Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whom the Gods would destroy ...

The headline on the front page of today's Sunday Times screams

"Gordon Brown: I will go on and on."

The story behind the quote, which you can read here, is that the Prime Minister has told colleagues he will refuse to quit as Leader of the Labour party after the general election unless that election results in a Conservative majority of more than 20 seats.

So Brown is effectively telling any voter who wants to see a change in the leadership of the Labour party that the only way to make certain of this is for the Conservatives to win a healthy majority.

This may be even less helpful to Labour than Margaret Thatcher's "I hope to go on and on" remark was to her - at least Mrs T had won three elections when she said it.

It is often said that "All political careers end in failure" and knowing when to step down is one of the most difficult decisions for any political leader. In my lifetime the only Prime Minister who went at a time of his own choosing was Sir Harold Wilson and the only Conservative leader in the past forty years who managed his departure successfully was Michael Howard.

As the saying goes, those who learn nothing from history are doomed to repeat it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lib/Dem caught planting false scare story

There are decent people in all political parties and, unfortunately, some who are less so.

I would like to see a clean campaign at the General Election - by which I don't mean that nobody should criticise their opponents but I do mean don't tell lies about them, or indulge in gratuitous personal comments about their private lives. Judging by events to date that is likely to be a vain hope.

However, just occasionally the worst offenders get caught. Frightening vulnerable groups such as pensioners and patients with scare stories of possible cuts is a low and wicked tactic if the person spreading the tales knows them to be false. I was not exactly pleased to read this story on Guido's blog of someone who was caught red-handed planting such a story. But I was certainly pleased that he didn't get away with this dirty trick.

Liberal Democrat activist Dan Falchikov was foolish enough to boast into his mobile phone while on the train about how he stirred up a rumour that had been picked up by the press about "secret Labour plans" for the closure of Kingston Hospital. Mr Falchikov did not realise he was sitting opposite the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire.

This sort of tactic is wrong had he been Liberal, Tory, or Labour. Let's hope his getting found out makes others who might have tried such things think again.

From the doorstep ...

Spent this morning on the doorstep talking to voters in the village of Cleator.

A lot of people were out, but of those we managed to catch it was interesting that the same themes were emerging from conversations with people with very diverse backgrounds and general views.

The message was that government at all levels needs to concentrate more about the basics which affect people's everyday lives - roads, trains and transport, refuse collection, local health services, local planning decisions, flooding. We were given examples of how Central Government and the County and Borough councils should be employing common sense rather than a "tick-in-the-box" mentality to sort out these services, and told that funding should go on front-line services rather than overheads, bureaucracy, and politicians' salaries and expenses.

I'm grateful to all those who spent time talking with us and those who returned survey forms. They gave us the benefit of a lot of good sense.

Local and national leaders ignore messages like this one at their peril.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jacqui Smith on her chances of re-election

According to the "Politics Home" site, Jacqui Smith has told the ‘Straight Talk with Andrew Neil’ programme, that she is more likely than not to lose her seat at the coming election.

The progamme is due to be broadcast this weekend. You can read the Politics Home report "here".

Action to stop human trafficking

I have been contacted by the All Party Parliamentary Group against human trafficking. They make a number of very strong arguments about the need to do more to protect the victims of this vile practice.

Two hundred and three years ago the House of Commons first voted to eliminate the slave trade. Three years ago Copeland council was one of those who marked that historic anniversary. The Royal Navy of this country hunted down and stopped the slavers. But a modern form of slavery has returned, and needs to be stamped out.

The All Party Group's proposals, which I believe have a lot of merit, are


1. Establishing a UK National Anti-Slavery Day.

2. National Watchdog to coordinate all info and statistics from statutory and voluntary sectors and report to parliament once a year.

3. Proactive and dedicated Police Force on Human Trafficking - Pentameter initiatives should be automatic every year in every police force.

4. National Referrals Mechanism (NRM) to be administered by both government and non-government agencies.

5. National Network of Shelters for women and children victims of trafficking whatever their age. At the moment children go into local authority homes. These are not secure. The children may be located by traffickers, persuaded to leave the home and then re-trafficked.

6. Change in visa arrangements so that domestics brought into the UK to work for foreign embassy officials are free to seek other domestic work and not forced to return home.

7. An enhanced Guardian Ad Litem system for trafficked children. Someone specifically deputed to help them through the legal labyrinth and support them in form filling and other administrative tasks. There is already an extensively developed system for UK children but there is nothing for trafficked children.

8. Work Permits and Identity cards for victims of trafficking whilst they are resident in the UK. Giving victims the ability to work in the UK would encourage them to give evidence against traffickers without fear of being returned to the source country where they would be vulnerable to being re-trafficked.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jamie Reed in his own words ...

This blog will be five years old in just under a month, making it one of the longest running political blogs, and far and away the longest running in Copeland. As I believe in genuine debate, I am pleased to see competition in ideas, and so I welcome the newest political blog in Copeland, which was set up three days ago by local MP Jamie Reed.

The "About" section of Jamie's blog currently (28th January) reads as follows:

"As soon as I can be bothered and time allows, I’ll put my details here. Anyway, I’m an MP…"

Jamie's second post, "The Weirdness" is about the groundrules for his blog, and here are some extracts:

"As political websites are often havens for the criminally insane, we need to lay down a few ground rules."

"Opinions and comment are both welcome of course, but there’s a weirdness/litigation/mental health threshold which I won’t allow comments to cross.

With this in mind, I’m off to enlist the help of a team of clinical psychologists to help me develop an editorial policy.

My house, my rules."




Now I would be the first to agree that it is up to the person running a blog what comments he or she accepts, and if someone wants to allow only comments from their own party, or which they agree with, that is their prerogative. Personally I find those blogs which allow people who disagree with them to post things to be more interesting to read.

Certainly all the top blogs - such as Political Betting, Iain Dale, Conservative Home, and yes, Jamie's friend and colleague Tom Harris MP - would be infinitely less readable without the wide range of people who comment on them.

Which is why I've allowed several councillors and activists from other parties (including Labour), and local residents who don't much like any party, to post things on this blog which are highly critical of myself, my team, or my views as long as they word their comments in a way which does not create a risk of legal action and is not grossly offensive.

There are now three blogs run by parliamentary candidates in Copeland, but it remains to be seen whether either of the others will permit the expression of a similar range of views and the omens are not good. One person who was recently selected as his party's PPC to stand against myself and Jamie has been blogging for 18 months or so, but I have rarely if ever seen anything critical in the comments on his blog.

And it would appear that when Jamie says "My house, my rules" he means that his opponents don't need to waste their time posting even friendly comments.

The day after Jamie set up his blog I posted a comment (under my real name, of course) along the lines of

"A friendly bipartisan welcome to the newest political blog in Copeland from the oldest one."

Life is far too short for me to get particularly worked up about the fact that Jamie or one of his staff blocked it. But if he's scared of comments like that, he's not going to get much real debate on his blog.

DC: Recovery depends on tackling the debt

David Cameron has spoken of the pressing need to tackle the enormous debt which Britain is accumulating.

