Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Barrow in Furness among the first towns to benefit from £3.6 billion towns fund

Today the first seven towns set to benefit from almost £180 million from the government's £3.6 billion Towns Fund, have been announced. 

The first seven towns include Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria; other towns in the North-West which are included in the first seven are Blackpool in Lancashire and Warrington in Cheshire. 

Here in Copeland, Millom and Cleator Moor are among 101 localities in line to benefit from the fund. 

This fund will help to level up and spread opportunity, unlocking the full potential of our towns and their communities as we build back better from coronavirus. 

  • Conservatives are committed to repaying the trust put in us at the last election. One of the first things the Prime Minister did when he came into office was to announce a £3.6 billion Towns Fund, to unleash the economic potential of 101 towns and drive future growth and prosperity. 
  • The government has today announced that Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool, Darlington, Peterborough, Norwich, Torquay and Warrington are the first of 101 places, listed here, to be offered a share of the Towns Fund – and work will now begin with these areas to confirm final funding. 
  • Barrow-in-Furness has secured £25 million to pursue the Town plan aimed at developing a new learning quarter, community wellbeing hubs and improving the local cycling and walking infrastructure. It is also planned to run a housing renewal programme to address the lack of high-quality housing in the region.  
  • This marks the start of important, locally designed, regeneration projects in towns across the country that will boost skills, employment opportunities, connectivity and so much more. If your town - like Cleator Moor and Millom - is one of the 101 places, you can see further guidance here about how this works
  • Backed by almost £180 million of potential investment these first seven deals will give these towns the opportunity to drive economic growth and improve prospects for their communities. Similar opportunities will be provided in the remainder of a hundred towns around the country: this will help Britain to build back better from coronavirus.

Quote of the day 27th October 2020


Monday, October 26, 2020

Quote of the day 26th October 2020

 "Santa is a key worker"

(Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, presumably speaking in jest.)

Keeping our seas safe

Yesterday Britain's police and armed forces secured a ship in the English Channel that was subject to a suspected hijacking, safeguarding the lives of those in danger.

  • In response to a police request, the Defence Secretary and Home Secretary yesterday authorised armed forces personnel to board a ship in the English Channel that was subject to suspected hijacking.
  • Our armed forces successfully gained control of the ship and detained seven individuals. Police investigations will now continue.
  • I am sure we are all thankful for the quick and decisive action of our frontline police and armed forces who were able to bring this situation under control, guaranteeing the safety of all those on board.

Monday music spot: "We Shall Wear Midnight" by Steeleye Span

The Cultural Recovery fund

The government is boosting dozens of iconic arts venues and cultural organisations with £75 million from the Cultural Recovery Fund – protecting jobs and securing the future of Britain’s culture.

  • More than £500 million has now been allocated from our £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to nearly 2,500 cultural organisations and venues of all sizes, to help them plan for reopening and restarting performances and programmes. 
  • On Saturday the government awarded grants of up to £3 million to places that define culture in all corners of the country, from Shakespeare’s Globe to Sheffield’s Crucible, providing jobs, supporting the wider community and engaging the public through innovative means during the pandemic.
  • These places and organisations are irreplaceable parts of our heritage and what makes Britain a so strong in cultural and "soft" power.  This vital funding will secure their future and protect jobs right away.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Hospital Food

The Health Secretary is unveiling huge changes tomorrow to the food provided while people have to stay in hospitals – ensuring patients get healthy, tasty food.  

  • Our NHS hospitals need to be beacons of good health – places where staff and visitors, as well as patients, can look after their own health, setting a healthy eating example for the whole community.
  • That’s why tomorrow the Health Secretary will launchg the findings of our trailblazing independent hospital review, led by expert advisers. The panel has been to hospitals, found examples of excellent food and great facilities, met with clinicians and drawn up an exciting menu of ideas for the future.
  • And in the longer term, the government has already started a £3.7 billion hospital building programme – the biggest in a generation – with 40 new hospitals projects by 2030, which will incorporate catering facilities fit for patients, visitors and staff.
  • A key lesson from this pandemic is how vitally important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is our chance to level up hospital food: improving quality, instilling the highest food safety standards and ultimately improving patients’ recoveries.

Helping the vulnerable during the pandemic

The government is giving unprecedented support to help those most in need during the pandemic – backed by £200 billion.

  • Throughout the pandemic, the government has stood behind families that need our support.
  • Free school meal vouchers were provided during the closure of schools – the first time any UK government has ever offered this type of support to children. But Britain is now in a different position – with over 99 per cent of state schools back open to pupils – and fully committed to supporting the children most in need with meals throughout term time. 
  • This has been a challenging time for everyone. That’s why we have boosted benefits, allowing low-income families to choose how they spend their money and on what, rather than government choosing for them through providing supermarket vouchers. This support includes:

    • Income support schemes that have helped more than 9.2 million people stay in employment.
    • Increasing Universal Credit by £1,000 per year.
    • Increasing Local Housing Allowance and providing £180 million for discretionary housing payments to help families with their rent.
    • Creating the £63 million local welfare assistance fund so councils can help those struggling to get hold of food and essentials.
    • Providing £16 million for food charities.
    • Here in Cumbria the most recent wave of this support include £555 thousand to Cumbria County Council to help those struggling to afford food and essential supplies.

