Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Quote of the day 23rd June 2021

"What we're seeing in Batley & Spen is literally incredible. Labour's own candidate is facing homophobic attacks. Labour's own leader and his family are facing anti-Semitic attacks. But no-one will respond. For fear of upsetting a section of Labour's own base."


Dan Hodges on Twitter yesterday. Anyone wondering what he is referring to can find a report on the Guide Fawkes site here.

Anti-Semitism is wrong whoever it comes from and whoever it is directed against.

So is homophobia.

Neither of these things should need saying. But apparently they do.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Tuesday music spot: Giazotto's "Albinoni Adagio"

No apologies for posting another version of the so-called "Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor for Strings" as I have found this performance of it which I particularly like. 

As I have previously posted, most if not all of this piece was actually composed by 20th century Italian composer and biographer Remo Giazotto who claimed to have based it on a fragment, allegedly found in the ruins of a library wrecked during the RAF and USAF bombing of Dresden, of a piece he thought had been composed by the the 18th-century Venetian master Tomaso Albinoni. 

The library which was destroyed in the 1945 Dresden bombing raids did indeed contain a substantial and irreplaceable collection of Albinoni's work and it is, sadly, almost certainly true that much of the composer's work was lost forever to allied bombs. 

However, it is more than a little suspicious that neither Giazotto (who died in 1998) or his heirs have ever produced the manuscript fragment supposedly recovered from the museum, and sceptics have described the claim as "the biggest fraud in music history."

Fraud or not, it's a beautiful piece.

Upgrading Britain's R&D

Yesterday the UK government announced a £50 million upgrade to research and innovation infrastructure cementing Britain's status as a science superpower and laying more groundwork to tackle the challenges of the future.

  • The pandemic has taught us all that new challenges can arise from anywhere at any time – and that research, and innovation is the key to responding to the challenges of the future. 
     
  • That is why the government has announced a £50 million upgrade to research and innovation infrastructure, supporting more than a dozen projects including the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope network, carbon capture technologies and a state-of-the-art airborne research laboratory, cementing Britain's status as a science superpower. 
     
  • By boosting UK spending on research and development we can use the power of science and technology to tackle great societal challenges, level up across the country and generate wealth and prosperity around the world.

Health and care data

Today a new health and care data strategy has been announced which will free up staff time so they can focus on delivering world class care for patients.

  • The great strides made on vaccines and treatment during the pandemic have taught us that good use of data saves lives and is the key to improving patient treatment. 
     
  • That is why the government has today announced a new health and care data strategy which will mean better sharing of records across healthcare systems and give patients more access to their data, freeing up staff time and improving care by allowing faster, more specialised treatment.
     
  • The new system will put patients in control of their information while allowing our NHS to better look after the public and discover the life-saving treatments of tomorrow as we build back healthier.
  • In Cumbria, while a lot of progress has been made, there is much more to be done before we have a modern, effective system of digital records which gives the best possible support for patient care.  I want to see this new health and care strategy used as an opportunity to drive further improvement in using better digital record systems to save professionals' and patients' time, reduce cancelled operations and deliver better patient care.

Boosting Britain's trade with the pacific nations

Today the UK government launched negotiations to join the CPTPP free-trade partnership  - this stands for  "Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership" and it is a high standards free trade area, which will open up new opportunities for British businesses in the world’s fastest growing markets.

  • As a sovereign trading nation, Britain is striking out in to the world, grasping new opportunities through new free trade agreements with our friends and allies around the world. 
     
  • That is why the UK is today starting negotiations to join the CPTPP free-trade partnership, a free trade area spanning some of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies. Joining this £9 trillion free-trading area would open new markets for services, remove tariffs on British goods, and allow UK farmers to access these growing markets - where demand for their products is soaring.
     
  • By boosting links with some of the world’s biggest current and future economies, we can use the power of free trade to build back better and level up opportunity across every part of the country.

Quote of the day 22nd June 2021


 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Monday music spot: Bach's Concerto for three harpsichords in D minor BWV 1063

Flexible season tickets for rail travelers

The new flexible season tickets will go on sale from today, helping rail passengers save hundreds of pounds by giving them greater freedom and choice in how they travel.

