Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Frost's "The Road Not Taken" and a story about World War One

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
 
(Robert Frost)
 
I have been thinking of Frost's poem since coming across this account of an incident towards the end of World War One, which I found by chance a few days ago.

There are two opinions about whether it really happened: the fact that the story told by one participant was largely accepted by the other is not absolutely conclusive because human memory can play strange tricks even in less stressful circumstances than on the battlefield. I know from experience that someone who is told that he has done something and tries to remember it may "find" (in reality, manufacture) that memory and come to sincerely think that the story is true.  

According to the tale, the eyes of two decorated soldiers met on the battlefield on 28th September 1918. One served in the Green Howards and had been awarded the Victoria Cross: the other served in the 16th Bavarian infantry regiment and was a holder of the Iron Cross.

If it is true, Private Henry Tandy of the Green Howards could easily have shot the German corporal. But he saw that the man had been badly wounded and was withdrawing, and spared his life. It is beyond dispute that he said later that

“I didn’t like to shoot at a wounded man but if only I’d known who he would turn out to be… I’d give 10 years now to have five minutes of clairvoyance then.”

The German soldier was, of course, Adolf Hitler who, after he had become chancellor of Germany, ordered his staff to trace the man who he said had spared his life, and in 1938 he asked the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, to convey his thanks to Henry Tandy.

Tandy's old regiment, the Green Howards were convinced that the incident really happened: Tandy's biographer David Johnson thought it more likely that the Nazis had concocted the story for propaganda reasons. We will never know, although I don't see why the Nazis would want to manufacture a story which shows a soldier from the nation they were by 1938 preparing to fight in a good light, and their own Fuhrer in a light which could be seen as martial weakness. Which suggests to me that Hitler himself is more to have genuinely wanted to say thank you because a British soldier really did spare his life, whether it was Henry Tandy or someone else.

If so, did he do the right thing? We can never know what would have happened. Obviously Hitler used the extra 27 years he was given to do great evil.

But there was no way that Tandy, or any other soldier who decided not to add one more life to the millions wasted in that terrible way. For all he knew, the man he spared might have made a valuable contribution to rebuilding a peaceful, better Europe. If there had been a valid military reason to pull the trigger I am sure he would have done so, but his judgement was that there was not - correctly as Hitler spent the rest of the war recovering from his injuries. And it cannot be right to kill someone just because of crimes you think they might commit in the future.

I have a particular reason to hold that view. On almost the same day that Hitler was wounded, so was another solder -  a Fusilier in the Lancashire Fusiliers.

My grandfather and his younger brother both served in the First World War. Grandad was one of the fortunate ones who came back. His younger brother was one of no fewer than 1,200 people from the Darwin area of Lancashire who didn't. He died of his wounds at the age of 18, six weeks before the end of the war - e.g. within a couple of days of the alleged incident when Tandy spared Hitler.

Millions of young men like my great uncle never got the chance to show what they could do with the rest of their lives. If the story had any basis in reality, then the outcome that Hitler used his extra years for evil rather than good does not mean that the British soldier who showed mercy was wrong to do so.  

Quote of the day 31st December 2014

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
  
( Ralph Waldo Emerson )

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bravest of the Brave

The news that British health worker Pauline Cafferkey has been diagnosed with Ebola after returning to Scotland from Sierra Leone is a reminder of how very proud we should be of those British people who have risked their lives by going to Africa to fight this horrible disease.

Ms Cafferkey an associate public health nurse at Blantyre Health Centre, was part of a group of up to 50 NHS healthcare workers who returned to the UK at the weekend after volunteering in Sierra Leone. She had been working with Save the Children.

The outbreak of Ebola in Africa has already claimed  about 7,800 lives since it broke out a year ago. The World Health Organization estimates that the number of people infected by the disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea has now passed 20,000. It is very important this outbreak is brought under control, and those who have gone to fight the disease and help those suffering from it are true heroes.

They are the bravest of the brave.

Quote of the day 30th December 2014

“No one is born to courage ... Courage is a habit you develop after cowardice has gotten you nothing.”

  
( Sabrina Jeffries )

Monday, December 29, 2014

Quote of the day 29th December 2014

“I'm very depressed how in this country you can be told "That's offensive" as though those two words constitute an argument.”
  
(
Christopher Hitchens )

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A less futuristic Christmas parody

My final reposted item of Christmas Youtube humour. This time we go from the Starship Enterprise D to Frank Kelly's skit, in the form of twelve letters, about how a Irish family might feel about it should someone were resourceful but unworldly enough to actually send the gifts described in "The 12 days of Christmas" for real ...


Quote of the day 28th December 2014

“If it doesn't make sense, it's usually not true.”
  
( Judy Sheindlin )

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Futuristic Christmas - Part IV

The fourth and (possibly!) final part of my tongue-in-cheek set of reposted Youtube videos linking Christmas and Star Trek.

My daughter, who is an arch-Trekkie, was most disappointed that the present on the ninth day was not Deep Space Nine, but apart from that we found this hysterical, See what you think ...


Quote for the day 27th December 2014

"Christmas is the day that holds all time together"

(Alexander Smith)

Friday, December 26, 2014

A futuristic Christmas - Part III

Third of a series of four humorous "Star Trek" takes on Christmas, this is the "Voyager" version of "The Twelve Pains of Christmas" by Bob Rivers (obviously, itself a parody of The Twelve Days of Christmas).


