Saturday, February 28, 2009

Report on West Cumbria Hospital sites

Last year Copeland Council and Westlakes Renaissance commissioned the consulting firm White Young Green to report on the merits of two possible sites in Whitehaven for the new hospital in West Cumbria which had been promised.

One was the existing West Cumberland Hospital site, the other was at the Ginns.

White Young Green have now produced a report which was presented to councillors this week. The full report can be read here on the Copeland Council website.

To some extent this report has been overtaken by events but it makes some good points about the need to keep hospital services in Whitehaven. More comments on my hospitals blog (see link at right.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Price of Freedom

Phillip Pullman, the children's author, has written a superb article here in today's Times called "Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms"

I rarely find myself in agreement with Mr Pullman, but the warnings he gives about how we are sleep-walking into the surrender of our liberties are well worth listening to.

Pullman writes that

"It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill."

I might not entirely agree with every item on that list if they were all taken individually, but taken together he is surely right. There is a difficult balance to strike between freedom and security, but Labour has lost sight of that balance. The laws listed above by Phillip Pullman have tilted it much too far away from freedom.

Think I'm exaggerating? How else can you describe a situation

* where a woman can be arrested by standing at the cenotaph and reading out the names of British service personnel killed in Iraq?

* When an MP can be arrested for doing his job?

* When the government keeps records of the DNA of people who have been wrongly accused of crimes?

* And when the British government hands prisoners over to the government of an ally so they can be taken to a third country where they can be treated in ways which neither our laws nor the constitution of our ally permit?

If, God forbid, this country were foolish enough to elect Nick Griffin and enough BNP candidates to form a government, we would find out the hard way just how badly our freedoms have been eroded. We may not have a dictatorship yet, but the legal powers which would permit a rogue government to impose a ghastly tyranny have been put in place.

Ben Franklin once wrote that "The Price of Liberty is eternal vigilance" and Chris Roberts, author of the "Wing Commander" series of cames put it even better when he put into the mouth of the villain of one of the games

"The Price of Freedom is eternal vigilance."

And from Franklin through to David Davies, the wisest defenders of free and independent nations have realised that the biggest danger to a country's freedom is often those in power who think they are defending it.

Philip Pullman will deliver a keynote speech at the Convention on Modern Liberty at the Institute of Education in London tomorrow.

Perhaps the most chilling part of his article is a poem which he puts into the mouths of the authors of the new legislation:

"We know who our friends are

And when our friends want to have words with one of you

We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need

It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law

It is for us to know what your offence is

Angering our friends is an offence."

Gordon Brown refuses to hand back pension ...

The Daily Mash has a parody of the "Fred the Shred" situation here, suggesting that Gordon Brown has refused to comply with requests to pay back his pension.

They write that "The prime minister said: "I've been building up this pension since I became an MP, it's all completely legal and now you want to take it away because I've been catastrophically bad at my job and you're looking for a scapegoat."

Note - very funny but contains bad language and is unsuitable for children.

New Nuclear plant proposals

The Whitehaven news has a story here about proposals by RWE Npower, the British arm of a German company, to build two PWR nuclear power plants in Copeland. Both proposals would be for sites near the coast which are currently farmland, one "between Sellafield and Egremont" and the other "around Millom."

According to the story, the firm has secured an option to buy land at both sites, and the Egremont proposals will be accompanied by a bid for a 3.6 Gigawatt grid connection.

On the face of it, this appears to be a very serious proposal, and the fact that companies are lining up to put forward bids for new nuclear build in West Cumbria bodes well for our chances of securing new nuclear facilities. It also disproves the argument by some anti-nuclear campaigners that nuclear power cannot be economic without subsidy.

However, nothing can be taken for granted yet. There will have to be full public consultation, safety and environmental impact assessments, the National Grid will have to look at the grid proposals and the NDA will make the final decision on which sites get approval.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Honest Food

The Conservative party is running an "Honest Food" campaign for more accurate labelling of the country of origin of food for sale.

When you buy a 'British' pork pie, you probably assume that the pork comes from Britain.

In fact, meat from abroad can be imported into Britain to be processed into bacon, sausages and pies which can then be labelled to suggest they are British.

We think this is dishonest. People have a right to know where their food comes from. Meat labelled 'British' should be born and bred in Britain, raised to our high welfare standards.

Consumers should be free to choose food from any country, but real choice requires real information.

So the Conservatives are demanding honest 'country of origin' labelling to restore trust and allow people to choose British food with confidence.

- View five examples of bad food labelling here:

- View The text of our Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment) Bill

- View the Explanatory Notes to the Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment) Bill.

Sign our petition here to join our demand for honest labelling of the country of origin of food sold in British shops.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ivan Cameron R.I.P.

My heartfelt condolences to David and Samantha Cameron on the death of their son Ivan.

I have been fortunate enough not to experience the loss of a child, but I know that the loss of a parent is worse than any words can possibly describe, and losing a child must be even worse.

The dignified way that this sad event was treated on all sides of the House of Commons was a credit to British democracy.

Rest in Peace

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Labour rejects Tory proposal to freeze council tax

This evening was the budget meeting of Copeland Borough Council.

The Conservatives proposed a one-year council tax freeze to be funded from the extra reserves which had been found while sorting out the accounts.

Instead the controlling Labour group voted that down and forced through a wholly unnecessary 4.5% increase in the Copeland share of the Council tax.

Last year, while setting a medium-term financial strategy, the council had agreed to change its approach to reserves. Following professional advice, councillors of all political persuasions recognised that the council has far more taxpayers' money held in various "reserves" - e.g. sitting in the bank or invested - than is actually needed.

In the past Copeland Council kept millions of pounds of taxpayers money in various reserves, sufficient to deal in full with each of all the possible contingencies which might require unusual expenditure. The new policy agreed last year, following the most recent advice from the Audit commission, is to set an overall level of reserves linked to a proper risk assessment.

That appropriate level was some millions of pounds lower than the council was then advised that it had in reserves. Therefore a programme was agreed to reduce the level of reserves over three years. At that stage, the expectation was that the council tax increase in 2009 would be 3.9%.

Since then several things have happened.

1) The economy has gone into the worst recession in my lifetime and most ordinary taxpayers are feeling the pinch

2) Accountants and consultants have been trying to sort out Copeland Council's accounts for 2006/7 and 2007/8 - which they have still not finished even though we are nearly at the end of the 2008/9 civic year! But one thing which did come out of the work on the accounts is that previous officers had salted away even larger reserves than the council had assumed when it set a three-year plan last year, to the tune of an extra £2 million in current account reserves alone.

3) The recession has, for the time being, knocked back the council's income, but officers have found savings to offset most of this. The net effect of these changes in costs and expenditure on the current account finances of Copeland Borough Council in a full year is considerably less than the extra £2 million in reserves.

The council would be able to spend significantly more, or raise significantly less in tax, than had previously been planned and still have more money left in current account reserves at the end of the 2009/10 financial year than it had been predicted a year ago that we would need.

A 1% increase in council tax raises Copeland Council some £36,560. Hence the 3.9% increase which had originally been planned would have meant asking local taxpayers for an extra £142,500. Foregoing that increase would still leave the council with about a million pounds more in the bank at the end of the 2009/10 financial period than we were expecting a year ago when we set the medium term strategy.

