Time to give these Numbies a stake in their own shale-rich land

The benefits were obvious. If we could liberate the shale gas beneath us, then we would lessen our dependence on supplies from Russia and the Middle East. We would be able to cut fuel prices for hard-pressed consumers. We would be able to cut energy costs for British industry, so accelerating that exciting process of “reshoring” manufacturing, and rediscovering our identity as one of the world’s great centres of high-value production. We would be able to use the gas – much cleaner than coal – while we sorted out our chaotic energy supply. We would be able to invest in some serious nuclear power plants, and some proper renewable energy, other than those ludicrous wind farms. All we needed to do, as everyone kept saying in those dim, distant days, was to “get fracking”.

What is the problem? Well, of course, it is the bureaucracy, the protests, the general bad vibe that is associated with fracking, and the hostility of anyone who thinks they might be living in the vicinity of a well.

But there is one decisive difference between Britain and America – and it has nothing to do with our respective cultures of enterprise. Nor is it really about bureaucracy. As anyone who has lived in America can testify, it is just about the most heavily regulated country on earth. No: the big difference is that in America the landholder has the rights to all the minerals beneath – all the way to the centre of the earth. Here, the rights to gas and oil are vested with the Crown.

To understand this anomaly, you need to go back 100 years to the time when UK legislators were first considering what was then viewed as the remote possibility that the country might be endowed with significant reserves of oil and gas. They had seen what was happening in America, and – as today – there was a vague attempt to get at Britain’s resources. The trouble was that nobody had found much, and when they had found something there was an instant wrangle between adjacent property-owners. One owner would claim that the other had siphoned off the oil beneath his property, and that he had not been properly compensated. The result was that no one could be bothered even to try to get at British oil – if there was any.

So, in 1919, the then minister for munitions, Frederick Kellaway, decided that “it would be an almost insoluble problem to devise any equitable scheme for the allocation of royalties as between neighbouring landowners, owing to the relatively small size of estates in this country, and the impossibility of determining from what point in a petroliferous area the supply tapped by any boring is actually drawn”. So he came up with what he thought was the equitable solution of assigning all such rights to the Crown.

That was the origin of the 1934 Petroleum (Production) Act, which forms the basis of the present law. It was intended, paradoxically, to encourage extraction at a time when it seemed a fairly hopeless venture. Today, when we have actually found the stuff – and when it is much easier to tell precisely where and beneath whose land it is located – the measure is causing paralysis. The result is that no landowner, large or small, has any automatic commercial interest in the discovery of shale gas beneath their property. No wonder the shires are in revolt against fracking. It is no surprise that everyone is a Numby when they are told that what is under their back yard is not theirs, but belongs to the Queen!

It is time for a simple and profoundly Conservative – not to say Thatcherian – change to the law. People have the rights to any diamonds or platinum or uranium they may excavate beneath their homes. Why shouldn’t they have the right to the one mineral that may – it now transpires – exist in glorious abundance? Her Majesty the Queen is absolutely magnificent in every respect, but she has oodles of land already. It is time to give the Numbies a stake in the matter. Give the British people their mineral rights, and get fracking at last.

Boris Johnson quizzes children on general election and EC presidency

During a visit to a primary school, London Mayor Boris Johnson asked a group of schoolchildren if they think the Conservatives will win the next general election and if David Cameron is right to oppose former Jean-Claude Juncker becoming president of the European Commission.

The children cheered yes to the first question but were unsure about Mr Juncker's appointment.

One teacher standing at the back of the classroom joked: "that's the next lesson".

World Cup 2014: Come on, England, don’t force us to reach for the pzzzzzt!

I do not mean any disrespect to any of the England players, but it is time for Plan B, folks. There must be reasons for England’s systematic underperformance at international level, and we need to work them out. In the days when I was on speaking terms with Sepp Blatter, he said he thought the problem with the England team was the Premier League. We had too many highly paid foreign players, he said. They clogged up the top teams; they took the money and the sponsorship and the affections of the crowds – and then, like Suarez of Liverpool and Uruguay – they vanished back to their home countries.

