Sunday, July 03, 2022

Professor Lawrence Freedman on the prospects for a Ukrainian victory

Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King's College London. He has written a number of interesting articles about the war in Ukraine.

He has published a post today called "Can Ukraine win?" which provides a very convincing assessment of the current strategic position of Ukraine and Russia.

He argues that in the current stage of the war the Russians have not been able to rely so much on manoeuvre because of losses in armoured vehicles. They have sought to make up for their losses with vehicles from the reserves, including, as widely reported, vintage tanks that were in use in the 1960s. New tank production may have ground to a halt because of the lack of key components, such as microchips, which have been sourced from the West and are now sanctioned.

Russia also seems to be running low on stocks of precision weapons, evident in some of their recent long-range strikes. It is likely, for example, that they did not intend the deadly attack on the shopping mall in Krevenchuk, and instead had a nearby target in mind, which they also failed to destroy. This demonstrated, in addition to the inaccuracy of their weapons, the general Russian carelessness when it comes to collateral damage and their inability to take responsibility for their mistakes (as always suggesting that for some reason the Ukrainians did this to themselves). Coming as the G7 was meeting, it helped to boost support for Ukraine, reminding the leaders about why it is important that Russia fails."

Looking at the ways both sides are seeking to adapt and strengthen there position, he writes that

"Both sides therefore must adapt, but, admittedly oversimplifying, the Russians are adapting into becoming more of a 20th Century army while the Ukrainians are becoming more of a 21st Century army. The Ukrainian adaption process will therefore taking longer but the prospect at the end is of a much more capable force."

The full article is well worth a read and you can find it here.

25 years since the handover of Hong Kong

Twenty-five years ago this week Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in possibly the best state in history that any former colonial power ever peacefully relinquished control of a former colony.

We handed over Hong Kong as one of the richest countries in the world, richer on a per capita basis than Britain itself was at the time,

We handed over Hong Kong with independent courts, a free press, civil rights and a freely elected legislature.

Part of the territory we handed over had been leased to Britain for a hundred years, and the lease had run out. The original treaty would, in theory, have allowed Britain to keep part of the colony in perpetuity: however it could credibly be argued that what was left of the colony was not viable - and indeed China could and did make a reasonable argument that the treaty which ceded the territory hadn't exactly been negotiated on a free, fair and equal basis.

But we also handed over Hong Kong on the basis of promises that China would respect the rights of what became the "special administrative region" and apply a policy of "One country, two systems."

Neither of those things has happened. And the statement by President Xi that China has brought "true democracy" to Hong Kong could be taken seriously only by those who do not have the least idea what the word "democracy" actually means. China's stewardship of the territory has been cruel, tyrannical, and disastrous.

So on the 30th of June Foreign Secretary Liz Trustt made a statement to mark 25 years since the handover of Hong Kong, highlighting Britain's unwavering commitment to the people of the territory. 

  • Britain has a historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong and following the introduction of China’s National Security Law on 30 June 2020 Britain will do what we can to defend their rights.
  • That is why the Foreign Secretary marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong by highlighting the steady erosion of rights that we have seen since 2020 and reaffirming our support for Hong Kong citizens including through our British National Overseas immigration path.
  • Britain will continue to put forward an unequivocal case for the protection of the political and civil rights of the people of Hong Kong.

Sunday Music Spot: "Brother James Air" (Psalm 23)

Quote of the day 3rd July 2022


Saturday, July 02, 2022

Saturday music spot: Bach's Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor BWV 582

Action to cut disruption of flights

This week the UK government announced a 22 point plan to help the aviation industry to better run reliable services for passengers ahead for the summer holidays.

  • As we reopen the economy and learn to live with Covid, demand for flights has grown rapidly leading to disruption at major airports and flight cancellations affecting families travelling abroad.
  • That is why the government is setting out our 22-point plan to support the aviation industry to take the necessary steps to tackle aviation disruption, including a one-off amnesty on airport slot rules, giving airlines greater flexibility in the face of increased demand for services.
  • The government has now taken action - it is now for the aviation industry to do the same and ensure they can run the flights they are offering to passengers.

Quote of the day 2nd July 2022

"Military experts tell us that the movements of Russia are much slower, less than expected.

"So, Russia is running into more and more trouble. Also, where recruiting is concerned, where replenishment is concerned, and the delivery from the back of the country is concerned, I would not at all bet on Russia.

"On the contrary. There is one very important point here: Ukrainians know what they are fighting for; they are motivated.

"The Russian troops have no idea what they are fighting for because they do not see any sense in this war"

(EU Commission President Ursula van der Leyen speaking this week.)

Friday, July 01, 2022

Music to start the weekend: Jean Sibelius "Finlandia"

4,000 more doctors: 9.600 more nurses

The Convservative government is committed to growing the NHS workforce and compared to a year ago, we now have:

👉🏽 Over 4,000 more doctors 

👉🏽 Over 9,600 more nurses 

👉🏽 Over 25,900 more NHS staff 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid added, "Thank you to all staff who are working hard to bust the Covid backlogs."

Advance notice: July meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The July 2022 meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee will take place on Monday 25th July at 10.30am, probably at Cumbria House, Botchergate Carlisle.

The meeting will be open to the press and public.

The agenda has not yet been published but when it is, I will put a link here. It is likely to include Mental Health Services in both parts of Cumbria, and also Lancashire & South Cumbria Pathology collaboration.

Medieval meme of the week

Grateful to Axel Folio on Twitter (@ISASaxonists) for making me laugh with this "medieval meme of the week."

