Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Vaccination Update

More that 21 million doses of an approved vaccine have now been administered in the UK to more than 20.47 million people. 




More evidence on vaccination effectiveness

This week Public Health England published more new data showing that both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/Biotech vaccines are highly effective at reducing covid infections amongst older people – adding to the growing evidence showing that the vaccines are working to reduce infections and save lives. 

  • Vaccines are at the heart of the strategy to manage the coronavirus, and their role in reducing hospitalisations and deaths will be essential as we begin to ease lockdown restrictions.
     
  • Yesterday’s report from PHE confirms that these vaccines are working, showing that a single shot of the vaccine works against severe infection amongst over-70s, with a more than 80 per cent reduction in hospitalisations for the over-80s – showing that the vaccine is helping to protect the NHS and save lives.

  • While this is fantastic news we are not out of the woods yet, and as we roll out the jab, it is vital people continue to play their role in protecting the NHS by sticking with the rules.
  • And remember: although we now have strong evidence that the vaccines do provide a substantial degree of protection, these studies are based on the difference between a control group and people who had had a vaccination dose 28 days or more before. It takes a few weeks after the jab for your body to start making the antibodies which will protect you: nobody becomes instantly invulnerable to COVID-19 when they have had the jab.


Supporting the Arts

Today the Chancellor has announced that significant additional support for the arts and culture sectors will be delivered in the Budget – supporting these vital sectors so that they are ready to bounce back as we cautiously begin to ease lockdown restrictions.

  • Throughout this pandemic the government have delivered significant support to our world-renowned arts and cultural industries and now, as we see light at the end of the tunnel, we are going further to support this vital sector.
     
  • That is why it has been announced that more than £400 million in additional support will be handed to museums, theatres and galleries in England to ensure they can reopen once restrictions start to ease – building on the historic £1.5 billion package of support already delivered for the sector.
     
  • In addition, £150 million will be delivered via the Community Ownership Fund – helping to ensure that the pubs and sports clubs that are the heart and soul of our communities are not lost to those who treasure them most.
     
  • There is now light at the end of the tunnel and the support announced today, combined with Britain's record-breaking vaccine programme, will allow our beloved arts and culture sector to captivate audiences in the months and years to come.

 

Tuesday music spot: Johann Pachelbel's Canon & Gigue

Help for the High Street

This week Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £5 billion in Restart Grants for high street shops and hospitality firms – ensuring the hardest-hit businesses have the support they need through the next stage of recovery.

  • As we begin to move into the next phase of Britain's recovery, and a gradual return to normality, the reopening of our high streets will be key to kick-starting our economic recovery.
     
  • That is why the government is delivering further support to the thousands of businesses that have been hit hardest by the pandemic through a new £5 billion grant scheme – ensuring firms can reopen and get going again as restrictions ease and people return to their high streets.

    • Under the scheme, non-essential retail businesses will get up to £6,000 per premise to help them reopen and start trading safely.
       
    • Hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses in England – which will open later under the roadmap or will be more impacted by restrictions when they do open – will get up to £18,000 per premise. 
       
  • There is now light at the end of the tunnel and this support, combined with our record-breaking vaccine programme, will allow our high-street shops to reopen their doors with optimism.
     
  • The Chancellor will outline further details of the next steps in our response to the pandemic at the Budget tomorrow (Wednesday 3 March).

Quote of the day 2nd March 2021

The statement with the blue background below was the response of the Board of Deputies of British Jews to the BBC broadcasting a panel discussion on BBC politics live - there appear to have been five people on the panel of whom I understand that only one was Jewish - about whether Jews are an ethnic minority group or not.

I cans see the board of deputies' point and it is another egregious example of the point being made by Davie Baddiel in the title (and content) of his book "Jews don't count."

Can anyone imagine for a quarter of a second that the BBC would treat any other minority group which has demonstrably been the target of lethal prejudice in such a way?



Monday, March 01, 2021

Help for Heroes

Today, the Chancellor announced that £10 million to support veterans with their mental health needs will be part of Wednesday’s Budget – ensuring our veterans with mental health get the support they deserve. 

  • We are all incredibly grateful for the sacrifices of the men and women in our Armed Forces, past and present. Our nation owes them an enormous debt.
     
  • This £10 million in new funding, distributed through grants to organisations by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, will ensure the right support is available with their mental health needs whenever they need it.
     
  • Supporting veterans with their mental health is a crucial part of repaying the debt we owe them and ensuring they get the support they deserve.

Happy St David's Day

 A very happy St David's Day to everyone reading this and especially all proud Welsh people

Music to relax on a Monday evening: J.S. Bach's "Flocks in pastures green abiding"

The Domestic abuse bill

The government announced today that a raft of new amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill will be presented this week – delivering the support victims need to feel safer while further clamping down on abusers.

  • Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this Government has done everything it can to protect everyone in this country – but we all know some communities are still particularly vulnerable. 
     
  • This report shows that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and that while outcomes have improved for some ethnic minority groups since the first wave there is still more to be done. The government will continue to take action at every step of this pandemic to ensure all communities and vulnerable people are protected. 
     
