Monday, July 15, 2019

Fake news

The Education Secretary warned today of the dangers of ‘fake news’ and the risks it poses to pupils following the publication of  Teaching Online Safety in Schools.

 

Key facts:

 

  • The government has published online safety guidance for schools, which includes teaching children how to evaluate what they see online how to recognise techniques used for persuasions and how to identify online risks.

 

  • This will enable children to recognise and respond to ‘fake news’ more effectively and to differentiate between misinformation and disinformation.

 

  • From 2020 we are making health education universally compulsory meaning every child will learn about internet safety and harms alongside the importance of mental wellbeing.

 

Why this matters

The internet puts a vast amount of information at our fingertips but makes it easier to spread falsehoods or disinformation which can destroy trust, damage learning culture, and sap curiosity.

Electric cars, continued ...

Ding Ding: round two ...

The Conservative government is proposing that all new electric car rapid chargepoints should provide ‘pay as you go’ payment options by 2020. This should ensure Britain has one of the best electric vehicle charging networks in the world.

Key facts:
  • We expect industry to develop a solution across the charging network allowing drivers to pay with debit or credit cards when using public chargepoints so drivers don’t need multiple apps or memberships. 
  • If the market is too slow to deliver improvements across the entire network, the government will intervene to ensure there is a good deal for consumers. 
  • This follows the publication of the Road to Zero Strategy and our commitment to net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050. 

Why this matters

This will help even more people experience the benefits electric vehicles bring and speed up our journey to a zero-emission future.

Iran

The UK government has explained concerns about Iran’s reduced compliance with the nuclear deal and continues to stress the ongoing work needed with partners to keep the deal in place. 

Key facts
  • Britain will continue to work alongside France and Germany to make every effort to maintain the nuclear deal, and to encourage Iran back into compliance. 
  • Following the brave work of our Royal Navy in the Persian Gulf the UK  we will work with partners to maintain the right of commercial ships to go about their rightful business. 
  • The detention of the Grace 1 oil tanker was a Gibraltar-led enforcement of EU Syria sanctions. Action had to be taken, and this was nothing to do with the oil being Iranian. 

Why this matters:

The Middle East is already one of the most unstable regions in the world, but if the different parties were armed with nuclear weapons it would represent an existential threat to mankind.

Quote of the day 15th July 2019


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Human rights in China

There has been a very powerful and convincing BBC documentary on show this weekend about how China is attempting to suppress religions and cultural minorities.

The Uighur Muslims have been particularly harshly treated with hundreds of thousands of men, women and children vanishing into re-education camps, but almost every group whose views are anything other than atheist supporters of the Communist government or whose ethnicity is other than Han Chinese has suffered a greater of lesser degree of persecution.

Details are given on the BBC website here.

There is no easy way to deal with the Chinese - I am not in favour of cutting trade links to repressive governments except in extreme cases, as part of a targeted, internationally co-ordinated strategy, or obviously, in wartime. But we need to recognise that the People's Republic of China is a highly dangerous and repressive regime which should be carefully watched.

Congratulations to the England Cricket team on winning the World Cup

I have never seen anything like it.

Congratulations to the England Cricket team on winning the 2019 world cup.



And commiserations to the New Zealand team who also played incredibly well and missed out by the narrowest margin possible.

Both sides scored 241 runs in their 50 overs, so the match went to a "Super Over."

Both sides scored 15 in their Super Over.

So England win by having scored most boundaries.

What a fantastic match.


Sunday music spot: VOCES8 sing 'Ne Irascaris Domine' & 'Civitas Sancti Tui' by Byrd

Quote of the day 14th July 2019


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Bringing child abusers to justice

The government has announced that new digital tools will help bring those who prey on vulnerable children to justice and better protect victims. 

Key facts
  • Police Forces across the UK will have access to new tools to speed up investigations of online child abuse and limit the number of indecent images of children police officers have to view. 
  • These include a fast-forensic tool to rapidly analyse seized devices, an image categorisation algorithm to help officers categorise the severity of imagery and a tool to help officers identify children in indecent images, in order to safeguard victims. 
  • Improvements will enable us to catch more offenders, rescue more children from harm and reduce the pressure and trauma on our officers from having to review every image manually. 

Why this matters

Vile predators who are creating, viewing or sharing indecent imagery of children are constantly adapting their tactics and we must move at the same pace to bring them to justice and protect vulnerable victims

Saturday music slot: "Music for a while" by Henry Purcell.

Better care for the terminally ill

Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary has announced a review of the benefits system for terminally ill claimants so that the most vulnerable people of all can access the support they need.

Key facts:

  • The Conservative government is beginning work on a fresh and honest evaluation of our benefits system so that we can be sure that people who are nearing the end of their life and with severe conditions get the best possible support. 
  • The review will hear from claimants about their first hand experiences, consider international evidence and review current performance to better understand how the special rules and the Severe Conditions processes operate and perform. 

Why this matters

Having a life limiting illness or severe condition can cause unimaginable suffering for the patient and for their loved ones. The review announced today will help ensure these vulnerable people get the support they need from our benefits system.

UK Exports up £25.1 billion

Exports by British companies have risen by £25.1 billion – 4 per cent – over the last year, as we lead the way in creating jobs, growing our economy and ensuring prosperity across the country.

