Friday, March 24, 2023

Apologies for the delay releasing comments on this blog

I have been exceptionally busy this past fortnight, with the final burst of meetings as we wind up CCC and a lot going on in my work and personal life. Consequently there have been fewer posts than usual, and some have arrived late, and I have been very slow in going through and releasing perfectly legitimate comments. 

Please accept my apologies for this. I hope to catch up with the backlog this weekend or early next week.

Quote of the day 24th March 2023

Overheard during a discussion yesterday just after the last meeting of Cumbria County Council (I'm not going to tell you the name or party affiliation of the councillor who said it and this quote should not be assumed to be an endorsement of anything other than the PM and the Windsor Framework, which I absolutely endorse.)

"I feel rather sorry for what Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have done to themselves - they've made Steve Baker look like the voice of sanity."

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Quote of the day 22nd March 2023

"The Windsor Framework is a turning point for Northern Ireland. 

It is a dramatic step forward for the people of Northern Ireland and we should take it with a good heart."

(Steve Baker MP on twitter, in a tweet which also included this graphic)

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Quote of the day 21st March 2021


For anyone who does not recognise her, this quote comes from J.K. Rowling. There are plenty of things about which I disagree with her, but she is absolutely right to stress the need to handle disagreements in a constructive way and respect those we disagree with. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Quote of the day 20th March 2023


(Daniel Sugarman, who is Public Affairs Director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews although his tweet was in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the Board of Deputies, responds to tweets with a photoshopped image of Suella Braverman.

The original image shows her with two Rwandans, and the all three of them are laughing and obviously sharing a joke. In the photoshopped versions the two Rwandans have been cropped out and the Home Secretary has been photoshopped onto various misleading or highly inappropriate backgrounds, including the Auschswitz-Birkenau extermination camp.)

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Revenge of the Killer Bunnies and the curse of WattsApp

At the height of the pandemic I posted a piece called Sunday reflection: life finds a way about a fir tree which had miraculously recovered from injuries I had expected to be terminal and suspected had been inflicted by my daughter's "Killer Bunnies."

Something - I suspected my daughter's pet rabbits as the only other animal in Cumbria capable of inflicting that kind of damage on a tree would be a deer, and it's unlikely any deer could have got into the garden - had a really good go at the lower trunk of the tree in about 2019, stripping off a lot of bark and doing enough damage to weaken the base of the fir tree and make it keel over. I had propped it back up by tying the upper part of the tree to the adjacent fence and IIRC took appropriate measures to contain the loss of sap but had not expected the tree to survive.

It did survive, and managed to repair it's base sufficiently to still be upright in March 2020 although the cords I used to tie it in that position had long since gone. And even though the lower trunk and root system must be under a considerable turning moment trying to topple it, because the lowest part of the trunk is almost horizontal before bending back close to the vertical by the time it reaches a foot above the ground.

I wrote that the determined struggle of that tree to repair it's injuries and survive is a metaphor for life itself, which in so many creatures often manages to cling on against the most terrible challenges when the odds are stacked against it.

The living creatures which we call human beings have that ability in spades. I predicted that although we would lose some of our friends, neighbours and loved ones to COVID-19, and that we would regret every one of those deaths, human society would come through the Coronavirus pandemic just as the tree in my garden recovered from the attack of the killer bunnies.

And as the saying goes, we will find that whatever does not kill us makes us stronger.

The tree is still there, and significantly more substantial than it was two years ago, and last week I took a picture of the two bunnies happily nibbling the grass at the foot of the tree. I had intended to post it on the family WattsApp group for the enjoyment of my wife and children.

Unfortunately by mistake I posted it on a WattsApp group for senior Conservative party officials instead. Causing a certain amount of amusement to colleagues. So if I traduced the bunnies they certainly have their revenge. Just goes to show you cannot be too careful what you put on WattsApp.

Oh well. At least I didn't send it to Isobel Oakeshott!

MoD Defence intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine at 19th March 2023


Sunday music spot: Thomas Tallis, "Salvator Mundi"

Quote of the day for Mothering Sunday 2023


Saturday, March 18, 2023

Music to relax after campaigning: Vivaldi's Concerto for 4 violins in B minor

Boosting defence, and the Integrated Review Refresh 2023

Also this week on improving defence and security, the Prime Minister confirmed a £5 billion boost in defence investment alongside the launch of the Integrated Review Refresh 2023, setting out how the UK will tackle new threats from Russia and China, protect our economy and compete at the cutting edge of technology.

  • The last two years, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increasingly concerning actions of China, have shown the importance of being ready and able to respond when challenged.
  • That is why the Prime Minister has confirmed £5 billion of new investment in defence and a new ambition to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP as part of the launch of the 2023 Integrated Review Refresh, which sets out how we will protect our interests in an increasingly volatile world. Today the Prime Minister will also join a trilateral meeting in the USA on the next phase of the AUKUS pact. 
  • This funding will fortify our national defences, from economic security to technology supply chains and intelligence expertise, to ensure we are never again vulnerable to the actions of a hostile power.

