Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Text of the PM's statement at today's COVID-19 Briefing

This is the text of the statement made by PM Boris Johnson at the start of today's COVID-19 Briefing (8th December 2021)

"As soon as we learned of the new Omicron variant, this Government acted, introducing targeted and proportionate measures as a precaution, while our scientists discovered more.

And we’re still learning more every day.

We do not yet know Omicron’s severity, its exact rate of transmission, nor indeed the full effectiveness of our vaccines against it.

But since I last spoke to you, it’s become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant, and it’s spreading rapidly all around the world.

568 cases have been confirmed through genomic sequencing across every region of the UK, and the true number is certain to be much higher.

Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron in the UK could be currently between two and three days.

And while there are some limitations to what we can learn from South Africa, including due to different rates of vaccination and previous infection  – we are now seeing growth in cases here in the UK that mirrors the rapid increases previously seen in South Africa.

And South Africa is also seeing hospitalisations roughly doubling in a week, meaning we cannot yet assume Omicron is less severe than previous variants.

So while the picture may get better – and I sincerely hope it will – we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations, and therefore sadly deaths.

And that is why it is now the proportionate and responsible thing to move to Plan B in England while continuing to work closely with our colleagues in the Devolved Administrations – so we slow the spread of this variant, buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters in more arms, especially in older and more vulnerable people, and understand the answers to the key outstanding questions about Omicron.

So first, we will reintroduce the guidance to work from home.

Employers should use the rest of this week to discuss working arrangements with employees but from Monday you should work from home if you can.

I know this will be hard for many people, but by reducing your contacts in the workplace you will help slow transmission.

Second, from this Friday we will further extend the legal requirement to wear a face mask to most public indoor venues, including cinemas and theatres.

There will be exemptions where it is not practical, such as when eating, drinking, exercising or singing.

Third, we’ll also make the NHS Covid Pass mandatory for entry into nightclubs, and venues where large crowds gather including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

The NHS Covid Pass can still be obtained with two doses but we will keep this under review as the boosters roll out.

And having taken clinical advice since the emergence of Omicron, a negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient.

As we set out in Plan B, we will give businesses a week’s notice, so this will come into force in a week’s time, helping to keep these events and venues open at full capacity, while giving everyone who attends them confidence that those around them have done the responsible thing to minimise risk to others.

As Omicron spreads in the community, we will also introduce daily tests for contacts instead of isolation, so we keep people safe while minimising the disruption to daily life.

And we will take every step to ensure our NHS is ready for the challenges ahead.

But the single biggest thing that every one of us can do, is to get our jabs and crucially to get that booster as soon as our turn arrives.

One year to the day since the UK became the first country in the world to administer a Covid vaccine into the arm of Margaret Keenan, we have opened up the vaccine booster to all those over 40, and we are reducing the gap between second dose and booster to a minimum of just three months.

Our heroic NHS staff and volunteers have already done almost 21 million boosters, including reaching 84 per cent of all eligible over 80s.

But we need to go further and faster still, because our scientists are absolutely confident that your immune response will be stronger if you have been boosted.

And while you are at it – please get your flu jab too.

Let’s do everything we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones this winter – and to reduce the pressures on our NHS.

As we learn more, so we will be guided by the hard medical data around four key criteria: the efficacy of our vaccines and boosters; the severity of Omicron; the speed of its spread and the rate of hospitalisations.

We will constantly monitor the data and keep it under review.

And we must be humble in the face of this virus.

But if it becomes clear that the boosters are capable of holding this Omicron variant, and we have boosted enough people to do the job then we will be able to move forward as before.

So please play your part – and get boosted."

Russia and Ukraine

Yesterday the Prime Minister spoke with world leaders about the situation in Ukraine – stressing the importance of ceasing Russian threats towards Ukraine. 

  • Britain and the free world must not and will not accept Russian threats or intimidation to Ukraine – these actions are unacceptable.
  • The leaders of the USA, Britain and our allies have underlined the importance of Russia ceasing their threatening behaviour towards Ukraine. They agreed on the need for ongoing dialogue with Russia to encourage this outcome - our allies believe an incursion into Ukraine would be a strategic mistake.
  • Britain will continue to use all the economic and diplomatic tools at our disposal to prevent any Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Vaccination one year on

Today marks one year since Britain's vaccination programme delivered the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine – kickstarting our world beating vaccination programme that has saved countless lives as we continue to bolster our defences against the virus.

  • A year ago today, the UK became the first country in the world to deliver an approved COVID-19 vaccine – we are now reaching almost 120 million doses across the UK as we boost our booster programme.
  • So many people have been involved in this effort - including our brilliant NHS staff, pharmacists, the military, scientists and thousands of volunteers - that has helped saved almost 130,000 lives and prevent almost 260,000 hospitalisations.
  • Our fight against the virus is not over, but vaccines remain our first and best line of success – we encourage everyone to get their booster jab when called to further strengthen our defences against the virus this winter. 

Midweek Carol: Steeleye Span perform "The Boar's head Carol"

Quote of the day 8th December 2021


I agree with Thomas Sowell.

And what's more, it's scary how many words I can think of which it appears to be possible to brainwash quite a lot of people by repeating.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

I spent this morning at Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee.

