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« Paterson - wind will not work | Main | More evidence that the IPCC is a busted flush »

Ben biffs Barry

Barry Gardiner, the MP for Brent North has been speaking about renewables at the Energy Live News website. During his interview, he made this remarkable statement about government support for different energy types:

He claimed the third [lie behind government energy policy] is that Government is “neutral” and doesn’t pick favourites in energy: “Last year the OECD announced that in 2010 the UK subsidised fossil fuels by £3.6 billion. In last year’s budget, the Chancellor announced a further £65million to oil and gas in 2011… In contrast the total subsidy paid to onshore wind in 2010 was just £400million.”

This is not the first time he has said this. Back in August he made the same claim in an article for the New Statesman:

Last year, the OECD estimated that in 2010 the subsidies for coal, gas and petrol in the UK amounted to £3.6bn on top of which the Chancellor, in the 2012 budget, has announced further exploration and production subsidies of £65m to develop the West of Shetland fields.

As readers here know, neither of these statements are true. The OECD paper does not mention subsidies of £3.6bn. That figure refers to the value of the reduced rate of VAT on energy. This does not meet the definition of a subsidy, which involves a cash payment. And since it applies to all kinds of energy it cannot be a "fossil fuel" subsidy either, so Gardiner's claim about picking favourites is patently false.

His claim about the further £65m for oil and gas is not a subsidy either, being a reduction in a supertax (the Supplementary Charge) which is paid by oil companies but not by renewables firms. This therefore is not a subsidy and demonstrates that government policy favours renewables over fossil fuels - the opposite of what Gardiner has said.

Ben Pile was incensed with Gardiner:

is a liar about the OECD analysis, even if he is right about energy proces rising. [...] Shame on you, Barry.

A tweet that ended up with quite an interesting exchange of views:

GARDINER: Your tweet is actionable. Please withdraw it. I correctly state OECD figures for Fossil Fuel Subsidies were £3.6bn in 2010

PILE: you can't call people liars and complain about being called a liar. Oecd figures are for reduced rate of vat, not subsidies...and you know that oecd figures are reduced rate, not subsidies, hence you are dishonest.

GARDINER: Also I said gov policy was based on a lie. No named person = not actionable You named me = actionable Please retract

PILE: it's true. You knew that what you said wasn't true. So you lied. I said so. That ain't 'actionable'. If you think it is...i'll withdraw my tweet if you explain that you were wrong about subsidies to energy live news...When did it become 'actionable' to call an MP a liar, anyway?...

GARDINER: So reducing tax to favour the consumption of a particular product does not count as a subsidy in your book? Really?

PILE: no, reducing tax is taking less money, subsidy is giving money. I'm surprised an MP can't tell the difference. Hmm....and reduced rate doesn't favour any particular form of energy. Applies to renewables too. Surprised you don't know this.

Send me your email address, and i'll give you my postal address so you can get your lawyer to proceed...


PILE: let me up the stakes by adding 'coward' to liar.

PILE: thanks. I've got no money or property, I hope you realise. Could cost you.

Popcorn is definitely required.

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Reader Comments (94)

Gordon Brown suffered from a variant, Pollyannism. He believed that all money belonged to the government and that, instead of wages, it was his job to give out pocket money to everyone, as he saw fit. And all the boys and girls, from 16 to 105 would be happy and grateful, and vote Labout for ever and ever.

Sep 14, 2012 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered Commenterbill

Sean - you gave me a great idea.

I have just stolen ten pounds from myself. I have then given back ten pounds to myself.

This means I have done my bit to support victims of daylight robberies. This also and obviously makes me a Very Good Citizen. As soon as I get a British passport, I'll demand peerage.

Sep 14, 2012 at 10:59 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Pile's last remark slightly weakened his case. Nonetheless Gardiner has been quite specific. Either he sues or he is a coward, blusterer and bully as well as a liar. I'll take money that he doesn't sue.

The important point is not that one member of the alarmist community is a liar - that has been shown many times - but that there is virtually no member of the community who has the integrity to dissociate themselves from people they know to br liars. There is probably somebody in every movement who has gone beyond the truth but in decent movements they get called up by their own side.

Sep 14, 2012 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

It will be hilarious - and a forgone conclusion if held in front of a jury.

How can you defend a politician against a charge of lying? !!

Sep 14, 2012 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

There is another clear lie in that statement.

