Sunday, December 31, 2006

Book Review: The Maritime Paintings of Montague Dawson

For my last post of 2006: I was given as a Christmas present the book
The Maritime Paintings of Montague Dawson
by Ron Ranson

and appreciated it so much that I would write a quick review of this wonderful collection of the works of a master.

As it says on the back cover, "Montague Dawson is considered by many to be the supreme maritime artist of the twentieth century." Well, I don't claim to be a great expert on art but I share that opinion.

This paperback version, published in 2004, updates a hardcover edition first released in 1993. It contains an introduction which describes Dawson's life, work and painting style, and then a collection of his paintings and sketches, including 57 colour reproductions, 21 monochrone ones and photographs, and 14 sketches. Most of these have some explanatory text attached describing the ships in the pictures, the historical scenes portrayed, or how Dawson came to paint them.

Several of the photographs show the artist with some of his most famous works and with people associated with the ships in them, including Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and Sir Francis Chichester. The book concludes with a list stating which of Dawson's paintings had been reproduced (useful but very disappointing as some of the pictures of which I would most like to buy a print do not ever appear to have been published in that form.)

Rather than concentrate on the best known of Dawson's paintings, Ranson has included many which are equally brilliant but not as famous. Many of these deserve to reach a wider audience.

I have appreciated Dawson's paintings for many years, but I didn't know anything about the man who painted them until I read this book: I value it almost as much for what it told me about this remarkable artist as for the beautiful pictures it contains. At one time he was said to be the second best remunerated artist in the world (after Picasso) and the pictures in thes book show you why.

Ron Ranson's book is an absolute must for anyone who collects or enjoys pictures of ships and the sea: it will appeal to many others who enjoy looking at beautiful things.

If you enjoy this book, another work that you might appreciate is "The Marine Paintings of Geoff Hunt" and vice versa. However, I cannot pretend that the two books are on quite the same level. Hunt is brilliant: Montague Dawson was the master.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The real millennium?

Today Christians all over the world, and millions who are not christian but welcome the excuse for a celebration, remember the birth of Jesus. Seven years ago we also celebrated the 2,000th anniversary of that birth: however, there is some doubt over which year Jesus was actually born.

Anyone with no interest in either religion or historial detective stories should probably skip this post, and let me just wish you a Happy Christmas. But I find it an interesting intellectual exercise to look through the evidence and try to work out when Jesus was actually born.

It's extremely probable that the actual date was between 8 B.C. and 6 A.D. - in other words this year is the last of the likely dates for the real second millennium. It could be this Christmas which is the actual 2000th anniversary.

Prior to the reforms introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582, when he corrected the errors in the calendar brought in by Julius Caesar, the idea of a universal system of dating barely existed. Most people counted dates from the founding of their city, or according to how many years the current monarch had been reigning, or by some similar method. These systems are very hard to collate, and it can be extremely difficult to compare dates of events in neighbouring kingdoms or to establish exactly when ancient events happened.

Ironically, although Pope Gregory's estimate of the year of Jesus's birth now provides the foundation of our entire system of dating, it is fairly unlikely that he got the year precisely right. To work out when Jesus might have been born, we have to consider the known dates of two monarchs and two roman governors: Herod the Great, Herod Archelus, Quirinius, and Pontius Pilate. Two of the four gospels, those of Matthew and Luke, contain accounts of the birth of Jesus: the accounts are very similar but the dates inferred by references to these four rulers do not quite match, and neither correspond to Pope Gregory's dates.

The gospel according to St Matthew, and one very old version of Luke's gospel in which one name is different from the draft usually accepted today, suggest that Jesus was born between 8 B.C. and 5 B.C. while the usually accepted version of St Luke's gospel suggests that he was born in 6 A.D.

Both gospels refer to the birth of Jesus as taking place in the time of "Herod the King." All six of the princes who governed parts of Palestine as client rulers under Roman authority between 37 B.C. and 93 A.D. had "Herod" as one of their names, so there is some potential for confusion about which ruler is meant when the name is used in the bible.

The compiler of Matthew's gospel clearly intended the expression "Herod the King" to refer to Herod the Great. After the death of this ruler, the romans divided the kingdom between three of his sons, Herod Archelus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip, none of whom had the title of King. Matthew's gospel also refers to Archelus as the son of the King Herod in whose reign Jesus was born.

We can be fairly certain that the Herod who put John the Baptist to death and who sent Jesus back to Pilate was Herod Antipas. The dates match, and the Jewish historian Josephus states that Herod Antipas killed John the Baptist (and severely criticises Herod for the killing.) But it is not quite so easy to be certain which was the Herod in whose reign Jesus was born.

Records state that Herod the Great died of a particularly nasty medical condition shortly after a lunar eclipse. We have the advantage over Pope Gregory, in that modern astronomers have calculated the dates of both past and future eclipses: the eclipse a few days before Herod died must have been on 23rd March 5 B.C. pm or 13th March 4 B.C, probably the latter.

So if Jesus was born in the reign of Herod the Great he cannot have been born in the year which our calendar is based on: if Matthew's Gospel is right then Jesus was born between about 8 B.C. and at the latest 4 B.C.

However, this date is not consistent with the currently favoured text of St Luke's Gospel.

St Luke refers to the birth of Jesus as being in Bethlehem because his mother's husband, Joseph, had to go there for a census. The currently approved draft of the gospel refers to this as "the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria."

The significance of the governor of Syria in this context is that this was the official who supervised the client kings in the area on behalf of Rome. During the period when Judea was run by Roman Prefects such as Pontius Pilate, they reported to the Governor of Syria.

The life of Publius Sulpicius Quirinius is fairly well documented in Roman records. After being consul in Rome in 12 B.C. he went to the middle east to put down a rebellion and held various senior positions over the following 20 years. He was governor of Syria from 6 A.D. until 9 A.D. and there was indeed a census (mentioned in history because it was unpopular enough to spark an uprising) at the start of his period in this office.

So if Luke's gospel is right, Jesus was born in 6 A.D. In this case the Herod who ruled at the time of his birth would have to have been Herod Archelus, who ruled Judea and Samaria from the death of Herod the Great until he was sacked by the Romans in 6 A.D.

This is a much later date than is usually assumed for the birth of Jesus, but Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from 26 A.D. to 36 A.D. so birth in 6 A.D. would still give Jesus time to grow to manhood by the time Pilate was in office. Luke's gospel gives the start of John the Baptist's witness as "The 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" which means 29 A.D. If he was born in 6 A.D. Jesus would have been 23 in that year.

Not surprisingly there have been various attempts to explain the apparent contradiction between Matthew's and Luke's gospels. One theory holds that Quirinius might have had some previous authority over Syria before his formal appointment as governor of Syria in 6 A.D.

As Quirinius was a former Consul and held various senior commands in the middle east from 10 B.C. onwards, it is not entirely impossible that he might have been given some such authority during one of his campaigns. The theory goes that there might have been an earlier census during that period.

I am, however, dubious about this idea: if Quirinius was given any authority over Syria while he was suppressing the Homanadensians' rebellion from 10 B.C. to 7 B.C, it would have been as a military commander in chief for the area. Since it was not unknown for a census to provoke revolts - as the 6 A.D. one did - you would think that a military commander who already had one major rebellion on his hands would not want to risk further trouble by organising a census in the provinces surrounding his main area of operations.

Another possible explanation concerns an alternative draft of Luke's Gospel. A copy has survived of a version of this gospel belonging to Tertullian, a North African Christian who lived about 200 A.D. His version appears to have the name 'Saturnius' as governor, instead of Quirinius. And there was indeed a Saturnius who was governor of Syria from 8 B.C. to 6 B.C.

Now it is possible, and was assumed by the scholars who compiled the bible as we currently use it, that Tertullian's version of Luke's Gospel was in error on this point. But suppose that his version is right and the other drafts were wrong.

If Saturnus was the governor of Syria who should have been referred to, and if he held a census the year after Quirinus had put down the rebellion in the neighbouring province of Asia, that would give a date for the birth of Jesus of 6 B.C. which lines up perfectly with St Matthew's Gospel.

So to sum up, the two most likely dates for tbe birth of Jesus are 6 B.C. and 6 A.D. If the former is right, we celebrated the Millenium six years too late: if the latter, we celebrated seven years too early, and should instead be marking the 2000th anniversary of Jesus's birth today. I do not claim to know which is right. But I hope the possibility that this is a very special anniversary gives you every excuse to have a very special and happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Only Tony's Cronies need apply for English Heritage job

Tessa Jowell was at the centre of a bitter new row over Labour "cronyism" last night after she vetoed both the recommended candidates, selected by an independent panel, for the post of chairman of English Heritage. The apparent reason was their political leanings. One, Lord Marland, is the Conservative party Treasurer, the other, Lady Cobham, the partner of the former Conservative Cabinet minister David Mellor.

The post will now be readvertised at further cost to us, the taxpayers.

The move follows controversy over the appointment of Labour supporters to the Big Lottery Fund, which distributes £2.3 billion of lottery money.

Last night Lord Marland, who had been told he was the favourite, accused Miss Jowell of rejecting him because he was not a member of the Labour Party.

"To have been independently deemed the preferred candidate and then rejected by the Culture Secretary, shows the Labour Party is only interested in appointing one of its own," he said.

