Monday, March 02, 2015

Getting Britain back on track


Hail, Caesar ...

I was interrupted while working half an hour or so ago by the noise of hailstones rattling on the window. As I was in the middle of an involved calculation I carried on with my work and paid it no further thought.

Just looked outside while taking a very short comfort break and was the size of the hailstones on the ground, windowsill and various other places in view. Many are a good four millimetres in diameter.

There were foul weather warnings today for Cumbria and much of the Northern UK - obviously the Met Office wasn't kidding. Take care if you are out and about.

Our Long Term Economic Plan

Getting the country out of the disastrous mess left behind by Labour in 2010 was always going to require more than one parliament and require a Long Term Economic Plan.

The Conservatives have a Long Term Economic Plan which we have been delivering through the coalition government, and which is working. But as Angel Gurria, General Secetary of the OECD said, Britain needs to stick with it.


Our long-term economic plan:
 
1.    Reducing the deficit so we deal with our debts, safeguard our economy for the long term and keep mortgage rates low.
 
2.    Cutting income taxes and freezing fuel duty to help hardworking people be more financially secure.
 
3.    Creating more jobs by backing small business and enterprise with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes.
 
4.    Capping welfare and working to control immigration so our economy delivers for people who want to work hard and play by the rules.
 
5.    Delivering the best schools and skills for young people so the next generation can succeed in the global race.


Quote of the Day 2nd March 2015

I have posted this before but make no apology for the reminder as today's quote of the day:

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A Labour view which gets something right

Yes, occasionally a member of the Labour party gets something absolutely right.

And not always when they are criticising their own party, though I admit I am most likely to agree with and quote them when they are, as here.

It can be a problem for members of every political party, and indeed for campaigners for a cause who are not in any political party, that they become so completely convinced of their own rightness as to be totally blind to the fact that they are applying blatant double standards, or that in other ways their position is morally bankrupt.

Atul Hatwal has a brilliant piece on "Labour Uncut" which points out some of the dire mistakes Labour have made in their recent campaigning, and how they got into that situation, at

http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2015/02/27/labours-campaign-is-a-mess-so-much-wrong-so-little-right/

He cites three examples: the first was when Andy Burnham was trying to use a very modest rise in the proportion of NHS care outsourced to the private sector to prove that the Conservatives want to destroy the NHS. Atul Hatwal points out


"Given two-thirds of the rise in outsourcing happened under Labour, with the rate of increase actually slowing under the Tories, it doesn’t take David Axelrod to work out why Labour was on the back foot almost immediately."

The article goes on to refer to

"Harriet Harman’s pink battlebus. There’s nothing wrong with the bus being pink and the issues raised by the women’s tour are important, but when Labour frontbenchers have been campaigning vociferously that equating the colour pink with girls is sexist then, once again, who couldn’t have predicted disastrous headlines?"

And then there was Ed Miliband’s offensive on tax avoidance.

"Cue embarrassing questions about whether shadow ministers collected receipts for every odd job or window cleaned and the circumstances in which Ed Miliband’s mother seems to have avoided tax on the house in which he now lives."

And then Atul Hatwal makes a really important point which politicians of other parties as well as Labour could learn from:


"Individually, these incidents seem like discrete gaffes but a common thread runs through each failure.

Andy Burnham, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband all walked into such eminently predictable elephant traps because their moral certitude blinded them to the politically obvious.

For Andy Burnham, outsourcing operations to the private sector while he was Secretary of State for Health was not comparable to the Tories doing the same because he is Labour and they are Tories.

Harriet Harman was not being sexist in her choice of pink because she was Harriet Harman and could not be sexist.

And Ed Miliband’s minor domestic tax avoidance was morally different to what avaricious capitalists do. How could his mother be like them?

This mode of insular righteousness is nearer the behaviour of a cult than a party of government. It is not enough to believe we are right because we are Labour ..."

"Swing voters will look at these episodes and shake their heads. At the apparent hypocrisy, and the basic political incompetence."

Mayoral election - where do we go from here?

The view has been put forward from all parts of the political spectrum that the vote to pay Copeland's directly elected mayor much less than the independent panel had recommended risks putting off potential candidates and damaging the democratic legitimacy of the new system from the start.

I agree.

It has also been suggested that, quote,

"Whoever is elected as Mayor of Copeland, on May 7th, should bring the salary issue back to full council at the earliest opportunity."

I agree. If I am elected I will do this. If anyone else is elected and brings the decision back for review, they will have my support."
 

Public response on the Mayoral election - link

Here is a link to an article by Sean Duffy on the "my Whitehaven" facebook page about the local public reaction to Thursday's vote at full council.



Salary – Universal Condemnation | myWhitehaven



The post immediately above this one is my response.

St David's Day: Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Today is St David's day, the national day of Wales, so Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

(Which, if you have not guessed, means "Happy St David's Day")

Jeremy Hunt's reply to a question from the Copeland MP

The MP for Copeland recently asked questions in parliament about the decision to award a contract to Alliance Medical to provide cancer services in Cheshire.

It turns out that Alliance Medical were originally given the contact in 2008 by the Labour government and that the then Labour minister Ben Bradshaw said of the contract at the time:

"This is great news for the North of England. With better technology and faster access to diagnostic scans, this scheme will help to ensure that patients have the best possible chance of surviving cancer."

Here is the reply which health minister Jeremy Hunt sent to the Copeland MP.

