John Redwood's Diary
Incisive and topical campaigns and commentary on today's issues and tomorrow's problems

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The magic money tree died

Inflation usually kills magic money trees. Responsible advanced countries normally tell us there is no magic money tree, knowing as they do that their growth is soon killed off by inflation.

 

The magic money tree has been renamed Modern Monetary Theory. The idea is the Central Bank creates money in its accounts as only it can do, and buys up government debt with the money. The government can then issue more debt as there is a willing buyer at a low rate of interest. The government can afford more debt because the rate is so low, and because it owns the Central Bank who buys up lots of their debts anyway.  The state ends up owing lots of money to itself.

Using the Central Bank and government debt is just a complex way of disguising it. They could as well simply instruct the Central Bank to print  the extra  money and give it to them to pay the government bills. Indeed both the Fed and the Bank of England had powers to do this during the pandemic.

If you carry on doing this when the economy is near full capacity it is very inflationary. Government gives itself money to buy goods that others are trying to buy and to hire Labour working for others. Only by bidding up prices and wages does the state grab these  resources . Others who still want them either go without or bid higher again. An inflationary spiral sets in.

Now the U.K. economy is back to pre pandemic levels with low unemployment there is no scope for magic money trees and considerable inflation risk. Inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. Government has to incentivise more production to help bring the price rises down. It needs to change its pro imports policies for energy, high energy using industrial products and food.

The Bank of England plunges us into inflation

The Establishment tells us the Bank of England is independent. They remind us that the Bank is charged by law to control the creation of money and the rate of interest in order to keep inflation at around 2%. Inflation is currently at 5.4% and is widely forecast to rise above 6% by April, more than 3 times the target. Inflation as  measured by the old RPI index is already at 7.5%.

It is curious that the defenders of the idea of an independent Bank do not criticise it for such a  failure, nor offer explanations of why this  has happened. Most are happy for the government to take the blame , forgetting they could not tell the Bank to print less money or to raise the interest rate.

I supported the massive creation of cash in 2020 and the ultra low rates. The anti covid measures were a huge hit to output and incomes so there did need to be a large offset. When the recovery gathered pace in 2021 I advised the ending of money printing or QE by the Bank. It was obvious inflation would take off if the Bank kept boosting the amount of money.

The government got away with the massive money printing when the economy  was in covid measures depression. They could allow the Bank to print and they could spend it routed to them as near zero interest loans which the state then bought up. These are not state debts we now have to pay off as the state owns the debt as well as owes it. Once the economy showed strong  recovery then printing, borrowing and spending returned to being inflationary as Latin America and Zimbabwe can tell you.

The Bank was right at the end of last year to at last end QE or money printing. The  Fed has carried on printing  and has presided over a worse inflation than we have. It should stop immediately. The Bank of England should now be careful not to overdo further tightening as they and the Treasury are now slowing the economy too much. It would be quite wrong for the Bank to tighten when the Treasury is about to increase taxes far too much.

The battles over gas

Russia plans to play China and Europe off together over the supply of gas. They are in discussion over selling more of their gas to China via a new pipe still to be built at the same time as they are seeking to close the deal on further supply of gas to Germany via the new Nord Stream 2 pipe now completed. Hungary has signed up to fifteen more years of Russian gas with supply via a southern pipeline that avoids Ukraine, the source of transit capacity under the prior agreement.

Now the EU has confirmed the important role of gas today and going forward in¬† the EU energy mix this strengthens¬† Russia’s bargaining position as a big supplier of a crucial source of energy for much of the continent. Hydrogen is some way off as an alternative gas to meet emissions targets next decade and beyond. The USA can only complain that her European allies have weakened the western position. The current US/Russia disagreements about Ukraine are complicated by the gas route to western Europe across that country, with Russia clearly keen to cut off Ukraine’s revenues from this source.

The UK currently is not reliant on Russian gas. We depend on Norway and Qatar primarily. It makes producing more of our own gas even more important to our national security and reliability of supply. We should reduce our import dependence on the continent for both electricity and gas, as the two are interlinked with gas still an important fuel for power generation as well as for the direct heating of factories and homes. With Germany closing all her nuclear power stations and pledging to run down her large coal generation sector, and with Poland also under pressure to cut out the coal, the continent will  have an even tougher energy position to negotiate. That is why the UK needs to concentrate on self sufficiency, and on ensuring a margin of capacity over demand even when the wind does not blow. The EU has ambitions over Ukraine which are no longer partly our responsibility.

Those who want to fell the Prime Minister

The conventional media, the Labour opposition and a handful of Conservative MPs are out to topple the Prime Minister. The method is well known, as it was used extensively against Mrs May and took a long time to get rid of her. That was animated by a major battle over policy, where those who wished to see her replaced were shocked by her close working with the civil service establishment and opposition parties to dilute or thwart Brexit. We felt this was against the clear wish of the  public in the referendum and against the spirit of the Conservative Manifesto. The way the civil service negotiated, surrendering our position with the approval of the PM,was in conflict with  the strategy the Brexit Secretary was trying to pursue and was unacceptable.

