Wednesday, November 28, 2007

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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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?

Monday, November 26, 2007

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


Consultation about the future of hospitals in West, North, and East Cumbria. See separate post on my hospitals blog (link at right)


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?


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 December this year. I am sure that this will be welcome news in the Whitehaven area and North Copeland. I do not mean any criticism of the officers concerned when I say that I find it ironic that I should hear this at the other end of the district - where people have been offered no such inprovement in service.

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 attempted to organised a non-violent protest indicating their disagreement with the invitation were fully entitled to do so.

But although I disgree with Irving, Griffin, and the decision to invite them, those who went beyond peaceful protest by actively disrupting the debate at the Oxford Union this evening were acting as enemies, not friends, of Democracy. If there is one thing which the far right love even more than publicity, it is being able to pose as martyrs and defenders of free speech. They are not, and we should not play into their hands by letting them pretend to be.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

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

Friday, November 23, 2007


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.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

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-terrorism said the same thing first thing in the morning, until he was called in to see the Prime minister and persuaded to a few hours later to change his mind.

Fighting terrorism is important, but doing so at too great a cost in civil liberties does not just lose one of the things we are fighting to defend, it is counter-productive. Taking a tough line against the I.R.A. seemed like a good idea to the government and many people thirty years ago when they introduced internment. But in fact the result was that a lot of innocent people were locked up, and the anger this generated acted as a recuiting sergeant for the I.R.A. and made the problem worse.

Making it easier to lock up people who may well be innocent should only be considered when there is strong evidence that this is necessary, and it is inconceivable that such evidence could exist without the DPP being aware of it.

Unfortunately it cannot be taken for granted that the government will do the obvious thing and drop these two policies. But if that at leas thirty Labour MPs have the independence of mind which God gave the average supermarket trolley, there must be a good chance that the House of Commons will vote them down.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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 right

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.

Monday, November 19, 2007

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.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

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 might be a significant demand for devolution in either Scotland or England.

Depicted in the caroon were Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, Foreign Secretary Lord Home, and Conservative party chairman Iain MacLeod.

But apart from the political role reversal it seems quite apposite today.

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.

Friday, November 16, 2007

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 election.

Equally significant yet unnoticed by outsiders is the impact on officials who find they are as much out of the loop as ever they were in the days of Tony Blair. With their ministers sidelined, their own expertise – and sometimes months of work on new proposals – is being ignored.

Their mood has shifted markedly from the welcome they gave Mr Brown in the summer. They feel he has reneged on his promises of a return to a more open, listening government. Criticism among the permanent secretaries, Whitehall’s college of cardinals, is swelling.

“It’s nonsense to think of Brown as a principled man who wants a new constitutional settlement,” snorted one Whitehall knight. Over a light Italian lunch he revealed that there are even murmurings against the popular Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary and head of the home civil service.

“There’s a lot of anti-Gus feeling about,” he said, tucking into his veal chop. “People are saying he is too close to Brown, that he’s been seduced by the fact that he is inside the big tent. He’s not looking after other cabinet ministers and their departments. He should be telling Brown that he needs more people in the tent and that he should let them make some of the announcements.”

Some senior figures are more sympathetic to Sir Gus. “I wouldn’t have his job for the world,” confided one. “Gus knows about the bunker mentality and he’s probably doing his best to improve things but Brown is ruthless. If Gus tries to distance himself, Brown will cut him loose – he’d be completely finished.”

Which puts Sir Gus between a rock and a hard place. My lunch guest’s parting shot as he sipped the last of his wine was that Sir Gus risked being seen as just part of the ruling clique. “The danger then is that when the clique falls, he’ll go too. Especially,” he added, “when the ruling clique is not very good.”

Young pretenders

Of course, one of the things getting up the nostrils of Whitehall’s dissidents is Mr Brown’s reliance on what they call the “teenagers”: the two Eds – Balls and Miliband – plus Douglas Alexander. Whitehall has its doubts about all three.

