Friday, May 31, 2013

Unemployment in the Eurozone reaches a new high


Unemployment in the eurozone has reached record high of 12.2%, according to official figures released today, which you can see here.

An extra 95,000 people were out of work in April in the 17 countries that use the euro, taking the total to 19.38 million.

Both Greece and Spain have jobless rates above 25%.

Anyone in Britain who is cheering about the problems of the Eurozone is seriously out of touch with reality. It is a human tragedy for the people out of work, and for their families. And it is bad news for Britain, because it will have a negative effect on British exports to those countries and slow down the recovery of our own economy.

But, and I can say "we told you so" as someone who was involved from day one of the "Keep the Pound campaign" (I was constituency Conservative chairman in St Albans when William Hague parked his lorry in St Albans market place to kick off the campaign), thank God we won the battle to stop Britain joining the Euro.

Britain sells half our exports to the EU and half to the rest of the world. Both halves of our trade are vital to the British economy. If we were using the Euro instead of having our own currency, it couldn't adjust to whatever level best balances British trade with Europe against our trade with the rest of the world.

That's what went wrong on "Black Wednesday" - the exchange rate of the pound against the DM was actually perfectly reasonable in terms of the purchasing power of those two currencies. The problem was that having our currency pegged at that rate against the german currency put it completely out of line against the dollar.

The fact that much of Europe is in recession would be a problem whether we were in or out of the Euro, but it would almost certainly create the same problem we had on Black Wednesday, only much worse, if we did not have our own currency.

This is an opportunity and a challenge for Britain in our negotiations with the rest of Europe. We must be very careful not to appear to hold any guns to the heads of other european countries while they are trying to sort out the European debt crisis, and are quite rightly focussed on getting their economies out of recession.

Equally, the present difficulties demonstrate only too clearly that too many countries were allowed into the Euro, and if the Eurozone is enlarged further that could easily create extra difficulties both for the joining countries and for existing members. That gives us a very powerful argument against forcing every country joining the EU to also join the Euro - and strengthens Britain's hand in arguing for a more flexible Europe.

Back from hospital

Back safely, my operation to remove a couple of teeth having gone off without any significant problems. I noted however, while I was in Carlisle that the leader of the city council, Cllr Joe Hendry, has died following a heart attack.

I did not personally know Councillor Hendry so I am not going to post a formal obit, but my thoughts are with his friends and family at this sad time.

Off to Carlisle today

As I drive past the West Cumberland Hospital site, which I do several times a week, I can see the signs of work on the rebuild and refurbishment of the hospital.

The Business case has been approved, there are arguments about how much money is needed but the work is going on. There is no doubt that we will get a rebuilt and refurbished hospital.

I have a reminder today, however, in the form of a visit to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle for a very minor operation, that what isn't certain is how many services our shiny new hospital will have.

Oral surgery is just one of many services which have been moved to Carlisle.

Obviously it is essential that all services provided are safe and of good quality. But there are real issues with expecting people to travel to Carlisle or futher afield for medical care.

The people of West Cumberland value our local district general hospital. We have fought hard for it. We need to keep it. It is important that the new management of the NHS in this area shows continued commitment to keeping as large as possible a range of services delivered locally in West Cumbria.

Quote of the day

"Always tell the press freely and frankly anything they could easily find out any other way"

(Line spoken by Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes Minister" by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wish me luck tomorrow - for an op on a Friday!

I shall be going into the Cumberland Infirmary tomorrow afternoon for a minor dental operation.

The fact that I am having to go to Carlisle for this procedure is an indication of the number of services which are no longer available at the West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven, which is a very sore point in West Cumbria, which I shall address in a post tomorrow morning, but that is not the issue this post is about.

My operation tomorrow is not a particularly serious procedure, which is just as well, as the British Medical Journal has just published the results of a study which shows that patients are 44% more likely to die within 30 days of an operation performed on a Friday in an NHS hospital than within 30 days of one performed on a Monday.

Knowing that the many journalists are - how can we put this - not particularly well versed in statistics, my first thought was to check how likely it is that this result is statistically significant.

However, when one checks out the details of the study, it rapidly becomes clear that the study was large enough and sophisticated enough that its' results are indeed statistically significant - the details and significance have been published on the British Medical Journal website.

The "p value" for the linear trend for the mortality rate by day of procedure was less than 0.001 - which is statisticians' language for

"there is less than one chance in a thousand that this result could have been generated by random chance."

Just to be clear how many deaths we are talking about, when I looked at the published data and checked what would have happened if the mortality rate for operations on the other days of the week had been the same as on Monday, I calculated that this is equivalent to 5,000 fewer deaths.

The study quotes odds ratios which are adjusted for the statistical impact of the patient's age, gender, deprivation, ethnic group, and five other risk factors. If you apply these adjusted figures, that suggests that the impact of higher mortality rates for operations later in the week is equivalent to an extra 4,400 deaths over three years.

The study, the results of which you can read for yourself on the BMJ website here, was conducted at Imperial College London and looked at more than four million inpatient elective procedures conducted in NHS hospitals in England between 2008 and 2011.

In that time 27,582 of patients died within 30 days of their operation - an overall mortality rate of 0.67 per cent.

