Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cameron spells out Pensions arguments

Hat tip to Conservative Home for this summary of the three arguments David Cameron put to the Local Government Association on public sector pensions.

Argument one: We can't afford to go on like this

"In the 1970s, when a civil servant say retired at sixty, they could expect to claim a pension for around twenty years. Today, when they retire at sixty, they can expect to claim a pension for nearly thirty years – about a fifty percent increase on before. Now, obviously, more people living for longer is a great development for society. But more people claiming their pension for longer has a real life impact on our ability to pay for pensions. Indeed, we are already seeing the impact. In 2009, total payments to public service pensioners and their dependents were almost £32 billion – an increase of a third, even after allowing for inflation, compared to 1999."

Argument two: The balance between pensions in the public sector and those of the taxpayers who pay for them is not right

"Under the current system, the balance between what public sector employees pay in to their pensions and what the taxpayer contributes is getting massively out of kilter. Take, for example, the Civil Service Pensions Scheme. Today, employees contribute around 1.5 and 3.5 percent towards their own pension. The taxpayer, however, contributes nineteen percent. Indeed, in total, the taxpayer currently contributes over two-thirds of the costs of maintaining public sector pensions. That’s the equivalent of £1,000 a household. That figure is only expected to rise. Is that a fair? I don’t believe it is, especially when people in the private sector are seeing the value of their own pensions falling, their own pension
age rise… and when, according to the Office for National Statistics, the average gross pay in the public sector is now higher than in the private sector."

Argument three: Public sector pensions will still be generous

"I can look you in the eye and say public service pensions will remain among the very best… much better, indeed, than for many private sector workers. And it’s because we are determined to do what’s fair by people who work in the public sector that we are suggesting other changes. The public service pensions system today is inherently biased against some of the lowest paid workers. That’s because, under a final salary scheme, it’s the people who reach very high salaries at the end of their careers who benefit the most. Yes, these are talented people. And yes, they are hugely important to the running of our public services. But the way the system works, it’s not the community nurse who retires on a final salary of £28,000 who gets the benefit… but the hospital consultant who leaves on a final salary of £110,000. Indeed, in some instances, for every £100 they put in their pension, higher earners can get twice as much out. Is this fair? No. It’s not. So again, in accordance with the recommendations of Lord Hutton, we are proposing to replace the final salary scheme with a Career Average scheme. This would mean that the lowest-paid do not subsidise those individuals who jump to higher salaries in the last few years of their career."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sellafield named as site for nuclear power

There was good news for West Cumbria today: the Government has pushed ahead with plans for new nuclear power plants in the UK as it confirmed a list of eight sites where the next generation of reactors can be built, which include Sellafield.

In the first major announcement on the future of nuclear in the UK since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the Government outlined the locations deemed suitable for new power stations by 2025, all of which are adjacent to existing nuclear sites.

The eight sites are: Bradwell, Essex; Hartlepool; Heysham, Lancashire; Hinkley Point, Somerset; Oldbury, South Gloucestershire; Sellafield, Cumbria; Sizewell, Suffolk; and Wylfa, Anglesey.

The overwhelming majority of residents in Copeland will consider this excellent news, as the comprehensive defeat of Green candidates here in last year's general election and this year's council elections demonstrates.

Labour gets it wrong on Human Rights.

There is an almost inevitable tendancy for governments, even when they start out the other way with a localist or pro freedom and human rights agenda, to become less committed to it, and increasingly centralist as they go on.

For the first few years a government is in power, it is not unknown for them to remember what it was like in opposition, or to remember some of their election promises about devolving power, or both. But as time goes on, frustrations when ministers have trouble getting a policy implemented, and are afraid of being blamed when things go wrong, be it a terrorist attack, general crime, or the economy, tends to make them very authoritarian.

Hence if a government doesn't make any moves towards decentralism, localism or greater freedoms in it's first eighteen months in office, it never will.

Even the last Labour government, which by the end of its' thirteen years in office had become one of the most authoritarian and centralising governments in the last hundred years, began by devolving signifiant powers to Scotland and a small amount of power to Wales and Northern Ireland, and with a genuine attempt to implement a human rights agenda even if the main mechanism they used - incorporating the ECHR into British law - was to spectacularly backfire on both Britain and the Labour govenment themselves.

