Sunday, March 24, 2019

Brexit update

In just under two months Britain could be out of the European Union.

If Parliament comes together and backs the Brexit deal we will leave the EU by 22 May.

We will finally be on a path that will allow us to pursue our own trade deals and set our own skills based immigration policy.

We would be able to take back control over our fishing waters and our farming policy, set our own laws and spend the vast sums of money we currently send to Brussels on our priorities like the NHS and schools.

If Parliament doesn’t back the deal there are only three possible outcomes:

  • Parliament could stop Brexit altogether – despite their election promises to respect the referendum  revoking Article 50 is supported by some Labour MPs, and this is also the policy of the SNP and Liberal Democrats. Others want to try to stop Brexit by holding a second referendum. 
  • Britain could leave the European Union without a deal. However, given the large majority in the House of Commons against no deal, the likelihood is it would be blocked by Parliament. 
  • The third outcome is a softer Brexit, following a series of ‘indicative votes’ – This could mean staying in the customs union and keeping free movement. It would require a further extension to Article 50 which would also mean holding European Parliament elections. 
A "Softer Brexit" option would almost certainly still require passing the Withdrawal Agreement including the backstop. 

By backing the meaningful vote, we can deliver Brexit on 22 May. We can be out of the EU in just two months. We can end three years of divisive debate and uncertainty and allow the country to move on towards a new future outside EU.

Grade inflation

The Education Secretary is calling on universities to end grade inflation to maintain the UK university sector’s world class reputation.

Key facts: 

  • Analysis published by the Office for Students shows that 27 per cent of students obtained a first-class honours degree in 2016-17, up from 16 per cent in 2010-11.
  • The Education Secretary has called on universities to ensure that there is only a steep rise in the number of firsts and 2:1s awarded if this can be explained in terms of improved performance, and for the Office for Students – when they have their full range of powers later this year – to challenge any institutions that record an unjustifiable rise.
  • It cannot be right that students in one year are awarded higher grades that those in previous years unless this reflects a higher level of achievement.
  • We owe it to the hardworking students who have earned those top grades to ensure that there is consistency between years in grading. 

Why this matters: 

Our universities are world-class and world leading, with four ranked among the top ten in the world, and attract thousands of international students. We must ensure that there is no artificial grade inflation in order to protect our global reputation.

A Sunday Reflection

"You don't leave your brain at the door when you come to church."

(Extract from a sermon given today at St James' church Whitehaven by the Reverend Robert Jackson, encouraging Christians to confront the challenges posed by their faith such as the problem of pain.)

The Great Escape

On the night of 24th/25th March 1944 - seventy five years ago today - allied airmen being held as prisoners of war at the Nazi camp Stalag Luft 3 attempted a mass escape.

More than 600 prisoners took part in the attempt, headed by an escape committee under Squadron Leader Roger Bushell. The aim was for 220 prisoners to escape: in fact 76 men made it through the escape tunnel and out of the camp to a nearby wood before the German guards spotted the 77th escaping prisoner.

Sadly only three of the 76 made it home safely: the other 73 were recaptured by the Germans and 50 of them, including Bushell, were murdered on Hitler's orders. 

There was a ceremony today at the site of the former POW camp to commemorate all those who took part. The RAF was represented by a contingent of the RAF police, the unit which painstakingly tracked down the murderers after the war, and brought most of the surviving culprits to justice.

The story of the mass escape was told by Australian journalist Paul Brickhill, who was a prisoner in the camp and had helped to dig the tunnels. Determined that his murdered friends would not be forgotten, he kept and hid as many records as he could and used them after the war as the basis for his book "The Great Escape," which in turn formed the basis of the classic if someone fictionalised film of the same name.

In memory of the brave allied airmen of Stalag Luft 3, today's Sunday Music Spot is the theme song from the film "The Great Escape."

Quote of the day 24th March 2019


Saturday, March 23, 2019

West CumbrIa Mining - a note to protesters

A note to all the objectors, of whom the closest live at least an hour's drive away from Copeland and the furthest are at the opposite end of the country, whom have been sending messages to all members of Cumbria County council asking us to call in or reverse the decision to approve the West Cumbria Mining planning application (much of which is in my division,) which will provide more than five hundred badly needed jobs in West Cumbria.

If any of them should happen to be reading this, please note that

1) People in West Cumbria overwhelmingly support the application. The only flak I have taken from any of my constituents wasn't for urging the committee to grant the application, it was in the opposite direction, particularly over the fact that the application took so long to come to committee.

2) This application was not approved at an Overview and Scrutiny committee but at the Development Control and Regulation Committee, whose decisions are not subject to call-in.

3) Accordingly there is no way for councillors to "call in" the decision.

4) This was not an application to mine coal to burn for energy (and if it had been, the objectors would have had a much stronger case.) It was specifically an application to mine metallurgical coal for use as coking coal in the steel industry.

5) Wind Turbines need steel. Tidal barrages need steel. Just about every major project including every form of renewable energy production needs steel.  Every ton of new steel produced with present technology will require coking coal to be dug from somewhere.

6) The choice is to mine the coal and make the steel in the UK, or to do one or both elsewhere, in which case you will have an even bigger release of greenhouse gases from shipping materials around the planet and people in this country will not get the jobs.



Comments policy

I came back from campaigning today and found about thirty identical "comments," one each on my last thirty or so  posts on this blog, which were advertising hacking services.

I have deleted them.

This blog exists primarily to provide information and debate about political topics, particularly on matter relating to Copeland and the North West, and, I make no secret of this, to promote Conservative policy. I also put up some posts which I think will interest and amuse the readers of the blog and have occasionally been known to put up unsolicited testimonials and bouquets for people doing a good job. However this blog does not exist to provide a platform for free advertising for people who have not had the courtesy to ask me beforehand.

Many blogs and websites take advertising and I don't rule out the possibility that at some point I might agree to post adverts from a reputable person or body which appear likely to be of genuine interest and benefit to readers, but anyone wanting to make such an arrangement should phone, email or write to me beforehand.

And for the benefit of the person who posted these adverts on my site, here is an Al Yankovic song which perfectly sums up my reaction to your posts.

Music to relax after campaigning: Purcel's Rondeau (from Abdelazer)

Quote of the day 23rd March 2019


Friday, March 22, 2019

Government borrowing falls to 17 year low

Government borrowing has fallen to its lowest level since 2001 – showing that the Conservatives' balanced approach to the economy is working.



Key facts

  • Government borrowing has fallen to its lowest level in 17 years, according to the Office of National Statistics. 
  • A rise in receipts from income tax, national insurance contributions and capital gains tax has helped lower net borrowing. 
  • In the ten months to February, borrowing was £23.1 billion which is £18 billion less than the same period last year and the lowest financial-year-to-date borrowing at this stage since April 2001 to February 2002. 