AUKUS - a great deal for world stability and for jobs in Barrow


This week the Prime Minister announced that the first generation of AUKUS nuclear submarines will be built in the UK and Australia and based on British designs, putting the commitments to global security in the Integrated Review Refresh into practice and creating thousands of jobs that will grow the economy.

The AUKUS partnership to build the world’s most advanced nuclear-powered submarines demonstrates the enduring commitment to freedom and democracy that we have set out in our Integrated Review Refresh, which is backed by a £5 billion increase in defence spending as we continue to grow the defence budget to 2.5 per cent.

That is why, as the UK government announced the Integrated Review Refresh, the Prime Minister met with American President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to announce plans for the most advanced nuclear-powered submarines the world has ever known – which will be based on world-leading British designs and built initially in Barrow-in-Furness.

These plans will put into practice the approach set out in the Integrated Review Refresh and see pioneering British design expertise protect our people and our allies for generations to come – as well as growing the economy by creating thousands of jobs in Barrow and further along the supply chain in places like Derby. 

MoD Defence intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine 18 March 2023


Quote of the day 18th March 2023

"Children can't be treated as the spoils of war, they can't be deported".

"This type of crime doesn't need one to be a lawyer, one needs to be human being to know how egregious it is."

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan explaining the decision yesterday of the court to issue arrest warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Children's Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, on charges of the forced deportaion of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Even if Vladimir Putin is never forced to stand trial - which is sadly likely although you never know what changes the future may bring - this arrest warrant is justice, because Putin himself has flagrantly abused international legal channels such as Interpol to try to arrest his opponents and critics such as Bill Browder on flagrantly trumped-up charges for which it was patently obvious that there was no evidence.

There is far more evidence to support the charges which the ICC has brought against Putin and Belova than there has been in all the cases put together that Putin's regime has brought against opponents such as Browder.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

More people in work

Figures released today show near record numbers of people in work – giving more people the security of a job as we grow the economy, halve inflation and get debt falling.

The Conservative priority to grow the economy, halve inflation and get debt falling relies on a strong workforce across the UK – meaning more people have the security of their own income.

The latest figures show that the number of payroll employees rose by 98,000 in February 2023 to 30 million. The number of employees on payroll now stands at 1,040,000 above pre-pandemic levels – with the employment rate increasing between November and January 2023. 

Quote of the day 14th March 2023


Saturday, March 11, 2023

Stopping the Boats

Over the past 25 years, governments and opposition parties in every part of the British political spectrum have tried to come up with a successful, fair and compassionate policy on immigration.

Tried and failed. 

Nobody has come up with a perfect policy on this subject - least of all the more radical anti-establishment parties who loudly accuse all the establishment parties of having failed on the issue but whose own ideas, if they have any at all, range from the disastrous to the utterly impractical.

Much of this post will be about what the Conservatives are currently doing to address this extremely difficult issues, but as an illustration of the chasm between rhetoric and reality it is worth considering the record of the main opposition party and the difference between what they are saying now and were saying shortly before they last won an election and what actually happened when they were last in power.

When Labour were last in power their handling of immigration was marked by controversy, ministerial resignations, and 180 degree turns between policies which welcomed and facilitated significant immigration and policies so restrictive that they literally outflanked the Daily Mail. 

An example of an extreme U-turn would be when ten countries joined the EU in 2004. Initially the New Labour government in Britain, which had been one of only three governments in the EU which said they would immediately offer freedom of movement to citizens of new members states in Eastern Europe from the first possible date. But having made the commitments two years before to give full rights of entry to all citizens of new member stares, they tried unsuccessfully to change their minds and slam on the brakes 48 hours before this promise was due to come into effect. 

Needless to say the resulting chaos achieved neither the benefits which would have come from sticking to the original policy of being the only country in the EU to adopt freedom of movement on Day one nor those which would have come from adopting from the beginning the policy of every other EU government and phasing it in gradually. 

Another example of a disruptive U-turn was when New Labour attempted to send overseas medical students home half way through their courses training to be doctors.

Examples of when Labour outflanked the Daily Mail in adopting restrictive policies on immigration included when they refused to let an elderly Gurkha veteran who had served in Britain's armed forces for years and been highly decorated come here for operation, and when Labour tried to deport to Zimbabwe someone who even the Daily Mail thought had a well founded case for political asylum as they would be persecuted by the Mugabe regime.

Here is a link to an interesting 2015 article in The Guardian about  

How immigration came to haunt Labour: the inside story | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian

I quote this history not mainly to attack Labour (though there are plenty of opportunities to do that) but to indicate how difficult and complex the issue is.

But there are three reasons why the issue of small boat crossings much be tackled

First, it is killing people. Crossing the Channel in small boats is not safe.

