Sunday, March 30, 2014

Quotes for Mother's Day, 30th March 2014

“There is something about losing your mother that is permanent and inexpressable - a wound that will never quite heal.”

( Susan Wiggs, )

"when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”
 
( Mitch Albom )

"The natural state of motherhood is unselfishmess. When you become a mother you are no longer at the entre of yor own universe. YOu relinquih that position to your children."

(Jessica Lange)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Quote of the day Saturday 28th March 2014

"What the First Minister is saying is he wants a divorce but to keep the joint bank account."

(Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, referring to the SNP wanting Scotland to seek "Independence" from the rest of the UK but to keep the pound.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fact-checking Clegg and Farage

Both Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage made some good points in the debate but both of them also rolled out a few ancient and discredited sayings which they should have known, and intelligent and open-minded observers do  know, to be at best highly misleading and at worst very unlikely.

E.g. to argue that 3 million jobs would go if Britain left the EU you have to assume no trade with the remaining EU after we left, which seems most unlikely, while the "75% of our laws are made in Brussels" claim by Viviane Reding is not taken seriously by anyone except UKIP, although the House of Commons Library's briefing which gives that figure as 7%, quoted by Nick Clegg in the debate this week, only counts primary legislation and is therefore not the full picture. The truth is somewhere in the huge area between those two numbers.

There is a good fact-check on the Open Europe blog, which pours highly-appropriate cold water on some of the wilder claims by both men, here.

Quote of the day 28th March 2014 - Hanlon's razor vs. Henlein's razor

Hanlon's razor, attributed in this form to Robert J Hanlon but similar to sayings attributed to many others including Napoleon, Jane West, Goethe, and Robert Henlein, is

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity"

A slightly more nuanced version from Robert Henlein, sometimes known as Henlein's razor, is

 "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice"

Another similar comment, which is a comibation of the above and Clarke's law about technology and magic, is known as Gray's law:

"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishalble from malice."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Farage in Fantasyland

There were some interesting comments made by both leaders in the Clegg vs. Farage debate about whether Britain should be in the EU.

The point howeer, where I thought Nigel Farage completely lost it was his preposterous attempt to blame the EU for what is happening in the Ukraine.

The European Union gets many things wrong but the idea that the EU is in any meaningful sense responsible for the change in government in the Ukraine or for Russia's subsequent actions only makes sense in the looking-glass world of Russian propaganda - and now apparently also of UKIP propaganda.

The EU tried to negotiate a trade agreement with the previous Ukranian government. Signing trade agreements is what the EU does and it's one of the things they are actually fairly good at, though I have some sympathy for those who urge counting your fingers after shaking hands on such negotiations.

Such trade deals do not have to involve detatching the countries with which we agree to trade from their existing alliances. Granted, if Ukraine actually joined the EU there might be border control issues but we were years away from that.

The situation now is way past there being any chance of the solution everyone should have aimed for: nevertheless best option for Ukraine would have been to act as a bridge between East and West with good relations and lots of trade with both the EU and Russia. This need not have been a threat to Russia, as anyone except a paranoid ex-KGB man ought to have been able to see.

Unfortunately the President of Russia is a paranoid ex-KGB man and he decided to offer the previous President of the Ukraine a deal for closer trade with Russia which was clearly presented as an alternative to the one with the EU.

When the former Ukrainian President went for that deal, everyone in the West accepted it as a fait accompli. The idea that the EU encouraged the people of Ukraine to overthrow their government is preposterous nonsense.

The problem was that the rejection of the trade deal was the latest in a pattern of unpopular, bad or corrupt decisions which many Ukranian people were already angry with, many of which had nothing to do with the EU. Nobody forsaw quite what an explosion of anger it would touch off, though perhaps in hindsight the regime should have.

When there were protests about it, it was the former Ukrainian government, not the EU, which decided to order snipers to shoot down people in the demonstrations - which instead of frightening people, provoked further outrage. And don't lets forget, it was the Ukrainian parliament, not the crowds on the streets or the EU, which passed a motion of no-confidence in the Ukrainian president and set up the new interim government.

If anyone has "blood on their hands" it is the former Ukrainian government, not the European Union or the British government, and Mr Farage should know better than to throw that sort of language around without justification.

Quote of the day 27th March 2014

"Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool"

(Anon, sometimes attributed to Robert Frost or Winston Churchill)

Similarly Douglas Adams wrote in Mostly Harmless,

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Election 2015 - still everything to play for

I believe that the result of the 2015 General election is wide open and there is still everythimg to play for. The result could be a Labur government, a Conservative government, or a hung parliament.

I was interested to read in the press the other day an opinion by one journalist, John Rentoul of the Independent, that shortly after the budget MPs from both sides told him they thought their party would lose the next election. The Labour MPs were depressed with Ed Miliband's, quote "disastrously bad" response to the budget (e.g. the fact that he failed to mention anything in it). The Conservative MPs were afraid they still had too much ground to make up.

Meanwhile the front page of The Times this morning is dominated by an opinion survey suggesting that a big majority of all voters, and even a slim majority of LABOUR voters, do not see Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister.