Why this matters

These figures show how far we’ve come in repairing the public finances. We’re taking a balanced approach, investing in public services and keeping taxes low, while getting debt falling.

Helping the survivors of Cyclone Idai

Cyclone Idai has caused terrible suffering in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The UK government has made available an extra £12 million of support to the survivors of this devastating event.

Key facts:

  • Earlier this week over 7,500 emergency shelter kits and 100 family tents, all funded by UK aid, arrived in Mozambique for onward distribution to families who have had to flee their homes. 
  • The aid will help meet immediate needs such as making sure families have access to clean water, food and safe shelter. 
  • The extra funding announced yesterday takes our total support to the crisis to £18 million. 

Why this matters

This is undoubtedly one of the biggest natural disasters to ever hit the region; the UK’s aid package is a sign of our commitment to doing all we can to ensure those in desperate need of humanitarian relief have access to life-saving essentials.

Quote of the day 22nd May 2019


Reagan made an important point here. Many politicians support putting taxes on business because they think that by so doing they can avoid putting taxes on voters.

It doesn't work like that.

Every penny that a business pays in tax is an extra penny that that business charges its customers. or a penny less paid to the people employed by that company or who invest in it. Or, worst of all in the long run, a penny less that the business has available to invest in its future, which is bad news for Britain's future in terms of jobs, productivity and wealth.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Brexit - what happens now

So the EU council has agreed

1) an unconditional extension of the Article 50 date until 12th April

2) If the deal passes, an extension until 22nd May to pass the necessary legislation.

Which means Britain will not be leaving the EU on 29th March.

it seems likely that there will be one pf four outcomes:

A) DEAL. 

If the deal gets through the House of Commons at the third attempt, Britain leaves on 22nd May with a deal.

If the deal doesn't get through then that part of the House of Commons which is adamantly opposed to a "No Deal" Brexit have until 12th April to force through either a revocation of Article 50 - which I don't think they have the votes for - or a credible plan for an alternative deal which will persuade the EU to grant a longer extension.


B) NO DEAL.

If the deal falls and the "No to no Deal" lobby fail to force an alternative through, Britain leaves on 12th April with no withdrawal agreement in place.

This cannot be entirely ruled out and is presumably what any Brexit supporter who votes against the deal next week must be hoping for, but I think the odds are that they are seriously miscalculating, because the opponents of "No Deal" clearly have a majority of votes in the House of Commons.

The question is whether they have a clear alternative to unite behind - one option is described in an article by Stephen Bush here - and whether they can get organised in time. (Bush thinks that a "Norway 2.0" option has more chance than anything else including May's deal of getting a majority in the Commons, but even that he thinks would be "tight.")

Because it is not impossible that opponents of leaving the EU without a deal may fail to agree on an alternative plan in time to force it through, there is a small chance that "No Deal" could win by default, though now it would be on 12th April rather than 29th March. 

Hence, although Brexit supporters who vote against the deal are taking a huge risk, so are opponents of a "no deal" Brexit. If the deal does finally go down next week one of the two groups who voted it down will have made a catastrophic misjudgement.


C) REVOKE.

The Deal falls and the "Remain" faction in the House of Commons manage to revoke Article 50 before 12th April. In this case Britain will not leave the EU within two years, and will probably never leave.

Despite all the people signing petitions for it, I think this is the least likely outcome because I think a majority of MPs realise that it would be seen as a massive breach of faith with the electorate, both in terms of ignoring the referendum result and breaking the promises on which the great majority of MPs were elected to respect that referendum result.


D) DELAY.

The deal fails and the "Soft Brexit" faction manage to put forward a proposal for an alternative deal which persuades the EU to grant a further extension beyond 12th April. This could result in anything from a Norway style "soft Brexit" this year, a longer delay followed by an eventual "soft Brexit" or no Brexit at all.

The worst thing about this option is it means yet more uncertainty, yet more months of arguing, and yet more oxygen sucked by Brexit away from all the other issues Britain needs to address. If the deal goes down and this is where we end up it will almost certainly mean a softer Brexit than May's deal - my concern is that we might end up not with a decent compromise but the worst of all worlds and both Leave and Remain voters feeling cheated.


At the moment I look at each of these four options and I think  "That's not likely to happen." But one of them must.

If I were an MP I would vote for the deal. It is not perfect but it meets 80% of what Leave promised during the referendum campaign without damaging the UK economy in the way that a "No Deal" Brexit, in my opinion, would.

Computer algorithms and giving everyone a fair chance.

I have been concerned for some time that when lots of applications are going in for every job, and the people who fill them are making use of computers to filter the numbers down to manageable levels before paying them much attention, people who might deserve a chance and be very suitable but don't fit an arbitrary template may get systematically "filtered out" every time by computers without a human ever looking at their CV.

So I was pleased to learn that yesterday, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has launched an examination into the potential for bias in the use of algorithms, to ensure that technology is never a barrier to how far people can go in their lives.

Key facts

  • The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will examine the potential for bias in the use of algorithms in crime and justice, financial services, recruitment and local government. 
  • Algorithms have huge potential for preventing crime, protecting the public and improving the way services are delivered. 
  • But decisions made in these areas are likely to have a significant impact on people’s lives and public trust is essential. 
  • Professionals are increasingly using algorithms built from data to help them make decisions. However, there is a risk that any human bias in the data that algorithms use will be reflected in the recommendations made. 

The Conservative government wants to ensure those using such technology can understand the potential for bias and have measures in place to guarantee fairer outcomes.

Why this matters

Technology is a force for good and continues to improve people’s lives but we must make sure it is developed in a safe and secure way and that it is never a barrier to how far people can go in their lives.

Quote of the day 21st March 2019

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Poetic Justice

An Italisn politician who is a member of Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party, and who is an outspoken critic of Italy’s mandatory vaccination policy for chickenpox, has,

- wait for it -

been treated in hospital after contracting chickenpox.

UK research and Development spending up

Recent statistics from the ONS show that research and development expenditure in the UK rose by £1.6 billion in 2017 – this is good news but there is more to do.

Research and development expenditure rose by £1.6 billion to £34.8 billion in 2017, an increase of 4.8 per cent, above the long-term annual average increase of 4.1 per cent since 1990.

Since 2016 the government has had a Modern Industrial Strategy and committed an additional £7 billion to science and innovation – clear progress towards our target of total R&D spending reaching 2.4 per cent of the economy.

Quote of the day 20th March 2019


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Record numbers in work

New figures show that the number of people in work is at a record high and wages have risen at their fastest pace in a decade. With wages continuing to increase faster than prices, more people have the security of a regular wage and can provide for their families.
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.

Since 2010, businesses have created the new jobs which enabled over 3.6 million more people to find employment.

The number of people out of work is at its lowest since 1975, at 3.9 per cent – as we are helping people into work so that they have the economic independence that a job brings and can reach their full potential.