  • The vaccine rollout is the light at the end of the tunnel, and as it continues, the NHS and the NHS, the government and medical experts are urging everyone who is offered one to take the opportunity, to protect themselves, their family, and their community by doing so. If you are in any doubt about whether a particular vaccine is right for you or your family, talk to an appropriate medical professional.

Funding the Vaccination programme

Today Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an extra £1.65 billion for our Covid vaccine programme – helping to maintain the momentum of the rollout as we work to reach our target of offering a vaccine to every adult by the end of July.

  • The speed at which Britain's vaccine programme has progressed has been extraordinary and we want to thank everyone involved for their efforts – but we must ensure we keep up the momentum. 
     
  • That is why the government is putting an extra £1.65 billion into the programme, as well as pledging £22 million of existing funding into a trial to establish whether if using different vaccine doses could offer more flexibility, and £5 million for the Centre for Process Innovation to acquire a library of vaccines to use in its work against different variants. 
     
  • This funding will help meet the target of offering a vaccine to every adult in the UK  by 31 July and help us to lift restrictions, reopen our economy and focus our attention on creating jobs and levelling up every part of the UK.

Quote of the day 1st March 2021

 


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sunday music spot: Bach's "Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring" (Both verses!)



Can't believe how long it took me, searching through all the versions of this lovely cantata on YouTube to find one sung audibly in clear English, and in tune, and including both verses rather than just the first one. (To be fair, that was partly because there were a lot of good versions sung in the original German!) 

Never mind, found one in the end!

Vaccination update

OVER 20 MILLION people across the UK have now received at least one dose of an approved vaccine against COVID-19.

As the Prime Minister has set out, the target is now to offer a coronavirus vaccine to every adult in the country by the end of July.

We have administered 20,885,663 vaccination doses throughout the UK to 20,089,551 people  - averaging more than 2.5 million doses a week and have vaccinated 1 in 3 adults across the country with at least one dose.


A vaccination dose has now been offered to everyone in the top four priority groups and Britain has now given a first vaccination to two thirds of people aged between 65 and 69, after invites went out a week ago, with people aged 64 also set to be called forward this week.

Only two countries, the United States and China, have vaccinated more people than the UK. We are also the third country in the world for vaccinations per capita behind only Israel and the UEA – a testament to British science, as we are leading the world from the front in science, research and development.

Overall, Britain has secured early access to over 407 million total doses of vaccines for 2021 and 2022. This means we will have the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in Oxford, Staffordshire and Wrexham; the Novovax vaccine made in Teesside and the Valneva vaccine, subject to approval, produced in Livingston, Scotland – a great example of what we can achieve together as one United Kingdom. 

Free testing for households with school age children

It has been announced today that all households with children of school age will be able to get two rapid covid-19 tests per person per week – delivering on the commitment to get children back in school and slow the spread of the virus. 

  • Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their education amidst unprecedented challenges – but we all want to see our children back in the classroom from March 8. And we all want this to be safe.
     
  • That is why the government will provide regular, rapid testing to households, childcare and support bubbles of primary, secondary and college-age children and young people – helping to isolate new cases and keep our educational settings safe and children in school. 
     
  • By everyone playing their part and getting tested regularly, vital public services, workplaces and educational settings can stay open and running, and we can move closer to a more normal way of life.

Restart grants for high street shops and the hospitality sector

Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £5 billion in Restart Grants for high street shops and hospitality firms – ensuring the hardest-hit businesses have the support they need through the next stage of recovery. 

  • As Britain begins to move into the next phase of our recovery, and a gradual return to normality, the reopening of our high streets will be key to kick-starting our economic recovery.  
     
  • That is why the government is delivering further support to the thousands of businesses that have been hit hardest by the pandemic through a new £5 billion grant scheme – ensuring firms can reopen and get going again as restrictions ease and people return to their high streets.

    • Under the scheme, non-essential retail businesses will get up to £6,000 per premise to help them reopen and start trading safely.
       
    • Hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses in England – which will open later under the roadmap or will be more impacted by restrictions when they do open – will get up to £18,000 per premise.
       
  • There is now light at the end of the tunnel and the support announced today, combined with the UK's record-breaking vaccine programme, will allow our high-street shops to reopen their doors with optimism.
     
  • The Chancellor will outline further details of the next steps in our response to the pandemic at the Budget on Wednesday 3 March.

Quote of the day 28th February 2021

"Britain’s choice is not between a flag-waving jingoism or throwing its history into the river, and political leaders fail us when they frame debates in those terms. 

The culture warriors on either side want to divide us into us-versus-them: patriots versus anti-racists. But after listening to Britons from all backgrounds over the past year, I’m convinced both sides are out of touch with the reality of public attitudes, which are so much more nuanced than a playground fight between two sides. 

For example, among black and ethnic minority Brits we find a greater awareness of racism in today’s Britain and wrongs in Britain’s past, but also higher levels of pride in British identity than average. Across the whole population we find that a significant source of national pride is the progress we have made in embracing diversity – a pride shared by 68% of Britons."


