Sunday, May 19, 2019

In memoriam: Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary by Purcell.

I attended two funerals this week.

The first, at St James' Whitehaven was for Beatrice Last, a member of the congregation of that church. The second, at Sacred Heart Church, Luton, was for my wife's uncle, John Egan.

This post is memory of two lovely people. Beatrice and Uncle John, Rest in Peace.

Sunday music spot: "Holy is the True Light" by William Harris

Second quote of the day 19th May 2019

"Not leaving EU provides Farage with an historic grievance which will deform our politics for years. The economic cost is worth paying to avoid horrible ruinous paralysing extremism. Democrats have to abide by the ballot box." 

Tweet from Charlie Falconer - yes. that's right, Tony Blair's old flatmate Lord Falconer - getting spectacularly right what his former boss has been getting so egregiously wrong, in response to an article by Phil Collins in the Times

That article, which can be read here, begins as follows:

"Nigel Farage was always destined to be the winner in the great Brexit fiasco. Either Britain leaves the European Union, in which case his political mission is fulfilled, or we do not, in which case his political career is revived. His best and most dangerous days might now be ahead of him."

But it's not just Farage. If we don't deliver what the British people voted for, every conspiracy theorist, everyone who has ever said "If voting changed anything they'd abolish it" and that the establishment would never let the ordinary people make a real change won't just feel vindicated, they will have a point. Every extremist group will be boosted. The result will poison our politics for decades to come.

And to all the individuals and parties, many of them highly intelligent, many of them people whose views on other issues I greatly respect, who think that now we have seen how difficult negotiating Brexit has proved there should be another vote, I say this.

Imagine that the party you support won a general election, attempted to carry out the programme on which is had been elected, and all the people who had supported other political parties were screaming that now we could see what that programme really meant in practice there should be a "People's vote" e.g. a new election to give voters a chance to change their minds.

Would you give the arguments now being advanced for another referendum any consideration if they were put forward to try to overturn a general election which your party had won?

I think we all know that in the vast majority of cases the answer is no.

Even Charlie Falconer can see that we need to leave. It is time for our MPs to find a way to do so.

Quote of the day 19th May 2019

Saturday, May 18, 2019

We need a definition of Anti-Muslim hatred - but not this one

All forms of racism are unacceptable.

There is a worrying rise in Britain and much of the rest of the world in several forms of racism, with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Muslim prejudice, sometimes referred to as Islamophobia, as the two which seem to show the most marked rise in Britain at the moment.

No organisation can afford to be complacent about either and that includes the political parties.

I believe the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of Anti-Semitism is very helpful in dealing with prejudice against Jews, which is why I proposed successfully that Cumbria County Council should adopt it.

I welcome the fact that the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has been working on a working definition of Islamophobia with a similar objective. We do need such a definition.

The APPG has published a report titled Islamophobia Defined: the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia. It contained the following definition:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” 

In order to tackle anti-Muslim hatred, the APPG urged the “Government, statutory agencies, civil society organisations and principally, British Muslim communities” to adopt this “working definition of Islamophobia”, which emerged from its inquiry.

Certainly this moves us forward: as the Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said:

“Any hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage is completely unacceptable."

A report published by Policy Exchange and written by Sir John Jenkins KCMG LVO, with a foreword by the former head of the Equalities commission Trevor Phillips OBE, responded as follows:

"It should be beyond question that anti-Muslim hatred must be tackled with the same determination as any other form of prejudice, bigotry or racism in Britain. The question that matters, however, is whether this initiative will help or hinder that broader effort."

There are a number of organisations and individuals who do indeed think that this definition in its present form is helpful and should be adopted, who include the Labour party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the mayor of London and all five major political parties in Scotland among their number.

However, there are quite a range of other voices including some fairly significant ones who are concerned that, in the words of a letter supported by the National Secular Society among others, the working definition in its present form is not "fit for purpose."

That letter was also signed by a diverse range of 44 campaigners, academics, writers and other public figures. They included representatives of the think tank Civitas, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, the Network of Sikh Organisations and Christian Concern, as well as Professor Richard Dawkins, Pragna Patel, Maajid Nawaz and Peter Tatchell.

Trevor Phillips, in the foreword to Sir John Jenkin' report mentioned about, expressed the concern that instead of protecting Muslims, defining Islamophobia as the APPG does "will actually make life harder for them."