The UK was one of the first economies to go into recession, and is now the last big economy to come out - new figures are expected to show the first signs of economic growth after eighteen months of recession.

"Obviously this will be very good news, but let’s be absolutely clear what this means", Cameron said at his monthly press conference.

"Coming out of recession doesn’t mean that our debt crisis is over - far from it. Labour’s debt crisis is the biggest threat to our recovery. So we’ll only get this recovery right if we start right now on a proper debt reduction plan."

In highlighting the need to "get a grip of our debt crisis", Cameron used the analogy of a credit card: "the more we spend and the longer we wait to pay off our bills, the worse it can get".

He said that the Government’s promise to halve the deficit in four years has failed to convince all those who we need to have confidence in Britain’s economic future.

"A key part of any plan is at least some early action to show that you are serious in your intent. That means some reduction in public spending plans in this coming financial year."

"It is time they realised that it’s time to do the right thing",
Cameron added.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anyone thinking of voting Labour should read this

Anyone who is still considering casting their vote for Labour should read this article in the Daily Mail by former lifelong Labour voter (and former editor of the Daily Mirror) Mike Molloy.

It's called "It would break my dad's heart but I'm voting Tory" and in the article Mike Molloy explains how he came to be completely disillusioned with the present Labour government.

This is not someone who was a fair-weather friend to the Labour party and has lightly changed his vote for the coming election. He writes


"I was brought up to believe the Labour Party was the best hope for ordinary people to make a better life.

The men I was taught to revere - Clem Attlee, Stafford Cripps, Ernie Bevin and Herbert Morrison - were people of the finest moral values who put their crusade for a fairer society before personal advancement."


But the article explains why he has come to the view that today's Labour government does not stand up for these values:

"Today, the hierarchy of New Labour has no such scruples; they shift and slide like desert sands depending on how the wind blows.

So I can only hope that my ancestors would understand when I vote Conservative at the next election. It was the hardest decision I have ever made.

Even though my disillusion began halfway through New Labour's second term, until recently I still could not think of myself as a Tory voter.

There was no instant conversion, just a gradual slide into complete despair at what has become of the Labour Party I love.

When New Labour came to power, I was confident they would change Britain for the better. Well, we all know how wrong I was."


The article concludes:

"The truth is that Old Labour principles of fairness and equality and support for the working classes seem to have evaporated under this Government.
Also, personal integrity among its senior politicians no longer seems to exist.

On the one hand, we have a former Labour leader in Tony Blair who disgracefully left politics as soon as he was out of favour, to make millions of pounds on the consultancy circuit as a result of his slavish devotion to George Bush and the war in Iraq.

On the other hand, we have Gordon Brown spending public money with the pathological calculation of the gambling addict who has bet everything on a last desperate attempt to win the coming election.

My decision to break with Labour would almost certainly break my father's heart.

But I hope he would understand - as all of us do - that the experiment with New Labour has ended in catastrophe and that this Government has wasted money like no other in history.

So I shall vote Conservative for the first time in my life.

And if David Cameron can lead a government that strips out the lies and slithery self-delusion that has characterised the performance of so many of New Labour's leading political figures of the past 13 years, then he might keep my vote."

We must never forget

Today, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz/Birkenau murder camp, is Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is a day when we should remember both the depths of horror to which human beings can descend, and did descend during the Holocaust, and the heights which were reached by those who tried to rescue the victims of Nazi mass murder, sometimes losing everything in the process.

It is a day when we should remember the victims of all genocides, whether Jewish or Armenian, Serb or Croat, whether native American or African, whether Christian or Muslim or of any other religion, whether they came from Berlin, Rwanda or Nanking.

The oldest record of genocide I have recently read was contained in Thucydides "History of the Peleponessian war" while the most recent concerned events this year in the Sudan. Those who forget or deny the sort of mass murder which has happened far too often in human history have made the first step which can lead to such crimes happening again.

That's why we must never forget the Holocaust.

In the words of the famous poem, believed to have first been used by Pastor Martin Niemöller in a speech in 1946:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out.

WE CAN'T GO ON WITH LABOUR’S DEBT CRISIS

Yesterday's new figures show the first signs of economic growth after 18 months of recession – the longest and deepest since the war.

Of course, the end of the Great Recession is good news – even though we were one of the first big economies into recession, and the last out. Now we are coming out of recession, Labour’s Debt Crisis is the biggest threat to our recovery. As the Director-General of the CBI said in The Times yesterday, ‘one of the troubles with the Government’s programme [of debt reduction] is that it’s long on aspirations and short on details, and it’s stretched out over the lifetime of two whole Parliaments.’

We can’t go on like this. We need change and a Conservative government to get a grip on our debt crisis. As any family with a credit card knows, the more we spend and the longer we wait to pay off our bills, the worse it gets.



Five facts about Labour’s Debt Crisis

· We’re borrowing money at a rate of nearly £6,000 every second - every five seconds, the Government borrows more than the average British person earns in a year.

· This year, we’re expected to borrow almost 14 per cent of our GDP – almost twice as much as when we nearly went bust in the 1970s.

· We’re spending more money on the interest on our debt than on almost anything else.

· We have the biggest budget deficit of any large economy.

· Last week, we had the worst public borrowing figures for any December on record.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Economic Disaster

Hat tip to Political Betting for pointing out this article in the current issue of The Economist about the bout of inflation Britain is suffering.

The article discusses how long-lived that bout of inflation is likely to be, but concludes

"Special pleading about temporary factors will count for little at the general election likely in May. The bungee-jump in prices gives electors another reason to vent their anger on Gordon Brown for the economic disaster over which he has presided."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conservative plans for Schools

By raising standards, improving discipline, increasing choice, and getting the best people into teaching, we will make sure that the poorest children get the best education, not the worst.

Last week the Conservatives announced plans to fast-track professionals into teaching to ensure the best possible teachers are in the classroom. It’s time we made our teaching the best. That’s why we’re committed to a comprehensive programme of reform to elevate the status of teaching in our country. We want to make it the noble profession – the career path that attracts the best brains, is well-rewarded and commands the most respect.

We will:

· raise the entry requirement for taxpayer-funded primary school teacher training from a C grade in English and Maths GCSE to a B;

· require graduates to have at least a 2:2 in their degree in order to qualify for state-funded training;

· pay the student loan repayments for top maths and science graduates for as long as they remain teachers;

· expand Teach First and introduce two new programmes – Teach Now and Troops to Teachers – to get experienced, high-quality people into the profession;

· give all headteachers the power to pay good teachers more.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kirksanton nuclear new build public meeting.

I'm advised by a colleague who was there that the DECC Public Consultation meeting about the proposal to include Kirksanton as a possible site for nuclear new build yesterday morning was very well attended. About 350 people packed into Millom School hall. The meeting started at 10am and finished at about 1.20pm.

Most of the people there were from Kirksanton and Silecroft and they were strongly opposed to the inclusion of this site.

Issues raised included cooling water, infrastructure, and the fact that the proposal would require HM Prison Haverigg to be moved.

