Friday, September 20, 2019

Of centre extremists

Many years ago I read a joke about a political survey on the continent in which one voter described herself to the pollster as a "centre extremist," by which she meant, quote "I have moderate views but I'd shoot anyone who disagrees with them."

That is primarily not the sort of "centre extremist" which this post is about, although I note with concern that over the past few years the idea that people who you disagree with are evil or stupid enemies who it is legitimate to harass, insult and even commit low-level assault against (e.g. throwing milkshakes) rather than human beings with a different view to debate, has gained traction in parts of the political spectrum where I would never have expected to see it.

The point I want to make in this post is that, among the shakeup of the political landscape created by Brexit, a lot of people who on most issues have a reputation, usually justified, for being moderates find themselves at one extreme pole of the argument on the Brexit question.

The words "extreme" and "extremist" have pejorative associations to most people in this country which is one of the reasons a lot of people automatically resist applying them to those who we normally think of as "moderates." It would be very easy for me to write that I don't mean to apply those pejoratives in this case and am only writing in a neutral sense about those who are at one end of a spectrum of opinion.

Unfortunately it is not that simple. Because the sort of pejorative we associate with the word "extremist" includes things like refusing to an accept the result of a democratic vote. 

And if that doesn't perfectly describe the most hard-line opponents of Brexit, what does?

It's not just the Lib/Dems. A very large proportion, though not all, of the "right" of the Labour party, and a segment, though not remotely as large, of the "left" of the Conservative party, people who we have great difficulty thinking of as anything other than "moderates" and to whom on most issues it is perfectly correct to apply that term, are anything but moderate when the subject moves on to whether Britain should leave the EU.

If you want an indication of the tension, look at the people who have left the Labour party rather than support Corbyn. Some of them are voting with the government to leave the EU. Others are hardcore remainers whose defining objective at the moment is to stop Brexit.

The best example of this tension is the group who at various times have been known as Change UK, the Independent Group for Change, Tiggers, or in some cases recently, as Liberal Democrats.

There were two main drivers pushing these people out of the parties on whose tickets they had been elected as MPs.

One was exhibited by those former Labour MPs who were strongly and with complete justification opposed to, or had been the target of vile abuse from, the Anti-Semitic element in the Labour party. In this respect these people can accurately be described as moderate.

But the other driver is that, almost to a man and woman, the "TIGgers" are very strongly pro-EU. They are not in the centre on that issue, they are at one end of the spectrum.

 For want of a better term I will use the term "Centre Extremists" for people whose views on many issues are moderate but are not moderate on the subject of Brexit. Another way of saying the same thing: people who are near the centre of the right/left axis but are at one extreme end of the Remain/Leave axis.

MPs, peers and those with enough money to take the government to court who come from this part of the political spectrum have for the pat three years been using every trick in the book which the courts and Britain's unwritten constitution allow to try to frustrate what people voted for in the 2016 referendum election and 85% of MPs promised to do in their 2017 manifestos. But they went through the roof when Boris Johnson started playing the same game back. 

Actually I think playing ducks and drakes with the UK's unwritten constitution is more than a little dangerous for democracy in Britain, whichever side it comes from. However, one of the most worrying things is that the "Centre Extremists" just don't seem to see that the conduct of John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons and that of extreme Remainers in parliament is at least as dangerous as anything Boris Johnson has done, and probably more so. 

But that's part of the problem. The hardliners on both sides see the dangers in what the other side is going but not that on their own. And for those who are used to thinking of themselves as moderates - justifiably so in the past when the structure of politics was different, or on issues other than Brexit - it appears to be particularly hard to apply the same critical gaze to one's own side's actions that you apply to everyone else.

Whitehaven Harbour wins £2.45 million for Coastal Communities bid

Today the Conservative government is announcing over £10 million for coastal communities around the UK, helping to create jobs, increase economic growth and improve people’s lives as we leave the EU on 31 October, and the proposals for a Cumbria Coastal Activities Centre in Whitehaven Harbour is one of the successful bids. 

I would like to congratulate all those involved in putting together this proposal and lobbing for it to be achieved. This is really fantastic news for Whitehaven.

 

  • The government is giving our coastal towns the support they need to thrive through five transformational projects which will create good quality jobs, boost tourism, improve transport and protect much-loved coastal heritage sites.


  • This new funding will support nearly 1,000 jobs and attract up to £7.9 million in additional investment, bringing the total of our Coastal Community Fund investment up to £228 million.



