Sunday, January 30, 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 can see for yourself here, didn't mention the name of St Michael and All Angels in Southwark, where she had been teaching for a few weeks at the time she made the speech, or of any of the schools where she taught before.

Nor did she make any specifical allegations against any individual school or teacher. Her speech, polemical as it was, criticised a particular general approach to education and did not come over to me as suggesting that the education offered by either St Michael amd All Angels, nor any other school, was more particularly characterised by that approach than any other school.

Hence the most polite expression I can use to describe the "nothing that she said was right" remark is that it was complete and utter nonsense, since she had not made any allegations against the school for Ofsted to disprove.

I note that sources in the Department for Education, who were the funding authority of the school, dismissed in very strong language the suggestion that the collapse in applications was anything to do with the row over Ms Birbalsingh's comments, with a spokesman pointing out that there has been a problem with falling numbers at the school for several years. They could have added that the previous Ofsted report, a few months before the speech, was very disappointing - a fact that probably had more influence on applications than any number of speeches at party conferences.

And even if the row had an effect on the number of applications, whose fault was this? It seems most unfair to suggest that the whole responsibility for bad publicity was due to Ms Birbalsingh: some at least should rest with the authorities at the school who turned a speech which would probably have been a one-day wonder into a major row by sending her home, and thereby also caused the school to be identified in the media.

No prospective parent would have known from the initial TV coverage of the speech, or the following day's papers, where she taught. It was the row when the school "asked her to work at home" (their words) which identified St Michael and All Angels to the press.

And I note that the schools where she taught for the previous decade, where her experiences presumably payed a larger part in shaping the opinions she expressed about the state of British education than during the few weeks she taught at St Michael and All Angels, have wisely kept their heads down about the speech. Those schools have had no bad publicity at all.

Take the beam out of your own eye first, perhaps ?

Friday, January 28, 2011

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 effectively at post 110 of the comments. Where most of the people on the left who commented have posted what amounted to childish abuse, he gives an intelligent and balanced critique, with which I almost entirely agree.

But I also agree that the main thrust of Patrick's argument, if not always the detail, is essentially correct.

Britain needs, not to scrap the welfare state, but to focus it more on providing the essential safety net which Beveridge envisaged, so it helps those who really need it rather than making welfare into a lifestyle choice. And we need to run the finances of the state on a far more sustainable basis.

Believing this isn't trying to "slash and burn" the welfare state. It's the approach that gives the welfare state a future.

"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 popular format on”.

Hat tip to Political Betting today for drawing my attention to this article about how e-books are, in the author's opinion, changing the way people write and read books in all formats.

Where America leads, Britain usually follows. Will it be long before most voracious readers have a Kindle?

I still think they need a better business model before this type of kit really takes off, but I expect to see it happen this decade.

"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 discussed the merits of Amazon kindle. From my point of view, their business model does not yet make this service attractive - new books for download often cost more than the price including postage of the same book in "Dead Tree" format, even if you can't find someone offering the book for one pence plus £2.80 postage - which you very frequently can.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that e-books are making strides and beginning to affect the rest of the market.

Discussion continues in next post, later today. Watch this space ...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

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 would walk to the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue and open the doors. Every evening he walked over the road and closed the doors.

Of course nobody attended the synagogue or the three prayer sessions each day, nor did anyone deliver them. All because there were no local Jews to attend."

You can read the full account here.

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.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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 that

"It is tempting to dismiss the whole thing as absurd" but he added

"But labels do matter."

Mike Smithson at Political Betting said that

"The broadcasters have a public service obligation and I think that Channel 4 is opening itself up to criticism."

Overall I suspect that for every journalist who is minded to take Baldwin's advice there will be two who won't use the phrase when they otherwise might have, in order to avoid looking like a Labour stooge.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

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.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

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,

"At the core of the BBC, in its very DNA, is a way of thinking that is firmly of the Left."

He goes on

"the one thing guaranteed to damage your career prospects at the BBC is letting it be known that you are at odds with the prevailing and deep-rooted BBC attitude towards Life, the Universe, and Everything.