Quote of the day 1st March 2015

"Just the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
 
(Carl Sagan)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Watch out for storms this evening

The Met Office has warned of storms (the non-political kind) including gale force winds and falling snow in parts of Cumbria tonight.

Flood alerts have been issued across Cumbria ahead of 60mph gales in many parts of the county tonight and possibly reaching 70mph on the fells.

Environment Agency flood alerts are in place near rivers Brathay, Rothay and Winster, as well as Upper River Derwent, Stonethwaite Beck and Derwent Water.

The Met Office warned more severe gales have been anticipated across the Lake District fells later this evening with temperatures which may fall as low as 4C.

A Met Office forecaster said:

"Becoming very windy with gales for many, perhaps severe across the Fells. Rain will spread east across the [North West] region, some heavy and persistent, particularly across the Lake District and the Pennines. Gales and rain easing by dawn, but still windy. Minimum Temperature 4C."

To those who asked if I am still in the election for Copeland's Mayor

Labour don't want competition in the election for Copeland's first elected mayor. They are using every trick they can to discourage rival candidates from standing. My last post explained why I believe they cannot be allowed to get away with it.

Elton John wrote a song which gives a great reply to those who have asked if I will withdraw from the election ...



Here are the lyrics:

You could never know what it's like
Your blood like winter freezes just like ice
And there's a cold lonely light that shines from you
You'll wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use
 
And did you think this fool could never win
Well look at me, I'm coming back again
I got a taste of love in a simple way
And if you need to know while I'm still standing you just fade away

Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid

I'm still standing after all this time
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind

I'm still standing! (yeah, yeah, yeah)
I'm still standing! (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Once I never could hope to win
You starting down the road leaving me again
The threats you made were meant to cut me down
And if our love was just a circus you'd be a clown by now"


Labour are the wreck that hides behind a mask of false concern for West Cumbria

Labour are the clowns who have made Copeland Council a joke

Help me to make them fade away on 7th May.

 

Labour want the Mayorality without a fight. OVER MY DEAD BODY.

My decision to stand for the post of Mayor of Copeland was never about the salary on offer for the job. If money was all I cared about, the package on offer would not have motivated me to put my name forward even on the terms recommended by an Independent Panel. I put my name forward because I care about public service and about the people of West Cumbria.

On Thursday Copeland Labour party produced at the last minute an amendment to the Independent Panel recommendation about the salary to be paid to Copeland's first directly elected mayor. They reduced the payment for the job by 40%, to well below the average wage for the district.

This is not primarily about the money either. The Copeland Labour group's actions are a clear and obvious attempt to sabotage the referendum vote to set up a directly-elected mayor, discourage other candidates from standing, and thereby rig the election.

If the governors of any school in Copeland advertised for a head teacher at the salary Labour are offering for the political head of Copeland Borough Council they would make themselves a laughing stock. The salary is not just lower, but massively lower, than would be paid for almost any job with significant leadership responsibilities, from a police inspector to a Ward Sister, or almost any management position in a medium or large company or indeed in the public sector.

It was openly admitted at the meeting that this decision was forced through the council by party whips with all Labour councillors required to vote for it.

I am convinced that this motion was a cynical trap for all Labour's potential opponents in Copeland and myself in particular. The people behind this motion WANT to discourage as many as possible of their opponents from standing so as to give their candidate the easiest possible ride.

And Labour are salivating of the prospect of accusing anyone who now withdraws from the election of being only interested in getting a generous salary from Copeland taxpayers, and not giving a damn about the people of Copeland.

In the past 48 hours a number of people have asked if I am still standing in the election. Several well-meaning individuals have encouraged me to withdraw in the hope that this would force a reversal of the decision.

I respect the motives of those who have made that suggestion, but sadly, I believe that they underestimate the ruthlessness, cynicism, and total contempt for democracy of Copeland Labour party. Withdrawing is exactly what Labour hope that I, and any potential Independent candidates, will do, giving a gift to their propaganda machine. If we do that, Labour will be laughing all the way to even more complete domination of Copeland.

Cancelling the election entirely would be equally wrong for exactly the same reason: it would mean that a clique who have no better understanding of democracy than Ferdinand Marcos would have succeeded in frustrating the wishes expressed by the people of Copeland through a referendum.

(I was going to make a more up-to-date comparison and compare Copeland Labour Party's idea of democracy with Vladimir Putin's, but unlike Ferdinand Marcos, Mr Putin is still alive and might sue me for the insult of being compared with Copeland Labour party.)

If Labour think they can get their man elected without a fight, my answer to them is four words:

OVER MY DEAD BODY.

Quote of the day 28th February 2015

"Never make a major decision when you are tired, ill or drunk"

(I have not been able to trace this quote but my memory attributes it to Winston Churchill)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy RIP

Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr Spock in the original series of Star Trek and reprised the role in various films, has died at the age of 83.

He was a great actor.

Rest in Peace

How Gordon Brown cost pensioners £118 BILLION and counting

While I was at University, I remember one of the rare instances of a British politician taking action to solve a problem which he saw coming twenty or thirty years ahead.

The late Tony Newton, then a cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher's government, realised that as people were living longer and the birth rate was getting lower, the then system whereby each generation's pension contributions paid the pensions of the previous generation was doomed.

This unfunded pensions system would become more and more unsustainable as the ratio of retired people to those of traditional working age became greater and greater, and collapse entirely some 30 years later (e.g. about now.)

Britain needed to move to a system of fully funded pensions, and that required either much higher taxes or higher contributions. Newton resolved to give people a real incentive to save by means of their occupational pension.

