Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Music Spot: Insanae et vanae curae (Haydn)

Rentoul on Brexit

John Rentoul, political correspondent of the Independent, had an interesting piece today entitles

"It would be an act of historic irresponsibility for Labour MPs to force Britain out of the EU without a deal." 

He argues - convincingly in my opinion - that the chance of getting a significantly different deal from the EU is extremely unlikely, that there is unlikely to be another snap general election (which under the Fixed Term Parliament Act is quite hard to call) and that there almost certainly is not a majority for a second referendum at the moment in the House of Commons.

There isn't a majority for a "No Deal" Brexit either but there does not have to be because of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Because it is in effect that's what happens in March 2019 if parliament does not pass anything else.

So, as Rentoul writes,

"But if there is no renegotiation, no second referendum and no general election, then the choice will come down to May’s deal or leaving without a deal. 

This is a big moment in British history. 

My view is that it would be irresponsible for Labour MPs – and SNP and Lib Dem MPs – to vote for a no-deal Brexit. If they are rational, they should vote for the deal. 

But I am not confident that rationality will prevail." 

You can read the full article here.

Rentoul's logic does of course depend on his explicit assumption that the consensus among MP's who voted Remain but have up to now accepted that the referendum imposes on them the democratic option to vote for Brexit continues in the event that they do vote for what they see as a form of Brexit they can live with and the ultra-Remainers and hard Brexiteers join together to vote it down.

If the deal fails through such an unholy alliance of supporters of a hard Brexit and those of no Brexit, neither can be certain which way those who want a soft Brexit - almost certainly the largest group in the House of Commons but not a majority - will jump.

But you can be certain that if the deal is voted down, some of those who vote against it will be directly responsible for causing what they regard as a terrible outcome. Either hardline Brexit supporters will have helped to stop Brexit, or hardline Remainers will have caused a hard Brexit.

Quote of the day 18th November 2018

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Outside the Westminster bubble

While the political class is completely consumed by the Brexit drama, my impression from surveying residents this morning in Beckermet is that if the people we met today are representative of those citizens of the country who are not political activists - they're not.

We were out with the local CBC councillor Yvonne Clarkson, MP Trudy Harrison, and a good team from Copeland Conservatives on what we call "Pothole Patrol," asking local residents if there are any local issues they want us to address from potholes which need filling in to school place provision.

Reception on the doorstep was very friendly indeed and we had a number of survey forms returned. Very few people mentioned Brexit. Quite a few took up Moorside with us and Trudy Harrison MP was very happy to explain the work which is being done to ensure that the withdrawal of Toshiba does not kill the project.

We will be in a position to address rather more road and pothole issues thanks to the £12 million of extra money coming to Cumbria as a result of the budget for this purpose and I will elaborate further on that point in a post tomorrow.

Richard Baker RIP

One of the television icons of my childhood and early adult hood died in hospital this morning at the age of 93.

Lieutenant-Commander (RNR) Richard Baker OBE, RD, served at sea during World War II including escort duty in a minesweeper during the Arctic Convoys taking supplies to Russia. This was one of the most unpleasant and dangerous theatres of war in which British forces were involved, and in 2015 Baker received the Ushakov Medal from the Russian government in recognition of this service.

Sadly there are not too many instances of British citizens being decorated by the Russian government with the full support and agreement of our own, but this was one of them and I think it is positive that the fact that our countries fought together against the evil of Nazism and the sacrifices made on both sides are not entirely forgotten.

Baker remained a member of the Royal Naval Reserve after the war, including his time at the BBC and I recall one incident in which he managed to combine his BBC and navy reserve roles - the navy was taking part in an important event which was going to be broadcast, and I remember him doing the broadcast from the superstructure of an RN ship - IIRC it might have been the helicopter cruiser HMS Tiger - in his naval officer's uniform, explaining that he had been able arrange the his "RNR time" at the same time as the event which was being broadcast so he could do both at once.

