Sunday, November 29, 2009

Byran Appleyard on Global Warming in the Sunday Times

Recent embarrassing disclosures about the work of climate change study at the University of East Anglia have touched off a fement of debate in the blogosphere, some of which is hitting the mainstream media, about whether man-made global warming is happening.

Rather too much of the debate on this subject is dominated by extremists on both sides: for example, I greatly dislike the practice of calling those who don't agree that man's activities are causing global warming "climate change deniers" as if they were on the same level as holocaust deniers - e.g. apologists for nazis and genocide.

I thought David Davis got it about right when he said that the evidence for man-made global warming represents a probability of about 80% - e.g. not conclusively proved but certainly strong enough evidence that we cannot afford not to do anything about it.

There is a very good, and in my opinion well balanced piece by Bryan Appleyard on the subject in today's Sunday Times which you can read here.

Reminder: useful flooding contact numbers

FLOOD victims should log on to or call Cumbria Foundation on 01900 820827 to apply for grants.

GRANTS are also available for voluntary groups supporting people affected by the flooding.

BUSINESSES affected by the flooding should contact the Federation of Small Businesses at, telephone number 01253 336000 or BusinessLink at or telephone 0845 0066888.

TO DONATE to the flood relief fund go to or send a cheque, payable to Cumbria Community Foundation Flood Appeal, to CCF, Dovenby Hall, Cockermouth, CA13 0PN.

CASH can be donated at Cumberland or Furness building society branches or branches of HSBC.

Hat-tip to Cumbria Newspapers Group's website for the information in this post

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Keswick is open for business (and so is the rest of Cumbria)

After campaigning this morning in Moresby I spent part of this afternoon Christmas shopping in Keswick with the family.

As the Town Mayor of Keswick, Cllr Andrew Lysser, has said

"Keswick is very much open for business. It has been a tough time but the local community has reacted wonderfully and, despite everything, the atmosphere is buoyant."

Prince Charles visited yesterday to switch on the lights in Keswick (he was in Cockermouth today) and pushed the message that Cumbria is open for business.

Keswick was full of shoppers today: the market was thronged with people, and the shops we visited, some of which had been flooded last weekend, were doing well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bridge Repairs

Engineers from Cumbria County Council, the Highways Agency, and the armed services have been working hard to prevent any further tragedies, survey every bridge in the county which is near water, and look at replacement bridge options both for the short term and the long term.

Just about every thread on Political Betting for the past week has included at least one contributor who asks why Bailey Bridges are not being used in Cumbria.

That was considered early on, and the professionals tell us that Bailey Bridges are not suitable for the particular circumstances of these particular bridges, but that the army will be able to provide some assistance, and today that is happening. Construction work will begin by the army today on a new temporary footbridge crossing the River Derwent in Workington, uniting communities currently cut off on the north and south side of the river following the collapse of Workington Bridge and the footbridge, and by the structural damage making Calva Bridge unusable. It is hoped the new bridge will be completed by December 5.

Structural engineers are due to complete their checks on Friday on around 1,300 bridges which are near water (the county has around 1,800 bridges in total, but 500 are not near water and therefore haven't needed to be checked after the flooding). So far seven bridges have been identified as requiring principal bridge inspections, where divers will assess their foundations to look for scour damage and erosion. An inspection typically takes a day and can only be done once river levels are suitable.

These bridges are:

Holmrook Bridge - Holmrook (Copeland)
Egremont Bridge - Egremont (Copeland)
Broughton Bridge - Great Broughton (Allerdale)
Butt Bridge - Ennerdale Bridge (Copeland)
Wath Bridge - Cleator Moor (Copeland)
Gote Bridge – Cockermouth (Allerdale)
Greta Bridge – Keswick (Allerdale)

A number of other bridges remain closed either because they are clearly damaged beyond repair or there are still safety concerns. Only when engineers are satisfied that bridges are safe to open will they do so. Public safety must be the priority.

Talking about the floods in general, Cllr Jim Buchanan, Leader of Cumbria County Council, told the Cumbrian newspaper group this week:

"It is amazing to think how far we have come in just a week. There's clearly a lot of work still to be done, but the way everybody has clubbed together to get on with the task at hand has been inspiring. With this kind of spirit and 'can do' attitude, we'll get through this. I'd like to thank all of the communities who have been affected for being so understanding about the disruption to their lives and all of the people working so hard behind the scenes."

The following numbers of properties were flooded:

Cockermouth - 885
Keswick – 240
Workington - 66
Ulverston - 30
Kendal & Burneside - 20

There are also a substantial but undetermined number of other properties flooded in isolated areas.

Remembering PC Bill Barker

The funeral of floods hero PC Bill Barker, who lost his life while saving those of others, will take place today at 1pm at St Mary & St Michael's church in Egremont.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holmrook and Wath Brow

Although the Copeland Borough area has not been nearly as badly hit as Allerdale, there have been communities within the Borough which have had real issues.

The Wath Brow bridge at Cleator Moor has been closed as has the Irt bridge at Holmrook - a massive issue both for the village and for South Copeland as this bridge carries the A595 south from Sellafield.

A diversion is in place via Santon Bridge.

Firefighters were in Holmrook all night last Thursday, pumping water from the road and properties.

“We continued pumping all night,” said David Moore, watch manager of Seascale fire station. (Yes, that's the same David Moore who is often quoted on this blog wearing one of his other hats.)

“But at 4am, although the tide had gone out, the river was rising faster than we could pump water away from properties.”

People were told to stay in their homes and sand bags were given out.

Although a number of businesses were affected by the flood they are still open. The local MP visited on Tuesday and stressed that "Holmrook is open for business."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cumbria Flood Fund close to £500,000

There has been a magnificent response by the public and charitable organisations to the appeal launched by the Cumbria Community Foundation to help residents and local businesses who are victims of the floods.

At the time tomorrow's edition of the Whitehaven News went to print this lunchtime, the total donated had reached £400,000. But such has been the generosity of the community that this total is increasing rapidly and by this evening the paper's website reports that it has almost reached the half-million mark.

Cockermouth firm James Walker, a seals and gaskets maker, donated £100,000 to the fund.

Details of the appeal can be found be logging on to Cumbria Community Foundation's website, or by calling the dedicated phone line 01900 820827.

Cumbria County Council has promised £50,000 and Allerdale Borough Council £25,000. Donations from organiations and businesses have ranged from the large, such as the James Walker donation mentioned above and an initial £10,000 from the Cumberland and Westmoreland Freemasons, to the small but still greatly appreciated gifts such as £150 from the East Bristol History Group.

As mentioned on an earlier post there are buckets collecting donations for the appeal in many of the shops and offices in Cumbrian towns such as Whitehaven and Workington. In Whitehaven these include Tesco's Wetherspoons, Crosby's, WH SMith, Burton's, Haven Cafe, Richardson's Wines, Mason's Electrical, North, the Whitehaven News, Morrison's and St Nicolas's: the Reverend Bannister announced on Sunday that all the takings of the cafe at St Nicolas's will go to the appeal.

Other means for anyone who wants to make a donation: you can visit any branch of the Cumberland Building Society and the Furness Building Society, or cheques made payable to the Cumbria Community Foundation can be sent to CCF, Dovenby Hall, Cockermouth, Cumbria, CA13 0PN.

I find it sad that it is necessary to make the following final comment. I have suspended party political comment on this blog - defined as anything attacking or criticising someone because they support a different political perspective - until the end of November because this is a time for the communities of Cumbria to stand united.

I published the details of the appeal in an earlier post, and am repeating them now in the hope that this would encourage people of all parties and none to support the appeal and make it easier to do so, and for no other reason. I would hope politicians of all parties would actively encourage people to support the appeal.

Sadly a sick individual chose to misinterpret this, and made a cheap party political attack on the subject in a comment on the earlier post in which I urged support for the Flood fund appeal.

I have decided that, just as I have not included any partisan material in blog posts since the start of the floods, and will not resume that kind of political debate here before the end of November at the earliest, neither will I allow any political attacks to be posted here as comments either during the same period. That's whoever they come from and whoever is attacked. Any such comments will be removed as soon as I spot them.

