Saturday, December 20, 2014

Helping older people find work

There is rightly a lot of concern about youth unemployment, but people at the other end of the working age spectrum need jobs too.

That's why the government is launching a trial scheme next year to help older people find work.

Unemployed over-50s will be offered "career reviews" and help using computers as part of plans to get more people in that age group into work. The trial will also include seven "older worker champions" across the UK.

An estimated 1.2 million over-50s are unemployed and "willing to work" - and if they all found jobs it would add £50bn to the economy. Employment Minister Esther McVey pointed out that it is wrong that so many skilled people are "locked out" of work.

Long-term unemployment in the wider population fell 16% in the past year - but joblessness among the over 50s fell by only 3.5%.

The trial, to be launched in April, will include training in CV and interview skills, the internet and social media, as well as "career reviews" with an expert to identify skills from previous work and any training needs.

"Champions" will be appointed in seven areas of the UK. That will cost the taxpayer £250,000 but if they have any success in helping people back to work the scheme will very soon pay for itself.

McVey said that part of the programme is about "challenging outdated stereotypes".

"The plight of unemployed older workers has gone under the radar for too long. There's something fundamentally wrong with so many skilled and experienced people finding themselves locked out of the workplace simply because of their age," she told BBC Radio 5 live.

She pointed to "record numbers" of people getting into work since 2010, adding that in the past year more than 250,000 people over 50 had found jobs.

Ester McVey explained that the scheme is not in any way about older workers taking the place of younger employees.

"More jobs are being created in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. We've just got to make sure that everybody is a part of that growth" she said.

PC Neil Doyle RIP

Police Constable Neil Doyle was murdered while off duty this week.

It is not yet certain why he was attacked, but he was one of three off-duty police officers who were attacked while they were on a Christmas night out together in plain clothes. One of the lines of inquiry for those investigating the murder is that they were attacked because they had been recognised as policemen.

PC Doyle's murder is therefore a reminder to us all of the risks taken and sacrifices made on our behalf  by the police officers who protect us.

Neil Doyle had been married in July and had been due to go on  honeymoon with his new wife next month.

He had joined Merseyside Police in May 2004, and was an operational officer who was described as "well liked and respected by his colleagues." Most of his time working as a police officer had been spent in Liverpool, and he had been commended for his actions when arresting three men in a "violent offensive robbery"

Merseyside Police Federation chairman Peter Singleton told the BBC that PC Doyle was "a good cop that any officer would be proud to call a colleague".

"Neil was the kind of officer the police service is built on. This is devastating news," he said.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 20th December 2014

"He would, wouldn't he?"

(Mandy Rice-Davies, who died yesterday. This was of course the riposte she gave from the witness box in 1963, when still a teenager, for which she is best remembered, when told that a prominent politician had denied sleeping with her. The response is still referred to today, sometimes using the abbreviation MRDA for "Mandy Rice-Davies applies")

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mad Friday - don't overdo it

I've just seen Cumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner, Richard Rhodes, on TV on the streets of Whitehaven with the local police as part of a message reminding people not to overdo their celebrations today.

Of course people can and should enjoy themselves on finishing work at the start of the last weekend before Christmas. But let's remember that our A&E services are already working flat out at the moment because of the time of year and under more pressure than at any time since weekly records started. So don't unnecessarily become one of their customers!

Inflation falls to 12-year low

Figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics show that on the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure, the UK's rate of inflation has fallen to a 12-year low.

The Consumer Prices Index,which assesses the cost of basic household goods - fell to a rate of 1% in November from 1.3% in October.

Inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index, while slightly higher than on the CPI measure, also fell to the lowest value of that index for several years, in this case from 2.3% to a five-year low of 2% .

The Office for National Statistics said falling fuel prices, caused by the decline in global oil prices, have brought the costs of both road and air travel down, with petrol prices down 5.9% in November.

Additionally, food prices fell by 1.7%, helped by supermarket price wars, while recreation and culture prices fell by 0.3%.

Both food and fuel account for a large part of the ONS' inflation calculations.

The Bank of England, which has been set a target for CPI inflation of 2%, said last month that the rate could drop below 1% in the next six months.

One consequence of the low level of inflation which will be good news for businesses and borrowers, though less good for savers, is that that the Bank is unlikely to raise interest rates from the historic low of 0.5% for some time. Of course, it also means that inflation will do less damage to the value of savings

If inflation were to fall below 1%, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, would have to write a letter of explanation to the chancellor.

Ben Brettell, an economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, told the BBC  that the Bank will not be too concerned by the fact that inflation is below target.

"A fall below 1% now looks likely, but the resulting letter of explanation from Mark Carney to the chancellor should be relatively easy to write," he said.

"A reduction in fuel costs is good news for the UK economy, and can be seen as broadly analogous to a tax cut. It should ease the pressure on household budgets and boost consumer spending."

I'm also extremely relaxed about inflation being below target as long as it does not actually go negative - falling overall prices can do horrible things to an economy, but so can rising prices. I raised my eyebrows at the idea that a drop in the world price of oil is analogous to a tax cut. One obvious difference is that reducing the price of oil is not something the government has done, though it is true that it has the effect of a transfer of spending power from the government to the citizens, which I presume is what Mr Brettell meant.

