Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sunday music spot: Henry Balfour Gardiner's Evening Hymn

Protecting our National Parks

This weekend saw the announcement of plans to boost nature’s recovery and safeguard England’s iconic national parks for future generations as we build back greener.

  • National Parks such as the Lake District National Park and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are amongst our nation’s greatest treasures, so we must do everything we can to protect them.
  • That is why the government has announced plans to strengthen our protected landscapes – with a 12-week consultation looking at how to drive nature’s recovery within our landscapes and support communities that live within them.
  • These reforms will play a pivotal role in meeting our commitment to protect 30 per cent of land for biodiversity by 2030 and ensure we continue building back greener.

COVID-19 booster jabs available to 16 and 17-year olds from tomorrow

Today it was announced that, from Monday, 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to receive a Covid-19 booster jab – ensuring they can top-up their immunity this winter and keep themselves and their friends safe.

  • We must do everything we can to keep schools, sixth forms and colleges open for face-to-face teaching, and booster jabs are our best defence against Covid-19.  
  • That is why, from tomorrow, people aged 16 and 17 will be able to book their boosters online or attend a walk-in centre – with those who received their second jab at least three months ago, and who have not tested positive in the last 12 weeks, initially eligible.
  • This will help to protect young people and ensure that they can continue to receive face-to-face teaching at their school, sixth forms and colleges.

Quote of the day 16th January 2022

"Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching"

(Clive Staples Lewis. An almost identical comment was also made on BBC Radio Cumbria this week by our Police & Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall.)

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Will Lloyd on Gina Miller's attempted launch of a new party

There is a very good article on the "Unherd" website by Will Lloyd about the attempt to launch a new political party by Gina Miller. You can read it here.

The writing is mostly somewhere between irony and sarcasm interspersed with flashes of insight, beginning with the title, "So farewell, then, Gina Miller," an apparent allusion to the poems of "E. J. Thribb (17)." For anyone who doesn't get the reference, poems which start with "So farewell then" followed by a name are generally obituaries to that person, or in this case to her political career.

To give an example of the writing:

"She arrived. White heels, white suit; as pristine as fresh A4 paper. As blank as a lost memory. Miller looked angry; whether at the state of British politics, or at the sad sight of this unfilled room was hard to say. "

"Her speech was a blizzard of pointless adjectives, catastrophic predictions, and mangled metaphors. She talked about roadmaps that set out visions. She talked about “deafening silences” and creating a “government that works for everyone”. Miller wanted to “help real people in the real world”. Overworked words like these have a tainted character. They are hard to trust.

Miller chewed on them. Her tone drifted up nasally. Words were stuck in her sinuses. She tried a joke. “Status quo — Latin, some would say, for the mess we’re in.” It was a lawyer’s ventured joke. The product of a padlocked imagination."

"Moaning about Britain’s low productivity, Miller said we lagged behind the US, France, and Germany. “In fact,” she grimaced, “we only just beat Italy in productivity terms.” Italy! This was British xenophobia so classically proportioned she might have been Roy Chubby Brown. Italy!"

Actually I'd like to know if she paid royalties to John Cleese for the line about Italy - it appears to be a slightly updated version of a line used by Cleese in one of the Party Political Broadcasts he did for Dr David Owen and the SDP in the 1980's, which is still available on YouTube - you can find the comment about Italy starting five minutes and 18 seconds into the clip here.

I don't, by the way, criticise Gina Miller for trying to start a political party. Far better than anyone who is not happy with the state of British politics should try to actually do something about it whether by trying to set up a new party or joining one of ther existing ones than just sit back and do nothing. However, I think Will Lloyd accurately predicts how likely it is that "True and Fair" will make any impression.

Such is the nature of things that any new political party will be highly imperfect just as all the existing political parties are highly imperfect. Personally I will be sticking with the plan of trying to do what I can to improve the party which seems to me to be the least worst. 

Latest booster figures pass 36 million


Saturday music spot: Handel's "As steals the morn"

Quote of the day 15th January 2022


Friday, January 14, 2022

The occasional perverse acquittal is a feature of the jury system, not a bug

From time to time in a democratic society, juries will acquit someone who is not just very lucky indeed to get off - O.J. Simpson or Ken Dodd level of lucky - but who either on their own admission did exactly what they were accused of doing, or where the evidence was so overwhelming that no reasonable person could doubt that they did it.

It doesn't happen very often, on either side of the Atlantic, but it does happen, The two cases this week - the Black Lives Matter protesters acquitted of criminal damage despite admitting that they threw the Colston Statue into Bristol harbour, or the extenction rebellion protesters who were acquitted a couple of days later, were two of about five such cases I can remember. 

These included one incident when I was actually in the council chamber during the council meeting where the protest which gave rise to an unsuccessful prosecution took place.

Had I been a member of any of the juries concerned (a bit unlikely in the case in which I could have been called as a witness) I would have voted to return a guilty verdict with a completely clear conscience and no doubt that I was doing the right thing.

However, this doesn't mean that I'm going to get worked up about any of these verdicts, let alone suggest changes to the jury system.

The ability of juries to acquit people, even if they are obviously guilty, should they think that the law is unfair or the likely sentence disproportionately severe, is analogous to a pressure safety valve on the boiler of the machinery of justice. It limits the ability for government and law to get too far out of step with the opinions of the citizenry as a whole.

Hence my comment in the title of this post, the occasional perverse acquittal is a feature of the jury system, not a bug.

If you do not provide such safety mechanisms which operate in a legal and non-violent way, you will have more extra-legal protests and more violence.