POSTSCRIPT - the appeal passed the £500,000 mark on Thursday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cameron visits flood-hit areas

David Cameron visited Cumbria today to see for himself the flood damage to Cumbria and learn about the steps being taken to repair the damage.

His visit took in Cockermouth and Carlisle.

It is very welcome that so many front bench national politicians of both major parties, from the party leaders down, have come to visit the area affected by the disaster.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Keswick and District Forum Cancelled

Due to the flooding the Keswick and District Neighbourhood Forum which was due to take place tomorrow (24th November) has been cancelled.

Cumbria Floods Appeal

An appeal has been launched by the Cumbria Community Foundation to help residents and local businesses who are victims of the floods.

Details can be found be logging on to Cumbria Community Foundation's website or by calling the dedicated phone line 01900 820827.

Cumbria County Council has promised £50,000 and Allerdale Borough Council £25,000.

The leader of Allerdale council, Cllr Tim Heslop, told the News and Star: “We are committed to working together with all agencies on the massive recovery effort that we face in getting the county back onto its feet.

“As well as getting people back into their homes, the future of many small businesses and how we can help to ensure their survival is one of our top priorities.

“We also express our heartfelt thanks to everyone who is working tremendously hard to help others in these exceptionally difficult circumstances - especially those who are coming to terms with their own loss.”

There are buckets collecting donations for the appeal in many of the shops in Cumbrian towns such as Whitehaven and Workington, and from today all the takings of the cafe at St Nicolas's in Lowther Street Whitehaven will go to the appeal.

Alternatively Anyone who wants to donate cash can visit any branch of the Cumberland Building Society and the Furness Building Society, or cheques made payable to the Cumbria Community Foundation can be sent to CCF, Dovenby Hall, Cockermouth, Cumbria, CA13 0PN.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Unsung heroes

There are more people who have behaved like heroes in dealing with the impact of the floods than any list could possibly cover. The first name on the list will always be PC Bill Barker who gave his life saving others, but hundreds of people from the police, ambulance, RNLI, fire brigade, NHS, RSPCA, social services, housing organisations, and voluntary bodies have put in a huge effort.

I'm going to mention one activity which was just one example of a contribution by one particular local community organisation - and not the only thing that particular society has done - to give an illustration of the lengths to which members of the Cumbrian community have gone to help one another.

I and one of my colleagues from Cumbria County Council were in Cockermouth and Keswick earlier today. The bridges in Keswick, open or closed, were manned by people in reflective yellow jackets.

When we spoke to some of them, we found that they were volunteers from Keswick Lions club. The Lions, at the request of the police, were keeping an eye on the bridges to reduce the risk of accidents - for example, on the footbridge over the River Greta to Fitz Park, there were two of the Lions at each end, making sure that no more than two people were on the bridge at any one time.

The Lions kept those bridges manned for a long period today, including through the rain and into the darkness. (Unfortunately there were good reasons why it was not possible to lock them.) With volunteers.

Now there have been many other people, both paid and unpaid, making efforts well beyond the call of duty in Keswick, Cockermouth and Workington. The people on the bridges themselves would not want it suggested that there were not many others whose services were more arduous or important than theirs. (The Lions alone have done a great many other things besides guarding the bridges over the River Greta.)

Nevertheless the fact that one society could turn out dozens of volunteers to man the bridges, sometimes in the rain and dark, to try to prevent any more tragedies as just one part of their contribution may give some idea just how strong the community spirit has been which has helped the people of Cumbria rise to the challenge of dealing with these floods.

Nick Herbert on his visit to flood hit areas of Cumbria

Nick Herbert MP, shadow cabinet member for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, was in Cumbria this morning to see the areas affected by the flooding. He writes on Conservative Home about his visit. Here is an extract.

I’ve been in Cumbria today to see the areas affected by the floods. I arrived early in Keswick where I met officials from the Environment Agency. Although the river levels had fallen considerably and homes were no longer flooded, the damage to homes had been done. And the water which had got into houses wasn’t just from the river – it was foul water which had risen from the drains.

I talked to fire crews who were pumping flood water back into the river, and discovered that they were from Tyne & Wear and Lancashire. They had been called in at an hours’ notice and had been working on the scene ever since, staying at a local hotel. You cannot fail to be impressed by the professionalism of the emergency services when you see them in action at times like this.

I then travelled to Cockermouth with our PPC for Workington, Judith Pattinson. Again, the river levels had abated and a clean-up operation of streets strewn with debris had begun, but hundreds of people had been evacuated from their homes. We went to one of the rescue centres where evacuees were being given a bed and looked after. We talked to some elderly people who were drinking tea and demonstrating a marvellous British stoicism.

As well as local government officials and social services professionals, many volunteers from local organisations such as churches and the WI were there to help. As one shopkeeper who had managed to re-open in the town told me, the community spirit was extraordinary as people stepped in to help each other. A lady described to me how she had just lent clothes to a neighbour who had lost her entire wardrobe to the flood water.

The media’s constant question to me was whether we had any criticism of the Government over flood defences. My response was that this was not a time for recrimination. The Environment Agency officials told me that the levels of rainfall were unprecedented, and local people said they had never seen the river higher. Of course, when an area has flooded twice within four years, we will need to look sensibly at what more can be done to protect the local community. One 88 year-old resident told the BBC that this was the second time she had been evacuated, and on the last occasion it was six months before she was able to return home.

These events will certainly energise debate over the Floods Bill which has just been introduced in the Commons. In spite of the short amount of time available, we will work constructively with the Government to ensure that essential measures to improve flood defence, following the Pitt Review into the floods of 2007, reach the Statute Book.

But now is a time to thank the emergency services for the superb job which they have done, and in particular to remember PC Bill Barker who died during the rescue efforts last week. We must think about the people who tonight cannot be in their own homes, and make sure that we don’t forget about them and the ongoing support they will need in the weeks and months ahead.

Dealing with the floods

There are a number of politically significant things which would normally merit a blog post which have happened in the past few days. However, I am still stunned at the impact on many parts of central and west Cumbria of the floods - an issue which is far from over as it is raining again. Bridges and roads are still in many cases down, blocked, or unsafe. More than seventy families are in emergency accomodation, though the numbers affected are much larger - it's understood that over a thousand properties have been hit by flooding.

This puts the normal party political debate into persective and in the circumstances, I'm not going to be posting anything party political for the next few days.

One thing we can all agree with is that the response of the emergency services to this disaster has been exemplary. Police, fire, lifeboat, NHS, council services and the voluntary sector have all moved quickly to help, co-ordinated their efforts well, and responded magnificently to a very serious set of challenges.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flooding chaos

My internet connection has just come back up after being down for most of the past 24 hours. One of the bridges in Workington which was swept away last night took with it the cables which supplied much of West Cumbria with broadband.

Spent part of this morning checking the areas of my ward where there had previously been flooding issues. By comparison nearby areas of Cumbria, the Borough of Copeland has not been as badly hit. However, the situation in Allerdale, particularly Cockermouth and Keswick, has been extremely serious.

A brave police officer lost his life while saving those of others in response to an emergency call. Hundreds of people have lost their homes and thousands have been without electricity.

Road and rail services have been seriously disrupted.

Copeland Borough has been giving some help to Allerdale.

At a more trivial level the annual "biggest liar" competition has been cancelled for the first time in heaven only knows how many years.

The work of the emergency services has been excellent and we owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked hard to help the victims of the flood and start to repair the damage.

PC Bill Barker RIP

It has been confirmed that Police Constable Bill Barker from Egremont died in the performance of his duties when floodwaters caused a bridge to collapse under him as he was directing motorists to safety.

PC Barker, who was due to celebrate his 45th birthday tomorrow, leaves a widow and four children aged between 8 and 16.

He was a brave man who gave his life for others. The community of West Cumbria will remember him with pride.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Queen's Speech - a wasted opportunity

The Queen's speech contained a large number of proposals for legislation, far more than there could possibly time to pass into law before the end of this parliament.

One or two are good proposals. Some of the proposed bills set out laudible objectives but would not actually do anything to be achieve them.

But it is a great pity that the opportunity has been missed to pass a law clearning up MPs and Peers expenses. A few weeks ago all parties were saying that they supported the proposed reforms. So why not put them into law? Even if there is no intention to backslide, the impression left with the public will not help restore confidence in parliament.