A lot of interesting points came out of it which will probably find there way into one or two later posts but the thing which I will particularly remember will be the comment from one member of the committee about a young man known to him who refused to have the Coronavirus vaccine because he bought into some of the ideas put out by anti-vaxxers.

Sadly that young man has died of COVID-19.

A tragic and almost certainly avoidable death.

Protecting everyone against the Omicron variant

Today, new measures come into effect to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant – taking precautionary steps to bolster our wall of defence against Covid-19.

  • The Omicron variant is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic, and we must take steps to protect the gains we have made in our fight against the virus. 
  • That is why, from 04:00 today, new measures to slow the spread of the variant come into effect – all travellers to the UK will be required to take a lateral flow or PCR test before their departure, and will not be allowed to travel if they receive a positive result, and measures will be reviewed once further data about Omicron is available.
  • While experts continue to assess the Omicron variant, and the government will take further steps if necessary, vaccines remain our first line of defence and everyone who is eligible to come forward for their booster jab is encouraged to do so.

Quote of the day 7th December 2021


A strategy for prisons

Today the government announced a Prisons Strategy White Paper, setting out plans for safer, more secure prisons that cut reoffending as we build back safer.

  • Prisons keep people safe by taking dangerous criminals off our streets, but they can only bring down crime and keep the public safer in the longer-term if they properly reform and rehabilitate offenders.
  • That is why the government has published a new Prisons Strategy White Paper – which will set out our plan for providing prisoners with rehabilitative drug treatment, deliver increased prisoner education, support prisoners into jobs as they leave custody, and implement airport-style security to reduce the flow of illicit contraband in prisons. 
  • This strategy will help to keep the hardworking majority safe – rehabilitating offenders and preventing reoffending, while ensuring the most serious offenders remain in prison. 

Tuesday music spot: Once in Royal David's City

Monday, December 06, 2021

Monday music spot: "For unto us a Child is born" from Handel's Messiah

Twenty Million booster jabs given

Britain has now reached the milestone of 20 million booster jabs – as we continue to urge everyone to get their top-up jabs and help build up our wall of defence this winter.

  • With Christmas around the corner, it is absolutely crucial that everybody who is eligible gets a booster jab to top up their immunity before spending time with their loved ones.
  • That is why – as we reach the brilliant milestone of 20 million top-up jabs – the government, NHS and health professionals continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get their booster jabs, and come forward for their first and second doses if they haven’t already,
  • This will help to strengthen our wall of defence against Covid-19 and allow everyone to enjoy Christmas safely with their families and loved ones.

A ten-year strategy to deal with the menace of drug abuse

Today the government publishes a 10-year Drugs Strategy, which will help to crush drug crime and make Britain's streets safer.

  • Drugs are a scourge on our society and fuel violence on our streets, with vile county lines gangs blighting our neighbourhoods, exploiting children and ruining lives.
  • That is why the government is publishing today a new 10-year Drugs Strategy, which will keep our streets safe by strengthening police programmes that crack down on drug gangs, giving law enforcement new powers to expand drug testing, and using innovative new methods to discourage drug taking.
  • This strategy builds on the significant progress we have made already – with crimes rates falling, an extra 11,053 police officers on our streets and over 1,500 drugs lines closed since 2019.

December meeting of Cumbria Pensions Committee

I have just received the 336 page agenda for the December meeting of Cumbria Pensions Committee which will be held in Cumbria House, Carlisle on Friday 10th December 2021 at 9.30 am.

The first fourteen items on the agenda are expected to be open to the press and public: items fifteen to twenty are expected to include information which is not in the public domain.

The agenda and those of the supporting documents which are public can be found on the County Council website by following this link:

Agenda for Cumbria Pensions Committee on Friday, 10th December, 2021, 9.30 am | Cumbria County Council

It is not unknown for the odd sarcastic comment to be posted here when I refer to a meeting having a long agenda or a lot of pages. Given that this committee is responsible for billions of pounds of public money representing the pensions savings of most of the public servants in Cumbria - for the district councils and other public employees in the county as well as county council staff - it is important that due diligence takes place to ensure that these very large sums are properly looked after.

Quote of the day 6th December 2021


Sunday, December 05, 2021

Measures to protect everyone against the Omicron variant

This weekend the government announced new measures to slow down the seeding of the virus in the UK, taking precautionary steps to bolster our wall of defence against Covid-19.

  • The Omicron variant is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic, and we must take steps to protect the gains we have made in our fight against the virus.  
  • That is why the government has announced new measures to slow the spread of the new variant – from Tuesday, all travellers to the UK will be required to take a lateral flow or PCR test before their departure, and will not be allowed to travel if they receive a positive result.
  • While scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant and further steps will be taken if necessary, vaccines remain our first line of defence and everyone who is eligible and has not already done so - as nearly 20 million people have - is strongly urged to come forward for their booster jab.

Vaccination update

The government, the NHS and health professionals are urging everyone to get their booster jabs, as Britain approach 20 million top-up jabs and continue to build up our wall of defence this winter.

  • With Christmas around the corner, it is absolutely crucial that everybody who is eligible gets a booster jab to top up their immunity before spending time with their loved ones.
  • That is why – as we approach the brilliant milestone of 20 million top-up jabs – government and most health professionals alike are urging everyone who is eligible to get their booster jabs, and come forward for their first and second doses if they haven’t already,
  • This will help to strengthen our wall of defence against Covid-19 and allow everyone to enjoy Christmas safely with their families and loved ones.
  • There are a very small number of people with specific clinical conditions to whom this advice does not apply. If you have any concerns about whether you should take the vaccine please discuss them with an appropriately qualified medical professional such as your GP or pharmacist.

