Wednesday, October 31, 2007

TWO WEEKS TO GO until Digital Switchover completes

The BBC2 analogue signal was switched off two weeks ago in the Whitehaven TV area (including most of Copeland) and a range of digital offerings have gone live - more in some parts of the area than others.

All the remaining analogue signals for terrestial TV channels will be turned off two weeks today on 14th November

On analogue televisions which have not yet had a set-top box added, Border TV has moved to the channel where BBC2 used to be, and BBC2 has gone.

Most people who I have spoken to managed without too much difficulty to configure the set-top box on at least their main TV. When this is done the new digital BBC2 is available, and several new digital channels including BBC News 24 and cBBC have also come online. However, an awful lot of people needed to call the TV engineers out to get their set-top boxes tuned. There have been some problems, ironically especially with the more sophisticated boxes.

Some set-top boxes regularly scan for updated signals. Unfortunately some of the most popular top-of-the-range models have been trying to find the Caldbeck transmitter's digital signal, which most of Copeland cannot receive. The Bigrigg tranmitter which is going 100% digital uses different frequencies. Some boxes have been looking on the Caldbeck digital frequencies, not finding anything, and returning "No Signal."

There will be a national solution to this problem - in the first quarter of 2008! In the meantime local engineers have found a way to get and retain service, but it means re-installing.

And the channels will be reconfigured on 14th November, so it looks like the engineers will be even busier on that day.


Of those who have bought a new digital television, I have yet to speak to anyone who had a problem with it. My family replaced one of our oldest televisions with a digital one: when I took it out of the box on 17th October and plugged it in, the new set promptly found a range of digital services including all the BBC channels.

It has been a bit of a time-consuming business, and far from cheap for many people. The support scheme aimed at a pensioner with one TV assumes a cost of around £40. This service is free only for pensioners aged over 75 on pensions credit and disabled or parlially sighted people on disability benefit.

£40 would be enough to cover switchover costs for a home with one TV and no recording facilities if the aerial does not need replacing. But it will not be enough for most people.

A family with four televisions who want to be able to record one channel while watching another would need to spend at the very least £200 on four of the cheapest set-top-boxes and a bottom of the range digital recorder.

A family of arch telly addicts who can afford it could easily spend more than a thousand pounds on new digital TV kit. If you are not a complete TV fanatic but want to get something a bit better than bottom of the range kit, you could easily spend perhaps £500 to £600.

Let me justify that last statement. Suppose you have three TVs. Let's assume you phase out the oldest one and replace it with a small HDD and digital ready TV set, get one middle of the range set top box for your main family TV, and a bottom of the range box for your third TV, and finally buy a mid range digital recorder. That little lot will set you back at least £400 but more probably cost you between £500 and £600.

This assumes that you don't have to get a new aerial, which most people should not need to do, but some people will have to. If you do need a new aerial, get at least two quotes before handing over your hard earned money.

There will also be an added annual cost for viewers in a number of properties with shared aerials: I raised this at the last meeting of Copeland council and we are waiting to hear what the final cost will be.

People in the Gosforth and Eskdale area are going through the same hassle as those of us who live in Whitehaven, but do not get as many new channels in compensation - they don't get Five for instance. If I still lived in Gosforth I would be absolutely furious about this.

People who get their signal from the Parton or St Bees Transmitters can still get the analogue signals for the moment, although they will be affected by Digital Switchover when the rest of the Border TV area goes. The same applies to the Millom area.

Anyone in the Copeland area who is affected by the current switchover and has not already sorted out their TV to receive digital signals would be well advised not to wait until 14th November. I think the engineers will be very busy on that day.

And for people reading this who are not affected yet - digital switchover is coming to you too within the next few years.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

15 days to go until Digital Switchover completes

A fortnight tomorrow, the remaining analogue channels are switched off in the Whitehaven TV area.

If you have lost BBC2 and don't want to lose the rest of your TV service on 14th November, you need to get a set-top box and get it properly set up.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Digital Switchover: completion in 16 days

IN a little over two weeks the remaining analogue channels are switched off in the Whitehaven TV area.

If you have lost BBC2 and don't want to lose the rest of your TV service on 14th November, don't leave it too late to act!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Digital Switchover: completion in 17 days

All remaining terrestial TV analogue signals will be switched off on 14th November, in the Whitehaven TV area.

This affects you if you live in Copeland and have lost BBC2: to be precise, if Borders appears in the slot where BBC2 used to be and the slot where Borders used to be produces static. In this case you have two nd a half weeks to get your TVs digital ready if you don't want to lose the rest of your TV service. Don't leave it too late to act!

Sunday spot: on humility in prayer

This morning at St Begh's abbey the gospel and sermon concerned the parable of the pharisee and the taxgatherer at prayer.

Tax-collectors in the ancient world had an even worse reputation than they do today, often with reason. The parable has the pharisee praying to God "Lord thank you for making me a good person, not a wicked sinner like this tax-gatherer."

Meanwhile the tax-gather beats his breast, does not even dare approach the alter, and prays for mercy on himself as a humble sinner. Our lord concluded by telling his audience that it was the tax-gatherer, who knew that he was a sinner and asked forgiveness, not the proud priest, whose prayer was pleasing to God.

There is a similar story, told as a joke but with much the same inner meaning, which inverts this parable: the version I am about to quote is set in a synagogue but it could be told of the senior and junior people in any place of worship.

A Pharisee, a senior priest, comes up before the high altar of the synagogue, gives a deep bow and cries out

"Lord, I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Hear the prayer of a miserable sinner who begs for mercy. I abase myself in ashes."

He bows again and withdraws. Next, a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe, comes up before the high altar of the synagogue, gives a deep bow and cries out

"Lord, I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Hear the prayer of a miserable sinner who begs for mercy. I abase myself in ashes."

He bows again and withdraws, Finally, the Shammes. e.g. caretaker, cleaner, and general factotum, comes up before the high altar of the synagogue, gives a deep bow and cries out

"Lord, I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Hear the prayer of a miserable sinner who begs for mercy. I abase myself in ashes."

At which point the Levite gently nudges the Pharisee and whispers "Have you seen who's abasing himself? Getting a bit above himself, isn't he?"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

For more gaffes and quotes, see The Times today

Matthew Paris has compiled a very amusing collection of two pages of unfortunate or contradictory quotes by political leaders, which is printed in today's issue of The Times.

Well worth a read if you're into that sort of thing.

Digital Switchover: completion in 18 days

On 14th November the remaining terrestial TV analogue channels will be switched off in the Whitehaven TV area.