According to the Telegraph, Lord Marland and Lady Cobham, who chairs the British Casino Association, were recommended after being interviewed by the independent body set up by Lord Nolan which aims to ensure that public bodies are not stuffed with political appointees.

This really is disgraceful, but no surprise.

Heaven only knows that all governments in history have made some use of patronage to bolster their position and appoint friends, but New Labour have been particularly shameless and quite hypocritical. They complained bitterly about supposed cronyism under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, but at least most of the people we appointed were qualified.

Labour keep setting up independent reviews and panels, then finding ways round them, or just ignoring the results if they don't like them.

Apart from anything else, if they were going to rig the appointment process to appoint one of their own, could Labour not at least have been competent enough to find someone they wanted to give the job to who was able enough to get through the sift, so they didn't have to waste money going through the appointments procedure twice?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas 2006 Duty Chemist rota for Whitehaven

A few items of holiday information for Whitehaven and Copeland which I hope readers of this blog from that area may find useful.

First, here is the Duty Chemist rota for the Whitehaven and North Copeland area:


Christmas Eve: Normal Sunday hours.
Pharmacies at Morrisons, Tescos and Boots, and most of those other chemists which would normally open on a Sunday, will all be open.

Christmas Day: Emergency rota, 6pm to 7pm:
Alliance Pharmacy,
67-68 Main Street, Egremont.

Boxing Day: Emergency Rota, 6pm to 7pm
Morrisons Pharmacy, Whitehaven

Wednesday 27th to Saturday 30th December – Normal hours

New Year’s Eve: Normal Sunday hours.
Pharmacies at Morrisons, Tescos and Boots, and most of those other chemists which would normally open on a Sunday, will all be open.

1st January 2007: Emergency Rota, 6pm to 7pm
W Fare Ltd,
11 Market Place, Whitehaven.

In an emergency phone your GP out of hours service or the A&E department at WCH. Urgent prescriptions should be endorsed “Urgent” by a GP.

West Cumberland Hospital: 01946 693181

NHS Direct: 0845 4647

Other holiday details:

Copeland Borough Council:

For emergencies relating to flooding, homelessness, or dangerous buildings, ring the emergency out of hours number, which is Whitehaven 815500.

Non-emergency services are closed until 2nd Jan: there will be no refuse collection between Christmas and New Year, and collections in the first week of 2007 will be one day later than usual.

However, most household waste sites in Cumbria, including the one at Frizington in Copeland, will be open for most of the holiday period, excluding bank holidays on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year's Day.

Cumbria Highways:

24 hour highways hotline, 0845 609 6609

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Save our post offices

Hospitals under threat: schools facing rationalisation: now the latest vital service under threat is post offices.

The Labour Trade and Industry secretary, Alistair Darling, has announced that 2,500 post offices are likely to close because the network loses £4 million a week.

People running post offices in Cumbria say they are preparing for the worst.

If there are large scale closures of post offices, especially in rural areas, it will be bad news for the elderly and those without cars. It will also be deeply damaging for many villages - as one Cumbrian postmaster said that if the services which local post offices like his are withdrawn it would be a "crushing blow" to the village.

One reason for the persistent threat to post offices is that many of us can and do access so many more services through the internet and telephone. But this is not available to everyone. Hence there is a real social need for the post office service.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Public Meeting re Pica Wind Farm proposals

A public meeting is to be held on 8th January to discuss revised proposals to build five windmills at Pica. It will take place at Distington Community Centre on January 8 at 7pm.

There have been a number of previous applications to build wind turbines at the Fairfield Farm site over the past 10 years and they have always been extremely controversial.

The present set of plans was submitted on 29th September by the company Wind Prospect, which is based in Bristol. Their previous application, for six turbines, was withdrawn last year.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Next Digital TV public meeting will be early 2007

I'm grateful to John Askew of Digital UK for responding to me with some more information about the switchover to Digital TV. Amongst other things he advises that the date of the next public meeting about the Whitehaven TV area switchover will be early next year.

This can be read as a comment on an earlier post but I thought the message from John Askew important enough to put up as a post in it's own right so here is what John had to say:

"Thanks Chris, for a useful report on the switchover to digital tv. Two small points:

Firstly, viewers who receive signals directly from the Caldbeck main transmitter (and not via a relay) can switch to digital tv through the aerial (Freeview)now if they wish as Caldbeck already carries digital signals.

The Bleach Green (Parton) and St Bees relay transmitters cannot be switched over early as they rely directly on the Caldbeck transmitter which is being replaced as part of the programme. They will be switched over to digital when the new Caldbeck transmitter is ready in the second quarter of 2009.

We hope to have another public meeting as soon as we can in 2007 and should be able to publish details very soon.

John Askew
Regional Manager
Digital UK

Helpline: 08456 50 50 50"

How Journalists steal confidential information

In these days of over-mighty government, we need a strong free press which can hold parliament, whitehall, big companies, and councils to account.

What we do not need is to add intrusive snooping into people's private lives by journalists to what we already have from the state.

If an MP or government minister is shutting my local hospital, wasting money which comes from my taxes, giving contracts preferentially to companies which give money to Labour party funds, or otherwise misusing his position, I want to know about it. But his private life is another matter entirely - if he's cheating on his wife that is her business, but not mine.

I'm most grateful to Iain Dale's diary for drawing my attention to a story which should have been in the national newspapers but has not. With the honorable exception of the Daily Telegraph website they appear to have ignored it. Perhaps, since one or two national papers come very badly out of the report, this was too close to home.

Earlier this year the Freedom of Information commissioner published a report, "What Price Privacy" about the trade in stolen private information. When a private detective was arrested this year it was found that he had been involved in selling confidential information including Telephone records, DVLA records, and National Police Computer information to hundreds of journalists, most of them working for supposedly reputable organisations. He was part of an agency which was stealing and supplying such information on an industrial scale.

Following a Freedom of Information request by Lord Ashcroft, details of some of the supposedly respectable companies which are buying this stolen information have now come out.

A report published by Lord Ashcroft based on his freedom of information request shows that more than 300 journalists had commissioned more than 13,000 lines of inquiry from the agency which the man arrested worked for. More than 5,000 of these lines of inquiry were stated by the information commissioner as being definitely known to have broken the Data Protection Act, and another 6,000 were probably such a breach.

You can read the full report by Lord Ashcroft here



The URL is http://www.lordashcroft.com/pdf/WhatPricePrivacyFoIAreply.pdf

His report gives the numbers but does not name names. However, Iain Dale reported on Wednesday that a report to be presented to Parliament this week would name the newpapers and magazines which are the main offenders. You can read his article

EXCLUSIVE: Press Stand Accused of Illegal Activity

at http://www.iaindale.blogspot.com/



I would hate to see action taken against the press which prevents them from doing their legitimate job of holding the government to account, especially as Britain really needs to have our present government held to account.

But this sort of massive illegal snooping into people's private lives is not just intolerable in itself. It is also dangerous both for the press themselves and for a free society, because it is very likely to provoke a backlash against the media, including legislation and court action which may interfere with their ability to carry out the duties which we desperately need them to do.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jedi Jamie apologises for his speech

Jamie Reed has apologised for his speech at the "Save Our Services" march on Saturday, but only for taking too long (seventeen minutes, apparently.)

However, if he imagines that the length of his speech was the main reason it went down badly, he is still not on the right page.

Almost all the letters about the Save our Services march in today's Whitehaven News expressed criticism or disagreement with our MP's speech, as did the Leader column, and the opinion piece from former local health manager Brian Early. (My letter was probably the mildest).

None of the letter writers made particular reference to the length of the speech. Examples of the comments were

"It is sad that the local MP is still at the "puppy walking" stage of his career and that he had to deliver an approved Labour party diatribe ... "

"It is great that our local newspaper is in touch with the community on major issues such as this and just a shame that the local MP is not."

"... the party political broadcast by Jamie Reed"

"Mr Reed's promotion of government policy at this protest was not" (welcome).

(The MP's speech was) "the only scuff-mark on an otherwise clean sheet."

What upset people was not just the length, it was that it was a political speech where that was not called for, long on sentiment but short on substance.

Blair questioned by police

Tony Blair has been interviewed for two hours by police investigating the so-called "Cash for Peerages" scandal. He was not cautioned and did not have a lawyer present.

However, this is believed to be the first time that a serving Prime Minster has been interviewed by the police as part of an inquiry into suspected criminal activity.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Support West Cumbria's Hospital Services" blog set up

From now on I will be running two blogs: this one with the simple title of "Chris Whiteside's Blog" and a second with the title "Support West Cumbria's Hospital Services"

I am setting up a separate blog on health issues for two reasons.

First, with the threat to hospital services in West Cumbria posed by the "Whole Systems Review" which the local NHS trusts in North and West Cumbria are conducting, support for our hospital services is such a critical issue that it deserves special attention.

Second, the health issue is far more important than party politics and it is one where the whole community must stand together. The "Support West Cumbria's Hospital Services" blog will concentrate entirely on campaigning to defend our services in a non-partisan manner, and I will seek to keep party-political comments to an absolute minimum on that site.

However, for democracy to work there has to be debate, and there are some instances when political criticism of someone is fully justified. For example, the one sour note at the otherwise excellent march and rally yesterday was a truly terrible speech by the local MP, Jamie Reed.

