Monday, July 30, 2007

A dreadful proposal is rejected

I am pleased to hear confirmation that the terrible proposal for a single Unitary Authority for the whole of Cumbria will not go ahead. The area is far too large, diverse, and poorly serviced by communications links for it to work.

I greatly regret the amount of Taxpayer's money which has been spent proposing or opposing this dreadful idea. This has been a preposterous waste of public resources, which would have been better spent on improving services.

Monday, July 23, 2007

We need concerted action on flooding

Even before this week's floods I had raised the issue of flood protection and drainage in the council chamber at Copeland and the disastrous events of the last few days only serve to re-emphasise the point.

I strongly support the call by David Cameron for an immediate inquiry into the widespread flooding, and also his comments urging improved concerted action from the Government to combat the crisis.

After visiting flood victims in his own Witney constituency, David stressed the need for a better strategic response from Whitehall, plus a new advanced planning and protection system for vulnerable areas. As heavy rainfall continued to threaten central and western areas of England, and wider flooding alerts went out in the Thames and Severn valleys, Mr Cameron declared:

"We need concerted action from the Government, we need to look at how they deal with floods, and also the co-ordination of the emergency response." He stated: "We have pushed the Government for an inquiry, and we are glad that they are now having one. The important thing is that it must be comprehensive and fast."

And Mr Cameron added: "We also need to look at the issue of hardship funds. There will be some people who are not insured and will have lost furniture and possessions. Of course people should have insurance, but many don't and may be left with nothing and a hardship fund is one way of helping these people."

One further point is that it is time for a complete rething on all the promises which have been made about housebuilding, because a third of the proposed new housing the government has been recommending are to be sited in floodplains. I think it is time for a presumption against any application to build houses in a floodplain similar to the one we currently have against building in the Green Belt. And overall housing numbers and projected need should be reconsidered on the basis that most of the housing numbers currently assumed to be built in floodplains will have to go elsewhere.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Loans for Peerages

When the fuss over the "Loans for Peerages" police investigation has been given a chance to subside, tempers have cooled, and it is possible to discuss it without the appearance of political points being scored, both the issue itself and the issues arising out of the police investigation will need further investigation.

Even though the CPS has decided not to bring charges, the whole affair has shown the funding of most political parties in an unflattering light. We need much clearer and more transparent rules about where parties get their money from. David Cameron's proposals are a good start.

And second, we need to look at how the police and CPS can investigate allegations of improper behaviour in the higher reaches of government without allegations of either witch-hunts or cover-up. The war of spin which appears to have taken place between the government spin machine and the police has brought the law, as well as politics, into disrepute. We need to find a better way of dealing with this. Perhaps even an analogue of the U.S. system of special prosecutors.

My Contact Details

I was concerned to see a comment left two days ago on one of my earlier posts from someone who said they were waiting for me to contact them about a planning issue.

I have been double checking my email messages, Voicemail, and then searching the house for any notes of telephone messages or "snail mail" letters which might have gone missing.

I wish to respond promptly to any resident of the Copeland constituency who wants to contact me about a local or personal issue. If anyone reading this has tried to contact me and not heard back, please try again.

The best email address to use for me is

My telephone number is available on Directory Inquiries, and my address and phone number are available at the Copeland Council website.

Unfortunately I recieve literally hundreds of messages every week from fraudsters, hackers sending messages which might disrupt or steal personal data from my computer, pornographers, and people who are trying to sell me worthless or unwanted products such as bogus degrees, bogus lottery win notifications, body modifications, medicines, or jobs on the other side of the Atlantic. Consequently I am forced to use SPAM filter software to separate the genuine messages from the tidal wave of rubbish. Occasionally it catches genuine messages.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Politics of Envy

Last week the Leader of Copeland Council, Cllr. Elaine Woodburn, made comments in public about the pay rise awarded to nuclear industry workers - e.g. about 24% of the working population of the area she is paid to represent - which were foolish beyond belief.

