Friday, October 31, 2014

Quote of the day 31st October 2014

"What's the point of fining RBS when we own it?"

(Comment made on BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning in respect of the money RBS, a large part of which is owned by the taxpayer has set aside to pay expected fines)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

DC on lower taxes and the difference between the Tory and Labour approaches

The PM had an article in The Times today about the need to increase Tax thresholds, of which more anon.

He also had this to say about the difference between that approach and that of the main opposition party ..


Today the contrast between the Conservatives and Labour could not be more clear.

We're reforming welfare; Labour want to turn the taps back on. We celebrate the businesses who create jobs; Labour demonise them. And while Labour want to put up taxes on people's homes, pensions - even their deaths - the Conservatives are committed to cutting your taxes.

Over the past four and a half years, as we have reduced the deficit, we have also cut income tax for 26 million people.

In the next Parliament, we will go further. We have made two clear commitments that will benefit 30 million taxpayers:
  1. We will raise the tax threshold again, so that nobody earning less than £12,500 will pay income tax
  2. No-one earning less than £50,000 will pay the 40p rate of tax
Financing these tax cuts while continuing to cut the deficit will be hard, but doable.

Labour could not deliver any of this - and for me, this goes to the heart of the choice at the next election.

A Labour Party offering more spending, more borrowing, more debt and more taxes. Or the Conservatives offering a long-term plan that is working; tax cuts that are credible; a future that is more secure for you and your family.

The choice could not be more stark. So please donate to our campaign today and let's secure a better future for Britain:

Donate 20 pounds today

Thank you,



David Cameron

Drugs and logic (or lack of same)

Reading and listening to reports in the media today which respond to a Home Office study on the effectiveness of different drugs policies, it seems that some journalists and commentators do not need to be using mind-altering drugs to have difficulty using logic.

After examining various approaches to drus policy used in the UK and thirteen other countries, from zero-tolerance to decriminalisation, the report concludes that drug use is influenced by factors "more complex and nuanced than legislation and enforcement alone". 

The report says that it would be "inappropriate" to compare the success of drug policies in different countries because data collection and many other factors differ between each country, and the study also makes clear that drug policy is highly complex - e.g. approaches which may work abroad can't necessarily be implanted into the UK.

It adds that  "Looking across different countries, there is no apparent correlation between the 'toughness' of a country's approach and the prevalence of adult drug use."

This was the line in the report which has set some journalists and commentators jumping up and down as if it said something rather different.

To listen to some hacks you would think the report had found evidence that liberal policies on drugs work better than tough ones. What "no apparent correlation" actually means is no clear evidence either way.

As with most countries, drug abuse is a major problem in Britain. We need to be open to a range of imaginative approaches to deal with it, some of which may focus on the health aspects of addition and others  may require the intervention of the criminal justice system where addiction leads to crime or where criminal gangs are involved.

This requires an evidence-based approach, and the thing about looking at the evidence is you might find that it supports more than one side of the argument. It would be helpful if people on both sides of the debate could refrain from jumping to the conclusion that every particle of evidence supports their preconceived ideas, regardless of whether it actually does.

IDS writes about getting people back to work

Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith writes ...



Families left without the security of a pay packet; parents not able to provide for their children.

Under Labour, the number of households with no-one in work rocketed. Families were left on benefits, out of work, with no stability or prospects.

But while Labour were happy to write these families off, we weren't.

We set about changing the welfare system so that it encourages and rewards work - and we backed businesses so they could create the jobs and opportunities people needed.

As a result, the number of households where no-one works is at the lowest level since records began - and we need to make sure everyone knows the progress we've made. Please share the graphic below on Facebook and Twitter today.

Graphic

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

There is still more to do, but our long-term economic plan is working - and securing a better future for families across Britain.

Please share the graphic above and let everyone know this important news.

Thank you,

Iain Duncan Smith
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Quote of the day 30th October 2014

"All of us encounter, at least once in our life, some individual who utters words that make us think forever. There are men whose phrases are oracles; who condense in a sentence the secrets of life; who blurt out an aphorism that forms a character or illustrates an existence. A great thing is a great book; but greater than all is the talk of a great man.

"And what is a great man? Is it a minister of state? Is it a victorious general? A gentleman in the Windsor uniform? A field marshal covered with stars? Is it a prelate or a prince? A king, even an emperor? It may be all these; yet these, as we must all daily feel, are not necessarily great men. 

"A great man is one who affects the mind of his generation, whether he be a monk in his cloister agitating Christendom, or a monarch crossing the Granicus, and giving a new character to the Pagan world."

(Benjamin Disraeli, from his novel Coningsby)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

More evidence that We Need West Cumberland Hospital

Anecdotal evidence maybe, but powerful none the less.