Behind every employment number is a person and a family whose self-esteem, mental wellbeing, economic circumstances and life chances are all vastly improved by being in the workplace.

Key statistics:

  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.4 per cent compared with a year earlier. 
  • Employment: A record high of 32.71 million (up 473,000 over the last year and up by 3.67 million since 2010). 
  • Employment rate: 76.1 per cent (up 0.8 points over the past year and up 5.9 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.34 million (down 112,000 over the past year and down by 1.17 million since 2010) and the lowest level since 1975. 
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9 per cent (down 0.4 points over the past year and down 4.0 points since 2010) – the lowest rate since 1975 and halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent). 
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 439,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – almost halving since 2010. 
  • Disabled people: There are almost 1 million more disabled people (930,000) in work since 2013, as we are breaking down the barriers to employment facing disabled people

Urban mobility

Today the Conservative government launched a new strategy on urban mobility and announced £90 million of investment in transport innovation, creating cleaner, cheaper, safer and more reliable journeys.

Key facts

The Conservatives have announced the biggest review into transport in a generation which will pave the way for transforming the way people and goods move around our cities – a key part of our modern industrial strategy.

The review will explore regulations around new types of vehicles including autonomous vehicles and e-cargo bike trailers, and how sharing data can reduce congestion, simplifying journeys and payments.

We are also launching a competition for up to four new ‘Future Mobility Zones’ backed by £90 million to test innovative news ideas to improve journeys, making travel in towns and cities more convenient, more reliable and cheaper.

Why this matters:

We are at an important moment for the future of transport, with revolutionary technologies creating huge opportunities for cleaner, cheaper, safer and more reliable journeys. Our strategy aims to take advantage of these innovations; connecting more people and bringing big benefits we hope for both the economy and the environment.

Update - West Cumbria mine application approved

Spent much of today at the Development Control committee at County Hall in Kendal where the West Cumbria mine application was being considered.

Four speakers from West Cumbria, plus the applicant, spoke in favour of the proposal: myself, Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie, Mirehouse community worker Keith Cartner, and David Douglas.
.
There were also a number of "public participation" speakers against the application most of whom did not give much detail about where they live or work. None of the objectors claimed to live or work in Copeland and of those who made any reference to where they are based, none claimed to live in West Cumbria or anywhere nearer to West Cumbria than Lakeland. 

I'd like to congratulate Keith Cartner on a very powerful speech about the needs of the local community in Mirehouse and David Douglas on a very effective demolition of the supposedly "green" argument against a mine to produce coking coal specifically to make steel with (which is that the application proposed.)

As David Douglas pointed out, you cannot make wind turbines, cars, buses trains or many other things which a modern economy depends on, and to make steel you need coking coal. While we are using steel there will be a steel industry and it will use coal which must be mined somewhere. At the moment the UK steel industry is using coal mined in the USA using methods which do far more damage to the environment than the new mine proposed for West Cumbria will.

I am pleased to report that the committee voted unanimously to approve the application subject to a planning agreement and a long list of conditions.

West Cumbria Mining application to be determined today.

The West Cumbria Mining planning application for a new coal mine in the Whitehaven and St Bees area comes to the CCC development control committee today at County Hall in Kendal. The meeting starts at 10 am. The report to the committee can be read on the County Council website here.

I will be attending the meeting as one of the two local members in whose divisions the application is located, and have registered to speak.

Council officers are recommending that the application be approved, subject to a submission from Natural England which is still awaited, with a section 106 agreement and a long list of conditions.

Quote of the day 19th March 2019


Monday, March 18, 2019

Action to reduce the risk of Climate Change




Key facts:

2018 was the cleanest and greenest year ever for electricity in the UK and renewable electricity generation is now at a record highm supplying 31.7% of Britain's electricity.

Since the Conservatives have been in government we have invested more than £52 billion in renewable energy, reduced UK greenhouse gas emissions by 23 per cent and committed to achieving net zero emissions – ensuring cleaner air for the next generation.

In last Wednesday’s Spring Statement, the Chancellor announced a range of new green growth measures, including -
  • steps to enable passengers to have the option of ‘zero carbon travel’, 
  • support for businesses to cut their carbon emissions and their energy bills and 
  • the decarbonisation of gas supplies by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid. 

Why this matters:

We agree that global warming and climate change are some of the biggest issues our country faces. By investing in green industries and decarbonising our economy, the Conservatives will leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.


Improving Pensions

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has announced an innovative new pensions scheme to deliver improved returns for millions of savers.

Key facts:

The Conservative government's radical reforms in saving for retirement could see incomes rise by 7 per cent a year. The plans are backed by the Communications and Workers Union after they were successfully used by Royal Mail.
With the new schemes, known as Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) schemes, members get more certainty in their retirement, with regular pay-outs. And unlike traditional final salary pension schemes, those pay-outs aren’t affected if your employer goes under.

CDC pension schemes offer a regular retirement income by allowing group contributions to be pooled together and invested to give members of the scheme a higher final benefit level.

The new schemes are expected to appeal to companies who want to offer strong pensions provisions to employees without having to hang on to enormous pension liabilities.

Why this matters

If you’ve worked hard all your life, you deserve to have a retirement you can look forward to with confidence. With our radical reforms, we’re determined to make the UK the best country in the world to grow old.

Quote of the day 18th March 2019

It is often observed that Common sense isn't.

Voltaire wrote:


Will Rogers is also credited with a similar quote.

The first person known to have made a similar comment appears, however to be Nicholas Amhurst (1697 – 1742) who wrote “Terræ-filius or The Secret History of the University of Oxford In Several Essays” published in 1726, in which is found the following:

"There is not a more uncommon thing in the world than common sense."

Here's the full quote:


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday music spot: "O thou the central orb" (by Charles Wood)

Quote of the day 17th March 2019

"Forced to choose, I would rather deal with the risk of staying in the customs union from 2021," (if the 'backstop' is triggered under the May deal) "than be forced into a permanent customs union by either opposition MPs or the EU ion a matter of weeks.

"Having spent so much of my life campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, and having given birth to the Brexit bible, I hope that the MPs I campaigned alongside in the referendum will see the grave risks and back the deal.

"My treasure trove of Eurosceptic mementos shows that some of the most vocal critics of May's deal once proposed even softer forms of Brexit. And the political declaration provides the scope for the more refined form of Brexit outlined in 'Change or Go.'

"Now that MPs have ruled out leaving without a deal, and since I know the 'Remain' majority would accept even the most risible conditions from the EU to get an extension, the best way forward is to support the withdrawal agreement and acknowledge the prize that is still on offer. It is far from perfect, but I would rather opt for the risk of a customs union later - a risk that has diminished in recent weeks - than the very real risk of a permanent customs union now."

(Matthew Elliott, who was chief executive of both Business for Britain and Vote Leave, writing in today's Sunday Times urging MPs to vote for the May Deal because if it is not passed, quote, "Brexit probably won't happen."