Given the extent to which local residents and families are suffering from the recession, the Conservative group argued that for this year the council could and should cancel that tax increase. We therefore proposed a zero increase this year in the Copeland council share of the council tax.

This is not something which could be done every year. The council tax freeze was proposed in highly exceptional circumstances. It would have been possible to forego a council tax increase this year because of the extra £ 2 million in reserves, and desirable because Copeland, like everywhere else in the UK, is suffering from a severe recession. This could have been done without any cuts in jobs or services.

Instead the ruling Labour group voted for a 4.5% increase in the council tax. They have never given a satisfactory explanation why a greater increase than the 3.9% increase planned for this budget in last year's medium term strategy is now needed. Compared with the Conservative budget proposals, what Labour has voted through is to take an extra £164,500 in tax from local residents and leave it sitting in the bank.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Feedback from Millom Neighbourhood Forum

I attended the Millom and Haverigg Neighbourhood Forum this evening in the Network Centre at Millom School.

The agenda included presentations on the Millom Economic Development Group, which included the proposals to develop Haverigg Prison as a community prison.

There was also a short item on Concessionary Fares.

There was a heated debate about various proposals currently put forward by the Econmic Development Group, and also about the Palladium.

Some interesting points put forward both for and against several of these proposals. The South Copeland Disabilities Forum had some constructive suggestions about the plans for Millom Town Square and the need to ensure that there was enough disabled parking.

Cllr Robin Pitt, the current Chairman of the Economic Development Group, initially responded to questions from the floor about the Palladium by saying that he did not consider it appropriate for him to speak on this issue because it had been dealt with before he joined the EDG. He might have been wise to stick to that stance, but then he reversed it and insisted that the building was past its' sell-by-date. Following that, Cllr Pitt then he said that there is no threat at all to the Palladium. Then he said that it is too big for the local community.

Former Labour councillor Roland Woodward made a powerful speech in favour of improving facilities in Millom and Haverigg, which he rather spoilt with a gratuitous attack on anyone who dared to disagree with any of the projects he supports, accusing them of wanting to turn Haverigg into a museum. It was fairly obvious that his impassioned plea for a better environment in Millom had some support in the hall and even more obvious that his attack on residents and councillors who had reservations about some of the proposals stirred up a significant amount of resentment. Ironically his main point, which is a very sensible one, was the need for Millom Town Council, Copeland Borough Council, the EDG, the County and other agencies, to work together: slagging off anyone who expresses a slightly different view is probably not the best way to acheive this.

One speech from a Millom Town Councillor called for a referendum on the Town Square proposals and one in Haverigg on the Community Prison proposals. I think that something of the sort would be a very good idea.

No room for complacency

Some interesting and contrasting points of view over the weekend.

In the Sunday Times, Michael Portillo warns here against complacency, observing that while Labour seems to be heading inexorably to defeat, the Conservatives must not take victory or the electorate for granted.

Meanwhile on Conservative Home, Tim Montgomery looks at the ghastly mess which the Labour government is leaving for whoever wins the next election, and puts forward some suggestions on how the Conservatives can avoid losing in 2015.

His argument is that after winning in 2010 a Cameron administration will be forced to take painful and unpopular measures to deal with the toxic legacy from that of Gordon Brown, which could easily cost him the following election

I understand what Tim is saying, but we have to concentrate on winning the next election first, or there won't be a Cameron administration. And because the electorate is well aware what a mess the country is in, to win the election we will have to be honest about the fact that whoever wins that election will have to make some very painful decisions.

As Neil Kinnock found out, anyone who goes into an election thinking he or she has victory in the bag tends to find out that he hasn't.

Mind you, this cuts both ways. Any Conservative who thinks a Tory victory is guaranteed should be warned not to be so complacent. Any Labour activist who still thinks a Labour victory is guaranteed is so disconnected from reality that they should be detained under section II of the Mental Health Act.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Millom Nighbourhood Forum tomorrow (23 Feb)

The Millom Neighbourhood Forum will be meeting tomorrow evening in the Network Centre at Millom School.

The agenda includes presentations on the Millom Economic Development Group and on the proposals to develop Haverigg Prison as a community prison.

Feedback from Copeland BC's Economic Development Committee

Attended a meeting of Copeland Borough Council's Economic Development O&S Committee on Thursday.

Main items for debate were

1) Wind Farms. A motion on the subject from Cllr Norman Clarkson, essentially the same as he had persuaded Cumbria County Council to pass, was referred from the full council.

After some debate, an amended version of Norman's motion which has originally been put forward by myself, modified so as that Planning Panel members would not be disqualified from voting on Wind Farm planning applications if they voted for it, was sent back to the council as a recommendation with both Conservative and Labour support.

As amended the motion expresses concern that the role given in Cumbria to onshore wind farms under existing energy targets forms too great a proportion of the mix.

The amended version essentially calls for a mix of energy, as laid out in the Energy Coast Masterplan, with lower targets in Cumbria for Onshore wind, though it supports nuclear, tidal, and other forms of renewable energy. It does not express a view on any individual planning application, nor call for any equivalent reduction in offshore wind targets.

2) Worklessness/unemployment.

There were a number of presentations on the work being done in the Copeland to reduce what used to be called unemployment and is now usually referred to as worklessness. I was particularly impressed to see the support available from a range of agencies to help people set up their own businesses. One of the key things we need to do is encourage people to aim higher.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't put the bible on the top shelf

In a post a few days ago, responding to an excellent article by Imtiaz Ameen, I wrote about the problems which can be caused when people who are not themselves muslims manage to be "More Islamic than the Ayatollah." Sometimes, bending over backwards to avoid causing offence, people with good intentions go further than British muslims themselves actually want to avoid offending them.

Sometimes, as with the vast majority of attempts to block or rename celebrations of Christmas, the problem is atheists who have a hidden agenda of attacking religion in general as well as Christianity in particular, and who use "diversity" as an excuse.

In practice the law of unintended consequences comes into play, and the actual effect is not to reduce religious observance but to boost racism and fascism. Whenever an attack on Christian observance can be blamed, however unfairly, on muslims it does great harm to race relations and is a gift to groups like the BNP.

This week we have another group of well-meaning idiots going further than muslims have asked for in an attempt to respect their wishes and in the process infuriating everyone else.

According to the Daily Mail here, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, a quango answering to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, has issued guidance to libraries that all holy books of all faiths should be placed on the top shelves.

This appears to be a response to Muslims in Leicester who had asked for the Koran to be placed on the top shelf because "it should be put above commonplace things."

Apparently the city’s librarians consulted the Federation of Muslim Organisations and were advised that all religious texts should be kept on the top shelf.

‘This meant that no offence is caused, as the scriptures of all the major faiths are given respect in this way, but none is higher than any other,’ the guidance added.

It is not the city of Leicester's Muslims who are at fault in this matter. They were asked for an honest opinion and they gave it, and it is obvious that they wanted the holy books of all religions to be treated with what they see as equal respect.

However, before issuing national guidance on the matter, did the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council think to consult either the other religions whose holy books they were proposing to move, or for that matter, Muslims in other parts of the country besides Leicester ?

