Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why the budget was bad for Copeland

I was very concerned about the effect on working people in Copeland of the scrapping of the 10p starting rate of tax in chancellor Gordon Brown's budget.

This will hit many people in Cumbria: Ordinary working people in this constituency are being taxed to pay for a cheap political headline.

Fiscal experts agree that because of the abolition of the 10p introductory rate of tax, the budget will leave working people worse off if they have incomes below the median £18,000 a year and do not have dependent children. The overall impact of income tax & National Insurance changes in the budget will cost working families £340 million a year. Everyone earning between about £5,000 and £18,000 p.a. will pay more in income tax as a result of the changes.

There are many working men and women in Copeland who do not have children, or whose children have grown up, and who have incomes in the range that mean they will lose out because of the tax changes in the budget, and particularly the abolition of the 10p starting rate of income tax. This means that the starting rate of tax at the for people at the lower end of the earnings range has effectively more than doubled.

Since the budget I have spoken to a number of people in West Cumbria who will be worse off as a result of the changes to tax rates. To say that they are not happy about paying more tax so that Gordon Brown can score a clever political point is putting it very mildly.

Abolition of the 10p tax rate will hit low income earners such as junior nurses and police community support officers. Professionals such as doctors will have to pay more National Insurance.

And efforts to diversity the economy of West Cumbria, which we particularly need to do, will not be helped by Brown's increased taxes on small businesses. The Forum of Private Businesses called the changes a "further burden."

Instead of a budget to meet the needs of the people of Britain we have had a budget to meet the needs of the Chancellor's campaign for the Labour party leadership.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Should MPs have an extra £10,000 communications allowance?

There is a proposal before the House of Commons that MPs should award themselves and extra £10,000 "communications allowance" for writing to constituents.

Greg Hands, Tory MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, makes a very powerful argument on Conservative Home against this proposal. He believes that this would increase the advantage which sitting MPs have in campaigning for re-election. He also points out that MPs already have a postage allowance; the average annual amount claimed in postage is, and I quote,

"about £4,000, but some Labour MPs claim far more. Hendon Labour MP Andrew Dismore claimed £25,146 last year, equal to sending 83,000 letters, or 612 for every day Parliament sat last year."

There has to be a balance between giving MPs enough secretarial and support to allow them to do their job properly and giving them so much that you give sitting MPs an unfair advantage.

Most of the people who have commented on Greg's "Conservative Home" article agree with him - as I am inclined to - but the one dissenting voice makes a telling point. Alexander Drake argues that "additional resources given to MPs will be far more valuable to the Opposition than to the Government. The Government has massive resources to draw on and by comparison we have zip in order to get our message across."

I would be interested to know if any readers of this blog have views on the subject.

Further thoughts on the end of the slave trade

It has been impossible to ignore the issue of the slave trade this week. It seemed that every time you switch on the radio, there is either a programme running about it, or adverts for a forthcoming programme. You open a newspaper, and the same applies. It was also the subject for the first question to all four candidates in the Copeland primary.

I thought I knew a fair amount about the slave trade and the battles which eventually resulted in its abolition, but I have found out more than a few things which were a surprise to me. Some information was new to me, some of the things I thought I knew were not so; other things I had believed were broadly right but I found on looking into them more deeply that the truth was much more complex than I had realised.

The point on which I had, until yesterday evening, been most seriously misinformed was the political allegiance of the MP and campaigner against slavery, William Wilberforce. I had read in several different newspaper articles over the past couple of years that Wilberforce was a Tory MP and up to and including yesterday I repeated this statement in good faith. On reading a contrary statement yesterday evening I checked for myself, and found that although Wilberforce was a very close personal friend of the Tory prime minister, Pitt the Younger, he was in fact an independent.

Wilberforce was the son of a very wealthy merchant, and used his father's wealth to buy the parliamentary seat in Hull for the then princely sum of £9000. How ironic that the main parliamentary campaigner for one of the two most important reforms of the early 19th century, the end of the slave trade, should himself have been the a classic example of the abuse which was ended by the other (the great voting reform bill.)

This was also a lesson to me of the truth of something else I said yesterday; I repeated the old Bruce Forsythe joke that at the top of all newspapers is the date, and this is the only thing you can be certain of in any of them. Many a true word is spoken in jest, but I had not expected the joke to be proved true so quickly!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Copeland selection result

I was re-selected this afternoon to fight the redrawn Copeland seat at the next General Election. I would like to thank all those who supported me at any stage of the process.

