Thursday, October 31, 2013

Whitehaven Civic Hall closes its' doors

As part of the package of cuts made by Copeland Borough Council, the Civic Hall in Whitehaven closes its doors today and will remain closed unless someone can be found to operate it without taxpayer subsidy.

Copeland will undoubtedly try to blame the government for this and there would have been an element of truth in this if they meant it was the responsibility of the previous government. Which left a legacy of fiscal laxity in which the country was heading towards bankruptcy and harsh measures were inevitable.

We are not out of the woods yet either, and the fact that the economy is growing again doesn't mean that the government can afford to let up, only that Britain's chances of avoiding a complete financial meltdown are improving.

Nevertheless the fact that the cuts have been harsher in Copeland than some other local councils is largely due to consistently poor management by successive Labour administrations which have made a compete mess of running this borough for decades.

Quote of the Day 31st October 2013

"A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits."

(Richard M Nixon)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Grand Inquisitors

One of the most interesting events of Mrs Thatcher's career was when she gave an interview on Soviet TV before the end of communism.

The interviewers went for her but had not thought through what would happen.

Mrs T had spent her political career in a country where politicians and journalists are allowed both to sharply criticise each other and to fire back.

Pravda, Tass and Radio Moscow were used to throwing easy shots to politburo members. They were not used to throwing difficult questions to someone who could answer back.

When they tried to criticise someone who was used to dealing with hostile interviews, Maggie completely wiped the floor with them. Most British MPs could probably have done the same.

And yet the most devastating interviewers of my lifetime, IF you were interested in seeing the truth come out, were NOT the most aggressive. The Paxmans of this world are not and never have been as effective as those who draw politicians out with questioning which starts out friendly and constructive and then, when and only when a rapport and dialogue has been established, start on the really difficult questions.

That's why the late David Frost was rightly regarded as one of the most brilliant interviewers of all time, although in my opinion Brian Walden was even more effective.

Iain Martin correctly predicted in the Daily Telegraph here that the interview of energy bosses by a parliamentary select committee would be conducted in an overly aggressive manner and generate more heat than light. As he put it, Show trials make for bad government.

There are two sides to this argument. It is important that sometimes people in power, people responsible for running a public service, and people who are running companies which may have a big impact on people's lives should be accountable and should face transparent questioning, sometimes harsh questioning.

I never resented being held to account in Full Council or an Overview and Scrutiny Committee when I was a council portfolio holder running an important public service.

You can't always tell what style of questioning someone may or may not be able to cope with. I remember one incident when an aspiring parliamentary candidate who I was worried might be a very bad pick nevertheless sailed easily through very sophisticated questioning at a selection committee and Executive stage, but completely self-destructed in front of far more basic questioning at the Special General Meeting.

And the questions from ordinary members didn't start out hostile - they just wanted straight answers to some fairly simple questions about where the candidate stood on Europe, and could tell that they were not getting them.

I don't think it's entirely a bad thing when MPs play grand inquisitor, especially when they are expressing frustrations which are undoubtedly shared by the public, but in an important way, Iain Martin is right.

Sometimes less is more. You can often bring out far more of what is going on with polite and constructive questioning than with a "show trial" style. Perhaps the MPs who serve on the House of Commons public accounts committee and the Energy and Climate Change committee should be encouraged to watch a few hours of Brian Walden's interviews.

Quote of the day 30th October 2013

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

(Rudyard Kipling)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Million files

Back when I started my first permanent job and was issued with the first computer assigned to me by BT - I've forgotten the model but it would be what is now called a 286 and was then referred to as an XT - a million bytes of Ready memory was considered a lot and a forty megabyte hard disc was so large that it had to be partitioned into two separate virtual drives.

It was possible back then for a hobbyist or expert to know every file on a PC and what it did, and even non experts were used to adjusting some of them, particularly the "autoexec.bat" and "config.sys" files to meet the requirements of special jobs.

I can recall that a couple of years later on one of the first few computers I owned myself I wrote a few batch files which I could use to swap around my "autoexec.bat" and "config.sys" files to use particular applications which had different memory and space requirements.

When my early PCs were new they probably came with a few thousand files including the operating system and a few free programmes.

Sounds like the stone age now but it is less than thirty years ago.

Just had an indication of how much things have changed when I did a security scan today on the PC which I usually use to write this blog.

A full scan involved checking 1,114,461 files. These files use up about 173 Gigabytes on my PC's hard drive, which has a capacity described as 445 Gigabytes on the main partion (not counting the recovery drive).

Slightly confusingly to the mathematician or statistician (like myself) who is not a computer expert, this does not mean 445,000,000,000 bytes but 478,629,007,360 bytes.)

Of the files on the computer, just 9,827 sit in the document folders and similar places where I have stored the files which I manually put onto this computer - a little less than 1% of the files on the PC.

Of the other 1,104,634 files - in text form, that's one million, one hundred and four thousand, six hundred and thirty four files - on the computer, many are parts of the operating system and the basic supporting software - Windows, Microsoft office,  my security packages, etc.

More than 43,919 of these are programme files, including 2,607 "common files" shared between programmes. Some will be data files or recovery backups - for example, there are 1,662 backup driver files. There will also be several thousand "cookies," a few tens of thousands of files representing incoming emails, etc.

An amazing 787,869 files are what Microsoft Windows calls "user files" but which were generated by programmes or the operating system, not by users. These represent a little over 70% of the files on the computer and just over a third of the memory space used. For every file which was actually created or put onto the system by a user,  there are nearly a hundred "user files" on the hard disc.

No one human could possibly be familiar with all those files and what they do. I take a certain pride in that I used my own brain to work out the ratios between the number of files I myself put onto the computer and other types of file on it, but I wonder how long it will be before most humans would need to use the computer to do the calculation.

The rate of growth of the complexity of the computers we use is quite staggering and although we are not remotely near to building anything like HAL in the next decade or so, I wonder how soon it will be before the computers we use in everyday life are so much more complicated than we understand that an old saying usually attributed to Lyall Watson about the human brain becomes relevant, if not exactly applicable, the the computers we use:

"If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn't."

Quote of the day 29th October 2013

"Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to say you are, you aren't."

(Margaret Thatcher)

Monday, October 28, 2013

A great advert for a Cumbrian school

This is Keswick School's "Lipdub 2013" which the school posted to Youtube earlier this year. I must confess to being quite impressed by some of the things schools do to promote themselves and some of the amazing talent which young people in any school can display if it is really brought out.



Storm update

The St Jude storm does not seem to have had too much effect in Cumbria - certainly it completely missed Whitehaven - but there has been a significant effect in the South of England.

Tragically a 14 year old boy has been swept out to sea while a 17 year old girl and a man in his fifties were killed by falling trees.

A 99mph gust was recorded at the Isle of Wight and about 270,000 homes are currently without power.

Quote of the day 28th October 2013

"My opinion is that power should always be distrusted, in whatever hands it is placed."

