements are,  it is in the area of economic prospects that you will probably hear most of the dire warnings, both from European leaders, and from UK politicians on the side of staying in the EU.

For example, you will probably already have heard claims that if UK exits from the EU, we would still have to pay in the contributions we make now, and even accept free movement of people, in order to have access to European markets. On 4th March, I read a quote from Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s  finance minister, speaking in London, begging Britain not to vote for Brexit, and warning UK would not necessarily save cash or cut immigration by leaving. His view was endorsed by UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who said leaving Europe would be the “worst of all worlds” for Britain. He said “If we were to leave the EU, over 50 of our trade deals with other countries in the world would automatically fall because they are trade deals with the EU. I would point out that to have the access to the single market that British businesses need, you have to pay in to the EU’s budget and you have to accept free movement of people.”

This sort of claim does not bear scrutiny, as it implies that the EU would hold all the cards in post-exit negotiations regarding the UK’s trading relationship with the EU. Let’s look at some facts: one which is highly relevant is the balance of trade between UK and the rest of the EU. The following chart uses HMRC figures [5], and shows that the UK is in trade deficit with the rest of the EU, bumping along at about £10billion per month.

UK balance of trade with EU

So the EU27 (the EU less UK)  is selling us a lot more than we are selling into it. There is clearly a strong interest for the EU to seek to maintain trade with the UK, should the UK decide on Brexit. The idea that the EU would be able to hold the UK’s feet to the fire around budget contributions and free movement of people, to “allow” us to continue trading, looks somewhat far-fetched. There would be posturing, no doubt, but economic realities would prevail.

Another relevant fact is the UK’s economic strength in the world. We are the 5th largest economy, as measured by GDP. Within the EU only Germany is larger. The four economies bigger than the UK are USA, China, Japan, and Germany, in that order.   (I have included a table of data on major world economies, including the position of all 28 EU countries, in Appendix 3, if you want to look in more detail about sizes of economies, GDP/head, etc.)  Independent and successful countries such as Canada (61% the size of the UK economy) and Australia (49% the size of the UK economy) have no difficulty in making their way on their own.

The UK has other economic strengths too. We have an immensely strong position in world financial markets.  We also have access to a Commonwealth of  53 countries, across  six continents: Commonwealth countries have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, almost a third of the world population.

When we compare economic growth between the UK and the Eurozone, the arguments for staying in the EU are not enhanced. The GDP of the  Eurozone in the final quarter of 2015 was still below its pre-crisis peak of early 2008. UK GDP in 2015 was about 7% ahead of the 2008 level, while that of USA was nearly 10% above its peak of late 2007. Whatever the causes,  the poor economic performance of the Eurozone is particularly worrying, since it coincides with some  favourable economic factors. The fall in energy prices, caused by collapse of the price of oil, had an effect like a tax cut, boosting consumer spending—the main engine of economic recovery. The European Central Bank has implemented quantitative easing since March 2015, and with low / negative interest rates from mid-2014, the Euro has been  kept  weak, helping exporters, and contributing to a current-account surplus of 3.7% of GDP in 2015. But growth remains stubbornly low.

 On unemployment, too, the Eurozone languishes well behind the UK. The most recent figure for UK (February 2015) is 5.4%. For the Eurozone, it is near twice that level, at 10.2%.

Plainly, the Eurozone as an economic entity is not faring particularly well. When one also factors in the unresolved issues with the Euro, particularly with the Greek economy, the notion that the UK’s economic prospects are best served by remaining shackled to the EU looks tenuous at best.

While the above describes the general economic situation, there are also some important economic arguments in specific  sectors: if we consider the particular cases of fisheries and agriculture, we see a very worrying picture, and a pressing need for change.   

It is a consequence of geography that the seas around UK and Ireland account for about 60% of the EU’s waters. UK grew over the centuries as a maritime nation, with a thriving and economically important fishing industry. A consequence of UK joining the EU has been a devastating contraction of that industry. The Common Fishing Policy (CFP),  the EU’s mechanism of  implementing pan-European regulations on fishing, has been disastrous [6]  – since the introduction of the CFP in 1970, UK has seen a huge decline in fish stocks, wasteful discarding of fish to comply with EU rules, and the destruction of large swathes of Britain’s fishing industry and communities. As a corollary of membership of the EU, UK’s waters became a shared resource to other EU nations;  many UK coastal towns have gone into economic and social decline, through the loss of thousands of jobs.  Exit from the EU would provide the opportunity to manage our waters as we used to, and to rebuild our fishing industry.

 On farming, the view might be more nuanced, but there is a strong case that the compliance requirements of regulation are seriously damaging our farming industry. I quote from George Eustace, Minister of State for Farming, in February of this year:

“The reality of working within EU law is that trying to do the simplest of things becomes curiously complicated and often impossible. Some 80 percent of legislation affecting DEFRA comes from the EU with about 40 percent of all EU regulations affecting the UK falling within its remit. It is all pervasive: how many farm inspections there must be in a given year; what proportion of those inspections must be random; how much a farmer must be fined if he makes a mistake; how much he should be fined if he makes the same mistake twice; the precise dimensions of EU billboards and plaques that farmers are forced to put up by law; the maximum width of a gateway; the minimum width of a hedge; the maximum width of a hedge; what type of crop must be grown over the hedge; whether a cabbage and a cauliflower are different crops or should be deemed the same crop. The list goes on forever and it’s stifling.”

You can read the full article here [7]. It is unequivocal – we need to exit the EU for the sake of our farming industry and the people who work in it.

Another specific sector which has been struck by huge problems recently is the UK steel industry. This strategic sector is already under pressure because of the strength of the pound, relatively high electricity price in the UK, and the cost of climate change regulation and policies, so is particularly vulnerable to dumping of cheap products into the UK from abroad. China has been dumping surplus cheap steel into the UK since at least 2014, with dire consequences. Tata Steel (the company which took over British Steel) axed 720 jobs in July 2015, a further 1,200 in October 2015, and announced another 1,050 job losses in January of this year. In October 2015, SSI announced it was closing down its Redcar works, with the loss of 2,200 job. Then then parts of Caparo Industries’ steel operations went into administration, putting a further 1,700 jobs at risk. Its boss, Angad Paul, committed suicide. The steel industry has been appealing to Government for anti-dumping action for a long time, but as an EU member, the UK’s hands are tied. It cannot take action on its own– instead, it must use EU channels. Sure enough, the EU Commission has, in February of this year, announced it is opening three investigations into dumping of Chinese steel products, saying it would not allow “unfair competition” to threaten Europe. Great! Except that with the sclerotic pace of EU action, the horse has already bolted, and the UK steel industry is largely destroyed. Once furnaces close, they do not re-open. If UK had not been constrained by the rules of EU membership, prompt action would have been possible, and at least some of the carnage might have been averted.

The proponents of the UK staying in the EU for economic reasons have a very difficult case to make, and vague predictions of doom, without arguments to back them up, should be treated with suspicion. The idea that the UK would be somehow cast adrift to languish economically, if it exited the EU, seems a very negative and defeatist view- I take it with a large pinch of salt.


I’ve taken you on a journey exploring what the EU is, how it is supposed to work, and how it works in practice.  I have shown, I believe, that in the key areas of movement of people, democratic control of our own laws and regulations, and economic prosperity, exit from the EU would be a positive and liberating step. Any downsides are likely to be restricted to short term turbulence as we enter a new relationship with Europe, and the world.

 My main worry is that “project fear” might succeed. Because people are much more likely to vote for the status quo (“the devil you know”),  when they don’t feel comfortable that they fully understand the implications of change, I hope by writing this post I will assist in reducing the mystique and uncertainty, and help you make up your mind as objectively as possible.

 I will be voting for exit on 23rd June. I hope you will too.

Appendix 1     Voter turnout trends in elections for the European Parliament

It is interesting to look at turnout trends [8], and how that has changed with time. I would argue that turnout could be regarded as a measure of the value the electorate places in the workings of the European Parliament, or at least is a measure of the extent to which they feel their democratic right to vote makes a difference in how the EU is run. If that is a reasonable view, then the data is rather disquieting.

MEP voter turnout trends

Across the EU, the trend in voter turnout is steadily downward, which indicates a worsening disconnect with the EU democratic process. In the UK, we see a “recovery” of turnout in 2004, just after the large expansion of the EU by an additional 10 countries on 1st January 2004. One might speculate about the reason, but when one looks at the UK results, one explanation jumps out. Both the main UK parties, Conservative and Labour, saw a big decline in support, and there was a large surge in support for UKIP. [9] The evidence doesn’t suggest an increasing UK love for the EU.

Appendix 2     EU Policy on Climate Change

An instructive, if complex, example of EU regulation having poor outcomes is its flagship policy on climate change, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, or EUETS. I do have  extensive personal experience with EUETS, but before I proceed with discussing that, I should emphasize that I’m not a climate change sceptic – far from it. I have already set out my views on this in detail- see my post  “Man-made Global warming is/ isn’t real” [10].

EUETS started in 2005, and is now in its 4th phase. It is the largest such scheme in the world. In case you don’t know much about it, the principle is “cap and trade”, which is essentially a good one:  a maximum (cap) is set on the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) that can be emitted any installation, such as a power station or industrial process, over a calendar year. A market in “carbon” is created, the unit of currency being  1 metric ton of CO2; greenhouse gases other than CO2, such as methane,  are converted to CO2 equivalent.  If an installation emits more than its cap, it has to buy “allowances”  in the carbon market for the excess;  if an installation does better than its cap, it can sell its leftover credits. In this way, the system should in principle deliver the most cost-effective reduction in overall emissions across all installations. The key to it working is an effective price of carbon. If the price of carbon is too high, then EU prices which involve GHG emission (much existing power generation, iron & steel industry, chemical industry, etc) become too high, damaging EU industrial competitiveness, increasing unemployment,  and simply “exporting” GHG emissions to producers outside the EU. If the price of carbon is too low, then there is little or no incentive to reduce emissions – the cost of any emissions mitigation outweighs the cost of buying allowances. To make EUETS effective, the carbon price needs to be around €30/ton of CO2. The way the cap is managed is to allocate free allowances to installations, worked out by looking at GHG emissions per unit of production across the whole of the EU in any sector, and setting the free allowance rate to make an installation at the best 10 percentile point to be neutral. So any installation in the best 10% would have surplus allowances to sell in the carbon market, whilst those in the  worst 90% would require to buy allowances, the amount depending on how far above the 10-percentile point they are, or else reduce their emissions. This is a logical approach – it avoids in principle penalizing an entire energy-intensive sector, and encourages those with high emissions to work to reduce them towards the level  of the best performers.

So what could go wrong? In practice, quite a lot, actually.

  • Criminal fraud. There have been various serious issues with EUETS fraud, including VAT fraud;  a carousel fraud involving the trade of emission credits in 2008 and 2009 amounted to a loss of €5 billion for national tax revenues. This resulted in the introducing much more arduous regulation on allowances trading. Yet in early 2011, cyber-criminals breached security on EUETS registries to steal and sell around €40 million worth of carbon allowances, which forced the European Commission to suspend EUETS trading on for two weeks so that it could re-examine its regulatory strategy. The vulnerability has not been fixed: in July 2015, the European Court of Auditors reported that a loophole allowing carbon-credit tax fraud, resulting in losses of several billion euros, had not been fully resolved.
  • Impact on competitiveness: despite the free allowances arrangement, much EU energy intensive industry is highly capital intensive, operating at low margins, has a lot of aging plant which is uneconomic to modify or renew, and has carbon emissions which are an artefact of the type of plant used and the fuel source they are designed to use, rather than standards of operating practice. In other words, they have little or no scope to reduce their emissions by any significant amount. For such industries, often of strategic economic importance for a member country  (eg steel), the imposition of EUETS is the imposition of increased costs without scope to mitigate. An outcome is plant contractions and closures within the EU, sometimes in favour of increased production in facilities outside the EU which have higher unit GHG emissions than the EU operations  they are displacing. So the system delivers the worst of all worlds:  loss of EU employment, worsening EU balance of payments, and increased global GHG emissions.
  • Burden of compliance: the rules for monitoring, reporting, and verifying emissions, and assessment of entitlement of free  allowances, are necessarily extremely complex. They take up time and resource of expertise which would otherwise be used in managing and improving plant operations,  and place an additional cost on all installations encompassed by EUETS.
  • Collapse of the carbon price: following the global recession in 2008, a glut of free allowances and a decline in activity combined to cause a collapse of the carbon price from around €30/metric ton CO2 to near zero. Today it has recovered somewhat, but is still much lower than an effective level, at around €5/t. So the EUETS system is ineffective,  yet all the compliance costs remain, plus the cost of carbon allowances for energy intensive industries, albeit at only around €5/t CO2,  which simply works as a tax on EU industry which our international competitors do not have to pay  – another “worst of all worlds” scenario. The EU has tried various approaches since the price collapse of 2008 to manage the carbon price back up to a meaningful level, including reduction in free allowances, and back-loading /deferment of free allowances, but has been completely impotent  to deliver a price recovery.