The Coalition government has started down that road to more freedom and localism. They have begun this process by scrapping ID cards, with the Localism bill which gives more responsibility and flexibility both to local councils and to residents of particular areas within council areas, and with the "Protection of Freedoms" bill against which Ed Miliband made an irresponsible and populist attack at Prime Ministers' Questions yesterday.

Heaven help this country should someone who is already ready to drop his promises on human rights in favour of authoritarian populism while still leader of the opposition ever be elected Prime Minister. And that is what Miliband did yesterday.

WHen Ed Miliband spoke to Labour conference at Manchester after becoming party leader, he was keen to show that he had learned lessons from Labour's defeat. Including a move away from the authoritarianism of the Brown administration and the later Blair years and a more liberal approach to freedom. But his attempt to score cheap points on rape yesterday threw that approach out of the window.

Let's get this absolutely clear, rape is a serious, horrible crime and I want to see those who are actually guilty of this and other serious crime convicted and given an appropriately serious punishment. So does the government, which is why the Prime Minister announced yesterday that it will not pursue proposals for a 50% discount in the prison tariff for an early guilty plea.

However, precisely because rape is a serious crime which should carry a serious punishment, and for which even an accusation leaves a horrible stigma, we should also be careful to minimise instances when innocent people are arrested for it. Not just to protect innocent men from having their lives wrecked, which a false charge of rape can do, but to more effectively protect innocent women from being raped by focussing police attention on the actual rapists.

Ed Miliband attacked the government's proposals to dramatically reduce the number of people who have not been convicted of any offence but whose DNA is retained on government records on the basis that this might improve the chances of serial rapists escaping conviction.

As I posted here on Monday 13th June under the title, "The DNA Database and catching rapists" there is hard evidence that the Scottish DNA database - operated on the basis which the "Protection of Freedoms Bill" wants to move towards - actually produces a BETTER chance of a DNA match than the current DNA database for the rest of the UK does.

It is worth recapitulating what the proposals in the bill actually say for serious crimes such as rape:

For those arrested for, but not charged with, a serious offence

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that the police will only be permitted to retain DNA and fingerprints in very tightly controlled circumstances. The government will establish an independent commissioner to oversee DNA retention and they will make a decision whether retention is necessary, taking into account the age and vulnerability of victims of the alleged offence and their relation to the person arrested.

For those arrested for and charged with a serious offence, but not convicted

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that in these cases the government proposes to retain the DNA and fingerprints for three years, with the option of a single two-year extension by a court.

For those convicted of an offence

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that all adults convicted of any recordable offence will have their DNA and fingerprints retained indefinitely.

In other words, if there is REAL EVIDENCE that they may be dealing with a serial rapist, the bill does give the police options to keep an accused person's DNA evidence on file for a number of years. That's why the comments made by Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper in an attempt to make the government look soft on rape are both wrong and irresponsible.

Where there is no such evidence, and particularly where there is reason to believe that an individual was accused on the basis of mistaken identity or a malicious accusation, their DNA records should be destroyed and the bill makes this more likely.

I'm not going to claim it's a perfect bill from the human rights viewpoint or in terms of catching criminals viewpoint, but I do think that a balanced policy such as is provided in this bill is more likely to deliver justice, both in reducing the number of false accusations and in freeing up police time to catch the guilty, than a one-sided policy in either direction would be.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Whitehaven Festival - day three

Took the children into town again for the final day of a wonderful festival.

Watched the air display from the north end of Kells, near the Candlestick, then wandered through the town to sample some of the stalls and let the children have a couple of rides.

Great to see Whitehaven full of people enjoying themselves.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Adrian Smith RIP

Very shocked to learn last night that my friend Adrian Smith died suddenly last Monday aged 52.

Just goes to show that death can come when we least expect it. The Obit reads

"Died unexpectedly on Monday 13th June 2011 aged 52. Sadly missed by his partner Stella, his brother Stewart, sister Deborah and all his nieces and nephews. Funeral service at St Mary's Church, Aspenden on Wednesday 22nd June at 2.45pm."

Adrian had a great sense of humour and a real sense of fun, and was really great company. He had strong opinions on a number of subjects but was never unpleasant to those with different ones.

