Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lansley: Conservatives will protect NHS investment

Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley told Sky News this morning that the Conservatives are committed to real terms increases in spending on the NHS.

"He stressed that the Conservatives would protect capital expenditure for the NHS and said that the Tories would build new hospitals, invest in diagnostic equipment, and in primary care facilities, although they plan "to get rid of the bureaucracy".

You can read a Politics Home summary of the Sky News interview here.

Sunday Times: NHS and schools face Labour axe

The Sunday Times reports that

"SPENDING on schools and hospitals will be slashed after the election under Labour plans, despite Gordon Brown’s pledges to ring-fence these areas against cuts."

"Treasury figures in last week’s budget mean that investment in new hospitals and schools, as well as extra wards and other facilities, will be more than halved over the next four years.

"The Treasury conceded that Labour’s guarantee to protect budgets only applied to current spending on wages and salaries and the cost of running schools and hospitals. Spending on new buildings and facilities would be reduced.

"The budget showed that the Treasury is relying on huge cuts in spending on infrastructure to reduce the record budget deficit. Such spending will drop from £50 billion this year to just £22 billion in 2013-14.

"Hospitals and schools account for a combined £13 billion of capital spending this year, which is set to drop to £6 billion over the next four years, adding up to a cumulative cut of more than £20 billion.

"John Hawksworth, head of the macroeconomics unit at Price Waterhouse Coopers, said the cuts in capital spending would be the biggest for decades.

“This is the most severe squeeze on capital spending since the late 1970s, at a time when there is still a strong need for greater spending on the infrastructure,” he said.

You can read the full article here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Protecting Pensioners

The past thirteen years have not been good for Britain's pensioners. They have been hit by the doubling of council tax, Gordon Brown's £5 billion a year raid on pension funds, and by having to sell their homes to pay for care.

David Cameron has set out how a Conservative government would seek to change this.


"The Government I lead will make sure that older and retired people are treated with dignity and given the quality of life they deserve. This is my pledge to support pensioners.

"My Government will:
* Increase the value of the basic state pension for all pensioners and help to stop the spread of the means test by linking pensions to earnings. You won’t get a repeat of Labour’s mean 75p rise with us.
* Freeze council tax for the next two years, in partnership with your council.
* Make it worthwhile to save for a personal pension and get rid of the rules that force people to get a compulsory annuity.
* Help people protect their home rather than have to sell it to pay for care.
* Take all family homes worth less than £1 million out of inheritance tax.
* Increase spending on the NHS every year, which is our number one priority.
* Cut paperwork so we get more police out on the beat fighting crime.

"Our opponents are trying to scare older people by telling deliberate lies about our plans. So here is a personal promise, from me, about the things we will protect.

* I will protect your Winter Fuel Payment.
* I will protect your free bus pass and your free TV licence.
* I will protect the pension credit.

These vital benefits will not be cut under the Conservatives."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Darling says Labour will cut deeper than Maggie

Anyone tempted to believe Labour's simplistic propaganda about how they will spend lots more money on everything while the Conservatives will cut everything might be wise to take a good hard look at the front page of today's Guardian.

The main article begins

"Alistair Darling admitted tonight that Labour's planned cuts in public spending will be "deeper and tougher" than Margaret Thatcher's in the 1980s, as the country's leading experts on tax and spending warned that Britain faces "two parliaments of pain" to repair the black hole in the state's finances"

and goes downhill from there.

Gordon Brown's attempt to set out the choice at the coming election as being between "Labour investment versus Tory cuts" was rubbish from the word go and is now comprehensively exploded. Whoever wins the next election will have to take painful decisions.

You can read the full Guardian article here.

Labour's Telephone Tax

I work in the Telecommunications industry, and am therefore particularly interested in how the parties propose to fund Broadband expansion. For the same reason I am careful what I say about this subject, and I always either formally declare an interest or make clear that I am an employee of a telephone company when the subject comes up at council meetings.

Having got that out of the way, I want to refer to an interesting post by Mike Smithson at "Political Betting" on the subject of Labour's proposed £6 a year tax on landline telephones.

Mike points out that a particular weakness with "hypothecated taxes" - e.g. where the revenue from a tax is specifically earmarked for a particular purpose - is that people who have to pay the tax and do not benefit from that programme may regard it as extremely unfair.

He suggests that there is a group of people for whom a landline phone may be an important safety net, many of whom are on low incomes (and may therefore find £6 a year significant) and many of whom are not particularly interested in high speed broadband. As Mike puts it

"my guess is that it’s really going to irritate those most reliant on land-lines for whom that sum of money might seem a lot - old age pensioners."

You can read the full post here.

30 Million hit by new stealth tax

Once again, Labour have been caught hiding a stealth tax in the small print of a Budget. This time, 30 million people will pay more in tax thanks to personal allowances being frozen. It’s the biggest single tax rise in the Budget – but the Chancellor failed to mention it.

The Budget failed to set out a credible plan to deal with the deficit.

* We are now borrowing more than at any time in our modern history.

* For every four pounds the Government spends, one pound has to be borrowed.

* We will be paying more in interest on the government debt than on the entire
school system.

The choice is clear. Five more years of Gordon Brown, with the same debt, waste and taxes that got us into this economic mess. Or David Cameron and the Conservatives who offer you energy, leadership and new ideas to build an economy that grows – and an economy that works for everyone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Whitehaven Golf Course

There have been a number of post on this blog about the planning issues with regard to Whitehaven Golf Course.

The history of council and government decisions on this site has been a dire chapter of mishaps which does nobody a great deal of credit. It was built in the wrong place and several years later we still do not appear to have a satisfactory resolution of the impact of this on the right of way through the site.

To my astonishment, I find that the large banks of earth which have been erected on the side of the site, blocking a number of attractive views, do appear to conform to the planning application passed by Copeland Borough Council's planning panel. Sections of the dry stone wall which were shown in those plans as being retained have been removed, but this was at the request of Cumbria County Council's highways department. It was the opinion of County Highways officers that the relevant sections of wall were a traffic hazard.

The third issue is the sewage disposal. The original planning applications for the golf course involved a connection to the main sewers. The developers applied last year to the Environment Agency for permission to discharge sewage into a tributary of the River Keekle instead. This application was refused a few weeks ago.

