Sunday, February 27, 2011

Over the Water

There used to be a tradition in both Britain and America that criticism of the government stops "over the water" - that responsible politicians and media outlets were careful when dealing with foreign affairs to avoid those types of criticism of a government which could appear like criticising your country in front of foreigners.

During the last Labour administration, however severely the Conservative opposition criticised the government about just about everything else, they were extremely circumspect about criticising the administration when there was a crisis or in ways which might look like failing to support our troops.

If anything the Conservatives could be accused of supporting the Labour government too much on foreign policy rather than too little. (Dare I mention Iraq?)

Nobody could bring the equivalent charge against the present shadow foreign secretary and Labour spinners, or against the substantial section of the Mainstream Media (MSM) who have been dancing to their tune in the past week in respect of the confused and dangerous situation in Libya.

Read any newspaper this mornig and it is ludicrously obvious which sections were written before the news of the SAS rescue was announced and which were written after.

Not that any government should expect to avoid scrutiny and criticism after the fact about how foreign and defence matters have been handled. Nor should such scrutiny be deferred until half a decade later, after the people involved have already left office (Iraq again.)

Nevertheless, it isn't a brilliant idea for supposedly responsible politicians, or the media, to start jumping to all sorts of conclusions about what the government is or isn't doing in the middle of a crisis and before they know the full facts.

As the Sunday Times put it this morning (in one of the articles which had obviously been written after the SAS rescue)

"For the past week David Cameron and his ministers have been subjected to scathing criticism over the way the government has seemingly failed to respond when Libya descended rapidly into carnage and chaos.

"But as Britains trickled out of the country and ministers were accused of dithering, it emerged last night that special forces and intelligence officers had in fact spent most of last week planning a daring mission to rescue ... Britains scattered accross the North African desert.

"The Foreign Office had quickly realised that it would be impossible for British nationals living and working at oil installations deep inland to cover the long, dangerous distances necessary to reach the government's evacuation flights from Tripoli or its ships docking at Benghazi.

"So the Ministry of Defence set about planning an airlift from Libyan soil abd executed it amid complete secrecy."

(The same newspaper's leader, written by someone whose face is now submerged under about ten tons of egg, took a rather different slant and now looks remarkably foolish.)

It would appear likely that while Her Majesty's opposition and certain sections of the media were complaining that nothing was being done, brave men were already putting themselves in danger to rescue British workers who were out there. (Apparently they had been in Libya since Tuesday).

I am glad that nobody either in the country's political leadership nor in the civil service or our armed forces sought to get the media off their back in ways which might have increased the risk to our boys or the people they were trying to rescue.

Some bloggers have been praising the competence of Labour's spin operation and suggesting that the present government is not good enough at managing the media: personally I'd rather have a government that prioritises the lives of the people it is trying to rescue, and those of the troops, sailors and airmen they are asking to do it, above looking good in the newspapers and on the TV.

And in the long term I'm not sure Labour's stance has been wise even from a selfish political perspective. A senior defector from Ghaddafi's regime has now revealed that the man convicted of the worst terrorist outrage in recent British history gained his release by blackmailing the colonel into putting pressure on Labour and SNP ministers to release him, by threatening to "spill the beans" about the Libyan regime's part in the Lockerbie bombing. Remember that this gentleman was released on "compassionate grounds" eighteen months ago because he supposedly had less than three months to live? (He is still alive.) Is a party with Labour's record with respect to Libya in a good position to criticise anyone else on the subject?

Having provided this country with an unsuccessful government, Labour are now providing an irresponsible opposition. Since they can do less damage in that position, I hope the electorate keeps them there for a long time.

Of course there should be a full review of what has happened during the Libyan crisis when it is over, to see if any lessons can be learned and whether anything can be done better when, as is inevitable, the next crisis arrives. That should be standard practice.

And perhaps those in the media who were, shall we say, a little too quick to swallow the Labour line about Libya, should think twice about accepting the next line they peddle quite so quickly.

Reminder: Swimathon 2011

A little reminder for anyone who would like to take part in or support community action to raise money for cancer care.

The National Swimathon, which is 25 years old this year will be taking place from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th April

Since the Swimathon was launched in 1986, £35 million has been raised for a host of good causes, and over half a million swimmers have taken part.

