Showing posts from December, 2007

On British Identity

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

Proposed move of Whitehaven Fire Station to be dropped?

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

Proposals to extend detention without trial run into trouble

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

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

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

Wishing you a very happy Christmas

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

Chemists' Rota in Copeland over the holiday

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

The daftest statistics of 2007

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

The tyranny of misleading averages

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

Chief Constable's snub to Home Secretary

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

Academy school site finally chosen

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

BBC1 censors Christmas Classic

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

The things they say: Kennedy on Cable

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

Another argument to keep Border TV

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

Take care on the roads in West Cumbria today

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

NHS Public meetings - 14 and 21 January

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

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

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

Brown plays McCavity once too often

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

Guest Column - We Need A Vote

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

A hammer blow for Whitehaven

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

Copeland Council Report Back

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

Local hospital meetings may be postponed

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

Dates for NHS proposal public meetings

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

Gillian Gibbons released

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

Bryan Appleyard on Science Fiction

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

Petion for missing TV channels

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