Key facts
  • In the year to May 2019, exports totalled £647.1 billion – a rise from £622.0 billion in the previous year. 
  • Since Labour were last in government, our exports have risen by over 50 per cent. 
  • Conservatives want to continue to build on this successes, which is why we’ve launched an Export Strategy to support and connect businesses so that they can create more, better-paid jobs

Quote of the day 13th July 2019


Friday, July 12, 2019

Mental Health Training

The government is investing £9.3 million to offer every school and college mental health training, ensuring more young people get the right help at the right time. 

Key facts:
  • Every school and college will be offered training, raising awareness of mental health concerns and improving referrals to specialist help when needed. 
  • Backed by £9.3 million, the scheme will deliver more joined up care and help to identify mental health issues before they become more acute. 
  • We are also announcing the next wave of trailblazer areas to benefit from Mental Health Support Teams, outlined in the mental health green paper. These will help schools and colleges to speed up access to specialist services. 

Why this matters

Bringing school and college staff into the same room as NHS professionals and encouraging them to work together will ensure more pupils get the right help at the right time.

Quote of the day 12th July 2019


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thank goodness for the Royal Navy.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Britain "scared" and "hopeless" for using Royal Navy warships to shadow British tankers in the Persian Gulf.

The word I would use is "prudent" and in the event it is just as well the navy was there.

Later the same day three boats believed to belong to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard approached a UK tanker, the "British Heritage" and tried to bring it to a halt as it was moving out of the Persian Gulf into the Strait of Hormuz.

A Royal Navy frigate, HMS Montrose, which had been shadowing the BP-owned tanker at distance, was forced to move between the three boats and the tanker, according to a Ministry of Defence spokesman, who also described the Iranians' actions as "contrary to international law".

HMS Montrose is a type 23 frigate displacing 4,950 tons, and her armament includes a BAE 4.5 inch Mark 8 naval gun turret and a number of smaller guns. She was awarded the Fleet Effectiveness Trophy for best frigate in the Royal Navy in 2014.

According to press reports which have neither been confirmed or denied by the MoD, HMS Montrose trained her guns on the Iranian boats and invited them to leave and, not being ready to become martyrs for the cause of the glorious revolution just yet, they took this advice.

No shots were fired but I do not like to think what might have happened had the Montrose not been in a position to intervene.

Thank goodness for the Royal Navy: this just goes to show how much we need the Navy and the other armed services - and the yards like BAE systems at Barrow-in-Furness which build and maintain their ships.




Yaxley-Lennon sent back to jail after retrial

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who calls himself Tommy Robinson, has been sent back to jail by a court at the Old Bailey on charges of contempt of court for breaching the reporting restrictions on trials at Canterbury and Leeds.

It is worth stressing that this is not, and never has been, the free speech issue which Yaxley-Lennon and his supporters pretend it to be. The reporting restrictions which he broke merely delay reporting of the details of a trial in process until that trial and sometimes (as in the Leeds case) one or more  linked trial has been completed so that the evidence of the witnesses and the deliberations of the jury are not compromised and the defendants get a fair trial.

There are a number of real and serious threats to free speech in Britain.

THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

As the judge who handed him the original suspended sentence for his behaviour at Canterbury told Mr Yaxley-Lennon in May 2017,


"This contempt hearing is not about free speech.

This is not about freedom of the press.

This is not about legitimate journalism; this is not about political correctness; this is not about whether one political viewpoint is right or another.

It is about justice, and it is about ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly.

It is about ensuring that a jury are not in any way inhibited from carrying out their important function. It is about being innocent until proven guilty.

It is not about people prejudging a situation and going round to that court and publishing material, whether in print or online, referring to defendants as “Muslim paedophile rapists”.

A legitimate journalist would not be able to do that and under the strict liability rule there would be no defence to publication in those terms. It is pejorative language which prejudges the case, and it is language and reporting – if reporting indeed is what it is – that could have had the effect of substantially derailing the trial.

As I have already indicated, because of what I knew was going on I had to take avoiding action to make sure that the integrity of this trial was preserved, that justice was preserved and that the trial could continue to completion without people being intimidated into reaching conclusions about it, or into being affected by “irresponsible and inaccurate reporting”.

If something of the nature of that which you put out on social media had been put into the mainstream press I would have been faced with applications from the defence advocates concerned, I have no doubt, to either say something specific to the jury, or worse, to abandon the trial and to start again.

That is the kind of thing that actions such as these can and do have, and that is why you have been dealt with in the way in which you have and why I am dealing with this case with the seriousness which I am.”

She then added that he

"should be under no illusions that if you commit any further offence of any kind, and that would include, I would have thought, a further contempt of court by similar actions, then that sentence of three months would be activated, and that would be on top of anything else that you were given by any other court.

In short, Mr Yaxley-Lennon, turn up at another court, refer to people as “Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists” and so and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand?“

The opinion of the judge in the case at Leeds where Mr Yaxley-Lennon showed up a year later was that's basically what he did, and he did indeed find himself inside.

The appeal court found that there were some procedural issues with that second conviction - though not with the first one - so they quashed it, releasing him from prison and referred the matter to the  Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox to decide whether to bring fresh charges.

(Probably a welcome relief for Geoffrey Cox from giving legal opinions about the Brexit backstop!)

The Attorney General did decide to bring fresh charges, resulting in the court action at the Old Bailey. The High court heard that in May 2018, Yaxley-Lennon live-streamed a video outside Leeds Crown Court that contained information in breach of reporting restrictions. He also approached defendants and told his followers to “harass them”.


