Thursday, February 22, 2018

Whitehaven Town Council - debate on security measures

In May this year I will pass the milestone of 25 years' experience as a councillor on various authorities; and over that quarter-century I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions where a reasonable person might have felt themselves unsafe or threatened in the position I found myself while carrying out council duties or related to them. The number of occasions where there was a need for a police or security presence even on a precautionary basis (other than when they were the people we were meeting to discuss police issues!) at council meetings was likewise very rare.

This week I have attended a number of council meetings and after one of them went on to a meeting with non councillors. They made - in a gently mocking way rather than a nasty one - a number of jokes about councillors needing pepper spray and baseball bats and I didn't have a clue what they were on about.

Then on the way home I picked up this week's Whitehaven News and read this.

I sometimes use the acronym "MRDA" for "Mandy Rice Davies Applies" (He would say that, wouldn't he.)

From now on when I say RWA it means "Richard Wilson Applies" for the best known line that actor uses in "One foot in the grave."

There are people associated with Whitehaven Town Council who are working very hard to make it an effective body which provides a good service to residents of the town, and I feel for the current mayor, Brian O'Kane, who is one of them and was put in the position of having to explain to the paper why a report on security measures is on the agenda.

There have already been some rash things said at and or the Town council and as I do not wish to add to them I am not going to make any further comment at this stage.

Protecting press freedom

As the debate about the media in Britain intensifies, our country needs to decide the answer to this question.

Do we want to have a free press and accept that they will sometimes get it wrong, or do we want to have tight regulation in the hope of tackling press abuses and accept the risk that this will compromise the ability of the press to hold the powerful to account?

A few days ago I used the following Jefferson saying as my "Quote of the Day." I had not realised how relevant it would soon come to be to this week's political debate.

The last thing a society which wishes to be a fully functioning democracy can afford to do is hand government regulators more power over the newspapers. television, or social media.

There have been repeated attempts in recent days by certain rich and powerful individuals, and in the  House of Lords, to press for another Leveson-type inquiry and limit what the press can write. Her Majesty's Opposition has now started down the same track.

I believe Britain should reject this and make a positive case against stricter regulation of the media.

Certainly the media has sometimes got things badly wrong. The whole phone hacking scandal showed them in a very poor light - though it is important to note that the courts dealt with wrongdoing on that issue very severely using existing pre-Leveson law.  A large number of  journalists and freelancers, including several of the most powerful people in the country, found themselves in the dock, and quite a few of them were convicted and went to prison.

It is also worth noting that the most damning single allegation which particularly damaged the reputation of the press - that the News of the World had hacked the phone of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler - was never proved. The evidence to the Leveson inquiry from the senior police officer who investigated this said that

It is not possible to state with any certainty"

whether her messages were deleted or who was responsible if they were.

Are the press biased?

There is a widespread perception among people involved in politics that "the media" are biased against the particular viewpoint of whoever is expressing the opinion, which is not always entirely unjustified but, while we have a plurality of news outlets expressing different opinions, is not a fatal problem either.

Almost every Conservative with whom I have discussed the matter thinks that the BBC is biased in favour of the centre left. However, a great many Labour supporters and just about everyone in Momentum thinks that the BBC is biased in favour of the Conservatives.

It's my impression that almost every pro "Leave" person I know who is active in politics thinks that the BBC is hopelessly pro-Remain, but I have also read comments from pro-remain ultras like Lord Andrew Adonis who are convinced that the BBC is overly helpful to Brexit supporters.

A YouGov poll reported here finds a similar pattern among voters as a whole.

(Despite the fact that I voted Remain, I actually think the Brexiteers are right on that one, the Beeb IS hopelessly pro-Remain and anti-Brexit, though I also think that they are genuinely trying to cover the opinions of both sides. When Lord Adonis had a go at the BBC's Nick Robinson for this on Twitter recently he merely appeared to be totally detached from reality.

Similarly, of Britain's national newspapers we all know perfectly well that there are about three newspapers which are strongly pro Remain, and which three they are, and that almost all the rest are hopelessly anti EU and pro-Brexit, though the better ones try to give both sides of the story.