  • As the government works to kickstart the biggest reforms to our railways in a generation, measures are being put in place to deliver the reliable, rapid and affordable services commuters deserve.
     
  • That is why the government is today launching a new flexible season tickets that will allow passengers to travel on any 8 days in a 28-day period, and introducing a ‘season ticket calculator’ to help people get the deal that best suits their needs,  helping them save hundreds of pounds. 
     
  • Through this plan for rail, Conservatives are putting passengers first – giving them greater freedom and choice in how they travel.

Using Science and Technology to build back better

Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, the Prime Minister set out the Conservative government's plans to maximise the opportunities of scientific and technological breakthroughs, helping us tackle some of the great societal challenges of our time from climate change to cancer.

  • Throughout the pandemic we have seen what British science can achieve, and with the right direction and backing, we can harness it to transform the lives of people across the UK. 
     
  • That is why the government is creating a National Science and Technology Council – chaired by the Prime Minister and supported by a new Office of Science and Technology Strategy – which will work across government to strengthen our understanding of how we can develop the technology to reach net zero, cure and treat cancer and keep our citizens safe at home and abroad. 
     
  • The success of Britain's vaccine programme shows the power of investing in scientific research, which is why we are boosting funding for research of all kinds to £22 billion, so we can deliver more breakthroughs like the Covid vaccine.
     
  • This will help to cement the UK’s place as a global scientific superpower, transforming the lives of people across the UK as we build back better.

Quote of the day 21st June 2021

‘Liberal Democrats led calls for high-speed rail lines to the North from the very start ... and will continue to do so in the future.’

Lib Dem spokesman Lord Scriven speaking in 2015 and quoted this weekend by Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail. 

Residents of Chesham and Amersham please note. 

For anyone who isn't prepared to take the word of the Daily Mail, if you look up the manifesto promises made by the Lib/Dems in the last three general elections, you should not find it too hard to find confirmation - I found it easily - that the Lib/Dems did promise to support HS2 in the 2015 manifesto when he made that comment, and that they subsequently promised "continued support" for HS2 in both the 2017 and 2019 elections. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Matthew Syed on Trust

There is a really powerful article in today's Sunday Times by Matthew Syed in which he argues that one of the main problems of our time is a moral one - a reduction in our ability to trust one another.

It is certainly possible to be too trusting. A person who has no healthy scepticism of government, of politicians, of people who are trying to sell things to him or her, is liable to be the victim of bad policies or bad products whether those advocating them are doing to out of dishonesty or foolishness.

However, if we are unable to trust one another at all, the results are catastrophic. Some degree of trust in one another, in governments, in our institutions, is necessary for society to work at all. Successful government requires the consent of the governed just as policing requires the consent of the vast majority of those policed, and needs to be two-way. 

Without it any trust at all you have to fall back on order imposed by force - a solution which works only in dictatorships and not very well there.

Certain politicians of all political parties have delivered hammer blows to trust in politics in the last few years, 

(No names, no pack drill, any person who themselves combines a reasonable degree of impartiality with intellectual honesty will admit that there are some honest people in all political parties and some others who are part of the problem of collapse in trust, and I will delete any comments trying to score party points by naming individuals from one party as examples and saying - oh yes it's all X party's fault.) 

However, the media also has a lot to answer for.  Partly that is due to the media's own displays of dishonesty - the BBC's catastrophic failures of integrity over Saville and the Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana and the phone hacking scandal are only three of the worst examples.

But also, the media have not always kept the right balance between healthy scepticism and corrosive cynicism. Jeremy Paxman was a brilliant interviewer, but he openly admitted that he approached all interviews with the mindset "Why is this lying bastard lying to me."  The trouble with that level of  cynicism is that it reduce trust in honest politicians as well as the bad ones. And Paxman was not the only interviewer to adopt that style.

I don't see an easy answer but I think Matthew Syed's article raises important questions and I think the first part if the answer is that all of us need to start being more honest with ourselves and one another.

