Friday, November 30, 2012

Developing the North

I was interested to read about a study published by a body called "The Northern Economic Futures Commission" which has spent 18 months gathering evidence about how economic growth in the North pf England could be accelerated and how this could help the British economy as a whole.

The commission report points out that over the last decade the three northern regions - the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East - have been responsible for a fifth of the UK's prosperity, but London alone contributed more than a quarter.

And while countries like Germany, Holland and Spain have several economically-powerful cities, the UK just has London.

But above all it was concerned with how the north could help the British economy return to significant levels of growth.

Why, the report asks, can't the likes of Newcastle, Leeds or Manchester be as economically significant as Stuttgart, Rotterdam or Barcelona?
Barcelona skyline

The commission says it wants northern cities to be as economically significant as Barcelona

The commission's solution is to move power and funding north and provide more support for transport in the Northern regions. They recommend that a new body - Transport for the North - should be formed to oversee the northern rail network.
But the power and money grab wouldn't stop there.

The commission wants a fighting fund for economic growth to be created by handing local transport, housing, skills, regeneration and development funding directly to the north's Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Under the recommendations £13bn of housing benefit and funding for house-building would also be transferred out of Whitehall and into the north. Local employers would get a greater say over skills policy and the number of apprenticeships would double to 60,000 by 2015.

A Northern Innovation Council could get £1bn from the proceeds of sale of 4G mobile licences, and there would be a special northern section of a UK investment bank.

You can read more about the proposals in a piece by Richard Moss, political editor for BBC North East and Cumbria, which you can find on the BBC website here.

I have a lot of sympathy for many of the ideas in this report  but there is an essential note of caution - it is essential that any such plan looks at the whole of the North, and not just the big Northern cities. I have not forgotten that the last government produced a huge plan for the North of England called "The Northern Way" with all sorts of optimistic plans. There were however two big problems

1) Large parts of the North were almost completely left out of the plans. For example out of all the hundreds of pages and proposals in "The Northern Way" there was virtually nothing for any part of Cumbria

2) Most of it never happened.

I hope some of the ideas put forward by the Northern Economic Futures Commission do happen, and that they benefit the whole region, (including Cumbria) and not just certain parts of it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

I listened to Mr Justice Leveson's presentation today with great interest.

The press has been on manouvers for the past few weeks, raising the spectre that if the wrong sort of decisions were taken in response to the disgraceful behaviour of some sections of the media as brought out in the evidence to the Leveson inquiry, the ability of the press to perform its' essential function as part of a free society might be compromised.

Leveson said an awful lot of the right things, recognising both the valuable job done by most of the press and the damaging, extreme irresponsibility which other parts of the media have failed to play the role society needs them to play.

His proposals would include giving the government a statutory duty to protect the freedom of the press, and that is certainly a good idea.

He said that he does not want press regulation by the government. This is undoubtedly the right aspiration. But if may not be easy to acheive in a system set up by statute.

His proposals are very detailed and it is a massive and important report. I hope people will not be too quick to rush to judgement on whether the proposals should all be accepted and, if so, how they should be implemented.

That Leveson himself is aware of one of the issues surrounding, this

 - namely that if you use the law to set up a press regulator you must build in safeguards to ensure that those who make the laws cannot use that power to manipulate the press regulator to protect themselves -

was shown by the last words of his speech, a reference to the ancient saying:

Who shall guard the guardians?

Ir may or may not be legal but you can stll be locked up for it!

I did a double take this morning - a very cold and frosty morning - on the way from the dentist's surgery to my office at the sight of a billboard saying words to the effect that going topless in Whitehaven is legal.

I would have thought that women going topless in public except on a designated nudist beach would normally risk prosecution under the laws on decency. However, when I picked up a copy of the Whitehaven News later today there was a story, appropriately on page three (though not illustrated) about a book which has apparently just been published called "The law is an ass" with details of daft or unusual local laws.

This book includes the allegation, for which the Whitehaven News was unable to track down a scintilla of supporting evidence, that a local by-law has at some point been passed allowing women in Whitehaven to go topless.

Hmm. Even if this is right, someone silly enough to do it at the moment might still find themselves detained as a guest of Her Majesty, though the responsible secretary of state might be Jeremy Hunt rather than Chris Grayling.

At one stage of my career, while I was a health authority member and for some months afterwards, I served on mental health act appeal tribunals.

I can only say that if I were still serving on such a tribunal, and an appellant either male or female who came before us had been wandering around Whitehaven with their upper half naked in anything remotely resembling the sort of weather we have been having in the town at the moment, I doubt that the medical professionals would have too much of a struggle to make the case that the individual should be detained under Section Two of the Mental Health Act for his or her own protection!

Superfast broadband comes to Cumbria

A contact signed this week between Cumbria County Council and BT, part of a project also supported by the government and by the EU, will bring superfast broadband to Cumbria.

The contract was signed at Ullswater by Councillor Liz Mallinson on behalf of Cumbria C.C. and Bill Murphy for BT (left) in the presence of Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith & the Border (centre), who has campaigned for action to bring faster broadband to areas like Cumbria.

This contract is part of the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme – and will mean super-fast broadband will become available to around 93 per cent of homes and businesses in Cumbria by the end of 2015.
Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director for next generation access, said: “Cumbria’s scattered population combined with its comparatively large size and challenging geography, means that small business plays a pivotal role in the county’s economy and the rollout of fibre broadband will act as an economic driver for those rural businesses.
“The statistics show that in Cumbria, something like 7,000 businesses operate from villages, hamlets and isolated properties, which is why BT is committed to helping push fibre to those that are hardest to reach, offering a helping hand to the small community projects where residents are helping to build their own superfast connections.”
Cumbria is expected to be one of the first areas to benefit from the European Union decision to grant state aid approval for the government’s national broadband rollout.
Once government approval for state aid and confirmation of EU Major Project status is given, it means that government and european funding for the project can be released, allowing the project to begin quickly.
Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “Today’s announcement is fantastic news for Cumbria and I’m pleased that one of the first areas to benefit from the Government’s Rural Broadband Project is, in fact, one of the most rural regions in England.
"This multi-million scheme will provide Cumbrian residents with some of the fastest broadband speeds available in the UK by 2015.”
This is a multi-million pound contract, of which the funding includes
£17.1m from the government via BDUK,
* £13.7m from the European Regional Development Fund,
* £5m through the Performance Reward Grant from all councils in Cumbria
There will also be a significant direct investment by BT itself
 According to Ofcom, Cumbria’s average downstream speed is currently 7.1Mbps, while 18.8 per cent of the population receive less than 2Mbps
The project will enable a range of ISPs to offer speeds of up to 80Mbps to a majority of the county’s homes and businesses by the end of 2015. Fibre-to-the-Premise technology – delivering speeds of up to 330Mbps – will also be available
Premises in the remaining seven per cent who currently have very poor internet speeds will also see an uplift – the project aims to deliver a minimum of 2Mbps or more to almost all homes and businesses.
Source for the information in this blog post: BT news release.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Don't be conned

