Tuesday, 28 April 2009


In Athens, for the European Commission's biodiversity conference, with the EU clearly destined to miss its target of halting the decline in biodiversity by 2010, and a minimum 30pc decline in world biodiversity recorded since 1970.

In my speech I pointed out that one species was not in decline, and that having trebled its population in 50 years humans were making rabbits look sexually inadequate. "The ecological footprint of the EU is that of someone in steel capped boots."

Politicians are frightened to mention the reality of explosive population growth for fear of being accused of wanting to introduce coercive policies, or of rich-poor hypocrisy, I said. But the West relies on developing nations staying poor because if they had the same consumption levels as us the planet's resources would be gone in a flash.

Europe's high population could be gently reduced just by increasing the average age of first children, and the first step was to make sure the subject was on the political agenda and up for public debate.

"Very brave," whispered Tony Long, international director of WWF.

One male questioner implied that I was in favour of eugenics, euthanasia, female sterilisation, and girl child infanticide, which I thought a little extreme. "Dishonest in the context of the biodiversity issue," I replied.

Later, in response to a point from Tony about the use of resources for meat production, I said that I gave up eating meat more than 20 years ago, had found it easy, but did not know how to counter the image amongst so many people in developing nations that meat eating is a demonstration of affluence.

"Hitler was a vegetarian," muttered my questioner.

Monday, 27 April 2009


I've been reflecting on Ed Miliband's declaration that no new coal power stations will be authorised in Britain unless they include an element of carbon capture technology.

The climate change secretary didn't go far enough, of course, and ideally we should not be permitting any new coal fired generation, but credit where credit is due; it puts the UK at the fore of CCS development and will have a significant impact on thinking in the boardrooms of power companies.

Almost unnoticed by the media was Miliband's call for consultation on the idea of introducing emissions performance standards, limiting the amount of CO2 that can be released by any power plant, coal or gas.

In the long run the engine of CCS should be driven forward by the market, with generating companies seeking to avoid paying the cost of carbon allowances, but the technology will initially be very expensive and must be hand cranked, first through financial subsidy to get demonstration plants built, and then by regulatory requirements - such as emission performance standards.

The need for this approach has not yet been publicly recognised, and the UK government opposed the proposals for such standards I tabled last year. That Miliband is prepared to think afresh is bold and brave. Good for him!

Thursday, 16 April 2009


This morning I walked through the streets of The Hague, off to give evidence to a parliamentary select committee about carbon capture and storage technology.

It was a glorious spring morning, and thousands of cyclists were negotiating their way around the cars and avoiding the trams. Not one was wearing a helmet.

I have heard of studies that suggest that far from saving lives, being expected to wear cycling helmets simply discourages people from cycling at all.

They cycle a lot more in Holland than we do here, and the Dutch are equally conscious of health and safety issues. If they are doing what is right, from where has the helmet police gained their influence?

Thursday, 9 April 2009


North West MEP Den Dover was thrown out of the Tory party last November after it was found that over 7 years he had paid £758,000 from parliamentary allowances to a company owned by is wife and daughter. He has been ordered to pay back £500,000, though why only this amount is a mystery.

So has he paid back the money? No-one is telling, so I've sent him an e-mail to ask. I've also written to the Parliament's secretary-general.

Rumours are flying that not only has the money not been paid but that the Parliament may not be able to recover it. Trying to deduct it from his allowances won't be sufficient given that his term as an MEP is coming to an end.

Why on earth have the authorities not brought in the police if money has been misused? We should get it back, and Dover should face criminal investigations.

Monday, 6 April 2009


"How do we get more young people involved in politics?" an A-level student asked at a Question Time session in Blackpool. I responded with comments about channelling the anger that many feel at injustice, unfairness, greed, prejudice, waste and short sighted lack of vision into the democratic process. But equally I could have said, "forget the emphasis on young people, how do you get ANYONE involved in politics."

The numbers who join political parties continues to fall. If 1 in 100 people is even remotely political active in a constituency that would be a good thing. There were very few party members younger than me (54) at a well attended Lib Dem event in Keswick I at which I spoke last Friday, and I am not sure that many of those present could really be described as 'active'. Party structure in not a few constituencies simply doesn't exist. We take our democracy for granted but there are very few people who actually make it work.

The following day by contrast I met with Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale He has a "party" mailing list of 2,000, he tells me, which must be one of the very best for the Lib Dems in the country. True, it includes not just party members but also leaflet deliverers, financial donors and regular poster displayers, and these latter people do not get a say in the selection of candidates, but it is still an impressive target for others to emulate. The next questions are how you encourage positive supporters to become politically 'active', and how you ensure that this means something more than just helping to get people elected for no reason other than that they wear a rosette with the right colour.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


The Parliament's environment committee has met for the last time before the European elections, with goodbyes to all the members who already know that they will not be returning, and warm words about how much work we have done together.

The committee will not meet again (except for a formal session to confirm the appointment of a new chair) for 5 months. Even though this happens only once every 5 years it seems an extraordinary gap. I only wish we could afford such a relaxed approach to the environental problems facing humanity.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


I am as jealous as hell of Dan Hannan's success on 'You Tube'. His Strasbourg speech attacking Gordon Brown has had 2 million hits I am told, and even though most of them may be American his two minutes on his feet has gained him loads of media coverage. Why is it always the europhobes who get the press?

What I wanted to know is how he got called to speak. Only one person per political group got the chance to reply to Brown's speech to the Parliament, mostly the leaders with Graham Watson speaking for the ALDE (Lib Dem) Group.

Apparently Hannan's position is that he is a Conservative MEP but has been thrown out of the EPP group in advance of the formal departure by all the other Tories. For administrative purposes he sits in the Non-Aligned Group of misfits and leftovers. Because it has no coherence it doesn't have the same rights as other groups to table amendments or resolutions in its name, but by way of compensation its members are awarded proportionally a bit more speaking time than others. It would be usual for a British member to be allowed to take on a British Prime Minister.

Lucky sod!