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.


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.

How not to control house prices

The right way to keep house prices at sensible levels:
  • Ensure that enough homes get built to meet reasonable local need, that it is not made ridiculously difficult to get planning permission for necessary developments and that the homes which are built are a decent match with the ones people want to live in.

The wrong way to keep house prices at sensible levels:
  • Give the Bank of England control over house prices.

Guess which one the Labour party want to try?
  • You guessed it!

The Labour leader and shadow chancellor are unreconstructed seventies "command economy" socialists who think the answer to every problem is government regulation.

We can all agree that there is a problem with a shortage of housing in some parts of the country and prices and rents which make it very difficult for the less advantaged and the young to get on the housing ladder.

This would not make it sensible, as Julian Harris points out in his article here on City AM,

"Labour's desire for the Bank of England to control UK house prices is disastrous and illogical,"

to try to give the job of setting house prices to the Bank of England.

As the head of the Bank, governor Mark Carney told a City audience back in 2014:

“The underlying dynamic of the housing market reflects a chronic shortage of housing supply, which the Bank of England can’t tackle directly.” 

He added: “We are not able to build a single house.”

Quote of the day 12th April 2019

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Good news on economic growth

Britain's economy grew faster than expected at the start of 2019, showing that the Conservative government's balanced approach to the country’s finances is working.

Key facts:
  • GDP increased by 0.3 per cent in the three months to February, higher than the 0.2 per cent forecast. 
  • Computer programming and retail trade were the fastest growing parts of the economy over the last three months. 
  • Manufacturing output rose to its highest level since 2008, with a strong rise in computer and electrical components.

Annual meeting of Cumbria County Council

Today's Cumbria County Council meeting essentially took up the entire day, with a pre-meeting first thing, the actual meeting starting at 10 am, and it lasted until shortly before 5pm with a short break for lunch.

All credit to Martin Barbour who lasted the whole meeting (not everyone did, although some of those who had to leave early had cast iron excuses such as hospital appointments) and then after the drive home joined Ged McGrath and Conservative candidates for Copeland Borough Council in Hillcrest for a spot of campaigning.

I'm going to write up some of the issues coming out of the meeting such as
  • Frizington Fire Engine
  • What is a "Vanity project"
However I will; say this evening that I would like to thank all those councillors who have sponsored me for Swimathon 2019.

Phil Dew, Neil Hughes, Andy Connell, Trevor Allison and Tony Markley all sponsored me today and their combined donations plus those previously paid in either directly to me or online took me past my fundraising target for the event in support of Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK.

I have incidentally had sponsorship for councillors of all the main political parties as well as work colleagues and other friends which shows that generosity is not something limited to any part of the political spectrum.

Not too late to sponsor me if anyone else reading this wishes to do so, and you can support the excellent work of Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK on my justgiving page here.

Music to relax after a council meeting & campaigning: the "Albinoni" Adagio

After a council meeting and pre-meeting lasting nearly eight hours, a round trip to Kendal and back for it, and some time spent delivering leaflets when I finally got back to Copeland, I needed something good to relax to, and music doesn't come much better than the "Albinoni" adagio.

I have previously posted performances of this piece several time. For those who have not already seen one of those posts or have forgotten, the rather extraordinary history of this lovely piece of music and the reason why the name of the supposed composer "Albinono" has been placed in inverted commas may be found here.

Quote of the day 11th April 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Frizington Fire Station

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

As currently drafted this IRMP says that the authority will consider replacing the full-size fire tender at Frizington fire station with a smaller "Rapid Response Vehicle" (RRV) which carries fewer firefighters and less equipment.

This has not been presented as a saving but as an improvement to the service.

I don't buy it.

These RRV's may well have a place in the service as part of a balanced fleet of vehicles - for example. there is a proposal that that Maryport Fire Station, which currently has two full size tenders of which there are often not enough firefighters to crew both, should keep one of the existing large tenders but have the other replaced by an RRV. That idea, which is supported by the Allerdale local committee, 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 the vast majority of the time would be replaced by a significantly less capable vehicle.

I cannot support this part of the plan, and I hope that the council does not support it either.

Children's Mental health services

There is, rightly, concern that more needs to be done to address the needs of children with mental health issues.

That's why the government is:
  • raising mental health funding to record levels and allocating at least £2.3 billion of the £20.5 billion NHS funding boost to mental health. 
  • piloting a four-week waiting time standard for children’s mental health treatment, training a brand new dedicated mental health workforce for schools and teaching pupils what good mental and physical health looks like. 
  • These plans will allow 70,000 more children a year to have access to specialist mental health care by 2020-21. 