At a meeting on nuclear issues she criticised their 4.85% pay rise as too high and repeatedly used the word "obscene".

Regardless of the merits of the case, this is political stupidity of an extreme order. Apart from seriously annoying 10,000 workers and their families, what will this achieve? The Britisn Nuclear Group can hardly cancel the rise they have agreed to pay, and these comments will merely lower the respect in which local politicians and the council are held.

Even in terms of the issue which motivated these remarks - concern for the rest of the local working population, most of whom have not had as large a rise (if any at all) - such comments are not helpful. Since most of the money paid to Sellafield workers will be spent locally and go back into the economy of West Cumbria, the knock-on effect of their pay rise will be more money received by other local industries, which means more jobs, better job security, or better prospects for future pay rises for the rest of the community. Cutting back the pay rises for nuclear industry employees would not help other workers in Copeland.

New Labour have dropped their vendetta against the seriously rich - especially those who lend lots of money to the Labour party - but they have never stopped attacking the people in the middle. When Labour is not imposing stealth tax rises on hard working middle income families, they are stirring up jealousy against them with this kind of mean-spirited and petty comment.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Whitehaven Police Area Consultative Forum

I attended the above meeting this evening.

Two main things came out of the discussion.

1) There was a vast amount of debate and local concern about traffic and parking issues in Whitehaven. I have added a number of comments about parking enforcement to those I took away from the Bransty and Harbour Neighbourgood Forum at the beginning of the month to feed to the councillors who are conducting a review of enforecement.

There was also some concern about whether the current pattern of double and single yellow lines make sense.

2) The record of Cumbria Constabulary at the moment is one of the best in the country, especially in relation to the clear up rate for crimes. Violent crime figures are down 13% in the West Cumbria police area: Burglary and Anti-Social behaviour figures are also down. ONly thefts of ehicles is rising.

I'd be interested in any feedback from readers of this blog as to whether this matches your experience. Even if the overall figures are right this will be scant comfort to those who have been victims ofcrime.

However, the figures were described by the chairman of the meeting as indicating that Cumrbia Constabulary is "the most efficient police force in the country."

Which raises an interesting question: a couple of years the government was trying to force Cumbria Constabulary to merge with Lancashire police because they thought it was too small to be efficient. (And wasted a fortune of taxpayers' money in the attempt.) Now their own figures suggest that far from being too small to be efficient, it is the most effective and successful force in the country. Just goes to show that trying to lay down what will work in Cumbria based on "one size fits all" policies imposed from Whitehall does not work.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Opinion Polls

There has been much exitement in the Blogosphere about opinion polls out tomorrow that supposedly show Labour with a 7% lead. It appears that these "two" polls are actually different presentations of the same polling data.

There are two equal and opposite mistake that people interested in politics can make with opinion polls.

One mistake is to assume that, when poll after poll gives the same message, they're all wrong if it's not what you want to hear.

The opposite error is to panic - or be too pleased - as a result of a single poll. Some polls are incompetently run, or slanted, or happen to get wrong results - even if polls are perfectly conducted one in twenty will produce results outside the margin of error, which means quite a way off.

Let's be clear about what this means. All polls have a margin of error. For a voting intention survey with a sample size of a thousand voters, what statisticians call the 95% confidence limit is about 3 percentage points for each party. And what that means is that there are 19 chances in 20 that the true figure is within 3 percentage points of what the survey shows.

So, for example, if supposing we had a perfectly conducted poll which shows Labour on 38%, Conservatives on 34%, and the Lib/Dems on 20%, then nineteen times out of 20,

Labour support will actually be between 35% and 41%
Conservative support will actually be between 31% and 37%
Lib/Dem support will actually be between 17% and 23%.

In this case, the higher Conservative vote share is above the lower Labour vote share. The range of real support consistent with our hypothetical poll is from a 10% Labour lead to a 2% Tory one.