The Coastal Communities Fund was introduced in 2012. This latest announcement brings the total Coastal Communities Fund investment to £228 million which is supporting 359 projects across the UK.

The government has also supported 184 “at risk” coastal heritage assets such as seafront piers, promenades, lighthouses, lidos and marinas with a further £7.5 million investment from the Coastal Revival Fund to allow them to reach their full economic potential.

The latest projects to receive funds are:

Cumbria Coastal Activities Centre - £2.45 million. The centre will create a dedicated facility for water sports and recreational activities at Whitehaven Harbour. The proposed low carbon Cumbria Coastal Activities Centre building will include an activity, arts and community centre with a multi-purpose event and educational space.

Southwold Enterprise Hub - £995,000. The enterprise hub will have space for one retail and 15 business units, including co-working areas for new and existing businesses. A Southwold Development Team will be set up with responsibility for regenerating the local economy, including business support and marketing activity.

Dover Soul - revitalising Dover’s Historic Market Square and Old Town - £2.44 million. To increase the number of visitors to the Old Town, the market square will be rejuvenated and the high street re-established as a leisure destination. Features will include improved pedestrian and public transport access, a water feature and green spaces. Year-round events will attract visitors and the wider community to the square.

Environmental Innovation Hub at Bournemouth and Poole Seafront £2.39 million. The hub, part of wider improvements of the Dorset coast, will feature eco-accommodation and leisure facilities and improved public lighting. An interactive visitor centre will include a catering kiosk, public toilets, a lifeguard control point and waste transfer station. The hub will focus on reducing, and ultimately eliminating, single-use plastics through a programme of research and public recycling initiatives.

Destination Lydney Harbour, Gloucestershire - £2.1 million. The project will create safe, attractive transport routes into the harbour and develop the area as a recreation and tourism destination. This includes improved signage, art displays and an arts-based walking trail. Existing buildings will be upgraded with new toilets, a heritage information point and a new cafĂ©. Mooring and seating points will be installed and improvements made to cycle routes, highway and station approaches and canal and harbour docks. Also planned is a community rowing boat building project.

Quote of the day 20th September 2019


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Climate change debate at county hall and the case for putttng meeting recordings online.

There is a report on the Climate Change debate at last week's meeting of the full Cumbria County Council on the In Cumbria magazine site here.

The reporter who wrote it, Ellis Butcher who uses the twitter name Cumbria Journo, produced a completely accurate report which was about as informative as it could have been given the space available.  Yet I was left thinking that it made the case for live-streaming council meetings so that people can see the detail of what has been said.

Ellis's report describes correctly what had been proposed and gives a representative sample of the points made by various people (including myself.) It certainly gives a picture of the pattern of debate across the chamber and the outcome and nothing in this blog post is meant to criticise the article.

I could not help thinking, however, that a lot of the more interesting things that were said, and some of the more useful points about what individuals can do to reduce their impact on the planet, came at the next level of detail down.

The council does not produce verbatim minutes (and probably should not do so, because it would require a significant amount of staff time resource which could usually be better spent on front line services.)

I do think it is a shame that any resident who reads Ellis's article and wants a bit more detail cannot go to the website and click on an audio or, better, video recording of the debate.

Some councils do provide such a service. I am convinced that this kind of e-Democracy is the way to move forward in the modern age, will improve engagement between councils and the people we are elected to represent, and hopefully thereby lead to us getting feedback which will help us to do our jobs better.

Defending Britain

Today the Prime Minister met with UK military leaders to explore how we can maintain our world class Armed Forces and keep people safe. 
  • The Conservative government is boosting defence spending by £2.2 billion to modernise our Armed Forces so they can meet evolving global challenges and secure our stability. 
  • Conservatives will always fund our nation’s defence properly with our ambitious plans to invest in the newest cyber, shipbuilding and the nuclear deterrent.
  • Meanwhile Labour's Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t believe in our Armed forces and wants to scrap our nuclear deterrent, threatening our safety and security - and, of course, jobs in Cumbria!

Quote of the day 19th September 2019


There have been a lot of different versions of this saying.

It is not conclusively proved that Henry Ford uttered this one, but it was attributed to him shortly after his death and is known to be consistent with his opinions. There is an assessment of the provenance of the saying at the Quote Investigator site here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tackling Domestic Violence

We are taking tough action on perpetrators of domestic violence by appointing the UK’s first ever Domestic Abuse Commissioner so we can better protect victims of domestic abuse.