Similarly we all know which two or three newspapers tend to take a centre-left view and which are usually on the right (which may or may not mean backing the Conservatives.)

But if you put that picture together most of the political spectrum has outlets which will publish their point of view.

What's the alternative?

Following the row about allegations of Jeremy Corbyn's contacts with a Warsaw Pact spy during the cold war, the Labour leadership and their Momentum allies have doubled down in attacking the press, calling for a new Leveson review, complaining about how much of the press is owned by "billionaires" and "tax exiles" and threatening that "Change is Coming."

I admit to finding this chilling.

First of all, it was legitimate to cover the story: I think Alex Massie was dead right when he argued that "Corbyn may not have been a spy; but he always opposed the west."

Secondly, as Charlotte Henry wrote here in an excellent piece on CAPX, what he is doing amounts to bullying the press.

She wrote

"Jeremy Corbyn has carefully cultivated his persona as a cuddly Left-wing pensioner who has unexpectedly been called upon by the people to lead the revolution, when he would much rather be pottering in his allotment. Well, yesterday, that mask slipped."

"The Labour leader says that the spy story, which he denies, “shows just how worried the media bosses are by the prospect of a Labour government”.

"The Leader of the Opposition is now openly threatening the British press with punitive regulation in direct retaliation for stories he does not like."

As Isabel Hardman similarly notes in the Spectator:
“What the Labour leader is doing isn’t so much threatening the press with Leveson 2, which naturally the press doesn’t want, but undermining the press as a vital part of democracy.”

The parallels between Corbyn and Trump in their treatment of the press and what looks like deliberate strategy of undermining the respect in which the media are held are striking, and - here are some words you won't get from me very often - well described in an article in The Sun here.

If this is how arrogant the Corbynistas are in opposition, God help the country if they ever get into power.

I think Britain as a country needs to make a positive decision to entrench the ability of both mainstream and social media to call power to account.

That means welcoming diversity of publications and being very careful indeed not to introduce forms of regulation which could potentially be abused by a government,  company or wealthy person to punish the media for running true stories which they do not like or reasonable opinions which they disagree with.

Quote of the day 22nd February 2018

"Theresa May was right this week to call for open and transparent statements from the Labour leader.

I doubt if they will come.

What we will get is a steady trickle of new names and old information. And denials, of course.

When they come, remember Mandy Rice-Davies."

(Joe Haines, former Press Secretary to Labour prime minister Harold Wilson during the Cold War, in an article about what the KGB and other intelligence agencies from hostile foreign powers which you can read in full here.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Midweek Madrigal: "Sing Joyfully" by Byrd, sung by VOCES8

Emergency road closure for repairs, Victoria Road Whitehaven

Victoria Road, Whitehaven has been closed today (Wednesday 21st February 2018) near the entrance to the Bay Vista estate for urgent road repairs.

These works are expected to last up to five days.

During this time there will be no through access for vehicles along this road from the Sunny Hill or Pelican to Scilly Bank or Quality Corner.

UPDATE 22nd February The road was open again at least part of today. I will check tomorrow morning whether the work has been completed and post the answer here.

Quote of the day 21st February 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

By their attitude to press freedom ye shall know them ...

There is a balance to be struck between the imperative need for a democratic society to allow free speech and giving people who have been the subject of lies and defamation to take action to protect their reputation.

The press in Britain is not perfect - by God they're not - but if you ask me to name what sort of press would be worse than the one we have now I'd answer any press accountable to the government.

A pretty good test of how strongly committed to democracy someone involved in politics is where they seek to strike that balance between press freedom on the one hand and regulation and restraint on the other.

An indicator of how strong Britain's libel laws are compared to those elsewhere is the fact that we have had "libel tourism" in which wealthy companies or people from around the world who are trying to take legal action against criticism which they don't like tend to see if the words they object to have been published in Britain, and if so bring their libel action here. Libel tourism has not been quite so common in British courts since early 2014 following a couple of court judgements and a  piece of legislation designed to stop it, which I am about to describe, but it has been enough of a feature over recent years to be a pretty good indication that UK libel laws are

1) some of the strictest in the world, and

2) very possibly too strict, getting that balance wrong.