In other words, leads of up to 6% are within the statistical margin of error for a single poll with a sample of about 1,000 voters. And one poll in 20 will be even less accurate. So if one poll produces results which are very different from all the others, it is almost certainly a rogue.

But this does not mean that it is wise to ignore all opinion polls.

Most pollsters are not incompetent, most of them try to learn from their mistakes, and most of them get it more or less right most of the time. So if a whole string of polls suggest that someone's position has improved or got worse, it probably has.

Hence this poll showing Brown 7% ahead is not good news for the Conservatives, and if we get a whole series of polls like that it will indicate that he is getting a honeymoon with the votesr.

But it is much, much too early for Conservatives to panic or Labour people to assume they are coasting to a fourth term.

The next election is not going to be a walkover for either side. It never was. And there is still everything to play for.

Building more homes

I have been following with interest the promises by Gordon Brown to dramatically increase the number of houses built. The problem is that he does not show any signs of appreciating that the government's own policies, and misunderstanding about why we have a housing shortage, have made the housing shortage worse in many parts of the country - and that they are trying to put housing in the wrong places.

In some areas, such as Cumbria, it is direct government restrictions which are preventing new homes from being built. The North West region Government office in Manchester has imposed a cap of 1,200 new housing units per year to be built in the whole of Cumbria

For years, Brown and people influenced by him - including John Prescott, whose housing policies were largely driven by the Treasury - have been acting as if the biggest cause of the shortage of houses were NIMBY councils in the South East being slow to grant planning permission.

I would never pretend that NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) pressures on councillors are not sometimes a problem. I have seen councillors of all parties - but especially Liberal Democrats - refuse housing proposals on totally inadequate grounds to court cheap popularity, and I have come under heavy flak myself once or twice for approving housing schemes on brownfield sites in town or city centres which I believe were desperately needed.

However you need only to look at where the houses are and are not being built to realise that this is not the main problem. Councils in rural parts of the South East, in the areas which the government would have you believe that NIMBY residents and councillors are the problem, are approving nearly as many new homes as they were passing when housebuilding was at record levels in the 90s. It is the midlands and the north where housebuilding has collapsed and this is the direct result of government policies to force the housing into the South East.

And the government has been proposing to put a third of the houses they are planning in flood plains. Surely the events of a few weeks ago, following on from the 2005 floods, should have made us realise that it is time for a rethink on this. But if such a rethink was in progress, the Prime Minister should be perfectly aware that he would not be in a position to made sweeping promises to deliver vast numbers of new homes.

Sadly it appears that the era of spin and of meaningless government promises is not over: ony the tone is different.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nuclear Power

I see that the new P.M. has been making a whole series of policy statements, most of which are recapitulations of things that the Labour government has been saying for ten years.

The tone of his answer to Jamie Reed at Prime Minister's Questions on the subject of Nuclear Power has been interpreted in some quarters as indicating that Brown is less committed to Nuclear Power than Blair was. Certainly, considering that he was replying to a "question" in which Jamie Reed had thanked him for his "unequivocal support of the industry," I would not use the word "unequivocal" to describe Brown's response.

I hope those who infer from this that Brown is less committed to nuclear power are wrong, because I am convinced that the country will not meet our carbon targets without a new generation of nuclear plants forming part of a balanced energy strategy.

However, there is another possible explanation for the guarded tone of the P.M.s remarks. It is quite possible that he does not want to give the Anti-Nuclear lobby more opportunities to hit the government with a judicial review based on the claim that the government are pre-judging the decision-making process.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Digital switchover - pennies start to drop

Surveys show that only a minority of households in Whitehaven think they are ready for the Digital TV swithcover, which starts here on 17 October when the BBC2 analogue signal is switched off, and finishes when the other channels follow suit a month later.

