Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Quote of the day 30th December 2013

Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”
 
( Winston Churchill )

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Quote of the day 28th December 2013

“Very rarely do people make big compromises with their integrity. Almost every compromise is a small one that is easily justified. The downhill slide is usually a result of many little compromises.”
 
( Dennis Prager, Think a Second Time )

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Quote of the Day Boxing Day 2013

“No one is so foolish as to prefer war to peace, in which, instead of sons burying their fathers, fathers bury their sons.”
 
( Herodotus, The Histories )

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

H.M. the Queen's Christmas Broadcast 2013

Her Majesty's message was particularly powerful this year. I have a feeling that this message, and some of the images in it, may still be appearing in historical works, however mankind then records them, long after everyone now alive has passed on.


Quote of the day Christmas Day 2013

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

(Isaiah, Chapter nine, verse six, King James Bible)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Very Merry Christmas to everyone reading this blog

I wish everyone who reads this a very happy Christmas.

To anyone reading who is a christian or who values the Christian tradition, may the love exemplified by the Virgin Mary and the hope represented by the Baby Jesus be with you this Christmas.

To anyone who has a different faith, may your God or gods be with you at this time.

To anyone who does not follow a religious faith, may you find rest and happiness during this festive season.

To everyone who reads these words, may Peace on Earth and goodwill to all human beings be with you this Christmas season.

A stormy Christmas

I certainly hope that the Met Office people are as accurate with their prediction that the weather will settle down for Christmas Day and Boxing Day as they were with the prediction that it would be vile yesterday and today.

Judging by the amount of water which has built up in some of the boxes and flower pots in our garden since I last tried to tidy it at the weekend, there have been three or four inches of rain in West Cumbria in the last three days.

Looking out of my office window this morning, there was a brief but sharp hailstorm at around 11 am this morning comprising spectacularly large hailstones.

And for much of the morning it was so windy that there were wave systems on the puddles of rainwater in the car park. It wouldn't had to blow much harder before there were White Horses!

Be careful if you are out and about.

Quote of the day Christmas eve 2013

“Character is how you treat people who can't do anything for you in return.
Integrity is how you act when you think nobody is looking.”


( Thea Nishimori )

Monday, December 23, 2013

Former Labour Europe minister given six months for expenses fiddle

I take no pleasure in the conviction of former Labour MP and Europe Minister Denis MacShane who has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to fiddling his expenses by submitting 19 fake receipts amounting to £12,900.

He is the fifth MP to be sent to prison for expenses fraud. All five were Labour, though alas none of the parties have been entirely free from misbehaviour.

This is totally unacceptable whoever does it and whichever political viewpoint they represent.

I still believe that most people involved in politics are honest but it is absolutely essential that we have government by law and not by individuals.

Those who make the law must never see themselves as above the law. That is why the legal system must come down on those politicians who fiddle their expenses with exactly the same force which would be applied to anyone else.

The judge accepted MacShane's contention that the faudulent claims covered genuine expenditure which he could have claimed for legitimately, but pointed out that  "but you chose instead to recoup by dishonest false accounting".

He said that however "chaotic" MacShane's record-keeping and general paperwork, "there was deliberate, oft repeated and prolonged dishonesty over a period of years".

The judge told the former Rotherham MP "you have no one to blame but yourself" after showing "a flagrant breach of trust" in "our priceless democratic system"

In my opinion MacShane also grossly aggravated his offence by abusing parliamentary privilege - a privilege which is genuinely needed to protect MPs when doing their real job and to protect people who write to them - when he used that privilege to prevent the detectives who were investigating his case from being able to see correspondence which proved him guilty of fraud.

It is a sad chapter in the history of British democracy. Let us hope that the example which has been made of five MPs and two peers encourages other politicians of all parties to act wtih the integrity which the public should always have been entitled to expect.

Quote of the day 23rd December 2013

“Govern thy life and thy thoughts as if the whole world were to see the one, and read the other.”

( Thomas Fuller )

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Quote of the day 22nd December 2013 from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

“Human rights' are a fine thing, but how can we make ourselves sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others?

"A society with unlimited rights is incapable of standing to adversity. If we do not wish to be ruled by a coercive authority, then each of us must rein himself in ...

"A stable society is achieved not by balancing opposing forces but by conscious self-limitation: by the principle that we are always duty-bound to defer to the sense of moral justice.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals )

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jobs boost for Cumbria from the new plastic banknotes

The company chosen to make the material for new plastic banknotes is set to create up to 80 new jobs in Cumbria.

Wigton-based Innovia said it plans to build a £20m factory to produce material for the new £5 and £10 notes. The Bank of England says polymer notes will be in circulation in 2016 - replacing cotton paper notes, which have been used for more than 100 years.

Innovia makes plastic packaging and already employs about 800 people in Wigton.

A £5 note featuring Sir Winston Churchill is due to be the first plastic banknote. They will be made from a thin, transparent and flexible film made of polypropylene.

This will be coated with an ink layer enabling it to carry the printed design features of a banknote. It also allows the inclusion of windows or clear portions in the design, used to enhance protection against counterfeits.

The Bank of England has said that the notes will last for two-and-a-half times longer than paper banknotes. They would survive a spin in a washing machine but would still melt under extreme heat such as an iron.

More than 20 other countries around the world have already adopted polymer banknotes.

David Beeby, chief executive officer of Innovia said the firm was very proud to have been selected as the preferred supplier and said the decision "recognised Innovia's expertise in this field."

Robbo on MP's pay

Robbo (which is the friendly nickname we used to give Nick Robinson, now the BBC's political correspondent, when he was chairman of the Young Conservatives) has an amusing piece here on MPs pay.

He asks

"Q1 - Should MPs set their own pay?"

"Q2 - Should MPs get an 11% pay rise?"

"Q3 - Would you like MPs to over-rule the independent body which is planning to award them that pay rise?  (Before you answer please consider your answer to Q1.)"

British economy continues to recover

The UK economy is growing faster than previously estimated, according to the latest official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said gross domestic product was up 0.8% in the July-to-September period compared with the previous quarter, confirming its previous estimate.

But it revised its growth figures for earlier quarters.

