Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Monday, October 26, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 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:
Saturday, October 24, 2020
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!
Friday, October 23, 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.
Thursday, October 22, 2020
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.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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.
"No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy"
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
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.
Monday, October 19, 2020
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.
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.
Sunday, October 18, 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
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.
"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
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.
If it is true they are doing the world, including the citizens of Russia, a great disservice.
"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.")