My final "Build Bach better" post: "Komm, Jesu, komm"

No collection of Bach music would be complete without one of his superlative chorales, so here is the motet "Komm, Jesu, Komm. (Come, Jesus, come.)

Quotes of the day 25th October 2020

"Holding to account and threatening rape are two very different things."

(Marcus Rashford MBE)

The footballer had posted a statement (below) saying that posting "unacceptable abuse" against people who had different opinions about child poverty and how to address it was not the way to help hungry children. 

The above quote was his response to someone who had responded that MPs should be "held to account."

This was the very measured and reasonable statement from Marcus Rashford about this on Twitter:

Whatever our disagreements on whether food poverty for children is best addressed via asking schools to provide free meals or through the Welfare system, surely we can agree that Marcus Rashford is right on two important points:
1) we need to feed hungry children 

2) personal attacks on people who have a different view on how to do it are not the best way to achieve that.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Clocks go back tonight!

British summer time ends at 2am on Sunday morning (25th October 2020) and all timekeeping devices which are not sophisticated enough to do it for themselves automatically need to be put back an hour.

I imagine there is a divide between those who would like to put the clock back to January this year and those who would like to put it back to January 2016, but I'm afraid we don't have either option!

Build Bach Better:-Concerto for three harpsichords in D minor

Supporting jobs and businesses

This week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced new measures to support jobs and businesses through the heightened COVID alert levels put in place to control the spread of the virus.

  • The government has already set out our economic package of support for businesses who are legally required to close, including the expanded Jobs Support Scheme, more generous and frequent cash grants, and more help for the self-employed. 
  • But the economic situation is damaging even for some businesses who can stay open. That is why the chancellor announced a package specifically for those businesses which are not forced to close, but face reduced demand due to additional social distancing restrictions:  

    • A more generous Job Support Scheme: employers contributing significantly less, the government a lot more 
    • Cash grants for hospitality and leisure businesses in Tier 2 – worth up to £2,100/month and backdated to August 
    • A doubling of our third self-employed grant from 20 per cent to 40 per cent of self-employed people’s profits 
  • Alongside the Winter Economy Plan, these announcements will give businesses, whether they are open or required to close, the flexibility to adjust and plan over the coming months – and comes on top of the £200 billion package of support we have committed since the beginning of the crisis.

Quote of the day 24th October 2020


Friday, October 23, 2020

Britain and Japan officially sign Economic Partnership deal

Today, Britain officially signed an economic partnership agreement with Japan, marking a historic moment, as the UK’s first major trade deal as an independent trading nation and offering a glimpse of Global Britain’s potential.

  • Since leaving the EU, the government has made the securing of modern and bespoke trade deals one of its top priorities. These deals will help us build back better, levelling up opportunity and prosperity in every part of the UK. 
  • This comprehensive deal with Japan is tailored to both our economies, going beyond existing EU deals, covering digital and data, financial services, food and drink, and creative industries. The estimated boost to trade between our two nations is over £15 billion, bringing long term economic benefits to both our nations. 
  • This deal is a landmark moment for Britain. As an independent trading nation, we will secure new opportunities and prosperity for all parts of our United Kingdom, driving the economic growth we need to build back better and overcome the challenges of coronavirus. 

Build Bach better week: Harpsichord Concerto No.1 (Jean Rondeau)

Quote of the day 23rd October 2020

 "Cancer won't wait for the pandemic and neither should you."

(Peter Rooney, Chief Operating Officer of the NHS's North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, speaking earlier this year at a meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee about the need for anyone invited for cancer screening or showing symptoms which could potentially be cancer to get themselves checked.

One of the most malign consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we are building up a backlog of undiagnosed cases of other serious conditions such as cancer which have not been detected or treated either because of disruption to the non-COID work of the NHS or because people have not been coming forward for fear of catching the coronavirus if they come to a hospital or GP surgery.

Although the majority of the excess deaths experienced by Britain and indeed most countries from march onwards compared with deaths at the same time in other recent years appear to have been directly caused or contributed to by the Coronavirus - in this country the number of deaths with COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate represents the large majority, but by no means all, of the excess deaths recorded in the first eight months of 2020. 

Some of the difference may be due to an underestimate of the direct impact of the Coronavirus, but there is reason to suspect that a substantial part of the difference between estimated COVID deaths and total excess deaths during the first wave is due to the indirect effects of COVID-19, including deaths from other conditions for which the deceased would have been successfully treated if the pandemic had never happened.

It is imperative that we don't allow a further buildup of undiagnosed and potentially fatal diseases such as cancer.

If you - or anyone you love - has symptoms which could be cancer or heart disease, you will face a greater increased risk of dying avoidably from those conditions if you do not seek medical help and get them checked than you face in increased risk of dying from Coronavirus if you do.

Dealing with international crime

The Home Secretary has announced the introduction of tougher immigration rules which will restrict the ability of people who have been convicted and imprisoned for serious crime from entering the UK from the EU from the start of next year.

