Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Balls by name ...

On the Today programme this morning, Secretary of State for schools, (and would-be chancellor), Ed Balls was defending the government's refusal to carry out a spending review, claiming that although they cannot say how much Labour will spend on schools it will be an increase, and although we don't know how much Labour will spend on schools the Conservatives will spend less.

Balls based this allegation on the fact that Michael Gove had refused to match one of his empty promises for extra spending - appparently it did not occur to this self-styled financial genius that perhaps, unlike the government, Gove was too responsible to promise to spend money which neither Labour or the Tories know they actually have to spend.

Balls also suggested that the reason he could afford to spend more money on schools is that Britain is recovering from recession faster than anticipated.

Shortly afterwards when I arrived at the building where I was working today, the first thing I saw was a big TV screen in the foyer with the news of the official statistics for growth or rather lack of them.

And far from showing that the economy is recovering faster than expected, national income for the first quarter of this year had

1) dropped, not recovered
2) dropped by more than expected, so the position is worse than expected, not better
3) dropped by the largest quarterly amount in around 50 years.

In other words, Balls is not just the name of the school's secretary, it an accurate description of what he was talking on the radio this morning.

Only in this Labour government could the fact that a Chancellor with Alistair Darling's track record successfully defended his job have saved the country from someone much worse.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Well done Andy Murray

A rare night in, and I was glued to the TV this evening watching the tennis. Andy Murray's fourth round nail-biter was one of the most riveting displays of tennis I have ever seen - up there with the Borg-MacEnroe finals.

Well done to both players for some superb tennis.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The final phase of Digital switchover begins

Those of us in Copeland who went through Digital Switchover in 2007 have had to spend some time yesterday or today retuning all our Digital TVs or set-top-boxes to allow for the change round of channels as the Caldbeck transmitter begins the same switchover process.

There is now no BBC2 analogue signal in the Border TV area.

That means that Border TV area residents who do not have digital equipment, both those in the Whitehaven TV area who didn't go through switchover in 2007 because their signal comes directly or indirectly from Caldbeck, and those in areas like Keswick who are going through this for the first time, will now have lost BBC2.

It also means that if you have digital equipment you can check whether it is working: if you have not yet obtained a set-top box you have another month to do so.

But on 22nd July all remaining analogue TV signals in the Border region will be switched off. At that stage any would-be viewer without either a digital set-top-box or a digital TV will be looking at a screen full of noise.

I would strongly advise any Border TV area resident one who likes watching Television and who has not yet obtained a set-top box or digital television, or who has done so but is having trouble getting it to work, not to leave it until the remainder of the analogue signals are switched off in another month before you do something about it.

It will be much easier for everyone concerned if viewers sort out their equipment, and call out help if they need it, over the next four weeks, and avoid a mad rush in the two or three days either side of 22nd July.

There is a support scheme for elderly residents. It is a sore point with me that in my opinion the eligibility for this should have been wider, but if you are over 75 or registered blind or disabled you can get help, and if you are on pension credit or disability support this includes financial support to buy and fit a set-top box.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Digital Switchover - next round begins tomorrow!

Those residents of Copeland constituency north of about Bootle who have not already been through digital switchover will lose the analogue BBC2 signal tomorrow.

This includes those who get their TV signal from the Parton and St Bees transmitters and those who can "see" the Caldbeck transmitter. It also includes those parts of the redrawn constituency in and around Keswick, and the same applies, of course, to the rest of the Border TV area.

The remaining analogue channels will be switched off in another month.

Those of us who went through Digital Switchover in 2007 will have to retune all our digital equipment tomorrow as the signal frequencies are adjusted to accomodate the change in the Caldbeck signal, and we will have to retune again in late July when the Caldbeck analogue signals finally cease.

A new start in Europe

Centre and Centre-Right MEPs from eight different EU countries have announced the formation of a new ‘European Conservatives and Reformists Group’ in the European Parliament.

