Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections as 2012 comes to an end

The year began with foul weather

 ... and continued that way

The Mayan "Long Count" calendar came to an end.

 ... the world didn't.

The Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee

 ... Britain celebrated with her

Britain hosted the most successful Olympic and Paralympic games I can ever remember

 ... and inspired the nation

The economy continued to be sluggish

 ... but the year ended with a significant fall in unemployment driven by a rise in full-time jobs

The defecit, and net migration, are down a quarter compared with 2010

 ... there is a long way to go but we are headed in the right direction

Thursday, December 27, 2012

An appeal to the Charity Commission

At this time of goodwill to all men, I would like to re-post here an appeal to the charity commission which was made through the pages of the Daily Telegraph - hat tip to  Conservative Home for pointing it out.

You don't have to be a religious believer to agree that members of many faith groups, of whatever religion, work hard for their local communities and do a lot of good.

This certainly applies to the Christian Brethren, who I have always found to be very dedicated, selfless and sincere individuals.

This is what 53 MPs wrote to the Telegraph about the treatment by the Charity Commission of a Christian Brethren church in Devon

“SIR – The 1601 Charitable Uses Act passed by Elizabeth I allowed for four kinds of charity: relief of poverty; advancement of education; advancement of religion; and "other purposes beneficial to the community". This definition worked for over 400 years, until the Charities Act 2006. The 2006 Act replaced the old law with a "public benefit" test. The Government should review this test, because it is vague and has led to severe difficulties.
Currently, the 2006 Act is being used by officials in the Charity Commission to deny charitable status to a small Christian church hall. This hall is a community venue in Devon, used for worship by a Brethren congregation. Under the 2006 Act, the commission has forced the Brethren congregation to appeal their case at a formal tribunal, costing them hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees.
Many other small religious groups –including the Druid Network, the World Zoroastrian Organisation, and the Lambeth Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses – have had no problem in obtaining charitable status. Why have the Christian Brethren been singled out in this way?
There should be an urgent review into how this decision was made and whether there was a level playing field. The Christian Brethren were persecuted by the Nazis during the Second World War. This makes it all the more important for Britain – which has a proud tradition of religious tolerance – not to single out the Brethren.
We urge the new Chairman of the Charity Commission to stop this tribunal, and to review this unjust decision. If the 2006 Charities Act has now become a quagmire, trapping faith communities, then clearly it needs a major overhaul.”
  • Robert Halfon MP
  • Priti Patel MP
  • Alun Cairns MP
  • Charlie Elphicke MP
  • Fiona Bruce MP
  • Graham Brady MP
  • Richard Harrington MP
  • Paul Maynard MP
  • John Glen MP
  • David Burrowes MP
  • Daniel Kawczynski MP
  • Andrew Bridgen MP
  • Andrew Percy MP
  • Andrew Rosindell MP
  • Brian Binley MP
  • Chris Heaton-Harris MP
  • Chris Skidmore MP
  • David Amess MP
  • David Nuttall MP
  • David Ruffley MP
  • Dominic Raab MP
  • Edward Leigh MP
  • Guto Bubb MP
  • Jack Le Presti MP
  • Jackie Doyle-Price MP
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
  • James Morris MP
  • Karl McCartney MP
  • Mark Spencer MP
  • Martin Vickers MP
  • Nadhim Zahawi MP
  • Neil Carmichael MP
  • Nick De Bois MP
  • Nigel Mills MP
  • Peter Aldous MP
  • Philip Hollobone MP
  • Richard Bacon MP
  • Robert Buckland MP
  • Roger Gale MP
  • Dr Sarah Wollaston MP
  • Stephen McPartland MP
  • Stephen Metcalfe MP
  • Steve Baker MP
  • Steve Barclay MP
  • Stewart Jackson MP

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Who is really attacking the US constitution?

