Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Letting people keep more of their own money

The Conservatives are helping more people keep more of the money they earn – by giving 32 million people across Britain a tax cut.

The average basic rate taxpayer will pay £1,205 less tax than someone on equivalent income would have paid in 2010.


Most of this tax cut has come through raising the personal allowance so it has taken many people on low incomes out of the income tax net altogether.

Britain is still the top European destination for inward investment

The UK continues to outstrip all other EU nations as the top investment destination in Europe, which is crucial for creating jobs, putting more money into our communities and enhancing prosperity across the country.

Key facts
  • New data from the OECD shows more than £1,400 billion of investment stock flowed into the UK from abroad during 2018 – the highest level in Europe, and the third highest in the world, behind the USA and China. 
  • Total inward investment in the UK was more than Germany, Spain and Poland combined.
  • International investors continue to recognise the fundamental strengths of our economy – the UK has great companies, great talent, great tech and great investment potential. 
  • This comes as new ONS data released yesterday shows that the employment rate is at its highest in 50 years. 

Why this matters

The Conservatives' balanced approach to the economy attracts investors from around the world, showing yet again that Britain is open for business.

Modern communications for a modern NHS

Today, the Health Secretary announced an ambition that all hospitals and GP practices should have the fastest broadband available, supporting the long-term plan for the NHS which aims to deliver dramatic improvements for patients and their families.

  • All hospitals and GP practices should have the fastest fibre-optic broadband to support radical improvements to digital healthcare services. 
  • Almost 40 per cent of NHS organisations are using slow and unreliable internet, which restricts the ability to offer digital services to patients. 
  • These new plans will allow doctors to offer more services, such as video consultations, to patients as part of a new ‘digital first’ offer across NHS – meaning that more of the patient consultations with GPs and outpatient clinics will be offered online. 
  • Cloud-based patient records will help clinicians access crucial information, including high resolution images, improving patient safety and speeding up appointments. 

Why this matters:

We need to unlock the full potential of technology so that we can give people complete control over how they access NHS services and make the NHS fit for the 21st century.

Protecting the vulnerable online

The government is bringing together social media companies with suicide prevention experts from the Samaritans to better protect vulnerable people from harmful content online.

Key facts

  • During this week's summit with tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Snapchat, the Health Secretary asked that these companies: 
  • Commit to working with suicide and self-harm prevention experts from the Samaritans so together, they can develop new ways of identifying and tackling harmful online content. 
  • Take a stronger approach to preventing the spread anti-vaccination messages online, following recent statistics which show measles cases have quadrupled in the UK in just one year. 
  • Use the most cutting-edge technology available to protect vulnerable users. 

Why this matters

We are building on our efforts to tackle Online Harms, making the UK the safest place in the world to be online – which is why we have sent a loud and clear message to social media companies that this is no longer a matter of choice: they need to clean up their act.

Quotes of the day 30th April 2019

Two closely related quotes from the American economist Thomas Sowell:



Monday, April 29, 2019

A Labour defector writes on Corbyn's refusal to meet Trump

I have little love for Donald Trump, who in 2016 became the first Republican candidate for the US presidency in my adult lifetime who caused me to conclude that, had I been a citizen of the United States, I would have had to vote Democrat.

But I do respect whoever holds the office of President of the United States of America, Britain's most important ally.

I believe it is right to invite the President of the USA to Britain to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings when troops from Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and many other free countries fought side by side to liberate Europe from the most oppressive, murderous ad dangerous regime in modern history.

British and Americans soldiers, sailors and airmen fought and died side by side, with our other allies to keep the world free and save innocent people from dying in Nazi gas chambers, and that relationship is far more important to me than my opinion of the personal merits of one US president.

Ian Austin MP, who recently resigned from the Labour party over Anti-Semitism,  has written a piece here about the decision of the Labour Leader to refuse to attend a dinner with the US president/

You can read it here. He doesn't pull any punches.

Stephen Daisley on the SNP's latest call for another referendum

Things I have learned today:

  • A Survation opinion poll last month in Scotland found that 35% of those who responded never want Britain or Scotland to hold any another referendum. Ever.

Stephen Daisley has written a superb article here called

"There’s more than one way to be a proud Scot,"

which responds to the latest round of calls by the First Minister of Scorland for a debate leading to another referendum on independence.

I happen to believe that you should only put something to a referendum if you are prepared to accept the result. The site which I hoped would win in the Scottish Indepenednce referendum did so: the side I voted for in the EU membership referendum lost.

As a democrat I think it is essential that both those results are respected and implemented and failure to do so will cause all kinds of damage to Britain's democracy.

Those who refuse to accept either or both results do not seem to be aware of how their intransigence appears to those whose democratic decisions they want to overthrow.

In nobody is the cognitive dissonance between shouting to protect one's own democratic rights while seeking to overturn those of others than the Scottish first minister, who last week promised to try to frustrate the vote by 17.4 million Britsih people to secede from the EU while seeking another referendum for the Scottish people to seek to seceded from Britain.

Does anyone doubt that if Scotland voted by 52% to 48% or even more narrowly for Independence, Nicola Sturgeon would react with extreme fury against anyone who sought to prevent that vote from being implemented? Yet she does not appear to have any comprehension that this is exactly how her attitude to those on the winning side in both the 2014 and 2016 Scottish Independence and EU referenda comes over.

Stephen Daisley writes in his article:

"Nationalists believe the only way to be Scottish is to not be British and they have allowed this disdain for the dual nationality of Scottish-British to animate their offensive against the Union. 

The Scottish identity used to be broad and malleable enough to accommodate Scottish-Britishness but thanks to the SNP Scottishness grows narrower and more rigid by the day. That anyone could be a patriot of not one but two countries might perplex them but it is who we are and they want to take it away from us. 

What neither they nor most of their Unionist parliamentary rivals fully appreciate is the backlash phenomenom they have inspired."

It's a good article and I strongly recommend it: I wish every SNP member would read it.

Quote of the day Monday 29th April 2019

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The most thankless job in local government

When the Blair government set up the arrangements for directly-elected mayors and for council executives, they got some things right and others wrong.

One of the things they got right was to keep the decisions on individual planning applications away from Mayors and Executives and require that they be determined by a committee consisting largely or entirely of backbench councillors, meeting in public and not subject to a party whip.

(And yes, at least everywhere I have lived, anyone who has been to a reasonable number of such meetings will have seen councillors from all the main parties voting different ways often enough to tell you that the parties do respect that rule.)