I was pleased when the coalition government introduced a Defamation bill designed to make Britain's libel laws less of a threat to those who are only expressing legitimate opinion.

The Defamation Act 2013 which came into effect at the start of the following year introduced a new "serious harm threshold" designed to help people understand when claims should be brought and discourage the waste of everyone's time and money on trivial or vexatious libel cases.

Ministers hoped that this legislation would reverse "the chilling effect" previous libel laws have had on freedom of expression and legitimate debate.

The then justice minister Shailesh Vara said that Journalists, scientists and academics have faced unfair legal threats for fairly criticising a company, person or product in the past. He added that 

"As a result of these new laws, anyone expressing views and engaging in public debate can do so in the knowledge that the law offers them stronger protection against unjust and unfair threats of legal action.

"These laws coming into force represent the end of a long and hard-fought battle to ensure a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and people's ability to protect their reputation."

That Defamation Act contained a series of measures, including protection for scientists and academics publishing peer-reviewed material in scientific and academic journals, and introduced a defence for those publishing material that they reasonably believe is in the public interest. It also required people who do not live in Europe and are trying to bring a defamation action in a British court to demonstrate that the court concerned is the most appropriate place to bring the action.

Now compare and contrast with the attitude of the present leadership of the Labour party to press criticism.

Until I learned of the threats against the press issued by Jeremy Corbyn today I was inclined to think that the story of Jeremy Corbyn's contacts with Eastern Bloc agents was merely yet another indication of his bad judgement - and probably nothing like as serious as his invitation to convicted IRA terrorists to visit the House of Commons just after the Brighton bomb, although I do agree with an article in the Guardian by Matthew d'Ancona, in which he argued that the worst response to the story of Corbyn's meetings with a Czech spy during the cold war is indifference.

But the reaction of the Labour leader and some of his acolytes on this issue is actually more worrying than the spy story itself - we already knew that he had met a lot of seriously bad guys, but threatening the press because you don't like what they have written - and for all the attempt to present his attack on the press as a call for higher press standards, that is what is happening - is new.

Mr Corbyn has a lot more in common with Donald J Trump than the followers of either might be ready to believe and one of the pages he seems to be taking straight out of the Trump playbook is attacking the media on Twitter (and elsewhere.)

Corbyn issued statements today saying that the espionage allegations show that the press is worried about the possible election of a Labour government and adds "They're right to be."

He tweeted that

"In the last few days The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express have gone a little bit James Bond. We've got news for the billionaire, tax exile press barons: Change is coming"
Even Labour MPs were concerned by this, with John Woodcock, MP for Barrow, replying

"Are we really threatening the press with more regulation because they printed a story we didn’t like? This is not ok"

John Woodcock also drew some of the same parallels between Corbyn and Trump as I did above, adding

"It's horrible seeing America’s media debased in this way by Donald Trump and we shouldn’t accept it here either.

If you think it might be ok to threaten newspapers with more regulation after they print a story you don’t like, please read  Why Democracies Die, new book on the parallels between Trump and how other countries slipped into authoritarianism."

I don't often quote Labour MPs and am not the greatest fan of John Woodcock but he's got Jeremy Corbyn bang to rights there. I am genuinely scared, not for myself but for my children's future, of how much damage to democracy and free speech in Britain a Corbyn government could do if they were ever elected.

Social Media crows as the sale of KCF chicken is arrested ...

I'm told police in Tower Hamlets actually had to put out a statement asking people not to call them over the shortage of chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken as it was "not a police matter."

Meanwhile on social media it was suggested that the police elsewhere had been more actively involved and that this picture showed them arresting the person responsible

Someone claiming to be the South African Police Minister had previously threatened to arrest the person responsible for a KFC "Cauliflower and Kale" burger

If it really was the South African Police minister it sounds like his department's resources should have been (and may soon be) better employed investigating his then (and now former) boss ...

