Sunday, March 31, 2013

Quote of the Day

“Political correctness is the natural continuum from the party line. What we are seeing once again is a self-appointed group of vigilantes imposing their views on others. It is a heritage of communism, but they don't seem to see this.” 

Doris Lessing

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wishing everyone who reads this a Happy Easter

It is easy for us in a society whose culture is overwhelmingly shaped by Christianity, but where Christian festivals can become more social than religious affairs, to take Easter for granted and forget how powerful the message of the first Easter was. The disciples thought they had seen everything they had believed in and hoped for destroyed, and the saviour who they had hoped would bring peace and justice was killed in a particularly horrible way. Yet in the Easter story, from the blackest despair and disaster God’s power brought hope and a new future.

To everyone who is reading this and is a Christian, may the love and peace of the risen Christ be with you this Easter. To anyone who is reading this and belongs to another faith, I hope your God may be with you this weekend. To anyone who is reading this and does not have any religious faith, I hope that you can still share this weekend in something of the happiness which Easter brings to believers.

Quote of the Day

"Only government can take perfectly good paper, cover it with perfectly good ink, and make the combination worthless."

Professor Milton Friedman

Friday, March 29, 2013

Quote of the Day

"Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalistic System was to debauch the currency. . . Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million can diagnose."

John Maynard Keynes, in "The Economic consequences of the peace."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A choice between bad and worse

There were no good options for dealing with the problems in Cyprus.

Both Cyprus and the Euro zone negotiators trying to put a deal together were facing a choice between bad options and terrible ones.

The bailout deal which was rejected by the Cypriot parliament was a particularly bad one because it would have confiscated money from the bank deposits held by small savers, and I dread to think how much harm that would have done to public confidence in banks all around the world.

The need to avoid moral hazard means that you allow those who do stupid things to suffer consequences, but putting your money in a bank rather than hiding it in the mattress of your big should not be allowed to become a stupid thing to do.

For governments to ask taxpayers to pay to protecting the managers and shareholders of a badly run bank is a mistake. Protecting the depositors of the bank is not. Actually taxing bank deposits is a really, really bad idea.

The deal which was actualy approved protects small savers, but confiscated a sigifican chunk of the bank deposits of the customers of two big banks. That is going to send a signal which has serious and harmful consequences, and not just for Cyprus.

The Economist magazine called the bailout "a dangerous deal" in an article which you can read  here, and I agree with them. Letting Cyprus go down the plug-hole would have been even worse for Europe and yes, that would have been bad for us here in Britain. The original proposal would also have been worse than what has now been agreed.

But I am with "The Economist" that this was a bad deal, and one which will harm the Euro and european economies.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, was foolish to suggest on March 25th that the Cypriot deal represented a template. The part of the deal he was trying to suggest would be repeated was that if banks fail, creditors can expect to pay the whole bill. This was intended to re-establish the principle of moral hazard.

The trouble is that creditors in this sense could be seen as including depositors if you are going to confiscate some of their deposits.

So within hours he was back to calling the deal a "one off" after the markets reacted badly.

I hope it is a one-off: confiscating bank deposits is not the answer.

Quote of the Day

"So it appears that not even Justin Bieber wants to go to a Justin Bieber concert ..."

Anonymous tweet doing the rounds on the internet

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quote of the Day

"Our National Health Service is one of this country’s greatest assets.

And it’s right that when people come here legitimately they should be able to use it.

But we should be clear that what we have is a free National Health Service…

…not a free International Health Service."

David Cameron

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thoughts on the big freeze

In order to avoid tempting fate I struck out the word "final" at the start of the title of this post: there were snowflakes in the air in Whitehaven at several points today although it did not manage to settle, and although things are slowly beginning to return to normal there are still large snowdrifts in significant areas of Cumbria and other parts of Britain. The forecast is still for cold weather and it might be premature to assume the problems of the past week are about to literally melt away.

But whatever else we may say about the disruption which the weather has caused over the past few days, it has shown humanity at it's best.

The landlord of the Brown Cow in Waberthwaite, Phil Chapman, who provided accomodation to a dozen stranded people: all those other people from hoteliers and council staff to private citizens who  helped provide a roof over the heads of stranded travellers.

All those people who helped rescue stranded motorists, both those from the police and emergency services and people like Edward Mudd from Kirkby who assisted in digging two cars out of the snow out of common humanity.

All the electricity, telephone, and highway engineers who worked round the clock to restore service to those affected by the extreme weather

All the emergency services including police, ambulance, fire, local authority emergency support teams, and mountain rescue, all of whom did a magnificent job

All those who helped out their neighbours in communities which were cut off for a time.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who did their best for others and showed how people can help one another through a crisis.

Whatever next

Thanks to Jim for pointing out that the Guardian actually published an article on Friday called

"Is the weather worse under the coalition government?"

which gives the figures to show that the weather in Britain has been colder since David C ameron has been Prime Minister than under his predecessors.

I am fairly sure that making this connection was supposed to be a joke - the journalist who wrote the piece more or less confirmed this in one of the comments. Actually the funniest thing about the article is the comments, which ranged from those along the lines of

"Why not - we blame them for everything else!" through

"Victory for David Cameron in fight against global warming,"

to "Slow news day, then ?"

You can judge for yourself here.

Quote of the Day

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and appying the wrong remedies."

Groucho Marx

Monday, March 25, 2013

David Cameron's speech about immigration

Here is a link to a video with extracts from the speech which the Prime Minister gave today about immigration (video posted by the Daily Telegraph on Youtube.)

And here is the full text of the speech.
"It's great to be here in Ipswich at University Campus Suffolk. This is an important time for this young and growing university. With pioneering research and business start-up incubators, UCS is playing an important role in the economic development of the region. And with some 500 students from 70 different countries of origin outside the EU, it is also a natural place to talk about something I see as a vital part of our economic strategy - which is immigration.
Now I have always had a clear view about immigration. I believe immigration has brought significant benefits to Britain.
From Polish heroes who fought for us during the war…
…to West Indians who helped us rebuild afterwards.
From those who have come to our shores seeking a safe haven from persecution…
…to those who have come to make a better life for themselves and their families…
…and in the process have enriched our society by working hard, taking risks and creating jobs and wealth for the whole country.

Our migrant communities are a fundamental part of who we are…
…and Britain is a far richer and stronger society because of them.

Whether it’s great scientists, doctors and medical practitioners, artists, musicians, and sports stars…
…or business leaders, entrepreneurs and hard working small business men and women…
…so many great Britons today have family histories that have brought them to these shores.

That is our island story – open, diverse and welcoming.

And I am immensely proud of it.

While I have always believed in the benefits of immigration…
…I have also always believed that immigration has to be properly controlled.

Without proper controls community confidence is sapped, resources are stretched and the benefits that immigration can bring are lost or forgotten.