Baker certainly did serve on HMS Tiger while doing his "RNR Time" and at the risk of triggering one of the people who sometimes posts comments on this blog, during those periods of service he personally claimed one of the Islands of the Chagos Archipelago for the British Crown.

HMS Tiger was the flagship of a Royal Navy squadron which had been sent to show the flag in the Far East, and on the way home the squadron stopped at the Diego Garcia naval base on 30th October 1973. Richard Baker was doing his RNR time, and took the opportunity to take one of Tiger's Sea King helicopters on a trip to Danger Island, which is the westernmost and the southernmost island of the Great Chagos Bank, which is the world's largest coral atoll structure, and claim it for the Crown.  (Danger Island was not then, and as far as we know never has been inhabited, certainly there was no permanent settlement there during the period from the 18th to the mid 20th centuries when some of the islands if the Chagos Archipelago were.) 

When the war ended Richard Baker resumed his interrupted studies at the University of Cambridge and after graduating, worked briefly as an actor and as a teacher before joining the BBC, initially presenting classical music on the BBC Third Programme.
He introduced the first BBC television news broadcast on 5 July 1954, although John Snagge read the actual bulletin. He was also closely associated with classical music, and presented many music programmes on both television and radio, including, for many years, the live broadcast from the Last Night of the Proms. He was a regular panellist on the classical music quiz Face the Music
Baker made cameo appearances in three episodes (30, 33 and 39) of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and, of course, was one of the BBC newsreaders who took part in the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas show. He also featured in a wide range of other TV and Radio performances, particularly children's programmes and classical music broadcasts.

He died this morning at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. In response to his death, fellow BBC journalist John Simpson tweeted: "Richard Baker, who has just died, was one of the finest newsreaders of modern times: highly intelligent, thoughtful, gentle, yet tough in defence of his principles."

Rest in Peace.

Music to relax after campaigning: Simon & Garfunkel, "The Sound of Silence"


My heart dropped when I arrived back from an excellent "pothole patrol" survey session in Beckermet today with Trudy Harrison MP and the local CBC councillor, Yvonne Clarkson, (of which more anon,) because there was a letter waiting addressed to me as Honorary Alderman Chris Whiteside.

I am entitled to that form of address but the only people who use it are from St Albans, generally communications from the Council, which usually means invitations to Mayoral events there (and those mostly take place in Spring and Summer) or letters advising me that another former friend or colleague from that part of the world has died.

After the last few months I don't think I can be blamed for being afraid that it would indeed be that kind of bad news. But I'd forgotten the third category of letters from St Albans.

It was only an invitation to the civic Christmas pantomime.


Quote of the day Saturday 17th November 2018

(On the PM's proposed deal)

"The downside to Chequers Plus is that no-one likes it; the upside is that it probably remains less intolerable to more players than any other likely possibility."

(On the idea of another referendum)

"This is the most popular of a whole herd of unicorns."

(David Herdson, extracts from a very astute article in "Political Betting" which you can read in its' entirety here.)

Friday, November 16, 2018


There are four possible outcomes to the febrile arguments taking place in Westminster about Brexit, none of which is anywhere near to commanding majority support either amongst MPs or, if the polls are anything to go by, in the country.

1) Signing up to the Prime Minister's draft deal with the EU
2) Leaving the EU with no deal
3) Calling another referendum
4) Abandoning Brexit without a referendum.

The EU, who are as exhausted with the whole business as Britain is, have indicated that they are not interested in renegotiating the deal, and I think we have to recognise the probability that this really is their position and not just  a negotiating ploy. So I don't think "try to renegotiate a better deal" is an option open to the UK parliament.

Even if the EU were willing, despite what they currently say, to renegotiate the deal, there cannot possibly be there to negotiate and implement a completely new deal before Britain leaves the EU on the existing article 50 timetable at the end of March. That particularly applies to those who want to change Prime Minister and then renegotiate, because either the General Election which Labour say they want or the Conservative leadership election which the ERG are calling for would take weeks.

