Sunday, July 31, 2016

Of Primaries and Prime Ministers

I have read or heard a number of comments from various people this weekend about how local parties pick parliamentary candidates and how national political parties pick their leaders.

The person who goes furthest out on a limb against the moves which have been made to widen the franchise, and have been seen up to now as extending democracy, is David Herdson in an article on Mike Smithson's excellent "Political Betting" blog, "Time to put UK primaries to bed."

David goes a lot further than I or many others would, and his article includes a number of significant hostages to fortune but he makes some important points such as

"Allowing anyone to participate in something which they’re likely to want to sabotage is obviously foolhardy and even Labour, in opening its leadership contest to self-defined ‘supporters’, does at least reserve the right to deny the vote to those it believes don’t support its objectives."

"We don’t know of course how much internal pressure, if any, was put on Leadsom to withdraw before she reached her decision to stand back but the simple fact that she did act in that way is telling.

What was also telling was the almost complete acceptance of that decision by the Conservative Party. Perhaps the lack of an embedded tradition of membership leadership votes helped there: it’s doubtful that the Labour membership of 2015, never mind that which they have now, would have been quite so sanguine about an outcome decided solely by MPs.

And yet the contrast is clear. The Conservatives replaced their leader with little fuss and selected an obviously capable individual to the role, while Labour is engaging in a contest where none of the most qualified candidates are even standing."

"the system does work if enough people become engaged. Vocal minorities can be rejected (or supported, as the case may be) by the majority when that majority’s mobilised – but that only happens when they see good reason to be involved."

I entirely agree with the Iain Dale line that Tories joining Labour to vote for Corbyn was a shameful thing to do, but I do know Conservatives who paid their £3 to back Jeremy Corbyn purely as an act of sabotage and at least one sitting Conservative councillor managed to do it without being detected and barred from voting.

The fact that entryism and sabotage clearly did happen in the 2015 Labour leadership election is a clear warning to all parties that they need to think carefully about their selection and election procedures to avoid the potential for abuse.

I have taken part myself in two primary elections to select Conservative parliamentary candidates. The first was a "closed" primary (open to Conservative members and declared supporters) for Bristol North-West in 2004, and the second was an "open" primary (e.g. one which any elector in the constituency could take part in) for Copeland in 2007 at which I was readopted to fight the seat for a second time.

There was no evidence whatever of attempted sabotage at either event and I would have no problem at all with opening up future candidate selections at any level to open primaries provided the party organising them is confident that the attendance will be large enough to make capture of the process by a small clique or sabotage by opponents practical.

However, the experience of this year and some powerful arguments which I heard expressed this weekend have persuaded me that the Conservatives should reconsider our leadership election rules and make a small change to apply only when the party is in government.

When we are in opposition we should retain the system when MPs pick two candidates to go to a ballot of all members of the party. In opposition you are not picking someone who then immediately becomes Prime Minister, and party leadership elections in opposition usually take place in the first year of a parliament.

Hence you are not leaving the country with a "lame duck" outgoing prime minister for the weeks or months that a national ballot takes and whoever you pick has four years to establish themselves as party leader before they get a chance to be PM. (That also means that if you get it disastrously wrong, as Conservative members did in 2001 and Labour members in 2015, there is time to reconsider - as the Conservative party did in 2003 and Labour is attempting now.)

However, when a party is in government there is a lot to be said for trying to make a quick and smooth transition, especially if a very clear majority of MPs (more than 50% plus one) are clear about who they want.

I would therefore like to see the Conservative party constitution amended so that while the party is in government - and not when in opposition - if one of the candidates in an election for leader gets the support of 60% or more of the parliamentary party during the ballots of MPs, that candidate is declared party leader immediately without a membership ballot. (If no candidate hits this level of support before their numbers are whittled down to two, then you still have a membership ballot.)

This is a compromise between party democracy and giving the issue back to MPs but I think it would work. It could be argued that this is merely formalising what actually happened this year.

I hope it will be a long time before we have to choose another leader. But when we do I think this rule change would make more sense, and it would be better put in place now.

On the principle of know your enemy, Conservatives should read this ..

 ...  and also on the principle of making sure we are not making the same mistakes.

Ayesha Hazarika, former special adviser to Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman, who is now a comedian (some people might say not much has changed there then) has an interview in the Evening Standard about her time working for the Labour party and how she came to make an Edinburgh Fringe show about it ...

You can read it here.

Sunday music spot - O Lord, in thy Wrath

Quote of the day 31st July 2016

"Socialism is at its most dangerous when  it creeps."

(Matthew Parris, former MP turned journalist.)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

YouGov poll finds Scottish majority against independence unchanged since Brexit vote

After the 2015 General Election and the 2016 EU referendum I take opinion polls with a bucketful of salt. However, they are all we have, and changes in the same poll, especially if they form part of a pattern, can tell us whether there is any sign of movement.

Yougov have just released a poll on Scottish Independence which shows almost the same small lead for "No" over "Yes"  a month after the Bexit vote that they had found before the EU membership referendum.

The lead for "No" (e.g. to remain part of the UK) is not enormous and suggests that if there were to be another referendum it might well be close. However, it does appear, if you will pardon the expression, to "scotch" the suggestion that there has been a massive swing towards Scottish independence from the UK since the EU membership vote. (The change is only about one percentage point, well within the margin of error.)

Yougov say here that

"Fully 46% of Scots say that they would rather live in a Scotland that was still part of the UK post-Brexit, against 37% who would rather live in an independent Scotland that remained in the EU.

(These numbers translate to 55% vs 45% once don’t knows are stripped out)."

In other words, pretty much the same result as in the previous Independence referendum.

The idea that Britain voting to leave the EU would make Scotland more likely to vote to leave the UK was based on the assumption that Remain voters who wanted Scotland to be part of the EU would have to switch to supporting Independence so that an independent Scotland could re-join the EU.

However, Yougov add that

"Support for the union is buttressed by the fact that 43% of those who voted to Remain in the EU last month want Scotland to stay in the UK after Brexit."
(YouGov interviewed 1006 Scottish adults between 20th and 25th July 2016)

The Times accuses Putin's Russia of running a black propaganda operation in Scotland

The Times newspaper has a couple of important stories and articles today.

The main front page story, which is also the subject of an article covering most of two pages inside and a leader is about the propaganda organisation Putin's Russia has setting up in Edinburgh posing as news outlets.

I very rarely agree with the SNP on anything but I will say this to Nicola Sturgeon's credit - since she took over the SNP leadership senior figures in the party have mostly refused to act as 'useful idiots' for Putin and his mouthpieces RT and Sputnik.

West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes urged party supporters to consider messages from Kremlin-backed media sources like Sputnik news carefully before reading or sharing them on social media. He said:

"It is often tempting to think that the messages put forward by these channels are progressive, but it may be worth asking if the sources funding the likes of Sputnik News really do share your views.

"These are news sources directly funded by a regime which has absolutely no problem with abusing human rights and minorities, and most certainly would not tolerate a nationalist movement like our own within its own borders."

Incidentally Alex Salmond, when he was SNP leader, did not appear to get this: he was a regular guest on RT and so, before his election as Labour leader, was Jeremy Corbyn.

The Times describes how Russian news outlets put forward in 2014 the suggestion - ridiculed as "absurd" and "self-evidently a piece of disinformation" by Ben Nimmo who is quoted in the article - that the Scottish Independence referendum had been rigged. The grounds on which this was argued was that the some of the venues used to count the votes were too big ("Like an aircraft hanger" was the expression used) so that observers were too far away to see what was going on.