Second, uncontrolled immigration into the UK would not be sustainable. The present level of net legal immigration is already over half a million. Adding tens of thousands on top of that is risking a threat to the ability of our infrastructure to cope and poses a risk to social cohesion.

Third, and this is an attack on the people smugglers who put their victims in dangerous boats, not an attack on the migrants, Britain and many other countries in the world, is the target of criminal gangs who are trafficking people because they want to get slave labour out of them. We need to break these criminal gangs.

This cannot be done without closer co-operation with our neighbours in France.

So yesterday Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met the French President and secured a deal with President Macron to establish a new detention centre in France, the deployment of more French personnel, and enhanced technology to patrol beaches in a shared effort to drive down illegal migration. 

This enhanced cooperation aims to increase the interception rate for attempted crossings and drastically reduce the number of crossings each year.

  • This builds on the largest ever small boats deal the PM secured with France last year, which saw Border Force officers deployed to France for the first time, and the Stop the Boats Bill we announced this week to ensure nobody who enters the UK illegally can remain here. 
  • This will help the Conservative government make progress towards our promise to stop the boats. Yesterday’s announcement goes further than ever before to put an end to this vile trade in human life. Working together, the UK and France will ensure that nobody can exploit our systems.

 We will do this by:

  • Building a new detention centre for the first time to prevent the crossings in the first place. We will establish a detention centre in France for the first time, to enhance the country’s ability to cope with the level of people being trafficked across the Channel. This new centre will support French efforts to increase detention capacity, allowing more migrants who might otherwise travel by dangerous and illegal routes to the UK to be removed from the French coast. 
  • Ramping up boots on the ground to take down the people smugglers and stop the boats. Hundreds of extra French law enforcement officers will use enhanced technology and intelligence insight to prevent illegal Channel crossings. This will more than double the number of personnel deployed in northern France to tackle small boats, with over half of these in place by the end of the year.
  • Delivering as an unparalleled multi-year agreement to put pressure on the people smugglers taking lasting action. This agreement for three years, builds on joint measures taken with France in 2022 which increased patrols by 40 per cent.
  • Enhancing cooperation to boost the interception rate for attempted crossings and drastically reduce the number of crossings each year. Efforts will be bolstered by a new, highly trained, permanent French mobile policing unit dedicated to tackling small boats. Additional drones, aircraft and other technologies like surveillance will also be deployed, as the UK and France step up intelligence sharing to clamp down on people trafficking routes. A new 24/7 zonal coordination centre, with permanent UK liaison officers. The coordination centre will bring all relevant French law enforcement partners together for the first time to coordinate the response, building on our existing joint work with France, which prevented nearly 33,000 Channel crossings in 2022.
  • Legislating through the Illegal Migration Bill to deter illegal immigration and ensure that those people with a genuine case to come to Britain have a better chance of coming here legally than illegally. Measures in the bill will remove the incentive for people to risk their lives through dangerous and unnecessary journeys and pull the rug from under the criminal gangs profiting from this misery once and for all. Illegal migrants will be detained and swiftly removed to their home country if safe, or another safe third country, such as Rwanda, where they will be supported to rebuild their lives.
This plan is not perfect. it's difficult to see that any solution could be. But it begins a way forward.

MoD defence intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine 11th March 2023


Saturday music spot: Music for a while (Purcell)

More action on sanctions against Russia

New figures show Britain has frozen more than £48 billion in Russian assets alongside our allies, as part of the effort to de-fund Putin’s war machine and bring a fair peace in Ukraine. 

  • The Conservative government, with strong cross-party support from most of the political spectrum, is determined to hold Russia to account for its unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine and ensure Putin’s barbaric venture ends in failure.
  • New figures show that, alongside our allies in the Russian Elites Proxies and Oligarchs Task Force, we have blocked or frozen more than £48 billion worth of Russian assets, putting unprecedented financial pressure on Putin and his cronies.
  • Together we stand united in defending global democracy and fighting against authoritarianism. 

Quote of the day 11th Mach 2023


Friday, March 10, 2023

Music to start the weekend: J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor

MoD Defence intelligence summary on the situation in Ukraine 10th March 2023


Investing in Britain's transport network

Yesterday the government set out record investment plans for Britain's transport network, investing £40 billion in transformational transport schemes to unlock economic growth and boost job opportunities across the UK. 

  • Transport is a down payment on the country’s future and a key driver of economic growth.
  • Even in this tough economic climate we are investing £40 billion over the next two years to improve the UK’s transport network. This includes delivering HS2 in the context of inflationary pressures and the need to balance the books and reduce debt.
  • This new plan allows us invest record sums in our transport network whilst helping to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt. 