These participants, totalling 55 MEPs, have formed the initial ‘core’ of the group, which is likely to be the fourth largest group in the new Parliament. However, negotiations are still continuing and it is hoped that other EU parties and MEPs may be attracted to the group by the time that the new European Parliament convenes in Strasbourg, on 14 July. The parties, from across the EU, which now comprise the core of the new European Conservatives and Reformists Group, are:

Belgium: Lijst Dedecker (LDD), with 1 MEP in the New Group

Czech Republic: Civic Democratic Party (ODS), with 9 MEPs

Finland: The Centre Party (Keskusta) sits in the Liberal
(ALDE) group but one of its MEPs is now joining the New

Hungary: Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) with 1 MEP

Latvia: Latvian National Independence Movement (TB/LNNK) with 1 MEP

The Netherlands: ChristianUnion (ChristenUnie) with 1 MEP

Poland: Law & Justice (PiS) with 15 MEPs

United Kingdom: The Conservative Party, with 26 MEPs in the New Group.

All of the parties have signed up to a declaration, originally negotiated in Prague, which sets out the aims and values of the new grouping. A copy of the Prague Declaration, which argues for reform and a non-federalist future for the EU, is attached for reference. Commenting on the establishment of the new European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group, Shadow Europe Minister Mark Francois said:

“We are very excited about this important new development in European politics. Our European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which already has fifty-five MEPs, will make a strong case for a centre/centre-right but non-federalist future for the EU. We already have participants from eight countries but talks are still continuing and we believe that more will be attracted to join our ranks in the near future.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

Agenda for Bransty and Harbour Forum

The next meeting of the Bransty and Harbour neighbourhood forum will take place at the Royal British Legion centre in Bransty Road at 7pm on Tuesday (23rd June.)

The main agenda items will include:

1) public open spaces in the area: Russell Maddams, the Parks Development Officer for Copeland BC will be giving a presentation on children's play areas in the forum area and there will be an opportunity for questions and discussion: there will also be a slot on the agenda for feedback about the maintenance of public areas.

2) Traffic: there will be a feedback on previous discussions about the Whitehaven town centre traffic flow proposals from County Highways and about Town Centre residents parking.

3) A "Civic Quarter" for Whitehaven: Paul Crooks from Westlakes Renaissance will be talking about the Civic Quarter programme

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Honouring our Armed Forces

In the coming week communities throughout Britain will honour the contribution made by both the current members of the forces and by veterans, and we l particularly remember those who died defending our country.

Tomorrow morning at 10.30 am the Mayor of Copeland will raise an Armed Forces flag from one of the flagpoles at St Nicholas’ Gardens in Whitehaven, and it will remain flying until after the civic service at St James' church at 2pm on Sunday June 28th. The flag will then be lowered by a veteran serviceman.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

On a lighter note: a message from Hazel to Gordon

When I heard that Salford constituency Labour party had decided not to deselect Hazel Blears as their MP, I thought of this.

Of course, the electors of Salford may have a different opinion when they finally get a chance to vote ...

I promise that's my last musical joke for at least the next month.

The Politics Show Energy debate

I took part in a recording this evening of a local debate for the BBC Politics show about different sources of energy.

Issues covered include nuclear power, nuclear waste, onshore and offshore wind, and coal power.

Other participants included Jamie Reed MP, Chris Davies MEP, Elaine Woodburn, Martin Forwood of CORE, and various experts and representatives of campaigning groups.

The full debate lasting one hour will be available on the BBC politics show website. About 20 minutes will be used on the politics show this Sunday from 11 am in the North East and Cumbria area, and about half an hour will be broadcast on the local radio on Monday afternoon.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bringing parliament into disrepute

"Redaction" - censoring elements of invoices for MPs expenses before publishing them - was supposed to be about removing elements which might pose a security or crime risk if published.