On 5 July, the High Court found Yaxley-Lennon to be in contempt of court, because:
  • His online publication of details about the criminal case involved a breach of a reporting restriction order imposed under s4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
  • The content of what he published online gave rise to a substantial risk that the course of justice in the criminal case would be seriously impeded, thereby amounting to a breach of the rule of contempt law known as “the strict liability rule”. 
  • By aggressively confronting and filming some of the defendants in that case as they arrived at court, he interfered with the course of justice. 
The court found that Yaxley-Lennon's conduct in each of these respects amounted to a serious interference with the administration of justice.

Speaking after the sentencing today, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said:

"Today’s sentencing of Yaxley-Lennon serves to illustrate how seriously the courts will take matters of contempt. 

"Posting material online that breaches reporting restrictions or risks prejudicing legal proceedings has consequences, and I would urge everyone to think carefully about whether their social media posts could amount to contempt of court."


Yaxley-Lennon has been given nine months in total - three months for the original suspended sentence plus six months for the second offence.

He has previously served ten weeks so has been committed to prison for a further nineteen weeks but becomes eligible for parole after ten of those weeks.

July meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

Just received the paper copy of the agenda for next week's meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee.

It's an inch thick and came in a post office plastic wrapper with a note apologising for the fact to the effect that the envelope was disintegrating. Perhaps the County Council administration should have a think about the quality of envelope required to stand up to going through the post with such a heavy document inside.

The meeting will be held in the Council chamber at the county council offices in Kendal at 10.30 on Thursday 18th July 2019.

You can read the agenda and supporting documents - 382 pages so far with one report to follow - on the county council website here.

I'm going to find somewhere to sit down and read it, I may be some time ...

Quote of the day 11th July 2019

“This is no longer a question of the leadership’s inability to deal with the scourge of Antisemitism, but of its direct complicity in it.”

The above is what Chief Rabbi Mirvis tweeted last night in response to the Panorama programme about Anti-Semitism in the Labour party. the full quote is as follows:




Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Labour's spin on the Panorama allegations about Anti-Semitism

The allegations aired in the BBC Panorama programme about anti-Semitism in the Labour party which were broadcast this evening should be a source of grave concern to any decent person.

They prompted a strong response from the Chief Rabbi of which more anon and this from the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

But the response of the Labour party itself is almost more damaging.

The Labour leadership's briefing to supporters on the line to take in response to Panorama has been published by the Huffington Post website and is, quite frankly, astonishing.

By most people's standards I would be considered an arch-loyalist for my own party, but if they ever had the nerve to instruct me to defend the indefensible like this I would be reaching for my phone to challenge what was going on, not my keyboard to do as I was told.

So here is the Labour line: watch out for anyone advancing this position on taking this line over the next four days.



Anyone taking this position has outed themselves as so willing to say anything whatsoever if instructed to do so by the Labour leadership. These people would throw their own grandmothers under a bus if "Jeremy and Jenny" told them to do so.

A black day for British diplomacy

I find it impossible to disagree with the present Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that the resignation of Britain's ambassador to the USA, Sir Kim Darroch, was "A black day for British displomacy" or with his predecessor and leadership rival Boris Johnson that whoever is responsible for the leak which made Sir Kim's position untenable deserves to be "eviscerated."

Ambassadors are supposed to be able to provide the governments which appoint them with a frank assessment of the situation in the country to which they are posted. It is an essential part of the job to for British envoys to tell our governments what they really think

As I wrote here yesterday, "If every ambassador who wrote an honest and unflattering opinion of the government to which he was accredited was the target of a similar leak and had to resign there would be no diplomats left in Moscow, Bejing, Ankara, Tehran, or a number of other capitals we can all easily think of."

This is understood even by the more grown-up supporters of President Trump.

Republican Senator Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a Trump supporter, said Sir Kim had done "an outstanding job" as ambassador and his resignation was "a chilling moment".

Senator Graham added that

"Ambassadors need to be able to talk to their governments without fear of being compromised."


Sir Kim's position was untenable from the moment his confidential advice to the government became public: he has done the honourable thing by falling on his sword and resigning despite not being at fault, but you do not have to agree with his assessment of the Trump administration to see that his having to go for expressing his opinions is most unfortunate.

Whether the target of whoever leaked the messages was to damage Sir Kim or to damage the relationship between Britain and America, they succeeded.

Boosting the rollout of electric cars

To mark the anniversary of our Road to Zero Strategy, the government is investing £37 million to revolutionise the experience of owning an electric vehicle – helping even more people realise the benefits of such vehicles and speed up our country’s journey to a future with zero net emission of carbon into the earth's atmosphere.

Key facts
  • A year ago this week, the government launched a "Road to Zero" Strategy setting out new measures to clean up road transport and lead the world in developing, manufacturing and using zero emission road vehicles. 
  • The aim is to ensure at least 50 per cent of new car sales are ultra-low emission by 2030 and ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. This is one of the most ambitious targets to protect the environment adopted by any country in the world. 
  • We know that a lack of suitable on-street charging is one of the biggest strategic barriers to mass adoption of electric vehicles – and it is critical that as many people as possible can access quality electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 
  • The £37 million will support twelve engineering projects that could massively expand the chargepoint network for those without off-street parking. 

Why this matters:

The UK’s transition to zero emission vehicles is going further and faster than ever. By ensuring the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is reliable and innovative, we can encourage more people to join the record numbers of ultra-low emission vehicle users already on UK roads.