If they had done so, they would have swiftly found that Christians do not see putting the bible on the top shelf as either a gesture of respect or a good idea. The cultural association of the top shelf in this country is that it is where newsagents put pornography to keep it out of the reach of children.

And Christians want the bible to be readily available to read, not an object of veneration to be kept out of reach. As Canon Chris Sugden, of the Anglican Mainstream movement, was quoted by the Mail as saying:

‘This does appear to be a reversion to medieval times, when the Bible could be read only by priests in Latin and was not to be defiled by ordinary people reading it.

‘The principle to be challenged is that there is a certain way in which one must treat all holy books.

‘The Bible is readily available, and it would not be difficult to have more than one copy, with some on display within the reach of children.’

And indeed, there is no evidence that a policy of letting each religion make representations as to where its' own holy books should go would offend muslims. Inayat Bunglawala, of the Engage think tank, which encourages Muslims to play a greater role in public life, said:

‘If Muslims wish to see the Koran placed on a higher shelf, and library rules say it should be there, then that is a welcome and considerate gesture.

‘But one size does not fit all. If Christians do not want to see the Bible treated in the same way, I do not see why it has to be dealt with the same.’

If Muslims want the Koran placed on the top shelf, let their wishes be respected. If Christians want the Bible placed where anyone can get it, their wishes should be respected too. Let the reasonable requests of any other faith be honoured in a similar way. And if there is no evidence that a particular faith has expressed concern about which library shelf their holy book is displayed on, then for heavens sake leave them where they are.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Daily Mail estimates debt + liabilities at two trillion

The Daily Mail has a front page today with a worst case projection of the UK national debt including the liabilities of state-owned or guaranteed banks at two trillion pounds (that's American trillion e.g. £2,000,000,000,000.)

You can read the article here.

I'm not gloating over this, and I emphasise that it is a worst-case projection, but I find it terrifying.

A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK - Exec Summary

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been reading "A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK" by Professor Ian Fells and Candida Whitmill of Fells Associates, a paper that I believe every politician or person interested in the future of Britain's energy supplies should read.

The full document is available on the internet as a pdf file here, but the executive summary reads as follows:

Executive Summary

1.1 Security of energy supply must now be seen as taking priority over everything else, even climate change. UK imports of both gas and oil are accelerating, just as the fragility of supplies from Russia and the Middle East becomes more apparent and the UK heads towards the loss of one third of its generating capacity over the next 12 years. A new energy policy must be scheduled to meet the impending energy gap with an overarching long-term vision that will ensure security of supply, protect the environment, and at the same time, be deemed feasible by the engineers, financiers and utility managers who will have to implement it.

1.2 Current policy is set out in the 2007 White Paper. It supersedes the White Paper of 2003, which had strong elements of wishful thinking, by suggesting that selective renewables, combined with energy efficiency, would satisfy the demand gap without the need to replace the nuclear baseload capacity – an error finally rectified with the January 2008 White Paper on nuclear power. Nonetheless, the current 2007 paper is flawed. It misunderstands market prerequisites and technical barriers and is founded on weak energy arithmetic. Yet it is still the platform from which UK energy policy must implement the ambitious political targets of EU policy, in accordance with which 20% of all energy consumption across the EU must be from renewable sources by 2020. The UK commitment is a renewable energy target of 15%. The implications are alarming. We are currently at 1.3%6 – third from bottom in the EU league table with only Luxembourg and Malta below us. This will require a monumental shift in investment and build rate for renewables across all energy sectors.

Furthermore, it implies that 40% of electricity will have to come from renewables. Currently renewables produce just 4.5%.

1.3 These targets are demonstrably unattainable. In-depth discussions with engineers and utility managers to discover what can actually be done, and the probable consequences of such actions, should have taken place. It might have prevented bizarre pronouncements such as the construction and installation of 7000 offshore wind generators in the North Sea, which would mean installing 10 turbines a day from
now to 2020 (utilising the average 60 possible working days per year). This is 10 times the best installation rate achieved anywhere for offshore installation, yet the UK has just one suitable heavy-lifting barge available at the current time. The rush to impose biofuel quotas in motor fuel serves as another example. The full impacts of the rapidly developing biofuels sector with regard to climate change and
food supply seem not to have been understood.

1.4 This report addresses the failings that have led to a fundamental undermining of the UK’s security of supply and serves to heighten the sense of urgency about the growing energy gap. Electricity generation in particular is becoming a matter of grave concern.

1.5 The current situation is fragile. Two nuclear stations, Hartlepool and Heysham (a total of 2.4GW) are offline until 2009, and two more, Hunterston and Hinkley, are on reduced output – examples of what to expect from an ageing fleet. The planned decommissioning of nuclear power plant of 7.4GW by 2020 and 9.8GW by 2023 (respectively 10% and 13% of current generating capacity) will leave just one plant,
Sizewell B, operational. In addition, there is the expected closure of 12GW (15% of current generating capacity) of coal- and oil-fired generating plant by 201610 as a result of the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) of 2008, aimed at reducing emissions. In all a total of 23GW (30% of generating capacity) will need to be replaced by 2020, and from 30GW to 35GW by 2027.

This is almost entirely base-load capacity.

Renewables have a role to play, but unrealistic expectations have elevated them above their capabilities. Renewables will not replace base-load. The default position is gas, yet our reserves are diminishing to the extent that we will be importing 80% of our gas requirements by 2020, increasing our dependence on supplies from unstable political regimes and volatile markets. Furthermore, this will derail attempts to reduce CO2 emissions, which will continue to rise.

1.6 The ‘market will deliver’ philosophy is wishful thinking. The market cares nothing for the environment. It caters for today’s generation, not tomorrow’s. The market needs the right investment framework and incentives to contemplate long-term projects. The present Government’s vacillation over energy policy, nuclear being the salient example, has severely hindered development. Additionally, procrastination over carbon capture and storage (CCS) is holding back the coal industry from utilising our indigenous supplies.

Inconsistent intervention is not helpful either. The renewables market has been
distorted through unbalanced support for low-capital renewables with least return in energy terms, such as wind.

1.7 A determined and urgent course of action is of paramount importance to address this major threat to the long-term economy, security and social well being of the United Kingdom. The key elements to a new energy policy are laid out below. They draw together to form a cohesive action plan, the Route Map to Energy Survival for the UK (see page 25), a strategy that determines the priorities and is deemed to be feasible by those who will have to implement it. It demonstrates how a new energy policy must now divide into two distinct timescales – a short-term strategy to deal with the impending energy gap without impeding the long-term strategy of ensuring our energy requirements in an era when oil and gas will become increasingly scarce and the role of electricity takes on an even greater importance in sustaining our civilisation.

2. The key elements of a pragmatic energy policy must satisfy the following three fundamental criteria.

• Ensure security of supply both in the short term (up to 2020) and the long term (2020 – 2050)
• Protect the environment by striving to achieve CO2 and renewable-energy targets
• Remain technically feasible from an engineering perspective

The key elements of a pragmatic energy policy

1. Adopt the Route Map to Energy Survival for the UK (see page 25). This means making
decisions now to meet short- and long-term demands. Only a visionary, overarching strategy will maintain sustainable economic development, satisfy our environmental obligations and keep the lights on.

