Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sunday music spot: "If ye love me" by Thomas Tallis

The Get Help with Technology programme

The government has announced a £126 million investment in laptops and tablets to help care leavers, children with a social worker and vulnerable children arriving from Afghanistan access their education and fulfil their potential. 

  • While talent is spread evenly across the country, opportunity is not, and we need to  continue to support children most in need with resources for their education. 
  • That is why the government is expanding the Get Help with Technology Programme by investing £126 million in laptops and tablets to provide up to 500,000 devices for disadvantaged children – to boost their learning in school and improve the life chances of those in the care system, including some of the most vulnerable children we have recently taken in from Afghanistan.
  • Conservatives are determined to help all children and young people, no matter their background, to access education and support for a better and brighter future.

Quote of the day 24th October 2021


Friday, October 22, 2021

Better broadband for schools, continued

Children in more than a thousand schools are now enjoying next-generation internet speeds thanks to government investment. 

And the government has launched a call for evidence on people's digital needs and what should be done to enable digital access to be improved further.

Five million people have had a booster jab


Music to start the weekend: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Quote of the day 22nd October 2021

"You should never point a gun at a man unless you intend to use it"

(Anonymous, but similar to statements by General George Patton and one of the first rules in any good guide to firearms safety)

Winter Vaccine drive

The government has today launched a national advertising campaign alongside the largest ever winter vaccine drive – to boost vaccine uptake and strengthen our defensive wall against Covid over the winter months.

As we enter the winter months, seasonal weather increases transmission of viruses, including flu and Covid - it is vital that all those eligible to get a first vaccine dose, booster, or flu jab do so to protect themselves, their loved ones and the NHS. 

That is why the government is working with national pharmacies including Boots and advertising booster jabs on billboards, radio, and on TV shows such as Coronation street – while rolling out the biggest flu programme in history with 35 million people eligible for a free vaccine, after already administering over 4 million booster doses.

The government does have a Plan B rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS - and we would only introduce these measures if needed.

Anyone who is eligible and has been invited to come forward to get their jab should do so. This is a national mission to continuing providing the best possible protection against the virus.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Quote of the day 21st October 2021


Remembering James Brokenshire

The funeral takes place at noon today for James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup and a former cabinet minister, who died from with cancer a few days ago after a three-year battle with the disease.

He was 53 years old and leaves a widow, Cathy, and three children, Sophie, Jemma and Ben

James and I go back more than thirty years to when we were both Young Conservatives: he was my successor but one as Chairman of the East of England Area Young Conservatives. I attended his and Cathy's wedding and a year or two later they came to mine.

James was a highly intelligent, kind, practical and reasonable man and a dedicated public servant. Most people will never know of some of the things he did to protect them.

He is a great loss to politics - he will be an even greater loss to his family.

Rest in Peace.

UK and New Zealand trade deal announced

Today the UK government has announced an historic new free trade agreement between the UK and New Zealand, cutting tariffs and creating opportunities as we unlock the potential of Global Britain.

  • The UK and New Zealand are close partners, with a shared belief in free and fair trade and a mutual desire to strengthen our relationship and boost our economies.
  • That is why the UK and New Zealand government have reached an agreement in principle that paves the way for an historic trade deal with New Zealand, cutting tariffs on goods, increasing access for our services and making it easier for UK professionals to live and work in New Zealand.
  • This world-leading free trade agreement will drive growth across the UK, cutting red tape for British businesses and opening up access for our workers – boosting our economy as we build back better.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Midweek music spot: Handel's "Waft her, Angels, through the skies"

Campaigning resumes

A pause in political campaigning was declared by CCHQ immediately as a mark of respect following the tragic murder of Sir David Amess MP,

This was maintained until Tuesday, but political campaigning has now resumed.

The Chief Medical Officer's latest advice:


How Liberty Dies

Youtube has been suggesting for weeks that I might be interested in watching the video below, "how liberty dies" and I eventually made the bad mistake of taking "a glance" at it late one night last weekend when I had been about to retire for the evening 

To be clear, the mistake was choosing that time to look at it and my wife quite rightly told me off an hour and twenty minutes later when I finally came to bed in the wee small hours. 

