Thursday, December 31, 2015

Arise Sir Lynton ...


Most of the names on the New Year's honours list are worthy and uncontroversial but people always find something to make a fuss about.

As 2015 comes to an end I have been killing myself laughing at the utterly hypocritical outrage from various Labour party members about the award of a knighthood to Lynton Crosby, the campaign "guru" who helped David Cameron win the election.

Those people who also criticised the award of honours to Labour and Lib/Dem election strategists are entitled to make such a criticism but in all candour, all three of what were the main parties have made such awards and the going rate for election strategists who win elections (and sometimes even those who lose them) has been a couple of rungs higher than a knighthood, it's been a peerage. All of David Cameron's four predecessors as prime minister, not to mention Labour and Lib/Dem leaders who never became Prime Minister, have put election strategists from their party into the House of Lords.

Tony Blair ennobled Philip Gould, Margaret Thatcher ennobled Tim Bell, John Major ennobled Maurice Saatchi, Gordon Brown ennobled Peter Mandelson, while Paddy Ashdown nominated the Lib/Dem election wizard Chris Rennard (a decision which came back to haunt the party). Most recently Spencer Livermore, who had been the Labour Party's General Election Campaign Director for its unsuccessful 2015 campaign was nominated by the party for a life peerage and became Baron Livermore as recently as October 2015.

So if anyone reading this is one of the people who didn't give the tiniest bleat of protest when the architect of Labour's unsuccessful 2015 election campaign got a peerage,  but screamed blue murder when the architect of the Conservatives' successful one got a knighthood, I'd like to thank you for enabling me to finish 2015 with one last really good laugh at your expense.

There is a totally different argument about whether any of these people should have received honours. In my opinion it is perfectly acceptable for political service to be rewarded by an honour of some kind in either of two circumstances: first, if the honour's recipient was a volunteer, e.g. their service was unpaid, not materially rewarded, or involved a net material cost to themselves; or secondly, if it was particularly distinguished or exceptional.

I don't think there's any reasonable doubt that devising and supervising a strategy which won a clear majority in an election which all the party leaders, all the so-called "experts" and most other people thought was going to be much closer and produce a hung parliament was pretty exceptional. As David Herdson put it on the "Political Betting" website,

"Crosby's understanding of the public has been shown by events to be massively in excess of anything the pollsters managed. For that insight alone, from which others can learn, the honour is deserved. He is a market leader in his field by a mile: in any other industry there'd have been no criticism.

Besides, far better for the state to reward political service with cheap gongs than with real power or money."


Quite.

Music spot: Bach's Christmas Oratorio Part Three


Final Quote(s) of the Day post of 2015: New Year's Eve

"Ring out wild bells to the wild sky,
      The flying cloud, the frosty light:
      The year is dying in the night;
      Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.


 "Ring out the old, ring in the new,
      Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
      The year is going, let him go;
      Ring out the false, ring in the true."

 

(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)


"New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights. "

(Hamilton Wright Mabie)


"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves."

(Bill Vaughan)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Music spot: Bach's Christmas Oratorio part two


Storm Frank may bring further flooding in Cumbria and Northern Britain ...

Heavy rain will continue to fall across Northern England and in Scotland today and with the ground still saturated and river levels at recent record highs, there is the potential for further significant flooding in Cumbria and elsewhere.

A Chinook helicopter is being employed to deposit 1 tonne sandbags. Further bags are ready for today subject to flying conditions.

York’s Foss Barrier is now operational following emergency work and flood waters in the city are receding, although the community should remain vigilant with levels expected to rise again later in the week. Environment Agency operational staff and the army worked around the clock to get the Foss Barrier pumps repaired after high river levels flooded the pump room and affected the power system.

As of 11.00 on 30 December there were 3 severe flood warnings, 46 flood warnings and 85 flood alerts in place across England and Wales. Flood warnings are updated on the Environment Agency website every 15 minutes.

The country has faced an extraordinary period of severe weather and flooding since the start of December. Cumbria has faced the wettest December on record. Across the north of England over the past week more than 6,700 homes have flooded as river levels reached all time highs. Storm Frank is also expected to cause serious problems in Scotland.

Environment Agency teams remain out in force deploying temporary defences and sandbags to reinforce existing defences, repairing damaged defences, clearing river blockages, monitoring water levels and sending out flood warnings. Environment Agency staff from across the country have been sent to provide support in affected areas.

Craig Woolhouse, Director of Incident Management at the Environment Agency, said: “Our hearts go out to those that have been flooded. Environment Agency teams continue to work around the clock in difficult conditions.

“The weather remains hugely challenging, with more rain threatening to cause further flooding in Cumbria and Yorkshire today and into New Year’s Eve. We urge communities and visitors, particularly in Cumbria to prepare and not to walk or drive through flood water.”

The Environment Agency is advising the public to continue to listen to and co-operate with the emergency services, particularly those in the areas where severe flood warnings have been issued.

People can sign up to receive free flood warnings, check their flood risk and keep up to date with the latest situation on the Environment Agency website and on social media using #floodaware.

Source: Environment agency news release on Cumbria Crack at
http://www.cumbriacrack.com/2015/12/30/warning-prepare-for-further-flooding-in-cumbria/

Reconciliation

At this time of year, which to Christians - and many other people - is the season of Peace and Goodwill, it is particularly important to stress the things which unite us, and to hold out the had of reconciliation and friendship wherever this is possible.

Obviously because it is the Christian season of Christmas it is natural that those people who share that faith will refer to the message of Jesus but I have also observed that members of other faiths will also send Christmas messages. This year I have received three messages from Muslim friends and one from a Hindu friend wishing me and my family a happy Christmas and most years I have received similar messages from Jewish friends. I take all those messages in the friendly spirit in which I know they are sent.

Unfortunately it seems that most years someone decides to score a point by accusing a Christmas message which refers to Christianity of being divisive.

It is very important to make the point, because they are often wrongly blamed for it, that this attack almost never comes from a Muslim. Outside Brunei, and apart from the minority of extremists, most followers of Islam - in which Jesus is the second most revered figure after Mohammed - have absolutely no problem with Christians celebrating Christmas and do not see this as an attack on themselves.

Usually when someone is accused of being "divisive" for mentioning Christianity the attack comes from an atheist who doesn't like any religion and has seized on multiculturalism as a convenient stick with which to beat Christianity as a first stage before going on to try to wipe out public celebration of any religion.

Incidentally, when it comes to mentioning the holidays of other faiths, politicians are damned if they do and damned if they don't in the eyes of atheists. If a Christian politician only sends messages on the Christian holidays he or she is certain to be accused of being sectarian and divisive. But almost every time I have retweeted or shared on Facebook a goodwill message from a Christian politician in celebration of a festival of another faith, such as an Eid, Diwali, or Ramadan message, I get a comment from an atheist accusing him or her of hypocrisy.

And if you are Prime Minister and send messages celebrating both your own religion and those of others, it's ten to one that you will be BOTH accused of being divisive for the messages celebrating your own religion and of being a hypocrite when you send a message celebrating those of others. David Cameron has been the target of both those kinds of attacks in the past three months.

I write more in sorrow than in anger to respond to a particularly egregious attack which has been posted against both David Cameron and the Archbishop of Canterbury today by someone whose views I used to respect and who describes himself as a member of the Anglican church.

Peter Oborne has written a piece in the Middle East Eye today which alleges that

"Britain's Christmas message lacks the Christian spirit."