(William Jones)

Mystic Ed - the world's worst clairvoyant

Amusing spoof from CCC making the point that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been as wrong about the outcome of Coalition policies as they were about the effect their own policies would be when they were running the economy.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Time to batten down again

If you're reading this in Britain on the day it was put up - Sunday 27th October 2013 - and especially if you you are reading this in Southern England or on the West Coast, then it would be a good idea to avoid travelling tonight and to make sure your property is secure against severe weather. And if you are at any risk of flooding and have a set of precautions ready to take against possible flooding, it would be a good idea to put them into effect.

The Met office is forecasting that an unusually bad storm - possibly once per decade severity - nicknamed St Jude, after the patron saint of lost causes, whose feast day is tomorrow, will hit Britain this evening and tomorrow. It is likely to include hurricane-force winds (80mph or so) and some areas will get up to an inch and a half of rain.

Frank Saunders, chief forecaster at the Met Office, said last night: "We are confident that a severe storm will affect Britain on Sunday night and Monday. We are now looking at refining the details about which areas will see the strongest winds and the heaviest rain."

"This is a developing situation and we'd advise people to stay up to date with our forecasts and warnings over the weekend, and be prepared to change their plans if necessary. We'll continue to work closely with authorities and emergency services to ensure they are aware of the expected conditions."

Memory

This morning at church I accidentally inserted a word while reciting the creed - and realised immediately afterwords that I had put back this word had been part of anglican ritual while I was growing up, but had been excised from the liturgy about thirty years ago as part of the purge on what would now be called "gender-specific languange."

Funny how long something which gets drummed into your memory when you are a child can last even when it has been officially abandoned.

Quote of the day 27th Oct 2013

“There is a very easy way to return from a casino with a small fortune: go there with a large one."

(Jack Yelton)

Energy policy and changing facts

A few years ago all three party leaders were keen to showcase their green credentials. Now they are keen to prove that they are concerned about the price of energy.

Does this make them all hypocrites? Not necessarily, if they are open and honest about the course of events and about why they have adjusted their policies to meet changing circumstances.

Hence my "Quote of the day" from Keynes this morning, "When the facts change, I change my mind."

The "green taxes" on energy which Ed Miliband introduced when he was secretary of state for energy and climate change, and which currently represent something of the order of 10% of the average family's power bill, had two purposes

1) To provide an incentive for companies and firms alike to save energy, and

2) To fund some of the measures which are necessary to control pollution.

In the circumstance which we now find ourselves, energy prices are high enough to be very painful for families and businesses alike even without those taxes. Quite high enough to provide strong incentives to save energy.

So it is not necessary to keep putting up taxes on energy to meet objective 1) above.

Consequently, if other ways can be found to fund the necessary  measures to restrict emissions and meet objective 2) above, the policy of high tax on energy can be modified or abandoned without jeopardising the commitment to protect the environment.

Therefore a politician who changes his or her policy on energy bills can be responding to different circumstances without being a hypocrite.

It would only become hypocrisy if someone were disingenuous about the fact that he or she had changed his or her policies or pretend that his or her past actions had not happened - for example, if Ed Miliband were to pretend that the whole of the recent increase in energy prices is the result of coalition policies and the green taxes he introduced - and the effect of his recent speech - had nothing to do with them.

Perhaps what is more important is not the blame game, or making a competition of which rival party can be accused of being the biggest hypocrite, but sorting out the best policy to cotnrol the costs to hard working people and businesses without jeopardising either energy supplies of the environment.

The main problem with Ed Miliband's energy prices is not about whether he is being a hypocrite (arguable) or has changed his policies (he has) but the fact that it just won't work, has already probably made this year's price increases worse, and might increase the risk of power cuts by putting off investors.

The coalition needs to agree and put into effect an alternative strategy to curb bills which will not sabotage the investment Britain needs to avoid power cuts or abandon our commitment to protect the environment. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Keynes and the Neo-Keynsians

I had a reason for putting down as today's quote the line from John Maynard Kenyes, "When the facts change, I change my mind."

Later today I will be putting up a post about this in relation to Energy policy but first I want to address two extreme ironies about Keynes' life and writings.


1) Keynes and the "General Theory"

John Maynard Keynes believed that the rules for sensible economic policy put forward by the "classical" economists worked in a special set of circumstances which do not always apply.

He was almost certainly right about this, and about the fact that much of the period of time during which he did the majority of his most famous work - the first forty years of the twentieth century - was one of the periods when those circumstances did not apply.

So, regarding "classical economics" as a limited theory which works some of the time, Keynes set out to produce a "General Theory" which would work all the time. Hence the title of his most famous book, "The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money."

He produced a set of policy prescriptions which were very appropriate in the 1930's and helped those economies which followed them.

The first irony, however, is that what he had really produced was not a general theory of economics, but an alternative limited theory which works in some circumstances, different to those when classical economic theory will work.

What neo-classical economists such as myself would argue, is that the economic history of the past sixty years shows that neither set of theories works all the time, but the circumstances in which classical economic policies work are more common than those in which the policies most often associated with Keynes and advocated by neo-Keynsians will be successful. In other words, classical economic ideas may be more "General" that those of the "General Theory."

When Time magazine ran a front cover quoting Milton Friedman as saying that all economists are Keynesians now, Friedman wrote back to them as follows:

Sir: You quote me as saying: “We are all Keynesians now.” The quotation is correct, but taken out of context. As best I can recall it, the context was: “In one sense, we are all Keynesians now; in another, nobody is any longer a Keynesian.” The second half is at least as important as the first."


Since both classical and Keynsian policy prescriptions may be appropriate in particular circumstances, the challenge for those running an economy is to have evidence-based rules to assess what the economy is actually doing, preferably monitored by professionals who publish their findings in a transparent way so they cannot be slanted by the government of the day, and make sure that the appropriate policy prescriptions are followed.

And hence to ensure policies like "Quantitative Easing" or negative real interest rates, which are likely to be harmful in the long term if continued for too long, are neither over-used and applied when damaging, nor ignored when the rare circumstances in which they may be useful actually apply.


2) Keynes and adherence to outdated ideas.

There are many quotes for which Keynes is remembered, one of which is the one I used as today's quote of the day. The best saying he is known for is probably

"In the long run we are all dead"

and he also wrote that

"Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."
He also, as was quoted on this blog a few months ago, criticised those governments who recklessly or deliberately allow prolonged inflation, recognising the harm it does, and writing in "The economic consequences of the Peace" that

"There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose."

Being very aware of the genius of his own intellect, and not a great admirer of anyone else's, Keynes also produced a coruscating set of quotes demolishing the intellectual positions of rival economic thinkers, politicians, and just about every part of the political spectrum from Nazis through Conservatives, his fellow liberals, to Stalinists.

But he was particularly aware of the way that ideas which we do not even realise we have adopted may skew our thinking, particularly in favour of outdated ideas, and that this influence may be all the more pernicious because, being unconscious, it is unchallenged. As he put it in the General Theory

"The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds."

The full context of the quote about practical men, from the same book, reads as follows:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

Of course, the extreme irony of this point is that precisely that fate has now overtaken Keynes' own ideas and policy prescriptions.

