Showing posts from 2007

On British Identity

There is an interesting piece on British identity, British values and the Prime Minister's views on the subject in the current issue of GQ. The article does not directly quote Gordon Brown or claim to be based on a first account statement of his opinions. But on the basis of indirect accounts it ascribes to him the view that where, in the past, British identity was based largely on institutions (the Monarchy, Parliament, the BBC, the Church of England), in the 21st century it will become increasingly important to promote a British identity based on values. The article further suggests that the values which we associate with Britishness - e.g. democracy, fair play, decency - will need to be more clearly defined so they are not so vague that any country would say they have a tradition of supporting such ideas. This article may or may not actually reflect GB's real views. Knowing the way that New Labour works I think it extremely likely that somebody in Number Ten is flying a kite

Proposed move of Whitehaven Fire Station to be dropped?

A recommendation going to Cumbria County Council's cabinet on 8th January proposes to cancel plans to move Whitehaven Fire Station from the present site in Hensingham to Meadow Road. My Conservative colleagues in Whitehaven have been raising concerns about the proposed move for some time, as have local firefighters. These included a flood risk on the site of the proposed new station and serious questions about the accessibility of the site. It now appears to be recognised that there are serious problems with the proposals as they stand and the recommendation going to the county cabinet is to remove the Whitehaven proposal from a package of measures for the Cumbria fire service. This is not necessarily the end of the story but it does appear likely that a proposal which would almost certainly have been a bad mistake has, for the time being, been taken off the table.

Proposals to extend detention without trial run into trouble

I wrote a few weeks ago that it would only take a small number of Labour MPs who had as much of amind of their own as the average supermarket trolley to kill the badly thought out proposals to extend detention without trial beyond 28 days. Judging by reports in "The Independent" and other newspapers there are indeed more than the required 34 Labour MPs who are threatening to show that degree of independence. ("The Independent" says that there are at least 38 who say that they intend to vote against the proposals.) The Director of Public Prosecutions is one of those who are arguing that there is no evidence to justify the need to increase the maximum period of detention without charge beyond 28 days. In his view the present 28 day limit is working and he described any risk that a longer limit might be needed as "theoretical." No clear evidence has been produced by the government that demonstrates why either 42 days or any other period of extended detention

Book Review: Diary of an On-Call girl by WPC Bloggs

One of the books in my holiday reading has been the hysterically funny journal of a Woman Police Constable, "Diary of an on-call girl" written under the psuedonym of "WPC Ellie Bloggs." It is the account of a few months in the life of a WPC in a town called "Blandmore" in the county of "Blandshire." Any politician with responsibility for the police ought to read it to wake them up: everyone else should read it because it is highly entertaining. I suspect it is not impossible that "Blandshire" might actually be Cumbria and that "Blandford" may be somewhere like Penrith or Kendal. However, the fact that I thought I recognised the county where I live at a couple of points while reading the book may just be an indication of how horrifyingly plausible it is. Perhaps lots of other readers were thinking that "WPC Bloggs" must work in the local police force covering their own area. I can't think of a better way to indica

Wishing you a very happy Christmas

A very happy Christmas to all readers of this blog, whether you are in Copeland or anywhere else and whatever your politics.

Chemists' Rota in Copeland over the holiday

The following is the emergency rota details of open pharmacies for the various areas of the Copeland constituency over the Christmas and New Year period. Whitehaven and Egremont areas Christmas Eve: All pharmacies open but some closing early. Tesco’s open 8.30 am to 5pm Christmas Day: Emergency Rota, 6pm to 7pm: Boots the Chemist, King Street, Whitehaven Boxing Day: Emergency Rota, 6pm to 7pm J. N. Murray, Market Place, Egremont. Wednesday 27th to Sunday 30th December – Normal hours New Year’s Eve: All pharmacies open but some closing early. Tesco’s open 8.30 am to 6pm 1st January 2008: Emergency Rota, 6pm to 7pm Alliance Pharmacy, Main Street, Egremont. Millom and South Copeland areas Christmas Eve: Boots the Chemist, Wellington St, Millom, and L Rowland & Co, Wellington Street, both open 9.00 am to 6.30pm Christmas Day: No Pha