Basically low inflation is good news which will help the process of recovery.

Quotes of the day 19th December 2014

"A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them."

(John C Maxwell)

"I am humble enough to recognise that I have made mistakes, but politically astute enough to have forgotten what they are."

(Michael Heseltine 04/04/1992 and see also the comment thread on Tuesday 16th December's Quote of the Day) 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

William Hague predicts the 2015 election will be close (and I agree!)

William Hague writes ...

"We know next year's election is going to be close.

The other parties have already started eyeing up cosy deals:
  • Nigel Farage has said he'd prop up Ed Miliband as Prime Minister
  • The Scottish National Party have drawn up a shopping list of demands in return for a deal with Labour
  • And the Greens have promised to "push Labour to be truer to its original principle" if they join with Ed Miliband
One thing's clear: we need to make sure Britain avoids the chaos and uncertainty of a Labour-led coalition government - and we need your help to do so.

A group of supporters have promised to match any donation you make today - so please donate to our campaign and your contribution will be doubled.

Britain needs strong and stable leadership and a clear economic plan to secure a better future. Only the Conservatives can deliver that.

Make a donation to our campaign today - and your donation will be matched, pound for pound, doubling your contribution:

Thank you,

William Hague
PS Every vote will matter at this crucial election. Every call we make, every leaflet we deliver, every door we knock on could change the outcome. Please contribute to our campaign today - and get your donation matched, pound for pound.

Quote of the day 18th December 2014

"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination"

(Nelson Mandela)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quotes of the day 17th December 2014

"Beware of false knowledge, it is more dangerous than ignorance"

(George Bernard Shaw)

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

(The same statement in rather earthier language which I have seen variously attributed to three 19th-century American humourists: Mark Twain,  Will Rogers and Josh Billings, among others.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

DC writes about the importance of small businesses

This is a statement the Prime Minister issued for Small Business Saturday last week

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy - and they make our communities stronger.

The hard work of those who run them and work for them - the early starts and the late finishes - helps create jobs for others, while providing the goods and services every neighbourhood needs.

The Conservatives are backing small businesses every way we can: lower taxes, better infrastructure, less red tape.

Small Business Saturday is our chance to say thank you to the pubs, plumbers, butchers, garages, cafes and other businesses that are the backbone of our communities.

So please - share this graphic on Facebook and Twitter and say thank you to the small businesses in your area.

Graphic - Thank you
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


David Cameron

Quote of the day 16th December 2014

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

(Quoted as an answer to any attentive reader who may have noticed that the quotes I have put down on success and failure over the last fortnight represent different views and do not always perfectly align.) 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The choice at the next election: competence or chaos

David Cameron writes:

"There is a simple choice at the next election: between competence and chaos.

With our long-term economic plan, you get competence.

Sound public finances and reducing the deficit are at the heart of our plan.

Today we have published a new Charter for Budget Responsibility, which makes clear our commitment to making £30 billion of savings in the first two years of the next Parliament.

We have already cut the deficit in half - and now we have set out clear steps to finish the job. And a Conservative Government will run a budget surplus by 2018/19.

It is vital we see our plan through - so please add your name today to back the action we're taking to build a stronger, healthier economy.

Continuing to borrow more indefinitely, to pile on the debt, would leave Britain completely unprepared should any crisis hit in the future.

But that is exactly what Labour would do. Their plans involve running a budget deficit - permanently adding to the debt - every year. Indefinitely.

The independent experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies are clear: under a Labour government "you'd have much more borrowing, and therefore government debt."

They say that Labour's borrowing rules would allow them to borrow £28 billion more. And according to Treasury analysis of the equivalent of Labour's policy, the national debt would be almost £500 billion bigger in 21 years' time.

That would mean higher taxes on you, your family and on Britain's businesses.

And it would mean under-funded public services - because you cannot have a strong NHS, strong schools, strong police forces, strong anything without a strong economy.

The consequences of Labour's plans do not bear thinking about. They would lead to total and utter chaos.

So please back our plan today and let's stay on course to prosperity - and secure a better future for Britain.

Thank you,

David Cameron"
Donate today

Coming clean about torture

Senator John McCain probably knows more than the rest of the US Senate put together about severe methods of interrogation, having been on the receiving end himself when he was a prisoner of war. He described the interrogation methods used by the CIA and described in the recent Senate report as a stain on the honour of America.

Let's be clear about this - torture has no place in any stage of bringing the guilty to justice. And although there must be a temptation to use extreme methods in interrogating a prisoner who you believe might have information which could save many innocent lives, the evidence that torture actually works even in this case is extremely limited. No civilised country should use this sort of tactics or condone them - and I do wonder how much the Blair government knew about what was happening. There is a case for an inquiry into whether any British agencies were involved.

But I do think that the US system deserves some credit for the transparency with which the US Senate has conducted and published the results of their investigation.

I cannot think of another country in their world whose legislature would have openly published a report as embarrassing and damning as the one  the US senate brought out this month concerning how suspected terrorists have been treated.

