Sunday, April 23, 2017

When the polls are too good ...

There are a number of reasons why I think that Conservatives would be most unwise to put too much reliance on all the opinion polls suggesting Theresa May is in an unassailable position.

The first is, as we found out over the 2015 General Election, the EU Referendum, and the election of Donald Trump, polls have a significant margin of error: sometimes they get it wrong, sometimes between the poll being taken and the actual vote people change their minds. And people have six weeks between now and 8th June to change their minds.

The second is that even if a poll is right, if votes are in the wrong place the candidate or party with most votes can still lose - as Hillary Clinton found out in 2016. The 2017 general election is actually 650 local contests and it's possible to pile up votes in your own party's safe seats or reduce margins a bit in the other party's safe seats while loosing in the marginal which determine the election. In recent decades Britain's electoral system has appeared to be biased against the Conservatives - though to be completely truthful, nobody knows for certain whether that will still be the case next time.

The third, problem is that, as Paul Goodman points out on Conservative Home here. if a party appears to be doing ridiculously well in the opinion polls that can make their voters complacent so that they don't think they need to go out and vote, or their activists can get overconfident and arrogant.

Conservative campaigners should not assume this election is in the bag and should be careful not to take voters for granted. We must put forward the positive achievements of the government and the equally positive things we want to do over the next five years.

The only way to make sure Jeremy Corbyn does not become Prime Minister is to turn out on 8th June and vote Conservative.

Music spot for St George's day from the.Household Division bands

Major Frederick Ricketts who composed under the pen name Kenneth J. Alford, is possibly the greatest composer of British military music - the piece which everyone knows but nobody realises he wrote was "Colonel Bogey." He was a Bandmaster in the British Army, and Royal Marines Director of Music. Conductor Sir Vivian Dunn called Ricketts "The British March King."

To mark St George's Day today, here the massed bands of the Household division play his piece "The Standards of St George."

Quote of the day for St George's day 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Economist's take on the election

There are some newspapers and magazines for whom any endorsement they make in an election is as predictable as that the sun will rise in the East and set in the West.

The Economist is not one of them - they have backed the Conservatives and Labour in various British elections in the past, while in the US at various times they have backed the Republicans or Democrats or refused to back either.

The magazine has not yet said who they back in the forthcoming British general election, and indeed the articles they have so far published about it are not entirely aligned, with one here describing the view taken by the markets and by subsequent articles in the same magazine as one which, quote,

 "may turn out to be right but it is quite a bold call."

Bold call, perhaps, but certainly an interesting one.

I do not endorse every word in the articles "Back into battle" which argues that a bigger majority would improve the government's position at home and especially abroad, or "Why an election offers the chance of a better Brexit."

Nevertheless, both represent far more intelligent contributions to debate than have come from those who have spent a year accusing the Prime Minister of being unelected and having no mandate to govern and then complained bitterly when she asked the electorate for that mandate, or those opposition MPs who accused Mrs May of putting party before country by proposing an election and then themselves voted for the motion to call it.

Scene from an election campaign

This morning and part of the afternoon I was campaigning in Dereham for the excellent local Conservative candidate for the County Council, Hugo Graham, and members of the Workington and Copeland associations.

As I came up one drive and reached the vicinity of the front door I noticed that there was a sign asking certain categories of people not to call, one of them being canvassers, so I was just starting to turn round when the door opened.

I was starting to apologise to the householder and explain to her that I had only just seen the sign, when she asked if I was calling from the Lib/Dems or the Conservatives. I said the latter, which was apparently the preferred response, and she asked a couple of questions such as where the candidate lives - I was able to introduce her to Hugo and confirm that he lives in the village within a couple of hundred yards.

Anyway, the objection to being canvassed didn't appear to apply to us, and the lady explained that she had been Labour most of her life and had been a trade union organiser, but is not backing Labour this time.

I've been getting this on the doorstep time and time again. Another voter in Dearham told me he and his family had always been "Labour, Labour, Labour, Labour" - until Jeremy Corbyn became leader, but this time he will probably vote Tory.

In St Bees, in Millom, in Bransty, and in Hillcrest it's been a similar story - "We voted for Trudy a few weeks ago, and we'll back you again this time."  Sometimes this is from people who have always been Conservatives but a lot of it is from people who just cannot back Labour while that would make Jeremy Corbyn the Prime Minister.

These people are right. Theresa May is providing leadership for Britain, Jeremy Corbyn cannot even command the support of most of the parliamentary Labour party.

Several people, including very demoralised Labour supporters, have said to me that the 2017 general election is like a rerun of 1983, but in important respects Labour's position is even worse - Michael Foot was the last Labour leader to fight on a platform as left-wing as Jeremy Corbyn's but for all the flak we threw at him at the time, Michael Foot was a great orator, a patriot, and a team player who had experience of working in government as a cabinet minister.

Jeremy Corbyn is none of those things.

On 9th June either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister. I am convinced that it is in the best interests of Britain that it should be Theresa May.

Music to relax after campaigning: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

A wonderful rendition of an iconic piece of organ music. There was a lovely comment on the YouTube page where I found this.

Someone had written that his neighbour called the police to complain that he was playing this too loudly and the Bach lover added, quote, "and they arrested him!" Whatever the other strengths and weaknesses of that particular constabulary may have been, any police service that arrests people for trying to stop you listening to Bach has great taste in music.

The Jewish Chronicle's take on the General Election

Some very good plain common sense on the value of democracy from the Jewish Chronicle here.

"The most common reaction to Theresa May’s decision to call an election seems to be a moan that we are being asked to take part in the third national poll since 2015. But a sense of perspective is necessary (not least in comparison with the people of Northern Ireland, who on June 8 will be casting a vote for the seventh time in three years).

" At a parochial level, issues that mean much to our own, small community will rise to the fore as parties compete to persuade us that they are most worthy of our support.

" But more fundamentally, while it may be trite to point out how many people have died for the right to vote, it is no less true for that.

"Whatever the motivation may have been behind the calling of the election, we should celebrate our ability to choose our next government — something denied to the majority of our fellow human beings.

"The next seven weeks are ours to shape, and ours to use."

Quote of the day 22nd April 2017

"Maybe next time we have a mid-term PM so ahead in the polls, opposition parties will think twice before chanting 'unelected' at them for months."

(Martin Hoscik @MartinHoscik on twitter)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trudy Harrison readopted for Copeland

Congratulations to Trudy Harrison who was readopted this evening by Copeland Conservatives as the Conservative candidate for Copeland for the June 8th General Election.

Music to relax after campaigning: Corelli's: Christmas Concerto, Adagio Opus. 6 No. 8

Quote of the day 21st April 2017

Jedremy Corbyn's very divisive speech yesterday seem to me to put British people against one another and stigmatise anyone successful, treating those businesses and rich people who pay their taxes, create British jobs and pay their workers decently as if they were acting like those who do not.

It reminded me of this quote by American economist Thomas Sowell:

Replace "Americans" with "British people" throughout and this perfectly sums up the problem both with Jeremy Corbyn's platform and with that of the Scottish National Party.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

First Car Crash interview of GE2017 ...

Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes have called out the interview by Labour's Dawn Butler on Radio 4's PM programme this afternoon as the first car-crash interview of the 2017 General Election campaign.

Struggling to explain what exactly Labour would do to correct the "rigged system" she accused Theresa May of trying to rig democracy by calling an election.

Had she been one of the thirteen MPs who voted against calling the election this rather strange comment would still have been daft but might at least have been consistent.

But, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the PM no longer has the power to call an election without the agreement of parliament.

It now takes a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons to call an early election, which Theresa May obtained yesterday by 522 votes to 13. Obviously the Conservatives do not have anything like two thirds of MPs and the election could not have been called without the support of large numbers of opposition MPs - the vast majority of Labour and Lib/Dem MPs did in fact support it.

Down Butler voted for that motion and is therefore herself one of the 522 people who called this election. So how on earth could she expect to be taken seriously when she said that

 “This election is Theresa May trying to rig democracy in our country”

That was Dawn Butler's first big clanger. She then went on to accuse Costs Coffee of not paying tax.

Later she had to apologise for this gaffe, saying that unlike one of it's rivals Costa Coffee does pay its' taxes to the UK exchequer.

