Sunday, August 14, 2022

A statement from the Rushdie family


 

Saving water

Last week the Environment Secretary met with water companies to discuss the measures they are taking to protect water supplies in the driest summer in over 50 years.

  • We are seeing the driest conditions in the UK for over 50 years. However all water companies reassured the Environment Secretary that water supplies remain resilient. It is the duty of water companies to maintain those supplies.
  • Each water company has a pre-agreed drought plan which they are following, which includes precautionary steps to protect supplies in case the dry weather continues into the autumn. 
  • Britain is better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather but the government is are actively monitoring the situation. It also remains even more important to crack down on leakage, and the government is working witb tbe water companies to ensure that tough targets to do so are set and implemented.

Sunday music spot: "Come, ye daughters" from Bach's Matthew Passion, BWV 244

Quote of the day Sunday 14th August 2022

As some people seem determined to read the most extraordinary things into quotes I post here: for the avoidance of doubt, yes, the quote below is posted in response to the assassination attempt against Sir Salman Rushdie, and no, I am not implying that I despise him.

The point I am making is that he would still have had the right to publish his books, and it would still have been a great wrong to try to assassinate him for doing so, even if I did despise him.


 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Second quote of the day 13th August 2022


 













"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist"

(Sir Salman Rushdie)

The attack on Rushdie was an attack on every free society and on all of us. 

And as long as it fails to unequivocally renouce the Fatwa against him, cancel and ban the reward for his assassination and indeed confiscate the reward money which was raised to pay anyone who assassinates him and hand it over as compensation to Rushdie and others injured of the families of those killed as a result of the Fatwa, Iran has set itself apart from all civilised nations and must be treated as a sponsor of terrorism and as a rogue and pariah state.

Johnson, Sunak and Truss condemn attack on Salman Rushdie

Writers and world leaders in every free country in the world have condemned the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie, is understood to be alive but on a ventilator after being stabbed in the neck and abdomen: he is in danger of losing an eye.

Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter that he was "Appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend. 

Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay."

Rishi Sunak wrote that he was "Shocked to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York. 

A champion of free speech and artistic freedom. He’s in our thoughts tonight."

Liz Truss tweeted: "Disgraceful attack on Sir Salman Rushdie. People must be able to speak freely and freedom of speech must be defended.

My thoughts are with him, his family and loved ones."


The International Fund for Ukraine

The British government has agreed to expand support through the International Fund for Ukraine, as the UK continues to stand by Ukraine today, tomorrow and in the months to come.

  • Since the beginning of Putin’s barbaric and illegal invasion of Ukraine Britain has sent a clear message to the Kremlin: we will not tire and we will stand by Ukraine today, tomorrow and in the months to come. 
  • That is why, alongside Denmark, Ukraine, and other key allies, we agreed to expand our International Fund for Ukraine – announcing that Britain will put £250 million of the recently announced £1 billion fund to provide military equipment and support the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This support comes as the UK confirmed that we will send further multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to Ukraine, alongside a significant number of precision guided M31A1 missiles. 
  • This money will create a steady flow of support for Ukrainian forces – maintaining and repairing existing resources whilst maximising Ukraine’s effectiveness on the battlefield.

Working to help people with energy bills

This week the Prime Minister hosted a roundtable with electricity generators, as we work with business to help people with rising energy prices.

  • We all know that this will be a difficult winter for people across the UK, which is why the government is taking action to support people, especially the most vulnerable, and will continue to do so.
  • Following the roundtable with electricity generators, the Prime Minister confirmed that the government will keep urging these businesses to continue working on ways we can ease the cost of living pressures, looking at further options to support families and to invest further and faster in British energy security.
  • Support already being rolled out will exceed £37 billion of government support over the coming months, including the second £324 instalment of the cost of living payment for vulnerable households. More will be needed and more will be done.

Saturday music spot: "The Wedge" Fugue by J.S. Bach

Fire risk alert

With the exceptionally hot weather, many parts of Britain are at the maximum fire risk alert. Some Fire service are experiencing record numbers of wild fires this year up by nearly 500% compared with the equivalent periods last summer.

Not all of these fires were directly caused by arson or the carelessness of a specific human action in the vicinity, but some were, particularly the careless disposal of materials related to smoking or portable or "disposable" barbecue equipment, which people have been asked not to use.

Please take great care if you are in an area where wildfires are a danger.

Quote of the day 13th August 2022


 







Evelyn Hall, writing under the pen-name S.G. Tallentyre in her 1906 book "The Friends of Voltaire" attributed this view to Voltaire, which he did undoubtedly hold. 

The words are usually misattributed to Voltaire himself, but they are in fact Hall's words rather than his.

No matter, they are a sound principle and the constant threats to free speech illustrated so vividly yesterday by the stabbing of Salman Rushdie illustrate so clearly why we must stand up for that principle.

Friday, August 12, 2022

On the Assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie

I was horrified to learn that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed this evening while on a public stage.


The suspect who has been arrested in connection with the incident is apparently 24 yours old - which means he wasn't born when that vicious, murderous old monster Ayatollah Khomeini issued what he was pleased to call a Fatwa but should be described as a criminal incitement to assassination against Salman Rushdie for writing the novel "The Satanic Verses" which some Muslims think is blasphemous.


There are many people who have a high opinion of Salman Rushdie's work, and they are entitled to their opinions, which I respect, but you do not have to be a fan of his work to believe that he should have the right to publish it.