Copeland council's Enforcement officer and an Environmental Health officer visited the site this week to check what is happening about this. They were shown the new clubhouse which the owners are in the process of constructing. It is currently a building site and is unlikely to be completed for a number of months. So there will not be any need for sewage disposal for a while yet.

Council officers have discussed with the owners the recent unsuccessful application to connect development to a septic tank. The Environment agency insisted that the owners must connect the development to the public sewer system. They asserted that they are already looking into the cost of pumping the sewage up towards the public sewer system at Red Lonning and they are planning to be connected to the public sewers before the development is complete.

There was no evidence of effluent being discharged into the Keekle River.

This situation will have to be kept under review: we don't want a repeat of the previous problems of poor enforcement.

Charles Bloxham R.I.P.

Most people reading this will never have heard of Charles Bloxham, who died yesterday at the age of 94, but hundreds of former pupils of my old school will remember him. He was a master at Saint Albans School for 43 years, either side of World War II, latterly as Head of Lower School. During the war he commanded a troop of medium artillery against the Japanese in the Far East.

By an extraordinary coincidence, I was reminded of Charles earlier this evening: I stepped through my front door to be handed the telephone, and spoke to one of my colleagues who was extremely cross, and justifiably so, about a dishonest letter from another political party which a member of her family had received. The conversation reminded me about a very powerful comment which Charles Bloxham had made about telling the truth nearly forty years ago and which has been an influence on me ever since. Five minutes after putting the phone down I went to my desk to check my emails, and the first one I saw was about his death.

Charles was a very charming and compassionate man, and he was also a man of massive integrity, in which he would have stood out in any generation but particularly so in the present age.

Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

George Osborne on Labour's Empty budget

George Osborne writes:

"Now we know that Labour have no new ideas, no energy and no plans to get the economy moving.

"There was nothing in this Budget except political positioning. No credible plan to deal with the debt. No serious plan to boost growth. All the spending decisions have been put off until after the election, and all the big tax rises concealed in the small print.

"The only new policies were ones stolen from the Conservatives - like the stamp duty cut and new university places. It was the day Labour were found out.

"It's clear that only the Conservatives have the energy, leadership and ideas to Get Britain Working."

George Osborne

What a non-budget

I have just been watching the "budget" speech by the Chancellor. I don't think I have ever seen a budget speech so short on economic measures and so long on political point scoring.

The centrepiece of the budget was the elimination of stamp duty for first time buyers on houses of value up to £250,000 which, as David Cameron pointed out has been Conservative policy for three years, and was attacked by Labour when we first proposed it. As DC said,

"He came in as Chancellor copying our inheritance tax cuts and he leaves as chancellor copying our stamp duty cuts."

Sellafield Alarm Test

Anyone who lives or works within earshot of Sellafield should be aware that a new alarm system is being tested on the site this morning.

If you hear the sirens today, it is a test and there is nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time for a change: cleaning up politics

The last Government ended with scandals like ‘cash for access’ – and Gordon Brown’s Government is ending with scandals that are, if anything, worse. To get real change, and to clean up politics, we need a change of government. Five more years of Gordon Brown won’t make any difference.

We need a proper inquiry into the activities of the former Labour Ministers. If it was serious enough to strip these former Ministers of the party whip, surely it’s serious enough for an inquiry?

David Cameron spelt out this morning how a Conservative Government would clean up politics by getting to grips with lobbying – an issue he highlighted several weeks ago. He laid out the following proposals to clean up politics

· We’re going to make absolutely sure that ex-Ministers are not allowed to use the contacts and knowledge gained in government for their own private gain.

· We’ll double the time when it’s forbidden for ex-Ministers to lobby government from twelve months to two years.

· We’ll extend to ten years the period during which ex-Ministers must seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

· We’ll put that Committee on a statutory basis, so ignoring its advice will be an offence.

· The first task of an incoming government will be to instruct the Prime Minister’s advisor on the Ministerial Code to undertake a full review of this episode so that the government can learn the lessons of what has gone wrong, and change the rules to stop it happening again.

· And we’ve also got to put a stop to the practice of one part of government lobbying another part of government.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Support for Sure Start

Conservatives support Sure Start Children’s Centres. We believe they will play a crucial role in making Britain one of the most family-friendly countries in Europe.

We want to see Sure Start work even more effectively in the future. A Conservative Government will strengthen Sure Start through a universal Sure Start Health Visitor service. This will be funded with money from Health and extra money already set aside by the Government to strengthen out reach to vulnerable families.

This plans will give parents professional health visitor support during the crucial early years of their child’s life. Health visitors are also more effective at reaching out to the poorest and most vulnerable families.

We believe voluntary organisations, with a proven track record in supporting families, should be more involved in managing centres and providing services. Paying centres partially on the results they achieve will also help incentivise better management in Sure Start centres and increase the focus on delivering better family support which was what Sure Start was originally designed for.

These plans for Sure Start will help centres up and down the country to support families. This will help give children in Copeland the best start in life.

Stronghold, what stronghold ?

Any residents of Frizington who look at political websites, particularly if they are part of more than 72% of voters in the division who voted for someone other than the British National Party, may be slightly surprised to find themselves described as living in the "BNP Stronghold of Frizington" on the local BNP blog.


Most parties use the expression "stronghold" to describe somewhere we win.

The election in that county division last year was affected by tragic circumstances: the Conservative candidate, who had planned to campaign, was unexpectedly taken seriously ill just after the close of nominations. He spent most of the campaign in the West Cumberland Hospital and sadly died later last year.

He still came within four votes of keeping the BNP in third and last place. Labour won that division with a majority of 343 votes.