The "Brexit bible" to which he refers is the "Change or Go" report published in 2015 by Business for Britain.)  

Cleaning up the High Streets.

Yesterday, to mark High Street Saturday, the Communities Secretary announced £9.75 million to help local areas clean up their high streets, making them more attractive places to work and visit.

More than £12,000 of this funding will come to Copeland Borough to clean up our high streets - making them an even better place to live, work and shop.

Key facts:

Every local authority in England will receive a share of the fund to back their efforts in cleaning up high streets and town centres.

  • All councils, working with community groups, can use the cash boost to support volunteers, buy tools to clean up their high streets and provide training for residents on how to remove graffiti or tackle fly-tipping.
  • The funding will give local authorities an opportunity to do more, encourage communities to take greater pride in their local area and support campaigns such as Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean Campaign running from 22 March to 23 April.
  • This builds on our strong support for the high street by cutting small retailers’ business rates relief bills by a third, building on over £13 billion of business rates support since 2016, a £675 million Future High Streets Fund to improve infrastructure and access to high streets and relaxing planning rules to support new homes on our high streets.

Why this matters:

High streets are at the centre of our communities, and as places that are well loved, they sometimes need a bit of a spruce up to look their very best. This funding will ensure that we keep high streets in looking their best, making it easier to encourage more people to return to the high street.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Helping young people leaving care to get a University place

The government is calling on universities to do more to support young people leaving care, so that those in the toughest circumstances have the same opportunities to succeed as their peers.

Key facts
  • The government has published new guidance to improve the support available to care leavers, from year-round accommodation to pastoral care. 
  • Currently, just 6 per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 go into higher education, and those that do are nearly twice as likely to drop out than their peers. 
  • This week the Universities Minister and the Children and Families Minister have published new guidance to encourage universities - especially the most selective and best-resourced - to think more about the offer they make to care leavers. 
  • This builds on the launch of the Care Leaver Covenant, which sets out pledges made by the Government, businesses, charities, and voluntary sector groups to provide work and education-based opportunities to young people leaving the care system. 


Why this matters:

Everyone, including young people leaving care, should have the opportunity and the support to thrive in university and go on to succeed. Care leavers taking up a place at university face different pressures to their peers, but we are determined to stop them from dropping out due to challenges beyond their control.

Tomorrow is #HighStreetSaturday

Tomorrow, Saturday 16th March,  is the first ever #HighStreetSaturday, a chance to celebrate the place of high streets at the heart of our communities across the country.

I will be supporting my local shops in Bigrigg, Mirehouse, St Bees and Whitehaven.

Key facts:

  • Our high streets are the backbone of our economy, delivering local jobs and stronger communities. However, we recognise that it is becoming harder for businesses on high streets across the country to compete with out-of-town shopping centres and online retailers. 
  • To face up to this challenge, the Conservative government has delivered over £10 billion of business rates support since 2016 and is working closely with retail leaders and industry experts to make our town centres fit for the future. 

In addition to this, on #HighStreetSaturday, Conservatives are encouraging people to:
  • Pledge to shop locally. 
  • Ensure their local councils apply for the Future High Streets Fund, provided by the Government to ensure high streets and town centres are fit for the future. 

Why this matters:

High streets lie at the heart of our communities and local economies, creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and injecting billions of pounds into our economy.


Massacre in New Zealand

To hear of scores of innocent people being gunned down at or outside their place of worship would he a horrible atrocity wherever it happened, but of all the shocking places to for such a terrible thing to occur, New Zealand must be at the top of the list.

I have family in New Zealand - a second cousin is a member of Dunedin City Council on South Island - and I've never met a Kiwi who wasn't a nice person.

There is a lot more which will undoubtedly come out about this atrocity. But today thoughts and prayers are with the 49 people who died as a result of the terrorist attack on two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, with those who were injured, and with their friends and relatives.

Nothing can possibly justify such a barbarous act of evil as shooting innocent people at and outside their place of worship, whether it is Muslims at a mosque, Jews at a Synagogue, Christians at a church, or the followers of any other religion. I hope the people responsible for this dreadful atrocity are caught, convicted and locked away so that innocent people are protected from them for a very long time.

Racism and prejudice are unacceptable whoever it is aimed at and whoever spreads it. When that prejudice is carried to the point where people are murdered for their beliefs it is not just evil in itself - it is doubly evil because all too often it contributes to a cycle of rage, hate and revenge  and is used by extremists of other kinds to justify similar acts of barbarism against other innocent people in the name of retribution.

Whatever the motives of those behind this dastardly attack, they will be condemned by all decent people.

No true follower of the deity known as Allah by Muslims, God by Christians, and Jehovah by Jews - and by the way, all three religions worship the same god - would ever countenance acts of murder against the others or against the followers of any other religion, or against those who have no religious faith.

What those religions actually teach is to live at peace and put aside hatred for love.

Dean Swift once wrote of the problem of "enough religion to make us hate, not enough to make us love."

That is the issue in a nutshell. Whatever we believe, we must all show more tolerance for the views of others. While being vigilant against those who cannot bring themselves to abandon hate and prejudice, so that we are all protected against them.


Quote of the day 15th March 2019

"Brexiteers must now grapple with the trickiest game of risk that they have ever faced."

(heading on a Telegraph article by Professor Patrick Minford.)

The interesting thing about this expression of opinion is that Professor Minford is one of very few Leave supporters - in fact he is the only one I can immediately bring to mind, although I am sure there are a few others - who can truthfully claim to have argued in support of a "no deal" or "WTO" Brexit before the referendum

Friday music spot: "Virus Alert" by Wierd Al Yankovic

Anyone reading this who has been a user of email for long enough will have had some experience both of real computer viruses and of emails with false warnings about imaginary ones.

Real viruses like "I Love You," "Melissa," "My Doom" and "Blaster Worm" did a great deal of damage:

 - then there was a subsequent epidemic of hysterical hoax emails warning of the dire consequences of opening supposedly destructive computer viruses like "Good Times," "Join the Crew", and "Win a Holiday" which did not in fact exist.

This song parodies some of those warnings - but be warned that the music is catchy enough that if you click on this you may find that it's hard to quickly forget it ...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday music spot: Help! (The Beatles)

Another golden oldie for which the title and some of the words appear curiously apposite.

Offered in the same spirit as last night that in difficult times you need a sense of humour to keep going.

Iain Martin's message to his fellow brexiteers

It has been obvious for months that there is a large majority in the House of Commons against a "No deal" Brexit. The only surprise about last night's vote was that it was so narrow. (a winning margin of
four votes.)