Quote of the day 20th February 2018

"Twitter outrage rules:

Rightie says something sexist - cyber-lynch.
Leftie commits sexual assault - understand his journey."

(Twitter post yesterday from the Guido Fawkes website.)

It does unfortunately appear that rather too many people in politics and on social media are more willing to be forgiving of someone who is alleged to have behaved, or even who has admitted behaving, in very inappropriate ways if the alleged or actual perpetrator is perceived to be on their own side of the political divide.

Just to be clear, I think people are entitled to due process and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty - and applying that principle to the accused does not have to mean failing to treat victims with respect or refusing to take what they say seriously - regardless of their politics.

I also think that failure to do this, especially where the accused is someone with different political views to one's own, is a problem throughout the full range of the political spectrum.

Often the problem is being too willing to believe the worst of one's political opponents but sometimes people are willing to defend someone who is or appears to be aligned with their own political party even after they have admitted, or it has been shown beyond reasonable doubt, that they have done something unacceptable.

I would not have believed it had I not heard it with my own ears on the radio yesterday, but a member of parliament was giving credit to someone who had stepped down from positions of responsibility admitting "inappropriate" behaviour towards women, on the grounds that at least he recognised that his previous behaviour had been wrong.

If anyone were to open a book on how long we would have to wait before hearing an MP make a comment that sympathetic towards a political opponent my bet would be "until the heat death of the universe."

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review of Post-18 education launched

The Prime Minister has launched a review of post-18 education and funding which will look at how we can:
  • Make the system fairer for taxpayers and students
  • Create genuine choice
  • Develop the skills our economy needs

An anecdote: what's wriong with communism in one paragraph

Unfortunately this story is far more than a play on words. However noble the ideals of some of those behind the Russian Revolution, what happened was not the lifting up of poor people but the wholesale elimination of whole classes of the "privileged" which even included the killing of millions the slightly-less-unfortunate class of peasants, the "kulaks."

Quote of the day 19th February 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

February meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The next meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will held on Monday 26th February at 10.30 am at Cumbria House, Botchergate, Carlisle, and will be open to the public.

After the usual boilerplate (apologies for absence, minutes of previous meeting, etc) the first major item on the agenda, item six, is the presentation of a report from the Chief Executive of the CCG (The clinical commissioning group) for North Cumbria NHS.

This will include details of the 12 month trial of "Option One" Consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital as reconfigured following the 2016 Success regime consultation:

Report by the Chief Executive, NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group

The other main items on the morning's agenda are as follows:

To consider a report by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

To consider a report by Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group.

To consider a report by Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group.

Then after lunch, resuming at about 1.30pm, the main items for consideration are:

To consider a report by the Programme Director for South Cumbria and Lancashire STP.

To consider a report by the North West Ambulance Service.

The full agenda including reports is available here.

Saturday music spot: "The King shall Rejoice" (Handel)

Quote of the day 17th February 2018

 (Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times on the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Labour and Lib/Dems set Cumbria council tax at 4% increase

Cumbria County Council's element of the council tax in Cumbria (which is by far the largest element) was voted through yesterday with a 3.99% increase.

Technically this consisted of a 1.99% rise in the general level of council tax plus the 2% increase on top which the government permitted to pay for adult social care.

What this would mean for households in Cumbria is that the county council element of the council tax will rise as follows:

For a Band B property in Cumbria the county council element will rise by £39.75
 (from £996.35 in 2016/17 to £1036.10 in 2018/19)

For a band D property the County Council element will rise by £51.11
 (from £1,281.02 in 2016/17 to ££1332.13 in 2018/19)

For a band H property the County Council element will rise by £102.22
 (from £2,562.04 in 2016/17 to ££2,664.26 in 2018/19)

The council tax bill for any household will also include elements for the Police service (following consultation the PCC is putting this up by just over 5% to pay for more bobbies on the beat,) plus:

 * the relevant district or borough council (for residents of my division this is Copeland Borough Council who are setting their council tax on Tuesday 20th February)

 * in most cases for the Town or Parish Council

 * this will be Whitehaven Town Council for my Mirehouse constituents,

 * Egremont Town Council for residents in Moor Row or Bigrigg,

 * and St Bees Parish Council for residents of St Bees and much of the surrounding area.

