About Sage Vals

Cynical, bored, and seen it all before... A right of centre liberal (small "L") with concerns about civil liberties, democratic deficits and the breakdown of civil society in the UK (and, when I can be bothered, abroad)

Trump signals big shift on energy, climate policies

Maybe my hope for Trump’s Presidency will come true.

Tallbloke's Talkshop

The Oval Office The Oval Office
The Presidential ceremonies are over, now the political action starts with implications for certain government agencies, as Phys.org reports.

US President Donald Trump signaled a sharp break on energy and the environment policy Friday, announcing plans to undo climate policies and promote domestic energy development as part of his “America First” agenda.

A statement on the White House website, posted shortly after Trump took the oath of office, said he was “committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan” advocated by his predecessor Barack Obama. Trump also will focus on removing hurdles to domestic energy development that he argues will make the US independent of foreign oil.

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What’s Trump Going to Do for Me?

Sage gives some brief thoughts on the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the USA.


I find it hard to get worked up over Donald Trump. I’m not a US citizen and don’t live there. I like to visit, but I haven’t been able to go for some years and I am not likely to go anytime during Trump’s first term – which given his age may be his only term. Just about anything that Trump might do domestically will have little or no effect on me.

Even if I had been eligible, I wouldn’t have voted for him. I would almost certainly have voted for Gary Johnson (Libertarian). I’d definitely have been in the ‘Anyone but Hillary’ camp. But what can President Trump do for me?

NATO and Wars

On foreign policy, then, yes, ‘The Donald’ could clearly have an effect on the whole world. I doubt that he will be anymore belligerent than Obama. It would be hard to get involved in more wars for longer than Obama did, Nobel peace prize or not.

Trump’s criticism of NATO maybe worrisome, especially for those NATO members who share borders with Russia. On the other hand, he does have a point: NATO countries really ought to contribute their agreed shares to the alliance budget both in cash and resources. A dependency culture in defence matters is no way forward. Perhaps too, an alliance built in the and for the Cold War of the 1950s is outdated in the 2010s, even if the primary threat is considered to be the same, being Russia/USSR.

Trade and Brexit

I’d like to think that Trump’s rhetoric on trade agreements with the UK does indicate a willingness to get a trade agreement with us as soon as #Brexit becomes a reality. While there is no practical reason why there should not be an early bilateral US/UK deal, it should be remembered that Trump also talks a lot of protectionism too. It’s possible therefore that any deal proffered by the US to the United Kingdom may not be as much of a free trade deal as I would like. Still, it must be better than being ‘at the back of the queue’, as Obama threatened last year.

Big Mouth Strikes Again

I’ve never met the guy, and never will[1]. Perhaps, therefore I shouldn’t judge him on appearances, but he seems, even on the basis of his own tweets, to be vain, arrogant and self-centred, even prone to tantrums. Mind you, he’s not the only politician to be like this. I’ve met a few UK politicos that are just like that. The difference being that they are usually better at hiding it that Trump: with Trump, WYSIWYG[2]. It’s this openness that makes Trump into an ‘anti-politician’, and perhaps makes him seem more honest, especially to his supporters.

I’m not so sure. Being completely open and saying exactly what you think at the time is not just bad diplomacy – it won’t win friends and influence people – it can also break some of the bounds of common decency. His remarks to and about Megan Kelly, for example, were quite unnecessary. Trump’s style can be refreshing, but I think he goes too far in this respect. As President, he needs to put his twitter account away, and think a little more before he opens his mouth.

“It’s Going to be Great” – Hopefully

I want Trump to be active in one area. I want him to order a complete and comprehensive review of US Government funding for ‘Climate Change’ research. Assuming that the political placements and eco-activists have first been removed from the relevant Executive bodies, I suggest the following:

First, he needs to order an independent review of NASA/NOOA climate data – from the initial data collection through the ‘adjustments’ to the final published figures. This should be conducted by academic statisticians who have little or no self-interest in the area of climate change. This will ascertain, once and for all, if there is a valid dataset or datasets on which an assessment of the degree of global climate change can be made, and establish the appropriate statistical error to be attributed to those datasets[3].

Second, he should ensure that Governmental funding for climate research is not predicated on a required outcome. That is to say that funding should be awarded indifferently to whether anthropogenic climate change is presupposed or not.

Thirdly, funding for ‘climate change’ be it research, development of green energies, green subsidies need to be significantly reduced, and some of the money saved spent in doing real work in cleaning up real damaging pollutants, such as clean air, removing plastics from the oceans to name but two. There are many more things that could also be done effectively for only a proportion of current climate change expenditure.

If Donald Trump can do this, and nothing else during his term, I will, as a non-American, be happy with that.

[1] Unless you can say that I ‘met’ President Clinton once when he waved at me from his presidential motorcade. I know he was waving at me, as I was the only person on that bit of the street at the time. If this counts as ‘met’, then I suppose it’s possible I’ll one day meet President Trump. Otherwise, no I won’t.

[2] What You See is What You Get

[3] Publicly available data sets rarely, if ever, show statistical error or error bars. They should.

Feyerabend and Science as ‘Myth’

Sage digs up an interesting view on science from Paul Feyerabend.

I recently came across an article from 1963 entitled ‘How to be a Good Empiricist – A Plea for Tolerance in Matters Epistemological’ by Paul Feyerabend, the well-known philosopher of science. In this paper, Feyerabend was writing a criticism of the thinking of the Logical Positivists, in particular Thomas Nagel.