Serving on those committees, whether they are called the Planning Committee, the Development control and regulation committee (as on CCC) the Planning Panel (as on Copeland BC) or anything else is the most thankless job in local government. The councillors on it will be unpopular whether they do an excellent job or a terrible job.

Every time they refuse an application, they will disappoint, and often infuriate, the people who wanted the facilities, homes, or jobs that it would bring. But when they approve an application they often annoy people who are worried (sometimes rightly) that it will overload local roads, put pressure on local schools, create noise and nuisance, or block their view.

Nearly everyone wants the good things development will bring. But most people wants it someone other than next to their home.

The job of a planning panel member is the perfect illustration that you cannot please everyone. And attacking these coucnillors is often seen as a quick win for a rival politician seeking election or re-election.

That happened yesterday in Copeland. I shall have more to say on this in the next few days.

Quote of the day 27th April 2019


Friday, April 26, 2019

Fighting the scourge of modern slavery

The Home Secretary is awarding £4 million to international anti-slavery projects, protecting some of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

Key facts
  • Today the government is are announcing projects that will benefit from £4 million of funding from our Modern Slavery Innovation Fund, which supports international projects to trial innovative ways of stopping modern slavery. 
  • Projects to protect vulnerable girls from trafficking in Ethiopia and improve care standards for victims of modern slavery in Nepal are among those receiving funding. 
  • The government has committed a total of £200 million to combat the evils of human trafficking, forced labour and exploitation, and today’s announcement builds on the action we have already taken which includes passing the first Modern Slavery Act in Europe, giving law enforcement agencies the tools they need, toughening up sentences and providing more support for victims. 

Why this matters

Human trafficking, forced labour and exploitation are sadly not evils of the past, but are with us today, and we are leading the way to end these horrors across the globe.

Quote of the day 26th April 2019


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Exports up £16.5 billion

Exports by British companies rose by £16.5 billion in 2018, as we are leading the way in creating jobs, growing our economy and ensuring prosperity across the country.

Key facts
  • Newly released ONS statistics show that in 2018, exports totalled £634.1 billion – a rise from £617.5 billion in the 2017. 
  • Exports to non-EU countries rose by £6.5 billion last year and have risen by £116.5 billion since 2010. 
  • Conservatives want to build on these successes, which is why the government has launched an Export Strategy to support and connect businesses so that they can create more, better-paid jobs. 

Why this matters:

As our economy continues to grow we are expanding our horizons, building trade relationships around the world and providing a solid foundation on which to build Britain’s economic future.

Government borrowing falls to lowest for 17 years

Government borrowing fell to its lowest in 17 years as our balanced approach to the economy means we are getting the deficit under control – while continuing to invest in our vital public services. 

Key facts
  • Figures from the ONS show that borrowing in 2018-19 was £24.7 billion, a reduction of £17.2 billion compared to the previous year. 
  • Britain's public finances are on the way back to good health, while the Conservative government continues to invest in our vital public services like the NHS. 

Why this matters

Thanks to our balanced approach we’ve got borrowing and debt down, while setting out further investments in infrastructure, technology, housing, skills, and clean growth – building a Britain fit for the future.

Of twitter traps and modern minefields

I am totally opposed to Anti-Semitism, homophobia, and stirring up hatred against Muslims.

These things should be strongly discouraged, and when those who seek to hold public office appear to be promoting hatred, it is not surprising that people should ask whether they are the right people for the job.

The fact that Anti-Semitism, Homophobia or prejudice against Muslims are rightly regarded as very harmful makes it all the more important that when people are accused of any of these things we take a good hard look at the evidence. In too many cases, alas,  such accusations have been backed up by evidence and where this is the case appropriate action must be taken - there can be no place in the Conservative party, for instance, for the promotion of hatred against Jews, Muslims, or gay people.

It is equally important that we do not rush to judgement and assume everyone accused is guilty, or allow social media to become a kangaroo court which can hound innocent people out of their jobs.

I have always disagreed with the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton about many things, and even after reading about what he actually said in his now infamous interview with the New Statesman, I consider some of the words he used to have been at best unwise.

Nevertheless, Douglas Murray makes a strong case here in his Spectator piece, 

"The Scruton tapes: an anatomy of a modern hit job"

that after listening to the tapes of the interview with Sir Roger and hearing what was actually said, Murray believes that there was more than a degree of highly selective quotation, used to create a twitter bandwagon which rolled right over him before people stopped to consider how accurate the alletations against the philosopher actually were.

For example. it was suggested that Scruton had been racist about the Chinese. What he appears to have actually said was not so much racist against Chinese people but concerned about the human rights record of the Chinese government. - and one of the main concerns Scruton expressed about that government was their putting China's Uighur Muslims into concentration camps to "re-educate" them.

That comment which was omitted from all the social media hype about what a bigot Scruton supposedly is, presumably because it would undermine the picture being presented of his views about Muslims.

When Scruton was fired as an unpaid government adviser on architecture because of the New Statesman interview, the journalist who had interviewed him, and started the social media storm,  George Eaton,  who posted on Instagram (and subsequently deleted) a photo of himself online drinking champagne. His caption was ‘The feeling when you get right-wing racist and homophobe Roger Scruton sacked as a Tory government adviser.’

It would appear that the concern about the way the New Statesman itself handled the interview after the tapes were released has made the magazine itself uneasy.

Jason Cowley, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said: ‘The New Statesman takes journalistic good practice seriously. As any responsible media organisation would, we are conducting an internal review in light of allegations of misrepresentation. George Eaton has already apologised for his behaviour on social media and his thoughtless Instagram post, which he deleted.’

But the real problem isn't the Instagram post. It is that anyone who gets remotely near the public eye has to be extremely careful not just about what they actually say, but about how it could be presented.

Quote of the day 25th April 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Attracting High-Tech companies

New research confirms that the UK is a leading global hub for technology companies tackling challenges in healthcare, education, finance and sustainability – making a positive impact on our society and economy. 

Key facts
  • Research by Tech Nation shows that the UK is a leading hub for technology companies tackling challenges in healthcare, education, finance and sustainability. 
  • ‘Tech for social good’ companies were worth £2.3 billion in 2018, with a turnover of £732 million – larger than the amount generated by the manufacture of consumer electronics in the UK. 
  • The government is working hard to support those in the field by improving charities’ digital skills, boosting access to finance, and celebrating up-and-coming entrepreneurs. 

Today the Digital Secretary hosted a roundtable at Downing Street to discuss how we can maintain the UK’s unique position. 