One of the curses of modern society is the number of people trying to trick you out of your money by posing as someone else.

Some of these attempted frauds are so obvious they wouldn't fool a savvy ten-year old, but some are very sophisticated indeed.

Anybody reading this probably finds their email inbox full of messages from people pretending to be their bank (or lots of other people's banks) or their Internet Service Provider  and asking you to confirm your login details or they'll have to cut you off for security reasons.

One of the most recent tricks is websites which pretend to be either a large company such as BT, or an agency through which they can be contacted, and which then overcharge any customers or potential customers who used the contact details given in an attempt to contact the company concerned

For example. there are a large number of websites which pretend to be BT or associated sites and give phone numbers on which people can supposedly - or actually, but for an excessive price - contact BT to order something, report a fault or make a complaint.

Such websites are often designed in such a way as to mislead customers into thinking they are calling the company concerned, eg they may have a prominent display of words like BT Customer Services followed by a phone number.

Unfortunately anyone who rings these numbers is all too often calling a premium rate phone number and could be charged anything from £1 or more per minute to listen to long pre-recorded messages. Which may perhaps, eventually, give you the number you needed to ring in the first place after you have made a generous contribution to their own coffers.


If you forget the contact details of your phone, gas, or water supplier, insurance company or bank, and have to search for them on the internet, you need to make sure you are definitely calling the company concerned and not someone else who will charge you to give you the correct number.

And if the company you wanted to ring was BT,  you can also bear in mind that

• All BT contact numbers from landlines are free and begin with 0800.

(Some BT numbers have a three digit short form: for example instead of 0800 800150 to pay your bill you can ring 150 which is also free, or to report a fault on a residential telephone line the full number is 0800 800151, but 151 also works and again is free.)

• All BT contact numbers from mobiles are charged at the national rate and begin with 0330 (You can call 0800 numbers for free from some mobiles – check with your mobile provider).

Hospice at Home "Santa Dash"

Do take care if you are reading this in one of the parts of the UK which had vile weather today.

Fortunately in Whitehaven, though we have had a lot of rain this week and my garden is both sodden and treacherously slippery in places, the rain held off this lunchtime and the Hospice at Home West Cumbria charity run run with the theme "Santa Dash" was able to take place.

My daughter was one of the runners: my son and I were among the stewards.

Congratulations to all those who took part in the run, sponsored any of the runners or helped in any other way with an emjoyable event which raised funds for this worthy cause. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

MIchael Gove on Rotherham's chilling decision

I think that anyone who votes UKIP is showing a serious failure of political judgement. But that's my opinion, and UKIP supporters are equally entitled to their different opinion and their vote.

I also think that anyone who voted Labour in 2010 showed an even more catastrophic failure of political judgement, but democracy means that people have the right to use their votes in ways which I really, really strongly disagree with and I just have to live with it.

Just as people who equally strongly disagree with the way I vote and the things I believe in have to live with that. The price of our freedom to hold our own opinions and vote the way we wish is that we have to extend the same freedom to others.

Another part of the price of that freedom is that millions of people have fought and died to defend it. Which is why the way unelected council officials in Rotherham have taken an action which appears to strike directly at that freedom is so shocking and alarming.

A couple in Rotherham who have been fostering children for seven years and appear to have an excellent record in doing so had been fostering three children for eight weeks when officials at Rotherham Borough Council cancelled the placement for no other reason than that the foster paresnts concerned were members of UKIP.

In a car crash interview this morning the head of the department which took the decision was quite open about the fact that the foster parents were members of UKIP was the reason for the decision.

Education secretary Michael Gove has released the following statement about this extraordinary action:

 Rotherham have made the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. Rotherham's reasons for denying this family the chance to foster are indefensible. The ideology behind Rotherham's decision is actively harmful to children. We should not allow considerations of ethnic or cultural background to prevent children being placed with loving and stable families. We need more parents to foster and many more to adopt. Any council that decides supporting a mainstream UK political party disbars an individual from looking after children in care is sending a dreadful signal that will only decrease the number of loving homes available to children in need."

Michael Gove also pointed out in a BBC interview that "The ideology of adults should not take precedence over the needs of Children."


Downing Street rejected reports that David Cameron had retracted his previous criticisms of the UKIP leadership in the light of the council's decision. A spokesman said: "The prime minister never said that every single member of Ukip is a racist and the point about adoption cases is parents need to be judged on their merits, not affiliation to a political party."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Time to vote out the 74 ?

The Church of England was effectively created in its' present form by Queen Elizabeth the First to be a "Broad Church" which as large as possible a proportion of the population of England could identify with and take part in.

That tradition has largely been continued down the centuries. Although there have been times when the "Yes Prime Minister" joke about the compromises within the Anglican church including one between those who believe in God and those who don't has had rather more truth in it than was comfortable, the fact remains that the tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness which is an essense of what the Church of England tries to stand for has enabled that church to reach out to and help many people who would be completely unable to identify with a more dogmatic church.

But the problem with any organisation built on tolerance and staying in touch with the mainstream of the people of this country is how do you deal tolerantly with those who are intolerant and those who do not wish to reach out to the mainstream?