Better broadband for rural primary schools

Today the Conservative government has announced £82 million of investment as part of our plan to upgrade broadband for rural primary schools, levelling up children's access to the best possible teaching. 

  • Access to broadband is an essential tool in modern education and no child’s opportunities should be pre-determined by where they grow up.
  • That is why we are investing £82 million to upgrade broadband for 3,000 rural primary schools - delivering lightning-fast, gigabit capable broadband, meaning around 500,000 primary school more pupils will be able to use the internet with no interruptions.
  • Conservatives are continuing to deliver for rural communities ensuring that students in rural areas can access the same high quality educational resources as those in more urban regions.
In the interests of full disclosure I should make clear that I am employed as a manager by Openreach, part of the BT group, and am a BT shareholder. This post is, however, made in my capacity as a Conservative activist and the information in it comes from Conservative and government sources and do not necessarily represent the views of BT or Openreach.

Boris meets Jacinda

Today the Prime Minister will meet with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Downing Street, agreeing new joint schemes to ensure New Zealand and the UK can address global challenges for the next generation.

  • Though they may be one of our most distant allies, the UK counts New Zealand as one of our closest friends, with a shared world view including standing up for democracy and free trade around the world. 
  • That is why the Prime Minister will host the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, at Downing Street today, where they will discuss evolving threats to stability and sovereignty in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. They will also discuss trade and agree joint schemes including an extension to the Youth Mobility Scheme and a landmark science and innovation arrangement.
  • The partnership between the UK and New Zealand makes both of our countries safer and more prosperous, and boosting our historic partnership will help keep British people safe.

Russia summons UK ambassador to complain about "offensive rhetoric."

My first reaction when I heard that the British Ambassador has been summoned to the Kremlin and handed a note complaining about 

“offensive rhetoric from representatives of the UK authorities.” 

was “Truth hurts, doesn't it Vlad?” 

I had assumed that this might refer to various statements of the obvious from government ministers such as the PM's comment this week that the Russian President's forces had inflicted "barbaric" actions on Ukraine. If bombing maternity hospitals and shopping malls or tying up civilians and shooting them in the back isn't barbaric, I don't know what is, 

But as the Evening Standard report says, "It was not immediately clear what specific remarks the statement was referring to.” 

When I read what the one specific complaint reported to be in the letter that Russia's foreign ministry handed to Britain's ambassador, I was left scratching my head:  The ministry said Russia had told her it objected to British statements containing “deliberately false information, in particular about alleged Russian ‘threats to use nuclear weapons’”.

If there is one area in which UK, US and Western leaders have generally been pretty careful in their language it has been in response to statements by both Putin and his close allies about nuclear weapons.

And what's all this about "alleged" threats?

At the end of February, within days of invading Ukraine Putin announced that he had instructed Russia's military chiefs to put Russia's nuclear weapons on high alert.

At the beginning of May pro-Putin Russian state TV host Dmitry Kiselyov displayed a video purporting to show how a single Russian Sarmat missile could turn Britain into a "radioactive desert", adding "a single launch, Boris, and there is no England."

In mid May, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, the deputy chairman of the Kremlin’s defence committee and member of the Russian Duma (parliament,)  claimed Finland could be hit in 10 seconds with the Satan-2 hypersonic missile and that Russia could crush the Baltic states ‘like peanuts,’ adding that the missiles could hit Britain in less than four minutes.

On Monday 30th May he was at it again, saying on Russian state TV that Russia could destroy the entire East and West cost of the USA with just four nuclear missiles and 'there will be nothing left' on either coast.

Just a week ago a close political ally of Vladimir Putin has warned London will be bombed first if World War 3 breaks out. Andrey Gurulyov, another member of the Russian Duma’s defence committee, made the threat to Britain on the state-run Rossiya 1 channel, saying . “The first to be hit will be London.”

I think we need to be very careful to recognise what Russia is and is not doing here.

I don't believe for a second that the hard men in the Kremlin are daft enough to want to start a nuclear war. Once the nukes start flying literally nobody on the planet is safe, including themselves, and anyone who isn't clinically insane knows that. Only if facing an existential threat, or first use of nuclear weapons by the West (which will not happen) or China (which won't happen either) would they actually use nuclear weapons.

It is possible that the protest about Britain accusing them of making threats of nuclear war, even though they really have made such threats, is just propaganda: it is also possible that it is designed to reinforce the signal that they will not use nuclear weapons first unless NATO actually invades Russia (which is another thing which is absolutely not going to happen.)  

What the Kremlin is doing by putting Putin allies on state TV to make these blood-curdling threats is warning the West about the risks if the war escalates to a direct confrontation between NATO and the Russian Federation. Doubtless they also hope that fear of such a confrontation might persuade Western countries to send less aid to Ukraine than might otherwise be the case.

NATO does have to make sure we don't get into a direct shooting war with Russia unless we are forced into it by a direct Russian attack on a NATO member state. Equally, we must not allow these threats to stop us sending assistance of all kinds to Ukraine.

One other thought. Western leaders have been extremely critical of the Putin regime since his illegal invasion of Ukraine began - and vice versa. If Putin is now starting to get sensitive about this, it is probably a sign that the Kremlin is increasingly worried about how their war is going.

Half a million people helped into work

Over half a million benefit claimants have been supported into work in less than 6 months thanks to the ‘Way to Work’ campaign, supporting Britain's economy to rebound from the pandemic.

