Thursday, February 11, 2016

Long, Long ago, in a galaxy far away .....

A billion years ago, and a billion light-years away, two black holes, each thirty times the mass of our sun, collided and merged.

This cataclysm generated gravity waves strong enough to travel all that way through the Universe, and last September, those waves reached the earth.

They were detected by the Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and after scientists there had analysed and confirmed that they really had detected gravitational waves, they announced at a press conference today that the gravity waves predicted by Einstein a century ago do indeed exist.

This is a huge moment in science.

When I was a boy I remember by parents waking myself and my brother in the middle of the night to see the first pictures which were just being broadcast of the Apollo 11 astronauts walking on the moon. They thought the first ever pictures of humans walking on another world was a sufficiently special event that we should all see it.

It struck me while I was listening to the report of the press conference at which it was announced that humans had, in the same achievement, detected gravity waves for the first time, obtained the first direct evidence of a black hole, and measured an event which had happened a billion light years away and as many years ago, that this was an epochal event of as much significance as the Apollo 11 mission, if not more. Congratulations to all the many people who have worked for years to make this happen. It is the start of something which will transform our knowledge of the Universe in ways we can barely imagine. 

See more at:

Short Money

The government has backed down on a proposal to cut the "Short Money" given to opposition parties by 19% after a savaging in the House of Commons from - the opposition parties.

What does it say about the Labour party that about the one issue in this parliament where they have succeeded in making a serious challenge to the government has been the money paid to opposition parties (e.g. themselves.)

(On the other issues on which there has been a serious challenge to the government this parliament such as Tax credits, it has come mainly from their own backbenches.)

William Hague on why Conservatives are torn on the Brexit vote

Former Conservative party leader William Hague, one of the five people who did most to ensure that we still have the pound as our currency rather than having been bounced into the Europe, has a good article in the Telegraph this week about the reasons most Conservatives can understand both sides of the argument.

As he writes

"In Britain, the blending of national identity and security, practical policy rather than being a slave to theory, and belief in economic freedom with sound money, has made the Conservatives by far the most successful of our parties. But on the issue of Europe, these components of Conservative thinking mean the party is naturally and inescapably torn."

"So how does a minister or Tory MP decide which side they are on, given that they are in a party whose very strength, history and views can tip them either way? "

"They will not find the answer in what Margaret Thatcher thought, because I can join those who testify that her views varied according to whether she was in or out of office. They will have an interesting time if they consult thousands of constituents, but they will generally find the same division of instincts they feel themselves."

"They should cast aside any residual starry-eyed enthusiasm for European unity, which is faltering, or for national independence, which can be an illusion, and decide for themselves on the basis of cold facts, practical thinking and the serious risks involved."

You can read the full article here.

Time for both sides to stop channelling Mrs Thatcher

I've had quite enough of people on both sides of the Brexit debate arguing on the basis of which way the late Margaret Thatcher would supposedly have voted in the forthcoming referendum.

The simple facts are that

1) we don't know, and
2) it's not relevant anyway, and
3) there is no single answer because her views about the institution which is now called the European Union changed dramatically over her political career.

Opposition Leader Margaret Thatcher DID vote and campaign for "Remain" (appeared as "Yes" on the ballot paper at the time) in the last referendum on British membership in 1975. But that was on the basis of the situation as she saw it 41 years ago.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Single European Act and used a three-line-whip to push it through the House of Commons and into British law. She was far more pragmatic and less anti-EU while in office than she became later. But that reflects her views 30 years ago and for a few years afterwards

Baroness Thatcher, however, after stepping down from the role of Prime Minister became far more critical of the EU and did suggest that some of her own earlier positions may have been mistaken. That reflects her views between about 1995 and 2013 and is also out of date.

For what it is worth, I suspect that those who think Prime Minister Thatcher would have voted "Remain" and those who think Baroness Thatcher would have voted "Leave" are both right. That doesn't really get us anywhere, does it?

Fascinating as the debate about what Maggie would have done may be, it is a distraction. Better to focus on how we can best protect British security, jobs and trade under both "Leave" and "Remain" scenarios.

Forthcoming road closure - Foxhouses Road in Whitehaven

Foxhouses Road in Whitehaven, which is the main route from the Town centre to the Valley Park area and a large chunk of Mirehouse, will be closed for road resurfacing for approximately four days from February 15th next week.

This may result in some congestion on the other routes from Whitehaven town centre into the Mirehouse area.

Quote of the day 11th February 2016

"Here we go again. According to today’s Daily Express, leaving the European Union is the only way to ‘save the NHS’. According to the Prime Minister, remaining a member of the european club is the only way to guarantee the United Kingdom’s security.

"I suppose it is too much to hope that everyone, on both sides of this increasingly-wearisome argument, will pipe down and cease being so damn stupid?

Of course it is."

"The In campaign, then, needs to increase the cost of Brexit. This will, for sure, require some sleight-of-hand and exaggeration. But this, it should be noted, is no more daft than the with-one-bound-we-are-free stuff peddled by the Outers.

"After all, when ordinary people hear the Brexiters shouting about becoming, once again, a ‘free country’ they wonder what on earth these people are talking about. To put it this way, comparatively speaking, the EU’s bondage would be considered tame by any number of former Tory MPs (and, perhaps, some current ones).Give me liberty or give me death’ is all very well but more people just want to be able to get to Magaluf."

"The people in the Out campaign are the In campaign’s greatest weapon. This is harsh on some of them but not harsh enough on many others."

(Three extracts from an article on the depressing rubbish being put out by campaigners on both sides by Alex Massie in the Spectator which you can read here.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Has Labour given up?

After yet another dismal performance from Labour in Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, James Forsyth asks in the Spectator "Has Labour given up on opposition?"

It's a good question. Perhaps they are not bothering to oppose the government because they are too busy opposing one another.

That may be convenient in the short term for my party, but it is not good for the country.

As Disraeli put it (a saying which I have quoted before and will probably quote many times in this parliament)

Putin and Ukraine

For about a year we have heard surprisingly little in the Western press about Ukraine. All credit to the New Statesman for addressing that gap in last week's issue which had the front page headline "Putin's War."

Every intelligent resident of Western Europe who takes an interest in foreign affairs and isn't on Vladimir Putin's payroll is worried about him, and is right to be. Because of Putin's almost total control of the media in Russia, most of his people believe that his aggressive attitudes to his neighbours such as Ukraine is a sign of strength.

However, dangerous as he is, Putin is not Superman and Russia's strength is not limitless. We can afford to stand up to him and need to do so.

Elizabeth Pond argues in the New Statesman issue referred to above that Vladimir Putin has lost Ukraine apart from the Crimea.

Her account of the conflict is not flattering either towards Putin or the oligarchs who dominate Ukraine's politics and describes the price both countries have paid for the mistakes of their leaders.

Reading her article would be a useful eye-opener both to anyone who has a rose-tinted view of Putin of Ukrainian politics, and to those who hate the European Union so much that they convinced themselves that  the EU was responsible for the conflicts between Russia and Ukraine and within the latter, or swallowed Russian propaganda to that effect. There were plenty of domestic reasons for the conflict, and the West was not a major player - not, most of us would agree, should we have been.

