Friday, December 09, 2016

Christmas Music Spot: Ding Dong Merrily on High

I can't believe how many clips of this carol I had to open to find the traditional version rather than one of the modern arrangements, some of which have their merits but none of which I prefer to the arrangements you will find in the Oxford Book of Carols or "Carols for Choirs."

This one IS the traditional version.


Congratulations to Dr Caroline Johnson MP

Congratulations to local paediatrician Dr Caroline Johnson who won the Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election with 54% of the vote and a majority of 13,144.

This was a very good result for the Conservatives, who retained the seat with a vote share well over 90% of what we polled at the general election, a good result for the Lib/Dems whose vote share nearly doubled to 11% and went from fourth to third place, and a reasonable result for UKIP who went from third to second place (though their vote share actually dropped slightly.)

It was a very bad result for Labour and the second bad by election result in consecutive weeks, one in a pro-remain seat at Richmond Park and now in a pro-Leave seat in the East Midlands.

This was a more serious blow for Labour than Richmond where they never had a chance and were always going to suffer a tactical squeeze: this time they started in second place and should have had as good a chance as anyone to get a bandwagon going.

Instead Labour lost more than half their vote share, dropped from 2nd to 4th place, polled less than the combined "others" total which included a "Looney" candidate called The Iconic Arty-Pole,  and were reduced to making a big thing of the fact that they didn't (quite) lose their deposit.

A few days ago I referred here to a Dan Hodges article which argued that Labour is in serious trouble. He suggests that:
"There is Brexit Britain, tired of ultra-liberalism, and hungry for a return to ‘traditional values’.
 
There is Remainer Britain, horrified at what it sees as a conservative counter-revolution, and committed to driving the ‘Alt-Right’ barbarians from its progressive gates.
 
And there is Middle Britain – majority Britain – which has no real desire to rally behind either of these cultural battle- flags, and just yearns for a modest but measurable improvement in daily life.
 
Labour no longer represents any of these three factions. It does not know how to speak to them. It does not know how to identify with them. It no longer even adopts the pretence of trying to speak to or identify with them."

The results of the two by-elections we have just had, one in a pro-remain seat and one in a pro-leave one, are consistent with Hodges' argument that Theresa May has made a successful pitch for Middle Britain while holding on to a chunk of Brexit Britain, while UKIP has the rest of Brexit Britain and the Lib/Dems are on the way to establishing themselves as the party of Remain, but Labour have no clear pitch to any of those three tribes.

Similar comments have come today from unhappy Labour MPs who feat their leadership's inability to put out a clear position is alienating both sides of the debate.

One said that Labour was in danger of following a "0% strategy" while David Winnick MP said the result was “appalling” and blamed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

“If we were to continue in this way then the indications are 2020 will be an electoral disaster and the possibility of a Labour government very remote indeed,” he said.

“The sort of bunker mentality that seems to exist at the moment at the highest levels of the party needs to recognise what is happening in the outside world.”

George Osborne tweeted that the disintegration of the Labour party is not good for democracy.

Indeed.

On Boris Saudi Arabia and his critics

Paddy Ashdown trotted out yet again one of the oldest chestnuts in the lexicon of British political insults this week, when he compared Boris Johnson's appointment as Foreign Secretary to the supposed appointment by the Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula of his favourite racehorse as Consul.

Familiar as it is, this legend probably isn't true: the only evidence we have either way, as I previously wrote here, is that some eighty years after the reign of Caligula the historian Suetonius recorded a rumour that the Emperor had planned to have the horse, Incitatus, made a consul.

But why let the facts get in the way of a great insult?

Ashdown actually agrees with Boris Johnson's comments about Saudi Arabia but tweeted that "I'm not the Foreign Secretary of a government that doesn't" and added his agreement to the suggestion that Boris "will be fired for one of the few true things he's said."

I would not hold your breath, Paddy.

Someone of Lord Ashdown's experience should be well aware that governments often operate a "good cop, bad cop" policy and sometimes deliberately choreograph a warning to another power by deploying the tactic in which a more junior official says something true but undiplomatic which is hastily "disavowed" - note the inverted commas - by the next level up.

I thing there is a lot to be said for Iain Martin's position that

"The campaign against Boris as Foreign Secretary is becoming ridiculous."

Quote of the day 9th December 2016


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Christmas Music spot: Rutter's "Shepherds Pipe Carol"

Trump and Crassus

There is an intriguing article on the Buttonwood blog section of the Economist website called

Dude, where's my Toga?

which compares present-day America with the latter days of the Roman Republic and Donald J Trump with Marcus Licinius Crassus.

Buttonwood observes that

"the republican system eventually turned into plutocracy or 'rule by the rich'. In her history of Rome, "SPQR", Mary Beard writes that
'The first qualification for office was wealth on a substantial scale. No one could stand for election without passing a financial test that excluded most citizens'

This is not to say that the poor were ignored. Ms Beard adds that
 
'The votes of the poor mattered and were eagerly canvassed. The rich were not usually united, and elections were competitive.' 
The nature of that competition, however, would often depend on the amount of food and drink that candidates were able to supply to the voting public; indeed political slogans were often inscribed on the bottom of wine cups, so you saw who to vote for after you had finished your drink. Never mind 'drain the swamp'; this was 'drain your drink.'"

Of course, the main thing which puts standing for senior elected office almost entirely out of reach for anyone but those who have, or have the support of people who control, great wealth in the modern USA is the lack of any cap on campaign spending such as we have in the UK and many modern democracies likewise have.

The US doesn't operate such rules because campaign spending limits are deemed to contravene the constitutional requirement for free speech.

To me this is an extreme example of the law of unintended consequences.

Of course, Donald Trump wasn't elected purely because of his wealth - other very rich men who tried to stand for election funding their own campaigns never got as far as he did and only those with significant charisma got anywhere. But Trump spent vastly less than the traditional presidential campaign - he used his almost universal name recognition, a media and social media operation which whether you love him or hate him was brilliantly successful at publicising his name and campaign themes even though it also publicised what everyone thought were big negatives about him.

It would appear that fame and a message which millions of people like (not necessarily everyone) are at least as important as money.

Trump also appears to have tested, in something close to a reduction ad absurdum, the theory that all publicity is good publicity.

Please note that in the following anecdote I am not comparing anyone to Hitler.

Many years ago a friend of mine, Dmitri Coryton, seeking to disprove the argument that there is no such thing as bad publicity, told a training seminar "after all, Hitler got plenty of publicity."

