Thursday, January 31, 2013

Copeland votes 6 to 1 for stage 4, Cumbria votes 7 to 3 Against

The cabinet of Copeland Borough Council voted by six votes to one yesterday to proceed to stage four of the MRWS process to try to find a more permanent solution to the disposal of the 200 tonnes of plutonium oxide and other radioactive by-products which are already here in West Cumbria.

However, the county council's cabinet voted seven to three against continuing the process.

The national media lost interest in Allerdale council's decision as soon as Cumbria CC voted against but I understand that Allerdale's executive voted by five to two in favour.

Hugh Branney was the one Copeland cabinet member who voted against stage four, which will undoubtedly make him a hero in the eyes of some and a villain in the eyes of others.

The decision did not split on party political lines.

I've made no secret that I think it would have been in the county's interest and Britain's interests to proceed to stage four so that we could have established whether the geology for a deep repository in Copeland or Allerdale is right. Nobody I know was arguing that such a repository should go ahead if proper investigation did not confirm first that the geology was suitable on the proposed site and all the key players agreed that there should be a local referendum first.

I'm not going to criticise any of the councillors over this as they have all done a thankless task in investigating the options and been subject to a great deal of pressure, some of which has gone well over the line.

Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen gave the game away about the real agenda of some of the groups campaigning against stage four shortly after the vote when she told Sky news

 "This decision represents yet another major blow for the Government's attempts to force the construction of costly nuclear power plants.

"Even the Prime Minister admits we need a plan to store waste before we can build a single new plant.

"This decision shows that dumping waste in uncertain geology near one of the country's most pristine national parks is not a solution.

"Ministers must now reconsider their nuclear ambitions and turn their attention instead to clean, sustainable and renewable energy."

So she is now using this vote on waste as an argument to block nuclear new build.

The problem with linking the two issues is that even if there are no nuclear power stations - which leaves us with the unenviable choice of power cuts or depending on that nice Mr Putin to sell of lots of gas when the wind isn't blowing at the right speed for the wind turbines - we still have to put the two hundred tons of plutonium oxide and hundreds of tons of nuclear by-products which are already stored in West Cumbria somewhere.

A depressing number of people campaigning against the result or indulging in ill-informed celebration at the results have written things like "This nuclear toxic and highly dangerous radioactive waste is neither wanted or needed in our county." to quote one of the comments left on the Whitehaven News site.

Get real. The waste is here now and even some of the protesters - the ones with any pretensions to honesty or responsibility - admitted that if we don't build an underground repository we will have to build a more permanent surface one.

There is talk in some parts of Cumbria other than Copeland about sending the waste elsewhere, and the government has now said they will talk to other communities about the advantages of hosting a geological disposal facility - but here we run into the problem created by the so called "Green" party and Greenpeace campaign.

Suppose the government does start a similar process in another part of the country, which I can see that to avoid looking like they're not serious about local choice they almost have to try to do.

Did you hear Greenpeace or the Green party promise not to run a campaign like the one they've just run in Cumbria in any other place where a nuclear facility of any kind is proposed? Me neither.

Does anyone seriously believe that a proposal to put nuclear waste in any other part of the country would not be almost certain to be derailed by such a campaign?

And it such a proposal is blocked by the sort of campaign we have just seen in Cumbria, or never gets off the ground in the first place, that brings us right back to square one and the original question, what do we do with the hundreds of tons of nuclear by-products which we already have here in Cumbria?

So I'm not ignoring the results of a democratic vote, but simply reflecting reality, when I say that this issue is not going to go away.

The secretary of state, Ed Davey, issued the following press statement after the Copeland and CCC votes (and presumably before the Allerdale one):


Cumbria County Council has voted to withdraw from the process to find a host community for an underground radioactive waste disposal facility.

Copeland Borough Council voted in favour of remaining in the process to identify a host community for a geological disposal facility. However, it has previously been agreed that parties at both Borough and County level needed to vote positively in order for the process to continue in west Cumbria. As such, the current process will be brought to a close in west Cumbria.

The Government will now embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a GDF is drawn to the attention of communities, and to encourage further local authorities to come forward over the coming years to join the process.

The Government will also reflect on the experience of the process in west Cumbria, and will talk to the local authorities themselves and others who have been involved to see what lessons can be learned. No changes to the current approach will be introduced without further public consultation.

Responding to the Councillors’ decisions, Edward Davey, Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, said:

“We respect the decision made today by Cumbria councillors. They have invested a great deal of time in this project and have provided valuable lessons on how to take forward this process in future.

While their decision to withdraw is disappointing, Cumbria will continue to play a central role in the energy and nuclear power sectors.

“We are clear that nuclear power should play a key role in our future energy mix, as it does today. I am confident that the programme to manage radioactive waste safely will ultimately be successful, and that the decisions made in Cumbria today will not undermine prospects for new nuclear power stations.

“It is however absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy. The issue has been kicked into the long-grass for far too long.

“We remain firmly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of radioactive waste. We also remain committed to the principles of voluntarism and a community-led approach.

“The fact that Copeland voted in favour of entering the search for a potential site for a GDF demonstrates that communities recognise the benefits associated with hosting such a facility.

“For any host community there will be a substantial community benefits package, worth hundreds of millions of pounds. That is in addition to the hundreds of jobs and major investment that such a huge infrastructure project could bring.

“We will now embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a GDF is drawn to the attention of other communities.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

D-Day on nuclear waste

Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria councils' cabinets vote today on whether the "MRWS" (Managing Radioactive Waste Safely) process should proceed to stage four, which is a five year desk-based study to see whether there is an area of suitable geology in a district which votes to proceed.

* Voting to proceed to stage four is not an irrevocable commitment - we could still back out at any time up to the point when construction is due to start

* Stage four will not mean intrusive large-scale excavations - it is a desk based study.

* A number of people claim to know whether the geology is suitable. The simple fact is that not enough work has been done to allow either side of the argument to know this for certain, and the whole point of stage four is to start investigating the facts so that we can find out.

* Those districts which are not taking part will not be affected in any way, shape or form.

Suggestions that people in Eden, South Lakes, Carlisle or Barrow have anything to worry about are complete, 100% nonsense. We already have the waste here in Cumbria, the question is whether we can find a better, safer, and more environmentally friendly solution that where it is at the moment.

Lynn Berger, who runs the Woolpack Inn near Boot in the Eskdale Valley, has made the same point to the BBC that another person highly involved in tourism made to me in a private conversation at the weekend: Lynn is more concerned about the effect of "scaremongering" on tourism than the facility itself.

"It's not going to make any difference to us from a radiation point of view," she said.

"And, if anything, everything is so much more controlled because it [Sellafield] is there. The house isn't going to fall down, we're not going to bash a hole in the cellar wall and find the beer turns green."

In May 2012 - the results of an Ipsos Mori poll suggested a majority is in favour of considering hosting the facility. In Copeland, which covers Sellafield, 68% of people backed entering formal talks with government. Across Cumbria as a whole, 53% were in favour and 33% opposed.

Unfortunately however those who are opposed have been much more vocal than supporters accross the county as a whole. There has been a massive scaremongering campaign and a huge amount of pressure has been brought to bear on councillors to try to block the MRWS process.

I believe in democracy, not because it is perfect but because in the words of Winston Churchill, it is the worst system there is "except for all the others." That's why I support a referendum in the district concerned before any repository goes ahead, though that is years down the line yet.

