Monday, July 22, 2019

Helping schools to improve

The government is launching a new programme to help struggling schools to improve, so that we can raise education standards across the country. 

Key facts: 
  • The £17 million Trust Capacity Fund – launching in September – will be used by high performing academy trusts to provide support to communities and schools that need it most. 
  • Last week, new data revealed that the last year has seen 80,000 more children studying in good or outstanding sponsored academies that were previously run by local authorities. 
  • We will also introduce a £16.5 million package of support to help improve the leadership of 2,400 underperforming schools. 

Why this matters:

The most successful Academies have delivered significant improvements in education reforms, and we want to continue to give these charitable institutions the opportunity to turn around more schools, so that all children have access to the best education.

Quote of the day 22nd July 2019

This could well be the standard response to almost all conspiracy theories:

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Curbing the misuse of Non-Disclosure Agreements

There can be good reasons for Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs.)

They can enable companies to share information which is confidential for legitimate reasons, such as proprietary technical secrets, with suppliers or customers, and they are sometimes necessary to help ensure that  regulatory requirements, such as "Chinese walls" to ensure fair and equal treatment, are kept.

(I've had to sign more than one NDA for reasons of customer confidentiality or regulatory compliance during the course of my business career.)

What they should not be used for is to silence whistle-blowers or the victims of misconduct such as sexual harassment.

So I'm pleased to see that the Conservative government has announced plans for new legislation to tackle the misuse of Non-Disclosure Agreements, creating fairer workplaces for all.

Key facts:
  • NDAs can be used by businesses for a number of legitimate reasons but in a minority of cases they are being abused and people who sign them have not always been made aware of their rights. 
  • New legislation will stop NDAs being used to prevent individuals from disclosing information to the police, regulated health and care professionals, or legal professionals, ensuring they cannot be used to silence and intimidate victims. 
  • This will work alongside the consultation which the government launched earlier this month which explores what more can be done at a practical level to ensure people are properly protected at work. 

Why this matters

This new legislation will stamp out misuse of NDAs, protect individuals and tackle unacceptable workplace cultures.

Shared parental leave

The Prime Minister is launching a consultation on shared parental leave to ensure greater equality and to better reflect our modern society. 

Key facts
  • This consultation will consider whether statutory Paternity leave for fathers and same sex partners should be changed, and for ways in which the shared parental leave policy introduced in 2015 could be improved. 
  • The government is also looking to introduce a new Neonatal Leave and Pay entitlement, for parents of premature and sick babies who need to spend a prolonged period in neonatal care following birth.
  • The entitlement would mean that fathers and partners will no longer need to take annual and unpaid leave if their child is in hospital for longer than their paternity leave period. They would also have additional time at home with their child to make up for the time spent in hospital. 

Why this matters

We want to make sure that government support for parents keeps up with changing attitudes to parenting – and changing paternity leave could have an important impact in supporting families and promoting better gender equality in work and at home. By proposing a new Neonatal Leave and Pay entitlement, we can ensure the system is fairer and more compassionate.

Egremont Road Whitehaven closed for two weeks from tomorrow

A section of the B5295 Egremont Road in Hensingham, Whitehaven, North from the hospital roundabout, past the Distressed Sailor to the Lincoln Road junction, will be temporarily closed for carriageway surfacing works.

The work will start on 22nd July 2019 (tomorrow) and is expected to take about two weeks.

Sunday Music Spot: Oran introduction to Bach's Cantata 29, "We Thank Thee, God"

Quote of the day 21st July 2019

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Saturday music spot: "Summer" from Vivaldi's "The Four seasons."

Each of the four parts of Antonio Vivialdi's "Four Seasons" sets a sonnet about that season to music, with specific lines from the poem for each of the three movements.

On this sweltering summer's day, I have posted below a link to a Youtube clip of a wonderful performance of Vivaldi's "Summer" by the Trondheim Soloists. The violin soloist is Mari Silje Samuelsen.

And here are the words of the poem which this music brings to life.


First movement (Allegro non molto)

Beneath the blazing sun's relentless heat
men and flocks are sweltering,
pines are scorched.
We hear the cuckoo's voice;
then sweet songs of the turtle dove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air….
but threatening north wind sweeps them suddenly aside.
The shepherd trembles,
fearful of violent storm and what may lie ahead.

Second movement (Adagio e piano - Presto e forte)
His limbs are now awakened from their repose
by fear of lightning's flash and thunder's roar,
as gnats and flies buzz furiously around.

Third Movement (Presto)

Alas, his worst fears were justified,
as the heavens roar and great hailstones beat down upon the proudly standing corn. 

(For the benefit of any reader who is unfamiliar with Italian or with  musical terms, the first movement is played fast, the second starts slow and quiet but becomes very fast and loud, and the third movement is very fast.)

The Eagle has landed

Fifty years today the first men to land on another world touched down in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon in the lunar module of the Apollo 11 mission.

Their safe arrival was announced with the words "The Eagle has landed."

A few hours later Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, saying of his first step

"That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind," 

and adding "We came in peace for all mankind."

Quote of the day 20th July 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019

"Reckless Caution"

Heard an expression today from a senior official at Cumbria County Council which sounds at first like a complete oxymoron but on reflection actually makes a very clever point.