It would not be British to ban the burqa

Dominic Lawson has a powerful article in today's Sunday Times called

Banning the burqa is simply not British

in which he criticises the badly-thought-through UKIP proposals to ban the burqa.

There are clearly some circumstances and jobs in which security, public safety, or the operational requirements of the job make it necessary for people to be willing to show their face - when producing a passport to prove your identity before getting on a plane, for instance. Someone who is not willing to show their face cannot expect to be appointed to one of those jobs or to access a service for which public safety would require an identity check.

This requirement is not racist or religious discrimination, and should apply to anyone, of any faith or race, whether they are insisting on wearing a burqa, motorcycle helmet, a hood, or a Darth Vader helmet.

But requiring people to show their face when there is a good reason is one thing: a complete ban on wearing a particular garment anywhere in public places or public buildings is another matter entirely.

As Lawson says, this country has evolved a "tolerant approach to open expressions of religious difference, which can be summarised by the phrase 'live and let live'.

"Christians in this country understand this well, which is why a ComRes poll last week reported that 85% of self-described Christians agreed that, whatever your faith, the law should protect the right to wear its symbols, provided they do not harm others."


Exactly.

Climate Change - why we must curb carbon release

David Cameron is right to regard cutting the release of carbon into the atmosphere as an important aim for all countries including Britain.

And this is one of two reasons why the overwhelming majority of Conservatives support the need for new nuclear build as part of the mix in a balanced energy policy, since nuclear energy does not depend on burning carbon compounds. (The other, equally valid reason why most Conservatives support new nuclear build as part of the mix is to diversify our sources of energy and thereby increase the security of supply.)

It is very easy - far too easy - to point to the severe winter we are having, and recent well publicised and irresponsible behaviour by some of the academic high priests of climate change, fall about laughing at the idea of man-made global warming, and forget about the issue.

Easy, but wrong.

Ignoring the evidence for harm caused by man-made carbon release would be most unwise.

The earth's biosphere is a fantastically complex system, far too much so for any wise person to be as certain that we understand it as the hardliners on either extreme of the climate change debate would have you believe. And since any wise person would admit that we don't fully understand it, and the consequences of major changes in the world's climate could be very serious indeed, the precautionary principle should warn us that we should seek to minimise our impact on the earth's climate until and unless we have a much better idea of what the effects of our actions should be.

The large majority of scientists who have studied the evidence say that it suggests a 90% probability that human activity has contributed to climate change. That is short of the lowest threshold - 95% - which statisticians usually require before concluding that a particular test has given a clear result. So we cannot regard the debate as settled and it is not just undemocratic but irresponsible to label the minority who disagree as "climate change denialists" and treat them like people who deny the historical truth of Hitler's holocaust.

But 90% evidence in favour of the hypothesis that carbon release is causing effects which could cause enormous harm is far too strong for us to take the risk of not doing anything about it.

Global Warming is far from being the only harmful form of climate change, nor necessarily the worst, and is certainly not the form which there is strongest evidence that human-driven release of carbon is causing. That is the acidification of the oceans.

Scientists noticed some years ago that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was not going up as fast as known release of carbon would, other things being equal, have caused. Something was acting as a "carbon sink" and removing some of the carbon we are releasing.

One of these "carbon sinks" turns out to be the world's oceans. There is conclusive evidence that they are indeed absorbing some of that carbon. But this is not good news, because the absorbtion of carbon dioxide by sea water produces acid. And over the past half century the earth's seas and oceans have become measurably more acid as a result.

This has not yet had disastrous effects. But if it continues, it will. If the seas become significantly more acid, there will come a point when all vertebrate sea creatures and molluscs will be unable to extract the calcium they need to build their skeletons and shells, so they will die out. Should this process continue, everything in the seas will die, including the algae which photosynthesize a large proportion of the world's oxygen.

The consequence for many areas of the world if we kill all life in the sea would be devastating. It must not be allowed to happen.

So even if global warming turned out to be a complete myth - and the majority evidence does not support this view - it would still be important to curb the release of carbon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mending our Broken Society

This week the Conservatives are focusing on our party’s central task: to mend our broken society. The crime, the disorder, the drug addiction, the alcohol abuse, the family breakdown, the entrenched poverty, the educational failure, the sink estates – we can’t go on like this. We need change to put our country back on its feet.

To mend our broken society, four areas of policy will be subject to our unremitting focus: fixing the criminal justice system, school reform, strengthening families and stimulating social action in our communities.

On Monday, we published our plans for school reform. Yesterday, we published our plans to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. Today, we are publishing our proposals to make Britain more family friendly.

We can’t go on ignoring the importance of strong families. They provide the stability, warmth and love we need to flourish as human beings, and the relationships they foster are the bedrock on which society is built. But under Labour, Britain is one of the least family-friendly countries in the developed world. They have ignored families for 12 years, and even today they have no new ideas for how to support families. Their one headline today – greater rights for grandparents – was first suggested by David Willetts at our Party Conference.

This will change with a Conservative government – Britain’s families will get our full backing. A Conservative government will:


· end Labour’s couple penalty in the tax credit system;

· recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system in the next Parliament;

· take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention, increase its focus on the neediest families and better involve organisations with a track record in supporting families;

· provide 4,200 more health visitors to give all parents a guaranteed level of support before and after birth until their child starts school;

· extend the right to request flexible working to every parent with a child under the age of eighteen, and introduce a new system of flexible parental leave which lets parents share maternity leave.

For more information, or to view the families section of our draft manifesto, please click here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Advice from Chris Mullin

I have had my differences with Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin (Labour), but he has an excellent piece in today's Times here with advice for parliamentary candidates.

Extracts from the article:

"Make good use of the chamber. Which means listening as well as speaking. Only make a speech when you have something to say. A succinct intervention in a ministerial speech, delivered in prime time, is often far more effective than a speech delivered to a chamber that is all but empty. Don’t waste time scoring cheap points."

"Be warned. There is a good deal of pointless activity in politics. I urge you to minimise it. Do not confuse busy-ness with effectiveness. Above all, do not neglect your family."

"Some colleagues do relatively little in the House and instead spend every waking hour searching out constituents with problems in order to create the illusion of activity. I advise against this. In any case, it makes very little difference as to whether or not you will be re-elected. Remember, one of the main functions of a backbencher is to hold the executive to account. Something we do imperfectly."

"Finally, respect your opponents. Remember, we have the good fortune to live in a mature democracy that, for all its imperfections, is vastly superior to most alternatives. We are not actually trying to kill each other. It is only an election. One side will lose. One side will win. And the loser will live to fight another day."

Hat tip to Iain Dale who drew the article to my attention.

Feedback from Copeland Borough Council

Copeland Borough council's January meeting took place in Whitehaven this afternoon.

This was the least controversial and shortest meeting for some time. Some highlights and lowlights:

1) As mentioned in a previous post, the meeting began on a sad note with a minute's silence in memory of Maggie Chadwick, the chair of NHS Cumbria, who died a few days ago after a short illness.

2) The long-awaited website to keep people in touch with the redevelopment of West Cumberland Hospital has finally been launched. The URL is www.buildingyourhospital.ncuh.nhs.uk.