Some bright spark called out "He did win the election!"

but Dmitri won the exchange with "Yes, but he lost the War!"

The Buttonwood article concludes by noting that Crassus died leading his troops in a futile war in the area which was to become present-day Iran.

Let's hope we can avoid any more of those ...

Alex Johnstone RIP

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone has died at the age of aged 55, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.
 
He was the longest-serving Scottish Conservative MSP at Holyrood, and the only one to have served continuously from the beginning of the parliament in 1999.
Hailing from Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, Mr Johnstone worked as a dairy farmer before being elected to Holyrood in 1999. He served as his party's chief whip, as well as acting as spokesman for portfolios including housing, transport and rural affairs.

In the most recent session of parliament, Mr Johnstone was deputy convener of the finance committee and a member of the parliament's corporate body. He is survived by his wife Linda and their two children.

Ruth Davidson said:

"Alex's passing is an enormous loss for the Scottish Conservative party, for the Scottish Parliament, and for Scottish public life generally.

"He was a big man with a big heart. He embodied politics at its best: trenchant in his views, always up for a political fight, but respected and admired by all sides of the political divide for his decency and generosity"

Rest in Peace

You say De Keyser and I say De Keyser

I already knew Baroness Hale has a sense of humour because she has just finished a term as Chancellor of Bristol University and was due to chair her final meeting of Bristol University Court, of which I am a member, a few days ago. Sadly because of work commitments I could not get to that meeting but I have seen Lady Hale chair previous meetings with great tact, skill and good humour.

Judging by this transcript it would appear that she is not the only member of the Supreme Court with a sense of humour. This is just as well, since I imagine that they need it!

Quote of the day 8th December 2016


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

UN Panel gets it wrong again

Since far too many countries seem to make a habit of imprisoning people with no trials or seriously inadequate ones, it seems to be that it would be a very good idea of the United Nations had a panel to monitor, consider and make wise recommendations about the issue of arbitrary detention.

Unfortunately it would appear, if their findings about the decision of Julian Assange to hide in the Ecuadorian Embassy is anything to go by, that the panel which the UN actually has to review such things leaves a great deal to be desired.

The "Working Group on Arbitrary Detention” recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and considered four requests to review previous decisions, one of these being the Assange case. It decided that none of these cases met the threshold for a review from which I conclude that being an absolutely crazy decision is evidently not included in the criteria for that threshold.

Which is a shame, because it was an utterly crazy decision as I previously wrote here.

They are supposed to be monitoring arbitrary detention of people who have been detained without due legal process, not people who go and hide in an embassy to avoid a legal process!

I cannot think of a better way of summarising the reasons for this than to quote again the minority report of Vladimir Tochilovsky, the one member of the panel who did not vote for the finding against Britain and Sweden, and recorded his disagreement with the finding of his colleagues as follows:

The House of Commons votes to trigger article 50 by March 2017

MPs have voted in favour of the Government's timetable to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and thereby begin the formal process for leaving the European Union by the end of March 2017, on condition that the Prime Minister publishes a Brexit plan.
This motion was approved by 448 votes to 75 - a majority of 373, as you can read here.

Labour had tabled a motion calling on the government to publish a plan for Brexit. The government indicated that it would accept the motion, but also add an amendment resolving to "respect the decision of the British people as expressed in the referendum" and activate of Article 50 by the end of March. This was the amendment:



The first vote, which was to add the Government amendment above to the original Labour motion, was in favour by 461 votes to 89, a majority of 372. The amended motion was then carried by the margin given above.

The overwhelming majority of Conservatives and many Labour MPs voted both for the motion and the amendment: the votes against came from the SNP, the Lib/Dems, a minority of Labour MPs, and Ken Clarke, who was the only Conservative to vote against the motion.

The Independent's John Rentoul has tweeted that in view of the fact that the above has now been passed by the House of Commons, "pointless circus at Supreme Court can pack up & go home."

That's not going to happen, but this does pretty well confirm that there is a clear majority in the House of Commons to respect the referendum result. Unless the government loses in both the Supreme Court and the House of Lords, the referendum result will be respected in the sense that Britain will leave the EU.

Which does not mean that there is not every justification to look carefully at the terms on which Brexit takes place. Of course there should be a debate about the objectives for which we negotiate, of course parliament should be involved in it, and of course the wishes of both the 52% who voted leave and the legitimate concerns of the 48% who voted remain should be taken into account in that process.

HMS Illustrious and HMS Queen Elizabeth

A follow up to my post yesterday.

The carrier HMS Illustrious, last of the "Invincible" class light carriers, sails for the scrapyard today.

The UK Defence Journal tweeted this picture today to remind us "what's replacing her." It shows what I presume is a computer-mashup of photographs showing what Illustrious would look like next to HMS Queen Elizabeth which is due to be based in Portsmouth from March next year after leaving Rosyth next month for her sea trials.

They have had to dredge the Solent to make certain it is deep enough throughout a wide enough channel to let HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister HMS Prince of Wales in and out of Portsmouth. These are the largest ships ever operated by the Royal Navy.

Quote of the day 7th December 2016


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Queen Elizabeth class carriers

The first of two new large carriers to serve in the Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is due to leave Rosyth to begin her sea trials in early 2017 and be based in Portsmouth from March 2017.

Whoever decided that the name ship for the class of the two large carriers being prepared for service in the Royal Navy would be named for Queen Elizabeth appears to have had a sense of history.

The Royal Navy's previous Queen Elizabeth ships were a class of five super-dreadnought battleships which came into service almost exactly a hundred years before the new supercarriers.

The first HMS Queen Elizabeth, commissioned in 1915, (above) was the first ever battleship armed with the configuration of eight fifteen-inch guns in four turrets, two forward and two aft, which was to be repeatedly copied both in subsequent British ships and by other nations; and she was also the first  battleship powered by oil-fired boilers rather than coal. Her class were the fastest battleships of their day, the most powerful ships the world had seen to that date, and probably the most successful class of dreadnought battleships the Royal Navy ever operated.

They served in every theatre in both world wars, often in the thick of the most intense fighting, and despite coming under repeated heavy attack all five survived the first war and four of them survived the second.

The German C in C at the battle of Jutland, which took place a hundred years ago this year, credited the 5th Battle Squadron, composed entirely of Queen Elizabeth class ships, with shooting "with extraordinary rapidity and accuracy" and nearly a quarter of a century later they were still competitive with the best naval gunners of the time. At the battle of Calabria in 1940 HMS Warspite scored a hit on the Italian battleship Giulio Cesare at a range of over 26,000 yards, which was and remains one of the longest-range naval artillery hits in history.