The nuclear waste is not going away and killing the MRWS process will not resolve the issue. I hope Copeland votes to proceed to stage four today, and I hope the county council votes to work with those parts of the county which vote to proceed - Copeland, Allerdale, both, or neither, but it will not include Carlisle, Barrow, Eden or South Lakes - and that they should be allowed to do so.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dealing with Nuclear Waste

Three councils in Cumbria will be taking one of the most important local government decisions I have witnessed in my lifetime on Wednesday.

The Executives of Copeland and Allerdale councils and Cumbria county council will vote on whether to proceed to stage four of the MRWS (Managing Radioactive Waste Safely).

Constrary to the outrageous and disgraceful scaremongering which the anti-nuclear lobby, stage four is a DESK-BASED study, expected to last five years, to evaluate which areas within those districts which vote to proceed might be more suitable contenders for a repository for nuclear waste than the present arrangements.

Suggestions such as were made at the public meeting in Keswick a couple of days ago - you can watch them on you-tube if you wish - that large items of drilling equipment might be taking samples on sites where they dominate some of the most beautiful views in the lake district are completely wide of the mark. There won't be any drilling unless stage five goes ahead, more than five years in the future, and even then it would not be as dramatic or harmful to scenic views as some of the more alarmist suggestions have inferred.

I was interested to talk this week to someone who runs a tourist business in this county - no names, no pack drill as I do not wish to get them boycotted by the anti-nuclear fanatics - who is by no means pro-nuclear but was alarmed by the way the tourist industry is being used as a football by the anti-nuclear campaign.

"They're pretending to be our friends" was the comment made to me about the anti-nuclear campaign, "and that the nuclear industry might damage tourism, but their scaremongering is doing at least as much damage. We're being used, and I don't like it."

We already have a very large amount of nuclear material in this county, including 200 tonnes of plutonium oxide in the plutonium containment facility at Sellafield (a superbly designed and immensely strong structure which makes Fort Knox look like a kid's piggy bank.)

Something will have to be done with the nuclear waste which already exists whether or not there is any new nuclear build. Indeed, a new generation of nuclear plants would generate sigificantly less waste over it's lifetime than we alraedy have as a result of the past fifty years of industry.

We will have to either keep the present arrangements for the waste which is already here, or find a more long-term solution  Carrying out a study into whether there is a better place to store it is only common sense. It does not commit the county to anything - we can withdraw any time up to the point when construction is due to start, and that is at least a decade down the road.

I would want a referendum in the district concerned before any nuclear repository was finally agreed. The people of Copeland, (or Allerdale) must have the final say, and the opportunity to make sure we do not sell ourselves too cheaply.

But it would be a terrible mistake, and a betrayal of the future, not to finish the job of investigating whether a proposal for a better solution than the existing arrangements for nuclear waste can be prepared and put to the people so they can make an informed choice.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Holocaust Memorial Day 2013

Today is Holocause Memorial Day - the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

It is a day to remember all those who have died as a result of genocide or attempted mass extermination of human beings, be they Jews, Russians, Poles, Armenians, Gypsies, mentally handicapped people, Tutsis or Hutus,  Freemasons, or any other group.

Details of today's commemoration in the United Kingdom are given here.

In the run up to Holocaust Memorial Day, I have been reading about how mass murder and attempted extermination remains a major cause of death and suffering in many parts of the world. I can recommend the "Genocide Watch" website at  http://www.genocidewatch.org/ run by a campaign group calling itself the International Alliance to End Genocide, for anyone who is interested in learning about this - especially anyone who is under the impression that genocide ended with the defeat of the nazis.

The worst threats at the moment are, unsurpisingly, Syria, Sudan, and Eastern Congo, but there are a horrifying number of parts of the world where there is a serious risk of genocide or it is actually taking place

The 2012 genocide watch "Countries at risk" annual report can be found at

http://www.genocidewatch.org/images/Countries_at_Risk_Report_2012.pdf.

As last year, not all the perpetrators of mass murder are governments. For example, the Taleban/Al Queda are still listed by "Genocide Watch." among those responsible for massacres, and government officials, particularly honest ones, remain at particular risk of being murdered by drug gangs, terrorists, or religious extremists in several countries.


The top twenty countries and victim groups suffering most or at serious risk according to Genocide Watch as at August 2011, are

1) Democratic Republic of Congo: where women, civilians, and Congo Tutsis are at risk from ex-Rwandan genocidists and mineral warlords and just about everyone is at risk from the organistion which calls itself the "Lord’s Resistance Army" and also kills people in Sudan and Uganda

2) In Sudan, Darfurese, Abyei,and Nuba people are at risk from the Sudanese army and Arab militias

3) Syria, where the civil war has included massacres of those suspected of being pro-democracy protesters or government opponents have been massacred by the Assad regime's forces, Alawite loyalists and there also appear to have been atrocities perpetrated by the opposition.

4) In Somalia there have been massacres between opposing clans

5) In parts of Afghanistan, government supporters and anyone who does not support the "right" kind of Islam is in danger of attack from the Taliban and Al Queda

6) Pakistan - ditto

7) In North Korea anyone suspected of opposing the government is liable to persecution

8) There have been signs of significant progress in Burma/Myanmar  over the past year but the military regime which has run the country for decades has a history of severe repression against the Shan, Karen, Rohinga and against democrats. "Genocide watch" still has Burma in the highest category in their 2012 report.

9) Ethiopia: where government opponents have been persecuted by the Tigrean Army

All the above are listed at stage seven by Genocide watch indicating their view that genocide is actually taking place. The following are listed as stage 6 (preparation for genocide/serious risk)

10) Nigeria, where there is a serious risk of conflict between ethnic and religious groups:

11) Lybia - following the end of the regime and the beginnings of a return to normal the genocide risk status of Lybia has been downgrades from stage 7 to stage 6, but polarisation between supporters of the old regime and the new one mean that there is still significant danger of mass violence

12) Yemen: last year the threat was massacres of opponents of the Saleh regime by pro-govt troops. President Saleh has gone and the threat of genocide has been downgraded from level 7 to level 6, but there is still a significant risk of violence between suni and shiite muslims and from  Al-Qaeda.

13) People's Republic of China where the Falun Gong and Uighers are being repressed by the PLA and Chinese authorities

14) Colombia, where government officials have been murdered by drug gangs and FARC guerrillas

15) Equatorial Guinea, where the Bubi minority is oppressed by the Government and police

16) Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the "Democratic" republic of Congo) where ethnic groups associated with the opposition have been oppressed by government forces

17) Chad, where the Zaghawas have been attacked by Sudanese raiders

18) Central African Republic, where African farmers have been attacked by Arab militias

19) Haiti, where democrats have been killed by supporters of the former Duvalier regime

20) Kenya, where opposition supporters have been attacked by government supporters

21) Guinea-Bissau, where democrats have been attacked by the army and by drug cartels.

As already mentioned you can read more details at the Genocide Watch webpage here.

Holocaust memorial day should not just be about remembering the past: it should be about considering what we can do to save people from genocide in the present and make it unthinkable in the future.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Parliament acts to crack down on metal theft

I said in the previous post that I'm against extra regulation unless there is a very good reason. But I'm pleased that one bill for which there does exist such a very good reason is making progress.

​The new Scrap Metal Dealers Bill has been passed by the House of Lords without amendment and, therefore, does not need to go back to the House of Commons. The Bill can now go to the Queen for Royal Assent.
 
I have been lobbying ministers for some time for tougher action against metal theft and one aspect of this has to be tighter laws governing scrap metal dealers.
 
The new Bill will see the whole metal recycling industry better regulated, including a proper licensing scheme for both fixed site and itinerant dealers in scrap metal, as well as increased police powers to deal with those that fail to trade lawfully.
 