Quote of the day 10th July 2019


Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Improving access to rail services

A £20 million fund has been launched as part of the Inclusive Transport Strategy to improve accessibility for disabled rail passengers. 

Key facts
  • The flagship accessibility programme was launched 12 months ago. Progress so far includes introducing the first ever independent Rail Ombudsman, to make sure passengers get a fair deal when train companies fall short, providing £2 million to build Changing Places accessible toilets in more motorway service stations, and issuing guidance to extend the Blue Badge scheme. 
  • In April the government announced that 73 train stations will benefit from accessible routes to and between every platform, as part of the £300 million Access for All fund. 
  • The programme has so far delivered more than 200 accessible routes into stations along with smaller scale improvements at a further 1,500 stations. 
  • The new £20 million fund will be open for applications from stations in need of accessibility improvements, leading to small-scale enhancements such as tactile paving, handrails and Harrington Humps, which increase platform heights. 

Why this matters

While many take for granted the ability to travel easily from A to B, access for the fifth of people who identify as disabled can be far from straightforward. Taken together, these improvements will open up journeys for disabled passengers, allowing them to travel with confidence.

Undiplomatic diplomats

It is usually considered part of the job of an ambassador to give, privately, a frank and accurate account to the government he or she represents  of what is going on in the country to which he or she is accredited.

It is because countries have long recognised that such honest but not open communication is usually in the long-term interests of both countries that diplomatic communications have a special level of privacy and immunity.

Whether or not you agree with the opinions of Britain's ambassador to the USA, Sir Kim Darroch, about the Trump administration, it was part of his job to tell the government what he thinks.

And if every ambassador who wrote an honest and unflattering opinion of the government to which he was accredited was the target of a similar leak and had to resign there would be no diplomats left in Moscow, Bejing, Ankara, Tehran, or a number of other capitals we can all easily think of.

However, the leak of those opinions where they were unflattering was always going to be harmful to relations with any government, and all the more so where the government concerned is headed by someone like Donald Trump. Where the relationship concerned is Britain's single most important international relationship such a leak is an absolute calamity.

If evidence should emerge identifying a British politician or official as being responsible for the leak they should be both sacked and prosecuted for having damaged Britain's interests.

There are, however, at least two foreign governments which run legions of highly sophisticated hackers and IT intelligence operations and which might find it useful to damage relations between the UK and the USA. I would not rule out the possibility that the leak of the communications between Ambassador Kim Darrow and the government came from a hostile foreign power which had hacked our communications and released stolen information to the press with the intention of damaging Britain's most important diplomatic relationship - in which they have succeeded.

I hope the leak inquiry will include a review of cyber security of British diplomatic communications.

Quote of the day 9th July 2019


Monday, July 08, 2019

The A595

Since my election to Cumbria County Council just over two years ago I have taken a leaf from the example of Cato the Censor.

Cato supposedly expressed the view "Carthago Delenda Est" (Carthage must be destroyed) in every speech he made to the Roman Senate.

In my case I have so far managed to find a means of mentioning the need to improve the A595 at every occasion when the full council has gathered since my election and intend to keep doing so as long as I serve on that council and can catch the chair's eye.

Usually I ask a question about it under the item on questions from councillors, though the meeting before last I fitted it in to an item about new roads, and at the June meeting I wanted to ask a question about the need to consult service users properly about the planned move of the Daniel Hay library in Whitehaven to the Archives centre site.

So instead I made a short speech about the A595 at the end of the meeting. Here are my notes for the speech. (I wasn't timing myself so I don't know if I actually took the 75 seconds I estimated when I rehearsed it, and I delivered the speech from memory rather than reading it so the odd word may have been different, but this is pretty much what I said.)

"Chairman, Council

Can I please take 75 seconds of your time to stress that we as a council need to continue to focus on the issues with the A595.

Members representing the west of the county will be well aware that the A595 is the only major road, insofar as it deserves that name, running through large parts of the west of the county and the only major road route providing access to one of the largest employers in the county, e.g. the Sellafield nuclear site.

The fact that it does not remotely have the capacity to take even current demand, let alone what is likely to be needed to meet future developments, has a major impact on the quality of life of residents of practically every town or settlement on the west coast as traffic diverts through unsuitable roads, and is also a major brake on the economic development of West Cumbria.

Members will be aware of the recent consultation on a possible Whitehaven relief road and we are waiting to hear if this makes it into the Autumn Statement, and of the welcome improvements planned at Dove Ford Farm at Grizebeck, but many other junctions both in the part of the road managed by Highways England and the stretch south of Calderbridge managed by this council also need improvement.

A couple of weeks ago councillors Morgan, Turner and I met Highways England to discuss some of the issues and they are giving members of the Copeland local committee a briefing next week.

I want to flag that local members are particularly concerned to ensure that action is taken to deal with the Moresby Viaduct section in a timely and properly planned way. As of today, the road is safe but sooner or later action will need to be taken to deal with the movement of the ground underneath before it ceases to be. The consequences in terms of disruption to people’s lives if the road has to be closed on an emergency basis before a proper plan and an alternative route is in place do not bear thinking about.

As I’ve said we are talking to Highways England about this and so is the portfolio holder but it important that all members are aware of the importance of the issue."