Churches which are true to the teaching of Jesus are never going to be able to completely align with secular society. The besetting sins of different ages may be very different, but most societies at most times will have tendancies which it will be the duty of a church to warn against, be they excesses of cruelty, selfishness, greed, or self-indulgence.

But a church which indulges in navel-gazing and internal arguments about aspects of it's own ideas which are light-years away from the society it is part of will not only put off the rest of society from listening to the church when it goes on about those subjects. Society will fail to listen to a church which appears antedeluvian, out of touch, and more than a little strange most especially when the church really does have something to say which that society needs to listen to.

And this week a small group of hardliners within the Church of England who do not represent the leadership, the clergy, or the vast majority of people in the pews managed to make the church look like a peculiar and outdated sect. They would doubtless claim that they were doing what they believe to be the will of God. I believe that they were frustrating His will.

The Anglican church has been ordaining women for decades. When that measure was agreed, everyone in their right mind on both sides of the debate recognised that if women were ordained priests, before too many years there would be women bishops.

Over the course of the past twenty years there has been fierce debate about how to acheive this. A set of arrangements, giving huge and generous concessions to those who do not want to submit to the pastoral authority of women bishops and those of bishops who do ordain women, has been discussed and seemed to have been agreed.

When the proposal to allow the consecration of women as bishops was put to the church's dioceses earlier this year, 42 of the 44 dioceses agreed.

An opinion poll survey of practicing Christians by the polling organisation COMRES a few weeks ago suggested that the majority of Christians in England, including 72% of people interviewed who were members of the Church of England, thought that it should be possible for women to become bishops.

Interestingly enough, that percentage suggests that ordinary members of the Church of England are not out of line with the rest of the population of the UK: that is well within the margin of error for that sample size, of the percentage that COMRES found for the population as a whole holding the same opinion.

So what did the Synod decide?

  • House of Bishops: 44 for; 3 against; 2 abstentions
  • House of Clergy: 148 for; 45 against; 0 abstentions
  • House of Laity: 132 for; 74 against; 0 abstentions

  • So hearly three quarters of Synod members, like nearly three quarters of members of the church, wanted the measure to pass.

    However, the rules require a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses. Which was overwhelmingly acheived in the House of Bishops, despite the fact that the present House consists entirely of men, and easily achieved in the House of Clergy, despite the fact that the male clergy who voted in favour, which most of them did, were voting to worsen their own promotion prospects.

    So the people who had a vested interest in favour of the status quo voted for change! But unfortunately in the House of Laity, while attracting majority support, the measure was just short of the number of votes it needed. If six members of the House of Laity had voted for, the measure would have passed.

    I don't usually blog on church issues but this ungodly and indefensible decision is, as one bishop pointed out, in danger of turning our national church into a national embarrassment. A priest of bishop should be a man - or woman - of God, but I have never found any of the arguments that God would only call people of one gender to serve Him in this way to be convincing.

    As the bible puts it (in Galatians, Chapter 3 Verse 28)
    "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

    And the idea that God could want a situation where women can be ordained to serve him as priests, as they have in the Church of England for twenty years, but cannot be promoted to the most senior ranks in the church, e.g. Bishop and Archbishop, is just ludicrous. That cannot be a religious position, it is sexist mysogyny plain and simple.

    I can only see one way to deal with this situation. When the present General Synod was elected, the hardliners were organised, and other groups within the church were not. When the next Synod is elected in 2015, we need to make sure that the people chosen are more representative. To be honest, and I would encourage everyone involved to pray about this before voting, I'm inclining to the view that those who elect the next Synod should ask the candidates how they voted or would have voted on this issue. And think long and hard before allowing any of the 74 foolish people who inflicted great damage on God's church this week to be re-elected.


    In Memory of C. S. Lewis

    C. S. Lewis, best known as author of the Narnia stories though he also wrote some absolutely brilliant books about the human condition from a christian perspective such as The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters, is to get a memorial in Poets' corner at Westminister Abbey, which will be unveiled in a year's time on the 50th aniversary of his death in 1963.

    Many years ago, having had a letter published in The Times in which I explained why we can be certain that Jack Lewis would have fallen about laughing at some of the speculations about allegories in his writing which had appeared in the letters column, I had a note from the Oxford University C.S. Lewis society inviting me to make a donation to a memorial they were organising for him. I did make a small donation, and was pleasantly surprised a few months later to get an invitation to the unveiling of that memorial in Oxford, which was a very interesting and enjoyable occasion.

    It will be interesting to see how the memorial in Westminster Abbey compares.

    G8 to go to Northern Ireland

    Good idea to hold next year's G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Hope one year we might have such an event come to Cumbria.

    In both cases it would be a big boost to tourism in the area: in both cases the area could do with that boost in these difficult times.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    If you have evidence of crime, take it to the police

    The whole circus around accurate and false accusations of child abuse has been deeply disturbing in both directions.

    It is essential to protect children from harm. Therefore anyone who has anything which remotely resembles evidence that children might be at risk should take it to the proper authorities, e.g. the police. If there is any real evidence that the police are failing to properly investigate such accusations, there then might be a role for the media in applying pressure.

    There is no role for the media in making childish stunts in relation to this terrible and serious crime,  such as ambusing the prime minister live on air with a set of names based on three minutes' research on the internet.

    Precisely because child abuse is such a terrible crime, those who are falsely accused of it can have their lives destroyed - in some cases literally. People who appear to have been innocent have committed suicide when accusations of this kind have been published. Marriages and families can be wrecked by such allegations - and the children of those falsely accused can suffer grevious emotional harm as a result.

    Completely innocent people who have the misfortune to share a similar name or appearance to a person accused of being a paedophile have been driven from their homes. Twice in the past few years here in West Cumbria there have been incidents where rumours that convicted people were living in particular properties - which the police were at pains to stress were due to mistaken identity - caused serious problems for the wholly innocent people who were actully living there.

    So anyone who makes an allegation on this subject is playing with fire.

    I think it is in the long-term interests of child protection that the former politician who was falsely accused of child abuse is taking legal action against the people who made and repeated that allegation. If a few of these people get badly hit in the pocket the message might get through that you need to make sure you are telling the truth before you trash someone's reputation with a serious allegation on the internet.