The expression concerned was "reckless caution."

And she quite rightly said that it can be very dangerous.

She was talking in the context of budget planning, in which an overly cautious view can lead to very harmful decisions being taken when they don't need to be.

It applies in a whole host of other areas  - the most obvious being when one is a road user, when freezing in the middle of the road, unable to decide whether to go left or right (or back or forward) can make an accident inevitable which a quick decision in either direction would have avoided.

The popular image of the military disasters of World War One is that they were caused by overly aggressive generals who didn't care about their men's lives.

There were such disasters, but there were also instances such as the Gallipoli landings, where the exact opposite happened.

In that instance overly cautious generals who for fear of casualties failed to order their troops to quickly advance and take the high ground on which Kemal Attaturk had placed machine-guns and artillery, lost far more men because of their indecision. The poor devils were left in an exposed position where they were very vulnerable to the fire from those guns.

So yes, sometimes it is possible to be recklessly cautious.

Brendan O'Neill on Corbyn supporters and their "problem with Jews."

Something very strange happened today in respect of the unacceptable tweet by President Trump that four US Congresswomen, all of whom are US citizens and three of whom were born in the USA, should, quote,

go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.’

These comments have rightly been criticised by people right across the political spectrum (including by both contenders for the Conservative leadership.)

It is no particular surprise that there was an immediate competition to see who could condemn the US president in the strongest terms so that those who chose the strongest ones could also condemn their political opponents for being soft on prejudice.

But it is very surprising that some on the left of the Labour party, supporters of Corbyn and the left-win magazine The Canary, used the issue as a stich with which to beat their opponents within Labour, using attack lines such as

"Right-wing Labour MPs use Trump’s racism for their own advantage."

The basic argument is that the attack by Trump on these four congresswomen is presented as a binary issue - either you agree with everything the four have said and regard them as heroines, or you're with Trump.

Since one of two of the Congresswomen concerned have form for Anti-Semitic comments - for example, Ilhan Omar has had to apologise for exactly the same kind of anti-Jewish racism on social media which opponents of Labour Anti-Semitism have been calling out - the Canary suggests that if you are an opponent of that kind of Anti-Semitism you can't call out Trump for his comments without being a hypocrite.

This is complete and utter nonsense.

As Steven Daisley wrote in the Spectator,

"Ilhan Omar’s antisemitism does not excuse Donald Trump’s racism but nor does his racism excuse her antisemitism."

It is perfectly possible and reasonable to be horrified by both.

Brendan O'Neill has a very good piece in "Spiked" about the problem which a worrying number of Corbynistas have with Jews and which helps to explain how such opinions, which would have been utterly unacceptable in British polite society a few years ago, have been making a comeback.

You can read his piece, "Why Corbynistas have such a problem with Jews" in full here.

Quote of the day 19th July 2019

Thursday, July 18, 2019

July meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

Spent most of today at the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee in the council chamber at County Hall in Kendal.

There was a very full agenda with more than 400 pages (382 page main agenda circulated last week and another 26 page presentation emailed through yesterday evening and handed out at the start of the meeting.

Major issues discussed included
  • Next steps for maternity in West Cumbria following the decision earlier this month by the CCG to give a commitment to retain consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH)
  • Future of mental health services in the North and South of the county with presentations from the trusts which are taking over the service in these areas
  • Orthodontic care in South Cumbria
  • Morecambe Bay University Hospitals NHS Trust improvement plan following the CQC inspection

I will be writing more on these issues.

National Retraining Scheme launched

The UK's National Retraining Scheme gets underway this week with the launch of a new website, Get Help to Retrain, helping adults discover new opportunities and skills they need to get a new job.

Key facts
  • The National Retraining Scheme – which is being developed to support adults to adapt to changes in the workplace – has begun its initial rollout in the Liverpool City Region with the launch of a new digital service, Get Help to Retrain. 
  • The online service will help adults identify their existing skills, explore local job opportunities and where to go to find training courses to gain the skills they need to progress 
  • Dedicated support will also be on hand from trained careers advisors to guide people through the process and provide expert information and advice. 
  • The initial roll out will begin with eligible adults across Liverpool – those aged 24 and over, with a qualification below degree level and working below a certain wage threshold – and the system will be developed and evaluated before being scaled up and rolled out to other regions in the coming months. 
  • Get Help to Retrain will be released to all eligible adults in England in early 2020. 

Why this matters:

Figures reveal that up to 35 per cent of jobs could be at risk of changing as a result of automation in the next 10-20 years. This is big and complex challenge. The National Retraining Scheme will be pivotal in helping adults across the country gain new skills and get on the path to a new, more rewarding career.

Quote of the day 18th July 2019

Two related quotes from Thomas Sowell:

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Working Together Steering Group

I attended the Working Together Steering Group meeting in Workington this evening.

There was a lively discussion on the future of co-production.

Follow the line above for details of future meetings.

In the meantime the "Recruitment and Retention" group is looking for details of community organisations which might be of interest to or are able to engage with doctors moving to West Cumbria from other countries to support our local NHS.