I'd also like to say a few positive words about the three other candidates in the primary, all of whom impressed me.

During the final stage of a parliamentary selection, the candidates spend some time in one another's company in a small room while awaiting their turn to be called to speak, or while waiting for the final reult. It's an unusual situation - in one sense you are all rivals for a position you have usually put a huge effort into trying to win, and yet you usually have many interests and values in common because they are what has led you to seek the opportunity to stand for parliament.

I have never had negative feelings about the people against whom I found myself competing for a seat, and have usually formed a very positive view of the knowledge, commitment, and ability of the other people on the Conservative candidates list whom I have met. But I was particularly impressed this afternoon with the ability and dedication of the other candidates, two of whom had also been competing for seats in other areas of the country within the past couple of days but who had still found time to do a considerable amount of research on the issues in Copeland.

I am the first Conservative in many years to have been given the opportunity to fight Copeland for more than one election - Jack Cunningham fought the seat 13 times against 13 different Conservative opponents. This means all the more to me because I was chosen in an open and transparent election against three good competitors.

I would like to wish Judith Pattinson, Thelma Matuk, and Simon Baker all the very best in finding seats to fight and in winning those constituencies. They would all make excellent members of parliament, and one day soon I hope they all will.

A Manifesto for Copeland

At 2pm this afternoon there is an "Open Primary" at Calderbridge Village hall to choose the next Conservative parliamentary candidate for Copeland.

The four possible candidates are Simon Baker, Thelma Matuk, Judith Pattinson, and myself.

So here are a few words about myself, my policies, and why I believe I would be a good candidate to fight the enlarged seat.

I lives and work in the Copeland constituency. My family use local schools, roads, and hospital services.

I fought Copeland at the 2005 general election. Both before and since that election I have campaigned for better services in the new Copeland constituency, taking up issues including NHS services, roads, and the TV digital switchover.

I have campaigned to protect local hospital services, including West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Mary Hewetson Cottage Hospital in Keswick. My contributions to the "Save Our Services" campaign to protect all our local hospitals, and the "Don't Move our Mums" campaign to stop maternity services being moved from West Cumbria to Carlisle, have been praised by the local press.

Parliamentary candidates of all parties promised at the last election to oppose the downgrading of the A595, but I was the only one who actually gave evidence at the public inquiry.

My policies for Copeland include the following.

● We must fight, fight and fight again for our local hospital services, not just to keep the three hospitals with the services they have today but to bring back the services we have lost.

● Britain needs a balanced energy policy in which a new generation of nuclear power plants has a role, and one of these plants should be in Copeland.

● However, we also need to diversify the local economy, with particular emphasis on the information-based industries of the future. To achieve this we must heavily invest in improved local skills. The new University campus at Westlakes, the new Academy, and our other schools all need support from our MP and the government.

● Copeland’s MP, Councils, and the government must work together to give more support to local business throughout the constituency.

● Where Labour has downgraded our local roads and transport links, a Conservative government must improve them.

● West Cumbria needs a government which understands and supports the countryside, instead of one which has caused havoc to rural interests with politically correct interference and incompetence, and cannot even give farmers the EU’s Single Farm Payment money on time.

● Selling off the radio spectrum after the Digital TV switchover will make hundreds of millions for the treasury. Most of Copeland is included in the first TV area to go through this and we are not getting our fair share of the money the government will make. The support scheme to help the elderly cope with Digital Switchover should be more widely available.

If selected, I will work tirelessly for a better life for residents over the whole of the enlarged Copeland constituency.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Local doctors set out hospital blueprint

I was most interested to see the blueprint set out this week by consultants at West Cumberland Hospital for the facilities they say West Cumbrian patients need for safe and adequate health services in the future.

After kicking off a "Great Debate" the Primary Care Trust (PCT) is writing a so called ‘Grand Plan’ for local health services. However, doctors at WCH say there are certain essential requirements which they are concerned must be included. Otherwise, they believe “the delivery of safe emergency care cannot be guaranteed at WCH”.

The consultants want the public to be aware of these issues ready for when the health plan goes out for yet another consultation in early June.

Prior to publication of the "Grand Plan", the consultants feel that Cumbria Primary Care Trust and North Cumbria Acute Hospitals Trust should commit themselves to:

- A core of consultants based at WCH in medicine/elderly care, surgery, orthopaedics, obstetrics/gynaecology, paediatrics, emergency department (A&E), anaesthetics, radiology/laboratory.