Government to introduce "Helen's Law"

Justice Secretary David Gauke has confirmed that the government will legislate so that murderers who fail to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body will face spending longer behind bars. 

Key facts
  • Helen’s Law’ will place a legal duty on the Parole Board to take into account if a murderer is withholding information about the location of a victim's body when making a decision on whether to release the person convicted of the offence. 
  • Named after Helen McCourt – murdered in 1988 – whose killer has never revealed her whereabouts, this law will mean that murderers who fail to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body could spend more time in prison.
  • The move follows the unwavering campaign of Helen’s mother, Marie McCourt, to see the law changed and comes after recent meetings with the Justice Secretary. 
  • This builds on wider reforms to the parole system, announced earlier this year, that will allow victims for the first time to challenge a release decision if they believe it was fundamentally flawed. 

Why this matters

The profound grief inflicted on families and friends of the murdered is incalculable. Those responsible should know that if they choose to compound this further through their behaviour, they will be held accountable.

The New Statesman magazine apologises to Sir Roger Scruton

I was interested to read the following agreed statement between the New Statesman magazine and Sir Roger Scruton.

In the circumstances I think the safest and most appropriate way to report this is to record the statement in full, including the links at the bottom, without amendment or comment. It reads as follows:

"SIR ROGER SCRUTON



The New Statesman interview with Sir Roger Scruton (“Cameron's resignation was the death knell of the Conservative Party”, 10 April) generated substantial media comment and will be readily recalled by most readers. We have now met with Sir Roger and we have agreed jointly to publish this statement.

In the interview, Sir Roger said of China: “They’re creating robots of their own people … each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing”. We would like to clarify that Sir Roger’s criticism was not of the Chinese people but of the restrictive regime of the Chinese Communist Party.

Sir Roger is quoted accurately in the article: “Anybody who doesn’t think there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts”. 

However, the article did not include the rest of Sir Roger’s statement that “it’s not necessarily an empire of Jews; that’s such nonsense”. We would like to clarify that elsewhere in the interview Sir Roger recognised the existence of anti-Semitism in Hungarian society.


After its publication online, links to the article were tweeted out together with partial quotations from the interview – including a truncated version of the quotation regarding China above. We acknowledge that the views of Professor Scruton were not accurately represented in the tweets to his disadvantage. We apologise for this, and regret any distress that this has caused Sir Roger.

By way of rectification we provide here a link to a transcript of the interview and the original article so that readers can learn for themselves what Professor Scruton actually said in full

Quote of the day 8th July 2019

"One side turning their back on anthems. 
The other wearing childish T-shirts with swear words on."

("Comedian Geoff Norcott @GeoffNorcott on Twitter describing the antics of Brexit Party and Lib/Dem MEPs at the opening of the new session of the European parliament.

What are we coming to when a comedian sounds sensible and the people elected to represent Britain from the two parties which won most votes in this years' European Election act like comedians?)

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Matthew Parris on the tension between freedom and people's best interests

Matthew Parris had a really good article in yesterday's Times about the tension between individual freedom on the one hand, and the desire of well meaning people to stop others doing things which risk their lives or health on the other. It was inspired by the issue of the "sugar tax" but has much wider application.

This is a tension of which I have been increasingly aware since my appointment to Cumbria's Health Scrutiny Committee and it is not an issue on which there are any easy right answers.

Matthew's article "Don't let nanny get too big for her boots," which if you register for a number of free articles each week or fork out the paywall fee can be read here, was intelligent, provocative, nuanced, balanced and fair.

It reminded me why I used to enjoy reading Matthew's pieces so much before about the time of the Brexit vote, when he became increasingly obsessed with overturning the result of the referendum and appeared to lose, on that subject at least, the ability to see both sides of an issue which had previously made most of his articles so interesting.

After listing a whole range of subjects in which he was once against state intervention and now thinks he was wrong on the specifics - but not entirely wrong about the general principle -  he concludes

"Resistance is neither impossible nor worthless."

"'Sink or swim' has a vital role both in the development of the individual and the efficient working of a society. Competitiveness, insecurity, fear of failure and visible examples of human failure are a necessary spur to human progress,

"Therefore I do not entirely repent of my youthful libertarianism. We are right to bark at the nanny state. Unless rebuked, nanny will get too big for her boots.

"But I believed once that there was no need for nannies. I no longer believe that."

Sunday Music Spot: "Ave verum corpus" (Byrd) sung by The Gesualdo Six

Quote of the day 7th July 2019

"And unlike the polar icecaps, on this issue I'm not melting."

Prime Minister Theresa May at PM's questions last week, in response to a question from Labour MP Chris Bryant who had congratulated Mrs May on the expression she managed when she met President Putin at the G20. He said it had “more ice in it than a polar ice cap”.

May responded that, referring to Putin’s comments about liberalism being obsolete, she had told the Russian President that liberalism (small l) had done more than any other system to spread prosperity.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Successful "Saturday Chataway" today

There was a good turnout at this morning's "Saturday Chataway" organised by Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, to give residents the opportunity to meet and raise concerns with elected representatives at all levels. The event was be held in Borrowdale, near Keswick.

Councillors of all parties from relevant local authorities have been invited to these events: this morning there were councillors on hand from Cumbria County Council and Allerdale Borough Council with Trudy Harrison MP at Borrowdale Village Institute to speak with constituents, listen to their concerns and suggestions and assist with any issues.

