Showing posts from July, 2008

Decoding David Milliband's article

Andrew Pierce in the telegraph has an excellent piece on how what David Milliband wrote in the Guardian compares with what he really meant. You can read the full article at: 2474172/What-David-Miliband-really-meant-about-Gordon--brown.html Key highlights: He wrote: "The odds are against us no question. But I still believe we can win the next election." He means: "We are doomed under Brown as no modern leader has recovered from such poor poll ratings. But they can prevail if they change leader." He wrote: "We must be more humble about our shortcomings but more compelling about our achievements." He means: "We have to stop taking the credit for the economic boom of the last decade while blaming the global slowdown for the sharp economic downturn." He wrote: "With hindsight, we should have got on with reforming the NHS sooner." He means: "It's Brown's fault because as Chance

Last week for Whitehaven Town Council consultation

The consultation on whether Whitehaven should have a Town council finishes on Friday. Copies of the voting form are available from the foyer at the Copeland council offices at the Copeland Centre in Catherine Street. You can respond by handing in the form or a letter with your views to the elections office at the Copeland Centre or by email to by Friday. There is no formal Conservative line on this, and if the consultation shows a strong public view in either direction I am sure we will respect the public wishes. However, I am returning my form to vote against the creation of a Town Council. There are two legitimate arguments which have been raised by supporters of parishing, both of which should in my opinion be addressed but it can be done as effectively and more cheaply without the costs of another tier of government. In my opinion the democratic benefits of giving Whitehaven a voice can be met just as effectively by having the councillors who ar

Take innocent people out of the DNA database

People who are not charged, or who are found "not guilty" in court, should have their profiles deleted from the National DNA Database, an inquiry funded by the Government has said. Guilty people whose sentences have beem completed and whose convictions are "spent" should also eventually have their DNA records erased because retaining the profile "continues to criminalise them", the study concluded. The "citizen's inquiry" overseen by the Human Genetics Commission urged ministers to take control of the database away from the police and the Home Office, by setting up an independent body to own and control the information. This follows on from very powerful arguments put by Genewatch UK along similar lines (see earlier post) which shredded the arguments for holding the DNA of innocent people advanced by the Prime Minister and others. I agree with the first point made by the panel: the arguments that holding DNA profiles from those who have not b

Trade Disaster

There will be some people, most of whom are either anti-globalisation fanatics or unduly influenced by them, who are under the mistaken impression that the collapse of the Doha round of trade talks is good news for the third world. Those people are wrong. There may be some individuals and industries who benefit in the short term from so called "Protection" but the lost opporunity to lower trade barriers, especially at a time of world recession from which easier trade might have provided a faster release, is a disaster for the majority in rich and poor countries alike. One of the most important things we can do to help poor countries is to avoid putting up artificial trade barriers against their goods, so that where they are producing a good product at a fair price they are not prevented from selling that product to earn the hard currency they need. I hope that a new round of trade talks can be put together and that more pragmatic views prevail, in everyone's interests. A

Report back on July meeting of Copeland Council

As mentioned, Copeland Borough council met at Millom School this afternoon. Main items discussed included: 1) The Audit report on Housing In April this year the Audit Commission published a scathing report on Copeland's Housing policy. This which was the most critical official report on any council service I have seen in the 21 years years since I was first elected as a councillor. Councillors asked a large number of questions about the measures being taken to correct the many criticisms made by the audit commission including the need to review policy on home improvement grants, using planning policy to generate more affordable housing, diversity in housing provision, the lack of a local women's refuge, and many others. The Strategic Housing Panel will be meeting tomorrow to discuss the action plan. 2) Copeland Borough Council's Accounts It is now almost the end of July 2008, nearly a third of the way through the 2008/9 financial year. The council's accounts for 2006/7

Copeland Council meets in Millom this afternoon

Any residents of the Millom area who would be interested in hearing a meeting of their borough council, but cannot normally get to Whitehaven to do so, might like to know that there is a full meeting of Copeland Council at Millom School at 2pm today. Items for the agenda include the nuclear build programme, a report on the housing programme under the Executive report, and a motion on the state of Copeland's accounts.