I condemn the Fatwa and anyone who seeks to implement it not because I hold any particular view about the merits of Rushdie's work, but for a different reason - my attitude can be summed up in the words which Evelyn Beatrice Hall used to describe the views of Voltaire, and which are often wrongly assumed to be a quote from him,

“I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”


If anything about this horrible incident depresses me almost as much as the attack on the author, it was a comment on the BBC this evening by an author who has studied the effects of the Fatwa that the novel "The Satanic Verses" not only could not be published today but could not even be written.


That is an indictment of our failure to stand up for free speech.


I believe that all views about religion, including atheism, should be treated with respect, with one extremely important exception - those who think that their views about religion entitle them to kill other human beings, other than in self-defence, deserve no respect whatsoever. (That exception, by the way, applies to atheist regimes which persecute religious believers just as it does to theocratic regimes which persecute different faiths and atheists.) 


Therefore I do not support anyone who deliberately sets out to denigrate or insult anyone's religious faith. (I'm not convinced, by the way, that Salman Rushdie did have that intention.) 


But as soon as you allow the allegation that a given statement, film or book insults someone's faith to be grounds to censor it - or worse, to murder the author or distributor of that statement, film or book - you have given every vile extremist nutcase the power to shut down debate and suppress other viewpoints. That would be intolerable.


I hope that Salman Rushdie makes a full recovery.

Music to start the weekend: Judith Durham and the Seekers - Colours of my Life

The last of the clips I am posting as a tribute to Judith Durham, one of the must wonderful singers I have ever heard, who died a few days ago at the age of 79.


Shortlist announced for Eurovision 2023

The shortlist was announced this morning for the seven UK cities in the running to co-host Eurovision 2023 along with Ukraine.

The cities in the running are Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.

Quote of the day 12th August 2022

“When I was a little Jewish girl living in WWII Poland, people used to chant at me 'Go back to Palestine.'

Now, after murdering half my family and forcing me to flee for my life, the same kind of people tell Jews to 'Go back to Poland.'

It’s the same old hatred. Call it out.”

Lucy Lipiner @LucyLipiner on Twitter this week.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Quote of the day 11th August 2022

 “Asking liberals where wages and prices come from is like asking six-year-olds where babies come from.”

-- Thomas Sowell, American economist



Thursday music spot: Judith Durham and The Seekers, "I'll Never Find Another You"

There will never be another Judith Durham. 
Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Midweek music spot: Judith Durham and The Seekers, "Georgy Girl"

Quote of the day 10th August

There are a lot of versions of a famous quote about simple solutions to complex problems. And a lot of opinions about who said it.

My favourite version is

"For every complex problem there's an obvious solution which is simple, clear-cut, and wrong."

However, this is not the original. The Quote investigator website traced it back to this statement from a 1920 collection of essays by the American humorist H.L. Mencken:

"Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong." 

The quote is often attributed to other authors such as Mark Twain, though there is no evidence that any of them ever said or wrote it, and often appears in other forms such as










Whichever version you prefer, it is a useful warning.




Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Second quote of the day 9th August 2022

“Your beliefs do not make something true."

(Judge Maya Guerra Gamble to Alex Jones at his trial for defamation, at which he was ordered to pay millions of dollars for falsely claiming that the Sandy Hook shootings did not happen and that parents of the victims were actors.)

Reducing waiting lists

Today, the NHS delivered the first milestone in the Elective Recovery Plan, virtually eliminating the longest treatment waits. There is a long way to go to resolve the backlogs that have inevitably built up during Covid,  but progress is being made to do so and the plan is on track.

  • Today the first phase of the plan was successfully delivered, treating more than 22,500 people who had been waiting over two years for treatment to virtually eliminate longest treatment waits; and preventing a further 51,000 patients from waiting two years or more thanks to the hard work of our NHS staff.
  • Beating the Covid backlog is one of the government's top priorities and this achievement is a testament to NHS staff who have worked incredibly hard to get us here despite the significant challenges.

Olivia Newton John RIP

It's been a really bad few days for the loss of favourite singers and performers.

First Bernard Cribbins died, then Judith Durham, and now within a few hours we lose Olivia Newton-John and  The Pogues' bass player Darryl Hunt dies age 72.

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge on 26 September 1948. Her Welsh father had been an MI5 agent during World War II and had been attached to the Enigma code-breaking project at Bletchley Park.

Her mother was the daughter of the German Nobel laureate, Max Born, and had fled with her family when the Nazis came to power in 193.

In 1954 her father took up a post as a professor of German at the University of Melbourne and the family moved to Australia.

As a child Newton-John had developed a fascination with animals and harboured ambitions to be a vet but she found science a struggle at school and abandoned the idea.

Instead, she turned to music. 

She began her career as a singer of country-style pop-music, but her breakthrough performance, and a complete image makeover, came with her performance as Sandy in the 1978 film "Grease." For anyone who hasn't seen the film, the character Sandy starts off as a demure young lady in  twinsets and calf-length skirts, but then transforms into an electrifying sex bomb in black skin-tight trousers.

Released in 1978 and set 20 years earlier, Grease was an immediate hit, taking $160m at the box office and becoming an international phenomenon. It was the highest grossing musical movie of the 20th Century, and gave Newton-John three hit singles, You're The One That I Want, Hopelessly Devoted to You and Summer Nights as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.


After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Newton-John reinvented herself again. She spent more of her time as an advocate of humanitarian and health issues. She had already established herself as a campaigner for animal welfare, cancelling a tour of Japan in 1978 as a protest against the slaughter of dolphins caught in tuna nets.

She was a supporter of cancer charities, something that led to the opening of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre in Melbourne.

She continued to record although many of her subsequent albums were only released in Australia where she performed at the opening of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

In 2019 her legendary tight black trousers and leather jacket from Grease were auctioned for $405,000. 

