Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long-lasting flags ...

Apparently five of the six flags planted on the moon during the Apollo landings are still standing more than forty years after Neil Armstrong first took that one small step for a man ...

With no wind, rain or biological decay it can be expected that they will stay up much longer than a similar flag would on Earth.

It is strange to think what marks we leave in the Universe and what future generations, or a completely different species, may make of them.

Britain keeps triple-A credit rating

One piece of good news on the day of the Olympic opening ceremony was that Standard & Poors, one of the main credit-rating agencies, confirmed that British government debt will continue to enjoy an AAA credit rating.

This is an important achievement for the coalition government because it affects the cost of borrowing on the gigantic debts built up by the previous government, who at the time they left office were spending four pounds for every three raised in taxes, with the result that the national debt doubled to well over a billion pounds.

The difficulty with this is not just paying back the principal but the interest - when Labour left office Britain was spending more in interest on the money the government had borrowed - £6,000 per minute - than on schools.

The coalition's tough and painful decision have moved some way in the right direction - the budget defecit has been reduced by 25% since the present government took office - but we still have a long way to go and such a crippling burden of govenment debt that an increase in the interest rate payable would have been a heavy blow.

And that's why the siren voices of the Labour Party, who got Britain into this mess in the first place, should be ignored at all costs. Any fool can sound reasonable while talking of how painful the cuts are and how it would be easier to reduce the defecit more slowly and lots of Labour party fools are doing so.

It sounds good, but it is an insane policy which means more debt, and so more interest to pay on that debt, more burdens which the country will still be paying back when children not yet born are taxpayers, more austerity in the medium to long term- and a real danger of ending up financially where Greece and Spain are now.

A locked lantern mystery

If there is a God, he definately has a sense of humour.

Thriller writers often have fun with "Locked Room" mysteries in which the detective has to work out how the villain arranged for something to happen inside room which appears to have been locked from the inside - usually the death of the victim.

But sometimes things can happen inside a closed space without the intervention of a human agency and you think "How did that happen?"

This evening I thought I had to change the light bulb on the lantern outside my front door as it had stopped working.

The nuts holding the top of the lantern were rusted and it took considerable effort to open it.

When I did, as soon as I attempted to unscrew the bulb, it came on. So it was working, but twisted out of alignment.

So how did it manage to twist itself inside a compartment which was rusted shut and had not been opened for years?

Sometimes odd things happen and we just have to accept that occasionally the Universe is a little perverse. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympics - the first weekend

Despite a major shift round of furniture in my house this weekend, I found time to enjoy a lot of the Olympics at the weekend.

I'm not surprised that the brilliantly mad opening ceremony has been controversial, but I can only say that my family enjoyed it and I'm still chuckling at Rowan Atkinson's hijack of Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO playing "Chariots of Fire" - particularly the expression on Sir Simon's face as Mr Bean comes out of his dream which was as good a piece of acting as Rowan Atkinson's - and the Queen parachuting in with James Bond. (Bet Her Majesty enjoyed the chance to say "Good Evening Mr Bond.")

My wife has suggested that the producers of the TV or Film awards for this year could have some fun with the nominations for  a "best newcomer" award from the Olympics.

And then to the games themselves and already some fine performances by sportmen from many countries including Britain.

Particular congratulations to Lizzie Armistead for her silver medal in the ladies the cycling road race and to Rebecca Adlington for her 400 metres freestyle bronze medal. (links: cyclist Lizzie Armistead wins first medal for Britain  and Rebecca Adlington wins bronze in the 400 metres freestyle.)

The unexpected often happens in sport and we can take for granted that some people from team GB who were regarded as strong contenders for a medal will miss out on a podium appearance while there may be others who were regarded as an outside chance who get there.

When this happens I hope that other GB competitors and the media will take their cue from a true olympian, Hannah Miley, who came fifth in the race in which 16 year old Shiwen Lee carried off the gold with a magnificent record-breaking performance.

When the inevitable microphone we put in front of her Hannah Miley noted that she had done well to reach the final and improve on her place in the previous international competition, said that she was satisfied that she had given it 100% and thanked people in Britain for their support.

What a wonderful contrast to the dreadful display of whining which the press - and I blame the media in general and the BBC in particular rather than the athletes which is why I'm not even going to name the event - put on after Team GB missed out on the medals in a certain other competion.

Perhaps the media should remember Kipling, "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those twin imposters just the same."

I did like BoJo's piece in the Telegraph, 20 jolly good reasons to feel cheerful about the Games which you can read here.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wow

Have been watching the opening ceremony for the Olympic games this evening.

Wow.

Bonkers, brilliant, and very British.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boris's speech on the eve of the games

Just to prove that the relentless pressure to conform, never to say anything off-message, and always to be seen as a safe pair or hands hasn't totally destroyed originality in politics, here is BoJo at his incomparable best with his inspirational "We are ready!" speech in the park on the eve of the official opening of the Olympic Games ...



