Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Commemorating 2nd June 2010

There will be a series events to remember the victims of last year's shootings over the coming week.

Residents of Copeland are being encouraged to take part in a two minutes' silence at noon on Thursday.

There will be a short commemoration event in St Nicholas's Gardens, Whitehaven on Thursday, which I had previously heard would start at 11.30 am, but press reports and the council website now state that this will start at 11.55 am, and conclude with a two minute silence at noon.

Weekly bin collection

According to the Daily Telegraph, the government is to offer incentives to councils to return to weekly refuse collection.

I hope that the terms are generous enough to enable councils where a reasonable political will exists to take up this deal.

However great the need to encourage recycling, fortnightly bin collections have been associated with some real environmental health problems, including problems with rats and seagulls, and some spectacularly embarrassing decisions - continued fortnightly collections can only lead to more headlines like the ones Copeland Council generated by taking a family from Whitehaven to court over a bin which was four inches too full.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Space contract for National Nuclear Laboratory

The European Space Agency is commissioning cutting-edge technology needed to launch future European space missions in the National Nuclear Laboratories at Sellafield.

This is fantastic news for West Cumbria.

The plan is that nuclear batteries will be produced to power new space flights, and the ESA has given £1 million to the laboratory to show that it can work.

Conservative energy minister Charles Hendry said that

“This is great news for the UK and its National Nuclear Lab. The government sees the lab as a centre of expertise that can support the clean-up of legacy nuclear waste and play a key role as a world class provider of technology solutions and research.

“Winning this huge European-wide contract gives me confidence in the current business model and is an excellent example of the UK using its traditional strong civil nuclear skill base in other high technology areas such as the space industry. I am sure that more commercial opportunities for the lab will follow.”

Once the technology using the radionuclide americium has been proved, it is hoped the agency will place a follow-up contract for a satellite battery production line to be set up in the NNL’s Sellafield Central lab.

Some 350 staff are employed there supporting nuclear operations.

The aim of the £1 million contract is to demonstrate the feasibility of using americium batteries to power future space exploration. Both the USA and Russia have used such batteries on previous space missions such as the Apollo series, Cassini and the Voyager satellites.

Americium, commonly used in smoke alarms, is seen as an alternative sustainable power supply to ensure mission success. Traditional solar panels used on long-term space missions have struggled to cope with power requirements once the distance from the sun becomes too great, essentially once a satellite travels beyond Mars.

Now the European Space Agency is looking to the NNL’s skills to prove the technology. The Sellafield facilities are uniquely suited to this role.

Under the previous Labour government, after hundreds of millions had been invested in getting the NNL nearly ready to operate, but the last ten million to actually get the lab fully operational was cut.

And now it is under a Conservative government that the NNL has won it's first major external contract.

Labour have constantly promised that they would support new nuclear build in West Cumbria, it is the Conservatives who are actually delivering the nuclear renaissance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Interesting Labour view of "Ken Week"

Since I'm discussing the row over Ken Clarke I'd better start by making clear that

1) Rape is a serious crime. Full stop.

2) Great efforts should be made to ensure that those who are guilty of rape are convicted and face serious punishment. Full stop.

3) Any person who reports that they have been raped should be treated with great sensitivity and their allegations properly investigated. Full stop.

None of which alters the fact that the issues around sentencing policy are a lot more complex and difficult than some people who have commented on the government's proposals and Ken Clarke's comments have made them appear.

There is an interesting article by Dan Hodges on the subject on "Labour Uncut" which you can read here.

Pot calling the kettle black award

If there were an Olympic gold medal in a “pot calling the kettle black” category, the comments by Allerdale Labour councillor Barbara Cannon headlined “Cowards left dirty work to us” on the front page of the News & Star last week would qualify her as a very strong contender.

Every criticism she uses about the previous Alliance administration in Allerdale can be applied a hundred times over to the last Labour Government.

It was her party which put in place the financial regulation regime under which the banks got into trouble and had to be bailed out.

It was her party which let the Government deficit reach 25% of spending – in other words they were spending four pounds for every three pounds coming in, a completely unsustainable position.

That’s why, under her party, the national debt doubled to £1.2 trillion, and the interest on that debt reached £25 billion a year, more than the country spends on schools.

Debts which children not yet born will still be paying off 20 years from now.

That’s the mess which not just Allerdale council, but every council in the country, every taxpayer, every business, and every public sector worker from policemen to care assistants, from teachers to nurses, every older citizen faced with retiring later, is having to help clear up.

"Leaving the dirty work to us" - or as Labour's outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury put it "There is no money left."

Gone with the wind

I mentioned that it was windy last night. Apparently some parts of the county clocked 91 mph winds. Ouch!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thoughts on Recycling

It's a very windy evening in Whitehaven, and I have just spent a rather difficult 45 minutes trying to position the boxes containing a large amount of recyclable waste - glass bottles, plastic bottles, newspapers, cardboard - at the front of my property so that the recycling team from Copeland Borough Council will pick them up when they come down the street at about 7am tomorrow morning, but in such a way that everything won't blow all over the street in the meantime.

There is a wind trap in front of my house, and if I could leave the material at the bottom of my drive it wouldn't blow away, but unfortunately that would be too far from the road and the recycling team would probably miss it.

But it's absolutely frightening how much stuff there is to put in for recycling. Certainly better to try to recyle this than burn it or put it in landfill, but we still need to ask ourselves as a society whether we really should be producing so much packaging.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

No one knows the day or hour

Apparently millions of people took seriously the suggestion that the "Rapture" might take place yesterday - not quite the end of the world, but the supposed beginning of the end, with millions of virtuous people taken straight to heaven. Needless to say it didn't happen.

(My wife, who was raised in Luton, commented that "There certainly wasn't any Rapture in Luton after yesterday's football match!" but there you go.)

I don't know whether I am more irritated that people who ought to know better are taken in by this sort of nonsense, or that the real Christian faith may be discredited because others imagine that the fraudsters and blithering idiots who peddle it have anything whatsoever to do with the teachings of Jesus.

The most cursory reading of the sections of the New Testament which deal with the end of the world is sufficient to prove beyond any possibility of doubt that anyone who claims to know exactly when Jesus will come again is a fool or a liar.

Jesus himself said that "No one knows the day or hour" of his return, (Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32) and emphasised that even He himself did not know exactly when that would be. He told his followers, "You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him."

One of today's newpapers picked up the suggestion, argued by a minority of theologians, that Jesus then embarrassingly proved the truth of his statement that even he did not know the time of his return by suggesting that it would come in the lifetime of some of his listeners - "These things will come to pass before the people now living have all died" (Matthew 24:34). There is a case for this interpretation of scripture, but I myself disagree with it.