For example, nobody in their right mind could object to blanking out bank account numbers or similar personal identification details which might enable fraudsters to steal from the accounts involved, or help conmen to defraud innocent members of the public by adopting the identities of people with whom MPs have had business dealings.

There may also be a case for removing addresses where the publication of those addresses may help terrorists - though it has to be said that this justification has been over-used where those addresses are in the public domain. And if the Daily Telgraph had not been handed a full set of expenses claim data prior to "redaction" the practice of "flipping" might never have come to light.

But publishing documents which are almost entirely covered in black ink just makes parliament look ridiculous. Even where there is a justification for what has been claimed, it makes it look as if at best MPs have something to hide and at worst that they are the ones who are defrauding members of the public.

This is not good enough, whichever party does it. It's not fair to the taxpayer, it's not fair to honest MPs of all parties, and it's not fair to political candidates other than sitting MPs - such as the county council candidates who have just had to endure a barrage of jokes on the subject and a certain amount of actual abuse during the recent elections.

The independed review now under way need to include in their recommendations a set of clear guidelines on what can be hidden under "redaction" and what should be left in published documents so that we draw a sensible middle way between giving valuable information on a plate to terrorists and fraudsters on the one hand, or making the House of Commons look like fraudsters on the other.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An insult to the families of those who died

Although we have already had two inquiries into the Iraq war, the first two - Hutton and Butler - had highly constrained terms of reference.

So there is probably a case for a third and final inquiry with a more open set of terms of reference.

What there is no case for is the inquiry announced this week.

It will hear evidence in secret, is not allowed to assign blame to anyone, and just to be on the safe side, the timing means that it will probably not report until after the next election when any criticisms of the present government will probably only be of academic interest.

This is a waste of public money and a cynical insult to the families of the victims of the conflict.

Monday, June 15, 2009

General Election Countdown

Coutdown to the opening of polls on the last possible date for a general election: now on 352 days 23 hours.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Song for Millom (I will survive)

It has been suggested that the song "I will survive" was particularly apposite to the recent county council election in Millom.

The Labour candidate was a recent Tory defector who fought one of the most most personal and nasty campaigns most of us had ever seen - a campaign which several senior members of the constituency Labour party from the MP's staff down have privately been falling over themselves to disavow.

As does not always happen in politics, this campaign reaped its just reward with a well above average swing and a wafer-thin Conservative majority converted into a gigantic one.

So here, to the tune of Gloria Gaynor's "I will survive" is "A Song for Millom"

When the poll was called, I was petrified,
Kept thinking, would that two-vote margin really stay on side?
But then so many nights canvassing I heard you did me wrong
And I grew strong and I learned how to get along

And now you're back from outer space
And putting out your silly smear sheets all over the place
Electing you to Copeland council, that we never should have tried,
If we'd have known for just one second, that you'd turn to the dark side

Go on now, go! Walk out the door!
Just turn around now: 'cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to hurt us with goodbye
Did you think we'd crumble, did you think we'd lay down and die?

Oh, no, not I! I will survive!
Oh, ’cause we have integrity, I know our cause will thrive
I've got all my life to live and we've got hard work to give
And I'll survive, I will survive, hey, hey

It took all the strength I had not to lose my way
Nor respond in kind to Labour lies in “Millom Today”
And I spent, oh, so many nights just knocking on the doors
I used to cry, but now I hold my head up high

And you see us, with purpose new
There’ll be no more misjudgements like when we elected you
But all your Macbride tactics did is turn your name to dust
And now we’re saving all our respect for people we can trust

Go on now, go! Walk out the door
Just turn around now 'cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to break us with goodbye
Did you think we'd crumble, did you think we'd lay down and die?

Oh, no, not I! I will survive!
And a majority of two is now six hundred seven-five
I've got all my life to live and we've got hard work to give
And I'll survive, I will survive, I will survive!

(repeat chorus)

Go on now, go! Walk out the door
Just turn around now 'cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to break us with goodbye
Did you think we'd crumble, did you think we'd lay down and die?