The bulk of oil is sold in the form of petrol and deisel for motorists. Both attract the full rate of VAT. Hardly a sop to the fossil fuel industry.

And then you have to add on duty of course...

Sep 14, 2012 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

The biography of Gardner outlined on Wiki (OK, may be inacurate) reads very strangely.

After being an undergraduate and post graduate student in Arts and Philosophy and then a stint as Scottish Regional Secretary of the Student Christian Movement, he immediately landed himself a position as "a senior partner in shipping insurance and arbitration".

What a most extraordinary career leap.

And thence into politics in 1997 and an expert in energy now.

Sep 14, 2012 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

And anyone filling up their car with petrol or diesel will find that it has been taxed rather heavily, in addition to the full rate of VAT.

Filling up with wind is unfortunately not yet an option, but once it is, most MP's should be able to travel free...

Sep 14, 2012 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

One should not overlook the stylistical aspects of it. Ben called Gardiner a liar because Gardiner called the Government a liar.

Had the original been about fools, or stupid, or brain-dead blue turtles from Alpha Centauri, I surmise Ben would have called Gardiner a fool, a stupid, or a brain-dead blue turtle from Alpha Centauri (and not a liar).

Therefore there cannot be any libel. If Gardiner is picky with other people's vocabulary, he should start by himself.

Sep 14, 2012 at 12:11 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Sorry Geckko - same point!

Sep 14, 2012 at 12:13 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Some interesting points on BG;

Sadly it appears that the voters of Cambridge made his political career, so apologies for that. But despite him being an MP for Brent N. he doesn't appear to have chosen to live there as he still is registered as a resident of Cambridge.

Secondly there's information on the Interweb regarding a company he was a director of (Reynolds Partners Limited). Oddly, although DUEDIL shows it having a turnover of £2.35M its also shows it to be in liquidation. Maybe an interesting back story?

Sep 14, 2012 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterSir Digby CS

Bob Ward Tweets that this document somehow vindicates Gardiner. The only passage that seems to relate is this:

>> 9. The WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ACMS) provides a
definition of "subsidy" that has been accepted by all WTO members. Article 1 of the
Agreement states that a "subsidy" exists when there is a "financial contribution" by a government
or public body that confers a "benefit". A "financial contribution" arises where: (i) a government
practice involves a direct transfer of funds (e.g. grants, loans, and equity infusion), potential direct
transfers of funds or liabilities (e.g. loan guarantees); (ii) government revenue that is otherwise due
is foregone or not collected (e.g. fiscal incentives such as tax credits); (iii) a government provides
goods or services other than general infrastructure, or purchases goods; or (iv) a government
entrusts or directs a private body to carry out one or more of the above functions. A "benefit" is
conferred when the "financial contribution" is provided to the recipient on terms that are more
favorable than those that the recipient could have obtained from the market.<<

Clearly i) is out of the question, since there is no direct transfer of funds. ii) does not apply because there is nothing due which is foregone or not collected. iii) doesn't apply at al, and neither does iv).

Ward says that we're 'economically illiterate'. Perhaps Ward is simply illiterate; words don't seem to have much meaning when in his hands.

Sep 14, 2012 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

How ironic that it was the post-war Attlee Labour government that nationalised coal and sowed the seeds of the black hole in public funding through their intervention and subsidies in that industry, ending in the bitter grief in the 80's, and that similarly Tony Benn's brainchild BNOC misadventure set the scene for another round of abject failure and wastage of public funds

Sep 14, 2012 at 1:51 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Re: Ben Pile (Sep 14, 2012 at 1:45 PM)
I imagine the claim will be made that the reduced VAT for energy qualifies under (ii).

Sep 14, 2012 at 2:20 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

I guess Ward wasn't a debating guru in his days.

Gardiner wrote "THE OECD ANNOUNCED..." So the only definition that counts is the OECD's. And I have quoted it already: the OECD knows the difference between a consumption support and a subsidy.

Sep 14, 2012 at 2:22 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Submitted comment too early...what is important is that the document linked by Gardner is a subsection of the document I have linked. That's where the definition of 'support' is.

Sep 14, 2012 at 2:25 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

I would have to agree with Gardiner that it is a lie that Government is “neutral” and doesn’t pick favourites in energy. Using either the definition of "subsidy" or "support", the normalized amount (in £ per kWh or BTU) is notably higher for renewables vs. fossil fuel. OECD's large value for "support" to fossil fuels are in great measure due to its inclusion of the reduced VAT on energy; as fossil fuels provide the bulk of the energy, naturally the £ amount will be high.