Each month, these coffee morning style surgeries raise money for a valued local organisation or charity. Refreshments will be available and today all proceeds went to Borrowdale Village Institute which have raised a hundred thousand pounds of their target of £200,000 to refurbish the hall.

Issues raised by residents at Borrowdale and in a subsequent street survey in Braithwaite included the Community Housing Fund, water fluoridisation, the state of the footway on the road from Borrowdale to Keswick (the B5289) and, particularly on people's minds in the street survey, recent problems experienced by Allerdale Borough Council with the new kerbside bin collection contract introduced by the previous administration on 1st April 2019 and the steps the new council is taking to try to put matters right.

Allerdale Borough Council has apologised to residents for inconvenience caused by problems with bin collection and the suspension of garden recycling collection for two months, and have issued the following additional information:

  • Allerdale residents can check the online calendar on which they can also report a missed bin. 
  • The best way to contact the council is through the online service or via the myAllerdale app (which can be downloaded from Google Play store for Android users and the Apple App Store for iPhone users). You can also use the webchat facility when available. 
  • Residents can also contact the customer service team by calling 0303 123 1702.  
  • Garden waste can be taken to the Household Waste Recycling Sites in Maryport, Workington and Wigton. More information 
  • Residents can also make use of the offer from Cumbria County Council to buy compost bins at a reduced price. More details 

New apprenticeship scheme for creative industries

The Culture Secretary has announced a new apprenticeship pilot scheme to enable young people from all backgrounds to pursue careers in the Creative Industries. 

Key facts:
  • The creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK economy, contributing £101.5 billion in gross value added – more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas sectors combined. 
  • But they cannot remain the preserve of the privileged, which is why the Government has announced a new film and TV apprenticeships pilot, providing hands-on experience on the sets of major films and TV shows. 
  • Together with the newly launched Creative Industries Charter, which commits the industry to take action to create a more diverse workforce, this will ensure young people from all backgrounds can go as far as their talents take them. 

Why this matters

This pilot will allow us to test new ways of making apprenticeships work for the booming screen sectors so that young people from all backgrounds can work on the world's biggest films and earn as they learn.

Quote of the day 6th July 2019


Friday, July 05, 2019

Making Taxis more environmentally friendly

New legislation will increase the use of environmentally friendly taxis, as we work to leave the planet in a better state for the next generation. 

Key facts
  • More taxi drivers will be encouraged to buy environmentally friendly vehicles thanks to new legislation exempting them from the premium rate of vehicle excise duty. 
  • This will reduce costs for taxi drivers and companies who purchase zero-emission capable taxis over conventional petrol or diesel models, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality in busy city centres. 
  • New legislation will support our legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2050, ending the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely. 

Why this matters:

By introducing financial incentives to upgrade to the most environmentally friendly taxis we will improve air quality in the areas where people live, work and shop.

Next "Saturday Chataway" in Borrowdale tomorrow

The next "Saturday Chataway" organised by Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, to give residents the opportunity to meet and raise concerns with elected representatives at all levels will be held in Borrowdale, Keswick, tomorrow (Saturday 6th July 2019.)

Councillors of all parties on the relevant local authorities for the area have been invited to join Trudy Harrison MP at Borrowdale Village Institute on Saturday to speak with constituents, listen to their concerns and suggestions and assist with any issues.

Each month, these coffee morning style surgeries raise money for a valued local organisation or charity. The event will be held between 10am – 12pm.

Refreshments will be available, with all proceeds going to Borrowdale Village Institute.

Housebuilding reaches eleven year high

New figures show that housebuilding has reached an 11-year high, as we help more families to achieve the dream of home ownership. 

Key facts

  • Annual new build dwelling completions totalled 169,770 in the year to March 2019. This is up by 6 per cent compared with the year to March 2018 and represents the highest level since the year ending September 2007. 
  • To help more people onto the housing ladder we have cut stamp duty for 95 per cent of first-time buyers and are investing £44 billion to deliver on average 300,000 homes per year by mid 2020s. 

Why this matters:

We believe that everyone who works hard should have a home of their own, which is why we are focused on building the homes that this country needs.

It is a key point about being fair to the younger generation - at the moment the soaring cost of housing is making it extremely difficult for young people to get onto the housing ladder and build a stake in society. This problem must be dealt with and that means more homes are needed: in the places people want to live, the sort of homes they want to live in, and with safe and sustainable access to those homes

More on the West Cumberland Hospital maternity decision

Consultant-led services will remain in west Cumbria following a decision by NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Governing Body on Wednesday.

It follows a 12 month period of review of progress to sustain and develop services and the recommendations of an Independent Review Group (IRG) made up of independent clinical specialists chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup CBE.

The review was commissioned following the Healthcare For The Future public consultation in Autumn 2016, and follows the decision made in March 2017 to continue services and test them while working with the public.

The report acknowledges the hard work of staff in the service and the innovative work by the community to support services through the Working Together Group.

Dr David Rogers, medical director for NHS North Cumbria CCG, said:

“The CCG has been committed to providing sustainable consultant-led services and we are pleased to see the hard work of a lot of people over a number of years being recognised.

“The Trust has faced problems recruiting and it is clear that is improving, and there has been considerable commitment from the staff to make things work.

“I also want to thank the people who have given up their time and got involved in ‘working together,’ they have made a real difference. It is clear when you read the Independent Review Group’s report, that three years on, we are now in a very different place.”