Death rates were lowest for patients having operations on Monday, increasing by around 10 per cent for each subsequent day of the week, so that for those having surgery on Fridays the risk of death was 44 per cent higher than at the start of the week.

Previous research had already established that the chance of dying after surgery is far higher at weekends, compared with weekdays, but studies have been unable to establish whether this is mainly because surgery carried out at weekends is more likely to be urgent and carry higher risks.

The new study is the first to examine the death rates during the week, and found that patients’ chances suffered dramatically as the week went on. In line with previous studies, this one suggested that death rates were highest at weekends - 82 per cent higher when adjusted for the patient's age and other risk factors than on a Monday - but the number of operations carried out on Saturdays and Sundays was small (a little less that 5% of all elective surgery), and might represent a different mix of patients, accordiny to the authors of the study.

However, they thought it more likely that the findings could reflect differences in the quality of care at the weekend. Dr Paul Aylin, the study’s lead researcher and clinical reader in epidemiology and public health at Imperial College London, said the findings suggested that a lack of staff, resources and diagnostic tests on Saturdays and Sundays were increasing the risks to patients who were recovering from surgery over the weekend.

The first 48 hours after an operation are often the most critical period of care for surgery patients,”

said Dr Aylin.

“So if the quality of care is lower at the weekend as some previous studies have suggested, we would expect to see higher mortality rates not just for patients operated on at the weekend, but also those who have operations towards the end of the week, whose postoperative care overlaps with the weekend. That is what we found.”

As well as looking at the data for all operations, the researchers studied death rates for several specific high risk procedures, and found the same trend for higher mortality close to the weekend. They said that

“We tried to account for the possibility that different types of patients might have operations at the end of the week, but our adjustment made little difference. This leaves us with the possibility that the differences in mortality rates are due to poorer quality of care at the weekend, perhaps because of less availability of staff, resources and diagnostic services.”

The argument is that the increase in death rates for those undergoing surgery towards the end of the week is likely to be due to “a failure to rescue the patient” during the most critical 48 hours following surgery, when complications are most likely.

My immediate reaction is that this may well be a major part of the explanation for death rates being higher for patients who had operations on Thursday, Friday or at the weekend than on Monday to Wednesday. However, it does not explain why there is also a rise in mortality from Monday to Tuesday and from Tuesday to Wednesday - and these results, though less marked, are still statistically significant.

The death rate within 30 days for all inpatient elective surgery carried out on a Monday was 5.5 per thousand, on Wednesdays 6.7 per thousand. Adjusting for age and other risk factors, mortality rate was 15% higher on Wednesdays than Mondays - representing an extra 685 or so deaths over the three years of the study for patients who had surgery on Wednesday.

The pattern of increasing deaths through the week from Monday onwards is far too consistent and too strong for it to be reasonable to conclude either that it is due to chance, or that the quality of care at the weekend, though it may well be a factor, is the only explanation.

Something is going on here, and it needs attention.


The study was conducted by the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial, funded by Dr Foster Intelligence, an independent healthcare information company, and the National Institute for Health Research.

It did not cover day surgery such as the dental procedure for which I am going into hospital tomorrow, so I am resisting the tempation to ring up and cancel my appointment and try to reschedule for a Monday.

But if I or any of my family have to go into hospital for planned surgery any time soon, at least before the issues driving this have been identified and any necessary corrective action taken, you can bet that I will be trying to make sure the operation is scheduled at the beginning of the week !

On Prime Ministerial holidays

I don't always agree with Nadine Dorries MP, but I thought she was right on the money when she referred to criticism of David Cameron for taking a holiday this week as "ridiculous." In fact I would have used a stronger word were it not likely to cause offence.

Labour MPs Sarah Champion and John Mann who criticised the Prime Minister for taking his children away on a short holiday this week - and don't forget that this is half term week - only proved in my eyes that they are either hypocrites who expect David Cameron to abide by a standard they would never apply to themselves, or it is fortunate for the country that they are not ministers.

When Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered, the PM came back to Britain immediately from a summit in France, chaired a meeting of COBRA, condemned the murder, and sent a message of condolences to the family. That was right and proper. But once this was done and the necessary reviews had been started and the police starting to round up those suspected of involvement in this horrible crime, what real benefit could there have been in his cancelling his children's holiday, or sending them off without their father?

In this day and age, nearly everything which would once have had to be put in front of the Prime Minister at number ten or Chequers could equally be sent to him electronically. A number of the PM's staff members have accompanied the Camerons on their holiday, and as Simon Kellner put it in the Independent,

"It's safe to assume they haven't been dragged along to make up the numbers for beach volleyball."
 
I would no more want the people who take vital decisions about the safety of our country to do so in a state of exhaustion than I would want to be operated on by an exhausted surgeon.

(BTW, it has not exactly done wonders for my morale that a survey showing people are much more likely to remain alive following an operation at the beginning of the week than after one on Thursday or Friday had to be published this week - when I am going into the Cumberland Infirmary for a minor operation tomorrow  - Friday! More of this later).

It would appear that most of the electorate sees it the same way: a YOUGOV poll found that a majority of voters, including 88% of Conservative voters and 70% of Lib/Dem voters, agreed with the statement that

""people do their job better if they take regular breaks, and with modern communications he can still keep in touch"

Quite.