There is still a certain amount of "picking up the pieces" going on from the initial disconnection of the BBC2 analogue bradcast. Meanwhile Sky are doing a roaring trade.

More on this tomorrow

Friday, October 26, 2007

Digital Switchover: completion in 19 days

On 14th November the remaining terrestial TV analogue channels will be switched off in the Whitehaven TV area.

This affects you if you live in Copeland and have lost BBC2. In this case you have less than three weeks to get your TVs digital ready if you don't want to lose the rest of your TV service. Don't leave it too late to act!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gaffes and Misjudgements

Blogger Paul Linford did an amusing post last year on the "Top Ten Political Gaffes", and I am grateful to Iain Dale for drawing my attention to the fact that this week he has done a follow-up piece on the top ten political misjudgements

The misjudgements piece can be read at this URL:

http://paullinford.blogspot.com/2007/10/top-10-political-misjudgements.html


The gaffes piece can be read at this URL:

http://paullinford.blogspot.com/2006/03/my-top-10-political-gaffes.html


The list of misjudgements covers statements on major issues of policy and decisions such as whether to call an election. The list of gaffes covers slips of the tongue or errors of presentation, such as one government minister who meant to use the word "cuts" and actually came out with a similar but much ruder word.

Although Paul Linford says that the misjudgements tended to have serious consequences and the gaffes were generally just embarrassing, I would have said that some of the gaffes also had fairly serious impacts on the political credibility and career prospects ot the individuals concerned. WHich just goes to show how careful you have to be in a television age ...

Digital Switchover: completion in 20 days

Less than three weeks now until the remaining analogue channels are switched off in the Whitehaven TV area.

If you have lost BBC2 and don't want to lose the rest of your TV service on 14th November, don't leave it too late to act!

BOOK REVIEW: TAKING LIBERTIES

By Chris Atkins, Sarah Bee and Fiona Button

This accessible and well written polemic assembles a collection of views and stories from right through the political spectrum, which chronicle the ways that many of the freedoms which keep Britain a society worth living in have been eroded. Contributors range from Tony Benn to Ken Clarke, from Clare Short to Boris Johnson, and Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty to Kate Allen of Amnesty International.

Often hysterically funny, often infuriating, it lists the rights which have been removed from ordinary citizens, the extra powers which have been granted to the police and ministers, and the ludicrous situations which have resulted.

I wouldn't suggest that this book gets everything right or that I agree with every word in it, but it certainly scores more than a few direct hits and is an important contribution to the debate.

Since this book, and the film of the same name which contains much of the same material, were published, Gordon Brown has promised to repeal one of the most ridiculous laws which this book describes – section 132 of SOCPA (the Serious Crime and Police Act.) This odious law bans demonstrations, no matter how harmless and peaceful, within a mile of Westminster unless the protesters have applied to the police six days in advance for permission and been granted it.

The first person convicted under this act, a woman called Maya Evans, received a fine and a criminal record for standing at the Cenotaph and reading out the names of British Service personnel killed in Iraq.

Section 132 of SOCPA may be on the way out, but the remainder of the three thousand new criminal offences which have been added to the statute book under New Labour are still there. There is the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 which has yet to catch a single terrorist, but was used to briefly detain an 87-year-old former refugee from Nazi Germany for shouting “nonsense” at the foreign secretary.

Some of the excessive laws and procedures described in the book are so silly that they are amusing, but other stories will make any reader with an open mind quite furious. For example, after breaking into an airfield and staging a sit-down, a group of environmental protesters were arrested, with which I have no problem. But I do have a serious problem with the fact that after being held for about 36 hours, several young female protesters were released alone at half-hour intervals in the middle of the night, in an urban area they didn’t know, without their phones (which had been confiscated) or the means to get home.

The book systematically shreds the case for ID cards, “extraordinary rendition” which allows suspects to be carted round the world to jurisdictions where laws protecting them against inhumane treatment are less effective, and the one sided extradition treaty with the USA which congress still has not ratified but Britain has implemented, sending a number of British citizens for trial in the states without the need for evidence to be produced of a substantial case for them being guilty.

Incidentally, I have no objection whatsoever to the UK having a fair and even- handed extradition treaty with the USA – e.g. one which provides for British citizens the same legal protections which the American constitution requires for American citizens. If US prosecutors can produce evidence in a court of law that there is a case to answer against a British citizen for a crime under US jurisdiction that person should be extradited, but only if there is such evidence. Just as our prosecutors have to provide evidence if they want to extradite someone from the states.

Some of the most frightening sections of the book are the passages about how Britain and the US have eroded the national and international rules which previously attempted to outlaw torture. Others cover the extraordinary attempts made to push through laws which would have permitted detention of suspects for 90 days without charge or trial. As Ken Clarke is quoted as saying

“At one point the Labour whips office were asking Chief Constables to ring up their Labour Members of Parliament to try to get them on side to give the government a majority. That’s not what a Chief Constable is for.”

The Sun Newspaper printed a picture of one of the 7 July bomb victims on its front cover with the headline “Tell Tony He’s Right” (to support detention without trial for 90 days.) As it turns out the victim concerned was Professor John Tulloch, who strongly disagrees with the views his image was used to promote. As he said,

“Now I’d seen the newspapers putting narratives over pictures of me, and this one of the Sun is such a strong one. The Sun, like a number of tabloids, takes a totally populist view about being ‘for the people’, but they don’t manage even to ask the person they use for this particular story. For me, the 90-day legislation is an assault on civil liberties. And that’s there to put pressure on the Labour back benches as much as anything else, to vote the other way.

“The implication’s pretty obvious. I mean, they might as well have a little speech bubble to my mouth. I was totally opposed to that legislation. And it’s using my image both emblematically and symptomatically, i.e, victim, look what they do, back the 90 day law. And they’re using my image without my authorisation – to do something which I think is going to make the situation worse if anything.

“I don’t think one should be doing the terrorists’ work for them and destroying the very democratic principles that we stand for.”

Quite.

From today's FT

There is a front page item in today's FT about the proposals to develop new Nuclear plants, with particular reference to concerns within government about staffing issues and linkages to renewable energy.

I agree with he view attributed to the energy industry that if we are to get enough low-carbon electricity to meet the country's needs while cutting our carbon footprint, we need both nuclear and renewables.

There is an interesting quote from a leaked government document on the subject of the treasury's attitude to nuclear waste. The FT says

"The document suggests that the treasury is resisting plans to invite councils to bid for the right to house the waste repository because it fears that only one council - the one that includes Sellafield in Cumbria - will apply. This lack of competition would leave it able to demand extra funding of more than £1 billion."

