Friday, January 31, 2014

Roadworks at Northbound M6 Junction 36 for a fortnight starting 21st February 2014

The North West Evening Mail reports here that the entrance and exit slip road on the Northbound M6 at Junction 36 will be affected by roadworks in late February and early March.

The exit sliproad will be affected from 8am on February 21st to 6am February 28th. The work will then move to the Northbound entry sliproad which will be closed from 8am on February 28th to 6am on March 3rd.

During the work from 8pm to 8am lanes one and two of the motorway will be closed and a 50mph speed limit put in place.

Let Britain decide - Labour and Lib/Dem peers kill the referendum bill and vote not to give you a say on EU membership

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Sellafield alert was caused by spike in naturally occurring Radon gas

Last night one of the perimeter air monitors at Sellafield, a site which has a very large number of radiation sensors, detected a spike in background radiation levels. This was well below the level of radiation which would have constituted a hazard, but the management took a responsible precautionary decision, in line with policies and approved procedures, to operate the site at reduced staffing levels today while they investigated.

The BBC made rather a meal of this routine precaution, but it has now been confirmed that the spike was due to naturally occurring radon gas.

A spokesman for Sellafield Ltd told "Cumbria Crack:

“Our in-air monitors are extremely sensitive and pick up on any abnormality. Overnight the monitoring system initially indicated elevated levels of activity. Following investigation and analysis, we can now confirm these levels to be naturally occurring background radon.

“The number one priority for us is, at all times, safe secure stewardship of the Sellafield site, which is the most complex and challenging nuclear site in Europe.

“As such we act in a safety conscious manner, and take cautious, conservative decisions, such as the one taken overnight to ask non-safety essential staff to stay at home this morning, rather than come to the site.

“All of our plants and storage facilities were quickly confirmed as operating normally, and we were always confident that the issue posed no risk to the workforce or public because the levels being detected, whilst above background radiation levels, were still low. This view was reinforced by the fact that none of our other installed monitors were picking up any kind of increased levels – however, we take such issues so seriously that we investigated fully to confirm that everything was okay."

More details at the Cumbria Crack website here.

Of Neanderthals and climate change

By conincidence a tweet about Prince Charles criticising "climate change deniers" popped into my twitter feed almost adjacent to this one from the Economist suggesting that Homo Sapiens Neanderthalis may live on in us, as modern humans may have some of their genes.

You can take that one two ways: one way would be to compare those who don't agree that there is a preponderance of evidence for man-made impacts on the environment to Neanderthals who refused to adapt.

However, I also remember a Spectator cartoon showing a Neanderthal family huddled round their fire in a snow-covered landscape, breaking into smiles as one of their number returns from a trek with the words

"Great news - we're melting the ****ing Ice Caps!"

Actually the whole issue of climate change is far more complex than some of the hardliners on both sides of the argument are willing to admit.

Yes, there is a preponderance of evidence that human action is affecting our climate, certainly enough to convince me that the "precautionary principle" should apply and we should seek to limit our impact on the environment until and unless we gain a much greater understanding of the consequences of those impacts.

Hence I don't have much time for the hardliners on one side who I presume Prince Charles was getting at and who blithely assert that man-made climate change is a "myth" or conspiracy.

However, some - not all - of the early models of climate change made predictions which have not been coming true. The hypothesis that mankind is affecting the environment to some degree has not been falsified by the evidence, rather the contrary, but the many of the models which produced some of the direst predictions of runaway global warming are not in line with the evidence.

Hence to label as "climate change deniers" those who apply constructive and critical evidence-based analysis to models of climate change - and who don't agree with every last policy of the hardline "deep greens" -  is not particularly helpful either.

We need to keep carbon emissions and other forms of pollution under control, preferably without bankrupting the economy. But let us also continue to monitor the ongoing evidence for what is happening to our climate and debate that evidence - preferably without kindergarten insults like "climate change deniers" or "the global warming industry."

Quote of the day 31st January 2014

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."

(Bertrand Russell)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Religious persecution

The great scientest, JBS Haldane (a man of atheistic leanings who respected other points of view) once said that

"I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

(Similar comments have also been attributed to Arthur Eddington)

Since we live in such a strange and complex Universe, it is a brave man, and probably a very foolish one, who imagines that he has such a good idea of how the universe works that he has the right to punish others for taking a different view, regardless of whether or not that view is based on a religion.

No scientific or theological position has completely clean hands where persecution of those who take a different view is concerned. Believers have persecuted atheists in theocratic countries, while atheists have persecuted believers in totalitarian societies such as the Soviet Union and China. Some adherents of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Bhuddism, and pretty well every other major religious view including atheism have at sometime or other been guilty of dreadful crimes against those who think differently.

This is all the more appalling because the most cursory study of what those religions actually stand for will usually throw up calls for compassion, mercy, forgiveness and other values completely incompatible with the persecution of sincerely believers in another faith or in none. I find it impossible to understand how anyone who had studied the bible could possibly have imagined that Jesus, who during his crucifiction prayed God to forgive those who were hammering nails through his hands and feet, who told his followers to love their enemies and forgive those who persecuted them, could possibly have approved of the Inquisition or the Crusades.

However, in this century the boot has been firmly on the other foot. Peter Popham wrote an excellent article yesterday in the Independent which you can read here called The war on Christianity in which he gave a very powerful but balanced and wide-ranging account of the worldwide problem of religious persecution, concluding that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world at the moment, particularly at the hands of extremist Islamic radicals. It is not a coincidence that Islam is itself the second most persecuted religion: as Popham correctly points out, one of the common consequences of persecution is a cycle of reprisals as each wave of atrocities provokes revenge aginst the community or followers of another religious view who the attacks are percieved as coming from. Needless to say it is nearly always the innocent, rather than the actual perpetrators of the previous outrage, who end up dead or maimed.

Much more needs to be done to defend the right of everyone to express and follow their own beliefs in every respect except when trampling on the rights of others. And yes, atheists and agnostics should be included on both sides of that equation. 

Quote of the day 30th January 2014

"Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be."

(HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, attributed)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Some grave humour ...