Other theologians make a much more convincing argument that this sentence, and large parts of the 24th Chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew to which it refers, were actually a prediction of the siege and sack of Jerusalem by Titus's Roman army in 70AD. The early Christians at the time certainly thought Jesus's prophecy was coming true when they saw Titus's legions approaching, followed His instructions to run for the hills without stopping to collect their belongings, and thereby probably saved their lives.

And I can't see that there would have been any point in Jesus instructing His followers in Judea to run for the hills, (Matthew 24:16) if the end of the world was happening. It could only be worth running if Jesus was talking about some lesser catastrophe, limited to Judea, and from which flight might save them.

But whether or not you believe in Jesus, and whatever is meant by Matthew 24:34, it is crystal clear that He said that nobody other than God, not even he himself, knew exactly when he would return, or the timing of the rest of the sequence of events which can loosely be described as "The end of the world." That specifically includes the passage in the bible which a minority of Christians understand to mean that some people will be taken straight to heaven in an event they call "Rapture."

What's more, Jesus warned his followers to watch out for "False Prophets" who would wrongly claim to speak for him or for God, who would make false predictions of these events.

In other words, two thousand years ago, Jesus warned Christians to be on their guard against people like Dan Carter, the american preacher who predicted "Rapture" yesterday.

He told us that we should live our lives as though the end of the world might come very soon indeed, or might not come for many generations. And to be ready for either possibility.

Interestingly enough, modern scientists, whether they are religious believers or atheists, say pretty much the same thing on this particular point.

And on this issue, both real christian teaching, and modern science, are right.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Health reform discussion

Hat tip to Seth O Logue at "Political Betting" for drawing my attention to an audio recording on the Guardian site of a Q&A session with Professor Steve Field in 16th May. Field leads the NHS Future Forum, the ad hoc group set up by Cameron to listen to health industry professionals on the Health and Social Care Bill and report back to the government with proposals for change by early June.

The audio recording can be found at "http://bit.ly/l9uRLp"

The description and opinions below largely reflect Seth O Logue's post at Poltical Betting, with some minor editing.

The group assembled for Field are broadly hostile to the reforms - polls taken before his arrival showed circa 70% against the main proposals. Field handles the 80 minute session well: he is clearly not interested in partisan political debate and focussed only on health issues.

The audience consists of mostly of Guardian readers, and it shows. Badly.

The first 3 minutes and 25 seconds of the recording should be skipped, it basically consists of the meeting getting under way, slightly late, with various apologies for the delays getting everyone assembled and starting due to problems with London traffic. After this point the highlights are:

03:25 - 08:48 Introduction. Field’s experience and qualifications. His values and assumptions. Work, structure and goals of NHS Future Forum. Independence from government stressed. Main issue to date is the balance between patient choice vs. protecting key NHS services (i.e. competition). Next it the need to widen patient and clinical engagement in commissioning process. Education and training important but not urgent.

11:19 - 16:15 GP commissioning. Answer to first question on mental health commissioning but more general views on commissioning given first. Additional clinical and management expertise to be added to GP Consortia but basic Lansley reform of closing PCTs and moving to GP commissioning is supported. Need to develop networks of consortia to share specialist resources and for national commissioning of some clinical services. A good introduction but long winded and slow to get going.

19:15 - 22:24 Question on Ovarian cancer. Interesting as the question and Field’s answer shows that there are real problems with current NHS service provision. Those wanting to “save our NHS” should listen carefully. Field also gives balanced views on NICE standards, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of standards driven commissioning.

23:25 - 26:56 The need to improve the quality of Primary Care (GP services). A clinical (rather than political) definition of information sharing, integration and collaboration. Diabetes care used as example. Another eyeopener for anyone unaware that there are things we need to improve.

28:40 - 31:08 Field on “cherry picking”, accessibility and quality of GP services, greater use of nurses and pharmacists in treating long term illnesses.

33:23 - 36:40 Co-operation vs. collaboration. Competition can expand capacity in market, but improving collaboration and integration within NHS must be a priority. Patient choice is primary consideration and must be expanded and protected. Need for private hospitals to subsidise training in NHS hospitals. Looks like Field will recommend that private sector provision and competition between service providers is retained but ‘hidden behind’ patient choice.

37:45 - 39:55 Simon Leyton, a former Labour County Councillor from Copeland who was defeated in the Distington ward in this year's Copeland Borough Council elections, puts a question about GP commissioning which includes one good quote: “We need to reduce the number of marches so we can get on with the job”. From 39:05 Field gives reasons for success of Cumbrian GP commissioning: clinical leadership, management support and scrutiny. These will be Field’s key recommendations for changes to GP commissioning process.

40:19 - 44:50 Hackney GP in diatribe against the Lansley reforms. Every word could have been penned by a Labour spinner. After she damned the proposals, it turns out her own practice has signed up to participate in the GP Pathfinder pilot project. Cue the justification: “Just because people get into a lifeboat doesn’t mean that they are in favour of sinking the Titanic”. A very good defence line to remember if you're caught out in an action which doesn't match your words, but I'm not sure that the argument is 100% valid in this instance.

58:34 - 60:44 A ‘constructive proposal’ by a woman who believes Lansley should be done for “criminal insanity”. She wants democratic governance of the NHS by setting up elaborate elected commissioning bodies who then elect a “lay chair”.

62:48 - 63:20 Retired Health Professional: “In the interest of democracy and accountability the Secretary of State must have a legal legal duty to provide NHS free at the point of need [?]“. Lansley is proposing to move the commissioning of NHS Health Services out of the direct control of the Department of Health and to transfer it to an arm’s length body, the NHS Commissioning Board. Lansley justifies the move as getting politicians out of the business of micro-managing the NHS, whereas opponents believe it lets the government off the hook of statutory obligations and democratic accountability for NHS performance (e.g. decisions on closing hospitals will no longer be ‘political’). Note Field’s silence in response to the suggestion. Either this aspect of Lansley’s reforms are outside his terms of reference or they are written in stone or he fully supports Lansley’s decision.

71:25 - 75:20 Field on Mark Britnell (insurance and opportunities for private sector providers), top-down reorganisation, the ‘kitchen cabinet’ conspiracy and David Cameron’s real care and love of the NHS. Cue much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth as the Guardianistas discover that Field trusts Cameron on the NHS reform and that he sees his role as being supportive of the government and that he is not about to sink Lansley.

76:43 - 80:22 Field concludes with his vision for the NHS’s future. He emphasises the need for the NHS to make productivity savings in order to free funds for the increased cost of new drugs (Herceptin used in cancer treatment as example) and other technological advances. Looks like Field’s main recommendation will be to slow down pace of change to reduce risk of destabilising the NHS.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Have your say on your community health services

Cumbria Partnership NHS Trust suggested that the following article might be of interest to readers of this blog and I am extremely happy to use it.

