Funding Conservation

This post is not just another plug for the wonder that is New Zealand. It is a suggestion about how we, in the UK, might make a greater contribution to funding conservation worldwide. What if the 0.7% of GDP that is currently a protected budget within UK government spending, was to spent entirely on conservation?

I have just watched the third of the recent BBC series on the natural world of New Zealand.  The series may look, to anyone who has not been there, as though it should have been part funded by the New Zealand Tourist board. However, trust me, it really is that wonderful.

The genetic diversity of this planet is a precious treasure trove. The human race is morally its guardian, to preserve and enhance; not its owner, to plunder and degrade. Also, on a more prosaic, self-serving level, the genetic diversity of the planet is a gold mine of potential benefits for the human race. Think of the foods and medicines that have been developed from nature, and we have barely begun to explore the possible benefits. If you throw a 1M quadrant on the tropical forest floor, only some 1% of the species you find are already known to man. Of course the other 99% are not large, fluffy, endearing mammals. They tend to be plants, insects, worms and fungi – and we know absolutely nothing about them.

To preserve genetic diversity, and discover what those genes can actually do, requires the conservation of species, which requires the conservation of habitat. Large areas of habitat!

Developed nations have substantially degraded the natural habitat that they govern, so the most valuable habitats tend to be governed by poorer nations. And there are the oceans and poles not governed by any specific nation. Two particular problems arise with expecting poorer nations to bear the cost of the conservation effort that is required.

1 – There is no moral or intellectually coherent case to be made for denying less developed countries the habitat degrading path to development that was followed by developed nations.

2 – The wealth required for the scale of conservation effort required is [obviously] in wealthier countries rather than poorer countries.

The protection of the overseas development budget by the UK government is widely resented by UK tax payers. My suggestion here is that not only would spending 0.7% of UK GDP on conservation be a wonderful thing for the planet and future generations, but also that it could be politically popular. I for one would welcome this expenditure on conservation of habitat, species, and genetic diversity.

The NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) performs heroically, as the BBC program highlighted in the case of the Kakapo, but it is facing budget cuts as New Zealand struggles to find the funds that it considers necessary. New Zealand is indeed poorer than the UK, and “Yes” I would have some of this money going to projects in New Zealand. But also to projects in India, Africa, South America and the Pacific.

If we are going to ring fence the UK overseas development budget, surely this is how it should be spent.

 

Educating Immigrants

I have just spent ten days in Germany and was very struck by the approach to immigrants. I found no interest in assessing whether Angela Merkel was right to take in so many immigrants in the last year. There is more than just interest in the integration of immigrants, there is genuine enthusiasm.

An infant teacher that I spoke to has finished the four year cycle with her class and has just received the list of names for the class she will have for the next four years. Of the 26 names, just 9 are recognisably German. Clearly names are not an infallible guide to cultural identity. To give just two examples; Mesut Özil is thoroughly German and Shoala Ameobia is Geordie through and through. However, whether the 17 non-German names, actually predominantly Muslim names, are German, Muslim or Eskimo is not the point. The point is that this teacher believes she is getting a class loaded with Muslim immigrants. And she is delighted!

She will not just be cranking the handle one more time – doing what she has done many times before. Here is a chance for her to use her skills to really benefit children who are at a particularly difficult time in their lives.

Also, she points out that it is wrong to place too much emphasis on the fact that immigrants often do not have a fluent grasp of their new host language. She is expecting that many of her new class will be struggling with their German. However, they will also be struggling with a fluent grasp of their native language. They have not been in school, possibly ever, and they have been outside their native country, possibly for years. She makes the point that not having a fluent grasp of any language undermines a child’s confidence. Educating these children presents many complex challenges – what a great opportunity!

Implementing Brexit

Clearly there is a “do nothing” option when it comes to a trade deal with the EU. WTO rules would apply, which has hardly restrained China, USA, India, Brazil and many, many others from trading with the EU from outside the single market.

NOTE:- The Single Market is NOT free trade, it is the very opposite.

However, there is almost certainly a win-win for the EU and the UK if a deal can be struck. And it is good to see that New Zealand has offered to help. They have experienced trade negotiators that the UK no longer has and they have offered their services.

