Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Conservative candidates for the European Parliament in the North West Region

 
Following a ballot of Conservative party members in each region, the names of the candidates who will be standing in each region as Conservative candidates were announced at 2pm this afternoon by the party.
 
I would like to say 'thank you' to all those who took part in the postal ballot either by voting, as candidates or by helping to organise the selection process. 
 
In my obviously prejudiced opinion there was a very strong field of candidates in the North West, and I believe that party members have chosen a strong team who will put up a good fight in next year's elections.
 
The candidates adopted in the North West region are:
 
1. Jacqueline Foster MEP
2. Sajjad Karim MEP
3. Kevin Beaty
4. Deborah Dunleavy
5. Joe Barker
6. Daniel Hamilton
7. Chris Whiteside
8. James Walsh

Quote of the Day

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

(Thomas Jefferson)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Out of Purdah


From the day of the local elections until the close of the membership ballot to rank Conservative candidates in next year's European parliament elections, all Conservative MEPs who are seeking re-election and all other prospective candidates were in "purdah" which severely limited our ability to attend meetings, campaign, or send material to people.

Voting in the ballot closed at noon last Friday and so the purdah period is finally over.

Results in the ballot will be anmounced tomorrow.

The Energy Coast and the supply chain in Cumbria

Sellafield limited has categorically denied allegations from local Labour MP Jamie Reed that they are telling local firms in West Cumbria to move to Cheshire or lose Sellafield orders.

A spokesman for Sellafield limited told the Whitehaven News last week that

“This is categorically not our policy, or that of either of the partners involved in our Design Service Alliance – Axiom and Progressive. West Cumbrian firms have a fair and equal chance to win work under the framework.”

Sellafield say that during the five years since Nuclear Management Partners took over running Sellafield, more than £1billion has gone into the local supply chain in Cumbria.

If, and I say if, there is any truth in the allegation that companies were told to move 100 miles to win local business, this would be an absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable thing to have said to them.

The key words here are "a fair and equal chance" and it must be a priority to make sure this is true.

It is very important to use the procurement money spent with what are, at the end of the day, taxpayer funds, to support local businesses, especially small businesses. Companies in the North West, be it in Cumbria or Cheshire, should have a fair opportunity to bid for local business, and it would be very odd indeed if companies located within ten miles of a site were being told to move more than a hundred miles away if they wanted to win contracts to provide services on that site.

This highlights the need to ensure, if we want to give Cumbrian businesses have a fair chance to win jobs and orders, both at Sellafield and elsewhere, that we improve local infrasturture including road, rail and broadband.

Quote of the Day

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”

(James Bovard, from "Lost Rights: the destruction of American Liberty")

Monday, July 29, 2013

Quote of the Day


"The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.” 

(Plato, from  The Republic)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

EU polls: let electors vote for the person, not the party


The "Closed list" version of the D'Hondt system as currently used in Britain for electing Members of the European Parliament is one of the least democratic systems of election ever devised.

In ny opinion, the best test of how effectively a system of election works in practice is very simple:

How easy is it for the electorate, if they so desire, to "throw the rascals out?"

Admittedly, the first past the post system (FPTP) often performs poorly on the same test.

Just look at Copeland Council or most of the other councils where the same party has been returned for decades.

Far too many of them, like Copeland, are among the worst run councils in the country. And when I say this about Copeland that is not just me scoring party political points, it is a matter of objective fact that Copeland got one of the half dozen worst scores in England for satisfaction among the council's own residents as found by a national survey commissioned while the previous government (e.g. of the same political persuasion as Copeland council) was in office.

However, FPTP does produce changes in governments. And under FTPT, provided you have a local electorate which pays at least some attention to what is going on, a politician who badly disgraces himself or herself can and will be removed. Often the disgraced individual will stand down of his or her own volition or be sacked as the party's candidate, or if this doesn't happen, such people can be and sometimes are removed by the electorate (e.g. Jacqui Smith, Neil Hamilton.)

The trouble with closed party list systems is that the electorate doesn't get to choose the person they are voting for, they only get to choose between the people on party lists.

That in turn means that the individual at the head of the list of a major party can practically get caught robbing a bank the day before the poll and still win election the following day. And it can be quite difficult for the electorate to "call a party off the field" the way they can in a first past the post election system.

A report published by the LSE for the Electoral Reform Society and publicised in an interesting post and discussion on the "Political Betting" website here looks at the possible consequences of one possible solution, moving from "Closed lists" to open lists. This would mean that instead of having to accept one of the complete slates put forward by a political party or other group, with no ability to influence the order, the electorate would vote for a particular candidate as well as a party, and the party list would be ranked by the voters rather than the party.

Unfortunately a bit too much of the discussion of this report concentrates on which party would benefit from this and not enough about whether it is actually a fairer system. The report suggests that the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent the Labour party, would benefit at UKIP's expense because those voters who wanted to be certain their vote would help elect a Eurosceptic MEP would have the option of voting for a Eurosceptic Conservative or a Eurosceptic Labour candidate as well as the option of supporting UKIP.

The language used in the report repeatedly says that the Conservative Party would benefit at the expense of UKIP but it would far be more accurate to say that those Conservative candidates who were preferred by the electorate would benefit at the expense of those UKIP candidates who were not.

Personally I would support open lists over closed lists even if it didn't produce a benefit for the Conservative party because it is a vastly more democratic system and would be better for the country.

The conclusion of the LSE report makes some further points about why MEPs and candidates who were standing for election under an open list system would have much stronger incentives to engage with and work for the electorate as a whole and not just their own party's members and activists. That conclusion reads as follows:

"Thinking more broadly, there are two reasons to expect voting behaviour to differ under different ballot types.  First, open-ballots encourage candidates to compete for votes by increasing their constituency work, delivering infrastructure projects, and building a strong local profile. This is because candidates are aware that through these activities they can build their own ‘personal vote’ on the open-list, which improves their election prospects vis-à-vis their co-partisans. The incentives to do this are much lower in the closed-list system (where no personal vote is possible), and we should therefore expect different voting outcomes to the extent that candidates engage in such activities. This phenomenon has been widely studied in the political science literature.

"Second, the experiment implemented here shows that the difference between open- and closed-lists also matters when one party takes an extreme position on an issue that divides other parties. Giving voters the opportunity to vote for their preferred candidate (not just their preferred party) allows them to vote for a mainstream party, whilst still enabling them to exercise their preferences on an issue that is orthogonal to the main dimension of political conflict. Our study therefore shows that preferential voting for candidates can matter not just for valence issues, but also when voters have information about the differential policy positions of candidates within political parties."

The open-list system is used in EU Parliament elections in 18 of the 28 member nations - it was Tony Blair who landed the UK with closed party lists and Britain could change it. We should do so.


Postscript added 31st July 2013

Just in case it is not obvious from the date of the above post, I would like to make clear that everything above was written and published three days before the results of the membership ballot for the final selection and ranking of Conservative candidates for the European parliamentary elections in 2014 were made known to the Conservative party by the Electoral Reform Society, who conducted the count, or to applicants to be candidates.

So when these opinions were written and published I did not know whether I would myself be a candidate, let alone what position on the Conservative list for the North West Region I might be offered as a result of the vote by party members in the region.

I have been strongly opposed to the closed party list system since it was introduced by Tony Blair fifteen years ago. I would have remained against it whether I had been offered the top place available, the last place, anywhere in between, or had not been on the list at all. 

Quote of the Day

"The taxpayer - someone who works for the government but doesn't have to tke the civil service examination"

(Ronald Reagan)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Road Closures in Whitehaven next week (28 July to 2nd August 2013)


If you are driving through the northern part of Whitehaven town centre in the next week, be aware that there are some road closures, particularly in the George Street area, which may lead to some delay.

Quote of the Day - concluding Churchill week

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack.”

