Friday, February 22, 2019

The politics of hate

Nothing better sums up how the politics of hate and anger in Britain are stronger than they have ever been in my lifetime - with some of the supporters of the man who called for "kinder, gentler politics" among the worst offenders - than a tweet this morning from a Labour MP who has not resigned from the party:

"Last 2 days I have twice been trending on twitter mainly because of messages from those who hate me. This is a terrible campaign technique on their part & should highlight to people that others can see their vitriol and it's not a good look for the party they claim to love"

I  had a quick look at the timeline of the MP concerned and sure enough many of the people attacking her had "GTTO" on their handles (this stands for "Get The Tories Out" but I don't recognise their ideas of who is a tory. Basically they seem to hate anyone whose views differ in the tiniest degree from theirs.)

There should be no contradiction in my saying that I disagree strongly with most of what Jess Philips stands for but I also respect her as a parliamentarian who works for what she believes in and condemn those - from whatever part of the political spectrum - who cross the line between constructive disagreement and abuse when they write about her.

Most of whom appear to be supporters, not of my party, but of the same one she represents in parliament.

The same thing can be seen in resignation letter after resignation letter from people who have left the Labour party in the past few days.

I have already quoted a few: here's another from former MP Michael Dugher:

Almost 28 years ago to the day, I joined the Labour Party. Next week, after almost three decades, I will be resigning my membership over the party’s repeated failure to adequately tackle anti-Semitism. 

All my political and adult life I have been a great friend and admirer of the Jewish community. The contribution they have made and continue to make to our country is immeasurable. The Labour Party I joined was a proud anti-racist party. Not so today. 

Labour’s bosses and party HQ have had repeated opportunities to fix the problem they undoubtedly have with anti-Semitism — and they’ve repeatedly failed to do so. Words are not enough. We need action. 

Jeremy Corbyn has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism his whole political life. His excuse always seems to be that he was present but not involved. That excuse just doesn’t wash any more.

Another resignation from the Labour party in the past 24 hours from Ian Austin MP, who will sit as an Independent but not join "The Independent Group" because he disagrees with their hard-line remain position on Brexit  (he voted Remain but stands by the manifesto promise on which he was re-elected to parliament in 2017 that the referendum result should be respected.)

His resignation quote is perhaps the most devastating of the lot:

‘I left the Labour Party for the same reason I joined it; to fight racism...”

Councillor Dany Louise wrote in her letter of resignation from the Labour party that the "level of denial" by Jeremy Corbyn supporters over Labour's antisemitism problem "leaves me in despair".

After commenting on the "disgraceful" treatment by the Labour party of Lucianer Berger MP and Dame Margaret Hodge, and the abuse of John Mann MP, Rachel Riley and may others by "vile anti-Semitic JC4PM activists" she concluded that

"This is the sort of self-righteous dogmatism, ignorance and denial of facts that enabled the Holocaust."


Not one of the quotes above comes from a Conservative or a member of the "right-wing press." they are all from people who have spent years working for the Labour party and have help public office as Labour representatives, explaining their concerns about their own party or the one they were leaving.


There is too much anger and hate in all parties. I don't want to pretend that there is no problem in the Conservatives or indeed in quite a few other parties, but it is particularly bad in Labour.

As Mike Smithson and David Herdson from Political Betting have pointed out today, with Ian Austin's resignation from Labour  no fewer than sixteen of the 262 Labour MPs who were elected on June 8th 2017 are no longer in the party.

That is more than half the net seat gain of 30 that Labour made at the last election.

Ouch.

And that is because in Labour the problem starts at the top. As Nick Cohen wrote in the Spectator just under a week ago - and what a week it has been -

‘An MP next to me just burst into tears in the voting lobby,’ said one Labour politician. 

‘All the hypocrite union leaders support Corbyn, or pretend to,’ said another. ‘But if a boss treated his employees the way Labour treats its MPs, they would be shouting from the rooftops.’ 

A third, one of the party’s greatest assets, told me: ‘I may not stand again. Momentum wants to put me up for reselection. I’d probably win. But who wants to waste their life fighting them? And for what?’ 

Every MP I spoke to talked of the stress of dealing with a party dominated by tiny-minded people in the grip of paranoid fantasies.

Quote of the day 22nd February 2019



Thursday, February 21, 2019

West Cumbria Mining application decision postponed to March

Sadly it has been necessary again to postpone the decision on the application for a new mine in Whitehaven yet again.

At one stage it had been planned that it would come to committee tomorrow but the application is now expected to be determined at the March meeting of the County Council's development control committee.

This is an extraordinarily complex application and it was necessary to re-consult after the applicants made significant changes to the proposals to reflect the need to drain the mine safely.


A county council spokesman told the Whitehaven News:

“Both West Cumbria Mining and Cumbria County Council are working hard to resolve the remaining outstanding issues raised by the last round of public consultation in December 2018 to January 2019.

“That consultation dealt with WCM`s revised proposal to drive two new sections of tunnels to reach the coal, instead of de-watering and using part of the old existing Anhydrite mine.

“Because the impacts are different, some new matters have emerged that need to be addressed. We are confident that they will be and we are working towards a date of 19 March for a decision on the application.”

Training future leaders in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The government has announced new measures to train the next generation of leaders in Artificial Intelligence, keeping the UK at the forefront of this emerging technology and creating high-skilled jobs around the country.