The "practical men" (and women) of our own generation might often be BBC or Guardian journalists who are constantly asking why governments do not spend more on this, that and the other. And who may not even realise that the extent of their bias in the direction of solving every problem by spending more public money derives ultimately from suggestions which Keynes made to deal with the situation in the 1930's and which he would never have put forward today.

Similarly those in the Labour treasury team, who if not madmen are certainly innumerate, are distilling some of their frenzy from the academic scribblings of Keynes himself.

One line from the General Theory which is almost never quoted today is a phrase about money illusion, which reads as follows:

" ... but since no trade union would dream of striking because of a rise in the cost of living ..."

If Keynes had written that today, it would have proved him completely out of touch with reality and made him a laughing stock. But in the 1935 you could drop that line into an argument and nobody would challenge it, because it was then true. Just as today everyone would regard it as nonsense, because the world has changed.

In a world where trade unions and voters are painfully aware of how inflation can destroy the value of salaries and pensions alike and place them in a false position, economic policies which might have worked in a world where people did not understand the impact of inflation will no longer have the same effect. If Keynes were still alive he would certainly recognise that and adjust his policies accordingly.

This is why Keynes deserves better than to be blamed for the foolish policies often put forward today by neo-Keynsians, who are guilty of failing to challenge their unconscious assumptions in exactly the way he described, and have not  recognised that changing circumstances mean a need for different policies.

Quote of the day 26th October 2013

"When the facts change, Sir, I change my mind. What do you do?"

(John Maynard Keynes)

DC writes: not just a number on a graph

David Cameron writes:

We’ve just seen another encouraging sign that Britain is turning a corner. Figures released this morning show that between July and September our economy grew once again.
We should be proud we’re sticking to the course. Because this isn’t just a number on a government graph – it really means something. It means factories taking on more orders, people getting back into work, countries around the world buying more from us and more new businesses starting up.
Step by step, inch by inch, we are making progress. Britain's hard work is paying off and the country is on the path to prosperity.
But there’s still a lot more to do. Times are still tough and the struggle of the past few years will only be worth it if we finish the job we started.
We’ve got to keep going – clearing up Labour’s mess and building a recovery that all hardworking people can share in.

What’s got us this far is what will see us through to success. We’ve got to keep on backing businesses so they can create more good, well-paid jobs - on top of the million more people in work since the election. We’ve got to keep on cutting the deficit so mortgage bills stay low. And we’ve got to keep on cutting people’s taxes so you keep more of what you earn. That’s how you put money in people’s pockets and that’s how you really raise living standards.

We've got the right plan for Britain - now let's push on a nd finish the job. Help us by sharing the facts today.
Yours,
David Cameron signature
David Cameron

Friday, October 25, 2013

Quote of the day 25th October 2013

"A popular idea can still lose votes if it confirms suspicions about the party proposing it."

(Janan Ganesh, writing in the FT this week. He suggested that this is a trap which both the Conservatives and Labour need to beware of, writing of Ed Miliband

"A month ago, the Labour leader promised to freeze energy prices if elected in 2015. The policy is rapturously popular. But most polls have shown the opposition party’s lead shrink since its announcement – one, by Ipsos Mori, to vanishing point. The energy idea, however attractive by itself, may have hardened voters’ suspicion of Labour as the party of easy answers and free money."

You can read the full article here.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Thousand Planets

Sometimes science news brings one up short with wonder about the things we have discovered about the Universe.

A science programme broadcast on the BBC this evening reported that the number of extra-solar planets discovered has passed the thousand mark this week. (Wikipedia says that it the number was a thousand and ten as of 22nd October 2013.)

It is only about 21 years since the first confirmed discovery of a planet orbiting a star other than our sun. At that time the only extra solar planets we could discover were supergiants (planets like Jupiter) because they are big enough that both the planet and it's sun orbit around a common centre of gravity.

This in turn causes a slight doppler shift, "upwards" (higher frequency, meaning the light of the star is slightly more blue) when the star is moving towards Earth, alternating with a doppler shift "downwards" (lower frequency, more reddish light) when the star's orbit carries it away from earth. Human instruments have been able to detect such shifts since about 1988 and since the early 1990s a gradually increasing number of stars have been confirmed to have planets. As telescopes have continued to improve, and wtih the advent of the Hubble Space telescope, more and more planets have been discovered, some by other methods such as spotting the miniscule drop in a star's brightness when a planet passes between us and that star,  and even in a few cases direct observation.

It will be many years before a human, or anything built by humans, could reach another solar system. However, one of the suns which appears to have at least one planet (though scientists are still debating the point) is Alpha Centauri B in the nearest star system to this one, four light years away.

We live in an amazing universe. We should not be ashamed to take time to wonder at that universe - or to take pride in how much we have managed to learn about it.

Martin Callanan on cutting EU red tape


Martin Callanan MEP, leader of the British Conservative MEPs made the speech shown below this week, in response to a report by the "New Direction" group written by CEOs of successful European businesses, about cutting red tape. He referred to "government of the NGOs by the NGOs" and urged MEPs and the commission to build a Europe which exports goods and services, not one which exports jobs.


Quote of the Day 24th October 2013

"All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter."

(Edmund Burke)

Quote of the Day 23rd October 2013

"Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its' promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing."

(Edmund Burke)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Government goes for Nuclear Power

There will be a range of different responses to yesterday's deal with EDF to finally construct the first in a new generation of British nuclear reactors.

Some people will play the tired record about how we should rely entirely on much more renewables. Others will be concerned about the cost.

My view is to thank God that at long last Britain has finally started something we should have begun ten years ago.

There is no one magic bullet to meet our energy needs. Coal is cheap but far too dirty. Gas makes us dependent on Putin's Russia (and also releases lot's of carbon.) Renewables have a place but cannot be relied on to provide load at peak time. (Wind power only works when the wind is blowing at the right speed, tidal power works twice a day.) Hydro-electric power is otherwise almost perfect but requires dams, which means you have to flood the area upstream of the dam, and we don't have lots of empty valleys in this country.

There is a strong case for making more use of shale gas provided we are very careful to check the local environmental impact, but this seems to be upsetting even more people than nuclear power at the moment, and it isn't a low carbon energy source.

If we want our energy mix to include something which can provide a major part of the base power load at all times, is not dependent on russian gas, doesn't release lots of carbon, and is much cheaper than wind power, there is one game in town, and that is nuclear power.

I am not suggestiing nuclear power should be our only answer to the energy issue, not least because we have left it far too late to a sole answer. I also support more renewables and measures to conserve energy. And, frankly, in the short term I don't see any alternative to more use of electricity from gas, whether drilled or bought from Putin.

But nuclear has to be part of the mix.

Anorak post - regional voting patterns

Peter Kellner at Yougov has an interesting post which sets out to show Why Northerners don't vote Tory.
What he actually does is use the polling data to convincingly knock on the head almost every possible explanation you might think of, and then concludes that the Conservatives "lost Scotland because they lost their reputation as a unionist party and came to be seen as an English party. They are losing the North because they are seen increasingly as a Southern party."

It would be seriously unhealthy for England, as for Britain, if our main parties came to be seen as representing only particular regions rather than trying to represent the whole country, and that is an issue for Labour nearly as much as for the Conservatives.