Quote of the day 5th December 2021


Music spot for the second Sunday in Advent "Adam Lay Ybounden"

Review of the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

The government has announced a major review into the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, so that we can learn the lessons from this terrible case and ensure we protect children from harm.

  • This tragic murder has shocked and appalled the nation. It is incredibly distressing that a young boy has been senselessly robbed of the chance to live his life.
  • So the government is launching a national review of Arthur’s death by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to identify where we must learn from this terrible case, as well as a joint inspection of all the agencies tasked with protecting vulnerable children in Solihull.
  • It is essential to protect children from harm and, where concerns are raised, to take urgent and robust action.

Sunday music spot: "Thou Knowest Lord The Secrets Of Our Hearts" by Purcell

This anthem is part of the exquisite suite of music written by Henry Purcell for the funeral of Queen Mary in 1694.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Vaccination Update

As of 4 December, 19,809,442 booster & third vaccine doses have been given in the UK.

Saturday music spot: The Monkees, "Last Train To Clarksville"

Today is Small Business Saturday

Today is Small Business Saturday 

From corner shops to cafes, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the heart of local communities across the country. Small Business Saturday is our chance to celebrate the incredible work they do – from stepping up to support local communities throughout the pandemic, creating local jobs, giving life to our high streets, and helping us make a full economic recovery from the pandemic. 

After the difficult past two years because of the pandemic, we encourage everyone to shop local and support the small businesses in their area in these crucial months of winter trading. 

Conservatives are helping businesses build back better from the pandemic by: 
  • Supporting businesses with tax cuts, reforms and incentives to invest, helping to drive our economic recovery. We are cutting business rates by at least 50 per cent next year for 90 per cent of retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, and freezing all rates. Combined with Small Business Rates Relief, this is a business tax cut worth £7 billion for over 700,000 eligible businesses – the biggest business rates cut in 30 years. 
  • Launching two new Help to Grow schemes, to boost the productivity of small businesses: Our Help to Grow Management Scheme will help SMEs get world-class management training through government-funded programmes delivered through business schools, with businesses contributing only £750, just 10 per cent of the overall cost of the course. 
  • Our Help to Grow Digital Scheme will level up the digital skills of our small businesses with a voucher entitling them to 50 per cent off the purchase of new productivity-enhancing software, up to a total of £5,000 each. 
  • Launching our Plan for Jobs, helping businesses get the high skilled employees they need. Our Plan for Jobs includes our £2 billion Kickstart Scheme which is creating paid placements for over 100,000 young people; our Job Entry Targeted Support scheme which provides six months of personalised support for people who have been unable to find work; and our new £2.9 billion Restart scheme will provide 12 months of tailored support for those out of work. 

Our record on supporting businesses: 

  • Providing £407 billion of support for families, jobs, and businesses, more than almost any other country in the world – supporting more than 14.5 million jobs and providing over £100 billion in business grants and loans. 
  • Protecting almost 12 million workers with almost £70 billion of government support, through our Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Throughput the pandemic, we took historic steps to pay people’s wages when it was not safe to go to work – this support reached almost 12 million workers and allowed business owners to retain and support their staff. 
  • Helping to create 1.1 million more businesses since 2010, boosting our economy. In 2010 there were 4.5 million businesses in the private sector across the UK, in 2021 this has increased to 5.6 million business – an increase of 24 per cent. 
  • Injecting over £800 million of funding to help modernise over 50 high streets and town centres, helping local, small business thrive. The Prime Minister has expanded the Future High Streets Fund, confirming that another 57 towns in England will be given a share of £1 billion to redevelop their high streets, improve transport and access into town centres and convert empty retail units into new homes and places of work, taking the total receiving support to 100 places. 
  • Awarding over £600 million in Start Up Loans to support entrepreneurs and small businesses create jobs and boost economic growth. Start Up Loans provide funding to entrepreneurs who may otherwise struggle to access it. Since the scheme’s creation in 2012, 75,000 loans have been awarded, providing more than £623 million. We have committed to extending the Start-Up Loan programme to the end of 2021-22, supporting up to 10,000 more entrepreneurs across the UK.

Quote of the day 4th December 2021


Friday, December 03, 2021

December meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee

Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will meet this coming Tuesday, 7th December 2021, at at.30 am at the County Council offices in Kendal.

The meeting will be open to the public.

Full details of the agenda and supporting papers are available by following this link

Agenda for Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday, 7th December, 2021, 10.30 am | Cumbria County Council

Key issues which will come up include:

Impact of COVID 19 Pandemic

(To receive verbal updates from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust and North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group.)

Access to Primary Care and Pharmacy Services

(To receive a joint presentation from NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group)

Lancashire and South Cumbria Pathology Collaboration 

(To receive a presentation by Lancashire and South Cumbria Pathology Collaboration)

A second music spot for Friday 3rd December - Bach's "The Great" G minor fugue

Yes, I know I've posted lots of versions of "The great" but that's because I think it is.

Sustainable farming

The government has published further details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme - levelling up the food and farming industry as we build back better. 

