Showing posts from January, 2011

Chris Whiteside in Swimathon 2011

I will be taking part in the Swimathon in April, and this will be the 18th consecutive year, I have taken part. As last year, the aim is to raise money for Marie Curie cancer care. I plan to swim 5,000 metres at Copeland pool on the morning of Sunday 10th April. Anyone who would like to sponsor me and support Marie Curie cancer care can do so at the swimathon website here. Anyone who is interested in signing up to take part in the swim can also do so at the Swimathon 2011 website at .

The Blame Game

According to the Mail on Sunday , the school where Katharine Birbalsingh was deputy head at the time of her speech at last year's Conservative conference is closing, having been declared ‘non-viable’ after a fall in applications. And the paper also reports that the leadership of the school are trying to blame Ms Birbalsingh's speech for this. If this is true, it represents a disgraceful attempt to make her a scapegoat by people who ought to be looking more closely at their own share of responsibility. And if the chairman of governors actually made the remarks attributed to him by the paper, they were unworthy of a man of the cloth. He is alleged to have said that her remarks were "unhelpful" to attempts to recruit more pupils and that "an inspection of the school held shortly before Christmas had shown that ‘nothing that she said was right’." There is a rather serious problem with this disreputable piece of spin. Katherine Birbalsingh's speech, as you ca

A very thought-provoking article

One of the most interesting posts on Political Betting for a long-time came today from veteran poster Patrick, who asked " Is the Left leading a fight against reality ?" He points out "The overall trajectory of the advanced nations since the Second World War has been, until recent years, one of population growth, economic growth and rising living standards. This was achieved, to an extent we are only now coming to appreciate, with borrowed money. We have consumed more than we could afford at both the individual and government level and much of the apparent wealth has been illusory." He argues that welfare states throughout the world are in need of reform, and that where the left oppose this, they are leading a "fight against reality. They may do well in the polls or indeed at the next election. But ultimately they are on a hiding to nothing," You can nit-pick some of the fine detail of the article. Poster "My Burning Ears" does this very effectiv

"Dead Tree Vs. E" Books continued

My previous post gave some of the reasons for sticking with hard copy books for the moment. The late Arthur C Clarke once wrote a brilliant essay in response to an earlier suggestion that new technology - in this case via a cassette - might take over form the book. He listed the characteristics which the ideal cassette would have, and then asked "How long do we have to wait for this cassette? Answer, minus about two thousand years. It's called the book." And yet there is little doubt that electronic books are having an impact. The Times reports that last quarter Amazon's American site sold, for the first time, more e-books for its Kindle reader than paperbacks. In the last three months of 2010 they sold 115 Kindle books for every 100 paperbacks. If you add in hardback sales, total hard copy books were still slightly outselling e-books, but Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and chief executive, said that “Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popul

"Dead Tree" books vs. E-Books

In the past few days my attention has been repeatedly drawn to the relative merits and disadvantages of conventional books as opposed to electronic book formats such as Amazon Kindle. Looking for books on a particular and fairly rare topic, I searched both on the internet and on the bookshops in Whitehaven. Most of them had nothing suitable, though I was very impressed by the encyclopaedic knowledge of his stock displayed by the proprietor of "Michael Moon's" in Lowther Street. Heaven only knows how many tens of thousands of books he has in stock, but he was able to give me a detailed description of what he had on the subject, down to the suitability of the individual book for my children. You cannot obtain that kind of detailed advice from any online service (or from your bog-standard high street bookshop either, of course, but specialist booksellers who know exactly what they are doing are not quite extinct. Not yet.) The following day, over lunch with a friend, we disc

Holocaust Memorial Day continued

I blogged earlier about the fact that this is Holocaust Memorial Day. There is a very moving piece in today's News and Star by two Cumbrian children who were part of a party from local schools who visited the former death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland last October to learn about the ghastly attempt by the Nazis to elimate various groups they didn't like including Jews and Gypsies. The trip was organised and funded by the Government and lottery-backed Holocaust Educational Trust. Trips like this form part of the trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz Project, which aims to teach students about what happened at the camp, preserve the memories of those who were killed and help tackle racism and prejudice. One of the stories they learned was that of the synagogue at the village of Oswiecim, which was renamed Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation. "The pre-war population of Oswiecim was 90 per cent Jewish. When it ended, only one sole Jew returned to the village. Every morning he

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is Holocaust Memorial Day It is an appropriate time to remember all victims of Genocide, whether at the hands of the Nazis or any other regime or group. Sadly, mass murder on ethnic or social grounds did not end with the defeat of Hitler. But it is the responsibility of all of us to see that it does.

