Saturday, December 31, 2016

The last post ....

Here is my final post of 2016 and looks forward to what we can all do in the New Year:

Ruth Davidson on Poverty

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has written a very powerful article on poverty which you can read at

Good things which happened in 2016

On this last day of 2016 there has been a lot of comment on social media by people who are glad to see the back of this year.

For those who have lost loved ones, either to accident, natural causes, or terrorist attack, I fully understand why they would feel that way.

I can also understand that many people are very unhappy about one or more of the controversial election or referendum results of 2016.

But none of these things are the whole story of what has been happening to the world in 2016.

I've already posted about the fact that by a miracle of modern medical science I have had my vision corrected and can now see as well, in some ways better, without strong glasses or contact lenses as I could see at the start of 2016 and for nearly fifty years before that with them.

Courtesy of Tim Montgomerie @Montie and Johan Norberg @Johanknorberg, here are a few more good things which happened or continued in 2016:

A continuing reduction in the number of deaths and infections from HIV/AIDS

A continuing reduction in the number of deaths and infections from malaria

A continuing reduction in hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and suffering over the last 25 years

And here are some more things which happened in 2016:

Final music spot of 2016: Ring Out Wild Bells

For the New Year's Eve 2016 music slot here is Percy Fletcher's 1914 setting of Tennyson's poem "In Memoriam" which was my quote of the day.

Quote of the day for New Year's Eve, 31st December 2016

"In Memoriam" by Alfred Lord Tennyson
"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.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be."

Friday, December 30, 2016

Alistair Urquart RIP

My father was a whisker too young to be called up to fight in World War II: when I was a small child a substantial proportion of my males teachers and relatives who were older than my father were veterans of one or other of the two world wars.

These past two years we have been remembering with sadness the centenaries of the First World War: it does not seem that long ago that this terrible conflict passed from living memory into history as the last few survivors, men like Harry Patch who I had the honour to hear speak when my old University gave him an honorary degree, have died.

When my children were small they had the opportunity to meet far fewer veterans of the second world war than I knew from the first one: now the second war too is passing from living memory to history as the last survivors of this war too reach the end of their natural spans. I am not aware that any of the WWII veterans I knew as a child are still alive.

Today I came across an obituary in the Telegraph of Alistair Urquhart, a soldier in the Gordon Highlanders who died earlier this year at the age of  97. He had been a prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945, surviving both the infamous Death Railway and the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki; his memoir, "The Forgotten Highlander", became a bestseller in 2009.

He was one of a great many unsung heroes without whom unimaginable evils would have been unleashed on this country and the world and it is clear from the obituary here that he suffered great hardships with extreme bravery and fortitude.

Yet from what I saw of the men who served in world war two, dedication and bravery - not in the sense of not feeling fear, but in the sense of going ahead and doing what needed to be done anyway - were not rare but astonishingly common. When human beings are faced with terrible challenges it is nothing short of amazing how many of them can rise to them.

May Alistair Urquart, and all those of his comrades who fought to defend this country and have gone before him, rest in peace.

Music to relax after campaigning: Steeleye Span's "All Around My Hat"

Forthcoming Copeland By-Election: the task ahead

The Conservatives will work flat out between now and polling day, whenever that is, to maximise our chances of winning the forthcoming by-election in Copeland.

And we're not just going to throw the kitchen sink at this election.

We're going to throw the kitchen sink, the fridge, the oven, everything else in the kitchen and everything in Ed Miliband's second kitchen as well.

For anyone who doubts that the Conservatives are going to pull out all the stops for this by-election, you might like to be aware that

* today we have our fourth action day in Copeland over the Christmas break, with a former cabinet minister among those expected to join us,

* we had ten parliamentarians and about twenty other people out campaigning two days before Christmas despite everything Storm Barbara could throw at us

* we had not far short of a hundred people campaigning around the constituency three days after Christmas

But that is absolutely nothing compared to the effort which will be put in in the New Year.

Ironically on the same day that we had a nearly a hundred Conservative activists campaigning around the constituency one of the smaller number of Labour supporters gathered in Whitehaven market place told a journalist from the Business Insider that the Conservatives would have "barely anyone" campaigning on the ground here and that Labour will "bury the Tories" at campaigning.

Oh no you won't, Marra!

The comments in "Business Insider" are exactly the sort of arrogant complacency that no candidate of any party can afford. The other thing that nobody who wants to win the votes of the people of Copeland can afford to do is take them for granted. That is what Labour have been doing for decades, which is why their majority here at last year's General Election fell to 2,564 and why they lost the Mayoral election.

It's a mugs game making forecasts at this stage about the result of an election which has not even been called, to replace an MP who has not resigned yet, merely announced his impending resignation, when no party has selected their candidate yet and we don't even know the date of the election.

If the Conservatives win it will be a remarkable achievement. A party in government gaining a seat in the House of Commons by winning a by election is something that has happened three times in the last ninety years.

It is a third of a century since the last time, in the Mitcham_and_Morden_by-election in 1982, and that was while the government was in the final stages of winning a war against a fascist military dictatorship which had invaded British territory.

Not counting the by-election awarded by an election court to the runner-up because the winner, Tony Benn, had not yet been allowed to renounce his peerage, the previous time a government gained a seat at a by-election was the Brighouse_and_Spenborough_by-election on 17 March 1960 which is before I was born.

The time before that was the Sunderland South by-election on 13 May 1953, and the time before that was in 1924, more than ninety years ago.

So if we win this, it will be a once in thirty years achievement. But we are certainly going to try.

Quote of the day 30th December 2016

I used this as my quote of the day shortly after Donald Trump won the US Presidential election, but I'm using it again as it seems just too appropriate for the penultimate "Quote of the Day" for 2016:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Low Pay Commission estimates National Living Wage helped 6 million people

I previously posted estimates for the number of people whose wages were increased by the introduction of the National Living Wage which were deliberately Conservative with a small "c" and based on those who were previously paid less than the new requirement.

There were 1.6 million people directly affected by the NLW and who received pay rises as a result.