The new carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are far and away the largest vessels ever built for the Royal Navy at 65,000 to 70,000 tons displacement depending on how you measure tonnage, and over nine hundred feet long. Their cost is considerable - over six billion pounds for the two ships - but if they serve their country as well as the first Queen Elizabeth class did, they will be worth every penny.


Not that their construction has been free from controversy. After they were originally ordered by the last Labour government, a defence review in 2010 argued that only one carrier was needed, but it turned out that the penalty clauses on the contract signed by the last Labour government would have made cancelling the second carrier so ruinously expensive that it was actually cheaper to finish building her than to cancel the order!

I still can't quite decide whether this represents ruinous incompetence by the Labour treasury or a brilliant stratagem by some admiral or defence planner who correctly foresaw that at some stage the bean-counters were bound to try to cut the project down to one ship, but if they were forced to complete the construction of the second vessel by a punitive cancellation clause, then public opinion would never allow her to be sold off or mothballed rather than brought into service.

The next problem was what planes the new carriers would carry and it appeared at one stage that we might for several years have carriers but no planes. Howeve, it currently appears that their main fixed wing platforms will be the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II multi-role stealth fighter - almost certainly the F35B short take off and vertical landing version - which will begin trials from the new carriers in 2018 with fully operational squadrons operating by 2020.

The Queen Elizabeth class carriers will also deploy helicopters for AWACS and anti-submarine missions and possibly also amphibious operations.

There is an interesting article by George Allison published today on the UK defence journal site about the latest views on what aircraft the Queen Elizabeths are likely to operate, which you can read here.

Unless I live to a very great age, I probably won't be around when the Queen Elizabeth carriers need replacing - I have seen it suggested that they have been designed for an operational life of fifty years and their closest equivalents currently at sea, the USA's Nimitz class carriers, have very nearly achieved that. But I hope we have learned from the lessons of this handover period. They should have been ordered several years earlier, and the questions  of what aircraft they were to fly sorted out at the same time, so that we did not have an interregnum of six years between the service life of the Invincible class light carriers, the last of which was decommissioned in 2014, and the Queen Elizabeths, the first of which is scheduled to be fully operational in 2020.

Supposing the UK had desperately needed a carrier for the conflict with DAESH in 2015 or 2016 we would have had a problem wouldn't we? We can't exactly say "Sorry Mr Al Baghdadi, can you please wait until 2020 when we're ready for you?"

Neither would it be ideal if we urgently need the power-projection capabilities of an aircraft carrier in, say, early 2018 and have to take emergency measures to get one or both Queen Elizabeth ships into active service in a hurry. Britain has been fortunate enough to have had people who worked miracles to do things like that in the past but it's not fair to our sailors and airmen/women to put them in that position.

But one lesson we can learn from this - let's make sure we get moving on the nuclear submarine successor programme so that HMS Dreadnought and the rest of the new class of submarines which carry our nuclear deterrent will be ready to take over immediately when the present Vanguard class of trident subs come to the end of their operational life.

Christmas music spot: Christmas goes baroque


A possible speech for the PM about the way forward on Brexit

My attention was drawn at the weekend to a proposed speech which Pete North suggested he would like Theresa May to make about the way forward on Brexit.

Obviously the article linked to here is not Conservative policy and I'm not necessarily endorsing every word in it either but it struck me as an interesting piece which seeks to combine the wish of those who voted leave to "take back control" while retaining the open Britain that most of those who voted Remain wanted.

You can read the "speech" at

http://peterjnorth.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/a-speech-for-mrs-may.html

Dan Hodges on why Labour is in trouble

I do not believe that any political party can afford an atom of complacency at the moment.

Certainly not the Conservatives who have to negotiate the best way for Britain to leave the EU while doing minimal damage to our economy and get the best deals we can with other countries, with a small majority and a whole host of economic, diplomatic and legal minefields to negotiate in the other sense of the word.

Certainly not the Lib/Dems who have sought to claw their way back to popularity by standing up for the minority who voted Remain - in a manner which will have made mortal enemies of the 52% who voted leave and failed to impress those like me who voted remain but believe in respecting the result of a democratic vote. the sheer awfulness of the other alternatives to Conservative rule will drive some people into the arms of the Lib/Dems regardless but they now have a very weak claim to the second half of their name.

Certainly not the SNP, whose policy of calling constantly for another vote on Independence after losing the first one is beginning to grate on many Scots, who expect the people who have been running the Scottish government for a decade to actually start delivering.

Certainly not UKIP who have spent the summer tearing themselves apart although I think their new leader may be a bigger threat to the dinosaur wing of the Labour party than it's small brain has yet realised.

But the party which is making the greatest effort to commit political suicide at the moment is Labour.

It's not just the fact that their policies are very left wing, reminiscent of the disastrous policies which nearly bankrupted Britain with catastrophic results when I was a teenager, leaving the sick unable to get treatment, the dead unburied, and rubbish lying in the streets. I'm not one of them, but there are some people who like left-wing policies.

No, what makes Labour look like a car crash is their inability to look at the wider electorate rather than their own internal divisions or to genuinely engage with the country as a whole rather than particular segments of it.

I do not always agree with Dan Hodges, a former Labour and trade union official, but he has written a very persuasive article called

"Labour's sunk, it just hasn't realised it yet: a Titanic disaster starring Jeremy Corbyn."

He begins by quoting a Tory MP who once served in the military and pointed out that sometimes the worst thing you can do is fail to take a decision: and Labour has made such a mistake by failing to decide who and what it stands for.

Hodges argues that in the wake of the "Leave" vote Britain is split not into two tribes but three, He writes that:

"There is Brexit Britain, tired of ultra-liberalism, and hungry for a return to ‘traditional values’.
 
There is Remainer Britain, horrified at what it sees as a conservative counter-revolution, and committed to driving the ‘Alt-Right’ barbarians from its progressive gates.
 
And there is Middle Britain – majority Britain – which has no real desire to rally behind either of these cultural battle- flags, and just yearns for a modest but measurable improvement in daily life.
 
Labour no longer represents any of these three factions. It does not know how to speak to them. It does not know how to identify with them. It no longer even adopts the pretence of trying to speak to or identify with them."

Hodges argues that Theresa May has made a successful pitch for Middle Britain while holding on to the Tory chunk of Brexit Britain, while UKIP has the rest of Brexit Britain.