Everyone agrees that Mr Balls has brains but they worry that he is naive about practicalities. “Ed doesn’t do delivery,” sighed one official. Mr Alexander is unpopular in part because of shortcomings in the social skills department. According to rumour control, civil servants have actually had to sit him down and tell him that he would do better if he looked people in the eye and thanked them for coming in. (The approved method for telling politicians unpleasant home truths is for a senior official to breeze in and say: “Now, minister, you’ll want some feedback on how you are doing...” )

Then there is young Mr Miliband. Not young David Miliband, the foreign secretary, aka Miliband Minor, said to be on a sharp learning curve and not that close to Mr Brown. (Perhaps because he considered standing against Mr Brown for the Labour leadership.) No, the Miliband with a pass to the bunker is Ed, his younger brother – Miliband Minimus.

He is in charge of ideas on public service reform but has not yet said whether the government should rein in the Blair agenda – diversity, choice, private sector provision – or follow it. Frustrated Whitehall officials say that until Miliband Minimus pronounces, other ministers are afraid to put their heads above the parapet lest they see black smoke signals belching from the Brown bunker.


The government seeks a motto. What about that of the late, great Sir Alec Clegg, West Riding chief education officer, who said of bad teachers – and of bad government, no doubt: “While there’s death there’s hope.”

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 at the last two Full Council meetings that Copeland Council was working with various bodies including Copeland Homes for a smooth transition to Digital TV. In response to a question from myself we were advised last week that there had been some issues with Digital service and aerials but that they were being put right. We certainly were not given the least hint that television service for as many as 164 tenant households might not be ready for switchover. If this is true, it is disgraceful.

Neither do I buy into the view that it doesn't matter that 2% of homes have chosen not to go Digital. In the majority of cases, this will mean one of two things: either

1) They are not eligible for the help scheme and cannot afford to go Digital: in this case Switchover has priced them out of the TV market.

2) They are confused by the whole business and would rather lose TV service than put themselves through the hassle of dealing with it.

It is a good thing that most residents of Copeland can finally now enjoy the extra channels to which our license fees have been contributing for years. However, this has come at a considerable price in terms of money and disruption. The fact that hundreds of residents have been left without service makes matters worse.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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 Commission a few years ago, but why has the successor commission not sorted things out?

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 UK on 0845 6 505050

If you know someone who is having trouble with the switchover, their first port of call is Digital UK on

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

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 relationships for social purposes. That’s why I can say – without daring to hijack Michael Young’s memory for my purpose – that institutions are central to the Conservative vision for the 21st century.


Let me try and prove that. Last week in Manchester I made a speech in which I launched a small institution myself: the Conservative Co-operative Movement. Co-ops offer a really positive answer to one of the great questions of public service reform – how to inject dynamism and consumer focus without losing public ethos and accountability? Co-ops can do this because they are independent but democratic public bodies. They also offer a real alternative or complement to commercial firms – food co-ops, for instance, are one great way to challenge the domination of the big supermarkets. Of course the co-op is a very old idea. But I believe that its time has come, just as it has come for a range of related ideas about the institutions of local democracy.

(The bureaucratic age)

I have described the 20th century as the ‘bureaucratic age’. With huge advances in communications and travel, it became possible to concentrate power in the central state. Wise men in Whitehall had a monopoly of both information and capability – they knew the most about what was happening, and they had the most resources at their disposal to make things change.

At the same time, our national culture emphasised conformity and knowing your place. There was a sense that top-down control was not only practical and efficient, but that it was also fair and moral.

So even after the denationalisation of the economy, the apparatus of civic and social organisation remains firmly under central control. Schools, hospitals, police forces, town councils… all are remotely controlled by central government.

(The post-bureaucratic age)

I believe that it’s time to abandon that model once and for all. It is not fair and moral, just as it is not practical and efficient, for the state to control society. And I feel confident in saying that because the culture which justified the old way has changed. Society no longer emphasises conformity and knowing your place. Instead our culture reflects the extraordinary liberation, the huge growth in the horizon, which has taken place in the way we live.