A couple of weeks ago contractors installing fibre broadband in Cambridgeshire on behalf of BT Openreach found a human skull. The police were called and investigated: they determined that the engineers had probably accidentally disturbed an old unmarked and unrecorded grave and that there was no reason to treat the discovery as indicative of wrongdoing.

I was amused by some of the comments  posted about this, for example ...

 
"Ah ... So this is what our fibre engineers mean by the 'head end'."

"Probably a BT Sport customer who had been watching the Ashes cricket series and was waiting for an England win ..."
 
 
"The things people will do to get a head ..."
 
"Where is Sherlock when you need him?"
 
"This is probably the remains of the caveman that installed the prehistoric copper pairs"

"A grave development"
 
"That's what you get with a skeleton crew on the job"
 
 
"I suspect Skulduggery going on ..."

Quote of the Day 29th January 2014

"There's only one kind of common sense but a thousand varieties of stupidity."

(EVAN ESAR, 20,000 Quips & Quotes)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thoughts on Labour's 50p tax proposal

"It's brilliant in playing to socialism and tribalism. It's not good economics."

(Digby Jones, former Trade minister in the last Labour government, who also described Ed Ball's policy as "If it creates wealth, kick it.")

Similarly ...

"Labour is planning to hike tax rates, not because is is sensible economics but because they think it is good politics."

(Boris Johnson)

"these higher taxes will have the effect of discouraging business investment in the UK."

This is a quote from a letter which the heads of 24 of Britain’s most successful companies published in The Telegraph this week - you can read the letter itself and an acticle about it here - warning that Ed Miliband’s policy would threaten the recovery and cost jobs. At least one of the signatories has in the past given or lent large sums of money to the Labour party, so any suggestion that the business leaders who have been criticising Labour's policies are all Tories does not stand up.



Quote of the day 28th January 2014

"The most uncommon form of intelligence is common sense."

(EVAN ESAR, 20,000 Quips & Quotes)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Soviet army.

It is remembered throughout the world as Holocaust Memorial day, when we keep alive memories of the millions of victims who were murdered in cold blood by the Nazi regime and their allies as part of their genocidal attempt to exterminate all humans who did not fit in with their plans to reshape humanity.

This moving account by an 87-year old Holocaust survivor of what it was like to be sent to a concentration camp is an example of the memories we must keep alive. The Nazi genocide was not the first or the last genocide in history but to make it as difficult as possible for such atrocities to recur we must start by ensuring that this evil is never forgotten.

There was another excellent piece on the subject yesterday by Ed Vaisey on Conservative Home here.


While the largest single group of victims were the Jews, it is also important to remember how wide the net of murder cast by the Nazis and their allies eventually became. There is some overlap and a great deal of approximation in these figures, (although there is no reasonable doubt that many millions of people in the catetories listed below were murdered by Hitler's regime and those of his allies.) The death toll among victims of fascist persecutions between 1935 and 1945 is believed to have included -

5.9 million Jewish people

2-3 million Russians, mostly prisoners of war

1.8 to 2 million ethnic Poles

A large number of Gypsies - estimates range from 220 thousand to 1.5 million

About a quarter of a million people with disabilities

Between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons

20,000 to 25,000 Slovenes

5,000 to 15,000 gays

2,500 to 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses.

Unknown numbers of Trade unionists and activists of any party other than the Nazis.

We must and will remember them.


Quotes for Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January 2014

“How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day.”
 
( Anne Frank )

“Her voice was preserved.

Out of the millions that were silenced, this voice was no louder than a child's whisper...

It has outlasted the shouts of the murders and has soared above the voices of time.”
( Ernst Shnabel on Anne Frank )

Sunday, January 26, 2014

UK economy expected to be confirmed as fastest growing in Europe

Figures due out in the next week are expected to show that Britain's economy remains the fastest-growing in Europe.

Economists expect the UK to have grown by 0.7pc in the three months to December, following growth of 0.8pc in the third quarter.

This represents an annual expansion of 2.8pc and equates to overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2013 of 1.9pc – the strongest annual growth since 2007 - up from just 0.3pc in 2012.
 
Britain emerged as the fastest growing economy in Western Europe last year and Tuesday’s data are expected to confirm the UK grew four times faster than Germany, which expanded by 0.4pc in 2013.

More details here.

Britain still has a long way to go: we need to get back into budget surplus and stay there for a long time to deal with the disastrous levels of debt which were Labour's toxic legacy, and not enough of the growth has yet fed into people's incomes, but at least the economy is headed in the right direction.

Quote of the day 26th January 2014

"It was not curiosity that killed the goose who laid the golden egg, but an insatiable greed that devoured common sense."

(E. A. BUCCHIANERI)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

Andrew Neil asks about UKIP policies

On the Daily Politics show Andrew Neil asked UKIP leader Nigel Farage whether the party still supports a number of previous UKIP policies from their website and past manifestos. The results were interesting ...



Vote likely on an elected Mayor for Copeland

Earlier this week a group of local residents who are not connected with any political party handed in a petition with a large number of signatures, calling for a referendum on a directely elected mayor for Copeland which would effectively replace the position of the present leader of Copeland Council.

It is therefore very likely that there will be such a referendum later this year, possibly at the same time as the European elections in May.

I welcome this opportunity for a real choice about the future of Copeland. There is objective evidence - particularly from Audit surveys commissioned by the last government, which was of the same political persuasion as the current majority on Copeland Council - that Copeland is one of the worst run councils in the country. A proper debate about alternative ways to try to make that council more effective and better representative of its' residents is long overdue.

Congratulations to the people who put together this petition.

Quote of the Day 24th January 2014

"Ed Miliband doesn't give a toss about business. He will say anything to get elected ... it's economic vandalism."

(FTSE 100 Company Chairman speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, quoted on the front page of yesterday's "The Times" newspaper.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Business Leaders say Miliband is holding back recovery

Anyone considering voting Labour - and also, anyone who uses expressions like "LibLabCon" or otherwise expresses the belief that there is no difference between the three main parties - should have a hard think about the concerns expressed by senior business leaders on the front page and page two of The Times newpaper today.