Why this matters

By investing in children’s mental health services and focusing on early intervention we will ensure all children have access to the support they need.

Twelve new institures of Technology to be set up

The Education Secretary has announced the first twelve Institutes of Technology, equipping young people with the skills they need to build well paid, rewarding careers.

Key facts:
  • Backed by £170 million of Government investment, the Institutes will be unique collaborations between universities, Further Education colleges and leading employers including Nissan, Siemens and Microsoft. 
  • They will specialise in delivering quality higher-level training in subjects such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering, providing a natural progression route for young people taking T-Levels or A-Levels. 
  • As part of the biggest shake up to technical education in a generation, Institutes of Technology will equip students with the skills employers need, setting them on a clear path to well paid, rewarding careers. 

Why this matters:

Alongside introducing T-Levels and developing more high quality apprenticeship opportunities, Institutes of Technology will transform technical education.

Quote of the day 10th April 2019

The quote above is from Lord Acton's lecture entitled "The history of Freedom in Christianity" (1877) and he was referring to the French Revolution.

There is a manuscript in which he wrote a similar version of this statement about the French Revolution and the great terror, which reads as follows:

"It was amid terror and slaughter that one of the two elements that composed the revolution neutralised the other and the passion for equality made vain the hope for freedom."

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

James Kirkup on Trade policy

I an strongly in favour of free trade. It has been one of the greatest engines of growth and development and facilitated huge increases in the standard of living of ordinary people.

It is possible to express entirely legitimate concerns about making sure that the benefits of trade are spread as widely as possible throughout society and that as few people as possible are left behind: there can also be legitimate strategic and national security reasons to protect specific industries. But even though there may be specific exceptions, it is invariably true in general that the more open a country is to trade the more wealth that country can create, the more money will be available for better schools, hospitals and to help and support the vulnerable and the stronger that country will be.

Much of the increased wealth of the world today has come from the long run benefits from past trade deals, mostly negotiated in the 20th century: much of the discontent has come because we have not always managed to ensure that everyone benefits from that extra wealth.

Previous trade deals were mostly about cutting tariffs and, throughout the world, most tariffs except for a few sensitive products like food are pretty low.

Most new trade deals today are about agreeing the common product standards to which goods that are traded have to conform, and this is both a lot more complex and often much more controversial than cutting tariffs. It involves things like whether we regard it as OK to use chlorine or radiation to remove bugs from food; whether genetically modified crops are OK: what safety standards and animal welfare standards we will insist on. Harmonising these between nations is not a simple matter.

There is an excellent article by James Kirkup on the Spectator site here about the challenges which issues like the ones I have described above, and some of the other harsh realities of the modern world, will pose for those who have to set Britain's trade policies in a post-Brexit world.

Do I believe that Britain can surmount those challenges? Absolutely.

Will it be as simple or easy as many people appear to think? Absolutely not.

Hence Kirkup's article is worth a read for anyone with an interest in trade policy.

Boosting children's early language and communication skills

The Education Secretary has announced £6.5 million to boost children’s early language and communication skills across 27 local authorities.

Key facts
  • On average, disadvantaged children are four months behind at age five. That grows by an additional six months by the age of 11, and a further nine months by the age of 16. 
  • The eight projects announced today will cover 27 local councils – targeted at disadvantaged areas – to bring education and health services closer together to help improve children’s early communication and literacy skills. 
  • This multimillion pound investment will provide better support to families in some of the most deprived areas of the country – supporting families with tips to propel their child’s learning so they can go on to reach their full potential. 

Why this matters

Ask any parent and they want their child to have the best start in life. But we know that those from a disadvantaged background often start school already behind when it comes to communication and language development. These projects will create tools and techniques that will have lasting impact for children today and for future generations.

Quote of the day 9th April 2019

"For me, however, and I am sure for many people, the last 30 months of very bitter and angry debate has cut me in two. I have come to see that this is not just a simple problem of whether or not we are patriots. 

Both Remainers and Brexiteers love Britain with equal strength and sincerity. Remainers are not citizens of nowhere, as the Brexiteer insult goes. Nor are Brexiteers ignorant, closet racists, as, disgracefully, some Remainers like to sneer. 

Many who voted Leave have a deep – perhaps the deepest – understanding of the communities where they live; and in some of these, everyday life has been spoiled for many by policies imposed on them by a pro-European Westminster elite: policies they never voted for. 