The Low Pay Commission, which among other things was set up to advise the government about what wage legislation should say, estimates that a much larger number - six million people - had their wages raised by the new National Living Wage because the impact "rippled up the pay scale" for workers over the age of 25 as employers and unions increased wages and salaries of people in slightly more skilled jobs than those on the minimum wage in order to maintain differentials. It is estimated that another 3.4 million people received pay rises above the average 3.1% as a result.

The more astute readers will have noticed that this comes to 5 million. It is also estimated that the introduction of the NLW influenced the "going rate" for younger workers not directly covered by it and another million or so younger workers benefitted as a result. The proportion of younger workers paid at least the NLW level rose from 62% to 69%.

So the LPC estimates that this Conservative legislation has given the lowest-paid quarter of the working population a pay rise. In Copeland that could easily mean that 8000 to 9,000 people were helped.

It appears from the Low Pay Commission's research that the boost to the pay of the bottom quartile of workers which they attribute to the NLW has not been offset by reductions in non-pay benefits. They estimate that there may have been a drop in company profits as employers chose to take the hit on their bottom line.

I am not one of those people who think that a decline in profits is a wonderful thing, and one part of the LPC's remit is to watch out for any sign that minimum wage legislation is driving SME's bust, pricing people out of the market, or generating unemployment. It is extremely important to keep an eye on this - there is undoubtedly a level of wages where forcing them higher would give rise to that problem.

I don't believe we have reached that point yet, and what the LPC is telling us is that this legislation has made life better for the least well-off quarter of the working population.

Thursday music spot: Steeleye Span - 'Gaudete'

The next NATO secretary general

I hope the press reports that David Cameron is being considered for the post of NATO secretary general are true. (See here.)

I have no idea whether DC is interested in the post, but if he were to be offered and accept it I think he would do an excellent job.

The West needs someone with the sort of status that an ex-PM - and someone with a record of standing up to Putin - could bring to that very important role at this difficult time.

Quote of the day 29th December 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Music to relax after campaigning, Handel's "Sento Brillar" from "Il Pastor Fido" sung by Christopher Lowrey


"I feel a glimmer in my breast
a new happy burning
That consoles me
Ah! Could the hope by myself, in simple terms the hope,
of my dear good-cherished
take me away from grief."

(This translation is from a Voices of Music post, "with the aid of Cynthia Craig Simon")

Sign of the times

I have written before about the life-changing impact of my eye operation earlier this year: one consequence of no longer being dependent on glasses is that I am finding that I notice things I previously missed.

I've certainly canvassed and delivered literature along Drigg Road in Seascale before today, but this afternoon I noticed an anti-trespass warning that I don't recall seeing before.

Perhaps I have the improved vision to thank, as I would have expected to recall a sign which should be a very effective deterrent against unauthorised entry.

It warns trespassers to beware of adders. Now there is a warning with a bite!

Copeland Conservatives Action Day gets fantastic support

Copeland Conservatives ran an action day today which had the most spectacular level of support for any time of the year, never mind three days after Christmas.

In total we had not far short of a hundred people campaigning in many areas of the constituency.  A respectable contingent from Copeland itself was supported by volunteers from all five of the other constituencies within the county of Cumbria and others from many parts of the country including Birmingham, Braintree, Huddersfield, London and Oxford.

Very many thanks to all those who came to help, especially those who travelled long distances (even most of those from other parts of the same county had travel times of an hour or more each way)  - we hope you had a safe journey home and that we see you again before too long.

Quote of the day 28th December 2016

Another quote from Thomas Sowell:

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Reflections on 2016

As 2016 comes to an end many people will be glad to see the back of this year.

In some cases this will be because so many votes, elections and referenda, have gone differently to what was expected, produced results that millions of people are deeply unhappy about or both (though of course, millions of other people have generally been pleased.)

For millions of others, their own loved ones, friends, or people they really liked have died this year. Over this Christmas period four very significant and well-liked figures from popular culture have died. "Princess Leia" Carrie Fisher, "Watership Down" creator Richard Adams, singer George Michael and actress Liz Smith joined a very long list of such celebrities who died in 2016.

There is a strong argument that this long list of deaths in 2016 is not in any way surprising or unusual: celebrities die every year and it is unsurprising that a large number of those who became famous in the early days of mass culture are reaching the end of their mortal spans. Because the list of those who have died in 2016 seems particularly long and distinguished, and barely a week seemed to pass without another hugely talented and popular person being added to their numbers, there has been much mourning of departed heroes and heroines this year. Sadly in this respect at least it is unlikely that 2017 will be much better.

Yet most - not all, but the majority - of the celebrities and others who have died in Britain and most countries in the world have lived full and long lives. Life expectancy, and the number of years of healthy and active life, continue to increase.

Dan Hannan here and Alex Massie here argue convincingly that for most people 2016 was a far better year than any in human history before it.

In testing that theory by comparison with my own life I need to do no more than compare the eyes I used to read their articles with condition of my eyes at the beginning of 2016.

For nearly fifty years I was dependent on strong glasses or contact lenses - each of which have significant drawbacks - to function. Today, thanks to an operation which was almost unimaginable when I was born (the replacement of the lenses of my eyes) I can see to read their articles, or to write this post, slightly better with the naked eye than I could have with glasses or contact lenses before, something which has been life-changing.

And not just life-changing in terms of the ability to see better without glasses or contact lenses. I discovered as a result of the routine check before my first operation that I was in the early stages of developing a cataract. Had I been born a century earlier I would at this stage of my life be looking at the inevitable onset of blindness in at least one eye, with nothing whatsoever that anyone could do about it.

When I was a boy the "communicators" of the original series of Star Trek seemed like a technology so advanced that it was in Clarke's words almost indistinguishable from magic. As I write this I have my own communicator sitting next to me, except that we now call them mobile phones, and a huge proportion of the population have them; usually now with more computing power than NASA had when they sent men to the moon and with an awesome range of functions.

I carry on my keyring a couple of tiny portable disc drives. These are now available at a price practically anyone can afford, smaller in their larger dimensions than the length and width of my thumbnail yet with a capacity of dozens of gigabytes of data.