Pond describes how, in September 2015, Putin opened a new front in Syria and reportedly transferred attention and special forces from Ukraine to Syria. The guns in Ukraine fell silent and have largely remained so. Let's hope is stays that way. If it does, it will not be because Putin has become a man of peace, but because both he and the separatists he backed think they have more to lose than gain by provoking further fighting.

Let's also hope that the people of Ukraine can take their minds from fighting long enough to make democracy in their country real and not allow it to be bought and sold by corrupt robber-barons.

You can read Elizabeth Pond's article here.

Sir Humphrey on Europe

The frightening thing about this scene from "Yes Minister" is that the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey Appleby actually made a more coherent argument about whether Britain should be part of the European Union that much of what he might have called the "egregious" material from either Britain Stronger in Europe, or from either of the rival "Leave" campaigns have managed ...

Now, I'm not saying I agree with this spoof view of British policy, but it was certainly explained far more clearly than most of the rubbish in the papers and the twitter feed from either side. If Sir Nigel were still alive you can bet all three campaigns (if they had any sense) would be falling over themselves to recruit him ...

When both sides have a point ...

I can understand why the "Leave" camp were upset at the suggestion that Britain leaving the EU might result in unhelpful changes to the border arrangements between ourselves and France.

The 2003 Le Touquet agreement is a bilateral agreement between Britain and France, and would not automatically be cancelled if Britain voted to leave the EU.

And the present government of France have certainly said they want to keep it.

But the position is more complex than that and I think this is one which both the "Brexiteers" and the "Remainers" need to think more about.

Because a lot of the electorate is extremely concerned about the security of our borders and don't trust any politicians about it. I don't think anyone has yet presented a coherent strategy to address this.

David Cameron hasn't just invented his concern that France might withdraw from the agreement if Britain leaves the EU, however much 90% of the press might like to believe otherwise.

Most of the quotes from French politicians supporting the Le Touquet agreement which the press and the Brexiteers have been quoting this week were not made in response to the British PM, but in response to other French politicians who do want to withdraw from the treaty, which France can do at any time by giving six months' notice.

The minister who negotiated Le Touquet, David Blunkett, thinks DC has a point.

Sir Peter Ricketts, who until very recently was British ambassador to Paris and before that was a National Security Advisor, was on Radio 4 this morning and quoted in the Telegraph here saying the same thing.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "This is a bilateral treaty but it was made in a multilateral context where Britain and France are working very closely together across a whole range of issues in the interior, justice area, police cooperation and so on."

"If the context changed, and Britain made a major decision to leave the EU, then I think it is very likely that the French would review its position as well."

"It has 1,000 of its crack riot police deployed in Calais, far more than in Marseille. They are bottling up effectively 7,000 or more migrants in the camps.
"They are taking a lot of political flak for that, there is a lot of humanitarian pressure on them. "

"They are doing it effectively to protect our border. We get a secure border; the French carry a lot of the load."

"They are doing it because they see us as a very important ally in the EU on a whole range of areas of cooperation on police and crime. If that stopped, then the incentives change for France."

Some of the language which has been used by politicians on both sides of this particular argument has been way over the top. Both have a stronger case than the other would have you believe.

But listening to Sir Peter on the radio this morning left me in no doubt that there is a genuine concern - and perhaps it is one which is going to need attention whichever way the referendum vote goes.

Which leads me to another point. I know that intelligent "out" supporters realise that a vote to leave will not be a magic wand which will miraculously solve Britain's problems, but listening to the headbangers you would imagine they think so.

Well, the EU is not perfect and none of the "Out" options are perfect. Leaving is not going eliminate all our problems overnight and not will staying in.

Perhaps 10% of the electorate is really fascinated by the forthcoming EU referendum, which happens to include a very high proportion of political journalists and political party activists, including me.

The other 90% of the population is not particularly interested in the EU, are already bored stiff of the rubbish being talked by both sides, and will get more so unless one or preferably both campaigns stop all the silly insults and infighting and make a positive case for why they want to be in or out, preferably in a way which explains how this affects some of the things which the majority of the British people actually care about.

Quote of the day 10th February 2016

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

You couldn't make it up ...

Latest demonstration of accident-prone incompetence from the Jeremy Corbyn team.

Guido reports at,

that the Labour leader launched the party's local election campaign ...

 ... in a city which does not have local elections this year.

He's achieving the impossible - he's making Ed Miliband look capable.

When a picture says more than a thousand words ...

(Cartoon from the Daily Telegraph

Spitting fire ...

I am sure the thousands of Cumbrian residents who work in the Barrow Yards on the Trident programme, one of the most sophisticated weapon systems in the world, will be interested to hear that Labour's shadow defence secretary, Emily Thornberry, apparently compared the Trident deterrent to World War II Spitfires.

This is of course the same lady who was sacked from Ed Miliband's shadow cabinet for tweeting a picture of a house displaying England flags in a manner which was perceived (including by fellow Labour MPs) as insulting to working class patriots.

Yet another reason why Conservatives who take different views about the forthcoming European referendum must treat one another with respect. After the referendum, whichever way it goes, we will need to work together or Emily Thornberry might be in charge of Britain's defences.

To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington, I don't know what effect she will have on Britain's potential enemies but the thought of having her as Secretary of State for Defence certainly terrifies me.

Quote of the day 9th February 2016

"It was a toxic mix of Islington dinner party self-assuredness, total ignorance about the subject and complete indifference to the disastrous path down which she and Jeremy Corbyn are taking the Labour party,”

“It meant that people were sitting there in stony faced silence. People were looking into the middle distance and concentrating on keeping their faces straight while she was talking.”

(Anonymous Labour backbencher talking to the Huffington Post about shadow defence secretary Emily Thornbury's performance at the Parliamentary Labour party meeting last night. You can read the report from which this quote is taken here.)

Monday, February 08, 2016

Now who was she talking about?

A Conservative MP who is also a Doctor tweeted this evening that

"Both sides should stop talking to media and sit in a room and negotiate."

The only way I could tell whether she was talking about the government and the doctors, or the rival leave campaigns, was to click on the "View Conversation" link.

(It was the issue of Junior Doctors' contracts. And I think she was giving both sides excellent advice in their own and the patient's interests.)

Labour in denial

The Economist magazine has an interesting article about Labour's review of the last election, called

The elephant in the room?

which argues that Labour is basically in denial about why it lost the 2015 election.

I'm not going to reveal anything about what was discussed at the meeting of Conservative activists in London which I attended on Saturday because the party has asked that we have the debate about what we need to do by talking directly to one another rather than have the conversation in the pages of the Daily Telegraph.

But I will say that it is my honest impression from comparing the article in The Economist with the meeting two days ago that the Conservative party, both at senior level and among the activists, is far less complacent about the factors which could have cost us the 2015 election, and may have limited the size of our surprise victory, than the Labour party is about the problems which handed us that victory. And that the party leadership is listening to the things which rank-and-file activists are saying - certainly what was said on Saturday matched what had been said at the meeting of party members in the North West which I had previously attended - and wants to address those problems.

