The complexities of plastic bags

Do you dislike the UK’s “throwaway” culture? Do you share the Daily Mail‘s concern about the damage with plastic waste is doing to our coastlines and oceans? If so, you will probably be pleased to know that since the introduction of the 5p charge on plastic bags in supermarkets in 2016, single plastic bag use has dropped dramatically – by as much as 90% according to some sources.

Now the 5p charge is being extended. Small outlets (defined as those with less than 250 employees) will lose their exemption and will have to start charging for plastic bags too, most likely before the end of the year.

While most of us must surely be delighted if there are fewer discarded plastic bags cluttering up our roadsides, the issue isn’t quite that straightforward.

Firstly, it exposes the complexities of political life for politicians like Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for the Environment. Gove has traditionally been labelled “Centre Right“, which has historically meant a supporter of small government.  You would think, therefore, that although he was apparently “haunted” by the amount of plastic which is polluting our oceans, he would look to find a solution which is more free market and less statist than the introduction of what is, in effect, another tax.

This, however, is far from the only complexity which has been raised in this war on plastic. When the initial legislation bringing in the 5p charge was introduced, nowhere did it mention that it has its origins in an EU directive. Not once does the 2015 Bill mention the EU or the Directive, according to the EU Observer. Perhaps, claims the author, Gove “may want to portray the success of the 5p charge as a domestic affair”.   For sure, given that the original legislation pre-dated the Brexit vote, the omission of any mention of the EU cannot have been as a result of wishing to downplay the EU’s role for fear of boosting its popularity and thus undermining the case for Brexit. More likely, as the writer suggests, in these days when politicians are eager to emphasise their “green credentials”, it is more a case that Michael Gove or perhaps even Theresa May are wanting people to make assumptions that the 5p tax is their idea, given that the war on plastic is largely seen as a good thing.

In a sense, the EU Observer is making something of a mountain out of a molehill. Although the writer is upset by the reluctance of UK parliament and politicians to acknowledge the EU’s role in the war on plastic, preferring to claim the credit themselves, as one astute observer has put it, without the UK’s influence, much of the EU’s environmental legislation would never have got off the ground in the first place:-  “all the current EU countryside environmental schemes have their origins in UK policy goals and schemes.”

And finally, to anyone who now feels uncomfortable now they realise that a development which they considered beneficial had its origins in Brussels, it is worth remembering that even the most odious of political régimes occasionally do good things. For instance, Germany is rightly proud of its Autobahn network and while the oldest section of it dates from the late 1920s, its most significant and dramatic period of expansion, from a mere 108km to 3,736km took place between 1935 and 1940 because of one man’s far-sighted recognition of the value of a nationwide high speed road network. His name was Adolf Hitler.

Photo by oparrish

A good letter in the Daily Mail – EU coverage on the BBC

We have received a number of comments about media bias in the EU debate. This letter from Journalist Tony Slinn was sent to the Daily Mail and superbly debunks many of the myths being peddled by the “remain” camp.

 

Dear Editor

I timed the BBC in/out EU coverage on News at Ten tonight (02 Mar.2016)—two full minutes for stay-in, complete with sophisticated infographics, and just 40 seconds for such a distinguished man as Lord Lamont arguing out … with no infographics and, as usual, curtailed.

That’s a distinct 3 to 1 bias.

As a former maritime editor (Lloyds Register/IHS Maritime, now retired) I am very familiar with the power of infographics. Those shown by the BBC failed totally to register ANY realistic numbers regarding tariffs, just ticks and crosses with no supporting info.

If you want realistic numbers, read Dominic Lawson’s well-researched and sober column from Monday’s Daily Mail. I quote: “The average weighted tariff on goods from outside the Single Market is 3.5%. That’s much less than the currency fluctuation that exists between Sterling and the €uro.”

Precisely.

Back when, I voted for the European Economic Community (EEC), not the EU. Why? Because I believe that trade is the way to closer understanding between peoples. Not politics nor religion, both of which have so often led us along the path of war for no good reason – the Mail’s current look at the Blair years, and what they’ve led us to, amply bears that out.

Also not because of the oft-quoted argument that the ‘EU’ has ‘preserved peace in Europe’—that’s just nonsense. Peace was protected when in 1949, the year I was born, NATO was also born via the Washington Treaty, signed by the most undamaged country (from WWII) and world power, the USA, along with Canada and ten Western European states—Britain, France, the Benelux countries, Iceland, Italy, Norway, and Portugal. The key feature of that pact is a mutual defence clause: if one country is attacked, the others will come to its defence.

Key point: absolutely NO mention of an EEC or, heaven forbid, an EU: the former didn’t happen for 12 years.

The EEC? Spin forward those 12 years to 1957 and the Treaty of Rome – just six members who set up the European Economic Community that aimed to create: “A common market, a customs union, plus free movement of capital and labour”. To please France, it also promised subsidies to farmers, a burden most other EU nations suffer today.

No mention of any ‘defence’, so who did what to protect Europe in the years after 1945 and whenever the EEC/EU thought about it?

Please…

The road to today’s UK in/out vote began when Britain applied for EEC membership in 1961 – I remember it well; I thought it was a good idea and voted ‘yes’. French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed our membership in 1963. De Gaulle refused to back the UK’s application because: “The British government lacks commitment to European integration” (my italics).

If only we had!

Hang on, wasn’t it the ‘EEC’ we thought we were voting for? Who mentioned the ‘EU’? Certainly not Prime Minister Ted Heath who stated in 1972: “There are some in this country who fear that going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say,
are completely unjustified.”