Three good pieces in the press on the Queen's Speech: Martin Kettle in the Guardian here has no problem with politics if it's smart politics but thinks that Gordon Brown is giving way to fantasy. Kettle argues that smart politics should mean more than using

"the next six months, in and out of parliament, to establish potent dividing lines between what Labour offers to the nation and what it claims the Tories might do. That's important, sure. But Gordon Brown is too focused on it. It's as if he thinks that, if only he can make one more titanic effort, the scales will suddenly fall from the public's eyes and the Tories will stand revealed as the wicked, malevolent force he thinks they are, and Brown will be bathed in virtuous sunlight as the country's great protector. Brown is entitled to think this. But it's a fantasy. Smart politics ought to have a bigger and more supple vision than that in times like these."

The Times leader "Unreal Politics" described the proposed laws in the speech as

... "law as a substitute for action in the vain hope that political chicanery will receive an electoral reward. This is pure cynicicm and merits exactly the reward that it will get. There is little real feeling of direction here, just a few bits and pieces, some good, some bad, and all designed to derail the Opposition rather than change the nation. This is a very diminished idea of politics and so it made for a diminished Queen’s Speech.

There was also an air of unreality because all the hard choices were left over for another day."

But the best comment was Danny Finkelstein who cast a welcome air of reality over the Westminister bubble here, to remind those of us who follow politics that the rest of the country often pay attention to other things.

Complaints against Conservative councillors dismissed

A series of complaints against prominent local Conservatives from defecting councillor Robin Pitt have been dismissed by Copeland Borough Council's standards panel.

Cllr Pitt, now a member of the Labour group, accused a former officer of the council of plotting with Conservative councillors to remove the Leader of Copeland council. He made a similar complaint against the councillors he alleged to have been involved, and against the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Conservative group.

A formal investigation into the allegation against the officer was dismissed, and the standards panel has now cleared all the councillors involved.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

DC on poverty and "The Big Society"

David Cameron's "Hugo Young" lecture was remarkable in many ways. It was a powerful message on what a Conservative government should do to tackle poverty. It also showed that Cameron is reaching out to address the problems of the whole country, not just the Conservative comfort zone.

The speech was warmly welcomed by one of the Labour MPs I most respect, Frank Field. (And no, I don't think Frank is going to defect - unfortunately.)

And now according to an ICM poll in the Guardian, for the first time I can ever remember, the Conservatives came ahead of Labour when people were asked which party had the best policies to deal with poverty.

Here is the text of David's speech.

"There are many things to admire about Hugo Young and his writing. The elegance of his prose. The doggedness of his curiosity. The strength of his integrity.

Above all, you had to read him - he mattered. He understood that the size and role of the state was a key issue in politics and returned to it often - and that is my subject today.

I want to extend and deepen the argument I made in my party conference speech this year, that the size, scope and role of government in Britain has reached a point where it is now inhibiting, not advancing the progressive aims of reducing poverty, fighting inequality, and increasing general well-being. Indeed there is a worrying paradox that because of its effect on personal and social responsibility, the recent growth of the state has promoted not social solidarity, but selfishness and individualism.

But I also want to argue that just because big government has helped atomise our society, it doesn't follow that smaller government would automatically bring us together again.

Yes, there are specific instances where the very act of rolling back the state will serve to roll forward society, for example when organisations that have been dependent on the state are asked to go outside government for funding, and thereby improve their record of engaging with the public and society. But I believe that in general, a simplistic retrenchment of the state which assumes that better alternatives to state action will just spring to life unbidden is wrong. Instead we need a thoughtful re-imagination of the role, as well as the size, of the state.

The first step must be a new focus on empowering and enabling individuals, families and communities to take control of their lives so we create the avenues through which responsibility and opportunity can develop. This is especially vital in what is today the front line of the fight against poverty and inequality: education.

But I also want to argue that the re-imagined state should not stop at creating opportunities for people to take control of their lives. It must actively help people take advantage of this new freedom. This means a new role for the state: actively helping to create the big society; directly agitating for, catalysing and galvanising social renewal.

So yes, in the fight against poverty, inequality, social breakdown and injustice I do want to move from state action to social action. But I see a powerful role for government in helping to engineer that shift. Let me put it more plainly: we must use the state to remake society.

The size, scope and role of the state is of course the scene of a vigorous political debate. But I believe it is pointless to draw dividing lines where none exist - so I want to start my contribution with where we all agree. Ask anyone of any political colour the kind of country they want to see and they'll say a Britain that is richer, that is safer, that is greener but perhaps most important to us all, a country that is fairer and where opportunity is more equal.

Not far from here the incredible wealth of the City exists side-by-side with some of the poorest neighbourhoods in our country. For every tube station along the Jubilee Line, from Westminster to the East End, Londoners living in those areas lose almost an entire year of expected life. Bringing these two worlds closer is a multi-faceted endeavour: moral, social, and of course economic.

Research by Richard Wilkson and Katie Pickett has shown that among the richest countries, it's the more unequal ones that do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator. In "The Spirit Level", they show that per capita GDP is much less significant for a country's life expectancy, crime levels, literacy and health than the size of the gap between the richest and poorest in the population. So the best indicator of a country's rank on these measures of general well-being is not the difference in wealth between them, but the difference in wealth within them.

Of course in a free society, some people will be richer than others. Of course if we make opportunity more equal, some will do better than others. But there's a massive difference between a system that allows fair reward for talent, effort and enterprise and a system that keeps millions of people at the bottom locked out of the success enjoyed by the mainstream.

We all know, in our hearts, that as long as there is deep poverty living systematically side by side with great riches, we all remain the poorer for it. That doesn't mean we should be fixated only on a mechanistic objective like reducing the Gini co-efficient, the traditional financial measure of inequality or on closing the gap between the top and the bottom.

Instead, we should focus on the causes of poverty as well as the symptoms because that is the best way to reduce it in the long term. And we should focus on closing the gap between the bottom and the middle, not because that is the easy thing to do, but because focusing on those who do not have the chance of a good life is the most important thing to do.

For centuries, the state expanded in order to help achieve a fairer society. This expansion took many forms. There was the passing of legislation - like the Poor Laws and Factory Acts. There was the introduction of financial help - like sickness benefits. There was the empowerment of institutions - such as local authorities being charged with clearing sums. And in one particularly progressive moment, there was the marshalling of the whole power of the state to abolish slavery. All this meant that by the eve of World War Two, central authorities were involved in setting minimum wages as well as controlling rents and helped provide unemployment insurance, pensions, and public housing.

And in the immediate post-war period we saw the creation of the welfare state. Both main political parties backed a comprehensive system of social security that included universal healthcare and education, and unemployment and pensions benefits.

What was the effect of this state expansion? It is difficult to be completely certain because for much of the twentieth century, research on poverty levels used inconsistent measures. But from the evidence we have, we can say with some confidence that that up until the 1930s poverty fell compared to the years before.

Understandably, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression, poverty did begin to rise. But during the 1940s there was a fall in poverty of between ten and twenty percent compared to the 1930s. By the 1960s we are on firmer ground, as consistent statistics on household income began to be produced for the first time. And this data shows that between 1961 and 1968, the number of people living in severe poverty fell by 900,000 and the gap between the richest and poorest fell.

So the evidence suggests that up until the late 1960s, the expansion of the state to advance social justice was not only well-intentioned and compassionate, but generally successful. However, even in this period, it's important to look at the complete picture. Some state extensions helped tackle poverty, others were less effective. Some did so while encouraging responsibility and local pride at the same time others undermined these virtues.

SINCE 1997
But since the immediate post-war period, the most significant extension of the state has taken place under the current Labour government. In 1997, government spending as a proportion of GDP was 38.2 percent. Next year, it is forecast to rise above fifty percent.

Margaret Thatcher's government introduced an average of 1,724 new laws every year. In 2007, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown passed a record-breaking 3,071 new laws. More than one in every three jobs created since Labour came to power have been in the public sector. Funding for the official list of quangos has grown by nearly 90 per cent. And the state and its agencies now collect and store huge amounts of information about British citizens in various databases.