Quote of the Day for Boxing Day 2014

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

(Charles Dickens)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Futuristic Christmas Part II

The second in a four-part series of posts linking Christmas and Star Trek

This is the "Star Trek Voyager" take on "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, which several of my family regard as one of their favourite pieces of Christmas music.

Quote of the day for Christmas Day 2014

"Gloria in excelsis Deo, Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis"

(Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men)

(From the Gospel according to St Luke, chapter 2, verse 14)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A futuristic Christmas - Part One

What might Christmas Future be like in the 22nd to the 24th century?

As a tongue in cheek way of marking Christmas, I am reposting over the next four days a set of four Youtube videos which adapt popular Christmas carols with a Star Trek theme.

I shudder to think how many hours of work the creators of the following 71 second clip spent mashing together dozens of very short video clips to make a "Next Generation" parody of "Let It Snow" but this is what they produced ...

CHRISTMAS PHARMACY OPENING TIMES

The NHS is encouraging people in Cumbria to plan their healthcare during the festive season.
With advice on common illnesses and the best medicines to treat them, visiting the pharmacist can save you time in the waiting room and help you feel better fast.
    
Dr David Rogers, Medical Director for NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“Your local pharmacy can be an excellent place in offering expert, confidential advice and treatment for many minor health problems.”

“Many pharmacies will remain open over the Christmas holidays, when other services are often unavailable. We would also encourage patients, as most GP surgeries will be closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day’ to order any medication they need in plenty of time so they have a good supply during the festive period.”.

Cumbria pharmacy opening hours can be found on the keep calm this winter website|.

If you are in West Cumbria and having difficulty opening the files on the above site, the Bank Holiday emergency chemists in Whitehaven this holiday season are as follows:

Christmas Day 2014: W. Fare Ltd
71-73 Market Place, Whitehaven CA28 7JG
Open 3.30pm to 5.30pm

Boxing Day 2014: Boots the Chemist
26 King Street, Whitehaven CA28 7JN
Open 4.30pm to 5.30pm

New Year's Day 2015: Morrison's Pharmacy
Morrison's supermarket, Flatt Walks, Whitehaven CA28 7RW
Open 12 noon to 1pm

For information on walk-in centres, urgent care centres or minor injuries units please visit the NHS Choices website|. Patients can type in their postcode on the website to find their nearest services.

A very merry Christmas 2014 to everyone reading this blog

To everyone reading this who is a Christian, may the spirit of the Christ child, the love of Mary, the faithfulness of Joseph, the joy of the Angels, the wonder of the Shepherds, the wisdom of the Magi, and the Peace of God be with you this Christmastide.

To anyone reading this who has a faith other than Christianity, may your God be with you at this time.

To anyone reading this who does not have a religious faith, I wish you peace, health and happiness and hope you are refreshed by a wonderful holiday with the people you love.

I will be posting some light-hearted items about Christmas in the 22nd to the 24th centuries over the next four days, starting later today.

Quote of the day Christmas Eve 2014

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

(Last line of "A visit from St Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore, more often known as " '​Twas the Night Before Christmas" from its' first line. The poem was first published anonymously in 1823, and later attributed to Moore, who acknowledged authorship some fifteen or twenty years after it was first published.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Last chance to comment on proposed move of Whitehaven Lowther Street Post Office

The consultation closes at midnight tonight (23rd December 2014), on a proposal to move the Post Office at Lowther Street, Whitehaven to the W.H. Smith branch at King Street.

Details of the proposed change can be found at

https://www.postofficeviews.co.uk/branchcode.php?query=005410&frmnd=liveconsultation

(If you go to this page via the Post Office main site, the branch consultation code for this particular proposed change is 005410.)

The main advantage for customers is extended opening hours at the weekend: it is proposed that the new Post Office branch at Smiths will be open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in addition to the current Saturday morning opening.

The new branch is proposed to have four service positions, two screened and two open plan: that is supposed to be based on the current demand levels but strikes me as a bit light (the current post office has six screened positions, and although they are not usually all open I have seen more than four open at peak times.)

If you have views on this and have not yet submitted them, please put them forward online now. You can still do this at the above website (it takes about five minutes to fill in as there are a lot of mandatory questions), or by sending an email to comments@postoffice.co.uk

Quote of the day 23rd December 2014

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”
  
(
Joseph Joubert)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Comments policy on this Blog

Since I switched off comment moderation on this blog more than a year ago, I have been given very little reason to regret that decision.

Unfortunately in the last week I have had to remove three offensive posts.

In the interest of free debate I often allow people to post here criticism of people I like and of decisions I agree with, but there are certain limits to what I will tolerate and one of them is that people's kids are off limits. Full stop.

I know some people involved in politics make a big thing of their family but I have always tried to protect my children's privacy, which is why you will never find their photographs on my election literature. Nor have I ever gone after a political opponent on the basis of anything concerning their children. I know it happens, but I do not regard that particular tactic as part of legitimate political debate, whoever it comes from, and I will not have it on this blog, whoever does it, and regardless of whose children are being mentioned.

I also consider guilt by association to be a discreditable tactic and have removed a post which appeared to be trying to infer something extremely nasty by means of an association for which there is no reliable evidence.

I also have a set of obit rules - if I publish a "Rest in Peace" post about someone who as just died it I will not accept posts critical of the deceased. That is because there is a non-trivial possibility that their friends and family might search the internet looking for tributes to the loved one they have lost and find such a post instead.

