Tuesday, March 19, 2019

West Cumbria Mining application to be determined today.

The West Cumbria Mining planning application for a new coal mine in the Whitehaven and St Bees area comes to the CCC development control committee today at County Hall in Kendal. The meeting starts at 10 am. The report to the committee can be read on the County Council website here.

I will be attending the meeting as one of the two local members in whose divisions the application is located, and have registered to speak.

Council officers are recommending that the application be approved, subject to a submission from Natural England which is still awaited, with a section 106 agreement and a long list of conditions.

Quote of the day 19th March 2019

Monday, March 18, 2019

Action to reduce the risk of Climate Change

Key facts:

2018 was the cleanest and greenest year ever for electricity in the UK and renewable electricity generation is now at a record highm supplying 31.7% of Britain's electricity.

Since the Conservatives have been in government we have invested more than £52 billion in renewable energy, reduced UK greenhouse gas emissions by 23 per cent and committed to achieving net zero emissions – ensuring cleaner air for the next generation.

In last Wednesday’s Spring Statement, the Chancellor announced a range of new green growth measures, including -
  • steps to enable passengers to have the option of ‘zero carbon travel’, 
  • support for businesses to cut their carbon emissions and their energy bills and 
  • the decarbonisation of gas supplies by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid. 

Why this matters:

We agree that global warming and climate change are some of the biggest issues our country faces. By investing in green industries and decarbonising our economy, the Conservatives will leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.

Improving Pensions

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has announced an innovative new pensions scheme to deliver improved returns for millions of savers.

Key facts:

The Conservative government's radical reforms in saving for retirement could see incomes rise by 7 per cent a year. The plans are backed by the Communications and Workers Union after they were successfully used by Royal Mail.
With the new schemes, known as Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) schemes, members get more certainty in their retirement, with regular pay-outs. And unlike traditional final salary pension schemes, those pay-outs aren’t affected if your employer goes under.

CDC pension schemes offer a regular retirement income by allowing group contributions to be pooled together and invested to give members of the scheme a higher final benefit level.

The new schemes are expected to appeal to companies who want to offer strong pensions provisions to employees without having to hang on to enormous pension liabilities.

Why this matters

If you’ve worked hard all your life, you deserve to have a retirement you can look forward to with confidence. With our radical reforms, we’re determined to make the UK the best country in the world to grow old.

Quote of the day 18th March 2019

It is often observed that Common sense isn't.

Voltaire wrote:

Will Rogers is also credited with a similar quote.

The first person known to have made a similar comment appears, however to be Nicholas Amhurst (1697 – 1742) who wrote “Terræ-filius or The Secret History of the University of Oxford In Several Essays” published in 1726, in which is found the following:

"There is not a more uncommon thing in the world than common sense."

Here's the full quote:

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday music spot: "O thou the central orb" (by Charles Wood)

Quote of the day 17th March 2019

"Forced to choose, I would rather deal with the risk of staying in the customs union from 2021," (if the 'backstop' is triggered under the May deal) "than be forced into a permanent customs union by either opposition MPs or the EU ion a matter of weeks.

"Having spent so much of my life campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, and having given birth to the Brexit bible, I hope that the MPs I campaigned alongside in the referendum will see the grave risks and back the deal.

"My treasure trove of Eurosceptic mementos shows that some of the most vocal critics of May's deal once proposed even softer forms of Brexit. And the political declaration provides the scope for the more refined form of Brexit outlined in 'Change or Go.'

"Now that MPs have ruled out leaving without a deal, and since I know the 'Remain' majority would accept even the most risible conditions from the EU to get an extension, the best way forward is to support the withdrawal agreement and acknowledge the prize that is still on offer. It is far from perfect, but I would rather opt for the risk of a customs union later - a risk that has diminished in recent weeks - than the very real risk of a permanent customs union now."

(Matthew Elliott, who was chief executive of both Business for Britain and Vote Leave, writing in today's Sunday Times urging MPs to vote for the May Deal because if it is not passed, quote, "Brexit probably won't happen."

The "Brexit bible" to which he refers is the "Change or Go" report published in 2015 by Business for Britain.)  

Cleaning up the High Streets.

Yesterday, to mark High Street Saturday, the Communities Secretary announced £9.75 million to help local areas clean up their high streets, making them more attractive places to work and visit.

More than £12,000 of this funding will come to Copeland Borough to clean up our high streets - making them an even better place to live, work and shop.

Key facts:

Every local authority in England will receive a share of the fund to back their efforts in cleaning up high streets and town centres.

  • All councils, working with community groups, can use the cash boost to support volunteers, buy tools to clean up their high streets and provide training for residents on how to remove graffiti or tackle fly-tipping.
  • The funding will give local authorities an opportunity to do more, encourage communities to take greater pride in their local area and support campaigns such as Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean Campaign running from 22 March to 23 April.
  • This builds on our strong support for the high street by cutting small retailers’ business rates relief bills by a third, building on over £13 billion of business rates support since 2016, a £675 million Future High Streets Fund to improve infrastructure and access to high streets and relaxing planning rules to support new homes on our high streets.

Why this matters:

High streets are at the centre of our communities, and as places that are well loved, they sometimes need a bit of a spruce up to look their very best. This funding will ensure that we keep high streets in looking their best, making it easier to encourage more people to return to the high street.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Helping young people leaving care to get a University place

The government is calling on universities to do more to support young people leaving care, so that those in the toughest circumstances have the same opportunities to succeed as their peers.