Paul Feyerabend (Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend [attribution] via Wikimedia Commons)

However, in the lengthy extract below, he was arguing strongly for tolerance in scientific work – on the not unreasonable sounding basis that allowing a multiplicity of alternate ideas is the best way to test and evaluate current scientific theories – rather than to dogmatically accept the prevailing ones. This is, basically, a similar argument to that John Stuart Mill uses in ‘On Liberty’ in defence of freedom of speech and belief. It’s clear that Feyerabend was heavily influenced by Thomas Khun here, in describing what he believes scientists actually do, which Feyerabend compares to what they should do. It’s a pretty polemical section, and isn’t particularly ‘philosophical’, at least when read out of context as here, but what it says sounded so familiar to me, I thought I’d draw attention to it.

I have transcribed most of section 6 of the paper. In doing so, I’ve removed certain words and phrases that identify which particular aspect of physical science Feyerabend was using as his example. I’ve replaced these, where still required for sense, with non-discipline specific words, and these are shown in square brackets.

Does any branch of present-day science fit Feyerabend’s description?

The Self-Deception Involved in All Uniformity[i]

“It is worthwhile to examine this apparently empirical defence of a dogmatic point of view in somewhat greater detail. Assume that [scientists] have adopted, either consciously or unconsciously, the idea of [some hypothesis relevant to their area of study] and that they therefore elaborate the orthodox point of view and refuse to consider alternatives. In the beginning such a procedure may be quite harmless. After all, a man can do only so many things at a time and it is better when he pursues a theory in which he is interested rather than a theory he finds boring. Now assume that the pursuit of the theory he chose has led to successes and that the theory has explained in a satisfactory manner circumstances that had been unintelligible for quite some time. This gives empirical support to an idea which to start with seem to possess only this advantage: it was interesting and intriguing. The concentration upon the theory will now be reinforced, the attitude towards alternatives will become less tolerant. Now if it is true, as has been argued in the last section, that many facts become available only with the help of such alternatives, then the refusal to consider them will result in the elimination of potentially refuting facts. More especially, it will eliminate facts whose discovery would show the complete and irreparable inadequacy of the theory. Such facts having been made inaccessible, the theory will appear to be free from blemish… This will further reinforce the belief in the uniqueness of the current theory and the complete futility of any account of the proceeds in a different manner. Being now very firmly convinced that there is only one good [theory or hypothesis], the [scientists] will try to explain even adverse facts in its terms, and they will not mind when such explanations are sometimes a little clumsy. By now the success of the theory has become public news. Popular science books (and this includes a good many books on the philosophy of science) will spread the basic postulates of the theory; applications will be made in distant fields. More than ever the theory will appear to possess tremendous empirical support. The chances for the consideration of alternatives are now very slight indeed. The final success of the fundamental assumptions of the [theory and its main postulate] will seem to be assured.

At the same time, it is evident, on the basis of the considerations in the last section, that this appearance of success cannot in the least be regarded as a sign of truth and correspondence with nature. Quite the contrary, the suspicion arises that the absence of major difficulties is a result of the decrease of empirical content brought about by the elimination of alternatives, and of facts that can be discovered with the help of these alternatives only. In other words, the suspicion arises that this alleged success is due to the fact that in the process of application to new domains the theory has been turned into a metaphysical system. Such a system will of course be very ‘successful’ not, however, because it agrees so well with the facts, but because no facts have been specified that would constitute a test and because some facts have even been removed. It’s ‘success’ is entirely man-made. It was decided to stick to some ideas and the result was, quite naturally, the survival of these ideas. If now the initial decision is forgotten, or made only implicitly, then the survival will seem to constitute independent support, it will reinforce the decision, or turn it into an explicit one, and in this way close the circle. This is how empirical ‘evidence’ may be created by a procedure which quotes as its justification the very same evidence it has produced in the first place.

At this point an ‘empirical’ theory of the kind described… become almost indistinguishable from a myth. In order to realise this, we need only consider that on account of its all-pervasive character a myth such as the myth of witchcraft and that demonic possession will possess a high degree of confirmation on the basis of observation. Such a myth has been taught for a long time; its content is enforced by fear, prejudice, and ignorance as well as by a jealous and cruel priesthood. It penetrates the most common idiom, infects all modes of thinking and many decisions which mean a great deal in human life. It provides models for the explanation of any conceivable event, conceivable, that is, those who have accepted it. This being the case, its key terms will be fixed in an unambiguous manner and the idea (which may have led to such a procedure in the first place) that they are copies of unchanging entities and that change of meaning, if it should happen, is due to human mistake – this idea will now be very plausible. Such plausibility reinforces all the manoeuvres which are used for the preservation of the myth (elimination of opponents included). The conceptual apparatus of the theory and the emotions connected with its application having penetrated all means of communication, all actions, and indeed the whole life of the community, such methods as transcendental deduction, analysis of usage, phenomenological analysis which are means for further solidifying the myth will be extremely successful (which shows, by the way, that all these methods which have been the trademark of various philosophical schools old and new, have one thing in common: They tend to preserve the status quo of the intellectual life). Observational results too, will speak in favour of the theory as they are formulated in its terms. It will seem that at last the truth has been arrived at. At the same time, it is evident that all contact with the world has been lost and that the stability achieved, the semblance of absolute truth, is nothing but the result of an absolute conformism. How can we possibly test, or improve upon, the truth of a theory if it is built in such a manner that any conceivable event can be described, and explained, in terms of its principles? The only way of investigating such all-embracing principles is to compare them with a different set of equally all-embracing principles – but this way has been excluded from the very beginning. The myth is therefore of no objective relevance, it continues to exist solely as the result of the efforts of the community of believers and of their leaders, be these now priests or Nobel Prize winners. Its success is entirely man-made. This I think, is the most decisive argument against any method that encourages uniformity, be it now empirical or not. Any such method is in the last resort a method of deception. It enforces an unenlightened conformism, and speaks of truth; it leads to a deterioration of intellectual capabilities, of the power of the imagination, and speaks of deep insight; it destroys the most precious gift of the young, their tremendous power of imagination, and speaks of education.