In ancient times the great library of Alexandria was said to contain nearly half a million scrolls of writing, although historians estimate the actual number at between 40,000 and 400,000. An ancient parchment scroll could be thirty to forty metres long and about sixty centimetres in width. Depending on how many scrolls they really had, and how large, how words were fitted into each centimetre of parchment, it is entirely possible that thumbnail size drives like the ones on my keyring, available from Wilkinson's for the remuneration from considerably less than a day's work for a minimum wage employee, could now store as many words as were held in the entire Great Library at its height.

Information is power, and our civilisation continues to accumulate knowledge at an awesome rate. My previous post with Thomas Sowell's last regular article described some of the ways that this has driven massive increases in the standard of living over his lifetime, so that many of the poorest people in society now have things the richest did not have a generation ago.

Inside or outside the European union, regardless of who the US elects as president or anything that people like Trump or Assad can do, we can and must drive forward those increases in knowledge and continue to make people's lives better.

Perhaps because of what has happened to my eyes this year I can see this picture on both senses of the word. Asking me "Do you want to go back a year?" is like asking me "Do you want to be dependent on glasses again?"

Asking me if I want to go back a hundred years is like asking me "Do you want to be blind?"

I don't. I can see that my parents gave me a better start in life than they had, a vastly better start in life than my grandparents had. My children have opportunities that I could not have dreamed about as a child. I want my grandchildren to have opportunities beyond what my children have.

For all our complaints, many of them justified, 2016 was not a bad year. It was the best year in human history. And 2017 will be better.

Christmas Bank Holiday Tuesday music spot: and now for something completely different

Since the beginning of advent I have been posting a daily carol or anthem as a Christmas music spot. Formally there are another nine days of the Christmas season after today, but I think it is time for a change of tack. So as a final Christmas music spot, here is a Star Trek Christmas parody of Paul McCartney's "Simply having a wonderful Christmas time."

Thomas Sowell's valedictory coumn

As a huge fan of American economist Thomas Sowell, I am gutted to learn that at the age of 86 he has just published his last newspaper column. I fully understand his decision to retire but will miss the wisdom of the man who came out with such brilliant or amusing insights as

and this:

and this:

Here is an extract from his valedictory column:

"Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changes, both for the better and for the worse.

In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. Television was little more than an experiment, and such things as air-conditioning or air travel were only for the very rich.

My own family did not have electricity or hot running water in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.
It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.

Most people living in officially defined poverty in the 21st century have things like cable television, microwave ovens and air-conditioning. Most Americans did not have such things, as late as the 1980s. People whom the intelligentsia continue to call the “have-nots” today have things that the “haves” did not have, just a generation ago.

In some other ways, however, there have been some serious retrogressions over the years. Politics, and especially citizens’ trust in their government, has gone way downhill.

Back in 1962, President John F. Kennedy, a man narrowly elected just two years earlier, came on television to tell the nation that he was taking us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, because the Soviets had secretly built bases for nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from America.
Most of us did not question what he did. He was president of the United States, and he knew things the rest of us couldn’t know – and that was good enough for us. Fortunately, the Soviets backed down. But could any president today do anything like that and have the American people behind him?

Years of lying presidents – Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republican Richard Nixon, especially – destroyed not only their own credibility, but the credibility which the office itself once conferred. The loss of that credibility was a loss to the country, not just to the people holding that office in later years.

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

Goodbye and good luck to all."

You can read it in full at

Quote of the day 27th December 2016

"If you think it was moral to support Remain, perhaps you will appreciate that there was also a certain nobility on the Leave side, in doing everything possibly to win a battle they regarded as being existentially important.

If you felt it was moral to vote to Leave, perhaps you will recognise that the intensity with which David Cameron and George Osborne fought the campaign was proof of their passion and belief, not of the widespread view that all politicians are lying bastards who will say or do anything to hang on to power."

 (Tim Shipman, concluding words of the introduction to his book "All Out War" about the EU referendum campaign.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Music spot for the Feast of Stephen

The 26th of December is usually known as Boxing Day in Britain from an old tradition of presenting employees with a Christmas Box on that day. In Western Europe it is celebrated as the Saint's day of St Stephen (although the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate this day on 27th December). As I am writing in Western Europe - although Britain is leaving the EU we are not leaving Europe - that makes today the Feast of Stephen, so there is only one choice for a Christmas music spot!

This version of the famous carol is sung by Benjamin Luxom, the young Aled Jones, and the choir of Westminster Cathedral.

Quote of the day for Boxing Day, 26th December 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Note on Christmas cards

This Christmas (2016) I and my family are sending e-cards rather than physical ones where we know the email address of the person we are sending them to.

The artist whose e-cards we use is Jacquie Lawson and we are assured that they are carefully screened for viruses and will not harm anyone's computer.


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

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

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

And to all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year 2017

Music Recap special for Christmas Eve: The Lord at first did Adam make

Christmas and New Year emergency chemists 2016-2017

If you need an emergency chemist over the Christmas and New Year holiday period in the Whitehaven area of Copeland, the opening arrangements are as follows:

Christmas Day, Sunday 25th December 2016

Boots the Chemist, 26 King Street, Whitehaven: open 3.00pm to 5.00pm

Boxing Day, Monday 26th December 2016

Morrison's pharmacy, Flatt Walks, Whitehaven, open 10am to 4pm

Bank Holiday Tuesday, 27th December 2016

Boots the Chemist, 26 King Street, Whitehaven: open 9am to 5.30pm
Morrison's pharmacy, Flatt Walks, Whitehaven, open 10am to 4pm

New Year's Day, Sunday 1st January 2017

Morrison's pharmacy, Flatt Walks, Whitehaven, open 10am to 4pm
Late Night Chemist, Lowther Street, Whitehaven, open 12 noon to 8pm

New Year Bank Holiday, Tuesday 2nd January 2017

Boots the Chemist, 26 King Street, Whitehaven: open 9am to 5.30pm
Morrison's pharmacy, Flatt Walks, Whitehaven, open 10am to 4pm

Nobel Prizewinner Sir Angus Deaton on a year of political earthquakes

When I arrived at Bristol University as a nineteen-year old Economics Undergraduate Professor Angus Deaton was head of the Economics Department and professor of Econometrics. As a student representative I saw him do an excellent job of chairing the department board meetings - later he taught me Econometrics.