The daftest statistics of 2007

Following on from yesterday's post about misleading averages there was an excellent article in The Times this week by Andrew Dilnot and Michael Blastland about the most ridiculous statistical errors of 2007. You can read it online at columnists/guest_contributors/article3085272.ece One example quoted concerns the AIDS/HIV statistics published by the United Nations. Despite the increasing spread of the disease they had to adjust down their estimates of the number of people infected, which had been too high. The reason: the previous estimates of the number of HIV positive people had been based on samples at maternity clinics. But this is not a reliable way to make such an estimate. It eventually dawned on someone that in terms of exposure to AIDS, pregnant women are not representative of the overall population because, of course, they have all had unprotected sex. DOH! Another example of a misleading statistic concerns prostate cancer survival ra

The tyranny of misleading averages

A West country MP, Gerry Neale, used to tell the story that he was once making a speech to Cornish farmers and said that "on average, I do not think you are doing too badly." "Look here, mister" replied one of the farmers, "Stand me with my left foot in a block of ice and my right foot in a bucket of boiling water and tell me on average I am all right and I'll tell you I'm not!" I was reminded of this during a recent seminar on improving the economy of West Cumbria when one of the officers of Copeland Council referred to the area as having a high wage and high skill economy. I pointed out to him that we have one industry employing a lot of people many of whom are highly skilled and many of whom, either because of those skills or because their work is at unsocial hours or hazardous, are fairly well paid, but that the statement was not true of the remainder of the local workforce. It is not at all unusual for a group of people - the residents of a wa

Chief Constable's snub to Home Secretary

Christmas is meant to be the season of goodwill, and I usually try to avoid any kind of political criticism from Advent to Epiphany. For example, residents of Bransty and Harbour wards who recieve the "Christmas card leaflet" which I and my colleagues are currently putting round with a Christmas message and some seasonal information will note that it doesn't contain a single word of criticism of our political opponents. That's because this just isn't the time for such criticism. Consequently, the action of the chief constable of Cumbria in refusing to pass on the Home Secretary's Christmas message to his force, on the grounds that it might have a negative effect on their morale, is not the sort of tactic which I would want to see become routine. But having said that, I really cannot blame him. If you are going to ban a group of workers from striking, and instead set up an independent review panel to set their pay, you are going to look mean, and petty if you f

Academy school site finally chosen

After many months of waiting the decision has finally been taken on the site for the new Academy school which will incorporate both Wyndham school in Egremont and Ehenside School in Cleator Moor. The new school to be called "The West Lakes Academy" will be set up on the existing Wyndham site in Egremont. This news will come as a relief to parents in Egremont and a disappointment to many in Cleator Moor. No possible decision could have pleased everyone but at least the prolonged and damaging period of uncertainty is now over. At one stage the county council was planning to site the school in Cleator Moor because of fears that there might be some disruption to the education of pupils in the existing Wyndham buildings while a new school was being built alongside. Special efforts need to be made to ensure that this fear does not become a reality and to help parents and pupils from Cleator Moor with travel arrangements. I am sure we will all want to wish the new school and its pup

BBC1 censors Christmas Classic

Two members of my family, who on most issues have very different tastes, both love the Pogue's Christmas song, "Fairytale of New York" It's a story of two lovers who trade insults on Christmas Eve. Some of the insults are somewhat rude and I'm not going to quote it, but the song has been broadcast regularly for 20 years and it is a serious contender for the number one Christmas slot. However, BBC1 have now bleeped out one of the insults because one of about ten possible meanings of the word in question, which clearly does not apply in this instance, is as a mildly insulting term for a gay person. The BBC were concerned that some gay or lesbian listeners might be offended. Among those who have complained about the decision to censor the song have been quite a number of gay men and women. Their view was summed up by a lady called Heather Goodwin, who posted the following on the Telegraph website: "I am a gay woman, with many male gay friends, and we've alwa

The things they say: Kennedy on Cable

Former Lib/Dem leader Charles Kennedy has a piece in the Guardian today about the leadership of the Lib/Dems which begins with the following comments about the current (for another hour or two) acting leader of his party: "I was amused to read earlier this week that the soon to be former acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, had excused himself early from a recent meeting of the party's governing federal executive committee - in order to join the invited audience for the recording of an episode of television's Strictly Come Dancing. The move confirmed the eminently sensible sense of priorities which have characterised Cable's interim and much-applauded tenure of the top job in British Liberal Democracy over the course of recent weeks." Ouch! With friends like that, who needs enemies? And to think that the Lib/Dems used to have a reputation (though entirely undeserved) as the good guys of British politics who were nice to everyone.