Anyone who has actually attended a UK election or referendum count will know that the actual counting and checking takes place on normal-size tables at which representatives of all interested parties including candidates and the press can stand on the other side from the counters and watch what is going on from a few feet away. They are sorted into bundles with coloured cards to identify which way the votes in each bundle were cast, and then the counted and checked votes are put on piles in a central table: although the observers could not possibly read an individual vote on the table they can tell how the piles are growing for each side and if there were some discrepancy between the votes on the central table and what they had seen counted on the ones they were watching, experienced observers would notice.

Ridiculous as the Russian allegations were, they prompted 100,000 people to sign a petition calling for a new referendum witnessed by independent international observers. (Actually there had been such observers present and all observers except the Russian ones said that the referendum had been a model on how to conduct a free and fair poll.)

The Times also reported that the Sputnik, a Russian "News Agency" had been promoting the allegation - which they wrongly attributed to the head of Labour Leave, Brendan Chilton, by means of misleading selective quotations - that the Labour MP Jo Cox had been murdered by the "Remain" campaign in such a manner designed to appear that a Brexit supporter had carried out the attack so as to create a sympathy vote for the "Remain" side.

Mr Chilton said he was "appalled" at the "absurd, shocking and completely unprofessional" way Sputnik had misrepresented him as supporting this view by means of selective and misleading quotations. He added that he would be making an official complaint.

As the Times leader said, "Vladimir Putin rules not only over Russia, its space and its citizens but also over an alternative reality where black is white, night is day and right is wrong."

Until such day as an honest politician comes to power in the Kremlin and completes the most herculean cleansing of Mr Putin's Augean journalistic stables, all information from any Russian state outlet should be taken with a bucketful of salt.

Local muslim community refuses to bury priest's murderer

Muslim community leaders in the Normandy town where an elderly Catholic priest was murdered by Islamic militants have refused to bury one of the two young men who killed him.

Adel Kermiche, who was 19, killed Father Jacques Hamel, 86, while he delivered mass.

The local Muslim cultural association in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray has told the media that they do not wish to "taint" Islam by associating with Kermiche, who was shot dead by French police after he took hostages at the town's 17th-century stone church, alongside Abdel-Malik Petitjean, also 19, on 26 July.

Mohammed Karabila, the president of the Muslim association, who is also an imam at one of the northern French town's mosques, told Le Parisien: "We're not going to taint Islam with this person. We won't participate in preparing the body or the burial."

The paper reported that Muslims who lived in the town, which lies near the city of Rouen, supported the decision. One local Muslim resident who agreed with the mosque's refusal to bury Kermiche, said: "What this young man did was sinful, he is no longer part of our community."

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the Islamic extremists do not speak and act for all, or even most, members of the Muslim community and those Muslims who say that Jihadist murderers are heretics whose actions are out of line with the teachings of their faith can point to plenty of statements by the Prophet Mohammed and to passages in the Qu'ran which support that position.

More details of the decision by the Muslim community in St Etienne du Rouvray here.

Glorious weather, beautiful countryside, and horrible traffic

There was a meeting of North West Region Conservatives in Kendal this morning so I drove from Whitehaven to Kendal (and back after the meeting). It was a very useful and constructive meeting.

The journey was also a perfect illustration of the best and worst things about living in Cumbria. A drive in glorious weather through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. And when they were not behind the wheel of a car, everyone I interacted with was polite, friendly and a pleasure to deal with. Slightly spoilt by traffic, particularly where there are roadworks and temporary traffic lights between Kendal and Ambleside.

If you are travelling through Cumbria and have multiple routes available to you, I would recommend avoiding the A591 at the moment, particularly the stretch between Kendal and Windermere.

Saturday music spot: Bach's.Cantata No.51, "Praise God in all nations"

Wonderful performance of a fantastic piece

Prospects of Whitehaven Relief Road appear to move nearer

Don't hold your breath, but there appears to be a growing political consensus in West Cumbria that a Whitehaven Relief Road could be on the cards. It would probably start at the Moresby roundabout on the A595 north of the town, and then running to the east of the town behind Whitehaven Academy and the hospital and then rejoin the A595 between WCH and Westlakes Science Park.

There is a report about the proposal in  this week's Whitehaven News with various sources of funding suggested and support in several parts of the political spectrum.

I think this could potentially be a very positive idea.

Quote of the day 30th July 2016

(Usually attributed to the older Dumas but I have also seen it attributed to his son and namesake and also to Mark Twain)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Adam Tomkins MSP on the "Named Persons Law"

Conservative MSP and law professor Adam Tomkins has written an excellent piece in the Scottish Daily Mail, "Yet again, SNP simply refused to listen to criticism" about the egregious "named persons law" proposed by the SNP which the Supreme Court has just unanimously ruled against.

He describes that ruling as "A wake-up call ... that greater vigilance is needed to safeguard us from ill-considered laws"

You can read the article at the Press Reader site here.

I shall have to use the line above as a quote of the day in the near future.

Frankly the statement that "greater vigilance is needed to safeguard us from ill-considered laws" may be particularly true of Scotland under an SNP administration in the Scottish parliament but it is also true at most times and places under governments of almost any political persuasion.

Greg Clark's statement about Hinkley Point

Following the confirmation by EDF of their commitment to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, the new Energy secretary Greg Clark made the following statement:

"The UK needs a reliable and secure energy supply and the government believes that nuclear energy is an important part of the mix.

“The government will now consider carefully all the component parts of this project and make its decision in the early autumn.”

EDF Group chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy said he remained confident it would go ahead. “I have no doubt about the support of the British government led by Mrs May,” he said.

China General Nuclear said in a statement: “We respect the new Government’s need to familiarise itself with a project as important to the UK’s future energy security as Hinkley Point C and we stand ready to help the Government in this respect.”

Downing Street were insisting that the project had not been delayed and there was an “agreed timetable” with the French government. According to the Telegraph here Theresa May told Francois Hollande, the French President, last week that she needed more time to make a final decision, but also sought to reassure him that the review was "not a sign of opposition." According to the Financial Times she said: “I have just become Prime Minister. It is my method”.

Downing Street has been strongly downplaying suggestions that the wish of a new PM and Energy secretary to be fully familiar with the proposal before giving signoff should be seen as a sign that the project is likely to be rejected.

Quote of the day 29th July 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

MOORSIDE CONSULTATION - last chance to have your say

Whether you agree with me or disagree that the community of West Cumbria, and Britain, desperately needs for the Moorside nuclear new build project to go ahead, this week is your last chance to have your say in State Two of the consultation, which concludes on Saturday.

The Moorside Project is a nationally significant infrastructure project and must be consented through the Planning Act 2008 via a ‘Development Consent Order’ (DCO). Before a DCO can be made, NuGen is required to consult with those living in the vicinity of the land to which its proposed application relates, key local authorities, persons with an interest in the land and prescribed statutory bodies, as well as publicising its proposed application nationally.
NuGen’s consultation process involves two stages:
  • Stage One: Strategic Issues Consultation, which was carried out from 16th May 2015 to 25th July 2015.
  • Stage Two: Proposed Scheme Consultation which will run from 14th May 2016 to 30th July 2016.
NuGen has published a ‘Statement of Community Consultation’ (SoCC) which sets out how NuGen is carrying outwill carry out the Stage Two Consultation and consult with people in the vicinity of the development.