You can see the full BBC clip on the Beeb site here.

Full words to the National Anthem

Some 24 years ago at the close of a conference, at which I was on the edge of the platform as a junior member of the management committee of the organisation concerned, the music of the national anthem began. Everyone was supposed to sing the first verse, and I duly started to do so.

Nobody else joined in.

I carried on singing and tried to put a "come on, join in" expression  on my face.

By now everyone was staring at me but still nobody else joined in.

I wasn't going to stop - not least because if I had, everyone would have fallen about laughing, which would have been even more inappropriate, so I carried on to the end of the verse.

And sang the entire verse as a solo.

With a couple of hundred people all looking at me in with an evident mixture of emotions written on their faces, predominant amonst which was a desperate attempt not to laugh.

We reached the end of what seemed like the longest first verse of the national anthem which I can ever recall, and finally everyone burst out laughing, and the conference chairman said, not unkindly, something along the lines of "Trust Chris Whiteside to have the last word."

I forget my exact reply but it was something like "Why weren't the rest of you singing?"

Or possibly something similar in meaning but slightly ruder.

Several people claimed not to have been able to remember the words, and for the rest of the time that organisation existed, the words of the first verse of the national anthem were printed in the conference handbook. Several people who queried the need for this four years later when I had become chairman of the organisation myself got a very short and dismissive answer.

I see that British athletes have had to be told to brush up on the words to the third verse for the Olympics as team GB is using the first and third verses at the games.

Not counting the infamous 18th century anti-jacobite verse, the national anthem actually has five verses. The second, which actually sounds really stirring when sung properly, is hardly ever heard these days because it isn't very politically correct. Which is a great shame, but I can see why they wouldn't want to sing it at an international gathering such as the Olympics.

By the same token, the fourth verse of God Save the Queen, which is as internationalist as the second verse is nationalistic, would have been entirely appropriate for the Olympics, but they've gone with verse three because after the first verse it is the best known.

The full five verses are as follows:

1. God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

2. O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all

3. Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour
Long may she reign
May she defend our laws
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen

4. Not in this land alone
But be God's mercies known
From shore to shore
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be
And form one family
The wide world over

5. From every latent foe
From the assassins blow
God save the Queen
O'er her thine arm extend
For Britain's sake defend
Our mother, prince, and friend
God save the Queen

P.S. Has a hacker been at the Daily Telegraph page with the official lyrics of the National Anthem for use at Jubilee celebrations? Or is someone at the paper being very naughty? Because the original anti-Jacobite sixth verse is currently included, but just below the "related articles" links so that someone who doesn't scroll all the way down will miss it. See here. I wonder what Alex Salmond will have to say ...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Infrastructure investment to boost the economy

The Government last week unveiled a new UK Guarantees scheme to dramatically accelerate infrastructure investment and provide major support to UK exporters.

This support is only possible because of the Government’s hard-won fiscal credibility, which the Government is now passing on to support the UK economy.

Applications have opened for UK Guarantees to kick start critical infrastructure projects that may have stalled because of adverse credit conditions. Up to £40 billion worth of projects could qualify and, subject to legislation, the first guarantees are expected to be awarded in the Autumn.

To qualify, these projects must be ready to start in the 12 months following a guarantee being given, as well as being nationally significant and good value to the taxpayer.

The government has also announced  a new temporary lending programme as part of UK Guarantees will be available to ensure that around 30 public private partnership infrastructure projects, worth an estimated £6 billion in the next 12 months, can go ahead.

A major £5 billion export refinancing facility will be available later this year as part of UK

This will provide guarantees to support British exporters by ensuring that overseas buyers have the long-term funding they need.

George Osborne, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

"The credibility the Government has earned through tackling the deficit is already helping millions of British families and businesses through keeping down the cost of borrowing.

"Now 'UK Guarantees’ will use that hard-won fiscal credibility to provide public guarantees of up to £50bn of private investment in infrastructure and exports.

"Britain's credibility has been hard-won and involved difficult decisions, so I want to make sure its benefits are passed on to the whole economy."

An example of Polly Toynbee's accuracy

Polly Toynbee recently wrote an article in the Guardian suggesting that "David Cameron's localism" e.g. the attempt by the government to give more discretion to local councils, was a front for an attempt to cut local services and hammer the poor.

One of her examples was the allegation that attempts to reform council tax benefit would, according to the Institute of Fiscal studies, cost residents of the London Borough of Haringay £38 per week.

The paper had to correct her article a few days later: the IFS had actually said that it would cost them  was £38 per year - one fiftieth as much.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Too many tweets

I set up a twitter account at the weeked, not because I was intending to make lots of tweets but because you have to set up a profile to follow what anyone else tweets.

To my complete astonishment, in the following 24 hours and without at that stage having put down a single tweet, I picked up three followers.