If you want to have a constructive political debate I welcome your views even if I disagree with them and there are literally thousands of posts I have allowed to stand on this blog which it should be obvious do not reflect my own opinions to prove it. But if you want to post personal attacks and innuendo, please set up your own blog or website and leave mine alone.

You can't watch this film ...

I suspect that the outcome of the attempt to by hackers to prevent publication of the satirical film "The Interview" may ultimately cause it to be seen by far more people who will seek out the film on principle to see what other people want to stop them watching.

But the initial success of the people who wanted to censor the film is most depressing.

It reminded me of some of the arguments in one of the most interesting and frightening books I've read recently, and the rest of this post is largely a repeat of the review of that book which I put on this blog shortly after reading it last year.

"You Can't Read This Book" by Nick Cohen made a frightening case that censorship in the internet age is far more prevalent than most of us would like to think - and the one good thing about the row over "The Interview" is that the attempt to suppress it was so open that it may, I hope, have acted as a wake-up call about how those who want to censor and control what we can read and watch have had far more success than they deserve.

Nick Cohen is a left wing journalist, but one with a mind of his own, and consequently although I often strongly disagree with him he is often worth reading. His previous books include "Pretty Straight Guys" which was a coruscating attack on the integrity of the New Labour government under Tony Blair, and "What's Left?: How the Left Lost its Way: How Liberals Lost Their Way."

"You can't read this book" is a chilling account of how Western civilisation has, largely through a failure to stand up to those who are willing to kill or threaten anyone who writes or publishes something they disagree with, allowed it to become difficult to publish certain types of idea, and that we voluntarily censor what we will write or allow others to write about certain subjects.

He begins the book with a ruthlessly candid account of the controversy over Salman Rushdie's book, "The Satanic Verses" which concludes by suggesting it is unlikely that any author of equivalent status to Rushdie would dare try to bring out such a  novel today, and that if someone did, it would be very difficult for them to find a publisher.

From Rushdie onwards, Cohen points out a horrifying number of cases where someone who was trying to publish a work of fiction or art which should never have offended a reasonable person, or to express an opinion which ought not to have been controversial to anyone who believes in basic human rights, was threatened with violence or became a victim of actual violence.

What is worst was that in almost every one of these cases, people in the West who should have been willing to stand up and defend freedom of speech have instead attacked the victims for "provoking" the threatened or actual violence.

Those who were guilty of failing to support free speech came from both right and left. In an illustration that those of us with any idealism tend to expect more of our own side, Nick Cohen appears rather more disappointed with the left wingers who failed the test, where I was most upset while reading the book with centre-right people guilty of the same thing. Sadly there were too many of both.

In the case of Salman Rushdie the main culprits were Ayatollah Khomeini and Islamist extremists but Cohen shows how other religious or racist fanatics were quick to copy what the Islamists achieved and use a warped idea of tolerance as a weapon to suppress legitimate criticism and perpetuate oppression, particularly but not exclusively of women.

My worldview differs from Nick Cohen's in a great many ways, and there were more than a few opinions in this book which I strongly disagree with.

For example, I was surprised when a chapter of this book which otherwise contained a number of strong arguments about the way the British legal system makes it too easy for powerful vested interests to sue people suggested that "In 1998 the English Judiciary hit its nadir when it allowed David Irving ... to sue the American historian Deborah Lipstadt for saying that he manipulated evidence to 'prove' that the holocaust had never happened."

There have indeed been instances in which fear of legal action from David Irving in the English courts appears to have persuaded publishers to remove passages from books by other historians which would have made rather better examples of exactly the sort of censorship Nick Cohen is discussing in his book. For example. the publisher of the British edition of  John Lukacs's book "The Hitler of History" omitted certain passages which had appeared in the American edition of  the book and which were highly critical of David Irving's historical methods, apparently because Irving had threatened to sue Lukacs over those passages.

However, the Irving v. Lipstadt case, far from being a "nadir" for the British judiciary, was a massive defeat for both Irving - whose pretensions to being a serious historian were forensically destroyed in court and who was made responsible for the costs of the case, subsequently going bankrupt - and for holocaust deniers in general.

I deplore "libel tourism" and hope that the defamation bill brought in by the present government succeeds in reducing it, but since Lipstadt's book "Denying the Holocaust" had been published in Britain, and since it accused Irving of being a holocaust denier, falsifier and bigot, charges which would certainly have been defamatory had they been untrue, it is difficult to see how the legal system could have refused to allow Irving to bring the action.

Mr Justice Gray summarized his findings as follows:

Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism ... therefore the defence of justification succeeds. ... It follows that there must be judgment for the Defendants.


Another example is that Cohen thinks "The Satanic Verses" is a great book and I did not, though for that very reason I found it all the more important to resist the idea that anyone had the right to incite Rushdie's assassination for writing it.

Nick Cohen's main arguments, however, about the need for those who believe in democracy to stand up more effectively for free speech were extremely powerful.

Before reading this book, I would have said that the fundamental test of your commitment to freedom of speech within the law is not your willingness to stand up for the right of people to publish books you agree with, but your willingness to defend the right to publish opinions you detest.

What really frightened me about "You cannot read this book" was that Cohen demonstrates convincingly that far too many people in the West not merely failed to stand up for the right to publish things they didn't like, but wouldn't even stand up to defend the right to publish things they should, if they were consistent in their views, have supported.