NuGen is asking people to ‘HAVE YOUR SAY’ on our latest proposals and the consultation website at

will provide you with all the information you need to get involved.

Hinkley Point new nuclear plant approval confirmed

As expected, the board of EDF energy has voted to confirm their investment in a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

This is the first new nuclear plant to be approved in Britain for many years. It is great news for Britain and paves the way for the new nuclear plant at Moorside near Sellafield to go ahead, which will be great news for Britain and Cumbria.

As I wrote earlier today, it is imperative that Britain gets cracking on building new power stations if we are not to have power cuts within a decade.

And if we want low carbon generation, and energy for which we are not dependent on the wind or on Vladimir Putin, then new Nuclear build has to be included as part of a balanced energy policy.

Nineteen Conservative MPs have signed a  letter calling for new nuclear power stations and I strongly support them.

John Prescott is supposed to have once asked supporters of new nuclear power stations "Would you want one in your constituency?"

Here in Copeland, the answer is not just "YES" but also "GET ON WITH IT!"

The Brexit hype cycle

I was amused to see that an article in City AM explains reactions to Brexit by inverting the new technology hype cycle.

Where new technology typically produces an initial surge of hype followed by a trough of disillusionment as it fails to live up to the hype, and finally settles on a plateau of productivity, it has been suggested that the vote to leave the EU has initially produced a spike of panic, which is in the process of being replaced by a "return of rationality" as people notice that the sky has not fallen in, and will end with a plateau of pragmatism.

I certainly prefer this to the excessive reaction of many on both sides - the Remainer doom-mongers grabbing every opportunity to present any event they can as proof that voting to quit the EU was a disaster while the "Doctor Pangleavess"  are equally keen to seize any pretext, however flimsy, to show that Brexit is already bringing heaven on earth.

There is a possibility - though I certainly would not bet on it - that in a few years, after we have actually left the EU and the economy has adjusted to the new situation, it will then be possible to make a rational assessment of whether the "plateau of pragmatism" leaves Britain at a higher of lower level than it would have been had there been a "Remain" vote.

It is way too early to make that judgement now and some of those on both sides who are still refighting g the referendum are becoming tiresome.

French look set to approve Hinkley Point investment as Tory MPs call for new nuclear build

Great news for Britain and our nuclear industry as the EDF board, meeting today, looks set to approve investment in the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

It is imperative that Britain gets cracking on building new power stations if we are not to have power cuts within a decade and if we want low carbon generation, and energy for which we are not dependent on the wind or on Vladimir Putin, then new Nuclear build has to be part of a balanced energy policy.

Nineteen Conservative MPs have signed a  letter calling for new nuclear power stations and I strongly support them.

John Prescott is supposed to have once asked supporters of new nuclear power stations "Would you want one in your constituency?"

Here in Copeland, the answer is not just "YES" but also "GET ON WITH IT!"

Every local election result and consultation suggests that the majority of people here want the Moorside proposal for a new nuclear power station to go ahead.

Here is the text of the MP's letter calling for new nuclear build.

"Last month’s EU referendum result has not altered the importance of the UK’s new nuclear programme. This new generation capacity is crucial for securing the UK’s future energy supplies, for helping reduce dependence on imports, and for mitigating against fluctuating fuel prices. Nuclear will also play a significant role in meeting our domestic energy targets, and the global climate ambitions we signed up to last year.

With 35 per cent of our current generating capacity closing by 2030, the UK needs to build 60GW of new electricity generating capacity and associated infrastructure over the next ten years. Since 2010, the UK has reduced its power generation capacity by 20 per cent. This needs to be replaced urgently by new stations, including low carbon baseload nuclear power.

Members of Parliament on both sides of the EU debate want to see the new nuclear stations built, not only because of their energy security and climate change benefits, but also the boost their construction will provide to the UK. The nuclear new build programme will be a major engine for economic growth.

The nuclear industry currently employs around 65,000 people. The new build projects being delivered by EDF Energy, Horizon Nuclear Power and NuGeneration Ltd, will bring thousands of additional highly skilled jobs within engineering, research and development and construction, to all areas of the UK. The longevity of the programmes, means these jobs will provide long term stability for years into the future.

The nuclear new build programme will also offer companies across the country an opportunity to become part of the multi-billion pound UK nuclear supply chain. This will increase the capability of UK businesses, allowing them to build on their existing achievements and the opportunity to become part of an international supply chain. Export potential could be huge, as the international nuclear market continues to grow at an increasingly rapid rate, both within new build and decommissioning.

The nuclear industry will, of course, look to work with policymakers in the UK and the EU to understand the implications of the referendum result, but the bottom line is the UK’s requirement for secure and affordable low carbon electricity has not changed. Nuclear new build will play a key role in meeting this vital national objective and it is important that industry and Government continue to work closely together to bring this to fruition.


Peter Aldous MP
Bob Blackman MP
Damian Collins MP
Chris Davies MP
David TC Davies MP
Glyn Davies MP
Dr James Davies MP
Graham Evans MP
Marcus Fysh MP
Ian Liddell Grainger MP
Chris Green MP
James Heappey MP
David Morris MP
Dr Daniel Poulter MP
Rebecca Pow MP
Antoinette Sandbach MP
John Stevenson MP
Kelly Tolhurst MP
John Whittingdale MP"

A very wet day ...

West Cumbria experiencing the sort of weather this morning that gives wet days a bad name ...

Quote of the day 28th July 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

BT and Openreach

Declaration of interest - I have worked for the BT group for more than 30 years. For the last two years I have been a manager within the Openreach division.

However, the opinions expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily anyone else's - not those of BT or Openreach, or the Conservative Party.

The communications regulator OFCOM has been reviewing the functioning of Britain's digital economy and yesterday published a number of proposals which they described as " plans to make digital communications work for everyone "

Some of OFCOM's proposals are logical and sensible. All ought to be carefully considered And it is right that there has been and will continue to be debate about them.

What is tragic is that most of the debate about what Britain's policy towards broadband should be has been based on seriously sloppy thinking, and in particular too many journalists and politicians have uncritically repeated the self-serving arguments of certain commercial interests, arguments which may be in the interests of the companies which put them forward but not those of the customer or of the country.

It is important to point out that the Telecommunications framework in Britain already allows a higher degree of competition, both in terms of what is legally allowed and in terms of what happens in practice, than the vast majority of other countries. Britain has allowed competition among landline telephone suppliers since the 1980s and in both mobile phone and broadband supply since those services have existed. Previous British governments bent over backwards to give rival operators incentives to set up new telecommunications networks in competition to the privatised former state monopoly, BT, and many did.

According to OFCOM the market shares of fixed broadband provision at the end of 2014 were

BT 32%
Virgin Media 20%
TalkTalk 14%
Sky 22%
EE 4%
Others 8%

In other words, although BT is the largest supplier of broadband services the company has just under a third of the market, compared with nearly 60% between them for BT's three main rivals. BT does not owe its position in the supply of broadband services to any government restrictions on other suppliers offering broadband services. The main reason BT has held on to the position of being the largest supplier is because the company has put more resources into the supply of broadband than anyone else.

BT is a vertically integrated company - that is, it is an end-to-end supplier which competes at every stage in the supply of Telecoms services - but there are VERY strong rules in place to ensure that the company cannot use a strong position in one stage of that supply to compete unfairly against competitors in other aspects of the market. BT divisions such as Openreach are legally required to treat other telecommunications suppliers such as Virgin or Sky on an equal basis to other BT divisions which they are competing against.