- Recognition that in order to attract and retain consultants in West Cumbria, routine procedures provided at WCH “must not become second best to Carlisle”.

The doctors also say that certain elements should definately NOT appear in the Grand Plan:

- Any intention to transfer emergency cases away from WCH other than those that already have to be;

- consultants based at Carlisle but covering WCH for emergency care.

The Consultants expect the new document is likely to acknowledge there must be further concentration of specialities on one site, but unless it states clearly that WCH will get its share of those they say that recruitment of adequate numbers of consultants at WCH can not be guaranteed.

Bert van Mourik, a consultant anaesthetist at WCH, said: “The current trend is for specialities with relatively small numbers of patients to be concentrated on one site. This is hard to argue against on grounds of quality, but to date, when this has happened in Cumbria, Carlisle is chosen as that site. Unless this trend is reversed and those ‘single site’ services are shared between the two sites, WCH will struggle to retain and recruit enough consultants to provide emergency care.

“The number of consultants in all those specialities must also be enough to make the level of commitment to out-of-hours work reasonable.”

The consultants want to see “an unequivocal commitment to the provision of emergency care at WCH, but more than that, the plan needs to show that the Trust is going to distribute ALL its services between the two sites in a way that ensures the future viability of WCH, even if that means patients travelling from Carlisle to Whitehaven for some elective services”.

Their views are largely based on Option B from a previous review of health services a couple of years ago. That option was to provide two acute general hospitals, both providing a full range of emergency services, including adequate intensive care facilities and full range of specialities.The conclusions of that review were that large scale transfer of acutely ill patients is unacceptable as it represents a “major inequity in the quality of care for patients at opposite ends of the area”.

Formal consultation into the new Grand Plan is expected to start in early June and last for three months. During this time staff and the public will be able to comment on the proposals.

Michael Walker, Medical Director, with the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, told the Whitehaven News that “It is vital that we can be confident that the hospital services we provide for the population of North Cumbria are not only of the highest standard but accessible, safe and sustainable. The Trust management team will continue to work with our clinicians to ensure the best possible use of both hospital sites to achieve these aims and will insure that taxpayers’ money is used to best effect in providing the sort of modern high quality services that Cumbrian residents deserve.

“In line with best practice nationally, this modernisation will mean centralisation of some highly specialised services, whilst at the same time, making sure that patients can be treated locally for emergencies and more common problems.”

I realise that the community is suffering from a serious "Consultation fatigue" having had at least five major health consultations in the past three years - indeed, I thought hte "Great Debate" consultation was still open and yet the PCT is already preparing to launch another one. However, it is incredibly important that we all take part. If we don't show that we value our local services, WE WILL LOSE THEM.

(I had originally intended to post this on my hospitals blog, but I concluded it was so important that it should go in full on this site as well. Most of the information on this post came from Gillian Ellison and the Whitehaven News)

Chris Whiteside in Swimathon 2007

I have just completed this year's Swimathon at Westminster Lodge pool.

At the time I checked the Swimathon website to decide where to do the swim this year, no pools in Cumbria appeared. I am not certain whether this was because none were taking part or because they were not listed on the website; I have since learned of other pools which only appeared on the website at a comparatively late stage.

Next year we will have to see if we can do anything to ensure that there are participating pools in Cumbria, as there have been in the past, and that they appear on the Swimathon Website in good time.

Anyway, I managed to complete the swim of 5,000 metres (150 lengths of Westminster Lodge) in one hour, fifty two minutes and thirty-five seconds. This is rather slower than the sort of time I used to take to complete the distance in my thirties but I'm reasonably happy with that time. Regardless of one's age I think one is entitled to some satisfaction at the an achievement of swimming more than three miles without a break.

Thanks to those who have already sponsored me: the first instalment of sponsorship money goes in the post to the Swimathon Foundation this morning; anyone else who would like to do so can still do so, you can contact me via a comment on this blog or can sponsor me via the Swimathon website http://www.swimathon.org/

Sunday, March 18, 2007

David Cameron on the NHS

"It used to be said that Labour were the party of the NHS. Not any more. Labour are the party that is undermining the health service.

"There's a simple reason why. It isn't that they don't care. But it is because of their values and philosophy: Labour's mania for controlling and directing things from the centre; Labour's pessimism about human nature; Labour's belief that if people aren't told what to do, they'll do the wrong thing. Labour just doesn't trust people."