And I'd rather accept a few perverse "not guilty" verdicts on a handful of protestors who thereby get away with crimes of which I think they were guilty as part of the price for keeping safeguards in Britain's criminal law which might one day protect me and people who think like me if Britain were ever to elect a government run by the kind of people who might want to arrest us for our beliefs.


Music to start the weekend: Bach's "Wachet auf," from Cantata BWV 140, Chorale, "Not the black horse"

Quote of the day 14th January 2022


UK economy back to pre-pandemic levels

Growth figures for November released today by the Office for National Statistics show that the size of the UK economy has growth back to and above pre-pandemic levels which as chancellor Rishi Sunak says, is  a testament to the grit and determination of the British people.  

Overall GDP grew 0.9% in November and is now 0.7% above its pre-pandemic peak.

Services grew 0.7% (1.3% above the pre-pandemic peak), manufacturing grew 1.1% (2.2% below) and construction grew 3.5% (1.3% above.)

Extending pardons for unjust historic convictions

Most people in Britain today think that what freely consenting adults do in their own bedrooms is not a matter for the criminal law and UK laws have almost entirely been updated to reflect that view. But within living memory that was not the case and since 2012, people have been able to apply to have historical same-sex sexual cautions and convictions disregarded.

However, the current list of former offences involved is too narrow and some convictions for consenting acts which are not illegal now and many people think should never have been illegal are not included.

So legislation will now be brought forward to extending pardons to all those who were historically convicted or cautioned for consensual same-sex sexual activity and right more of the remaining historic wrongs.

The government has announced this week that it will be expanding the pardons and disregards scheme to cover all convictions and cautions imposed on people purely for, or due to, consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults – wiping these offences from criminal records.

These changes will help to right the wrongs of the past and reassure members of the LGBT community that Britain is one of the safest places in the world to call home.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Kicking racism out of football

The government is bringing forward legislation to ban racist trolls from football stadiums.

  • Racism is unacceptable and for too long football has been marred by this shameful prejudice, with online trolls abusing our footballers from behind their keyboards.
  • So the Conservative government is bringing forward changes to the law to ban those convicted of racist online abuse from attending football games for up to 10 years – extending rules that already apply to those convicted of violence, disorder or racist chanting at matches.
  • Alongside efforts to stop online racism through the Online Safety Bill, this will help to protect victims of racism and make sure those committing this crime face the appropriate punishment.

Boosting trade with India

The governments of Britain and India  have launched negotiations on an ambitious Free Trade Agreement between our two countries which will create new jobs and drive innovation in all parts of the UK.

  • India is one of the in world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies and a new deal would put UK businesses at the front of the queue for trade.
  • So I welcome the news of the negotiations launched today for a new Free Trade Agreement with India to will unlock access to their £2 trillion economy for British businesses,  slashing barriers to trade and cutting tariffs on exports of British-made products and services, such as tech, cars and Scotch whisky.
  • As an independent, deal-making nation Britain is forging stronger partnerships with the fastest-growing economies of the world – creating jobs, increasing wages and driving innovation across the country.

Quote of the day 13th January 2021


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Midweek music spot: an Antonio Vivaldi collection for Harpsichord solo

This is a collection of Vivaldi's violin music arranged for the Harpisichord, and performed by Enrico Baiano.

If you are interested in the details of the pieces the items in this collection come from, you can find them on the Youtube page by following this link.

Hundreds of former teachers return

It has been announced that hundreds of former teachers have responded to calla for them to return to the profession, helping to keep children in the classroom and keeping education ging through the pandemic.

  • Whilst teacher absences are currently relatively stable, the proportion absent due to Covid is higher as a result of the Omicron variant, and is expected to remain a challenge throughout the first weeks of term.
  • That is the government invited back hundreds of former teachers to temporarily return to the profession, and early data shows that at least 585 former teachers have already responded to the call to support the teaching workforce – with the total likely to be much higher given the sample size.
  • This is helping to make sure all children and young people can remain in the classroom – and we continue to urge everyone, including eligible young people, to get their jabs as the vaccine continues to pave the way out of this pandemic. 

No more new "Smart" motorways pending more safety data

I am pleased to see that the government has announced today a pause in the rollout of new so-called "smart" motorways, alongside a £900 million investment to upgrade existing schemes – protecting drivers’ safety and increasing their confidence on our roads 

  • It is crucial to go further to ensure that all users of Britain's motorways, including the so-called "smart" ones without a permanent hard shoulder, feel safer using them.
  • The government has decided to pause the rollout of new smart motorways until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available. At the same time the department of transport is investing £900 million of taxpayers' money to improve safety on existing all lane running smart motorways, including £390 million to install over 150 extra emergency areas – a 50 per cent increase in places to stop by 2025.
  • This will help to give drivers greater confidence on our roads, whilst providing the data we need to uphold the highest road safety standards.

Learning from the Grenfell tragedy to make homes safer.

This week plans were announced to require industry to pay to remove dangerous cladding from buildings – protecting leaseholders from spiralling costs while making buildings safer.

  • More than four years after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, many leaseholders face large bills for safety issues they did not cause, while those responsible dodge accountability.
  • So it has been announced that developers must pay for the removal of dangerous cladding on all buildings between 11 and 18 metres – and firms have until March to put forward a remediation plan or will face commercial and legal sanctions.
  • These plans will guarantee that no leaseholder living in a medium-rise building will pay a penny to fix dangerous cladding, while making residential builds safer for everyone. 