There is a guestbook linked to his obituary at the Harlow Star website where those who knew him can leave a message here.

To avoid causing alarm to friends of any of the other people with whom Adrian shared his name, I had better add that the Adrian Smith who has just died was an old boy of Bishop's Stortford school. This is not the Adrian Smith, formerly of Harpenden, who attended St Albans School (1973-1980) and served as a member of Harpenden Town Council in the 1980's.

Whitehaven Festival: Day Two

Took the children into town for the second day of the festival. Lots of people there, all having a great time.

Lump in my throat when the spitfire flew past. Told my children that they should always remember that they've seen a spitfire flypast - there may not be a working original with flying hours left whey they are grown up. And that this is still a free country because seventy years ago when their grandparents were about the age that my children are now, 600 brave young men, flying planes like that one, fought off attackers many times their number.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Time to honour WCH bed promises

When the "Closer To Home" review of hospital and health services in Cumbria took place, pressure from local medical staff, patients and residents secured a slight increase in the number of beds retained at West Cumberland Hospital - an a promise that the number of beds against usage would be kept under review and increased if it was shown to be inadequate.

It's time to have a very serious look at the number of beds currently available against what is needed.

One of the front page headlines in yesterday's Whitehaven News read

"Hospital's bed shortage leaves patients waiting in ambulances."

The article begins

"A shortage of available beds at West Cumberland Hospital has led to some emergency patients having to termporarily wait outside in ambulances.

"And on one occasion nine patients were said to have to sleep overnight in the A&E department because there were no spare beds on the wards.

"The problem is not down to staff shortages in the hospital's A&E deparment, The Whitehaven News understands, but a lack of available beds. Without free beds patients cannot be moved out of A&E and onto the wards."

(You can read the full article by Gillian Ellison "here.)

I am seriously concerned by this situation, which cannot be allowed to continue. The demand for West Cumberland Hospital beds against availability must be carefully checked and if this situation is not found to be a one-off, then the number of beds at WCH must be increased. This is, after all, what we were promised at the time of Closer to Home.

Whitehaven Festival 2011

This weekend for three days starting tomorrow (Friday 17th June) it's the Whitehaven Festival and it looks like yet another fantastic event.

Full details are given on the festival website here.

Highlights include:

Friday: Fish cooking and Afternoon Tea Demos on the Sugar Tongue, Jet Skis and Book Launch by Jean Christophe. The latter is at 6pm

Saturday: Live music on three stages, street theatre, Jet skis and celebrity chef demos. Spitfire flypast at 4pm

Sunday: Forces Parade starting 10:30am at the Sea Cadets' and finishing in the Arena. Full air show program from 3pm

All three days: Tall Ships, Cookery demos, Jet skis, fairgrounds and stalls

(Note - I originally quoted the information on Copeland Borough Council website which said that the Spitfire flypast would be on Sunday. It was actually on Saturday.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Libraries consultation

I have already mentioned the Cumbria libraries consultation, at which the remaining meetings in Copeland (all held at the relevant library) are:

Cleator Moor Thursday 30 June 4pm-7pm

Distington Thursday 23 June 1:30pm-3pm

Keswick Wednesday 29 June 4pm-7pm

Seascale Wednesday 15 June 1pm-2:30pm

Thornhill Friday 17 June 10:30pm-12pm

Whitehaven (Daniel Hay library) Thursday 23 June 4pm-7pm

If you cannot attend one of these events, there are other ways for you to have your say before the discussion closes on 30 June 2011

* Email your thoughts direct to yoursay@cumbriacc.gov.uk

* Write to the County Council at

Have your Say, Communications Team, Cumbria County Council, Carlisle , CA8 8NA

Monday, June 13, 2011

The DNA Database and catching rapists

There were suggestions in certain newspapers yesterday, particularly by Labour's shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, that proposals in the "Protection of Freedom" Bill to stop keeping the DNA of innocent people in the national DNA database amount may potentially "allow serial rapists to escape detection."

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, rape is a horrible and serious crime, and we need to ensure that those who are actually guilty of it are convicted and severely punished.

However, if you want to protect women from being attacked by locking up rapists, it is rather important that you convict those who are actually guilty of it, not those who are innocent.