This means the estimated annual growth rate has now risen from 1.5% to 1.9%, a revision that has surprised economists.

A Treasury spokesman said: "Today's data show that the recovery has been stronger than previously thought and that the government's long-term economic plan is working.

"But risks remain and the job is not done, so the government will go on taking the difficult decisions needed to deliver a responsible recovery for all."

Good news on jobs and growth has to be set against the fact that the recovery has not yet fed through into household incomes, an increasing current account defecit, and the fact that public finances, although the defecit is substantially smaller than under the previous government, are still nowhere near good enough.

ONS data showed that Britain's current account deficit - the difference between the money received from exports and imports - widened sharply in the third quarter to £20.7bn, up from £6.2bn in the second quarter.

And public finances weakened in November, with public sector net borrowing - excluding the effect of bank bailouts - rising to £16.5bn, up from £15.6bn compared with the same month last year.

Despite the strengthening economy, underlying public sector net debt rose to a new monthly record of 76.6% of gross domestic product.

Most recent data has confirmed a strong pick-up in economic activity, which is feeding through to employment levels and government receipts.

On Wednesday, figures showed that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.4%, its lowest level since 2009.

The number of people out of work fell by 99,000 to 2.39 million in the three months to October, the ONS said, while the number of people in work rose to a record 30.09 million.

Central government receipts from VAT and income tax were up 4.6% to £41.2bn, while the stamp duty take rose 23%, largely thanks to the revival of the property market.

Inflation is running at 2.1%, close to the centre of the target band, 2%

Quote of the day 21st December 2013

“The final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.”
 
(
Anne Frank)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dealing with Cyber Crime

Anyone who uses the internet and email cannot possibly be unaware of the ridiculous number of fraudulent emails being sent out by crooks who are trying to part us from our cash.
 
In the past year the number of attempts to defraud BT customers alone, by sending emails purporting falsely to come from BT, has increased by nearly a factor of three, with more than 7,500 unique BT phishing websites recorded, compared with 2,737 the previous year.

Consumers and businesses in the UK lost an estimated £27bn in 2012 through cybercrime. More than £600m of this was through so called "phishing" attacks.
 

Phishing is the term used to describe a scam where criminals use forged emails or web pages in a bid to persuade people to disclose personal information, bank details, addresses, passwords and usernames, which can then be used to commit fraud or steal money.

Sometimes it is easy to tell if an email is fraudulent - for example, if there are spelling mistakes in an email which is supposed to have come from a multinational company, or if the language or branding is not quite right, if you're not actually a customer of the company which has emailed you as if they were. And although companies do sometimes make stupid mistakes with the details of their customers, if a company of which you have been a customer for years approaches you and gets your details wrong, you are fully entitled to assume it's not actually them, but a fraudster.

However, some of the fraudsters are very clever- they steal the actual logos and styles, use the names of real officials of the company they are pretending to be contacting you from - and sometimes give you real information.
 
This year when BT's ISP moved millions of email customers from one email platform to another, the fraudsters sent out millions of emails which purported to include information about this real change to make it look like a genuine communication to customers, which they integrated with the phishing "hook" designed to get people to log onto their fraudulent websites.
 
One test for a fraudulent email which often works is to look at the email address that a message comes from. Quite frequently an email will appear to come from an public company and will be set to display as something like "Barclays Customer Service" or "BT Broadband" but when you look at the details of the sender's address you will find it is actually from a private account like "barneybish@talktalk.net," Rhina427@aol.com" or "werner36@earthlink.net"

The rules I always use to test the validity of an email if there is nothing obviously wrong with it involve asking myself

1) Should the company which this message purports to come from need to ask me these questions?
2) Could what I'm being asked for be useful to a fraudster?

And if in doubt, always check!

No company who have sent you a genuine email should mind if you phone them to check if it really is authentic.

Most companies have an email address to which you can report suspected frand, such as abuse@bt.com and if you notify them of a suspect email through one of these numbers, they will take action against the fraudsters.

Quote of the day 20th December 2013

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
( Marcus Aurelius, Meditations )

Thursday, December 19, 2013

More storms on the way

If you live in Cumbria or Lancashire, if probably will not be news to you that many areas of both counties have had some dire weather over the past 72 hours. Inkerman Terrace near my home in Whitehaven is one of a number of roads im Cumbria which were closed the other night and thousands of people lost power to their homes for a while.

  • More heavy rain and gale force winds are forecast to sweep across Cumbria later this week.

  • The Met Office is warning the new weather front will cross the county from Friday afternoon into the early hours of Saturday morning. They says it could lead to some localised flooding and people should prepare for potential disruption.

    So be prepared for difficult conditions, especially if you have to travel.

    UPDATE 8.30 PM - BLACK ICE ALERT

    Police have been called to at least five road traffic accidents in Cumbria this evening. Watch out particularly for black ice if you have to drive anywhere.

    Visit the Traffic Link map at http://www.cumbria.police.uk/traffic-link-map to keep up to date with the latest situation on the roads.

    Major victory on EU Fisheries reform

    The battle to reform one of the most iniquitous failings of the European Union made enormous progress last week.

    It is not often that your hear a fishermen's representative and a marine environmentalist agreeing, let along on praising something the authorities have done, but that's what was broadcast on BBC Radio Four on Saturday morning after the European parliament gave final approval for major reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy which include replacing a policy which effectively forced fishermen to throw away millions of tons of fish every year with a ban on such discards.

    The proportion of fish thrown back under the previous Common Fisheries policy varied between fisheries but it was everywhere large enough to count as a major environmental and economic disaster - the most recent estimate I have seen is that 23% of fish caught in EU fisheries are currently thrown back into the sea. Most of the round fish discarded will be dead or dying when they are returned to the sea.

    The new policy which has been working its' way through the EU institutions is not yet perfect but there is every hope that it will be enormously better for fishermen, consumers, and the environment than the system it replaced.