Quote of the day 12th January 2022


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

January 2022 meeting of the County Council's local committee for Copeland

The next meeting of Cumbria County Council's Local Committee for Copeland will be held on Tuesday, 18th January 2022, at 10.15 am at Cleator Moor Town Hall & Masonic centre.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The agenda and supporting documents can be found by clicking on this link:

Agenda for County Council Local Committee for Copeland on Tuesday, 18th January, 2022, 10.15 am | Cumbria County Council

Quote of the day 11th January 2021


Monday, January 10, 2022

Response to Protect consultation

The government has published its response to the Protect Duty consultation launched in the wake of the 2017 Manchester Arena Bombing, aiming to improve security around the country to keep the people of the UK safe.

  • Following the tragic 2017 Manchester Arena Bombing, the government has worked closely with Figen Murray, victims' groups and partners to develop proposals to improve security around the country.
  • Today the offficial  response to the Protect Duty consultation has been published. The protect duty will place a legal requirement for venues to put in place public safety measures without placing excessive burdens on small businesses, and the government will bring forward legislation on this at the earliest opportunity.
  • We should never allow terrorists to restrict our way of life and these measures will help to improve security around the country and protect the British people.

Campaign aims to encourage pregnant women to get boosted

Today saw the  launch of a new campaign urging pregnant women to Get Boosted Now, helping them to keep themselves and their babies safe.

  • The consequences of Covid-19 when you are pregnant are clear and potentially devastating – including the increased possibility of premature birth, admission to intensive care and a heightened risk of stillbirth.
  • That is this new campaign will share testimonies of pregnant women who have had the jab on radio and social media, reassuring pregnant women that vaccination provides the best protection for both them and their babies from Covid-19.
  • The best way to help pregnant women keep themselves and their babies as safe from this virus as possible is for them, and everyone else who is not one of the tiny minority with a specific medical condition meaning they should not take the vaccine, to get boosted now.

Testing, testing

As of today, 100,000 critical workers in England will get free daily lateral flow tests, minimising disruption from Omicron and protecting key services.

  • The high transmissibility levels of Omicron mean business and public services will face disruption in the coming weeks, particularly from higher than normal staff absences.
  • That is why the government has identified 100,000 critical workers, from food processing to border force, who as of today will receive free lateral flow tests for every working day for an initial period of five weeks. This will make sure that critical workers are not self-isolating unnecessarily and prevent workplace outbreaks.
  • Together with the Plan B measures and our successful vaccine rollout, this will help keep essential services and supply chains running, making sure people can access the services they need.

Monday music spot: A modern version of Vivaldi's "Winter" and other Vivaldi music

A new take on a very old piece of music. 

There may be some traditionalists who don't like it but I suspect that if the modern instruments used to produce this had been available in his lifetime the composer himself would have been fascinated to hear his work performed in this way.

Quote of the day 10th January 2021


Sunday, January 09, 2022

35 million boosters delivered

35 million COVID-19 booster doses have now been administered in the UK.

Thank you to the hardworking doctors, nurses, armed forces personnel and volunteers working every day to deliver jabs across the UK.

Protecting children's health and education

The government and medical experts are reiterating calls for parents to book their children in for their Covid-19 vaccinations, helping keep them in school and to protect their education, health and wellbeing.

  • Over 1.4 million 12 to 15 years olds have received their first vaccine dose since September - the vaccine is safe and effective, but many more parents are yet to take up the offer of a vaccine for their children.
  • That is why vaccine appointments are being made as accessible as possible for young people and parents are being encouraged to make sure their child gets vaccinated. 12 to 15 year olds are now able to get their first dose at school and at walk-in sites, and parents can book appointments for their children with almost half a million slots available across the country.
  • Vaccines help protect young people from Omicron, keep schools open and protect their friends and families – those who have yet to book theirs should do so online now.
  • If you have any concerns about whether the vaccine is right for your children, or indeed for yourself or any other member of your family, please discuss those concerns with an appropriately qualified medical professional.

Jack Dromey RIP

I did not personally know Jack Dromey, the Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington, who died suddenly on Friday, but it seemed appropriate to share this moving tribute to him from the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street.

Rest in Peace.

A hymn for Epiphany Sunday: "I, the Lord of Sea and Sky"

The NHS has more doctors and nurses than ever before

The government has been making every effort to recruit and retain more doctors and nurses and the NHS now has more medical professionals than last year - or ever before.

Quote of the day for Epiphany


Saturday, January 08, 2022

Concerns expressed over BBC reporting of Anti-semitic incident in Oxford Street.

On 29th November there was a deeply worrying incident in Oxford Street, when a busload of Jewish people, mostly teenagers, who were minding their own business taking part in a religious celebration (Hanukkah), were subjected to shouting and threats by a group of men who appeared to be taking exception to their race.

I don't think many people who have seen the footage of the incident, which circulated widely on social media will be in any doubt that this incident would have been very frightening for the people against whom it was directed and that there was more than sufficient grounds for a police investigation into whether racially aggravated public order offences had taken place: the Met did indeed investigate and released pictures of three men they would "like to speak to" in relation to the incident. 

The Jewish community is understandably very concerned about this incident but they are also concerned about the way the BBC reported it: 

The Jewish Chronicle as revealed that the BBC’s Litigation Unit had tried to find out the names of the victims before it would consider any complaints they had about its reporting of the attack.

3D Solicitors, the firm acting for the youngsters, wrote to BBC Director General Tim Davie warning that the BBC could be breaching the Equality Act in its controversial reporting of the incident.   

The letter highlights how BBC reports qualifies the anti-semitic nature of the gestures and verbal abuse directed at the Jewish youths as “apparent” or “alleged” yet the same report states with no such qualification that someone inside the bus can be voicing making an anti-Muslim smear.

I have listened to the section of the recording in which the BBC says contain an anti-Muslim slur. I am quite confident that no such slur is voiced in English, but there is a comment in a language which I do not speak: I understand that this is in Hebrew. The Board of Deputies of British Jews commissioned digital experts DigFind and D3 Forensics, who used audio technology to slow down and clean up the recording so that each syllable of the phrase in dispute could be heard.

Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages as the University of Adelaide inSouth Australia, one of the most senior experts in his field, then studied the tape.

The Professor, who is fluent in 13 languages, including Hebrew, and is a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary,  says that the comment the BBC alleges is an "anti-muslim smear" is actually a call for help in Hebrew. The experts say that the phrase in Hebrew is, “Tikra lemishehu, ze dachuf,” meaning: “Call someone, it’s urgent.”

The letter was passed to BBC lawyers who have refused to consider the complaint until the teenagers are named, despite the solicitors flagging obvious concerns for their safety.

One of Britain’s foremost legal experts, Lord Alex Carlile, said it was “wholly unacceptable” of the BBC to make such a demand at this stage.

He told the Jewish Chronicle: 

“It is wholly unacceptable for the BBC to try and force frightened teenagers to reveal their names, particularly as there is film of the incident anyway.   It is not part of a civil action all they are doing at this stage is seeking answers from the BBC and an apology.    The BBC is just wrong and it goes against public interest to insist that people, whether they are adults or children, who have been subjected to an attack should identify themselves at this stage.”

Secretary of State Nadine Dorries has written to the BBC pointing out that the event was “not only distressing for those involved but also the wider Jewish community” and urging the BBC to “resolve the issue” of the complaint about their reporting as quickly as possible.

Supporting hospitals

The government has deployed 200 armed forces personnel to hospitals in London, to help support NHS staff and protect our nation from Covid-19.

  • The spread of the Omicron variant has meant that significant numbers of NHS staff have been forced to self-isolate during the difficult winter period – with London particularly affected due to the surge of the variant.
  • That is why we are deploying 200 armed forces personnel to hospitals in London, including 40 military medics, who will work hand-in-hand with our NHS heroes to tackle the Omicron surge and ensure continued high-quality care and treatment for Londoners.
  • We want to thank both the doctors, nurses and staff at all our hospitals who are in the front line in the battle for our nation's health, and all the volunteers and people from other walks of life including the armed forces who have come to lend their support to that battle. 
  • The additional deployment is on top of the 1,000 armed forces personnel already providing support to the booster campaign across the UK – we continue to urge everyone to get boosted now to protect their loved ones and communities.

Saturday music spot: The First Lord's song (When I was a lad) from HMS Pinafore

Helping farmers and protecting the environment

This week the government set out details of new schemes that will support nature recovery and climate action by rewarding farmers in their local area, alongside sustainable and profitable food production.

  • Now Britain has left the EU we are free to support our farmers to choose for themselves what is best for their business, whilst supporting sustainable and profitable farming.
  • In addition to the Sustainable Farming Incentive the government has announced: the Local Nature Recovery scheme, which will pay farmers for making space for nature, and the Landscape Recovery Scheme which will support more radical changes to land-use change and habitat restoration. 
  • We are already working with over 3,000 farmers to test and trial our future approach and giving them the ability to choose what works best for their business as we put farmers first in our mission to build back greener.

Quote of the day 8th January 2022


Friday, January 07, 2022

Best musical parodies of all time number one Flanders and Swann "Ill Wind" (Mozart's 5th Horn Concerto)

Apologies for the delay completing my list of the top musical parodies of all time and posting the top one. 

I hope you find this worth waiting for. 

Brilliant as so many of the other parodies I have posted were, nobody has ever topped what Michael Flanders and Donald Swann did to the rondo finale of Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4 in E flat major.

Released more than fifty-five years ago and still makes me and many other people smile: I can never hear Mozart's fourth Horn Concerto without thinking of this.

£737 million to help local businesses

The government has allocated over £700 million of taxpayers' money to local authorities for grants to businesses most affected by the spread of Omicron, protecting jobs and livelihoods.

  • The spread of the Omicron variant presents new challenges for our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors, as people exercise caution during what is usually their busiest part of the year.
  • That is why the government has today delivered £737 million to local councils as part of our £1 billion package of support for business, so that councils can deliver targeted grants worth up to £6,000 each to hospitality and leisure businesses and discretionary funding to other businesses affected by the Omicron surge.
  • While this support package will help to cover costs and protect jobs, the best thing we can do to support businesses is to get the virus under control – which is why we continue to urge everyone to get boosted now.

Quote of the day 7th January 2022


Keeping Women and Girls safe

This week the government announced new measures to keep women and girls safe and to support domestic abuse victims, taking account of the thousands of submissions to last year's call for evidence and thereby putting victims’ voices at the heart of government action.

  • We must make our homes, streets and communities safer for women and girls, which is one of the objectives of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill.
  • That is why the victims of domestic abuse will be given longer to report the offence to the police – so abusers do not evade justice. And a new offence will be put on the statute book to stop people filming or taking photos of mothers breast feeding without their consent – because no new mum should be harassed in this way.
  • The Conservative government is committed to doing everything we can to protect women, make them feel safer, and give them greater confidence in the justice system.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Protecting Britain from the Omicron variant

Yesterday the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons on the Omicron variant and our measures to contain the virus, fortify our NHS and keep our country open.

Although it is now clear that Omicron is milder than the Delta variant, we know the variant is spreading quickly. There is a risk that the rapid rise in hospital admissions will continue to increase the pressures on our NHS.

That is why the government will keep Plan B in place for another three weeks and continue to bolster our defences against the virus with our booster programme – with more than 34 million people now boosted. The government is also:

  • Simplifying international travel by removing the need for a pre-departure test and lifting the requirement to self-isolate on arrival until receipt of a PCR for fully vaccinated travellers, returning to the requirement of a lateral flow test no later than day two of arrival. 
  • Suspending the need to take a confirmatory PCR to confirm the result of a positive lateral flow test - with lateral flow results to be reported online and self-isolation to begin immediately. 