Take care if you have to travel today

I have an urgent need to travel today, so I will be paying great attention to this advice from Cumbria police:

UK/France Summit

Today Prime Minister  Rishi Sunak will take part in the UK-France Summit to assert our staunch commitment to European security, discussing new approaches to joint challenges, and this will including working with our friends and neighbours in France stop the boats and break the criminal gangs who are putting lives at risk.
  • Our deep history, our proximity and our shared global outlook mean that a firm partnership between the UK and France is not just valuable, it is essential.
  • Today the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, and other ministers will attend the UK-France Summit with President Macron to reassert our commitment to European security, supporting Ukraine and bolstering our energy sovereignty. They will also discuss our shared commitment to tackling illegal migration, as we deliver on the Prime Minister’s pledge to stop the boats.
  • As we face new and unprecedented threats, it is vital that we fortify the structures of our alliance so we are ready to take on the challenges of the future and improve the lives of British people.


Supporting R&D Projects

This week the government announced the funding of vital new projects in the Research and Development sector, boosting economic growth and attracting high-skilled jobs. 
  • Innovation and technology can help to raise productivity and wages, transform healthcare, reduce energy prices and ultimately create jobs and economic growth in the UK.
  • We are investing in new science and technology projects across the whole country, including £40 million for research institutions to boost the impact of their social and economic research and £1.6 million to boost the UK’s space capabilities.
  • By putting the UK at the forefront of new research and technologies, we are harnessing the new jobs and economic growth that R&D brings in local areas. 

Quote of the day 10th March 2023


Thursday, March 09, 2023

Chaim Topol RIP

The performer of this classic song from "Fiddler on the Roof", Chaim Topol, died yesterday at the age of 87.


Israeli actor and singer Chaim Topol, best known for his performance as Tevye in the musical and film Fiddler on the Roof, has died in Tel Aviv. Topol always held a very unique place in 20th century music – few singers owned one role in quote such an iconic way. 

It was a role he brought to the world in the hugely popular 1971 film, and then in over 3,500 stage performances over 50 years.

MoD Defence Intelligence update 9th March 2023


Supporting communities and tackling loneliness

The government has announced today that 27 areas across England will receive a share of £30 million in extra funding to support communities to tackle loneliness, providing opportunities for people to volunteer, learn new skills and connect with their neighbours.

  • Loneliness blights many in communities up and down the country and opportunities to engage with neighbours or develop new skills can be a lifeline, bringing people closer together.
  • That is why we have launched our Know Your Neighbourhood Fund, which is investing £30 million to support projects in 27 local authorities, with successful projects providing volunteering to help parents and carers, delivering training for young people to become sports coaches, and supporting vulnerable residents with one-to-one assistance.
  • This boost will help deliver volunteering opportunities for local residents, growing social networks and supporting communities to tackle loneliness.
Civil Society Minister Stuart Andrew said:

"During the Covid-19 pandemic, dedicated volunteers and charity workers came together to support our communities in a real time of need - from taking time to check in on neighbours to delivering prescriptions.

We are determined to capture this brilliant spirit and see it continue, which is why I’m delighted to announce the launch of the Know Your Neighbourhood Fund. With funding already being allocated, this will create more opportunities for people to volunteer, learn new skills and connect with their communities across the country."

Rosemary Macdonald, CEO, UK Community Foundations added:

"Loneliness can impact anyone at any time in any community, and the work of voluntary organisations to reduce isolation and loneliness has been in higher demand since the pandemic.

The Know Your Neighbourhood Fund has enabled community foundations to provide vital support to initiatives that encourage impactful volunteering and community connectivity in some of the country’s most vulnerable areas. Over the next three years, the insights we learn will help us to understand the issues impacting volunteering and social inclusion, and we’re so grateful to the Government for this opportunity.

Elsewhere, the Know Your Neighbourhood Fund will create volunteering opportunities in local museums, voluntary arts groups such as community choirs, music and drama clubs, and connect communities through projects related to their high streets. This work will be supported by £5 million to creative arts and cultural organisations through Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England."

Continuing support with the cost of living

The government continues to help households with the cost of living. Now, I want to be grown-up here, this is not sustainable as a long-term policy. For most of us, they are taking our own money in taxes and then giving it back to us, which does not make long-term sense. 

But these are not normal times and we are going through a very severe short-term crisis, severely exacerbated by international factors beyond Britain's control such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

In this emergency situation, it makes sense for the government to use its' greater financial leverage to help us all out in the short term. In the long term, such aid will have to be restricted to those who most need it. While the policy is in place it is also important for all of us to make sure we are getting what we are entitled to under the policy.