As I have long argued, under the previous government immigration was far too high and badly out of control.

Net migration needs to come down radically…
…from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands.

And as we bring net migration down so we must also make sure that Britain continues to benefit from it. That means ensuring that those who do come here are the brightest and the best…
…the people we really need…
…with the skills and entrepreneurial talent to create the British jobs and growth that will help us to win in the global race.

And it also means ensuring that the system is fair…
…so that we support the aspirations of hard working people who want to get on in life.

This is about building that aspiration nation I have been talking about.
Today I want to set out the steps we are taking to achieve this.

But first let me just address head on three of the key arguments some people make about this whole question of immigration.


First, there are those who say you can’t have a sensible debate…
…because it is somehow wrong to express concerns about immigration.
I think this is nonsense.
Yes, it needs to be approached in a sensitive and rational manner.
But I have always understood the genuine concerns of hard working people…
….including many in our migrant communities…
…who worry about uncontrolled immigration.
The pressure it puts on public services…
…the rapid pace of change in some of our communities…
…and of course the concerns, deeply held, that some people might be able to come and take advantage of our generosity without making a proper contribution to our country.
These concerns are not just legitimate – they are right…
…and it is a fundamental duty of every mainstream politician to address them.
That is why I called for reform and clear limits in Opposition…
…and why Theresa May and I have been delivering on this from our first days in government.


Second, there are those who say…
…talk about it all you like, but you can’t actually control immigration…
…not in a modern globalised world where people move about so freely.
But this just isn’t the case.
Look at the evidence from the past three years.
Already we’ve stopped bogus colleges bringing people in...
…colleges which were set up as a front to bring people here not for study but to stay here by coming through the backdoor.

We’ve shut down entire entry routes in the Points Based System…
…and improved the asylum system.

And to those who think you can’t have a properly functioning asylum system without somehow being cruel…
…the opposite is in fact true.

Let me be clear. Britain will always offer a welcome to people fleeing persecution as we have done throughout our history.

And I’m proud that we not only have a better asylum system…
….but we are also the first government to end child detention by putting the welfare of the child at the heart of the decision and removals process.

Of course we have a long way to go – not least as today’s report from the Home Affairs Select Committee shows.  We face the big task of turning around the tanker that is the UK Border Agency…
…and the Home Secretary will be setting out the next stages of the reforms we need shortly.

But already we have cut net migration by a third…
…down from more than a quarter of a million a year to just over 160 thousand.

And my party has set a clear aspiration to reduce net migration further to just tens of thousands over the coming years.

Now, of course, many come to Britain through our membership of the EU.
We are part of a single market that is vital for trade, jobs and growth…
…and free movement of people is a necessary part of that single market.

Our membership of the EU allows British people free movement to travel, live and work in other European countries…
…and some 1.4 million British citizens exercise that right – including several hundred thousand in Spain alone.

The same freedom of movement is true for EU nationals coming to Britain.
But when new countries join the EU it is important to put in place transitional controls.

It was wrong that this didn’t happen with Poland and the other countries that joined in 2004.
My party argued clearly at the time that it should. And let me be clear, under this government, there will always be transitional controls introduced when a new country joins…
…as we have seen with Bulgaria and Romania…
…and as there will be when Croatia joins this year.
In fact, in recent years the numbers coming here from the EU…
…and the numbers leaving here to go to other EU countries…
…have been broadly in balance.

That is one of the reasons why it has been possible for me to make credible pledges about getting net migration down, by focusing on those coming from outside the EU.

But from the beginning of next year, the transitional controls on Bulgaria and Romania will be lifted.

That means Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to come and work here…
…because they will have the same rights as all other EU citizens.

Some Romanians and Bulgarians are in fact already working here under the Permitted Work Scheme …
…and the record is that those who have come here generally work hard, pay taxes and are valued by their employers.

We can’t stop these full transitional controls coming to an end.
But what we can do, is make sure that those who come here from the EU – or further afield - do so for the right reasons. That they come here because they want to contribute to our country…
…not because they are drawn by the attractiveness of our benefits system…
…or by the opportunity to use our public services.
And today I am going to tell you how we are going to do this.


Third, there are those who say that you can’t control immigration without damaging your economic policy. This is wrong too. Let me give you two examples.

There were some who said that our cap on economic migrants from outside the European Economic Area would damage business.

But look at what’s happened.
The cap has played a part in controlling migration.

But not one business request has been rejected because of the limit - and not one scientist or engineer turned down for lack of space.

Our limit on economic migrants which we set at 20,700 has been undersubscribed each and every month since it was introduced…
…with businesses using only half their monthly quotas.

Another example is that when we said we would clamp down on bogus students…
…some people thought that it would damage our universities.

But the number of applications to study at universities has actually gone up…
…including right here University CampusCAMPUS Suffolk.

We want the brightest and best students in the world to choose our universities…
…so we’ve said no cap on student numbers at our world class universities.

Our universities are able to market themselves around the world on the basis that…
….any genuine student…
….in any country in the world…
….who earns a place at one of our universities, and has a basic English qualification…
…will be able to come and study here.

We want the brightest and best innovators and entrepreneurs to choose Britain as the best place to start their next businesses…
…so we’ve said 2000 extra places for graduate entrepreneurs…
…including 1,000 for MBA graduates…
…and new support to back foreign investors and entrepreneurs…
…including those who are starting small scale but could end up running the blue-chip businesses of tomorrow.

Let me put this simply. We’re rolling out the red carpet to those whose hard work and investment will create new British jobs. Because we’re in a global race for our economic future.
And the right immigration is not just good for Britain – it’s essential.

But we can’t allow immigration to be a substitute for training our own workforce and giving them incentives to work. Our immigration policy can’t be some kind of add-on to our economic strategy.
It has to be a fundamental part of it.

There is an absolutely fundamental connection between our welfare and training policies on the one hand and our immigration policy on the other. I see them as two sides of the same coin.

It is our failure in the past to reform welfare and training that has meant we have left too many of our young people in a system without proper skills or proper incentives to work...
…and have instead seen large numbers of people coming from overseas to fill vacancies in our economy.

Put simply, our job is to educate and train up our youth…
…not to rely on immigration to fill the skills gaps.

Even at the end of the so-called ‘boom’, there were around five million people in our country of working age on out of work benefits…
…including some 450,000 18-24 year olds on Job Seekers Allowance…
…all this at the same time as the largest wave of migration in our country’s history.

So welfare and training reform are a key part of our approach to immigration.

One of the problems that government has had in the past is that when it comes to immigration it has been working in silos. Controlling immigration has been a job for the Home Office.
But the reality is that you can’t control immigration if you have a welfare system that takes no account of who it is paying out to.

You can’t control immigration if you have a healthcare system that takes no account of the people using it.

And you can’t control immigration if you have a housing policy that doesn’t take account of how long people have lived and contributed to a local area.