Mike Smithson at political betting reminds us that Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives won in 1979 in spite of Jim Callaghan leading in the "Best Prime Minister" polls at the time. That's a useful reminder that Britain has a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, and it would be as well not to read too much importance into leader ratings.

Having said that, it is worth remembering that

 * Margaret Thatcher in 1979 was the first woman challenging to be PM, and had to overcome a "dinosaur factor" of people who could not imagine a woman Prime Minister until there had been one. That factor must have distorted comparisons between the 1979 election polling and that for the 2015 election.

 * British politics has become much more presidential since 1979

 * The polling questions concerning Ed Miliband represent concerns a bit stronger than whether he is preferred as PM, they are also about whether people can imagine him in that office. If only 49% of Labour supporters think he is ready for the job, that is a more serious credibility problem than Maggie had in 1979.

We shall see. I don't believe anyone can afford to be complacent or to take the voters for granted.

Labour adviser: "You can't trust people to spend their own money sensibly"





This comment by John McTernan may be a "gaffe" in the sense of a politico accidentally saying what he actually thinks but it is also very revealing.

I didn't make it quote of the day, because it should be a quote for the week, month, year and century.

This is an perfect summary of what is wrong with the socialist mindset.

Quote of the day 26th March 2014

"Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine"

(Anon)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pensions: if you think can be trusted wth your own money, sign here

The response of the Labour party, and some of Britain's establishment, to Gerge Osborne's pension reforms was incredibly revealing.

There are two reasons why I think he was absolutely right to say that nobody should be forced to buy an annuity. The first is that, as the saying goes, one size does not fit all, and the fact that an annuity may well be the right choice for many people does not mean it should be imposed on everyone.

The second is that denying people a choice was a guaranteed recipe for more bad deals being provided. If people have more choices to go elsewhere, there will be more incentive for those who provide annuities to offer a good deal or risk seeing their customers go elsewhere.

Pensioners tend to be extremely careful with the money they have spent years saving. Comments from one or two Labour MPs and from some other "talking heads" about whether people could be trusted with their own money woud have been insulting and patronising even if they were coming from people with an unblemished track record of superlative management of other people's money.

Considering what the record of all British governments and Labour ones in particular is actually like for stewardship of other people's money, this is beyond a joke.

Dare I mention

 * Selling off gold reserves at rock bottom prices
 * Bank regulation
 * Losing data pencils with half the entire country's bank details

And the people who brought you these and other disasters think they can manage pensions money better than the pensioners themselves can ?

Sajid Javid MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, has some further thoughts on this, see below:


Conservatives
 
"It's now clearer than ever: Labour don't have a plan.
 
"In the Budget, George Osborne set out important long-term changes to help secure Britain's future and build a stronger, more competitive economy.

"And Labour's response? Confusion, disarray and dithering.
 
"Take their response to our measures to give people more freedom and flexibility over their pensions.
 
"First, Labour MPs said that people couldn't be trusted to spend their own money sensibly. Then they said they backed our plans. Then they said they weren't sure.
 
"Labour don't know where they stand on our plans to give people more security in retirement.

"But today I'm asking you to show your support for these important plans by signing our petition.
 
"The contrast is clear: while Labour dither and flail around for ideas, we are working through our long-term economic plan to secure Britain's future.
 
"Back our pension plans today and help give millions of people more security in retirement.
 
"Thanks,
Sajid Javid signature
Sajid Javid MP
Financial Secretary to the Treasury"

Inflation falls to 1.7%

UK Inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index has fallen to 1.7% last month, which is a new four-year low, the fifth consecutive month that the rate of increase in prices had fallen, and the second consecutive month that inflation in Britain has been below the Bank of England's target that the CPI should not rise by more than 2% per annum..

Inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index which used to be the main measure until the previous government switched to CPI a few years ago, also dropped, from 2.8% to 2.7%.

This is further evidence that,although there is still a long way to go, the government's Long Term Economic Plan is starting to put Britain's economy and the country on the right track.

To replace those policies in favour of those who would stop trying to reduce the deficit, spend more, and borrow more, would be an act of insanity and would betray the future

Quote of the day 25th March 2014

"A day without sunshine is like, well night."

(Anon)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Swimathon 2014 and Sport Relief

A very big thank-you to all those who have already sponsored me, or my son John, or both, in the 2014 Swimathon which was part of the Sport Relief weekend.

I completed my 5,000 metre challenge (200 lengths of Copeland Swimming Pool in Hensingham) in one hour 55 minutes and forty seconds yesterday: my son John completed his 1,500 metre challenge (60 lengths) in exactly 55 minutes.

The Swimathon Foundation selects a National Charity Partner to promote itself and its charitable activities in association with the Swimathon and to receive funds from members of the public, including those participating in the Swimathon, in support of its activities. The Swimathon has raised funds for a variety of nominated charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, NSPCC, The British Heart Foundation, The Prince’s Trust, and Marie Curie Cancer Care. For Swimathon 2014 the selected charity has been Comic Relief, raising funds through the Sport Relief campaign.
 
Comic Relief is spending the money raised by the public to give extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the UK and throughout the world a helping hand to turn their lives around.