Overall in the divisions wholly within the Copeland Constituency the results were

CONSERVATIVE, 8,979 votes (39.2%)
LABOUR 7,900 votes (34.5%)
BNP 3,250 votes (14.2%)
LIB/DEM 1,558 votes ( 6.8%)
GREEN 559 votes ( 2.4%)
INDEPENDENT 477 votes ( 2.1%)
UKIP 180 votes ( 0.8%)

This slightly understates the Conservative position, overstating those of Labour and the BNP, because it does not include two Conservative wards which we really can describe as strongholds but which are part of county divisions which are split between Copeland and Workington constituencies. Nobody can be quite certain how the Cockermouth East and Cockermouth West divisions, both easily won by the Conservatives, split between the two parliamentary seats. Pete Whitehead estimated here on the "Vote UK Discussion Forum" thread about Cumbria County Council elections that the votes cast in the Copeland parliamentary constituency as a whole in the county elections were:

CONSERVATIVE 9,787 votes, (40.5%)
LABOUR 8,103 votes, (33.5%)
BNP 3,250 votes, (13.4%)
LD 1,691 votes, ( 7.0%)
GREEN 682 votes, ( 2.8%)
INDEPENDENT 477 votes, ( 2.0%)
UKIP 180 votes, ( 0.7%).

All the mainstream parties need to address, in a non-inflammatory, constructive and non-racist way, the issues which have made 14% of electors in Copeland cast a vote for the British National Party. And there is no room for complacency. But when the BNP are reduced to claiming Frizington as a stronghold and "the highest ever result for the party in Cumbria here least (sic) June" it is worth remembering that they are talking about 501 votes cast and a vote share of 27.2%.

Ironically the BNP blog shows some of their activists posing by "The Griffin" PH in Frizington. I wonder if they knew that until recently this pub gloried in the entertaining if self-contradictory name of "The Old New Griffin." Says it all, really, doesn't it?

DC writes about taking on Vested Interests

David Cameron writes:

"There's a very simple choice at this election: five more years of Gordon Brown, or change with the Conservatives. But if the British people do vote for change, I can tell you now that it won't come easily.

Real change is always hard because there will always be people and organisations with vested interests in preserving the status quo - even if that's not in the national interest. We need to take these vested interests on, and I gave a speech earlier today setting out how the Conservatives will do just that.

Taking on vested interests has been at the heart of so many of the great moments of progress in this country - whether it's abolishing slavery in the face of commercial interests, or more recently Margaret Thatcher taking on those who controlled council housing and the nationalised industries.

So we know that taking on vested interests can bring real, positive change. But that change can only come about if you have the strength to see it through. Sadly, we haven't seen that strength from Gordon Brown.

Just look at what's going on with the British Airways strike. Thousands of jobs and the future of one of Britain's greatest companies is at threat, yet we have a Prime Minister who won't come out in support of those who would cross the picket line because the Unite union is bankrolling the Labour Party.

The next Conservative Government will be different. You can see that in how we led the way in dealing with MPs' expenses. You can see it in our pledge to publish all government spending online. And you could see it this morning in my call for a levy on banks to pay back taxpayers for the support they gave them.

Since becoming leader of the Conservative Party I've rolled up my sleeves and argued for what is right, not what is convenient. It's time we had a Prime Minister that did the same."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cameron and Clark launch Tory Energy Policy

Support for Nuclear Power features in the Conservative Energy strategy, launched yesterday by David Cameron and Greg Clark, and called "Rebuilding Security".

The strategy recognises the serious strategic challenge Britain faces over the next ten years:

* We will become increasingly reliant on imports as North Sea oil and gas production goes into steep decline;

* One third of our current electricity generating capacity will close by 2020;

* We are required (by EU agreement) to raise our proportion of renewably-sourced energy to 15% from 2.5% today;

* We have committed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 34% from 1990 levels;

* Between £100 and £200 billion of new investment in our energy infrastructure is needed according to Ofgem.

The paper sets our four objectives for Britain's energy policy under a Conservative government:

Security: Britain must be able to count on, today and in the future, reliable supplies of energy for electricity, heating and transport;

Sustainability: Our wellbeing depends on a healthy environment. In extracting, generating and using energy we must safeguard the ecosystems we rely on;

Economy: Energy is a necessity of daily life for consumers and business. We want it to be abundant and affordable;

Opportunity: Historically, energy has been a sector of British industrial and commercial strength. We want to develop and deploy those strengths to create new wealth for the country.

To achieve these the paper sets out twelce policy proposals:

1) Ensure that Britain has a clear, consistent and stable energy policy. Ministers – not quangos, advisory bodies or regulators – should be unambiguously responsible for determining policy.

2) Establish a capacity guarantee in the electricity market. The regulator would be able to make long-term commitments on behalf of consumers to provide certainty of payment for new capacity.

3) Establish a security guarantee for gas supply. Britain must not play a passive role at the end of a long Eurasian supply chain.

4) Reform the Climate Change Levy to provide a floor price for carbon.

5) Operate a streamlined planning process for large infrastructure investments. Conservatives will retain, the provisions made in the 2008 Planning Act for a streamlined, fast-track planning process for major infrastructure projects.

6) Facilitate nuclear power. The paper contains clear and positive statements in favour of nuclear power.

7) Accelerate the demonstration of carbon capture and storage. To ensure Britain can use coal without damaging the environment.

8) Promote renewable energy. CHP, waste heat capture, biomass, biogas, geothermal and microgeneration technologies will be promoted as well as wind, wave and tidal energy resources.

9) Revolutionise supply and demand by building an energy internet. A smart grid that will encourage more responsible and cost-effective use of energy by industrial and domestic consumers.

10) Reduce demand by offering every household a Green Deal on energy efficiency. Every household in Britain will benefit from 'a Green Deal' of up to £6,500 worth of energy efficiency improvements at no upfront cost.

11) Electrify transport to reduce dependence on oil. With efforts focusing on railways and cars.

12) Create a Green Investment Bank. In conjunction with the Treasury, Green ISAs and Green Bonds will be designed to leverage private sector finance and allow retail and institutional investors to participate more easily in the major task of building clean energy systems.

Hat tip to Conservative Home, where Greg Clark sets out his policies in a "Platform" piece which you can read here.

You can read a news story about the launch of the plan and download a copy of the full document on the Conservative website here.

Heard on the doorstep

In Keswick this afternoon a couple gave one of my campaign team the following reason why they will not be voting Labour:

"When Blair got in he said his priorites were 'Education, Education, Education.'