Many years ago I visited Washington and paid a visit to the Capitol while the US Senate was sitting. Despite being a visitor rather than a US citizen - a fact about which I was completely open - I was rapidly shown to a place in the public gallery where I was able to observe a debate. I was also given a card which quoted a section of the US constitution guaranteeing the public the right to know what their elected representatives were doing.

The experience filled me with nothing but respect for the American system of democracy, and one aspect of this was how much that system respected the views and opinions of everyone in the country, visitors as well as citizens.

No country has a perfect system of democracy but that in the US works as well as any. It was a Frenchman, Voltaire, to whom is usually attributed the saying

"I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

but America is one of the places where that principle is most applied. (I would like to see it applied more thoroughly in Britain - witness section 5 of the public order act - see previous posts).

I don't often comment on matters outside Britain in this blog - I don't want to appear more ready to tell other people how to run their countries than to address the issues in my own. And I certainly don't want readers of this blog from the states - of whom there are as many as there are from Britain - to think that I'm criticising the USA for anything in which Britain is far from perfect without being aware of the beams in our own eye.

This post is in defence of one of the parts of the American constitution which I most admire, one of the sections quoted on the card I was given when I visited the U.S. Senate - the First Amendment.

The first amendment to the United States constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

And, irony of ironies, there has recently been an attempt to trample all over the first amendment by 65,000 people who imagine that they are defending the US constitution.

That's the number of signatures to date on a petition on the White House website calling for British journalist Piers Morgan to be sent back back here because he is supposedly "engaged in a hostile attack against the US Constitution."

The second amendment to the US constitution is the one which, in order to support an armed militia, guarantees the right to bear arms. The signatories appear to think that Morgan's view that America should "Ban assault weapons & high-capacity magazines, and enforce background checks on 100% of gun sales." and "Do it now." would breach the second amendment.

Now, I would not describe myself as a great admirer of Piers Morgan. I roared with laughter today on reading a post on Yahoo which appeared to be pointing out that he had been editor of a British national newspaper at the time of the hacking scandal and humorously suggesting we set up a petition not to have him sent back, telling him that "the British people can easily beat a measly 60,000 signatures after the hacking abomination that you claim you were totally in the dark about, so please stay put."

Nor would I disagree that Mr Morgan's views about gun control could have been far more tactfully and constructively put.

People all around the world will have been horrified by the two recent shooting atrocities in America and will have felt for the communities devastated by those events.

I have some idea how those communities must feel today because we have had gun outrages in Britain too, including one in my own community of West Cumbria in 2010 when a man called Derrick Bird shot twenty-three people, twelve of whom died, before turning his gun on himself. It was right and proper that we reviewed our gun laws after that tragic event and other similar ones. It is right and proper that people in America have a debate about their gun laws now.

Both sides of that debate have a right to be heard. I would not encourage either side to express their views by saying things like  "You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?" and neither would I encourage either side to try to have those who disagree with them deported. There is a problem: a debate is needed on how to deal with that. The First Amendment to the US constitution guarantees all sides a voice on how to so, and that is a very good thing.

One final thought which might provide a message of hope in response to the terrible tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Webster, New York state. Sixteen years ago, a massacre similar to the one at Sandy Hook took place in a primary school in Dunblane, when sixteen children aged five or six, and their teacher, were murdered.

This year one of the children who had to take cover at Dunblane, but survived, became the first Brit for decades to reach the men's singles final at Wimbledon, and the Olympic men's tennis champion, and the US Open tennis champion. I hope that all the surviving children at Sandy Hook school make a full recovery and I hope that each of them will have the opportunities to make as big a success of his or her life as Andy Murray has.

TV programme of the festive season

I am sure that many people, certainly including members of my own family, have had or will have a lot of pleasure from many of the blockbusters and common favourites on the box this season, from Doctor Who and the Strictly Come Dancing christmas special to the Queen's Christmas broadcast.

However, the most extraordinary and uplifting programme of the season for me was a half hour  documentary broadcast on Christmas Eve by BBC One called Martha, meals and Malawi. (Available via this link until New Year's day 2013.)