So we would have to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 deadline. Under the rules any one of the 27 other member states could veto that and I strongly suspect somebody would do so. I just  cannot see renegotiation working.

Which brings us back to the four options above.

On the face of it the parliamentary arithmetic looks very bad for the Prime Minister's deal. But the difficulty is that nobody knows what happens if her deal is voted down.

If the May deal cannot get through parliament, and nothing else gets through either, then Britain automatically leaves the EU without a deal at the end of March.

I dare say most of the European Reform Group would be happy with that outcome, but those MPs who want this result are not in the majority even among those Conservative parliamentarians who voted for Brexit, let alone in the House of Commons as a whole. In fact I doubt if they number ten percent of MPs.

Is it possible that the other 90% of MPs could force another referendum or cancel Brexit altogether if the alternative was crashing out with no deal? I don't know but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm against it.

I think another referendum would be horrendously divisive, even more than the last one, generate even more anger, and might well not produce a different result. The Leave side would be in full "The establishment and the EU are trying to cheat the voters" mode, the Remain side determined to prove they were right the first time, the whole thing a massive grudge match. In my humble opinion it would be a very bad idea, and I get the impression that the majority of MPs think so too.

Cancelling Brexit with no referendum, especially without cover from a general election mandate, would also be extremely divisive and poison British politics for decades.

But if the May deal were voted down, and the alternative to another referendum was leaving with no deal some of those MPs who would otherwise have been prepared to vote for Brexit, but not for a "no deal" Brexit,  might ending up voting for another referendum as the least worst option.

(For the avoidance of doubt, I would not support that course of action. But others might.)

Hence Tim Montgomerie, who is a staunch Brexit supporter, has backed the deal, arguing here that in his view,

"While inadequate, the Withdrawal Agreement does put us on a road to controlling our borders as well as our agricultural and fishing policies. Once the elongated transition period is over the Treasury will have billions of extra pounds to spend on the NHS and other national priorities. Britain will have escaped the conveyor belt to “ever closer union” that defines the EU project."

It is also within the bounds of possibility that some MPs on the Remain/soft Brexit side of the scales who don't like the May deal but don't think they can stop Brexit, and regard leaving with no deal as the worst possible outcome, could end up holding their noses and voting for the deal to avoid that outcome. 

I don't think anyone can be certain which way this impasse is going to break.

Bill Southward RIP

Alderman William Southward, a former Mayor of Copeland, died aged 79 in hospital on Wednesday.

Bill Southward represented Cleator Moor North on CBC from 1991 to 2015, and was made an Alderman of the Borough in 2016.

He was Mayor in 2004/05 and also held a seat on Cleator Moor Town Council for almost 25 years.

Mr Southward was married to Sylvia for 56 years; they had three children, 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. The Southward family paid tribute to their husband and father. “He was a much-loved family man, and was very popular among his wide circle of friends,” they said. “He was union man at Sellafield, a member of the Freemasons, and used to help organise the pensioners’ Christmas parties in Cleator Moor Civic Hall; he just loved being part of the community. 

“He also loved being a councillor; he was proud to represent Cleator Moor and was passionate about helping people. 

“When he was Mayor in 2004, he felt this was the biggest honour that could be bestowed on him. He enjoyed visiting all the different places and meeting lots of people in his mayoral year. He kept a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings; it was a fantastic year.”

Pat Graham, Chief Executive of Copeland Borough Council, said: “I am saddened to hear the news that Bill has died. He was a long-serving and valued member of the council, playing key roles in Planning and Scrutiny, and he was extremely well-respected and liked across the council.”

Bill was a friendly, open and outgoing man who worked very hard for his community, I liked and respected him. He will be missed.