(Sir WInston Churchill)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Quote of the Day

“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

(Sir Winston Churchill)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quote of the Day: Churchill on Socialism

"Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy."

Sir Winston Churchill

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The NHS - it's about care, not just money

Last week I took an opportunity when I met a number of very senior figures in the Conservative party, including the Prime Minister, to discuss current events in the NHS, particularly the hospital trusts which have been placed in Special Measures, and especially those in Cumbria.

The most depressing thing about the whole business is that nobody, but nobody, in West or North Cumbria, inside or outside the NHS and on either side of the political divide, is pretending to be surprised  by what the inspectors found.

I know that people had been raising concens along the same lines with me since my first visits to Cumbia in 2004 during the selection process to pick the Conservative candidate for Copeland for the 2005 General Election.

I duly raised those concerns with NHS leaders in private and was assured that they were being addressed.

The first problem with raising them too forcefully was that everyone knew terrible morale in the local hospitals was one of the problems, and nobody wanted to make public comments that were likely to make that problem even worse. The second was that we were all only too aware that some people in London who think you only need one hospital per million patients wanted to close hospitals like the West Cumberland and were terrified of giving them ammunition. Instead we tried to get the problems given attention by raising them in private.

And it obviously didn't work.

Never mind all the party political screaming over this, the government is right to take action about the problems in the 11 hospital trusts and, going forward, we need to find a way in which people can raise problems with the NHS without fear of making matters worse or being seen as attacking the NHS.

The other really important point on these hospitals is that we must recognise that it's about care, not just money.

There are many good people in the NHS who work hard for patients, but we must not be afraid to tackle problems whenever and wherever they arise.

Quote of the Day (Churchill week continues ...)

"The problems of victory are more agreeable than the problems of defeat, but they are no less difficult."

Sir Winston Churchill

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Quote of the Day

"A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject."

Sir Winston Churchill

(This week is going to be Winston Churchill week for quotes.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Patients Deserve better

"Patients deserve better"

was the headline in the Whitehaven News this week after the trust which manages West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven and the North Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle was put into special measures after a damning investigation report.

There are plenty of competent, hardworking and caring people who do good work at both those hospitals, and it is important that we recognise their work and don't tar everyone at WCH or the North Cumberland with the same brush.

But it is impossible to disagree with the Whitehaven News' headline.

Quote of the Day - a quote on quotations

"The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation."
[info][add][mail][note]
(Benjamin Disraeli)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Theresa May writes on cutting crime

Home Secretary Theresa May writes:
 
"Everyone has the right to be safe in their communities. So when we came into power, we swept away the bureaucracy that had been holding back the police, and gave them just one target: cutting crime.
"They have risen to the challenge. The latest figures show that crime is down by more than ten percent since 2010, at its lowest level since records began. England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades.
"Labour said that we couldn’t cut crime and reduce spending at the same time. They were wrong. Police reform is working and crime is falling.
 
Share on Facebook
Share on FacebookTweet this
Show your support for our police reforms by sharing this infographic on Facebook and on Twitter.
Best wishes,
Theresa May signature
The Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP
Home Secretary

Quote of the Day

"The most dangerous strategy is to jump a chasm in two leaps. "
[info][add][mail][note]
(Benjamin Disraeli)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cumbria County Council's top job should be externally advertised


I entirely agree with John Stevenson MP that the post of Cumbria County Council's new Chief Executive should be externally advertised. If a candidate who already works for the County Council is the best, let him or her prove it in a fair contest against all comers.

This job is far too important and the postholder will face too many severe challenges not to choose him or her from a wide range of possible applicants.

Quote of the Day

"Making the rich poorer does not make the poor richer, but it does make the state stronger—and it does increase the power of officials and politicians, power more menacing, more permanent and less useful than market power within the rule of law. Inequality of income can only be eliminated at the cost of freedom. The pursuit of income equality will turn this country into a totalitarian slum."

(Sir Keith Joseph, Stranded on the Middle Ground? Reflections on Circumstances and Policies, published Centre for Policy Studies, 1976).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

As the polls go all over the place


The opinion polls are all over the place at the moment with the results in the past few days varying from Tories and Labour neck and neck to an 11% lead for Labour.

I personally suspect both of those are outliers and the real position at the moment is somewhere between them, but it doesn't really matter because the next general election is 21 months away and the majority of the electorate have not made up their minds.

The main opinion pollsters always ask "how would you vote if there was a general election tomorrow" to force a choice, and the answers to that question provide the headline figure the press report. But there isn't a general election tomorrow - it will be held on the first Thursday in May 2015.

And when opinion pollsters ask questions designed to elicit how likely people are to change their minds between now and the next election, the answers suggest that most people  - nearly sixty percent on the last set of polling data I have seen - either have not made up their minds at all how to vote or say they might quite possibly change their mind.

So there is everything to play for at the next election. Whichever party can most coherently engage with the people of Britain and express a credible plan to deal with the issues they care about has a chance of winning. 

It is certainly possible that either the Conservatives or Labour could win an overall majority, provided the Conservatives can avoid any more "Omnishambles" like last year's budget or provided Labour can avoid looking like a bunch of clowns or trade union puppets respectively. An outright majority for the Lib/Dems or for UKIP does not look particularly likely, but either might possibly be the kingmakers in a hung parliament.

Some people will tell you that voting does not matter or that there is there is no difference at all between any of the parties or some large group of them. I don't agree. Some things won't change whoever wins the next election - for instance there isn't suddenly going to be lots more money to spend - because an election does not magically change the facts facing the country. But between the Conservatives, Labour, Lib/Dems, UKIP, nationalists and greens there is a significant range of different policies and personalities on offer.

Britain might be an unrecognisably different place now if Michael Foot had won the "Missile Election" in 1983: it might also be quite different if Neil Kinnock had won the 1992 election although exactly how is incredibly difficult to project because "Black Wednesday" would almost certainly still have happened a few months after that election and the political consequences might have been incalculably different.

Some elections, like 1979 and 1997, mark a significant change in direction though they don't always cause it: some elections, like 1983, confirm such a change. Some elections are bad ones to win, with 1992 being the obvious example and the jury is still out on whether 2010 was another.

Some elections are very important, and I think the 2015 election might well be one of them.

North Cumbria and East Lancs among NHS trusts placed in Special Measures

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS trust, which runs my local hospital in Whitehaven, WCH, and the North Cumberland Infirmary at Carlisle, was among eleven hospital trusts placed in "Special Measures" yesterday by the Secretary of State for health following a review of the fourteen trusts which appear to have the largest gap in the wrong direction between actual mortality rates and the "erxpected" number of deaths.

East Lancashire was another of the trusts affected.

This action has been taken because review panels found serious issues at all eleven trusts, mostly going back many years.

The fact that death rates at these trusts have been above those expected does not prove that poor care at the hospitals concerned caused these deaths, but it does indicate the strong possibility of a serious problem which needs urgent attention.

There are many excellent people in the NHS who work hard for the welfare of patients, including many at the trusts affected, and this is not a criticism of those people. But patients deserve to be treated by an NHS in which failure to provide the best patient care is unacceptable - and most doctors, nurses and support staff would want this too.

The former director of public health in Cumbria, Professor John Ashton - not a man who is terribly popular in West Cumbria because he always says exactly what he thinks even when it will upset people, but for precisely that reason his views are worth listening to - said on BBC Radio four yesterday that he had been trying to raise concerns about our local hospitals since the middle of the last decade and those concerns had not always been taken as seriously by NHS leadership as he thought they should have been.

He referred to the problem with too many NHS targets and the wrong approach to them as "hitting the targets and missing the point."

The investigation into the North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust found:

* Evidence of poor maintenance in two operating theatres, which were closed immediately.