To sum up: Unanimity of opinion may be fitting for a church, for the crime victims of some (ancient, or modern) myth, or for the weak and willing followers of some tyrant; variety of opinion is a feature necessary for objective knowledge; and a method that encourages a variety is also the only method that is compatible with a humanitarian outlook. To the extent to which the consistency condition (and, as will emerge, the condition of meaning invariance) delimits variety, it contains a theological element (which lies, of course, in the worship of ‘facts’ so characteristic for nearly all empiricism).”

It does sound a bit like…

The Anthropogenic Climate Change (or AGW) hypothesis ticks all the boxes, doesn’t it? Refusal to consider alternatives? Tick. Requirement for conformism amongst its practitioners? Tick. Untestable? Tick. Explaining even adverse results in terms that appear to support the theory? Tick. Application into other fields of study? Tick. ‘Mythical’ content that “is enforced by fear, prejudice, and ignorance as well as by a jealous and cruel priesthood”? Tick.

You could make your own list of comparisons!

But it actually is…Quantum Complementarity

Feyerabend was writing about quantum mechanics and specifically about quantum complementarity: that is the idea that objects can have properties that cannot all be measured at the same time. For example, it is possible to consider an electron as acting as a wave, or as a particle, but not both at once. I’ve no intention of discussing quantum mechanics in any further depth here. The point is, if we are to take Feyerabend’s criticism as applying to the present ‘received opinion’ on AGW, we must accept its application to quantum mechanics as Feyerabend actually meant, and like as not to other scientific disciplines too. We shouldn’t then cherry pick and say, for instance, that we ‘believe’ in quantum mechanics and therefore reject Feyerabend on that while happily accepting the critique when applied to AGW which we don’t ‘believe’ in. Or vice versa.

So what?

The AGW hypothesis, correct or not, is a whole bigger problem than quantum mechanics. While a better understanding of quantum mechanics will undoubtedly lead to great technological improvements over the coming years, quantum complementarity is hardly a major talking point on the Clapham Omnibus or down the Dog & Duck. It may take up a lot of scientific research money, but I’d be amazed if its anything like the cash available for AGW research.

It certainly doesn’t get the sort of money doled out to subsidise ‘green energy’ or fund R&D in that area. In terms of public policy, and people’s standards of living, the AGW hypothesis is much more serious in its implications than quantum mechanics. As such, AGW scientists should perhaps be held to a higher standard than most scientists.

I’ve no doubt, that a ‘plea for tolerance’ of AGW sceptics both in and out of the discipline, as a means to rapidly improve understanding of the climate in the context of increasing levels of CO2, is much more urgent and necessary than academic freedom to dissent is in quantum mechanics.


[i] Feyerabend, Paul K. Section 6 of “How to be a Good Empiricist – A Plea for Tolerance in Matters Epistemological (1963).” In Philosophy of Science: the central issues, by Martin & Cover, JA Curd, 922-949. London: WW Norton & Company Ltd. (Italics are Feyerabend’s emphases. While I have checked the transcription, minor errors may have occurred. My spell-checker has changed the spelling into UK English.


Situation Vacant: Prime Minister of the UK – Must Have Safe Pair of Hands



The resignation. Goodbye DC!                                                                                                      Photo PA

Cameron has resigned, Corbyn looks like he might have to and Tim Farron is a Liberal Democrat. While I remain convinced that Brexit was the correct decision, there must be a resolution to the UK crisis of leadership soon.

I take it as read that the UK will leave the EU at some point between now and the expected date of the next General Election in 2020. I don’t think that the EU will countenance any delay that could conceivably be any longer than that, and nor do I think that any Government could really refuse (although it might delay) to invoke Article 50 of the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty. It may seem surprising, but it’s actually not possible for the EU to expel a member country, but suspension could happen[1].


Granting a referendum is the only credit that can be given to Mr Cameron. Other than giving us the chance to vote, he has been, to put it mildly, disingenuous. Apparently, while he was ‘negotiating’ with Our European Masters for ‘reform’ of the EU, it was the case that the UK would do well outside the EU.

Mr Cameron did not get any ‘reform’ worth having. This might be because the EU officials and heads of government didn’t believe the UK would leave under Cameron so saw no need to give any serious ground. Just as likely, they had no intention of granting any reforms in any event.

So when those negotiations produced little of substance, suddenly Cameron now thought that Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s future was so reliant on continuing EU membership that voting leave would destroy our economy and lead to a third world war (or something). As others have observed, if Cameron really thought the latter, he should never have offered the chance to leave, or perhaps in doing so, he should have ordered the military to prepare for war!