The insertion of a so-called “sunset clause” that had been called for by MPs opposed to the Bill in the Commons was not agreed by the Lords. It means the Bill will not need to be reviewed in three years and won’t expire in five years, as would have happened if the clause had been included.
 
Metal theft is a scourge of modern society and the people responsible, and anyone who helps them, need to be put behind bars.
 
The industry in which I work - Telecommunications - has been badly affected by metal thieves. Here in Cumbria just over a year ago, thousands of families, and other people as far away as Lancashire, lost phone services, including the ability to make emergency 999 calls, for part of the weekend after a bunch of idiotic criminals attacked a section of telephone cable near Workington.

The motive appears to have been a futile attempt to steal copper wire - in which they were unsuccessful because copper was replaced by optical fibres in BT's trunk network years ago.

About 13,000 homes and businesses lost all telephone service for a time, the main areas being hit in West Cumbria being Harrington, Cleator Moor, and parts of Whitehaven, though some customers in Lancaster were also affected. BT engineers working round the clock over the weekend made temporary repairs which restored service to all customers by Saturday afternoon, though it took until 2am on Sunday to complete permanent repairs. The damage also caused a reduction in network capacity that caused congestion for customers across a much wider area.
 
That wasn't the only metal theft in Cumbria in the past few months which could have had fatal consequences. Last year thieves stole copper gas pipes from a chapel in Maryport.  This resulted in what police described as a "significant" gas leak which could have had "very serious consequences."

On that occasion, and by the grace of God, the leak was discovered and plugged before anything ignited the gas.

But there could easily have been a devastating explosion. In the early hours of 12th March last year, a bungalow near Wisbech in Cambridgeshire was destroyed by a gas leak caused by metal thieves who had stolen pipes in exactly the same sort of offence.
This kind of crime has to be stamped out, and that means getting a grip on the outlets which the criminal gangs who steal metal used to sell it.
 
Simon Davies, BT general manager for cable and payphone theft, said of the progrerss of the act that:

“This is an excellent result and a fitting reward for the huge amount of effort put in by BT and the host of other companies and organisations that joined the campaign to encourage the government to act quickly and decisively, which is exactly what they have done."
 

Bad news on GDP

The economic figures released today were disappointing with a 0.3% drop in GDP quarter to quarter.

There are all manner of reasons why the third and fourth quarters of 2012 were exceptional but the fact remains that we need the British economy to get back on a path to solid growth and it is taking far too long to do so.

This is absolutely not a reason to abandon the government's efforts to cut the defecit and get on the path to reducing the national debt - the more the debt goes up the more crippling the burden of interest payments.

But it does mean that MPs and Councillors of all parties need to think very hard about anything they can do to help legitimate British businesses to invest and grow, to support exports, and not to impose regulatory burdens or stand in the way of development unless there are excellent reasons.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Whitehaven Forum meeting, Greenbank, 7pm on 6th Feb, includes Hospital rebuild presentation

The next meeting of the Whitehaven Neighbourhood Forum will take place at Greenbank Community Centre at 7pm on Wednesday 6th February.

The frst topic of the evening will be a presentation on the West Cumberland Hospital new build and refurbishment project by Les Morgan, director of the New Hospital Porject team. The presentaiton will cover services included in the hospital, layout, timsecales, and interim arrangements.

Other topics include the proposed Whitehaven Foyer proposal to provide housing for young people, and"Reimagine Rosehill" which is a proposed £4.5 million redevelopment of Rosehill Theatre.

There will also be community updates, including one from the Neighbourhood policing team, and discussion of community grant applications.

Cam Ross R.I.P.

Archibald Campbell Ross, known as Cam, who was the Cumbria County Council member representing Distington and Moresby division for the Labour party, died yesterday.

He was a decent man who worked hard for his community and was widely respected.

By law, there cannot be a by-election as his death took place less than six months before his council term would have ended at this year's County Council elections.

Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

DC's Euro speech

Here is the text of the speech which Prime Minister David Cameron delivered today about Europe in which he promised an In-Out referendum if the Conservatives are in government after the next election.

"This morning I want to talk about the future of Europe.

But first, let us remember the past.

Seventy years ago, Europe was being torn apart by its second catastrophic conflict in a generation. A war which saw the streets of European cities strewn with rubble. The skies of London lit by flames night after night. And millions dead across the world in the battle for peace and liberty.

As we remember their sacrifice, so we should also remember how the shift in Europe from war to sustained peace came about. It did not happen like a change in the weather. It happened because of determined work over generations. A commitment to friendship and a resolve never to re-visit that dark past – a commitment epitomised by the Elysee Treaty signed 50 years ago this week.

After the Berlin Wall came down I visited that city and I will never forget it.

The abandoned checkpoints. The sense of excitement about the future. The knowledge that a great continent was coming together. Healing those wounds of our history is the central story of the European Union.

What Churchill described as the twin marauders of war and tyranny have been almost entirely banished from our continent. Today, hundreds of millions dwell in freedom, from the Baltic to the Adriatic, from the Western Approaches to the Aegean.

And while we must never take this for granted, the first purpose of the European Union – to secure peace – has been achieved and we should pay tribute to all those in the EU, alongside NATO, who made that happen.

But today the main, over-riding purpose of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.

The challenges come not from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the East and South. Of course a growing world economy benefits us all, but we should be in no doubt that a new global race of nations is underway today.
A race for the wealth and jobs of the future.

The map of global influence is changing before our eyes. And these changes are already being felt by the entrepreneur in the Netherlands, the worker in Germany, the family in Britain.

Deliver prosperity, retain support

So I want to speak to you today with urgency and frankness about the European Union and how it must change – both to deliver prosperity and to retain the support of its peoples.

But first, I want to set out the spirit in which I approach these issues.

I know that the United Kingdom is sometimes seen as an argumentative and rather strong-minded member of the family of European nations.

And it’s true that our geography has shaped our psychology. We have the character of an island nation – independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty.

We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.
And because of this sensibility, we come to the European Union with a frame of mind that is more practical than emotional.

For us, the European Union is a means to an end – prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores – not an end in itself.

We insistently ask: How? Why? To what end?

But all this doesn’t make us somehow un-European.

The fact is that ours is not just an island story – it is also a continental story.

For all our connections to the rest of the world – of which we are rightly proud – we have always been a European power – and we always will be.

From Caesar’s legions to the Napoleonic Wars. From the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to the defeat of Nazism. We have helped to write European history, and Europe has helped write ours.

Over the years, Britain has made her own, unique contribution to Europe. We have provided a haven to those fleeing tyranny and persecution. And in Europe’s darkest hour, we helped keep the flame of liberty alight. Across the continent, in silent cemeteries, lie the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for Europe’s freedom.

In more recent decades, we have played our part in tearing down the Iron Curtain and championing the entry into the EU of those countries that lost so many years to Communism. And contained in this history is the crucial point about Britain, our national character, our attitude to Europe.
Britain is characterised not just by its independence but, above all, by its openness. We have always been a country that reaches out. That turns its face to the world…

That leads the charge in the fight for global trade and against protectionism.

This is Britain today, as it’s always been:Independent, yes – but open, too.

I never want us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world.

I am not a British isolationist.

I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too.

So I speak as British Prime Minister with a positive vision for the future of the European Union. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part.

Some might then ask: why raise fundamental questions about the future of Europe when Europe is already in the midst of a deep crisis?

Why raise questions about Britain’s role when support in Britain is already so thin.

There are always voices saying “don’t ask the difficult questions.”

Three major challenges

But it’s essential for Europe – and for Britain – that we do because there are three major challenges confronting us today.