The result, he said, was that the English system failed to nurture enough indigenous talent. Like the City of London, or the building trade, or the NHS – or like just about any other successful sector of the UK economy – the world of Premier League football depended to some extent on immigrant performers, he said; and it is the definition of an international football competition that you cannot depend on your foreign imports. If you put these points to the Football Association, they deny them fiercely. They say that Fifa is just jealous of the Premier League and wants to see it taken down a peg or two.

Who is right? I honestly don’t know. Nor do I know whether the critics are right when they say that England footballers somehow lack esprit de corps or will to win – though I always suspect that the problem is more to do with leadership: that it’s not the quality of the men, but the quality of the officers. Whatever the reasons, I think we have got to the stage – almost 50 years after we last won the World Cup – where we can no longer collectively ignore this chronic feebleness in a game we invented and codified. As any anthropologist will tell you, sport is the imitation of war.

Success or failure in sport conditions national psychology, and football is the global game. There are millions of people like me, who end up feeling downhearted and pessimistic when they could be feeling altogether bucked and buoyed. There is abundant evidence that sporting victory leads to feelings of well-being and confidence – and confidence, as we all know, can be economically decisive. The reverse is also true. It may be absurd and unfair, but when England crash out – yet again – from some international tournament, we all go into the office the next day feeling a bit winded, with our heads down.

Germany seems likely to impose this Juncker geezer on the European commission, in defiance of British wishes. Wouldn’t it have been splendid to whack the ball in the back of Merkel’s net, and beat her team in the World Cup? And why should that seem so totally unthinkable? For the sake of our self-respect and psychological health, we need someone to get a grip on the England football team – and turn them round. Of course it can be done: look at what they did to get Team GB ready for the 2012 Olympics. We need an eight or 12-year plan to rescue our international footballing reputation.

I am not suggesting we should follow Saddam’s son Uday Hussein, who used testicular electrocution on non-scoring members of the Iraqi team. But we might pass a gentle current through the tender parts of the management. We need to get it across to the Football Association that their current uselessness and fatalism is intolerable and politically damaging to this country. When England fly home, we need to hear from Greg Dyke and Roy Hodgson about the plan to win and sometime soonish. Or else: pzzzzzt – figuratively speaking.

Blair’s Iraq invasion was a tragic error, and he’s mad to deny it

The truth is that we destroyed the institutions of authority in Iraq without having the foggiest idea what would come next. As one senior British general has put it to me, “we snipped the spinal cord” without any plan to replace it. There are more than 100,000 dead Iraqis who would be alive today if we had not gone in and created the conditions for such a conflict, to say nothing of the troops from America, Britain and other countries who have lost their lives in the shambles.

That is the truth, and it is time Tony Blair accepted it. When we voted for that war – and I did, too – we did so with what now looks like the hopelessly naive assumption that the British and American governments had a plan for the aftermath; that there was a government waiting in the wings; that civic institutions would be preserved and carried on in the post-Saddam era.

In other words, I wanted to get rid of Saddam, and I fondly imagined that there would be a plan for the transition – as there was, say, with Germany in 1945, where the basic and essential machinery of government was continued, despite the programme of de-Nazification. I felt so nervous (and so guilty) about this assumption, that I went to Baghdad in the week after the fall of Saddam, to see if I was right. I was not.

I remember vividly the mystification on the face of a tall, grey-haired CIA man in his fifties, wearing a helmet and body armour, whom I found in one of the government ministries. He and I were alone among a thousand empty offices. The entire civil service had fled; the army was disintegrated.

He was hoping to find someone to carry on the business of government – law and order, infrastructure, tax collection, that kind of thing. The days were passing; the city was being looted; no one was showing up for work. We had utterly blitzed the power centres of Iraq with no credible plan for the next stage – and frankly, yes, I do blame Bush and Blair for their unbelievable arrogance in thinking it would work.