The council concerned is of course Copeland Borough Council, and those who have sat through debates at Copeland Council on the issue will be thinking "surprise, surprise!"

It is certainly interesting to read such a hint of the Treasury's thinking on this subject.

Digital TV Switchover: Phase One plus one week

And 21 days to go until completion on 14th November, when the BBC1, Borders, and Channel 4 analogue signals are turned off in the Whitehaven TV area.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Digital TV Switchover: Phase One plus six days

And 22 days to go until completion on 14th November, when the BBC1, Borders, and Channel 4 analogue signals are turned off in the Whitehaven TV area.

If you live in Copeland and have lost BBC2, you need to get working digital equipment in the next three weeks or you will lost the other TV channels.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What they say in the rest of Europe about the treaty

Gordon Brown's government is trying to persuade us that they don't need to keep their promise of a referendum on the proposed EU consitution because the reform treaty which they now propose to ratify is quite different. It is interesting to see what the other governments who negotiated the treaty say about this.


Jose Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain:

'We have not let a single substantial point of the constitutional treaty go.'


Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark

'All the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters is left.'


Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany:

'The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact.'


Astrid Thors, Europe Minister, Finland:

'There's nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed'


Vaclac Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic:

'Only cosmetic changes have been made and the basic document remains the same'


Bertie Ahern, Prime Minister of Ireland

'90% of it is still there ... these changes haven't made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed in 2004'


The impartial think tank Open Europe has also found that the text of the current reform treaty and the previous consitutional treaty are 96% the same.

Whether or not you think we should have a referendum on this treaty, which I do, the fact that Gordon Brown is pretending that it is significantly different to the previous constitution is further proof that his word cannot be trusted.

(Much of the information in this post came from the Sunday Times)

Digital TV Switchover: Phase One plus five days

And 23 days to go until completion ...


Don't leave it until 14th November, when the BBC1, Borders, and Channel 4 analogue signals are turned off in the Whitehaven TV area, to make sure your TVs are digital ready.

Ring 0845 6 50 50 50 to talk to Digital UK if you need advice.

If you thought British politicians were bad ...

I'm indebted to the Sunday Times for the news that a New Zealand MP was persuaded by a constituent to write to their Ministry of Health asking about the possibility of a ban on the chemical Dihydrogen Monoxide.

I suspect the constituent concerned was having a laugh at his MP's expense or trying to win a bet about how daft a suggestion he could persuade a politician to make.

The reply from a junior health minister was admirably succinct:

"Dihydrogen monoxide is water."

Digital TV Switchover: Phase One plus four days

And 24 days to go until completion ...

I set up my family's main television with a Digital box on Wednesday: have been trying to sort out the family's other TVs over the weekend. Some of them have been easier to set up than others. Generally the newer the television, and the cheaper the set-top box, the easier it has been. I gather that a lot of the problems have been with the most sophisticated set-top boxes which have somehow picked up programme information for Digital services from the Caldbeck transmitter as well as the Bigrigg one. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they can actually receive transmissions from Caldbeck. A few people in Caldbeck on high hills can receive Caldbeck directly, and the St Bees and Parton transmitters re-broadcast the Caldbeck transmission.

Once we have our TVs sorted with the current pattern of service, we will be OK for the next 24 days, but then we will have to re-tune the whole lot after the channels are switched round again when the remaining analogue signals are turned off on 14th November.

Nevertheless, it is a much better idea to get your televisions sorted now rather than wait until the BBC1, Borders, and Channel 4 analogue signals are turned off on 14th November. There was some disruption this week: I suspect that the headaches when we complete the process and go 100% digital will be rather worse.

Ring 0845 6 50 50 50 to talk to Digital UK if you need advice.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Digital TV Switchover: Phase One plus three days

And 25 days to go until completion ...

Most people in the Whitehaven and Copeland TV area seem to have managed to re-tune their Digital boxes and get the new services after the BBC2 analogue signal was switched off on Wednesday. But I am still hearing about problems with one type of set-top box and that a lot of people have had to call an engineer.

Ring 0845 6 50 50 50 to talk to Digital UK if you are having problems.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Labour MP Gisela Stuart attacks Brown over treaty

It isn't often that I can say that one of my main reasons for being unhappy with something is that a Labour MP has criticised it, but there is an exception to every rule.

The concerns which Gisela Stuart, a Birmingham Labour MP, expressed first about the proposed European Union constitution, and now about the "Reform Treaty" which has effectively brings it back under another name, should be taken seriously by anyone who wants to see a Europe that works.

Stuart's concerns carry weight for two reasons. First, she is in no sense a little Englander - in fact she has German ancestry and was an on-message, pro-European Blairite until she broke ranks on this issue. Second, she knows far more than most people about the consitution and how it was written, as she was one of the British representatives on the "Praesidium" which drafted it.

The fact that this experience caused someone with impeccable pro-European credentials to break ranks and criticise the constitution should send the clearest possible signal that you don't have to be a Europe-basher to have concerns about the proposals, both in the original form thrown out by French and Dutch voters a couple of years back and as they stand now.

According to "The Sun" Gisela Stuart has accused the Prime Minister of taking a "patently dishonest" line over the treaty. The article by their political editor George Pascoe Watson is worth quoting in full.


"Gord Lying over EU says MP.

GORDON Brown was accused last night by a senior Labour MP of lying to the nation over the EU treaty. Gisela Stuart attacked the Premier for refusing to give the nation a say over the treaty.

She blasted Mr Brown for his “cop-out” on the referendum – which he promised as part of Labour’s 2005 election manifesto.

Miss Stuart played a key role in drawing up the EU constitution – the forerunner to the new treaty.

But last night she tore into the PM for pretending the treaty is different to the constitution.

She told the London Evening Standard: “Sticking to your guns in defence of a patently dishonest position is not leadership but the soft option and a cop-out from a specific promise made to voters.

“The path adopted by the Government is neither honest nor coherent.

“We have reached the absurd position where the Government says there will be a referendum only if its red lines are not met, so presumably it will ask people to vote ‘no’ on a treaty it has not signed.

“The red lines are red herrings. It’s a matter of trust and integrity. A referendum was promised. It should be delivered. If Labour can’t trust the people, why should the people trust Labour?”

The broadside from Miss Stuart – MP for Birmingham Edgbaston – increases the pressure on Mr Brown to offer a referendum.

Surveys have shown an overwhelming majority of eight out of ten voters want a vote.

An astonishing 100,000 Sun readers have demanded a referendum on the rejigged EU Constitution.

Mr Brown will fly to Portugal on Thursday to rubber-stamp the treaty. The Premier will agree to surrender Britain’s power in 61 key areas.