This told the extraordinary story of Martha Payne, who as a nine year old girl in Scotland set up a blog called http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk/ on which she posted photographs of her school meals with her comments about them. After an ill-advised attempt by officials at Argyll and Bute council to crack down on this, (rescinded after the blog went viral and attracted millions of hits) she decided to try to raise money to help kids in a poor country, Malawi, to have better food.

The programme followed Martha and her family as they went to Malawi to see some of the thousands of children people helped by Martha's Justgiving page to raise money for the "Mary's Meals" charity. She set a target to raise £7000 for this charity but at the time of posting she had raised 1812% of this target - nearly £127,000.

By setting up her blog and then including a link to raise money for that charity, one girl in Scotland funded the building of kitchens in Africa which if I understood the programme correctly mean that literally thousands of children in one of the poorest countries in Africa will be better fed and probably also better educated (as some will only be able to attend school because they get fed there.

I cannot think of a more powerful or moving example of the principle that any human being, no matter what their age or station, can make a difference to the world for the better.

Quote of the festive season

"How are they going to demonstrate that Her Majesty is on 3D?

"I presume she's not going to swing a sword out at the audience?"

(from a member of my family - not me - who had better remain anonymous ...)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Wherever you are, whatever your race, nationality, colour or creed, a very happy Christmas to anyone reading this, and a prosperous and healthy New Year 2013.

Thoughts on "Plebgate" during the season of goodwill

Mr first reflection on "Plebgate" is that the government and the Police Federation urgently need to repair the damage that has been done to the relationship between them and rebuild some goodwill and trust. It is not in the interests of the government, the police, or the country for them to be at loggerheads.

The police have had a truly dreadful year, and the behaviour of a few officers, some of them very senior, has contributed to this, but the vast majority of ordinary coppers have not done anything to merit criticism. The police do an important, difficult and sometimes dangerous job on our behalf for which they need, and the vast majority deserve, our respect.

Equally it is just as well that the incoming national chairman of the police federation wants to get a grip on his organisation. It was not the police's finest hour when Channel 4 viewers heard a recording of a meeting in which representatives of the West Midlands Police Federarion were given an account from a cabinet minister of his version of events and thanked him for his candour, and then saw a replay of the TV footage which had been broadcast a few seconds after the meeting, on which one of those  same representatives came out of the meeting and immediately demand the minister's resignation on the grounds that he had supposedly refused to give that account.

What will the impact on their confidence in the value of police testimony be next time those viewers find themselves on a jury?

My second thought is we all ought to learn a few lessons from what has come out this year, not just over "Plebgate" but over some of the issues where complaints which sounded at first like the rantings of paranoid fantasists turned out to be the truth, such as Hillsborough and the Finucane murder.

The first of those lessons is not to be too quick to believe the first accounts we hear: and on that point both the two people who have been arrested over "plebgate" deserve to be regarded as "innocent until proven guilty" just as Andrew Mitchell did, at least inso far as the toxic phrases he has always denied using are concerned.

It is important to qualify that by remembering that what Andrew Mitchell has admitted he did say, and for which he has rightly apologised, is not how a politician, or anyone else for that matter, ought to speak to a public servant. To be fair to Mitchell he has always admitted this.

We may never know for certain whether Mitchell really did use the words attributed to him because there was no sound on the CCTV. But Michael Crick's excellent documentary - not a set of four words you will often get from a tory, but certainly merited in this case - established pretty much beyond doubt that the alleged "police log" which was quoted in the Sun and Telegraph was seriously at variance with the facts in at least one respect, the allegation that members of the public heard and were shocked by what was said.

My third reflection is that the offence of "misconduct in a public office" should be scrapped.

How many people have noticed that this bizarre offence, which was the charge brought against the the officer who was arrested over "plebgate," was also the same charge brought in what I consider one of the most disgraceful wrongful arrests of modern times? I can guarantee that the minister for Police Reform won't have missed it.