It wasn't a mistake to watch it and I strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in politics. Just make sure that you have an hour ant twenty minutes clear. 

In "Star Wars III - Revenge of the Sith" Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) says "So this is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause." 

This video pulls together material from all three Star Wars prequel films and animated series from "The Clone Wars" to "Star Wars Rebels" and this year's "The Bad Batch" to tell the story of the fall of a democratic republic and how it was replaced by a brutal dictatorship.

Of course, the Republic in Star Wars is unusually unfortunate in that Robert Conquest's third law does not just accurately predict its' behaviour but is literally true - both the Republic and its open opponents, the Separatists really are secretly controlled by a small group of Sith Lords whose aims are inimical to both.

The survival of free societies is not an inevitability and history offers many examples from the Greek city states through the Roman republic to the establishment of the Third Reich of how a democratic soceity can decay into tyranny, wehther the state that results calls itself and empire or a "People's democratic republic." (It seems, of corse, to be an unvarying rule that any state with "Democratic" in it's title, isn't.)

Do I think that democracy in the West is in immediate and urgent danger of being replaced by dictatorship? No.

But do I think that we can safely assume that it could never happen here? Again, No.

As per my "quote of the day" this morning, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. 

The author of this video, who calls himself "Arken the Amerikan" suggests that the saga of the fall of the republic in Star Wars draws parallel not just to real-world history but to contemporary politics as well. I think this is true: I don't think democracy is in as bad a state in the USA or Britain as it was in the galactic republic of the Star Wars stories even at the start of "The Phantom Menace" and before the rise of Sheev Palpatine.

The temptation for anyone watching this clip and making parallels with the real world might be to assume that the mistakes called out in the video correspond to the real-world errors of those we already disagree with. But we will learn far more from it if we ask ourselves whether we, and the people we support, are walking into some of the same traps. 

To illustrate the point, I had assumed that the author of the video was on one side of the political spectrum in America until at almost the end of the clip he repeats, too exactly for it to be anything other than a direct quote, a phrase coined by someone at exactly the opposite end of the mainstream political spectrum to where I had assumed he was coming from. 

So if the author is where I had placed him, it does not stop him reading and learning from the views of people who take a different view. Perhaps that too is something we can learn from this.

Quote and thought of the day 20th October: Where does a free society draw the line?

In 2011, in a public speech, Labour MP John McDonnell said this:

‘I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Tory or MP, no Coalition Minister, can travel anywhere in the country or show their face anywhere in public without being challenged by direct action.’ 

He added: ‘Any institution or any individual that attacks our class, we will come for you with direct action.’

This year, according to The Times, an anti-vaxxer activist posted in a group chat on a secure messaging platform

“Pull up outside the front doors of every MP, news reader, editor, publisher . . . all of these f***ers need to know that we know who you are and we know where you live,” . 

“They will soon change up their actions when 20,000 are outside your house.”

McDonnell is still a Labour MP who served for a while as shadow chancellor and as the Corbynistas frequently remind us, could easily have been the actual chancellor if a few thousand more votes had been cast in particular marginal seats for Labour in 2017.

The anti-vaxxer movement is not yet a serious threat to democracy. But if it started acting on posts like that, it could become one.

I have no precise answer to the question of when a free society which wishes to remain one should use the force of law to act against those who openly incite the use of violence or intimidation to achieve their aims, other than that we should not be too quick to do so. But there is a problem there.

And although we should think once, twice, and three times before suppressing the speech of those who disagree with the majority of our society, there is no need to hesitate even once before calling out speeches which incite intimidation or violence. And when such speeches or posts are made, it is not just the political opponents of the people making them, but also democrats who support the same causes who should call out incitement like the speech by John McDonnell or that anti-vaxxer post as what they are - threats of mob rule, a menace to a free society and an attack on democracy.

We should all remember a sentiment often attributed to Ben Franklin. I am going to quote it in the form voiced by the actor Malcolm McDowell in the introduction to the game "Wing Commander IV - the price of freedom." 

In that game the character McDowell himself plays turns out to be the biggest threat to liberty so the irony - and it is an irony often echoed in the real world - is that the person giving the warning is also one of the very people it applies to, which does not make what he is saying untrue. He says,

"The price of Freedom is eternal vigilance."