 

  • Domestic abuse is unacceptable and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicola Jacobs, will support victims, reduce harm and improve the lives of those who experience it.

 

  • The Commissioner will help identify those at risk and will also be able to publish reports that encourage good practice in preventing domestic abuse.

Supporting victims of rape

The Conservative government is ensuring that victims of rape and sexual assault can access the specialist support they need so that they are properly cared for.

 

  • Our £5 million funding boost will form part of the Rape Victims’ Pledge, providing additional support for victims to make their engagement with the criminal justice system simpler and less distressing.

 

  • We are increasing the money available by 50 per cent – from £8 million to £12 million per year – for a range of services across the country, so that courageous victims who have come forward get the support they need.

Five years since Indyref

Five years ago Scotland voted on whether or not to remain part of the UK.

The people of Scotland voted to stay, and an opinion poll this week suggested that this is what a larger majority - 59% of Scots still want today.

Jamie Greene, Shadow Transport secretary for Scotland, makes a good point here:


Quote of the day 18th September 2019


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Double standards

The Lib/Dems have been accused by the SNP of double standards for proposing to overturn the results of the Brexit referendum while insisting that the Scottish Independence result should stand.

Kirsty Blackman, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster said Swinson was guilty of “utterly grotesque” hypocrisy and acting in a way that was “neither liberal nor democratic".

Of course, when the Lib/Dems and the SNP accuse each other of double standards, both are correct.

The Lib/Dems are guilty of double standards by suggesting that if they win an election this would give them a mandate to overturn the Brexit referendum while refusing to accept that argument when it comes to allowing the SNP to call another independence referendum - they have made clear that if they were in government they would reject any "article 30" request from the Scottish government for another independence referendum.

But the SNP are equally guilty of exactly the same kind of double standards and hypocrisy by supporting tactics to delay and block the result of the UK's referendum on leaving the EU which would have them screaming blue murder if such tactics were deployed against any vote by the Scottish people to leave the UK.

Just imagine if the Scottish people had voted "Yes" in 2014, or were to vote for Independence in any future referendum, and three years later Scotland were still in the UK because unionists were voting to delay, block and sabotage Scottish Independence in the same way that SNP politicians have voted to delay, block and sabotage Brexit. You'd hear the screams of outraged Scottish nationalists from as far away as Cornwall.

Personally I believe that both the vote by the Scottish people in 2014 and the vote by the British people should be respected and implemented, and I would not support any new referendum on either unless there were overwhelming evidence - far stronger than anything which exists to date - that the people of Scotland or the UK had changed their minds.

STOP PRESS - to reinforce that last point a new Survation poll has just revealed that 59% of Scots want Scotland to stay in the UK.


Protecting the public: keeping children safe online

The government has also announced a £30 million funding boost to track dangerous internet abusers so we can keep children safe.

 

  • We are investing more to equip law enforcement with pioneering new tech to track down more paedophiles and safeguard children who have been abused.


  • As we are taking further steps to combat those who use the internet to prey upon children, we’re also giving the police more resources and recruiting 20,000 more officers to keep our streets safe.

Protecting the public: making the punishment fit the crime

The Conservative government is going further to ensure that those found guilty of heinous crimes such as child sex offences will receive the sentences their actions warrant – using every tool at our disposal to make sure justice is done and the public is kept safe.

 

  • 14 new offences are being added to the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme to help ensure that the punishment of criminals properly reflects the severity of their crime, and that victims can get their voices heard.

 

  • Criminals convicted of stalking, harassment, child sexual abuse and other sex offences could see their sentences increased if victims or the public think their punishment is too lenient. 



Quote of the day 17th September 2019

The quote below is often attributed to Sir Winston Churchill. There is no conclusive proof that he ever really said it and the leading expert on Churchill quotes argues that he probably didn't. What evidence does exist is discussed by the Quote Investigator site here.

Whether or not Churchill himself actually used these words, the saying does appear to originate from about 1943, when Churchill and others were trying to inspire people who were going through a hellish war.

He certainly did say things which convey the same message of hope and determination, and it is good advice.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Boris in Brussels

Ahead of his meeting with the President of the European Commission today,  the Prime Minister said that he passionately believes we can get a great new deal for Britain, but we must leave the EU by 31 October.

 

  • The Prime Minister is seeking a deal which will protect the interests of businesses and citizens on both sides of the Channel, and on both sides of the border in Ireland.

 

  • But if we cannot get a deal – the right deal for both sides – then the UK must implement the referendum result and leave the EU anyway. While it is not the outcome we want, our preparations are by now very extensive and we will be ready to leave.