Another argument to keep Border TV

I have just watched the BBC regional lunchtime news (For the "North East and Cumbria".) There was an item about the problems of hill farmers in Yorkshire. Practically every word also applied to the hill farmers in Cumbria - in same cases more so. Did it even occur to the journalistic team who put this report together to mention this? No, because they are North East journalists who very occasionally remember that they are also supposed to cover Cumbria. Further evidence that the proposed ITV news regional mergers are a bad idea and we need to keep more local regional news coverage. Another reason to support the campaign to keep Border TV

Take care on the roads in West Cumbria today

As the cold snap continues the roads in West Cumbria are quite icy today. So anyone local to the area who is reading this, please take care

NHS Public meetings - 14 and 21 January

It was suggested at one stage that the public consultation meetings in Whitehaven and Millom on the "Closer to Home" NHS proposals might be postponed. This does not appear to have happened. The Whitehaven meeting is still scheduled to take place at 7pm on Monday 14th January in Whitehaven Civic Hall, Lowther Street. The Millom meeting is still scheduled to take place at 2pm in the Millom Network Centre (at Millom School) in Salthouse Street. You can keep a check on the progress of the consultation, including these and other public meetings, by looking at the "Closer to Home" website at

Lady Warsi's speech to the "Diverse Britain" conference

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, made a very important speech at the Guardian race equality conference in London this week. She made some immensely signifcant points about the distinction between culture and religion. To her as a British Muslim, a number of attitudes which are actually very dubious points of culture have been misrepresented as religious requirements. I felt the speech was worth quoting, and here it is. "Last week I spent three extraordinary days in Khartoum. I went with my Labour colleague Lord Ahmed to try to get Gillian Gibbons out of jail - the primary school teacher who allowed her pupils to give the class teddy bear the name Mohammed. It was extraordinary because we were dealing with a situation which, thankfully, could never happen in Britain. And yet it had echoes of situations we do get in Britain. First, although it was a crisis with national and international impact, it was sparked by a very local dispute - in this case bet

Brown plays McCavity once too often

When Gordon Brown was chancellor he used to make a habit of disappearing whenever Tony Blair was in trouble, which was sometimes called his "McCavity act" - a reference to a children's poem about a master criminal called McCavity who always managed to be elsewhere when a crime was discovered. He's still trying this one on occasionally as Prime Minister but it doesn't work. The attempt to avoid being photographed signing the constitutional treaty with other European heads of government is a case in point. Has this in any way placated the Euro-sceptics who don't think he should be signing the treaty? Absolutely not, they're even more cross because they think they are being taken for suckers. Has it pleased the pro-Europeans? Absolutely not, they think it shows lack of courage. Has it pleased the leaders of other EU member countries? No, they think it makes Brown look indecisive and it starts off the summit by reducing Britain's prestige. All three groups

Guest Column - We Need A Vote

On the day Gordon Brown is due to sign the EU constitutional treaty, West Cumbrian businessman Mike Graham argues that the British people should be given a changce to vote on the treaty before parliament ratifies it. We need a vote before giving the EU new powers. In my view, most Cumbrian voters already feel that the EU has a powerful and almost uncontrollable influence on our everyday lives. Although many people are not aware, issues as varied as fortnightly bin collections,Home Information Packs and the number of hours we are allowed to work are all now decided in distant EU institutions. It is estimated that four out of every five national laws now originate in Brussels. In 2005, the government promised a referendum on the EU constitution, deciding to let UK voters have the final say on whether they wanted even more decisions to be taken by the EU. Despite this, Gordon Brown is now trying to go back on his word. They are now trying to reintroduce the rejected constitution in the f

A hammer blow for Whitehaven

The news that the Maritime Festival Committee has decided not to proceed with the 2009 Whitehaven Maritime Festival will have come like a punch in the stomach to many residents of the town. I am sure the committee would not have taken this step without very good reasons, but it is still dire news. The Festival was a massive success in putting the town on the map, bringing in income, and boosting tourism. We will need to find a way to replace the Maritime Festival and it will not be easy. Incidentally, the contrast between the negative way the news was reported by the BBC Regional News programme for the North East and Cumbria, and the rather more sympathetic and detailed coverage by the local Border TV news was a perfect illustration of the case against amalgamating Regional ITV companies into larger areas.