This says something interesting about the ratings game for social media.

What Brits say and what we mean, continued

Following on from my post about how British people use language, I was very tempted to construct an imaginary open letter from a Conservative cabinet minister to Tory backbench rebels consisting largely of the "What Brits say" phrases in the document.

Unfortunately it would have been entirely too easy for an ill-disposed person describing the document to misrepresent me as using words like "insane" and idiot" to describe fellow Conservatives and the joke might easily have lost its' humour in that situation.

However, I have received another example of the interesting use of language since making the "What Brits say and what we mean" post. Received an email on Friday from a work colleague who I shall not identify, in response to a message in which I'd asked if it was right to infer certain potentially serious consequences from something he had said.

The first line of the reply was

"Your points are quite a wild interpretation of what I wrote, but fairly perceptive!"

As far as I can tell, this was intended to mean something along the lines of

"The worst case outcome could be exactly what you suggest but don't you dare tell anyone that I said so."

Congratulations to Bradley Wiggins

What an amazing thing it must be, in a country as sports mad as Britain, to become the first Brit ever to win a famous international competition.

The Tour De France is a huge test of fitness, stamina and determination and anyone who can win it must be a truly remarkable individual. Well done Bradley Wiggins for winning the 99th Tour De France.

And a one-two for Britain as well with Chris Froome getting the second place.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Post 2000

This is the 2000th post on this blog since I started it seven years ago. (That is, I understand, a great age for a weblog.).

So I thought it would be interesting to check and publish a little bit about the blog itself and who reads it.

In those seven years there have been 1789 comments posted, and in the past three years for which I have traffic stats available, there have been 74,231 pageviews.

Currently the blog averages about 100 hits per day. 

There is traffic from all over the world. Unsurprisingly the largest source of traffic is the UK, but only about a quarter of the people who read this blog do so from Britain, and nearly as many were using computers in the USA. The other countries in the "top ten" where people read this are


Russia
Germany
France
Norway
Poland
China
Netherlands
Indonesia

High points: the blog has won three awards, being twice ranked among the "Top 100" Conservative blogs, most recently by Total Politics in 2009. While I was a councillor it was also placed in the list of the top 30 councillor blogs.

Low points: I originally wanted to avoid comment moderation, so that people who wanted to post something on this blog could see it immediately without waiting for me to approve it. Sadly a handful of negative individuals made this impossible. The worst example was when I posted an obituary tribute to a former public servant in Copeland who had died, and an anonymous critical comment was posted which offended his family and friends.

I was so horrified when this happened that I seriously considered shutting down the blog, but concluded that this would hand a victory to one spiteful person which he didn't deserve and that it would be more appropriate to continue but with tighter comment moderation.

I would like to thank everyone who has dropped in to read the blog over the past seven years, and wherever in the world you are, I hope you found it interesting.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Brits say, and what we mean

While I'm quoting from Plato at Political Betting, she has just dug up on the internet an amusing guide which appeared in "The Economist" magazine a few years ago which quotes a number of phrases often used in business conversations by Brits, what they actually mean, and what they can all too easily be misunderstood to mean.

At the time this first came out I was working in a division of BT in which we had close colleagues all over the world, and my then boss put this table up above her desk - I presume to remind her not to say things which our European, Far Eastern, or American colleagues might misunderstand ...

Anyway, here is the table concerned


What the Brits say
What we mean
What others think they hear
I hear what you say
I disagree and do not wish to discuss it further
He is listening to me
With the greatest respect
You’re being an idiot
She respects my position
That’s not bad
That’s good
That’s a bit disappointing
That is a very brave position
That is insane
He respects my courage
Quite good
A bit disappointing
(US)  Very good
(Other) Fairly good
I would suggest  ...
Do this or be prepared to justify yourself
Think about the idea but it’s your decision
Oh incidentally/by the way
The main purpose of this conversation is ...
This is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that
I am furious that ...
This is a minor concern
Very interesting
What ridiculous nonsense
She is impressed
I’ll  bear it in mind
I have already forgotten
He might do this
Possibly through no fault of your own ...
You are in very serious trouble ...
She hasn’t decided who is to blame
You must come to dinner
I am merely being polite
I will get an invitation
I almost agree
I don’t agree at all
We are close to agreement
I only have a few minor comments
You will need to do a complete rewrite
He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options
I don’t like this proposal
She has not yet decided what to do

One Lib/Dem wises up

I always try to give credit where it is due and am grateful to Plato on Political Betting for the following account of a Lib/Dem rising star's comments of what she has learned from her party being in government ...


(Plato wrote) "Well one LD seems to have got it. Perhaps it'll be catching. Paywall."

(She then quoted)

"Ms Swinson, who in February was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, admits that being in Government has meant the Lib Dems have had to hit the road running. And if they’ve learnt one thing it’s that broken promises often lead to broken reputations.