You can find out more about what you may be entitled to by clicking on the link  below:

Help for Households - Get government cost of living support

Quote of the day 9th March 2023


Wednesday, March 08, 2023

MoD Defence intelligence summary on the situation in Ukraine at 8 March 2023


Women in Britain's armed forces


Midweek music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto in D Minor for two violins & cello

Celebrating International Women's Day 2023

Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity for all, so everyone across our United Kingdom – no matter their gender, race, or background – can reach their full potential. 
  • We are proud of our record as champions of women in all aspects of British life, from supporting more women to reach the top table of Britain’s biggest companies and politics, to strengthening protections for victims of domestic abuse, and cracking down on perpetrators of violence against women and girls. 
  • We are committed to gender parity in all aspects of society and will continue to ensure women’s voices are heard as we build a fairer, more equal Britain.
We are removing barriers which hold people back:

  • Acting to see a steep rise in the number of women in work, taking female employment to a record high, meaning more women earning a decent wage. Since 2010, the number of women in employment has increased from 13,616,000 to 15,663,000 last year, and reached record highs pre-pandemic (ONS, Number of women in employment, 14 February 2023, link)
  • Supporting more women to start their own businesses so that we can all benefit from growing the economy. The Rose Review, launched by the Treasury in 2019, found in its latest annual progress report that women have established 151,603 companies, up by 6,332 on the previous year. They represented 20 per cent of all incorporations, compared with 16.7 per cent in 2018 (The Times, 22 February 2023, link). 
  • Taking action to get more women on our top company boards. We have already met our target to get 40 per cent of FTSE 350 leadership roles held by women, three years early. Women’s board representation increased by nearly 3 per cent last year across the FTSE 350, with a third of all leadership roles in FTSE companies held by women (BaT, Press release, 28 February 2023, link). 
  • Removing barriers in the workplace, so that every woman can reach their full potential after having a family. We have introduced shared parental leave, 30 hours of free childcare for eligible parents and are encouraging employers to offer employees flexible working as standard – making it easier for women to return and stay in work after having a family (DfE, News Story, 17 March 2020, link; GEO, Press Release, 5 March 2021, link). 

We are cracking down on violence against women and girls 

  • Launching a landmark Violence against Women And Girls Strategy to make sure our streets are safer for the most vulnerable. 
  • The Strategy will support victims by launching a 24/7 sexual assault helpline, introduce VAWG Transport Champions, and make communities safer with revised guidelines (HO, News Story, 21 July 2021, link).  
  • Putting £125 million into practical measures like street lighting so that women and girls feel safer at night. Through the Safer Street Fund and Safety of Women at Night Fund, we have invested £125 million to deliver practical support for women and girls across our communities (HO, News Story, 25 July 2022, link). 
  • Introducing new laws to tackle ‘upskirting’ and protecting victims of stalking. As of April 2019, ‘upskirting’ offenders can be arrested as sent to prison in England and Wales. We are also protecting victims of stalking by allowing police to intervene more rapidly to protect victims (MoJ, Press Release, April 2019, link; Home Office, News Story, 15 March 2019, link). 
  • Improving how abhorrent crimes like rape are dealt with so that victims get the support and respect they deserve – we are setting up the UK’s first ever government-funded 24/7 support service for victims of rape, ensuring victims can access professional support at any time. We have announced the first ever 24/7 support service for victims of rape. The service is operated by Rape Crisis England and Wales who have over three decades’ experience running a helpline for victims (MoJ, Press release, 7 December 2022, link).

We are protecting women from domestic abuse
  • Introducing our tough new Domestic Abuse Act, strengthening protections for victims and improving support services. Our Domestic Abuse Act strengthens protections for victims, reforms our family courts to give women support during trials, and ends the so called ‘rough sex’ defence. It also widens the scope of controlling and coercive behaviour, makes non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, and widens ‘revenge porn’ laws (HO, New Story, 29 April 2021, link). 
  • Tagging the most dangerous domestic abusers and classifying violence against women and girls as a national threat for the very first time. Anyone jailed for 12 months or more for coercive control will be placed on the Violent and Sex Offender Register, with the worst abusers electronically tagged and made to attend behaviour change programmes. We are also classifying VAWG as a national threat for the first time (Sky News, 20 February 2023, link).  
  • Allocating £125 million to councils for safe accommodation, providing security to domestic abuse victims and their children. We are providing £125 million to councils across England to ensure victims and their children can access life-saving support, including therapy, advocacy, and counselling in safe accommodation so they can take a vital step in recovering and rebuilding their lives (HO, Press Release, 12 February 2021, link). 

Conservative women are leading the way:
  • We are the only British political party to have elected a female Prime Minister, and have done so three times. The Conservative Party is the only political party to be led by three female Prime Ministers and made history when Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979 (GOV.UK, Past Prime Ministers, accessed 28 February 2023, link). 
  • The last election saw the largest number of female Conservative MPs ever elected to Parliament. In 2019, the number of Conservative female MPs elected to Parliament rose from 67 in 2017 to 87 in 2019 and is now almost double the 49 female Conservative MPs the party had in 2010 (House of Commons Library, General Election 2019: How many women were elected?, 15 January 2020, link). 
  • We voluntarily publish our candidate statistics on gender and ethnic make-up, as we work to improve representation in Parliament. The Conservative Party publishes its Parliamentary Candidate Diversity data on our website, including data on all our parliamentary candidates at the most recent general election.
  • We publish our gender pay statistics annually and continue to take steps to review progress on gender diversity to achieve gender equality across our organisation. At Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ,) our gender pay gap median is 1.6 per cent – well below the national average gender pay gap of 17.3 per cent as of 2019
  • The Conservative Women’s Organisation is one of the oldest women’s political organisations in the world. Founded in 1919, the CWO is an affiliated organisation of the Conservative Party dedicated to helping more women become elected Members of Parliament and work in all levels of government.