I heard this evening that a good friend of mine had taken his wife from West Cumbria to the North Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle for a planned and much needed operation this week.

She was being prepped for the operation and he was advised to come back in three hours.

When he did it transpired that the procedure had been cancelled at the very last minute because there wasn't a bed available.

There appeared to be ambulances queuing outside the North Cumberland while they tried to find space for the patients inside.

The people of West Cumbria must participate in the forthcoming consultation and make the point that, quite apart from the highly undesirable travel time to Carlisle over poor roads, there simply is not room in the North Cumberland Infirmary for the patients or operations required if they take services away from West Cumberland Hospital.

My friend's wife has been offered another appointment for Monday and I shall be praying that they manage to complete the operation this time.


 

Quote of the day 29th October 2014

"No Government can be long secure without a formidable Opposition. "

(Benjamin Disraeli, from his novel 'Coningsby')

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Occasional feature - The John Prescott award for murdering the English Language -

I am introducing an occasional feature on this blog, name in honour of Lord Prescott, for murdering the English Language.

And appropriately in an ironic way, the first people given the award for a savage assault on the English Language is a police spokesman - the one who described the jogger who accidentally bumped into David Cameron while on his way to the gym and was promptly bundled away by anti-terrorism officers as having been subsequently, quote "de-arrested."

What a ridiculous and unnecessary new made-up word.

You don't need to put a negative prefix in front of the word "arrested" when English has a perfectly satisfactory and much more natural sounding word, which is "released."

But try telling that to the spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers who told the BBC that being de-arrested is not the same as being released without charge and the key difference in terminology is whether the person is taken into custody and processed.

The spokesman went on to say that normal procedure is that an arrested person is brought into the police station to a custody sergeant, to whom the arresting officer explains the case details. If the arrest is valid then that person's belongings are taken and filed away. The person is put into a cell, interviewed and then potentially released within 24 hours (unless a 12-hour extension is sought), according to the police spokesman. But if at any point before that processing stage it becomes apparent there's no case to answer then it will be a "de-arrest" rather than a "release without charge", he says.

I might just have bought this if the ACPO spokesman was saying that "de-arrest" meant that there would be no record kept or that it was accepted that the person should never have been arrested in the first place, but he specifically disavowed that interpretation.

It is quite worrying that it should be necessary to point this out to a spokesperson for any part of the police service, but in this country the law is supposed to regard people as INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY.

If there is a case to answer against someone, and the appropriate authorities are proceeding with the case, then you should avoid making judgements about their guilt or innocence until charges are dropped or a court finds them guilty or not guilty. If there isn't a case to answer they must be PRESUMED INNOCENT.

Quite apart from the assault on the English language I find it potentially worrying that there should be multiple categories for describing different variants of "There was no evidence against him so he was free to go."

A little while ago I took part in an appeal panel for an organisation which I will not identify to protect the innocent party involved. The individual whose appeal we were hearing had made false allegations against another member of the organisation, which were sufficiently serious that they resulted in the victim of the false allegations being arrested and held in police custody.

The police officers who investigated the case found conclusive evidence that there was no possibility whatsoever that the allegations could have been true, and an innocent man was released and exonerated.

The point about this, which is a lot more important than a minor matter of language, that sometimes through no fault of the arresting officers or the system, innocent people find themselves accused of offences and arrested. When those people are subsequently released, it is wrong, morally and in terms of fairness, to make any distinction between an innocent man (or woman) who is released after being held in police cells for a day, and an innocent man who is released after ten minutes because it became apparent almost immediately that there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

We absolutely do not want or need different classes of innocence.

And that is why we only need one expression for people who the police have let go because there is no case to answer against them. "Released without charge" will do perfectly.

Rebirth of the Whigs

Fascinated to hear on the radio this morning an interview with a gentleman called Waleed Ghani who is trying to revive the Whig party and has registered it with the Electoral Commission with a view for standing for election next year.

Don't agree with everything he had to say - Independents and Tories had at least as much to do with the passage of some of the reforming legislation he was claiming on behalf of the Whigs. (For example, William Wilberforce who led the campaign to abolish slavery was an Independent MP and very close to the Tory Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger, who supported his campaign: there were Whigs and Tories on both sides of the argument about whether to abolish the slave trade.)

The ideas of the Whigs were radical and often very positive in their day, but that day finished 150 years ago. Certainly there is an amusing side to seeing someone, in an age of widespread disillusion with politicians, to see someone try to overcome that disillusion by reviving a party which when  in power was notorious for a degree of nepotism, bribery and corruption which would makes the expenses claims of modern MPs seem  utterly trivial by comparison.