2. Security of electricity supply should now top the political agenda, even above climate change. There will be a shortfall in UK power generation of 23GW by 2020, rising to between 30GW and 35GW by 2027.13 An impending crisis in power generation is now emerging and could lead to a dramatic shortfall as early as 2012 – 2015. This arises from the closure of ageing nuclear and coal-fired stations. The default position is to build new gas-fired stations as they can be completed in four years, but only 4.5GW are currently under construction. In terms of security of supply and energy costs this is unsatisfactory, but new nuclear stations cannot be brought on stream in much less than 10 years.

Neither can a Severn barrage. In the medium term a strong case can be made for replacing inefficient, polluting, old coal-fired stations with new coal-fired stations. They will be less polluting than the stations they replace and, if carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be demonstrated to work, it can be retrofitted.
Presently, coal provides 34% of the UK’s electricity. This would give an important element of security as coal is partly indigenous and partly imported from reasonably stable parts of the world. Considerable effort should go into demonstrating the feasibility of CCS. And if the collected CO2 is then pumped into failing North Sea oil wells to give tertiary oil recovery, it will increase the contribution the North Sea can make to UK oil supplies, providing a further contribution to UK energy security.

Other measures include a significant increase in gas and electricity storage. Germany has 70 days’ supply of gas, the UK has 14. Depleted gas fields in the North Sea can be used for gas storage. Onshore initiatives should be encouraged, such as the gas storage facility at Hornsea in East Yorkshire where nine man-made salt cavities have been leached into a salt layer 1.8 kilometres below the surface,
creating 325 million cubic metres of gas storage space. As a matter of urgency, security of electricity supply should be further increased by linking the UK with
Norway, Germany, the Netherlands (now building the 1GW BRITNED) and France (an additional link). This could be achieved within two or three years using British technology, in time to help with the anticipated shortfall in electricity generation capacity.

It would be timely to fully reassess fossil-fuel reserves in the light of “peak oil”, “peak gas” and now coal, both in the UK and worldwide. The UK should also establish a depletion policy for the North Sea, rather than expect the market to manage it strategically.

3. Nuclear power has been allowed to decline in the UK, despite its central role in providing CO2-free electricity. New, more efficient stations are now available and are being planned and built elsewhere. The present Government has done a belated U-turn and now wants nuclear power as an essential part of the energy mix. In the meantime, it has sold off Westinghouse, one of only five builders of nuclear power stations in the world, and one with a large and growing order book – a significant error of judgement. The situation can be rectified, but it will take time and money.

In the longer term, like the rest of the world, we will have to move to generation IV reactors, which are breeder reactors and use uranium 60 times more efficiently than today’s thermal reactors. If we take this route (the Russians have already taken it, with the BN600 breeder reactor having run successfully for over 20 years), we could effectively multiply the world’s dwindling energy resources by 10.

4. Financial incentives will be needed to restore investor confidence after policy vacillation and injudicious market intervention. The sharp fall in electricity prices, instigated by the regulator in a vain attempt to address fuel poverty, led to the near collapse of British Energy. This must not be allowed to happen again. There may have to be a minimum floor price for low-carbon, new-build electricity. A possible model to stimulate new nuclear build, and also the construction of a Severn barrage, would be for the electricity price to be guaranteed by letting a 50-year contract (or concession) at a fixed price (with escalators) for electricity supply and inviting appropriate consortia to bid for the contract. Additionally,
clear long-term carbon price signals are essential.

6. Give the go-ahead to build a Severn barrage, which would provide 5% of the UK’s electricity. A Severn barrage should be looked at in comparison with offshore costs. Both will be needed to approach our EU obligations. Other barrage sites around the coast, such as the River Mersey, should be examined with the prospect of pumped storage in mind.

7. Restructure the grid. Considerable investment will be needed if the transmission and distribution networks are to accommodate the development of new-build and distributed generators, many of them renewables. Scotland in particular, with a high density of wind, wave and tidal resources, faces connection difficulties as described by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise 2007 report. Offshore projects will lose viability if onshore connections are not upgraded. The upgrade of the Beauly–Denny line (through central Scotland) from 132,000 (132kV) to 400,000 volts (400kV) is currently subject to a public enquiry which is due to report in 2008. The Scotland–England 2.2GW interconnector will have to be substantially strengthened if the renewable energy coming from the Western Isles is to be sold into England.

8. The Climate Change Levy should be scrapped (why it was applied to nuclear power and hydro is a mystery), and replaced with an obligation on generators and suppliers to provide 50% of low-carbon electricity as early as is realistically possible. This should include all forms of low-carbon generation, especially nuclear. The driver for this is the current renewable electricity obligation of 10% by 2010 (which
we will not reach). This will give a strong incentive to both renewable and nuclear electricity to attract a premium plus an additional premium for providing consistent, on-demand power whenever required.

This figure of 50% renewable electricity ties in well with the energy balance for the UK’s 15% share of the EU renewable energy obligation by 2020, which implies 40% renewable electricity in the mix. Unfortunately it will not be met by that date. BERR’s best estimate, in the 2007 Energy White Paper, is 14% by 2020. There will be a huge discrepancy.

9. Decentralised distributed energy has been the focus of much misinformed attention.
If gas is the preferred fuel, CO2 emissions will rise because centralised power stations are much more efficient than many small, local, domestic units. They also bring economies of scale. Losses in transmission in the high-voltage grid are only around 2%, but 5% or more is lost in the local network. So the perceived savings from local generation are small. This would be putting the clock back to the
1920s (see analysis by Paul Spare in Energy World, October 2006).

10. Energy-saving programmes should be reassessed and resources streamlined to support the most successful strategies. There is a promising trend towards individual responsibility for energy saving. However, it must be understood that the major changes in demand behaviour of the magnitude and in the timescale needed to have a significant impact on the supply gap are not possible.

Domestic energy efficiency has taken on new significance. As we move to an increasingly electrified society, heat will be increasingly provided by electricity as oil and gas prices soar. Heat-pump technology has improved enormously over recent years, and now pumps are available with real coefficients of performance of four (that is, one unit of electricity providing four units of heat from the ground or the
air). Heat pumps should replace gas for domestic heating. If CO2-free electricity is used to power them, they will make a significant reduction in CO2 emissions and reduce dependence on imported gas.

11. Skills shortages in electrical and nuclear engineering must be addressed urgently. Areva is trying to recruit 11,000 new engineers and technicians in Europe. This is proving very difficult. Up to 40% of staff at British Energy are due to retire within the next 10 years.20 The new National Skills Academy for Nuclear is to be commended, but it will be rendered ineffective if there are no universities
offering degrees in nuclear engineering. The industry is expected to need 1,000 new graduates a year for the next 15 years. Incentive bursaries should be offered at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Grants for mature students should be encouraged to upgrade existing, transferable skills. Engineering and construction workers are also urgently needed. At its peak, building a Severn barrage would need 35,000 people.