You will find figures published to show the “success” of EU policy in this area, as measured by trends in total EU GHG emissions. Unfortunately, however, they do not separate out the direct effect of reduced economic activity in Europe since the 2008 recession, nor do they  include the global GHG emissions related to activity displaced out of the EU by contraction / closure of EU industry. And of course, for GHG emissions, it is the global total which matters.  So what we see is a huge and complex well-intentioned scheme, designed to help address  the serious issue of global warming, becoming a very expensive white elephant.  As members of the EU, we are lumbered with it.

Appendix 3     Table of Major World economies

world countries by GDP



  1. 1 Freedom to Move and Live in Europe: A Guide to Your Rights as an EU Citizen
  2. European Parliament Information Office in the United Kingdom
  3. Democratic improvements in the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty Institutional changes regarding democratic government in the EU
  8. UK Political Info website
  10. Man-made Global warming is/ isn’t real,





Fidei Defensor? A Case for Disestablishment of the Church of England

Justin Welby

For some people, the mere mention of “unelected Bishops in the House of Lords” causes hackles to rise. But for most, establishment or disestablishment of the Church of England is well towards the bottom of the list of issues to be concerned about. But, as I will argue, it matters.

Firstly, there is the serious challenge faced by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, in keeping the Anglican communion from splitting apart. He needs to find a way to reconcile vehemently held opposing views: on one side there’s the American Episcopalian church taking a liberal view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, a sort of Sermon-on-the-Mount “Who am I to judge?” approach; on the other there are the ultra-conservatives, particularly in Africa, to whom homosexuality is an abomination, per Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads”. It is hard to imagine two views more opposed, yet Justin Welby has somehow to accommodate both to keep the Anglican communion intact. He invited all 27 Anglican primates from across the world to a summit conference in Canterbury this month (January 2016), in order to try to resolve the crisis. The outcome: the  conference voted  to suspend the entire U.S. Episcopal Church over its embrace of same-sex marriage, which they said has caused “deep pain” and “deeper mistrust” within the communion. This in effect directed the  Archbishop of Canterbury to relegate almost 2 million American Episcopalians to non-voting “associate” status within their own communion, so that they won’t be allowed to participate in decision-making on issues of doctrine, and can’t officially represent the Anglican Communion on interfaith commissions.

With such problems, the Church of England needs to be free to get on with tackling them as it sees fit. But exercising such freedom in this case has resulted in taking a position which directly opposes the law of the land: legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in July 2013. To say that this sits uncomfortably with the C of E being the established church,  is an understatement. The C of E must follow its conscience on this matter, as on others, but it is hamstrung by its status as the established church in England, and the concomitant requirement not to espouse views which run counter to the law. That alone looks to be a powerful  argument for disestablishment.

But as with most matters in politics or religion, it is not as simple as that. Part of the context is the position of the reigning monarch as Defender of the Faith, and Her Majesty the Queen’s well-known strongly held personal religious faith.

You might recall that last September, 9th September 2015 to be precise,  Queen Elizabeth II reached a notable milestone as the longest serving monarch, overtaking her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. There were tributes made that day in the UK parliament. David Cameron and Harriet Harman both made well-judged and respectful statements, with a lovely blend of deference and humour. Yes, Harriet Harman was still standing in as leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. (It was a few days B.C – before Corbyn).

I enjoyed listening. While one might take the view that hereditary monarchy is in principle a poor system, hard to justify on any objective basis, in practice it seems to me that the results have been very good indeed for the UK, the Commonwealth, and probably the whole world, over the past 60 years or so. Those like me who are uncomfortable with the principle of choosing a head of state on a hereditary basis, find ourselves hard pressed to propose an alternative which would perform better. Much of this success can be attributed to the admirable way the Queen has conducted herself. There have been times during her reign that things have looked rather rocky for the monarchy, but she has always won through, in large part I believe to the enormous esteem and affection which the British public hold for her personally. It will be interesting indeed to observe whether things will continue in that vein when the Queen eventually gives way to her successor.

However, immediately following the tributes made by the party leaders in parliament, the first back-bencher who took the floor was Sir Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot. What he chose to do was celebrate the Queen’s position as Fidei Defensor, and extol what he saw as the virtues of the established Church of England, as key to a Christian heritage that “has made Britain what it is today”.

My immediate reaction was dismay– why would he choose to raise a point about the established church, at a time like this? So I had to draw a breath and ponder. On reflection, I concluded that Sir Gerald saw an opportunity to reinforce what he sees as a positive and virtuous association between the monarchy, the Church of England, and the Government; an opportunity to state what he feels is right and proper, and reinforce his view that “the UK is a Christian country”, and the better for it.

Perhaps he didn’t recognise at all that his point was controversial and divisive to many people, and inappropriate for a moment of celebration and recognition of service.

Whatever his motivation, I feel the need to state vigorously another view, and one which I think will resonate with large numbers of the people of this country, and of which Sir Gerald, and others who share his line of thought, would be well advised to take account.

It is necessary here to understand the history and meaning of Fid Def, or Fidei Defensor. I apologise if I’m teaching granny to suck eggs, but precise meaning is important here. Let’s start with some Latin grammar: Sir Gerald Howarth was entirely right as a statement of fact, that “fidei” is singular. 5th declension genitive singular, in fact. So fidei defensor means Defender of the Faith. It is interesting to note why the male form defensor rather than the female form defensatrix is used- this is not an accident, but rather reflects a deliberate depersonalisation of the title – a nuance unavailable in the case of a male monarch.  If the Queen used the grammatically correct form defensatrix, it would be more likely to be seen as reflecting a personal role in defending the Church of England to the exclusion of other faiths. By using “defensor”, the title is honorific, rather than a personal responsibility- recognition of the fact that she is head of a multi-faith and multi-cultural country and Commonwealth. For example, although the Queen is not the head of the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian and Calvinist, she worships there when in Scotland. If she were defensatrix, she would be declaring a position to defend the established Church of England, against all comers: Roman Catholicism, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Methodists, Congregationalism, the Eastern Orthodox Church; against the many non-Christian religions of growing numbers of her subjects, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism; and against those who profess no religion, such as the British Humanist Association. The Queen is wise not to adopt that position. If Sir Gerald’s remarks in Parliament on 9th September 2015 imply that he thinks she should, or indeed does, then I take issue with him.

The term Fidei Defensor has a long and interesting history. It was first granted to Henry VIII in 1521 by Pope Leo X, in recognition on Henry’s opposition to the reformist ideas of Martin Luther.  Leo X was himself an interesting character, and reported to have said “How well we know what a profitable superstition the fable of Christ has been for us and our predecessors” , at a Good Friday banquet in the Vatican in 1514 (though some dispute that the record is reliable) . With Henry’s matrimonial imbroglios, and the break from Rome in 1530 to establish himself as head of the Church of England, the Fidei Defensor title was revoked by Pope Paul III, and Henry was excommunicated from the Church of Rome. In 1544 the title Fidei Defensor was again conferred on Henry VIII, this time by the English Parliament, with the new meaning of defender of the Anglican faith. During The Protectorate (1653–59), the republican heads of state Oliver and Richard Cromwell did not adopt the title Fidei Defensor, but it was  reintroduced after the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II,  and has remained in use ever since.

There is little question that the title Fidei Defensor, from 1544 onwards into the first half of the 20th century, has unequivocally meant defender of the Anglican faith. The large majority of UK citizens were God-fearing church-attending Christians, and there was little cause to question the prevailing religious orthodoxy. If there was religious debate, it focused on the schism between the Protestant and Catholic arms of the Christian church, and for most UK citizens, any religion other than Christianity was little known or understood. There was an arrogance of religious rectitude and certainty, as evidenced by the Christian missionary movement, spreading out across the world to convert “savages”, “heathens”, and “infidels” to Christianity – which of course we British all knew was “right”.

The world is very different now. It is a much smaller place, with international travel commonplace. We have instant access to news and pictures from across the world. We can access information on any subject we choose on the internet. We have large scale resettlement of people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. People in the UK no longer feel they have to pretend to subscribe to a worldview they find unconvincing or flawed. It is acceptable to say things like “I am an atheist”, or even “I think that religions are wrong, and do more harm than good”. Such views have been reinforced enormously by the rise in Islamic terrorism: the 14th anniversary of 9/11 passed just two days after The Queen attained her milestone of longest serving monarch.  Prominent scientists and authors express firmly anti-theistic views: examples are the late Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens, and a current mix of well-known authors, philosophers and physicists, such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, and A.C. Grayling.   The place of religion as a means of explaining the world and how it works has withered away, as previously accepted religious explanations have been replaced by rational scientific ones. It is notable that there are no examples of the process going in the other direction.

Libby Purves in her Times column [1] a few months ago referred to remarks of Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who said that in many western countries, it was “an act of courage” to admit to any faith. Believers were, they said, routinely assumed to be “naive, unsophisticated and narrow-minded”, and it is difficult, therefore, for them to argue publicly: there is always a discount instinctively applied to anything an affirmed believer says. Those views are acutely observed. When Alastair Campbell intervened in a 2003 interview to prevent the then Prime Minister Tony Blair from answering a question about his Christianity, saying “We don’t do God,” he was recognizing the electoral harm it could do for a UK politician to be associated with religious belief. It is interesting to compare this situation prevailing in the UK with that in USA, where the constitution is secular. In the USA, the opposite is true: anything said by an affirmed atheist is automatically somewhat suspect. There are even some states in the USA where atheists are barred for public office. So we have the apparently contrary situation where religion is less respected and subscribed to in the UK, with its established church, than it is in the USA, where freedom of, and from, religion is constitutionally protected. An argument that we should maintain the established church in the UK, in order to encourage and support religion, flies directly in the face of this evidence.

I now want to look at some data about the prevalence of religiosity in the UK. The following excerpt is from published work of the academic Vexen Crabtree [2]

The religious make-up of the UK is diverse, complex and multicultural. The 2011 Census shows that minority and alternative religions are steadily growing, as is Islam. Less than half of the British people believe in a God, and from 2009 the annual British Social Attitudes results has revealed that over 50% of us say we’re not religious. A 2014 YouGov poll saw 77% of the British public say they’re not very, or not at all, religious. Comprehensive professional research in 2006, by Tearfund, found that two thirds (66%, or 32.2 million people) in the UK have no connection with any religion or church.

However people continue to put down what they think is their “official” religion on official forms. As a result of this Census Effect in the 2011 National Census, 59.3% of us put their religion down as “Christian”. Half of those who tell pollsters they have no religion nevertheless put one down on the 2011 Census. Even despite this, Christian numbers are substantially down from the 2001 figure of 72%. Religion in Britain has suffered an immense general decline since the 1950s. Between 1979 and 2005, half of all Christians stopped going to church on a Sunday. Four in five Britons want religion to be private, not public, and have no place in politics. All indicators show a continued secularization of British society, in line with other European countries such as France.