But although I won't be voting Whig it's interesting and rather refreshing to see someone with enough knowledge of history and willingness to stand up and do something they they are willing to make the effort to see whether the ideas of a great party from the past has anything to offer the problems of the present.

Quote of the day 28th October 2014

Hush!' said Mr. Tadpole ...  'what the country requires is a sound Conservative government.'


'A sound Conservative government,' said Taper, musingly. 'I understand: Tory men and Whig measures.'

(Benjamin Disraeli, from his novel 'Coningsby')

Monday, October 27, 2014

HS3 moves a step closer

Prime Minister David Cameron has given the green light to plans for a high-speed "HS3" rail link in the north of England, following a report by HS2 boss Sir David Higgins.
Sir David said better rail links in northern England were "desirable" and "possible" after being asked to look at ways of maximising the benefits of HS2.
The government said it would now develop a strategy looking at options, costs and a delivery timetable for HS3 and will produce a further report in March 2015
Speaking at the launch of Sir David Higgins' report, Chancellor George Osborne said the government "need to take David's report and turn it into a proper plan that can now be legislated in parliament".
He said that it was a "big flaw" of the original HS2 plans to miss east-west connections.
Journey times from Manchester to Leeds could be cut from 48 to 26 minutes.
The east-west improvements backed by Sir David would be in addition to the north-of-Birmingham phase two of HS2, which will see a Y-shaped route going from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Quote of the day 27th October 2014

"The choice at the election, if you’re a Eurosceptic, is clear enough. You can have a pro-EU leader who will nonetheless give you an in/out referendum (David Cameron), an anti-EU leader who can’t deliver one (Nigel Farage) or a pro-EU leader who doesn’t even pretend to want one (Ed Miliband). I trust the electorate, and am more bullish than most about winning a referendum on withdrawal even against the three party leaders.
Still, what an opportunity looks like sliding past. The latest poll shows the Conservatives and Ukip taking 50 per cent of the vote between them, while Ed Miliband becomes prime minister with 34 per cent. It’s enough to make you weep."
(Dan Hannan, Conservative MEP,  writing in the Spectator. You can read the full article here.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Recovery continues as the British Economy grew by 0.7% in Quarter Three

New Office for National Statistics figures show the economy grew by 0.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2014 – showing our long-term economic plan is delivering a healthier economy and a more secure future for hardworking taxpayers and their families.

Today’s strong growth figures show that the UK continues to lead the pack in an increasingly uncertain global economy.

With all the main sectors of the economy growing it’s clear that our recovery is broadly based. But the UK is not immune to weakness in the euro area and instability in global markets, so we face a critical moment for our economy.

We cannot afford an atom of complacency, and the growth we are seeing has not yet produced a turnround in the economic pain experienced by many families, with the exception of the nearly two million families who now have a breadwinner in work which they did not have when this government was elected.

But we are heading in the right direction, even though the economy is a long way from being out of the woods.

If we want to avoid a return to the chaos and instability of the past then we need to carry on working through our economic plan that is delivering stability and security. The worst thing we could possibly do is put the team on whose previous watch it all went wrong - Miliband and Balls - back into Downing Street.

Key statistics

·         The economy has grown by 3.0 per cent over the last 12 months

·         The economy is now 3.4 per cent above its pre-recession peak

·         Growth has been broadly based – with growth in all four main sectors of the economy: construction, production, services and agriculture

·         The strongest growth was in the construction sector, which grew by 0.8 per cent over the quarter

This builds on other recent good economic news:

·         Unemployment fell by 538,000 over the last year – the largest annual fall on record

·         There are more people in work than ever before

·         Business investment grew by 11 per cent over the past year – the fastest rate in over seven years

·         The IMF confirmed they expect Britain to be the fastest growing major advanced economy this year

Miliband changes his tune

It has been pointed out to me how Mr Miliband changed his tune over the course of one day depending whether he was speaking in Rochester and Stood (and trying to shore up Labour support against UKIP) or to ethnic minority activists.

Granted, the two promises are not mutually exclusive but the difference in tone is rather marked ...

Support for WCH Services on the A595

If the members of the North Cumberland University Hospitals NHS Trust spend as much time on the A595 travelling between Carlisle and Whitehaven as they should, they cannot have failed to notice a display of public support for keeping hospital services in Whitehaven.

Between the Sunny Hill and Great Clifton, there are a large number of effigies of NHS related figures with written messages calling for the retention of services and saying things like "Save West Cumberland Hospital."

I hope the Trust is listening, because they should be.

Quote of the day 26th October 2014

"Sir Thomas More's achievement, in being both knighted and canonised, is likely to remain an unbeaten record"

(C Northcote Parkinson, of Parkinson's Law, on the rarity of different types of success)

Of course, More was also beheaded .... 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Clocks go back tonight

Don't forget to put your clocks back an hour this evening, unless your name is Ed Miliband or Nigel Farage.