It was not until 1973 that Britain (along with Denmark and Ireland) joined. By that time, seeing what the so-called EEC was all about, the Norwegians were bright enough to reject it in a referendum later in the year.

Slice by thinly cut and mostly unnoticed slice, the unelected bureaucrats within the European Commission slashed away democracy and achieved victory in 1991—the Maastricht treaty turned the EEC into the EU. It also paved the way for the disastrous €uro monetary union.

Happily, sense prevailed in the UK, we still have the pound not the €uro— just wait until Greece collapses again.

That treaty even includes a chapter on ‘social policy’, as if we’re all the same. Maggie Thatcher, as the Mail recently revealed and despite claims ‘agin it’, saw the dangers.

The UK negotiated a sort-of opt-out (anyone remember what?). But the treaty also introduced European citizenship, giving Europeans the right to live and vote in elections in any EU country, and launched European co-operation in foreign affairs, security, asylum, and immigration. As we can all see today, that’s really worked well.

Of course, Ted Heath’s lies, to quote the Daily Mail of December 2012, had: “Scarcely been mentioned at the previous General Election, and the British people had very little idea of what they were letting themselves in for, other than a trading arrangement that might make it easier for us to sell our goods to our Continental neighbours”.

In February 2014 the Daily Mail revealed the real truth, quoting unelected European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding: “Britons are too ignorant about Europe to vote in a referendum on the subject.”

The British debate about Europe is so distorted, she said, “that people could not make an informed decision about whether or not to stay in the EU.”

Hmmmm… ignorant? Sovereignty?

As Mrs Reding boasted: “70% of the UK’s laws are made in Brussels”. And she also rubbished David Cameron’s bid to curb immigration from Europe, saying it was incompatible with membership of the EU.

So much for that then.

Finally, what about me? I’m for a greater-Europe trade organisation, but totally against the EU. It’s not just the scandalous waste of money or corruption—auditors have refused to sign off EU accounts for 20 years running—but argue as Cameron and others will, it’s nonsense to try and create a homogenised federal ‘Unites States of Europe’.

We’re too old, have too many bad memories, too many suspicions, even too many prejudices, and too many laws that divide not just our sovereign nations, but each other.

The way forward is trade. It’s travel. It’s not mass numbers, it’s getting to know one another on a one-to-one basis that includes respecting the assorted religions we all have. If you like, it’s humanism, which has no place in the barbarity too often inflicted because you think your God or your political belief system is different or superior to mine.

That’s what the EU lacks. You can’t drive people together through politics or religion. Better you come together over a cup of coffee across a table and strike an honest deal, regardless of whether you sell a donkey or a car, that it’s on a national scale, cross-border, or global.

I look forward to that day, though at 67 I doubt I’ll live to see it, along with the end of regional wars that have displaced so many unfortunate people in the name of some-or-other religious, political or regional belief.

I also look forward to the collapse of the EU bureaucracy, the realisation that in the end, democracy with all its faults is really the only system worth living under. And the hopefully assured ‘out’ vote in June that will restore sanity not just to the UK, but to Europe.

I look forward to peaceful global trade that will let me visit those fascinating parts of my planet I’ve still to see, but which live under the threat of people with guns killing mostly innocent civilians for the sake of some God or some political belief.

Above all, I live in hope.

As so often in the past, Britain needs to lead—others will eventually see sense.

Yours sincerely

Tony Slinn

Maritime Journalist, NUJ member

Photo by stephen.spillane

Comic Relief?

It’s not difficult for a good tradesman to find work. I’ve come across some that don’t even need to advertise. Likewise, if you invent something of immense benefit to mankind, you don’t need to spend millions telling everyone how good your invention is; it soon becomes self-evident. Ask Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet. How much of his hard-earned cash has been spent on promotional material praising his clever idea to all and sundry?

Not as much as the EU spends on promoting itself, that’s for sure. A recent article in the Daily Mail claims that Brussels has spent over half a billion pounds on propaganda, with the UK’s contribution (the sum total of our money being frittered away in other words) amounting to £357 million.

It is quite clear that the EU is engaged in a desperate no-holds-barred battle to shore up its failing credibility as it targets the UK’s schools. The Mail reproduces quotes extracted from Dennis-the Menace-style cartoons which are both biased and banal. Unfortunately, badly-written and sickening as this claptrap is, circumstantial evidence suggests that it is having its desired effect and poisoning our children’s minds. Anyone questioning the EU project is depicted as narrow-minded. Edward Spalton, CIB’s President and a veteran of school debates on the EU, used to win every debate. A couple of years back, he found himself on the losing side and it was nothing to do with his performance. Other speakers have also found the going much tougher.

As the article points out, this garbage is not getting into our classrooms behind the backs of the UK government, but with its full connivance. It suggests that Tory MPs supportive of withdrawal may well use the recently-published report from which the above statistics were taken to put pressure on the government to ensure a level playing field in the period immediately before the referendum and not to use public funds to promote the EU.

While CIB is grateful that papers like the Daily Mail publish these EU-critical articles, we are greatly saddened that the paper shrinks back from the obvious conclusion that should be drawn from them – namely that we should leave the EU. On 26th October 2011, it stated quite specifically “This paper has no desire for Britain to pull out of Europe.” and the editor at the time, Paul Dacre, remains in the post today. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, when the referendum campaign gets under way, that we will find ourselves with few, if any allies in the media. Still, with friends like your average press baron and the all too many ill-informed journalists who cover EU matters, who needs enemies?