Farron's Lib/Dems are well on the way to establishing themselves as the party of Remainer Britain, but Labour have no clear pitch to any of those three tribes.
And until they decide where they stand, Labour are not fit for purpose as the official opposition which is supposed to hold the government to account, let alone as an alternative government.

I'm not complacent about the Tory position, but so far as Labour are concerned I think Dan has a point.

Quote of the day 6th December 2016 - WSC on how to write concise reports

This is a memo which Winston Churchill sent his staff while Prime Minister on how he wanted them to prepare reports.

Most of us who have to write reports and most of those who have to read them, could benefit greatly by following his instructions:

Monday, December 05, 2016

Cumbria parliamentary boundaries review

The Boundary Commission for England has been consulting on new parliamentary boundaries for the North West. The initial consultation closes today.

You can read their current proposals for the North West at

 http://bce-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/consultation-documents/1473863919_North-West-Initial-proposals-report.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJG2X7BQ35X2H7LAA&Expires=1480980268&Signature=f3k3jB17mH2FSeLqKrSBWUocDeI%3D

These were the comments I submitted to the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) on the parliamentary boundaries for Cumbria.

"I am a Copeland resident, officer of Copeland Conservative Association and Cumbria Area Conservatives, former Copeland councillor and Conservative parliamentary and mayoral candidate for Copeland. I am writing in as an individual and these comments are about the proposals for Cumbria as a whole.

* I support the Boundary Commission proposals for parliamentary constituencies in Cumbria

* The geography of Cumbria, particularly the number of lakes and mountains, makes it difficult to assemble five constituences with a common interest and there are a limited number of ways you can do it.

* The first proposals in the last parliament were a classic example of the problems which this challenging geography can cause, including as they did a Copeland and Windermere seat of which the two main components had the highest mountain and deepest lake in England between them and the only direct route running over Hardknott pass, the alternative being a two-hour journey detouring around the lakes and mountains.

It makes far more sense, as in the revised proposals in the last parliament and the BCE's present ones, to put the main West Cumbrian centres of Whitehaven and Workington together. Despite a significant degree of mostly friendly rivalry, there is a significant common interest.

* A Carlisle constituency coterminous with Carlisle City Council has very great advantages, this is clearly an area of common interest and a very sensible proposal.

* There is historic precedent for a Penrith and Solway constituency, such as the late Willie Whitelaw used to represent.

* The main issue of potential debate is therefore the borders of the Workington and Whitehaven constituency and the enlarged Barrow and Furness constituency

* Ulverston and the area immediately around it is a unit which should be in the same constituency looks to Barrow more than any other part of the SLDC area does. It is included in the present Barrow and Furness constituency and it makes sense that it should remain part of the new Barrow constituency.

* There is also a "Furness Peninsulas" community based along the West Coast Road (A595 & A590 between Barrow, Millom and Sellafield) with people from Barrow travelling to work at Sellafield and people from Millom travelling both south to Barrow to work at BAE and North to Sellafield to work there.

* The present proposals have a strong geographical border at Ravenglass and on the river Mite. Shifting the border south to put it between Bootle and the Millom Without borough ward would make much less sense. I have heard it suggested that Black Coombe would form such a barrier, but this feature is to the east of the coastal strip where most of the local population lives.

* There is a very strong case - which I would not oppose - for putting Seascale in with Barrow rather than Workington and Whitehaven. This would put more of the South West Coast community in the same constituency. You would then have the route from Sellafield to Barrow, including Millom, all in one constituency with an MP who would have a locus to speak for people who live along and travel along that route to work. The people who live along and use this route do in a real sense form a natural community and I can certainly see a strong advantage in keeping them together.

Putting Seascale in with Barrow rather than the Workington and Whitehaven seat would be the only change to the BCE proposals I could support. But the proposals are strong as they stand."

Chris Whiteside

Christmas music spot: SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN in a baroque style


Quote of the day 5th December 2016

Boris Johnson dismisses the rumours that he had asked Foreign Office staff not to call him "Boris:"

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Cybernats spit the dummy out ...

I seem to have annoyed some cybernats inside and outside the SNP with the Twitter version of my post earlier today pointing out that "selling out" appears to be SNP-speak for "respecting the result of a referendum."

I have carefully avoided accusing any of the individuals concerned of lying even when I think I can prove they were wrong, because it is entirely possible that they believe what they write. This is not a courtesy that all the nationalists who responded to me observed in return.

More than one person attacked my post on the grounds that the statement, prior to the Scottish Independence Referendum, that it was a "once in a generation opportunity" for Independence was merely the "personal opinion" of one individual e.g. Alex Salmond.

Sharing this YouTube video which most reasonable people would consider pretty strong evidence that this was more than just Alex Salmond's view ...

 

... cut no ice with the Cybernats who accused me of making things up.

Even pointing out that an official Scottish government document, "Scotland's Future," published during the run-up to the Referendum,  which is available on the internet at

http://www.gov.scot/resource/0043/00439021.pdf

states in black and white on page 556 that

"It is the view of the current Scottish government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity"

did not produce any retraction or apology by the people who had accused me of making things up.

The closest any of them got to admitting that actually I was neither lying or misinformed was

"Have Tories in Cumbria not got a life?"

Yes, thank you!

That wasn't the only response from a nationalist which made personal remarks about me rather than engaging with the issue, and far from being the nastiest either.

The other thing I said which upset the Cybernats is that under the terms of Nicola Sturgeon's previous triple lock statement she is not in a position to call another referendum. Here is my argument:





































Opinion polls have not had a good track record over the past eighteen months, but I don't see what else you could use to objectively assess whether public opinion has changed.

Here are the results of all 11 opinion polls in Scotland asking how people would vote in a second Scottish independence referendum since the Brexit vote.

There was a blip lasting less than a week in the immediate aftermath of the June 23rd vote, but since July 25th every one of the eight opinion polls taken has shown a lead for the opponents of independence, most recently of 11 percentage points. That does NOT prove that a second Independence referendum would produce another "No" vote, but it does mean that Nicola Sturgeon would be on very shaky ground indeed in arguing that public opinion has changed.

I'm not going to push the point about whether the 2016 Scottish parliament election SNP manifesto promised another referendum - the nationalist side argue that because Brexit represents a major change in circumstances the manifesto does provide such a mandate - but the second part of Nicola Sturgeon's "triple lock" was that people had to vote for a manifesto with that promise.

