Showing posts from February, 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 the

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 .

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

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 "

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.

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 on

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

Budget meeting of Copeland Council

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

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 el

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 que

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,

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 alte

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

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 huma

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

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 ap

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 deci

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!

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 opposin

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 t

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 ho

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.

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

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.

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?