This trend of continuous central state expansion was not politically inevitable. Just as there is a strong liberal, civic tradition within Conservative thinking, stretching back from Edmund Burke through to Michael Oakeshott, that celebrates the small and local over the big and central, the same is true for Labour.

In Hobson and Hobhouse, Labour have a rich intellectual tradition of radical liberalism, a strand of thinking that believes that the state's role is simply to provide the conditions for people to live the good life as they see fit.

But this tradition lost out to another intellectual tradition, Fabianism, which was seen to best meet the perceived needs of the age. This held a more mechanistic view of the state - that it could and should command and control.

And with the pressures of what Tony Blair described as a "24 hours a day, 7 days a week" news schedule, insisting that every day be fought like a general election, Fabianism offered a compelling narrative, one in which every issue demanded government intervention and every problem could be solved by a state solution.

Gordon Brown's Budgets when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer - top-down, fiddling, micro-managing - were the quintessence of this approach.

So did it work? Did the rapid expansion of the state since 1997 succeed in tackling poverty? Did it reduce inequality? Well, it would be churlish to deny that some progress has been made.

Indeed it would be rather amazing if there had been no progress. In the past decade, public spending has doubled. Health spending has almost trebled.

Since 1997 the Government has spent £473 billion on welfare payments alone - that's as big as our whole economy in 1988. Much of this has been channelled through tax credits and income transfers and as a result, there has been a measure of success in lifting those just below the poverty line to just above it.

But, quite apart from the fact that it turns out much of this has been paid for on account, creating debts that will have to be paid back by future generations; a more complete assessment of the evidence shows something different - that as the state continued to expand under Labour, our society became more, not less unfair.

In the past decade, the gap between the richest and the poorest got wider. Indeed, inequality is now at a record high. The very poorest in our society got poorer - and there are more of them. The incomes of the bottom ten percent actually fell by £6 per week between 2002 and 2008 before housing costs, and £9 per week after housing costs. The number of people living in severe poverty has actually risen - not fallen, risen - by 900,000 in the past ten years.

Youth unemployment has also increased - with nearly one million 16-24 year olds now out of work.

And studies by the Sutton Trust indicate that social mobility has effectively stalled - people are no more likely to escape the circumstances of their birth than they were thirty years ago. If you think about it, these are astonishing facts.

How is it possible for the state to spend so much money, to devote so much energy, to fighting poverty - only for poverty and inequality to win the fight?

Within that broad question, however, lies a more nuanced and perhaps more interesting one.
Not so much: 'why has the state failed to tackle poverty?' but: 'why has the state more recently failed to tackle poverty?'

We know that for a long period of time, up until the late 1960s, the state was broadly effective at tackling poverty and reducing inequality. So why did the state start becoming broadly ineffective?

A big part of the reason, in economic terms at least, lies in the global trend of rising returns to education because of new technologies and globalisation. So while people with good skills are able to benefit and indeed those who can best capture the opportunities of globalisation see rewards that are off the scale, those without are increasingly shut out of the global economy.

A key part of Labour's response to this trend has been more and more redistribution, means-tested benefits and tax credits. They have been trying to swim against the tide. But as we have seen, that approach is reaching the limits of its effectiveness - to put it mildly.

We have surely learnt that it is not enough merely to keep funding more and more generous tax credits. Indeed, the harm that means-tested benefits do to work incentives is beginning to undo the good they do in raising people's incomes.

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies observed of the Government's approach:
"Its current strategy of increasing ... [means-tested] child tax credit is effective at reducing poverty directly, but its indirect effect might be to increase poverty through weakening incentives for parents to work."

This is a vital point. We cannot separate the economic from the social, as the big government approach mechanistically tends to do. The social consequences of economic reforms do matter. It is because they include undermining personal and social responsibility that the big government approach ends up perpetuating poverty instead of solving it.

So what's the alternative?
Our answer is two-fold: first, making opportunity more equal - in which education plays the key role and second, actively helping to create a stronger, more responsible society.

To begin with, we must make opportunity more equal - throughout a person's lifecycle.

That means better early years provision for the poorest families.
It means better education so if families fail, children have a second chance.
And it means better adult education so people without skills can lift themselves up later in life.

This is why, consistently over the last few years, we have elevated three sets of reforms as being of pre-eminent importance in our programme: families, schools, welfare. Focus on these, and you have some prospect of standing up to those powerful global forces that lie behind rising inequality.

But of course it is not simply a question of prioritisation. It is all about the approach you take.
In each of these areas we plan a clean break with the current big government approach.

For families, Sure Start should stay, but it must better involve voluntary bodies and charities and increase its focus on the poorest.

In education, the model of state-run schools, accountable to ministers and education bureaucrats will be replaced by self-governing state schools accountable to parents, with a new pupil premium creating an incentive for the best schools to attract children from the poorest families.

And in welfare, the model of payment by right will be replaced by payment by results, for both welfare recipients and welfare to work providers; and we will extend help to the long-term unemployed left on the scrapheap by Labour.

And we also have significant ambitions for changing the benefit system.

We have set out plans to end the couple penalty in the tax credits system by increasing working tax credits for couples who stay together. As we end the couple penalty, there will be an immediate benefit - the poorest couples with children will gain, on average, £1500 a year, lifting up to 300,000 children out of poverty.

But there are longer-term benefits too.
By incentivising responsible behaviour, the state sends an important signal about families staying together so more children have a better start in life. It is a clear example of our aggressively pro-family, pro-commitment, pro-responsibility approach.

This emphasis on responsibility is absolutely vital.

When the welfare state was created, there was an ethos, a culture to our country - of self-improvement, of mutuality, of responsibility.

You could see it in the collective culture of respect for work, parenting and aspiration.
You could see it in the vibrant panoply of civic organisations that meant communities looked out for one another; the co-operatives, the friendly societies, the building societies, the guilds.

But as the state continued to expand, it took away from people more and more things that they should and could be doing for themselves, their families and their neighbours. Human kindness, generosity and imagination are steadily being squeezed out by the work of the state. The result is that today, the character of our society - and indeed the character of some people themselves, as actors in society, is changing.

There is less expectation to take responsibility, to work, to stand by the mother of your child, to achieve, to engage with your local community, to keep your neighbourhood clean, to respect other people and their property, to use your own discretion and judgement.

Why? Because today the state is ever-present: either doing it for you, or telling you how to do it, or making sure you're doing it their way.

We can see it most starkly when it comes to children. Through a range of measures aimed at protecting children, the state is actually making them more vulnerable.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority was established to stop children coming into contact with dangerous adults, but by forcing responsible adults to go through the rigmarole of a vetting procedure it will actually reduce the amount of care and love in children's lives as adults will give up volunteering to help children.

The benefit system was weighted to help single parents the most, but by encouraging parents to live apart it denies children a stable family home.

The tick box inspection regime was designed to improve the quality of social work, but by stopping trained professionals from using their discretion and judgement it has harmed children instead of helping them.

The big government approach has spawned multiple perverse incentives that either discourage responsibility or actively encourage irresponsibility. Far too many of the people I see in my constituency surgery are, thanks to the state, financially better off if they do the wrong thing than if they do the right thing.

A couple with no children where the head of the family works sixteen hours a week at minimum wage would be better off if they both just claimed benefits.

Parents with a disabled child could have more money if they put that child into residential care than if they looked after them at home.

The pensioner who has saved their whole life gets little or no pension credit, but the person who hasn't saved gets their income topped up.

And the elderly person who has saved, bought a house and has assets of more than £23,000 has to pay for residential care, sometimes by selling their home, whereas someone who didn't save gets it for free.

This is where the moral failure of the big government approach is most evident.
We hear the Prime Minister talking about his moral compass.

But when you are paid more not to work than to work, when you are better off leaving your children than nurturing them, when our welfare system tells young girls that having children before finding the security of work and a loving relationship means a home and cash now, whereas doing the opposite means a long wait for a home and less cash later; when social care penalises those who have worked hard and saved hard by forcing them to sell their home, rather than rewarding them by giving them some dignity in old age; when your attempts at playing a role in society are met with inspection, investigation, and interrogation, is it any wonder our society is broken?

In this world where state control is a substitute for moral choice and personal responsibility, obligation and duty are in danger of becoming dead concepts instead of living value systems. What has come to matter most is not our place in wider society, but our own personal journey and our right to pursue our own happiness regardless of others around us.