So everyone who took part in the Swimathon or Sport relief, and everynoe who sponsors them, has helped give shelter to young people living on the streets and protection to those living with domestic abuse. Across the world, that money helps children into education, and provides communities with fresh water and life-saving vaccines.
 
You can see details of some of the people Sport Relief has helped at
 
If you have not yet sponsored anyone for Sport Relief 2014 it is not too late to do so. You can sponsor me at http://my.sportrelief.com/sponsor/chriswhiteside
 

Quote of the day 24th March 204

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you."

(Anon)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quote of the day 23rd March 2014

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

(Nelson Mandela)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sport Relief and Swimathon 2014

This weekend is Sport Relief weekend, and tomorrow (Sunday 23rd March) I shall be taking part in the Swimathon in aid of Sport Relief.
I first took part in the Swimathon twenty years ago in 1994 so this will be the 21st consecutive year I have swum the 5,000 metre challenge. My twelve-year old son John is joining me and taking part in the Swimathon for the second year: he will be swimming the 1,500 metre challenge.
 
The Swimathon is Britain’s largest charity swim, and gives people of very varied swimming abilities an opportunity to raise money for charity by swimming distances of up to 5,000 metres.  This year's Swimathon event is part of Sport Relief.

 
Swimathon and Sport relief will be raising funds to help vulnerable 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.

 
To give a couple of examples of the good causes being supported by Sport Relief, two of the local causes being supported in Cumbria are
 
* Age UK
 
Age UK supports isolated older people in the local area. An Age UK initiative supported by Sport Relief 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.

 
 
A big thank you to those who have already sponsored either me, or my son John. It is possible to sponsor swimmers online: If you would be kind enough to sponsor me, and would like to use the online facility, you can do so at the following sponsorship page URL:

Quote of the day 22nd March 2014

"Some Labour MPs are rightly concerned that Mr Miliband slips to easily into class war rhetoric that blongs to another era and will leaave many aspirational voters thinking that Labour is not for them.

"When responding to the budget Mr Miliband made his default "Tory Toff" speech. He had expected a "rabbit" on the cost of living or the 40p tax band and was unsure how to respond o the pensions revolution.

"Mr Miliband shouldn't make a habit of trying to revive the class war. It is over."

 (Andrew Grice, writing in the "i" and Independent today)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quote of the day 21st March 2014

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

(Winston Churchill)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Quotes of the day 20th March 2014

Three quotes from yesterday in response to the budget:

"The Budget will put wind in the sails of business investment, especially for manufacturers. This was a make-or-break budget, coming at a critical time in the recovery, and the chancellor has focused his firepower on areas that have the potential to lock in growth."

(John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI)


"There are a number of announcements in today's budget that will be music to the ears of the over-50s. Many older savers want to be able to save the whole ISA allowance in cash, and the reduced tax on savings income will be a huge boost to those who have saved and done the right thing. Trusting people with their money must be the right approach, but with greater longevity the biggest challenge is to make people's savings last a lifetime. Those saving for retirement and the financial services industry need to step up to the challenge to enable savers to achieve their retirement dreams."

(Paul Green from Saga)


"Our rigid pensions system has become increasingly out of step with the reality of contemporary working lives so we hope that the more flexible approach announced today will revitalise pension saving, giving younger age groups more hope of future security in retirement."

(Anne-Marie Doohan from Age UK)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When does lobbying become denial of service?

I received 95 almost identical emails today from supporters of the Trade Justice Movement, each with the same 380Kilobyte attachment urging me to sign a pledge to support their agenda.

I agree with some but not all their aims, of which more anon.

I am quite sure that this was intended to show me how strongly they felt about the issue and not as a DOS attack.

However, lobby groups need to think about the possible consequence of this kind of campaigning. My present email account can handle that amount of traffic. Not all that long ago getting 35 megs of email in a day would have crashed the typical email account.

If the trend where lobby groups encourage their members and supporters to send hundreds of emails with big attachments to political candidates goes much further, it will start to have DOS effects even if that is not the intention. What will happen then is that instead of being able to publicise a personal email account, as we can do now, candidates will have to release contact details which use a high capacity commercial account, which almost certainly means one organised by the political party rather than the situation where people can contact the candidate directly.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again ...

Major progress on pensions

When all the political heat and light over the budget has died down there are two things it is likely to be remembered for.

The first is the increase of the personal allowance to £10,500 which lifts the threshold at which people start paying income tax and will thus free many low paid workers from having to pay income tax at all. This tax cut for the poor, and previous such increases in the threshold, demolishes the ridiculous Labour propaganda that only the rich have had tax cuts from the present government.

But possibly even more significant in the long run are the measures to protect savers and especially those saving for their retirement.

I'm already older than my father was when he retired, but still hope and expect that I won't be retiring for more than a decade providing I still have a job and my health. Admittedly, my father took early retirement on ill health grounds, although an awful lot of his contemporaries and near contemporaries also retired in the 1970's and 1980's at similar ages which now seem ludicrously young to be retiring.