Copeland Council Report Back

There was a meeting of Copeland Council this afternoon. Issues discussed included * Digital Switchover: I asked a number of questions about this, including a request that Copeland Council keep up the pressure on the TV companies to consider offering a more complete range of services. * Christmas Refuse Collection arrangements There was a major debate on this subject. Conservative councillors, and some Labour colleagues, were concerned that the council should not take a heavy handed line over Christmas with residents who may be struggling to cope with the combination of reduced collection service and extra quantities of domestic rubbish (e.g. wrapping paper etc.) * Energy Coast Masterplan The Energy Coast Masterplan was unanimously agreed, with a number of additional comments made. We emphasised the need for all parties on Copeland and neighboring authorities to all work together to ensure that the policies in the plan actually happen and it isn't just a paper exercise. We also emp

Local hospital meetings may be postponed

I was told on Friday that the public meetings for the "Closer to Home" consultation in Whitehaven and Millom had just been scheduled for 14th January and 21st January respectively. However, I have now been further advised that, that evening, during discussions between the NHS trusts, local consultants, and civic leaders, the suggestion was made that it would be a good idea to put these dates back a little. The purpose of the delay is so that the PCT and the acute hospitals trust can hold further meetings with the Consultants at the West Cumberland to try to address their concerns and provide agreed answers to some of the questions the public are asking. Watch this space for further news on the revised dates.

Dates for NHS proposal public meetings

ORIGINAL POST The public meeting in Whitehaven to discuss the "Closer to Home" health proposals will be held on 14th January. The Millom public meeting will be held on 21st January Further details to follow. POSTSCRIPT ADDED 10 DECEMBER I have now heard that these dates may be postponed - see next post

Gillian Gibbons released

Like most other people in Britain I am relieved that Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed managed to persuade the Sudanese President to release Gillian Gibbons, the so-called "Teddy Teacher". The idea that in the 21st century a teacher could be arrested, and threatened with a jail sentence or a flogging, because she allowed a class of six and seven year olds to name a teddy bear after one of the children in the class, who happened to share his name with the prophet of Islam. If anyone in this whole bizarre saga has brought Islam into disrepute it is the demonstrators who called for her to receive a severe punishment for what was at worst an unfortunate cultural misunderstanding. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country were horrified at the arrest of Gillian Gibbons, not least because they knew what enormous damage such a grossly disproportionate action would do to the reputation of Islam among people of other religions and none. The most effective expression of what our

Bryan Appleyard on Science Fiction

Bryan Appleyard is one of the most interesting science journalists and he has a good piece in "The Culture" section of today's Sunday Times about how illogical it is that people in Britian look down on the Science Fiction genre. I do think he has a point, although it isn't actually everyone in Britain who has a down on SF - it tends to be the so-called "intelligentsia" and other self-appointed arbiters of good taste. My wife recalls reading an interview with Terry Pratchett, who writes comedy fantasy books, in which the interviewer refused to believe that Pratchett was Britain's best selling author. (Which at the time he was - this was a few years before J.K. Rowling's sales really took off.) "You can't be - if you were I would know it." said the journalist, or words to that effect. SF just is not on some people's radar. And it should be. I don't claim to know which of the various threats which have actually been foreseen for th

Petion for missing TV channels

Two weeks after the Digital Switchover was completed for viewers who get terrestial television services from the Bigrigg, Gosforth, and Eskdale transmitters, a petition complaining about the fact that we are not getting a full service has quickly secured 150 signatures. The enormous disruption and cost of the switchover was sold to local residents on the basis that we would finally be able to see services for which we have been paying through the licence fee for years but have not been able to get. The fact that Copeland residents are still missing out on many of these services is causing a great deal of irritation. Ronald Harrison, who lives in the Hensingham area of Whitehaven, was so incensed he started a petition calling for Copeland residents to be able to see all 40 Freeview channels. More than 150 people quickly called into The Whitehaven News office to sign it and others have taken copies to circulate around their villages or workplaces. Copeland is not the only area to be shor

From Stalin to Mr Bean ...