That's because it's the charge on which Damian Green MP, now the minister for Police Reform, was arrested while he was a shadow minister, and when his real "offence" was being too effective in embarrassing the egregious Labour government which was in office at the time and a particularly egregious Home secretary.

Any law which can be used to arrest opposition politicians on grounds as flimsy as were brought against  Damian Green does not belong on the statue book of a modern democracy, and "plebgate" has reinforced rather than changed my mind about this. It's a law which only ever seems to be used against whistleblowers.

If, and I repeat, if, (innocent until proven guilty, remember) the officer arrested in the "plebgate" case could be proved to have done anything for which the majority of people in this country would be likely to consider that he deserved punshment - passing on a pack of lies in an attempt to wreck someone's career for something they had not done, for example - then it should not be that difficult to find a charge which would stand up without using "misconduct in a public office." Criminal libel would be the most obvious, conspiracy might well apply if two or more people were acting together.

I hope that before too long this law will be repealed.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Still still here!

The world didn't end on the afternoon or evening of 21st December either.

Still, as Jim says, Happy New Long Count!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Still here !

Well, it is mid-day on the date of perhaps the silliest "end of the world" prediction date of all time and so far we are all still here.

Since as I posted last night "no-one knows the day or hour" nobody can be certain that the world might not yet end today.

But if anyone wants to take me up on the million pound bet I made yesterday that the world will not end today, it is still open!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

No one knows the day or hour

There are a surprising number of things on which the bible and modern scientists, often coming at things from completely different perspectives, say exactly the same thing, sometimes for entirely different reasons.

One of them is that nobody can be certain when the world will end.

Anyone who claims to be able to predict when the word will end from the bible clearly has not read it properly because Jesus himself said quite clearly than nobody, not even himself, knows.

"No one knows the day or hour" he said, when he would come again "like a thief in the night."

And equally, one of the slightly scary things about modern science is that physicists and astronomers have discovered a variety of ways in which the world as we know it could come to an end, sometimes with comparatively little warning.

We'd probably have time to spot a comet or asteroid on a collision course with earth. Depending on how far out it was spotted or how many orbits away the collision could be predicted, we might have years or decades to try to do something about it. Or we might not.

A rogue black hole on course for our solar system might not be spotted until a short time before it destroyed us. The probability of this event occuring in any interesting space of time - such as the lifetime of anyone reading this - is extremely low. But not zero.

And there are a whole load of other "existential threats" which could potentially wipe us out tomorrow. But probably won't.

Then there is the possiblity of a human made disaster. At the time of Cuba my late mother, on going to bed, said to my father "I hope to see you in the morning."

Throughout history mankind has been fascinated by "end of the world" stories, mostly myths concocted by charlatans or lunatics.

And the idea that the end of the world taking place tomorrow has been "predicted" by the end of the ancient Mayan calendar is one of the silliest myths of the lot.

The Mayan calandar goes in cycles. Tomorrow happens to be the end of the longest one, the so-called "long count" calendar - and the start of another cycle. To say that the ancient Mayans were predicting that the world will end tomorrow is like suggesting that a swimsuit model or pop star is predicting that the world will end in eleven days because her 2012 calendar finishes on December 31st. As far as I am aware most of them have plenty of engagements booked in their 2013 diaries.

The world could end tomorrow - but it is no more likely to end tomorrow than on any other day.

If anyone would like to bet me any sum of money up to a million pounds that the world will end tomorrow I'd be delighted to take the bet, provided you have a million pounds that I can collect when it doesn't.  Of course, if it does you may have a bit more trouble collecting from me ...

And on that note I'm going to bed in the confident expectation that we can speak again in the morning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Metal theft powers used to recover miles of stolen cable

In "Operation Coast to Coast" police have used their new powers to investigate metal dealers. A series of check on 150 metal dealers througout the North West and recovered miles of stolen copper cable with a legal market value of  £10,000.

