Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Monday, September 27, 2021
Sunday, September 26, 2021
There was a time earlier in the pandemic when half the people on social media seemed to be sharing charts designed to show that countries whose governments or policies they liked had lower COVID-19 death rates or that governments or policies they disliked had worse ones.
The trouble with almost all these attempts is that comparing the statistics from different countries tends to be like comparing apples and pears.
Even those countries which tried hardest to provide honest reports of the number of COVID-related deaths were probably under-stating the impact during the first wave though those countries are probably over-reporting it now - most of the people in hospitals in Britain who have COVID-19 have other serious conditions as well. For most of those reported as having died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, there is a good chance that COVID contributed to their deaths
The most accurate attempts to monitor the true cost of the pandemic in terms of human lives lost have been those which concentrated on the number of excess deaths.
There has been important work on this in the past from both the FT and the Economist: for anyone who really wants to understand the true net impact of the pandemic, direct and indirect in terms of human lives lost, the latest Economist site tracking excess deaths compared with the rate at which people were reaching the end of their lives before the pandemic is a must-read.
You can find it by clicking on the link below
Politicians of all parties should resist the temptation to whip up hatred against their opponents.
If they give way to the temptation to denigrate their opponents in dehumanising language in private and it leaks, they should apologise, not double down.
As former Labour MP Tom Harris wrote today on Twitter in response to the Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, referring to her Conservative opponents as "scum,"
"If it’s acceptable for Labour MPs to use dehumanising language about other people, then it’s open season on anyone who wants to do the same. A dangerous road to be drawn down by over-promoted student politicians."
"Not since Gordon Brown’s unwise declaration of support for ‘British jobs for British workers’ has a Labour leader wrapped himself so decisively in the Union flag. What’s significant is that none of this – not a sentence or comma – would be remotely legal if Britain were still an EU member.
Offering favouritism and public contracts to British firms would have the European Court of Justice descending on parliament like a tonne (metric measures only) of bricks.
Yet here we are, one of, if not the, most enthusiastic supporters of British EU membership, basing his entire economic prospectus on a legal structure that can only be made to work outside the European Union."
(Extract from a review by Tom Harris on the CAPX site of Sir Keir Starmer's 12,000 magnum opus "The Way forward."
I commend this review because it is neither a hatchet job nor a sycophantic puff piece in support: Harris is not afraid to both criticize what he thinks is wrong and praise what he thinks is right. As such the article should be of interest to both intelligent Conservatives seeking to understand our main opposition and intelligent Labour supporters seeking to learn how their leader's approach is perceived by open-minded former friends. You can read the full review here.)
Saturday, September 25, 2021
One of the themes I wrote about quite frequently when I first started this blog was the desperate need in modern society for a better understanding of statistics.
It's not a new problem - Disraeli referred to as far back as the nineteenth century to "Lies, Damned lies, and statistics" but about the only skill in relation to statistics which is common - particularly among salesmen and advertisers, politicians, pressure groups and journalists - if the ability to pick the statistic which best supports the story you want to tell.
Unfortunately that particular statistic will only rarely and incidentally be the one which is also the most helpful and accurate in understanding the whole truth.
I was prompted to revisit the need to improve statistical knowledge when an individual who may or not have meant to be ironic posted a comment on this blog in response to a mention of misleading averages. He or she asked whether the concept that averages could be misleading was my idea.
No, it's not my idea, people who write books about how to understand and use statistics have been including chapters about issues such as how averages can be misleading for well over half a century. And anyone for whom the idea is a surprise or novelty really does need to read one of those books.
It is apparent that many people, including some who are very eminent in areas of knowledge other than mathematics, lack the most basic understanding of statistics. What is even more unfortunate is that some of those people wrongly imagine that they do understand statistics, sometimes to an extent amounting to Dunning-Kruger delusions of competence. They can do terrible damage as a result.
A classic example from earlier in this century, about which I blogged here at the time and revisited here occurred when one of the most distinguished paediatricians in Britain - a man who really did know a vast amount about children's illness and mortality - was struck off when it became clear that he had given mistaken evidence as an expert witness in murder trials, evidence which resulted in at least two women who were almost certainly innocent being sent to jail.