When Sir Gerald Howarth MP made his remarks about Fidei Defensor in parliament last September, he was not reflecting the views of the wider British public. If he had been arguing from a point of view of his personal faith, then he is entirely free to hold whatever religious views he chooses. If he were arguing from a point of view of tradition, then there is a clear argument to be made that the UK’s development, governance, and institutions over the centuries have indeed been inextricably linked to religion, in particular, Christianity. It is entirely proper to point this out, but it not proper to conclude that this “tradition” must automatically be carried forward into the future. It is also arguable that many aspects of the “tradition” are not wholly admirable: the slave trade, the brutal treatment of religious heretics, the burning of “witches”, religious crusades, and colonial exploitation are some examples. No-one would claim that this is representative of the Christian church in the UK today, thankfully, but if one is to invoke tradition and history as a justification, one must address the whole picture.

However, Sir Gerald did not choose to argue from personal faith, nor from the point of view of tradition. He chose to cite Fidei Defensor , as a basis for saying that Britain is a Christian country, and that we all should get on with accepting that and conforming to the implications. Yet, as I have just demonstrated, Britain is far from being a country of even majority Christian faith. With respect to the established church,  the evidence shows that Church of England attendance is waning almost to insignificance in the UK, with less than 2% of the adult population of England attending a Church of England service on an average Sunday  [3]. Whether one celebrates or deplores such a trend, the argument for maintaining the established status of the Church of England is tenuous at best. When an MP uses it in parliament to justify the notion that Britain’s government should be conducted according to a Christian theocratic  ideal, then it is high time for us to address  disestablishment .

There is more “political form” using the fact that we have an established church as an argument for trying to impose a Christian view on British society, whether it wants it or not. When in April 2014, Eric Pickles, then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, called on “militant atheists” to “stop imposing ‘politically correct intolerance’ on UK’s Christians”,  he said they should accept that Britain is a Christian country and “get over it”.  He said, and I quote, “I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban parish councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish. Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”   What Mr Pickles failed to comprehend or acknowledge is that a parish council is a tier of local government, a civil local authority, which is secular: there is no requirement for elected councillors to adhere to any religion. Parish councils comprise members from all sections of society, and of any and all religious views. Holding Christian prayers at the start of council meetings would be divisive, and highly likely to be unacceptable to parish councillors of other faiths, or to atheists. It would in fact be an imposition of “militant Christianity” on a secular body.  It was Mr Pickles, not atheists, who was being intolerant here.  Religious people should be free to follow their religion unfettered, in their own time, but in a liberal democracy it is not acceptable for them to try to insist that people of other faiths, or none, should be constrained to follow it too.

Around the same time as The Queen achieved her milestone as the longest serving monarch, another religious controversy was unfolding across the pond: the Kim Davis affair in Kentucky, USA. If you were  hiding under a rock at the time and don’t know what this was about, I’ll explain briefly. The lady in question is an elected official, the county clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, and responsible inter alia for issuing marriage licences. She had recently converted to Christianity, and announced that her faith forbade her from issuing marriage licences to same sex couples; she said  that “God’s authority” sits above the law of the land. She was instructed by a judge to fulfil her duties. She refused, and being an elected official, couldn’t be sacked; she was found in contempt of court, and jailed. Kim Davis has an extremely chequered personal history, with multiple divorces and marriages of her own, and so could be accused of religious hypocrisy. More importantly, what she was demanding was in effect the right to declare, by personal edict, that Rowan County, Kentucky, is a mini-theocracy not beholden to the laws of the land, but to the religious views of Kim Davis. Despite her clearly illegal action, the case became a cause célèbre for the US Conservative religious right, being held up as an example of “oppression” of Christian religious freedom. Of course, it is not. It is an example of an attempt to impose one person’s religious views on other people, so denying them freedoms and rights to which they are entitled by law.

This has some redolence with Eric Pickles’ view that parish councils should be able to insist on Christian prayers at the start of their meetings, irrespective of the views of non-Christian council members. I note the reference in Mr Pickles’ remarks “We have an established church. Get over it“. If ever we needed a clear argument for disestablishing the Church, this is it.

Disestablishment is desirable – as I have argued, having an established church is not effective in any way as a support to Christian religiosity or observance. If one deplores the decline of Christianity in the UK, as many will do, the monarch’s title Fidei Defensor is not helping the case. It is on the other hand potentially very divisive, in what is now very clearly predominantly not a Christian country.

If disestablishment is a step too difficult in the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth II, or of too low a priority, then a compromise is possible. It is less than ideal for the many atheists and humanists amongst us, but Charles, Prince of Wales, the present heir apparent, has long ago expressed a preference to change the style and the spirit should he succeed to the throne as expected. He commented in 1994, “I personally would rather see my future role as Defender of Faith, not the Faith”. Fiderum Defensor, perhaps?



1             “Queen shows Isis the true power of faith” Libby Purves, Times Opinion, 7 September 2015

2              “Religion in the UK: Diversity, Trends, and Decline, Vexen Crabtree

3              Just 800,000 worshippers attend a Church of England service on the average Sunday



USA a “Christian Country”: is God in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights?

Dollar Bill In God We Trust

Is God in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights? The short answer is no, neither God or Jesus are mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, nor in the Bill of Rights. Why then is it so often assumed that the Constitution of the USA says it’s a Christian country?

The obvious reason is that the words “under God” are in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the words “In God we Trust” appear on the dollar bill. Ergo, God must be built into the Constitution or the Bill of Rights,  somewhere.

So it’s a puzzling fact that there’s no mention. There are of course a lot of statements from the “Christian Right” that would have you think otherwise. President George W Bush seemed to be of that view, when he said “I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

In fact, Article VI Section (3) of the U.S. Constitution is the only reference to religion in the original Constitution.  It says “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution: but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or Public Trust under the United States.” The framers of the Constitution were saying said that there would be no test or requirement with reference to one’s religion in order to hold office – whether  Catholic,  Protestant, or of any other religious affiliation (Christian or otherwise), or of no religion at all.

So what happened to move public opinion, and often legislative practice,  away from this secular intent? How did the USA arrive at  a Pledge of Allegiance which says “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” ?

It’s worth noting that the Pledge of Allegiance post-dates the Constitution by a long way. It was written in August 1892 by a socialist minister (Hmm, “socialist” – isn’t that a dirty word to the Christian right in the USA? ) called Francis Bellamy, and originally published in The Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892. Bellamy had hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country. In its original form it read:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added, and it now read: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

However, in the environment of the cold war, and the perceived threat at that time to America from communism,  President Eisenhower in 1954 encouraged Congress to add “under God,” creating the form of words  which is used today. The wording is latched on to exclusively by the majority Christians, who seek to use the words as affirmation that the US has a Christian constitution – the “God” referred to is assumed to be the Christian God. But those who try this on are actually out of step with the U.S. Constitution. The first amendment of the Bill of Rights says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: …”

The Supreme Court has previously said that no one shall be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance, which of course is a correct legal ruling. But that is a long way out of step with majority US public opinion: obloquy and ostracism falls on anyone who refuses.  It is in fact a form of religious discrimination and bigotry. If you’re a Christian, you’ll probably say that’s nonsense. If you belong to any other religion, or are an atheist, you might well take a different view. The problem is that almost all religiously devout people are utterly convinced of the rightness and truth of their own religion, and the wrongness of all the others. How would you feel if the dollar bill displayed “in Allah we Trust”, or the Pledge of Allegiance said “one nation, under Shiva, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all “? I expect you’d think that was an outrage – of course the USA is a Christian country, isn’t it? Always has been. Other religions belong in other countries, where people don’t have access to  the “religious truth” we enjoy; we shouldn’t allow such people to come into the USA and spread their misguided and sometimes evil doctrines. If you do think that way,  have you ever paused to ask yourself why?

In the USA, the best efforts of the founding fathers to create a free and secular country have been largely hijacked by Christianity. The religious views of non-Christians are relegated, and regarded as “alien”. It shows that America has a long way to go to eliminate religious intolerance; in fact, there are many who say things should be pushed hard in the other direction, with increased intolerance of non-Christian views – in effect, towards the establishment of a Christian theocracy. The recent pronouncement of Republican would-be presidential candidate Donald Trump about Muslims has served to inflame the climate of suspicion and fear – an outcome which harms people on all sides and persuasions.

The right answer is to go back to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and read what they actually say.

If you’re a Christian, it’s absolutely fine that you are.  You have every right to follow whatever belief system you prefer – as guaranteed by the Constitution. But what you don’t have the right to do is insist that everyone else follows the same religion as you, that children are taught a Christian world view in school, or that legislation should discriminate in favour of Christianity or against any other belief system.

If you think that’s wrong, you need to make a case why, rather than just assert or assume.


Changing the clocks – what should happen in a rational world?

1          Introduction

The autumn equinox is behind us, and we face the long dark nights of winter ahead. On the last Sunday in October , we go through the twice-yearly ritual of the great Clocks Change. At least in the October change, most of us get an extra hour’s sleep, though spare a thought for those working nights who might be working one extra hour for no extra pay.  If you’re like me, you’ll go round the home changing the time setting on the many devices that all seem to have a clock/timer now: the car, the microwave, the oven, the central heating timer,  stereo systems, TV’s, smart phones, cameras, etc, as well as watches and clocks. Last count for me it came to 59 – though to be fair, many of them do it automatically now. I must also spare a thought for those technophobes amongst us who can never work out how to reset their car clock or their oven clock. and who have to make a mental adjustment until the clocks to forward again in the spring! Yes, there are people like that.

I confess to a feeling of gloom putting the clocks back, as I face 5 months of dark evenings. It stimulates another thought too, when I ponder the question “why do we have to do this?” Why do we choose the time to be what it is, and why do we change it an hour forward for the 7 “summer” months and back again for the 5 “winter” months.  Might there might be a better system?


2      A bit of history.

“What time is it?” That’s a banal enough question we hear almost every day. We don’t often think about it too deeply, except if perhaps we’re planning to phone from the UK to speak to our daughter in Australia, or we’re in a plane half way across the Atlantic. I remember the confusion when I flew from Fiji to Hawaii, left at 9pm on a Friday, and arrived at 6am on the same Friday. Weird, crossing the Date Line: two Fridays in a row one way, then straight from Thursday to Saturday on the way back! But aside from these unusual circumstances, the time is just the time, isn’t it?

Well, no, not exactly. We can’t do anything about the number of days of our earth year: about 365 and a quarter. We can’t do anything about the length of our day, when the sun rises, and when it sets. But how we divide up the day is arbitrary. We chose 24 units, or “hours”, because it can be divided exactly by many factors: 2,3,4,6, etc.

Long before we had clocks, we did have sundials, and reckoned time by when the sun was highest in the sky – we called that midday, or noon. “Afternoon” was the second half of the day, as defined by natural daylight. We divided the day up into 24 hours, 12 each side of mid-day. Bear with me for a little technical terminology now: the time indicated on a sundial is called Apparent Solar Time, or true local time. The time measured in terms of a longitudinal meridian is called Mean Solar Time, or local mean time.

Before there were any such things as time zones, or any standard times, individual towns and cities had their own “time” according to their location. When there wasn’t much travel going on, and no public transport, this didn’t really matter too much.

The first country to change this was Great Britain, with the advent of the railways. Timetables needed to work, and the Great Western Railway was the first to adopt London time, or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), in November 1840, but it took another 40 years before time was officially standardised across the country, when the legal system eventually adopted GMT, with the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act receiving Royal Assent on August 2, 1880. That’s only 135 years ago. For all of human history before then, we’ve been using whatever local systems suited us for measuring time.

Other parts of the world reformed as well, but the pace of change was far from uniform. In the USA, up until 1883, time of day was a local matter, and most cities and towns used some form of local solar time, maintained by a prominent clock. But in 1883, the railways began to operate standard time in time zones in the USA and Canada. The new standard time system was not immediately embraced by all, however. With a typical American propensity for bloody-mindedness, some US cities dragged their feet: for example, Detroit kept local time until 1900, when the City Council decreed that clocks should be put back 28 minutes to Central Standard Time. After much objection and debate, the decree was overturned and the city reverted to sun time, and it was not until 1905 that common sense prevailed, and Central Standard Time was adopted by city vote.