Keeping the names of thousands of innocent people on DNA databases doesn't necessarily increase the chances of convicting the guilty: it is at least as likely to produce more false allegations against those who are not. And an erroneous allegation of rape can be a life-wrecking experience.

It is worth emphasising that the Government proposals in the "Protection of Freedoms Bill", as they stood yesterday, adopt similar rules on DNA retention to those which have worked in Scotland. The proposals do allow the retention of DNA for up to three years, with possible extension for a further two years if a court agrees, for those accused of rape or other serious crimes and against whom there is enough evidence to enable the police to bring charges.

Later in this post I have quoted hard evidence that the Scottish DNA database - operated on the basis which the "Protection of Freedoms Bill" wants to move towards - actually produces a BETTER chance of a DNA match than the current DNA database for the rest of the UK does.

The proposals in the bill are:

For those arrested for a minor offence, but not charged or convicted?

The provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that in the future these will not be retained at all.

For those arrested for, but not charged with, a serious offence?

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that the police will only be permitted to retain DNA and fingerprints in very tightly controlled circumstances. The government will establish an independent commissioner to oversee DNA retention and they will make a decision whether retention is necessary, taking into account the age and vulnerability of victim of the alleged offence and their relation to the person arrested.

For those arrested for and charged with a serious offence, but not convicted?

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that in these cases the government proposes to retain the DNA and fingerprints for three years, with the option of a single two-year extension by a court.

For those convicted of an offence?

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that all adults convicted of any recordable offence will have their DNA and fingerprints retained indefinitely.

The current proposals in the bill are much more balanced than Yvette Cooper appears to be trying to infer, and the suggestion that these proposals would not allow the police to use DNA forensics to track and investigate those against whom there is significant evidence of a serious crime such as rape is not accurate.

I wrote a blog post on the subject of the DNA database three years ago which is still highly relevant today: it reads as follows.

Justice and DNA

I support the existence, with proper controls, of a DNA database to help convict the perpetrators of serious crimes. However, the debate around the issue is a lot more complicated than some people would have you believe.

Concerns about this issue are not just about protecting the civil rights of criminals. They are about making sure that that DNA is not misused or misunderstood in ways which lead to the wrongful conviction of innocent people.

For a start, if courts and police forces were foolish enough to imagine that you can safely seek a conviction on DNA evidence alone - and fortunately most of Britain's police forces are not that stupid - you would have a recipe for wrongful convictions of the innocent based on misunderstandings of the probabilities involved.

Remember Professor Sir Ray Meadow? He was one of the most distinguished paediatricians in the country but his brilliance as a doctor was combined with an ignorance of statistics in general and conditional probability in particular, which was worse than would be expected of a VI former studying maths. His misunderstanding of conditional probability led him to seek to persuade juries that a number of women, at least three of whom were almost certainly innocent, had murdered their own children. His erroneous testimony directly resulted in at least two wrongful convictions and appears to have indirectly caused the death of an innocent women who on the basis of his evidence was wrongly convicted of murdering her own children.

I cite this case to make the point that the lives of innocent people can be wrecked if courts are wrongly advised of the probabilities surrounding any form of science relevant to a crime. And as I wrote in a blog post about Sir Ray a couple of years ago, potential risks of miscarriage of justice if scientific statistics are presented to a court in a misleading way are not a problem unique to cases of cot death. DNA evidence carries the same risk.

While genetic fingerprinting and DNA matching are an immensely powerful tool and there is no doubt whatsoever that it has enabled many guilty people to be convicted, the evidence has to be used and described properly. Statements of probability in relation to genetic evidence can sound more powerful than they really are unless there is corroborative evidence.

Let’s give an example. Supposing there is a crime for which there are no surviving witnesses, and the police have recovered genetic material which they are absolutely confident belongs to the perpetrator. A check of the national DNA database finds one match with a potential suspect and the DNA match is sufficiently good match that only one person in five million would have a fit as good or better. The suspect is tracked down and brought in for questioning, and the police find that he could have been in the right place at the right time and has no convincing alibi.

It is my understanding that most British police forces would do more work than this before bringing a prosecution, but let’s suppose for the sake of argument that we have a rare sloppy example, and they don’t. You are on the jury – you are told that the accused had the opportunity to commit the crime and that genetic fingerprinting suggests it is five million to one that he did it. Do you find him guilty?