Labour is also listening to the party's activists, but not to actual and potential Labour voters.

That is an danger for any party and an issue the Conservatives will also need to bear in mind. But - and I'm obviously biased here - I don't think the present crop of Tory activists is anything like as far out of line with Conservative voters as the present Labour membership is with Labour voters.

Quote of the day 8th February 2016


Sunday, February 07, 2016

Double standards, continued

On my way into a meeting of Conservative Regional and Area officers yesterday I was asked by a Telegraph reporter what I thought about David Cameron supposedly telling MPs to ignore the grassroots.

So I'm afraid I let him have both barrels for the reasons described in previous post, Double Standards.

DC told MPs that they should support whichever side of the referendum they thought in their heart was right for Britain. He could not have been clearer that this applied to both sides.

I was and am shocked and horrified that he was attacked in the press for saying that, and that his statement was misrepresented as telling MPs to ignore grassroots opinion.

Advising MPs to support what they think is right for Britain does not mean that you should not listen to the grassroots before making up your own mind what that is. It's also what he is being wrongly accused of not doing in some quite vitriolic pieces in the press.

I doubt if this is what the Telegraph wanted to hear and will therefore be pleasantly surprised if this opinion, coming from me or from anyone else, is be published. However, we will have to wait and see.

Sunday music spot: Holy is the True Light (Harris)

Reposted as the first clip I used did not seem to play properly on the blog.

Sunday music slot: Holy is the True Light (Harris)

Quote of the day 7th January 2016

Saturday, February 06, 2016

How the Metropolitan Police treated Lord Bramall

The police have a very difficult job. They deserve our co-operation and our general support.

But nobody in a free society should be above scrutiny and criticism.

Allegations of child abuse should be investigated in a careful and sympathetic way: if we fail to deal with a real case of child abuse we fail to help vulnerable people when they need it, but sometimes there is "smoke without fire" and it is important not to destroy the lives of innocent people when allegations turn out to be the result of a mistake or worse, the work of a fantasist.

This is the difficult balance the police are trying to strike and they will not always get it right. When they don't an apology is called for.

There is a Radio 4 report into the case of the investigations into allegations against WWII hero Field Marshall Lord Bramall at

I'm told the police are going to apologise to the widow of Leon Brittan. There is a strong case that one is equally due to Lord Bramall.

Looking again at the Cameron/Tusk proposals

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the proposals which are to be put to the European Council as a result of David Cameron's negotiations are not yet a done deal and that the rush to judgement by both sides about whether what is on the table is a good package or not is somewhat premature.

But the more I look at the detail of the proposals the more I think that they contain some significant improvements and - just as important - if these are adopted they will answer some of the points that the "Leave" campaign is making in their own "Project Fear" tactics about the risks of  a "Remain" vote.

Martin Kettle makes some good points in a Guardian article here in which he says that the UK has made significant progress if these proposals are approved on things that matter to Britain, and that much of the press attack on them has ranged from fallacious to mendacious.

Again, you can read in full Donald Tusk's letter to members of the European Council, and the attachments setting out the proposed basis for a deal, at

I hope those people who are open to argument do read the proposals for themselves instead of listening to all the nonsense being written about them by most newspapers and by the rival "leave" campaigns.

Quote of the day 6th February 2016

Friday, February 05, 2016

Minority report

The apparently perverse finding by a UN panel that a rape suspect who jumped bail and sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy has been "detained arbitrarily" received no support in Britain - even from the newspaper which published the revelations for which he claims he is being victimised.

Roy Greenslade describes here how all five national newspapers which have written leaders on the subject, and between them cover both right and left wing perspectives, give the decision "short shrift."

The Guardian, the paper which had published the "WikiLeak" revelations for which the suspect, Julian Assange, says he is being victimised, said it was "simply wrong" to suggest that he is being detained arbitrarily and accused him of “a publicity stunt.”

The Guardian added that it was possible to applaud Assange’s role in the exposure of embarrassing and sometimes illegal US activity, “without accepting his right to evade prosecutors’ questions about the allegation that he committed a serious criminal offence.” It concluded:
“WikiLeaks was founded on exposing those who ignored the rule of law. Surely its editor-in-chief should recognise his duty to see it upheld.”
The Guardian also published an excellent piece by Joshua Rozenberg,

"How did the UN get it so wrong on Julian Assange?"

The UN panel which made this finding had five members, but one recused herself as she shared Julian Assange's Australian nationality.

The other members of the panel split three to one in favour of the ruling, which has no legal force, against the British and Swedish authorities.

The dissenting member, Ukrainian lawyer Vladimir Tochilovsky, has published a minority opinion, which seems to me to be so self-evidently correct that I do not think any further discussion is needed, and it reads as follows:

Ferrets in a sack, continued ...

According to this tweet from Labour sources, with a leaked memo from the Labour deputy chair of Vote Leave, the "Labour Leave" group has been offered by Leave.EU and Grassroots Out/GO a free office, £30,000 a month and a marketing budget on top of that, and "the full support of Arron Bank's operation" to switch their allegiance from Vote Leave to Leave EU.

You really could not make it up. This certainly isn't doing the Leave side any good, but I don't think it is good for the country either if it means the arguments for and against BREXIT are not equally strongly presented.

And for those people who have been screaming about how unfair the First Past the Post election system is - and yes, there are valid concerns about how that system operates - just thing about this.

If either STV or List PR had been in place in 2015, there is no way you could have constructed a government which would not have been dependent on the support of UKIP, either through a confidence and supply agreement or as part of a formal coalition.

In other words, the people who are again fighting like ferrets in a sack would not be a couple of backbenchers, party donors, and officials from a party with one seat. The battle for the soul of the Brexit cause would almost certainly have sucked in government ministers, probably including cabinet ministers, and I think there is a strong possibility that this circular firing squad within the "Leave" side would have totally paralysed the government.

Quote of the day 5th February 2016

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Brexiteers return to fighting like ferrets in a sack

After a remarkably successful couple of days when they managed to dominate the apparent reaction to the proposed deal between Britain and the EU, the "leave" campaigns have reverted to their normal behaviour of fighting between and within the rival Brexit camps like ferrets in the proverbial sack.

As was noted in a tweet this evening, the two groups are issuing press releases attacking each other:

There is also severe infighting within Vote Leave itself, as a memo from Labour donor John Mills who was chairman of the group and is currently deputy chairman, complaining about "divisive" behaviour has been leaked to the Guardian. You can read a report about the infighting at Vote Leave here. These people seem to be nearly as good at forming a circular firing squad as the Labour party ...

I have to keep reminding myself that in the forthcoming referendum we are not electing a government and need to decide which option is best for Britain, not which campaign is more competent.

In all candour I don't think the British people are being well served by either side at the moment, and particularly not by the faction fighting at the top of the rival "leave" camps.

This sort of kindergarten infighting is not helping the British voter have the opportunity to hear to an intelligent debate on which way we should vote in one of the most important decisions of my lifetime.