Stephen Eames, chief executive of the North Cumbria University Hopsitals Trust and Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust, said:

“I am pleased the Independent Review Group has recognised the hard work of our staff at the West Cumberland Hospital as well as the work we have been doing to recruit staff. Our medical vacancies are significantly reduced from 2016, although we know there are still challenges in key areas.

“We have come a long way since the consultation and trying new ways of working with our community is making a real difference. It is good to see the impact of this innovative and constructive way of working.”


 Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, added

“This was a landmark decision for hospital staff, the community, women and their families across West Cumbria. And thankfully it was the right decision. 

“Today’s outcome is a huge relief for everyone in West Cumbria but has only been possible because of our community, the outstanding patient campaigners and, most importantly, the dedicated staff at West Cumberland Hospital and North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust. 

“This is thanks to co-production and collaboration between the Trust, staff and the community and I will be forever grateful, professionally and personally to everyone who has been so positively involved so far and I shall work alongside all those who will continue to secure vital health and medical services in Copeland. 

“Ever since I was elected I have consistently met with local health chiefs and ministers to convey the strength of feeling in our community. The importance of our maternity unit cannot be understated and I have made this clear to the Secretary of State.” 

“A full service in Whitehaven is what everyone deserves and is entitled to. 

“I thank Bill Kirkup and his team for their professionalism in producing this report which comes at the end of a detailed period of review.”


The review by the Independent Review Group (IRG) noted the challenges faced by the service but were “impressed by the commitment shown to overcome the recruitment challenges, including some innovative approaches.” 

The IRG report says:  

“The services are being maintained, and given the same commitment and ingenuity to overcome future challenges, they can be sustained in future. The Independent Review Group therefore recommends that a commitment should be given to sustain the current pattern of consultant-led units in both Whitehaven and Carlisle.  

“In addition, we recommend the continuation of both alongside midwifery-led units to offer a choice of birth setting in line with the Better Births report.  

“Finally, there will be future challenges to these services, but they also need stability. It is important that there is a commitment to maintaining vigilance and supporting innovative measures to counter these, continuing the collaborative Working Together approach between the community and the NHS.”  

In November 2018 the CQC reported maternity across the Trust was rated as ‘good’ and a CQC review of patient experience saw it score highly.

The Venerable Richard Pratt, the Archdeacon of West Cumberland, the independent chair of the Working Together Group said:

“I am very grateful to all those - from the community and the NHS - who have been so committed to the Working Together process.  I think it has had a huge impact in two ways. 

“First, it has supported the NHS Trusts as they have changed the way in which they work, so that they have been able to think of and implement innovative ways to tackle the difficulties of providing maternity and other services at West Cumberland Hospital.

Second it has helped to give Dr Bill Kirkup and his group confidence in what we - the community and the NHS - are doing in west Cumbria. 

“As the report of the Independent Review Group makes clear, Working Together must continue so that maternity and other services are sustained into the future, and indeed so that both the NHS and the community change for the better so that we have a Health Service (not an illness service) and healthy communities.  

“In Working Together we are tackling not just maternity but also telehealth, children’s health, recruitment and retention, experience of care at a distance, and so on – and there is a real excitement about this and lots to do! 

“Our next Working Together Steering Group Meeting is at 6pm on Wed 17 July at the Oval Centre. If you are interested in being part of health services for the future, you will be very welcome.”


Work to support services will continue and more information about Working Together and Co-production can be found at:

www.northcumbriahealthandcare.nhs.uk/making-ithappen/co-production/.

Making sure no child is left behind

The Minister for Children and Families has set out plans which will enable independent schools to help the most vulnerable children in our society – so no child falls behind in their education. 

Key facts

  • Ten teams will work across the country to identify opportunities in independent schools for young people in care. 
  • A number of schools around the country are already supporting children in care but this new programme, backed by £500,000, will build on our commitment to see as many as 1,000 independent schools involved in schemes like this. 
  • Independent schools will also provide sporting and music facilities for looked after children, to help harness specific aspirations or talents to unlock their talents and boost their opportunities. 

Why this matters

Although standards in state schools continue to rise, schemes such as this are specifically aimed at children who have experienced trauma in their lives; receiving specialist attention will mean that the most vulnerable children do not continue on a trajectory of disadvantage.

Cohen on Corbyn

Interesting piece by Nick Cohen in the Spectator here. on whether there might be a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.

It includes this trenchant assessment of the Labour leader and how the left has presented him:


"I do not mean to offend religious readers with delicate sensibilities when I say the left turned a dim, elderly backbencher into the socialist equivalent of Christ. They made him a messiah sent to save us from neo-liberalism, and cried in pain as he suffered for our sins at the hands of the mainstream media, the establishment and, well, the Jews. 

Corbyn plays the victim card as if it is the only card he has left. 

‘The rich and powerful are so worried about a Labour government redistributing wealth and power that they’re stepping up their attacks on me, those close to me, my staff and our movement,’ 

he tweeted last week."

Quote of the day 5th July 2019


Thursday, July 04, 2019

Strengthening the Union

The Prime Minister said today that she is confident whoever becomes the next leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party will make strengthening the Union a top priority.