Key facts:
  • We are launching a nationwide programme of industry-funded AI Masters courses, coupled with work-based placements, to drive up skills in the AI sector. 
  • We will also open 16 new AI Centres for Doctoral Training at universities around the country, where 1,000 students will have the opportunity to enhance their skills while developing the UK’s world-leading research into Artificial Intelligence. 
  • Up to five AI research Fellowships will also be created, in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, to attract and retain the best research talent from around the world. 

Why this matters:

The UK is leading the way on AI, and this announcement, as part of our modern Industrial Strategy, will help to drive high-skilled jobs, growth and productivity across the whole UK.

  • Today’s AI announcement comes as new figures show investment in the UK’s AI sector reached a record high last year – almost as much as the rest of Europe combined. 
  • The number of venture capital investments into the UK’s rapidly growing AI sector leapt by 17 per cent last year. 
  • Tech Nation have said that that the figures prove the UK has ‘the strongest AI investment market in Europe’, outstripping places like France and Germany.

Personal Health budgets

The Minister for Care announced today that hundreds of thousands more people will receive access to a personal health budget, giving them more choice and control over how their care is delivered.

Key facts:

  • Wheelchair users and people who access aftercare services under the Mental Health Act will have the right to a personal health budget, giving them greater choice, flexibility and control over their health and care support. 
  • Over 40,000 people already benefit from the scheme but, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the government will make personal health budgets available to up to 200,000 people by 2024. 
  • The NHS will also expand access for more people with ongoing mental health needs, veterans, autistic people or those with learning difficulties and people receiving adult social care support. 

Why this matters:

The NHS Long Term Plan is a historic moment for patients, and by giving people more control and flexibility over the support they receive, we can ensure they are receiving the best care, allowing them to enjoy their lives to the full.

Quote of the day 21st February 2019

From an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn

‘My wife and I are having our first child in two weeks’ time. One day my son may ask me what I did to stop you from ever becoming Prime Minister. Well, this is a small act, but it’s what I can do.

I will no longer pay subscriptions to an anti-Semitic movement. I will sign one pledge, and that is to stop a party led by anti-Semites from ever gaining power in this country. I will continue to live by the values on the back of my now torn-up membership card.’

(Adam Langleben, a former Labour councillor in Barnet, extract from an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn explaining why he has resigned from the Labour party. Source here.)

Quote of the day 23rd February 2019


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Resignations galore

Well, this week certainly has not been boring.

Three or four MPs had already resigned from the Labour party: seven more went as a group on Monday morning and were joined by an eighth on Monday evening who will now sit for a time as an independent group and have been nicknamed the "TIGgers" (for "The Indepenent Group.")

There has also been a steady flow of councillors and former MPs resigning from the Labour party.

Today I was sorry to see that three Conservative MPs have joined them.

The people leaving Labour have given a string of reasons, with the leadership's failure to tackle Anti-Semitism front and centre, the opinion that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would be a threat to national security as a second, and disagreement with his policy on Brexit as a third.

The three MPs who left the Conservative party will be missed: no party which hopes to achieve anything positive in politics can afford to be other than disappointed when people leave it. However there disagreements seemed to be much narrower in focus. They claimed that the Conservative party is moving to the right (a view which I don't share for a moment) and is too much in thrall to the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG)

I can't agree. The ERG recently tried and failed to bring down the PM.

What is evident is tht we are in for a tulumtuous political era.

Midweek music spot: Hooked on classics - Viva Vivaldi

Employment Figures

New figures released this week show that the number of people in work in Britain is at a record high and wages are growing at their fastest rate in over a decade.

This means that people’s pay can go further, and more people have the security of a regular wage to provide for their families.

The Conservative government is helping people into work by reforming welfare so work always pays, while backing businesses to create more, better paying jobs across the whole country through our careful economic management and modern Industrial Strategy.

Businesses create jobs but since 2010, Conservative-led governments have created and environment in which over 3.5 million more people have found employment and there are now a record number of disabled people in work.

Nobody’s ability to work should be dictated by their disability and everyone deserves to fulfil their career ambitions, which is why the Conervatives have relentlessly focussed on breaking down barriers to work.

Behind every employment number is a person and a family whose self-esteem, mental wellbeing, economic circumstances and life chances are all vastly improved by being in the workplace.

Key statistics:
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.4 per cent compared with a year earlier. Prices rose by 2.1 per cent in the year to December, so wages continue to rise faster than prices and hard-working families are keeping more of what they earn. 
  • Employment: A record high of 32.60 million (up 444,000 over the last year and up by 3.55 million since 2010). 
  • Employment rate: 75.8 per cent (up 0.7 points over the past year and up 5.6 points since 2010). Unemployment: 1.36 million (down 100,000 over the past year and down by 1.15 million since 2010). 
  • Unemployment rate: A record low of 4.0 per cent (down 0.3 points over the past year and down 3.9 points since 2010) – halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent). 
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 429,000 fewer young people out of work than in 2010 – almost halving since 2010. 
  • Disabled people: Almost 1 million disabled people (930,000) have entered work since 2013, as we are breaking down the barriers to employment facing disabled people. 