Why this matters: 

The presence of these companies has a significant positive  knock-on effect for the wider economy. Many are spreading economic growth and creating good, higher-paying jobs, while using tech to tackle the biggest challenges society faces.

When those who claim to be open-minded are less so

There is a very good article on the "Unherd" site by Matthew Goodwin called

"Have Remainers lost perspective?"

and although the title of the piece may give the impression that he is having a go at one particular side in the referendum, it is actually an appeal to people on all sides - left and right, leave and remain supporters alike not to demonise the other.

Goodwin does say that

"The irony is that liberal catastrophisers engage in exactly the same behaviour that they associate with populists and Right-wing extremists; they overgeneralise; they label others; they engage in Manichean ‘good-versus-bad’ dichotomous thinking; they lose perspective; and they become obsessed with apocalyptic-style scenarios.

Rather than assessing things rationally, and engaging with those who hold different points of view, they cling to comfort blankets, such as catastrophising, distancing and emotional reasoning."

But he makes clear that

"Such irrationality, of course, is by no means unique to the Left. Those on the Right fall foul of the same mechanisms. Populists routinely catastrophise when talking about demographic projections, the decline of white populations, Islamist terrorism or the capacity of Islam to integrate into Western ways of life. 

The trouble is that as our value divides continue to rise to the surface, and are exacerbated by social media, this behaviour looks set to become more, rather than less, common on all sides. But at this particular moment in our history, it does seem to be most prominent among those who claim to be most tolerant among us."


If you are wondering what "catastrophising" is, he means the act of characterising an event or pollical opponent as being much worse or more extreme than they actually are, e.g. being unable to tell the difference between "a fringe group of eccentric Eurosceptic reactionaries" and a regime of virulent anti-Semitic, white supremacist genocidal mass murderers who gassed six million Jews.

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

Quote of the day 24th April 2019

“We mustn't make permitted development synonymous with poor quality as it can have really positive outcomes. In recent years, permitted development rules governing domestic properties have been relaxed, which has made it easier for home owners to extend their homes without having to go through the rigmarole of a full planning application. 

"These permissions have proved popular among builders and home owners alike. The reason being is that they give even more people the opportunity to add a bit more space – eight metres for a detached house and six metres for an attached house – to their home." 

"In short, let’s not damn all permitted development." 
"There are 300,000 to 400,000 new homes which could be created by making use of empty spaces above shops on our high streets. Surely we make use of permitted development regulations in a way that utilises these spaces without bringing to market tiny uninhabitable homes. This would have the added benefit of revitalising our struggling high streets across the country.”

(Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB,) extracts from a statement expressing concern at the Labour party's proposal to scrap Permitted Development Rights for the conversion of office or business premises to re4sidential to provide new homes.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Britain's longest spell without coal-power since the Industrial Revolution

On the subject of climate change - and the real efforts been made to reduce the risk of it - over the Easter weekend Britain notched up our longest spell without coal power since the Industrial Revolution.

 

Key facts:

 

  • Between 2010 and 2018, due to steps taken by the government, total greenhouse gases fell by 25 per cent. 
  • Our investment has meant there are almost 400,000 people working in low carbon businesses and their supply chains across the country. 

  • Since 2010, with our support, businesses have invested £92 billion in renewable energy, meaning renewables now make up a record amount of our electricity and enabling the UK to become a world-leader in clean technology.

  • The National Grid has announced that using a combination of gas, nuclear, wind, solar, imports, biomass and hydro, the UK was powered for a total of 90 hours and 45 minutes from Thursday until yesterday without burning a single ounce of coal to generate electricity.


Why this matters: Our approach shows it is possible to reduce emissions whilst growing the economy. Our record speaks for itself. But as ever, we must not rest on our laurels and that’s why the Conservatives will use this progress to go further and to ensure our ambitions come to fruition.

Four questions for climate change protesters

I am all in favour of young people taking an interest in the future of the planet - or indeed of anyone else doing so.

And the balance of evidence suggests that human activity is contributing to climate change - note that I didn't say "global warming" because that is too simplistic an expression - and that under the precautionary principle we should be looking to see how we can reduce our impact on the world's environment.

But the issues are far too complex, and the record of climate change prediction models too patchy, to allow any orthodox view about the world's climate to be given a quasi-religious status free from any challenge.

Note that when I say we should allow challenge and debate I mean exactly that, and am absolutely not in any way shape or form endorsing those who try to dismiss the very serious evidence that we need to worry about our environment as the product of some kind of hoax or conspiracy.

Between those to whom "anthropogenic" (human driven) climate change is an article of faith and those who ask any questions about their view are on a par with those who deny the Nazi holocaust, and those who would dismiss any evidence for climate change as a plot to sabotage the West, there is a large area of ground for debate and constructive discussion for those who want to see evidence-based policies.

And whether you are sixteen or a hundred and six, if you go on television to advance policies to protect the environment, you should expect to face constructive but challenging questions on whether those are the right policies. That isn't bullying it's actually a mark of respect and shows that you have not been patronised.

In that context Ross Clark in the Spectator asks four questions which could have been put to Greta Thunberg when she was interviewed on the Today programme. I thought they were good questions: they were as follows:
  1. "Do you really think it is possible to eliminate carbon emissions by 2025 – the target of Extinction Rebellion, whose aims you have endorsed – without crashing the global economy? That wouldn’t just mean the end of air travel, which you personally shun, it would mean the end of your favoured high speed rail travel, too. While great efforts have been made to switch to renewables, we do not yet even nearly have the technology to turn to a fully fossil-free world and to pretend that we do so is fanciful. "
  2. "If governments are supposedly ignoring the science, how do you explain, then, that those same governments set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) more than 30 years ago specifically to advise them on climate change – and have continued to seek its advice ever since, most recently asking it what would need to be done to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 celsius?" 
  3. "You want a general strike, but why do you think workers will want to join one when your demands would mean an end to many of their jobs? It is one thing for schoolchildren to go on strike – taking a day off is always very exciting for them. You might have a harder job convincing industrial workers whose jobs and living standards ultimately depend on the cheap source of energy which you want to take away. I know campaigners keep going on about ‘green jobs’ but it is no consolation creating 1,000 jobs in green energy, or whatever, if your unrealistic carbon reduction targets are going to destroy 100,000 jobs in heavy industry. How are you going to convince those employed in the latter to join your strike?" 
  4. "You said this morning that you think you can see the issues more clearly because you see things in black and white. But isn’t that the problem? There are great complexities in how to balance economic and environmental needs. The idea that the issue of climate change can be reduced to two choices – environmental destruction or purity – is nonsense. What we need to solve climate change is people who can see the issue in a rich spectrum of colours, not black and white, wouldn’t you say?"