In the words of Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica:
"the state ... has dispossessed the people and amassed all power to itself ... This centralisation of power has made people passive when they should be active and cynical when they should be idealistic. This attitude only makes things worse - the more people think they can't make a difference, the more they opt out from society."

And here lies the rub.
The paradox at the heart of big government is that by taking power and responsibility away from the individual, it has only served to individuate them. What is seen in principle as an act of social solidarity, has in practice led to the greatest atomisation of our society. The once natural bonds that existed between people - of duty and responsibility - have been replaced with the synthetic bonds of the state - regulation and bureaucracy.

So how do we turn things around?

Some on the centre-right have argued that the answer to the failures of big government is a simple retrenchment of the state. That government should step back and give space for an organic and unprompted flourishing of personal responsibility and civic renewal.

But I'm not sure that is right. Just because big government has undermined our society, it does not follow that retrenchment of the state will automatically trigger its revival.

As Francis Fukuyama has said:
"There is a certain assumption that civil society, once having been damaged by the excessive ambition of government, will simply spring back to life like brine shrimp that have been freeze-dried, and now you add water to them and they become shrimp again. It is not something that you can take for granted."

Another alternative has come from the centre-left - what Peter Mandelson described in this lecture last year as a "smart, strategic state".

He said it should be one that uses "existing resources better, connecting up different parts of the government charged with this work and asking what we can do more". He made the case for government to "steer and shape the networks and institutions of a globalised economy and society" so it could better "manage the system so as to minimise and deal with the shocks". And he argued for active policy to ensure "markets function effectively".

Well I think we can all agree with that.
Of course the state should be smart. Of course it should be strategic. But isn't this the very least we should expect from government? I think we should expect an awful lot more.

Our alternative to big government is not no government - some reheated version of ideological laissez-faire. Nor is it just smarter government.
Because we believe that a strong society will solve our problems more effectively than big government has or ever will, we want the state to act as an instrument for helping to create a strong society.

Our alternative to big government is the big society.
But we understand that the big society is not just going to spring to life on its own: we need strong and concerted government action to make it happen.

We need to use the state to remake society.

The first step is to redistribute power and control from the central state and its agencies to individuals and local communities.

That way, we can create the opportunity for people to take responsibility. This is absolutely in line with the spirit of the age - the post-bureaucratic age.

In commerce, the Professor of Technological Innovation at MIT, Eric von Hippel, has shown how individuals and small companies, flexible and able to take advantage of technologies and information once only available to major multinational corporations, are responding with the innovations that best suit the needs of consumers.

This year's Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Elinor Ostrom, has shown through her life's work how non- state collective action is more effective than centralised state solutions in solving community problems.

So I am confident that a major redistribution of power can really help us tackle our stubborn social problems and our three key approaches will be decentralisation, transparency and accountability. Our plans for decentralisation are based on a simple human insight: if you give people more responsibility, they behave more responsibly.

So we will take power from the central state and give it to individuals where possible - as with our school reforms that will put power directly in the hands of parents.

Where it doesn't make sense to give power directly to individuals, for example where there is a function that is collective in nature, then we will transfer power to neighbourhoods.

So our new Local Housing Trusts will enable communities to come together, agree on the number and type of homes they want, and provide themselves with permission to expand and lead that development.

Where neighbourhood empowerment is not practical we will redistribute power to the lowest possible tier of government, and the removal of bureaucratic controls on councils will enable them to offer local people whatever services they want, in whatever way they want, with new mayors in our big cities acting as a focus for civic pride and responsibility.

This decentralisation of power from the central to the local will not just increase responsibility, it will lead to innovation, as people have the freedom to try new approaches to solving social problems, and the freedom to copy what works elsewhere.

A necessary counterpart to decentralisation is greater transparency.

That's because information is power, so by giving people more information we give them more power. This is true internationally, where our plans for aid transparency will allow poor people in developing countries to see whether what has been promised is being delivered. And it's true back home, where our plans to publish details of all central and local government spending will not only provide a powerful check on waste, they will help open up the provision of state services to small businesses, social enterprises or charities as they see what is being done by the state and how they could do better.

The third element of the power shift we want to see is accountability.

Today, the relationship between the state and the people it is trying to help, especially the poorest, is top-down, adult-to-child, unaccountable. Here is what we will do for you, take what you're given and be grateful for it.

No. This must change.

We will require the people and organisations acting for the state to be directly accountable to the people they are supposed to serve. They will have to stop treating them like children and start treating them like adults. A good example is our plan to require the police to hold local beat meetings so people can challenge the police, face to face, about their crime-fighting performance, or lack of it.

Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we can give people power over the services they use, over the way their tax money is spent, over how their local area is run.

But the state must go further than enabling these opportunities. It must actively help people take advantage of them. Our enabling reforms depend for their success on a social response: and that is not something we can leave to chance.

How do we get parents to come forward and demand new schools in their area?
How do we make sure people actually go to beat meetings and use them to put pressure on the police?
How do we find successful social programmes and make sure they're introduced everywhere there is a need?

In other words, how do we guarantee that the big society advances as big government retreats?

This, then, is our new role for the state.

Galvanising, catalysing, prompting, encouraging and agitating for community engagement and social renewal. It must help families, individuals, charities and communities come together to solve problems.

We must use the state to remake society.

We must use the state to help stimulate social action.

Social action is already a core part of modern Conservatism. When I was elected leader of the Conservative Party, I asked our Parliamentary Candidates to undertake social action projects in their constituencies.

Today, there are now around 150 of these projects up and down the country. But if we win the election, the role of social action will be transformed. It will become a core part of our policy agenda, because unless we stimulate social action, we will not create the responsible society that is vital for the success of our policies.

Our efforts will focus on three groups.

First, we will identify and work directly with the social entrepreneurs who have the capacity to run successful social programmes in communities with the greatest needs.

Social entrepreneurs like Debbie Scott, whose fantastic organisation Tomorrow's People is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary today and who I am delighted to say we are nominating to join the Conservative team in the House of Lords.

At the moment, the work of social entrepreneurs is disparate.For over a decade, those working in the field have complained about the challenge of growing and replicating successful social programmes.

For example, the Lighthouse Group has a proven track record in getting young people who have gone off the rails and been excluded from school back on track with mentoring and education.

But at the moment, the amazing work of this group is confined to just four cities.

This is the precisely the sort of thing we need to spread across the country.
So we will identify proven social programmes, franchise them to social entrepreneurs with a track record of success and fund them directly from existing state budgets to deliver public services - the same kind of approach we are applying in school reform.

If we find the right people, a relatively small number can make a huge difference.
In America, two thirds of all new job growth is created by less than one percent of the population, the fast growth economic entrepreneurs. It can be the same with social enterprise and social wealth here.

The second group of people we need to engage in our social action strategy are those I would describe as community activists.

Unlike social entrepreneurs, they do not play a formal role in their communities, they don't have the time or inclination to run a social programme with all the responsibility that involves, but they do want to help.Running parents groups, organising beat meetings with the police, getting people together in a front room to discuss ways to improve the neighbourhood.

All this goes on today, but not enough. We need more community activism, and more community activists. But again, it would be naïve to think this will happen quickly enough on its own. The state has an important role to play.

As Archon Fung, Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at Harvard University, has said:
"centralised support" has a vital role in "providing training and other supports... often necessary for local actors to exploit" new opportunities.

Our experience of social action in opposition has shown us the importance of this. People need help to start up even the smallest projects, get the information they need, understand the dynamics of social activism.

This is already happening elsewhere.
Chicago's Alternative Policing Strategy has engaged some of the city's most deprived neighbourhoods in local policing strategies, leading to a significant reduction in crime.

And the Harlem Children's Zone in New York has created block captains who have not just made that area safer and a better place to live but also helped set up new schools.
This is exactly the kind of social action we will stimulate here.

But the third piece of the jigsaw is much harder.

Social entrepreneurs and community activists already exist, they want to do more, and we will help them do it. But the big society also needs the engagement of that significant percentage of the population who have no record of getting involved - or a desire to do so.

The big society demands mass engagement: a broad culture of responsibility, mutuality and obligation.