 

  • We will then be able to get on with uniting the country and unleashing its talents. We will get on with cutting crime, and investing in hospitals, and in our schools.

A daft pledge

It's Lib/Dem conference this week.

Earlier today the Liberal Democrats tweeted a promise to every teenager in the country “that we will do everything we can to ensure you receive the opportunities we had in the 1970s”

Really?

I was a teenager in the 1970's.

Opportunities to enjoy power cuts, the dead unburied, rubbish lying in the streets?

Opportunity to have your healthcare disrupted by industrial action and far worse cuts in NHS spending imposed by the International Monetary Fund thanks to the incompetence of a Labour government than anything which ever happened to the NHS under a Conservative government?

My father was one of those affected - he was phoned on the day he was due to go into Guys hospital for a heart operation that doctors thought was medically urgent, and informed that his operation had been cancelled because show stewards representing porters and cleaners had decided that they knew better than the doctors what an emergency was.

Or perhaps they meant opportunities for learning? They want to offer the educational opportunities which were available to teenagers at a time when there was a two tier system of higher education, in which only about 6% of my age cohort went to the top tier (universities) and fewer than ten percent had the opportunity for any higher education? (It's currently about 50%)

Back to the sixties is not a positive message and whoever wrote that tweet showed a lack of knowledge of history.

It appears to have been a misquote from a speech by Christine Jardine MP at the conference, except that when you listen to the clip she actually says "that you have the opportunities that we've enjoyed since the 1970's."

A much less daft pledge, but if you think about it, a very unambitious one. "We're not going to take away any opportunities which have been in place for the last forty years" is not much of a target.

Quote of the day 16th September 2019


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Maryport and Barrow among the towns to benefit from £95 million for high streets

Maryport and Barrow-in-Furness are among the towns which will benefit from £95 million of taxpayers' money which the Conservative government is allocating to breathe new life into historic buildings on our high streets, keeping these vital places at the heart of our communities.
  • The £95 million funding will be used to revitalise 69 historic high streets across England – the biggest ever single investment into the UK’s built heritage.
  • A map showing the location of all the high streets benefitting from the High Streets heritage Action Fund can be found here: it includes two Cumbrian towns, Maryport and Barrow-in-Furness.
  • We will breathe new life into high streets all over England, benefiting businesses, supporting our much-loved buildings and helping to make our communities more attractive places to live, work and visit.

Music spot for Battle of Britain day: Royal Air Force March

Quote for Battle of Britain day, 15th September 2019

Today is Battle of Britain day: it is the 79th anniversary of a major Lufwaffe offensive which was beaten back with heavy casualties.

We have the freedom to express our views today because of the sacrifice of a few hundred pilots, of whom some British, some were free Poles and others from countries in Europe who still bravely fought on although their homes were under the Nazi jackboot, some were volunteers from all over the world.

We must never forget what they did for us 79 years ago.



Saturday, September 14, 2019

Saturday music spot "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from Handel's "Solomon"

"Brexit Disaster capitalism" claims debunked

Most people who have been paying any attention to who takes what positions on Brexit are aware that the great majority of large businesses, most very rich people, and most of the City of London were firmly in the Remain corner in 2016.

(That is not necessarily quite as true today, in that plenty of them accept the referendum result. Indeed, many rich people and businesses are now as fed up as much of the rest of Britain with interminable delays and postponements to Brexit and the harm done to business by uncertainty and delay and now, as I quoted from a "City AM" article yesterday, want to get on with it.

But it was true at the time.)

When Jeremy Corbyn and the left suggested that Boris Johnson was promoting Brexit to help "his rich friends" the vast majority of well-informed people thought "What planet are you on?"

For those, however, who are desperate to believe this narrative, a study by a niche online website called "Byline" came as manna from heaven. An article in the "Byline Times" which suggested that there was a major increase in the number of “short” positions taken by UK hedge funds when Boris Johnson ran for Conservative leader was shared tens of thousands of times on social media.

The basic idea is that hedge funds who were also donors to Vote Leave and Boris Johnson's leadership campaign would also profit by a "No Deal" Brexit by investing £8 billion in a bet on a it happening and causing a drop in share prices.

There is one slight problem with their analysis: if you look at the data correctly including both "short" positions which were still active at the time they did the analysis and those which were not, then it appears to Full Fact and a number of other people who have checked it that the supposed "spike" in short positions never happened.