Under my direction this is changing – and today I want to tell you how. Let me start with the system we inherited when the Coalition government was formed.


Under the last government immigration in this country was too high and out of control.
Put simply, Britain was a soft touch.
Look at the numbers that have been coming in.

In 2010 alone 591,000 people came here intending to stay for a year or more.

Across the last decade that number is a staggering 5.6 million.

Now, of course, some migrants stay for a period and then return home…
…and at the same time a number of British people are choosing to live abroad…
…so it is right that we look at net migration – the difference between those coming and leaving.

But this has been out of control too. Between 1997 and 2009, net migration to Britain totalled more than 2.2 million people. That is more than twice population of Birmingham

And it was over a quarter of a million in 2010 alone.

It’s not just the numbers that were out of control.

We had no real control over the skills of the people we were bringing in. The last government borrowed the phrase Points Based System from the set-up in Australia…
…but they produced something very different.
In theory it sounded great…
…the idea that each and every potential migrant is carefully and personally assessed with only those scoring the most points able to enter the country.

But in practice this wasn’t a system of points for individuals.

It was a range of low minimum thresholds where anyone who met them was automatically entitled to come here…
…almost on a self-selection basis…
…to work and study – and in many cases, to bring their dependents too.

So I know there are some who think that the mistake the last government made was not to bring in their version of the Points Based System sooner…
…but if that’s what they think, they clearly don’t understand what their Points Based System actually did.

Consider this.
In the so called Tier One of the system…
…we were supposed to be welcoming the best of the best…
…people deemed to be so good that they could come here without any job offer waiting for them…
…and our doors were always open to them.

But the reality was different.

As one study found, as many as a third of these people only found low-skilled roles working as shop assistants, in takeaways or as security guards.

Those who did have job offers – in what was called Tier 2 – were still often coming here to do low-skilled work…

…jobs which many people on welfare could be trained to do.

There was even a tier specifically created for those with no skills.

Why would you even create such a tier?

And then there was a student tier which was so unselective that it allowed people who didn’t speak a word of English…
…to come and study at low-level or even bogus colleges…
…in other words, places that weren’t even really colleges of education at all.

It is hard to believe the system could be such a mess.

But the truth is even now, as we dig deeper and deeper into the details, we’re still finding things.

Take this, for example. We’ve discovered there was a loophole that allowed migrants who no longer have a right to work here….
…and in some cases don’t even have the right to be here at all …
…to carry on claiming some benefits.

We are using a power under our 2012 Welfare Reform Act to close this.

And by taking radical action to deal with this completely out of control system…
…we’ve begun to get net migration down radically

We’ve completely shut down the route which allowed low skilled people to come here with their dependents without so much as a job offer waiting for them.

We’ve capped the number of economic migrants from outside European Economic Area.

And we’ve stopped almost 600 colleges bringing in thousands of bogus foreign students – revoking the licences of over 300 in the process.

We’ve radically toughened up the tests migrants face before they come here…
…including making them prove they can speak English.

We are drastically increasing the use of face to face interviews for countries and routes from which there has previously been abuse.

We’re breaking the link between work and settlement so only those who contribute the most economically will be able to stay long term.

And we’ve cut the list of occupations where we have a shortage of skills…
…the occupations where we permit employers to recruit migrant workers without trying to recruit from the UK labour market first.

In 2010, the number of workers employed in job titles where there were skills shortages was around half a million. It is now just 180,000, less than 1% of the UK workforce.


So we’ve made significant changes to our policies in the Home Office to get net migration down.
But now what we need to do is to work across government…
…so our immigration policy is factored into our benefits system, our health system and our housing system.

So let me set out how we are going to do this…
…by stopping our benefits system from being such a soft touch…
…by making entitlement to our key public services something migrants earn – not an automatic right.
And by bringing the full force of government together to crack down on illegal working.
Let me take each in turn.


Right now the message through the benefit system is all wrong.
It says if you can’t find a job or drop out of work early, the British taxpayer owes you a living for as long as you like…
…no matter how little you have contributed to social security since you arrived.

My view is simple.

Ending the something for nothing culture needs to apply to immigration as well as welfare.
So by the end of this year…
…and before the controls on Bulgarians and Romanians are lifted…
…we are going to strengthen the test that determines which migrants can access benefits.

And we’re going to give migrants from the EEA a very clear message. Just like British citizens, there is no absolute right to unemployment benefit.
The clue is in the title…
…Job Seekers Allowance is only available for those who are genuinely seeking a job.

You will be subject to full conditionality and work search requirements…
…and you will have to show you are genuinely seeking employment.

If you fail that test, you will lose your benefit.

And as a migrant, we’re only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker.

After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment…
…but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.

We’re going to make that assessment a real and robust one…
…and yes, it’s going to include whether your ability to speak English is a barrier to work.

And to migrants who are in work but then lose their jobs…
…the same rules will apply.

Six months – and then if you can’t show you have a genuine chance of getting a job, benefits will be cut off.

This means that EEA migrants who don’t have a genuine chance of getting work after six months will lose their right to access certain benefits.
So yes, they can still come and stay here if they want to…
…but the British taxpayer will not go on endlessly paying for them any more.

We are also going to take forward negotiations with European partners to explore…
...whether we can make economically inactive migrants the responsibility of their home country
before they gain any eligibility for UK benefits.

And also whether we can work with like minded European partners…
…to limit the amount we pay in child benefit towards the upkeep of children living abroad.


Second, this same approach of ending the something for nothing culture needs to apply to our public services.

Our National Health Service is one of this country’s greatest assets.

And it’s right that when people come here legitimately they should be able to use it.

But we should be clear that what we have is a free National Health Service…

…not a free International Health Service.

So we’re going to get better at reciprocal charging.
Or let me put that more simply. Wherever we can claim back the cost of NHS care, we will.

If someone visiting the UK from another EEA country uses our NHS then it is right that they or their government pay for it.

British taxpayers should support British families and those who contribute to our economy.

And for migrants from outside the EEA, we want to introduce stricter charging…
…or a requirement for private health insurance to cover the costs of NHS care.

The same approach should apply to social housing.
We can not have a culture of something for nothing.

New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival.
And yet at present almost one in ten new social lettings go to foreign nationals.

So I am going to introduce new statutory housing allocations guidance this spring…
…to create a local residence test.
This should mean that local people rightly get priority in the social housing system.

And migrants will need to have lived here and contributed to this country for at least two years before they can qualify.


Finally, as the Deputy Prime Minister set out on Friday, we’re going to radically toughen up the way we deal with illegal migrants working in this country. Frankly right now, it’s too easy to be an illegal migrant in Britain. It’s too easy to get a driving license and a house - without a check on your immigration status. So we are legislating to make sure illegal migrants can’t have driving licences.