The Conservative group moved an amendment which would have used £1.13 million from an extra allocation which the national government provided to Cumbria for Rural services delivery as a fund to provide more community transport. This was voted down by Labour councillors and almost all the Lib/Dems and independents.

The Administration budget was then passed the Labour, Lib/Dem and some Independent councillors with the Conservatives and one Independent voting against.

Quote of the day 16th February 2018

Overheard in the Foyer at County Hall in Kendal yesterday as councillors arrived for the budget meeting of Cumbria County Council

"Well we've done a good job of hiding everything"

(A senior member of the county council cabinet, on observing that there didn't seem to be much press interest in the meeting.

Many a true word is spoken in jest, methinks.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Chris Grayling writes: time to rebut Labour's "fake news"

"Fake News" has been around for millennia: for example although the Emperor Nero was one of the worst rulers who ever lived, almost the only crime of which he was probably innocent was that for which he is best remembered.

The allegation that Nero set fire to Rome in 64 AD, watched the blaze from a tower and sang "The sack of Ilium" while the city burned (changed centuries later to playing the fiddle while Rome burned, which is flat-out impossible as the violin was not invented until at least a thousand years later) appears to have been a clever libel invented by one of his many opponents.

With the exception of a letter from Seneca to St Paul the apostle, all the few surviving primary accounts of that fire were written several decades later. Of those which describe Nero's role, the one which appears least exaggerated when compared with what evidence we have, the history by Tacitus, states that Nero was at Antium, thirty-five miles from Rome, when the fire broke out, and hurried back when he learned that Rome was burning to organise disaster relief and fire-fighting efforts.

The story of the Great Fire of Rome appears to have been an early example of cleverly deceitful  propaganda, but there is much more of it around today.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has written an article on Conservative Home about how

Conservatives must get better at rebutting Labour's fake news.

There are honest people and to put it very politely, there are also sadly some people who do not take enough care to tell the truth in all the political parties and in the media. A wise person should apply a certain amount of scepticism, in the proper and original meaning of that word, e.g. to start with an open mind and use your intelligence to check the truth of what is being said, to information from any source whether it is the press, social media or any political party.

Nevertheless I think Grayling is right - and yes, MRDA but I really do think he is right - to call out as some of the worst purveyors of fake news in Britain today certain members of the Labour party in general and Momentum in particular. As he writes,

"Time after time they push messages about us which are completely false, or which completely distort the truth. In one recent example, they claimed that we rejected a Labour attempt to make it a legal requirement for landlords to ensure that their properties were fit for human habitation.

The reality was very different. The Conservative bill gave local authorities more power than ever before to clamp down on rogue landlords. Labour’s headline chasing amendment was legally flawed. But it made for an anti-Conservative campaign portraying us as heartless when we were the ones taking real action to solve the problem. And many believed it.

More recently, their campaign to claim that we thought that animals were not sentient only ground to a halt when several media outlets had to apologise to Michael Gove for misrepresenting our position. But not before many constituents had accused me and other MPs of not caring for animals.

We’re going to see much more of this fake-news approach to politics from Labour over the coming months and years. They will portray us as uncaring and unthinking, and will use false examples to make their case.

Labour supporting think tanks will continue to pump out intentionally inaccurate information about the Government’s record. Hardly a day goes by without a Conservative MP reporting another outbreak of complete fiction from the left."

"But it is a reality that we have to deal with. We will never convince the determined left of the falseness of their propaganda. But we have to sow real seeds of doubt into the minds of the reasonable people who see their messages. Quite simply, we have to discredit their fake news. "

You can read the full text of the article here.

Quote of the day 15th February 2018

"Giving an organisation a pass more or less guarantees, paradoxically, that its standards deteriorate. A combination of moral superiority and lack of serious public scrutiny is more than most organisations can bear."

