Lighter Later at parliament

Cross-posted from
10:10's Lighter Later campaign held a day of high-profile activity on Monday, the summer solstice, including a specially organised conference for MPs, peers and policy makers in Portcullis House, Westminster.

The event, on the lightest evening of the year, saw energy academics, road safety campaigners, representatives from the tourism industry and experts on crime and other social research areas come together to press the case for a change to the UK's clocks to GMT+2 in summer and GMT+1 in winter.

The rationale is simple: aligning the clocks to better suit the population's waking activity produces a diverse range of benefits to society. The overarching theme of the evening was that, considering the current economic and environmental situation, these are benefits we cannot afford to ignore.
Keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Elizabeth Garnsey of Cambridge University's Centre For Technology Management, presenting for the first time her paper on the energy savings expected from Lighter Later's proposed clock changes, published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy (Hill et al., 2010).
Dr. Garnsey and her team have been studying electricity demand in the UK for the past five years with particular focus on the weeks before and after the clock changes. The results she presented are clear. Were the UK to switch to GMT+1 in the winter there would be a clear 6GW saving per day in the winter months alone. 
"Translating that into carbon [dioxide] tonnes, that would have been around half a million tonnes saved. Which of course is cumulative: since the 1971 trial 20m tonnes of carbon dioxide could have been saved," she said.
Dr. Garnsey's second point, that the most important effect of Lighter Later is on peak demand, was stronger still: "Lower peak demand results in lower price of electricity and lower pollution on GMT+1 in winter. We found that peaks in demand could have been reduced by up to 4%. The reason is that when overall electricity demand surges beyond a certain level, the sources used to cover the peaks are the most inefficient and polluting. We estimate between a 0.6% and 0.8% saving overall."
She added: "Think interest rates, because electricity prices have a similar knock-on effect over the economy as a whole. So there would definitely be winter savings on GMT+1."
Robert Gifford of the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety (PACTS) restated his organisation's support with some strong accident and financial numbers. During the trial of 1968 to 1971 there were 2,500 fewer road deaths. That translates into a conservative figure of 74 to 98 road deaths per annum today. Valuing the cost to the economy of each death at £1.5m, he argued that this would represent a saving to the tax payer of over £100m per annum, money that the NHS, for example, desperately needs.
The case was similarly made for tourism by Colin Dawson of BALPPA, who claimed the boost to the UK inbound industry would be as much as £3bn. Add in the fact that five of the nation's top ten participation sports are light dependent and the health and obesity benefits are clear.
There was also space on the panel for Dr. Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute. Dr. Hillman is currently researching the positive economic impact of Lighter Later on Scotland. At the conference he gave compelling reasons why the change would positively impact the personal security of two key societal groups: the elderly and the young. 
At present there is not a great deal of organised support against Lighter Later's proposal, however there are firmly held cultural beliefs in parts of the UK, and particularly in Scotland, that the change will be less positive for those north of the border. Most speakers touched on this and called these views simply misinformed. Dr. Garnsey had some upfront statistics:
"[During the '68-'71 trial] there was an actual 8.6% net reduction in Scottish road deaths but this was disbelieved because it was in the face of a strongly held conviction that the trial had been a mistake… In fact the Transport Reseach Lab showed at least a hundred fewer deaths."
Tom Mullarkey of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), who have been campaigning for 60 years on the issue, argued that in fact, Scotland would stand to benefit more than the rest of the UK from the move.
"The number of lives saved and injuries prevented would be 20% greater proportionally than in the rest of the UK. I don't think people in Scotland realise this. In terms of the GDP that depends on tourism, it's 4% in England and Wales, but in Scotland it's just over 10%. Once again disproportionately Scots appear to be the major beneficiaries of change."  
From the expert panel to the audience, there was a huge amount of consensus in the room. Vocal in their support were MPs and peers from all sides of the house. Zac Goldsmith MP, Peter Bottomley MP (the event's sponsoring MP) and Baroness Billingham all made vocal contributions from the floor. Whilst some on the panel have been campaigning on the issue for four decades, the diverse coalition that continues to grow under the Lighter Later banner has gained real momentum over the past number of months and is increasingly looking like an idea whose time has at last come.
For more on the Lighter Later campaign, the organisations behind it and the benefits it would bring to the UK, go to or join the conversation at
Hill, S.I., Desobry, F., Garnsey, E.W., Chong, Y.-F., 2010. "The impact on energy consumption of daylight saving clock changes". Energy Policy, 38(9): 4955-4965.


Digital Britain – Liberty in Britain

There’s two massively important movements taking place right now in Britain, here are some important connections between them. I’ve already written a little about the Digital Britain interim report but more importantly Charles Leadbeater has written a lot and put it all together in a handy portable pdf. Download it here.

The original report either isn’t aware of, or Lord Carter, it’s author, didn’t have the balls to ask some big questions. Leadbeater does. There’s far to many to list here, go read the document, however I will highlight one important conclusion.

It strikes me, as it has done Leadbeater, that the government on the one hand is proposing what they think is an ambitious drive to take the UK’s new media industry and infrastruture forward into the next quarter century. Yet they don’t want to involve us, the public. Moreover, they patently don’t trust us.

Reading Digital Britain one cannot help but feel the government finds the opportunities for people to self-organise through the web all too unsettling for its more technocratic, controlling tendencies. Digital Britain conveys none of the excitement that many young people feel about the world of semi-structured free association that mutual media is creating. This interim report, written behind closed doors in an era of open communications, is little more than piece of space filling to persuade us the government has a vision for the future when in reality it seems to have none, at least not yet. (A model of what can be done, even in government, is the parallel The Power of Information report, which is fully of exciting recommendations for how government can open up its information for citizens to use in novel ways. )

The government say that the UK must be allowed compete with the most advanced nations on Earth and to do this we must have an advanced IT infrastructure. But to use an advanced infrastructure, to create an advanced infrastructure, we must have entrepreneurs, thinkers, dreamers and digital literates. And they must be given tools and those tools imparted with trust.