John Rentoul on "The Deal"

As I have noted already (and will keep noting) the proposed deal between the UK government and the EU is far from being a done deal and a lot can happen in the next two weeks - or very possibly longer. David Cameron says it is more important to get the best deal for Britain than to be desperate to get a deal this month. He's dead right to say that, both because it is true and because saying anything else would undermine his negotiating position.

There are those who have a fundamental objection to the European Union and for whom nothing which David Cameron could have obtained would have satisfied them. Most of what has been written in the papers and online about the proposed EU in the past 48 hours was written by people in this camp, who have made a determined pre-emptive strike in a desperate attempt to discredit the deal before people get a chance to look at it properly.

Some of the rest is from people who would have taken any deal.

I respect the views of many people in both camps and I am not accusing them of dishonesty but those of us who are still making up our minds how to vote should take every word which has been written by convinced "outers" and convinced "inners" alike about the proposed deal with a bucket full of salt.

Many of those who would have voted to remain whatever the results of such a vote, and many of those who would have voted to leave irrespective of what David Cameron could obtain, are clearly uninterested in whether it is a good deal or how the advantages of Brexit stack up against those of remaining in a reformed EU because they have already made up their minds and a trident missile couldn't shift them.

This does not apply to everyone - there was a good contribution by James Cleverly MP in which he said that although he had decided to vote for leave he thought that if the voters take a different view and stay in the proposed measures would improve Britain's position. But there has been too much "my mind is made up, don't bother me with facts" from both sides of the debate and, frankly, those people have nothing interesting to say to those of us who are interested in the facts.

I thought that a John Rentoul article in the Independent here had some useful things to say about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed deal. Here is an extract:

"There are holes in Cameron’s deal big enough to drive a coachload of lawyers through. The most important part of the deal is the requirement for new EU arrivals to pay taxes for four years before claiming in-work benefits. But the document issued by Donald Tusk, the EU President, says workers should gain access to benefits gradually over the four years. It doesn’t say for how long the requirement could be imposed: it would last for “a period of [X] years, extendable for two successive periods of [Y] years and [Z] years”. And it does not guarantee that the British Government can activate the requirement. It says: “The UK would be justified in triggering the mechanism in the full expectation of obtaining approval.” This approval would have to be sought from the EU Council (the leaders of the 28 member states), but also from the European Parliament. 

"Some of these square brackets will be filled in between now and the summit on 18-19 February, at which a deal looks increasingly likely. But the details are less important than the two rival stories.
"One is that Cameron has abandoned a lot of promises and settled for a cosmetic deal. I am not sure how true the first part is. A lot of the sweeping changes spoken of when the Prime Minister promised a referendum three years ago were grand but unspecific flourishes. It wasn’t until he set out the in-work benefits changes he wanted, seven months before the election, that the renegotiation became tangible. Those changes may be minor and full of holes but they are real – and they are what Cameron promised. 

"The other story is that Cameron has secured the objectives he set. The irreconcilable Outers may complain that he must have known from the start that he could obtain the deal that was (nearly) confirmed this week. Well, so he must. He is not stupid. Good negotiators do not demand things that they know they cannot get. But the irreconcilables make the case against themselves: if Cameron’s demands were so modest, they should have mobilised against them at the start of the negotiations, not now the deal is done."

Have Cameron's EU demands got bigger or smaller?

It is not often that people whose views I respect have looked at the same picture and written such radically different interpretations of the same facts as John Rentoul and Paul Goodman have concerning the path to the draft EU deal which is currently to be put to the European Council.

Independent senior political correspondent John Rentoul thinks that the proposed deal will have a greater impact than the modest demands David Cameron's demands has made:

Paul Goodman, by contrast, thinks that David Cameron's demands have shrunk to vanishing point

As soon as it was announced that David Cameron and Donald Tusk had reached an agreement, the rival leave campaigns stopped fighting like ferrets in a sack as described here, here and here, and instead released a barrage of attacks on the deal in the most extreme language, as did every even vaguely Eurosceptic newspaper.

As one commentator at CapX put it

"Predictably, the draft deal was immediately rubbished by the myriad Leave campaigns and their sympathisers in the press. The UKIP-supporting Daily Express dismissed it as a “joke”. The Sun called it a “stitch-up”, a “farce” and a “steaming pile of manure”. The Daily Mail labelled it “The Great Delusion”. But let’s face it: there was nothing that Cameron could realistically have obtained that would have satisfied die-hard Outers."

So far this is only a draft deal. It has not yet gone through the European Council, where every member state will have a veto. Parts of it will need to be submitted to the European parliament.

Therefore the rush of people to judgement on this deal, from both sides, is premature and it also appears to me to be neither as good or as bad as it's most ardent defenders and detractors would have you believe. I had three "red lines" in this referendum and, although I am not taking part in the Gadarene rush to judgement which appears to be affecting nearly everyone, it looks on the face of it as though all three are addressed by this deal.

The Economist argues here that it is a relatively modest - though helpful - deal but nevertheless in their opinion makes a strong case for a "remain" vote.

Phillipe Leguin in the CapX article from which I quoted above argues here that the Prime Minister has got more than a reasonable person might have expected, although as we have yet to see what gets through the European Council this judgement may yet be premature - as David Cameron himself has been at pains to point out, there is more work to be done yet.

Instead of shouting slogans it would be a really good idea if both sides could take a long hard look at the fine print of the proposals and then make any final constructive suggestions they want DC to take to the European Council: and then Britain needs both sides to make a positive case for the sort of Britain they want and how their preferred EU membership solution will help us to build that Britain.

Double Standards?

1)  Brexit supporters and the Eurosceptic press: (loudly, for months)

"It's wrong for ministers to be forced to support "Remain" or face damage to their careers: everyone should be free to vote on the merits of the issue and what they think is best for Britain!"

2) Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): (In the House of Commons yesterday)

"Given the difficulty of getting any change to our EU membership approved by the other 27 countries, what we have got is as good as anyone, I think, might have expected and more. I congratulate the Prime Minister on his achievement. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that once the European Council have made its decision, he will respect the views of those Ministers who might publicly express the opinion that the United Kingdom should now leave the EU, and that the careers of those Ministers in this Government will not be jeopardised or threatened as a consequence?

3) The Prime Minister: "I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are still in the process of negotiation. The manifesto we all stood on said that we wanted to get the best possible deal for Britain and that we would all work on that together. That is exactly what we are doing. If the deal is agreed—whether in February or perhaps later, if it takes more time—there will then be a meeting of the Cabinet to decide whether we can take a recommended position to the British people. If that position is to recommend we stay in a reformed European Union then, yes, at that point Ministers, who, as I have said, have long-standing views and want to campaign in another direction, will be able to do that. The Government will still have a position. This is not a free-for-all. It will be a clear Government position from which Ministers can depart. Yes, as I have said, they should not suffer disadvantage because they want to take that view."


"This is a very important issue for our country, but in the end it will not be decided in this Chamber. We will all have to reach our own conclusions, and if hon. Members passionately believe in their hearts that Britain is better off outside the EU, they should vote that way. If they think, even on balance, that Britain is better off in the EU, they should go with what they think. Members should not take a view because of what their constituency association might say or because they are worried about a boundary review, or because they think it might be advantageous this way or that way. People should do what is in their heart—if you think it is right for Britain, then do that."