Mrs May said:
  • ‘I am confident that whoever succeeds me in 10 Downing Street will make the Union his priority. He will build on the work of a UK Government that has made strengthening the Union an explicit priority. 
  • ‘The job of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland brings with it privileges and responsibilities which you only really feel once the black door closes behind you. 
  • ‘One of the first and greatest is the duty you owe to strengthen the Union. 
  • To govern on behalf of the whole United Kingdom. 
  • To respect the identities of every citizen of the UK – English and Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish. 
  • ‘And to ensure that we can go on facing the future together, overcoming obstacles together, and achieving more together than we ever could apart – a Union of nations and people’.

Quote of the day 4th Juily 2019


Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Midweek Music Spot: Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave)

VICTORY IN CAMPAIGN TO KEEP MATERNITY AT WCH

Fantastic news this afternoon as Bill Kirkup recommends in just about the strongest terms anyone could reasonably expect that consultatnt-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH) is working and should be kept.

Here are his recommendations.





































The CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) voted to accept all three.

Quote of the day 3rd July 2019

"There is no more pressing moral cause in Britain today than the total destruction of the Labour party. An electoral drubbing will not do. A change of leader will not suffice. 

The Labour party has spent almost four years defaming, taunting and intimidating Jews. They have made Jews feel unsafe; they have made Jews feel unBritish. There must be a reckoning for this intolerable measure of evil, for both retributive and deterrent purposes. 

Another party will come along one day and try this again and there must be a warning in place, an object lesson in the wages of anti-Semitism and its indulgence. The debris of a once-great party would make for powerful teaching materials." 

(Stephen Daisley, conclusion of an article in the Spectator.)

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Big babies

After a BBC news report of a particularly petulant and bad-tempered exchange between the then Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition while I was a child, my mother turned to my father and said

"We've got a lot of babies running the country."

I was reminded of this by the behaviour of both the largest contingents of Britain's new MEPs in the European Parliament today.

The MEPs from the Brexit party turned their backs when Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" which is the unofficial anthem of the EU was played - not, incidentally - a recording, but a live performance by a youth orchestra who had presumably put quite a bit of work into preparing for it.

The last time I saw people behave like this was in student politics. In my student days it was for a time a fashion at conferences of the National Union of Students method of showing extreme disagreement with someone of differing political opinions to stand up and pointedly turn your back on them.

I wasn't impressed at the time when I saw people in their teens and twenties who had been elected to represent their colleges behaving in such a rude and divisive manner. It didn't look any better when grown men and women who had been elected to represent their country behaved in the same way today.

Nor was I impressed with the second largest continent of Britain's MEPs, the Liberal Democrats, who all wore shirts with an Anti-Brexit slogan in very crude Anglo-Saxon language ("B******* to Brexit") on the back.

Personally I don't think wearing clothes which effectively swear at 17.4 million of your fellow citizens, the majority of those who voted in a referendum, was a good look for grown men and women who have been elected to represent their country either.

Women in Business


 

Key facts:

 

  • Launched in 2016, the Hampton-Alexander Review set FTSE 350 businesses a target of having 33 per cent of all board and senior leadership positions held by women by the end of 2020 – figures today show that things are moving in that direction.

 

  • Board positions held by women have jumped from 32.1 per cent of FTSE 100, up from 12.5 per cent in 2011. Meanwhile in the FTSE 250, figures have risen from 24.9 per cent to 27.5 per cent.

 

  • The number of all-male boards across the FTSE 350 has fallen from 152 in 2011 to 4.

 

Why this matters

Diversity based on promoting talented people whatever their gender makes good business sense. Neither women nor men have a monopoly of the best business brains. So it is good news that this week's figures show that the UK is closer to an similar proportion of women and men at the top of British business rather than either gender taking all the senior positions.

Quote of the day 2nd July 2019


Monday, July 01, 2019

Helping parents who lose a child

Few if any experiences in life are worse than losing a child.

The Conservative government will establish a Children’s Funeral Fund, to cover the costs of a burial or cremation when a child dies, meaning bereaved parents will not have to worry about money during the hardest time of their lives. 

Key facts
  • Every year in England an estimated 3,800 children die under the age of 18, and there are a further 2,700 stillbirths. 
  • Bereaved parents can find themselves facing bills of thousands of pounds for burial or cremation fees. 
  • The Children’s Funeral Fund will help to reduce the financial burden for families by reimbursing burial authorities, cremation authorities and funeral directors directly. 
  • The fund will be available regardless of a family’s income, and will also include a contribution towards the cost of a coffin. 

Why this matters

At a time of such unimaginable loss, no grieving parent should be faced with the stress and worry of finding the money to cover the cost of their child’s funeral. While nothing can take away the pain that bereaved families experience, this fund will help ease the financial burden.

Quote of the day 1st July 2019




Sunday, June 30, 2019

Supporting our Armed Forces

Yesterday events took place all over the country to mark Armed Forces Day, paying tribute to the exceptional contribution our service personnel past and present make to our security and prosperity. 

Key facts
  • The Conservatives have increased the defence budget by £1.8 billion, to £40 billion by 2020-21, so that our Armed Forces have the right capabilities to keep us all safe. 
  • We’ve enshrined the Armed Forces Covenant into law, highlighting the importance we place on supporting our service personnel. 
  • All veterans will also receive a new ID card to mark their time in the Armed Forces. This will allow veterans to easily verify their service to the NHS, their local authority and charities, helping them to access support and services where needed. 

Why this matters

Our Armed Forces protect us and defend us around the world and serve communities throughout our country. Armed Forces Day gives us all the opportunity to thank service personnel for their contribution and to remember the sacrifice many have made to keep us safe.