Happy St George's Day -whenever it is!

Ordinarily St George's Day falls on the 23rd of April which is today. And accordingly the Cross of St George has been flying over Downing Street.

However, the Church of England says that when the Saints' day is too close to Easter, they put it back to the week after Easter week, and therefore that this year St George's day will be next Monday, the 29th of April, instead.

Apparently,

"When St George’s Day or St Mark’s Day falls between Palm Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive, it is transferred to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter, in this case the week beginning April 29.''

Everyone got that now?

Anyway, Happy St George's Day whenever it comes.


Quote of the day 23rd April 2019


Monday, April 22, 2019

UK inflation stays low

The annual inflation rate in the United Kingdom was 1.9 percent in the year to March 2019, unchanged from the previous month and below market expectations of 2 percent.

Key facts
  • With wages rising at their fastest pace in over a decade, above inflation, and taxes cut for millions we are helping people to keep more money in their pockets. 
  • On top of this we are helping people with the cost of living by boosting the earnings of the lowest paid with an increase in the National Living Wage and freezing fuel duty for the ninth year in a row – saving the average car driver £1,000 by 2020. 
  • Labour don’t know how to handle the economy and offer only bogus solutions that will hurt the people they claim to help. More debt, higher taxes and fewer jobs would hit ordinary working people just as they did when Labour were last in power.

The Armed Forces Covenant

The Universities Minister and the Defence Minister have urged universities to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant, so that our brave veterans and their families can better access further education.

Key facts
  • The Armed Forces Covenant, introduced by this Government, helps to remove barriers that veterans may face in their return to civilian life. 
  • Although thousands of businesses and organisations have already signed up, we are going further to urge all UK universities to do the same. 
  • This could lead to universities ensuring admissions policies better reflect the needs of veterans with greater prowess attributed to military experience and qualifications. 
  • In addition, the government is contributing £5 million in continued funding for the Service Leavers Scheme and Forces Bereavement Scheme, which provide funding and scholarships for ex-service personnel and their families. 

Why this matters

No veteran of our armed forces or their family should feel discriminated against when they return to civilian life – and yet too many currently face barriers. Today’s action will mean that all levels of society rightly recognise and reward the sacrifice our veterans have made for our country.

Quote of the day for Easter Monday, 22nd April 2019


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Mass murder in Sri Lanka

I had intended to concentrate on Easter messages on this blog today but cannot avoid comment on the terrible news of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka: six nearly simultaneous explosions at three churches and three hotels for which the death toll at the time of posting is at least 207 innocent victims and in which at least 400 people have been injured.

It is too early to say for certain which group of vile terrorist savages were responsible for this wicked attack. But we can say with absolute confidence that whatever cause they were trying to promote, their sick actions will only have damaged it.

All murders are among the most evil things a human being can do to others, but whether the attack is on Jewish people worshipping in a synagogue, Muslims at a Mosque, or Christians at church on Easter Sunday, there are few things which more emphatically reject our common humanity than to go to a place of worship on a holy day for the faith concerned and there indiscriminately kill men, women and children at prayer.

Either there is a God, or their isn't. If there isn't then all killing in the name or religion is a senseless waste. But if there is a kind and just God, one who justifies descriptions such as "God of Love" or "the Compassionate, the Merciful" nothing could be more calculated to horrify Him than terrorist atrocities against people trying to worship Him under whatever name. Such actions are clearly and explicitly forbidden in the Gospels, in the Holy Q'uran, and in the holy books of other religions.

At this time the thoughts and prayers of all decent people will be with the victims and their families and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

Easter Sunday music spot: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

Where not to drive a vehicle transporter ...

At around 9.30 am this morning - Easter Sunday - someone attempted to drive an extremely long  articulated vehicle transporter, the sort of machine big enough to carry a main battle tank or a large earth-mover, through residential streets in the Calder Valley area of Whitehaven.

It will not have been a surprise to any resident of that area of Whitehaven that it got trapped.

Murphy's law ensured that it became trapped in Esk Avenue, completely blocking the road at the very pinch point where anyone trying to get to or from large areas of Corkickle or Mirehouse East by car would have to take detours of several miles to get round it. My Easter Sunday journey to church  involved a detour of close to four miles.

By the standard of some of the other news today this is a "first world problem."

However, if anyone reading this should ever consider taking a vehicle larger than a bus or a seven-ton removal van through roads like Foxhouses Road, Esk Avenue or Calder Avenue in any circumstances other than an extreme emergency, I have one word of advice for you, in the interests of both yourself and everyone in the area.

Don't.

Quote of the day for Easter Sunday 2019



A longer version of the same quote:


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Red on Red in Corkickle

I raised an eyebrow when I read the "statement of persons nominated" issued by Copeland Borough Council (CBC); for the election of a councillor to serve on that authority for the new Corkickle ward and for Town Councillors for the "Corkickle North" and "Corkickle South" wards of Whitehaven Town council.

I imagine that there will have been a few more electors in "Corkickle South" who raised a similar eyebrow on receiving their postal votes.

It's not every day you see members of the Labour party (or any other organised party) standing against one another in a public election.

However that in itself would not have been worth calling out.

As I wrote on this blog a few days ago, the Conservative party nationally does not insist that local Conservative associations the same policy of putting up a party candidate for every seat on Town and Parish councils in the way we do try to contest all seats on district and county councils, and those members of Copeland Conservatives who are standing for Town and Parish councils have, almost to a man and woman, done so without a party label for that particular local election.

Town and Parish councils have very little formal power, and the functions they perform are around community leadership which does not necessarily follow national party lines, so it is a perfectly defensible position to believe that these community councils do not need to be contested on a party basis. even if you believe that elections for larger and more powerful authorities should be.

We have not carried this policy in Copeland to the point where Conservatives are actually standing against one another, but the logical consequence of deciding that you are not going to put up party candidates for a body like Whitehaven Town Council and that members can stand for that body as independents or without a label is this effectively means that the normal rules of party discipline do not apply to that election.

So my initial response to the fact that Edwin Dinsdale, who sought the Labour nomination for Mayor of Copeland, is standing to be my town councillor against the official Labour candidate, Paul Whalley, is that as my party decided not to apply party discipline to the local Town council, I wasn't going to criticise the Labour party for relaxing it either.

Nevertheless what came through my letterbox yesterday (Good Friday) is quite unusual, and sufficiently do as to merit comment.