“In opposition you can just take the purely populist route on every issue and also people don’t in quite the same way make sure that everything stacks up.”


She continues: “So you can say one thing on one issue and one thing on another issue that might be actually contradictory. but, in a sense, when you’re in opposition because it doesn’t have to hang together… Whereas when you’re in government it does all have to work together and you have to be much more consistent and that’s been a useful learning experience.”

The politics of hate

You can say that you hate a particular type of food, or a style of art, or a political philosophy, or a type of cruel or wicked behaviour, and in general this will be socially acceptable, though obviously other people are entitled to disagree with your view.

But if you say that you hate a particular human being or a group of people personally, you had better have a very good reason indeed, or this will say something far worse about you than about the object of your hatred. Even if you have such a good reason it is more likely to be taken as an excuse rather than a justification unless the objects of your hostility are themselves very obviously worthy of it - if they are nazis or murderers, for instance.

Two blog posts about hate - and the reaction to them - rather illustrate how most people usually don't think hate a good thing, but others are frighteningly quick to resort to or defend it.

This week Dan Hannan MEP wrote a blog post in the Telegraph about the sort of hatred some people on the left display for anyone right of centre. His article, There are some forms of hate speech that lefties openly applaud  is illustrated by a picture of  a T-shirt with the logo "I still hate Thatcher." It refers to the paradox that you can be prosecuted for referring to a religious or racial group in the language that some people use for their political opponents. He cites three comments posted on the Guardian website:

"Jeez, have you even met any ******? They're like a cross between Fagin & Goebbels."
"I have always found ****** to be nasty, selfish, lying, despicable, evil, grasping, ignorant, duplicitous wastes of oxygen."
"****** are extremist scum. End of story."

If the word which I have represented by asterisks had been a description of an ethnic group, anyone who posted this would be labelled a racist and be in serious danger of prosecution. Dan made the point that if the asterisks had represented the word "Muslims" the negative reaction, including on the left, would be nearly as strong. This too could have meant prosecution under a particularly bad piece of legislation put forward by the last Labour government.

In all candour, if Dan had not gone on to explain which group of human beings was being attacked, I hope and think I would have still said that all three comments and particularly the essence of the third charge - extremist - were more likely to be true of the individuals who posted them than of whatever target they were posted about, whoever that target was. Though of course, the posters might merely be extremely rude and thoughtless people.

What was actually posted had the word "Tories" where the above quotes have the asterisks.

Dan suggested that a certain type of leftie is particularly prone to hating their opponents. His argument was immediately undermined by the comments posted on his article, presumably by right-wingers (unless someone with a perverse sense of humour was having a laugh, which I would not entirely rule out). Said comments were almost as vituperative about left-wingers as the quotes  which he was discussing had been about right-wingers.

Ironically, there was much more evidence for Dan's position in the comments posted on an article written a year ago in Salon magazine by an American Democrat, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which was entitled  I can't believe my best friend is a Republican. Ms Brodesser-Akner's piece was a celebration of how you can like someone, enjoy their company and learn from them despite very vigorously disagreeing with almost everything they believe in. The article was a powerful and amusing celebration of political diversity and some of those who posted comments got it.

However, a depressing number of comments posted on the article attacked both Ms Brodesser-Akner's friend as one of the people who were supposedly destroying their country, and the author herself for being a traitor to Democrats and Liberals by being friends with her. These comments were pretty much the US equivalent of the sort of hate speech against Conservatives which Dan Hannan was blogging about.

Democracy depends on a diversity of opinions to function and the fact that we don't always see things the same way as other people is a good thing rather than the reverse.

Whether it is Nye Bevan describing the Conservative party as "lower than vermin" or someone on the right giving way to equally poisonous comments about the left, it doesn't make us better human beings and it doesn't help the political debate move forward in any constructive way when the language of political hatred goes over the top.

It definately isn't the answer to make expressions of political hatred subject to criminal prosecution - the legal system has quite enough to do catching murderers, rapists, burglars and metal thieves. But perhaps such expressions are something which everyone with an interest in politics ought to do more to discourage. Particularly when it comes from people on our own side of the political fence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sign of the Times

The front page of this morning's edition of The Times illustrates an article headlined "Coalition support plunges" with a diagram showing - wait for it - Labour support down 1%, Conservative support up 1% and Lib/Dem support up 3%.

I suppose "Coalition support edges upwards, but not by an amount which is highly statistically significant" would not have made such a good headline ...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Richard Rhodes selected as Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner


Richard Rhodes, who has been a headmaster, a magistrate for many years, and is currently chairman of Cumbria's probation service, was adopted last night as the Conservative candidate to be Cumbria's first Police and Crime Commissioner.

Having asked everyone at the meetings concerned not to blog or tweet about this until the official announcement had been made, I can confirm that this news was officially released last night.
Richard was selected by the combined votes of Conservative party members attending two meetings, one at the Low Wood Bay hotel at Windemere on Thursday night, and one last night at Mungrisdale.