Oh, no, not I! I will survive!
And a majority of two is now six hundred seven-five
I've got all my life to live and we've got hard work to give
And I'll survive, I will survive, I will survive!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A second Bransty landmark to close ?

Hot on the closure of the Sunny Hill pub in Bransty, the Whitehaven News this evening says that Bransty Hill Legion may be under threat.

This re-emphasises the need to give more support to the British pub. Public houses have been closing at a frightening rate, and we will miss them if they are all allowed to disappear.

Update on Whitehaven Golf Course

It has been confirmed to me that the drystone wall at Whitehaven Golf Course which has been partly removed was shown as retained in the plans when permission was given for the latest developments on the site. The matter is being taken up with the developers by Copeland council.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Conservatives outpoll Labour in Copeland in Euros

As previously mentioned, the Conservatives topped the poll in Copeland terms of votes cast in the County Council elections. We outpolled Labour by about 700 in the Copeland Borough Council area, and by over a thousand in the county council divisions which are wholly within the Copeland constituency.

This understates the Conservative lead, as there are two more rock-solid Conservative wards within the constituency which form part of the Cockermouth county divisions, both of which now fall partly in the Copeland constituency and partly in the Workington constituency. Both these divisions returned Conservative county councillors on Thursday.

Analysis of the local European election results, which are declared by local council total, suggests that the Conservatives will almost certainly also have topped the poll in the Copeland constituency in the European parliament elections, although again it is not possible to know the exact figures.

The Conservatives came within 200 of catching Labour in the Copeland Borough. If you assume that the proportion of Conservative and Labour voters in the county council elections who also voted Conservative and Labour respectively in the European election was similar in the Keswick and Derwent county division to the proportions in Copeland Borough, the Conservatives come out ahead by about a hundred votes before you add in any estimate for a further Conservative lead in the Crummock and Dalton wards.

Both Crummock and Dalton wards have Conservative councillors: Labour don't usually even contest them, but last time they did the Conservatives won by three to one.

So although we cannot prove the exact figures, it is possible to say with confidence that the Conservatives outpolled Labour on Thursday in the Copeland constituency in both the County Council and European elections.

The results in Copeland Borough were

Labour 5,617 (27.4%)
Conservative 5,434 (26.5%)
UKIP 3,043 (14.9%)
BNP 2,572 (12.6%)
Lib/Dem 1,576 (7.7%)
Green 883 (4.3%)
English Democrat 418 (2.0%)
Christian party 278 (1.4%)
No2EU 247 (1.0%)
Jury Team 92 (<1%)
Libertas 72 (<1%)
Independent 43 (<1%)

There were 221 blank or spoilt ballot papers, just over 20,000 votes cast, and the turnout was 37.3%

Sunday, June 07, 2009

More planning problems at Whitehaven Golf Course

Here we go again ...

Local residents have raised concerns about works taking place at Whitehaven Golf Course where planning permission has been given for a small hotel to be added to the facilities for the site.

A number of earth mounds have appeared, and parts of a dry stone wall have been removed. A local resident, one of whose ancestors was involved in building the wall, tells me it is over 150 years old.

I have raised the matter with the planning department at Copeland Council who have assured me that

1) Officers will visit the site early in the coming week to check the height, width, and position of the earth mounds and verify compliance or otherwise with the planning permission, and

2) The council's understanding was that the wall was to be retained. They have a call out to the consultant for the applicants asking that no further works on the wall take place until the matter is resolved.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Cumbria County Council election results in the twelve wards in the Copeland Borough on 4th June:

DISTINGTON & MORESBY - 32.56% turnout
Cam Ross (Lab) 548
Frank Hollowell (Lib Dem) 357
Dorothy Wonnacott (Con) 343
Helen Stevenson (BNP) 165

MIREHOUSE - 28.03% turnout
John Woolley (Lab) 512
Craig Burns (BNP) 249
Glenn Gray (Con) 240