Rest in Peace

Over 222,000 new homes built in 2017-18

New figures show that over 222,000 new homes were built in the UK last year, making good progress towards our aim to deliver 300,000 homes a year and make the housing market work for everyone. 


Key facts:


·      This represents the highest level of new homes delivered across England in all but one of the last 31 years and brings the total number of additional homes delivered since 2010 to 1.3 million.


·      The figures demonstrate that more desperately needed homes are being delivered, and that we are on track to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.


·      This year’s increase follows significant government reforms, including more streamlined planning rules and more investment into the Affordable Homes Programme.


Why this matters: We are committed to making the housing market work for everyone, and helping people to achieve the dream of home ownership. That’s why we are investing £44 billion, rewriting planning rules and helping first-time buyers get on the ladder with schemes like Help to Buy.


Quote of the day Friday 16th November 2018

(Jeremy Warner finds parallels between the rigid, almost theological positions being adopted on Brexit and the civil war, in an article in the Daily Telegraph about the chasm which is opening up between hard remainers, hard leavers, and pragmatists. If you are registered and either pay or have not run out of free articles this week you can read it here. Hat Tip to Tom Harris for flagging it to my attention.)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Action on Anti-Semitism

I am pleased to report that Cumbria County Council unanimously passed today the motion I proposed adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Association's working definition of Anti-Semitism.

You can read what the definition says on the IHRA page here.

A long day today

Just to make clear, what I am about to write is in no sense a complaint, but something that comes with the territory of being a county councillor.

I know when I stood for election how long it takes to get from Whitehaven or St Bees to Kendal, how often the county council meets, that some of the meetings go on all day, and that if I was elected, doing the job would entail days like today.

I left home at 7.40 am arriving at County Hall at about 9.15 for a pre-meeting.

The council meeting itself started at 10 am and continued until 4pm with a 45 minute break for lunch. I arrived home at about 6.15 pm.

The council meeting covered a number of important issues including debates on local government reform, Anti-Semitism and Moorside, a review of the council's constitution, a question time session at which the Whitehaven Relief Road and numerous other local issues were raised, and reports on treasury management and the future of scrutiny.

Under public participation we heard from two representatives of Flouride-free Cumbria.

We also stood in silence for a minute to remember Ian Stewart and Duncan Fairbairn, to long-serving councillors who have died.

The Prime Minister was not the only person who had a long day today.

Parts of the meeting I found uplifting and constructive. Parts were not.

The meeting began with a roll-call (must confess I don's understand why they can't just pass a signing-in sheet round like many other councils) but the great majority of Cumbria's 82 county councillors of all the different persuasions were there (there are normally 84 but the by-elections to replace Ian Stewart and Duncan Fairbairn have not been held yet) and most of us were there at the start and stayed to the end.

I repeat that I am not complaining or suggesting that any of us deserve special praise for simply doing the job. Just describing today.

Individual posts will follow on several of these issues.

What else is happening today?

Well, for one thing, I will be proposing that Cumbria County Council adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of Anti-Semitism, in full and with all the examples.

Quote of the day 15th November 2018

The Poppy

"Petals stained a bloody red
The tears that many mothers shed
A poisoned stud so small and black
Our loved ones never welcomed back
We are forever in their debt
A field of souls lest we forget."

(Marat Bilalov. This was a winner in the 9-11 age group in this year's "Never such innocence" poetry competition for schoolchildren. Quoted in the current Spectator diary by Tim Laurence.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Prime Minister Theresa May's statement on Brexit

Following the Cabinet meeting this evening, the Prime Minister said:
"The Cabinet has just had a long, detailed and impassioned debate on the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration on our future relationship with the European Union.

These documents were the result of thousands of hours of hard negotiation by UK officials, and many, many meetings, which I and other ministers held with our EU counterparts.

I firmly believe that the draft withdrawal agreement was the best that could be negotiated, and it was for the Cabinet to decide whether to move on in the talks.

The choices before us were difficult, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop.

