Thursday, 23 March 2017

Green taxes on your electric bills - the view from Stoke

The Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change has this week calculated how much domestic energy bill-payers are paying for green subsidies, in terms of the green 'stealth taxes' being added by energy companies to our quarterly bills...

"In 2016, on average, nine per cent of bills for ‘dual fuel’ households – or £105 – was down to green policies."

But all-electric flats are where the poorest urban working-age people tend to be. The Committee's report admits that such all-electric households are being hit the hardest. For...

"Electrically-heated homes ... low-carbon policies make up a higher proportion of their bills: 18% rather than 9%. This is set to increase to 2030".

It's true that this 18% increase has been offset by energy-efficiency savings, from things like better insulated homes and more efficient washing machines / fridges / TVs. But the recent British government paper Energy Consumption in the UK (2014): Domestic energy consumption in the UK between 1970 and 2013 puts that offset at only at about 9%...

"At a per household level, [average] energy consumption has fallen by 9 per cent since 2000."

So, broadly... all-electric households could have seen a roughly 9% cut in bills, mostly due to better insulation and smarter appliances. But we didn't see that, because the energy companies swiped the savings to pay for green energy subsidies, via our bills — and thought that we wouldn't notice.

Around 16% of households in the city of Stoke-on-Trent are in 'fuel poverty', according to the most recent Energy Consumption in the UK government report on the topic. Outside of the council's 'council estate and bungalows' sector, many households will be electric-only. 25% of all UK flats are electric-only, for instance. The majority of new-build flats are electric-only — such as the many student flats now being built in Stoke town.

Now a Parliamentary Committee has found that in an all-electric home you're still currently around 9% worse off per year (calculation: 18% green stealth-tax, minus 9% home efficiency savings = 9% extra on the bill). That comes on top of the huge 120%+ energy price rises electric households suffered in the 2000s. The Committee admit that the problem is set to get worse for those households by 2030, if the green stealth-taxes on our bills are allowed to continue.

Perhaps, when the new "smart meters" go into homes, we need a new bright-green display slot which will reveal: "Your bill has been increased by £XXX, to pay a subsidy to farmers for useless wind-farms and bio-fuel schemes."

What about local industry, such as Stoke's ceramic companies? Well, the same Committee on Climate Change states that the energy-intensive industrial sectors (such as ceramics making) are overall set to see a "5.9%" rise in energy bills due to the green 'direct-to-the-bill' stealth-taxes, by 2030. That's a bit more hopeful, since such a rise may well be balanced out by efficiency savings and new workflows. But it seems to me that a ceramic factory could have instead enjoyed a big cut in energy costs, if the green energy subsidies were scrapped and their factory's efficiency and modernisation savings went ahead anyway.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Blank pots

There was an interesting sort-of-interview in the Sunday papers, with successful local pottery maker Emma Bridgewater: "UK skills crisis being fuelled by university courses geared towards overseas students". Emma was talking about her children's experience in the London art schools, and I must say that it's the first I've heard of such a linkage.

But more interestingly and most-likely locally, she also commented that in universities she personally finds an...

"absolute blankness and a sense that what I'm doing is so irrelevant."

I imagine that part of that will be a snobbishness arising from the commercial design of her ranges, which won't sit well with the 'oh, we're contemporary fine arts really' stance commonly encountered in contemporary crafts in higher education. Anyone who has pondered what looks like lumps of industrial slag at Stoke's BCB festival will know what I mean. But perhaps part of such a response may even be political 'snark' from leftist lecturers — Guardian-readers of the sort who instinctively bristle with horror at the sight of a British flag and a bit of cheery optimism.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

"We'll keep the red paint flying here..."

Oh dear, the Labour left (usually bitter and sore losers) are now in such a tizzy that they can't even refrain from being bitter winners:

"Ukip leader Paul Nuttall's office was plastered with red paint just hours after the Ukip leader lost the Westminster seat to Mr Snell."

Friday, 24 February 2017

It's sunshine and showers for Stoke

Ah well, so it's Friday morning and the political storm is all over. It's back to the usual Labour domination in Stoke. As regular readers here will know, I had expected the Stoke Central by-election to be a closer vote, with the Conservative candidate doing well. In the end the actual result was:

Lab. 7,854 (37.1%) | Ukip 5,233 (24.7%) | Cons 5,154 (24.3%) | Libs (9.8%) — on a 38% turnout.