Dancing to Labour's tune

I posted here last Wednesday about how the new Labour spin doctor, Tom Baldwin, had the cheek to try to tell the TV news how they should refer to the government, writing to tell them not to refer to the government as "the coalition" and asking them to use the phrase "Tory-led government" instead. I was expecting the media to politely ignore this rather presumptuous suggestion and most of them have. I still think it is likely to prove counterproductive. The irony is that whenever a programme now uses even a similar phrase, as Channel 4 did on Sunday when they referred to the "Conservative-led coalition" they open themselves up to the suggestion that they are dancing to Labour's tune. Danny Finkelstein was the first to question Channel 4's use of the phrase in a blog on the Times site (won't be linking to the post as it is behind the paywall), and this was picked up by James Forsyth at the Spectator Coffee House blog here . Forsyth admitted tha

Calder Avenue open again, Foxhouses Road 1-way

Work on the northern end of Calder Avenue appears to be largely complete and the road is open again. Consequently the one-way restrictions on Foxhouses Road are back in place. There is still a lot of work to be done on remaining parts of Calder Avenue so I there are likely to be further closures.

Peter Sissons on the BBC mindset

Much of the output of the British Broadcasting Corporation is wonderful. But I have increasing doubts about their News and Current Affairs operation. Sometimes they still produce brilliant work - witness the Panarama programme I linked to less than a week ago. But it has been obvious to many people outside the corporation for years that they have a strong cultural mindset and that it is often difficult for views outside that mindset to get a fair hearing on the BBC. You don't often hear the same view expressed by BBC insiders, but Peter Sissons, who was for many years a top rank news presenter whose career included ITN, the BBC, and Channel four news, has written an autobiography, " When One Door Closes " which will be available on Amazon from 1st February, and which contains some trenchant views on the BBC, some of which are reported by the Daily Mail here . His view is that, while the word "bias" is too blunt to describe the way the BBC collectively thinks, &q

Calder Avenue closed again, Foxhouses Road 2-way

Contractors working on behalf of CCC have continued to repair the surface and drainage of Calder Avenue, and this weekend they have again had to close Calder Avenue. At the time of writing the Northern end of Calder Avenue, by the junction with Station Road, is closed and with it the sole route into the town centre normally available to many residents. Again, to compensate for this one-way restrictions have been temporarily relaxed on the northern section of Foxhouses Road. Please therefore take care if driving in Whitehaven, that if you are heading south on Foxhouses road you may find traffic coming in the opposite direction (which would not normally be the case) and if you are driving in either direction on Inkerman Terrace, watch out for traffic which may be trying to turn out of Foxhouses Road.

Polling Stations in Copeland

Copeland Council has, as required by the Electoral Commission, been conducting a review of polling stations. I have been one of the three councillors on a "Task and Finish Group" which was part of that review. The main issue has been with disabled access - a horrifyingly high proportion of polling stations were not DDA compliant (E.g. they did not meet the standards laid down in the Disability Discrimination Act). Mostly these were the ones in private houses but there were some public buildings which were not offering disabled people the service they should. We had a very constructive meeting earlier this month with the Copeland Disability Forum and the South Copeland group to discuss some of their areas of concern about this. However we have also been looking at areas in both urban and rural parst of Copeland - the Sunny Hill area, for instance - where the nearest polling station is not conveniently located. Our recommendations have now gone to the officers who manage this a

The Daily Mash excel themselves again

Those people who think it is funny to post crude insults on the internet against anyone they disagree with could learn a lot about how to do satire properly from The Daily Mash . Not all their material is suitable for a family audience, and doubtless if these guys were standing for office they would be rendered unelectable when their opponents started quoting out of context from posts like this or like this one . But even when I vehemently disagree with the point of a joke they often make me smile, and they have two particularly clever parodies of today's news: 1) " Coulson 'knew he was going to resign' claims Guardian " Former Number 10 press chief Andy Coulson must have known about his own resignation, the Guardian claimed today . 2) " Balls to be on television every day " "A police protection officer has been suspended after destroying Britain's relationship with not having to look at Ed Balls. Detective constable Paul Rice is understood to

Journalist admits "we should have listened to DC"

Journalists admit error almost as rarely as politicians do. So it was interesting to read this blogpost on " The Big Society " by Tom Bradby at ITV news. Key extracts: "Do you remember the days when a lot of people laughed at the concept of the ‘Big Society’ and argued that David Cameron didn’t stand for anything? "We should have paid closer attention because it is now clear that the revolutions he has unleashed in education and – now – health are really rather radical ... "Power is – in theory at least – being dramatically delivered back to our doorsteps. "I have no idea whether all this is a good or bad idea. But it certainly is radical. ... the general direction of travel was evident. We cannot say we were misled. "Which all serves to remind me that we must pay even closer attention to what opposition leaders say as they strive to gain power. "If, for example, we had looked in a little more detail at what Tony Blair was saying on the questio

.. and apologise for everything except spending too much.