Chairmen, Chief executives and other senior managers in FTSE100 companies expressed in so many words their concern that Ed Miliband's policies might harm the recovery or even, quote, "Send the economy back into decline."

A senior executive in a major company who had been a Labour party member for two decades resigned from the party last week citing Miliband's "intellectual Marxism."

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, one major company chairman said that "Ed Miliband doesn't give a toss about business. He will say anything to get elected ... it's economic vandalism."

This reflects the general mood of the businessmen quoted in the acticle who "do not accept Mr Miliband's argument that that he is attempting to create greater competition in dysfunctional markets, and say that the moves are cheap populist hits likely to deter long-term investment from Britain and drive up costs for consumers."   

Regional Employment stats: good for the North West as a whole but mixed in Cumbria.

Drilling down into the regional employment figures released yesterday reveals that the positive picture for the UK as a whole was also good overall for the North West, but not for every part of the North West. There are still towns and districts where we need to do better.

Over the North West as a whole, unemployment fell by 2,800 in the most recent monthly figures, which I have seen described in the press as the largest fall anywhere in the UK.

In Cumbria the picture is mixed around the county, with unemployment falling in Carlisle, Eden and South Lakeland set against rises in Allerdale, Copeland and Barrow.

Ginny Murphy, economic intelligence officer for Cumbria County Council told "in-cumbria" that    "the number of young claimants and the number of long term claimants both continue to fall.”

While the rise in people in work over the country and the North West as a whole, and better opportunties foryoung people, are very good news, we need to push even harder to ensure that as the economy starts to move from rescue to recovery, every part of the UK can benefit from that recovery.

Time for a renaissance for Scottish Conservatives.

A very interesting piece in today's Scotsman here from John McTernan who despite not being one, argues that it is time for the Scottish Conservatives themselves to stop apologising for Margaret Thatcher and move on, including taking credit for Tory achievements in Scotland.

As he points out, without Margaret Thatcher, half of Scots would still live in council housing. And he adds that

"The grovelling stops now. Go back to the long Scottish tradition of conservatism, name it and reclaim it.
 
"In 2001 Jean-Francois Richard, then vice-president of the World Bank, met me when I was head of policy for the Scottish Government. He observed that the economies that would prosper in the 21st century were those with strengths in banking, biosciences, energy, education and the environment. Scotland was, and is, a world beater in those fields (though falling behind badly in education).
 
"It is a leader not by chance but by choice. The choices of a UK government that shaped and intervened and invested. Tom Johnston and Willie Ross rightly get their share of the praise. But who can claim the credit for Silicon Glen and a strong micro-electronics industry? Why do Tories not talk about James Stuart and John McLay? They were secretaries of state for Scotland during the long boom years – the height of Butskellism. A construction boom. A country rebuilt."

His article concludes

"There is a Tory story of Scotland. It’s not mine, but it is Scotland’s. In our past is our future."


Cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Grand Admiral Thrawn !

I gather that the original heroes of Star Wars IV to VI, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, and Harrison Ford as Han Solo, are likely to return in a new episode set several decades after "Return of the Jedi."

There have been a number of first rate books by top rank Science Fiction authors such as Roger MacBride Allen and Timothy Zahn set in the Star Wars Universe and I shall be watching to see if any of their ideas are used.

Since Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be on a pretty incredible roll this year, with appearances as Sauron in "The Hobbit" and Khan Noonien Singh in "Star Trek" as well as a third series of Sherlock, I wonder if he might be the first major actor to get roles in both "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" films.

Grand Admiral Thrawn, described as "arguably the greatest military genius the galaxy had ever known" is basically what a combination of "Sherlock" and Khan might look like in the Star Wars Universe, so it will be interesting to see if anyone thinks of casting Mr Cumberbatch in the role ...

Quote of the day 23rd Jan 2014 - The Paradoxical Commandments


"People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.”

( Kent M. Keith )

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Big fall in unemployment

The ONS has just released the latest unemployment figures and they are good news, both for Britain and for the people who have found work.

Unemployment down by 24,000 in the month - the 14th consecutive monthly fall - and by 157,000 in the last three months.

Employment is now at a record-breaking 30.15 million and is up 280,000 over the last quarter - the biggest quarterly rise on record and the largest number of people aged 16 or over in work on record. There are now 450,000 more people in work than a year ago.

ONS statistics available here.

NIcky Morgan does indeed have a point

Nicky Morgan, one of my old friends from YC days and now a treasury minister, made some excellent points the other day that Conservatives need to emphasise the positive parts of our message more - it's important to say positive things about the people and policies we like as well as to criticise those we don't. Being a Conservative is about preserving things, not about hating everybody, and it is important not to give the contrary impression

Paul Goodman wrote on Conservative Home here that "Nicky Morgan has a point" and I agree with him.

Ironically, Melissa Kite in the Guardian wrote a piece in response to Nicky Morgan called Five ways to cheer up tories and kill off the 'nasty party.' which I am pretty sure was supposed itself to be ironic but at least one or two of her five suggestions point the way to ideas worth taking up ...

Quote of the day 22nd January 2014

"I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it."


(Edith Sitwell)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

UK Economy much improved - IMF

The British economy is in far better shape than expected and the outlook has improved by more than any other major nation - according to the International Monetary Fund today.

The global watchdog is raising its' prediction of gross domestic product growth in the UK this year to an increase by 2.4 per cent - considerably better than the 1.8 per cent it forecast just three months ago.

The Washington-based Fund is also likely to nudge up its forecasts for the global economy but the upgrade for the UK is expected to be the biggest by far.

More details available here.

Quote of the day 21st January 2014

"The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its' limits."


(Attributed to Albert Einstein)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Quote of the day 20th January 2014

"The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Quote of the day 19th January 2014

But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep.


 
(William Shakespeare, line spoken by Isabella in "Measure for Measure")
 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lord MacApine RIP

Alastair McAlpine, a former Conservative Party Treasurer and Deputy Chairman, and an aide to Margaret Thatcher, has died at the age of 71, his family has announced.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his thoughts were with his family, adding he was a "dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher and the Tory party".