Key facts
  • The government has published new guidance to improve the support available to care leavers, from year-round accommodation to pastoral care. 
  • Currently, just 6 per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 go into higher education, and those that do are nearly twice as likely to drop out than their peers. 
  • This week the Universities Minister and the Children and Families Minister have published new guidance to encourage universities - especially the most selective and best-resourced - to think more about the offer they make to care leavers. 
  • This builds on the launch of the Care Leaver Covenant, which sets out pledges made by the Government, businesses, charities, and voluntary sector groups to provide work and education-based opportunities to young people leaving the care system. 

Why this matters:

Everyone, including young people leaving care, should have the opportunity and the support to thrive in university and go on to succeed. Care leavers taking up a place at university face different pressures to their peers, but we are determined to stop them from dropping out due to challenges beyond their control.

Tomorrow is #HighStreetSaturday

Tomorrow, Saturday 16th March,  is the first ever #HighStreetSaturday, a chance to celebrate the place of high streets at the heart of our communities across the country.

I will be supporting my local shops in Bigrigg, Mirehouse, St Bees and Whitehaven.

Key facts:

  • Our high streets are the backbone of our economy, delivering local jobs and stronger communities. However, we recognise that it is becoming harder for businesses on high streets across the country to compete with out-of-town shopping centres and online retailers. 
  • To face up to this challenge, the Conservative government has delivered over £10 billion of business rates support since 2016 and is working closely with retail leaders and industry experts to make our town centres fit for the future. 

In addition to this, on #HighStreetSaturday, Conservatives are encouraging people to:
  • Pledge to shop locally. 
  • Ensure their local councils apply for the Future High Streets Fund, provided by the Government to ensure high streets and town centres are fit for the future. 

Why this matters:

High streets lie at the heart of our communities and local economies, creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and injecting billions of pounds into our economy.

Massacre in New Zealand

To hear of scores of innocent people being gunned down at or outside their place of worship would he a horrible atrocity wherever it happened, but of all the shocking places to for such a terrible thing to occur, New Zealand must be at the top of the list.

I have family in New Zealand - a second cousin is a member of Dunedin City Council on South Island - and I've never met a Kiwi who wasn't a nice person.

There is a lot more which will undoubtedly come out about this atrocity. But today thoughts and prayers are with the 49 people who died as a result of the terrorist attack on two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, with those who were injured, and with their friends and relatives.

Nothing can possibly justify such a barbarous act of evil as shooting innocent people at and outside their place of worship, whether it is Muslims at a mosque, Jews at a Synagogue, Christians at a church, or the followers of any other religion. I hope the people responsible for this dreadful atrocity are caught, convicted and locked away so that innocent people are protected from them for a very long time.

Racism and prejudice are unacceptable whoever it is aimed at and whoever spreads it. When that prejudice is carried to the point where people are murdered for their beliefs it is not just evil in itself - it is doubly evil because all too often it contributes to a cycle of rage, hate and revenge  and is used by extremists of other kinds to justify similar acts of barbarism against other innocent people in the name of retribution.

Whatever the motives of those behind this dastardly attack, they will be condemned by all decent people.

No true follower of the deity known as Allah by Muslims, God by Christians, and Jehovah by Jews - and by the way, all three religions worship the same god - would ever countenance acts of murder against the others or against the followers of any other religion, or against those who have no religious faith.

What those religions actually teach is to live at peace and put aside hatred for love.

Dean Swift once wrote of the problem of "enough religion to make us hate, not enough to make us love."

That is the issue in a nutshell. Whatever we believe, we must all show more tolerance for the views of others. While being vigilant against those who cannot bring themselves to abandon hate and prejudice, so that we are all protected against them.

Quote of the day 15th March 2019

"Brexiteers must now grapple with the trickiest game of risk that they have ever faced."

(heading on a Telegraph article by Professor Patrick Minford.)

The interesting thing about this expression of opinion is that Professor Minford is one of very few Leave supporters - in fact he is the only one I can immediately bring to mind, although I am sure there are a few others - who can truthfully claim to have argued in support of a "no deal" or "WTO" Brexit before the referendum

Friday music spot: "Virus Alert" by Wierd Al Yankovic

Anyone reading this who has been a user of email for long enough will have had some experience both of real computer viruses and of emails with false warnings about imaginary ones.

Real viruses like "I Love You," "Melissa," "My Doom" and "Blaster Worm" did a great deal of damage:

 - then there was a subsequent epidemic of hysterical hoax emails warning of the dire consequences of opening supposedly destructive computer viruses like "Good Times," "Join the Crew", and "Win a Holiday" which did not in fact exist.

This song parodies some of those warnings - but be warned that the music is catchy enough that if you click on this you may find that it's hard to quickly forget it ...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday music spot: Help! (The Beatles)

Another golden oldie for which the title and some of the words appear curiously apposite.

Offered in the same spirit as last night that in difficult times you need a sense of humour to keep going.

Iain Martin's message to his fellow brexiteers

It has been obvious for months that there is a large majority in the House of Commons against a "No deal" Brexit. The only surprise about last night's vote was that it was so narrow. (a winning margin of
four votes.)

The vote today to request a short delay to Brexit was even less of a surprise, but it is far from certain that the necessary unanimous agreement of the other 27 EU member states

The fact that the vote was so narrow probably reflects the fact that there are quite a few MPs who really don't want a "No Deal" Brexit but understand enough about how negotiations work to realise that voting, even symbolically, to take that option off the table might further reduce Britain's negotiating leverage in Brussels.

There is still a material possibility that a "no deal" Brexit might happen by accident, but there is clearly a majority in parliament, probably a majority of a lot more than four in the House of Commons, who will vote to prevent that outcome if they can.