But the collective decision of Cabinet was that the Government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration – this is a decisive step which enables us to move on and finalise the deal in the days ahead.

These decisions were not taken lightly – but I believe it is a decision that is firmly in the national interest.

When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear. This deal which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement; protects jobs, security and our union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all.

I know that there will be difficult days ahead. This is a decision which will come under intense scrutiny and that is entirely as it should be and entirely understandable.

But the choice was this deal, which enables us to take back control and to build a brighter future for our country, or going back to square one with more division, more uncertainty and a failure to deliver on the referendum.

It is my job as Prime Minister to explain the decisions that the Government has taken and I stand ready to do that beginning tomorrow with a statement in Parliament.

If I may end by just saying this. I believe that what I owe to this country is to take decisions that are in the national interest and I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision which is in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom.
Theresa May
Prime Minister"

Midweek music spot: Bach's- Triple concerto in A minor

Good news on real wages as employment remains high

New figures show that real wages are rising at their fastest pace in nearly ten years and the number of people in work remains historically very high as our economy continues to grow.

The Conservatives are helping people into work by reforming welfare, backing businesses and delivering our modern Industrial Strategy to help create more, better paying jobs across the whole country.

Since 2010 we have helped over 3.3 million more people into work and reduced the number of people who are unemployed by over 1.1 million – meaning more people have the security of a job and are able to provide for their families.

The Conservatives will build a stronger, fairer economy, creating jobs and opportunities to help people get on in life, and a better future for themselves and their families.

Key statistics:
  • Employment: 32.41 million (up 350,000 over the last year and up by 3.36 million since 2010). 
  • Employment rate: 75.5 per cent (up 0.5 points over the past year and up 5.3 points since 2010). 
  • Unemployment: 1.38 million (down 43,000 over the past year and 1.13 million since 2010). 
  • Unemployment rate: 4.1 per cent (down 0.2 points over the past year and 3.9 points since 2010) 
  • The unemployment rate has lmost halved since 2010 when it was 8.0 per cent. 
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees in real terms increased by 0.9 per cent compared with a year earlier. 
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 463,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – almost halving since 2010. 
  • Almost 1 million disabled people (973,000) have entered work since 2013. 

Other useful statistics
  • Latest data shows that wages increased by 3.2 per cent and continue to rise faster than prices – this is good news, but there is more to do. 
  • Youth unemployment has fallen by 49.3 per cent since 2010. 
  • The number of vacancies is at a record high of 845,000 – up by 379,000 since 2010. 
  • 973,000 disabled people have entered work since Q3 2013, the earliest comparable figure. 
  • The employment rate among ethnic minority groups is now at a record high of 66.9 per cent – we are closer to our target to increase the level of BME employment by 20 per cent by 2020. 
  • 81 per cent of jobs created since 2010 are full-time jobs. 
  • There are nearly 1.6 million more women in work since 2010. 

At the Budget the OBR confirmed Britain’s ‘jobs miracle’ is set to continue: 
  • Employment is expected to be higher than forecast, with 800,000 more jobs forecast to be created by 2023. 
  • This means that since 2010, there will have been 4.2 million new jobs created by British businesses

Key items on tomorrow's county council agenda

Public Participation

Mr Paul Carr -  Chairman of Fluoride Free Cumbria

Will make a statement under the Public Participation Scheme about the fluoridation of West Cumbria.

The minutes of the meetings of the Cabinet held on 27 September and 18 October 2018 are enclosed (copies attached). 

To consider a report by the Chair of the Scrutiny Management Board 
To consider a report from the Leader of the Council (copy enclosed)

To consider a report by the Chair of the Constitution Review Group

To consider a report from the Leader of the Council 

To consider questions from Members of the Council

Minutes of Committees
To receive reports from Committees of the Council

To consider a report from the Chair of the Corporate Parenting Board

Motions - these will include a motion to adopt the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism (from me) and I have it on excellent authority that there is also likely to be a discussion about Moorside.