Sep 14, 2012 at 3:03 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Harold W - "I imagine the claim will be made that the reduced VAT for energy qualifies under (ii)."

I think that's Ward's claim. But it's nonsense. The full WTO definition is:

>>government revenue that is otherwise due is foregone or not collected (e.g. fiscal incentives such as tax credits)<<

The 5% rate of VAT on energy is not 'otherwise' due at 20%, nor does the treasury omit to collect it. It is not a tax credit or any kind of fiscal incentive.

The point of the WTO definition, as far as I can understand it, is, for instance, to prevent governments giving benefits to a domestic sector at the expense of competition from international competitors. The claim Gardiner and co want to make is that fossil fuels have been unfairly advantaged. There was clearly some effort to establish that they were, which failed. The only recourse left is to make stuff up. This has been threefold:

first the definition of 'subsidy' is expanded beyond meaning. Second, any putative benefit to energy production or consumption which applies to both fossil fuels and renewables is considered to apply only to fossil fuels. Third, the relative quantities involved are omitted such that it can be claimed that renewables receive (in the order of) a tenth of the (non) subsidies that fossil fuels receive, in spite of the fact that 100 times more fossil fuels are produced than renewables, thus the actual ratio is inverted.

Finally, the justification I have seen for this is that 'fossil fuels have enjoyed a century of subsidies', and that renewables need a boost to give them the advantage.

Underpinning all this, there seems to be a belief that politicians can simply "signal through the market" messages to the universe that we want a mechanism that can make wind energy as energy dense as oil or uranium.

Sep 14, 2012 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

If having a reduced VAT charge on energy is a subsidy then charging duty on fuel should be considered as a charge for using fossil fuels.
Since somewhere around £27 billion (plus VAT) is raised by fuel duty there is a net charge of £23 billion for using fossil fuels.
This doesn't take into account the Vehicle Road Tax which is directly correlated to how much fuel your vehicle consumes.

Sep 14, 2012 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Doesn't this tergiversation just typify the whole deceitful ethos surrounding the public promotion of renewables and the vilification of conventional energy, bending and torquing written and verbal statements designed to evade and mislead. It runs through the whole rotten pillars of our entire energy-environmental legislature and those championing it.

Sep 14, 2012 at 5:21 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

TerryS -
I think OECD's methodology would consider fuel duty as "support" for bio-fuels (or gas) using its definition of "support" as "a benefit or preference ... relative to alternatives." It is even more of an advantage to electric engines.

Sep 14, 2012 at 5:25 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Here is an illustration of the subsidy mechanism.
The first link describes a reaction to an industry and location specific tax (north sea Oil and Gas) beyond normal industry taxes.
and the second one is the subsidy mechanism at work (how to convert a tax into a subsidy):

Sep 14, 2012 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamail

Ward's claim is demonstrably contrived and wrong.

The there is no revenue "otherwise due but not collected". There is a rate of tax and that is applied and collected. This WTO discription does not cover this situation.

If it did then the WTO would be swamped with actions against countries with multiple tax rates.

Sep 14, 2012 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

DaveB: thank you for another lesson on the Renewables Obligation. Fascinating and not a little frightening.

Barry Gardiner I last met in 1975. I'd say we were pretty close at school and we had one mutual friend with whom we were very close, with whom I've stayed in touch. Nick and his wife are now close friends with Roger and Ann Harrabin. Not just a small world but a complicated one. Remaining a decent human being seems a reasonable goal. It was nice to exchange tweets with Barry this week. I'll probably duck out of the public part of this one.

Sep 14, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Geckko - "Ward's claim is demonstrably contrived and wrong."

There is a rich tradition of loosely interpreting text or changing the meaning of words within the environmental movement to achieve its ambitions.

My favourite example is environmental lawyer, Polly Higgins' attempt to create an international 'crime against peace' of 'ecocide' equivalent to 'genocide', by interpreting the word 'life' to encompass all life -- i.e. biological processes -- rather than human life. But in protecting 'life' as a process, she diminishes humanity -- the very thing that those laws she interprets so loosely -- were intended to protect. On her dark-green schema, human suffering is no more significant than a bug's, such are the consequences of word-play. More at

Again, it is no accident that we again see ideologically-driven word play behind the ambition of creating a supranational agency. And it is no surprise that we see the Green Party approving Higgins' nasty vision this week at their conference -,-barrister-and-author-of-eradicating-ecocide-praises-green-partys-commitment-to-future-generations/

Sep 14, 2012 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Gardiner is also a hypocrite. He supported the reduced rate of VAT on fuel which he now criticises as a subsidy.

