Thursday, December 08, 2005

On a lighter note – Susan Pevensie Lives !!

I’ve been posting some fairly serious things in the past few days, many of them quite depressing, but I am looking forward to taking my twin son and daughter to the cinema for their first time in the near future when “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” comes out.

There was a time when I would never have expected that C.S. Lewis’s wonderful fantasies could be portrayed adequately on screen but I would have said the same of the work of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. And look what a good job they made of “The Lord of the Rings”.

By all accounts the new Narnia film is supposed to be both brilliant and true to the books, and it has provoked a lot of discussion, mostly positive. However, there is one particular comment about the Narnia stories which has cropped up in a lot of reviews and online discussions which is quite wrong and really gets to me, so on a lighter note – here is the truth about Susan !

C.S. Lewis made clear that the Narnia stories are primarily just that – stories to entertain children and adults – and that the Christian allegory is an optional extra. He also cautioned people against trying to take those allegories too far. Lewis was a noted Christian writer, and in that capacity he used as an argument against certain types of theologian and biblical critic that people in his own lifetime who tried to deduce what was going on in his head from his writings nearly always got it wrong. He added that the same applied to the work of his friends, specifically including J.R.R. Tolkien and “The Lord of the Rings” - some people had interpreted the Ring in that story as representing the atomic bomb, but Tolkien had told Lewis that although quite plausible this was not correct.

Nevertheless some people, both among those who love the stories and those who do not, do try to make far too much of the allegories or go into far greater detail than C.S. Lewis himself ever imagined they should.

One example which is just plain wrong, and has been suggested by far too many people, some of whom ought to know better, is that Susan is “excluded” from the Narnian heaven. This mistake is apparently based on the fact that at the end of the final book, “The Last Battle”, most of the characters meet in the Narnian part of heaven, but Susan is not present. She is described as having lost interest in Narnia.

However, a careful reading of the book will show that it does not predict whether Susan will go to heaven when she dies. There is a far more practical reason why she does not join the other characters in heaven at the end of the book – she isn’t dead yet. At the conclusion of the Narnian series Susan is alive and well in England and, if she has any sense, suing British Rail for vast sums of money as compensation for wiping out her entire family in a rail accident.

This is not just my own interpretation, although I arrived at this view myself from reading “The Last battle”. C.S. Lewis confirmed it himself in a letter to a boy named Martin in 1957 which can be found in the book “Letters to Children.” In his words

“The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end – in her own way.”

Personally I suspect that Susan would have come back from what would appear to her as the wasteful and tragic death of her parents, brothers, sister and cousin by campaigning for better rail safety and justice for the survivors and families of rail crash victims. When Susan rediscovered the strength she had as the Queen who defied and outwitted Prince Rabadash, the Board of British Rail and the Department of Transport wouldn’t have known what hit them !

C.S. Lewis did set out which allegories are intended. He made clear that he was not trying to represent the real Christian story in the Narnia books. He preferred to say “Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emperor oversea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?”

He added that

1) The creation of Narnia in “The Magician’s Nephew” is the son of God creating a world (not necessarily ours)

2) Jadis plucking the apple in the same book was, like Adam and Eve in Genesis, an act of rebellion but this is not as significant a sin because she was already fallen before she ate it.

3) The Stone table in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is meant to remind one of Moses’ table

4) The passion and resurrection of Aslan are the passion and resurrection which Christ might be expected to have in that world - similar to that in ours but not necessarily identical.

5) Edmund, like Judas, is a sneak and a traitor, but unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven.

6) At the very edge of Narnia in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as he is known in this world – he shows himself to Edmund, Lucy and Eustace as a lamb, has breakfast with them which Lewis compares to the breakfast at the end of St John’s Gospel, tells them that in our world he has another name, and adds that “you have been allowed to know me in this world so that you may know me better when you get back to your own.”

7) The false Aslan set up by Ape and Puzzle in “The Last Battle” corresponds to the predicted coming of the Antichrist before the end of our world.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Health in West Cumbria

There was an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Monday of this week about NHS Services in West Cumbria.

Adjournment debates provide a half hour slot for a backbench MP to raise with a minister an issue of concern to him or her, usually something affecting the welfare of people in the constituency he or she represents. Time is strictly limited: the form is that someone proposes “That this house do now adjourn,” then the MP or MPs raising the debate gets 15 minutes to explain what they are worried about, and the relevant minister gets 15 minutes to reply. Then the motion is carried and everyone goes home.

I was pleased to learn that one of these debates had been allocated to discuss the serious problems affecting healthcare in West Cumbria and looked up Hansard (the record of everything said in parliament) the following day to see what came up in the debate.

This was a valuable opportunity for the MP for Copeland to raise the many concerns affecting health in the constituency. The one thing I can say to his credit about the way he used this time is that he showed a much less complacent attitude than he did during the election – at least now he recognised some of the problems which he dismissed in April, as when he claimed that there is no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland Hospital.

Sadly however, Mr Reed wasted some of the time he could and should have used to spell out more of the problems affecting health in Cumbria by making untrue comments about my election campaign !

During the run up to the election I and my colleagues collected signatures on petitions to support local hospitals, stressed at every stage that we wanted to support services at West Cumberland Hospital and Millom Community Hospital, and attended public meetings supporting those hospitals. We set out clear policies for better dental care and to fight hospital acquired infections such as MRSA. We brought the shadow Health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to West Cumberland Hospital. Our policy was to switch resources from administration, the bureaucracy needed to support the government’s 400 health targets, and bodies such as the Strategic Health Authority into front-line services for patients. Every penny we wanted to save on NHS administration would have been ring fenced and ploughed back into health care.

Despite the fact that Copeland Conservatives have strongly supported local NHS services both before and since the election, Copeland’s Labour MP had the cheek to claim that we had campaigned to cut health spending. Now it would have been one thing for Labour to offer another opinion about whether our policies would have worked, but it was totally dishonest to claim that we were campaigning to cut health spending. This is the sort of disreputable smear tactics which gets politics and public service a bad name.

I was very pleased by election of David Cameron yesterday as Conservative leader, and one of the many things which I welcome in his statesmanlike acceptance speech was the wish to move away from playground yah-boo-sucks childishness. As he put it

“I'm fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing.”

Exactly, and making false claims about what your opponents stand for is not something which should have any place in grown-up, modern politics. So let me suggest what would have been a better use for the parliamentary time which Jamie Reed spent doing so: he could instead have raised another concern about health care in Cumbria which was not covered in Monday’s debate and which I have not yet seen mentioned anywhere in the press, but which deserves attention.

One of the potential side-effects of Diabetes is blindness. It is a good idea for diabetics to get their eyes checked regularly: if eye damage starts to develop as a result of the disease and is not caught at an early stage, it is not always reversible.

For this reason, until now sufferers from Diabetes have been exempt from the £10 charge for eye tests. However, this facility is being withdrawn from at least some patients in Cumbria with effect from 1st February 2006.

On the same day as the Adjournment debate, I was shown a letter which was recently sent to a diabetic in West Cumbria by her optician, advising that eye tests for sufferers from diabetes on or after 1st February 2006 will cease to be free. The letter strongly advised her to make an eye test for an appointment before the end of January.

So if anyone reading suffers from diabetes, or knows someone in your family who does, and has not recently had an eye check, I strongly advise you to contact your optician urgently and check whether this applies to you: if it does you need to make an appointment quickly so that you can you be seen before the charges come in at the beginning of February.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Don’t drop your guard!

On the face of it, the decision to postpone consultations on proposals to emasculate Millom Community hospital, as well as half a dozen other community hospitals around Cumbria, is to be welcomed.

I am certainly pleased that the local NHS trusts and the Strategic Health Authority appear to have woken up to the depth of public support for local community hospitals and the harm which major cuts in the services they provide would do.

But the hospitals have only had a reprieve: we are not out of the woods yet. Underlying problems with money and recruitment & retention still remain for the NHS in Cumbria and need to be tackled. And after all, we have been here before.

Last year, when the review of services was launched and it was suggested that Millom Community hospital might be adversely affected, the Chief Executive of the Primary Care Trust came to a public meeting in Millom and stated that there were no plans to close Millom Hospital. I am not suggesting that this statement was made in bad faith, but it is now clear that the fact that the trust was not planning to close the building did not mean that services at the hospital were safe.

During the run up to the General Election both the Chief Executive of the NHS Acute Services trust and the then Labour parliamentary candidate, now MP, for Copeland stated that there was no threat to West Cumberland Hospital. Since the election half the mental health services have been transferred away from Windermere ward and a serious threat is hanging over maternity services.

However pleased we are that the proposals for local hospitals are to be reviewed, the danger has only been postponed and has not necessarily gone away.

It was once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Those who value local hospital services will be well advised to watch the local NHS trusts like a hawk.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I was very pleased to hear that Kerry Maxwell, Chief Executive of the Whitehaven Community Trust, has been awarded the title of Cumbria’s Woman of the year.

The Whitehaven Community trust has helped hundreds of potentially vulnerable young people with training, jobs, and housing. Because of that assistance, young men and women who might have become drop-outs, criminals and convicts been able to earn a valued place in society. The trust has also played an important role in the regeneration of Whitehaven. The award is very well deserved.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


It was obvious during the last election that Labour was facing both ways on Nuclear power and either the anti-nuclear lobby, or the industry and communities like West Cumbria, would have to be betrayed after the election if Labour won.