I remember that I nearly fell about laughing at the age of 25 when I was handed my first permanent contract of employment and saw that it envisaged a retirement age of sixty. I didn't need to have just finished two degrees in Economics to realise that by the third decade of the 21st century Britain would not be able to afford to have people in good health retiring at that age. Even with many people retiring in their late sixties, the average length of retirement is and will remain much longer than it was at the time our pension and social care systems were originally created.

Those of my father's contemporaries who had, like him, been to University, who retired at similar ages, and who lived to their early eighties had, or have so far had, retirements which lasted as long as their working lives. Good luck to them, but the consequences to the pensions industry, the NHS and social care services, and the exchequer, of millions of people having retirements which last for two decades or more are gigantic. To make sure that this is a blessing, as it should be, and not a problem we must help as many people as possible to plan successfully and be self-supporting in old age.

There are many aspects of the previous pensions system which infantilise the elderly and penalise those who do the right thing.

The single worst UK government financial decision of the past quarter century - and that's saying a lot, because it's saying even worse than Black Wednesday and the ERM, even worse than the mishandling of Banking regulation, and making selling off of gold reserves on the cheap look like a minor irritant, was Gordon Brown's catastrophic £6 billion  a year raid on pension funds. But that was only the worst single part of a "Nanny knows best" regime which penalised saving, limited what people could do with their pension pots, and virtually guaranteed a succession of bad bargains for pensioners by requiring them to buy an annuity.

I was delighted when George Osborne announced today that the government will act so that no pensioner is forced to buy an annuity in future. There will be some pensioners for whom an annuity is the right solution, but I am convinced that giving people the choice is certainly a massive and long-overdue reform because in pensions as in housing or interest rates, one size does not fit all.

This was only the start of the measures to help savers and pensioners as the Chancellor promised to
support people who have “worked hard and saved hard all their lives, and done the right thing.”

Savers have been hit by years of record low interest rates and other emergency measures put in place to boost the struggling economy.
 
As the economy starts to recover, George  Osborne said that savers and pensioners deserve help. “These are people who have made sacrifices to provide for their own economic security in retirement.”

From July, there will be a new £15,000 Isa limit, which can be used to deliver tax-free returns on either cash or shares. The 10p starting rate of tax on savings income will also be abolished. And new “Pensioner Bonds” will pay enhanced interest rates to savers aged over 65.

I think that George Osborne will be remembered for these reforms when much of the sound and fury of this week's debates are long forgotten.

George Osborne writes on today's budget

The Chancellor of the Exchequer writes ...

 
 
Conservatives

Today I set out my Budget for building a resilient economy.
 
It is part of our long-term economic plan - a plan that is delivering economic security for families up and down the country.
 
We have come a long way. The independent forecasts show growth is up, jobs are up, and the deficit is down. But the job is far from done. I haven't shied away from telling the British people about the difficult decisions we face. And just because things are getting better now, I haven't shied away from it today either.
 
The deficit is down by a third, and in the coming year it will be down by a half. But it is still one of the highest in the world - so we are taking action to bring the deficit down further.
 
Investment and exports are up. But we've got twenty years of catching up to do - so I have backed businesses who invest and export.

Manufacturing halved under Labour, with all bets on the City of London. But manufacturing is growing again, and jobs are being created across the country - and we're doing everything we can to support that.
 
And while as a nation we're getting on top of our debts, for many decades Britain has borrowed too much and saved too little. So today, I have made sure hardworking people keep more of what they earn - and of what they save. Support for savers is at the centre of this Budget.
 
With the help of the British people we're turning the economy around. Our goal is economic security for the families of Britain - and today, with this Budget, we take another step towards it.

On Saturday, I hope you will help spread this message and get involved in one of our Campaign Action Days across the country - click here to find out more.

Thanks,
George Osborne signature
George Osborne

Quotes for Budget day 2014 (19th March)

"I can't budge it"

- Denis Healey (while chancellor, on a BBC "Nationwide" humorous sketch)

"I never could make out what those damn dots meant."

- Randolph Churchill, while chancellor, referring to decimal points)

"An economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance our budget, just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits."

- President John F Kennedy

 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thoughts on the Crimean Referendum

Godwin's law states that as a debate continues the probability of someone making a comparison with Hitler and the Nazis approaches unity. But in the case of what Russia is trying to do in the Crimea, I'm going to make that comparison right at the start.

Of course, Putin's agents in Ukraine have already been justifying Russia's actions and condemning the interim Ukranian government by accusing them of being Nazis or Fascists and threatening Russian speaking residents of Ukraine, so I am not the first person to do so.

Basically, Russia'a actions in using armed men to cut off part of the Ukraine, and then holding a referendum which did not offer a real choice to justify annexation, is straight out of the Nazi playbook as used when taking the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia and later when claiming the Polish corridor.

It is entirely possible that if the Ukraine had decided in a democratic manner to give the people of the Crimea a choice between the status quo, greater autonomy within Ukraine, Independence, or Union with Russia, that the latter would have been the most popular option.

But a hurried referendum under Russian guns with only two of those options on the table is not a democratic choice, it is a fig-leaf to cover a naked land grab.