  • The Conservative government is committed to helping farmers to farm sustainably to ensure we deliver on our environmental priorities to tackle biodiversity loss and combat climate change.
  • That is why it has set out further details of our Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme, including payments for farmers for taking environmental and sustainable steps such as improving grasslands or soils - and crucially we are ensuring farmers are free to choose for themselves which elements of the scheme work for them. 
  • This will support our farmers to transition to sustainable farming - delivering on our promises made at the COP26 Summit and ensure food security here in the UK. 

Music to start the weekend: Steeleye Span sing 'Gaudete'

Boost day

To mark ‘Boost Day’, the one-year anniversary of the UK becoming the first country in the world to approve Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, the government and health professionals  continue to urge people to get their booster jab this winter. 

  • It has been a year since the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use in the UK, allowing our life-saving vaccination programme to begin here in the UK. 
  • The latest figures show that more than 115 million vaccine doses have been administered across the UK in almost a year – with nine in ten people aged 12 and over having received at least one dose of the vaccine – almost 51 million people – and eight in ten having received both vaccine doses – over 46 million people. 
  • Everyone is still urged to get their booster jab so that we can strengthen the wall of defence against Covid-19 and allow everyone to enjoy Christmas safely with their families and loved ones.

I had my booster jab this week and took a flu jab at the same time. I did this to protect myself, my family, and everyone who comes into contact with me.

£700 million to support the NHS

Today the government announced £700 million to support the NHS this winter – tackling waiting lists and improving care services, ensuring everyone can access the services they need when they need them. 

  • The pandemic has caused unavoidable strain on our healthcare services –  we are committed to fixing the problems our NHS faces to ensure patients continue to receive the best possible care. 
  • That is why the Conservative government is allocating £700 million to improvement services across the NHS, including £300 million for upgrading services and £250 million to support new technologies – funding 783 schemes across 187 hospital trusts. 
  • The Conservatives are taking unprecedented steps to keep people healthy this year and support our NHS to fix the long-term challenges it faces as we build back better from the pandemic. 

Quote of the day 3rd December 2021

"I think the best way to sum up this result is that it’s about the sort of by-election swing that Ed Miliband was getting from David Cameron."

(Matt Singh on twitter about the Old Bexley & Sidcup by-election result.)

And we all remember what happened at the following General Election between Ed Miliband and David Cameron in 2015.

Congratulations to Louie French MP

Old Bexley and Sidcup (UK Parliament) by-election result from Britain Elects on Twitter:

Percentage support for the top five candidates by party:

CONSERVATIVE:     51.5% (-13.1)

LABOUR:                  30.9% (+7.4)

REFORM UK:              6.6% (+6.6)

GREEN:                        3.8% (+0.6)

LIB/DEM:                     3.0% (-5.3)

Conservative HOLD - Louie French elected as MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup

Wikipedia has these figures for the votes cast for each candidate

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Working together to protect us all against future pandemics

Today the Prime Minister is hosting a summit meeting with the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to discuss how Government, Industry and the NHS can work together to tackle emerging variants and future pandemics.

  • Our life sciences sector has been a shining light in our response to COVID-19 and with scientists working tirelessly to learn more about the new variant, it is vital that we are equipped to tackle future healthcare challenges.
  • That is why the Prime Minister has convened a summit with leading pharmaceutical companies to discuss how we can work together to tackle the pandemic and future health challenges like dementia, cancer, and mental health – backed by nearly £500 million announced by the sector today, which will create hundreds of skilled jobs and drive prosperity across the UK.
  • This summit will help to cement our status as a science superpower – so we can tackle the issues of today and tomorrow.

114 million new vaccine doses secured

The UK government has secured 114 million new vaccines, future-proofing our vaccination effort and protecting the public for years to come.

  • Thanks to the Vaccines Taskforce, Britain has an excellent track record of securing the vaccines the country needs to keep this virus at bay.
  • These new deals will future proof the Great British vaccination effort – which has so far delivered more than 115 million first, second and booster jabs across the UK – and will ensure we can protect even more people in the years ahead.
  • This is a national mission and our best weapon to deal with this virus and its variants is to get jabs in arms – so when you are called forward, get the jab and get boosted.
  • I would never encourage anyone to put anything in their body which I would not put in my own: I had the booster jab myself yesterday and would like to praise the excellent operaton at the community pharmacy in Dunmail Park just north of Workington. I had the flu jab at the same time.
  • The UK also continues to supply vaccines to other countries, particularly those most in need. As David Cameron used to say, we are all in this together and no country will be safe until we are all safe.

Louie French for Old Bexley & Sidcup today.

Today is the Old Bexley & Sidcup by-election caused by the death from cancer of my friend James Brokenshire at the age of 53.

I would urge any voter in the constituency who may read this and has not yet voted to support Louie French, the excellent Conservative candidate to succeed James.

Polls are open until 10pm

I want down to campaign for him earlier this week, and was asked when I arrived at the campaign HQ in Sidcup whether I had come all the way down from Copeland.  (Which of course, I had.) Turns out the person who asked the  question recognised me from the Copeland by-election when it was our turn to be getting help from all over the country.

It's a small world!

Quote of the day 2nd December 2021


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Tuesday music spot: the last movement of "Winter" from Vivaldi's four seasons

Action to protect everyone against the Omicron variant

The government has announced that from Today, new measures will come into force to reduce the spread of COVID-19, taking precautionary steps to bolster our wall of defence against the virus.