Quote of the Day

"First law on holes: when you are in one, stop digging."

(Denis Healey)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Morrisons should reconsider their position on bands and badges

I was disappointed to learn that Morrisons has suspended a checkout assistant for wearing a Help for Heroes wristband and a small metal poppy badge in tribute to murdered soldier Lee Rigby.
It is right that food stores should be very careful about any badges which might have an impact on food safety but this seems completely over the top and will cause justified offence to the brave men and women of our armed forces and the huge majority of people in this country who are grateful for the sacrifices they make on our behalf.

I hope Morrisons will reconsider whether their policy is necessary or sensible.

Quote of the Day


"Free trade, one of the greatest blessings which a government can confer on a people, is in almost every country unpopular. "
 
(Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Two litres of milk for 97 pence


One of the games that the press likes to play with politicians is stick a microphone under their nose and ask the price of some basic commodity such as a loaf of bread or a pint of milk to see if they know the answer - the theory being that if they do know they are more likely to be understanding of a hard working family trying to balance a budget or a senior citizen trying to keep body and soul together on a state pension.

If  a journalist playing this game ever asked me the price of a pint of milk, my answer would begin with the comment that anyone who wants set themselves up as a judge over whether policiticans are in touch with the real world ought to be sufficiently in touch themselves to know that people who are remotely price-sensitive should not be buying milk by the pint.

Shops which sell milk will almost invariably offer a litre of milk (2.2 pints) at a price which is much better value for money than a pint, and a two litre container of milk is usually much better value still.

A person who lives on their own and doesn't use much milk, or doesn't have access to a fridge, might have need to buy milk by the pint, but if you go through milk at the rate my family does, you usually buy it in two litre containers.

If you keep your eyes open for prices while shopping, it is interesting to see that many people are very price sensitive, but some definately are not. There are at least three or four shops in Whitehaven, and several in Workington, where you can get a 2-litre container of milk for about a pound, and it is obvious that both budget food shops and major supermarkets think some customers are paying a great deal of attention to this price, either because they are shopping for the best price milk or because they see it as a general indicator of relative prices.

It is equally obvious that some customers are much less price sensitive than others. In certain shops there are several adjacent racks of milk in which different brands of milk are for sale, side by side. Provided you look carefully it is not difficult to find milk at about £1 per two litres, but if you just grab some without looking you are as likely to get a slightly different brand from the next rack which is thirty or forty percent more expensive.

And personally I can't for the life of me taste the difference or otherwise tell apart the milk which costs 30% more from the basic brand,

Today I noticed that Morrisons in Whitehaven has dropped the price of a the main economy two litre container of milk below the pound mark to 97p. Not a special offer, apparently not a sale of stock which is about to go off, this was presented as the standard price for the economy brand.

If you are not a dairy farmer or an employee of the dairy industry, that probably sounds to you like good news. Given what the state of the economy has been doing to the household budgets of most British people, most of us would tend to welcome any prices going down rather than up.

Part of what is driving this is the gradual relaxation of milk quotas before they are phased out as part of reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy - something else which many taxpayers will naturally be inclined to welcome.

And yet, dairy farming has been under enormous pressure for years. If the price of milk is driven low enough to force lots of farmers out of business, the impact on the countryside and the economy will not be good.

I can't bring myself to complain about a rare instance of good news in terms of cheap prices for a basic necessity in our shops. But we need to watch out and pay attention to what is happening to British farms.

I am not objecting to the workings of a free and open economy: I am saying that the impact of this should be considered when the government reviews the Single Farm Payment system under which we are already spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to support the countryside, and the allocation should take into account which parts of the rural and agricultural economy are most in need of help.

DC's message to party members

This is an email which was sent last week on behalf of David Cameron to members of the National Conservative Convention, e.g. Constituency, Area and Regional chairmen.
 
 
After the news this weekend, I wanted to write a personal note to members of our Party.
I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party for 25 years. Some time after I joined I became Chairman of my local branch and was one of the volunteers dedicated to getting Conservatives elected to the local council. Since then I have met thousands and thousands of party members. We’ve pounded pavements together, canvassed together and sat in make-shift campaign headquarters together, from village halls to front rooms. We have been together through good times and bad. This is more than a working relationship; it is a deep and lasting friendship.
 
Ours is a companionship underpinned by what we believe: that everyone should be able to get on in life if they’re willing to work hard; that we look after those who cannot help themselves; that it’s family and community and country that matter; that a dose of common sense is worth more than a tonne of dry political theory; that Britain is a great and proud nation that can be greater still.

Above all, we Conservatives believe you change things not by criticising from your armchair but by getting out and doing. Across the country, at charity events and voluntary organisations, you will find people from our Party quietly doing their bit. Time and again, Conservative activists like you stand for duty, decency and civic pride.

That’s why I am proud to lead this party. I am proud of what you do. And I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise. We are a team, from the parish council to the local association to Parliament, and I never forget it.

Does that mean we will agree on everything? Of course not. The Conservative Party has always been a broad church – one which contains different views and opinions – and we must remain so today. But there is also much we must do together. We can shout from the roof-tops about how far we’ve already come. The deficit has been cut by a third. We’ve seen 1.25 million new jobs created in our private sector. 24 million working people have had their income tax cut.