How many more Labour gaffes will we see in this election? I suspect it will be a long list ...

Music to relax after campaigning: Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo

Gorgeous performance of this exquisite aria from Handel's opera "Rinaldo" sung by the soprano Kirsten Blaise and accompanied on period instruments. The lyrics translate as

"Let me weep
over my cruel fate,
and sigh for freedom.
Let my sorrow break the chains
of my suffering, out of pity."

Quote of the day 20th April 2017

"No, May is not like Erdogan.

Theresa May’s snap election has caused the Guardianista class to lose their minds. Martin Kettle writes that

'Theresa May in Downing Street sounded like Turkey’s authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan'.

This is just bonkers. Erdogan is an Islamist autocrat who rules under a state of emergency, jailing political opponents, arresting journalists, controlling the airwaves, censoring social media and passing a law which could see him stay in power until 2029.

Theresa May has called an election."

(Guido Fawkes, article on his website here. )

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Music to relax after campaigning: Henry Purcell's Rondeau

Giving my age away here, but to me this is the theme from the BBC's "The first Churchills" a costume drama about the lives of John and Sarah Churchill, the first Duke and Duchess of Marlbrough who of course lived in the same late Stuart era in which Purcell wrote this.

"The first Churchills" was broadcast as a series when I was a child and I remember being fascinated by it. I also loved this Henry Purcell's piece which was the programme's theme tune, and which was of course later adapted by a number of more modern composers including Benjamin Britten and Andrew Lloyd-Weber.

Postal votes arrive

My postal vote for the County Council election on 4th May has arrived today.

I think this is the only time I can ever remember receiving my vote in one election on the same day that another election was called.

Parliament approves June 8 election by 522 votes to 13.

The House of Commons has voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of the motion to call a general election on 8th June.

There were 522 votes in favour including the majority of Conservative, Labour and Lib/Dem MPs. Most of the SNP abstained and there were only 13 MPs against, who Guido Fawkes has named as:

  • Dennis Skinner
  • Ronnie Campbell
  • Ann Clwyd
  • Paul Farrelly
  • Jim Fitzpatrick
  • Lady Hermon
  • Clive Lewis
  • Fiona Mactaggart
  • Liz McInnes
  • Alasdair McDonnell
  • Graham Stringer
  • Michelle Thomson
  • Natalie McGarry

  • What I must confess I do not get is the position of those opposition MPs who have accused Theresa May of putting the Conservative party's interests before those of the country by proposing a motion calling and election but who also themselves voted for that motion, or abstained.

    If they think the election is against the national interest, why didn't they vote against calling it? If they think it will be in the interest of the country to have an early election, how can they criticise the Prime Minister for putting forward the motion to call it?

    Quote of the day 19th April 2017

    Tuesday, April 18, 2017

    The Labour MP for Barrow takes an impossible position

    Britain is a parliamentary democracy. Our ministers and Prime ministers are accountable to us through parliament and the way that British elections have worked for more than two hundred years is that the voters choose the government by deciding which party to elect.

    There are other ways to run a democracy, but this is the system we use in Britain. Which is why the  statement issued by the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness today a classic case of nonsense on stilts. Or to paraphrase the Independent's John Rentoul, not just on stilts but on telegraph poles.

    John Woodcock has announced on his Facebook page here that he is seeking the nomination of his local Labour and Co-operative parties to stand again as Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, yet he also announces in the same statement that, quote,

    "I will not countenance ever voting to make Jeremy Corbyn Britain's prime minister."

    There is a report about his statement here.

    This is utterly bizarre - how can you present yourself to the electors of Barrow and Furness as a Labour candidate and at the same time promise not to support making the current leader of that party Prime Minister?

    Let us indulge in a "thought experiment" about Mr Woodcock's statement, though at the moment it appears that rational thought in the Labour party really would be an experiment.

    Suppose, just suppose, that Labour were to win the forthcoming general election but that there were enough anti-Corbyn Labour MPs like Woodcock to hold the balance of power, and that those MPs  took what he said today to its logical conclusion.

    If there were a Labour majority the Queen would have no choice under the constitution but to ask the Labour leader to form a government.

    Is Woodcock really saying he would vote that he had no confidence in that government while Jeremy Corbyn was PM?

    If not, his statement is empty words.

    But if he really means it, then by standing for election on this platform he is asking voters to inflict on the government of our country an even worse version of the chaos which we have witnessed for the past two years in the management of the Labour party. A House of Commons with a Labour majority which refused to support the Labour leader as PM would make Britain ungovernable. The most probable result would be yet another general election a few weeks later.

    The only way Mr Woodcock can possibly imagine that he can get away with such a stance is if he is certain Labour are going to lose the election. But if he is re-adopted as the Labour candidate in Barrow and Furness, the only safe option for voters in the constituency is to decline to elect him.

    Chris Deerin on why Theresa May is right to call an election

    There is an article by Chris Deerin at CapX here on why he thinks Theresa May was right to call a general election.

    Music to relax after campaigning: Corelli's Concerto Grosso in D Major Opus 6 No 4

    Sir Patrick McLoughlin on why we need an election now

    The Chairman of the Conservative party writes about why Britain needs an election:
    Why we need an election now:


    The Prime Minister has just announced that a General Election will be held on 8 June - and that we will shortly take the necessary steps in Parliament to ensure that this can happen.        
    • We need this election now to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.
    • Every vote cast for Theresa May and the Conservatives will strengthen Britain’s hand in the Brexit negotiations.
    • We will stick to our Plan for a Stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future.
    • The choice is between strong and stable leadership in the national interest with Theresa May and the Conservatives – or weak and unstable coalition government led by Jeremy Corbyn.  
    We need an election because:

    It will strengthen the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand in Europe. Division in Westminster, and the Government’s small majority, risks weakening your Government’s hand in its negotiations with Europe.

    It is the only way to ensure we have strong leadership, certainty and stability. An election now will give the country stability and certainty for a full five years, not just up to the point at which we leave the European Union but beyond it too.

    And we do need an election now:

    We have a one-off chance to hold an election while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin. This decision cannot be delayed and needs to happen now. That is the only way to end the uncertainty the other parties are causing.

    If we don’t have an election, we will have uncertainty and instability. The negotiations will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled General Election. Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and cause uncertainty and instability.

    We have the right plan for negotiating with Europe. The Government will negotiate a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world. That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws, and our own borders – and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world. The result will be a more secure future for our country and a better deal for you.

    But our plan is opposed by the other parties. The country is coming together, but Westminster is still divided. In recent weeks, Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to “grind” the business of government “to a standstill”. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way. All the other parties are doing is playing political games and causing uncertainty about the future.

    We will stick to our Plan for a Stronger Britain. Only Theresa May has the plan and the proven leadership to deliver the right deal for Britain abroad and a better deal for ordinary, working people here at home.

    We will stick to our Plan for a Stronger Britain and:

    Establish Britain as the strongest country in Europe, in economic growth and national security. We will negotiate a deep and special partnership with our European neighbours. We will strike export deals for British goods and services. And we will lead the world in preventing terrorism and fighting modern slavery.

    Build a stronger economy that rewards people who work hard and creates secure and well-paid jobs. We will make sure there is growth and prosperity around the whole country.

    Provide real opportunity for all. We will give everyone a chance to get on in life, by building enough affordable housing and making sure there is a good school place for every child.

    Build a more secure and united nation by taking action against the extremists who try to divide our society and standing up to the separatists who want to break up our country.
    But we will also take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future. We will build on the good work we have done and stick to our Plan for a Stronger Britain. But, from the productivity of our economy to the need for a world-class system of social care, we will tackle head-on the long-term challenges we face as a country.

    Theresa May is a strong leader who puts the national interest first and gets things done. When she became Prime Minister after the referendum, the priority was to provide economic certainty, a clear vision and strong leadership – and that’s what she delivered. She has also delivered on the mandate from the referendum, and begun the process through which Britain will leave the EU. Now she needs your support to lead Britain through the next five years and give the country the certainty and stability we all need.

    You can only get the strong leadership the country needs by voting for Theresa May and your local Conservative candidate.
    A vote for any other party risks Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, propped up in coalition by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, and the Liberal Democrats who just want to re-open the divisions of the referendum.