  • In January, ministers set the target of supporting 500,000 jobseekers through the jobcentre and into employment by the end of June as part of the ‘Way to Work’ drive.
  • This target has been met and exceeded this target – in less than 6 months the programme has helped over half a million people – who have so far been struggling to find employment – into work. Unemployment now stands at an almost 50-year low with 627,000 more people in payroll employment compared to pre-pandemic levels. 
  • Helping people find the security of a stable income, through a job they can take pride in, is one of the best ways to support their families and Conservatives will continue to do all we can to support people in these challenging times. 

Quotes of the day 1st July 2022

The first of these four quotes about anger by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is an alternative translation of the same quote I used as my quote of the day on Sunday 26th June.

But I think all these quotes including both versions of the first one have something to teach us.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Plans for a "Bonfire of the Barriers" to boost trade

Today, the International Trade Secretary announced plans to lift over 100 trade barriers, unlocking export opportunities worth tens of billions of pounds.  

  • Businesses which export pay higher wages and are more productive than businesses who do not, but too often, complex trade rules and practical obstacles prevent them selling overseas. 
  • That is why we have drawn up plans for negotiations to resolve around 100 priority trade barriers, unlocking export opportunities worth more than £20 billion for businesses across our United Kingdom. 
  • This bonfire of barriers will allow world-leading UK goods and services to reach hundreds of millions of new customers around the world, boosting business growth and supporting local jobs.

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:

"Every week we remove trade barriers somewhere around the world, helping more and more businesses all over the country.

We know that businesses who export pay higher wages and are more productive than businesses who do not, but too often, complex trade rules and practical obstacles prevent them selling overseas.

This bonfire of the barriers will grow our economy by allowing our brilliant businesses to satisfy the enormous global appetite for their goods and services."

Unlocking new markets and global customers means more opportunities for UK firms to grow their businesses and support local jobs. That is why Britain is working hard on getting rid of barriers, including:

  • Opening the Chinese market for UK lamb for the first time, unlocking markets worth £1.5bn which would help businesses such as Pilgrims Lamb UK.
  • South Korea removing restrictions on UK beef for the first time, opening up markets worth £2.5bn – this is expected to be resolved within the next five years and could benefit businesses such as Northern Ireland based Foyle Food Group.
  • Removing delays in registering new medicines and medical devices in South Africa helping to increase the UK’s exports as well as improving healthcare availability and quality.

The UK gained greater freedom to remove trade barriers, along with the ability to negotiate its own Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), when it left the European Union. FTAs are securing new and substantial opportunities for UK businesses, and the work goes hand in hand with tackling trade barriers facing our firms today.

The Department of Trade has supported the resolution of around 400 barriers, across more than 70 countries, in the last two years. These included:

  • Working with Chinese authorities to remove animal testing requirements for many beauty products in China, opening up a market worth £500m and helping brands such as Unilever’s cruelty-free REN brand to import into China for the first time.
  • Overcoming bureaucratic issues to allow the export of pet supplements to India worth £1.4m to Lancashire-based VetPlus over five years.
  • A simplified process for certifying UK cosmetics to Indonesia.
  • Unblocking difficult processes in Mongolia which prevented the export of UK poultry and fish, opening up a market worth £10m, helping Moy Park, a poultry exporter, to supply chicken to KFC Mongolia.

Britain's contribution to NATO

Yesterday, the Defence Secretary announced an increase in our contribution to NATO, boosting our collective defence in response to Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. 

  • Successive British governments have always been clear that our strength and security comes from our alliances, and NATO is at the heart of that. 
  • That is why the UK government is now making more forces available to NATO to counter future threats, including fighter aircraft, land forces, and maritime vessels.
  • The Prime Minister also met with Sweden and Finland’s leaders at the NATO summit in Madrid yesterday, reiterating Britain's staunch support for their membership aspirations which will permanently strengthen our defensive Alliance.  
  • These additional forces will strengthen NATO’s military command and allow the Alliance to plan for emerging threats. 

More aid to Ukraine

Today, the Prime Minister announced a further £1 billion military support package to Ukraine, sustaining Ukraine’s brave resistance to Putin’s invasion. 

  • Putin’s attacks against the Ukrainian people are becoming increasingly barbaric as he fails to make the gains he had anticipated and hoped for. 
  • That is why Britain is are providing another £1 billion of military support to Ukraine – boosting defensive capabilities with sophisticated air defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, innovative new electronic warfare equipment and thousands of pieces of vital kit for Ukrainian soldiers. 
  • UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defences against this onslaught, and we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine. 

Turkey drops opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO

I am glad that Sweden, Finland and Turkey have been able to reach an honourable compromise which enables Turkey to drop its opposition to the two baltic countries becoming NATO members.

As I know from personal experience, Turkey has a genuine problem with some Kurds who have adopted terrorist tactics, though it is equally important not to label every Kurd who disagrees with the Erdogan administration as a terrorist - which Ankara has been accused of doing and not entirely without justice.

On 4th of November 1993 I was having a work discussion over a coffee in the 8th floor restaurant in a BT office block at 2-12 Gresham Street with another BT manager - who had previously been a Fine Gail member of the European Parliament and went on to have a third career as an academic - when the fire alarm went and we had to evacuate the building along with about 800 other employees.

What turned out to have happened is that we nearly became "collateral damage" in a co-ordinated series of terrorist attacks on Turkish targets throughout Europe.

A group of Kurdish terrorists had thrown a couple of improvised Molotov Cocktails through the ground floor windows of the building, almost certainly in the belief that they were attacking the Turkish bank to which part of the ground floor of the ten-story office block was had been leased.