    If that means fewer allegations, and that more of the ones which do get made are actually true, there is more chance that something will be done about them.

    In the meantime, if anyone reading this believes that they have real evidence of any case where children are at risk, don't put it on the internet. Take it to the police.

    Saturday, November 17, 2012

    Notes from an election count

    I am not a big fan of the AV system, or of the second class AV system with a first and second preference vote which is now used to elect Police and Crime Commissioners and directly-elected mayors.

    By a huge irony, one of the candidates who lost out this week under this system when he would have won on first past the post, John Prescott, was Deputy Prime Minister in the government which first introduced that voting system when elected mayors were first introduced.

    It was alleged that this was done in an attempt to stop Ken Livingston becoming mayor of London. That worked out well, Tony and John, didn't it? But the system still exists

    I had a ground level view of just how badly this went down with Cumbrian voters yesterday at the count, particularly when we were checking spoilt votes.

    I took a lot of flak this week (and earlier in the campaign), on the doorstep and at non-political meetings, from voters who complained that the election had not been adequately explained. The most common complaint was not knowing enough about the candidates or the post, but it became very clear at the count that the electoral system had not been adequately explained either.

    The message did appear to have got through that you do not have to express a second preference. But we had clearly failed to explain to many hundreds of voters that

     * Second preferences would only be used if the candidate for whom one had cast one's first preference has already lost

     * Therefore it cannot hurt your first preference candidate to express a second preference: if your first preference candidate is still in the running your vote stays in their pile

     * You cannot cast both your two votes in the first preference column unless you wish to spoil your ballot paper, and

     * If you cast your first and second preference votes for the same candidate, your first preference vote will count but your second preference vote will be wasted.

    One of the things which happen at every election count is that any paper which is either spoilt or in any way abonormal - for example, if something is written on it - gets separated out from all the other papers and shown to the candidates or their agents, or both before a ruling is made on whether that ballot paper should count.

    It is against the law for a counting agent to attempt to identify who submitted a particular ballot paper. So, Jim, I do not know for certain whether I saw your ballot paper and would not be allowed to say if I did. But as the late Ian Richardson might have said, "You might very well think that: I couldn't possibly comment."

    Usually the non-standard votes will be at most one or two percent of ballot papers: in a council election showing the potentially disputed papers to candidates and agents usually only takes a few minutes, and in a parliamentary election not much longer.

    Not this time.

    Apart from those who had deliberately spoilt their ballot paper, a disappointing number were void because the voter had tried to cast two first preference votes. These could not be counted for either candidate.

    Most voters did express a valid first preference, but it was when we got onto the second round that the fun really started. I use the word fun, of course, with some irony.

    A huge proportion of voters deliberately or accidentally failed to include a valid second preference. Thousands of voters just left the second preference column blank. In some cases this would have been a deliberate decision only to support one candidate or because of objections to this voting system. Hundreds of voters used their second preference for the same candidate as their first preference, and the second preference was therefore wasted.

    At one point on the second stage of the count myself and the Labour agent spent what seemed like forever with one particular district council's returning officer while he showed us nearly a thousand votes which were spoilt on the second round for that council alone. The same job had to be done on a similar scale for the other five district/borough councils in Cumbria.

    At this stage the Lib/Dems, having already lost, had long since left the count: the election was now between the Conservative and Labour candidates. The Independent and Lib/Dem votes were being redistributed.

    Yes, that's right. The Lib/Dems. The people who insisted on this wretched system.

    And guess what. Hundreds of their own voters hadn't used their second preferences.

    I joked to the Labour agent that as the Lib/Dems had landed us with this system they should have been made to stand there with us and be shown all the Lib/Dem ballot papers with no second preference. "Quite" she said, "But they've all gone down the pub." Or words to that effect.

    Anorak alert - reading the PCC runes

    I have been looking with great interest at how the PCC contests came out around the country, and although the turnouts were low there were good things about how the results went, particularly that those who did vote appeared to be paying attention to the merits and relevant experience of individual candidates.

    It wasn't a particularly brilliant night for any of the political parties, and it was evident that many voters voted against candidates who they saw as too political. Twelve independents were elected. Candidates with a strong background in the justice system, such as the successful candidate in Cumbria, Richard Rhodes, who had been a magistrate for 33 years, and a significant number of former police officers, tended to do well in the election. Former ministers of both parties, such as Labour's John Prescott, tended to lose.

    I actually think that one of the reasons to support the new system is that it gives the voters the option to choose a non-political representative on local policing issues, and they did NOT have that choice under the old system.

    Anyone who imagines that the previous Police Authority system was completely non-political is living in cloud cuckoo land. Not all members of the previous Police Authorities were members of a political party, a significant minority were volunteers with no political allegiance. The vast majority of those police authority members who were party politicians did not attempt to use their positions in a party political way. For what it's worth, I think the Police Authority in Cumbria did a good job and nothing in this post is intended to be in any way a criticism of its' members.

    But the fact remains that the vast majority of Police Authority members were appointed through processes which were at least potentially under political control, and the majority of them - nine out of seventeen in Cumbria's case - were local politicians. To those who want to keep party politics out of policing I would argue that the old system did not allow this.

    Under the new system a voter who says "I want someone who is not a party politician to be in charge of my local police force." has more choices: he or she can pick a candidate who is not a wannabee or former MP or councillor, as the voters in Cumbria did, or pick a candidate who is not a member of a political party as the voters in twelve other force areas did.

    It's interesting to look at the outcome of the PCC races by comparison to a list of force areas by aggregate 2010 voting, which was produced on one of the Police Elections sites and republished a couple of days ago by the "Political Betting" website. Mike Smithson of  Political betting, also made the prediction, which seemed reasonable a few days ago, that The party machines will prevail/" e.g. that political party candidates would win most of the PCC positions and that the chances of Independents did not look very high.