Actually that may be a good sign - it indicates that a lot of people are aware they have to do something if they want to continue watching television and that they have not done it yet. If 100% of households said they were ready it would probably mean that a lot of them were in for a nasty shock.

On the principle that "there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" I won't name the very large retailer whose Whitehaven branch has finally cottoned on that Digital Switchover is about to hit.

Let's just say that it's an organision who really ought to have known better than to have been blithely selling expensive analogue TVs until a few days ago with no indication that they wouldn't work here without a set top box in four month's time. However, when I went round this evening, the shelves which had recently contained a display of HDD ready, but not digital ready, televisions was now full of Digital TVs and signs with plenty of good information from Digital UK about the switchover. We do make some progress.

There is an old saying that nothing should ever be done for the first time, and there are bound to be teething problems with the switchover. I still think that the government help scheme has been made available to to narrow a range of people.

The golden rules remain

1) Don't spend any money on preparation for Digital Switchover without getting at least two quotes. Some local TV firms provide excellent value, but some people charge more than others

2) If in doubt, don't spend any money without seeking advice from someone who really knows what they're talking about

3) If your analogue TV gets an excellent signal with your existing aerial, you probably don't need to change your aerial to get Digital TV.

4) Don't buy any TV equipment that doesn't have the "Digital Ready" mark unless you are quite certain that it will still be a bargain when you've spent another £30 on a digital set-top box to go with it, and that it will work with that set-top box.

5) If you live in Copeland, don't buy any digital TV recorder which has a 14 day (rather than 7 day) programme guide. There is no definitive list, but a number of models with the 14 day guide will not work here after switchover.


I notice that in the past few days my spam filters have blocked a number of e-cards. Usually the message header says something like "You've received an ecard from a friend."

I don't usually even see such messages: the spam filters stop most of them. But I only open those I do see if I know exactly who a message is from. Otherwise I have to assume that they are part of the huge tide of unsolicited and worthless email sent to me every day, along with the adverts for non-existent jobs, non-existent loans, dates, drugs, software, body modifications, etc. I also have to assume that opening them would risk infecting my computer with a virus.

So in the unlikely event that anyone I actually know has sent me a real ecard and is wondering why I have not replied, apologies but I probably have not even seen it.

Should anyone wish to send me a real ecard, please make sure that the message says who it is from, or that I know it is coming and can identify it.

And if you are receiving ecards, check carefully before you open them!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Book Review - Chronicles of a Desperate Dad

I have been reading the book "Chronicles of a Desperate Dad" by Mark Richards, a book about fatherhood in the form of a series of short articles most of which originally appeared in the "Hartlepool Mail".

And falling about laughing as I recognise again and again the travails of modern parenthood. Or indeed, parenthood in general.

It's not difficult to identify some aspects of our lives in which my generation has it much easier than our own parents, and other aspects, such as the fact that it's much harder to impose any form of discipline in a society which can't tell the difference between discipline and child cruelty, in which we have a much more challenging task. But in many ways the joys and pains of being a parent are pretty much the same.

The biggest single regret of my life is that both my parents died before I became a father. Partly I regret it for them: my mum and dad both very much wanted to be grandparents. As my mum said, "you can spoil your grandchildren in a way you can't spoil your children". Partly I regret it for my children, who missed out on having two more grandparents to spoil them. And partly it's for myself: there are days when I so much wish I could go to my Mum and Dad, give them a hug, and say something like "I understand what I put you through now: thank you for not killing me."

Mark Richards also lost his dad before his children came along: I particularly empathise with the section of the book where he says that his dad

"would have loved the children. What he would have loved even more was hearing me confess, 'Well Dad, you were right on that one as well ...' "

I have got into the habit of both buying and selling books through the Amazon marketplace, and ordered a secondhand copy of this book from that source. Obviously the previous owner of the book was also a proud parent: it has stains on the side which I suspect come from a small person spilling chocolate milkshake on it, or something of the sort. I should add however that I knew perfectly well that I was buying a used book, paid an appropriate price, and was quite happy to get something readable. And it seems somehow appropriate that a book on this subject should bear the ravages which come from co-existing in a hosuehold with small children.