If your name is Ed Miliband, put your clocks forward 29 years, 364 days, and 23 hours.

If your name is Nigel Farage, put your clocks forward 49 years, 364 days, and 23 hours.

Review of hospital services in West and North Cumbria

The review of maternity services, and the possibility of a disastrous decision to remove consultant-led maternity facilities from West Cumberland Hospital, is just part of an overall review of key services announced yesterday.

I have put a more detailed article about this on my hospitals blog here.

Options for maternity at WCH published

The NHS Trust which manages hospital services in North Cumbria have revealed three options for the future of maternity services.

Two of the proposals by North Cumbria Hospitals NHS Trust involve withdrawing consultant-led services at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven.

A third would be to retain both the unit in Whitehaven, and that at Carlisle's Cumberland Infirmary.

The trust said it did not have a preferred option and promised that - as required by law - there would be no decision without a public consultation.

It is therefore essential that we campaign for the third option - the idea of Mum's in Labour having to travel 40 or more miles on the A595 to the North Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle or FGH in Barros is too ghastly to contemplate.

The plans are part of a review of medical services, which the trust is undertaking in a bid to get out of the special measures it was placed in after high death rates were found following the Keogh review.

In September, thousands of people took part in a rally in Whitehaven to protest about some services being moved to Carlisle and Hexham.

Quote of the day 25th October 2014

“People can learn a lot from one another if their need to be right falls away.” 

K L Jordaan )

Friday, October 24, 2014

Congratulations to Kelly Tolhurst on her selection in Rochester and Strood

Councillor Kelly Tolhurst has been selected by a postal ballot primary of all electors in the Rochester and Strood constituency to be the Conservative candidate in the By-Election on 20th November.


Good luck to Kelly in the election - I am certain she will be a fantastic MP if elected

Is the European Commission in the pay of UKIP ?

You could almost wonder sometimes whether elements of the European Commission past and present are secret agents in the pay of the UK Independence Party.

Barroso's valedictory speech was a gift to UKIP - and welcomed by Nigel Farage as such - but the annoucement this week of adjustments to the amount the EU is demanding from various states, with rebates for some and extra payments demanded from others, was adding injury to insult.

The "Technical Adjustment" requiring Britain to pay more to the Commission as a consequence of the fact that we are recovering better from recession than most of the Eurozone would have been painful enough it had been applied in a way that made sense.

But to demand that Italy and Greece also pay more for the same reason looks very odd.

Quote of the day 24th October 2014

"I am advised by my own chief whip that herding cats is quite difficult."

(John Thurso, a Liberal Democrat MP, telling the Commons yesterday why the House authorities do not propose to use cats to control parliament's mouse problem.) 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Treasury Minister Priti Patel writes about Labour's proposed tax on homes

In the area of Cumbria where I live, properties which change hands for £2 million can reasonably be describe as mansions - though there are so few of them in this county that a tax on such properties would hardly raise enough money to be worth the effort of collecting.

But in some parts of the country, particularly London, house price inflation has put the homes of ordinary working people into the territory which might be caught by Labour's so called "Mansion Tax"

 And if the suggestion by one Labour politician to apply the tax to houses in the North West worth over £400,000 were put into effect, there are plenty of family homes in places like Keswick which are certainly not mansions but would be affected.

This is what Priti Patel has to say on the subject:


'Let's stop calling it a "mansion tax"- these are not mansions, these are family homes' - Tessa Jowell, Labour MP

Ed Miliband's planned tax on the family home will hit hardworking people across the country - as even his own MPs and Peers admit:
  • 'It will impact disastrously on people...particularly pensioners' - Glenda Jackson, Labour MP
  • 'It is misconceived...what it does is create a cliff edge' - Nick Raynsford, Labour MP
  • 'A hopeless and desperate idea' - Lord Noon, Labour Peer
Show YOUR opposition to this latest Labour tax - sign the petition today.

Labour said only 'the most wealthy' would pay their homes tax - but now Ed Balls is saying that everyone who earns £42,000 or more will have to pay up front.

Labour said pensioners would be protected - but Ed Balls admitted this week that pensioners will have to pay the tax after they die.

Labour said only homes worth £2 million would be hit - but already a senior Labour figure has demanded the tax be extended to homes worth £400,000 in the North of England (Claire Reynolds, quoted in The Sunday Express, 10/08/14).

It's clear that hardworking families across the country would be hit by Labour's latest tax.

And it's clearer than ever that a Labour government would mean a return to higher taxes, more debt, and a stalled economy.