In line with her wishes, the proceeds were donated to Australian cancer research.

Her efforts in the field of fundraising for cancer research were recognised by the Queen, who honoured her with a damehood in the 2020 New Year's Honours list.

In a statement posted to her social media channels, Newton-John's husband John Easterling said she had died on Monday, hailing her "a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years, sharing her journey with breast cancer".

He added

"Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer."


Rest in Peace

Tuesday music spot: Judith Durham and The Seekers "A World of our Own"

Quote of the day 9th August 2022

"The best time to reduce dependence on Putin was ten years ago. 

The second best time is today."

Neil O'Brien MP on twitter yesterday.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Monday music spot: The Seekers, "Morningtown Ride"

Preparing the NHS for the challenges of the coming winter

Today the Health Secretary set out what steps his Department is taking to prepare our NHS for the autumn and winter months ahead – ensuring that our NHS is ready and prepared for upcoming challenges so that everyone gets the care they deserve. 

  • The autumn and winter months always bring additional challenges for our NHS, and we all know that the next few months in particular will bring serious challenges.  
  • So I was pleased to see that the Health Secretary has set out today how his Department is preparing for the autumn and winter months, including boosting the NHS workforce, addressing delayed discharge and working on a ‘pharmacy first’ model to help ease pressure on our hospitals’. 
  • The government is taking action now to prepare for the upcoming months to ensure everyone can access the health and care services they need and deserve. 

PM thanks all those involved in putting on the Commonwealth games

As the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham come to an end today, the Prime Minister has thanked all those involved in putting on this extraordinary event – the legacy of which will drive trade, jobs and grows across the West Midlands for years to come. 

  • Over the past eleven days, volunteers, crowds, athletes and organisers made the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham the best yet. 
  • The Prime Minister has thanked all those involved and particularly praised the city of Birmingham for being fantastic hosts – cementing the UK’s reputation for hosting major sporting events on the global stage. The success of Birmingham 2022 will also be measured in the number of people inspired to take up sport as a result – able to do so thanks to our massive investment in grassroots sport in recent years. 
  • The people of the West Midlands will reap the rewards from the lasting economic legacy these Games have secured that will drive trade, jobs and growth across the region for a generation to come. 

Council accounting rules

The government has tightened council accounting rules, ensuring councils use hardworking taxpayers’ money in a responsible way.  

  • For too long, some councils have been using unorthodox accounting practices which put hardworking taxpayers’ money at risk. 
  • That is why the government has tightened the rules on use of capital receipts which some authorities have attempted to bypass, as well as putting a stop to accounting firms and consultancies wasting money on creative accounting practices. 
  • Every council has a duty to use the tax they receive from hardworking people in a responsible way, and we will continue to do all we can to put a stop to practices which put this at risk.    

Sustainable Fisheries

Last week the government announced a £100 million funding boost to research sustainable fisheries practices, equipping our fishing industry for the future. 


  • Our world-class fishing and seafood sectors are packed full of expertise – but we must continue to ensure these excellent schemes have the financial backing to succeed.  
  • That is why the government is investing £100 million of taxpayers' money through the UK Seafood Fund to research ground-breaking sustainable fisheries practices, delivering 17 pioneering projects to promote the sustainable management of our world-class fisheries. 
  • This investment will not only cement our fishing industry’s reputation as one of the best in the world but will elevate its potential even further. 

Quotes of the day 8th August 2022

Following on from my article last night about Moscow and Amnesty, I thought it would provide some helpful balance after the extensive and selective quoting of what Amnesty wrote suggesting that Ukrainian troops had been posted in residential areas, if I were to quote some of the things Amnesty International has also written about war crimes and human rights violations by Russia.



"The invasion has triggered a huge human rights, humanitarian, & displacement crisis that has the makings of the worst such catastrophe in recent European history. Russia is breaching the sovereignty of Ukraine & challenging the global security architecture."

Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.



"The people of Kharkiv have faced a relentless barrage of indiscriminate attacks in recent months, which killed and injured hundreds of civilians"

Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser



"This attack is yet another example of the Russian military’s utter disregard for civilians in Ukraine."

Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, comments on Russian air strikes on an apartment block and beach resort hotel in the coastal town of Serhiivka in southern Ukraine which killed at least 21 civilians, following an on-the-ground investigation.



"The International Criminal Court, and all others with jurisdiction over crimes committed during this conflict, must investigate this attack as a war crime."

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, commenting after an extensive investigation by Amnesty International concluded that Russian military forces committed a war crime when they struck the Mariupol drama theatre in Ukraine in March, killing at least dozen people and likely many more.



“This horrific assault is yet another apparent example of complete disregard for human life and dignity in Ukraine committed by Russian forces. All those suspected of criminal responsibility must be investigated and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecuted in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty.

“Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Amnesty International has documented crimes under international law, like summary killings of captives by Russia-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine and extrajudicial executions of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces. 

“International law is clear: prisoners of war must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment, and should be given immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The relevant authorities must fully respect the rights of prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.”

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, responds to a video which appears to show Russian solders committing a hideous atrocity against a Ukrainian prisoner of war.



“This is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law on so many counts.

“The three were members of the Ukrainian regular forces and under the Geneva Conventions, as prisoners of war, they are protected from prosecution for taking part in hostilities. The only exception is prosecution for alleged war crimes, in which case there must be sufficient admissible evidence, and fair trial standards must be ensured. Not only this is not the case in this scenario – they were not tried by an independent, impartial regularly constituted court but by Russian proxies. The so-called ‘charges’ against them would not constitute war crimes. And most outrageously of all, the taking of their lives as result of the grossly unfair proceedings would constitute arbitrary deprivation of life.