  • Every country has a crime problem - but international crime is a problem for all countries.
  • Criminals do not respect international borders - which means that we need government and law enforcement agencies to co-operate. This would be much less problematic if certain foreign governments - Russia is probably the worst culprit but China and a number of others are nearly as bad - did not regularly abuse procedures of organisations like Interpol, procedures designed to catch gangsters and fraudsters against their political opponents and domestic and international critics. We need to ensure that the UK operates safeguards against such abuses.
  • We also need to ensure our immigration rules limit the activities of international criminal gangs such as drug cartels and people-traffickers engaged in modern slavery, be it in the field of forced prostitution or compelling people into work in illegal underpaid or unsafe jobs.
  • For too long, Britain's immigration rules have not been, in the words of a former Labour home secretary "fit for purpose" to protect us against international criminal gangs, and EU freedom of movement rules have sometimes been part of the problem.
  • That’s why, as part of Britain's new immigration system, the government will introduce new rules designed to restrict the ability of criminals from the EU to enter our country after the end of the transition period. From 1st January 2021, any foreign criminal who has spent more a year in prison will be banned from entering the UK from anywhere in the world, including the EU.
  • The UK will be safer thanks to firmer and fairer border controls where foreign criminals regardless of nationality will be subject to the same criminality rules.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Build Bach better week - Harpsichord concerto in A major

Safeguarding vital services

The Communities Secretary has announced that councils across England will benefit from an additional £1 billion in support from the Government to help safeguard vital services.

  • Since the start of the pandemic, the government has backed local councils with the funding they need to support their communities, protect vital services and recover lost income.
  • This extra £1 billion brings the total of additional funding to £6.4 billion since the pandemic begun – an unprecedented level of extra support. This additional funding will ensure leisure centres can remain open and that councils have the resources that they need to continue to play an essential role on the front line of our response to the virus.
  • As Britain enters into a crucial period in our fight against coronavirus, people should be in no doubt that working with our partners in local government the government will do everything practical to protect vital local services, the most vulnerable and support local businesses.

EU trade negoatiaions

After a pause, trade negotiations with the EU have resumed and are continuing in London this week, with both sides agreeing to intensify talks to bridge the remaining gaps and reach an agreement.

  • The Prime Minister has made clear in recent days that a fundamental change is needed in the approach taken by the EU in recent weeks. Britain has stated clearly, that if the EU will not change its approach we are fully prepared for an Australia-style relationship.
  • With talks set to resume, the EU must accept it is dealing with an independent and sovereign country and that any agreement would need to be consistent with that status. This has been acknowledged by EU negotiators, and we remain clear that while we want a deal this will not be at the expense of our political and economic independence.
  • Alongside this the government will continue to support UK businesses, hauliers, and travellers to prepare actively for the end of the transition period, since change is coming, whether an agreement is reached or not. 

Supporting business

As this Government continues to take a localised and regional approach to control the spread of the virus, the Chancellor will today unveil additional support for businesses and workers in Tier 2 and 3. 

  • The government has put in place one of the most comprehensive economic responses in the world – backed by over £200 billion – to project jobs, incomes and businesses throughout and beyond this pandemic.
  • As the pandemic evolves, so too does the policy – which is why the Job Support Scheme was brought in to support the wages of people in work, and the Job Retention Bonus to encourage businesses to bring employees back.
  • The government is also expanding the Job Support Scheme to provide temporary, localised support to businesses whose premises are legally required to close as a direct result of coronavirus restrictions set by one or more of the four governments of the United Kingdom, as well as increasing the frequency and generosity of available cash grants.
  • This expansion will provide a vital safety net for businesses across the UK by giving them the right support at the right time, as we continue in our efforts to control the spread of the virus

Building ships better: British jobs in British shipyards to support our navy.

The Defence Secretary has announced that vital warships providing supplies and technical support to the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers will be made by British-led teams, creating hundreds of highly-skilled jobs across the UK.

  • Shipbuilding has historically been a British success story, and we are determined to revitalise this amazing industry as part of our commitment to build back better.
  • That’s why we will launch a competition to build three Fleet Solid Support warships, revitalising British shipbuilding by requiring a significant proportion of the work to be led by British companies and carried out in the UK.
  • By building these next generation ships, we can support jobs and businesses across the whole country, while developing homegrown skills to revitalise this proud British industry.

Quote of the day 22nd October 2020

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

School Meals

This evening there was a debate in parliament on free school meals.

During the debate the Labour Party forced a non-binding vote in Parliament on extending free school meals.

This was not a motion which would have actually extended them. It was a piece of political theatre, designed to put the Conservative MPs into a position of being forced to vote against something which sounds good but would achieve nothing This enables Labour to then play their usual trick, which they have done time and time again, of putting out propaganda which misrepresents the people who vote against a meaningless or counterproductive motion as having sabotaged some noble cause. 

As usual, Labour are more interested in playing politics than working constructively to put forward actual solutions.

  • During the unprecedented time at the start of the pandemic, it was right that extraordinary measures on free school meals were taken, reflecting that boundaries between education and home were blurred.
  • But we are now in a different position – with schools back open to all pupils – and it is not for schools to regularly provide food for pupils during the school holidays. Universal Credit, which we have increased by £1,000 for families this year, provides support to families all year round.
  • Conservatives are committed to ensuring that young people have the support and opportunities to succeed for the future and we will always provide a safety net to ensure those who need it most are supported.