The vote today to request a short delay to Brexit was even less of a surprise, but it is far from certain that the necessary unanimous agreement of the other 27 EU member states

The fact that the vote was so narrow probably reflects the fact that there are quite a few MPs who really don't want a "No Deal" Brexit but understand enough about how negotiations work to realise that voting, even symbolically, to take that option off the table might further reduce Britain's negotiating leverage in Brussels.

There is still a material possibility that a "no deal" Brexit might happen by accident, but there is clearly a majority in parliament, probably a majority of a lot more than four in the House of Commons, who will vote to prevent that outcome if they can.

Ian Martin, who is a strong Leave supporter, had this message for his fellow Brexiteers:

"Get real Brexiteers – vote for the deal next week or see Article 50 revoked."

He argues:

"The purist position strikes me as quite obviously deeply dangerous, opening up the possibility of Article 50 being revoked and the Brexiteers relying on a populist, cleansing explosion sweeping away all the grinning Remainers who goad Leave voters.

It’s not that simple though. The die hard Brexiteers talk a lot about what the British people feel. History suggests they – the voters – can make fools of those predicting an uprising. They voted by a majority for Brexit but many might at an election shrug at the ditching of Brexit. Or a quarter will be furious, which is enough to let in a Labour party led by Marxist maniacs. Why roll the dice when a form of Brexit is there now to be taken?"

Maternity care at WCH.

Today's Quote of the Day was from Stephen Eames of North Cumbria's NHS about maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH).

As the 12 month review comes to an end the NHS has been making very positive noises about the future of consultant-led maternity at WCH.

I think the whole of the main body of the press release from North Cumbria Health and Care is worth quoting here. It reads as follows.


"Maternity 12 Month Review Period To End Amid Positive Progress

The 12 month review of maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven will end this month.

There has been positive progress over the year, and there will now be a period of review before NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Governing Body makes any decision about the long term future of services.

Consultant-led maternity services and the development of ‘alongside midwife-led care’ will continue to operate and there will be no changes in the coming months simply because the 12 month period has ended. There will be a review and a report to support a decision early in the summer.

There has been some improvement in recruitment to maternity services as well as the recent appointment of paediatric consultants; this was an area that was making the sustainability of services challenging. 

Maternity and Paediatrics services were also rated as good in a recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) report, and the most recent CQC national survey of patient experience, where women were asked about their experiences during labour and birth and the quality of antenatal and postnatal support, rated the Trust as good, or as better, than the national average.

Work with the community and Third Sector through co-production has become established and some areas are making a real difference.

Stephen Eames, who is the leader of the North Cumbria Health and Care System and chief executive of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said:
“There has certainly been positive progress over the last 18 months. The CQC report published in November was very positive about the services and about how women feel about their care, and we are making some real progress in recruitment. We are also working very productively with the community to support maternity and paediatric services. It hasn’t been easy to establish a new way of working in co-production but we are making real strides in some areas.”

Since the Healthcare For The Future consultation in Autumn 2016 there has been considerable work to established alongside midwife-led care at both West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven and the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. In particular there has been the involvement of local new mums through the Maternity Voices Partnership.


There has been collaborative work to develop audits of the new service and on areas of service improvement, including establishing Short Stay Paediatric Assessment Units at both hospitals, which are proving popular with patients and their families as well as staff as it allows children and young people to be seen and reviewed more quickly. 

There has also been the development of co-production work with the community and staff. 

The Venerable Richard Pratt, Archdeacon of West Cumberland chairs the Working Together Steering Group. He said: 

“The conversation has changed dramatically over the last 18 months, and while there has been more progress in some areas than others, the value of working together collaboratively is really paying off. There is still a long way to go and we are working to review of this type of ‘working together’, looking at how effective we have been, and how we can improve co-production in future.”

The CCG Governing Body agreed a 12 month review of progress around the longterm sustainability of consultant-led services as part of its decision making process in March 2017. This involves a group of independent clinical experts – the Independent Review Group (IRG) chaired by Bill Kirkup.

The 12 month time-limited review period started on April 1 2018 and will end on 31 March 2019. The process of reviewing data will continue for some time after this.

It is expected that the IRG will complete its review of data collected to the end of March and make recommendations in May or June. It will then be considered by the CCG Governing Body meeting in public in early summer.

Jon Rush, the chair of NHS North Cumbria CCG, said: “We were very clear when we said we wanted to really test the sustainability of consultant-led maternity services over a longer period, and now that the 12 month period is coming to an end we look forward to receiving recommendations from the Independent Review Group about the progress that has been made. We will then reach a decision about the future of those services and we anticipate this being in the early summer.

“We know a lot of people have worked very hard to make progress, including community groups in west Cumbria such as the Voices group, who have got involved in co-production, and we are grateful for all the hard work that has taken place.”


We will continue to update our community on progress and the final decision will be clearly signposted ahead of that decision being made. Until then services will continue as they are. "

The whole of the press release including the notes to editors can be found on my NHS and hospitals blog here.

The worst of all worlds

Last night's vote by the House of Commons, by the unexpectedly small margin of four votes, to take "No Deal" off the table does not actually do so.

Because of the way Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is drafted, there are only two certain ways to take "no deal" off the table.
  • One is to pass a deal. 
  • The other is to revoke the Article 50 notification.
Since the motion passed by the House of Commons yesterday does neither of those, it is merely a declaratory statement which as far as I can see has the negative impact of voting for No Deal but not the benefit.

It will reduce still further any pressure on the EU to make further concessions.

But it doesn't actually take "No Deal" off the table, and there is still the possibility that a "No Deal" Brexit could come about by accident.

In this sense last night's vote was the worst of all worlds.

That the House of Commons would vote this way was not a surprise - this was always the likely consequence of the failure to agree a deal last night. But MPs on all sides need to think very carefully about the consequences of their actions.

Today MPs will vote on whether to ask the EU to agree a short deferral of article 50. For this to be agreed requires unanimous agreement by all 27 other member states. If we make such a request it can be very far from taken for granted that it will be agreed.



Quote of the day 14th March 2019

“There has certainly been positive progress over the last 18 months. The CQC report published in November was very positive about the services and about how women feel about their care, and we are making some real progress in recruitment. 

We are also working very productively with the community to support maternity and paediatric services. It hasn’t been easy to establish a new way of working in co-production but we are making real strides in some areas.” 


Stephen Eames, leader of the North Cumbria Health and Care System and chief executive of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, quoted in a press release by North Cumbria NHS Health and Care, about the conclusion of the 12 month review into consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital.

This and other recent statements from Stephen Eames have been widely interpreted as strong hints that the review is likely to confirm that consultant-maternity at West Cumberland Hospital is sustainable and will continue.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A song for Brexit: The Rolling Stones, "19th Nervous Breakdown"

Sometimes the only way to deal with a difficult situation and retain your sanity is to be keep a sense of humour.

In that spirit, as parliament struggles to agree on a Brexit strategy for Britain, my midweek music spot if from the Rolling Stones - "Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown."