The truth is these apparently warring parties, Remain and Leave, represent different elements of the same country and opposite sides of the same coin. Sometimes the war is within our own breasts. I feel it within mine."

(Peter Oborne, writing on the Open Democracy site here.

The article is about why, having been a strong supporter of Brexit, he has modified his views. I suspect many people reading the article will agree with much of it and disagree with many other things he writes, but I think many of us would benefit if we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the extract above.)

Monday, April 08, 2019

Protecting vulnerable people online

Today the government published the "Online Harms White Paper" which unveiled proposed new measures to make the UK safer online.

There are some difficult balances to strike here. It is important to protect freedom of speech and to ensure that measures to protect children and vulnerable people online are introduced after consulting people who really understand the internet, in ways which will work and not just drive people to the "dark web."

This is a real danger and there is a strong argument that some past attempts by governments of all parties to protect children from potentially harmful online content have made the internet more dangerous rather than less. It is far too easy to drive people whose online activity is legal and harms nobody else but which they don't want other people to know about into the arms of VPN suppliers at best and criminals at worst.

However, this is an argument for listening to people who understand the internet and applying an evidence-based approach which will actually work, not a good reason to sit back and do nothing. In the face of all the evidence that the present internet regime has allowed algorithms to direct vulnerable children to sites which promote self-harm and suicide, too often with tragic and literally fatal consequences, and that present arrangements have not been effective enough to deal with pro-terrorist or abusive material, it is right for the government to make the effort, working with social media companies if at all possible, to do more to protect children and vulnerable adults online.

I thought Home Secretary Sajid Javid made a very good response today when he was accused by Toby Young of failing to support free speech: he replied

"I do believe in free speech and always championed it when Culture Sec. What I don’t believe in is the freedom to post beheading videos and child sexual abuse online."

That has to be right. It cannot be beyond our capabilities to find a balance which protects the right to express opinions, however unpopular, while protecting children from online abuse, avoiding directing them to sites which glorify self-harm, and preventing terrorists from exploiting the internet without hindrance.

The comments above are my own opinions. Below is what the Home Office and DCMS have to say.

Key facts
  • The era of self-regulation for online companies is over. Voluntary actions from industry to tackle online harms have not been applied consistently or gone far enough. 
  • Tech can be an incredible force for good and we want the sector to be part of the solution in protecting their users. 
  • However, those that fail to do this will face tough action. 
  • In the first online safety laws of their kind, social media companies and tech firms will be legally required to protect their users and face tough penalties if they do not comply. 
  • A new independent regulator will be introduced to ensure that companies meet their responsibilities but will be particularly mindful not to infringe privacy and freedom of expression. 
  • The regulator will have effective and proportionate enforcement tools that could include powers to issue substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially to impose liability on individual members of senior management. 
  • A 12-week consultation on the proposals has been launched today. 

Why this matters

We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business and our proposals for new laws will help make sure everyone in our country can enjoy the Internet safely.

Teaching website launched to save schools money

A new website has been launched for all schools to advertise their teaching vacancies free of charge, saving schools millions of pounds a year which can be redirected into the classroom.

Currently schools spend £75 million every year to advertise teaching jobs. Some agencies charge more than £1,000 per advert.

Today the government has launched Teaching Vacancies, a free to use website so that every school in the country can advertise their vacancies free of charge.

Over 8,000 schools have already signed up. T

his is the latest in a series of steps taken by the government to help schools deliver the best value for money and ensure resources are directed to the classroom.

Why this matters

It’s essential that every child has the best possible start in life and every £1,000 not spent on advertising a teaching post is money can be spent in the classroom. the Conservatives are supporting schools to bear down on their costs so that they can focus their resources on the frontline.

Second quote of the day 8th April 2019

“We have under-estimated its complexity. We are unpicking 45 years of in-depth integration. This needed to be done with very great care. It needs a hard-headed understanding of realities.”

(Attorney General and Leave supporter Geoffrey Cox on Brexit and the delays to implementation of it. From a Radio Four interview which you can hear in full via BBC iPlayer here)

Quote of the day 8th April 2019

Sunday, April 07, 2019

April 2019 Annual meeting of Cumbria County Council

The next meeting of Cumbria County Council, which is the 2019 Annual meeting, will take place at 10 am at County Hall, Kendal on Thursday 11th April.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The agenda and supporting papers can be found on the CCC website here.

There is a lot of important material in that agenda including the Cumbria Public Health Strategy and the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for Cumbria Fire and Rescue service.