The SNP did not achieve a majority of votes or seats in the 2016 Scottish parliament election - in fact they had previously had a majority in the Scottish parliament and lost it. Their share of the constituency vote was up slightly at 46.5% but their share of the regional vote went down by 2.3 percentage points to 41.7% resulting in a net loss of six seats.

Fortunately for me, I have a thick skin. Sadly, this is pretty much a requirement in politics these days, something which results in many people who might be assets to their country and communities refusing to serve.

So the Cybernats can call me whatever insulting names they like on twitter or elsewhere, as they did today and doubtless will again, it will not stop me from thinking that their obsession with calling another independence referendum rather than trying to sort out Scotland's problems is bad for Scotland.

And the evidence suggests that a lot of Scots, in fact probably a majority of them, agree with that opinion.

Christmas music spot: Bach and Mozart do Wham's "Last Christmas"

A superb mashup of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, Mozart's Divertimento in D major and Wham´s "Last Christmas"

Arranged and performed by Kjell Magne Robak. The entire track is created using only acoustic cello recordings.


Who do you trust?

I am grateful to Stephen Bush of the New Statesman for pointing out an interesting result in the Veracity index prepared by IPSOS-MORI based on a poll of which professions people do and don't trust to tell the truth.



It is not good news for politicians in general who come out even worse than bankers, estate agents or journalists.

Local councillors are the one group of politicians to whom that result does not apply - councillors are trusted to tell the truth by 43% of people, a disappointing result but far better than that recorded by any other group of politicians.

Government Ministers are trusted to tell the truth by only 20% of respondents: "politicians generally"  by only 15%.

It is interesting and surprising that ministers do so much better than politicians in general, though both do pretty badly.

But I'll tell you something I don't believe, and in refusing to believe it I am being entirely consistent:

I don't believe that as many as 49% of people trust pollsters.

If anyone still thinks you can trust the output of opinion polls, at least without a bigger margin of error than the published one, after the events of the last two years, that is a true triumph of hope over experience!

Granted, polls are better than nothing, or than relying on your gut instinct, or what the last two or three people you spoke to at the pub or even on the doorstep said. Sometimes they are the only evidence we have. But I think a wise person takes their output with a degree of healthy scepticism at the moment!

Sturgeon shows her desperation as the wheels come off the SNP bandwagon

I am sure Ruth Davidson will not have forgotten what Maggie Thatcher had to say about people who resort to personal attacks on their political opponents:



I mention this because SNP first minister Nicola Sturgeon has just made what has been described as a scathing attack on Ruth Davidson, accusing the Scottish Conservative leader of "selling out" over Brexit.

Apparently "selling out" is now SNP-speak for "respecting the result of a democratic vote."

It's been obvious for a while that the SNP are not very good at respecting the results of democratic votes when they are not on the winning side.

It would appear that Sturgeon is not very good at paying attention to what is going on, either, since one of her charges against Ruth was of having joined Conservatives such as the PM, Chancellor and Brexit secretary David Davies in supporting a so-called "hard Brexit."

Actually the papers these past three days have been full of suggestions which appear to have the support of all three of those ministers - specifically including David Davis who told the House of Commons that the UK might pay to keep single market access - that the government are moving towards trying to negotiate what the papers are calling "soft Brexit."

(Of course, Theresa May doesn't think the expressions "hard Brexit" and "soft Brexit" are very meaningful, indicating that she is aiming for what she calls "open Brexit" instead, but the point is that the government's emerging plans for Brexit negotiations do not appear to match Nicola Sturgeon's comments.)

There is a reason for Nicola Sturgeon's desperation - her plan to use the "Leave" vote as a vehicle to resurrect the Scottish Independence campaign is falling apart, having infuriated people on both sides of the Brexit debate.

Many Scots who voted for both "Better Together" and "Remain" - and a lot of people are in that category - are, as Ruth Davidson pointed out, annoyed at having their "Remain" vote abused to re-open the Independence question which most of them regard as closed by the first Independence Referendum.

But many supporters of independence from London who are also unimpressed by the idea of having Scotland run from Brussels will be unable to vote "Yes" in a second referendum on Independence if that is specifically called to obtain what is described with the oxymoron "Independence in Europe."

I have never been able to comprehend the SNP position that putting up with government from Westminster is tyranny but being subject to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Court in Brussels is a good thing.

To me both London and Brussels have major strengths and major weaknesses.

I would have preferred to keep both unions (though unlike the SNP I accept the result of democratic votes even when I don't like those results) but I cannot think of a single criticism of rule from Westminster and Whitehall which is not at least equally true of Brussels, if not more so.

A great many Scots who voted "Yes" in the independence referendum also voted "leave" and many of those people will be extremely torn if they are offered "independence" from Britain which is combined with remaining in or rejoining the EU.

A former SNP deputy leader who left the party over the SNP's support for EU membership in 1990, has said that he will be forced to vote No in a second independence referendum if one is called in the next two years on the basis of Scotland being part of the EU.

In a warning over the Scottish government’s Brexit strategy, Jim Fairlie told The Scotsman:


“By tying the second independence referendum to EU membership, it will split the national movement. It will split it right down the middle.

Because there are far more SNP supporters who are just as opposed to the EU as they are to being a member of the UK.”

“If Nicola Sturgeon ties the EU to a second independence referendum, she will lose, because people like me, who have fought for independence since I was 15 years of age, will vote no.

“By doing that she has made it impossible for a lot of nationalists to vote for independence, tied to the EU, because it’s not independence. What they’re offering is a choice between two unions, and that’s a false choice.”

He's certainly not alone in thinking this, and that's why the wheels are coming off the SNP bandwagon.

Quote of the Day 4th December 2016


Saturday, December 03, 2016

Christmas music spot: Angels From The Realms of Glory


Small Business Saturday

Today is Small Business Saturday, when we encourage people to support the small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) which are the bedrock of the British Economy.

The government is also improving it's procurement policies to take more advantage of the good deals offered to the taxpayer, and the support which can be given to local areas, by giving a share of business to SMEs:

What do we learn from the Richmond Park by-election?

Anthony Wells, author of the http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ blog, often writes that

"By elections tell us almost nothing about the state of public opinion."

The Richmond Park by-election is so atypical that it probably tells us less than most.

The constituency is estimated to have voted 72% to 28% to Remain in the referendum earlier this year, which makes it one of the thirty most pro-remain areas of the country and the fourth most pro-remain of all the constituencies in the country which elected a Conservative in 2015.