For example - and this is a matter of public record - if another Telecommunications company such as Virgin orders some infrastructure from BT's Openreach division, then Openreach is only allowed to share that information with employees of other parts of BT if those people have a legitimate need to know in order to help Openreach supply that infrastructure and is prohibited from sharing the information with any BT operation competing against Virgin or another customer in a way which gives them an unfair advantage.   

The undertakings to apply these rules are taken very seriously indeed by all concerned.

I would not for one moment argue that either BT or any of the other companies which supply broadband services is perfect. I know that BT and Openreach are making enormous efforts to improve their service and I believe it would be in the interests of the customer and of Great Britain PLC if such efforts by ALL suppliers were redoubled.

What would NOT be in the interest of anyone except BT'S competitors would be to break up BT.

Obviously some people would argue that I have a vested interest as a BT and Openreach employee in arguing against this, which is why in the interests of transparency I declared my interest at the very start of this article - though actually if Openreach becomes a completely separate company which needs a full panoply of corporate HQ functions it is at least as likely that I might benefit from increased promotion opportunities as that I personally might lose out.

However there is a far stronger vested interest for BT's rivals in the supply of broadband services to try to persuade the government to kneecap their main competitor so as to gain through state interference what they have been unable to gain in the commercial marketplace.

The arguments for splitting off Openreach from BT which some of those rival companies, and their cheerleaders in parliament and the press, have put forward have been economically illiterate.

Some of them have talked about the need for extra competition. But splitting up the different stages of a vertically integrated company does nothing whatsoever to increase competition at any particular stage of the supply chain. Openreach and the rest of BT would, at least at first, each retain exactly the same market share at the point of breakup in the respective parts of the market in which they operate that they had before.

Others have put forward the argument that the British economy is being held back by inadequate investment in advanced broadband. More investment in superfast broadband would indeed be of benefit to the British economy but it is utterly ludicrous for BT's competitors who, between them, have two thirds of the market to argue either that a lack of such investment is all BT's fault or that splitting off BT from Openreach would solve the problem.

It is far more likely that cutting Openreach off entirely from BT would make it harder, not easier for Openreach to obtain funds to invest in broadband infrastructure which the country needs. 

And if it did, cui bono?

(This blog not being a government website, I am not affected by the ban on latin, but for those who don't know "cui bono?" means "who benefits?" And the answer is "BT's competitors.")

Nothing in this article is meant to encourage complacency or suggest that there is nothing which can be done. I think anyone with an interest in the telecommunications industry should  study and respond to OFCOM's proposals.

Ofcom’s proposed model, announced yesterday, is for:
  • Openreach to become a distinct company. Openreach should be a legally separate company within BT Group, with its own ‘Articles of Association’. Openreach - and its directors - would be required to make decisions in the interests of all Openreach’s customers, and to promote the success of the company.
  • Openreach to have its own Board. The new Board should have a majority of non-executive directors, including the Chair. These non-executives should not be affiliated to BT Group in any way, but would be both appointed and removed by BT in consultation with Ofcom.
  • Executives accountable to the new Board. Openreach’s Chief Executive should be appointed by, and accountable to, the Openreach Board - not BT Group. The Chief Executive would then be responsible for other executive appointments. There should be no direct lines of reporting from Openreach executives to BT Group, unless agreed by exception with Ofcom.
  • Greater consultation with customers. Openreach would be obliged to consult formally with customers such as Sky and TalkTalk on large-scale investments. There should be a ‘confidential’ phase during which customers can discuss ideas without this being disclosed to BT Group.
  • Staff to work for Openreach. Ofcom’s principle for the new model is that people who work for Openreach should be employees of the new company, rather than BT Group. This would prevent any real or perceived conflict of interest, and allow Openreach to develop its own distinct organisational culture.
  • Openreach to own assets that it already controls. Openreach should own its physical network. This would allow the Openreach Board to make decisions that depend on investing in, and looking after, Openreach’s assets. There may be costs in transferring assets or people to Openreach, which would need to be mitigated.
  • A separate strategy and control over budget allocation. Openreach should develop its own strategy and annual operating plans, within an overall budget set by BT Group.
  • Independent branding. Openreach should have its own brand, not affiliated with BT Group, to help embed the organisational culture of a distinct company.
OFCOM describes this model as providing Openreach with the greatest degree of independence from BT Group that is possible without incurring the costs and disruption - to industry and consumers - associated with separating the companies entirely.

OFCOM is seeking views on the plans outlined yesterday by 4 October. The responses may be interesting!

A reminder to Conservative party members from the new party chairman:

This year’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham (2nd October to 5th October) will be the first with our Prime Minister and leader, Theresa May.
Make sure you reserve your pass before the price goes up on 1st August.
At conference we will come together and lay out our plans to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
This year’s conference is set to be one of the biggest ever. So don’t miss out.
I look forward to seeing you in Birmingham,
Patrick McLoughlin - Conservative Party Chairman

PS Remember - the price will go up after 1st August so be sure to reserve your place today.

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

UK Economy grew strongly in Q2

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the Britisb economy grow by 0.6% in the three months to the end of June 2016, up from 0.4% in the previous quarter.

On an annual basis, growth was 2.2%, helped by a surge in manufacturing.

ONS chief economist Joe Grice said: "Continued strong growth across services, particularly in retailing, reinforced by healthy growth in the manufacture of cars and pharmaceuticals, boosted output in the second quarter."
Manufacturing output grew at 2.1% in the quarter, which was its "best gain since 1999", said Neil Wilson, an analyst at ETX Capital.

The services sector, the largest part of the UK economy, grew 0.5%, while construction and agriculture fell 0.4% and 1% respectively.

Economic growth was strongest in April before easing off in May and June, the ONS figures show.

These figures say NOTHING either way about the merits of the decision to leave the EU.

Only the last week of the three month period to which these figures relate was after the referendum.

The statement from ONS today does appear to disprove the suggestion which some people had made before the referendum that Brexit uncertainties were already affecting the level of activity in the economy. In the light of these figures that does not appear to have been a serious problem. However, given that most people on both sides expected "Remain" to win, this does not say anything either way about what will happen now. Joe Grice added that

"Any uncertainties in the run-up to the referendum seem to have had a limited effect. Very few respondents to ONS surveys cited such uncertainties as negatively impacting their businesses."

Like the employment figures released a few days ago, today's figures are good news because they show that at the time of the referendum the UK economy was in good shape and heading in the right direction. It is far too early for those who were on either side to use these numbers to justify their stance. People on both sides would be better employed using their energies to make sure that Brexit works for all of us.

When helping victims requires us to be tactful about horrible things ...

It has been a year of shocking stories, but if half of what has been written in the press about Amina Al-Jeffrey is true, hers is one of the most upsetting

According to the Telegraph Amina Al-Jeffrey, now 21, was born in Swansea but taken to Saudi Arabia aged 16 by her father who is a member of the academic staff at the Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and is reportedly receiving funding from the Saudi Arabian government to contest the court order being sought to allow her to return to Britain.

The family division of the High Court was told yesterday that over the course of more than four years, the young woman has reportedly been physically abused, deprived of food and water, and kept in a cage when her father leaves their home.

A British lawyer, Anne-Marie Hutchinson, who has met Amina said that

“She is a normal Welsh girl and still has her Welsh accent,” she said. ”She wants to return home so she can have control of her own life and make her own choices."