Which means the small-c conservative vote was split right down the middle yet again, as I suggested would be the case at the start of the campaign.

But the Conservative vote held up well and even increased. That's especially positive when you consider that that there was only a small-but-plucky mostly-local team battling against the combined weight of the huge well-funded Labour + Ukip campaigning teams, which drew in thousands of students from across the UK. Plus there was that strong Lib Dem leafleting operation.

But at least Ukip's Nuttall was kept out and presumably he went slinking back to Liverpool in the night. Like Storm Doris the election's dismal media coverage has left the city with a whole lot of short-term damage to repair, but 'Nuttall defeated' is a very good result for the city's reputation.

The Lib Dems did very slightly better than my predicted 9%.

There was a surprisingly high turnout, considering that Storm Doris could have pushed it to the low 20s — where I really thought it would be. Turnout was at 38 per cent, which not bad for a by-election on a soaking wet stormy February day in Stoke. My guess is that level of turnout, plus a few wads of postal votes, is probably what swung it for Labour. It'll be interesting to see what the electoral bone-pickers can pull out of the detailed statistics, when we get them.

On the upside:

* The anti-Brexit lobby can't say that this was "an anti-Brexit vote", since the majority of the voters voted for pro-Brexit parties. So hopefully our Brexit hasn't been damaged.

* The Conservatives now go into the 2020 General Election facing a weak Corbyn extreme-left dominated Labour Party. The Conservatives winning Copeland seems unlikely to unseat him, since he has the 'nuclear power policy' excuse there.

* The vote-splitting Ukip has been badly weakened, though possibly not enough to cause the party to vanish. Especially if they can now find a decent leader. It won't be Farage, who is clearly off to support President Trump. If Nuttall clings on by his fingernails, then Ukip's major funder may well decide not to sink any more cash into them.

What can Labour's Snell now do for the city?

* Take some intensive training in how to restrain himself from blabbing his mouth off in the media and on Twitter and in Parliament.

* He should try to stay out of Labour's bitter civil war if that's possible, bend the knee to Commissar Corbyn and just try to be a good solid local MP for the next three years.

* He needs to make good on his sudden change of heart on Brexit, and get behind it wholeheartedly. Brexit is happening and we need to make sure Stoke's interests get strongly factored into the national planning for Brexit. That means across all sectors of business and industry, not just manufacturing.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

By-election roundup No.13: unlucky for some

* The Guardian has just reported that the ballot boxes are being opened in the counting room in Fenton, and the count for the Stoke Central by-election is now underway. A very interesting tweet a few minutes ago from the Sky News political editor Faisal Islam (confirmed):

"Postal voting very low in Stoke - previous by elections have been won even before polling day. Not this one."

* It sounds like the workers who commute by train from Stoke may not have made it back home in time to vote:

"Rail services have been severely affected and a train was evacuated at Stoke-on-Trent railway station. West Coast services are severely disrupted. We strongly advise anyone who can postpone their journey to do so."

Fire engines were also reportedly called to Birmingham New St. at 6pm, according to tweets, so possibly there were further problems there. At least one socialist complained on Twitter they couldn't get home to Stoke in time to vote.

* The storm apparently means that a gaggle of London journalists and TV presenters and politicos may be stuck in B&B's in lovely Coventry for the night. So sad.

* Weather wise, Storm Doris only left people in Stoke with a fairly narrow window to get out of the house or workplace, in what the D-Day landings guys once called "barely tolerable conditions", if they were walking or cycling. Remember that 45% (nearly half) of all households in Stoke-on-Trent don't have access to a car, and that figure is likely even higher in much of Stoke Central. So basically for many people who don't like to do Stoke in the dark on foot, their weather window was from about 6pm-7pm. Though one especially ditzy person tweeted that they just decided to go out to vote at some random moment around 2pm, and then were somehow surprised when they came back drenched and with a new free freeze-dried hairstyle.