Greater Manchester

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that Greater Manchester will move to the Very High Local Covid Alert Level from Friday, in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

  • In Greater Manchester, infection rates are among the highest in the country – up more than 300 per cent between September and October – and there are now more coronavirus patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than in the whole of the south-west and south-east combined.
  • Over the last 10 days, the government sought to agree an approach with local leaders in Greater Manchester, and made a generous and extensive offer to support local businesses. Sadly it was not possible to reach agreement with the Labour Mayor. So instead the government had to act unilaterally, introducing regulations today to move Greater Manchester to the Very High Alert Level from Friday, in order to save lives.
  • Nobody wants businesses in Greater Manchester to be disadvantaged, so our offer of extra funding – which was proportionate to the support given to Merseyside and Lancashire – remains on the table, and our door is open to further discussions with local leaders.
  • The government hopes the Mayor and council leaders in Greater Manchester will work with them to implement these measures, in the interests of all the people of the area.

A second music spot for Trafalgar day: "Heart of Oak" (the Royal Navy anthem)

Building Bach Better week spot - Concerto for two violins in D minor

Quote of the day for Trafalgar day, 21st October 2020


"No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy"

(Horatio Nelson)

Picture credit: "The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805"
by Thomas Luny (1759–1837)
National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Conservatives need to explain the problems with socialism

If is at least forty-one years since Britain had a government which could reasonably be described as representing, even in a moderate form, socialist rather than social democrat ideas. During the Blair period the word "socialist" was airbrushed out of Labour literature in favour of words like "progressive."

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, who really was a socialist, specifically rejected the policy of the Blair/Brown New Labour governments which were in office from 1997 to 2010: Labour's party political  broadcasts and other literature during the Corbyn era were scathing about the way the country had been run for decades in a way which was effectively as critical of the New Labour period as it was of Conservative-led governments.

In consequence anyone younger than myself - I am in my late fifties - has no adult experience of anything remotely resembling a socialist government. And it is absolutely no accident that when pollsters looked at voting intentions by age the strongest opposition to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party at the last two elections came from people who are actually old enough to remember living in Britain when this country last had a socialist government. 

Hence I selected the quote from Margaret Thatcher which I put up this morning as today's quote of the day, "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it," because of the relevance to this post. There was a time when the political battle in favour of the mixed economy, and for the principle that capitalism, however imperfect it is, does a better job of running most parts of the economy than giving control of everything to the government does, appeared to have been won. If that is ever true, it is no longer the case: the argument needs to be won again with a new generation who have no memory of living under a socialist government.

My memories of what socialism did to this country when I was a teenager are central to the way I think about politics.

  • I remember a Labour government which lost control of the economy to such an extent that they had to go to the International Monetary Fund to bail Britain out. 
  • I remember that the price for that bailout was savage cuts in spending, including the biggest cuts in NHS funding in the history of the British Health service - real cuts in spending, not just failing to increase spending as fast as people would like (which is what had actually happened every time in the last forty years when a Tory government has been accused of cutting the NHS)
  • I remember that because of those Labour cuts to the NHS, combined with laws favourable to the trade unions, NHS unions, whose position I sympathised with but not their tactics, went on strike, and one of their leaders explicitly said "If someone dies, so be it."
  • One of the people that shop steward was talking about could have been my father.
  • I remember that because of those strikes my father was rung up on the morning he was due to go into hospital for a heart operations which doctors considered an emergency, as shop stewards representing porters and cleaners had decided that they knew better than doctors what an emergency was and withdrew cover.
  • I remember that at the same time the dead were left unburied and rubbish piled up in the streets because of strikes against labour cuts.
  • I remember that large swathes of industry were nationalised and were abysmal failures, losing vast sums of taxpayers' money while delivering terrible service. You think that today's railway system is annoying? Yes, it can be, but I remember how much worse on almost every measure the nationalised British Rail was.
  • I remember people talking about "The British disease" and about this country being "the sick man of Europe."

All governments are incompetent: I'm a small government Conservative because I believe that a government which tries to concentrate on doing the essentials and doing them properly is likely to be less incompetent than one that tries to run everything. And although I have seen stupid mistakes by every political party I have never seen incompetence by any of them on the scale of the nearest thing to a genuinely socialist government I had the misfortune to experience in 1974-79.

I found an article today which is two or three years old and rather US-centric but still makes point which is relevant today, called "College Students Love Socialism … But Don’t Have a Clue What it Means."

It's because they didn't have a clue what it means that the people who were interviewed liked the idea.

But nobody can be expected to magically be aware - when someone from Momentum comes along promising them lots of free stuff, and peddling ideas which sound radical, new, exciting and different - that all those ideas were tried forty years ago and failed disastrously, unless we tell them.

We cannot expect those who were not born when Britain last had a socialist government to remember bow bad it was, we need to make a positive case for the mixed economy, for a government which does the important things well but does not try to run every aspect of people's lives.

Building Bach Better week: "Air on a G string" from Suite no 3 in D

Government statement re Greater Manchester

 I have received the following briefing about the Greater Manchester situation

"The Communities Secretary has written to Andy Burnham setting out a deadline of midday today for talks on local measures in Greater Manchester.