He appears to think that the Christmas message from David Cameron and Christmas day sermon from the Archbishop of Canterbury failed to hold out "the hope of reconciliation."

Oborne accused both David Cameron and Justin Welby of being "selective" yet he himself seems to have been far more selective in the words he chose to make that case than either of them were.

I've already quoted in full on this blog Archbishop Welby's Christmas message published on 20th December, but let me draw attention again to its' first two paragraphs:

"This year has been an extremely tough one for so many people and communities in this country. In particular I think of our Muslim brothers and sisters who’ve felt pressured to defend themselves in the wake of horrendous attacks carried out so outrageously in their name.

I think too of the fear among Jewish communities, and among Sikhs, Hindus and those of other faiths. No one in this country should have to feel fear and anxiety as they try peacefully to live, pray and worship in their faith tradition. All who feel that fear will be included in my prayers this Christmas."

The entire message continues in that vein, calling for tolerance, reconciliation, and encouraging people to reach out to those who are hated, feared, or seen as different.

Similarly, David Cameron's Christmas message celebrated the fact that Britain has been "a successful home to people of all faiths and none" and, as I inferred above, it is wrong to assume that he only attempts to engage with those of the Christian faith by looking at his Christmas message in isolation without recognising that he also sends messages commemorating the major festivals of other religions.

The message of Christmas should be one of peace, reconciliation and freedom from persecution for people of all faiths and none. Tragically, there are people of all faiths and none who are being persecuted for their views: this must stop, whoever is doing it (and equally tragically, there are people of all faiths and none among those responsible for persecution.)

Making out that people who are calling for such reconciliation are only interested in protecting some victims, when a less selective reading of what they have said makes clear that this charge is unfair, will not help achieve peace on earth or any other worthwhile objective.

Quotes of the day 30th December 2015

Top Tweet May 2015: Has anyone suggested switching the Labour Party off and switching it back on again yet?

 [17 May]
— John Rentoul(@JohnRentoul) December">https://twitter.com/JohnRentoul/status/682160914313940992">December 30, 2015

"A suggestion the party immediately took up, only to discover the virus is now running the hard drive."
https://t.co/LQBfJ7AI2F
&mdash">https://t.co/LQBfJ7AI2F">https://t.co/LQBfJ7AI2F
— John David Blake (@johndavidblake) December">https://twitter.com/johndavidblake/status/682161321417256960">December 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Music spot - Bach's Christmas Oratorio, all of part one

As a contrast to yesterday's music slot which had the opening chorus of Bach's Christmas Oratorio sung in English from Atlanta, here is the whole first movement in the original German, with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and the Norwegian soloists' choir.

Met office: December 2015 has seen record-breaking levels of rain

With a couple of days to go the Met Office is already saying that during December 2015 many parts of the UK have experienced record-breaking levels of recorded rainfall.

Here is a selection of the highest two day rainfall totals from Met Office observing sites for Christmas Day and Boxing Day:

48hr UK RAINFALL TOTALS 9am 25 DEC – 9am 27 DEC 2015
SITEAREARAINFALL TOTAL (MM)
CAPEL CURIGGWYNEDD210.6
STONYHURSTLANCASHIRE100
PATELEY BRIDGE, RAVENS NESTNORTH YORKSHIRE97
BINGLEYWEST YORKSHIRE93.6
BAINBRIDGENORTH YORKSHIRE89.8
BALAGWYNEDD89.4
SHAPCUMBRIA86.4
SPADEADAMCUMBRIA79.4
PRESTON, MOOR PARKLANCASHIRE73.2
MYERSCOUGHLANCASHIRE72.4
BRADFORDWEST YORKSHIRE69.4
ROCHDALEGREATER MANCHESTER68.2
MORECAMBELANCASHIRE65.8
MONAISLE OF ANGLESEY63.6
KIELDER CASTLENORTHUMBERLAND61.2
DISHFORTH AIRFIELDNORTH YORKSHIRE
60.8

This wet spell has added to the heavy rainfall through the rest of the month to make December 2015 already the wettest on record in parts of the UK.

Here is a small selection of new December records from Met Office observing stations around the UK for December to date:

SiteTotal (mm)81-10 avg (mm)Previous record
Shap (Cumbria)773.2215.6504.4mm in 2006
Keswick (Cumbria)517.6173376.4mm in 2013
Warcop Range (Cumbria)281.694.1218.4mm in 2006
Stonyhurst (Lancashire)331.4141.6319.3mm in 1951
Morecambe (Lancashire)281.4109.2272mm in 1909
Bainbridge (North Yorkshire)496.2156.5327.2mm in 2006
Bingley
(West Yorkshire)
241.4114.3247.2mm in 2006
Eskdalemuir (Dumfries and Galloway)500184.9390.4mm in 2014

Clearly for the next few weeks at least getting everyone through the winter should take priority over post-mortems or allocating blame. But we're going to have to sit down as a country and review our flood prevention programme in the light of this winter's weather and the consequences and ask very seriously if more needs to be done.

Quote of the day 29th December 2015

"Did you have an enjoyable and festive Christmas? Yes? Then it’s a safe bet you’re not a member of the shadow cabinet."

(Dan Hodges in an article which suggests that those members of the shadow cabinet who don't toe the Corbyn line are "dead men walking."

The same article quotes a shadow cabinet member as saying

“There’s a level of fear within the party that’s worse than anything I’ve seen since the 1980s. It’s insidious. We feel as if we have targets on our backs.”)


Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas music slot - the opening of Bach's Christmas Oratorio

Bach's Christmas Oratorio is a fantastic piece which is not heard nearly as often as it deserves and it took me a while to find a public domain recording of the opening movement sung in English.

But here is one, with New Trinity Baroque, "Atlanta's most established early music ensemble" using period instruments and ith the Atlanta Boy Choir (singing in English). This excerpt is from a live performance in December of 2006.

Quote of the day 28th December 2015 (the fourth day of Christmas)


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Music spot: Ding Dong Merrily On High (Kings)


Four Flood warnings still in place in Cumbria

Four flood warnings remain in place across Cumbria with residents reminded to be prepared for flooding and to take care on the roads. Chief Inspector David Bosson, of Cumbria Police, said the flooding situation in the county had improved but road users still need to be careful.

"There is still a lot of surface water on the road network of the county and we would like to warn motorists to take care and drive appropriately for the conditions," he said.

“I would like to take this opportunity to advise motorists to not in any circumstance ignore road closure signs and continue on their journey. Roads are closed for your safety.

“I am also keen to urge motorists to not drive through flood water. Doing so is extremely dangerous as you cannot determine the depth.”

Water from the river Eden was reported to have made the road surface in Appleby in the early hours of this morning while Carlisle firefighters went to 11 flood-connnected incidents between 7am yesterday and 7am today.

Surface water remains in place across the county's roads and all road users have been urged to use caution while travelling.

The Army has been out over the weekend installing temporary flood defences in towns and villages including Appleby, Warwick Bridge and Braithwaite.

Warnings - meaning "immediate action" is required - are in place for:

River Eden at Carlisle, Rickerby Park, Swifts and Stoneyholme Golf Course;
Keswick Campsite;
River Eden at Low Crosby, Eden Golf Course area.
River Eden and Caldew at Carlisle, Devonshire Walk and the West Coast Mainline, Bitts Park and cricket ground.


