Was COP28 any more than hot air?

What position should the distant observer take on the COP28 conference in Dubai? That the sight of 70,000 delegates flying into a desert oil state from around the world to discuss human impacts on climate change is beyond satire and that its proceedings are never likely to rise above Greta Thunberg’s encapsulation of all such jamborees as ‘blah blah blah’? Or that the climate problem is now so obvious and urgent that all efforts towards global action, however small, should be uncynically applauded? I leave that choice on the table. But I’m finding it hard to take a positive view of Sultan Al-Jaber, president of the Dubai gathering, who also

What’s the point of a degree?

‘Place nose on dot.’ That’s what my screen is telling me to do as the first step in a ‘liveness’ test I must complete to be accepted as a signatory on a club bank account. But if I align the image of my face with the dot, nothing happens. If I press my nose to the screen, I go cross-eyed. And if the test’s purpose is to make sure I’m not dead, it would be simpler to ask me to shout at it. After the sixth failed attempt, that’s what I do – cursing the modern world in which identity fraud is so prevalent that all new connections between customers

WeWork and FTX tell us visionary hype is always dangerous

In the New York trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the collapsed FTX crypto exchange, there was never a moment when he looked like talking his way to freedom: he was found guilty on seven charges of fraud and conspiracy and now awaits what’s likely to be a very long sentence. Justice has been swift and sure, barring an extraordinary reversal on appeal. But what should worry thoughtful observers is the fact that during the period of the trial, from 3 October to 2 November, the price of bitcoin rose from £22,700 to £28,700. Perhaps investors saw the crypto currency as a safe haven after Hamas’s attack on Israel. Perhaps they

The attack on Israel must lead to an uptick in inflation

A 10 per cent increase in oil prices translates to a 0.15 per cent loss of global GDP and a rise of 0.4 per cent in global inflation, says Gita Gopinath, deputy managing director of the IMF. Before Hamas launched its assault on Israel on 7 October, the Brent Crude barrel price had already moved 20 per cent above its summer level of $75 and pundits were predicting $100, based on prospects of tighter supply from Saudi Arabia and Russia. Natural gas prices have also risen sharply with winter approaching – and no one knows how escalation of the latest Middle East conflict might affect other energy flows and supply chains.

Metro’s story tells us markets are still fearful of a banking crash

Market sentiment around the possibility of failures in the banking world remains as febrile as ever. Or so we might judge from coverage of Metro Bank – which reports suggested might have been edging towards collapse before finding a new owner over the weekend. Metro was the brashest of the ‘challenger banks’ that sprouted after the 2008 financial crisis and the only one that aimed to build an all-new network of 200 branches. Its American founder, Vernon Hill – whose other interests included a chain of Burger King outlets – declared an urge to ‘make banking fun’ when the first Metro opened in Holborn in 2010, offering free lollipops and

The forecast Andrew Bailey actually got right

When inflation was at 5.5 per cent and rising in January 2022, the BBC’s Faisal Islam adopted a look of amazement when he asked the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey: ‘So you’re trying to get inside people’s heads and ask them not to ask for too high pay rises?’ ‘Broadly, yes,’ Bailey stepped into the trap, ‘It’s painful, but we need to see that in order to get through this problem more quickly.’ The governor was slated for insensitivity, critics making much of his own half-million package. That 38-second clip did more to make his out-of-touch reputation than any of his other stumbles. But he wasn’t wrong.

Solar panels in, swimming pools out: 2023’s property trends

Inflation has finally dipped a little but is still riding high, and mortgage rates may still rise further: Britain’s households are suffering a pay squeeze. But what are home-owners still spending their money on – and what has fallen out of favour? Here is Spectator Life‘s guide to the winners and losers in the property market this year so far… The winners… Solar panels High energy bills have kickstarted British householders into going green. During the first half of this year, sales of solar panels were up 82 per cent on the same period last year, according to MCS, the standards body. The hot spots of solar installations? Cornwall, Wiltshire

Should crypto be regulated like shares – or more like a casino?

‘Crypto assets are commodities,’ said my neighbour at dinner. No they’re not, I replied, commodities are natural raw materials that have ultimate real-world uses. Crypto is merely a collection of blips in cyberspace to which adherents choose to attribute value. ‘Just like fiat currencies,’ my neighbour shot back. ‘What’s real about them? Aren’t they just an idea in the mind of central bankers?’ And off we went on a ding-dong debate. A pity the US Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Gary Gensler wasn’t there to offer his theory that bitcoin, crypto’s market leader, is big enough to be a commodity but that lesser imitators are ‘securities’ (that is, investments bought

If inheritance tax can’t be scrapped let’s change it for the better

I’d happily jump on the Telegraph bandwagon for the abolition of inheritance tax, even in the company of Liz Truss and Nigel Farage. The urge to provide a cushion of capital for children and grandchildren is an honourable one. Recipients of already-taxed cash from deceased relatives are arguably less likely to be burdens on the state in their own later lives, just as the state is unlikely to spend the same money, if confiscated, in efficient ways for the greater good. And to argue against inheritance is to put socialist hostility to wealth ahead of the worthy aim of family betterment. Enough said. The trouble with this campaign, however, is

Who was the original Terf?