I asked the leader of the council if it would be worth contacting the NHS Trust to ask if there is anything the council can do to help and support the submission of the final business case, and she agreed to do so.

3) A number of councillors - including myself - have been getting phone calls from Copeland Homes tenants who have been getting letters telling them that they may have to pay a service charge in addition to their rent. The figure quoted in the letter is £2.50 per week (though I have been told that this is only "indicative".)

There is considerable concern among councillors about the way this has been handled. Council representatives on the Copeland Homes Board were not consulted about the proposed charge.

I had already queried this through council officers and it sounds like I was not the only councillor asking questions: it was agreed this afternoon that those inquiries should continue with the weight of the Full Council behind them.

4) I asked about the Sustainable Communities Act, which will be the subject of a separate post.

5) It was noted that Whitehaven Swimming Pool has worked with DCMS and Sport England to obtain £215,000 of funding for improved changing facilities. The plan is to replace the existing and aged single sex changing rooms with unisex facilities. However, unlike the way a certain council of which I used to be a member treated Westminster Lodge swimming pool, there will be consultation with residents and customers before the plans are finalised. This is due to happen this month.

6) Following on from this we asked about the proposed Millom Swimming Pool and asked who is invited to the planned Stakeholder meeting on 5th February.

We were told that this is a closed meeting with the North West Development Agency and that the Leader of the Council would represent Copeland Borough Council.

I was a little concerned about this. The Swimming Pool Project has cross party support in Millom, and the great majority of elected representatives from Millom at Town, District, and County levels are Conservatives - I hope that both parties will be represented in discussions on how to secure funding for the project.

Millom Neighbourhood Forum

I attended the Millom Neighbourhood Forum at the network centre, Millom School yesterday.

The main item on the agenda was the "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" (MRWS) process, on which there was a presentation by the leader of Copeland Council and Cllr Keith Hitchin.

Other items discussed included the future of Millom Community Hospital. The timetable for the proposed redevelopment and improvement for the hospital has slipped a bit, and the previous decision that the new services to be provided can best be done on the existing site is being reviewed. Nevertheless the project is still going forward.

There was also a short presentation on the "Together We can" event due to be launched at the March forum and run from 1st to 5th March which will provide an opportunity for the public to put forward ideas to improve public services or the local environment in Millom.

During a presentation on the plans for a swimming pool in Millom, the forum heard that the public consultation had received strong support, that a design is being put forward, and that there will be a stakeholder meeting on 5th February which is intended to move forward the process of obtaining funding.

Maggie Chadwick RIP

I was shocked to learn at the start of this afternoon's Copeland Council meeting of the sudden and untimely death of Maggie Chadwick, the chair of NHS Cumbria (formerly Cumbria PCT) who died a few days ago after a short illness.

As a mark of respect the council stood for a minute's silence in her memory.

Before her appointment as chair of NHS Cumbria Maggie had been principal of Furness College.

I will remember Maggie as one of the architects of the change in policy which gave community hospitals in Cumbria a brighter future, and she worked hard and positively to support all forms of healthcare in the county.

Our thoughts are with her family at this said time.

Rest in Peace.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Feedback: Braystones consultation

The second local consultation on the draft Nuclear Planning Policy Statement, for the proposed Braystones site, took place on Saturday morning.

There was a good attendance and a lot of strongly felt views were put forward.

It was my impression that the great majority of speakers from the floor were in favour of the principle of nuclear new build locally and in particular at Sellafield, but not at Braystones (or Kirksanton.)

There were however two minority views expressed: some speakers from the floor supported new build at all three sites in Cumbria (Sellafield, Braystones, and Kirksanton) while others took the opposite view and were opposed to nuclear power anywhere.

Issues raised included

* Roads and Infrastructure
* Planning blight
* Nuclear waste disposal
* Flooding
* Effectiveness of the consultation

The consultation remains open until 22nd February. The next consultation meeting, for the Kirksanton site, is next Saturday.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Public consultation meeting

Attended the pulic consultation meeting this evening at Sellafield on the proposed National Planning Policy statement on Nuclear power and specifically the proposal that Sellafield should be one of the potential sites for new build.

There were about a hundred people there and a very intelligent and well informed debate.

The vast majority of speakers from the floor were at pains to stress that they supported nuclear new build in principle but they raised a lot of issues.

A large number of speakers supported new build at Sellafield but not at Braystones or Kirksanton.

A lot of speakers (including myself) made points about infrastructure and particularly transport and roads. We said that we wanted this sorted at an early stage and it would not be acceptable to agree nuclear power first and then address road improvements as an afterthought.

The people running the consultation meeting noted that although they often get this point it had been made particularly strongly this evening and they would not this for the Infrastructure Planning Commission which will decide on any planning application.

Other key points made and discussed included

* need to have a joined up policy with respect of the separate consultation on nuclear waste

* concerns about the environmental impact on the Irish Sea, particularly on fish and of the thermal bloom, especially if there are three sites in Cumbria and not just one

* Also concerns about the River Ehen

* There will be a significant visual impact on the National Park and we must do what we can to mitigate it.

* Grid capacity issues

* cumulative impact if Kirksanton and/or Braystones are also developed


The next meeting in the series will be at Whitehaven Civic Hall on Saturday morning to discuss the Braystones site, and the following Saturday there will be a meeting in Millom to discuss Kirksanton. People wanting to attend are asked to pre-book cia the DECC website.

The consultation is open until 22nd February.

Fisking Oliver Kamm

Warning - this is going to be a long post in which I try to explain some basic economic facts of life about currencies. Do not attempt to read it if you are bored by complex arguments about economics, or have rigid views for or against the Euro and do not want to have them challenged.

If I had to name the one subject on which the highest proportion of economically illiterate drivel is written by fanatics on both sides of the argument, it would have to be the single currency.

Both extremes got it wrong on how easy it would be to prepare for the Euro.

When the countries which ultimately joined the Euro were trying to align their economies, hardline opponents of the single currency predicted that it would be impossible, while hardline supporters would have had you believe that the measures taken to harmonise budget deficits were in the interests of all the countries involved, when the truth was that it caused a moderate amount of difficulty.


Both extremes got it wrong about the actual introduction

When it came to the actual issue of the new notes and coin, the antis predicted chaos, the supporters suggested it was all easy, the truth was that it went better than any reasonable person should have dared hope which meant a modest amount of cost and inconvenience.


Both extremes misunderstand the implications of currency fluctuations

When the Euro was very low against the dollar and most other currencies the antis wrongly interpreted this as proof that the Euro was a disastrous failure. When the Euro was very high against the dollar the pro-Euro brigade wrongly interpreted this as proof that the Euro was a brilliant success.

The actual meaning of this was that the Euro had protected companies whose trade was largely within Europe from significant costs caused by currency fluctuations but that the huge rise and fall in the Euro had caused enormous instability and costs for Eurozone companies whose business includes a large amount of trade with the dollar zone. This point was largely lost on both knee-jerk supporters and knee-jerk opponents of the Euro.