So it would be fair to say that the defeat of the pro-Brexit Zac Goldsmith in the by election he provoked in pro-remain Richmond Park does confirm one thing. If you are a high-profile supporter of one side on the most topical current national issue, triggering a by-election in a constituency where 72% of electors just voted for the other side can be described as a high-risk strategy.

Now, there's a surprise.

Wells suggests that this by-election was an "unusual event in an unusual area" which does, however, serve to illustrates a pattern in recent local government by elections, in which the Lib Dems have been doing well. He adds:

"My best guess is that the explanation for this is something along the lines of people having stopped wanting to punish the Lib Dems. Having seen them humiliated and almost wiped out of parliament, they think they’ve had their medicine and now when a nice Lib Dem candidate comes along in a by-election people are again willing to give them a hearing."

But the electorate giving them a hearing is one thing - it doesn't necessarily mean the Lib/Dems are poised to regain all the seats they lost in 2015.

For every former Lib/Dem constituency like Richmond Park which voted Remain and where the strong anti-Brexit line was apparently a vote winner, there are almost three which voted Leave. (It is estimated that of 27 seats which the Conservatives gained from the Lib/Dems in 2015, seven voted Remain but twenty had Leave majorities.)

The next election is not in the bag for any party. This week's by election was a good result for the Lib/Dems - provided their successful candidate can avoid more interviews like this one! But nobody can or should take any forthcoming election for granted.

Quote of the day 3rd December 2016


Friday, December 02, 2016

How many cows died to make the new fivers? It's a very round number.

The controversy over the Bank of England's new polymer five pound notes rumbles on ...

If anyone reading this is really bothered about the idea of touching or using a product made by a process which includes animal products, here is an article listing some of the thousands of products which you will also need to avoid as they contain as much or more animal fat than the new fivers.

It includes soap, detergent, candles, plastic bags, and almost anything made of latex or rubber. If you travelled home on either public transport or your own vehicle (including a bike) there is a very high probability that both your seat, and the tyres of any road vehicle you travelled in, contain or were made using material that was formerly part of something that once went "oink," "baa," or "moo."

Oh, and if you walked home and were not barefoot, the same applies to whatever you had on your feet.

How many cows would be required to obtain the tallow which wold be used to make enough notes to replace every fiver in  circulation?

There is a calculation here which suggests it the amount of tallow involved would be approximately half the fat which can be obtained from one cow.

 Of course, it is most unlikely that any cows or other animals were killed specifically to obtain the tallow for new five pound notes. It probably arose as by-products from some of the estimated 2.6 million cattle which are slaughtered for human consumption in Britain every year.

Christmas music spot: The Virgin Mary had a baby boy in Baroque style


Car Crash interview by the new Lib/Dem MP for Richmond Park

Well, that honeymoon didn't last long.

Julia Hartley Brewer interviewed Sarah Olney MP on the radio about her victory in the Richmond Park by-election yesterday.

After congratulating her on winning, Julia asked when the second by-election was going to be, since Sarah Olney's campaign seem to be in favour of holding votes again., at least if it is the EU referendum.

After less than three minutes of discussion along those lines the new MP fell silent, and then a Lib/Dem PR flack came on the line and said he was very sorry but Sarah Olney had to go to another interview.

You can listen to the entire car crash interview at http://linkis.com/talkradio.co.uk/news/iRr1J

Christmas is coming ...

Just received our first Christmas card of the 2016 Advent season.

Sir Robert and Lady Dulcie Atkins get the award for being the most organised of our friends, relations and colleagues this year ...

Quote of the day 2nd December 2016


Thursday, December 01, 2016

Christmas music spot: Silent night in a Baroque style

Schrödinger’s Brexit

There is a most amusing article in the "Buttonwood's Notebook" section of the Economist, which you can read in full on their website here. It is about economics and populism which draws on the parallels between Brexit and the "Schrödinger’s Cat" thought experiment.

Here are some extracts:

"SOMETIMES an analogy strikes you on the head with the force of a plummeting cricket ball. On Radio 4 yesterday, Hamish Johnson, editor of physicsworld.com, had the brilliant insight to explain the British government’s policy in terms of physics; Schrödinger’s Brexit.

The poor cat is stuck in a box with a radioactive substance and a poison; when the substance decays, the poison is released. Since it is impossible to predict when the substance will decay, the cat may be deemed simultaneously alive and dead. The only way to know is to open the box.

Before Britain voted to leave the European Union in June, then prime minister David Cameron promised to trigger Article 50 (the exit mechanism) immediately. Five months on, Article 50 has yet to be triggered. The new prime minister, Theresa May, has promised to do so by the end of March.
 
But in terms of what Britain wants, we have heard nothing but platitudes: “Brexit means Brexit”, or “have our cake and eat it”. Pushed for details, Ms May has said there will be “no running commentary” on negotiations. In fact, it is quite easy to do a running commentary. Since the other EU members won’t talk until Article 50 has been triggered, there have been no negotiations."
"Among the many important questions to be answered are whether Britain will stay in the single market, or the customs union, and whether there will be a transitional period after Britain leaves the EU during which it would retain existing access (in order to reduce the economic disruption). The rationale for this silence is that Britain does not want to “reveal its hand” before negotiating starts."

This doesn’t really make sense since it will have to reveal its hand when Article 50 is triggered and the negotiations will last two years; everyone in the EU will have plenty of time to react and counter Britain’s offer.

"Anyway, until such decisions are made, Britain is like the cat; simultaneously inside and outside the single market and customs union. This has the advantage for the government of allowing it to pretend that the “have cake and eat it” solution can occur; no trade-offs need to be made between sovereignty and economics. But were the government to open the box, to declare for one option over another, the full costs (political or economic) will be revealed. The longer the box can be kept closed, the better."

"The analogy can be used more broadly for Trumpian-style populists. Such politicians promote the idea that there are simple solutions to national problems that involve no trade-offs; if only existing leaders had been better negotiators, our country would have had a better deal. It is easy to spout this stuff from the sidelines; harder to achieve when actually in government."

FIghting for maternity services at WCH

As I explained in a column in the Whitehaven News today, I took the opportunity last weekend to lobby a government minister in the department of health about the "success regime" proposals for healthcare in Cumbria, and particularly about maternity at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH).

He listened carefully, and then emphasized to me that the local NHS have not completed their deliberations yet and that ministers certainly have not made up their minds on any proposals which may come out of the present consultations and have not even been put to them. He stressed that anyone who has concerns and issues with the proposals should put them forward.
 
