Archive for April 2018

Turning over a new Leaf

So, one of the things that happened during my lengthy blogging hiatus is that I bought one of these. The car, not the child.

Nissan Leaf

It’s a Nissan Leaf or as it is regularly referred to, a milk float. But don’t worry, I haven’t started wearing sandals and socks or turned into a vegan. I bought it mainly because I wanted a new car and this was a cheap way of doing it (next to zero running costs) and because it satisfied my inner geek. The fact that sucking dead dinosaurs out of the ground and setting fire to them to get around town is a bit Victorian and not very sustainable was a minor consideration too.

My plan was to eventually run the car for free using free public charging points and almost a year after buying it I’m on target to get my first month of free driving. I’ve been hampered somewhat for the last year due to my long-standing knee problems significantly limiting the distance I could walk. But in January I got a brand new knee cobbled together from some off-cuts of titanium, cobalt-chromium and plastic that they had kicking about in the hospital and I’m now able to walk further than I could at the start of this year so I can now plug in to one of the chargers at my local Asda for a few hours and walk to the office. Thanks to my electricity provider (OVO) I can charge for free at 6,000 or so chargers including that one.

Now, the chances are you’ve scoffed either out loud or in your head at the idea of ditching the Postman Pat van and driving a glorified milk float. They only last for 30 miles, they take 18 hours to charge, they’re slow, the batteries set on fire and there’s hardly anywhere to charge them up when you need to. That’s what everyone knows about electric cars and it’s why Amazon hired lawyers to sit in the car with Jeremy Clarkson when he reviewed a Tesla after he was sued by Tesla following his last review of one of their cars (yes, I know they were taking the piss but he really did get sued by Tesla for misleading viewers).

My Leaf is the middle of the range model with the smallest battery and slowest charger. Most of my driving is local so I don’t need to be able to drive 130 miles or so without stopping and I don’t need to be able to charge in 4 hours at home, I can do it in half an hour at the motorway services a couple of miles away for a fiver if I’m that desperate.

With the exception of mid-Wales which is as much a charging desert as it is for petrol stations, there are rapid chargers pretty much everywhere you need to go. These will charge the car to about 80% in about half an hour and because Ecotricity’s owner, David Vince, is more interested in supporting animal rights terrorists PETA, trying to turn the country vegan and playing at owning a football club they haven’t bothered fixing the unreliable GPRS modules in their chargers so they often lose connectivity and default to free charging. But even when they’re not free it’ll only cost £5-6 for a charge which is still cheaper than petrol or diesel. Fully charging at home (or Asda) takes about 8 hours from empty although I rarely let it get that low.

I have driven 115 miles from Telford to London for free, charging at Nissan garages. Last week I drove from Telford to Birmingham and back for free, charging at the Nissan garage in Stourbridge on the way home so I would still have half a battery when I got home and wouldn’t need to use my home charger. The other weekend I drove from Telford to IKEA in Wednesbury, paid about £3.80 to charge and they refunded me £6 for charging so I actually made a profit! For a tight-arse like me there is immense enjoyment from getting someone else to pay for your “fuel”.

Real world range varies (like in a petrol of diesel car) depending on the temperature and the weather conditions. If it’s cold range declines, just like a petrol or diesel car. Same goes for if it’s raining or snowing or if you’re driving into the wind or if you’re driving up and down hills or if you drive it like it’s stolen. All the things that affect range in a petrol or diesel car affect range in an electric car but with a smaller maximum range in an electric car the effect is more obvious. During the winter, driving in the cold and bad weather my ranged probably dropped to about 65-70 miles but in the summer on a motorway journey in a heat wave I was getting closer to 100 miles. My morning commute is 6 miles and just 3 miles home.

I’m not sure where the idea that electric cars are slow came from but anyone who’s tried to sit on the back of a milk float without holding on will know that electric motors give you near instant acceleration and constant torque. My Leaf will beat most family cars and boy racers off the line at the traffic lights. It is slower than a petrol or diesel car when you get to about 50mph and only has a top speed of about 100mph but it is by no means slow. The batteries are all in the floor pan as well so it has a low centre of gravity and corners well. You can’t legally drive above 70mph in this country anyway and as I said, I mainly drive around town so low end acceleration is all I need to satisfy the speed demon in me.