I’ve already said how we are changing the rules on social housing.

I now want us to make sure private landlords check their tenants’ immigration status…
…with consequences for those rogue landlords who fail to do so.

We’re going to take tough action against rogue businesses which use illegal labour to evade tax and minimum wage laws…
…including by doubling the fines levied against employers who employ illegal workers.

We will shine a light on the recruitment and employment practices of those who seek an unfair competitive advantage and deny work opportunities to UK workers.

And we’re going to be undertaking further targeted operations this summer…
…bringing together key enforcement bodies to form a series of local and national taskforces…
….to focus on abuse in particular sectors and regions – including on agricultural work in East Anglia.

We’re going to make it easier to check right to work entitlements…
…through a single follow up check when a migrant’s leave is due to expire.

We’re working with the financial services industry to stop illegal migrants from obtaining credit cards, loans, and opening bank accounts.

We are already rolling out a new single secure form of identification – the biometric residence permit - for those from outside the EEA…
…to make it easier to identify illegal migrants in the first place.

And once we’ve found them, we’re going to make it easier to remove them.

Faster deportation.

Stopping the payment of legal aid for the vast majority of immigration appeals.

And we’re even going to look at how we can change the law…
…so that wherever possible people are deported first and appeal second, from their home country.

Put simply when it comes to illegal migrants, we’re rolling up that red carpet…
…and showing them the door.


So that’s how we are changing immigration in this country.
Getting net migration down radically.

Making sure that the people who come here…
…wherever they come from…
…are coming here for the right reasons.

Breaking out of the old government silos and making immigration a centrepiece of our economic policy…
…so we train our young people to fill more of the jobs being created in our economy, with genuine incentives to work…
…and so we attract the hard working wealth creators who can help us to win in the global race.

The new British citizenship test coming in today…
…sums up clearly the kind of values that make us the country we are.

We want people who are interested in what they can offer to Britain, to contribute to - and enrich - our communities.
That sense of fairness is what matters most.

You put into Britain - you don’t just take out.

And if you put in – we will stand with you.

That’s how it is in this country.

That’s how it should be.

And that’s how it will be for anyone who wants to come here.


Cumbria 25 March 2013: the big freeze day four

As sections of the A595 remain blocked by huge snowdrifts between Bootle and Holmrook, police are asking drivers who have not recovered vehicles abandoned on the A595 to contact them, and not to try to collect their vehicles until it is safe to do so.

Scores of cars and vans were abandoned along stretches of the A595 in Cumbria at the weekend. Recovery teams towed them to lay-bys so they would not impede the gritters and snowploughs clearing the route.

Anyone who has to travel through areas of Cumbria which had been affected by the snow - which is the majority of the county - are urged to exercise extreme caution, as melting snow may refreeze as black ice.

As of Monday lunchtime the hamlet of Hall Waberthwaite remains largely cut off by heavy snowdrifts.

Conditions have begun to improve. About 54 properties in the Copeland district of Cumbria remained without electricity as at first thing on Monday morning, mostly in the Eskmeals, Bootle and Waberthwaite areas but an Electricity North West said at mid-morning that power to all the affected properties had now been restored.

Cumbria Police said stretches of the A595 remained closed, and asked anyone with a vehicle stuck to contact them so co-ordinated arrangements could be made to have them recovered. A spokesman added:

"Please do not attend your vehicle until you have been requested and advised by police it is safe to do so as the road is still closed, there may be a significant delay and weather conditions are still challenging."

Four schools in Cumbria are closed today:

Most of the schools which were closed last week are open today but I am aware that the following are closed:

Burlington CE primary, Kirkby-in-Furness
Captain Shaw's, Bootle
St Bega's, Holmrook
Waberthwaite primary

Cumbria Constabulary thanked a local farmer who removed trees blocking the B5289 between the Fish Hotel and the Buttermere Road, allowing it to be reopened.

The variability of the weather in Cumbria remains astonishing. In some areas, such as Whitehaven, it could be a perfect spring morning. In other areas there are still significant roads blocked by large snowdrifts.

The emergency services and highway, power and telephone engineers have been doing a superb job helping people affected by severe and extraordinary weather conditions and we all owe them a huge debt of thanks.

The BBC Travel News Cumbria page with up to date details of blocked roads at

Quote of the Day

"In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year.

Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod.

And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen.

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."
- Mark Twain, from "Life on the Mississippi" (1917 frontispiece to this book shown above)

There is a serious message in this charming and amusing quote. Be careful of the advice of anyone who projects forward a line on a graph without stopping to apply common sense and ask themselves whether it is reasonable to assume that whatever trend they are analysing can or will continue indefinately. The message was once summed up by The Economist magazine in five words:

"Beware of optimists with rulers!"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cumbria 24 Mar 2013: the big freeze day three

The variability of the weather in Cumbria remains astonishing. In some areas, such as Whitehaven, there is bright sunshine, and the only sign of severe weather is that it is rather colder than the typical spring morning.

Other areas are still suffering severe disruption with huge snowdrifts still blocking key roads, including the A595 near Drigg and the A66 at Brough.

As at just before noon on Sunday there are still half a dozen major road closures in Cumbria

The BBC Travel News Cumbria page with up to date details of these and other problems is here.

Quote of the Day

Despite the bloodbath he helped to unleash, Tony Blair used the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war to make the case for putting our troops on the ground in Syria. Isn’t there something obscene about a man who makes his millions parading as a peace-maker being so quick to call for more British lives to be risked fighting unwinnable wars in the Middle East?

Perhaps if his own son Euan had signed up to serve his country, Blair would be a little less gung-ho about sending other young boys to die on doomed missions in the desert.

Amanda Platell, writing in the Daily Mail

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Letter from the Falkland Islanders to the UN

The elected government of the Falkland Islands has sent the following letter to the UN Secretary general following the recent referendum.
"On behalf of the Falkland Islands Government, the Hon. Michael Summers and Hon. Sharon Halford would like to present to you the results of the recent referendum on the future political status of the Falkland Islands.
"A total of 99.8 per cent of those who voted decided to maintain the current constitutional arrangement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands Government. We believe this result is a clear and comprehensive expression of our wishes and very much hope that the United Nations will acknowledge and respect those wishes as the legitimate voice of the Falkland Islands people.

"The founding principles of the Charter of the United Nations and General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) are clear on the primacy of respect for the principle of self-determination for all peoples. General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) states that “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. This right is not qualified, and attempts to qualify it within the United Nations have been rejected. Though we value our links to the United Kingdom, we are our own community, free to determine our political future.
"The referendum result makes it clear that we have no desire to be governed by Argentina. Continued harassment of our economic development and intimidation of those who want to do business with us and invest in the Islands will not change this fact. The more Argentina presses our small community, the harder will be our resolve.