It is becoming apparent that it does seem to be the luddite wing of the environmental movement who are about to feel Tony’s knife between the shoulder blades. Of course, I am not saying environmentalists generally: many key thinkers in the “Green movement” including the founder of the Gaia hypothesis have recently come round to the view that nuclear power should form part of a balanced strategy to protect our environment.

Ironically, the best sign of this is not the open statements from the government. This morning on the “Today” programme the secretary of state for trade and industry claimed that the only thing the Prime Minister has decided is that we have to take a decision. Conservatives were telling him that five years ago!

No, the clearest sign that the PM is coming off the fence in favour of nuclear power is the fact that 41 Labour MPs have signed a motion against nuclear power and the increasingly hysterical smears against nuclear power which the anti-nuclear lobby are peddling with frantic desperation to anyone who will listen. Some of thee daftest ideas put around in the past couple of days have been the suggestion that nuclear technology is somehow inconsistent with more use of renewable technology or energy saving (when to take real action on Global warming we need all three) or that it is uneconomic (when it is vastly cheaper even allowing for all the on-costs that many of their favourite systems such as wind power.)

This will be a huge row over this, but the battle lines will be quite different from those over 90-day detention. That one was the Blair machine and its robots against almost everyone else. This debate will be was the Labour Left and the Liberal Democrats against those who live in the real world. If Blair has the courage of what he is currently briefing people are his convictions, he can win the case for nuclear power. Conservative spokesman David Willetts has made clear that he will have our support in that battle. In the interests of the country, the environment, and West Cumbria, we need to win the argument for nuclear power.

Friday, November 25, 2005


As this blog is meant to be suitable for a family readership I cannot use the form of words that would give full force to my disgust at the latest piece of sabotage from the Chancellor on pensions. Every time I think that even Gordon Brown could not possibly do more damage to the hopes of everyone except the super-rich for a comfortable retirement he proves me wrong with yet another damaging and irresponsible action.

Future historians will have some difficulty assessing the Brown economic legacy. Within weeks of his appointment as chancellor, he made both the best economic decision for eighteen years and the worst one for more than seventy. Devolving responsibility for interest rates to the Bank of England’s Monetary policy committee was the best decision since the abolition of exchange controls in 1979 and ensured that the four years of stable non-inflationary growth which we had enjoyed under Kenneth Clarke has been extended until now. However, Brown’s five-billion pounds a year raid on pension funds was the worst decision since Churchill took Britain back onto the Gold Standard in the mid 1920s.

The malign effects of this raid on pensions have been felt throughout the economy. Some, such as the fact that most final salary pension schemes have closed to new members, and reduced incentives for saving, have been obvious. Other negative impacts have been less obvious but just as real: the pensions raid has caused both higher prices in the shops as companies needed to raise more money to fill the pensions hole, and contributed to soaring council tax bills as councils had to do the same thing. Since pensioners have been particularly hard hit by council tax rises, this effectively means that pensioners have been hit twice.

Brown has compounded the damage he did on pensions with his five billion pounds a year raid by introducing the absurdly complicated pensions credit. This means-tested policy really is the worst of all worlds. It is supposed to direct most help to the poorest pensioners, but in fact hundreds of thousands of them – an estimated third of those in this group – do not get that benefit because they cannot manage to complete and return the forms. And by withdrawing support from those people who have bothered to save for their old age, the pensions credit further undermines the incentives to save.

These two measures have greatly exacerbated a pensions shortfall which every wise person has been able to see coming for decades: funding adequate pensions was always going to be difficult as people are living longer while birthrates have fallen. That is why the previous government had a coherent policy of giving people incentives to save, and had successfully built up more pensions savings than the whole of the rest of the E.U. put together. As Labour’s own Frank Field MP admitted, the present Labour government inherited one of the strongest pensions positions in Europe, but we now have one of the weakest.

Faced with some very difficult decisions on how to put this right, Tony Blair set up the Turner commission to investigate and come up with recommendations – conveniently timed for late this year, thus missing the general election. I thought at the time it was bad enough to leave it this long before taking action. But now, a week before the Commission is due to report, the Chancellor has already let it be known that he will refuse to accept certain recommendations. We have been waiting months for action on pensions, and Gordon Brown is sabotaging the government’s own review before it has even been published !

Both today’s pensioners and tomorrow’s deserve better treatment than they have received from Gordon Brown.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


If the Times Newspaper report today (21st November) is to be believed, the Prime Minister is adopting a policy on Nuclear Power remarkably similar to the line for which Conservatives have been arguing.

Our policy at the last election was to commission a review of energy supply, to report within a year of the election. At the time Labour’s official policy showed far less urgency, but now we are told that the government will set up a review to report within a year.

In his speech at the Conservative Party Conference, David Willetts, the new Conservative Spokesman on Trade and Industry (including Energy), said that we must make the case for Civil nuclear power.

As he said in his speech,

"We face a growing crisis because we aren't building enough power stations. In fact if we have a cold winter there is a real threat of the lights going out in our offices and factories: and all because the Government doesn't reward investment in the future. With one exception: Ministers do have a strange obsession with wind farms – and that’s the trouble with Labour’s energy policy – it’s all wind."

He added that the next General Election could well take place in 2010 and all political parties must put before the country their vision of Britain in the following decade, out at least to 2020 vision. He then gave three economic policies to meet that challenge, and the first of these was

"We must make the case for civil nuclear power to tackle the energy crisis with least damage to the environment."

During the election the Labour party sent mixed messages about whether they agreed. In constituencies like Copeland where thousands of jobs depend on the nuclear industry, Labour made pro-nuclear noises, but their official statements remained very non-committal towards New Nuclear build and the anti-nuclear lobby was reassured that no decisions had been taken.

Sources close to Downing Street are now briefing the media that Tony Blair has decided that we do need new nuclear power stations. I hope that this is true and not just someone flying a kite to “test the waters” for a reaction.

If the Prime Minister does go for new nuclear power stations I am sure that, as with his return to Tory education policy, he will have Conservative support and the political difficulty in selling this will be with his own Labour backbenchers. Let us hope that the damage he did to his own authority with his absurd brinkmanship over locking people up without trial for 90 days will not prevent him getting through something on which he is actually right for once.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005



Last week one of Tony Blair’s main arguments for his policy on terrorism was the support it had from many senior police officers. Yesterday he ignored the arguments of the police and many others by pressing ahead with the implementation of the Licensing Act. A week is a long time in politics ...

Up until recently I supported a less restrictive licensing regime, and I still do support some of the things the legislation is supposed to be about, like more freedom for elected local authorities to set appropriate licensing arrangements for their own areas. But as John Maynard Keynes said, when the facts change, I change my mind.

Between 2000 and 2004, the number of alcohol related deaths in this country rose by 18.4% from 5,525 to 6,544. That’s more deaths than hospital acquired infections or road accidents. It is an order of magnitude more deaths than the controversial estimates for passive smoking and two orders of magnitude more than the deaths caused by terrorism on 7th July.

And alcohol-related disorder is a serious problem in some of our towns and cities. Like many people, I used to accept the theory that if people have longer to drink they will not feel the need to down their drinks in a hurry, and will be less likely to get drunk. Both the present government and the previous one have already reduced the restrictions on drinking, and the increase in alcohol-related disorder suggests that this theory does not fit the facts, at least in this country – although many continental countries seem to have a different experience.

Don’t get me wrong. Responsible use of alcohol brings pleasure to many people, and responsible businesses selling it can have a role in providing jobs and regeneration. We must not make a scapegoat of every pub or every supplier of alcoholic drink. There are hundreds of well run pubs and responsible publicans whose activities do not cause any social problem – indeed, one of the reasons I was not happy with the idea of charging the drinks trade for the cost of policing is that the innocent would be as likely as the guilty to get landed with the tab. There are millions of people who can enjoy a drink without making other people’s lives a misery, and nobody wants to spoil their fun.

But not everyone is like that, and until we have a better grip on how to prevent a minority who don’t use alcohol sensibly from causing problems for themselves and others, we have to ask whether the substantial extension of opening hours which the legislation is about to produce is premature.

As usual, government policy is all over the place: one minute they are promoting greatly extended opening hours, the next they are suggesting a ban on selling any alcohol whatsoever on trains.

Councils up and down the country have put a huge effort into their policies to take over responsibility for licensing: some councillors have had to practically live in the council chamber, hearing dozens of applications from pubs wanting longer hours. Many of these were put in by the big chains, sometimes taking minimal account of local circumstances and appearing barely to have consulted the publican who would actually be operating the new hours.

I recently attended and spoke at the hearing into the application by one chain to extend the hours of a pub in my council ward. This pub sits in the middle of the Jersey Farm residential estate, home to many commuters, lots of whom rise before seven Monday to Friday and are at their desks by 8am. It is also close to a block of sheltered accommodation for elderly people. The reaction of the neighbours when the chain applied for terms which would have allowed the pub to open past midnight every night can readily be imagined.

The attitude of the licensing committee was also interesting: they found this sort of application to be absolutely typical, sympathised with the views of residents, but considered that they would have more control if they granted the extension with conditions rather than refusing it. So they agreed a compromise with longer hours on Friday and Saturday nights.