Our national veto on EU laws will go for good on everything from energy policy to sports policy.

Unelected European judges will get powers to set British employment law.

The EU will get a permanent President and a foreign minister will take Britain’s place in some key international summits instead of our elected Foreign Secretary.

MPs have warned Mr Brown that his “red lines” protecting Britain’s sovereignty in the treaty are worthless.

They will not guarantee our right to make our own laws when the EU wishes to act, the European Scrutiny Committee has said."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Gender stereotyping - sauce for the goose

I ordered a book for myself via the internet a few days ago, and we were slightly surprised to find that it came today addressed to my wife.

I had used a pre-saved address setting which named both of us, and the seller must have assumed as the book was a regency romance novel that it had been ordered for Brigid rather than myself.

In this instance the fact that someone jumped to a false conclusion about reading tastes based on a gender stereotype is amusing rather than annoying. But it does illustrate the point that many of us find it far too easy to jump to false conclusions about people based on irrelevant information such as what sex they are without even realising what we are doing.

Digital TV Switchover: Phase One plus two days

And 26 days to go until completion ...

Plenty of people in the Whitehaven and Copeland TV area managed to re-tune their Digital boxes and get the new services after the BBC2 analogue signal was switched off on Wednesday. However, there seem to be quite a few people who needed help.

Given the amount of kerfuffle with BBC2 switching over, it is very important that we use the remaining 26 days before the remaining Analogue TV signals are turned off to get as many people as possible set up with working set-top boxes before 14th November.

Ring 0845 6 50 50 50 to talk to Digital UK if you are having problems.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Digital TV Switchover: Phase One plus one day

27 days to go until completion ...

I am getting reports that a significant number of people have had to contact local TV engineers with tuning problems after the BBC2 analogue signal was switched off yesterday in the Whitehaven TV area.


Ring 0845 6 50 50 50 to talk to Digital UK if you are having problems


Help the Aged are also running a Digital TV advice servie for elderly people


We have another 27 days until all the remaining terrestial TV main channels switch over from analogue to digital. We need to make use of that time to sort everyone out.

Ring 0845 6 50 50 50 if you need Switchover Help

For many people in the Whitehaven and Copeland TV area the first phase of the Digital switchover appears to have gone reasonably smoothly, but I am aware that it has not all been plain sailing for everyone.

If you need assistance in connection with digital TV switchover, in the first instance you should call Digital UK on 0845 6 50 50 50.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Digital Switchover Phase 1 NOW LIVE ...

BBC2 Analogue signal now dead ...

and 28 days to go until the remaining analogue signals are switched off.


Well, after all the anticipation the big switchover has finally begun: the BBC2 analogue signal has been switched off in the Whitehaven TV area (including most of Copeland) and a whole range of digital offerings have gone live. All the remaining analogue signals for terrestial TV channels will go in four weeks on 14th November

I have just taken a few minutes to see if everything works. As expected, on those of our Televisions which have not yet had a set-top box added, Border TV had moved and BBC2 was not working.

Took me a few minutes to reconfigure the set-top box on our main TV. When I had done so the new digital BBC2 was available, and several new digital channels including BBC News 24 and cBBC have also come online.

I then took a new digital television out of the box and plugged it in: the new set promptly found a range of digital services including all the BBC channels.

Have not yet tested our new digital recorder.

It has been a bit of a time-consuming business, and far from cheap for many people. The support scheme aimed at a pensioner with one TV assumes a cost of around £40. This is paid for for pensioners aged over 75 on pensions credit and disabled or parlially sighted people on disability benefit.

£40 would be enough to cover switchover costs for a home with one TV and no recording facilities if the aerial does not need replacing. But it will not be enough for most people.

A family with four televisions who want to be able to record one channel while watching another would need to spend at the very least £200 on four of the cheapest set-top-boxes and a bottom of the range digital recorder.

A family of arch telly addicts who can afford it could easily spend more than a thousand pounds on new digital TV kit. If you are not a complete TV fanatic but want to spend a bit more than just bottom of the range kit, you could easily spend perhaps £500 to £600.

Let me justify that last statement. Suppose you have three TVs. Let's assume you phase out the oldest one and replace it with a small HDD and digital ready TV set, get one middle of the range set top box for your main family TV, and a bottom of the range box for your third TV, and finally buy a mid range digital recorder. That will cost you between £500 and £600.

There will also be an added annual cost for viewers in a number of properties with s shared aerials: when I raised this at the last meeting of Copeland council I was told that this had not been finalised.

While I was writing this blog entry I was watching BBC News 24 on the new TV, and a news report Whitehaven featuring Ford Ennals (the CEO of Digital UK) on Whitehaven harbour went dead half way through the interview. Let's just hope this proves to be an isolated problem ...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Digital TV Switchover: Phase 1 tomorrow

And 29 days until the switchover completes.

The beginning of the end for analogue terrestial TV broadcasting in Britain will commence in a few hour's time in the Whitehaven TV area. In the early hours of 17th October the BBC2 analogue signal will be switched off. The Border TV signal will move to the current BBC2 frequency. A new Digital signal for BBC2 will begin.

Four weeks later, on November 14th, the remaining analogue TV signals will be switched off and replaced by Digital broadcasts.

The Whitehaven TV area covers most of Copeland, except for those who get their signal from the Bleach Green transmitter at Parton, the St Bees transmitter, from Caldbeck, or those south of Muncaster who get their signal from various other transmitters. Those viewers will not go digital until 2008.

After each analogue service is switched off, viewers will only be able to receive that channel using either a digital-ready TV or a set-top-box.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Giant Rubber Duck stuck under bridge

If this story from the News and Star today had come out on 1st April I would have been certain it had to be a joke ...


"A GIANT rubber duck became stuck under a bridge at the Greymoorhill interchange near Carlisle at lunchtime today.

The duck was being carried on a transporter truck.

Police were called to the incident on the southbound carriageway at 12.40pm and traffic was running smoothly again by 1.30pm."

You couldn't make it up, could you?

Digital TV Switchover - TWO DAYS TO GO

And 30 days to completion ...

The BBC2 analogue signal will be turned off in the Whitehaven TV area in two days' time on 17th October.

The remaining analogue signals will be turned off on 14th November.

If you watch a terrestial TV signal broadcast from the Bigrigg transmitter south of Whitehaven, including the Gosforth and Wasdale transmitters which re-broadcast its signal, you will be affected by this and need to ensure that you have a digital ready TV or a digital set-top box.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Digital TV Switchover phase 1 - three days to go

And 31 Days until Digital Switchover is completed.

