Saturday, November 30, 2013

Referendum Bill clears House of Commons

Legislation which would give the British public a vote on the country's membership of the European Union cleared the House of Commons today.

The European Union (Referendum) Bill, which would introduce an in/out vote in 2017 on the UK's membership of the EU, received an unopposed Third Reading in the House of Commons.

Despite attempts by Labour backbenchers to frustrate the progress of the Private Member's Bill put forward by James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, it was approved by MPs and will now go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

Mr Wharton praised his Tory colleagues in getting the Bill through the Commons.

"I am grateful to all colleagues who have supported on this side with a showing of discipline and resolute determination to get this important Bill through, and on the Opposition's side of the House and our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat benches who have made their contributions, albeit sometimes in a rather long-winded way," he said.

"I think that we have had a very good and thorough debate. I think it is time that we let Britain decide and I commend the Bill to the House.

"We have had extensive debate, discussion and scrutiny for what is a short Bill with but a handful of clauses, but the significance of which should not be underestimated.

"This is a commitment from these benches to give the British people a say on that most important of matters: our membership of the European Union.

"We looked at the wording of the question and it is clear that it is fair and it is clear and it is the right question for the British people to give their own answer."

He added: "We looked at the timing and it is clear that this House believes that it is the right thing to do, to go back to Europe to try to get the best possible deal that we can but whatever that deal looks like, to put it to the British people in an in/out vote."

Earlier, Labour MP Mike Gapes, a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, spoke for almost 40 minutes while trying to "talk the bill out" e.g. filibuster the legislation. The MP for Ilford South tabled a series of amendments which would prevent the referendum being valid if voter turnout was low.

Mr Gapes's Labour colleague, Chris Williamson (Derby North), spoke for 28 minutes as he called for members of the electorate who did not vote to be fined £50.

These attempts to block the bill without voting against it failed.

Now we have to see what happens in the House of Lords ...

Quote of the day 30th November 2013

"If we are to ensure all our children have the chance to succeed, then we need to rediscover the spirit that animated us in our best years — the spirit that is in the rising nations of the East.

We need to relearn respect for teachers, reward them more handsomely, make heroes out of those who live the life of the mind, expect our children to respect adult authority, encourage them to read about the great men and women of the past, breathe a new spirit of intellectual adventure — and value education above all things."
 
(Michael Gove, from article in the Daily Mail here.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Dealing with Nuclear Waste

Huxley wrote all those years ago that "facts do not go away because they are ignored" and neither will the hundreds of tons of nuclear by-products which are already stored in West Cumbria.

I respect the views of those who voted to terminate the previous MRWS process, even though I disagree with them. I have no respect at all for the intellect of those who would interpret the vote on that process as a democratic mandate for ignoring the issue.

We still have to consider the best and safest long-term solution for all those tons of nuclear material which are already here in Cumbria. By all means let us make sure the geology is right, that any solution has the support of the host community, let us continue to explore all the options.

But whether or not there is a new generation of nuclear power plants, don't kid yourself that sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and ignoring the fact that we already have hundreds of tons of nuclear waste to deal with is one of those options.

Quote of the Day 29th November 2013

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
 
Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays 2, 1926-29

Huxley, died within an hour of C.S. Lewis and JFK, 30 years ago this month.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Local government in Whitehaven - petition for an elected Mayor.

There has been some discussion on local press and internet sites in Whitehaven and Copeland about the possibility of changes to the system of local government.

One old chestnut which was originally floated yet again by Copeland Council, but has now been taken up by some local campaigners, is the idea of a Town Council for Whitehaven.

Another idea for which there is also a rather wider campaign is to replace the present "Leader and Cabinet" system on Copeland Borough Council by a directly elected mayor.

I have my doubts about whether a fifth tier of government for Whitehaven, which is what a Town council would be, would do much more than cost local taxpayers more money, for yet another layer of politicians.

However, I would support a referendum on a directly elected mayor for Copeland because at the very least it would spark off a debate about how Copeland Council can provide a more democratic and efficient service to local people.

My four years as a member of Copeland Borough Council were four of the most frustrating of my life, because getting anything positive done in the present structures of the council was like wading through treacle. At one stage the "choosing to change" process appeared to be showing signs of genuine reform, but I am told by some of the few sensible people who are still on the council that after the 2011 local elections this has largely stalled.

My preferred route to a more democratic Copeland would have been a return to the Committee System but unfortunately the Labour group who currently have a majority on CBC have no interest in this. The only alternative to the status quo is the possibility of a referendum for a directly elected mayor to replace the current leader of the council.

This should not be a party political argument. The option of directly elected mayors was brought in by the last Labour government and was endorsed by the present Conservative & Lib/Dem coalition, so there is support at national level from all three parties for this option. It should be a matter of local choice.

There is a lot of scaremongering from supporters of the status quo about the supposed extra cost, which I take with a bucketful of salt. It could be done in an expensive way, but if implemented intelligently it could also save money.

And I hope those who are currently collecting signatures for an elected mayor referendum get them, because Copeland needs that debate and local residents should be given that choice.

Quote of the day 28th November 2013

"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't use 'infinitely' when you mean 'very,' otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."

( C. S. Lewis )

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Hanukkah

Wishing all members of the Jewish community in the UK, and any member of the worldwide Jewish community who might happen to access this blog, a happy Hanukkah.

David Cameron tweeted today,

For those unfamiliar with Jewish festivals, there is an explanation on the Economist website here. It celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in 165 BC after a successful rebellion against external powers which had tried to prevent the Jews from practicing their religion as they wished.

I particularly liked the first comment explaining why this celebration should be important to Christians too, as if the Maccabbees who led the rebellion had lost there would have been no first century Jews such as Jesus.

More Images of the North West

Another gorgeous picture on twitter, this time of Derwentwater taken from near Keswick, posted by Bruce @Brucehardy2 which you can see here.

And Liam Nichols (@Liam_nicholls) posted some lovely views of Whitehaven harbour here.

Quote of the day 27th November 2013

"If God had granted all the silly prayers I've made in my life, where should I be now?"

( C.S. Lewis )

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Trending Central's take on who is smearing who

Alex Wickham at the "Trending Central" blog (www.Trendingcentral.com) has a good article here on the breathtaking hypocrisy of labour's smear counter-attack.

As Alex points out, it isn't a smear to repeat an unpleasant truth about someone, it is a smear to make up lies about them (as Damian McBride was proved to be plotting to do against the Conservatives on behalf of Labour.)

Quote of the day 26th November 2013

"Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."

( C. S. Lewis: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” )

Monday, November 25, 2013

Images of the North West

There are some gorgeous pictures of Wastwater and Scawfell being posted on Twitter this morning.

Discover Cumbria @Cumbria_Lakes posted a picture here of Wastwater looking like a mirror.

And an equally beautiful image here from Mark Gillian @Wastwater1.

Or the top of Scawfell range from Alex Atkinson @atkypne here.

Wow.

On blaming others and excusing oneself ...

Three closely related thoughts today.

The first is today's quote from C.S. Lewis to the effect that we are all liable to be too ready to make excuses for ourslves and not ready enough to accept them for others.

The second is a piece on Conservative Home by Charlotte Leslie, MP for Bristol North West,  which you can read  here, about "false victims" and how those at the centre of a scandal are often quick to present themselves as the victims.