There was a strong field of applicants to be the candidate for this important post, and we had to turn down at each stage of the process other people with strong credentials, but Richard impressed me and evidently a clear majority of the people present at each selection event: he won on the first count.

The election will be on 15th November. If Richard is elected I am certain he will be an excellent commissioner.



Friday, July 13, 2012

Priorities

Political anoraks and activists like myself tend to get very excited about certain subjects such as reform of the House of Lords.

But while a country in which most of those involved in politics paid no attention to constitutional issues would, in the long term, pay a heavy price in lost freedom and worse government, all the polls suggest that those issues are not what most of the electorate are most bothered about at the moment.

The polls I've seen suggest that most voters want the government to concentrate on bread-and-butter issues like Jobs, the NHS, and the cost of living (especially fuel prices) such issues.

Fieldwork for the most recent poll concerned was a week ago and I dare say that if you repeated it today there would be a lot more concern about sorting out the banks.

And with the economy in its' present state, it would be a very arrogant politician who suggested that the voters were wrong to want parliament to focus on getting the country out of this mess and focussing on the bread-and-butter issues while doing so.

I know that David Cameron gets this - I've heard presentations on the subject twice in the past month from one of his closest advisors - and perhaps there is a challenge to all the political parties to show that the concerns of the political class are also those of the country.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Tory Case for Lords Reform

Steven Dorrell, a former Conservative minister, has written an excellent article in the Guardian - yes, I know, but not everything written in the Grauniad is wrong - on why Tories who believe in limited government and checks and balances should support House of Lords reform.

You can read the full article here but this is an extract:


If Lords reform disturbs the balance in Westminster, all to the good

Tories should recognise that a stronger House of Commons would encourage Whitehall to drop its lazy habits.

House of Lords reform is not just a Lib Dem policy – it is also a Tory policy ... This is in danger of being lost amid the political rhetoric. Some Conservatives may disagree, but every Conservative manifesto since 2001 has included a commitment to reform the upper house.

There are not many obvious arguments in favour of a status quo where one house of parliament has nearly 800 members, the majority of whom were appointed by prime ministerial patronage. There are, on the other hand, well-established Tory arguments for a reformed second chamber that would provide a more effective check on the legislative ambitions of a House of Commons dominated by the executive.

Many of the concerns expressed about the government's proposals have focused on the balance between Lords and Commons – it is argued that a largely elected Lords will challenge the primacy of the Commons and disturb the balance of parliament. I am in favour of disturbing the balance – but it is the balance between Westminster and Whitehall that concerns me most.

A familiar complaint about our system is that it subjects us to a torrent of ill-considered laws. This may sound like a whinge from a weary insider, but it is more important than that. The ease with which governments are able to push proposals through parliament encourages a lazy habit of thought in Whitehall, where the answer to virtually every problem is more legislation. Instead of asking serious questions about how to change social attitudes and behaviour or improve public administration, the preferred option is to change the law. It answers a political problem by creating the illusion of action but in fact changes nothing.

That is why I favour a stronger parliament that provides a more effective reality check on proposals for new laws and insists that they are justified against a more substantive test than a government's desire to make a political point. Parliamentary reformers have sometimes tried to achieve this result by procedural changes in the House of Commons. Such changes are welcome, but they don't address the central point: the Commons is first and foremost the assembly which determines and then sustains the government of the day.

A stronger upper house will be more independent of the executive, more able to exercise independent judgment, without undermining the authority of the Government or the primacy of the House of Commons.

You don't have to believe that the government's proposals are perfect to believe that they will lead to a stronger House of Lords. I am not an enthusiast for 15-year single terms, but I believe that this form of largely elected house will provide a more effective legislative check than the current house can provide; I therefore believe it represents an important step in the direction of better governance.

The bill's opponents sometimes argue that this strengthened legislative check will inevitably undermine the ability of the government to carry through difficult decisions.

I don't agree; the shape of the government will continue to be determined by seats in the Commons, and the Commons will retain exclusive control of the purse strings, as well as the right to insist on legislation under the terms of the Parliament Act. The government's political accountability will continue to be to the Commons, and this will create the opportunity for the Lords to play a different role within parliament – working to a more measured timescale and insisting that legislation is used more as a rifle and less as a blunderbuss.

Constitutional buffs will always produce better solutions. Some will argue for a different voting system; others will argue for a different definition of powers; all will have their own version of utopia. But none of their arguments address the Tory case for reform.

The House of Commons provides an effective forum for enforcing the political accountability of the executive, but it is not an effective legislative assembly. Britain would be better governed if a reformed upper house had a democratic mandate to fulfil this role. This approach should appeal to a Tory instinct precisely because it is limited and incremental and makes no attempt to create a new constitutional blueprint.