Two leaflets were delivered to me yesterday lunchtime, apparently together, of which one was the Labour party election address for the Copeland Borough Council election in the ward where I live, and the other, which had a very similar colour scheme to the Labour party document, was not from that party at all. It was a leaflet published by two town council candidates, one of whom is also the official Labour candidate for Copeland Borough Council in the ward in which I live, in which she effectively endorses a member of her family who is standing against the other official Labour council candidate seeking my vote on 2nd May.

Here is one side of each leaflet.





































Most of the people reading this who are active in political parties will be quite surprised by this. Most of those who are not will probably be wondering what the fuss is about.

To answer, ask yourself this - how long would it take most people, getting these leaflets together, to realise that one is a Labour leaflet and the other isn't, that the second one is in fact asking voters to support a candidate standing against the official Labour candidate?

I think many people would take a while to realise that, if they spot it at all. Hence my describing this as a "Red on Red" trick.


I will, of course, be supporting the Conservative candidates in the Copeland Borough elections - Ged McGrath for mayor of Copeland and Andrew Wonnacott as CBC councillor for Copeland.

And another music spot: "The Rye or the Kaiser"

And now for something completely different ...

A second music spot for today, but this time a spoof one.

"The Rye or the Kaiser" is a parody by Al Yankovic of "The Eye of the Tiger" and so well performed that if you don't pay attention to the words that's what you can imagine you are listening to.

Music to relax after campaigning: Widor's Toccata

Second quote of the day 20th April 2019

"just because we're not at war any more doesn't mean the shadow of the gunman has left the room."

(Lyra McKee 1990-2019 who lost her life to one of those gunmen on Thursday.)

Quote of the day 20th April 2019


"With free speech comes responsibility and accountability."

"Rape is a heinous crime - often used as a weapon against its victims - that destroys the lives of the men and women who suffer it.

"It is not something that should ever be satirised or joked about, and it is certainly not in my concept of free speech to do so.

"I would like to see those involved drop the pretence, take responsibility which comes with free speech, and admit they were wrong."


(Mike Hookem MEP, deputy leader of UKIP and one of just FOUR out of 24 UKIP candidates elected at the 2014 Euro-elections who is still a UKIP MEP, explaining why he was "greatly disturbed" at the UKIP leader and his dwindling band of followers defending UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin's remarks that it is "100%" acceptable to make jokes about whether he would rape a woman.

In his online personal at "Sargon of Akkad," Benjamin had posted that he "wouldn't even rape" a Labour MP, and he reiterated this view after becoming at UKIP candidate.

UKIP leader Gerard Batten defended this as "satire" prompting yet another wave or resignations from the party and provoking even those like Deputy Leader Mike Hooken who has stuck with the party to issue the above protest.)

Friday, April 19, 2019

How did the "extinction rebellion" protesters travel to their protests?

One has to wonder how the people who have been disrupting everyone else's travel plans travelled to their protest events.

There has already been much comment in one case where we know the answer: actress Emma Thompson flew 5,400 miles from Los Angeles to Heathrow to attend the Extinction Rebellion protest by people who among other things have called for limits on how often people can fly.

(A typical flight from LA to Heathrow produces about 1.67 tons of CO2 - roughly equivalent to the average UK person's carbon footprint for fifty days and much of it released directly to the upper atmosphere where the greenhouse gas effect is maximised.)

Some of them may also have come to the protest by car: the typical passenger car emits something like a pound of carbon dioxide per mile travelled.

There are exceptions to this as is explained here, but in general it would have been more environmentally friendly for them to travel by train, particularly using electric trains like those on the Docklands Light Railway.

I wonder how those who did travel to their protests by train would have felt had they been unable to get there because some other group of protesters for a different cause such as, for example, either side of the Brexit debate had decided to glue themselves to the train that the "extinction rebellion" protesters wanted to travel to their protest on.

I can't help think that if any Extinction Rebellion members had been unable to get to their own protest because UKIP's egregious leader Gerard Batten, more egregious candidate Carl Benjamin, and still more egregious advisor Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (a.k.a. Tommy Robinson) had glued themselves to the train in a Brexit protest, they would not have been made more sympathetic to the Brexit cause.





Good Friday music spot: : choir of King's Cambridge sing Bach's "O Sacred head Sore Wounded"

Quote of the day for Good Friday, April 19th 2019


Lyra McKee RIP

Today is Good Friday and millions of people around the world are remembering a man who was put to death on a cross two thousand years ago.

Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God and that he gave his life for the sins of the world. Whether you accept the Christian Gospel or not, and of this there is not much doubt that he was am exceptional man who was put to death by the authorities in a savage and brutal way because he refused to abandon the religious mission which was his purpose in life.

Sadly on this day when we remember the death of Jesus we learn of the murder of another innocent person, a journalist who was shot deal last night in what the police believe to have been a terrorist incident while reporting on riots in Londonderry.

Lyra McKee, killed last night at the age of 29, was described as a gifted investigative reporter with “courage, style and integrity” and a “kind, gentle, witty and stubborn soul”.

In an extreme irony, if the police statement that they suspect the "New IRA" of responsibility is correct, Lyra McKee was murdered during Holy Week by a group which claims to represent a community often characterised by faith in the church founded by Peter, a disciple of Jesus. But I am quite certain that Jesus and St Peter would be the first to tell them to put aside their weapons.

Tributes to Lyra McKee included this one from the Prime Minister. Theresa May:

"The death of Lyra McKee in last night's suspected terrorist incident in Londonderry is shocking and truly senseless. My deepest condolences go to her family, friends and colleagues. She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage."

Rest in Peace

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Party candidates versus independent ones

There is no definitive answer which will be correct in all circumstances to the question of whether candidates affiliated to a political party will, other things being equal, be preferable to independent ones.

For example, the position of the Conservative party nationally is to contest all district/borough/city, county and parliamentary elections but to leave it to the discretion of local constituency parties whether to put up slates for town and parish council elections.

In most of Copeland, as much of the rest of the country that decision has been, this year and usually in the past, not to put up Conservative slates for Town and Parish elections or ask people to vote on party lines in those elections.

That's because the very local decisions which these community councils take, parochial ones in the positive sense of that word, are generally not amenable to being taken on national party lines.