The real argument

Ignoring the political and sovereignity issues involved, it astonishes me how many people cannot see that economic case for and against the Euro revolves around your view of the relative importance of two fairly simple advantages and two fairly simple disadvantages

The economic advantages are:

1) Lower transactions costs within the Eurozone (through not having to change currencies)

2) More stable exchange rate, and hence reduced risk, for trade within the Eurozone

The economic disadvantages are:

3) Less stable exchange rate with non-Eurozone countries and currencies, and hence increased currency risk for trade with these countries.

4) Interest rates and monetary policy less likely to fit the needs of an individual country (because they have to average out the needs of the whole of Europe).

A cold-blooded appraisal of these arguments should make clear that many of the countries which joined the Euro had good reason to think they would benefit economically, but for two particular reasons Britain is the least likely country in Europe to benefit from scrapping our own currency, the pound, in favour of the Euro.

These are

1) For a variety of reasons such as a different proportion of flexible rate mortgages compared to fixed rate mortgages in our housing market, Britain's economy is rather more sensitive than many of those on the continent to interest rate changes. We were thus particularly likely to suffer from an unsuitable interest rate if within the Eurozone, which has one central bank and hence one interest rate.

2) Most of the trading world is divided into blocks which have currencies which tend to follow the dollar or which tend to follow the euro. Britain is unique among European countries in that international trade is a much higher proportion of our national income than most of the rest of Europe, and in that we do a very substantial proportion of our trade with each of these blocks.

Therefore Britain is far more dependent than most other European countries on trade with nations outside the Eurozone, trade which scrapping the pound would hinder rather than help. This is the key reason why the advantages to Britain of Euro membership would be much less than for much of the rest of the E.U.

The appropriate set of exchange rates for Britain's currency has to reflect a balance of levels against both the euro-zone and dollar zone currencies.

For instance, the main reason for Britain's humiliating crash on Black Wednesday out of the currency linkage which was the precursor to the Euro was not that the pound was at a silly exchange rate relative to the D-Mark and Franc in isolation. In terms of purchasing power parities (E.g. the amount you could buy with a pound in Britain against what you could buy with the equivalent amount of D-Marks in Germany) it was about right.

The problem was that the D-Mark and Franc were high relative to the dollar, which in turm meant that the apparently reasonable rate at which we had pegged the pound to those currencies resulted in a high and ultimately unsustainable exchange rate for the pound against the dollar zone currencies.

The fact that we were not in the Euro saved us from a similar painful situation in the early years of this decade. When the Euro was low against the dollar, the pound floated down but not as far, so that it was moderately high against the Euro and moderately low against the dollar, but about right overall. When the Euro was high against the dollar, the pound floated up a bit, but not as far, so that it was moderately low against the Euro and moderately high against the dollar, but our balance of payments stayed roughly in balance overall. If we had scrapped the pound in favour of the Euro, this could not have happened and the British economy would have gone totally out of balance.

There is a piece in the Times today by Oliver Kamm who is a supporter of the Euro. You can read his full article here but there follows a little light fisking of some of the points he makes.

"Ignore the doom-mongers. The euro’s end is not nigh
Despite the air of crisis, no country is about to leave the single currency
" ...

Right.

and there would be real benefits if Britain joined.

Wrong.


"If you think Britain faces tough economic times, consider Greece...

Greece faces a prolonged squeeze on living standards ...

One thing it cannot do is devalue the currency and inflate the debt burden away. Greece is part of the euro. Its monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank. The pain that Greece will face has led to serious suggestions that it might be the first country to leave the euro, thereby beginning the unravelling of the whole integrationist experiment.

I exaggerate, of course."


Yes, you do.


"There is no difficulty finding commentators offering these predictions but their track record ought to disqualify them from serious discussion ... they confidently await the end of the euro. As the currency sails on regardless, the date of the supposedly inevitable reckoning gets put back.

It’s like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who predicted Christ’s return in 1874, 1914, 1925 and 1975."


And like those who predicted that Britain's economy would collapse outside the Euro. That hasn't happened either.

Both the doom-mongers who predicted that being outside the Euro would cause disaster for Britain, and those who predicted that being inside it would cause disaster for Europe have been proved wrong. (The current recession was caused by poor banking regulation and had nothing to do with currencies.)


"Every fresh bout of financial turmoil in the eurozone elicits predictions of the implosion of currency union. I’ll offer my own prognosis: it isn’t going to happen."

I'll agree with you on that one.

"By 2020 there will be significantly fewer currencies in Europe than now, because more and more countries will sign up to the euro."

Some might: some might gain from so doing. Others may not and should not be put under pressure to do so.

"It is unlikely that the pound will disappear any time soon,"

I'll agree with you on that one, too.

"but it may do eventually when only the pound and the euro remain as currencies within the EU."

That won't happen in your lifetime or mine unless the country takes leave of its' senses.


"At least we should recognise that the euro has been a success and has provided benefits for its members. Membership would be good for the UK too, in allowing consumers and businesses to benefit fully from the single market."


There have been both benefits and costs: and there are sound economic reasons to judge that for the UK the costs would outweigh the benefits.


"Of course there are huge economic strains for the weaker members of the eurozone ...

There would be superficial attractions in leaving the euro. A currency depreciation might stimulate growth by making their exports cheaper. An autonomous central bank could help to fund the deficit by buying government bonds. But abandoning the euro would just aggravate the problems. It’s not even clear that it would be technically possible to leave.

A recent IMF paper by Barry Eichengreen, the historian of the international monetary system, lucidly explains the position. A heavily indebted country such as Greece would find its debt burden rise, because its overseas borrowings would still be denominated in euros. While there is nothing to stop the Greek parliament from requiring that wage contracts be denominated in the old drachma, it would not — in a democracy — be able to do that overnight and without warning. The stampede of investors trying to get money out of the banking system would cause financial collapse ...

For all practical purposes, adopting the euro is irreversible.

The more thoughtful British opponents of euro membership, such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, cite this as an argument in their favour.


And they are 100% right to do so. When even strong supporters of a policy admit that adopting it is "irreversible" it would be very foolish to do so unless you are absolutely certain that the policy will produce more benefits that costs.


"Yet the case for staying outside the euro has been made weaker by the financial crisis. Last month a think-tank forecast that the pound would fall below parity with the euro. On the face of it, that would imply a boost for British exporters (though at the expense of British holidaymakers travelling abroad). But a volatile exchange rate is far from being an unequivocal economic benefit."

Sigh. When are people like Mr Kamm going to wake up to the fact that joining the Euro does not mean a less volatile exchange rate for the whole of Britain's trade. It means a totally fixed exchange rate for the Euro zone and a MORE volatile exchange rate for the rest of the world.

"If there is one lesson from the banking crisis it is that financial markets are subject to wild swings of mood that can damage the real economy. Being in the euro would mitigate that."

For countries whose trade is primarily within the Eurozone, being in the euro might on balance mitigate the impact of swings in financial markets. For countries who are as dependent on trade outside the Eurozone as Britain, it is equally possible that euro membership might exacerbate those problems rather than mitigate them.