HENSINGHAM & ARLECDON - 32.65% turnout
Mike Hawkins (Lab) 730
Marie Simpson (Con) 504
Shaun Hornby (BNP) 254

BRANSTY - 37.47% turnout
Graham Roberts (Con) 782
Bernard Kirk (Lab) 761
Malcolm Southward (BNP) 243

KELLS & SANDWITH - 40.71% turnout
Wendy Skillicorn (Lab) 681
Simon Nicholson (BNP) 491
Brigid Whiteside (Con) 238
Edward Caley-Knowles (UKIP) 180

HILLCREST, WHITEHAVEN - 39.42% turnout
Andrew Wonnacott (Con) 826
Steve Gibbons (Lab) 706
Bill Pugh (BNP) 229

ST BEES & EGREMONT - 39.13% turnout
David Southward (Lab) 635
Jane Micklethwaite (Con) 500
Sam Meteer (Ind) 477
Brian Allan (BNP) 193

GOSFORTH & ENNERDALE - 41.65% turnout
Norman Clarkson (Con) 1189
Peter Watson (Lab) 473
Lynne Hicks (BNP) 173

Tim Knowles (Lab) 844
Clive Jefferson (BNP) 501
Kenneth Simpson (Con) 498

Frank Morgan (Lab) 778
Jean Lewthwaite (Con) 556
Kevin Hurst (BNP) 276
Mike Minogue (Lib Dem) 230

SEASCALE & WHICHAM - 45.04% turnout
Sue Brown (Con) 1341
Carl Carter (Lab) 366
Nigel Gilligan (Green) 301
Russ Mclean (BNP) 166

MILLOM - 37.56% turnout
Ray Cole (Con) 1231
Robin Pitt (Lab) 556
Craig Eaton (BNP) 310

And in Keswick and Derwent, which has moved into the Copeland constituency for future parliamentary elections but remains in Allerdale for local government purposes, the results were

Elizabeth Barraclough (Lib/Dem) 971
Ron Munby (Conservative) 731
Denstone Kemp (Labour) 350
Calum Grant (Green) 258

Two more divisions, Cockermouth East and West, are partly in the new Copeland constituency and partly in Workington. Both were retained by the Conservatives.

Conservatives outpoll Labour in Copeland

County Council results 4 June 2009 within the county divisions wholly within the Copeland Constituency:

Conservative 8,979
Labour 7,900
BNP 3,250
Liberal Democrat 1,558
Green 559
Independent 477
UKIP 180

This slightly understates the Conservative position because it excludes the Crummock and Dalton wards, both represented by Conservative borough councillors, which form part of the Cockermouth East and West County divisions which straddle the new constituency boundary between Copeland and Workington.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Six reasons to vote Conservative today

Vote Conservative because it's the vote that Labour fears most.

Vote Conservative because of David Cameron's tough response to expenses-gate.

Vote Conservative because the Tory MEPs are set to leave the EPP and form the largest centre right grouping in the European Parliament opposed to ever closer union.

Vote Conservative because Tory MEPs will vote against the EU's ambitions to spend our way out of recession.

Vote Conservative because it's the surest way of getting a referendum on Lisbon.

Vote Conservative because David Cameron is the only UK party leader fit to be Prime Minister.

Thanks to Tim Montgomerie at Conservative Home who drafted the above.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Sun backs Tories in Thursday's Euro-poll

Today's "Sun Says" editorial backs the Conservatives in this week's European election.

In an article headed VOTE FOR EU REFERENDUM, the paper argues that there should be a referendum on the EU constitution (now referred to by its' supporters as the Lisbon Treaty).

They point out that "David Cameron promises a Tory government will hold a referendum on the Constitution if it hasn't been enacted by the next election.

We want a referendum whatever stage this wretched treaty has reached. But realistically, the Tories are the only game in town."

You can read the full article here.