You can read the article here if you register - there is a paywall but you can get a certain number of free articles.

Reminder - every adult can now book a COVID-19 vaccination

Every adult in the UK can now book a life-saving Covid vaccine as we enter the final stretch in our race to protect the country and fully return to normality.

  • Vaccines are our route out of the pandemic - vaccinated people are less likely to get Covid-19 symptoms, be admitted to hospital or die from the disease, and there is growing evidence that vaccinated people are less likely to pass the virus on to others. 
     
  • That is why it is vital for everyone who has not done so yet to come forward and get their jab, so we can build on the continued success of our historic vaccine programme - which has saved more than 14,000 lives so far as part of this remarkable national effort to protect the country.
     
  • Thanks to the heroic efforts of our NHS, armed forces and countless volunteers, we are now approaching the final stretch in our race to vaccinate – so when you get the call, get the jab.

Sunday music spot: Lord Let Me Know Mine End, by Maurice Greene

Quote of the day Sunday 20th June 2021


 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Music to relax after campaigning: G. A. Bresceianello's Sonata for 2 Violins, "La Serenissima"

Quote of the day 19th June 2021

'The @GBNEWS boycott involves people threatening brands they don’t buy with custom they don’t give unless adverts they haven’t seen are withdrawn from a channel they don’t watch — all because people they don’t know might have opinions they don’t like.'

(Stephen Daisley, on Twitter and in a Spectator article.

On the same issue I recommend this article on Unherd)

Friday, June 18, 2021

Music to start the weekend: Bach's Organ Concerto in D minor

Reminder: risks in perspective

With the news today that COVID-19 vaccinations are now available to all adults in the UK it is worth reminding ourselves of the perspective on the risks from the disease against those of the measures being taken to protect against it.

Anyone who has any doubts about whether the COVID-19 vaccines are suitable for them or a member of their family should discuss it with their GP or another appropriately qualified medical professional. There is no such thing as a totally risk-free medical procedure and there are a very small number of people who for valid reasons should not have any given treatment. 

But the answer to this is check out the facts and make an informed decision based on the actual balance of risks - not to listen to the paranoid ravings of every tinfoil-hat wearing conspiracy theorist on the internet or of anti-vaxxers whose theories are in a different category from the flat earthers mainly in that belief in a flat earth has never killed anyone.

And the facts show that for the vast majority of adults the health risks of getting COVID-19 are vastly greater than any risks associated with the approved vaccines.

All the approved Coronavirus vaccines have been subject to extensive clinical tests involving thousands of volunteers over a period of months.

Has it been proven that there is no risk whatsoever from vaccination? No, or course not.

But can we say that there is concrete and immensely strong evidence that the vast majority of adults are orders of magnitude more likely to suffer death or other adverse health outcomes from catching COVID-19 if you don't get the vaccine than from COVID or the vaccine if you do? Yes, we can.

And here is a reminder of how the probabilities of getting rare blood clots which some people have suggested may be associated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine - though no causal link has ever been proven compares with other possible risk factors incuding COVID-19 itself:

This graphic shows the proportion of people who have had blood clots following one of a number of four possible events - having the Oxford AstraZeneca jab, taking the birth control pill, smoking, or catching COVID-19.

These percentages are an indication of correlation, not causation. The lower the level of correlation the weaker the argument that there is a causal connection.

But if there is a causal connection - which is not proven - the average person has about 40,000 times more risk of getting blood clots as a catching COVID-19 as they have of getting one as a result of being vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.



A new deal with the USA

Yesterday, Britain struck a deal with the US on the Airbus-Boeing dispute which will mean cheaper exports for goods like Scottish whiskey, as we use the power of free trade to build back better across our Union.

  • Tariffs imposed by the 17-year dispute over aircraft manufacturing have been massively damaging for the cashmere, machinery, and single-malt Scotch whisky, which employ tens of thousands of people across the UK.
     
  • As a sovereign trading nation, we have been able to deescalate the dispute by unilaterally suspending tariffs on the US at the start of this year - which was crucial to reaching this deal to suspend damaging tariffs which affected British exports worth more than £500 million.
     