"At any given time there is a BBC line on everything of importance, a line usually adopted in the light of which way its senior echelons believe the political wind is ­blowing. This line is rarely spelled out explicitly, but percolates subtly throughout the organisation.

"Whatever the United Nations is associated with is good — it is heresy to question any of its activities. The EU is also a good thing, but not quite as good as the UN. Soaking the rich is good, despite well-founded economic arguments that the more you tax, the less you get. And Government spending is a good thing, although most BBC ­people prefer to call it investment, in line with New Labour’s terminology.

"All green and environmental groups are very good things. Al Gore is a saint. George Bush was a bad thing, and thick into the bargain."

One comment he makes which I regret I can confirm from personal experience is that

"Complaints from viewers may invariably be met with the BBC’s stock response, ‘We don’t accept that, so get lost’."

The language is vastly more polite, but the meaning of the responses to complaints I have sent in was exactly that. It was transparently obvious that the (anonymous) BBC functionary who "replied" to my most recent complaint had not bothered to read it properly. He or she merely sent me a exactly the same reply which had been sent to a slightly different complaint about the same programme from Dan Hannan MEP, - Dan had published their reply on his blog and the two responses were word for word identical- which in my case included a defence of something which I had specifically made clear I was not complaining about, with no sign of any attention whatsoever paid to what I was.

I would hate to see the good parts of the BBC damaged. But for all viewers and listeners to be forced through the license fee to pay for a body which consistently promotes certain attitudes is neither reasonable not, in the long run, tenable.

Perhaps a very long-term solution is to ban the BBC from doing all its' recruitment advertising through the Guardian. But more effective safeguards against bias are also needed.

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 area and are looking at whether they can be implemented.

I would expect to see that there may be a significant number of polling stations moved from this May's elections in an attempt to locate them in more suitable locations which are easier for both able-bodied and disabled voters to get to.

So check your polling card carefully before the May elections.

I will post an update here when the final decisions are made.

Friday, January 21, 2011

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 be devastated, insisting he had no idea his affair with Alan Johnson's wife would have such catastrophically nauseating consequences"

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 question of liberal interventions abroad during the mid nineties, we might have realised that he was going to spend a lot of his time in office sending expeditionary forces around the world."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

.. 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 relying on redistribution to fight inequality, instead of somehow prodding the private sector to narrow wage differentials in the first place. He is sorry for playing fast and loose with civil liberties. He is sorry for not being green enough. He is sorry for being "too technocratic and managerial" and for the "target culture". I haven't checked, but he may have said sorry for the creative decline of Oasis after their second album."

What he didn't say sorry for was "allowing public spending to run out of control in the years before the financial crisis. After the longest economic expansion in British history, the government should not have still been borrowing to spend. Instead of going into the recession with a warchest, it went in with a deficit."

Labour's refusal to accept responsibilty for the deficit is bad enough if this is a matter of political positiong. But if it's not just a matter of spin, it would be even more worrying if, as the blog's author says private conversations with shadow ministers suggest, "they actually believe it."

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 "fairer to refer to it by reference to party labels".

One senior broadcaster said the Baldwin letter had "a bullying tone" which brought back memories of "the bad old days", when Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who is a friend of Mr Baldwin, tried to micro-manage media coverage.

Another journalist described it as "an attempt to impose Labour language on neutral news coverage in the Orwellian tradition".

You can read the Standard article, including extracts from Baldwin's letter, here.

You can also read a Guido Fawkes spoof of the Baldwin letter, in the form of a note Guido has supposedly sent to the media telling them how to refer to Tom Baldwin himself, here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

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 are coming to think that, as one mother and grandmother said on the programme, fathers are not necessary. Society has failed any person who is allowed to form that opinion.

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.

Monday, January 17, 2011

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 had already been corrected to match the BBC report. But interestingly, the quoted source had not. The footnote for the knighthood, number 32, refers to the London Gazette here, which does indeed describe the knightood as being for "Services to the Community" as stated by the anonymous editor.