What he delivered was Regulation, Regulation, Regulation."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Commemorating Whitehaven's Danish Fishermen

I have just returned from a fascinating event at which the Mayor of Copeland and the Danish Ambassador unveiled a plaque to commemorate the Danish fishermen who came to Whitehaven when their country was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, and operated from this town to help feed Britain and our allies during the war.

Many including the fathers of the present mayor and former mayoress Yvonne Clarkson, married local girls and settled in the area.

This town has a long and colourful past and it is right that we remember those who have contributed to it.

Is this why the polls are all over the place?

WARNING - political anorak post!

All the opinion polls show David Cameron ahead in the race for Downing street, but by varying amounts. Most of them suggest that the race has tightened in the past couple of months, but some polls still show the Conservatives around 10% ahead.

Not that you'd get that impression from reading the media. Because YouGov polls - which are well out of line with most of the other pollsters - have been adjusted to show the Tory lead dropping to just a few points (currently 4% - there was one poll showing a lead of just 2%.) And these are the polls which have had the attention in the newspapers because it makes the election sound more interesting if people think it is close.

Another point which has not been brought out is that most of the drop in the Yougov poll lead is not due to any decline in the Conservative lead in the raw data. It's because of a change in the weightings to correct for the fact that voters who identify with the Labour party have been less inclined to take part in their surveys.

Yougov have adjusted their figures to adjust for the lower proportion of past Labour supporters who say they "identify" with Labour taking part, as Mike Smithson reports at Political Betting here.

The question is, have they overdone it? Whatever the reason that Labour identifying voters have gone on strike against Yougov, it can't be because they think Yougov is biased against Labour, or they would have done so when the company was reporting much larger Conservative leads. The feedback my team are getting on the doorsteps in Copeland never showed as large a swing as some of last year's polls, but the swing we are finding has been pretty stable and has shown no sign of reducing in line with the recent wobble. We are being told by a lot of former Labour voters that they are highly disillusioned and seriously considering whether to vote Labour this time.

A few of them will come over to us: a lot more, I suspect, won't vote. Reluctance of Labour identifiers to take part in Yougov polls may be a harbinger of difficulties for Labour in getting their vote out come the real election.

We won't know until polling day. Yougov has a good record and they might be right. Or the other pollsters may be. Or all the polls could be wrong as they were in 1992!

Nobody can take a thing for granted about the coming election and we must concentrate on explaining why our policies are right for Britain and for Copeland.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Andy McNab backs the Conservatives

Bravo Two Zero hero Andy McNab, who voted Labour in 1997, has now decided to publicly back David Cameron's Conservatives. After talks with David Cameron, he told the Sun newspaper: "Without doubt, the Tories are the future. I'm impressed by Cameron and the straight answers he gave to my questions.

"I believe he does get the Forces and what they need. And I think he has the will to see Afghanistan through.

"Now is not the time to go wobbly about the war."

David Cameron responded: "Andy's backing means a huge amount to us.

"Defending our country is the first responsibility of any government.

"For everything they are doing for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, I want to see the concerns of our Forces and their families far higher up the agenda than they are at the moment. With Andy, we have got someone who has been at the sharp end and who has a huge understanding of what our Forces need."

You can read the whole Sun article here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

EU Commission says UK must do more to set out debt reduction plan

The European Commission, like the Conservatives and many leading economists, has suggested that the British government needs to do more to tackle the Budget Defecit.

This is a heavy blow for Gordon Brown’s credibility. The Conservatives have been arguing that we need to reduce our record budget deficit more quickly in order to support the recovery. Our argument is backed by credit rating agencies, business leaders, international investors and now the European Commission. That is why we need a change of government to restore confidence in our economy at home and abroad.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Millom Model Railway Exhibition, 4 to 5 Sept 2010

I've had a comment on my post about the opening of Millom Palladium from Peter Cheshire, Chairman of Millom Railway & Scale Modellers, which I thought deserved a thread of its own.

Peter writes:

Agree that The Palladium is much improved and we are happy to announce that this year's Millom Model Railway Exhibition will be held there on September 4th & 5th. Glad to see this back in the hands of those who actually care about this venue and hope that they get the funding they deserve!

Please come along and support both the show and the much improved Millom Palladium.

Peter Chesher,
Chairman - Millom Railway & Scale Modellers

How Labour have created a new crime a day

One of the questions aspiring MPs often get asked, especially at selection meetings, is

"If you won the ballot for private members bills, what new law would you propose?"

It's a perfectly rational question to ask people who, if elected, would be able to add to the flood of legislation coming out of the Westminster sausage machine. But it makes my blood boil, because one of my strongest motivations for trying to become an MP is the belief that far from needing many more laws, we already have far too many. And the flood of badly thought through, badly drafted, and unworkable bills has been getting worse and worse.

So if I get elected and am successful in the ballot for private member's bills, I won't be trying to pass a new one, but to repeal one of the existing laws I most detest.

Top of my list of the laws currently in force which I would like to see repealed is Section 132 of SOCPA, which bans unauthorised demonstrations within a kilometer of the Houses of Parliament. This is the law under which a peaceful demonstrator, Maya Evans, was arrested and convicted for standing by the Cenotaph and reading out the names of British service personnel killed in Iraq.

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which is currently before parliament would repeal sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA but replace it with alternative restrictions which remain a cause for serious concern.

Today's Sunday Times has an article about the 4,300 new crimes created by the present government since they were elected in 1997 - nearly a new crime every day they have been in power.

Some of these simply duplicated things which were already illegal and which any sane person would realise would be illegal.

For example, it was quite unnecessary to create a new criminal offence of causing a nuclear explosion, as the government did in the "Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act of 1998" because any attempt to do such a thing within UK jurisdiction would certainly already have been punishable with life imprisonment under the Explosive Substances Act of 1883.