It also found:
  • Significant weaknesses in infection control and prevention practices
  • Inadequate staffing levels and over-reliance of locum cover
  • Shortfalls in learning from serious incidents
The investigation into East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
found

* issues of poor governance, inadequate staffing levels and high mortality rates at weekends, including a high level of still born babies.

There were problems found in the following areas:
  • The complaints process was poor and lacking a compassionate approach
  • Quality processes were not cohesive
  • Managing high patient levels, particularly in A&E.
TAKING ACTION

"Hit squads" will go into all eleven hospital trusts placed in special measures to provide assistance and make sure action plans are in place and implemented to address the issues found.


With regard to the NHS culture, while I think abandoning all targets would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it is becoming clearer and clearer that there is a need for fewer and broader-based targets which are patient and outcome focussed rather than process focussed

E.g. we need targets based on whether patients survive and get better rather than the technicalities of how they are treated - for example, targets based on how many cancer patients survive and how satisfied they are with their care rather than statistics on what appointments they have by some arbitrary deadline.

Quote of the Day

"Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor."
 
(Benjamin Disraeli - from the novel "Sybil, or the Two Nations" - this was the origin of the expression "Two Nations" and the political idea of the "One Nation Conservative" wish to reform such a situation.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

Well Done England

Magnificent cricket by England squeaked a narrow win in the first Ashes test yesterday, a game which saw some amazing play by both England and Australia.

Well done to Alistair Cook and his team, particularly James Anderson who took ten wickets, including the final ones yesterday which enabled England to claim victory by just 14 runs. 

But congratulations also to Australia for their part in a truly absorbing and remarkable sporting battle.

Quote of the Day


"You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life."

(Sir Winston Churchill)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stephen Hunt R.I.P.


Stephen Hunt, a fireman from Manchester and father of two, gave his life yesterday in the line of duty.

Fortunately it is rare these days for a firefighter to be killed, but the possibility is always there, and the brave men and women of the fire service know that they take this risk whenever they are called out to deal with a fire.

Stephen Hunt and a colleague were rushed to hospital after both of them got into difficulties while dealing with a fire in Oldham Street last night. Mr Hunt was later confirmed dead in hospital. A spokesman for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue service said that the other injured firefighter is not thought to have life-threatening injuries.

County Fire Officer Steve McGuirk said: "We are devastated by the loss of one of our colleagues who has died in the line of duty.

"We never expect to lose a colleague in this way and it brings home the dangers that our firefighters put themselves in every day to keep the community safe.

"Stephen had been a dedicated firefighter since 2008 and we are all in a state of shock."

Just when you think the story could hardly get much worse, it was announced today that police investigating the blaze have arrested two fifteen year old girls on suspicion of manslaughter.

In remembering Stephen Hunt and expressing our condolences to his friends and family at this sad time we should also be grateful for the job he did and for the work of all other firefighters who protect our communities and lives, sometimes at risk to their own.  

Quote of the Day


"If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."

(Old Proverb)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

EU Structural Funds and nailing Jelly to the Ceiling


First a question: can you think of a policy supported by the Conservatives, Labour, Nick Clegg (though not his MEPs) and UKIP (they say they only voted against the relevant motion in the European Parliament because it didn't go far enough?)

Well, the answer is cutting the EU budget. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have said that it would be totally unreasonable at a time when every other public service throughout Europe is under financial pressure if the EU was the one area exempt.

And, as recorded on previous posts, David Cameron and Angela Merkal managed to persuade other EU leaders to agree to this at an EU summit in February, and the European Parliament finally fell into line at the start of July, trimming next year's EU budget by nearly 6%.

The net saving to the UK taxpayer over the next five years is £3.5 billion, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

There is, of course, a downside: cutting the EU budget means - wait for it - cutting EU spending. The EU's own administration has escaped, which is an argument for another day, but the Regional Aid fund has been cut to about the same degree as the overall budget.

In other words, because of the 6% cut in the EU budget there will be a 5% cut in Britain's allocation of EU structural funds which are used to aid depressed regions. This is a subject which came up in the comments on one of my previous posts and I thought it deserved a thread of its' own.
Even after the 5% cut the amound of money is still huge - about £9.5 billion over the next fie years.

The UK government decided that the fairest way to allocate this reduction between the four nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales was to apply the same 5% cut to EU regional aid to each of the four nations.

So let us be absolutely clear about what is happening, Scotland is not getting more money from the allocation of EU regional funds by Westminster, they are getting exactly the same 5% cut in EU development funds as Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England.


Over the next five years, England will receive £5.3 billion in EU regional aid: Wales, £1.85 billion, Scotland £690 billion, and Northern Ireland £475 million.

It has been alleged in a number of quarters, starting with the Financial Times in March, that there has been a massive diversion of EU aid money from England to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I an convinced that this is an extremely misleading way to describe what has happened.

It would be more accurate to say that the EU recommended a transfer of regional aid to England would would have meant enormous percentage cuts in regional aid to the other three countries of the UK and that ministers thought that the savage cuts proposed in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales would be unfair and damaging, so they went for the 5% across the board instead. England continues to receive 64% of the £9.5 billion of EU structural funds available to the UK, which is exactly the same share as before.

Under the  EU guidelines for measuring need, England would have had a small increase instead of a 5% cut. But the cuts imposed on the other three countries of the union by those guidelines would have been savage.

Under the EU guidelines, aid to Wales would have been cut by 22%, aid to Scotland would have been reduced by 32% and aid to Northern Ireland would have been reduced by more than 40%.

EU structural aid to all four countries of the UK goes to help some of the most deprived communities in Britain. To slash the funding designed to help those communities in three of the four countries of the United Kingdom by 22% to 40% at a time of extreme economic difficulty would, in the view of Conservative and Lib/Dem ministers in the Coalition government, have been unfair and damaging.

Unfortunately this is all too often seen as a zero sum game: when you help one community there is less for another. One of the most dire ways in which language is misused in politics these days is to say "CUT" when you mean "Spend less than had been proposed" and a "cut" in this sense can be a significant increase.

Surprise surprise - the action taken to prevent savage cuts in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland has been misrepresented as a savage cut in England, which it isn't.

There has been some very silly scaremongering about the supposed impact of this policy on the part of certain opposition politicians and local newspapers, particularly in the North East, who have misunderstood, or chosen to misunderstand, the theoretical "diversion" of money which England never actually had as if it were a real cut in the funding of their own regions. Remember, the actual cut in England is 5%, the same as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Where the reality is that the government has declined to slightly increase aid in England and fund it by a massive cut in aid to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, some people have misrepresented this "diversion" as a massive cut in aid to regions of England. Some of the figures which are being flung around in consequence are about as close to reality as the Enron or Worldcom accounts.

For example, it has been suggested that the government is proposing to cut EU structural fund allocations to South Yorkshire. As Business Minister Michael Fallon pointed out, this is not accurate if you compare what it is proposed to spend with current or recent spending, unless you go back before the present decade.

“In each of the past three years the allocation has been 20m euros, and for each of the next seven years it will be 23m,” he said. “I cannot call that a cut."

Any attempt to quantify the supposed impact on Cumbria, the North East or the North West of the loss of this hypothetical money which we never actually had is like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling.

Quote of the Day: Goodhart's Law


Charles Goodhart, a former advisor to the Bank of England, and Emeritus Professor at the LSE, wrote in 1975 that

"Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes."

As a warning about the limits to activist economic or financial policy it can be put in more simple terms:

Any economic relationship which has been seen to apply in the past is very likely to stop working if the government tries to use it to control the economy. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lee Rigby R.I.P.

Fusilier Lee Rigby, who was murdered on an ordinary street in London after serving his country in apparently far more dangerous conditions in Afghanistan, will be buried today. He leaes a widow and a baby son.