And then you look a bit closer at the Gazette entry and see that the recommendation is described as follows (my itallics):

St. James’s Palace, London SW1
12 June 2004

The Queen has been graciously pleased, on the occasion
of the Celebration of Her Majesty’s Birthday, and on the
recommendation of the Ministers of the Cook Islands
, to
give orders for the following appointments to the Most
Excellent Order of the British Empire:"

With Frederick Goodwin's name following. Confused? Wondering what a banker had to do with the Cook Islands? Read on.

And then we find that in March 2009, as Paul Waugh records here, Harriet Harman tried to claim that the knighthood was

"for his services to charity and work for the Princes Trust."

But Waugh says that the London Gazette at the time records: "Frederick Anderson Goodwin, Chief Executive, Royal Bank of Scotland. For Services to Banking."

And indeed, Harriet Harman soon retracted her statement, as follows:

"The Leader of the House is happy to correct what she said at Prime Minister’s Questions today regarding Sir Fred Goodwin’s knighthood.

"It was, in fact, the case that he received his honour for services to banking but no doubt his contribution to the Prince’s Trust would also have been taken into account.".

But at length we learn the cause of the confusion in Wikipedia, with thanks to Richard Gadsden, again at Political Betting.

"There were two Frederick Goodwins given knighthoods in the 2004 Birthday Honours. Really:

Frederick Anderson Goodwin, Group Chief Executive, Royal Bank of Scotland. For services to Banking.


Frederick Goodwin, J.P. For services to the community."

Yes, sometimes the truth eventually catches up. There is an old saying,

"Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence."

It seems reasonable to assume that the people who tried to amend the records to show that Sir Fred Goodwin the banker got his knighthood for community service did so, not because their attempt to rewrite history was a deliberate lie, but because they had mixed him up with Sir Fred Goodwin J.P, who really did.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

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 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.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

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 and Andrew Adonis among his examples of reformers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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 manage to put out a host of them.

Like Iain Martin, I think Mr Aylen may be overstating his conclusion that

"new products, methods and business processes will be a long time coming from emerging markets."

As Iain points out, if it is correct that democracy fosters innovation and new ideas we can expect to see a greater diversity of innovation in wider areas of the planet as other countries beside the OECD nations become long-established democracies. India, for example, despite all the massive problems the country has, is well on the way to that status, having changed governments regularly, but only through the ballot box, since independence more than sixty years ago.

But the argument that innovation requires a culture of independent thought is very hard to refute.

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.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

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 in history as a martyr for a better Pakistan. If the government wants to show that murdering politicians will not stop reform, they would be well advised to amend the law as proposed in the private members bill introduced by Mr Sherry Rehman which Governor Tadeer was killed for supporting - and they would be well advised to do so if they want to have any hope of making Pakistan the tolerant country which its' first President, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted Pakistan to be.

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 lane off, and in the meantime at considerable personal risk was directing drivers clear of the hazard.

Highway maintenance men have taken a good deal of flak lately over how they do their jobs, but I can only say that if this chap is remotely typical there are some of them who combine both considerable guts and a great deal of dedication.

Friday, January 07, 2011

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.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

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 silly mistake by a councillor who should have had more sense.

But both the "Predetermination Rule" which says that if you might be sitting on a planning committee you should not give any indication in advance how you might vote, and some of the other ethics rules, can interfere with the proper functioning of democracy if applied without common sense.

So I was glad to read that housing minister Grant Shapps, promising the "year of councillor power" has said that the localism bill will clarify these rules and remove some of the potential for overly-restricitive interpretations. You can read some of his comments on the subject at Conservative Home here.

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."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

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), and PPS3 (Planning Policy Statement 3), and in my hearing even one of Labour's Junior ministers referred to them as "mad" or words to that effect, at a meeting with senior planning councillors.