That is why even Russia's closest ally China abstained when the issue was put to the vote at the United Nations - the Chinese have been on the wrong end of that kind of power grab a few times in their own history.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO and any attempt at military intervention on this occasion would be disastrous for all concerned.

Putin has damaged Russia as well as Ukraine with his actions and it is important that he is made to realise that. Otherwise he may try this tactic once too often, and blunder into World War III. The risk of such a conflict is now higher than at any time since the Berlin Wall came down.

By breaking the assurances which were given to Ukraine by Russia, Britain and the USA that if they gave up nuclear weapons their terrirorial integrity would be respected, Putin has also put the cause of nuclear non-proliferation back decades. Why should Iran, Pakistan or NorthKorea believe similar assurances now?

The line in the sand has to be that if Putin invades a NATO country - including one of those which used to be part of the Soviet Union - there will be a military response. Otherwise there is no point in having NATO. And without NATO every country in Europe is vulnerable.

Quote of the day 18th March 2014

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.”
 
( George MacDonald )

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St Patrick's day

Happy St Patrick's day to anyone reading this.

Quotes for St Patrick's Day 2014

"In Ireland the inevitable never happens and the unexpected constantly occurs."

(John Pentland Mahaffey)


"The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots as a joke, but the Scots haven't seen the joke yet."

(Oliver Herford)


"The shamrock is a religious symbol. St. Patrick said the leaves represented the trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That's why four leaf clovers are so lucky, you get a bonus Jesus."

(Stephen Colbery)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quote of the day 15th March 2014

"The value of a currency is ultimately what someone will give you for it: whether in food, juel, assets or labour"

(James Surowiecki)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tony Benn R.I.P.

I utterly disagreed with Tony Benn, who has died today, on so many, many things.

And yet he was an exceptionally remarkable human being. He was possibly the greatest orator of his generation. He was certainly one of the most charming men I ever met. And he was one of the greatest parliamentarians of the 20th century.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 14th March 2014

"Some of the jam we thought was for tomorrow, we've already eaten"

(Tony Benn 1969 - but very relevant in this decade, although he and I might disagree about who is to blame for this.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

MPs behaving badly

Earlier this week one of my work colleagues asked what I think of Prime Ministers' Question Time,  how MPs sometimes behave at it, and particularly the "Not invented here" syndrome which causes many parliamentarians to attack things which they would certainly do were they in government - or in many cases had done when they were.

I replied that I realise many of the public find some of the point scoring very childish, and the bad impression of politics thus created is unfortunate and off-putting.

However, it is not an accident that all Prime Ministers hate PMQs - it is because it does genuinely hold them to account. The fact that every PM knows he or she can be asked about anything the government is doing, and will have to answer in front of both a large round the world viewing audience and their own MPs forces them to keep on top of what their ministers are doing and think about how they might have to defend the governments' conduct of affairs.

For that reason I am convinced that Britain is better governed because PMQs exists and no government would dare abolish it - even though I share the concerns of those who wish the behaviour was a bit less like a bunch of kids at a kindergarten sometimes. (Indeed, I might be risking a class action from kindergarten-age children with that comparison.)

And by george, some of the behaviour is silly. This is what Giles Dilnot put together for the Daily Politics show yesterday on the BBC ...

Another Bizarre Labour position

One of the more extraordinary exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday was when Labour MP John Woodcock, who voted for the Labour amendement in the debate on Syria, suggested as you can read here that "Britain's failure to intervene-in Syria is shameful."

In text language, WTF?

I can respect those who look at a situation and say consistently all along that there is no possibility of military intervention being anything other than a disaster. That is my position on Ukraine now. I have less time for those who appeared to be more interested in tripping up their opponents than on adopting the right policy.

Labour have been arguing that they "stopped the rush to war." I don't know if it is true that they stopped it - because alternative diplomatic avenues to respond to the chemical weapons attack opened up a few days later and I suspect the US and British governments would have taken those options in preference to a military strike anyway - but when it comes down to it, Labour did vote against intervention and it is true that their opposition to military intervention was one of the factors which made it less likely.

So for an MP who voted for that Labour motion to complain now about Britain's "shameful failure to intervene" is a bit like the story of the boy who murdered both his parents and then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.

Crimean referendum doesn't have a "No" option on the ballot paper

The interim Crimean government and their puppet master in the Kremlin are insulting the intelligence of the world, and more importantly the people of the Crimea, with their bogus referendum on the future of the area.

Bad enough that it is taking place in a rush and under Russian guns. Worse, there is no option on the ballot paper for those who want neither to become part of Russia nor for a big increase in Russian power to say so.

There is a limit to the options the West has to make this point - military intervention is certainly not one - but we must certainly use diplomatic means to express our opposition to what Russia is doing in the Ukraine.

The people of the area should be allowed to choose their own destiny freely. If that means joining Russia, so be it. But I see no evidence at all that President Putin is willing to give them that free choice.

Quote of the Day 13th March 2014

"One man with courage is a majority"

(Thomas Jefferson)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kevin Beaty and David Cameron write on the EU referendum issue

Labour leader Ed Miliband announced his position today on whether the public should have a vote on Britain's EU membership.