The latter is likely to be highly controversial in Copeland because it includes a proposal to replace the full-size fire tender at Frizington with a three-person "Rapid Response Vehicle" which carries less equipment and would often be sent out with only three firefighters rather than a full team of four.

I voted against this twice at the Copeland Local Committee of CCC (which is opposed to the proposal) and having spoken since then to a number of past and present Copeland firefighters who are also very strongly opposed to it, I think it would be a great mistake to agree the IRMP in its present form.

Watch this space.

Leaving the EU

The Conservatives fought the 2015 general election on a promise to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership and honour the result, and were elected having made that promise.

Parliament then voted by a huge majority to put the question of whether Britain should remain a member state of the EU to a referendum.

That referendum was duly held in June 2016 and it is worth reminding ourselves what question the British people were asked: here is a picture of the ballot paper.

It didn't mention a "WTO" or "No Deal" Brexit or a customs union or ask anything about whether there should be a trade deal with the other countries of the EU (though leading Leave campaigners said during the referendum campaign that they were confident it would be easy to get a trade deal which gave Britain easy access to EU markets and vice versa.)

The referendum ballot paper asked about the broad strategic question - Remain or Leave - and the assumption was that parliament would then sort out what a Remain or Leave vote meant. With 20:20 hindsight more thought should have been given to this and there should probably have been a second question on the referendum ballot paper about what sort of relationship Britain should try to negotiate with the EU in the event of a vote to leave. But that is water under the bridge.

In the referendum there were 17,410,742 votes to leave (51.9%) and 16,141,241 votes to Remain (48.1%)

That is not an overwhelming majority but the majority of 1,269,501 was large enough to make it almost certain that neither some tweets from Russian bots or the net effect of the misbehaviour by both sides in the campaign changed the result.

Campaigners for a second referendum often make a big fuss about the fact that Leave campaigners were fined for breaking the rules but mysteriously fail to mention that Remain campaigners including the official Remain campaign, the Liberal Democrats, the pro-remain campaign group "Best for our Future" and the Unison and GMB Trade Unions, and the European Movement, were all also fined for breaches of campaign spending rules.

Somehow I doubt that in an alternative reality in which Remain had won the referendum by a narrow but clear margin, the Leave campaign had been squeaky clean, and former leave campaigners were therefore now arguing for a fresh "People's vote" on the grounds of the financial irregularities on the Remain campaign side, that any of those who are making a similar argument for a new referendum in this reality would be doing do in that one. Or vice versa,

Following on from that referendum both the Conservative and Labour parties fought the 2017 election on a platform of honouring the referendum result and secured between them well over 80% of the vote.

Put this together and although there is no overwhelming mandate for any particular form of Brexit, it is quite clear that there is a triple mandate to leave the EU which combines the results of the 2015 election, the 2016 referendum and the 2017 election.

I understand the position of those who have different views on how to do this, but it really is high time that those who accept the democratic decision of the British electorate sat down together and found a way to agree on how to implement it, and to do that somebody is going to compromise instead of insisting that everyone else do so. And those who refuse to compromise have only themselves to blame if a compromise is reached which they don't like.

Anyone who has read more than one or two posts on this blog cannot have failed to pick up that I am not exactly a fan of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. I understand why many people - some in the Conservative party, one or two that I have met on the doorstep in the last few days while campaigning - are surprised that the Prime Minister held talks with him. 

I really don't think she had any choice. 
  • She believes she is under orders from the voters of Britain to deliver Brexit (and I agree with her on that point.) 
  • She has to get that through parliament. 
  • We have reached the stage where she has to explore every option which might enable parliament to pass Brexit and implement the decision of the electorate.

The above is my opinion. Here is the latest official statement of "the line" on the subject.

"The Prime Minister’s top priority is to deliver Brexit and deliver what people voted for – and to do this, we need to get a deal over the line. 

Key facts:
  • Because Parliament has made clear it will stop the UK leaving without a deal, we now have a stark choice: leave the European Union with a deal or do not leave at all. 
  • The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have different opinions on a number of issues, but the fact is that on Brexit there are areas where the two main parties agree: we both want to end free movement, we both want to leave with a good deal, and we both want to protect jobs. 
  • That is the basis for a compromise that can win a majority in Parliament and winning that majority is the only way to deliver Brexit. 
  • The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all. It would mean letting the Brexit the British people voted for slip through our fingers. It is essential we deliver what people voted for and to do that we need to get a deal over the line. 
  • To achieve this the Prime Minister will go to Brussels this week to seek a short extension to Article 50. The intention is to reach an agreement with fellow EU leaders that will mean if we can agree a deal here at home we can leave the EU in just six weeks. 