Hundreds of well-wishers honoured Lee Rigby yesterday at a vigil on the eve of his funeral.
Comrades, forces veterans and members of the public lined the route to Bury Parish Church where soldiers have kept a guard of honour over the body of Fusilier Rigby overnight before his funeral today.

His family thanked the public for their "overwhelming support" ahead of his funeral today and said his death had united the country.

Fusilier Rigby's mother, stepfather and widow said good wishes had flooded in from around the globe and from people of all religions in the past seven weeks.

The 25-year-old had become "a hero" and the intentions of his killers had "backfired", said his stepfather Ian.

His wife, Rebecca, 30, said: "There are so many kind and generous people out there. It's just horrible that it takes something such as this to make you see how many good people there are."

Britain has not always been as grateful as we should have been for the efforts which the brave men and women of armed forces make on our behalf, or of the risks which they run.

Let us all remember Lee Rigby today.

Rest In Peace

Quote of the Day

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
 
(Abraham Lincoln)
 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Public Inquiry told area is becoming a "Windfarm Lanscape"

Many residents of the North West, including some of the most beautiful areas in the region, will recognise the comments made to a Public Inquiry by a landscape expert this week.

Derek Woolerton, a landscape consultant and environmental planning consultant, was giving evidence on behalf of Copeland Borough Council when he told a planning inquiry that the number of wind turbines in West Cumbria has reached the point where they are becoming a very noticeable feature of the landscape.

"Their presence is widespread, wherever you go in West Cumbria you are likely to see a turbine" he told the inquiry.

Many people in other parts of Cumbria, in Lancashire, and indeed in many districts in the North West would say exactly the same about their own localities.

I support the development of renewable energy, but it is not sensible for too high a proportion of the power supply in any given area of the country to come from a source which only works if the wind is blowing at the right speed.

There are already 90 onshore wind turbines in Copeland and Allerdale and several enormous offshore wind farms operational or planned off the Cumbrian cost from Robin Rigg in the Solway Firth to the West Duddon windfarm planned off Walney Island and those around Barrow.

We've reached the point in the North West where it is time to look for other new sources of energy, from new nuclear build at Sellafield to Hydro-electric power to Shale Gas (provided the safety and environmental issues can be resolved.) And we must also look aggressively for ways to save energy.

Equal Citizenship: a fair deal for Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England


Comments in a number of papers about the proposal to give MPs representing English constituencies a veto over legislation which only affects England have been misrepresented the plans as some kind of attack on Scotland and Wales. This is absolute nonsense.

The proposals are part of a package which will also see further powers devolved to the Scottish and Welsh parliaments. They are designed to ensure Equal Citizenship.

Cast your mind back to the disgraceful imposition of "Top up" fees on students in England by the Blair government in 2004. This did not affect students in Scotland because this aspect of education policy in Scotland had been devolved to the Scottish parliament.

The majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament voted to make alternative arrangements for students from Scotland, and Top-up fees were not imposed at that time on students from Scotland. MPs from England had no vote on this and nor should they.

But by the same token, fairness ought to have demanded that MPs from Scotland did not vote on the equivalent measure for England. But they did. And the measure, which was a breach of Labour's 2001 manifesto every bid as bad as the Lib/Dems' more recent broken promise on student fees, and which was opposed by the majority of MPs representing England, was imposed on students of England thanks to the votes of MPs from Scotland.

This was a constitutional outrage.

There are a number of ways this issue, once known as the "West Lothian Question" could be corrected. One would be to scrap the devolved assemblies and go back to a unitary UK - I don't know anyone who supports that.

At the other extreme, if the UK were completely broken up, which I don't support, it would resolve the problem, though if Scotland votes for independence the "West Lothian Question" would still affect Wales and Northern Ireland - perhaps we'd have to rename it the "West Powys Question.".

A  second solution would be an English Parliament. There used to be a few very vocal supporters of this idea but the public appears not to be keen on the idea of another layer of government, which might, other things being equal, mean perhaps 500 more politicians.

The third solution, which is what the government appears to be about to propose is to give MPs representing England, as a group, more say over laws which only affect England. The effect of the measures which are apparently about to be proposed in the near future will be:

1) To devolve more powers to the Scottish parliament, and more to the Welsh Assembly bringing it roughly into line with the Scots parliament, and

2) Introduce a "fourth reading" stage for "England Only" legislation, e.g. bills which only affect England because in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the issue has been transferred to the devolved assemblies.

3) The fourth reading will involve an "English Grand Committee" consisting of all the MPs representing seats in England and will ensure that legislation which only affects England requires the support of a majority of those MPs.

Note that this not only does not affect the right of Wales or Scotland to determine their own affairs, it increases it as more powers are devolved.

The only people who suffer from this would be the Labour party, whose blatant and ridiculously unfair gerrymandering of the constitution a decade ago would be corrected.

They will whine that it's not fair that a Labour government with a small majority over the UK but no majority in England might not be able to carry out their policies in England on the issues which have been devolved.

This is absolutely and utterly ridiculous: Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the issues concerned can be devolved to Scotland and Wales without destroying the UK, they can be devolved to England without destroying the UK either.

If MSPs from Scotland can decide on, say, tuition fees in Scotland without being told what to do by MPs from England, then MPs from England can make the same decision for tuition fees in England without being told what to do by MPs from Scotland. If an issue has been devolved and Labour don't have a majority in England, they should not be able to impose that policy in England unless they can persuade enough MPs for a majority in England to vote with them.

Quote of the Day

"We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."
(Sir Winston Churchill)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

For the worst killers, Life should mean life


I can recall a time when the abolition of capital punishment was much more recent in Britain and before the great majority of the "political class" in this country had accepted that it was permanent.

Back then a Conservative with parliamentary ambitions who came out against the death penalty was taking a great risk with his or her chances of becoming an MP. Although there were plenty of brave people with the courage of their convictions who did just that.

But almost every politician of whatever party who supported the abolition of capital punishment or opposed its' return at the time that was seen as a serious possibility defended this policy to the public - a majority of whom have always supported the death penalty - by making the following three promises.

First that there must  be very serious punishment for those who deprived others of their lives, and second that these killers who were clearly a serious danger to the public should be locked away to protect the public for as long as they remained so. And third, those convicted of the worst acts of murder should be sentenced to life imprisonment and "Life should mean life."

This was not a case of politicians trying to over-ride Britain's own judiciary. "Whole life tariffs" have only ever been imposed in the most serious and atrocious cases, and generally with the trial judge, who has had to listen in more detail to the harm done by these killers than most of the politicians and journalists who commented on their cases making clear that he or she thought it fair and proportionate.

One of the shorter and more memorable examples was the comment by the trial judge in the case of Rose West, Mr Justice Mantell, who on sentencing her to life imprisonment added

 "If attention is paid to what I think, you will never be released."

The European Court of Human Rights - which, by the way, is nothing to do with the European Union -  has supported a case brought against Britain by three convicted murderers who argued that under human rights laws their cases should be reviewed. The court ruled that even the worst murderers should be entitled to apply for a review of their cases.

This is a long way short of saying that they should be released, but has still caused understandable upset.

I think that Jonathan Freedland in, of all places, the Guardian, got it right here when he argued against upsetting the tacit bargain which the political establishment had made with the majority: that instead of killing monsters like Ian Brady, society would put them and keep them behind bars for life.

Let Britain Decide

Conservatives won the first round last week in the battle to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership.

James Wharton's private members bill which would provide for an EU referendum in 2017 passed its' first hurdle in the House of Commons when MPs voted to pass it to the next stage of the legislative process by 304 votes to nil.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat parties told their MPs to abstain and most of them did, although half a dozen Labour rebels voted for the bill.

Although it has passed its first parliamentary hurdle, the bill will face much stronger opposition later and its passage through Parliament is far from guaranteed.