Other useful statistics:
  • The employment rate among ethnic minority groups is now 66.5 per cent. 
  • Nearly four-fifths of jobs created since 2010 are full-time jobs, with 2.6 per cent of our workforce on zero-hour contracts – a reduction over the last year. 
  • There are over 1.6 million more women in work since 2010.
All this is good news, but there is more to do and the Conservative government will work to do it. 

Quote of the day 20th February 2019

(Lord) Danny Finkelstein writing in The Times on how he felt, as a Jewish person, about the sight of Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP, resigning from the Labour party because of the failure of the leadership of that party to deal with antisemitism.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Using technology to transform patient care

It was announced today that a new joint unit, NHSX, will be created to bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician.

It will combine the best talent from government, the NHS and industry. NHSX will aim to create the most advanced health and care service in the world to diagnose diseases earlier, free up staff time and empower patients to take greater control of their own healthcare.

Currently, much NHS technology relies on systems designed for a pre-internet age.
  • Patients are not getting the care they need because their data does not follow them round the system. 
  • Change has been slow because responsibility for digital, data and tech has been split across multiple agencies, teams and organisations. 
  • NHSX will change this by bringing together all the levers of policy, implementation and change for the first time. 

NHSX will work with the NHS and the wider digital economy to build world-class digital services.

These will improve care for patients and enable medical research. The organisation will use experts in technology, digital, data and cyber security to deliver on the Health Secretary’s tech vision and the Long Term Plan for the NHS.

NHSX’s responsibilities will include: 
  • setting national policy and developing best practice for NHS technology, digital and data - including data-sharing and transparency setting standards – developing, agreeing and mandating clear standards for the use of technology in the NHS 
  • ensuring that NHS systems can talk to each other across the health and care system helping to improve clinical care by delivering agile, user-focused projects 
  • supporting the use of new technologies by the NHS, both by working with industry and via its own prototyping and development capability 
  • ensuring that common technologies and services, including the NHS App, are designed so that trusts and surgeries don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time 
  • making sure that all source code is open by default so that anyone who wants to write code for the NHS can see what we need 
  • reforming procurement – helping the NHS buy the right technology through the application of technology standards, streamlined spend controls and new procurement frameworks that support our standards 
  • setting national strategy and mandating cyber security standards, so that NHS and social care systems have security designed in from the start 
  • championing and developing digital training, skills and culture so our staff are digital-ready delivering an efficient process for technology spend, domain name management and website security 

The CEO of NHSX will have strategic responsibility for setting the national direction on technology across organisations. The CEO will be accountable to the Health Secretary and chief executives of NHS England and NHS Improvement.

NHSX will work closely with the Government Digital Service and other central government functions to learn from their experiences and ensure there is continued alignment with the Digital, Data and Technology profession across government.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

"Modern technology has an incredible potential to change people’s lives for the better and revolutionise the care they receive.

Because I care about patients getting the best treatment, I care about the NHS getting the best technology. But everyone knows how hard it’s been to get the NHS to adopt the best in digital.

We’ve set out a clear tech vision for the NHS, which underpins our NHS Long Term Plan. Now we’re bringing together the tech leadership into NHSX, which will be responsible for harnessing the true potential of technology to transform care, save lives, free up clinicians’ time and empower patients to take greater control of their own health. 

NHSX will combine some of the best minds from among the NHS, leading innovators, and government into one unit to set national policy, remove red tape and create a culture of innovation to allow the best innovations to flourish. This is just the beginning of the tech revolution, building on our Long Term Plan to create a predictive, preventative and unrivalled NHS."

Meeting venues - Carlisle vs Kendal.

As I posted here yesterday the February meeting of the health scrutiny committee responsible for democratic scrutiny and challenge of the NHS in the county of Cumbria will take place at County Hall in Kendal from 10.30 am on Tuesday 26th February 2019.

The meeting will be open to the public. The agenda and reports for the meeting are available in the County Council website here.

I have just returned home to West Cumbria after a couple of days down south at my father-in-law's funeral and started reading the agenda.

I am more that a little surprised at the way that agenda has panned out. 

These meetings approximately alternate between Carlisle and Kendal. Mostly they contain a mix of North/West/East Cumbria and South Cumbria/Morecombe Bay items.

This time, except for the boilerplate agenda items like declarations of interest, committee briefing report, data of next meeting, every single major item on the agenda is wholly or almost entirely about North Cumbria. 

To be precise, there are five major items on the agenda, of which four are entirely about the NHS in the Northern two thirds of Cumbria with no relevance to the Barrow and South Lakes area at all, and the fifth is mostly about North Cumbria with some potential knock on effects in the south of the county. 

And it's one of the meetings held in Kendal!

Almost certainly too late to change the venue now without causing disruption which would be more trouble than it's worth, but I will be suggesting that next time we have an agenda which is this heavily weighted towards one side of the county we make that meeting one of the ones held in that part of the county, so as to avoid causing unnecessary travel time for the busy representatives of the NHS who present reports at our meetings and to make it easier for members of the public with an interest in the items on the agenda to attend.

In memoriam for Michael O'Hara: Lord Let Me Know Mine End (Greene)

Quote of the day 19th February 2019


Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday music spot: J.S. Bach's Missa brevis in G minor

February meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The February meeting of the health scrutiny committee responsible for democratic scrutiny and challenge of the NHS in the county of Cumbria will take place at County Hall in Kendal from 10.30 am on Tuesday 26th February 2019.