David Cameron gave a strong performance today at Prime Minister's question time - if things go on this way it will have to be renamed Prime Minister's humiliation time. However the best line of the afternoon came from acting Lib/Dem leader Vince Cable, who suggested that the perception of the Prime minister had changed from Stalin to Mr Bean - creating chaos out of order. If a reputation for incompetence comes to stick to this government - and heaven knows, they truly deserve it - they will be finished, however long drawn out the death throes may be.

Four sites for new nuclear build - but none in Cumbria

The Independent has a report today with a statement from British Energy which lists the four most likely sites for new Nuclear build All are existing power station sites, but none are in West Cumbria This is potentially disastrous news for Copeland and we need to work together to sell the unique advantages of West Cumbria as a possible site for a new reactor.

On boosting local employment

Last week I and a number of other councillors spent some hours in the council offices debating how we could bring more jobs to Copeland. One of them subsequently pointed out an irony to me. While we were having that debate, and for several weeks previously, the labour party offices have been redone by visting workmen from Birmingham, who have been staying in a hotel. Whoever the work was organised by, was any attempt made to see if a local firm was able to do this work?

Millom Neighbourhood Forum

I went to the Neighbourhood Forum serving Millom and Haverigg this evening. Apart from grant applications the main items on the agenda were 1) CLOSER TO HOME Consultation about the future of hospitals in West, North, and East Cumbria. See separate post on my hospitals blog (link at right) 2) WHEELS TO WORK An initiative to lend scooters to young people who need help with transport to get jobs. One very interesting thing which came out of this - the organiser, who is very concerned about road safety, won't let anyone have a scooter to get from Millom to Barrow because he doesn't consider that section of the A595 to be safe. I entirely agree with him - but what does this say about our local road infrastructure? 3) LOCAL TRANSPORT There were presentations from the County officers responsible for community transport, buses and rail respectively. The interesting thing which came out of this one was that there will be extra trains from Whitehaven to Carlisle on the Sundays in Decem

Tackling the problem of underage drinking

It was suggested tonight on local TV that West Cumbria has the worse problems with underage drinking in the country. Local police were shown testing an alcohol detector pack, and appearing outside the West Cumberland Hospital to discuss the problems of excessive drinking. One thing which will help get this problem under control is the excellent "pubwatch" scheme under which landlords are co-operating to ensure that people who are banned from one pub are banned from them all. It would be a good thing if it was made easier for licensing authorities such as Copeland to use the licensing system to encourage pubwatch membership. The government should clarify the law so that it is clear that councils can do this.

I disagree with what you say, but ...

The phrase usually attributed to Voltaire, "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" represents a principle which is one of the touchstones of a functioning democracy. I have no time for David Irving, and never have had. Twenty-five years ago, when I was an undergraduate, some idiot supplied him with a list of the names and addresses of Conservative students on which my details appeared. Irving sent out two mailings: I returned unopened the first one with a covering note indicating my disdain for what he represented, which sufficiently annoyed him that to the best of my knowledge I was the only person on the list to whom he didn't send a subsequent mailing a few weeks later. Nor have I any time for the BNP, or their leader. And nor do I consider that these gentlemen hae anything constructive to add to British political debate, let alone anything to say which would justify inviting them to speak to the Oxford Union. Those who attem

If you want proof that Labour are desperate ...

In today's papers the government's spinners were reduced to the suggestion that however disastrous the last week was for the labour government (and incidentally, for the country) it was not as bad as the week the pound was ejected from the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992. This forlorn line came from both Olympics minister Tessa Jowell and from Tony Lloyd, the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, who said that it was a bad week but it wasn't Black Wednesday. If the dwindling band of loyalists who are still willing to put their heads above the parapet and defend the government in public are reduced to arguments like that one, tbey really must be desperate.

Update - Egremont Christmas Fireworks display

Having attended the excellent Christmas Fayre in Egremont earlier today we went back at the start of the evening for the torchlit procession and firework display. It all went very smoothly, and I would like to congratulate Egremont Town Council, the Special Events committee, and everyone involved in putting on such a successful event.