In addition, several flood alerts - meaning flooding is possible but not expected - remain in place across the county, and several bridges and roads remain closed as result of this month's flooding.

BRIDGE CLOSURES:

Greta Bridge, Keswick - closed because of high water levels
C2008 Dearham bridge - damaged
C2027 Southwaite Bridge - damaged
C3057 Ousenstand Bridge - surface damaged
Eamont Bridge - significant damage found during inspection - remains closed
Pooley Bridge - collapsed
Brougham Old - defective
C1017 Petteril Crook, Wreay - culvert collapsed
Gelt Middle Bridge - damaged
Gote Bridge, Cockermouth - awaiting inspection
Ouse Bridge - inspection required after fallen tree
Legburthwaite Mill Bridge, St Johns in the Vale - awaiting inspection
Broughton High Bridge - damaged
C2058 Mill Dam Bridge - damaged
Isel Bridge - damaged
Braithwaite High Bridge, near junction of B5292 - parapet collapsed
Threlkeld Bridge, Threlkeld - damaged
U2219 Stormwater footbridge - damaged
Forge Footbridge, Keswick - damaged
Eamont Bridge, near Penrith, will remain closed after divers found “significant damage” to the structure.


ROAD CLOSURES AND ISSUES:

The News and Star's current list of affected roads in North Cumbria as at mid-day on Sunday is:
  • Linstock to Rickerby, flooded
  • A689, Carlisle Airport roundabout, flooded
  • A6071, Irthing Bridge, flooded
  • Moor Cottages, Mallerstang due to water off fells
  • A684 closed at Appersett
  • Carlisle by-pass Wigton Rd/Orton Rd, flooded
  • A66 Eastbound, Coupland Beck, Appleby, vehicles aquaplaning due to standing water
  • A6 Plumpton flooded
  • A66 Kirkby Stephen at first slip road in, deep flood
  • Dalston side of Barras Lane
  • Wormanby, Burgh by Sands, barely passable
  • B6412 Langwathby to Culgaith, flooded
  • A6 Carleton flooded
  • A6 Mounsey Bank Farm, flooded
  • Moorhouse, Carlisle. Badly flooded
  • APR Road, Todhills, weighbridge area, flooded by catchment pools
  • A69 w/b Corby Hill, flooded
  • Lady Guilfords railway bridge flooded
  • Appleby, the Sands. Water just reached pavement. Traffic being diverted
  • Langwathby Bridge, water extremely high
  • A595 Greenhill/Wigton/Aspatria passable with care

    Their list of roads closed, also as a mid-day on Sunday, is
C3079 Daleholme lane, Kirkby Stephen - carriageway failure
U3088 Barrock Mill - washed out approaches
U3047/A66 junction, Guardhouse - collapsed retaining wall
A591, from U7003, extending in a northerly and southerly direction, from St Johns in the Vale junction to Dunmail Raise - land slip and flooding
B5322, from A591 (Legburthwaite) to A66 Threlkeld - flooding
C2058 Portinscale to Grange - flooding and landslide
U1140, from junction with B5305 north easterly, Bell Bridge, Sebergham - damaged
U2116 Park Wood, Bassenthwaite - landlsip
U2219 Scales, Lorton - landslip
U2219 Stormwater Old, Portinscale - flooding / landslip
U2229 Brundholme Woods, Keswick - landslip
C2058 Keskadale From a point 30m north of the property known as Keskadale Farm for a distance of 50m Keskadale Culvert near to Keskadale Farm Culvert - damaged
C2027, from a point 50m either side of the centre line of the bridge, Southwaite Mill Bridge, Lorton - flooding and road damage
C2016 Camerton to Great Broughton - flooding / landslip

Source: News and Star.

Quote of the day 27th December 2015

"Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race."

(Albert Einstein)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

O would some power the giftie gie us ....

Robert Burns once wrote

"O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us"

Tories who want a bit of that gift at Christmas 2015 - e.g. to see how we appear to an intelligent non-Tory who despairs of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats - could do an awful lot worse than read

this article by Nick Cohen.

Basically, faced with an utterly incompetent opposition, the only policies which the Conservative party cannot implement over the next five years are things which Conservative MPs are split about.

Or as Nick puts it "The condition of England now depends on the kindness of Tories."


That imposes an awesome responsibility on us, and part of that responsibility must include listening to those who do not share our views.

I don't share Nick Cohen's opinion of Iain Duncan Smith but I do share serious concerns about the competence of his department and the manner in which his policies to get people out of dependency are being implemented. A lot of those policies are sensible and positive and people who genuinely care about the poor can support them provided they are implemented properly.

We need to apply more focus to asking ourselves whether that is indeed the case.

Quote of the Day 26th December 2015

"It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.'"

(Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during her Christmas broadcast yesterday)



Queen Elizabeth is a most remarkable woman, and her experience of meeting or working with world leaders of every kind over such a long period must be unparalleled throughout history.

She has held regular meetings with every one of the twelve Prime Ministers who have held office over the sixty years from her accession during Sir Winston Churchill's last term as PM to David Cameron. She has also met almost every great statesman from powers allied to Britain and a great many of the most powerful figures from countries which were not.

Her speech yesterday was brilliant.

If you missed it, you should be able to watch it by clicking on the image above, or if that does not work, you can read the full text here.

More flooding hits the North, this time in Lancashire and Yorkshire

Misery does not love company and I'm sure residents of Cumbria - where our flood hit areas are by no means out of trouble - will be equally ready to extend sympathy to those in the neighbouring counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire who were hit by flooding on Christmas day or today.

More than 250 flood alerts have been issued across England, Scotland and Wales - with 12 severe warnings in place for Lancashire and Yorkshire.
 
Homes in Ribchester and Whalley, Lancashire, are being evacuated and people have been urged to stay away.

I have already mentioned that there is a yellow rain warning in place for today over Cumbria and almost all the North West: the Met Office has also issued red weather warnings for rain in parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Almost a month's rainfall is likely to fall in one day in places, which is basically what happened in Cumbria at the start of the month and caused the first wave of this winter's floods. The Environment Agency said affected residents should "take action now".

Lancashire's seven severe flood warnings - meaning flooding is expected and there is a danger to life - are for two locations on the River Ribble at Ribchester, three on the River Calder at Whalley, as well as for the River Wyre at St Michael's North and St Michael's South.
The five Yorkshire flood warnings are for the River Calder, Hebden Water and Walsden Water areas.
In other developments:

Be prepared for more rain

A warning of rain in Cumbria and most of the North West is still in force from the Met Office for basically the rest of today:

Yellow Warning of Rain for North West England : Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside & Warrington valid from 1115 Sat 26 Dec to 2345 Sat 26 Dec

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Music spot: Angels From The Realms of Glory (Kings College)


Happy Christmas to everyone reading this

Wherever you are, whatever your ancestry, whatever your identity;


To those who follow the Christian faith;

May the joy of the shepherds,
the love of Mary,
the wisdom of the Magi
and the hope represented by the Christ child,
be with you this Christmas.



To those who follow any other faith;
May your God be with you at this time.


To those who do not follow any particular faith;
I wish you a happy holiday.


To my fellow-residents of Cumbria;
I hope you and your families are all able to stay safe and dry this Christmas.


To everyone reading this:
Goodwill and Peace to you at this special time.