It builds on changes introduced over the last 100 years and does not preclude later changes in the light of experience; but in the meantime it aims to restrict the torrent of half-baked legislation by strengthening the democratic roots of parliament. What's to oppose in that?

Time to reform the House of Lords

However undemocratic the House of Lords was before Tony Blair began his so-called "Reform" programme, it was actually fairly good at the job, and reasonably independent of governments of both parties. (Allegations over many decades that the House of Lords was the poodle of the Conservative Party were usually very far from the truth - it certainly inflicted plenty of defeats on Margaret Thatcher.)

But the position of the House of Lords as an effective check on the government was wrecked by the  the Blair government's constitutional reforms. These often sounded good but were usually so badly thought through or partisan in impact that they were more like sheer constitutional vandalism. And when Tony Blair removed most of the hereditary peers without making any arrangements to elect their replacements he produced a second chamber which is almost entirely appointed.

That is not an effective way to have a chamber which will hold the government to account.

That is why the Conservative manifesto which I stood two years ago, and on which every Conservative MP in the present House of Commons was elected, promised to bring forward measures for a wholly or largely elected second chamber.

There are two right reasons and one wrong reason why I hope Conservative MPs will vote in support of the second reading of the government bill on the House of Lords this week, and on the programme motion.

The wrong reason is the unhelpful "noises-off" from certain Liberal Democrats trying to blackmail the Conservatives into supporting the bill. Someone should point out to them that this is likely to be counter-productive.

The first right reason to support the bill is that Conservative MPS were elected on a promise to voters to reform the House of Lords.

The second is that it is the right thing to do.

Now I don't agree that everything in the current proposals is perfect - in particular, I hope that during the debate the "party list" system of election will be replaced by a more democratic one. In my book either first past the post or STV are far better systems than party lists.

But let's not take the attitude that there can be no reform until everyone agrees on a perfect system to move forward. If we wait for that we won't get a second chamber suitable for the 21st century until about the 23rd century!


Footnote: the relevant section of the Coalition agreement reads as follows:
  • We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Summer can start now ...

We had some lovely weather for teh Diamong Jubilee and the "Marratime" festival, buy otherwise it's been a pretty miserable summer marked by torrential rain.

And through all of this several areas of the country had hosepipe bans.

Now at last they have all been cancelled.

So what's the betting that the end of all the remaining hosepipe bans signals that the remainder of the summer will be hot and dry?

I'm certainly not going to bet against it.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Quote of the Day

"If it keeps happening, it's not luck."

(One of the BBC commentators during this year's Wimbledon men's final.)

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Murray marches on

Amazing play by Andy Murray yesterday to become the first British player to reach a Wimbledon men's final in 74 years. Richly deserved as both Murray and his opponent played brilliantly.

Five years ago the last Brit to win a Wimbledon title of any kind was also a Murray - Jamie Murray, who won the mixed doubles with his partner in 2007. And  a Brit with very similar surname - Jonny Marray - is through to the 2012 Men's doubles final.

Andy Murray will now face six times champion Roger Federer, who is one of the greatest players of all time, in the final.

It is seventy six years since a Brit, Fred Perry, actually won the men's singles title.

Andy Murray obviously has an attitude which is both realistic and positive:

"I'm probably not expected to win the match, but it is one that, if I play well, I'm capable of winning," he said.

"His record here has been incredible, so the pressure will be less on me because of who he is."

Tim Henman, the last Brit before Andy Murray to make four consecutive Wimbledon men's singles semi finals - all of which he sadly lost, though he did get as far as having a couple of match points for a place in the final - has said of Sunday's match that

"Andy Murray's got one monkey off the nation's back by becoming Britain's first male singles finalist in 74 years, it's his chance to kill two birds with one stone. It was an unbelievable performance by Murray to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in his semi-final and an amazing match ...

"Murray's done such a good job of maintaining his focus and staying mentally strong ...

"Andy will like the match-up with Roger and if he can get to Federer's backhand, of course he has a chance.

"For the next two days ... the focus and the attention will be so intense and Murray will have to make sure he keeps his head down. And doesn't read any papers."

The one thing we can be certain of on Sunday is that with the superb form both Federer and Muray have been showing we are almost certain to see an amazing game of tennis.

Metal Thieves use bogus drainage van


The parasites who make their living preying on society by stealing metal from our national infrastructure, ripping out metal cables and pipes or public monuments, sometimes display an inventiveness which would be commendable in a less ignoble activity or which would probably earn them more money if deployed in honest work.
 
As a case in point, police are searching for a gang who used a bogus drainage company van in a bid to steal cable from the BT network.

​The five men fled the scene in Eltham, south London, when they spotted police approaching their vehicle. It was found have concealed winching equipment fitted inside.

Officers recovered a large quantity of BT cable from the rear of the van which the thieves had already removed from the ground.

In the past few weeks several rogue gangs have been caught and arrested while trying to pass themselves off as legitimate workmen and using props like the bogus drainage company van in an attempt to attempt to blend into the surroundings.
 