Monday, October 18, 2021

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday music spot: Henry Purcell's Evening Hymn, sung by Thomas Cooley, with Voices of Music

Let's appreciate our opponents while they are still alive

Yesterday at a church function one of the people attending said to me that he thought it was a good thing that the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition had put aside their differences that morning  to appear together laying floral tributes to the murdered MP Sir David Amess. 

I agreed entirely with him, as I have agreed with similar opinions on social media. 

But it should not be just when those opponents have died, when they retire or when they receive an honour that politicians feel able to say anything positive about their opponents.

We need to be much better at recognising the humanity and acknowledging good points put forward by our political opponents when they are alive and in the normal course of politics - and that goes for people of all political parties.

Many years ago the "Not the Nine o'clock News" comedy programme did a sketch which begins with two politicians insulting one another in the most vituperative terms on television when one of them, played by Rowan Atkinson, has a heart attack and drops dead live on air. The other, played by Mel Smith, segues seamlessly in the very middle of a sentence from harsh criticism of the living politician to platitudes praising the dead one.

I have no doubt that in the case of Sir David Amess, who really was a nice, kind person, who took his work seriously but never himself, who listened to anyone in his constituency, and died making himself accessible to the people he was elected to represent, it was the tributes which were sincere and that nobody who knew him intended comments like "scum" to refer to him.

But there were two or three politicians, and I don't need to name names because you all know exactly who I mean without any need to spell it out, whose expressions of sympathy, no doubt sincerely meant, came over like Mel Smith in the sketch above.
We need to learn from this.

We need to dial down the level of personal criticism of our opponents, and dial up the recognition of things where we accept they may have a point. The strength of a democratic society is our ability to learn from one another, and none of us have a monopoly of wisdom or virtue.

Quote of the day 17th October 2021

"Everyone – at least every sensible, decent person, of which there are many – in Labour’s ranks knows it’s wrong. Keir Starmer knows it. Angela Rayner knows it. Every Labour MP knows it.

"It can’t continue like this. It can’t take the killing of a Conservative MP in their constituency" ... "for the Left to set aside their tribalism and acknowledge the essential decency of one of their opponents."

"Not least because that tribalism will not be set aside for long. Tomorrow, the House of Commons will gather for a moment of reflection. Sir Keir Starmer and other Labour MPs will help lead the tributes. And then it will be back to business as usual. ‘Tories – they hate the poor, they hate the migrants. They deserve everything they get.’

They don’t. Because they’re not ‘scum’. Tories are good, honest, decent, committed public servants, who just happen to have a different political philosophy.

David Amess wasn’t the exception, he was the rule. And it’s time for people on the Left – indeed, for all of us – to start to recognise it."

(Dan Hodges, former Labour and Trade union staffer, in a newspaper article calling for the dialling down of tribal demonisation of political opponents of right or left, which you can read in full here.)

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Saturday music spot: "My Heart is Inditing" by G.F. Handel

Better broadband for schools

This week it was confirmed that more than one thousand schools in hard-to-reach areas are now connected to lightning-fast full fibre broadband – delivering on Conservative plans to level up schools across the country and build back better.  

  • Whilst most schools in urban or suburban areas in the UK have access to high-speed broadband, many schools in hard-to-reach areas in particular cannot access these speeds and were not in line to receive upgrades commercially. 
  • That is why the government has focused investment in these areas, and now children and teachers in more than one thousand schools –  many in rural areas such as Norfolk and the Highlands – are being supplied with lightning-fast gigabit broadband so they can enjoy next-generation internet speeds. Work is also underway to bring gigabit speeds to even more schools, with 884 earmarked to be connected by March next year. 
  • This is part of the Conservative mission to level up internet access across the UK and to give children better access to learning opportunities no matter where they live as we build back better.
  • In the interests of full disclosure I should make clear that I am an Openreach employee and a BT shareholder, though I am posting this as a Conservative activist: none of the information in this post came directly from BT sources and it does not necessarily represent the views of BT or Openreach.

Support for pig farmers and the industry

This week it was announced that there will be a package of measures to support the pig industry, helping the sector to navigate temporary global challenges as we build back better.