Add your name to our petition today and let's stop Labour's plans:



Thank you,
Priti Patel
Treasury Minister

Happy Diwali

A happy Diwali (Festival of Light) today to everyone whose religion or culture includes this celebration.

Quote of the day 23rd October 2014 (Diwali, the Festival of Light)


“Don't curse the darkness but light a candle.” 


(Brother AndrewGod's Smuggler)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The UKIP Paradox

Hat Tip to Political Betting for pointing out at a paradox in the opinion polls - at the same time that hte UK Independence party is doing very well in the polls, support for British membership of the EU is polling at a record high level.

They are probably right that part of this may be a ripple from the Scottish Indyref and that part can be explained because the rise in UKIP is having a polarising effect - they are about as "Marmite" (love them or hate them) as a broadly mainstream party can get.

If there is a referendum, I don't think either side can take the result for granted. As with Scotland, the battle will narrow as we get close to the event, and unless one side really blows it - as the "Yes" camp did in the AV referendum and the "No" side got uncomfortably close to doing in the Indyref  before pulling their socks up in the final month - I would expect an IN-OUT referendum to present a nerve-wracking possibility of going either way.

I still think we should hold one. First, because for all the faults of democracy it is a better way to run a country than any other, and there are times when you should trust the people to make the decision. My parents' generation were given a vote on whether to join the "Common Market" but nobody has ever asked the British electorate whether they want to be part of the European Union and they were cheated out of a referendum on Lisbon by Gordon Brown.

And second because I am fed up to the back teeth with the damage which uncertainty on the question of whether Britain should be part of the EU is doing. I want it settled one way or the other for a generation, and the only way to do that is to appeal to the final authority in Britain, which is the British people themselves, to take a decision. And then both sides should respect that result, whatever it is.

Quote of the day 22nd October 2014

"The Government have provided investment to develop facilities further, particularly facilities for surgical procedures, in the hospital and the local area. With that investment, there is a strong future for local hospital services. 

It is important that local clinical commissioners continue to engage with staff at the trust, and particularly with local patients. After all, if we want a health service that is fit for purpose in Cumbria and elsewhere, it has to be based on the needs of local patients. It is to them, more than anybody else, that local commissioners need to listen."

(Daniel Poulter MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, winding up the debate in the House of Commons this Monday about the future of West Cumberland Hospital.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

House of Commons debate about West Cumberland Hospital

There was a "adjournment debate" in parliament yesterday about West Cumberland Hospital. This is a means of getting a short debate, often attended only by the Speaker or Deputy Speaker in the chair, the MP or MPs who raised the issue and by the minister who is replying, about an issue of constituency or other concern.

I know there is - rightly - a huge amount of concern in West Cumbria about our local hospital. I thought it was worth publicising the full text of the debate, so I have posted it on my hospitals blog and you can read it here.

Adrian Davis-Johnston's "I Won't Survive" parody in support of #WeNeedWestCumberlandHospital

Adrian Davis-Johnston, a great guy who I knew a few years ago when he was involved in various campaigns in Copeland, has published a very clever Youtube parody of Gloria Gaynor's "I will survive" in support of the campaign to protect services at WCH. ((Hashtag #WeNeedWestCumberlandHospital)

The nearest alternative hospitals to WCH such as the North Cumberland Informary at Carlisle or FGH at Barrow are respectively an hour away from Whitehaven or Millom on terrible roads, and more like ninety minutes away from much of South Copeland. Given the importance of getting people to treatment quickly, any reduction in major trauma, maternity or other emergency services at the West Cumberland could have a dire impact on West Cumbria.

This is Adrian's take on the consequences if we lose services at WCH

Total Recall

One of the many proofs that, if there is a God, He has a sense of irony came when the lead actor from the original "Total Recall" film became governor of California in a recall election, replacing a previous governor who had become very unpopular.

A number of US states have recall laws, generally, as in California, they are used from time to time but not every five minutes, which is probably a good sign, as it means that they can be used to give elected politicians an additional reason to listen to the electorate without making the state ungovernable (or at least, not more ungovernable than it already is!)

Today British MPs are debating the "Recall of MPs" bill, and if you think that sounds like a conflict of interest you have a point.

The bill proposes that, if an MP is given a prison sentence of up to 12 months or a ban from the Commons lasting more than 21 sitting days, a petition could be set up calling for a recall election. The petition would be open for eight weeks and, if by then 10% of eligible voters have signed it, the seat would be declared vacant and a by-election called.

What some people might see as a catch is that bans from the Commons are only imposed by a Committee of MPs - so you can argue that this law gives too much power to MPs and makes the legislation too difficult to trigger.

David Cameron has described the powers in the bill as the "minimum acceptable" and promised to look carefully at any amendments. His spokesman said he was "very keen" for the debate "to be as wide as possible".