This year Swimathon aims to raise over £2 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care and The Swimathon Foundation.

In West Cumbria you can take part at Copeland pool in Hensingham on Sunday 10th April.

I will be taking part in this year's Swimathon in April for the 18th consecutive year. 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

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Council Tax frozen in Copeland

The Council tax was set in Copeland this evening with zero increases from Cumbria County Council, the police authority, and Copeland Council.

Recognising that many people on low or fixed incomes, such as pensioners, have been badly hurt by council tax rises over the last few years, ther coalition government has honoured the promise in the Conservative manifesto to work with local authorities to make a council tax freeze possible. In Copeland's case the government has provided £400,000 over the next four years to enable the council to freeze the Copeland element of the council tax and avoid the situation where it had to have a double increase next year.

One or two parish councils have imposed small increases.

(For example, Waberthwaite parish had to ask householders in their area for an extra £600 in total over the entire parish, which works out at about four quid over the year for a band A household, to pay for the forthcoming parish council elections.)

The main disagreement at the budget meeting was that the Conservative group wanted to make the first hour free in Copeland's car parks. We would have funded this by cutting councillor's allowances and by a reduction in the training budget.

This amendment was lost by four votes after all the Conservative and Independent councillors voted for it, and all the Labour councillors voted against.

Monday, February 21, 2011

An arrogant atttitude to AV

The strongest argument for each side in the forthcoming referendum about our voting system is provided by some of the people promoting the opposite point of view.

As someone who expects to be campaigning and voting for a "No" I have to admit that one of the things which makes me most uncomfortable with that position is some of the politicians who will be taking the same view on the most tribal of grounds. (Don't waste your time posting suggestions about who I might be thinking of here unless they are genuinely funny.)

But while I was impressed with Andrew Rawnsley's first article on the subject back in November, which you can read here, I was much less impressed with this article which he wrote in the Observer yesterday which started with some interesting points but then appeared to describe working class opponents of electoral change as "the stupid vote."

His new article is called "The cynical enemies of electoral reform think we're stupid" and he starts with some legitimate points about how it is not actually all that difficult to rank candidates in order of preference.

But he completely lost my sympathy - and I note from reaction in the blogosphere, that of many other people on both right and left - when he went beyond the argument that some arguments against Alternative Vote understate the intelligence of the British electorate (with which I agree) to arguing that the leaders of the AV campaign think their own supporters in the DE social classes are thick, and even came dangerously close to giving the impression that he, Rawnsley, thinks they're right.

How else can you interpret comments like

"The polling suggests that AB voters, the more affluent and generally better-educated segment of the population, are more inclined to support reform. DE voters, by contrast, are more likely to be persuaded that we should stick with the status quo. If the turn-out is low, the DEs will be the ones staying at home. So the no campaign now believe it suits their cause that the referendum will be on the same day as the May elections because that ought to boost turn-out.

"We will see whether they are correct in this cynical calculation that the British can be persuaded that they are too dimwitted to be able to count to three ...

"Does the campaign to keep first past the post think that most Britons are stupid? Yes. Not only that, they are relying on the stupid vote to win."

A Tory politician who published an article which inferred that because the polling evidence suggested that people in the D and E social groups supported something, this was taken as evidence that the "stupid vote" were behind that position, would be rightly pilloried in newspapers like the Guardian and the Observer (for which Rawnsley writes) as an insufferable snob.

For a more amusing account of the AV argument, (not suitable for children) see the Daily Mash article, "Cameron and Clegg clash over how to elect greedy, incompetent freaks."

National Debt

An article with accompanying graphs here on the Office for National Statistics website should be required reading for anyone who imagines that any other government, Labour or otherwise, would have been able to avoid making painful cuts.

If your debts go through the roof, you soon have to make cuts or raise taxes, not to pay the money back, but to pay the interest on your debts.

Because under the Gordon Brown the government was spending four pounds for every three they raised in tax, the deficit and borrwing were hitting the roof. The cost in interest of government debt had reached £25 billion a year - more than the country spends on schools.

If someone tries to tell you that whoever had been in power after the 2010 election could have avoided hugely painful cuts, tax rises, or both, they are a liar or a fool.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What's Watt

Due to a shortage of energy saving GU10 white spotlight bulbs in West Cumbria at the moment I have been looking out for them on the shelves of virtually every establishment in Whitehaven which sells lightbulbs and more than one shop in other parts of Copeland and Allerdale.