But how do we bring this about?
Of course there are no easy answers, short cuts, or simplistic levers we can pull. But there are lessons we can learn from the latest academic research which shows how government, by going with the grain of human nature, can better influence behaviour.

The behavioural psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that one of the most important influences on how we behave are 'social norms' - that is, how other people behave.

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler have argued that with the right prompting, or 'nudge', government can effect a whole culture change.

It needn't even involve government doing anything.

For example, if Facebook simply added a social action line to their standard profile, this would do more to create a new social norm around volunteering or charitable giving than any number of government campaigns.

We can also learn from evidence that physical connection is paramount in building trust and strong communities. In a big state bureaucracy, where everything is distant and removed, it is hard for trust to grow. That's why we want to build up strong local institutions which are tangible and where people - literally - come together to meet and mingle.

So we will strengthen civic institutions that already exist - like local shops, the post office and the town hall.

But we can also create new ones. Our plan for National Citizens' Service will bring together sixteen year olds from across the country in a three-week programme where they can learn what it means to be socially responsible, to serve their community, and to get on and get along with people from different backgrounds.

I hope it will help inspire social action and co-operation amongst a new generation of teenagers.

This new role for government means a new role for Whitehall too - and new skills for civil servants.
They need to become civic servants.

We need people capable of engaging with social entrepreneurs and civic institutions who can agitate and encourage social action, and help people to build the type of sustainable organisations we need.

And if we are to break the culture of charities and social bodies being dependent on the state for hand-outs we need to look at how government can use loans alongside grants to help make them more sustainable and effective, an approach already being used by funders like Acumen Capital in the States and the Young Foundation here in Britain.

What I have spoken about today combines optimism about the potential for social renewal with realism about the role of the state in fighting poverty and inequality.

If we stick the course and change this country then we will have a national life expanded with meaning and mutual responsibility.

We will feel it in the strength of our relationships - the civility and courtesy we show to each other.

Just as we have felt this coarsen in the past decade, so I believe we will feel it change for the better in the years ahead.

And we will feel it in our culture - a new can-do and should-do attitude where Britons once again feel in control of their lives.

This is not the work of one parliamentary term, or even two. Culture change is much harder than state control. It will take more than a generation. But it is because I believe the appetite for change is there that I know that change will come.

The era of big government has run its course.

Poverty and inequality have got worse, despite Labour's massive expansion of the state. We need new answers now, and they will only come from a bigger society, not bigger government.

That's why it's now clear to me that the Conservatives, not Labour, are best placed to fight poverty in our country"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Feedback, Gosforth and Ennerdale Forum

I attended the Gosforth and Ennerdale neighbourhood forum at St Mary's church this evening. Despite the filthy weather there was a very strong turnout. It was very fortunate that the church authorities had kindly given permission to hold the meeting in the main body of the church rather than the church hall, as the latter (the original venue) would not have been big enough.

The main agenda item, which had clearly drawn the large attendance, was a presentation on the "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" process, describing the process of discussions currently under way about finding a long run solution for legacy atomic waste. (About 70% of this waste is currently stored at nuclear facilities in West Cumbria.)

There wa a lot of interest, and a large number of intelligent questions. If I had to sum up the points raised from the floor in a sentence, it would be that the main concern being expressed was that there should be full and complete consultation before any binding decisions are taken and that the wishes of local residents must be listened to.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What the papers say

A number of very powerful newspaper articles over the past few days making the case that this country needs change and pointing to the collapse in respect and authority of the present government.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the "Independent"

"The farcical collapse of our government can be contemplated with detached amusement, but the personal disintegration of Gordon Brown is awful to behold."

"... Brown is now more enfeebled than any prime minister within living memory, or maybe in our history. Although John Major was said to be 'in office but not in power', he seems in hindsight a towering figure compared with Brown, whose government is disintegrating around him, and who to a unique degree totally lacks authority."

You can read the full article here.

But even more damning is Allan Massie's assessment of Gordon Brown in The Telegraph as "The wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time."

He starts by applying to Gordon Brown the classic descripton of Galba by Tacitus: "capax imperii nisi imperasset" e.g. "Everyone would have thought that he would make an excellent emperor had he never had the job."

He goes on to say that in recent months the Prime Minister has moved through being an object of hatred for many through contempt into pity.

Paradoxically, when voters feel pity for a political party or leader they may be more polite to the representatives of that party than when they feel anger, yet the loss of political authority which this represents is even more serious.

I can recall that during the last stages of the last Conservative government, the hardest thing to take wasn't when I met people who were angry. It was when I met people who expressed pity.

Time has moved on, and the Conservative party has learned from the mistakes we made in the 1990s. It is time for the Labour party to learn from the mistakes they made in this decade. And the best way for them to learn is a long spell of opposition, starting as soon as possible.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Forthcoming Neighbourhood Forum meetings

Among the neighbourhood forum meetings in Copeland constituency due in the next two weeks:

1) Gosforth and Ennerdale forum:
7pm on Monday 16th at the St Mary's Church Hall, Gosforth

2) Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood Forum:
7pm on Tuesday 24th at the Bransty Legion, Bransty Hill, Whitehaven

3) Keswick and District Neighbourhood forum
Also 7pm on Tuesday 24th, but this meeting will be at the Friends Meeting House in Keswick (opposite Booths)


The main item on the agenda for all three of these meetings will be a presentation and opportunity for discussion about the work of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely partnership. This covers the response which our community should make to the government's initiative to find a final home for the country's higher level radioactive waste.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We will remember them

Today is the 91st anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War.

At 11 am today people all over Britain will remember those who have fallen or been injured in war, from the Great War to Afghanistan. There will be a two minute silence in St Nicholas's gardens, Whitehaven.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Albion Square

Attended the exhibition today about the council's plans to redevelop Albion Square for offices, potentially providing 600 jobs in Whitehaven.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Nuclear sites consultation starts

As the consultation begins on which sites should go forward for Nuclear New Build, all three previously proposed locations in Copeland are still in the frame.

Locations at Sellafield, Braystones and Kirksanton have all been included by the Department of Energy & Climate Change in a final list of 10 sites for public consultation. This will take place over the 15 week period which starts today and concludes on February 22.

I believe that new nuclear build is very much in the interests of Britain and that Copeland has a great deal to offer as a site for new nuclear facilities. We need to consider the advantages and problems of all the sites which have been nominated very carefully.

Given the constraints on grid capacity and local infrastructure, I have my doubts about whether new nuclear build on more than one site in West Cumbria is likely. The arguments in favour of Sellafield as the site do appear stronger than either of the other sites. My colleague David Moore has called on RWE to drop its plans for Kirksanton and Braystones.

“For most people, Sellafield is the preferred site, it makes sense having everything in the same place and I think all our weight should go behind the plans for Sellafield." he said. "This would remove all the anxiety and worry surrounding the proposed Braystones and Kirksanton locations.”

New Nuclear Build sites to be announced today

An annoucement is expected today on which sites will be considered for New Nuclear Build. I hope and expect that land adjacent to Sellafield will be one of them. We will also hear what is proposed for Braystones and Kirksanton.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hell Freezes over yet again

The Sunday Times reports today that two left-wingers, Claire Short and Tony Benn, have both expressed agreement with aspects of Conservative policy.

Short accepted an invitation to speak to Conservative frontbenchers about how to improve the effectiveness of Foreign aid. She told the Sunday Times

“The Conservatives have committed to keeping up the budget and keeping up the commitment on poverty and keeping a separate department, so I am pleased about that.”

Benn admitted that

“There are issues I find myself in agreement with some of the Tories on, particularly on civil liberties. All this security state stuff is very, very worrying. Libertarians like David Davis, a right-wing Conservative, resigned over the government’s 42-day detention law and I went to speak for him.”

He said he also agreed with the Conservatives over the Lisbon treaty.

BTW, I had an email from the National Union of Students in response to my previous "Hell Freezes Over" post, pointing out that this was not the first time this year that they had issued a press release agreeing with David Cameron about something. They included a link to a statement supporting a Conservative suggestion that students could be given favourable terms for accelerated repayment of their student loans and the improved cash flow which resulted used to fund 10,000 extra University places.

Remembering Heroes

Attended the Remembrance Sunday commemoration in Whitehaven this morning.