Spring Statement

Today in the Spring Statement the Chancellor reported on the progress of the British economy and what the Conservative government is doing to take it further forward.
  • Under the Conservatives Britain has a resilient economy which is creating jobs and delivering the fastest rate of wage growth in over a decade. 
  • The deficit this year is £3 billion lower than last forecast and debt is lower in every year – with lower taxes on families and more being invested in our public services. 
  • This Spring Statement sets out our plan for a bright future for Britain – creating a digital economy people can have confidence in, redoubling our commitment to skills and world-class infrastructure, staying at the cutting edge of clean growth and tackling the big challenges like knife crime head on.

Britain's potential is limitless, but we can only achieve it by building a consensus for a deal to exit the EU in an orderly way, to a future relationship that will allow us to flourish.

THE ECONOMY AND PUBLIC FINANCES 

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has published its outlook for the economy and public finances. It shows a growing and resilient economy and a thriving jobs market with wages on the rise – a solid foundation on which to build Britain’s economic future.

Key facts:

  • Wages will rise faster than previously expected. The OBR have revised up wage growth in every year to 2023, with wages growing faster than prices in each year and reaching a record high rate of 3.3 per cent growth in 2023. 
  • Employment will continue to rise. The OBR expect to see 600,000 more jobs by 2023, meaning in 2010, there will be 4.1 million more people in work by 2023. 
  • The economy will grow in every year. The OBR expect the economy to grow at 1.2 per cent this year, faster than Germany, accelerating to 1.4 per cent in 2020 and to 1.6 per cent in each of the final three years. 

Key points on public finances:

The deficit has been revised down in each of the next five years. The deficit will be £3 billion lower than expected this year, down to 1.1 per cent of GDP from almost 10 per cent under Labour.
Projected National debt has also been revised down in every year for the next five years and is set to fall as a share of GDP in every year over the next five years, from 82.2 per cent next year to 73 per cent in 2023-24.

This is the first sustained fall in the national debt as a share of GDP in a generation.


CONSERVATIVE PRIORITIES FOR BRITAIN

We want to build an economy fit for the future. To succeed in the world and secure higher wages and living standards for people at home, we need to embrace the future, investing in infrastructure, skills and the new technologies which will shape the global economy.

That’s why today the government is:

Cementing our position as a destination for new tech. To maintain the UK’s lead in advanced technologies we will invest
  • £79 million in a new supercomputer in Edinburgh, 
  • £45 million in research in genomics, 
  • £81 million in a new laser centre 
  • and reaffirm our commitment to the JET nuclear fusion reactor. 

Carrying out a study of digital advertising later this year to ensure our digital markets are competitive and consumers get the level of choice they deserve.
  • As recommended by Professor Jason Furman, the Competition and Markets Authority will carry out a formal study of digital advertising. 
  • This follows our announcement at the Budget that we will consult on a new Digital Services Tax to ensure large multinational businesses make a fair contribution to supporting vital public services. 

Continuing to welcome the best and brightest to Britain. From the autumn, PhD level occupations will be exempt from the Tier 2 visa cap, and we will update the immigration rules so researchers conducting fieldwork overseas are not penalised if they apply to settle in the UK.

Building world-class infrastructure. Ten English cities will receive a share of £60 million for transport projects through the Transforming Cities Fund, and we will boost digital connectivity by rolling out fibre broadband to nine more local authority areas who will each receive a share of £53 million. The Chancellor has also reiterated our commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Forging new partnerships to build a Global Britain. We will set up a new export finance facility to provide more flexible short-term support to UK exporters as we leave the EU.

Supporting families. Debt is starting to fall for the first time in a generation, but getting to this point wasn’t easy, and families have felt the squeeze. After a decade of fixing the economy, people need to know that their hard work has paid off.

That’s why today the Conservatives are:

Restoring the dream of home ownership for millions of young people.
  • A new £3 billion Affordable Homes Guarantee scheme will deliver around 30,000 affordable homes. 
  • We will also introduce a new permitted development right to allow upward extensions without the need for planning permission. 

Boosting wages and cutting taxes.
  • We are increasing the National Living Wage this April to £8.21, an annual pay rise of £690 for a full-time worker. 
  • The Personal Allowance will also rise in April to £12,500 and Higher Rate Threshold to £50,000, cutting tax for 32 million people. And we will undertake a review of the latest international evidence on minimum wage. 

Tackling period poverty. We’ll provide free sanitary products for girls in secondary school, so no girl is ever forced to miss out on her education.

Supporting public services.
Our balanced approach is dealing with Britain’s debt whilst delivering the highest sustained levels of public capital investment in 40 years – at the Budget the Chancellor announced public spending will increase as we set out our priorities for the future.

Tackling knife crime with £100 million of new funding for police.
  • A further £100 million funding will be available to police forces in the worst affected areas in England and Wales for knife and violent crime. 
  • The majority of the funding is being provided to Police and Crime Commissioners for the seven police forces where serious violence levels are highest, and which make up around 70 per cent of knife crime. 
  • Those forces cover London, West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester. 

Building world-class public services by increasing spending by above inflation.
  • In the last two years alone, we’ve made the biggest pledge of any government since 1945 to our NHS, put £2 billion more into schools and police budgets will increase by up to £970 million this year. 
  • From 2020, at this year’s Spending Review overall public spending will increase above inflation, with more for frontline services that we all rely on. 

GREEN GROWTH. 

We must apply the creativity of the market economy to deliver solutions to one of the most complex problems of our time – climate change – making sure we leave the economy and our planet in a better state than we found it.

That’s why today the government is:

Staying at the cutting edge of Clean Growth. We will take steps to:
enable passengers to have the option of ‘zero carbon travel’,
help businesses to cut their carbon emissions and their energy bills,
further decarbonise our gas supply, and
will introduce a Future Homes Standard, bringing the end of fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses from 2025.

Leading the world to enhance biodiversity whilst ensuring economic prosperity.
We will require developers in England to enhance habitats for wildlife alongside developments.
A new global review will assess the economic value of biodiversity globally so we know what’s needed to take action.

Reducing our dependency on natural gas by increasing the proportion of green gas in our system.
To meet our climate targets we will reduce our dependency on burning natural gas to heat homes, accelerating decarbonisation by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid.

West Cumbria Mining

The 188 page committee report on the West Cumbria Mining planning application which is coming to the CCC development control committee on Tuesday 19th March 2019 has now been published and can be read on the County Council website here.

I will be attending the meeting as one of the two local members in whose divisions the application is located (it covers a vast area.)

Council officers are recommending that the application be approved, subject to a submission from Natural England which is still awaited, with a section 106 agreement and a long list of conditions.

Quote of the day 13th March 2019


"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad."

In this form the saying is spoken by Prometheus, in the poem "The Masque of Pandora" (1875) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (above.)