Midweek Music Spot: Bach Concerto in A minor for 4 Harpsichords

Teachers' workloads

The Education Secretary has written to academy trusts and local authorities urging them to do more to cut teachers’ workload, freeing up more time for teachers to get back into the classroom. 

Key facts:
  • Research out today shows that the vast majority of school leaders are clamping down on unnecessary workload, with 94 per cent of leaders reporting that they have taken action to reduce teacher workload. 
  • Since it was published, the government's Workload Reduction Toolkit has been viewed nearly 250,000 times. It contains online resources to help school leaders crack down on unnecessary workload. 
  • But there is still more to do so the Education Secretary is asking school leaders to reduce the data burden on teachers, so they are not spending their time filling in unnecessary spreadsheets. 

Why this matters:

The Conservative government is doing all we can to get teachers back where they belong – in the classroom, giving young people the best start in life. We’re giving school leaders the confidence to do away with those unnecessary tasks that stop teachers from doing what they do best.

Quote of the day 17th July 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Record Numbers in Work

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 number of people in work at a record high – including a record number of women in work – 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.

  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.6 per cent compared with a year earlier, growing by 1.7 per cent after adjusting for inflation – boosted by strong growth in wages of public sector workers – meaning people have more money in their pockets.
  • Employment: 32.75 million (up 354,000 over the last year and up by 3.70 million since 2010).

  • Employment rate: 76.0 per cent (up 0.4 points over the past year and up 5.8 points since 2010).

  • Unemployment: 1.29 million (down 116,000 over the past year and down by 1.22 million since 2010).

  • Unemployment rate: 3.8 per cent (down 0.4 points over the past year and down 4.2 points since 2010) – the lowest rate since 1974 and halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent).  
  • Youth unemployment: There are 446,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – halving since 2010.

  • Women: The number of women in work is at a record high of 15.47 million – and the employment rate for women is at a record high of 72.0 per cent. There are 1.84 million more women in work since 2010.

We are helping families with the cost of living, so they have more money in their pockets:

  • We have increased the national Living Wage which has taken the proportion of jobs that are low paid to its lowest level since 1986. 
  • The introduction of the National Living Wage, pushed up hourly pay, the proportion of people on low pay fell below 20 per cent for the first time since 1986 and has continued to fall since, with almost 200,000 workers lifted out of low pay last year. (Resolution Foundation, Low Pay Britain 2019, 30 May 2019, link)
  • We have increased the personal allowance to £12,500 a year early so that 32 million people can keep more of what they earn. 
  • We have cut income tax for 32 million people and taken 1.74 million people out of paying tax altogether. An average rate taxpayer is paying £1,205 less tax this year than in 2010-11.

Special music spot to commemorate 50 years since the launch of Apollo 11

Fifty years ago today Apollo 11 blasted off on a mission to take three men to the moon, two of whom actually landed on earth's satellite.

Contemporary TV clips of Apollo spaceships launching were usually accompanied by the music "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Strauss because of the association of this piece of music with the moonshot in the film "2001, A Space Odyssey."

So, for the generation who witnessed the moon landings, this music will always be associated with the story of man reaching for the stars.

Fraudulent phone call alert

If you get a phone call with a recorded voice (or a live one) claiming to be from "British Telecom" and warning that your BT Broadband is about to be disconnected, hang up.

Anyone claiming to be from "British Telecom" is a fraudster.

British Telecommunications PLC stopped using the trade name "British Telecom" in 1991, nearly thirty years ago and replaced it with "BT."

Back to square one: Labour betrays leave voters

Both the Conservatives and Labour fought the last election on a promise to respect and implement the decision of voters in the EU referendum.

The fact that this promise has not yet been carried out is already doing great damage to trust in politics. We must be honest about the fact that we share some of the blame for this, in that although the vast majority of  Conservative MPs have voted to leave the EU, disagreements between Conservatives about how to do it have been part of the reason for the delay.

But literally 99% of Conservative MPs have voted to leave the EU.

There are about a dozen honourable exceptions on the Labour benches who have regularly voted with us to keep their election promise and leave the EU, and faced considerable trouble from their party as a result, but the majority of Labour MPs have not even tried to keep that promise. A substantial number of Labour MPs have actively campaigned to frustrate the "People's Vote" we've already had.

Last week Labour finally ended any pretence of keeping their election promise and came out for Remain.
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary confirmed that Labour will back a second referendum and campaign to Remain– showing they have no interest in delivering on the referendum result.

Key facts:
  • Labour are calling for a second referendum on any deal negotiated by the government and would campaign to Remain. 
  • Labour promised to respect the Brexit vote. But rerunning the referendum and backing Remain would be an attempt to frustrate Brexit and ignore the democratic mandate to deliver it. 
Only the Conservatives respect the referendum result and will deliver Brexit. Labour would send us right back to square one.

A society that works for everyone: sick pay for the low paid.

The lowest paid are set to receive sick pay for the first time as the Conservative government consults on transforming for the better support for the sick and disabled.

Key facts: 

  • Yesterday, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out new measures to transform how employers support and retain disabled staff and those with a health condition.
  • Under the new measures the lowest paid employees would be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay for the first time.
  • Small businesses may also be offered a sick pay rebate to reward those who effectively manage employees on sick leave and help them get back to work.