    The choice facing the country at this election is all about leadership. The choice in this election is strong and stable leadership in the national interest with Theresa May and the Conservatives – or weak and unstable coalition government, led by Jeremy Corbyn.

    Patrick McLoughlin 
    Chairman of the Conservative Party

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

    PM to ask parliament for 8th June General Election

    Here is the full text of Prime Minister Theresa May's statement from Downing Street to the effect that she will ask the House of Commons tomorrow to vote for a General Election on 8th June.
    "I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on June 8.

    "I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.

    "Last summer, after the country voted to leave the European Union, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership, and since I became Prime Minister the Government has delivered precisely that.

    "Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations.

    "We have also delivered on the mandate that we were handed by the referendum result."

    "Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back. And as we look to the future, the Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe.

    "We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world.

    "That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world.

    "This is the right approach, and it is in the national interest. But the other political parties oppose it.

    "At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not."

    "In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union.

    "The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill.

    "The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain's membership of the European Union.

    "And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

    "Our opponents believe that because the Government's majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course.

    "They are wrong.

    "They under-estimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country.

    "Because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government's negotiating position in Europe.

    "If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.

    "Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.

    "So we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.

    "I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion.

    "Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020, but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.

    "And so tomorrow I will move a motion in the House of Commons calling for a general election to be held on the eighth of June.

    "That motion, as set out by the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, will require a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons.

    "So I have a simple challenge to the opposition parties, you have criticised the Government's vision for Brexit, you have challenged our objectives, you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament.

    "This is your moment to show you mean it, to show you are not opposing the Government for the sake of it, to show that you do not treat politics as a game.

    "Let us tomorrow vote for an election, let us put forward our plans for Brexit and our alternative programmes for government and then let the people decide.

    "And the decision facing the country will be all about leadership. It will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your Prime Minister, or weak and unstable coalition government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats - who want to reopen the divisions of the referendum - and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

    "Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.

    "Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union.

    "Every vote for the Conservatives means we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future.

    "It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election, but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.

    "So, tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government, and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands."

    Quote of the day 18th April 2017

    "Mrs Thatcher will be remembered not as a great executive leader, because every Prime Minister is powerful, but because she is a teacher. The weakness of the Labour party over a long period is that it hasn't done any teaching."

    (Tony Benn, 8th February 1992)

    Monday, April 17, 2017

    The Prime Minister's message for Easter 2017

    Music to relax after campaigning: Barron Knights "A Taste of Aggro"

    Nick Cohen on Free Speech

    Nick Cohen wrote an excellent article last year in defence of free speech. I linked to a version of this at the time but I think it is worth reading and reminding people about again. Here is the conclusion:
    "When I argue for freedom of speech at student unions, I am greeted with incomprehension as much as outrage. It’s not only that they don’t believe in it, they don’t understand how anyone could believe in it unless they were a racist or rapist. The politicians, bureaucrats, chief police officers and corporate leaders of tomorrow are at universities, which teach that open debate and persuasion by argument are ideas so dangerous they must be banned as a threat to health and safety. Unless we challenge them in the most robust manner imaginable, whatever kind of country they grow up to preside over is unlikely to be a very free one.
    To fight them, you must emphasise censorship brings the hypocritical observance of conventional pieties. You must welcome, rather than mock, feminists and so many others, who have seen the speech codes and restrictions they once espoused boomerang back to hit them. You must emphasise that censorship demeans the censor. And point out that, once you let go of the old constraints, and grant vague powers to censor on the grounds of “safety,” “dignity” or “offence,” no one is safe.
    Censors never confine themselves to deserving targets. The record shows they aren’t snipers but machine gunners, who will hit anything that moves. Give them permission to shoot, and one day they will hit you."
    You can read the full article here.

    Quote of the day 17th April 2017

    Sunday, April 16, 2017

    Music for Easter day: S.S. Wesley's "Blessed be the God and Father"

    Samuel Sebastian Wesley composed this masterpiece to be sung in Hereford Cathedral on Easter Sunday 1834. Legend has it that the only singers he had available were three trebles and the Dean's Butler who sang bass. This arrangement requires a slightly larger choir, though it is easy to realise that it would have been wonderful to listen to only with the original four voices!


    Happy Easter to everyone who reads this

    Today Christians throughout the world celebrate the day when we believe that Jesus, the son of God,  rose from the dead.

    To everyone reading this who shares that belief, may the love of Jesus be with you today.

    To those of other faiths or none, peace to you today on this most holy day.

    To all who live in a country which celebrates this time with a holiday, I wish you have a good holiday.

    To everyone I wish you and your family good health and a Happy Easter.

    Quote of the day for Easter Sunday 2017

    “Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”
    N.T. Wright.

    Saturday, April 15, 2017

    Is the Conservative lead 21% or 9%?

    There are two opinion polls out for Easter Weekend. Opinium’s poll for the Observer shows a Conservative lead of only - only! - nine percentage points and therefore the gap between the two main parties dropping into single figures for the first time in more than two months, while the ComRes poll for the Independent and Sunday Mirror has it increasing to 21 percentage points, the biggest lead for a Tory government since September 1987.

    Opinion polls are not perfect and the gap between these two illustrates the point, though they are better than relying on anecdotal evidence.

    My personal view is that the real Conservative lead is probably rather more than 9% but rather less than 21%.

    There is an excellent article by Matt Singh of Number Cruncher Politics on the differences between the two polls which you can read here.

    Music to relax after campaigning: Bach Harpsichord Concerto D minor BWV 1052

    Quote of the day 15th April 2017

    Friday, April 14, 2017

    A final Good Friday post

    Rob Semple on Cumbria Conservatives leading the way

    Rob Semple is Chairman of the National Conservative Convention which makes him the senior elected member of the Conservative voluntary party.

    Here is an extract from an article he wrote yesterday on Conservative Home

    "I want to update those who were unable to make it to Cardiff for our recent Spring Forum and National Convention on developments that have taken place since.

    I was delighted that the forum was held on a larger scale again, and am grateful to our colleagues in Wales who hosted us.

    This gathering was our first since the historic win in Copeland for Trudy Harrison – winning a seat that has not been Conservative since 1935 was a truly stunning result. Trudy gave a great speech at the forum, and thanked activists from across the country who had braved often hostile weather conditions to play their part in her victory. It was a real team effort by volunteers, professionals and Parliamentarians across the Party – so thank you to everyone who helped out, whether that was on the ground or making calls from home.

    Cumbria is also leading the way in the good progress we are making in implementing proposals from the Party Review. Members in Copeland and the other five Cumbria constituencies have now voted overwhelmingly in a members’ ballot to create the Party’s first Multiple Constituency Association (MCA). The Party is now in the process of recruiting a dedicated campaign manager for the area to help drive this initiative forward. Close behind, another MCA has been approved by a similarly convincing majority in a ballot in Northumberland – another important step which will help us to strengthen our campaigning power across the North of England."

    You can read the full article here.

    Music for Good Friday part 2: Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus.

    The second of two posts with music to mark Good Friday, here is one of the most beautiful Passiontide anthems ever written, "Ave Verum Corpus" (Hail, true body) by William Byrd.

    Music for Good Friday part one: Bach's St. Matthew Passion, opening chorus

    This is the first of two posts with music to mark Good Friday: the first chorus of J.S. Bach's Passion of Our Lord according to Matthew: "Come ye daughters, hear my mourning."

    Tim Farron does his best to offend everyone in Scotland

    I had the unusual experience this week of briefly intending to defend Lib/Dem leader Tim Farron. Then I checked what he had actually said and realised he didn't really deserve defending ...

    Chris Deering tweeted that a Tim Farron speech in Edinburgh could be characterised as

    "Come to Scotland and tell us we're" (insert rude word here)

    in response to a Buzzfeed report of the speech, titled

    "Tim Farron Says Scots Were The 'Trailblazers' Of Personal Abuse In Politics"

    Seeing this headline, I thought to myself "Surely he didn't say that, he must have said the SNP, not all Scots."