Just three days until the analogue BBC2 signal from the Bigrigg transmitter south of Whitehaven, and on those transmitters which re-broadcast it's signal, is turned off. Borders will transfer to that channel and a BBC2 digital broadcast will commence.

And one month from today the analogue BBC1, Borders, and Channel 4 signals will also be switched off.

Sunday Spot - "The building's on fire!"

During an inter-faith gathering, someone rushed in and shouted "The building's on fire!"

The Methodists gathered in a corner to pray.

The Baptists cried "Where is the water?"

The Quakers quietly praised God for the blessings which fire brings.

The Lutherans posted a notice on the door declaring that fire was evil.

The Roman Catholics passed roud a collection plate to cover the cost of the damage.

The Jews painted symbols on the doors, hoping the fire would passover.

The Congregatinalists shouted "Every man for himself!"

The Christian Scientists agreed amongst themselves that there was no fire.

The Anglicans formed a procession and walked out.

The Muslims agreed to accept the fire as the will of Allah.

The Presbyterians appointed a chairperson who was to appoint a committee to look into the matter and make a written report

The URC members were such a mixed lot that they couldn't agree on what to do.

And the church secretaries got together, put the fire out, and went back to work.


(Originally published some years ago in "Urbanews", a magazine of the United Reform Church (URC) Urban Churches Support group for Thames North and Southern Provinces. Slightly modified. And it wasn't drawn to my attention by a church or PCC Secretary!)

Should Britain have fixed-term parliaments?

Many mature democracies, whether their system is parliamentary or presidential in character, do not play the game of fiddling around with election dates to suit the convenience of the incumbent government.

Britain is not alone in having this system, partly because many other countries have copied our system, partly because some countries which regularly experience difficulty in building a coalition government have faced the genuine need for an election to clear a parliamentary logjam.

I don't believe there is any one perfect system which is right for all countries in all circumstances. But I note that the USA, France, Germany, the European parliament, the devolved parliaments and assemblies in this country, and all our local councils manage perfectly well with normally fixed terms for most of their elections. This need not be inconsistent with arrangements to change the date of elections which would normally be fixed in genuinely special circumstances, such as war, disease epidemic, or if no viable government can be formed in a particular parliament.

For example, during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001, parliament passed a special bill to move the fixed term County Council elections which would normally have taken place in May that year back a month (co-inciding with the General Election). Germany normally has fixed parliamentary terms, but there is a special procedure, which is not often used, in which a special election can be called following a "constructive vote of no confidence".

I was interested to see the website "Fixed Term" to campaign for fixed term parliaments, which you can read about here.

(http://www.fixedterm.org.uk/about.html)

I have a genuinely open mind on this, but my immediate reaction is that they make a strong case. I would be interested to read the comments any readers here might like to make on the subject.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Digital TV Switchover - FOUR DAYS TO GO

With just four days until the BBC2 analogue signal is terminated on Wednesday, Digital UK has stated that they think there could be more than 5,000 households in the affected areas of Copeland who have yet to take any action. If this is true we are heading for a chaotic time in a few days.

I am not a technical expert: those who are tell me that the technical communication surrounding Digital Switchover has not always been brilliant. But my understanding is that on Wednesday 17th October -

1) The Border TV analogue signal will shift to the channel currently used by BBC2.

2) The BBC2 analogue signal will cease to be broadcast

3) A BBC2 Digital signal will start up. Those of us who have tuned their set-top boxes to pick up Channel Five will need to re-tune them to get BBC2.


People who know far more than I do about the technical aspects of TV transmission tell me that it would probably have been a better idea to start Digital Switchover in an area where viewers could already recieve digital terrestial services rather than here where we have to go from 100% analogue to 100% digital in a few weeks. If they were going to start here they should have run both in parallel for a few months, just as BT does with area code changes.

Quite apart from the ongoing issues about shared aerials and whether the qualifications for the Help scheme are broadly drawn enough, I have a number of concerns about how switchover is going. These include:

* In Whitehaven proper we can get Channel Five, which is one of the major benefits for us of the entire exercise, but I am told that many people in central Copeland around Gosforth, Eskdale, and Holmrook will still not get this service at switchover. I'm checking this, but if my information is correct this is grossly unfair - they've been paying for this service for years and are going through the same switchover trauma that is hitting us in Whitehaven. It also means they are denied the opportunity given to the rest of us to check their set top boxes now rather than wait until Wednesday by seeing if they can get Channel Five.

* Most viewers will have to tune or re-tune their set-top boxes two or three times during the switchover process. Many of us have already set them up to receive Channel Five, either because we want that service or to check they're working (which I still think is a good idea.) They will need retuning after the first part of the switchover on Wednesday and again after the final stage on 14th November when the remaining analogue signals are turned off and we go fully digital.

Some people in the local TV trade are worried that some customers will have a problem re-tuning their boxes, and that the number of repeat call-outs later this week and in the week of 14th November may make it very difficult to give a quick service to people who are having trouble getting their televisions to work.

I think this concern may be well founded, which is why I would advise anyone affected by switchover in North Copeland from one of the 5,000 households who have not done anything about switchover to buy a set-top box this weekend, see if you can get Channel five, and as for help on Monday or Tuesday if you can't rather than wait to Wednesday when all the possible sources of help may be somewhat busy.

There are also a lot of salespeople in town pushing various TV deals - for example there are people outside Morrisons and other places in Whitehaven pushing a Sky package. A lot of the bargains on offer appear to be genuinely good offers, but let the buyer beware - don't splash out lots of your hard earned cash on the first good option you see without checking out what else is available.

For instance, there is a new satellite coming on stream next year. Sky may be the right solution for you, but don't rush to sign up to them until you've checked whether another option might be better from next year.

Should Britain have an imitation Tory government, or the real thing?

This morning the Press Association reports another instance of Labour stealing tory policies ..

Tax boost hint for married couples

Married couples could be in line for a tax boost under Labour, a Cabinet minister has signalled.

Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the tax system should recognise marriage and commitment. In what will be seen as another raid by Gordon Brown on Tory policies, Mr Burnham said: "I think marriage is best for kids."

Speaking in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he added: "It's not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage."

You can read the Press Association item in full at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_2552144.html


Another day, another policy which was described by Labour as the end of civilisation as we know it when the Conservatives proposed it but which they now suggest they might copy. A few weeks ago Gordon Brown even quoted the bible in an apparent attempt to suggest that recognising marriage in the tax system is unchristian


I think it's a good thing for the country when Labour steals our best policies as long as they implement them properly. Unfortunately they often don't. If the country is going to have tory policies, you might as well get them from a tory government which understands the principles behing them and knows how to get the best benefits from them.