The attendance was excellent and I was pleased that it included so many young people.

It is important that we remember those who have given their lives for our country, both in the terrible wars of the first half of the 20th century and more recently. Like many people I was struck by the powerful story of Staff Sergeany Olaf Schmid, one of the British soldiers who were killed in the last few days.

Sergeant Schmid was a soldier who saved lives: he had volunteered for bomb disposal work and during his tour of duty had personally defused 64 Talebin booby traps. The 65th killed him. He undoubtedly saved the lives of many of our troops and, almost certainly, those of many innocent Afghan civilians including women and children.

He was a true hero and his sacrifice, along with all those others who have given everything for their country and their fellow human beings, must always be remembered.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

DC: a policy on Europe you can believe in

You can see a video of David Cameron amd William Hague talking about the Conservative response to the ratification of the Lisbon treaty at Youtube here, or at the bottom of this post.

Here is a statement which DC made yesterday on the subject:

"Yesterday {e.g. 3rd November - CJW} the Lisbon Treaty was signed by the President of the Czech Republic. It is now set to become EU law.

I know from the huge number of letters and emails that I have been receiving how much people will resent the fact we cannot now have the referendum we were promised by Labour. But I have always been clear that, if this situation came about, I would immediately set out how a Conservative Government would respond.

First, if we win the next election, we will prohibit, by law, the transfer of further power to the EU without a referendum. Never again should it be possible for a British government to transfer power to the EU without the British people's consent.

Second, we will introduce a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country, in our Parliament.

And third, we want to negotiate three specific guarantees with our European partners over powers that we believe should reside with Britain, not the EU.

* We will negotiate the return of Britain's opt-out from social and employment legislation in those areas which have proved most damaging to our economy and public services.

* We also want a complete opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

* And we would negotiate for a return of powers in criminal justice to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system.

If I am elected Prime Minister, the British Government I lead will be an active member of the European Union. Like every other Member State, we will fight our corner to advance our national interests. But our guiding principles will be that Britain's interests are best served by a European Union that is an association of its member states - and we must never allow Britain to slide into a federal Europe.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

After Lisbon

So the European constitution - sorry, the Lisbon treaty - has finally been ratified.

The worst thing about this constitution is not that it is a vague, badly written treaty - though even some of those were on the body which drafted it, such as Gisela Stuart MP, think it is - but the dishonest and anti-democratic way it has been forced through against the wishes of the electorates of several countries.

Voters in Britain were promised a referendum and saw that promise cynically broken.

Voters in one or two countries, such as France, were given a referendum, voted the constitution down, and saw it imposed on them anyway through the back door.

Voters in Ireland rejected it and were then made to vote again until they gave the result the authorities wanted.

It's no way to run a modern, democratic association of nations.

While the treaty had not yet been ratified, it was right for David Cameron to promise that, if we had come to power before this point, we would suspend ratification while holding a referendum.

But now that the treaty has actually been ratified, holding a vote on whether to ratify it would be the ultimate exercise in slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted. At best it would be a total waste of money at a time when Labour has nearly bankrupted our national finances. At worst it would be another cynical con trick against the electorate, raising hopes which cannot be met.

The Sun has an excellent analysis of who is to blame for this situation here.

As they point out

"So who do we blame for this? Not Mr Cameron, who stuck by his original pledge.

We blame deceitful Labour for welching on their written vow to give us a say.

Instead, they connived to defraud us of a vote and used their majority to ram it through Parliament."

(I would add that there were one or two honorable Labour MPs, such as Gisela Stuart and Frank Field, who voted to keep their election promise and were nearly disciplined as a result.)

So now we have to move forward: I believe the emphasis must be working for a more democratic Europe. The establishments of most member states are in favour of ever closer integration, but the electorates of most countries are not. It is time for those who want to change Europe, whether for reform or integration, to have to persuade their voters of the case for change, instead of tricking them, breaking promises, or just ignoring the people.

A law to ensure that any future treaty transferring powers to Brussels requires a referendum in Britain can only be the start.

There will be those who are so annoyed by the sorry tale of surrender that they are tempted to vote for UKIP or the BNP. I believe that would be a mistake. Neither of these parties is likely to return a single MP to Westminster: but one possible result if voters who would otherwise have supported the Conservatives vote UKIP or BNP is to allow this despised Labour government to cling by its' fingernails to power. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling deserve to have to sort out the mess they are creating, but the rest of us do not deserve another five years of these clowns.

As the Sun puts it

"Thanks to Gordon Brown, Britain is up to its eyes in debt, the Pound is sinking, dole queues are swollen and we face industrial strife on a scale unseen since the Winter of Discontent. We need strong, unflinching government to see us through these difficult times - and Labour is not fit for the job.

If the Tories win, they must work night and day to get us out of this mess.

They cannot waste precious energy fighting on two fronts.

So we are not prepared to tie David Cameron's hands just as he is about to take the wheel.

The issue of Europe will not go away.

When we have this debate, we must do so when we are not distracted by the worst economic crisis in living memory.

Meanwhile if we can't have a referendum now, we can at least have a say on election day.

This government deserves defeat for many reasons.

But for Sun readers, one of the biggest of all will be Labour's abject act of treachery over Europe."

Lest we forget

This coming Sunday is Remembrance Sunday. The message that the sacrifice of our armed services is not jsut something which finished sixty-four years ago but continues today was brutally underlined this morning.

I went to an excellent display last night about the work of the Army at Whitehaven Civic Hall, organised by the local Army 42 Brigade which covers the North West of England and given by the Army presentation team. (Incidentally, while it was an invitation-only event, the Army is looking to build up their contact details lists of people interested in attending such functions, so if you are a resident of Copeland who would have liked to go, email me your details using the link at right and I will pass them on.)

Part of the message, about the sacrifices which British service personnel still have to make on our behalf was reinforced this morning with the news that five British soldiers were killed in a single incident in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Whether we agree or disagree with the policies of our government, the soldiers who have to carry them out deserve nothing but admiration, support and respect for the way they do a difficult and dangerous job.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Fisking Jamie Reed M.P.

I mentioned a few posts ago that the October issue of Labour's "Egremont Today" propaganda sheet, which masquerades as a community newspaper, contained some very dishonest statements about Conservative policies.

I have now seen the November issue and it's worse.

In particular, there is a deeply mendacious article by the MP for Copeland which utterly misrepresents what Conservatives stand for. Parts of it also attempt to stir up class hatred in ways which, if the MP had written in similar terms on race, would not have been far away from risking prosecution under his party's own laws.

So here is a little light fisking of Jamie Reed's offensive and unpleasant propaganda

"We are not all in this together: Copeland comes first."

Helpful of you to make clear in your very title, Jamie, that you have abandoned any pretence that Labour is a party for the whole nation.

"It won't have escaped your attention, but it has become fashionable for certain politicians to talk about cuts, cuts and more cuts."

It hasn't escaped the attention of any intelligent voter that all parties are reluctantly considering whether they may have to make cuts, or that some parties are being much more honest about it than others. And your party is the one which secretly instructed the treasury to plan 10% cuts while some of it's least truthful members, sadly including yourself, are still talking as if you had the ability - never mind the wish, the ability - to sustain the present level of public spending.

"We all know that as a nation we have to balance the books"

We certainly do. Do you consider it is "balancing the books" when one pound in four that the government is spending goes straight onto the national debt, that this debt has doubled in five years and is heading for a trillion pounds on your own government's projections, when the government already has to spend more on paying the interest on that debt than the entire national schools budget, and when this situation will get much worse unless the defecit is reduced?

" - and our economy is in far better shape than the biased news media would have you believe"

There are eight jobseekers in Copeland chasing every job vacancy: I doubt if many of those people would agree with you.

- but a lot of this talk is ignorant, dangerous and wrong.

"Ignorant, dangerous, and wrong" just about sums up your knowledge of Economics - or lack of it.

"Our local economy in Copeland and West Cumbria is based upon public spending - councils, schools, hospitals, police, the nuclear industry: all of this is supported by public spending. In turn, these bodies provide our private sector with the contracts they need to survive. So when David Cameron and George Osborn pledge savage cuts, my immediate thought is always: "How many West Cumbrian jobs do they want to destroy?"