There are no easy answers to this. Having lived in Cumbria for nine years I find the idea that Labour has done any more for the North than the Conservatives to be a ridiculous myth which is all the more infuriating because so many people cannot be persuaded to realise how far from the truth it is.

But Kellner has correctly identified a problem - and it is a problem for the country and not just the Conservatives.

Quote of the day 22nd October 2013

"I don't think much of a man who is not wiser than he was yesterday."
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(Abraham Lincoln)

Remembering the Royal Navy

It is difficult to overstate the contribution that the men and women who served in the Royal Navy and in other British ships, including the merchant navy, have made to our country and indeed to the world.

I would not have wanted to live in the world we might have today if the Spanish Armada had resulted in a successful invasion.

Nor in the world empire which would probably exist if the Royal Navy had not made it impossible for Napoleon to invade Britain. Napoleon once said, "Let us be masters of the straights (e.g. the English Channel) for six hours, and we will be masters of the world."

Of all the people who have dreamed of conquering the world, Napoleon was the one whose ability gave him the best chance of achieving it, and the only one who was good enough at building things as well as conquering places that he might heve been able to create a world empire which would last - but nobody who has looked at Ingres' painting of him in his coronation robes could doubt that he was a total megalomaniac. Or that Nelson did the world a huge favour 208 years ago today when he terminated that ambition.

Then there was the abolition of the slave trade - parliament eventually voted for it, but it was the Royal Navy who carried it out.

And, within living memory, there was the role the navy played in the defeat of Hitler's Nazis - a force which did unimaginable evil and could have done far worse had they not been stopped when they were.

It is not so well known that many of the men and women who are protecting our country today at the risk of their own lives in dangerous places like Afghanistan are Royal Navy sailors who serve alongside our soldiers and airmen.

We owe the men and women of our navy, and indeed the rest of our armed services, more than words can possibly express, and Britain has a duty, which we have not always beedn good at carrying out, to honour and look after them in turn.





Monday, October 21, 2013

A quote for Trafalgar Day

"Those far distant storm-beaten ships, apon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the world."

Alfred Thayer Mahan, naval historian, referring to the Royal Navy.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quote of the Day 20th October

“In every government there must be somewhat fundamental, somewhat like a magna charta, that should be standing and unalterable...that parliaments should not make themselves perpetual is a fundamental.”

(Oliver Cromwell)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Labour view of the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle

Ted Heath once said "I do not often attack the Labour party. They do it so well themselves."

Case in point.

For an illustration of how members of the supposed party of brotherhood detest one another, read "Fear and loathing in the Parliamentary Labour Party: what really happened in Labour's reshuffle" by Atul Hatwal, which appeared on the "Labour Uncut" blog this week.

If this article, which you can read here is to be believed, the Labour leadership are busy fighting one another, with a Leader's office "dominated by fear."

It reads like an account of people who hate and fear each other and are too busy with internal battles to be an effective opposition.

And if this is how they behave in opposition, God help the country should these people ever be elected to run Britain.

David Hencke on an ECHR ruling which may have serious consequences for bloggers

Journalist David Hecke makes some important points here about a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which might seriously affect the ability of bloggers to operate.

NB - the ruling was made by the European Court of Human Rights, which is part of the Council of Europe, and not to be confused with the European Court, which is part of the European Union. The EHCR is nothing whatsoever to do with the EU and Britain could withdraw from the Council of Europe, European convention on Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the European court of Human Rights while remaining part of the European Union, or vice versa.

David quotes a post on Inforrm's blog here. In that post Gabrielle Guileemin argues that the ECHR ruling upholding the Estonian courts in the case brought by a ferry company against the news organisation Delfi AS means that the people running a news site or blog can be held legally responsible for all the comments put up on their site even if they take them down immediately after a complaint.

He writes "Effectively it means that any offended party can pursue a news organisation or blog for any defamatory comment made about them EVEN after it has been removed from the website."

For the majority of the time I have been running this blog I have managed without comment moderation. I did use it for a time, but in response to representations from readers switched it off again for a trial period earlier this year, and so far have been given no reason to regret doing so.

If it hadn't been for this ruling I was going to announce that the trial had been a success and I would make a permanent decision to leave comment moderation off. Thanks to the ECHR that will have to be a decision to leave comment moderation off until further notice.

Basically anyone who's done anything much in politics has enemies, and under this ECHR ruling all one of those enemies has to do to bring down a blogger is to anonymously post something actionable about a litigious company or person on the first victim's blog and then draw it to the attention of the second victim (the person defamed.) With careful selection of targets this tactic can be used to hit two birds with one stone and get one company or person you don't like to ruin another.

It's fair enough to insist that someone running a blog or website has reasonable measures in place to remove libellous comments, but to pursue a blogger or website because of comments they had quickly taken down appears quite unreasonable to me.

At the moment I see no sign of anyone using this tactic against political blogs so I'm leaving comment moderation off. But at the first sign of trouble I will have to review my comments policy again.

The story of a non-story

Having criticised the BBC on Thursday for their consistently misleading, slanted and sometimes downright inaccurate reporting of anything to do with the nuclear industry, it is only fair that I should call out and praise a good piece of BBC journalism.

Chris Mason has an item on the BBC website here about the non-story of "Jumpergate."

A couple of days ago, Jeremy Paxman tried to trap Energy Secretary Ed Davey into telling people to wear jumpers by asking him whether he wears them himself. Ed Davey gave a straight answer to the question - e.g. that he does wear jumpers himself - but was very careful not to tell other people to wear them.

His exact words were "I wear jumpers at home, but you are missing the point here Jeremy, we do need to help people with their bills, I am extremely worried about them, we can use competition the way we have, we can make our homes warmer and use less electricity and gas by going more energy efficient."

Not to be prevented from running a good headline, "Energy Secretary wears jumpers to keep energy bills down " by the little technicality that Ed Davey had not actually said this, various papers such as the Independent duly ran such a headline anyway.

Fast forward to yesterday's Friday morning briefing by the Prime Minister's press spokesman, and Mirror was going for bigger game with the same story, trying to get the PM's press secretary to say anything which could be spun along the lines of "Prime Minister says wear a jumper."

When they got nowhere asking the PM's spokesman if David Cameron wears jumpers (the reply was "The Prime Minister doesn't tend to give fashion advice.") they tried asking him what the PM thought of charities advising people to wrap up warm.

Despite the fact that the PM's spokesman clearly indicated that the Prime Minister "is not going to prescribe necessarily the actions individuals should take" the fact that the spokesman did not explicitly reject such advice was twisted by newspapers and bloggers including the Mirror, Guardian, Telegraph, Mail, and Huffington Post into the suggestion that he had, with misleading headlines like "No 10 says people should consider wearing jumpers."

When Downing street put out a press release explictly repudiating the idea that the PM would tell people what to wear, various parts of the press described it as "backtracking" in spite of the fact that number 10 had never actually said it in the first place.