Sadly, our local MP has form in talking nonsense on health. During the 2005 election he suggested that there was no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland hospital; then a year ago he ruined what would otherwise have been a quite good speech in the House of Commons about Community Hospitals by including a partisan and dishonest attack on my 2005 election campaign which would have been irrelevant even if it had been accurate.

At the conclusion of the rally yesterday, the Rector of Whitehaven, the Rev John Bannister, told Jamie Reed and Elaine Woodburn that they must fight effectively for the community in defending our hospitals and "we will hold you to account." That has to be right, and it must be possible to make criticisms. When I think that such criticisms, expecially if they are political, are called for I will make them here on "Chris Whiteside's Blog" to keeping them away from my "Support West Cumbria'a Hospital Services" blog, which as far as possible will be a non-partisan campaigning blog.

The URL for my hospital campaign blog will be

http://savewestcumbriahospitals.blogspot.com/

Are "Friends of the "Earth" starting to wise up ?

Due to a clash of dates yesterday I was unable to attend a conference for Conservative candidates - I thought it was even more important to attend the "Save Our Services" march to defend local hospitals in West Cumbria.

However, I am intrigued to learn from the "Conservative Home" website that Friends of the Earth may at long last be softening their opposition to Nuclear Power.

According to the Conservative Home report on the conference,

"Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth admitted that nuclear power was an option even if it wasn't FotE's favoured option."

This comes a few months after the FoE demonstration at the Drax coal fires power station which is of course Britain's largest emitter of carbon into the atmosphere.

It is beginning to look like the debate on this complex subject is going to become more grown-up and less simplistic, which has to be welcome.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

5000 people march to defend West Cumbria's hospitals

The "Save Our Services" march was a massive success: it was initially estimated by the police that about 4,000 people attended to support local hospitals. That was the figure was quoted in the rally at the end, and it seems to be the number which has gone into community memory as the attendance. However, the police subsequently revised their estimate upward to about 5,000.

The march had support throughout the community from Conservative and Labour politicians to Help the Aged, from Trade Unions in the NHS and at Sellafield to the Rugby Club, the motorcycle club, and everyone you could imagine.

People also came from throughout West Cumbria: I recognised people at the march from St Bees to Lamplugh and from Whitehaven through Egremont, Seascale and down to Millom, and I know there were representatives present from local communities in just about every other part of West Cumbria.

All of them came to send the Strategic Health Authority and Patricia Hewitt the message that we want to defend our hospital services.

As one speaker put it, what price can you put on the pain of an expectant mother with complications who has to travel forty to sixty miles over some of the worst roads in the country to Carlisle or Barrow if we did not have a consultant-led maternity unit in West Cumbria ?

It's been suggested to me that this was the biggest demonstration that Whitehaven has ever seen. The community is united to defend our hospitals. And we will keep up the pressure.

Save our hospital march today - 10.00

Assembly point Castle Park at 9.45 this morning.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Save Our Services - three days to go

The "Save Our Services" march to defend local hospitals in West Cumbria is in three day's time in Whitehaven. Assemble at Castle Park by 9.45 am to move off at 10 O'clock on Saturday 9th December.

I hope this march will get the strongest possible support.

Tony Blair made a speech yesterday suggesting that the country needs fewer, bigger hospitals as centres of excellence to save lives. In cities and other densely populated areas this argument may not be as daft as it sounds (though it is certainly going down like a lead balloon in Central Hertfordshire where I am serving out my last few months as a councillor.)

However, in rural areas like Cumbria where the towns and villages are a long way apart and have mountains and poor roads and public transport between them, this will cause more people to die because of the long journeys to and between hospitals. We need to send the strongest possible message to the Strategic Health Authority and the department of health that the whole community in West Cumbria wants to keep our hospital services and restore what has been lost - both at the West Cumberland hospital and at Community hospitals such as those at Millom, Keswick, and Workington.

Anyone reading this who is able to get to the march - please come and show your support for our hospital services.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Save Our Services march - One week to go !

The "Save Our Services" march to support local hospital services in West Cumbria takes place one week from today (on Saturday 9th December).

Anyone wishing to show their support for services at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, for Millom Community Hospital, for Keswick Hospital and for other services in West Cumbria should assemble at Castle Park in Whitehaven at 9.45 on Saturday. The march moves off at 10.00 am. The march was called by the Whitehaven News newspaper but also has support from both the local Conservative and Labour parties, from the health service unions, and from people right across the community.

We need to send a message to the Strategic Health Authority that the entire community in West Cumbria, is united to demand our fare share of the enormous amounts of money which is going into the National Health Service. An area like this one, where there are substantial distances over bad roads between communities, and which contains important national facilities like Sellafield and the Nuclear Waste repository at Drigg, needs local health facilities and for people to have to travel up to fifty miles to hospitals at Carlisle or Barrow simply is not good enough.

Digital TV - what's happening to the next public meeting ?

The so called "Whitehaven" TV area - which actually covers most of Copeland - is the first part of the UK to switch to Digital TV.

Switchover for this area, which will include turning off the existing Analogue signal, has been brought forward to October 2007. From that date, anyone who gets their TV signal from the Bigrigg arial, or the Gosforth and Eskdale "Self Help" transmitters which repeat the Bigrigg signal, will need a set-top box for each pre-digital TV they wish to use. These cost about £25. Anyone who wants to record one channel while watching another would be well advised to buy a digital recorder.

Anyone reading this in the rest of the UK: the same issues which are imminent in Copeland now will still affect you within the next few years when the change reaches your area.

Some parts of Copeland around Parton and St Bees are covered by their own transmitters which will not switchover until 2008. Official publicity so far has given the impression that the Parton transmitter only covers a small area, but it appears that there may be a significant number of homes in the Bransty or Kells area of Whitehaven have TV receivers which point to the Parton transmitter, or to Caldbeck: these families will not need to go digital until 2008.

There is also a significant section of Copeland south of the mountains around Corney Fell and Black Coombe, including Haverigg, Millom, Duddon Bridge and Ulpha which is also served by other transmitters and will switch over later.

However, the majority of Copeland is served from the Bigrigg transmitter, including a large part of Whitehaven, Distington, Sandwith, Bigrigg, Egremont, Cleator, Cleator Moor, Frizington, Arlecdon, Rowrah, Lamplugh, Ennerdale, Beckermet, Calderbridge, Gosforth, Seascale, Wasdale, Eskdale, Ravenglass, Waberthwaite, and Bootle, and will therefore lose the existing TV signal in October 2007.

Anyone in the UK, particularly in the Border region, who buys a new TV from now on would be wise to check that it has the "Digital ready" mark which consists of the word digital followed by a tick in a box. This is different from the High Definition ready mark (HDD ready).

There is a package of targetted assistance available to help older and disabled residents with this change. However, as I have written before, I am concerned that the net for this may have been drawn too narrowly. The package is available to residents over 75 or those registered blind or disabled: it is free for those on pensions credit or receiving disability support, but there is a "small charge" for other residents.

There is a problem with this - it is estimated that a third of the poorest pensioners do not apply for pensions credit, presumably because they have trouble with the many pages of complicated forms. Those people are not going to be happy about having to pay for new equipment to be able to continue to watch their TV. The government needs to look again at eligibility for the assistance scheme.

There was a public meeting in Whitehaven Civic Hall in September to discuss the issues around the switchover. At that time we were promised another meeting in December. Well, it's now the second of that month and I have not seen any details of this meeting yet, so I am chasing to see what's happened to it: any information I can discover will be posted here.

Labour Headline competition - the results

A few weeks ago there was a newspaper headline, "Iraq war could be judged a disaster, Beckett admits."

I challenged anyone who wanted to take part in a little competition to submit similar headlines consisting of a statement of the blindingly obvious with an appropriate Labour minister or former minister admitting that things could be seen that way. I promised a prize for the funniest suggested headline sent to me by the deadline, which was extended to 30th November.

Surpisingly nobody sent me the same headline with "Blair" instead of Beckett - perhaps after appearing to admit that Iraq had been a disaster in his interview with Sir David Frost, Blair then described it as a slip of the tongue.

Anyway, here is a combined list of the entries I received and of the suggested examples ...

"Taxing pension funds by an extra £5 billion a year could be judged to have left them with less money, Brown admits."

"Claiming that your communications officer has resigned when he hasn't could be called 'lying', Byers admits."

"Telling students that you won't introduce student tuition fees or top-up fees, and then doing so, could be judged a broken promise, Johnson admits."

"Telling prison governors to shoot their inmates could be called 'Bonkers', Blunkett admits."

"My relations with Gordon Brown have sometimes appeared to be less than cordial, Blair admits."

"As minister for council tax, people might have expected me to pay my own, Prescott admits."

"Hinting at peerages in exchange for donations of millions of pounds to Labour party funds might be seen as unethical, Blair admits."

"Not everyone agrees that the NHS has had its best ever year, Hewitt admits."

"My wife Pauline is devastated that I told her about the wrong woman, admits Prescott."

The winning entry came from Geoffrey Brooking, and if Geoffrey would like to remind me of his current email I will put through his prize, which is a £10 Amazon voucher.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Dawkins Delusion

Professor Richard Dawkins is brilliant at explaining biology in a way which many people can understand. However, his objection to religion sometimes verges on the unhinged.

Ironically, both his recent book, "The God Delusion" and his plans, if correctly reported in the press, to send rationalist material to schools, are open to exactly the same charge which he has brought with some justice against the supporters of so-called "Creation Science" and those who want "Intelligent Design" taught in schools.