You can have your say in how your local community health services develop by becoming a member of the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust – and have a chance to win £100 of M&S vouchers in our prize draw.

Your local NHS services, including community hospitals, community services such as district nursing, health visiting, children’s services, community dentistry, learning disability and mental health are now delivered by Foundation Trust.

The Foundation Trust is inviting anyone over 14 years old who lives in Cumbria or who cares for a person living in the county to become a Member.

It’s free to become a member and you get the benefits of the NHS discount scheme at a number of high street and online stores – saving you money on everything from meals out to holidays. And if you become a member before June 24, 2011 you will be entered into a prize draw to win £100 of M&S vouchers.

Plus you have the opportunity to get involved as much or as little as you like in the shaping of community health services in your area.

As a member of the local community, you will have a voice in how these health services develop to meet the needs of you, your family, your friends and your neighbours.

A Foundation Trust is still part of the NHS family, but it has some freedom from central Government control. Foundation Trusts can decide how to spend some of its money in partnership with local people.

Currently there are 8,000 members including service users, carers, staff and members of the public – but they are looking to recruit many more to reflect the interests of all the services provided by the Foundation Trust.

Some people like to get very involved, going to special members meetings or by nominating or voting for governors who advise the board of directors. Others prefer to sit quietly in the background and only contact the Foundation Trust if there is something they feel strongly about.

This summer the Foundation Trust will be taking their roadshow out to events and venues across Cumbria where you can find out more about becoming a member and sign up on the day – but you can do it now, online at www.cumbriapartnership.nhs.uk, by calling the Governor and Membership Support Office on 01228 603890 or email


It’s your local, community health service – have your say on its future.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Full election results for Copeland BC

The full results for this year's Copeland elections were:

ARLECDON (1 councillor to be elected)

Marie Simpson Conservative Party 87
Joseph Graham Sunderland Independent 359 Elected

Electorate: 1232 Ballot papers verified: 459 Turnout: 37.25 %

BECKERMET (2 councillors to be elected)

Yvonne Clarkson Conservative Party 681 Elected
Jim Hewitson The Labour Party Candidate 340
John A Jackson Conservative Party 536 Elected

Electorate: 2265 Ballot papers verified: 1048 Turnout: 46.27 %

BOOTLE (1 councillor to be elected)

Anne Bradshaw The Labour Party Candidate 92
Keith H Hitchen Conservative Party 453 Elected

Electorate: 1063 Ballot papers verified: 548 Turnout: 51.55 %

BRANSTY (3 councillors to be elected)

Phil Greatorex The Labour Party Candidate 710 Elected
Allan Mossop Conservative Party 642
Brian O’Kane Conservative Party 653
Dave Smith The Labour Party Candidate 803 Elected
Gillian Troughton The Labour Party Candidate 801 Elected
Christopher J Whiteside Conservative Party 649

Electorate: 3934 Ballot papers verified: 1590 Turnout: 40.42 %

CLEATOR MOOR NORTH (3 councillors to be elected)

Hugh Branney The Labour Party Candidate 680 Elected
Alexander L Carroll Conservative Party 280
Joan Hully The Labour Party Candidate 723 Elected
Bill Southward The Labour Party Candidate 688 Elected
Daniel Verity BNP 129

Electorate: 3202 Ballot papers verified: 1058 Turnout: 33.04 %

CLEATOR MOOR SOUTH (2 councillors to be elected)

Dave Banks The Labour Party Candidate 502 Elected
Colin Boyton BNP 88
David Riley The Labour Party Candidate 576 Elected
David Walker Conservative Party 118

Electorate: 2194 Ballot papers verified: 740 Turnout: 33.73 %

DISTINGTON (3 councillors to be elected)

Jackie Bowman The Labour Party Candidate 598 Elected
John Bowman The Labour Party Candidate 614 Elected
Brian A Dixon Independent 486 Elected
Sheena M J Gray Conservative Party 272
Frank Hollowell Liberal Democrat 284
Simon Leyton The Labour Party Candidate 431

Electorate: 3204 Ballot papers verified: 1254 Turnout: 39.14 %

EGREMONT NORTH (3 councillors to be elected)

Karl Connor The Labour Party Candidate 635 Elected
John P Holmes Conservative Party 371
Sam Meteer Independent 509
Sam Pollen The Labour Party Candidate 714 Elected
Elaine Woodburn The Labour Party Candidate 685 Elected

Electorate: 3407 Ballot papers verified: 1361 Turnout: 39.95 %

EGREMONT SOUTH (3 councillors to be elected)

Nicola Hewitt Independent 295
Lena Hogg The Labour Party Candidate 694 Elected
Elizabeth Hutson Conservative Party 398
Graham V Hutson Conservative Party 374
Mike McVeigh The Labour Party Candidate 803 Elected
Carole Woodman The Labour Party Candidate 676 Elected

Electorate: 3009 Ballot papers verified: 1302 Turnout: 43.27 %

ENNERDALE (1 councillor to be elected)

Andy Crow Green Party 28
Mike Minogue Liberal Democrat 58
Cam Ross The Labour Party Candidate 96
Bob Salkeld Conservative Party 265 Elected

Electorate: 831 Ballot papers verified: 451 Turnout: 54.27%

FRIZINGTON (2 councillors to be elected)

Peter C Connolly The Labour Party Candidate 489 Elected
Hazel Dirom Conservative Party 255
Jon Downie The Labour Party Candidate 355 Elected

Electorate: 2035 Ballot papers verified: 759 Turnout: 37.30 %

GOSFORTH (1 councillor to be elected)

Alan E Jacob Conservative Party 478 Elected
Bernard Kirk The Labour Party Candidate 139

Electorate: 1344 Ballot papers verified: 628 Turnout: 46.73 %

HARBOUR (3 councillors to be elected)

Martin Barbour Conservative Party 468
John Kane The Labour Party Candidate 913 Elected
Graham Roberts Conservative Party 440
Jeanette Williams The Labour Party Candidate 730 Elected
Dorothy A Wonnacott Conservative Party 447
Henry Wormstrup The Labour Party Candidate 746 Elected

Electorate: 3482 Ballot papers verified: 1425 Turnout: 40.92 %

HAVERIGG (1 councillor to be elected)

Carl Carter The Labour Party Candidate 225
Doug Wilson Conservative Party 282 Elected

Electorate: 1080 Ballot papers verified: 521 Turnout: 48.24 %

HENSINGHAM (3 councillors to be elected)

Margarita Docherty The Labour Party Candidate 619 Elected
Geoff Garrity The Labour Party Candidate 729 Elected
Mary E Lomas Conservative Party 302
Norman Williams The Labour Party Candidate 653 Elected
Electorate: 3235 Ballot papers verified: 1092 Turnout: 33.75 %