  • We can now focus on taking our trading relationship with the US to the next level, as we work together to use the power of free trade to build back better and level up opportunity across our Union.

Seeking justice for victims of rape

There are few crimes more horrible than rape - and few where it is more difficult to ensure that justice is done. More needs to be done to bring the guilty to justice - without throwing out of the airlock the principle that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty

Today the government has set out an action plan to overhaul the approach to rape investigations, protecting the public and making sure that victims get the justice they deserve.

  • It is not good enough that brave victims who come forward to report crimes are too often let down by the criminal justice system and Conservatives will not rest until improvements are made. 
     
  • That is why the government is today publishing plans to overhaul the approach to investigations with a new approach on suspect behaviour, increasing the support for victims by making sure that they are never left without a phone for more than 24 hours, and holding the police, CPS and courts accountable for their failings with regular scorecards on progress to be published every six months. 
     
  • The government will do everything possible to drive the change needed to tackle this horrible crime and restore faith in the criminal justice system – so that victims get the justice they deserve.

ALL ADULTS CAN NOW BOOK A COVID-19 VACCINATION

We're finally there - with the news that eligibility to book a vaccination has been extended down to people aged 18 and 19, all adults in the UK are now able to book an approved COVID-19 vaccination appointment.

I repeat:

Every adult in the UK can now book a life-saving Covid vaccine as we enter the final stretch in the race to protect the country and return to normality.

  • Vaccines are our route of the pandemic - vaccinated people are less likely to get Covid-19 symptoms, be admitted to hospital or die from the disease, and there is growing evidence that vaccinated people are less likely to pass the virus on to others. 
     
  • That is why it is vital for everyone who has not done so yet to come forward and get their jab, so we can build on the continued success of our historic vaccine programme - which has saved over 14,000 lives so far as part of a national effort to protect the country.
     
  • We are now approaching the final stretch in our race to vaccinate people as quickly as possible – so when you get the call, get the jab, so that we can put this pandemic behind us for good.
  • You can book a vaccination appointment by ringing 119 from 7am to 11pm seven days a week or by clicking on this link.

Remember that it is important to get BOTH jabs - for full protection against the "Delta" variant first identified in India which is now responsible for the majority of new cases spreading in Britain, you need two vaccination doses.

Remember also that it takes from two to four weeks after the jab for the protection to kick in.





Quote of the day 18th June 2021

"Yes, Minister was a hit with the public because they enjoyed it as a comedy and with politicians because they knew it was closer to a documentary."


Stephen Daisley, from an article which you can read here calling for more effective scrutiny of the Scottish government.

He has a point - everyone with whom I ever discussed "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" who was anywhere near the workings of government agreed that if people knew how much truth there is in  that programme they would not be laughing but horrified. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Thursday music spot: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor

The UK Infrastructure Bank opens today

Today the new UK Infrastructure Bank in Leeds opens, and will accelerate investment in infrastructure projects, tackle climate change and help level up every part of the country.

  • As Britain recovers from the pandemic, we need to put infrastructure at the heart of government plans to help create skilled jobs and level up opportunity across the UK. 

    That is why the government has created the new UK Infrastructure Bank, based in Leeds and backed by an initial £12 billion of taxpayers' money, which will help unlock £40 billion of overall investment – helping to finance major infrastructure projects in clean energy, transport and digital in every region and nation of the UK. 
     
  • This will accelerate efforts to level up opportunity through new jobs and investment, by delivering the world class infrastructure we need to support our businesses and communities. 

The COVID-restrictions extension.

MP’s have voted to extending the coronavirus regulations by four weeks, giving our NHS time to accelerate our vaccine programme and save lives.

  • This was not an easy decision for the government and MPs to make and will have disappointed many people.
  • When the government set out the roadmap to freedom a few months ago, they were very clear that they would be driven by data rather than dates and determined to make progress that was cautious but irreversible.
     
