Showing posts from November, 2006

West Cumberland Hospital: the penny drops

On today's TV politics show, the Labour MP for Copeland and the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Borders were interviewed together talking about the threat to local hospitals and the need for the entire community to unite to defend them. Credit where credit is due: it was a very good interview. David MacLean MP and Jamie Reed MP agreed with almost everything each other said, particularly about the point that Labour and Conservative MPs were working together to draw to the attention of the Strategic Health Authority that their policies do not meet the needs of Cumbria. I've made the positive point first: but I also noted with wry amusement that Jamie Reed has finally dropped the absurd position which he took at the last election. A few days before polling day, as the Labour candidate for Copeland, he said clearly and explicitly that there was no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland hospital. Today, by contrast, when asked if he could guarantee the future of the local hospital

Support grows for hospitals march on 9th December

Support is building for the "Save Our Services" march in support of hospitals in West Cumbria on 9th December. Meet at Castle Park in Whitehaven at 9.45 am to move off for 10 am sharp. The march has already attracted the support of local political leaders from both the Conservative and Labour parties and of many people associated with the local NHS. The local Rugby club will interrupt their training to come and support the march. If you care about local hospitals in West Cumbria, please make sure that this date is in your diary and try to be there to support West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick Hospital.

Younger drivers and road safety

Two things which happened in the last 48 hours have me thinking hard about road safety in general and younger drivers in particular. The Chief Constable of Cumbria was reported in yesterday’s local papers as calling for restrictions on younger drivers, who are involved in a significant proportion of fatal accidents. To underline the point, an elderly man is hospital with serious head injuries after being knocked down by a car on Monday night at the entrance to the road in Whitehaven where I live. Three men, all aged between 18 and 19, were later arrested in connection with the accident. Almost every week I read in the local papers of another fatal accident on Cumbria’s roads, often on roads that I use almost every day, such as the A595. At one point earlier this year, there were two accidents only a couple of weeks apart, which claimed three lives, both on the A595 less than a mile from my home. Of course, every time I read of yet another death on the A595 it rekindles my fury at the i

Help for Fayrepack victims

The collapse of Fayrepack threatens to adversely affect this year's Christmas for many families in Cumbria. But as is so often the case, a problem within a community brings out much of the best in it's people, in both imagination and concern, as people look for a solution. Whitehaven Credit Union, which is a non-profit community savings and lending organisation, has been advertising a savings scheme targetted to to help Fayrepack victims and ensure that their Christmas celebrations are not entirely ruined. And a group of Cumbrian ladies have emulated the W.I. "Calendar girls" by bringing out a calendar to help the Fayrepack victims - on sale now for £5, all of which goes to help the victims as they were printed free of charge by Print Express of Whitehaven. All the local MPs have backed calls from Cumbrian MP David McLean for a criminal investigation into the collapse. While I think this is right, I wonder if the Labour MPs who backed this call have thought through th

An interesting co-incidence

The people who plan the timing of the Prime Minister's diary were presumably unaware that this week Copeland had the annual contest to find the "World's Biggest Liar." Otherwise I doubt if they would have scheduled Tony Blair's visit to Copeland for the following day. This naturally reminded me that it had been suggested last year at Copeland Borough Council - and by a councillor who had originally been elected on the Labour ticket - that the council should officially invite the PM to come to Copeland to take part in the competition. Almost immediately after his visit to West Cumbria, Mr Blair flew to Pakistan, where he told the truth but apparently didn't intend to. In a TV interview today, responding to a suggestion from David Frost that the situation in Iraq is seen by many people as something of a disaster, Tony Blair began his reply with the words "It is." Needless to say, Downing Street insists that this was a slip of the tongue.

Hospital supported at Children in Need meeting

In support of Children in Need today there was a "Cash for Questions" session at St Nicholas's church in Whitehaven. Panellists included the local MP, the leader of Copeland Council, the Rev John Bannister, and various press and business speakers. Anyone who gave some money to Children in Need could ask a question. So I went along and asked how we as members of the community can best support our local hospitals. There were very good answers given on all sides for the need for the whole community to work together accross party political and other lines to defend our hospital services. These include the need to get a good attendance at the "Save our Services" march on 9th December, and for everyone to lobby the Strategic Health Authority and ministers. As was pointed out, the head of the NDA has spoken out about the serious concern for the nuclear industry if there were not a good range of hospital services much nearer to Sellafield than Carlisle or Barrow - we ne

Milton Friedman R.I.P.