    Well, I looked and you can check it for yourself by clicking here, but unless Buzzfeed have seriously misquoted Tim Farron he did indeed appear, addressing his Scottish audience as "you," to suggest that Scots in general were trailblazers leading the way for the rest of the country in introducing "heated and personal abuse" in British politics.

    Now I myself have written in the past week that the abuse thrown by some aggressive nationalists, which has been returned by some unionists, is poisoning the politics of Scotland. But it is important not to suggest that every nationalist, or every unionist, let alone all Scots in general, are guilty of this, and I hope nothing I have written here gives that impression.

    But Mr Farron seems to be fairly indiscriminate in his insults, throwing barbs at Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Scots in general with reckless disregard for their accuracy - for example, he accused Ruth who was one of the leading "Remain" campaigners in Britain, not just Scotland, of being "the voice of Brexit in Scotland."

    Bob Monkhouse used to tell a joke which is extremely amusing and may sound plausible but which in my experience is almost the exact reverse of the truth.

    His joke was that the only time politicians tell the truth is when they are calling each other liars.

    Actually in my experience most politicians tell the truth most of the time when they are talking about what policies they want to implement but rather too many people involved in politics suffer a steep decline in the accuracy of their statements at the exact point when they start talking about their opponents.

    Many Lib/Dems are among the worst offenders, although both the cases in recent English electoral history in which a successful candidate was removed from office and a fresh election called because he or she was caught telling lies about a rival candidate - this is an offence under election law and in both cases the lies were extremely serious - involved Labour candidates or their campaign knowingly making untrue statements about their Lib/Dem opponents.

    What I am about to write is a classic example of the Epimenides paradox. Nevertheless:

    I think it is wise always to take what any politician says about his or her opponents with a high degree of caution.

    Quote of the day for Good Friday 2017

    Thursday, April 13, 2017

    Myths it's time to abandon 1) My enemy's enemy is my friend

    This is the first in an occasional series of posts about old ideas which have far more influence than they deserve on our thinking, often without people realising it, and which it is high time we outgrew. The old idea I would like to suggest we consign to the bin today is this one:

    "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

    There have been historical instances of nations in Europe managing to make this principle work for them for a while. The "Ault Alliance" of Scotland and France against England in the days before the Union of the Crowns is perhaps an example, for instance, though Jacobites who attempted to revive it found themselves pawns in the game of European diplomacy and great harm came to Scotland as a result.

    However, if is relatively easy to point to the day in history when the harm done by this concept outweighed any good it had previously done, drowning the entire continent and a significant part of the rest of the world in blood.

    28th June 1914.

    That was the date on which a teenage lunatic with a revolver, part of a small group of conspirators apparently co-ordinated by prominent members of Serbian military intelligence who had "gone rogue" (and were subsequently executed for treason) shot an Austrian archduke and his wife.

    It's not entirely surprising that this caused a war between Austria and Serbia: but of course, it did not end there..

    In 1914 most of the nations of Europe were part of one or other of two vast rival systems of interlocking defensive alliances which had been built not on the basis of shared values, as NATO is, but mostly on the basis that "My enemy's enemy is my friend." When Austria responded to the Sarajevo assassination by declaring war on Serbia, practically the entire continent was dragged into the war through these alliances, and ultimately with them much of the rest of the world.

    More than nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a consequence of what was known at the time as "The Great War" or, too optimistically as it proved, as "The war to end wars" but which we most often now refer to as the first world war. Because of the idea that my enemy's enemy is my friend, one bullet fired in the Balkans caused the deaths of sixty thousand Australians, sixty thousand Indians, and three quarters of a million Brits, along with other people from all around the world.

    The modern example which should most disprove the principle is the one where it most obviously influences the thinking of many people - the Middle East in general and Syria and Iraq in particular.

    The tapestry of rival religious, ethnic and political factions in the Middle East, most of whom hate one another, is more complex than even experts can fully understand.

    In the Syrian civil war, for instance, there are a large number of factions as this map of the territory controlled by different groups attempts to illustrate:

    In this complex situation, whether one actor gains if you weaken another is far from obvious. But the trap laid by the propaganda of the Syrian regime and their Russian allies, a trap which is fallen into all too readily by an many normally sensible people, is the one illustrated in this cartoon:

    The Assad regime are butchers and war criminals. So is DA'ESH, the organisation which claims to be the new Islamic Caliphate and is sometimes known as "Islamic State," IS, ISIS or ISIL

    It is a perfectly valid point that the West should be careful to assess the full consequences of any actions we take in Syria, and should be particularly careful to avoid acting against one vile regime in ways which have the effect of causing more people to come under the control of an even worse one.

    But it is a great mistake to move from this valid point to believing all the Syrian regime or Russian propaganda which excuses every atrocity by claiming that everyone they bombed or gassed was part of DA'ESH when all too frequently the victims of Syrian and Russian attacks have been nothing of the kind.

    Russia and the Assad regime describe every one of their airstrikes as being against IS (DA'ESH) or "terrorists" but all too many of the Syrian regime's barrel bombs, and Russian bombs and missiles as well, have been landing on members of other opposition groups not aligned with DA'ESH such as the Kurds or the Free Syrian Army, and with depressing regularity on hospitals, schools, rescue workers, and unfortunate innocent civilians. Pointing this out does not make one an apologist for DA'ESH.

    There is no good option in Syria, only a choice between bad options and terrible ones. Doing nothing falls into one of these categories (which is not a justification for taking a course of action which will have even more disastrous consequences than doing nothing).

    If we see the opportunity to build a negotiated peace which does not represent a complete victory for either of the most vile factions in Syria, we should probably take it. And we should not let the outdated idea that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" cloud our judgement.

    Campaigning Easter 2017

    Out of respect of residents' personal space and bearing in mind the religious significance of these days, Copeland Conservatives will not be campaigning on Good Friday or Easter Sunday.

    We will be campaigning on Saturday and on Easter Monday, but activity on these days will only consist of delivering leaflets.

    Music to relax after campaigning: Bach's Prelude & Fugue in E Minor "The Wedge"

    Another version of the Prelude and Fugue for organ nicknamed "The Wedge" because of the shape on the stave that the run of broken chords makes during the Fugue.

    Quote of the day 13th April 2017

    Wednesday, April 12, 2017

    What nationalism has done to Scotland continued

    A few days ago I blogged here about how the politics of Scotland, a wonderful country, has become more aggressive and intolerant in response to the more sectarians forms of nationalism, quoting from Stephen Daisley's article "Bile, anger and the growing divisiveness of a nation's politics."

    Daisley is by no means the only person to have expressed this concern.

    The Scotsman published an editorial yesterday,

    "Questioning 'Scottishness' has no place in our debate,"

    which effectively called on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to repudiate an article by the leader of the SNP group on Edinburgh City Council, Councillor Ross, which was widely interpreted as suggesting that “no party other than the SNP is properly Scottish."

    Councillor Ross certainly did say in his article here that the Scottish Conservative and Unionists, Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal democrats do not actually exist - a preposterous claim given that these organisations elect officers, employ staff, make returns to the Electoral Commission and publish accounts - and he accused the candidates who stand for election under these labels of not being open and honest about what they were standing for and these rival parties of disguising their true identities.

    When I read Cllr Ross's article I was seriously tempted to refer it to the Electoral Commission and ask if it was a breach of electoral law - specifically, the law which forbids lying about a rival candidate during an election.

    The Scotsman referred to Nicola Sturgeon's expressed wish that the political parties should debate3 with each other in a respectful tone, and concluded that

    "If the First Minister wants to make her message as effective as possible, she should take this opportunity to make clear that the remarks made by Councillor Ross over Scottish identity – whether offence was intended or not – are not acceptable."


    The New Statesman published a set of two very worrying articles yesterday: one about unionist extremists and one about nationalist extremists in Scotland.

    Of course, being lefties, the New Statesman sometimes appears to be unable to distinguish between patriotism and extremism. I did not know whether to laugh or cry about one passage in the former article which suggested that

    "In the patriotic fervour of Facebook groups like “Do Not Break Our Unity”, there is a different kind of unionism. It waves the Union Jack with pride, wears the poppy, celebrates the monarchy, approves of Theresa May and voted Brexit."

    Four of those five criteria for "a different kind of unionism" apply to me and I strongly object to the suggestion that any of the five have a proper place in an article about extremism.