(Tim Dixon, from an article on CAPX which you can read in full here.)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Book Review: "Jews Don't Count" by David Baddiel

I have been reading David Baddiel's excellent and powerful book "Jews don't count." and was already wondering whether to post an online review.

That decision was made for me because today we had an egregious display on Twitter in particular and social media in general of the exact blind spot which the book points out.

Baddiel makes a convincing argument that on all sides of the political spectrum there is an extraordinary capacity even of people who are generally strongly and genuinely opposed to racism to fail to consider Jewish people, or to forget about, fail to notice, or downplay racism against Jews in a way that they would never do about almost any other form of racism.

In some ways it is more alarming that this blind spot applies not just to downright Anti-Semites but to people who had no intention of being racist. Individuals who will instantly apologise and make an effort to adjust their behavior if anyone calls them on it - which strongly suggests that nobody ever has.

Baddiel is a football fan and writes about the experiences he and his brother had of racism on the terraces. Not all that long ago racist chanting and abuse was completely endemic throughout football. The problem hasn't been completely stamped out but enormous efforts to reduce it have been made.

Except for Anti-Semitic abuse. There are only 24 hours in the day and nobody can do everything, so I've never paid enough attention to football to know first hand how widespread is Baddiel's experience that officials and fans tolerate abusive comments against Jews which they would never tolerate against any other race, But I know enough to take David Baddiel's points seriously, because I know there is at least some truth in what he writes about the club which one of my close relatives supports - Spurs (a.k.a. Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.) 

Spurs is based in a part of North London which has a significant Jewish population and has come to be seen by rival fans as a "Jewish" club, even though it isn't. That includes some people referring to the club and it's supporters by a word beginning with "Y" which is an insulting name for Jewish people - and which I would no more write or allow to be written on this blog than I would allow the equivalent insulting word for a black person beginning with "N."

Baddiel argues that there has been more tolerance of this - and indeed failure on the part of people who would not deliberately support any kind of racism to spot the problem - than there would be for other forms of racism. It may be an education issue; it may be that, because the word does not provoke the level of response that most other such words do; not everyone even knows that it is a racial slur.

The club itself is sufficiently bothered by this that quite recently - December 2020 to be precise - it adopted the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism to reinforce its commitment that "The Club has a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism as well as any other form of discrimination."

It is quite extraordinary that prejudice against the race who were the main victims of the worst act of genocide in history should be the very same prejudice that many people apparently forget to consider when talking about racism. Yet this does indeed appear to be the case.

The title of David Baddiel's book is a perfect description of what anyone who is defending a barrage of tweets today from Labour MPs and activists about their new Scottish leader would have to argue.

I congratulate Anas Sarwar on his election today as the new leader of the Scottish Labour party.

However, it is absolutely wrong for Labour MPs and activists from the party's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner to describe him as  

"the first ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK."

Nonsense.

The first ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK took office a hundred and fifty three years ago when Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister.


I've seen some people argue that he doesn't count as a Jew because he converted to the Church of England. That is utterly silly. Disraeli didn't stop being the target of Anti-Semitism, didn't stop being proud of his Jewish heritage and didn't stop describing himself and being described by others as a Jew when he joined the Anglican church. 

Once he was on the receiving end of an insult in the House of Commons from the leader of the Irish nationalists which included mention of his Jewish ancestry, and he replied

"Yes, I am a Jew,"

and added that his ancestors "were priests in the temple of Solomon."

I can think of at least three other people from ethnic minorities who became leaders of UK political parties. After Disraeli the Conservatives had Michael Howard.

The Liberal party had their first leader from an ethnic minority nearly as long ago as the Conservatives: ninety years ago this year in Herbert Samuel.

And indeed, Anas Sarwar isn't even the first national leader of Angela Rayner's own political party for the UK or one of the four nations who was a member of an ethnic minority - Ed Miliband beat him to that distinction in 2010.

Disraeli, Samuel, Howard, Miliband, all ignored by Rayner and others. Now what do the four leaders these Labour members are leaving out today have in common?

Oh yes. It's as if Angela is going by the title of David Baddiel's book: "Jews don't count."

March meeting of CCC's Copeland local committee

Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland will meet online at 10.30pm this coming Tuesday (1st March 2021) at 10.30am.

The full agenda including supporting documents plus a link to watch and listen to the meeting online or subsequently is available on the CCC website at 

Agenda for County Council Local Committee for Copeland on Tuesday, 2nd March, 2021, 10.15 am | Cumbria County Council

Among the items are


6. Children Looked After Update

(To receive a report by the Executive Director – People)

7. Sellafield Transport Plan

(To receive a report by the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure).

8. 2020/21 Local committee devolved Highways budget. 

(This report presents the Highways Devolved Budget Finance figures and includes an update on the Highways Revenue and Capital Programme for Copeland.)

9. Copeland Highways Working Group

(Minutes of the meeting of the Copeland Highways Working Group held on 10th February 2021)

10. Area Planning Report

(This report provides Local Committee with an update of activity undertaken by the Communities Team since its last meeting.  It is also to advise Members on their current budget position.  This report makes reference to the ongoing COVID 19 Response and recovery activities.)