Often wrongly attributed to Euripedes. Similar sayings can be found in the works of Sophocles, William Anderson Scott, and others.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Music spot: "Insanae et vanae curae" (A crazed & hopeless passion invades our minds)

The words of Haydn's musical masterpiece, which seem particularly appropriate this evening, can be roughly translated into English as follows

"A crazed and hopeless passion invades our minds,

Again and again madness fills our hearts and robs us of hope."

"How can it profit you, O mortal, to seek for earthly riches but take no thought of Heaven?"

"Yet if God is for you, all things are possible for you."


Did Brexit die tonight?

The evening MPs had the opportunity to vote for a deal which would have taken Britain out of the European union.

It was defeated by an unholy alliance of hardliners - some who are unreconstructed remainders who do not want to respect the referendum result and hardliners who claim to support Brexit but only in such a pure form that they appear not to care if they bring the whole project down.

One of those two groups shafted their own cause this evening. There is a small but real possibility that extreme opponents of Brexit have accidentally sent Britain down a path which will lead to a "No Deal" Brexit. There is a rather larger possibility that people who claim to be the true defenders of Brexit have sent Britain down a path which leads to a significantly softer Brexit or to no  Brexit at all.

There is one thing, and one alone, in this whole infuriating situation which is absolutely certain. And that is that the hardline Remainers who voted down the deal tonight because they wanted a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all, and the Brexit true believers who voted it down because they wanted a harder Brexit, cannot both be right about the consequences of their votes.

History will record that one of these two groups which voted in the same division lobby has brought about the opposite of what they said they were voting for.


What the deal would have achieved

MPs had previously said that changes with legal force were needed to the backstop – and that had been achieved.

The improved deal has a new, legally binding commitment, with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement, that the EU cannot try to apply the backstop permanently. The UK could ultimately suspend the backstop if they did.

The legally binding text also says the UK and EU will work on Alternative Arrangements to replace the backstop by December 2020, so the backstop need never come into force. The United Kingdom Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop ever comes into use, and discussions on our future relationship break down so that there is no prospect of subsequent agreement, it is the position of the UK that that there would be nothing to prevent us instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop.

The government had listened to the concerns expressed by MPs, and secured legally binding commitments to ensure that the backstop cannot become permanent. 

This improved deal delivers on the decision taken by the British people to leave the EU. 

  • It means we would regain control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. 
  • We regain control of our borders, by ending free movement. 
  • We regain control of our money, by ending vast annual payments to the EU. 
  • It means the end of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Police for British farmers and fishermen. 
  • We can pursue our own independent trade policy. 
  • And the deal sets us on course for a good future relationship with our friends and allies in the EU – a close economic partnership that would be good for business. 
If you had offered this to "Leave" supporters on the day of the referendum, I am convinced that 90% of them would have said they were satisfied with it.

What happens now?

The honest answer is that nobody knows.

Tomorrow the House of Commons will vote on the possibility of a "No Deal" or WTO Brexit. Conservative MPs will have a free vote on this with no pressure from the whips in either direction.

I confidently predict that the Commons will vote against this proposal, and they would have done so regardless of whether Theresa May had tried to "whip" Conservatives in either direction.

That makes it likely that there will then be a vote to ask the other EU countries for a short delay to Brexit. Under Article 50 this can only happen if there is the unanimous agreement of the other 27 countries, so don't bet your shirt that the answer will be yes.

It is far from impossible that, despite a large majority against a "no deal" Brexit in the House of Commons, those who do not want this outcome will fail to agree on and implement an alternative solution before the current or extended Article 50 deadline runs out and Britain crashes out without a deal.

If that happens the Brexiteers will have the last laugh and the Remainder have shafted themselves this evening. In that event there will be a great deal of anger aimed at those who have secured a result which most MPs think will be bad for Britain, but Remainers who voted against the deal tonight will be every bit as much to blame,

It is much more likely that the ultimate result of tonight's vote will be a "softer" Brexit than was on offer this evening, or no Brexit at all. If that happens, Brexit died tonight at the hands of those who claim to be its strongest champions.

It is even possible that the deal will be put to the vote again and get through on the third or fourth attempt. In which case tonight's apparently momentous vote was just sound and fury signifying nothing, except for more uncertainty and delay for British business.

Quote of the day 12th March 2019

"Our negotiators and the EU have conducted an intense and serious negotiation - they achieved much more than predicted. This is a good result. Let us now look at the proposal fairly and impartially, put prejudice aside and vote tomorrow for the deal."

(Rory Stewart MP)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Movement on Brexit

The prime minister has gone to Brussels this evening having obtained "legally binding" assurances that the EU will not seek to keep Britain in the "backstop" indefinitely, according to her deputy in all but name, Cabinet office minister David Lidington.

Mr Lidington told the House of Commons this evening that  the changes "strengthen and improve" the deal, and the UK and EU's future relationship. But he said further negotiations are taking place as the PM is still meeting EU officials in Strasbourg.

MPs will vote on the deal with these new assurances tomorrow. I suspect the vote may be much closer than had been expected a day or so ago.

There is no doubt that the tectonic plates at Westminster are shifting. This time the deal is not going to go down by 200 votes as it did last time. Whether things will have shifted enough to get it through I do not know.

Let me lay my cards on the table: I hope that MPs vote for the deal tomorrow.

What I heard during the referendum campaign from Leave campaigners and the people who were planning to vote leave was that they wanted to "take back control." When I asked people what they actually meant by that almost all of them said one or more of the following six things
  • They wanted control of our laws.
  • They wanted control of our borders
  • They wanted Britain out of the Common Fisheries policy
  • They wanted Britain out of the Common Agricultural policy
  • They wanted an end to ongoing large net payments into the EU budget.
  • They wanted Britain to have the freedom to set our own trade policies.
And whatever they may say now, virtually none of the people who campaigned for leave during the referendum said at that time that they wanted a "no deal" or "WTO" Brexit. 

Leave campaigners promised that Britain would find it easy to agree a trade deal with the EU.

They have no mandate to claim now that the electorate voted for a "no deal" Brexit. If they wanted such a mandate they should have said that's what they wanted during the referendum campaign. 

They didn't. And if they had, there is a good chance that they would have lost.


The deal as it now stands delivers
  • An end to the power of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and European Parliament over UK domestic laws.
  • An end to freedom of movement
  • Britain out of the Common Fisheries policy
  • Britain out of the Common Agricultural policy
  • No more large payments to the EU budget once we have paid the one-off "Divorce Bill"
  • Freedom to set our own trade policies if the backstop is not triggered or once we are out of it, if it does have to be triggered.

This deal delivers four of the things Leavers said they were campaigning for immediately, and once we have paid the so-called "Divorce Bill" and are clear of the "backstop" it delivers all of them.

It's not perfect.

We were never going to get a perfect deal - unwinding forty year's of integration was never going to be simple or straightforward, and Article 50, which was designed to make it difficult for a member country to leave the EU, has succeeded in that objective.