If you see people who at first sight appear to be workmen but who are acting suspiciously, do not hesitate to call 999.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Quote of the Day

"This must be the wettest drought on record'
(From a BT discussion board)



WEATHER WARNINGS

Yet another set of "a month's rain in a day" weather warnings for today and tomorrow. There does seem to have been a lot of rain this year!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Jack Brown R.I.P.

It seems to be one of those weeks.

Jack Brown, a delightful gentleman who had been a stalwart of Copeland Conservatives for very many years has just died.

He would have been 100 in January.

Rest in Peace.

Defend Free speech: Reform Section 5

I wrote a post on this blog a few weeks ago with the title "Feel Free to Insult Me" which is the slogan for those who are campaigning for reform of Section 5 of the Public Order ACt 1986.

In particular, they want the word "insulting" removed from a clause which tries to criminalise "insulting, threatening or abusive behaviour."

Absolutely right. Threatening or abusive behaviour should be illegal, but if the trouble is that the expression of almost any controversial opinion is likely to be found insulting by somebody.

I'd particularly like to endorse this excellent article on Conservative Home by Simon Calvert, who is director of the campaign to reform section 5.

Some of his best points are as follows:

"One ... cornerstone of our society is the right to free speech, which is increasingly being challenged by someone else’s right to not be offended. You don’t have to be a student of law to know that we no more enjoy a right not to be offended than we enjoy a right to watch England win a penalty shootout.


"One piece of well-intentioned legislation that is having, in the words of David Davis MP, “a truly chilling effect on freedom of speech” is Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act. Granted, this obscure provision was never going to attract the same outrage as proposals to detain terror suspects for 90 days without charge, and it probably won’t turn hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets in protest, but it does matter and it must be reformed.


"Section 5 currently outlaws “insulting words or behaviour” but what exactly constitutes an insult is unclear and has resulted in some highly controversial arrests. One boy was arrested under Section 5 for holding a sign which read “Scientology is a cult” and another student found himself in breach of Section 5 when he told a mounted police officer that his horse was gay. On each occasion an arrest was made on the grounds that someone, somewhere, could have been insulted if they heard or saw the offending point of view. There are more troublesome cases, too. The veteran campaigner, Peter Tatchell, was arrested under Section 5 when campaigning against members of the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir - who called for the killing of gay people, Jews and unchaste women. He was arrested for displaying a placard that cited the murderous actions of Islamist fanatics. Is this what it has come to? Have we reached the point where we need the State to sanitise and vet every discussion?


"The Home Office is currently considering its response to a consultation on whether to remove the word “insulting” from Section 5, leaving just the sensible restrictions on “threatening or abusive” behaviour. The main problem with the word “insulting” is that it actually encourages the police, and sometimes prosecutors, to go after people who are being no more than rude, or even controversial.

"We would all like to see a little less rudeness, but in a democracy an insensitive joke or a contentious point of view should not be a criminal offence.

"The Government has a chance to send a very clear signal that this country is indeed the home of free speech, fair debate and common sense. Reforming Section 5 would unburden the police without limiting their ability to protect and would reassure campaigners without threatening the public. It is that rarest of things for a government, a win-win."
You can read the full article here.

Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner elections

All paid-up members of the Conservative party resident in the Cumbria Constabulary police force area should have received an invitation to attend either of two final selection meetings to choose the Conservative candidate in the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner this autumn.

The two meetings are to be held in different parts of the county next week: one in Ambleside on Thursday 12th July and one in Mungrisdale on Friday 13th July.

If any member of the party in Cumbria is reading this and has not received such an invitation, please contact your local constituency office or email me on chris4copeland@btinternet.com

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Whitehaven festival put £5.3 million into local economy

Figures published this week in the Whitehaven News suggest that this year's Jubillee weekend Whitehaven Festival put no less than £5.3 million into West Cumbria's economy. Which at this difficult time will have been a potential life-saver for many small businesses.

Nice to see something going right. A credit to all the people who organised the festival, which was a great success.

Kenny Wilson R.I.P.

Kenneth William Wilson, who died yesterday, was a true Cumbrian gentleman who will be sadly missed by the very large number of people who knew him.

He was an extraordinarily generous man, with a great sense of fun and fellowship: he had been involved in supporting a huge number of charities and other organisations. He was one of those who did most to make it possible for the former Town Hall in Cleator Moor to remain a building which the community can still use, as one of the architects of the purchase of the hall by West Cumbrian Freemasons, who continue to hire it out for public use, when the council would have closed it.

Rest in Peace.

Update: his funeral will be at noon on Wednesday 11th July at St Bridget's Church, Moresby.

Second update: the funeral was exceptionally well attended with people standing outside the church listening via public address system.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Bank inquiry

I think it was the right decision for the CEO of Barclays to resign following the LIBOR rate fixing scandal: firstly because someone senior needs to take responsibility and secondly the bank needs a fresh start to rebuild its' credibility.