He was a superb teacher - I was fortunate enough to benefit from the expertise of some excellent teachers at the schools and universities I attended but Angus Deaton was probably one of the two most outstanding. I was absolutely delighted when he received the Nobel Prize for economics last year and a knighthood in this year's Queens birthday honours, two distinctions both of which were thoroughly deserved.

There is a fascinating account of an interview with him in the FT,

"Nobel economist Angus Deaton on a year of political earthquakes"

which describes both some of the very worrying trends he has recently investigated - such as increasing suicide rates and more people reporting that they are suffering from severe physical pain - and his reasons for being optimistic about the long term.

The article is utterly replete with irony: both Deaton and the interviewer are totally aware, for instance, that he is about as much a member of the elite as you can get and yet feels alienated from the elite. He draws as a positive conclusion from 2016 that "The good story is that these will all be warnings to the elites that you can't go on like this."

Another irony is that, except on the specific issue of Brexit and had he not been one of the individuals Michael Gove compared with Nazi collaborators (for which Gove later apologised) you get the impression that Angus Deaton would have been more likely than most people in his position to have at least some sympathy with what Gove was trying to get at with his comments about experts.

The article is really well worth a read and you can find it on the FT website here.

Christmas Eve music spot: Libera sing the Carol of the Bells

Quote of the day Christmas Eve 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Campaigning in the rain ....

Despite the worst that Storm Barbara could do - and to be quite candid the weather was absolutely filthy - Copeland Conservatives had a successful campaign day with a good turnout of local people from the constituency and a marvellous turnout of ten, repeat ten, parliamentarians most of whom brought friends, family or supporters with them.

Absolutely fantastic to get that kind of support two days before Christmas in the teeth of everything Storm Barbara could drop on us, both rain and hail, and with many of the people there having had at least a four hour round trip to get here and back home.

On the local side both myself and Stephen Haraldsen were there with our respective wives and offspring - and to paraphrase the bible, a partner who is willing to come out and support you in weather like today's is certainly above the price of rubies - and we were also supported by local councillors and activists including Cllr John Dirom and parish councillor Paul Turner. 

We had a strong contingent of parliamentarians including Andrew Stephenson MP from Pendle and John Stevenson MP from Carlisle, plus David Morris MP (Morecombe and Lunesdale), Paul Maynard MP (Blackpool North), Wendy Morton MP (Aldridge Brownhills),  William Wragg MP, (Hazel Grove), Stuart Andrew MP, (Pudsey, Horsforth and Aireborough), David Nuttall MP (Bury North), Mark Menzies MP (Fylde), and Baroness Williams.

Very many thanks to all the wonderful and dedicated people who took part: besides those I have mentioned above others who were there included James Bennett, Dorothy Wonnacott, Neville Lishman, Hannah Dolan, the Lamb family for their support and hospitality, and I know I've missed quite a few others to whom I apologise.  (I don't have the list in front of me but we will make sure everyone gets recognition and thanks.)

I think we were all pretty drenched by the end of it (despite wearing heavy duty wet weather wear I had to completely change my clothes when I got home) but we arrived home happy in the knowledge that we'd proved you can get the job done no matter what.

Christmas music spot: Carol of the Field Mice


Latest jobs figures show 4,000 more jobs in Copeland than there were in 2010.
In 2010 there were 33,000 jobs in Copeland but by 2015 (the latest year for which we have figures at this level) this was up to 37,000.

Nationally too the jobs picture continues to improve. Unemployment remains at the joint lowest rate for over ten years – down nearly 900,000 since 2010 – according to the latest set of labour market figures out earlier in December. Since a year ago there are 350,000 more people in full-time work.

Since the Conservatives entered government, employment is up by over 2.7 million – that’s well over 1,000 jobs created on average every day.

This year jobs growth in Britain broke record after record. At the beginning of this year the employment rate recovered to and passed it's pre-recession peak and since then Britain's employment rate has been higher than in any previous year. More women, older workers and ethnic minority groups in work than ever before. The current employment rate is 74.4% which is up from 73.9% at the same time last year.

Half a percent might not sound like much, but it means about 350,000 more people are in work - and for 350,000 people who now have the security and dignity of work, and members of one of the hundreds of thousands of families which now have a pay packet coming in, that's a big deal.

Encouragingly, this good news has extended right across the UK. But there is more to do to help people of all backgrounds and abilities into work, which will remain a priority as we press ahead with our welfare reforms that are ensuring it always pays to be in work.

Building an economy that works for everyone means making sure everyone can have the security of a regular income so they can provide for themselves and their family.

National Living Wage increased - giving Britain a pay rise

The Conservative government has launched a national living wage for all employees aged over 25. This effectively gave 1.3 million of the lowest paid working people in Britain a pay rise.
The National Living Wage will rise to £7.50 an hour in April, helping some of the lowest paid workers in Copeland, and is further expected to rise to £9 an hour by 2020.
So as well as creating over 2.7 million more jobs since 2010, we’re helping people keep more of the money they earn by increasing their pay, keeping council tax down and cutting income tax.
This is all part of a plan that is honouring our commitments to the British people to deliver a higher wage, lower welfare, lower tax country that finally lives within its means. It is part of building a Britain that works for everyone.

Quote of the day 23rd December 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Be careful while travelling tomorrow - Storm Barbara may bring vile wealther to Cumbria

Anyone travelling in Cumbria tomorrow (Friday 23rd December) and the forthcoming weekend should make sure to be prepared for the possibility of very nasty weather as Storm Barbara is due to hit the UK.

Drive very carefully if it starts to rain and make sure you have a good set of warm and waterproof clothing with you.

Anyone visiting the Copeland constituency, as I know some of my political friends and foes alike may be doing soon, may find it helpful to know that one of the first parts of the constituency you will pass through if you turn off the M6 at junction 40o (Penrith) and take the A66 Westbound, is Keswick, which is one of the best places in the world to buy outdoor gear suitable for walking in wet weather.