Finally, the suggestion that a lithium ion battery is somehow more likely to set on fire than a tank of petrol is laughable. Of course there is potential for batteries to set on fire but which would you feel more comfortable holding over a flame? A car battery or a jerry can of petrol?

Electric cars aren’t for everyone (not at the current level of technology at least) but it works for me and more than 150k other people who own and drive electric vehicles in the UK. There are a lot of misconceptions about them and a lot of people have an irrational attachment to the 600 mile range of their dirty diesel despite never having driven for 10 hours straight in their life and will probably never do so. Driving an electric car has made driving fun again and to be honest the biggest inconvenience about driving an electric car is lazy and/or selfish people parking their petrol and diesel cars in electric vehicle charging bays!

JLR job losses are not caused by Brexit

Jaguar Land Rover has announced it is cutting 1,000 temporary jobs at JLR plants in Halewood and Solihull.

Jaguar iPace

Remainers are, of course, blaming the job losses on Brexit but the blame is being put (partially) on the uncertainty around Brexit not the fact we are leaving the EU. In fact, every time you see a headline in a newspaper or on the BBC website saying Company X is cutting jobs/losing money/issuing a warning because of Brexit you will find that they cite the uncertainty around Brexit. It is the weakness of Theresa May and her largely talentless cabinet full of Remainers in dealing with the EU that is causing businesses angst.

The UK is the world’s 5th largest economy and was the fastest growing developed economy in the world last year. We do just 4½% of our trade with the EU and that figure is declining. Over 80% of our trade is domestic and will be largely unaffected by the outcome of Brexit negotiations. The fact that we are leaving the EU is really of little concern to the majority of businesses in the UK, it is the risk that is associated with not knowing what our relationship with the EU is going to be when we finally do leave that is a problem.

Our trade deficit with the EU in 2016 was an eye-watering £60bn. That’s the difference between what we export to the EU and what they export to us. Of that £60bn extra that we spend buying stuff from the EU, about £26bn is what we buy from Germany. The EU’s largest economy and most powerful member state has the most to lose from a drop in UK/EU trade. We hold all the cards but Theresa may is a rubbish poker player so she has dithered and grovelled and bent over backwards to accommodate every unreasonable demand that the EU has made. It’s embarrassing.

The British government should dispense with the ridiculous notion of a “transition period” during which we will blindly follow every rule the EU makes without a veto and without any input. We have a leaving date of 29th March 2019 and that is the date at which EU rule in the UK should end. The default position should be to assume that we will leave the EU with no special deal and will trade with the EU under WTO terms as most of the world does. If the EU comes back to the negotiating table with a sensible offer that is mutually beneficial in time then that is a bonus but it should be assumed that pigs will not be seen flying over Brussels any time soon.

This will allow businesses to plan for Brexit with some certainty and work out what risk that poses to their business. Some of those companies will decide that it’s not going to work for them and will either shift operations abroad or restructure to allow them to continue to be suffocated by the Brussels red tape factory and that’s fine. Every major change in industry regulation or taxation sees companies reevaluate their business and adjust their plans to make the best of it and sometimes that means cutting their losses. Brexit will be no different in that respect.

After that lengthy digression, let’s quickly come back to JLR and what they have actually said. Well, strangely they haven’t blamed Brexit. JLR have blamed “continuing headwinds” in the car industry for the job losses and the BBC have turned to a Professor of Industry in Birmingham to turn those two words into something that can be blamed on those bastard Tories. But he’s a professor of industry so he probably knows what he’s talking about so let’s see what he says:

With the big turn against diesel engines, Jaguar Land Rover is particularly exposed as more than 90% of its UK sales are diesels.

So that’s him pointing the finger at the war on diesel engines for a starter. It was widely publicised during the EU referendum campaign that JLR were being forced to cease production of the iconic Land Rover Defender because of EU regulations and of course the current all out assault on diesel engines has come from the EU.

JLR has just revealed its full-electric i-Pace model and have indicated offering all-electric or hybrid variants of all their models by around 2021, but they have been far too slow compared with Tesla and BMW.