  • Unique temporary circumstances have meant that farmers are facing challenges in the processing and exportation of pork, so the government has put forward plans to help the industry navigate global challenges until these circumstances abate.
  • The package of measures proposed to support the pork industry includes funding a private storage aid scheme to enable meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for up to six months, suspending levy payments on farmers and producers, and allowing up to 800 pork butchers into the UK through our existing Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme.
  • These measures will back British farmers, abattoirs and the wider pork industry as they navigate temporary challenges, ensuring they are able to contribute to our economy as we build back better.

Quote of the day 16th October 2021


Friday, October 15, 2021

Cumbria CC cabinet disregards concerns of scrutiny councillors and pursues Judicial Review

Despite the fact that the full council has voted not to pursue a judicial review over local government reform, and that the Scrutiny Management Board asked them to think again, the County Council's cabinet has voted to go ahead with it.

This is not just an irresponsible waste of money: it makes life more difficult for the officers of the county council and other councils in working on a very tight timescale to set up the new authorities.

It is also a very cruel thing to do to those who disagree with the form of local government which the former Secretary of State opted for, because it is holding out false hope.

Judicial Review is not something which you are supposed to use just because you disagree with a decision. To win a judicial review you have to prove in court - not just express an opinion in the council chamber or a press release - prove in court - that the person or body who made the decision you object to made a material error in the process they followed sufficiently serious that if it had not been made it could have made the decision.

And if you win the court action the whole thing goes back to the person or body who made that decision and they look at it again - and it's open to them to say that they have reconsidered it having corrected the process error and taking all the matters they were required to consider into account they are making the same decision again.

So to change the decision the Council cabinet have to both prove in court that the previous minister made a serious process error and then persuade the new Secretary of State to make a different one.

I don't believe they have a cat in hell's chance of doing either of those things.  What's more, I have good reason to suspect that the councillors who voted for this do not imagine that they have any chance of winning either.

This is a cynical exercise in gesture politics by the Labour group on the county council.

The Lib/Dems, by the way, abstained when this was first discussed at the special council meeting at the end of August, abstained at the cabinet meeting when the decision to pursue Judicial Review proceedings was originally taken, voted with the Conservatives on the Scrutiny Management Board to refer the matter back to cabinet at the start of this week, and then abstained again at cabinet yesterday.

The Lib/Dem leader said he could not support Judicial Review - and then abstained. 

Addressing the HGV driver shortage

The government has announced a consultation to temporarily amend cabotage rules, allowing thousands more HGV deliveries to be made each month and bolstering the resilience of our supply chains as we build a high-skill, high wage economy.

  • A global shortage of HGV drivers is affecting countries around the world, so we must take decisive action to bolster our supply chains and support industries. 
  • That is why the government has announced proposals to relax rules on international drivers entering the UK – meaning they can make an unlimited number of deliveries within the UK during a two week period, rather than up to two times per seven days under pre-existing rules. 
  • This temporary measure will give time to work with the industry to build a resilient British HGV workforce – and there are encouraging signs that progress is being made,  with a 300 per cent increase in the number of people looking to become HGV drivers.

Music to start the weekend: "Requiem Aeternam" by W A Mozart

Quote of the day 15th October 2021


Sir David Amess MP - Rest in Peace

I am utterly horrified and shocked to learn of the murder of Sir David Amess, MP first for Basildon and then for Southend West, who was rushed to hospital after being stabbed while conducting a constituency surgery but has died from his injuries.

Similar attacks have been made on MPs of all parties - the most recent and most similar tragedy was when Jo Cox MP was killed while attending a constituency surgery.

I knew David Amess slightly from my time as a Conservative activist in the East of England Region.

Regardless of what you thought of his politics, he was a nice man who worked hard for his constituents - and he was working on behalf of those constituents when someone murdered him.

All MPs take the risk that something like this could happen to them.

CCHQ has instructed that all Conservative campaigns should be suspended until further notice as a mark of respect and so we can be assured that the campaign workers who would have taken part are safe. I presume other parties will take similar action.

My thoughts and prayers are with David's family and friends.

Rest in Peace.