The Byline claim is debunked at the Full Fact website here and in City AM here.

Quote of the day 14th September 2019

"There are two common views among people who wanted to stay in the EU that I think are mistaken.

One is that David Cameron made a foolish and unforgivable mistake in promising the referendum. 

The other is that the result was obtained by a campaign of lies."

"My contentions are that Cameron was forced to promise a referendum by the very democratic pressure that produced the vote to Leave, and that the referendum was about as fair as the rough and tumble of democracy usually is."

"One of the surprising things about the referendum was that we didn’t hear that much about Eurosceptic press barons dominating the debate. This may be because they didn’t. The media landscape in Britain has been utterly transformed by the internet – as I know well, working for the first national newspaper to go online-only."

"If you look at the readership of British newspapers, print and online, not only does The Independent have more readers than The Sun – not many people know that – but the total readerships of newspapers advocating Leave and Remain were about the same."

"All the same, there were claims made in the campaign that were – I prefer not to call them lies – not absolutely evidence-based. The most prominent was the claim by the Leave campaign that the UK sends £350m a week to the EU. We don’t. It’s about half that. The Leave people justified it by saying it would be £350m if we didn’t have the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1985. Their argument is that politicians will be tempted to negotiate the rebate away in future – Tony Blair, for example, allowed it to be diluted when new countries joined the EU in 2004."

"Most journalists reported that it wasn’t true. The trouble is that saying, “It’s not £350m a week it’s £180m a week,” didn’t really help the Remainers. It drove them mad because the Leavers kept on using the £350m, and the Remainers kept saying it wasn’t true, drawing attention to it, and reminding voters that we send a sum of money too big to be understood to the EU every week. Besides, the Remain campaign was putting out leaflets claiming that for every pound we put into the EU we got £10 back. I wouldn’t describe that as absolutely evidence-based either."

"I was a Remainer myself, although a reluctant Remainer (like the Prime Minister), but I don’t accept

 (a) that it was foolish or mistaken to have the referendum, or
 (b) that it was won by lies.

I think the decision to hold a referendum was right, unavoidable and democratic. And I think that the campaign may have been simple-minded and unedifying – although I don’t think it was as dishonest as Donald Trump's presidential campaign – but that is what democracy is like."

(John Rentoul, extracts from an edited version of a talk given at a conference on “Referendums and Democratic Politics” available online on the Independent site here)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Second quote of the day: time to get on with it

Big business and the City of London were, despite the "disaster capitalism" conspiracy theories about rich speculators backing Brexit which some people who don't understand the first thing about the market economy are sharing, (I will respond to those tomorrow,) overwhelmingly pro Remain.

So it is interesting that this appeared in City AM as the opening of one of their opinion pieces today.

"It's time to get on with it.

Every single city figure I speak to about Brexit has just one wish: get it done. That isn't a perspective confined to the square mile either.

A former Credit Suisse Banker who now chairs a company in the North East told me that he asked directors at a recent board meeting how many of them backed Remain. And how many now want to leave, he asked? All hands remained in the air."

You can read the relevant article in full here.

Delivering for the North

The Prime Minister today reaffirmed the Conservative commitment to deliver for the North – unlocking the potential of every region and giving people more of a say over the places where they live.

 

·      On entering Downing Street, the Prime Minister made it his priority to unlock the potential of every corner of the UK. In a speech in South Yorkshire today, he will reiterate our commitment to driving forward the region’s growth and our commitment to delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail, starting with Manchester to Leeds.

 

·      It is time that we gave more people a say over the places where they live and help them to run things their way.

Quote of the day 13th September 2019


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Orders placed with British yards for type 31 frigates

The Prime Minister has announced that new warships for the Royal Navy will be built in the UK, securing thousands of jobs for people at British shipyards and ensuring the United Kingdom is a global, outward looking nation as we leave the EU.

New Type 31 frigates to be used by the Royal Navy will be built exclusively in the UK, with the first ‘in the water’ by 2023, reinvigorating our Royal Navy fleet and supporting over 2,500 jobs.

We will ensure we have a sustainable skills base for UK shipbuilding so our world-class shipyards are able to compete fairly for all UK Government contracts and around the world.

As a Cumbria county councillor, I realise there may be some disappointment in the county that the bid went to Babcock rather than the rival BAE systems consortium. However I see on the BBC website that although much of the work will obviously go to Rosyth, some of the it may be shared around the UK by the winning consortium, possibly including participants in the rival UK bids. So there may yet be opportunities for Cumbria.