Why this matters: 

Conservatives want Britain to be an environment where disabled people and those with health conditions can thrive, not just survive – not only in work but every area of their lives.

Quote of the day 16th July 2019

Monday, July 15, 2019

Fake news

The Education Secretary warned today of the dangers of ‘fake news’ and the risks it poses to pupils following the publication of  Teaching Online Safety in Schools.


Key facts:


  • The government has published online safety guidance for schools, which includes teaching children how to evaluate what they see online how to recognise techniques used for persuasions and how to identify online risks.


  • This will enable children to recognise and respond to ‘fake news’ more effectively and to differentiate between misinformation and disinformation.


  • From 2020 we are making health education universally compulsory meaning every child will learn about internet safety and harms alongside the importance of mental wellbeing.


Why this matters

The internet puts a vast amount of information at our fingertips but makes it easier to spread falsehoods or disinformation which can destroy trust, damage learning culture, and sap curiosity.

Electric cars, continued ...

Ding Ding: round two ...

The Conservative government is proposing that all new electric car rapid chargepoints should provide ‘pay as you go’ payment options by 2020. This should ensure Britain has one of the best electric vehicle charging networks in the world.

Key facts:
  • We expect industry to develop a solution across the charging network allowing drivers to pay with debit or credit cards when using public chargepoints so drivers don’t need multiple apps or memberships. 
  • If the market is too slow to deliver improvements across the entire network, the government will intervene to ensure there is a good deal for consumers. 
  • This follows the publication of the Road to Zero Strategy and our commitment to net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050. 

Why this matters

This will help even more people experience the benefits electric vehicles bring and speed up our journey to a zero-emission future.


The UK government has explained concerns about Iran’s reduced compliance with the nuclear deal and continues to stress the ongoing work needed with partners to keep the deal in place. 

Key facts
  • Britain will continue to work alongside France and Germany to make every effort to maintain the nuclear deal, and to encourage Iran back into compliance. 
  • Following the brave work of our Royal Navy in the Persian Gulf the UK  we will work with partners to maintain the right of commercial ships to go about their rightful business. 
  • The detention of the Grace 1 oil tanker was a Gibraltar-led enforcement of EU Syria sanctions. Action had to be taken, and this was nothing to do with the oil being Iranian. 

Why this matters:

The Middle East is already one of the most unstable regions in the world, but if the different parties were armed with nuclear weapons it would represent an existential threat to mankind.

Quote of the day 15th July 2019

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Human rights in China

There has been a very powerful and convincing BBC documentary on show this weekend about how China is attempting to suppress religions and cultural minorities.

The Uighur Muslims have been particularly harshly treated with hundreds of thousands of men, women and children vanishing into re-education camps, but almost every group whose views are anything other than atheist supporters of the Communist government or whose ethnicity is other than Han Chinese has suffered a greater of lesser degree of persecution.

Details are given on the BBC website here.

There is no easy way to deal with the Chinese - I am not in favour of cutting trade links to repressive governments except in extreme cases, as part of a targeted, internationally co-ordinated strategy, or obviously, in wartime. But we need to recognise that the People's Republic of China is a highly dangerous and repressive regime which should be carefully watched.

Congratulations to the England Cricket team on winning the World Cup

I have never seen anything like it.

Congratulations to the England Cricket team on winning the 2019 world cup.

And commiserations to the New Zealand team who also played incredibly well and missed out by the narrowest margin possible.

Both sides scored 241 runs in their 50 overs, so the match went to a "Super Over."

Both sides scored 15 in their Super Over.

So England win by having scored most boundaries.

What a fantastic match.

Sunday music spot: VOCES8 sing 'Ne Irascaris Domine' & 'Civitas Sancti Tui' by Byrd

Quote of the day 14th July 2019

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Bringing child abusers to justice

The government has announced that new digital tools will help bring those who prey on vulnerable children to justice and better protect victims. 

Key facts
  • Police Forces across the UK will have access to new tools to speed up investigations of online child abuse and limit the number of indecent images of children police officers have to view. 
  • These include a fast-forensic tool to rapidly analyse seized devices, an image categorisation algorithm to help officers categorise the severity of imagery and a tool to help officers identify children in indecent images, in order to safeguard victims. 
  • Improvements will enable us to catch more offenders, rescue more children from harm and reduce the pressure and trauma on our officers from having to review every image manually. 

Why this matters

Vile predators who are creating, viewing or sharing indecent imagery of children are constantly adapting their tactics and we must move at the same pace to bring them to justice and protect vulnerable victims

Saturday music slot: "Music for a while" by Henry Purcell.

Better care for the terminally ill

Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary has announced a review of the benefits system for terminally ill claimants so that the most vulnerable people of all can access the support they need.

Key facts:

  • The Conservative government is beginning work on a fresh and honest evaluation of our benefits system so that we can be sure that people who are nearing the end of their life and with severe conditions get the best possible support. 
  • The review will hear from claimants about their first hand experiences, consider international evidence and review current performance to better understand how the special rules and the Severe Conditions processes operate and perform. 

Why this matters

Having a life limiting illness or severe condition can cause unimaginable suffering for the patient and for their loved ones. The review announced today will help ensure these vulnerable people get the support they need from our benefits system.