And we can be clear about where we are going, too. We are engaged in a great fight to rebalance our economy, to bring excellence back to our schools, to fix the welfare system. And yes, we have a policy on Europe that is right for our country. Amid all the debate, remember this: it is our Party that has committed to an in-out referendum on Europe by the end of 2017. Not Labour, not the Liberal Democrats, but the Conservatives who are committed to giving the British people their say.

So to those reading this, here is my message: there will always be criticism from the sidelines.
But we must remember what this Party has always been about: acting in the national interest.
Our task today is to clear up Labour’s mess and make Britain stand tall again.

We have a job to do for our country – and we must do it together.

 
 

David Cameron

Quote of the Day

"The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Quote of the Day


"Communism was a great system for making people equally poor. In fact, there was no better system in the world for that than communism."
 
Thomas L. Friedman, from "The World is Flat."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

EU clears faster broadband for Cumbria

The European Union has given "major contract approval" for the £50 million deal between the British government, Cumbria County Council (while it was still Conservative-led) and BT to provide faster broadband for rural areas of Cumbria.

This will be very good news for small businesses and therefore jobs in Cumbria.

Quote of the day

"Politicians are like nappies, they should be changed regularly and for the same reason."

(Ken Dodd, anglicising a saying from Mark Twain.)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A silver lining to a terrible cloud

Thre are very few words to express the true horror of the terrible murder in Woolwich. A brave man, who was loved and respected by his family and comrades, who had risked his life for his country in Helmand province, was hacked down in the streets near his home in Britain.

A two year old boy has been left without a father.

There can be no justification for this senseless and brutal murder. Certainly not in the name opf Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, or in the name of the religion of Islam, which means "Peace."

If there is a single bright side to this awful act, it is in the response: by the brave cub scout leader who, as the PM put it, spoke for all of us when she confonted one of the attackers, and in the fact that the airwaves in the aftermath of the attack were full of as many repudiations from Imams and other representatives of Islam as they were of condemnation from anyone else. And that the unreserved rejection of this attack by spokesmen for Muslim believers was as clear, forthright, strongly-worded and explicit as as any reasonable person could possibly wish.

PM's statement on the Woolwich tragedy

Statement issued by Prime Minister David Cameron on 23rd May.
 
 
What happened yesterday in Woolwich has sickened us all.
 
On our televisions last night – and in our newspapers this morning – we have all seen images that are deeply shocking.

The people who did this were trying to divide us.

They should know: something like this will only bring us together and make us stronger.

Today our thoughts are with the victim – and with his family.

They are grieving for a loved one…

And we have lost a brave soldier.

This morning I have chaired a meeting of COBRA. And I want to thank the police and security services for the incredible work they do to keep our country safe.

There are police investigations and security service operations underway – so obviously there is a limit on what I can say. But already a number of things are clear.

First, this country will be absolutely resolute in its stand against violent extremism and terror.
We will never give in to terror – or terrorism - in any of its forms.

Second, this view is shared by every community in our country.

This was not just an attack on Britain – and on our British way of life. It was also a betrayal of Islam – and of the Muslim communities who are give so much to our country.

There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.

We will defeat violent extremism by standing together…
…by backing our police and security services…
…and above all by challenging the poisonous narrative of extremism on which this
violence feeds.

Britain works with our international partners to make the world safe from terrorism. Terrorism that has taken more Muslim lives than any other religion. It is an utter perversion of the truth to pretend anything different.

That is why there is absolutely no justification for these acts…
…and the fault for them lies solely and purely with the sickening individuals who carried out this appalling attack.

Confronting extremism is a job for us all.

And the fact that our communities will unite in doing this was vividly demonstrated by the brave cub pack leader - Ingrid Loyau-Kennett - who confronted one of the attackers on the streets of Woolwich yesterday afternoon.

When told by the attacker that he wanted to start a war in London, she replied

“You’re going to lose. It’s only you versus many.”

She spoke for us all.

The Police and Security Services will follow every lead…

  …turn over every piece of evidence…
  …make every connection…
  …and will not rest until we know every single detail of what happened and we’ve brought all of those responsible to justice.

I know from three years as being Prime Minister that the police and intelligence agencies work around the clock to keep us safe from violent extremists.

I watch their work every week. They do an outstanding job. They show incredible heroism, much of which can not be reported. They have my staunch support and the support of the whole country.

The point that the two suspects in this horrific attack were known to the Security services has been widely reported. You would not expect me to comment on this when a criminal investigation is ongoing. But what I can say is this.

As is the normal practice in these sorts of cases, the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be able to review the actions of the police and the Intelligence and Security Committee will be able to do the same for the wider agencies.

But nothing should be done to get in the way of their absolutely vital work.

After an event like this, it is natural that questions will be asked about what additional steps can be taken to keep us safe.

I will make sure those questions are asked and answered.

But I am not in favour of knee-jerk responses.

The Police have responded with heightened security and activity – and that is right.

But one of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives

And that is what we shall all do.

 

Quote of the Day

“In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”
 
Abraham Lincoln

How much more strongly would honest Abe have argued this had he lived in the age of the internet, the tweet, and the ability of what anyone writes on either to come back and bite them years later?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sometimes there IS smoke without fire

During the recent controversy a person claiming to represent Conservative Grassroots made the statement on television that "there's no smoke without fire."