If you said yes, I hope you’re not on the jury should I ever be wrongly accused of anything. Five million to one odds means there are about eleven people in Britain with an equivalent match, including about three or four adult males of an age to be strong and fit. We would need far more evidence against the accused than just the statistics to be confident that we were convicting the right man, so that the court could rule out all other potential suspects with an equally good genetic fit.

And sadly, if you want evidence that people in senior positions do not all understand the statistics around issues of conviction using DNA evidence, you only need to consider the following statement from a 2008 speech by the then Prime Minister

“I say to those who questioned the changes in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which allowed DNA to be retained from all charged suspects even if not found guilty: if we had not made this change, 8,000 suspects who have been matched with crime scenes since 2001 would in all probability have got away, their DNA having been deleted from the database. This includes 114 murders, 55 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 other sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries, and 127 drugs offences”.

(Gordon Brown, 17th June 2008, in a speech on 'Liberty and Security')

This claim by the Prime Minister was examined by a pressure group called Genewatch UK, and forensically torn to pieces, in a report which at the time of my original 2008 blogpost was available online.

(In the original blog post I gave a link to the article. Sadly at some point in the intervening three years Genewatch have taken the full article down, but some of the reasons they consider what he said in 2008 was wrong can still be found in a 2010 press release here.

Genewatch tracked back the sources for the then Prime Minister's speech. Those sources make clear that the figures quoted are based on estimates rather than the tracking of actual cases, and those estimates are based on a number of unverifiable assumptions.

Genewatch demonstrate conclusively that the way Gordon Brown used the figures ignores the fact that many of the genetic matches referred to did not lead to even a prosecution, never mind a conviction, because many matches with DNA found at crime scenes are with people other than the perpetrator such as victims and passers by, or are false matches.

Genewatch's conclusions, which I don't believe any open minded and intelligent person who has read their report could dispute, are that

1. Gordon Brown’s claim that “in all probability” 114 murderers would have walked away had innocent people’s records not been retained on the National DNA Database is false.
2. Ministers in the Labour government were well aware that this claim is false;
3. This figure is seriously misleading to members of the public who are concerned about the implications of retaining innocent people’s records indefinitely on the National DNA Database.

They also put forward evidence to the opinion, which I find compelling, that improved collection and retention of DNA found at crime scenes will improve rates of conviction of the guilty, but that retaining the DNA of those who have not been convicted of any crime will not. One example of the evidence they quote is the following statement from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics:

“…There is very limited evidence indeed that the retention regime of England and Wales is effective in significantly improving detection rates…The match rates between stored subject profiles and new crime scene profiles loaded onto the NDNAD in England and Wales, which is 52 per cent, can be contrasted with that of the Scottish DNA Database, which has a higher match rate of 68 per cent. This demonstrates clearly that the more limited retention policy in Scotland does not necessarily negatively impact upon its subsequent
match rates”.

The Genewatch report quotes the concerns expressed by the British Academy of Forensic Sciences about the disadvantages of profiling everyone at birth, as some of the more hardline advocates of using genetic data have suggested.

For example, if a complete genetic record of everyone in the country was taken, and was then stolen, it would put everyone in the country at risk of being framed by having our DNA planted at a crime scene.

Five years ago I would have dismissed that argument as ridiculous. But after the last government managed to lose discs containing the addresses, birth dates and bank details of 25 million people, I can no longer do so.

So where do we go from here?

The National DNA Database should continue to be improved and expanded, and is an appropriate tool to use in criminal investigations, with more effort made to improve the collection and retention of DNA from crime scenes. However, this should go hand in hand with safeguards to prevent the accidental or deliberate misuse of DNA data to convict the innocent.

There is a need to strike a balance in respect of the information made available to the police: at the moment I think the balance struck by the Scottish parliament looks more appropriate than that which the 2001 act lays down for England and Wales. To quote Genewatch UK,

"The Scottish Parliament voted against indefinite retention of DNA profiles and samples from persons acquitted or not proceeded against, in May 2006. Instead, police powers were expanded to allow temporary retention (for up to 5 years, with judicial oversight) from a much smaller number of people who had been charged but acquitted of a serious violent or sexual offence. The Scottish Government is currently conducting a review of this decision in order to assess whether the temporary retention of data from this more limited category of unconvicted persons is appropriate. In conducting its review, the Scottish Government has expressly ruled out the indefinite retention of fingerprint and DNA data acquired from individuals who are not convicted of any crime.