  • The Omicron variant is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic, and we must take steps to protect the gains we have made in our fight against the virus. 
  • That is why the government has announced new measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 – from Tuesday 30th November, all contacts of suspected Omicron cases must by law self-isolate for 10 days, face coverings will become compulsory in shops and on public transport, and all fully vaccinated international arrivals must take a PCR test on or before day 2 and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.  
  • Under the UK presidency Britain will also be convening an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers today to discuss the developments and international cooperation on Omicron.
  • Vaccines remain our most effective tool against COVID-19 and everyone who is eligible is urged to come forward for their booster jab. 

Quote of the day 30th November 2021

No apology for repeating this quote.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Congratulations to Zoe

Congratulations to Zoƫ Metcalfe on her election as Police, Fire, and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and the City of York.

Quote of the day 29th November 2021


National Tree Week - trees to be planted along the West coast of Cumbria from Barrow to Carlisle

This is National Tree Week, and to mark it the government has announced the launch of a third national community forest – helping to regenerate natural spaces as we build back greener. 

  • Trees are at the heart of our environmental programme and we must take action now to deliver on the commitments made at COP26.
  • That is why the government has announced the launch of our third national community forest – which will see up to 150 hectares of trees, woodlands and forests created along the west coast of Cumbria from Barrow to Carlisle – with details of funding pots available here
  • This initiative will help to stem the tide of biodiversity loss and better connect 65 miles of coastal communities to nature.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Text of the PM's statement this weekend about COVID-19

Here is the text of the PM's statement yesterday at the start of the press conference. 

"Good afternoon.

The UK’s plan against Covid has been working.

We’ve had the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, and now the fastest booster campaign in Europe, with almost 16.8 million boosters in people’s arms, and though case numbers have remained relatively high, we’re seen falling hospitalisations and falling numbers of deaths.

But on Wednesday we received news of a new variant - the so-called Omicron Variant - I want to express my deep gratitude to scientists in South Africa who identified this new variant and shared this information widely and immediately.

This variant is spreading around the world, with 2 cases so far identified here in the UK.

As always, and I must stress this, as always with a new variant, there are many things that we just cannot know at this early stage.

But our scientists are learning more hour by hour, and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly, and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated.

There is also a very extensive mutation which means it diverges quite significantly from previous configurations of the virus, and as result, it might - at least in part - reduce the protection of our vaccines over time.

So we need to take targeted and proportionate measures now as a precaution while we find out more.

First, we need to slow down the seeding of this variant in our country.

We need to buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we are dealing with.

And for us to get more people vaccinated and - above all - to get more people boosted.

As well as to help our NHS prepare in what is an already challenging winter.

So yesterday we took steps to protect the UK against the variant coming here from southern African countries – and earlier today added four more countries to the red list.

But we now need to go further and implement a proportionate testing regime for arrivals from across the whole world.

So we are not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, we’re not going to stop people travelling, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and to self-isolate until they have a negative result.

Second, we need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK.

Because measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant, rather than stop it altogether.

So in addition to the measures we are already taking to locate those who have been in countries of concern over the last ten days, we will require all contacts of those who test positive - with a suspected case of Omicron - to self-isolate for ten days, regardless of your vaccination status.

We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant, by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.

And third - and most importantly - we need to bolster our protections against this new variant.

We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron, but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection.

And if you are boosted – your response is likely to be stronger.

So it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs, and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible.

So from today we are going to boost the booster campaign.

We are already planning to do 6 million jabs in England alone over the next three weeks.

And now we are looking to go further, so the Health Secretary has asked the JCVI to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible, as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster.

And, of course, we are speaking to our counterparts in the Devolved Administrations and will continue to coordinate with them.

The measures that we are taking today - including on our borders and face masks - are temporary and precautionary, and we will review them in three weeks.

At that point we should have much greater information about the continuing effectiveness of our vaccines.

I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position, and we can lift these measures again.

But right now this is the responsible course of action, to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant, and to maximise our defences so we protect the gains we have worked so hard for and so that we can continue to save lives.

Thank you."

A White Advent

Advent Sunday has been a perfect illustration of the number of micro-climates in West Cumbria (or, as we may soon go back to calling it, West Cumberland,)

First thing this morning my wife and I were in the Moor Row part of my council division, and as we left to go to church it was snowing quite heavily and some of the snow had settled - I had to clear it off the windscreen. In Whitehaven it was also snowing, but had not settled.

When we left St James's church at the end of the service, the precipitation had turned entirely to rain, and melted any snow which had managed to settle, but I had occasion to visit Cleator Moor,  Egremont, Bigrigg and return to Moor Row this morning: in all of those places different amounts of snow was still falling, though not as much as earlier in the morning, and different amounts had settled.

Advent Sunday music spot: Corelli's Christmas Concerto

Advent Sunday

Today is Advent Sunday. This may come as a surprise to those who have seen Christmas goods in the shops for months, but we are now finally at the start of the season leading up to Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Saturday music spot: Final part of the overture from Rossini's "William Tell" Opera

Energy supply

Energy supplier Bulb became this week the latest company in the industry to go into administration. The government continues to protect customers from the global spike in wholesale gas prices and ensure we build a more secure more homegrown energy supply for the future.