First, the problems in the Eurozone are driving fundamental change in Europe.

Second, there is a crisis of European competitiveness, as other nations across the world soar ahead.
And third, there is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years. And which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is – yes – felt particularly acutely in Britain.

If we don’t address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit. I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success. And I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it.

That is why I am here today: To acknowledge the nature of the challenges we face. To set out how I believe the European Union should respond to them. And to explain what I want to achieve for Britain and its place within the European Union.

Let me start with the nature of the challenges we face.

First, the Eurozone.

The future shape of Europe is being forged. There are some serious questions that will define the future of the European Union – and the future of every country within it.

The Union is changing to help fix the currency – and that has profound implications for all of us, whether we are in the single currency or not.

Britain is not in the single currency, and we’re not going to be. But we all need the Eurozone to have the right governance and structures to secure a successful currency for the long term.

And those of us outside the Eurozone also need certain safeguards to ensure, for example, that our access to the Single Market is not in any way compromised.

And it’s right we begin to address these issues now.

Second, while there are some countries within the EU which are doing pretty well. Taken as a whole, Europe’s share of world output is projected to fall by almost a third in the next two decades. This is the competitiveness challenge – and much of our weakness in meeting it is self-inflicted.

Complex rules restricting our labour markets are not some naturally occurring phenomenon. Just as excessive regulation is not some external plague that’s been visited on our businesses.

These problems have been around too long. And the progress in dealing with them, far too slow.

As Chancellor Merkel has said – if Europe today accounts for just over 7 per cent of the world’s population, produces around 25 per cent of global GDP and has to finance 50 per cent of global social spending, then it’s obvious that it will have to work very hard to maintain its prosperity and way of life.

Third, there is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems.

People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.

We are starting to see this in the demonstrations on the streets of Athens, Madrid and Rome. We are seeing it in the parliaments of Berlin, Helsinki and the Hague.

And yes, of course, we are seeing this frustration with the EU very dramatically in Britain.

Europe’s leaders have a duty to hear these concerns. Indeed, we have a duty to act on them. And not just to fix the problems in the Eurozone.

For just as in any emergency you should plan for the aftermath as well as dealing with the present crisis so too in the midst of the present challenges we should plan for the future, and what the world will look like when the difficulties in the Eurozone have been overcome.

The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point.

And my point is this. More of the same will not secure a long-term future for the Eurozone. More of the same will not see the European Union keeping pace with the new powerhouse economies. More of the same will not bring the European Union any closer to its citizens. More of the same will just produce more of the same – less competitiveness, less growth, fewer jobs. And that will make our countries weaker not stronger. That is why we need fundamental, far-reaching change.

21st century European Union

So let me set out my vision for a new European Union, fit for the 21st Century. It is built on five principles.

The first: competitiveness. At the core of the European Union must be, as it is now, the single market. Britain is at the heart of that Single Market, and must remain so.

But when the Single Market remains incomplete in services, energy and digital – the very sectors that are the engines of a modern economy – it is only half the success it could be.

It is nonsense that people shopping online in some parts of Europe are unable to access the best deals because of where they live. I want completing the single market to be our driving mission.

I want us to be at the forefront of transformative trade deals with the US, Japan and India as part of the drive towards global free trade. And I want us to be pushing to exempt Europe’s smallest entrepreneurial companies from more EU Directives.

These should be the tasks that get European officials up in the morning – and keep them working late into the night. And so we urgently need to address the sclerotic, ineffective decision making that is holding us back. That means creating a leaner, less bureaucratic Union, relentlessly focused on helping its member countries to compete.

In a global race, can we really justify the huge number of expensive peripheral European institutions?

Can we justify a Commission that gets ever larger?

Can we carry on with an organisation that has a multi-billion pound budget but not enough focus on controlling spending and shutting down programmes that haven’t worked?

And I would ask: when the competitiveness of the Single Market is so important, why is there an environment council, a transport council, an education council but not a single market council?

The second principle should be flexibility.

We need a structure that can accommodate the diversity of its members – North, South, East, West, large, small, old and new. Some of whom are contemplating much closer economic and political integration. And many others, including Britain, who would never embrace that goal.

I accept, of course, that for the single market to function we need a common set of rules and a way of enforcing them. But we also need to be able to respond quickly to the latest developments and trends.
Competitiveness demands flexibility, choice and openness – or Europe will fetch up in a no-man’s land between the rising economies of Asia and market-driven North America.

The EU must be able to act with the speed and flexibility of a network, not the cumbersome rigidity of a bloc. We must not be weighed down by an insistence on a one size fits all approach which implies that all countries want the same level of integration. The fact is that they don’t and we shouldn’t assert that they do.

Some will claim that this offends a central tenet of the EU’s founding philosophy. I say it merely reflects the reality of the European Union today.

17 members are part of the Eurozone. 10 are not.

26 European countries are members of Schengen – including four outside the European Union – Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. 2 EU countries – Britain and Ireland – have retained their border controls.

Some members, like Britain and France, are ready, willing and able to take action in Libya or Mali.

Others are uncomfortable with the use of military force.

Let’s welcome that diversity, instead of trying to snuff it out.

Let’s stop all this talk of two-speed Europe, of fast lanes and slow lanes, of countries missing trains and buses, and consign the whole weary caravan of metaphors to a permanent siding.

Instead, let’s start from this proposition: we are a family of democratic nations, all members of one European Union, whose essential foundation is the single market rather than the single currency. Those of us outside the euro recognise that those in it are likely to need to make some big institutional changes.

By the same token, the members of the Eurozone should accept that we, and indeed all Member States, will have changes that we need to safeguard our interests and strengthen democratic legitimacy. And we should be able to make these changes too.

Some say this will unravel the principle of the EU – and that you can’t pick and choose on the basis of what your nation needs.

But far from unravelling the EU, this will in fact bind its Members more closely because such flexible, willing cooperation is a much stronger glue than compulsion from the centre.

Let me make a further heretical proposition.

The European Treaty commits the Member States to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

This has been consistently interpreted as applying not to the peoples but rather to the states and institutions compounded by a European Court of Justice that has consistently supported greater centralisation.

We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain – and perhaps for others – it is not the objective.

And we would be much more comfortable if the Treaty specifically said so freeing those who want to go further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others.

So to those who say we have no vision for Europe.

I say we have.

Flexible union

We believe in a flexible union of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue together the ideal of co-operation. To represent and promote the values of European civilisation in the world. To advance our shared interests by using our collective power to open markets. And to build a strong economic base across the whole of Europe.

And we believe in our nations working together to protect the security and diversity of our energy supplies. To tackle climate change and global poverty. To work together against terrorism and organised crime. And to continue to welcome new countries into the EU.

This vision of flexibility and co-operation is not the same as those who want to build an ever closer political union – but it is just as valid.

My third principle is that power must be able to flow back to Member States, not just away from them. This was promised by European Leaders at Laeken a decade ago.

It was put in the Treaty. But the promise has never really been fulfilled. We need to implement this principle properly.

So let us use this moment, as the Dutch Prime Minister has recently suggested, to examine thoroughly what the EU as a whole should do and should stop doing.

In Britain we have already launched our balance of competences review – to give us an informed and objective analysis of where the EU helps and where it hampers.

Let us not be misled by the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be harmonised, to hanker after some unattainable and infinitely level playing field.

Countries are different. They make different choices. We cannot harmonise everything. For example, it is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market, or full membership of the European Union requires the working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners.

In the same way we need to examine whether the balance is right in so many areas where the European Union has legislated including on the environment, social affairs and crime.