12. Switch surface transport to electricity. Transport, with the exception of some train systems, is predicated on oil for land, sea and air. It will have to be weaned off oil and onto electricity where possible. This means an even bigger demand for base-load electricity. Trains should be first, then cars, both electric and hybrid. New battery technology makes this a very real possibility. Car parks should be
fitted with charging points and replacement battery packs should be obtainable from filling stations. Fuel cells for transport are already available and being trialled in buses. Hydrogen may not be the best fuel due to generation, distribution and storage difficulties. Liquid fuels such as methanol from secondgeneration
biofuels may be an alternative.

13. Air transport. It is difficult to contemplate fuels other than kerosene-type hydrocarbons being used for air transport, but a move to more efficient, turboprop propulsion systems is already appearing. It is possible to manufacture jet fuel from coal and biofuels via the Fisher-Tropsch process, and also from methane, currently flared off, by a synfuel process. This may become a security imperative if oil from
the Middle East comes under pressure.

14. Rolling targets should be the paradigm for future policy. These should be set every five years or so, with success or failure impacting on the figures for the next target, rather than looking 40 years ahead (often with targets having little chance of realization). It is constructive to look at the scenarios developed by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution when it set a target of 60% reduction
in CO2 production by 2050. Those scenarios have been largely ignored. One startling scenario suggests, “keep demand in 2050 the same as in 1998, multiply renewables 20-fold and nuclear power 4-fold with 46 Sizewell B sized stations”. Other scenarios are even more extreme, particularly where nuclear power is not included. They have to be realistically re-examined but are unlikely to be watered down.

A rolling target approach is more likely to be effective. The present Government talks of an 80% reduction being necessary by 2050 to keep CO2 emissions below 550ppm. The implications of accommodating this “challenging” 80% target remain no more than a political objective until clearly defined in engineering and cost terms.

15. Reinstate the Department of Energy to bring all energy policy under one department with cabinet representation in the person of a Secretary of State, emphasising and reflecting the central role that energy plays in every aspect of government, business and day-to-day life.


This proposed policy is intended to heighten awareness of the growing energy gap as a matter of urgency. Electricity generation in particular is becoming a cause for grave concern. While this is acknowledged by the present Government (this report utilises the Government’s own data; industrial leaders predict even higher generation losses), it continues ostensibly to leave the gap to be filled by the market, which in reality has been distorted by counterproductive intervention. Vacillation, procrastination and the lack of an appropriate investment framework have all served to severely hinder energy-supply development and our ability to meet
environmental objectives.

That there will be supply–side difficulties is inevitable. A risk management strategy that identifies the responsibilities of government, local authorities and businesses in the eventuality of power interruption is imperative. Particular care must be taken to safeguard hospitals, schools, care homes and other vulnerable
sectors of society.

Our Route Map to Energy Survival for the UK sets out a step-by-step action plan to
mitigate the risks of large-scale power cuts and electricity “famine” by defining priorities and timescales for energy development.

From a global perspective, the conviction that “peak oil” and “peak gas” theories, which predict worldwide supplies will peak in the next few years (perhaps they already have, with oil at 86mbbls a day), and then go steadily downhill, is gaining ground. This fuels the growing belief that gas from the Middle East and Russia may
not be available to satisfy the growing demand from Europe and the UK over the next 10 years (before a new strategy of new-build nuclear, renewables in quantity from a Severn barrage and coal-fired stations with CCS come on stream). Competition from China and India further diminishes our ability to lever access to affordable,
secure hydrocarbon supplies. We have drifted into a situation resembling a slow motion train crash. South Africa has already hit the buffers with disastrous effects on its economy.

Energy is the lifeblood of growing civilisations. Without it we slide into anarchy. Fortunately, there are high-technology solutions if we care to take them.

A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK - Foreword

At the suggestion of one of the many people in Copeland who know a great deal about energy policy I have been re-reading the study by Professor Ian Fells and Candida Whitmill, "A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK." It is a paper that every politician or person interested in the future of Britain's energy supplies should read. We ignore the warnings it makes at our peril.

This powerful, well-argued document is available on the internet as a pdf file here.

It was commissioned by Andrew Cooke CBE, chairman of Cooke Holdings, who wrote a foreword explaining why he commissioned the paper, which reads as follows


I am an industrialist. The company I own makes special steel parts for all manner of machines. It employs 800 people and spends millions of pounds a year on electricity and gas to power the furnaces which make and process the steel.

I am also the father of four children aged between 12 and 19.

In the course of my business life I have learned a lot about the electricity and gas industries. I have battled with them frequently over price and supply conditions. But at least I always knew that the energy was there. Availability and security of supply were assured.

The position has now changed. The UK’s nuclear and coal stations are old. The supply of North Sea gas to the gas-fired stations, which have partially replaced them, is running out. We are increasingly dependent on gas from Russia and other unstable parts of the world. But oil and gas themselves are becoming scarce commodities. The less we have for such things as cars and lorries, cooking and central heating, the more we will need electricity. And we won’t be able to rely on gas to generate that electricity.

A fearful void opens up. We need more electricity, yet increasingly we lack the means to generate it. This threat is not for some time in the distant future, when we are all dead. If nothing is done, within 5 years the UK could be beset by chronic power cuts, with electricity scarce, uncertain and even more expensive than today.

Without a reliable electricity supply, it is impossible to live life as we do. Businesses and families are disrupted. The safe and certain civilisation we take for granted evaporates almost overnight. Should electricity supplies dry up, or become rationed, or intolerably expensive, our accustomed life-style will cease.

I am dismayed at Government blindness to the realities of this situation. It will take decades to construct the necessary quantity of nuclear stations just to replace those which are reaching the end of their lives. Wind only works when the wind is blowing. None of the measures which have been announced recently will be of the slightest use in the short and medium term.

It is because the UK does not have one that I have felt compelled to finance a policy which addresses this “energy gap”. Professor Fells is an internationally respected academic and engineer whose speciality is energy. He shares my concerns and fears. So we have teamed up to produce a pragmatic policy for the UK. I have nothing special to gain personally from this, save the peace of mind which comes from responding to the cry “something must be done” by actually doing something, and the hope that by drawing attention to the danger we face and putting forward solutions, present and future generations of British people will continue to enjoy the undisrupted benefits of our electricity-dependent civilisation.

Andrew Cooke.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Democracy in Cumbria

In a post a few days ago, titled "The Canary in a coal mine" I wrote that the number of people involved in local politics is dangerously low in many parts of the country, that this is bad for the health of local democracy, and that one side effect of this is the potential for extremists of many kinds to have an impact out of all proportion to public support for the things they actually stand for.

Copeland is one of those areas.

I am concerned that what amounts to a vicious circle of apathy has taken hold. The original "canary in a coal mine" study which I was quoting documents how in all too many parts of Britain there are not enough people involved in some or all of the local political parties. E.g. they are short of enough workers to deliver leaflets and knock on doors to keep in touch with people and deliver a real local choice.

This in turn means that the shrinking minority who do get involved find it harder and harder to get round the constituency and communicate with and respond to the voters. Consequently the impression is created that the political parties are doing nothing and do not care. This makes people even more disillusioned, and so still fewer people get involved, and it is even harder to get things going.

There is no easy answer to this, though I do think that if those of us who are currently active in politics showed a bit more humility and willingness to listen it might be easier to persuade people that it is worth their while to get involved.