Backbencher Zak Goldsmith is planning to move an amendment which would allow MPs to be recalled if 5% of voters in a constituency sign a "notice of intent to recall" and 20% then sign a "recall petition".

 I know not all the readers of this blog share my belief that there is a lot to be said for representative democracy as extolled by Edmund Burke, but if you are going to have representative democracy at all you need, at the same time, to be able to help the electorate deal with those who abuse their position without making it impossible for MPs to make brave stands on issues where they may be unpopular for reasons which do them credit.

I don't necessarily agree that this applies to the Goldsmith proposals, but Nick Clegg does have a point about the need to avoid the type of recall system which might, quote,

"give a field day to very-well-funded vested interests who do not like what someone has done on gay marriage or the environment or abortion or fox hunting to basically hound MPs they don't like".

If it is too easy to trigger a recall election at the drop of a hat, it will be used all too often against MPs precisely because they have done their jobs properly, rather than because they have betrayed the public's trust (though of course that is not how the petition organisers will present it.)

However, if you are going to require a large number of signatures - something like the 20% of the electorate in the Goldsmith proposals, or I would prefer 25% - then you are only going to get a recall election set up if the MP really has done something which merits putting the case to the whole electorate.

An intelligent Labour view on the need to reform EU immigration law

When someone links to a view expressed by a member of an opposing political party, it usually means that the person linked to has gone off-message and attacked their own side. I'll admit that I sometimes link to people who have done this. As Ted Heath once said,

"I do not often attack the Labour party - they do it so well themselves."

However, the piece I'm linking to in this post is not an example.

Kevin Meagher has an article on "Labour Uncut" this week about the current EU migration rules, which is partly a response to the valedictory speech yesterday from outgoing EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso. The article is called

 "Blind Defenders of Free Movement sound like US gun nuts."

It is a refreshingly bipartisan (from a British viewpoint) and thought-provoking argument that the modern impact of EU freedom of movement rules is having a much wider and more dramatic impact than was originally intended and that these rules should be reformed.

As he argues convincingly,

"Just like US gun nuts defending their “right to bear arms,” there is a qualitative difference between the original intention and the modern manifestation of this “freedom”. Just as a single-shot musket is not the same thing as an automatic assault rifle, the pace and volume of migration in the EU over the last decade is not what the signatories of the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act intended, or envisioned ever happening.

Our EU partners need to be reminded of this and David Cameron is absolutely right to seek to do so. And a Labour government will face exactly the same dilemmas, so there is little for Ed Miliband to gain by seeing Cameron fail in his bid to restore some sanity to the free movement regime."

You can read the whole article here.

Trafalgar Day

I try not to re-use material on this blog too often, but today, the 209th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar, I will make an exception. it's important to understand our history and Trafalgar is a key part of that history. I'm don't think I can improve on what I wrote nine years ago for the 200th anniversary in 2005, so here is that article again.


The Immortal Memory

Today is the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar – one of the three most decisive and important naval battles of all time, and the most important in the past 2,000 years. Only the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, when Greek city states fought off an invasion by the Persian Empire and thereby ensured the survival both of early democracy and the ideas which would develop into science, and Actium in 32 BC which determined who would found the Roman Empire and what course it would take over the following 400 years, were as important.

So why is Trafalgar so important ? First, it ensured that Napoleon’s most deadly enemy, Britain, was beyond his power to defeat, and that his power and ambitions would always stop at the water’s edge. Ultimately this was to lead to his defeat – and it made certain that he would not be master of the world. Napoleon was a man of huge abilities and great ruthlessness, and without Trafalgar he might have established a centralised world empire dominated by one man. A history which included such a world empire is not one which any wise person would prefer to our own.

Second, Trafalgar ensured British domination of the seas for well over a hundred years. That power was used to abolish the slave trade, to establish a world economy, and to limit the ability of the old powers of Europe to crush emerging nationalist or independence movements in many parts of the world. I would not pretend that everything Britain did during the 19th century was good, but without the Royal Navy the abolition of slavery and the independence of Greece and most of Latin America would have been much harder to achieve.

Trafalgar was a victory for British sailors who lived, worked and fought in conditions which to us would have been dreadful hardship. Books, films and TV programmes like “Master and Commander” and the Hornblower series can give us some faint conception of what it was like for 600 to a thousand men to live crammed into a creaky, leaky, cold wooden ship about 200 feet long: visits to HMS Victory or the Endeavour replica which visited Whitehaven recently can give a slightly better one.