The current rebels do not seem to be united in fundamental criticism of policy or in defence of the Manifesto. They are trying  to get to 54 Conservative MPs  who want a vote of No Confidence based on the strong feeling shared by many that senior officials in Downing Street who devised elaborate rules for the rest of should  have led by example. The PM has apologised and claims most of this happened without his presence or initiation . The  facts and gloss placed on this by Sue Gray who is investigating will shape how many more Conservative MPs seek a change at the top as a result.

It is difficult to buy into the idea that whips could credibly threaten to remove grants from constituencies of MPs who were disloyal. Money  is distributed on the decision of Ministers, not whips. Ministers are guided and  supervised by officials when allocating money to ensure the law and budget rules are followed. A Minister cannot make a decision based on favouritism or spite.

The rebels need to recall that they need 180 Conservative MPs  to get rid of the PM. They have to win the confidence vote as well as securing it. They may be holding back some letters pending the Gray Report or because they judge they are a long way off having a majority. They may simply have failed to persuade more than a handful that now is a good time to change Prime Ministers.

For me what matters most is how the PM now develops a post lockdown agenda. There needs to be an early move to take control of GB/ NI trade. There needs to be a change of energy policy. We need tax cuts. If the PM can complete Brexit and tackle the cost of living crisis he can ride out party gate. If he does not use the majority to help people be better off then partygate and the poor organisation of Downing Street will weigh ever more heavily on the minds of MPs already cross about recent news coverage.

My intervention in New Clause 20 of Building Safety Bill debate

Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Is there any right of redress to the regulatory authorities in local government, such as building inspectors and others, who were responsible for signing off on these schemes?

Christopher Pincher (Minister of State) (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities): We certainly want to ensure though the Bill, that the building control mechanism and the industry are improved. I think that a suite of measures, including the introduction of better building control measures, the retrospection of the Defective Premises Act and further work that we may choose to do, working across parties, will help ensure that a very complicated and detailed set of challenges, which have emerged recently but have been developing over many years, are properly addressed.

 

We need more Conservative values

Yesterday was a good day. At last we got the announcement that most of the covid 19 restrictions are being lifted. The advice to work at home is being withdrawn. The threat of covid passports recedes. Mask wearing will become a matter for individual judgement.

One of the reasons why I am a Conservative is I believe wherever possible people should be free to make their own decisions about how they spend their lives and how much risk they run. Of course I agree we need a criminal law which provides deterrence and punishment for those who wish to harm others by violence or theft,  but not a criminal  law that extends into payment of your tv licence or how many people you invited into your home.

The government has done well to lead work on developing a  vaccine and making it available so that most people have accepted it. This allows a return to more normal social contact and provides a reason for the government to roll back its extensive regulation of our daily lives. There will be considerable debate and study in the years ahead as we look back on the response to the pandemic. The world figures do not show any easy correlation between length and duration of lockdowns and less infection, intensifying the need for  more study and discussion of what responses worked best to contain and overcome the virus.

Anyone worried about the continued presence of the virus can limit their own social contacts and can wear a mask. They can rely more on on line shopping and may be able to negotiate more homeworking with their employer. They can certainly keep their vaccination up to date, which seems to lessen the risks of catching a serious version of the disease. All this points to lifting all special restrictions , whilst the NHS continues to provide advice and guidance especially to the vulnerable. Those of us who voted for less restriction last time are pleased that numbers of serious cases and hospital admissions did not shoot up dramatically as some predicted.

The politics of gas

Continental Europe is very short of gas. It now needs to secure more of it. It has decided that gas is after all a green fuel. Natural gas is for the transition to net zero, and hydrogen gas is to follow down the pipes in due course.

The UK relies heavily on natural gas for heating homes and buildings, for powering heat processes in factories and for electricity generation. Successive UK governments this century have accelerated the decline of the North Sea and declined to find ways to extract onshore gas, preferring to make us import dependent on Norway and Qatar. It is good they have not committed us to too much continental gas. The overriding priority now must be to increase domestic gas production and to steer clear of links to a gas starved continent becoming increasingly dependent on Mr Putin.

The instability of the continental position has just got worse. Hungary has signed a new contract with Russia  to import large quantities of Russian gas which will now be delivered through a pipeline that does not cross Ukraine. This replaces use of the Ukraine pipe system. Mr Putin is keen to reduce his dependence on the Ukraine pipe for export to the EU, as he wants no hostage to his policy  freedom over  Ukraine. He is keen to sign a deal with Germany to use Nord Stream 2, a new pipe from Russia to Germany across the Baltic, to replace the current flows through the Ukraine pipe. If he could eliminate Russian exports via Ukraine he would weaken Ukraine which has been enjoying substantial transit revenues from the gas.

The USA under Mr Trump warned Germany not to sign up to more Russian gas and not sign up to NordStream2, seeing it as a substantial strategic weakness. Mr Biden cancelled the Trump proposals for sanctions were the piped gas to go ahead, but has now had second thoughts and is unhappy about the impact NordStream 2 gas will have on the strategic balance with Russia.