Nothing should be off the table.

My fourth principle is democratic accountability: we need to have a bigger and more significant role for national parliaments.

There is not, in my view, a single European demos.

It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.

It is to the Bundestag that Angela Merkel has to answer. It is through the Greek Parliament that Antonis Samaras has to pass his Government’s austerity measures.

It is to the British Parliament that I must account on the EU budget negotiations, or on the safeguarding of our place in the single market.

Those are the Parliaments which instil proper respect – even fear – into national leaders.

We need to recognise that in the way the EU does business.

My fifth principle is fairness: whatever new arrangements are enacted for the Eurozone, they must work fairly for those inside it and out.

That will be of particular importance to Britain. As I have said, we will not join the single currency. But there is no overwhelming economic reason why the single currency and the single market should share the same boundary, any more than the single market and Schengen.

Our participation in the single market, and our ability to help set its rules is the principal reason for our membership of the EU.

So it is a vital interest for us to protect the integrity and fairness of the single market for all its members. nd that is why Britain has been so concerned to promote and defend the single market as the Eurozone crisis rewrites the rules on fiscal coordination and banking union.

These five principles provide what, I believe, is the right approach for the European Union.
So now let me turn to what this means for Britain.

Today, public disillusionment with the EU is at an all time high. There are several reasons for this.

People feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to. They resent the interference in our national life by what they see as unnecessary rules and regulation. And they wonder what the point of it all is.

Put simply, many ask “why can’t we just have what we voted to join – a common market?”

They are angered by some legal judgements made in Europe that impact on life in Britain. Some of this antipathy about Europe in general really relates of course to the European Court of Human Rights, rather than the EU. And Britain is leading European efforts to address this.

There is, indeed, much more that needs to be done on this front. But people also feel that the EU is now heading for a level of political integration that is far outside Britain’s comfort zone. They see Treaty after Treaty changing the balance between Member States and the EU. And note they were never given a say.

They’ve had referendums promised – but not delivered. They see what has happened to the Euro. And they note that many of our political and business leaders urged Britain to join at the time.
And they haven’t noticed many expressions of contrition.

And they look at the steps the Eurozone is taking and wonder what deeper integration for the Eurozone will mean for a country which is not going to join the Euro.

The result is that democratic consent for the EU in Britain is now wafer thin. Some people say that to point this out is irresponsible, creates uncertainty for business and puts a question mark over Britain’s place in the European Union.

But the question mark is already there and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

In fact, quite the reverse. Those who refuse to contemplate consulting the British people, would in my view make more likely our eventual exit.

Simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice is a path to ensuring that when the question is finally put – and at some stage it will have to be – it is much more likely that the British people will reject the EU.

That is why I am in favour of a referendum. I believe in confronting this issue – shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away.

Some argue that the solution is therefore to hold a straight in-out referendum now. I understand the impatience of wanting to make that choice immediately.

But I don’t believe that to make a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole.

A vote today between the status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice.

Now – while the EU is in flux, and when we don’t know what the future holds and what sort of EU will emerge from this crisis is not the right time to make such a momentous decision about the future of our country. It is wrong to ask people whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right.

How can we sensibly answer the question ‘in or out’ without being able to answer the most basic question: ‘what is it exactly that we are choosing to be in or out of?’

The European Union that emerges from the Eurozone crisis is going to be a very different body. It will be transformed perhaps beyond recognition by the measures needed to save the Eurozone.

We need to allow some time for that to happen – and help to shape the future of the European Union, so that when the choice comes it will be a real one.

Real choice

A real choice between leaving or being part of a new settlement in which Britain shapes and respects the rules of the single market but is protected by fair safeguards, and free of the spurious regulation which damages Europe’s competitiveness.

A choice between leaving or being part of a new settlement in which Britain is at the forefront of collective action on issues like foreign policy and trade and where we leave the door firmly open to new members.

A new settlement subject to the democratic legitimacy and accountability of national parliaments where Member States combine in flexible cooperation, respecting national differences not always trying to eliminate them and in which we have proved that some powers can in fact be returned to Member States.

In other words, a settlement which would be entirely in keeping with the mission for an updated European Union I have described today. More flexible, more adaptable, more open – fit for the challenges of the modern age.

And to those who say a new settlement can’t be negotiated, I would say listen to the views of other parties in other European countries arguing for powers to flow back to European states.

And look too at what we have achieved already. Ending Britain’s obligation to bail-out Eurozone members. Keeping Britain out of the fiscal compact. Launching a process to return some existing justice and home affairs powers. Securing protections on Banking Union. And reforming fisheries policy.

So we are starting to shape the reforms we need now. Some will not require Treaty change.

But I agree too with what President Barroso and others have said. At some stage in the next few years the EU will need to agree on Treaty change to make the changes needed for the long term future of the Euro and to entrench the diverse, competitive, democratically accountable Europe that we seek.

I believe the best way to do this will be in a new Treaty so I add my voice to those who are already calling for this.

My strong preference is to enact these changes for the entire EU, not just for Britain.

But if there is no appetite for a new Treaty for us all then of course Britain should be ready to address the changes we need in a negotiation with our European partners.

The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.

It will be a relationship with the Single Market at its heart.

And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.
It will be an in-out referendum.

Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.

It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics.

I say to the British people: this will be your decision.

And when that choice comes, you will have an important choice to make about our country’s destiny.
I understand the appeal of going it alone, of charting our own course. But it will be a decision we will have to take with cool heads. Proponents of both sides of the argument will need to avoid exaggerating their claims.

Of course Britain could make her own way in the world, outside the EU, if we chose to do so. So could any other Member State.

But the question we will have to ask ourselves is this: is that the very best future for our country?

We will have to weigh carefully where our true national interest lies.

Alone, we would be free to take our own decisions, just as we would be freed of our solemn obligation to defend our allies if we left NATO. But we don’t leave NATO because it is in our national interest to stay and benefit from its collective defence guarantee.

We have more power and influence – whether implementing sanctions against Iran or Syria, or promoting democracy in Burma – if we can act together.

If we leave the EU, we cannot of course leave Europe. It will remain for many years our biggest market, and forever our geographical neighbourhood. We are tied by a complex web of legal commitments.

Hundreds of thousands of British people now take for granted their right to work, live or retire in any other EU country.

Even if we pulled out completely, decisions made in the EU would continue to have a profound effect on our country. But we would have lost all our remaining vetoes and our voice in those decisions.
We would need to weigh up very carefully the consequences of no longer being inside the EU and its single market, as a full member.

Continued access to the Single Market is vital for British businesses and British jobs.

Since 2004, Britain has been the destination for one in five of all inward investments into Europe.

And being part of the Single Market has been key to that success.

There will be plenty of time to test all the arguments thoroughly, in favour and against the arrangement we negotiate. But let me just deal with one point we hear a lot about.

There are some who suggest we could turn ourselves into Norway or Switzerland – with access to the
single market but outside the EU. But would that really be in our best interests?

I admire those countries and they are friends of ours – but they are very different from us. Norway sits on the biggest energy reserves in Europe, and has a sovereign wealth fund of over 500 billion euros. And while Norway is part of the single market – and pays for the principle – it has no say at all in setting its rules: it just has to implement its directives.

The Swiss have to negotiate access to the Single Market sector by sector. Accepting EU rules – over which they have no say – or else not getting full access to the Single Market, including in key sectors like financial services.

The fact is that if you join an organisation like the European Union, there are rules.

You will not always get what you want. But that does not mean we should leave – not if the benefits of staying and working together are greater.