Quote of the day 8th March 2023

"Humza, you've had a number of jobs in government.

When you were transport minister, the trains were never on time,

When you were justice minister the police were strained to breaking point,

and now as Health minister we've got record high waiting times.

What makes you think you can do a better job as First Minister?"

(SNP Finance Minister and leadership candidate Kate Forbes puts a pertinent question to her leadership rival the Scottish Health minister Humza Yousaf. You can watch Kate Forbes asking this question here.)

Monday, March 06, 2023

MoD Defence intelligence update summary 6th March 2023


Not Everyone Thinks Exactly the Same As You Do

Whatever your views about politics, about religion, (or about the Star Wars films) I have news for you - there are sane, intelligent, reasonable people in the world who do not share them. 

Most of these people are not idiots, or bad human beings, even if you think they are wrong. 

Indeed, unless you are always absolutely right about everything - something which I don't believe any human being in history can claim - there might even be the possibility, however slight, that they might be right about some of the things on which you disagree with them. 

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, Tracy Ullman did a sketch about a "Different Opinions Support Group" which was not only very funny but makes the point perfectly.

I doubt if there is anyone who has very strong opinions who has never, ever spoken or written of people with differing views with less respect and tolerance than is, perhaps, wise or appropriate. 

I'm not going to pretend that I have never done it myself, and I need to make an effort to do so less often. Indeed, between the first draft of this post at the weekend and the final published version today, I have taken out language, indicating how not to refer to those people who hold different views, which was based on recent posts on my Facebook wall and the comments section of this blog, because I want this to be seen as a general comment which all of us including myself and those who do think like me need to pay attention to, not an exercise in pointing fingers at those who disagree with me. 

The tendency to be very rude to people because they hold opinions you disagree with seems to be worst when one is seated behind a keyboard - especially, but not only, from people who post anonymously, but there are plenty of people who are rude when they also sign their name. 

I also think that the collapse of civility online is feeding into an similar increase in vituperative language in the "real world." I've been thinking for some time of reposting the Tracy Ullman sketch with an appeal for a bit more courtesy for those who do not think the same way, so I hope this will not be seen as a reaction to any recent blog, Facebook or Twitter posts - hence the rewrite already referred to.

Life is just too short to make enemies of everyone with a different worldview.

Making Britain a science and research superpower

Today the Prime Minister is launching a plan to cement the UK’s place as a science and technology superpower by 2030 – backed by £370 million of new funding to foster world leading scientific research that will create well-paid jobs and grow our economy. 

  • That is why today, the government is setting out 10 key actions under a bold new plan – backed by £370 million of investment – to cement our place as a global science and technology superpower by 2030, by pursuing transformational technologies like AI and supercomputing, attracting top talent and boosting private sector investment.
  • The more we innovate, the more we can grow our economy, create the high-paid jobs of the future, protect our security, and improve lives across the country.

I note that there is some concern from the scientific community about the fact that the government has not given a definite commitment to rejoin the EU Horizon scheme for pooling science and research. Nobody should read into this the assumption that Britain will not be rejoining the scheme. Doing so remains "Plan A." 

It is simply that you never go into a  negotiation committing yourself to accept the terms on offer whatever they are, because that completely destroys your negotiating position. But there has been a sea-change in relations between the UK and EU over the past few months: I believe Britain can get a reasonable deal to rejoin Horizon and will accept it.

Quote of the day 6th March 2023


Sunday, March 05, 2023

MoD defence intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine 5th March 2023


Sunday music spot: Exerpts from Haydn's Creation, including 'The heavens are telling'

Starting with "In the beginning" and concluding with the "The Heavens are Telling," 

the version with the words in the right order.

E.g. "The firmament displays his wondrous handiwork," as in Psalm 19 verse one (King James Version, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork,") and not the daft libretto you usually hear in which the subject and object of the phrase were reversed by being badly translated from English to German and back again to give "The wonder of his work displays the firmament!"

Sung by St Peter's singers of Leeds, conducted by Simon Lindley.

Quote of the day 5th March 2023

The Painter George Jones supposedly bore some resemblance to the First Duke of Wellington, and was occasionally mistaken for him. Jones, who idolised the Duke, was said to be very proud of the resemblance.

When this was mentioned to the Iron Duke, he supposedly remarked, 

"Mistaken for me, is he? That's strange, for no one ever mistakes me for Mr. Jones".

However, the quote at the top of the post suggests that in fact Wellington was once mistaken for Jones. The story goes that the Iron Duke was greeted by a stranger with the words 

"Mr Jones, I believe?"