Why this matters

We must deliver Brexit and to do so we must agree a deal – so we can then get on with building a new relationship with our nearest neighbours that will unlock the full potential of Brexit and deliver the brighter future that the British people voted for."

Boosting family finances

Because of the Conservative goernment's careful management of the economy, we can invest more in our vital public services whilst also keeping taxes low, supporting living standards and backing business.

From this weekend, 32 million people across the country will see their taxes cut – saving the typical taxpayer £130 over the year and delivering on our manifesto promise one year early and giving hard-working people a well-earned tax cut.
Fuel duty will also be frozen for the ninth year in a row helping to keep costs down for motorists and we will also take further steps to back business by cutting business rates.
Earlier this week the National Living Wage saw its biggest ever increase giving almost 2 million people a pay rise.
Only the Conservatives are building a stronger and fairer economy, cutting taxes for families and businesses, while reducing the deficit and getting debt falling.
Labour's reckless plans would mean more debt, higher taxes and fewer jobs which would hit ordinary working people just as happened when they were last in government.

What we are doing:
  • Increasing the Personal Allowance – the amount you earn before you start paying income tax – to £12,500 a year earlier than planned so the typical taxpayer will be £1,205 better off than in 2010. On 6 April the Personal Allowance will increase to £12,500 and the Higher Rate Threshold in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will rise to £50,000. The upper National Insurance contributions thresholds will also increase in line with the Higher Rate Threshold. These changes will cut taxes for 32 million people and take 1.74 million people out of income tax altogether compared to 2015-16.
  • Making the biggest ever increase to the National Living Wage – boosting the earnings of the lowest paid. The National Living Wage has increased from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, representing an increase to a full-time minimum wage worker’s annual earnings of over £690.
  • Increasing the Universal Credit work allowance by an extra £1,000 per year. From April 8, the annual work allowances in Universal Credit will rise by over £1,000, increasing the amount that 2.4 million households can earn annually before their Universal Credit starts to be withdrawn. This change will see 2.4 million families keep up to an extra £630 per year of what they earn.
  • Cutting business rates by a third for up to 90 per cent of all retail properties. As of 1 April, businesses are eligible for a 1/3 discount to the business rates bills on their retail property with a rateable value below £51,000, up to State aid de minimis limits. To further reduce costs, business rates have been uprated in line with CPI rather than RPI, following the permanent switch in April 2018.
  • Freezing fuel duty for the ninth successive year – keeping the costs of driving down. By next April, this will have saved the average car driver a cumulative £1,000. Most other vehicle taxes are being uprated in the normal way in line with previously announced policy. 
  • Keeping the cost of family holidays down. Air Passenger Duty will remain unchanged from 2012 levels for short-haul flights, and long-haul economy rates will remain frozen at the 2018-19 rate, benefitting 96 per cent of passengers. Long haul business and first-class rates will rise as set out at Autumn Budget 2017.
  • Reducing burdens on charities so they can collect more money for good causes. A set of measures will come into force to reduce administrative burdens on charities, including increasing the individual donation limit under the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme to £30, which applies to small collections where it is impractical to obtain a Gift Aid declaration.
  • Incentivising business investment with a new Structures and Buildings Allowance. To support business investment, we have introduced a major new Structures and Buildings Allowance and a temporary increase in the Annual Investment Allowance to £1 million. Capital allowances special rate will decrease from 8 per cent to 6 per cent to more closely match average accounts depreciation. 
  • Raising the additional residence threshold for inheritance tax from £125,000 to £150,000. This provides an additional threshold for homes passed on to direct descendants and can be used in addition to the £325,000 threshold. This will give many married couples and civil partners an effective £950,000 threshold for inheritance tax.
  • Taking further steps to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and unfair outcomes so there is more money for our vital public services. Further changes to crack down on tax avoidance, evasion and unfair outcomes will also come into effect. These will includes new guidance to prevent boundary pushing in VAT groups, a Fulfilment House Due Diligence Scheme to prevent online VAT fraud, as well as new rules on profit fragmentation to prevent businesses from avoiding UK tax by arranging their UK-taxable profits to accrue to territories where significantly lower tax is paid than in the UK.
Thes steps will help hard-working families and individuals keep more of they earn, boosting the rewards for doing the right thing and keep they economy growing

Sunday music spot: Vivaldi's Gloria

Quote of the day 7th April 2019