{ 0 comments }

{ 0 comments }

I have always been taught that the idea in Canada, the UK, and other Westminister-style Parliamentary democracies is that Parliament is sovereign and that the prime minister and cabinet must maintain their confidence to rule legitimately.

A recent Economist article on Brexit makes several references to how their fixed-election law ambiguously alters that:

[T]he Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 upturned established conventions on confidence votes within the Commons, leaving confusion among MPs over both how to bring a government down and what happens when one falls. And the quirks of British parliamentary procedure provide various ways in which a sufficiently bloody-minded prime minister might force a “no-deal” Brexit without a majority in Parliament. This has all the makings of a constitutional crisis.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act got rid of the power that prime ministers had previously enjoyed to call an election at any time, thus reassuring the Lib Dems that the Tories would not cut and run as soon as they fancied their chances.

The country may thus see a new conflict over where sovereignty lies—the constitutional question which, above all others, Brexit has dragged into the light.

Some of the subsequent mess rests on the back of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011. Before this a prime minister whose flagship legislation was voted down—just once, never mind repeatedly—would have been expected to call an election. If he or she had not, a vote of confidence would have followed which a minority government would have been near certain to lose. The 2011 act replaced this convention with statute which says that a lost confidence vote triggers a two-week period during which any mp can attempt to win the backing of the Commons and form a government to avoid an election. When asked what this would actually look like, the clerk of the House of Commons responds: “I really don’t know—I don’t think anybody knows.”

It seems remarkable that an ordinary piece of legislation can muddy or upend the most important constitutional convention in Westminister democracies — the confidence convention — and that the legislation in turn was to solve a short-term coalition management problem.

The article also discusses another change that got limited consideration but which has important and open-ended effects: “The hurried inception of the Supreme Court was, in the mocking words of its former president, David Neuberger, ‘a last-minute decision over a glass of whisky’.”

{ 1 comment }

{ 0 comments }

One argument routinely used against divestment from fossil fuels is that, as investors, institutions like universities and pension funds might be able to discourage the most wasteful and damaging new fossil fuel investments and encourage fossil fuel corporations to use their resources and expertise to advance decarbonization.

In the U of T divestment brief we explained our doubts about this justification. Nonetheless, it remains an approach that some are trying:

Bruce Duguid of Hermes Investment Management, who worked with bp on behalf of Climate Action 100+, says that disclosure will help investors understand if the billions which bp continues to spend on oil and gas creates too much risk. bp will describe how big new capital projects stack up against the Paris goal of keeping warming “well below” 2°C relative to preindustrial times. Equinor, Norway’s state behemoth, agreed to something similar in April. As with Shell, bp’s resolution does not require it to cut oil and gas output. Greenpeace, a combative ngo, blocked entrances to bp’s headquarters in London ahead of its annual meeting on May 21st.

For the time being, though, Shell, bp and ExxonMobil remain members of the American Petroleum Institute, which has sought to ease rules on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. They also maintain links with the Western States Petroleum Association, which last year fought a carbon tax in Washington state. bp spent over $13m directly to help defeat a ballot initiative in favour of the levy.

Others are beginning to question the value of shareholder engagement. The Church of England has said it will divest by 2023 if no advances are made. “Investors’ patience is not limitless,” says Mr Logan. “It’s going to be measured in years, not decades.”

There are many reasons to doubt how meaningful shareholder activism can be, and to ask whether it’s a “shadow solution” that creates the impression that action on climate change will happen, while really justifying the continuation of the status quo. These firms have an enormous financial interest in keeping the fossil fuel reserves they own usable, which in turn means blocking climate change action. Furthermore, neither executives nor shareholders can be expected to meaningfully support a transition to decarbonization which would make these firms irrelevant.

{ 0 comments }

{ 0 comments }

{ 1 comment }

{ 0 comments }

Shark art

2019-06-04

in Photo of the day

{ 0 comments }

{ 0 comments }