The fact that this report has been published will have an affect on how prisoners and suspects are treated in future, not just on suspects held by the USA and its' allies but around the world. There will be short-term damage to the reputation of the West caused by - entirely justified - horror at what has been going on. With regimes and organisations which treat people even worse being the first to point hypocritical fingers at the USA.

But when people see that the truth can come out, they will start to look over their shoulders. And in the long term, the decision of the US Senate to, borrowing the Iron Duke's words, "Publish and be damned" will do more damage to totalitarian regimes than it will to democracies.

Quote of the day 15th Decembver 2014

"A state without the means of some change is without the means of its' conservation"

(Edmund Burke)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cumbrian School highlighted in OFSTED report

Keswick School in Cumbria was included as a case study of outstanding practice in Ofsted’s annual report for 2013-14 which was published last week. This annual report receives national media attention and indicates the state of primary and secondary education across the UK.

Keswick School is the second case study in the report (p18) and features as an example of how curriculum design and enrichment opportunities can result in outstanding outcomes for young people.

The report states:

"Case study: a balanced curriculum
Keswick School in the North West offers a fantastic wealth of courses, visits and enrichment opportunities.

The curriculum ensures that pupils’ skills and talents are equally encouraged in activities that range from fell running to Russian and creative writing to catering. Any student who has an idea for a course, a club or a school visit is given every encouragement to make their idea become a reality.

The sixth form curriculum is excellent. Sixth formers are particularly well prepared for future employment and higher education through the outstanding programme of study they are given. They take full advantage of the myriad opportunities to take responsibility and consequently make a major contribution to the success of the school."

My experience of OFSTED inspections over something like 25 years a governor of various schools is that getting this level of praise from them is a considerable achievement. Congratulations to all at Keswick who have worked so hard to produce the excellent results for students which the OFSTED report praises.

Quote of the day 14th December 2014

“There are no secrets to success: don’t waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence.”
( Colin Powell )

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Are you a British Citizen living abroad ?

A significant minority of the traffic on this blog come from outside the United Kingdom: I suspect that some of these viewers  may be British people living or working outside the UK who were searching for news of home.

If you are a British citizen currently living abroad, have you registered to vote in Britain?

The next election is the most important in a generation - and it's vital that everyone who can vote gets behind the Conservative plans to secure a better future for Britain.

And if you are planning to return home, it's your future too.

Of the 5 million British people living abroad, virtually none are registered to vote - despite the fact it's now really simple to do online.

In fact, it only takes 5 minutes to sign up for a postal vote.

So if you might be eligible to vote, you can check and register to do so by following  this link:

The one thing academic experts and people on every party of the political spectrum agree on is that next year's British General election is the hardest to predict in a lifetime - and could easily be very close indeed. In an election with so much at stake, votes from British people living abroad could be the difference between a Conservative Government committed to reducing the deficit, cutting taxes and building a stronger, healthier economy - or a return to higher taxes, higher borrowing, and less control over welfare with Labour.

Please share this link - - with people who currently live outside the UK.

And together, we can secure a better future for Britain.

Campaigning in Carlisle

Spent this morning in Dalston ward, Carlisle constituency with John Stevenson MP and his campaign team, and my colleagues from Cumbria Conservatives' Area Management Executive.

We then had a very interesting seminar on membership presented by Rob Semple, who as President of the National Conservative Convention was the chairman of this year's party conference.

Quote of the day 13th December 2014

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”
( George Bernard Shaw )

Friday, December 12, 2014

Travel Troubles

Have been travelling round the country for the past three days. I was working in Birmingham for my employer on Wednesday, and then travelled down to the Bristol area last night for a meeting of Bristol University Court (of which I am a member) this morning.

In both cases the journey out went without a hitch and the journey home was stressful. My trip to Birmingham on Wednesday morning took the expected four hours and I arrived in good time but because wind brought a tree down on the railway power cables near Lancaster, effectively closing the Northbound West West Coast Main line for several hours at that point, my journey home took eight hours instead of four and I was one of thousands of people who had a badly disrupted journey. Similarly the trip down to Bristol went smoothly despite some very wet weather but the M5 and M6 were dire this afternoon and evening and I arrived home rather later than I had hoped and planned.

Those who oppose HS2 and HS3 are entitled to their views and I can also see the case that if these projects go ahead it is important to have adequate compensation to those who will lose out if the railway is built close to their homes.

But I am entitled to my views too and, as someone who lives in the North West but sometimes had good reason to travel to other parts of the UK on business or public service, I think we desperately need improvements and modernisation  in the transport infrastructure serving the Northern areas of the UK - and not just to Birmingham or even Manchester and Yorkshire either. 

Quote of the day 12th December 2014

“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.”
( Winston S. Churchill )

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quote of the day 10th December 2014

“I can't tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
( Ed Sheeran )

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Consultation on proposed move of Whitehaven Lowther Street Post Office

The post office is carrying out a consultation, which runs until 23rd December 2014, on a proposal to move the Crown post office at Lowther Street, Whitehaven to the W.H. Smith branch at King Street.