The meeting will be open to the public. The agenda and reports for the meeting will be published in the next day or so and will be available here.

POSTSCRIPT - they have indeed now been published and are available by following the above link.

Quote of the day 18th February 2019

"Nation-building is never pretty."

(Vice Admiral Katrina Cornwell, played by Jayne Brook, Star Trek Discovery season 2 episode 5)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Music to relax after campaigning: J.S. Bach's: Triple Concerto

For all those from Copeland Conservatives who were out on the stump in Corkickle and all those other Conservatives who have been out campaigning today.

Churchill

It seems to have become popular on various parts of the hard-left in recent months to seek publicity and pose as an iconoclast by attacking Winston Churchill.

It's not difficult to find grounds, a few justified, some grossly oversimplified, others complete rubbish, on which to attack Churchill. As someone who was born, grew up, served in the army and was first elected to parliament during the reign of Queen Victoria it is hardly surprising that some of his views appear utterly unacceptable to the millennial generation, particularly when quoted out of context.

Churchill was the sort of leader who produces lots of ideas, a few brilliant, many of them terrible, who can be very successful overall if he or she has senior advisors with the guts to tell him when his latest hobbyhorse is insane and the wisdom to listen to them, but will be a disaster if surrounded by yes-men or who refuses to listen to good advice.

Yes, he made some terrible mistakes, though ironically, far from being iconoclastic, the attacks which have been parroted against him by sections of the British left over the last few months have largely been repeats of grossly distorted and oversimplified tropes, or accusations which are complete rubbish, and ignored the decisions on which he is actually most open to criticism - letting Admiral Fisher develop the battlecruiser, for example, his role in sending the Black and Tans to Ireland, or his decision to put Britain back on the Gold Standard (which Churchill himself later regarded as the worst mistake of his life.)

But even if every word which has been written about Churchill's role in the Tonypandy riots, the Bengal Famine, and the supposed abandonment of the 51st Highland division had been fair, his role in inspiring Britain to stand up against Nazi Germany at the time when Hitler posed the greatest threat to civilisation in human history would still make him one of the greatest heroes of all time.

Andrew Neil's brilliant opening to "The Week" on Thursday 14th February 2019 deserves to be considered the definitive summary of the achievements of Winston Churchill and can be found here.



On the specific points on which Churchill has been attacked by the left

1) A more nuanced and balanced account by Richard Langworth of the myths and reality concerning the Tonypandy riots can be found on the website of Hillsdale college in the USA here.

2) Most informed observers would agree that the Bengal Famine was not the finest hour of anyone involved - not the national or local British authorities or the Indian government. It was a massively complex disaster which had a number of causes, and putting the entire blame on the malice of any single actor, either Churchill or anyone else, is oversimplifying to the point of being ludicrous. The causes included:

Natural Disasters:
  • The late 1942 rice crop was afflicted by a severe outbreak of fungal brown spot disease. This was described by the biologist S.Y. Padmanabhan in his 1973 article "The Great Bengal Famine" as so destructive that "nothing as devastating ... has been recorded in plant pathological literature."
  • A cyclone and three storm surges in October 1942 ravaged croplands, destroyed houses and killed thousands, at the same time dispersing high levels of the brown spot fungal spores across the region and increasing the spread of the crop disease
  • The combined effect of the weather systems and crop disease was devastating: "7,400 villages were partly or wholly destroyed by the storm, and standing flood waters remained for weeks in at least 1,600 villages. Cholera, dysentery and other water-borne diseases flourished. 527,000 houses and 1,900 schools were lost. Over 1000 square miles of the most fertile paddy land in the province was entirely destroyed." (Mukherjee, Janam: "Hungry Bengal: War, Famine and the End of Empire." Oxford University Press 2015. ISBN 978-0-19-061306-8.)
Enemy Action

Japanese attacks both contributed directly to the disaster and made dealing with it vastly more difficult in the following three ways:
  • Invasion of Burma: The Japanese conquest of Burma both made it impossible to buy rice from that country and flooded Bengal with refugees. A scorched earth policy by local British military authorities designed to stop the invasion probably also contributed to the famine, though given what had recently happened to local populations over-run by Imperial Japanese forces, the commanders responsible would have intended their actions to prevent an even greater human catastrophe. Anyone who doubts they had good reason to fear dire consequences for the people of India were the Japanese not stopped should read about the Rape of Nanking.
  • Bombing raids: Japanese bombing of Calcutta, and mishandled attempts by the local authorities to deal with the food shortages caused by the raids, had disastrous and long-lasting consequences for the supply of food in the province.
  • Attacks on shipping: from January 1942 to May 1943, the Axis powers sank 230 British and Allied merchant ships displacing a total of 873,000 tons in the Indian Ocean alone. The loss of these ships enormously complicated allied logistical problems and the war cabinet would have had reason to fear that any food they attempted to send to Bengal by ship was all too likely to end up at the bottom of the sea along with desperately needed ships and sailors.
You could write lengthy books arguing about the extent to which the failure to deal with the starvation and disease which resulted from these events was due to mistakes by the local British authorities, Churchill's government in London, and the Indian authorities, and people have.