I stress this point because I know that many local residents are afraid that all the decisions may have already been taken. However much people at local and national level may have views about what they have heard so far, they are legally required to listen to and take into accounts the points made during the consultation and the subsequent process before any decision becomes final. I don’t believe any decisions are set in tablets of stone yet and we can, and must, put our concerns forward to use this opportunity.

If you have not already done so, please make sure you respond to the Success regime consultation before the consultation ends a week before Christmas.

You can do so online at

 http://www.wnecumbria.nhs.uk/consultation-document/how-to-have-your-say/

Do the people who are protesting about £5 notes make a habit of eating them?

I can understand why the suggestion that cartridges issued to British Sepoy units in India were greased with animal fat from pigs or cows helped touch off the Indian Mutiny in 1857.

In the 19th century, to load a firearm such as the new pattern 1853 Enfield rifled musket with a cartridge, you had to bite it. A reasonable person can see how Hindus who have a moral objection to eating cows which they see as sacred, or Muslims who object to eating pigs which their religion classes as unclean, might have an problem with that.

One could also understand if a vegetarian had a similar position with biting into a cartridge greased with animal fat.

But why on earth would anyone need to put the Bank of England's new plastic five pound notes anywhere near their mouth?

Surely the vegetarians and vegans who have written demanding that these notes should be destroyed because a very small amount of tallow is used in the process of creating the polymer they are made from do not eat five pound notes?

Innovia, the company that makes the banknotes said it used the substance to give the notes their anti-static and anti-slip properties, and pointed out that thousands of products contain tallow. It could not confirm which animals the fat had come from.

I really don't see that this should be a problem, but if anyone reading this objects to holding the new polymer five pound note and wants to get rid of your stock of them, please feel free to send them to me and I will be very happy to find an alternative use for them for you.

Quote of the day 1st December 2016

 
 
 



This quote is from the American economist Thomas Sowell

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas music spot: Bach's Christmas Oratorio, opening chorus

This is usually sung in the original German, even when being sun by English speakers as here, so it was an interesting change to hear this nice cheerful recording in English. (The accompaniment, however, uses period instruments.)


Quote of the day 29th November 2016


Why talk of a further referendum on the EU is a really bad idea

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian makes the interesting argument here that a second referendum which was about approving the terms of brexit, rather than attempting to reverse the previous referendum result, might be a good democratic idea.

He has a point in principle. but we need to bear in mind the impact that any talk of a further referendum will have on the already difficult Brexit negotiations Britain will be holding with the European Union after article 50 is triggered.

If the other EU member states, and the commission, think that Britain will be holding another plebiscite after these negotiations, and that there is any possibility whatsoever that this referendum might result in Britain not leaving after all, they will have zero incentive to offer Britain a deal worth having and a strong incentive to offer us terrible terms.

It is worth emphasising that a significant chunk of the EU's leadership and some important figures in other national capitals do not really get what happened on 23rd June and still think there is a chance that Britain's decision to leave the EU might be reversed. My concern is that anyone who talks of the possibility of a second referendum, even if they don't mean it as a way of cancelling the first one, might give those people a strengthened impression that being as difficult as possible in the negotiations will increase the chance of Britain deciding not to leave the EU after all.

I don't believe that the people who talk of a second referendum are deliberately trying to sabotage the UK's negotiating position. I do believe that if such talk were picked up and taken seriously in Brussels of the other capitals of Europe it would have that effect.

Assuming that the EU negotiators would rather Britain did not leave - a pretty safe assumption - then if we were expected to have a second referendum after the negotiations, and if people on the continent thought there was any chance that the outcome of such a referendum might be the cancellation of the decision to leave, then for the negotiators to offer the UK a truly awful Brexit deal would be the obvious way for them to try to bludgeon people into voting Remain.

The tactic almost certainly would not work, but it is in the UK's national interest to avoid any possibility of giving the impression that this tactic might work. That is why much of the talk from various quarters of a further referendum on the EU, particularly from those who are looking for a way to cancel the result of the one on 23rd June, is potentially very counterproductive.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gove starts rewriting history again

Former Education and then Justice Secretary Michael Gove has been attacking "experts" again though this time he said that his specific targets were economists and pollsters.

Probably the very worst moment during a referendum campaign in which far too many people on both sides of the referendum argument disgraced themselves, was when Michael Gove compared ten Nobel Prize winning economists who supported "Remain" to the Nazi apologists who denounced Einstein on Hitler's orders.

He did at least have the decency to apologise but that does not alter the fact that the comment was inexcusable.

Now he has come out with the following:

"Economists have to recognise that their profession is in crisis: that the economic profession failed to predict the 2008 economic crisis, that economists in the past argued almost to a man and woman that we should enter the single currency, that they were proved wrong, and then professionally they were proven wrong about the impact of Britain voting to leave the European Union."


In the interests of full disclosure let me make clear that I am an economist who was a vehement opponent of British entry into the single currency from the early 90s until the issue was made irrelevant on June 23rd this year, and that I was taught economics by, and have huge respect for, one of the Nobel prize winning economists who Michael Gove compared to a Nazi.

Of the comments he made above, the only one which comes close to being true is that the economic profession failed to predict the 2008 economic crisis. Even this is a gross oversimplification.

There were plenty of economists who warned that the investment of huge sums in markets like the sub-prime market on the assumption that because they were going up they would continue to go up was an enormous gamble. There were also many economists who warned that Britain was borrowing too much and that when a recession came the results would be very painful.

And the majority of economists warned that when Gordon Brown claimed to have abolished Boom and Bust he was talking nonsense and that sooner or later there would be another recession.

So although the economics profession didn't predict the exact date and severity of the crash, they certainly did warn of the rocks that Brown, and some banks, were steering towards.

As for the claim that "almost to a man and woman" economists argued that Britain should scrap the pound and enter the Euro this is a considerable exaggeration - much like the £350 million claim.

As the Economist explained here during the referendum campaign, they were very cautious about joining. They did a survey of 164 economists in 1999 which found that about two thirds of economists were in favour of replacing the pound with the Euro but around a third were opposed.

If Gove had said that "a majority of economists" were in favour of joining that would have been fair enough, but I think most reasonable  people would say that referring to a profession as having supported something "almost to a man and woman" when around a third of them opposed it is a significant exaggeration.

The evidence suggests that those of us who opposed British entry to the Euro were right and those who supported it wrong, but "proved" is, again, stretching the English language a little. And obviously, the third of us who did oppose it certainly have not been proved wrong.

In terms of the consequences of the vote, the great majority of economists were certainly of the opinion that actually leaving the EU would have a net negative effect on the British economy but obviously that has not been proved right or wrong because we have not left yet.