John Lloyd on why Amnesty International should restore Alexei Navalny's Prisoner of Conscience Status

I have previously blogged here on why I think Amnesty's decision to allow itself to be manipulated by Kremlin propaganda to remove "Prisoner of Conscience" status from Russia's best known prisoner of conscience, Alexei Navalny was a dire mistake.

I linked in that blogpost to this excellent critique on The Article by Daniel Johnson of that decision,

An even better piece on the subject by John Lloyd can be found here on the CAPX website.

He argues that Putin has weaponised Western wokery, and if we do not want to allow the Putin regime to weaken democracy in both his country and our own, we need to understand his tactics as well as he knows how to exploit our weaknesses and avoid confronting our strengths.

He argues that those who fight despotic regimes should not have to "pass an exam set by Western liberals" - especially if they are up against people who practice the ultimate forms of "cancel culture" - e.g. lethal ones.

 You don't have to agree with Navalny's statements more than a decade ago about immigrants, which he more recently said he regrets, or with Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to denounce the atrocious treatment of the Rohingya 

(though the subsequent coup against her by those very generals does cast a possible light on why she might not have felt able to) 

to recognise that neither of those people should be in prison, or to avoid paying the international attention which might just deter the tyrannical regimes which have locked them up from deciding to have something worse happen to them.

Saturday music spot: Handel's Air from the Water music

Quote of the day 27th February 2021


 

For the benefit of those who may not pick up the subtext of the above quote - it may seem like a statement of the obvious, but it is not. 

This quote by the President of the Scottish law society is a shot across the bows of all those politicians, including the First Minister of Scotland, who have made comments unhelpful to the reputation of the Scottish legal system and to the principle that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Resolution for ceasefires to permit vaccination against COVID adopted by the Security council

 BREAKING NEWS: 

UN resolution on ceasefires in conflict zones UNANIMOUSLY ADOPTED by Security Council.

Today’s decision is an important step in equitable access to vaccines, and to protecting the world’s most vulnerable.



UK Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said,

"I am proud that today, under the UK Presidency, the UN Security Council ceasefires resolution was unanimously agreed.  It will get vaccines to the most vulnerable people in conflict zones so that no one is left behind. We need a global solution to a global pandemic."


Some political campaigning can resume on 8th March

Like a lot of other things, almost all political campaigning has been suspended during lockdowns with the exception, obviously, of things like online campaigning and telephone canvassing.

There are a large number of elections coming up on Thursday 6th May - many of which have already been postponed for a year, and it would be bad for democracy to postpone them again or not to allow any campaigning. However as the government website with guidance on campaigning rules in England says,

"All those involved in the electoral process must also ensure that public health is protected. There is therefore a necessary balance to be struck in allowing campaigning activity and continuing to protect the NHS and save lives. It is essential that political campaigners continue to show social responsibility, and parties, agents and candidates ensure that their campaigners understand the rules."

All forms of doorstep campaigning are currently against the COVID rules and will remain so until 8th March.

However the government intends to ask parliament to relax the rules from 8th March to allow political campaigning subject to a number of changes.

  • The number of nominating signatures required to stand will temporarily be greatly reduced for this year's elections to reduce the difficulty of getting signatures in a COVID-secure way. For example, candidates for district and county council elections including by-elections (we have quite a few of those in Cumbria) will now only require two nominating signatures instead of ten.
  • Appropriate PPE such as masks must be worn
  • Campaigning teams must not meet indoors
  • Canvassers must not enter a private home. They may speak to people on their doorstep while maintaining a safe distance of two metres.
  • The number of campaigners operating together should be kept to an absolute minimum and a minimum 2 metres distance should be maintained between them at all times.


Subject to these restrictions canvassing and leaflet delivery can resume on 8th May, as a tweet from the Conservative party chairman Amanda Milling put it:



The page with government guidance referenced in that tweet can be found here.


 

Music to start the weekend: Prelude from Edvard Grieg's Holberg suite

Amnesty International should not deny "Prisoner of Conscience" status to Alexei Navalny

I have in the past been a member of Amnesty International's student branch at my old University and have collected signatures and otherwise supported Amnesty campaigns.

So it is from the perspective of someone sympathetic to the declared objectives of the organisation that I express deep regret at their recent decision to deny "prisoner of conscience" status to a brave man who has been jailed for standing up to one of the most brutal tyrants in the world today.

Alexei Navalny returned to Russia when he had recovered from Novichok poisoning. If anyone reading this believes he wasn't poisoned on the orders of President Putin, I have some shares in the Forth Bridge I would like to sell you at a bargain price.

He was sent to prison on blatantly trumped up charges. Millions of Russian people do not believe he was guilty of those charges and neither do I.

When I was going round asking people to sign petitions on behalf of Amnesty calling for the release of prisoners of conscience, the definition was as follows:

"Any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing (in any form of words or symbols) any opinion which he honestly holds and which does not advocate or condone personal violence. We also exclude those people who have conspired with a foreign government to overthrow their own."