Coal plant hypocrisy

I agree with those who oppose the construction of new Coal-fired power stations unless they have carbon capture technology. But a high proportion of those who take this position are among those whose luddite opposition to new nuclear plants created the problem in the first place. Britain should have started to commission a new generation of nuclear plants at least five years ago, and the Labour government's conversion to this policy, while welcome, is very late. We need new power capacity or the lights will start to go out. In the short term this will almost certainly have to include some fossil fuel power plants, although I am convinced that we should insist on carbon capture technology being included. There are some people who will say that no form of subsidy should be available to nuclear plants or to any other power form they dislike. This view is only defensible if you believe that there is no evidence of damage to the environment caused by human activity. I consider that we h

In today's Sunday Times

Have been reading today's Sunday papers with interest. Until now, while I have said to my campaign team that we have to be ready for the possibility of an election at any stage from this autumn to Spring 2010, I regarded the latter date as by far the most likely. I still think this, but the odds are shifting. The possibility that Labour might remove Gordon Brown and call an earlier election, possibly this autumn, more likely in Spring, cannot entirely be discounted. If GB had been a Conservative Prime minister he would probably have had to either seek a vote of confidence on his own initiative, as John Major did in the 90's, or he would have faced a challenge. No Conservative leader could survive a combination of blows like the local elections, the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, and the Glasgow East by-election without seeking a fresh mandate or being deposed. Of course, each party is different ... Mixed in with the serious analysis there is the usual crop of humour, and I did

"Managed Decline"

When I was studying economics at school and university in the late 70s and early 80s there were plenty of pessimists who believed that Britain's position as a leading economic power was finished and that the best we could hope for was "Managed decline." Whatever else Margaret Thatcher did, and like all Prime Ministers she got some things right and others wrong, she totally refused to accept the idea that Britain was in irreversible decline. By the end of ten years in office, this country's relative economic decline compared with the rest of Europe had been reversed and the idea of inevitable decline and failure was completely discredited. When Blair came to office, he did so on the basis of an alternative positive vision of the future, not by an unremittingly negative one. Similarly, part of the strength of David Cameron's approach has been his determination to find a positive view of what the Conservatives can offer Britain in the 21st century. So I find it deepl

Free Speech, Transparency, and Privacy

There is, unfortunately, a conflict between, on the one hand, the need to ensure that the press is free to investigate issues of legitimate public concern, and that the courts operate in a sufficiently open environment to maximise the chance that they will deliver justice, and on the other hand, the natural wish of every human being for some degree of privacy in his or her personal life. This conflict is always particularly difficult where there are children involved. The Times newspaper has been running a campaign in which they have argued that the secrecy of Britain's family courts, imposed to protect children, may in some cases have been actively counterproductive since that secrecy has allowed a number of what appear to have been outrageously unjust decisions to escape proper scrutiny. Yet nobody would want the children involved exposed to the full glare of press attention. Maybe the traditional British solution of printing the decisions but witholding details which would allow

School tests marking debacle

For those who have not seen it, the cover of the latest "Private Eye" has schools minister Ed Balls asking a primary school pupil something along the lines of "Are you doing your SATS, little girl?" and she replies "No, I'm marking them." We are becoming inured to shameful incompetence in the provision of public services, but it is particularly unacceptable that tests and other forms of educational activity which may affect the whole lives of children are not handled properly. There should be penalty clauses in the contract under which an American company was brought in to organise marking of exams, and if their conduct has been half as incompetent as press reports indicate, those clauses should be activated. If there are no such penalty clauses we should ask why not?

Michael White on the Glasgow East turnout

Michael White in the Guardian online's politics blog has an interesting piece on the Glasgow East by-election. He argues that the worst aspect of it for Labour is they not only lost, but did so while turnout was as high as 42%. This is a surprisingly high turnout given that Labour had foolishly called the election for a week when many voters in Glasgow are away. In other words, voters didn't just stay at home in disgust, they actively turned out to defeat the Labour candidate. As White puts it, "voters were taking the trouble to send a message to Downing St." You can read the full article at michael_whites_political_blog_209.html

Small earthquake in Glasgow, not many vote red ...