Newton took two steps to create that incentive, one negative and one positive.

The negative step, which I would not support in today's vastly different circumstances but was brave and far-sighted in context and defensible as part of the package, was to link the state pension to prices rather than earnings.

The positive step was to cancel double taxation of pensions when dividends were paid into a pension fund and again when the pension fund paid out to the pensioner, by scrapping the "ACT" (Advance Corporation Tax) charge on dividends paid to pension funds.

Over the next twelve years that policy was massively successful in promoting investment in pension funds, so much so that by the mid 1990's Britain appeared to be the only country in Europe which was well on the way to solving the demographic time bomb threatening pensions. In fact, at the start of 1997 Britain had more money invested in occupational pension funds than the whole of the rest of Europe put together.

And then the most disastrously misguided person ever to hold the offices of Chancellor and Prime Minister took office and threw it all away.

One of Gordon Brown's first acts as chancellor was to reimpose double taxation of pension funds - without, incidentally, also linking pensions back to earnings rather than prices.

This raid on pension funds was bitterly attacked at the time by the Conservatives and the pensions industry. Perhaps understandably but very unfortunately, the country was not interested in what the Conservatives had to say in summer 1997 and assumed that the pension industry were a vested interest whose complaints could be ignored.

The trouble is, if you take billions a year from an industry, and the amount keeps going, up the cumulative effects get huge.

Figures recently published by the Office of Budget Responsibility show that the annual impact of Brown's raid on the pensions industry is now £9.7 billion.

The OBR says the cumulative amount taken by the government from pension funds is now nearly £118 billion.  But that does not begin to describe the havoc Brown's raid on pensions caused.

As this excellent article points out, a decade later it emerged that Brown

"was alerted before the budget that pension funds could lose £50billion overnight.

"As the new figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility show, abolishing pension fund dividend tax relief has cost them £117.9 billion between 1997 and 2014. Crucially, this figure relates only to the Treasury’s savings. The impact on pension savers is far more devastating."

"Each year the dividend payments that pension funds were stripped of would have been reinvested and grown. With even a modest rate of compound growth, the £2.3billion the Treasury saved in 1997 thanks to Mr Brown would now be worth around £5.5billion."

"Using the same logic, one financial expert calculates that the total amount stripped from the nation’s pensions could amount to as much as £260 billion. With less money in their coffers and with pensioners living longer and needing money for longer, pension funds soon ran into major difficulties."

"Thousands of companies closed their lucrative final salary schemes, which promised to pay a retirement income based on an employee’s length of service and pay. "

"Gordon Brown’s tax raid may have boosted the Treasury’s coffers, but it devastated the pension promises made to a generation of workers and changed the way we save for our retirement forever."



You can read the full article at
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2613609/Revealed-Labours-stealth-raid-took-118BILLION-pensions-paving-way-end-final-salary-schemes-suddenly-unaffordable.html#ixzz3SuEUMkJb

Fine, you say, why hasn't the present government reversed it again?

In my personal opinion I would like them to do precisely that, but let's be honest here.

When you inherit a situation where the government is spending four pounds for every three pounds raised in tax and you have to try to eliminate a massive public sector deficit which is still way, way too large, finding the room to make a £9.7 billion tax cut while still reducing that deficit is extremely difficult.

The fact remains that even if the government could change the policy tomorrow, millions of people would still be far less generously provided for in their pensions because of Gordon Brown's utterly disastrous raid on pension funds.

I wasn't impressed by the people who celebrated when Margaret Thatcher died. And if I outlive him, I won't celebrate when Gordon Brown dies either. But in my opinion people have far more valid reasons to curse his legacy than anyone did to curse hers. Especially the millions of people who will be much poorer in retirement because of his mistakes for decades to come.

Quote of the day 27th February 2015



(Hat tip to http://emilysquotes.com/)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The choice at the next election in 80 seconds



There's a clear choice at the General Election - and this great film sums it up in just 80 seconds:

Video - click to play

Everyone needs to know the choice facing Britain: competence and a long-term economic plan that is working with the Conservatives - or the chaos of giving it up and going backwards with anyone else.

And if you agree and want to help with the Conservative campaign, one quick way to do so is to click on the box below and ...

Donate today

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Copeland Borough Council meeting this evening

CBC met this afternoon at 2pm in the Copeland Centre to set the council's 2015/16 budget.

I was present in the area reserved for the public until shortly after the main budget was passed. This was followed by the report of the independent panel which makes recommendations on the level of allowances which should be paid to councillor, and which this year had its' remit extended to include the salary of the directly-elected mayor.

At this point a Labour amendment to the panel proposals was moved and it was immediately clear that this would be very controversial (so much so that the police were called.)

I removed myself from the meeting at this stage from concern that my presence might place my Conservative colleagues in an invidious position while councillors were voting on a proposal to pay the elected mayor an annual salary of £30,000 instead of the £50,000 recommended by the Independent Panel. Although I don't believe any of the Conservative councillors would have been influenced by my presence to vote for anything other than what they thought was the appropriate salary I did not want them to be open to the accusation that they might have been so influenced.

I am reliably informed, however, that during the debate one of the Labour councillors made a most interesting comment. He said that he personally did not agree with the amendment he was about to vote for and would have preferred to support the Independent Panel recommendation, but that his party group had discussed this and they had agreed that their policy would be to support the amendment, so he would vote with the party whip.