“In fact, wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the right to a fair and regular trial constitutes a war crime. Russia, as the occupying power, bears responsibility for the treatment of all prisoners of war and others deprived of their liberty. They must ensure this so-called ‘sentence’ is immediately quashed, and that these men are treated in full compliance with international humanitarian law.”

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, responding to the news that a separatist “court” in Russia-occupied Donetsk ordered the death of two captured two British nationals and a captured Moroccan national.



"As thousands of protesters take to the streets across Russia to denounce the war, the Kremlin remains hellbent on stifling state critics as it coerces domestic media into supporting its policies"

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Amnesty and Moscow

Coverage over the last few days in both the MSM and on social media of what Amnesty International has written about the war in Ukraine has been astonishingly selective in a way which has been unwittingly helpful to Russian propagandists.

I understand that since the start of Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine, Amnesty has published about forty reports into the war. And that all forty of those reports have been severely critical of Russia's actions. Thirty nine of these reports condemned just Russia. One report, published a few days ago, included criticism of both sides, though perhaps unwisely it was headlined "Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians."

I share some of the concerns which have been expressed by Ukrainian representatives from President Zelenskiyy downwards about this report. It is not surprising that Russian propagandists have selectively quoted it to bring out the criticisms Amnesty International made about the Ukrainian military while ignoring the far more serious criticisms Amnesty has also made about the Russian government and military.

However, I think it is important that we do not allow Russia to establish the false narrative that Amnesty has been critical of Ukraine's actions and not been far more critical of Russia's.

Even if we just looked at the recent report which included criticism of Ukraine, Amnesty also said in that report that the Ukrainian tactics of which it is critical, quote,

"in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks, which have killed and injured countless civilians."

Amnesty International wrote that in parts of Ukraine in which, quote, 

"Amnesty International concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military".

The Amnesty international report also refers to, quote, 

"Indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces 

Many of the Russian strikes that Amnesty International documented in recent months were carried out with inherently indiscriminate weapons, including internationally banned cluster munitions, or with other explosive weapons with wide area effects."

Amnesty International has published plenty of other reports which are unequivocally critical of Russia's war crimes during the illegal invasion of Ukraine - which Amnesty describes in exactly those terms.

Amnesty calls "Russia's War on Ukraine," quote,

"a devastating human rights crisis," adding

"Right now, people in Ukraine are facing a human rights crisis. People are dying, including children, and many more are at risk.

As Russia continues its war against Ukraine, Amnesty International is exposing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and gathering evidence from our researchers on the ground and our Crisis Evidence Lab. From the devastation of Izium to the siege of Mariupol, from shelling in Kyiv to displaced people in Lviv, we’re helping to keep the world informed about what is happening in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, his government and the Russian armed forces are desperate to hide the truth about the war, including the possible war crimes they are committing in Ukraine."

Now, given Russia's track record of using and abusing any information it can to play into false narratives I do think that Amnesty International was very unwise to risk allowing their work to be misrepresented by Russian propagandists, as it sadly has been, and has a duty to be more vigorous than they have yet been in rebutting such false narratives.

Sadly, Amnesty has form for falling into this kind of Russian trap, as they did last year over the jailed Russian opposition leader and survivor of an attempted state Russian assassination attempt, Alexei Navalny.

Russia, on the other hand, has form for attacking hospitals which are full of patients and doctors and were not occupied by Ukrainian military personnel, and then publishing propaganda falsely claiming the hospitals concerned were no longer in use as medical facilities but had been taken over by Ukrainian military units and imaginary Nazis. 

Anyone reporting or commenting on the war in Ukraine has a moral duty and a duty to the truth to bend over backwards to avoid publishing anything which can be abused to play into such false narratives.

The truth is that most Ukrainian military units who are in or near residential areas are there because Russian forces are attacking those areas.

In Putin's illegal war, one side, Russia, is the aggressor and the other side, Ukraine, is the victim, and there is no moral equivalence between them.

In every war there will be mistakes and atrocities on both sides, and those responsible on each side must be held to account. But the current war is a war between good and evil, and there have been far more atrocities perpetrated on the Russian side than on that of Ukraine.

Sunday music spot: Judith Durham and The Seekers - "Turn, Turn, Turn"

Following the death of Judith Durham I will be posting some more of the beautiful things she sang.


It seems to be particularly appropriate to start with "Turn, Turn, Turn" for which the most of the words are taken from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, including the following:

"There is a time for every purpose under heaven ..
A time to be born and a time to die ...
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."


Quote of the day 7th August 2022


 

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Judith Durham R.I.P.

One of the most beautiful voices of my lifetime has fallen silent. Judith Durham, former lead singer of The Seekers, has died at the age of 79.


Judith Durham released a number of solo albums but was best known as the voice of folk music group The Seekers, who she performed with from 1963 until 1968, when she left to pursue a solo career. 

The band quickly rocketed to worldwide success and sold more than 50m records, with a number of international hits including I’ll Never Find Another You, The Carnival is Over, A World of Our Own and Georgy Girl. 

Durham died in palliative care on Friday night after a brief stay in The Alfred hospital in Melbourne, according to a statement from Universal Music Australia and Musicoast.

Her death was a result of complications from a longstanding chronic lung disease, the statement added.

The Seekers management team member Graham Simpson said: “This is a sad day for Judith’s family, her fellow Seekers, the staff of Musicoast, the music industry and fans worldwide, and all of us who have been part of Judith’s life for so long.”