There are those who argue that the same applies to other levels of government, right up to parliamentary elections.  They are entitled to their opinion, but I don't agree. The key points are these:
  1. Politics is, and should be, a team activity
  2. You can achieve very little in any political system based on a parliament or council without a pattern of alliances and working agreements 
  3. Democratic accountability works more effectively and transparently when those alliances and working agreements are openly declared, preferably in advance of the elections. And that's precisely what a system of political parties is

Running an organisation the size of Copeland Borough Council, let alone Cumbria County Council or the government of the UK simply cannot be done in a centralised manner with all the decisions taken by one individual and it would be a disaster to try. It needs a team of people working together with co-operation and compromise.

When someone stands for election with a party label what they are effectively doing is telling the electorate who they expect to try first to work with and what the nature of that co-operation and compromise is likely to be.

No political party is perfect, and it can at times be intensely frustrating when a political label causes councillors and council candidates to be judged not on their own records or what they are trying to achieve locally but on what people with the same political label have done at Westminster.

However, during my 26 years in local government I would argue that local parties have done more good than harm in two ways

1) In forming a basis for people to come together in teams to debate and put ideas forward on local issues and to do so in a manner which can be presented to the electorate reasonably clearly, and

2) Local government in most parts of this country would have died decades ago without the political parties encouraging people to get involved and stand for election.

That does not alter the fact that it can be very unhealthy for one party to run a council or government for too long and a change can be very helpful at times. It is sometimes suggested - the quote has been attributed to many people but it may have been a libertarian candidate in the USA called John Walner who was the first person to add - that politicians, like babies, should be changed often "and for the same reason."

For example Labour ran Copeland council for far too long for anyone's good including their own and they got complacent and arrogant. the same can happen to any other group of political leaders if they don't work at avoiding it.

There was a lot of debate in the 19th century about whether party government was a good thing. Perhaps the most powerful reply was given by Benjamin Disraeli who said that the choice between parliamentary government and party government was a false one because you could not make the latter work without the former. In his words:




Midweek music spot for Holy Week: "Come ye Daughters" from Bach's Matthew Passion

Supporting Innovative businesses

The Exchequer Secretary has announced that a new fund will provide £200 million for British businesses, as the Conservatives; balanced approach to the economy means that we can support innovative companies, ensuring they can access the finance they need to grow.

Key facts
  • We are fully committed to supporting small businesses to succeed as part of our modern Industrial Strategy. 
  • As the UK leaves the EU and our relationship with the European Investment Fund changes, we remain committed to ensuring that innovative firms can access the finance they need to grow. 
  • The funding – made available through the British Business Bank – will provide loans to small companies looking to increase in size. 
  • Venture capital and investment firms will be able to approach the British Business Bank to bid for a share of the £200 million to invest in small UK firms. 

Why this matters:

We are creating more start-ups and attracting more venture capital funding than any other European country, but we want to do more to ensure our small businesses and entrepreneurs can thrive and make the UK the best place in the world to do business.

Quote of the day 17th April 2019

"As a 54-year-old Jew, when hear the word 'Nazi', I listen. I pay close attention because, like every other Jew, I know the meaning of the word and its special resonance.

If the Nazis had not been defeated, I wouldn't be here. I would never have been born because, had Adolf Hitler successfully invaded Britain and won the war, my parents — both born in London — would have joined the millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

So I have a message for David Lammy, the Labour MP who at the weekend likened members of the hard-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs to the Nazis.

It's a message that comes from my heart: How dare you?

How dare you compare people with whom you disagree on Brexit with the men and women who committed genocide — who planned in meticulous detail the most efficient mechanism for murdering an entire people?

You ignorant, hate-mongering fool."


"There is, however, another aspect to this sorry story which shows that Mr Lammy is not merely an idiot with no concept of recent history, but a cynical hypocrite, too.

As an MP, he is campaigning to put his party into power. Yet that party is now led by a man who has done more to unleash a culture of 'Jew-hate' than any politician since Hitler was defeated in 1945."


"I have a suggestion for Mr Lammy. Over the next few days, he should read a history of the Third Reich. 

I can recommend a few, such as Sir Richard Evans's 'The Third Reich In Power' or Sir Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler.

Then Mr Lammy might learn who and what the Nazis really were — and hang his head in shame."


(Extracts from an article by the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, in which he explains why he was not impressed by David Lammy's comparison of the Brexit-supporting MPs to the Nazis. You can read the full article - which contains several more home truths to which several people on both  side of the Brexit debate would do well to pay attention, here.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

UK named world's top investment destination in new survey

An annual survey by top accountancy firm EY has found the UK is now the world’s top investment destination, overtaking the United States.

Key facts
  • It is the first time the UK has taken the top spot in the survey’s 10-year history. 
  • The UK displaced the US as the top investment destination globally, a position the US had held since 2014. The US was followed by Germany, China, France, Canada, India, Australia, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates in the rankings. 
  • For this year's survey EY interviewed 2,900 senior executives from 47 countries in February and March 2019. 

Employment at a record high

New figures show that the number of people in work is at a record high while wages have risen at their fastest pace in a decade – continuing to rise ahead of prices.

This means pay packets can go further, and more people have the security of a regular wage and can provide for their families.

We are helping people into work by reforming welfare so work always pays, while backing businesses to create more, better paying jobs across the whole country through our careful economic management and modern Industrial Strategy.

With the unemployment rate at a record low of 3.9 per cent, more people have the economic independence that a job brings and can reach their full potential. Behind every employment number is a person whose self-esteem, mental wellbeing, economic circumstances and life chances are all vastly improved by being in the workplace.

Key statistics
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.4 per cent compared with a year earlier, while prices rose 1.9% in the year to February. This means that real incomes are finally moving up again. 
  • Employment: A record high of 32.72 million (up 457,000 over the last year and up by 3.67 million since 2010). Employment rate: 76.1 per cent (up 0.8 points over the past year and up 5.9 points since 2010). 
  • Unemployment: 1.34 million (down 76,000 over the past year and down by 1.17 million since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9 per cent (down 0.3 points over the past year and down 4.0 points since 2010) – the lowest rate since 1975 and halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent). 
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 446,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – almost halving since 2010. 
  • Disabled people: There are almost 1 million more disabled people (930,000) in work since 2013, as we are breaking down the barriers to employment facing disabled people. 
  • Job opportunities for women: The number of women in work is at a record high of 15.41 million. There are over 1.76 million more women in work since 2010.

Quote of the day 16th April 2019


Monday, April 15, 2019

Free speech and responsibility

Matthew d'Ancona has a piece in a prominent national newspaper with the subtitle

"As the political temperature soars, those who seek to govern Britain have a responsibility to speak with care"

Why, you may ask, did I introduce this piece by the subtitle rather than the title, and refrain from naming the paper concerned?