Nowadays, with international travel and international business, we take it for granted that everywhere in the world belongs to some time zone or other. It is a convenient feature of our planet that the 180o meridian is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so that we can have an international dateline which only requires a few minor tweaks to avoid passing through any archipelago or land mass, except the uninhabited area near the South Pole. Even then, Samoa and Tokelau both chose to “skip a day” and move from the eastern to the western side of the dateline in December 2011. Their rationale was to be aligned with their principal trading partners Australia and New Zealand. The dateline was therefore redrawn on our maps in that region of the South Pacific. You are now in a position to answer this obscure question if it comes up in a pub quiz: where and when was there no 30th of December?

So, we divide the world up into time zones, each one hour different from the adjacent zone. Well, most often this is how it works, but there are many exceptions. The following have a time zone which is not a whole hour from GMT:

  • Half-hours: India, South Australia; Newfoundland (Canada), Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Myanmar, plus a few island groups.
  • 45 minutes: Northern Territory (Australia), Nepal, plus a few island groups.

Such precision!


3          Daylight Saving Time (DST)

Interesting as all that might be (well, it is to me, anyway)  it’s only an introduction to my topic, changing the clocks. What is this thing called Daylight Saving Time, and why do we have it?

It started in Britain in the early 20th century, when in 1907 William Willett published a pamphlet called The Waste of Daylight, suggesting that in summer time, valuable daylight hours were being wasted with people still being in bed, and proposing to change the time of the UK’s clocks in the summer months to British Summer time (BST).  However, he died in 1915 with the UK Government still refusing to back BST. One year later, in May 1916, UK passed the Summer Time Act, and started changing its clocks twice a year: GMT in the winter and BST in the summer.

Other countries quickly followed suit, eg the USA in 1918. Of course, it makes no sense to do this in locations near the equator, where the day is more or less the same length all year round, but most countries which are towards the north or south of the planet have adopted some form of DST, and change their clocks twice a year.

In the UK, there have even been periods of double summer time: in 1940, during World War II, clocks across Britain were not put back an hour at the end of British Summer Time, in order to save fuel and money; in the following years to 1945, the clocks were put forward 1 hour in spring and back again 1 hour in autumn, which meant that during World War II, British summers were 2 hours ahead of GMT. Then again in 1968, the UK Labour Government, under Harold Wilson, began an experiment to put the clocks forward an extra hour, ie 1 hour ahead of GMT in winter and 2 hours ahead in the summer, just as in the war years. However, there was a lobby against the change, in particular, from the rebellious Scots, who objected to the darker winter mornings; with shorter winter daylight hours the further north one goes, the system meant that northern Scotland would be dark in mid-winter until 10am. In 1971, the House of Commons voted to abandon the experiment by a large majority of 366 votes to 81. Personally, as a Scottish University student in Glasgow at the time, I loved the system, and was disappointed when it reverted.

4          Recent Proposals to Move to Double Summer Time in UK

 More recently, there have been moves in the UK to revive the double summer time system. A legislative proposal on this issue was The Daylight Saving Bill 2010-11, a Private Member’s Bill brought forward by MP Rebecca Harris. The Bill if passed would have required the production of a cost-benefit report on advancing time by one hour throughout the year for the whole of the UK, and, if the evidence produced were sufficiently compelling, and were accepted by all UK Governments (ie including the Scottish Parliament) triggered a trial of the system to take place. Not an earth-shattering or onerous commitment! But the Bill ran out of Parliamentary time.

However, “ran out of parliamentary time” is a phrase which often carries deeper connotations. In this case, the Bill was effectively killed by a small band of MPs who scandalously decided to “talk it out of the House”, despite the Bill’s widespread popular support, the backing of the Government, and scores of MPs. This occurred on 20 January 2012, when there were 160 MP’s present, of whom 146 were in favour of the bill. The small band of 10 blockers was led by Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Christchurch, who alone contributed a quarter of all the words spoken in the debate. So you might say, a very helpful Bill “got the Chope”.

The Government subsequently did commission a review of the available evidence on changes to clocks in order “to inform debate”. The review [1], published in summer 2012, concluded that it would be possible to produce a formal cost-benefit analysis of a clock change, but said that more work would need to be done. In July 2012 the UK Government said that it had “no current plans” to make changes to clock times. In other words, the idea was kicked into the long grass.

Why does this matter, and who were trying to bring forward the change via a Private Member’s Bill? It matters for two reasons: one, the principle of an abuse of the democratic process, which is shameful, and two, the substantive arguments for change. The main proponents of change were RoSPA (Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents), who were campaigning for reasons of trying to reduce accidental injuries and deaths, and the “Lighter Later” Campaign, led by Daniel Vockins, (, initially motivated by the energy savings potential.


5          Arguments for and against UK Double Summer Time

For shorthand, I’ll call the idea SDST – Single/Double Summer Time: 1 hour ahead of GMT in the 5 winter months from late October to late March, and 2 hours ahead of GMT from late March to late October. We’d still be changing the clocks twice a year, as we do now, so why is SDST an idea at all? The arguments fall into the following main categories:

5.1    Regional/occupational: it’s OK for some but not others

5.2    Accidents/road safety

5.3    Reduced energy use / CO2 pollution

5.4    Tourism

5.5    Business

5.6    Health/exercise

5.7    Leisure

5.8    Elderly/retired people – quality of life

5.9    Crime

Let’s look at these in turn.

5.1       It’s OK for some but not others

There were a lot of reservations expressed about SDST during the 1968/71 trial, particularly by industries / occupations whose workers rise early and utilise morning light, for example some farmers, those who collect and deliver milk, the building industry and postal workers. But things have moved on: postal workers deliver mail later in the day than in 1968/71; modern farming methods have reduced the impact on farm workers, with many now neutral or positive about SDST, and in any event, clock time has minor impact on when farming activities take place; in Scotland, the National Farmers’ Union position is no longer opposed to the change, as it was in 1968/71.

In terms of location, there is a generally weaker support for SDST in Scotland than in England and Wales. A 2005 MORI poll suggested that only 40% of Scots were in favour of the change. However, the objections cited did not hold water when examined in any detail:

  • ‘This is something which would benefit the English, not the Scottish.’ This is not true: in all the major dimensions measurable – road safety, environmental benefit and fuel cost, tourism, health and wellbeing – Scotland would benefit disproportionately compared to England and Wales.
  • ‘There is nothing that can be done – there is only so much available daylight in Scotland.’ This is not true: because Scotland has less available daylight in winter, it is more important for Scotland to manage it carefully, because it is a more precious resource. This fine-tuning is required to get the most benefit out of the available daylight north of the border.
  • ‘It would make sense for England to go one hour ahead and Scotland to remain where it is.’ This is plainly nonsensical, since it is geographically a north-south issue, unaffected by time zones. If it were a significant east-west issue, there might be benefits in different countries in the UK going to different time-zones. And, of course, consistency of time zones wherever possible makes sense.
  • ‘More children will die because of the darker mornings.’ This is not true: the effect of SDST is to save children’s lives, even more so in Scotland than in England and Wales, because Scotland has longer, darker winter evenings, which is where the principal casualties occur. The only way to make this argument is to cite the increased accidents which would occur in the darker mornings, while ignoring the larger number of accidents avoided in the lighter evenings. Indeed, Scottish opposition arose from the 1968/71 experiment exactly because certain media reported an increase in child casualties in the morning, omitting to mention that the evening reduction had more than compensated for this increase. This generated a widely-held belief that this would be bad for Scotland, when in fact, the opposite is true.

However, opinions in Scotland seem to be changing. Scottish famers were reported in November 2010 to take a view supporting SDST.

5.2       Accidents/Road Safety

This is arguably the area of strongest argument for changing to SDST, since it would have the direct effect of reducing injuries and death. This is why RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) have been very active in advocating the change. Their work on examining the effects of the 1968/71 experiment (March 1968 to October 1971) indicated that the trial period saved around 300 deaths and serious injuries per year. You can see RoSPA’s work on SDST in more detail on their website [2].

During the working week, casualty rates peak from 8am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm, with the afternoon peak being higher for both. Road casualty rates increase with the arrival of darker evenings and worsening weather conditions. Every autumn when the clocks go back and sunset occurs earlier in the day, road casualties rise. The effects are worse for the most vulnerable road users like children, the elderly, cyclists and motorcyclists. RoSPA’s calculations suggest that a move to SDST could reduce road deaths by around 80 per year and serious injuries by around 212 per year.

The relative peaks are explained by several factors:

  • Motorists are more tired after a day’s work and concentration levels are lower
  • Children tend to go straight to school in the morning but often digress on their way home, increasing their exposure to road dangers
  • Adults tend to go shopping or visit friends after work, increasing their journey times and exposure to road dangers
  • Social and leisure trips are generally made in the late afternoons and evenings.

These factors explain why moving to SDST would produce significant net benefits – although there would be a slight increase in the morning accident peak, this would be more than offset by the reduction in the higher evening peak.

In 2009, the Department for Transport’s consultation paper, “A Safer Way: Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World”, confirmed that moving to lighter evenings would prevent about 80 deaths on the road a year. Also in 2009, the National Audit Office published “Improving Road Safety for Pedestrians and Cyclists in Great Britain”. In a section looking at seasonal road casualty patterns from 2000-2007, the report stated that there were 10% more collisions killing or injuring a pedestrian in the four weeks following the clocks going back than in the four weeks before the clocks changed.

5.3  Reduced energy use / CO2 pollution

According to a Cambridge University study, moving to SDST would cut carbon emissions by ~450,000 tonnes each year. The energy saved would be equivalent to the annual domestic electricity consumption of 85% of all the power generated by wind, wave and solar renewable energy in England. This is because of the peak in electricity use in the evening: lighter evenings would reduce the size of the peak, and greatly overcompensate for an increased consumption in darker mornings.

5.4  Tourism

Changing to SDST would bring a substantial financial boost to Britain’s tourism industry. It would extend by two months the part of the tourist season that is dependent upon daylight hours, and enable later closing of tourist facilities – useful as the demand for facilities is greater after lunchtime. A Policy Studies Institute study confirms that there would be benefits to tourism through

  • Extending the tourism season.
  • Boosting UK inbound tourism by an estimated £1bn per annum.
  • Boosting overall tourism earnings by an estimated £3bn.
  • Increasing jobs to cater for increased growth by 60,000 to 80,000.

SDST would increase the attraction of off-peak and short-break holidays, simplify international timetables, and bring benefits to airlines, cross-channel ferry and rail operators.


5.5 Business

SDST would align the UK working day with that in continental Europe, for more effective working, including travelling on the day of meetings leading to fewer overnight stays. At present, the UK market loses an hour of overlap in the morning with Europe and an hour overlap in the evening. Both of these would be removed, increasing overlap by 25% of the working day. Stock market hours would match Europe, and produce a greater overlap with Asia – and although it would mean a reduced overlap with North America, the EU accounts for well over half of the UK’s foreign trade (much more than North America).

Ironically, this is one of the arguments used against SDST, in that it could be portrayed as pandering to Europe – the thin end of another wedge in closer integration with Europe. This of course is emotive nonsense, though it does have some traction with the UK vote for Brexit. In fact, the benefits would accrue irrespective of UK membership of the EU.

 5.6 Health/exercise

SDST would bring an average increase of 28% more accessible daylight during waking hours, maximising the beneficial effect of natural light – summer sunlight is our primary source of vitamin D. Because of this, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and sub-clinical depression, suffered by 500,000 people in the UK, would be reduced by this extra hour of accessible daylight.

Extra daylight hours for leisure activity would help fight increasing obesity in UK society, particularly among the young. After-school outdoor sporting activities, which predominantly take place immediately at the end of the school day, would benefit from a lengthened usable season.

 5.7 Leisure

SDST would bring a shift in average sunset time year round from 6.35pm to 7.30pm giving an average gain of 55 minutes of “accessible” evening daylight every day of the year.