That disciplinary action was quashed by a court, during a legal battle which eventually produced a compromise ruling; the decision to strike him off stayed quashed, but fortunately the Appeal Court overturned an unwise finding by a lower court that expert witnesses were immune from disciplinary action for giving inaccurate evidence. So expert witnesses who cause a miscarriage of justice by giving evidence in court which is dangerous nonsense can be held to account for it.
The basic problem was that neither the expert witness himself nor the people who should have challenged him realised that his vast expertise in one area - child health - did not translate into understanding of statistics. He gave evidence as an expert witness in the trials of a number of women whose children had died and who were accused of murdering them.
Unfortunately, because of his enormous knowledge of paediatrics, at least two juries accepted at face value statements which he made about the probability of a family losing two or more children to cot death which were completely wrong and gross underestimates because he apparently did not understand the concept of conditional probability. As a consequence of this misunderstanding of statistics, at least two women who were almost certainly innocent were wrongly convicted of murder.
The expert witness was the main culprit, but he was not the only one. The defence lawyers should have challenged his statistics. The jurors should have realised that his expertise in medicine did not guarantee expertise in maths. But above all, our society is too ready to both to tolerate bad statistics unless we have good reason to want to disbelieve them, and to reject good statistical data which does not fit our preconceptions. This particular case, where innocent women were sent to jail because of bad statistics, is an extreme one but it is far from being the only case.
Anyone who serves as a judge, barrister or on the jury in a court, any citizen of a democracy who wants to be able to cast their vote having made an intelligent assessment of the statistics put out by competing candidates or campaigns, and anyone who doesn't want to be easily fooled by clever but misleading adverts, would be very will advised to make sure he or she has read at least one good book on how to understand statistics and avoid being fooled by bad ones.
One of the oldest, but still one of the best and easiest to understand is "How to lie with statistics" by Darrell Huff. Apart from, perhaps, what sixty years of inflation has done to the relevance of some of the prices quoted, this excellent book has aged astonishingly well and almost everything in it is still very relevant indeed,
Despite being about numbers but manages to be both extremely easy to read and very entertaining.
And although it is so accessible that a ten-year old of average intelligence should be able to understand everything in this book, the points it makes are so universal in application that even someone with much greater mathematical knowledge - and I write this as a graduate with two degrees in a discipline which requires statistical understanding - can find it full of useful reminders and even the odd valuable idea you might not have thought of or heard of.
The book is about how numbers can be manipulated, by accident or design, to trick people into making false conclusions, and how to spot when you are being fed misleading numbers.
Anyone with a serious interest in the subject who wants an update on some of the more recent examples of how statistics are misused might start by reading "How to Lie with Statistics" and then follow up with the equally good "Damned Lies and Statistics" by Joel Best, which is more current and nearly as accessible. The two books complement each other very well. Best has written a sequel, "More damned lies and statistics."
If every voter read books like these, fewer bad politicians would be elected on the basis of dishonest campaign statistics. If every consumer read them, fewer bad products would be sold on the basis of dishonest advertising statistics, and if every journalist read them there might be less harm done by scare stories based on bad statistics.
Congratulations to John and Lesley Sloan and all involved with the successful event at Moor Row Club this afternoon which I understand raised about £2000 for cancer charities, Young Lives vs. Cancer, MacMillans and Danica's Dream Fund.
Magnificent effort, it was obvious that people had worked very hard preparing it.
Friday, September 24, 2021
Anyone who puts their head above the parapet and stands for election can expect to be the target of criticism. Where this is discussion, even robust discussion, of their views and actions, it is fair comment. But sometimes it crosses the line into abuse.
And it is my impression that, other things being equal, you get significantly more of this on social media for each of the following which apply
- If you are a tory
- If you are female
- If you are a member of an ethnic minority
The most obvious example of someone who is all three and gets an inexcusable amount of abuse is, of course, the home secretary, Priti Patel. Many of the comments aimed at her are such that the very people making them would rightly describe as racist and misogynistic equivalent comments made about, say, Diane Abbott MP or Dawn Butler MP.