Ian Martin, who is a strong Leave supporter, had this message for his fellow Brexiteers:

"Get real Brexiteers – vote for the deal next week or see Article 50 revoked."

He argues:

"The purist position strikes me as quite obviously deeply dangerous, opening up the possibility of Article 50 being revoked and the Brexiteers relying on a populist, cleansing explosion sweeping away all the grinning Remainers who goad Leave voters.

It’s not that simple though. The die hard Brexiteers talk a lot about what the British people feel. History suggests they – the voters – can make fools of those predicting an uprising. They voted by a majority for Brexit but many might at an election shrug at the ditching of Brexit. Or a quarter will be furious, which is enough to let in a Labour party led by Marxist maniacs. Why roll the dice when a form of Brexit is there now to be taken?"

Maternity care at WCH.

Today's Quote of the Day was from Stephen Eames of North Cumbria's NHS about maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH).

As the 12 month review comes to an end the NHS has been making very positive noises about the future of consultant-led maternity at WCH.

I think the whole of the main body of the press release from North Cumbria Health and Care is worth quoting here. It reads as follows.

"Maternity 12 Month Review Period To End Amid Positive Progress

The 12 month review of maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven will end this month.

There has been positive progress over the year, and there will now be a period of review before NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Governing Body makes any decision about the long term future of services.

Consultant-led maternity services and the development of ‘alongside midwife-led care’ will continue to operate and there will be no changes in the coming months simply because the 12 month period has ended. There will be a review and a report to support a decision early in the summer.

There has been some improvement in recruitment to maternity services as well as the recent appointment of paediatric consultants; this was an area that was making the sustainability of services challenging. 

Maternity and Paediatrics services were also rated as good in a recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) report, and the most recent CQC national survey of patient experience, where women were asked about their experiences during labour and birth and the quality of antenatal and postnatal support, rated the Trust as good, or as better, than the national average.

Work with the community and Third Sector through co-production has become established and some areas are making a real difference.

Stephen Eames, who is the leader of the North Cumbria Health and Care System and chief executive of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said:
“There has certainly been positive progress over the last 18 months. The CQC report published in November was very positive about the services and about how women feel about their care, and we are making some real progress in recruitment. We are also working very productively with the community to support maternity and paediatric services. It hasn’t been easy to establish a new way of working in co-production but we are making real strides in some areas.”

Since the Healthcare For The Future consultation in Autumn 2016 there has been considerable work to established alongside midwife-led care at both West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven and the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. In particular there has been the involvement of local new mums through the Maternity Voices Partnership.

There has been collaborative work to develop audits of the new service and on areas of service improvement, including establishing Short Stay Paediatric Assessment Units at both hospitals, which are proving popular with patients and their families as well as staff as it allows children and young people to be seen and reviewed more quickly. 

There has also been the development of co-production work with the community and staff. 

The Venerable Richard Pratt, Archdeacon of West Cumberland chairs the Working Together Steering Group. He said: 

“The conversation has changed dramatically over the last 18 months, and while there has been more progress in some areas than others, the value of working together collaboratively is really paying off. There is still a long way to go and we are working to review of this type of ‘working together’, looking at how effective we have been, and how we can improve co-production in future.”

The CCG Governing Body agreed a 12 month review of progress around the longterm sustainability of consultant-led services as part of its decision making process in March 2017. This involves a group of independent clinical experts – the Independent Review Group (IRG) chaired by Bill Kirkup.

The 12 month time-limited review period started on April 1 2018 and will end on 31 March 2019. The process of reviewing data will continue for some time after this.

It is expected that the IRG will complete its review of data collected to the end of March and make recommendations in May or June. It will then be considered by the CCG Governing Body meeting in public in early summer.

Jon Rush, the chair of NHS North Cumbria CCG, said: “We were very clear when we said we wanted to really test the sustainability of consultant-led maternity services over a longer period, and now that the 12 month period is coming to an end we look forward to receiving recommendations from the Independent Review Group about the progress that has been made. We will then reach a decision about the future of those services and we anticipate this being in the early summer.

“We know a lot of people have worked very hard to make progress, including community groups in west Cumbria such as the Voices group, who have got involved in co-production, and we are grateful for all the hard work that has taken place.”

We will continue to update our community on progress and the final decision will be clearly signposted ahead of that decision being made. Until then services will continue as they are. "

The whole of the press release including the notes to editors can be found on my NHS and hospitals blog here.

The worst of all worlds

Last night's vote by the House of Commons, by the unexpectedly small margin of four votes, to take "No Deal" off the table does not actually do so.

Because of the way Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is drafted, there are only two certain ways to take "no deal" off the table.
  • One is to pass a deal. 
  • The other is to revoke the Article 50 notification.
Since the motion passed by the House of Commons yesterday does neither of those, it is merely a declaratory statement which as far as I can see has the negative impact of voting for No Deal but not the benefit.

It will reduce still further any pressure on the EU to make further concessions.

But it doesn't actually take "No Deal" off the table, and there is still the possibility that a "No Deal" Brexit could come about by accident.

In this sense last night's vote was the worst of all worlds.

That the House of Commons would vote this way was not a surprise - this was always the likely consequence of the failure to agree a deal last night. But MPs on all sides need to think very carefully about the consequences of their actions.

Today MPs will vote on whether to ask the EU to agree a short deferral of article 50. For this to be agreed requires unanimous agreement by all 27 other member states. If we make such a request it can be very far from taken for granted that it will be agreed.