  • There were a set of tests set our for each stage of relaxation, and Britain has not met all four tests to proceed with the next step of the roadmap. So the government felt they had to propose a delay in moving to Step 4 by four weeks until 19 July, giving our NHS more time to administer the lifesaving vaccines, and slow the spread of the Delta variant. This decision has been confirmed by parliament.
     
  • Now is the time to ease off the accelerator, because by being cautious, we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.

Quote of the day 17th June 2021


 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Vaccination update

 Remember - any over the age of 21 can now book a vaccination appointment.













Also remember - if you've just had your first jab, it takes two-to-four weeks before the protection it gives you will kick in.




Midweek music spot: Mozart's "Laudate Dominum,"

Cutting red tape

The Prime Minister has welcomed the report from the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) recommending how the UK can reshape regulation and seize new opportunities from Brexit.

  • In February this year, the Prime Minister asked the TIGRR to explore and recommend ways in which the UK can reshape its approach to regulation and seize new opportunities from Brexit with its newfound regulatory freedom. 
     
  • The Prime Minister has thanked the Taskforce for its report and assured them that the Government will give it the detailed consideration it deserves, consult widely across industry across industry and civil society, and publish a response as soon as it is practicable. 
     
  • This report shows what a fully United Kingdom can achieve given sufficient ambition and vision on the part of its Government, and we look forward to drawing on the work of the Taskforce in the months and years ahead as we build back better.

Saying of the day 15th June 2021

"Two very different mobs attacked free journalism this week. Both contemptible, each in their way a threat to our free press and democracy.

The first was the physical mob who harassed BBC journalist Nicholas Watt

The second, those who tried to stop firms advertising with GBNEWS

The physical mob and the virtual one represent two aspects of the same disease - a wish to suppress sources of unwelcome news or differing opinions.

It is unacceptable wherever it comes from."


(Saying of the day rather than quote of the day as it comes from me.) 

Vaccination now available to all over 21 years old


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tuesday music spot: Karl Jenkins: "Palladio"

Trade deal with Australia signed

A major trade deal with Australis has been signed. This is a big deal. 





  • Today marks a new dawn in our relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values.
     
  • Our historic new free-trade agreement – the first major trade deal negotiated from scratch since we left the EU – will create fantastic opportunities for British businesses and consumers, removing tariffs on all British goods, opening up new markets for our services providers and tech firms, and making it easier for people to travel and work together.
     
  • This is global Britain at its best – looking outwards and striking deals that deepen our alliances and helping ensure every part of our country builds back better from the pandemic.

Our new free trade agreement with Australia will do this by:

  • Eliminating all tariffs on our imports and exports to Australia, boosting jobs and businesses across the country. Iconic British products like cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics will be cheaper to sell into Australia, boosting UK industries that employ 3.5 million people across the country. The deal also eliminates tariffs on Australian favourites like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys wines, swimwear and confectionery, boosting choice for British consumers and saving households up to £34 million a year.
     
  • Making it easier for people to travel between the UK and Australia, strengthening the historic ties between our two countries. Under the agreement, British people under the age of 35 will be able to travel and work in Australia more freely, opening up exciting opportunities for young people. 
     
  • Supporting and protecting British farmers, so they can benefit from new trading opportunities. British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards. We are also supporting agricultural producers to increase their exports overseas, including to new markets in the Indo-Pacific.
     
  • Improving market access and cutting red tape for UK businesses, opening up new opportunities for them. The deal’s commitments on market access for services professionals, cutting-edge digital provisions and reduced barriers to investment will benefit the UK’s services sector. Red tape and bureaucracy will also be torn down for more than 13,000 SMEs across the UK who already export goods to Australia.
     
  • Delivering for every part of our Union, levelling up and creating opportunity across the country. This includes:

    • Scotland exported £126 million of beverages to Australia in 2020 – this deal will help distillers by removing tariffs of up to 5 per cent on Scotch Whisky.
       
    • More than 450 businesses in Wales exported to Australia last year – and life science companies and chemicals manufacturers are set to benefit in particular.
       