When Theresa May was prime minister she once said that you don't have to agree with a word Diane Abbott says to find the volume of abuse directed at Britain's first female ethnic minority MP to be unacceptable. Similarly you don't have to agree with a word Priti Patel says or with her policies to find a great deal of what is posted on social media or indeed printed in supposedly respectable newspapers like the Guardian about Britain's first ethnic minority female Home Secretary to be well out of order.
As the US economist Thomas Sowell pointed out in my Quote of the Day below, it is a little absurd to say that you want to see minorities fairly represented in positions of power and then vilify members of ethnic minorities who have been elected to such positions as members of political parties you don't happen to agree with as traitors. But the left is very prone to vilifying black Conservatives on exactly that kind of basis.
Besides the home secretary there are several more BAME female Conservative politicians who get similar flak from the left. One of them is Kemi Badenoch MP, who was promoted in the recent reshuffle. Not for the first time, the left is running a smear campaign against her, as described by Daniel Johnson on the Article site here. It will not work. When will they ever learn?
The Economist magazine makes a strong case for the resignation of Kristalina Georgieva, who is now head of the IMF, for her role in an incident when she was deputy which appears to amounted to fiddling figures the IMF publishes to benefit China and three other countries.
As they begin
"In 2003 the world bank launched a league table that assessed the ease of doing business in different countries around the world. By 2017 Li Keqiang, China’s prime minister, grumbled that his country was lagging behind its peers. At his urging, officials began freeing entrepreneurs from red tape—and crimson ink. They cut fees, streamlined approvals, and began to use electronic seals instead of the traditional ink stamp on many documents."
So far, so good - the figures gave China an incentive to make it easier to do business there. the problem occurred when the government of China was not satisfied that the latest IMF figures reflected adequately the progress they had made.
According to the magazine, a new investigation has found that IMF staff
"improperly altered the scores of China and three other countries. They wanted to spare China an embarrassing fall in the rankings in 2017, just as its reforms were gathering steam. According to the investigation, the China tweaks were carried out at the behest of the bank’s then president, Jim Yong Kim, and his second-in-command, Kristalina Georgieva."
Ms Georgieva says she only asked researchers to triple-check the data. However,
"The investigators found that she and the team explored a change in the bank’s method (ie, including only one city per country) to engineer a better result. And, according to the bank’s own review, the tweaks that were finally implemented introduced errors rather than removing them."
The magazine points out that the IMF is the custodian of data standards for the world’s macroeconomic statistics. The head of the IMF must hold the ring while two of its biggest shareholders, America and China, confront each other in a new era of geopolitical rivalry. They point out that te IMF's critics
"are already citing this affair as evidence that international bodies cannot stand up to China. The next time the IMF tries to referee a currency dispute, or helps reschedule the debt of a country that has borrowed from China, the fund’s critics are sure to cite this investigation to undermine the institution’s credibility."
they argue that the best way to restore that credibility is for Ms Georgieva to fall on her sword,
You can read the full article here (You may need to register.)
Thursday, September 23, 2021
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
“The growth of social media and the rapid polarisation of our political sphere have demonstrated more than ever that debate in the absence of civility can be not only unproductive but hugely damaging.”
Professor Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, while introducing a debate on freedom of speech among students and staff.
You don't have to agree with all his views and actions in relation to free speech to realise that he had a point with this one,
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
If you have heard local community leaders in Cumbria or two other areas of the country where it is taking place use the acronym "LGR" they mean "Local government reorganisation."
Cumbria County Council and the six district councils in the county are all being abolished and replaced with two new "Unitary" councils, one covering the are currently served by Allerdale Borough Council, Carlisle City Council and Copeland Borough Council, the other covering the area currently served by Barrow-in-Furness, Eden and South Lakeland councils.
This is an opportunity to provide better service and a challenge - if it is done right it has the potential to improve services by putting in one place services which should be provided co-operatively but have been hampered by the failure of County and District level counties to work together - it shouild also save considerable sums by having fewer politicians, administrators and duplicated administration which can be redirected to front-line services.