HILLCREST (2 councillors to be elected)

Stephen Haraldsen Conservative Party 567 Elected
Alistair W M Norwood Conservative Party 518 Elected
John Wooley The Labour Party Candidate 360
Electorate: 2088 Ballot papers verified: 954 Turnout: 45.69 %

HOLBORN HILL (2 councillors to be elected)

Denise Burness The Labour Party Candidate 259
Fred Gleaves Conservative Party 398 Elected
Jane M Micklethwaite Conservative Party 308
Jack Park The Labour Party Candidate 360 Elected
Neil Wilson Green 73

Electorate: 1890 Ballot papers verified: 791 Turnout: 41.85 %

KELLS (2 councillors to be elected)

George Clements The Labour Party Candidate 508 Elected
Glenn Gray Conservative Party 199
Allan Holliday The Labour Party Candidate 399 Elected

Electorate: 1969 Ballot papers verified: 737 Turnout: 37.43 %

MILLOM WITHOUT (1 councillor to be elected)

Karon Carter The Labour Party Candidate 82
Lynette R Gilligan Green Party 152
Gilbert Scurrah Conservative Party 386 Elected

Electorate: 1186 Ballot papers verified: 623 Turnout: 52.53 %

MIREHOUSE (3 councillors to be elected)

George Benson BNP 194
Anne Faichney The Labour Party Candidate 775 Elected
Peter Kane The Labour Party Candidate 711 Elected
Jim King Conservative Party 225
Paul Whalley The Labour Party Candidate 583 Elected

Electorate: 3440 Ballot papers verified: 1126 Turnout: 32.73 %

MORESBY (1 councillor to be elected)

Geoff Blackwell The Labour Party Candidate 243 Elected
Brigid Whiteside Conservative Party 194

Electorate: 1079 Ballot papers verified: 440 Turnout: 40.78 %

NEWTOWN (3 councillors to be elected)

Brian Crawford Conservative Party 432
John Fallows The Labour Party Candidate 725 Elected
Francis R Heathcote Conservative Party 613 Elected
Fee Wilson Conservative Party 480 Elected

Electorate: 2780 Ballot papers verified: 1196 Turnout: 43.02 %

SANDWITH (2 councillors to be elected)

Adrian P Davis-Johnson Conservative Party 131
John J Dirom Conservative Party 104
Malcolm Southward BNP 130
Peter Stephenson The Labour Party Candidate 373 Elected
Peter D Tyson The Labour Party Candidate 352 Elected

Electorate: 1822 Ballot papers verified: 651 Turnout: 35.73 %

SEASCALE (2 councillors to be elected)

Eileen T Eastwood Conservative Party 878 Elected
David W Moore Conservative Party 935 Elected
Wendy Skillicorn The Labour Party Candidate 292

Electorate: 2291 Ballot papers verified: 1257 Turnout: 54.87 %

ST BEES (1 councillor to be elected)

Alan Alexander The Labour Party Candidate 216
Ian R Hill Conservative Party 475 Elected

Electorate: 1351 Ballot papers verified: 698 Turnout: 51.66 %

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An exchange which reflects the NHS debate ...

Labour MP Ian Lavery made himself look exceptionally stupid today at Prime Minister's questions when he asked about former NHS manager Mark Britnell. But there was no fundamental distinction between the point he was attempting, and spectacularly, failing to score and the current approach of the Labour party to the NHS, including the way the party campaigned on the NHS in recent local elections.

The only difference is that the specific details of Mr Lavery's question, apparently based on an article in the Observer last Sunday attributing views to Mark Britnell which Mr Britnell has said does not reflect his position, made it particularly easy to highlight the double standards of Labour's position. This was the exchange at PMQs:

So the reason why the present Prime Minister had never been in a position to sack "his NHS Adviser David Britnell" (sic: I note in passing that the Labour member for Wansbeck couldn't even get the gentleman's name right) is that Mark Britnell left the NHS, in which he had been appointed to several very senior positions under the previous Labour government, about a year before they left office. See here for a Health Service Journal report in June 2009 of Mr Britnell leaving the post of NHS director general for commissioning and system management to join private sector consultancy KPMG.

Ian Lavery M.P. looked like a buffoon today. But is what he was doing any different from the way Labour is presenting the Lansley reforms as privatising the NHS when they continue in the same direction as the changes Labour introduced, and roll out nationally the pattern of GP commissioning which Labour introduced in Cumbria several years ago?

Or, for that matter, any different from what shadow education secretary Andy Burnham was doing when he described as "An attack on state education" the coalition government's policies such as extending academy schools, which were introduced by Tony Blair?

Mr Lavery's question was more evidence that, as the Spectator argued this week here, "Nothing remains of New Labour." However much I may have disagreed with some aspects of New Labour, it was a movement which dominated British politics for more than a decade, but which the present leadership of the Labour party has now abandoned. To quote the Spectator again,

"A party that does not recognise its past failures is bad enough. But Miliband seems unable to recognise Labour’s successes, and that is worse."

All that is left of New Labour is a number of the better policies which they started being continued by the present government - and the unedifying spectable of the present-day Labour party attacking the government for policies which Labour themselves introduced.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Congratulations to John Jackson, new Mayor of Copeland

Attended the annual meeting of Copeland Council today, when Cllr John Jackson was elected mayor for the forthcoming year.

John will make an excellent mayor and his wife Linda will make an excellent mayoress: I wish them well for their year.

Thanks also to Mike McVeigh and his wife who have worked very hard as Mayor and Mayoress in 2010-11.

Geoffrey Brown R.I.P.

Most readers of this blog will probably not have heard of Geoffrey Brown, who died on local election day this year, but he was a remarkable man.

Geoffrey was my Deputy Chairman (Political) while I was Chairman of St Albans Conservative Association. Despite the fact that he had seconded my opponent for the position, when I was elected he gave me three years of loyal and extremely hard-working support.

Which was rather a change-around from our first meeting: after he finished his army career and became a history teacher at St Albans School in 1973. On the morning of his first day as a teacher I was twelve years old and was a member of the second form history class which was the very first one he taught.

Geoffrey joined the army during World War II as a private soldier while he was still a teenager. He was serving in in Sheriff Thompson's Airlanding light artillery regiment, part of the 1st Airborne division, when that unit took part in the battle of Arnheim.

After the war he remained in the army, working his way from the ranks up to the rank of Captain, an achievement of which he was extremely proud. After twenty years in the army education corps, he took a degree at Cambridge before becoming a teacher.

One story he used to tell of his time at Cambridge was the time a tutor was making statements about the battle of Arnheim which he did not consider to give a true picture of the battle, so he challenged him.