Quote of the day 14th March 2019

“There has certainly been positive progress over the last 18 months. The CQC report published in November was very positive about the services and about how women feel about their care, and we are making some real progress in recruitment. 

We are also working very productively with the community to support maternity and paediatric services. It hasn’t been easy to establish a new way of working in co-production but we are making real strides in some areas.” 

Stephen Eames, leader of the North Cumbria Health and Care System and chief executive of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, quoted in a press release by North Cumbria NHS Health and Care, about the conclusion of the 12 month review into consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital.

This and other recent statements from Stephen Eames have been widely interpreted as strong hints that the review is likely to confirm that consultant-maternity at West Cumberland Hospital is sustainable and will continue.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A song for Brexit: The Rolling Stones, "19th Nervous Breakdown"

Sometimes the only way to deal with a difficult situation and retain your sanity is to be keep a sense of humour.

In that spirit, as parliament struggles to agree on a Brexit strategy for Britain, my midweek music spot if from the Rolling Stones - "Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown."

Spring Statement

Today in the Spring Statement the Chancellor reported on the progress of the British economy and what the Conservative government is doing to take it further forward.
  • Under the Conservatives Britain has a resilient economy which is creating jobs and delivering the fastest rate of wage growth in over a decade. 
  • The deficit this year is £3 billion lower than last forecast and debt is lower in every year – with lower taxes on families and more being invested in our public services. 
  • This Spring Statement sets out our plan for a bright future for Britain – creating a digital economy people can have confidence in, redoubling our commitment to skills and world-class infrastructure, staying at the cutting edge of clean growth and tackling the big challenges like knife crime head on.

Britain's potential is limitless, but we can only achieve it by building a consensus for a deal to exit the EU in an orderly way, to a future relationship that will allow us to flourish.


The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has published its outlook for the economy and public finances. It shows a growing and resilient economy and a thriving jobs market with wages on the rise – a solid foundation on which to build Britain’s economic future.

Key facts:

  • Wages will rise faster than previously expected. The OBR have revised up wage growth in every year to 2023, with wages growing faster than prices in each year and reaching a record high rate of 3.3 per cent growth in 2023. 
  • Employment will continue to rise. The OBR expect to see 600,000 more jobs by 2023, meaning in 2010, there will be 4.1 million more people in work by 2023. 
  • The economy will grow in every year. The OBR expect the economy to grow at 1.2 per cent this year, faster than Germany, accelerating to 1.4 per cent in 2020 and to 1.6 per cent in each of the final three years. 

Key points on public finances:

The deficit has been revised down in each of the next five years. The deficit will be £3 billion lower than expected this year, down to 1.1 per cent of GDP from almost 10 per cent under Labour.
Projected National debt has also been revised down in every year for the next five years and is set to fall as a share of GDP in every year over the next five years, from 82.2 per cent next year to 73 per cent in 2023-24.

This is the first sustained fall in the national debt as a share of GDP in a generation.


We want to build an economy fit for the future. To succeed in the world and secure higher wages and living standards for people at home, we need to embrace the future, investing in infrastructure, skills and the new technologies which will shape the global economy.

That’s why today the government is:

Cementing our position as a destination for new tech. To maintain the UK’s lead in advanced technologies we will invest
  • £79 million in a new supercomputer in Edinburgh, 
  • £45 million in research in genomics, 
  • £81 million in a new laser centre 
  • and reaffirm our commitment to the JET nuclear fusion reactor. 

Carrying out a study of digital advertising later this year to ensure our digital markets are competitive and consumers get the level of choice they deserve.
  • As recommended by Professor Jason Furman, the Competition and Markets Authority will carry out a formal study of digital advertising. 
  • This follows our announcement at the Budget that we will consult on a new Digital Services Tax to ensure large multinational businesses make a fair contribution to supporting vital public services. 

Continuing to welcome the best and brightest to Britain. From the autumn, PhD level occupations will be exempt from the Tier 2 visa cap, and we will update the immigration rules so researchers conducting fieldwork overseas are not penalised if they apply to settle in the UK.

Building world-class infrastructure. Ten English cities will receive a share of £60 million for transport projects through the Transforming Cities Fund, and we will boost digital connectivity by rolling out fibre broadband to nine more local authority areas who will each receive a share of £53 million. The Chancellor has also reiterated our commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Forging new partnerships to build a Global Britain. We will set up a new export finance facility to provide more flexible short-term support to UK exporters as we leave the EU.

Supporting families. Debt is starting to fall for the first time in a generation, but getting to this point wasn’t easy, and families have felt the squeeze. After a decade of fixing the economy, people need to know that their hard work has paid off.

That’s why today the Conservatives are:

Restoring the dream of home ownership for millions of young people.
  • A new £3 billion Affordable Homes Guarantee scheme will deliver around 30,000 affordable homes. 
  • We will also introduce a new permitted development right to allow upward extensions without the need for planning permission. 

Boosting wages and cutting taxes.
  • We are increasing the National Living Wage this April to £8.21, an annual pay rise of £690 for a full-time worker. 
  • The Personal Allowance will also rise in April to £12,500 and Higher Rate Threshold to £50,000, cutting tax for 32 million people. And we will undertake a review of the latest international evidence on minimum wage. 

Tackling period poverty. We’ll provide free sanitary products for girls in secondary school, so no girl is ever forced to miss out on her education.

Supporting public services.
Our balanced approach is dealing with Britain’s debt whilst delivering the highest sustained levels of public capital investment in 40 years – at the Budget the Chancellor announced public spending will increase as we set out our priorities for the future.