Egremont Christmas Fayre

We have spent part of this afternoon with the family at the excellent Egremont Christmas Fayre. For anyone who is interested and reads this in time to be able to get there, a torchlit procession will form up at the Methodist Hall in the centre of Egremont at about 5.30 pm and go through the town to where a firework display will be held at 6pm


The first "Stand-Up, Speak-Up" event in this constituency will be held at Keswick Conservative Club from 7pm to 8.30 pm on the evening of Wednesday 28th November. It is open to all residents of the new Copeland constituency (including the four Allerdale wards of Keswick, Dalton, Crummock, and Derwent Valley.) David Cameron launched the "Stand up, Speak up" campaign to give every interested person a platform to say what problems you think politicians should do more to tackle and to influence the Conservative election manifesto. You can take part in this campaign online at The meeting in Keswick will particularly focus on hospital services, plus Housing and Planning. This is your opportunity to tell me, and other local Conservatives, what your views and concerns are on these issues and how we should address them in the next Conservative manifesto.

CATS proposals rise from the grave

Last week's announcement by the Health Secretary appeared to have killed off the CATS proposals for Cumbria and Lancashire. It now seems that they are not as dead as we thought. More details on my hospitals campaign blog - see link at right.

Time for a U Turn

The events of the last few days demonstrate very clearly that two of Gordon Brown's most cherished policies ought to be dead in the water. The first is ID cards. The more information you put on a system, the more attractive it is to criminals to hack into it, and the more disastrous it will be if they succeed. If the government cannot prevent a data security fiaso like the missing HM Revenue fiasco with the existing systems, how can they guarantee that criminals or terrorists will not get hold of the ID card sytem data, potentialy with even more serious results. The second is the idea of extending the limit for detaining terrorist suspects without charge. Sir Ken Macdonald, the current Director of Public Prosecutions, and Lord Goldsmith, who was Blair's Attorney General, both gave evidence that there is no evidence of a need to extend the current 28 day limit. This follows the Admiral West fiasco, when the minister who was brought in by Gordon Brown to take charge of anti-terro

Health Consultation - important new information

At a meeting with Copeland Councillors today, representatives of the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals Trust and the PCT made a number of very important announcements. These include * The consultation period on the "Closer to Home" proposals has been extended to 1st February 2008 - there will be a public consultation meeting on an evening in January, details to be announced * Marie Burnham has reshuffled the Executive Directors and senior leadership of the Acute Trust * The PCT has had a meeting with consultants about the "Closer to Home" proposals. This appears to have been a full and frank exchange of views, and discussions are continuing in several areas. Councillors were told there was a consensus that the number of extra transfers of patients from Whitehaven to Carlisle or other hospitals as a result of "Closer to Home" is likely to be of the order of one or two out-ot-hours emergency surgery cases per week. More details on my hospitals blog - see link at

Digital Switchover plus one week

Over the past 36 hours I have receieved a LOT of feedback from people who have been unhappy about how Digital TV Switchover has worked. One particularly sore point is the fact that the full set of Digital services are not being provided, particularly in some parts of the Gosforth and Eskdale areas. This does vary according to who I talk to, but some people also appear to have had problems with their set-top-boxes. We also have the Copeland Homes issue. I am looking into a number of these points and hope to post more about them within a week or so.

CATS proposals abandoned

I welcome the news that the CATS proposals for diagnostic and treatment centres in Cumbria and Lancashire have been abandoned. The problem with the national CATS contract as it stood was that the transfer of NHS resources to the new centres could have posed a threat to existing hospitals including the West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick hospital. More details on my hospitals blog - link at right

Betwen Northern Rock and a hard place

Northern Rock plays an important role in the communities of many parts of Northern England, and I fully understand why the government was concerned to ensure that their depositors were not in danger of losing all their money. However, the situation brought about by the Chancellor, whereby all of us as taxpayers are effectivly now lending £900 to Northern Rock does present problems. As someone asked on Political Betting this evening, will Darling explain how many schools and hospitals might have to close to finance his commitment to Northern Rock ? Or does that equation only apply to Conservative proposals? The government must be very careful that their guarantees to Northern Rock do not create a situation where potential purchasers of the company may make a major killing at the taxpayer's expense.