In our private lives and in business we are living in the post-bureaucratic age. It’s no longer true that the state has all the information and all the capability. Technology has done the most amazing thing: it has put the facts, and the power to use them, at the disposal of everyone. Satellite imagery used to be the preserve of governments – now anyone can get on Google Earth. In parts of America you can see online crime maps of your area, showing where crimes have been committed and what the state of the investigation is.

People don’t have to accept a top-down offer anymore: they can drive their own choices. It’s most obvious in the world of leisure and commerce. You can control so many aspects of your life – from financial services that are tailored to your needs to trainers that are customised to your tastes. You can be your own music producer, your own video shop, your own publisher, your own travel agent. I want to see a similar opening-up in our democracy. That is what I mean when I talk about the post-bureaucratic age. I want to see us move from an age of bureaucratic control to an age of democratic control.

(Democratic control)

Why? Two reasons. First, because local democratic control works, well – locally: it allows communities to tailor customised solutions to local problems, rather than having to fit into a national template.

And second – perhaps paradoxically – local control works nationally too. Diversity strengthens the country as a whole. From diversity and competition and picking up tips from each other and making mistakes and learning from them – …out of local innovation comes rising standards across the board. You might say e pluribus unum: from many, one. There are hundreds of councils in England and Wales . Imagine the social progress we could see if each of them were free to experiment, to compare their results with next door, to adapt and cherry-pick the best ideas from around the country? As my latest favourite quote from Edmund Burke has it, “the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe”.

(Our localist policies)

Let me descend from the lofty to the practical. Over the last few months we have been setting out in more detail the precise plans that we have for government. Among these are a range of policies that are aimed directly at the invigoration of local democracy – both in the town hall and beyond, in local civil society.

In education, we will allow new providers to come in to the state system – including schools run by groups of local people. We want schools to be independent, locally-accountable, free institutions – not outposts of the Department of Schools and Young People, or whatever Ed Balls’ empire is called.

In healthcare, we will abolish central targets, leaving doctors free to treat their patients according to their own clinical judgement. We will give patients greater choice over their GP and empower GPs to control more of their patients’ budgets.

We will give local private and voluntary bodies contracts to get people off welfare and into work, rather than relying on central government agencies. We will allow local people to elect the man or woman to whom their police force is accountable, making the police answer to local people rather than to the Home Secretary. We will give local communities greater power over planning and licensing decisions. And we will give local people the right to decide on what sort of local government they want. In our major cities, we will give people the choice of electing their own Mayor – a single individual with responsibility for the city. I know the Young Foundation is concerned with the issue of civic leadership and I believe that this is a real concrete step we can take in that direction.

These plans to empower local people and local institutions will be accompanied by greater powers for local government. We will introduce a radical programme of decentralisation and deregulation, to relieve councils of unfunded burdens, regulations, inspections and red tape. We will reduce the ring-fencing of money so that councils can spend their funding as they see fit. We will abolish the regional assemblies and return their powers to local councils – not to the unelected Regional Development Agencies as the Government plans to do. We will cut back the bloated inspection regime – typified by Best Value and the Comprehensive Area Assessment – which just gets in the way of councils trying to do their job. And we will look seriously at the proposal from Michael Heseltine to transfer the powers from the Government’s quangos – like the Learning and Skills Council, English Partnerships, the Housing Corporation and Regional Development Agencies – to transfer their powers to local councils too.

(Council tax)

All politicians in opposition talk about giving more power to local councils. But all governments seem to end up centralising power. I want to prove that we will be different. That we really mean it when we talk about localisation. That’s why I am announcing today a significant new element in our policy platform: the democratisation of council tax.

Since Labour came to power council tax bills have doubled – largely thanks to unfunded burdens and extra bureaucracy from central government. The new powers we will give local councils will reduce the pressure to increase council tax bills. But I don’t propose to hand over power to councils without strengthening the accountability of councillors to the people they serve.

Today, that accountability is enforced through capping – an old-fashioned idea straight out of the bureaucratic age. I want to replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability. Capping will be scrapped - and I want to allow local people themselves to have a say over local taxation.