  • Since the global rise in wholesale gas prices the government have taken action to protect households and consumers this winter. 
  • BEIS has worked alongside the regulator Ofgem to ensure that there is a safety net in place and above all customers are protected and see no change in their supply.

The affect of the gas price spikes shows why we must double down on diversifying our deployment of nuclear and renewables and build a more secure home grown energy system. 

The Omicron variant

The UK government has we announced that from noon on Friday, several southern African countries were added to our travel red list as a precautionary move following the spread of a new variant.

  • As part of the UK's close surveillance of variants across the world, we have become aware of the spread of a new potentially concerning variant, which UKHSA has designated a Variant under Investigation. The WHO has designated this the Omicron variant.
  • That is why from midday on Friday, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were put back on the UK’s travel red list. Passengers arriving in England from 4am on Sunday will be required to book a hotel quarantine facility for 10 days. Those arriving from these six countries between midday Friday and 4am Sunday, and who have been in these countries within the last 10 days, must quarantine for 10 days and take NHS PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8, even if they already have a lateral flow test booked.
  • The UK government is taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and is monitoring the situation closely.

Quote of the day 27th November 2021


Friday, November 26, 2021

Tragedy in the Channel, continued.

Yesterday, following the tragic loss of life in the Channel on Wednesday, the Prime Minister wrote to the French President to offer to move further and faster to prevent Channel crossings and stop the criminal gangs responsible.  

The loss of life in the Channel on Wednesday was an appalling tragedy – we must increase our efforts to break the criminal business model of people smugglers and prevent further tragedies.

The Prime Minister wrote to the French President to suggest joint patrols in UK and French territorial waters, the deployment of advanced technology – including ground sensors and radar, airborne surveillance by manned and unmanned aircraft, and deepening the work of our Joint Intelligence Cell with better real time intelligence sharing to deliver arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.

I cannot see that there is anything in any of these proposals, or in the fact that they were published on social media, to which the French government's response was a reasonable or proportionate one. I hope they will reconsider their action in cancelling a meeting with the Home Secretary this weekend. It is in the interests of both Britain and France - and of the migrants being put at risk by the gangsters who organise people smuggling - that our nations co-operate to try to find a solution.

Our thoughts are with the families of all of those who tragically lost their lives in French waters on Wednesday. The UK government is committed to intensifying all cooperation with our European partners to prevent these deadly journeys.

Connecting communities in all four nations of the union

Today Sir Peter Hendy has published our Union Connectivity Review on improving intra-UK transport connectivity, to bring communities across the country together as we build back better.

  • If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between every corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly.
  • The Prime Minister has welcomed the proposal to create UKNET – a strategic transport network spanning the entire UK. UKNET will assess and map out for the first time the key points across the length and breadth of the UK that are essential to stronger, more direct transport connections.
  • This will help boost economic growth, support job creation and level up opportunity by expanding the transport system and creating quicker and easier travel for passengers, freight and businesses.

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

Quote of the day 26th November 2021


Development FInance

This week the Conservative government revamped our British development finance institution to deliver jobs and clean growth, as we build back greener from the pandemic and deliver on our pledges made at the COP26 Summit. 

  • Too many low and middle income countries have been laden with unsustainable debt – in need of a source of honest and reliable finance to drive clean growth and create wealth. 
  • That is why we are launching British International Investment (BII), which will help mobilise up to £8 billion a year of public and private sector investment in international projects by 2025.
  • This will create jobs and opportunities here in Britain, while also boosting economies across Asia, African and the Caribbean. It will help build a network of liberty across the world by building closer economic and development ties with our international friends and partners.

Football Review

This week the government has published the final recommendations of an independent Fan Led Review of Football Governance – securing the game’s long-term sustainability and future.

  • This independent review, chaired by Tracey Crouch, was formed in the firm belief that Britain's national game is at a crossroads – we must work together to build on its strengths and make the industry stronger and fairer. 
  • That is why the government set up, and has now published the final recommendations from, an independent fan-driven review, with contributions from more than 130 football clubs. The primary recommendation of the review is clear, and one the government has endorsed this in principle: that football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game.
  • The government has said that they welcome the work of the Review and will now consider the detailed recommendations ahead of providing a full Government response in Spring 2022.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thursday music spot: Voces8 sing Orlando Gibbons' anthem, "O clap your hands"

Tragedy in the Channel

The tragic loss of life in the channel yesterday was a terrible disaster which had been waiting to happen and had widely been predicted on all sides. The British and French authorities have agreed urgently to step up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings and stop the criminal gangs responsible. 

  • Yesterday, the Prime Minister chaired an emergency COBR meeting to discuss the devastating situation. He also spoke with President Macron by phone, reaffirming the importance of working closely together to prevent these deadly crossings.
  • The Conservatives' new Plan for Immigration will overhaul Britain's broken asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the United Kingdom – committing to do everything possible to stop the criminal gangs responsible for putting people’s lives at risk.
  • Our thoughts are with the families of all of those who tragically lost their lives in French waters yesterday and Britain is committed to intensify all cooperation with our European partners to prevent these deadly journeys.

Putting an end to a barbaric practice

I don't know whether to be pleased that the medieval and degrading practice of "virginity testing" is finally being banned in the UK or horrified that up to now it has still been happening.

