The rules don’t apply to the little people

“Johnson comes from a background where it is regarded as beneath one to make an effort: men like him are loath to stick to the rules because that would involve admitting the rules apply to them.” Camilla Long in The Times today.

I remember when a very old Harold Macmillan accused Margaret Thatcher of “Selling off the family silver” during her privatisation spree. It was one of the last sightings of “Noblesse Oblige” that quaint notion that privilege brings with it a duty to understand the needs of the underclass. Macmillan had it because he had gone from the playing fields of Eton to the Great War trenches, and learned from the experience.

Our two more recent Old Etonian Prime Ministers seem untroubled by those less advantaged than themselves. They have a sense of entitlement that they have never questioned. Maybe it started when they were fellow members of the Bullingdon Club where to flaunt wealth and privilege was de rigueur.

Will David Cameron criticise the permanently dysfunctional Johnson? Well it seems unlikely as the whole point of being a Buller was to break the rules. Johnson was much less of a toff than Dave but he outdoes his predecessor in the openness of his contempt for the little people.

Every aspect of Johnson’s personality and behaviour confirm that he is above “petty” restrictions whether moral or, as we see in “Partygate” legal. If you have a leader so cavalier it sets an example. The Gray report shows this in gruesome detail.

Courageous Gervais hasn’t upset me…

If a man (someone with all the physical characteristics of the male sex) decides that he wishes to be perceived in future as a woman I have no objection. Wear a dress if you like James and ask people to call you Jane. No problem. If the law of the land agrees, which it does, that’s fine by me as well. If Jane has drug treatment to reinforce her femininity that’s OK by me too. But nothing will change the fact that biologically Jane is still a man.

This is a conflict that should never have happened. In allowing people to transition and be perceived as a different gender we should have applied some common-sense rules. Most (not all) sports should not permit biological males to compete as women. This seems so obvious that I find it bizarre that anyone disagrees. Lavatories in public places (and similar facilities) need to be designed to accommodate the fact that some users will have biological characteristics different from their declared and perceived gender.

I don’t know where it all went wrong, where the origins of this war were. It all seems so unnecessary but I’m with Ricky Gervais

What the world needs now in Energy debates is academically robust truths not polemics and protests.

Those who know me will know that I’m not a sycophantic supporter of the Shell establishment – either as a Pensioner or for 40 years as an employee. We did a lot wrong and in some cases shamefully so. But overall the Shell I knew was run by able, decent and convivial colleagues. I loved (almost) every moment!

I viewed the shenanigans at the AGM as reported in the media with alarm. The ignorance and the bias of the protesters was shocking. But I criticise the company as well. Shell is primarily a hydrocarbon enterprise. And, in the main, we do it well. One of the reasons for this is that, in Tom Peters’ phrase, we stick to our knitting. A raft of step out activities have been tried and in the main, from Coal to Metals to Forestry to Solar to Power Generation (and the rest) we failed.

The world will need Oil and Gas for a very long time. This is our knitting and we should stick to it and continue to do it well. The protestors object to Shell producing and marketing hydrocarbons , to satisfying demand. We do not create demand, that’s our customers. We meet it, that’s us.

I want our communications to be more confident and to tell the green lobby some home truths. Many energy demand segments are “oil specific” for the forseeable future. As a former Energy planner I can explain this. The Marine and Aviation sectors will stay oil specific – and they are very large. Switching from Gas to alternatives is a very long term thing in many sectors – home heating in northern Europe for example. And also cars and commercial road transport.

We don’t need to defend what we do, but we do need to explain it better. We need to explain our sources and application of funds better. We need to explain our approach to tax – it’s perfectly legitimate to minimise our tax liabilities within the law. Who the heck pays tax they don’t need to ?

There is no need to be apologetic or diffident. But there’s no need to be myopic either. I worked on Scenarios a couple of times – we were pioneers in this technique. It’s exactly what the world needs now. Academically robust truths not polemics and protests.

Thoughts on inflation – it’s Brexit stupid

Things have moved on from the 1980s. Globalisation has broken the insular link between wages and prices. We import nearly all our consumer goods priced in dollars or Euros or Yen. The decline of Sterling due to Brexit makes these goods more expensive – not least oil and gas.

The favourable trade arrangements we had as an EU member no longer apply and we pay more for our imports. Whilst exports, particularly invisible ones, help the trade balance we are losing our competitiveness to those within the Single Market and the Customs Union.

Our public services are under stress, starved of investment and in many cases of foreign labour. Reduce the supply and the price goes up – inevitably inflationary pressure results. The market mechanisms of being a member of an economic union with huge supply of labour and capital kept prices under control. Without them there is inflationary pressure.

In short many of the causes of inflation are a consequence of our decision to abandon international partnerships for ideological nationalist reasons. If public sector wage controls are the only lever we can pull the cost in bad industrial relations and poverty will be considerable.

Christianity and its parables can enlighten us – but it’s prelates have no automatic right to be listened to.

That the preposterous Woke v Non Woke war in Britain should have a battlefield in the Church of England is hardly surprising – it’s everywhere. But in reality there is an inverse relationship between the Church’s propensity to pontificate and the likelihood of them being listened to.