    There is a good report on this at

    http://cfp-reformwatch.eu/2013/12/final-approval-for-the-common-fisheries-policy-reform/

    Quote of the Day 19th December 2013

    “By today’s standards King George III was a very mild tyrant indeed. He taxed his American colonists at a rate of only pennies per annum. His actual impact on their personal lives was trivial. He had arbitrary power over them in law and in principle but in fact it was seldom exercised. If you compare his rule with that of today’s U.S. Government you have to wonder why we celebrate our independence.”
     
    ( Joseph Sobran )

    Wednesday, December 18, 2013

    Quote of the day 18th December 2013

    “There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”
     
    (
    Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress )

    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

    Quote of the Day 17th December 2013


    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

    George Santayana (from "Life of Reason I")

    This saying is often misquoted (most often along the lines of "Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.) Similar quotations are often ascribed to Edmund Burke (as “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.”) and Winston Churchill.

    Churchill is often supposed to have quoted Santaya, through the nearest I could find was this statment:

    “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

    Other reflections on the frequent misuse of this quote include

    “Those unable to catalog the past are doomed to repeat it.”
     
    ( Lemony Snicket, The End - the last of the "Series of unfortunate events" books)

    and

    "Those who misquote George Santayana are condemned to paraphrase him."

    (on an internet forum called Now Public by a poster using the name "Denseatoms.")

    Monday, December 16, 2013

    Which party would you join if we scrapped the old ones?

    Tim Montgomery has been conducting an interesting thought experiment, asking people which party they would join if we scrapped the existing political parties and set up new ones.

    Tim is suggesting that we might have four new parties instead:

    1) The "Solidarity party", unashamedly left wing and pro public sector
    2) The "Liberals," who would be both socially and economically liberal,
    3) The "Nationals," economically liberal, small-government, moderately eurosceptic
    4) The "Freedom party" of the patriotic right

    You can see what they might look like at this" page on the twitpic site.

    It gives an idea of how different our politics might look, and what a range of views are covered by the present government, that there would almost certainly be members of the present cabinet in all four parties - Vince Cable and some Lib/Dems in the "Solidarity" party, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander in the "Liberals" quite possibly with some Conservatives such as George Osborne, David Cameron and a plurality of the Conservative leadership probably in the "Nationals" but a significant minority of Conservatives joining Norman Tebbit and Nigel Farage in the "Patriotic Party"

    It's not going to happen, but if it did, and assuming all these parties were set up in a way which tackled any issues you may have with sleaze, party democracy, etc, which would you join?

    Quote of the day 16th Dec 2013

    "Red Tape, bureaucracy, regulations, inspectorates, commissions, quangoes, 'Czars, 'Units' and 'targets' came to help and protect us, but now we need protection from them.

    Armies of interferers don't contribute to human happiness."

    (Michael Howard.)

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

    Quote of the day 15th December 2013 - Remembering Nelson Mandela

    "Mr. Mandela was more than one of the greatest pillars of our time."
     
    "He was one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example. He sacrificed so much ... for freedom and equality, for democracy and justice."

    ( U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon )

    "I would not have the life I have today if it was not for him. I'm here to show my gratitude to Madiba. He was jailed so we could have our freedom."

    (Matlhogonolo Mothoagae, 24)

    Saturday, December 14, 2013

    Watch out for some really filthy weather if you are travelling this evening

    I spent this morning campaigning in Rossendale valley with the excellent MP for that constituency, Jake Berry. We had a good session this morning, but the last part of my journey home, on the A66 and A595 from Penrith to Whitehaven, was marked by some of the most difficult and dangerous driving conditions I have experienced other than when the temperature is near to or below freezing.

    There was an unhealthy combination of very high winds and heavy rain leading to a lot of water on the road and windows. In a couple of places there were also fallen trees and branches impinging onto the road.

    If you have to travel this evening anywhere in Cumbria, take great care.

    Quote of the day 14th December 2014: Invictus

    This week's Economist front cover has a picture of the late Nelson Mandela, who is to be buried tomorrow, and the last four lines of William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus."


    "It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul."
          

    Quote of the day 22nd December 2013

    “Human rights are a fine thing, but how can we make ourselves sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others?

    "A society with unlimited rights is incapable of standing to adversity. If we do not wish to be ruled by a coercive authority, then each of us must rein himself in ...

    "A stable society is achieved not by balancing opposing forces but by conscious self-limitation: by the principle that we are always duty-bound to defer to the sense of moral justice.”
     
    ( Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals )

    Friday, December 13, 2013

    MPs salaries - making sense of a bad position

    Politicians are now in an impossible situation with respect to MP's pay.

    Because of the way a large number of MPs flagrantly abused the previous very lax expenses system, politicians have completely lost the trust of the public with respect to their pay. It is very difficult to see how they could get it back, but it obviously has to start with restraint similar to that which MPs are imposing on the rest of the public sector.

    In the recent past, MPs took flak because of the salaries, benefits and expenses regime they voted through for themselves. So it was agreed that setting their pay should be handed over to an independent body. But now that has been done, they are still getting flak because of the recommendations which the Independent Adjudicator has made for MP's pay from 2015.

    Part of the problem is with a very misleading headline figure. The Independent Adjudicator has recommended that the overall level of MP's remuneration is about right but that there should be a reduction in their pensions and expenses balanced out by an equivalent rise in salary. The overall package would be cost neutral.

    The problem is that we can absolutely guarantee that most people are not going to hear those words "cost neutral" because journalists, many of whom are paid much more than MPs, are going to quote the headline change in salaries, which is an increase of 11%.

    Simon Jenkins makes a robust and very brave case (That's brave in the "Yes Prime Minister" sense) for the adjudicator's recommendations in the Guardian here but let us be honest - for MPs to take what will be presented and perceived as an 11% raise while they are restricting the public sector to 1%, and millions of people in the private sector are not even getting that, would further increase the wedge between most people in Britain and what we might call the "political class."

    That is higly undesirable and the leaders of the three main political parties are right to say it is unacceptable.

    The rule I would normally follow to set the salaries of a group of employees is to pay what you need to fill the posts, but in the case of MPs this really would not work, because there there are plenty of people with a private income or sponsored by a trade union or party who would do the job of MP for no salary at all.

    Unfortunately that would put our country's politics even more under the control of the people doing the sponsoring - the donors to political parties - than they are at the moment.