4) Brexit supporters and the Eurosceptic press: (apparent thought process)

What? - Is Cameron suggesting that the right to make up your own mind without risk to your career and argue for what you think is best for Britain should actually apply to people who want to vote "Remain" as well as people who want to vote "Leave"? OUTRAGEOUS!

5) Headlines this morning in Eurosceptic newspapers and media outlets:

"Fury of the Tory Grassroots"

"Fury as Cameron tells MPs to ignore the views of voters"

"Ignore your constituents, Cameron tells MPs"

"Tory uproar as Cameron tells MPs to ignore grassroots

In my humble opinion the EU referendum is far too serious and important an issue for either side to bludgeon people into campaigning in a direction they don't believe in.

It was right for the "Leave" side to ask David Cameron to let ministers who wish to support "Leave" have the ability to do that without resigning or damaging their careers.

It is preposterous double standards for them to attack him when he agrees to that demand and says that people on both sides should have the freedom to campaign for what they believe in their hearts to be in Britain's interests.

Academics debate pros and cons of BREXIT

I am mildly impressed that Leave.EU tweeted a link to this page on the Nature website

with an article by Daniel Cressey which describes the debate scientists throughout Europe are having about the likely impact on science research in Britain and Europe if we vote to leave the EU.

It's a very good and in my opinion balanced article which gives both sides of the debate including some very powerful points in favour of the view that BREXIT would not be good for science.

So either whoever at Leave.EU gave a push to this article didn't read it properly or, I hope more likely, they were genuinely committed to letting both sides be heard in an intelligent debate.

Quote of the day 4th February 2016

You can read in full Donald Tusk's letter to members of the European Council, and the attachments setting out the proposed basis for a deal, at

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


During the last election Stephen Haraldsen and myself, as the Conservative candidates to be respectively MP for and Mayor of Copeland, wrote to George Osborne asking that local councils should be able to keep control of business rates from any new nuclear power stations in Cumbria. This suggestion was subsequently taken up by others.
We are delighted by the announcement today that the PM has confirmed that Cumbrian councils will indeed retain all business rates from the proposed Moorside nuclear power station.
This victory is excellent news for Cumbria and will help local councils deliver the infrastructure improvements we need.

BT apologises for yesterday's broadband outage

BT has apologised for a problem caused by a faulty router which affected thousands of broadband customers for some two hours yesterday - though it is not true, as was wrongly suggested in some quarters, that the entire BT broadband network went down. The router failed at about 2.30pm and caused the loss of internet service over a significant part of the UK. Service was restored by 4.30pm for the vast majority of those affected.

A public statement issued by BT this morning reads as follows:

"We are confident that services have been fully restored following an outage that affected customers yesterday a faulty router was to blame for the outage and we apologise to those customers who were affected."

The problem did not prevent a fan of the 70's comedy show "the Goodies" getting on line with this explanation of the problem ...

EU Parliament debates Brexit

There used to be a principle in British and American politics that you didn't slag off your own country's government in front of people from other nations.

It's often associated with Senator Vandenberg, who once said

"politics stops at the water's edge."

Nobody seems to have told Nigel Farage.

The European Parliament's proceedings this morning in preparation for the European Council meeting has permitted discussion of the forthcoming UK referendum and negotiations so I tned in briefly to see what was being said. You can do so at

Unfortunately I missed Syed Kamall's robust defence of the UK position and caught a couple of minutes of Nigel Farage. That's a couple of wasted minutes of my life I will never get back.

One might have hoped that a person who wanted more powers repatriated to Britain might have backed the Prime Minister's demands. But before I turned off in disgust all Mr Farage had to offer was whining and attacking the PM and saying he wasn't going to be offered anything.

Next up after him was Marine Le Pen. No, I have too much work to do this morning to waste any more of my time listening to the likes of the UKIP and Front National leaders.

Quote of the day 3rd February 2016

"David Cameron has managed to succeed where Tony Blair failed: he's united the press in arguing immigrants don't come here to claim benefits."

(Stephen Bush (@stephenkb Editor of the Staggers blog at the New Statesman, on Twitter)

February">">February 2, 2016


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

DC on Britain's proposed deal with Europe

Prime Minister David Cameron writes about Britain's relationship with Europe ...


I thought I would give you an update on the progress of our re-negotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe.
The draft new deal for Britain in Europe published today delivers that substantial change. Of course, there is still more detail to be worked on, but we have made real progress.
I said we needed:
  • A ‘red card’ system for national parliaments to block unwanted EU laws
  • An end to something for nothing welfare for EU migrants
  • No more British taxpayers’ money being used to bail out the Eurozone
  • An agreement that we will keep the Pound, never join the Euro and fair treatment for our currency in Europe; and
  • Britain out of ‘ever closer union’ so we do not become part of a European Superstate
Some said these changes would be impossible to achieve. But they are all in the document.
So there is more work to be done, more detail to be nailed down, but we are delivering.
Of course, as I have said before, if we do not secure the changes that Britain needs, then I rule nothing out.
David Cameron  
Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

How bad was Storm Desmond?

Thanks to Stewart Mounsey for sharing this graphic with some interesting facts and figures on just how bad Storm Desmond was:

William Hague on angry electorates and how extremists are one crisis away from power

William Hague has an excellent and interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph here about how voters in many countries feel angry and let down, and it would be easy for radicals with untried views - sometimes downright extremists - to win power. It's worth a read if you have five minutes

Talking of the current policies of central banks, he concludes

"The biggest threat to the security of western nations and the lives of their citizens is a terrorist attack. This is a threat that has to be defeated, but it is not the one that will overwhelm our political systems.
The crisis that would bring extremists and mavericks to power in major countries will be rooted in loss of control of migration or a renewed financial disaster.

Sensible governments are busy bringing down their deficits, but it is central banks who make the big judgment on interest rates and the supply of credit. After eight years of rock-bottom rates and monetary easing, only tentatively departed from in the US, are we absolutely sure that consumers in advanced economies are not taking on too much debt and putting too much of it in their houses? Or that the financial system is not too dependent on easy money?
The brilliant minds at the Fed, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England may well be right. But if they’re wrong, those angry electorates will end up being very, very angry indeed."

What it is like to be a Muslim woman who works for secular democracy

My attention was drawn (hat tip to Nick Cohen) to an article in Marie Claire by Tehmina Kazi, who is an officer of the campaign group "Muslims for Secular Democracy." which works to explain to fellow Muslims how democracies like Britain are supposed to work and what the benefits of living in one are.

It is very depressing to read about the abuse people like Tehmina Kazi get, both from far-right  extremists and even more so from within their own communities, and particularly depressing that such abuse is often especially hostile towards women.

It is however uplifting to see how many people there are who refuse to be intimidated and continue to work for what they believe is right.

You can read the article here.

Quote of the day 2nd February 2016

"Having a deterrent which has no capacity to deter is like having an army with broken rifles and no ammunition"

(Labour MP John Woodcock on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's barmy idea of spending billions on new nuclear ISBN submarines and then sending them to sea with no nuclear warheads. From an article in the Huffington Post about Labour's defence policy confusion which you can read here.)