As time has gone by, I am afraid I have become more and more cynical about the venture. It looks to me as though the Americans were motivated by a general strategic desire to control one of the biggest oil exporters in the world, as well as to remove Saddam, an unpleasant pest who had earlier attempted to murder the elder Bush. Blair went in fundamentally because he (rightly) thought it was in Britain’s long-term interest to be closely allied with America, and also, alas, because he instinctively understood how war helps to magnify a politician. War gives leaders a grandeur that they might not otherwise possess. If you hanker after Churchillian or Thatcherian charisma, there is nothing like a victorious war.

The Iraq war was a tragic mistake; and by refusing to accept this, Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention. Blair’s argument (if that is the word for his chain of bonkers assertions) is that we were right in 2003, and that we would be right to intervene again.

Many rightly recoil from that logic. It is surely obvious that the 2003 invasion was a misbegotten folly. But that does not necessarily mean – as many are now concluding – that all intervention is always and everywhere wrong in principle, and that we should avoid foreign entanglements of all kinds.

Yes, we helped cause the disaster in Iraq; but that does not mean we are incapable of trying to make some amends. It might be that there are specific and targeted things we could do – and, morally, perhaps should do – to help protect the people of Iraq from terrorism (to say nothing of Syria, where 100,000 people have died in the past three years).

Britain is still a power on the UN security council. We spend £34 billion a year on defence. We have fantastic Armed Services full of young, optimistic and confident men and women who are doing a lot of good – in spite of the cotton-wool legislation that now surrounds them – in dangerous places across the world.

It would be wrong and self-defeating to conclude that because we were wrong over Iraq, we must always be wrong to try to make the world a better place. But we cannot make this case – for an active Britain that is engaged with the world – unless we are at least honest about our failures.

Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it – or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing. The truth shall set you free, Tony.

Blair’s Iraq invasion was a tragic error, and he’s insane to deny it

The truth is that we destroyed the institutions of authority in Iraq without having the foggiest idea what would come next. As one senior British general has put it to me, “we snipped the spinal cord” without any plan to replace it. There are more than 100,000 dead Iraqis who would be alive today if we had not gone in and created the conditions for such a conflict, to say nothing of the troops from America, Britain and other countries who have lost their lives in the shambles.

That is the truth, and it is time Tony Blair accepted it. When we voted for that war – and I did, too – we did so with what now looks like the hopelessly naive assumption that the British and American governments had a plan for the aftermath; that there was a government waiting in the wings; that civic institutions would be preserved and carried on in the post-Saddam era.

In other words, I wanted to get rid of Saddam, and I fondly imagined that there would be a plan for the transition – as there was, say, with Germany in 1945, where the basic and essential machinery of government was continued, despite the programme of de-Nazification. I felt so nervous (and so guilty) about this assumption, that I went to Baghdad in the week after the fall of Saddam, to see if I was right. I was not.

I remember vividly the mystification on the face of a tall, grey-haired CIA man in his fifties, wearing a helmet and body armour, whom I found in one of the government ministries. He and I were alone among a thousand empty offices. The entire civil service had fled; the army was disintegrated.

He was hoping to find someone to carry on the business of government – law and order, infrastructure, tax collection, that kind of thing. The days were passing; the city was being looted; no one was showing up for work. We had utterly blitzed the power centres of Iraq with no credible plan for the next stage – and frankly, yes, I do blame Bush and Blair for their unbelievable arrogance in thinking it would work.

As time has gone by, I am afraid I have become more and more cynical about the venture. It looks to me as though the Americans were motivated by a general strategic desire to control one of the biggest oil exporters in the world, as well as to remove Saddam, an unpleasant pest who had earlier attempted to murder the elder Bush. Blair went in fundamentally because he (rightly) thought it was in Britain’s long-term interest to be closely allied with America, and also, alas, because he instinctively understood how war helps to magnify a politician. War gives leaders a grandeur that they might not otherwise possess. If you hanker after Churchillian or Thatcherian charisma, there is nothing like a victorious war.

The Iraq war was a tragic mistake; and by refusing to accept this, Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention. Blair’s argument (if that is the word for his chain of bonkers assertions) is that we were right in 2003, and that we would be right to intervene again.