From now on, I shall use the expression "The Dawkins Delusion" to refer to the fallacy that science can either prove or indeed disprove the existence of God.

Science is a means of testing how the physical world works. It is a very effective method, and nobody who is interested in the truth has anything to fear from it.

The scientific method consists of putting forward a hypothesis which is capable of being tested and disproved by real world evidence, and checking that hypothesis against the evidence. If the facts line up with the hypothesis, you stick with it: if repeated tests fail to reject the hypothesis, it is promoted to a theory. But if the facts disprove a hypothesis or theory, it has to be discarded, and replaced either with a completely new idea, or a new, modified version which can explain the new data: and which has itself to be tested against the facts.

However, only ideas which are capable of being disproved have anything to do with science. In the past, various religions used to put forward ideas about how the real world works which were indeed capable of such checking: for example, the idea that Heaven and Earth were created on 26th October 4004BC at 9 o'clock in the morning, or the idea that Winter is caused because the daughter of the Goddess of the Harvest had to spend six months of the year in the underworld. We now have very strong evidence suggesting the likelihood that the origin of the earth is closer to 4000 million BC than 4004 BC, and we can explain Summer and Winter because the axis on which the earth spins is tilted towards the sun for part of the year at any given latitude, and away from the sun at other times.

But while some ideas or religious origin are capable of being scientifically tested, others are not. For example, the structure of ethics which is associated with any religion, and also fundamental to the running of human society, can be assessed using logic, but is not subject to science. How could you devise a scientific test of the principle that murder is wrong, for instance ?

Further, both belief and disbelief in a God are philosopical and religious positions, but not scientific ones. I do not believe that any human test could possible be devised which could prove beyond reasonable doubt that God exists, or that He doesn't. Both the Theist and the Atheist have to make a leap of faith.

"Intelligent Design" does not belong in a science class, because there is no way you could conclusively disprove it. Neither do Professor Dawkins's atheist views for exactly the same reason. His belief that this religious position is scientific is The Dawkins Delusion.

Comments policy restated

Anyone with a presence on the internet which allows comments or response eventually has problems with SPAM, or with silly or offensive posts.

The vast majority of posts on this blog have been interesting and welcome. That includes posts expressing views which differ from mine. I am grateful to anyone who posts interesting opinions on this site, whether right-wing or left wing and regardless of whether I agree with them, provided they are reasonably polite. I would prefer that you use your real name but anonymous posts will not be deleted as long as they are polite and constructive.

However, I have had a small number of comments posted on this blog from people who have nothing better to do with their time than to put up anonymous insults. I do have better things to do with my time than read rude remarks from people who have nothing constructive to say and don't have the guts to sign their own name.

This blog is here to publish and promote debate on views which I consider useful and interesting whether I agree with them or not. Anything which I consider rude or offensive will be deleted, especially if the originator has not given his or her real name.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

West Cumberland Hospital: the penny drops

On today's TV politics show, the Labour MP for Copeland and the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Borders were interviewed together talking about the threat to local hospitals and the need for the entire community to unite to defend them.

Credit where credit is due: it was a very good interview. David MacLean MP and Jamie Reed MP agreed with almost everything each other said, particularly about the point that Labour and Conservative MPs were working together to draw to the attention of the Strategic Health Authority that their policies do not meet the needs of Cumbria.

I've made the positive point first: but I also noted with wry amusement that Jamie Reed has finally dropped the absurd position which he took at the last election. A few days before polling day, as the Labour candidate for Copeland, he said clearly and explicitly that there was no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland hospital.

Today, by contrast, when asked if he could guarantee the future of the local hospital, Jamie Reed said that he did not think anyone could give such a guarantee. This is of course completely incompatible with what he said while standing for election.

He was wrong then: he is right now. Also right is everyone else who says we need to fight for our hospitals, at Millom and Keswick as well as Whitehaven. This includes doctors, nurses, trade unionists, jounalists and politicians.

I hope there will be a huge turnout for the "Save Our Services" march in Whitehaven on Saturday 9th December: assemble at Castle Park at 9.45 am.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Support grows for hospitals march on 9th December

Support is building for the "Save Our Services" march in support of hospitals in West Cumbria on 9th December. Meet at Castle Park in Whitehaven at 9.45 am to move off for 10 am sharp.

The march has already attracted the support of local political leaders from both the Conservative and Labour parties and of many people associated with the local NHS. The local Rugby club will interrupt their training to come and support the march.

If you care about local hospitals in West Cumbria, please make sure that this date is in your diary and try to be there to support West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick Hospital.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Younger drivers and road safety

Two things which happened in the last 48 hours have me thinking hard about road safety in general and younger drivers in particular.

The Chief Constable of Cumbria was reported in yesterday’s local papers as calling for restrictions on younger drivers, who are involved in a significant proportion of fatal accidents.

To underline the point, an elderly man is hospital with serious head injuries after being knocked down by a car on Monday night at the entrance to the road in Whitehaven where I live. Three men, all aged between 18 and 19, were later arrested in connection with the accident.

Almost every week I read in the local papers of another fatal accident on Cumbria’s roads, often on roads that I use almost every day, such as the A595. At one point earlier this year, there were two accidents only a couple of weeks apart, which claimed three lives, both on the A595 less than a mile from my home.

Of course, every time I read of yet another death on the A595 it rekindles my fury at the idiotic government decision to ignore the local community’s wishes by de-trunking this road south of Calderbridge. But the issue of road safety in Cumbria and elsewhere is far wider than one road. And I don’t think the issue of younger drivers can be ignored.

I gather that, of the people who have been killed on Cumbria’s roads this year so far, no fewer than 21 died as a result of accidents in which at least one driver was aged 16 to 20. The most recent figure on the Cumbria Safety Camera partnership website for the total number of deaths to date is 49, which appears to be slightly out of date, but it is clear that the number of fatalities involving young drivers is over a third and not far short of half the total. This is a higher proportion than you would expect if such drivers had the same risk as everyone else of being involved in fatal accidents.

Incidentally, the other figure which is being thrown around in this debate, that 25% of collisions in the county involve a driver under 25, is not dramatically worse than the proportion I would have expected given that all collisions involve two or more drivers. But the figures for deaths are both more convincing and much more serious. This in turn suggests that one of the issues is vehicle speed. A recent analysis of the causes of accidents found that speeding was a less common cause of road accidents in general than you might expect. But when there is an accident, the faster vehicles are travelling the greater the risk of serious injury or death.

It is very important that whatever measures are taken are not presented as an attack on young people, but as an attempt to save the lives of young people. Teenagers and drivers in their early twenties are not just disproportionately represented among the drivers of vehicles involved in fatal accidents, people in that age group are also disproportionately represented among the victims. One crash claimed six lives including a 19 year old driver, his 21 year old partner, their 4 month old baby son, his two sisters, and a man in another car. I point no fingers about who is to blame for that or any other individual accident, but the total number of people killed on Cumbria’s roads in accidents involving young drivers is too high not to be grounds for concern.

Two issues which many people get very upset about concern speed cameras and the systems which allow drivers to detect them. Ross Brewster wrote a very powerful blog piece a few weeks ago attacking those who drive too fast, and he also took aim at these detectors.

Where people buy a detector with the intention of driving faster when it isn’t warning of the presence of speed cameras, I think they deserve every word of Ross Brewster’s criticism. However, the figures suggest that many of the people who buy them do so for exactly the opposite reason - to ensure they slow down in areas with cameras. People who have detectors fitted can actually get lower insurance premiums because they have fewer accidents. That suggests that the sort of person who buys one is less likely to be a boy racer looking to drive faster and more likely to be a cautious person who doesn’t want to lose his licence and is taking steps to ensure he does not accidentally break the speed limit down where there are cameras. When detectors are fitted for this reason they slow people down at the camera sites - which will usually be in areas where speed is linked to a risk of accidents – and reduce the risk of accidents at those sites, which is exactly what the cameras were meant to achieve.

Speed cameras themselves are also controversial, but it is a myth that they are always unpopular. In my old ward of Sandridge there was a spontaneous public demonstration a couple of years ago, after a fatal accident, by local residents who wanted speed cameras in the village. Where cameras are located in an area where the speed limit changes a lot – and don’t let anyone tell you there are no such cameras – it brings the whole system into disrepute. But where safety cameras are located at a site where people have been killed, most people usually accept them. My regular journey to work used to take me through a former blackspot where there had been several fatalities. There are now clearly visible cameras at the site, plus plenty of equally visible speed limit signs, they do slow the traffic down, and there have been no more deaths.

Specific measures targeted at young drivers must be clear, easy to understand, and enforceable. I have my doubts that differential speed limits or curfews would work – some of these measures have been tried abroad and proved hard to enforce.

Limits on the engine capacity of cars which people under 21 or who have passed their test within a couple of years can drive may be another matter – anyone who insures a car has to tell the insurance company who will drive it. With the co-operation of the insurance companies, which it is in their financial interests to give, it should be possible to influence what sort of cars younger people are allowed to drive.