"It would encourage trade with our European partners, as businesses could be more confident about the value of future sales."

And harm trade with the rest of the world as it would have the opposite effect on confidence about value of sales and purchases with those countries.

"It would benefit British consumers, who could directly compare the costs of goods across national boundaries."

It would make it easier to compare the costs of Eurozone goods and harder to compare that of others.

"Eurosceptic commentators will balk at this message, but they’ve been consistently wrong on the most basic question of all about the single currency."

And pro-Euro commentators have also been consistently wrong.

"Like it or loathe it, the euro is a fact of economic life."

So is the dollar, but I don't want to scrap the pound and replace it with the dollar, either.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Supporting Families

Yesterday the Conservatives set out how we will help the poorest families in society. David Cameron has shared a platform with the thoughtful Labour MP Frank Field. He has explained how we will keep Sure Start, and how we will strengthen it by recruiting 4,200 new Sure Start health visitors to provide universal support to families with children under five and a more effective way of reaching out to the most vulnerable families.


We believe Sure Start needs to work better because the people who need it most – disadvantaged and dysfunctional families – are not getting enough of the benefit. We will improve Sure Start by taking it back to its original purpose of early intervention, increasing its focus on the neediest families, and better involving organisations with a track record in parenting interventions. Drawing on the key principles behind our wider public service reform programme – practicality, independence and accountability – we will create a new kind of Sure Start Children’s Centre to replace failing existing provision.


This is part of our mission to build the strong society based on the values of responsibility and aspiration. For that, we need responsible individuals. We can help people take more responsibility for themselves by focusing on the three areas where character is formed in our early lives – in the family, at school and through the influences of wider society – and take action to ingrain responsibility through each.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jenkins on Nuclear risks

It is extremely important that nuclear facilities should be built and operated with due concern for all safety issues including radition. Nuclear Management Partners who operate Sellafield are proud of their policy that safety is of great importance and they don't compromise on it. Much more attention is paid now to safety issues than was the case in the past and this is a good thing.

However, analysis of risks should be based on a level headed view of what risks actually exist, and not on irrational panic. Simon Jenkins had an interesting article in the Guardian this week which you can read here in which he reviews two books about "the irrational fear of radiation."

His article is called "The proliferation of nuclear panic is politics at its most ghoulish." and it pulls no punches.

The first book reviewed is called "Radiation and Reason," by an Oxford professor of physics, Wade Allison. It narrates the history and nature of nuclear radiation, and criticises the "obsessive safety levels" governing nuclear energy. These overstate the true risk, in Allison's view, by up to 500 times.

The second book, "Atomic Obsession" by John Mueller, professor of political science at Ohio State University, is a similar analysis of the fear associated with radiation from nuclear weapons.

Radiation, says Allison, is nothing like as dangerous as the anti-nuclear lobby claims. The permitted radiation level in the waste storage hall at Sellafield is so low (1 mSv per hour) as to be negligible. This compares with the 100 mSv threshold for even remote cancer risk and 5,500 for radiation sickness. According to Allison, someone would have to live for a million hours in Sellafield to absorb the same radiation as is administered in a hospital radiotherapy suite. Higher doses are permitted in food processing and even in medicinal resorts, with supposed beneficial or at least harmless effects.

This side of the argument rarely gets enough attention and these books are a welcome counterbalance.

A grotesquely disproportionate over-reaction

I really hope that this story in yesterday's Mail is not an accurate and fully representative picture of the facts of the affair: if I had read it on the first of April I would have been convinced that it had to be a joke.

The story involves two neighbours who sent emails to Rother council in Sussex objecting to a planning application. The applicant is described in the article as a "gypsy" which is not a description we are generally encouraged to use these days - the politically correct term usually favoured is "traveller."

Most of the objections appear to have been on legitimate planning grounds, but one of the emails used a word which rhymes - RYHMES! - with "pikey" and also contained the phrase

‘Get a job, get planning permission but more to the point get out of the neighbourhood.’

Without knowing anything of the details this latter comment does strike me as unwise.

Planning decisions often give rise to strong feelings on both sides. As a councillor I have come down on opposite sides on different occasions involving travellers according to the merits of the case. Sometimes the planning arguments in favour of applications submitted by travellers were in my view reasonable and I supported those applications even when I took flak for doing so, but on some other occasions, different groups of travellers behaved in a way which I considered unacceptable, and their neighbours were fully entitled to be upset. In one instance a traveller family repeately flouted the decisions of both the elected council and the courts so flagrantly that we ended up applying successfully to the judge to have the head of the family put in prison.

But it's one thing asking a judge to put someone in prison for breaking the law and defying both the planning authority and the courts. It's a different thing to have someone arrested for writing an email which goes over the top. And if the Mail story is accurate, that's what what happened next in the Rother case.

One of the two objectors was visited at his home on a Sunday afternoon by the Sussex police, arrested in front of his wife and son, had his and his wife's computers confiscated, was held for four hours and had his DNA taken and stored. And he wasn't even the person who wrote the email!

When he eventually managed to convince them of this, the police arrested the person who really did write the email, and took his DNA too. The Crown Prosecution Service decided last week not to proceed with charges against the author of the email, but according to the Mail, the police say that they will retain both men's DNA indefinitely.

If someone writes about any group of people, be it travellers or any other cultural religious, political or ethnic group in a way which a reasonable person would see as a threat, or an incitement to violence, then the police can and should become involved.

But if during my fifteen years or so on various planning committees I'd been daft enough to ask the police to arrest every objector who included something inappropriate or offensive when writing to the council against a planning application, and they'd been daft enough to act on those requests, it wouldn't have been one traveller I sent to jail but a substantial fraction of the population of St Albans!

It will do a great deal of harm if people believe that they cannot object to proposals for fear of being accused of racism and arrested. And in the longer term the fear and hatred this sort of incident generates will damage the very communities which the legislation under which the objectors were arrested is intended to protect.

Since Magna Carta the law has been meant to provide English, and then British, citizens with protection against arbitrary arrest. I begin to suspect that the effectiveness of those protections has diminished, is decreasing, and ought to be increased.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

"Savage cuts" - did Jamie mix up Clegg and DC?

In the November issue of "Egremont Today", the Labour MP for Copeland accused David Cameron and George Osborne of pledging "savage cuts."

I took exception to this in my post on this blog dated 1st November and wrote

"Jamie, if you can produce a date, place, and precise quote in which either David Cameron or George Osborne have ever used the words "savage cuts" to describe a policy they want to implement, or suggested that they would enjoy making savage cuts, I will donate a fiver to a charity or cause of your choice. If you cannot produce such a quote, you should apologise for that statement."

I've had quite a bit of comeback from the Labour party on some of the other things I wrote in the same blogpost, but nothing whatever on this point, so it looks like I get to keep my fiver.

However, one of my colleagues has reminded me that another national politician did indeed use the word "savage" to describe the kind of cuts which he thinks Britain needs.