You may think that in the internet age suppressing ideas would be out of the question. This book demonstrates that for those who are determined to do so, making it very difficult to express ideas you don't like is far easier than it should be.

What has happened to "The Interview" is an even more pointed warning and we have nobody but ourselves to blame it we don't heed that warning.

Political logic

I came across an excellent piece yesterday on logical fallacies which are often found in political debate, which was on E. Magill's "Unapologetic Geek" blog here.

It is called The Top 10 logical fallacies in politics and although it is obviously written about US politics all of these are also found in political debate in the UK.

Quote of the day 22nd December 2014

“A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.”

  
( William Blake )

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Afterword to the Indyref ...

It is often impossible to be certain afterward who was right in a debate because you don't know what would have happened on "The Road Not Taken" but if I were a Scot who had voted "Yes" in the belief that this would be a recipe for a prosperous Scotland, I would be starting to be secretly glad to have been outvoted.

It's been noted in a number of threads on this blog that the very low level of inflation is partly due to a fall in the price of oil, and hence fuel costs - and also that this, like a tax cut imposed on governments rather than enacted by them, has the effect of reducing tax revenues while improving the financial position of ordinary consumers.

This changes some of the sums, and I have just been watching a discussion on the news about one particular set of sums which have started to pretty seriously unravel - the SNP case on the financial stability of an Independent Scotland would have been damaged by oil prices at their present level and shot to pieces if oil prices drop much further.

Of course, oil prices can go both down and up. One very good reason not to base much of your economic strategy on a particular assumption about what's going to happen to them.

Quote of the day 21st December 2014

“There is no point in using the word 'impossible' to describe something that has clearly happened.”
  
(
Douglas Adams )

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Helping older people find work

There is rightly a lot of concern about youth unemployment, but people at the other end of the working age spectrum need jobs too.

That's why the government is launching a trial scheme next year to help older people find work.

Unemployed over-50s will be offered "career reviews" and help using computers as part of plans to get more people in that age group into work. The trial will also include seven "older worker champions" across the UK.

An estimated 1.2 million over-50s are unemployed and "willing to work" - and if they all found jobs it would add £50bn to the economy. Employment Minister Esther McVey pointed out that it is wrong that so many skilled people are "locked out" of work.

Long-term unemployment in the wider population fell 16% in the past year - but joblessness among the over 50s fell by only 3.5%.

The trial, to be launched in April, will include training in CV and interview skills, the internet and social media, as well as "career reviews" with an expert to identify skills from previous work and any training needs.

"Champions" will be appointed in seven areas of the UK. That will cost the taxpayer £250,000 but if they have any success in helping people back to work the scheme will very soon pay for itself.

McVey said that part of the programme is about "challenging outdated stereotypes".

"The plight of unemployed older workers has gone under the radar for too long. There's something fundamentally wrong with so many skilled and experienced people finding themselves locked out of the workplace simply because of their age," she told BBC Radio 5 live.

She pointed to "record numbers" of people getting into work since 2010, adding that in the past year more than 250,000 people over 50 had found jobs.

Ester McVey explained that the scheme is not in any way about older workers taking the place of younger employees.

"More jobs are being created in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. We've just got to make sure that everybody is a part of that growth" she said.

PC Neil Doyle RIP

Police Constable Neil Doyle was murdered while off duty this week.

It is not yet certain why he was attacked, but he was one of three off-duty police officers who were attacked while they were on a Christmas night out together in plain clothes. One of the lines of inquiry for those investigating the murder is that they were attacked because they had been recognised as policemen.

PC Doyle's murder is therefore a reminder to us all of the risks taken and sacrifices made on our behalf  by the police officers who protect us.

Neil Doyle had been married in July and had been due to go on  honeymoon with his new wife next month.

He had joined Merseyside Police in May 2004, and was an operational officer who was described as "well liked and respected by his colleagues." Most of his time working as a police officer had been spent in Liverpool, and he had been commended for his actions when arresting three men in a "violent offensive robbery"

Merseyside Police Federation chairman Peter Singleton told the BBC that PC Doyle was "a good cop that any officer would be proud to call a colleague".

"Neil was the kind of officer the police service is built on. This is devastating news," he said.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 20th December 2014

"He would, wouldn't he?"

(Mandy Rice-Davies, who died yesterday. This was of course the riposte she gave from the witness box in 1963, when still a teenager, for which she is best remembered, when told that a prominent politician had denied sleeping with her. The response is still referred to today, sometimes using the abbreviation MRDA for "Mandy Rice-Davies applies")

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mad Friday - don't overdo it

I've just seen Cumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner, Richard Rhodes, on TV on the streets of Whitehaven with the local police as part of a message reminding people not to overdo their celebrations today.

Of course people can and should enjoy themselves on finishing work at the start of the last weekend before Christmas. But let's remember that our A&E services are already working flat out at the moment because of the time of year and under more pressure than at any time since weekly records started. So don't unnecessarily become one of their customers!

Inflation falls to 12-year low

Figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics show that on the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure, the UK's rate of inflation has fallen to a 12-year low.

The Consumer Prices Index,which assesses the cost of basic household goods - fell to a rate of 1% in November from 1.3% in October.

Inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index, while slightly higher than on the CPI measure, also fell to the lowest value of that index for several years, in this case from 2.3% to a five-year low of 2% .