Indeed, it seems very likely that it is Cameron’s fault that the Civil Service did not do as much planning for Brexit as might have been expected. It is widely reported that civil servants were ‘mentally working on a Brexit Plan’[2] but not doing any formal work. While it could have been damaging to the ‘Remain’ case if such plans had become public that is no reason not to do them. It is usual practice for the civil Service to prepare for the victory of either political party in a General Election (party manifestos are never detailed plans). Surely, Brexit planning should have taken place in the same way? That it did not, seems a major lapse on the part of the Prime Minister, as it won’t have been the fault of the civil service.

Having set out his stall as a very fervent ‘Remainer’, and having failed to carry the country with him, it is perhaps not unreasonable that Cameron should tender his resignation to the Queen, and no reason at all for her not to accept it.

However, there is no real excuse for his petulance in doing so[3]. It is symptomatic of an arrogant, self-centred man, who – having climbed up the greasy pole – showed little enthusiasm for governance. Leading the negotiations to leave the EU, and starting to speak to other trading partners around the world, would have been a way to restore his reputation and leave his mark on history as a responsible, mature and effective statesman.

Harold and Jim showed the Way

The 1975 referendum was played rather differently by the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and his Foreign Secretary, Jim Callaghan. In order to try to maintain unity in the Labour Party – then largely sceptical – Wilson held a referendum. This was after a ‘renegotiation’ in which, really, very little was achieved. As Vernon Bogdanor has said “the re-negotiation was largely cosmetic because the key decision that had been taken, as I have said, was that it would not mean amending the Treaty of Rome”[4]. Callaghan and Wilson were, it seems, personally anti Britain’s membership of the EEC. As Bernard Donoughue observed of Wilson “He is required to be in favour, but really he is a little Englander”[5]. Wilson made only a few speeches in support of the ‘Yes’ cause in that referendum campaign[6]. Foreign Secretary Callaghan refused to commit at all. As Dominic Sandbrook observes “Wilson’s ambiguity was symptomatic of the entire campaign”[7].

There were good reasons for this. It meant that Wilson and Callaghan, as leaders of the Labour Party, were as inoffensive to both sides of their party as possible. Secondly, they could both appear somewhat above the fray, stable and statesmanlike. Thirdly, and more importantly, it meant that they were in a position to implement ‘the will of the people’, whatever that turned out to be.

David Cameron, as is well known, did not try to remain aloof. He threw himself into the campaign, making several appearances in televised debates and doing the round of the political talk shows. Both he and George Osborne were very closely associated with the ‘Remain’ camp. This has made it impossible for Cameron[8] to continue and enter into the negotiations that arise out of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Cameron could have been statesmen-like. He could have expressed his opinion, but soberly in a balanced way, perhaps in the form of a referendum-eve speech or statement ostensibly encouraging people to vote. But he didn’t. Cameron could have learned from Harold Wilson. But he didn’t. Enough of him.

So What to Do?

The Conservative Party has small majority in the House of Commons. The Labour Party is in greater disarray than the Tories. It seems then that the Conservatives can, and short of some coalition, must continue to form a Government[9]. But who should lead the Tory Party and become Prime Minister?

As I write, a few names are coming forward, and factions forming around the front-runners. Justine Greening is advocating Johnson/May ‘dream-team’ ticket. It is all moving rather fast. The Conservative Parliamentary Party and MEPs will select two names to go forward to a ballot of the (majority Brexit) Tory membership.

I’m not going to recommend anyone just now, but I would like to make a suggestion: that the Conservatives select someone who will not be their leader at the next General Election, but a ‘safe pair of hands’ to get Brexit on track.

Statesman or Stateswoman

The country needs a new PM as quickly as possible. Someone who will work for the next two to three years in negotiating and implementing Brexit in accordance with the article 50 procedure. They will also have to work very hard on new trade agreements with countries outside the EU[10].

Ideally, it would be an experienced politician with an eye for detail – as the devil will be in the detail with the upcoming negotiations. International diplomacy must be a strong point. Any candidate for the role must appear solid and reliable, certainly not a radical or a maverick.

By being an interim leader, they would be able to get on with the job without being attacked by the opposition parties, under any pretence, just for future electoral purposes. Once the UK is out of the EU, they should be prepared to stand down for a new Tory Leader who would then fight the general election of 2020.

Ideally, whatever their views on ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ might have been, they should not have had a high profile on either side of the campaign. I don’t suggest neutrality as a requirement as that would rule out pretty much everyone.

At the moment, I confess I can’t think of anyone who fits this bill. Perhaps there is a good candidate or candidates in the Lords? Or are the Tories completely washed up now? If so, who will lead us?

I’d be delighted to receive any suggestions in the comments below.



[1] See https://www.ecb.europa.eu/pub/pdf/scplps/ecblwp10.pdf for a discussion of this.

[2] See http://www.civilserviceworld.com/articles/news/gus-odonnell-civil-servants-will-be-mentally-working-brexit-plan

[3] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11663380&ref=NZH_FBpage

[4] Vernon Bogdanor Lecture  “The Referendum on Europe, 1975” Gresham College 15 April 2014

[5] Bernard Donoughue “Downing Street Diary”

[6] Which suggests that Mr Corbyn was using Harold’s Instruction Book in 2016, but Corbyn was neither Prime Minister nor is he as wily as Harold Wilson.

[7] Dominic Sandbrook ‘Seasons in the Sun’, p323

[8] And probably Osborne too. At time of writing, he seems to be incommunicado.

[9] There could be a dissolution and a new general election, but I will assume here that the Fixed Term Parliament Act is not over-ridden.

[10] In the longer run, this is actually more important than the arrangements with the EU. Hopefully this point

will not be overlooked.