The third is a quote I saw on twitter yesterday attributed to from Trevor Kavanagh, columnist and former political editor of The Sun:

"Politicians of all parties have seedy secrets, but Labour cry loudest when theirs are exposed."

I think Ed Miliband's actions yesterday, when he was interviewed in The Independent on Sunday accusing the Tories on the front page of that newspaper as being "In the gutter" and David Cameron of demeaning his office over the facts which have recently been published concerning  former Labour councillor and Co-op bank chairman Paul Flowers, is a good illustration of all three of those things.

Quote of the Day 25th November 2013

"In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people's, we do not accept them easily enough."
( C. S. Lewis )

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gettysburg 150 years on

This has been a remarkable week for anniversaries.

Friday was the 50th anniversary of the deaths within an hour of each other, of two of the 20th century's greatest writers, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Hudley, and of U.S. President John F Kennedy.

Also this week was the 150th anniversary of the day when another U.S. President and one of my personal heroes, Abraham Lincoln, gave one of the greatest speeches of all time, known as the Gettysburg Address.

That speech lasted less than four minutes and contains fewer than three hundred words, but it is truly inspirational. With characteristic modesty Lincoln was wrong when he predicted that the words he was saying would not long be remembered: his words are still worth remembering in the second decade of a new millenium, and I believe they will still mean something to future generations long after everyone alive today has passed into history.

This is the text of the "Bliss Copy" which is believed to be the most accurate record of what Lincoln said at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg on 19th November 1863.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Aussies get the last laugh at the Gabba

During the first day of the first Ashes test at Brisbane,  the Aussies tried taunting and insulting Stuart Broad and he responded by taking five of their wickets.

Unfortunately from an England perspective, though not perhaps from that of a true cricket lover, the Aussies then wised up and realised that the best way to get revenge would be to play really good cricket.

All credit to the Austalian side, and to Mitchell Johnson (9 wickets for 103 runs) in particular, for some really great play. They won convincingly.

Better luck to the England squad for the rest of the tour: they have been written off before and come back to win!

150,000 not out

Today this blog passed 150,000 pageviews since the traffic counters were put on six years ago.

Thanks to everyone, wherever in the world you are, who has visited the blog in that time.

The three most read posts on this blog since 2007 were all posted this year. They were as follows

1) Letter from the Falkland islanders to the U.N.

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

3) The EU wasted £6 billion of taxpayers' money last year: official

Quote of the Day 24th November 2013

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
( C. S. Lewis )

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Memo to Jonathan Freedland: who is smearing who?

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian yesterday here that the 2015 election will be a very dirty election, an opinion which I regret to say is probably right, but for which he gives precisely the wrong reason: that "The Tory smear machine is operating at full throttle."

Freedland bases this on what he calls "The Paul Flowers affair."

The most irritating characteristic of a large chunk of the left, whether we are talking about Labour activists or their fellow travellers in the press, is is the way they manage to generate a santimonious  tone of moral superiority about things when done by the right while having an extraordinarily short memory when similar, or worse, things are done by the left.

Let's not forget that the last Labour government employed Damian McBride, using money which was paid by all of us as taxpayers,  to act as Gordon Brown's personal attack dog - and making up the most horrible smears against anyone who got in Gordon's way. Including other members of the Labour party. And against the families of such people. And McBride was caught planning to plant smears which had been made up and bore no resemblance to the truth. When he was caught one Labour figure was quoted in the press as saying that the only surprising thing about it was this time it was Tories rather than other members of the Labour party he was planning to smear.

With a story as incredible as what has happened with Paul Flowers, nobody had to make up anything.

Indeed, you probably wouldn't risk making it up. As Guido Fawkes points out here, if someone decided to fabricate the most damaging possible smear against Labour, would they really dare put out what appears to have actually happened?

POSTSCRIPT - I am told here that the front page of tomorrow's "Independent on Sunday" will include an item with the headline "Miliband: Tories are 'In the gutter.'"

I repeat: who is smearing who?

Watch out for ice and snow today

I had to clear a lawer of ice from the windscreen before driving off today for the second time this week.

But what was all the more alarming, when pouring away a quantity of water which had collected on a tarpaulin covering an item beside my house, was to find a sheet of ice on the surface which still had not melted by late afternoon.

If ice can be solid in those circumstances, there may still be ice on roads and pavements, particularly where it has been in shadow, do do take care if you are out and about today. 

Quote of the day 23rd November 2013

"If a man thinks he is not conceited, he is very conceited indeed."

( C. S. Lewis )

Friday, November 22, 2013

James Wharton MP writes on the Referendum Bill

"Today my Bill to legislate for a referendum on our EU membership came back to the House of Commons.

Many amendments have been tabled by Labour and Lib Dem MPs in an effort to drag the debate out and cause it to run out of time, many of them rather spurious and lacking any real support.

These amendments have been placed into four groups, and the Commons has to debate each group before we can decide whether to give the Bill its Third Reading.

Last week we finished the first (Franchise) and just after 11am this morning we completed debate on the second (Timing). In the afternoon we debated the text of the question, just managing to get through it in time, though with the possibility of a few votes having to be taken at the beginning of the next session.

This leaves one group to go (Conduct of the referendum) and the Third Reading debate itself.
Labour’s tactics throughout have been to talk long, supported by the Lib Dems, and today was no different. There were multiple, lengthy speeches, often drifting into a discussion of the merits of EU membership, instead of focusing on the specific point at issue.

We have one more sitting Friday before Christmas (29th November) and in the normal course of things we should have a decent chance of finishing the Bill’s Commons stages then. If not, we still have the option of returning in January, though it would be nice not to have to.

We saw again this Friday that Conservative MPs are determined to deliver this Bill. My colleagues were focused and disciplined in the face of much provocation by those who want to slow its progress.

I want this Bill to become law, and I think it has a good chance of doing so.

Whatever happens, it now seems inevitable there will be a referendum on our EU membership at some stage. The debate has moved on, it is surely only a matter of time before Labour and the Liberal Democrats catch up."

(James Wharton is the Conservative MP for Stockton South and proposer of the bill which would provide for a referendum on Britain's EU membership. Hat tip to  Conservative Home on which this article first appeared.)

The Tories and the North: Fisking Owen Jones

I wrote here a few weeks ago about an intelligent article by Peter Kellner which was called Why northerners don't vote tory but actually used polling evidence to successfully retute almost every possible explanation for the challenges facing the Conservatives in the North. Kellner had concluded that

"In the end, the Tories’ problem is not what they do; it’s what they are. Their trouble is their brand. They 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. This need not stop them winning a future election: there are enough constituencies in the Midlands and the South which, when added to the Tories’ isolated seats in the North, can give them a parliamentary majority. But few, even on the Conservative benches, would regard that as a wholly healthy prospect."

Yesterday in the Independent, updated today here there was another article, similar to Kellner's in some ways but enormously different in quality, written by Owen Jones in response to Sir Bernard Ingham's recent comments.

Now Sir Bernard's remarks about people from the North who don't like the Tories were, for me, an absolutely classic case where you know exactly what someone meant but really wish they hadn't put it in the words they chose.

Personally I am still so angry about the way the last Labour government comprehensively trashed Britain's financial and economic position, particularly in their last few years in office, that I have to make a considerable effort to make myself treat those who persist in voting for them with a modicum of respect and courtesy. I would find it extremly easy to speak about those who support Labour, whether in the North or the South, in even less flattering terms than Sir Bernard Ingham used about Northerners who don't like the tories.