This is of course a very old saying. My experience from more than thirty years in active politics is that this particular saying is absolutely not true. Sometimes there really is smoke without fire, especially when it is in someone else's interests that there should be. Certain very widely believed stories are actually very clever propaganda planted by the enemies of the people they are about.

Evidence against the theory that "thre's no smoke without fire goes back a long time. Although the Emperor Nero was undoubtedly one of the most evil rulers in history, many historians believe that he was actually innocent of the best known crime for which he is remembered - singing an aria as he watched the city of Rome burning. (He was certainly innocent of the allegation in the form in which it was most often quoted when I was a boy, of fiddling while Rome burned - the violin had not been invented in Nero's time.)

Nero murdered his mother after committing incest with her, murdered his wives, and murdered a very large number of other people. But he wasn't in Rome when the infamous fire broke out, and hurried back to the city to personally lead the firefighting efforts. It would appear that the reason Nero was blamed for the fire is that one of his many enemies - probably a relative of someone who he had murdered - cast the accusation that he had started the fire so that he could rebuild Rome in the style that he fancied in a way which exactly played into the preconceptions many romans already had of Nero. The Italians have a saying for this, "Si non e vero, e ben trovato" or "If it's not true, it's well invented."

The trouble is that slanders often are well invented - especially if they are muttered anonymously so that the victims of lies can't go to court and crush them by providing proof that they are false.

In one instance I know of a set of lies which was very widely believed about a former cabinet minister, both in his constituency and among some of the political class and I know exactly where those lies came from. But for complicated reasons, the lies concerned never made it into print.

A very good friend of mine happened to be a Conservative branch chairman in the cabinet minister's constituency, and lived next door to a very senior activist of another political party. Who was unwise enough to discuss on his porch, not realising that he could be overheard from next door, their plans to undermine the minister concerned by spreading the lie that he was having a gay affair with another cabinet minister.

This particular lie never appeared in a political leaflet, it was spread by word of mouth. But within a few months we started picking it up, both on the doorstep and in London. Some looney who was probably acting on his own started distributing anonymous leaflets with an even worse version of the story, that the minister was supposdly dying of AIDS. The Conservative party had to spend some time during the following general election trying to keep this poisonous rubbish out of the press - fortunately the journalists who became aware of it, either because they had some integrity and realised the story was rubbish or because they were afraid of being sued, declined to use it.

I have reason to believe that during that General Election there was a kind of "Mexican stand off" between the Conservative and Labour parties and their allies in the press. One newspaper allied to the Labour party had front page ready to go with this story about the Conservative minister, while a paper allied to the Conservatives had a front page ready to go with an equally foul story about a very prominent Labour front bencher. If either story had been published the other would have come out the following day. Fortunately nobody was daft enough to start this particular exchange. If they had, the party which would have benefitted would most probably have been a third political party, which happens to be the one who invented the first story in the beginning.

Even if I hadn't known where the first story came from, I would be quite certain there was no truth in either. One former minister who was supposedly dying of aids is still alive and well, sitting in parliament, and was writing on Conservative Home very recently. And the story about the Labour frontbencher must have been a pack of lies as well, because otherwise it would have been bound to have come out this year following the Jimmy Saville scandal.

Unfortunately it is my impression that over the following twenty years, standards of accuracy, integrity and judgement in some sections of the media have fallen catastrophically below what was displayed at that time. You only need compare the good judgement shown by journalists in the nineties who refrained from a scoop which might have destroyed careers and lives at the price of printing what were probably filthy lies, with some of what came out during the Leveson inquiry and the ghastly mess the BBC got themselves into over sex abuse allegations.

When there is a story in the press about something supposedly said or done by a politician, we would be well advised to be aware of the possibility that it is the result of a misunderstanding, something misheard, or worst of all, a deliberate lie invented by someone with an agenda which would be served by discrediting the person the story is about.

We saw this with "Plebgate" where the former Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell MP, was accused in all the media of having called a police officer a "pleb." While admitting that he had said something he shouldn't, Mitchell vehemently denied that he had used the politically toxic words which had been hung round his neck. Large number of people refused to believe him and he was forced to resign.

There is no absolute proof who was telling the truth about what was said - but CCTV footage released after his resignation did prove that Mitchell's account of the incident was much closer to the truth than accounts in the newspapers, supposedly taken from a police log. Of course, that doesn't prove the police officers directly involved in the incident were lying - although certain regional officials of the Police Federation were made to look terrible on channel four - because it is quote possible that the so-called police log was nothing of the sort.

The same applies to the allegations that "someone close to the prime minister" supposedly insulted  Conservative activists last week. If anyone was stupid enough to use the words concerned, the only people who will benefit will be Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage.

Personally I believe Lord Feldman, the Conservative party co-chairman, when he denied having said anything of the sort. Not least because I was recently present when he discussed some of the issues with Conservative activists and the situation was the exact opposite of the arguments supposedly used be the "person close to the prime minister" who supposedly insulted activists. Far from pressurising MPs to rebel, the activists present were asking what could be done to get the parliamentary party singing from the same hymn sheet so that the headlines would be about the issues and the case we want to put rather than "tory splits"

Similarly I believe David Cameron who emailed Conservative activists, strongly repudiating the opinions which had allegedly been expressed and insisting that he would not want anyone working for him who thought like that. Unless the journalists who have made the allegations openly name the person who supposedly made the remarks, we're never going to know. But I repeat - sometimes there IS smoke without fire.