Mr Justice Holman said that the jurisdiction of the British courts was unclear because Miss Al-Jeffery was now an adult with dual Saudi and UK citizenship. He went on to make remarks about the need to be careful about asserting the supremacy of our cultural standards which have caused offence to some people who took those remarks as inferring that the treatment of Amina Al-Jeffrey is acceptable according to other cultural standards.

We are no longer living in a world where we can send a gunboat, or a force of dreadnaughts, and force other countries to do what we consider right. Hence a degree of diplomacy is required if we want to rescue this unfortunate young woman from what appears to be a nightmare situation.

I very much hope however that tact and diplomacy is all it was and that everything possible is being done to allow her to return to Wales.

Quote of the day 27th July 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Yet another tragedy in France

Our neighbours and allies in France appear to have suffered particularly badly from terrorism over the past few months and today's murder of a priest in his 80's in the church where he was celebrating Mass was particularly sick

Our thoughts and prayers are, again with the people of France as they come to terms with yet another terrorist atrocity.

There was a time which places of worship were recognised as providing sanctuary. Sadly today's killers did not think that way.

Jesus taught people to love one another and not to return evil for evil. The Prophet Mohammed taught his followers that anyone who killed someone who is at peace with Islam will never breathe the air of paradise, and that his God is "the compassionate, the merciful."

Anyone who kills in the name of either Christianity or Islam is ignoring the true message of either.

Note that, unfortunately, I am not saying that the vicious murders perpetrated by some terrorists are not carried out in the name of great religions. What I am saying is that the people who believe that such actions are endorsed by those religions are wrong.

Western civilisation has no quarrel with those who peacefully follow any religion, or those who choose not to.

It is the fact that Western civilisation is tolerant that the likes of DA'ESH most object to. They would like nothing more than to stir up a violent backlash to atrocities like those in Paris, Brussels, Nice or today in Normandy.  And that is what we must not give them.

Don't let's kid ourselves that Britain is not just as much a target as France for the likes of DA'ESH, or that we could stop ourselves from being a target by any chance in our foreign policy. Of course we made ghastly mistakes in Iraq, but we cannot win where the Jihadists are concerned - Western powers will be imperialists if we intervene, as in Iraq, or abandoning innocent people to die when we don't, as was originally our position in Syria.

We need to be vigilant but we also need to make sure that we do not scapegoat people because of what community they come from. That will occasionally be a very hard balance to strike. But we have to make the attempt.

As ICM gives the Conservatives a 16% lead we must avoid complacency

CON 43% (+4)
LAB 27% (-2)
LD 8% -1
UKIP 13% -1

(Source: ICM)

No, I know, we should not put too much faith in opinion polls, but that is Labour's worst opinion poll score since the nadir of Gordon Brown's premiership in 2009. It is a clear sign of Labour's utter uselessness as an effective opposition.

But that very uselessness is a threat.

The warning for the Conservatives and the country must be that politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

As Disraeli said

There must be no room for complacency.

We must be very careful not to generate our own opposition and to be seen to deal with the very difficult challenges facing the country.

Quote of the day 26th July 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016

Theresa May visits Northern Ireland

One of the biggest problems in making Brexit work - indeed, a major part of one of the two main reasons I personally eventually voted "Remain" - is the total inconsistency between the Leave promise to "take back control" of the UK's borders and their promise not to introduce border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

When Britain leaves the European border this will become our land border between Britain and the European Union,  and at the moment the only way you know when you have crossed it is that the speed limit signs change.

To introduce controls on that border would be both horribly expensive and devastating to the lives of local people on both sides of it, but there could be serious difficulties implementing some of the "take back control" promises without doing so.

I was very pleased to see the reports of Theresa May's visit to Northern Ireland to meet the leaders of the Northern Ireland Assembly for two reasons - first because it means that in her first fortnight as Prime Minister she has met the leaders of all three devolved administrations and promised to involve them in the Brexit negotiations, and second, because it shows that she understands the specific problem of that border and is determined to find an acceptable solution.

After meeting the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Theresa May promised that "Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past."

She pointed out that the UK and Ireland had had a common travel area long before either country was a member of the EU and promised to work to find a solution which is going to work and deliver a practical solution for everybody "in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom."

Our world is about to change - and sooner than we realise

For the last fifty years the vast majority of people in Britain and other OECD countries have learned to drive in early adulthood and most have made regular use of this skill.

My twin son and daughter, who turned fifteen a few days ago, are likely to be the last generation for whom this is true. If they had been five this year rather than fifteen - possibly even if they were ten - my bet would be that when they reach the age to learn to drive the impact on the vehicle market and insurance rates of driverless cars would have made it prohibitively expensive for most young people to learn to drive.

People of my generation who wish to continue driving may be able to do so as long as we retain our health and no-claims bonuses and manage not to trip too many speed cameras but it will become more and more expensive and those of us who take this option will come to be seen as dinosaurs.

Inside ten years I think it is likely that the number of people who chose to own and drive their own car will plummet: instead millions will find it more cost-effective and convenient to order up a driverless vehicle as and when they need one.

The job of taxi driver is likely to go the same way as the Gaslamp-lighter within a couple of decades.

This will be part of a wave of automation which will change our lives more than we realise. Mostly for the better but there will be casualties - and if we want to minimise the human cost of this, we need a more flexible economy and plenty of training to help people find new jobs in the new industries which will spring up to replace the old ones.

It is an era which will bring risks and opportunities and we need to be ready for both.

There is a good article by Nicholas Mazzei about some of the changes we are about to live through which you can read on the TRG site at

Mayor of Copeland to hold Cleator Moor public meeting

The directly-elected mayor of Copeland, Mike Starkie will be holding a public meeting at Wath Brow Rugby League Club, Cleator Moor, tomorrow (Tuesday 26th July 2016) from 6pm.

This will give local residents a chance to ask about issues of concern.

There will also be representatives from Cumbria County Council and local parish councils at the meeting.

Quote of the day 25th July 2016

(From an article by Dan Hodges in the Mail which you can read in full here.)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Next phase of West Cumberland Hospital redevelopment and refurbishment to go ahead.

Stephen Eames, chief executive at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, has confirmed that phase two of the hospital rebuilding and refurbishment programme for West Cumberland Hospital (WCH) will go ahead.

Plans for phase two of the redevelopment were halted last year when the estimated costs to carry out the work went over budget by £10m.

The old children's ward (Fairfield Ward) which is in the original hospital building will now be refurbished, mostly during spring 2017, and will house breast screening, cardiology, mortuary, renal, maternity ward and a vascular laboratory.

Demolition of the old WCH main entrance is planned for summer 2018. This will involved knocking down the old buildings which currently block the view of the building from Homewood Road.
The money will come from the redevelopment's previous £90m budget.

More on my hospitals blog at

Catherine Street Surgery in Whitehaven to close at the end of this month

Dr Judith Spencer, who runs the Catherine Street Surgery, will see her last patients on Friday, July 29th 2016. With her retirement this GP practice surgery will close.

Patients of the practice, of whom there are about 2,600, will then be transferred a few yards up the road to the Whitehaven Medical Centre, also in Catherine Street (in the former magistrates court building) which is run by Dr Tom Ickes.

The Catherine Street staff, which includes two practice nurses, a health care assistant and five receptionists, will also move to the new surgery.