The black market price as stolen wire was said to have been only £450. Perhaps at some point the penny will drop for the thieves that anyone who is clever enough to make a living by stealing and re-selling metal could make a better living by honest hard work.

New rules have also seen an end to ‘no questions asked’ cash payments for metal and fines of up to £5,000 for traders not playing by the new rules.

Additionally £5 million of Government funding has been set aside to create a dedicated metal theft unit.

Inspector Dave Rams, North West Regional Co-ordinator said part of the operation was to “build a clear intelligence picture of how stolen metal is moved on,” and how it can be clamped down on in future.





Saturday, December 15, 2012

Comments policy on this blog

I don't like blocking comments on this blog - I originally ran it without comment moderation for a long time.

However, although I do not believe that insulting people should be illegal, I am not obliged to publish insults. I will usually allow comments left on this blog to go up as long as they confirm to three simple rules

   1) I will not knowingly or deliberately post or allow anything which I think is libellous, actionable, or otherwise liable to give rise to legal problems.

2) I will not post or allow others to post anything which I think is offensive. Although I will not guarantee to remove anything which anybody else finds offensive - that would be a recipe for making the blog so bland it became meaningless - I have on more than one occasion taken down or reworded something which I had initially thought was acceptable because one or more readers of the blog told me they found it offensive or in poor taste.

3) When I post an obit I will not accept comments critical of the dead person. Nihil nisi bonum ...


If someone posts a comment which is a reasonably constructive contribution to debate, I will usually allow it to go up, even if it is critical of me, of the Conservatives, or of the blog, or if I disagree with it. But childish insults against me, the Conservatives, or this blog, will probably be deleted.

Examples of the sort of comment I will usually allow even if I disagree with it:

  * Posts which point to a specific clause in a Conservative manifesto, and then refer to a specific action of someone elected on that manifesto and produce an argument that the two are in conflict

  * Posts which refer to something I have criticised or praised on this blog and ask if the same principle should not be applied to another specific action to which you could make a reasonable case that the principle concerned is relevant.

  * Other posts which contain some semblance of a reasonable argument.

Of course, if I do disagree I will probably post a reply explaining why!

Examples of the sort of comments I will usually just delete

  * Personal abuse

  * Anything which in my opinion is racist, sexist or gratuitously offensive

  * Kindergarten insults e.g. "all Conservatives are dishonest"

Friday, December 14, 2012

House of Lords votes to reform Section 5

The vast majority of my posts on this blog are unashamedly "on message." Most of the time this does not present me with any difficulties because although no government or party is pefect, I genuinely agree with most of what the Conservative party stands for.

This article is a rare exception, though I hope that by the time the issue of Section 5 of the Public Order Act comes back to the House of Commons my party will have seen sense and realised that the vote this week by the House of Lords was absolutely 100% right and should be supported by the Commons.

The government has been consulting about whether this clause should be reformed. On Wednesday the House of Lords voted by 150 to 54 in favour of an amendment by  Lord Dear, a former Chief Constable and HM Inspector of Constabulary, which would remove the word "insulting" from this clause.

This would mean that instead of the present situation in which the law says that

"a person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour"

if the amendment passed by the Lords successfully changes the law, it will remain possible to prosecute people for abusive or threatening behaviour, but not for saying something which is merely perceived as insulting.

I don't often find myself in vigorous agreement with Peter Tatchell, but he was absolutely right when he said that

"The criminalisation of insults is far too subjective and constitutes a dangerously low prosecution threshold. Anyone who values free speech and robust debate should welcome its removal from section five. The section five ban on insults has been abused to variously arrest people protesting peacefully against abortion and campaigning for gay equality and animal welfare. The open exchange of ideas – including unpalatable, even offensive ones – is the hallmark of a free and democratic society".

Perhaps even more powerful was the argument put by Keir Starmer, the present Director of Public Prosecutions, who wrote to the sponsors of the amendment supporting the change on the grounds that the sort of behaviour which a civilised society would wish to prevent will still be caught by the law if amended as proposed because such behaviour would be "abusive" or "threatening" or both. Mr Starmer wrote that

"We are unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as 'abusive' as well as 'insulting'. I therefore agree that the word 'insulting' could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions."