Tackling knife crime with £100 million of new funding for police.
  • A further £100 million funding will be available to police forces in the worst affected areas in England and Wales for knife and violent crime. 
  • The majority of the funding is being provided to Police and Crime Commissioners for the seven police forces where serious violence levels are highest, and which make up around 70 per cent of knife crime. 
  • Those forces cover London, West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester. 

Building world-class public services by increasing spending by above inflation.
  • In the last two years alone, we’ve made the biggest pledge of any government since 1945 to our NHS, put £2 billion more into schools and police budgets will increase by up to £970 million this year. 
  • From 2020, at this year’s Spending Review overall public spending will increase above inflation, with more for frontline services that we all rely on. 


We must apply the creativity of the market economy to deliver solutions to one of the most complex problems of our time – climate change – making sure we leave the economy and our planet in a better state than we found it.

That’s why today the government is:

Staying at the cutting edge of Clean Growth. We will take steps to:
enable passengers to have the option of ‘zero carbon travel’,
help businesses to cut their carbon emissions and their energy bills,
further decarbonise our gas supply, and
will introduce a Future Homes Standard, bringing the end of fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses from 2025.

Leading the world to enhance biodiversity whilst ensuring economic prosperity.
We will require developers in England to enhance habitats for wildlife alongside developments.
A new global review will assess the economic value of biodiversity globally so we know what’s needed to take action.

Reducing our dependency on natural gas by increasing the proportion of green gas in our system.
To meet our climate targets we will reduce our dependency on burning natural gas to heat homes, accelerating decarbonisation by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid.

West Cumbria Mining

The 188 page committee report on the West Cumbria Mining planning application which is coming to the CCC development control committee on Tuesday 19th March 2019 has now been published and can be read on the County Council website here.

I will be attending the meeting as one of the two local members in whose divisions the application is located (it covers a vast area.)

Council officers are recommending that the application be approved, subject to a submission from Natural England which is still awaited, with a section 106 agreement and a long list of conditions.

Quote of the day 13th March 2019

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad."

In this form the saying is spoken by Prometheus, in the poem "The Masque of Pandora" (1875) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (above.)

Often wrongly attributed to Euripedes. Similar sayings can be found in the works of Sophocles, William Anderson Scott, and others.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Music spot: "Insanae et vanae curae" (A crazed & hopeless passion invades our minds)

The words of Haydn's musical masterpiece, which seem particularly appropriate this evening, can be roughly translated into English as follows

"A crazed and hopeless passion invades our minds,

Again and again madness fills our hearts and robs us of hope."

"How can it profit you, O mortal, to seek for earthly riches but take no thought of Heaven?"

"Yet if God is for you, all things are possible for you."

Did Brexit die tonight?

The evening MPs had the opportunity to vote for a deal which would have taken Britain out of the European union.

It was defeated by an unholy alliance of hardliners - some who are unreconstructed remainders who do not want to respect the referendum result and hardliners who claim to support Brexit but only in such a pure form that they appear not to care if they bring the whole project down.

One of those two groups shafted their own cause this evening. There is a small but real possibility that extreme opponents of Brexit have accidentally sent Britain down a path which will lead to a "No Deal" Brexit. There is a rather larger possibility that people who claim to be the true defenders of Brexit have sent Britain down a path which leads to a significantly softer Brexit or to no  Brexit at all.

There is one thing, and one alone, in this whole infuriating situation which is absolutely certain. And that is that the hardline Remainers who voted down the deal tonight because they wanted a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all, and the Brexit true believers who voted it down because they wanted a harder Brexit, cannot both be right about the consequences of their votes.

History will record that one of these two groups which voted in the same division lobby has brought about the opposite of what they said they were voting for.

What the deal would have achieved

MPs had previously said that changes with legal force were needed to the backstop – and that had been achieved.

The improved deal has a new, legally binding commitment, with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement, that the EU cannot try to apply the backstop permanently. The UK could ultimately suspend the backstop if they did.

The legally binding text also says the UK and EU will work on Alternative Arrangements to replace the backstop by December 2020, so the backstop need never come into force. The United Kingdom Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop ever comes into use, and discussions on our future relationship break down so that there is no prospect of subsequent agreement, it is the position of the UK that that there would be nothing to prevent us instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop.

The government had listened to the concerns expressed by MPs, and secured legally binding commitments to ensure that the backstop cannot become permanent. 

This improved deal delivers on the decision taken by the British people to leave the EU. 

  • It means we would regain control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. 
  • We regain control of our borders, by ending free movement. 
  • We regain control of our money, by ending vast annual payments to the EU. 
  • It means the end of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Police for British farmers and fishermen. 
  • We can pursue our own independent trade policy. 
  • And the deal sets us on course for a good future relationship with our friends and allies in the EU – a close economic partnership that would be good for business. 
If you had offered this to "Leave" supporters on the day of the referendum, I am convinced that 90% of them would have said they were satisfied with it.

What happens now?

The honest answer is that nobody knows.

Tomorrow the House of Commons will vote on the possibility of a "No Deal" or WTO Brexit. Conservative MPs will have a free vote on this with no pressure from the whips in either direction.

I confidently predict that the Commons will vote against this proposal, and they would have done so regardless of whether Theresa May had tried to "whip" Conservatives in either direction.

That makes it likely that there will then be a vote to ask the other EU countries for a short delay to Brexit. Under Article 50 this can only happen if there is the unanimous agreement of the other 27 countries, so don't bet your shirt that the answer will be yes.

It is far from impossible that, despite a large majority against a "no deal" Brexit in the House of Commons, those who do not want this outcome will fail to agree on and implement an alternative solution before the current or extended Article 50 deadline runs out and Britain crashes out without a deal.