The answer is, because too many people on both sides of the political spectrum and both sides of the Brexit debate are guilty of failing to choose their language with care, and I wanted to make the point in a way which did not make it obvious which side of the aisle the article was coming from,.

The basic point of d'Ancona's article, that people who hold or aspire to political office are wise to choose their words carefully, and that you can believe in and exercise "free speech" while wording your comments in a measured way which avoids the "civic recklessness" of language which will further inflame passions and anger, is correct.

So are all his examples.

Bit it is a pity that they were all one-sided - indeed, one of the people he cites as a victim of abusive messages has also been one of the very worst offenders for "civic recklessness" over the last few days and d'Ancona makes no reference to this. It would have been so very easy to give examples of such conduct on both sides of the spectrum that I cannot avoid thinking that the failure to do so was deliberate.

And that detracts from what would otherwise have been a first class article. 

Notre Dame

I was horrified to learn of the fire at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, an iconic church which is a huge part of the history of French culture.

One can only with the firefighters well and hope that as much as possible of the building and its' priceless store of artwork can be saved.

Good news for the retail sector

New statistics have shown a boost for Britain’s pubs, restaurants and shops with more people eating out and shopping.

 

Key facts:

 

  • Like-for-like sales in restaurants and pubs are up by nearly four per cent in March on the same time last year.

 

  • The number of shoppers climbed by 1.4 per cent year-on-year last month with more shoppers hitting the high street.

Ending unfair evictions

The government is to consult on proposals to end unfair evictions. This will form part of the biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation, giving tenants the peace of mind they deserve.

Key facts
  • As part of a complete overhaul of the rented housing sector, the government will consult on proposals to remove the ability of landlords to use ‘no fault’ evictions under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act. 
  • Private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes at short notice using Section 21 – so called ‘no-fault’ evictions – and without good reason. 
  • This will bring greater peace of mind to millions of families who live in rented accommodation. Many tenants live with the worry of being evicted at short notice or continue to live in poor accommodation for fear they will be asked to leave if they complain about problems with their home.
  • We want to give them the reassurance that they will not suddenly be forced to leave their home facing nowhere else to go. 
  • Evidence shows that the end of tenancies through the Section 21 process is one of the biggest causes of family homelessness. 

Why this matters

Everyone renting in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, by abolishing unfair evictions we will give tenants the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve.

Quote of the day 15th April 2019

"Brussels has taught us a lesson in how not to deal with a member state that wants to leave. The problem is not on the British side. The problem is on the EU side.”

This quote is from G√ľnter Verheugen, former German EU commissioner, as reported here.

He told ARD’s Anne Will show in Berlin that the EU’s negotiating team had made a strategic misjudgement, missed the larger issues at stake and should not try to dictate terms fundamentally unacceptable to London:

 “We’re not losing a member state, we’re losing the weight of 20 member states. We therefore have an interest that we remain the closest possible allies.”

I am not holding my breath waiting for the EU to change it's negotiating strategy because I don't think they will, but the same article reports that a number of influential German economists are concerned that the EU's negotiating strategy for Brexit as "gone off the rails" in the words of Professor Gabriel Felbermayr, head of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, who also called for a change in the EU's strategy "before it does any more harm to long-term relations with Britain."

Professor Felbermayr told the Daily Telegraph that any deal with Britain that is perceived as coercive will fall apart. “If it is going to have any credibility, it must offer mutual benefits,” he said.

He added that the EU is playing a “very dangerous game.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Remembering a heroine of the holocaust

The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP, led the annual March of the Living in Hungary, a Holocaust memorial march which this year honours Jane Haining, a Scottish missionary who died because she protected and helped Jewish orphans in her care. He also spoke at the event.


(Above: Jane Haining, a missionary from Dumfriesshire who died at the Auchwitz death camp in 1944 where she had been sent by the Nazis for caring for Jewish children.)

Key facts:
  • The torchlit memorial march, called the March of the Living, is an annual event in Hungary which commemorates the more than 500,000 Jews from the country killed by the Nazis. 
  • This year’s march honoured Jane Haining, a teacher originally from Dumfriesshire who ignored countless warnings to return home to safety, believing it her duty to stay with her pupils and care for them. For doing so she was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the Auchwitz death camp, where she died.
  • Research suggests that Jane Haining also saved the lives of Jewish people by helping them emigrate from Hungary to Britain. 
  • The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, who led the march, has welcomed the recognition of her sacrifice and dedication to the children she worked with. 
In his speech, David Mundell said:

"An extraordinary, brave and selfless woman, Jane Haining sacrificed herself to protect Jewish schoolgirls in Budapest during the Second World War," 

"Her unwavering devotion saw her lose her life in Auschwitz 75 years ago, aged just 47. 

"She is a hero of whom all of Scotland, Hungary and the world can be proud."


Why this matters:

The Holocaust was undoubtedly one of the darkest times in human history, but the courage and personal sacrifice of individuals like Jane Haining give us hope for the future.

Palm Sunday

In the Hebrew calendar today is the Sunday immediately before the feast of the Passover - a moveable feast which is extremely late this year -and in the Christian calendar that make is Palm Sunday.

So Christians today are remembering the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed by cheering crowds who laid palm branches and items of clothing before him in tribute, and shouting "Hosanna!"



And yet six days later, with no apparent reason to justify the change in attitude, those who had welcomed Jesus were silent or joined in as crowds screamed "Crucify Him" and he was put to death.

An American writer once wrote that this was like giving someone a ticker-tape parade and then hanging them: and yet the approval of the mob can be as fickle as the approval of a church hierarchy or an authoritarian government, whether or not the former is prompted by one of the latter.

Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, particularly at the time of Stalin's purges and the "Night of the Long Knives" respectively, had jokes about people arrested on consecutive days for repeating opposite slogans on the wrong side of a policy reversal. One soviet version had three communist party members in a cell, who, after a little hesitation, asked each other what they were there for.

  • "Because yesterday I was overheard saying 'Down with Comrade Popov!'" said the first.
  • "Because today I was overheard saying 'Long Live Comrade Popov!'" said the second.
  • "I am Comrade Popov," replied the third.

Public opinion in democratic nations can be equally fickle. The biblical saying

"Put not your trust in princes, not in any child of man" (Psalm 146 verse 3)

applies not just to kings and dictators but equally to political actors ion a democracy including the voters.

So those who do something to win approval from their fellows may find that approval fleeting. However, those who do something they believe to be the right course of action will find that the knowledge that they have done what they thought was right is less easy to take away from them.