One thing which the committee said to residents of Jersey Farm, and which I would repeat to anyone who lives near a club or pub and is concerned about alcohol-related disorder, is this. The law does provide for review by the relevant council of any drinks license whose operation appears to be causing a problem. If you experience disorder after the new law takes effect next week, keep a record of the dates and times, the nature of the problem and which premises it is or appears to be associated with, and pass the details to the licensing officers at your local council. If you draw the problem to the attention of the authorities, something might just possibly be done about it. If nobody says anything, nothing will be done.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I am very disappointed to learn that threats to the services provided by Millom Community Hospital have re-surfaced.

Last year when local health trusts began to review the provision of Community hospitals there were suggestions that this might affect the future of Millom Hospital. Millom Town council called a well-attended public meeting chaired by the then Mayor, Ray Cole. At that meeting the Chief Executive of the Primary Care trusts, Nigel Woodcock, stated and then specifically confirmed in response to a question from me, that there were no plans to close Millom Community Hospital. The large number of local residents present understood this, quite reasonably, to be a clear signal that their hospital was safe.

However, having local hospital services is not just a matter of having a building in the area which is called a hospital. It is also important to protect the actual facilities and care which the hospital provides.

Local NHS trusts have said that they are considering the possibility that some services currently provided in District General Hospitals like the one at Whitehaven could be provided in Community Hospitals like Millom instead. In principle this could have some advantages, but if it results in the “crowding out” of existing services, then some patients in areas like Millom could lose out.

Some of the options under consideration by the trusts – such as the possibility of ceasing to provide overnight care – would certainly have that effect.

There have already been a number of local service reductions which have severely disadvantaged residents of Millom, such as the move of the Gynaecological clinic to Workington. With the recent disgraceful decision by the government to downgrade the A595 the importance of the local hospital has become even greater.

It was said once that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. If residents of Millom want to keep good local health services that vigilance is needed now. It is very important that as many residents as possible take part in the forthcoming public consultation on the Trusts’ proposals for community hospitals.

Monday, November 14, 2005


There have been fierce arguments in parliament about the government’s terrorism bill. That is as it should be. There are valid arguments on both sides. Defenders and supporters of the bill, and of giving the state power to hold suspects for 90-days without charge, have put their case in strong language, and up to a point this too is right – both lives and liberties are at stake. But Labour MP Kitty Usher goes completely over the top in today’s Guardian when she suggests that the Conservative, Lib/Dem and Labour MPs who opposed it will have “blood on their hands” if the bombers get through. That is not the language of democratic debate – in fact, it is the language of terrorism because it uses fear to try to bully people into giving support.

Let us be absolutely clear – the people who bear 100% of the moral responsibility for the murders on 7/7 were the terrorists who exploded the bombs and those who helped them plan and execute them. If there are any more explosions, the blame will not lie with those MPs who voted either for against 90-day detention provided they were genuinely voting as they thought right – which I happen to think that the vast majority on both sides were. The blame for any future murders will lie with the murderers.

It is very strange that the position which was actually carried in parliament – to double the period during which the police can hold terrorist suspects to nearly a month – should be presented by supporters as a victory for civil liberties and by its opponents as going soft on terrorism. But that is because both sides recognise that there is a real and serious threat.

As we have seen again this week in Jordan, every society on earth is under attack from terrorist lunatics. Most people will find it hard to argue with King Abdullah’s comment on the husband and wife responsible for the wedding massacre: “To walk into a hotel, to see a wedding and to take your spouse and blow yourself up – these people are insane.”

I believe that Tony Blair is making the same mistake when he presents the police as being united in support of 90-day detention as he was when he presented the intelligence community as being united in the view that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could be fired in 45 minutes. In each case Blair really believed the policy for which he was arguing to be right, but he overstated both the case and the degree of expert support for it.

The are plenty of terrorism experts who believe, and some senior police officers who will say in private, that detaining people for long periods without charge can make the problems of terrorism worse. You only need to consider the one instance in the past 50 years when it was tried in this country – internment in Northern Ireland. That was a disaster and gave a huge boost to the terrorists.

It was not the opposition which ruled out a compromise: when Charles Clarke invited the Conservatives and Lib/Dems to discuss the terms of the bill both opposition parties agreed to meet him. The opposition have supported some of the government’s proposals, and as I mentioned earlier, even the rebel amendment represents a doubling of the time the police can hold people, not a refusal to compromise. It is the Prime Minister alone who created a showdown and he has nobody else to blame for the damage to his authority.

There have been many comparisons this week between the Blair government now and the later years of John Major’s government. This comparison is most unfair – to John Major. When Major lost a vote of comparable importance over Maastricht, he brought the issue back the following day as a motion of confidence, and won. Winston Churchill did the same thing during the war. Tony Blair has not dared to try anything of the kind.

The most important reason why I welcome the refusal of parliament to back 90-day detention is that I am convinced it was the right decision. But if it checks the arrogance of this government that will also be welcome. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom, and no government which imagines that it has is going to achieve very much.

But above all, let’s make sure we reserve at least the majority of our anger for the terrorists and not for each other.

Friday, November 11, 2005


The sorry saga of inadequate dental service coverage in Cumbria continues to get worse. A few days ago, 8.500 NHS patients in the Penrith area learned they would have to choose between going private and looking for another dentist. Now the dental service helpline, Dental Direct is being overwhelmed and people are being asked not to ring it. The switchboard crashed yesterday, and even without that, they have only four operators and had over 1,000 calls on Wednesday.

Not that this service is usually able to say much more than

‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’

when you do get through. All too often you find that none of the dental practices in the county are taking on new NHS patients, so they have to offer to take your details and get back to you if anything comes up. If you ask about any practices taking private patients you’re told “We’re an NHS facility, we can’t help you with that.”

One of the Eastern European dentists who was recently recruited to come and work in the NHS is reported to have said that it was like going back to the last century. We cannot expect to recruit and retain dentists until we tackle issues training, working conditions, terms and prospects. This needs a fundamental review. Slapping patches on the problem just isn’t good enough.

Friday, November 04, 2005


No charges have been brought, so none of us except the individuals involved can be certain exactly what happened between the actor Ross Kemp and his wife, Sun editor Rebekah Wade, or between his onscreen “brother” Steve McFadden and ex-partner Angela Bostock. But we can be certain that jokes which trivialise domestic violence, or worse, make fun of those who are on the receiving end of it, are as intolerable as the violence itself, not least because they make more violence likely.

For that reason, I am horrified by the irresponsible front page of the Mirror newspaper today (4th November). The paper suggests in language more appropriate to a “Batman” comic than a newspaper for grown ups, that both Eastenders actors had been physically attacked by their wife and ex-partner respectively, and then asked if, unlike the “hard-man” characters they portray, the actors were really “Big girl’s blouses.” The attitudes portrayed on that front page are an insult to both men and women.

In the past few decades, domestic violence against women and children has rightly come to be treated as unacceptable. No man who deliberately harms a woman, and no adult of either sex who harms a child, should expect to get away with it. Domestic attacks on men appear to be less common than attacks on women, but they do happen, and far too many people, including victims, some police officers, and some parts of the press, have difficulty in dealing with this. In fact, responses to domestic assaults on men, from sniggering or “he must have deserved it” to flat refusal to believe it has happened are as bad or worse as used to be the case many years ago with attacks on women.

And the Mirror’s front page – not that they were the only ones to deal with this news in a foolish way, just the most tasteless – exemplifies the worst possible way to deal with violence against men. To suggest that a man who is attacked by a woman can’t be a real man is both grossly unfair to the victim but also promotes attitudes that are likely to cause injury or worse to women.

What do the people who make such comments expect a man who has been hit by a woman to do to prove his virility – put her in hospital? Does it not occur to the Mirror that the attitudes embedded in their front page may make some men more likely to do precisely that ?

I would give a man who has been the victim of domestic violence the same advice I would give a woman – don’t hit back but don’t put up with it either.

Monday, October 31, 2005


This week we will learn whether some complex maternity services will be moved from West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven to Carlisle. If it is at all possible to provide these services safely in West Cumbria, the answer must be no, and for a whole host of reasons.

There has rightly been very strong opposition to the idea of moving these services with thousands of people signing the “Don’t move our mums” petition. Most people I know assume that it is unlikely that anything so damaging could possibly be allowed to happen, especially in the face of overwhelming public support for keeping maternity services local. A more cynical suggestion has been that this is a straw man put up so that we would be less horrified if something else moves instead. Unfortunately the pressures on the local NHS mean that, although moving services to Carlisle would have serious consequences, rejection of the idea is not as much of a foregone conclusion as we would all like to think.

Providing maternity services, like most other hospital services, requires the establishment of a wide range of specialist staff including training grades, for example all doctors below the level of consultant. The Royal Colleges who supervise the training of these staff require them to see a minimum number of medical procedures of various categories if the training is to be recognised. For example, a junior obstetrician needs to see a certain number of forceps deliveries, so many breech presentations, etc. Meeting these training requirements, without having posts which fail to comply with modern health and safety requirements on issues like hours worked, and then recruiting and retaining enough people to fill all the necessary posts, can be a huge headache for the health authorities. This especially applies in areas which are remote, largely rural, or both – like West Cumbria. The fact that the local NHS have asked themselves whether certain services could be provided more safely and effectively at what they would see as a more centralised location does not necessarily prove them to be, as the saying goes, nasty evil bastards.