If that happens the Brexiteers will have the last laugh and the Remainder have shafted themselves this evening. In that event there will be a great deal of anger aimed at those who have secured a result which most MPs think will be bad for Britain, but Remainers who voted against the deal tonight will be every bit as much to blame,

It is much more likely that the ultimate result of tonight's vote will be a "softer" Brexit than was on offer this evening, or no Brexit at all. If that happens, Brexit died tonight at the hands of those who claim to be its strongest champions.

It is even possible that the deal will be put to the vote again and get through on the third or fourth attempt. In which case tonight's apparently momentous vote was just sound and fury signifying nothing, except for more uncertainty and delay for British business.

Quote of the day 12th March 2019

"Our negotiators and the EU have conducted an intense and serious negotiation - they achieved much more than predicted. This is a good result. Let us now look at the proposal fairly and impartially, put prejudice aside and vote tomorrow for the deal."

(Rory Stewart MP)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Movement on Brexit

The prime minister has gone to Brussels this evening having obtained "legally binding" assurances that the EU will not seek to keep Britain in the "backstop" indefinitely, according to her deputy in all but name, Cabinet office minister David Lidington.

Mr Lidington told the House of Commons this evening that  the changes "strengthen and improve" the deal, and the UK and EU's future relationship. But he said further negotiations are taking place as the PM is still meeting EU officials in Strasbourg.

MPs will vote on the deal with these new assurances tomorrow. I suspect the vote may be much closer than had been expected a day or so ago.

There is no doubt that the tectonic plates at Westminster are shifting. This time the deal is not going to go down by 200 votes as it did last time. Whether things will have shifted enough to get it through I do not know.

Let me lay my cards on the table: I hope that MPs vote for the deal tomorrow.

What I heard during the referendum campaign from Leave campaigners and the people who were planning to vote leave was that they wanted to "take back control." When I asked people what they actually meant by that almost all of them said one or more of the following six things
  • They wanted control of our laws.
  • They wanted control of our borders
  • They wanted Britain out of the Common Fisheries policy
  • They wanted Britain out of the Common Agricultural policy
  • They wanted an end to ongoing large net payments into the EU budget.
  • They wanted Britain to have the freedom to set our own trade policies.
And whatever they may say now, virtually none of the people who campaigned for leave during the referendum said at that time that they wanted a "no deal" or "WTO" Brexit. 

Leave campaigners promised that Britain would find it easy to agree a trade deal with the EU.

They have no mandate to claim now that the electorate voted for a "no deal" Brexit. If they wanted such a mandate they should have said that's what they wanted during the referendum campaign. 

They didn't. And if they had, there is a good chance that they would have lost.

The deal as it now stands delivers
  • An end to the power of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and European Parliament over UK domestic laws.
  • An end to freedom of movement
  • Britain out of the Common Fisheries policy
  • Britain out of the Common Agricultural policy
  • No more large payments to the EU budget once we have paid the one-off "Divorce Bill"
  • Freedom to set our own trade policies if the backstop is not triggered or once we are out of it, if it does have to be triggered.

This deal delivers four of the things Leavers said they were campaigning for immediately, and once we have paid the so-called "Divorce Bill" and are clear of the "backstop" it delivers all of them.

It's not perfect.

We were never going to get a perfect deal - unwinding forty year's of integration was never going to be simple or straightforward, and Article 50, which was designed to make it difficult for a member country to leave the EU, has succeeded in that objective.

But it delivers what the majority of the British electorate have twice voted for - in the referendum and in the 2017 election when the vast majority of MPs were elected on a promise to honour the referendum result - in a way which British business organisations say they can live with and will not wreck the economy.

This isn't a bad deal. It does not make us a "vassal state." It does deliver Brexit. It's time to make the deal and move on.

39 new special free schools to be created

The Education Secretary has announced 39 new special free schools to create an extra 3,500 school places for pupils who have additional needs so that every child has the opportunity to receive a world class education.

Key facts:

  • 39 new free schools will be created to support children with additional needs or those who have been excluded from mainstream education. 
  • Every region in the country will benefit from at least one new school, boosting choice for parents and providing specialist support and education for pupils with special educational needs. 
  • This follows our commitment to give the green light to all high-quality special free school bids last December when we announced an additional £250 million for local authorities for their high needs budget. 

Why this matters:

These new schools will give parents more choice over their children’s education whilst making sure that more complex needs can be provided for – helping to ensure every child has a quality education.

Monday music spot: Pachelbel's Canon

No more unnecessary benefit reassessments for Pensioners

The Work and Pensions Secretary has announced an end to unnecessary benefit reassessments for pensioners with disabilities, to ensure they get the support they need.

Key facts:

  • Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has outlining the government's vision to improve disability policy, whilst also announcing a wider package of measures to signal a shift in our support for people with disabilities. 
  • Around 270,000 pensioners with disabilities will no longer have their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) awards regularly reviewed, in order to bring to an end an unnecessary experience for older people who have worked hard and paid into the system for their whole lives. 
  • The government will look to merge the Work Capability Assessment and the PIP assessment services into one assessment service. This will bring a more joined up approach to claimants. 

The Government will also review the current target enabling one million more people with disabilities to be in work by 2027 with a view to making it more ambitious, building on the fact that 930,000 people with disabilities have entered work since 2013.

Why this matters:

Conservatives are committed to tackling the injustices facing people with disabilities so everyone can go as far as their talents will take them. Progress has been made, but we need to do more to close the gap between our intentions and disabled people’s experiences.