Dr Spencer, who has been a GP at the surgery for seven years, officially retires on July 31 with the practice closing for the last time on July 29 at 6.30pm.

She said: "I have enjoyed my time at the surgery and will miss the patients because they have been a big part of my life."

Prophesy and Proof in the ancient world and today:

Today is the Patronal Festival for churches dedicated in the name of St James (such as St James' Whitehaven) and some of the readings at Church this morning which referenced him triggered a line of thought about how people fall into very different intellectual traps about the nature of proof both now and two thousand years ago - and yet they have a remarkable similarity.

The Gospel reading was, of course, the story of how the mother of James and his brother John, perhaps the ultimate cringe-worthily embarrassing pushy parent of all time, asked Jesus if when he came into his Kingdom her sons could be seated next to him at his right and left.

Jesus told her that she did not understand what they were asking, and asked the brothers

"Can you drink the cup that I drink of?" (Matthew, 20, 22)

I remember thinking "Oops!" on one of the very first occasions that I heard the reading continue with their replies "We can." Even before Jesus said "You shall indeed share my cup" it was obvious how this was going to end.

As it happens it was my turn to read this morning the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles which records how James did indeed meet his end as a martyr - he was killed on the orders of Herod.

Stepping outside my own faith and opinions, I can see that what I was doing there illustrates the strength and the weakness of the human intellect. Our brains evolved as pattern-spotting machines, and they are superb at it. The only problem is that our ability to weave patterns which try to make sense of reality is that we sometimes impose patterns which are not really there.

We talk of "tempting fate" and the idea that someone who blithely answers yes when asked "Can you drink the cup that I drink of" thus seals their fate, following their Lord into martyrdom is so poetically powerful that few people could resist spotting it.

But there is nothing in Christian theology which requires you to assume this and I have never heard an evangelist use this as an argument for the truth of the religion - and they are wise not to.

In the event neither brother had quite such a cruel death as that of Jesus by crucifixion: James died by the sword and John in his own bed, but after being severely tortured. Both are, however, regarded as martyrs. That they would meet such a fate in an era when killing was a common means of settling religious differences was, of course, hardly surprising.

I look at the last sentence I wrote above and realise that it identifies me clearly as someone who grew up in the 20th century. Between the fall of the Berlin Wall and that of the twin towers the idea that anyone had the right to kill someone else for believing something different, be it in politics or religion, seemed to be in the inexorable decline that such a sick delusion deserves.

If only we could be so confident of that today. I have let the sentence stand, however, because even in the world of Al Qaeda and DA'ESH, of atrocities like those perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway or by the killers behind this month's massacres in Nice and Munich, such killings were much more common and more systematic two thousand years ago than they are today.

There is another  reference to prophecy in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which I read in church this morning, At the end of Chapter 11 there is a reference to the prediction by a prophet called Agabus of a world wide famine "which in fact occurred in the reign of Claudius."

Of course, two thousand years ago, anyone who predicted a world-wide famine would be likely to be shown to be right within a couple of decades: in a pre-technological society famines afflicting a large proportion of the planet were a depressingly frequent event. And if they were advocating measures to be taken to reduce the vulnerability of society to such events they might simply be a very wise person who would not require any supernatural support to reach the conclusion that such measure were a good idea.

There may be people reading this who think "Ha - we would not be so gullible today."

But we are: we feed silly assumptions into statistical programmes in computers and then when the computers tell us it has found a relationship based on those assumptions, we believe them.

I was taught econometrics at university by Professor Angus Deaton, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for economics. One of the warnings he impressed on his students was the risk of "data mining" e.g. throwing large number of statistical tests at a set of data until it comes up with relationships on which you can base an economic theory.

But as one of his fellow Nobel Laureates wrote,

"Data mining" may use sophisticated statistical tools and powerful modern computers but it is no more rational or scientific than reading the entrails of sacrificial animals, praying to a volcano or throwing knuckle-bones.

The tools of analysis which have been developed by statisticians over the decades are designed to flag that you have found something significant of your result, or a more extreme one, is less likely to come about by chance than a certain "confidence level," most often a probability level of 5% or 1%.

For a single test of a pre-existing theory, that is reasonable. If the data confirms your theory and you subject it to repeated tests with different data and it continues to support the theory, you are building up increasingly strong evidence. That is how these tools are supposed to work.

But if you throw two hundred different tests at the same set of data, then by the laws of probability, it is likely to throw up two relationships which are significant at the 1% confidence level, and ten that are significant at the 5% confidence level, even if none of them are real.

If you do that without a clear idea of what you are looking for, and then construct a theory based on the relationships you found, and you would be better advised to pay an Augur to check the entrails of a sacrificial animal, because it would be a lot cheaper and quicker.

That is what Ron Coase meant and why Angus Deaton warned against "data mining."

And yet you can find multi-million pound consultancies in operation today selling big businesses computer software designed for "data mining."  If you ask them about this, they will say that if the "data mining" software they sell is used responsibility and as it is intended it will produce genuine insights.

Technically they are right. In practice it's simply a very expensive and sophisticated way of pretending to find evidence for the answer you wanted in the first place. You are basically just using computers and data feeds the way the ancient augurs used their sacrificial victims or the unscrupulous opinion pollsters used their respondents as demonstrated by Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes Prime Minister" ...

Sunday music spot: Beethoven's - Moonlight Sonata (1st movement)


Shipbuilding row: our sailors deserve ships which are fit for purpose.

There is currently a row about childish tweets from the SNP leader over a shipbuilding contract to provide the Royal Navy's next generation of frigates, which are due to be built in Scotland.

There appear to be some genuine issues with this major order, which shipbuilding workers on the Clyde were promised before the 2014 Scottish referendum vote.

But the petulant nonsense from the SNP leader is hardly the best way to deal with those issues.

The Royal Navy needs the Type 26 Global Combat ship to replace the aging Type 23 frigates. People whose opinions I respect are saying that there is good reason to start building these ships as soon as is compatible with ensuring they are fit for purpose.

And there is the issue. We have recently had problems with regard to the engines of the navy's new £1 billion each Type 45 destroyers which are liable to break down in hot climates. The last thing our sailors need is another set of massively expensive warships which are not fit for purpose.

Last month we commemorated the 100th anniversary of a battle which showed all too clearly what happens when British sailors are sent to sea in ships with serious design flaws.

The battle of Jutland in 2016 should have been remembered as a great British victory in which the German navy was outwitted, outfought, and had to run for their lives. The strategic impact of the battle was that for the rest of the war the German Fleet never again challenged the British.

But compared with the Germans, the Royal Navy ships at Jutland did not have adequate measures in place to prevent a magazine explosion in the event of damage to a turret. Our battleships had thick enough armour, and hit the Germans so much harder than they were hit themselves, that they all survived the battle, but for the British battlecruisers, which were not as well protected, it was a different story. Three of the nine RN battlecruisers at Jutland blew up with the loss of almost their entire crews, each of over a thousand officers and men.

The loss of those ships allowed the Germans to present Jutland as a victory and far worse, it cost more than three thousand lives.

There could not be a better illustration of the need to get the design of the navy's new ships right.

By all means ask the tough questions about whether and why the ships will be delayed and what the consequences might be. But tweeting, as Nicola Sturgeon did, that a possible delay is

"a disgraceful betrayal of the Clyde shipyard workers - and a breach of the promise made in #indyref.”

does not address the real issues of balancing the very real need to get these ships into service for all sorts of reason - and yes, that includes the jobs of Clyde shipbuilding workers - with the need to ensure that the new Global Combat ships are fit for purpose and will not lose power and weapon systems in hot weather.