I would not dispute that the famine was a terrible human disaster or that it was one of Churchill's worst failures. However, in the context of the problems caused by the natural disasters and enemy action described above, to suggest as some people do that the famine was all Churchill's fault and use out-of-context quotes to suggest that he deliberately caused the famine because he didn't like the Indians is not just a smear, but a ridiculous one.

3) The 51st Highland Division

Churchill has been wrongly accused of abandoning the 51st division at the time of Dunkirk. This unit had been deployed before he became PM to a part of France from which evacuation at Dunkirk with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) would have been utterly impractical. Here is a piece which I wrote when Churchill was accused last year of abandoning the division:


4) The latest ridiculous smear against Churchill, on Question Time this week, was that he was  somehow responsible or involved with the Concentration caps set up by Kitchener during the second Boer war. What utter nonsense!

For most of his involvement in the Boer War Churchill had no official position and was there as a journalist - he was war correspondent for the Daily Mail and Morning Post. When he signed up and re-joined the army in 1900 it was as a very junior officer - a subaltern in the South African Light Horse.

All the decisions about the creation and administration of the concentration camps which were set up during the second Boer war - and, by the way, I regard the conditions in which people were held in them as one of the worst mistakes ever made by the British Empire - were way above Churchill's pay grade at the time.


Conclusion:

Winston Churchill was a remarkable man. There is no doubt that during his long period of public service he made some terrible mistakes and was dead wrong about a great many things. There is also no doubt that in the face of the most evil and dangerous threat ever faced by modern civilisation on this planet, that of Hitler's Nazi regime, his courage and adversity made an immense contribution to the defeat of that threat.

As his grandson Nicholas Soames said, Churchill's reputation will survive these attacks. Those who belittle Churchill to gain a little cheap publicity or score a childish political point only make themselves look small.

The last words on Churchill should be these from the article the Spectator wrote on Churchill in 1965 as he was dying and which I quoted yesterday:

"We live as free men, we speak as free men, we walk as free men because a man called Winston Churchill lived."

Five new laws.

On Tuesday five important pieces of legislation received "Royal Assent" and will now became law.

These measures will help people with the cost of living and give the police and prosecutors more powers to keep people safe. 


 

  • The Tenant Fees Act will make the rental market fairer and cheaper for tenants. It bans unfair letting fees and caps deposits at five weeks’ rent.

 

  • The Voyeurism Act will better protect victims and bring more offenders to justice.  Upskirting perpetrators now face up to two years in jail, with the most serious put on the sex offenders register.

 

  • The Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act will help to keep people safe. It introduces a variety of new laws including updating terrorism offences for the digital age, strengthening sentencing for terrorism-related offences and strengthening police powers to prevent and investigate terrorism.

 

  • The Finance Act tackles the cost of living and backs British business. It will cut taxes for 32 million people, freeze fuel duty for a ninth year in a row, extend our stamp duty relief and allow businesses to benefit from a new capital allowance.

 

  • The Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act gives police quicker access to data held overseas.  It helps UK law enforcement agencies to get access to the data they need to convict terrorists, paedophiles and those involved in serious crime.

Quote of the day 16th February 2019

“I am never satisfied that I have handled a subject properly till I have contradicted myself at least three times,” 

(John Ruskin, quoted in an Economist article last week. which can be read in full here if you are registered with their website.

The conclusion to the article, suggesting that the most important thing modern Britain can learn from John Ruskin is the importance of eclecticism, is also worth quoting and reads as follows:

"One of the dangers facing Britain is that, after dividing into warring political tribes over Brexit, it will split again over the future of capitalism. The only way to bring the country back together and tackle its manifold social and economic problems is to adopt a Ruskinian approach, and ransack every tradition—conservative, liberal and socialist—for good ideas.")

Friday, February 15, 2019

Action on Housing

This week the Conservative government has struck £250 million of housing deals which will deliver 24,500 homes across the country, helping to make the housing market work for everyone.

Key facts:
  • The government is investing £157 million of taxpayers' money in infrastructure, such as building roads and ensuring there is natural green space alongside new developments. 
  • 10,000 homes will be built on Ministry of Defence land on seven military bases across the country, with the potential of more to come. 
  • By investing in infrastructure, freeing up public sector land and offering targeted loans we are making the housing market work.

Friday music spot: Pachelbel's canon

Second quote of the day 15th February 2019

"No doubt the legend of his life will grow in the telling, but he was in fact often held in disdain by his political party, he was often defeated, he was often wrong. Certainly but generously wrong about the abdication of Edward VIII, probably wrong over India, possibly wrong over the Dardanelles. He was a lovable fallible man.

If the taxi that injured him so gravely in New York in 1931 had killed him, his life would ‘have been written as one of promise unfilled, one of the many that stopped short of greatness. But he lived to keep his tryst with destiny in 1940.

Nothing else weighs in the scale against that one colossal contribution to the cause of freedom everywhere. And again it must be proclaimed.

We live as free men, we speak as free men, we walk as free men because a man called Winston Churchill lived. Of no other man since time began can that be said. And, as we waited and prayed, there was nothing more to be said."

(Conclusion of a Spectator article about Winston Churchill which was published on 22nd January 1965, two days before Churchill died, and which you can read in full here.)

Quote of the day 15th February 2019

“I think my grandfather’s reputation can withstand a publicity-seeking assault from a third-rate, Poundland Lenin. I don’t think it will shake the world.” 

(Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, on shadow Chancellor John McDonnell characterising Churchill as a villain.)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Iain Dale's open letter to the European Research Group

Not best pleased when I arrived home from the council meeting to see that the European Research Group in parliament have been undermining not just the Prime Minister but Britain's negotiating position in Europe.

As Liam Fox put it,

“Our European partners will be watching our debate and listening today to see if they get the impression that if they were to make those concessions Parliament would definitely deliver. There's a danger that we send the wrong signals.”

The European Union is less likely to bother offering concessions to Britain on the "backstop" or any other aspect of the proposed Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a "No deal" Brexit if they think Prime Minister is still not going to be able to get any revised deal through the House of Commons.

Five Conservative MPs who voted against the government today - four pro-Brexit ultras and one pro-Remain ultra - and about fifty who abstained, mostly pro-Brexit hardliners, and caused the government to lose a vote tonight. They may have been trying to "send a signal" in the words of Leave.EU.

But whatever signal they meant to send, there is a danger that the one received by the EU will be that there is no point offering the UK any concessions. As the strongly pro-Brexit commentator Iain Dale tweeted this evening, the "European Research Group" (ERG) have provided, quote,

"An object lesson in how to undermine the Prime Minister's negotiating position in Brussels."

A couple of weeks ago, Iain Dale wrote "An open letter to the ERG" which appears even more apposite now than it was at the time.

He started

"Dear ERG,
Have you gone completely stark, staring mad?
Glad to have got your attention..."

He pointed out the need to

"give the Prime Minister the authority she needs to return to Brussels and tell them exactly what she wants.

Your group seems to think this is something bad. Let me tell you, what would be bad is if she goes back to Brussels with no idea what she can get through the House of Commons."

Quite.

Music to relax after a council meeting: Flocks in pastures green abiding (Bach)

J.S. Bach's Cantata 208 includes this lovely and restful piece, the German lyrics of which are usually translated into English as "Flocks in pastures green abiding" but also sometimes, as in this version sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as "Sheep may safely graze."

Also at today' Cumbria County Council meeting

Every time Cumbria County Council has met since my election to that body in May 2017 I have asked a question about the A595.

This is my personal "Cartago Delenda Est:" the ancient Roman statesman Cato said those words every time he spoke in the Senate to remind the Romans of the threat posed by Carthage. 
I have taken a leaf from Cato's book and make a point of reminding the county council at every meeting of how important it is to the people of West Cumbria it is to improve that road.

Here is the question I asked today to the Portfolio Holder for Highways, Cllr Keith Little.

"Will the portfolio holder 
  • join me in welcoming the massive and positive response to the A595 Whitehaven Relief Road consultation, to which there were more than 800 replies, and, 
  • agree with me that, following today's excellent news that the North of the county is getting much needed investment in the Carlisle relief road, this council's priorities should include working with Highways England and the Department of Transport to ensure that the West of the county gets investment in the new Whitehaven relief road, also badly needed?" 
Keith littles reply was that he did indeed agree. He said that a similar strong response to the equivalent consultation on the Carlisle relief road had been very helpful in providing the supporting evidence which helped secure that investment. 

He added that from comments made at the launch of the Transport for the North strategy, it was clear that the Whitehaven Relief Road is on the agenda of Highways England, Transport for the North, and the government as well as Cumbria County Council. He added that it looks like we have a target date for the construction of the Whitehaven Relief  Road, which is 2027.

(That date is within the timeframe which was suggested when Chris Grayling came to Copeland to launch the consultation on the Whitehaven Relief Road - the Secretary of State said it was hoped to include in the RIS II round of major road construction schemes which runs from 2022 to 2027.)

Quotes of the day from today's budget meeting of Cumbria County Council

The budget meeting of Cumbria County Council took place in Kendal today. The Lib/Dems and Labour forced through a budget which imposes on Cumbria's hard pressed taxpayers a 3.99% iucrease in the County Council element of their council tax bill (including the 2% surcharge to support the costs of Adult Social Care.) All Conservative county councillors and two of the independents voted against this budget.

Here are two quotes from the James Airey, the Conservative leader on Cumbria County Council:




Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Caincross Review final report published.

The Cairncross Review has published its final report, with recommendations on how to ensure the future sustainability of the UK press, helping to preserve our democracy.

Key facts:

  • The independent review undertaken by Dame Frances Cairncross was tasked by the Prime Minister with investigating the sustainability of the production and distribution of accurate news and high-quality journalism in the face of changing technology and rising levels of "fake news." 
  • The recommendations include measures to tackle the uneven balance of power between news publishers and online platforms. It also recommends forms of tax relief for the provision of local and investigative journalism and a new Institute for Public Interest News. 
  • The government will now consider all recommendations in more detail – engaging with the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofcom and the Chair of the Charity Commission. 

Why this matters:

Democracy needs high quality journalism to thrive. This report sets out a path to help us put the UK’s media industry on a stronger and more sustainable footing.

Jane McInnes RIP

I have heard this evening the sad news that Jane McInnes who has worked in the Conservative Party's north West office in Salford for thirty years has died.

Jane was always cheerful kind and helpful and she will be missed by many people.

Rest in Peace.