I have seen no indication that Alexei Navalny does not meet that defnition.

However, the Kremlin's propaganda arm RT (formerly "Russia Today") has dug up things Navalny wrote more than ten years ago about immigrants which could fairly be described as prejudiced. They have been using this to blacken his name and encourage people to write to Amnesty International urging them to strip him of his "prisoner of conscience" status.

Navalny no longer holds the views concerned and has expressed regret for them. As I understand it none of those old comments amount to incitement to violence or condoning violence.

Amnesty has apparently, however buckled under the campaign organised by the Kremlin and revokved Navalny's "prisoner of conscience" status. FT promptly presented this decision as proof that he is a "nazi." 

I think that giving in to this campaign was a mistake by Amnesty - there is a good piece on the subject by Daniel Johnson on The Article website here.

Quote of the day 26th Feb 2021

“I am only 83 and unless I am careful, I will not have the time to start my next career.”

Rt Hon Lord Fowler on stepping down as Lord Speaker of the House of Lords.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thursday Music spot: Mozart's - Piano Concerto No. 21 (Andante)

OK - let's have a memory test. Who remembers which film used this piece as its' theme tune? 

And can anyone remember what it was about, or anything about that film other than the fact that for that reason this music was usually referred to as the 'theme from ****** *******' for a while? 

Answers in the comments, please.

E10 fuel

The government announced today that a new, greener fuel will be introduced at petrol stations across the UK later this year, helping to cut Britain's carbon emissions and secure jobs as we build back better and greener.

  • If Britain is to meet our world leading commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, then we need to accelerate our efforts to cut emissions from our roads and move towards a greener transport system.
     
  • Hence the introduction of E10 fuel – an eco-friendly blend of petrol and ethanol – in September later this year, which could cut UK carbon emissions by 750,000 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road, while boosting job opportunities in places like the north east, where much of our bioethanol is produced.
     
  • This small switch will help drivers across the country reduce the environmental impact of their journeys, helping us to build back greener from the pandemic.

Vaccination Update

Yesterday the Prime Minister set out to the British people how the success of our vaccination programme is saving lives, and supports us all in the aim to build back better across every part of the country after this pandemic. 

As of 25 February, 18,691,835 people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Just over 700,000 have received both doses.


More information at Vaccinations | Coronavirus in the UK (data.gov.uk)

The levelling up fund

The government has announced that the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund will be extended to cover the whole of the UK, helping to boost growth across every corner of the country as we build back better from the pandemic. 

  • We are committed to levelling-up opportunity across every part of the United Kingdom, so that all communities can benefit from our future prosperity as we recover from this pandemic.
     
  • That is why the government is extending our Levelling Up Fund so that it covers the whole of the UK, making at least £800 million available so that communities across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can benefit from extra investment in their town centres, high street regeneration, local transport, cultural and heritage projects.
     
  • Making the Levelling Up Fund UK-wide will enable it to target funding at the places that need it most, ensuring that no community is left behind as we build back better.

Teacher assessment to replace this year's school exams

The last thing children need is a repeat of the problems last year in all four UK nations with the assessments which replaced exams. 

So I welcome the announced today by the government setting out exam results this year will be awarded and determined by teachers, providing the fairest possible system for pupils in the unusual circumstances that this year has been so badly disrupted by the coronavirus, so they can progress to the next stage of their education or career. I particularly welcome the fact that no algorithm will be used. 

As someone who uses statistics a lot in my professional life, I am only too aware that there things for which algorithms are very useful and things they cannot do. Assessing children fairly on the basis of data which does not exist in statistical form is one of the latter.

  • Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their education amidst unprecedented challenges while the country has fought against coronavirus, and those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.
     
  • That is why this year, students will receive their GCSE and A-level grades from those who know them best – their teachers – who will be able to assess pupils through a combination of mock exams, coursework, and essays, and the optional use of questions provided by exam boards. No algorithm will be used.
     
  • Alongside the government's £700 million education recovery package and £1 billion Covid Catch Up Fund, these measures will ensure that students can get the grades that truly reflect their ability and potential, so they can progress to the next stage of their education or training, and get the future they deserve.

Quotes of the day 25th February 2021

"In the 80s Labour and the press moaned about the Tories shutting mines; now they are moaning about Tories opening them! Par for the course ....."

(Mark Adrian Solomon, response on Facebook to my Conservative Home article)


"It seems strange that now we have Conservatives wanting to open a coal mine and Labour opposing it."

(Thomas_Lokier· in the Conservative Home comments on the same article)


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Trade opportunities for British farmers

Yesterday the International Trade Secretary spoke at the NFU conference about the new doors opening for farmers through free and fair trade in the UK’s future outside of the EU.

  • For nearly fifty years British farmers were been held back by an anti-innovation approach, high tariff walls with the rest of the world, and sometimes unreasonable  bans on our farm products.
     
  • Britain now has the opportunity to set our own tariffs and deal with these issues. We are seizing on our freedom to deepen our trade worldwide and access new markets where the real opportunities lie for Britain and our farmers as we diversify to avoid dependence on one market.
     