However, it would be a disaster for West Cumbria if any further services were moved to Carlisle, and especially if that included anything as critical as complex maternity. A pregnant woman who suddenly develops complications absolutely does not need a forty to sixty mile trip over single carriageway roads.

And in addition to the purely maternity arguments, we need to maintain a critical mass of services in West Cumbria and show commitment to the future of a District General Hospital in the area if there is to be any chance of keeping one. Removal of any further services from WCH is likely to be perceived as a signal that district general hospital services in West Cumbria do not have a future. If this filters through into morale, recruitment and retention it may make the present models and plans untenable and become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Keep complex maternity services in West Cumbria – don’t move our mums !

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Immortal Memory

Today is the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar – one of the three most decisive and important naval battles of all time, and the most important in the past 2,000 years. Only the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, when Greek city states fought off an invasion by the Persian Empire and thereby ensured the survival both of earloy democracy and the ideas which would develop into science, and Actium in 32 BC which determined who would found the Roman Empire and what course it would take over the following 400 years, were as important.

So why is Trafalgar so important ? First, it ensured that Napoleon’s most deadly enemy, Britain, was beyond his power to defeat, and that his power and ambitions would always stop at the water’s edge. Ultimately this was to lead to his defeat – and it made certain that he would not be master of the world. Napoleon was a man of huge abilities and great ruthlessness, and without Trafalgar he might have established a centralised world empire dominated by one man. A history which included such a world empire is not one which any wise person would prefer to our own.

Second, Trafalgar ensured British domination of the seas for well over a hundred years. That power was used to abolish the slave trade, to establish a world economy, and to limit the ability of the old powers of Europe to crush emerging nationalist or independence movements in many parts of the world. I would not pretend that everything Britain did during the 19th century was good, but without the Royal Navy the abolition of slavery and the independence of Greece and most of Latin America would have been much harder to achieve.

Trafalgar was a victory for British sailors who lived, worked and fought in conditions which to us would have been dreadful hardship. Books, films and TV programmes like “Master and Commander” and the Hornblower series can give us some faint conception of what it was like for 600 to a thousand men to live crammed into a creaky, leaky, cold wooden ship about 200 feet long: visits to HMS Victory or the Endeavour replica which visited Whitehaven recently can give a slightly better one.

But I doubt if anyone except veterans of modern wars, and perhaps not even them, can fully appreciate what it was like when those confined spaces were filled with the deafening roar and blinding smoke from cannons, where cannonballs, musket shot and wood splinters cut men down by the dozen, and when agonising death or crippling wounds could come at any moment to anyone on board. Our generation, living relatively safe, secure and comfortable lives for reasons which are in no small way due to the sacrifice of the sailors who fought at Trafalgar and other battles, can only wonder at how much we owe to the Royal Navy.

The Navy drinks to Nelson and the heroes of Trafalgar with the words “The Immortal Memory.”

Let us also remember that the navy which defended us 200 years ago may be needed at any time in the future. Our nation’s prosperity and our ability to feed our people depends on trade routes all over the world, to a greater degree than any other country. We need a strong navy now as much as we needed one 200 years ago. The history of our politicians in supporting the navy (or indeed the other services) is not as glorious as the history of our sailors, soldiers and airmen in defending our islands with whatever tools they have been given. Let all those who aspire to positions of authority in our country remember that.

I usually write in this blog about the present and the future, about current issues that affect ordinary people’s lives. Today I have made an exception and written about the past, and perhaps in terms which may seem a old-fashioned, even Blimpish to some people. Well, maybe, but anniversaries like today’s do not come around that often. And if we want to have the best possible future, we must not forget the lessons of our past.

Monday, October 17, 2005


As Conservative MPs vote tomorrow in the first ballot for a new Conservative leader, I commend to them some thoughts by Mark Shields, an American journalist, on the pattern followed by parties which lose elections. He was thinking of the American Democrats (who he usually supports) after George W Bush's re-election, but the comment is every bit as applicable to British Conservatives

His suggestion is that parties which lose elections go through four phases:

1) We woz robbed

2) Blame the communications

3) Blame the leader/candidate

4) Find a Winner

I've had a bellyful of phases one, two and three. Whether there is any justice in them or not, they don't work.

It's bad enough that we have already had eight years of Blair and Brown and face another four or five. The country cannot afford another five years after that of lies, spin, broken promises, wrecked pensions, excessive bureaucracy, bulldozing the North and concreting over the South, no dentists, stealth taxes, and threats to freedom in the name of security. We need someone who can persuade the sort of people who used to vote Conservative, but don't now, that he can be a good Prime Minister.

There is more than one candidate in this election who may be able to do that. The important thing is not that the person who emerges has to be my first choice (who would be Ken Clarke) but it is vital for the health of British Democracy that we have a strong opposition, and that means that the two names put to party members have to be people who can appeal to the whole of Britain.


A595 De-Trunking - a betrayal of West Cumbria

The government's decision to downgrade the A595 is as disgraceful as it is unfortunate. Only a few months ago - before the general election - government minister Patricia Hewitt promised that all government decisions would be "West Cumbria proofed." This fine sounding promise has fallen at the first hurdle. The most shocking thing about this betrayal is that it isn't really a surprise. Downgrading public services in West Cumbria, especially in the South of Copeland, seems increasingly to be the pattern.

De-trunking the A595 south of Calder Bridge may seem perfectly logical when you are applying national criteria while sitting in a government office in London. But if "West Cumbria proofing" meant anything, it should have meant listening to people who know the area. The proposal to de-trunk the A595 was opposed by both Copeland Borough council and Cumbria County council. (There were legitimate arguments about how strong that opposition was, but those of us who attended the public inquiry and heard the county's barrister in action concluded that he had not been briefed to pull his punches.)

De-trunking was opposed with varying degrees of active participation by all six candidates for the Copeland seat in this year's general election: I gave evidence against it at the inquiry, as did a former Lib/Dem parliamentary candidate. So did both Labour and Conservative County and Borough councillors. So did the Neighbourhood Forum, and every parish and town council in the affected area. So did representatives of local employers, from BNFL down to small businesses, and groups representing local residents. The government ignored every one of those views, including local councillors and representatives of their own party.

I entirely agree with the comment posted to this blog by Andrew from Millom, who made some good points about the problems with the road. He was, of course also right that there are also some huge advantages to living here - that's why I and my family decided to stay in Copeland after our disappointment in the election.

This week's announcement on De-Trunking must not be the end of the story. We must continue to campaign. Whether the A595 is a trunk road or not, it is vital to the economic health of West Cumbria, especially the South of Copeland Borough, that we fight to improve it. But that would have been easier to achieve if the road had retained trunk status. Labour's promises to West Cumbria have been weighed in the balance - and found wanting.

Blackpool Conference Diary

Some notes on the 2005 Conservative Party Conference ...

I arrive at the Blackpool conference determined to be on my best behaviour – I don’t want to get the Conservatives the kind of bad publicity that the Labour party got for throwing out 82-year old Walter Wolfgang.

I needn’t have worried. I don’t know how badly you would have had to behave to get thrown out of this year’s tory conference, but it would have been difficult. Walter Wolfgang was the constant spectre at the conference as every platform speaker found a reference to him irresistible, from Francis Maude’s opening remarks (“I don’t want to encourage heckling” … laughter … “but if you do we won’t throw you out.”) right through to Michael Howard at the end. For all the flak thrown at David Davis, he probably put this point best: “We do need laws to detail those who represent a genuine terrorist threat – we don’t need laws to detain an 82-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany who has the temerity to disagree with the Foreign Secretary.”

Francis Maude made a very brave opening speech. He gave a painfully honest assessment of the way politicians in general and the Conservatives in particular are seen by the public and the reasons we did not manage to defeat a government which two thirds of the public detest – but a third of whom still prefer to us. Considering the amount of uncomfortable truth in the speech, it was well received – indicating an acceptance that “one more heave” will not enable us to be seen as an alternative government.

The most notable event of the first day was a very strong speech from Malcolm Rifkind. He was called in late afternoon to address a conference which seemed half asleep, but at the end everyone jumped to their feet enthusiastically to give him the first standing ovation of the conference. I said to my neighbour that if all five leadership contenders made speeches that good, it would be a very entertaining week.

On Monday evening I attended a reception given by the Indian High Commission which, to judge by the number of other people crowding in, was the place to be that evening. The speeches and presentations we were shown amounted to a very powerful demonstration of how far the world’s largest democracy has come over the past thirty years – reducing poverty, reforming their economy, and doing so in the context of a democratic system in which they have to win consensus for reform. It was very clear from the speeches of both British and Indian speakers that there is immense goodwill between Britain and India –and that co-operation between our two countries has enormous potential to benefit both. Although I would not suggest for an instant that the British Raj got everything right, we can be proud of the fact that sixty years after the end of colonial rule there is still great affection for Britain in India.

On Tuesday morning we had the health debate, during which I made a contribution about the current problems in Cumbria, including concerns about the actual and threatened changes at West Cumberland Hospital, and the impossibility of finding an NHS Dentist. Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, made a very positive speech about the need to address the real needs of patients, and mentioned his visit to Whitehaven during the speech.

