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Monday, 13 January 2014

Playing with fire

The magic formula to determine the policies which will decide a general election remains as elusive as ever to our beloved politicians. It does not seem to stop them guessing though. Cameron's intention to bribe local government in to fracking is a case in point. It also throws up an interesting scenario or two.

The public remain justifiably suspicious of fracking following reports of water pollution and the potential for small earthquakes. But they know they must acquire their energy from somewhere and have limited means to do so. As the cost of imported gas continues to escalate, the government has at least negotiated the first hurdle. It has recognised the need for a financially viable alternative. The second hurdle is proving rather more difficult. To replace gas and coal power stations with fracking will just replace one set of fossil fuels for another. In this way, the government chooses to ignore the long term goal: sustainable, renewable energy.

Had it not succumbed to the groundless bribe of Miliband of a price freeze on domestic fuel, the government would now be sticking to it's guns on renewable energy. That is long term though and they don't have that sort of time before the next election. Such is their need to make fracking a voter friendly option, they have taken two steps which cause me no end of surprise. First, they intend to reward local councils with a share of the proceeds if they get on board. For a government which has just spent the best part of four years slashing the public sector, this is baffling. All the hard work is at risk of being undone. Second, they have not exactly rebuffed the advances of the French energy giant Total. Total wants to enter the great British fracking bonanza and frankly, who can blame them? Following in the foot steps of their fellow company EDF (who will build and reap the rewards from our next generation nuclear power stations), Total are wise to seek entry to the British market while it remains easy to do so.

Our relationship with Europe is a political question which just won't go away. The emergence of UKIP has guaranteed that it won't go away. Our relationship with Europe is the Marmite question. Few seem happy to remain on the fence and most have a strong view one way or the other. Clegg is consistently Europhilic, Farage is consistently Europhobic and it's frankly anyone's guess where the other two lie. But if France are gloating at the ease with which they have muscled in on our energy shambles, they have enough problems at home to temper such emotions.

Their unemployment rate is worse than the UK and Germany. 12% of the French remain out of work and the Socialist President has been exposed - if you'll forgive the irony. Being unmarried, his erstwhile First Lady finds herself in something of a predicament. Shunned publicly by media revelations of her husband's dalliance with an actress (it was ever thus), she must decide if she wants to cling on to her title and the ignominy which goes with it or jump ship and watch her beau sink. As the most unpopular French President since just after the war, he needs all the help he can get. His countrymen will be less interested in his personal life and more interested in whether he has any concrete plans for their abject economy. To be fair, he is not the first leader to be exposed in this way and I'm certain he won't be the last. What is interesting is that these people who use every trick in the book to get to the top are willing to risk it all like this. C'est la folie!

Immigration continues to attract the attention of the British voter. As ever, opinions are polarised and our European cousins queue up to condemn our xenophobia. For a country with a long history of immigration, it's sometimes difficult to understand why we get so worked up over it. By the same token though, neither are we a charity and we're right to place certain conditions on our access to welfare. That is reasonable enough. In a piece I wrote earlier in the year, I highlighted the attitude of the Hollande government in France to the Roma. Before the French get too high on their moral horse concerning our stance on immigration, they might want to review their own arrangements.

We have now developed a public sector whose size must be the envy of the socialist French President. We now pay salaries in excess of £100,000 to over 800 public servants - that we know of. The great irony is that this has been achieved under the jurisdiction of a Tory led coalition. These are strange times but it is obvious that the charades over the 2015 election are already in full swing. The former Labour advisor Alistair Campbell today claimed that Miliband wouldn't get a majority in 2015 so would need the support of the Clegg. Clegg will do deals with anyone if it means another few scraps of power. So too though will Nigel Farage - provided he is granted the one thing upon which he has spent the last decade campaigning. Give him his referendum and he'll probably shine your shoes for you. Will that prove too big a price for the Tory and Labour egos? Come the European elections in May, we'll all have a much better idea.