Many rightly recoil from that logic. It is surely obvious that the 2003 invasion was a misbegotten folly. But that does not necessarily mean – as many are now concluding – that all intervention is always and everywhere wrong in principle, and that we should avoid foreign entanglements of all kinds.

Yes, we helped cause the disaster in Iraq; but that does not mean we are incapable of trying to make some amends. It might be that there are specific and targeted things we could do – and, morally, perhaps should do – to help protect the people of Iraq from terrorism (to say nothing of Syria, where 100,000 people have died in the past three years).

Britain is still a power on the UN security council. We spend £34 billion a year on defence. We have fantastic Armed Services full of young, optimistic and confident men and women who are doing a lot of good – in spite of the cotton-wool legislation that now surrounds them – in dangerous places across the world.

It would be wrong and self-defeating to conclude that because we were wrong over Iraq, we must always be wrong to try to make the world a better place. But we cannot make this case – for an active Britain that is engaged with the world – unless we are at least honest about our failures.

Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it – or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing. The truth shall set you free, Tony.

Charity condemns use of anti-homeless spikes

Mr Sinclair described the addition of spikes to the pavement outside a building in Southwark to deter people from sleeping rough as a "rather brutal approach", saying "the aim should be to help people move in, not just to move people on".

The building's developers have received complaints from the public, and Mayor of London Boris Johnson has called them "ugly, self-defeating and stupid".

Mr Johnson called on the developer of the building on Southwark Bridge Road, Southwark, to remove the spikes, pictures of which have gone viral on Twitter and other social media in recent days.

Writing through his @MayorofLondon Twitter account Mr Johnson also defended his record on tackling homelessness.

He tweeted: "Spikes outside Southwark housing development to deter rough sleeping are ugly, self defeating & stupid. Developer should remove them ASAP.

"We've spent £34 million on the likes of 'no 2nd night out, reaching 3/4s of rough sleepers, but must do more. Spikes are simply not the answer."(sic)

Junking Juncker’s pointless. It doesn’t matter who gets the job

We have been here before. We had exactly the same arguments over John Major’s decision to veto Jean-Luc Dehaene in 1994. The prime minister decided to show the world what he was made of and nuke the Belgian – and he did; at the Corfu summit. The result was that the other countries gave the job to another federalist – in this case Juncker’s former boss, the Luxembourg prime minister Jacques “le digestif” Santer. This did nothing to stop the forward creaking of the integrationist ratchet, and it cannot be said that the Santer commission was a marked improvement on what had gone before.

As far as I can remember, the whole lot of them resigned in confusion and disgrace. This time we might, I suppose, get someone who looked more promising and up-to-date – a Scandinavian female from the cast of Borgen, perhaps. But then again, we might not. One name being canvassed is that of Pascal Lamy, who used to run the World Trade Organisation. If what you want is efficiency and dynamism in the Brussels bureaucracy, then Pascal is your man. He is certainly brilliant. He used to be the chef de cabinet of Jacques Delors, and he made the whole thing run like a parade ground of the French Foreign Legion.

But in what sense would a Lamy commission be an improvement on a Juncker commission? From the point of view of a British Euro-sceptic, you could argue that he would be even worse: more formidable, more effective in pushing forward the whole federalist agenda. The deep and awful truth is that it doesn’t make much difference who is installed at the top of the Berlaymont. It doesn’t matter whether you have a Bofferding-quaffing Luxembourger or a dynamic French énarque or a Borgen-esque Scandiwegian or a statue of the Mannekin Pis as president of the EU commission.

It wouldn’t even make much difference if we could get Bill Cash or Norman Tebbit to run the place. No European Commission president has any real democratic legitimacy, contrary to what Juncker believes – and it is inconceivable that any one functionary could change the direction or the culture. The European Commission has a single aim, role, point, remit, charter, mission, purpose, function, ethic and ambition – and that is to uphold the treaties on European Union, as successively amended, and to bring forward legislation designed to promote ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.