Monday, February 01, 2016

In their own words

Perhaps one of the reasons politicians are so little respected by the electorate is that they show so little respect to one another. And not just those from different parties either.

You can easily find examples of people from practically any party briefing against or attacking their supposed friends but here are a couple of particularly bad one.

Guido Fawkes reports here how a senior aide to Jeremy Corbyn has been making jokes on social media about how he thinks Cumbria Labour MP John Woodcock should be shot.

And can you guess which political party had a senior member describe the person who has since become their leader as follows:

 "Which bit of the sanctimonious, God-bothering, treacherous little **** is there not to like?”

(answer and link in the comments.)

It takes guts to change your mind ...

There are few things more difficult an embarrassing than publicly admitting that you now think you were wrong about something, so when someone does so it is always interesting to read why.

Regardless of whether you agree with his present stance or his new one, it took a lot of courage for Peter Tatchell to publish an article in the Guardian in which he says

"I've changed my mind on the gay cake row."

His original opinion was that the prosecution of Ashers' bakery in Belfast for discrimination because they did not want to ice a cake with the words "support gay marriage" was justified. Obviously he did not and does not share their views about the equal marriage act (neither do I).

"The saga began in 2014 when the bakery said it was not willing to ice a cake with the words “support gay marriage” and the logo of the equality group Queer Space, claiming the message was contrary to its Christian beliefs. This struck many of us as anti-gay discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice," says Tatchell. But he goes on to say that

"I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision."

Considering the matter further, Tatchell has concluded that the person who asked for the cake was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for, and thus effectively set a precedent that people could not refuse to ice a cake or otherwise promote messages they profoundly disagree with - a precedent he was not comfortable with.

Referring to the anti-discrimination laws in Northern Ireland, he says that

"There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed."

His article concludes

"The judge concluded that service providers are required to facilitate any “lawful” message, even if they have a conscientious objection. This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages."

"In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas."

Cumbria floods fund passes £5.5 Million

Thanks to incredible generosity the Cumbria Flood Recovery Appeal has now passed £5.5 million. The Cumbria Community Trust says on their website here that

"We very much appreciate everyone who has donated and fundraised for the Cumbria Flood Recovery Appeal and cannot list everyone individually.

The following organisations have each donated in excess of £1,000:

38 Degrees Trust
AM Support Services
Amcor Flexibles Cumbria
Bacon Foundation Ltd
BAE Systems Marine Limited
BBC Radio Cumbria (Carlisle)
Bourne Leisure Limited
Brian Wilson Charitable Trust
Burn How Garden House Hotel
C & J Clark International Limited
Carlisle United Supporters Club London Branch
Carr’s Group plc
Castle Green Hotel
Centre Parcs Limited
Charles Godwin Charitable Trust
Cirencester Community Church
CN Group Ltd
Cockermouth Mountain Rescue
Comic Relief
Community Foundation Tyne & Wear
Cumberland and Westmorland Herald
Cumberland Building Society
Cumberland Pencil Company
Cumbria Waste Management Ltd
Currey & Co LLP
Daily Mail
Debenhams Foundation
Didcot Rotary Club
Dodd Murray Limited
Doosan Power Systems
Dove Nest Group
Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust
Dulverton Trust
Dyke Ruscoe & Hayes
East of England Co-operative Society
Eden District Council
EDF and MAN Holdings
Francis C Scott Charitable Trust
Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd
Frieda Scott Charitable Trust
Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line
Geraud Markets (UK) Ltd
GlaxoSmithKline (Ulverston)
GMB Northern Region
Great Langdale Athletic Club
Green Hall Foundation
Hackney & Leigh, Ambleside
Henry Schein UK
Iggesund Paperboard (Workington) Limited
Independent Networking Group, Kendal
Inner Wheel
Innovia Films Limited
International Nuclear Services Ltd
John Laing Charitable Trust
Kendal Choral Society
Kendal South Westmorland Rotary
Kenneth Johnson
Keswick Bridge Owners Club Limited
Kingmoor Nursery and Infant School Carlisle
Ladbrokes Charitable Trust
Lakeland Arts Trust
Lakeland Durham Store
Lakeland Limited
Lancaster Cathedral
Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel
Little Eaton United Reformed Church
Lloyd Motor Group
Low Level Waste Repository Limited
Maybrook Properties Limited
Megan Van’t Hoff Charitable Trust
Methodist Insurance
Mitsubishi Electric
Nestle UK Ltd
New Balance Athletic Shoes (UK) Ltd
Norben Charity
Northern Football Alliance League
Notgrove Trust
Nuclear Management Partners Limited
NuGeneration Limited
PallisterCo Limited
Parish of Aldrington
Pendle Primary School
Penygraig Church Charity Shop
PPS Electrical Ltd
Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation
Quilter Cheviot
Roland Hill
Rotary Club of Ambleside
Rotary Club of Ambleside and Kirkstone
Rotary Club of Barrow in Furness
Rotary Club of Kendal
Rotary Club of Okehampton
Rotary Club of Ribblesdale
Rotary Club of South Ribble
Rumic Foundation Trust
Sale Mayoral Fund
Sealy United Kingdom
Sedbergh and District Community Trust Fund
Shepley Engineers Limited
Sir John Fisher Foundation
South Lakeland District Council
St Joseph’s Catholic Church Ansdell
St Kentigern Church
St Michaels Church, Stanwix
St. John the Baptist Church, Stafford
Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire
Swinton Insurance
The Eric and Marion Scott Trust
The King’s Way Church
The Linbury Trust
The Methodist Church
The Prince’s Countryside Fund
The Rotary Club of Chislehurst
The Schuh Trust
The Sir James and Lady Scott Trust
The Wainwright Society
Thomas Graham and Sons Ltd
Threlkeld Community Coffee Shop
United Utilities North West
University of Cumbria
Vanquis Bank
WCBC Limited
WCF Ltd (Brampton)
West Lakeland Rotary Club
Westmorland Limited
Wigton Motor Club
Windermere Rotary Club
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC
Workington Derwent Rotary Club
Workington Town Council
Worshipful Company of Grocers
Yorkshire Bank Charitable Trust."

I think this says something about what an amazingly generous country this is.

Cumbria on Storm alert again as Harry approaches ...

A weather warning is in place for Cumbria as yet another storm - this one is called Storm Harry - approaches today, bringing treacherous conditions and high winds of up to 90mph

The Met Office has issued a yellow rain alert for much of the Northern UK including Cumbria which lasts throughout tomorrow.  This warning, also covering south west Scotland, comes as a flood warning is in place at Keswick Campsite.

A lower level flood alert has been issued for the upper river Derwent, Stonethwaite Beck and Derwentwater. In Carlisle, police this morning warned motorists of flooding at Mallyclose Drive, Harraby. Some train services in Scotland have already been suspended for this afternoon.

Quotes of the day 1st February 2016

[on that year's Eurovision Song contest] "Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually I do, I've seen the rehearsals."

[on the TV science fiction show Blake's 7] "We've been discussing how many people there are in 'Blake's Seven' and why it doesn't have anyone called Blake in it."

