Showing posts from 2012

Reflections as 2012 comes to an end

The year began with foul weather  ... and continued that way The Mayan "Long Count" calendar came to an end.  ... the world didn't. The Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee  ... Britain celebrated with her Britain hosted the most successful Olympic and Paralympic games I can ever remember  ... and inspired the nation The economy continued to be sluggish  ... but the year ended with a significant fall in unemployment driven by a rise in full-time jobs The defecit, and net migration, are down a quarter compared with 2010  ... there is a long way to go but we are headed in the right direction

An appeal to the Charity Commission

At this time of goodwill to all men, I would like to re-post here an appeal to the charity commission which was made through the pages of the Daily Telegraph - hat tip to   Conservative Home for pointing it out. You don't have to be a religious believer to agree that members of many faith groups, of whatever religion, work hard for their local communities and do a lot of good. This certainly applies to the Christian Brethren, who I have always found to be very dedicated, selfless and sincere individuals. This is what 53 MPs wrote to the Telegraph about the treatment by the Charity Commission of a Christian Brethren church in Devon “SIR – The 1601 Charitable Uses Act passed by Elizabeth I allowed for four kinds of charity: relief of poverty; advancement of education; advancement of religion; and "other purposes beneficial to the community". This definition worked for over 400 years, until the Charities Act 2006. The 2006 Act replaced the old law with a "publi

Who is really attacking the US constitution?

Many years ago I visited Washington and paid a visit to the Capitol while the US Senate was sitting. Despite being a visitor rather than a US citizen - a fact about which I was completely open - I was rapidly shown to a place in the public gallery where I was able to observe a debate. I was also given a card which quoted a section of the US constitution guaranteeing the public the right to know what their elected representatives were doing. The experience filled me with nothing but respect for the American system of democracy, and one aspect of this was how much that system respected the views and opinions of everyone in the country, visitors as well as citizens. No country has a perfect system of democracy but that in the US works as well as any. It was a Frenchman, Voltaire, to whom is usually attributed the saying " I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" but America is one of the places where that principle is most appli

TV programme of the festive season

I am sure that many people, certainly including members of my own family, have had or will have a lot of pleasure from many of the blockbusters and common favourites on the box this season, from Doctor Who and the Strictly Come Dancing christmas special to the Queen's Christmas broadcast. However, the most extraordinary and uplifting programme of the season for me was a half hour  documentary broadcast on Christmas Eve by BBC One called Martha, meals and Malawi . (Available via this link until New Year's day 2013.) This told the extraordinary story of Martha Payne, who as a nine year old girl in Scotland set up a blog called  on which she posted photographs of her school meals with her comments about them. After an ill-advised attempt by officials at Argyll and Bute council to crack down on this, (rescinded after the blog went viral and attracted millions of hits) she decided to try to raise money to help kids in a poor country, Malawi, t

Quote of the festive season

"How are they going to demonstrate that Her Majesty is on 3D? "I presume she's not going to swing a sword out at the audience?" (from a member of my family - not me - who had better remain anonymous ...)

Merry Christmas

Wherever you are, whatever your race, nationality, colour or creed, a very happy Christmas to anyone reading this, and a prosperous and healthy New Year 2013.

Thoughts on "Plebgate" during the season of goodwill

Mr first reflection on "Plebgate" is that the government and the Police Federation urgently need to repair the damage that has been done to the relationship between them and rebuild some goodwill and trust. It is not in the interests of the government, the police, or the country for them to be at loggerheads. The police have had a truly dreadful year, and the behaviour of a few officers, some of them very senior, has contributed to this, but the vast majority of ordinary coppers have not done anything to merit criticism. The police do an important, difficult and sometimes dangerous job on our behalf for which they need, and the vast majority deserve, our respect. Equally it is just as well that the incoming national chairman of the police federation wants to get a grip on his organisation. It was not the police's finest hour when Channel 4 viewers heard a recording of a meeting in which representatives of the West Midlands Police Federarion were given an account from

Still still here!

The world didn't end on the afternoon or evening of 21st December either. Still, as Jim says, Happy New Long Count!

Still here !

Well, it is mid-day on the date of perhaps the silliest "end of the world" prediction date of all time and so far we are all still here. Since as I posted last night "no-one knows the day or hour" nobody can be certain that the world might not yet end today. But if anyone wants to take me up on the million pound bet I made yesterday that the world will not end today, it is still open!