Thursday, October 14, 2021

Improving patient access to GP appointments

  • Patients should be able to see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live, and GPs should not face barriers to doing their vital work.
  • That is why the government has set out a new plan, including a £250 million winter access fund, to increase the number of face-to-face appointments and help tackle underperformance, as well as setting out more measures to tackle abuse at GP surgeries to make sure staff can work without fear for their safety.
  • This is part of a major drive to support GPs, level up performance, and ensure that everyone can see their GP in the way they want as we build back better.

This will be achieved by:

  • Publishing a plan for improving access to GP appointments with a £250 million fund so that patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live.  This plan, including a £250 million winter access fund, provides general practice teams with targeted support to help tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments. 
  • Increasing the oversight of practices and publishing GP appointment data to improve transparency tackle underperformance. There will be increased oversight of practices and GP appointment data will be published at practice level by spring next year, as currently monthly data is only published by CCGs – enhancing transparency and accountability. 
  • Setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries, who work tirelessly to care for patients, can do so without fear for their safety. Alongside the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, we will develop a zero-tolerance campaign on abuse of NHS staff, including GP teams. 
  • Freeing up more time for appointments by cutting red tape for GPs. We are reducing administrative burdens on GPs by reforming who can provide medical evidence and certificate such as FIT notes and DVLA checks. 
  • Enabling patients to see different types of clinicians in general practice so their needs can be best met. Patients will be able to see different types of clinicians in general practice, who can best meet their needs and conditions, including pharmacists, paramedics, advanced nurse practitioners and nursing associates. 
  • Considering how the role of pharmacists can be increased in the supply of medication to relieve workload on GPs. We will work with NHS England to consider how far and fast the role of pharmacists can be increased in the supply of medication.
  • Supporting upgrades to telephone systems so patients can quickly and easily speak to GP staff. Under this plan, we are supporting the improvement of telephone systems to help the public avoid long waits when contacting a surgery by phone.  

The Conservatives are backing our NHS by:

  • Delivering the biggest catchup programme in the NHS’s history, so that everyone can get the care they deserve. Over the next three years, this additional £36 billion of funding will deliver the equivalent of around nine million more checks, scans and procedures – and elective activity will be around 30 per cent than it was before the pandemic. Once the NHS has recovered from the pandemic, activity should be ten per cent higher than under the NHS Long Term Plan. 
  • Giving our NHS the biggest cash boost in history, and enshrining that increase into law, safeguarding it for future generations. We are investing an additional £33.9 billion into frontline NHS services every year by 2023-24, the largest and longest funding settlement in the history of the NHS. 
  • Building 40 new hospitals across England and upgrading 20 more, which will make a real difference to the lives of NHS staff and patients. Our £3.7 billion hospital building programme is the biggest of its kind in a generation, which will deliver 48 hospitals by 2030. We are also providing £850 million to support 20 hospitals in upgrading outdated facilities and equipment.
  • Overseeing a record number of doctors and nurses for our NHS, meaning it can continue to provide the world-class care patients deserve. The number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS across England has hit record levels and we are on track to meet our manifesto commitment to deliver 50,000 more nurses by 2024.

Quote of the day 14th October 2021

"Like many Asian parents, my mum always wanted me to be a GP.

When I told her I’d been made Health and Social Care Secretary, she said: ‘Well, you didn’t quite make it to GP, but at least you’re working in healthcare!’

In truth, she was only half joking. There’s a reason why people such as my mum have such high regard for GPs: their powerful blend of expertise and empathy has made generations of communities happier and healthier.

So I want to say a huge thank you to GPs and their teams across the country for their commitment to patients during the most challenging of times."

(Health Secretary Sajid Javid, opening words of a piece on improving access to GP services which you can read in full here.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Quote of the day 13th October 2021

“The fight against antisemitism is vast, but I hope today’s news goes a long way to showing positive change can be made and that we should never settle for anything less than a society free from all forms of hatred.”

The president of Bristol Jewish Society, Edward Isaacs, one of the individual Jewish students at Bristol University who were publicly attacked by Professor David Miller, responding to the decision by the University to dismiss Professor Miller because this “did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff

Because of ACAS guidelines - not least to ensure fairness and integrity of the process if Professor Miller appeals the decision as he has the right to do - the University of Bristol was not able to go into detail about the precise grounds on which they made the decision. The University's statement on the issue can be found here.