    Unfortunately most of the other points made by both articles cannot be so easily dismissed. Some are seriously frightening - I knew that the previous leader of Scottish Labour had suffered disruption and intimidation while campaigning for "Better Together" but not that he had been presented with "Yes" campaigners who had literally formed up in a "testudo" (tortoise) battle formation, copying the military tactics of a Roman legion!

    Mainstream politicians of all parties have a responsibility to make sure that arguments are expressed in a calm and respectful way. And those who bully, threaten, or intimidate should be dealt with by the law - certainly well before the point at which they start quite literally adopting military battle tactics.

    Quote of the day 12th April 2017

    "There is no joke so obvious that some bloody fool won't miss the point."

    (Bernard Levin in what he thought would be his last column for The Times on 23rd April 1981, though in fact it wasn't. Hat-tip to @JohnRentoul on twitter)

    Tuesday, April 11, 2017

    Music to relax after campaigning: "When to the temple Mary went" by Johannes Eccard

    Second set of quotes of the day, from a Labour candidate

    "Do not vote for me"

    "There has been a complete balls up at regional level with the May 4th elections"

    "This has just made us all in Labour look incompetent ..."

    (Three of the messages from luckless Labour candidate Sean Rowell, after it was found that he was one of two candidates nominated by the Labour party in a single-member division. Hat tip to Guido Fawkes at

    Quote of the day 11th April 2017

    "The SNP’s argument is that Brexit is going to kick our economy to death, so let’s have independence to set fire to the corpse. Half the country is now busily dowsing itself in kerosene and asking to borrow a match."

    (Stephen Daisley, from a Daily Mail article, "Brexit won't drive us into the SNP's arms nor can it fix the Union's flaws.")

    Monday, April 10, 2017

    What nationalism has done to Scotland

    I love Scotland both as the home of many of my ancestors and as a wonderful country.

    Both my parents had a substantial proportion of Scottish ancestry. It is impossible to be certain whether my surname originates from Cumberland (as this part of Cumbria would have been known at the time) or from Lanarkshire in Scotland, but I do know for certain that I have both English and Scottish ancestors, the latter including the chiefs of Clan MacAuley of Ardincaple in Scotland. I am equally proud of my English and Scottish ancestors and I self-identify as British, rather than wishing to choose one or the other.

    So I was rather shocked when I saw that journalist Stephen Daisley had written an article about Scotland which begins with the Jack Nicholson quote from Easy Rider:

    "You know, this used to be a hell of a good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it."

    My instinct is to say that Scotland still is a hell of a good country. And I am convinced that it is. But the point of Daisley's article -  that an aggressive brand of nationalism has filled the politics of Scotland with anger - is difficult to argue convincingly against.

    The article, "Bile, Anger and the growing divisiveness of a nation's politics" continues with a reference to a complaint which Anas Sarwar, a Scottish Labour MSP, had to make to the police after being sent a picture of a gallows which he took to be a threat of what would happen to people like him after Independence.

    Daisley also responds to a widely and rightly pilloried line in a Herald article by David Pratt which said of Scotland:

    "We are a nation, too, that carries less of the colonial baggage so associated with a British imperialism of the past."

    As he rightly points out, Pratt was rewriting history in the most extreme way. At the height of the Empire a third of Britain's colonial governors were Scots, and Scotland was fully involved in Imperialism and Colonialism at all levels, not just providing foot-soldiers. But this awkward political fact does not help the nationalists present themselves as victims.

    Not all nationalists fall into the trap of continually denouncing those who do not share their views, and as Daisley also says, some unionists do. He is right to warn against this.

    I hope it is a while before Nicola Sturgeon gets to rerun the independence referendum which, let us not forget, the nationalists lost by a clear majority and which polls tell us most Scots do not wish to revisit. The poison injected into Scottish politics by the last one is far from having dispersed.

    Lod Ashcroft's latest poll

    The record of many opinion pollsters companies in predicting close votes over the past two years has not exactly been brilliant.

    However, the pollster's record of being at least broadly right when they say that lots of people are leaning in a particular direction is much better. And the evidence polls produce is certainly far more reliable than anyone's anecdotal impressions - which can mean anything from "what my friends say to me down the pub" to "what the people who are willing to talk on the doorstep to someone wearing a rosette of my colour say."

    At least scientific opinion polls, after taking due account of the problems pointed out in the famous Sir Humphrey "yes minister" clip, are much less the prisoner of confirmation bias.

    There is a very large opinion survey of the state of public opinion in Britain from Lord Ashcroft out today which can be read in full as a PDF at

    or in summary form on his website here.

    This is absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what is going on with public opinion in Britain at the moment including what issues people are concerned about, which voters are switching between parties and why, as well as the usual stuff which we political activitists cannot help reading about how the parties and political leaders are doing, such as this chart which shows Theresa May continuing to do extremely well in the opinion of the British electorate ...

    and Jeremy Corbyn continuing to do extremely badly, although Lib/Dem Leader Tim Farron and UKIP leader Paul Nuttall are even less well regarded than Corbyn.

    (So is President Donald Trump, though as he is accountable to the US electorate rather than British electors this is not necessarily a problem for him.)

    Asked what were the most important issues facing Britain as a whole, six in ten of Ashcroft's 10,000  poll respondents named “negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union on the right terms” among the top three. This put it at the top of the priority list for the country, both for Remain and Leave voters.

    However, when asked what mattered most to “you and your family”, the Brexit negotiations fell to third place behind “improving the NHS” and “tackling the cost of living”. Only 39% of all voters named Brexit negotiations among the top three issues on this measure. An important point for those of us in politics to remember. There's a lot more detail on the above links.

    Music to relax after campaigning: Bach's "Air on a G string"

    Also known to those of us who are old enough to remember life before tobacco advertising on TV was banned as the "Hamlet Cigar Music." (Whenever this was played at a school event in my teens half the boys would mime pretending to smoke invisible cigars.)

    Quote of the day 10th April 2017

    Sunday, April 09, 2017

    Ray Cole RIP

    I have just heard the very sad news that Ray Cole, who was the last chairman of the former Cumbria Police Authority before the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners, died earlier today.

    Ray was a really great guy, a man of enormous integrity and one of the nicest people I ever met. Before becoming involved in politics he had been a police officer and I understand he had been the police inspector in charge of Millom and South Copeland.

    Ray served as a Millom Town Councillor, and as a Copeland Borough Councillor, and represented Newtown ward on both those authorities at the time of his death. He had also previously been County Councillor for Millom and Haverigg (the ward boundaries have since changed.)

    My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Nadine and their family.

    Millom, Copeland, and Cumbria have lost a great servant.

    Rest in Peace

    A lightbulb moment ...

    Eleven years today I blogged here about the lower electricity costs and environmental benefits of using Low-Energy Lightbulbs.

    In the past fortnight I have replaced most of the surviving second-generation low-energy lightbulbs in the house dating back to that time with LED bulbs which require even less energy.

    If the earlier low-energy bulbs were a double win - they helped the environment by using less electricity and your own finances for the same reason and because they last longer - there are now LED bulbs available which are a triple win.

    They use even less energy for the same notional light output, they also last vastly longer than the old standard bulbs used to, and they don't take any time to produce the full amount of light, while some of the earlier generations of low energy bulbs took a while to "warm up."

    I see that some shops are trying to sell off their stock of older light bulbs at bargain prices - in one of two cases even making an advantage of the "last chance to buy" varieties of lightbulb which it is no longer legal to manufacture or no longer legal to import.

    Unless it is for a light which is hardly ever turned on, buying these older bulbs at bargain rates is an extreme example of being "penny-wise, pound foolish." The previous generation of low-energy bulbs used about a quarter of the energy for a similar amount of light: LED lights use between 15% and 10% of the amount of energy. No matter how cheap an old-style bulb is, you don't have to leave it switched on for very long before it costs you far more in electricity than you saved buying it,

    Sunday Music Spot for Palm Sunday: Holy is the True Light by William Harris

    Swimathon completed!

    I completed the 5,000 metres Swimathon 2017 challenge today, swimming 200 lengths of Workington pool. In some past years it was possible to do the Swimathon at Whitehaven pool but this year they were not taking part so I went to Workington instead. The staff at Workington were very helpful indeed so no jam-eater comments please.