UK Exports up £25.1 billion

Exports by British companies have risen by £25.1 billion – 4 per cent – over the last year, as we lead the way in creating jobs, growing our economy and ensuring prosperity across the country.

Key facts
  • In the year to May 2019, exports totalled £647.1 billion – a rise from £622.0 billion in the previous year. 
  • Since Labour were last in government, our exports have risen by over 50 per cent. 
  • Conservatives want to continue to build on this successes, which is why we’ve launched an Export Strategy to support and connect businesses so that they can create more, better-paid jobs

Quote of the day 13th July 2019

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mental Health Training

The government is investing £9.3 million to offer every school and college mental health training, ensuring more young people get the right help at the right time. 

Key facts:
  • Every school and college will be offered training, raising awareness of mental health concerns and improving referrals to specialist help when needed. 
  • Backed by £9.3 million, the scheme will deliver more joined up care and help to identify mental health issues before they become more acute. 
  • We are also announcing the next wave of trailblazer areas to benefit from Mental Health Support Teams, outlined in the mental health green paper. These will help schools and colleges to speed up access to specialist services. 

Why this matters

Bringing school and college staff into the same room as NHS professionals and encouraging them to work together will ensure more pupils get the right help at the right time.

Quote of the day 12th July 2019

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thank goodness for the Royal Navy.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Britain "scared" and "hopeless" for using Royal Navy warships to shadow British tankers in the Persian Gulf.

The word I would use is "prudent" and in the event it is just as well the navy was there.

Later the same day three boats believed to belong to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard approached a UK tanker, the "British Heritage" and tried to bring it to a halt as it was moving out of the Persian Gulf into the Strait of Hormuz.

A Royal Navy frigate, HMS Montrose, which had been shadowing the BP-owned tanker at distance, was forced to move between the three boats and the tanker, according to a Ministry of Defence spokesman, who also described the Iranians' actions as "contrary to international law".

HMS Montrose is a type 23 frigate displacing 4,950 tons, and her armament includes a BAE 4.5 inch Mark 8 naval gun turret and a number of smaller guns. She was awarded the Fleet Effectiveness Trophy for best frigate in the Royal Navy in 2014.

According to press reports which have neither been confirmed or denied by the MoD, HMS Montrose trained her guns on the Iranian boats and invited them to leave and, not being ready to become martyrs for the cause of the glorious revolution just yet, they took this advice.

No shots were fired but I do not like to think what might have happened had the Montrose not been in a position to intervene.

Thank goodness for the Royal Navy: this just goes to show how much we need the Navy and the other armed services - and the yards like BAE systems at Barrow-in-Furness which build and maintain their ships.

Yaxley-Lennon sent back to jail after retrial

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who calls himself Tommy Robinson, has been sent back to jail by a court at the Old Bailey on charges of contempt of court for breaching the reporting restrictions on trials at Canterbury and Leeds.

It is worth stressing that this is not, and never has been, the free speech issue which Yaxley-Lennon and his supporters pretend it to be. The reporting restrictions which he broke merely delay reporting of the details of a trial in process until that trial and sometimes (as in the Leeds case) one or more  linked trial has been completed so that the evidence of the witnesses and the deliberations of the jury are not compromised and the defendants get a fair trial.

There are a number of real and serious threats to free speech in Britain.


As the judge who handed him the original suspended sentence for his behaviour at Canterbury told Mr Yaxley-Lennon in May 2017,

"This contempt hearing is not about free speech.

This is not about freedom of the press.

This is not about legitimate journalism; this is not about political correctness; this is not about whether one political viewpoint is right or another.

It is about justice, and it is about ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly.

It is about ensuring that a jury are not in any way inhibited from carrying out their important function. It is about being innocent until proven guilty.

It is not about people prejudging a situation and going round to that court and publishing material, whether in print or online, referring to defendants as “Muslim paedophile rapists”.

A legitimate journalist would not be able to do that and under the strict liability rule there would be no defence to publication in those terms. It is pejorative language which prejudges the case, and it is language and reporting – if reporting indeed is what it is – that could have had the effect of substantially derailing the trial.

As I have already indicated, because of what I knew was going on I had to take avoiding action to make sure that the integrity of this trial was preserved, that justice was preserved and that the trial could continue to completion without people being intimidated into reaching conclusions about it, or into being affected by “irresponsible and inaccurate reporting”.

If something of the nature of that which you put out on social media had been put into the mainstream press I would have been faced with applications from the defence advocates concerned, I have no doubt, to either say something specific to the jury, or worse, to abandon the trial and to start again.

That is the kind of thing that actions such as these can and do have, and that is why you have been dealt with in the way in which you have and why I am dealing with this case with the seriousness which I am.”

She then added that he

"should be under no illusions that if you commit any further offence of any kind, and that would include, I would have thought, a further contempt of court by similar actions, then that sentence of three months would be activated, and that would be on top of anything else that you were given by any other court.

In short, Mr Yaxley-Lennon, turn up at another court, refer to people as “Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists” and so and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand?“

The opinion of the judge in the case at Leeds where Mr Yaxley-Lennon showed up a year later was that's basically what he did, and he did indeed find himself inside.