Gilbert & Sullivan put into the mouths of their fictitious first Lord of the Admiralty the words

"I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all
I thought so little they rewarded me
By making me the ruler of the Queen's Navy"

It appears that Sir Joseph Porter is alive and well and representing Mirehouse ward on Copeland Borough Council. I wonder how many others voted against their actual opinion this afternoon but were less open about it.

Quote of the day 26th February 2015

"A committee can make a decision that is dumber than any of its members."
 
(David Cobitz)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The problem with borrowing ...

Hat tip to Chris Pearson (@CJpearson82) from Calderdale in Yorkshire, for posting the graphic below on Twitter this morning

 
 
He rightly described this as indicating Labour's economic policy: it also describes the end result of the policies of almost all those parties who describe themselves as being anti-austerity but are really running against fiscal responsibility.

The OECD view of Britain's economic performance

Quote of the day 25th February 2015

"I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him."
 
(Galileo Galilei)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How Labour has already cost people money without even being elected

Labour's policy of freezing gas prices sounded great - while they were going up - but it was suggested at the time (including on this blog) that the threat of this policy from Labour would cost people money immediately: if the energy companies thought there was a risk of Ed Miliband winning the forthcoming election and enacting this policy, they were likely to get the price increases in first.

A report in the Sun today which you can read at

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/6344510/Milibands-energy-freeze-puts-70-on-bills.html

quotes an industry expert as suggesting that Energy bills today might be 10% lower if Miliband had never announced his price freeze policy, and estimating that he has cost a typical family £70 in higher bills.

Can this be proven one way or the other? No, as we can never be certain what would have happened.

Doubtless those who want to believe in Labour will dismiss it as a slur by the "Tory Press."

But personally I suspect that the analyst the Sun quotes is probably not far out.

Which makes a point which should make potential Labour voters pause -

If Ed Miliband can cost ordinary families £70 just through announcing badly-thought-through policies before he has even been elected -

how much damage could he do as Prime Minister?

David Cameron writes about protecting pensioners

The Prime Minister writes ...



It comes down to values. We believe if you have put in, you should get out.

And if you have worked hard during your life, saved, paid your taxes, and done the right thing - you deserve security when you retire.

That's why we'll continue to increase the State Pension through the Triple Lock, so it rises every year at either the rate of earnings, prices, or 2.5 per cent - whichever is highest.

No more of the paltry increases - one year as low as 75p - we saw under Labour. Instead, the Basic State Pension has risen by £800 since 2010 with the Conservatives.

And it's why we're protecting pensioner benefits including the free bus pass, TV licence and winter fuel payment.

Values also lie at the heart of our commitment to give people the freedom to invest and spend their pension however they like.

From six weeks today, no longer will you have to buy an annuity and have your own money doled back out to you. Instead, your money will be yours to do with as you like. If you want to buy an annuity - fine. If you want to take a lump sum - fine. It's your money - you earned it.

And if you want to pass your pension on to your loved-ones, you'll be able to do so tax-free. No longer will you be hit by a shameful 55% tax - we've cut that to zero.

This is about values - Conservative values that say that everyone who has worked hard and done the right thing should know that they will have dignity and security in retirement.

And if you share these values, please consider making a contribution to our campaign today.

Yours,

David Cameron

Donate today

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Metal Thieves Jailed: police foil planned attack in Cumbria

I make no apology for returning to the subject of metal theft and reporting the prison sentences passed on another gang of cable thieves. In order to come as close as we can to eradicating the scourge of modern society which metal theft represents, the more we can do both the catch and convict the thieves but also to publicise their sentences, the better. If potential thieves know that attempting to steal metal is more likely to earn them a jail sentence than a profit, they are less likely to try it.
 
A gang of seven metal thieves responsible for a £140,000 cable theft conspiracy have been sentenced to a total of almost 13 years imprisonment. They were caught while planning an attack in Cumbria.
 
​The seven criminals were arrested after police linked them to a break-in at a BT depot in Gateshead, where they stole eight drums of heavy copper cable worth £20,000.
 
Between February and June 2013, the gang members, mostly from St Helens, Merseyside, dressed as workmen and used vans and cutting equipment to target a total of 20 depots (most but not all run by BT) where metal cable was stored.
 
At the time of their arrest the thieves had been targeting other premises, including Darlington and Carlisle.
 
Tim Gittins, prosecuting, told Newcastle Crown Court:
 
“The case follows a police investigation into the professional targeting of depots, particularly BT depots across England, from the Midlands to the North and into the Borders and Scotland, as far north as Perth, by a team travelling from Merseyside."
 
"Their aim was to steal large drums of metal cable that was readily capable of being sold to scrap metal dealers.”
 
The seven accused – David Price, Christopher Lee, Lee Sheeran, Daniel Chadwick, Michael Chadwick, James Price and Trevor Smith – pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal and theft. They were all sentenced to terms of imprisonment, ranging from 14 months to 34 months.
 
Passing sentence, judge Brian Forster said: “It is clear from the information that I have read for some of you this type of offending was your daily work.”
 
They will have plenty of spare time over the next year or so as guests of Her Majesty a new line of daily work. It might even be that the same ingenuity and effort that they put into stealing might earn more money through honest work than they obtained through theft.

Quote of the day 24th February 2015



(Hat tip to http://emilysquotes.com/)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Copeland Mayoral Election

At a meeting this evening in Gosforth I was selected by Conservative members in Copeland as our candidate in the first election for a directly-elected mayor for Copeland.