Perhaps we also need to see training in driving skills as something which comes after passing the test as well as before. Maybe there should be a mandatory driving safety course which all new drivers are required to attend between six months and a year after passing the L-test ? There are Advanced Driver Training courses run by ROSPA: I’ve never got round to taking one of these myself and am starting to think that perhaps I should. Maybe some incentives and more publicity for these courses would be a good idea – particularly if we can work with the youth media to persuade young men that being an “Advanced driver” is “cool.” It ought to be a lot easier to spin that one than to persuade them of many of the more ridiculous messages that the government spin machine puts out.

The above measures may have some impact on the behaviour of law-abiding people. For the small but dangerous minority of lunatics who regularly defy driving bans, drive without insurance or a licence, we have only one option. Make sure the courts put them inside before they put anyone else six feet under.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Help for Fayrepack victims

The collapse of Fayrepack threatens to adversely affect this year's Christmas for many families in Cumbria. But as is so often the case, a problem within a community brings out much of the best in it's people, in both imagination and concern, as people look for a solution.

Whitehaven Credit Union, which is a non-profit community savings and lending organisation, has been advertising a savings scheme targetted to to help Fayrepack victims and ensure that their Christmas celebrations are not entirely ruined. And a group of Cumbrian ladies have emulated the W.I. "Calendar girls" by bringing out a calendar to help the Fayrepack victims - on sale now for £5, all of which goes to help the victims as they were printed free of charge by Print Express of Whitehaven.

All the local MPs have backed calls from Cumbrian MP David McLean for a criminal investigation into the collapse. While I think this is right, I wonder if the Labour MPs who backed this call have thought through the implications if the principle of prosecuting people who take money from people but don't deliver on their contracts were applied to politicians who make election promises, impose taxes to pay for those promises when elected, but fail to deliver ?

Tony Blair would certainly be in even bigger trouble. He's already facing an interview with the police over the "cash for peerages" scandal, but if politicans were accountable for broken promises he would have to help the police with their inquiries on at least two more grounds. First would be his promise in 1999 that everyone would have access to an NHS dentist within five years. Seven years on, not only are thousands of Cumbrians who were then without an NHS dentist still looking: in fact thousands of those who did have an NHS dentist have lost that service.

And then there was Mr Blair's promise to students in 1997 that he would not introduce tuition fees and in 2001 that he would not increase them with top-up fees. Not only did he break these promises, he described the bill to do so as "central" to his government's programme.

Of course our local MPs would not escape either. Jamie Reed, then the Labour candidate for Copeland and now the MP, stated on the front page of the Whitehaven News during the election campaign that there was "no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland Hospital."

Is it any wonder that people like the Carlisle ladies turn to each other rather than our politicians to put right the injustice which has been done to them.

Trust in politics needs to be rebuilt in this country. But this is much easier to say than to do.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An interesting co-incidence

The people who plan the timing of the Prime Minister's diary were presumably unaware that this week Copeland had the annual contest to find the "World's Biggest Liar."

Otherwise I doubt if they would have scheduled Tony Blair's visit to Copeland for the following day.

This naturally reminded me that it had been suggested last year at Copeland Borough Council - and by a councillor who had originally been elected on the Labour ticket - that the council should officially invite the PM to come to Copeland to take part in the competition.

Almost immediately after his visit to West Cumbria, Mr Blair flew to Pakistan, where he told the truth but apparently didn't intend to.

In a TV interview today, responding to a suggestion from David Frost that the situation in Iraq is seen by many people as something of a disaster, Tony Blair began his reply with the words "It is."

Needless to say, Downing Street insists that this was a slip of the tongue.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hospital supported at Children in Need meeting

In support of Children in Need today there was a "Cash for Questions" session at St Nicholas's church in Whitehaven. Panellists included the local MP, the leader of Copeland Council, the Rev John Bannister, and various press and business speakers.

Anyone who gave some money to Children in Need could ask a question. So I went along and asked how we as members of the community can best support our local hospitals.

There were very good answers given on all sides for the need for the whole community to work together accross party political and other lines to defend our hospital services. These include the need to get a good attendance at the "Save our Services" march on 9th December, and for everyone to lobby the Strategic Health Authority and ministers. As was pointed out, the head of the NDA has spoken out about the serious concern for the nuclear industry if there were not a good range of hospital services much nearer to Sellafield than Carlisle or Barrow - we need the other key public services to make the same point from their perspective as well.

Milton Friedman R.I.P.

Milton Friedman, who died this week, appears to be being remembered as a populariser of free-market ideas, which he was, but he was also one of the four most brilliant economists of the 20th century.

It always seemed to me that there were almost two Milton Friedmans - the brilliant academic, who was objective, balanced, nonpartisan, and immensely insightful, and the doughty champion of free markets, who presented a far more simplistic picture and came out with some memorable word pictures.

Of course, many of the things which people think they know about Friedman were myths assiduously spread by people opposed to the political message he spread. The classic example was the suggestion that that he supported the Pinochet regime in Chile. I can still remember, pretty much word for word, a Bernard Levin opinion piece from The Times of 30 years ago on the subject:

"Professor Milton Friedman (Boo) has been writing to The Daily Telegraph (Boo) about Chile (Boo). The poor devil has been trying to explain that he is not economic adviser to the Chilean government, which he isn't, and that he never has been, which is likewise so"

Levin added that he called Friedman a poor devil because he had "about as much chance of dislodging that particular myth from the minds of the left" as he had of persuading them of various other things which you would not expect a left winger to believe.

I can remember the full quote but I don't want to repeat it for reasons which are a sad reflection on the way political debate takes place in 2006. I regard the former Pinochet regime in Chile as a disgraceful bunch of mass murderers. Taken in context the full quote from Bernard Levin supports that view, but it would be possible to take the final phrase out of context in a way which could be twisted to mean something different.

I've already had one opinion which is the opposite of what I think attributed to me this month in a letter to the Whitehaven News from someone who should have known better. I'm not going to write anything which makes it easy for anyone to try the same trick again. Isn't it sad that anyone with aspirations to public life has to watch not just the actual meaning of everything we say and write in public, but how it could be twisted and misrepresented?

Friedman the propagandist came up with some great phrases - "There aint no such thing as a free lunch" was perhaps the best and it will be remembered. I suspect that fewer people will remember the sayings that Friedman the brilliant economist came out with - I think it's an absolutely safe bet that very few indeed would believe that "We are all Keynsians now" was one of them. But it was.

Friedman the propagandist has been represented as an ivory tower extremist as part of the attack on Thatcherism, but ironically even those who helped give him that reputation, such as New Labour, have been very quick to use the ideas of Friedman the great economist. To give one simple example, the terms under which Gordon Brown delegated to the Bank of England and it's Monetary Policy Committee the power to set UK interest rates were exactly the sort of policy which Friedman advocated.

Those who study economics seriously will remember Friedman for two things. The first was his studies of the monetary history of the United States and particulaly the Great Depression of the 1930s, in which he demonstrated the role of banking failures and the collapse of the money supply in helping to cause and greatly exacerbate that recession. This was the work for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize.

The fact that governments and central banks had absorbed the lessons which Friedman pointed out is one of the reasons that none of the stock market crashes or recessions since the 1980s have been allowed to deteriorate into an economic disaster of 1930's proportions.

Friedman's second great contribution was to explain in 1968 why the "Phillips Curve" relationship which correctly predicted the relationship between unemployment and wage increases between the late 19th century and the late 1960's was about to collapse. From the 50's, governments started to use the "Phillips Curve" as a means of policy, believing they could make a trade-off between inflation and unemployment, and this did work for nearly two decades.

Friedman's insight followed on from the Keynsian concept of "money illusion" e.g. when inflation fools people about the value of the money they were being paid in. He argued that if a government tries to reduce unemployment at the price of higher inflation, people will not stay fooled. Once inflation becomes embedded in the economic system, people will start to take it into account when they are looking at the value of their wages and the prices they pay, so that higher and higher levels of inflation become necessary to fool people and reduce the level of unemployment. Eventually everyone measures all price and wage changes against current and expected increases in the published inflation indices and the trade-off between inflation and unemployment collapses. This is exactly what happened in the late sixties and seventies.

You can see from the paragraph above that, although Friedman has a reputation as the arch monetarist, he was quite willing to take ideas from Keynes if he thought they were right. This goes both ways. A very prominent Keynsian economist, Modigliani, once paid tribute to Milton Friedman's work, and specifically referring to Friedman's comment that "We are all Keynesians now" he responded that in the sense that almost all economists recognised that we can learn from Friedman's work, "We are all monetarists now."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Death of Common Sense

Earlier this week I was returning to Copeland on the train having been working in London. Unfortunately the West Coast Main Line trains were disrupted by a suicide on the line near Lancaster, causing both myself and a number of other people to miss their final connections home.

The railway organised hire cars or taxis for the people who were stranded through no fault of their own due to missed connections.
The driver who took me back to Whitehaven was polite, efficient, and in terms of the rules as they exist today, helpful. Nothing that I am about to write is meant as a criticism of him. However, I do think that the way people are expected to operate today is sometimes a great deal less sensible than the way the world used to work ten or twenty years ago.

As the delay to the West Coast main line had caused me to miss the last train from Carlisle to Whitehaven, a car was booked to take me to Whitehaven station. This is a journey of about 40 miles, which means that the driver's round trip that evening was about 80 miles. I was the only passenger in the car.

My home is about a mile from the station. As we approached Whitehaven, I asked if there was any way to arrange matters so that the driver could drop me at home instead of at the station. The minor modification this would have required to the last part of the route might have increased the total distance travelled by a few hundred yards: I would have been happy to pay for this.