I am grateful to Iain Dale to drawing my attention to an article by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian slating Gordon Brown for abandoning left wing principles, which you can read at

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/columnist/story/0,,2189463,00.html


Amazing how quickly the left has fallen out of love with Gordon, but they're not saying anything about the new Prime Minister which those of us on the centre-right (or for that matter, most of the Blair circle) have not suspected for a long time.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Should we welcome the theft of our ideas ?

A few years ago after Tony Blair had copied a set of Tory ideas to the dismay of his own backbenchers, I commented that there were times that he made the Conservative position seem like a "Reverse Lamont - in power but not in office."

A letter in yesterday's Times following the copycat announcements on IHT and Non-Doms asked "Is it any wonder that the Tories were keen to keep their policies under wraps?"

There is an interesting post on Platform 10 (the Cameroon website) to the effect that the Conservatives and David Cameron mustn’t be afraid of Labour stealing ideas.

"In fact, he should encourage it. All the policy reviews are full of many good ideas. By putting them out there, and encouraging Brown to adopt them, one of two things will happen.

* If they are good, they will be stolen and Cameron can claim the moral high-ground. Labour will get a reputation for shamelessly stealing policy and they will soon look very weak.

* If Labour ignore them – and the policies are bold and startling – then Cameron will be better defined. It is a battle of ideas which must be joined every day."

I think there is a strong argument for this, provided we keep some shots in our locker, in reserve to bring out when the election is actually called.

Digital TV Switchover - Five days to go

If you are a terrestial TV viewer in one of the areas of Whitehaven or the rest of Copeland affected by the Digital TV switchover, and have not yet acquired a set-top box or digital television, it would be a really good idea to do so this weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mainstream Muslims call for better relations with Christians

Reuters is reporting this evening that an unprecedented letter has been sent to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders from 138 Muslim scholars. They said that finding common ground between the world's biggest faiths was not simply a matter for polite dialogue between religious leaders.

"If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants," the scholars wrote.

"Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake," they wrote, adding that Islam and Christianity already agreed that love of God and neighbor were the two most important commandments of their faiths.

Relations between Muslims and Christians have been strained as al Qaeda has struck around the world and as the United States and other Western countries intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This joint letter is unprecedented in Islam, which has no central authority that speaks on behalf of all worshippers.

The list of signatories includes senior figures throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. They represent Sunni, Shi'ite and Sufi schools of Islam.

Among them were the grand muftis of Egypt, Palestine, Oman, Jordan, Syria, Bosnia and Russia and many imams and scholars. War-torn Iraq was represented by both Shi'ites and Sunnis.
Mustafa Cagrici, the mufti who prayed with Benedict in Istanbul's Blue Mosque last year, was also on the list, as was the popular Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled.

The letter was addressed to the Pope, leaders of Orthodox Christian churches, Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the heads of the world alliances of the Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Reformed churches.

Archbishop Williams said he welcomed the letter as "indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world. The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries," he said.

All too often mainstream voices calling for better relations between different religions and races are drowned out by the smaller by noisy voices of the preachers of hate. I hope this message gets the attention it deserves and the scholars who write it, not the Jihadists, are recognised as the real voice of Islam - a word which means "Peace."

Never glad confident morning again

Brown made a bad mistake, not necessarily because he didn't call an election, but because he allowed it to look like he was about to do so abd then bottled.

He made a worse one by not being frank about it, or about the fact that he was stealing Tory clothes on inheritance tax and on tax for Non-Domiciles.

He made a worse mistake still by losing his temper with David Cameron at Prime Ministers Question Time yesterday.

I was expecting the papers and comment on the internet to be bad for Gordon Brown today, but they have been even less favourable to him than I expected. Bloggers who post on sites like "Political Betting.com" and who are usually staunch Labour supporters have been crucifying Brown today.

It did remind me of the comment on MacMillan when he sacked a third of his cabinet but emerged a weaker rather than a stronger figure: "Never Glad Confident Morning Again."

It doesn't mean that either the Brown premiership or the New Labour government are finished, unfortunately. But they will have to do better than this, or they will lose, and lose big time, when an election is finally called.

Digital Switchover: six days to go

Less than a week now until the digital switchover in most of Whitehaven and Copeland begins with BBC2 on Wednesday 17th October.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A595 blocked following fatal accident

The A595, which is effectively the only route through parts of central Copeland, has been blocked for several hours this evening following a fatal accident between Calderbridge and Seascale. It is not expected to reopen until the early hours of the morning.

This is not an uncommon event. I remember on the day that my family moved from Gosforth to Whitehaven we were stuck in a removal van with two small children for several hours because the A595 was closed following a horrible accident when a couple of horses bolted onto the road.

The A595 is a vital link both as the principal access to Sellafield and for the people who live in a number of communities in this area. Out of respect for the unfortunate person who died this evening I will refrain from making any partisan points about the road today, beyond saying that both road safety on this route and the security of the road are extremely important.

Digital Switchover - one week to go!

One week from today the Analogue BBC2 signal will be switched off for most television viewers in Copeland and replaced with a digital signal. If you do not have a set-top box or a digital TV, you will not be able to watch BBC2. On November 14th the other channels will follow.

And after 14th November, if you want to be able to watch one channel and record another you will need a Video or DVD/HDD recorder with the relevant Digital kit inside.

Most residents of South Copeland get their signal from other transmitters and will not be affected until next year: there are also viewers who get their signal from the Bleach Green transmitter at Parton (including some residents of my ward in Bransty) and others who get their signal from the St Bees transmitter. Their signal will also not be affected until next year.

If you are in any doubt about whether you are affected, turn on BBC2. Viewers in the affected area will regularly see a text message appear at the top of the screen. One version begins by warning viewers

"On 17th October you will lose this channel" unless you have a digital Television or a set top box.

Another message begins "Tune your digital box on on October 17th to receive BBC2."

Both advise "Phone Digital UK for advice on 0845 234 0388 if you need help."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

An election budget for an election which never was

If I thought they would implement them properly I would have been pleased to see Alistair Darling stealing tory ideas in his pre-budget statement today: an election budget for an election which Brown bottled out of calling.

Trouble is, as has been pointed out on Conservative Home, when this government steals tory ideas they don't always implement them properly, and can often discredit perfectly good ideas.

Digital Switchover - Eight days to go

Only a little over a week until the change from Analogue to Digital begins for most of Copeland with BBC2 on 17th December.