One of the 25 safest Labour seats in Britain narrowly returned an SNP member of parliament last night. If Labour cannot hold Glasgow East there is not a seat in the country they can take for granted. The excellent Conservative candidate improved our position from fourth to third place and held her deposit. The Lib Dems dropped from third to fourth and didn't hold theirs. This is an even worse result for Labour than Crewe and Nantwich. It is an excellent result for the nationalists and a reasonable one for the Conservatives. I remain absolutely convinced that the Conservatives must campaign on the basis of fair and equal treatment for all parts of the UK. However, this result emphasises that we must be careful not to allow this to be misrepresented as anti-Scottish if we do not wish to jeopardise the union. Full results: JOHN MASON, SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY 11277 43.08% MARGARET CURRAN, SCOTTISH LABOUR PARTY 10912 41.69% DAVENA RANKIN, SCOTTISH CONSERVATIVES 1639 6.26% IAN ROBERTSON,

The (Political) Death of Jamie Reed

The symptoms that he is in denial are inescapable ... Jamie Reed, Labour MP for Copeland, wrote an article on the "Progress Online" website yesterday, republished on Labour home, which is one of the most extreme examples of wishful thinking I have seen in the past decade. I republished a post a few weeks ago, which was written by a Labour activist the day before the Crewe and Nantwich by-election: after canvassing the seat he somehow managed to convince himself that Labour would hold it and the the (accurate) predictions of an impending Conservative gain had been wholly invented by the press. Similarly I can remember a few of my tory colleagues in the mid 1990's who convinced themselves that the Conservatives had a cat in hell's chance of winning the 1997 election. Jamie Reed's article "The death of Conservatism" is political self-delusion of the same order. "The worldwide symptoms of its decline are inescapable" is his sub-title. The first par

There are still heroes ...

There are times when I have read stories of great acts of heroism in the past and by comparison our own age seems very humdrum and ordinary by comparison. But perhaps this feeling is just an example of "Any century but this and any country but his own." There are other times when you hear stories in which 21st century human beings have displayed courage every bit as great as in real history or the most extraorinary legends or Hollywood films. I have heard two such in the last week. A few days ago, a parachute training exercise nearly went very wrong some 3000 feet above Germany. A soldier's first parachute did not deploy properly and became tangled in the undercarriage of a light aircraft. The civilian pilot of the aircraft left the controls for 30 seconds to cut free the soldier, enabling him to completed the jump using his reserve parachute. The pilot, who has asked to remain anonymous, realised the parachute-jump instructor was in trouble when he saw him frantically wa

Rewriting the Fiscal Rules

For the whole of his chancellorship, Gordon Brown boasted about his strict adherence to the so-called "Golden Rule" about borrowing limits. Now he and Alistair Darling are talking about changing the rules which govern fiscal policy, including the "Golden rule". In the short term this may appear to be bad news for the country but good news for the Conservatives as it clearly demonstrates the failure of Gordon Brown's stewardship of the economy. Witness Trevor K's attack on the government in the sun earlier this week. However, there is an even worse interpretation: that Labour realise they have lost the next election and are deliberately ensuring that as much as possible of the pain of solving the mess they have got the economy into falls onto the shoulders of the incoming Conservative government. The suggested modifications to the fiscal rules may reduce the likelihood of an increase in taxes next year - but get the economy further into the red in the medium

Feedback on Mental Health meeting

I attended part of the mental health session at Whitehaven Civic Hall yesterday, although unfortunately work commitments meant that I was not able to attend the whole event. In spite of the fact that the consultation was held at what Copeland council had warned the NHS was not a terribly convenient time - the middle of the afternoon on a working day - more than 50 people listened to the consultation and Question and Answer session for nearly two hours and there was a constant stream of questions right to the very end. More details on my hospitals campaign blog - see link at right.