This week MPs unanimously voted to add to the Health and Social care bill a ban on this intrusive and "indefensible" practice, making it a criminal offence with a potential prison sentence of up to five years to offer, carry out or facilitate such "tests" including helping arrange for women or girls to be taken abroad for them.

Health Minister Edward Argar told the House of Commons the practice was "repressive" and caused "long-term physical and psychological damage".

The World Health Organisation says it is a violation of human rights and adds that the tests, thought to occur in at least 20 countries, cannot prove whether a woman or girl has had sex or not, as the hymen can be broken in other ways - such as through tampon use or exercise.

Aa BBC Newsbeat investigation last year found 21 clinics in the UK offering them, at a cost of between £150 and £300.

Mr Argar said the ban had been discussed with ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who all wanted to "ensure the whole of the UK together tackles this abhorrent practice".

Harper's Law

The government has confirmed that ‘Harper’s Law’ will be added to the statute book, giving emergency workers greater protection from violent criminals.

After the shocking and tragic murder of PC Harper in the line of duty in 2019, his family have been unwavering in their campaign to increase the protections for emergency workers against violent criminals.

That is why ministers have confirmed that parliament will be asked to add to current legislation an extension of mandatory life sentences to anyone who commits the manslaughter of an emergency worker on duty – including police, prison officers, firefighters and paramedics – while carrying out another crime, unless there are truly exceptional circumstances.

Conservatives are determined to make sure that punishments fit the severity of the crime, protecting our emergency workers and making sure those who seek to harm them feel the full force of the law.

Driving up standards in schools and colleges

Yesterday it was announced that universities will help drive up standards in local schools and colleges, as we improve students outcomes and level up the country.

  • The Conservative government is determined to level up the nation and ensure that children’s opportunities are not constrained by the areas in which they live.
  • So universities will now be invited to help drive up standards in local schools and colleges, while reducing dropout rates at university and improving progression into high paid, high skilled jobs. The government has also announced £8 million to remove barriers to post-graduate research for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.
  • This will help to reduce the skills gap in disadvantaged areas – a key part of levelling up and improving people’s opportunities across the country.

A targeted boost to Universal credit

The Universal Credit boost for workers announced in the Autumn Budget came into effect this week, helping the lowest-income families in the country and making sure that work pays.

  • In the Autumn Budget, the Chancellor set out further plans to ensure that work pays and that those on the lowest-incomes are protected.
  • That is why we announced plans to cut the Universal Credit taper rate, and as of today, it has been cut by eight pence, from 63p to 55p. Combined with the £500 increase in the Work Allowance, this will help hard-working families in the run up to Christmas, and allow them to keep an additional £1,000 a year of what they earn. 
  • This will provide an important boost to the lowest-income families across the country, while making sure that work pays as we build back better.

Quote of the day 25th November 2021

“The only difference between Westminster and 'The Thick of It' is in 'The Thick of It' people don’t go round saying ‘this is just like something out of The Thick of It’ all the time.”

(From a post on the Guido Fawkes website this week.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Midweek music spot: Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

New Councils for Cumbria

This subject will not be of interest to everyone, but a useful resource for those who follow local politics is the "New Councils for Cumbria" website which has been set up by the existing councils to inform people about the progress of local government reorganisation (LGR).

Our existing County Council and the six districts will be abolished in April 2023 and replaced by two new councils which will be elected in May next year, initially to operate in shadow form and replacing the existing councils the following year.

One new council will serve the area currently covered by Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland councils and will be called "Cumberland council," while the other new council will serve the area currently covered by Barrow-in Furness, Eden, and South Lakeland and will be called "Westmorland and Furness Council."  

You can track the process of setting up the new councils and transferring services to them here.

Recruitment, Retention and Training in the NHS

The NHS is more than hospitals. It is nothing without the people who provide care. Many of the most challenging issues within our health service revolve around having enough properly trained professionals to deliver that care and all the other service areas which make up our NHS.

So I was very pleased when this week the government announced plans to put recruitment, training and retention of NHS staff – as well digital transformation – at the heart of the NHS in England, ensuring our health service is fit for the future as we build back better.

  • To ensure that our record investment in the NHS has a lasting impact, we must ensure that workforce planning and digital transformation is placed into the heart of the NHS. 
  • That is why the Conservative government has announced reforms to put the recruitment, training, and retention of staff, as well as digital transformation, at the heart of the NHS – including merging the bodies responsible for the education and training of the health workforce, such as Health Education England, Health NHSX and NHS Digital into NHSE/I.
  • These reforms will help patients benefit from the best possible care, with the right staff in place to meet their needs.

Quote of the day 24th November 2021


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index

There has been considerable debate over the last few weeks about ethical standards in Britain's public life.

As usual, all too many people seem to form their opinions on issues of ethical standards based not on a balanced overall view of the evidence but on what they want to believe - e.g. whether they agree with the politics of the people putting forward a position.

I think that both poles of opinion - anyone who thinks British public life is as pure as driven snow and anyone who thinks that Britain is a corrupt county - could benefit by looking at the website of Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign, and particularly at their latest Corruption Perception Index which attempts to assess and rank on an objective basis the perceived effectiveness of anti-corruption measures in every country. 

Britain scores 77% where 100% would indicate a totally clean society and 0% a completely corrupt one, which puts us 11th equal (along with Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.) out of 180 countries. Since 2012 Britain's score has risen three percentage points on this index.