As well as a politician, the peer was an art collector, property developer, author and fundraiser.

He was also part of the McAlpine construction dynasty.

Former Conservative Party chairman, Lord Tebbit, told BBC News: "He was just a joy to be with because he always had something interesting to say. A man of enormously rich experiences of business, a very cultured man, he was very much interested in the arts, things of that kind, and also much travelled."

He spent much of his life in public service and in an era when many people talked of the value of sincerity and integrity he was one of those who practiced it.

Rest In Peace.

Quote of the day 18th January 2014

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

( Bryant McGill )

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hat tip to Conservative Home

Mark Wallace has an excellent piece on Conservative Home today here about how Ed Miliband's speech started by losing the taxpayer a billion pounds, and went downhill from there.

As Mark pointed out, Miliband's badly-thought-through proposals for bank regulation, which were promptly criticised by the governor of the Bank of England, had the effect of wiping billions of pounds off their share price - including a £940 million off the value of shares currently owned by the taxpayer following the bank bail-out.

As Mark says,

"Labour leaders normally wait until they’re in Government before they cost taxpayers a fortune – Ed Miliband has achieved the dubious distinction of doing so while still in Opposition."

(and that's after he has already put up the price of energy while in opposition.)

Other highlights from the article:

" ...the economy is once again eroding Labour’s narrative – having refused to apologise for their economic and fiscal mistakes, or for their false predictions of the disastrous impact of austerity, or for backing Hollande’s failed Plan B prescription in France, they are now simply sticking to a script regardless of how it gels with reality.

... their proposed solutions for the banks are painfully out of step with the real, digital revolution which will sweep away flawed and failed business models.

"The mysterious absence of Ed Balls not a man renowned as a wallflower, or for keeping himself to himself – in the very public relaunch of Labour’s economic policy suggests that perhaps some of those standing behind the Opposition leader know quite how badly things are going, and are losing their appetite to be associated with it."

As mentioned, you can read the full article at ConHome here.

Osborne agrees on the Minimum wage

I posted an article a few days ago about how a number of Conservatives - including myself - have come round to the view that a moderate above-inflation increase in the minimum wage - perhaps enough to restore it to the sort of real value it had in 2004 - might increase rather than decrease employment by increasing the differential between the rewards of work and being on benefits.

It has been pointed out - quite correctly - that if you raise the minimum wage too high, you will price people out of work. But I don't think the British economy is currently in the place where a moderate rise will have that effect.

Chancellor George Osborn has now said that he too agrees and has written giving this advice to the low pay commission, who actually set the minimum wage.

Do you know the sad thing about this?

Most of the press commentary has not been on whether Osborne is actually right - I happen to think he is dead on, but the press should be discussing the merits - but instead on whether this will annoy Labour and the Lib/Dems by stealing their clothes.

Isn't it ridiculous sometimes that the press can treat it as a political party attacking another when they agree with them and implement the policy that the "attacked" party has been arguing for?

And referenda ...

There's never an ideal time for a vote or referendum either - for instance it's always an election year in some part of the European Union so you're never going to get a time when there isn't some government which needs to sign up to a deal but will be under great pressure ...

Quote of the Day 17th January 2014

“Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them.”
 
( Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind )

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Quote of the day 16th January 2014

“Wealth is not without its advantages and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive. ”
 
John Kenneth Galbraith )

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quote of the day 15th January 2014

“Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad.”
 
( Friedrich A. von Hayek )

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

ECHR head says Britain leaving would be a disaster

Judge Dean Spielmann, the head of the European Court of Human Rights (which is not part of the European Union) has suggested that Britain leaving the Council of Europe or resiling from the European Convention on Human Rights would be a disaster,

"For everyone who is dedicated to the effective protection of human rights, not only in Europe but also in the rest of the world because we have a unique system of protecting human rights."

In an interview for the BBC's HARDtalk programme, Judge Spielmann said: "It is of course a problem if a country with a long-standing tradition of protecting human rights - and I would like also to pay tribute to the work which is done by the UK in the rest of the world promoting human rights - that this country would not comply with the rule of law."

Actually, I don't think it would be a very good thing either but let's be clear here, what did Britain join the ECHR to do?

It was to stop serious wrongs being committed. When we signed up to the idea of human rights it was supposed to be to stop serious injustice, e.g. aims such as

* To make sure people could not be arbitrarily deprived of their liberties or property without being proven guilty of an offence during a fair trial

* To make sure that people had equal access to justice regardless of their race, sex, religion or creed

* To protect the right to free speech within the law.

And what is the issue which is currently driving a wedge between British politicians and the court? Giving convicted prisoners the right to vote.

I totally accept that prisoners awaiting trial who have not yet been convicted should indeed have the right to vote, and that this would be a human rights issue - except that Britain does allow prisoners on remand to vote.

I would add that if another sovereign country wants to give those who have been convicted and are serving prison terms the right to vote, I do not have a problem with that. It's their decision. But the decision should belong to Britain, to MPs and ultimately to voters, whether we do that here and not to any supranational court.

But I happen to agree with the majority of MPs that if someone has been proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law to have committed an offence sufficiently serious for that court to take away his or her liberty, there is absolutely no reason why one of the liberties taken away as part of that punishment should not be the liberty to take part in elections for the during of his or her prison term.

It's not an arbitrary policy if it only applies to people who have been convicted of a serious offence after a fair trial.

And it is utterly ludicrous to compare this policy with the sort of human rights violation which we signed the ECHR to try to stop.

It is perfectly possible for someone who is seriously committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, to also believe that it is fair for those convicted of breaking the law and sentenced to a prison term to lose their vote as part of their punishment during their sentence.

If Judge Speilman thinks it would be a disaster if Britain left the EHCR there is an easy solution in his and his colleagues' own hands - concentrate your efforts on areas of genuine injustice. And stop misusing the powers of the European Court of Human rights to force policies on issues where intelligent people of goodwill can disagree, onto countries which have elected representatives who take a different view on those issues.

Inflation falls to target levels

UK inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index fell in December 2013 to the target level of 2% per annum for the first time since 2009.