    Perhaps the solution is to recognise that in the medium term there should be a rebalancing along the lines put forward by the adjudicator but that this cannot be implemented until it is compatible with the policy for public sector pay imposed by MPs on everyone else.

    Quotes of the day Friday 13th December 2013

    "It is bad luck to fall out of a 13th storey window on Friday"

    (Anon)

    "Today is Friday the 13th. Try not to be a teenage girl in her underwear at night at a deserted summer camp today."

    (Anon)

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

    Housing - getting the market moving

    The National Housing Federation, which represents Housebuilders, has expressed concern about the rate at which new homes are being built.
     
    This is an issue: Britain does need more homes.
     
    The housing market which the present coalition government inherited from Labour in 2010 had house building at its lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s.
     
    Three years later rents are falling in real terms, 360,000 homes have been built, and house building is growing at its fastest rates for 10 years. And the government's strategy to reduce the deficit has kept interest rates, and therefore mortgage rates, lower than they would otherwise have been. A rise of 1 per cent in interest rates would see typical mortgage bills rise by £1,000 a year, and adding that blow to the burdens which many hardworking families are facing at that time would not be a good idea. Yet another reason Britain cannot afford to let Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, whose policy of borrwing more would drive up market interest rates and therefore mortgages, anywhere near Downing Street.
     
    We want to see an economy and housing market built on stability that works for all hardworking people and which encourages higher standards and investment.

    Quote of the day 12th December 2013

    “I realize that what happened in Bosnia could happen anywhere in the world, particularly in places that are diverse and have a history of conflict. It only takes bad leadership for a country to go up in flames, for people of different ethnicity, color, or religion to kill each other as if they had nothing in common whatsoever.

    Having a democratic constitution, laws that secure human rights, police that maintain order, a judicial system, and freedom of speech don't ultimately guarantee long lasting peace. If greedy or bloodthirsty leaders come to power, it can all go down. It happened to us. It can happen to you.”


    Savo Heleta, Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia )

    Wednesday, December 11, 2013

    Tackling Dementia

    The Prime Minister is due to announce today hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in life sciences as a special G8 summit in London agrees a landmark international deal on tackling dementia. He is also announcing that the UK has now attracted £2 billion of investment in life sciences since the launch of the Government’s strategy two years ago.
     
     
    Building a more competitive, resilient economy with new industries and the jobs of the future is a key part of our long-term plan for Britain. Over the past two years we’ve seen £2 billion invested in this country’s life sciences industry. This will mean more jobs and growth, but also more research and greater progress on beating dementia. It’s a huge sign of confidence, but there is still more to do.

     
    That’s why the Government will double its funding into dementia research by 2025, continue to attract more private sector investment – GlaxoSmithKline is set to announce £200 million of investments including creating a centre of excellence in pharma manufacturing technology – and is helping set up the world’s largest research collaboration into dementia by allowing teams across the UK to share and benefit from each other’s data.

     
    It’s only by working globally, with nations, business and scientists from all over the world – working together as we did with cancer, and with HIV and AIDS – that we can beat dementia.

    Quote of the day 11th December 2013

    “When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, it becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues.”
     
    ( Thomas L. Friedman )

    Tuesday, December 10, 2013

    Keeping sport free of match-fixing.

    The Government has today called together the five major sporting bodies and the Gambling Commission to discuss match fixing.

    Match fixing undermines the integrity of sport across the world and the government is determined to do all it can to help stamp it out.

    Today, the Culture Secretary Maria Miller met leaders from football, cricket, horse racing, rugby league and rugby union. The government has stated that it will continue to work hard alongside the police, betting operators, the Gambling Commission and the Financial Conduct Authority to deal with this unacceptable behaviour.

    Britain has one of the best systems in the world to tackle sporting corruption – but we cannot and must not be complacent.

    Quote of the Day 10th December 2013 from Nelson Mandela

    "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies."

    (Nelson Mandela)

    Monday, December 09, 2013

    Possibly the most painful joke of 2013 ...

    Just seen on twitter, retweeted by John Rentoul from Kevin Bland and possibly the worst joke of the year:

    "I run the agency which supplies Santa Claus with all his seasonal workers.

    I am the God of Elf Hire."

    You probably have to be of a certain vintage to understand this one: anyone who wasn't around in 1968 can follow this link to a Youtube clip of the relevant song opening.

    Gender segregation at Universities

    When I was at University, as Student Union Treasurer I had various dealings both with the University Women's Groups and with various Islamic societies.

    The latter sometimes seemed to celebrate being difficult to deal with - I remember one Christmas the University of Bristol Islamic Students Society completely spoilt what I had at first thought the rather nice gesture of sending Christmas cards to all the members of Union Council - until we realised that they had left out the two members of the council with Jewish names.

    Women's groups, by comparison, thought of themselves as victims and were always trying to overset any example of what they saw as the oppression of "all women" - and yes, they did mean ALL women, including the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I remember an attempt to remove the word "all" from a motion about the oppression of all women was voted down at NUS conference and the debate turned on the specific point of whether Margaret Thatcher was oppressed - they thought she was. But at the time feminists had an enormous moral ascendancy on campus and most student politicians were scared to death of crossing them.

    I am trying to recall if I heard of a single instance in the 1980's in which Islamic societies at either of the Universities I attended or any other major institution of learning ever dared to propose gender segregation in any lecture or event, or even to get permission to operate in that way at their own meetings. (To be recognised as being entitled to operate at most Universities and colleges, societies had to enshrine in their constitution that their meetings were open to everyone regardless of gender, race, class, etc. You were likely to run into trouble with most Student Unions even if you wanted to call the person who presided at your meetings Chairman rather than Chairperson.)

    It is hard to prove a negative but I do not recall the Islamic societies of the time trying any such thing. And part of the reason that I doubt if they did is that the reaction from Women's groups would have been so vocal that I would have heard of and remember it -  and their opposition would undoubtedly have been supported by most other students and by the college authorities.

    I knew things have changed a bit, but unless Yasmin Alabhai-Brown has got completely the wrong end of the stick in this article in yesterday's Independent on Sunday the pendulum has swung back further than I would have thought possible.