However, the driver said that his contract required him to go from station to station. Knowing how paranoid large organisations are these days about the letter of the rules, I didn't press the point. So he drove an 80 mile round trip, to drop me, shortly before midnight, about a mile from where I actually wanted to go.

As I say, I am not criticising the driver. These days nobody dares use their initiative or common sense. But remembering how drivers used to operate up to about ten years ago, I'm prepared to bet that if this had happened back before that time, the driver would have asked me without prompting whereabout in Whitehaven I wanted to be dropped and done so without a second thought, provided the passenger didn't take the mickey.

I hope that I will live to see the pendulum swing back to the point where we can use a bit more gumption to do what makes sense.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

They shall grow not old

There are some words which seem to mean more to me every time I hear them. One example which seems more powerful every year is the exhortation which precedes the two minute silence on Rememberance Sunday and the Kohima epitaph which follows the silence.

Almost everyone who reads this will know these verses but I make no apologies for repeating them. By comparison with these timeless words anything else I could write here today would seem too trivial.

"They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
we will remember them."

And after the silence another veteran often a representative from the Burma Star Association reads the words from the Kohima memorial to the fallen of the Burma campaign:-

"When you go home tell them of us and say
for your tomorrow we gave our today."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

In Flanders Fields ....

Today is the anniversary of the armistice which ended the First World War. For many years this was commemorated as Armistice Day, with a minute's silence at 11 am, which was the moment the guns fell silent on 11th November 1918. Then the commemoration was switched to Remembrance Sunday, which is the nearest sunday to the 11th of November. In recent years it has become common to mark both dates.

There has been a certain amount of argument over the past few days about the wearing of poppies. Newsreader Jon Snow has complained in unfortunately robust languange about being put under pressure to wear a poppy while on air: a religious think tank has suggested that Christians should wear a white poppy rather than a red one.

No matter how strongly I may disagree with people on this subject, and no matter how tempting it is to come up with clever or sharp rejoinders, harsh language about Remembrance Sunday is never appropriate.

Whatever else they may or may not have achieved, the remembrance day ceremonies which I have attended every year since I was a small child have always brought home to me the terrible human cost of war.

The red poppy was adopted as a symbol of the price of war because it grows prolifically on the Flanders Fields where so many young men died in one of the bloodiest wars in history.

There are a small handful of people left alive who remember the first world war, but it has been drawn repeatedly to my attention over the past 12 months. When we were clearing out the bungalow we rented in Gosforth, I found the certificates which had been awarded to a Great War military engineer, including one which stated that he had been mentioned in despatches. (We were able to arrange for their return to his family.)

I was present at a deeply moving special ceremony when Bristol University Court awarded an honorary degree to one of the last six surviving World War One "Tommies" (who had also helped to build one of the University's main buildings.)

My own grandfather was lucky enough to return from his service in the army during that war, but he lost his father, mother and a brother to the war and the outbreaks of disease which took place during and immediately after it. My great-uncle was killed in action while barely more than a boy just a few weeks before the end of the war.

Let all those who choose to remember the dead do so in their own way. Against the background of the loss of so many millions of lives in both world wars, to start insulting other people over whether or not to wear a poppy or what colour it is, just makes yourself look petty.

Some people may choose not to wear a poppy, or only to do so in private. That is their right and it should be respected. Some people - apparently about 45,000 - will commemorate the dead by wearing a white poppy. That is their right, and it should be respected. About 36 million people will commemorate the dead by wearing a red poppy. I will be one of them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jedi Jamie gets it wrong again

The M.P. for Copeland has been slapped down in the House of Commons again for getting parliamentary procedures wrong.

When the government's energy review came out, Jamie Reed M.P. was interrupted by the Deputy speaker when he tried to continue after asking a point scoring question about David Cameron. The Deputy Speaker explained that he had the opportunity to ask one question: by asking a trivial point-scoring question about David Cameron he lost the opportunity to ask the serious question about the nuclear industry which he had apparently intended to put.

This week Jedi Jamie asked a question about the government's white paper on "Communities" and the structure of local government. He was concerned about the idea of a single local authority for Cumbria - it appears that his issue was how this would affect the nuclear industry. A good question which deserved to be raised in a more effective manner.

It was not to be, however, for this time Speaker Martin himself told off the MP for Copeland for getting the rules wrong and terminated his contribution. Parliamentary rules require that supplementary questions actually are questions rather than speeches, and they must be brief.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Save our hospitals - March on 9th December

It is confirmed that there will be a "Save our services" march in support of West Cumbria hospitals on Saturday 9th December in Whitehaven.

I hope as many people as possible will support the march. Assemble at Castle Park at 9.45 am ready to move off by 10 am.

The march is already receiving support from right accross the community. Obviously a lot of the focus is on the West Cumberland Hospital but we should remember that all the Community hospitals in Cumbria including Millom Community Hospital and Keswick Hospital are also under threat.

The welcome confirmation that this march is up and running comes at the same time as the less welcome, but hardly surprising, news that the government has included both the newly formed Cumbria Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the North Cumbria Acute Services NHS trust on a list of health trusts with the worst financial problems.

When I was a health authority member in Hertfordshire before moving to West Cumbria, 50,000 people signed a petition, and thousands lined the streets to protest during a ministerial visit, rather than quietly accept a proposal to close the local hospital, making patients and their families travel eight miles for A&E and maternity services. If we lose our hospitals we are looking at a trip to Carlisle or Barrow - a far longer journey over much more difficult roads. People in London or Hertfordshire would never have accepted that and I am certain that people in West Cumbria won't accept it either. So let's prove it by getting the maximum possible attendance on 9th December.

On Vandals, wreckers and ASBOs

The main concern on my mind at the moment is for the future of our hospitals. However, because of recent events at both ends of the country and the public debate about ASBOS, the issue of crime and disorder has run it a close second.

I put down an entry a few days ago about the firework party which a household in Foxhouses Road decided to hold in the early hours of November 5th (between about 2.45 am and 3.00 am.) While this showed an unfortunate lack of concern for the residents of a large part of Whitehaven, it turns out that this was by no means the most inconsiderate thing to happen in the town in the early hours of that morning. Between 1am and 3am the keyholders were called out after at least eight shops had doors, windows or both smashed by vandals.

On Monday they were still clearing up the damage, while 300 miles away the school where I was an LEA governor for many years was re-opening after being closed for several days due to an arson attack.

We live in one of the richest countries in the world, at a time when even the poor in most countries are better off in many ways than even the most affluent people were for most of human history. Yet a few lunatics feel they have to get their kicks by wrecking things for everyone else. It will not do.

It is worth having another think about the effectiveness of Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs)

There is widespread disenchantment with ASBOs with the suggestion that thugs want them as a "badge of honour." I suspect the problem is not with the idea of ASBOs so much as that in many parts of the country they have been over-used.

If the police and the courts issue thousands of ASBOs but devote little attention to enforcing them, they will become an ineffective merchanism which is little better than a joke - and in some parts of Britain that is exactly what has happened. Frankly, the authorities responsible for imposing ASBOs to deal with trivial issues like a lady who came to the front door in her underwear are guilty of bringing the system into disrepute.

However, if ASBOs are

1) used sparingly and reserved for cases where there is a serious issue which cannot easily be dealt with under other laws and procures, and

2) the police and courts effectively monitor whether they have been obeyed and come down like the proverbial ton of bricks on breaches

then there is a good chance that they will have a real effect.

I'm tempted to suggest that there should be a limit on the number of ASBOs which can be in effect in any one time in each police "Basic Command Unit" area (for example, Copeland and Allerdale are a "Basic Command Unit) equal to so many ASBOs per thousand residents. This should be linked to a policy that all the ASBOs which are imposed are given a reasonably high enforcement priority.

A community in which ten ASBOs have been imposed, all of them have been monitored, and one or two individuals have been jailed for breaching them, will see a much bigger impact on behaviour than a community in which fifty ASBOs were imposed but no effort was put into enforcing them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Save our Hospital - Trust's position clarified

Since their original statement, which indicated that they were still committed to a new hospital in Whitehaven without using the words "acute" or "District General" the Primary Care Trust and the North Cumbria Acute Services NHS Trust has made clear that they still want to provide an Acute hospital in West Cumbria.

In so far as it goes, this is very welcome.

However, I remain very concerned for the future of all our local hospitals, including the West Cumberland, Millom, and Keswick.

The trust have not made clear what services the new acute hospital will provide. There is a strong hint that it will include A&E. My concern is that you cannot provide A&E services without a critical mass of other services and infrastructure. We need a much clearer idea of how this will be provided and how the steady trickle of services away from the West of Cumbria will be stopped.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Labour headline competition extended

Thanks to those who have sent in entries for "The New Labour Headline competition.

I'm offering a small prize for the funniest headline consisting of an admission of the blindingly obvious from an appropriate Labour minister.

Doesn't absolutely have to be made up - one of the best entries so far was a real one from 2004

"Iraq may not have weapons of mass destruction, admits Blair."

Deadline for entries is now extended to the end of November

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Some real fireworks

From time to time I have been lobbied as a councillor by people who believe that stricter controls on Fireworks are needed - e.g. more local by laws banning people from setting them off or restricting their use.