So the next Conservative government will require councils that want to introduce high council tax rises to submit their plans to a local referendum. They must explain to local taxpayers why they want to raise taxes by so much and they must show what they would do – a shadow budget – in the event of their plans being rejected. Council tax referendum ballots would be sent out with the annual council tax bill – and if people voted against the rise, a rebate would be credited to the next year’s bill.


In the 1980s the Conservatives devolved power and responsibility to individuals – reductions in tax, sale of council houses, an extensions of share ownership. The challenge for us today is to devolve power to communities, to institutions – both to independent institutions and local councils. That’s triple devolution, if you like – individuals, local government, community organisations all receiving more trust and more power.

From state control to social responsibility. From bureaucratic accountability to democratic accountability. From government to people. That’s the direction of travel in the 21st century and that’s the way I want to take our country.”

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.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

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 are two reasons why we should always remember the sacrificies of those who died for our country.

The first is that we owe them so much, and perhaps we will value more what they fought for - for instance, democracy and the rule of law - if we remember the price in lives and treasure which our country has paid to keep those things. And secondly, if we remember the human cost of war we are likely to have fewer people killed in future ones.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

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 of Labour, there was always a missing piece.

A gaping hole, in fact, and we all sensed it, opponents and supporters of the Government alike. Mr Blair sensed it, hence the cocky grin that no upset could shift. That 2005 Conservative poster featuring a grinning Blair, “Wipe the smile off his face on May 5”, betrayed a secret pessimism among his challengers.

The truth was, and until now has remained, that no fire was lit in the Opposition's belly. Where there needed to be anger, there was irritation. Where there needed to be outrage, there was peevishness. Where there needed to be impatience for office, there was doubt about those Tories who might assume it. And where there needed to be a full-hearted certainty that Britain was being led in directions that were dangerous and wrong, there was instead a kind of grumpiness.

Grumpiness is not enough. Only fury spurs revolt. Dissatisfactions were, of course, legion. Tories were jealous of Mr Blair's charm, his ability to tune in to popular feeling; but for all their niggles they knew he had come to trespass on their legacy rather than destroy it. Maddened by spin, they half wished he were on their side of the House.

Liberal Democrats, cross that some of their ideals had leaked into new Labour's manifesto, complained about implementation; but for all their complaint they missed the familiar enemy: trade-union-style Labour. Devolution? Gay equality? Human rights? Overseas aid? The personality of new Labour in office presented few obvious targets.

And, as the years passed, and most could see that standards of public administration were slipping, that trust in the honesty of ministers was ebbing, and that there was a worrying sense of drift, still British politics lacked what alone transfigures opposition: rage.

This autumn, that changed. As David Cameron challenged Gordon Brown over the Queen's Speech this week, and as David Davis and Nick Clegg rounded on a wittering Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, the hairs on the back of my neck told me that the change is permanent and deep. Opposition has found fire. Something is lit. This is good. I do not disagree lightly with my colleague Peter Riddell, but I think his dismay (“Slow down and offer some governing alternatives” ? November 7) at what he called “electioneering overdrive” is misplaced.

The opposition leader's “look me in the eye” confrontation with the Prime Minister on Tuesday made for magnificent theatre, of course, and Peter rightly distrusts theatre. But this was more than theatre.

William Hague used to shout too. Iain Duncan Smith tried to. Michael Howard railed instinctively. Paddy Ashdown affected high indignation.

Little rang true. These men led their parties during an era when there was no wind of real anger to fill their sails. Synthetic anger is ? Peter is right ? simply tiresome.

But this week was not synthetic, and the anger that broke through can be creative for oppositions. All at once there is a real up-and-at-'em spirit on the Tory benches, and (as front-runner for the Liberal Democrat leadership) Nick Clegg too seems to have learnt to snarl.

Only Boris Johnson, in London, still needs to catch the mood. To succeed against the wily Ken Livingstone in next May's contest he must bare his teeth. As the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police teeters close to the edge, Mr Johnson's apparent disappearance is weird.