The Office for National Statistics said falling fuel prices, caused by the decline in global oil prices, have brought the costs of both road and air travel down, with petrol prices down 5.9% in November.

Additionally, food prices fell by 1.7%, helped by supermarket price wars, while recreation and culture prices fell by 0.3%.

Both food and fuel account for a large part of the ONS' inflation calculations.

The Bank of England, which has been set a target for CPI inflation of 2%, said last month that the rate could drop below 1% in the next six months.

One consequence of the low level of inflation which will be good news for businesses and borrowers, though less good for savers, is that that the Bank is unlikely to raise interest rates from the historic low of 0.5% for some time. Of course, it also means that inflation will do less damage to the value of savings

If inflation were to fall below 1%, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, would have to write a letter of explanation to the chancellor.

Ben Brettell, an economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, told the BBC  that the Bank will not be too concerned by the fact that inflation is below target.

"A fall below 1% now looks likely, but the resulting letter of explanation from Mark Carney to the chancellor should be relatively easy to write," he said.

"A reduction in fuel costs is good news for the UK economy, and can be seen as broadly analogous to a tax cut. It should ease the pressure on household budgets and boost consumer spending."

I'm also extremely relaxed about inflation being below target as long as it does not actually go negative - falling overall prices can do horrible things to an economy, but so can rising prices. I raised my eyebrows at the idea that a drop in the world price of oil is analogous to a tax cut. One obvious difference is that reducing the price of oil is not something the government has done, though it is true that it has the effect of a transfer of spending power from the government to the citizens, which I presume is what Mr Brettell meant.

Basically low inflation is good news which will help the process of recovery.

Quotes of the day 19th December 2014

"A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them."

(John C Maxwell)

"I am humble enough to recognise that I have made mistakes, but politically astute enough to have forgotten what they are."

(Michael Heseltine 04/04/1992 and see also the comment thread on Tuesday 16th December's Quote of the Day) 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

William Hague predicts the 2015 election will be close (and I agree!)

William Hague writes ...
 

"We know next year's election is going to be close.

The other parties have already started eyeing up cosy deals:
  • Nigel Farage has said he'd prop up Ed Miliband as Prime Minister
  • The Scottish National Party have drawn up a shopping list of demands in return for a deal with Labour
  • And the Greens have promised to "push Labour to be truer to its original principle" if they join with Ed Miliband
One thing's clear: we need to make sure Britain avoids the chaos and uncertainty of a Labour-led coalition government - and we need your help to do so.

A group of supporters have promised to match any donation you make today - so please donate to our campaign and your contribution will be doubled.

Britain needs strong and stable leadership and a clear economic plan to secure a better future. Only the Conservatives can deliver that.

Make a donation to our campaign today - and your donation will be matched, pound for pound, doubling your contribution:

Thank you,
 

William Hague
 
PS Every vote will matter at this crucial election. Every call we make, every leaflet we deliver, every door we knock on could change the outcome. Please contribute to our campaign today - and get your donation matched, pound for pound.

Quote of the day 18th December 2014

"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination"

(Nelson Mandela)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quotes of the day 17th December 2014

"Beware of false knowledge, it is more dangerous than ignorance"

(George Bernard Shaw)


"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

(The same statement in rather earthier language which I have seen variously attributed to three 19th-century American humourists: Mark Twain,  Will Rogers and Josh Billings, among others.)



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

DC writes about the importance of small businesses

This is a statement the Prime Minister issued for Small Business Saturday last week


  
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy - and they make our communities stronger.

The hard work of those who run them and work for them - the early starts and the late finishes - helps create jobs for others, while providing the goods and services every neighbourhood needs.

The Conservatives are backing small businesses every way we can: lower taxes, better infrastructure, less red tape.

Small Business Saturday is our chance to say thank you to the pubs, plumbers, butchers, garages, cafes and other businesses that are the backbone of our communities.

So please - share this graphic on Facebook and Twitter and say thank you to the small businesses in your area.

 
Graphic - Thank you
 
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Yours,

David Cameron

Quote of the day 16th December 2014

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

 
(Quoted as an answer to any attentive reader who may have noticed that the quotes I have put down on success and failure over the last fortnight represent different views and do not always perfectly align.) 
 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The choice at the next election: competence or chaos

David Cameron writes:
 

"There is a simple choice at the next election: between competence and chaos.

With our long-term economic plan, you get competence.

Sound public finances and reducing the deficit are at the heart of our plan.

Today we have published a new Charter for Budget Responsibility, which makes clear our commitment to making £30 billion of savings in the first two years of the next Parliament.

We have already cut the deficit in half - and now we have set out clear steps to finish the job. And a Conservative Government will run a budget surplus by 2018/19.

It is vital we see our plan through - so please add your name today to back the action we're taking to build a stronger, healthier economy.

Continuing to borrow more indefinitely, to pile on the debt, would leave Britain completely unprepared should any crisis hit in the future.

But that is exactly what Labour would do. Their plans involve running a budget deficit - permanently adding to the debt - every year. Indefinitely.

The independent experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies are clear: under a Labour government "you'd have much more borrowing, and therefore government debt."

They say that Labour's borrowing rules would allow them to borrow £28 billion more. And according to Treasury analysis of the equivalent of Labour's policy, the national debt would be almost £500 billion bigger in 21 years' time.

That would mean higher taxes on you, your family and on Britain's businesses.

And it would mean under-funded public services - because you cannot have a strong NHS, strong schools, strong police forces, strong anything without a strong economy.

