This article originally appeared in The Guardian
Do we have any influence over those who govern us? After two million marched against the war, the issue that has brought this to a head is of course Iraq. But it is far more pervasive than that. When Britain’s sovereignty vis-à-vis Europe may be affected by the new EU constitution, should we be denied a vote on whether we assent to a potentially fundamental change? When there is overwhelming hostility among the public (and probably, on a free vote, in Parliament too) to top-up fees and foundation hospitals, how can the Government be made to re-think major policies so widely opposed?
How can the Government be prevented from going ahead with commercialisation of GM crops even though the Government’s own consultation has shown public opinion decisively opposed and scientific tests have shown it would be environmentally harmful? If the Hutton Inquiry report leaves several unanswered questions about how Britain was led into the Iraq War in defiance of the available evidence, should the Prime Minister be entitled to block a wider judicial inquiry when it is his own actions that are under scrutiny? And there are many more such questions.
All these have become issues of contention because of one central fact. The centralisation of power, which has been gradually gathering pace for decades, is now more concentrated at the top than at any time for a century or more. Richard Crossman famously said 40 years ago that “the power of the prime minister has been increasing, is still increasing, and should be cut back”. It wasn’t, and the process has now steadily been taken further, to the point where the big issue in Britain now is a widely held and deeply resented sense of powerlessness.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian
Lord Hutton will report shortly on the ‘circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly’, but is likely to regard as beyond his remit such key questions as how the September 2002 dossier appears to include several dishonest claims and whether the country was falsely led into war. It is crucial, if Lord Hutton feels unable to tackle these central issues, that a separate judicial inquiry is now set up to establish beyond doubt what the truth really is and what the implications are for Britain’s governance.
On 10 February last year, five weeks before the war started, the Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee gave its assessment that there was no evidence that Iraq had provided chemical or biological weapons to al-Qaeda, though in the event of an imminent regime collapse ‘there would be a risk of transfer of such material’; in other words an attack on Iraq would increase the risk of terrorism. Tony Blair did not disclose this briefing before the war, and it only became known when the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee released it on 11 September.
It is quite clear that throughout 2002 both Washington and London were actively seeking, contrary to intelligence assessments, evidence to justify the case for war. Four key items were deployed for this purpose. One was almost immediately exposed as plagiarised from a student thesis more than 10 years old. The other three were documents purporting to show that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium for nuclear bombs from Niger, the claim that Iraq was able to deploy WMDs within 45 minutes, and ‘evidence’ from a top-level Iraqi defector that Iraq had produced several tons of the deadly nerve agent VX.
Each of these raise worrying questions of credibility which require systematic investigation by an independent inquiry. However, enough of the facts are now known to draw some important conclusions.
This article originally appeared in The Financial Times
Four months ago Britain’s oil imports exceeded exports, heralding the decline in North Sea oil already well under way. North Sea oil output peaked at about 2.9 million bpd (barrels per day) in 1999, and has been predicted to nearly halve to only 1.6 million bpd by 2007. Even the latest discovery of the new Buzzard field, the biggest British oil find in a decade with a total of 0.4 million barrels recoverable, won’t alter much the overall picture.
This prospect might not be so bleak were it not that similar trends are now becoming manifest across the world. The three main oil-producing regions are OPEC, the former Soviet Union, and the rest of the world. Modelling OPEC’s future production is open to some question, but it is expected to peak in 2020 at about 40-45 million bpd. The under-production in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s following the Soviet collapse is now leading to a new surge in East Siberia and Sakhalin and new discoveries in the Caspian, which will yield a peak of about 10 million bpd in 2010. For the remaining 40 or more major oil-producing countries around the world as a whole, the broad overall pattern is similar, with some local variations.
Combining the three crude oil models for OPEC, the former Soviet Union and the rest of the world puts ultimate world oil recovery at some 2,200 billion barrels, with a peak at about 80 million bpd between 2010 and 2020. To this may be added non-conventional oil and other liquids brought into commercial production by the rising oil price as oil scarcity tightens. This includes oil from coal and shale, bitumen and derived synthetics, heavy and extra heavy oil, deep-water oil, polar oil and liquids from gas fields and gas plants. These sources, though at very much greater cost, could provide an ultimate recovery of about 800 billion barrels, and might peak in 2050 at around 20 million bpd. The combined model for all sources suggests a peak of about 90 million bpd around 2015.