Wellington replied, "Sir, if you will believe that you will believe anything."

Saturday, March 04, 2023

MoD Defence intelligence update summary 4th March 2023

Not looking good in Bahkmut.

Though I think that if the Russians do take what is left of Bahkmut, anyone who in the types into Google the expression "Pyrrhic victory" should find a link to an assessment of this Russian campaign.

To leak or not to leak?

It would be fair to say that Isobel Oakshott's decision, in breach of a non-disclosure agreement, to hand to the Telegraph for publication a large file of WattsApp messages sent to and from former Health Secretary Matt Hancock which he had provided her while they were working together on a book has provoked some strong reactions on all sides.

Needless to say the Telegraph themselves say that this is a massive scoop and revealing it is in the public interest and a lot of people have been delighted at the opportunity to have a fresh pop at Matt Hancock over things in the WattsApp messages, almost invariably arguing that this provides fresh evidence confirming allegations they have been making for two years or so.

Matt Hancock, of course, considers it a "massive betrayal" although he can console himself that he is unlikely to suffer as much from his decision to trust Ms Oakshott as the last person who shared information with her and regretted it: Vicki Pryce went to jail.

I think there is a very real issue here. To be honest nothing the Telegraph has yet printed was in my humble opinion such an earth-shattering revelation as to provide a strong enough public interest defence as justify breaking the normal standards of journalistic confidence and a legally binding NDA. I reserve, however, the right to change that opinion if the Telegraph has anything more surprising than the news that the Education Secretary (and department) whose job was to see that children get a good education was less keen on closing schools than the Health Secretary (and Department) whose understandable priority was to check the spread of the disease.

I would admit that there could be circumstances in which there could be a genuine public interest for releasing confidential information. However, I would have thought that giving it to the inquiry would probably be more likely to serve the public interest than giving it to a newspaper.

I note that many of the people who are complaining about how long the inquiry is likely to take results were conspicuously silent when Sir John Chilcott's inquiry took seven years to confirm what a mess Tony Blair had made of the Iraq invasion and did not report until long after Blair had left office.    

Hancock is very far from being the only person with concerns about whether Oakshott did the right thing by giving the messages to the Telegraph.

Ian Dunt, the self proclaimed "liberal extremist" and columnist at the "i" newspaper had this to say on Twitter:

"Oakeshott's behaviour is so lacking in basic ethical standards that she makes it harder for any journalist to do their job and get sources to trust them.

The Telegraph is pursuing an anti-lockdown agenda. The stories we get will follow that agenda and we'll not know what they omitted to make them fit.

Right place for this was a playing-it-straight outlet or the inquiry. Hancock is a prize bellend, a national embarrassment, without the seriousness or basic ability necessary for the role he had. But this isn't how to get him. And by signing up to it, we play into their hands."

By the way, I do not normally tolerate or quote the sort of language on this blog which Ian Dunt used in the tweets quoted immediately above about Matt Hancock, and I only made a rare exception in this instance because it was not gratuitous - he was making the point that he, as someone who really doesn't like Hancock, still doesn't agree with what Oakshott did. Anyone who posts that sort of insult in the comments box on this blog should not expect to see their words in print unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Quote of the day 4th March 2023

"Keir Starmer keeps telling us what he believes, often at length. There was the 14,000-word Fabian pamphlet 18 months ago. In the past week he has given a speech about “mission-driven government”, and written another 3,000-word article, on which The New Statesman has put the headline: “This is what I believe.” He has even written a book, although there is no date for its publication, and my sources have fallen silent on who is working on it and what state it is in.

Yet we still don’t know what he thinks. We may be clearer about what he doesn’t think. He no longer thinks that Jeremy Corbyn is his friend, as he will not permit the former Labour leader to stand as a candidate at the next election. But why the change has come about, and what Starmer now believes, are riddles wrapped in a mystery inside some verbiage."

John Rentoul, Political correspondent of the Independent, in an article called "The vacuum at the heart of the next Labour government," which you can read by following this link:

The vacuum at the heart of the next Labour government | The Independent

Friday, March 03, 2023

Music to start the weekend: J.S.Bach's Triple concerto in A minor

Helping households move to low carbon heating

Yesterday the government announced an extra £14 million in funding to help households move to low carbon heating, helping families to cut costs on their bills and creating green jobs to grow the economy.

  • Heat pumps are key to cutting costs and carbon emissions, while strengthening our energy security using cheaper renewable energy produced here in the UK.
  • That is why the government is investing over £9.7 million in projects based across the country, from Bristol to Cambridgeshire, and £5 million into the new Heat Training Grant – supporting 10,000 trainees over the next two years to become low carbon heating experts, creating new green jobs.
  • This extra funding will make heat pumps cheaper and easier to install, supporting more households to move away from costly fossil fuels and creating jobs for the future to grow the economy.