Visitors and local residents alike should note that the Environment agency has warned people to check flood risk. they say that Heavy rainfall is expected across parts of the north west of England and the Pennines from tomorrow (Friday 23rd December) onwards, bringing a risk of flooding to land and roads.

Kate Marks, Environment Agency flood risk duty manager, said: “Storm Barbara will bring rain and wind over Christmas, we want to make sure everyone gets home safely. “Environment Agency teams are on standby throughout the festive period and will issue flood warnings and alerts where necessary."

Keep up to date with the latest situation at, call Floodline on 0345 988 1188 or follow @EnvAgency and #floodaware on Twitter for the latest flood updates.

Christmas music spot: In dulci jubilo

Conservatives in Cumbria call for Re-Trunking of A595

Conservatives in Copeland and Cumbria have been campaigning to re-trunk the A595 and we will be stepping up that campaign in the coming weeks.

John Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Carlisle has strongly supported us and has highlighted the A595, saying a secure and fast route is needed between The Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and the West Cumberland Hospital.

In a letter to Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport in October, John Stevenson raised  concerns about the state of the road with regards to the growth of the nuclear industry and the need for access should an emergency occur. He met Chris Grayling to discuss this and he has reiterated his concerns today.

"I spoke of the significant importance of the A595 given the experience of Sellafield and nuclear new build," he said, and added

"I think this move would bring long-term benefits from an economic perspective and from a health perspective from improved connectivity between west Cumbria and the Cumberland Infirmary."

"This is something I am pushing hard for. I think it should extend for the whole length of the road, it is the most important arterial highway in Cumbria."

Mr Stevenson had previously said that if there was an emergency at one of the nuclear sites then the results could be “catastrophic” if the road is obstructed.

He said at that time: “Aside from the economic aspects to which the road will be contributing, the nature of the energy projects on the west will mean that aspects of security will become an increasingly important consideration around the road.

“As the main land route to nuclear plants if there were to be an obstruction - which at the moment is a common occurrence - during an emergency event, the results could be catastrophic.”

He has also said that a new nuclear site at Moorside needs a “secure access route” for workers and suppliers, adding that “I believe the road is a vital local and national infrastructure route and should be recognised as such by being designated trunk status.
“Responsibility for the entire stretch of the A595 should be transferred from Cumbria County Council to Highways England.

“Following that the road should undergo extensive surveying giving full consideration to the road’s importance to local and national economy, security, and health service provision, with a view to carrying out work to improve the safety, speed, and security of the route.”

I spoke at the original public inquiry against the de-trunking of the A595 and A5092 between Sellafield and Greenodd and strongly agree with and welcome John Stevenson's consistent support for us both earlier this year and again today.

Watch this space - we will be doing more to highlight the need to re-trunk the A595 and improve this and other roads in Copeland.

Great news for Copeland as government acts on Superfast Broadband

Great news for Copeland and Cumbria as the government acts to ensure that rural areas of the UK reap the advantages of Superfast broadband: about 600,000 homes will benefit from a £440 million boost to help them get connected.

Better internet links vital to many small businesses in Cumbria and will also be helpful to local families in their homes so this is very good news for our area.

The money to pay for this will come from £150 million in efficiency savings plus returned subsidies from BT under the terms of a deal under which the government and the Telecommunications company are co-operating to roll out superfast broadband.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said homes and businesses in some of the most remote areas of the UK would enjoy faster internet speeds as a result of this initiative.

The government plans to ensure that 95% of UK premises will have access to superfast broadband by the end of 2017. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the Autumn statements that more than a billion pounds of taxpayers' money will be spend on improving fibre broadband and the development of 5G.

Source here.

Paul Goodman on Vice Signalling

Like the vast majority of people in Britain I was horrified by the terrible murder of MP Jo Cox.

I also thought that the great majority of people on both sides of the EU referendum campaign behaved with great dignity in in refusing to try to make political capital out it. There were a few exceptions but in general this is one of comparatively few things which both sides in the campaign can be proud of.

Her widower expressed the opinion a few days ago that blaming politicians for the actions of terrorist extremists starts one down a slippery slope. Whether you agree with this opinion or not, I thought some of attacks on him made in responses on social media were both unfortunate and way over the top.

Paul Goodman responds today on Conservative Home here to one of those attacks. As is often the case, Paul's views are well worth a read.

Quote of the day 21st December 2016

Christmas music spot: Up Good Christen Folk and Listen

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

NHS "success regime" consultation on our local hospitals - what happens now

Despite the furore over the departure of the Labour MP for Copeland the fight to save our hospital services goes on.

His letter to Jeremy Corbyn published today appears to suggest that our MP will resign at the end of January, which may have the unfortunate consequence that the post of MP for Copeland will be vacant at the time when the local NHS publishes their initial report on the health consultation in early February.

But whoever is MP for Copeland your local Conservatives, and many other local people, will continue to fight to protect services at West Cumberland Hospital and ensure we keep consultant-lead maternity services at WCH.

If the "success regime" proposes an unacceptable outcome the people of West Cumbria can and will ask the government to make them think again.

The consultation on the proposals for healthcare in West, North and East Cumbria closed at midnight on Monday.

The "Success Regime" published the following on Monday on their consultation website:

"A decision on the options considered as part of the Healthcare For The Future consultation is expected to be made in March 2017.

The consultation has looked at several key hospital services delivered in West, North and East Cumbria over the last 12 weeks and closes today (Dec 19th).

The options were drawn up by NHS organisations working together through the Success Regime. NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is the part of the local health system which has the statutory responsibility for consultation.

Over the last 12 weeks there have been 17 public meetings, and many more smaller sessions. People have been asked to share their views on the options for consultation online, or by filling in the survey in the consultation document or by making a personal submission to a Freepost address.

NHS Cumbria CCG’s Governing Body has carefully considered a timetable for decision making.
Members feel it is important to make a decision as early as possible, but only if they are confident that public feedback has been thoroughly considered.

The public feedback is being analysed independently by The Campaign Company, and a report is expected in early February. Work will also be carried out to assess any alternative options suggested by members of the public and community groups. Local clinicians and regional specialists also will be involved in that process.