"Despite such pressure we, and the Government of the United Kingdom, remain willing to enter into dialogue with Argentina. Our differences should be discussed in a reasonable and constructive way. We favour cooperation and peaceful coexistence in the South Atlantic and there are many important issues that we can both usefully address together. Neither the Charter nor General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) support the concept of two large sovereign States negotiating away the rights of self-determination of the peoples of any territory. We therefore hope that the United Nations will agree that it is no longer credible to view this issue as primarily a dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina, over and above the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.
"The Falkland Islands are discussed annually by the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Special Committee on Decolonization) at the United Nations.

"In your address at the opening session of the Committee for 2013, you said that it was time for a new kind of inclusive dialogue about decolonization and that such dialogue required the constructive involvement of all concerned: the Special Committee, the administering Powers and the Non-Self-Governing Territories, working on a case-by-case basis.
"We agree that the Committee must engage more constructively with communities it considers as “colonies” and take their wishes into account.

"To that end we reiterate that we consider it unusual that despite issuing annual resolutions on the supposed “colonial” nature of the Islands, neither the Special Committee nor its secretariat have ever visited the Islands in any official capacity. If the Special Committee on Decolonization wishes to engage in a new kind of dialogue then we consider it only right that the Committee have the opportunity to see the Falkland Islands and its people in person. Therefore, the open invitation issued on 7 December 2010 and circulated at the United Nations, for any current or future Chair of the Special Committee to visit the Falklands, remains open.
"We ask you again to acknowledge our wishes as expressed clearly and definitively by our referendum."

 (Signed) Gavin Short

 On behalf of the Members of the
 Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands

Cumbria 23 March 2013: the big freeze continues

It is astonishing how some parts of the county seem to have almost entirely escaped the severe weather but others continue to be badly affected.
Staff at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant have been advised to arrive for their shifts as usual today (Saturday 23rd March) after nonessential personnel were sent home yesterday (Friday 22nd) because the weather and road closures meant concern about whether they might be stranded.
Search and rescue teams led stranded motorists to safety in Cumbria overnight after deep snowdrifts made roads impassable. About 70 people were rescued and Cumbria Police said it received 800 calls for assistance.
Gary Parsons from the Bay Search and Rescue Team said the snow had been "unprecedented".

Mr Parsons said work to clear the worst-hit areas would continue throughout the day.

"We're going to try and move some of the cars and try to make a path for them so hopefully by mid-afternoon the roads will be open again," he said.

As at Saturdaylunchtime there are more than a dozen significant road closures, including:

A66 Cumbria - A66 closed between the A685 junction in Brough and the A1 junction in Scotch Corner, because of snow.

  • A592 Cumbria - A592 Kirkstone Pass closed between the Troutbeck junction and the Hartsop junction, because of snow.

    A595 Cumbria - A595 closed between the A5093 junction in Millom and the B5344 junction in Holmrook, because of snow.

  • A595 Cumbria - A595 closed between Wigton Turn in Red Dial and the B5299 junction in Mealsgate, because of snow.

  • A595 Cumbria - A595 closed between Elliscales Roundabout in Dalton-In-Furness and the A5092 junction in Grizebeck, because of snow.

  • A686 Cumbria - A686 Hartside Pass closed between the Alston junction and the Melmerby junction, because of snow.

  • A5091 Cumbria - A5091 closed between the A592 junction in Ullswater and the A66 junction in Troutbeck, because of snow.

  • The BBC Travel News Cumbria page with up to date details of these and other problems is here.

    The annual Coniston 14 road race, due to take place on today, has been postponed for the first time since it was cancelled due to the foot-and-mouth crisis in 2001. Organisers said it would be rearranged for a date in October.

    There were power cuts around Carlisle, Penrith and Millom on Friday and 350 homes are still affected, with Electricity North West engineers delayed by road conditions.

    A spokesman for Electricity North West said: "Our crews are working in extremely difficult conditions and we are getting to sites and restoring power as quickly as we can."

    Childcare vs stay at home mums - we should value both

    For most new parents the choices involved in deciding how to reconcile earning money and looking after your children are extremely difficult.

    I always try to avoid using terms like "full-time-mums" or "working mothers" which appear to make a perjorative choice on one side or the other, except to disavow them.

    Indeed, I detest both the phrase "working mother" because being a mum is extremely hard work whether you have another job as well or not, and the phrase "full-time mother" because those mothers who do have another job still carry the burden of responsibility, and the guilt complex with which society seems determined to saddle parents in general and mothers in particular, 100% of the time during a long day.

    And although where one parent stays at home it is most often the mother, there are some stay-at-home dads, and their work should be valued too.

    It is right that the government is trying to help those mums who have or want to find employment to do so. For some mothers who would like to have another job the economics can be quite impossible - it sometimes costs more to pay someone to look after your children while you are working than the job brings in. This is not a healthy situation for the individuals affected or for the country.

    But for the government to try to do something about this absolutely should not, and I believe, does not, mean that those mothers who choose to spend all their time with their children should feel their role is undervalued. Being a mother is one of the most vital roles in our society and helping those mothers who have or want other jobs is not an attack on those who have made a different choice.

    Quote of the Day

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

    Voltaire, attributed in G. Tallentyre's "The Friends of Voltaire."

    Friday, March 22, 2013

    On Internet Search Engines

    I can't wait for search engines to get a bit more selective at directing people towards what they actually want. I'm sure it will eventually happen in my lifetime, though it's taking longer than I would have hoped.

    Surely it ought not to be beyond the wit of man that if someone puts in search terms which suggest that they are looking for time-sensitive information - if one of the words in the search is "today" for instance, you programme search engines that any results from weblogs like this one bring up recent posts rather than old ones.

    What provoked this thought was looking at today's traffic stats for the posts on my blog and realising that search engines had obviously directed people who were looking for details of school closures in Cumbria today to a post which had gone up in January on a previous occasion when snow closed a lot of schools.

    The really annoying thing is that I posted a few hours ago the details of the schools in West and Central Cumbria I knew to be completely closed, or closing early, on the current date e.g. March 22nd.

    Unfortunately the last 24 hours' traffic stats for this blog show that a post with equivalent information for January 22nd got four times as many hits as the one for March 22nd. This has to be search engines picking up the page with the wrong month's information.

    So if anyone now reading this had been looking for up-to-date information on which schools in Cumbria are closed, and found themselves directed by a poorly performing search engine to the page on this blog which had the equivalent data for exactly two months ago, I can only apologise.

    Memo to Google: perhaps it might be a good idea to devote 1% of the profits you have been remarkably successful in not paying much tax on, to employing a few clever programmers to ensure that if someone types "today" into your search engine, it translates it as the character string which corresponds to the current date. 

    The big shutdown 22 Mar 2013: Sellafield closed, A595 blocked south of Calderbridge

    Take extreme care if you are travelling today.