Blogging Resumes

The Conservatives are currently selecting candidates for next year's elections to the European parliament. There will shortly be a ballot of party members in each region to pick and rank those candidates, and from the day of the local elections at the start of May until the end of the ballot period at the end of July, those who have applied to stand and are taking part in the process are under extremely strict limits - known as "purdah" - about what we can do to promote ourselves, what meetings we can go to, and what we can circulate to party members.

The purpose of the rules is to attempt to ensure a level playing field among candidates during the ballot period. As I am one of the people affected by these rules, I have been trying carefully to stay within them and possibly been over-cautious. This is why I have stopped posting tweets, and have not been able to attend a number of Conservative meetings which I would normally have gone to. For the same reason I had suspended putting new blog posts on this website.

Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) have today clarified the advice on what applicants to be European candidates can do during the campaign period. We are not allowed to promote ourselves using facebook or twitter, but the advice issued today is that we ARE allowed to update websites.

Consequently it is no longer necessary for me to suspend blogging.

Comment moderation is still off, but I will turn it on again immediately if any inappropriate posts are made during the period of the membership ballot. I am still planning to formally trial a two month period without comment moderation during the period from the end of July to the end of September.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Blogging suspended

Original Post

For reasons which I will explain in full when I start blogging again, I will not be posting any new blog entries, comments or tweets either here on any other form of social media until late July.

This is not due to a problem with my health, not to any legal trouble, nor anything else to worry about. I have been advised by Conservative Campaign HQ that I don't have to shut down the blog, but that it would be best not to put up any new posts for the next couple of months to avoid the possibility of being accused of prejudicing an election process.

Active blogging will resume on Saturday 27th July.

Anyone who might have come here looking for my views on Europe is referred to my post "Britain and Europe" which I put up at the end of April. You can read it here.

At the request of readers I am undertaking a trial removal of comment moderation on this blog. It's actually off at the moment but will go back on if there are any offensive or legally difficult comments posted between now and the end of July. The formal two month trial will now run from Sunday 28th  July to Saturday 28th September.

Update 24th May

Following clarification of advice from CCHQ I am now able to start blogging again - see next post

Quote of the day


“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?

Four.

Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.”
 
Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Bully for Brontosaurus

I was pleased to see that the quiz show "Who dares wins" accepted "Brontosaurus" as a dinosaur name in the contest which was broadcast this evening. I think this was the right decision but would not have dared put it forward if I had been a contestant myself because paleontologists now regard the official name for this genus of dinosaur as being Apatosaurus.

Brontosaurus means "Thunder Lizard" which seems to me a very appropriate name for what was once the best known of the huge sauropods.

However, it is now the overwhelming opinion among the experts that the two fossils from which the genus was named, which were discovered within two years of each other, and originally thought to be two different types of dinosaur, were actually juvenile and adult specimens of the same animal.

Because the half-grown specimen which was named "Apatosaurus" (deceptive lizard) had been discovered two years before the adult, which was the largest dinosaur fossil discovered up to that time and was named "Brontosaurus Excelsus," when the experts decided the two species were one and the same, they also ruled that under the rules of taxonomy, Apatosaurus should be the official name for the species, and the word Brontosaurus relegated to a synonym.

In spite of this decision by paleontologists, the name Brontosaurus remained in popular use for decades as the most common description of one of the most iconic dinosaurs. I agree with the argument made by the late Stephen Jay Gould in the title essay of his book Bully for Brontosaurus" that Brontosaurus or "Thunder Lizard" is a much better name for such a magnificent animal than "Deceptive Lizard." so hurrah for those who put Brontosaurus on the list of valid dinosaur names.

Reprise on Ed Miliband's Car Crash Interview

The local elections may be over but Ed Miliband is still Leader of the Opposition and thereby a contender to be Prime Minister of our country.

A fact viewed with concern by plenty of people who are not necessarily Conservatives: for example. John Rentoul argued in the Independent here that if Ed Miliband wins the next election

"we have to take seriously the likelihood that his government will be a disaster."

So it is still of intererest that, interviewed by Martha Kearney on BBR Radio four's the World at One programme on Monday, he gave an interview which I previously described as a car crash. At the moment and for another couple of days (until Monday 6th May) you can still listen to the full programme on BBC iPlayer Radio here.

Miliband admitted to Channel Four the following day that this had been "not such a good interview" and readily proffered the admission he had repeatedly refused to give Martha Kearney, that

"a big VAT cut to stimulate the economy would mean borrowing more in the short term."

Quite.

Comment Moderation Trial


Original Post

As an experiment I have turned off comment moderation for posts on this blog for 28 days after they have been published.

Provided there are no huge embarrassments as a result I will leave moderation off for two months, and then review whether to turn it off for older posts as well, stick with a policy of no moderation for 28 days, or put comment moderation back on.