    This is the table, with the numbers after the name of each force area being the average aggregate % share of each of the three main parties over the constituencies in the force area, followed by the actual result. (Avon and Somerset should really have been sui generis as the one force area where the Lib/Dems were ahead on aggregate vote in 2010. I have left it in the fourth category, where the Conservatives were fifteen percentage points ahead of Labour.)

    LAB on 2010 votes

    Cleveland: LAB 40.1 CON 27.81 LD 21.5 -   Labour
    Durham: LAB 45 LD 24 CON 21 - Labour
    Greater Manchester: LAB 41 CON 27 LD 23 - Labour
    Gwent: LAB 41 CON 24 LD 17 - Independent

    Merseyside: LAB 52 CON 21 LD 20 - Labour
    Northumbria: LAB 45 LD 24 CON 22 - Labour
    South Wales: LAB 41 CON 22 LD 21 - Labour
    South Yorkshire: LAB 43 LD 23 CON 20 - Labour
    Nottinghamshire: LAB 37 CON 36 LD 19 - Labour
    West Midlands: LAB 37 CON 32 LD 19 - Labour
    North Wales: LAB 33 CON 30 LD 15 Plaid 15 - Independent
    West Yorkshire: LAB 37 CON 32 LD 20 - Labour

    LAB on Con to Lab swing up to 5%

    Derbyshire: CON 36 LAB 34 LD 22 - Labour
    Cheshire: CON 40.84 LAB32.53 LD 21.21 -
    Cumbria: CON 39.5 LAB 30.82 LD 24.35 - Conservative
    Dyfed-Powys: CON 30 LD 26 LAB 22 - Conservative

    Humberside: CON 37 LAB 31 LD 22 - Conservative
    Lancashire: CON 38 LAB 35 LD 18 - Labour

    LAB on Con to Lab swing 5%-7.5%

    Staffordshire: CON 41 LAB 31 LD 18 - Conservative
    Bedfordshire: CON 44.91 LAB 27.28 LD 20.4 - Labour
    Leicestershire: CON 41 LAB 28 LD 22 - Conservative
    Warwickshire: CON 45 LAB 27 LD 20 - Independent

    Conservatives 15%+ ahead in 2010

    Cambridgeshire: CON 45.3 LD 29.19 LAB 16.31 - Conservative
    Dorset: CON 48 LD 32 LAB 12 - Independent
    Essex: CON 49 LD 21 LAB 19 - Conservative
    Gloucestershire: CON 45 LD 27 LAB 21 - Independent
    Hampshire: CON 49 LD 30 LAB 14 - Independent

    Herefordshire: CON 50 LD 24 LAB 19 - Conservative
    Kent: CON 50, LAB 21, LD 21 - Independent
    Lincolnshire: CON 46 LD 21 LAB 20 - Independent
    Norfolk: CON 43 LD 27 LAB 18 - Independent

    North Yorkshire: CON 46 LD 27 LAB 19 - Conservative
    Northamptonshire: CON 48 LAB 26 LD 19 - Conservative
    Suffolk: CON 46 LD 24 LAB 21 - Conservative
    Surrey: CON 55 LD 28 LAB 9 -  Independent
    Sussex: CON 46 LD 27 LAB 16 - Conservative
    Thames Valley: CON 48 LD 25 LAB 17 - Conservative
    West Mercia: CON 46 LD 24 LAB 18 - Independent
    Wiltshire: CON 47 LD 30 LAB 18 - Conservative
    Avon and Somerset: LD 38 CON 38 LAB 18 - Independent
    Devon and Cornwall: CON 42 LD 36 LAB 12 - Conservative

    Overall there were sixteen Conservative, thirteen Labour, and twelve Independents (including candates using labels like "Zero Tolerance Policing") elected as commissioners.

    Those force areas which would have been Labour if everyone in them had voted as they did in the 2010 election elected a mix of Labour and Independent PCCs, mostly Labour.

    Those which would have been Conservative on the 2010 vote but gone Labour on a uniform 15% swing, slightly less than implied by the lead Labour had in a recent opinion poll, elected six Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners, three Labour PCCs, and one Independent.

    The force areas where the Conservatives were more than 15% ahead of Labour in 2015 elected an even split of Conservative and Independent PCCs.

    I draw two important lessons from these results

    * No party could take even their strongest areas for granted: voters could and did elect Independent PCCs in areas which are normally strongly Conservative or Labour

    * Although some candidates who I think would have made superb PCCs were not elected, in general candidates with a strong track record in the police, on police authorities, or in other roles relevant to the justice system mostly outperformed expectations, while candidates who were seen mainly as politicians often underperformed.

    This suggests in turn that, however disappointing the turnout, those people who did cast a vote were applying a degree of genuine scrutiny to the candidates. And that democracy, however imperfectly, did work.

    Richard Rhodes elected Cumbria's first Police and Crime Commissioner

    Richard Rhodes, who had been the chair of Cumbria's probation trust, a magistrate for 33 years, and was the Conservative candidate, was elected in Thursday's election to be the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Cumbria, taking over the responsibilities of the former Police Authority.

    First preference votes were cast as follows:

    Richard Rhodes (Conservative):   18,080
    Patrick Leonard (Labour):            15,301
    Mary Robinson (Independent):     15,245
    Pru Jupe (Lib/Dem):                    13.623

    No candidate had more than 50% of the vote plus one, so under the system used - a kind of "AV-lite" which I know is a very sore point with some people - the bottom two candidates were then eliminated and those of their second preferences which were for the Conservative or Labour candidates were then counted.

    Votes with a first preference for the Conservative and Labour candidates stayed in those respective columns, and second preferences from the defeated Lib/Dem and Independent candidates were added as follows:

    Richard Rhodes - 7,328
    Partick Leonard - 5,016

    Which produced final totals of:

    Richard Rhodes - 25,408 - ELECTED
    Patrick Leonard - 20,317
    Conservative majority 5,091.

    The following further comments can be made about the result

    Although turnout was very disappointing at about 15%, there were nevertheless more than 60,000 people who cast a valid vote - (not counting spoilt ballot papers as some of these would have been people who were indicating that they did not support this election). To those who query whether the winning candidate has a mandate I would reply that he received a higher absolute number of votes than most of the MPs in Cumbria did individually, and twenty-five thousand more votes than the former police authority had received as police authority members.