    If, and I repeat if, it is true that

    "Muslim women in jeans or with hair uncovered have been asked to leave lecture rooms by clothes vigilantes."

    then the people who made that request should be warned in no uncertain terms that if there is any repetition they are the ones who will be asked to leave the institutions of higher education concerned.

    It is pretty rare for me to find myself lining up with either Yasmin Alabhai-Brown or Polly Toynbee, let alone both at the same time, but I find it as intolerable that in the 21st century British Universities should be condoning telling people where they can sit on the basis of their gender as I find it if they told people where to sit based on skin colour or what school they attended.

    And that is what Universities UK's latest guidance on external speakers appear to do.

    As Polly Toynbee puts it in the Guardian,

    "Universities once barred women altogether. Now they strive to be emblems of enlightenment, temples to reason, equality, free speech and freedom of thought. But it's not easy to balance conflicting freedoms. Universities UK, their representative body, has just published 40 pages of guidelines on External Speakers in Higher Education Institutions, wriggling and writhing over competing freedoms for women versus not causing religious offence: it ends up with excruciating nonsense.

    "Some students may want a 'no platform' policy for speakers they find obnoxious – the BNP or members of unsavoury governments. Demonstrating opposition is a freedom, but banning or yelling down free expression within the law is a denial of freedom. However, Universities UK's guidelines give the sexist eccentricities of some religions priority over women's rights, by allowing religious speakers the right to demand women and men are segregated in the lecture hall.

    "Universities UK tells universities that 'concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system'. If 'imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully'.

    "Good grief. The compromise is that women can't be put at the back"

    Indeed.

    Quote of the day 9th December 2013

    “To view the opposition as dangerous is to misunderstand the basic concepts of democracy. To oppress the opposition is to assault the very foundation of democracy.”
     
    ( Aung San Suu Kyi, Letters from Burma )

    Sunday, December 08, 2013

    Youtube footage of storm hitting Whitehaven Harbour

    This footage was uploaded to Youtube by Sean Duffy and shows last week's Force 11 gale hitting the harbour walls at Whitehaven.

    Hydraulic action is one of the strongest forces on the planet, and this shows why: I don't think anyone who watches this will have difficulty appreciating how the waves did considerable damage to our harbour.



    Sean also put a comment on this blog with details of the petition for a referendum on an elected mayor for Copeland - you can find this at

    http://mywhitehaven.net

    Quote of the day 8th December 2013

    “My people are going to learn the principles of democracy the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men.”
     
    ( Mustafa Kemal Atatürk )

    Saturday, December 07, 2013

    Small Business Saturday continued

    Out with Allan Mossop, chairman of West Cumbria FSB, and Graham Roberts this morning promoting "Keep trade local" campaign and supporting local business as part of "Small Business Saturday.

    Comments policy

    I do not allow partisan comments on obituary posts on this blog. That policy was introduced well before Margaret Thatcher died, after someone posted a partisan comment on the obit post of a local government officer in Copeland which caused offence and upset to his grieving family.

    The ban affects criticism of the person who has died but I also consider it inappropriate to use someone's death to make an inaccurate attack on another person (especially if the person who has died was famous for promoting reconciliation.

    For that reason I have removed a debate which was developing on the Nelson Mandela obit thread which included the untrue suggestion currently being spread by badly-informed people on Twitter that David Cameron was one of the small group of headbangers in the late and unlamented FCS who who thought it would be funny to wind up left-wing students in the mid 1980's by wearing "Hang Nelson Mandela" badges.

    As a student at the time I had the misfortune to meet (and was strongly opposed to) the people concerned and I can personally confirm that David Cameron was not one of them. If you are not willing to take my word for it, this has been fact-checked by the New Statesman - not exactly friends of DC - and they refute it here. The people "responsible" - if you can use that word - for the anti-Mandela material were mostly at Warwick University, and none of the Conservative students from David Cameron's University, Oxford, would have touched it with the proverbial barge-pole.

    I was not amused or impressed by the anti-Mandela stickers and badges at the time, any more than I would be now. Like the vast majority of British people including most Conservatives I thought Mandela's conviction was a travesty of justice and supported the campaign for his release.

    The people who circulated the anti-Mandela stuff were so far out of the mainstream that they were among those who subsequently provoked Norman Tebbit into shutting down the Federation of Conservative Students for being too right wing.

    Yes, it sounds like a joke, but that's really what happened.

    All the main parties had problems with their student wings at the time - Labour had to suspend NOLS, the National Organisation of Labour Students, and don't get me started on ULS, the Union of Liberal Students ...

    Quote of the Day 7th December 2013

    “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
     
    ( Martin Luther King Jr. )

    Friday, December 06, 2013

    Small Business Saturday

    Tomorrow (Saturday 7th December) is Small Business Saturday when everyone in the UK is encouraged to support small businesses both on the day and beyond.  This is the first Small Business Saturday held in the UK and I shall be out and about with the Federation of Small Businesses visiting and supporting small businesses tomorrow.

    Nelson Mandela RIP

    Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95.  He was one of the greatest statesmen of our age. 

    He was an extraordinary man in so many ways, but the most extraordinary thing about him is how despite having suffered so much he seeed to have a complete absence of bitterness or anger, and was so effective at reaching out to those who had been his enemies in a spirit of reconciliation. There are many people who were once his opponents and critics who will genuinely mourn him today.

    That spirit of reconciliation undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives during South Africa's path away from apartheid, and by stepping down as President after one term, Mandela sent a signal to states which had thrown off one form of oppression they should aim to become a functioning and continuing democracy rather than replace it with another form of oppression through having, as the saying goes, "one man, one vote, once."

    I am sorry to have to add this paragraph. Please note that the rules of this blog do not allow partisan comments on obit posts, and I will not allow anything other than positive comments about Nelson Mandela. I also regard attempts to use Mandela's memory to make false allegations about anyone else as entirely inappropriate and any such posts will be removed.

    I don't want to end this post on that note. As David Cameron said of Mandela's passing,

    "One of the brightest lights of our world has gone out. Nelson Mandela was not just a hero of our time, but a hero of all time, the first president of a free South Africa, a man who suffered so much for freedom and justice."