The best way to save lives, reduce the pressure on our NHS and keep our country open is to get your jabs - we continue to urge everyone to get boosted now.  

Get Boosted now

The Prime Minister has reiterated his call for everyone to Get Boosted Now, and announced free daily lateral flow tests for 100,000 critical workers in England, helping keep essential services and supply chains running. 

  • The government has taken significant steps in the fight against Omicron, including implementing Plan B, setting up local Nightingales, increasing testing capacity and ramping up our booster programme – but this variant continues to cause significant disruption across the country.
  • 100,000 critical workers have ben identified who will be offered free lateral flow testing for every working day from 10 January – helping keep essential services and supply chains running.
  • The Prime Minister praised all those involved in reaching our target of offering every eligible adult the chance to get their booster by the New Year, with 34 million third doses now delivered  – as he reissued his call for everyone eligible to Get Boosted Now. 
  • Together with the Plan B measures, we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again – but we must remain cautious as the weeks ahead will be challenging.

Quote of the day 6th January 2022


Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Quote of the day 5th January 2022

“I didn’t get the vaccine, I thought I was being the hero.”

“please get your vaccinations” 

 “You don’t want to end up like me.”

“When you’re dead and all your family are heartbroken you can’t turn around and say ‘I wish I had the vaccine’. This is very real and people need to get their jabs.”

(Andrew Pugh, who previously refused the COVID-19 vaccination, speaking from his hospital bed after catching the Coronavirus and being so ill that his family were told he had a 50:50 chance of survival. 

Fortuately he has made some progress and moved from ICU onto a ward, but he remains on oxygen as he continues to recover from long Covid. He added 

“If it wasn’t for the nurses and the fact I’m a non-smoker I wouldn’t be alive - they saved my life. I want to say thank you to the staff in the ICU for giving me my second chance, it has been hard and it still is.”

The latest data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre showed that 61 per cent of patients admitted to critical care in December with Covid were unvaccinated.

The proportion of unvaccinated patients in intensive care varied by region, with the highest rates - 66 per cent - recorded in London, the south west and the north west.

Carol of the day for 12th night - "The Three Kings" (Peter Cornelius)

Twelfth night, the last day of Christmas is associated with the arrival of the wise men, or Magi, of whom there are usually assumed to be three since they brought three gifts: they are alternatively known (though without biblical authority) as the three Kings. 

So it seemed appropriate to pick this lovely carol as my last carol spot for this Christmas season.

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

The first anniversary of the Oxford/AstraZenca vaccine

Today marked the one year anniversary of the UK’s deployment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – since then 2.5 billion doses have been administered globally, giving billions around the world a UK made way to fight back against the virus.

  • Backed by government funding, the UK-made, Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has played a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19, saving countless lives in the UK and around the world.
  • The UK has distributed around 2.5 billion doses at cost to more than 170 countries and almost two-thirds of these have gone to low and lower-middle-income countries – we will donate a further 20 million AstraZeneca doses to countries in need this year as part of our commitment to donate 100 million doses overall.
  • Our vaccine programme is world leading but with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, it is more important than ever that people come forward for their vaccines and booster to protect the progress we have made.

Top musical parodies number two: The Barron Knights, "A Taste of Aggro"

Second from the top of my list of the best musical parodies is a three part parody which still regularly gets posted to Youtube more than four decades after it came out. 

The first part "There's a dentist in Birmingham" which is a parody of Boney M's "By the Rivers of Babylon

It goes on to parody Father Abraham and the Smurfs, and then the LS Lowry tribute song, "Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs."

All three of the three pieces of music which this song parodies were in their very different ways popular in very different ways with very different people in the seventies but each had its own charms and the way this parody segues between them is really very clever: forty years later it's my impression that this classic is as well remembered as they are.

Here it is on Top of the Pops in 1978 (it reached number four)   

And here it is again in a post put up forty years later.

The future of the UK Nuclear Industry - a perspective from a former Energy secretary

Lord Howell, who as David Howell was secretary of state for energy, gave a speech about the future of nuclear power in Britain in the House of Lords in December which has been published as a column on "The Article" website here.

He is also chair of Windsor Energy Group, a former president of the Energy Industries Association and the British Institute of Energy Economists.

He concludes that the lesson from the current volatility in energy markets is that orderly energy transition to a low-carbon world will take time and must have back-up. A large part of that — if it is to be low carbon and in line with climate goals — has to be nuclear. Fossil fuels, too, even the hated coal sector, will have to play their part.

But without firm decisions on the nuclear new-build front now, soon, we will encounter again and again precisely the kind of situation of which we currently have the foretaste—namely horrendous price spikes, outages, heavy industrial damage, real suffering in vulnerable households.

I agree. Nuclear new build should form part of the mix in a balanced energy policy.

Quote of the day 4th January 2022

"A year which started with" Sir Keir Starmer "caricatured as Captain Hindsight saw him slowly but surely metamorphosing into Labour's Corporal Jones."

(Dan Hodges, former Labour and Trade Union official, analysing Sir Keir Starmer's performance over 2021 in a newspaper article here.)

Latest data suggests Jabs & booster reduce Omicron hospitalisation risk by 88%

A full course of approved COVID vaccinations plus a booster jab is 88% effective at preventing people ending up in hospital with Covid-19, latest study data released by the UK Health Security Agency suggests.

The new data confirms that two doses of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna vaccines offers little protection against being infected with Omicron.