  • We know that the people of Greater Manchester have been living with very significant restrictions on their lives and livelihoods for a long time and that this is deeply frustrating and extremely challenging for them.
  • The situation in Greater Manchester worsens with each passing day, with more Covid-19 patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than the whole of the South East and South West combined, and hospitalisation numbers set to exceed April’s peak within three weeks.
  • Despite previously acknowledging that a blanket lockdown ‘would cause real trouble from an economic point of view and hardship for people’, Andy Burnham has yet to implement the targeted local measures that would help stop the spread of the virus, support the NHS and protect jobs.
  • We have held discussions in good faith with local leaders for ten days in order to ensure that the measures put in place were tailored to the local community. We have offered an extensive package of support for local people and businesses, proportionate to the approach we have taken in the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire and in addition to the wider national support.
  • Our local and regional approach is the right response to the current situation, and we will continue to urge local leaders to work with the Government to implement the measures that will get the virus under control."

The Energy Price Cap

Today the government is extending the Energy Price Cap until the end of 2021 – meaning that around 11 million UK households will make savings of up to £100.

  • Switching energy supplier to find the best value deals is still the best way to save on bills, but this government is determined to make sure all customers are treated fairly and get the protection they deserve.
  • That’s why the Energy Price Cap is being extended for another year – continuing to protect around 11 million UK households on standard variable and default energy tariffs from being overcharged. This will help households save between £75 and £100 a year on their fuel bills.
  • This will provide more protection to energy customers – especially the elderly and most vulnerable – to ensure that they do not pay more than they need to on their bills.
I believe that governments need to be careful about price caps or other forms of government intervention in the market, though this one is a lot less potentially damaging than the "Energy Price Freeze" proposed by "Red Ed" Miliband a couple of years before Theresa May came up with the Energy Price Cap. 

Over the two years after Miliband proposed a price freeze on gas and electricity the prices actually dropped substantially - so if he had been Prime Minister and actually introduced his policy it would have cost householders many millions of pounds.

Unlike a price freeze, a price cap does not restrict the ability of suppliers to reduce prices if market conditions make that a sensible thing to do.

Where suppliers, particularly in a utility market with structural limits on competition, have enormous market power, and especially where they follow policies which penalise "loyal" customers who don't shop around, the arguments for a degree of intervention are much greater. The energy market is such a case.

Hence although such policies do need to be carefully monitored to ensure we do not fall foul of the law of unintended consequences, I think extending the Energy price cap is an appropriate policy to protect vulnerable pensioners and other vulnerable groups during the present pandemic.

Quote of the day 20th October 2020

 "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it."

(Margaret Thatcher)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Building Bach Better week: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Locking down Cornwall and North Cumbria will not help Manchester

As the second wave of COVID-19 causes increasing problems and concern,  there has been fierce debate about how to deal with it, and I have seen many things on both print and social media both from those who think that the government should have taken even stronger action and from those who think that the government has done too much to restrict liberties.

There are no easy answers. As an oncologist, Professor Karol Sikora, wrote on the Spectator website today, "Covid-19 kills, but so does lockdown."

The figures show that, although mercifully the ratio between known infections and deaths this time round seems so far to be significantly lower than earlier in the year, we see a similar pattern of rising numbers to the one earlier in the year. Coronavirus infections have been on a rising trend since August, (in blue on the graph below with numbers on the left axis) and numbers in hospital for COVID-19 began to rise a few weeks later, and then deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate (on the right axis) have also been following infections upwards after a delay.

If we as a society - and I'm not just talking about the government - did nothing to prevent it the danger that those figures for deaths would continue to rise is too big to ignore.

However, the image above is a national graph, and although infections and the numbers in hospital have been creeping up almost everywhere in the UK, both the numbers and the rate of increase vary enormously from place to place. The measures which are right in one part of Britain will not be right for every other place.

I might have my reservations about the action just taken by the Welsh government, but they must do what they think is right for Wales - and the people of Wales can and should judge what they think of the outcome at the ballot box. Similarly I am with those MPs from the North West who politely asked MPs from elsewhere in the country not to write letters telling the North West to do.

Just as on another issue I had a letter in the Whitehaven News last week asking the MP and council leader for Westmorland and South Lakes to stop asking the government to over-ride local democratic decisions in Copeland. 

We all need to take action to control the virus but I agree with those who say that another national lockdown should only be used as a last resort.

I don't think we can totally rule it out, but it doesn't make sense on the information we have today. Locking down the whole of Cumbria (where five of the six districts have the five lowest incidence rates for COVID-19 in the North West) would not help Manchester. As the PM asked last week, how is shutting down businesses in Cornwall and other areas with very few cases of the Coronavirus going to reduce infection rates in Manchester, Liverpool or London?

I can't make any sense of the Labour position. 

A week ago the Labour Shadow Health Secretary warned that a protracted national lockdown, lasting weeks and weeks, would be ‘disastrous for society,’ but then Keith Starmer called for a "circuit breaker" national lockdown. 

Over the weekend senior Labour frontbenchers Rachel Reeve and Kate Green have confirmed that their leader’s call for a temporary full national lockdown could be anything but temporary, admitting it might well have to be repeated over and over again. Which sounds pretty much like the policy which Jonathan Ashworth said would be "disastrous for society."  

The government policy of seeking a balance guided by scientific advice to try to fight the virus without wrecking the economy has not pleased everyone, but Labour's attempt to run with the anti-lockdown hares while hunting with the pro-lockdown hounds may not go down any better with the electorate than their "constructive ambiguity" over Brexit did.