The consequences of Labour's plans do not bear thinking about. They would lead to total and utter chaos.

So please back our plan today and let's stay on course to prosperity - and secure a better future for Britain.

Thank you,

David Cameron"
Donate today

Coming clean about torture

Senator John McCain probably knows more than the rest of the US Senate put together about severe methods of interrogation, having been on the receiving end himself when he was a prisoner of war. He described the interrogation methods used by the CIA and described in the recent Senate report as a stain on the honour of America.

Let's be clear about this - torture has no place in any stage of bringing the guilty to justice. And although there must be a temptation to use extreme methods in interrogating a prisoner who you believe might have information which could save many innocent lives, the evidence that torture actually works even in this case is extremely limited. No civilised country should use this sort of tactics or condone them - and I do wonder how much the Blair government knew about what was happening. There is a case for an inquiry into whether any British agencies were involved.

But I do think that the US system deserves some credit for the transparency with which the US Senate has conducted and published the results of their investigation.

I cannot think of another country in their world whose legislature would have openly published a report as embarrassing and damning as the one  the US senate brought out this month concerning how suspected terrorists have been treated.

The fact that this report has been published will have an affect on how prisoners and suspects are treated in future, not just on suspects held by the USA and its' allies but around the world. There will be short-term damage to the reputation of the West caused by - entirely justified - horror at what has been going on. With regimes and organisations which treat people even worse being the first to point hypocritical fingers at the USA.

But when people see that the truth can come out, they will start to look over their shoulders. And in the long term, the decision of the US Senate to, borrowing the Iron Duke's words, "Publish and be damned" will do more damage to totalitarian regimes than it will to democracies.

Quote of the day 15th Decembver 2014

"A state without the means of some change is without the means of its' conservation"

(Edmund Burke)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cumbrian School highlighted in OFSTED report

Keswick School in Cumbria was included as a case study of outstanding practice in Ofsted’s annual report for 2013-14 which was published last week. This annual report receives national media attention and indicates the state of primary and secondary education across the UK.

Keswick School is the second case study in the report (p18) and features as an example of how curriculum design and enrichment opportunities can result in outstanding outcomes for young people.

The report states:

"Case study: a balanced curriculum
Keswick School in the North West offers a fantastic wealth of courses, visits and enrichment opportunities.

The curriculum ensures that pupils’ skills and talents are equally encouraged in activities that range from fell running to Russian and creative writing to catering. Any student who has an idea for a course, a club or a school visit is given every encouragement to make their idea become a reality.

The sixth form curriculum is excellent. Sixth formers are particularly well prepared for future employment and higher education through the outstanding programme of study they are given. They take full advantage of the myriad opportunities to take responsibility and consequently make a major contribution to the success of the school."

My experience of OFSTED inspections over something like 25 years a governor of various schools is that getting this level of praise from them is a considerable achievement. Congratulations to all at Keswick who have worked so hard to produce the excellent results for students which the OFSTED report praises.

Quote of the day 14th December 2014

“There are no secrets to success: don’t waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence.”
  
( Colin Powell )

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Are you a British Citizen living abroad ?

A significant minority of the traffic on this blog come from outside the United Kingdom: I suspect that some of these viewers  may be British people living or working outside the UK who were searching for news of home.

If you are a British citizen currently living abroad, have you registered to vote in Britain?

The next election is the most important in a generation - and it's vital that everyone who can vote gets behind the Conservative plans to secure a better future for Britain.

And if you are planning to return home, it's your future too.

Of the 5 million British people living abroad, virtually none are registered to vote - despite the fact it's now really simple to do online.

In fact, it only takes 5 minutes to sign up for a postal vote.


So if you might be eligible to vote, you can check and register to do so by following  this link:

www.overseasvote2015.com

The one thing academic experts and people on every party of the political spectrum agree on is that next year's British General election is the hardest to predict in a lifetime - and could easily be very close indeed. In an election with so much at stake, votes from British people living abroad could be the difference between a Conservative Government committed to reducing the deficit, cutting taxes and building a stronger, healthier economy - or a return to higher taxes, higher borrowing, and less control over welfare with Labour.

Please share this link - www.overseasvote2015.com - with people who currently live outside the UK.

And together, we can secure a better future for Britain.

Campaigning in Carlisle

Spent this morning in Dalston ward, Carlisle constituency with John Stevenson MP and his campaign team, and my colleagues from Cumbria Conservatives' Area Management Executive.

We then had a very interesting seminar on membership presented by Rob Semple, who as President of the National Conservative Convention was the chairman of this year's party conference.

Quote of the day 13th December 2014

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”
 
( George Bernard Shaw )

Friday, December 12, 2014

Travel Troubles

Have been travelling round the country for the past three days. I was working in Birmingham for my employer on Wednesday, and then travelled down to the Bristol area last night for a meeting of Bristol University Court (of which I am a member) this morning.

In both cases the journey out went without a hitch and the journey home was stressful. My trip to Birmingham on Wednesday morning took the expected four hours and I arrived in good time but because wind brought a tree down on the railway power cables near Lancaster, effectively closing the Northbound West West Coast Main line for several hours at that point, my journey home took eight hours instead of four and I was one of thousands of people who had a badly disrupted journey. Similarly the trip down to Bristol went smoothly despite some very wet weather but the M5 and M6 were dire this afternoon and evening and I arrived home rather later than I had hoped and planned.