    As someone who believes in democracy I would have obviously preferred to see a higher turnout and there are lessons which should be learned from the low numbers who voted - don't hold elections at a time of year when people will be campaigning in the dark, make sure there is more information available to voters, would be two of the most obvious, but not the only ones.

     Nevertheless, all the voters in Cumbria had the chance to vote, sixty thousand of us did, and the winning candidate had the support of twenty-five thousand of them: that's enough to do the job.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    PCC Elections today: Polls open until 10pm

    Polls are open until 10pm this evening in the UK's first ever elections for Police and Crime Commissioners to replace the existing Police Authorities.

    If you have a postal vote which you have not used, you can hand it in at a polling station. You do not need your polling card to vote as long as you are on the electoral register and have some evidence of your address at the place where you are on the register.

    The elections are important as the person elected will control a large budget - in most force areas at least £100 million - and have power to set part of the council tax.

    Don't lose your say: use your vote.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Reasons to vote tomorrow

    A couple of reasons why I believe it is worth casting your vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections tomorrow (if you have not, like me, already voted by post).

    1) Whether you think this post should have been set up or not, it has been, and somebody will be elected tomorrow. That person will have considerable power, including the right to set part of your council tax bill. If you don't vote you lose your say over who will fill that job.

    2) Voting does not endorse the creation of another tier of politicians. The Police and Crime Commissioner will replace the existing Police Authorities, and should cost less that the existing system.

    3) Operational day-to-day control will remain with the Chief Constable, but the Police and Crime Commissioner will set police priorities and have a big influence on what the police treat as their most important challenges.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    Theresa May in Cumbria

    The Home Secretary took time out from trying to deport terrorists today to come to Cumbria to support Richard Rhodes, the excellent Conservative candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in the county.

    The original plan had been for Theresa May to do a walkabout in the town centre in Penrith, but because of inclement weather she held an open meeting in the George Hotel instead.

    This was Theresa May's second visit to the county to support Richard Rhodes: the Prime Minister was also here to support Richard a few days ago, and both the present and previous police ministers have come to Cumbria to back his campaign.

    This is a sign of the respect in which Richard Rhodes is held by members of the government and the extent he would be listened to as a voice for Cumbria on policing issues if elected.

    Police and Crime Commissioner elections: two days to go

    Two days to go now to the election on Thursday 15th of Police and Crime Commissioners who will take over from the unelected Police Authories in England and Wales outside London

    The new Police and Crime Commissioners will set priorities for the local police force.

    As mentioned before there is an official website for these elections, on which details of all candidates are displayed.

    You can find candidate details on this site, and statements from all four candidates standing in Cumbria can be read here.

    The Farage Daily Politics car crash interview

    UKIP leader Nigel Farage was interviewed on the Daily Politics Show by Andrew Neil on 4th November.

    This is the section of the interview in which Neil asked about UKIP's promise that their MEPs would publish details of their expenses online ...

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    Amazon and Starbucks insult their customers, not just MPs

    The MPs on the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee were right to be disgusted this afternoon at the answers from representatives of Starbucks and Amazon which one of them described as "pathetic" and another as "one of the most ridiculous answers I've heard in months and months on this committee."

    Senior managers of Starbucks, Amazon, and Google were answering questions from MPs about their tax arrangements. Where they managed to answer questions at all - which Andrew Cecil from Amazon mostly spectacularly failed to do - the answers ranged from the unreasonable to the ludicrous.

    I am all in favour of low taxes and light regulation. I am not in favour of financial anarchy or of accounting which bears no relation to the real world as a means of avoiding tax.

    Any O-level economics student ought to be able to explain in simple language on a page of A4 how multinational companies can adjust the prices which different national divisions of those companies pay each other so as to choose in which country they declare the lions share of their profits. But where those prices and arrangements produce ridiculous results, it is time to call a halt - and if our current tax code does not allow this, we need a tougher one.

    Troy Alstead, Starbucks' chief financial officer, alleged that his company had only made a profit once in the 15 years it has been doing business in the UK. To coin a US phrase, "Yeah, Right"

    * Is this utterly preposterous?

    * If Starbucks were losing money in the UK in the way that they claim, would they not have pulled out of this country long before now?

    * Are the accounts which purport to show these UK losses the result of clever accounting devices such as declaring all their coffee as bought in in Switzerland, although it never actually goes there, to take advantage of the more generous Swiss tax regime?

    To coin another phrase, "You might think that: I couldn't possibly comment."

    Here is an extract from Mr Alstead's evidence and MPs reaction to it:

    But Mr Alstead's evidence was a model of clarity, and the response of MPs sympathetic, compared to the answers, and non-answers, given by Andrew Cecil of Amazon, part of which you can watch here.

    As someone who believes that capitalism and the market economy do far more good than evil, generating the wealth which has made the vast majority of people in this country far better off than even rich people were for most of human history, it annoys me to see this kind of excess bringing capitalism into disrepute.

    These businessmen were not just insulting the intelligence of the MPs who they were speaking to, they insulted the intelligence of the electorate to whom those MPs are responsible - including, of course, their own customers.

    I am not usually one of those who are always keen to bash multinational companies - I work for one myself, one which pays hundreds of millions of pounds more tax to the UK exchequer than Amazon or Starbucks does. But there are limits.

    There comes a point when creative accounting crosses the line into fraud. The tax authorities need to be vigilant to make sure that multinational companies realise that they are not above the law.

    Quote of the Day

    On BBC Radio 4 this afternoon, as a link from a news bulletin dominated by BBC turmoil to an advert for a comedy quiz programme, the announcer said

    "And now, from the state of the BBC to I'm sorry, I haven't a clue."

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

    Lest we forget

    A good attendance this morning despite the cold weather when I took my family down to attend the Act of Remebrance ceremony at the Whitehaven war memorial: today is of course both Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day, being the 94th anniversary of the armistice which concluded the shooting at the end of the Great War.

    It is important that those who have died in war are not forgotten.