Whether we are in or out of the EU, I believe Britain's position will be clearer and stronger if the people of Britain, rather than politicians on their behalf, have made the choice.
If you want to support the campaign for a referendum, you can do so at the Let Britain Decide website.

Quote of the Day


"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom:
It is the argument of Tyrants. it is the Creed of Slaves"

William Pitt the Younger, 1793, arguing against the Fox/North government's bill to "reform" the East India company so as to provide that government with more powers of patronage. Fox had argued that the bill was necessary to save the East India Company from bankruptcy - Pitt responded with this resounding denunciation of actions taken in the name of necessity.

An excellent modern illustration of the point William Pitt was making, which refers to this quote at the end, was the speech given by Dan Hannan MEP in the European Parliament on 4th July, arguing for a proportionate response and against the wholesale removal of liberties when there is a terrorist attack.

You can see most of the speech at

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getVod.do?mode=unit&language=EN&vodDateId=20130704-13:12:24-634

And the full text in the EU's equivalent of Hansard reads as follows:

Mr President, there is a measure of hypocrisy from everybody on this issue. In the aftermath of some terrorist event the cry goes up from all the newspapers and all the politicians that something must be done: we need to intercept the data and we must not allow these people to get away on account of our namby-pamby concerns over civil liberties. Then, of course, the same newspapers and the same politicians complain furiously a few weeks later about privacy.

Let us try to be consistent. There should only be a proportionate reaction on the basis of an identified threat to security. Much of what has been done in the name of national security, particularly in the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks, would not have had any impact either on that occasion or on subsequent ones. It is legislation passed for the sake of showing that we are doing something; it is legislation passed in proportion to public outrage rather than the need to solve a specific identified threat. We are told it is necessary. Necessity, said Pitt the Younger, ‘is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.’



Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A first time for everything ...


I think today is the first time in my life I'm aware of a school trip being cancelled because the weather was too hot. Certainly the first time since we've lived in Cumbria.

My children were due to climb Skiddaw mountain today, but their teachers looked at the risk assessment and decided that today's weather is just too warm to make this a good idea for year 7 children. (That's the first form, e.g. 11 and 12 year olds, for people of my generation and older who don't have a direct connection with educational language as it is used today.)

I can't blame the teachers or the school, it is exceptionally warm today in Cumbria and there really would have been some risk of heat exhaustion on the mountain. If a few children became ill in consequence, in today's Health and Safety climate the school would never hear the end of it. But I'm sure my parents' generation of the family, which included several teachers, would fall about laughing. Perhaps somewhere they are.

The forecast is milder tomorrow and the school is hoping to try again.

Quote of the Day


"The moment politics becomes dull, democracy is in danger."

(Lord Hailsham)

Monday, July 08, 2013

Energy Policy

The Energy policy needed by Britain and Europe must meet the following four objectives


1)      Ensure we build enough energy capacity.

Here in Britain, because of the utter incompetence and dithering of the last Labour government, we are at serious risk of major power cuts in this decade and the next one. We need new generation capability built, and we need to get going fast. Even if this is achieved the risk of power cuts before 2020 will have been mitigated rather than eliminated.

2)      Maximise our energy security.

We cannot afford to be dependent on the goodwill of Vladimir Putin to keep the lights on and our businesses working

3)      Minimise damage to the environment. 

All types of energy have an impact on the environment, but some do much more damage than others.We can't entirely eliminate that damage, but we must keep it under control.

4)      Maintain stable energy prices

The price of energy should be high enough that the above aims can be met, but not so high as to impose yet another severe financial burden on individuals, homes of businesses in Britain of the rest of Europe at a time of grave economic difficulty.


Put these objectives together and there is an overwhelming case for a diversified energy policy which supports investment in as many forms of power supply as possible. The more types of energy we have, the less we are dependent on any one source.

I have always been a strong supporter of a new generation of nuclear power plants. John Prescott famously once asked of new nuclear plants the question “Would you want one in your constituency?”
I live in a constituency where the overwhelming majority of voters would answer “Yes.” There would be opposition to new nuclear build on a greenfield site but most voters in West Cumbria would support building a new nuclear power statioon at Sellafield. You would get a similar local response to proposals for new build on existing nuclear sites in several other parts of the country.

Britain needs new nuclear build, replacing the existing nuclear plants which are due to be phased out, in order to maintain the diversity of our energy supply, and on environmental grounds. Nuclear power is the only proven form of low carbon and low emission energy, other than hydro-electric power, which provides a steady supply of electricity 24 hours a day regardless of the weather.

Britain also needs more gas generation plants, preferably with carbon capture, and more renewable energy, though it is high time to take our foot off the accelerator with respect to onshore wind turbines. We don’t want too much of our generating capacity tied up in a source of energy which doesn't work when the wind isn’t blowing at the right speed, and the North West has quite enough onshore wind turbines already.
I'm guardedly in favour of making more use of shale gas, which has been of immense value to the USA, provided we are very careful about the environmental and safety implications of "fracking." Britain is a much smaller and more densely populated country than America.
 
Under the present system the European Union has a significant impact on our energy policy, which it might be difficult for any future negotiations on the future of Britain's relationship with the EU to unpick, through the role the EU plays in the "price of carbon" e.g. the cost iof licences to release carbon into the atmosphere.
 
This is a massively important and very difficult issue, because the four objectives which I set out at the beginning of this post can conflict. In particular, the first three objectives I gave argue for a higher "price of carbon" but the fourth objective argues for the opposite. A few months ago there was a very close vote in the European Parliament about carbon prices.

The parliament voted, by a narrow margin, to reject EU commission proposals for what is called "backloading" of carbon emission rights, which would have reduced the number of carbon emission allowances on the market and therefore probably have increased their price.
There are certainly too many allowances on the market, and there are good reasons why we don't want the price to be too low. But we don't want to suddenly send it upwards fast enough to create price shocks, either.

If the price of carbon emissions is too low, there will not be enough incentives to move power generation in the right direction for either energy security or to reduce damage to the environment. Indeed, for this very reason, the British government has promised to work to ensure that the price of carbon does not drop below a certain minimum "floor" level. If the price of carbon is too low, we will not get new nuclear build, and for the reasons explained above I think new nuclear build should be one of the important elements of Britain's energy policy.

However, if the price of carbon is too high, and particularly if it is suddenly shoved upwards, there could be a damaging rise in the cost of energy, impacting on the price of fuel, heating and light to homes and businesses at just the wrong moment for our economy. Britain cannot afford to put a brake on economic recovery in that way, and neither can the rest of Europe.

Therefore I favour a policy of gradually reducing the number of carbon emission licenses and increasing their price, in a phased way, slowly enough to avoid causing energy price shocks.

Blast from the Past - A595 De-Trunking


A Blast from the Past this morning as viewing stats for this blog suggest that in the past 24 hours a significant proportion of the visitors to the blog have been looking at two old posts put up respectvely four months ago and eight years ago. The more recent of these posts related to the impact on Cumbria of the frozen weather which much of the UK experienced in March this year. Some parts of the county had perfectly normal weather while others were covered in snowdrifts which could be well over six feet high.

The other post which seems to have caught attention relates to the plan put forward by the then Labour goverment, only a proposal back in February 2005 but which sadly was later approved, to "De Trunk" the A595 South of Calderbridge and A5092 to Greenodd.

As I quoted in that post, the public inquiry inspector noted at the pre-meeting that it is very unusual for a road to have trunk status removed without a new or upgraded road replacing it. He asked the Highways Agency (the government organisation which was proposing the change) to produce evidence of how this fitted in with national and local policies, and invited protestors to give a view if we thought it didn't.

Subsequently I was one of dozens of people who gave evidence at the public inquiry against the proposed de-trunking. Opposition to the plan united Cumbria County Council, Copeland Borough Council, all the parish and town councils in the affected area, Conservatives, Labour supporters and members of other parties.