We would have to think carefully too about the impact on our influence at the top table of international affairs. There is no doubt that we are more powerful in Washington, in Beijing, in Delhi because we are a powerful player in the European Union.

That matters for British jobs and British security.

It matters to our ability to get things done in the world. It matters to the United States and other friends around the world, which is why many tell us very clearly that they want Britain to remain in the EU.

We should think very carefully before giving that position up.

If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return.

So we will have time for a proper, reasoned debate.

At the end of that debate you, the British people, will decide.

And I say to our European partners, frustrated as some of them no doubt are by Britain’s attitude: work with us on this. Consider the extraordinary steps which the Eurozone members are taking to keep the Euro together, steps which a year ago would have seemed impossible.

It does not seem to me that the steps which would be needed to make Britain – and others – more comfortable in their relationship in the European Union are inherently so outlandish or unreasonable.

And just as I believe that Britain should want to remain in the EU so the EU should want us to stay.

For an EU without Britain, without one of Europe’s strongest powers, a country which in many ways invented the single market, and which brings real heft to Europe’s influence on the world stage which plays by the rules and which is a force for liberal economic reform would be a very different kind of European Union.

And it is hard to argue that the EU would not be greatly diminished by Britain’s departure.

Let me finish today by saying this.

I have no illusions about the scale of the task ahead.

I know there will be those who say the vision I have outlined will be impossible to achieve. That there is no way our partners will co-operate. That the British people have set themselves on a path to inevitable exit. And that if we aren’t comfortable being in the EU after 40 years, we never will be.

But I refuse to take such a defeatist attitude – either for Britain or for Europe.

Because with courage and conviction I believe we can deliver a more flexible, adaptable and open European Union in which the interests and ambitions of all its members can be met.

With courage and conviction I believe we can achieve a new settlement in which Britain can be comfortable and all our countries can thrive.

And when the referendum comes let me say now that if we can negotiate such an arrangement, I will campaign for it with all my heart and soul.

Because I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it.

Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won. For the future of my country. For the success of the European Union. And for the prosperity of our peoples for generations to come."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

School closures in Cumbria today 22 Jan 2013

The following schools in Cumbria are closed or have limited opening today:

Haltwhistle Community Campus - Upper and Lower school closed

St Benedict's School in Whitehaven is Open for Key stages 4 and 5 only.
(e.g. years 10, 11, 12 and 13.)

Mayfield Special School, Whitehaven - closed.

Whitehaven School - closed for students in years 7, 8 and 9. Students in Years 10, 11 and the 6th form should be in school as normal.

St Bees Village Primary School - closed

St Bees Pre-School - closed

The Big Freeze

Thanks to the Gulf Stream we don't often get snow in Whitehaven - there have been many occasions when my children complained bitterly that the rest of the country has snow and we didn't - but we've got plenty of snow and ice this week. Even more this morning than yesterday

I had to drive my children to school yesterday after the school bus was involved in a minor RTA (no injuries as far as I can discover) before picking any students up. This morning the car's air thermometer read minus two while I was clearing the windows of ice.

Take care if you are out and about this week.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

BT survey shows Olympic legacy continues

In the past, cities which hosted the Olympic games often ended up with a big pile of debts and very little else to show for it.

So it is not surprising that, in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, a number of people expressed fears that the games might cost the British taxpayer more than they were worth and leave little lasting benefit.

I don't in any way wish to criticise those who expressed those concerns in advance as it is precisely because people were alert to those dangers that more effort was made, under both Labour and Conservative & Lib/Dem coalition governments, to ensure that the games left a positive legacy.

But now that we see the results, we can celebrate the fact that London 2012 was not only one of the most successful set of Olympic and Paralympic games in living memory: there is evidence that they have left a positive legacy of increased confidence which continues into 2013.

This week the prime minister welcomed a survey of British businesses published by BT which shows that many companies are experiencing an ongoing boost to revenues thanks to the legacy of the games.

According to the survey, UK organisations reporting a growth in business say the Games boosted revenue by some 14 per cent – while those who expect that to carry over into 2013 also predict an 11 per cent increase.

Welcoming the BT report, David Cameron said:
“British businesses were vital to the success of London 2012 - now they are capitalising on the Games and doing more business with more countries, and are confident the economic legacy will continue in 2013 and beyond.”

Despite the wider economic gloom, four out of five UK organisations feel they will continue to benefit from London 2012 this year.
They also expect an even longer lasting economic legacy, with 58 per cent believing they’ll still feel benefits in 2015 and nearly a third hoping the legacy will last at least five years.

The BT study, which surveyed 600 large private and public sector organisations, is one of the largest barometers of business experience and targets as a direct result of London 2012.
BT chief executive Ian Livingston said BT has learned a huge amount from delivering the most connected Games ever and is now sharing that experience with customers across the globe.

He added: “Modern communications technology brought the Games to life and it can play a key role in helping businesses as well.
“It’s clear from our survey that British businesses did benefit, but they need to capitalise on the momentum if they want to see a lasting legacy."

The survey is the first to compare how organisations across the UK fared against those in previous host nations.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Miliband slated for putting up Energy bills

The leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, has been slated by Yahoo's "love money" internet web financial advisor on the grounds that mistakes made by Red Ed when he was Secretary of State for energy are partly to blame for the current round of increases in fuel bills.

In a "Lovemoney" article called Miliband's mistake pushes up energy prices the analyst argues that a "sloppy mistake" by Ed Miliband as Energy secretary in 2009/10 was a major cause of energy price hikes such as the 8.7% by which E.ON's bills will go up tomorrow, costing the average customer £110 per year. There have been similar price rises well ahead of inflation from other suppliers.

The article describes how "one of the biggest mistakes" in recent energy policy was made in dealing with transmission investment costs. It says that

"The problem Miliband faced was how to transport the electricity created by new wind farms to the national grid. Expensive new infrastructure was needed to achieve this – especially from offshore wind farms.

"So what was Miliband’s solution?

"Offer a very generous package to potential suppliers so that plenty of businesses would want to build the infrastructure.

"So under Miliband’s plan, transmission companies were granted 20-year licences where revenue would be guaranteed, rising in line with retail price inflation. If the companies failed to fulfil their obligations, the largest possible fine would be 10% of their income."

The article points out that the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee has investigated the licenses awarded under these terms and concluded that those granted so far

“appear heavily skewed towards attracting investors rather than securing a good deal for consumers.”

The author adds that

"It’s estimated that the transmission companies will receive an annual return of 10% to 11% on their investments, yet they’re taking minimal risk. These easy profits will be paid for by consumers like you and me, and we have Ed Miliband to thank." and

"... we shouldn’t forget under whose watch this system was created."

You can read the full article here.

Paperless NHS could free £4 billion for patient care

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that going paperless would save the NHS £4billion, improve services and help meet the challenges of an ageing population.
 
In a speech to the Policy Exchange yesterday, the Health Secretary described the benefits that would be brought by improved used of digital technology, highlighted in two separate reports.

These benefits include: savings of over £4billion, freeing up professionals’ time to spend caring for patients, and giving patients more options alongside visiting a surgery in person.

The Health Secretary outlined the following advances which could be made:
  • Secure online health records - enabling individuals to access data held about them easily
  • Paperless referrals – instead of sending a letter when referring a patient, the GP could send an email to the hospital they are referring the patient to
  • Secure linking up of electronic health and care records plus the ability for records to ‘follow individuals’ (with their consent) throughout the NHS or social care system – ensuring that all medical and care professionals involved in a patient’s care have access to their medical history and can easily but securely share knowledge across the system to improve the care a patient receives
The Health Secretary said of these advances:

“The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution. It is crazy that ambulance drivers cannot access a full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency – and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records.