Most of the shops concerned are parts of national chains, and I have no reason to doubt that the presentation of these shelves is any different in any other parts of Britain.

And I'm shocked at the quantity of high energy spotlights on sale, quite often with little indication of how what dreadful power hogs they are.

For standard lightbulds with a normal or small screw or socket fitting there are nearly always plenty of low energy bulbs, usually presented in a way which emphasises how much they save the customer - they are also, of course, good for keeping down the national carbon footprint.

But spotlights have become very popular in the past few years. This isn't a problem if you are using the low energy ones - but if you grab the first pack which comes off the shelf, the impact on your electricity bill can be horrendous.

Let's take the fitting in my kitchen which takes six GU10 spots. With six 1.2 watt low energy bulbs like the ones I finally managed to find this morning, it'll have a total power drain of 8.4 Watts. In other words the total power consumption of all six spots will be about a third that of the least powerful individual bulbs you would have found in my house a few years ago, before I switched to low energy lighting. And less than 8.4% the power drain of the most powerful lights I used to use. So low energy spotlights of this type are a reasonable option for someone who is trying to keep their costs and their carbon footprint down.

But 50 Watt spotlights are not.

And when I was hunting for GU10 bulbs over the past three weeks, what kind of spotlight did I find?

The most common type were 50 Watts, and most of the rest were 35 Watts.

If I put six 50W bulbs into the light fitting in my kitchen, it would use 300 Watts to light one room. Even with conventional bulbs, that is more energy than it ought to take to light every habitable room in a fairly large house!

It isn't just the planet that this sort of folly hurts - the people most likely not to realise that they're sending their electricity bill through the roof by using these bulbs are those who can least afford it.

The government and EU have already taken some measures to encourage users to switch to lower energy bulbs. But perhaps in the budget it is time for a tax on high energy spotlights.

And if it encouraged people to change what they buy it would be a very unusual tax indeed: one which saves the taxpayer money.

Quote of the Day

I'm indebted to "Gadfly" at Political Betting for drawing my attention to this comment from Rod Liddle in today's Sunday Times…

“Sarah Brown, the wife of that strange man whom we allowed to run the country for a while, is publishing her memoirs of her time inside No 10.

She has described the period of her husband’s premiership as “surreal” — to which one can only say not half as surreal as it was for the rest of us, love.”

Those of you who are prepared to go beyond the paywall can find the full article here.

Someone tell the BBC there are 24 hours in the day ...

The government is consulting on whether Britain should move our clocks permanently forward of GMT - aligning our clocks with Europe.

There are valid arguments both for and against this, particularly as affecting road safety. Certain types of road casualties may be more likely under each of the possible time regimes: this can be a highly emotive issue because some opponents of any change are convinced that more children would be killed on the way to school if clocks are moved forward.

There are also some highly ridiculous arguments floating around on both sides, reflecting the kind of muddy thinking exemplified by in a BBC headline today to the effect that mornings might be longer. WTF ?

There will be exactly the same amount of daylight regardless of how we set our clocks. People like farmers, who have to set their hours of activity to reflect weather and sunlight, will be getting up at exactly the same time whether we call it 5.00 am or 6.00 am (or any other time.)

There are arguments for and against this, but let's focus on the real ones.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Budget meeting of Copeland Council

Will be held at 7pm next Tuesday (22nd March) in the Council offices in Catherine Street, Whitehaven.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Some you win, some you lose

As DC hinted might happen yesterday at PMQ's, the government has responded to the objections being raised to their proposals on forests by dropping the idea.

I think there was the germ of a good idea - and one which didn't have to mean loss of public access to forests, let alone chopping them down - in the proposals, but it wasn't getting through, and governments have to listen to what the people are saying.

However, Labour peers have finally abandoned their attempts to sabotage the constituency electorate equalisation and voting referendum bill, which therefore went through at the very last opportunity.

No doubt one or two of those who were trying to talk out this bill thought they were acting in the national interest. But it looked to me like the worst kind of party-political tribalism for unelected peers, most of whom were supporting a party in last year's election which had a similar measure in their manifesto, to attempt to deny the voters a referendum which the elected house thought they should have.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hell has officially frozen over yet again

A straight answer at Prime Minister's question time!