"What's your basis for that view?" asked the teacher

"I was bloody there!" replied Geoffrey.

The boys at St Albans School used to tease him about his obvious pride in his military past - on one occasion when he instructed a class to meet for a lesson the following day by the front gate rather than in the usual classroom, someone joked "Formed up in three ranks!" - and they actually did it. He took the salute with a smile and took the joke in good humour, which I'm fairly certain that one or two other teachers with military commissions would not have done.

Geoffrey was a long-standing stalwart of the Conservative association in St Albans in general and Verulam ward in particular. He didn't usually take any high-profile public roles - the occasions when he stood as a council candidate were in wards where we had no great hopes of victory. He was the sort of party activist who most members of the public have never heard of, but without whom democratic politics would be in danger of collapse and who do far more to improve the quality of local services than most people will ever realise.

It was ironic in the extreme that his death should have come on the day of an election to St Albans City and District Council, the result of which would have given him a great deal of satisfaction.

He leaves a widow, a daughter, and a son, Tony Brown, who was Conservative parliamentary candidate for Lincoln in 1997.

He was a very cheerful, positive and kind man, and almost everyone who knew him will miss him.

Rest in Peace.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Free Speech

I was interested to read the different print and internet versions of an article which Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has put in various "Independent" publications today.

The "i" copy is titled "Do we want Free Speech or Tittle-Tattle" with the subtitle "We should stop muddling celebrity shenanigans with abuse of power."

The inference - which it's very hard for a reasonable person to disagree with - is that the press should have the right to to probe when those in powerful positions have misused them or made a mistake, but it's not an edifying spectacle when the media use their freedoms and rights not to investigate such issues but to publish invasive smut about the sex lives of celebrities.

However, the slightly longer article in the full edition, and the internet version, which you can read here, has the rather different title

"We need new codes to define the perimeters of free speech"
and the subtitle

"Those who say the battle is between freedom and suppression, understand neither. It is so much more complicated than that."

It's quite interesting seeing which sentences in the longer version of the article did not make it into the shorter one.

The attempt by celebrities to use "super-injunctions" to stop press intrusion into their private lives is making the law look ridiculous and risks giving the same cover to those who are trying to conceal something which, unlike the question of which footballer is cheating on his wife with some former reality TV contestant, is a matter of legitimate public interest.

Her concluding words are

"New codes are needed. Law makers and upholders, the old and new media, and the people, need to came to a new settlement on freedom of expression and to define its perimeters. Remember anarchy is not liberty."

Hmm. It would be wonderful if society could agree on a more sensible place to draw the boundaries of what is, and what is not, legitimate free speech, and what it is in the public interest for journalists, bloggers or anyone else to investigate and publicise. Sadly it's not going to happen anytime soon.

Free speech, like other aspects of democracy, can be abused and can be infuriating at times. But you meddle with it at your peril - and other ways of managing things can be even worse.

In an earlier period of press excess the then culture secretary - before he himself was brought down by a media storm which started with publication of details of his sex life - warned the press that they were "drinking in the last chance saloon."

I can still hear in my mind the gentle Yorkshire tones with which a member of the present cabinet, who was then a much more junior politician, concluded a speech in which he gave a cautious response to that threat.

"If the press is drinking in the last chance saloon," said Eric Pickles nearly twenty years ago, "A wise government will think long and hard before calling Time."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You read it here first

I see I am not the only supporter of the Union who is urging the government to recognise the SNP's victory in the Scottish Parliament elections makes a referendum on independence inevitable, and to get on with holding it as soon as consistent with allowing a proper and democratic discussion and vote.

I wrote nearly a week ago (9th May) on this blog that if negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments are held under the shadow of a looming independence vote there is a real danger that it will poison them. Best to hold the referendum reasonably quickly, let people vote on whether there will still be a United Kingdom or not, and free both Scotland and the rest of the UK to move forward.

A number of MSPs have been making similar noises, and now the Spectator argues that

"The answer is for Westminster to call Salmond’s bluff by instigating an early referendum. It ought to have been done years ago. Why let the SNP leader choose the moment of maximum advantage, when now there is still a natural majority for the Union in Scotland? And even if there is no clear leader of the No forces capable of taking on Salmond, a cross-party campaign could assemble a powerful range of Scottish voices, including John Reid, Charles Kennedy and former Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth among others. The battle is winnable, if fought early enough."

You can read the full article here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Doctors say NHS reforms "will benefit most vulnerable"

41 GPs with a lead role in practices caring for over 7 million patients across the country have written to The Daily Telegraph supporting the Government's plans to modernise the NHS which "will benefit the most vulnerable in society".

The doctors are leading the plans which will bring together over 1,000 GP practices across England to give more power to doctors and nurses and improve care for patients.

It is important to listen to healthcare providers and patients so as to get the proposals right, which is why the government has called a pause in the proposals to listen to comments. But this is not some new plan which has come out of nowhere - in fact it the devolution of powers to GPs is a continuation of what was being developed in Cumbria for the last few years under the previous Labour government.

The doctors who wrote to the Telegraph confirmed that in their view the plans are an evolution of the previous Government's proposals, and welcomed the idea that instead of GPs having to report to bureaucrats, they will be able to take decisions in their patients' best interests.

Over 6,500 GP practices have already come together in pathfinder consortia covering over 45 million patients in England. That means that almost 90 per cent of the country is now covered by GPs who are best placed to deliver better care for patients. This has happened more than two years before the formal transfer of commissioning responsibility in April 2013.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said, "Under Labour, frontline doctors and nurses were undermined by a relentless focus on tick-box targets and constant Whitehall interference. We are changing all that by giving doctors and nurses the freedom to get on with their jobs and treat their patients."

And he added, "I welcome the appetite shown by doctors to lead improvements in the NHS and deliver better care for patients."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reforming vocational education

The Government has announced plans for all 16-19 year-olds who fail to get a C grade or better in GCSE English or Maths to keep studying the subjects until they get good qualifications.

The move will address employers' concerns that standards of literacy and numeracy among young people are not good enough.

A recent survey by the CBI found that 42 per cent of firms are not satisfied with the basic use of English by school and college leavers, while 35 per cent are concerned with the basic numeracy skills of new recruits.

The move is one of a number of recommendations from a review of vocational education carried out by Professor Alison Wolf earlier this year that were today accepted enthusiastically by Education Secretary Michael Gove. The review concluded that more than 300,000 16 to 19-year-olds are on courses which do not lead to higher education or good jobs.

Michael Gove said:

"The weaknesses in our current system were laid bare by Professor Wolf's incisive and far-reaching review. The changes we will implement as a result of her report will take time but will transform the lives of young people. I am pleased Professor Wolf has agreed to work with us to implement them.