And as Ruth Davidson asked, "Remind me again of the number of warships you planned to build in an independent Scotland?

(The answer was zero.)

Quote of the day 24th July 2016

"We Tory Remain voters have had a little moan, a big sulk and a quiet tear. But now we must snap out of it, or there’s a terrible danger of slipping into a sort of Tsarist Russian émigré state of mind, dining with each other, dreaming of a return and taking secret pleasure in any setback our country may suffer.

I’m resolved not to scour each morning’s papers for news of a fall in sterling, or greet reports of businesses leaving Britain with a grimly satisfied “I told you so”. It’s corrosive. Real livelihoods, real people are at stake and we must wish always for the best. There’s a decent chance that after a few bumps along the way our economy will be fine. With heart as well as head we must wish only for this."

"Leave the nation to reflect. Leave Mrs May to construct the best deal available. Do nothing to undermine her. Give her all the help we can. Counsel the compromise she may need to recommend. And if she succeeds, as with skill and luck she might, let’s own, with her, a new, calm, businesslike way of living with the EU. "

(Matthew Parris, from a Times article, "The Remainer refuseniks must snap out of it.")

Saturday, July 23, 2016

After the "Leave" vote - Matthew Parris on finding a way forward

As I said at the start of the previous post, the referendum has happened. Leave won. However much  48% of us regret that, we have to accept the reality of it and find a way to move forward.

I spent a day or so in the "Denial" and several weeks in the "Anger" phases of my response, but that cannot last and we have to come back together as a country and find a constructive way forward.

Journalist and former MP Matthew Parris appears to be emerging from a much deeper phase of anger than I did, writing at one point that for the first time in his life he felt ashamed to be British.

I didn't have that reaction, and I see the attitude represented by the phrase in the third paragraphs of the article below "We think the voters got it wrong" as an attractive but dangerous temptation to be resisted, not as a position I would defend. (If you read the article in context, I think it is pretty clear that this is also how Matthew Parris intended his words to be taken.)

But as I just inferred, Matthew is now emerging from his denial and anger stage.

Not everyone will agree with everything he wrote in his Times article, "The Remainer refuseniks must snap out of it," indeed I don't agree with every word of it myself, but he makes some very salient points about the need to resist the temptation to be pleased when things go wrong for our country because you can say "I told you so" and about the need to support Theresa May in finding ways to make Brexit a reality which work successfully for Britain.

Here are some extracts from the article.

"Revanchist is a word used to describe a movement to take back lost territory or standing and to reassert the old order. There is today a strong revanchist undercurrent running among millions of us who voted to remain part of the European Union. Like many, I have been tempted by it.

We sense that Leave gained its winning edge by untruths, and by a disreputable appeal to a dislike of immigrants that came close to racism. We suspect that the best terms for a Brexit that our government can get may fall far short of what Leave voters thought they were promised. We wonder whether, once the shape of a likely deal becomes apparent, people should be asked again. We nurse a vague hope that parliament may come to a similar view.

Let’s spit it out. We think the voters got it wrong last month, and dream of giving them another chance to get it right.

Ever since the small hours of June 24 I’ve wrestled with this temptation. I’ve teetered on the brink of succumbing and joining the Remainer refuseniks. I have felt ashamed to be British, and a panicky sense of wanting to stop this happening, somehow — anyhow. I’ve received indirect approaches from more than one putative grouping with hopes of doing the same. Known and longstanding members of the Conservative Party, such as I, would be useful to any such movement, where Labour and Lib Dem refuseniks are two-a-penny."

"I think Tory former Remainers should — and I believe most will — stick with Theresa May. She’s going to need us when the headbangers attack. Brexit means Brexit, says Mrs May; and she’s right. The people have decided. Now comes a difficult and painstaking negotiation."

"We Tory Remain voters have had a little moan, a big sulk and a quiet tear. But now we must snap out of it, or there’s a terrible danger of slipping into a sort of Tsarist Russian émigré state of mind, dining with each other, dreaming of a return and taking secret pleasure in any setback our country may suffer.

I’m resolved not to scour each morning’s papers for news of a fall in sterling, or greet reports of businesses leaving Britain with a grimly satisfied “I told you so”. It’s corrosive. Real livelihoods, real people are at stake and we must wish always for the best. There’s a decent chance that after a few bumps along the way our economy will be fine. With heart as well as head we must wish only for this.

It’s my clear reading of the Conservative Party in the country, and of the mood of most of my former colleagues in the Commons, that Mrs May is thought to have turned out a strong choice for leader at a difficult time. Even among those Remain supporters who’ve had doubts about her there’s an overwhelming feeling she must be given a fair wind.

There is no appetite for troublemaking among what you might call Tory moderates, and though I myself long for a realignment at the centre of British politics, the lemons don’t line up this summer. Just when Labour looks ready to fall apart the Tories feel ready to hold together. Come-hithers from cross-party Remain revanchists will fall mostly on deaf ears.

But there’s a dark corner in that sunny picture. The headbangers on the Europhobic right are suspicious."

"Brexit means we leave the EU. It does not mean we turn sharply right in our attitudes to workers’ rights. It does not mean we may not choose to co-operate on a wide range of things, from fisheries to environmental protection to trading standards. It does not mean we quit the European Convention on Human Rights.

It need not even mean we’re unable to make special arrangements with our former partners (as we did with Ireland 94 years ago) on migration. Perhaps a compromise may be found, starting from the acceptance by our continental allies of what they so foolishly refused to consider before the referendum: that Britain cannot accept unlimited immigration.

We for our part may have to concede that unhindered access to the single market must involve common standards that we may have to accept, without the say we used to have in framing them.

It’s surely do-able but a delicate and tricky business, with the possibility of failure to get agreement always overhanging. That could result in our departure on no terms at all."

"Look at it this way, fellow Remainers: even if you think a second referendum possible, even if you believe a mood to think again may in time begin to run, this cannot be led by Remain voters railing against the popular will. It would have to come from Leave voters examining what’s on offer and thinking again.

So leave the nation to reflect. Leave Mrs May to construct the best deal available. Do nothing to undermine her. Give her all the help we can. Counsel the compromise she may need to recommend. And if she succeeds, as with skill and luck she might, let’s own, with her, a new, calm, businesslike way of living with the EU. "

You can read the whole article here.

What does BREXIT actually mean?

The vote has happened. Leave won. However much  many of us regret that, we have to accept the reality of it and find a way to move forward.

As the new Prime Minister has said "Brexit means Brexit" but some have asked "What does that mean?"

The answer is actually very simple[ -

BREXIT means that Britain will cease to be a member of the European Union.

That was what was on the ballot paper and it is what the Leave side have an electoral mandate for.


Brexit does NOT - necessarily - mean leaving the Single Market as well as the EU. That was not on the ballot paper and there were people actively campaigning for a leave vote who were also arguing that we could and should remain in the EEA.

Indeed, Remain campaigners promised us that Britain would continue to have access to the single market if we voted Leave because the remainder of the EU would be silly to put trade barriers in place between their companies and British markets.

Brexit does NOT - necessarily - mean much tighter immigration control. That was not on the ballot paper either.