But I doubt if anyone except veterans of modern wars, and perhaps not even them, can fully appreciate what it was like when those confined spaces were filled with the deafening roar and blinding smoke from cannons, where cannonballs, musket shot and wood splinters cut men down by the dozen, and when agonising death or crippling wounds could come at any moment to anyone on board. Our generation, living relatively safe, secure and comfortable lives for reasons which are in no small way due to the sacrifice of the sailors who fought at Trafalgar and other battles, can only wonder at how much we owe to the Royal Navy.

The Navy drinks to Nelson and the heroes of Trafalgar with the words “The Immortal Memory.”

Let us also remember that the navy which defended us 200 years ago may be needed at any time in the future. Our nation’s prosperity and our ability to feed our people depends on trade routes all over the world, to a greater degree than any other country. We need a strong navy now as much as we needed one 200 years ago. The history of our politicians in supporting the navy (or indeed the other services) is not as glorious as the history of our sailors, soldiers and airmen in defending our islands with whatever tools they have been given. Let all those who aspire to positions of authority in our country remember that.

I usually write in this blog about the present and the future, about current issues that affect ordinary people’s lives. Today I have made an exception and written about the past, and perhaps in terms which may seem a bit old-fashioned, even Blimpish to some people. Well, maybe, but anniversaries like today’s do not come around that often. And if we want to have the best possible future, we must not forget the lessons of our past.

A Quote for Trafalgar day

"England confides that every man will do his duty"

(Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, original form of his "Trafalgar" signal sent 209 years ago today)

"His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, 'Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY' and he added 'You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action.' I replied, 'If your Lordship will permit me to substitute the confides for expects the signal will soon be completed, because the word expects is in the vocabulary, and confides must be spelt,' His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, 'That will do, Pasco, make it directly.'

(Lieutenant John Pasco, signals officer on HMS Victory, about how the signal was actually sent.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

David Cameron writes about the next election





There are just 200 days to go until the next General Election - and it is the most important for a generation.

For four years, the British people have worked hard to raise our country out of recession - and we are now growing faster than any other major advanced economy in the world, with record numbers of people in work.

That means more peace of mind for millions of families - more parents being able to provide for their children.

Our long-term economic plan is working - and at the next election, we can either continue on that path or throw it all away.

We have the chance to make Britain even greater: a place where reward truly follows effort; where your destiny is not decided by where you're from, but how much effort you put in; where we remain able to provide for the poorest, the sick, the elderly; where morally, culturally and economically our country stands tall in the world.

A Labour Britain hardly bears thinking about. All Ed Miliband offers is more spending, more borrowing, more debt, more taxes.

So just imagine what would happen: our government racking up more debt; interest rates and mortgage rates going up; businesses crushed under punishing taxes; jobs leaving our shores; a great nation slipping back into decline.

I don't want this to happen - and if you don't either, please donate £20 to our campaign today.

The next election is a straight fight: the Conservatives or Labour. There is no third way - a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour.

We can't throw away the progress we've made. Instead, we've got to continue with the long-term plan that is working.

So please - make a donation today:

Donate 20 pounds today

Thank you,

David Cameron

Quote of the day 20th October 2014

 
“Never assume the obvious is true.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When the things we care about are not what we're good at ...

Adam Gopnic has written and broadcast a "Points of View" article, from which I took my "quote of the day" which can be read on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29657506,
or listened to at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04l3ly6.

The broadcast article is called the "Football Fallacy" - as one part of the article argues that the British are better at watching football than playing it. But the article is actually much more general and wide-ranging in scope. On the internet the text version is called

"Why are our obsessions never the things we're best at?"

His basic argument is that the activities which often most interest or indeed obsess people, and which they think they are good at, are often things which in fact they are rubbish at.

Now I absolutely cannot accept that this is always true, because someone who is obsessed with something often works very hard at it, and there are very few human activities which are not enormously improved by practice. An individual who would otherwise be terrible at an activity but who really, really cares about it and  practices a lot will often do better than someone whose gifts should have made them well above average at the activity concerned but could not care less about it and makes no effort.

Where I think Adam Gopnic is absolutely dead on is that whatever level of attainment has actually been achieved, people who are obsessed with something nearly always think they are better at it than they actually are.

He starts by arguing that the English are obsessed with football, and very good at watching it, but not very good at playing it.

Then he moves on to the French and writing literature. After talking about the French reverence for great literature, he continues,

"To be a writer in France is to be blessed with a reverence that no British or American writer can ever hope to attain except in France. Yet, let us be honest, you probably have not actually read a novel by a working French novelist in a long time ... 

"The French talk spellbindingly about great literature more often than they actually make it."

But if his comments about the English and French are likely to be painful for some readers in those countries, that's nothing to the intellectual ICBM he fires at his fellow Americans:

"No one talks more about democracy, republicanism, self-government and liberty than Americans. But in truth Americans have no special skill at self-government - they are only good at dramatising their struggle for it. In many respects, the United States is the least democratic of the big democratic countries. The entire Constitution, fetishised by Americans to a religious degree, is designed to keep the country from ever actually becoming a representative democracy."