"For too long the vocational education system has been devalued by attempts to pretend that all qualifications are intrinsically the same. Young people have taken courses that have led nowhere."

As part of the plans, education league tables and funding rules will also be reformed to remove the perverse incentives that have devalued vocational education.

This will mean more young people take the high-quality qualifications that lead to university and good jobs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

And I thought I had a bad week ...

A commemoration poster recording the success or otherwise of the Labour leader's campaign visits and events this year ...

(Click on the poster to see it slightly larger and again to see full size.)

One final AV referendum post ...

One final look at the reasons for the defeat of AV, this time from the perspective of a disappointed "Yes" supporter.

Angela Harbutt has written this article on "Liberal Vision" about "The Humiliation of the 'Yes' campaign."

The massive scale of the rejection of AV undoubtedly means that this system will not be put forward again in Britain in the lifetime of any present-day voter. The reason I have referred back several times on this blog to what went right for the No campaign and wrong for the yes one is that some of the lessons are valuable ones for anyone, of whatever party, involved in politics.

As Angela writes,

"The YES campaign was eminently winnable. But it ended up being run by readers of the Guardian for readers of the Guardian. Readers of this newspaper are about 1% of the voting electorate – and are also a statistically extreme group. Their views do not chime remotely with mainstream British opinion. There is no purist Guardian editorial proposition that could ever come close to winning a referendum in the UK.

"From the outset, the YES campaign was all about the tiny coterie of people who feel strongly about electoral reform. The emphasis was on these people “having fun” and being invited to comedy evenings. In email after email from the YES campaign, the quirky behaviour of this “producer set” was celebrated and the “consumer set” ignored. So, some bunch of local activists who had written the letters Y, E and S in big letters on a beach were hailed as creative geniuses. Others were highlighted for running a particularly successful street stall. From the point of view of any observer, it was all about “them”(the micro-percentage of constitutional reform obsessives) never about “us” (the people). None of this self-indulgent madness won a single vote for the YES side, but it probably lost thousands ...

"Possibly the nadir was the completely off piste broadcast showing hectoring “normal” voters wandering around with loud hailers shouting at supposed MPs for not working hard enough. As a slightly surreal opening scene to a new episode of Doctor Who, this might – just might – have worked.

"As a piece of campaigning, it is perhaps the worst three minutes of material ever to be broadcast on primetime television ...

"Never has a more confused, self-indulgent piece of rubbish made it to air in Britain. The YES campaign must have been “focus-grouping” themselves. And if you donated any cash – this is the sort of total garbage it was wasted on.

"The lessons of all of this should be pretty clear. Never again allow a bunch of well-meaning, self-important Guardian readers to run a national campaign in which they talk to themselves and then blame their embarrassing naivety on external forces beyond their control."

But before any Conservatives and No supporters reading this get too amused - we've sometimes made mistakes like this too.

The equivalent mistake for the No side - or the Conservative party - would be if we allowed our campaigns to be run by Telegraph readers for Telegraph readers - or by Daily Mail readers for Daily Mail readers. And I don't mean by that that either of those papers don't often take positions that I agree with. I mean that to win elections you have to listen to a wider spectrum of people.

That includes people who are trying to express genuine concerns about something that worries them, even if it's on an issue which the political class doesn't find respectable - which is why I often allow comments which I disagree with to be posted here provided they don't libel anybody, insult the recently dead, or otherwise cross the line between criticism and being offensive.

Anyone who is involved in politics, in whatever party, should be asking themselves how we can get more people involved and listen more to the people.

Frankly, last week's results were not good enough for any political party to be able to afford complacency.

Not the Conservatives,

definately not Labour as the more intelligent members of that party clearly realise, as you can read here or here or here,

and obviously not the Liberal Democrats. We all need to do better.

The Coalition one year on

Today is the first anniversary of the formation of the coalition government.

The present government took over when the fiscal position inherited from the previous administration was threatening to turn the UK into an economic basket case, and their first priority has had to be reducing the unsustainable deficit before Britain got into the same mess as countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

Anybody who does not realise that without firm action, Britain's public debt would have spiralled completely out of control with disastrous consequences is living in cloud-cuckoo land. Labour know that - they put off the pain until after the election and kept very quiet about what was coming, but if you look at what one of the few honest Labour front benchers of the present generation, Alistair Darling, said when he was chancellor, it is pretty clear that a re-elected Labour government would have made £7 of cuts for every £8 that the present government is making now.

In many areas such as student tuition fees, police and courts funding, defence, and EU policy the government has had to choose between bad options and worse ones, with no good choices available. There are plenty of things the government has had to do which disappointed people, not because they wanted to do that, but because they had no choice.

Nevertheless, the number of areas where they have attempted bold and radical initiatives to reform and improve Britain is astonishing and I am still proud to call myself a supporter of David Cameron.

Achievements of the government include

* Scrapping ID cards
* Action to reduce the impact of fuel prices
* Freezing council tax
* Reducing Labour's "Jobs Tax" NI charge
* Action to reduce the impact of the recession on business
* Giving £6 million to Cumbria to repair damage to roads after last winter
* Greatly increasing the discretion of local councils on planning matters
* Finding £90 million for the West Cumberland hospital rebuild/refurbishment, for which Labour had promised first £180 million and then £100 million but never actually found the money
* A devolution bill for local councils which will give communities far more say on how they run their affairs.

No, of course they're not perfect and all governments make mistakes. But that's not a bad start.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Performance against expectations

It was always expected that the Conservatives would lose some council seats to Labour last week. The seats we were defending were last fought four years ago when Labour were going through a very bad time indeed.

In my own case, when I stood for Bransty four years ago it was a calculated risk - it's the one ward in Copeland which regularly changes hands, delivering kicks to prominent members of both the Conservative and Labour parties at regular intervals. In the event the risk paid off four years ago but not this year: the number of people who voted for me last week was within two votes of the number who voted for me four years ago but the Labour vote had gone up.

The Local Government Chronicle had predicted that the Conservatives would have net losses equal to a thousand of the five thousand council seats defended last week. But as ConHome put it, "The voters failed to fall into line with the expert modelling prepared for them by Rallings and Thrasher."

What nobody had expected was that we would actually gain more seats from the Lib/Dems than our losses, which were more modest than had been expected, to Labour, leaving us with more seats and councils. In Copeland constituency while we lost three Copeland Borough seats to Labour we held fifteen, and won the Keswick and Derwent county seat from the Lib/Dems in a by-election.

It is exceptionally rare for a party in government to have a net gain of seats in local elections. And all sorts of people made predictions of much larger Tory losses.

The Times had predicted that the Conservatives "will lose the most - around 900 seats and 35 councils." Note they said "will" rather than "may."