Jenkins himself suggests that

"There is no doubt that the MPs involved had – and have – the best of intentions. Anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is a problem that needs to be addressed both politically, societally and individually. But the proposed definition of Islamophobia is not only inadequate but divisive and potentially damaging to social cohesion." 

There are also serious concerns expressed by senior police officers about the workability of this definition as it currently stands. Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terrorism policing, said the definition would allow suspects to challenge legitimate investigations on the grounds they were Islamophobic.

Basu said the wording was “simply too broad to be effective”.

He said: “It risks creating confusion, representing what some might see as legitimate criticism of the tenets of Islam – a religion – as a racist hate crime, which cannot be right for a liberal democracy in which free speech is also a core value."

“Free speech cannot be an absolute right or freedom to harm, but as it stands this definition risks shutting down debate about any interpretation of the tenets of Islam which are at odds with our laws and customs, which in turn would place our police officers and members of the judicial system in an untenable position.

“Despite the fact it would be non-legally binding, it would potentially allow those investigated by police and the security services for promoting extremism, hate and terrorism to legally challenge any investigation and potentially undermine many elements of counter terrorism powers and policies on the basis that they are ‘Islamophobic’. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

Similar concerns were expressed by the Chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC),. Martin Hewitt, who said

“We are concerned that the definition is too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it, and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states. 

“There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism.”

I do not think any responsible government could ignore expressions of concerns like that from senior police officers without further consideration of how the working definition can be improved and made more specific to address these concerns.

Let me stress that there IS a need for a working definition which will catch the incitement of hatred against muslim human beings without allowing the people who are inciting such hatred to claim that they are only criticising a religion. The challenge is to get to a careful definition which hatches those who incite hatred against people without catching legitimate disagreements with Islam, the religion.

It is obvious, by the way, to anyone who has actually read the output of the APPG and not just a few newspaper headlines, that the APPG themselves are well aware of this problem, and have tried to address it. The problem is that a lot of people are not convinced that their proposed definition, in its present form, achieves that objective.

Going forward I would like to see the government talking to the APPG. the muslim communities - because it is critical that the experiences of the muslim communities  must inform the process of defining the problem of prejudice against them - to the police and other stakeholder to try to improve the definition and get it to the point where there is a broad enough consensus that it can be used

Music to relax after campaigning: The Phantom Of The Opera

Quote of the day 18th May 2019

Friday, May 17, 2019

Keeping the streets safe

This week the Offensive Weapons Bill passed by the Conservative government received Royal Assent and it will become law, ensuring police have the powers they need to keep people safe.

Key facts
  • While crime has fallen since 2010, there has been a worrying increase in certain types of violent crime. 
  • That is why we brought forward the Offensive Weapons Bill, which bans the delivery of knives and corrosives to residential addresses, bans the possession of weapons such as zombie knives and knuckle dusters, and creates a new criminal offence of selling corrosive substances to a person under the age of 18. 
  • It also includes new powers enabling police to intervene when someone is suspected of carrying a knife, preventing young people from becoming involved with knife crime in the first place. 

Why this matters

To keep our families, communities and country safe we are making sure the police have the powers they need to keep these dangerous weapons off our streets as we build a safer society for everyone.

Labour's National Grid plans hit pensioners

The Labour party has announced a ridiculous and unaffordable plan to nationalise the National Grid.

Nationalisation has been tried before and failed every time.

The company I work for used to be part of a nationalised industry. At the time it was sold to the public, it was still manufacturing and installing equipment which was two generations out of date.

The railways used to be a nationalised industry called British Rail - which had a worse safety record, a worse reliability record, put in far less investment and delivered a worse service. And today the part of the railways industry which has the worst problems is the part the Blair government re-nationalised.

Whether it was making cars, steel, energy or providing services, nationalised industries have a record of failure.

Labour's plans to nationalise the National Grid would mean more borrowing, higher bills and tax hikes for hardworking families.

Key facts:
  • Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological plan for the state to seize these companies would cost an eye-watering £100 billion and saddle taxpayers with their debts, meaning more borrowing, higher bills and tax hikes would be inevitable. 
  • The Labour plans yesterday wiped nearly £1 billion off the value of the National Grid. most of this cost will not be carried by rich people but ordinary pensioners and ordinary working people - most shares in these countries are not owned by individuals but by pension funds and investment trusts which look after the savings of today's pensioners and future ones.
  • Millions of pounds of that loss was wiped off the value of pension funds. 
  • And as is always the case with Labour there is no plan for how they would pay for this costly programme to take the national grid into state ownership.  