    The flag above Downing Street is flying at half-mast as a mark of respect, the BBC said.

    Cameron said Britain shared with South Africa this moment of grief and recalled the strongest impression of meeting Mandelawas his "extraordinary compassion and generosity and forgiveness".

    May he rest in peace.

    Quote of the day 6th December 2013

    "Every week a clever undergraduate, every quarter a dull American don, discovers for the first time what some Shakespeare play really meant.

     . . . The revolution in thought and sentiment which has occurred in my own lifetime is so great that I belong, mentally, to Shakespeare’s world far more than to that of these recent interpreters.

    "I see--I feel it in my bones--I know beyond argument--that most of their interpretations are merely impossible; they involve a way of looking at things which was not known in 1914, much less in the Jacobean period. This daily confirms my suspicion of the same approach to Plato or the New Testament.

    "The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous.”
    ( C.S. Lewis )

    Thursday, December 05, 2013

    Thousands without power and Inkerman Terrace closed as storms hit Cumbria and UK

    Foul weather throughout the UK has had serious consequences in many parts of the country including Cumbria. Take great care if you have to travel today or tomorrow.

    Inkerman Terrace in Whitehaven (The B5094) has been closed off at one or both ends for much of today due to an unsafe building.

    There have been lane closures on the M6 and a number of roads in higher altitudes in Cumbria have experienced icy conditions requiring extreme care.

    Autumn statement: putting Britain on the right track

    Britain’s economic plan is working, but the job is not yet done – we need to keep taking the difficult decisions to secure the economy for the long-term. The biggest risk to Britain comes from those who would abandon the plan – and borrow and spend more. Our long-term plan will secure a responsible recovery for all.
    The Autumn Statement shows the plan is working:
    · Growth upgraded. GDP forecasts are revised up from 0.6% to 1.4% in 2013 and from 1.8% to 2.4% in 2014.
    · Employment up. Forecasts of employment growth have been revised up from staying flat to rising by 400,000 this year. Unemployment is predicted to fall to 7% in 2015 and 5.6% in 2018.
    · Cutting the deficit. The deficit was 11% in 2009/10. It is projected to fall to 6.8% this year – lower than the 7.5% forecast in March. It will fall to 5.6% in 2014/15 and 4.4% in 2015/16. By 2018-19 the OBR expects to run a surplus.
    · Debt falling faster. Debt this year will be 75.5% of GDP - £18 bn lower than forecast in March. It falls one year earlier in March 2016/17 than forecast in March.
    The Autumn Statement sets out the next steps in our long-term economic plan to help hardworking people:
    · Reducing the burden of business rates. This is help for the high street and will support businesses to create more jobs.
     
    Help for the high street: up to £1,000 allowance in 2014/15 for retail premises with a rateable value of up to £50,000 – including shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants.
    Capping the increase in bills to 2% in 2014-15 – businesses were expecting a 3.2 % rise.
    Extending the doubling of the Small Business Rates Relief to April 2015.
    A reoccupation relief for 18 months with a 50% discount for new occupants of retail premises empty for a year or more.
    · Freezing fuel duty until 2015. Fuel duty will be frozen for the remainder of the Parliament. It will be 20p per litre lower by the end of the Parliament compared to plans inherited from Labour. This saves the average motorist £11 every time they fill up their tank.
    Youth package:
    Scrapping employers’ National Insurance for under-21s. Up to earnings of £813 per week (equivalent to the higher tax rate).
    Giving young people the skills they need to succeed. Jobcentre Plus will help 16 and 17 year olds not in work find an apprenticeship or a traineeship. There will also be a pilot so anyone aged 18 to 21, who does not have basic maths or English, has to undertake training immediately or lose benefits.
    A university place for anyone with the right grades. We will abolish the arbitrary cap on student numbers.
     
          Other Measures:
    · Freezing rail fares. We are limiting the cap on average regulated rail fare increases to RPI for 2014.
    · Recognising marriage in the tax system. In future the allowance will increase along with the personal allowance.
    · £50 off energy bills. Households will save an average of £50 on their energy bills. It reduces the impact of government policies on energy bills, while maintaining support for the poorest families.
    · Free school meals. We’ll provide funding for free school lunches for all state-funded pupils in reception, years 1 & 2, and disadvantaged students in 6th form colleges from Sep 2014. We’ll provide capital funding to increase capacity in school kitchens.
    · Clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion. This will raise over £6.8 billion across the next five years.
    The Autumn Statement entrenches Britain’s commitment to sound public finances.
    · Capping total welfare spending. This will not include the Basic State Pension or the most cyclical of jobseekers’ benefits.
    · Running a surplus in the good years so we fix the roof while the sun is shining. MPs will vote on a new Charter for Budget Responsibility in December 2014. This will include plans to run a surplus in the good years, reduce the national debt, and look at a shorter and more binding fiscal mandate.
    · Setting the principle for the state pension age. The Pensions Bill, currently in Parliament, will put in place reviews of the pension age every five years. The Autumn Statement sets out the principle of those reviews - that people should spend up to a third of their adult life in retirement. It suggests an increase to 68 in the mid 2030s. Future taxpayers will save around £500 bn.
    · Controlling Whitehall spending. Contingency reserves will be reduced by £1 billion this year and departmental budgets by a similar amount in the next two years. Protections for the NHS, schools, security agencies and HMRC will apply. Local government will be exempt in return for freezing council tax.

    Even the BBC has noticed that Britain's economy is starting to recover.

    No room for complacency, but as the Chancellor prepares to deliver his autumn statement he can take some satisfaction from knowing that even the BBC has acknowledged that Britain is turning the corner.

    An article by the Chief economics correspondent of BBC News, Hugh Pym, which you can read here, acknowledges that Britain has experiened a "rapid improvement in the economic climate."

    As the article also points out,

    "The triple dip did not happen. The double dip was even revised away after the ONS calculated that output was flat in early 2012 rather than falling, as had first been thought.

    "As spring turned to summer, the UK economic climate brightened rapidly and independent analysts started revising up their growth forecasts for this year and next.