Her bandmates in The Seekers – Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley and Athol Guy – said their lives had been changed forever by losing “our treasured lifelong friend and shining star”.

“Her struggle was intense and heroic, never complaining of her destiny and fully accepting its conclusion. Her magnificent musical legacy Keith, Bruce and I are so blessed to share,” they said.

Tributes flowed for the beloved singer, with the Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, hailing Durham as “a national treasure and an Australian icon”.

“Judith Durham gave voice to a new strand of our identity and helped blaze a trail for a new generation of Aussie artists,” he said on Twitter. “Her kindness will be missed by many, the anthems she gave to our nation will never be forgotten.”

Indeed, I would regard her as an international treasure. She will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

Saturday music spot: Prepare Thyself, Zion by J.S. Bach (Sung in English)

Helping the victims of terror attacks

The government has announced an extension in funding for victims and survivors of terrorist attacks, making sure that all victims of terrorism can continue to access support services.

  • This year marks the fifth anniversary of several horrific terrorist attacks that took place in 2017 and we are all coming to recognise that victims can be affected in more ways than many of us could ever contemplate.
  • So the government is extending funding to Cruse Bereavement Support, the Peace Foundation, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and Victim Support – providing 24/7 support lines, mental health assessments and referrals, bereavement support, and long-term peer support networks.
  • This funding will make sure those affected by terrorist attacks can be provided with practical and emotional support to work through these traumatic events, and continue to access support services for as long as they need them.

Quote of the day 6th August 2022

"Know we're not allowed to ask this. But given Labour are saying the Tories have let inflation spiral out of control, what's their proposal?

They don't support wage restraint. 

They oppose the interest rate rises. 

They don't back public spending cuts. 

They oppose tax hikes."


(Dan Hodges,journalist and former Labour and Trade Union staffer, on Twitter yesterday.

It's a rather good question, isn't it. At least Rishi and Liz are putting forward proposals. What would Labour actually do if they won an election?)

Friday, August 05, 2022

Leiland-James Corkill

In May Laura Castle was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the murder of Leiland-James Corkill, a one-year-old boy who had been placed with her and her husband in a pre-adoption placement by Cumbria Council council.

The council's executive director John Readman provided a public statement on behalf of the council at the time, including an apology for Leiland-James’ death. 


"Adoption should have been a new beginning for Leiland," he said.

"That was cruelly taken away from him by the person who should have cared for him and kept him safe.

"We are deeply sorry for Leiland's death, it should not have happened.

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with his birth family and all those who knew this little boy.

"Abuse of a child by adopters is almost unheard of and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent this happening again, here or anywhere else."

The independent Best Practice Review into the case has now been published and is available on the Safeguarding Children Partnership website at

Leiland-James Michael Corkill : Cumbria County Council (cumbriasafeguardingchildren.co.uk)

The information that has come out through the trial and this report was shocking and distressing.

I believe that we need a task and finish group of the Council's scrutiny committees to go through this report and ensure that all the lessons it identifies have been learned and fully implemented.

After tragedies like this politicians always say things like "This must never happen again," which is the right thing to aim for, but far too often it still does. Let's do what we can to make sure this is not one of those times.

Music to start the weekend: J.S.Bach's "Flocks in Pastures Green abiding" (sung in the original German)

Helping people with the cost of living

 A reminder of the assistance on offer:



Second quote of the day 5th August 2022

"The main pressure is external ... but we've got another thing going on that is domestic: the size of the labour force has shrunk ... The first thing that every firm wants to talk to me about is 'I can't hire enough people'."

The above is a quote from the Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey in an interview this week.

This is why the most urgent task for whoever becomes PM in a month's time is to sort out Britain's long-term problem of anaemic growth in productivity. There is no simple solution to this and neither left nor right have all the answers, which are likely to include more investment - and therefore decent returns on investment - more imaginative management, fewer restrictive labour practices and, most difficult of all, genuine reform of the housing market which should feature both a better planning balance which allows more houses to be built where they are needed but with the necessary supporting infrastructure, and making it less of a nightmare to buy or sell a property.

Britain is a welcoming country

Members of the Allerdale and Copeland local committees of Cumbria County Council have been listening to a presentation this morning of the refugees from troubled areas over the world who have come to Cumbria, from Syria and Afghanistan to Ukraine, and about how they are supported.

It took a while to get off the ground, from which we need to learn lessons, but now more than 100,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK through our Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.   

Thank you to everyone across the UK who has opened their home to those forced to flee Ukraine due to Putin's barbarism.



Sauce for the goose

Are any of the offences of which the leader of the opposition has just been found serious enough that a reasonable person would call for Sir Keir's resignation?

In my opinion no, so I'm not.

Are all of them more serious than some of the things for which Sir Keir called for Boris Johnson's resignation? Absolutely yes.

It is a matter of objective fact that if Sir Keir held himself to the same standards he demanded of the current PM, he would have resigned months ago.

So while I am not calling for his resignation, I do think it is fair to call him a sanctimonious hypocrite.




Community action to protect our environment

Today the government has announced £44.2 million in funding for community forests, planting millions of trees to expand woodlands near to where people live, giving more people greater access to nature to improve their health and wellbeing.

  • Our economies, livelihoods and wellbeing all rely on nature – community forests and woodland improves the lives of communities and provides the green infrastructure needed to support regional growth.
  • That is why the government is investing £44.2 million of taxpayers' money in planting 2,300 hectares of trees, the equivalent of 3,220 football pitches – to absorb 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, delivering on our ambition to treble tree planting by the end of this Parliament and reach Net Zero.
  • This is good use of taxpayers' money because it will reduce flood risk, provide sustainable UK grown timber, greater access to nature to improve health and wellbeing, and create more green jobs – helping spread economic growth across the country.