    As of mid-day in the part of Whitehaven where I live the only noteworthy thing about the weather is that it is cold. however, in many other parts of Cumbria snow and high winds are causing havoc.

    As mentioned the A595 is closed south of Calderbridge. It is blocked at Waberthwaite and Bootle   due to snow and the A686 Hartside Pass, both ways between Alston and Melmerby, is closed.

    Snow ploughs, a JCB and gritter are all on the way to assist those stuck, say Copeland police, who add that the roads cannot be cleared effectively due to abandoned cars. Police are also currently dealing with a heavy goods vehicle that has reportedly been blown over on the A66 eastbound close to Bassenthwaite, a few miles from the Pheasant Inn.

    Police said the A66 at Stainmore is also closed and the A595 and A5092 towards Millom is inaccessible. The M6 Hackthorpe to Shap is passable with care.

    Sellafield are evacuating their non-essential workforce as a precaution: a Site Incident has been declared and the plants have been moved safely to a controlled, shut down state.

    Cumbria police have set up a ‘Gold Group’ at their headquarters in Penrith to monitor the response to a number of incidents across the county and the developing situation in case the weather becomes worse. The group is meeting regularly to ensure the safety of the public is maintained during the severe weather conditions. They are advising motorists not to travel unless it is essential.

    My children's school openend normally this morning but I have just heard that they are finishing early this afternoon. Schools in Cumbria closed or finishing early include:

  • Bassenthwaite school (due to snow and no electricity)
  • Black Combe juniors, Millom
  • Broughton in Furness
  • Captain Shaw School, Bootle
  • Gosforth CE school
  • Grasmere primary school
  • Stainburn CE Primary, Penrith
  • Haverigg nursery
  • Haverigg primary
  • Hawkshead Esthwaite primary
  • Ireby CE
  • Ireleth St Peter's
  • John Ruskin school, Coniston
  • Keswick school
  • Lowther Endowed School, Hackthorpe
  • Millom infant
  • Newbridge House PRU
  • Park View nursery, Millom
  • Patterdale CE school
  • Penruddock primary
  • St Bega's Primary, Eskdale Green
  • St James' Catholic primary, Millom
  • Seascale primary
  • Shap Endowed
  • Thwaites School, near Millom
  • Waberthwaite

  • The world didn't end in February either

    On 21st December, the last day of the Mayan "Long Count" calendar which certain silly people somehow interpreted as a prediction for the end of the world, I was gently taking the mick out of them, and an anonymous person posted

     "You wont be laughing on 15th February 2013 when the world really does end."

    I asked how much he would bet me that it wouldn't but got no reply. Pity, I could have used the money.

    I wonder when the next ludicrous prediction of the end of the world is going to be?

    Quote of the day

    "Nous avons tous assez de force pour supporter les maux d'autres."

    (We all have enough strenght to bear the misfortunes of others)

    The Duc de la Rochefoucauld

    Thursday, March 21, 2013

    On the crisis in Cyprus

    I changed this morning's quote of the day to Sir Humphrey Appleby's "politician's syllogism" because I thought it particularly relevant to the vote in Cyprus earlier this week.

    Various newspapers and commentators have been treating the vote by the Cypriot parliament to reject the initially proposed bailout package, which included a confiscatory levy on bank deposits above a certain size, as a sign of impending disaster and an unwillingness to take the measures necessary to pull the country round.

    The thing is, Cyprus DOES need to take very tough painful measures, but THIS particular package was wrong, wrong, wrong.

    The mere fact that the idea of a levy on bank deposits was seriously considered is going to have seriously harmful short and medium term impacts on the willingness of savers to put or leave their money in the banks, not just in Cyprus but probably in the rest of the Mediterranean area too. This in turn will have negative consequences on the ability of the banks to finance investment and loans which those countries need. If the levy had actually been approved those consequences would have been even more harmful and very long-lasting.

    The Cypriot parliament has no good options, only bad and worse ones all involving different degrees of pain, and they will need to approve spending cuts or new taxes or a mix of both if they want the banks to reopen. But the package they rejected would have made matters much worse in the long run.

    And I make no apology for pointing out again that if economic illiterates like Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and all the other Labour politicians who are calling on the British government to borrow more had their way, it would put Britain closer to where Cyprus is now.

    Quote of the Day

    The politician's syllogism,
    1. We must do something
    2. This is something
    3. Therefore, we must do this.
    As identified by "Sir Humphrey Appleby" in a 1988 episode of the BBC television political sitcom Yes, Prime Minister called "Power to the People".

    It is of course a logical fallacy.

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    The siren voices of those who would borrow more

    I have just returned home from a day working in London and in the last stages of the voyage home I was listening to the budget debate on "Today in Parliament"

    Although I had already noted in this morning's post that Labour has the disastrous policy of wanting to borrow more, I was deeply depressed at the number of siren voices, mostly from the Labour benches, who were urging this policy on the chancellor.

    To say that these people are the economic equivalent of lemmings would be to risk a class action from lemmings.

    Have they learned nothing from the mess that Cyprus is in? Obviously not.

    One MP referred to the fact that it's a good time to borrow because interest rates are low: another said that there is good borrowing and bad borrowing.

    The trouble with borrowing when interest rates are cheap is that if they go up again, as eventually they must, and you are not in a position to pay the money back, the cost of paying the interest on the extra debt becomes crippling.

    It's all very well to argue that there is good borrowing and bad borrowing when your total debt is well within what you can manage. But when a country the size of Britain has a national debt of £1.2 trillion and is already, even at present low lates of interest, spending more money paying the interest on the money borrowed before Gordon Brown left office than on schools, there is no longer such a thing as good and bad borrowing: it is all unaffordable. 