    • 90 per cent of all exports from Northern Ireland to Australia are machinery and manufacturing goods – used extensively in Australia’s mining, quarrying and recycling sectors. Under the new FTA tariffs will be removed and customs procedures will be simplified.
       
  • Agreeing to intensify co-operation between our countries, so we can build back better and stronger together. We have reaffirmed the enduring partnership between the UK and Australia during these negotiations, and have committed to working closely together on defence, technology collaboration and tackling climate change – including through a future Clean Tech Partnership.
     
  • Negotiating the first major trade deal from scratch since we left the EU, showing the opportunities we now have as a sovereign trading nation. We have already signed almost 70 trade deals worth almost £900 billion into law – but our trade deal with Australia is the first one negotiated from scratch, showing how we can use the new opportunities available to us outside of the EU to deliver for the British people. 

The ten key benefits of our new trade deal with Australia:

  1. Delivering tariff free trade for all British goods. The deal removes tariffs on £4.3 billion of exports, making it cheaper to sell iconic products like cars, Scotch whisky and ceramics into Australia – supporting 3.5 million jobs across the country. Car makers in the Midlands and the North of England will also benefit. 
     
  2. Making it easier for Brits to travel and work in Australia. British people under the age of 35 will be able to travel and work in Australia for up to three years, opening up major opportunities for younger people. Highly skilled professionals will now be able to work in Australia temporarily, and Aussie firms will no longer have to prioritise hiring Australian nationals first. 
     
  3. Delivering lower prices and more choice for British shoppers. The elimination of tariffs on Australian favourites like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys wines, TimTams and Vegemite will boost choice for British consumers and save British households up to £34 million a year. 
     
  4. Enhancing access for British tech companies. The deal will create opportunities for the UK’s cutting edge digital and tech sectors, preparing us to lead in industries of the future like AI, space exploration and low emissions technology. 
     
  5. Making it easier for lawyers and other professionals to work in Australia without re-qualifying. UK lawyers will be able to practice in Australia without having to requalify as an Australian lawyer. The deal will allow for the recognition of UK professional qualifications across many sectors, creating opportunity for our professionals while allowing British companies to attract and retain global talent. 
     
  6. Boosting UK services industries. The UK exported £5.4 billion worth of services to Australia in 2020 accounting for more for 56 per cent of our total exports to the country. The combined effect of the deal’s cutting-edge provisions, allowing UK and Australian service professionals access to each other’s markets, and reduced barriers to investment will give a substantial lift to the UK’s service sectors.
     
  7. Slashing red tape for entrepreneurs and small business. Red tape and bureaucracy will be torn down for more than 13,000 small businesses across the length and breadth of the UK who already export goods to Australia. The agreement will deliver quicker export times and ensure small business have access to new intelligence that will better allow them to seize the opportunities created by the deal. 
     
  8. Creating access to billions of pounds worth of new opportunities for UK firms. British companies will now be able to bid for additional Australian government contracts. It is the most substantial level of access Australia has ever granted in a free trade agreement, including in transport and financial services.  
     
  9. Strengthening cooperation on shared challenges. Australia is a like-minded democracy that shares our belief in free enterprise, the rule of law, and high standards in areas like labour, animal welfare, gender equality and the environment. The deal will uphold these high standards and foster collaboration on challenges like tackling climate change and unfair trading practices. 
     
  10. Paving the way to CPTPP. (see below) Australia strongly supports UK membership of CPTPP, which would further open up eleven Pacific markets worth £9 trillion. CPTPP membership will secure British exports superior access to these growing markets, with one third of middle class consumers expected to be in Asia by 2030.

CPTPP stands for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, also known as TPP11, which is a trade agreement among Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Britain has applied to join and Australian support for our application is most welcome. 

Modernising NATO

The Prime Minister has addressed NATO leaders in Brussels, emphasising the importance of modernising the alliance so that it can continue to underpin our national security.

  • Britain's commitment to NATO as Europe’s leading contributor remains unwavering, but in order to keep us safe, it needs to continually adapt and evolve to meet new challenges and emerging threats.