The position of directly-elected mayor will replace that of Leader of the Council, and the Mayor, with the Executive (council cabinet) that he or she appoints, will have similar (but slightly greater) powers to the existing executive.

The main difference is that the mayor will be directly accountable to, and can be hired and fired by, the whole electorate of Copeland, in contrast to the current position of leader which is indirectly elected, with the Leader of the Council emerging from a caucus of whichever party has a majority on the council.

The full council will continue to be involved in setting the budget, agreed between mayor and council under a procedure which is designed to require the agreement of both: the full council will also retain a scrutiny role, and can over-ride mayoral decisions by a two-thirds majority. Planning and Licensing decisions will continue to be decided by the relevant panels and committees of the full council, although setting planning policy will become a matter for the Mayor and cabinet.

The civic role of acting as "First Citizen," supporting local organisations and charities, and chairing council meetings will remain with the Chairman of the Council, who currently has the title of Mayor.

This is not and cannot be the same job as the directly elected mayor, who will have to take difficult and controversial decisions, and cannot stand aside from the messy business of hard political choices in the way that it is rightly traditional for the "First Citizen" to do. There will probably be some confusion at first because we will have to get used to using the word "Mayor" to mean something quite different.

The directly elected mayor will be the head of a large organising employing several hundred people and with a turnover of millions of pounds. This is not a job for someone who has never run anything in his or her life and there were some shrewd and intelligent questions at the selection meeting this evening about the skills and experience I would bring to the post. So let me give you a quick summary of some of that experience.

I have been a manager in the Telecommunications industry for nearly thirty years, mostly in BT, which is one of the largest companies in Britain or indeed the world. The responsibilities I have held in that time included

·       chairing the committee whose approval was required to set up, close down, or increase the capacity of any voice communication link between BT and the other major international telephone companies.

·       I ran a project to identify and remove excess capacity on international routes, which resulted in hundreds of expensive items of equipment being recovered and re-used, saving about £2 million in capital expenditure and facilitating new business opportunities which generated in excess of £12 million in annual revenue and £800k in annual contribution to profits
 
·       I know what a business case looks like: at various stages of my career I have been responsible for both writing them and approving them.
 
·       I have put together business plans and budgets involving thousands of employees, millions of pounds, and thousands of millions of tasks or telephone calls.
 
·       I have commissioned computer systems from both external consultants and internal experts and acted as client for the development of significant software projects.

I have also been involved in running council and public sector services: I have been a member of the Finance Committee of Bristol University, a Health Authority member (that would be NHS Trust Board member today) and I served as Portfolio Holder for Planning and Heritage on St Albans council for three years. During that time I had responsibility for a busy planning department (employing fifty officers, and dealing with 2,200 planning applications) and put in place a several major reforms to improve service to the public.

So what should the Mayor's priorities be?

Working to secure the future of Copeland
 
Labour have made Copeland one of the three worst run councils in England in the eyes of its’ own residents. We need a better Copeland which delivers more effective services for local residents
 
•       I will streamline council top brass and focus resources on front line services.
•       I will also streamline the council executive
•       We need more shared services, co-operating with other councils and public services 
•       I will reintroduce weekly bin collections
•       I will work with local charities and trusts to help the people of Copeland, not sabotage them
•       We need a planning system which listens more to residents and business
•       Copeland Borough Council should do more to support local firms and attract tourism
 
A Campaigning Mayor
 
If elected Mayor I will campaign for
 
•       New nuclear build with linked improvements in infrastructure
•       Keeping services at WCH and Millom hospitals, and I will campaign for hospital services in a positive and constructive manner
 
Much more to cover over the next 72 days until the election, but that will do for a start!

Of Margaret Thatcher and Honorary Degrees

Had I been a graduate of the University of Oxford instead of having acquired my degrees from those of Bristol and East Anglia (and unlike holders of Master of Arts degrees from Oxbridge, my M.A. is a real one, earned by a year of postgraduate study and by passing further exams) I would have voted in 1985 to grant Mrs Thatcher an honorary doctorate, as all previous Prime Ministers who attended Oxford had been given.

Yet I notice that Mrs T herself seemed remarkably unconcerned by the successful campaign to prevent her receiving such an award. She always struck me as far more interested in ideas and in getting things done than with titles and honours.

Perhaps she was too big a person to allow herself to be upset when her political opponents tried to snub her or perhaps she just realised - correctly, I am certain - that if she showed dignity by refusing to get upset over not being granted an honorary title she would look like a much bigger person than those who took part in the petty vindictiveness of withholding it.

Oxford University at its' best is one of the very finest centres of excellence and learning in the world. At its' egregious worst it is, as one of Oxford's own most distinguished graduates said,

"A sanctuary in which exploded systems and obsolete prejudices find shelter and protection after they have been hunted out of every corner of the world."

(Adam Smith)

In the past few years there have been suggestions that the decision not to award Maggie an Honorary Doctorate should be reversed, which have been raised again following her death, now as a proposed Honorary doctorate.

Do I think that the lady herself would regard this as a worthwhile use of the energies of her supporters? No, I doubt it. She stood above petty bickering over trinkets in life: let her memory do the same now she is no longer with us.

Let Oxford go its' own way, and let those who think - as I do -that Baroness Thatcher stood for some great principles which are still highly relevant today, continue to promote those principles. That would be a far more fitting legacy for a great woman.