Plus ca change

While clearing the house today I found a book of cartoons. It includes one showing a Scots Prime Minister of the UK, with two of his most senior lieutenants, also Scots, and all wearing full traditional Scottish dress. The chairman of the governing party is reading a letter, and saying "Goodness, Prime Minister! Now it's the English demanding independence and the right to run their own affairs ..." Not an unfamiliar situation to those who want either an English parliament, or as the Conservatives are proposing, an English Grand committee to take those decisions for England which in Scotland and Wales are delegated to the devolved bodies. But in fact, this cartoon was published in 1961, and it showed the Scots leaders, not of the present Labour government, but of the early 1960's Conservative government. This cartoon was drawn at a time when nobody would have imagined that the Conservatives might lose out in Scotland by being seen as the English party, nor that there

And the winner is ...

Having watched the TV debate on the Politics show today between the two candidates to be leader of the Lib/Dems I thought there was a very clear winner - David Cameron (I imagine that Gordon Brown may also have enjoyed watching the debate.) The exchanges between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne looked more like something which would have disgraced a school debating society than a discussion between two members of parliament, of whom the winner is likely to be presented to voters within the next two or three years as a potential Prime Minister.

FT article on what the Mandarins think of Brown

An interesting article this week in the Financial Times - a paper that has backed Labour in some recent General Elections - about how senior civil servants allegedly view the Brown government. Brown bunker traps Sir Gus By Sue Cameron Oh dear! No one in Whitehall expected Gordon Brown to revert to type so quickly. He has been in Number 10 less than six months but, to the horror of civil servants, he has already hunkered down and cut most communication with the rest of government. Insiders say that no papers, no ideas and no decisions are getting through the barbed wire – only announcements from the leader that have been discussed with no one outside Mr Brown’s inner circle. As a result, the corridors of power have become the corridors of impotence. Whitehall teems with unhappy cabinet ministers who have not been consulted or even informed about proposals that concern them – little details such as the date of the Budget, troop withdrawals in Iraq or the cancelling of the general electi

Digital Switchover + two days

Two days after the analogue terrestial TV signal was switched off for most of Copeland, it appears that several hundred people have been left without TV service. It has been estimated that 96% of households in the affected area have converted but that 4% were unable to convert or did not do so in time. It is alleged that about 2% of households "did not want to convert" even though this meant they would be left without TV service: another 2%, or about 424 homes, have run into problems. According to an article in the News and Star, it is believed that 178 people who applied for help with the change have been hit because of late applications, 82 people have yet to arrange for an appointment to have their homes and televisions converted and a further 164 are households who are Copeland Homes tenants living in flats and who have not been provided with digital service. I am disturbed and surprised at the suggestion that there is a problem with this latter category. We were assured

Labour speak for "Oops, I got the line wrong"

This morning security minister, Admiral Lord West said on the radio that he was not yet "fully convinced" of the need to extend the 28 day limit for holding suspects without trial. By this lunchtime, after a personal interview with the Prime minister, he was insisting that he did believe that a longer time was necessary. He was a simple sailor not a politician, he said, and perhaps had not chosen his words carefully enough. E.g. New Labour speak for "Oops, I got the line wrong." One has to ask what is the point of bringing in outside experts to provide a wider range of knowledge to Mr Brown's "Big Tent" when you then transparently over-ride their views, and force them to go on television and say things they clearly don't believe?

EU Auditors refuse to sign the books again

For the thirteenth consecutive year the auditors have refused to approve the accounts of the European Union. I cannot think of another organisation to which this could happen. Any commercial business which could not get its books approved in such a timescale would almost certainly be forced into bankruptcy or be taken over as a result of a collapse in public confidence and the directors would be in grave danger of going to jail. Any elected government or council administration which could not sort out the books in such a period would almost certainly have been voted out of office long since. If the electors failed to remove a council administration the Audit Commission or the government would undoubtedly have taken legal action in the same way that the Thatcher government suspended Liverpool Council and sent in commissioners when Militant refused to set a budget. Indeed, the failure to get the books audited was one of the factors which did result in the resignation of an entire EU Comm

Digital Switchover completes

All the remaining analogue TV signals were turned off this morning at the Bigrigg, Gosforth, and Eskdale transmitters. Digital UK has suggested that about 20,000 homes and families in the affected area are now Digital compatible but that there may be 500 homes which are not: they will now be without television service. It is ironic that the comparatively small change of turning off the BBC2 analogue channel attracted considerable attention from all the world's media, but I have not seen more than the slightest reference in the national press of the much more significant switchover today when everything else went over. If you know of anyone who is having trouble, please refer them to one of the following. Help centres running today until 7pm and tomorrow from 10 am to 6pm are available at Whitehaven Harbour: Age Concern, Old Customs House Cleator Moor: Cleator Moor CIvic Hall Egremont: Age Concern Shop, Market Place Seascale: Methodist Church Hall. Alternatively you can call Digital