The Independent said that Labour was "on track" to make 1,000 net gains. But they warned this was just mean they had got back to where they were in 1999 - a year Conservatives made huge gains. Anything short of that would be a "failure."

"Tories face poll rout," the Sunday Mirror told its readers five days ago.

Well, as I know to my cost we took knocks in places. But considering that painful measures which the present govenment is having to take to deal with the massive deficit inherited from the previous Labour government, our losses were astonishingly modest. And overall we held first place in the equivalent share of the national vote (ahead of Labour), took more seats than we lost, and gained councils.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Scots Independence: call the referendum next year

The Scottish Nationalist Party, which is committed to holding a referendum on Independence for Scotland now has a majority in the Scots parliament.

If - or rather when - they ask for that referendum, it would be entirely unreasonable for the UK government to refuse.

But, speaking as someone who hopes to see a "No" I see no good reason to wait for them to formally ask.

If that referendum is hanging over the future of the UK for several years, there is a serious risk that it will poison relations between the different parts of Britain. Why let it?

Far better to recognise that last week's Scottish elections means that there will be a referendum, set a timetable for it now, and hold the vote as soon as is consistent with putting a proper choice to the electorate. That probably means next year.

Then we can either get back to making the United Kingdom work if, as I hope, Independence is voted down, or get on with new arrangements if "Yes" wins.

And let's try to recruit some of the team who ran the "No2AV" campaign for the "No to Independence" one!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

How TO run a referendum campaign, and win

Hat tip to Conservative Home for this exceptionally interesting account of the inside story behind the "No" campaign for the AV referendum, and why they won.

Key points

1) After being convinced that a Yes vote would endanger his relationship with his parliamentary party David Cameron gave the order to fight the campaign with all available resources.

2) AV could only be defeated if a large number of Labour supporters voted to keep First Past The Post and from the earliest days of the campaign huge efforts were made to ensure the No campaign was genuinely cross-party

3) One consequence of this was that, although David Cameron would have preferred not to have had the "No" campaign target Nick Clegg in the way that they did, to keep the Labour "No" people onside there had to be an arms length relationship between the Tory leadership and the No campaign. This meant Cameron was unable to stop them from taking advantage of how politically toxic Nick Clegg and his broken promises are at the moment by ruthlessly (and effectively) exploiting that unpopularity to get a "No" vote.

4) The pundits scoffed at the No campaign’s argument that AV was costly and complicated but market research suggested that these were the right messages and the Westminster bubble’s desire for a more sophisticated campaign was rightly ignored

5) A massive Get Out The Vote operation by CCHQ saw the Tory vote harden decisively during the campaign. (I have seen it suggested that this saved 500 Conservative councillors as well as helping with the "No" result.)

6) The No campaign also worked hard from day one to expose the Yes campaign’s funding and its attempts to enlist charities in support of AV.

From the point of view of the future of the coalition, that third point is the most interesting, and Conservative Home gives more information on that point here.

It is not surprising that the Lib/Dems were angry that a campaign which their coalition partners were funding should have attacked the Lib/Dem leader in the way that the "No" campaign did, nor that they should have asked Conservative Campaign Centre to call the dogs off Clegg.

In fact, according to Conservative Home, Downing Street and Tory HQ repeatedly made precisedly that request of the "No" campaign - but the "Labour Says No" team within the "No" campaign managed to block the request. In ConHome's words

"Putting Clegg on the literature produced some of the biggest tensions within the No team. Conservative HQ repeatedly asked that photographs of their Coalition partner be removed from literature. Ryan, Kennedy and the other Labour leaders of the No campaign insisted that the images of the Deputy Prime Minister - and the language of broken promises - stayed. In a game of brinkmanship, the Labour Says No team threatened to pull the plug on the whole campaign if Clegg was off limits. The red half of the campaign knew that the targeting of the Liberal Democrat leader was essential if the Labour vote was to turn out and to vote no."

You can read the full article from the chapter headings here.

An election day story

A story from this year's election in Copeland

On the way to the polling station on Thursday, a lady who I will not embarrass by revealing her identity said to her partner

"I dont know any of the candidates so I dont know who I will vote for yet"

The people in the polling station were quite shocked when she burst out laughing in the polling booth.

She said on the way back "I did know one of them so that's who I went for"

(It was, of course, her other half ...)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

How not to run a referendum campaign

During the discussion in the press and the internet about the AV referendum result, one commentator described the Yes campaign in the Australian referendum on whether they should become a republic as the text book case for how to lose a referendum.

It was, but no longer.

For the rest of our lifetimes the "Yes to AV" campaign will be the textbook case on how to lose a referendum.

Both sides made some good points and some, shall we say, less good ones, though I think there is room for honest people to disagree on quite a few issues, such as how much more AV would cost and whether voting machines would be needed. (There isn't any reasonable doubt that AV would cost more.)

But the key difference was that the "Yes to AV" Campaign took for granted that it was the voice of progress and talked to a narrow chunk of society, while the "No" campaign was aimed with ruthless effectiveness at the concerns of much larger numbers of voters.

Coupling a sick child with the slogan "He needs a new maternity unit, not an alternative voting system" was a killer argument up there with "Labour isn't working" or "24 hours to save the NHS" in its' effectiveness (regardless of whether you agree with any of those slogans).

"Make MPs work harder" was not in the same league.

When there is a vote on a change to the status quo, especially one which is put to a referendum, the onus is on the people who are supporting the proposed change to make a positive and convincing case for it. The "Yes" campaign did not manage to do that in terms which resonated. And when they started attacking opponents of change, all shrewd observers knew that the game was up.

It is possible, indeed perhaps easier than it should be, to stop a change going through by attacking the motives, judgement, or integrity of the people proposing the change. But it is, and indeed should be, extremely difficult in normal circumstances to get a change through merely by attacking the defenders of the status quo. Perhaps a "Make it easier to throw the rascals out" campaign might have worked in the immediate aftermath of the MP's expenses scandal two years ago. But even that case wasn't effectively made.

The other suicidal error of the Yes campaign was not to attempt to recruit or use any of the people who supported AV from parties not on the left. For example, they could and, if they wanted to win should, have made more use of people like Nigel Farage. With the left split (most Labour MPs and councillors supported the "No" campaign) the "Yes" campaign could only have won with at least some votes from the centre-right. But they made no attempt either to recognise that not everyone on the left supported AV or to appeal to anyone right of centre who might have done so.

Voters who are right of centre mostly fall into one of two groups

a) those who like David Cameron
b) those who think he has conceded too much to the Lib/Dems

So when he started to campaign for "NO" the first group were obviously going to listen to him, and the second group were likely to conclude that if this was something on which DC was standing up to the Lib/Dems, this was probably going to be one of the times they agreed with him. If the "Yes" campaign had put Nigel Farage or someone similar onto the box to argue against the Prime Minister, he might well have had some influence. But the "Yes" campaign wouldn't touch him because they don't share his views. And failed to realise that building a coalition of people who agreed about the electoral system even though they disagreed about other things was precisely what they needed to do in order to win.