On the appointment of Sue Gray

There have been a number of interesting political revelations this week and I hope to comment on more of them at the weekend, but here is the taken by John Rentoul, Chief political correspondent of the Independent, on Sir Keir Starmer's appointment of the senior civil servant Sue Gray as his Chief of Staff, subject to an approval process.

I think he has a point. There would be a concern, whichever political party had been involved, about the move of a senior civil servant from a role in which he or she was running inquiries which required absolute impartiality and independence, directly to a senior role working for the leader of a political party.

I often get comments on this blog asking questions about how independent people who are conducting inquiries or reviewing things really are. And it's entirely right that people should be able to ask that question.

If Rishi Sunak had offered Sue Gray an equivalent senior position working directly for him, especially if this appeared to be in his capacity as Conservative leader rather than Prime Minister, does anyone doubt that social media would be awash with allegations that this proved her report was a whitewash and this was the payback?

I rather suspect that Sir Keir and other Labour figures would have been leading that charge.


Owen Jones, the left-wing journalist, has made a very similar comment  - not quite the first time I've found myself in agreement with him, it does occasionally happen not very happen often. He wrote on twitter here:


The former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler, has written a letter to the Times on the subject, a masterclass in presenting both sides of the case: If you read the first half of his letter you would think he appeared sympathetic to one side of the case, if you read the second half, to the other.

MoD Defence intelligence summary 3rd March 2023

It would appear that Russia is advertising supposedly advanced defence products at international arms fairs yet not deploying them in Ukraine. 

So either they don't work as well as Russia says, or as the MoD suggests, they don't have the production capacity to deploy these systems in sufficient numbers to protect a material proportion of their own troops. 

Quote of the day 3rd March 2023


"God deliver me from my friends! I'll take care of my enemies myself."

Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, known as the "Iron Duke."

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Thursday music spot: Karl Jenkins conducts Palladio

MoD Defence intelligence update summary on the situation in Ukraine 2nd March 2023

To put today's update in perspective: what this means is that there are certain times of the year in large parts of Russia and Ukraine when many roads and paths become like rivers and fields turn into quagmires. The Ukrainian name for this is 'bezdorizhzhia.' And we are going into that time of the year.

This badly hampered whichever side was trying to attack in the battles between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in World War II, and it is having a similar impact on the Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine now.

Hence the fact that Russia is trying to capture objectives in Ukraine like Bakhmut in these conditions, throwing human lives on both sides away for minimal gains on the ground, could have two explanations: either their generals are incompetent or they are under political pressure from the Putin regime in which the political need to claim a victory is taking priority over either lives or military good sense.

More investment in our National Parls.

Another four million pounds of funding has been allocated to our National Parks including the Lake District National Park and other important parks such as the Yorkshire Dales national park.

Two birds with one stone - protecting the environment and providing more buses

Today the government announced £25 million of new funding for British-made zero emission buses, supporting British manufacturing jobs and delivering cleaner, more reliable journeys across the country, helping to grow our economy.

  • Buses are the most popular form of public transport – we are committed to delivering more reliable journeys and building a bus network fit for the future. 
  • That is why are investing a further £25 million to deliver 117 new British-made zero emission buses across the country, levelling up transport across Yorkshire, Norfolk and Hampshire, and supporting hundreds of high-quality manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland. 
  • This announcement brings total investment in zero emission buses to almost £300 million – supporting British manufacturing, levelling up communities and driving growth.

Win - win: less pollution in our environment and more new buses to improve our public transport.

Passing on savings to customers

The Energy Security Secretary has urged energy suppliers to pass savings to their energy customers, as soon as possible, building on our mission for the UK to have amongst the cheapest wholesale electricity prices in Europe.

  • Families have felt the impact of Putin’s illegal march on Ukraine in their pockets. This makes it important to aim to have amongst the cheapest wholesale electricity prices in Europe.
  • That is why the Energy Security Secretary has encouraged suppliers to pass cuts in wholesale prices on through customers’ bills, no ifs, buts or maybes. He has also made clear his focus for ever-greater energy independence, supporting jobs and new investment.  
  • Our position as world-leaders in renewables and nuclear technology will shield households from volatile fossil fuel markets whilst harnessing the opportunities created by tackling climate change.

Quote of the day 2nd March 2023


Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Help to Grow

Today the government unveiled a new centralised, ‘Help to Grow’ website helping 5.5 million businesses to get the support they need to reach their ambitions, helping to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt across the country. 

  • Businesses have said that they need a simple way to find information from the Government, making their day-to-day jobs easier and allowing them to focus on their priorities, such as growing their business or siezing export opportunities. 
  • That is why the government unveiled today a new centralised ‘Help to Grow’ website, especially focussed on the 5.4 million small and medium sized businesses, offering advice, guidance, services and support from the Government to enable more businesses to reach their trading ambitions by helping them to learn new skills, reach more customers and boost profits.
  • This new website is set to become a vital tool used by businesses to thrive and succeed both in the UK and trading across the world, by making full use of the support in place from the Government.