Quote of the day Christmas Day 2015

8     And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9     And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10   And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11   For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12   And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14   Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

(From the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8 to 14)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve music spot: O Little One Sweet - (JS Bach) by the Cambridge Singers


Bah, Humbug: who is the worst Scrooge of Christmas 2015?

I have been giving some thought to the question of who is the worst Scrooge for Christmas 2015.

Obviously, Jeremy Corbyn, who sent an EID message to Muslims (as did David Cameron, and it is not the EID message I am criticising) and a Diwali message to Hindus, but then declined to send a Christmas message, is a strong contender.

However, there are two reasons why he will escape my nomination.

Jeremy Corbyn's worldview, policies and style of  leadership are creating an existential crisis for the Labour party and many of his policies would be an even bigger disaster for the country if he were elected. If he is still leader at the time of the 2020 election - and unless he falls under the proverbial bus that is likely, as the moderates have no clear mechanism to remove him and any attempt to do so would look like contempt for Labour party members - we need to be in a position to call out just how disastrous many of those policies would be.

In fact, I think that Conservatives and the right should stop jumping all over Corbyn's trivial mistakes, of which there have been so many, and keep our powder dry for the serious ones.

If the public is used to hearing Conservatives and the right denounce Jeremy Corbyn several times a day for things like failing to send a Christmas message or failing to bow deeply enough at a ceremony, there is a danger that they will regard denouncing everything he does as our default position and assume we would attack Corbyn for carrying an umbrella when it is forecast to rain.

This in turn creates a real risk that the electorate will not pay attention to the really serious criticisms, when we try to explain why we think Jeremy Corbyn's economic policies will destroy wealth and jobs or why his defence policy will leave Britain less safe.

And as it happens there is a far stronger contender for the worst scrooge of Christmas 2015 - the Sultan of Brunei, who has banned open celebrations of Christmas in his country on the spurious grounds that putting up Christmas decorations or singing carols could damage the faith of Muslims.

Brunei, a small and oil-rich country on the island of Borneo with a population of about 420 thousand of whom around two-thirds are Muslims, allows the remainder of the population to celebrate Christmas, but only within their communities, and they must first alert the authorities.
 
Brunei's Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement:

"These enforcement measures are ... intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community."

In a warning to Muslims earlier this month, a group of Imams warned that any celebration "not in any way related to Islam” could lead to "‘tasyabbuh’ (imitation) and unknowingly damage the ‘aqidah’ (faith) of Muslims".

It's not just that this is a petty, mean, sectarian and intolerant thing to do to those of his people who might want to share the celebration of Christmas.

And never mind the fact that if the aqidah of Muslims in Brunei is so weak that it could be undermined by putting up a Christmas tree and a few fairy lights, giving presents and singing a carol or two, it was hardly a faith worth having in the first place.

The main reason I am disappointed in this childish act of petty tyranny is that for an Islamic country to restrict Christmas celebrations risks pumping oxygen into a myth about what Muslims in the West believe which the extreme right have been exploiting and which informed and tolerant people have tried to debunk; the myth that our Muslim neighbours want to stop us celebrating Christmas.

Despite what the BNP and their ilk would have you believe, 99% of attempts in this country to limit Christmas celebrations by politically correct councils and organisations have not come from Muslims. They have come from atheists or agnostics who don't like any public religious celebration.

Unfortunately the proponents of bans on public celebration of Christmas have often used multiculturalism as an excuse for what is really the first stage of an attack on all religions, arguing that such celebrations might offend Muslims and followers of other non-Christian religions.

And sadly, part of the collateral damage has been community relations because the Muslims have unjustly been blamed for attempts to block Christmas celebrations - something which groups like the BNP and EDL have been very quick to exploit.

In fact, the idea that Muslim residents of Britain don't want us to celebrate Christmas is complete and utter rubbish. Two of the Christmas messages I have received this year were from prominent Muslims (and, incidentally, another from a Hindu, and I've also had them from Jewish people.)

Since Jesus is the second most important figure in the Muslim religion after Mohammed, the idea that celebrating his birth is Haram (forbidden by Islam) is nothing short of ridiculous to many devout Muslims. I have never forgotten visiting a mosque and being told by the Imam that the message of Jesus was an essential part of his religion. I am told that the fuller version of a saying summarising the creed of Islam, of which most Christians only know the first six words and the last five, is

"There is no God but Allah; Moses is his word, Christ is his Spirit, and Mohammed is his Prophet."

The three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - are all worshipping the same God, and there is not one word in the sacred books of any of them which justifies persecuting the others. It is an utter tragedy that so much such persecution has taken place. There was no place for it in the past and there is no place for it I the 21st Century.

The Sultan of Brunei and the Imams who urged him to restrict Christmas celebrations should hang their heads in shame. They are a disgrace to their religion, which they have brought into disrepute, and their actions may well be used by extremists to whip up hatred for innocent Muslims.

So I nominate the Sultan of Brunei as the Scrooge of 2015.

David Cameron's Christmas Message

The Prime Minister's Christmas message, released on his Facebook page, reads as follows:

"If there is one thing people want at Christmas, it’s the security of having their family around them and a home that is safe. But not everyone has that. Millions of families are spending this winter in refugee camps or makeshift shelters across Syria and the Middle East, driven from their homes by Daesh and Assad. Christians from Africa to Asia will go to church on Christmas morning full of joy, but many in fear of persecution. Throughout the United Kingdom, some will spend the festive period ill, homeless or alone.

We must pay tribute to the thousands of doctors, nurses, carers and volunteers who give up their Christmas to help the vulnerable – and to those who are spending this season even further from home. Right now, our brave Armed Forces are doing their duty, around the world: in the skies of Iraq and Syria, targeting the terrorists that threaten those countries and our security at home; on the seas of the Mediterranean, saving those who attempt the perilous crossing to Europe; and on the ground, helping to bring stability to countries from Afghanistan to South Sudan.

It is because they face danger that we have peace. And that is what we mark today as we celebrate the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace. As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope. I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.

So, as we come together with our loved ones, in safety and security, let’s think of those who cannot do the same. Let’s give thanks to those who are helping the vulnerable at home and protecting our freedoms abroad. And let me wish everyone in Britain and around the world a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

David Cameron."

Army on standby in Cumbria as Met office gives more Amber warnings ...

The Army and 700 Environment Agency staff have been put on standby as the Met office has upgraded heavy rain warnings from Yellow to Amber and Cumbria faces the possibility of further flooding over Christmas.
 
Environment Secretary Liz Truss chaired an emergency meeting of the Government’s emergency COBR committee before confirming preparations for ‘all potential scenarios’ were being made.

She also said that 85 per cent of the country’s temporary flood barriers are now in Cumbria, with many more sandbags being delivered to areas forecasted to be most at risk. More than 20 extra pumps are in the north of England, four of them are high volume pumps capable of moving one metric tonne of water per second.

The meeting was held as Met Offices warnings for rain in Cumbria on Christmas Day and Boxing Day were upgraded from yellow to amber, the second highest level of alert. The warnings say that:

“Rain will spread northwards across Cumbria during the afternoon and evening of Christmas Day. During the early hours of Boxing Day the rain is likely to turn heavy at times and then persist through most of the day."

“Be prepared for river and surface water flooding to occur with disruption to travel possible.”

Up to six inches - 100mm - is predicted to fall on higher ground, with around half that falling on lower levels. Rain is expected to be heavy and persistent at times.