I do think it is a good thing that safety controls on Fireworks are much more rigorous than they used to be. The health and safety mafia do not get everything right, but fireworks were originally designed as weapons and it does make sense to be very careful when using explosives for entertainment.

However, I have been and remain reluctant to go down the road of draconian restrictions on when people can let off fireworks. If people on both sides are willing to exercise a certain amount of consideration and common sense it ought to be possible for those who want to put on a firework display to enjoy their fun while allowing everyone else a reasonable opportunity to enjoy peace and quiet.

Unfortunately that kind of consideration was singularly lacking in the early hours of this morning. Having been down south for a few days, I arrived home after a long drive at 2.45 am today. As I stepped out of my car a loud explosion rang out from a couple of hundred feet above my head.

I turned round and was astonished to find a firework party in full flow, apparently in the rear garden of a house in Foxhouses Road, which continued until about 3.00 am. It included several more of the type of fireworks which climb a couple of hundred feet before exploding with a loud bang which can be heard half a mile away. I suspect the party may have awakened almost every light sleeper in the Corkickle area of Whitehaven and probably a good chunk of the rest of the Town.

As I say, I would regret the introduction of draconian controls on fireworks. The vast majority of those who use them are much more responsible. But if the minority who don't think of others carry on waking up dozens of their neighbours at three o'clock in the morning, the political pressure for such controls will become irresistible.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Conservative Future Nuclear Debate

I attended an excellent debate this evening on the proposition "this country needs nuclear energy".

The debate was organised for Conservative members and supporters by Conservative Future (the organisation which replaced the Young Conservatives and Conservative Students) and took place at the House of Commons.

There were good speeches on both sides. I was expecting the pro-nuclear side to win, but had expected the result to be closer than it was.

In fact the motion was carried unanimously.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rail Freight Terminal Application - Live Webcast Tonight

The planning application for a huge rail depot in the south of St Albans district comes to the planning committee tonight. The meeting is being webcast from 7 pm on the St Albans council website, see link on right.

POSTSCRIPT

The meeting took three hours not to make a decision. The massive report to the meeting listed a large number of possible reasons for refusal. However, the Highways Agency had directed St Albans council not to give permission for the development yet as they were still looking at the impact of the proposal on local motorways.

It would have been possible to refuse permission at the meeting, but the council's officers recommended that it would be better to wait for a final response from the Highways Agency to see if they proposed an additional reason for refusal.

The officers recommended that the council should state that it is minded to refuse the application on the grounds they have identified but will take a final decision when the Highways Agency reports in the new year.

I must admit that given the Highways Agency direction, my preference would have been not to call the meeting until they established what advice or instruction they were giving to the council. However, given that the meeting had taken place, and after about three hours of discussion and debate, I proposed that the officer recommendation should be approved and this was unanimously agreed by the councillors.

Result - ten councillors, a similar number of highly paid professional experts, and hundreds of members of the public took part in or listened to three hours of debate with the end result that no final decision was taken. The issue is likely to come back to committee early in the New Year.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Save our hospital - watch the PFI Costs

Part of the financial burden which may be contributing to the threat to the West Cumberland Hospital is the cost of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme at Carlisle. The new hospital in Carlisle actually cost £67 million to build but over the next 30 years the NHS will have to pay £600 million in interest and running costs. This information comes from the government answers to parliamentary questions tabled by the shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley MP.

I must stress that I am not against the principle of using private finance to help fund public projects. Both this government and the last one have done it. But whoever is in power must try to make sure that the taxpayer gets good value for money. We need an audit of PFI schemes to see whether they are providing facilities in the most cost-effective way. An essential part of the campaign to defend hospital services at the West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, Keswick Hospital, and all the other threatened hospitals in Cumbria must be to use money wisely.

When vandals strike ...

Yesterday and today, special arrangements have had to be made at Garden Fields school, where I was an LEA governor for 16 years and am still an associate governor, to get the children into the school after vandals burnt down a shed on the school site, creating a hazard. For the rest of this week, both Garden Fields and the adjacent St Albans Music School will have to be closed while the damage is cleared - resulting in the cancellation of a special event at the music school for which a lot of work had been done.

So the firebugs, whoever they are, have ruined the week for several hundred children. It is absolutely infuriating.

The police will never be able to have enough people to solve every crime but we do need to take some of the burden of administration and regulation away so they can spend less time on trivial issues and paperwork and more on solving crimes that matter. And we must make sure that sentences are sharp enough to provide an effective deterrent.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Save Our Hospital - March on 9th December

There will be a march in support of the West Cumberland on Saturday 9th December in Whitehaven. Further details in the Whitehaven News. Please put this date in your diary it is very important that we campaign hard to keep our hospital services.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Save our hospital - where the money is going

It is extremly strange that when such vast amounts of money are being extracted from taxpayers, and a large proportion of it earmarked for the NHS, that hospitals such as the West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick Hospital are under threat because of lack of funding.

One part of the explanation is the bureaucracy required to operate Labour's 400 NHS targets. Most of the people taken on by the NHS since Labour came to power were administrative staff rather than doctors or nurses, and the NHS now has more estates and administrative people than beds.

But another problem is the ghastly failure to manage PFI contracts properly.

Let me be clear on what I am and am not saying. Both Labour and Conservative governments have sought to obtain private money for the NHS and there is nothing wrong with the principle of this. However, it must be managed, whoever is in government, in a way which is good value for the taxpayer. And that is not happening.

Replies by the government to parliamentary questions asked by Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley have revealed that over the next 30 years the National Health Service will have to pay private sector contractors £53 billion for hospitals worth only £8 billion.

There must be a full investigation into why this is costing so much and whether better value for money can be obtained so that the resouces are available for patient care.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Save our Hospital continued

The future of West Cumberland Hospital is still the subject of a great deal of controversy.

It does appear that the report by the management consultants Gibson, Freake and Edge, who suggest that retaining two Acute hospitals in North Cumbria is "unaffordable" has not yet become the policy of the NHS trusts. However, if we sit back and do nothing, there is every chance that it could.

It has not escaped campaigners for the Community Hospitals in Cumbria, such as those in Millom and Keswick, that they are also still in jeopardy. There are a number of reasons for this: one of the main ones is Gordon Brown's budget controls. Another is that too much of the money given to the NHS is going on administration - most of the jobs taken on in the NHS in the past nine years have been administrative rather than medical staff. The NHS has more estates and admin staff than beds and is taking on managers even while it is making nurses redundant. If we scrapped most of Labour's 400 NHS targets we could redeploy some of those resources to front line patient care and there would be less threat to our hospitals.

The people of Cumbria need to campaign for all our local hospitals - or we risk losing them.

When clever people do stupid things - reprise

Prior to the recent post on devolution which touched off an absolute flurry of comment, the highest level of response I had to a post on this blog was to an item called "When clever people do stupid things" which pointed out that mistakes by clever people can do a lot more damage then less eminent individuals are ever given a chance to do.

This week the case which inspired that article was in the news again, and demonstrated the way that we are far too ready to tolerate an inability to understand numbers where we would never find acceptable equivalent consequences caused by, say, the inability to read.

My original article was inspired by Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who was one of the most eminent paediatricians in the country, but whose knowledge of statistics, and particularly of conditional probability, was so poor that it would have been disappointing in a V former reading Stats O level and grounds for disciplinary action in a VI former studying the statistics part of Maths A level.

Sir Roy gave evidence as an expert witness in the trial of a number of women whose children had died and who were accused of murdering them. Unfortunately, because of his enormous expertise in the area of child health, at least two juries accepted at face value statements which he made about the probability of a family losing two or more children to cot death which were provably nonsense. In consequence of Sir Roy's incompetence with statistics, at least two women who were almost certainly innocent were wrongly convicted of murder.

Sir Roy was the main culprit, but he was not the only one. The defence lawyers should have challenged his statistics. The jurors should have realised that his expertise in medicine did not guarantee expertise in maths. But above all, our society is too ready to both to tolerate bad statistics unless we have good reason to want to disbelieve them, and to reject good statistical data which does not fit our preconceptions. This particular case, where innocent women were sent to jail because of bad statistics, is an extreme one but it is far from being the only case.

Another example where medical experts were not able to give accurate advice about statistics, this time from the United States, is one of the many excellent examples given by Professor Joel Best in his superb book "More Damned Lies and Statistics." He quotes the figures for breast cancer screening among American women in their forties who had no other symptoms. About 0.8% of such women do in fact have breast cancer. If a woman has breast cancer, the probability that a mammogram result will be positive is 90%. If she does not, the probability is 93% that the mammagram will come out negative.

In a study 24 doctors were given these figures and asked, if a woman has a positive mammagram, what is the probability that she actually has breast cancer. Only 2 out of the 24 doctors got it right: two thirds of them were not just wrong, but way out.

(The correct answer, by the way, is 9%. If an American woman has a negative test result, it is very likely indeed that this result is correct. If the tests says that a woman does not have breast cancer, the chance that she really does have it is less than one in a thousand. However, if the test is positive the chances are almost ten to one that it is a false alarm. This does not mean that screening is not worth doing: it means that the correct response to a positive test is more tests, not the assumption that the test is correct.)

When it became clear that basic errors in statistics were resulting in innocent women being sent to jail for murders which never happened, the General Medical Council took disciplinary action against Sir Roy Meadow, and he was struck off the medical register.