Quote of the day 11th March 2019

"A man must be excessively stupid, as well as uncharitable, who believes that there is no virtue but on his own side, and that there are not men as honest as himself who may differ from him in political principles."

this is a very similar quote to one by the American economist Thomas Sowell which I have repeated several times on this blog recently, as it seems so relevant top the debate on Brexit and quite a few other issues. But it was written in "The Spectator" more than three hundred years ago. 

(I presume this must have been a previous publication to the present magazine which is "only" a hundred and ninety years old.)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Campaigning this weekend

The elements have been very variable and at some times extreme in Cumbria this weekend.

Heading to Distington in the rain brought back memories of the start of the Copeland by-election campaign, and I was seriously wondering if our planned canvass and survey would be rained off, but higher authority smiled on us and the rain lifted just as we were due to start.

We had a good session with my CCC colleagues Ben Shirley (who took the photographs) and Arthur Lamb (left in first photograph) and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of Copeland, Ged McGrath  (right in the first photo, left in the second, with local resident Mrs Mitchell.)

Henry Newman on the deal

Henry Newman has a thread on twitter which responds to some of the many myths about the EU withdrawal deal which is currently on the table. I think most of his comments are spot on.

Twitter users can find the opening post of the thread and read the whole thing at https://twitter.com/HenryNewman/status/1104791989101514753

A few examples

"Myth 1 - the deal isn't Brexit 

This is often repeated; yet it is simply preposterous Deal would take us out EU - no commissioner, no MEPs, no compulsory financial contributions (once exit bill settled), no voting rights, basically out EU legal order.

It literally is Brexit

Myth 2 - this deal would mean BRINO or staying in Single Market 

Again this is total rubbish The deal takes us definitively out the Single Market.

Even in the backstop, we would be free of practically all Single Market rules & could end free movement & diverge on services.

The main exception is that we would have to maintain the stock of existing goods & agriculture rules in Northern Ireland (plus a few other rules around the Single Energy Market and so on) We could reject any new goods rules from applying anywhere in UK

Myth 3 - we would be a vassal state 


After standstill 21 month transition, we would be free to reject new EU rules in almost all areas even in backstop.

We wouldn't have to pay ongoing membership contributions; we would keep all customs revenue.

Myth 6 - backstop means hard customs & regulatory checks between Great Britain & Northern Ireland / EU


Some regulatory checks will be required but these will be
  • primarily in market (for goods)
  • conducted by UK (not EU) authorities

There will be some additional checks on agricultural products (SPS checks) crossing Irish Sea but remember that there are already some such checks

Myth 7 - backstop is unique because it doesn't have unilateral exit

UN Charter
Good Friday Agreement
Covenant on Civil & Political Rights
NATO Charter

All lack an exit
I want a better exit, but to say it's unique is wrong"

John Rentoul and Fraser Nelson on the Brexit vote.

It is interesting to compare the perspectives of John Rentoul from the Independent and Fraser Nelson who is usually associated with the Spectator (but writing in the Sun on this occasion) next week's Brexit vote.

One is a pragmatic centre-left journalist who is one of the comparatively few remaining people who probably would not object to being called Blairite. The other is a pragmatic right-winger who voted Leave and had up until a few days ago been seriously suggesting that Britain should consider a no-deal Brexit.

Although they come from different perspectives, especially on Brexit, I regard Nelson and Rentoul as having in common, and I say this although I frequently disagree with both of them, that they are highly intelligent men with a gift for seeing the world as it is and not as they would wish it to be.

So when both of them say that if the PM does not get her deal through this week there is a good chacne that Brexit will be softened or never happen at all, there is a good chance that they are right.

John Rentoul argues here that

"Personally I think delaying Brexit would be a bad decision, because the prime minister’s deal is a sensible compromise that respects the referendum and keeps us close to the EU economy. I think Tory no-dealers are fanatics who would rather destroy what they have worked for than accept any impurity or compromise. And I think most Labour MPs who vote against the deal are breaking promises they made to honour the referendum."

Fraser Nelson, coming to a similar conclusion from the opposite direction, argues in the Sun that Brexit supporters who vote against the deal because they want to get something stronger, possibly a No Deal Brexit, need to recognise that,

"This isn’t PRACTICAL POLITICS. If Brexiteers won’t back Mrs May’s deal, then Brexit is ONLY GOING TO GET SOFTER."

The PM cannot say this openly because it would remove any pressure on the EU to make the compromise which it looks like we need to avoid at best a delay and at worst a failure to leave at all. But there is no way that a "No Deal" Brexit would get through parliament.

So Brexit supporter MPs who vote against the deal in the hope of a harder Brexit are actually risking preventing Britain from leaving the EU at all.

Sunday Reflection: "I can resist anything except temptation"

At St James' Church, Whitehaven this morning the Revd. Alison Riley began her sermon with the following humorous quotation: 

"I can resist anything except temptation" (Oscar Wilde)

This always reminds me of a story about a group of clergy who were discussing which biblical quotations were the greatest help to them in avoiding sin. I have told this tale before but not for a few years so I will repeat it.

A fiery young deacon, just out of his theological college, quoted Romans 6, Verse 23:

"For sin pays a wage, and that wage is Death, but God gives freely, and his gift is eternal life, in union with Jesus Christ our Lord."

A recently ordained lady curate, while accepting that the passage from Romans reminds us of something very important, preferred passages which concentrated more on the infinite love and compassion of God, and cited John, Chapter 14, verse 15:

"If you love me, you will obey my commands, and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another comforter, who will be with you for ever - the spirit of truth."