Tuesday also saw probably the best two speeches by leadership contenders – Cameron in the morning and Clarke in the afternoon. Both were superb, and both were received with wild appreciation by the audience. The media have made much of Cameron’s performance and the momentum it gave him – and it really was as good as everyone made out – but actually Ken Clarke was every bit as good, and I personally think the warmth of his reception was significant. Not since Michael Heseltine’s speech to the 1991 conference have I had such a palpable sense, from the warm response to a platform speaker, that the Conservative party was determined to put internal faction-fighting aside and to do whatever it takes to win.

I had already come out in support of Ken Clarke before the conference and have seen no reason to change that view but David Cameron also impressed me. Both men clearly understand that we need to demonstrate that we care about and have policies which will help everyone in Britain, and a narrow appeal will not get us anywhere. And that however proud we are of the things we achieved when last in government – and if we hadn’t achieved anything Tony Blair would not have copied so many of our policies – we will not get back into government until we show that we also understand what we didn’t get right.

On Wednesday the remaining leadership candidates made their platform speeches. Both the Conservative party and the media love to trip up front runners, and both decided to savage David Davis. His speech was rather better than anyone who missed it might have presumed from the TV and newspaper headlines – but if he does come through and win after the flak he took, he will have demonstrated resilience and a capacity for comeback second only to that of George W Bush. I did regret that one of the reasons he was attacked was that he allegedly annoyed some right-wingers who had previously been minded to support him by reaching out to the centre. Whoever gave that line to the media, (I suspect one of the rival campaigns,) anyone who imagines that the Conservatives lost the last three elections because we were not perceived as right wing enough, needs to meet a wider range of ordinary voters. It is a mirror image of Tony Benn’s idea that Labour under Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock lost elections for not being left wing enough.

I read in the media that Liam Fox’s speech was regarded as successful. He was a good co-party chairman, and as a candidate I felt that he gave me strong support. If he should become leader, he too will need to reach out to the centre to have any chance of becoming prime minister.

After Liam Fox had spoken, William Hague made the best speech of the week. He was obviously aware of the risk of eclipsing the leadership contenders, and went out of his way to praise all five of them. This was a useful reminder to anyone in the hall who might have forgotten it that brilliant speeches are not enough to win. However, if we had not made the mistake of electing William as leader too early, he would have been an excellent candidate now.

The conference closed with Michael Howard’s valedictory. It will probably be remembered for his joke in which he pretended to be about to announce who he wanted to succeed him: the man he wanted to be leader of the opposition was – Gordon Brown. Hear hear !

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hypocrite of the Year

I have just watched The Prime-Minister-Elect make his acceptance speech to Labour Party conference. Gordon Brown’s certainly wasn’t making a chancellor’s speech – there was precious little there about the economy.

Neither was it the speech of a contender in a contested election for the party leadership – he made no attempt whatever to placate those within the Labour party who had hoped that a Brown premiership would mean the end of New Labour. He obviously considers that he has the succession in the bag and was setting out his stall to the country for the next general election. And judging by the sour looks on the faces of some left-wing delegates even as they forced themselves to give Mr Brown a standing ovation, most of the Labour party has reached the same conclusion.

From a technical perspective, ignoring my own opinions about the validity or otherwise of what was said, it was a better speech than any other I have heard him make. But was really stood out about the speech was the truly astonishing hypocrisy. Not since O.J. Simpson promised to bring to justice his wife’s killer have I seen such an amazing display of bare-faced humbug.

Gordon Brown said he learned from his parents ‘to respect others, to tell the truth, to take responsibility’. A pity he wasn’t listening more carefully.

He said that Labour should be proud to have taken one million pensioners out of poverty. This from the man who, with his £5 billion a year raid on pension funds and his over-complicated tax credits which destroyed incentives to save, has done more than any other individual to wreck pension provision in Britain. His Pension Credit is so complicated and unpopular that 1.6 million eligible pensioners fail to receive the money to which they are entitled, because they don’t or cannot complete the forms. And typical pensioners have seen more than a third of the increase in the basic state pension snatched back in higher council tax. As Labour’s own Frank Field pointed out Gordon Brown inherited one of the strongest pensions provisions in Europe, but we now have one of the weakest.

The same Gordon Brown who waxed lyrical today about the need to develop human potential by providing more access to education, was the man who intervened to defeat the rebellion against top-up tuition fees. Usually when Tony Blair has been taking flack for unpopular policies Gordon Brown goes into hiding, but just before the key vote on University fees, Gordon let it be known that he was backing Tony on this one. With that support, top up fees, a policy which is likely to deter many students from poor backgrounds from Higher Education, scraped through by five votes. Without Gordon Brown’s support the policy probably would not have been passed. And he talked about how Conservatives did not want people to go to University – the truth is that the number of University places was expanded far more under the last Conservative government than it has been under this one.

And what a nerve to accuse Conservatives of having believed it was impossible to ban child labour when it was not a socialist but a Tory - Lord Shaftesbury – who introduced the legislation which did exactly that.

Similarly, what a nerve to say that Conservatives believed it was impossible to ban slavery. This country banned slavery first here and in other places within our reach, and then hunted down and destroyed the slave trade on every ocean on earth, many years before the Labour party existed, and there were plenty of Tories and Liberals alike who took part in that campaign. William Wilberforce, the independent MP who campaigned long and hard to ban the slave trade was a close friend of Tory Prime minister William Pitt and was supported by him - Pitt even moved an anti-slavery motion for an investigation on Wilberforce's behalf at one stage when Wilberforce was ill.

But the worst of the lot was that he actually dared to say

“No more ‘The man in Whitehall knows best.’”

That really is in the same league of duplicity as if Tony Blair were to claim to have opposed the war in Iraq. Gordon Brown is one of the biggest exponents of Whitehall meddling in the entire history of British government. He is responsible for a massive increase in the number of inspectors and regulators. There have been 15 new regulations every working day under Labour. The British Chambers of Commerce now estimate that the cost of new regulations on business under Labour has reached nearly £40 billion (BCC, Burden’s Barometer).

Brown has doubled the total spending on auditing local government, expanding certain types of regulation by six thousand percent. Today’s papers report that the number of consultants taken on by this government has added 1p in the pound to income tax. Councils, police, head teachers, doctors and nurses, have all faced dozens of government targets, forms to complete, and controls, and most of these bureaucratic implements have the Treasury’s fingerprints all over them.

For claiming to oppose the idea that “The man in Whitehall knows best”, a philosophy which his entire term of office as chancellor completely exemplifies, I nominate Gordon Brown as Hypocrite of the Year.

Reflections after a trip to Newcastle

A couple of days ago I had occasion to drive to Newcastle and back to visit a work colleague. I was already well aware at an intellectual level that getting from West Cumbria to the North East was quite a slog, but intellectually understanding this is not the same as doing the journey. I went by the A66 to Penrith and M6 to Carlisle: it took well over three hours to get from Gosforth to Carlisle and my colleague, who used to live in Whitehaven, tells me this was par for the course. I came back via Scotch Corner: this also took more than three hours and took me through the most dangerous stretch of road in Britain, where there are signs warning that nearly 200 people have been killed or injured in the last few years. And the train journey is no easier.

Overall the round trip from West Cumbria to Newcastle took longer, and was more tiring, than a one-way trip between West Cumbria and London.

I’m sure this isn’t news to any native Cumbrian and that everyone born here or who has lived here longer than me is thinking something along the lines of “finally worked that out, have you?” But please bear with me. What really bothers me is that decisions about transport networks and the organisation of public services as they affect Cumbria are being made by people in London who have absolutely no idea what that journey is like.

It was obvious at the public inquiry into the daft proposal to de-trunk the A595 that this had been dreamed up on the basis of national criteria and looks totally logical from a desk in London – and it was equally obvious that anyone with first hand knowledge of the roads and communities affected realises that downgrading the road is a really terrible idea.

Similar arguments apply to the future of local health services. There are real difficulties about providing every possible medical service locally in an area like Cumbria. Obviously we want the best possible health care: unfortunately for some specialist services that is going to mean a visit to a regional centre. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that every time a service moves to Carlisle that imposes suffering on people in West Cumbria and when a service is moved to Newcastle it is even worse. And where there is absolutely no alternative but to provide some NHS services at a regional level, perhaps we need to re-think where that should be – many of Cumbria’s North-South transport links, while far from good, are not as difficult as some of the East-West links.

The same issue applies to proposals to regionalise the Fire service and the latest scheme to regionalise the police.

I am deeply unhappy both with the idea of abolishing local fire control rooms and merging Cumbria constabulary into some giant regional force. The government’s argument for larger police forces is that the small ones are supposedly inefficient. Perhaps if they didn’t have such a huge burden of form-filling and could spend more time catching criminals both small and large police forces could be more effective. I heard from a recently retired copper that when he started work thirty years ago they had to fill in forms equivalent to an average of about two pages of A4 when they arrested someone, but that now it would be closer to fifty pages.

It has not been my experience that large operating units are always more capable. There are certainly some efficiency savings with bigger units – economists like me call them economies of scale – but big organisations are usually more bureaucratic, less flexible, and often less able to adapt to local and human needs. Even if we can save on administrative overheads by having larger police forces, it will remain important to take as many policing decisions as possible at a local level. But I remain to be convinced, and any proposals to merge local police forces, especially into huge regions, should be examined with a fine tooth comb.