The "feel free to insult" me campaign has brought together some most unlikely allies supporting this change in the law, from militant atheists to evangelical religious groups, from left to right, from comedians to senior legal figures, from supporters of gay rights to people who - well, as the law has not been changed yet, let's just say people who are not.

But all those who support the proposed change have three things in common.

* The first is a wish to be able to express their views openly and honestly in a peaceful and non-threatening way without being prosecuted because someone who disagrees decides to find those views insulting.

* The second is a willingness to extend the same right to their opponents, and

* the third is a sincere belief in democracy and free speech.

I have not seen this put better than by Rowan Atkinson in this excellent address at a parliamentary reception organised by the "Reform Section Five" campaign.


Investing in the fight against cancer

Cancer is a terrible illness that affects 1 in 3 of us during our lifetime.

We are in a war against cancer, but Conservatives in government have taken the following measures to help those who suffer from cancer:

Created the £200 million a year Cancer Drugs Fund to help people access the medicines and
    treatments they need. This has already helped 23,000 patients across the country.

Established a £15 million Radiotherapy Innovation Fund to ensure that radiotherapy
    centres are ready to deliver advanced radiotherapy to patients who might benefit.

Invested £250 million in ‘proton beam therapy’ radiotherapy cancer services in Manchester
    and London to ensure 1,500 cancer patients a year can benefit from this advanced treatment.

Committed £100 million to transform cancer treatment in England by introducing high-tech
    DNA mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases within the NHS.

Conservatives know how big a challenge the battle against cancer is but we are rising to that challenge by investing in new technologies to fight it and win so that patients have a chance for a new start and a life worth living.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unemployment falls by 82,000

Good news this week as the news was released that the number of people out of work fell by 82,000 between August and October, to 2.51 million, and the last three months have seen the largest quarterly fall in unemployment since 2001. This is partly due to an increase in the number of people in work or self-employed and partly due to a net reduction in the number of people seeking work - for example because they have retired or moved into full-time-education.

Employment rose 40,000 to 29.6 million, which was the highest figure since records began in 1971. This increase in employment is entirely in full time jobs - the number of people in such jobs rose by 44,000 while the number in part-time jobs fell by 4000.

Youth unemployment also fell significantly.

There is no room whatever for complacency, particularly as long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high. But the fact that uemployment falling is to be welcomed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12

Apparently lots more people than usual are getting married today having selected the date for their special day because of the rare combination of numbers - 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of the century. They are pointing out that we won't get another combination of this exact kind for eighty-eight years and nineteen days (on New Year's Day 2101 which will be 01/01/01).

However, in eight days' time there will be an even rarer date and number combination of a slightly different type and that will be the last such special combination for a very long time indeed.

Next Thursday with be 20/12/2012 (the 20th day of the 12th month of 2012)!

Wonder how many people are getting married then? Perhaps a bit too close to Christmas.

The human brain is hardwired to spot patterns so it is not surprising that we notice things like this. Sadly there won't be anything of exactly the same type to amuse us for a long time, but somehow I suspect people will find some other pattern of numbers to spot.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Warm Homes discount will mean £130 off energy bills for those in need

Two million low income and vulnerable households will get a £130 discount on their fuel bills this winter.
 
Those being helped by the Warm Homes Discount include over 1 million of the UK’s poorest pensioners. This discount is on top of any money that is received in Winter Fuel Payments or Cold Weather Payments.

Commenting on Warm Home Discount, Sarah Newton MP, said:

"For 2 million low income families, the Warm Homes Discount could be the difference between having the confidence to turn the heat on or not this winter. Conservatives in Government are delivering on our commitment to help pensioners and vulnerable people with their energy bills and the cost of living. The £130 they will get off their bills this winter will provide a welcome relief after years of rising bills."