Milky Way now hidden from one-third of humanity — Tallbloke’s Talkshop

What do we see when we look at the night sky? For a lot of people the answer is ‘light pollution’. Another effect of the ever-increasing urbanisation of the world. The Milky Way, the brilliant river of stars that has dominated the night sky and human imaginations since time immemorial, is but a faded memory […]

via Milky Way now hidden from one-third of humanity — Tallbloke’s Talkshop

So what does the EU cost us?



The ‘Vote Leave’ battle bus for the 2016 EU referendum carriers a slogan reminding voters that “We send the EU £350 million a week”. ‘Remain’ campaigners say this isn’t so, citing much lower costs of EU membership. Who is right? And why the difference between the two camps’ figures?

Not surprisingly, there a long running argument between the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ camps in the UK referendum on EU membership about how much it really costs us to be in the EU. Is it £350,000,000 (gross) a week, or ‘only’ £120,000,000 (net)? I decided to find out a bit more, and look more closely at the elements of the money we get back from the EU.

What’s the difference? An accountant speaks…

I’ve obtained figures for the annual UK contributions to the EU for the last few years, as shown in table 1. I then simply divided the figures by 52 to get the average weekly equivalent, shown as table 2.

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 (estimated)
Annual £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions
Gross Contributions 14,129 15,197 15,357 15,746 18,135 18,777 17,779
Less: UK Rebate -5,392 -3,047 -3,143 -3,110 -3,674 -4,416 -4,861
Total Contributions 8,737 12,150 12,214 12,636 14,461 14,361 12,918
Less: Public Sector Receipts -4,401 -4,768 -4,132 -4,169 -3,996 -4,576 -4,445
Net Contributions 4,336 7,382 8,082 8,467 10,465 9,785 8,473

Table 1

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 (estimated)
Weekly £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions
Gross Contributions 272 292 295 303 349 361 342
Less: UK Rebate -104 -59 -60 -60 -71 -85 -93
Total Contributions 168 234 235 243 278 276 248
Less: Public Sector Receipts -85 -92 -79 -80 -77 -88 -85
Net Contributions 83 142 155 163 201 188 163

Table 2

It seems that the ‘Leave’ campaign figures are broadly in line with the average weekly gross contribution over the last three years. The net contributions, after the UK rebate and after the ‘public sector receipts’ is, quite a bit higher than InFact’s figure of £120m a week, being on average £184m a week over the last three years. To be fair, the figures I’ve used don’t include payments made by the EU directly to UK based organisations, rather than via the UK Government. That could explain the rest of the difference between the two campaign’s figures. Job done!

Well, no. That’s a boring and useless accountant’s answer. Reconciling the difference isn’t enough. We need to see which figure is genuinely meaningful in the context of deciding ‘is Britain better in or out of the EU?’ To do that, the ‘differences’ need to be looked at, carefully.

The Rebate: Mrs Thatcher, Tony Blair and the EU

The UK’s rebate represents a saving to British citizens of about £93m a week. It is the biggest single thing that reduces our net contributions to the Brussels Eurocrats. It was first negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 at the Fontainebleau European Council. Tony Blair, for reasons best known to himself, in 2005, allowed a change to the rebate to pay more towards the enlargement of the EU, in effect reducing the rebate.


David Cameron has had, on several occasions, to defend the rebate. The other EU countries do not like it, and would be rid of it as soon as they could. Obviously, they will not try before the UK has held its referendum, and probably not until the existing agreement finishes in 2020.

My point is, that while it might be difficult for the EU to scrap the rebate, it conceivably could, especially if after a ‘remain’ vote by the British people, a Europhile PM might be prepared to surrender the rebate in return for who knows what? Appointment as President of the European Council, perhaps? The UK rebate is certainly not set in stone.

Perhaps we could let this one go. Any half decent UK PM will surely find it politically impossible to surrender the rebate. If we assume that the rebate should be taken into account – after all, we deduct the rebate money before sending any cash to Brussels – then the UK sends about £260m a week to Europe, based on the last three years or so.

What about the ‘public sector receipts’?

Grants, Grants, State Aid and All That

Public sector receipts from the EU are just that. The EU gives money to the various nation states, and they then distribute it. However, the nations don’t spend it how they like. They must spend it in accordance with EU policies. What local delegation there is, and there is some, still requires compliance with some very strict (and often very bureaucratic) EU diktats. Especially in the case of the European Regional Development Fund, these regulations are there simply to get around the rules against ‘State Aid’.[1] The breakdown of Public Sector Receipts, on an annual basis, is set out in table 3.


2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 (estimated)
Annual £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions £Millions
EAGF 2,910 2,910 2,667 2,753 2,747 2,595 2,544
EAFRD 215 439 419 291 619 567 556
ERDF 639 758 605 438 279 1,053 1,032
ESF 609 644 389 585 246 263 217
Other Receipts 28 18 52 102 86 98 96
Total Receipts 4,401 4,768 4,132 4,169 3,996 4,576 4,445

Table 3

Taking the various categories in order, I set out what they are for, and how much influence, if any, local policy (by which I mean state, or in some cases regional) exerts on the expenditure of these receipts.


Over half the money paid back to Britain in the form of ‘Public Sector Receipts’, relates to the Common Agricultural Policy, shown in table 3 as ‘EAGF’ and ‘EAFRD’. While it must be said the CAP is considerably better now that it was in the days of high food prices and food surpluses that were either dumped overseas or destroyed, it is still controversial.