Professor Miller has previously defended Ken Livingston's comments about Hitler, and, eventually resigned from the Labour party because of the 'Zionist movement' (sic). He has a long history of making controversial comments which are often accused by his critics of being anti-semitic.

Let me nail my colours to the mast. In my humble opinion some of David Miller's comments about Israel and about Jewish charities such as the Community Safety Trust go way beyond legitimate criticism of the previous government of Israel and into the territory defined as Anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition. In particular I found his comments about CST to be wrong and totally out of order - and that is putting it mildly. However that is not why he should have been fired.

However much I and many other people might disagree with the views which David Miller expressed on various public platforms and online groups organised by bodies such as "Labour against the witch-hunt" and other groups which have nothing to do with the University of Bristol, those views would not have been a sound reason to fire him. 

As one of the individuals who has written in his support had previously famously said, "If we don't believe in freedom of speech for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."

But he crossed a line with his public comments attacking Jewish societies, and effectively individual students, at the University, describing them as agents of a hostile power. That moved the issue from a freedom of speech issue to a duty of care issue. 

The University of Bristol was right to point out that it has a duty of care to all its students. So do academics who work for the institution. And publicly accusing your students of being agents of a hostile foreign power is incompatible with that duty. That - not his criticisms of the government of Israel - is why the University was right to take disciplinary action against him.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Making blood donation more inclusive to widen the range of blood available for transfusions.

The government is making blood donation more inclusive, allowing people from a wider range of backgrounds to donate blood – protecting and saving more lives as we build back better from the pandemic. 

  • Creating a fairer and more inclusive blood donation service helps to incentivise blood donation whilst increasing the amount of blood donated from rarer blood groups – helping to improve and save lives in the UK.
  • As part of this policy and following scientific advice, the government is updating and improving the donor safety check form – removing questions which had been seen as discriminatory. 
  • Creating a wider and fairer system will not only improve services for everyone but helps to remove unease felt by some who were prevented from donating – saving more lives as we recover from the pandemic.

Quote of the day 12th October 2021

 "The county council is the Millwall of local government in Cumbria - everyone hates us, we don't care."

(Cllr Stewart Young, Labour leader of Cumbria County Council, at the Scrutiny Management Board meeting in Kendal yesterday 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Judicial Review decision referred back to County Council cabinet

Until the government actually made a decision about what sort of unitary authorities it wanted, there was a high degree of consensus among County and District councillors in support of the principle of replacing the present County and District councils with a unitary council system. 

Not everyone agreed that now is the time to do it, and there was no consensus about the best model, but the vast majority of county councillors voted in favour of going for a unitary system and so did many district councillors.

However, when the government decided to replace the county council and the six district councils with two unitary councils rather than the single unitary council he preferred, the Leader of Cumbria County Council authorised the start of a process which could lead to a legal challenge.

A special meeting of the full council was called for the end of August, and voted that it would be a waste of time and money to pursue such a legal challenge and that it would be better to concentrate on setting up the new councils and making them work to provide better services and representation for the people of Cumbria.

The September meeting of the County Council cabinet decided to ignore this decision and support the next stage of a judicial review. The report to that meeting suggested that this could cost council taxpayers £83,000 but it is entirely possible that it could be more than that - legal cases have a well-documented propensity to cost more than expected and if your case is weak there can be an award of costs against you - it is entirely possible that this legal challenge could cost Cumbria's taxpayers a figure closer to £200,000. Not least because whoever loses could appeal sending legal bills higher and higher as good money is thrown after bad.

So I and two other Conservative councillors "called in" the decision by the county cabinet to progress a judicial review, and that call-in was discussed by the council's scrutiny management board this afternoon in Kendal.

Conservative and Lib/Dem councillors on the Scrutiny Management Board shared some of our concerns and voted to send the issue back to the council cabinet for further consideration (which is the strongest action that they were able to take.)

The vote to refer the issue back  to cabinet for further consideration was passed by seven votes to five.