More evening daylight would encourage outdoor activity, making outdoor leisure activities possible in the evening during two more months of the year – people spend about 60% more time watching TV in winter than in summer. In 2009, a YouGov poll found that:

  • 2 out of 3 people asked would support the change
  • A third of those asked believed it would improve their wellbeing
  • Almost half would use the extra time on extra leisure and sporting activity

It would stay lighter and warmer later each day, making it possible to enjoy more evening meals and drinks outdoors – and SDST would be welcomed by organisations representing the interests of Britain’s 2-3 million keen gardeners.


5.8 Elderly/retired people – quality of life

The UK’s increasingly ageing population would benefit disproportionately from a change to SDST. Older/retired people generally do not leave their homes until after the rush hour (10am onwards) and are ‘curfewed’ by the onset of darkness in the evening. This is determined by several factors including fear of crime, fear of slips, trips and falls and the end of concessionary fare periods. Enabling older people to be out and about later would improve their health and wellbeing, helping to keep them fitter later in life which would in turn reduce their dependence on others, including the state.

 5.9       Crime

A move to SDST would reduce opportunistic crime facilitated by the cover of darkness – over half of criminal offences take place during the hours of darkness in the late afternoon or evening and, of the small proportion of offences occurring in conditions of semi-darkness, far more occur at dusk than dawn (Home Office British Crime Survey 1988-1992). With SDST, more people would be at home after work/school in daylight, so reducing the window of opportunity for opportunistic crime.

As well as reducing crime itself, it would also reduce the fear and cost of crime.

6  Summary and Conclusions

It is rare to find a legislative proposal which would cost virtually nothing to implement, but which would have wide ranging benefits and very few downsides. Perhaps you are not impressed by some of the arguments I’ve cited above, or perhaps SDST is not a topic to which you’ve given much thought. However, if you’ve read this far, I hope I might have sparked an interest. The proposal has receded in public consciousness since the shameful failure of the Private Member’s Bill in January 2012, by being talked out of time. But the potential benefits have not gone away. I’m sure RoSPA will continue to bang the drum. What can you do?

  • Go to the RoSPA website and log your support for SDST
  • Write to your MP, and quote this article if you like
  • Look out for petitions – they tend to get active around the spring and autumn equinoxes, when people are changing their clocks anyway, so the subject is fresh in their minds.

Jim Steele





[2]   Safety Gone Sane, RoSPA:


Man-made Global warming is/ isn’t real

It is fascinating to observe how information is perceived into public consciousness: how “public opinion” is formed, and what relationship, if any, it has to what might be taken as objective information about the topic at hand. The issue of man-made global warming illustrates beautifully the processes which play out, how public opinion can be swayed or manipulated, and how the media and politicians can play an issue to their own ends.

Man-made global warming, sometimes shortened to the acronym AGW (anthropogenic global warming), is such a vital issue that we cannot afford to get it wrong. There are two main schools of thought here. One is that AGW is real, and poses a huge, and for practical purposes irreversible, threat to humanity: for example, loss of great swathes of highly-populated land mass to rising sea levels, reduction in the ability of our planet to keep us in food and water, through widespread damage to marine life and change in climate affecting the productivity of agriculture, and increased numbers of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts, and floods; the future of the planet to support our children and grandchildren is threatened. The opposing school of thought is that AGW is not happening at all, or if it is, it is a minor phenomenon that will have little impact in the short to medium term, and might even offer some benefits, so we can afford to wait and see what transpires; if a real problem does arise we will have time to deal with it then. If this view is correct, we are engaging in a hugely expensive worldwide diversion of resources to address a non-problem, when those resources would be much better spent on real and present priorities. In this preamble I am gracing both views as “opposing schools of thought”, though as I proceed it will become clear which side of the argument I stand. Anyone reading this might well have his/her own strongly held views already.

In trying to illustrate my point about how public opinion is formed and influenced, I was seeking a less controversial analogy, but it hard to find one where some people will not be utterly convinced of the rectitude of a demonstrably nonsense point of view. One example lies at the “lunatic fringe” end of topics which people get interested in, and often very vociferous about, namely the chemtrail conspiracy theory, which asserts that long-lasting trails left in the sky by high-flying aircraft are chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public.

Equally wacky, yet more mainstream if measured by the number of subscribers in the USA, is Young Earth Creationism, which depends on convincing people that pretty much all of accepted science is wrong. If you are a subscriber to the idea that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, then I’m afraid there is little point in your reading further here: you are not going to be convinced by any arguments that depend on an open-minded assessment of science and evidence; you have already demonstrated that you will reject any argument, however compelling, if it conflicts with a literal interpretation of Genesis. In the USA today we have would-be presidential candidates who feel it would be politically damaging if they expressed their true views (eg Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker when asked in the UK in 2015 if he “believed in evolution”), and others (eg Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson) who nail their colours firmly to a creationist /anti-evolution world view. I don’t disguise my despair that  such anti-science nonsense can gain traction, but it is interesting to look at the way cynical money-makers can take in gullible people with even the most absurd ideas, given an audience conditioned to be receptive, in this case by religious indoctrination  –see my posts “How old is the earth?” 1 and “Atheism and the Theory of Evolution”. 2

If you are still reading at this point, good; you are still with me, and we have left the nutters behind. The topic which I do want to use as an analogy for public opinion on AGW is vaccination, especially of babies/young children. This is a subject where public opinion has been manipulated away from a realistic perspective towards alarmist nonsense, with seriously bad effect. It hit the headlines over 17 years ago, when Andrew Wakefield, a British former surgeon and medical researcher, published a research paper in support of the now-discredited claim that there was a link between use of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and autism and bowel disease. Wakefield’s claim that the MMR vaccine might cause autism led to a decline in vaccination rates in the UK, Ireland, and the USA, and a rise in measles and mumps, resulting in serious illness and deaths. Although Wakefield was disgraced, and struck off by the BMA, his original paper, the traction it gained, and his continued warnings against MMR vaccination, have contributed to a climate of distrust of all vaccines, and the re-emergence of other previously controlled diseases. There exists even today an “anti-vax” movement, exemplified by organizations such as the Anti-Vaccination League of America, and campaigners (eg the American Sherri Tenpenny) peddling their alarmist views with scant regard for epidemiological evidence. The main premise of their case seems to be that if there is any putative risk, however unsubstantiated, of any child being harmed by vaccination, we must cease all vaccination of children, even though this will lead to the statistical certainty of disease, permanent damage, or death for large numbers of people. Think smallpox, or polio, or even measles- its killing and maiming power underestimated because of familiarity. The rise of the anti-vax lobby is worthy of a whole post on its own, but it’s not my subject here. I raise it merely to illustrate how public opinion can be influenced by media coverage, where superficially plausible pseudo-science gets picked up and propagated by a popular media establishment, short on scientific expertise and responsible reporting, but long on seizing on any story which might be “sensational”, to sell copy. The effect in this case was to drive public opinion quickly away from a logical and evidence-based understanding, with dreadful consequences: the same principle applies to AGW.

Returning to my topic, the issue is man-made rise in global CO2 levels – is it a real effect, and if so, what problems might it create? My premise is that the answer depends on the science – it is not a matter for a democratic vote. Whether the majority of the public accept AGW as real does not impact on whether it is real, but it certainly does affect how we respond to it. As John Oliver said, in his satirical programme “Last Week Tonight” on US/Canadian cable channel HBO, in August 2014, you might as well have a vote on which number is bigger,  15 or 5? Or do owls exist? Or are there hats? In fact, the scientific consensus is so clear, that it is rather superfluous to attempt here to try to argue the case for AGW. This has already been done in tremendous detail by many scientific bodies, as any internet search will show. However, I will merely offer a bit of background on how we have arrived at a consensus that AGW is real.

By the late 19th century, scientists were starting to argue based on climate data that increased emissions of so-called “greenhouse gases” (GHG’s), mostly CO2 and methane (CH4), associated with human activity, could change the climate. By the 1960s, evidence of the warming effect of GHG’s became increasingly convincing, although there was considerable debate in the scientific community about the meaning of the data, and what other mechanisms might be involved.  During the 1970s, scientific opinion increasingly favoured the AGW view, but the science was far from settled. However, by the 1990s, there were improvements in quantity and quality of data and access to it, and in the power of computer modelling. There was also observational validation of the Milankovitch theory of global ice-age cycles, which provided a meaningful context against which to interpret the data. A scientific consensus emerged, that GHG’s related to human activity are deeply involved in global climate change, and that the consequences of such change pose great threats to mankind, notably  drought in some regions and flooding in others, increased frequency of extreme weather events, reduced agricultural yield, reduced fresh water availability, irreversible damage to coral reefs (affecting about a quarter of marine life), increased seawater temperatures leading to reduced quantity and viability of the marine food chain, and melting of polar ice caps causing sea level rise and loss of low-lying coastal land (much of which is heavily populated), and a runaway effect on global temperature.

Simple direct data, rather than predictions from sophisticated models, can provide an important part of the picture:

CO2 trend 1960 -present

The above chart3 shows the recorded monthly mean atmospheric carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii

It is interesting to look at directly measured data, charted along with earlier data from analysis of ice core samples4:

CO2 trend 1860 -present


In order to make predictions about the impact of this rise of CO2 levels into the future, it is of course necessary to use models. These are various models developed by different teams, using a range of data sets and techniques, and, of course, assumptions. Not surprisingly, there is no single settled consensus on the exact quantification of the conclusions. For example, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change5 (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists worldwide, forecasts a temperature rise of 1.4 to 5.6 Co  over the next century – a wide range of outcomes. One possible response is to say “the scientists can’t even agree, so until they do, we should just park the whole subject”.

It is intensely frustrating for me to witness this type of response. As a scientist and engineer, with an education in maths and physical sciences, I have been taught to challenge methodologies and conclusions, and to assess conflicting data and opinions, and form judgments; I am used to using and understanding statistical data; I am schooled in the pitfalls of spurious correlations.  As such, I am comfortable with nuance, and expect scientific modelling to produce different predictions. In fact, if they all lined up exactly, I would immediately suspect that data was being manipulated. A useful analogy is weather forecasting: we are used in the UK to looking at our weather forecasts, living as we do in a climate where we can experience all four seasons in a single day.  We have no trouble seeing any forecast as a “best view” of what will probably happen. We know that things might turn out a bit different in practice, but our response isn’t to reject all weather forecasts as rubbish, but to see them as a useful guide. Furthermore, we have observed over recent decades a significant improvement in their accuracy, as the Met Office uses ever more sophisticated and powerful models, and ever better and more accurate real data input. So it is with climate change.

Despite the overwhelming agreement on the science, it is clear that there are many climate change deniers out there, and they do manage to achieve a certain amount of traction: not so much in Continental Europe, China, Brazil, India, or even now Russia; a few mavericks in the UK are quite vocal, but there is no strong media bandwagon propagating their views. Nevertheless, the UK “quality” press still publish articles aimed at challenging AGW, or asserting that AGW is of benefit rather than a source of harm. Even last week, I read in the Sunday Times an item headed “CO2 emissions boost crops6 . I quote here the opening paragraphs:

THE CO2 emissions blamed for climate change are good for humanity because they boost crop growth, according to a US official who co-wrote the original United Nations climate treaty.

Indur Goklany, a scientist and former US delegate to the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), is to publish controversial claims that increases in the gas have boosted crop production with little impact on temperatures.

His report, Carbon Dioxide: The Good News, comes as the UN prepares for next month’s Climate Change Conference in Paris, where a global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions will be sought.

However, if we read on, we see:

The report is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank that has tried to cast doubt (my bold emphasis) over the peer-reviewed science that suggests greenhouse gas emissions could cause dangerous temperature increases.