The EAGF is the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund and the EAFRD is the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. These are both elements of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The EAGF represents support paid directly to farmers. The EAFRD supports rural development. What is important to stress is that, although administered by member states, the policies determining how each fund is spent are firmly under the control of the EU. As the EU Commission itself says of the EAFRD: “Spending is linked to a performance framework with target indicators and monitoring, which effectively requires Member States and regions to deliver clearly defined results in order to keep the full budget allocation.”[2] The UK did indeed subsidise agriculture before accession to the EU. I would expect that this would continue, in some form, post any Brexit. However, it could perhaps be much better targeted to local conditions than the CAP currently allows. While many French farmers (really smallholders by UK standards) are not as heavily subsidised as they were, the rules that currently support them are the same rules that support the larger scale farming mostly prevalent in the UK. This is not a good fit. While its true that a lot of UK farmers do want to remain in the CAP, many do not. A regime suited to the UK (dare I suggest a more market orientated one) could be both cheaper to the taxpayer and better for many farmers than the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the EU. In any case, the UK Government (or perhaps the devolved assemblies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) could democratically decide, not the French farmers’ lobby deciding for all the EU.

Regional Development: Wasting Money, Bureaucracy and Euro-publicity


I’m biased. I spent three years of my life administering an ERDF grant, not mentioned here, and I’m bitter! These grants have horribly bureaucratic rules, and include major requirements for pro-EU publicity as a requirement.

In table 3 above, The ERDF is the European Regional Development Fund and the ESF is the European Social Fund.

This is a link to the Policy documentation for these funds, agreed between the UK and the EU Commission for the current funding round. Don’t try to read it all, its huge. Even the ‘Executive Summary’ is quite long. And this is just for England. The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland look after their own income from these funds. Administering these grants can cost as much as the actual delivered benefit. That is not including the checking of these grants carried out by internal audit of the DCLG and DWP for the ERDF and ESF respectively and sometimes by external auditors too.

There are detailed and complex requirements with respect to procurement, state aid law compliance, and even document retention, which has its own 8 page guidance paper. The following is an extract from the current guidance for ERDF:

“Grant Recipients must comply with and assist the Managing Authority to comply with document retention requirements under any applicable State Aid rules. Where Projects are operating under a State Aid scheme in accordance with the General Block Exemption Regulation (Commission Regulation (EU) No 651/2014) or De Minimis Regulation (Commission Regulation (EU) No 1407/2013), Grant Recipients must maintain detailed records with the information and supporting documentation necessary to establish that all the conditions laid down in the Regulation are fulfilled. Such records must be kept for 10 years after the last aid is granted under the scheme. For ERDF Projects, the last aid may not be granted under a scheme until 2023 meaning that documents will need to be retained until 2033.” GUIDANCE ON DOCUMENT RETENTION, INCLUDING ELECTRONIC DATA EXCHANGE, FOR 2014-20 ERDF PROJECTS

In other words, you need to store ERDF records for twenty years! HM Revenue and Customs only require company tax records to be kept for 6 years.

ERDRF grants from the EU usually don’t pay for the whole project being funded. They usually require match funding from the Government, local authority or other organisation – which might be a charity – or private sector.

“European funding is designed to fill the funding gap for a project when other sources of finance are not available. There must be a reasonable expectation that another source of finance has been identified to contribute to the eligible costs. This is referred to as match funding. The match funding cannot contain any other type of European funding or be used as match against another source of European Funding.” The National ERDF Handbook For the English Convergence and Competitiveness Programmes 2007–2013 If I give you £10 on condition that you use it to buy a book that costs £20, and I get to decide that it must be an economics book, would you be grateful? Especially if you’d given me £50 in the first place with no strings attached. Ok, it’s better than me not giving you anything back, but you might have been happy with a £10 book about philosophy.

The main points I want to make here is that the overall ERDF/ESF grants policy is made in Brussels, not here in the UK. They are horribly and expensively bureaucratic to run and administer. They require a high level of pro-EU publicity – which can be expensive. They don’t even pay for the whole cost of the project. From personal experience, I would suggest that a substantial amount (say 20%) of the cash the EU provides goes to pay the administrative and compliance costs required by the EU.

I suggest that should the UK leave the EU, many (but not all) of the projects funded by ERDF and ESF could be delivered using the existing match funding and perhaps some small scale support from HMG. The projects would be more targeted to local need, and much more efficiently and cheaply delivered than EU requirements allow.

The size of the grants received by the UK Government under these headings is misleading, as so much is wasted. The UK should be free to spend these monies as it wishes, not as Brussels dictates.

What is the Answer?

One could make a case for selecting any figure in the range from £350m a week down to £120m. In no case is our EU membership ’free’.

While the rebate lasts, it would not be ridiculous to reduce the gross contribution from about £350m to £260m and quote the latter figure. The rebate never gets to the EU and the EU has no control over how it is spent. However, the rebate is not fixed forever. It could disappear as soon as 2020, and it is not unreasonable to show to the voters how much the EU could cost.

The other monies that the EU lets the British Government ‘have back’, the Public Sector receipts, are not the Governments to spend as Parliament thinks fit. The agricultural subsidies are paid in accordance with the requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy, as set by the EU. The Regional Development and Social Funds are likewise under the control of EU policies, determined by EU priorities and these may not be those of the UK Government.

I’ve only mentioned in passing the payments made by the EU directly to organisations in the UK, which are not in any of the tables. These payments are in no way subject to the British government’s control. Do we say that the USA had reduced our contribution to NATO if it bought some defence equipment from the UK? No, of course not.