In the Christian story, Jesus knew even as the crowds cheered him, that he was riding to his death,  but he rode on anyway. Ecce homo - behold the man!

Sunday music spot: Thomas Tallis, "Salvator mundi"

Quote of the day 14th April 2019


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Article 50 extension

It is a great pity that an extension to Article 50 has been necessary.

However, one of the very few things which parliament has manged to agree on in relation to Brexit in the last few months was to vote to instruct the PM to seek an extension to delay the Brexit date if no deal to leave had been agreed and she has obeyed that instruction.

In discussions with the rest of the EU the Prime Minister has agreed an extension to Article 50 until the end of October – but crucially, if a deal is passed, the UK can still leave the European Union by the end of May, before the European Elections.

Key facts

  • Britain needs to leave the EU with a deal as soon as possible; this extension will end once the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified, and the UK can leave the EU in an orderly manner. 
  • If the UK parliament is able to pass a deal in the first three weeks of May, we will not have to take part in European elections, and can leave on 31 May. 
  • During the course of the extension, the UK will continue to hold full membership rights as well as its obligations. 

Why this matters

The government has a duty to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward. Nothing is more pressing and few things are more vital.

Mini tour

I did a #Torycanvass "mini-tour" of Lancs and Cumbria in glorious sunshine today, if the wind was a bit cold: started the morning with @CopelandTories in Millom backing Ged McGrath for Mayor and spent the afternoon with Rossendale and Darwen Conservatives in Darwen South.

Music to relax after campaigning - Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave)

Voyeurism Act making "upskirting" illegal is now in effect.

From this week the Voyeurism Act has come into force in England and Wales  and ‘upskirting’ offenders can be arrested and sent to prison, ensuring more people are protected from this degrading and humiliating behaviour.

Key facts
  • Upskirting is a gross invasion of privacy, but previously not all instances were covered by criminal law. 
  • From Friday, offenders will feel the full force of the law with up to two years in jail. The most serious offenders will be placed on the sex offenders’ register. 
  • After a previous attempt to ban the practice through a private members' bill fell foul of a rogue MP, the government made parliamentary time available for the Voyeurism Act which received Royal Assent in February and is now law. 

Why this matters

There is no excuse for this disgusting behaviour, and making ‘upskirting’ an offence is another step forward in challenging sexist attitudes and behaviours in our society.

Quote of the day 13th April 2019


Friday, April 12, 2019

What is a "Vanity project"


I was quite annoyed at the county council meeting with one Lib/Dem councillor who described a number of projects to improve education in Cumbria which had been listed by my colleague Councillor Ben Shirley as "vanity projects."

I would add that the first project he had listed had been the £20 million grant to the Cumbria Education Trust which has just taken over Whitehaven Academy to provide that school (formerly known as Whitehaven School) with new school buildings. )

Generations of staff, parents and former students at that school would almost certainly agree that this school has been in desperate need of new buildings for not just years but decades - both Labour and Conservative councillors also said the same during the meeting - and that whatever a vanity project is, that one is needed.

The history of politics is listed with measures for which the title of "vanity project" is indeed appropriate - airports which only a handful of flights depart from, bridges that nobody crosses, plans for sports stadiums which, if they get built at all, are nearly always empty, magazines published at the taxpayers' expense which nobody reads.

Another councillors who spoke in the debate referred to the splitting up of the education budget into too many small separate budgets and there is definitely something in that argument. The problem goes back at least to the Blair years - New Labour provided more money for education but it came in more than sixty different funding streams each with a bureaucracy to manage it.

However, I did get the impression that there was a little bit too much of a tendency to dismiss as a vanity project something done by a rival party or level of government. Both the government and Cumbria County Council have recently launched initiatives to help children's mental health. Eve if you think one or both could be improved, does it make sense to praise the one and dismiss the other as a "vanity project?"

It's a bit like another entry for the "Irregular verbs" often cited by the character Bernard Woolley in "Yes, Prime Minister" - in this case
  • "I support vital community prorammes
  • You waste money on vanity projects
  • He siphons cash into pork-barrel schemes."

 

Frizington Fire Station: Labour back plan to replace tender with smaller vehicle

At the county council yesterday (11th April 2019) there was a vote on whether or not to approve the Integrated Risk management Plan (IRMO) for Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service.

The IRMP says that following a pilot in the south of the county, fire service chiefs will consider replacing the full-size fire tender at Arnside, Staveley and Frizington fire stations, and the second tender at Maryport, with smaller "Rapid Response Vehicles" (RRV) which carries fewer firefighters and less equipment.

This has not been presented as a saving but as an improvement to the service, on the basis that the RRV's can go out with three firefighters rather than four and may be able to get to some locations faster.

There may well be places where these RRVs can provide that improvement, as part of a balanced fleet of vehicles, but I don't believe, on the basis of what serving and recently retired firefighters from Copeland have told me, that Frizington is a sensible place to remove the full-size tender. 

The proposal that that Maryport Fire Station, which currently has two full size tenders of which there are usually often not enough firefighters to crew both, should keep one of the existing large tenders but have the other replaced by an RRV, is supported by the Allerdale local committee, and does appears to make sense. There would still be a large tender available at Maryport when it is needed and a second vehicle which is often unavailable would be replaced with one which could be used a significantly higher proportion of the time.

However, Frizington is one of the two or three worst possible places to replace the full-size tender with an RRV. It has among the best figures in West Cumbria for firefighter availability. A full-size tender serving ten thousand people which is available 90% of the time would be replaced by a significantly less capable vehicle.

I therefore proposed an amendment, which was seconded by the councillors whose division includes the Frizington fire station, Arthur Lamb, which would have had the effect of taking the Frizington proposal out of the IRMP and requiring that the Fire Service report back to the county council on the result of the pilot before any decisions which might be difficult to reverse are taken.

Sadly this amendment was defeated by 33 votes to 26 in a vote which went entirely on party lines with Conservative councillors voting to keep a full size fire engine at Frizington while Labour and Lib/Dem councillors voted against.

There was a recorded vote on the amendment, which will be published in due course, but I was keeping track of what happened. One councillor from Copeland had a cast iron excuse for having to leave the meeting early. Of the others, all seven Conservatives voted for the amendment and all four Labour councillors voted against. 

Had the Labour county councillors representing Copeland borough divisions all voted to keep the Frizington full size tender, the amendment to do so would have been carried by 30 votes to 29.

This issue is far from over. I had a long chat with the chief fire officer after the meeting, and both he and the portfolio holder promised me this is "not a done deal" and the points raised will be taken into account.