Their escape plan being as incompetent as their selection of target, the wannabee terrorists ran off down the opposite road which took them right past the local police station, and a few minutes later they were guests of Her Majesty.

Had they been as harmless at making improvised explosive devices as they were inept in some other aspects of their attack the whole thing would have been extremely funny, but their bombs proved all too dangerous. Five BT employees were injured and taken to hospital, including a building inspector who was actually hit by one of the IEDs,  covered in burning fuel and quite seriously burned.

This was one of five firebomb attacks in London, clearly co-ordinated with similar terrorist attacks on Turkish targets in Germany, Austria, Denmark, France and Switzerland on the same day which in total caused one death and at least sixteen injuries, some serious.

Most BT buildings have emergency generators to enable the company to maintain telephone service in the event of a power cut, with fuel, and many BT offices in that decade had stationary stores with large stocks of paper forms. It was bad enough that these Molotov Cocktails hurt five human beings: if they had landed in a stationary store or started a conflagration which ignited the fuel for the building's emergency generator, one can easily envisage the possibility of a very serious incident in which I, and hundreds of other people, could have found ourselves on the upper floors of a ten-story blazing building.

The attacks were blamed on the Kurdistan Workers party or PKK: it is beyond doubt that some Kurdish terror cell mounted a wave of potentially lethal attacks on civilian Turkish targets in several of the major financial centres of Europe which did kill one person and could easily have killed scores if not hundreds of innocent people, in which category I put both their Turkish targets and citizens of the the countries where the attacks took place.

It is probably obvious that even now, nearly thirty years later, I still have strong opinions about this attack, and I fully understand why successive Turkish governments argue that they have a genuine security problem with some Kurdish groups.

It is equally true that the Turkish regime has a bad record of accusing any Kurdish person whose views or actions they find inconvenient of being associated with terrorist groups. The fact that there are real terrorists does not make it fair or just to accuse every dissident from the same ethnic group as the real terrorists of being one, and some - not all - such accusations have almost certainly been unjustified. 

It is important to target our indignation and any actions we may agree to take on the real terrorists, and not on peaceful opponents of the Turkish regime - or, for that matter, Kurds in Iraq and Syria who have fought with the West against the terrorists of DA'ESH.

Looking at the Tripartite Agreement which has been signed between Sweden, Finland and Turkey, it is clear that it will strengthen co-operation against the PKK and other real terrorists, but I cannot see anything in the agreement which would oblige the Swedes or Finns to take action against someone who had merely expressed an opinion which Ankara didn't like.

This clears the way to these two countries joining NATO as their populations wish.

Putin and his sycophants in the West may describe this enlargement of NATO as aggression but anyone with a working brain knows that it is nothing of the kind. Sweden and Finland are not joining the alliance because NATO has put pressure on them, but because Putin has. The Russian regime's repeated attacks on peaceful neighbours have proved that as long as Putin or anyone like him runs the Russian Federation it is and will remain a danger to every country in the vicinity whether they do anything to provoke him or not.

Finland and Sweden are joining NATO because that is what their people want and because of Russian aggression, not NATO aggression.

Quote of the day 30th June 2022


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Midweek music spot: Overture from "The Thieving Magpie" by Rossini

Latest news on Digital healthcare

The NHS is a federation rather than a unified body to a far greater extent than is sometimes realised and some trusts have embraced new technology to a greater extent than others.

We are badly behind on some aspects of digital healthcare in Cumbria and I have been making a fuss about this since I was appointed to Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee. 

It would be churlish and unfair to deny that there has been progress  but we STILL have the position where trolley-loads of hard copy patient records are being wheeled round hospitals like West Cumberland hospital, a fortune is spent driving these hard copy records around Cumbria to and from storage and highly-paid medical professionals are spending some of their priceless and scarce time logging them in and out.

So I welcome the fact that the government is still working on their strategy for better use of patient data and making more use of digital solutions to offer better service to patients, as indicated when today the government announced the latest stage of the Plan for Digital Health and Social Care, using technology to free up hospital capacity and bust the Covid backlogs.

  • The government committed to investing £2 billion in the Spending Review to digitise the NHS and social care sector, to drive efficiency and release billions of pounds back to the NHS.
  • Measures taken as part of this plan include improving the NHS App and to provide faster, more personalised treatment. Bringing information into the App will help people to view and manage hospital appointments, have virtual consultations, and see notifications from their GP – supporting an extra 500,000 patients to manage their condition from home.
  • This investment in a health and social system fit for the 21st century will help people across the country to benefit from faster, more personalised healthcare. 

Investing in Britain's railways

The UK government has today confirmed a £1 billion investment to upgrade our railway infrastructure, reducing delays and delivering more regular services for millions of passengers.

  • A week after union leaders brought much of the nation’s railway to a standstill with strikes, we are determined to get on with the job at hand and modernise our railway.
  • That is why the government is upgrading the East Coast Mainline’s signalling infrastructure with a £1 billion investment that will provide train drivers with real-time, continuous information throughout their journey - reducing delays and creating around 5,000 jobs.
  • This investment will allow us to replace unreliable Victorian infrastructure with cutting-edge technology, meaning fewer delays and more regular services for millions of passengers.

Defence Spending

Today the Prime Minister calls on our NATO allies to invest more in defence, helping to protect us all from the evolving threats that we face in the decade ahead.