    "In March, the average UK growth forecast, measured by Consensus Economics, was 0.9% for this year and 1.6% for 2014. By November, these had been pushed up sharply to 1.4% and 2.3% respectively.
     
    "Bank of England governor Mark Carney was able to tell a media conference in November that the UK was growing faster than any other advanced economy."

    However, the chancellor is right to avoid triumphalism. I gather from the BBC article that

    "He will stress there is still a job to be done and that the task of ensuring a responsible recovery is not complete."

    And rightly so.

    Quotes of the day 5th December 2013

    “Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”
     
    ( Bertrand Russell )

    “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'
     
    ( Isaac Asimov )

    For the avoidance of doubt I am not repeating these quotes to suggest that either of these similar and rather foolish notions is a good thing to hold, or suggesting that everyone does hold them, I am agreeing with Russell and Asimov that too many people do.

    Wednesday, December 04, 2013

    When politics should stop at the water's edge

    There used to be a convention in both this country and the US of A that politicians didn't criticise their political opponents when those opponents were representing the country abroad, and particularly refrained from partisan attacks on efforts being made to improve the security or trade position of the country.

    The term often applied to this principle is "Politics stops at the water's edge" after the US Republican senator Arthur Vandenburg, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations committee. Asserting that we must stop “partisan politics at the water's edge," he cooperated with Truman's Democrat administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO.

    Sadly the Labour party lost sight of the principle that they should put the country's interests above their own partisan advantage a long time ago, as their attacks on David Cameron's trade mission to China demonstrate.

    David Cameron has been on a three-day visit to China with a more than a hundred representatives of British Businesses. The main purpose of the visit is as a showcase for British business and to agree specific trade contracts such as a £120m agreement to give UK healthcare firms access to the Chinese market.

    Discussing the agreements being reached during the trip, David Cameron said on Monday

    "This is a visit that has delivered almost £6bn worth of deals. It is a visit that comes on the back of an eighteen month period where we have seen more Chinese investment into Britain in the last 18 months than in the previous 30 years."

    Some of the discussions held this week may also help pave the way for a free trade deal between the EU and China, for which David Cameron has pledged strong support. Speaking after a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday, he said:

    "Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers. Britain wants to tear those trade barriers down."

    He added: "I've said to Premier Li that I will champion an EU-China trade deal with as much determination as I'm championing the EU-US trade deal."

    As Dan Hodges, a former Labour member and Trade Union official pointed out in the Telegraph here - more of his excellent article later - those Labour and press spokesmen who criticise David Cameron's visit make a number of points, with most of their criticisms falling into one of four mutually incompatible positions which Hodges parodies as follows:

    1) His trip is merely about making money for rich British businessman.
    2) His trip will not make enough money for rich British businessman.
    3) He should forget all about rich businessman, and instead spend his time berating his hosts for being beastly to the Dalai Lama.
    4) He should not be going anywhere near his hosts because they’re beastly to the Dalai Lama.

    Personally I think there is a time and place for expressing concern to the Chinese about their human rights record, and we have to accept that they have an equal right to criticise ours. David Cameron was right to meet the Dalai Lama. Simon Jenkins asked  “What would Cameron say if Beijing met Ed Miliband and issued stern injunctions against the bedroom tax?”

    This is my response and not David Cameron's, but I suspect he would be entirely relaxed about the Chinese meeting Miliband - it is part of our system that opposition leaders do often meet world leaders, and Cameron himself met a large number including Barak Obama while he was opposition leader. And if the Chinese were so foolish as to display their ignorance of Britain by attacking the so called "bedroom tax" - actually we have no tax on bedrooms in this country - I don't think this would generate much additional support for critics of the government's housing benefit policy.

    Simon Jenkins also suggests that politicians don't help businesses sell more abroad. I suspect there are some politicians of whom this is true. However as Hodges points out, if it is true as Jenkins complains in that business-friendly newspaper, the Guardian, that

    “No one has ever shown that politicians' trade visits add one penny to the balance of payments that a good exporter could not have added unaided,”

    then this "raises the question: why were so many good exporters so keen to be part of the Prime Minister’s delegation? Or is it just the crap exporters, two bit carpetbaggers like Jaguar, Airbus and BP – none of whom have never made a penny overseas – who go along for the ride?"

    Labour ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for trying to sabotage a trip which helped British businesses sign deals worth £6 billion.

    Let's give Dan Hodges the last word:

    "Five years after the worst economic crisis for a generation, Britain is fighting for her economic life. We are finally clawing our way towards recovery, but as many of those criticising the PM’s visit love to point out, it is a perilous one. Another economic shock could tip us over the cliff.

    "Leading a trade mission to one of the world’s economic powerhouses is precisely what the Prime Minister should be doing. Every competitive advantage – however minor – should be identified and exploited. It doesn’t matter whether David Cameron is taking his stepfather, his neighbour or his old aunt Matilda. We need to be scrapping for every contract, job and pound of investment we can lay our hands on.

    "The world does not owe us a living. If we really do want to do something about this cost of living crisis everyone is banging on about, then we actually need to earn more by selling more things to more people. And that does actually mean getting off our backsides and meeting them, and explaining what it is that makes our products special.

    "David Cameron isn’t on a junket. He’s doing his job, which involves trying to secure more business contacts, more orders and more inward investment. And if we’re going to compete in the Global Race it’s time we stopped trying to nobble our own Prime Minister before the gun goes."

    Prepare to batten down


    The Met Office has issued Amber “be prepared” warning for Cumbria, the north of England and west Scotland over the next 48 hours with possible wind gusts in excess of 80 mph expected for tomorrow.

    The high winds are likely to have an impact on transport, ferry services and lead to speed restrictions on some bridges.

    Icy conditions may also develop on some roads on Thursday night and Friday morning. This is expected to be a short-lived cold snap, with temperatures quickly recovering to near normal over the weekend.

    Steve Willington, Chief Forecaster at the Met Office said:

    “A rapidly deepening Atlantic depression is forecast to move east to the north of Scotland during Wednesday night and Thursday morning. This will bring westerly gales to northern and some central parts of the UK, which will veer northerly and temporarily bring much colder arctic air southwards across northern areas before easing into Friday.