— —

This basic mistrust of us the people is the reason the Convention on Modern Liberty not only happend this weekend, but was much needed. What could have been another umbrella demo by the SWP and their ilk has the potential to be a real political movement. Here’s why.

Henry Porter quotes David Cameron in today’s Observer. Scarily I agree with him:

“When academics look back on Labour’s time in power,” he said, “the erosion of our historic liberties will surely be one of its most defining, and damning, aspects. Things we have long thought were part of the fabric of liberty in this country – such as trial by jury, habeas corpus with strict limits on the time that people can be held without charge, the protection of parliament against intrusion by the executive – have been whittled away.”

And Nick Clegg from the same article is a little less dramatic but a little more on point:

“We are the most spied-upon country in the developed world, with a million innocent people’s DNA on a criminal database, more surveillance cameras than anywhere in the world, parents snooped on by council officials checking up on where children spend the night, and ceaseless attempts by government to limit our freedom of expression. That’s why the work of the Convention on Modern Liberty is so important in highlighting the liberties we have lost and inspiring a new alliance in Britain to take our freedoms back.”

Both of these quotes go back to the trust issue. Nobody highlighted this issue better than Philip Pullman in his address to the convention. If Clegg highlighted the problems above, Pullman took the higher road and asked us what sort of society we WANT to live in. For if we don’t know the answer to that what have we got to complain about and what have we to aim at.
Courage, virtue, intellectual curiousity, modesty and honour are five big optimistic virtues that are pulled out and analyzed. You won’t find me arguing.

Just imagine for a moment a nation with the courage, with the modesty, with a simple wakeful clarity of mind that are so
near at hand, so easy to find, if only we knew. Imagine a government that trusted the people who elected it. Imagine agencies of the state that regarded the people’s privacy as something it was the state’s duty to guard, rather like the value of their money and the historic individuality of their town centres and their freedom to speak and write as they like. Imagine a nation that cherished these things as a kind of natural blessing, something obviously good that needed no justification, something like sunshine or kindness or clean water. Or honour.

Now what have these things to do with freedom and the threats to freedom we have been hearing about today? What has the virtue of delight to do with virtue of liberty. Everything. A nation whose laws express fear and suspicion cannot sustain delight for very long; joy does not flourish in the garden of anxiety. The society these laws seem to be designed to bring about is one of institutionalised paranoia of furtive hatred and low-level panic, every scrap of delight and gladness we can find is a blow against that fear; every instance of civility and kindness we come across is a clean wind dispersing a foul vapour. Every example we cherish of imaginative play, of the energy of creation and of the enchantment of art and the wonder of science is a weapon in the arsenal and I say weapon, advisedly: we have a fight on
our hands. “I will not cease from mental fight”, said William Blake, and this is the fight he meant. The fight to defend, to restore, and to sustain the virtue which is not now but could so easily be, the natural behaviour of the state.

We are a better people than our government believes we are; we are a better nation.

That really is a big concept yet one that you won’t find on the manisfesto for government of any of the major parties. At least not yet you won’t. That could change.

Politically motivated change: No hope

[Sweeping away the old (by flashbak)]
Sweeping away the old (by flashbak)

Nine times out of ten if I was asked to pick between an parliamentary and presidential democracy as an ideal way to govern a country I’d chose the former. From what I can see it establishes a closer bond between the electorate/community and the parliamentarian who represents them. It allows for a more representative government and cabinet. And the party in power acts as a natural ego check for the prime minister. In theory.

But yesterday was a great example of how a presidential style system can and should work. Out with the old and in with the new. The breath and breadth of fresh air rolling down the Mall was absolutely tangible. In one fell swoop America gets the clean start it is crying out for. And so does the world.

Looking at the parliamentary systems in the UK and Ireland leaves me with little hope for a clean out or clean up. Labour lose the next election and we get the Tories. Hardly something that will bring the spring clean fresh smell to Westminster and the country. And there’s no hope now I think of reviving New Labour, with or without Brown.

And in Ireland the situation is even more depressing. The Fine Gael as the main opposition offer no alternative vision for the country. Fintan O’Toole in yesterday’s Irish Times suggests they simply merge and get on with it leaving Labour as a proper opposition.

On the anniversary of the first Dáil, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who share an analysis of the crisis, need to form a unified government, leaving Labour, which does not share that analysis, to lead a coherent opposition.

That’s as sensible a suggestion as any other I suppose but not like likely to happen leaving voters in the British Isles with no hope of Obama-like change being led by our politicians. We’ll just have to implement the change we need without them.

Political Abstraction in 2008: Sarah Palin

Sarahs Law. Image: Schlomo Rabinowitz
Sarah's Law. Image: Schlomo Rabinowitz

I’ve been thinking about levels of abstraction in contemporary life a lot lately. Financial abstraction in the markets, production and distribution abstraction in the world of consumer goods and energy supply.
Here’s Andew Sullivan talking essentially about political abstraction in the form of our favourite Alaskan gal:

I’m doing this because Sarah Palin’s contribution is to introduce a new level of detachment from reality to our politics. After Bush-Cheney, this would be hard for anyone. But youbetcha she can.

This has been the pattern from the start of her career: a denial of reality combined with an almost unhinged and unlimited ambition. Since the press is barred from questioning her thoroughly, since we will never know how she responds to the long list of untruths she has told – from the smallest biographical detail to the biggest policy – all I can do is remind my readers of the record one more time before November.