In the meantime we all need to continue to remember hands, face, space - wash your hands, cover your face when indoors in places with people outside your family group, and keep two metres of space.

Supporting Football

Today, the government announced that National League football clubs will receive £10 million in funding as part of a unique partnership with the National Lottery, helping much-loved teams across England continue to play this season.

  • National League football clubs are often the beating heart of their communities, acting as a source of pride to their towns, giving children opportunities to get active, and have provided significant voluntary and charitable support to their areas throughout this crisis.
  • Today’s announcement will see funding distributed to each of the 66 National League clubs, helping them cover their lost revenue as a result of the delay to fans being permitted to return, and builds on the support we have already given the sports sector to help them survive their immediate financial pressures as a result of the pandemic.
  • I am sure we are all grateful to the National Lottery for their efforts in supporting our fantastic community clubs, which will enable them to continue to play football and an important role in their areas, as we continue to work together on getting spectators back safely as soon as possible.

Quote of the day 19th October 2020


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Build Bach better week: Triple Concerto in A minor BWV

Quote of the day 18th October 2020

"Labour politics only makes sense when you realise the Corbynites don’t think they lost the last election. Not fairly at any rate. The Labour left don’t think they were beaten so much as betrayed. 

They truly believe they would have stormed the Winter Palace if only the damned Blairites hadn’t hidden their scaling ladders. 

Stab in the back myths are never pleasant and rarely convincing. The one currently enveloping Corbynism is no different."

(James Bickerton, from an article on the challenges facing Keir Starmer which you can read in full here.)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Fisher and the Battlecruisers

I have been reading Norman Friedman's book "The British Battleship 1905-1946

(The RRP is £45 for the hardback and even used copies are selling for something close to thirty quid, but if you have a kindle you can get the electronic version for a tenner.) 

The most interesting thing I've learned from it so far concerns not battleships but a closely related class of ship. It has given me a greater understanding of the mystery of how Admiral Jacky Fisher, certainly the most brilliant and transformative naval administrator Britain has had in the last two centuries and one of the greatest any nation has produced over all time, creator of the dreadnought battleship which revolutionised naval warfare, also created at the same time one of the most disastrous warship classes in history -  the battlecruiser.

Battlecruisers were some of the most beautiful, romantic and prestigious warships ever built. The very name is so evocative that ships so described turn up in the work of just about every novelist and game designer relating to either 20th century wet navies or science fiction space ones, from C.S. Forester to David Weber,  from the Klingon D7 to "Starcruiser Shenandoah" to "Master of Orion."

Unfortunately, although when they were actually used in the role for which Fisher intended them - to kill cruisers - battlecruisers were almost invariably successful, time and again force limitations led admirals to deploy battlecruisers in roles in which they were expensive and costly deathtraps.

Fisher's strategy was to replace a plethora of different designs of capital ship with different speeds, the individual ships mounting lots of different weapon types making both the gunfire of each individual ship and the movements of the units of the fleet almost impossible to co-ordinate, with a battle fleet with ships of similar (and fairly high) speed and reliability using turbine engines, fighting in line ahead formation. Each ship of that battle fleet  would have her main armament consisting of a single calibre of gun, making it vastly easier for a single director tower to spot and co-ordinate the fall of shot and control the angle at which the guns should fire to hit a moving target from a considerable distance. A substantial proportion of that main armament able to fire in any direction but all of it should be able to fire on either broadside. 

These battleships are called dreadnoughts after the first such vessel, HMS Dreadnought, which instantly made every other capital ship in the world obsolete when she was launched in 1906, and dreadnoughts ruled the seas until the rise of the aircraft carrier.

A fleet of dreadnought battleships in line ahead (that is, sailing in line one after the other) could be co-ordinated to direct the whole of its enormous firepower against a fleet to either starboard or port (right of left) with each individual battleship bringing a battery of enormous guns with devastating effect against a single target. (HMS Warspite, a superdreadnought of Fisher's era which was sufficiently ahead of her time in World War One that she remained a powerful and effective unit in the second war two decades later: in 1940 she hit the Italian flagship in a battle off Calabria at a range of 26,400 yards, putting the enemy battleship out of action for four months. In an even more amazing display of gunnery at Matapan the following year, a battle which took place at night, Warspite took an Italian cruiser out of the battle with her first salvo, from which five or six shells hit the enemy ship. 

These shells, fired from Warspite's fifteen-inch-calibre main guns, weighed a ton and a half: nothing ever built could stand up to that kind of punishment for long.

Dreadnoughts were to provide Fisher's line of battle, but as super-heavy scouts and to kill enemy commerce raiders he accompanied them with battlecruisers - ships the size of a battleship and with the armament of a dreadnought but which attained nearly the speed of a destroyer by sacrificing armour protection to a level not much greater than that of an armoured cruiser. 

To steal an expression quoted by C.S. Forester in another context but even more appropriate for battlecruisers, "The ship was an eggshell armed with sledgehammers and her mission in life was to give without receiving." My son tells me that the current generation of gamers have an expression for units with enormous hitting power but weak defences - they call them "glass cannons." 

