Denise Robertson: The overwhelming arrogance of Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw

Journal columnist Denise Robertson expresses her disdain for 'cash-for-access' politicians

Sir Malcolm Rifkind speaks to the media in Great Smith Street, London
Sir Malcolm Rifkind speaks to the media in Great Smith Street, London

The thing that struck me about the Rifkind-Straw affair was their overwhelming arrogance.

‘Of course, I bring my name’ Straw said, as though he were proffering a cure for cancer. Rifkind portrayed himself as a man of leisure who might just exert himself if they paid him £5,000 a day. They are already wealthy by most peoples’ standards. They’ll have fat pensions. Why be so hungry for more?

That same day I saw a Sunderland man on the BBC’s Inside Out. He had applied unsuccessfully for 90 jobs but he kept smiling. When his benefit ran out he lived on home-cooked chips. He wouldn’t turn to a food bank because he ‘could manage’.

He made me proud of the city we both sprang from. I thought him worth two of Messrs Rifkind and Straw, put together.

:: Dogger Bank Creyke Beck will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, covering 430 square miles, and will cost a reported £6-8m to build.

According to some experts, the plan for 400 turbines to be erected off the Yorkshire coast will be a huge burden on the taxpayer, sucking up a fortune in subsidies.

On the face of it, it looks good, capable of generating enough electricity to power two million homes; creating hundreds of jobs and making a massive contribution to the carbon emissions reduction target imposed on us by the EU.

It’s a huge project in every sense of the word. Each of its 400 turbines, when completed will be 600ft tall and the area they cover, 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast, will reportedly be bigger than Dartmoor.

Its supporters expect it to generate well over £1 bn a year in profit but it has its critics.

According to John Constable, director of wind industry analysts the Renewable Energy Foundation, “It represents an experiment on such a scale that it could seriously disrupt the UK economy.”

When the wind declines to blow all those turbines will stand idle. Be honest, who would want to invest in a product that might or might not be there, depending on the weather. That is why wind energy has to be so heavily subsidised.

Reportedly, renewable companies are paid significantly above the going rate for the energy they produce. The reported special offshore wind rate of £155 is more than three times what generators of fossil fuel electricity receive.. So the market is artificially controlled, the customer has to buy it whether or not they want to and the subsidy is slapped on their bills.

According to the Spanish conservation charity SEO/Birdlife, a typical wind turbine kills between 110 and 330 birds per year. Multiply that by 400.

Further wind projects are being proposed off Dorset’s beautiful Jurassic Coast and the nature reserve off Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. If you’re a bird lover the idea must make you wince.

Research reportedly suggests that the effects of weather and salt corrosion reduce the output of turbines from 45 per cent of capacity to barely 12 per cent after 15 years. What happens then? Rebuild them or sit in the dark? Their bases are driven into the sea bed. If the superstructure wears out and the scheme is scrapped, what will happen to those bases?

Will they be an unseen hazard to shipping? Who would pay for uprooting them?

I’m not implacably opposed to wind farms if they really are viable but there are many unanswered questions. Subsidies are huge and ultimately paid by us.

If we pay up will we have partially halted climate change? Will we have had value for money? Or will we simply have made some investors very, very rich.

Last night, on BBC’s Inside Out, I took a look at some interesting statistics on life expectancy in the North East.

What effect is austerity having on the lives of the nation’s elderly? And what can be done about it?

If you missed it you can catch it on iPlayer.

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