The challenge is to make sure that it is done right, and that the enormous effort required to build the new councils - and to do it on a tight timescale - does not lead to a loss of focus on the issues important to residents of Cumbria.
Cllr Hilary Carrick, the Leader of the Conservative Group on Cumbria County Council, has a piece on Conservative Home about the process and the range of opinions about it.
You can read it here
“Indelibly seared into my memory are the scenes I witnessed while liberating these centres of death and destruction. Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision I can never forget — the crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh, the mounds of emaciated corpses stacked like cordwood waiting to be burned… I had peered into Hell.”
(Ben Ferencz, 101 years old, and the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, in the book "Planethood" referenced in an interview piece published today on the "The Article" website, "Peering into Hell" which can be read here and is worth a read.)
Monday, September 20, 2021
The pensions committee which manages the pension funds for all the councils and various other public services in Cumbria meetings tomorrow (21st September 2021) at 9.30 am in Cumbria House, Botchergate, Carlisle. Some but not all of the meeting will be open to the public.
As you would expect of a body which looks after £3 billion of public money and the retirement savings of thousands of public servants, the reports to the committee are quite detailed and thorough - the full agenda is two inches thick and runs to 775 pages.
Those papers which are available to the public can be found on the council website at
The main reason some parts of the committee's work is not public is that when you are buying or selling assets it is not in your interests to give away advance notice of your negotiating position by determining it in public. That would not be in the interests of Cumbria's taxpayers or public employees.
Sunday, September 19, 2021
I wasn't planning to mention the Lib/Dems again for a while after my piece on the first couple of days of their conference, but there is a question they really should be asked.
Is their policy on building new houses the one they had previously described at Westminster and reaffirmed again this weekend in a motion passed at their conference to build 380,000 new houses a year?
Or is their policy the anti-housebuilding position on which their candidate and now MP Sarah Green fought the Chesham and Amersham by-election?
Because it can't be both.
Either the motion they passed yesterday at their conference calling for 380,000 new houses to be built each year was pure window dressing with no relation to anything they would actually attempt to do, or the anti-housebuilding stance taken by Sarah Green's campaign and reaffirmed today by their party leader Ed Davey was a cynical and duplicitous trick on the voters of Chesham and Amersham.
There are difficult choices facing any party in government, or running a planning authority, on how to get the houses people need while making sure there is enough infrastructure to support them and no area is ruined by overdevelopment. You cannot please everyone, or indeed, as I know to my cost, run a national or local planning body without making lots of enemies, and the harder you try to get the balance right the more enemies you make.
But any party which tells young people desperate to get on the housing ladder they they're going to build 380,000 new homes each year while simultaneously promising middle-class homeowners in constituencies like Chesham and Amersham that they will stop the Tories building so many houses is not to be trusted. At least one of those promises has to be untrue.
Sorry to learn of the death of legendary Spurs and England football star Jimmy Greaves at the age of 81.
To one generation of football fans he was a popular commentator, particularly remembered half of the "Saint and Greavsie" partnership with former Scotland and Liverpool player Ian St John (who also died this year.)
To an earlier generation of football fans Jimmy Greaves was one of the greatest goal scorers of all time.
Rest in Peace
“We don’t think what Tim and Sue are doing is particularly helpful. There is an urgent need for real action to tackle climate change, but blocking roads and sewing your lips together is not the right way to go about it.
“It’s this sort of thing that alienates people and makes them think that tackling the climate crisis is not possible without extremist measures. We don't think the protests this week led to anything other than irritated drivers and could well have placed people in danger.”
(Church of England sources quoted in the Telegraph referring to the Reverend Tim Hewes and the Reverend Sue Parfitt, two priests who were among the protesters who glued themselves to M25 slip roads this week)
Saturday, September 18, 2021
A very big thank you to all those generous souls who have so far sponsored me for Swimathon 2021 and thereby supported two excellent causes - Cancer research UK and Marie Curie Cancer Care.