"Americans are not very good at practising democracy - but we are very good at advertising democratic ideas which makes us also imagine, God help us, that we are good at spreading democracy, with the results we know."

Ouch!

I don't go all the way with Mr Gopnic - for the reasons I gave above people are not always terrible at the things they obsess about. But he probably has a point that we should distinguish between being fascinated by something and convincing ourselves that we're brilliant at it.

Quote of the day 19th October 2014

"When I first supported Chelsea, back in 1973 ...  They were thrilling until, loaned to their national sides, they played other countries and you found that they weren't, really. It didn't seem to matter.
 
"Now Chelsea is owned by a billionaire from Russia and made up of several millionaires from Spain and West Africa, with a couple of Englishmen left over to cower on the sidelines ... This strikes me as a completely positive change, making them much more exciting to watch - but some of the local flavour is gone, including the peculiar local flavour of not being very good."

(Adam Gopnic writing about the changes in his local football team, in an article on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29657506 about the fact that the things people are obsessed with are often not the things they are good at. See next post for comments on this article. He's just as rude about the Americans and French performance on the things they think they're good at ..)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Quote of the day 18th October 2014

“Don't wish to be normal. Wish to be yourself. To the hilt. Find out what you're best at, and develop it, and hopscotch your weaknesses. Wish to be great at whatever you are.”
 
(Lois McMaster BujoldLabyrinth)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Looking out for the disabled

As I mentioned in a previous post, Lord Freud has apologised unreservedly for comments he made about employing disabled workers. He was right to do so.


But we should also recognise that Lord Freud, who does not claim a ministerial salary, has been a passionate advocate of getting disabled people back into work, particularly those with mental health problems, although as he himself has admitted he should not have accepted the premise of the question asked at the party conference event and his words have offended many people.

Conservatives have a proud record of helping disabled people:

· The number of disabled people in employment is up 116,000 this year alone, meaning many more disabled people have the security of a job because of our long-term economic plan.

· Conservative MPs forced through Parliament, against the then Labour Government’s opposition, the Autism Act 2009, the first piece of legislation on a specific disability in British history.

· It was John Major and William Hague who delivered the first Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, giving disabled people legal protection against discrimination at work and in the provision of services.

There is a very interesting article by Lord Tebbit in the Daily Telegraph on the subject of Labour's ambush of Lord Freud which you can read can read here at

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/normantebbit/100289522/ed-milibands-hypocrisy-over-lord-freud-is-an-attempt-to-cover-his-own-inadequacy/

Lord Tebbit does not think paying disabled people less than the minimum wage is the best solution to the problem that the minimum wage can price them out of work, but he realises that this a very real issue which those who genuinely care about the needs of disabled people should want to address. As he puts it

"To say that someone is 'not worth £6 an hour' was clumsy and open to willful misunderstanding. My wife was capable of earning her pay as an experienced nurse until the sadistic criminals of IRA/Sinn Fein crippled her. She is worth no less today, but she could not justify a pay rate of £6 an hour.
What was put to Lord Freud was the suggestion that rather than denying work to people either mentally or physically impaired, we should consider paying them less than the minimum wage.
In my view that would undermine the whole concept of a minimum wage. Better by far to look at the possibility of finding assistants to such people who could raise their productivity. They could be paid not by the employer, but by a welfare agency. Or we could seek out niche jobs where they could be as good, if not better than, other workers.
Years ago when I was Secretary of State for Employment we found that some learning-disabled people really enjoyed repetitive work such as singling and potting-on seedlings. Many youngsters who might otherwise have been condemned to a life of unemployment came to know the dignity and fellowship of work in such work.
In other words, Lord Freud was mulling over how to help such people, just as I did in my time. His error was not to assume that an undercover, eavesdropping Labour Party employee would be listening, not to help the disabled but to help Mr Miliband.
That was what led to the sickening display of hypocrisy and the exploitation of the difficulties of disabled people in an effort to cover up Mr Miliband's inadequacies in his own job."

As is often the case, Norman Tebbit is absolutely right.

Here is a memory aid ...

Conservative Campaign HQ would like to remind everyone of a few salient facts.



Everyone knows that reducing the deficit and dealing with our debts is the key to a stronger, healthier economy.

Everyone, that is, except for Ed Miliband - who 'forgot' to mention the deficit in his hour-long speech at Labour conference.

Watch this film then share it with everyone you know to remind them that you can't trust Labour with the economy:

Play the film

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Thank you,

Conservative Campaign HQ

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