    This was the 30th Swimathon so the commemorative medal I was given bears on the ribbon each date from 1988 to 2017. Great to have been part of this historic event, in my case this was the 24th consecutive year I have completed the 5,000 metre challenge. My fifteen-year old son John is joining me and taking part in the Swimathon too: he will be swimming
    The Swimathon is Britain’s largest charity swim, and gives people of very varied swimming abilities an opportunity to raise money for charity by swimming distances of up to 5,000 metres.  The 2017 Swimathon event is in aid of Marie Curie, who look after thousands of  terminally ill people and provide support both to them and to their families.
    A big thank you to those who have already sponsored me. At the time of posting these generous people have given a little over £200 for Marie Curie Cancer care. It is possible to sponsor swimmers online: If you have not yet sponsored me but would like to, and wish to use the online facility, you can do so via my giving page at JustGiving which is available here.

    Quote of the day 9th Apri l2017

    Saturday, April 08, 2017

    Thanks to all those who sponsored me for the Swimathon

    Very many thanks to all those generous people who have so far sponsored myself or my son for the Swimathon we are taking part in tomorrow (Sunday, 9th April 2017) in aid of Marie Curie's work for people with Terminal Illness.
    I aim to swim 5,000 metres (200 lengths of Workington pool) tomorrow. In the past Whitehaven pool took part but this year they are not doing so, so we are going to Workington instead.

    I first took part in the Swimathon twenty-three years before in 1994 so this will be the 24th consecutive year I have swum the 5,000 metre challenge. My fifteen-year old son John is joining me and taking part in the Swimathon too: he will be swimming the 2,500 metre challenge.
    The Swimathon is Britain’s largest charity swim, and gives people of very varied swimming abilities an opportunity to raise money for charity by swimming distances of up to 5,000 metres.  The 2017 Swimathon event is in aid of Marie Curie, who look after thousands of  terminally ill people and provide support both to them and to their families.
    A big thank you to those who have already sponsored either me, or my son John. It is possible to sponsor swimmers online: If you have not yet sponsored me but would like to, and wish to use the online facility, you can do so via my giving page at JustGiving which is available here.

    My son's giving page is available at

    If you try to follow either of these links and they do not work please drop me a line or leave a comment below.

    Music to relax after campaigning: Vivaldi's Concerto for Mandolins RV558

    What sort of Brexit do the public want?

    Some people talk in terms of a "hard" Brexit which prioritises ending free movement of people over free trade versus a "soft" Brexit which prioritises free trade over restricting migration.

    On two parts of the political spectrum - the passionate "Remainers" who are mostly Lib/Dems and the libertarian free marketeers who are mostly on the right, it is almost an article of faith that Theresa May's government is going for a "hard Brexit" and that this is a bad mistake.

    I do not buy into this analysis.

    The PM has repeatedly rejected the language of "hard versus soft Brexit" and denied that her objective is the former.

    Theresa May believes that to negotiate the best deal for Britain she needed

     - for parliament to give her as much negotiating room as possible (which she has now obtained) and

     - to make the other EU nations think that there is an actual possibility that if they offer Britain a really bad exit deal and refuse to budge we will walk away.

    I suspect that the PM regards walking away from the negotiations as a last resort. She would only leave the EU without an agreed "deal" if the deal on the table was completely unacceptable. She probably does not even intend to threaten to walk away unless the deal on offer is bad enough to make this a credible threat. Greece tried bluffing the EU over the Euro a few years ago with a threat to leave the Euro, and the EU called their bluff, which completely destroyed the Greek government's negotiating position. Theresa May will not want to repeat that mistake.

    However, just as it would be a bad negotiating mistake to try to bluff the EU by threatening to walk out when there is no chance we would actually do so, it would also be a bad mistake to give them the impression that there is no deal so bad we would walk away from it. If Britain tries to run an obvious bluff the EU will call it, and we will get hammered in the negotiation, but if the other 27 nations think there is no possibility whatsoever that Britain will walk away they have no incentive to be reasonable on any of the issues of contention.

    A lot of the government's language is probably aimed at giving the other EU nations the strongest plausible impression that Britain might turn around and walk away if pushed too hard.

    The government wants both free trade and restrictions on freedom of movement.

    What they have never said is that either of these objectives has total priority over the other.

    There is a very interesting article by John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, on the CAPX website called

    "On Brexit Theresa May is giving the public what they want."

    which argues that while the EU sees free trade and freedom of movement as going together, the polling evidence suggests that the British government is aligned with the British electorate - including those who voted Remain as well as those who voted Leave - in wanting more trade but less migration.

    Curtice argues that the great majority of both Leave and Remain voters think the PM is right to try to get a deal which delivers as much free trade as possible while obtaining at least some restrictions on freedom of movement.

    The article is worth a look and you can read it here.

    Quote of the day 8th April 2017

    "I’ve known Ken Livingstone for many years. We agree on very little but I’ve always liked him, always enjoyed talking to him. He was a good colleague on LBC for many years. But he really has gone off the rails on anti-semitism.

    It’s as if he can’t help himself. Why is no one advising him to stop doing interviews which inevitably make things worse?

    Why didn’t Labour’s disciplinary panel make it a condition of his rather too lenient suspension that he mustn’t do any more interviews on the subject?

    Unfortunately Ken has developed a form of Tourettes on this issue and he simply cannot resist mentioning the word Hitler. In a 13 minute interview with me on Wednesday afternoon he mentioned Hitler twelve times. I know, because I could see people on Twitter counting the mentions as the interview progressed. Not a good place to be."

    (Radio presenter Iain Dale on Ken Livingston, Diary post yesterday).

    Friday, April 07, 2017

    When you have a choie of bad options

    There are some circumstances where whatever you do is going to be wrong: rather than choosing between options which include at least one good option your only choice is between terrible options and worse ones.

    And when you are dealing with the middle east and with people like DAESH and the Assad regime, you are often forced to choose between terrible options.

    There are people who blame everything which has gone wrong in Iraq on the fact that Britain and the US invaded the country and everything which has gone wrong in Syria on the fact that Britain and the US did not intervene. I have no doubt that some of those who just after Assad's latest chemical warfare atrocity were criticising the West for letting it happen and not doing anything about it, but will now be the first to criticise President Trump because he did something.

    I fully understand the position of those who having seen Western intervention in Iraq go so horribly wrong, opposed Western intervention in Syria in 2013.

    Maybe a Western intervention in Syria then would have been even worse than what has actually happened. We'll never know. It is certainly wrong to blame for the West for the deaths inflicted by others after countries like Britain decided not to intervene out of a far-from-unreasonable fear of causing another Iraq.

    However, the decision not to intervene in Syria has been no more successful than the decision to intervene in Iraq was.

    The moderate opponents of Assad, while not exactly easy to find, did exist in 2013, but they were the first people that the Russians and the Syrian regime targeted. Building a stable and democratic Syria now, or even a peaceful one, would be even harder than it would have been in 2013. And the decision not to send in Western military force did not mean Syria was spared external military intervention, only that it came from Russia instead.

    At the moment I cannot see that a good Western strategy towards Syria exists, we are forced to choose between a menu of terrible options and worse ones.

    If nothing else, President Trump's decision to use cruise missiles to hit the airfield from which Assad's forces launched a poison gas attack earlier in the week does re-establish the principle that if you use poison gas on civilians there will be consequences.

    Flanders and Swan Tribute 5: A great big hairy spider in the bath

    Quote of the day 7th April 2017

    "Will the last person to quit UKIP please remember to turn out the lights"

    (Mike Smithson, title of this thread on Political Betting after Mark Reckless defected back from UKIP to the Conservatives)

    Thursday, April 06, 2017

    Three days to go to Swimathon 2017

    This Sunday, 9th April 2017, my son and I will be taking part in the Swimathon in aid of Marie Curie's work for people with Terminal Illness.
    I first took part in the Swimathon twenty-three years before in 1994 so this will be the 24th consecutive year I have swum the 5,000 metre challenge. My fifteen-year old son John is joining me and taking part in the Swimathon too: he will be swimming the 2,500 metre challenge.
    The Swimathon is Britain’s largest charity swim, and gives people of very varied swimming abilities an opportunity to raise money for charity by swimming distances of up to 5,000 metres.  The 2017 Swimathon event is in aid of Marie Curie, who look after thousands of  terminally ill people and provide support both to them and to their families.
    A big thank you to those who have already sponsored either me, or my son John, in previous years or who have already sponsored us for this year. It is possible to sponsor swimmers online: If you would be kind enough to sponsor me, and would like to use the online facility, you can do so via my giving page at  JustGiving which is available here.