  • The NATO Alliance keeps our people safe every day, but over the next ten years the threats around us are only going to grow. 
  • That is why, building on the Integrated Review and the biggest increase to UK defence spending since the Cold War, we need all our allies to dig deep to restore deterrence and ensure defence in the decade ahead. Britain has met the 2 per cent NATO target every year and remain the leading defence spender in Europe.
  • Britain's investment in defence will create and sustain almost 400,000 high paying skilled jobs across the country, and keep our people safe.

(NATO leaders at the Summit today)

Leave Steve Bray alone

Yes, Steve Bray is an annoying berk.

(He's the nutter who dresses up in an EU cape and hat and shouts rude things through megaphones outside parliament and Conservative conferences.)

He's also part of the great British tradition of people who think something is wrong making a nuisance of themselves by shouting about it.

If he started behaving in a threatening way, the police should, and I think would, take action. But I have never seen him do that.

If he started shouting at people's kids outside their houses, or using his megaphone in a residential area in the evening or at night, that would be harassment and it would be right to take action, but to the best of my knowledge he hasn't done that either.

I'm not convinced that taking his amplification equipment off him is proportionate or reasonable or that this was the intention of the Police, Sentencing and the Courts act which came into force yesterday and the vast majority of which, such as mandatory life sentences for those who kill a police officer or emergency services worker, whole life orders for the pre-meditated murder of a child, and ending the early release of those who are still a danger to the public, I welcome.

Let's not make the odious little twerp into a martyr. Leave him alone.

Let the decision of the Scottish people be final

Yesterday's front page headline from "The National" which is a pro-independence newspaper in Scotland:

I agree. The will of the Scotland's people, who voted by 55% to 45% that Scotland should remain part of the UK in what both sides agreed was a once-in-a-generation vote, should prevail.

So should the wishes of the Scottish people about whether there should be another referendum: an opinion poll in the Daily Record suggests that 60% of scots do NOT want another Independence referendum before the end of next year, against just 29% who do.

Dominic Sandbrook on why Britain is not America

As far back as when I was a boy I recall my late mother saying that many of the things which happen in America seem to find their way to Britain sooner or later. I have read or heard the same thing since then many times from many other people.

And sometimes it is true, as with many aspects of the so-called "Culture wars."

But it is not always inevitable, and indeed the differences between ourselves and our cousins over the pond sometimes make it extremely unlikely. Indeed, when we import arguments from the "Culture Wars" of the United States of America to Britain we may find ourselves fighting arguments which are almost entirely irrelevant to the situation here.

Dominic Sandbrook has written on the excellent Unherd website a counterblast to those who keep importing arguments from the United States called

"Stop Pretending Britain is America"

which makes some very important points about the differences between our two countries.

The idea that anything like the overturn of Roe v. Wade could happen in Britain is just daft. Not least because we actually write things we want to be legal or constitutional rights into law rather than have courts create them.

When in the late 60's there was a majority view in Britain that abortion should in many circumstances be legal an MP who was then a backbencher - many people reading this will have heard of him, his name was David Steel -  proposed what became the 1967 Abortion act and parliament passed it. This is how most democratic countries change the law, and although the exact details may be amended from time to time as medical technology and society changes, I confidently predict that this act will not be repealed in my lifetime or my children's lifetime.

But in America both sides of the abortion debate have in turn created and removed constitutional and legal rights through a court which in every other democracy would have been addressed by writing them into the constitution, the national law, or both. 

In the "Roe v. Wade" decision, instead of creating a constitutional right to an abortion by writing it into the constitution, the US created one because the Supreme Court ruled that the "due process" clause of the 14th amendment to the US constitution, which says this ...


... conferred a right to privacy and in turn that this right to privacy over-rode the right of states to make laws imposing extreme restrictions on abortion.

This month, after working towards that end for fifty years, the opponents of that decision finally managed to persuade the present Supreme Court to overturn it.

One of the many ironies of this situation is that both sides appear to be perfectly happy to have an unelected court create or destroy constitutional rights, over-riding the ability of elected legislative bodies to make law in the process, when they like the decision and regard it as an absolute outrage when the same unelected court uses the same power to make an opposite decision which they don't like.

This is very important in the USA, and if I lived there I would probably have a lot more to say about it, but no sudden swing anything like this extreme could happen in Britain where instead of our law on abortion having been created by a court, it was passed by parliament in 1967, and only about 2% of our electorate want to repeal that law and make abortion illegal.

There are many other aspects of the situation in the USA which simply do not translate well on this side of the pond.

As Sandbrook writes in response to those who suggest that the British Conservatives will follow where the US republicans are leading,

"If you’re hoping to win selection for a safe Tory seat by talking about ending abortion, outlawing socialised medicine and encouraging the high-street sales of automatic weapons, then I’ve got a nice padded cell for you." 

He adds, in response to those who are suggesting that the repeal of Roe v. Wade could happen here:

"Well, I suppose it’s just possible that in the next few years we could completely change our political system, radically reshape the relationship between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, adopt a version of the US Constitution, develop a deeply religious political culture and set up a fervent anti-abortion movement — all of which would be the cue for our own Supreme Court to hand down a judgement allowing individual counties (Dorset? Wiltshire?) to outlaw abortion. Yes, I suppose it’s possible. It’s certainly no more implausible than a major British political party campaigning to throw out the 1967 Abortion Act — another thing that is clearly never going to happen."

and concludes

"Britain isn’t America. Why would we want to import their hysterical tone? We have plenty of issues of our own, of course; but they’re ours, not theirs. Our race relations aren’t perfect, but they’re among the very best in Europe, not that you’d know it from much of the media. Boris Johnson really, really isn’t a fascist, and the worst thing you can say about Keir Starmer is that he’s incredibly boring. And yes, we do take “the right to abortion, contraception, gay rights and same-sex marriage” for granted. But why wouldn’t we? Who’s threatening them? Does anybody seriously think Boris Johnson, of all people, is going to abolish contraception?"