It all reminds me of the statement attributed to Mark Twain and others that "A lie can get half way round the world while the truth is putting it's boots on." and all credit to Chris Mason for putting out the truth about the ridiculous way the press created and reported this non-story.

Quote of the Day 19th Oct 2013

“He wrapped himself in quotations - as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”
(Rudyard Kipling)

Friday, October 18, 2013

DC writes: help us finish the job

Prime Minister David Cameron writes ...

"This week there have been more signs that Britain is turning a corner.
 
"On Wednesday the news came that there are now a million more people in work under this Government. Then yesterday we saw that crime has fallen by over 10 per cent since the election.
 
"On top of our cut in National Insurance for small businesses - introduced to Parliament on Monday - it's been an encouraging week.
 
"But there must be no complacency. The struggle of the past few years will only be worth it if we finish the job we started.
 
Join Team 2015 today and be part of our push to win the next election outright.
 
"We're not going back to the bad old days under Labour - where you had bankers paying less tax than their cleaners and towns with a quarter of people trapped on benefits.
 
"Let's never lose sight of what we're fighting for: a recovery that all hardworking people can share in. Good, decent, well-paid jobs. Welfare that gets people back into work. Schools that help every child achieve their dreams.
 
"Inch by inch, step by step, we're getting there. Let's keep going.
 
Help us fight the next election and finish the job we started.
 
Have a good weekend.
David Cameron signature
David Cameron

Theresa May writes on the fall in crime rates

When you shut the door behind you in the morning, you have the right to know that your home will be secure.
When you walk back home at night, you have the right to feel safe in your community.

And when you're away from your loved ones, you have the right to know that they're safe and sound.
That's why we’ve given the police just one target: cutting crime. And figures out today show that crime is now at its lowest levels since records began, having fallen more than 10% since the election.
Crime Down

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Our police reforms are working. Crime is falling, and we're making the streets safe for people who do the right thing.
Show your support by sharing this graphic on Facebook and Twitter.
Yours,
Theresa May Signature
Theresa May

Hell has officially frozen over again ...

Labour list has the following article up suggesting that the left should support Andrew Mitchell ..

http://labourlist.org/2013/10/andrew-mitchell-has-been-wronged-and-the-labour-movement-should-defend-him/

Makes a change from a year ago when the Labour party had a website up (since, as Lib/Dem blogger Stephen Tall pointed out yesterday, since taken down) saying "Who do you believe - Tory MP Andrew Mitchell or the police?"

The irony is that it tends to be Conservatives who support the police - and that is certainly where I would be more comfortable. Several of my friends are serving or retired police officers, and I am convinced that most police officers are dedicated public servants who are committed to justice.

We won't ever know for certain exactly what happened between Mitchell and the Downing street police officers. We have his own account, which is consistent with, but not absolutely proven by, the CCTV footage, and we have the leaked alleged "police log" published in The Sun newspaper which is definately a pack of  lies as it is not consistent with that footage. Of course, that doesn't prove that the police were lying - it could be the Sun.

Equally troubling is the way the Police Federation went out of their way to attack Mitchell - and everyone who has seen the Crick documentary on channel four knows that three officials of the West Midlands branch of the Federation behaved in a manner well short of the standard the public is entitled to expect of police officers.

I am not one of those who are demanding that Mitchell return to the cabinet tomorrow - what he admits he said and apologised for saying was not appropriate for a cabinet minister.

Nevertheless the point remains a concern. Even though I remain convinced that the vast majority of police officers, especially the rank and file bobbies, are completely honest, Hillsborough and one or two other things which have come out recently demonstrate that there are a few who are not.

And if that minority of rogue police officers can get away with doing what they did to Andrew Mitchell to a cabinet minister, what can they do to anyone else?

MIliband puts up energy prices again

Ed Miliband is pretending to be the advocate of lower energy prices, but yesterday for the third time he was responsible for higher prices, this time for British Gas customers as BG put up prices by 9.2% yesterday after SSE increased prices last week.

The first time Ed Miliband put up energy prices was as Secretary of State when he introduced the green taxes which currently represent about a tenth of the typical home's energy bill.

The second and third times were SSE and BG price increases, which I regard as at least partly a  consequence of his speech promising a price freeze if he is elected in 18 month's time.

Of course, British Gas claim that their price rise is due to various rises in costs, including the impact of the green taxes originally introduced by Ed Miliband when he was secretary of state.

But even though this explanation may well contain a large element of truth, does anyone in their right mind believe that at least part of this increase isn't due to Ed Miliband's speech since it is likely that SSE and British Gas will have chosen to err on the side of a larger increase so as to get the prices up before Miliband might possibly get the chance to implement his price freeze?

Quote of the day 18th Oct 2013

"We had lost the art of communication - but not, alas, the gift of speech."

(Gordon Brown on Labour's 1983 election manifesto)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Anyone who doesn't want power cuts should welcome Chinese investment in British infrastructure


Anyone who knows the first thing about the energy industry in this country knows that power cuts due to shortage of generating capacity within the next ten years are a probability rather than a possibility.

And that's even if urgent action is taken to replace the power stations which have recently come to the end of their useful life or will do so by the end of this decade.

It's quite simple, either we get a move on in attracting investment to build new energy infrastructure, or power cuts will become a certainty.

So George Osborne was absolutely right to make it clear that large scale Chinese investment in new power plants in Britain, including new nuclear build, will be welcome.

If we're not willing to welcome foreign investment, we must expect power cuts.

I have been unimpressed with the BBC's poor, inaccurate, and biased reporting of the nuclear issue over the past few years, and each time I think they've hit a new low, they manage to do something worse.

During the difficult debate over Managing Radioactive Waste Safely the BBC practically acted as PR officers for the anti-nuclear lobby, with such ridiculous stunts as filming reporters at Windermere and suggesting that there might be a nuclear repository in that area.

This was never a possibility: only two districts in Cumbria, Copeland (which already has much of the country's nuclear waste), and Allerdale, were exploring the possibility of hosting a respository. The idea of putting the waste in Carlisle, Eden, South Lakeland which includes Windermere, or Barrow was not, is not, and never has been under consideration.

In 2011 when Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami which is estimated to have killed about 19,000 people, the BBC devoted more airtime to the consequent problems the earthquake caused at the Fukushima nuclear power plant than to any other aspect of the problems - despite the fact that radiation caused by the meltdown is not known to have caused a single death. (The largest category of deaths caused by the earthquake and tsunami were through drowning, which I have seen estimated at 92% of fatalities, including both the deaths at the Fukushima nuclear plant.)

Today the BBC were scaremongering about the possibility that if China owned a majority stake in parts of the UK's energy infrastructure they could use this ownership to threaten disruption of our energy generation if we found ourselves in a political dispute with China.

Oh please. There are many other countries beside ourselves which welcome foreign investors in our fixed infrastructure, but there is no country in the world which would allow those investors to use their ownership to threaten to shut down that infrastructure . The infrastructure is physically present in the country it serves, cannot be taken "home" by the investor like a kid taking his ball away, and is subject to the courts and regulatory regime of the country where it sits. Consequently legal safeguards to ensure that the infrastructure cannot be switched off at the whim of investors in another country, such as those which would be included in any deal for Chinese investment in our power industry, would be effective.