If you are an exhausted dad (or mum) and want to see the funny side of dealing with children, I can recommend this book. If you are thinking of becoming a parent, I can recommend it as an indication of what you will be letting yourself in for - if many people read it for that purpose Mark Richards may be awarded a "saving the planet" prize by the greens for singlehandedly bringing about a drop in the birth rate.

But if you are currently expecting your first child, do not under any circumstances read this book. Instead, try to get as much sleep as possible before the baby arrives. You will need it.

Jamie Murray and partner win Mixed Doubles at Wimbledon

I am trying to remember how many times in my lifetime anyone British has won a title at Wimbledon. Apparently Jeremy Bates and Jo Durie won the mixed doubles in 1987. Some dim recess of memory tells me that about ten years before that, the British No 1 Mens tennis player was a nice chap called John Lloyd who was married to the then Ladies world number 1, Chris Evert, and they won the Wimbledon mixed doubles together.

I also seem to recall that the previous occasion anyone British won a Wimbledon title, quite a few years before that, was when Virgina Wade won a doubles title towards the end of the era when it wasn't unusual for any Brits to survive the second round.

My parents, who met on the tennis court, could probably have given chapter and verse but sadly they are not around to ask.

Congratulations to Jamie and his partner Jelena Jankovic on their win: I hope it won't be another 20 years before we can celebrate another home championshop at Wimbledon.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Matthew Paris on Terrorism in the Times today

Matthew Paris wrote a very convincing article in today's Times - the title was

"Evil plotters? More like sad and crackpot"

He makes a very convincing argument that the worst mistake we can make in our response to terrorist atacks is to glamorise the people responsible or present those who have tried to attack our society as evil geniuses.

Yes, we need to be alert and avoid handing these people any easy wins. They do have one characteristic which makes them more dangerous than some of the opponents we have faced in the past - a willingness to undertake attacks which the perpetrator has no chance of escaping. But at the same time, why make out that all these people are brilliant when some of them are really rather silly? When doctors of engineering and medicine fill a jeep with petrol and gas and crash it into a thick concrete barrier in an apparent attempt to set fire to it, perhaps instead of getting angry or frightened we should ask how these berks managed to obtain their qualifications.

Now I know that the USAF has very sophisticated and powerful "fuel air" bombs which aim to mix flammable substances into the atmosphere in exactly the right ratio of oxygen to fuel to cause an enormous bang when the mix is ignited. I also know that arranging for that mix is easier said than done. Unlike the gentleman who allegedly drove the jeep at Glasgow Airport, I don't have a doctorate in fluid hydrodynamics, but if you'd asked most reasonably intelligent people what would happen when a jeep full of petrol and gas cylinders was driven into a substantial concrete barrier, I think they would predict that this attack would not be sophisticated enough to cause a fuel-air explosion and the jeep would merely be burnt to a shell. Most of us do know that concrete doesn't burn. If a guy with a doctorate in fluid hydrodynamics thought this attack had a chance of success, does that mean that we ought to be worried, or just that he is completely off his head?

To quote selectively from Matthew's article (I'm leaving quite a bit out but I'm not changing the meaning)

"Yes, silly. Not "evil." - Take care ... with that word "evil". Evil is cool. Evil sells DVDs and airort thrillers.

We're not talking anything as clever as Evil here: we're talking Weird, we're talking Crackpot, we're talking Sad.

Islamist plotters, thought hugely dangerous as any fool can be dangerous, don't seem to be anything like as clever as the media keep telling us."

Matthew has a point. Again, there is a threat from the terrorists and we must be vigilant. Every person they kill is one too many. But don't let anyone tell you that they are vastly more dangerous than other threats which our society has faced down and surmounted. The reverse is the case.