Why this matters

While Labour’s ideological renationalisation plans would hurt hardworking families, the Conservatives are taking practical steps to protect people from unfair bill rises and increasing renewable electricity to a record high.

Stamping out Anti-Semitism in Universities

The Universities Minister is calling on universities to stamp out antisemitism ensuring that there is a safe, welcoming and tolerant environment on UK campuses.

Key facts
  • Universities have a responsibility to ensure students do not face discrimination, harassment or victimisation of any kind and provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. 
  • Free speech is vital to the independence and innovation of the higher education sector and must be protected - so it is unacceptable to oblige certain groups of students to incur costs for security because of their race or religion. 
  • The government is urging universities to advance their efforts to tackle unacceptable religious hatred and are calling on them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. 

Why this matters

Our universities should show that they are serious about ensuring their campuses are tolerant environments – by showing moral leadership and adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Quote of the day 17th May 2019

This is why Colin Parry, whose son was one of two young boys murdered by the IRA in the Warrington bomb atrocity, has asked voters in the North West not to back the Brexit party, on whose ticket in this region Claire Fox is the number one candidate. The North West region includes Warrington.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

May meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The next meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will take place on Wednesday 22nd May in the council chamber at County Hall in Kendal at 10.30 am . The meeting will be open to the public.

Copies of all the reports to be presented to the meeting are available on the County Council website here.

The agenda is as follows:

Item 1. Election of Vice-Chair 
To appoint a Vice Chair who shall be a District Council representative for the ensuing year. The Vice Chair shall be appointed by the District Council representatives serving on the Committee.

2. Apologies for Absence 
To receive any apologies for absence.

3. Membership of the Committee 
To note any changes to the membership of the Committee.

4. Disclosures of Interest 
Members are invited to disclose any disclosable pecuniary interest they have in any item on the agenda

5. Exclusion of Press and Public
To consider whether the press and public should be excluded from the meeting during consideration of any item on the agenda.

(They won't be.)

6. Minutes 
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 26 February 2019

7. Committee Briefing Report
To consider a report by the Strategic Policy and Scrutiny Adviser

8. HealthCare for the Future Update 
To consider a report by the Chief Operating Officer, NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group.

9. Familiar Faces 
To receive a presentation from North Cumbria Health and Care.

10. Mental Health Services in North and South Cumbria
To consider a joint report by North Cumbria and Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Groups

11. Date of Next Meeting 
To note that the next meeting of the Committee will be held on Thursday 18 July 2019 at 10.30 am at County Offices, Kendal.

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year focuses on body image and the impact it can have on mental health.

·      Body image issues can cause anxieties for many young people in particular, and can lead to mental health conditions.


·      Our long-term plan for the NHS delivers record investment in mental health services – an extra £2.3 billion by 2023-24 – including faster access to help for conditions like eating disorders.


·      There is more to do to ensure that looking after our mental health becomes just as natural as looking after our physical health, and no one ever feels they have to suffer in silence again.


·      We are committed to increasing the share of the NHS budget which is spent on mental health services and making them more accessible, as well as tackling the root causes of mental health conditions.

We are taking action to protect people from concerns about body image:


·      On Tuesday, we launched an awareness campaign on the risks of cosmetic procedures. The campaign has been launched due to concerns about the number of people experiencing serious side effects of cosmetic procedures‎, and encourages people to choose a suitably qualified and professional practitioner for their treatment. New advice will set out the questions people should ask before they undergo any cosmetic procedure. We are also working to explore how to strengthen the regulation of cosmetic procedures and improve standards.


·      On Wednesday, the Mental Health Minister called on social media companies to take action to tackle online bullying. Social media can have a damaging impact on body image. Jackie Doyle-Price said she hoped that abusing people online would become as socially unacceptable as drink driving, and that social media companies would become more vigilant about the content they host.

And we are prioritising mental health support by:


·      Allocating £2.3 billion of our £33.9 billion investment in the NHS to mental health services. This means mental health services will receive a growing share of the NHS budget (NHS England, NHS Long Term Plan, 7 January 2019, link).


·      Setting out in our long-term plan for the NHS how this funding will improve access to mental health services. The plan will improve services for people with common and severe mental health problems, make more care available in the community, boost emergency and inpatient care, and ensure suicide prevention remains a priority (NHS England, NHS Long Term Plan, 7 January 2019, link).


·      Investing in mental health services for young people to ensure they can access support when they need it. We are providing an additional £1.4 billion up to 2020-21 to improve access to mental health services for children and young people, and an additional £300 million over the next three years to deliver the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Green Paper (Hansard, WQ125663, 7 February 2018, link; Hansard, WQ170687, 10 September 2018, link.).