I try not to do so for the very pragmatic reason that it really doesn't get us anywhere. Democracy has the consequence that an individual who might consider voting Labour has the same number of votes as me - one - and I'm not going to persuade him or her not to make such a disastrous mistake by calling him or her "demented" or hurling similar insults, no matter what the temptation.

Now the interesting thing about the Peter Kellner and Owen Jones articles about the Conservatives and the North is that when you read them side by side, they are an object lesson in the right and wrong way to approach an issue.

Peter Kellner and Owen Jones are not too far apart politically. Owen Jones openly describes himself as being on the left: as a pollster Kellner always been careful not to do or say anything which would fatally compromise his independence but he has been close to prominent figures in the Labour party. Both are articulate and well informed.
 
But the difference between the way Kellner and Jones approach the issue is highly instructive. Kellner does something which is far too rare on the right, left and centre: he considers possible explanations for the issue he is addressing - why the Conservatives do not have more support in the North - and tests them as open-mindedly as he can against objective evidence. (And ends up by concluding that almost all of them are disproved by the polling evidence.)

Jones, on the other hand, just offers a list of his own prejudices as an explanation of why the Conservatives are not more popular in the North. And this is the real kicker - practically EVERY ONE of his statements about why the Tories are unpopular in the North is as true, or even more true, of Labour.

Let's fisk a few of them.

Jones: "As the old industrial communities disintegrated at an unprecedented rate under Tory rule, the anger and bitterness was passed from generation to generation."

In the working class Northern borough where I live, what remained of traditional local industry, with the sole exception of the nuclear industry, closed every bit as fast under Blair and Brown as it did under Thatcher and Major.

Jones:    "today’s unprecedented fall in living standards conjures up what is – in large swathes of the country – almost an anti-Tory folklore."

Which is very odd, because that fall in living standards has been going on for about seven years. It started, and for the majority of people in the North as well as in the South the majority of that fall took place, while Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. I might not want to repeat his language, but do you really not see why Sir Bernard Ingham found it strange that people should blame the Tories for what was mostly done to them under Labour?"

Jones: "The Tories obsessively bait Labour over its links with trade unions, the biggest democratic movement in the country."

Insofar as the trade unions are genuinely democratic, a significant amount of the reason has a great deal to do with Norman Tebbit's laws requiring secret ballots.

Jones: "It is alarming how little scrutiny the Tories’ own funders get."

Absolute, complete and utter rubbish. These days, as was not the case a few years ago, all major donations to all political parties have to be registered with the electoral commission and are published, and media outlets and opponents of all parties go through them with a fine tooth comb.

Jones: "They are, after all, bankrolled by bankers, hedge funds and legal loan sharks."

If anyone reading the article had still retained had the impression to this point that Owen Jones had the least interest in presenting a balanced, objective and accurate assessment of the Conservative position, they know better now.

All the political parties draw income from a wide range of sources. Insofar as it is true that a substantial part of Conservative income comes from wealthy individuals and companies, the same is true of New Labour. For example, Electoral Commission figures show that while it was still legal for non-domestic taxpayers to support political parties, Labour accepted more money from millionaire non-doms than the Tories did - £8.9 million compared with £5.1 million between 2001 and 2008.

Jones: "Andrew Lansley, who set in motion the wholesale privatisation of the NHS"

The NHS is still free at the point of delivery and funded largely from general taxation. But if you regard the greatly increased use of private suppliers as over the past few years as "wholesale privatisation" then the person who set this in motion was NOT Andrew Lansley but his Labour predecessor as Health secretary, Andy Burnham.

Jones: "Forget which schools the Tory frontbench attended: it is their donors’ list that reveal the Tories’ historic mission as the political wing of wealth and power, or Boles “party of the rich”.

Remind me which cabinet minister, of which party, and representing a seat in which part of the country, said that the government in which he served was completely "relaxed" about people getting "filthy rich," as long as they pay their taxes?

Here's a clue: Peter Mandelson, Labour, then MP for Hartlepool in the North East. Oh, and George Osborne also thinks rich people should pay their taxes and has been trying to close down loopholes which allow them to escape doing so. 

Jones: "It is an age-old Tory strategy: at the start of the last century, the party assiduously courted fear of Jewish and Irish immigrants. There is always a rich vein of prejudice to tap."

You're going back to the early 1900s? I don't even need to go back ten years to respond.

What did you think of the poster Labour prepared depicting the then Conservative leader Michael Howard, who is Jewish, as Fagin? Or of their poster depicting the heads of Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin (who is also Jewish) on pigs? Put these and some of the other things Labour put out in the run up to the 2005 election together, and it wasn't a nice picture. 

I think Mr Jones needs to do better than this. He could start by taking lessons from Peter Kellner.

Orders at highest level since March 1995

British industrial output jumped to an 18-year high in October, as order books swelled and manufacturers signalled that a broad-based recovery was bedding in.

The Confederation of British Industry said this week that  rising domestic and overseas demand helped total orders grow to the highest level since March 1995.

Orders in mechanical engineering, Britain’s fourth largest industrial sector, were at their highest since records began in 1978, while 13 of the 15 industrial sub-sectors reported a rise.
 
The CBI’s survey of 350 manufacturers also showed output volumes in the three months to November rose at their fastest rate since January 1995. Growth was widespread, with electrical engineering the only sector to see a decline.
 
“This new evidence shows encouraging signs of a broadening and deepening recovery,” said Stephen Gifford, the CBI’s director of economics. But he warned that “challenges remain”, with UK exporters in need of government support to break into high growth export markets “to reduce their vulnerability to any further eurozone flare-ups”.

Quote of the day 22nd November 2013

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”

( C. S. Lewis )

Thursday, November 21, 2013

From the country that brought you the boomerang ...

A local newspaper in Brisbane, the "Courier Mail," promised not to name England Bowler Stuart Broad in their coverage of the current Test Cricket match at the Gabba.

Australian fans have been booing Broad every time his name came up.

Well, judging by the result on the first day's play, perhaps we should encourage the Aussies to boo our crickets and their papers to refuse to print their names for the rest of the tour.

Broad took five of the eight wickets to call today for 65 runs.

The boomerang was, of course, an Australian invention. Their "Broad Ban" appears to have some similar characteristics ...

Government announces protection for stretch of Cumbrian coast

An area of Cumbria’s coastline is to get special protection for its' marine life.

The shoreline between Whitehaven and the mouth of the Ravenglass estuary, including the black guillemot colony at St Bees Head, is set to become one of 27 new Marine Conservation Zones (MSZ). The sites will be protected from damaging activities, although exactly what is permitted at each will vary from location to location.

Activities such as fishing will only be regulated if they are causing harm to wildlife or damaging habitats.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the designation of these areas would ensure their features were conserved for the future. It revealed the list of 27 protected sites following national consultation.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) welcomed the announcement, describing it as a “significant milestone for marine conservation” in English seas.

Hat tip to the News and Star: more information on their website here.

The DEFRA designation of the Cumbria Coast MCZ is given here.

Another area in the North West given similar protection is the Fylde MCJ which is an area of Liverpool Bay off the Fylde coast and Ribble estuary. 

It's not enough to commemorate the abolition of slavery - each generation must abolish it again

One of the worst things that this country ever participated in was the slave trade. And up to 1807 just about every country had the same stain on its' record.