I still intend to delete any posts which I regard as offensive, as a potential source of legal problems, or negative comments about the person who has died in obit threads. But posts which make a constructive contribution to discussion will usually be allowed even if I disagree with them.

POSTSCRIPT

For very good reasons which I will explain when I resume blogging on 27th July, I will not be posting any new blog posts, comments or tweets either here or on any other form of social media for the next three months.

I still intend to have a two month trial doing without comment moderation, but it would be a bit of a nonsense having that trial at a point when I was not putting up any new posts or replying to comments. So the trial is postponed until the period of 28th July to 28th September.

Scenes from an election count ...

One moment from yesterday's election count which demonstrated that some people involved in politics still have a sense of humour about what is said about them ...

There are a number of reasons why ballot papers may be taken out of the initial count and shown to all the candidates as potentially subject to challenge.

If you write something other than a tick or cross on your ballot paper it is supposed to be shown to all the candidates and agents, which used to make this a good way of making a point to them. although your vote can still count if the intention is clear.

Yesterday the election staff in Copeland, who were obviously in a hurry to get everything done as fast as consistent with getting it right, waved these in front of  us for just long enough to see whether the voter had expressed a clear preference, which wasn't always long enough to also read what the voter had written.  Which I thought was a bit of a shame as I would have liked a few more seconds to check whether the voters concerned had written anything constructive about why they were hacked off with us all. I can't complain that we were not given the opportunity to confirm whether the voter had met the guidelines to express a clear preference.

If the voter has put a cross or tick in what is technically the wrong part of the ballot paper, but in such a way that the intention is clear - for example, if a cross is immediately after a candidate's name rather than in the box a bit further along - the returning officer will allow it.

Common reasons why a paper was ruled to be spoilt included that it was completely blank, that the elector had attempted to vote for more than one candidate (in a multi-member election, the equivalent would be trying to vote for more candidates than there are vacancies), or that the elector had written numbers rather than ticks or crosses. (Probably a supporter of proportional representation. However the guidance is that such votes must be ruled to be spoilt, presumably because there is no way to be absolutely certain whether the voter has given the lowest number to his or her first preference or the other way round.)

I was amused that whenever the voter had written something on the ballot paper which didn't show a clear intention to vote for one candidate, the officers described it as "Void for Uncertainty."

Which was the right decision and in many cases also an accurate description - for example, if someone draws a swastika in the BNP box, the returning officer has no way to be certain whether the voter is an open Nazi who wants to vote BNP or someone who detests fascism and wanted to insult the BNP rather than vote for them.

However in many cases, while I agreed that the vote was void I did not think there was any uncertainty whatsoever about the voter's intentions - the voter was certain that he or she did not want to vote for any of the candidates on offer.

One such voter had written "I don't want to vote for any of these clowns." against the names of all three candidates. When the returning officer said that he proposed to rule this as void for uncerrtainty, the UKIP agent came back as quick as a flash with a grin and "Hang on, it refers to clowns, surely that's a vote for us!"

Well, nobody else thought it was funny but the UKIP guy did and I did.

Unlucky Thirteen - twice over

Well, some you win, some you lose, but this morning's result was almost enough to make someone superstitious.

Both myself in the "Egremont North & St Bees" division and my colleague Graham Roberts in Bransty missed out on election or re-election to Cumbria County Council by exactly thirteen votes.


In "Egremont North and St Bees" the result was

Henry Wormstrup (Labour)     395
Myself (Conservative)             382
Lorraine Armstrong  (UKIP)   296

Labour majority 13 - one recount. Turnout 23.9%


In Bransty the result was

Eileen Weir (Labour)                    580
Graham Roberts (Conservative)   567

Labour majority 13 - one recount. Turnout 25.7%

Over the county as a whole the Conservatives won most votes: total votes cast throughout Cumbria were as follows:

Political PartyVotes% of vote

rosetteConservative3958131.6
rosetteLabour3487627.9
rosetteLiberal Democrat2328218.6
rosetteUK Independence Party1459111.7
rosetteIndependent70135.6
rosetteGreen27982.2
rosetteBritish Nationalist Party17371.4
rosetteNo party specified8080.6
rosetteSocialist Peoples Party2560.2
rosetteTrade Unionist Socialist Coalition2260.2

Total Votes125168


Overall the new composition of Cumbria County Council is:

Labour: 35

Conservative: 26
 
Lib/Dems: 16
 
Independents or no party specified: 7

Considering that these county council elections in Cumbria were being fought in mid-term for a Conservative-led coalition government which is having to take very unpopular decisions to clear up the financial disaster left by the previous government, and that these seats were previously fought in 2009 at the peak of Gordon Brown's unpopularity, I thought that the Conservative vote held up reasonably well. Obviously there are issues for all the established parties in the scale of the votes cast for other parties such as UKIP and we need to listen to voters but this was not the sort of meltdown or electoral bloodbath for the Conservatives which some people had been gleefully predicting.

Unfortunately, as what happened to myself and Graham demonstrates, we were more than a little unlucky in translating votes into seats, with nearly 5,000 more votes cast for the Conservatives than Labour over the county but Labour winning nine more seats.

Some you win, some you lose. It won't be my last election. There are going to be some interesting discussions putting together an administration at County Hall.