Examples of other duplicated or comical new crimes include

- Carrying grain on a ship without a copy of the International Grain Code on board
- Shining a light at an aircraft to dazzle or distract the pilot
- Unauthorised fishing in the Lower Esk River
- Obstructing an authorised person from inspecting apple, pear, peach or nectarine orchards for the purposes of ascertaining whether grubbing up has been carried out
- Failure to attend a hearing by a bus lane contravention adjudicator
- As a merchant shipping officer, falsely claiming a door is closed and locked
- Selling non-native species such as a grey squirrel, ruddy duck or Japanese knotweed
- Obstructing workers carrying out repairs to the Docklands light railway
- Keeping a dog on a lead longer than a maximum length in a designated area
- Using an automatic rail-weighbridge which has a disqualification sticker on it
- Not having a licence for a church concert
- Swimming in the wreck of the Titanic

Laws which were supposedly introduced to protect us from terrorism have been used to check up on parents trying to get their kids into a good school or to stop tourists taking photographs in the street.

You can read the Sunday Times article in full here.

Lovelock on Nuclear Power and Climate Change

There is a remarkable piece in today's Sunday Times about a recent Royal Society gathering at which the speaker was the "patron saint" of the greens, James Lovelock.

Interestingly, while he remains very strongly of the opinion that the human contribution to Climate Change matters, and that we should try to prevent it, he started off his remarks by praising the contribution of the more intelligent among the so-called climate change sceptics.

“I think you have to accept that the sceptics have kept us sane — some of them, anyway,” he said. “They have been a breath of fresh air. They have kept us from regarding the science of climate change as a religion. It had gone too far that way. There is a role for sceptics in science. They shouldn’t be brushed aside. It is clear that the angel side wasn’t without sin.”

He also emphasised the uncertainties with present-day models of climate change. The article continues:

"Lovelock places great emphasis on proof. The climate change projections by the Meteorological Office’s Hadley Centre — a key contributor to the IPCC consensus — should be taken seriously, he said. But he is concerned that the projections are relying on computer models based primarily on atmospheric physics, because models of that kind have let us down before. Similar models, for example, failed to detect the hole in the ozone layer;

it was eventually found by Joe Farman using a spectrometer.

How, asks Lovelock, can we predict the climate 40 years ahead when there is so much that we don’t know? Surely we should base any assumptions on things we can measure, such as a rise in sea levels. After all, surface temperatures go up and down, but the rise in sea levels reflects both melting ice and thermal expansion. The IPCC, he feels, underestimates the extent to which sea levels are rising."

Despite, or indeed because of the uncertainties involved, Lovelock is firmly of the opinion that we should try to curb carbon emissions:

"Do mankind’s emissions matter? Yes, they undoubtedly do.

"No one should be complacent about the fact that within the next 20 years we’ll have added nearly a trillion tons of carbon to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. When a geological accident produced a similar carbon rise 55m years ago, it turned up the heat more than 5C. And now? Well, the effect of man-made carbon is unpredictable. Temperatures might go down at first, rather than up, he warns.

"How should we be spending our money to prevent possible disaster? In Britain, says Lovelock, we need sea walls and more nuclear power. Heretical stuff, when you consider the vast amount that Europe plans to spend on wind turbines ..."

"In the end, his message was that we should have more respect for uncertainties and learn to live with possibilities rather than striving for the 95% probabilities that climate scientists have been trying to provide. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know if we can avert disaster — although we should try. His sage advice: enjoy life while you can."

You can read the full article here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Protecting Tourism

George Osborne made a major speech in Blackpool yesterday about the need to help tourism, a vital industry for Britain and the most important source of income in the Keswick area of the Copeland constituency.

Among other things he promised to undo the damage caused by Labour's disastrous decision in last year's budget, coming into effect next month, to scrap the tax relief on Furnished Holiday Lets,

The full text of the speech was as follows.

“It’s great to be here in Blackpool.

Today, I’m here to talk about the Conservative Party’s plans to rebuild the economy, and boost tourism in the North West and across the country.

It’s good to be here with Jeremy Hunt and our dedicated Tourism Minister Tobias Ellwood.

They’ve done a great job to develop our agenda for tourism and culture that we’ll be putting to the country in less than two months.

Given that the election is almost upon us, some people might ask why someone who aspires to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer is making a speech about tourism.

I make no bones about it.

I’m here because I believe that British tourism is one of the jewels in the crown of the British economy.

The statistics speak for themselves.

The British tourism industry supports over 2.5 million jobs and 200,000 businesses.

The sector generates over £100 billion of revenue each year – and provides training opportunities for thousands of young people every week.

And of course, as countries like China and India continue to develop in the global economy, more of their citizens will look to take holidays overseas.

That’s a great opportunity for the UK in the years ahead.

So as we go about building a balanced economy that is never again so unsustainably reliant on government debt and the City for growth, we need to do everything we can to boost British tourism.

After all, it’s only by strengthening our leading industries like tourism that we can create the new jobs and business opportunities that Britain so urgently needs.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that the Government is simply not providing the right framework to help our tourism sector achieve its fullest potential.

That’s not just my view.

A few days ago, I received a briefing note from VisitBritain, the tourism body that receives tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money each year from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

In this note, VisitBritain out its frank assessment of the Government’s record on tourism.

Let me read you some of the key sections.

"Britain’s position in the international tourism earnings league slipped from sixth to seventh in 2008.”

And looking ahead, VisitBritain concludes that: “Our international competitiveness as a destination is deteriorating.”

To coin a phrase, we can’t go on like this.

When a government organisation passes that kind of verdict on the performance of the Government as whole, you have to pay attention.

It’s obvious that we need real change to support our tourism industry, instead of holding it back.

What does that mean in practice?

First, it means providing strong leadership and a clear sense of direction on the economy as a whole.

We have been absolutely clear about our vision for the economy – we want to build nothing less than a new British economic model.

That means getting the deficit down, and restoring international confidence in our economy. Because if that confidence drains away, then we face higher interest rates and mortgage bills, and the entire recovery put at risk.

That’s no good for the tourism industry – or for the economy as a whole.

So our new model for economic growth will be based on the stability and low interest rates that come from a credible plan to reduce our record budget deficit and protect Britain’s credit rating.

This is the foundation that British tourism businesses need to invest and succeed.

But as well as strong leadership on the economy, we need strong leadership on tourism too.

So a Conservative government will set for ourselves this clear ambition:

We want to increase the proportion of UK residents’ tourism spend that goes on domestic holidays from 38% to 50%.

Let me be clear what achieving this would mean.