"Upskirting bill" to become law

Five bills received royal assent today and will become law.

In particular The Voyeurism (Offences) (No.2) Bill, known colloquially as the Upskirting Bill, received Royal Assent today (12 February 2019). It becomes the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 and will come into force on 12 April 2019.

What is the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019?

The act adds two new offences to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to cover the practice known colloquially as ‘upskirting’.

The new offences apply in instances when:
  • Without consent, an individual operates equipment or records an image beneath a person's clothing to observe their genitalia or buttocks, whether covered or uncovered by underwear garments 
  • The offender has a motive of either obtaining sexual gratification or causing humiliation, distress or alarm to the victim. 
  • The Act also ensures that the most serious offenders, where the purpose of the offence is for sexual gratification, are made subject to notification requirements (often referred to as being placed on the ‘sex offenders register’).
So what has happened today is that the last Private members bill which was initially blocked by Sir Christopher Chope despite enjoying overwhelming cross-party support was effectively taken over by the government and taken through parliament using government time.

The Chief Whip has promised that the government is looking at ways to make sure that the FGM bill to which Christopher Chope similarly objected last Friday is brought forward and passed into law in a similar manner.

It is essential that this happens. FGM is a vile practice which needs to be stamped out and the FGM bill is a sensible measure which will help protect women and girls from being hurt by it.


Quote of the day 13th February 2019

"Our changes to Universal Credit mean more people get more support, helping them into work and off benefits. 

We made these - extending advances, cutting waiting times - because there were issues with the initial roll-out of UC. I‘ve been clear about this since I took over at DWP."

(Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State at the Department of Work and Pensions, on the changes being made to Universal Credit/)

Quotes of the day 12th February 2019

Four quotes from the greatest ever US president, born 210 years ago today.






Monday, February 11, 2019

Moving the goalposts

Last week's comments by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk continue to reverberate.

There are two aspects to what he said.

Had it been expressed in more reasonable and less inflammatory language, the point made would have had some merit and indeed, was saying nothing I did not myself write here during the referendum campaign.

However, consigning people to hell because you do not agree with their tactical decisions about how much detail to give of their vision and plans during a referendum campaign is divisive and unconstructive at best. Doing so at a critical stage of the Brexit negotiations and when there is a desperate need to find a deal which can both satisfy the EU and the House of Commons was counter- productive and unhelpful in the extreme.

I wasn't present at the CCC cabinet meeting when the leader of the County Council, councillor Stewart Young who is supposed to be a political representative of a county which voted overwhelmingly to leave, appears to have endorsed Donald Tusk's comments.

As I didn't hear Councillor Young's exact words and therefore can only judge by the report of his speech in the press I will limit my response to the observation that I doubt if his remarks will have gone down well with the majority of the electorate of Cumbria.

However, one interesting thing which comes out of the Tusk broadside is an illustration of just how far the goalposts have moved in terms of what people want from Brexit.

The leader of the "European Reform Group" of hardline pro-Brexit MPs, Jacob Rees Mogg, responded to Donald Tusk by saying that the supporters of Brexit did have a plan, and he pointed to a document written in 2015 called "Change or Go."

Anyone who actually looks at this document, as Robert Hutton calls out here, will find that it provides evidence of just how far the goalposts have moved when you compare what supporters of a no deal or "World Trade Organisation" Brexit now say the electorate voted for in 2016 with what they were saying before that referendum.


In answer to the question “What do we mean by ‘leaving the EU’?”

the book "Change or Go" suggested options including “becoming a European Economic Area member like Norway.”

That position is now anathema to Brexiteers, who today would describe such a situation as "Brexit in name only" and a betrayal of the 17.4 million people who voted leave.

The subject of EEA membership comes up again in a section of "Change or Go" on what should happen if Britain reaches the end of the two-year Brexit negotiations without a deal.

“One option is that negotiators may agree to extend the two-year deadline,” it reads. “Another is that the U.K. is ‘parked’ inside the EEA while outstanding issues are resolved.”

Both of these options have now be ruled out by the ERG as attempts to frustrate Brexit.

Of course, everyone is allowed to change their mind. What is not reasonable is to change your mind while insisting that your new position is what millions of people voted for at a time when you were saying something rather different.

Good news on productivity

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that productivity has grown across most regions of the UK since 2010, as the Conservative government's balanced approach to the economy helps to improve living standards across the country.

Key facts:

  • Productivity increased for most regions between 2010 and 2017, with the largest improvement in Lancashire. 
  • Productivity also increased in most local enterprise partnership (LEP) areas. LEPs were set up in 2011 to lead local lead economic growth and job creation. The highest growth in economic output occurred in Coventry and Warwickshire. 

Why this matters: 

Slow growth in productivity has been one of the biggest factors holding Britain back under governments of whatever colour. Improving productivity is  key to ensuring Britain can afford higher living standards, secure pensions and better public services.