The appeal court found that there were some procedural issues with that second conviction - though not with the first one - so they quashed it, releasing him from prison and referred the matter to the  Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox to decide whether to bring fresh charges.

(Probably a welcome relief for Geoffrey Cox from giving legal opinions about the Brexit backstop!)

The Attorney General did decide to bring fresh charges, resulting in the court action at the Old Bailey. The High court heard that in May 2018, Yaxley-Lennon live-streamed a video outside Leeds Crown Court that contained information in breach of reporting restrictions. He also approached defendants and told his followers to “harass them”.

On 5 July, the High Court found Yaxley-Lennon to be in contempt of court, because:
  • His online publication of details about the criminal case involved a breach of a reporting restriction order imposed under s4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
  • The content of what he published online gave rise to a substantial risk that the course of justice in the criminal case would be seriously impeded, thereby amounting to a breach of the rule of contempt law known as “the strict liability rule”. 
  • By aggressively confronting and filming some of the defendants in that case as they arrived at court, he interfered with the course of justice. 
The court found that Yaxley-Lennon's conduct in each of these respects amounted to a serious interference with the administration of justice.

Speaking after the sentencing today, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said:

"Today’s sentencing of Yaxley-Lennon serves to illustrate how seriously the courts will take matters of contempt. 

"Posting material online that breaches reporting restrictions or risks prejudicing legal proceedings has consequences, and I would urge everyone to think carefully about whether their social media posts could amount to contempt of court."

Yaxley-Lennon has been given nine months in total - three months for the original suspended sentence plus six months for the second offence.

He has previously served ten weeks so has been committed to prison for a further nineteen weeks but becomes eligible for parole after ten of those weeks.

July meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

Just received the paper copy of the agenda for next week's meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee.

It's an inch thick and came in a post office plastic wrapper with a note apologising for the fact to the effect that the envelope was disintegrating. Perhaps the County Council administration should have a think about the quality of envelope required to stand up to going through the post with such a heavy document inside.

The meeting will be held in the Council chamber at the county council offices in Kendal at 10.30 on Thursday 18th July 2019.

You can read the agenda and supporting documents - 382 pages so far with one report to follow - on the county council website here.

I'm going to find somewhere to sit down and read it, I may be some time ...

Quote of the day 11th July 2019

“This is no longer a question of the leadership’s inability to deal with the scourge of Antisemitism, but of its direct complicity in it.”

The above is what Chief Rabbi Mirvis tweeted last night in response to the Panorama programme about Anti-Semitism in the Labour party. the full quote is as follows:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Labour's spin on the Panorama allegations about Anti-Semitism

The allegations aired in the BBC Panorama programme about anti-Semitism in the Labour party which were broadcast this evening should be a source of grave concern to any decent person.

They prompted a strong response from the Chief Rabbi of which more anon and this from the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

But the response of the Labour party itself is almost more damaging.

The Labour leadership's briefing to supporters on the line to take in response to Panorama has been published by the Huffington Post website and is, quite frankly, astonishing.

By most people's standards I would be considered an arch-loyalist for my own party, but if they ever had the nerve to instruct me to defend the indefensible like this I would be reaching for my phone to challenge what was going on, not my keyboard to do as I was told.

So here is the Labour line: watch out for anyone advancing this position on taking this line over the next four days.

Anyone taking this position has outed themselves as so willing to say anything whatsoever if instructed to do so by the Labour leadership. These people would throw their own grandmothers under a bus if "Jeremy and Jenny" told them to do so.

A black day for British diplomacy

I find it impossible to disagree with the present Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that the resignation of Britain's ambassador to the USA, Sir Kim Darroch, was "A black day for British displomacy" or with his predecessor and leadership rival Boris Johnson that whoever is responsible for the leak which made Sir Kim's position untenable deserves to be "eviscerated."

Ambassadors are supposed to be able to provide the governments which appoint them with a frank assessment of the situation in the country to which they are posted. It is an essential part of the job to for British envoys to tell our governments what they really think

As I wrote here yesterday, "If every ambassador who wrote an honest and unflattering opinion of the government to which he was accredited was the target of a similar leak and had to resign there would be no diplomats left in Moscow, Bejing, Ankara, Tehran, or a number of other capitals we can all easily think of."

This is understood even by the more grown-up supporters of President Trump.

Republican Senator Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a Trump supporter, said Sir Kim had done "an outstanding job" as ambassador and his resignation was "a chilling moment".

Senator Graham added that

"Ambassadors need to be able to talk to their governments without fear of being compromised."

Sir Kim's position was untenable from the moment his confidential advice to the government became public: he has done the honourable thing by falling on his sword and resigning despite not being at fault, but you do not have to agree with his assessment of the Trump administration to see that his having to go for expressing his opinions is most unfortunate.

Whether the target of whoever leaked the messages was to damage Sir Kim or to damage the relationship between Britain and America, they succeeded.

Boosting the rollout of electric cars

To mark the anniversary of our Road to Zero Strategy, the government is investing £37 million to revolutionise the experience of owning an electric vehicle – helping even more people realise the benefits of such vehicles and speed up our country’s journey to a future with zero net emission of carbon into the earth's atmosphere.