It would mean a £6.5 billion boost to the UK economy.

A £700 million boost for the North West.

And thousands of new jobs across the country.

That’s a prize worth fighting for. And we will do what it takes to make it happen.

So if the first thing the tourism industry needs from government is a clear sense of direction, I believe the second is getting the tax and regulation system right.

Let me explain precisely what our plans are.

We will cut the headline rate of corporation tax from 28p to 25p by abolishing complex allowances and reliefs, and we are aiming to create the most competitive tax environment of any major economy.

And to help small business – and I know that 80% of tourism businesses are SMEs – we will lower the small companies’ rate to 20p, once again by reducing complex reliefs.

What’s more, we will make small business rate relief automatic to reduce admin costs and encourage take up.

Of course, tourism businesses – like all businesses – have been hit hard by the growth of red tape in recent years.

So a Conservative government will reduce the burden of red tape on business with a ‘one in one out’ approach for new regulations, as well as mandatory sunset clauses and regulatory budgets for departments.

And to help those who want to start a tourism business, we will introduce a new tax break that means no new business started in the first two years of a Conservative Government will pay Employer National Insurance on the first ten employees it hires during its first year.

And we will build a network of business mentors and provide loans to would-be tourism entrepreneurs, supporting self-employment and franchising as a route back into work. But that’s not all.

I’m sure you’re aware of Labour’s plans to abolish tax relief on Furnished Holiday Lets this April.

I’ve seen the statistics, and it’s obvious that this tax raid will hit the tourism industry hard.

In total 120,000 businesses will be affected – and according to the Tourism Alliance, 4,500 jobs could be lost.

In total, the net cost to the UK economy could be as much as £200 million.

And of course, the repeal of this tax relief will reduce the attractiveness of the self-catering sector for new entrants and make it more difficult for owners to invest in the upkeep of their properties.

I’ve heard all the arguments – and I’ve got to say that I agree with them.

So I can today announce that a Conservative government will take action to undo the damage caused by the abolition the Furnished Holiday Lets reliefs.

We will do this is a way that is fiscally neutral, and consistent with our commitment to cutting the deficit and restoring the public finances to health.

My team is working with tax and legal experts to explore how this should best be achieved, including proposals to change the eligibility thresholds and amending the interest deductibility criteria.

Unlike the current Government, we will take action to support British tourism.

Reversing the damage caused by the abolition of Furnished Holiday Lets relief is yet more evidence of our commitment to this cause.

The final point I want to make today is about our plans to develop the infrastructure framework that British tourism needs.

This is the third way that a Conservative government will support the tourism sector.

Let me start with skills.

Our broken skills and training system is letting too many people and too many tourism businesses down.

That has to change.

So over two years we will fund 200,000 apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships, 100,000 work pairings and 100,000 further education college places.

Here in the North West that means over 25,000 new apprenticeships and over 20,000 new training places and work pairings.

But of course, for a tourism business, finding qualified staff is only part of the challenge. Our creaking transport system makes it much too difficult for people to get around.

That’s holding back domestic tourism – and holding back our economy as a whole.

We will begin work on Britain’s first ever North-South high speed rail line to connect London and Heathrow with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, increasing capacity and reducing travel times.

Our aspiration is to go further in years to come, to a line that stretches north to Newcastle and Scotland and to a network connecting many of the UK’s major cities in a national high-speed network.

And for the rest of the rail system, we will reform the way our existing railways are run, with longer franchises to encourage private sector investment in much needed improvements.

To help tourism businesses expand, we will overhaul the planning system to strip away red tape and give communities real incentives to approve proposed new developments.

Last but not least, getting the infrastructure right also means putting in place a framework that makes the most of the massive opportunity to promote British tourism alongside the Olympics in 2012.

Our aim must be to seize this once in a generation chance to inspire people across the world to visit not just London, but the whole of the country.

So a Conservative government will aim to establish a fund to market London and British tourism around the world.

This marketing should take place before, during and immediately after 2012.

These, then, are our plans to back British tourism.

By providing clear leadership;

By getting the tax and regulation system right;

By undoing the damage caused by Labour’s abolition of furnished holiday let reliefs;

And by building an infrastructure framework that’s fit for purpose...

... We can help create new jobs and attract new investment across the country.

And we can build a more balanced and stable economy based on enterprise and investment, not unsustainable public and private sector debt.

In the weeks ahead, we will be publishing our tourism manifesto, and we will be campaigning around the country on our plans to boost this important industry.

We will do what it takes to boost British tourism.

And get our economy back on its feet.

Thank you.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010


The choice at the next election is between five more years of Gordon Brown’s tired government making things worse, or David Cameron and the Conservatives with the fresh ideas, energy and leadership to get the country moving.

The Conservative Technology Manifesto to be launched today outlines the most ambitious technology agenda ever proposed by a British political party, and will provide a boost to British business and help create highly-paid new jobs across the country. Our plans will give Britain the fastest high speed broadband network in Europe, helping to create hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. We will make the British Government the most technology-friendly in the world, and meet our ambition that the next generation of Googles, Microsofts and Facebooks are British companies.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Budget date confirmed as 24th March

As Richard Willis and others predicted, budget day has been confirmed to be 24th March.

Because that date is only a few days before Easter, this is being seen as confirmation of what most people have suspected for some time: that the General Election will be called just after Easter and take place on Thursday 6th May.

The Election Countdown application on this blog is to the last possible date for an election - Thursday 3rd June - so subtract 28 days for the probable actual date.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Nursing Times: patients treated in inappropriate places

A survey conducted by the Nursing Times suggests that many patients are being treated in areas of the hospital not designed for clinical care.

Extra beds are being put in the middle of wards, patients are being put on trolleys in corridors, cupboards and kitchens as hospitals struggle to cope with the numbers, it was warned. Two thirds of the 900 responses to the survey reported patients being treated in "non-clinical" areas of hospitals.

The practice puts patients at risk because of the cramped conditions and lack of equipment around the temporary beds. The overcrowding also risks patient safety as patients have no access to call bells, water or emergency equipment and fire exits may be blocked. And putting beds too close together increases the risk that infections will be spread between patients, according to nurses who responded to the survey.