Details of the proposed change can be found at

(If you go to this page via the Post Office main site, the branch consultation code for this particular proposed change is 005410.)

The main advantage for customers is extended opening hours at the weekend: it is proposed that the new Post Office branch at Smiths will be open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in addition to the current Saturday morning opening.

The new branch is proposed to have four service positions, two screened and two open plan: that is supposed to be based on the current demand levels but strikes me as a bit light (the current post office has six screened positions, and although they are not usually all open I have seen more than four open at peak times.)

If you have views on this, please put them forward before Christmas. Options to do this include going online at the above website (it takes about five minutes to fill in as there are a lot of mandatory questions), by sending an email to or by phoning 08456 223344.

And yes, you can do it by post at "FREEPOST Your Comments."

Quote of the day 9th December 2014

“Never was anything great achieved without danger.”
( Niccolò Machiavelli )

Monday, December 08, 2014

Hail Caesar (and snow and rain)

Well, the boys and girls at the Met Office who issued that snow and ice warning for Cumbria were not kidding. It hasn't been quite so bad in Whitehaven after a severe hailstorm shortly before 8am this morning, but if you are out and about in Cumbria today do wrap up warmly and take care.

Doing a Thornberry

It occurred to me after one of yesterday's posts that I have now used the expression of "Doing a Thornberry" on someone in two separate posts without making clear what I meant.

The extraordinary thing about the tweet which terminated Emily Thornberry's membership of the shadow cabinet was that it appeared at first view entirely harmless, and it was the way it was subsequently presented that was so disastrous for her. I had to spend ten minutes explaining to one of my family, who is not lacking in political awareness, why a picture of a house with the three word caption "Image from #Rochester" could possibly be a resigning matter.

And of course, if Labour still had the sort of efficient spin operation which Campbell and Mandelson ran for Blair, it wouldn't have been.

The tweet was so damaging to Labour because their opponents in the press and on the net were able to convince many people that the tweet was a coded sneer against the sort of working class voter who live in houses like that one. Which they were only able to do because Thornberry's response to the tweet failed to squash that interpretation and, even more damning, the fact that half the Labour party promptly started attacking her for it, and the way Ed Miliband sacked her demonstrated only too clearly that they believed the tweet meant exactly what her opponents said it did. If she'd said she was impressed by the patriotism of the residents of the house, and everyone had stuck to that line, how could anyone have proved her wrong?

To explain what was meant in my earlier posts, I now use the expression "Doing a Thornberry" on sometime to mean successfully presenting a post or comment on the internet as a politically suicidal attack on people whose support is essential to the author of the item so represented. Irrespective of whether this attack is in fact a fair representation of what was meant.

Quote of the day 8th December 2014

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
( Winston S. Churchill )

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Hitler/Alex Salmond finds out the result of the Scottish Indyref

Having posted the brilliant "I won't survive" parody by Adrian Davis-Johnston about the need to keep West Cumberland Hospital, and the "We Want Out Hall" parody about the Civic, I thought I might also post the "Downfall" parody in which Hitler invades Whitehaven and is horrified to find out that Copeland Council have shut down the Civic Hall, the public toilets, etc ...

I didn't feel able to post it on this blog because it would make it too easy for someone to do a Thornberry on me. If you took some of the things in the "Hitler invades Whitehaven" downfall parody on Youtube out of context, and suggested that by posting it I had endorsed them, it would then be possible to make it look like I'd crossed the line between criticising the Labour group on Copeland Council and insulting Whitehaven.

But I also found this Downfall parody which it seemed rather appropriate on the weekend that Alex Salmond is planning to stand again as an MP.

My favourite image from the campaign was that of Mr Salmond and the Flying Scotsman - unfortunately for him the letter F appeared to have been put on one of the trains' doors and it when that door was open it appeared to be a commentary on the then First Minister's trustworthiness ...

This Youtube clip suggests what it might have been like to be a fly on the wall when Alex Salmond learned the result of the Indyref ...

Winter is icumin in ...

Warp up warm if you're going out anywhere in West Cumbria tonight or tomorrow morning: it has been very cold and windy this weekend and there is a Met Office snow and ice warning for Cumbria this evening and tomorrow morning as follows
  1. From:
  2. 2030 on Sun 7 December
  3. To:
  4. 1200 on Mon 8 December
  5. Updated 1 hour ago Active
  6. Warning

  7. Showers will affect the area during Sunday night and into Monday morning, falling increasingly as snow above 200-300 m with a mixture of rain, hail, sleet and snow to lower levels. Accumulating snow may lead to travel disruption on routes over high ground, whilst icy stretches are also likely to form more generally on untreated surfaces.

    The public should be aware of the potential for disruption to travel during Sunday night and Monday morning.This is an update to extend the warning area further west across Wales and also further south.
  8. Yellow warning of ice

    2030 on Sun 7 December
    1200 on Mon 8 December
    Updated 1 hour ago Active


    Showers will affect the area during Sunday night and into Monday morning, falling increasingly as snow above 200-300 m with a mixture of rain, hail, sleet and snow to lower levels. Accumulating snow may lead to travel disruption on routes over high ground, whilst icy stretches are also likely to form more generally on untreated surfaces.The public should be aware of the potential for disruption to travel during Sunday night and Monday morning.