Points of interest - we asked how the legal challenge would be funded and whether it was in line with the Policy and Budget framework, The answer was that the council has a "contingency" fund of £1.5 million pounds of which £1.2 million was left which the money could be taken from. That isn't exactly how the budget heading concerned was described when the budget was passed and it was interesting, to put it mildly, to hear that the leader of the council has that view of local taxpayers' money.

He also compared Cumbria County Council to the fans of Milwall football club - see tomorrow's quote of the day.


Engaging with energy-intensive industries

The Government will continue to engage with energy intensive industries affected by the global gas spike. At the same time, consumers will continue to be protected by the  Energy Price Cap action will be taken to ensure that everyone will get the gas supply they need over the winter months.

  • Rising global gas prices are understandably causing anxiety, but thanks to the safety net – the Energy Price Cap – people will be protected.
  • The Energy Price Cap will remain at the same level this winter, particularly protecting those on lower incomes. We can be confident in our energy supply, and we benefit from both resilient gas supplies from British waters and a diverse renewables and nuclear sector.

Monday music spot: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565

Quote of the day 11th October 2021


The Northern Ireland Protocol

This coming week, during a speech in Lisbon, Lord Frost will repeat the need for significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

  • There is widespread consensus that the Northern Ireland Protocol is not working as it should, and no one should be in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation.
  • That is why the UK government is working to fix this and to reflect the concerns of everyone in Northern Ireland, from all sides of the political spectrum, to make sure the peace process is not undermined, and why Britain is calling on the EU to show ambition and willingness to tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the Protocol head on. 
  • The UK government is ready to work intensively and rapidly to find a solution to this problem, and in doing so we hope for a stronger UK-EU relationship with a focus on the future. However, if we are unable to reach agreement then Britain has warned that it may be necessary to take Article 16 safeguard measures to address the serious problems being caused by the Protocol.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Action to train more HGV drivers

Today the government announced 2,000 additional places on the HGV training scheme as we work to tackle the worldwide HGV driver shortage.

  • HGV drivers are helping to keep the whole country running, as they have been throughout the pandemic – but there is a global shortage of drivers. 
  • That is why the government is expanding Britain's HGV training scheme to allow up to 5,000 people, 2,000 more than when the scheme opened, to participate in free courses to gain the skills they need to be road ready, and to help those with previous experiences refresh their skills to get back on the road. 
  • This will help more people to kickstart their career as a well-paid HGV driver as we take the lead tackling this long-standing challenge faced by countries around the world.

The energy price cap

Today the Business Secretary outlined how the government is protecting consumers with our Energy Price Cap, and reaffirmed that everyone will get the gas supply they need over the winter months.

  • Rising global gas prices are understandably causing anxiety, but thanks to the safety net provided by the Energy Price Cap, vulnerable consumers  will be protected.
  • Our Energy Price Cap will remain at the same level this winter, protecting people, particularly those on lower incomes. We can be confident in our energy supply, and we benefit from both resilient gas supplies from British waters and a diverse renewables and nuclear sector.

My post conference reading list, one: "How to fight Anti-Semitism" by Bari Weiss

There is always a political bookshop among the commercial stalls at party conferences, and I don't often manage to attend a party conference without coming away with a book or five, often including one or two signed by the author.

The first of the books I bought this year at Conservative Party conference and have been reading is "How to fight Anti-Semitism" by Bari Weiss. 

It is a wake-up call to anyone who imagines that with the defeat of Nazi Germany and the exposure of the Nazi's vile crimes against humanity the kinds of prejudice which led them to attempt genocide are so discredited that they are doomed to the dustbin of history. 

Weiss's book looks at the three main groups spreading modern Anti-Semitic racism - the extreme right, the extreme left, and radical islamists - and discusses how in many cases these ideas are in common or are mirror-images of one another. She also looks at the historical roots of prejudice against Jewish people and Jewish culture and shows how in some ways this prejudice follows in a very old tradition while in others it has morphed into new forms which are designed to appear more convincing in new circumstances - but are as irrational and dangerous as ever.

I can recommend this book, which is available from good bookshops or on Amazon here.