No one knows the day or hour

There are a surprising number of things on which the bible and modern scientists, often coming at things from completely different perspectives, say exactly the same thing, sometimes for entirely different reasons. One of them is that nobody can be certain when the world will end. Anyone who claims to be able to predict when the word will end from the bible clearly has not read it properly because Jesus himself said quite clearly than nobody, not even himself, knows. "No one knows the day or hour" he said, when he would come again "like a thief in the night." And equally, one of the slightly scary things about modern science is that physicists and astronomers have discovered a variety of ways in which the world as we know it could come to an end, sometimes with comparatively little warning. We'd probably have time to spot a comet or asteroid on a collision course with earth. Depending on how far out it was spotted or how many orbits away the collision

Metal theft powers used to recover miles of stolen cable

In "Operation Coast to Coast" police have used their new powers to investigate metal dealers. A series of check on 150 metal dealers througout the North West and recovered miles of stolen copper cable with a legal market value of  £10,000. The black market price as stolen wire was said to have been only £450. Perhaps at some point the penny will drop for the thieves that anyone who is clever enough to make a living by stealing and re-selling metal could make a better living by honest hard work. New rules have also seen an end to ‘no questions asked’ cash payments for metal and fines of up to £5,000 for traders not playing by the new rules. Additionally £5 million of Government funding has been set aside to create a dedicated metal theft unit. Inspector Dave Rams, North West Regional Co-ordinator said part of the operation was to “build a clear intelligence picture of how stolen metal is moved on,” and how it can be clamped down on in future.

Comments policy on this blog

I don't like blocking comments on this blog - I originally ran it without comment moderation for a long time. However, although I do not believe that insulting people should be illegal, I am not obliged to publish insults. I will usually allow comments left on this blog to go up as long as they confirm to three simple rules    1) I will not knowingly or deliberately post or allow anything which I think is libellous, actionable, or otherwise liable to give rise to legal problems. 2) I will not post or allow others to post anything which I think is offensive. Although I will not guarantee to remove anything which anybody else finds offensive - that would be a recipe for making the blog so bland it became meaningless - I have on more than one occasion taken down or reworded something which I had initially thought was acceptable because one or more readers of the blog told me they found it offensive or in poor taste. 3) When I post an obit I will not accept comments critica

House of Lords votes to reform Section 5

The vast majority of my posts on this blog are unashamedly "on message." Most of the time this does not present me with any difficulties because although no government or party is pefect, I genuinely agree with most of what the Conservative party stands for. This article is a rare exception, though I hope that by the time the issue of Section 5 of the Public Order Act comes back to the House of Commons my party will have seen sense and realised that the vote this week by the House of Lords was absolutely 100% right and should be supported by the Commons. The government has been consulting about whether this clause should be reformed. On Wednesday the House of Lords voted by 150 to 54 in favour of an amendment by  Lord Dear, a former Chief Constable and HM Inspector of Constabulary, which would remove the word "insulting" from this clause. This would mean that instead of the present situation in which the law says that "a person is guilty of an offence i

Investing in the fight against cancer

Cancer is a terrible illness that affects 1 in 3 of us during our lifetime. We are in a war against cancer, but Conservatives in government have taken the following measures to help those who suffer from cancer: *  Created the £200 million a year Cancer Drugs Fund to help people access the medicines and     treatments they need. This has already helped 23,000 patients across the country. *  Established a £15 million Radiotherapy Innovation Fund to ensure that radiotherapy     centres are ready to deliver advanced radiotherapy to patients who might benefit. *  Invested £250 million in ‘proton beam therapy’ radiotherapy cancer services in Manchester     and London to ensure 1,500 cancer patients a year can benefit from this advanced treatment. *  Committed £100 million to transform cancer treatment in England by introducing high-tech     DNA mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases within the NHS. Conservatives know how big a challenge the batt

Unemployment falls by 82,000

Good news this week as the news was released that the number of people out of work fell by 82,000 between August and October, to 2.51 million, and the last three months have seen the largest quarterly fall in unemployment since 2001. This is partly due to an increase in the number of people in work or self-employed and partly due to a net reduction in the number of people seeking work - for example because they have retired or moved into full-time-education. Employment rose 40,000 to 29.6 million, which was the highest figure since records began in 1971. This increase in employment is entirely in full time jobs - the number of people in such jobs rose by 44,000 while the number in part-time jobs fell by 4000. Youth unemployment also fell significantly. There is no room whatever for complacency, particularly as long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high. But the fact that uemployment falling is to be welcomed.