Double book review: "Incompetence" and "Jennifer Government"

“Incompetence” by Rob Grant
“Jennifer Government” by Max Barry

The two funniest books I have read this year have both been satirical black comedies set in extreme near-future worlds. In each book the author has taken some trends he perceives in modern society, extrapolated them ad absurdum, and had fun seeing how ludicrous he can make the consequences. In this the two books are very similar, but in the targets they take aim at they are diametrically opposed. “Incompetence” takes the mickey out of big government, the nanny state, and the European Union. By contrast “Jennifer Government” satirises America, and that version of free market libertarianism which is so extreme that it is sometimes called anarcho-capitalism.

The preface to “Incompetence” reads as follows:

“Article 13199 of the Pan European constitution: ‘No person shall be prejudiced from employment in any capacity at any level by reason of age, race, creed, or incompitence’” (Yes, the spelling mistake is deliberate – I wonder if Rob Grant had the same problem I did in preventing the software he was writing in from automatically correcting it !)

“Incompetence” is described as “A novel of the far too near future” and is set in a united Europe in which “Non Specific Stupidity” is a registered disability which cannot be used to hold back promotion prospects, waiters have Tourette’s syndrome, airline pilots have vertigo, etc. The story is told through the eyes of an undercover agent who is not what he appears to be, on the tail of a mass-murderer who is all too competent.

Where Rob Grant satirises an over-mighty European Federal government, the Australian Max Barry depicts a future in which his eponymous heroine Jennifer Government is one of the few remaining employees of a state which has been almost entirely privatised. For the two thirds of the world dominated by the USA, government, welfare, tax, and the welfare state have been abolished and the major companies run things to such an extent that most people change their surname to that of their employer.

Back when I was at University I met a number of people who actually wanted to live in a world like the one described in “Jennifer Government” – they thought that taxation is theft, money should be privatised, heroin and all other drugs legalised, etc. One of them, now an MP (though he has since grown up and is no longer an extremist – in fact he’s now arguably to the left of Tony Blair) once criticised me for believing in the National Health Service. Another told me that Libertarians had a lot in common with anarchists as they were “both anti-state.” All the major political parties have had problems with hardliners taking over their student wings, and these people were so over-the-top that when they took over the Federation of Conservative Students it eventually had to be shut down by Norman Tebbit for being too right wing.

Both books bear just enough resemblance to real world events to be very funny indeed, but if you take either of them too seriously you may be a trifle paranoid. If you’re into black comedy or satirical humour, I would recommend that you read both and gain additional amusement by reflecting on what a complex world we live in that two such completely opposite satirical visions both have sufficient truth in them to make the books work.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


One of the issues which regularly came up in Copeland during the recent election was the impossibility of finding a dentist. This is becoming an increasingly acute problem in many parts of Britain, and Cumbria is one of three or four rural counties where the lack of access to dental services has become totally unacceptable.

During the run-up to the election WHICH asked candidates to support a pledge to work for improved dental services: I was happy to endorse this and would have made it a priority had I been elected.

Over the past few months the number of dental practices in Cumbria which are taking on new NHS patients has varied between three and nil. As of yesterday I was advised that there is not a single practice taking on new NHS patients in the county. And even if you are prepared to pay, many practices are not taking on new private patients either. If you are not fortunate enough to find one of the exceptions, the only way to get dental treatment short of an emergency is to travel anything up to a hundred miles.

Tony Blair promised five years ago that by now everyone in Britain would have access to an NHS dentist. As usual, he broke that promise.

Britain is not spending enough on training new dentists, and we do not have an adequate reward framework to ensure that it is worth the while of existing dentists to provide a basic service. And that isn’t only about money. One of my contemporaries at University who became a dentist on graduation recently switched to private practice, after a successful career as an NHS dentist, and subsequently wrote to tell me that she wished she had done so years ago – not just because of the money, but because of the freedom from all the bureaucratic rules and regulations.

Years of neglect will not be put right overnight but we need to make a start. This should involve a proper contract between NHS dentists and their patients so that everyone knows where they stand. We also need a sensible payment system based on the number of patients on roll rather than the number of procedures carried out, which should include a limit on how much patients will have to pay but a guaranteed adequate income for dentists which gives a reward for their skills and checks the steady loss of good dentists to cosmetic work.

Copeland’s MP, Jedi Jamie, has suggested in parliament that “golden handcuffs” for dentists might be part of the solution. Apparently the curriculum at the Jedi academy doesn’t include the law of unintended consequences. If you put conditions like that on any profession, one of the first side-effects is that fewer people are attracted to it.

Cumbria, and Britain, deserve better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Don't tell me what to believe

One of the most irritating things in political discussion is people who tell you what your own views are. Usually this is a variant of a debating trick – the people who are taking one side in a debate want to be up against the most extreme form of the opposing position and claim the middle ground, so they try to paint the other side into the corner of adopting the strongest possible position.

Tony Blair is a past master at this. For example, until very recently – to be precise, until French and Dutch voters killed both the European constitution and any realistic chance of British entry to the Euro - he was always playing this game on Europe. Mr Blair and his acolytes would suggest that we had two choices with regard to the European Union – sign up to the constitution, or leave altogether. (Before that, they suggested that the two choices were to scrap the pound and replace it with the Euro, or leave altogether.)

Like the majority of British voters, who are neither federalist eurofanatics nor hardline anti-europeans, I became extremely tired of Mr Blair telling me that if I didn’t support his own European projects I had to support British withdrawal instead.

Funnily enough when the French voted down the constitution I don’t recall anyone suggesting that France might have to leave the European Union. And suddenly Mr Blair adopted our position, the existence of which he had previously denied, and now presents himself as the arch champion of a more democratic and decentralised Europe of co-operating nations.

On other issues, however, both the Blairites and often their opponents are still playing the same trick. Let’s look at a few examples

Fallacy number one – If you don’t support the war in Iraq, you must want Saddam Hussein back.

Oh come off it. It is perfectly natural to view both the thousands of deaths caused by the war and the anarchy and unrest which has followed it, and the vast numbers murdered by Saddam Hussein, as terrible disasters. It is legitimate for people on either side of the debate about the Iraq war to point to considerable loss of life which resulted or would have resulted from the opposing side’s policy. But the decision of whether or not to invade was a choice between evils, and the fact that someone has come down on one side does not mean they are happy about all the consequences unless they have actually been foolish enough to say that they support Saddam or that everything in Iraq today is wonderful.

Fallacy number two – If you want to maintain British liberties you must be undermining the war against terrorism

The need to strike a balance between security and freedom has existed as long as there has been civilisation. The human rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and protection from being blown up by terrorists – or shot by policemen who have mistaken you for a terrorist – are all important and part of what makes this country what it is. We found out in Northern Ireland that arbitrary detention without trial does not necessarily help us defeat terrorists. Sometimes it creates injustice which leads to more terrorism. There will be circumstances where we have to give up some liberty to ensure our own protection. But this should never be done without the most careful consideration of the consequences.

Fallacy number three – if you suggest that the war in Iraq (or any other government policy) has made terrorist attacks more likely, you’re justifying those attacks.

There was no justification for 9/11 - period. There was no justification for the tube bombs - period. There is no justification for trying to change the policy of any democratic state by blowing up men, women and children - period. Those who carry out such atrocities are not soldiers or martyrs but murderers - period. (That view is shared by the vast majority of British Muslims.)

It is quite possible to combine the belief that terrorism is wrong with a wish to ask ourselves what policies will most effectively help us to combat terrorism and recognise where we got it wrong. As it happens, I think that the removal of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan probably reduced the terrorist threat to the rest of the world but that the overall effect of the war in Iraq has been to increase it.

Fallacy number four –if you want to fight racism, islamophobia, or any other evil, the best way is to pass more laws against it.

In the past few years we have seen a positive torrent of new laws, often badly thought out, often criminalising things which are already illegal, as a substitute for effectively enforcing the laws we already have. Unfortunately these laws are often badly drafted, and can end up criminalising things which should not be illegal.

I would dearly like to see a rule adopted by parliament for at least the next ten years that for every new law they pass, another one should be repealed. Sadly the flood of ill considered and useless or downright harmful legislation shows no sign of abating.

A week is a long time in Northern Ireland ...

I keep two versions of this blog - one on the News and Star website and one at Usually I post the same items on both in the same day. Owing to a slight misunderstanding between myself and my long-suffering staff, there was a delay in posting some of this month's entries on the blogspot site.

So when I came to post here a piece which I had written immediately after the World Cup qualifier between England and Northern Ireland, the senseless violence of the last few days made the optimistic tone of that entry seem wholly inappropriate. I am convinced that my basic point was right, but I have rewritten the piece to reflect more recent events.

Last week when the final whistle blew, with the score at one goal for Northern Ireland to none for England, the cameras zoomed in on the scene where two types of flag were being waved in close proximity by jubilant supporters. Some were green flags belong to ecstatic Irish supporters, from Ireland's Catholic community – the others were the flag of St George modified by loyalist symbols, and these flags were being waved by equally ecstatic football supporters from the Ulster protestant community.