You can read Dominic Sandbrook's piece in full at Stop pretending Britain is America - UnHerd

Protecting the public from crime

This week landmark reforms within the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act come into effect – protecting the public and making our streets safer. 

  • The first job of any government is to keep people safe, and Britain's Conservative government is committed to cutting crime and reforming our justice system so that it serves the law-abiding majority.
  • That is why new powers and sentences from our Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act came into force yesterday, including whole-life orders for the pre-meditated murder of a child, mandatory life sentences for unlawfully killing emergency workers in the line of duty, and ending the automatic early release of offenders deemed to be a danger to the public.
  • These reforms will protect the public by keeping the most dangerous offenders behind bars for longer, while better protecting the brave men and women who keep us safe every day.

Dame Deborah James RIP

The cancer campaigner Dame Deborah James, A.K.A. "Bowel Babe" has died at the age of 49 from her bowel cancer, leaving a widower and two children.

She had spent the last five years of her life raising money and awareness of cancer, spreading messages like "Check your poo" - the sort of thing people didn't say in the past because it sounds a bit rude but the sooner you detect things like bowel cancer the better your chance of a less damaging outcome.

There have been many tributes including this one from the Prime Minister: 

"I’m terribly saddened to hear that Dame Deborah James has died. What an inspiration she was to so many.

The awareness she brought to bowel cancer and the research her campaigning has funded will be her enduring legacy.

Because of her, many many lives will be saved."

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 29th June 2022

Emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote that "Nothing that goes on in anyone else's mind can harm you."

This is true, but I would add the words "unless you allow it to do so."


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Improving Building safety

The tragedy at Grenfell shows how much we need to improve Britain's building safety regime and that this is a long standing problem for which governments and councils of all parties have to take responsibility.

But it is now being addressed and from today reforms within the Building Safety Act come into effect – protecting leaseholders from unfair bills as we remove dangerous cladding from buildings. 

  • Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure in their own home, but in the past it was too easy for developers to get away with substandard construction while leaving leaseholders footing the bill.
  • That is why today new laws come into effect from our Building Safety Act which will legally protect leaseholders from unfair bills as they make their homes safer, while ensuring that those responsible for historical safety defects, and those who own buildings, fund essential repairs.
  • Hundreds of thousands of innocent leaseholders now have the legal protection they rightly deserve, freeing them from a financial burden they should never have faced.

Support for Ukrainian scientists and researchers

Today the British government has announced new measures to support Ukrainian scientists and researchers, helping the best and brightest to continue their work in the UK as we stand up against Putin’s barbaric invasion. 

  • People across the UK have opened their hearts and homes to support those fleeing violence in Ukraine, and our world-leading universities, research institutions and tech businesses are no different.
  • That is why Britain has announced an additional £9.8 million in funding for the Researchers at Risk Scheme, which will help more than 130 Ukrainian academics come to the UK, as well as funding to increase links between UK and Ukrainian universities, and support for science and tech business leaders in temporarily relocating from Ukraine.
  • These measures will not only strengthen UK and Ukrainian industries, but will build on our support to those seeking refuge from Putin’s illegal invasion. 

Quote of the day 28th June 2022


Monday, June 27, 2022

Boris at the G7 continued - War in Ukraine must not leave the world hungry


At the G7 summit (above), the Prime Minister called on world leaders to take vital and urgent action to get essential goods and supplies out of Ukraine – ending Putin’s stranglehold on food prices and making life easier for households across the world.

  • Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe but 25 million tonnes of corn and wheat cannot be exported and Russia’s blockade has put 47 million people around the world on the brink of disaster. 
  • So in addressing the G7, the Prime Minister emphasised the need for an internationally coordinated solution to support Ukraine’s efforts to develop safe passage for commercial vessels out of the country. To aid this, Britain is contributing up to £10 million in materials to repair Ukrainian railways and get grain out of the country by rail. 
  • Only Putin can end this needless and futile war – but we must come together to help Ukraine, restore international order and make life easier for households across the world.

Preparing for any future pandemics

The UK government has announced £25 million of UK aid to help prevent and prepare for future pandemics, using the lessons of Covid to protect future generations in years to come.

  • Pandemics such as Covid are rare – and thanks to our historic vaccine roll-out we were able to restore freedoms across the country – but we cannot be complacent over future threats.
  • That is why Britain has announced £25 million of UK aid backing to the new World Bank fund to prevent, prepare and respond to future devastating pandemics that not only have a devastating toll on human life, but economies around the world. 
  • We must ensure we learn the lessons of Covid, helping us to mitigate any future threats and protect our populations.

More action to de-fund Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine

At the G7 meeting it was announced that there will be a ban on all new Russian gold imports, as we ratchet up the pressure on Putin’s war machine.

  • Putin is squandering his dwindling resources on this pointless and barbaric war, and alongside our allies, we need to starve his regime of its funding.
  • That is why today we announced a ban on all imports of Russian gold to the UK which will cover over £13.5 billion of our imports from Russia, alongside bans by the USA, Canada and Japan that will isolate Russia from the global gold market.
  • By taking these measure alongside our allies, we are maximising the impact that we can have on Putin and his cronies and striking at the heart of his barbaric war machine.