"Red Ed" asked if DC was happy with the policy on forests.

The PM's answer began with the words "The short answer is No."

He continued by making clear that the government is listening to the concerns being expressed during the present consultation and that there may well be a change to the proposals which were originally put forward.

(There have been some funny comments on both sides of this one: some of the Labour benches called out "Timber" at this point, though I still like the line that the main reason Labour have been converted to the idea of keeping trees in public ownership is that they think money grows on them.)

The leader of the opposition obviously wasn't expecting an honest reply, he appeared to continue with a line of questions which had been written in advance and based on the assumption that the PM wasn't going to answer the previous one.

A straight answer to a straight question at PMQs was most unusual in the past but the fact that David Cameron gives them far more often is a good thing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feedback from Copeland BC Executive

I attended the meeting of Copeland Borough Council's executive this morning.

It is in the public domain that the executive discussed the issue of Bransty Cliffs in my ward. I am not allowed to say more than this because the discussion included discussion of issues which might affect things like property negotiations or bids for contracts to carry out work: it was the kind of discussion which is exempt from the requirement to be held in public because it is not in the interests of local taxpayers to give away the council's negotiating position.

However I hope and expect that detail of the action the council is looking to take will be made public as soon as it is compatible with the interests of local taxpayers to do so.

The executive also made a recommendation to full council about the CBC budget.

I expect that there will be a lot of further debate about several aspects of the budget including car parking charges.

However I want at this stage to note two positive points.

First, the coalition government has kept the election promise to make a council tax freeeze possible. In Copeland Borough Council's case, the government has offered £400,000 over four years to enable the council to keep the Copeland element of the council tax fixed and ensure that it doesn't just jump up by an equivalent amount next year or in one of the following two years. The Executive has recommended that the council take up this offer from the government.

Second, the recommendation is that the allowances paid to Copeland councillors will be frozen for the third consecutive year.

There are a lot of councils whose members pay themselves much more than the allowances paid to most members of Copeland council, and who increase it every year without fail no matter what else they have to cut.

Whatever criticisms are made of Copeland Councillors (and there are many) they are far more restrained than the members of many other authorities in the allowances they pay themselves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Council cuts

When this government took office public spending was running at four pounds for every three being raised in taxes.

That situation was unsustainable and could not be allowed to continue, but nor can that large a shortfall be corrected without a great deal of pain. Pain which is primarily the responsibility of the Labour government who presided over the situation when the deficit went through the ceiling, rather than that of the people who are trying to clear up the mess.

However, those councils which are making cuts in front-line services while continuing to employ people in ridiculous jobs, or spend too much on administration, also have something to answer for.

Here is an extract from an item on the subject from yesterday's Sunday Times:

"Councils are set to pay out £1.5 billion in golden handshakes to departing staff, with some employees getting double their salaries.

Town hall leaders are protesting that the scale of the government’s spending cuts has left them with no alternative but to slash funding for charities and frontline services.

The Sunday Times can reveal local authorities have offered staff lucrative pay-off settlements to bring down numbers, after allowing employment costs to rocket.

A report to be published tomorrow by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says that on average pay-offs in the public sector are almost four times those paid in the private sector.

Councils may be having their funding cut back to 2006 levels, but in the intervening years officers’ salaries have ballooned. Birmingham Council — which last week announced 7,300 job losses — trebled the number of staff earning more than £80,000 a year.

Liverpool City Council, which pulled out of David Cameron’s big society after saying it could no longer afford to back the scheme, has paid six-figure payouts to nine employees.

At Manchester City Council, which is closing leisure centres, libraries and all but one public toilet, staff are being offered three times the statutory redundancy and up to 18 months of their salary. The council is now looking to cut 41% of its management posts paying above £42,000, but has doubled the number on more than £100,000 in the past five years.

Overall the total wage bill at councils has risen from £62 billion to £76 billion since 2005, 8% above the rate of inflation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Inventions we would love to "disinvent"

What are the inventions you most wish had never been thought of?

My two least favourite inventions are

1) The dangerous device fitted to almost all cars which disengages the turning indicator signal if the steering wheel is turned past straight ahead in the opposite direction from the turn being signalled.