The Office of National Statistics said that the fall in the annual increase in CPI from 2.1% between November 2012 and November 2013, to 2.0% between December 2012 and December 2013, was caused by a combination of a reduced increase in the prices of food and drink, and by more aggressive Christmas discounting.  This was partly offset by higher energy and fuel prices.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said he now expected inflation to stay close to its 2% target for "some time to come".

Quote of the day 14th January 2014

"Men of integrity are generally pretty obstinate in adhering to an opinion once adopted."

(William Cobbett)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Geoff Goodman R.I.P.

My friend Geoff Goodman, who I knew through my old school, passed away yesterday afternoon after a short illness.

Most of the people who read this blog will not have heard of Geoff, but those from all over the world who were lucky enough to meet him will remember him.

Geoff was not a young man but until his final illness suddenly struck just eight weeks ago he had the vigour and energy of someone two decades younger. He had one of the most wicked and unforgettable senses of humour of anyone I ever met and he was one of those who perfectly fit the expression "larger than life character."

I am stunned that someone who was still so alive when I last met him can have been brought down so quickly.

My condolences to his widow, Lesley, and daughters Julia and Caroline.

Rest in Peace

Quote of the day 13th January 2014

"It's easy to maintain your integrity when no one is offering to buy it out."

(Marc Maron)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Swimathon 2014

This year the Swimathon foundation has linked in with Sport Relief and that is where the money raised by Swimathon 2014 will go

The good causes being supported by Sport Relief  in Cumbria include

* Age UK South Lakeland -

Age UK South Lakeland supports isolated older people in the local area. The initiative recruits volunteers to serve on Village Action Groups and develop community-led initiatives and campaigns to bring the community together and improve services and facilities for older residents.

* Forward Assist - About Turn

Many armed forces veterans can experience post-traumatic stress disorder after being discharged from active service. About Turn offers them the opportunity to become qualified angling coaches, reducing the chance of them becoming homeless or turning to drugs or alcohol.


Sport relief will be raising funds to help vulunerable people both in Britain and in many other countries of the world who are particularly in need of help, from elderly people to children, from helping people to find jobs or cope with disabilities to medicines and other means of protecting against deadly diseases.

This year I will be taking part in the Swimathon for the 21st consecutive year - I have completed the 5,000 metres challenge every year since 1994. I aim to swim 5,000 metres - 200 lenghths - of  Copeland Pool in Hensingham on 23rd March.

If you would like to take part in Swimathon 2014 or any other sport relief activity you can sign up online here.

If you would like to sponsor me for Swimathon 2014 you can do so at

http://my.sportrelief.com/sponsor/chriswhiteside

My son John is also taking part in the swimathon, in his case for the second time: his sponsorship page is at

http://my.sportrelief.com/sponsor/JohnWhiteside
 

Quote of the day 12th January 2014

"If you love deeply, you're going to get hurt badly. But it's still worth it.”
 
( C.S. Lewis )

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Quote of the day 11th January 2014

“Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.”
 
( Thomas L. Friedman )

Friday, January 10, 2014

A sad day for the police - and Labour should apologise

A few days ago I posted as a quote of the day the words

"Everyone makes mistakes, but only a person with integrity owns up to them.”

How apposite those words are to today's news.

It is very sad, and deeply worrying, that a serving police officer should have lied about the then cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell. If a police officer can stitch up and bring down a cabinet minister with lies, what on earth can they do to the rest of us?

I have a number of friends who are present or former police officers. Like, I am convinced, the vast majority of police officers they are men and women of enormous integrity who would never dream of
fitting up an innocent person.

The trouble is that it only takes one or two rotten apples to destroy the reputation of the whole barrel.

The only good aspect of the whole sorry saga is that the truth eventually came out - and Michael Crick has risen very greatly in my estimation because of the role he played in ensuring that it did. Journalists have had almost as much flak as politicians over the past few years and it is good to see an example of evidence that dogged honest journalism and willingness to pursue what looked at first like an unlikely line of inquiry does still exist.

I hope that everyone involved in this will take a good hard look at what they said and did during the so-called "plebgate" saga, including the Met, the government, the rest of the press and, yes, the opposition.

Let's not forget that Labour actually posted an online petition which you can still find on twitter here (hat-tip to George Morrall) inferring that Andrew Mitchell was lying, and encouraging people to call on him to "come clean."

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions in my political career when I have said something about someone else which turned out to be untrue, and none of them were remotely as serious or harmful as what Labour did to Andrew Mitchell, but on those occasions I felt honour bound to withdraw the statement and apologise.

Labour owes Andrew Mitchell such an apology.

On the EU referendum Bill

Great article here by Michael Dobbs who is introducing the Referendum Bill in the Lords.

Michael describes the manouverings of those Labour and Lib/Dem Peers and MPs who want to stop the public having a say on Britain's membership of the EU, but who want to kill the referendum bill behind closed doors so that, quote,

“What they don’t want to do – I don’t think anyone wants to do – is have their fingerprints on the dagger that kills it.”

He compares these tactics with those of his fictional villain Francis Urquart (F.U.) from "House of Cards."

Quote of the day 10th January 2013

"To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones."

(GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to James Welch, Apr. 7, 1799)

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Treating people with respect

I doubt if there was a pact between the Conservatives and Labour to "Quieten Down" Prime Minister's Questions this week. But an agreement that politicians should try to treat each other with a bit more respect would not entirely be a bad thing.

There are a number of reasons why public respect for politicians is at an extremely low level. Some of it is because of behaviour by some politicians which, alas, does not deserve respect, of which this was the most recent example.

However, most people involved in politics are not corrupt.

The point about a democracy is that we all have one vote and if democracy is working properly those voters who also stand and run for office should in a real sense be seen as the equals of those who participate only as voters. "Pravda" like subservience to political leaders and Paxman-style disdain are neither of them particlarly healthy because it impedes proper debate whether politicians are seen as superior or if they are treated with contempt (and all the more harmful if the contempt is deserved - although in that case it is the people who earned the contempt, not those who feel it, who should be blamed.)