I never thought I would see such flags from those two communities being waved in jubilation, side by side, as both sides celebrated the same event. I know some people can never regard an English sporting defeat as anything other than a national disaster. But to me – a British Anglican married to an Irish catholic – the sight of protestants and catholics celebrating together said something positive about the ability of people to come together, compared to which the loss of the match paled into insignificance.

But Northern Ireland has seen many false dawns and this was yet another. In the past few days of rioting both policemen and innocent women and children have been injured by thugs who wrongly describe themselves as "loyalists".

Guys, nobody who throws things at, let along fires automatic weapons at, Her Majesty's police officers for trying to do their job, is in a position to describe himself as a loyalist. And nobody who takes part in such behaviour or refuses to condemn it, whatever community they come from, has any business claiming that they are operating on the principles of any form of Christianity, Protestant or Catholic.

Jesus Christ told his followers to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." And when they came to arrest him, Jesus told two of his disciples who tried to defend him with force to put their swords away, saying "those who live by the sword shall die by the sword." The first century Aramaic language didn't have words for "machine gun" or "petrol bomb" but I think it's fairly clear that the sense of the instruction covers them.

If we want peace in Northern Ireland we have to make sure that those who follow democratic paths are rewarded and those who use or threaten violence are not. That message has not always been sent as clearly as it should have been. We owe it to the children of Northern Ireland to make it clear to everyone. Last week's scenes of celebration as protestants and catholics waved their flags side by side represent the future. The rioting of the past few days does not.


I drafted this blog entry on my laptop yesterday while sitting in front of the TV and unable to tear myself away from the final afternoon of the Ashes.

I had been at the Oval 20 years ago when England last won the Ashes at home. This has been the most fantastic test series – one of the Australian commentators described it as one of the best of all time. And after some stunning close finishes and fiercely fought matches a magnificent century from Pietersen was bringing England within sight of regaining the trophy. It has been an emotionally charged occasion: as Richie Benaud was saying farewell in the commentary box on his last afternoon at the end of many years as a test cricket commentator, Kevin Pietersen’s innings was finally concluded by an unplayable delivery from McGrath. As Pietersen left the field, Shane Warne shook his hand, and we saw one of the greatest bowlers of all time - finishing his test career with yet another ten-wicket haul and as the leading wicket taker of the series - shake hands with the new batsman who in his debut test series has been the leading run scorer and almost certainly helped delivered a historic victory. This was the past shaking hands with the future.

Which brings me to a point about the past and the future – for as the saying goes, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

When Holocaust Memorial Day was introduced, I was responsible for organising the first commemoration in St Albans as chairman of the relevant committee. It was not practical to put together a local commemorative service which would have done the event justice, so instead we organised an exhibition using material provided from the lead government department, DCMS. That material was thoroughly inclusive. Although it justifiably gave particular attention to the murder by the Nazis of six million Jews and a similar number of other victims including Gypsies and mental patients, Holocaust memorial day also commemorated many other acts of genocide including some against Muslims such as the massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica.

There were a few people who expressed to me privately a minority view that Britain is already obsessed by the history of the World War Two era, and this was yet another repetition of a story which is very well known. However the majority, and especially all my Jewish friends, were very strongly in favour of setting aside a day to remember the terrible crimes which humans have committed against one another and giving it a name which commemorates what they rightly regard as the single most ghastly episode of mass murder in history.

I agree, and was deeply disappointed when certain Muslim leaders who ought to have known better boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this year on the inaccurate grounds that the event is supposedly not inclusive.

Anyone who read the material which DCMS put out knows that this is simply not true – Muslims in Bosnia and elsewhere were mentioned along with Armenians, Rwandans, Latin and Native Americans – you name a group of victims of racial mass murder or ethnic cleansing in the past few centuries, and they were included. This also appears to have escaped several committees of Muslims set up to advise the government who have advised that the event should be renamed Genocide Memorial Day and suggested that the present name gives the impression that “Western lives have more value than non-western lives.”

Apart from the fact that the Jewish race originated in the Middle East, and it is therefore odd to describe them as Westerners, there is nothing in the way the event has been organised which would give a reasonable person that impression. All the Holocaust Memorial Day material which I have seen bent over backwards to avoid creating the impression that some lives are more valuable than others.

We need to improve relations with the Muslim community, and that imposes a responsibility on both sides. Non-Muslims must do their best to respect the faith and reasonable concerns of those who follow Islam, but Muslims must also respect the beliefs of others, and both sides must work to dispel damaging stereotypes and prejudices. Both sides must also pay the other the challenging compliment of not being afraid to criticise those who they think are in the wrong, which is what I am doing now.

Any Muslim leader who appears to downplay the significance of the Holocaust is failing to rise to that challenge. I do not believe that most modern British Muslims are anti-semitic. I suspect that those who boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day or suggested that the name be changed are guilty of foolishness and insensitivity rather than racism. But one of the most damaging stereotypes against Muslims is that they are particularly prone to prejudice against Jewish people. Every time a Muslim leader reinforces that image, he (I use the male gender deliberately because it is always a man) damages the reputation of Islam and lets down his own community.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The most stupid questions are the ones people don't ask

How often have you been in a meeting when someone used an expression, or referred to something, which everyone else appeared to understand, but you didn’t have a clue what they were talking about? And in that situation, how easy did you find it to ask?

I must confess that this happens to me quite regularly. Perhaps more than most because I’m a non-engineer working for a company where the majority of managers have an engineering background, and so I’ve had to evolve ways of dealing with it. But I think most people, if we are honest, would agree that it is a common occurrence, and if being very honest, that we don’t ask “what on earth are you talking about” often enough.

For what it’s worth, in my experience, if you start with “Please forgive me if this is a stupid question, but can you explain to me …” then most of the time people will try to make you feel better with “That’s not a stupid question at all.” (Even if they think it is.) And quite often someone else who was trying to pluck up the courage to ask the same question will tell you afterwards that they were glad you did it for them.

One group of people who have to develop the knack of asking apparently silly questions, and often get unfairly pilloried for it, are judges. Last week in St Albans Crown Court Mr Justice Seddon Cripps had the temerity to ask what a sofa bed is. Cue much tabloid tittering along the same lines as greeted the judges who over the years have asked about the identities of Gazza, the Teletubbies, or Linford Christie’s lunchbox.

But if we stop and think for a minute it becomes obvious that, if we find ourselves in court, perhaps falsely accused of some offence for which a conviction might mean twenty years in prison, we would be grateful that the person presiding is not afraid to ask questions. As Libby Purves put it in today’s Times, a judge is paid to understand the law: why should he (or she) be embarrassed not to know who Jade from Big Brother is?

All too often the fear of looking like a twit can stop us asking people what they mean. But in some circumstances the consequences of not asking the question can be much worse – and looking like an even bigger twit is usually the least important.

On that note, here are a few silly questions which should be asked more often here in West Cumbria

If complex maternity services are moved from Whitehaven to Carlisle, what will happen to expectant mothers in West Cumbria who suddenly develop severe complications and need those services urgently?

How will residents of Millom who don’t have a car cope when they need an emergency prescription and all the chemists in the town are closed?

If there is a problem because volunteer lifeguards do not appear to meet the necessary standards, can we try to provide training and assistance to get them up to the standard rather than abandon efforts to provide a lifeguard service on beaches where people have recently drowned?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Another Modest Proposal

Over coffee this morning after church, one of the ladies mentioned that she and her family had just come back from the Isle of Man, where they had had a very good short holiday.

This sparked off a thought I have had before: why not establish a ferry between Whitehaven and the Isle of Man ? If you want to get from West Cumbria to the Isle of Man there is not good direct route and you probably end up driving to Fleetwood to take the ferry. It’s equivalent to getting from the tread of a wheel to the hub by going 180 degrees round the rim before going up one of the spokes.

There is a general consensus that one of the things we need to do to boost the economy of West Cumbria is to build up tourism. The wider the package we can offer, the easier this will be to acheive. The ability to take a quick trip to the Isle of Man could be used to provide an additional boost, certainly to tourism in West Cumbria and probably in the Central Lakes as well.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Are TV Replays fair to Umpires and Referees ?

I used to greatly enjoy watching first-class cricket, but the trouble with watching this sport is that most of us just can't spare three or five days at a time to watch a game. I have not managed to attend a match in person since that glorious morning at the Oval twenty years ago when England last won the Ashes. That's if you don't count about half an hour's play of a match against New Zealand which was otherwise rained off.

However, so many of my work colleagues have been raving about how good the present test series is that I have been unable to resist the temptation to watch some of it for myself. Yesterday I was working in my office at home in Cumbria with an internet panel open with the scoreboard. When something really interesting like a wicket or Flintoff's century came up I nipped into the living room to catch the replay on the TV.

I have been delighted to see England playing so well, but could not resist a degree of sympathy for the Umpires. They have to make a decision on the spot, using the Mark One eyeball, at a speed of 1:1 and with no replay. Admittedly one of their options is to refer to the Third Umpire who has the advantage of a slow motion replay and a zoom camera, but if the first two umpires did that all the time the game would slow to a crawl.

If under these handicaps an Umpire or Referee makes a mistake, everyone who watches the TV can see slow motion replays with a zoom lens of what actually happened, and it is very easy to make someone who has made a decision without such advantages look like a twit.