In many parts of the country this idiotic rule exacerbated parking chaos and removed a brake on overdevelopment. Now I am delighted to say that the new government has scrapped it. Local councils will have the freedome to decide whether they need to encourage developers to provide parking or not.

This change will help Copeland where councillors of all parties have identified a need for more executive homes to help both public services including the NHS, and the nuclear industry, to attract key personnel to come and live in the area.

Changes to the same national planning restrictions which required councils to limit the number of parking spaces allowed in new residential developments will also free councils from the requirement to set high parking charges to discourage the use of the car.

The Government believes these rules unfairly penalised drivers, led to over-zealous parking enforcement, and increased unsightly on-street parking congestion - putting the safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at risk.

From now on, councils and communities will be free to set parking policies that are right for their areas. This could include taking into account the effect of parking charges on the vitality of their local economy and local shops. Councils wanting to attract shoppers through setting competitive local parking charges in town centres will now be able to do so without interference from Whitehall.

The Government has also announced it wants councils to promote electric vehicle charging points in new developments to encourage more green drivers, without making developments unaffordable. As part of this Ministers have announced their intention to allow charging points to be built on streets and in outdoor car parks without the need for planning permission.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:

"Whitehall's addiction to micromanagement has created a parking nightmare with stressed-out drivers running a gauntlet of unfair fines, soaring charges and a total lack of residential parking. The result is our pavements and verges crammed with cars on curbs endangering drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, increased public resentment of over- zealous parking wardens and escalating charges and fines.

"Today the Government is calling off Whitehall's war on the motorist by scrapping the national policy restricting residential parking spaces and instructing councils to push up charges. We expect councils to follow suit. From now on communities have the freedom to set competitive local charges that bring shoppers to the high street, proportionate enforcement and the right number of spaces for new development. We're getting out of the way and it's up to councils to set the right parking policy for their area."

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said:

"This is a key step in ending the war on the motorist. For years politicians peddled the pessimistic, outdated attitude that they could only cut carbon emissions by forcing people out of their cars.

"But this Government recognises that cars are a lifeline for many people - and that by supporting the next generation of electric and ultra-low emission vehicles, it can enable sustainable green motoring to be a long-term part of Britain's future transport planning."

Parking problems on new developments can cause knock-on effects to surrounding neighbourhoods. Spill-over creates street congestion that can cause blind spots for pedestrians, hinder emergency vehicles and lead to fly parking.

Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark added:

"Limiting the number of drives and garages in new homes doesn't make cars disappear - it just clogs residential roads with parked cars and makes drivers cruise the streets hunting for a precious parking space. That's why I'm pleased today to get rid of another daft, interfering rule that has only succeeded in annoying people."

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

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 would have to implement such a rise.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when Labour leader "Red Ed" attacked that VAT increase. He was a senior member of the government which left behind the financial mess which made tax increases and spending cuts inevitable. He has produced no clear alternative.

I don't think I've ever seen a newspaper produce two leading articles on the same day where I agree as strongly with one and disagree as strongly with the other as The Sun has today. I cannot share their view about control orders (see previous post). But I certainly agree with their leader "Empty Edded" which castigates Mr Milibands's "vacuous snipings" and refers to the Labour narrative on cuts and tax rises as "naive rubbish."

And as they say, "The quicker Red Ed develops some humility, plus an actual policy to deal with the disaster he helped create, the better."

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 about "control orders" (which verge on house arrest) using an anglo saxon epithet and the words "car-crash." DC is right to be concerned. There are no perfect options in this case - just bad ones and terrible ones.

There are dozens of variants, mostly usually attributed to Ben Franklin, of a famous quote about the trade-off between freedom and security. More than one may be accurate, but he almost certainly did write

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

A country which practices house arrest without trial, or locks people up for three months without trial, has made that kind of devil's bargain and will reap the consequences.

So I hope it is true that, as the press have suggested, Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke, and Dominic Grieve have won the battle inside the coalition government to scrap or at least drastically water down the "control orders" regime. Not because this will save the government political difficulty but because I think it is the right thing for Britain.

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.