Turnout will likely be low (23-28% perhaps). Before people blame Stoke's apathy for that, remember that Doris was a major storm that killed and injured people.

Cycling to the polling stations will have been difficult in places, especially in the dusk and dark of the evening, due to a great many the fallen branches and long whippy twigs that I saw on the paths today. Some quite large branches, and some in Hanley Cemetery that were almost a third of the whole tree.

* From Cannock Chase to Barlaston "about 1,500 properties were without power in Staffordshire at around noon" due to fallen trees and branches. But no power cuts in Stoke Central.

By-election roundup No.12: Doris casts her vote

9.30am and voting in the Stoke Central by-election is underway, with 50-70 miles-per-hour gusts from Storm Doris set to add to the fun well into the evening. Definitely a day for your thermal leggings and waterproofs when you go out to vote. Umbrellas will get blown away. The Sun has a picture of the sort of polling station I'd like to step into at the end of a short walk:

United Politics: "Jack Brereton deserves to win the Stoke Central by-election".

The Guardian newspaper reports this morning:

"Labour voices fears of failure" "Byelection campaign leaders try to dampen expectations".

The Sun reports that in Stoke Central the voting:

"will be very close – with possibly just a couple of percentage points between Labour, Tories and Ukip."

The Daily Express focuses on last night's dreadful Newsnight:

“They have no IDEA!” Newsnight audience slams “disconnected” Westminister political elites".

The head of the city's Chamber of Commerce was none too pleased with the BBC Newsnight team, either:

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

BBC Newsnight's Stoke special, as seen on Twitter

Hand-picked digest of the Twitter comments on tonight's Newsnight special from the Stoke Central by-election:

Can proper tell this is the BBC. Showing the worst bits of the constituency in our city.

Oh for heaven's sake. Nuttall on Hillsborough not a central issue.

Heard the first token pottery reference... #yawn

Worst. #Newsnight. Ever. I lie, #Newsnight totally worth Snell being read his own tweets.

Paul Nuttall looks like he's aged 10 years in a week.

That Labour candidate looks well weird...

The BBC f*cking hate us don't they. The veil is barely hiding the sneer.

How come when Evan Davis interviews a Tory, he wakes up...? No friendly chit-chat here.

This is surely in breach of election rules.

I feel patronised already.

Oh God, just noticed it's an extended edition.

"The 6 cities of Stoke"???

Is it just my telly or is the UKIP chap's face changing colour like a lava lamp?

Clearly, none of the guests know anything about Stoke, including the academic.

Everything said about Stoke-on-Trent in this report could be said about every city in the UK.

One of the bleakest constituency profiles ever. The absence of hope must be excruciating.

#Newsnight #Stoke is more than just Bentilee you know.

This #Newsnight feels like a wake.

So #Newsnight just referred to Stoke's "so called cultural quarter". Not at all patronising.

#newsnight has really got the tone of this Stoke thing wrong by assembling a panel of plummy intellectuals to talk waffle at the audience.

Nobody on the "panel" from Stoke-on-Trent / Staffs... and they're stating people aren't engaged... they're the problem!

Could the audience be any less engaging or passionate. They look bored stiff.

Baffled as to why #Newsnight made this an audience event; great illustration of how the voice of the people is ignored.

Why all these London journalists on #Newsnight discussing Stoke?

Amateurish sound quality from #Newsnight Stoke special.

The BBC must have loads of great shots of Middleport Pottery. Yet Newsnight use ones of it looking a state.

You wouldn't know we have a really attractive city here from, looking at #Newsnight

That was like the exact opposite of a tourism advert for Stoke.

Why did they needed an audience, if all they were going to do is lecture them?

Great idea by #Newsnight. Show how the people of SOT have been denied a voice by packing the stage with experts and denying audience a voice.

If the politicians are out of touch the #Newsnight discussion has just proved 'experts' in the media are even worse.

C'mon @BBCNewsnight "once proud potteries"? As far as I know pottery manufacturers still proud - & listen to interviewees - Stoke not a dump.

The #Stoke you see on TV is not the Stoke I know.

By-election roundup No.11: May may call

* The Prime Minister herself has been working the phones to call up people in Stoke Central: "Theresa May hits the phones ahead of closely contested by-elections".