I always thought that a "No" was on the cards, but if the "Yes" campaign hadn't done almost everything possible to lose, it would have been an awful lot closer and might even have gone the other way. Basically the "Yes" team blew it - big time.

Friday, May 06, 2011

As the dust settles ...

Was busy campaigning and then at the verification of the count from 7am on Thursday morning until 3.30 am this morning, and then from 10 am until the Copeland AV result was declared at 8.30 pm - the last council in the North West to declare.

Not much change in Copeland although I and my colleagues were not successful in Bransty. The ward has a well-deserved reputation for kicking each party in turn in the teeth every few years, and having been successful in 2007 and 2009 we were on the other side this time. (And incidentally, that is not a complaint. I think Copeland would be a much better-run council if more of the other wards had Bransty ward's willingness to change.)

The AV referendum result in Copeland was:

NO: 16,687 (a fraction over 75%)
YES: 5,627

I will put the other election results on here in the next few days. Congratulations and best wishes to all candidates of whatever party who were declared elected today.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

DC on why you should vote No to AV

Today is a big day for our country. It's AV referendum day and you need to make your voice heard. Unless enough people go out and vote, Britain could sleepwalk into a system that damages our democracy permanently. So I urge you to get down the polling station and vote 'No' to AV.

Remember, there are five big reasons why:

One - AV is complex. First Past the Post is so simple you can sum it up in seven words: the person with the most votes wins. AV is so confusing that when I was recently interviewed on the BBC, it became clear that one of their most experienced broadcasters didn't understand how it worked.

Two - AV is unfair. With First Past the Post, everyone gets one vote, and that vote is counted once. That's fair. But under AV, supporters of extremist or fringe parties can get their votes counted again and again and again. That's unfair. It's simply not right that the fifth vote of a Monster Raving Looney supporter counts as much as your first vote.

Three - AV takes power away from people and gives it to politicians. The great thing about our current system is that it always lets you kick dead-duck governments out on their ear. Remember 1979? Remember last year? Under AV, that sort of people power would be much less likely. It would mean more grey areas in election results, and more opportunities for tired politicians to cling on to power long after their time. Just think - if we'd had AV last year, Gordon Brown could still be in Downing Street today.

Four - AV is costly. Money is tight at the moment, so why get rid of a system that is cheap to administer for one that will inevitably cost more and bring loads more bureaucracy? I know, you know, that our money could be better spent on other things.

Five - AV is unpopular. First Past the Post is used by half the planet, from the world's biggest democracy - India - to the world's most powerful democracy - America. AV is used in just three countries: Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. And in Australia, they want to get rid of it.

Let the final word go to our greatest ever Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. He described AV as "the stupidest, the least scientific and the most unreal" voting system. He said it would mean elections are "determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates". He's right. The campaigners for AV are wrong. So I urge you all to get down to the polling station today and vote 'No'.

Yours sincerely,

Local Elections - Polls open in Copeland and Allerdale

Polls are now open for all the members of Copeland Borough Council, Allerdale Borough Council, and in a by-election to represent Keswick on Cumbria County Council (caused by the resignation of an octegenarian Lib/Dem county councillor).

Polls are open from 7am to 10 pm today (Thursday 5th May). You do not need your polling card to vote, but be aware that a number of polling stations have been moved: for example, the polling station for residents of The Highlands and Harras Moor who used to vote at a house on Harras Road has moved to Whitehaven Golf Course.

Conservative candidates for Copeland Borough Council are:

Arlecdon: Marie Simpson
Beckermet: Yvonne Clarkson and John Jackson
Bootle: Keith Hitchen
Bransty: Allan Mossop, Brian O'Kane and Chris Whiteside
Cleator Moor North: Alex Carroll
Cleator Moor South: David Walker
Distington: Sheena Gray
Egremont North: Jack Holmes
Egremont South: Dr Graham Hutson and Elizabeth Hutson
Ennerdale: Bob Salkeld
Frizington: Hazel Dirom
Gosforth: Alan Jacob
Harbour: Martin Barbour, Graham Roberts and Dorothy Wonnacott
Haverigg: Doug Wilson
Hensingham: Mary Lomas
Hillcrest: Alistair Norwood and Stephen Haraldsen
Holborn Hill (Millom): Fred Gleaves and Jane Micklethwaite
Kells: Glen Gray
Millom Without: Gilbert Scurrah
Mirehouse: Jim King
Moresby: Brigid Whiteside
Newtown (Millom): Brian Crawford, Reg Heathcote and Fee Wilson
Sandwith: Adrian Davis-Johnston and John Dirom
Seascale: David Moore and Eileen Eastwood
St Bees: Dr Ian Hill

There is also a referendum on whether to change the voting system (see next post)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Hospital public meeting today

Reminder: there is a public meeting at 6.30 pm this evening (3rd May) at the United Reformed church hall in the Market Place about local hospital services in West Cumbria.

Thoughts on the death of Bin Laden

One of my differences with the late Osama Bin Laden is that I do not think it is ever seemly to celebrate the death of another human being - even one as evil as he was.

That word, "evil," is so grossly over-used in our society that it seems inadequate for someone who could calmly plot to hijack four airliners full of passengers and deliberately crash them into buildings where thousands of civilian men and women were working - and a man who could do so in the name of a God described as "The compassionate, the merciful" in spite of the fact that some of the passengers on the aircraft and in those buildings were fellow-worshippers of the same God.

However great the risk that he may be wrongly seen as a martyr by people who are nearly as twisted as he was, it was reasonable for the USA to seek to bring him to justice - and to use deadly force when he refused to surrender.

This is the man who once told the West "We love death as much as you love life."

Finally he has what he said he wanted.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Prime Minister on the future of West Cumberland Hospital

David Cameron spoke at Prime Mininster's Question Time this week about the future of West Cumberland Hospital and assured local residents that the Department of Health is working closely with the local NHS to move forward the proposed redevelopment of the hospital.

In answer to a question from the MP for Copeland, David Cameron said:

"First, I well remember visiting the hospital in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is a fantastic hospital and it did brilliant work during those incredibly tragic times about which he spoke. I can absolutely reassure him that he does not need to worry about the future of the West Cumberland hospital.

"I understand that he has met the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend Mr Burns, to discuss the concerns, and they are in agreement that issues need to be resolved swiftly.

"The Department of Health is working closely with the local NHS to produce proposals to redevelop the hospital. That is what is going to happen: investment will be going into the NHS because of the commitments we have made."