When I was a very young man I used to be highly idealistic about democracy. These days, while it still has my support, it is on the worldly-wise grounds once expressed by Winston Churchill. Asked what he thought of democracy he replied that it was the worst system there is - except, of course, for all the others.

Of course, we can never please everyone. Those to whom "listening" means "Do everything exactly as I want it" will inevitably end up believing that no politicians listen, because running any political body, from a council to a government requires compromise between competing interests. You can listen to both the applicant who wants a planning application approved, and the neighbours who want it refused but you cannot give both sides everything they want.

Democracy in Cumbria and Britain alike would be healthier if a larger number of people were involved.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alan Southward R.I.P.

I was shocked to learn today that Alan Southward, head of electoral registration at Copeland Borough Council, died very suddenly this week.

Alan had to deal with some difficult situations when running elections in Copeland. Particularly when acting as returning officer for one or two the recent by-elections such as those in Harbour ward in 2007 and Kells & Sandwith in December 2008.

A very honest man, he could be relied on to say exactly what he thought but had a remarkable knack for saying things very bluntly and openly without causing offence: he used to joke that he treated politicians of all parties with equal contempt. In terms of how he spoke to us this was true, but he also did his best to be equally helpful to everyone.

What I will particularly miss about him is that he was one of the last of those who always did his best to interpret rules and regulations in terms of what the spirit of the rules meant, guided by genuine common sense, rather than sticking rigidly to the letter of the rules no matter how stupid that is. This was a refreshing change to the "tick in the box" mentality which is far too prevalent these days.

Rest in peace.

Postscript. Shortly after I made this post, the OSC Management Committee of Copeland Council began this afternoon's meeting by standing for a minute in silence to mark Alan's memory.


Alan's funeral, which I was unfortunately not able to attend as it clashed with an important visit to Sellafield, took place today (24th February). I gather that it was a moving and very well-attended funeral.

Also today the full council stood in silence for a minute in Alan's memory

Top Tories visit Sellafield on “Energy Coast” tour

As mentioned last Friday, shadow cabinet member Greg Clark MP and his colleague Charles Hendry MP visited Sellafield on Thursday and Friday as part of a tour of “Energy Coast Masterplan” related sites in West Cumbria which included the National Nuclear Skills academy, National Nuclear Laboratory, Thorp, the port of Workington, and meetings with the NDA, Nuclear Management Partners, and the Unions.

Greg Clark, shadow secretary of state for Energy and Climate change, said it was highly appropriate that Sellafield should be part of the first regional tour by the Conservative Energy and Climate Change team since the team was set up a few months ago to shadow the newly created department. He emphasised that the Conservatives see diversity of energy supply as vital to Britain’s energy security and are committed to removing any obstacles which might otherwise prevent a new generation of nuclear power plants from forming one important part of that diverse energy supply.

Charles Hendry added that this is a most exciting time for the nuclear industry and that the Conservatives want West Cumbria to be the foremost centre of nuclear expertise in the world.

Recognising that skills and training are both an essential part of the infrastructure needed to support nuclear investment, and needed to protect the environment, the tour began and ended with visits to educational facilities: the national Nuclear Skills academy, and the Eco Centre at Cockermouth School.

In response to questions, both Greg Clark and Charles Hendry made clear that they wanted to see a cross-party consensus between the Conservatives and Labour so that potential investors in nuclear power would know that their money would not be lost in the event of a change in government. Both the Conservatives and Labour support the principle that new nuclear build has a role to play if the economics are right. The fact that companies are coming forward to express an interest in building nuclear power plans shows that those companies believe the economics are right.

Charles Hendry added “I think nuclear is every bit as likely if not more likely to happen under us as under Labour, because of the urgency which we would come into address some of the delays."

Power to the People ...

David Cameron has launched a major policy green paper outlining Conservative plans to give power back to local communities.

He explained that “decentralisation, devolution and empowerment” are naturally part of a Conservative approach to government, and stressed the importance of an “empowering state” rather than an “overpowering state”.

‘Control Shift’, our decentralisation green paper, outlines a series of policies that will see powers transferred from the central state to local people and local institutions:

* Abolishing all regional planning and housing powers exercised by regional government, returning powers and discretion back to local communities

* Creating bottom-up incentives for house building, by allowing councils to benefit more from the increase in council tax revenues from new homes, rather than being equalised away by Whitehall

* Allowing councils to establish their own local enterprise partnerships to take over the economic development functions and funding of the Regional Development Agencies

* Giving local authorities a new discretionary power to levy business rate discounts, allowing them to help local shops and services, such as rural pubs or post offices

* Provide citizens in all large cities with the opportunity to choose whether to have an elected mayor, through mayoral referendums

* Greater use of direct democracy, including allowing residents to veto high council tax rises, and instigating local referendums on local issues

* Requiring councils to publish detailed information online on expenditure by local councils – including the pay and perks of senior staff, and issuing new guidance to stop ‘rewards for failure’ to sacked town hall staff.

Caroline Spelman, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said, "It’s not just about empowering local government; we want to empower the people it serves so that they can have more say in how much of their money they want their council to spend on their behalf.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

IPSOS - MORI Poll result

The latest MORI poll, out today, has the Conservatives up to 48% - twenty points ahead of Labour who are on 28%.

The figures are:

LABOUR 28% (-2)
LIB DEMS 17% (nc)

(Comparisons are with the previous MORI poll.

As "political betting" puts it,

"Clearly the past week has been quite dreadful for the government and it was almost inevitable that the polling would pick this up.

The MORI top-line numbers, of course, only include those 100% certain to vote and this tends to produce dramatic changes when things are going very bad or very well for a party."

Nobody should ever take the electorate for granted but it is clear that a lot of people are very unhappy with the Labour government. And I don't blame them.

Imtiaz Ameen: "Not in my name"

Imtiaz Ameen was Conservative candidate for Blackburn at the 2005 general election, is a former councillor in Dewsbury and writes a regular blog which you can read here. He is also a British Muslim.

He argues on his blog and on Conservative Home here that it was not in his name that Geert Wilders was refused entry into the UK.

While disagreeing strongly with Mr Wilders' views, Imtiaz argues that, "In refusing entry clearance to the Dutch MP Geert Wilders, the Government has scored a soft own goal. It should have allowed Mr Wilders into the country and let him speak at the event organised by Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox at the House of Lords where his film Fitna was also to be aired."

This was a very brave and reasonable piece by Imtiaz and there is an important lesson to be drawn from it: those who wish to criticise the decision to bar Mr Wilders should make sure to aim that criticism at the people who took that decision, e.g. the Labour government, and not at British Muslims.

All too often Muslims get wrongly blamed for the anti-democratic actions of people on the illiberal left who misuse the idea of respect for diversity as an excuse to ban or prevent actions they disagree with.

The classic example is attempts to block celebrations of Christmas by politically correct council officials. Such attempts are rather more rare than you might imagine from the press, but they do happen. In not a single one of the cases I have looked into did an attempt to ban Christmas celebrations originate with a Muslim or a member of any other non-christian faith.

And sometimes even where there isn't a hidden agenda of discrediting Christianity, people who are not themselves muslims manage to be "More Islamic than the Ayatollah" and go further than British muslims themselves actually want to avoid offending them, sometimes with unfortunate consequences.