There are those in the EU who have stated publically that “there must be consequences” to the UK for Brexit. They wish us ill, which is in stark contrast to so many around the world outside the EU. In 1982, New Zealand lent us a frigate during the Falklands war. We had no such support from Europe: France supplied Exocets to Argentina, and Belgium refused to sell us ammunition.

With Korea, New Zealand, Australia and the USA (excluding Barak Obama) all expressing interest in arranging trade deals with the UK, than goodness we are unshackling ourselves from the EU.

EU Referendum Result

So, there we have it. Against all expectations the UK has voted to leave the EU, and you will all have your views on that.

I am in the UK just now, and indeed voted “Leave”, but I have had feedback from European emigrants to New Zealand, especially German emigrants. They are not just surprised, they are upset.

There are among many who feel that for all its faults, the EU is an excellent forum for international cooperation. The challenge for the UK political leadership, extending beyond any next general election, is to show that cooperation can be enhanced by Brexit. I, for one, did not vote to leave Great Britain to live in Little Britain.

Misunderstanding Brexit

The poll last weekend, showing Leave ahead convincingly, has roused some interest over here. However, it is all rather bemused. All along the lines of “what is it that the British don’t get, about all the riches that flow from EU membership?”

The best instance I can give of this kind of thinking actually comes from an article in Der Spiegel about EU payments to projects in Cornwall. The article states [correctly] that “money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has been flowing into Cornwall for more than 20 years”. However, it goes on, with a sense of complete bewilderment; “But it hasn’t done the EU much good. According to opinion polls, even in the Cornwall subsidy paradise a majority will vote on June 23 in favor of leaving the EU”.

The author is not completely daft. He does acknowledge that; “The sum was anyway transferred to Brussels in the form of membership contributions. “It’s our money,” is the conclusion.” He even notes that; “When auditors recently examined the grant money flowing into the region, they arrived at a disappointing conclusion: The program has fallen short of all of its benchmarks.” Then he completely ignores these striking nuggets.

He even concludes that “In Newlyn many fishermen are likely to follow their hearts on June 23. But some might also follow their noses.” By “noses” he means money, implying that EU payments may sway their vote. Fishermen! Has he no understanding at all. Fishermen of all people. Fishermen, whose livelihood has been devastated by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

I probably do not need to tell you that the UK pays more into the EU than it receives back. So, post Brexit, the UK government could continue ALL EU payments, and still have £350million a week (or whatever is your chosen number) left over.

The debate in the UK finally seems to understand that there is nothing to fear about “Project Fear”. That emperor has no clothes. Outside the UK, the debate about Brexit still has a very retro, 1970’s feel to it.

 

 

Public Holidays

Next Monday, here in New Zealand, we celebrate the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II with a national holiday. This happens on the first Monday of June every year.

And, New Zealand remembers the sacrifice of their armed forces with a national holiday on ANZAC Day (25th April, or following Monday if it falls on a weekend). This is principally centred on the fighting alongside the UK in both world wars.

And, New Zealand recently voted to keep the current national flag, with the Union Jack in the top left quadrant. http://www.electionresults.govt.nz/2016_flag_referendum2/

There really is a very strong affinity for the UK here.

Brexit New Zealand

We finally have some coverage here in New Zealand of the forthcoming EU referendum in the UK, courtesy of a Brexit special supplement in the Sunday Star Times newspaper. It contains many predictable comments from reliable sources. The CEO of the NZ German Business Association saying New Zealand businesses might have to make more use of other countries (ie Germany) as their entry route into the EU. The British High Commissioner says “the choice is between economic security and global influence on one hand, and ‘a leap in the dark’ on the other”.

However, there were some other, tantalising glimpses. The only fact in the entire piece was that 90% of New Zealand exports went to the UK in 1930. Today that figure is 2½%, and presumably a [sizeable?] chunk of that is actually destined for re-export to the EU. NZ First leader, Winston Peters, sees Brexit as a chance to “heal a rift going back to 1973”, especially as far as visas go since the UK joined the “Single Market”.

Shane Firth, Kiwi expat in the UK and part of the Vote Leave campaign says “We have a shared culture and language but we are in the foreigners’ queue”. New Zealand certainly feels like one country where a vote to leave the EU would allow a much closer relationship with the UK at every level. 