Those who oppose HS2 and HS3 are entitled to their views and I can also see the case that if these projects go ahead it is important to have adequate compensation to those who will lose out if the railway is built close to their homes.

But I am entitled to my views too and, as someone who lives in the North West but sometimes had good reason to travel to other parts of the UK on business or public service, I think we desperately need improvements and modernisation  in the transport infrastructure serving the Northern areas of the UK - and not just to Birmingham or even Manchester and Yorkshire either. 

Quote of the day 12th December 2014

“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.”
  
( Winston S. Churchill )

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quote of the day 10th December 2014

“I can't tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
  
( Ed Sheeran )

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Consultation on proposed move of Whitehaven Lowther Street Post Office

The post office is carrying out a consultation, which runs until 23rd December 2014, on a proposal to move the Crown post office at Lowther Street, Whitehaven to the W.H. Smith branch at King Street.

Details of the proposed change can be found at

https://www.postofficeviews.co.uk/branchcode.php?query=005410&frmnd=liveconsultation

(If you go to this page via the Post Office main site, the branch consultation code for this particular proposed change is 005410.)

The main advantage for customers is extended opening hours at the weekend: it is proposed that the new Post Office branch at Smiths will be open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in addition to the current Saturday morning opening.

The new branch is proposed to have four service positions, two screened and two open plan: that is supposed to be based on the current demand levels but strikes me as a bit light (the current post office has six screened positions, and although they are not usually all open I have seen more than four open at peak times.)

If you have views on this, please put them forward before Christmas. Options to do this include going online at the above website (it takes about five minutes to fill in as there are a lot of mandatory questions), by sending an email to comments@postoffice.co.uk or by phoning 08456 223344.

And yes, you can do it by post at "FREEPOST Your Comments."

Quote of the day 9th December 2014

“Never was anything great achieved without danger.”
  
( Niccolò Machiavelli )

Monday, December 08, 2014

Hail Caesar (and snow and rain)

Well, the boys and girls at the Met Office who issued that snow and ice warning for Cumbria were not kidding. It hasn't been quite so bad in Whitehaven after a severe hailstorm shortly before 8am this morning, but if you are out and about in Cumbria today do wrap up warmly and take care.

Doing a Thornberry

It occurred to me after one of yesterday's posts that I have now used the expression of "Doing a Thornberry" on someone in two separate posts without making clear what I meant.

The extraordinary thing about the tweet which terminated Emily Thornberry's membership of the shadow cabinet was that it appeared at first view entirely harmless, and it was the way it was subsequently presented that was so disastrous for her. I had to spend ten minutes explaining to one of my family, who is not lacking in political awareness, why a picture of a house with the three word caption "Image from #Rochester" could possibly be a resigning matter.

And of course, if Labour still had the sort of efficient spin operation which Campbell and Mandelson ran for Blair, it wouldn't have been.

The tweet was so damaging to Labour because their opponents in the press and on the net were able to convince many people that the tweet was a coded sneer against the sort of working class voter who live in houses like that one. Which they were only able to do because Thornberry's response to the tweet failed to squash that interpretation and, even more damning, the fact that half the Labour party promptly started attacking her for it, and the way Ed Miliband sacked her demonstrated only too clearly that they believed the tweet meant exactly what her opponents said it did. If she'd said she was impressed by the patriotism of the residents of the house, and everyone had stuck to that line, how could anyone have proved her wrong?

To explain what was meant in my earlier posts, I now use the expression "Doing a Thornberry" on sometime to mean successfully presenting a post or comment on the internet as a politically suicidal attack on people whose support is essential to the author of the item so represented. Irrespective of whether this attack is in fact a fair representation of what was meant.

Quote of the day 8th December 2014

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
  
( Winston S. Churchill )

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Hitler/Alex Salmond finds out the result of the Scottish Indyref

Having posted the brilliant "I won't survive" parody by Adrian Davis-Johnston about the need to keep West Cumberland Hospital, and the "We Want Out Hall" parody about the Civic, I thought I might also post the "Downfall" parody in which Hitler invades Whitehaven and is horrified to find out that Copeland Council have shut down the Civic Hall, the public toilets, etc ...

I didn't feel able to post it on this blog because it would make it too easy for someone to do a Thornberry on me. If you took some of the things in the "Hitler invades Whitehaven" downfall parody on Youtube out of context, and suggested that by posting it I had endorsed them, it would then be possible to make it look like I'd crossed the line between criticising the Labour group on Copeland Council and insulting Whitehaven.

But I also found this Downfall parody which it seemed rather appropriate on the weekend that Alex Salmond is planning to stand again as an MP.

My favourite image from the campaign was that of Mr Salmond and the Flying Scotsman - unfortunately for him the letter F appeared to have been put on one of the trains' doors and it when that door was open it appeared to be a commentary on the then First Minister's trustworthiness ...

This Youtube clip suggests what it might have been like to be a fly on the wall when Alex Salmond learned the result of the Indyref ...


Winter is icumin in ...

Warp up warm if you're going out anywhere in West Cumbria tonight or tomorrow morning: it has been very cold and windy this weekend and there is a Met Office snow and ice warning for Cumbria this evening and tomorrow morning as follows
  1. From:
  2. 2030 on Sun 7 December
  3. To:
  4. 1200 on Mon 8 December
  5. Updated 1 hour ago Active
  6. Warning

  7. Showers will affect the area during Sunday night and into Monday morning, falling increasingly as snow above 200-300 m with a mixture of rain, hail, sleet and snow to lower levels. Accumulating snow may lead to travel disruption on routes over high ground, whilst icy stretches are also likely to form more generally on untreated surfaces.