Quote of the day 7th December 2014

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
( Robert F. Kennedy )

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Friday, December 05, 2014

Alphabetical discrimination

Obviously with a surname beginning with "W" I have to declare an interest here, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that names should be ordered on ballot papers in random order rather than alphabetically and that the continued use of alphabetical order is a form of discrimination.

The BBC web site currently has a report up on the book "Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box" which you can read in full at

and which includes the following:

"Voters don't read to the bottom of the ballot paper

Ballot paper

Research into local election results shows candidates with surnames beginning with A to F gain an advantage by appearing at the top of the ballot paper. Some voters cannot be bothered to read to the end it seems. Candidates with British surnames also do better."

It is ridiculous that some people who take the trouble to vote at all cannot be bothered to do it properly, but having spent two-thirds of my life active in politics I have seen it proved many times over that the kind of daft behaviour referred to in the book does sometimes happen.

My very first election campaign was the combined General Election and District Council Elections in 1979, when Mrs T was first elected, and St Albans Young Conservatives which I had recently joined were asked to run the St Peters ward campaign.

Some of the voters who had obviously just turned out for the General Election did not appear to have strong views on who should be their councillor, and put their crosses against the first three names on the local election ballot paper.

The number of people who did this was not enormous but it was a close election and there were enough of them to tip the balance, so that the ward returned the first three candidates by alphabetical surname - who happened to be one Labour, one Independent, and one Conservative candidate.

The successful Conservative candidate was extremely upset at getting elected in such a ridiculous way - in fact my first memory of someone who was to give many years of devoted service to the people of the City and District, and become a valued friend and colleague, is of her explaining in no uncertain terms shortly after the declaration how upset she was at a result which made such a nonsense of the election process.

Mind you, at least those voters had bothered to read the instructions on the ballot paper about how to fill in a valid vote, e.g. how many crosses to put where and so on. In the subsequent thirty-five years I have been shown by various returning officers literally thousands of ballot papers submitted by electors who could not even manage that.

In most elections alphabetical discrimination is not a serious problem but in certain circumstances it can be and one distorted election is too many.

At the very least we should replace ordering the names on a ballot paper alphabetically by surname by a draw for the ballot paper order.

Fairer still would be to have several versions of the ballot paper so that each candidate's name appears a similar number of times at the top, middle and bottom of the paper.

If you get an email like this, it's from a fraudster, not BT

There are times when I think our ancestors had some good ideas about the public humiliation of malefactors: putting convicted internet fraudsters in the stocks and allowing people to throw soft but unpleasant things at them strikes me as a much better idea than a short prison term or a fine.

If you get an email like the one below, it is not from BT, it is from someone who wants to rob you. And don't put into your address book, these people are using a "spoof" address.

Subject: We were unable to process your last payment of bill

BTTo make sure emails from BT go into your inbox and not the junk folder, add to your address book.
 We were unable to process your last payment of bill!
 Dear Sir/Madam,

This e-mail has been sent to you by BT to inform you that we were unable to process your last payment of bill.

This might be due to either of the following reasons:

A recent change in your personal information. (eg: billing address, phone) Submitting incorrect Payment information during bill payment process.

Due to this, to ensure that your service is not interrupted, we request you to confirm and update your billing information today.

To do this we have attached a form to this email. Please download the form and follow the instructions on your screen.

Thanks for choosing BT, 

Warren Buckley 
Managing Director, Customer Service




Quote of the day 5th December 2014

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
( Albert Einstein )

Jeremy Thorpe RIP

Jeremy Thorpe, former leader of the Liberal Party, has died at the age of 85.

Regardless of what you thought of his opinions, he was a politician of enormous talents, charisma and stature.

He was brought down by a series of allegations of which, when they were put to a court, he was acquitted on all charges. Yet these unproven allegations were sufficient to destroy his parliamentary career.

A quarter of a century after Thorpe ceased to be MP for North Devon I had occasion to speak to some of the officers of the Conservative Association in the constituency. I was told that at that time  Jeremy Thorpe was still one of the most respected and influential figures in that community.

We like to believe that we operate in Britain on  the principle that a man (or woman) is innocent until proven guilty. I wonder if what happened to Jeremy Thorpe demonstrates that we do not understand that principle as well as we think we do.

The usual rules for Obit posts apply to comments on this article.

Rest in Peace

Thursday, December 04, 2014

We Want Our Hall: another Youtube parody, this time for the Civic

After Adrian Davis-Johnston's brilliant parody "I won't survive" in support of West Cumberland Hospital (for a reminder follow the link to

the campaign to re-open Whitehaven Civic Hall have released their own parody on Youtube.

This one is called "We Want Our Hall"

It is of course a parody of Queen's "We Want It All" and was written by  John Thompson and sung by Niall (Patty) Paterson.

Quote of the day 4th December 2014

“If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.”
( Sun Tzu, The Art of War )

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

George Osborne writes about the Autumn Statement

Chancellor George Osborne writes ...