The amount of rainfall forecast would not usually lead to disruption, but with saturated ground and river levels already high, there are fears that there could be further flooding on roads and potentially to properties.

Liz Truss, speaking after yesterday’s COBR meeting, said:

“We are doing all we can to support Cumbrian communities during this difficult time as we face unprecedented levels of rain and possible further flooding over Christmas as more rain falls on heavily saturated ground.

“I have huge sympathy for those affected - it’s a terrible situation for already hard hit communities and is tougher still because of the time of year.

“Today I chaired a meeting of the Government’s COBR committee to ensure every resource available is being deployed in the right place. The weather reports and river levels are constantly being updated and we are adjusting all of our plans to fit the most up to date information so we protect communities in the best possible way.

“We have over 700 Environment Agency staff ready to respond to flooding, alongside armed forces personnel, as we prepare for all potential scenarios.”

She added: “Environment Agency staff are also working round the clock checking and maintaining flood defences, clearing blockages in watercourses and monitoring water levels.

“Our priority continues to be protecting lives, protecting homes and protecting businesses.”

Flood minister Rory Stewart, who is also MP for Penrith and the Border, is in Appleby today to ensure the right help is getting through, Mrs Truss added.

The Environment Secretary said: “When I visited the area last week I saw for myself the fantastic community spirit and the incredible work of high vis heroes on the frontline - that work continues.

“We have already put forward £60 million to help these communities get back on their feet since the floods first hit earlier this month - we will continue to do what it takes to keep people safe and help the area recover.

“In the longer term we have established the Cumbrian Floods Partnership to consider what more can be done to protect these towns and villages from future flooding.”


More details on the News and Star site at http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/army-on-standby-as-cumbria-prepares-for-more-rain-1.1232177

Quote of the day 24th December 2015


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Cards 2015

In the light of the disastrous flooding which has affected so many of our friends and neighbours in Cumbria this year, I and my family are not sending a large number of hard copy Christmas cards this year: instead we will be donating the money we would have used to buy and post Christmas cards to the Cumbria Community Foundation's flood appeal.

This is a one off, but we feel that using the money in this way is more in accordance with the true spirit of Christmas than sending cards.

(We will still be sending e-cards using the Jacquie Lawson website, to which we had subscribed long before Storm Desmond.)


Cumbria Community Foundation launched the Cumbria Flood Recovery Appeal on Saturday 5th December 2015 with an initial target of £1m but due to the scale of the damage caused and following more recent flooding this was increased to £5 million and now £6 million.

In an incredible display of generosity £3.5 million has already been donated by the public, and over half a million in grants already handed out to those affected, but there is still much more to do.

If you want to support those who were affected by the floods in Cumbria this year, you can donate by Just Giving at

  http://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/cumbriafoundation/cumbriafloodappeal2015

Or by sending a cheque made payable to Cumbria Community Foundation and sent to CCF, Dovenby Hall, Cockermouth, Cumbria, CA13 0PN.

Or send a text to 70070 with the message ‘FLUD15’ and a monetary amount. For example, ‘FLUD15 £10’

If you were affected by the December 2015 floods in Cumbria and need help,

Here is a link to the Cumbria Foundation Flood Recovery Fund online application form:

http://www.cumbriafoundation.org/archives/8422

Christmas music spot: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (King's College, Cambridge)


A stunningly unclear judgement from the European Court of Justice

A regular commentator on this blog posted recently that

  "the best thing going for the leave campaign is the weakness of arugument being put forward by the remain campaign. Also. the greatest asset of the remain campaign are UKIP, Leave.EU and Vote Leave Ltd."

There are some honourable exceptions on both sides, and I hope none of my friends who are campaigning on either side are offended by this comment because they are all numbered among those exceptions, but I do think Jim has a point.

And probably the second best thing going for each side - certainly one of those which I as someone who has not decided which way to jump find most irritating - concerns the two systems of European justice, one of which IS part of the European Union, while the other IS NOT part of the EU.

Both the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have been known to make decisions which many British people, including me, seriously disagree with. Admittedly both also sometimes get things right, and that isn't usually given nearly as much attention in the British Press as the daft decisions get.

I will admit to getting cross when I hear ignorant or disingenuous BREXIT supporters - quite often people who really should know better such as UKIP MEPs or parliamentary candidates - arguing for Britain to leave the EU on the basis of the latest daft decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which is nothing whatsoever to do with the EU. (It was set up by the Council of Europe, a different body.)

However the European Court of Justice, which IS part of the EU, has also made daft decisions, which can quite legitimately be quoted as part of an argument for reform or exit, and today's unbelievably unhelpful ruling by the ECJ on whether Scotland can impose minimum drinks prices was a case in point.

The ruling was promptly welcomed by both sides, both of whom appeared to think (or pretended to think) that the ECJ was supporting them. They cannot both be right.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation in May 2012 to bring in a minimum alcohol price of 50p per unit. This was challenged by the Scottish Whiskey Association, which argued the Scottish government's legislation breached European law.

The European court ruling said: "The Court of Justice considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market, and this might be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol."

It added: "The court states that it is ultimately for the national court to determine whether measures other than that provided for by the Scottish legislation, such as increased taxation on alcoholic drinks, are capable of protecting human life and health as effectively as the current legislation, while being less restrictive of trade in those products within the EU."

Reacting to the judgement, the SNP first minister has tweeted that her side won because the ECJ opinion does not directly instruct the Scottish courts that they have to strike down the legislation.

David Frost, SWA chief executive, said: "The court has confirmed that minimum unit pricing is a restriction on trade, and that it is illegal to choose MUP [minimum unit pricing] where there are less restrictive ways of achieving the same end."

The issue now goes back to the Scottish Court of Session in Edinburgh who will have to decide whether there are, or are not, less restrictive ways of curbing alcohol abuse.

Professor Adam Tomkins who is Professor of Constitutional Law at Glasgow and the lead candidate for his region on one of the slates of excellent candidates which the Scottish Conservatives will be standing next year in elections to the Scottish parliament, tweeted that


Writing as an economist, I accept that lawyers and courts are qualified to tell us what the law says but am far from convinced that they are the best qualified people to make a decision on the effectiveness of competing policies to reduce alcoholism or on how restrictive they are. The one thing which is absolutely clear about this judgement is that it bounces the decision back to the Scottish courts with sufficient ambiguity that both sides can claim victory and it seems plausible to argue that the Scottish Court of Session could go either way.

Which makes the entire exercise of referring the matter to the ECJ look like a preposterous waste of both time and money raised from Scottish, British and European taxpayers and whiskey drinkers.

This is not a good advert for the EU. If Britain remains a member I believe we need to work for reform of the ECJ.

Quote of the day 23rd December 2015


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More flooding in Cumbria. It's going to be a long winter

After torrential rain in many areas of Cumbria today there has been more flooding, with Appleby,  Keswick, Kendal and Glenridding affected.

As I've previously written, with the ground so saturated it cannot absorb more water, and river levels are already very high, so it does not take much rain to cause further flooding.

It's going to be a long winter. But we will get through it. 

Defence, Foreign affairs and Terrorism tops the list of issues

Hat tip to Political Betting for the latest MORI figures on what voters polled think is the most important issue facing the country.



Usually the most important issues on this regular survey, which has continued for many years, are the NHS and core economic issues such as the Economy, Unemployment, Inflation and the Cost of Living. Recently Immigration had a major rise and was top of the chart last time I looked at this survey, but this time it was pipped to the top slot by "Defence, Foreign Affairs and Terrorism."