Jamie, if you can produce a date, place, and precise quote in which either David Cameron or George Osborne have ever used the words "savage cuts" to describe a policy they want to implement, or suggested that they would enjoy making savage cuts, I will donate a fiver to a charity or cause of your choice. If you cannot produce such a quote, you should apologise for that statement.

"Let me be absolutely clear on where I stand: I will not allow our local public services, our local economy and the jobs, people and families which this supports to become a victim of the avarice of the bankers who created the global recession we are now in (and hopefully beginning to come out of)."

Sadly not - your rose tinted view of Labour's achievements is running ahead of reality again.

"The Tories would have you believe that the bankers are innocent"

Remind me which government and which Chancellor of the Exchequer created the current regulatory regime which allowed the bankers to make the mistakes which certainly contributed to our current difficulties? It was this Labour government and the chancellor responsible was Gordon Brown.

And actually, the Conservatives don't dispute that some bankers - though not everyone who works in a bank - made serious mistakes. But I certainly hope we would not descend quite as far into the gutter tactics of inciting envy and class hatred which runs through your article.

"and that the world's economic problems have been created by Labour's choice to raise the salaries of nurses, doctors, teachers, police and by employing more people in these jobs than ever before. Utter nonsense."

Your caricature of the tory position is the utter nonsense. I had no problem whatsoever with employing more nurses, doctors, teachers, or police, but for every one of these front line specialists which your government has employed you've taken on two or three administrators, bureacrats, or support staff.

"I will not support any cuts relating to the public services used by the people of Copeland."

My turn to be equally clear. If, disastrously for Britain, your government were re-elected,


Your government is spending massively beyond the country's means, and the massive debts you are building up will take decades to pay off. In the meantime, billions will have to be spent to pay the interest on the money you are currently borrowing. And the longer it is left to cut the defecit, the worse the correction will have to be when somebody finally makes it.

I don't like the idea of painful cuts any more than you do, but the idea that your government would have the money to pay for all the promises you are currently making is pure fantasy.

If you believe you could possibly deliver the promises you are currently making, you are not intelligent enough to be a good MP. If you know that you are offering false hope to the residents of Copeland, you are not honest enough to be a good MP.

"It is only now that we are starting to receive the public investment we need and deserve and the Energy Coast plan is delivering unprecedented levels of public money into our community. In balancing the books, the government is right to examine every government department to see where money can be saved. But government must also look at which areas of the country require the most investment – this is clearly not the south of England and public spending must be maintained in areas like West Cumbria. We are not as George Osborn claims "in this together". I never saw the multi million pound city bonuses which fuelled this crisis being shared out in Egremont and Cleator Moor... "

Here we go again, more class hatred. The bonus payments made to City people probably postponed the recession more than once, and I suspect you'll find that a certain number of city people bought second homes in Cumbria and actually did boost the economy of the county. What touched off the crisis was lending to people who didn't have the ability to pay the loans back.

"The Conservatives have said that they want to slash public spending. In Parliament they voted against the public investments for the new West Cumberland Hospital, the new Westlakes Academy, the other educational investments in our local schools, our universities, the new health centre in Cleator Moor and the rebuilding of cottage hospitals in Millom and Keswick. They also voted against fetching these investments forward."

Completely mendacious. Conservative MPs campaigned for more investment in cottage hospitals like Millom Community Hospital and the Mary H. in Keswick when the Labour government was considering closing scores of them. Conservative policy has supported, not opposed, investment in front line hospital services. No Conservative in parliament has ever moved a specific amendment to take these items out of a budget and if anyone did it would not have Conservative support.

"On top of this, they have said they want to cut public spending across the board by 10%, in addition to taking £4 billion out of the schools budgets."


First, the Conservatives have stated in the most specific terms that two areas - health in particular - will be protected in real terms, so to suggest that we wanted to cut everything by 10% across the board is not true.

The 10% figure was taken from an interview in which the Conservative health spokesman was talking not about our own party's plans, but about Labour ones. He pointed out that when you allow for inflation and the interest on the extra debt money Labour is borrowing, Labour's own spending plans would represent a 7% cut over the next parliament in the money available for spending departments in real terms.

He added that if you protect Health, which the Conservatives have promised to do and Labour may also do, the average cut over all other departments is 10%.

And 10% cuts is the figure which Labour was planning for in a leaked treasury document.

"This isn’t morally right and it’s not right for the people of Copeland and West Cumbria."

Interesting to read that you think Labour's policies are neither morally right or right for the people of Copeland.

"Its absolutely clear that the Tories' public spending cuts would entirely undermine the basis of our local economy. The limited impact of the recession in our part of the world is entirely down to public spending – all of which the Tories oppose.
The months ahead will be tough and we must balance the books, but not at the expense of the people of West Cumbria."

That's twice you've admitted that Britain needs to balance the books, but you have not mentioned one single concrete proposal for how Labour would do this.

"For me, the fortunes of Copeland will always come first. We need to maintain investment in health, education, policing and the nuclear industry – these investments are transforming our area and I will always work to protect them. Its now absolutely clear that only Labour will deliver this; the Tories won't."

The Conservatives are equally committed to investment in health, on which we have promised to match Labour spending, and in nuclear power. Labour cannot deliver on their promises, because if they tried to do everything they have promised without economies elsewhere they will finish what they have already come far too close to doing - bankrupting Britain.

Hell has officially frozen over again

This is the third or fourth time this year when something has actually happened which I would once have expected only after Hell had frozen over ...

I spent several years of my youth as a Conservative involved in Student politics during the premiership of Mrs Thatcher, including a year as one of the comparatively few Conservatives elected as a student union sabbatical officer.

It would be fair to say that the National Union of Students (NUS) was not the most fertile territory for Conservatives that I have ever campaigned on, and I never expected that I would ever read an NUS press release commending anything the Conservatives had ever said or done.

Well, it happened this week.

Here is the press release concerned.


• Willetts warns universities are yet to properly account for £3,000 top-up fees
• Case not made to students and their families for even higher fees
• Shadow Universities Secretary says he would probably oppose higher fees if a vote took place today

Thursday 29 October 2009

The National Union of Students (NUS) today welcomed comments from Shadow Secretary of State for Universities, David Willetts MP, who this morning told an audience of student delegates at NUS’ Higher Education Zone Conference in Manchester that the student voice must be heard in the imminent review of fees.

David Willetts also said that if there was a vote on the fees cap today he would probably not support any increase, as universities had not properly accounted for £3,000 top-up fees or shown the benefits of higher fees to students and their families.

Wes Streeting, NUS President, said:

“I warmly welcome David Willetts' call for the student voice to be heard in the imminent fees review, and his consistent argument that the student experience must be at the heart of the ensuing debate on higher education funding.

“Students are now expected by those in power to contribute significantly to its costs. Therefore, we have a direct and unique interest in a review that will determine the future of fees.

“As the democratic and national voice of students, NUS must have a place on the review group. The possibility that this process will be conducted without direct student representation would severely undermine its legitimacy.”

The Shadow Universities Secretary questioned the process in drawing up a recent CBI report which advocated an increase in fees, higher interest rates on loans and a freezing of student numbers, but which had not consulted students.

David Willetts said:

“It is very important that the student voice is heard; in relation to the CBI report, vice-chancellors and businesses seem to have got together around a table, at which students were not present, and seem to have agreed that the way to solve the HE crisis is for students to pay more. This is an entirely predictable outcome and underlines why the student voice needs to be heard.”

The Shadow Universities Secretary also warned that the case had not been made for higher fees.

David Willetts added:

“How would I vote today? I think I would say today, if the vote arose, that the case has not been made. This is not an argument that I believe the universities have won. They haven’t yet properly accounted for the first £3,000 they had, so I would say not unless and until you have shown what is in it for students and their parents.”

The Shadow Universities Secretary also praised students’ unions and NUS.

David Willetts said:

“On listening to students, I think that what students have done and the transformation of NUS over the past few years…and the kind of material that NUS put out, is the most powerful single way of making sure that politicians listen.

“I think that what NUS has achieved in the past few years, as a constructive contributor to the national debate on HE and what you achieve in your individual unions is something of which you can be enormously proud. Your concerns are the concerns that we all in politics need to hear.”