  • British farmers and food producers are at the heart of our international trade agreements and together we can seize the golden opportunities that lay ahead for us outside of the EU.

Support for schools and children

Today the government has announced a £700 million recovery package for children and young people in England – helping them to catch up on learning lost due to the pandemic and access the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential.

  • Everyone is grateful for the heroic efforts of teachers and parents who have been home schooling during coronavirus, but we all know that the classroom is the best place for our children to be. 
     
  • To further support the re-opening of schools on 8 March the government is are providing a £700 million programme of catch-up funding, including a Recovery Premium for the most disadvantaged students, funding the extension of the already successful National Tutoring Programme and delivering face-to-face summer schools. 
     
  • This extensive programme of catch-up funding will equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to support their pupils, and give children the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential. 

Climate change and security

Yesterday the Prime Minister chaired a UN Security Council session on climate and security – the first time a British Prime Minister has chaired the Council in almost 30 years – in which he called for international action to reduce carbon emissions and help vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change, enhancing the prosperity and security of our planet for the future.

  • Climate change represents one of the gravest threats to global peace and security. Unless we join together and take bold action to tackle it, the world risks more conflict, displacement, and insecurity in the future.
     
  • That is why the Prime Minister used Britain' presidency of the UN Security Council to urge world leaders to follow the UK’s lead in committing to reach net zero emissions and push for more support to help fragile states adapt to climate change, helping avert future conflict, misery and famine.  
     
  • The UK has led the way on climate action and as we build towards COP26 we will continue to urge others to be equally bold, so that we can avert climate conflicts and protect our planet for future generations.

Quote of the day 24th February 2021

"Professor David Miller’s work has long been deeply offensive to me and to many Jews but that is not remotely a conclusive argument for his dismissal. However, I fear the same cannot be said for his recent response to controversies about his work.

Miller has chosen to attack the Bristol University Jewish Society — proper, actual students at his own university — as being part of a co-ordinated campaign of censorship directed by the state of Israel. He further told the Jewish Chronicle that: “There is a real question of abuse here — of Jewish students on British campuses being used as political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”.

Bristol University may regard Professor Miller’s amazing theories about power elites as part of the rich tapestry of political sociology and as merely a home for views on Israel I don’t happen to share.

It cannot, however, allow some 19- year-old student who comes up from Radlett to study, I don’t know, botany and joins the Jewish society to be characterised by one of its own professors as having signed up to a foreign-backed conspiracy to subvert the country’s politics.

If Bristol cannot tell the difference between such an assault and the normal cut and thrust of academic and political discourse then it doesn’t have any business even teaching political sociology."


(Danny Finkelstein, extract from an article in the Times on Professor David Miller. See previous post on this blog for my take on the same gentleman.) 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The University of Bristol, Free Speech and Professor David Miller.

I have been struggling for some time with the conflict between my strong personal conviction in favour of free speech, particularly in Universities, and my concern over the fact that one of the professors at my old University in Bristol, David Miller, has said and written some deeply problematic things.

That's "problematic" as in "resigned from the Labour party before Sir Keir Starmer could throw him out" while under investigation for alleged Anti-Semitism after Sir Keir started to make a serious attempt to do something about that problem.

I am very proud of the fact that I successfully persuaded Cumbria County Council to adopt the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism in a non-partisan manner, bending over backwards to avoid using the motion to score party-political points and thereby ensuring that the motion was passed nem. con. While researching that speech I learned about the work of the Community Security Trust in protecting Jewish places of worship and Jewish people generally from Anti-Semitic hate incidents. 

CST actually exists to protect Jewish people against racist attacks, and is recognised by the UK government and the police as a model of good practice, so I was incandescent with fury when David Miller smeared CST as "an organisation that exists to run point for a hostile foreign government" (e.g. Israel) and part of a "witch hunt."

My first draft of this post on FB had a Freudian slip there, I wrote "a witch hunt against anti-semites" when he actually accused CST of being part of a witch-hunt, full stop.  And then of blurring the distinction between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. Actually I think it is the Anti-Semites who had already done that. Not all Anti-Zionists are racist or Anti-Semitic. But just about every modern Anti-Semite describes himself or herself as an Anti-Zionist.

I have up to now believed that Bristol University cannot and should not take action against David Miller for views he expresses as an individual at events organised by groups like "Labour against the Witch Hunt," no matter how disgraceful I may find his comments. About the only thing Noam Chomsky ever said that I agree with is that if we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." 


I stand by all the comments I have made over forty years in favour of free speech at the University, both as a student and at University Court meetings, where I once proposed a free speech motion. Even for someone like David Miller, provided he stays within the law and lives up to his academic responsibilities.

The question is whether he did fail in his academic responsibilities when he publicly criticised two individual Jewish students at the University - the chairs respectively of Bristol J-Soc and UJS - describing them as formally part of the Zionist movement and of acting as pawns for “a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”. As he has also said that Zionism is "the enemy" and "has no place in any society" accused people he identifies as Zionists as agents of a hostile foreign state and added that he wants "to end Zionism as a functioning ideology," being described as a Zionist in this way and by such a person is a pretty chilling insult.