Quote of the day 27th June 2022

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Net Zero flights as a new era of airships take off

In the 20th century there were repeated attempts to use lighter-than-air flight, which were not entirely without success, but the technology of the early and middle years of that century was not up to operating lighter-than-air vehicles larger than a blimp to the safety standards civil society would demand, while there were few military applications as airships proved hideously vulnerable to fixed-wing aircraft. 

Over the last forty years, the excellent safety record of more recent airships and blimps have demonstrated that the original safety problems have been overcome, but the huge energy advantage enjoyed by lighter-than-air vessels - the fact that they do not have to use vast amounts of energy and generate a huge carbon footprint just to stay in the air - was not enough to offset the greater speed and flexibility of fixed-wing and rotary-wing heavier-than-air planes and helicopters. Hence airships and blimps have accounted only for a very small part of the aircraft we use.

However, with the increased price of fuel and the need to dramatically reduce carbon footprints, that equation is changing. And Britain may be at the forefront of a new era of lighter-than-air freight and travel.

The Airlander 10, built by Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), has already landed a first-of-its-kind contract with Spanish airline Air Nostrum for 10 airships, which will be manufactured in South Yorkshire. These are expected to be in service providing regional air transport in Spain by 2026. The contract will bring with it 1,800 jobs and is supported as part of the Government's Northern Powerhouse strategy.

Designers say the Airlander's low-carbon output and ability to land on any stretch of relatively flat land will give it some very considerable advantages over conventional airliners.

Measuring 300ft in length, it will be the world's largest aircraft, and will be able to accommodate 100 passengers in a cabin much more spacious and less cramped than those of conventional airliners.

But HAV's real selling point is the Airlander's carbon footprint - as I understand it, this aircraft is expected to emit only 10 per cent of the greenhouse gas output per passenger mile of heavier conventional aircraft, at about 4.5kg per passenger per flight, compared with about 53kg per passenger on a jet plane.

By 2030, it is planned that the Airlander will use only electric engines and its operating carbon footprint will be zero provided it is using clean electricity.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said at the weekend: 

"Our aerospace sector is one of the crown jewels of the British economy and our well-earned reputation as a global centre of excellence for design and production has meant the world has come to us for the most innovative technology.

"Hybrid Air Vehicles ' airship will create high-skilled jobs as we build on our powerhouse export economy to showcase the UK's talented workforce globally."

Higher safety standards for medical equipment

The UK government has today announced some of the strongest safety measures in the world for medical devices, protecting patients and letting them access new treatments more quickly.

Whichever way you voted in the EU membership referendum, the majority of those who voted opted to leave, and Britain having done so, it would be stupid not to take advantage of the positive opportunities that gives us to set standards tailored to Britain's needs,

Setting our own standards does not have to mean a race to the bottom: it can and sometimes should mean setting higher standards than the EU.

An example is medical equipment safety standards, which can and should be set even higher as we learn lessons from the pandemic and from other recent events and learning in the field of medicine.

  • Now we have left the EU, Britain can set our own standards and use this power to improve how medical devices like hearing aids, x-ray machines and insulin pumps are regulated by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
  • The UK government will use that flexibility and has today announced new changes that will strengthen the MHRA’s powers and create a new, UKCA stamp of certification to replace the EU’s CE mark – alongside a new regulatory framework that will encourage responsible innovation to develop the latest technologies.
  • These changes will save lives by protecting patients and the public while making it easier and quicker for patients to access the medical devices and treatments they need.

Education for all girls and boys

The UK government has announced a further £217 million for three major education projects across the Commonwealth, as we lead the way on championing girl’s education.

  • By giving all children the chance to get at least 12 years of good schooling, we create more stable, prosperous and happy societies.
  • That is why the Prime Minister yesterday announced a further £217 million to support teacher training in Rwanda, programmes to get girls and vulnerable children into school in Pakistan and global education data gathering so that every child can get the education they deserve.
  • The UK is a world leader in championing girl’s education and the funding announced today will help end education inequality and give millions more children the chance of a better life.

Sunday music spot: "Lord, if I have only you" by Buxtehude

The lyrics of this motet, composed by Deiterich Buxtehude in about 1668 and sung here by Laura Heimes,  are inspired by Psalm 73 (verses 25 and 26) and are as follows:

Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab, 
so frag ich nichts nach Himmel und Erden, 
wenn mir gleich Leib und Seele verschmacht. 
So bist du doch Gott allezeit meines Herzens Trost und mein Heil. 

The first line is sometimes translated from the German as "Lord, if I have only you," hence the title of this post, but I prefer to refer back to the original psalm. 

Here are those verses as they were translated from the original Hebrew to English in the King James Bible:

"Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever."

Boris at the G7

Today, the Prime Minister is attending the first in-person G7 summit since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and calling on our allies to keep up their resolve on support for Ukraine.

  • Ukraine can and will win, but they need our backing to do so. Any fatigue or wavering in Western support would play directly into Putin’s hands.
  • The Prime Minister at the first in-person G7 summit since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine today, is encouraging our allies to keep up their support for Ukraine and build on their previous pledges with even more financial, humanitarian and military support.
  • The UK is continuing to step up with a further £429 million in guarantees for World Bank loans to Ukraine, because we know that their security is our security, and their freedom is our freedom.

Help to build

This week the government moved forward on helping people to own their own home, lauching the latest phase of the Help to Build scheme, creating new jobs, supporting the construction industry, and giving thousands of families the opportunity to build their own home. 