In the vast majority of cases, proposals to restrict Christmas celebrations of rename them with some daft title like "Winterval" originate with an atheist or agnostic who is actually opposed to all religious celebrations but who raised the spectre of non-existent objections to celebrations of Christmas from other faiths as an excuse. By misrepresenting other faiths as being opposed to celebration of a Christian holiday, politically-correct atheists and agnostics have attacked religion in the name of diversity. The irony would be funny if the consequences for race relations were not so tragic.

In reality most British Muslims, along with Jews and Hindus and people of other faiths have no problem whatever with celebrations of Christmas.

Unfortunately the law of unintended consequences has struck, and what the politically-correct idiots who attack Christmas in the name of diversity have actually done is not to weaken religion but to boost racism and fascism. Some of the people who are cross about this kind of attack on Christian celebrations which are part of our British culture have bought into the excuse given and wrongly assume that the origin of these attacks is other religions in general and Islam in particular.

The consequences of this have included a rise in racial tension, in votes for parties such as the BNP, and incidents of racist abuse directed at members of minority groups.

It is extremely important not to assume that all members of minority groups are to blame either for the actions of a handful of islamic extremists, nor for the actions of the poltically-correct left.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trevor Kavanagh asks a good question

Namely, why is Gordon Brown still prime minister ?

You can read his article in today's Sun newspaper here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cash Blow to West Cumberland Hospital ?

The News and Star reports here that there has been a major setback in plans for a new hospital for West Cumbria.

The paper's article today says that the NHS trust "found out this week that a maximum pot of just £100 million will be available – which may not be enough to deliver the new-build facility they had envisaged.

They have now admitted they may be forced to look at a part-refurbishment scheme – using some of the existing West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven – instead."

I have been arguing for some time that the local NHS trusts must take a decision quickly, to ensure that we protect staff morale and keep good people at the hospital by giving them a secure future: this has become all the more important with the national economy going into severe problems and £35 billion sliced from government spending plans in the pre-budget report. The longer action is delayed, the greater the risk that the money will no longer be there. Instead we should move forward as quickly as possible to provide modern services on the existing site.

I am of course very concerned to hear about the money problems. However, as I was already of the opinion that the existing site is the best place for the hospital, if it means that the local NHS Trusts focus on providing the best available services on that site and moving forward to do so as quickly as possible, such a policy would be of benefit to patients and staff alike.

More details on my hospital campaign blog - see link at right

Shadow Cabinet visit to Sellafield

Greg Clark MP, shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and Charles Hendry MP, shadow Energy minister, have been in West Cumbria yesterday and today on an "Energy Coast" tour which took in Sellafield and a number of relevant facilities including, the National Nuclear Laboratory, the nuclear Skills Academy, Whitehaven harbour, and the Port of Workington. They held meetings with local bodies including the NDA, NNL, Nuclear Management Partners, and the unions.

More details to follow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Voltaire and Geert Wilders

This country used to pride itself on freedom of worship, and of freedom of speech within the law.

Subject to the law of libel, and that it is and should be illegal to incite people to violence or other criminal activity, our attitude to the expression of views we dislike, no matter how abhorrent, should be the famous comment usually attributed to Voltaire:

"I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Those who have committed murder or incited others to violence in the name of Islam do not represent the majority of muslims in this country and mainstream Islamic leaders have issued a fatwa making clear that such views and actions are haram and against the teachings of their religion.

The majority of muslims should not be denied the right to worship as they choose because the actions of a depraved minority.

Therefore I strongly reject the views attributed to Dutch MP Geert Wilders who apparently wanted to come here and argue for the banning of the Koran.

But rejecting his views is one thing, and preventing him from expressing them is another. Banning an elected politician from another EU country from coming here to express his or her views is not something which should be done lightly.

The Home Office refused to allow Mr Wilders to attend a meeting at the House of Lords, arguing that his presence in the UK would threaten public order. If they have evidence for that view, they would be wise to publish it. It is important that rules for entry ito the UK should be applied in a clear, transparent, and consistent way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sir James Crosby resigns

Sir James Crosby has resigned as deputy chairman of the City watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

The move follows allegations that, during his time as head of HBOS from 2001 to 2006, he sacked a whistleblower, Paul Moore who had raised concerns the bank was exposed to too much risk.

Sir James insists that Paul Moore's allegations were investigated at the time and found to be "without merit." However, as the BBC's Business editor Robert Peston argues convincingly here, in terms of the big picture, "No one in their right mind would deny" that Paul Moore was right and Sir James and the HBOS directors were wrong. "HBOS was lending too much."

There seem to have been an extraordinary number of people connected with the Labour government who have included in their resignation statement the claim that they have done nothing wrong, and Sir James is the latest in a long line to do so. There is no evidence that Sir James broke any law or regulation, and in that sense he is telling the truth. But it is difficult to disagree with Robert Peston that he made "a disastrous judgement."

This is what David Cameron has to say on the subject:

"This morning we learnt that Sir James Crosby had resigned from his position as Deputy Chairman of the City watchdog - the Financial Services Authority. This was because of an allegation made about his time as Chief Executive of HBOS. A former employee claims Sir James Crosby sacked him for saying that the bank was taking on too much risk.

Why is all this so important? For three reasons. First, because it raises questions about Gordon Brown's judgement. Sir James Crosby is one of his trusted economic advisers and the man he put in place to oversee the regulation of our banks. The turn of events now shows Gordon Brown's misjudgement in putting him in such an important role.

Second, it raises questions about Gordon Brown's character. In the House of Commons today, I asked the Prime Minister to apologise for getting this judgement call wrong. But, as ever, he refused. Be it for claiming to end boom or bust, failing to regulate our banks, or now this, the Prime Minister is simply unable to admit when he's got things wrong - so I don't believe he can be the man to put things right.

And third, it raises questions about the way this Government works. The immediate events leading up to Sir James Crosby's resignation are still not clear. Was it his decision? Or was he pushed in order to make life easier for the Government? Whatever happened, I suspect this will not be the last of the resignations we see to save this Government's political skin.

David Cameron"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

There, but for the grace of God ...

A very famous couple, who I won't name but certain tabloids have, apparently had to leave a major event this week because their young children were running wild in a hotel and other visitors were complaining.

I suspect every parent of young children who is even slightly in the public eye must dread this kind of thing happening. We live in an age where parents are supposed to be constantly kind and superhumanly patient with their offspring, and yet keep them completely under control. Parents these days get flak from some quarters if they so much as raise their voice when a child misbehaves, and yet they are supposed to teach children discipline when every possible means of doing so is condemned as cruelty by some well-meaning busybody.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Cameron promises to govern Scotland "with respect"

David Cameron has promised to do everything in his power to ensure the SNP don’t split up the UK.

He praised the efforts of Annabel Goldie and the Scottish Conservatives in securing £234m of concessions in the Holyrood budget – and stressed that Conservative support for the budget does not diminish our “vigorous opposition” to the SNP.

“Surely Scotland deserves better than to have to choose between one centre-left party – Labour – that has failed the country for 11 years, and another centre-left party – the SNP – that wants to break it up?”