I am coming to the conclusion that when a university professor makes a public attack like that on two students at the university where he teaches, one of whom is 19 years old and the other presumably a similar age, we are no longer just talking about a free speech issue. There is at least a case to answer that we are talking about a misconduct issue, not because of David Miller's opinions but because he has failed to act in accordance with a duty of care towards students at the institution where he teaches.

The last thing we need is for this to become a party political issue, which it is threatening to do. But there has to be a way for those of us who strongly believe in free speech to ensure that the fundamental right to express unpopular opinions does not mean the ability to intimidate or vilify your students.

Gus Kennedy RIP

I am sorry to learn from St Bees Parish Council that Gus Kennedy died in hospital in the early hours of this morning with his wife Lesley at his bedside, following a sudden deterioration in his health

He died peacefully.

Gus was an active and enthusiastic member of St Bees Parish council; his rejuvenation of the allotments being the first of many contributions. As recently as last week he was still actively engaged, when he volunteered to join the Beach Bowl group. This was stimulated by his love of theatre. 

He was chairman of the Village Hall committee, and in this role played an important part in the regeneration of the Village Hall. He was a keen amateur playwright, and I am told that many in the village will long remember his pantomimes and murder mysteries.

Thoughts and prayers are with Lesley and the rest of his family.

Rest in Peace



Vaccination update

OVER 17.9 MILLION people have now received at least one vaccination dose in the UK.

As the Prime Minister set out, our ambition is now to offer a coronavirus vaccine to every adult in the country by the end of July. Britain has administered over 18.3 million vaccines - averaging more than 2.5 million doses a week and have vaccinated 1 in 3 adults across the country.

 


A vaccination dose has now been offered to everyone in the top four priority groups and Britain has now vaccinated two thirds of people aged between 65 and 69, after invites went out last week, with people aged 64 set to be called forward this week.

 Only two countries, the United States and China, have vaccinated more people than the UK. We are also the third country in the world for vaccinations per capita behind only Israel and the UEA.

 Overall, we have secured early access to over 407 million total doses of vaccines for 2021 and 2022. This means we will have the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in Oxford, Staffordshire and Wrexham; the Novovax vaccine made in Teesside and the Valneva vaccine, subject to approval, produced in Livingston, Scotland – a great example of what we can achieve together as one United Kingdom.

Once the UK population has been vaccinated the vast majority of the surplus vaccination doses will be offered to less fortunate countries to help protect the world.

Study confirms protection provided by Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after the first dose

Yesterday Public Health England published a landmark UK study showing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provides effective protection against Covid-19 from the first dose, proving that the vaccine protects people and their loved ones around them.

  • As we continue to rollout lifesaving vaccines, it is important that we see as much evidence as possible on the impact they are having on protection and on transmission, and we will continue to publish evidence as we gather it.
     
  • This crucial report shows the vaccines are working and that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offers both a high degree of protection to those that take it, reducing hospitalisation and death by 75 per cent after the first dose, and reduces transmission, helping to protect others too.
  • That isn't the only recent encouraging data. Apart from the continuing stats from Israel suggesting that the vaccination programme is helping, Public Health Scotland (PHS) has been working with Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Glasgow and St Andrews who looked at data on people who had received either the Pfizer/BioNTech jab or the one developed by scientists at the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca.
  • They found that four weeks after receiving the initial dose, the Oxford jab appeared to reduce a person's risk of hospital admission by 94%.
  • Those who received the Pfizer jab had a reduction in risk of 85% between 28 and 34 days after the first dose.
  • Data for the two jabs combined showed that among people over the age of 80 - who are at high risk of severe disease - the reduction in risk of hospital admission was 81% four weeks after the first dose.
  • While this is fantastic news we are not out of the woods yet, and as we roll out the jab, it is vital people continue to play their role in protecting the NHS by sticking with the rules.
        All these studies were showing that the first jab provides protection four weeks after it had been taken. Studies from Israel suggested that there was an effect from two weeks after the jab. We should assume that it takes between two and four weeks for the protective effect to kick in:



        The Roadmap out of lockdown

        Yesterday the Prime Minister produced a roadmap to cautiously ease restrictions in England – setting out a one way road to freedom.

        • Because of the resolve and perseverance of the British people, and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating over 17.6 million people across the UK, the government has set out what we all hope will be a one way road to freedom. 
           
        • With more people being vaccinated every day, it is now possible to begin to gradually replace restrictions across England, working closely with the devolved nations, but this should be done cautiously so that this is the final lockdown and our progress is irreversible. 
           
        • The roadmap sets out four stages for easing restrictions, with at least five weeks between each phase to allow us to examine the latest data and subject it to four key tests: 

          • That the vaccine rollout continues successfully.
          • That the evidence shows vaccines are effective at preventing hospitalisation and death.
          • That infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations that would put the NHS under unsustainable pressure.
          • That our assessment is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern 
             
        • With the four tests currently met, the first step will be getting all children back into schools from 8 March, supported by mass testing, and prioritising ways for people to safely reunite with their loved ones outdoors and in care homes with a named visitor.
           