I was also pleased to see that there is to be an inquiry.

Sadly however I was not pleased by the tone of some of the discussion about what form that inquiry should take and the blatant self-serving hypocrisy of some of those taking part in the debate.

For example, I was absolutely disgusted by an interview which former Labour City minister Lord Myners has just given on the BBC in which he raised the question of the inquiry.

Not because he expressed a view about what form of inquiry would best bring out the truth - that's a legitimate issue to debate even though I disagree with him about it - but because he accused the present government of trying to control the inquiry format in order to prevent "contamination" falling on themselves.

Excuse me?

Which party was in power during the whole of the period when the rigging of the LIBOR rate by Barclays took place (2005 to 2009)? And during the run up to the banking crisis, and during the crisis itself?

And who was Minister for the City towards the end of that period?

His party was, and he was!

If any political party has reason to try to influence the inquiry into the working of the banks to stop themselves being discredited, it is not either of the parties in the present government. It is the party which was in power during the period whem the problems occurred, which was the Labour party.

Lord Myners' attempt to turn the debate on what sort of inquiry we need into the banks into a political mudslinging exercise - and making, in the process, a blatantly false charge which could not possibly be true of the people he made it against, though it might possibly be true of his own party  - is exactly the sort of behaviour which brings politics into disrepute.

Out of the mouths of Babes ...

Hat tip to The Motley Fool, reposted on Political Betting for the following anecdote.


"I recently asked my mate's little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up.

She said she wanted to be Prime Minister some day.

Both of her parents, Lib Dems, were standing there, so I asked her, 'If you were Prime Minister what would be the first thing you would do? '
She replied, 'I'd give food and council houses to all the homeless people!'

Her parents beamed with pride.

'Wow...what a worthy goal.' I told her, 'But you don't have to wait until you are Prime Minister to do that.

You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you £50... Then I'll take you over to Asda where the homeless guy hangs out and you can give him the £50 to use toward food and a new house!'


She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked,
'Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the £50? '

I said, 'Welcome to the Tories.'

(My mate was not amused.)"

Monday, July 02, 2012

Banking

Just when we hoped that the banking sector might be getting their house in order comes the scandal of interest rate fixing.

There are plenty of honest people involved in banking who work hard at jobs which do not attract the huge salaries and bonuses with which Merchant Banking is coming to be associated. It's a great shame that many of them will be tarred with the same brush as those bankers who have been less exemplary in their attention to the rules of sound business or basic ethics.

If anyone in Britain - or the other countries affected - were in any doubt that things have gone seriously wrong in the culture of some parts of our banking sectors, the LIBOR scandal would have destroyed such doubts.

How can you explain to an unemployed person who has been looking hard for months for a job, or to someone who is working all the hours God sends for £15,000 a year, or anyone struggling to put food on their children's table and pay the rent or mortgage, that people who are paid more in a week than they get in a year think it is OK to tell lies to rig markets so that they can have even more money?

This sort of culture will not change until and unless the people involved are held personally liable for their actions - which should mean not just the sack, but jail time. I don't underestimate the difficulty of bringing successful prosecutions, but if it is impractical to convict the people behind the LIBOR fixing scam of any criminal offence then we need to look at whether the present legal definition of fraud is adequate.

Apparently the Serious Fraud Office is considering whether the LIBOR case is within their remit. When you look at the criteria on the SFO website for what cases they should handle, the answers are almost embarrassingly obvious. E.g. (my answers as they affect this case in italics to the questions on the SFO website in plain) ...


The key factors we consider before taking on a case:
  • Does the value of the alleged fraud exceed £1 million?
               (They rigged the interest rates on transactions involving trillions of pounds. Even the tiniest change in such a rate has effects measured in tens or hundreds of millions.)
  • Is there a significant international dimension?
               (It involves both UK and US regulators, and banks from several countries)
  • Is the case likely to be of widespread public concern?
                (Is the Pope catholic?)
  • Does the case require highly specialised knowledge, for example, of financial markets?
                (Do bears do their business in the woods?)
  • Is there a need to use the SFO's special powers, such as Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act?
                (Very likely)

Serious and complex: what do we look for?
In addition to the above criteria we look for factors such as:

Is it serious?
  • Whether the fraud will impact on the integrity of the financial market
                   (If this doesn't, it is difficult  to imagine what would!)
  • Whether there is a wider group than shareholders or creditors who have lost money as a result of the alleged fraud
                  (Everyone in the economy who borrows money or lends money could potentially have lost when they moved the rates up or down. People directly affected by LIBOR - for example. those whose mortgage rate is tied to it, as mine once was though not during the period in question - could have been significantly affected)

... and so it goes on.

There has to be seen to be firm and decisive action to punish the wrongdoers or there will be a collapse of confidence.