One of the best things we ever did was pass laws, beginning in 1807, to ban first the slave trade and then slavery itself -  and use the Royal Navy to enforce the ban.

But sadly that was not the end of the story.

Unfortunately we cannot treat slavery as only a thing of the past. It keeps coming back in new forms and human trafficking is still, alas, very much with us. The horrendous story which is just breaking about three women who appear to have been held as slaves in London for up to thirty years is just the tip of the iceberg.

So I welcome the fact that the present government is to bring in a bill called the Modern Slavery Bill which will bring all the various laws together, and ensure that the issue is a top priority for the new National Crime Agency.

Catching a human trafficker will be as important as catching an arms dealer, and police will be given clear instructions that the victims are not to be prosecuted.

Given the trouble that various parts of government have in talking to each other, Theresa May is considering the creation of a Commissioner for Modern Day Slavery to make sure these proposals are properly carried out.

Hat tip to Fraser Nelson for a good article on this subject in the Telegraph here.

The next election is too close to call

Dan Hodges has a piece in the Daily Telegraph here about why the Conservatives believe they have a chance of an outright victory at the next general election.

Lord Ashcroft has an article on Conservative Home here warning Conservatives against over-optimism and fooling ourselves by mistakes such as "comfort polling."

Who is right?

Well, actually I think the most of the arguments in both articles have something going for them.

And one issue not discussed in either is Miliband's strategy of abandoning the political centre in favour of energising his base while trying to appealing more broadly with specifically focussed campaigns on issues like Energy prices.

In most elections abandoning the centre amounts to political suicide, and it may prove so this time, but given that our present electoral system might give Miliband a majority with 35% of the vote this could be one of the rare instances where a strategy like the one he is using works.

It is still eighteen months to the 2015 election. There is a lot of ground to cover. It really could go either way. All the parties have grounds for hope. But there is no room for an atom of complacency. 

A Labour view of Ed Miliband's performance at PMQs this week.

The late Ted Heath once said

"I do not often attack the Labour party. They do it so well themselves."

The Labour List website has an article here on Ed Miliband's performance at yesterday's Prime Ministers' question time which is a perfect example of what Ted was talking about.

For a non-Labour view of the same event you can go to Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail here.

Quote of the day 21st November 2013

"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

 ( C.S. Lewis: “On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature” which was published in 1966. In context he referred to the children of his time as a generation born to face enemies such as the OGPU, which was the forerunner of the KGB, and the Gestapo.

Though those enemies have thankfully been consigned to the dustbin of hisory our own children are born to a world which still contains people such as the Taleban, Al Queda, Boko Haram, all too many people on both sides of the war in Syria, the Janjaweed in Sudan - I could go on and on. The point that there are many terrible forces in the world still applies.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

EU budget finally agreed - and cut for the first time in history

MEPs have voted through the EU's seven year budget - which includes the first cut in the organisation's history.

In a linked story, the European Court has defeated a challenge to the pay freeze on EU staff imposed by the Council of Ministers, who argued that the EU central administration should be subject to the same austerity they are imposing on their own national administrations.

The budget - called the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) - was adopted by the European parliament by 537 votes to 126. Most of the opposition came from the European Left bloc and the Greens, who wanted a bigger budget but surprisingly the many members of the Eurosceptic group, who logically should have welcomed a cut in the EU budget, also voted against.

A political deal on the MFF was reached with EU governments in June, but MEPs bargained for certain conditions, which were finally included in the plan:
  • Greater flexibility on switching budget funds;
  • EU to retain unspent budget funds, rather than returning to national governments
  • extra money for 2013 to cover outstanding bills in the current EU budget;
  • and a review of the EU's "own income" resources - that is, EU funds raised directly through taxes, rather than as contributions from national governments.
Major international infrastructure projects, help for poorer regions and agricultural subsidies remain the largest areas of EU spending.

The EU budget is equivalent to 1% of the 28 member states' total Gross National Income.

In a separate development, the EU's top court - the European Court of Justice - ruled against a 1.7% staff pay rise which the European Commission had requested.

The level of EU staff salaries and pensions has been frozen since 2011 and the court declined to overturn this. The ruling upheld the view of a majority of EU national administrations who had agreed at the council of ministers that EU remuneration should reflect the budget austerity currently being suffered by employees of their own governments.

The UK Treasury welcomed the ECJ ruling. Treasury Economic Secretary Nicky Morgan said that "as a result of this case, in which the UK played a leading role, Europe's governments have stopped the unjustifiable increases to EU salaries and pensions.

"When governments and families across Europe are taking difficult decisions to make savings, it would be wrong  and irresponsible for the EU to not show similar restraint," she added.

Even Quacks should have free speech

An interesting, intelligent and courageous post here at "Spiked" magazine by Doctor Michael Fitzpatrick called "Even quacks must have free speech" argues strongly against the attempt to persuade retailers not to stock the magazine "What Doctor's Don't Tell You" (nicknamed WDDTY.)

He regards this "fundamentally silly magazine" as being full of ignorant, pseudo-scientific claptrap but thinks that trying to suppress it by persuading retailers not to stock it is a fundamentally wrong-headed way to go about trying to defeat the ridiculous ideas it espouses.

I agree with him.

There are three problems with defeating ideas by trying to stop people hearing about them, rather than by defeating them in open debate, which are

1) It's a tactic which can be used against unpopular ideas which happen to be right as easily as against untrue ideas

2) Consequently it sets a dangerous precedent. In this particular case the medical establishment is right to regard WDDTY as a silly magazine full of nonsense. But if you believe in and understand the scientific method, and if you recognise that human beings are not perfect and make mistakes, you have to accept that at various stages on the future there are very likely to be issues where the medical establishment gets something wrong.

And if in the meantime we've established the principle that it is "socially responsible" for retailers refuse to stock magazines which the medical establishment, or indeed any other part of the establishment, tell them is produced by fruitcakes and nutters and publishing nonsense, what would happen on the occasion when the establishment is wrong and the people accused of being "fruitakes and nutters" turn out to be right?

I'll tell you what would happen: the establishment view would succeed in suppressing the truth for far longer than would be possible given open debate, and a lot more harm will be done in the meantime.

3) If the people who have lost confidence in the establishment see them suppressing alternative views not by argument but by preventing those views from being communicated, they will become all the more convinced that those alternative views are right, will be all the more alienated, and that much less amendable to reasoned argument.

Quote of the day 20th November 2013

"The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes per hour, whatever he does, whoever he is."

( C. S. Lewis )

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

... and congratulations to Jackie Foster MEP

Following the election of Syed Kamall MEP as leader of the Conservative delegation to the European parliament, the North West's Jackie Foster has been elected Deputy Leader of the delegation.

The North West MEP is a seasoned political campaigner and is her delegation's transport and tourism spokesman, as well as Vice President of the European Parliament's Sky and Space Intergroup

She said: "I shall be very honoured to serve as Deputy Leader of the UK Delegation and I am delighted Syed Kamall has been elected Leader in the run up to next year's European election.

"We have a strong team and there is an important job to be done. We shall be rolling up our sleeves up and telling voters why only the Conservatives can deliver the change Europe needs and the referendum that the people deserve."

Congratulations to Syd Kamall, thanks to Richard Ashworth

Congratulations to Syed Kamall MEP who has just been elected as the new leader of the Conservative MEPs.

Thanks to Richard Ashworth, the outgoing leader from whom Syed takes over, for all his hard work.