At the start of their first innings yesterday, Australia lost three quick wickets to Leg-Before-Wicket decisions. The replays showed that one of these decisions was almost certainly right, another was probably right, but the remaining decision was probably wrong.

Is it unfair to show this ? Well I suppose it probably is, but I can't see that banning TV from showing the replays is going to do anything but make matters worse. You don't get improvements in performance without watching to learn where you get it wrong, and if the original action takes place in public it is unreasonable to stop people making an assessment in public - of the Umpires as much as the players.

If football and cricket matches are to be decided on the field rather than in law courts, we have to continue the tradition that Umpires and Referees are right even when they are wrong - and if we start trying to suppress the information when a decision is wrong that will simply undermine confidence in referees and umpires.

It is awkward that everyone can see when an Umpire makes a bad mistake, but at least we can also see that they get the majority of decisions right. And if they did not, something could be done about it.

As I write this, England have enforced the follow on against Australia, which is the first time anyone has been in a position to do this to an Australian test side for 17 years. Australia need 37 to avoid an innings defeat with six second innings wickets in hand. I have learned never to make overconfident predictions about sporting events or elections, but that is a good position to be in.

Whether or not we get the Ashes back, my colleagues were right: there really has been some good cricket in this series. Hooray !

Brother Roger R.I.P.

I spent most of the last week completing our house move to Cumbria - clearing the last of our things from the house in St Albans where my family have lived for 45 years was something of a major exercise.

As we returned to Cumbria after leaving the old house for the last time, I was horrified to learn on the radio that Brother Roger, founder of the Taize community, had been murdered a few days previously. He was 90 years old, and was stabbed to death during a service in front of 2,500 worshippers by a mentally disturbed woman.

Brother Roger founded the interdenominational Taize community in 1940 as a refuge from war. He was a protestant but worked to heal the divisions between churches of all denominations and was accepted by Catholics almost as one of themselves: at the funeral of Pope John Paul II he received communion in his wheelchair from the then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict.)

A special tradition of prayer through singing which began at Taize has had a huge influence on many of the churches I have visited during the past two decades. In St Mary's Marshalswick where I sang in the choir
for many years, we had regular services in the Taize style once a month which were often very moving and attracted dozens of visitors from other churches in St Albans. St Mary's in Gosforth where my family usually worships since moving to Cumbria often includes a Taize chant in the communion music. Brother Roger himself once said that He who sings prays twice - once in the words and once in the music.

Sometimes when something terrible happens a strong religious faith can help you to deal with it, but there are other times when an evil event is real challenge to that faith - you ask yourself, "How can God allow
this ?" The senseless murder of a 90-year old man who had dedicated his life to peace, and and probably probably done more than any other person in the 20th century both to bring churches together and replenish the spiritual power of church music round the world, is one of those times.

At Brother Roger's funeral yesterday his successor, Brother Alois, prayed for forgiveness for the woman who killed him. "God of goodness, we ask you to forgive Luminita Solcan, who, in an act of wickedness,
ended the life of our Brother Roger," he said yesterday. "Like Christ on the cross, we say to you, 'Forgive her, for she knew not what she did."

That is quite typical of the forgiveness which Brother Roger exemplified in life, and which his death will have no power to end.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Stand up for local hospitals

I wrote a week ago that I become increasingly concerned about the
future of local health services in West Cumbria. Since then the problems have become more and more obvious. Now Labour politicians who during the election a couple of months ago were proclaiming loudly that there is no threat to local hospitals have realised that there is and are frantically trying to set up NHS managers and officials as scapegoats.

It is time for Copeland's MP to make clear whether he still believes, as he said at the election debates and in the local press during the election, that there is no threat to West Cumberland Hospital.

If he does still believes that, he may be the only person in West
Cumbria who does, following the suggestion that some maternity services could move to Carlisle, the changes to Windermere ward, and two high-profile resignations of greatly respected doctors. If he doesn't, he should encourage his colleagues to work with the local NHS to save local services. Either way local Labour politicians should desist from making dark hints in the press about the need for local NHS officials to resign. There is something deeply offensive about the sight of Labour figures who were only too happy to quote Marie Burnham's words about the hospital during the General Election now turning round and trying to evade responsibility for their own statements by blaming her.

Along with about 40 other local residents I attended the Forum for
Patients and Public Involvement in the local NHS in Whitehaven Civic
Hall last week. There were some very powerful speeches from carers who have concerns about the impact of changes in the way mental illness is dealt with. Very sadly some of the most moving contributions came after the press had gone. There is a case for dealing with different types of mental illness in adjacent accommodation rather than in the same ward. However, it is very important that existing provision should never be withdrawn until a fully adequate replacement is in place, and there appear to be legitimate concerns about whether the changes to Windermere
ward meet that objective. Few people like to even think about mental
illness but it will affect most families at some time: for example one person in five who lives past the age of 80 suffers some degree of dementia. The suffering which will be caused if we do not provide
adequate support to those with mental illness and their carers does not bear thinking about.

As I said last week in the context of maternity services, we have an
excellent hospital in the West Cumberland and some brilliant staff who work there: we should be proud of everything they have achieved there and work to keep and improve it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Despite all the assurances I become increasingly concerned about the
future of local health services in West Cumbria. This is not because I doubt the integrity or good intentions of the people who are running the Primary Care Trusts and the Acute Hospitals Trust, but because the right decisions will have to be taken to keep our local hospitals viable.

In the run up the election I met many members of staff at West
Cumberland and Millom hospitals and I was extremely concerned at the low level of morale amongst excellent doctors and nurses. Two recent high-profile resignations and the response to them do nothing to convince me that this has improved.

The idea of a "Health park" was put forward and this would be one way to kick off a positive strategy for the future, but to date it has not had support at higher levels. And now there is a suggestion that some maternity services might move to Carlisle.

I strongly support the need to retain full maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital and the "Don't move our mums" campaign.

The West Cumberland Acute Hospital Trust faces difficult choices to
maintain a wide range of services to the highest standard, but the problem with the idea of reducing the maternity department at Whatehaven to a community midwifery unit has unfortunate consequence which do not just apply to maternity services, important though they are. Nor is it just about the problem if expectant mothers have an impossibly long journey to give birth - though the trek to Carlisle would be unacceptable for mothers from Whitehaven let alone Gosforth or Millom.

If safe hospital care is to be provided, the different services are
needed to support each other and there has to be a critical mass of
medical expertise. Loss of one speciality can endanger others and cause a domino effect. Each service moved to Carlisle or Newcastle brings us nearer to the point where it ceases to be possible to maintain a district general hospital in West Cumbria.

I believe that the Trust are sincere in their statement that they want to keep a District General Hospital in West Cumbria, but if this is to be achieved we must send out positive signals at every opportunity and campaign to stop the drift of services to other areas.

Reduction of maternity services would not just be a bad thing in its own right but would send all the wrong signals to potential hospital staff.

We have an excellent hospital in the West Cumberland and some brilliant staff at the hospital: we should be proud of everything they have achieved there and work to keep and improve it.

Monday, August 01, 2005

What Islam says about Terrorism

In the aftermath of the bombings in London, it has been fairly
widely remarked that such acts of terrorism are not compatible with the Muslim religion. This statement has come both from Muslims themselves and leaders of other faiths. However, I continue to read or hear comments from people who question whether the Koran does in fact support acts of indiscriminate violence. Maybe the people who say such things missed the adverts in most papers placed by British Muslims saying "Not in our names." Maybe they also missed the fatwa issued by the British Muslim Forum, with the approval of more than 500 UK Muslim clerics, scholars and imams, on Monday 18 July. I found it very powerful, and worth repeating below.

"We wish to express our sincere condolences to the families of all the victims of the London attacks. We pray for the swift recovery of all those who are recovering from injuries. There are many questions emerging from the London bombings. One of the most important questions is what does Islam say about it?

To answer this question Muslim scholars, clerics and Imams from all
over the UK have been consulted to issue this formal legal opinion (fatwa) so that Muslims and non-Muslims can be clear about Islam's stance on such acts.

On behalf of over 500 clerics, scholars and Imams the British Muslim
Forum issues the following religious decree:

Islam strictly, strongly and severely condemns the use of violence and the destruction of innocent lives.

There is neither place nor justification in Islam for extremism,
fanaticism or terrorism. Suicide bombings, which killed and injured
innocent people in London, are haram - vehemently prohibited in Islam, and those who committed these barbaric acts in London are criminals not martyrs.

Such acts, as perpetrated in London, are crimes against all of humanity and contrary to the teachings of Islam.

The Holy Koran declares:

"Whoever kills a human being, then it is as though he has killed all
mankind; and whoever saves a human life, it is as though he had saved all mankind." (Koran, Surah al-Maidah (5), verse 32).

Islam teaches us to be caring towards all of Allah's (God's) creation, not just mankind. The Prophet of Islam who was described as "a mercy to the worlds" said: "All creation is the family of Allah and that person is most beloved to Allah who is kind and caring towards His family."

Islam's position is clear and unequivocal: murder of one soul is the
murder of the whole of humanity; he who shows no respect for human life is an enemy of humanity.

We pray for the defeat of extremism and terrorism in the world.

We pray for peace, security and harmony to triumph in multicultural
Great Britain."