Trevor Kavanagh shreds Brown's economic reputation

The former political editor of The Sun, Trevor Kavanagh, has a piece in that paper today which tears to pieces Gordon Brown's record of economic management. I have considered Brown's economic reputation to be over-rated since his disastrous £5 billion a year raid on pension funds in 1997. In my book that was the worst single economic decision since Churchill put the country back on the Gold Standard eighty years ago. The £60 billion or so which Brown has extracted from pension funds since 1997 was probably the biggest single factor in wrecking this country's pension provision, up to that the best in Europe, which had been painstakingly accumulated during the term of the previous government. But it is interesting to see that a wider range of people are coming to see that Gordon Brown is not just a failure as Prime Minister, he was not nearly as good as he always claims to have been as Chancellor. Here is Kavanagh's article, published under the title BROKE BRITAIN GORDON

Public presentation tomorrow on Mental Health

There will be a public display and presentation tomorrow in Whitehaven Civic Hall as part of the current Mental Health consultations. Details are: Monday, 21st July, Civic Hall, Whitehaven Display boards available to read from: 2pm Presentation & Q&A: 3pm

Survey of the top political blogs

Arch blogger Iain Dale edits an annual Guide to Political Blogging, which is partly a directory of UK Political Blogs, and partly a review of the year in blogging. It also contains a list of the Top 100 UK political blogs. He has just launched an appeal on "Ian Dale's Diary" for readers to send him their Top 10 Political Blogs. You can find it at this URL: If you have any views on what the best political blogs are at the moment you can send your votes direct to Iain at

What the "Independent" didn't publish

It is sometimes quite surprising what the Mainstream Media (MSM) does and does not consider news. I still buy a certain number of "dead tree" copies of newspapers because at certain times, especially on a Sunday, it is useful to be able to relax away from the computer and take a leisurely read of a piece of analysis. Nevertheless there have been no fewer than three occasions in the last fortnight when I started to read an interesting article in a magazine or newspaper such as the Economist or Sunday Times and then realised that I had already found and read the entire article on the internet. And while the MSM will sometimes pick an run with stories which originally launched in the blogosphere, you can sometime find things in the blogosphere which the newspapers and television does not consider news. For example, considering how many years the Conservatives were "flatlining" on 30% or so in the opinion polls, it is extraordinary that opinion polls showing 21% plus Co

From Whitehaven Harbour to Narnia

There is an exhibition at the Beacon at the moment commemorating 300 years of Whitehaven Harbour. I took my family to see it today, before taking the children to see the new release of "Prince Caspian" at the cinema. If you enjoyed the C.S. Lewis's "Narnia" books you will love the film. I was kept in suspense because in several places the story seemed about to diverge radically from that of the book, but in the event all the major scenes from the original story happened in ways which were reasonably faithful to Lewis, as most of my favourite story details, although the order of events was slightly adjusted in one or two places. Anyway, if you are a Lewis fan or enjoyed the recent release of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" I can recommend "Prince Caspian".

Matthew Paris on government activity

Matthew Paris has an excellent article today in The Times on the way the government is trying to frantically regain control of the press agenda by a constant flurry of small scale activity - not all of their annoucements are silly but none of them add up to a coherent policy. You can read the article at matthew_parris/article4359839.ece Or the full text is: Sound and press releases, signifying nothing As the curtain falls, ministers are determined to leave the stage high-kicking in a burst of empty political noise Matthew Parris That Gordon Brown's position has “stabilised” is the conventional wisdom this weekend. On balance I share it. But I remember from school chemistry that if just one crystal is dropped into a supersaturated solution then, however apparently stable the liquid, it may suddenly seize and solidify. There is a kind of panic beneath the surface of the routine fidgeting of government this July In three days Parl

The "Target" is dead, long live the "Standard"

Listening to "Today in parliament" last night I thought for a moment that a Labour minister actually appeared to be doing something sensible, when the Home Secretary announced that she is dropping most of the targets Police Forces have to work to so they can concentrate on policing. Then a few minutes later she referred to a whole range of new "standards" to which the police will have to conform instead ...

From "The Daily Mash" ...