Any rational person who compares the threat posed by Bin Laden and his acolytes and imitators with Nazi Germany or the Cold-War era Soviet Union is likely to conclude that the latter two were much more serious. And we should think carefully before enacting any draconian measures which were not needed to defeat the Nazis or the KGB.

Whitehaven Carnival

I attended the superb carnival in Whitehaven town centre today with my family. It was a really excellent event and the most enormous credit is due to the Whitehaven Lions and other groups involved with the organisation and to everyone who took part. I cannot imagine how many thousands of hours of effort must have been put in to prepare the costumes of the hundreds of participants in the procession.

Friday, July 06, 2007

New Shadow Cabinet

David Cameron's new front bench team is as follows. People named in bold attend meetings of the Shadow cabinet.

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform
Alan Duncan
Frontbench team: Mark Prisk, Jonathan Djanogly, Charles Hendry

Cabinet Office
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Francis Maude
Frontbench team: Greg Clark

Children, Schools and Families
Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
Michael Gove
Frontbench team: Nick Gibb, Maria Miller, Tim Loughton

Communities and Local Government
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government
Eric Pickles
Frontbench team: Grant Shapps, Alistair Burt, Paul Goodman, Bob Neil, Jacqui Lait

Culture, Media & Sport
Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Jeremy Hunt
Frontbench team: Hugh Robertson, Ed Vaizey, Tobias Ellwood

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Liam Fox
Frontbench team: Andrew Murrison, Gerald Howarth, Dr Julian Lewis

Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Peter Ainsworth
Frontbench team: James Paice, Greg Barker, Bill Wiggin, Ann McIntosh

Foreign Affairs
Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
William Hague
Frontbench team:
David Liddington, Mark Francois, Keith Simpson

Shadow Secretary of State for Health
Andrew Lansley
Frontbench team: Mark Simmonds, Stephen O'Brien, Ann Milton, Mike Penning

Home Affairs
Shadow Home Secretary
David Davis
Frontbench team: David Ruffley, Damian Green, James Brokenshire, Andrew Rosindell

Law Officers
Shadow Attorney General
Dominic Grieve
Shadow Solicitor General
Jonathan Djanogly

Innovation, Universities and Skills
Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills
David Willetts
Frontbench team: Boris Johnson, John Hayes, Adam Afriyie

International Development
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Andrew Mitchell
Frontbench team: Mark Lancaster, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice & Lord Chancellor
Nick Herbert
Frontbench team: Henry Bellingham, Edward Garnier, David Burrowes, Eleanor Laing

Northern Ireland
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Owen Paterson
Frontbench team: Laurence Robertson

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
Theresa May
Frontbench team: Shailesh Vara

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
David Mundell
Frontbench team: Ben Wallace

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
Theresa Villiers
Frontbench team: Julian Brazier, Stephen Hammond, Robert Goodwill

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
George Osborne
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Philip Hammond
Frontbench team: David Gauke, Mark Hoban, Justine Greening

Work & Pensions
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Chris Grayling
Frontbench team: Nigel Waterson, Mark Harper, James Clappison, Andrew Selous

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
Cheryl Gillan
Frontbench team: David Jones

Chief Whip
Patrick McLoughlin
Deputy Chief Whip
Andrew Robathan
Assistant Chief Whip
John Randall
Whips: Simon Burns, Michael Fabricant, Angela Watkinson, Crispin Blunt, David Evennett,
John Baron, Brooks Newmark, Richard Benyon, Stewart Jackson, Jeremy Wright, Nick Hurd

Chairman of the Conservative Party
Caroline Spelman
Chairman of the Policy Review and Chairman of the Conservative Research Department
Oliver Letwin

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Bus Stop Nonsense

If you want a clear example of the was that the smoking ban has produced ridiculous contortions in the bureaucratic mind, the disappearing and reappearing windows of Bus stops in the south of Copeland last week would have provided it.