Quote of the day 14th November 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

EU negotiations near the endgame

In a speech last night, the Prime Minister said the negotiations for our departure from the European Union are in the endgame.

A cabinet minister recently said in my hearing that he always expected that there would be a deal between Britain and the EU which would be agreed at 4am on the last day of the last possible summit. That's the way the EU works. The present noises from Brussels - and they are playing the UK press like a Stradivarius - are designed to put as much pressure as possible on the UK government without making a deal impossible.

So are a lot of the noises from various parts of the House of Commons.


Key facts:


·         The government is working extremely hard to make progress on the remaining issues in the Withdrawal Agreement.


·         Overwhelmingly, the British people want us to get on with delivering what they voted for in the referendum, which we will not compromise on. This will not be an agreement at any cost.


·         Any deal must ensure we take back control of our laws, borders and money. It must secure the ability to strike new trade deals around the world and also protect jobs, security and our precious Union.


Why this matters: Only the Conservatives are getting on with negotiating a deal which delivers on the referendum result. 

A second referendum would be appallingly divisive and would take us all back to square one.

£12 million for Cumbria's roads

In the budget the chancellor announced £420 million for road repairs and potholes.

Of this money £12,004,000 is coming to Cumbria. That is not going to fix every pothole in the county - we have a backlog larger than that for the carriageway repairs and rebuilds we would like to do in Copeland alone - but if spent wisely it is enough to make a significant difference to how fast we will be able to do something about quite a few of the roads in the worst condition.

Quote of the day 14th November 2018

Monday, November 12, 2018

Getting better tchnology for the NHS

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been in Paris today meeting world leaders and businesses to discuss ways to fast-track new healthcare technologies for use in our NHS.

He has been at the GovTech summit alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and other EU ministers.

The summit was called to look at how emerging technologies can be used to revolutionise healthcare. Matt Hancock also took part in a panel at Paris City Hall entitled
“From Lab to Gov: Harnessing the power of innovation” to discuss the importance of embracing the latest advances in tech and artificial intelligence (AI) for health and social care.

Mr Hancock said:

“I’ve said I’ll scour the world to find technology to improve the NHS. “So as we build the most dynamic HealthTech ecosystem on the planet, it’s vital we work closely with our friends and neighbours. 

“Britain and France have a centuries long tradition of medical collaboration and now we want to turn that into a collaboration on cutting edge health technology.” 

Among the other delegates are representatives from the UN and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as well as a number of academics and representatives from tech companies, from giants like Facebook and Microsoft to smaller tech start ups.

Tackling threats to global stability

Today, the Prime Minister is attending the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, where she will reinforce our commitment to tackling threats to global stability so that we can defend our values, our democracies and our people.


Key facts: Giving the traditional address at the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet this evening, the Prime Minister said that the UK will continue to stand firm with our allies to tackle threats to the system that keeps us safe.


·         The British government will continue to show this country's willingness to act, as a community of nations, to stand up for the rules around the world. When the Syrian Regime used chemical weapons on its people, we took military action with France and America. And as part of a global coalition, we have continued to degrade Daesh in Syria and Iraq.


·         The reckless use of a chemical weapon on our own streets by two agents of the Russian Intelligence Services demonstrated ongoing threats but has proven our commitment to respond. Together with our allies, we coordinated the largest ever collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers, and we were able to bring charges against those responsible.


·         Britain remains open to a different relationship with Russia – one where Russia desists from these attacks that undermine international treaties and international security – and instead acts together with us to fulfil the common responsibilities we share as permanent members of the UN Security Council.


Why this matters: Britain must to deepen our global partnerships as we look to the evolving threats of the future. We have seen the impact of international unity and a collective response to these threats, and have shown that while the challenge is real, so is the collective resolve of likeminded partners to defend our values, our democracies, and our people.