(Dan Hannan MEP in an article examining why there seems to have been less outrage expressed in the MSM and social media at the atrocious behaviour of Oxfam in Haiti than there was about the - admittedly tawdry - goings on at the so-called "President's Club."

For the avoidance of doubt neither Dan's article nor I in quoting it defend in any way the "President's Club" event but on any objective measure the behaviour of some senior Oxfam employees towards far more vulnerable women in a disaster-struck area they were supposed to be helping appears to have been significantly worse.

You can read Dan's article in full here.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Morgan Tsvangirai RIP

But for a massive amount of vote-rigging and intimidation Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwe opposition leader who died today of colon cancer at the age of 65, would have been elected president of his country in 2008.

A former miner who had risen to be general secretary of Zimbabwe's trade unions, he broke with Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF to oppose Mugabe's dictatorial and corrupt regime and campaigned in the face of enormous cruelty and persecution for the peaceful and democratic transfer of power.

He was Prime Minister for four years as part of a power-sharing coalition from 2009 to 2013

I am sorry that his death means that he will not be able to take part in the post-Mugabe development of politics in his country, to which he would have had a lot to offer, but I'm glad that at least he lived to see Robert Mugabe removed from power. 

Morgan Tsvangirai was a very brave man who made huge sacrifices for what he believed in and I am convinced his struggle helped to create the conditions in which Mugabe could be sacked by the army and his own party. Tsvangirai would much rather have seen Mugabe removed at the ballot box and I hope his legacy will be to bring nearer the day when governments in Zimbabwe are changed peacefully through popular votes rather than force.

Rest in Peace.

Midweek Madrigal: "Who Ever Thinks Or Hopes Of Love" by John Dowland

An appropriate madrigal for Valentine's day ...

A Calendar fluke

How did we mange to get Valentine's day and Ash Wednesday on the same day?

Are the hard left becoming "as bad as Marie Antoinette?"

I have blogged a few times in the past few days about the decision of Claire Kober, Labour leader of Haringey council, described (by people on the left) as the most senior Labour woman in local government, to stand down as leader and from the council in May following what she describes as "bullying and sexism" from Momentum supporters.

I previously linked to a Times article and interview here giving Claire Kober's side of the story, and another in the Guardian, which makes a valiant effort to cover all sides of the issue here.

A further take on the manner in which Momentum operated in Haringey as part of a wider look at how middle class hard-left virtue signallers can end up hurting the poor is provided in an article by Rachel Sylvester, which suggests that

"The Hard Left are just as bad as Marie Antoinette."

I have no doubt that there will have been some genuine problems with the development proposals which Momentum activists have been jumping on bandwagons to oppose; no real-world scheme is ever perfect and as Thomas Sowell said,

Nevertheless, among the cogent criticism in Rachel Sylvester's article about wealthy socialists who lived elsewhere seeking to block developments which might have provided better housing and opportunities for people less fortunate them themselves, there was one particularly telling quote about the Momentum campaign against a local development vehicle in Haringey:

"Campaigners against the development have no alternative proposal for dealing with the housing shortage that has left 3,000 families living in temporary accommodation."

(Their main ideological objection, by the way, appears to be that the development vehicle included a partnership with the private sector.)

At some time between now and 2022 there will be a general election which could very easily result in the election of the most left-wing government Britain has ever had. At least people will no longer be able to say that democracy has never provided them with a choice.

Neither the present state of affairs or the present government are perfect and it is right that people should look at a range of options. But I hope that when they come to cast their votes people will look carefully at the track record of extreme socialist ideas where they have been implemented in other countries such as Venezuela, the Soviet Union or in local councils.

There is a 100% record of failure in all those countries which have tried to completely replace private ownership or the market; extreme left measures have nowhere, nowhere at all ultimately succeeded in helping the poor, or anyone else.

Quote of the day 14th February 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Email issue resolved for the moment

My County Council email has had a problem - again - which it took a distressing amount of time to solve. It went out of action on 30th January and was fixed today. I have therefore been ploughing through a vast backlog of two week's worth of email messages.