 What anti-nuclear fairy story is the BBC going to be running next week?

US Senate and House agree budget deal

The United States congress has now approved the deal mentioned yesterday to end the shutdown - at least for now. Essentially this defers the problem for three months.

Just as, while I support the job George Osborne is doing, I would like to see Britain eliminate the deficit faster to reduce the crippling debt burden we are leaving the next generation, I think America needs to take action to avoid the same problem.

I don't think the tea party tactics were right - it can never be a means of adopting responsible finance to default on your debts - but I do think the republicans were right to want to cut the US deficit.

Sadly, as John McCain remarked on the radio this morning, the whole affair has damaged all the main players and reduced public trust in US politicians further.

The most ironic thing broadcast this morning was a US army veteran, justifiably furious at veterans having their payments suspended during the shutdown, who said that people like him were extremely upset with all the national politicians and didn't want to see any of them, Democrat or Republican, re-elected.

The reason this statement was so ironic was that this exactly the sentiment, about the previous generation of US politicians, which both motivated most of the Tea Party candidates to stand and enabled so many of them to be elected. And hence, although I do not share the view that the whole mess is entirely the Tea Party's fault, helped create the very situation he was so angry about.

By elections in Cumbria today

If you live in the Dalston ward of Carlisle city council or the Levens ward of South Lakeland District Council, there are by-elections for district councillors in both those wards today.

Polls are open until 10pm.

There are excellent Conservative candidates in both seats: the Conservative candidate in Dalston ward is Michael Randall and in Levens, Brian Rendell.

Employment figures improve, including those for younger people and the long-term unemployed.

Hat tip to Conservative Home for pointing out that reports on Labour Market Statistics in recent months have charted a regular pattern.

Headline figures continued to improve, but there were underlying causes for concern about those in the most difficult situations.
  • The employment rate is up to 71.7 per cent, and the headcount of those in work has risen by 155,000 to 29.87 million people, another record.
  • The unemployment rate is down 0.1 per centage points to 7.7 per cent. The unemployed headcount fell by 18,000 to 2.49 million people.
  • The economic inactivity rate also fell on both measures, down to 22.2 per cent, a fall of 83,000 to 8.95 million people.
And there are  also some signs that youth unemployment and long-term unemployment are starting to fall, a positive departure from the trend.

The headline number of young people who are unemployed stayed much the same – a 0.1 per cent rise in the rate is attributed by the ONS to a skew in the calculations caused by more people going into full time education. Stripping out those in full time education, though, shows a quarterly fall of 7,000 – a welcome improvement but only a start in reducing the harm done at the start of what should be their working lives.

The number of those who have been unemployed for more than a year, a measure which has seen a fall of 15,000 on the previous quarter.

The improvement on the tougher-to-shift measures are welcome news, but there is much further still to go.

Quote of the day 17th October 2013

"There are not enough jails, not enoughh policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people."

(Hubert Humphrey)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

America moves towards budget deal

Leaders of both parties in the US Senate have agreed a deal which, assuming it is passed by both houses of congress, would put end to the government shutdown, which will be a great relief to people around the world as well as in America.

However, it is not the end of the story - essentially the agreement puts in place a temporary fix and set up a conference committee of the US House of Representatives and Senate to broker longer-term budget deal.

I don't think shutting down the US government was a particularly good idea, and allowing a default on U.S. debts would have been even worse, but I think those people in the Senate and House of Representatives who were worried about the rate at which America's debt was increasing have legitimate concerns, just as those who are concerned that the equivalent deficit here in Britain is still too high (even if it is coming down) are right to worry.

Let's hope the long term deal includes a serious attempt to get spending under control.

Quote of the Day 17th Oct 2013

"It is fatal in life to be right too soon"

(Enoch Powell)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Both sides of the story ...


I have been increasingly irritated by the way journalists and commentators - particularly on the BBC - keep referring to the government shutdown in the USA as if it were entirely the fault of the Tea Party.

There are two sides to every story and in particular it takes two sides to have a deadlock.

I don't necessarily support the position the hardline republicans in the US have taken, though I agree that they are right to be concerned at the size of their deficit and debt just as sensible people on this side of the atlantic are still very concerned about the size of hours. To suggest that either side has a monopoly of the blame for the situation strikes me as "dumbing down" your reporting and opens you to charges of bias.

Now I do not support the Tea Party - if I were an American citizen and had the guts to stick to this position I would probably be a either a member of that increasingly endangered species, a moderate Republican, or a floating voter.

As someone who is economically on the centre right (what we call an economic liberal and on the other side of the pond they call an economic conservative) I would have serious problems with the economic policies of most Democrat candidates, but as a social liberal, and despite being a christian myself, I have serious problems with some of the off-the-wall policies of the so-called "religious right."

Nevertheless, they are right to be worried about the US budget.

It has sometimes been quite extraordinary to watch the interplay between British Conservatives and US republicans, and between Labour in Britain and US Democrats. Labour Prime Ministers in Britain usually get on very well with a Democrat US President, and British Conservative Prime Ministers usually get on very well with a Republican President.

But because office tends to push British Prime Ministers of whatever party into working hard to maintain good relations with the US President of the day, even if he or she is of the opposite party, when the political cycles in the two countries are out of sync that often puts extreme pressure on the relations between the opposition party in each country and their sister party in power in the other.

The most recent example was Ed Miliband's position re Syria, but there are many others - Mitt Romney's comments on the Olympics and the NHS being another. The most extreme case was the consequences of the extraordinarly lockstep between Tony Blair and George W Bush. This wasn't exactly the most popular of Blair's policies in his own party, but it also made it almost impossible for some Conservative leaders to maintain their normal good relations with US republicans.

There were certain American republican leaders, who were not noted for their high opinion of Bill Clinton, who could not understand why asking the British Conservatives to go easy on Tony Blair should cause massive offence. They just didn't get that the most significant differences between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were that Tony has a British passport and is faithful to his wife.

Quote of the day 15th October 2013

"I am humble enough to admit that I have made mistakes, but politically astute enough to have forgotten what they were"

(Michael Heseltine)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Karren Brady writes: join the Small Business campaign

Following on from David Cameron's message about Small business, Karren Brady writes
 
"I know how hard it is to run a successful small business: the 60-hour weeks, juggling family life and staying awake at night worrying about how you are going to pay the next wage bill or take on your next employee.
That’s why cutting National Insurance for every business by up to £2,000 is such great news. It means 450,000 small businesses – that’s one third of all employers – will pay no National Insurance at all.

It’s precisely the sort of policy that made me want to become the Conservative Party’s Small Business Ambassador – because I know it is the Conservatives that understand that without small businesses, Britain would not be what it is today.
By cutting every business’s National Insurance by up to £2,000, this Government has shown it will back British business to repair what went so wrong in the British economy – securing a recovery that works for all hardworking people.
Yours,
Karren Brady signature
Karren Brady"

DC writes - let's help businesses create jobs

Prime Minister David Cameron writes:

Britain’s small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Their success will determine our success - and their expansion will give us the best prospect of more jobs and lower unemployment.