David Cameron's speech on Council Tax

David Cameron was due to make an important speech today at the Young Foundation, which was set up in memory of the late Lord Young. There have been a number of comments made for and against this speech, usually on the basis of selectively quoting soundbites, but I thought the whole speech was interesting enough to be worth quoting in full. “I am honoured to speak at the Young Foundation. Michael Young stood for so much of what is great about our country: the spirit of enterprise, and enterprise for social progress. It is entirely right that there is a foundation to promote his legacy. Because Lord Young was that essentially English thing – an institution-builder. He recognised that we live, not as isolated individuals, nor as undifferentiated members of the mass – but as friends, neighbours, colleagues, families: …we exist in our particular and personal relationships. Institutions – whether churches or schools or businesses or charities – are the means by which we formalise our relatio

One Day to go until Digital Switchover completes

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, Wednesday 14th November, all the remaining analogue Terrestial TV signals will be switched off for most of Copeland, those who get their signal from the Bigrigg, Gosforth, or Eskdale transmitters. If you live in Copeland and have lost BBC2 this affects you: you will lose all other TV services the day after tomorrow unless you are digital ready. You will need a set-top box for each analogue TV you wish to continue to use from tomorrow onwards. If you have gone digital, you will need to re-adjust your equipment on Wednesday. If you have a Matsui, Daiwoo, or Ferguson set-top box which has had a problem locking on to the right channels but is currently working, remember to try "Add Channel" first rather than do a complete re-tune.

Three days to go until Digital Switchover completes

Just three days to go now until the remaining analogue signals for terrestial TV services are turned off from the Bigrigg, Gosforth, and Eskdale transmitters, in the early hours of Wednesday 14th November.

Lest We Forget

Today is both Armistice Day (the 89th anniversary of the armistice which ended the fighting in the First World War) and Remembrance Sunday. I find as I grow older that the annual commemoration of those who were killed in the two great wars of the 20th century and all the other wars since grows more, not less, poignant. My grandfather was one of the lucky ones who went off to serve in the Great War and came back. His brother, Robert Whiteside, who served with the Lancashire Fusiliers, was less fortunate. He was killed on 1st October 1918, just six weeks before the end of the war, aged 18. So at 11 am this morning I will think of my great-uncle Robert and all the millions of other men and women who have been killed in war, and of those who were mained, widowed, or orphaned. I am not, and never will be, a pacifist. Hitler's belief that Britain and France no longer had the will to fight was one of the contributory factors which led to the second world war a generation later. But there

Digital Switchover: Who will pay for multiple visits?

I have referred below to the problem with some set-top boxes in Copeland. One of the many good points made to me by the local trade is that they have had to make more than one visit to a large number of households as the set-top boxes re-set themselves and looked for the wrong channels. The government's help scheme for elderly and disabled residents includes support for one set-top box on the viewer's main TV. I have been asked whether the help scheme will pay for multiple call out charges if an elderly or disabled resident has to call the engineers out more than once. I presume the answer is yes: it would be extremely unfair if that were not the case. I will check the point and post the answer here on Monday.

Matthew Parris on the fire in the Opposition's belly.

Matthew Parris writes today in The Times of his "unmistakable feeling that British politics has just changed." His article, "Synthetic rage has gone. This is real fury." continues as follows: "Look at the high clouds. Something is changing in the upper atmosphere of British politics. Westminster senses it. The Tories sniff the wind and paw the ground. Liberal Democrats shift uneasily, excited yet a little bit scared. And Labour shivers. Government's troubles multiply. But one could write that of this week, many that have passed, and scores yet to come. Labour's troubles are not what is new. Its Government has been in deep trouble before. I have lost count of the weeks we called “Tony Blair's worst week yet” and we were not wrong. Mr Blair would laugh that every week was his worst yet ? until the next one ? yet the Earth continued in its orbit; and he was not wrong either. If the intended jigsaw being assembled was an epic classical tragedy, The Fall