That we have an “Established Church” is an anachronism but in truth it doesn’t really matter. That there are Bishops in the House of Lords is illustrative of the unsuitability of that ludicrous , unelected and overblown institution. That these prelates can actually vote is absurd. But it’s Gilbert and Sullivan pomp and self regard rather than anything more venal.

There is no temporal subject on which normal people’s first thought is “I wonder what the Archbishop thinks”. He’s less significant than Marcus Rashford in public debate. Our society is overwhelmingly secular and the church’s role is for many of us confined to the provision of a bit of structure and pageantry to national events. For example a secular Remembrance Sunday event or one with multi religion content would be unthinkable. You don’t have to be a Christian to support the style and structure of how we remember the fallen.

You don’t have to be a Christian either to appreciate Cathedrals and Churches and to find solace in them if you’re seeking it. Or to enjoy religious music and Art. The spiritual rather than the dogmatic aspect of a beautiful building or (say) the St Matthew Passion.

But words can of course matter if they inspire you even if the context is a religion which, overall, you reject. It’s hard to fault the Sermon on the Mount as a life template. You don’t have to buy into the “Word of God” meme. One of my favourite passages about religious belief is in Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited between Sebastian and Charles:

Charles: I suppose they try to make you believe an awful lot of nonsense.”

Sebastian: Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”

But, my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”

“Can’t I?”

“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”

But I do,” Sebastian replies. “That’s how I believe.”

I’m recently returned from a brief visit to the Holy Land – Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Galilee, Nazareth. Like Sebastian Flyte I know the “lovely ideas”. To stand on the Mount of Olives or see Christ’s birthplace was moving despite rational me knowing that the whole shebang from the manger to Calvary is a complex and extended parable.

Jerusalem

Like arch atheist Christopher Hitchens I found value in the twice daily religious services in the 1960s in the Chapel of The Leys School which we both attended. I can’t quite explain that but in a way we are back in Brideshead territory. “Lovely ideas” as well as terrible ones in fiction can move us and teach us even though we know that they are inventions. But to believe that an Archbishop has a right to be listened to purely because of his job is nonsense.

Transition is an act of changing perceptions, not an act of changing fact.

James Morris became increasingly uncomfortable that his immutable biology was male and transitioned to Jan Morris

When proud parents put their new baby in either blue or pink baby clothes they are not performing a terrorist act but recording a fact. The same when they register the child. At birth the physical characteristics of a child are in 99.9% of cases indisputable. Not only that but those characteristics change over time as the child becomes an adult but they change only within the birth gender.

EmotIonally, however, a very small number of people feel uncomfortable with their gender and some seek to change other people’s perception of it. This is the crucial point. Transition is an act of changing perceptions, not an act of changing fact. If James wants to be seen as Jan he is entitled to request it and the law permits it. When he becomes she the new She gets a new name, a new wardrobe and a new persona. But beneath these externalities the biology doesn’t change. Even hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery cannot alter the given biology.

To be transphobic is to deny the right that we have to change how others perceive our gender. And that is as unkind and offensive as it is wrong. But to argue the fact, as I have here, that physical biology does not change does not make me transphobic, just informed

Should human rights be determined by the serendipity of location ?

The principle of subsidiarity, enshrined in the European Union’s treaties, says that decisions should be taken at the lowest level possible practicable. It’s arguably an essential component of trans-national agreements and bolsters national sovereignty. In general nation states should take their own decisions and in the EU, despite the moaning of hard line Brexiteers, they do.

Which brings me to federal nations and other countries, like the United Kingdom, which have elements of federalism about them. Let’s deal with the latter first. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do some things differently but are, arguably, no less British for it. The Scottish legal system is different to the English. Since devolution and the setting up of parliaments in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff subsidiarity in the U.K. has increased.

Federal republics are premised on a voluntary association of separate states. This, nominally at least, gives these states the freedom to be the different. In Germany, for example, the differences between, say the states of, Prussia and Bavaria are minor. It’s a federal republic but the nation is more important than the state.

Which brings us to the United States where there are few more contentious issues that “States’ Rights”. The founding fathers seeking to find a way of binding different ex-colonies together created a Constitution which enshrined a high degree of subsidiarity in their governance. Less than a hundred years later this led to Civil War.

The American Civil War was a conflict about States’ Rights – in particular the right of individual states to keep slavery. South of the Mason-Dixon line eleven states seceded from the Union over the matter leading to war.

Slavery is a Human Rights issue and for Abraham Lincoln no member state of the Union could have the option to do their own thing on human rights. After the War the Constitution was amended to recognise this – at least as far as slavery was concerned.

But what is a nation if it is not consistent across its territory on human rights? Let’s predicate an imaginary situation where a murder is committed in one state and just down the road, across the state line, an identical murder takes place in an adjoining state. One guilty murderer could face the death penalty whereas the other would not because his offence was committed in a state that had abolished capital punishment.

Should individual states really have the freedom judicially to execute someone – surely, like slavery, this is an area where national consistency should apply ? Which brings us to Roe v Wade.