"The Daily Mash" has another of their parodies of Labour government policy, pointing out that the results of making "problem familes" homeless may be counterproductive. You can read the full article at: brown-to-flood-streets-with-100%2c000-crazed-thugs–200807151094/ BROWN TO FLOOD STREETS WITH 100,000 CRAZED THUGS GORDON Brown is to tackle violent crime by identifying the country's worst families and forcing them to live on the streets. The prime minister believes Britain's most anti-social maniacs will only become law-abiding, productive members of society once they are both unemployed and homeless. A Downing Street spokesman said: "At first they will roam around town centres, terrorising the local population and robbing people at knifepoint. "But eventually these feral gangs will take over the Asda car park and set up a Mad Max style community, governed by a deranged tyrant with a Mohican. "

Copeland BC Acounts

The public are entitled to know that the expenditure of their money by the council is properly checked in an open and transparent manner, and that this is done in a reasonable timescale and at reasonable cost. The public is also entitled to know that reports to councillors and the public about the council’s accounts are accurate. I am very concerned by a number of issues around the council’s accounts, including the delay in closing them despite very large sums of money spent on external help, the impact of these costs on the council’s financial position and potentially on council services, and on issues around the accuracy of at least one report to councillors. It is important that councillors should have the opportunity for an informed debate about how this situation arose, how we can resolve it, and how to prevent the council getting into this position again. This debate needs to be characterised by an open and honest assessment of the facts. To push for such a debate I, with Conserv

A dire injustice

I was shocked by the report on this evening's news about a woman who was wrongly convicted of killing her own child, and who gave birth to another child while in prison which was forcibly adopted. Following the quashing of her conviction when the view of medical evidence changed, she asked for compensation and according to this evening's news, was denied it on the grounds that this did not fall within the criterion for compensation. Now admittedly, I cannot see that any amount of money would compensate someone who after the ghastly experience of the death of their child, had then suffered the humiliation of being wrongly convicted of murder and imprisoned, and then had another child taken away by the state. Nevertheless if suffering that degree of harm as the result of a wrong judicial decision does not justify some some recompense, what on earth would the courts get wrong which would be worse? If the news report is accurate it sounds to me as though the criteria should be chan

Political joke of the week

From the Political Betting website (see link at right) "I want to know what the Mayor of London’s doing about the growing Light Sabre crime epidemic by the capital’s feral ‘crews’ of drug-fuelled Jedi." by Martin Coxall July 14th, 2008 at 4:10 pm (And the immediate reponse was) "207 He’s told Sir Ian Blair to have the Force deal with them!" by Marquee Mark July 14th, 2008 at 4:12 pm Has Jedi Jamie been up to something ?

Consultation: should Whitehaven have a Town Council?

Copeland council has now launched a consultation on whether Whitehaven should have a Town Council. The consultation paper and questionnaire are available in the Borough Council foyer, at the council website and at various other places. The council's consultation paper reads as follows: "Copeland Borough Council has been considering proposals for a Whitehaven Town Council and is looking to hear from you with your views prior to making a decision whether to go ahead. What is a Town Council? • It is a separate tier of local government and does not replace the Borough or County Councillors; • Elections are held to appoint town councillors who meet and decide on how to undertake the town council’s functions; • It has powers to provide or maintain community facilities; • It is able to comment and lobby on matters of interest to local people; • It decides its own budget and sets its own Council Tax which is added and collected over and above the existing Council Tax; • Depending on i

Who do you think Gordon Brown is most like ?

After Gordon Brown allowed himself to be compared with Heathcliffe from "Wuthering Heights" a poll carried out by YOUGOV in the Sunday Times asked the 1800 voters which fictional character they thought the Prime minister was most like. The options YOUGOV gave and the percentage answers were: Macbeth (ruthlessly claimed the top job then it went wrong) 33% Uriah Heep (Dickens's ‘very humble’ but insincere character) 11% Macavity (T.S.Eliot's cat who always disappears when things get tough) 9% Oliver Twist (who always asked for more) 6% Dr Dolittle 3% Mr Pooter (the city clerk in Diary of a Nobody) 2% Heathcliff 2% None of these 19% Don’t know 15% I'm with those who voted, if a little tongue in cheek, for Macavity the mystery cat: "

How not to catch fly-tippers

My favourite news story of the week concerned a £10,000 hidden spy camera which the council was trying to use to catch fly-tippers - and it was thrown away by council refuse collection staff "because it was hidden in a rubbish bag". Well there's ten grand of taxpayers' money literally thrown away. I laugh because I'm not a Chichester council tax payer, but you would think someone would have seen that one coming. Then alas there are plenty of equally silly things in Copeland: watch this space.