The problem with it is that in a number of frequently encountered circumstances, such as when a car is approaching a junction or entrance where it will turn in one direction, but the road curves in the other, this infernal system will switch off the signal before the vehicle begins the manouver. Thus creating a hazard by either distracting the driver at a bad time while he or she has to switch the indicator lights on again, or resulting in the wrong signals being sent to other road users.

2) The TV remote control

Possibly a useful device for lazy people in households populated entirely by adults, but less so in households which contain children, whom no proportionate sanction can dissuade from walking off with remote controls and forgetting where they have put them.

And don't get me started on some of the recent "upgrades" from Microsoft ...

What would you most like to "disinvent?"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How did "Human Rights" become a bad thing?

I have always believed in government by law, not by men, that no person or government should be trusted with absolute power, and that we need safeguards to protect innocent people from abuse of authority.

I am convinced that the vast majority of British people would say the same thing. And to put those ideas into practice is exactly what the people who signed the European Convention on Human Rights and set up the European Court of Human Rights were trying to do.

Which makes it all the more ironic that the ECHR (both versions of the acronym) has been such a source of anger and frustration among those in Britain who follow politics that it is in danger of discrediting the idea of Human Rights. Which is an enormous shame.

An erroneous association of the ECHR with the European Union (because both are usually referred to in the media as "Europe") certainly hasn't helped, but it isn't the main reason for what has gone wrong.

The main problem is neither with the idea of human rights, nor with the idea of a European convention to support them, nor even with everything in the laws that have been passed. It's that the rules and principles have often been applied - or in the case of some of the principles in the Human Rights Act which should have acted as safeguards, not applied - with a ludicrous lack of common sense.

When the last government incorporated the ECHR into British Law, I sat through a number of legal briefings on the subject, both as a BT manager and as a senior councillor. The lawyers who presented those briefings made very clear that the human rights of everyone affected by a decision, and not just, say, suspects or indeed convicted criminals, should be taken into account.

In other words, it is not just possible, but is supposed to be mandatory, to consider the human rights of the victim as well as the criminal. To consider the human right of members of society to go about their business without being blown up, as well as the rights of the bomber or suspected would-be bomber. To consider the rights of the taxpayer as well as those of the litigious criminal and his or her lawyer.

I'm not in the least surprised that some lawyers, representing people whose cases have ranged from the excellent to the wholly risible, have used the Human Rights Act to try to get large sums of money for their clients and themselves. And I welcome the fact that they have sometimes helped people who were probably innocent to get off. But I am surprised and disappointed that some judges, with the European Court foremost among them, have handed down daft judgements which are far too heavily weighted in favour of the criminal or terrorist and against society, morality, and common sense.

However authoritarian New Labour were - and they were pretty bad towards the end - I doubt if they would have attempted to impose the dreadful control orders regime, or got it through the House of Commons, had not the ECHR made it extremely difficult to extradite people who are suspected of promoting terrorism if there is any danger than they might be maltreated in their home countries. And maltreated, for this purpose, includes the application of penalties which the ECHR disapproves of, even where the accused has been convicted, in a fair trial and on the basis of overwhelming evidence, of a capital offence.

The effect has been that a noble tradition, that of giving refuge to the innocent victims of genuine oppression, has been extended by judicial fiat to cover suspected terrorists, including some who are almost certainly guilty of the crimes for which their home countries wish to punish them.

While it is much less serious than their disastrous rulings on terrorism, the row about votes for prisoners has proved the last straw for the MPs because it is such an idiotic example of the same complete lack of balance and common sense.

Remand prisoners awaiting trial should, and do, have the vote. But by definition, convicted prisoners have had some of their normal rights taken away, after due process of law, as a punishment for crimes which they have been proved beyond reasonable doubt to have committed. To argue that parliament cannot make the right to vote one of the liberties which is taken away from convicted criminals for the duration of their sentence seems ludicrously perverse. Can anyone in their right mind argue that the right to vote is more fundamental than the right not to be locked up?

It would be a shame if the baby of limits on state power, government by the rules, and promoting human rights in the emerging democracies of Europe, had to be thrown out with the bathwater of the ECHR's daft rulings on extradition and prisoner voting.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Calva Bridge re-opens

Calva Bridge in Workington, closed since the floods in late 2009, re-opens to pedestrians this evening.