How battlecruisers would actually be used, with most unfortunate consequences, was foreseen more or less correctly at the time.   The year after the first battlecruiser, HMS Invincible, was launched, the following words appeared in 1907 Brassey Naval Annual: 

"The Invincible class have been given the armament of a battleship, their superiority in speed being compensated for by lighter protection ... an admiral having Invincibles in his fleet will be certain to put them in the line of battle, where their comparatively light protection would be a disadvantage, and their high speed of no value."

The word "certain" was an exaggeration - plenty of British and German admirals had more sense - but sooner or later every navy which built battlecruisers or similar ships designated "fast battleships" ended up deploying them where they came into combat against regular battleships and came off second best. 

That is what happened to HMS Invincible herself at the battle of Jutland; to all the German battlecruisers at the same battle where they suffered enormous damage and despite superlative engineering the Germans were extremely fortunate to lose only Lutzow; to the Scharnhost and the Japanese Kirishima  in World War II, and most famously of all, to HMS Hood.

HMS Invincible was the third of three Royal Navy battlecruisers which blew up and sank at Jutland and Admiral Beatty famously said earlier in the battle when he lost the first two in action against German battlecruisers, "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today." And there was, but the main problem was they they were designed for one job and he was using them for a different one. 

So why on earth did a brilliant man create battlecruisers in the first place?

The most common response of naval historians is to treat Fisher as some kind of mad genius, and there is much in his makeup which makes it easy to present him that way. He was the ultimate "marmite" admiral in an era before that word was used to indicate something that some people love and others hate - practically every officer in the navy was either a supporter of Fisher or an opponent.

But I'm grateful to Norman Friedman for putting the creation of both the dreadnought and the battlecruiser into the context of the first decade of the last century - a context in which the latter doesn't seem so stupid after all.

Britain was facing the potential threat presented by the rapid build-up of the new German navy but also the navies of countries like Russia and France both of which we had fought wars against in the past. Although the triple entente made Britain, France and Russia allies from the year after the Dreadnought and Invincible were launched, it was undoubtedly wise for Fisher and the Admiralty to be prepared for the possibility that this alliance might collapse and we could have been faced with a battle against two or more of these powers at once.

All these nations had significant numbers of armoured cruisers - ships which were nearly as expensive to build and maintain as battleships, but which were a menace to anything else afloat in 1905 other than a  battleship. Such ships were an existential threat to the seaborne commerce on which Britain's trade  depended and something had to be done to protect it - and building both a strong battle fleet and enough cruisers to protect our trade against any potential threat from the cruisers of other nations would risk national bankruptcy.

The battlecruiser was intended to deal with that threat. With an armament that could send any cruiser ever built to the bottom in minutes, a higher speed than any armoured cruiser and many light ones, and extra-tall tripod masts enabling them to more reliably receive radio signals telling them where to catch and kill enemy commerce raiders, the battlecruiser was the ultimate answer to any attempt to use cruisers against Britain's sea trade. 

A battlecruiser in combat against a battleship was liable to come off worst: an enemy cruiser or even a cruiser squadron which was sighted by a battlecruiser had no chance at all. As Admiral Graf von Spee found out at the first battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914, when Winston Churchill and Fisher himself, who had been brought back as First Sea Lord at the start of World War one, sent HMS Invincible and her sister ship Inflexible to do exactly the job Fisher had originally created them to do, and they duly sent the Kaiser's top cruiser squadron  to the bottom.  

The lesson of this story: if you have a tool which is designed to do a particular job, it will usually do that job better than a different one. But when you are designing a tool or system, whether it be a combat unit or a computer setup, it's usually a good idea to think not just about what you currently plan to do with it but how in the future the people who are given that tool, system or unit are likely to want to use it. 

Build Bach better week: Concerto for two harpsichords in C major

As both the UK government and the re-elected New Zealand government are keen to "Build back better" (commiserations on the result, by the way, to my cousin from New Zealand, Mike Lord) I thought I would make my music spot posts for the next week a selection from the work of the legendary Johann Sebastian.

So here is the first instalment of my "Build Bach better" week, the Concerto for two harpsichords in C Major.

Quote of the day 17th October 2020

 "It was the worst load of rubbish I'd seen in my life - and I actually read the last Labour manifesto."

(Comment overheard from a University student about a set of guidance on how to write an essay which she didn't think was very helpful)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Is the Putin regime trying to sabotage the Oxford Coronavirus vaccine?

There has been some deeply damaging and ridiculous nonsense published online about the Coronavirus and about vaccines to it.

This has taken a number of forms. One was the preposterous claptrap suggesting a connection between 5G and COVID-19, which has led to more than thirty arson attacks and other forms of vandalism against telecommunications infrastructure and even worse, verbal and physical assaults up to and including stabbing against Openreach or BT engineers who were assumed (usually wrongly) to be installing 5G equipment.

Then there are are the conspiracy theories making absurd and libellous allegations against Bill Gates in connection with the search for a vaccine, which do not deserve to be given a platform even to the extent of describing them in order to refute them.

There has been fierce debate on social media and elsewhere about whether the government has over-reacted, or has not reacted strongly enough, to COVID-19 with one group of people, particularly on Facebook and in certain newspapers, arguing for even more extreme measures up to and including another full lockdown as suggested by Keir Starmer. 

Another group, also represented in Facebook and in some comments posted on my blog, in a different group of newspapers, and on conversations I have had with some friends and colleagues though I don't think it is a majority view, think that the action that the government has taken is too severe.