The main source for this post is an article in The Daily Telegraph which you can read in full here.

Shadow Health Minister Anne Milton said: “This is truly shocking. No patient should be put through the ordeal of being treated in an area that is unsafe or is disrespectful to their privacy or dignity.

“Nurses must be free to make decisions about where and when to treat people on clinical grounds. They should not be forced into treating people in cupboard or a kitchen just to meet Labour’s bureaucratic targets."

The choice at the coming general election is clear: five more years of Gordon Brown prioritising targets over patients or change with the Conservatives.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Value for Money in the Town Hall

Under Labour, council tax has doubled, whilst frontline services like bin collections have halved. A Conservative Government will work with councils to offer better quality public services and more value for money. By giving the public full access to the books, we will create a new army of armchair auditors, vetting town hall spending, pay and expenses. This will identify waste and bureaucracy, freeing up resources that can be used to improve services or lower taxes, depending on what local people decide.

In a speech to the Conservative Councillors’ Association on Friday 5 March, David Cameron set out how Conservative plans to give more power, discretion and autonomy to local councils must be backed by greater accountability to local taxpayers. The key proposals are set out below.

Value for money on town hall spending
• Conservatives will give more power, discretion and autonomy to local councils. But greater power must be backed up with greater accountability to local taxpayers.
• Under a Conservative Government, town halls should allow local residents to see exactly how they are spending public money. We will amend legislation so that councils will be required to publish regularly information about their spending available online. They would list all items of external expenditure on goods and services above £500 – and also publish contracts and tender documents in full, to enable more small businesses to win council procurement contracts. The information would be available in an open and standardised format, so that it can be used by third parties to build commercially and socially useful applications.
• This would apply to all local authorities which levied a precept on council tax. Conservative-controlled Windsor and Maidenhead Council already publish online all items of spending over £500, as does Boris Johnson’s City Hall for spending over £1,000. These policies were implemented quickly and cheaply – demonstrating that there are no significant administrative obstacles to delivering this goal.
Value for money on councillor expenses
• Councils are already required to publish the allowances and expenses of every named councillor each year. Such long-standing openness has been one of the reasons why councils have avoided the expense scandals of the House of Commons. Yet, there is no central register to compare allowances from council to council.
• As part of our policy to scrap Comprehensive Area Assessments, town halls would instead publish key information online in an open and standardised format. This will include data on individual councillor expenses, enabling the public to compare councillor expenses across the country.

Value for money on senior council staff’s pay and benefits
• The Government has recently pledged to amend council audit regulations to require town halls to publish the remuneration packages of local authority staff earning over £150,000 by name, in £5,000 bands; anonymised head counts will also be published of how many staff earn £50,000 and above, in £5,000 bands. Yet this was backtracking by Labour Ministers, who originally had indicated the naming would apply to all ‘senior’ staff, and followed lobbying from town hall trade bodies.
• Conservatives will require local authorities to publish more public information on the remuneration of senior town hall staff, including pensions, perks and severance packages. We believe greater public scrutiny will serve to provide downward pressure on excessive and unjustified wage inflation.
• We propose that the full remuneration packages should be published for all senior staff, including name and post. There is no standard local government pay scale, hence, we would link the publishing threshold to the entry level minimum salary for a ‘senior’ civil servant, as set by the Senior Salaries Review Board. This was £58,500 in 2009-10 (and thus, depending on current pay settlements, may be closer to £60,000 under an incoming Conservative Government). The information would be published in local authority accounts, and also made available in an open and standardised format.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sunday Times: Labour hid NHS reports

The Sunday Times today accuses Labour of suppressing reports which reveal how the top-down target culture has failed to protect the best interests of patients.

The story alleges that

'DAMNING reports on the state of the National Health Service, suppressed by the government, reveal how patients’ needs have been neglected.

They diagnose a blind pursuit of political and managerial targets as the root cause of a string of hospital scandals that have cost thousands of lives.

The harsh verdict on the state of the NHS, after a spending splurge under Labour between 2000 and 2008, raises worrying questions about the future quality of the health service as budgets are squeezed.

One report, based on the advice of almost 200 top managers and doctors, says hospitals ignored basic hygiene to cram in patients to meet waiting-time targets.

It says “several interviewees” cited the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells [NHS Trust in Kent where 269 deaths during 2005-6 were caused by infection with Clostridium difficile bacteria].

“Managers crowded in patients in order to meet waiting-time targets and, in the process, lost sight of the fundamental hygiene requirements for infection prevention,” the report stated.'

You can read the full story here.

Seacroft Children's Respite Centre March

I attended today's march, which was also supported by several hundred people including prominent local politicians from both the Conservative and Labour parties, in response to the proposed closure of Seacroft Children's Respite Centre.

This was a very moving occasion.

The intention is to provide replacement respite care at Workington, but the point was made that Seacroft should not be closed until these replacement arrangements are fully in place.

The point was also made that we need to do more for people with disabilities.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Where we stand on Europe

People are tired of a European Union built from the top down, obsessing about its powers, not consulting the people. We need to change that. A Conservative government would never allow Britain to slide into a federal Europe. Britain’s interests are best served by membership of a European Union that is an association of its nation states, working together on our common problems: keeping our economies competitive, securing our energy supplies and dealing with the world’s trouble spots.

A new Conservative government will protect Britain’s interests in Europe and salvage as much as we can from the mess that Labour have made.

First, we must make sure that never again can areas of power be handed over to the EU without a referendum. A Conservative government will pass a law – by amending the 1972 European Communities Act – so that any future treaty which hands over further of areas of power to the EU would be subject to a referendum – a referendum lock for which only the British people will have the key.

Recent events in Greece have shown how right we were to keep the pound. Amazingly, it is still the official aim of Labour and the Lib Dem policy to scrap the pound. A Conservative government will keep the pound and never take the UK into the Euro, and we will change the law to prevent any future government from doing so without a referendum.

We will also change the law by passing a UK Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country, in our Parliament, and does not belong to the EU.

These changes can be put in place by our own Parliament. They will put in place real protection for our democracy – protections other countries have but which are missing here in Britain.