The Economist's "Blighty" blog has a good item here about the Labour leader's weekend speech in which he attempted to apologise for some of Labour's mistakes. "Political Parties" it begins, "recently evicted from government, and headed by a new leader, should take the opportunity to admit past failings." Ed Miliband did indeed admit that Labour should have been more open before the election about the fact that, as their own plans assumed there would eventually "have to be cuts" in public spending. (An advance on certain Labour figures in Copeland who don't appear willing to recognise that even now.) According to the blog post, Red Ed was "effusively apologetic for almost every other vaguely regrettable thing that happened in Britain between 1997 and 2010. He is sorry for failing to properly regulate the banks. He is sorry for allowing the financial sector to become too big a part of the British economy. He is sorry for rely

Labour tries to tell the press how to do their job

When a government, or sometimes even an opposition which has a big lead in the polls during the run up to an election, tries to tell the press how to do their job, this can amount to bullying. From shortly before they came to power until they finally lost it last year, New Labour were past masters at bullying the media. But when a party which has just been kicked out of power tries the same thing, the display of hubris just makes them look ridiculous. Witness Labour's attempt to tell the TV news how they should describe the government. According to The Evening Standard , Ed Miliband's new spin doctor Tom Baldwin has written an "extraordinary" letter to the heads of the BBC, ITV and Sky telling them not to refer to the government as "the coalition" and asking them to use the phrase "Tory-led government" instead. His two-page missive warned: "You are making a choice whenever you call it 'the Coalition,'" and said it would be "f

Absent Dads and the benefits system

I can recommend the Panorama programme "Britain's missing Dads" which can be seen for the next week on BBC iPlayer here . The programme will make most of those who have been fortunate enough to be part of a two-parent family feel a whole gamut of emotions about that section of society where fathers have no contact with their children, or none beyond paying maintenance. While no generalisation about such a complex issue will apply to every family concerned, the fact that we have allowed the rules of the welfare state to penalise parents who stay together is quite insane. One young father estimated that if he were to move in with the mother of his child it would cost them £30 a week in lost benefits. As Frank Field MP said on the programme, if you wanted to design a crazy system to damage families you could not do better than the one we have now. There are families where there has not been an active dad for more than one generation - and where some of the people involved ar

Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood Forum

The Bransty and Harbour foum met at 7pm this evening at the church in Market Place. The main item on the agenda was Town Centre Management Issues raised by local residents included * Seagulls - speakers from the floor were concerned about the apparent rise in the Herring Gull population in the Whitehaven area and the environmental health implications. Last time I mentioned the issue on this blog it touched off quite a fuss, but it was clear from the meeting this evening that there are a lot of strongly held opinions on the subject. * Dog mess and street cleaning issues * Parking in the town centre * Streetscape issues - for example, covers for the bins in areas like Strand Street. * Lack of Community facilities in Bransty following the unfortunate decision of the national RBL to pull the plug on the local Bransty Legion. There will be reports back on these issues at future meetings.

Calder Avenue open again

Resurfacing works on Calder Avenue continue, but the road is open again and Foxhouses Road has reverted to one-way Southbound

Rewriting history: sometimes the truth catches up.

It is an old and famous saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, that a lie can get half way round the world before the truth has finished putting it's boots on. Sometimes the truth catches up - or does it? Hat tip to Mike Smithson at Political Betting who, during an article posted earlier this morning about whether the 2004 knighthood for Sir "Fred the Shred" Goodwin might hurt Labour in the 2015 election, suggested that someone was trying to rewrite history by editing the Wikipedia entry on Sir Fred Goodwin. His knighthood was originally given, according to the BBC at the time as you can read here , for "Services to Banking." And the original Wikipedia entry said the same. But on 11th October an anonymous editor changed the Wikipedia entry to give the reason for the knighthood as "services to the community." By the time I followed the link to the Wikipedia entry for Fred Goodwin here , the description of his knighthood in the main text of the entry