Blair's "Seven Mortal Sins"

In today's Sunday Times the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham, accuses Tony Blair of personal responsibility for the collapse of trust between politicians and the public through lack of interest in ethical conduct. He accused Blair of having "failed on ethical standards."

He lists seven "mortal sins" which illustrated how the prime minister has "fallen well short of the standard he set for himself." Far from keeping his promise to be "purer than pure" Sir Alistair argues that Tony Blair has "degraded politics."

The seven mortal sins listed by Sir Alistair are

1) The "Cash for Honours" scandal, which was the result of a personal decision by Tony Blair to take secret loans, ignoring the fact that this went against the spirit of his own much trumpeted legislation

2) The Iraq war, where "the way the arguments were presented to the public undermined trust on a key issue where the lives of British soldiers were at risk."

3) The BA Fraud inquiry: Sir Alistair describes as "Shocking political interference" the government intervention to end the investigation into alleged corruption over BAE sales of arms to Saudi Arabia. This has resulted in Britain under scrutiny for possibly breaches of international anti-corruption codes.

4) Appointing an independent Whitehall figure to investigate possible breaches of the ministerial code, but failing to refer a single case to it.

5) Ignoring serious concerns about the risks to the integrity of the voting system if there are inadequate safeguards for postal voting, and consequently leaving our electoral system "open to fraud."

(Fairness compels me to add that although Sir Alistair's comments seem to me to be completely fair as a criticism of the government's policy on voting arrangements between about 2003 and the May 2006 elections, the arrangements which are now being put in place for this year's local elections do appear to be a substantial improvement and significantly less open to fraud.)

6) "Undue reliance on spin" where the same story has been repeated or recycled a number of times, e.g. announcing decisions to spend the same money several times as if it were new money.

7) Politicising the civil service and blocking a proposed act of parliament that would guarantee it's impartiality.

Sir Alistair added that

"These are seven serious allegations that can personally be made against the prime minister where he's failed on ethical standards and he has to take responsibility for that."

What can I add?

One obvious comment; when David Cameron becomes prime minister at the next election I hope that one of the first acts of the incoming Conservative government will be to resurrect and pass the act guaranteeing the impartiality of the civil service which Tony Blair blocked.

Friday, March 16, 2007

TV Digital Switchover dates announced

The exact dates when the analogue TV signals will be turned off in the Whitehaven Television area have now been announced.

The Whitehaven TV area covers most of Copeland, with the exception of areas around Lowca, St Bees, and in the south of the borough. Any terrestial TV taking it's signal from the Bigrigg transmitter or one of those parented on it such as Gosforth will be affected when the TV signal switches over from Analogue to Digital this autumn.

It has now been confirmed that BBC2 will switch over from analogue to Digital signals in the Whitehaven area on 17th October 2007. Over the following month everyone will be able to check that their digital eqipment such as set-top boxes actually works - if you can receive BBC2 after 17th October, your digital equipment is working.

The other terrestial channels will switch over to digital, and the analogue signal will be switched off, on 14th November.

From 14th November, no Television or TV equipment which is not digital capable will be able to receive or record a signal without a set-top box in the Whitehaven TV area.

If you are buying any new television equipment, and want it to work in the area after 14th November without a set-top box, make sure it has the Digital logo (the work Digital followed by a tick in a box.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Do you want to help select the next conservative candidate for Copeland?

The next conservative candidate for Copeland will be chosen by local residents at a "Primary" election at Calderbridge village hall at 2pm on Sunday, March 25th.

Anyone who is on the electoral roll for the new Copeland constituency, including the Keswick area, can come to the selection and vote, provided they have first registered with North Cumbria Conservatives office in Carlisle.

Tel: 01228 521192
Email: office@ncconservatives.com

Monday, March 12, 2007

Have you had difficulty leaving a comment ?

I gather that one or two people have had difficulty leaving comments on my West Cumbria Hospitals blog or using the email link to contact me.

If you have had any such difficulty, with that blog or this one, please drop me an email by typing the following address into your email programme -


and please start the email title with "Communications Problem"

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

80% of bets to win the next election are on the Tories ...

The latest opinion polls have been good news for David Cameron, although I am always careful never to read too much into any one individual opinion poll.

Interestingly, in recent history two predictors of who is going to win the next election which have performed better than opinion polls asking people how they personally will vote have been

1) Polls asking people which party they think will win, regardless of their own vote, and

2) Bets placed by punters on which party they think will win.