Quote of the day 23rd February 2015

 
(I have not been able to establish who said this, but places where it is quoted include here and here)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Copeland Council threatens homeless charity with eviction

When I was first selected as Conservative Candidate for Copeland and moved to the area in 2004 it was quickly apparent to me that one of the best-run organisations in the area and one of those doing most to move things forward was Whitehaven Community Trust, then as now based at the Market Hall in Whitehaven.

So I am truly appalled at the way Copeland Borough Council is treating the community trust, as was reported this week in the Whitehaven News at

http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/news/homeless-charity-faces-eviction-from-market-hall-1.1193928

It is not by any means wrong that the council should be looking hard at it's property portfolio and trying to find better ways of using council assets to help local residents. It is not necessarily wrong that that review might include negotiating a move for organisations like the Whitehaven Community Trust into the Civic Hall on fair terms.

What is, however, outrageous is the way the trust is being told to move on terms which on the face of it appear anything but fair.

Copeland BC have offered two rooms at the Civic Hall at a higher rent than the Trust pays under the terms of the present lease, but according to the Whitehaven News CBC appear to be insisting that Whitehaven Community Trust will not be able to allow other community organisations to use those rooms as they do with their present accommodation at the Market Place  and have for many years.

Peter Woolley, chairman of the Trust, told the Whitehaven News  that

“We would like to stay and continue to support community groups from the Market Hall. The council want us to move out next month and go to the Civic Hall but they have told us we would not be able to hire any rooms out to community groups – even though we have been doing this for over 20 years.

“We want to work with the council but we need a level playing field so we can continue to help people in the community.

“The council talks about reopening the Market Hall, but in fact the only bit that is closed at the moment is the bit they shut down when they closed the Tourist Information Centre.”

I understand that negotiations are still going on: let us hope that Copeland BC sees sense and agrees to offer Whitehaven Community trust fairer terms than appear to be proposed at the moment.

Community groups are vital to the renaissance of the area and Copeland Borough Council should be supporting them, not sabotaging them. 

Quote of the day 22nd February 2015

"I wouldn't read a 52-page love letter from Kylie Minogue. What chance of granny in the pew reading one on politics from a bunch of bishops?"

(An unidentified Church of England Bishop quoted in The Times this week expressing his doubts about whether Anglican congregations would welcome a lengthy episcopal epistle about the forthcoming election.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Government acts to fight Dementia

While the Conservatives were still in opposition I recall attending a Conservative meeting at which a very powerful and moving address on dementia was given by the author Terry Pratchett - who suffers from a form of dementia which does not prevent him writing books or making speeches but still has significant impacts on quality of life.

The coalition government has attempted to address this issue and David Cameron signalled a significant further effort today, when he announced that £300 million pounds of taxpayers' money will be committed to research into fighting dementia. He said that an international dementia institute will be established in England over the next five years in a bid to make the UK a world leader for research and medical trials.

Some 1.3 million NHS workers will also receive additional training in how to care for people with dementia. The Prime minister called dementia "one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime".

There are approximately 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with the number expected to hit a million within the next 10 years.

The government said a separate multimillion-pound fund will be launched within weeks to help establish an international investment scheme to discover new drugs and treatments that could slow the onset of dementia, or even deliver a cure, by 2025. It hopes the global fund will bring together investment from the private, public and philanthropic sectors under a single scheme to pay for research projects into the disease.

Faster assessments by GPs are also included in the prime minister's challenge on dementia 2020 plans.

David Cameron first launched a dementia challenge for England in March 2012, building on the previous government's national dementia strategy.

Today he visited High Wycombe to meet people with dementia and dementia friends – people who are able to spot signs of the illness and help sufferers - where he said:

"What today's announcement is about is a very simple but bold ambition, and that is to make the United Kingdom the best place on the planet in terms of researching into dementia, in terms of diagnosing people with dementia and then in terms of treating, helping and caring for them."

Quote of the day 21st February 2015



“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

(Thomas Sowell)

(Hat tip to http://emilysquotes.com/)

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Putin Problem

When the Berlin wall fell, and the Cold War came to an end, Russia appeared to begin developing the institutions of a democracy.

It was not unreasonable at that time to hope that, although the process of building a stable democracy takes time and usually involves some bumps along the road and geopolitics would inevitably lead to some disagreements with the West, the days when Russia had to be seen as a hostile power were coming to an end.

While Boris Yeltsin was President of the Russian Federation, there was more evidence for this view than against it. And while Vladimir Putin is clearly no Gorbachov or Yeltsin, it did not seem impossible at first to do business with him.

But over the past year, the number of warning signs have been increasing that, if Putin ever was a leader we could deal with amicably, he is such a leader no longer.

In the days of the Warsaw Pact one of the ugliest features of the Cold War was the fact that assassination was sometimes used against those who were regarded as having chosen the wrong side. This month one of the ugliest aspects of the new freeze in Anglo-Russian relations has been the evidence presented at the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko that being a Russian who speaks out against Putin's regime is dangerous even if you live in Britain and have become a British citizen.

Fifty years ago the "divide and rule" tactics of Stalin's regime deliberately shifted people and borders around between the notionally independent "Soviet Socialist Republics" which comprised the USSR. Stalin's policy of confusing these borders laid the foundations for dozens of horrendous national and ethnic disputes which have exploded with lethal consequences in the post-Soviet generation. Putin cannot be blamed for the deadly legacy of hate which his predecessor left behind, but he can be blamed for following policies which have exploited and inflamed that hatred rather than trying to damp it down - most recently in Ukraine but before that in Georgia, Chechnya, and the Baltic states.