“Previous attempts to crack this became a top down project akin to building an aircraft carrier. We need to learn those lessons – and in particular avoid the pitfalls of a hugely complex, centrally specified approach. Only with world class information systems will the NHS deliver world class care.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Take care if you're out and about this week

Do be careful if you are travelling in any part of Britain this week.

After clearing the outside of my car windows and warming it up this morning it took a further five minutes to scrape the ice off the INSIDE of the windscreen.

When it is this cold even pavements and roads which look safe can be treacherous.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Violence will not get the British Flag back up

One of the few encouraging aspects of the disgraceful situation in Belfast has been that prominent  leaders from both communities in the North of Ireland have been far more willing to make unequivocal calls for a peaceful political settlement and an end to violence than was sometimes the case in the past.

For example, Peter Robinson, the Northern Ireland first minister and successor to Ian Paisley as leader of the DUP, said on television that the Union Flag will not go back up because someone throws a petrol bomb at policemen.

Quite.

What was depressing about the BBC report which showed him saying this is that such an obvious display of belated common sense was described as being seen by some of the people the DUP used to stand for as some kind of sellout.

It isn't. It is a statement of reality.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why election precedents should not be relied on ...

Hat Tip to Stephen Tall's blog for pointing to this cartoon and article which explains in a humorous way why rules based on precedent to predict the results of an election cannot be relied on.

The trouble is that in the run up to every election you can always find something which has never happened before which would have to happen for any given candidate or party to win.

Sometimes the argument by precedent is a fairly powerful one - because what would have to happen for a party to win is genuinely unlikely. An example would this article on "Labour Uncut" which suggests that Labour's poll lead is a lot less solid than those people who are betting on a Labour win at the next election think, points out that in recent years no opposition has gone on to form a government after the following general election without being at least six points ahead two years before the election. They also argue that to have a good chance of winning the opposition has to be twelve points clear. This is because there has nearly always been a swing back from the opposition to the incumbent in the run up to an election.

Sometimes the argument from precedent is obviously contrived and ludicrous (e.g. "nobody with two middle names can get elected"). But sometimes an argument which appears strong at first sight (e.g. nobody can get ten million votes and still lose) is a lot weaker than it appears. (What happens if someone else gets twelve million votes?)

At the end of the day the voters can pick whoever they choose, and the fact that they don't always do what the pundits expect is a good thing.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

On the benefit cap

I take no pleasure in the need to cut benefits in real terms, which is what capping the increase in many state benefits below the rate of inflation effectively does.

Capping people's income is not something which should be an end in itself or any grounds for celebration.

The problem is that while the economy is taking a long time to recover from recession, the incomes of all too many of the people in work who actually pay the taxes which fund those benefits is also flat. Millions of low paid workers who are paying tax to support the welfare state have also had pay rises below the rate of inflation.

It would neither be fair and right, nor in the long-term interests of any group in British society (including those who happen to be on benefit at the moment) if the real value of benefits were protected while the living standards of low paid workers who pay taxes to fund those benefits were not protected.

This would be unsustainable for two reasons - firstly it sends out entirely the wrong signals about the need for people to find work. And secondly, with government spending still far higher, even after the cuts made to date, than is sustainable, Britain simply cannot afford such a policy

These caps might not have been necessary, or at least would not have had to be so tough, had the previous government not left behind a situation where they were spending four pounds for every three raised in tax. And where in consequence the national debt had doubled to 1.2 trillion pounds, and Britain was spending more in interest payments to service that debt than on schools. There are no good options to deal with the sort of mess those never-to-be-sufficiently-damned fools Gordon Brown and Ed Balls left behind - there are only bad options and worse ones.

The coalition has reduced the deficit by a quarter, but it is still unsustainably large and must be brought down further if we are not to leave our children an intolerable burden of debt. Those who argue that we can afford to keep spending risk putting Britain into the same sort of mess that Greece is in now.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

What kind of "Loyalist" throws rocks at policemen?

When I was a councillor I voted for civic buildings to display our national flag. This is not something which is a matter of partisan party controversy in most of the UK.

But although I can fully understand why some residents of Belfast might be annoyed by the decision to limit the number of days on which the Union Jack is displayed, it is the genuine loyalists who should be most annoyed, and whose cause is most damaged, by violent protests on the subject.

Peaceful, non-violent protests on the subject are entirely legitimate and part of the democratic process.

But much of what we have seen over the past few days is none of those things.

Can those so-called "loyalists" who throw rocks at members of the Northern Ireland police force, people who are pledged to protect the community and sworn to uphold the laws passed by Her Majesty's government, not see the utter contradiction involved in attacking British police officers in the name of loyalty to the British national flag?

These people have no right to call themselves loyal and they are no friends of the Union.


Postscript (9th Feb): and throwing petrol bombs at police officers is even worse!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

New online government services

The Government has published a list of the first wave of public services which it will digitalise by 2015
 
The list was announxed by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, shortly before Christmas.
 
The new digital programme will give the public quicker and more convenient services and will save taxpayers up to £1.2 billion by 2015 and around £1.7 billion a year thereafter.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:

“Today we’ve set out exactly how we will make it easier for people to do things like apply for pensions and car tax online. As a result we will save people time, money and stress – while making the taxpayer savings in excess of a billion pounds and setting Britain up as a world leader.”

The new digital services include:
  • National Apprenticeship Service – candidates can search for vacancies and apply online. Employers will be able to advertise vacancies and identify candidates
  • Tax self-assessment – a new, and for the first time entirely online, service that will make it easier to make tax returns
  • Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks – a more straightforward online applications process for DBS is unveiled to make it easier for people to volunteer
  • Intellectual Property – entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes will be able to register, track and manage patents and trade-marks

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Twelfth Night

Traditionally today is twlefth night when all the Christmas decorations have to be taken down.

We've just finished. It has been a good Christmas for us. Hope it has for you too.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Fisking Cristina Kirchner


The President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is facing a re-election challenge, has sent a spectacularly silly letter to DC, and wasted some of Argentina's scarce cash buying adverts to put it in British newspapers.

Here is her letter, text in bold underlined, with a little light fisking (in parenthesis and italics)


Mr Prime Minister David Cameron,

(well, I suppose you had to get something more or less right)

One hundred and eighty years ago on the same date, January 3rd, in a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism,

(as opposed to the 20th and 21st-century colonialism which the 1982 invasion and your letter represent)

Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas Islands,

(This is a massive oversimplification. Britain had first claimed the Falkland islands in 1765. There was a dispute with first France and then Spain. The original British and Spanish settlers were withdrawn in 1774 and 1811, both leaving behind plaques maintaining their claim.

In 1828 a freelance settlement was established which was authorised by both Britain and Argentina. The settlers got into a dispute with the United States of America. After the settlers detained American merchant vessels, the United States responded by sending the sloop USS Lexington. The captain of the Lexington arrested the seven senior leaders of the colony, accusing them of piracy, and forcibly removed them. They were later released in Montevideo without charge.

In November 1832 the Argentine authorities sent a commander and a small contingent of troops to found a penal colony on the Falklands. Their commander was almost immediately killed in a mutiny. On 3rd January 1833 - the date referred to in the Argentine President's letter - the Royal Navy asked the survivors of this garrison to leave, which they did. The settlers were allowed to stay, and most did. )

which are situated 14,000km (8700 miles) away from London.