"Today I set out the last Autumn Statement before the election with a clear message.
Britain now faces a choice: we can squander the economic security we have gained with Labour's plans for higher taxes and higher spending, or we can stay the course with our long-term economic plan that is working.
  • The deficit is falling
  • Unemployment is falling
  • The economy is growing
"We do not shy away from the problems that remain unresolved in the British economy. But it's only by working through the plan that we can deliver more security for hardworking families.

That's why we're clear: we must stay the course to prosperity. So please get behind our plan and add your name to our petition today.

"Our long-term economic plan backs people who want to work hard and get on. It backs the aspiration to save, to work, and to own your own home.

"Today I announced:
  • We will overhaul stamp duty so that 98% of stamp duty payers pay less tax when they buy their home.
  • We will continue to back businesses to create jobs in all parts of the country - with action on business rates and more help for the high street.
  • We will abolish the employers' jobs tax on apprenticeships for people under 25 to help more young people get the skills they need.
  • We will raise the personal allowance, and higher rate taxpayers will also benefit - a down payment on our commitments to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000 in the next parliament.
  • We will cut tax for families by abolishing the air passenger duty paid for children.
  • And we will support savers by letting husbands and wives inherit their partner's ISA and keep its tax-free status.
"These measures are all part of our long-term economic plan that is building a stronger, healthier economy.
Next year Britain gets to choose: do we squander the economic security we've gained by repeating the mistakes of the past? Or do we finish the job?

"We need to stay on course to prosperity - please add your name here to show your support.


George Osborne"

Today's Autumn statement

Today the Chancellor will deliver this Government’s final Autumn Statement which will set out plans to boost business and invest in infrastructure in order to secure a healthier economy and a better future for Britain.

During the Autumn Statement the Chancellor will announce plans to unlock £1 billion of support for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in order to build a stronger, healthier economy.
Small and medium sized businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, creating jobs and growth. Under Labour, businesses were stifled by too much regulation and high taxes.
That’s why we are backing small business with lower taxes and better infrastructure. We will continue to support people looking to set up new businesses by extending the Funding For Lending Scheme, guaranteeing up to £500 million of new bank lending to SMEs, and expanding the British Business Bank with an additional £400 million. We will also review business rates and look to create a modern system for a modern economy.
Small and medium sized businesses are at the heart of Britain’s high streets, creating jobs and growth and providing security for hardworking taxpayers. Backing small businesses is a key part of our long-term economic plan. We are making sure that Britain is the most attractive place to start, finance and grow a business. 
The Chancellor will also provide an update on the public finances during today’s Autumn Statement.
When we came into government the country was borrowing over £150 billion a year and unemployment had increased by nearly half a million. Britain had suffered the deepest recession since the war and had the second biggest structural deficit of any advanced economy.
We had to make realistic assessments about the state of the British economy and this involved taking difficult decisions to reduce the deficit and control spending. Thanks to the hard work of the British people, this long-term economic plan is working. The deficit has been cut by over a third, there are over 2 million more private sector jobs and 760,000 more businesses. There is still more to do and that’s why we need to keep working through our long-term economic plan.
Ed Miliband has no economic plan to secure Britain’s future. All he offers is more of the same failed Labour ideas that got us into a mess in the first place – more spending, more borrowing and more taxes. We must finish the job – and go on building an economy that works for everyone and secures a better and brighter future for Britain and future generations.

When pictures paint a thousand lies ...

Mark Twain once said that a lie can get half-way round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

There was a very good piece in the Speccie on Saturday by Isobel Hardman about pictures which paint a thousand lies, and which you can read at

Goodness knows that there are many ways in which our MPs are imperfect. But let's restrict our criticisms of them to those which are true.

A number of chain emails and pictures on twitter have been circulating which purport to show an empty House of Commons chamber when MPs are debating some important subject such as welfare reform, and a full one when they are debating some issue which affects MPs like their salary or expenses.

Isobel Hardman checked one of these out. The captions on the pictures which purported to show a full chamber debating MPs expenses and MPs salaries were downright lies - she proved that the dates given were wrong and these were actually taken from Prime Minister's Question Time and from the first session of parliament after a recess a decade ago, respectively. The welfare reform picture was correctly labelled but misleading - it showed the chamber when a debate had been going on for a considerable time, and the number of MPs who attended at least part of the debate had been much larger.

The people who circulate these things may well be innocent dupes acting in good faith, but the people who craft them know damn well that they are lying. Surely there are enough genuine reasons to criticise our MPs without making up this kind of black propaganda?

Quote of the day 3rd December 2014

“Nothing in the world is harder than convincing someone of an unfamiliar truth.”
( Patrick Rothfuss )

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


If we had a responsible opposition, then rather than taking a few cheap and inaccurate shots at George Osborne over public borrowing, they would be putting forward ideas to reduce it and giving him a very hard time.

I think the present team of treasury ministers have done very well to manage the deficit down under incredibly difficult political and economic circumstances. I see no possibility whatsoever of the forthcoming election producing an alternative team who might cut the deficit faster than George Osborne will.

