Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Are we making too much fuss about data intrusion by the Government?

‘The innocent have nothing to fear’. How often have I heard that response at public meetings when the state is criticised for over-comprehensive surveillance? A journalist has now described that as ‘the police state defence’.

Just imagine the following scenarios:
Your cousin is a member of an extremist nationalist group. Because of your relationship with him, the security services put you under total surveillance as a suspected sympathiser.

You go on a blind date arranged via an internet dating site. The person you meet is a spy for an unfriendly country. You are now suspected of being a spy.

You download a copy an Al Qaeda training manual  for a friend who is a post graduate student studying the literature of terrorist groups. You lose your job and cannot find work in any other university

You are employed by a university and were charged with terrorism in the past but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. This is leaked by the security services and becomes public knowledge. You are sacked from your job

Some of these examples are real. The innocent do have reason to fear if the state is prepared to misuse this information. 

Nobody in Germany thought too much of having their religion identified on their identity card - until the state started rounding up Jews. Nobody worried too much at being identified as a member of the Communist Party – until the state started rounding up Communists, gays and gipsies.
See also

So please don’t claim that it doesn’t matter that we have the highest density of CCTV cameras in Europe, that we are using meta data from intrusive US surveillance, that our own security services can bug and film at will because ministers won’t stand up to them. It did matter in Germany in the 1930s, it matters in the UK now.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Should the Green Party bank with Co-op Bank?

Various component parts of the Green Party, and individual members, have tended to gravitate towards Triodos Bank or the Co-op Bank as THE ethical alternatives. But are they right?

A recent report by Ethical Consumer does not give the Co-op bank a good review on ethical issues. Their table of ethical current accounts puts Coventry, Cumberland and Leeds Building Societies joint top for ethical current accounts. The Coop Bank only comes 12th in that list easily overtaken by Nationwide, the last national High Street mutual, at 6th place.

Ethical Consumer still rates Co-op Bank as a ‘best buy’ on the grounds that is policy statement on ethics is far and away the best in the sector for clarity and ambition. Its low overall score is explained by its ‘being part of the Co-operative Group which – as a supermarket – is involved in animal farming and other activities which its banking competitors are not.’

However, if the supermarket aspect were removed, Ethical Consumer admits that the Co-op Bank’s score would still be only 13: below the top three and only just above Nationwide’s 12.5 score.

Moving to savings accounts Tonbridge based Charity Bank and the Ecology Building Society are joint first with Triodos close behind them. The Co-op Bank in a very poor 28th place whilst Nationwide is in joint 16th place in the rankings.

Perhaps Greens need to ask themselves if the Coop Bank still deserves their support.

Can we afford energy efficeincy and renewable energy?

How much does increasing renewable energy cost on our household energy bills? A government report in March of this year has analysed how much we pay for what in our energy bills. Guess what, wholesale energy costs vastly outweigh the costs of energy and climate change policies. 55% of your gas bill covers wholesale gas costs and only 5% is allocated to energy and climate change policies.

When it comes to electricity 37% of your bill covers the price of wholesale electricity and 14% covers energy and climate change policies.

Energy and climate change polices includes a raft of measures ECO – energy company obligation e.g. a requirement on energy companies to ‘support households in improving the energy efficiency of their homes’ mainly concentrating on helping the vulnerable and those on lower incomes to heat their homes affordably and helping households living in harder and more expensive to improve homes e.g. those with hard to treat cavity wall insulation and solid wall insulation.

In addition, the polices will reduce energy prices in the future. The average gas bill will be cut by 13% by 2030. The average electricity bill will initially reduce by 11% by 2020 but is then predicted to rise by 10% up to 2030. Overall the impact of these polices on average energy bills overall is a 3% reduction by 2030.

To put this in context, we currently have the lowest gas prices in the EU 15 (this excludes Central and Eastern Europe.) We also have the 3rd or 4th lowest electricity prices. And we spend less on energy and climate change polices than almost any other EU15 country, 3rd lowest.

So don’t let the climate change deniers win – energy efficiency and renewable energy are worth the price – and the price is not as high as they would have you believe.