    To quote the "Ode of Remembrance" from Laurence Binyon's poem, "For the Fallen"

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

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

    Whom the Gods would destroy ...

    I have been following with mounting disbelief the chaotic saga of the BBC over child abuse and of Newsnight's gross mishandling of stories on the subject.

    There are few if any subjects on which both failing to pursue a true allegation or airing a false one can do more damage than where child abuse may be taking place.

    Society has a responsibility to protect all children from abuse, and anyone who knows of evidence that such abuse may be taking place has a responsibility not to ignore or try to silence that evidence.

    Yet there have also been all too many cases where wrong accusations of child abuse have destroyed lives, leading to innocent people being hounded from their homes, marriages broken up even deaths through assault or arson. Frequently when innocent people are mistaken for child-abusers who might have a similar name or appearance, the children of those wrongly accused of such abuse may have their lives wrecked, becoming the victims of real harm where there was none before.

    And therefore it is a truly appalling act of irresponsibility to air accusations of child abuse against an individual or a small group of individuals without taking the most painstaking steps to ensure that those accusations are accurate.

    Generally the most appropriate course of action for someone who has evidence that child abuse may be taking place is to bring it to the police.

    David Steel had a point when he said on "Any Questions" on Friday night that it would appear that in trying to avoid a repeat of the error on the Jimmy Saville allegations - when Newsnight failed to pursue a story which turned out to be accurate - they erred in the other direction by publicising an allegation which it has now been clearly established was untrue.

    The timing of the Newsnight report was also spectacularly unfair and unacceptable, since the person falsely accused of child abuse, while not directly named by the BBC, was identified as a very senior member of a particular political party in a programme broadcast at a point when hundreds of thousands of postal voting ballots for an important set of elections would have been with the Royal Mail on their way to electors.

    Many thousands of those postal votes will have been completed and returned during the period between the allegations being aired and it becoming clear that they were false and untrue. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in very close races these false accusations could affect the election result.

    When the Greek dramatist Euripedes wrote nearly two and a half thousand years ago that

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

    he could almost have been thinking of the BBC's recent behaviour.

    The resignation of the Director General, almost inevitable as this became following his car-crash interview with John Humphries, neither will nor should be enough to stop people demanding effective measures to prevent this sort of thing happening again.

    Saj Karim MEP writes - end the Strasbourg Shuttle

    Saj Karim, one of the Conservative MEPs for the North West of England, sent me this week the appended letter about an E-Petition which he and fellow Conservative MEPs have sponsered on the Downing Street website, calling for an end to the law which required the European Parliament to be based in two separate cities and shuttle between Brussels and Strasbourg.

    I have signed this e-petition and strongly encourage anyone whe wants to end one of the most egregious examples of EU waste to do likewise. Saj's letter reads as follows:

    Dear Friends and Colleagues
    I and fellow Conservative MEPs, led by Ashley Fox MEP, have launched an e-petition calling on the Government to lobby for an end to the Strasbourg Circus at the European Council.
    The European Parliament’s monthly one week relocation to Strasbourg Costly, farcical, wasteful and utterly pointless. Where else in the world would you see a Parliament re-locate to identical facilities 250 miles away for 48 days a year and leave the same huge building complex empty for the remaining 317 days.
    So when the monthly plenary sessions take place, thousands of people have to de-camp to Strasbourg: MEPs, their staff, civil servants, government representatives and diplomats. Numerous lorries are stacked up with office documents to be transported nearly 300 miles to France. And this is despite the presence of an identical debating chamber in Brussels, perfectly capable of hosting the plenary sessions.
    Conservative MEPs have led this battle and in March Ashley Fox convinced the Parliament to merge two sessions in October thus cutting down the trips to Strasbourg from 12 to 11.
    The cost is estimated at 200 million Euros per year and 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The transport connections to Strasbourg are so poor (you can’t fly there direct from the UK or from 20 other EU countries) that the majority of MEPs are forced to undertake a costly 2 or 3-leg journey to get there
    The decision to scrap Strasbourg cannot be taken by MEPs. National Governments must agree and this important step at the European Council and our Conservative led government continues to lobby. A statement in the Coalition agreement reads: “We will press for the European Parliament only to have one seat, in Brussels”.
    Getting 100,000 signatures for an e-petition means a good chance of a debate in the House of Commons on the subject. If you would like to see that debate take place please add your name to the petition:
    Please encourage friends and colleague to sign too and forward this email to anyone you think will support.
    Kind Regards
    Sajjad Karim LLB (Hons) MEP
    Conservative Member of the European Parliament- North West of England

    Friday, November 09, 2012

    Too many tweets ...

    It isn't quite as bed as when the MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed, claimed to be a follower of the "Jedi" religion from Star Wars in his maiden speech in the House of Commons. But his reputation for being best known outside Copeland and the nuclear industry for making unfortunate jokes and insulting people continued this week with considerable reaction to an unfortunate tweet as described here.

    Thursday, November 08, 2012

    Police and Crime Commissioner election: one week to go

    A reminder: it is now one weeks to the election on Thursday 15th November, when every citizen in England and Wales outside London will have the opportunity to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner who will set priorities for the local police force.

    As mentioned before there is an official website for these elections, on which details of all candidates are displayed.

    You can find candidate details on this site, and statements from all four candidates standing in Cumbria can be read here.

    Saturday, November 03, 2012

    Stealing is stealing whoever does it

    Former Labour minister Denis McShane is standing down as an MP, after the parliamentary standards commissioner found that he submitted 19 false invoices "plainly intended to deceive" Parliament's expenses authority, which totalled £12,900.

    Chairman Kevin Barron said it was "the gravest case" the parliamentary Standards and Privileges committee had considered.

    The committee recommended that Mr MacShane be suspended as an MP to reflect the fact that his actions fell far short of  "what would be acceptable in any walk of life."

    Mr MacShane has pre-empted that punishment by announcing his resignation.

    The committee's report said that the "real mischief" of Mr MacShane's conduct was that the "method he adopted of submitting false invoices" allowed him to bypass rules to spend public money as he saw fit.