Which brings us to the Ukraine.

Whatever other arguments may exist about the rights and wrongs of the situation in the Ukraine, the fact that Putin's Russia has so far got away with dismembering that country and the western powers have been unable to stop him has been an absolute disaster for the entire world because of its' implications for nuclear non-proliferation.

In December 1991 more than 90% of the electorate of Ukraine voted for the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine. Later that month the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine formally dissolved the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the USSR, about one third of Soviet nuclear arsenal remained within Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine agreed to renounce those weapons and become a non-nuclear state on the basis of the guarantees given to the country by Russia and other major powers that the territory of a non-nuclear Ukraine would be respected.

On December 5, 1994 the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Britain and the United States signed a memorandum to provide Ukraine with security assurances in connection with its accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. The "Budapest Memorandum" signed by the four countries reads as follows:

The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,

Welcoming the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as non-nuclear-weapon State,

Taking into account the commitment of Ukraine to eliminate all nuclear weapons from its territory within a specified period of time,

Noting the changes in the world-wide security situation, including the end of the Cold War, which have brought about conditions for deep reductions in nuclear forces.

Confirm the following:

1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.

2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

3. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind.

4. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim of[2] an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.

5. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm, in the case of Ukraine, their commitment not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclearweapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of an attack on themselves, their territories or dependent territories, their armed forces, or their allies, by such a State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.

6. Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America will consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.

France and China also provided Ukraine with assurances similar to the Budapest Memorandum.

Nobody in their right mind can suggest that any claim by Vladimir Putin to have honoured that commitment is anything other than a sick joke. This is not just a tragedy for Ukraine: it means that no other country considering whether to acquire nuclear weapons is going to regard any potential assurances by the international community to protect its' territory as being worth the paper they are written on.

The shooting down of flight ML-17 was almost certainly a ghastly mistake, and as investigations are still continuing one should perhaps withhold judgement until they are complete, but it shows the lethal nature of the ongoing conflicts which have been stirred up between Russia and its' neighbours.

This morning's papers reported that the cease fire in the Ukraine had been ignored by pro-Putin rebels who claim to have killed "thousands" of Ukrainian troops.

If this sort of escalation continues it could lead to World War Three, most probably through the kind of miscalculations on most sides which produced World War One a hundred years ago.

The best way to reduce the risk of such a series of miscalculations is to make it as clear as possible to Russia that any attack on any NATO member will be treated by the whole of NATO as an attack on every member of NATO, and to make sure we have the necessary war material to successfully stop any such incursion.

The words of Vegetius more than fifteen hundred years ago which I gave as today's quote of the day - If you want peace, prepare for war - look only too horribly relevant to the West's situation in respect of Putin's Russia.

If NATO cannot show that we would be ready, willing and able to defend ourselves, an accidental war for which we are entirely unprepared may be exactly what we get.

Grant Shapps writes on Sharing the Facts:

Conservative Chairman Grant Shapps writes:



Be at the heart of the most important election in a generation - start using our Share the Facts site today and let everyone know what's at stake in May.

This election is going to be close - and we need every Conservative supporter to play their part.

One simple but important way you can help is by joining the thousands of supporters sharing graphics, videos and blog posts online through our Share the Facts site.

Every week, Share the Facts users help get our message out to over 3 million people - and with you on board, we can reach even more.

You'll be playing a vital role in the campaign: letting your friends and family know about our plans to secure a better future for Britain - and how Ed Miliband, propped up by who-knows-what minor parties, would put it all at risk.

Simply go to the Share the Facts site, click on an item you want to share and sign up for an account when asked.

You'll then get points every time you share something on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin - with regular prizes for those at the top of the Share the Facts leaderboard.

So please get sharing today - and play your part in this crucial election:

Share the Facts today

Thank you,

Grant Shapps
Conservative Party Chairman

PS If you want to know more about Share the Facts - including a step-by-step guide to signing up, details on how you get points and how to download our iOS and Android apps - just click here.

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

WCH Torchlit procession report

Hundreds of people joined the torchlit procession organised by the ‘We Need West Cumberland Hospital’ group from Whitehaven town centre to the hospital on Sunday.

Gathered at the hospital, the campaigners then turned out their torches one by one as each of the services whose future is under consideration by the trust was read out.

A fuller report on the event and the Trust's response, and link to the article in this week's Whitehaven News about the procession, is given on my hospitals blog at

 http://savewestcumbriahospitals.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/report-on-torchlit-procession-and-trust.html

Quote of the day 20th February 2015

"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum"

Most frequently quoted version of an aphorism from the 5th century work, De Re Militari ("Of Matters Military") by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus.

It is most often translated as

"If you want peace, prepare for war."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

IDS writes on reforming welfare:

Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith writes ...


  
"At the heart of our welfare reforms is a simple goal: to tackle the culture of welfare dependency that Labour allowed to develop.

So we're creating a system that helps people stand on their own two feet - restoring the incentive to work and ensuring that work always pays.

Gone will be the days when it could make more sense to sit on benefits than enter work. Now, the right choice is also the logical one.

Our new Universal Credit is already transforming lives, freeing people from welfare dependency and helping them provide for themselves and their families.

Yet Labour refuse to back the scheme. Having opposed every one of our vital welfare reforms, including the benefit cap, again they stand in the way of progress.

So I need your support. Add your name today to show you back the important changes we're making to the welfare system.