If you are not sure whether you are affected by the digital switchover, turn on BBC2. Viewers who get their signal from the Bigrigg transmitter, or those which rebroadcast it's signal, should see a message warning that you will lose this signal on 17th October unless you have a set-top box or a digital-compliant Television.

If you are affected and have not yet started to think about getting hold of a set-top box, it would be a really good idea to do so soon.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Digital TV switchover - Nine days to go

Less than ten days left until the analogue BBC2 signal is turned off for viewers in the Whitehaven TV area getting their signal from Bigrigg. A digital signal willbe provided instead which will require a digital TV or a set-top box.

Channel Five is now available on a digital signal from the Bigrigg transmitter - much to my children's delight when I took my own advice, tested out a set top box, and found that Channel Five did indeed come on. At the moment you have to swithc the set top box off again for the other channels, but not for much longer.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Brown Bottle

After months of "Brown Bounce" we now have the Cameron bounce, and the Brown Bottle as the prime minister has decided not to call an election.

The main reason that Brown comes out badly from his decision to back down from calling an election is not the fact that he chose not to go to the country.

If he had called a November poll, Labour might quite possibly have lost, and I am 100% certain that we would have made a real contest of it. The national Tory machine was geared up and ready to go, publicity material would have been ready to print at the touch of a button five minutes after Brown went to the palace , candidates are in place and working in almost all the marginals and our manifesto was ready too.

The policies on which we would have fought an election campaign plans were a balance of traditional Tory themes and an appeal to the centre. For example, taking ordinary families out of the net of death duties with the slogan "Only millionaires should pay inheritance tax" and funding this by imposing a £25,000 charge on those who have chosen pay tax abroad, which for many of them will be petty cash. The rich can afford the charge: those who can't afford it can opt to pay tax in the UK instead of abroad: the net effect of the package is to remove a greatly resented imposition on ordinary families and fund it my closing a loophole which mostly benefitted very rich foreigners

The fact that Brown chose not to trigger the contest now, when he has a good working majority and no need to call an election before 2010, is not of itself an issue.


However, what has damaged his authority is that he allowed his close lieutenants such as Ed Balls to hype up the prospect of an election, took a whole range of actions such as bringing forward the public spending review and announcing a troop reduction in Iraq in the middle of the Conservative conference which looked like preparation for an election, and then backed down after three days of bad opinion polls.

It's not the fact that he didn't call an election that looks cowardly and incompetent, it's the fact that he didn't squash the speculation that he was about to go to the country until it was obvious that he would have a real contest on his hands if he did. That's why I think the "Bottler Brown" charge has some substance and will stick.

The other damage which this affair does to Labour is that they can no longer plausibly argue that David Cameron is so lightweight that the "Great Clunking Fist" Brown has no need whatever to fear him.

Brown has just proved conclusively by his actions, which speak much louder than his words, that he takes the challenge from David Cameron sufficiently seriously to wish to pick the time for the contest carefully. If Brown had as low an opinion of David Cameron as he pretends, Tuesday would have been the first day of an election campaign.

I was not quite old enough to vote when Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan played a similar game in Autumn 1978 and left the country "waiting at the church." We may never know whether Brown's handling of the decision not to call an election this week was as bad a mistake. But we can be certain that it has damaged his position

Digital Switchover - Ten days to go

Ten days until the BBC2 Analogue signal is switched off in most of Copeland and replaced by a digital signal.

Channel 5 has now become available via a Digital signal

Anyone terrestial TV viewer who lives in the area served by the Bigrigg transmitter, or those that rebroadcast it's signal such as Eskdale, and who has not already done so, would be well advised to get a set-top box this week and check that you can get Channel 5.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Digital TV Switchover - 11 days to go

It is now just eleven days until the analogue BBC2 signal is switched off for terrestial TV viewers in the Whitehaven TV area who get their signal from the Bigrigg transmitter just south of Whitehaven. From this point they will need a Digital television or a set-top box to watch that channel.

The other channels will change over from Analogue to Digital on 14th November.

Channel five, which previously was extremely difficult to get in Copeland, is now being broadcast using a digital signal from Bigrigg, so you can check whether your set-top-box or other digital kit is working by looking for Channel 5.

Most residents will not need to change their TV aerial to receive the new digital signal, though there will be a significant minority who do. If you think you may be one of them, get at least two quotes before having a new aerial installed. Most local suppliers do a good job at a reasonable price, but some people offering this service have been charging quite a bit more than others.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Digital TV Switchover: 12 days to go

Twelve days left until the Analogue BBC2 signal is switched off for TV viewers in the Whitehaven TV area who get their signal from the Bigrigg transmitter.

Don't leave it too late to do something about this !

Thursday, October 04, 2007

HAVE YOUR SAY ABOUT HEALTH PROPOSALS

There is an open day next Monday (8th October) in Whitehaven Civic Hall, between 2pm and 8pm, where people can learn more about future health service plans.

This is an opportunity to find out about the "Closer To Home" document which is finally out for public consultation.The Whitehaven event is the first open day of a series being held around the county. Other events being held in Copeland are:

* October 31, Egremont Town Council, 3pm-6pm;
* November 7, Millom Network Centre, 4pm-7pm;
* November 16, Gosforth Village Hall, 4pm-7pm.

It is expected that there will be a range of doctors and senior staff from the Primary Care Trust (PCT) available to answer questions and concerns.

The consultation runs until 4th January 2008, and other ways to get involved include

* visit the consultation website online at www.closertohome.cumbriapct.nhs.uk
* telephone the hotline number 0844 7280107.

A response form is included with the document. The last date to return it is 4th January 2008, and it should be sent to the following address:

Closer To Home, Cumbria Primary Care Trust, Penrith Community Hospital, Bridge Lane, Penrith CA11 8HX.

More information about the consultation is also available on the Whitehaven News website at

http://www.whitehaven-news.co.uk/news/viewarticle.aspx?id=549565

A journalist's view of the Cameron speech

It is hardly going to come as a great surprise that I thought David Cameron's speech was excellent. Nor that the feedback from my Conservative colleagues, was also very good. So I have been looking at the press and on the net to see what people whose support for DC cannot be taken for granted have been saying. I thought the following piece in The Times by Camilla Cavendish was very good and very interesting.

CAMERON BOUNCE 2: REFRESHINGLY SPIN-FREE

It has been a strange two weeks in the bubble of Blackpool and Bournemouth. You may think there that should have been a plural but it feels like the same bubble, not two different bubbles. The journalists, the quangocrats, the fringe speakers, are largely the same throughout. Only the politicians are different, and, of course, we the media will kindly filter their utterances for you.