Health leaders from across the system and NHS Cumbria CCG’s Governing Body will also spend time considering the public feedback from the consultation process.

It is expected NHS Cumbria CCG’s Governing Body will make a decision in early March, ahead of the local government elections in May.

This will then be considered by Cumbria County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee."

Copeland MP to resign

The Labour MP for Copeland published a short while ago his letter to Jeremy Corbyn announcing his intention to resign from parliament at the end of January.

There will therefore be a by-election in Copeland in the New year.

Responding to Jamie Reed’s decision to step down as Member of Parliament for Copeland, Conservative Party Chairman Patrick McLoughlin MP said:

“We are sorry to see Jamie Reed leaving Parliament, but congratulate him on his new job, and what must have been a very difficult decision for him and his family.

“It is a sorry state of affairs when talented Members of Parliament like him no longer feel comfortable representing Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – a divided party run by a leader who opposes Trident and wants to dismantle our Armed Forces.

“We look forward to the by-election, and the opportunity to set out how the Conservatives are building a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”

Brendan O'Neil on the over-use of the word "Fascist"

Words like "fascist" and Nazi" have been over-used at least since I was a student to mean anyone of whom the speaker disapproves who is a bit more right-wing than they are. Brendan O'Neil has an excellent article in the Speccie this week,

"Just because you disagree with someone, it doesn't make them a 'fascist.'"

As he rightly points out,

"The terrifying casualness with which the F-word is now flung about could be glimpsed in the Michael Sheen controversy. Achieving ‘peak luvvie’, Sheen said, in an interview with the Times, that he was cutting back on acting to fight the new ‘demagogic, fascist’ politics.

Where is this fascism?

Wales, apparently.

A Times editor summed it up: ‘The great actor Michael Sheen is quitting acting and going back to Wales to battle the rise of populism and fascism’.

So are there Blackshirts in Cardiff? Swarms of Hitler Youth in Merthyr Tydfil?

No. These people are talking about Brexit voters. They’re talking about those largely working-class Welsh communities that said ‘Screw you’ to the EU. In the eyes of the snootier sections of society, these people are fascists, or midwives of fascism."

He goes on to note that, as George Orwell first observed at the time of the Spanish Civil Wat, the tactic of discrediting your opponents by laballing them fascist was originated by the Stalinists.

He concludes:

"It isn’t fascism that has been revived in 2016; it’s the vicious, authoritarian tactic of using the word fascist to pathologise those who think differently or who kick against the political order.

Today’s fascist libel is driven by the same authoritarian impulse as that noted by Koestler and Orwell: it’s about saying ‘everybody who is not on our side’ is wicked and unfit for political life.

The F-word is a weapon. It’s a silencing tactic. Its aim is not to describe but to denounce. It speaks to the baleful influence of Stalinist thought on the British left that it can so naturally reach for the insult once used by Soviets to criminalise those who agitated for greater freedom in Spain, Hungary or Russia, and use it now against Brits who prefer national democracy over EU illiberalism.

Oh, the irony: in promiscuously using the 20th-century term ‘fascist’ against their enemies, they demonstrate their own similarity to another nasty 20th-century creed: Stalinism."

Quote of the day 21st December 2016

"Although Essex police originally thought he had died of natural causes, it emerged that he had been shot six times."

From the BBC report at of proceedings from an Essex coroner's court.

I suspect that Roger Hirst, Essex's Police and Crime Commissioner, may have a few questions for Essex police about this.

I have never felt more grateful that my local police force is the excellent Cumbria constabulary ...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cumbria Conservatives Campaign day today in Whitehaven

Despite the miserable weather, Cumbria Conservatives had a very good team out in the Whitehaven area of Copeland today, delivering "County News" newsletters ahead of the start of the campaign for next year's county council elections.

Many thanks to all those who helped especially those who came all the way from Carlisle.

In Defence of Freedom

The Economist magazine has an article this week, which appears in the print edition under the title of "The Year of Living Dangerously" and online as "How to make sense of 2016"

The online version can be read here.

The subtitle of the article is

"Liberals lost most arguments in 2016. They should not feel defeated as much as invigorated."

The work "Liberal" has opposite meanings on the two sides of the Atlantic and the kind of Liberalism espoused by the Economist has very little to do with the policies of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party under Tim Farron, which increasingly seems to me to be neither liberal nor democratic.

The "liberal" values which "The Economist" stands for, as defined in the first paragraph quoted below, are what I would call freedom. This is better represented in today's Conservative party than it is in the Liberal Democrats, though no party has a monopoly of support for freedom and all have at times opposed it. And there were people on both sides of the EU membership debate who share those values.

When the magazine uses the word "Liberals" in the quotes below, they are not talking exclusively about supporters of the Liberal Democrats in Britain or those people who would be called "liberals" in the USA, but people who believe in freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law, whatever party those people are members of.

The Economist article is a ringing defence of freedom and a refreshing recognition that the defeat of liberal elites at the ballot box is far from being the end of freedom, but rather an opportunity for a welcome debate about how we improve society.

Here are a few extracts from the article.

"FOR a certain kind of liberal, 2016 stands as a rebuke. If you believe, as The Economist does, in open economies and open societies, where the free exchange of goods, capital, people and ideas is encouraged and where universal freedoms are protected from state abuse by the rule of law, then this has been a year of setbacks.

"Not just over Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but also the tragedy of Syria, abandoned to its suffering, and widespread support—in Hungary, Poland and beyond—for “illiberal democracy”. As globalisation has become a slur, nationalism, and even authoritarianism, have flourished. In Turkey relief at the failure of a coup was overtaken by savage (and popular) reprisals. In the Philippines voters chose a president who not only deployed death squads but bragged about pulling the trigger. All the while Russia, which hacked Western democracy, and China, which just last week set out to taunt America by seizing one of its maritime drones, insist liberalism is merely a cover for Western expansion."

"Rather than ducking the struggle of ideas, liberals should relish it.