* Labour's Mirror newspaper visits Stoke for a 22nd Feb report, only to mistake the Potteries Museum for the Library:

"Outside Stoke public library stands a larger-than-life stainless steel statue of a steelworker ..."

Another minor newspaper has sent a correspondent, a local paper in Huddersfield of all places. I thought local newspapers were all totally skint these days, but obviously at least one of them can afford a night in a cheap B&B up 'anley duck. He writes:

"The column this week comes from Stoke on Trent, where I'm watching the much-hyped parliamentary byelection taking place tomorrow. Even by the no holds-barred standards of such polls - of which I have seen more than my fair share - this is a pretty vicious contest."

* The Times journalist reports that he jumped into a car with a bunch of London lefties on Sunday, and then he seems to have jumped off the deep end with the headline: "Red Tories could save Labour in Stoke". I can't get more of the story because it is pay-only.

The same pay-only problem is true of the big Stoke story by the Wall Street Journal. The journalist spent two hours chatting with leading Labour people over some stiff Bennite tea at the weekend, but still doesn't get that we're a city in the Midlands and not the North.

* Out for the count:

"After the polls close at 10pm tomorrow night, the boxes of ballot papers will be taken to the count at the Fenton Manor Sports Complex in Stoke-on-Trent."

The result might be out by:

"4am on Friday morning. But the result of the by-election could come in much earlier depending on the level of turnout and the speed of the counting process."

Let's also hope that questionable bundles of postal votes won't drag this by-election even further into the mire. Thank goodness the 2020 General Election will require Voter ID to vote, and hopefully there will also be postal voting reform by then.

By-election roundup No.10

More by-election news roundup, Wednesday afternoon.

* Jacob Ferudi visited Stoke for Spiked on Sunday and — although he was seduced by the Hanley-is-the-constituency blunder — he's turned in a fair-minded and insightful article: "Stoke: the people vs the political class":

"‘In this constituency, the issue which most often comes up is Brexit’, Nuttall tells me. We’re sitting in the back of a static black sedan; a member of his security detail is in the front seat."

In a curious co-incidence, today's Guardian newspaper also runs with some car symbolism, with the headline: "Labour is a clapped-out banger on bricks, according to Stoke focus group" (10 people, presumably all who could be found who would tolerate being in the same room as a Guardian journalist).

"Asked to draw a car that summed up the Labour party, the group produced sketches of clapped-out old bangers, variously on bricks, or in one case with a steering wheel at each end “because they don’t know which way they’re going”."

Ferudi's Spiked article neatly points out the disconnect between Labour's hard-left student volunteers, and the local place and people...

"I was not surprised when Christopher, a Labour canvasser shipped in from the capital, suggested to me that the idea of regeneration in Stoke was just ‘this northern powerhouse bullshit’.

The problem in Stoke is that none of the candidates seems capable of making a meaningful connection with local people’s aspirations. They just make vague and broad statements, filled with buzzwords. They cannot handle what the Brexit vote was – a monumental two fingers to today’s insipid, uninspiring politics and a demand for something bigger and more democratic. The locals who voted for this are far more progressive, and hopeful, than the canvassers shipped in from London to talk to them about ‘hope’."

Well said, and about time too. Though it's a pity Ferudi didn't spot that Christopher thinks Stoke is in the North, when we're in the Midlands and always have been since the days of ancient Mercia.

* William Hill: "UK awaits landscape changing by-election results":

"William Hill politics believes that the results may set the agenda for the future of UK politics. The results will detail how much the UK political map has changed since June 2016’s EU Referendum."

Betfair: "Tories popular with betting markets".

* BBC Newsnight cameras have been out and about in Hanley, filming inserts for the show, and have made it their special business to interview various photogenic young local leftists and even a few of the local anarchists.

* Ooops...

"we've had hundreds of members, largely Corbyn supporters on the doors"

"Those canvassing in Stoke/Copeland say everyone is citing Corbyn as the reason for not voting Labour. Everyone."

From the tweets. You have to wonder if Labour's student canvassers have been doing more harm than good on the doorsteps.

* Storm Doris is still set to do her stuff in Stoke on Thursday, though not quite as rainy as before.