But it delivers what the majority of the British electorate have twice voted for - in the referendum and in the 2017 election when the vast majority of MPs were elected on a promise to honour the referendum result - in a way which British business organisations say they can live with and will not wreck the economy.

This isn't a bad deal. It does not make us a "vassal state." It does deliver Brexit. It's time to make the deal and move on.

39 new special free schools to be created

The Education Secretary has announced 39 new special free schools to create an extra 3,500 school places for pupils who have additional needs so that every child has the opportunity to receive a world class education.

Key facts:

  • 39 new free schools will be created to support children with additional needs or those who have been excluded from mainstream education. 
  • Every region in the country will benefit from at least one new school, boosting choice for parents and providing specialist support and education for pupils with special educational needs. 
  • This follows our commitment to give the green light to all high-quality special free school bids last December when we announced an additional £250 million for local authorities for their high needs budget. 

Why this matters:

These new schools will give parents more choice over their children’s education whilst making sure that more complex needs can be provided for – helping to ensure every child has a quality education.

Monday music spot: Pachelbel's Canon

No more unnecessary benefit reassessments for Pensioners

The Work and Pensions Secretary has announced an end to unnecessary benefit reassessments for pensioners with disabilities, to ensure they get the support they need.

Key facts:

  • Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has outlining the government's vision to improve disability policy, whilst also announcing a wider package of measures to signal a shift in our support for people with disabilities. 
  • Around 270,000 pensioners with disabilities will no longer have their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) awards regularly reviewed, in order to bring to an end an unnecessary experience for older people who have worked hard and paid into the system for their whole lives. 
  • The government will look to merge the Work Capability Assessment and the PIP assessment services into one assessment service. This will bring a more joined up approach to claimants. 

The Government will also review the current target enabling one million more people with disabilities to be in work by 2027 with a view to making it more ambitious, building on the fact that 930,000 people with disabilities have entered work since 2013.

Why this matters:

Conservatives are committed to tackling the injustices facing people with disabilities so everyone can go as far as their talents will take them. Progress has been made, but we need to do more to close the gap between our intentions and disabled people’s experiences.

Quote of the day 11th March 2019

"A man must be excessively stupid, as well as uncharitable, who believes that there is no virtue but on his own side, and that there are not men as honest as himself who may differ from him in political principles."



this is a very similar quote to one by the American economist Thomas Sowell which I have repeated several times on this blog recently, as it seems so relevant top the debate on Brexit and quite a few other issues. But it was written in "The Spectator" more than three hundred years ago. 

(I presume this must have been a previous publication to the present magazine which is "only" a hundred and ninety years old.)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Campaigning this weekend

The elements have been very variable and at some times extreme in Cumbria this weekend.

Heading to Distington in the rain brought back memories of the start of the Copeland by-election campaign, and I was seriously wondering if our planned canvass and survey would be rained off, but higher authority smiled on us and the rain lifted just as we were due to start.

We had a good session with my CCC colleagues Ben Shirley (who took the photographs) and Arthur Lamb (left in first photograph) and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of Copeland, Ged McGrath  (right in the first photo, left in the second, with local resident Mrs Mitchell.)



Henry Newman on the deal

Henry Newman has a thread on twitter which responds to some of the many myths about the EU withdrawal deal which is currently on the table. I think most of his comments are spot on.

Twitter users can find the opening post of the thread and read the whole thing at https://twitter.com/HenryNewman/status/1104791989101514753

A few examples


"Myth 1 - the deal isn't Brexit 

This is often repeated; yet it is simply preposterous Deal would take us out EU - no commissioner, no MEPs, no compulsory financial contributions (once exit bill settled), no voting rights, basically out EU legal order.

It literally is Brexit


Myth 2 - this deal would mean BRINO or staying in Single Market 

Again this is total rubbish The deal takes us definitively out the Single Market.

Even in the backstop, we would be free of practically all Single Market rules & could end free movement & diverge on services.

The main exception is that we would have to maintain the stock of existing goods & agriculture rules in Northern Ireland (plus a few other rules around the Single Energy Market and so on) We could reject any new goods rules from applying anywhere in UK


Myth 3 - we would be a vassal state 

How?

After standstill 21 month transition, we would be free to reject new EU rules in almost all areas even in backstop.

We wouldn't have to pay ongoing membership contributions; we would keep all customs revenue.


Myth 6 - backstop means hard customs & regulatory checks between Great Britain & Northern Ireland / EU

No

Some regulatory checks will be required but these will be
  • primarily in market (for goods)
  • conducted by UK (not EU) authorities

There will be some additional checks on agricultural products (SPS checks) crossing Irish Sea but remember that there are already some such checks


Myth 7 - backstop is unique because it doesn't have unilateral exit

UN Charter
Good Friday Agreement
Covenant on Civil & Political Rights
NATO Charter

All lack an exit
I want a better exit, but to say it's unique is wrong"

John Rentoul and Fraser Nelson on the Brexit vote.

It is interesting to compare the perspectives of John Rentoul from the Independent and Fraser Nelson who is usually associated with the Spectator (but writing in the Sun on this occasion) next week's Brexit vote.

One is a pragmatic centre-left journalist who is one of the comparatively few remaining people who probably would not object to being called Blairite. The other is a pragmatic right-winger who voted Leave and had up until a few days ago been seriously suggesting that Britain should consider a no-deal Brexit.

Although they come from different perspectives, especially on Brexit, I regard Nelson and Rentoul as having in common, and I say this although I frequently disagree with both of them, that they are highly intelligent men with a gift for seeing the world as it is and not as they would wish it to be.

So when both of them say that if the PM does not get her deal through this week there is a good chacne that Brexit will be softened or never happen at all, there is a good chance that they are right.

John Rentoul argues here that

"Personally I think delaying Brexit would be a bad decision, because the prime minister’s deal is a sensible compromise that respects the referendum and keeps us close to the EU economy. I think Tory no-dealers are fanatics who would rather destroy what they have worked for than accept any impurity or compromise. And I think most Labour MPs who vote against the deal are breaking promises they made to honour the referendum."


Fraser Nelson, coming to a similar conclusion from the opposite direction, argues in the Sun that Brexit supporters who vote against the deal because they want to get something stronger, possibly a No Deal Brexit, need to recognise that,

"This isn’t PRACTICAL POLITICS. If Brexiteers won’t back Mrs May’s deal, then Brexit is ONLY GOING TO GET SOFTER."

The PM cannot say this openly because it would remove any pressure on the EU to make the compromise which it looks like we need to avoid at best a delay and at worst a failure to leave at all. But there is no way that a "No Deal" Brexit would get through parliament.

So Brexit supporter MPs who vote against the deal in the hope of a harder Brexit are actually risking preventing Britain from leaving the EU at all.