    The chancellor writes on today's budget

    George Osborne writes:
    "My budget today supports everyone who wants to work hard and get on.
    In a tough economic situation, the British people know there are no easy answers or short cuts. But we are succeeding, slowly but surely, in fixing those problems.
    bulletWe've now cut Labour's record deficit by not just by a quarter,
     - but by a third.
    bulletWe've helped create 1.25 million new private sector jobs.
    bulletInterest rates remain at record lows.
    This government inherited the largest deficit of any major economy. Labour's plans to borrow even more would take us backwards. Instead, by making savings from bureaucracy, from the benefits bill, and by ensuring that the better off play their part, we are able to do more to boost jobs and help families.
    To compete in the global race
    bulletWe're creating a new Employment Allowance to help small firms
    take on more staff. By taking £2,000 off the employer national
    insurance bill of every company, we will take around 450,000 small
    businesses out of paying any jobs tax at all - that's one third of all
    employers. While Labour proposed putting a tax on jobs, we're taking
    tax off jobs.
    bulletCutting corporation tax to 20 per cent from April 2015, giving us the
    most competitive rate in the G20. And we are abolishing stamp duty on
    shares traded on growth markets such as AIM, which will support growth
    and jobs across the UK.
    bulletImproving infrastructure by boosting capital investment by
    £15 billion over the rest of this decade. Public investment will now be
    higher on average as a percentage of our national income under our
    plans than it was in the whole period of the last Government.
    To support aspiration and help people who want to work and get on
    bulletThe personal tax allowance will be increased to £10,000 next year.
    Families will pay over £700 less in income tax than when this government
    came to office. 24 million people will pay less tax.
    bulletWe're introducing Tax Free Childcare. We're giving people 20% off,
    equivalent to the basic rate of tax, on the first £6,000 of their childcare
    costs for each child.
    bulletIntroducing Help to Buy. We're supporting people who want their own
    home, but can't afford the increased deposits that lenders now require.
    We're using the Government's fiscal credibility to support a Mortgage
    Guarantee to help lenders offer mortgages to people with a deposit of
    between 5 per cent and 20 per cent. This should dramatically increase
    their availability.
    bulletCancelling the September fuel duty increase altogether. Pump prices
    will be 13 pence per litre lower than if we had not acted over these last
    three years to freeze fuel duty.
    bulletWe're taking a penny off the price of a pint of beer. This will save
    drinkers 4 pence a pint compared to the last government's plans.
    I believe the way to restore our economic prosperity is to energise the aspirations of the British people.
    For years people have felt that the whole system was tilted against those who did the right thing: who worked, who saved, who aspired.
    But these are very people we need to support if Britain is to have a future.
    So this is a Budget for people who work hard and want to get on.
    It is a Budget for a Britain that wants to be prosperous, solvent and free.
    Yours sincerely,
    George Osborne signature
    George Osborne
    Chancellor of the Exchequer"       

    Cyprus rejects a disastrous panic measure

    Cyprus, like a number of other countries which followed for too long the fatally lax policies which the Labour party implemented in Britain and are still urging on us, is in a terrible financial mess and is going to have to take very painful decisions if a total financial meltdown is to be avoided.

    But the fact that tough choices will have to be made does not mean that any tough choice is right.

    And the proposal for a levy on savings which Cyprus MPs have wisely rejected was perfectly calculated to make a bad situation worse.

    I explained in a recent post why negative nominal interest rates are a suicidally disastrous idea and I was horrified that a senior official of the Bank of England was prepared to so much as consider them, even if this only applied to money deposited by other banks with the central bank, which was the proposal suggested.

    A tax on savings would be even more disastrous for much the same reasons.

    Even considering this sort of policy can cause a run on banks and set people to hiding their money in a safe under the floorboards rather than investing money where it can help the economy. It fosters attitudes which were a serious handicap to economic progress even in the nineteenth century and would be far more damaging now.

    It is important that a society provides an incentive for people to save a sensible amount and provides financial mechanisms for those savings to be channelled into productive investments. Allowing inflation to harm the real value of those savings is bad enough. Making people think that money they have put into banks of building societies is not safe is economic suicide.

    Of course, Cyprus will still have to adopt painful and unpleasant policies to stay solvent. Hopefully they will be able to find measures which will not be as disastrous as confiscating savings would have been.

    Oh and anyone who is considering, even for a millisecond, casting a vote for the Labour party any time in the next decade ought to think about this. Labour not only put Britain on the road to where Cyprus is now, they have not learned their lesson and are still advocating borrowing even more.

    Despite the efforts the coalition has made to bring down the defecit, and they have reduced it, the British government is still borrowing far more than we can afford. The debt burden we are building up is still terrifying and will handicap the public finances for decades as the interest on government debts becomes one of the largest burdens on the taxpayer - it's already taking more of your taxes than the country spends on schools.

    I hope and expect that George Osborne will show in today's budget that he understands this. Judging by their recent comments, the Labour front bench does not.

    Budget Day quote of the day

    "Why are Conservative chancellors so often unpopular? Because they often have to clear up the mess left behind by Labour chancellors."

    (Anonymous Tory Grandee)

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    DC on making childcare more affordable

    Prime Minister David Cameron writes:

    "This Government faces tough choices in clearing up Labour's mess and getting this country standing tall again. But we've always been clear that we'll do everything we can to make life easier for Britain's families.
    That's why we're determined to make childcare more affordable. We need to help parents who get up early, work hard and then find their income eaten away by fees for nurseries or childminders. And we also need to help people who just can't afford to work, because it's too expensive to pay someone to look after their children.
    So today we've announced radical plans to cut childcare costs for parents from 2015:
    bulletWe're going to pay 20 per cent of your bill every year, up to £1,200 per
    child. That effectively gives you back your tax for childcare costs.
    bulletWe'll begin by helping those with children under 5 - then year by year we'll
    extend it until all children under 12 are covered.
    bulletIt's for families where both parents work. But don't worry if you're a
    working single mum or dad, it absolutely applies to you as well.
    The bold action we've announced here comes on top of a number of other things we're doing to help people with the cost of living. We've cut tax for 24 million people, stopped Labour's fuel duty rises, frozen council tax for 3 years and are forcing energy companies to put their customers on the lowest available tariff.
    Most people I meet don't expect the Government to wave a magic wand. They know the deep problems Labour left us. But they do expect us to back them if they work hard to build a better life for themselves and their children: to make things just a little bit easier.
    This announcement on childcare today shows we're doing just that."

    Government approves new Nuclear Reactor

    The first new nuclear reactor for a generation was given planning permission today.

    In a huge boost for Britain's nuclear renaissance, Energy Secretary Ed Davey told the House of Commons that he was granting planning consent for French energy giant EDF to construct a third generation power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

    The proposed £14bn power plant would be capable of powering five million homes.

    The last nuclear plant built in the UK was Sizewell B in Suffolk. Building work for the plant, near Leiston, began in 1988 and it started operating seven years later.

    The proposal had cross party support in the House of Commons and was welcomed by the trade unions, with  Unite's national officer for energy Kevin Coyne describing the decision to grant consent was a "massive boost for jobs". Hinkley C will be one of the UK's biggest infrastructure projects for years with 5,600 workers on site at the peak of construction.

    Mr Davey told the Commons: "The planning decision to give consent to Hinkley Point follows a rigorous examination from the Planning Inspectorate, and detailed analysis within my department.

    "This planned project adds to a number of new energy projects consented since May 2010, including wind farms and biomass and gas-fired power stations.

    "It will benefit the local economy, through direct employment, the supply chain and the use of local services."

    The news is a boost to the nuclear industry as it represents a resumption in badly needed plans to construct a new fleet of reactors in the UK, which ministers say are needed to cut carbon and keep the lights on.

    Quote of the Day: on Chris Huhne

    “Huhne’s greatest offence was not having his hands on the wheel but putting his foot on the brake of shale gas.”