In an article in Scotland on Sunday, he outlined three ways in which the Conservative “commitment to Scotland and the Union” would manifest itself in government:

Backing the constitutional settlement when it comes to devolution – “Whilst Iain Gray and Scottish Labour simply take their orders from Gordon Brown, Annabel Goldie is her own woman. We have a close working relationship but it is about co-operation, not control.”

Working constructively with any administration in Holyrood “for the good of Scotland”

More co-operation “at all levels” of government to make devolution work effectively

David stressed, “This commitment to true partnership between our nations sets the Conservatives apart from the other parties in Scotland as much as our commitment to modern, centre-right ideas. We are the only party that can bring about the change Scotland needs.”

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Canary in a coal mine

This one is for political anoraks only.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg has written an academic study, with support from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published in "Parliamentary Affairs" into the progress of the British National Party in local elections in England.

His argument is that votes for the BNP in council elections tend to be a danger sign, as when a canary in a coalmine succumbs to poisonous gas, of a dangerous lack of health in local democracy.

I don't agree with everything he says but I do think he is right that the number of people involved in local politics is dangerously low in many parts of the country, that this is bad for the health of local democracy, and that one side effect of this is the potential for extremists of many kinds to have an impact out of all proportion to public support for the things they actually stand for. (Which is not necessarily the same as the things they claim to stand for.)

This point could be applied to a number of extremist organisations on far right and far left alike, and not just the BNP.

Hence it is extremely important to get more normal people with a wide range of views involved in mainstream politics at every level. Not just to defeat the BNP - to make democracy more effective as a means of protecting the interests of ordinary people.

You can read the article "The Canary in a Coalmine? Explaining the Emergence of the British National Party in English Local Politics" by Stuart Wilks-Heeg here. It is a 22-page article, and as I inferred at the begining, will probably be a cure for insomnia for any reader other than those people who are very interested in politics.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sarkozy on the recession

Gordon Brown often suggests that prominent foreign leaders are following his lead on how to deal with the world recession.

Those leaders, however, often disagree.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has become the latest prominent foreign statesman to disagree with Gordon Brown’s decision to reduce VAT in an attempt to tackle the recession.

The French President said Brown’s VAT cut had “absolutely not worked” and stressed he would not repeat Britain’s economic “mistakes”.

He joins a host of high-profile figures who have criticised Brown’s economic policy, including the Chief Economist of the IMF, the Finance Minister of Germany, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, and the CEOs of Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencers.

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, stressed, “We said at the time that Brown’s flagship VAT cut would only make things worse and would be an expensive failure. That view is now echoed not just by British retailers, but by foreign governments, including France, Germany and Holland.

And he added, “Gordon Brown claims to have saved the world. It would appear that world leaders increasingly disagree.”

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Another Brown Gaffe

After accidentally claiming to have saved the world, it appears that Gordon Brown has made another gaffe at Prime Minister's Questions. Yesterday afternoon Downing street was spinning that he did not really mean to say that the world was in a depression.

Ironically, this came just after he was accusing the Conservatives of talking the economy down.

You can read the Sun's take on the story here.)

One gaffe could happen to anyone. Two - perhaps a co-incidence. Any more will start to reinforce fears about whether the PM is up to the job.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Feedback: "Health in Copeland" Lecture

Attended an interesting lecture this evening at Sellafield by Professor Ashworth of the health trust on the subject of health issues in Cumbria, and Copeland in particular.

Don't put Sellafield investment at risk

Those concerned about a fair allocation of jobs on major contracts should pursue this in other ways than strike action.

This is particularly in the interests of Sellafield and West Cumbria

Well over 90% of people working at Sellafield had nothing to do with Monday's strike. Snow had a far bigger effect on Sellafield than the strike did.

But unfortunately that is not what has come through in the media.

Only a few days ago we were all welcoming the announcement by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that Sellafield is in the running as a possible site for a new Nuclear power station. But it is not a done deal. Investors still have to be persuaded that this is a good place to invest, which it is.

I fully understand people’s concerns about rising unemployment and want to see British firms and British workers win important contracts. There are legitimate questions to ask about the Total power station contracts for energy. But I have never believed that strikes are the answer, let alone secondary strikes.

It does not require either a strike, or a change in the law, to address the issues raised by the Total contracts. There are other ways to address the issue. In particular, it would be illegal for any company to say it would not hire British workers - just as it would be illegal for a British company in Italy to say it would not hire Italian workers. If, as has been alleged, this is happening there are ways to deal with it.

The Prime Minister was unwise to use the phrase 'British jobs for British Workers' while doing nothing about it. He has let a genie out of the bottle.

Concerns about this issue cannot be allowed to jeopardise the economic future of West Cumbria. We need to work together to make sure we secure the new nuclear investment, which the area needs and for which we have a huge amount to offer the country. This must not be put at risk.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Do we give in to snow too easily ?

Obviously for many people yesterday, when parts of the UK had the worst snow for 18 years, it made normal travel and work impossible.

Plenty of others, for whom the snow was less bad in their areas, or who are set up to be able to work at home, barely noticed.

But it is legitimate to ask whether we have got into the habit of giving up a bit too quickly. I'm not criticising anyone, merely suggesting that each of us ask ourselves the question.

Whitehaven had about half an inch of snow yesterday morning. I briefly considered working from home, but decided to walk to the office, finding the streets quite safe as long as one was careful.

My children's school was one of those which stayed open, and I'm certain that was the right decision for that school. I am not necessarily criticising the other schools in Whitehaven which closed, as their circumstances may have differed - some of them are on much steeper hills.

The school secretary told my wife she spent practically the whole day speaking to parents who rang to ask if the school was closing, came in person to ask the same question or wanted to take their children home.

Now I know that many parts of the country had a lot more snow than Whitehaven, and many people (including DC - see previous post) had genuine reasons why they had to change their plans. But I have a gut feeling that in areas where there was only an inch or two of snow, maybe less than that, it caused more disruption than it should have. The Sun has a view on the issue here.

What do you think?

Monday, February 02, 2009

A message from David Cameron

This morning Michael Gove and I were going to tour Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College in Lewisham.

We were going to give speeches about the importance of maths, and we were going to announce that Carol Vorderman had agreed to lead a new Conservative Party Maths Taskforce.

That's what was going to happen, anyway. Like other parts of the country London virtually ground to a halt this morning as it tried to cope with the heaviest snowfall in 18 years.

Hatcham College was one of the many schools that was forced to close, so the three of us played in the snow instead!

The snow goes on, but so must the show - we've just launched the taskforce from our campaign headquarters. You can read my speech or watch the webcast here.

In the last eight years we've slipped from eighth to twenty-fourth in the international maths league tables. We've got to find a way to inspire more children to learn maths, and bright people to teach it.

You wouldn't be able to read this email without maths. You wouldn't have a computer or mobile phone to view it on, never mind the internet.

If we are going to be able to shift our battered, unbalanced economy towards the high-tech industries that maths enables, we are going to have to do much, much better.

David Cameron

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Frank Field on jobs for British Workers

Labour MP Frank Field has an interesting piece in the Mail here about how we can make sure that government capital projects provide a fair share of local jobs.

I don't agree with everything he says but some of his points are very well taken, and it is rare to read a former Labour minister and current Labour MP make such a blistering and effective attack on the government.