With inflation at roughly zero for the past six months it is hardly surprising that this problem has dropped to near the bottom of the list of public concerns and as Unemployment is falling that concern too has dropped a long way down the chart, though not as far.

The NHS and the Economy have held on to the third and fourth places on the chart, though neither gets into double figures for the most important issue.

An important learning point, however, for those of us in the small but very highly vocal segment of the population who are interested in European issues is that, as usual, the category labelled "Common Market/EU/Europe/Euro only attracts 1% of votes as "most important issue" and another 4% of voters consider it an "other important issue" which makes a mere 5% of the sample who consider this important.

As the Referendum bill has now received Royal Assent, there is a legal requirement for a referendum on Britain's EU membership by the end of 2017, and it's not going to be held in December unless the government goes completely mad, so the referendum is less than two years away and might possibly be in late summer or autumn next year.

In that context you can argue that the fact that the importance of the European issue has not yet risen in the chart is an indictment of the failure of both "Leave" and "Remain" campaigns to cut through to the public.

Or it may just indicate that most of the British people don't give a damn about Europe, and won't until someone explains in plain English why they should.

Clearly both campaigns need to put a positive case in very straightforward terms about how leaving or staying in the EU respectively will improve the lives of ordinary people.

The fact that a quarter of people think Defence, Foreign affairs and Terrorism  is the most important issue facing Britain today is presumably a reflection of the threat posed by DA'ESH, the so-called "Islamic State."

Not to mention the way Vladimir Putin has been conducting his foreign policy.

And frankly, they have a point.

Quote of the day 22nd December 2016


Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas music slot: Jingle Bells in Baroque style


Swimathon 2016 - my 23rd consecutive Swimathon

In March next year I will be taking part in Swimathon 2016 to raise money for good causes, and aiming to swim 5,000 metres for the 23rd consecutive year.

This post is an early warning and there will be some more information about the event and attempts to raise sponsorships nearer the time.

Swimathon is now part of Sport Relief, which supports the same good causes as Comic Relief in Britain and around the world. 50% of the money raised is used to support community projects and good causes in Britain, including a range of causes in Cumbria

Community projects and good causes supported in Cumbria over the past couple of years have included:

1) Cumbria Gateway
2) North Copeland Youth partnership
3) Copeland occupational and social centre
4) Pride in North Cumbria
5) Sustainable Carlisle Ltd

You can read more about where the money from Swimathon goes at

http:/www.sportrelief.com/where-your-money-goes


If you would like to sponsor me, which would be very much appreciated, you can do so online at

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


My son John is also taking part in Swimathon 2016, and will be aiming to swim 2,500 metres.

You can sponsor John online at https://my.sportrelief.com/sponsor/chris1

Earth to everybody: Hermione Granger is not a real person

Hermione Granger is a character in the "Harry Potter" series of fiction books by J.K. Rowling.

This week there has been a lot of debate about whether she is white or black and whether it is OK to cast actresses of particular ethnicity to play her.

Gordon Bennett!

Hermione Granger is NOT A REAL PERSON.

She can be white, black, asian, or whatever colour anyone wants her to be!

Weather warning for Cumbria and much of the North West

A weather warning for Cumbria has been issued by the Met Office -

Yellow Warning of Rain for North West England : Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Cumbria, Greater Manchester & Lancashire valid from quarter past midnight to 6pm tomorrow.

Which is cause for concern with the ground over much of Cumbria already saturated with water. After this morning's heavy rain there is water pooling on the surface of my garden, which normally drains very well, indicating that the earth has already absorbed all the water it can handle.

Why Opinium changed their polling question about party leaders

For those reading this who are not political anoraks and don't follow the exact wording of questions asked by polling companies ...

Opinium has replaced the questions asking respondents whether they approve of the job being done by David Cameron as PM, Jeremy Corbyn as opposition leader and Tim Farron as Lib/Dem leader etc by equivalent questions which ask for each party leader whether the voters in the sample have a favourable or unfavourable view of the leader concerned.

Mike Smithson of "Political Betting" thinks this is a better question. Adam Drummond of Opinium explains why it was adopted. Lest there be any doubt, "he" in the tweet below refers to Jeremy Corbyn, not David Cameron ...



https://twitter.com/AGKD123/status/678644647690940416

Old and new Caliphates

There is an interesting article in the Economist this week, Straddling Two Worlds, about the original Muslim Caliphate - the Ottoman Empire.

It shows how different - and how much more tolerant, forward-looking, and practical - the original was when compared with the travesty that DA'ESH is trying to create when they talk about "restoring" the Caliphate for their so-called Islamic State.

Quote of the day 21st December 2015

"Islamic State ... is not a nation but an abomination"

(Leader article in this week's Christmas double issue of The Economist)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Guido's latest caption competition

Paul Staines who blogs as Guido Fawkes launched a caption competition here on Friday showing UKIP's leader and one MP, who have not exactly been seeing eye to eye this week. Here is the picture to caption:



My favourite entry from the comments, which is also very topical given that there is a new Star Wars film out this week, was

"I find your lack of faith ... disturbing."

Though to the best of my knowledge Nige can't use the Force to strangle people who disagree with him - which is probably just as well for about 88% of the voting electorate ...

Sunday and Christmas music spot: The Shepherds' Farewell (Berlioz)

This is "The Shepherd's Farewell" by Hector Berlioz, sung by the Choir of King's College Cambridge. One of the most beautiful carols ever written.

Sunday Reflection Spot: Archbishop Justin Welby's message

I really like the message which The Archbishop of Canterbury has posted on his Facebook page.

Today is the fourth and last Sunday in advent and preparations both secular and religious for the Christmas festival are in full swing.

I do not in any way blame the shops for trying to make the most of the fact that many people are dashing around stocking up on food and buying presents - they have a living to earn - but at the end of the day Christmas is not about materialism, presents or food. It is about a message of love, peace and hope, represented by the birth of a baby.

Obviously that message is particularly special to those of us who believe in the Christian faith but it is not an exclusive message and can appeal to people of other faiths or none.

Already this seasons I have had a Merry Christmas messages from two elected representatives who happen to be Muslims and I accept and am grateful for those messages in the tolerant and inclusive spirit in which they were sent. There was also a moving piece in one of this weekend's papers from a Jewish journalist who Christmas had passed by until very recently, but who described how he spent last Christmas in a Yorkshire village and how much, even though it is not part of his own faith, he found that he appreciated the Christmas message and it spoke to his heart.

Archbishop Welby's message is in that spirit and I quote it here.


"This year has been an extremely tough one for so many people and communities in this country. In particular I think of our Muslim brothers and sisters who’ve felt pressured to defend themselves in the wake of horrendous attacks carried out so outrageously in their name.

"I think too of the fear among Jewish communities, and among Sikhs, Hindus and those of other faiths. No one in this country should have to feel fear and anxiety as they try peacefully to live, pray and worship in their faith tradition. All who feel that fear will be included in my prayers this Christmas.

"Christmas is revolutionary for us as Christians and for those who live around us, especially those wrongly seen as 'different’. Jesus and his family were once misunderstood and hated. They fled to Egypt as refugees and migrants. Jesus went on to be misunderstood, hated, attacked throughout his ministry.