It will be another few months before it can take vehicles but this is nevertheless a positive sign of Cumbria's recovery from the difficult events of the past 15 months.

Vetting scheme for 9 million people to be cut back

I was pleased to learn that the system of using CRB checks to vet nine million people is to be drastically scaled back.

NOT because there is no need for intelligent vetting to protect the safety of children, but because any vetting scheme covering a quarter of the adult population is going to be so thinly spread that it will be absolutely useless.

The present arrangements for Criminal Record Bureau checks, one of the many disasters for which we can blame the former Education Secretary and present Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, is the worst of both worlds. It puts people off volunteering for things and makes those who do feel like suspected criminals by making them go through intrusive and over-bureacratic security checks - and often making them repeatedly go through the same security checks. But it is ineffective at protecting children, because any system which checks so many millions of people has to be set not to flag people too easily if it is not to cause havoc with large numbers of "false positives."

With the result that some genuinely dangerous people slip through the net.

Under new arrangements which will be part of the "Protection of Freedoms" bill, only those working most closely with children or vulnerable adults will need to undergo a criminal records check and the results will be able to move with individuals when they change jobs, cutting down on bureaucracy.

The current messy system that defies common sense will be "scaled back to sensible levels whilst at the same time protecting vulnerable people" said the Deputy Prime Minister.

The bill will also tighten the rules covering the storage of innocent people's DNA information: genetic profiles of those who are arrested and released without charge will not be retained, nor those for people charged with minor offences but not convicted. DNA profiles of those who have not been convicted will only be held if they have been charged with a serious crime such as rape or murder, and then only for three years.

Powers for local authorities to snoop on people suspected of minor offences will also be cut, preventing town hall enforcers from abusing anti-terror powers for trivial matters like over-filling litter bins (a touchy issue in Copeland) or school catchment area disputes.

The Bill will also set out plans to regulate CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems for the first time, to outlaw wheel-clamping on private land, and to ban schools from fingerprinting children without their parents' consent.

A report on the proposals is available here at Sky News and there is a comment by Phillip Johnson at the Telegraph here. He calls the bill "a step back to sanity" and I agree entirely.

Beyond Irony

On the same day that a court sent a second former MP to jail for fiddling his expenses, the House of Commons voted to defy the ECHR by refusing to give the vote to convicted prisoners.

Truly beyond irony.

I cannot see that the "human rights" argument for giving convicted prisoners the vote is valid. When a court sends someone who has been convicted of an offence to prison, this is a punishment imposed after due process and in accordance with the law, and that punishment consists of the removal or suspension of some of the privileges that the convicted person would otherwise enjoy. His or her liberty is the most obvious of the privileges concerned, but by no means the only one.

As long as it is not done in an obviously unfair or arbitrary way, there is no obvious reason why the right to vote should not be one of the privileges and rights which are withdrawn for the duration of the sentence. (Longer, in the case of someone convicted of electoral fraud: the reason why that is appropriate is too obvious to need rehearsing.)

There is at least one good reason why the right to vote is one of the privileges which should be withdrawn from convicted prisoners during their custodial sentence: such prisoners would have a more serious conflict of interest in casting their votes, in respect of any election in which penal policy was an important issue, than is normal for the typical elector.

Prisoners on remand, who have not yet been convicted of anything, should have the vote on the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. And such prisoners do already have the right to vote.

And drawing up rules and mechanisms to withdraw the vote from some prisoners but not others, while making those arrangements fairer than withdrawing it from all convicted prisoners for the duration of their sentences, does not strike me either as easy, nor likely to be proof against further ridiculous lawsuits.

I hope that the vote in the House of Commons yesterday will persuade the European Court of Human Rights to think again.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reminder: drop in sessions for potential councillors

The first of two "drop-in sessions" will be held this afternoon (Thursday 10th February) at The Beacon at Whitehaven Harbour, for anyone who might possibly be interested in standing for election to Copeland Borough Council.

As reported last week in the Whitehaven News and in this blog, council officers will provide information for those who come along about what the job of councillor involves.

The other event will be held in a week's time, on Thursday 17 February, at Millom Network Centre, Millom School.