Quote of the day 5th August 2022


 

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Renewable energy innovation

The government has announced a £37 million funding boost for renewable energy innovation across the UK, securing our energy sovereignty and slashing our dependency on fossil fuels for years to come. 

  • The rise in global gas prices and Putin’s war in Ukraine means securing the UK’s energy sovereignty is more pressing than ever – and accelerating home-grown renewables is central to that mission.
  • That is why the government have announced £37 million for innovative biomass projects across the UK – including 12 projects off the North Yorkshire coast and announcing the 22 winners of the first stage of our Hydrogen bioenergy with carbon capture and storage programme, backed with £5 million
  • This £37 million of investment is good use of taxpayers' money as it will support innovation across the UK, boosting jobs whilst ensuring greater energy security for years to come.
  • And yes, it important to remember that all government money is in fact taxpayers' money - it comes from all of us.

Quote of the day 4th August 2022

 


Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Addressing the stigma around mental health

Society makes progress in dealing with mental health but it can be painfully slow.

Three or four hundred years ago those who suffered certain types of mental illness faced a real danger of being hanged as witches or tortured and mutilated by the public executioner for blasphemy.

Two hundred years ago you could go to certain of the most infamous of the places where people with mental illness were confined and pay to "torment" the inmates.

One hundred years ago, while the treatment had become slightly more compassionate, society still wanted to put away out of sight those it had labelled as insane and lock them away in huge institutions in the countryside - sometimes not for any real mental illness but as a way of removing from public view people who had committed social misdemeanors. Women who bore a child out of wedlock, or someone from a wealthy family who was caught shoplifting might be labelled as insane and packed off to a sanatorium. The penalty could be more severe than the criminal justice system of the early 20th century would have imposed - as it could effectively be life imprisonment. 

When I was appointed as a health authority member in the late 1980's there were still a few elderly women, now institutionalized beyond hope of discharge, in some of the mental health hospitals in the area who had been sent there for bearing an illegitimate child.

By that time the NHS was moving towards "care in the community" which is a policy which I strongly supported then and now as long as it does mean care and not, as has occasionally happened here and in other countries, chucking people out of the front door without a proper package of care in place. But there was real resistance at the time from people who assumed anyone with mental issues is dangerous. A very small proportion of mental health patients really are dangerous,  and society needs to be protected from them, but most are not.

We continue to move forward, but there is still a stigma about mental health which makes it difficult for many people suffering from stress, depression or other such conditions to seek help, and although governments of all parties say they want mental health to be taken as seriously as physical health, we are some way off achieving this.

The local newspapers picked up some comments I and others made on the subject at the last Health Scrutiny meeting - you can read their report of the meeting in the online version of the Whitehaven News at

Cumbrian health committee hears call to end stigma around mental health | Whitehaven News

Quote of the day 3rd August 2022


 

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Investing in energy efficiency

Better energy efficiency is both a means of protecting the environment and a means of helping everyone - including public services such as schools and hospitals - cope with higher energy bills.

So the government is setting up a fund of up to £635 million to help our public services deal with high gas prices – helping to save taxpayer’s money and protect those public services. 

  • There is no time like the present to help public organisations become more efficient and move off expensive gas.
  • That is why we have announced an investment of up to £635 million for public buildings such as schools and hospitals to invest in energy efficiency upgrades. 
  • This investment is an important step towards making our public sector more efficient – saving taxpayer’s money, creating tens of thousands of jobs and cutting our link to expensive gas.

Quote of the day 2nd August 2022

"Jesus told us you'd better think of the beam in your own eye before judging other people. And that's been my attitude ... I don't like judging people if I can avoid it."

(Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chancellor, from an interview in the Sunday Times magazine last weekend as he steps down from the House of Lords. If you are willing to get through the paywall - they are offering a free trial - you can find the interview here.)

Monday, August 01, 2022

GIving everyone access to parks

The government is creating a Levelling Up Parks Fund – creating new and improved parks in urban areas as part of the project to level up our communities. 

  • Access to nature provides sanctuary from the bustling streets of our towns and cities, and is good for our health and wellbeing - so it is right that we upgrade and improve these spaces. 
  • That is why we have announced our Levelling Up Parks Fund – creating or improving over 100 new and improved green spaces in areas such as Liverpool, Birmingham, Carlisle, as well as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – backed by an investment of £9 million.
  • This funding will ensure that people from all backgrounds have access to nature while supporting tree planting within public spaces in our urban communities.

The Youth Investment Fund

Today the government announced that the £368 million Youth Investment Fund has opened for bids to local authorities – improving the health, wellbeing and career prospects for young people as we level up opportunity.

  • Ensuring young people can succeed – regardless of where they are born – is central to our levelling up agenda, and we are determined to ensure nobody is left behind.
  • That is why our £368 million Youth Investment Fund opened for bids in 46 local authorities and more than 600 district wards in some of England’s most deprived areas, helping to build or refurbish up to 300 youth facilities as safe spaces to socialise and help support them into employment.
  • These opportunities will help local young people develop the skills they need for life and work, while improving their wellbeing and employability.

Quote of the month for August 2022

When I previously referred to this comment from American economist Thomas Sowell, in May, I wrote that

"This quote is so true and so utterly relevant to the current state of affairs in public discourse that I am seriously tempted to repost it on a regular basis once per month."

While I don't think it would be effective to do that, I am using it again to inaugurate a new category of Quote of the Month.