"The Irish want you to like them. The English don't care if you like them or not."
"I was sitting at a table having lunch and Savile was sitting one up from me, and also up from me was Jean Rook. And Jimmy Savile got up to go to the loo, and she looked across at me and said: 'When are they going to expose him?' And I said 'that's your job.' And nobody ever did, even though everyone had heard the rumours. This whole Savile thing has poisoned everything."
[on Fanny Craddock] "The lethal combination of Margaret Thatcher and Vlad the Impaler."

[on Jon Pertwee] "He was a big man in every way, with a wonderful sense of humour and sense of the ridiculous. Last time we met in the Garrick Club, he was handing round a bag of fried locusts."

(all quotes from Sir Terry Wogan, whose death was announced yesterday)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Intolerance and the Battle of Dover

Early this week I was twice horrified by a lack of balance in the way some people expressed their views. Then we had the shameful scenes at Dover. In my opinion those who start by accusing their opponents as being traitors or not true Britons/Scots are in danger of starting down the slippery slope which leads to the kind of ugly scenes we have just seen.

In a previous post today I linked to an article by former MP Dr Julian Huppert which mentioned two debates over whether Britain should remain a member of the EU in which he had taken part. He asked those on the other side from himself what they would be prepared to risk or give up for their preferred outcome. They shouted "Everything!"

Everything?  Everything? Really?

In the words of G.K. Chesterton,

"All men are dangerous who care for only one thing."

Then there was the latest manifestation of hostility by SNP supporters against J.K. Rowling.

When the "Harry Potter" author gave a million pounds to the Labour party, I won't pretend that Conservatives like myself were not a little disappointed, but most of us accepted that what she does with the money she had earned is a matter for her. I certainly don't recall any Conservative expressing anything like the vitriol she has subsequently received from the SNP for giving money to the "No" side in the Scottish Independence Referendum - and it is still going on.

I was reading an online discussion this week - I think it was on the comment pages of "The Scotsman" website when saw a comment which encapsulates how narrow minded some people can get. One of the SNP contributors posted that he had some bad news for Unionists: Andy Murray had made it to the final of the Australian open.

Someone asked him why on earth Unionists would be upset by a British player doing well in a sporting contest, and the gentleman replied that Andy Murray was a nationalist.

That sort of comment makes me sad rather than angry.

Andy Murray is a great tennis player, and the idea that I should stop recognising that or stop being pleased when he does well because he made a comment I disagreed with in the run up to a referendum eighteen months ago is too ridiculously petty for words. I will always cheer for a sporting competitor or team from any of the four nations of the United Kingdom who is playing someone from anywhere else, out of friendly support for any part of my country. And not out of hostility to other parts of the world.

One of the worst aspects of the Scottish referendum was when the "Yes" campaign accused those who were voting "No" of a lack of patriotism or not being proper Scots. We are starting to see the same kind of nonsense in the forthcoming EU referendum vote. This is extremely harmful.

It is possible to be a Scottish patriot who is also British and wants to remain so, and it is also possible to be a British patriot who thinks the best interests of Britain are best served by remaining within the EU. The anger built up on both sides during the Scottish Independence referendum will take years to heal and the last thing we need is the same sort of divisive anger to appear during the European Union referendum campaign.

When you start thinking in absolutist terms rather than assessing the merits of a proposal on an objective view of the evidence, you are taking the first step down a very dangerous road. When you start assuming that people who might otherwise be friends must be opposed because they have taken a different political view, you are taking the second step. It does not take too many more before you get to the battle of Dover.

The reports of this week's disturbances in Dover, such as the report in the Mail which you can read at are utterly horrifying.

Kent Police said nine people had been arrested and more than 20 weapons seized, including a lock-knife, knuckle duster, pieces of wood, glass, hammers and bricks. A police spokeswoman told the Mail that
'One person suffered a broken arm and five others sustained minor injuries.' 

and frankly given the sort of weaponry in evidence and used it was fortunate that the number and seriousness of injuries wasn't a lot worse than this.

But even sadder than those injuries is the fact that both sets of people in the photographs below think they were defending British values. That applies whether they were protesting against immigration like these people

or whether they called themselves anti-fascists like these people:

not to mention the ones who smashed the windows of one coach and daubed a swastika in blood on the side of another, or threw smoke bombs.

I don't care what position you are using your democratic rights to argue for, once you start forming into gangs who cover your faces, tussle with police, and get into physical fights with people who take a different view, you have left democracy behind and with it any claim to stand for British values. (Or, for the EDL and Scottish Defence League, English or Scottish ones.)

You may claim to be defending British culture, you may claim to be opposing fascism, but you cannot defend British values or oppose fascism using fascist tactics such as rule by the mob.

BTW, if you read the whole Mail article which I linked to above you will also see that Labour's Shadow International Development Secretary Diane Abbot provided some comic relief in Dover by describing the White Cliffs of Dover as "racist rocks." She apparently told the crowd

"It's 2016, Time for those racist rocks to go. Mr Cameron, tear down those cliffs."

I presume she must have been joking, but such is the state of the Labour party at the moment ...

Sunday Music Spot- O Lord in thy wrath

I would have sworn that when I first heard and sang the anthem "O Lord, in thy wrath" at an RSCM Cathedral singers event in Bristol in about 1979 (three years before this recording at St John's Cambridge,) the music bore the name of composer Thomas Weelkes.

This recording, however. attributes it to Orlando Gibbons and so, I must confess, does every reference I can find. So either my memory is playing tricks on me or the attribution to Weelkes is now regarded as wrong or at best very much a minority view.

But whoever wrote this, it is a wonderful if somewhat gloomy anthem.

Europe and Science

There are many things wrong with the European Union, but if there is one area of the EU's activity which seems to be popular with almost all of those directly affected by it, that area is the European Research Council and the other forms of support which the EU gives to scientific research.

I am, and have been for a length of time which shocks me when I realise how long it is, a member of the "Court" of Bristol University. This used to be, in theory, the University's most senior governing body but has gradually had its' formal and actual powers whittled down for various reasons. Membership of Court remains an excellent opportunity to keep in touch with my Alma Mater and I was struck at the 2015 meeting by how strongly held and almost universal the opinion was among the academics I spoke to that the European Research Council works well and that they would regard loss of preferential access to European research facilities as a result of Brexit as damaging to scientific research in Britain.

This is by no means the sort of reaction you get from people who have had close professional contact with other aspects of the European Union's work and it clearly is not just a matter of people's opinions reflecting where the EU budget is spent. I know plenty of very Eurosceptic farmers, for instance.

I wonder how many of the "students for leave" who have been tweeting their photographs holding signs with various reasons for wanting to vote that way - I hope for their sake most of them express more complex arguments in their finals - have discussed the matters with their lecturers. If they did it is possible that both participants in the conversation would learn things.

Julian Huppert, the former MP for Cambridge, had an article in the Guardian at

about this. It's interesting that he debated against the same UKIP member of the European Parliament in two public debates, one each at Cambridge and Peterborough. The former was a heavy win for Remain, the latter a heavy win for Leave. He thought that this might reflect the preponderance in the former debate of people from the University or from science parks around Cambridge.