Key facts
  • A year ago this week, the government launched a "Road to Zero" Strategy setting out new measures to clean up road transport and lead the world in developing, manufacturing and using zero emission road vehicles. 
  • The aim is to ensure at least 50 per cent of new car sales are ultra-low emission by 2030 and ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. This is one of the most ambitious targets to protect the environment adopted by any country in the world. 
  • We know that a lack of suitable on-street charging is one of the biggest strategic barriers to mass adoption of electric vehicles – and it is critical that as many people as possible can access quality electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 
  • The £37 million will support twelve engineering projects that could massively expand the chargepoint network for those without off-street parking. 

Why this matters:

The UK’s transition to zero emission vehicles is going further and faster than ever. By ensuring the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is reliable and innovative, we can encourage more people to join the record numbers of ultra-low emission vehicle users already on UK roads.

Quote of the day 10th July 2019

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Improving access to rail services

A £20 million fund has been launched as part of the Inclusive Transport Strategy to improve accessibility for disabled rail passengers. 

Key facts
  • The flagship accessibility programme was launched 12 months ago. Progress so far includes introducing the first ever independent Rail Ombudsman, to make sure passengers get a fair deal when train companies fall short, providing £2 million to build Changing Places accessible toilets in more motorway service stations, and issuing guidance to extend the Blue Badge scheme. 
  • In April the government announced that 73 train stations will benefit from accessible routes to and between every platform, as part of the £300 million Access for All fund. 
  • The programme has so far delivered more than 200 accessible routes into stations along with smaller scale improvements at a further 1,500 stations. 
  • The new £20 million fund will be open for applications from stations in need of accessibility improvements, leading to small-scale enhancements such as tactile paving, handrails and Harrington Humps, which increase platform heights. 

Why this matters

While many take for granted the ability to travel easily from A to B, access for the fifth of people who identify as disabled can be far from straightforward. Taken together, these improvements will open up journeys for disabled passengers, allowing them to travel with confidence.

Undiplomatic diplomats

It is usually considered part of the job of an ambassador to give, privately, a frank and accurate account to the government he or she represents  of what is going on in the country to which he or she is accredited.

It is because countries have long recognised that such honest but not open communication is usually in the long-term interests of both countries that diplomatic communications have a special level of privacy and immunity.

Whether or not you agree with the opinions of Britain's ambassador to the USA, Sir Kim Darroch, about the Trump administration, it was part of his job to tell the government what he thinks.

And if every ambassador who wrote an honest and unflattering opinion of the government to which he was accredited was the target of a similar leak and had to resign there would be no diplomats left in Moscow, Bejing, Ankara, Tehran, or a number of other capitals we can all easily think of.

However, the leak of those opinions where they were unflattering was always going to be harmful to relations with any government, and all the more so where the government concerned is headed by someone like Donald Trump. Where the relationship concerned is Britain's single most important international relationship such a leak is an absolute calamity.

If evidence should emerge identifying a British politician or official as being responsible for the leak they should be both sacked and prosecuted for having damaged Britain's interests.

There are, however, at least two foreign governments which run legions of highly sophisticated hackers and IT intelligence operations and which might find it useful to damage relations between the UK and the USA. I would not rule out the possibility that the leak of the communications between Ambassador Kim Darrow and the government came from a hostile foreign power which had hacked our communications and released stolen information to the press with the intention of damaging Britain's most important diplomatic relationship - in which they have succeeded.

I hope the leak inquiry will include a review of cyber security of British diplomatic communications.

Quote of the day 9th July 2019

Monday, July 08, 2019

The A595

Since my election to Cumbria County Council just over two years ago I have taken a leaf from the example of Cato the Censor.

Cato supposedly expressed the view "Carthago Delenda Est" (Carthage must be destroyed) in every speech he made to the Roman Senate.

In my case I have so far managed to find a means of mentioning the need to improve the A595 at every occasion when the full council has gathered since my election and intend to keep doing so as long as I serve on that council and can catch the chair's eye.

Usually I ask a question about it under the item on questions from councillors, though the meeting before last I fitted it in to an item about new roads, and at the June meeting I wanted to ask a question about the need to consult service users properly about the planned move of the Daniel Hay library in Whitehaven to the Archives centre site.

So instead I made a short speech about the A595 at the end of the meeting. Here are my notes for the speech. (I wasn't timing myself so I don't know if I actually took the 75 seconds I estimated when I rehearsed it, and I delivered the speech from memory rather than reading it so the odd word may have been different, but this is pretty much what I said.)

"Chairman, Council

Can I please take 75 seconds of your time to stress that we as a council need to continue to focus on the issues with the A595.

Members representing the west of the county will be well aware that the A595 is the only major road, insofar as it deserves that name, running through large parts of the west of the county and the only major road route providing access to one of the largest employers in the county, e.g. the Sellafield nuclear site.

The fact that it does not remotely have the capacity to take even current demand, let alone what is likely to be needed to meet future developments, has a major impact on the quality of life of residents of practically every town or settlement on the west coast as traffic diverts through unsuitable roads, and is also a major brake on the economic development of West Cumbria.