In 1973 the US Supreme Court ruled that the right to have an abortion is a human right that should be applied consistently across the country. It was an issue where, like slavery before it, States’ Rights should be subordinate to federal law. Recently changes to the composition of the Supreme Court thanks to Donald Trump’s appointments are such that it looks like Roe v Wade will be overturned. As with capital punishment your human rights will be determined by which side of a state line something happens.

Subsidiarity is limited in most jurisdictions for practical and sometimes cultural reasons. But in a nation, and arguably at a higher level, surely human rights are a constant? Should one American state be liberal whilst an adjoining state is conservative? Should human rights, especially in the case of abortion womens’ rights , be determined by the serendipity of location ? Surely not.

Slavery and the Empire are not things to glorify but to be honest and contrite about.

Douglas Murray is an apologist for slavery in The Times today – his arguments are unconvincing.

For Britons the issue is less about slavery as an evil but about Empire. Yes it is true that owning slaves was not an exclusively Anglo-Saxon amorality nor even only a second Millennium phenomenon. But imperialism was arguably an even greater evil and our British ancestors were the prime movers in that.

Barbados – the birthplace of British slave society and the most ruthlessly colonized by Britain’s ruling elites.

The conceit that a developed nation has the right to venture abroad, set up camp, exploit natural resources and dominate and enslave native peoples is about as venal as it gets. And still, astonishingly, we praise this venality by singing “Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be spread” at least once a year!

Empire and Slavery are inextricably interlinked. When British adventurers found natural resources to exploit, but without the indigenous labour to do so, they imported people to do it. Slavery was always driven by commercial ambition and the slaves were property – a factor of production rather than human beings.

To our modern sensibilities imperialism and slavery are abominations, though far from vanished. Putin’s attempt to enlarge the Russian Empire, the Chinese in Tibet, the mistreatment by Israel of Palestinians and all too many other examples are imperialism by another name. As was Hitler’s search for “Lebensraum”.

In short the British Empire was built by slaves and none of us should be sanguine about this. I commend Susan Neiman’s fine book “Learning from the Germans”. The Empire is not something to glorify but to be honest and, yes, contrite about.

A windfall tax on Multinational energy companies would be highly complex

Shell and BP are multinational corporations each of them operating in over 100 countries. Sources of revenue are diverse and whilst the U.K. is significant it is far from crucial to either company’s future. Both Shell and BP have chosen to be U.K. registered and they are major FTSE members. But they don’t have to be.

One of Shell’s drilling and production platforms in the Southern North Sea

Both Shell and BP have upstream assets and are gas and oil producers in the U.K. but neither refines crude oil in Britain any more. Their downstream business – branded petrol stations included – are useful brand symbols but not major contributors to global revenues.

In short Shell and BP’s significance to the U.K. is exaggerated other than that they choose to be registered here. Both corporations have large tax departments whose primary responsibility is to minimise tax liabilities – e.g. by generating and/or posting profits in lower tax jurisdictions. Tax was a factor in Shell choosing to relocate corporately from The Netherlands to the U.K. So there will always be a close focus on tax and if for whatever reason the U.K. became less attractive then both companies have alternatives.

Production of hydrocarbons, mostly offshore at present, is carried out by companies like Shell and BP on strictly commercial terms. They pay Government for licences and then spend huge amounts of capital and revenue on the exploration and production initiatives. An adequate return on capital employed is required. Anything that raises costs, tax included, makes marginal fields less attractive.

A windfall tax on Multinational energy companies is far from straightforward given their very diverse sources of income and complex accounting arrangements. It’s not a magic solution.

The rise in the electability of outsiders is a function of political failure by traditional politicians.

Maybe some voters have always voted against rather than for things. But surely around the world there has never been such a time when electorates know what they don’t like rather than what they are for.

The feeling that all is not well and that “something needs to be done” is endemic in the West. It gave us Trump. It gives us Johnson. It might even have given us Le Pen or Corbyn. Note that for us to vote in such a way there has to be a candidate.

The rise in the electability of outsiders is partly a function of perceived political failure by traditional politicians. Hillary Clinton was as traditional establishment as they come and was punished for it. In the French presidential elections of 2017 and 2022 the traditional parties of Left and Right were annihilated. Macron was an outsider in 2017 and hardly mainstream in 2022.

The electoral system in France permitted in 2017 a man with little or no political background to be elected. In Britain that would be almost impossible. But in a binary choice plebiscite in 2016 the British electorate did air its dissatisfaction with the establishment as America was to do later that year and France the following one.

In 2019 the electorate in Britain felt empowered to go for the unconventional as they had in 2016 and almost had in 2017. “Leave” and its reworked message “Get Brexit Done” were votes against the political norms – the enemy was foreigners and the establishment. Easy targets not requiring cerebral logic.

One has to be very careful with Third Reich comparisons but National Socialism was built on being against the Weimar establishment parties as much (maybe more) than it was for Hitler’s policies. The Nazis enemies were the political establishment and those who were cerebral. The anti Woke movements of today are not dissimilar.