Here’s is Syed's statement on his election:

“I am proud and honoured to have been chosen to lead this talented and committed team of politicians at a crucial time. 
 
I am determined that people will hear loud and clear our message of reform in Europe, of a new relationship with the EU and of giving the British people the right to accept or reject it in a referendum.

 I am determined that we see as many Conservatives as possible elected to the European Parliament in May because we are the only ones who will properly protect Britain’s interests.

I am also determined that our work must focus on the legislative areas that really matter here, where real change is achieved, where taxpayers money is spent or saved and where dangerous proposals are blocked – not the many talking shops that give Brussels such a bad reputation.”

I look forward to taking forward our radical vision of a new deal in Europe – that works for Britain – and to making our case both in the parliament and at home in the UK.”

Abuse of Privilege

I was no fan of Denis McShane but will not take any pleasure in the downfall of  the former Europe minister and Labour MP, who pleaded guilty yesterday to charges of false accounting, claiming at least £13,000 of taxpayer's money on his expenses through artificial invoices.

Stealing from the taxpayer when in a position of trust is absolutely wrong whether the culprit is of Tory, Labour, Lib/Dem, Nationalist, UKIP or any other political persuasion and brings all politics into disrepute.

The McShane case also shows up the good and bad side of parliamentary privilege.

I recently read Nick Cohen's excellent analysis  You Can't Read This Book, (actually you can and should read it). That book points out that parliamentary privilege - the fact that MPs can say whatever they like in parliament without being sued for libel, and that journalists reporting accurately on what has been said in parliament cannot be sued either, as that would be contempt of parliament - is one of the few countervailing forces which can be used to prevent rich individuals or companies suppressing the publication of unwelcome truths about themselves by claiming those truths to be lies, bringing an action for libel, and relying on the preposterous costs to both sides of a libel action deterring all byt the most determined and wealthy from persisting in their criticisms.

The art of using the courts in this way was perfected by the late and unlamented Bob Maxwell (another corrupt former Labour MP) but to our national shame, the British courts have allowed themselves through libel tourism to become the world centre for the rich and powerful to try to suppress unwelcome statements.

One of the few ways to overcome this is if any MP raises a concern in the House of Commons. We need that privilege to continue.

Which makes what McShane did all the more indefensible - he abused a privilege which we as ordinary citizens need MPs to have in the public interest, in order to prevent the police finding out about the criminal activity to which he pleaded guilty yesterday.

For several years McShane successfully used parliamentary privilege to prevent prosecutors seeing the correspondence in which he admitted to manipulating his expenses claims.

There are honest politicians and there are good reasons for parliamentary privilege, and people like McShane have brought them into disrepute too.   

Quote of the day 19th November 2013

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

( C.S. Lewis )

Monday, November 18, 2013

Age of Consent: protecting victims

Cumbria's former director of Public Health, professor John Ashton, started a hare running in the past week with a proposal which was swiftly disavowed by the leadership of all three political parties - to lower the age of consent.

As the parent of two preteen children I am concerned that we get this one right. Like the Prime Minister and others I think that dropping the age of consent is the wrong solution but that doesn't mean there is no problem.

Ashton was making the counterintuitive argument that dropping the age of consent by a year would increase the age at which teenagers start having sex by making it easier to "draw a line in the sand" against sex at the age of 14 or younger. He also thought that it would make it easier to give counselling, contraception, and medical support to fifteen-year olds.

We have to make the existing law work better, recognising that there is no perfect solution to this problem. The lower the age of consent, the greater the risk of failing to protect vulnerable young people against predatory behaviour: the higher the age, the greater the risk that the legislation will be ignored by young people to whom it seems out of touch with reality while making it harder for medical professionals and state agencies to offer support.

The existing system failed to adequately protect the victims of grooming rings in Oxford and elsewhere, but if the age of consent were lower some potential victims of gangs like those in recent court cases might be even more vulnerable.

Perhaps one thing that could be done, without any change to the law, would be to strengthen the advice to all state agencies including legal/law enforcement, medical agencies, and social services, that a person under the age of consent who is or has been sexually active should be presumed to be a victim and that where possible the law should not be applied in a way likely to prevent anyone, particularly not victims, from receiving medical support, counselling, or contraception.

Any solution to the problem is going to be messy. But human behaviour often is.

Quote of the day 18th November 2013

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, My God do you learn."

( C. S. Lewis )

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Miliband staffer refers to Balls' argument as "nightmare"

The Daily Mail caused a certain amount of upset by publishing a leaked email from a member of Ed Miliband's team referring to an Ed Balls argument as a "Nightmare." You can read the Mail article online here.

Labour's allies in the media such as George Eaton in the New Statesman (one of the exceptionally small group of people, not including Ed Miliband, who believe that "there is no one better qualified" than Ed Balls "to perform the job of Chancellor.") have been frantically spinning this as a small story of a limited disagreement blown up by papers hostile to Labour and making a big point that the email was apparently leaked accidentally (by being sent to Tory MP James Morris by mistake for the pollster of the same name) rather than deliberately leaked as part of a Labour civil war.

I'm not convinced that this is a non-story.

We can all remember what harm has been done to the country in the past when Number ten and Number 11 did not have a reasonably close working relationship.

It can cause anything from embarrassment to minor harmful effects for the economy if the media think they can spot a gap wide enough to accomodate a cigarette paper between the PM and the Chancellor of the day.

When the Prime Minister and Chancellor cordially detest one another and fail to co-operate, as was sometimes the case between Blair and Brown, it can paralyse the government.

So although any Miliband staffer who uses the term "nightmare" when discussing Ed Balls demonstrates that in this respect if in no other he has some connection to reality, it is entirely legitimate for opponents of the Labour party to watch out for evidence of disagreement between the Labour leader and shadow chancellor.

These guys have form: such a split at the top of their party was one of the contributing factors to the mess Labour left behind in 2010 and the problems Britain is still having.

Labour does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Quote of the day 17th November 2013

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its' victims may be the most oppressive."

( C. S. Lewis )

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Daily Mash has some good articles this week

Some very amusing items on The Daily Mash this week.

My favourite is the story alleging that Richard Dawkins has threatened punitive action against anyone giving or receiving his books as christmas presents."

Also worth a look if, like me, you appreciate their sense of humour, are the news that

Alistair Campbell has been thanked for his apology for destroying journalism.

(This one may work better if you have first seen this report in the Guardian about two lectures Campbell was about to give in at Cambridge complaining about the decline in standards and values in journalism. He particularly criticised "negativity, overblown hype and lack of balance" at which point I suspect the Daily Mash will not have been the only people raising their eyebrows and recalling a saying about pots and kettles.)

Other recent Mash items included the news that supposedly

David Cameron has admitted that 60% of his cabinet are migrants from Eastern Europe,

and their take on the death of the late John Cole, the BBC's highly respected political editor for much of the Thatcher era,

Britain mourns man who actually knew what he was talking about.

Some of the language on the Daily Mash website is not suitable for children.

Quote of the day 16th November 2013

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

( C.S. Lewis )

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fear and paranoia on the internet

This week some digital housekeeping by both the Conservative and Labour parties to take down out-of-date speeches and details both parties had posted on the internet in the past has produced a bout of ridiculous scaremongering by a few technologically illiterate journalists.