He will not guarantee any such vote. However, he might hold one if the EU wanted significantly more powers, which he thinks is "unlikely."

Hmmm.

But when you look at the detail of what he is promising it is interesting to say the least. The current coalition government has already passed a law putting on a referendum lock which means that power cannot be passed from Westminster to the EU without a referendum on those proposals.

Miliband appears to want to replace this with a different type of referendum lock whereby you have to have an in-out referendum if the EU wants more powers.

This appears to be a replay of a trick Tony Blair and Nick Clegg tried nearly a decade ago, particularly at the time of what was called the constitutional treaty (later known as the Lisbon Treaty). They know they could not win a vote on the treaty, despite having promised to hold one, but thought they could win an "In or Out" referendum vote, so they offered that instead.

If that is Ed Miliband's game, and he tried this policy as Prime Minister, I think there is a real danger that he might fall foul of the law of unintended consequences.

Kevin Beaty, number three on the Conservative ticket for the North West of England in the European elections has some thoughts on the subject which you can read here.

David Cameron also has some thoughts on the issue and he writes as follows:

Our relationship with Europe isn’t working and it needs to change.
Last year, I set out a clear plan – seek a new settlement for Britain in Europe, and then put it to the British people in an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.
Today Ed Miliband has made his position crystal clear – there will be no referendum under Labour.
Only the Conservatives will guarantee and deliver that referendum. It will only happen if I am Prime Minister.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats won’t stand up for Britain, while UKIP simply can’t deliver on anything they promise.
If you believe that the British people should decide our country’s future in Europe, share this graphic on Facebook and Twitter.

Only the Conservatives will guarantee and deliver a referendum.
 
Share on FacebookTweet This

Thanks,
David Cameron signature
David Cameron

Another milestone ...

Earlier this week this blog had it's 175,000th pageview.

This is the 3000th post.

Quote of the day 12th March 2014

"We are products of our past, but we don't have to be prisoners of it."

(Rick Warren)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

When fantasists and hoaxers put lives at risk ...

I was horrified to read today that there were more than 330 apparently false or malicious 999 calls to Cumbria's Fire and Rescue services in 2013.

In the majority of cases the fact that there was not a genuine emergency quickly became apparent, but on more than 50 occasions firefighters were called out to deal with what proved to be a hoax.

As Bob Nixon, head of operational support at the fire service, said:

“Hoax calls put lives at risk by potentially diverting fire engines that could be needed at real emergencies.”

“People might think making these kind of calls is a harmless bit of fun, but it’s a highly reckless criminal offence that can easily have fatal consequences.”

He added:

“We work closely with the police to catch those responsible and, where we can prove the identity of a hoax caller, we’ll initiate a prosecution that the police can then follow up.

“The penalty for making hoax calls can be a £5,000 fine or up to six months’ imprisonment. We also have an agreement with the mobile phone providers that allows us to cut off the mobiles of those making these types of calls.”

The future of Ukraine and Crimea

Many years ago a radical Britisn politician pointed out that Crimea is an anagram of "A Crime."

Notwithstanding the cover of the current Private Eye, which refers to the Olympics and has Vladimir Putin with a speech bubble saying "I think Russia will win the shooting," a military conflict over Ukraine is in nobody's interest least of all those of the peoples of the Ukraine, who should be left to settle their own destiny freely at the ballot box without intervention by West or East.

Military intervention by the West should not happen and is not going to happen, but we have had a wake-up call about appearing weak and must exert maximum diplomatic pressure in support of genuine self-determination for the peoples of Ukraine.

The best solution for Russia would have been for Ukraine to be a bridge between East and West but Putin's own actions are making that increasingly impossible. It will be nobody's fault more than that of Vladimir Putin if the people of Ukraine become unfriendly to Russia and it will not happen because the West wanted it or caused it.

Just for once, let's resist the temptation to beat ourselves up over this. The handling of the Syria crisis was not Britain's finest hour, but it did not cause the change in regime in Ukraine and nor did it cause Russia, a country with former KGB officer as President, to start acting like a countgry with a former KGB officer as President.

Neither is the present crisis in the Ukraine the responsibilty of the EU in any way, shape or form. It is not the EU's fault if their attempt to negotiate a trade agreement with Ukraine caused both the former Ukranian regime and Russia to lose their marbles.

If the people of Crimea really wish to be part of Russia - which is possible but I wouldn't bet a brass farthing on it - then the terms of any debate and referendum should be set and implemented without outside coercion - e.g. not under Russian guns. Foreigners should participate only as observers and that includes citizens of the Russian Federation.

The acting Prime Minister of Ukraine and other figures in Kiev made an extremely strong argument when they pointed out that in exchange for Ukraine's giving up Nuclear Weapons, Russia, the USA and Britain guaranteed Ukraine's territorial integrity under the Budapest Memorandum in 1994.

Under that agreement all three powers affirmed their commitment to respect the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine.

Russia, the US and Britain also agreed to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons would ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

In the memorandum, they also agreed to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine if Kiev should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.

As Kiev points out, to break that agreement now would set a truly disastrous precedent for nuclear non-proliferation - how could Iran or North Korea be expected to take seriously similar guarantees if they are proved worthless to Ukraine?