Step forward Lib/Dem leader Nick Clegg who expressed precisely that opinion to the Guardian newspaper in September. Here is a link to the resulting Guardian article, "Britain needs 'savage' cuts, says Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg", which begins with the words

"Bold and even 'savage' cuts in government spending will be necessary to bring the public deficit down after the next election, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, says today."

Did Jamie get David Cameron and Nick Clegg mixed up? If so, here is the difference:

David Cameron leads a party which supports New Nuclear Build and got more votes in the Copeland constituency last year than Labour did.

Nick Clegg wants to scrap nuclear power, which would wreck the economy of West Cumbria in the process, and leads a party which couldn't even manage third place in Copeland last year - they came fourth in the county elections and fifth in the Euros.

Let me be clear why I disagree with the expression "savage cuts."

All honest politicians recognise that Britain's current deficit is unsustainable, that whoever wins the next election will be forced to take strong measures to reduce it, and that some of those measures will be painful. Anyone who denies that their party will have to make cuts if they win the election is a liar or a fool.

But neither I or David Cameron would use the word "savage" to describe the measures we want to take because any responsible politician would want to minimise the pain: we do not enjoy cutting things for the sake of it, and we will start with cutting bureaucracy and form filling, not front line services.

And in particular, Conservatives will cut the deficit, not the NHS.

The big Freeze - government dithering slammed

I wrote a few days ago that it will be necessary to review plans to deal with extreme weather. Whatever view you take about whether human activity has contributed to climate change - and most scientists think the balance of evidence is that it has - fluctuations in the weather seem to be getting more extreme.

The Sun Newspaper points out this morning that following last February's snow chaos, ministers asked for a report on how to be better prepared.

As they point out in today's leader called "Frost Report", the report urged improvements to road gritting.

"Every council should have stockpiled ample grit and salt. Plans should have been made for councils to share supplies.

"They
[ministers] got the report in the summer, but failed to act until December.

Too late."

Friday, January 08, 2010

Chancellor warns of "Toughest cuts for 20 years"

Alistair Darling has a piece in tomorrow's Times saying that Britain faces tough and painful spending cuts.

Which puts the promises from the PM and others to spend vast amounts of imaginary money in a vain attempt to win the election into perspective ...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Big Freeze continues

Most of Cumbria remains covered with snow and ice, and the extreme weather has forced health bosses in Cumbria to cancel all non-emergency hospital appointments.


NHS Services

NHS North West told the BBC that staff were focusing on emergency cases and said it hoped patients would understand.

Even though the county has escaped the worst of recent snowfalls, more than 140 schools have been closed.

The Highways Agency said it had about six days of grit and salt left and that at the moment it was coping with road treatment operations.

Jane Cummings, director for nursing, quality, performance and commissioning at NHS North West, told the BBC: "At the moment our priority has to be to maintain patient safety and treat emergency and urgent cases.

"This may mean that some patients may experience a slight delay to some services, or that services are delivered in a slightly different way.

"Staff throughout the NHS are doing all that they can to ensure essential services continue to run efficiently.

"We can confirm that some hospitals across the region have taken the decision to postpone all non-essential out-patient appointments.

"If you have an out-patient or day-patient appointment scheduled for the next few days, please contact your hospital clinic and check whether any arrangements have been changed."


Road and train delays

Most roads are passable with care, although the A66 trans-Pennine route between Brough and Bowes in County Durham has been closed.

Northern Rail has warned of likely delays on services between Carlisle and Newcastle.

Gritting problems

Problems with the supply of rock salt caused by soaring national demand have also forced Cumbria County Council to halt the gritting of low-priority routes.

It is continuing to grit priority one and two routes, but the remainder - mainly minor roads in rural areas - are not.

Other issues

Mountain rescue teams have been drafted in to help the North West Ambulance Service, which is only responding to the most urgent calls.

More than 140 schools across the region were forced to shut on Tuesday.

With Friends like this ...

Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, who used to be one of Gordon Brown's cheerleaders, and Labour MPs Barry Sheerman and Greg Pope have all called for Gordon Brown to resign as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister.

Extracts from some of the things they say:

Polly on Brown

"There is nothing to celebrate in the dismal year ahead. The Labour party is sledging down a black run, eyes tight shut, the only certainty the electoral wall at the bottom of the hill....

The delusional tone of Gordon Brown's new year message says it all: "I believe we can create a new decade of prosperity with opportunities fairly shared amongst those who work hard and play by the rules." Just about every word of this raises questions about his record that he can never answer: GDP has fallen by 5% in the last year, taking us back to 2005; growth in his time was profoundly unfairly shared – over half the population saw virtually no growth at all; GDP per capita is a fraudulent measure that disguises how almost all growth went to the top 10%, and most to the top 1% – while he and Tony Blair did no more than see that the back half didn't fall too far behind ..."


Greg Pope MP on Brown

"We have a leader who is disastrously more unpopular than our party. Labour has been appallingly ill-served by a cabal surrounding Gordon Brown.

First they destabilised Tony Blair's leadership, an act of shocking disloyalty to someone who had won us an unprecedented three election victories in a row; then they ensured that Gordon was crowned leader rather than elected (along with others I spent some time in early 2007 seeing if we could get enough Labour MPs to nominate any serious contender to take on Gordon.

We got just about the requisite number of names but we couldn't find a member of the cabinet who dared take on Gordon's people for fear of what they would do - is that the kind of leadership that we really want?); which leads us to the next dirty trick of Gordon's cabal: the smearing of opponents.

As one Minister said at the time, the really shocking thing about the McBride fiasco wasn't that they were attempting to trash the personality of an opponent but that it was someone of a different party for a change. We deserve better."


And that's the sort of comment which a left-wing journalist and Labour MPs are writing about the current Labour Prime Minister.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Daily Mail pulls no punches

Although the Daily Mail has the reputation of being part of the so-called "right wing press" they have often backed the Labour party for the past decade or so.

Not today - and they are not pulling any punches in an article called

"Infantile, dishonest and downright dodgy"

which you can read here).

It begins

"Civil servants are right to be angry over the way they've been forced to prepare election propaganda for Labour. The rest of us should be furious too.

Through our taxes, we pay Whitehall to serve us with political impartiality. Yet, disgracefully, Treasury officials have been made to spend countless hours compiling a 150-page document whose sole purpose is to undermine the Tories.

But this is far from the only reason why Alistair Darling should be ashamed of his 'dodgy dossier', which purports to put prices on Tory election pledges.
For the fact is that this document, which claims to identify a £34billion 'black hole' in David Cameron's spending plans, is deeply dishonest from cover to cover.

In a deliberate attempt to deceive - so transparent that it fools nobody - the Chancellor has taken every vague Tory aspiration and presented it as a binding election commitment, with the maximum possible price-tag attached.

Thus, he claims Mr Cameron's 'pledge' to abolish Labour's 50p income tax rate will cost £2.4billion a year, while scrapping stamp duty on shares, as a means of boosting pensions, would cost £5.2billion.

Just one problem: the Tories have made no such commitments - though many may wish they had.
To put it bluntly, Mr Darling is telling lies."