The nearest the Highways Agency expert witness could come to suggesting that the proposal was compatible with published national and local transport policies was to argue that traffic betweeen  Barrow and Whitehaven or Workington (a journey which those policies said needed better transport links) should drive East from Barrow to the M6 at Junction 36, up the M6 to Junction 40 at Penrith, and West along the A66 to Whitehaven or Workington.

There were gasps at the public inquiry when he suggested this. Effectively he was arguing that the government could refuse to maintain and improve the direct route from Barrow to West Cumbria to the standard implied by the current road hierarchy because instead of taking the direct route - some 53 miles North by North West - people could drive 33 miles East to the M6 motorway, 34 miles North up the M6, and then 43 miles West - more than doubling the journey between Barrow and Whitehaven to 110 miles.  

I personally thought the arguments put forward by all the bodies and groups which opposed the proposals to be overwhelming, but the Labour government went ahead and downgraded the road anyway.

Quote of the Day

"Labour don't get that the world has changed"

(Edward Timpson MP, 7th July 2013.)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Well Done Andy Murray!

What a magnificent performance by Andy Murray to become the first British man to win a singles title at Wimbledon since Fred Perry seventy seven years ago.

I thought Murray played brilliantly against Roger Federer in last year's final when he narrowly lost, and even better against Federer in the Olympics when he took the gold.

Today Andy Murray was better still and the eventual straight sets scoreboard does not do justice to how well his opponent Novak Djokovic also performed.

Murray didn't become the first British man to win Wimbledon for 77 years by accident, he did it by an amazing amount of determination, courage and sheer hard work. Dunblame, Scotland, and Britain can all be proud of him.

Well done Theresa May

After eight years of legal wrangles which have cost the taxpayer £1.7 million, Abu Qatada has finally been deported.

This is a tribute to the determination of Home Secretary Theresa May who has achieved somehing which successive British governments, during the term of office of several home secretaries, have been trying to do for all that time.

We have to be caeful not to simply dismiss the issues which were raised by the courts. One of the things which makes Britain a civilised country, and a place where most of us would want to live, is that there is a check on the absolute authority of those in power provided by independent courts.

In particular, that our rulers cannot have anyone they dislike slung in jail or onto a plane out of the country without reference to those courts.

The fact that we have an independent judiciary means, by definition, that they don't always take the decisions we would like.

Nevertheless it is right that those the government want to deport should have the right of appeal to the courts. And when they dealt with the Abu Qatada case, those courts were also right to insist that guarantees were sought from Jordan, the country to which he was to be deported, that he would have a fair trial at which evidence obtained through torture would not be admissable.

Torture should have no place in the judicial process of any country because you can eventually torture almost anyone into saying whatever he or she thinks you want to hear.

Nevertheless, that establishing whether there was a valid legal basis for deportation in the case of Abu Qatada took eight years suggests that there may be something wrong with our legal processes. Theresa May is quite right to insist that this must be investigated.

We are all Eurosceptics now

There was a time when the Conservative party was bitterly divided between pro-europeans and eurosceptics.

This is no longer true.

The Conservatives are now more united about Europe than either of the other main parties. The occasional disagreement about tactics has sometimes given our opponents and the press the opportunity to rehearse old headlines like "Tories split on Europe" but it isn't really true.

To win elections it is important that Conservatives behave with discipline and avoid the kind of self-indulgent posturing which lets the press run "Tory split" headlines, not least because they interfere with our ability to get the message over about where we actually stand.

And what we really stand for is a less centralised Europe, a more democratic Europe, a Europe of nations in which power has been given back to individual countries, a Europe which imposes fewer job-destroying regulations.

I can remember the exact moment when I became a Eurosceptic: I had a "Road to Damascus" moment at, of all places, an annual conference of the Tory Reform Group.

It came while I was listening to a speaker from Germany, a senior Christian Democrat and ally of Helmut Kohl who was then the German Chancellor. The speaker was clearly a civilised and intelligent man who at first impressed me, who was friendly to Britain and who I thought we could do business with.

Until someone asked him about a decision taken during the reunification of Germany which had produced dire consequences - not only in that country, but also knock-on effects in the rest of Europe - namely the decision to merge the West and East German currencies at a 1:1 exchange rate.

The speaker made no attempt to engage with the issue of the serious economic consequences of this decision. He merely criticised those who had correctly predicted in advance exactly how this would go wrong:

 * inflation through the undermining of Bundesbank monetary targets;
 * increased unemployment particularly in Eastern Germany because the 1:1 exchange rate put them in a position of unrealistic and uncompetitive prices;
 * and interest rate instability as a result of poor monetary control.

He showed no recognition of the fact that these critics had been absolutely right about the impact on people's welfare and livelihoods, and instead attacked them for not understanding the political imperatives.

This was at a time when one of the most important current debates was whether to scrap national currencies in favour of a single European currency. I already had grave reservations about this proposal and was leaning against it, but from that moment I was implacably opposed to British participation in any top down scheme to create a single currency.

I asked myself

"What would happen if European leaders took the decisions relating to a single European currency in the way the speaker has just admitted that equivalent decisions relating to a single German currency were taken?"

The thought of the sort of damage which could be done throughout Europe by taking crucial economic decisions relating to a European currency union on the basis of allowing political imperatives to over-ride any consideration of their implications for jobs, incomes, growth and inflation made my blood run cold.

And I also realised that it would never be safe to assume that a decision which a majority of European leaders believed, rightly or wrongly, would be in their countries' interests must automatically be in Britain's best interests too.

Proposals coming from Brussels should always be carefully scrutinised and subjected to careful analysis rather than being assumed to be right - which is exactly what it means in the English and Greek languages to be sceptical about something.

Of course, being sceptical about the European Union does not have to mean, as the more pro-European elements of the press such as the Guardian and the BBC all too often assume, that one is a xenophobic little Englander who hates everything to do with foreigners and thinks each and every idea or proposal which comes out of Brussels is wrong.

When Peter Lilley was a minister I remember visiting his office in Whitehall, and remarking that I noticed he had a picture of Charles de Gaulle on his office wall. He smiled and said that the last French delegation to visit him there had been very impressed and pleased to see that picture . He hadn't thought it necessary to explain to them that part of his reason for admiring de Gaulle was that he wanted to defend British interests as vigorously as General de Gaulle had defended those of France!

When I describe myself as a Eurosceptic, this is what I mean by it.

* You can criticise and campaign to reform the failings of the European Union without hating the other countries of Europe.

* You can fight tooth and nail against bad ideas which come from the EU without opposing the occasional good idea.

* You can welcome greater trade and a single market without supporting a federal superstate.

* You can love the culture of other European countries while being proud of and wishing to protect British culture.

* You can defend British interests without being a "Bad European" - or allowing it to upset you when other people make that accusation.

* You can also fight for British interests while forging alliances with other people in Europe whose national interests coincide with ours: Britain is not the only country where we don't want our businesses strangled by high taxes or excessive red tape.

* Above all, you can campaign to avoid letting the other countries of Europe tell people in Britain how to run our own affairs while recognising that they don't want us telling them how to run their affairs either, and believe that the desire to control our own destinies is justified for all countries.

And on that basis pretty much the whole Conservative party is now Eurosceptic. Which is a good thing: if we're singing from the same hymn sheet and campaigning for the same goals, we have a chance of achieving them.

Quote of the Day

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

( Margaret Thatcher )

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Whitehaven Carnival 2013

Congratulations to Whitehaven Lions on a fantastic carnival today, which has taken place in magnificent sunshine and followed on a couple of weeks after the successful "Marratime Festival."

Thousands of people have been out on the streets enjoying the parade earlier and there are still many people enjoying the fair at Castle Park.

A certain amount of gridlock in the town but nobody really seemed to mind!

It has been and I am sure will continue to be a wonderful summer of community events throughout Cumbria this year with a number of village and country shows next up in the coming days, weeks and months.