Both events will run from 5pm to 6.30pm.

The council's press release on the subject quotes the council Chief Executive, Paul Walker, as saying

“We hope this will be a useful session for people to come along and find out more about serving their borough in this way. Standing for council can be both rewarding and challenging, so this session is a useful first step for those considering it. It will help ensure that they have all the information they need to make the decision.”

The press release continues:

"The sessions, which will be hosted by Copeland Council officers from the member services team, will be informal. Officers will be available to chat and answer questions, and will also be able to give advice on what being a councillor involves, how to go about standing, and the timetable for this.

"Anyone who is unable to attend a session can alternatively speak to a member of the council’s member services team by calling Tim Capper, Democratic Services Manager on 01946 598526."

I would recommend that anyone of any party or none who has considered the possibility of standing to join Copeland Council this May might find it useful to drop in to one of these sessions if they are in a position to do so.

New Political Funding shock ...

The Daily Mash reports that "Conservatives get 100% of funding from people who don't like socialism" ...

They report that this has "led to furious accusations that the Tory Party is now in thrall to people who believe in capitalism and free markets."

Shock Horror!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

You couldn't make it up ...

The peers who have been filibustering to try to block the bill which gives the public a referendum on whether to change the voting system to AV are about to hold an election themselves - using AV.

Lord Stralbogi, who was a deputy speaker of the Lords, died last December at the age of 95.

His successor is to be elected in March - and the Lords use AV for their own elections.

So the people who have been talking through the night to try to deny you a say on whether to vote by AV are about to use the very system themselves that they are trying to deny you the choice to use. Couldn't make it up, could you?

Personally I am expecting to vote "No" in May, assuming the dinosaurs don't succeed in blocking the referendum, on the basis that I think a House of Commons elected by First Past the Post is likely to give the best result for the country most often.

But the behaviour of the more antedeluvian members of the "No" camp, particularly the Labour ones who are opposing a policy in their own party's manifesto, is hardly the best advert for the old politics.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

What David Cameron actually said

The PM has made a speech at a security conference in which he addressed issues of extremism and terrorism. You can read the full text here.

I am not the only person who is disappointed at the way some people are misrepresenting what David Cameron said.

For example. Martin Bright (former political editor of The new Statesman) says here that

"The all-too-predictable reaction to David Cameron’s speech on the importance of tackling the ideology of radical Islam has been depressing. Much of what he said in Munich should be entirely uncontroversial."

"Those on the left who feel the need to dismiss Cameron’s speech should first read the response of the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation. Suzanne Moore’s latest column also provides an intelligent alternative perspective from the left."

"Surely there is a more thoughtful way of approaching this highly complex and emotive subject than dismissing David Cameron as an extremist."

Those who disagree with elements of the PM's speech or the timing of it have every right to explain why they disagree, but it is highly irresponsible to misrepresent him as some of them, notably Labour's shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan, have done, accusing him of writing propaganda for the English Defence League. That is exactly the kind of incendiary approach which does play into the hands of extremists on both sides, including the EDL.

What is even more extraordinary is that Jack Straw, who on more than one occasion has said things on this issue which were far more inflammatory than anything in the PM's speech, has referred to the Prime Minister's comments as "ill-judged." What a ludicrous example of double standards.

Let's look at what DC actually said. Did he link being a devout Muslim to supporting terrorism? Absolutely not, in fact one of the things he criticised was misusing words like "moderate" (as in "moderate Muslims") in ways which may infer this.

These are some of the statements in the speech ...

"It is important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group."

(He then gave some examples of non-Islamic terrorism)

"Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens."

" ... we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism. We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam. Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority."

"It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other. Time and again, people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion. So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is profoundly wrong. Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist. We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing."

" ... those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations. So, it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe. These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument."

"The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not. Picking a fight with the latter will do nothing to help us to confront the former.

"On the other hand, there are those on the soft left who also ignore this distinction. They lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances, and argue that if only governments addressed these grievances, the terrorism would stop."

(He then gave a detailed rebuttal of this argument.)

"When a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them. The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don’t want to, is a case in point."

"We must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

"Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things. Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty."

Far from "writing propaganda for the EDL" David Cameron specifically rejected their views. But He also recognised the need to confront the challenge posed, not by Islam, but by extremists.