(They are also more than a thousand miles from Buenos Aires. The distance from Port Stanley to the Argentine capital is 1898 kilometres or 1180 miles. The islands are some 310 miles from the Patagonian coast and 280 miles from the tip of Tierra Del Fuego.)


The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy

(That is downright mendacious. The survivors of the garrison sent to establish the failed penal colony were expelled: the Argentine settlers were given the choice to remain, which most of them took. It is the fact that most of their descendants would rather live under British than Argentinian rule which really annoys the latter country.)


and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule.

(You mean like the implantation of Spanish people into what is now Argentina, displacing the indigenous population of that area?

Or like Argentina was apparently planning to do to the Falklands had their garrison not been expelled, since they were trying to set up a penal colony!)


Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.

(What territorial integrity? The islands have never been effectively part of Argentina which is separated from them by nearly 300 miles of ocean. If you applied the principle that a country can claim a populated island up to 300 miles away even if the population of the island don't want it because of a tenuous centuries old claim and because it looks sensible on a map, you would start or re-start some truly horrendous wars)

The Question of the Malvinas Islands is also a cause embraced by Latin America and by a vast majority of peoples and governments around the world that reject colonialism.

(That sentence does not make a lot of sense. How can a question be a cause? What does this statement mean? Some of Argentina's friends and Britain's enemies claim to see merit in Argentina's case. But to claim support from the "vast majority of peoples and governments" Argentina has to totally twist the meaning of the resolutions and motions they have cited, a prime case in point being ...)

In 1960, the United Nations proclaimed the necessity of “bringing to an end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations”.

(This is a REAL cheek. It appears to be a reference to United Nations resolution 1514 (XV) passed in 1960 and  known as the 'Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples'

which affirmed that

"all peoples have the right to self-determination, and by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development"

and declared that immediate steps should be taken in

"territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, without any distinction as to race, creed or colour, in order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom".

Most of which is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what Argentina is demanding in the Falklands, The decolonisation resolution talks about all peoples having "the right to self-determination" - a right which Argentina wants to deny to the people of the Falkland islands!

The UN resolutions Argentina is quoting are about independence from colonial powers and self-determination. To cite them as support of the idea of transferring a territory from one colonial power to another against the wishes of the inhabitants is worse than misleading - it is a downright lie.


In 1965, the General Assembly adopted, with no votes against (not even by the United Kingdom), a resolution considering the Malvinas Islands a colonial case and inviting the two countries to negotiate a solution to the sovereignty dispute between them.

(If Britain had thought that Resolution 2065 (XX), passed in 1965, meant what Argentina is now claiming it meant, Britain could and would have vetoed it.

This resolution called on the Governments of Britain and Argentina "to proceed without delay" with  sovereignty negotiations and also said that these negotiations should be conducted "bearing in mind.... the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands". 

But it is ridiculous to accuse Britain now of ignoring a resolution passed nearly fifty years ago calling for negotiations, given that those negotiations duly took place over the following two decades. 

For the next 16 years or so Britain did negotiate, in good faith, with successive Argentine governments, to try to find a diplomatic solution to the sovereignty dispute. The negotiations did not succeed because none of the proposed solutions were acceptable to the islanders themselves.

The final round of these negotiations took place in 1981, a few months before the fascist Junta which was running Argentina in 1982 changed the situation by attacking the islands and being the first side to resort to military force.

The impact of the invasion was to make the islanders themselves all the more determined to resist any proposal  to put them under Argentine rule, and to make the British public determined that the sacrifice of our armed forces should not be wasted.

The moment that the first British sailor died in the war to retake the Falklands it became inconceivable that within the lifetimes of those who remembered that conflict that the cause for which our soldiers, sailors and airmen fought and died - the right of the islanders to self-determination - should be abandoned.)

This was followed by many other resolutions to that effect.

(The General Assembly passed two similar resolutions in 1973 (resolution 3160 (XXVIII)) and 1976 (resolution 31/49). Both called for negotiations which subsequently took place - more than three decades ago.)

In the name of the Argentine people, I reiterate our invitation for us to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
President of the Argentine Republic

Those resolutions  call for negotiations, which have already taken place - three decades ago.

Given that Resolution 2065 (XX) specifically referred to the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands, the fact that Britain took account of their wishes hardly constitutes a failure to abide by the resolutions of the security council.

The Falklands government will be holding a referendum on the future of the islands next year. I await with interest the outcome of that vote.

Since "the resolutions of the United Nations" clearly indicate a wish to respect the rights of all peoples under "colonial rule" to self-determination, I invite Argentina to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations by respecting the results of that referendum, whatever it may be.

Expectations management or fear fulfilment?


One of the more interesting sights of the past few days has been Labour-supporting pundits predicting a Tory victory in 2015 while coalition supporting ones predict a Labour victory.

Paul Goodman, a former Conservative MP who is now executive editor of Conservative Home, predicted in the Telegraph that "It's two years away but the 2015 election is already lost."

A response came a few days later from Dan Hodges, a self described "Blairite cuckoo in Ed Miliband's nest" who has worked for the Labour Party and the GMB trade union but was nearly expelled from the Labour party last year for backing Boris over Ken. (He appears to have got away with it because Ken Livingston himself had publicly backed a non-Labour candidate a few months before.) Dan argued, also in the Telegraph, that "A Conservative win in 2015 isn't only possible: right now it's the most likely outcome."

Lib/Dem blogger Mike Smithson, founder of the Political Betting website has made a bet with Dan Hodges - if Labour wins most seats Dan pays Mike £50, if the Conservatives win most seats Mike pays Dan Hodges £50, if the Lib/Dems or UKIP win most seats neither wins the bet (and meanwhile pigs will be flying backwards round Westminster.)

Mike explains his reasons for predicting that Labour will win most seats here.

Meanwhile pollster Peter Kellner, who is married to a Labour politician, has written on the Yougov site a possible future 2016 New Years' article called "David Cameron's Happy New Year" with a future retrospective on how the Conservatives might win the 2015 election. All four of these people are among the most interesting pundits and all make strong arguments for the probability of outcomes which it is a fair bet that at least three of them don't want to become reality.

I am not criticising the sincerity of any of these writers when I say that there may be a strong element of expectations management in their assessments - none of them wanting those who share their views to be complacent. Which from their perspective is only sensible. Though there is a thin line between trying to depress expectations to realistic levels and discourage complacency on the one hand, and encouraging despair and defeatism on the other!

For what it's worth, I think the strong arguments deployed on both sides largely cancel out, that the result of the next election is wide open, and there is everything to play for.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2012 blog stats

2012 was the busiest year for this blog since readership figures began to be collected in May 2008, with 38,100 pageviews.

In January traffic was running at roughly what it had been in most months since the 2010 election, but figures gradually rose during the year, and the December 2012 traffic figure - 3,876 pageviews - was the second highest monthly figure in the blog's history.

(The highest was a spike of 7,209 in October 2010.)

Because the human brain is built to find patterns, and does so whether they mean anything or not, I am unable to avoid being interested in the statistical happenstance that the blog had exactly 100 hits on New Year's day 2013.

Logic tells me that this is just a statistical freak but the temptation to try to find some meaning in it is surprisingly strong. At the end of the day we are to some extent the prisoners of our emotions and a wish to find meaning in life - and this is for good reason because meanings are important, and often there really are patterns in the things we see around us.

Surprisingly, since the blog mostly focusses on domestic British issues, it has as many readers from the USA and Britain and also attracts interest from much of the rest of the world. About two thirds of hits come from British or American readers, and a third from dozens of other countries - at the moment Norway in third place is just ahead of Germany in fourth.

But whereever you come from, all readers are welcome and I hope you find it interesting.