But protection against severe disease appears to be holding up much better against the new variant.

Health officials said this reinforces the importance of getting a third dose.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said: 

"This is more promising data which reinforces just how important vaccines are. They save lives and prevent serious illness.

"This analysis shows you are up to eight times more likely to end up in hospital as a result of Covid-19 if you are unvaccinated."

The UKHSA analysed more than 600,000 confirmed and suspected cases of the Omicron variant up to 29 December in England.

It found that a single vaccine dose reduced the risk of needing hospital treatment by 52%. Adding the second dose increased the protection to 72%, although after 25 weeks that protection had faded to 52%.

And two weeks after getting a third dose, that protection against hospitalisation was boosted to 88%.

The UKHSA report said there was not enough data yet to work out how long this protection would last but it is expected to last longer than protection against developing symptoms.

In people who already had symptoms, protection after each dose was slightly lower and reduced to 68% after a booster compared to unvaccinated people.

A second study, carried out with Cambridge University, confirmed that the risk of going to A&E or being admitted to a hospital ward after catching Omicron was roughly half that of the older Delta variant.

It also found that the risk of hospital admission alone with Omicron was approximately one-third of that for Delta.

Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said the data was "in keeping with the encouraging signs we have already seen".

However she said it was too early to draw any conclusions on how severely ill in hospital people could be with Omicron compared to Delta.

She added: "The increased transmissibility of omicron and the rising cases in the over 60s population in England means it remains highly likely that there will be significant pressure on the NHS in coming weeks.

"The data once again shows that coming forward for your jab, particularly your third dose, is the best way of protecting yourself and others against infection and severe disease."

Source: BBC

Monday, January 03, 2022

Best musical parodies list number three "Weird Al" Yankovic - The Saga Begins

Up to now in my list of top parodies I have often written how many good parodies there are and how the previous items had to fight for their place on the list. 

 Not this time. 

The only question with regard to "Weird Al's" song which tells the story of "Star Wars Episode one, The Phantom Menace" from Obi-wan Kenobi's perspective to the tune of Don McLean's "American Pie" was which of the top five slots it would take. 

McLean himself praised the parody, even admitting that he sometimes almost sang Yankovic's lyrics by mistake during his own live performances of American Pie because his children played the song so often. 

It's also so popular with the Star Wars community that when I bought my family a box set of all the Star Wars films as a present we found that "The Saga Begins" video below was one of the extras.

So I'm quite clear that on the criteria I gave, "The Saga begins" is one of the three greatest musical parodies of all time.

Quote of the day 3rd January 2021

"Looking at the numbers of people who are going into hospital, it would be absolute folly to say that this thing is all over now bar the shouting.

"We have got to remain cautious, we have got to remain with plan B, we have got to get boosted."

(Boris Johnson on the need to recognise that the Coronavirus pandemic is not over.)

Monday music spot: Vivaldi Concerto for 2 Mandolins in G major

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Russia's ultimatum to the West

On 17th December the Russian Federation presented proposed "security" agreements with the USA and with other NATO countries which they - let me put this politely - "encouraged" NATO members to sign.

They claimed that they were asking for assurances that there would be no "further" expansion of NATO but for all practical purposes they were asking that the countries which were members of NATO before 1997 abandon their promises to fourteen countries which have already joined NATO over the past 24  years, because the proposed agreement would required that pre-1997 NATO countries "shall not deploy their armed forces and armaments on the territory of any other European state in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997.”

Is Russia offering a reciprocal withdrawal of it's own forces where they were not in place before 27th May 1997? Of course not.

Official Russian statements about these proposed agreements do not quite amount to threats but their outriders have - for example  the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against NATO targets, was suggested at the Duma (Russian parliament) defence committee by former Deputy Minister of Defense Andrei Kartapolov, who said: “Our partners must understand that the longer they drag out the examination of our proposals and the adoption of real measures to create these guarantees, the greater the likelihood that they will suffer a pre-emptive strike.”

I can recommend two assessments of the Russian ultimatum to the West - this one on the BBC website and this one by Fran├žoise Thom  for the think tank Desk Russie.

I believe there is a lot of sabre rattling going on here: Putin is trying to frighten the West in the hope of making any response to his foreign policy less effective.

Is Russia really likely to make a pre-emptive strike against NATO countries? I hope not, but I also hope the people who would have to defend us against any such strike are working on the assumption that our military defences might need to be able to stop a Russian strike. 

Is it more likely that Putin might be planning fresh provocations, possibly even a full-scale invasion, against Ukraine?

I certainly would not bet my shirt against it. There should be no empty threats made about what the NATO response might be because, whatever we threaten, there must be a significant chance that we will have to implement it.


Best musical parodies number four: The Barron Knights parody of "Angelo"

And now we come to the top four in my list of the best musical parodies ever, with a few more honourable mentions.

The original "Spitting Image" show was very funny and they included some very amusing musical parodies which very nearly made this list. 

I can still remember puppets representing Michael Jackson, Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Leonard Nimoy conga dancing around a stage while the Michael Jackson singing "I'm Mad" to the tune of "Bad." 

Two other Spitting Image honourable mentions were even closer to making the list. One was their parody of "Agadoo" called "The Chicken song" which had lyrics like "Hold a chicken in the air, stick a deckchair up your nose" and made it to top of the pops for three weeks in 1991. 

Spitting image also had the then opposition leader Neil Kinnock and the "Red Rose Gilbert and Sullivan society" performing a version of "My mind is fully open to my awful situation" from the G&S opera "Ruddigore" which in my humble opinion was an absolute classic. 

What kept these out of my list was that I seem to be one of comparatively few people who remember them, and one of my criteria for the top parodies is that they should stand the test of time, as much of the items I did select have to a rather greater extent. 