        • There will also be further limited changes from 29 March, when schools go on Easter holidays. At that point, it will become possible to meet in limited numbers outdoors, where the risk is lower. So the Rule of Six will return outdoors, including in private gardens, and outdoor sports facilities will also reopen.
           
        • There will be further easing in step two, which will follow five weeks after step one, so no earlier than 12 April, with shops, hairdressers, gyms, holiday lets and others allowed to reopen, alongside pubs and restaurants that can serve outdoors. We will also publish the results of our review of international travel.
           
        • Steps three and four will follow at five week intervals after that, so long as the four tests continue to be met, and see the last remaining restrictions lifted, so no earlier than 17 May and 21 June, as we begin to return to life as normal.
           
        • The success of Britain's vaccination programme has dramatically changed our odds in defeating this disease. By proceeding cautiously through the four phases of our roadmap, we can restore people’s freedoms and usher in a Spring and Summer full of hope without undoing the sacrifices that have helped get us to this point.

        My Conservative Home piece on the mine

        I have written a piece on Conservative Home about the case for West Cumbria Mining's Woodhouse Colliery application, which you can read here.

        Tuesday music spot: Handel's The King Shall Rejoice

        Quote of the day 23rd February 2021

        "In an age of rage, we prefer to scald and hurt rather than understand and learn."

        "Much political discourse today is conducted in the feverish hives of social media. Extremes dominate, no quarter is given, and pre-worn prejudices are aggressively applied in all situations. On Covid, many have already donned the black cap and passed bilious sentence on our leaders long before any official, considered verdict can be rendered.

        By all means, investigate the errors (and the successes) of this destructive crisis with rigour. Dig out corruption and bad practice. Let’s learn from the what ifs. But our society is better served if we do so with empathy, some humility, and an understanding that human frailty lies at the heart of the governing process. Leave the hate and the abuse out of it. After all, what if it had been you?"


        (Chris Deerin, article in The Press and Journal which you can read in full here.)


        Monday, February 22, 2021

        Consultation starts on Unitary local government in Cumbria

        Long awaited consultation starts on Local Government reorganisation in Cumbria (and two other areas of the UK. 

        Views sought on all four options put forward by local councils.

        The government has announced today a consultation on the options for Local Government Reorganisation put forward by councils in Cumbria (and two other areas of England)

        All four options put forward for Cumbria by one or more of the seven principal councils in the county are included in the consultation, which is open until 11.45pm on 18th April.

        Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:

        "I have always been clear that any restructuring of local government must be locally-led and will not involve top-down solutions from government.

        "Now that councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset have submitted their proposals, I am pleased residents, businesses and service providers will have the opportunity to have their say on what will work best for their area.

        "Where there is local support, changing the structure of local government can offer better value for money and improved services for residents.

        Residents, councils, Local Enterprise Partnerships, public service providers, businesses and voluntary organisations will now have the opportunity to have their say on which proposal, if any, they see as the best fit for their area."

        The four options put forward are as follows:

        Allerdale and Copeland councils – jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 

        • West Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Copeland Borough Councils  and 
        • East Cumbria comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District Councils.

        (The above is the proposal which I will be strongly supporting)

        Barrow and South Lakeland councils - jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 

        • 'The Bay' comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, South Lakeland District and Lancaster City Councils and 
        • North Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City, Copeland Borough and Eden District Councils.

        (The proposed "North Cumbria in this option is, of course, tantamount to recreating the historic county of Cumberland so I'm surprised they didn't call it that. That part of the option has quite a bit going for it, including alignment with local NHS stuctures which would make integrated Health and Social care policy much easier. 

        Unfortunately their "The Bay" proposal rips Lancashire's county town and its' hinterland out of that county with no apparent thought to what happens to the rest of Lancashire and I do not see how you can proceed with this proposal without a lot more work on the knock-on implications for Lancashire.)


        Carlisle and Eden  – jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 

        • North Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough,  Carlisle City and Eden District Councils and 
        • South Cumbria comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Copeland Borough and South Lakeland District Councils.

        (The fatal problem with this proposal is that it puts two areas with utterly incompatible cultures, aspirations  and attitudes - Copeland and South Lakeland - into the same unitary authority. There is already tension between these areas which don't really belong in the same county. Putting them in the same planning authority would be a recipe for all-out war unless the new council agreed to a massive degree of devolution to local areas and mechanisms to ensure local decisions are respected.)


        Cumbria County Council submitted a proposal for a single unitary council for the area of Cumbria County.

        (See my comments on the Carlisle and Eden proposal immediately above, And the current county of Cumbria is too geographically huge and disparate to be a good fit as a unitary authority. It could only work if you had a directly-elected Mayor and a huge degree of devolution to local committees.)

        Those are the proposals, and what I think: what do you think?

        You can express your views at: Cumbria Unitarisation - Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Citizen Space - Citizen Space