Victory on cutting the EU budget


In a historic triumph for David Cameron, the EU budget is set to be trimmed by nearly 6% next year.

Back in February, David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel persuaded the Council of Ministers that, with every county in Europe facing extreme austerity, the EU should bear a share of the savings which have to be made.

I strongly support this. At a time when individuals, families and businesses throughout Europe are short of money, and so are public services in every field, it would be crazy if the EU were the one organisation in Europe to be exempt.

Unbelievably, the European Parliament initially failed to pass the cut in the EU budge ceiling. I will come back to who was to blame for this. But following talks between MEPs and the president of the commission, MEPs agreed not to blog a new agreement covering the EU’s budget from 2014 until 2020.
 
This new deal was approved by the European Parliament this week by 474 votes to 193.  
 
Under the terms of the deal, spending will be reduced from €144.5 billion (£123bn) in 2013 to €135.9bn next year, a cut of 5.8 per cent.
 
Martin Callanan MEP, the leader of the European Conservatives, said: “This is an historic cut but we still have enormous amounts of fat that can be trimmed. Administration is normally the first thing to be cut in any government’s budget. Only in the EU would it increase at a time of belt-tightening.”
 
Martin is absolutely right that there is more to do. Although total EU spending is curbed under the deal, the cost of EU bureaucracy will rise by 1.5%. Compare this with the deep cuts announced in Britain's civil service and you can see that there is still much to do in bringing Europe's costs under control.
 
Britain needs to elect MEPS next year who will fight and fight again to drive costs down and keep them down. 
 
This budget reduction is a victory for David Cameron and for British Conservatives. You might think that UKIP members of the European parliament were also elected to cut the cost of the European Union to British taxpers.
 
So did UKIP do anything to help? NO.
 
Indeed, UKIP's representatives were part of the problem, not part of the solution.
 
There has been a great deal of confusion about how British MEPs voted when the original EU budget (known as the MFF or Multiannual Financial Framework) came before them a few months ago.

There were two votes, one vote on a Conservative/ECR motion to accept the summit deal (and cut the EU's budget ceiling) and another vote on a second motion to reject the budget deal as it currently stood, asking for more EU spending and extra taxes on all European taxpayers (particularly British ones.)

For British voters two things particularly stand out:

1) LIB/DEMS AND GREENS VOTED FOR EXTRA EU SPENDING AND HIGHER TAXES

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 the original 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.


2) UKIP MEPS VOTED AGINST THE PROPOSAL TO CUT THE EU BUDGET

UKIP sent out 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 had to be approved by the parliament to come into effect. If it had not been approved, the previous budget would stand. Since UKIP voted against that approval, they were effectively voting for the higher previous 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 is also a vote AGAINST cutting the EU budget.

There is a useful "Votewatch.eu" website here where you can see how MEPs have voted on a wide range of issues by name, by country and by political group.

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

http://www.votewatch.eu/en/multiannual-financial-framework-motion-for-a-resolution-vote-resolution-as-a-whole.html

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.

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 explained, e.g. that if the parliament had not ratified a new deal as it eventually did this week, we would have been stuck with the previous, higher budget ceiling.

As far as I can tell UKIP 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 meant that the higher MFF previously agreed still stood. 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 in March to reject the proposed budget in its' original form and demand higher contributions, more spending and new taxes can be found at

http://www.votewatch.eu/en/multiannual-financial-framework-motion-for-a-resolution-vote-resolution-as-a-whole-2.html

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.
 
3) The votewatch page for the European Parliament vote on 3rd July to pass the new MFF deal, with the reduced budget from 2013 to 2020, does not appear to be up on the site yet. I have sent in a query about this and will post a link as soon as it becomes available.

MEP's expenses

With public confidence in politicians of all kinds at an all-time low, it is vitally important that all elected MPs and MEPs should be completely honest and transparent in what they claim from the taxpayer.

There has been a lot of concern about what is claimed by members of the Westminster Parliament. Our European representatives too should expect and welcome scrutiny.

If I am elected to the European parliament I give a guarantee that I will publish every penny I claim in expenses online in a timely manner so that my constituents can see for themselves exactly what I have claimed.

End the Strasbourg Shuttle

I supported my first Euro MP, Derek Prag, when he attempted to end the "Strasbourg Shuttle" many years ago.

Last year I supported Saj Karim, one of the Conservative MEPs for the North West of England, Ashley Fox MEP, and other Conservative members of the European Parliament when they launched an e-petition calling on the government to lobby for an end to this ridiculous waste of taxpayers' money.

I still support it. As Saj wrote last year,

"Where else in the world would you see a Parliament re-locate to identical facilities 250 miles away for 48 days a year and leave the same huge building complex empty for the remaining 317 days."

It is absolutely ridiculous to have thousands of people move 250 miles from Brussels to France for the monthly plenary sessions held in Strasbourg. There is an identical chamber in Brussels where these sessions could take place.

The cost to taxpayesr of moving MEPS, their staffs, documents and equipment from Brussels to Strasbourg and back eleven times a year is estimated at 200 million euros.

This is the sort of egregious waste which brings the EU into disrepute and we must keep up the campaign to stop the "Strasbourg Shuttle."

A thank you to Sir Robert Atkins MEP

The ballot papers will have dropped through the letter box of Conservative members in the North West yesterday and today to rank Conservative candidates in this region for next year's European elections.

Incidentally, if you are a fully-paid up Conservative party member and have been for three months, and don't get your ballot papers for the ranking of MEP candidates in the next week, you should raise the issue, initially with your local Conservative office.

Obviously a lot of attention will have been paid to people who are standing, but I want to take the opportunity of saying thank you to someone who isn't: one of the three sitting MEPs, Sir Robert Atkins, is standing down at next year's election.

As chairman of Cumbria Conservatives I have been grateful for support from all three of the sitting Euro-MPs: Saj Karim and Jackie Foster have also supported us. But today I want to say a particular thank you to Sir Robert for his unfailing support.

In this year's County Council elections Sir Robert made around eight visits to support Conservative candidates in Cumbria, visiting all but one of the constituencies in the county, including several where we chalked up narrow wins. He also found time to support us in the PCC elections last year despite the fact that his daughter was standing at the other end of the country.

The picture below was taken in Bransty Ward, Whitehaven when Sir Robert (left!) came to support me in 2010.

Robert, thanks for all your support.

Views of the North West - Derwentwater

Another view of one of the most beautiful places in the world: Derwentwater, near Keswick in Cumbria.



Views of the North West - Wastwater

I've been planning a minor facelift for this blog for some time and even run a couple of testbed blogs to try out some alternative backgrounds, formats, etc.

As I am fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful areas on the planet, I decided to use public domain views of North West England as backgrounds.

A couple of the pictures which I either did not use because the text of the blog would not have been clear enough superimposed on them, or which I did use but but are not fully visible on the blog, were worth posting on their own so viewers can appreciate them. This is Wastwater in West Cumbria, which a few years ago was voted the most beautiful view in Britain.



Quote of the Day


"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last."

(Sir Winston Churchill)

Better Audit for the EU

UPDATE MAY 2016

The original wording of this post, which is given below, was first published in July 2013.

Most of what I wrote then still applies today, but, while the auditors still make very similar criticisms on the spending of money contrary to EU rules as those to which I referred three years ago in relation to the 2011 accounts, the Court of Auditors have clearly stated that they regard the accounts of the European Union for the most recent year (2014) and indeed all years since 2007, as having been accurately prepared in accordance with international accounting standards.

The Auditors' website specifically says that, quote  "the ECA have signed off the 2014 accounts of the European Union as they have done for every year since 2007."

Therefore the statement which has regularly been made by "Leave" supporters from Boris Johnson down during the current EU referendum debate, that the EU accounts have not been signed off for twenty years (or whatever time period is conjured up within the imagination of the person making the claim) is not correct.