Over Christmas John Rentoul wrote an amusing piece on the top misused fables which you can read here. Another such fable, one of the late Bob Monkhouse's most amusing jokes - that the only time politicians tell the truth is when they are calling each other liars - is in my experience almost the reverse of the truth.

In both the parliamentary campaigns which I have fought, and in my local government experience, the time when otherwise largely honest politicians showed themselves least likely to be fair and truthful was when they were attacking their opponents.

Ever since Tony Blair and New Labour set out to systematically trash the reputations of their opponents, particularly their Conservative ones - one of two of whom deserved it, many of whom did not - the politics of personal destruction has dominated the language of political debate. And on, I'm afraid, all sides.

How can we expect the public to respect the people involved in politics if both the established political parties and "anti-politics" ones like UKIP are all constantly depicting our opponents as idiots or crooks?

Another good piece by John Rentoul over Christmas summarising some of the recent debate on this subject is here.

In the recent past political activists have felt they have to trash their opponents because the perception has been that it works. I'm not convinced that it still does as many voters seem to be sick of the nasty type of politics. Maybe it is time to try to get away from this sort of campaigning. Or at least to dial down the proportion of negative campaigning and restrict it to those who really deserve it.

Quote of the Day 9th Dec 2014

"I have long argued that paying down the national debt is beneficial for the economy: it keeps interest rates lower than they otherwise would be and frees savings to finance increases in the capital stock, thereby boosting productivity and real incomes."

(ALAN GREENSPAN, speech, Apr. 27, 2001)

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Minimum Wage

It will probably come as a surprise to many people that there is a body of support welling up within the Conservative party for an increase in the minimum wage. But although this may seem counterintuitive, there is a Conservative case to be made for such a policty.

I was against the minimum wage when Blair introduced it, as were most Conservatives. In a pure free market the inevitable consequence of such a policy would be to increase unemployment by pricing some people out of work. In the rather different market which actually exists, I was afraid that the minimum wage would be set too high and have the same effect.

But in the intervening decade things have moved on. Probably because of concerns about this very issue by the people who set it, the minimum wage has never been hiked to a level which would have priced material numbers of people out of a job.

Pure "free market capitalist" economies and pure state run "command" economies have never existed in the real world at any time or place. And the British economy that we have now is nothing like either. And in present circumstances the minimum wage is absolutely not one of the main problems stopping people from getting the sort of jobs that it affects.

The first problem has been a shortage of jobs, though the steady rise in employment suggests that small and large businesses are creating more jobs and reducing this issue.

The second problem, and I don't mean this as a criticism of the people concerned, is that many feel they can't afford to take a job because it would make them worse off.

Even after the benefits cap, we still have a serious problem in that the incomes available to those in low wage jobs is insufficiently higher, and can even be lower, than those available to some of those on benefits.

I have no wish to bash or criticise those claiming benefits - they did not create this situation. Nor can I blame someone who wants to work, if the only jobs on offer would leave them working all the hours God sends while having less money available for their family, if  instead of taking such a job they keep looking for something which pays better.

However it is not in anyone's interests - not those of the low paid, not those of the country as a whole, and in the long term not even those of the people on welfare - to allow that situation to continue.

One arm of a strategy to deal with the problem has to be continuing to look hard at the welfare budget. But we may also be in the unusual situation - what an economist might call a "counterintuitive relationship" between the minimum wage and employment - that a modest rise in the minimum wage might actually increase employment by providing an incentive to work for people who are currently given a perverse incentive to stay at home.

Quote of the day 8th January 2014

"The burden of the national debt consists not in its being so many millions, or so many hundred millions, but in the quantity of taxes collected every year to pay the interest. If this quantity continue the same, the burden of the national debt is the same to all intents and purposes, be the capital more or less."

(THOMAS PAINE, Rights of Man)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A valid reason not to vote for Nigel Farage

In a post yesterday I said that there are many excellent reasons not to vote for Nigel Farage, but guilt by association comparisons were not among them.

Today he has provided a much better reason not to trust him with your vote with his suggestion that Britain should implement a five year absolute ban on giving permanent right of residence to people coming to this country.

We do need to reduce the levels of immigration but massive swings in policy from one oversimplified extreme to the other is exactly what Britain needs to get away from. Ironically it is the same sort of thing which Labour, who Farage rightly criticises, did when they were in office.

The criticism of the last Labour government that they encouraged very high and unsustainable levels of immigration which caused serious harm to social cohesion and put a significant strain on some public services is true but incomplete.

Labour were also criticised in some quarters and at some times for implementing draconian policies on immigration, treating genuine refugees in a harsh and inhumane way, and refusing admission to people to whom this country owed a debt - Gurhka war heroes who wanted to come here for medical treatment, for example. And this too is true but incomplete.

The bizarre thing is that BOTH criticisms - that Labour's immigration policy was sometimes seriously lax but at other times far too harsh - are absolutely valid.

Labour's policy swung like an irregular metronome between an extreme "open door" policy and trying to quite literally outdo the Daily Mail in harshness when they panicked and realised they'd gone too far. (To give just one of many examples I could give to substantiate that charge, at one stage Labour deported someone to Zimbabwe who even the Mail recognised had a legitimate case for asylum on the grounds that Mugabe was likely to persecute him.)

And the problem with swinging like a metronome from one extreme to the other is that such badly thought out panic reactions are likely to exclude the sort of people who we actually need or who genuinely deserve to come here.

Labour's policy of being almost the only country in the EU that had no transitional controls on migration from the last wave of entrant countries, but trying to slam the door a few days before the policy was due to come into effect produced a classic "worst of all worlds" result.

Another example concerns medical students. Our NHS would have collapsed without foreign doctors and nurses.

And yet, during one of their panic attacks when they were trying to prove that they could after all be tough on immigration, the last Labour government tried to move the goalposts on foreign medical students half way through their courses and send home people who had come here to train to be doctors while that training was incomplete. This disgraceful measure would have deprived the NHS of the services of those who might have stayed here: while at the same time it disrupted the training plans of the health services in the countries they came from with no long term change to the UK's migration numbers in the case of those who would have gone home anyway.