 Goklany, whose report has not (my bold emphasis) appeared in a peer-reviewed journal………

And at the foot of the article there are quotes from climate experts Professor Myles Allen, head of the climate dynamics group at Oxford University, and Andy Challinor, professor of climate impacts at Leeds University, which cast doubt on Goklany’s claims, and a final paragraph:

The concentration of atmospheric CO2 has risen from a pre-industrial value of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 398ppm now. It is rising at 5% a year because humanity emits 35bn tons of CO2 a year from burning fossil fuels and forests.

So we have the headline and main thrust of an article purporting to undermine accepted science, with the “balance” included towards the end. This sort of thing provides quote-mining climate change-deniers more ammunition to support their views – only by reading the full article do we get the context with which to assess the likely meaningfulness of the headline and opening few paragraphs.

The country with the most high-profile deniers is the USA, where many senior politicians and the populist media seem to work hard to undermine the scientific consensus, and present the issue either as a hoax/conspiracy, or at the very least a debate where the scientific consensus is on the back foot, and being undermined all the time by “exposés” of malpractice and deceit by climate scientists. This raises two questions: what is the motivation for doing this, and are the objections valid.

Let’s start with motivations, and examine each in turn to explore the possible validity of the position they produce. Motivations can probably best be categorized as follows, though in any actual situation there is likely to be some sort of mix of these:

  1. Rejection on religious principle.
  2. Genuine science-based conclusions, which happen to differ from the scientific consensus. This is an open and academic approach, and is prepared to offer its work to peer review, and stand or fall on its scientific merits.
  3. Trying to make a name for oneself by finding flaws in accepted science – a pseudo- academic approach, rather than a scientific one, since it starts from a conclusion (“AGW is false”) and seeks to justify it.
  4. Business self-interest: vested interest of big business which perceives it would suffer financial harm through eg carbon tax, or through a public perception that its activities are environmentally damaging.
  5. Wishful thinking: the view that AGW is a real and serious threat to the future wellbeing on mankind on the planet, to our children and grandchildren, is a very uncomfortable one, so we are disposed to clutching at any information which suggests we don’t need to worry about it.
  6. Journalistic expediency – making a “good story” that people might want to read/ see on TV.
  7. Political expediency – a “non-expert” biased interpretation of information, to present a view which is felt to be electorally popular – “telling people what they want to hear”.
  8. Social media reinforcement: posting comments which get “liked” or “retweeted” by others who hold similar views to one’s own provides a feel-good response, so we tend to operate in a “digital information bubble” which exacerbates our bias towards confirming our pre-existing beliefs instead of challenging them.

If you can think of others that don’t fit in to any of these categories, I will be interested to hear your views, but in the meantime I want to take each of these in turn to examine whether they shed any light on the question: “ Global warming is/ isn’t real”.

  1. Rejection on religious principle, or religious determinism: this can be characterised by a view that God is in control, and will decide what the outcomes are for us and the planet. Also, for the Young Earth Creationists, remarkably prevalent in the USA, there is no such thing as long term data, and science which conflicts with a young earth view (eg plate tectonics, palaeontology, archaeology, geology, cosmology, astronomy, evolutionary biology /DNA, taxonomy, radiometric dating, paleoclimatology: in fact, every branch of science which has anything to say about long term timelines) is dismissed. Since religious determinism is by definition a non-scientific view of how the world works, it is not amenable to rational analysis based on scientific evidence. Those who hold a religious deterministic view might well dispute this, quoting their “creation science” apologists’ work, but to everyone else, myself included, it is irrelevant to the question “Global warming is/ isn’t real”, since any valid conclusion must be based on hard evidence rather than religious superstition.
  2. Genuine science based conclusions: we should look for peer-reviewed academic papers in respectable journals, ie mainstream science, which provide conclusions suggesting that AGW is not a real effect, or that it is greatly exaggerated. For any branch of science requiring modelling and statistical analysis, one would expect a spectrum of results and conclusions. This is the case with climate science. However, when we examine this spectrum, the results are overwhelmingly skewed towards the position that AGW is real. Various studies have been carried out; my reference here7 relates to an analysis of nearly 12,000 papers in peer-reviewed scientific literature from 1991 to 2011, and concludes as follows: “The number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research”. Of course it is possible to find many articles, other than in peer-reviewed scientific literature, which contest AGW, eg popular press, magazines, newspapers, and on-line publications. But here I am focussing on science, not on populist opinion, and the conclusion is not in doubt: any challenge to AGW based on substantiated science will not stand up.
  3. Trying to make a name for oneself by finding flaws in accepted science: this is an almost endless activity in various fields: evolution and climate change are prime targets. Any internet search will throw up a large range of articles disputing AGW, some couched in academic language, and some seizing on alleged distortion of data, or even suggesting deliberate falsification of statistics by climate scientists. Some of this is well written and has a veneer of plausibility. Many people are persuaded by such material. However, if one confines oneself to a reliance on substantiated science, as described in 2. above, it can be safely rejected. It is sometimes argued that that climate scientists gain kudos (or even money) by making their name in the field, and therefore manipulate and distort the science to make it fit their objectives. Any financial argument here is not borne out by the facts8. The kudos argument doesn’t stand scrutiny either: since climate change is accepted science, any personal fame and kudos is much more likely to be associated with standing out by taking an anti-AGW view.
  4. Business self-interest: examples are legion of business vested interests sponsoring research to head off concerns about their products/activities, or to produce results favourable to their products. Big pharma is renowned for conducting many trials on drugs they have developed, only publishing those which provide the results they seek, and quietly dropping the others; the move to a public register of all drug trials before the event is an attempt to deal with this. The tobacco industry spent huge amounts attempting to discredit research showing health risks of smoking. A parallel today is the carbonated drinks industry, which is active in sponsoring research to head off concerns of obesity and type 2 diabetes caused by their high sugar content. Unfortunately, there are examples of the fossil fuel industry sponsoring climate-change denying research. A prominent climate-change denying scientist Dr Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, who worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, accepted $1.25m in funding from companies such as Exxon Mobil and the industry group American Petroleum Institute.9 The threat of crack-down on fossil fuels, via carbon taxation and sponsorship of alternative “green” energy, is a strong motivation for the fossil fuel industry, and energy intensive industries such as steel and heavy chemicals, to attempt to discredit AGW.
  5. Wishful thinking: If we accept that AGW is a real and serious effect, we are forced to take a view that our lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, particularly in the western developed world, can’t continue indefinitely, and we will have to make some very difficult choices, involving giving up or curtailing some of the benefits of our lifestyle. This is a very hard message to accept, especially when we perceive that what we might do individually – or even as a nation – would be ineffective if others don’t join in and make similar changes. It is much easier to look for information which suggests the problem is not real, or at least much overstated, so that we can put the whole idea out of our minds as a non-issue, or at least tell ourselves “the science isn’t clear yet” and so assuage any guilt we might be feeling about damaging the planet’s ability to sustain our future generations.
  6. Journalistic expediency – making a “good story” that people might want to read/ see on TV. Sensationalism is a very common feature of popular journalism, as that’s where the money is. This frequently features gossip/scandal about personalities, but often it is seizing on a topic which is of significant public interest: examples are scares about vaccinations (feeding the anti-vax lobby) and reports of “miracle cures” for cancer. A common feature of such stories is a lack of scientific rigour: a journalist’s success rests on what copy he can sell, not on whether his story is scientifically sound – why let the facts spoil a good headline? There is a lot of public interest in stories which “debunk” AGW, especially if they involve a dose of conspiracy theory, for the reasons in 5. above, and articles are hard to miss. I already mentioned above a Sunday Times article 6 reporting on the work of anti-AGW apologist Indur Goklany, and not surprisingly this one source gets quoted elsewhere too. Yesterday Monday 19th October 2015, the London Times opinion column by climate change sceptic Matt Ridley was headed “Now Here’s the Good News on Global Warming” – rehashing selective comments about some possible positive effects and completely ignoring the main issues. Not surprisingly, a search failed to turn up any peer-reviewed papers by Indur Goklany which questioned AGW 10
Peer-reviewed skeptic papers by Indur Goklany

This page lists any peer-reviewed papers by Indur Goklany that take a negative or explicitly doubtful position on human-caused global warming.

There are no peer-reviewed climate papers by Indur Goklany that meet this definition.

7.  Political expediency: telling the electorate what they want to hear is a vote winner: people tend to support and agree with the expressed views of those who accord with their own bias. This creates a self-reinforcing “group think”. Telling uncomfortable truths, for example about the need to make difficult changes in response to an issue, is not necessarily a vote loser, but is much harder, especially if the topic is one where the public are likely to be sceptical. In the USA, public opinion is rather different from Western Europe. The following 2014 chart shows results on climate change scepticism. The data comes from United Kingdom-based Ipsos MORI, as part of the company’s Global Trends study11, which polled 16,000 people in 20 countries. The respondents were asked 200 questions about eight topics, including the environment. Here we have one concerning respondents’ view on whether observed climate change is largely man-made.

climate change belief by country

A quote from the study says: “Just a week after a non-profit revealed that the U.S. is lagging behind other developed countries in energy efficiency, a research firm’s data shows that the nation is the leader in denying climate change”.

8. Social media reinforcement: social media, as for the internet in general, provide a vast amount of information, much more than any individual can handle. People who are active on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have a forum to express any views they like, and can find others expressing similar views to their own, as well as all manner of counter views. The natural tendency is to gravitate to people who hold similar views to one’s own, to seek the “feel-good” from having one’s comments “liked” or retweeted”. One can “unfriend” or “block” anyone who expresses views we dislike, or who challenge us. Here is an extract from an article on the subject “How the web distorts reality and impairs our judgement skills “ by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic12

Given that it is impossible to attend to even a fraction of the information that is available on the web, most individuals prioritise information that is congruent with their current values, simply ignoring any discrepant information. Recent studies show that although most people consume information that matches their opinions, being exposed to conflicting views tends to reduce prejudice and enhance creative thinking. Yet the desire to prove ourselves right and maintain our current beliefs trumps any attempt to be creative or more open-minded. And besides, most people see themselves as open-minded and creative, anyway.

There is no requirement on social media to be scientifically accurate or to have objective justification for one’s views; it is a free-for-all, where one can argue from one’s own predisposition or bias, and obtain positive reinforcement of those views from like-minded people.



I have argued that the science on AGW is settled: that is not to say that all scientific models produce identical predictions, but it is the case that the overwhelming view from peer-reviewed science is that AGW is a real and serious issue, which must be addressed, or the consequences will be severe.

I have shown why there are many voices gainsaying the science, and why many are seduced by those voices, to take a climate-change sceptic/ denier stance. If you fall into that category, I hope that by reading this post, you might be stimulated to question your views and look again at what the evidence actually shows.


  7. “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature”:;jsessionid=6B260CD1595C24CE1810E6EA85B356CB.c1


Times Leader on Proposed New Contract for Junior Doctors


The following appeared in today’s (8/10/15) Times Leading Articles. This is the sort of thing which is informing public opinion. If you disagree, you need to take this on, point by point – don’t let it lie.


Published at 12:01AM, October 8 2015, author Ross Clark

How easy it is for the British Medical Association (BMA) to rouse public sympathy for its strike ballot by putting fresh-faced figures in white coats before the camera and claiming that their new employment contract will be “unsafe”. Cue visions of doctors falling asleep at the operating table while increasingly desperate bleeps signal that granny’s blood pressure is falling dangerously low.

As with all employment disputes, it is a very different story when you plough through the detail. You would never guess from the BMA’s response that the new contract will set a working week of 40 hours, while the absolute number of hours that a doctor will be able to work in any seven-day period will fall from 91 to 72. Moreover, the reforms cut the perverse incentive for doctors to exceed contracted hours. Under current arrangements, NHS trusts can be forced to pay huge bonuses to whole teams of doctors if hours are exceeded: in one example an NHS Trust was landed with an extra wage bill for £250,000 because one doctor had worked too long on a single occasion and his whole team were upgraded to a higher pay band for six months.

No, doctors who take career breaks won’t suffer “a huge pay cut”, as one woman claims in a video on the BMA website. It just means that in future doctors will have to progress to the next stage of training before getting a pay rise rather than automatically getting one every year. In how many other occupations would your pay ratchet upwards from £30,002 to £37,822 in five years even if you had failed to complete your training?