For many small businesses, taking on new staff is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. We’ve got to do more to help them. When someone is trying to create jobs in our economy, the Government should be making it easier not harder.

That’s why we’re cutting National Insurance for every business by up to £2,000 from April. This will mean that 450,000 small businesses will pay no National Insurance at all - a third of all employers.
Show your support for cutting employer National Insurance by sharing this infographic on Facebook and on Twitter:
Creating More Jobs

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Our economy is turning a corner - but the struggle of the past few years will only be worth it if we finish the job we started. That means helping small businesses create more good jobs around the country.

This goes right to the heart of what our Government is about - building a recovery that all hardworking people can share in.
Yours,
David Cameron signature
David Cameron

Quote of the day 14th Oct 2013

"There are some things money just cannot buy, like manners, morals, and intelligence."

(Author unknown)


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Local community members form "Whitehaven Action Group"

I was interested to read in the "Whitehaven News" about a number of West Cumbrian residents who have formed a "Whitehaven Action Group" page on facebook to try to bring people together to invigorate the town.

One of the founders, Lynn Craig, told the Whitehaven News that

 “This town has so much potential and stand alone businesses, and we want people to realise just how good it can be to shop at these venues.

“Whitehaven has a greengrocers, a butchers and a hardware store and so much more, everything you need you can get from your local traders and even if it is just five pounds, it’s better to put the money back into our shops than some online company.”

The group say they have received considerable support from the social media site with people offering their trade services for the good of the community or coming up with initiatives to improve the area.

Lynn added: “People have a lot of love to give for this town but there wasn’t an outlet for them to help out and make the change so WAG is giving the community its spirit back.

“One day a month of town centre shopping would increase footfall and profit, both traders and customers will benefit from the day.

“We are only starting out at the minute and I am astounded by the support from people, great things come from small beginnings.”

Another WAG project is the greenfingered team who will be tidying up Whitehaven cemetery in Mirehouse with volunteers on October 13. The local shop day is planned for November 2.

Anyone wishing to get involved should search for Whitehaven Action Group on Facebook.

Quote of the day 13th October 2013

"The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance."

(Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Quote of the day - 12th October 2013


“I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”


(Edith Cavell)

Today is the 98th anniversary of the judicial murder by the german army of British Nurse Edith Cavell, who was shot at dawn by for "treason" because she had helped a number of British and French soldiers to escape.

She said the above words the night before her execution to the Reverend Stirling Gahan, who had been allowed to see her and give her holy communion.

The idea that a British nurse in Belgium could commit "treason" against Germany avoids being funny only because the consequences were so terrible: her actions were in breach of contemporary German law, but the imposition of the death penalty was rightly seen as barbarism in most of the civilised world.

The german civil governor of occupied Belgium, Baron von der Lancken, is known to have argued that Cavell should be pardoned because of her complete honesty and because her nursing had helped save many lives, German as well as Allied.

However, he was over-ruled by the german military governor of Brussels,  Traugott von Sauberzweig, who ordered that "in the interests of the State" Nurse Cavell should be shot immediately, which denied higher authorities an opportunity to consider clemency. It is that decision which I regard as judicial murder.

Her final words, 98 years ago this morning, are recorded as having been a request to the german Lutheran prison chaplain, Reverend Paul Le Seur, to "Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country."

The measure of Edith Cavell's greatness is that when I read the story of how she was treated I am tempted to feel extreme anger towards her german contemporaries in general and General von Sauberzweig in particular, but then I think of her words quoted at the head of this article and realise that she would have wanted her life to be remembered as a symbil of compassion, courage and reconciliation, and absolutely not as a cause of hatred.

In response to Councillor Charles Fifield, @charlesfifield, who had tweeted that quote this morning, Lord Ashcroft described it here as a "Great line from a great woman"

In the spirit of reconciliation advocated by Edith Cavell herself, perhaps the last word should be given to the german military chaplain, Le Seur, who was present at her execution:

"I do not believe that Miss Cavell wanted to be a martyr…but she was ready to die for her country… Miss Cavell was a very brave woman and a faithful Christian".

Friday, October 11, 2013

Many a true word spoken in jest

In the past day or so the Labour candidate for Rossendale and Darwen was among a number of people who pointed out that green taxes, many of them dating back to Ed Miliband's time as Energy Secretary, are a significant contributing factor to rising energy prices.

This is what the media calls a "gaffe" e.g. when a politician speaks the truth even though it may be seen as embarrassing for his party to do so. I'm sure there will be many other things on which I disagree with this gentleman but pointing out that Mr Miliband is posing as an advocate of low energy prices when his actions in government put them up is only a statement of the obvious.

I am surprised that it has been left to humour site "The Daily Mash" to point out another totally obvious conclusion - that Ed Miliband's promise to cap energy prices in 2015 if he wins may have consequences for what happens to energy price rises between the day he made the speech and the next election as companies try to "beat the cap."

There is many a true word spoken in jest and if you have a working brain, the Daily Mash piece here will either make you fall about laughing or make you very angry, at least partly with Ed Miliband.

Quote of the day 11 Oct 2013

"A politician who enters public life may as well face the fact that the best way of not being found out is not to do anything which, if found out, will cause his ruin."

(Lord Hailsham)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why the 1997 to 2010 Labour government was the worst in British History

Sean Thomas, known to "Political Betting" junkies as Sean T and to readers of his novels as Tom Knox, has a superb article in the Telegraph here making a very convincing case that the Blair/Brown government was the worst government ever. Here are some extracts ...

"The economy? How did Labour do there? Sit down with a bottle of scotch before I tell you. Labour presided over the slowest growth in 50 years, they produced the fastest decline in British manufacturing since manufacturing began, they left us mired in the longest recession since the war, they bequeathed maybe the largest deficit in peacetime history, and they handed over a debt so huge we will still be repaying it when the earth is swallowed by an expanding sun, a cosmological termination which might therefore come as some relief.

"On to foreign policy. One word. Iraq.

Two words. Iraq, Afghanistan.

Lots of words: 100,000-300,000 killed, 2 million refugees, the humiliation of the British army, the grotesqueness that was Alastair Campbell, and the complete destruction of any trust in what any government will ever say about going to war in the future.

"Which leaves Education. Oh, how Labour chuntered on about education. They often liked to say the word “education” an astonishing three times in a row ..

"And what were they doing?

"Here’s what they were doing: they were sending our schoolkids plummeting down the international PISA education rankings, and now, as we know, ensuring English youngsters are amongst the worst educated in the western world – and the only young people with an education inferior to their grandparents"

The article concludes

"And you know what’s so depressing? This so-called “party”, this cancer called “Labour”, this affliction which keeps returning to the UK like a kind of sociopolitical syphilis, could be in power, once more, in about 18 months' time. Now drink that whisky."

David Cameron writes on the Help to Buy Scheme

 
David Cameron writes:
"This week I met up with Kayleigh and Chris – a couple from Northamptonshire who are about to buy their first home. And they’re able to do it with help from this Government.