Egremont, Flimby and Kendal to beneft from government flood protection initiative.

Great news: Cumbria and Lancashire to received some of the largest amounts of funding from a government flood protection initiative with £22.8m now available to support anti-flood projects in Kendal, Egremont, Flimby and Preston and South Ribble.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers announced the new round of flood defence investment on Tuesday for communities across Yorkshire, Cumbria, the North East and the South East of England. She said:

“I am delighted to announce over £60m of additional funding to better protect communities which are vulnerable to flooding, particularly across parts of northern England. Events this summer have shown that investing in flood risk management is more important than ever, and this funding builds on our long-standing £2.6 billion commitment to better protect 300,000 homes from flooding and coastal erosion over six years.” 

More details on the News and Star website here.

Quote of the day 12th September 2019

“They want us to negotiate a ‘credible’ deal and then they will campaign against it in a referendum? 

That is mad. 

How can we negotiate with people like that?”


(EU source quoted in The Times, referring to Labour Brexit policy.)

The same report said that EU officials were reportedly "tearing their hair out" and "horrified" over Labour's "magical thinking" and the possibility of having to negotiate with any Labour government putting forward the policy described by Emily Thornberry on BBC Question Time last week here:


I've not agreed with everything the EU have said over the last few years about the UK's negotiating positions but I think they have a point this time.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Midweek music spot: Papageno & Papagena duet from Mozart's Magic Flute

With English and German (and sometimes French) subtitles:

Ben Kelly on British and Scottish nationalists

One of the most extraordinary ironies of current British politics is that there are in these islands two strong forms of nationalism which make practically identical arguments for the geographical unit on whose behalf they seek independence but each of whom, in the great majority of cases, vehemently reject the same arguments when applied to a different geography within the British isles.

The arguments in favour of Britain leaving the European Union are, in my humble opinion, virtually identical to those for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom except that, also in my humble opinion, the evidence for the former is a little stronger.

Similarly the arguments against Britain leaving the EU are extremely similar to those for Scotland remaining part of the Union except that in my opinion the evidence for the latter case is stronger.

I can understand people in Scotland who voted "No" and "Remain" (which as these two positions won in Scotland is probably the largest group of Scots.)

I can understand those who voted "Yes" and "Leave" and this equally logical position is actually held by a larger proportion of Scots than the SNP leadership currently want people to believe. I suspect that the SNP leadership's pro-EU stance is entirely tactical: most of them don't actually give a damn about Brexit, but it makes a really good stick to beat the unionists with.

If Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues really thought through, took seriously and consistently applied the arguments they use against Brexit it is very difficult to see how they could be such enthusiastic supporters of Scottish independence.

I can certainly understand those who believe in democracy and consider that the results of both the EU referendum and the first Scottish Independence referendum should be respected.

I can also see how it might be possible for a person who thought there were decent arguments both for and against Brexit and also for and against Scottish Independence might arrive at the position that there was a narrow balance of argument in favour of one but against the other.

What I cannot for the life of me understand is how so many apparently sane people could adopt as an article of faith either the conviction that anything other than total independence from Brussels is slavery but London having a substantial element of control over the affairs of Scotland is fine, or vice versa, that anything other than total independence from London is slavery but Brussels having a substantial element of control over the affairs of Scotland is fine,

The extreme example of this extraordinary piece of cognitive dissonance is those who suggest for one single millisecond that the difficulties which the UK are having with Brexit is an argument for Scottish independence from Britain.

Anyone who suggests that is quite literally arguing, in effect,

"Breaking up a 43-year old union which takes 18% of Scottish exports is going really badly, so instead let's break up a 300-year old and much deeper union which takes 60%."

(In terms of inter-country trade by Scotland. exports to the rest of the UK account for 60% of overall Scottish exports, exports to EU countries other than the UK account for 18% and non-EU exports 22%. Source: a Scottish government website. In other words, effectively the SNP's own figures.) 


It's a bit like saying "Sawing off my own left arm is proving really painful, so I'm going to saw off my right arm and both legs instead."

Let's take an example. Suppose Scotland gets independence and applies successfully to join the EU. The rest of the UK then signs a trade deal with Trump's America which the EU doesn't like.

We would then find that most of the very same arguments about the border on the island of Ireland which have caused so much difficulty in the Brexit negotiations, would then equally apply to the border between England and Scotland.

This is one of a number of reasons why it is very probable that at least one EU member state - Spain is the most likely - would veto any application by an independent Scotland to join the EU. But  a Scottish state which was independent of both the UK and the EU would still face the same border issues if it tried to follow an independent trade policy.