Members will be aware of the recent consultation on a possible Whitehaven relief road and we are waiting to hear if this makes it into the Autumn Statement, and of the welcome improvements planned at Dove Ford Farm at Grizebeck, but many other junctions both in the part of the road managed by Highways England and the stretch south of Calderbridge managed by this council also need improvement.

A couple of weeks ago councillors Morgan, Turner and I met Highways England to discuss some of the issues and they are giving members of the Copeland local committee a briefing next week.

I want to flag that local members are particularly concerned to ensure that action is taken to deal with the Moresby Viaduct section in a timely and properly planned way. As of today, the road is safe but sooner or later action will need to be taken to deal with the movement of the ground underneath before it ceases to be. The consequences in terms of disruption to people’s lives if the road has to be closed on an emergency basis before a proper plan and an alternative route is in place do not bear thinking about.

As I’ve said we are talking to Highways England about this and so is the portfolio holder but it important that all members are aware of the importance of the issue."

Government to introduce "Helen's Law"

Justice Secretary David Gauke has confirmed that the government will legislate so that murderers who fail to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body will face spending longer behind bars. 

Key facts
  • Helen’s Law’ will place a legal duty on the Parole Board to take into account if a murderer is withholding information about the location of a victim's body when making a decision on whether to release the person convicted of the offence. 
  • Named after Helen McCourt – murdered in 1988 – whose killer has never revealed her whereabouts, this law will mean that murderers who fail to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body could spend more time in prison.
  • The move follows the unwavering campaign of Helen’s mother, Marie McCourt, to see the law changed and comes after recent meetings with the Justice Secretary. 
  • This builds on wider reforms to the parole system, announced earlier this year, that will allow victims for the first time to challenge a release decision if they believe it was fundamentally flawed. 

Why this matters

The profound grief inflicted on families and friends of the murdered is incalculable. Those responsible should know that if they choose to compound this further through their behaviour, they will be held accountable.

The New Statesman magazine apologises to Sir Roger Scruton

I was interested to read the following agreed statement between the New Statesman magazine and Sir Roger Scruton.

In the circumstances I think the safest and most appropriate way to report this is to record the statement in full, including the links at the bottom, without amendment or comment. It reads as follows:


The New Statesman interview with Sir Roger Scruton (“Cameron's resignation was the death knell of the Conservative Party”, 10 April) generated substantial media comment and will be readily recalled by most readers. We have now met with Sir Roger and we have agreed jointly to publish this statement.

In the interview, Sir Roger said of China: “They’re creating robots of their own people … each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing”. We would like to clarify that Sir Roger’s criticism was not of the Chinese people but of the restrictive regime of the Chinese Communist Party.

Sir Roger is quoted accurately in the article: “Anybody who doesn’t think there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts”. 

However, the article did not include the rest of Sir Roger’s statement that “it’s not necessarily an empire of Jews; that’s such nonsense”. We would like to clarify that elsewhere in the interview Sir Roger recognised the existence of anti-Semitism in Hungarian society.

After its publication online, links to the article were tweeted out together with partial quotations from the interview – including a truncated version of the quotation regarding China above. We acknowledge that the views of Professor Scruton were not accurately represented in the tweets to his disadvantage. We apologise for this, and regret any distress that this has caused Sir Roger.

By way of rectification we provide here a link to a transcript of the interview and the original article so that readers can learn for themselves what Professor Scruton actually said in full

Quote of the day 8th July 2019

"One side turning their back on anthems. 
The other wearing childish T-shirts with swear words on."

("Comedian Geoff Norcott @GeoffNorcott on Twitter describing the antics of Brexit Party and Lib/Dem MEPs at the opening of the new session of the European parliament.

What are we coming to when a comedian sounds sensible and the people elected to represent Britain from the two parties which won most votes in this years' European Election act like comedians?)

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Matthew Parris on the tension between freedom and people's best interests

Matthew Parris had a really good article in yesterday's Times about the tension between individual freedom on the one hand, and the desire of well meaning people to stop others doing things which risk their lives or health on the other. It was inspired by the issue of the "sugar tax" but has much wider application.

This is a tension of which I have been increasingly aware since my appointment to Cumbria's Health Scrutiny Committee and it is not an issue on which there are any easy right answers.

Matthew's article "Don't let nanny get too big for her boots," which if you register for a number of free articles each week or fork out the paywall fee can be read here, was intelligent, provocative, nuanced, balanced and fair.

It reminded me why I used to enjoy reading Matthew's pieces so much before about the time of the Brexit vote, when he became increasingly obsessed with overturning the result of the referendum and appeared to lose, on that subject at least, the ability to see both sides of an issue which had previously made most of his articles so interesting.

After listing a whole range of subjects in which he was once against state intervention and now thinks he was wrong on the specifics - but not entirely wrong about the general principle -  he concludes

"Resistance is neither impossible nor worthless."

"'Sink or swim' has a vital role both in the development of the individual and the efficient working of a society. Competitiveness, insecurity, fear of failure and visible examples of human failure are a necessary spur to human progress,

"Therefore I do not entirely repent of my youthful libertarianism. We are right to bark at the nanny state. Unless rebuked, nanny will get too big for her boots.

"But I believed once that there was no need for nannies. I no longer believe that."