Calder Avenue closed, Foxhouses Road two-way

The recent snows did massive damage to road surfaces throughout Cumbria, and CAlder Avenue in Whitehaven, down which the normal one-way system forces all traffic into the town centre from large areas of Harbour ward and Mirehouse, was one of a number of roads in various parts of Copeland which were very badly affected. With over a hundred large potholes, some sections of the road were so badly cratered that they looked like a lunar landscape. County highways are doing something about this: they filled the holes on a temporary basis a few days after the snow melted, and are now putting in a more permanent repair. The catch is that this has required the closure of Calder Avenue: at the time of writing the Northern end of Calder Avenue, by the junction with Station Road, is closed and with it the sole route into the town centre normally available to many residents. To avoid forcing people to take a detour of several miles, the one-way restrictions have been temporarily relaxed on the nort

Adonis on Gove's policy for more Academy schools

Fraser Nelson at the Spectator has an item here about an interview of Labour's Lord Adonis in the magazine today by Matthew Smith. Adonis was the brain behind Tony Blair's Adademy programme (passed with the help of Conservative votes against opposition from within Labour's own ranks) and he was interviewed on what he thinks about how Michael Gove is extending the progranme. The article is provocatively titled "Adonis: I back Gove." In his actual comments, Lord Adonis has been careful to minimise the extent to which he is specifically critical of or contradicts the former Labour Eduvation secretary Ed Balls. But he makes no secret that he is pleased to see the programme expanded and it is impossible to reconcile his comments with Ed Ball's description of what the present government is doing to expand the programme as a "perversion" of it. Nelson points out that there are reformers and opponents of reform in all three parties. He gives Michael Gove an

The rewards of freedom

You often hear people quote Ben Franklin's comment about the cost of freedom: "The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance" But freedom has rewards as well. Hat tip to Plato at Political Betting for pointing me in the direction of an item by Iain Martin on the Wall Street Journal website, " The Power of a free society ", which in turn referred to a letter in the Financial Times by Jonathan Aylen which you can read here . Aylen accepts that authoritarian and dictatorial societies can be very good at implementing, or even improving and refining, good ideas from others. But he argues that original ideas and innovations are far more likely to come forward in long-established democracies where people are encouraged from childhood to accept diversity of opinion and to think outside the box. As evidence he argues that there has been a dearth of any really good business innovations from the emerging economies, while poor sclerotic old European nations and the USA still

Health and safety gone mad ...

Had to laugh when visiting the gentlemen's restroom facilities this week at a large organisation which had better remain nameless. There was a printed notice on the back door of the cubicles asking people to use the toilet brush if necessary when they had finished. In small letters at the bottom of the notice some wag had added "Provided you have completed Online Training Course RLTC1001 Correct use of Toilet Brush which can be found at ..." and there followed a mythical URL concluding " ."

Special meeting of Copeland Council

There will be a special meeting of Copeland Council at 4pm today to discuss the council's response to the reconsultation on the governments National Policy Statement for nuclear power.

A Brave Man (2)

Salman Tadeer, governor of Punjab in Pakistan, was murdered on 4th January by one of his own bodyguards for standing up for religious tolerance. Governor Tadeer had been trying to obtain a pardon for a christian peasant who had been accused, almost certainly falsely, of blasphemy by her muslim neighbours as part of a dispute over drinking water. She had been sentenced to death under a law which made the death penalty mandatory for anyone who is convicted of blasphemy. Mr Tadeer had been arguing for reform of that law, too. His murderer gave this as his reason for killing the man he was employed to protect. As the dreadful events in Arizona yesterday show, there is no country in which it is entirely safe to be in the public eye. But Pakistan desperately needs more good men (and women) of the calibre of Salman Tadeer if the country is to avoid sinking deeper into the mire of bigotry and violence with catastrophic consequences for all the people of the country. Salman Tadeer will go down

A Brave Man (1)

Heading down the M6 yesterday morning on my way from Whitehaven to Oldham (I spent some time yesterday campaigning for Kashif Ali, the Conservative candidate in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election) I saw a highways maintenance vehicle on the hard shoulder a few hundred yards ahead, and then realised that there was a man in reflective garb on the left hand lane. By the time I had realised this there was about three seconds for me to get into the middle lane to avoid hitting him. As I shot past him, I realised that he was signing to me and to following drivers to move right. One covers a fair amount of ground at 70 mph, and I was not in sight of the highways maintenance man for very long at all. Buy as I flashed past him I thought I saw something odd about the road surface in that lane, which I would not have seen until far too late to avoid driving over it. I can only presume that this gentleman had noticed a hazard in the road, had called for colleagues to come and cone that la

Congratulations to the England Test Team

The England side that retained the Ashes 3:1 this week, defeating the Aussies by an innings and 83 runs, must be the most successful England side of my lifetime. From what I saw of the series they richly deserved their success against an Australian side which still ranks as one of the best five sides in the world. Defeating them by an innings not once but three times in Australia must be an almost unique achievement. Everyone who took part in that team must be very proud of what they have done. Let's hope England can continue to build on their success.