There is an interesting opinion piece which Ben Kelly wrote on "The Article" site in mid August,

"Hardline Scot Nats and obsessive Brexiteers are peas in a pod,"

which looks at some of the parallels between these two groups and which you can read here.

Opportunities for Global Talent

The Prime Minister is announcing a new immigration route for talented international students, so that we can attract the brightest and best global talent, opening up opportunities for future breakthroughs in science, technology and research helping us save more lives.

  • International graduates from a trusted UK university or higher education provider will be able to stay in the UK for two years to find work, building on our action to recruit and retain the brightest global talent. 
  • This will open up opportunities for breakthroughs in science, technology and research and other world-leading work that international talent brings to the UK. 
  • We are also launching the world’s largest genetics research project – backed by £200 million funding so we can continue to be world leaders in breakthroughs that help us better treat life-threatening illnesses and save lives.

Quote of the day 11th September 2019

This is a quote from Margaret Thatcher to which I referred at the debate on Climate Change at Cumbria County Council earlier today:



The council passed a motion recognising the seriousness of Climate Change and the need for the country and the county to work towards going carbon neutral.

There was a slight irony in that I quoted the words above, referring only indirectly to who had first said them rather than naming Mrs Thatcher, and was heard in respectful silence.

My colleague Dr Stephen Haraldsen, speaking a few minutes later. also referred to the important speech Mrs Thatcher made thirty years ago about the environment, and did refer to her by name, and was heckled by some Labour councillors.

As he rightly said, Mrs Thatcher was the first major world leader to see the importance of the environment, as Mrs May was the first major world leader to propose that her country commit to going carbon neutral by 2050.

This is not going to be simple and straightforward, and some of the things we have to do will be costly - though there are things we can do, like going over to LED lightbulbs, which will save us money as well as helping save the planet. But if our great-grandchildren are to have a future we need to make sure we tread gently on the earth.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Ivan Lewis's speech on Brexit and the election debate 9th September 2019

I don't often agree with, or share here, speeches by MPs elected on a Labour ticket.

But I'll make an exception because two of the most powerful speeches made in the House of Commons over the last few days came from Ian Austin MP and Ivan Lewis MP, both of whom were elected as Labour MPs but have left the party over the policies of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, policies which have been disastrous for that party and would be disastrous for the country should he ever become Prime Minister.

This is the speech which Ivan Lewis made last night explaining why he was going to vote for a general election and believes that the result of the referendum should be honoured.

World Suicide Prevention day

We observe World Suicide Prevention Day each year on September 10. It’s a growing problem and the numbers tell a shocking story. Every 40 seconds someone takes their own life according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s about 800,000 people worldwide every year — although some estimates put that number closer to 1 million. 
Around the world suicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 29 and for every suicide that results in death, there are as many as 40 attempted suicides. 
In Britain suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 49.


The figures are shocking here in Cumbria too.
Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy for the individual concerned. It's also a tragedy for those who knew and loved that individual.
This isn't just a problem for high risk groups: there are some categories of people who are particularly at risk of suicide but some preventable suicides happen because those who might have been able to persuade the individual to seek help never imagined it could happen to them.
Yet whoever and wherever you are and whatever challenges you are dealing with, there’s a lot to live for.  Check out more information at National Suicide Prevention Month.

Good news on growth and wages

While it is wise not to place too much reliance on a single month's figures, the numbers for economic growth in the year to July which were published yesterday were encouraging.

The UK's economy grew faster than expected in July, easing fears that Britain could fall into recession. The economy grew 0.3% in July, according to the Office for National Statistics, the UK's official statistics body said, helped by the strong growth in the services sector.

Today we have figures for employment and growth which show

• Wages growing at their fastest pace since 2008
• Unemployment rate at lowest since 1974
• Employment rate at a joint record high

Earnings excluding bonuses grew at an annual pace of 3.8% in the May to July period, down slightly from the previous reading. Including bonuses, wages rose at an annual pace of 4% - the highest rate since mid-2008. The unemployment rate dipped to 3.8%, while the estimated employment rate remained at a record 76.1%.

Average wages have now been growing faster than inflation for a year, suggesting that for many people their pay packets are finally recovering from the effects of the recession which started in 2008.


MPs block an election again

For a second time the very MPs who have been accusing the government of shutting down democracy were the ones who prevented the House of Commons calling an election. Again most of them did so by abstaining rather than actively voting against an election but under the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) an abstention and a vote against are functionally identical.