As my colleagues Ray Cole, Alan Jacob, and David Moore explained at a meeting of Copeland Council yesterday, workmen appeared at bus stops in Millom, Gosforth, and Seascale owned by the council and removed approximately half the window panes, leaving people in these shelters vulnerable to the wind and, when it is both windy and raining (a common coincidence in West Cumbria) to the rain.

When my colleagues, who represent these areas on the council, asked what was going on they were advised that the window panes were being removed to take the bus shelters outside the smoking legislation. If a space is less than 50% enclosed it is not covered by the ban.

The idea of making users of the bus service more vulnerable to wind and rain so that people could also smoke in the bus shelters went down like a lead balloon with my colleagues, who complained furiously, and suggested that "No Smoking" signs in the bus shelters. The council did a welcome U-turn and put the windows back.

The inference is that whoever ordered the removal of the window panels did not feel that the council could enforce the smoking ban in bus shelters, although the Executive Member responsible disavowed that view in the council chamber.

My colleagues asked how much this ridiculous farce has cost the taxpayer: the information was not immediately available and we await a written reply with interest.

The saga of the bus stop windows was the first of two rather ludicrous displays at the meeting: the second concerned the latest code of conduct for councillors which the government has asked all councils to vote on but will impose on any who refuse to adopt it. This code was adopted yesterday, without any dissenting votes: but if the order of the agenda had been changed so that the following item on nuclear sites had come first I suspect there might have been some.

The new code requires all councillors to declare and explain the nature of any interest they have in any item before the council. The requirement to declare an interest is a good thing, and is not new. However, the definition of an interest which one is required to declare has been getting steadily wider. The consequences were shown at the very next item when we had to go round the chamber in turn so that almost every single councillor could declare an interest.

The agenda item after the code of conduct concerned nuclear sites. And well over 24% of the working population of Copeland works for the nuclear industry.

So of course, and quite reasonably, everyone who works at Sellafield or for any other part of the nuclear industry had to declare it. That was about six or seven councillors. Everyone with a close relative who works there had to declare the fact: that was about another dozen. Most people would probably agree with that rule. But the definition of an interest has now been broadened sufficiently that we were advised that anyone with a friend who works at Sellafield had to declare it. In a community like Copeland that meant everyone else.

Even for a councillor employed by the nuclear industry, unles he or she were directly working on the issues under discussion by the council, these interests would not be "prejudicial" which means that the councillors were still able to speak and vote on the item. If these interests had been prejudicial we would have had to all apply for an exemption on the grounds that there would otherwise have been nobody left who was entitled to vote.

The same issue would arise in any other local authority representing an area where the local economy is completely dominated by one particular industry, when that industry is discussed in the council chamber.

So we spent five minutes going round the room in sequence so that everybody could declare a personal interest, and thinking to ourselves, "isn't there a better way of organising this?"

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

British Muslims condemn terrorist attacks

The Muslim Council of Britain has condemned the terrorist attacks over the last week, and added that it is the duty of all muslims to co-operate with the police. Other Islamic organisations have condemned terrorism and organised events to make clear that the people who tried to explode car bombs in London and Glasgow do not have the support of the Muslim Community.

I hope that before long the fact that most Muslims do not support terrorism will be seen as too obvious to be worth mentioning. But up to a year or so ago, terrorist attacks by people claiming to act in the name of Islam were often followed by calls to the British Muslim community to condemn the attacks and make clear that they did not have the support of mainstream Islam.

Credit where credit is due: those calls have been acted on.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Who said this ?

I am grateful to a poster called Rob P on Conservative Home for reminding us of the following trenchant criticisms of the then Chancellor Gordon Brown, made two years ago during the debate on the 2005 budget.

Read it first, and then see if you can work out who said this.

"One thing can be said about the Budget with absolute certainty and conviction. It is not a prudent Budget, and it is not the work of a prudent man.