The reduced 5% rate of VAT on fuel was introduced by the Labour Government in 1997. It was in the Labour Manifesto on which Gardiner stood for election that year - the first year he was elected.

The reduced rate was duly introduced in the budget of that year, which Gardiner supported.

The OECD report which he refers (although he's probably never seen it) to makes clear the distinction between between a producer subsidy and a consumer subsidy, and that the the reduced rate of VAT in the UK is in the latter category. It doesn't make any difference to the producers what the VAT rate is; they just hand it over to the Treasury.

Sep 14, 2012 at 7:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Savage

Another Tosser alert.

Sep 14, 2012 at 7:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Reducing tax is not a subsidy, it's returning (some of) the money to its rightful owner.

Sep 14, 2012 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSunderlandSteve

Something interesting about the OECD's analysis of the UK energy market (here) is this line:

The United Kingdom has been a pioneer in deregulating and liberalising energy markets through price decontrol, the closure of inefficient coal mines, the removal of subsidies, privatisation and the introduction of competition and open access to electricity and natural gas networks, regulated by an independent regulatory body. Today, there is virtually no state ownership of energy assets and all markets are competitive.

Some have claimed that the Renewables Obligation and Feed-In Tariff schemes are not 'subsidies', which is true in a technical sense only if we imagine that the government has to receive the money first to give it away again. By cutting out the middle man -- itself -- it seems the UK has avoided the OECD's analysts' estimation of the energy market's competitiveness, and freedom from government control of prices. It's a nonsense, as is the idea that OFGEM are an 'independent regulator'. My experience of trying to get data or answers to questions about the failure of UK energy policies from them, they might as well be based at DECC.

Sep 14, 2012 at 9:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

@Sep 14, 2012 at 1:05 AM | pat

Meanwhile in the UK, the new leader of the Greens, a seriously deluded Aussie lass, has proclaimed the Greens to be the real party of opposition.

Add in Lewandosky and the Climate Jihadis seem to be possessed of a brain-eating virus. Beyond bizarre.

Sep 14, 2012 at 9:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

After having read and re-read that twitter exchange, I can only conclude that Gardiner actually believes that there really is no difference between a reduction in tax and a subsidy. He is indignant at being called a liar because he actually believes that he is telling the truth.

Sep 14, 2012 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Pile had the idiotic Gardiner on the ropes. And then he goes and ruins it with this:

I've got no money or property, I hope you realise. Could cost you.

"Could cost you?" Jeez. Should've added "And my dad knows karate."

Sep 14, 2012 at 10:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid, UK

Prompted by this thread, I have been reading about VAT. Firstly, it appears to be the brainchild of the EU, and rates apparantly are no longer under the control of the nation, but subject to EU law, which together comprises the first irritation.

Secondly standard VAT has had a hockey stick history starting at around 8-10% rising to the current 20%, Which is the second irritation.

The third irritation, VAT was slapped on domestic fuel and power in 1994, initially at a rate of 8% but reduced in September 1997 to 5%. (Swinging rates of fuel duty are of course charged on motor fuel, on which yet more VAT is added.)

And now, eclipsing all prior irritations, comes the ordure of ever-increasing 'green obligation' tariffs worse than a Chicago protection racket by the renewable mafia and their parliamentary advocates.

Sep 14, 2012 at 10:38 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Meanwhile in the UK, the new leader of the Greens, a seriously deluded Aussie lass, has proclaimed the Greens to be the real party of opposition.

Well, they are the real party of opposition. In that they oppose pretty much everything important to the voters, that any party likely to ever have a say in ruling wants:energy, growth, successful large businesses. Opposing is what they are good at – popular and workable alternative strategies, not so much.

Meanwhile the Opposition (big O) is the party with the second largest share of parliament, regardless of how much they oppose the current ruling party or parties. Trying to redefine a well-established term, as we see above with "subsidy", is just par for the course.

Sep 15, 2012 at 12:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

"Could cost you?" Jeez. Should've added "And my dad knows karate."