I completed the swimathon - 200 lengths of Copeland Pool (5,000 metres) in two hours and nine minutes; here are the swimming cap and medal I have to remember the event
You can view my sponsorship page - and donate to Cancer Research and Marie Curie if you are feeling generous - by licking on this link:
I generally try to avoid putting in too many comments on political parties other than my own into this blog - indeed, when I quote a politician from another party it is often one of the rare occasions when I agree with him or her.
So this is my first mention of the Lib/Dems for weeks and frankly, this one will probably last me for the rest of the year.
All political parties get accused of facing both ways at once, and because grown-up politics is often a compromise between competing priorities, there is often a bit of justice in it.
But few parties are capable of being as comprehensively two-faced as the Liberal Democrats and in the first two days of their conference they are set to excel themselves.
The Liberal Democrat conference could almost be an attempt to prove that their leadercannot be trusted.
Friday, September 17, 2021
"Nothing in the world can stand in the way of the unification of China"
If Chinese 'unification' with Taiwan cannot be achieved peacefully, then "any means will be possible" says Victor Gao, vice president of the Centre for China and globalisation.
Well, if the People's Republic of China is really willing to consider "any means" to persuade the people of Taiwan to rejoin them, here are a few suggestions for things they could do to make the people of Taiwan want to do so.
Prove that territories which join China will be treated well and the promises made by the PRC on how it will treat such territories will be honoured by keeping the promises made to Hong Kong
- Honour the promise of "One country, two systems"
- Scrap the National security law and restore freedom of speech and assembly and fair trials
- Release all the people unjustly arrested for non-violent protests or for having the "wrong" political opinions
- Reinstate Legco members sacked for believing in the democratic principles they were elected to uphold, pending free elections.
- Restore independent courts and free elections to Legco
- Close the 380 re-education camps in Xinjiang province in which about a million people, mostly from predominantly muslim ethnic minorities such as Uighurs, have been detained, release and compnsate the victims who are or have been detained there
- Stop persecuting and discriminating against other religious groups including Bhuddists, Falun Gong and Christians
Design work for the next-generation of Royal Navy submarines is underway following the award of two contracts to UK industry, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced today.
Two contracts worth £85 million each have been awarded to BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce to deliver design and concept work for a future class of Royal Navy submarine.
Over the next three years and supporting 350 jobs - 250 for BAE at Barrow in Furness and 100 at Rolls-Royce in Dervby - the contracts will deliver design work for the replacements for the Astute Class submarines – the nuclear powered fleet of submarines (SSNs) currently in service with the Royal Navy.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
“Marking the start of a new journey for the Royal Navy’s submarines, British designers and engineers will lead the way in developing submarines for our Royal Navy.
“This multi-million pound investment ensures that this vital capability will be ready to replace our Astute Class submarines as they come out of service, whilst supporting high-skilled jobs across the Midlands and North West of England.”
The Defence Secretary is firmly committed to supporting the UK shipbuilding and maritime industries, of which these contracts will play an important role. Underpinned by the Prime Minister’s £24 billion increase in defence spending across four years, these contracts build upon commitments outlined in the recent Defence Command Paper ensuring that the Royal Navy has a world-leading underwater capability prepared to meet future threats.
There was another meeting which was an important first today - a hybrid meeting of the NHS community forum for the Northern two-thirds of Cumbria - covering the NCIC area, which roughly corresponds to the local authority areas of Allerdale, Carlisle, Copeland and Eden (and to the historic county of Cumberland.)
This was a hybrid meeting - with some people physically present in one room while others joined online via Zoom. I think this was a first for Cumbria - a lot of public bodies have had online meetings, some have gone back to physical ones, and some in other parts of the country - including parliament - have experimented with hybrid meetings but I do not recall a similar hybrid meeting in this county,
I thought it worked well and I hope we will consider continuing this kind of meeting where it is appropriate even after the pandemic.
One item of very good news from the meeting was that the plans for the next stage of redevelopment of West Cumberland Hospital will be going on display next week, at the hospital, online, and via the press. We had a preview today and they look really encouraging.