Milton Friedman, who died this week, appears to be being remembered as a populariser of free-market ideas, which he was, but he was also one of the four most brilliant economists of the 20th century. It always seemed to me that there were almost two Milton Friedmans - the brilliant academic, who was objective, balanced, nonpartisan, and immensely insightful, and the doughty champion of free markets, who presented a far more simplistic picture and came out with some memorable word pictures. Of course, many of the things which people think they know about Friedman were myths assiduously spread by people opposed to the political message he spread. The classic example was the suggestion that that he supported the Pinochet regime in Chile. I can still remember, pretty much word for word, a Bernard Levin opinion piece from The Times of 30 years ago on the subject: "Professor Milton Friedman (Boo) has been writing to The Daily Telegraph (Boo) about Chile (Boo). The poor devil has been tr

The Death of Common Sense

Earlier this week I was returning to Copeland on the train having been working in London. Unfortunately the West Coast Main Line trains were disrupted by a suicide on the line near Lancaster, causing both myself and a number of other people to miss their final connections home. The railway organised hire cars or taxis for the people who were stranded through no fault of their own due to missed connections. The driver who took me back to Whitehaven was polite, efficient, and in terms of the rules as they exist today, helpful. Nothing that I am about to write is meant as a criticism of him. However, I do think that the way people are expected to operate today is sometimes a great deal less sensible than the way the world used to work ten or twenty years ago. As the delay to the West Coast main line had caused me to miss the last train from Carlisle to Whitehaven, a car was booked to take me to Whitehaven station. This is a journey of about 40 miles, which means that the driver's roun

They shall grow not old

There are some words which seem to mean more to me every time I hear them. One example which seems more powerful every year is the exhortation which precedes the two minute silence on Rememberance Sunday and the Kohima epitaph which follows the silence. Almost everyone who reads this will know these verses but I make no apologies for repeating them. By comparison with these timeless words anything else I could write here today would seem too trivial. "They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them." And after the silence another veteran often a representative from the Burma Star Association reads the words from the Kohima memorial to the fallen of the Burma campaign:- "When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today."

In Flanders Fields ....

Today is the anniversary of the armistice which ended the First World War. For many years this was commemorated as Armistice Day, with a minute's silence at 11 am, which was the moment the guns fell silent on 11th November 1918. Then the commemoration was switched to Remembrance Sunday, which is the nearest sunday to the 11th of November. In recent years it has become common to mark both dates. There has been a certain amount of argument over the past few days about the wearing of poppies. Newsreader Jon Snow has complained in unfortunately robust languange about being put under pressure to wear a poppy while on air: a religious think tank has suggested that Christians should wear a white poppy rather than a red one. No matter how strongly I may disagree with people on this subject, and no matter how tempting it is to come up with clever or sharp rejoinders, harsh language about Remembrance Sunday is never appropriate. Whatever else they may or may not have achieved, the remembranc

Jedi Jamie gets it wrong again

The M.P. for Copeland has been slapped down in the House of Commons again for getting parliamentary procedures wrong. When the government's energy review came out, Jamie Reed M.P. was interrupted by the Deputy speaker when he tried to continue after asking a point scoring question about David Cameron. The Deputy Speaker explained that he had the opportunity to ask one question: by asking a trivial point-scoring question about David Cameron he lost the opportunity to ask the serious question about the nuclear industry which he had apparently intended to put. This week Jedi Jamie asked a question about the government's white paper on "Communities" and the structure of local government. He was concerned about the idea of a single local authority for Cumbria - it appears that his issue was how this would affect the nuclear industry. A good question which deserved to be raised in a more effective manner. It was not to be, however, for this time Speaker Martin himself told