Sunday, July 31, 2022

Congratulations to the Lionesses

Congratulations to the England Women's Football team for winning the European championship, beating Germany two-one in extra time in the final this afternoon.

Incredible performance, the first major championship won by an England football team since 1966 more than fifty years ago. 

Quote of the day 31st July 2022


 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

A musical memory of the late Bernard Cribbins - "Right, said Fred."

Fairness and safety for leaseholders - the Building Safety fund

Today the government's £4.5 billion Building Safety Fund opens for new applications – protecting leaseholders in high-rise homes from unfair bills in making their homes safe.

  • The Conservative government introduced the Building Safety Act to ensure that building owners and landlords were held accountable for making buildings safe – and we are determined to ensure leaseholders in high-rise homes are not left with unfair bills for safety costs. 
  • That is why the £4.5 billion Building Safety Fund has been reopened for new applications – qualifying leaseholders in high-rise homes will be spared from unfair bills for building safety costs, while those responsible for the issues, and the owners of the building, will be held accountable.  
  • This fund will provide fairness to leaseholders while making homes safer across the country. 

Bernard Cribbins RIP

Sorry to see that one of my favourite actors, Bernard Cribbins, star of everything from Doctor Who to Right said Fred, from Fawlty Towers to the Wombles over a career which spanned seven decades, has died at the age of 93.

He gave such a lot of pleasure to so many people. He will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

Declare the next Eurovision venue Ukrainian territory for the evening.

There is an excellent suggestion on the letters page of today's Times from a Rohan Fernando that the building in which the next Eurovision Song Contest takes place should be declared by the UK government to be Ukrainian territory for the duration of the event.

There is a precedent for this. In 1943 when Queen Juliana of the Netherlands gave birth in exile, the Canadian government declared her hospital suite to be Dutch territory for the duration of her confinement so that the baby would be born free of the Nazi German occupation but on Dutch soil.

Similarly if the UK government declares the building where we host the next Eurovision, which Britain has already said we will do jointly with Ukraine, to be Ukrainian territory for the night, it will mean that Vladimir Putin's illegal war has failed to prevent the event taking place on Ukrainian territory. 

I think this is a really good idea and I hope that whoever wins the contest to be our next Prime Minister adopts it.

Commonwealth Games begin in Birmingham

Today, the Commonwealth Games begin in Birmingham – celebrating sporting success as we showcase the best of Britain on a global stage. As it happens, I was in Birmingham yesterday for work reasons and there was a palpable sense of anticipation in that great city with signs about the Games visible everywhere.

  • The UK has an outstanding reputation for hosting major sporting events, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham will be another fantastic opportunity to showcase the best of Britain on a global stage.
  • Over the next 11 days, Birmingham will host 6,500 athletes and officials from 72 Commonwealth nations and territories – and tonight’s opening ceremony at the Alexander Stadium is expected to bring a global television audience of over 1 billion people.   
  • The investment in the games will also bring an economic boost to the West Midlands – creating 40,000 new jobs and volunteering opportunities, £38 million investment in innovation programmes, £24 million in business and tourism programmes, as well as new and upgraded sporting facilities. 

Quote of the day 28th July 2022


 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Midweek Music spot: Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

Award for President Zelenskyy

Yesterday the Prime Minister awarded President Zelenskyy the Sir Winston Churchill Leadership Award, recognising the President’s courage, defiance and dignity as we stand steadfast with the people of Ukraine. 

  • The Ukrainian people, led by President Zelenskyy, have moved the hearts of millions and stirred a global wave of solidarity in the face of Putin’s barbaric and illegal war. 
  • That is why we awarded President Zelenskyy with the Sir Winston Churchill Leadership Award via a virtual ceremony yesterday. The award signifies President Zelenskyy’s courage, defiance, and dignity – all Churchillian qualities – in the face of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
  • The UK stands steadfast with the Ukrainian people, and we will continue to support Ukraine until she rises as a free sovereign and independent nation.

Quote of the day 27th July 2022


 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Congratulations to the Lionesses

Congratulations to the England women's football team for booking their place in the final of the women's European football championship with an emphatic four goals to nil semi-final victory over a very good Swedish team this evening.

County Council attendance

The Cumberland News published some analysis on Friday of the attendance figures for members of Cumbria County Council at meetings, with a suggestion that this could be improved if the council went back to meeting "via Zoom."

Actually the council used Teams rather than Zoom but that's not the important point, which is that meeting online has some real advantages for ordinary members of the public who want to follow what their elected representatives are up to but don't have days at a time during office hours to come to Carlisle or Kendal to watch us in person.

A large majority of county councillors do attend the vast majority of meetings we are supposed to get to and indeed the Cumberland News' figures support that view. 

Unlike some other authorities, the county council does not publish collected statistics for attendance - and perhaps it should -  though it does publish who attended each individual meeting, so I presume the paper collated these statistics themselves. The Cumberland News article suggests that the mean county councillor attendance rate had dropped from about 85% of the council and committee meetings which a councillor was expected to attend in the year before the pandemic (2019/20,) to 82% last civic year (2021/22.) 

Attendance had been several points higher during the pandemic when meetings could be attended online.

You can find the Cumberland News article online on the website they share with the News and Star at the link at

Call remote working for Cumbria County councillors as meeting attendance drops | News and Star

The online version includes a table which states how many meetings each councillor was expected to attend and actually attended in the 2021/22 civic year.