Terf wars Who was the original Terf (trans-exclusionary radical feminist)? – The practice of some women’s groups in excluding trans women began almost with the advent of trans women themselves. In 1978, the Lesbian Organisation of Toronto refused membership to a trans woman who identified as a lesbian – saying it would only accept ‘womyn born womyn’. – The term ‘Terf’, however, dates only from 2008, when it was used in a blog post by feminist writer Viv Smythe in response to a ban on trans women attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (a ban which had been in place since 1991). – The festival, which had been going since

The inconvenient truth about heat pumps

In Britain’s battle to cut carbon emissions, the government sees heat pumps as a key weapon. Unveiling the latest energy efficiency plan in March, energy secretary Grant Shapps doubled down on Boris Johnson’s offer of a £5,000 grant for anyone willing to install one. These smart bits of home technology work by transferring thermal energy from the air, ground or water. They are powered by electricity, which can be generated from solar or wind power, providing cheap and fossil fuel-free heating and hot water. So what’s not to like? The concept is nothing new. In 1856 the Austrian scientist Peter von Rittinger worked out a technique for drying out salt in salt marshes using an

Do you have ‘smart meter stress’?

Are you suffering from SMS? Smart meter stress, that is. When we decided recently to accept our energy provider’s offer to install a smart meter, I had no clue how anxiety-inducing the digital display on the little black monitor could be. Smart meters tell us (and our suppliers) how much energy we’re using, minute by minute. In theory they make life easier, helping us identify where we can reduce consumption and sending automatic readings so that we’re less likely to underpay or overpay on our bills. There are already 29.5 million smart meters installed across the UK, and by the end of 2025 every home and office in Britain will have been offered one. But there’s a

A daily shower is money down the drain

When did it become an inalienable human right to have a shower every day? I ask the question because pretty clearly it wasn’t always so. Yes, the Romans had showers – of course they did (they probably had the internet, too, but archaeologists can’t see it). A potter about online will tell you that we got the first mechanical shower here (hand pumped) thanks to the ingenuity of a plumber from Ludgate Hill named William Feetham. That was in 1767, which means that by the time Jane Austen was getting ink on her fingers a shower was an option for some. So the answer to my question is somewhere between 1767, when

Which appliances are pushing up your energy bills?

With the Chancellor confirming that the energy price cap will rise in April, it seems we won’t be taking our eye off our electricity usage any time soon. But while energy saving tips have become a staple of breakfast television shows and small talk, how many of them really add up in practice? The Spectator’s data team has crunched the numbers to see what typical household devices actually cost to run. And the answers are quite surprising. Perhaps you’ve heard the warnings over the past weeks of so-called ‘vampire devices’ – those pesky contraptions which carry on costing you money when you’re not actually using them. You may even be

A house-price crash won’t be the only effect of the Kwarteng calamity

Where next for house prices? Clearly, they’re going down as mortgage rates go up – and my forecast in May that they would shed ‘recent froth’ and then stagnate rather than plunge, has been entirely overtaken by events, or at least by Kwasi Kwarteng’s calamitous ‘fiscal event’ last month. Reverberations from the Chancellor’s debut continue apace, with more emergency bond-buying by the Bank of England despite news that the OBR-assessed forecast missing from his September speech will now be unveiled on 31 October instead of on 23 November. But even if the books can be cooked in a way that makes more sense than markets expect, hundreds of mortgage deals

Portrait of the week: Tory party conference, gas supply warning and Denmark’s royals stripped of titles

Home Liz Truss, the Prime Minister, came up with a message for the Conservative party conference: ‘Whenever there is change, there is disruption… Everyone will benefit from the result.’ Her words followed a decision not to abolish, after all, the 45p rate of tax, paid by people who earn more than £150,000 a year. Backbench Conservative MPs had let it be known they would not vote for it. ‘The difference this makes really is trivial,’ said Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank. But the pound rose and the government was able to borrow a little more cheaply. Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the

Dress like Macron to cut your energy bills

The French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has urged civil servants to trade shirts and ties for woollen polo necks under their suits. It’s part of a drive to heat ministries to no warmer than 19°C – a policy that is compulsory in all government buildings except hospitals and care homes. French petit fonctionnaires can take inspiration from President Emmanuel Macron, who has been leading by example in a classic black polo neck. Ca chauffe! Le Maire’s suggestion has been criticised right and left. The leader of the opposition, Marine Le Pen, tweeted ‘Don’t have enough heating? Let them wear cashmere’, and Gaspard Gantzer, a former adviser to the socialist

How to stop a blackout

Will the lights go out this winter? A letter from the energy regulator Ofgem reveals just how seriously it is taking the prospect, and lays out what would happen if the UK can’t get sufficient gas to meet demand. Ofgem declared that ‘here is a possibility that GB entering into a gas supply emergency’ this winter and lays out what would happen in the event of this happening i.e. when insufficient gas is available to supply the gas network at any wholesale price. It turns out that Ofgem would seek to reduce demand by telling the largest gas users to switch off their plant. These, it adds, ‘will likely be large gas-fired power

Europe’s descent into deindustrialisation

The rapid economic collapse that Britain is facing is simply an accelerated version of what the whole of Europe is about to go through; unsustainable borrowing to fund the gap between high energy prices and what households can actually afford. With the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline, there is now no feasible way back. Europe can no longer physically import Russian gas – prices will remain high until Europe builds more energy capacity, which could take years. What is likely to come of this? High energy prices will render European manufacturing uncompetitive. European manufacturers will be forced to pass through the higher energy costs in the form of higher

Did Russia sabotage its own pipelines?

It almost seems worthy of the opening scene in a Bond film. Vital Russian gas pipelines running beneath the Baltic Sea close to Denmark and Sweden are the victims of sabotage. The two countries have warned of leaks from both Nord Stream 1 and 2 after seismologists suggested there had been underwater explosions. No one wants to claim credit for the deed – yet. Who is the Blofeld behind this dastardly scheme? Former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, no fan of Russia, sardonically declared on Twitter, ‘Thank you, USA’. That set the conspiracy theorists off. As has a video resurfacing of Joe Biden in February promising America would put an end to