Save our hospitals - March on 9th December

It is confirmed that there will be a "Save our services" march in support of West Cumbria hospitals on Saturday 9th December in Whitehaven. I hope as many people as possible will support the march. Assemble at Castle Park at 9.45 am ready to move off by 10 am. The march is already receiving support from right accross the community. Obviously a lot of the focus is on the West Cumberland Hospital but we should remember that all the Community hospitals in Cumbria including Millom Community Hospital and Keswick Hospital are also under threat. The welcome confirmation that this march is up and running comes at the same time as the less welcome, but hardly surprising, news that the government has included both the newly formed Cumbria Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the North Cumbria Acute Services NHS trust on a list of health trusts with the worst financial problems. When I was a health authority member in Hertfordshire before moving to West Cumbria, 50,000 people signed a petition,

On Vandals, wreckers and ASBOs

The main concern on my mind at the moment is for the future of our hospitals. However, because of recent events at both ends of the country and the public debate about ASBOS, the issue of crime and disorder has run it a close second. I put down an entry a few days ago about the firework party which a household in Foxhouses Road decided to hold in the early hours of November 5th (between about 2.45 am and 3.00 am.) While this showed an unfortunate lack of concern for the residents of a large part of Whitehaven, it turns out that this was by no means the most inconsiderate thing to happen in the town in the early hours of that morning. Between 1am and 3am the keyholders were called out after at least eight shops had doors, windows or both smashed by vandals. On Monday they were still clearing up the damage, while 300 miles away the school where I was an LEA governor for many years was re-opening after being closed for several days due to an arson attack. We live in one of the richest cou

Save our Hospital - Trust's position clarified

Since their original statement, which indicated that they were still committed to a new hospital in Whitehaven without using the words "acute" or "District General" the Primary Care Trust and the North Cumbria Acute Services NHS Trust has made clear that they still want to provide an Acute hospital in West Cumbria. In so far as it goes, this is very welcome. However, I remain very concerned for the future of all our local hospitals, including the West Cumberland, Millom, and Keswick. The trust have not made clear what services the new acute hospital will provide. There is a strong hint that it will include A&E. My concern is that you cannot provide A&E services without a critical mass of other services and infrastructure. We need a much clearer idea of how this will be provided and how the steady trickle of services away from the West of Cumbria will be stopped.

Labour headline competition extended

Thanks to those who have sent in entries for "The New Labour Headline competition. I'm offering a small prize for the funniest headline consisting of an admission of the blindingly obvious from an appropriate Labour minister. Doesn't absolutely have to be made up - one of the best entries so far was a real one from 2004 "Iraq may not have weapons of mass destruction, admits Blair." Deadline for entries is now extended to the end of November

Some real fireworks

From time to time I have been lobbied as a councillor by people who believe that stricter controls on Fireworks are needed - e.g. more local by laws banning people from setting them off or restricting their use. I do think it is a good thing that safety controls on Fireworks are much more rigorous than they used to be. The health and safety mafia do not get everything right, but fireworks were originally designed as weapons and it does make sense to be very careful when using explosives for entertainment. However, I have been and remain reluctant to go down the road of draconian restrictions on when people can let off fireworks. If people on both sides are willing to exercise a certain amount of consideration and common sense it ought to be possible for those who want to put on a firework display to enjoy their fun while allowing everyone else a reasonable opportunity to enjoy peace and quiet. Unfortunately that kind of consideration was singularly lacking in the early hours of this mo

Conservative Future Nuclear Debate

I attended an excellent debate this evening on the proposition "this country needs nuclear energy". The debate was organised for Conservative members and supporters by Conservative Future (the organisation which replaced the Young Conservatives and Conservative Students) and took place at the House of Commons. There were good speeches on both sides. I was expecting the pro-nuclear side to win, but had expected the result to be closer than it was. In fact the motion was carried unanimously.

Rail Freight Terminal Application - Live Webcast Tonight

The planning application for a huge rail depot in the south of St Albans district comes to the planning committee tonight. The meeting is being webcast from 7 pm on the St Albans council website, see link on right. POSTSCRIPT The meeting took three hours not to make a decision. The massive report to the meeting listed a large number of possible reasons for refusal. However, the Highways Agency had directed St Albans council not to give permission for the development yet as they were still looking at the impact of the proposal on local motorways. It would have been possible to refuse permission at the meeting, but the council's officers recommended that it would be better to wait for a final response from the Highways Agency to see if they proposed an additional reason for refusal. The officers recommended that the council should state that it is minded to refuse the application on the grounds they have identified but will take a final decision when the Highways Agency reports in t