  • More people should be able to enjoy the security of owning their own home - and building your own home should not be the sole preserve of those with sky-high budgets.
  • That is why the government is  launching the lastest phase of the Help to Build scheme, backed by £150 million of Government funding. Under the scheme, people will be helped to build the home they need, with just a 5 per cent deposit towards land and building costs. This builds on the success of other schemes, including Help to Buy and Right to Buy, which have helped more than 765,000 people buy their own homes.
  • Help to Build will help level up communities across the UK by supporting more people and families into homeownership in the places where they want to live.

Quote of the day 26th June 2022


Saturday, June 25, 2022

Working with partners around the world

This week the Prime Minister met with the President of Nigeria, setting out our plans to boost economic ties and cooperation between the UK and Nigeria on energy supplies and clean technology.

  • Our friends and partners across the world are facing huge challenges, and African countries are seeing particular difficulties caused by rising global commodity prices fuelled by Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine.
  • That is why the Prime Minister met with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria in Kigali yesterday to outline plans to boost economic and energy ties with Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, as well as discussing national security and Nigeria’s leadership on environmental issues. 
  • Britain is showing global leadership, not only by supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia, but also by boosting links with developing nations and promoting progress on our environmental targets.

Two disappointing by-election results

The results in the Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections were disappointing, and nobody in the Conservative party is pretending otherwise. I went to Wakefield twice and also took part in telephone canvassing. We had excellent candidates in both seats  but there was clearly a lot of discontent, particularly in respect of the cost of living but about a number of other issues too, and we clearly need to learn from this.

  • The Conservatives are determined to listen to what we have been told on the doorstep, learn the lessons, and then unite and focus on delivering for people across the UK. 
  • Midterm by-elections are always very challenging for incumbent governments, especially after 12 years in office, and both these by-elections were called following the resignation of sitting Conservative MPs, in one case in criminal circumstances.
  • It appeared that that Labour and the Liberal Democrats were effectively co-operating in an undeclared manner, with each party effectively giving the other a clear run at one seat. Sometimes in politics you do have to work with people in another party but in my book when you do that you should make very clear and transparent what each party is agreeing to. Informal pacts agreed behind closed doors or by a nudge and a wink usually end very badly both for the parties concerned and for the electorate they are supposed to be serving. Only the Conservatives can be relied on to deliver strong majority government.
  • Thank you to everyone who has campaigned so hard for our party at these by-elections – we are determined to hear the message voters sent yesterday, unite and focus on delivering for people across the UK. 

Fighting the war on hunger

This week the UK government committed £372 million of support for countries on the food security frontline, helping those countries hit hardest by rising global food costs including many Commonwealth states.

  • The government has put in place an unprecedented package of support to help the most vulnerable households in our own country with the rising cost of living, but it is also right that we step up to support countries hit the hardest by rising global food costs, including many Commonwealth states.
  • That is why Britain is committing £372 million of support for those countries hit hardest by rising global prices, including funding for the World Food Programme and the UN’s global emergency response fund. We are also working with allies to end Russia’s weaponising of hunger - by breaking their blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
  • This vital funding will provide humanitarian aid to increase access to food across the worst hit countries, helping to protect millions of people at risk from a growing global food disaster.

Helping child refugees from Ukraine

The government is now allowing the Homes for Ukraine scheme to begin processing existing applications from unaccompanied children with strict safeguards, helping the most vulnerable get to safety in the UK.

  • Some Ukrainian families have made the incredibly difficult decision that they want their children to travel to safety in the UK, even if their parents cannot travel with them.
  • So the British government has worked with the Ukrainian Government to allow children to travel to the UK without a parent or parental guardian – subject to the strictest safeguarding measures, with all applications requiring notarised parental consent and children staying with someone personally known to their parents, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • These changes will ensure children who have been forced from their homes by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can come to the UK safely and do not have their life chances spoiled as a result.

Saturday music spot - "Summer" (3rd Movement) from Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed by Nigel Kennedy

Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" is a wonderful piece of music, and the performance in Paris in 2005 by Nigel Kennedy from which this rendition of the third movement of "Summer" was a masterpiece.

Don't just listen, watch: I just love the energy, the enthusiasm, the way the soloist and orchestra are not just performing this piece but bringing it to life.

By all accounts the composer himself was superb at performing his own music (and whipping up his musicians into a frenzy of enthusiasm.) As recording devices sadly did not exist in the Baroque era we have to rely on the comments made by contemporaries who heard his performances, which we will never be able to do: but 20th century performers like Yehudi Menuin and current ones like Nigel Kennedy have brought their own interpretations which are just as magical.

Quote of the day 25th June 2022


Friday, June 24, 2022

Music to start the weekend: Gioachino Rossini, Overture from "The Barber of Seville"

Helping people deal with the cost of living crisis

Global events are leading to inflation and cost of living pressures for many households – we are supporting the lowest income families in our society with £37 billion in support in the face of these pressures. 

  • Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine and global challenges are causing cost of living pressures around the world, and people are worried about the rising cost of living.
  • That is why we committed £37 billion of cost of living support to combat global cost of living pressures – including one off cash Cost of Living Payments of at least £1,200 for over 8 million of the most vulnerable households.
  • The first initial automatic instalment of the £650 payment will be £326, paid on 14 July, with the rest of the payment to follow in the Autumn. Pensioners will receive an extra £300 while disabled households will get a £150 payment – on top of the £150 council tax rebate paid in April and the £400 cash discount on energy bills this Autumn. 
  • We are using all the tools at our disposal to bring inflation down and combat rising prices – we can build a stronger economy through independent monetary policy, responsible fiscal policy which does not add to inflationary pressures, and by boosting our long-term productivity and growth.