    The public should be aware of the potential for disruption to travel during Sunday night and Monday morning.This is an update to extend the warning area further west across Wales and also further south.
  8. Yellow warning of ice

    From:
    2030 on Sun 7 December
    To:
    1200 on Mon 8 December
    Updated 1 hour ago Active

    Warning

    Showers will affect the area during Sunday night and into Monday morning, falling increasingly as snow above 200-300 m with a mixture of rain, hail, sleet and snow to lower levels. Accumulating snow may lead to travel disruption on routes over high ground, whilst icy stretches are also likely to form more generally on untreated surfaces.The public should be aware of the potential for disruption to travel during Sunday night and Monday morning.

Quote of the day 7th December 2014

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
  
( Robert F. Kennedy )

Friday, December 05, 2014

Alphabetical discrimination

Obviously with a surname beginning with "W" I have to declare an interest here, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that names should be ordered on ballot papers in random order rather than alphabetically and that the continued use of alphabetical order is a form of discrimination.

The BBC web site currently has a report up on the book "Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box" which you can read in full at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30129990

and which includes the following:

"Voters don't read to the bottom of the ballot paper

Ballot paper

Research into local election results shows candidates with surnames beginning with A to F gain an advantage by appearing at the top of the ballot paper. Some voters cannot be bothered to read to the end it seems. Candidates with British surnames also do better."


It is ridiculous that some people who take the trouble to vote at all cannot be bothered to do it properly, but having spent two-thirds of my life active in politics I have seen it proved many times over that the kind of daft behaviour referred to in the book does sometimes happen.

My very first election campaign was the combined General Election and District Council Elections in 1979, when Mrs T was first elected, and St Albans Young Conservatives which I had recently joined were asked to run the St Peters ward campaign.

Some of the voters who had obviously just turned out for the General Election did not appear to have strong views on who should be their councillor, and put their crosses against the first three names on the local election ballot paper.

The number of people who did this was not enormous but it was a close election and there were enough of them to tip the balance, so that the ward returned the first three candidates by alphabetical surname - who happened to be one Labour, one Independent, and one Conservative candidate.

The successful Conservative candidate was extremely upset at getting elected in such a ridiculous way - in fact my first memory of someone who was to give many years of devoted service to the people of the City and District, and become a valued friend and colleague, is of her explaining in no uncertain terms shortly after the declaration how upset she was at a result which made such a nonsense of the election process.

Mind you, at least those voters had bothered to read the instructions on the ballot paper about how to fill in a valid vote, e.g. how many crosses to put where and so on. In the subsequent thirty-five years I have been shown by various returning officers literally thousands of ballot papers submitted by electors who could not even manage that.

In most elections alphabetical discrimination is not a serious problem but in certain circumstances it can be and one distorted election is too many.

At the very least we should replace ordering the names on a ballot paper alphabetically by surname by a draw for the ballot paper order.

Fairer still would be to have several versions of the ballot paper so that each candidate's name appears a similar number of times at the top, middle and bottom of the paper.

If you get an email like this, it's from a fraudster, not BT

There are times when I think our ancestors had some good ideas about the public humiliation of malefactors: putting convicted internet fraudsters in the stocks and allowing people to throw soft but unpleasant things at them strikes me as a much better idea than a short prison term or a fine.

If you get an email like the one below, it is not from BT, it is from someone who wants to rob you. And don't put ebilling@BT.com into your address book, these people are using a "spoof" address.


Subject: We were unable to process your last payment of bill

BTTo make sure emails from BT go into your inbox and not the junk folder, add
ebilling@bt.com to your address book.
 
 We were unable to process your last payment of bill!
 
 Dear Sir/Madam,
 

 
This e-mail has been sent to you by BT to inform you that we were unable to process your last payment of bill.
 

 
This might be due to either of the following reasons:

 
A recent change in your personal information. (eg: billing address, phone) Submitting incorrect Payment information during bill payment process.
 

 
Due to this, to ensure that your service is not interrupted, we request you to confirm and update your billing information today.

To do this we have attached a form to this email. Please download the form and follow the instructions on your screen.
 
 


Thanks for choosing BT, 

Warren Buckley 
Managing Director, Customer Service

 

 

 

Quote of the day 5th December 2014

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
  
( Albert Einstein )

Jeremy Thorpe RIP

Jeremy Thorpe, former leader of the Liberal Party, has died at the age of 85.

Regardless of what you thought of his opinions, he was a politician of enormous talents, charisma and stature.

He was brought down by a series of allegations of which, when they were put to a court, he was acquitted on all charges. Yet these unproven allegations were sufficient to destroy his parliamentary career.

A quarter of a century after Thorpe ceased to be MP for North Devon I had occasion to speak to some of the officers of the Conservative Association in the constituency. I was told that at that time  Jeremy Thorpe was still one of the most respected and influential figures in that community.

We like to believe that we operate in Britain on  the principle that a man (or woman) is innocent until proven guilty. I wonder if what happened to Jeremy Thorpe demonstrates that we do not understand that principle as well as we think we do.

The usual rules for Obit posts apply to comments on this article.

Rest in Peace