Now it’s JLR’s late entry into the electric car market letting their competitors in the emerging high end electric car market steal a march. It pains me to big up either BMW or hybrids but the BMW i8 a not just a thing of beauty, it is an engineering masterpiece and despite being unable to fulfil customer orders for years and some pretty shocking build quality stories, Teslas have the cult status of the equally shoddy iPhone. The iPace has some impressive statistics but JLR are on the back foot.

It’s hard to say how long this production uncertainty will continue around Brexit negotiations, because it’s still unclear what the trading relationship will be between the UK and EU with regards to tariffs.

And there is the line that provides the anti-Brexit headlines. It doesn’t matter that he says quite clearly it is uncertainty about Brexit or that he goes further and specifically mentions not knowing what tariffs will be in place. The word Brexit is in there, it is all Brexit’s fault.

When we finally leave the EU – and I mean actually leave, not doing the Brexit hokey cokey with one leg in and one leg out – then I may accept some events being attributed to Brexit but misquoting someone entirely unrelated to JLR giving an opinion based on two words at least a year before we actually leave just doesn’t cut if for me.

Idiot trade unionists strike over dangerous driver

Members of the Aslef trade union went on strike this week in solidarity with a London Underground driver who was transferred from the trains to station duties.

Tube Red Light

The driver in question failed to stop for three red signals, two of which were within a 4 week period. He had been driving a train for just 11 weeks before he was transferred off the trains.

London Underground could, quite justifiably, have sacked this dangerous incompetent but they kept him in their employ in a job in which he wasn’t risking the lives of thousands of people (some of those trains carry in excess of 1,200 passengers each at peak times). After driving through the first red light he was made to carry out 3 days of training with another driver in the cab. After the second he was made to undertake another 5 days of training and take another 5 days out of the cab. It was only on the third occasion that London Underground said that it would be unsafe for him to continue driving.

But all those chances weren’t good enough for the militant trade unionists in Aslef who think that it’s unreasonable to have threatened the driver (allegedly) with disciplinary procedures if he didn’t agree to the transfer. They would prefer that he was allowed to continue driving despite clearly being dangerous. If ever there was an argument for needing to curtail the activities of trades unions, surely this exemplifies it?

We can’t afford to go to war with Syria

What this country needs is a good war … said nobody but politicians and weapons manufacturers. But it looks like we’re going to war with Syria again and by proxy with Russia also.

Related image

The allegation levelled at President Assad is that he ordered the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population of Douma. Syria denies it, Russia is backing them (of course) and some of the evidence appears, on the face of it, to be dubious. But there is no doubt in my mind that the Syrians did use chemical weapons in Douma, a pocket of resistance that has evaded the Syrian army’s capture for a frustratingly long time for Assad. That town is now under military control after its population was shipped out following the chemical weapon attack.

There is also no doubt in my mind that Assad knew about it and that he would order the use of chemical weapons again. Which is a bit of a dilemma because using chemical weapons is very wrong and can’t go unpunished but we can’t afford to start World War 3. I say we can’t afford to start World War 3 but actually, we’ve been in World War 3 for over a decade now but it’s not conventional warfare so the general public haven’t noticed. I should probably say we can afford to start Cold War 2.

The problem with Syria is that it’s one of the only middle eastern countries that isn’t an Islamic shithole exporting terrorists to Europe and if Assad is overthrown it will become another Islamic shithole exporting terrorists to Europe. It also has the last sizeable Christian population in the region and whilst I hold all the Abrahamic religions in equal contempt, on purely humanitarian grounds it would be a disaster for them to have an Islamic administration in Syria because they would be persecuted.

I have an opinion on most things but I don’t know what to do about Syria. Something needs to be done but that something is not returning to the Cold War era where we all live in constant fear of a global nuclear apocalypse. If the west bombs Syria whilst the Russians (and Chinese) are protecting them then that’s a potential outcome. I remember the latter days of the Cold War well and that’s not something I want my kids to live through as well.

RIP Cllr Denis Allen

It is a sad fact that you don’t get a true picture of how valued a person is until they die. I was privileged to attend the funeral of Cllr Denis Allen today.

The crematorium was full, the service personal and people travelled from far and wide to pay their respects. At the wake a eulogy was read by one of the two MEPs who attended and there was a personal message from Nigel Farage. The Mayor of Wellington and several borough councillors were at the funeral, as were his former military colleagues.