"But through how he treated others – especially those who were also seen as different or inferior or to be feared – he taught us a profound lesson about the gift of the other. Whether it’s the story of the Good Samaritan, or Jesus speaking to the woman at the well with whom no one else would be seen, Jesus showed us the infinitely surprising ways that we can love each other.

"So what does that mean in practical terms, in this country? For me it’s about responding to the love we’re given by God at Christmas by offering it to those who might be feeling like they are on the margins, just like Jesus and his family were.

"That could be inviting your neighbour around for dinner or a cup of tea. It could be striking up that conversation in the school playground. It could be simply sitting next to that person on the bus who others seem nervous about sitting with. Try it – take the risk, see what happens.

"As Christians we are called to be people who take that first step, Who take the risk of kindness because we believe the other person is a gift to us from God, just as we can be a gift to them.

"We’re called to be people who don’t accept narratives that seek to divide us as communities – wherever we hear them – because we have a better narrative: that God poured out his love for us by sending his son to be with us in a world of fear and danger.

"We have the capacity to share that risk-taking love with whoever we discover is our neighbour – not just this Christmas, but always.

Justin Welby"

Quote of the day Sunday 20th December 2015

"With potential candidates from Alan Milburn to Alan Johnson no longer in the frame, and David Miliband beaten by his brother, the party was left in the hands of Ed Miliband. His time as Labour leader was more destructive to the Labour party than any that had gone before.

"It is one of the quirks of political parties that they often elect hopelessly weak leaders because they appear to share their values. It was obvious that the main task was to restore economic credibility but instead Labour became more incredible. There was a need for fresh thinking on health, education and crime but little happened. Labour under first Brown, then Miliband and now Corbyn showed almost no interest in education – the engine of opportunity, equality and life chances. And Miliband paved the way organisationally (through his potty new electoral system) and tactically (by making people believe that posturing rather than serious policy is the answer) for the Corbyn regime.

"Corbyn is heir to Miliband. It was Miliband who made it acceptable for Labour to rubbish its own achievements and treat winning elections as unprincipled. By denouncing the New Labour government of which he had been part, Miliband signalled to the electorate not that he was his own man but that he was no man at all.

"Let’s be clear – there is a perfectly valid and viable political party that is left wing, union based, led by someone such as Corbyn and appealing to a mix of metropolitan elites, students and some trade unionists. With a charismatic leader and clever politics (two things currently missing), and relying on tribal Labour loyalty that remains in parts of the country, this approach could gain the support of 15% to 20% of the public and possibly, with the infrastructure, money and backing of the big trade unions, up to 25% to 28% of the vote. Let’s not forget Michael Foot’s Labour party got 27.6% of the vote in 1983. But this is a party that will never be in power. There is some support in the country for pacifism, republicanism and anti-capitalism but there isn’t enough to win an election. Labour’s role has become, like that of Ukip, to put certain issues higher up the agenda. Labour is currently, and for the foreseeable future, the Ukip of the left."


(Peter Hyman, in an article on the Guardian site with the title "This is an existential moment in Labour's history. It may not survive. And it may never win power again.")

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas music slot: "Silent Night" in Baroque style

The carol "Silent Night" from a collection of Christmas music rearranged in the Baroque style ...




Helping people remember us when we are gone.

I don't listen to it very often, because I don't have to. But one of the most precious things I have left by which to remember my late mother is the recording of a chapter of "Harold and Bella, Jammy and me" which she made for Hertfordshire county council - because it is the only remaining record of her voice.

I have considered the possibility of making some form of recording for my children which they will have of me when I am no longer here, and this moving article by Jonathan Freedland has convinced me that I should do so, and probably sooner rather than later and get my wife to do so too.

He describes in the article how his sister Fiona, who had been diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 45 and knew, five years later, that she did not have long to live, asked him to help her make a "Desert Island Discs" recording for her loved ones to remember her by.

His sister must have been a fantastic person, and although it is terribly cruel that someone who was obviously so brave and compassionate should be taken from her family at the age of about 50, the article was for me a story of the victory of love over death, because Fiona thought of her loved ones and not only herself while dying of cancer, and found a way to be there for them after she died.

Details of government support if your home has been flooded

The government is providing local authorities with Community Grants as part of the Communities and Business Recovery Scheme.
 
This will be equivalent to up to £500 per household affected by flooding. It will help with recovery costs such as provision of temporary accommodation.
 
In Cumbria this will mean a fixed payment of £500 for a property that has been flooded. 
 
For those properties that already pay their council tax by Direct Debit the good news is that you don’t need to do anything! This payment will be paid directly into your bank account and the payment will show up as a payment from your local district council who are administrating the scheme.
 
If you do not pay your council tax by direct debit then please contact your local district council who will be happy to help you apply for the payment.
 
Allerdale Borough Council customer.service@allerdale.gov.uk or call 01900 702 600
Carlisle City Council at customerservices@carlisle.gov.uk or call 01228 817200 
Copeland Borough Council info@copeland.gov.uk or call 01946 598300
Eden District Council customer.services@eden.gov.uk or call 01768 817817
South Lakeland District Council customer.services@southlakeland.gov.uk or call 01539 733333
Barrow Borough Council customerservices@barrowbc.gov.uk or call 01229 876543
 
Source: Cumbria County Council

Quote of the day 19th December 2015


Friday, December 18, 2015

One American trend that I really hope we don't follow.

For good or ill, where America goes Britain has often followed within twenty years. I really hope that one trend we do not follow in that way is the one highlighted in an excellent article by Tim Montgomerie on CAPX:

"The dirtiest word in American politics is compromise."

Tim charts the rise of political hatred and sectarianism over the past century and notes that reaching out to work with people on the other side of the political divide has increasingly become toxic for a politician's career. He notes how Marco Rubio, who is the person I would currently be supporting for US President if I were an American voter, has been attacked for his efforts to find bipartisan solutions to one of America's most difficult problems as one of the "Gang of Eight" consisting of four Republican and four Democrat senators.

Being involved in politics and attacking compromise is like being a roadbuilder and attacking Asphalt. Sometimes there is just no other way of getting anything done. It is a very common think in local government, and as we saw in the 2010 to 2015 parliament sometimes happens at national level too, that no party has an overall majority and the only way to deliver anything is to work with people who have different views. Of course that demands compromise. Demanding otherwise is a classic "stop the world, I want to get off" approach.

You can easily see the early signs of how a resistance to compromise such as Tim Montgomerie discerns in America could happen here. The anger and hostility which characterises some people in all parties but particularly the hard-line wings of the SNP, of UKIP and many of Jeremy Corbyn's supporters could easily spill over into that kind of problem.

And yet, I can also see signs that we may be able to resist it. Evert one of the recent successful Prime Ministers in this country - defining "successful" as being good enough at the job to have persuaded the electorate to re-elect them after they had already held the position for more than a year - has been a master of the art of compromise.

Yes, whatever else you say about them, both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher were brilliant at compromising when they had to, often in a way which didn't make it obvious that they had. Maggie in particular was much more pragmatic for the vast majority of her time in office than the propaganda picture subsequently painted by both her opponents and supporters alike presented her as being.

David Cameron managed to hold a coalition government together for a full five-year parliament because he has the same skill. Although many of his worst enemies, particularly on the right, are the people who despise him for his willingness to compromise and make a deal when that is the only way to move forward, there is no doubt in my mind that the majority of the electorate approves of his ability to do this and it is one of the reasons they were more willing to send him back to Number Ten than to trust any of his rivals with the position.