Coming to New Zealand, I have been struck by how young and energetic this country is. By “young”, I literally mean the age of the population, compared to the UK. “Remain” offers a chance to continue down the integrationist path with “old” Europe. “Leave” offers us a chance to forge a relationship with “old” Europe based on a free trade version of what we have now, plus the chance to engage with vibrant economies around the world. 

Jobs

In the UK we are familiar with the phenomenon whereby the economy creates more jobs, and this number is matched almost exactly by the increase in the number of working immigrants. Unemployment remains stubbornly high. Not unreasonably, those campaigning for “Leave” in the UK’s EU membership referendum on June 23rd suggest that this is substantially down to our inability to restrict the flow of low skilled labour into the UK whilst we are members of the EU.

Here is evidence that it may take some difficult decisions to achieve that – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11635350

This article reports that “New Zealand created 120,000 new jobs in the past two years, but the number of unemployed and underemployed rose. Essentially New Zealand imported a net 123,900 people to do those jobs.”

New Zealand has complete control over its immigration policy and has a points based policy that is all but identical to the Australian system that UKIP propose to introduce in the UK, once we have left the EU.

It seems that here, as in the UK, business hates the idea of restrictions on the supply of labour that might push up wages, especially for the low skilled. And they are very effective in lobbying. So, driving down UK low skilled unemployment, after Brexit, is going to take a points based immigration policy implementation that draws howls of protest from “industry”. The fight really only starts with Brexit!

May 5th Elections

Tomorrow, 5th May 2016, is the day that you [finally] have the chance to keep your resolution to never, ever vote Conservative again.

In St Paul’s ward Clacton you will have the chance to elect my successor. I hope you will vote for Jack Parsons [UKIP]. In the Essex Police & Crime Commissioner election I hope you will vote for Bob Spink [UKIP]. And, in the Essex County Council Elections I hope you will vote for whoever is the UKIP candidate in your area.

Electorates worldwide are showing that they are tired of the old politics, where you got the same thing whichever of the old parties you voted for.

David Cameron and George Osborn promised not to raise taxes and, once in power, put VAT up from 17½% to 20%, supported by the Lib Dems and Labour.

David Cameron and George Osborne have been steadfast in their support for uncontrolled immigration of low skilled labour. The [slavishly] Europhile Lib Dems are in favour of everything Euro and even Labour [mysteriously] support this policy. I say mysteriously as Jeremy Corbyn has been a Eurosceptic all his political life; but, with the big prize in sight, has let down the traditional Labour voters by supporting a policy that seriously damages their earning potential.

Your vote matters tomorrow, and will matter more than ever on June 23rd. Please . . . make your views known. You are part of a tidal wave around the world, that is washing away the old politicians.

 

Trump

Donald Trump attracts about as much interest over here as he does in the UK. Which is to say – quite a lot. The reaction that I hear in New Zealand, in the media and those I speak to, seems more interested in why he is so popular that in what he might do with that popularity. In the UK the coverage does seem to focus on the surfer, and ignores the wave.

There is the same instinctive distrust of politicians in New Zealand as there is in the UK, and indeed in the rest of the world. This manifests itself in Europe and the USA as votes for parties that might once have been described as protest votes. Except that UKIP gaining 40% of the vote in the last European elections in the UK and Donald Trump gaining 60% of the vote in recent Republican primaries, is too much to be describes as a protest.

Further the traditional parties to benefit from protest votes, Lib Dems in the UK and Green parties more widely, are not benefitting as they might once have done. Something else is happening. Indeed Syriza in Greece and nationalist movements across Europe are picking up votes from what might be described in “old political language” as “the working class”. They pick up votes from the left as well as the right. The unifying themes seem to be; concerns over uncontrolled immigration, and the rise of multi-national corporate power.

So when Donald Trump in the USA or Norbert Hofer in Austria lead the polls we are seeing something more than electorates poking the established parties in the eye. They are expressing a profound dissatisfaction with the system that has been characterised by Douglas Carswell (UKIP) in the UK as “crony corporatism”, covering the commercial and political fields. They are making a positive choice for a different way of doing things.

In the UK this is seen most clearly in the rejection of unlimited immigration of low skilled labour. Our political and commercial leaders continue to see this as an aberration. From this distance it looks more like the new normal.