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sir Patrick Moore R.I.P.

Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore, CBE, FRS, FRAS died earlier today at the age of 89.

He really was one of a kind, a fascinating and extraordinary human being who did more than almost any other figure of our age to encourage popular interest in science.

He was a man of strong and outspoken views which he did not hesitate to explain at any appropriate moment no matter who might agree or disagree. He never married because his fiance and the love of his life, a nurse, was killed in World War II when a nazi bomb hit her ambulance.

He once responded to criticism of certain of his very old-fashioned views with the words

"I may be accused of being a dinosaur, but I would remind you that dinosaurs ruled the Earth for a very long time."

Rest in Peace.

Perhaps people's memories are not that short ...

Voters are often assumed to have short memories. This does many people an injustice.

I don't want to add to the childish point scoring about why Britain's economy is in such a difficult condition. No government or party can afford to be complacent about the pain which most people in this country are suffering and whether there is more that could be done to move Britian faster onto the path of recovery so that we can start to relieve that suffering, and rebuild public finances.

However, let's be realistic - it's going to take many years to repay the debts which have been built up, and are continuing to mount, as a result of the huge defecits which this country has been running since the middle of the last decade. No government, of whatever party, is going to be able to throw money around on the scale that people came to expect in the first decade of the 21st century.

One of the few good signs is that a lot of people clearly understand this.

A Yougov survey at the beginning of December asked respondents who is mainly responsible for the spending cuts. Their answers were:

1)  The last Labour government - 37%
2)  The present Con/LD coalition government - 26%
3)  Both - 24%
4)  Neither - 6%
5)  Don't know - 7%

The present government inherited a situation where the national debt had doubled to £1.2 trillion, which meant that the government had - and still has - to spend more on INTEREST PAYMENTS on that debt than on schools. The government was spending four pounds for every three pounds coming in.

That was a totally unsustainable situation. If nothing had been done we would by now be where Greece and Spain are. As it is, the efforts which have been made have cut the deficit by a quarter, but much more, sadly, needs to be done.

And, again sadly, there is absolutely no way that a deficit of the size we had, or indeed the 25% smaller defecit we still have, can be brought down to sustainable levels without a great deal of pain.

There are no good answers to dealing with this kind of mess, only bad answers and worse ones and whoever had been in power after the last election would have had to do deeply unpopular things.

Anyone who does not recognise all these things cannot be part of the solution to Britain's problems but is part of the problem.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A joke too far

Everyone who has been following the tragic story of the prank call by two Aussie DJs to the King Edward VII hospital, and the subsequent death of the nurse who took the call, must begin by expressing their heartfelt sympathy to the family of Jacintha Saldanha, who was found dead earlier today.

Particularly to her two children who have been left without a mother.

The radio station 2Day FM's parent company, Southern Cross (SCA), has issued a statement said it is "deeply saddened by the tragic news".

The statement described the DJs who made the call as "deeply shocked" and added that "they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy."

Taking these two people off the air is certainly appropriate but they should not be scapegoats because they are not the only people at SCA who have questions to answer.

This prank was not broadcast live: it had been pre-recorded and had apparently been cleared by SCA's lawyers prior to transmission.

If that is true, what on earth were those lawyers thinking?

Actions have consequences and people should take responsibility for the likely and foreseeable consequences of their actions.

I cannot blame people at SCA for failing to foresee the possibility that their broadcast might result in a fatality. But it was always likely that if the call successfully fooled those on the receiving end it would result in extreme embarrassment, distress, and quite possibly serious career damage to those individuals.

Don't forget that it was 5.30 am UK time when the call was made. Without knowing the exact shift pattern at King Edward VII hospital it is not possible to say how long the nurses who took the call had been on duty but an awful lot of people are not at their best at that time in the morning - and nurse training is more focussed on caring for patients than spotting tricks from journalists.

Doubtless there may be some adjustment to that following this incident, not least because although this call was from journos looking for a cheap laugh, the next hoax call might be from Al Qaeda operatives looking for information to set up some ghastly atrocity.