But these measures are about preventing problems in the future. They do not deal with the problems we are facing today, which will now be made worse by the Lisbon Treaty: in essence, the steady and unaccountable intrusion of the European Union into almost every aspect of our lives.

A Conservative Government will address the most pressing problems by negotiating for three specific guarantees with our European partners to bring back powers that we believe should reside with Britain, not the EU: on those EU social and employment laws that are doing the most damage to our businesses and public services, on our criminal justice system and on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

These guarantees are essential and deliverable. Essential, because we have identified the areas of the Lisbon Treaty that cause the deepest concern, and the ones with greatest potential to interfere with our democracy. Deliverable, because we have chosen areas where the return of powers from the EU to Britain protects our distinctive national interests without harming the interests of our European partners.

If you, like me, believe that we need to change direction in Europe, protect our democracy and bring back powers from the EU there is only one way to vote at the forthcoming election: Conservative.

A vote for any other party only helps Gordon Brown, the man who broke Labour’s promise to hold a referendum on the European Constitution. We will need a proper majority to deliver our programme in Europe. So at the coming General Election, the Conservatives are asking the British people for a mandate to bring back powers from Brussels.

Disavowing a Facebook campaign

I do not use Facebook.

This is not because I disapprove of it, but there are only 24 hours in the day, and I decided it was better to use conventional campaigning techniques and one modern media - blogging - properly, than to try to use all the new media and not have time to do them effectively.

My attention has been drawn to a report in the News and Star about a facebook group which was apparently organised to vilify a Carlisle family. You can read the article here.

As I am not a Facebook user, I have not seen either the original Facebook group, or the second one which was set up after the original group was shut down. Hence all the qualifications such as "apparently" in this blog post. But according to the News and Star, the person who set up the second Facebook group used the name Chris Whiteside. If this report is correct, the individual concerned either shares my name or is abusing it.

I would like to make clear that I have no connection whatsoever with this Facebook campaign, and that I disavow it.

The benefits system in this country is not perfect. It is entirely legitimate to hold the view that people who have worked all their lives should be entitled to a greater reward for their hard work, and I have a lot of sympathy for that argument.

But launching an internet campaign of personal attacks against an individual family who do not appear to have either broken the law, or claimed anything to which they were not entitled, is not the right way to go about campaigning for reform.

If you have concerns about the benefit system, the right person to criticise is not individual claimants, the right target for criticism is the man who has ultimate responsibilty for setting up that benefit system and direct personal responsibility for taxing hard-working individuals and families to pay for it.

His name is Gordon Brown.

March to support Seacroft Children's Centre

There wil be a march at 2pm tomorrow, (Sunday 7th March) supported by both administration and opposition groups on Copeland Borough Council, in support of Seacroft Children's Respite Centre.

Assemble at Castle Park, Whitehaven to move off at 2pm to The Hub.

What's Happening to the Budget date ?

I have been becoming increasingly surprised by the lack of any announcement about a budget date.

My assumption up to now has been that we were likely to have a March budget and a May election but the budget date would be announced as late as possible so that the government could keep their options open about the election timing.

It is now almost certainly too late to call a March election. So why hasn't the budget date been announced?

There are some interesting thoughts about this on Political Betting today.

If the government has any sense or responsibility left they'll announce a budget date shortly - the nation's finances are in too big a mess to leave this hanging.


Hat tip to Iain Dale for drawing my attention to a blog post by Richard Willis which you can read here, in which he suggests that the budget will be on 24th March.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Michael Foot RIP

Obviously I totally disagreed with the late Michael Foot on a great many things.

But he was an outstanding parliamentarian and a politician of huge integrity.

His death should be marked not by scoring political points, on either side, but by remembering a warm, genuine, and very sincere human being.

Rest in Peace

Together we can

I was in Millom this morning with colleagues taking part in the "Together We Can" week. First of all we went to a drop in organised by Age Concern and the South Copeland Disability Forum at the Age Concern HQ at Bradbury House.

Then we spent the rest of the morning helping with a litter pick at the Slag bank play area.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

North East Copeland Business Forum.

I attended this meeting today in Cleator Moor as an invited guest.

The meeting was orgaised by the North East Copeland Business Forum in partnership with Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

The main speaker was Andy Barnard of WCDA who spoke about the "Backing Business in Copeland" programme and the support available from this for local small businesses in Copeland Borough. Among the other speakers were the entrepreneurs who run two small businesses who have found the advice available from "Backing Business in Copeland" extremely helpful.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Chris Whiteside in Swimathon 2010

I will be taking part in the Swimathon to raise money for Marie Curie cancer care.

I plan to swim 5,000 metres at Copeland pool on the morning of April 17th.

Anyone who would like to sponsor me and support Marie Curie cancer care can do so here.

March meeting of Copeland Council

Key issues from this afternoon

1) The budget and council tax have been set for next year.

The increase in the Copeland Council element of the tax will be 2.8%

The fact that such a large increase was necessary is that the government grant which constitute's most of the council's income has only increased by half a percent, which represents a big cut in the council's real income.

2) Home Housing appear to have sent another letter to some tenants of Copeland Homes, with another proposal to introduce service charges

It was agreed that the council should contact Home Housing and establish exactly what they are proposing, for whom, and why.

3) I asked if the council's policy on major retail development (e.g. ASDA, Tesco, etc) will be reported either to the Economic Development O&S Committee, or back to the full council, or both. This has been promised.

Together We Can

Spent this morning in Millom on an estate walk with local Home Housing staff which was part of the "Together we can" series of events.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Conservative plans to expand Academy schools

Unless we act now our children will lose out in the global race for knowledge. We cannot afford another five years of Gordon Brown, with five more years of indiscipline in the classroom, falling standards and hundreds of thousands of parents not getting their first choice school.

We need a new generation of independent state schools run by teachers who know your child’s name, not by politicians. If we win the election, we will act within days to raise standards. We will immediately change the law so we can set hundreds of good schools free from political interference and enable them to help struggling schools. We will enable them to re-open as Academies this September.

The choice is clear. Five more years of falling school standards, indiscipline in the classroom and a lack of choice under Gordon Brown. Or a new generation of independent state schools, with higher standards and the freedom to innovate under David Cameron and the Conservatives.