It was clear from the statistics given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition that this is not the first time that the Chancellor has been losing control.


Instead of reflecting, as a sober, responsible and prudent Chancellor would do, on the way in which these favourable outcomes have been achieved, on the risks attached to the policies that have been pursued, on the potential threats to those policies continuing to be successful and on whatever changes might be required—that is the sort of sensible and sophisticated discussion we ought to have in the House on these occasions—the Chancellor went in for an orgy of self-congratulation. I do not believe that people who do that can ever be described as prudent. They may or may not succeed in deceiving other people, but they are clearly running a considerable risk of deceiving themselves. Once someone has deceived himself into a state of complacency about the world, he is not prudent and responsible, and not a person to be entrusted with the management of anybody's finances, let alone the country's finances.

That was an unattractive and frankly problematic attitude adopted by the Chancellor. He is not a Chancellor who has not made any mistakes. One might have thought that, for a second's genuflection in the direction of modesty and humility, he might have referred to an absolutely devastating misjudgment and mistake—the destruction of our pensions system. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and many others have used similar words in different places, including in the media, when speaking about this matter. The words I will use are cautious, sober and not in any way exaggerated.

In 1997 we had a pensions system in this country, including very substantial defined benefit pension funds in the private and public sectors, that was the envy of the world. It was the envy of the whole of the European Union, except for the Netherlands, which had a similar system to ours and has managed to preserve it. In eight short years, the system has been completely destroyed


That has been destroyed by a devastating mistake. I do not suppose that the Chancellor wanted to destroy that. He was just incredibly imprudent. He thought that the rise in the stock market would go on for ever. He said at the time that he would get away with it because the stock market kept on rising. After about two weeks, he said that that rise had compensated for the damage that he had done by reducing the return to pension funds over that period.
What an extraordinarily incompetent thing to say. What an extraordinarily naive thing to think. What a desperately complacent attitude towards something that is fundamental to the sense of security and well-being of millions of families. The Chancellor needs to be on the Front Bench when someone talks about pensions and to tell the country himself what he really thinks about that now. Was it really so clever to introduce that pensions tax eight years ago? If not, I look forward to hearing an apology in the House. Nothing less will do.


As a result of that self-congratulation and complacency, the Chancellor is becoming so cut off that he is beginning to underestimate the intelligence of the electorate. When politicians underestimate the intelligence of the electorate in a democracy worthy of the name, something nasty happens to them. I trust and believe that something nasty will happen to the Chancellor in electoral terms before too long. He will have no one but himself to blame.

Worked out who said this yet ?

Yes, it was Quentin Davies, MP for Grantham and Stamford, on 16th March 2005.

Thoughts on the Smoking Ban

Last night (Saturday 30th June) I was presiding at a private dinner, at a privately owned venue. The people who had served the meal had withdrawn, and the doors had been closed, so the justification for the legislation - that employees might be affected by secondary smoking - did not apply. Nevertheless, from the following evening onwards event would have been caught by the new ban on smoking.

So after the toast to the Queen, I said to the people present that, although I do not smoke myself and do not normally encourage others to do so, I thought it would be very churlish to deprive those members present who do smoke of their last opportunity to do so legally.

Several people said to me afterwards that they appreciated the gesture - one or two felt very strongly that it is no business of the government to tell members of private clubs what they should do in private.

I support the principle that those who want to breathe clean air should be able to do so but that those who smoke in private, or indeed in public places where cigarette smoke is not thereby imposed on people who are required to be there, should be able to make that decision.

The problem with this act is that the practical implementation of it, which sometimes goes way beyond what the legislation actually says, (as where some councils have banned smoking in parks), sometimes goes beyong enabling those of us who want to breathe clean air to do so, and can come close to vindictive harrassment of smokers.

At the rate we are going, with eased restrictions on soft drugs and increased restrictions on smoking, it will not be long before cigarette smoking is treated more severely than drug abuse.