The Scottish Parliament reiterated its position in a vote on 28th February 2008, rejecting the blanket retention of DNA samples and fingerprints, and recognising that “appropriate utilisation of DNA samples and fingerprints can play an important role in identifying offenders but that it is vital to strike the right balance between prosecuting criminals and protecting the innocent”.

And another safeguard, as I have long argued, should be the provision of better support to Juries on how to use and understand any statistics which may be quoted at them by prosecution and defence alike.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Knife Crime

There is a horrifying account by Eleanor Mills in today's Sunday Times under the title

"Help, a boy's been knifed in my garden.".

(I would post a link, but it's behind a paywall.)

Essentially two teenage ganges had a fight a few hundred yards away from her house, and a fifteen-year-old member of one gang ran away from it, pursued by two boys from the other gang: he was trying to hide in the journalist's front garden, and the other boys slashed his throat.

This took place at 6.30 pm on a Tuesday afternoon in a London suburb as the author and her friend were about to go out of the front door with five little girls aged from two to eight - if they had been thirty seconds earlier getting moving, those girls would have seen the whole thing.

There was a rapid response to the 999 call, the ambulance and police got there in time to save the boy's life - just.

Most cases of similar stabbings never make it to court, because a reluctance by the victimes to "grass" on the perpetrators makes it difficult to get convictions. And as a result, complete contempt for human life among a segment of our young people as reached disastrous proportions, often with fatal results.

Eleanor Mills suggests that the techniques used by police to persuade the CPS to prosecute in domestic violence cases where victims refuse to press charges should also be applied to teenage gang assaults: use of photographs of injuries, witness statements, circumstantial evidence.

If there were easy answers to this sort of crime, they would already have been put into effect. But we need to make sure that the gangs realise that they are not above the law.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cumbria Library consultations in Copeland

Details of consultations about the future of local library services in the Copeland constituency over the rest of this month. (The meetings will be held at the library concerned.) There are similar consultations in the rest of Cumbria.

TODAY (Friday 10 June)

Frizington 10am-11:30am
Hensingham 2pm-3:30pm


Cleator Moor Thursday 30 June 4pm-7pm

Distington Thursday 23 June 1:30pm-3pm

Kells Monday 13 June 3:30pm-5pm

Keswick Wednesday 29 June 4pm-7pm

Millom Monday 13 June 4pm-7pm

Mirehouse Monday13 June 2pm-3:30pm

Seascale Wednesday 15 June 1pm-2:30pm

Thornhill Friday 17 June 10:30pm-12pm

Whitehaven (Daniel Hay library) Thursday 23 June 4pm-7pm

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Church, State, and the Media

I have never been one of those who think the clergy should keep out of politics, even when I disagree with what they say.

So, like both the Prime Minsiter and Vince Cable, I welcome debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury, even though there are a fair number of things in his "New Statesman" article which I strongly disagree with.

But that is not what struck me most when I looked up the article before writing this post - because I happen to think it is a bad idea to comment on something one has not read.

What struck me most was how ludicrously one-sided the reports of Archbishop Rowan Williams' article in the media, and particlarly the BBC, had been.

Listening to the Today programme, you would have got the impression that the Williams article had been an undiluted left-wing tirade about how terrible the government is.

Well, the article did include a few fairly openly left-wing comments, and some criticisms of the government. However, there were also some criticisms of the left and the opposition - for example Williams says that

"we are still waiting for a full and robust account of what the left would do differently and what a left-inspired version of localism might look like."

Similarly, Williams clearly sees some of the problems about which he is expressing concern as having begun well before the present government, for example he refers to "several decades of cultural fragmentation."

His article also sets down some positive challenges for both left and right concerning how we might improve the functioning of British democracy and education, e.g.

"a long-term education policy at every level that will deliver the critical tools for democratic involvement, not simply skills that serve the economy."