An elderly canon, who had been listening in silence, congratulated the previous speakers on being able to quote such beautiful and high-minded passages as a way to avoid sin.

"But for me," he said, "The words which are of most use in resisting temptation come from Chapter 12 Verse 1 of the letter of Paul to the Hebrews:

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses ...."

Sunday Music Spot: "I Was Glad" (Parry)

Watch out for snow!

Whitehaven, which rarely experiences snow on the ground,  awoke this morning to possibly the heaviest snowfall we have experienced in the fourteen years we have lived in the area.

Watch out and take great care if you have to go out or travel today in West Cumbria or anywhere else affected by snowfall and cold weather today.

Quote of the day 10th March 2019

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Music to relax after campaigning: Morningtown Ride (The Seekers)

New action on offshore wind

I am a strong supporter of nuclear power as one component of a balanced energy policy

However renewables have a part to play as another component of that policy, and offers great opportunities to West Cumbria as part of the Energy Coast initiative.

Tis week the Energy Minister has announced the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, helping us to further reduce our emissions and protect the environment for the next generation.

Key facts

  • As part of our modern Industrial Strategy, the new Sector Deal will see the industry invest £250 million to boost the UK’s global lead in the technology. 
  • Our ambitious deal will ensure that offshore wind provides more than a third of Britain’s electricity by 2030, meaning for the first time there will be more electricity generated from renewables than fossil fuels. 
  • Our deal aims to increase the number of green jobs in the industry to 27,000 jobs by 2030, up from 7,200 today. 
  • We will boost global exports of offshore wind technology to areas like Europe, Japan and the US fivefold to £2.6 billion per year by 2030, supporting smaller supply chain companies to export for the first time. 

Why this matters

2018 was the cleanest and greenest year ever in the UK, but we know that we need to go further. By investing in green industries, we can continue to grow our economy while leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation.

Investing in schools

The government is investing record amounts in our schools to provide a world class education for every child, whatever their background.

There is a lot of controversy about school funding because there is pressure in some areas on the unit of resource (funding per child)

But it is worth pointing out that

  • Since 2017, the government has given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school and made funding fairer across the country. 
  • School funding in England is at its highest ever level, rising from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion by 2019-20. 
  • In addition, standards are rising; the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers has narrowed since 2011; the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased since 2010; and our primary school children have achieved their highest ever score on international reading tests. 

While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that we are asking them to do more. That’s why we have introduced a wide range of practical support to help schools and head teachers, and their local authorities make the most of every pound, ensuring resources are being used in the best possible way to improve outcomes for children.


In last year's budget Chancellor Phil Hammond put £420 million towards helping councils to fix potholes, which had to be spent by the end of this month.

£12 million of that money came to Cumbria and of that the county council gave £866 thousand to the Copeland Local  Committee who are using it to fix several of the worst roads in Copeland which would otherwise have had to wait for several years to be fixed - hence the roadworks around the borough such as the works now going on in Whinlatter Road in Mirehouse. There is still a lot more to do - Cumbria County Council still have a long backlog of roads that need fixing - but this represented a very good start.

This week the government announced further action to tackle potholes, making sure people have better, safer journeys and building on the largest ever investment in our roads made at the Budget. 

One of the problems in fixing the roads is often poor restoration after a utility company has dug a road up. When the Highways authority fix a road, the deal for the public is that you have a few days or weeks of disruption and then have a better road. 

It is irritating if as often happens the Gas or Water company digs up the road again as soon as the council or Highways England has fixed it: unfortunately this is often necessary because in the process of rebuilding the road the earth underneath it shifts and this can disrupt underground facilities e.g. create gas or water leaks.

What is really infuriating is if they don't put it back properly afterwards so you have a nice shiny road for a day or two and then thanks to a bad job by cowboy contractors employed by a utility company the road is left in a poor state again and all the disruption is for nowt.

So I am pleased that the government is consulting on proposals to address this.

Key facts

  • Potholes are one of the biggest problems for road users and the Conservatives are looking at all options to keep our roads in the best condition.
  • This week the government launched a consultation on increasing the guarantee on roadworks, so that if a pothole forms as a result within five years, the utility company responsible must return to bring the road surface back to normal. 
  • This consultation follows a number of other interventions by the Government to help improve road surfaces and on top of the additional £420 million to fix potholes on roads at the Budget mentioned above. 

Why this matters

Potholes blight many journeys. The Conservative government has already taken steps to make sure councils have the funding they need, and are now going further by imposing higher standards to make sure roads stay pothole-free for longer.

Quote of the day 9th March 2019

Friday, March 08, 2019

High Street Saturday

The government is launching High Street Saturday, a new campaign day, on Saturday 16 March to celebrate the place of high streets at the heart of communities across the country. The day is a chance for local people to come together to support their high streets.

As part of the day, we are encouraging local people to:
  • Pledge to shop locally on High Street Saturday. 
  • Share photos and messages online using #HighStreetSaturday. 
  • Encourage local councils to apply for the Future High Street Fund, provided by the Government to ensure high streets and town centres are fit for the future. 

High streets are instrumental in bringing people together – acting as a meeting place for friends and families and supporting jobs for local people. But we know that it is becoming harder for businesses on high streets across the country to compete with out-of-town shopping centres and online retailers.

The campaign day builds on the support the Conservatives in government have provided for our high streets, Since 2010 the government has
  • Delivered over £10 billion of business rates support since 2016, including cutting small retailers’ bills by a third. 
  • Backed community leaders with £675 million of funding to help modernise their high streets and town centres. 
  • Relaxed planning rules to support new homes on the high street, transforming them into community hubs where people work, live and shop.