  • That is why, the Prime Minister called on our allies to commit to the 2030 NATO modernisation initiative, which alongside strengthening deterrence and security, calls for a focus on shared values, new policies on emerging threats and significant investment in research and development, so that NATO can face down the threats of the future.

  • A strengthened, modernised NATO will be the foundation of a global recovery, providing the safety and security we need to build back better and safer from the pandemic.

Alex Massie on Public Health Scotland

I believe that we need to improve transparency in government in all parts of the United Kingdom and under governments and councils of all political parties. 

This is specifically not a party-political point - we all need to do better at letting the public see what is going on and what is being done in their name, and ensure that the enormous influencing power of government and council PR machines are used to circulate information which the public needs to know in an impartial manner, not to circulate party propaganda and vanity publications for whoever is in power.

Nobody is in a brilliant position to point fingers over this - there have been instances of bad practice which can be laid at the door of people from all of Britain's political parties and by Independents.

As an example, I think that we need to make sure next year's inquiry into the handling of the pandemic looks very carefully at what went wrong with discharges from hospitals into care homes here in Britain and for purposes of comparison in other countries - it certainly went wrong in both England and Scotland and it is my understanding that similar mistakes were made in other countries including the USA and France. We need to learn from this to make sure these mistakes and the terrible cost which went with them are not repeated if or when there is another pandemic.

I am concerned about what Alex Massie has written in The Times here about Public Health Scotland.

He refers to a communications strategy for PHS. approved by the Scottish government, which seeks to restrict PHS from publishing information that might cause “sustained or widespread criticism of the Scottish government” or lead to “ministers being pressed to make a statement to parliament”.    

If a similar document approved by the UK government seeking to control what Public Health England can say which might embarrass the Westminster government fell into the hands of the BBC or most newspapers I suspect we - quite rightly - wouldn't hear the end of it for weeks. Why has the fuss about Holyrood doing it apparently been limited to a couple of articles in the Times?

Massie writes that the document says

"Above all, any material published by PHS should be considered in the context of “Does it challenge — or could it be interpreted as a critique of — Scottish government position or policy?” Well, if it is independent it often will challenge the position. That’s often the way with facts.

It gets worse: “Communications decisions should be holistic, taking account of the wider context, risks, opportunities and possible stakeholder reactions.” 

Since the Scottish government is the key “stakeholder” the meaning is clear: never say anything that might embarrass the government. The framework further asks, “Will we accept a higher level of risk to challenge policy makers?” and it is heavily implied that the ordinary answer to this will be in the negative."

He concludes that the most insidious forms of corruption are those which 

"involve the capturing of independent agencies and the suppression of awkward truths."

Whoever the threat comes from, a democratic society needs to be on the alert against such practices 


Everyone over 23 can now book a vaccination

 


The route out of lockdown

 Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the decision to pause step four of the Roadmap out of lockdown by four weeks, giving our NHS time to accelerate our vaccine programme and save lives.

  • When the government set out on the roadmap to freedom a few months ago, they made clear that they would be driven by data not dates, and that they are determined to make progress that was cautious but irreversible. 
     
  • Step by step – thanks to the enormous efforts of the British people and the spectacular vaccine roll-out we now have one of the most open economies and societies in this part of the world. 
     
  • And while vaccinations greatly reduces transmission – and two doses provide a very high degree of protection against serious illness and death – there are still millions of adults who have not been fully vaccinated. 
     
  • And that is why the Delta variant is such a cause for concern: it is now spreading faster than the third wave predicted in the February roadmap – seeing cases grow by 64 per cent per week. 
     
  • Since Britain is not meeting all four tests for proceeding with step four of the roadmap, it is unfortunately necessary  to right to delay taking Step 4 until 19 July to give our NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them and complete the cautious but irreversible roadmap to freedom. 
     
  • The target is that by the 19 July all adults will have been offered their first dose of the vaccine with around two thirds fully vaccinated. 
     