Bearing in mind that who people think will win an election is more likely to reflect what will actually happen than who they say they personally will vote for, a press release from William Hill is more good news for David Cameron's Conservatives.

Graham Sharpe of William Hill said:

"There has been no serious money for Labour to win the next General Election for months. Since Tony Blair announced he was going to stand down probably eighty per cent of the Election bets we have taken have been for the Tories."

I don't think that we Conservatives can take anything for granted. But I am more and more convinced that we have a real chance of winning - and our best chance since 1992.

CATS consultation open until Friday this week !

The CATS consultation is open for another two days: Reponses to the consultation should be submitted by 5pm on Friday 9th March.

Details are available on the internet at


and you can respond online.

They can be sent in online by visiting the above consultation website, or by post to

CATS public consultation
Room 3 Preston Business Centre
Watling Street Road
Fulwood, Preston
PR2 8DY.

If you care about the hospital services at West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven, Millom Community Hospital, or Mary Hewetson Cottage Hospital (aka Keswick Hospital), this affects you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A vote for the Lib/Dems is a vote for Gordon Brown ...

The Lib/Dems appear to be in meltdown about whether Sir Ming Campbell's speech with its "Five Tests" for Labour was really setting out the terms for the Liberals to prop up the Labour government in the event of a hung parliament.

But unless the briefing to that effect by a senior Lib/Dem official is clearly, explicitly, and convincingly denied, we can now take it that the Liberal Democrats would first attempt to reach an accomodation with Gordon Brown and the Labour party if no party has a majority at the next general election.

There are two important consequences which follow from this.

1) Lib/Dem claims to be the "real opposition" are nonsense

2) Anyone who wants to cast his or her vote for a change in government cannot rely on getting it from the Liberals.

It is now clearer than ever if you want to protest against the Labour government you can do so by voting for any other party, but if you want to remove the Labour government, your best chance of doing so is to vote Conservative.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Education Lottery

For years one of the killer criticisms which those who were unhappy with a public service could deploy was the word "lottery." If you were unhappy with geographical variation in service you would refer to a "postcode lottery." If you felt that the quality of service provision offered to different people varied substantially on an arbitraty basis, you would refer to this as a "lottery".

Last week a Labour education authority, Brighton council, agreed to introduce a real lottery to allocate scarce school places.

If any councillor or MP were mad enough to propose that we could allocate school places by auctioning them off to the children whose parents made the highest bid, that proposal would rightly be condemned on all sides as a massive injustice.

Yet how is it any better to allocate places on the random chance of an arbitrary lot, rather than the irrelevant consideration of whose parents have more money?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Time to split the Law Officers' roles

Last night the attorney general has obtained an injunction against the BBC to stop it broadcasting an item about the cash-for-honours investigation.

Even though I am inclined to believe his explanation that he was acting at the request of the police, and that he has done nothing wrong on this occasion, I cannot be the only person who is deeply uncomfortable with a judicial process which works in this way.

Essentially the attorney general, a minister appointed by Tony Blair, went to court to get an injuction to prevent the BBC reporting details of the police investigation into whether money changed hands in exchange for honours, which if true would reflect extremely badly on - Tony Blair.

I don't believe that any reasonalbe person can argue that there is neither a conflict of interest nor the appearance of a conflict of interest strong enough to bring the system into disrepute.

This country's top legal positions and the government's law officers have traditionally had multiple roles. The former position of Lord Chancellor, combined being a cabinet minister who was part of a political administration running the Executive arm of Britain's government, chaired a chamber of the Legislative arm (as chair of the House of Lords) and was head of the judiciary. I don't agree with the cack-handed way Blair and Falconer tried to scrap this centuries-old position and replace it with plans apparently drawn up on the back of an envelope, but they were not the first people to identify a problem.

Similarly the Attorney General, and Solicitor General have to combine being ministers in a party political government, to be the lawyers acting for that government, and yet sometimes also to act as referees on difficult points of law.

At most periods of recent history there has been some form of convention that these officers do not act as party politicans when certain types of issue come up. The trouble is that Tony Blair's government has trampled in the dust so many other conventions of this sort that the remaining ones do not carry the necessary credibility.

We need another look at the functioning of the law officers, to ensure that when an impartial referee is required in cases where the government itself is an interested party, that there is someone who will command universal confidence and who can take this role.