Amusingly the press caught on to the fact that this had been done on the Conservative wesite about a day before they picked up that the Labour party had dome something extremely similar. In the meantime some Labour flack with even less common sense as the average Labour functionary - e.g. very little - had jumped in with two left feet and issued a statement calling the Conservative action in updating their website a "cynical stunt."

Needless to say it was quickly pointed out that Labour had also removed from their website a lot of old speeches and articles - their "News Archive" no longer contains material pre-dating the election of Ed Miliband as leader, and speeches delivered by Tony Blair as Prime Minister appear to have been deleted, for example. Labour had to admit, trying to hide appropriately red faces, that their own website has been "regularly updated." You don't say.

A rather better informed group of journalists at "The Register," Andrew Orlowski, Kelly Fiveash, and Lewis Page, have put up a common sense (and extremely funny) response to all the hysteria about the parties keeping their websites up to date,

"Oh My GOD! Have the TORIES ERASED THE INTERNET?"

which can be found at

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/13/sorry_the_tories_didnt_make_the_internet_disappear/

and has the subtitle

"Pass the Lizard-proof tinfoil, I need to make a hat."

To anyone with a sense of proportion and who is not suffering from paranoia, it is only common sense to try to ensure that people who are searching the internet for your policy on something are directed first to what you are saying about that subject now, not what you wrote in possibly quite different circumstances five,  ten, or more years ago.

Neither the Conservative or Labour parties have made it impossible for someone who knows what they are doing to look up what they said in the past. The Register journalists describe the steps taken by the Conservatives to stop search engines finding out-of-date material as being more like a no entry sign than a locked door.

As they put it,

"If we’re to hold politicians to account then this means proper, rational debate. That means, yes, keeping a record of what they say - but you're better off taking your own copies than relying on robots and the varied cloud systems they serve to do it for you - and then complaining that someone has "erased the internet" like a "criminal paedophile" when you are let down.

"But people would normally much prefer a conspiracy to blame. Once it was the Right that dealt largely in the language of conspiracy theories, as Democrat historian Richard Hofstader wrote in his famous 1964 essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics. There were Reds to be found under every Bed. But listen to any academic venting about “neoliberalism” and you can just as easily erase the word “neoliberal” and substitute the word “Illuminati”. It's escapism and a form of narcissism, really."

Quote of the day 15th November 2013

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."

(C.S. Lewis)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bank of England says recovery has "finally taken hold"

I would be the first to agree that we cannot afford an atom of complacency about the economy and that the recovery will have to go some way further before it starts feeding into people's living standards.

Nevertheless I think we can afford to be pleased with the statements made by the Bank of England in their latest Inflation Report.

(Incidentally, unlike the link on the BBC news website, the link above takes you to the November 2013 report and not the February 2012 quarterly report.)

The Bank of England's governor Mark Carney says that UK recovery has "taken hold" and he now thinks it likely that unemployment will fall sooner than the bank  had previously forecast.


Growth for this year is now forecast to be 1.6%, up from 1.4% as previously projected, and for next year, annual growth is expected to be 2.8%, rather than the 2.5% the Bank predicted in August.

The report said: "In the United Kingdom, recovery has finally taken hold. The economy is growing robustly as lifting uncertainty and thawing credit conditions start to unlock pent-up demand."

As the BBC's economics editor, Robert Peston, put it,
 
"It is quite difficult to remember when the Bank of England sounded so positive”
 
Peston then manages to get himself into a circular argument about whether the recovery is too robust and whether this might force the Bank to raise interest rates and choke it off again.
 
Not from where I'm sitting it isn't Robert - I'm pleased the recovery is as robust as it is but I think we have a long way to go before it is too strong.
 
The sort of words being used to indicate that recovery is under way are statements like this one from Mark Carney:
 
"For the first time in a long time, you do not have to be an optimist to see the glass is half full"

It's good that we've reached that kind of position but Britain is light-years away from an overheating economy at the moment.

Quote of the day 14th November 2013

"We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and wlaking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive."

(C.S. Lewis)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Does the European Parliament have to sack the Commission again to get the EU accounts straight?

As I wrote on this blog a few days ago, the European Court of Auditors have refused to give the European Union's accounts a clean bill of health for the nineteenth consecutive year.

It may be an indication of concern about this that my post on the subject, "The EU wasted 6 billion of taxpayers' money last year - official!" quickly became one of the five most read posts in the eight-year lifespan of this blog.

A few years ago Copeland Borough Council took a couple of years to get its' accounts sorted out and approved by the District Auditors. This was (quite rightly) seen as grounds for very grave concern about whether the millions of pounds of taxpayer's money spent by the council were being properly managed. Even the Labour administration of Copeland, which there are objective reasons to regard as one of the three worst run councils in the country, took the matter seriously, bucked their ideas up,  made it clear that heads would roll if the accounts were not sorted out and eventually got them into a fit state to be approved by the Auditors.

My four years as a member of the opposition on Copeland Borough Council were some of the most frustrating of my life, and I don't want to give the impression that they handled their budget or resource management particularly well, but by comparison with the EU they were fiscal responsibility incarnate!

If one of the worst run councils in Britain takes a bad Audit report covering a few tens of millions of pounds of public money seriously enough to make sure they get it sorted out within two or three years, what on earth are we to make of the fact that the European Commission appears far more blase about failing to get a clean audit report for billions of pounds of public money for nineteen consecutive years?

One of the few things the European Commission have said in their defence which contains some element of reality is that national governments also need to do more to ensure that EU money is properly accounted for. This is entirely true, but should not get the Commission off the hook.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this sorry saga is that when researching  it you have to look carefully at the date of any of your sources because when you do a search for a particular speech, report or article on one year and you'll find similar speeches, reports or articles making almost exactly the same points in multiple previous years.

Equally depressing is the sign that the Commission is trying to get the Court of Auditors to moderate their comments, though fortunately they do not appear to be succeeding.

Ingeborg Gräßle, a senior German MEP who is close to Angela Merkel, Ingeborg Gräßle, an EPP parliamentarian and respected member of the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee, has accused the European Commission of trying to influence the Auditors' report and said that "numerous questions arise" about this.

It's not just the Commission who are doing this either.

A couple of months ago, Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council (e.g. the representative of member governments) was caught on film asking the European Court of Auditors  to tone down their reports so as to permit more “nuanced reporting” of misspending.
“Your reports are not released into a void but into the rough and tumble of political life and media reporting,” he said. “Every year, they generate headlines that ‘yet again the EU’s accounts have not been signed off’, with deceptive allegations of fraud and mismanagement. You and I know that such headlines can be misleading. 
“Given this media handling of information, and its impact on public opinion in some countries, the court might want to give some further thought as to how it can encourage more nuanced reporting.
“In the end we are all responsible for Europe and its image… In times of crisis, it is more vital than ever to foster confidence. We should also be teaching, to convince Europeans and demonstrate clearly that Europe is not the source of problems, but the solution.”
The Brussels correspondent of the Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield, asked Vitor Caldeira, the president of the European Court of Auditors, about Mr Van Rompuy’s comments and whether his auditors would be more biddable in the interests of polishing up the EU’s rather tarnished image.

“We have not nuanced our report,” he replied. “The duty of the ECA is to speak the truth.”

Pleased to hear it, but it is the duty of the Commission and the Council to listen when the ECA speaks the truth, and I'm worried about whether they are paying enough attention.

You can read Waterfield's article on the subject here.