Friday, May 03, 2013

A big thank you

I spent almost all day yesterday, up to shortly before the close of polls at 10pm, dashing round trying to persuade people to vote.

Then after a quick and very late meal I attended the "verification" of the votes, e.g. checking that the number of papers in the ballot boxes matched the numbers issued.

A very big "Thank You" to all those who turned out in the Egremont North & St Bees division and voted for me.

Shortly we will find out who has won when the actual count, which begins at 10 am, takes place.

This is not going to be a wonderful result for the Conservatives, but given that we are having to make painful decisions in government while cleaning up Labour's mess, this is not surprising. Of course if there were any justice in the world Labour would not hold a single seat in these elections, as insofar as any British party is responsible for the current difficulties it is Labour, who set up the bank regulation system which so signally failed and under whose watch the national debt doubled to £1.2 trillion. But my parents told me a long time ago that life isn't fair.

Having said that, early indications are that the results in several parts of Cumbria may not be as bad for the Conservatives as had been predicted by some people. We shall have to see.

Quote of the Day

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

John Stuart Mill

Thursday, May 02, 2013

St Bees road closure

The main road through St Bees has been closed to vehicles for over a week now as a result of a gas leak. This must be an enormous inconvenience to residents of the village, it has certainly been a major annoyance to e while I have been campaigning in the village during the election.

The road closure  does not appear to have had a catastrophic effect on turnout in the village in today's election, although some voters have been saying that having to drive round the countryside to get to the other end of the village has been rather a pain.

 Perhaps Northern Gas nee to provide villagers with more information if they can't find and fix the problem soon. The road closure and knock-on effects have also highlighted issues with rhe road network in the area including capacity and safety issues which I will wish to take up if elected.

Remember to vote today

Polls are open today in the elections for Cumbria County Council and all the other County Councils in the country.

Polling stations are open until 10 pm. You do not need your polling card to vote.

I am standing as the Conservative candidate in the Egremont North and St Bees division which includes St Bees, Moor Row, Bigrigg, Rottington, and much of the western part of the Mirehouse estate in Whitehaven.

Obviously I would prefer as a Conservative that people vote Conservative but the most important thing is to use your vote. People have died for the privilege of having the right to vote and refusing to use it doesn't "punish" the politicians - it only deprives you of your voice.

Quote of the Day

"Errors to be dangerous must have a great deal of truth mingled with them. It is only from this alliance that they can ever obtain an extensive circulation."

Sydney Smith

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Quote of the Day

“You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.”

Abraham Lincoln

Laughing at the devil

“The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked,” wrote Sir Thomas More.


Isn't it amazing how many terrorists seem to be people of such amazing, breathtaking stupidity, that the most appropriate reaction to these clowns is to fall about laughing.

When terrorists succeed in hurting someone other than themselves, it is tactless and insensitive to laugh at their stupidity. And of course, in encouraging people to laugh at the hapless absurdity pf incompetent terrorists like the six who pleaded guilty yesterday, I am not for one moment suggesting that we should fail to take all reasonable steps to protect ourselves against the threat that less stupid terrorists, or for that matter stupid ones who were luckier, might manage to cause.

The people who run the "Darwin Awards" have an unconfirmed story about an archetypal stupid terrorist called Khay Rahnajet.

This gentleman allegedly removed himself from the human gene pool and thereby increased average intellience through three simple mistakes

1) When he posted a letter bomb, he didn't put enough postage on it.
2) He included a return address on his letter bomb, and
3) When it came back marked "return to sender," he opened it.

Could anyone really be that stupid? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the six extremists who have just pleaded guilty to attempting to attack an English Defence League rally in Yorkshire, and who don't appear to have five working brain cells between them.

Now I want to make clear that I utterly and completely disagree with the opinions of the English Defence League, who are a thoroughly nasty piece of work. But provided they stay within the law and express their views in ways which stop short of advocating criminality or violence, the words usually attributed to Voltaire describe the way civilised people should react to groups like the EDL:

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

It was pointed out by community groups in Dewsbury that if the would-be-terrorists had succeeded in setting off their explosive device, the mayhem they planned to create might have affected innocent people who were nothing to do with the EDL, killing and injuring Christians, Muslims and atheists alike.

Ironically, they would also have massively increased support for groups like the English Defence League and BNP, because their actions would have been seen by many, however wrongly, as confirming the EDL view of muslims.

So if they had succeeded, it would not have been at all funny.

But they didn't.  Having loaded their bomb and weapons into a car, they drove to Dewsbury in Yorkshire where an EDL rally had been taking place, only to find when they got there that it had already finished.

So they turned round and headed home - but their car wasn't properly insured. So it was stopped and impounded by the traffic police - who later discovered the bomb and weapons.

Presumably these guys wouldn't want to organise a you-know-what in a brewery, but neither could they organise an intifada in a cub scout pack.

Another saying of Voltaire was that he had only made one prayer in his life - that God would make his enemies ridiculous - and God granted it.

If we are trying to discourage people from starting down the road which leads to terrorism, we could do worse than point out how ridiculous some terrorists are. And have a good laugh at them, whether they have blown up their own genitals by putting explosives in their underpants, or trying to blow up a far right rally and arriving after it has finished.

God save the Queen - and may He long continue to make her enemies ridiculous.