Otherwise the mood is spreading. Why? I would cite three reasons. The first is the credibility of individuals. As older figures step back, opposition personalities are emerging who look and feel like part of the future. This year in particular has been an intensive initiation. Mr Cameron looked commanding on Tuesday. There no longer seems any instinctive reason to doubt that George Osborne could replace Alistair Darling as Chancellor, or William Hague David Miliband at the Foreign Office. In Education I can imagine Michael Gove at Ed Balls's desk. And Des Browne does not strike me as obviously more believable than Liam Fox at Defence. In a hung parliament, meanwhile, it is easy to picture Nick Clegg driving home Lib Dem demands.

As important as whether we can picture these politicians in office is that they can picture themselves there. Otherwise there will be (and has been) an element of bluff in opposition attacks. But self-belief on the opposition front benches of 2007 is growing.

This leads me to the other two reasons for fire in opposition bellies. The first is the character of the Prime Minister they face. His opponents suspect they have found him out. To be at the same time bullying in manner and weak in action is a standing provocation to attack. Once one dog goes in, draws blood and lives to tell the tale, other dogs circle. The spectacle this week of the Prime Minister, badly bitten by Mr Cameron, ferreting around for documents purporting to show he thought of an idea first, was pitiful.

The final reason for fire should never be overlooked in politics: sincerity. The Government is lurching in directions that opposition politicians genuinely hate. Mr Osborne's contempt for Mr Darling's emergency Budget is palpable. Mr Davis's loathing for the identity card project and his (and Mr Clegg's) determination to block a 56-day detention-without-charge period is taking world-weary parliamentary sketchwriters by surprise. And if Mr Cameron is only pretending to despise Mr Brown, he is making a convincing job of it. Authenticity shows. Wounded by these attacks, Mr Brown's burning rage is equally real.

The House, and with it our politics, is catching fire. It's easy to conclude that big questions of principle hardly now divide mainstream parties in Britain. Differences on many issues have indeed narrowed. But there is one ? liberty ? with which the Labour Party has always had difficulty, and still does. It may be at the heart of coming battles.

I hope so. Hope, wrote Richard Sheridan in The Rivals, paints many a gaudy scene, but “let us deny its pencil colours too bright to be lasting”. I suspect that Peter Riddell thinks this week's political crayons have been of that kind. But I think this picture, though gaudy, will endure.

Four Days to go until Digital Switchover completes

The local TV trade in Copeland has been having a very stressful time as the final switchover to Digital TV on Wednesday 14th November gets ever closer.

Three weeks ago, when the analogue BBC2 signal was switched off for viewers who get their signal from the Bigrigg, Gosforth, and Eskdale transmitters, the national press descended on Whitehaven, and local TV engineers were kept very busy re-tuning TVs and set-top boxes. Shortly thereafter the press decamped but the local issues have continued.

Come Wednesday morning, everyone will have to adjust their set-top boxes and digital televisions. Analogue televisions without a set-top box will become useless except for playing previously recorded programmes.

Most residents of the affected area managed to get their set-top boxes configured without too much difficulty, but the local trade was kept very busy helping people re-tune, and a large group of set-top boxes made by a company known as Access Devices, now renamed Step 1, have caused a particular need for re-tuning.

The box which has caused the main problem, the Matsui TUTV1, and a number of similar products, had been programmed with frequency tables which the main Border transmitter at Caldbeck uses but which are quite different to those on which the Bigrigg transmitter operates.

These set-top boxes have been sold under the Matsui, Daewoo, and Ferguson brands, and because Copeland was the first area to go Digital and consequently had a huge demand for such equipment, a lot of them have found their way here.

When these boxes scan for signals, they look for the digital channels first on the frequencies used by Caldbeck. Some properties in Copeland actually can get a signal from the Caldbeck transmitter, or the Parton/Bleach Green or St Bees transmitters which send out the same signal, and in this case there is no problem. But most of us do not have line of sight to Caldbeck, so when the TUTV1 box looks on the Caldbeck frequencies for the digital channels it doesn't find anything and reports no signal.