"After so long in charge, liberals, of all people, should have seen the backlash coming. As a set of beliefs that emerged at the start of the 19th century to oppose both the despotism of absolute monarchy and the terror of revolution, liberalism warns that uninterrupted power corrupts. Privilege becomes self-perpetuating. Consensus stifles creativity and initiative. In an ever-shifting world, dispute and argument are not just inevitable; they are welcome because they lead to renewal.

"Rather than being concentrated, power should be dispersed, using the rule of law, political parties and competitive markets. Rather than putting citizens at the service of a mighty, protecting state, liberalism sees individuals as uniquely able to choose what is best for themselves. Rather than running the world through warfare and strife, countries should embrace trade and treaties.

"For most people on Earth there has never been a better time to be alive."

"Large parts of the West, however, do not see it that way. For them, progress happens mainly to other people. Wealth does not spread itself, new technologies destroy jobs that never come back, an underclass is beyond help or redemption, and other cultures pose a threat—sometimes a violent one."

"Do not underestimate the scope for people, including even a Trump administration and post-Brexit Britain, to think and innovate their way out of trouble. The task is to harness that restless urge, while defending the tolerance and open-mindedness that are the foundation stones of a decent, liberal world."

Christmas music spot: "There Were Shepherds" and "Glory to God" from Handel's Messiah

Quote of the day 20th December 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

Submission on the Success Regime for Cumbria

This is the submission I sent in on behalf of the Executive of Copeland Conservative Association to the consultation document
"The Future of Healthcare in West North and East Cumbria."

Copeland Conservatives submission on the Success Regime Consultation

A: Maternity – We support Option One

We have a number of concerns about the current "Success Regime" consultation and particularly our fears about the safety of the current "preferred option", Option 2, for maternity. We believe that Option 2 will increase risk to those mothers who need rapid intervention such as "Crash Caesarean sections" and their babies.

We believe that the idea that a consultant-led maternity unit is unsustainable is open to challenge and note that Option 2 for a midwife-led unit at West Cumberland Hospital has been publicly opposed by all the current consultant obstetricians based at the West Cumberland Hospital and respected former consultants such as Mr John Eldred who worked at the hospital for over twenty years. The plans are also opposed by many local midwives who have publicly warned that these plans put the lives of mothers and babies at risk.
Option 2 does not take enough account of the distance between the West Cumberland Hospital and the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. Because of the nature of the roads between them the 40 mile journey between these two hospitals can regularly take anything up to an hour and fifteen minutes sometimes longer on occasions. During the recent visit of Phillip Dunne to the hospital this is the amount of time in which was set aside for the journey in his itinerary. Residents of South Copeland some of whom already face journeys of up to an hour to get to West Cumberland Hospital could be potentially be facing a time requirement of over two hours to get to the Cumberland Infirmary, counting first the time for the ambulance to get to them – which in some remote areas can be over half an hour - and then the journey to the hospital. Whatever statistics are quoted by both sides, there is no reasonable doubt that for those women who require urgent intervention, such as "Crash Caesareans" this huge increase in journey time will put them, and their babies, at increased risk. Hence we do not agree that the success regime preferred option would achieve, in the Prime Minister’s words, "a safe maternity service for mother and baby."’

Many local healthcare professionals at every level do not agree either and hence there is no medical consensus for option 2.

We believe that the arguments put forward for Option 2 on maternity understate the difficulties local geography poses to the ambulance service in getting to people. We already have emergency medical cases sometimes brought to hospital in police cars when the ambulances are overstretched: the success regime maternity proposals could significantly exacerbate this problem.

The idea of a dedicated maternity ambulance may sound good, but actually we do not believe that the solution to the enormous challenges facing the ambulance service in this area, either with the existing pattern of hospital services or under any of the other options considered in the documents, will be helped by balkanising the ambulance service into sections dedicated to particular types of care. The greater the flexibility of the ambulance service, the greater its ability to deal with the range of patient needs which may come through.

When a national team of independent assessors looked at maternity services in Cumbria two years ago, their report stated that before their visit they had expected to recommend a single maternity unit for the entire county but when they actually saw the hospitals and the roads between them they changed their minds. Their preferred option included keeping consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland as well as Carlisle.

There has been a long-standing issues of recruitment which the Trust and West Cumberland Hospital faces and which the consultation rightly seeks to address. This is common to many hospitals in the North West, but it has not helped recruitment at the West Cumberland Hospital that there has been the constant discussion of downgrading services at the hospital over the last ten years which has directly lead to consultants leaving. We are convinced that a more positive approach in which the Trust demonstrated their commitment to keeping services, while extending and better publicising the excellent work being done jointly with the University of Central Lancashire to raise the status of West Cumberland Hospital, could help.

This applies both to maternity services and Paediatrics. We believe it is essential to launch a new recruiting drive for both disciplines in particular, and for all others where there are shortages of key staff, which makes more of the enormous attractions of West Cumbria as a place to live, which looks at options to provide accommodation, which uses the work being done with UCL to build up the status of WCH. We also believe it would be very helpful if the trust could do more to talk to existing medical and other staff and establish more of a genuine dialogue about the barriers to improving morale and retention of staff as well as recruitment.

Finally we want to point out that there are already significant pressures at the Cumberland Infirmary at Carlisle: it was very recently reported that they had to divert pregnant women and children to the West Cumberland Hospital over the weekend as they did not have the capacity to cope with the demand. The success regime proposals could overload them further.

B. Children’s Services – We need paediatric care at WCH and Option One may not be enough. Options 2 & 3 certainly are not.

In order to maintain the consultant-lead maternity services which we believe are essential, we need to make sure there is a good paediatric support. Less than ten years ago the children’s services department at West Cumberland Hospital was winning national recognition.

We would not be consistent in expressing our strong support for consultant-lead maternity at West Cumberland so that expectant mothers who need rapid intervention can receive it if we did not also support making sure that adequate paediatric support is available at all times to ensure this policy is safe.

For that reason we regard option 2 and 3 as totally unacceptable, but even under Option 1 we are very concerned about the proposals for no night-time admissions.

In response to the comments in the consultation document ab out the need for a dedicated transfer service, we repeat our concerns that overspecialisation of the ambulance services into dedicated sub-groups could impair patient safety by making the service less flexible and efficient, although where specialist equipment is needed in ambulances serving particular functions – e.g. specialist equipment to transport very young patients who are seriously unwell, for instance – there will be exceptions to that principle.