Congratulations to Keswick School on an outstanding OFSTED result

Having been on the receiving end of OFSTED inspections as a school governor I know just how thoroughly they put a school under the microscope. It has been my experience that if there is anything in a school which needs improvement, they will find it.

So all the more impressive that Keswick School has just chalked up, for the second time, an inspection in which Ofsted awarded straight 1 grades (e.g. outstanding in all categories.)

You can read the inspection report on the school website here.

Quote of the day 10th March 2014

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

Sunday, March 09, 2014

DC on the European Elections and Postal Votes.

Prime Minister David Camern has beeen writing about the importance of voting in the European elections in two and a half months' time.

The European Parliament now has a lot more power than many people realise - for example, when David Cameron and Angela Merkel negotiated the first ever cut in the EU budget ceiling, the cut could not come into effect until it was ratified by the European Parliament, which took two attempts (partly because UKIP's MEPs initially failed to support the cut.)

David Cameron suggests that those who do not already have a postal vote and might find it easier to vote with one can apply online at the About My Vote website.


He writes as follows:

"This year's European election is the most important in a generation. For the first time since the Eurozone crisis, the British people get to have their say on our country's relationship with the EU.
 
"Since becoming Prime Minister, I've taken action to stand up for Britain:

  • Securing a cut in the EU budget to save British taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds
  • Vetoing a new EU treaty that would have given more power to Brussels and would have been bad for British businesses and taxpayers
  • Refusing to spend British taxes bailing out the euro

But I believe the EU needs fundamental change so it works for Britain.
 
"I will negotiate a better deal for Britain - and when I've finished, I'll give the British people a say on whether we should remain in the EU with an in-out referendum before the end of 2017.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats oppose this plan and want to deny the British people a say - while UKIP simply can't deliver.

"Only the Conservatives can deliver real change in Europe, and this election is a hugely important step to securing it.
 
So make sure you have your say by registering for a postal vote today.
 
Even if you decide to vote in person, you can still take your postal vote to your polling station and put it in the ballot box.
 
Best wishes,
David Cameron signature
David Cameron"

175,000 Not Out

This morning this weblog passed the milestone of 175,000 separate pageviews since the traffic counters started about seven years ago. The blog has been running continuously since February 2005, just under nine years and one month ago, which makes it one of the longest running blogs of any kind. Thanks to everyone who has visited in that time.

Quote of the day 9th March 2014

"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." (General Colin Powell)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

A terrible day for the police

When I was a boy I thought we could take for granted that our police were almost incorruptible and the envy of the world.

I have known a large number of police officers and in most cases it has been a privilege to know them. I remain convinced that most police officers in this country are dedicated and honest public servants, doing a difficult, sometimes unpleasant and sometimes dangerous job on behalf of the community.

Unfortunately, there are some people in every walk of life who fall short of the standards society has the right to expect of them.

And after what has now come out about

* the Hillsborough disaster

* the death of Ian Tomlinson following an unprovoked attack by a police officer

* the involvement of some police officers in the phone hacking scandal,

* the sackings of two police officers for gross misconduct after an inquiry found that they had lied about former chief whip Andrew Mitchell (one of whom was also given a prison sentence after pleading guilty in court to the same offence)

* repeated deeply alarming revelations about the mishandling of the Stephen Lawrence murder

there appear to be serious concerns that the mechanisms to hold police officers who fall short of those standards accountable do not appear to be working as well as we need them to work.

I am convinced that those who are involved in corruption, negligence and cover-ups are a small minority of police officers. But the damage they have done is out of all proportion to their numbers.

I support the action Therea May has taken to get to the bottom of this, but it is becoming more and more apparent that we need cross-party agreement on action to further improve the accountability of the police. Not just for the sake of the public but to protect the reputation and position of the vast majority of honest police officers.

Quotes of the day 8th March 2014

"This was a devastating report for the Met and one of the worst days that I have seen as a police officer"

(Sir Bernard Hogan-howe, Met Police Commissioner, on the most recent Lawrence report.)

"What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come about."

(Lord Melbourne)

Friday, March 07, 2014

Quote of the day 7th March 2014

"Time is everything: Five minutes makes the difference between victory and defeat" (Admiral Lord Nelson)

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Cllr Gordon Myland RIP

I have just had a letter from St Albans City & District Council advising me of the death on Tuesday of Councillor Gordon Myland, with whom my experience of working together on that council goes back more than 25 years.

I had my agreements and disagreements with "The Gnome" as he was sometimes nicknamed - boy, did I have my disagreements with him at times - but he worked extremely hard for the people of first Clarence ward and then Bricket Wood and Chiswell Green. He was an effective and very loud voice for the people of Clarence and then St Stephens. He also worked hard for the district as a whole, particularly as Mayor of the City and District in 2004/5, and took an active role in several other parts of the district's life besides that of the council - for example, he was involved with the local Morris Men.

I won't say St Albans could ever really be a boring place, but St Albans Council will certainly be more boring without Gordon.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 6th March 2014

"The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its' long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point."