What makes this problem worse is that it does not just affect the initial setup: this equipment checks for new channels every so often. When it does, this can have the unfortuate consequence that a set-top box which had been tuned properly can start looking for the Caldbeck frequencies again and the customer loses service until it is re-tuned.

A software patch is being prepared to be broadcast using the engineering channel, but unfortunately this is very unlikely to be available before Christmas: the most probably date for release is the first quarter of 2008. In the meantime there is a local solution which requires a second or third re-tune, and local television engineers have been kept extremely busy doing this.

When the channels change round again on Wednesday 14th, this problem will rear its head again: it is very likely that when searching for the new Digital channel locations, many Matsui, Daewoo, and Ferguson boxes will start looking for the Caldbeck signals all over again and require professional help to re-tune. I know that local telephone suppliers are expecting to be kept very busy on 14th November and the rest of the week sorting this out.


If the above applies to you, I am advised that the best way to get the extra digital channels which become available on Wednesday 14th November, including the replacements for the remaining analogue channels which are being switched off, is to use the "ADD CHANNEL" option on your box and DO NOT SELECT THE "RESCAN" OPTION.

It's annoying that this is taking so long to sort out, not least because a similar problem with the same equipment was discovered in Wales earlier this year. AS usual local people in Whitehaven and the surrounding towns and villages have been left to pick up the pieces.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Jedi Jamie does it again

The nuclear industry is critical both to West Cumbria and to our country. The case for this industry needs to be put in a positive and constructive manner. The MP for Copeland, nicknamed "Jedi Jamie" after he announced in his maiden speech that he was the first Jedi member of parliament, failed to do so this week.

The House of Commons was debating the Local Government and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sections of the Queen's speech. An MP for Kent was making a speach about the impact of a proposed bridge on his constituency. Up pops the MP for Copeland and asks whether the speaker supports new Nuclear Build, an issue due to be discussed in a later debate on another section of the Queen's speech.

Shortly afterwards, the MP for Copeland caught the speaker's eye, and made a speech himself. He appears to be under the impression that the following comment about his fellow MPs will help him persuade them of the benefits of nuclear power:

"I must say that, for the most part, I have found the understanding of nuclear issues in this House to be nothing short of pathetic — that is the most charitable word I can find."

He went on to misrepresent the position of the opposition by suggesting that the offial Conservative Party policy is anti nuclear - though he did add, rightly in my opinion, that "the majority of Conservative MPs are pro-nuclear."

Jedi Jamie did not stay to hear the answer to his points - perhaps he had gone off to lightsaber practice. But Peter Ainsworth MP, winding up the debate for the Conservatives, made the following respone

"No fewer than 12 hon. Members devoted most of their comments to the Climate Change Bill, and we heard some extremely useful contributions. The hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed), who is not in the Chamber now, struck a slightly different note in focusing on nuclear power, which raised a number of eyebrows among his hon. Friends. In the process, he also managed to misrepresent the views of Her Majesty's Opposition on the subject. No doubt we shall have a full and through discussion of the issue when we debate the energy Bill."

Five Days to go until Digital Switchover completes

Most of Copeland has already lost the BBC2 analogue signal: the remaining Terrestial TV channels will have the analogue signal switched off this coming Wednesday, 14th November.

If you live in Copeland and have lost BBC2 this affects you. You will need a set-top box for each analogue TV you wish to continue to use after 14th November. It would be a good idea not to leave it until next Wednesday to get your set-top boxes and make sure they are working.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Six Days to go until Digital Switchover completes

In less than a week, on 14th November, 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 need a set-top box for each analogue TV you wish to continue to use after 14th November. It would be a good idea not to leave it until next Wednesday to get your set-top boxes and make sure they are working.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Copeland Flood Risk Assessment

I've taken a day and a half of my annual holiday yesterday and today to attend a succession of council meetings: full council on Tuesday afternoon, an Overview and Scrutiny task group on bus passes and concessionary fares this morning, and a flood risk presentation this afternoon.

This last meeting was the presentation to councillors and officers of Copeland's new Strategic Floor Risk Assessment document (SFRA.)