It is impossible to know what voters have made, if anything, of these conferences. But there has been a profound mood shift in the media. And although anything I say now must be taken with a health warning, trapped as I am in the airless bubble, I wonder whether this mood change may soon start to be reflected in the electorate.

Proximity to power dulls the wits. That is the only explanation I can offer for why Gordon Brown’s speech generated so many positive headlines on Monday of last week; although 36 hours later almost every journalist I spoke to had privately come to see it as barren and dishonest. Concerted spin in a crowded space – cramming the media together in these conference centres always ups the chances of similar headlines – combined with the infectious self-confidence of an able and united Cabinet somehow made it easier to swallow some of Mr Brown’s lines.

By the end of last week, almost no one was saying any longer that Mr Brown was a conviction politician. Labour seemed intellectually exhausted. And an unattractive streak of ruthlessness was showing through.

Which is why Sir John Major’s remarks two days ago scored a palpable hit. What a turnaround. One minute Mr Brown is taking tea with Baroness Thatcher and briefing the press that he is wrapping himself in “Tory clothes” – the ones we thought no one wanted to wear any more. The next minute he is handbagged by Sir John for telling the press that he is pulling 1,000 men out of Iraq with no explanation as to whether he is risking the lives of those who remain, and no regard for the House of Commons whose primacy he recently promised to respect. The BBC gave Sir John a full ten minutes in which to vent his restrained fury.

There is more to come in this vein. A furious debate broke out at an emergency meeting at the City of London Corporation on Tuesday, after its leaders were told by Government to agree to commit £400 million to fund the Crossrail scheme immediately – apparently in order to provide another positive preelection announcement. They agreed – listen for the sound of gongs dropping soon – but these ploys are starting to backfire. The Prime Minister’s penchant for calling certain journalists in the early hours of the morning and taking them to task does not look terribly prime ministerial. It is irritating some in the press corps who thought that he was bigger than this.

By the time David Cameron got up to give his conference speech yesterday, it had become an awful lot easier to present him as a man of integrity in a world of spin. That was not the main theme of his speech, but it was a clear subtext. The Old Politics is failing, he said. And he explained why: top-down statism has not wrought the improvements that everyone seeks. This was an argument for limited government, not merely another shopping list.

The greatest irony of Mr Brown’s electioneering is that it has galvanised the Conservative Party into a rare semblance of unity. It has also finally pushed them out of Phase 1 – the thinking and “rebranding” phase, where they had become becalmed in a welter of policy reviews – into Phase 2 of finalising hard policy. Even four weeks ago, party stalwarts were still having to urge Mr Cameron to accept that he had succeeded in getting people to listen and could move on. Mr Brown’s move has expeditiously forced him on to harder turf.

There is another danger for Mr Brown too. If he keeps up his new brand of manipulative populism laced with spin, he will start to look more and more like Tony Blair. Yet one of the main reasons for his popularity is not being Tony Blair. The Brown bounce is, at least partly, the “not-Blair” bounce.

It is fashionable to say that the Conservatives will be better placed to win an election next spring, when they have had more time to shape their policies and when a slowing economy may have taken the shine off the new Prime Minister. I am no longer sure that this is correct. An election would silence most of the rebel Tory voices. It would also help the Conservatives to paper over some remaining intellectual tensions: between the desire to give doctors and teachers more autonomy, for example, and the desire to direct them in certain ways.

This short period has exposed, yet again, what a ruthless PR machine this Government operates. Labour has been skilled at suppressing internal dissent since it crushed the Militant Tendency in the 1980s. The Conservatives, in contrast, can’t even stop Theresa May sounding scared on Any Questions. If a Conservative leader had made the extravagant spending pledges that Mr Brown made last week, Labour would have costed those pledges and had a press release out within an hour, demanding to know how they would be paid for. The Conservatives didn’t even run the numbers.

Yet opportunism is looking more and more absurd. In its attempts to rubbish George Osborne’s plans to tax nondomiciles, the Treasury has been rushing out figures that it has strangely never been able to find before. Its latest rebuttal, yesterday, came with this small print: “All figures are best estimates . . . need to be treated with a great deal of caution . . . due to the lack of available data.”

An election is still Mr Brown’s to lose. But he is looking more vulnerable than he could have imagined two weeks ago.

Digital Switchover: 13 days to go

There are now 13 days until the BBC2 analogue signal is turned off for viewers whose television signal comes from the Bigrigg transmitter in Whitehaven, or from one of the transmitters which re-broadcast the Bigrigg signal.

Viewers affected by the change are likely to have seen messages come up on your TV. If you think you may be affected but are not sure, take advice from a competent local source such as the Digital UK shop in Whitehaven town centre, or from a reputable local TV supplier like Cumbria Audio Visual or Brooks.

It is not a good idea to wait until 17th October

"Call that election. We will fight: Britain will win"

Those were the words with which David Cameron closed the Conservative conference yesterday, after speaking without an autocue for over an hour.

I thought it was a brilliant speech, in which he outlined where he thinks the Labour government has gone wrong and what a Conservative government would do to improve things.

The list of major policy proposals which he outlined included:

- Scrapping top-down targets in the NHS
- Allowing voluntary organisations, private companies and churches to set up state schools
- Cutting stamp duty
- A referendum on the EU Treaty
- Ending the "revolving door" of the benefits system
- A lifeboat fund to help the victims of Gordon Brown's pension crisis
- Ending discrimination against all couples (married or single) in the benefits system
- Recognising the importance of marriage in the tax system
- Scrapping the ID Card scheme
- Ending the appeals panel that prevents head-teachers from excluding disruptive pupils
- Making police responsible to locally elected mayors rather than the Home Office

Above all, he answered the question of what would a Cameron-led Conservative government stand for. A Conservative Government would give people more opportunity and power over their lives; make families stronger and society more responsible; and make Britain safer and greener.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Digital Switchover: two weeks to go

Two weeks from today the Digital TV switchover in the Whitehaven Television area (which includes most but by no means all of Copeland) will begin.

On 17th October the BBC2 analogue signal from the Bigrigg transmitter, and the sub transmitters derived from it, will be switched off and replaced by a digital signal. On 14th November the other channels will follow.

The transmitters at Parton and St Bees are rebroadcasting the signal from the Caldbeck transmitter which does not go digital until next year. Viewers who take their signal from any of these (including some residents of Whitehaven, some of them in my ward, Bransty) will continue to receive analogue signals until Caldbeck switches over. Viewers in Millom and a substantial chunk of the south of Copeland will also switch over next year.

Once the signal switches, viewers will need a set-top box or a new digital-compatible TV to see terrestial channels.

I will be posting regular digital updates on this site until shortly after 14th November.