Matthew Paris says he failed on purpose ...

Matthew Parris has some interesting comments in The Times about whether a centre-right party can speak out on the issues around illness and poverty which David Cameron raised this week. To boil down his main argument to a sentence, he's saying that everything David Cameron said is true but Tories shouldn't say it because coming from us the message will be counterproductive. Personally I think Parris has taken an important point and overstated the case. I am convinced that DC was absolutely right where he said that the wish to avoid giving offence has resulted in politicians of all parties not saying things which needed to be said. And IMHO that has been a problem for all parties, not just Conservatives. However, Parris is right on two points: we need to be very careful indeed in how we address any issue where our comments could be presented as an attack on the poor or an attempt to blame everyone who is in an unfortunate position for their own misfortunes. We have to prepare ev

Sellafield Preferred bidder announced

The consortium headed by Washington International and also including the British firm Amec and French Areva. has been named as the preferred bidder for the Sellafield contract to clean up and run the site. The £1.3bn a year contract could be worth £17bn - more than the cost of the London Olympics - to Amec, Washington International and Areva. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will continue to own the site and the assets it contains.

Clare Short on Gordon Brown

I'm not going to pretend that I was ever a huge fan of Clare Short, but it is interesting that a former key ally of Gordon Brown should be as critical of him as she has just been in an interview with "The Momitor". The former Labour international development secretary said that he is a "control freak" who has done "extraordinarily badly" as prime minister and changed "remarkably little" since moving to Number 10. She is quoted as saying "Gordon Brown and I worked closely with each other for a long time and he has always been a control freak and a spinner. "However, I thought that when he became prime minister he would do better on content than he has and I thought that he understood that there would have to be changes from what Blair had been up to, in order to make the party more popular. "I didn't have any illusions that he was going to solve all problems but I thought he might have done better. He has done extraordinaril

Anatole Kaletsky on Conservative Economic Policies

I often disagree with Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky but he is nearly always interesting and even on the issues where on balance I think he is wrong, his arguments usually merit very careful consideration. Kaletsky is living proof that you can have broadly centrist views without being "soggy" - if he has a bias it is a love of taking the opposite view from everyone else, but it is surprising how many of the views he expresses which were contrarian at the time have subsequently come to be received wisdom. Below is an item he wrote this week praising some of the Conservative policies which David Cameron and George Osborn have been putting forward. At last a party moves beyond the sound bite Our sense of hopelessness is misplaced. The Tories have shown there are still good ideas in British politics by Anatole Kaletsky What makes this miserable British summer even worse than the weather or the baleful economic news is the sense of hopelessness - the feeling that the country i

D-Day for Sellafield

At 10.00 am tomorrow (Friday) we are due to hear who has won the contract to take over the running of Sellafield. According to the outgoing managing director at Sellafield, Barry Snelson, this will be the UK's largest public sector procurement contract. This will be a massive story in West Cumbria and ought to be an important story nationally. It will be fascinating to see what attention the MSM and blogosphere outside Cumbria actually give to this announcement.

Not practical, nor in any way workable

That is how Dame Eliza Manningham Buller, former head of MI5, speaking in the House of Lords yesterday condemned the government's proposals for 42 days pre-charge detention. Extracts from her speech ... "Successful counter-terrorism work depends on a number of things but in particular good intelligence and good police work, not necessarily changes in the law." "On a matter of principle, I cannot support 42 day's pre-charge detention." "I don't see on a practical basis, as well as a principled one, that these proposals are in any way workable." It is time for the government and anyone who supports them on this issue to think again.

For anyone who still supports 42 day detention ...

Both the right of British citizens to go about their lawful affairs without being blown up by terrorists, and the right of innocent people not to be locked up for long periods are important. Deciding what powers to give the prosecuting authorities in order to defeat the terrorists is not an easy task. If the government had produced a shred of serious evidence that 42-days pre-charge detention might reduce the threat of a successful terrorist act, I would feel forced to consider their arguments carefully. But let's look at the list of people who have now come out strongly against this. The Director of Public Prosecutions has (very bravely) made extremely clear that he does not think extending the period suspects can be detained without being charged is necessary. This evening in the House of Lords the former head of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller, strongly opposed 42-days pre-charge detention. So did Blair's Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, and his Lord Chancellor Lord Falcone

What on earth is happening to our police forces ?