I get very tired with the way too many lazy journalists will take a speech or an article and go for the lowest common denominator political point which can be extracted from it instead of seeing what we can all learn from it. And it's particularly irritating when the offender is the BBC which we are all effectively forced to pay for.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Future of local library services

Cumbria County Council is holding a series of drop-in meetings this month at which residents will have the opportunity to comment on how they see the future of their local libraries.

If you care about your local library and are able to attend, it would be a really good idea to turn up and say that you value the service.

The meetings will be held at the libraries concerned. The first one in Copeland is to be held at St Bees library tomorrow (Tuesday 7uth June) from 3pm to 4.30 pm

The meeting for the main library in Whitehaven (The Daniel Hay library in Lowther Street, Whitehaven) will be held on Thursday 23rd June from 4pm to 7pm.

An unusual nomination

Apparently the Labour party is looking for a new General Secretary.

(Now there would be a job from Hell!)

Liberal Conspiracy makes an unexpected nomination here.

Don Paskini argues that

"For me, there is one obvious candidate.

"Someone who is a legendary fundraiser, whose name is synonymous with raising money to win elections. Someone who has experience of turning round out of touch political parties, and of supporting candidates to run effective local campaigns.

"Someone who is relentlessly focused on the priorities of voters, and whose most recent research showed how Labour could exploit Tory weaknesses on crime and the NHS, and which showed that arguments like “Labour should take the Big Society seriously” are utterly marginal to voters’ concerns.

"Someone whose appointment would be a clear sign that Labour has abandoned tribalist politics and is prepared to reach out and work together with others.

"Someone who is a successful businessman and a patron of charities, who has combined this with enormous political experience and who knows how to deal with the media.

"As Tony Blair once said, Labour is at its best when at its boldest. The time has come for Labour to choose the General Secretary who meets all the requirements and who can lead them to victory at the next election.

Lord Ashcroft."

Fortunately for the Conservatives, the Labour party are not likely to take Don's excellent advice and I doubt if Michael Ashcroft would accept the job if offered.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Rest in Peace

The act of commemoration in St Nicholas's chapel at noon today was short, simple, well attended, and very moving.

May all those who died in the terrible events a year ago today rest in peace.

This week's commemoration events

Residents across Copeland are being invited to take part in a two-minute silence at noon today , in memory of those who lost their lives on June 2 last year.

A short act of remembrance will also be held at St Nicholas’ Garden from 11.55am until noon, which will end with a two-minute silence.

Two community days are being held in Whitehaven and Seascale next weekend for people to get together to reflect and remember.

Each event marking the tragic anniversary will remember those who died and were injured.

The Rev John Bannister said: “This first anniversary is an important one for all of the communities of West Cumbria who were so disturbed by events.

“It is by the strength and fortitude of the communities affected that we have come through the last year with the compassion and dignity which defines the people of West Cumbria.

“This anniversary will, I pray, provide some strength and support to us all as we continue along the long and painful road of recovery.”

A summer fete style community day, with a variety of stalls, will be held at St Nicholas’ Gardens in Whitehaven on Saturday between 11am and 5pm. This will include another silence at 12.30pm.

A concert will be held in the grounds of the church in the afternoon and will feature soprano Joan Rodgers and world-renowned pianist Sam Hayward. A string quartet will also be performing at the event.

A separate community day is being held in Seascale on Sunday, including a barbecue, face painting, games, an art exhibition and BMX display and competitions.

An open air service will be held between 6pm and 6.30pm near to Seascale Castle on the front.

As an act of remembrance today, residents are being encouraged to light a candle and display it in their window as a sign of solidarity with and respect for those who lost their lives. Organised by some members of the clergy, the act will be a simple way to remember the tragedy. It is suggested people either light a tea light or battery powered candle to put in windows as a mark of respect.

Kevin Bethwaite, fire service station manager, said: “Whilst we don’t want to be negative and steer people away from showing their support, we do want people to be aware of their own personal safety. Try to avoid using a naked flame in a window or in close proximity to window furnishings.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Bravest of the Brave

I have been listening with admiration to the stories of the young servicement who were decorated by the Queen today for their bravery in Afghanistan.

Whatever you may think of the situations our political leaders get them into, there can be no doubt that we are most fortunate to have so many very brave and dedicated people who are willing to risk their lives for their country by serving in our armed forces.