The Predetermination Rule

As I have argued on here before, overzealous interpretation of rules designed to stop councillors from being corrupt can have the inintended consequence of preventing them from doing the job of representing their electorate. I remember one extreme example from my St Albans days when a councillor who was secretary of a local residents' association and who stood for election partly because she had concerns about a planning application was then told she could not even go to the meeting where it was to be voted on. It's right and proper that there should be rules encouraging councillors to be open and transparent about their interests, and to look carefully at all the evidence before making up your mind. I recall one occasion when the chairman of the planning subcommittee which was due to hear an application for a fish and chip shop was stupid enough to sign a petition against it - cue writs and a High Court action from the applicant. In that case the cause of the problem was a sil

DC: Control orders have failed

David Cameron said last night that control orders have not been successful and need replacing. "The control order system is imperfect. Everybody knows that." he said. "There have been people who've absconded from control orders. It hasn't been a success. "We need a proper replacement and I'm confident we'll agree one." He also insisted: "It's not about a victory for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. "It's about trying to do the right thing for our country, for the security of our country and our civil liberties."

Christmas post

Today we received a christmas card from some good friends who live about ten miles away. It was postmarked 14th December (2010). We knew that the post had experienced some delays over Christmas due to snow etc but that is a bit disappointing. If anyone reading this had (or receives in the future) a Christmas card from me which is that badly delayed, please accept my apologies!

End of a daft rule

One of John Prescott's most ridiculous planning rules has been scrapped as part of a new year package by the coalition government designed to end Whitehall's war on the motorist. This will allow local couhncils to make the judgement about what parking policy for new development best suits the needs of their area. Despite famously driving "Two Jags" himself, John Prescott presided over a rule which forced councils to stop developers providing more than an average of one-and-a-half parking spaces per home in new housing developments. Even when the homes were of a size that they were likely to be occupied by a family of adults who might easily have two, three or even four cars between them. Prior to this many councils had encouraged developers to provide off-street parking. New Labour reversed the policy, ordering councils to curtail the parking places provided with new development. The rules concerned were part of documents called PPG13 (Planning Policy Guidance Note 13

Red Ed - Empty Head

VAT has gone up today. Nobody likes this. None of us like paying taxes. No business enjoys the burden it imposes. It would be really nice if the previous government hadn't left behind a massive hole in the national finances - spending four pounds for every three coming in - which somehow has to be plugged. Had the previous government - the previous Labour government - not doubled the national debt and left a deficit of a hundred and forty billion pounds a year, the present government might not have had to cut public spending and increase VAT. Unfortunately, they did. Brown and Balls wanted Labour to fight the last election on a platform of promising not to increase VAT. Alistair Darling won a battle to stop this, because he knew that if Labour had been re-elected they would probably have been unable to honour any such promise. No major party went into the election with a promise not to raise VAT, and Independent analysts predicted before the election that whichever party won it wo

Control Orders

There are no easy answers to the challenge represented by terrorism. Any responsible politician has to recognise that some terrorist groups pose a serious threat to the lives of British Citizens and we need to minimise that threat. At the same time we have to recognise that draconian measures are not just sometimes counter-productive - if we voluntarily surrender hard-won freedoms to defeat terrorists, we hand them a victory on a plate. Should that happen, the bombers and Jihadis have not defeated us, they have made us defeat ourselves. There is a difficult balance to strike. I believe it was right to extend the maximum period for detention without trial in cases where terrorism was suspected from 7 days to 28 days, but it would have been wrong to extend it to 90 days or 42 days. (Indeed, there are strong rumours that, with the support of the security services, the government may be about to drop it back to 14 days.) The Prime Minister is rumoured to have described the looming decision

Only in Britain ...

Watched the footage on this evening's on the news of the mob attack on the car convoy carrying the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. There can be few countries in the world where rioters could attack a car containing the next in line to the head of state, and the armed officers providing security manage to get their charge out of danger without opening fire. Whatever other questions are being asked and should be asked about policing on the day of the student fees demonstration, the restraint and discipline of the royalty protection officers involved in that incident does them enormous credit. The rioters who first hi-jacked what was meant to be a peaceful demonstration, and then attacked Charles & Camilla's car probably think they were protesting against a repressive state. They owe the fact that they are still alive to the reality that they're wrong.