Most of the police officers I know are decent, sensible people who work hard, often in very difficult circumstances, and are doing their best to do a good job. The police force here in Cumbria is generally very effective, though like all human organisations it makes the occasional slip up. However, there are some events which make you wonder what on earth is going on. One example came this week, assuming that the press have accurately reported it, when a man came into a police station to confess to the truly horrific murder of two French students. Now I am not pre-judging whether the person concerned actually did carry out this terrible crime. But any reasonable person ought to regard the apprehension of the person or persons who did commit this atrocity as the absolute number one priority for every policeman in Britain. Anyone who walked into a police station claiming to know anything about it should have been given a very high priority. If the press reports are correct, and the perso

Feedback from Gosforth and Ennerdale Forum

I attended a meeting of the Gosforth & Ennerdale Neighbourhood Forum this evening at the Methodist Hall in Gosforth. The first item on the agenda was a presentation from the leader of Copeland Council, Elaine Woodburn who spoke about "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely - A Local Perspective" and took questions. There were a number of comments from the floor about the need to make sure that any discussions with the government about new arrangements for nuclear waste are organised in a way which permits complete transparency and open debate, and that fully opportunities for consultation with affected communities should include better communication with parish councils. There was also a presentation by Caroline Watson, Public Transport Officer, Cumbria County Council speaking on "Rural Wheels", a community transport scheme that provides door-to-door transport when required and at a reasonable cost. This scheme may be immensely helpful to people in rural areas of Cu

Save our Surgeries

I am becoming very concerned at the impact of several government policies on the viability of local doctor's surgeries, especially in rural areas. I attended a meeting of the Gosforth and Ennerdale neighbourhood forum this evening at which two of the local councillors present reported on a meeting they had had earlier in the day with one of the senior partners of the practice which runs Seascale Health Centre. The government is proposing that GP practices will no longer be allowed to run pharmacies where there is an independent pharmacy within a mile of the surgery. This could be very bad news for several GP surgeries in the area where income from embedded pharmacies helps to pay for the salaries of doctors. Overall some 17 GP practices in Cumbria are affected including surgeries at Seascale, Bootle, and Whitehaven. This would be bad enough if the pharmacy policy was the only thing the government is doing which is likely to harm rural GP practices, but in fact it is one prong of a

How MPs voted on the "John Lewis list"

A number of people have asked me how MPs had voted on their expenses. In Cumbria the position of the six sitting MPs was In favour of the reform package proposed by the Estimates Committee, which would have introduced external audit and scrapped the "John Lewis List" David Maclean (Penrith and the Borders, Conservative) Eric Martlew (Carlisle, Labour) For the amendment which supported internal audit instead and kept the "John Lewis List" Tony Cunningham (Workington, Labour) Did not vote Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale, Lib/Dem) John Hutton (Barrow & Furness, Labour) Jamie Reed (Copeland, Labour) Five cabinet ministers voted against the reform: they were Jacqui Smith - Home Secretary; Andy Burnham - Culture; Caroline Flint - Housing; Paul Murphy - Wales; and Shaun Woodward - Northern Ireland. Gordon Brown was one of the MPs who did not vote on the issue. David Cameron and most of his shadow cabinet voted for the reform package and against the amendm

Justice and DNA

I support the existence, with proper controls, of a DNA database to help convict the perpetrators of serious crimes. However, the debate around the issue is a lot more complicated than some people would have you believe. Concerns about this issue are not just about protecting the civil rights of criminals. They are about making sure that that DNA is not misused or misunderstood in ways which lead to the wrongful conviction of innocent people. For a start, if courts and police forces were foolish enough to imagine that you can safely seek a conviction on DNA evidence along - and fortunately most of Britain's police forces are not that stupid - you would have a recipe for wrongful convictions of the innocent based on misunderstandings of the probabilities involved. Remember Professor Sir Ray Meadow? He was one of the most distinguished paediatricians in the country but his brilliance as a doctor was combined with an ignorance of statistics in general and conditional probability in ge