Kayleigh and Chris both have good jobs and great prospects. But still they couldn’t afford the deposit for a house. Stories like this are all too common in our country at the moment. People are finding it impossible to get on the housing ladder – for far too many, the dream of home ownership is being denied.

So this week we launched the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee. If you’ve got 5 per cent of a house deposit, the Government’s guarantee will help you get a mortgage to cover the rest. That's what we're doing for Kayleigh and Chris - and that's what we're doing for hardworking people across the country.
Show your support for Help to Buy by sharing this infographic on Facebook and on Twitter:
Help to Buy

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Our country is turning a corner. But the struggle of the past few years will only be worth it if we finish the job we’ve started. Nowhere is that more true than home ownership, something that is all about aspiration and wanting to get on in life. I’m really proud that we’re getting this done.
Yours,
David Cameron signature
David Cameron

Quote of the Day 10th October 2013

"No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts.

If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.

They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense"

(Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Jumping the gun

Nothing in this post is intended to contest the right of the owners of a shop or business to sell any safe and accurately described product regardless of the time of year.

Nevertheless, a wry smile today when doing some grocery shopping and I realised that although it is not yet even Halloween, let alone Advent, the shop was full of Christmas products ...

Quote of the day 9th October 2013

"The greatest crime to our own people is to be afraid to tell the truth"

(Stanley Baldwin)

OECD report on skills

Two international bodies came out with important things today: one good for Britain, one deeply worrying.

The good news is the IMF upward revision to British growth forecasts. While we can't afford an atom of complacency, this is yet more evidence confirming that the British economy is still moving towards recovery.

The dire news was the OECD's international comparison of the skills of 24 nations, and particularly the alarming findings as regards the skills of British workers aged 16 to 24 compared with their contemporaries in other countries. In this age group Britain came 22nd out of 24 Western countries for literacy and 21st for numeracy. The report's damning conclusion argued that levels of basic skills had effectively worsened over the last 40 years, with recent school leavers registering lower scores in tests than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation.

England was the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55-to-65 performed better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16-to-24 after taking account of other factors such as the economic background of those taking the test.

This horrifying report should set alarm bells ringing in schools, universities, and among politicians of all parties.

It certainly doesn't fit either Labour's narrative that they improved education or the socialist philosophy that every problem should have taxpayers' money thrown at it and state controls and targets used to improve performance.
 
The people who are now in the age cohort in which the OECD report found these very disappointing skill levels were at school

* while Labour was doubling the funding of education (giving the money to schools through 65 different bureaucratically managed funding streams)

* while far more young people were going to University

* while exam results were improving every year

* while OFSTED were imposing ever more ruthless pressure on schools.

They were at school over a period when every time there was a change of government the incoming Secretary of State for Education appeared to base his or her instructions to OFSTED on Pharoah's comment in the bible, "My father chastised you with whips but I will chastise you with scorpions."

Any British person who can read this report, or even a press summary of it such as the Telegraph report here, or the BBC report here, without desperately wanting to believe the OECD have got it wrong, doesn't realise how important education is to the future of our country.

Actually, anyone who can read this report without wanting to weep doesn't care enough about the importance of education to our country.

Unfortunately, however much we might want to believe the OECD have made some cardinal error when preparing this report, it would be a particularly dangerous example of ostrich-like thinking, metaphorically burying our heads in the sand, to assume that they have.

One example of such ostrich-like thinking came from the newly-appointed shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt who defended Labour's record, claiming. that "Labour drove up standards in maths and English across our schools, evident in the huge improvements we saw in GCSE results between 1997 and 2010."

This man is in denial in a big way. If these huge improvements in GSCE results really represented a huge improvement in actual performance, why on earth did the OECD study find that the people who were awarded those results are the only group of their contemporaries in the Western World who are less numerate and literate than their grandparents?

Blaming all teachers is certainly not the answer - there are many teachers who have spent their lives striving to improve results and give their students better opportunities in life.

We have to face some unpalatable facts.

* More money doesn't work unless everything else is right
* A tougher inspection regime doesn't work unless everything else is right
* More transparency has not yet been shown to work (though it should be part of the answer)
* More bureaucracy doesn't work, period
* Giving schools more freedom has not yet been shown to work, though again I am convinced this should form part of the answer.

I don't think there are any easy answers, but we've got to find ways to raise standards and skill levels no matter how difficult it may be.

I think we have to build a culture in which parents take more interest in their children's education and teach them how important it is to learn. Yes, I know exactly how hard this message can be to get over, I'm a parent myself.

We need as a society to show more appreciation of good teachers (of whom there are many) and help them to be even better. While underperforming ones must be given more help to improve, and if that doesn't work, helped to find an alternative career.

And above all, as one of the best education ministers to hold office in my lifetime said several decades ago (but it still needs to be done), we must to find a language to talk about the need to improve standards in education without the press interpreting it as an attack on teachers.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Monday, October 07, 2013

Ramblers and Cancer support groups say walking more would save lives

I was interested to see that a report, "Walking Works," has been published by the Ramblers (not exactly a disinterested source but that doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong) and MacMillan Cancer support, which argues that if people walked more it could prevent thousands of unnecesary premature deaths in the UK every year.

This follows a British Medical Journal study published last week which argued that exercise is as good a medicine as pills for some conditions including heart diseases and another study which suggested that walking for at least an hour a day significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer.

The UK's chief medical officers recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. "Moderate" physical activity means enough to make the heart beat faster while still being able to readily have a conversation, and includes activities such as walking, cycling and gardening.

"Walking works" suggests that if everyone followed that advice it would


  • Save 37,000 lives each year

  • Prevent 6,700 cases of breast cancer

  • Stop 4,700 people getting colorectal cancer

  • Lead to nearly 300,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes.
  • Quote of the Day 7th October 2013 - Philip Larkin on Mrs Thatcher

    "Her great virtue is saying that two and two makes four, which is as unpopular nowadays as it always has been."

    (Philip Larkin)

    The Taliban say they would try again to murder Malala Yousafzai

    I'd just finished writing my last post, about civility on the internet, when I saw something which puts that problem into perspective.

    According to ABC news, The Pakistan Taliban's official spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told ABC News that if they could, the Taliban would try again to kill a schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, now sixteen, who they previously shot on a bus on her way to school.

    Malala was 11 years old when she took a stand against the Taliban, who had issued an edict that all girls' schools should be closed. She began advocating the right to go to school, writing an anonymous blog for the BBC and appearing in a New York Times documentary. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, ran a girls' school, and for this had been threatened with death by the Taliban.

    Last year a Taleban gunman boarded the school bus which was taking Malala home, asked for her by name, and shot her three times in the head. Fortunately the bullets narrowly missed her brain.

    Shahidullah Shahid told ABC News that "If we found her again then we would definitely try to kill her and will feel proud on her death."

    He claimed that this was not for promoting education for girls but for attacking Islam.

    The spectre of grown men trying to assassinate a little girl is grotesque beyond measure. Shahidullah Shahid and his fellow Islamist extremists have done far more damage to the good name of Islam than Malala could have done if everything they said about her were true, which it isn't.