I suspect that if every other aspect of the European Union was as popular with the people who had dealings with it as their work to support science, the results of Britain's EU referendum would be s much more resounding win for "remain" than currently looks likely. 

Terry Wogan RIP

It has been announced this morning that Sir Terry Wogan has died at the age of 77 after a "short but brave" battle with cancer.

He was a remarkable "larger than life" and very funny TV personality who was almost universally liked - which is not the easiest thing to achieve in this day and age.

He will be missed.

Rest in Peace

Quote of the day 31st January 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Worst of Both Worlds 4: Cognitive Dissonance

There are still some good points being put by the decent and intelligent people among both those campaigning for Britain to Leave the EU and those campaigning for remain.

There is also some downright ridiculous scaremongering from both sides.

I was not impressed with either side's contribution to a BBC sports report on how How Brexit would affect English Football - in which the BBC had asked for comments from several viewpoints.

Now, I do not claim to be a great expert on football, but it appeared to me that Vote Leave did a far better job of eviscerating the case put by Will Straw on behalf of "Britain Stronger in Europe" than they did of putting their own case.

But frankly both sides were all over the place.

The football authorities are reported at the head of the article as thinking as follows:

"The FA is concerned about the influx of foreign players into the top tier of the English game, which it believes is crowding out young home-grown talent.

"Working with the Home Office, it has brought in tougher visa restrictions on players from outside the EU, to ensure only established stars can be snapped up by English clubs. The FA declined to comment on whether it would like to see similar restrictions on players from within the EU, which could only come about if Britain left."

However, Rory Miller, former director of the MBA (Football Industries) programme at Liverpool University has a viewpoint suggesting that the Premier League might want precisely the opposite to the FA, that is that they would want the right to bring in as many overseas players as possible.

Will Straw's "Remain" argument was based on the apparently unconsidered assumption that the ability to bring in lots of European players must be good for British football, citing a Guardian article which suggests that Brexit might make this harder.

The Vote Leave webpage has an article attacking Will Straw's piece which I have linked to above and which made a strong and, in my opinion persuasive, case that the assumptions behind that Guardian article were very questionable.

Unfortunately their arguments pulling the "Britain Stronger in Europe" position to pieces was about the only thing "Vote Leave" had to say which made sense - because those arguments are inconsistent with the rest of their position and damage their own case too.

Robert Oxley's "Vote Leave" piece on the BBC website does not appear to line up all that well with what the Football Association is quoted as saying, as quoted above, either. He says

"The FA has acknowledged the recent restrictions that have been introduced on skilled immigration from non-EU countries are the direct consequence of the EU's freedom of movement rules."

The argument from both Vote Leave and Leave EU, who appear to be in agreement for once, seems to be that restrictions on immigration from the rest of the world have only been imposed to counterbalance the fact that there are none for EU citizens. That is a travesty of the truth.

Those restrictions would have been necessary if the Coalition and Conservative governments were ever going to make even the most minimal attempt to honour election manifesto commitments to get net migration down to the tens of thousands, even without EU freedom of movement rules.

You do not have to be a "fortress Britain" opponent of all immigration to recognise that there are limits on the rate of net inward migration which can be accommodated without social and capacity problems and it is a simple fact that in 2010 Britain was experiencing net immigration from both EU and non-EU countries well above the rate which many people believe to be sustainable.

Returning to the specific football issues, the "Vote Leave" arguments are seriously inconsistent.

They appear to be simultaneously arguing that the ability of EU footballers to play in English leagues is a harmful EU policy which we could benefit from scrapping, and yet also arguing that the suggestion that European footballers might be prevented from playing in Britain after Brexit is untrue scaremongering by the "Remain" campaign.

Robert Oxley (and Brian Monteith of Leave.EU) attack EU freedom of movement rules in their arguments as presented on the BBC site linked to above,. They argue that the EU's freedom of movement policies have prevented British football, quote,

"from implementing policies to nurture domestic talent and from bringing the top footballing talent from right across the globe."

Oxley adds,

"This has hurt clubs' abilities to bring in players from outside of the EU while preventing any limits from being imposed within the EU. That's not a decision of anyone we elect, that's thanks to the controversial 1995 Bosman ruling in the European Court of Justice."

So does Vote Leave want to make it harder for European footballers to play here? That's the logical inference from this argument, but wait ...

In the past 72 hours Vote Leave have been tweeting that Britain Stronger in Europe have been issuing "Project Fear" propaganda about the impact on football of Brexit. They link back to the page here on the Vote Leave website which challenges Will Straw's article, accuse the suggestion that fewer European players could take part in British leagues after Brexit of being "flawed" (probably correctly) and explain that, quote,

"there would be nothing to stop the FA or Government removing the requirement for foreign footballers to obtain a sponsorship licence from the FA after the UK left the EU."


"Even in the unlikely scenario that the current rules were retained and applied to EU states, the impact is likely to be limited. Foreign players are entitled to a work visa if they are part of an association that is in the FIFA top 50. This means high quality players from Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, Italy, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece and Slovenia would be largely unaffected."

So that is the first cognitive dissonance in the "Vote Leave" view of football.

Is the right of European footballers to play in Britain a harmful policy imposed on UK football by unelected judges, which damages opportunities for home-grown and non-EU talent? Or is the suggestion that a Britain which had left the EU might reduce the ability of European footballers to play in the UK just "scaremongering" by "Britain Stronger in Europe?" They can't have it both ways.

But there is a second cognitive dissonance in what "Vote Leave" has put out in the past 72 hours. If BSE suggestions that leaving the EU might have an impact on how many European footballers can play in Britain were "scaremongering" what do vote leave think this is?


Anyone who followed the link provided with the above "Vote Leave" tweet would be directed to a Reuters report with the title

"EU says has no plans to review British VAT exemptions."

Yes, that's right. The link provided to supposedly back up a story about the EU wanting to scrap the 0% rates of VAT in Britain actually says there are no plans to even review them.

The French EU Commissioner did express a personal view that in his opinion zero rating is not the best idea, but he also said that he has

"no immediate plans to propose ending VAT exemptions on various products in Britain"

and noted that member states would have a veto over any such proposal.

The Reuters article also quoted a British government spokeswoman as stressing there was no EU proposal to scrap zero rates and that London would veto it if there were.

"Our position on this is clear," she said. "We will keep zero rates of VAT on certain goods and services we negotiated when we joined the European Community."

So the article to which Vote Leave linked provides no substantiation whatsoever that there is any serious risk of the EU successfully forcing Britain to end zero rating on VAT.

On consecutive days "Vote Leave" was issuing tweets accusing the "Remain" side of scaremongering over football, and themselves issuing a ridiculous scaremonger over a non-existent proposal to scrap VAT zero rating, which Britain could and would veto if it ever came forward.

This kind of "project fear" nonsense is equally silly whether it comes from the "Leave" side or the "Remain" side and some people on both have been doing way too much of it. Vote Leave said we should give the "Red card to Project Fear." Yes - from supporters and opponents of EU membership.

Would it really be so much to ask for a more grown-up debate from both sides?