  • However, whilst the government does not believe it is safe feel to take the full step we all wanted, the ongoing success of our vaccine rollout means we can take some more cautious steps – including removing the 30 person limit on weddings and wakes, removing the requirement for care home residents to isolate for 14 days after visits out, and allowing major sporting events – including the final four UEFA Euro 2020 matches at Wembley and the Wimbledon Tennis Championships to go ahead with greater capacities. 
  • This wasn't an easy decision to take and there is no way that everyone could have been pleased. There are those who seem to think we should be social distancing and wearing masks for ever, and others who would have scrapped all lockdown measures months ago and almost any policy the government could have adopted would have been seen as dangerous by one of those groups and too restrictive by the other.
     
  • Now is the time to ease off the accelerator because by being cautious now we have the chance – in the next four weeks – to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.

Quote of the day 15th June 2021

"It's a good learning experience"

Scotland manager Steve Clarke on his team's defeat by Croatia.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a dig at the Scotland team, I merely think that Mr Clarke has missed his vocation, and if he isn't kept on as a football manager, might join the team of spin doctors for one of the political parties to advise on how to respond to election results about which I wrote last month.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Supporting the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme

The government has announced a £3.4 million investment to expand The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in schools, supporting pupils in deprived schools in England to take part in volunteering and extra-curricular learning as part of the plans to level up across the country.

  • The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is synonymous with service and personal achievement, supporting young people to build resilience, perseverance and discipline.

  • That is why the government is expanding the Award into more schools with more pupils from the most deprived areas of England able to start the Award thanks to this £3.4 million funding boost going to up to 291 more schools, meaning more young people will be able to access volunteering and extra-curricular learning.

  • This fitting tribute to the extraordinary life and achievements of HRH the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is supporting more young people to develop skills and abilities while making a difference to society as we level up opportunity across the country.

The G7 Summit

Following the G7 Summit which finished yesterday, the Prime Minister gave a statement outlining achievements at the Summit, including important work on preventing a global pandemic happening again, addressing climate change, and supporting education around the world – working together to build back better, creating jobs and ensuring long-term economic growth.

  • Many of the biggest issues we face as a nation are faced internationally and this G7 Summit, hosted by the UK in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, provided world leaders with the opportunity to take action together. 
     
  • That is why the G7 leaders and leaders from other guest nations worked on a number of measures to support the future of our planet:
     
    • Pledging more than one billion coronavirus vaccine doses - either directly or through funding to COVAX – including 100 million from the UK, to the world’s poorest countries – which is another big step towards vaccinating the world.

    • Agreeing to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more reading by the end of primary school in the next five years.

    • Helping the Global Partnership for Education - an organisation working to make sure that every child in the world is given the chance of a proper education – reach half of its five-year fundraising goal, including a £430 million donation from the UK.

    • Agreeing the landmark Carbis Bay Declaration on health, where G7 leaders committed to using all their resources to prevent a global pandemic from ever happening again.

    • And agreeing a shared agenda for global action to build back better together, on crucial issues such as health, climate change, and economic recovery and jobs.

  • As the Prime Minister said, it’s not good enough for us to just rest on our laurels and talk about how important those values are. What we as the G7 need to do is demonstrate the benefits of democracy and freedom and human rights to rest of the world.

  • That is why the UK is committed to leading the way in addressing the global challenges we all face, and this G7 Summit represents a vital step forward as we work together to building back better and greener.

Monday music spot: A Renaissance music sequence

Quote of the day 14th June 2021

"If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time a new variant comes along, we are going to spend a long time huddled away, so we do need to keep a bit of balance to the discussion."

(Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford and an immunologist, quoted in yesterday's Sunday Times leader, "It is time for the country to talk realistically about risk.")

For the avoidance of doubt, putting this quote up is not a coded attack on whatever announcement is made today about whether to delay the end of the remaining restrictions. 

It is meant to be exactly what Sir John was calling for - an appeal for balance. 

The government said they would be driven by data not dates and I hope they will be - and will avoid the mistake of either paying too much attention to those who would drop all restrictions tomorrow no matter how high the risks or those who would keep us all locked up, wearing masks and avoiding contact with one another no matter how low the risks.