Sir Roy appealed to the High Court, who reversed the decision, ruling that expert witnesses should be immune from disciplinary action, that Sir Roy's evidence did not constitute serious professional misconduct. This decision in turn was appealed to the Appeal Court, who came to a far more balanced decision this week.

The Appeal Court found that Sir Roy was undoubtedly guilty of some professional misconduct, but they did not consider that it was sufficiently serious for striking him off the medical register to be a proportionate penalty. This is an interesting view, because I am sure it caused him a lot less suffering than he caused the two women who were wrongly convicted of murder and sent to prison on the basis of his testimony. But I can accept that everyone makes mistakes, and since he was not the only person to blame for what happened he should not be the only scapegoat.

The Appeal court quashed, however, the ruling that expert witnesses had immunity from disciplinary action. I think the Appeal court was wise to do so. Everyone makes honest mistakes, but if someone is so careless of the truth as to be negligent, and that negligence causes a miscarriage of justice, they should be accountable for their actions.

And regardless of the question of whether Sir Roy should have been struck off, we really should learn lessons from this about the importance of training people to understand statistics. In law, for instance I am coming to the conclusion that passing a good stats course should be a mandatory requirement for barristers to qualify. And every jury room should have copies available to the jury of the following three books:

"How to lie with statistics" by Mel Calman
"Damned Lies and Statistics" by Joel Best
"More Damned Lies and Statistics" by Joel Best.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Save our hospital - now the acute trust comments

It is increasingly clear that there is indeed a serious threat to local hospital services in West Cumbria and we need to start campaigning NOW if we want to keep the service we need.

Two further developments in respect of the future of hospital services in West Cumbria.

The Chief Executive of the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority Dr Ian Roxburgh, has spoken in the strongest possible terms about the need to retain an acute hospital in West Cumbria. As he rightly points out, it would be totally unacceptable if the nearest acute hospital to the Sellafield site were in Carlisle. In his words the need for the hospital is "absolutely fundamental" and he added that he has arranged for a presentation from the trust to the NDA board.

Meanwhile the Acute Services NHS trust and PCT still maintain that they will "provide a new hospital in West Cumbria."

Marie Burnham, chief executive of the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, made the following joint statement with Alan Horne, chief operating officer of the new Cumbria Primary Care Trust.

“Cumbria Primary Care Trust is looking to develop a whole system solution to the delivery of healthcare across Cumbria which is both clinically sustainable and financially affordable.

“The Gibson, Freake and Edge report was commissioned to look at and examine any implications of developing and modernising healthcare under this whole system solution process given the rurality of Cumbria.

“North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust has always maintained it will provide a new hospital in West Cumbria and is currently developing proposals for this within the context of the whole system solution. Full public and staff consultation will be carried out during this process.”

This statement sounds at first very reassuring, but "A new hospital" without the words "acute" or "District General" is in fact potentially compatible with any of the three options in the Gibson, Freake and Edge report, which were

Option 1: Status Quo (ie continue as at the moment with two district general hospitals – the West Cumberland Hospital and the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle). But this is said to be unaffordable.

Option 2: One acute hospital for the whole of North Cumbria with community support and some “pick and mix” services. This is said to be affordable.

Option 3: One acute hospital with a smaller hospital unit and community support. This is also said to be affordable.

Like Dr Roxborough, I am completely convinced that any option which does not include an acute hospital in West Cumbria, preferably no further north than Whitehaven, is totally unacceptable. Since the trusts have acknowledged the existence of the Gibson, Freake and Edge report, and have not denied the story of what options it contains, we can take it that the report given to the local press was accurate.

It is equally clear both that this report is not yet Trust policy, but the possibility that it may become the policy of the trust cannot be ruled out. The people of West Cumbria need to start campaigning now to ensure this does not happen.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Save Our Hospital - continued

As explained yesterday the Whitehaven News has a front page story about a management consultant's report for the "Whole Service Review" by the PCT which appears to suggest three options for the future of West Cumberland Hospital. The report apparently describes the status quo option as "unaffordable" and puts forward two other options either of which mean that we would lose an acute hospital in North Cumbria, presumably the West Cumberland.

No explanation yet of how this squares with the parliamentary answer by the junior health minister, Rosie Winterton, that the "Whole service review" will develop proposals for a new acute hospital in Whitehaven. It will be interesting to see what answer the trusts come up with next week. In the meantime anyone who cares about the local health service in Copeland needs to watch this situation like a hawk.

Local Government - here we go again

About six months ago, the government was dropping strong hints that they were about to propose the creation of Unitary authorities replacing the County and District level of government with a single tier of government, and that the May 2007 council elections would be cancelled, with elections to new unitary authorities in 2008 instead. They then got cold feet, and the window for legislation to carry out such a change on that timescale passed with no announcement.

Now Ruth Kelly has come forward for consultation with further ideas to reorganise local government, which include the option that authorities which want to make a case for Single Tier councils can do so.

There are some major advantages for single tier councils if it is done properly, and when the last Conservative government gave councils a similar opportunity I was in favour of replacing both counties and districts with single tier authorities which would be significantly larger than most existing districts but significantly smaller than most existing counties. However, attempting to achieve a local consensus on how big the authorities should be and what the boundaries should be proved incredibly difficult. Ironically at that time my district council and most of those in that county were in favour of going unitary whereas the county was against and lobbied successfully for the status quo: this evening on Border TV we had the leader of Cumbria County council arguing for unitary status and a district leader arguing against. These battles almost always go accross party lines (as they did tonight.)

If there is consensus for a change in any part of the country, that change should be allowed to happen. But given that the previous government introduced Unitary authorites in those areas where it had support - which effectivly meant re-introducing county borough status for a number of medium-size cities like Bristol - I think the government will find that most of those areas where there is an appetite for Unitary councils have already adopted them. The same goes for directly elected mayors - where people want their council to have a directly elected chief executive, they have already gone for such a system under the previous round of legislation.

Ruth Kelly made a facile comparison of Cumbria and Sheffield, pointing out that for similar populations Cumbria has vastly more councillors and executive members. This ignores the obvious point that Cumbria covers a vastly larger geographical area: it takes hours to get from one end of this county to another.

Both I and many other councillors will have to spend a lot of time reading the documents which came out today before we can reach any decisions on whether changes to the structures of our councils will make them more democratic and effective. But bearing in mind how many times council services have already been reorganised in the past two decades, it is for anyone who wants yet another change to prove the case. I suspect that today's proposals from the government may prove to be a damp squib.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Save our Hospitals - the plot thickens

The following parliamentary question was asked at the same time that the Whitehaven News was putting together a story based on information from a source inside the North Cumbria NHS, that a report for a "Whole service review" recommends that the keeping two acute hospitals in North Cumbria is "unaffordable."

Question from Jamie Reed (Copeland, Labour)

"To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made on the provision of a new acute hospital in Whitehaven."

Reply from Rosie Winterton (Minister of State, Department of Health)

"North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is currently developing proposals for a new acute hospital in Whitehaven in the context of the whole system review of health services in Cumbria. The North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust expects to carry out public consultation on the new hospital early in 2007."

So we have two apparently diametrically opposed statements coming out on the same day, though both refer to the "Whole Systems Review."

However, one appears to be based on information from the PCT and the other from the Acute Services trust. Is not possible that the PCT has not yet shared the report with the Acute Services Trust ?

There are three possible explanations. The first that the information given to the local newpaper by a source inside the local NHS is wrong. But what would be the point. The second is that Rosie Winterton's information came from the Acute Services Trust and those who supplied it were not aware of the management consultant's report which the story in tomorrow's Whitehaven News will describe.

Look again at the exact wording of the parliamentary answer and you can see a third possible explanation: the answer appears to suggest that a new acute hospital is on the cards, but how categorical is it? Could it be that we are seeing just another dose of spin?


I don't think we can take anything for granted.

SAVE OUR HOSPITAL

READ THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS TOMORROW!

I learned today that the threat to the future of West Cumberland Hospital is even more serious than we had feared.

Anyone reading this who has any interest in the future of health services in West Cumbria should make sure you get a copy of the Whitehaven News tomorrow (26th October) as they will have more detail.

I am advised that the Whitehaven News have been told that the Primary Care Trusts for North (and West) Cumbria have brought in a firm of management consultants called "Gibson, Freak, and Edge" to prepare an analysis called a "Whole Systems Review." This analysis considers three options: the first, which keeps two acute hospitals (at Carlisle and in West Cumberland) is regarded by the consultants as "unaffordable." It appears that both the two options which they do consider affordable would involve Whitehaven losing our district general hospital, and it would not be replaced by an equivalent acute hospital in West Cumberland.

I should stress that I am describing an unconfirmed report about a confidential document which does not as yet necessarily represent the policy of the PCT. That does not mean that we can afford to ignore it. This report fits too closely with other accounts I keep hearing from a variety of sources within our local hospitals and the administration of local NHS trusts.

Even things which seem good - like the proposed new Diagnoistic unit - may have the effect of taking services away from the West Cumberland hospital and reducing it below the critical mass of staff and activities required to fuction as a District General Hospital. Services like Accident and Emergency cannot be maintained in isolation from other services like intensive care, cardiac & orthopaedics services: neither can a maternity unit.

If the people of West Cumbria want to keep decent hospital services it looks like we will have to campaign to make sure this report does not become trust policy.