·      Publishing our Online Harms White Paper to protect peoples’ mental health online. Technology can be hugely beneficial, but we must ensure it does not damage peoples’ mental health. Our White Paper sets out the responsibilities of online platforms to protect users (DCMS, Press Release, 8 April 2019, link).


·      Appointing the UK’s first Minister for Suicide Prevention to lead government efforts to cut the number of suicides and overcome the stigma that stops people seeking help. Jackie Doyle-Price will lead a national effort on suicide prevention, bringing together a ministerial taskforce and working with national and local government, experts in suicide and self-harm prevention, charities, clinicians and those personally affected by suicide (Prime Minister’s Office, Press Release, 9 October 2018, link).


·      Focussing on addressing mental illness from a younger age, as half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14. Our Green Paper will provide designated mental health leads in schools, earlier access to services through the creation of new Mental Health Support Teams, and pilot a new four-week waiting time standard for young people to ensure everyone receives treatment in the right place at the right time (DfE and DHSC, Response to the Select Committee Report on the Green Paper, 25 July 2018, link).

Quote of the day 16th May 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

MIdweek music spot: Hark, All Ye Lovely Saints Above (Weelkes)

Incredible and untrue

I will save my conclusions from the trial of Carl Beech, who under the name of "Nick" caused a £2 million investigation into allegations of a VIP ring of paedophiles and murderers, until a jury has decided whether the charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice now being brought against him have been proved to be true.

At this stage I will simply note that although a senior police officer declared in public at the time that the charges made by "Nick" were "credible and true" the prosecution in that trial has vowed to demonstrate that they were actually "incredible and untrue."

One way or another there will be some important lessons to learn from this trial.

Britain is Working

New figures show the fundamentals of the British economy are strong, with the latest independent statistics showing the unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1974, mostly because of an increase in full-time, permanent jobs. There are more women in work than ever before and there has been a big improvement in youth employment.

The Conservative government is helping people into work by reforming welfare so work always pays, while backing businesses to create more, better paying jobs across the whole country through our careful economic management and modern Industrial Strategy.

With the unemployment rate falling to 3.8 per cent, more people have the economic independence that a job brings and can reach their full potential. Behind every employment number is a person whose self-esteem, mental wellbeing, economic circumstances and life chances are all vastly improved by being in the workplace.


  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.3 per cent compared with a year earlier.


  • Employment: 32.70 million (up 354,000 over the last year and up by 3.65 million since 2010).

  • Employment rate: 76.1 per cent (up 0.5 points over the past year and up 5.8 points since 2010).


  • Unemployment: 1.30 million (down 119,000 over the past year and down by 1.21 million since 2010).

  • Unemployment rate: 3.8 per cent (down 0.4 points over the past year and down 4.1 points since 2010) – the lowest rate since 1974 and halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent).


  • Youth unemployment: There are 472,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – halving since 2010.


  • Disabled people: There are almost 1 million (947,000) more disabled people in work since 2014, as we are breaking down the barriers to employment facing disabled people.


  • Ethic minority employment: 3.9 million (up 1.2 million since 2010).


·        The increase of wages by 3.3 per cent represents real growth in spending power of 1.5 per cent after adjusting for inflation – meaning people have more money in their pockets.

We are helping families with the cost of living so they have more money in their pockets:

·         Increasing the Personal Allowance – the amount you earn before you start paying income tax – to £12,500 a year earlier than planned so the typical taxpayer will be £1,205 better off than in 2010. These changes will cut taxes for 32 million people and take 1.74 million people out of income tax altogether compared to 2015-16.

·         Making the biggest ever increase to the National Living Wage – boosting the earnings of the lowest paid. The National Living Wage has increased from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, representing an increase to a full-time minimum wage worker’s annual earnings of over £690.

·         Freezing fuel duty for the ninth successive year. 

Taxes on fuel in Britain are among the highest in the world and represent the majority of the cost of a gallon of petrol or diesel for most motorists. In 2016 Britain was the 16th most expensive country in the world for petrol prices at the pumps out of 175 countries and the 4th highest for diesel, according to FairFuelUK. The price of fuel is already high enough to deter unnecessary use of the car. There is no need to increase the burden of fuel tax on ordinary working families and retired people any higher, which is why Conservatives in government have stepped off the "escalator" and frozen fuel duty.