Yesterday we read that the UK as part of the NATO effort was flying defensive anti tank weapons to Ukraine . The UK needs to strengthen our home position and not get drawn into disputes on the far side of the EU’s territory. The EU has to get smarter at handling Putin’s gas based diplomacy. It needs a workable plan for Ukraine. 7 years after Russia took Crimea the EU¬† still rules out a military solution, given the consequences of such an action. It needs a workable solution for the rest of Ukraine which also avoids a war.

Asking the Culture Secretary about decriminalising non-payment of the BBC licence fee

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee to take the pressure off magistrates courts? Should this not be a household bill like any other?

Nadine Dorries (The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport): That is something we are keeping under review. In today’s age, should we really continue with a licence fee paid by individuals with the potential threat of bailiffs or criminal prosecution? That is an important question and it will be part of the discussion.

The future of the BBC

A couple of tweets by the Culture Secretary does not create a new policy. It appears for the next few years the Licence Fee remains, though for a couple of years it may not increase. What she has done is invite those interested to debate the future financing of this important national institution.

The Licence fee is becoming increasingly difficult to collect as many people turn to social media and commercial entertainment and news services which they say they  can legally access without paying the Licence fee. The Fee is also resented by more people who are paying for access to non BBC service but still have to pay the tax because of the way they watch other services. The BBC continues to antagonise people who legally do not need to pay with their intimidating emails and messages demanding payment.

One of the reasons BBC support is dropping is the attitudes and content of much BBC output. Although the BBC sought to be impartial over the formal period of the EU referendum. for the rest of the time before and after , it is remorselessly pro EU putting the EU case against the UK and refusing to treat the EU to critical pieces on its policies and on its ways of arriving at them in the way it does for  any  UK government. It campaigns relentlessly for net zero policies, weaving them into the fabric of many of its programmes, and favours the experts of world organisations however wrong they turn out to be. It plays up Scottish and Welsh  identity but refuses similar treatment for England.

It also has some great back catalogue material, employs some talented and interesting people and produces some good programmes. If it wishes to re establish itself as the accepted voices of the UK it needs to become the people’s BBC. I suggest that the government should now move to decriminalise the licence fee, making it a bill like other household bills. Enforcement occupies too much time and resource in magistrates courts. The BBC should also be told to offer the same level of support and service to England that it shows to Scotland by having BBC Scotland.

The continuing shortage of wind on some days means there is an urgent need to change energy policy

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, how much additional carbon dioxide is generated by importing and burning LNG compared to using more natural gas delivered by pipeline from UK fields. (96748)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Greg Hands:

The Oil and Gas Association published analysis in May 2020, comparing the carbon intensity of United Kingdom Continental Shelf gas with imported liquified natural gas and pipelined gas:

https://www.ogauthority.co.uk/the-move-to-net-zero/net-zero-benchmarking-and-analysis/natural-gas-carbon-footprint-analysis/.

This analysis shows that gas extracted from the United Kingdom Continental Shelf has an average emission intensity of 22 kgCO2e/boe; whereas imported liquified natural gas has a significantly higher average intensity of 59 kgCO2e/boe. The process of liquefaction, combined with the emissions produced by the transportation and regasification of the liquified natural gas once in the United Kingdom, is responsible for the higher emissions intensity.

The answer was submitted on 12 Jan 2022 at 16:57.

 

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what his policy is on the required minimum level of oil stocks for national resilience. (96749)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Greg Hands:

Emergency oil stocks are a critical tool to defend against the harmful impacts of major disruptions to global oil supply. The UK holds emergency stocks of oil, primarily to release in a co-ordinated fashion with other members to the international market in the event of such major supply disruption. As a member of the International Energy Agency the UK is obligated to hold a minimum of 90 days of net imports. This obligation is passed on to companies that supply more than 50 thousand tonnes of key fuels to the UK market in a twelve-month period.

The answer was submitted on 12 Jan 2022 at 16:12.

 These two answers illustrate different features of the unsatisfactory energy policy pursued by the UK government. The government is still failing to licence the output of more gas from the UK North Sea, even though on their own figures for carbon dioxide output it would be hugely beneficial on this ground alone to substitute more UK natural gas for imported LNG. As officials and the Regulator seem to regard cutting CO 2 as the main requirement, often ignoring the need to maintain a secure supply and to keep prices down they should deduce from their own figures that they must substitute UK natural gas for imported LNG on green grounds alone. Price, security of supply, availability and the jobs, tax revenues  and incomes UK gas would generate also are potent arguments for more UK gas. Ministers have said they want this, so where are the new permits and where is the policy of encouragement to operators in the UK North Sea?

The government adopts the minimum standard for oil reserves and leaves that to the private sector, meaning the stocks are  not held in a UK strategic reserve here at home as some other countries do. The derisory level of gas stocks is a wanton disregard for national security.