The one thing on which I would expect the overwhelming majority of both those groups and of those who think the government has got it about right to agree is that as soon as we can possibly get a vaccine which is clinically proven to be safe and to work we need to inoculate as many people as possible as fast as possible with it, so we can protect everyone's lives and health without having to close down businesses, kneecap the economy, deprive millions of people of their jobs and everyone of their liberties, and put an end both to the enormous harm that COVID-19 has done directly and the considerable harm done indirectly, including by the measures to protect against it.

It is perfectly legitimate and sensible to ask questions about whether any given vaccine has been properly tested, that in the desperate need to get a vaccine ready quickly too many corners have not been cut. and the necessarily due diligence has been carried out before we put a vaccine into millions of people's bodies that we really have proof beyond reasonable doubt that

  • it actually works, and
  • it is safe.
That's why the Oxford project is conducting exhaustive clinical trials with 50,000 volunteers around the world to establish precisely these things for the vaccine they are trying to produce, and it will then be subject to the scrutiny of global regulators.

But given the desperate need for the vaccine, both in Britain and around the world, it is all the more reprehensible that "fake news" is being spread by anti-vaxxers in a number of countries which consists not of asking legitimate questions like the ones I posed above but of propaganda myths about "monkey vaccines" which might supposedly turn the people who take it into chimpanzees or make people abandon Islam. 

There is an interesting piece by Daniel Johnson on "The Article" here which assesses the evidence that some of this dangerous anti-vaxxer nonsense is being spread by the Kremlin's bot farms and trolls. 

If it is true they are doing the world, including the citizens of Russia, a great disservice.

EU negotiations update

Today the Prime Minister will set out Britain's response to the outcome of the European Council summit in light of his statement last month on what should happen if no agreement was reached by 15 October. 

  • Following the meeting of the European Council, Lord Frost has expressed disappointment that the EU is no longer committed to working intensively towards reaching a future partnership as the Prime Minister had agreed with the President of the European Commission on 3 October.
  • In light of the EU’s suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from the UK, the Prime Minister will carefully consider what the EU has concluded, having made clear in his statement on 7 September that we would have to see real progress at this moment if we were going to secure a deal before the end of the transition period.
  • We have always been clear that we want a deal with the EU, and a relationship based on friendly cooperation and free trade, but that we cannot sacrifice what it means to be an independent and sovereign nation to secure an agreement.

Coronavirus update - Barrow in Furness, London, and other areas move to high alert level.

Yesterday the Health Secretary updated the House of Commons on the latest measures we are taking to suppress the virus, protecting our NHS and saving lives while keeping children in school and our economy running to safeguard jobs and livelihoods. 

  • The government knows that restrictions are difficult for people and do not want to have to introduce them. But it is essential that we take action, both to keep people safe and prevent greater economic damage in the future.  
  • While discussions with local leaders elsewhere are ongoing, the government has developed a substantial package of support for areas that will be required to enter this third tier including more support for local test and trace, more funding for local enforcement and extending the job support scheme, in order to protect jobs and livelihoods.  
  • From midnight tonight London, Elmbridge, Essex, Barrow-in-Furness, York, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield will enter the high alert level, meaning people must not meet anyone outside of their household indoors, in addition to existing rules such as the rule of six outdoors. 
  • When a virus is moving fast, we cannot stay still. If we act collectively, we know we can control the virus, as we have done before, to protect the NHS and save lives. 

Quote of the day 16th October 2020

 "A partisan gap in attitudes has been fostered by both sides. Today, people who identify as Democrats and Republicans are further apart on how much priority should be accorded to climate change than on any other single issue."

"While Democrats have passed what will end up being incredibly expensive promises President Donald trump, with Republican support, has done the opposite: he wants to do nothing at all. Neither approach is right.

"The partisan divide in America is also reflected globally."

(Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Sceptical Environmentalist.")

For the avoidance of doubt, I don't go all the way with Lomborg's arguments and policy proposals. I do think we need to set targets to reduce our output of carbon and of greenhouse gases. 

But I think Lomborg is right both to criticise both climate change deniers who present the entire issue of climate change as a myth and the alarmism of those who seek to foster climate panic by spreading exaggerated and easily debunked claims. As Bob Ward, one of Lombard's critics, accepted in a generally hostile review in the Guardian, Bjorn Lombard makes, quote, 

"some legitimate criticisms of “alarmism” by environmentalists. One of the most difficult problems in making the case for action on climate crisis is that the elevated levels of greenhouse gases we create over the next few decades will have consequences not fully realised until the next century and beyond. Some campaigners deal with this communications challenge by wrongly warning of imminent catastrophe."

On the on the other side of the equation, Lomborg makes some interesting and important points about the need to invest far more in making populations, particularly in poor countries, more resilient to our changing climate, and that the world should be spending far more on green innovation to develop technologies to help us to tackle climate breakdown.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Free School Meals

The government continues to support the families of children on Free School Meals to ensure that those children do not go hungry during this pandemic.

  • The Government has taken substantial action to make sure children and families do not go hungry by extending free school meals when schools closed, increasing welfare support by £9.3bn, and giving councils £63 million to provide emergency support to families for food and other essentials.
  • Everyone appreciates that it has been a challenging time for families, which is why the government has increased the safety net available to them with income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and support for renters.