However, the European Court of Auditors do have significant criticisms of the way EU investment and spending is managed and say that the "error rate" of spending which is not in accordance with EU rules is too high. And we are talking billions of Euros not properly spent here.

So a "Remainer" who tells you that the European Court of Auditors have given the EU's finances a clean bill of health and a "Leave" supporter who tells you that the accounts have not been signed off for twenty years are both wrong. The truth lies between these two positions.

The ECA report on the most recent set of EU accounts available as at this update in May 2016, which are the 2014 accounts, is available at http://www.eca.europa.eu/en/Pages/AR2014.aspx

And this is what they have to say about the accounts and how the EU spends its' money.

"the European Court of Auditors (ECA) calls for a wholly new approach to the management of EU investment and spending. Major changes are required by all those responsible for the way EU funds are managed. According to the ECA’s presentation of the report to the European Parliament, EU decision-makers must align the budget better with the EU’s long-term strategic priorities and make it more responsive in a crisis. EU legislators need to ensure spending schemes are clear about the results to be achieved and the risks it is acceptable to take; and financial managers have to ensure that the money spent complies with the rules and achieves the intended results.

"As independent auditors, the ECA have signed off the 2014 accounts of the European Union, as they have done for every year since 2007. They say in their latest report that the upcoming review of the EU’s current spending cycle provides an opportunity to re-think priorities, and warn that if the EU is to address the pressing challenges it faces, it must manage the Budget better. The EU needs to deal with a number of financial backlogs in order to free up funds so they can be used where they are most needed. Some Member States are struggling to absorb the EU funds they have been allocated. The Commission has put funds at the disposal of Member States, without sufficiently considering their capacity to invest them. At the same time, new ways of funding EU policies should not put financial risks beyond public scrutiny and audit.
 
ECA President Vítor Caldeira said, “The EU must invest its money better. It must ensure its investments match its priorities more closely, simpler rules are framed to achieve results and resources are managed more efficiently.”
 
"In the report, the auditors give a clean opinion on the accounts. They also conclude that the collection of EU revenue was free from error. However, the ECA’s estimated error rate for expenditure was 4.4% (compared with 4.5% in 2013). This is not a measure of fraud, inefficiency or waste; it is an estimate of the money that should not have been paid out because it was not used fully in accordance with EU rules."

"The auditors found the same estimated level of error (4.6%) under shared management with the Member States and for expenditure managed directly by the Commission. The highest levels of error were found in spending under ‘economic, social and territorial cohesion’ (5.7%) and for ‘competitiveness for growth and jobs’ (5.6%). Administrative expenditure had the lowest estimated level of error (0.5%)."

"Corrective action and recovery by the Commission and national authorities in shared management areas had a positive impact on the estimated error rate. Without this action, say the auditors, the error rate for all spending would have been 5.5% rather than 4.4%. But they add that more errors could have been corrected and they call on the Commission to make full use of its powers to reduce errors further and recover misspent funds."

_________________________________________________________________________________

MY ORIGINAL 2013 POST

In Britain any major organisation which is run in something resembling a competent and honest manner can generally get its' accounts signed off, but if the accounts are qualified by the auditor, all hell breaks loose.

For example, a few years ago after Copeland Borough Council took a couple of years to get its' accounts straight, the last Labour government is believed to have come very close to sending in Commissioners to take over the council. It was one of the few times while I was a member of that local authority that the fact that the council was seriously failing in its' responsibilities got through to the Labour executive of the council.

The European Union does not have the same approach to Audit. On the positive side, the bar for a clean audit is much higher. To enable the European Court of Auditors to provide an unqualified "declaration of assurance" which corresponds to approving the accounts, the EU has to show that every one of the account headings is fully in order.

It's a good thing that the EU has a high audit target, but it's not so good that not enough happens when it isn't met. In fact, since the "declaration of assurance" requirement was adopted in 1994 it has not been achieved. Hence you will frequently hear it stated that the EU's accounts have not had a clean bill of health from the auditors for nearly twenty years.

Let's look at the most recent year for which the Court of Auditors has reported, 2011. If you look on the website of the European Court of Auditors here, go to the annual reports section, and read the report for 2011 you will find the following for that year's declaration of assurance.

It starts OK:

VII) “In the Court’s opinion, the consolidated accounts of the European Union present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the union a of 31 December 2011, and the results of its operations and its cash flows for the year then ended, in accordance with the provisions of the Financial Regulation and the accounting rules adopted by the Commission’s accounting officer.”

VIII) “In the court’s opinion, revenue underlying the accounts for the year ended 31 December 2011 is legal and regular in all material respects.”

IX) “In the court’s opinion, commitments underlying the accounts for the year ended 31 December 2011 are legal and regular in all material respects.”

But the accounts are then qualified as follows:


X) “The Court concludes that the examined supervisory and control systems are partially effective in ensuring the legality and regularity of payments underlying the accounts. The policy groups agriculture, market and direct support; rural development, environment, fisheries and health; regional policy, energy and transport; employment and social affairs as well as research and other internal policies are materially affected by error. The Court’s estimate for the most likely error rate for payments underlying the accounts is 3.9%."

XI) “In the Court’s opinion, because of the significance of the matters described in the basis for adverse opinion on the legality and regularity of payments underlying the accounts paragraph, the payments underlying the accounts for the year ended 31 December 2011 are materially affected by error.”
 
If the auditors for a major British company, the district auditor for a council, or the relevant audit authority of any other major body in Britain put a comment like that on an annual audit, it is almost certain that heads would roll, and so they should.
 
Heads ought to roll in the EU too when there is an audit report like that, but they generally don't. Except when the EU sacks a whistleblower such as Marta Andreasen (subsequently a UKIP and currently a Conservative MEP.) 
 
If we want to get genuine reform of the EU, and effective action against fraud and waste, it is essential that failure has consequences. Which means that if the Court of Auditors qualifies the accounts, the departments responsible must catch hell until they sort it out.
 
I would prefer to see the EU adopt a style of audit closer to the British approach, but failing that it would help considerably if Members of the European parliament give the Commission a really hard time about each and every failing discovered by the ECA when they are not able to give a clean "Declaration of Assurance."

Unfortunately although the European Parliament has the power to sack the entire European Commission, it does not have the power to pick off individual commissioners. I have no doubt that there is significantly less waste and corruption in Brussels because the European Parliament actually did effectively sack the Santer Commission in 1999. However, it is difficult to get a majority to take such a "nuclear option"  and it would be more effective if the parliament could target individual commissioners who are clearly failing without having to also sack those who might be doing a better job.

Indeed that is what should have happened in 1999. Essentially the Court of Auditors and the European Parliament had found damning evidence of financial mismanagement and obstruction against two or three Commissioners, and particularly against the French socialist Edith Cresson. Paris refused to recall her, and the only way to remove Cresson and one or two others who clearly had to go was to remove the entire commission. When it became clear that there was a majority in the parliament to do this, the Santer Commission resigned.

The awful spectre of what happened to the Santer Commission undoubtedly casts a long shadow, which even fourteen years later is of value in reminding Eurocrats that there is a limit to what they can get away with. However, the fact that audit reports like the one I quoted above are still being written proves only too clearly that this is not enough.

I am convinced that if MEPs could sack individual commissioners there is a much stronger possibility that this power might actually be used more often, and thus the ability of the Court of Auditors and the European Parliament to check waste and fraud would be far greater.

Until such a reform can be agreed it is critical that MEPs use their existing powers more effectively. The European parliament has quite enough power to make life very difficult for the Commission when the Court of Auditors refuses to give an unqualified declaration of assurance or otherwise finds failings. Britain and Europe both need MEPs who will make more use of those powers whenever the accounts are qualified.