An extreme example of a lose-lose policy. But that's the sort of nonsense you end up with if you start flipping between extremes, as Labour did.

Does Mr Farage propose to revoke the hard-won promise which Joanna Lumley campaigned for, that people who have served Britain in the Gurhkas should have the right to settle here? If he he does, I would be prepared to bet that 90% of the British people including the vast majority of UKIP supporters would condemn such a blatant breach of good faith.

It is common sense to manage down the size of net migration to more sustainable levels - tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands per year, and to do it by practical, legal, and fair methods such as requiring people to have lived here for a number of years before they are eligible for benefits and taking action on illegal immigration, preferably in a humane and civilised way.

Politicians of all parties need to respond to genuine public concerns on this subject, which are shared by the settled immigrant communities who know that they will be the first to suffer if social cohesion collapses. It is absolutely not racist or xenophobic to have those concerns. But politicians of all parties need to think carefully - in some cases, a lot more carefully - about how their policies will actually work and how Britain can implement for fair and effective measures rather than unworkable slogans.

Quote of the day 7th January 2014

“Do not accustom yourself to consider debt only as an inconvenience; you will find it a calamity.”

(Samuel Johnson)
 

Monday, January 06, 2014

Guilt by Association

Cardinal Richelieu is supposed to have said

"Qu’on me donne six lignes de la main du plus honnĂȘte homme, j’y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre"

usually translated as something like

“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him”

And one of the easiest ways to prove the cardinal right is to condemn someone through guilt by association - for example, comparing the policies of the person you want to attack with something beyond the pale, such as Adolf Hitler's nazis or Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech.

If someone says something offensive or xenophobic, then by all means criticise them for what they have actually said, but you should never need to use guilt by association. Hitler is rightly loathed because he started one of the most terrible wars in history and because he was a racist and antisemite who murdered six million Jews and millions of other people including Gypsies, Slavs, Poles, people with disabilities, Freemasons and his political opponents - not because he built autobahns and wanted to stop inflation and get the unemployed back to work. If someone else supports building motorways, reducing inflation, or increasing employment, this is not sufficient to prove that they are a fascist.

There are many excellent reasons not to vote for Nigel Farage, but comparisons like this (which appeared in the Guardian) between Nigel Farage and Enoch Powell will not cut it.

Among potential UKIP voters this sort of guilt by association tactic is more likely to win Farage a sympathy vote. Perhaps that's exactly what Dermot Murnaghan and the Guardian are trying to do, and encourage Tory/UKIP switchers to go over to Farage's party in the hope that this will let Miliband and Balls into Downing street.

It will, of course, serve them right if they end up by pushing votes from the Labour pile into the UKIP one instead ...

Incidentally, without having previously known any of the ten statements in the Guardian quiz, I correctly guessed who had said nine of them, so in my case at least the premise of the quiz doesn't work.

George Osborne writes on Britain's financial situation

Chancellor George Osborne writes ...

"I've just given a speech setting out the long-term economic plan that the Conservatives are working through."

"Our economic plan builds a stronger, more competitive economy and secures a better future for Britain by:
  • Reducing the deficit so we deal with our debts, safeguard our economy for the long term and keep mortgage rates low
  • Cutting income taxes and freezing fuel duty to help hardworking people feel more financially secure
  • Creating more jobs by backing small business and enterprise with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes
  • Capping welfare and reducing immigration so our economy delivers for people who want to work hard and play by the rules
  • Delivering the best schools and skills for young people so the next generation can succeed in the global race

The plan is working. For the first time in a long while, there's a real sense that Britain is on the rise. But it's far too soon to say job done - it's not even half done.
 
There are still plenty of risks, and the greatest one here at home is the Labour Party. Labour offer more spending, higher taxes and more borrowing. Their economic approach brought economic ruin once, and would do the same all over again. Why would you give the keys back to the people who crashed the car?
So this year Britain faces a choice: to go on working through the plan that is delivering for Britain, or to squander what we've achieved and go back to economic ruin.
 
We need everyone in the country to get behind our plan. Please share this important message on Facebook and Twitter, or forward this email to your friends and family and let them know why you're backing our long-term plan.
 
Thanks,
George Osborne signature
George Osborne

Simon Hoggart RIP

Simon Hoggart, who died of cancer today at the age of 67, was  an immensely funny man whose parliamentary sketches in the Guardian and Punch must have made what was going on in the House of Commons accessible and of interest to many people who otherwise would not have bothered.

He managed to criticise MPs in a way which was often both insightful and sympathetic, pointing out their faults in a way which was likely to inspire understanding rather than hatred.

That must have been good for the health of democracy and he will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

Do we often make mistakes by convincing ourselves of what we want to believe ?

Hat tip to political betting at

 http://www1.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2014/01/03/how-strong-political-views-can-impact-on-our-ability-to-analyse-data/

for an American article which attempted to provided objective and measurable evidence that people are more likely to make mistakes in their mathematical calculations if the result of those mistakes is to reinforce rather than contradict their strongly held views.

As a statistician I have significant concerns about the way the results of the study are presented, so I would not take the results as gospel. In particular the suggestion that people were 18% more likely to get a calculation wrong if this reinforced their personal particular opinions is rather oversimpllified on the evidence quoted. Nor would I agree that if the study is right - and the jury is well and truly out on that - it would only prove that "politics ruin our ability to think." Any other set of strong opinions, be it about about religion - believer or atheist - or about sport, or tastes in music, might well show the same effect.

What made me sit up an take notice of the article was not the statistics quoted but the graphs.

For a non-political question, (on skin cream) the graphs showing how accurately people with different levels of numerical ability interpreted two sets of data were very similar for Democrat and Republican members of the sample group and irrespective of what conclusion should actually have been drawn from the data.

However, for a political question (on gun control) the four lines on the graph were all different. The great majority of those Democrat voters in the sample of 1,111 respondents who generally had good numeracy skills correctly interpreted the set of data which supported gun control, but about half even of the most numerate Democrats wongly misinterpreted the set of data which did not support gun control.