(David Cameron)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Rory Stewart MP writes on Preserving the Union

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Borders, has written and circulated a piece on preserving the Union. Here is an extract from what he had to say.

"On 19 September we could wake up and find that Scotland has separated. That the United Kingdom as we have known it for four hundred years, has vanished. That a third of the land mass of Britain has broken apart. That anyone going to Scotland – on holiday or to see a relative – will be entering a separate country. Officials will be racing north and south to negotiate the terms of the separation: working out what to do with the Nuclear Submarines in Scotland, with the national electric grid, with currency and passports. Anyone with mixed English or Scottish blood will have to choose a single new identity, and reject a part of their previous identity. Scots in England will have to decide either to return “home”, to try to engage in the very difficult and uncertain task of launching a new much smaller, country; or to make a new life in England – as an immigrant in a foreign country.

Why has there not yet been a mass demonstration of support for the Union? Our population has never been so educated, long-lived, confident, well-travelled, or well-informed. We are concerned with poverty in Africa, nuclear power, the environment, the welfare state, and super-fast broadband. A change to the Lobbying bill, or a threat to the Public Forest estate can fill an MP’s inbox with thousands of emails. A proposal to build a wind-turbine can bring a hundred people in an instant onto a windy moor in the rain. A million people demonstrated against the Iraq war; more demonstrated against the hunting ban. Voters are rarely shy to say what their values are, or what they want for the United Kingdom. So why is there so little energy in saving the United Kingdom itself?

If a state tried to secede from the United States, the reaction would be beyond imagining. Even in gentle understated Canada, hundreds of thousands of Canadians from outside Quebec, rallied before the referendum to plead with Quebec to stay. You might expect every major British public figure – editor, writer, film-maker, actor, scientist, sports person, and historian– to make their own passionate and sincere arguments for why they care about Britain. But they aren’t.

It is tempting to blame apathy; but I suspect the problem is our identity. In most of Europe, nationalists worked to simplify their identities: invented new governments and reintroduced old languages, moved borders and then populations to eliminate diversity. Mixed territories – the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or much more recently Yugoslavia – were broken into smaller ‘nation-states.’ The idea was to ensure that someone, who might once have been simultaneously German, Czech, Czecho-Slovak, and Austro-Hungarian, became “simply” Czech.

But here it was different. The United Kingdom is the result of centuries of shared institutions, language and culture. It is the deep grammar behind our lives, our dreams and our actions. It is the context of our democracy, and the framework of all our government. Soldiers sign up to serve – and if necessary die for – the United Kingdom. When we vote in a general election we are choosing people to represent the United Kingdom; that is what the Prime Minister and Queen and the BBC are representing. The United Kingdom is the definition of what our nation is about, and who we are. The United Kingdom is precisely what we have – for more than three hundred years – been working to improve and preserve. After so many centuries it is very difficult to imagine what our identity would be without it. But none of this makes the United Kingdom any easier to understand.

The United Kingdom is a system in which a single state and monarch contains four different nations. We feel proudly English, or Scottish and also British, in different bewildering combinations. We have the same national broadcaster but separate legal systems. We compete against each other in Rugby but alongside each other in the Olympics. Cumbrians sometimes talk about Britain, sometimes about the United Kingdom, sometimes about England. We have forged an identity, which is contradictory, complicated – including both the Shetlands and London, where sixty per cent of people were not born in the United Kingdom – and sometimes almost invisible.

But that complexity is not something to try to deny, or “simplify”. It is something we should embrace. Not through pompous pieties. Or faking a rainbow community. We need different voices – poets, musicians, sports-people and community groups, from both sides of the border: people who – unlike politicians – are capable of being passionate about our predicament, and funny too. We should be able to be outrageous, even rude to each other, without denying our future together. We should revel in the complications, the oddities of our borders, and the contradictory names we give our islands. We can hate each other on the sports pitch but still want to keep each other. We – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – experience this tension, muddle, discord, and love, precisely because we are a family. We should not just abandon that 400 year old relationship, just because it’s not “simple”. We have never been simple people. And that is the strength of the United Kingdom, in a world that isn’t simple either

Breaking ranks with Putin

The people of Ukrainse should be allowed to settle their own destiny at the ballot box without military intervention from any quarter. I don't believe it would do any good for the people of Ukraine if the West were to attempt to intervene militarily, and I don't believe that any reasonable person could take anything the West has said as a threat to do so.

The EU has many faults which urgently need reform, but do I not believe any intelligent person who studies the situation for more than five minutes could take seriously the idea that the EU caused the present crisis in the Ukraine. Neither did Britain.

Only people who have an axe to grind against the EU are blaming Europe for this, and only people with an axe to grind against David Cameron or William Hague are blaming the UK government.

But the fact that starting World War Three is not a sensible response does not mean that we should not even express disapproval.

The delegation of Conservative MPs to the Council of Europe has suspended their membership of the European Democratic Group on the council - which also includes Putin's party - pending a motion for the council to sspend the Russian Federation from membership.

I don't see how Conservatives or representatives of any other democratic party can continue to sit in the same group as the United Russia party in present circumstances, so I think this was the right thing to do.