Denis was argumentative, obstinate and always right even when he was wrong but he was also a loyal friend, hard working and honest. He will be sadly missed not just by me but by many people locally and nationally.

Cllr Denis Allen

The gender pay gap is a myth

Woman know your place

More than 10,000 large companies have been forced to publish figures on their gender pay gap and unsurprisingly more than three quarters of them have a higher median average salary for men than women.

But what does this mean? It’s easy to say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that companies are paying men more for the same job as women. That would be illegal. What it means is that 78% of the 10,000 or so large companies have more male employees doing jobs with higher salaries than women. And on the flip side, 14% of those companies employ more women in higher paid jobs than men with the other 8% having the same median average salary.

So are the figures useful? Put simply: no. More men are in higher paid jobs for a number of reasons, primary of which is decades of historical male dominance of the workplace before legislative and cultural changes brought about workplace equality. Add in maternity leave taking women out of their chosen careers for a year at a time and often seeing a return to a different role and choices made about work/life balance when starting a family and you start to understand why there is an apparent gender pay gap.

But more fundamentally there is the the flawed methodology of calculating the gender pay gap. Let’s say a logistics company employs 10 office staff, 20 warehouse staff and 50 drivers. Assume the majority of the office staff are women (because most of the people who applied for the jobs were women, not because of a conscious or unconscious bias) and the majority of the warehouse staff and drivers are men (again, not because of bias but because most applicants were men). The warehouse job is manual labour in a relatively hazardous environment so they are paid more than the office staff. The drivers work longer hours and have HGV licences so they are paid more than the warehouse staff. For simplicity, let’s say the office staff are on £10 an hour, the warehouse staff on £15 and the drivers on £20 an hour. That means the office staff who are mainly women are collectively being paid £100 an hour, the warehouse staff £300 an hour and the drivers £1,000 an hour. That’s a median of £18.57 per hour for the predominantly male warehouse staff and drivers against a median of £10 per hour for the predominantly female office staff. On paper that’s a massive gender pay gap but in reality the male and female employees are being paid the same wage as each other for doing the same job and short of illegally sacking half the staff in each department and only recruiting men for the office and women for the warehouse and as drivers, that gender pay gap will rightly and justifiably remain.

There will never be a gender balance in the workplace because men don’t take time off to have babies. I’m not being misogynistic, just stating a fact. You can’t hold a man back in their career for every woman that takes a year out to have a baby because that is unlawful discrimination, not to mention bad for the company and a frankly ridiculous prospect (so expect Harriet Harperson to announce it as a policy for the next Labour manifesto). It is often difficult – if not impossible – for a woman returning to work following maternity leave to return to the same role after a prolonged absence and more so if they were in a senior position within the company. This isn’t me saying women have it coming to them because they have babies, it’s just that a lot changes in 12 months and a man returning to work after 12 months on the sick (or even paternity leave) would face exactly the same problem. But over time the ratio of women to men in senior (and higher paid) jobs will continue to get closer to 1:1 through natural attrition until it reaches the point where, though still slightly balanced in favour of men for the preceding reasons, it is equal.

Not having a gender balance doesn’t mean there is discrimination or inequality of the sexes in a company. Forcing large employers to publish fundamentally flawed aggregated data without context and requiring them to present it as if it were evidence of inequality is wrong. It is damaging to the reputation of the companies involved and it will almost certainly result in legislation to legalise discrimination to allow companies to meet arbitrary quotas so politicians can be seen to be doing something to address a problem that doesn’t exist.

Update

So, it’s been almost two years since I posted here (apart from yesterday) and if I have any followers left I should probably explain.

About two and a half years ago my wife, Lesley, was diagnosed with cancer. It was stomach cancer and by the time it presented symptoms (trouble swallowing) it had spread to her throat and it was incurable. They told her she had a year so she proved them wrong and lasted a year and a half. She died on 2nd May last year after it spread to her brain and spine. It was mercifully quick.

Now I find myself a widowed parent of four with a full time job and politics has really taken something of a back seat this past year while I figure out what I’m going to do with my life. I’m still working on that.

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

We’re a nation of fools

Prescriptions charges go up from £8.60 to £8.80 on April 1st