    “The public should be prepared for significant disruption to travel, especially across the Central Belt and western Scotland during Thursday morning’s rush hour and Northern England during the day on Thursday.”

    Quote of the day 4th December 2013

    "Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
    ( Thomas Jefferson )

    Tuesday, December 03, 2013

    Of Boris, clever buffoons and stupid intellectuals ...

    Boris Johnson is part of a long English tradition of clever men who either try hard to avoid showing off their intelligence or actively pretend to be buffoons.

    Anyone who listened to or read the whole of his speech the other day should have realised that it was far more inclusive and less extreme than you might think if you just caught the quote about IQ.

    Which is just as well because the quote about IQ was in fact completely and utterly meaningless.

    The people who created IQ tried to set it up as a normal distribution with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15.

    On that basis BY DEFINITION about a sixth of the population have IQs below 85 and slightly over 2% have IQs above 130.

    In his speech to the centre of Policy Studies Boris Johnson said that "Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% …"

    and he then departed from the text of his speech to ask whether anyone in his City audience had a low IQ. To muted laughter he asked: "Over 16% anyone? Put up your hands." He then resumed his speech to continue about the 2% who have an IQ above 130.

    Unfortunately, and just going on the published text of the speech, it was logically equivalent to

    Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that approximately 16% of our species have an IQ score in the bottom sixth while about 2% have an IQ in the top fiftieth."

    Sorry Boris, much of the rest of your speech was brilliant but that point is equivalent to the boss who complained that 40% of the sick days taken by his employees were on Mondays or Fridays. It isn't relevant to anything at all except possibly an academic discussion on testing the spread of characteristics in human populations.

    And actually, although intelligence is important, effort and what you do with your intelligence are, if anything, even more important.

    In the comedy film "A Fish called Wanda" there is a character called Otto who is what at first sounds like an oxymoron, a stupid intellectual. This character is not very bright but he is fascinated by using his brain, reads very challenging books, has clearly remembered much of what he read in them, and even understood a small portion of it.

    Otto is a figure of fun to the viewer and some of the other characters in the film because, and only because, he does not realise that he isn't nearly as bright as the person he aspires to be.

    But this humour misses an important point.  A person who has been gifted with mediocre or poor intellectual talents but is fascinated by intelligence and by using and improving it, and thereby makes the very best of the intelligence he has, will almost certainly achieve a far higher level of intelligence than someone who does not make that effort. He might even achieve more than someone whose native gifts were far greater but who does not use them. Otto may be a joke, but he is far smarter than he would be were he not fascinated by using what intellect he has.

    I'm not holding Otto up as a role model - he is a figure of fun from a comedy film and has certain other serious problems on the role model front (like being a hit-man, for instance.)

    But we should and must recognise that there are many people who can achieve a lot by working hard and by using what intellect they have to the very top of their potential. That potential is in everyone,  whatever their IQ score.

    Quote of the day 3rd December 2013

    "In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”

    (C.S. Lewis)

    Monday, December 02, 2013

    Energy companies to pass on reductions on tax to consumers.

    Energy will continue to be expensive and will still be a substantial part both of the cost of living for households and of the costs of running a small business.

    However, with the news that the government is to reconfigure green taxes so as to reduce their impact, and that Energy companies will pass this reduction on to consumers, energy bills will go up by less than would otherwise have been the case.

    Major energy firms have started to announce plans to pass on savings to customers following a new package of measures from the government.

    British Gas owner Centrica said it would cut bills by £53 in January, two months after a £123 price rise for the average dual-fuel customer. SSE also said it would pass on savings of around £50 and Npower plans a conditional price freeze until 2015.

    The moves come after the government said it would make changes to bills.

    Some subsidies for those in fuel poverty will be moved into general taxation and some green policy targets will be slowed down. The government said this would cut energy bills by a total of £50 a year for the average household.

    Homebuyers could instead be granted £1,000 to spend on energy-saving measures.

    The government's policy might not sound as good as Labour's promise of a price freeze but it has this crucial difference - it will actually work.

    The total insanity of Labour's policy on energy can be summed up in one quote from Labour energy spokeswoman Caroline Flint.

    The difference between the parties is that where the Coalition wants to help the energy consumer, Labour wants to hurt the energy supplier. Caroline Flint attacked the governments proposals on the grounds that they contain "Not a single measure that will cost the energy companies a single penny."

    I suspect that most people don't give two hoots whether a policy costs the energy companies, they want to know whether it will help them.

    Britain needs billions of pounds of investment in new generating capacity, preferably as part of a mix which also includes energy saving, to replace the power plants which are reaching the end of their useful life. The only way that investors will put money into building those plants is if they can expect to make a fair profit.

    In the long run taking some kind of sadistic pleasure in preventing energy companies from earning a profit will harm, not help, their customers. It is likely to lead to power cuts - which is what happened in California when that state adopted an energy policy not entirely unlike Ed Miliband's.

    To paraphrase the "Ten cannots,"

    You cannot help the energy customer by destroying the energy supplier.

    In contrast the government's policy to help customers is paid for and sustainable.

    Currently, the average dual fuel bill for households is £1,385.

    Some of the saving will come in the form of a reduction in the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO), which requires energy companies to provide insulation or other energy-saving measures to 400,000 homes a year. In future, these measures will be paid for by a tax-funded programme of £500m, and will be granted via an average £1,000 stamp duty rebate for home buyers who need to improve energy efficiency at their new property.

    The total £50 cut in the average household bill is made up of:
    • A reduction of about £30 to £35 as a result of changes to ECO
    • A rebate of £12 on electricity bills for customers in each of the next two years, owing to changes to the Warm Home Discount
    • A one-off £5 cut in electricity bills by cutting network costs, which represent close to a quarter of a typical bill
    Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?, said: "It is about time the government started getting the cost of energy under control and this will be a welcome step in the right direction for consumers who are struggling with the increased cost of living.

    "It is right to refocus the Energy Company Obligation so that it gives greater priority to those most in need of help, with lower-cost measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation. But in return for more time to get this right, the suppliers must now commit to greater transparency and to getting their costs down, fast."