As with the entire EU debate, it all boils down to a matter of sovereignty. If the UK government cannot decide how to spend the cash that taxpayers give it, or indeed not spend it and reduce the tax take, then the UK Government does not control that money. It is not ‘our’ money.

I think that ‘Leave’ can fairly say “£350 million a week “, although “Currently £260 million a week, after Mrs Thatcher‘s rebate” might be better. However, I think that ‘Leave’s “£120 Million” is misleading. The ‘Public Sector receipts’ are not ours to spend as we like.

[1] The EU, as the EEC, was intended to be a free market (not including agriculture) within its own borders. Once it realised the power of giving away money, for whatever reason, to create clients for itself, it invented ways around its founding principles. These were all very bureaucratic and still are. Jobs for the boys! In the UK, the Civil Service have taken on the role of policing the system for the EU, it’s much more heavy handed and copper plated regulation in the UK than in any other EU country. No wonder the Government as a corporate body wants to stay ‘in’!

[2] ‘EU agriculture spending focused on results’ September 2015, Introduction page.

Lobby the Grandkids!

The ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign is asking youngsters to ‘Talk to Gran’, a campaign to lobby older people to get them to vote ‘remain’ in the upcoming EU referendum. But older voters may not be so easily persuaded. Will Granny and Grandad tell the youngsters a thing or two instead? Will grandparents who voted ‘Yes’ in 1975, be voting ‘Leave’ this time around? Are they ‘Once bitten, twice shy’?

I was 12 years old when the 1975 referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) or ‘Common Market’ was held. I didn’t get a vote. The youngest voters who did get a vote in that plebicite, held on 5th June 1975, will be 59 on 23rd June 2016 when the next referendum is held. These are the Grannies and Grandads of today’s younger voters. How have the opinions of these voters on the question of the ‘European Project’ changed in the 41 years since the British electorate had a clear say on the ‘European Project’?


As We Who are Left Grow Old…

There’s not actually a lot of evidence on the breakdown of voters’ opinions by age in 1975. While exit polling was done (by ITN), these just seem to have captured yes/no data, and nothing about the voters themselves.

The best contemporary information I have come across is an opinion poll by Gallup (fig 1).

Table 1 1975

Table 1 1975 referendum votes. Actual results and Opinion Polling data. Poll data is by Gallup. (1)

The data is, for some reason, incomplete. There is an age group (55-64) that is entirely missing. However for the present purposes this is of little matter. While, of course, some of the people in the missing group will still be alive in 2016, they will be at least 96 years old today, and not very many of them, so will have little influence in the 2016 vote. We can, I am afraid, assume that the people in the +65 group in 1975 are all no longer with us.

However, the voters in the younger groups, aged between 18 and 44 in 1975 will, by and large, be with us still, now aged between 59 and 85. These are the grannies (and grandads) that young ‘remainers’ are asked to persuade to vote to stay in the EU in 2016.

There has, of course, been significant demographic change in Britain since 1975. This reason, amongst others, means that we cannot really match the voters of today with those of yesteryear directly. Still, as a first approximation, it will suffice.

Idealism of Youth

Looking at the 1975 voters, Table 1 shows that the youngest group – a wide band of 16 years – were the least likely to vote ‘yes’ and amongst the least likely to vote ‘no’ and the least likely to vote at all. Given that youth were always supposed to be more ‘idealistic’, and even ‘adventurous’, why wasn’t there a greater support for ‘yes’ in this group? After all, Interrailing was popular amongst middle-class youth even back then, despite what some people appear to think.[a] The reason given at the time was simplistic, but may have been true: young people were more likely to support the Labour Party, and, within the Labour Party to favour the left. And the Labour Party was split between pro and anti-Marketeers, and the Labour Left was strongly anti-EEC.

Despite this, the youngest group is really only slightly less enthusiastic about the EEC in 1975 than the electorate in general. The difference is likely within the margin of error of the opinion poll. Perhaps, in the end, most followed the Labour leadership – Wilson, Callaghan, Jenkins – rather than the more charismatic left represented by Tony Benn, Eric Heffer and a young Neil Kinnock.

The number saying to the Gallup pollsters that they wouldn’t vote is a little higher than all the other age groups. However, this might just be more honesty on the part of the youngest voters. The poll suggests a non-voting rate in the younger age group pretty close to the eventual overall non-voting rate in the referendum. Certainly, it can’t be concluded that the 1975 under-34 voters were any more apathetic than the electorate as a whole.

Not Quite Middle Aged

According to the Gallup poll (Table 1 again), the ‘inbetweenie’ age group (35-44) were simultaneously the group most in favour of EEC membership, and the most opposed. Maybe childhood experiences of the war affected opinions both for and against closer involvement with the EEC. This group were perhaps more exposed to the trade union ‘out’ campaigning.

Again, the influence of senior politicians, such as Heath and Wilson, as opinion leaders and the pro-EEC stance of all the major newspapers (even including the Daily Mail and the Daily Express) was sufficient to bring the majority of voters in this age group to the ‘yes’ side. “It was plain that on a subject on which few people felt really strongly there was a general willingness to accept opinion leadership, particularly on the Labour side.” (1)

Once the non-voters are removed from this category, it can be seen that, within a modest margin of error, this age group was not far removed from that of the electorate as a whole – a clear majority in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU.

Where Are They Now?