In March 1999 the European parliament got so upset with the failure of certain members of the Santer commission to correct a culture of financial mismanagement and obstruction of auditors that they threatened to use their power to sack the entire commission. The Santer commission jumped before they were pushed and resigned en masse.

The ECA report for last year found an "Error rate" of money not adequately accounted for of 4.8% of the European Union's £117 billion budget. That is far too high to be acceptable.

Does the European Parliament have to threaten to sack the Barroso Commission to get the matter taken seriously?

Quote of the Day 13th November 2013

“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.

When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.

A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.

This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk.

Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.”


(Clive Staples Lewis, known as "Jack" to his friend but best known to the wider world as C.S. Lewis, creator of the "Narnia" stories and author of "The Screwtape Letters" who died 50 years ago this month.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Incredible response to Philippines appeal

In the first fifteen hours since the Disaster Emergency Committee launched an appeal earlier today to help the people of the Philippines recover from a devastating typhoon, more than a million and a half pounds was donated.

If you want to support that appeal you can do so here.

Quote of the day 12th November 2013

“A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . .

I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation.

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows.

Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

( C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns )

Monday, November 11, 2013

Parking in Whitehaven

Local businesses in Whitehaven have been expressing concern that if parking in the town is made too difficult or expensive it may do great harm to the local economy: today I saw an example of another problem.

This afternoon outside the telephone exchange there was a parked car. It was parked illegally though if every car which was parked against the rules in Catherine Street got a ticket there would be an awful lot issued. When there was a court building in Catherine Street, there would often be a prison van parked illegally outside the Telephone exchange while the court was sitting.

Anyway, this afternoon the car parked in pretty much the same place that there used to be an illegally parked prison tranport had two things on the windscreen.

On the inside there was a clearly visible printed sign saying "Midwife on call."

On the outside there was a parking ticket.

Oops.


Unless they have evidence that signs purporting to identify the vehicles of medical personnel are being abused, perhaps Copeland BC should have a little word with the contractors who issue parking enforcement notices for them.

Quote of the Day: Armistice Day, 11th November 2013

"WHEN YOU GO HOME, TELL THEM OF US AND SAY

FOR YOUR TOMORROW, WE GAVE OUR TODAY"


Epitaph carved on the memorial for  the 2nd British Division in the cemetery of Kohima in India. It is thought to have been written by John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958) and believed to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Spartans who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On envy, hypocrisy, and double standards.

By an amusing coincidence, in the same week that the papers have been running stories about the possibility that the Health Secretary will be paid a very large sum of money through the sale of a business he founded many years ago, I read a large number of blog posts from left wingers complaining about people on the right criticising both rich and poor socialists based not the quality of their arguments but on how much money they have themselves.

The complaint made by various left-wing hacks, bloggers and internet users are epitomised by an article, Why do so many critics of those of us on the left assume we are consumed by class envy? which was posted on "Independent Voices" by Owen Jones on Thursday. The article is true as far as it goes but has a huge gaping whole at it's centre. He complains tha

"anyone who thinks there’s a tad too much wealth and power in too few hands cannot win. Too poor, and you’re envious; too rich, and you’re a hypocrite; too young, and you’re naive; too old, and you’re a dinosaur."

He called this a "relentless attempt to use people’s personal characteristics, rather than their arguments, to discredit them" and gives the impression - which is my one serious quarrel with what he writes - that this is a tactic primarily used by right wingers against socialists.

And that is nonsense because ad hominem arguments are used far too often by all sections of the political spectrum against anyone they disagree with, especially by people who think they might lose the debate if they focus on the real arguments.

Such arguments are used by the left against the right, the right against the left, and the centre against both.

As the insults which were flying at Jeremy Hunt this week demonstrate, the left use a very similar type of "Morton's Fork" against the right.

Any Conservative who is weathy will invariably be presented by the brain-dead section of the left, and by too many of those who ought to know better, as a bloated plutocrat who at best cannot understand ordinary people and at worst actively despises them.

You will struggle to find any article published in the Daily Mirror about David Cameron which does not contain a sneering reference to his background or wealth designed to appeal to such sentiments.

But any Conservative from a poor background will sooner or later be described as a "class traitor" by socialists. Or described in similar if less blatantly sectarian words which mean the same thing.

I am not making this up.

I was shocked the first time I heard it. A Labour councillor who shortly afterwards became a Labour MP was talking to some of his activists about one of the kindest and most decent people I ever met, a working class pensioner who lived in a council house and had become a Conservative councillor to help her neighbours. I don't think he had noticed that I was standing behind him, and I don't think he was joking. The exact words he used about her were "That woman's a class traitor."

Both the "bloated plutocrat" and "class traitor" charges are usually expressed in rather less extreme form such as "he's forgotten his roots," but I've lost count of the number of times I have heard such sentiments expressed against someone to the right of the speaker (usually described as "tories" or "closet tories," both terms which are often applied by the left to New Labour / Blairites as well as actual tories.)

To attack people based on who they are rather than how strong their arguments are is not usually a constructive contribution to debate whoever does it.

We will remember them

Today, particularly at 11 am, we will remember all those who have died in war, particularly those who fell defending this country and those of our allies.

When I was a boy, veterans of the First world war were far more common than those of World War II are now. Both sets of veterans included some very remarkable individuals.

We owe them more than words can possibly describe.

Quote of the day, Remembrance Sunday 2013

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
 

(From "For the Fallen" by Rupert Binyon)

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Winter is icumen in ...

Had today's filthy weather not been sufficient reminder in itself that we have now reached the time of the year when road users should take care to watch for snow and ice, especially black ice, a journey I made today from West Cumbria to Manchester and back would have provided it.

Shortly after two vicious bursts of hail either side of seven am this morning I passed the first of half a dozen RTA (road traffic accident) sites of which I witnessed the aftereffects today, some quite serious. On the A66 near Bassenthwaite a car had turned completely over and was resting on it's roof.

The wise driver witnessing an accident should think "There but for the grace of God go I" (or the atheist/agnostic equivalent) and take care that next time it isn't him or her.

Just as well I did, as I had reduced speed some way below the limit when during another hailstorm I drove over what I presume must have been a patch of ice on a straight section of the M6 near Lancaster. I had a nasty few seconds. If the incident had happened on a bend, if any of the other vehicles nearby had been a bit closer, or if I had been travelling at or above the speed limit there could well have been an accident.

I don't believe I was driving without due care and attention - if I had been, I might not be here to write this post - but I've certainly taken the incident, and the sight of all the actual accidents of which I saw the aftermath today (at least three of which required ambalance call-outs) as a warning to watch out for ice and be careful about speed of travel for the rest of autumn and the coming winter.

It might also be a good idea to wrap up warmly if anyone reading this is attending a Remembrance Sunday commemoration tomorrow - it might be the same kind of weather as on one Remembrance Sunday ceremony I remember in St Albans when half a dozen people fainted with cold during the event.

Quote of the Day 9th November 2013

“Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
 
( Abraham Lincoln )

Friday, November 08, 2013

Let Britain decide - the opponents of a referendum grow more desperate

Dan Hannan MEP points out on his blog here how desperate the arguments put forward by Labour against letting the British people decide on our EU membership are becoming.

He quotes a briefing by Robert Broadhurst of the European Research Group, which pulls Labour’s objections to the Referendum bill to pieces. For example:

"‘The Bill seeks to bind the next Parliament.’