Admittedly, those who suggested that the British economy might go straight into recession merely as a result of the vote were obviously wrong, but they were very far from being the whole economics profession. My recollection is that those who pushed that line were politicians, not economists.

And those economists who said that the vote itself might cause some uncertainty and disruption to the economy have been proved right, not wrong, although the damage has been less than most economic forecasters expected. The pound dropped to a 30-year low immediately after the vote and is 13% lower than it was just before the referendum: economic growth dropped from 0.7% in the quarter before the vote to 0.5% in the quarter afterwards.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I spent the referendum trying to correct some of the most egregious false statements by both sides: there is a set of links to all the posts I published correcting errors by both sides here.

Personally I think the more extreme views from economists and politicians alike on both the Remain and Leave sides significantly overstated their respective cases during and since the referendum and although it is far, far too early to leap to definitive conclusions, what evidence there is so far very much supports that view.

Michael Gove said that the since the referendum he had reflected on his mistakes and encouraged economists and pollsters to do the same. On the basis of what he said today perhaps he should reflect on his mistakes some more.

Ed Balls' extraordinary run on Strictly Come Dancing comes to an end

Ed Balls has provided a huge amount of entertainment on Strictly Come Dancing this year.

Now the first nine words of that sentence are something I had never thought I would write.

But at long last, like the voters of Morley and Outwood, the Strictly Come Dancing voters have failed to save him.

Ironically, after the Strictly Judges had made little secret that they wanted rid of him for ten rounds, when he finally faced a run off he lost to another judge - Robert Rinder.

If the voters of Hayes and Harlington show the good judgement at the next election that the voters of Morley and Outwood did in 2015, perhaps we will get to see if the present shadow chancellor is any good at dancing.

One thing is for sure - he wouldn't be any good at running the economy!

Advent Sunday reflection

Today is Advent Sunday. After weeks and weeks of Christmas stuff in some of the shops, Christmas lights going up and Christmas adverts, we are finally really into the Christmas season and these things are no longer jumping the gun.

Every year there are stories - most of them grossly exaggerated - of councils and employers discouraging or amending Christmas celebrations in order to avoid giving offence to religious minorities;.

This year the Chairman of the Equalities and Human Right commission has specifically called on people not to do this: David Isaacs asked for a "Common Sense" approach instead,

"Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and it shouldn't be suppressed through fear of offending" he said the Commission has set out advice on how to deal with the practicalities of how to let those who wish to celebrate Christmas do so without offending others or discriminating.

He is absolutely right. The overwhelming majority of British Muslims, Jews, Hindus, members of other non-Christian religions and indeed atheists not only have no problem whatsoever with Christians celebrating Christmas, most of them enthusiastically take part in and enjoy those celebrations themselves.

I know plenty of Muslims and Jews and I have NEVER met a single believer in either faith or any other non-Christian religion who objects to the celebration of Christmas.

And as someone who tries hard to be a devout Christian I am sure that, despite all the commercialisation of Christmas and however much the secular celebration of that festival can obscure the real Christian message, I cannot believe that people of all faiths and none celebrating a season of peace, goodwill and happiness at the time Christians remember the birth of Jesus is something that He would object to.

The only people who are pleased when well meaning councils, employers, or official bodies try to play down or reinvent Christmas to "avoid giving offence" are far-right extremists, who delight in exploiting such actions to stir up nativism, racial hatred and a persecution complex.

Let Christmas be a season of peace and goodwill, as the early church intended but, surely, this is a message which people of all faiths and none can also sign up to.

Advent Sunday music spot: The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came (Kings)

Quote of the day 27th November 2016


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Foxhouses Road is now open again

Just to confirm, the gas leak in Foxhouses Road Whitehaven has been fixed and the road is open to traffic again.

Second Saturday music spot: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata


Whitehaven Academy

I was a governor of Whitehaven School, as it was at the time I joined the governing body, for a period of about six years ending twenty-two months ago, in January 2015.

Throughout the time I was a governor the staff and senior leadership team were working hard to face enormous challenges, such as the fact that the buildings were old and in great need of new investment. Ofsted reports and inspections over the period that I was a governor identified a series of challenges though they also recognised the work staff and in particular the then head teacher, Lynette Norris who was in post for the majority of my time as a governor, were doing to improve the school.
 
Ofsted reports such as this one from 2013 recorded those efforts and made comments like this:

"The school’s leaders and managers, along with the governing body, are very determined to bring about rapid improvements and this is proving very successful.

The monitoring of the progress students make is very rigorous and accurate. This has resulted in a large rise in achievement. Many more students are making progress in line with that found nationally."

That inspection also found that there was much more which needed to be done and the school leadership would have been the first to agree this. All the steps which were taken over the eighteen months between that report and the end of my time on the governing body by the head, the SLT and the governors were intended to deliver those improvements.

At the time the school moved over to Academy status it was indeed recognised, as was mentioned in a statement released yesterday on the school website here, by the Bright Tribe chain who are the Academy's sponsors, that addressing the problems of the school would be a five-year challenge which would require significant investment.

I cannot speak for what has been happening in the school since I stepped down as a governor nearly two years ago, but I can say that in the period immediately after the transition to Whitehaven Academy, Bright Tribe did indeed put significant amounts of money into the school. I have no reason to doubt their statement that they have put £400,000 of investment into Whitehaven Academy and are planning a further £500,000 of investment over the next twelve months.

Everyone who is or has been associated with the school will be incredibly disappointed with the outcome of the most recent inspection, in October 2016, the report of which was also published yesterday and can be found here.

The Ofsted report notes that at the time of their October inspection the new headteacher, Mr W Turner, had only been in post for six weeks. The report says that

"he has worked tirelessly and has already brought about some positive improvements. He has introduced new behaviour management systems, along with intensive, robust monitoring of the school’s work and evaluation of its quality. He has already formed a strong picture of teaching across the school and knows where it needs to improve. The sponsor has had success in supporting the headteacher to raise attendance, which has seen a significant improvement this year to date.

Staff say that the headteacher is already making a difference and that morale has improved under his leadership. New performance management arrangements for staff are rigorous. The headteacher is making strenuous efforts to engage with parents and the local community, and a number of parents expressed confidence in his leadership. Several parents commented on the increased momentum towards improvement in the current term."

I am sure everyone in the local community will wish Mr Turner, the staff, and all those who have the task of supporting the school every success in turning round the issues found by the inspection.