The Big Freeze II

Millom School and Waberthwaite school are among more than a hundred schools in the county which are closed today due to very cold weather.

If you have to travel anywhere in Cumbria today, do take care.

There will have to be a review after this cold snap of the arrangements to keep roads and services open in extreme weather. Over the past few decades it has been my impression that the average weather really has been getting warmer, but it also seems that the range of variation in the weather is increasing. Maybe we need another look at issues like the amount of grit which highway authorities keep on hand.

UPDATE

There are now 140 schools closed in the county according to BBC Radio Cumbria, with further school closures including:

Thwaites Primary School near Millom
St Herberts school, Keswick

All the high passes - Honister Pass, Hardknott Pass, and Corney Fell - are closed, and there is a serious jam at Cleator.

Labour attack on Tories backfires

"Labour’s attempt to launch their election campaign with an attack on Conservative spending plans backfired when it instead exposed divisions in their own economic policies." (from today's Daily Telegraph).

They point out that

"Alistair Darling refused to commit to keeping the current rate of VAT through the next parliament, just a day after criticising the Conservatives for admitting it may have to go up.

"The Chancellor also seemed to offering a contrasting view to Gordon Brown by freely talking about spending cuts and admitting he would like to lower the deficit more quickly if possible."


Alistair Darling was also unable to refute suggestions that Labour’s plans implied 17 per cent spending cuts in non-protected departments.

George Osborn commented that the Labour dossier attacking Conservative policies showed that the credibility of Labour lies about our policies has collapsed. He added:

"On examination, the dossier includes commitments we have never made, wild exaggerations of our costed policies and in some cases, admissions that some changes would actually be cheaper than we have budgeted for. Labour must be deeply regretting their decision to go negative on a day when the Conservatives have been so positive.”

The Financial Times also leads with the story of the Labour splits exposed by their attacks on the Conservatives: their headline is "Darling and Brown at odds over Deficit."

Monday, January 04, 2010

Conservatives will cut the deficit, not the NHS



David Cameron launched the Conservative election campaign today with a strong re-statement of the Conservative commitment to protect and improve the National Health Service.

"The NHS was my first priority when I became leader and it remains my top priority," he said.

Policies launched today included

* A Health Premium to target more resources on the poorest communities, and reverse
the increase in Health inequalities under Labour.
(The gaps between rich and poor for life expectancy and infant mortality rates
have widened under Labour and are as big as in Victorian times.)

* New maternity networks, that will link up local hospitals, doctors, charities,
voluntary groups and maternity consultants to share information, expertise and
services

* Continued emphasis on preventative medicine, using public health funds to stop
people from getting ill in the first place

The Conservatives will ring-fence the NHS budget. Everyone knows that painful measures will be needed to put the public finances back onto anything resembling an even keel, but under a Conservative government the NHS budget will be protected in real terms.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

"Egremont Today" gets hot under the collar

Labour's "Egremont Today" news sheet gets in rather a strop, which you can currently read on their website here because I described them in a post on this blog on 1st November as "A Labour party propaganda sheet."

I think my exact description was "Labour's 'Egremont Today' propaganda sheet, which masquerades as a community newspaper."

This comes a few weeks after Copeland's Labour MP Jamie Reed was forced by the Deputy Speaker to withdraw a comment likening David Cameron to a pro-Nazi war criminal. In this context I find the idea that it is a mortal insult to suggest that a publication put out by a political party contains some of their propaganda to be so disproportionate as to be quite funny. But Copeland Labour Party have always been much better at dishing out criticism than taking it.

Like the vast majority of material put out by local political parties, "Egremont Today" contains some community material, and some which is an expression of their own political views.

In particular, the September, October and November issues of Egremont Today had carried a number of articles which grossly misrepresented Conservative Policy, ranging from statements which I strongly disagree with to demonstrable falsehoods. I fisked some of the worst examples in an article by the local MP in the November edition here.

Egremont Today's editors have the right to express and circulate their views and I have the right to express mine. And when they make false statements about the Conservatives, I have the right to explain where they are wrong and describe it as Labour propaganda, and I will continue to do so.

I note however that, judging by what has been published on the web, Egremont Today's January 2010 edition appears to be largely free of the kind of propaganda to which I took exception in 2009. Long may this continue.

Rory's Long March

Rory Stewart, Conservative PPC for the neighbouring seat of Penrith and the Borders, describes his walks through the constituency in today's Sunday Times. You can read the article here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Predictions for 2010 and 2011

There is a fashion for posting predictions for the coming year just before or after New Year's Day: I'm going to vary it slightly by speculating on what might happen over the next two years. None of the things I am about to write should be taken as backing away from my view that the result of elections are uncertain until the Returning Officer announces them and nobody can afford to be complacent about any election.

My predictions for 2010 and 2011 are


1) There will be at least one General Election over these two years.
If the first election does not produce a government with an overall majority, there will be a second election within eighteen months.

In every single case since World War 2 in which a British government has lost it's working majority at one election, resulting in a period of minority government or government with a small minority, the opposition party which was gaining seats in that election has made the further gains it needed for an outright win at the following election. Therefore:

2) If the coming general election does not produce a working majority for either Gordon Brown or David Cameron it is most likely that DC will win the subsequent election.

3) Therefore the person most likely to be Prime Minister on 31st December 2011 is David Cameron, and he is likely to have a Conservative working majority

4) Whoever wins the election will have to impose extremely unpleasant policies. Britain's public finances are in a terrible state, and no government, of any party, will be able to avoid doing a large number of very unpopular things.

The British public are more intelligent than many politicians realise, and many people have already worked this one out. Nevertheless the actual reality of the pain which any incoming government will be forced, because of the incompetence of the present one, to impose, will come as a nasty shock even for many of those who thought they were expecting it.

5) The Conservative party will remain united behind David Cameron. Whatever a few fantasists, most of whom are supporters of other parties, may wish to think, Cameron has been far more successful in convincing large numbers of people that he has the right approach for Britain in the 21st century than any other Conservative leader since 1997. If he is Prime Minister, the party will batten down the hatches and support him in the difficult job he will have in sorting out the financial mess. If he merely makes substantial gains the party will not have forgotten how difficult even that looked before David Cameron became party leader.


6) The result in Copeland will be very close indeed
for the parliamentary seat. There will also be some very close votes in the 2011 council elections in Copeland.


7) The development of a programme of new nuclear build will continue and will retain majority public support. It may be slightly delayed if there is a period of hung parliament, which is one of the many reasons I am praying hard that David Cameron wins outright.

8) Copeland Council will undergo significant change within the next two years.

Either the "Choosing to Change" programme will generate significant reform, or public disgust with the failure for this to happen will result in a successful campaign for a vote on a directly-elected Mayor.


9) Robin Pitt's term as a councillor for Newtown Ward in Millom will expire
in May 2011, and he will not be elected to represent that ward again, nor any other ward within ten miles of Millom.


10) Haven will retain the Ike Southward Memorial Trophy in both 2010 and 2011.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

I wish everyone reading this a happy and healthy New Year 2010, and may the New Year bring a turnround and improvement in Britain's fortunes.