    It said it was "impossible to escape the conclusion" that he claimed in the way he did to ensure he was not challenged over using taxpayers' cash to fund travel for his work in Europe.

    Let's be absolutely clear about this. Claiming thousands of pounds from your employer using misleading invoices should be treated exactly the same way whether you are an MP or a dustman. If I did this with my expenses claims to my employer there is no doubt that I would have been sacked and prosecuted. The same should happen to an elected public official whether he or she is Tory, Labour, Liberal, or anything else.

    And if charges against someone turn out to be grounded in fact, those charges should be properly investigated and acted on regardless of who made the complaint -  even if it is someone whose politics are regarded by most people as thoroughly obnoxious, which in this case it was. (One of the  complaints against Denis McShane came from the BNP.)

    Two aspects of this story are almost worse than the original offence.

    The first is that letters in which Denis McShane admitted that he had mislead the authorities with these invoices were withheld from a police investigation and cannot be used to prosecute him because they are covered by parliamentary privilege - even though they have now been published in a parliamentary report.

    This really indicates that the rules governing parliamentary privilege are still not working the way they are supposed to. These rules are meant to protect the privacy of constituents who go to their MP for help and to allow MPs to hold the powerful to account without being subject to legal reprisals. They are not supposed to be there to protect MPs who fiddle their expenses.

    The other disgraceful aspect is that both Denis McShane and some of his friends have tried to portray his downfall as some sort of victory for the BNP.

    He claimed on his website that “I am shocked and saddened that the BNP has won its three year campaign to destroy my political career as a Labour MP."

    Mark Stephens who is described as a "media lawyer" in a Press Association statement, defended the former Labour minister, saying

    "I have worked with Dr Denis McShane for over 30 years on campaigns and anti-fascist work.

    "This is a huge victory for racists and fascists who have in my opinion abused the parliamentary complaints system to destroy an honourable member of parliament who is a political opponent of the BNP.

    " ...the chilling effect of this process will deter principled members of Parliament from rooting out prejudice and fascism wherever it may be found."

    What absolute rubbish.

    "Principled" and "Honourable" are not adjectives which should be applied to anyone, be they an MP or employed in any other job, who claims public money by submitting misleading invoices. MacShane's career was not ended because the BNP complained about him, but because he broke the rules. An honorable and principled MP whose accounts were in order and who took on the BNP would have no cause to fear the parliamentary standards commissioner.

    Thanks to the Police Authority for all their work

    The police and crime commissioners who will be elected in just over two weeks take over from the present Police Authorities.

    The existing Police Authority in Cumbria met on Tuesday 30th October and I understand that this was their last meeting.

    It therefore seems appropriate to say that I think we should be very grateful for all the hard work done by Chairman Ray Cole and the other sixteen members of the Police Authority.

    Friday, November 02, 2012

    Damnatio Memoriae

    The ancient romans had an expression for trying to wipe out the memory of someone who had fallen from power and favour - damnatio memoriae.

    It was also known in ancient Egypt - and ancient Greece.

    We don't think such attempts have ever succeeded - but if they had, we wouldn't know, would we?

    When a man called Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus with the aim of becoming famous for it, the authorites in that city ordered that his name should never be repeated again, under penalty of death. This attempt was unsuccessful, however, as illustrated by the fact that we still know his name today.

    Some years after the "Heretic Pharoah" Amenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaten, attempted to change the Egyptian religion, subsequent rulers attempted to erase all evidence not just of Akhenaten's reign but of an entire generation of Egyptian history, the so-called "Armana period."

    Ironically this attempt at damnatio memoriae succeeded in the medium term, the long term, and the very long term, but utterly failed in the very long term indeed!

    For well over three thousand years the targets were largely forgotten, making this one of the most successful attempts to rewrite history. But not forever. Because eventually, largely as an indirect result of the attempt to write him out of history, one of the rulers of the period concerned has now become one of the best known Pharoahs, if not the best known, in the whole history of Egypt.

    The five rulers from Akhenaten to Ay did almost entirely vanish from known history for a while - with the result that grave robbers searching for treasure did not put those rulers at the head of their target lists. And consequently those tombs were still there for the archaologists to find in the nineteenth and early 20th centuries - particularly that of the fourth ruler of the Armana period, the boy-king Tutankhamun, whose tomb was found almost completely intact in 1922. The treasures of that tomb have made King Tut far more famous today than any of the rulers who tried to destroy his memory.

    In our age the practice of trying to rewrite history to exclude those out of favour is particularly associated with Stalin and was brilliantly satirised by George Orwell in his book "1984."

    But increasingly a new style of damnatio memoriae seems to be becoming a cultural practice in the West, one not ordered by political opponents or any government agency, but enforced at least as effectively by social pressure.

    When formerly famous individuals are convicted of particularly unpleasant crimes, or if they are dead and cannot be prosecuted but overwhelming evidence of their guilt emerges, all sorts of honours and recognition are removed. This is happening at the moment to the legacy of Jimmy Saville with his gravestone removed and dumped in landfill by his own family, two charities named after him closing, and places which had been named after him renamed.

    When "damnatio memoriae" was ordered by Senates, Kings or Emperors it was a thoroughly unhealthy thing and an attempt to lie about history.

    But perhaps it is a different matter when the pressure to remove honours comes from the public in the face of clear evidence of wrongdoing. At the end of the day, what we are seeing is a withdrawal of the outward signs of public respect and affection - when that respect, put to evil ends by these celebrities, had allowed them to prey on the vulnerable.

    Thursday, November 01, 2012

    Police and Crime Commisssioner Elections - two weeks to go

    It is now two weeks tp the election on Thursday 15th November, when every citizen in England and Wales outside London will have the opportunity to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner who will set priorities for the local police force.

    As mentioned before there is an official website for these elections, on which details of all candidates are displayed.

    You can find candidate details on this site, and you statements from all four candidates standing in Cumbria can be read here.

    I was asked yesterday at the farm auction in Cockermouth where the money for this post is coming from. The answer is that the Police and Crime Commissioners will take over from the existing Police Authorities which will be abolished, will be funded in the same way, and should not be any more expensive to run.