Conservatives are committed to delivering good jobs and growth across the whole country to ensure no community feels left behind. Our modern Industrial Strategy will continue to help build a high-skilled, competitive economy that benefits everyone

International day of Women and GIrls in Science

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the School Standards Minister has called on teachers, parents and society in general to challenge and dispel misconceptions some girls have about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Key facts:

  • New data published for the first time today by the Department for Education shows school girls in England are substantially less likely than boys to consider taking STEM subjects at A Level than boys. 
  • Britain has made considerable progress in increasing girls’ participation in STEM subjects since 2010, with the proportion of girls taking STEM A Levels and the number of women being accepted onto full-time STEM undergraduate courses both increasing by a quarter. 
  • The new research, however, shows that certain misconceptions are still prevalent, and we all have a part to play, including parents and teachers, to dispel misconceptions about STEM subjects and help encourage our scientists of future generations. 
  • The Conservative government is determined to ensure girls’ participation in STEM subjects continues to rise, and that’s why we are funding programmes to increase the take up of maths, computing and physics, and have reformed the school curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of employers. 

Why this matters:

There is growing demand for STEM skills, particularly for sectors such as engineering, construction and manufacturing, and it’s essential that gender is no barrier to ensuring that all young people have the knowledge and skills to succeed in our outward looking and dynamic economy.

Quote of the day 11th February 2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Protecting Pensions

The Work and Pensions Secretary has announced that directors who recklessly put workers’ pensions at risk will face up to seven years in prison or unlimited fines. 

This will give an incentive to all who are responsible for running a company with a pension scheme to make sure they protect workers and ensure there is a reward for those who have done the right thing by saving.


Key facts:
  • A new criminal offence of ‘wilful or reckless behaviour’ in relation to pensions will be introduced under the proposals to crack down on abuse of final or average salary schemes. 
  • For too long the reckless few playing fast and loose with people’s futures have got away scot-free. Workers who have done the right thing and saved for retirement, confident their investments were safe, are left facing a leaner later life. 
  • These plans are included in the Government’s response to a consultation on enhancing the pensions regulator’s powers. 

Why this matters: 

We are working to protect workers from reckless bosses and to avoid ‘Philip Green-style pension scandals’ from happening again. Wilful bosses who gamble on their workers’ savings should face consequences for the suffering they cause.

Moving forward on Brexit

Tomorrow, the Brexit Secretary will meet with Michel Barnier to discuss how to secure legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, addressing concerns about the backstop while guaranteeing no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Key facts:

  • The government's objective is to find a way to guarantee we cannot, and will not, be trapped in the backstop. 
  • The British government is open to different ways to achieve this – but are clear it must be legally binding. 
  • In Downing Street, the Prime Minister will continue talks with EU 27 leaders following her engagement in Brussels, Northern Ireland and Ireland this week. 
  • Working groups will continue to develop a package of measures that can command support in Parliament. 

The EU shares the view of the majority of Parliament that it would be best for everyone if Britain leaves  the with a deal – we must show determination and do what it takes to now get the deal over the line.

Liz Truss on FGM and Christopher Chope

I agree with Liz.

Vaccination

There is overwhelming evidence that the majority of vaccination programmes have between them saved millions of people from premature death, improved the quality of life for millions more and massively improved public health.

A healthy democracy needs to be able to have robust debate about the effectiveness of vaccination programmes like any other aspect of health policy. There are particular patients who may have an adverse reaction to specific vaccinations; they are usually a small minority but they do exist. Anyone who has concerns about the safety of vaccination can and should discuss those concerns with their doctor.

It is however, important to recognise that vaccination programmes are one of the main reasons that infant and child mortality was massively reduced in Britain in the 20th century. For example, five diseases in particular - pneumonia, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles and whooping cough - between them used to kill in infancy more than a quarter of babies born alive a hundred years ago, and tens of thousands more in childhood. Between the second decade of the last century and the 1970's, infant and child death rates from these diseases had been dropped by a factor of more than ten for pneumonia and factors in the hundreds for the others, with antibiotics and vaccination the most important among a range of improvements in healthcare which drove these improvements.

Overall in England and Wales between 1901 and 1974, infant mortality dropped by 91% and child mortality at ages 1 to 14 by 94%. (Source: Office of Health Economics report 1975.)

I have quoted the figures for the drop in mortality between the early 20th century and the 1970s because, although vaccination was discovered and it's benefits proved to the scientific community by Sir Edward Jenner in 1796, it was in the 1920's that vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and tuberculosis (TB) became widely available and widely used, and therefore it is in the 50 years from that decade that very widespread vaccination is likely to have made it's greatest contribution to the reduction in infant and child mortality.

Between 1956 and 1980 a programme of vaccination by the World Health Organisation eradicated smallpox - one of the greatest achievements in the history of medicine.

It is the view of many medical professionals - and the NHS - that vaccination has saved more lives than any other medical product or procedure.

The belief that vaccination has saved millions and millions of lives and done vastly more good than harm is perfectly consistent with recognising that not every vaccination is the right prescription for every patient and accepting that a proper, grown-up and honest discussion of the impact of vaccines needs to be possible.

A few days ago, the Word Health Organisation reported that measles caused the premature death of 72 children and adults in the European region in 2018,

That's 72 avoidable tragedies. There ARE a small number of people who should not take the measles vaccine but if 95% of every community were immune from measles through vaccination or being a survivor of the disease it would rapidly go the way of smallpox 

Anyone who has any concerns about vaccine safety or whether a particular vaccination is right for you or your child should seek professional medical advice and treat anything you read on social media on the subject with extreme caution unless you know exactly where it came from. Talk to your own doctor or genuine experts whose identity you know and whose interest is your good health.