I suspect that anyone who digs into that table in more detail will find that in fact the majority of county councillors attend around 90% or more of council and committee meetings they are meant to attend, but that  a few individuals (who come from all groups) drag the average down. That minority of councillors do sometimes have a very good reason - I know for instance that one councillor suffered an extended attack of COVID and some have other serious health conditions - explaining the dip in their attendance.

My own attendance at the county council and its committees has never dropped below 95% in any civic year and has hit 100% more than once. I was one of the eleven councillors credited by the Cumberland News/News & Star with an 100% attendance record in 2021/22.

I have attended every meeting of the full county council since my election in May 2017 (and said something about the A595 at every meeting,) attended every meeting of the Health Scrutiny committee since my election, and I have so far also attended every meeting of the Pensions committee, Chief Officers' committee, Health Scrutiny variations subcommittee, and Cumbria and Lancashire Joint Health Scrutiny committee since my subsequent appointment to those committees. I had to send apologies for one meeting of the Copeland Local Committee five years ago but have been to every meeting of that committee since.

That's a slightly above average attendance record but most county councillors of all parties work very hard and do get to the vast majority of meetings.

There IS a case on grounds of saving public money and providing more accessibility for the public for reinstating the power of councils to hold meetings online and I would support this option being available, but you don't need to argue that it is needed because councillors are not attending the physical meetings. Most of us are.

David Trimble RIP

I was sorry to learn of the death last night of Lord David Trimble, former leader of the Official Ulster Unionist party when it was the largest party in Northern Ireland and former First Minister of Northern Ireland.

I did not personally know David Trimble but his contribution to the Good Friday agreement and his role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland speaks for itself. By all accounts he was a very honourable, pragmatic and decent man, who will be greatly missed.


Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 26th July 2022


 

Monday, July 25, 2022

July meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

 I attended the meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee today

The meeting heard presentations on the provision of Mental Health Services in the North East and North Cumbria, on the new Health and Care act, and on dental services in North Cumbria.

Help for Small Businesses

The government has announced further support for small businesses feeling the squeeze of worldwide inflationary pressures, creating jobs and driving economic growth.  

  • Small businesses are the lifeblood of the British economy, which is why we are determined to support our traders and entrepreneurs in dealing with global economic challenges. 
  • That is why we have extended the Recovery Loan Scheme, ensuring we continue to provide much-needed finance to thousands of small businesses across the country, while stimulating local communities, creating jobs and driving economic growth. 
  • The Recovery Loan Scheme has supported almost 18,000 British businesses over the last year and this extension will ensure they continue to access the finance they need to navigate the months ahead. 

Quote of the day 25th July 2022

 "We have reached the ultimate stage of absurdity ... where some people are held responsible for things that happened before they were born, while other people are not held responsible for what they themselves are doing today."

(Thomas Sowell, American Economist) 




Sunday, July 24, 2022

Action to stop the use of UK libel laws to muzzle legitimate free speech

This week the Justice Secretary announced reforms to crack down on corrupt elites abusing the UK legal system to silence critics, upholding freedom of speech. 

  • For too long, corrupt elites have used the threat of endless legal action to muzzle their opponents by abusing defamation and privacy law.  This problem goes back a long way - the late Robert Maxwell was showing how to abuse our libel laws to suppress the truth decades ago and it's only been possible to write this without risking bankruptcy after he committed suicide.
  • You can find some very concerning examples of the problem in Nick Cohen's book "You can't read this."
  • So I was pleased that the government has now announced a package of measures allowing courts to throw out baseless claims quicker and a cap on costs to prevent the mega-rich, such as Russian oligarchs, from using expensive litigation as a weapon to silence their critics. 
  • The government is determined to put an end to this bullying and protect the UK’s free press and will legislate at the earliest opportunity to uphold freedom of speech and defend those shining a light on corruption. 


Sunday music spot: Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major BWV 10

Quote of the day 24th July 2022


 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Saturday music spot: Overture from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville"

Building on Britain's relationship with India

On Thursday the British and Indian goverments signed an agreement to recognise each other’s higher education qualifications – which will remove market barriers and help young people from both countries to benefit.

  • International education is one of our finest exports, so we must ensure that we remove barriers to allow the best and brightest to study and work here.
  • That is why the UK government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with India to recognise each other’s higher education qualifications – including A Levels, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
  • This agreement will boost our economy, enrich our campuses and communities, and create more opportunities for UK students to study in India.

Quote of the day 23rd July 2022


 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Music to start the weekend: Vivaldi's Concerto for 2 Mandolins in G major

More help for Ukraine

This week the government announced plans to send a further 50,000 artillery shells and hundreds more anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, helping to ensure that Putin’s illegal invasion fails.  

  • Britain has been leading the world in our support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion, but we must ensure that our support continues until Russia ends their hostility. 
  • That is why the UK government has now announced plans to send additional ammunition and weaponry to Ukraine – including 50,000 artillery shells, 1,600 anti-tank weapons, 36 artillery guns, 20 self-propelled guns, drones, and counter-battery radar systems. 
  • Together with our international partners, we will continue to ensure Ukraine has the tools to defend their country from Putin’s illegal invasion.

Helping those most in need deal with the Cost of Living Crisis

Today it was confirmed that 7.2 million cost of living payments of £326 have been made to low-income families, as part of the government programme to help households with the cost of living. 

  • Ministers promised to help protect those on the lowest incomes from the global inflationary pressures caused by a range of international factors, and we are committed to delivering on this promise.
  • That is why over 7 million households have now received an automatic £326 payment to help with the cost of living, with the second half of the payment coming in the Autumn. Over 8 million of the most vulnerable households will receive £1,200 of direct support to help with bills over the winter. 
  • This payment will give vital support to families across the country as they manage the cost of living.