Sunday music spot: "Baba Yetu" by Christopher Tin (The Lord's Prayer in Swahili)

Quote of the day 10th October 2021

"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

    The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,

    And leaves the world to darkness and to me."

(Thomas Grey, first verse of his "Elegy written in a country churchyard," published 1751. The contemporary illustration below is by William Blake.)

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Booster and Flu vaccination campaign launched

The NHS and the UK government have now launched a new campaign to encourage those eligible to take their free flu-jab and booster COVID-19 vaccination, to protect the most vulnerable this winter. 

  • Following the continuing success of Britain's vaccination programme – saving almost 130,000 lives – health experts are encouraging eligible individuals to get their free flu-jab and booster vaccine to protect as many lives as possible this winter.
  • The UK has now launched the biggest flu programme in history for 2021/22, in partnership with charities and healthcare organisations, to further the success and protection of our vaccine programme and mitigate the effects of combined flu and coronavirus this winter.
  • It is thanks to Britain's incredible vaccination programme, and our amazing NHS, that we are able to reunite with friends and family this year – we must protect progress already made and continue to protect the most vulnerable from coronavirus.

Travel Guidance

On Thursday the UK government updated international travel guidance by removing 47 countries from the red list, thanks to the success of Britain's vaccination programme we can now safely reunite friends and families across the world. 

  • After taking the necessary steps to keep our country and borders safe, the UK is now able to continue simplifying international travel guidance.
  • So the government has removed 47 countries and territories from the red list - meaning from next week vaccinated Brits can travel almost anywhere in the world without having to do pre-departure or day 8 tests, or any form of isolation, when they return. The UK will now also We recognise vaccines from an additional 37 countries, including India and Pakistan, meaning their vaccinated citizens can now travel to the UK under the relaxed rules. 
  • It is thanks to the continued success of vaccination efforts both home and abroad, that we have been able to simplify travel guidance and significantly cut the number of destinations on our red list – safely reuniting friends and families across the world.

Saturday music spot: "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius

Quote of the day 9th October 2021 "No one is immune to failure"

"No one is immune to failure,
All have tasted the bitterness of defeat and disappointment

A warrior must not dwell on that failure, but must learn from it and continue on.

But not all learn from their errors.

That is something which those who seek to dominate other know very well, and know how to exploit.

If an opponent has failed once at a logic problem, his opponent will first try the same type of problem,  hoping the failure will be repeated.

What the manipulator sometimes forgets, and what a warrior must always remember, is that no two sets of circumstances are alike.

The would-be victim may have learned from the mistake."

(Grand Admiral Thrawn, from Star Wars Rebels)

Good advice for a politician or election candidate as much as for a sailor, soldier or airman.


Friday, October 08, 2021

Music to start the weekend: Bach's "Wake O Wake" cantata, (Tune: "Not the black horse")

James Brokenshire RIP

The Rt Hon James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup and a former cabinet minister, has lost a long battle with cancer; he died peacefully at Darent Valley hospital on Thursday evening with family members by his bedside. He was 53 years old and leaves a widow, Cathy, and three children. James had been in hospital since Sunday after his condition rapidly deteriorated.

His family said

“We would like to thank all the NHS staff, particularly those at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London, who cared for James with such warmth, diligence and professionalism over the past three-and-a-half years. We would also ask that our privacy as a family is respected at this time.”

James and I went back a long way: he was my successor but one as Chairman of the East of England area Young Conservatives a quarter of a century ago. I attended his and Cathy's wedding and a year or two later they came to mine.

James was a highly intelligent, kind, practical and reasonable man and a dedicated public servant. He is a great loss to politics - he will be an even greater loss to his family.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 8th October 2021


Thursday, October 07, 2021

Action to get more specialist teachers

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a new levelling up premium to boost and retain the number of specialist teachers, making a real difference to schools across the country as we build back better.

  • Disadvantaged schools are more likely to face teacher supply and retention issues – we are determined to correct that by offering targeted investment for teachers to drive up quality.
  • That is why the PM announced a new levelling up premium worth up to £3,000 per teacher – which will support the recruitment and retention of specialist teachers in shortage subjects and in the schools and areas that need them most.
  • As we level up and build back better from the pandemic, this will help to boost school standards so that every child can get the world class education they deserve.