So here is an equally funny parody of similar vintage which is rather better remembered, the Barron Knights singing "Trouble Trouble" which includes their version of "Angelo" ...

List of places bidding for city status

Here is the full list of places taking part in the competition for city status as part of the Queen’s 2022 Platinum Jubilee celebrations. 

  • City status can provide places with the chance to gain better recognition and open up new opportunities, as well as bringing a boost to local economies.
  • That is why 39 places across the UK and British Overseas Territories have taken up the opportunity to bid for city status as part of the competition to mark the Queen’s 2022 Platinum Jubilee.
  • This will help to champion communities and foster local pride and potential as we level up every corner of the country. 

Quote of the day for 2nd January 2022


Saturday, January 01, 2022

Conservative action to start the New Year 2022

 Conservative action for the new year:

Rolling out the fastest booster programme in Europe, building a wall of defence to protect people and save lives. Nine in ten people aged 12 and over have now received a first vaccine dose – and 33 million people have received booster or third dose jabs, more than any other country in Europe.

Supporting the fastest growing economy in the G7, with almost 6 per cent growth in the first three quarters of 2021. The OECD and IMF expect the UK to see the fastest growth in the G7 for the second year in a row, predicting growth between 6.8 and 6.9 per cent this year – the UK economy already grew by 5.7 per cent in the first three quarters of 2021.

Getting more people into work than ever before with our Plan for Jobs, with the number in work up significantly on before the pandemic began. The number of payrolled employees rose by 257,000 over the last month to 29.4 million – significantly above pre-pandemic levels.

Cutting taxes for low income families and boosting wages, helping working families meet the cost of living. We have reduced the Universal Credit taper rate from 63 per cent to 55 per cent, as well as raising the National Living Wage by 6.6 per cent to £9.50, giving a £1,000 pay rise to 2 million of the lowest paid.

Leading the way on investment in tech, with twice as much tech investment last year as in Germany and three times as much as France. Investment in the UK Tech sector more than doubled last year to reach record highs, as tech firms raked in £29.4 billion of investment – double Germany’s £14.7 billion and more than triple France’s £9.7 billion. 

Delivering the biggest catch-up programme in the NHS’s history, so that everyone can get the care they deserve. Over the next three years, we will invest an extra £36 billion in funding for health and social care, delivering around nine million more checks, scans and procedures – elective activity will be around 30 per cent higher than pre-pandemic.

Recruiting 11,053 new police officers and boosting police funding to cut crime in our communities. We are boosting police funding by £1.1 billion this year – taking total funding up to £16.9 billion for 2022-23. We have also recruited 11,053 new police officers as part of our manifesto commitment to put 20,000 extra police on the streets, and are backing our police with new powers to keep our streets safe in our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Passing our Nationality and Borders Bill through the House of Commons in December, strengthening our borders and cracking down on people smuggling gangs. Our new bill introduces new and tougher criminal offences to crack down on illegal immigration, including life sentences for people smugglers, and gives new powers to Border Force while making it easier to swiftly remove those who enter the UK illegally.

Setting out a Ten Point Plan to unleash a green industrial revolution, creating jobs as we build back greener. The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan will mobilise £12 billion of government investment to create and support up to 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs in the UK, and spur over three times as much private sector investment by 2030, helping us to meet our world leading target of being net zero by 2050.

Agreeing 70 free trade deals around the world, including a historic deal with Australia, which alone will unlock more than £10 billion worth of trade as we seize the opportunities of Global Britain. Our new trade deal with Australia will eliminate all tariffs on our imports and exports to Australia, create new work and travel opportunities for British and Australian people, and unlock over £10 billion worth of additional trade for British businesses.

Top musical parodies number five: The Ebay Parody Song by Weird Al Yankovic

As I have already written, no credible list of the best ever musical parodies will not have ate least one and probably several of those written and performed by Al Yankovic. 

This ebay parody song is derived from the Backstreet Boys "I want it that way." 

What is unusual about the video clip below is that someone else has taken one of Weird Al's parody songs and put it into a music video with the same superlative attention to detail which is his own trademark. 

Weird Al himself has made truly brilliant music video versions of many of his best parodies like "Fat" (which was number seven on this list) and "Eat it" (parody of "Beat it") which are noted for their extreme attention to detail and are as much parodies of the original music video as they are of the song.

The care which went into the video below is right up there with the best of Weird Al's own parody videos. I keep expecting to see Al himself burst out of one of the boxes!

The New Year's Honours list 2022

Her Majesty the Queen has been pleased to honour 1,278 British citizens for service to society in the 2022 New Year's honours. 

Among those honoured have been a number of people who were heavily involved in the battle to protect the British people against COVID-19 including the Chief Medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and the CEO of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland, Chris Whitty, Gregor Smith, Frank Atherton and Richard Pengelly. 

Also recognised are Chief Government Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and the former joint holder of that office and current head of the Medical Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries.

However, the honours for fighting COVID-19 have not gone only to senior government advisors. For her work on the vaccine rollout, Emily Lawson receives a Damehood. Others honoured for their response to the pandemic include Alice Jackson, Nicola Perfect and Bridget Stratford who receive BEMs (British Empire Medals) for their community responses to COVID-19.

I was also pleased to see a number of people from Cumbria honoured in this list. They included Mrs Sajdah Perveen Ghafoor who received an OBE (Officer of the order of the British Empire) for services to Cultural Awareness and Integration in Cumbria. Other residents of Cumbria honoured included Mrs Margaret Emma Bravo - Manager, St Peter's Pre-School, Carlisle - for services to Education; and Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Timothy Brian Jackson Coombe for services to the community in Brampton, both of whom were made MBE (Members of the Order of the British Empire.)