Unlike most of the huge raft of documents which now form part of the planning process thanks to John Prescott, this one is actually useful. It sets out the current professional view of the areas of the Borough which are respectively effective flood plain, areas with High risk of flooding, Medium risk, and the remainder (area 1). It also lists the procedures to be followed when development in various areas are considered to look at flood risk and how you would deal with it.

I know from painful experience that flooding can appear in the most unlikely places: some six or seven years ago in my former ward of Sandridge and Jersey Farm, several large lakes suddenly appeared miles from the nearest river, flooding two or three families amongst my then constituents out of their homes and threatening another dozen properties. Basically the water table had risen above ground level.

The geology of Copeland makes this less likely to happen in Copeland but the document recognises that we need to monitor groundwater and drainage flood risk as well as those from rivers and the sea.

The Flood risk assessment is due to appear on the Copeland Borough Council website in the near future and I suggest anyone with an interest in potential developments in the council area, especially on sites anywhere near rivers or the coast, would find it worth while to read it.

ONE WEEK TO GO until Digital Switchover completes

Digital UK estimate that there are still 500 homes affected by the Digital Switchover which are not ready for the final switch-off of all remaining analogue terrestial TV services in the early hours of 14th November.

The Comet storer in Workington is staying open all night from Tuesday evening through the switchover period, so if you find you need another SCART cable, set-top box or anything else you can pop up there to get it.

Yesterday at the meeting of Copeland Council I asked about the charge for shared aerials made by Copeland Homes.

1) The Leader of the council advised that there had been a problem with this, and she referred me to a member of the Executive who sits on the board of Copeland Homes.

2) He referred me to the Chairman of the Board of Copeland homes (who is also a Copeland Councillor)

3) The Chairman explained that he was not allowed to give me an immediate answer in open council because the matter had been discussed in the confidential section of the Board meeting agenda, but suggested that any councillor who wanted a report could contact the Copeland Homes manager.

4) So the Leader said she would contact him and get back to me ...

You do have to have a sense of humour to survive being involved in politics ...

Hospital doctors speak out

More than twenty consultants working at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven have signed a letter expressing concern at the "Closer to Home" consultation document.

They raise a number of concerns which the doctors feel need to be addressed before the proposals meet clinical needs for a safe and effective service.

More details are given at the "Support West Cumbria Hospital Services" blog

( - see link at right)

or in tomorrow's Whitehaven News.

Eight Days to go until Digital Switchover completes

Most of Copeland has already lost the BBC2 analogue signal: the remaining Terrestial TV channels will have the analogue signal switched off on 14th November.

If you live in Copeland and have lost BBC2 this affects you. You will need a set-top box for each analogue TV you wish to continue to use after 14th November. It would be a good idea not to leave it until next Wednesday to get your set-top boxes and make sure they are working.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

TEN DAYS TO GO until digital switchover completes

Just ten days from now, in the early hours of 14th November, all remaining analogue signals will be turned off for terrestial TV viewers who get their signal from the Bigrigg transmitter just South of Whitehaven or the Gosforth and Eskdale transmitters.

This means that the majority of Copeland will only have digital signals. Some people in the Parton area served by the Bleach Green transmitter (including some of my Bransty ward), others served by the St Bees transmitter, and a large part of South Copeland around Millom, are not yet affected. However, like everyone else in the country, they will go digital too within the next few years.

If you are affected by this and need help, you can call DIgital UK on 0845 6 505050.

For details of the Help scheme available to many elderly and disabled people, ring 0800 5 19 20 21.

Age Concern NW Cumbria is running an advice line which you can call on 01946 68981.

Friday, November 02, 2007


I was astonished and disappointed both by the response of Sir Ian Blair to the De Menezes verdict and by the interview that the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, gave on the Today programme this morning.

Blair’s comment that “sometimes that’s what happens” was at best tactless, but his suggestion that there was no systemic failure by the Met represents, given the evidence presented in court and the verdict, quite unacceptable complacency.

And what a transformation from “Red Ken” the rebel, to whom no member of the security forces from the bobby on the beat or Private Tommy Atkins up to Chief Constables and Generals could get anything right; to “Establishment Ken” who appears willing to defend Sir Ian Blair no matter how disastrously he gets things wrong.