We recognise the challenges of delivering this with present staffing levels and believe that everything we wrote in the previous section of this response about maternity recruitment and retention also applies to paediatrics. Indeed, as some of the midwives have suggested during the consultation, the measures which have been successfully used to boost maternity recruitment and retention should also be applied to children’s services.

C. Community Hospitals – We support Option 1

Our community hospitals are of vital importance. We welcome the proposal to plan for 104 beds and avoid any community hospital closures. We believe the proposal for six sites is the best of the four options.

D. Emergency and Acute Care – We support Option 1

We believe it is essential to maintain 24/7 emergency and acute care at West Cumberland Hospital and any other outcome would be a disaster for the area. We welcome the flexible thinking represented by the proposal for a new workforce model. Most of the comments we made in the first part of this submission about recruitment and retention also apply to emergency and acute care.

E. Hyper-Acute stroke services – We support option 2

We want to see as many services as possible provided at West Cumberland Hospital, However, on balance, the benefits of a new Hyper-Acute stroke unit at Carlisle make this option one we are prepared to consider. We would want the impact on stroke patients of travel from West Cumbria kept under review as this would remain a subject of great concern.

F. Emergency surgery, Trauma and Orthopaedic services

We welcome the proposal to bring some of these services back to West Cumberland Hospital. We would like this to go further as and when it is safe and practical.

Christmas music spot: Masters In This Hall

Best spoof posts of the latter part of 2016

There have been some very funny spoof posts in the last few weeks, and not all of them from sites specialising in spoof news

For example, we learned from the Huffington post in 2010 that

Santa Claus's Naughty and Nice list has been hacked and published by Wikileaks.

But there have also been articles about Santa's list in the Daily Mail and other papers this year and we also learn that

students demand safe space from judgemental Father Christmas.

It gets harder and harder to tell what are supposed to be serious news stories from spoofs ..

One which did come from a "spoof" new website was the story that

NATO sabotage DA'ESH by making Southern Rail responsible for transport contract in Mosul

which you can read here. What a diabolical thing to inflict on Mosul even to stop DA'ESH!

The same spoof site told us of

Trump's Nobel prize -

Donald Trump has been awarded the Nobel peace prize after pledging to drone strike fewer people than Barack Obama.

The worrying thing about that story was how close parts of it came to making sense.

Then there was the story that the

Brexit bus has been nominated for a golden globe for best special effect.

That one concludes with the words

"The bus in question was unavailable to comment, but even if it had been no-one with any sense would have believed anything it said."

Another story tells us

"New Study shows that 90% of web users only read the headlines"

and that headline is all most people will be able to read anyway because the rest is in Latin.

My favourites spoof of the past few weeks  was the article in which we learn:

Government unveils new technology to stop journalists photographing sensitive documents.

It's called a brief-case.

Simply closing notebooks used by Ministers and officials is not a viable option, the article concludes, because “Most of them have doodles of Michael Gove dangling from a gallows on the cover.”


The "Success Regime" consultation about our local hospital and health services here in West Cumbria, including whether we continue to have consultant-lead maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital, finishes TODAY (Monday 19th December 2016). I will say yet again, this time for the final time, that the proposals in this consultation are of immense importance for our area.
If you have not already done so, please make sure you respond to the Success regime consultation before the consultation ends. THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE!

You can express your views online at

Quote of the day 19th December 2016

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Booker on Brexit

Interesting to see that some people with absolutely impeccable Eurosceptic credentials, such as Christopher Booker, are not joining the "let's have a competition to see who can be most hardline" calls for a so-called "Hard Brexit."

Incidentally I am not trying to score a "leave versus remain" point here, there is an equally unfortunate "let's see who can be most hardline" competition among some remain supporters.

Britain is a very divided nation and the first thing we really have to recognise is that both the 52% of voters who supported "Leave" and the 48% of voters who backed "Remain" had valid and genuine concerns, as many as possible of which the government must try to respect.

We really have to move on from the insults and prejudice which has too often characterised each side's reaction to the other. YouGov did a very interesting study published a couple of days ago called

"Why the other half vote"

which made all too clear that there is a great deal of misunderstanding on both sides.

The vast majority of Leave voters are not ignorant or stupid or racist - many of them were motivated by concerns other than immigration and even those who did vote to leave because of immigration mostly were not opposed to all immigration of any kind but had legitimate reasons to regard the present level of migration as unsustainable, reasons which cannot fairly be characterised as racist.

Equally the vast majority of Remain supporters care about Britain and do not hate or talk down their own country, and although Britain has not yet, and I hope will not, suffered most of the more cataclysmic consequences which a few of the more alarmist Remain campaigners predicted that Brexit might cause, the remain side had legitimate reasons for concern about the economy, the impact of Brexit on Universities, on international relations in general and on Ireland and Gibraltar in particular. The only one of those concerns which has so far been disproved is that the mere vote might cause an immediate recession.

Polls suggest that the majority of remainers, like myself, accept that the outcome of the referendum means that Britain will leave the EU. But there is a great deal of room for legitimate debate about what sort of relationship with the rest of the EU Britain should negotiate for when we leave, and although there are headbangers and absolutists on the extremes of both sides, there is a great deal of scope for more moderate remainers and more moderate leavers to find common ground on how Britain should manage our departure from the EU.

Which brings me back to my starting point: I was fascinated to read Christopher Booker's column in which, dismissing the "hard Brexit" strategy as "unworkable" he calls for Britain to rejoin the European Free Trade Area, or EFTA which the UK was instrumental in setting up a few years before I was born.

A good place to read Christopher Booker's column is a post by Richard North, which starts by quoting the Booker article in its entirety, on the EU Referendum blog here.

I don't pretend to know whether the rules allow us to rejoin EFTA and whether the impact would be quite as smooth as Christopher Booker thinks. But I do know that this precisely the sort of constructive thinking that the government should be, and I believe is, considering.

Christmas music spot: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Maddy Prior and the Carnival band strike again (without the terrible jokes this time!)