The Medallists of the Order of the British Empire (BEM) included Jonathan Gibson for services to Cricket Coaching and to Youth Development, and Cumbria Fire and Rescue Group Manager, John Craig Wall, for charitable services in the county. Andy Slattery, who recently retired as Assistant Chief Constable of Cumbria Constabulary was among those who receive the Queen's Police Medal.

The people who run the honours system try to make it inclusive of everyone in British society. While reports in the news tend to focus on celebrities and sports people, they do not form the majority of those on the honours list. Of the 1,278 people who receive an award this time:

  • 799 (63%) of the recipients are people who have undertaken outstanding work in their local communities either in a voluntary or paid capacity
  • 612 women are recognised in this list, representing 47.9% of the total
  • 15.1% of the successful candidates come from an ethnic minority background:
    • 8.4% of recipients are from an Asian ethnic group
    • 3.6% of recipients are from a black ethnic group
    • 2.5% of recipients with a mixed ethnic background
    • 0.6% of recipients come from another ethnic background
    • 13.3% of the successful candidates are disabled or have a long-term health condition
    • 25.5% of recipients considered themselves to come from a lower socio-economic background
    • 3.5% of recipients are LGBT
This honours list also recognises a number of fantastic contributions from people of all ages. Tobias Weller and Max Woosey, who are 11 and 12 years old respectively, receive BEMs for their huge fundraising efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic and are among the youngest ever recipients of an honour. 

The oldest person on the List is Henry Lewis, who at the age of 102 is Honorary Vice President of magician’s society The Magic Circle and receives an MBE for services to fundraising and charitable causes

A further breakdown of the diversity statistics will be available at the new dedicated honours website which has been launched to improve accessibility, transparency and inclusivity of the honours system. You can read the full New Year Honours List on GOV.UK.

Top Musical Parodies number 6 - Team Unicorn/Nerdist all about that base

This repeat post was put up on New Years' day when it appeared that my post the previous day for my  list of top musical parodies had somehow disappeared. 

The first version of this post is now up again, but there are a few bits of extra information in this second one, so I have decided to leave both versions up, replacing the original opening paragraphs explaining why it was a day late with this opening explaining the double listing.

There are a very large number of parodies with a Star Wars theme, which range from the astonishingly good to the embarrassingly bad - although the ideas which inspired some of the latter were often worthy of better execution.

The better Star Wars musical parodies include this version of "Let it go" from Frozen, and parody music videos include "I think I'm a clone now," featuring a Weird Al song written before "Attack of the clones" came out, as a parody of "I think we're alone now"  but which has been associated with the Clone Wars ever since. 

Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" has been a gold mine for writers of parodies from the Eric Cantona version which replaced "Mama, I killed a man," with "Maman, I kicked a fan ..." to the pandemic, with many COVID-19 versions of the Rhapsody such as this one

 More than one of the best Star Wars musical parodies have been have been adaptations of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" - for example this one replaces 
"Scaramouche, Scaramouche, can you do the Fandango?" with 
"Boba Fett, Boba Fett, was your father's name Jango?

and changes "Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me
to "Lord Palpatine has a dark suit put aside for me.

And this one replaced "Mama, I killed a man!" with Darth Vader and Jango Fett singing 

"Jabba, just captured Han!"
All the above deserve honourable mentions, but the one which takes place number six on my list is "All About that base" performed by Team Unicorn and produced by Nerdist, which is a parody of Meghan Trainor's "All about that bass.

If you watch this you will never again see the original the same way ...

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's New Year message 2022

This is the message Prime Minister Boris Johnson released last night wishing everyone a Happy New Year 2022. 

He particularly praised and thanked those involved in the vaccination programme and encouraged those who have not yet had their jabs and booster to do so.

Quote of the day for New Year's Day 2022


Happy New Year 2021

 A very happy new year to everyone reading this. And here is a link to a New Year e-card.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Farewell 2021: "Ring Out Wild Bells"

Top musical parodies number 6: Team Unicorn/Nerdists "All about that base"

As has already been noted there are a particularly large number of musical parodies based on the "Star Was" universe which range from the astonishingly good to the incredibly bad - the ideas which inspired the latter were sometimes worthy of better execution. 

Examples of the former which dserve an honourable mention include an excellent parody of "let it go" from Frozen, and more than one excellent parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.

Bohemian Rhapsody has, of course been a gift to writers of parodies for years, such as a version supposedly about Eric Cantona which replaced "Mama, I killed a man" with "Maman, I kicked a fan" to those which refer to the current coronavirus pandemic.

There are some very funny Star Wars takes on the Bohemian Rhapsody, such as this one which includes Darth Vader and Boba Fett singing "Jabba, just captured Han!", or this one, which has lines like 
"Boba Fett, Boba Fett, was your father named Jango?" and 
"Lord Palpatine has a dark suit put aside for me, for me, for me!"

There is another song yet to come which ticks every one of the boxes in the criteria I set out, but sixth on my list of top parodies is "All about that base" performed by Team Unicorn and produced by Nerdist, which is a parody of Meghan Trainor's "All about that bass," And here it is:

Target hit - all eligible adults have been offered a booster vaccine

If you have not yet had your booster, and this is not because you have had specific medical advice that you are one of the small minority who should not take the vaccine, protect yourself, your family and the NHS by getting the jab. If you are in any doubt, consult an appropriately qualified medical professional such as your GP.


Quote of the day 31st December 2021

"My favorite New Year's resolution was to stop trying to reason with unreasonable people. This has reduced both my correspondence and my blood pressure."

(Thomas Sowell, American economist)