To many voters in this country, a pragmatist is a much safer person to trust with your economic security than a true believer!

America is making a terrible rod for their own back if Tim is right and they are moving away from pragmatism, as I fear he may be. I hope we can resist the temptation, from whatever quarter, to do down the same road.

Thoughts on the end of Deep Mining in Britain

Today workers at Kellingly Pit have finished their final shifts and with those shifts centuries of continuous deep coal mining have come to an end.

I have very mixed feelings about this: as a member of Copeland Borough Council for Bransty ward from 2007 to 2011, I was a fairly rare thing: a Tory representing a Northern ex-mining community.

Within days of my election I was invited to attend a rally commemorating the William Pit disaster sixty years before in which 104 people had lost their lives (the site of the pit being located in my ward).

Having, of course, accepted the invitation, I was stunned on arrival to see perhaps four thousand people had come to commemorate that event. It was an incredibly powerful demonstration of how strong and positive a thing the community spirit of mining communities can be.

And it is for that reason that I cannot bring myself to celebrate the end of deep mining in Britain, because the spirit of those mining communities was something very powerful and valuable.

But there is another aspect to that. Throughout its' existence the William Pit claimed lives, as did Haig and Wellington Pits, and the William Pit disaster which killed 104 people in 1947 was not even the worst mining disaster in Whitehaven's history. That dubious honour goes to the Wellington Pit disaster of 1910 which killed 134 men and boys, leaving  85 women widowed and 260 children who had lost their fathers.

1,300 people are known to have died in the coal mines in the Whitehaven area but this may well be an underestimate of the total number of casualties. According to the Haig Pit mining museum, "It has been estimated that over 1700 men, women, and children have lost their lives while mining coal in the Whitehaven collieries."

Perhaps the most poignant of the memorials to those killed in mining accidents in Whitehaven stands in St Nicholas's Gardens, and it commemorates the children who died in the town's mines.

I can understand why many people are sad at the economic impact which the end of deep mining has had and will have on mining communities and why many people will regret the loss of something which was very special about those communities.

But I absolutely do not regret that no more people will die in mining accidents.

Riposte of the year: Jacob Rees Mogg 1, David Dimbleby 0.

The lightning Comeback of 2015 award has to go to Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg on last night's Question Time when David Dimbleby teased him over having gone to Eton.

He replied "Absolutely right, I was at school with your son."



The EU negotiations are finally starting to get serious ...

There is a veritable forest of different ideas floating around about how things are going in the negotiations on what terms are available if Britain stays in the EU.
 
It does appear that there has been some serious talking this week at a European Council meeting.
 
David Cameron has said there is a "a pathway to a deal" on new terms for Britain's membership of the EU after talks with other leaders.
 
The prime minister set out his reform demands, which include controversial plans to curb access to benefits for migrants, at a dinner in Brussels.

He said "good progress" has been made but it would be "hard work" to get a deal by his February deadline.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the leaders "all want a compromise".

BBC report here.

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, recognised publicly before this week's meeting that the EU must confront difficult issues on freedom of movement and that there is a real possibility of Britain voting to leave if no effort is made to meet British concerns. Report on his speech here.

The Economist thinks that the Prime Minister is playing a bad hand well:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2015/11/good-bad-speech

Clearly there is masses of spin from every side. One group of BREXIT supporters are trying to rubbish any possible deal in advance and constantly suggesting that Cameron is hardly asking for anything.

Another group of BREXIT supporters are suggesting that David Cameron is deliberately making progress in the negotiations look difficult so that it will look like a triumph if he does deliver anything significant.

Meanwhile all sorts of polling evidence and other indications of how the campaign might go are coming out.

Lord Ashcroft has released a major poll which asks people not whether they intend to vote "Leave" or "Remain" but to pick a percentage from 0% (certain to vote Remain) to 100% (certain to vote Leave) with 50% meaning you are equally likely to vote either way.

A superficial reading appears to show "Leave" with the advantage because their support is more solid. (Big surprise!)

However, although the "mean" level of support is a little over 51% (reflecting this, and suggesting a slight advantage for "Leave" the really key point is that the MEDIAN voter - the person who has half the country more pro Brexit and half more pro staying than him or her - is one of the 14% who answered "50%".

In other words, it is clear from the number of undecided voters that there is everything to play for.

The full results of the poll can be read on Lord Ashcoft's site at http://lordashcroftpolls.com/


The fact that so many people are undecided means that this sort of infighting by UKIP and between the two rival "leave" campaigns could be disastrous to the cause of those who want to quit the EU:

1) UK's only MP calls on Nigel Farage to step down as leader

2) "Obvious from @Nigel_Farage just now when I was on @daily_politics that @ukip is toying with withdrawing the whip from @DouglasCarswell"

James Forsythe in the Spectator writes that "Vote Leave could be formidable" but prominent supporters of Brexit told him privately that despite the polls, they think that in reality "Leave" is well behind. You can read his article at

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/12/the-vote-leave-campaign-could-be-formidable-but-it-has-an-achilles-heel/

My key take out, as explained above is that there is absolutely everything to play for. This really could go either way.

Should Labour moderates join the Conservative Party?

Toby Young extended an invitation this week to Dan Hodges, which interestingly, was the same one which Corbyn supporters have been making to Dan and any other Labour party member whose views they disagree with.

Except that Toby meant it in a positive way and the Corbynistas don't.

The standard response on social media to any Labour member who says or does something they don't like is

"Why don't you **** off and join the Tories."

Dan has, for the second time, decided that he has had enough of the present Labour leadership and that  he will indeed **** off.

Toby Young wrote to encourage him to act on the second half of the Corbynista's advice too, and that he would be welcome in the Conservative party.

Dan has written a friendly and interesting reply which amounts to saying that he knows he has more in common with David Cameron than Jeremy Corbyn but cannot bring himself to do it.

Which is actually a pity.

The Conservative party has gained a great deal from the constructive contributions of people who have previously been members of other parties.

Some of those people have risen to office, and in my humble opinion, they sometimes managed to achieve for Britain as members of the Conservative party part of what they were trying to achieve as members of their previous parties.

The main argument against people like Dan resigning from Labour and joining the Conservatives is that Britain needs a strong and responsible opposition and while the Labour party remains in the hands of its' present leadership there is not a cat in hell's chance of Labour providing it.

The thing is, while destroying a party as with such deep roots and loyal support in many parts of the country as Labour is a very hard thing to do, I am starting to think Jeremy Corbyn may manage it.

I don't think the full extent of the train-wreck Corbyn and his supporters are making of Labour is yet fully apparent to the voters. However, unless he falls under the proverbial bus within the next few months (it would take some such extraordinary event to dislodge him) and is replaced by someone who takes a very different course, Labour is heading for an internal bloodbath that will render the party unelectable outside extraordinary circumstances for at least a decade. And those Labour supporters who want a real alternative to the present government - or who prefer the present government to the shambles their party is becoming - will go elsewhere.

In that circumstance it becomes all the more important that the Conservatives live up to the responsibility to govern in the interests of the whole nation, and it will help us to do that if the people who Labour has abandoned join us.

As George Osborne said at Conservative Party conference

"Do you know what the supporters of the new Labour leadership now call anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy, and the country living within its means?
 
"They call them Tories.
 
"Well, it’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right."