Parliament has now been "prorogued" for five weeks and will return in mid-October after party conference season. If the MPs who protested about this really thought that the PM is a "dictator" or that this shutdown was comparable to the Reichstag Fire decrees (which gave Hitler the power to arrest opponents without trial, shut down political parties or newspapers, and take over local governments) they could and presumably would have called an election.

The best explanation I've seen for the outburst of hysteria was given in a piece published by Owen Polley on "The Article" website on 29th August - less than a fortnight ago but how long it seems -

"For Britain's sake, Brexit ultras on both sides need to calm down."

He suggests that opponents of a hard Brexit had been afraid that Boris Johnson might try to force a "no deal" Brexit by proroguing parliament until after 31st October, so that the UK would crash out without a deal and without parliament having any opportunity to do anything about it.

Wrongfooted by a less radical and shorter suspension which did not cover the period when parliament would have to be sitting to pass the legislation required to leave with a deal, Polley argues that Boris Johnson's opponents "unleashed the rhetoric which was prepared" had he proposed a longer suspension of parliament until November, a proposal which would indeed have forced through a "No Deal" outcome without parliamentary scrutiny and of which many of the criticisms which have been said would have been far more justified.

So where do we go from here? As far as I can see the best way to avoid a constitutional crisis and to deliver what the people voted for is to negotiate an acceptable exit deal with the EU which can pass the House of Commons.

Quote of the day 10th September 2019

I don't think the saying alluded to in this quote by Thomas Fuller is literally true: in my experience it is generally darkest around midnight GMT unless the moon is in the sky. Metaphorically, however, it does often seem to apply ...


Monday, September 09, 2019

Protecting Police Officers

Today the Home Secretary will tell the Police Superintendents’ Association that she is making the physical protection of officers her top priority. 
  • Conservatives want a better deal for the police and a worse deal for criminals, that’s why our new Police Covenant will focus on the protection of officers, their health and wellbeing, and support for the families of those injured or killed in the line of duty. 
  • Police officers can only protect us if we protect them, so following our commitment to hire 20,000 new police officers to keep our streets safe, it is only right that we give them the powers and protections they need and deserve. 

Last chance for those MPs who said there has been a "Coup" to call an election

Today I understand that the House of Commons is likely to get a final chance to let the people decide how and when we leave the EU by calling an election on 15th October, before the EU summit.

MPs of all parties, particularly those like Jeremy Corbyn who have complained about attacks on democracy, will have one last chance to put their his case the people in a general election.

Jeremy Corbyn has been offered an election yet must be the first opposition leader in history to turn that offer down – because he doesn’t trust the people and fears he might not win.

In Parliament there is a group of MPs who simply want to wreck the government negotiations and block Brexit. And as Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell highlighted at the weekend they would force this country to accept whatever extension the EU offers, leading to more dither and delay and costing us £250 million per week – the equivalent of a new hospital every seven days.

The Conservatives are unwilling to accept Corbyn’s pointless delay and determined to surmount all the obstacles in our path.

We will work tirelessly within the law for a deal, but whatever happens, we will get ready to come out on 31 October.

Quote of the day 9th September 2019


Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sunday music spot: Gustav Holst: "Turn back, O man"

The Rule of Law

There is speculation in some papers that the government might defy the law parliament has just passed.

I don't believe that would be right and I don't believe it will happen. This is a country based on the rule of law.

I think it is essential that Britain leaves the EU this year, preferably on 31st October, and does so in line with democracy and the law.

The one route which would clearly achieve this would be to leave with a deal. I hope that every effort is made to achieve an acceptable deal which can pass the House of Commons so that we can do this.

Incidentally, some people are talking as if the law which parliament has just passed and is expected to get Royal Assent shortly required Boris Johnson to apply for an extension to Article 50 as soon at is it passed.

That is not correct - this isn't what the bill requires.

The new law requires the PM to ask the EU for a further delay to Britain's departure from the EU if he can't get a deal at the EU summit on 17th and 18th October.

If Boris can get a deal, he doesn't have to ask for an extension.

Incidentally, if the UK does ask for an extension, it requires a unanimous vote of the other EU member states, and France is currently threatening to veto it on the grounds that nobody has made clear what such an extension is supposed to achieve.

I don't often say this, but I think the French have a point.

The best thing would be to make every effort to get an acceptable deal so we don't have to put a conflict between the rule of democracy and the rule of law to the test.