Sorry to have disappointed you. I was just trying to point out that even idle threats of action don't work where there is no property to remove with 'action'.

Sep 15, 2012 at 1:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

barry dug a deep hole for himself; if he doesn't follow up his treat and wins, I guess everyone can call him a liar?

Sep 15, 2012 at 8:11 AM | Unregistered Commenterpeterdek

According to Wikipedia
"A subsidy is assistance paid to a business or economic sector. Most subsidies are made by the government to producers or distributed as subventions in an industry to prevent the decline of that industry (e.g., as a result of continuous unprofitable operations) or an increase in the prices of its products or simply to encourage it to hire more labor (as in the case of a wage subsidy). "

Therefore, although subsidies are generally handed out by a governing body, it is not a prerequisite. Hence, ROCs which are providing economic aid to renewables, are subsidies even though they are paid by the public directly through their bills.

Sep 15, 2012 at 8:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

As a self-styled socialist, even though he is a trougher, Gardiner is likely to take the line that it is more important to force you to retract than to get money out of you. As other commenters have observed, if (and only if) he is coming from the traditional communist start point that all assets are morally the property of the state, then he would think that the difference between the 5% tax on energy and the general VAT rate of 20% is a subsidy, albeit to all energy not just to wind. But even allowing him his delusion, where he is clearly dishonest is in ignoring the £23 billion of fuel tax, and in trying to compare the aggregate subsidy for the 2% or less of our energy that is generated by wind with the overall fiscal treatment of all forms of energy.

Sep 15, 2012 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

"Could cost you?" Jeez. Should've added "And my dad knows karate."

Eh? This is pointing out a plain vanilla fact to a posturing politician. This is actually offering a cold shower to a person drunk on his environmental kool-aid - i.e "you know you will just be seen as a bully hurting your knuckles beating me up I hope you realise that?"

Climate/enviro/lying has been such cheap and easy posturing material by all thick charlatans, of whatever stripe, that I doubt they have ever considered the consequences of what to do if they were ever really called out on it.

The technical squabbling over wording strikes me as interesting here, and possibly another case of people of both "sides" getting their noses pressed too close and hard to the subject to not just pulled back and think about the overall picture. When I hear this I always remember the interview with Jimmy Carr on Top Gear when he recalled his previous life as marketer for Shell, when asked if it was a “hard job” by Clarkson he responded

"… technically the easiest job on the planet. Do you have a fuel gage on your car?


"When that goes into the red - buy some petrol"

The concept that the high density energy of petroleum products need pro-active "pushing" otherwise we would bovine like migrate to using nothing or just worshipping windmills, or waiting by a plug socket overnight, is only a concept held by morons.

We all know this really - even idiot greens - Gas/petrol is a high density energy product that will need replacing whatever the future provides, lying about "subsidising" this means that the liar has no potential to innovate the actual replacement for this current fact and therefore should be seen as a waste of space.

Sep 15, 2012 at 11:18 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Another Tosser alert."

Thanks for pointing this out - it hilarious. The absurd article is typical of Geoffrey Lean but the real entertainment is in the comments section.

(Don't ask) I was watching the BBC parliament channel when they had the first speech given by the new grand cabbage (Thanks BH commentator) of the Green party, she mumbled her way through a very bad sermon to the party faithful, it was terrible, I have tried to find it on the BBC iPlayer but had no luck.

Sep 15, 2012 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Sheva Sep 15, 2012 at 12:30 PM and anybody else who's interested.

All UK Parliamentary video is archived at

It's a Silverlight embed so - Windoze only I think and you will have fun trying to capture the stream - if anybody has done it - I'm all ears - they obviously decided to make it awkward.....

Sep 15, 2012 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterTomO

Sep 15, 2012 at 12:30 PM | Shevva

All UK Parliament video is archived over at

It's deliberately streamed through Microsoft Silverlight to make access painful in my view ... nevertheless it works within the limiting scope of the application...

If anybody has successfully captured the stream - I'm all ears....

Sep 15, 2012 at 3:53 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Barry Gardiner is a crook. He should be tossed in prison.

Sep 16, 2012 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterTed

You did disappoint me. I was, and am, rooting for you. You have the high ground. But I so wanted your comment to be along the lines of "Bring it on, Mr Pants-On-Fire!" instead of a comment that gives Gardiner an out.

Sep 17, 2012 at 9:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid, UK

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