Table 2 2016

Table 2 From YouGov survey. Fieldwork 29 Mar-4 Apr 2016 (2)

According to this poll by YouGov, shown in Table 1, young people today are much more likely to support remaining in the EU than their elders, either as they voted in 1975 and even more so as compared to the older age groups today. However, we can see that the views of those voting in the 1975 referendum do seem to have changed.

The younger half of the 1975 18-34 voters form just less than half of today’s 50-64 group of voters. The remainder are combined with all the voters aged 35 or over in 1975 in the modern group of 65+ voters. According to YouGov, these two modern age groups are in favour of leaving the EU, and by a clear margin.

Older and Wiser?

I know it’s a rather simplistic way of looking at the data, which has a lot of unmeasured complexity lying beneath it, but if it is assumed that the younger people who voted in 1975 are the same people who are likely to vote are amongst 2016’s older people, then we can draw some clear, if broad-brush, conclusions. For simplicity, I have averaged (mean) out the results for this analysis.

Table 3 CompareTable 3 Comparison of votes 1975-2016

It is perhaps no surprise that the expected turnout of these voters will be higher in 2016. It is an accepted truism that older people are more likely to vote than the younger. Partly, I suspect, it’s that older people have fewer other things to do. They are often retired. The reasons don’t matter for this purpose. The table (Table 3) shows a significant increase in the percentage actually expecting to vote. This might be an artefact of the polling system used, but it does ring true. However, it is unlikely that the expected turnout has a major effect on the balance between the Remain/Leave figures for 2016. I would be very surprised if those who did not vote in 1975 were all deep down anti-Europe voters who have continued to hold the same views for 40 years and are only now prepared to vote for them. Most likely, if the non-voters in 1975 had been forced to vote then, they would have been broadly as much in favour, or against, as the rest of their peer group.

What can be said, from this simplistic comparison, is that a significant percentage of those voting ‘Yes’ in 1975 will vote ‘Leave’ in 2016, and so will quite a few who didn’t trouble the returning officers in 1975. This isn’t just a statistical quirk. This looks like a significant change of mind.

So what has changed?

There are some basic factors that may explain the change. If political leadership means anything, then the fact that today the Conservative Party is very split on the issue of EU membership may be something to do with it, especially as it is generally accepted that old people are more likely to be Conservative than in their youth. The Labour Party, though broadly in favour of ‘Europe’ in 2016, still has a substantial number of anti-EU members, supporters and MPs.

I would also suggest that many of today’s older people who voted ‘Yes’ in 1975 are disappointed or disillusioned with the EU experiment. Either because the ‘democratic deficit’, identified by people such as Douglas Jay and Enoch Powell in the 1960s, has not been satisfactorily resolved. The belief that the EU, with its ‘ever closer union’ was not what was promised in 1975 seems strong in some quarters. Certainly, given the words used during the 1975 campaign and before, that we were joining a ‘Common Market’, and certainly not a ‘Union’[b], may now be seen as misleading. It doesn’t much matter if one argues that the evidence of the direction that the EU was to take was freely available in 1975, it is today’s perception that Britain was sold a pup by Wilson and Heath that rankles.

As it happens, in 1975 I was neither a voter (too young), nor a pro-marketeer. I therefore cannot say what changed my mind, as my mind has not changed on this subject. I will leave it up to those who were to explain for themselves… Perhaps to their grandchildren.

Talk to your Grandchildren

If young people can lobby their elders, why shouldn’t older people campaign by contacting the young? This isn’t a one-way street.

So, if you are a voter who has swung from being pro-‘Common Market’ to being a committed ‘Brexiteer’, go on, give the whipper-snappers a call. Tell your children and grandchildren why you’ve changed your mind in the last 40 odd years. It could be quite an eye-opener for them.

If you regret voting ‘Yes’ in 1975 because Heath and Wilson, or Thatcher or Jenkins told you to (or perhaps because Benn and Powell told you not to) tell the grandchildren. Don’t let today’s young voters make the same mistake and spend 40 years or more regretting their decision, made just because some politician suggested it.

The old are not ‘past it’. They can influence the young by sharing their experience: their life-lessons vote. They should not miss this chance to do so.

Update – 24 June 2016

Here’s the demographics for the EU referendum 2016, courtesy of Lord Ashcroft.LR-by-demographics-768x720

See also the discussion and further analysis by Lord Ashcroft. Generally, older people were for Leave, and the younger for Remain. Note that it wasn’t just the age groups who could have voted in 1975 that were majority ‘Leave’ in 2016, so were the slightly younger age group 45-54 who may have remembered (just!) the 1975 vote, but were too young to vote then. Basically my argument is unchanged by Lord Ashcroft’s data. Many of those who voted in both referendums changed from ‘In’ to ‘Leave’.



  1. Butler, David & Kitzinger, Uwe. The 1975 Referendum. London : The Macmillan Press, 1976. SBN 33319708 9.
  2. YouGov. YouGov Survey Results Fieldwork: 29th March – 4th April 2016. s.l. : YouGov, 2016.
  3. HM Government. Britain’s New Deal in Europe. London : HMSO, 1975.
  4. Wikipedia. Interrail. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: April 17, 2016.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interrail.



[a] Interrailing started in 1972. It is not, and never was, limited to EEC/EU member states, and is available to younger residents of many European countries, including Russia. (3)

[b] “There was a threat to employment in Britain from the movement in the Common Market towards an Economic & Monetary Union. This could have forced us to accept fixed exchange rates for the pound, restricting industrial growth and putting jobs at risk. This threat has been removed.” [My emphasis] (2)