By contrast the great majority of those Republican voters in the sample who generally had good numeracy skills correctly interpreted the set of data which did not support gun control, but about half even of the most numerate Republicans wongly misinterpreted the set of data which did support gun control.

The moral of this story is that if you are analysing a set of data and the results come out exactly with what fits your prior beliefs, you should try to check your analysis as carefully and objectively as possible to make sure you are not convincing yourself that the new evidence conveniently fits what you were already disposed to believe.

Quote of the day 6th January 2014

“A hundred wagon loads of thoughts will not pay a single ounce of debt.”
(Italian Proverb)
 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

On the road to bankruptcy

I didn't catch the name of the female member of the panel who were reviewing the papers today on the BBC News channel.

I was not tremendously impressed with her - she described the NHS as suffering "savage cuts" when in fact the NHS is one of only two areas of government spending which the present government has protected in real terms. She referred to the "coalition government" as "underfunding" the NHS which presents at least two problems

1) To describe any given level as "underfunding" and for that statement to be meaningful you have to define a level of funding you would regard as adequate, and as demand for NHS spending is for practical purposes infinite I don't believe this can be done, and

2) singling out the coalition government spending on the NHS as inadequate when Labour's shadow secretary of state, Andy Burnham, said that the present government was irresponsible in NOT cutting the NHS is a little slanted to say the least.

But the more serious problem I have with this lady is that she appears to think it is "ideological" to try to get the country's finances into a more sustainable position.

Now, there is room for some genuine debate about how much a government can afford to spend. But there is no reasonable doubt that when a government's spending gets way out of line with what can effectively be raised from taxation, this has to be corrected or the long term consequences are very serious.

This is as well known to intelligent Democrats in the USA - as shown in today's quote of the day - and intelligent members of the Labour party such as Alistair Darling and Jim Callaghan as it is to people on the right.

If you spend much more than your income, you have to print or borrow money or liquidate your savings. Printing lots of excess money leads to hyperinflation: if you are not going do that you have to borrow the money or spend your past savings and your net debts go up. That isn't ideology, it's a mathematical fact, as obvious as stating that 2 + 2 = 4.

Keynes and some other economists have argued that in some circumstances a government can have quite a bit more flexibility in this area than an individual household in the short and medium term. But no serious economist has ever argued that governments are totally exempt from the need to keep some kind of balance between income and expenditure.

A government can no more sustain for year after year expenditure of four pounds for every three coming in without serious consequences than you or I can in our own household finances.

If you dramatically increase your debts, you will have to pay dramatically more interest to service those debts. Again, this is not ideology, it is a mathematical fact as obvious as the fact that 2 + 2 = 4.

Hence if you try to run a country for any length of time by spending much more than you are prepared to raise in taxes, first your debts, then the interest rates you have to pay on those debts, will go through the roof. And your failure to correct the imbalance will only delay the pain, because within a few years you will be needing more money, not for schools or hospitals, but to pay the interest on the debts you have already incurred.

This is exactly what Gordon Brown did to the British government's finances, which is why the national debt doubled under his stewardship and is now £1.2 trillion. And trying to correct that problem is not the action of an ideologue, it's the action of any responsible government who have the ability to do basic arithmetic. The alternative is national bankruptcy and the sort of measures we have seen in Greece and Cyprus.

The real argument is not whether the government should have made efforts to cut spending. The real argument is whether it has cut spending by enough.

Quote of the day 5th January 2014

"If the Nation is living within its income, its credit is good. If, in some crises, it lives beyond its income for a year or two, it can usually borrow temporarily at reasonable rates. But if, like a spendthrift, it throws discretion to the winds, and is willing to make no sacrifice at all in spending; if it extends its taxing to the limit of the peoples power to pay and continues to pile up deficits, then it is on the road to bankruptcy."

F.D. Roosevelt

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Quote of the day 4th January 2014

“One of the greatest disservices you can do a man is to lend him money that he can’t pay back.”
(Jesse Jones)
 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Quote of the Day 1st January 2014

“You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don't ever count on having both at once.”
 
( Robert A. Heinlein )

David Cameron's New Year Message 2014

“It’s a New Year – and for Britain there can only be one New Year’s resolution…
…to stick to the long-term plan that is turning our country around.
When we came to office, our economy was on its knees. 
Three and a half years later, we are turning a corner.
 
We see it in the businesses that are opening up, the people who are getting decent jobs, the factories that are making British goods and selling them to the world again.
The plan is working. 
That’s why this year, 2014, we are not just going to stick to the plan – we are going to re-double our efforts to deliver every part of it, to benefit the whole country and secure a better future for everyone.
We’ll continue with the vital work on the deficit.
We’ve reduced it by a third already…
…and this year we will continue that difficult work, to safeguard our economy for the long-term, keep mortgage rates low and help families across Britain.
We’re going to keep on doing everything possible to help hardworking people feel financially secure…
…cutting income taxes and freezing fuel duty. 
We’ll keep on working even harder to create more jobs, whether that’s through investment in our roads and railways, lower jobs taxes, or more help for Britain’s amazing small businesses. 
Those who run our small businesses are heroes and heroines, they are the backbone of our economy and we are supporting them every step of the way. 
We are going to keep on with our vital work on welfare and immigration too.
We’ve already capped welfare and cut immigration…
…and this year, we’ll carry on building an economy for people who work hard and play by the rules. 
And last but not least – we’re going to keep on delivering the best schools and skills for our children and young people…
…so that when they leave education they have a real chance to get on in life. 
So this is a vital year for our economy. 
And 2014 is also an important date in the history of the United Kingdom. 
The referendum vote will be the biggest decision Scotland has ever been asked to make.
The outcome matters to all of us, wherever we live in the UK. 
This is not a vote for the next few years, but a vote that could change our country forever. Our family of nations is at its best when we work together with shared interest and common purpose. 
This year, let the message go out from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to everyone in Scotland…
…we want you to stay – and together we can build an even stronger United Kingdom for our children and grandchildren. 
That’s what our long-term plan is about…
…and we will stick to that plan this year. 
I’d like to wish everyone a happy New Year – and best wishes for 2014.”