This involves creating an ever more intricate system of government and ever more regulation of our lives. The only way to change the activities of the European Commission is to change the treaties; and as I never tire of pointing out, there is only one way to get that renegotiation followed by an in/out referendum, and that is to give David Cameron and the Conservatives the mandate they need at the next election. We either need a reform of the EU that boils it down to the single market, or we need to get out. We need to stop subcontracting our democracy to the EU.

Can you name the entire Cabinet? Can you name the shadow cabinet? Twenty or 30 years ago I think it would have been easier. British politics is visibly dwindling, as decisions are anaesthetically taken in Brussels. In the end we will pay a terrible price for this moral weakness. As we have seen in the immigration debate, the British people are suddenly furious to find that fundamental questions are no longer controlled by the people they elect. In the meantime I suppose we can gratify our irritation by vetoing poor old Juncker – who always struck me as rather a nice chap. But it is the quintessence of turd-polishing pointlessness.

It is like trying to swat a fly on the leg of the rhino that is standing on your chest. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a cochon.

If we can’t do it on our own, then let’s lose weight together

If people were too fat, I said, then that was because they were too darn greedy; and if they wanted to get thinner then they should eat less. Simple, I said. The more we “medicalised” the problem, the less people would take responsibility – and the fatter we would all become. That's why if you want to get thinner you could try the corset training for weight loss is as easy as that. Well, I am afraid that in the past two button-busting decades, I have been proved right at least about the last point. We are now the second fattest nation in the world, and I am alarmed to discover that Londoners are now even fatter than New Yorkers. We have obesity levels of 67 per cent among men and 57 per cent among women. We are the official lard-arses of Europe. Every year we have to widen our cinema seats and reinforce the floors of our ambulances. As this paper reports, more and more soldiers are made to leave the army for being, frankly, too fat to charge at the enemy. Our charter jets puff and groan and spew out unconscionable quantities of fossil fuels as they lug our biomass to the Mediterranean – and the fatter we get, the greater the risk to our health. The more overweight we are, the more likely we are to have cancer, heart disease, stroke: the big causers of early and preventable death. The national fatness problem costs the NHS at least £16 billion a year in extra and unnecessary expense. If you are technically obese – as most of us now are – you are statistically reducing your life expectancy by three or four years. If you are morbidly obese, you are probably forsaking 10 years of life – 10 years of fun watching your children and grandchildren grow up. Nothing seems to stop us eating too much – neither my savage libertarian sermons in the Telegraph, nor the bossing and nannying of the state. We are akratic. We know what we should do, but we can’t seem to make ourselves do it. We know what is in our interests – cut out chips, cake, bread, cheese, crisps etc and eat more fruit – but we can’t summon up the consistent willpower to follow the rules. Brooding on this problem, I wondered if we could construct a different psychological framework. What if it wasn’t just about us: our selfishness, our weakness of will, our own abusive relationships with food. Perhaps people might be more willing to exercise discipline – to make a sacrifice – if it could be seen to be for everybody’s sake, for everybody’s health. People are generally capable of amazing acts of kindness and altruism. Seldom are people happier and more energetic than when doing things for others. So at City Hall we have all embarked – about 150 of us, I think – on a plan to lose weight together. We all stood on a some giant commercial scales; not individually, so that no one felt any personal embarrassment or pressure, and we didn’t have the anxiety of other people seeing how much we weighed. We did it in groups of about 12 at a time. We recorded who was in the groups, and the total weight, and we agreed that in a few months we would try to lose 5 per cent. There is no coercion, no bullying, and it goes without saying that the whole thing is entirely voluntary. It is a joint effort and a bit of a laugh. But the key thing is that I now know that unless I keep it up – and refuse the lascivious winks of the cheese and the cake – then I will not just be failing to do the right thing by myself. I will be failing to do the right thing by the group. I need to lose weight or I’ll let the side down. In a few months’ time we will all get back on the scales and see how we have done. Will it work? Every psychological text book will probably say that you only get results by appealing to people’s naked self-interest. Well, we have tried that, and it’s going nowhere. Let’s try team spirit. It’s worth a shot.