But I think this country would be in a far better position if we had a real debate about how to cut the deficit faster instead of a few cheap gibes about it from people who anyone with two working brain cells knows would actually cut borrowing more slowly.

Let nobody forget that the last government left behind a position where they were spending four pounds for every three pounds of revenue and a national debt on course to hit £1.2 trillion.

When you get into as big a mess as the coalition inherited, cutting the deficit by a third takes an enormous effort, and that has been achieved. But it is not enough. We need to eliminate the deficit and start paying back Gordon Brown's debts, so that the burden of interest on the national debt goes back to merely being a large millstone round the taxpayer's neck rather than, as it is at the moment, a serious threat to the nation's financial stability.

It says something terrifying about the Labour party that Ed Balls is the nearest thing they have to a voice of sanity - some of his recent comments suggest that he has some idea how serious a problem the deficit is. Yet his proposals to reduce it, though quite inadequate, were still roundly attacked by many in his own party for going too far.

As for Miliband, his criticisms of the government for supposedly making the deficit worse by failing to address the needs of working people were the exact opposite of the truth. Insofar as the bad news on next year's borrowing is something which can be blamed on the government - and a lot of it was due to the fall in the price of oil, which can't - it was because many of the 1.8 million new jobs which the economy has created since 2010 were in the salary range which has been taken out of taxation by the government's rise in the personal allowance - a tax cut for working people rather than the rich.

If the present government had followed the precedent which Mr Miliband's mentor Gordon Brown set when he was in power and doubled the tax rate for the lowest paid taxpayers (which they did by scrapping the 10p tax rate) then tax revenues might have been much more buoyant -as long as it didn't discourage people from working.

Which, of course, it might well have done. That's why I think increasing tax thresholds so that the lowest paid workers are taken right out of income tax was the right thing to do.

But we have to look very hard for ways to cut the deficit further, and any politician who tells the voters it is going to be easy is wrong.

Quote of the day 2nd December 2014

"She had the unusual sort of mind that used logic and evidence to produce conclusions, rather than the other way around."

(S.M. Stirling, of a character in his novel "Lord of Mountains")

Monday, December 01, 2014

Investing in Britain and Cumbria's roads

The Government has unveiled the biggest investment in roads in a generation with a £15 billion Road Investment Strategy which will increase the capacity and condition of roads across England, to keep the economy growing and help people to get on and get around.

This may include dualling the A66, as a feasibility study into the much-needed possibility of making that road a dual carriageway is included in the announcement.

The government announced today that it will take forward Rory Stewart MP’s campaign – for dualling the A66 – to the next level, by conducting a full feasibility study of the route. They have also agreed to the push from John Stevenson, the Carlisle MP and Guy Opperman, the Hexham MP, supported by Rory Stewart, for a study on dualling the A69 between Carlisle and Newcastle. The “Trans-Pennine” initiative by the Department of Transport will focus on creating a strategic link between the West and the East coast across the Pennines in northern England.

The announcement on the A66 is a result of lobbying by Rory Stewart MP to address the serious congestion and safety issues on the A66 – which he argued has been “the major link between the North-West and the North-east since the time of the Romans.”

The lobbying has included meetings with Highways engineers and contractors, research into past engineering designs and plans and discussions with local councillors and officers of both the County Council and the Highways Agency, in Cumbria. In London, the MP has held six separate meetings with ministers and officials in the Department of Transport. He was also able to address the issue in a parliamentary debate, and discuss the issue directly with the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin on his Cumbria visit in 2013.

At the same time John Stevenson and Guy Opperman MP have taken the lead, supported by Rory Stewart, in pressing for dualling the A69, creating a better link between Carlisle and Newcastle. The A69 has also been a major focus over the past year, including meetings with the A69 and A689 parishes, town-hall discussions, engagement with councillors and with the Cumbria Association of Local councils – particularly focused on how to ease congestion at Warwick Bridge.

The much-needed Department of Transport study into the two roads is part of an ambitious £15 billion plan announced today to triple levels of spending on roads by the end of the decade. The government is investing in more than 100 new road schemes over this parliament and next, 84 of which are brand new today. For Cumbria and the north-west region, it signifies an investment of around £800 million and an estimated 600 new jobs.

Rory Stewart MP said: “This is a major win for the communities of north Cumbria. The A66 has been due for improvements for decades. So many of us are affected by the delays, the congestion, and the serious safety issues on the route. The link will unlock the economic potential of Penrith and the M6 corridor. I am also delighted that they have backed John Stevenson and Guy Opperman MP’s long campaign for improvements to the A69, which I have been proud to support.

"Today’s announcement shows that government has listened and will act, and with the North Pennine Study we have the opportunity to make major changes to the way our roads operate, enhancing their capacity and thus investing in our economy, whilst crucially making them safer and more convenient for constituents. I am absolutely delighted with today’s result and want to thank all those constituents who have engaged with me on the matter over the past years, who should congratulate themselves on bringing about this excellent news. But we still have a long way to go – this study is only the first stage in the task – and we won’t cease the lobbying until the dualling is complete.”

Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin added:

“Today I am setting out the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades. It will dramatically improve our road network and unlock Britain’s economic potential. Roads are key to our nation’s prosperity. For too long they have suffered from under-investment. This government has a long term plan to secure the country’s future and this £15 billion roads programme is demonstration of that. Better roads allow us to travel freely, creating jobs and opportunities, benefiting hardworking families across the country.”

Chancellor George Osborne, said:

”Our long term economic plan means today we can invest an unprecedented £15 billion into Britain’s infrastructure to improve repair and expand our roads. Our plans will transform some of the country’s most important strategic routes, with ambitious projects to dual the A303, A1, A27 and the A47 as well as spending on important local infrastructure boosting productivity and helping local economies. For years our roads have been neglected. Now that this government is fixing the economy, we can afford to invest properly in our roads – unlocking jobs for the future and local growth by creating a road network that is fit for the 21st century.”


Yesterday was Advent Sunday and today the first of December, which means that the official run-up to Christmas is finally here after what seems like the longest "Jumping the Gun" lead up I can ever remember.

This year Christmas products and themes began to appear in the shops in late September, before the end of the warm weather, before Halloween.

I have no problem with retailers trying to use Christmas to sell things - they have a living to earn like everyone else - but at this rate they'll barely have finished Christmas in one year before they start trying to sell things for the next one.

Nor do I have a problem with people spending some of their time and money on material things - we live, after all, in material bodies with material needs and it is a responsibility, not just a right, to look after those material needs for ourselves and our families.

Yet a life lived for material things only is not much of a life, and I cannot think of a worse advert for materialism than the fights in the shops we saw on the day for which the American nickname of "Black Friday" has apparently now spread to both sides of the Atlantic.

I don't mind Amazon or high street retailers offering me bargains, but if I want to see or take part in a scrum I'll join a rugby club, thank you very much.

(Perhaps before someone tries to do a Thornberry on me I should make clear that I'm well aware that the "L" of Whitehaven RLFC stands for League, that there is also a Rugby Union club in the town, of the difference between Rugby League and Rugby Union rules on scrums, and the above comment is not intended as any insult to fans or players of either Rugby League or Rugby union.)

There are three things which are special to me about Christmas, all more important than the food, the presents, or the bargains. Two of those things would still be more important to me than the material aspects if I were to become an atheist or agnostic.

The first is the ancient cultural legacy of celebrating at midwinter that we have reached and passed the shortest day of the year and can now look forward to renewal in the form of a new spring and a new year. Some of the most evocative aspects of the cultural celebrations of Christmas date from this midwinter celebration whether of not they usually now wear Christian or even post-Christian clothing.

The second is the tradition of celebrating our family, friends and everyone we know in a season of goodwill to all men, women and children. Presents are a symbol of this, but they are far from all of it.

Those I would keep if I had no faith. But since I do, I can also celebrate the wonderful message of God become Man, the creator of the Universe coming to Earth in the form of a helpless baby born to the poor and outcast, born in a lowly stable because his parents could not even find a hotel room, to share the life of human beings and to bring a message of love and hope.

Whether you have a religious faith or not, and whatever it is, I wish anyone reading this the best of good fortune during the somewhat stressful time of early December, and that you have a wonderful holiday at the conclusion of this month.

Everything to play for

In a couple of days it will be just five months to the 2015 General Election. Which is looking like the closest and most difficult to call of my adult lifetime.

I agree with very little that Nigel Farage has said in the past few weeks, but when he said that nobody knows what is going to happen in the election he was pretty much right.

Mike Smithson wrote yesterday on his Political Betting blog that "Until we can get a clearer fix on Labour in Scotland GE15 is almost impossible to call."

He might as well have left out the first eleven of those words and stuck with the last six.

It is overwhelmingly likely that either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister for the early part of the next parliament and that is about as much as we can confidently predict.

If people who would otherwise have voted Conservative turn to UKIP that will help both UKIP and Labour at the expense of the Conservatives and could potentially put Ed Miliband into Downing Street - indeed, Miliband has appeared to be following a 35% strategy which counted on UKIP to damage the Conservatives.

Hence the "Go to bed with Nigel and you may wake up with Ed" line is true as long as you don't leave out the "may" part.

The more astute political commentators are now waking up to the fact that fixed-term parliaments have changed politics in Britain rather more than most people originally expected. Personally I think the fact that we no longer play the "Will he-won't he" game about whether a PM might call a snap election has done far more good than harm. I don't for a moment regret that the media didn't spend half of Spring 2014 wondering whether there might be a General Election in May, and half the Summer speculating about the prospects for one in the autumn. But one consequence has been that the knowledge that a general election is coming up is much less in the public consciousness. It doesn't FEEL like we're five months from a general election - which in turn means that many voters may be much less likely to have decided how to vote.

Put these three things together - the closeness of the election, the fact that nobody can be certain how votes for a multiplicity of parties including UKIP, Greens, and SNP will play out, and the fact that people are making up their minds later - and we have a degree of uncertainty which, to employ a greatly over-used expression when it genuinely applies, is completely unprecedented.

What that means is that every party has everything to play for.