It is reasonable to argue that the argument to "take back control" of our borders struck a chord with many people who believe - rightly or wrongly - that present levels of immigration are unsustainable and have had negative consequences for some of the least fortunate members of British society. It is reasonable to try to meet that concern. It is NOT reasonable to argue that the "Leave" vote provides any mandate to treat reducing immigration as an over-riding concern to be pursued at all costs.

The new government needs to negotiate the best deal it can for Britain. Then we need to make that agreement work.

We should negotiate hard for the best deal we can get. But let nobody assume that there will be no compromises or that we will get everything we want.

It would be ridiculous to expect that Britain will get everything that the most optimistic Leave campaigners promised. But by the same token, we should fight hard for a better deal than the most pessimistic Remain campaigners warned we would get. The truth is usually somewhere in between.

On human memory

Earlier today my wife and I were looking at a few cars which were on sale at various garages at West Cumbria.

The salesman at one garage asked about a car we had previously owned, "Didn't you used to have ..." to which we replied in the affirmative and asked how he knew.

He had sold us the vehicle concerned eleven years ago while working at a different dealership. The details matched too well for his recollection to be a coincidental error rather than an accurate memory.

Is not the human memory an extraordinary thing?

Saturday music slot: Bach's Harpsichord Concerto No.1 in D minor

Quotes of the day 23rd July 2016

"Things you never hear voters say part 1: I voted Tory because Labour just weren't left wing enough."

"Things you never hear voters say part 2: I'd vote Labour if they only had a leader who supported the IRA."

(Former Labour MP Tom Harris on twitter yesterday evening.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Another modest proposal ...

Warning - for anyone who does not realise this from the title, this post contains irony.

Arguments about Europe have now brought down three consecutive Conservative Prime ministers.

First they brought down the greatest PM of the past fifty years, the women who came to power when Britain was the sick man of Europe and gave us back pride in our country.

Then they brought down the PM who still holds the record that he was re-elected with the largest vote ever cast for any British political party in a general election.

Last month they brought down the man who restored the Conservative brand, lead the country out of recession, made more gains than any Conservative leader in the party's history in the 2010 election and was the only PM for decades to increase both his share of the votes and seats in the 2015 election.

We need to put a stop to this

So as soon as Brexit is completed and we are no longer in the position where a certain amount of discussion of Europe is unavoidable, the constitution of the Conservative party should be amended.

All those wishing to stand as Conservative candidates in General Elections from 2020 onwards should be required to sign in their own blood a solemn oath that they will not rebel against the Conservative leader on the subject of Europe.

All associations should be required to appoint the physically largest and strongest association officer who is not himself or herself prone to banging on about Europe as the"European discussion suppression officer." This officer will have the responsibility for escorting anyone who mentions the European Union at a Conservative meeting out of the room, and sit them down in front of a computer or TV screen playing a continuous repeating loop of election declarations from the 1997 General election showing Labour or Lib/Dem gains at the expense of the Conservatives. The "European discussion suppression officer" will make them watch this until they agree to lie down in a darkened room until the wish to talk about the EU dies away.

We have to be cruel to be kind ...

Anger Management

I actually quite enjoy a friendly argument. However, this stops at the point where people start getting genuinely upset, throwing nasty insults and the people taking a different view which they appear to actually mean, and so on.

One of the things which concerned me about the Scottish Independence referendum, and to a lesser extent the debate about whether Britain should leave Europe, was that rather too many people on both sides got quite nasty about it.

And yes, it was definitely both sides. It is a cause of some continuing concern to me that some of my Remainer friends are convinced that nearly all the nastiness came from the Leave side, but although there certainly was some nastiness from some Leave supporters, some, not all, of those who wanted Britain to stay in the EU have been gratuitously insulting towards those who supported Leave. Exactly the same point is true the other way around.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that there were good arguments on both sides. That the majority of people on both sides are not idiots. That most of those who voted to leave did so because they were concerned about genuine problems with the EU, not because they were racists and most of those who voted to remain did so not because they hate Britain -  they don't -  or because they wanted to run Britain down, but because they thought Britain's interests were best served by being part of the EU.

To be honest, though the bad tempered nature of debate about Brexit is only a symptom, not a cause of the fact that people seem to be getting angrier.

It may just be my age, but I think people in 2016 have a lot less to be angry about than they had fifty years ago and yet many people's tempers are much less under control.

There is an interesting article in today's Telegraph which is well worth a read, short-fuse Britain: why is everyone so angry?

I don't know what the solution is but I do think we would all do well to count our blessings and try a bit harder to see the other person's point of view.

Quote of the day 22nd July 2016

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Spot the difference

The Republican party of the USA - the party of Abraham Lincoln, and of Ronald Reagan - held their national convention this week.

They nominated Donald J Trump for the most important office in the world.

There was a time when that party knew how to nominate people who anyone around the world who believes in freedom knew they could depend on and be proud to have as an ally. Here is a reminder.

Senator Ben Sasse: "Americans Keep Our Word"

Donald J Trump does not speak for all Americans or even all republicans. United States Senator Ben Sasse, whom I have admired for some time following his excellent speech following a terrorist atrocity had this to say in response to the Donald's comments about NATO:

The coup in Turkey

All the world's major powers have condemned the coup attempt in Turkey and nearly everyone I know thinks they were right to do so.

You cannot build a modern democracy through the unlawful overthrow of an elected government.

However, almost all of the major powers have also called on Turkey's President Erdogan to act within the law in his response, and they were right to make that call too.

It is seriously suggested that the purge which Erdogan has been undertaking since the failed coup has seen more than eight thousands people arrested and fifty thousand sacked or suspended. Those arrested, sacked or suspended include judges, prosecutors, academics, teachers and civil servants as well as soldiers and policemen although there is little if any evidence that they had anything to do with the coup attempt.

According to the Guardian, the Turkish government has fired more than 15,000 employees at the education ministry, sacked 257 officials at the prime minister’s office and 492 clerics at the directorate for religious affairs. Additionally, more than 1,500 university deans were asked to resign. This followed the dismissals of nearly 8,800 policemen, and the arrest, dismissal or suspension of 6,000 soldiers, 2,700 judges and prosecutors, dozens of governors, and more than 100 generals.

Although it is entirely understandable that many members of the armed forces were initially detained while the government restored order in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt, if the government has the least interest in responding with justice to the coup attempt they should proceed with caution and due process in recognition that some of those arrested may well be innocent.

I do not believe it is credible that, if all the governors, generals and members of the armed forces and security services who have been arrested, sacked or suspended had actually been involved in the coup attempt, it could have got as far as being launched but still failed.

An incompetently-run coup attempt involving that number of people would almost certainly have been betrayed and squashed before it even got off the ground. A competently run coup which had the support of that number of troops, governors and generals would undoubtedly have succeeded.

As The Economist has commented,

"The purge is so deep and so wide—affecting at least 60,000 people—that some compare it to America’s disastrous de-Baathification of Iraq. It goes far beyond the need to preserve the security of the state. Mr Erdogan conflates dissent with treachery; he is staging his own coup against Turkish pluralism. Unrestrained, he will lead his country to more conflict and chaos. And that, in turn, poses a serious danger to Turkey’s neighbours, to Europe and to the West."

"Handled more wisely, the failure of the coup might have been the dying kick of Turkey’s militarists. Mr Erdogan could have become the magnanimous unifier of a divided nation, unmuzzling the press, restarting peace talks with Kurds and building lasting, independent institutions. Instead he is falling into paranoid intolerance: more like the Arab despots he claims to despise than the democratic statesman he might have become."