    My son's giving page is available at

    If you try to follow either of these links and they do not work please drop me a line or leave a comment below.

    Flanders and Swann Tribute 4: The 97 horsepower omnibus

    Theresa May's global charm offensive

    There is a very wide-ranging piece by Matthew d'Ancona in the Evening Standard yesterday which, despite a title which might upset some people:

    "This charm offensive is vital to convince the world we're not mad,"

    made some very good points.

    I particularly like the way this article expresses better than anything else I've seen one of the difficulties for those trying to give the people of Britain the things they voted for in the EU referendum: the fact the main "Leave" campaigns represented two different, indeed seriously contradictory strands of thinking. This is why the  two largest "Leave" campaigns fought each other as much as they fought the Remain side and why there has been such vicious infighting within the UK Independence party.

    As d'Ancona writes,

    "Cast your mind back to the hectic months of the referendum and its immediate aftermath. The vote was won by two essentially contradictory arguments.

    "The first, advanced by the official Vote Leave campaign, was that the European Union was irredeemably old-fashioned, burdensome and a restraint upon Britain’s aspirations as a determinedly modern, truly global nation. It was time, therefore, to liberate ourselves from the clammy grip of Brussels and become a nimble, agile world power, free to forge our own trading relations, fit for the hectic demands of the 21st century.

    "The second, quite distinct argument was more often insinuated than overtly expressed — but was still powerful in its appeal to atavistic instincts. For Nigel Farage, the Leave.EU group and most of Ukip, the EU was a proxy for foreign influence, multiculturalism and the alleged evil of “mass immigration”.

    "The vile “Breaking Point” poster under which Farage posed was an appeal to British nativism, and the impulse to pull up the drawbridge and restore Britain to a prelapsarian condition of blue passports, imperial measurements, and — doubtless — mandatory morris dancing.

    "The more honest Brexiteers will concede that both arguments played their part in Leave’s victory, a twin-track approach that simultaneously advanced internationalism and insularity. Such doublethink is just about tenable in a referendum campaign. But it is not sustainable as a governing principle."

    He goes on to explain that Number Ten is running a global charm offensive, which is why this week the Prime Minister is visiting Jordan and Saudi Arabia (true to her values, not wearing a headscarf), and so many of her ministers have been on trips abroad.

    "Now that Britain has formally notified Brussels of its intention to leave the EU and the white paper for the Great Repeal Bill has been published, No 10 is determined to scotch the notion that Britain is retreating behind a wall of nostalgia, xenophobia and diminished ambitions.

    "The PM’s allies are especially hostile to anything that smacks of “culture wars”, of a country mired in introspection and division. More than ever, they believe, Britain must not only be, but be perceived as, open, energetic and confident, rather than as a fractious, fading nation checking itself into the nursing home of former imperial powers.

    "Action is more important than rhetoric.

    "This is why the PM is in the Gulf pursuing the UK’s commercial and security interests, why the Chancellor is in India championing our financial services and technology, and why Fox has been in South-East Asia pressing home the message that post-Brexit Britain will be a powerhouse of international trade. Later this year the PM is expected to visit Japan. Her team continues to work on the outline of a new trade deal with America.

    "The touring, bartering and glad-handing will be relentless, and not all of it will bear fruit. But, in a radically interdependent world, some version of this strategy is the responsibility of every government. For a nation about to decouple itself from the EU, it is an absolute necessity."

    You can read the full article here.


    Nominations closed on Tuesday for the election of 84 councillors to serve on Cumbria County Council. The election will take place on Thursday 4th May 2017.

    I shall be standing again in the Egremont North and St Bees division which I previously contested at the last County Council elections four years ago and where I missed election by just 13 votes.

    The Conservatives are the only party who are fighting all 84 divisions. Labour are contesting most of the county (78 candidates)

    The list of candidates for Cumbria County council by district and division is as follows:


    Dalton North
    Conservative: Ben Shirley; Labour: Barry Doughty; Independent: Glen Higgins.
    Dalton South
    Conservative: Des English; Labour: Ernie Wilson; Lib/Dem: Raymond Beecham; UKIP: Dick Young.
    Conservative: Roy Worthington; Labour: Connor James Lambton.
    Conservative: Ann English; Labour: Anne Burns; UKIP: Dave Roberts.
    Newbarns & Parkside
    Conservative: Sol Wielkopolski; Labour: John Murphy; UKIP: Karl Hunt.
    Old Barrow
    Conservative: Brenda Lauderdale; Labour: Helen Wall; UKIP: Colin Rudd.
    Conservative: Teri-Ann Gibney; Labour: Bill McEwan; UKIP: Theresa McMeekin
    Conservative: Jamie Samson; Labour: Kevin Hamilton.
    Conservative: Derek Gawne; Labour: Fred Chatfield; UKIP: Pete Richards.
    Walney North
    Conservative: David McLeavy; Labour: Mel Worth.
    Walney North
    Conservative: Rory McClure; Labour: Frank Cassidy.


    Labour: Paul Leslie Birks; Conservative: Gareth Michael Ellis; Independent: Alan Toole
    Belle Vue
    Green Party: Helen Elizabeth Atkinson; Labour: Christine Bowditch; Conservative: Geoffrey Osborne; UKIP: Susan Riley
    Independent: Robert William Betton; Green Party: Deb Brown; Labour: Helen Anne Fisher; Conservative: Paul Nedved
    Labour: Lesley Begley; Conservative: Lawrence Fisher; UKIP: John James Harding; Lib Dem: Olwyn Doreen Luckley; Green Party: Colin Luhrs
    Conservative: James Bainbridge; Green Party: Richard Sebastian Hunt; Labour: Alan Robert McGuckin; UKIP: Robbie Ried-Sinclair; Lib Dem: David John Wood
    Corby and; Hayton
    Independent: William James Graham; Lib Dem: Alison Elizabeth Hobson; Green Party: Charmian Jess McCutcheon; Conservative: Keith Meller
    Independent: Jeffrey Bomford; Green Party: Sky Fiona Higgins; Conservative: Geoff Mitchell; Labour: Reg Watson
    Dalston and Burgh
    Lib Dem: Trevor Allison; Conservative: Katharine Oliver; Labour: Ray Warwick
    Denton Holme
    Conservative: Syed Ali; Green Party: Neil Boothman; Labour: Hugh McDevitt; UKIP: Kerryanne Mckay Wilde
    Harraby North
    Conservative: Barbara Eden; Labour: Cyril Frederick Weber
    Harraby South
    Labour: Deborah Anne Earl; Independent: Jack Paton; Conservative: Michael Randall
    Houghton and Irthington
    Green Party: Hazel Jane Graham; Conservative: John Mallinson; UKIP: Fiona Rachel Mills; Lib Dem: Brendan Murphy; Labour: Maggie Robinson
    UKIP: Graham Moore; Labour: Stephen Ronald Sidgwick; Conservative: Val Tarbitt
    Labour: John Bell; Green Party: Rob Morrison; Conservative: David Shepherd
    Stanwix Urban
    Green Party: Helen Davison; UKIP: Phil Douglass; Labour: Tim Linford; Conservative: Elizabeth Mallinson
    UKIP: John Gordon Denholm; Green Party: Penelope Bothepa Foster; Lib Dem: James Ernest Ostler; Conservative: Fiona Robson; Labour: Stewart Farries Young
    Lib Dem: Jeff Coates; UKIP: Malcolm Fraser Craik; Labour: Beth Fernaux; Green Party: Henry Bryson Goodwin; Conservative: Stephen Haraldsen
    Labour: Steven John William Bowditch; Green Party: Dallas Jane Brewis; Lib Dem: Michael Anthony Gee; Conservative: Nick Marriner.