As for trainee GPs being driven out of the profession because they will lose a supplement that raises pay to the level of hospital doctors, that is a bit rich — the “supplement” will be replaced by a “premium” that pays them exactly the same.

The only “hardship” that doctors will have to face is working more hours outside the traditional working week of 9 to 5, five days a week. But all that is doing is bringing the NHS into line with just about every other industry — providing a service at a time customers demand it rather than staying in a 1950s timewarp.

But then “doctor has to work on Sunday” doesn’t make quite such a good scare story as fake arguments about doctors falling asleep. As an organisation whose website drips with references to “diversity”, surely it has realised that for many of its members there is nothing special about Sunday anyway.

National Health Service or National Illness Service? Diabetes in UK

What do we want? The best National Illness Service in the world, with ring-fenced financing? We argue till the cows come home about the politics of the NHS: how to fund it, how to organise it, whether parts of it should be privatised or not, and what is the place, if any, of private health insurance and private hospitals. It’s a political hot potato: governments can be elected or not depending on the public’s view of who might look after our NHS the best. People on all sides of the debate are worried about the spiralling costs, as our population ages, and as more and more expensive interventions become available. Should this or that cancer drug be made available, when the benefits are unclear? How do we cope with the increasing demands of dementia?

At the same time, there is one condition, type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 10% of the NHS spend, and it’s almost COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE. Diabetes is the health epidemic of today. It kills, and maims – blindness, kidney failure, and amputations are common complications. It greatly increases the chances of heart attacks and strokes. It inflicts untold grief, ill-health and loss at a personal level, and is blowing our health and social security budgets out of the realm of affordability.

Incidence is rising dramatically. In England, the cost1 of diabetes drugs and treatments rose by 56.3% from £513.9 million in 2005/6, to £803.1 million in 2013/14. Diabetes-related societal costs are huge as well: according to 2012 estimates, absence from work accounted for £8.4 billion per year, early retirement £6.9 billion per year, and social benefits a further £0.152 billion per year.

If we tackled type 2 diabetes properly, a lot of this enormous problem would simply go away. But it is not up there in the public consciousness, like smoking, or Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, or even heart disease.

We know what to do -the subject is extremely well researched- but we don’t do it? Why? That’s the reason I’m writing this post. Let’s have a National Health Service, not a National Illness Service.

What is diabetes?

There is a huge amount of detailed information on the internet about diabetes. An excellent place to start is the leading UK diabetes charity, Diabetes UK2.

In brief, diabetes is a disease where the body cannot adequately process glucose, the basic energy providing chemical that the body uses to function. Glucose is derived from our food: all carbohydrates, whether sugars or starches, are digested in the intestine to form glucose, which is transported around the body by the blood, and taken into cells to be converted into energy. The hormone insulin, secreted by the pancreas gland within the abdomen, controls this action of cell glucose uptake.

There are two types of diabetes:

In Type 1 diabetes the body is unable to produce any insulin. Its causes are not fully understood, but it is not a self-inflicted problem associated, for example, with poor diet or being overweight. It accounts for about 10 per cent of all adults with diabetes. Management of the condition is not easy, and it is for life. It is treated by daily insulin doses, taken either by injections or via an insulin pump, and sufferers have to engage in careful monitoring of their diet, exercise, and blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, but usually appears before the age of 40, and especially in childhood. It is the most common type of diabetes found in childhood. There is no explosion in the incidence of Type 1 diabetes, but research continues to develop better understanding and better treatments. This post is not about Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40, though in South Asian people, who are at greater risk, it often appears from the age of 25. It is also increasingly becoming more common in children, adolescents and young people of all ethnicities. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90% of all people with diabetes, and rising. In Type 2 diabetes there is not enough insulin (or the insulin isn’t working properly), so glucose builds up in the blood. There is an explosion of epidemic proportions in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, and it is getting worse year on year. Type 2 diabetes is the focus of this article.

What causes Type 2 diabetes?

There are 4 main risk factors:

  1. Heredity – susceptibility to type 2 diabetes runs in families.
  2. Age – if you’re over 40 (or 25 for certain ethic groups) the risk goes up
  3. Ethnicity – being of South Asian, Chinese, African-Caribbean or black African origin carries increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  4. Overweight

There isn’t anything much you can do about the first three. Incidence of number 4, overweight, has greatly increased in the UK in recent years, and it is this epidemic of overweight and obesity which has driven the surge in diabetes.


Prevalence of obesity among adults aged 16+ years Health Survey for England 1993-2013 (3-year average)

Obesity is defined as a BMI>30. BMI (Body Mass Index) is weight (kg) / height squared (m)2, so for an adult woman of average height of 5ft 5”, it equates to a weight of 180lbs (just under 13 st). Overweight is defined as having a BMI between 25 and 30. BMI is a fairly crude measure, and is less accurate as an indicator for people who are very tall or very short, or people such as athletes whose muscle mass might be high. It is also age related. Another useful indicator is the ratio of waist measurement to height, which has the advantage of addressing the most dangerous form of excess weight, that carried around the abdomen – the men’s (traditional)“beer gut”. A healthy indicator here is to have a waist/height ratio of <0.5. Go on, get out the tape measure!

There is a lot talked about high sugar consumption, especially sugary drinks and sweets, but there is little evidence of a direct causal link between sugar consumption and type 2 diabetes. However, high intake of sugary drinks and sweets is linked to high calorie intake, and the quantity can be surprisingly high. One 12oz can of Coca Cola contains about 39g of sugar (10 teaspoons worth), or 140 calories, and does not cause a satiation feeling (feeling full up, as one would after eating a meal). So it is possible to drink large quantities of sugary drinks and not have any sensation or appreciation of the quantity of calories being consumed – dangerous, especially if it’s a regular habit!

In the end, if the number of calories consumed is greater than the number expended, the laws of physics apply, and there will generally be a gain in weight. The body will lay down the extra calories as fat store. It is a function of our evolutionary history as a species that laying down fat is what we do: people who were able to store fat efficiently were better able to last out times of food shortage, long harsh winters, etc, and those are the people who preferentially survived to be our ancestors. Once we have attained a given weight, our bodies seem programmed to fight to maintain that weight: once we have become overweight, it is extraordinarily difficult to lose it again in a sustainable way.

This is particularly important for children: once children become overweight, and the worse the overweight becomes, the harder it is for the individual ever to recover to a healthy weight during their entire life. The excuse “it’s only puppy fat” is a dangerous illusion.

There are countless diets and systems for weight loss out there, and maybe one will work for you. Perhaps you’ve tried a few. But for most adults, even those with great personal motivation, weight loss is a temporary success, and once the diet is over the weight goes back on again, often to a slightly higher weight than before the diet. This leads to a sort of ratchet effect- you’ll probably have heard the aphorism “dieting makes you fat”. The obvious best approach is not to become overweight in the first place, but, if one has done so, there really is no substitute for a long term slowly-slowly approach of sensible diet plus exercise, rather than dramatic campaigns of abrupt weight loss.

Being overweight has many downsides: feeing unattractive or unhappy about one’s appearance, finding moving about and exercise more difficult, finding everyday tasks a little harder, and getting more tired more quickly. There are direct health risks too: overweight is associated with elevated risk of heart disease, some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver), stroke, sleep apnea and breathing problems, and joint problems (knees and hips), and of course, the subject of this article, type 2 diabetes.

All the doctors I speak to tell me that if there’s one thing they could do to make a huge difference to people’s health and life quality, it would be to reduce overweight. An interesting book to read on this topic is by a GP called Dr. John Briffa: “Escape the Diet Trap”4. It’s well worth a read. It recognizes from his first-hand experience, including of many well-motivated patients, that sustained weight loss is very difficult, but achievable and worthwhile.


Diet is one part of the equation. The other is exercise. It is harder and harder for children to get reasonable amounts of everyday exercise. Schools have greatly reduced their extra-curricular sporting activities, as teachers face litigation if a child is injured, and as playing fields are sold off. Even in private sports clubs, parents who would in the past have willingly run a team find it very difficult, with the hassle of going through CRB/DBS checks makes it harder to take children in cars to away fixtures. Cycling is much more dangerous than it used to be, with increased traffic. The huge increase in sedentary entertainment – TV, computer games – makes it harder for parents to get their children out of the house doing stuff. Fewer and fewer children walk to school, as evidence by the big difference in peak-time traffic between term time and when the kids are off school. Our lifestyle seems to conspire against exercise, and it is killing us.


What to do about it?

Government can do this. That’s what it’s for.

If we take smoking as an analogy, although we haven’t completely won the battle, public opinion has moved enormously in the past 10 years, and smoking has declined markedly. Most smokers admit that they are taking risks with their health and would like to be able to stop. We need to achieve a similar level of public awareness about overweight and diabetes.

There is no shortage of well-researched information on how best to assess whether an individual has a problem with overweight; data is readily available to assist clinical judgement, for all ages of children, as well as for adults. There is also established practice on how to intervene most effectively once an individual has been identified as having an overweight problem. The NHS’s own publications cover this very well, for children5 and adults6. It is arguable whether we need to engage in more detailed pilot study work for any of the proposals below, though establishing of ever more robust data through control studies is always a great idea.

  1. We need a hard-hitting TV campaign about Type 2 diabetes, to increase understanding of the problem, why achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important, and why allowing children to get overweight is probably condemning them to a life of relative ill-health and low life expectancy. Hard hitting means real cases, with gruesome pictures to grab the attention.
  2. Direct action by Government to discourage consumption of “empty calories”, eg   taxation on sugary drinks. The BMA has recently advocated just such a move7 . We should put our voices behind the proposal. The soft drinks industry will counter, much as the tobacco industry did against anti-smoking legislation, as it has a lot to lose. It is a powerful lobby, with enormous resources. Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network8 is a recent example of this strategy, and it will take a determined Government to avoid being deflected.
  3. Address the overweight issue directly in schools, as tackling the problem as early as possible is the most effective, before people have become “fat adults”. Inclusion of health and diet education as part of the schools national curriculum (in Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, or PSHE) is essential, but it does not go far enough. Schools already have educational attainment targets, with published league tables. We need annual weight monitoring and recording for all school pupils from age 5 up, with some proportion of a school’s budget related to the percentage of pupils who are in the “healthy weight” range. There would of course be objections, just as there are for GCSE league tables, for example because it’s not a level playing field (no, it isn’t), or claims of intrusiveness (no, it isn’t), or fear of being seen to scapegoat overweight children (no, it mustn’t be). These objections can be managed. It would focus some attention in schools to concentrate on the sort of things which impact weight and which schools can influence through their policies and priorities: content/ quality of PSHE teaching, school meals /diet, exercise & sport provision. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.9
  4. More resources in NHS allocated to prevention rather than treating ill health. This is an area where Government policy can and should make a difference. We already have age-related health screening for very specific conditions such as colon cancer, breast cancer, and even abdominal aortic aneurism. How about weight/BMI screening, annually, for everyone, with advice counselling for those who have a problem? Sounds draconian, shades of Big Brother perhaps, but it would certainly bring overweight to the fore of public consciousness. In Germany, for example, if you don’t attend your 6-monthly dental check-up, any treatment required you have to pay for in full. A sanction which might work in UK is to provide free prescriptions for those who attend their annual weight screening, and everyone else has to pay – children and pensioners included. The mindset we should seek to establish is that the NHS is a partnership between the individual citizen and the healthcare system: for the citizen to benefit from the healthcare system, he/she must be prepared to participate actively in managing their own health; if they do, everything is provided, but if they don’t, then they have to contribute to the cost of treatment. I must be clear here – what I am suggesting is not that overweight people (or smokers, for that matter) should be discriminated against by being made to pay. I am advocating that participation in screening for everyone should be incentivized. The aim is not to introduce some sort of hurdle to make healthcare less widely available; it is to expand participation of the individual in pre-emptive health care – helping to prevent problems before they arise. An added benefit of my proposal would be to generate epidemiological data to understand health v weight better, and to provide individual personal data tracking- a useful tool in managing health. This is a big step, so it might be wise to work towards it by carrying out pilot control studies, so that there is strong evidence, before roll-out, that the expected benefits will accrue in practice.
  5. Government policy should focus on getting us out of our cars where possible. A key example is cycling, not just for leisure/sport, but as a means of getting to and from school or work. Investment in more safe cycle-ways, segregated from motor traffic, is an enabler which has to be led at national level. It is happening, but not fast enough. The levels of cycling in the UK compare poorly to those in other EU countries. According to a survey10 by the European Commission, only 4% of UK respondents cycle daily. Along with Luxembourg and Spain, this is the lowest percentage of all EU 28 countries, except for Cyprus (2%) and Malta (1%).  Yet addressing this problem is a win-win-win: lower road congestion/ lower vehicle-related pollution/ better fitness/ lower incidence of weight-related ill-health.