There may be people who are inclined to use that fact - that security needed to be stricter - as an argument in defence of the journalists who made the prank call and those at SCA who approved the broadcast.

Anyone who is tempted to use that argument should do two things.

First, they should think about the two children who have lost their mother. And then they should ask themselves whether broadcasting the hoax call was the best way to make the point that hospitals treating patients who could be terrorist targets need to be aware of their telephone security.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Paying cash for scrap metal is now illegal

This week an amendment in the law comes into effect making it illegal for dealers to pay cash for scrap metal. This is one of a number of changes in the law which have been passed or are in the pipeline to cut down on the modern plague of metal theft. Let's keep up the pressure and see if we can drive the metal thieves out of business before they are responsible for someone's death.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Multinationals and Tax

Following the evidence given at the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee by Starbucks, Amazon and Google, the government is giving more resources to HMRC to crack down on aggressive tax avoidance.

Good.

You can read here what the The daily mash thought of Starbucks' claims that they weren't earning any profits in the UK.

George Osborne writes: "We're on the right track and we won't turn back."

Chancellor George Osborne writes on his statement today:

"My message today on the economy is simple: it's a hard road, but we're making progress. And to turn back now would be a disaster. Labour's plans to borrow even more would take us back to the economic mess they created.

"The economy is healing and a steady recovery is forecast. The deficit has fallen by a quarter in just two years and is forecast to go on falling. Exports to emerging markets have doubled and 1.2 million new jobs have been created in the private sector since this Government came to office.
"We are doing better than many of our international competitors. We have lower unemployment than in the eurozone or the United States and next year the UK is predicted to grow faster than France or Germany.
"We are on the right path, so we are sticking to the deficit plan we set out two years ago. I will not cut spending any further in this Parliament. Because the economic situation is tougher, it will take four years, not three to get our debt falling.
"Instead by making savings from bureaucracy, from the benefits bill, and by ensuring that the better off play their part, we will do more to help families and back businesses.
To help Britain win the global race:
bullet£5 billion of capital investment in science, education and roads, paid for by more savings in Whitehall.
bulletSavings to pay off the deficit, with working age welfare uprated by 1% for 3 years, a 1% uprating of some tax thresholds too and restrictions on the very largest pensions pots.
bulletA new gas strategy to ensure we can exploit new shale gas reserves.
To help British businesses compete:
bulletAnother 1p cut in corporation tax, so it will have fallen from 28p to 21p under this Government.
bulletAn increase in the annual investment allowance to £250,000, this will cover the total annual investment undertaken by 99% of all the businesses in Britain.
To help people who want to work and get on:
bulletCancelling January's 3p fuel rise, meaning fuel duty is 10p lower than under Labour's plans.
bullet
















 
Increase in the personal allowance by a further £235. That means in April 2013 the personal allowance will go up by £1,335 - the largest ever cash rise. 24 million people will get a tax cut, with most being £267 better off in cash next year. It also means 2.2 million people will have been taken out of income tax.

Clearing up Labour's mess was never going to be easy, but we're making progress. We're on the right track and we won't turn back.
          
Yours sincerely,
George Osborne signature
George Osborne
Chancellor of the Exchequer."
 

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Net migration has fallen by a quarter

Latest provisional figures from the Office of National Statistics, for the year ending March 2012, show both a fall in inward migration into the UK and a larger fall in net migration.
 
Inward migration to the UK stood at 536,000 people in the year ending March 2012, which is lower than the 578,000 who immigrated the previous year and the lowest immigration figure since 2004.

The combined effect of this fall in inwards migration and a modest rise in emigration in the year ending March 2012, is that the net inward migration figure has fallen by a quarter.

This significant fall in net migration shows that government policies are bringing immigration back to sustainable levels and that Britain is on course to bring net migration down from the hundreds of thousands, to the tens of thousands, by the end of this parliament.