The difference between the Conservatives and Labour on welfare is one of values.

The Conservatives stand for giving people the security of a job and hope for a better future. We believe in rewarding the willingness to work and helping people get on in life.

By contrast, the only thing you can honestly say that Labour stands for is more welfare dependency. They truly are the welfare party.

We can't let them wreck the progress we've made. Add your name today, and let's keep up the important work of turning Britain around.

Thank you,"



Iain Duncan Smith
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Quote of the Day 19th February 2015




“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.”

(George Orwell)

(Hat tip to http://emilysquotes.com/)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Guido on Apple's new HQ.

Guido Fawkes had a "what's the difference between" post last week concerning Apple's new HQ at

http://order-order.com/2015/02/12/apples-new-hq-looks-awfully-familiar/

He showed these two pictures, first of the new Apple HQ which is currently under construction,


and of another large construction project in Cheltenham a decade ago (e.g. GCHQ)

 
Which prompts the question "Can you spot the difference?"

and the answer

"One is the HQ of a secretive organisation hellbent on hoovering up your personal data, and the other …"

Quote of the day 18th February 2015

"Rule of thumb: if a movie trailer makes me mutter 'No one wants to see that' then about 50-100 million people will want to see that."

(Aubrey Stern @AubreyStern on twitter 11th February 2015)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Quote of the day 17th February 2015

“They voted because they utterly despaired of their established parties, and probably rightly, although it was a bit hard on the outgoing prime minister. But at last they decided that the old Greek political establishment, corrupt and oligarchic as it had always been, had got them into this mess, and was probably not going to get them out of it quickly, and so they decided to take a risk – what else was on offer? – and see if these extraordinary alternative Left politicians can somehow pull off a miracle, which I don’t think they can.

“Every western democracy has that problem. The angry impatience, the escapism, the easy answer – to say it’s all the fault of our established politicians, all the fault of these bloody foreigners – every western democracy has that.

“In no western democracy can the traditional parties of government get a majority on their own. The first one was the Tea Party. Then you had Le Pen. Most of the protests are right-wing nationalist in Europe, but some are left-wing nationalist, like Spain and Greece. The Greeks are the only ones so far who’ve put theirs in office. I am fearful of the consequences.”

(Ken Clarke on the recent Greek election)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Two opposing fantasies about the Euro


There are two opposite and equally ludicrous British fantasies about the Euro. The one which most of the political class believed fifteen years ago was that joining the Euro would be good for Britain and it was inevitable that we would join within at most a decade.

Only a handful even of the dwindling band of Federalists still think that now - Ken Clarke does not expect to see Britain replace the pound by the Euro in his lifetime.

Much more persistent among the far from diminishing band of hardline Eurosceptics is the view, in my opinion equally silly, that the Euro has been a disaster for all participants and will collapse soon.

People who have convinced themselves of this are living on another planet.

The Euro has been a disaster for countries like Greece, Spain and Italy which were insane to join it and should never have been allowed to. For Germany, and for countries which have economies closely aligned to Germany and are willing to accept the loss of independent economic policy which it entails, the Euro has been reasonably successful.

"But what about the recession" I hear some voices cry.

The world recession was caused mainly by poor worldwide regulation of banks. It was admittedly exacerbated in the Eurozone by overly severe monetary policies, but I believe that most of the relevant countries would probably still have followed similar policies if they had retained their own currencies. The problem was the policy, not the Euro per se.

"One size fits all," or rather doesn't, is a massive problem if countries try to share a currency with Germany when their economies or economic policies are not in sync with the German economy. That is why Britain would have been mad to scrap the pound for the Euro, and why Spain, Italy and Greece were foolish to join.

However, for the majority of the Euro's history, countries which ARE in sync with Germany have found the single currency a net advantage.

If the Euro was likely to collapse, it would almost certainly have done so five years ago. A monetary system which has survived the past sixteen years can survive almost anything.

The fact that I think the Euro is here for the long term does not mean Britain should have joined it or that Greece should stay in it. When someone as pro-Euro as Ken Clarke, but who unlike many people of that view has a mind capable of being influenced by evidence, thinks and says publicly that it is time to start planning for "Grexit" then the case for preparing a positive future for Greece outside the Euro and the Eurozone without Greece is strong.

A quarter of UK tax is paid by the wealthiest taxpayers.

New figures show that the wealthiest taxpayers paid a quarter of all UK income tax last year, and the proportion has increased since the coalition came to power.

Both the proportion and the amount paid by "additional rate" taxpayers has increased: where before they paid £38 billion there are now 313,000 such taxpayers paying £46.5 billion.

This knocks two Labour myths on the head

1) It demonstrates that this government's policies have not, despite Labour propaganda to the contrary, reduced the amount or proportion of tax paid by the wealthiest people.

2) Although those who break the law by failing to pay their taxes should be prosecuted, and loopholes which allow people to get away with ridiculously low payments should be closed, if a little over three hundred thousand rich people are paying between them more than forty billion a year in tax, those people on average must be paying over a hundred thousand pounds a year each.

And if on average they're paying that much, that means there must be thousands of individuals who are paying that much tax or more,

By all means go after the real tax dodgers, though it would be a good idea to make certain you know who they are before throwing out allegations under parliamentary privilege. (Yes, Ed Miliband, I am looking at you.)

But since some rich people are paying vast amounts of tax, lumping all rich people together as tax dodgers is clearly unfair to those who are paying what is due from them.