Don't judge DC's speech by what anyone else says about it. Why not read the full speech for yourself, which again you can do here?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Quote of the day

"The reason Labour is so keen to keep trees in public ownership is that it thinks money grows on them!"

(David Herdson, post on Political Betting).

Information sessions for potential councillors

There will be elections this May for all the seats on Copeland Borough Council.

Two "drop-in sessions" for anyone who might possibly be interested in standing for election to the council are to be held at opposite ends of the Borough to provide information about what the job of councillor involves.

These events will be held as follows:

* Thursday 10 February at the Beacon, Whitehaven

* Thursday 17 February, at Millom Network Centre, Millom School.

Both will run from 5pm to 6.30pm.

The council's press release on the subject quotes the council Chief Exec, Paul Walker, as saying

“We hope this will be a useful session for people to come along and find out more about serving their borough in this way. Standing for council can be both rewarding and challenging, so this session is a useful first step for those considering it. It will help ensure that they have all the information they need to make the decision.”

The press release continues:

"The sessions, which will be hosted by Copeland Council officers from the member services team, will be informal. Officers will be available to chat and answer questions, and will also be able to give advice on what being a councillor involves, how to go about standing, and the timetable for this.

"Anyone who is unable to attend a session can alternatively speak to a member of the council’s member services team by calling Tim Capper, Democratic Services Manager on 01946 598526."

I would recommend that anyone of any party or none who has considered the possibility of standing to join the council might find it useful to drop in to one of these sessions if they are in a position to do so.

Coastguard Consultation

The government is conducting a consultation, which is open until 4pm on March 25, on how to modernize the Coastguard service and make it more effective at protecting lives at sea.

The plans aim to refocus the service, centralising parts of the control arrangements in order to redeploy resources into the areas which are currently most overstretched, particularly on the front line – for example, increasing the number of regular coastguard officers from 80 to 105.

Anybody who is interested either in the full details of what is actually proposed, or who would like to put their views into the consultation, can do so online at

Paper copies of the proposals can be ordered by ringing 02380 839 587, or you can write asking for the documents or to submit your views at:

HM Coastguard Modernisation Consultation,
Maritime and Coastguard Agency,
Spring Place,
Bay 2/13, 105 Commercial Road,
Southampton SO15 1EG.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Feedback from Overview and Scrutiny Meeting

Copeland Council's External Overview and Scrutiny met this afternoon.

Issues on the agenda included

1) Lighting in Kells:

there was a petition from a group of residents of Old Kells who were asking Copeland Council to provide lighting in the area between North Row and South Row. Councillors asked officers to provide more information about a number of issues so that a fully informed decision can be made on whether and how the council can help.

2) Fire Service proposals:

The committee had a presentation from the area manager for the Fire Service which most closely (though not exactly) corresponds to Copeland, about the proposals on which the County Council is currently consulting as part of their budget proposals.
(The consultation formally closes on 16th February.)

There was a substantial debate about the proposals to reduce the number of firefighters per engine from five to four, and to reduce the staffing at four stations including Millom and Keswick.

It is worth mentioning that a number of options which would have caused great concern, including making Whitehaven fire station part time, taking fire engines out of service or replacing pumps manned by full time firemen with retained ones, were rejected and do not form part of the proposals now under consideration.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A terrible idea bites the dust

Following the largest public consultation in the history of the authority, Cumbria County Council has sensibly dropped plans to introduce parking meters.

There were more objections to the idea of parking meters than anything else in the proposals, and county has wisely recognised that more charges for parking, which is already a major source of difficulty in many parts of the county, would not help with the rivival of the local economy in Copeland.

There are going to be no easy answers to the problems of financial shortfalls in any part of the public sector, as the new government wrestles with the catastrophic spending deficit and mountain of debt which they inherited.

But parking meters really were not a good answer.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Sauce for the goose ...

Shortly before sunrise this morning, while travelling at the speed limit of 60 miles per hour on the A66 near Keswick, I was overtaken by a large van painted with a striking pattern which designates a particular type of official vehicle.

And would anyone care to guess what sort of official vehicle was breaking the speed limit in dark conditions?

You've got it: a safety partnership speed camera van.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?