Apologies if you have been trying unsuccessfully to contact me.

The Okey Cokey budget

I have been looking through the budget papers for Thursday's precept setting meeting of Cumbria County Council.

There seems to be a higher than usual proportion of smoke and mirrors in the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration's budget than is normal even for them.

There are a whole list of "savings" which are very far from achieved and then a whole list of items putting pressure on the council finances which take them out again.

One person connected with the council - no names, no packdrill so as not to make them a target for revenge - called it the Okey Cokey budget. They had a point.

As previously mentioned the budget meeting of Cumbria County Council will be held this Thursday, 15th February 2018, at 10am at County Hall in Kendal. The meeting is open to the public.

For those with a strong stomach, all the papers for the meeting are available on the County Council website at:

Quote of the day 13th February 2018

"I'm not saying it's a slow news day but the big story on the BBC right now is about an animated rabbit throwing berries."

(Adam Bienkov @AdamBienkov yesterday on Twitter referring to controversy about the animated Peter Rabbit film.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Best headline of the year

I won't have been too funny for drivers affected by an accident this afternoon which caused the closure of a slip road at Junction 44 of the M6, but Cumbria Crack has published what has to be the funniest headline of the year to date:

"Drivers stuck in traffic after lorry sheds its' load of glue."

Cumbria County Council budget meeting 15th February 2018

The budget meeting of Cumbria County Council will be held this Thursday, 15th February 2018, at 10am at County Hall in Kendal.

The meeting is open to the public.

All the papers for the meeting are available on the County Council website at:

Quote of the day 12th February 2018

A number of famous people share 12th February as a birthday, including Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Hence this seems an appropriate quote for today ...

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Learning the lessons of Grenfell Tower: time to address Building Control

If a report in today's Sunday Times is correct, building control inspectors have continued after the Grenfell Tower disaster to approve new residential skyscrapers in which the homes on a number of floors can only be reached by one staircase.

Planning law in Britain has two elements: development control, the process for giving planning permission, is seen as a non-professional matter which may if the relevant authority so decides be determined by politicians. Building control, however, which is mainly about safety, has seen as a professional matter which is entirely delegated to experts and in which politicians do not interfere.

Up until now I have always been happy with that division of responsibility. No matter how strong their electoral mandate on matters of general policy, it would not be sensible to allow councillors or ministers who may have no training whatsoever in the relevant disciplines over-ruling professionally qualified experts to decide that an actual or proposed building is safe when the experts say it isn't. Or, I have always considered in the past, vice versa.

However, when the rules appear to be allowing, perhaps requiring, the professionals to make decisions which seem to fly in the face of common sense, it is perhaps high time we had another look at those rules. I still don't think that a politician should ever be able to say "this is safe" of something that the professionals think is dangerous. But perhaps there should be some circumstances where the politicians can at least ask "Are you absolutely sure about that" when the professionals say something is safe.

At least some fire safety experts argue, and some other countries' fire safety rules mandate, that residential buildings above a certain height must have more than one staircase to all floors. If the UK's current guidance on Building Regulations does not apply that rule, I hope that DCLG will have another look at that as a matter of urgency, and not wait for the outcome of the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

Sunday music spot: Bach Harpsichord Concerto in D minor

One of my favourites which last featured on this blog on General Election day 2017:

Quote of the day 11th February 2018

McDonnell ...  starts from the view that public ownership is right and then asserts 'it’s the most efficient way of running public services'.

He can afford to take such an ideological view, despite the mixed evidence, because the idea of public ownership is popular.

Superficial opinion-poll findings are, however, a poor guide to policy. People are dissatisfied with rail services in particular and assume they would be cheaper and more reliable in public ownership. I would say the evidence for this is thin.

As for the idea that more public ownership would lead to a shift of wealth and power to 'working people,' irreversible or not, I think the evidence for that is non-existent.

(John Rentoul, chief political columnist of The Independent, in an opinion piece,

"John McDonnell's renationalisation plan is clever politics - but bad policy.")