If you think this makes sense, join the campaign. Write to your MP, and reference this post. Spread it on social media. Let’s make the change from a National Illness Service to a National Health Service.





4              Escape the Diet Trap, Dr John Briffa (ISBN: 9780007447763)



7     and







I was stalked by Donald Trump

The presidential hopeful has caused a furore with his remarks about women but they are no surprise to the broadcaster — he has twice subjected her to a campaign of vitriol

Selina Scott Published: 16 August 2015

Selena Scott 1995

Selina Scott at the National Television Awards in 1995 (

Let’s get Donald Trump’s character assessment of me out of the way first. According to Trump, I am “unattractive”, “pathetic” and “boring”. I am also so “desperate for a man” I “begged” him to arrange a date for me. Add to this that I am “totally uptight and insecure . . . not at all very smart”. And “obnoxious”. Oh, but he wasn’t always that kind about me . . .

Compared with my battle with Trump over the past 20 years I reckon Megyn Kelly, the Fox News television anchor whom Trump trashed controversially after his debate with other candidates for the Republican presidential nomination — retweeting comments about her being a “bimbo” and suggesting she was having a bad day because she was menstruating — had it easy.

All Kelly had done was to ask Trump why in the past he had referred to women as “‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs’, ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals’”.

Smirking, he replied: “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” referring to the American lesbian comedian with whom he was feuding.


I can reveal something about Trump and women that shows his sense of his own fatal attraction to the opposite sex.

In 1994 I was sent to America by ITV to make an hour-long documentary about Trump, who was then emerging as a bombastic New York tycoon with a mouth as big as the tunnel linking Manhattan to New Jersey.

Almost as soon as I was ushered into his office in the Trump Tower he wanted to know the intimate details of the deteriorating state of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales, which was big news in America.

“You know Charles. You’ve made a TV programme about him?” Trump asked. “What’s going on with Charles and Diana? I’m on Charles’s side. Diana sounds a handful.”

When the marriage finally broke up and they divorced, Trump saw his chance. He bombarded Diana at Kensington Palace with massive bouquets of flowers, each worth hundreds of pounds.

They were accompanied by handwritten notes expressing sympathy, his great regard for her and the suggestion that they get together.

Trump clearly saw Diana as the ultimate trophy wife. As the roses and orchids piled up at her apartment she became increasingly concerned about what she should do.

It had begun to feel as if Trump was stalking her. I know this because she told me.

I had first got to know Diana in the early 1980s when, while pregnant with William, she visited ITN, where I was the news anchor.

I had expected her to ask questions about the news-gathering process but

in fact she was more interested in intriguing relationships. She was great fun.

Some years later, I was sitting next to Diana at a private dinner. She told me about Trump’s floral bombardment.

“What am I going to do?” she asked. “He gives me the creeps.”

“Just throw them in the bin,” I advised. Diana laughed.

When she died in the tragic accident in Paris in 1997 Trump told friends his biggest regret was that they hadn’t dated. He said that he always thought he had a chance of romance and would have had a “shot” with her.

In the mid-1990s I had my own documentary television company. I had already made a film about Charles, an hour-long documentary about King Juan Carlos of Spain and a programme about King Constantine of Greece. I was then commissioned to explore a more earthy personality. Trump was a natural.

Our first meeting in Manhattan began well enough. His secretary, Norma, was soon addressing me as her “Dear, dear friend” as she booked us into the Plaza hotel on Central Park, which he then owned.

An ocean of red roses from Trump greeted me as I walked into my suite. Later I was shown into his panelled boardroom, crowded with his acolytes, and introduced to them in a curious way: “Gentlemen, I would like you to meet our new partner in the deal . . . the legendary Selina Scott.”

He clearly thought that my programme was going to be an extension of his publicity department, a fanzine promotion. But I was not his “partner”.

I had not gone to America with the intention of doing a hatchet job on Trump — to turn over a stone and see what maggots lay underneath. What I was to discover about him and put in the film, however, led to the first unvarnished examination of the man and his business practices.

It drove Trump mad with rage and he initiated what was to become a long series of threats and vicious letters to me. This would culminate in threats from him that he would sue me for every penny I had and ruin my career.

Two particular episodes in the making of the film were memorable.

First, he suggested that we take a helicopter ride over Manhattan. When we were airborne and the camera was running he pointed to the Empire State Building and told me he owned it.

“What? All of it?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, on camera. “One hundred per cent.”

Later Trump confessed that he only owned 40%, which he then further considerably reduced. (When the film was edited for broadcast we would cut these conflicting statements together, coming out of his mouth to the music of It Ain’t Necessarily So.)

The day after the helicopter trip, I flew with Trump in his private plane, which was emblazoned with his name, to his Italian-style palazzo on the ocean at Palm Beach, Florida.

During the flight, Trump sprawled in a reclining white leather seat and invited me to sit next to him. He constantly leant into me in a conspiratorial, almost flirtatious, manner. I began to feel uncomfortable.

The strange comb-over quiff, the lip-pursing pout that he seemed to practise regularly, the narrowing of the eye to make an emphasis. I thought he saw himself as a dead ringer for Elvis Presley.

For two hours he kept up a non-stop torrent of braggadocio about his deals, his wealth and his feuds.

He told me how he hated a famous female broadcaster (who had merely asked him a pertinent question he didn’t like). He was intent on getting even.

It was clear to me that Trump needed enemies to demonise in order to fire himself up and present himself as a dynamic personality.

Many years later this character trait was to find vivid expression when he hosted the first series of The Apprentice on American television. The full force of his aggression was seen in public for the first time, and he revelled in his catchphrase: “You’re fired!”

For my film, Trump had decided I was to do an interview with him in the grand marble foyer of his antique-packed Palm Beach mansion, Mar-a-Lago, which had once been owned by the heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.

All seemed to go well in the interview. I was relaxing by the pool at the hotel afterwards when the cameraman approached me, saying: “Selina, we have a problem.”

The film, inexplicably, had gone from colour to black and white halfway through. This was a technical blip that would render it impossible to broadcast the interview. I would have to bend the knee and ask Trump to do it again.

Putting my professional pride to one side, I told Trump what had happened. He agreed to go through the interview once more.

When we got back to the UK we discovered that the technical fault had only been in the viewfinder of the camera. There was no problem with the colour imprint. This meant we had not one but two interviews with Trump. And when we viewed them we realised that they were gold dust.

True to form, he had contradicted himself between one interview and the other. This meant we could splice the two against each other, revealing that Trump’s relationship with the facts was a distant one.

It was this technique, devastating in the film that provoked uncontrolled fury from Trump and initiated the first of his series of hostile letters to me.

“When you arrived in New York you looked tired and beaten,” he began, “not at all what I expected.” He continued: “Never have I been interviewed by a person who was so totally uptight and insecure about herself. You did nothing but ingratiate yourself.”

The letter rambled on and on. “When the interview started,” he sneered, “you were somewhat obnoxious, repetitive and not at all very smart. I put this down to the fact you were having a bad day.” He ended by assuring me that “I hope you can solve your problems before it is too late.”

ITV’s lawyers were only too aware of Trump’s threats to sue anyone who crossed him. Faced with the threat of legal action if it sold or broadcast the film again, ITV decided not to make a fight of it.

This did not stop Trump bombarding me with further letters and press cuttings eulogising his climb back to riches since the early 1990s, when his business had been in financial difficulties.

In black ink, he scrawled across them: “Selina, you are a major loser. Best wishes, Donald Trump.” Or once: “Dear Selina, I hear your career is going terribly and you have now been reduced to cable. In the meantime I have had the best year in my entire career. Fitting justice isn’t it? Yours very truly, Donald.”

Reflecting now on Trump’s letters, my thoughts have wandered back to his estate in Florida. The house had a strangely musty, antique smell, as if it had been closed up for long periods and only opened for displays of ostentatious wealth and power.

At a party he threw there, he insisted I meet his second wife, Marla, a pretty blonde and aspiring actress, who said very little and seemed a bit submissive. She was holding their child, Tiffany, then just a year old, in her arms. Both were dressed in white.

Trump did not talk at all about Marla; but he did talk proudly about his mother, Mary MacLeod, a Scottish crofter’s daughter who had left the Outer Hebrides in the 1930s. He boasted that she had arrived in America with no shoes and had met his father, Fred Trump, the son of German immigrants, at a dance.

He took me to meet his mother in his penthouse at the top of Trump Tower. Mary Trump clearly wanted for nothing. She wore expensive Chanel shoes, her fingernails were polished scarlet, her hair was perfectly coiffed. There was little left of the Scottish lassie. This was the epitome of a wealthy American matron. She seemed nice.

Later that day we had lunch in the Oak Room at the Plaza, a favoured dining venue for New York’s rich and influential.

In the middle of the meal Trump suddenly seemed agitated. He had spotted an acquaintance weaving his way through the tables towards him. The man tried to shake his hand but Trump would have none of it, waving him away with a swish of his napkin.

“For all I know, this guy may have just come outta the john,” he told me. He seemed to have an almost Howard Hughes-like phobia about cleanliness and germs, which extended to a constant washing of his hands.

For a time, once Trump’s fury over my programme had run its course, the vitriol from him died down — only to be reignited eight years ago after he took over a pristine Aberdeenshire coastline to build a golf course.

I was amused to learn that opponents of Trump’s golf scheme had got hold of a DVD of my documentary and sent it to all the local councillors in Aberdeenshire who would have to vote on whether to approve his planning application. Accompanying it was a note urging them to “know your enemy”.

Trump was furious. He suspected I was behind the distribution of the DVD. I wasn’t — but I was and am passionately opposed to the golf course. This is not fuelled by my animosity for Trump but because of my love for this beautiful part of Scotland, which I know well.

It is part of our natural heritage, a really wild place. Mile after mile of empty beach is protected by the most wonderful sand dunes. I began my broadcasting career nearby in Aberdeen and would often escape there when I had the chance.

The prospect of bulldozers moving in and wrecking the untamed majesty of this coastline horrified me and many others.

I felt so strongly that I sent a message of support to Mike Forbes, the smallholder who was (and still is) refusing to sell his house on land Trump wanted for the golf course.

I think I said that Trump was as ridiculous as the thatch on his head. That was like lighting the blue touchpaper all over again. Trump is very sensitive about his hair.

“Selina Scott was a third-class journalist who is now ancient history and she treated me unfairly,” he said, revealing how the old wounds had not healed. “It was a boring story then and she has since faded into oblivion, where she belongs.”

The letters also resumed. I made it clear to him that if he continued to harass me I would take legal action against him. The letters then stopped.

Trump’s recent run for the presidential candidacy has prompted Vanity Fair to republish a profile of him written in 1990. In this, his first wife, Ivana, is reported to have disclosed that his bedside reading material was a well-thumbed copy of Hitler’s prewar speeches.

As the profile writer Marie Brenner pointed out, these reveal the Führer’s “extraordinary ability as a master propagandist”. I confess to laughing when I heard about it.

And yet despite everything, Trump is well ahead in public opinion to secure the Republican nomination. It has long been his ambition to get to the White House. If he succeeds, God help America and the world.