To give you an idea of the range of outcomes, the counties which came first equal, New Zealand and Denmark, scored 88% while the countries with the worst scores, South Sudan and Somalia, came in 179th equal with 12%.

So this does give some support to the PM's statement that Britain is "not remotely a corrupt country" but it is no grounds for complacency. We should be aiming for 100%.

Transparency International points out here that even the 25 least corrupt countries in the world - of which Britain is one - have their own corruption challenges and all need to do better. We cannot afford complacency where ethical standards are concerned.

Indeed, I would argue that if anyone tells you that the political party they support, or their country, is completely free from corruption, that is itself a red flag - they will not necessarily be corrupt themselves but it indicates a dangerous degree of confirmation bias and complacency.

Tuesday music spot: another version of Chariots of Fire from the London Olympics opening ceremony

I am sure everyone who watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 will remember this performance of "Chariots of Fire." 

It was, of course, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and peformed by the London Symphony Orchestra - and Rowan Atkinson.

How not to write a headline

Two news headlines describing the same incident.

Manchester Evening News:

"Palestinian shot dead after holy site killing."


"Hamas gunman kills one Israeli, injures four others, in Jerusalem attack: police shoot dead assailant." 

 Always read the full story. Headlines can be very misleading.

The Health and Care Bill

 Last night MPs passed the Health and Care Bill in the House of Commons, taking the next steps towards ending the unpredictable and catastrophic care costs faced by thousands of people across the UK.

This bill addresses enormously difficult challenges. I do not think it is perfect or that any party has all the answers to the problems this bill seeks to solve. This government and future governments will need to come back to it. But I do think that this bill gets us forward compares with where Britain is today, and there is no doubt that the regime it brings in is more generous than the current one.

  • One in seven adults over 65 faces care costs over £100,000 over their lifetime – we are committed to delivering world-leading social care across the country through our comprehensive adult social care reforms.
  • We are putting an end to unpredictable costs by introducing an £86,000 limit on the amount people have to pay for their own care, making care affordable by introducing a more generous means test and protecting people’s assets with a daily cost of living limit that goes beyond what was proposed in 2015.
  • These reforms will mean that everyone is better off compared to the current system. More people will be supported with their social care costs, have greater certainty over what they need to pay and receive higher quality care.

Charging points for electric cars

The Prime Minister has announced that all new homes and buildings will be required to have electric charging points from next year, as we drive forwards with our green industrial revolution and create green jobs across the country. 

  • Britain is at a pivotal moment where we must adapt our economy to the green industrial revolution through massive investment in science and technology.
  • That is why we will require new homes and buildings, such as supermarkets and workplaces, to have electric vehicle charging points from next year – meaning up to145,000 extra charging points will be installed each year in the run up to 2030, when the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will end in the UK.
  • These world-leading regulations will help us to adapt to a more sustainable future, as well as creating green jobs across the country as we build back greener. 

Quote of the day 23rd November 2021


Monday, November 22, 2021

Monday music spot: the Gregorian version of "Chariots of Fire"

This version of the "Chariots of Fire" theme segues into "Conquest of Paradise" from the film "Gladiator."

Slightly surprising, but I think it works.

Watch out for frost and ice this morning

It's been quite a mild autumn to this point - this is a comparatively late date to have had to clear ice from the windows of my car for the first time as a winter approaches. But I had to do so with a vengeance this morning. The Met Office has been forecasting a significant drop in temperature this week and it looks like they were right.

So take care if you are travelling or up and about outside this morning.

Booster Jabs now available to everyone over 40

From today everyone over 40 in the UK will be invited to receive their booster jab, as we continue to strengthen our defences against the virus and urge people to come forward to get their jabs. 

  • Britain's historic vaccine programme has already delivered 14 million booster jabs across the UK, strengthening our defences against the virus and protecting the most vulnerable this winter. 
  • We are now entering the next phase of our vaccination programme and the government is inviting a million over 40's to come forward for their jab from Monday, with a further 1.5 million invitations expected in the coming weeks. 
  • This vaccination programme is providing vital protections against the virus and reducing pressures on our NHS, but protections can wane over time – keeping our defences strong is the best way to protect ourselves and loved ones this winter.

I rang 119 after the government announced that people can book their booster jab after five months since the second jab, and booked my booster injection for exactly six months after I had the second one. By getting jabbed I am protecting myself, my family, and my community, and I would strongly encourage everyone eligible to do the same unless they have a specific medical reason not to. 

  • If you have any concerns about whether you should take the jab, please discuss them with an appropriately qualified medical professional such as your GP or pharmacist. 

Quote of the day 22nd November 2021


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Protecting our world

The UK government has already acted to restrict the production and sale a number of single use plastic products. This week further plans were announced to ban more single-use, problematic plastics as Britain continues to build back greener from the pandemic and protect our natural word. 

  • Our world-leading Environment Act enables us to take tougher action on single-use plastics in England, but we must go further to fully eradicate the use of problematic plastics that pollute our natural world.
  • That is why we are launching a consultation into banning more problematic plastics, such as plastic cutlery and plates, meaning businesses and consumers will need to move towards more sustainable alternatives and consider how this move will be fair for consumers. 
  • Britain is leading the way in protecting our natural environment and these new plans represent the next major step in eradicating the use of problematic plastics as we build back greener.