The Health and Safety Executive has form, in the past, for bringing ridiculous prosecutions against the Metropolitan police, as when they brought charges against Sir Ian’s predecessor after an injury sustained by an officer who was quite legitimately and necessarily pursuing a cat burglar. But the De Menezes case, where an innocent man was shot dead by armed police and the court found a serious “corporate failing” in the way the Met handled the incident, is not in the same category.

We must always consider the Stockwell tragedy in the context that it took place the day after an attempted suicide bombing and two weeks after fifty people were murdered in a successful one. Whatever the police did or did not do, there was a risk to human lives if they got it wrong, and in my book the individual who bears the largest single share of moral responsibility for the death of Jean Charles De Menezes is Mohammed Siddiq Khan.

Nevertheless, the fact that there is a real threat posed by suicide bombers makes it all the more necessary to avoid the kind of chaotic mistakes described in court by the prosecution. What makes Sir Ian Blair’s position untenable is not the fact that he was the Met Commissioner when De Menezes was shot. I have never believed that the first response to a problem in an organisation is always to sack the person at the top. However, to resolve a major issue you do sometimes have to remove people who have become an obstacle to reform. Sir Ian Blair’s ill-judged response to the verdict, and particularly his statement that there was no evidence of systematic failure by the Metropolitan Police, suggest to me that he has indeed become such an obstacle.

Ken Livingston has suggested that London will be harder to police if police officers faced with a split second decision on how to deal with an apparent terrorist threat have the additional burden of wondering how their actions might appear to a court. If individual officers had been prosecuted that would indeed have been a concern, and this very problem sometimes made it more difficult to obtain justice in Northern Ireland during the troubles.

We ask a lot of our police and soldiers, and they deserve, as individual human beings, the same presumption of innocence as every other citizen. That does not mean we can afford to place any individual, let alone the police as an organisation, above the law. Where the system fails the courts must be able to ask why.


David Cameron's approach to immigration has received praise from Trevor Phillips, the head of the new equality quango, who described it as a "turning point".

Reacting to a speech on Monday in which the Tory leader called for a "grown-up conversation" on immigration, Mr Phillips said Mr Cameron had set himself apart from an unfortunate Conservative tradition that stretched back to Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech in 1968.

"For the first time in my adult life I heard a party leader clearly attempting to deracialise the issue of immigration and to treat it like any other question of political and economic management," Mr Phillips said.

He added that this “seems to me like a turning point in our national debate about immigration – one that will make it possible for us to speak openly and sensibly about the subject, which most of the country sees as the single-most important in politics."

12 Days to go until Digital Switchover completes

Just 12 days to go until the remaining analogue TV channels are switched off for most terrestrial TV viewers in Copeland in the early hours of 14th November.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Conservative Campaign Centre has released a poster referring to the election which never was, but which might have been today. It reads


We're sorry to inform you that THE GENERAL ELECTION planned for today has been cancelled.

We apologise for the delay to the change Britain needs

The following services are affected

Abolition of Stamp Duty for nine out of ten first time buyers
Abolition of Inheritance tax for everyone except millionaires
Stopping NHS Cuts and the closure of District General Hospitals, A&E and Maternity
Teaching by ability and more discipline in schools
National Citizen Service for all school leavers
Taxing pollution, not families
Proper immigration controls and a new border police force
A vote on the European constitution
Ending the early release of prisoners

These services are now delayed until


Until then, for further announcements, visit

13 DAYS LEFT until remaining Analogue signals are turned off

All remaining terrestial TV analogue signals will be switched off on 14th November for customers served by the Bigrigg transmitters and those at Gosforth and Eskdale which rebroadcast it's signal.

This affects you if you live in Copeland and have lost BBC2: to be precise, if Borders appears in the slot where BBC2 used to be and the slot where Borders used to be produces static. In this case you now have less than two weeks to get your TVs digital ready if you don't want to lose the rest of your Television service. Don't leave it too late to act!