    Rt. Hon. Peter Lilley MP, writing in the Conservative Way Forward magazine

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    An honourable compromise

    On the face of it, the deal struck between the three parties on the Royal Charter for the new Independent Press regulator looks like a reasonable compromise.

    As far as I can tell the legal framework behind the bill is that there will be a three-line clause in an act of parliament, probably the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which will mean that the charter cannot be amended by ministers or the Privy Council without the consent of a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons.

    The Labour and Lib/Dem parties say that means that the code has "statutory underpinning" but it doesn't on the face of it look like a measure which will make it easy to use the law to muzzle the press.

    However, I am reminded of a very old saying: "The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance."

    No government, regardless of what party they may come from or what I personally may think of them, can be trusted with the power to tell the press what to write. No population who wish to retain their freedom should allow any measure affecting control of the press by government to be enacted without the most intense scrutiny, even under a PM like David Cameron whose public statements suggest that he fully understands the need to avoid having politicians use the law to tell the press what to write.

    Those who wish to continue living in a free country should pay the closest attention to how this charter, or anything else on this subject agreed by any government, works in practice.

    Very rare quote of the day - a Labour PM talking sense

    "We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employ­ment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of infla­tion into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment. We have just escaped from the highest rate of inflation this country has known; we have not yet escaped from the consequences: high unemployment."

    "That is the history of the last 20 years. Each time we did this the twin evils of unemployment and inflation have hit hardest those least able to stand them. Not those with the strongest bargaining power, no, it has not hit those. It has hit the poor, the old and the sick."

    James Callaghan, Labour Prime Minister: Leader's party conference speech 1976.

    It is not often that I agree with anything that a Labour leader says, but "Sunny Jim" Callaghan was right on the nail with what he said at that conference in October 1976, and he would have been right to express the same opinion today. The present leadership of the Labour party would be very well advised to pay attention to the advice he gave.

    Sunday, March 17, 2013

    Swimathon 2013

    This April I will be taking part in the Swimathon to raise money for Marie Curie cancer care This will be the twentieth consecutive year I have taken part. This year my son is also taking part for the first time. You can support Marie Curie Cancer care by sponsoring either of us at the respective pages below.

    My fundraising page:

    Chris Whiteside's sponsorship page for Swimathon 2013

    My son's fundraising page:

    John Whiteside's sponsorship page for Swimathon 2013

    Quote of the day

    "It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."

    Ronald Reagan.

    Saturday, March 16, 2013

    Quote of the Day

    “The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

    Margaret Thatcher

    Friday, March 15, 2013

    When European and national parties disagree

    There is an interesting analysis at the Open Europe blog about how MEPs from a number of parties around Europe voted when their national leadership and the groups they are part of in the European parliament went in opposite directions.

    It has already been noted that British Lib/Dem MEPs voted against the summit proposals to reduce EU budget limits. In the process they earned a severe public ticking-off from Nick Clegg when the Lib Dem leader praised Cameron's negotiating tactics and expressed disappointment that his MEPs voted with their European group against the proposed lower MFF budget ceiling and in favour of higher spending, a higher national contribution, and new taxes to fund the EU.

    It is also interesting to note that UKIP's Kamikazi pilot vote against cutting the EU spending limits was not supported by the rest of the "Europe of Freedom and Democracy" group with which they sit.

    The same sort of problem was visible in several parts of Europe: Angela Merkel was as keen as David Cameron to trim the EU budget but her MEPs failed to support her, as did those of the Dutch prime minister's party, while MEPs representing the Finnish government parties were split.

    On the other hand, MEPs from the Swedish Moderaterna party and Polish Civic Platform party supported their respective Prime Ministers and backed the summit deal, in both cases defying the EPP group whip to do so.

    You can read the Open Europe blog article here.

    How your MEP voted on the EU Budget

    There has been a LOT of confusion about how British MEPs voted on the EU budget (known as the MFF or Multiannual Financial Framework).

    There were in fact two votes, one on a Conservative/ECR motion to accept the summit deal (which would have delivered the first ever reduction in the EU's budget ceiling) and one on a second motion to reject the budget deal as it currently stands, asking for extra EU spending and extra taxes on all European taxpayers (particularly British ones.)

    For British voters two things particularly stand out:


    The majority of Lib/Dem and Greens MEPs voted AGAINST the proposal to accept the budget cut and FOR the motion to reject it in it's present form and demand higher spending and more taxes.

    In other words they voted against cutting spending and taxes, and FOR higher taxes on British and European taxpayers. Nick Clegg quickly distanced himself from his MEPs but that's still the position they took.

    Two or three Lib/Dem MEPs abstained or did not vote.


    UKIP have been sending off very conflicting signals about how they were going to vote. In the end those UKIP members of the European Parliament who were present voted against both motions.

    The summit deal which proposes the first ever cut in the EU's budget ceiling and MFF has to be approved by the parliament to come into effect. If it isn't approved, the previous budget stands. Since UKIP voted against that approval, they were effectively voting for the higher existing budget.

    So UKIP voted against a cut in the EU budget.

    The  far-right British National Party's MEPs split, but it is worth noting that their chairman, North West MEP Nick Griffin, also voted against the Conservative motion to accept the summit. So in the North West, a vote for the BNP was also a vote AGAINST cutting the EU budget.

    There is a useful "" website here where you can see how MEPs have voted by name, by country and by political group.

    1) The votewatch page for the vote on the motion to accept the summit's proposed budget cut can be found at

    Note that on this motion a vote for (Green thumbs up sign) means a vote to support the summit resolution for a cut in the MFF budget ceiling.

    Note also that Marta Andreasen MEP recently defected from UKIP to the Conservatives and voted with us for the budget cut. Votewatch have not yet changed her group identification on the site from the "Europe of Freedom and Democracy" group (which includes UKIP) to the "European Conservative and Reformists" group which includes the British Conservatives, but she is now a Conservative MEP and not a UKIP one.

    A red thumbs down on this motion is a vote against the budget cut. And, although they're not exactly shouting it from the rooftops, that is how the UKIP delegation voted.

    They said this was because the proposed budget is still too high, but this was not a very sensible position to take for the reason I have already exlained, e.g. that unless the parliament ratifies the summit deal we are stuck with the previous, higher budget ceiling. As far as I can tell the silly nitwits have got themselves into an ideological cul-de-sac whereby they can't vote for an EU budget, even a reduced one, even if that means that the higher MFF previously agreed still stands. And even if that means putting ideology before the interests of the British taxpayers they were elected to represent.

    2) The votewatch page for the vote on the motion to reject the proposed budget in its' present form and demand higher contributions, more spending and new taxes can be found at

    In this case a vote against (red thumbs down) means a vote against more spending and higher taxes, a vote for (green thumbs up) means a vote for higher spending, higher British contributions and new taxes paid to the EU. And if you vote Lib/Dem or Green in a European election, that's what you're voting for.