Watch this space for details of how you can see the new plans online.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Congratulations to Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, on joining the government as a junior Transport minister as the Prime Minister appoints a new cabinet and ministerial team to build back better from the pandemic and deliver on the people’s priorities.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Monday, September 13, 2021
Alex Massie has written a very powerful response to the separatist fantasies in which the SNP indulged at their virtual conference. Here are a few extracts.
“Even by the elevated standards of nationalist chutzpah, Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the virtual SNP conference was a remarkable exercise in sophistry. In this, if little else, the first minister truly is the world-beating leader that her followers imagine her to be.
Her government’s failures, you see, are not really its fault. Rather, she is hamstrung by the inadequacies of the opposition at Holyrood.
Just as Celtic and Rangers have historically blamed their failures in European football on the inadequate opposition provided by the likes of Motherwell or Kilmarnock, so the SNP’s shortcomings are apparently the responsibility of the Tories and Labour and even, heavens, the Liberal Democrats.”
“Effective opposition matters in a democracy”, the first minister said, “but that is not what we have in Scotland”.
Perhaps so and perhaps not, but effective government also matters and we don’t have that either.
Speaking of the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic, Sturgeon reiterated that her “overriding priority every day is to keep Scotland as safe as possible”. Doubtless this is so but if safety is understood more broadly — if it is considered as a financial proposition — the first minister remains determined to pursue a course of reckless national impoverishment.
“The SNP asks Scots to place their faith in a vision of independence in which Scotland, most unusually, would try to operate without a central bank. In such circumstances the 2008 financial crisis would have shipwrecked Scotland and so would the pandemic.
As John Swinney has finally acknowledged, quantitative easing — the mechanism by which the Bank of England has, like other central banks, bought massive quantities of debt — would not be available to Scotland. The alternative would be to sell debt on the open market, a risky proposition for a fledgling state with no financial history and one guaranteed to be alarmingly, ruinously, expensive.
“As reality is an unpleasantly tough business, it is better to retreat to the comfort of wishful thinking. It is considered unseemly, even vulgar, to note the practical difficulties imposed by independence. Far better to pretend everything will be all right on the night. Or, as Sturgeon pretends, the “challenges” of independence are no greater or different to the challenges any country faces. This too is not the truth.
Increasingly I find myself with greater time and respect for those rare nationalists who acknowledge the difficulties of independence but think it worthwhile despite the cost, than for the greater number who insist all shall be for the best in this, the best of all imaginary worlds.”
“It bears repeating that all previous editions of the case for independence have been built on doses of wishful thinking so heroic they amount to a kind of fraud. The 2014 White Paper on independence was a fantasy now quietly disowned by those who authored it.”
“This much is clear” Sturgeon said in her speech, “Democracy must, and will, prevail”. The first minister insists those who oppose a referendum are the enemies of democracy.”
“The people disrespecting democracy are the nationalists who insist 2014 produced a result that has no meaning or standing whatsoever. Sturgeon insists her election victory gives her a mandate but her opponents’ mandate, which stems from the 2014 result, still has relevance too. Hence the impasse in which we find ourselves and no amount of whining from either side can change this reality.”
You can read the full article - it is behind a paywall but they offer a certain number of "taster" free articles at
Sunday, September 12, 2021
I have suuccessfully completed the Swimathon 2021 5k (5000 metre) challenge, 200 lengths of Copeland Swimming pool, to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie cancer care. Took two hours nine minutes. Tired but happy.
Thanks to those who have already sponsored me. Anyone else who wishes to do so can donate online via Justgiving by clicking on this link
Here are my swimming hat and medal for this year (I have quite a collection now:after doing this for 28 consecutive years)
A meeting of the County Council Local Committee for Copeland will be held on tomorrow, Monday 13 September 2021 at 10.15 am.
This will also be physical meeting which will take place at Cleator Moor Civic Hall and Masonic Centre, Jacktrees Road, Cleator Moor, CA25 5AU
The agenda and all supporting documents can be found at