    Labour: Peter Gregory Kendall; Conservative: Jim Lister; Lib Dem: Phill Roberts; UKIP: David Wilson
    Bothel and Wharrels
    Conservative: Alan Bowness; Green Party: Jill Perry
    Cockermouth North
    Labour: Isabel Jeanette Burns; Green Party: Flic Crowley; Lib Dem: Rebecca Charlotte Hanson; Conservative: Peter Andrew Hardie Nicholson
    Cockermouth South
    Conservative: Alan Kennon; Lib Dem: Roger Peck; Green Party: Jane Christine Roy; Labour: Andrew Irving Semple
    Dearham and Broughton
    Labour: Alan Clark; Conservative: Hugo George Greenbank Graham; UKIP: Richard Mawdsley; Green Party: Helen Hilda Smith
    Lib Dem: Reece Fleming; Labour: Janet Mary King; Conservative: Neville Lishman; Independent: Marjorie Rae
    Green Party: Jack Frederick Lennox; Labour: Tony Lywood; Conservative: Ron Munby
    Maryport North
    Green: Clare Brown; UKIP: George Masterton Kemp; Labour: Carni McCarron-Holmes; Conservative: Sarah Jane Pagan
    Maryport South
    Labour: Keith Anthony Little; Green Party: Laura Rumney; Conservative: Antony Armstrong Todd
    Moss Bay and Moorclose
    Labour: Barbara Ann Cannon; Conservative: Louise Mary Donnelly; Green Party: Douglas Maw; Independent: Stephen Stoddart
    Green Party: Alistair John Grey; Conservative: Mark Jenkinson; Labour: Celia Tibble
    Solway Coast
    Independent: John Cook; Conservative: Tony Markley; Green Party: Richard Clive Rawson; Labour: Caroline Richardson
    St John's and; Great Clifton
    Independent: Joe Holliday; Labour: Antony David McGuckin; Conservative: Ann Vipond McKerrell; Green Party: Fliss Watts
    St Michael's
    Labour: Alan Lawrence Barry; Lib Dem: Margaret Bennett; Green Party: Peter George Rowland Rigg; Conservative: Gladys Wilson
    Conservative: Duncan Fairbairn; Labour: Bill Goldsmith; Green Party: Dianne Estelle Standen
    Green Party: Patricia Anne Ackred; Conservative: Malcolm Grainger; Labour: Roger John Liddle


    Green Party: Maggie Bedford; Labour: Rachel Margaret Holliday; Independent: Charles Edward Maudling; Conservative: Graham Roberts
    Cleator Moor East & Frizington
    Labour: Tim Knowles; Conservative: Arthur Lamb; Green Party: Allan Franciscus Todd
    Cleator Moor West
    UKIP: Nicholas Frederick Ford; Conservative: Genna Haraldsen; Lib Dem: Mike Minogue; Labour: Frank Irving Morgan; Independent: Christopher Patrick Ross
    Conservative: Alistair Norwood; Labour: David Edward Southward
    Egremont North and; St Bees
    Independent: Jayne Anne Laine; Independent: Wammo Walmsley; Conservative: Chris Whiteside; Labour: Henry Wormstrup
    Labour: Peter Kane; Independent: Sam Meteer; Green Party: Daniel James Nixon; Conservative: Christopher Paul Turner
    Hillcrest and; Hensingham
    Labour: Christine Wharrier; Conservative: Andrew Wonnacott
    UKIP: Eric William Atkinson; Conservative: Martin Barbour; Labour: Gillian Ruth Troughton; Green Party: Sharon Josephine Watson
    Kells and; Sandwith
    Independent: Michael Patrick Anthony Guest; Conservative: Brigid Whiteside; Labour: Emma Louise Williamson
    Labour: Denise Barbara Burness; Conservative: Doug Wilson
    Millom Without
    Conservative: Keith Hitchen; Green Party: Sally Millar; Labour: Ryan Woods
    Labour: Mike Hawkins; Conservative: Jane Micklethwaite


    Alston and; East Fellside
    Labour: Claire Susan Driver; Lib Dem: Deb Holden; Green Party: Alan William Marsden; Independent: Mary Robinson; Conservative: Walter Walker
    Lib Dem: Andy Connell; Green Party: Kimberley Jane Lawson; Conservative: John Mervyn Owen; Labour: John Potts
    Eden Lakes
    Lib Dem: Neil Hughes; Conservative: Laura Elizabeth Kay
    Greystoke and Hesket
    Lib Dem: Roger Burgin; Green Party: Doug Lawson; UKIP: David Benson Ryland; Conservative: Tom Waites Wentworth; Labour: Ruth Ann Wood
    Kirkby Stephen
    Conservative: Phil Dew; Lib Dem: Kelvyn Justin Simon James; Green Party: Richard Kevin O’Brien; Labour: Ian Daniel Simkins
    Penrith East
    Lib Dem: Patricia Anne Bell; UKIP: Mary Elizabeth Dixon; Conservative: John Forrester; Green Party: Ali Ross; Labour: Hilary Jane Snell
    Penrith North
    Conservative: Hilary Carrick; Lib Dem: Virginia Christine Taylor
    Penrith Rural
    Lib Dem: Lorna Ann Baker; Green Party: Wade Tidbury; Independent: Michael Christopher Tonkin; Conservative: David Whipp
    Penrith West
    Lib Dem: Judith Margaret Derbyshire; Conservative: Helen Fearon; Labour: Dave Knaggs; Independent: Lee Quinn


    Conservative: Steve Chambers;  Green: Robin Le Mare; Lib/Dem: Sue Sanderson.
    Conservative: Bill Wearing; Green: Laura Miller; Labour: Nicola Kennedy; Lib/Dem: Dave Khan;
    High Furness
    Conservative Matt Brereton; Green: Chris Loynes; Labour: Gerry Scott; Lib/Dem: David Fletcher;
    Kendall Castle
    Conservative: Harry Taylor; Green: Gwen Harrison; Labour: Jim Ring; Lib/Dem: Chris Hogg;
    Kendall Highgate
    Conservative: Emma Hine; Green: Phil Whiting; Labour: Paul Braithwaite; Lib/Dem: Geoff Cook;
    Kendall Nether
    Conservative: Pamela Flitcroft; Green: Andy Mason; Labour: Eli Aldridge; Lib/Dem: Shirley Evans;
    Kendall South
    Conservative: Andrew Lucas; Green: Meg Hill; Labour: Jackson Stubbs; Lib/Dem: Brenda Gray;
    Kendall Strickland & Fell
    Conservative: Michael Nicholson; Green: Ian Rodham; Labour: Virginia Branney; Lib/Dem: Peter Thornton;
    Kent Estuary
    Conservative: Tom Harvey;  Green: Jill Abel; Labour: Lois Sparling Lib/Dem: Ian Stewart.
    Conservative: Tim Brown; Green: Chris Rowley; Labour: Alison Gilchrist; Lib/Dem: Will Clark
    Low Furness
    Conservative Andrew Butcher; Green: Peter Howlett; Labour: Shirley-Ann Wilson; Lib/Dem: Janet Willis;
    Lower Kentdale
    Conservative: Roger Bingham; Green: Simon Blunden; Labour: Paul Casson; Lib/Dem: Gordon Higton;
    Lyth Valley
    Conservative James Bland; Green: Adam Rubinstein; Lib/Dem: Bex Cooper; UKIP: Stephen Willmott;
    Sedburgh and Kirkby Lonsdale
    Conservative: Kevin Lancaster; Green: Daphne Jackson; Labour: Nick Cross; Lib/Dem: Nick Cotton;
    Ulverston East
    Conservative: Helen Irving;  Green: Bob Gerry; Labour: John Wilson; Lib/Dem: Andrew Hudson.
    Ulverston West
    Conservative: James Airey;  Green: Judy Filmore; Labour: David Webster; Lib/Dem: Loraine Birchall.
    Upper Kent
    Conservative: Margaret Bond;  Green: Adrian Porter; Labour: Andy Windsor Lib/Dem: Stan Collins.
    Upper Kent
    Conservative: Ben Berry;  Green: Kate Threadgold; Labour: Penny Henderson; Lib/Dem: Steve Rooke.