"It does not. It makes provisions that extend into the next Parliament, but there is nothing particularly unusual about that. There is no legal impediment to the next Parliament repealing the Bill, should it wish. The Bill is only a problem for the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties if they do not want to commit to a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017. However, that is a political issue for them, not a constitutional problem."

You can read the full post here.

Let Britain Decide

The Referendum Bill prposed by Conservative MP James Wharton comes back to the House of Commons today.

If passed this would write the requirement for an in-out referendum on Britain's EU membership into law.

I hope MPs of all parties will support the bill today.

Quote of the day 8th November 2013

“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”
 
( Murray N. Rothbard )

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Marta Andreasen on the EU Audit report

Marta Andreasen, who is now a Conservative MEP but was previously a European Auditor from which position she was fired for being a whistleblower, has some comments on the latest EU audit report on Radio Jackie which are well worth a listen at

http://www.radiojackie.com/redbutton/index.asp?singlepodcast=203

She urges MEPs to refuse to accept the EU accounts, and she makes a very strong case.

To vote or not to vote

Whether or not you agree with Russell Brand's advice to people not to vote - and I regard it as a really bad idea - one good thing to be said for it is that it has got people talking.

One of Brand's fellow comedians re-joined the Labour party in response - not sure whether the Staggers blog in the New Statesman was being ironic when they joked in response to this that Miliband appears to have the comedian's vote locked up.

Jeremy Paxman had a bit of a ding-dong with Brand over this, but later admitted that he hadn't voted himself in 2010, for which he in turn was roundly chastised by Nick Clegg.

To be fair to Paxman, he wasn't seeking to defend his own failure to vote and was actually quite self critical about it.

"I can understand that: the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster looks a remote and self-important echo chamber. But it is all we have," he said.

On his decision not to vote, he added: "By the time the polls had closed and it was too late to take part, I was feeling really uncomfortable: the person who chooses not to vote - cannot even be bothered to write 'none of the above' on a ballot paper - disqualifies himself from passing any comment at all."

On the radio this evening someone who appears to be more familiar with the Spanish system of voting than the Brtish one was extolling the "blank vote" which enables Spanish voters to cast a "none of the above" vote by submitting a blank paper. The number of such votes is counted and recorded by the returning officer, which the chap was praising in contrast to the British system.

He appeared not to be aware that the number of spoiled papers - of all types, including blank ones and those on which the voter has written something - is counted, announced and recorded in this country too.

Students at a number of British Universities employ the system that when an "abstain" or "Re-open nominations" box gets more support than any of the candidates the election is declared void, nobody is elected, and you have another vote in which new candidates can stand. It happened a couple of times while I was doing a Master's degree at UEA.

And there is a case for that system - on balance, given the opportunity, I would support introducing it in British public elections. If we had had it during the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections those who wanted not to elect anyone would have had a very clear opportunity to vote accordingly, and there would be no argument about whether those who stayed at home were opposed to the system or just could not be bothered. My personal opinion is that it would not have changed the result of most of the elections but what is beyond question is that anyone who did get elected would have had more legitimacy.

But while we have the existing system there is an important point about how you can make your views known far more effectively by turning up than by staying at home.

When votes are being counted, all ballot papers which have anything other than the right number of crosses in the right part of the ballot paper are put into a separate pile. Before a decision is made on whether to count those papers, each and every one of them has to be shown to the candidate, agent or a counting agent from every political party or candidate attending the count. If the voter's intention is obvious and providing the voter has not identified himself or herself, the vote will still be counted so it is actually possible to do this without spoiling your paper. But the key point I am making is that if you write something on the ballot paper, the candidates or someone close to them will see what you have written.

So if you don't want to vote for any of the candidates because you think say, that all of them are too right-wing or too left wing, because all of them support nuclear power or none of them do, because they're all too supportive of the European Union or too keen on leaving, or none of them are doing enough about a particular issue in your patch, or for any other reason which can be summarised in a few words, you can let them know. If you turn up at the polling station and write that reason on your ballot paper, all candidates who bother to turn up at the count - and the vast majority of us do - will find out why we lost your vote.

And to anyone who can't be bothered to do that I would encourage them to ask themself this question - is the problem with the system, or with you?

A595 closed due to accident near Egremont earlier today

A serious accident on the A595 near Thornhill, South of Egremont, has resulted in the road being closed for a large part of today (7th November 2013) and caused serious disruption

As at 5.40 pm this evening the A595 northbound is still reported as being heavily congested in some areas North of the A5086 junction in Egremont according to the BBC website.

Postscript: by mid-evening the road was reported as back to normal.

Quote of the day 7th November 2013

“There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.”
 
( Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Also often attributed to Milton Friedman)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The EU wasted £6 billion of taxpayer's money last year - official.

The European Court of Auditors has reported that the EU wasted nearly £6 billion last year, of which British taxpayers' proportionate share is £832 million.

They found that 4.8 per cent of the EU’s £117 billion budget in 2012 - £5.7 billion - was spent in “error”, on projects that were either tainted by fraud or ineligible for grants under Brussels’ rules.

This so-called ‘error rate’ in Brussels spending was up from 3.9 per cent the previous year, according to the auditors. It means that for the 19th year in a row, the European Court of Auditors have refused to give the EU’s accounts a clean bill of health.

EU bureaucrats were accused of “shambolic” mismanagement yesterday in the wake of the report, with Conservative MEPs suggesting it appeared as though Brussels thought it had a licence to 'Carry on Squandering’.

The EU spending watchdog found that supervision and control of Brussels spending was only

“partially effective in ensuring the legality and reularity of payments.

"All policy groups covering operational expenditure are materially affected by error,”

the auditors stated, as you can read here.

They concluded that:

“For these reasons it is the ECA’s opinion that payments underlying the accounts are materially affected by error.”

A British Government spokesman yesterday described the findings as “unacceptable and undermining the credibility of EU spending”.

“When countries across Europe are taking difficult decisions to tackle their deficits, Europe’s taxpayers need to have confidence that every effort is being made to improve the way EU spending is managed,” she said.

Included among the “errors” discovered by the auditors was a Polish landowner paid almost £80,000 a year to maintain 350 acres of grassland to help preserve uncut grassland for the protection of endangered bird species. In fact, the farmer had only met the agreed funding requirements for 14 per cent of the land and the payments.

The EU’s regional policy spending had an error rate of 6.8 per cent, or £2.4 billion, of the £34 billion spent in 2012. Most ineligible funding followed a failure to follow EU laws on public procurement and issuing of contracts.

The error rate in the “external relations, aid and enlargement” spending overseen by Baroness Ashton, the British Labour politician who acts as the the EU's foreign affairs commissioner, totalled 3.3 per cent, or £169 million of £5 billion in spending.

In one case, the European Commission paid £14 million for a programme to support female teachers in rural Bangladesh but over half the money was given with “no documentation”.

Philip Bradbourn MEP, the Conservative spokesman on EU budgetary control, described the latest audit as “another year, another story of lax monitoring and shambolic control”.

“If you found misappropriation and misspending on this scale in a commercial business — or in a properly-accountable public administration — there would be sackings all round. In Brussels, it’s ’Carry on Squandering’,” he said.

Vitor Caldeira, the president of the EU auditors, warned that poor financial planning by the European Commission “will put added pressure on EU cash flows and may increase the risk of error over the next few years”.

“Europe’s citizens have a right to know what their money is being spent on and whether it is being used properly,” he said.

Quite!

More information can be found on the Daily Telegraph website  here.