Apparently lots more people than usual are getting married today having selected the date for their special day because of the rare combination of numbers - 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of the century. They are pointing out that we won't get another combination of this exact kind for eighty-eight years and nineteen days (on New Year's Day 2101 which will be 01/01/01). However, in eight days' time there will be an even rarer date and number combination of a slightly different type and that will be the last such special combination for a very long time indeed. Next Thursday with be 20/12/2012 (the 20th day of the 12th month of 2012)! Wonder how many people are getting married then? Perhaps a bit too close to Christmas. The human brain is hardwired to spot patterns so it is not surprising that we notice things like this. Sadly there won't be anything of exactly the same type to amuse us for a long time, but somehow I suspect people will find some oth

Warm Homes discount will mean £130 off energy bills for those in need

Two million low income and vulnerable households will get a £130 discount on their fuel bills this winter.   Those being helped by the Warm Homes Discount include over 1 million of the UK’s poorest pensioners. This discount is on top of any money that is received in Winter Fuel Payments or Cold Weather Payments. Commenting on Warm Home Discount, Sarah Newton MP, said: "For 2 million low income families, the Warm Homes Discount could be the difference between having the confidence to turn the heat on or not this winter. Conservatives in Government are delivering on our commitment to help pensioners and vulnerable people with their energy bills and the cost of living. The £130 they will get off their bills this winter will provide a welcome relief after years of rising bills."

Sir Patrick Moore R.I.P.

Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore , CBE , FRS , FRAS died earlier today at the age of 89. He really was one of a kind, a fascinating and extraordinary human being who did more than almost any other figure of our age to encourage popular interest in science. He was a man of strong and outspoken views which he did not hesitate to explain at any appropriate moment no matter who might agree or disagree. He never married because his fiance and the love of his life, a nurse, was killed in World War II when a nazi bomb hit her ambulance. He once responded to criticism of certain of his very old-fashioned views with the words "I may be accused of being a dinosaur, but I would remind you that dinosaurs ruled the Earth for a very long time." Rest in Peace.

Perhaps people's memories are not that short ...

Voters are often assumed to have short memories. This does many people an injustice. I don't want to add to the childish point scoring about why Britain's economy is in such a difficult condition. No government or party can afford to be complacent about the pain which most people in this country are suffering and whether there is more that could be done to move Britian faster onto the path of recovery so that we can start to relieve that suffering, and rebuild public finances. However, let's be realistic - it's going to take many years to repay the debts which have been built up, and are continuing to mount, as a result of the huge defecits which this country has been running since the middle of the last decade. No government, of whatever party, is going to be able to throw money around on the scale that people came to expect in the first decade of the 21st century. One of the few good signs is that a lot of people clearly understand this. A Yougov survey at the

A joke too far

Everyone who has been following the tragic story of the prank call by two Aussie DJs to the King Edward VII hospital, and the subsequent death of the nurse who took the call, must begin by expressing their heartfelt sympathy to the family of Jacintha Saldanha, who was found dead earlier today. Particularly to her two children who have been left without a mother. The radio station 2Day FM's parent company, Southern Cross (SCA), has issued a statement said it is "deeply saddened by the tragic news". The statement described the DJs who made the call as "deeply shocked" and added that "they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy." Taking these two people off the air is certainly appropriate but they should not be scapegoats because they are not the only people at SCA who have questions to answer. This prank was not broadcast live: it had been pre-recorded and ha

Paying cash for scrap metal is now illegal

This week an amendment in the law comes into effect making it illegal for dealers to pay cash for scrap metal. This is one of a number of changes in the law which have been passed or are in the pipeline to cut down on the modern plague of metal theft. Let's keep up the pressure and see if we can drive the metal thieves out of business before they are responsible for someone's death.

Multinationals and Tax

Following the evidence given at the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee by Starbucks, Amazon and Google, the government is giving more resources to HMRC to crack down on aggressive tax avoidance. Good. You can read here what the The daily mash thought of Starbucks' claims that they weren't earning any profits in the UK.

George Osborne writes: "We're on the right track and we won't turn back."

Chancellor George Osborne writes on his statement today: "My message today on the economy is simple: it's a hard road, but we're making progress. And to turn back now would be a disaster. Labour's plans to borrow even more would take us back to the economic mess they created. "The economy is healing and a steady recovery is forecast. The deficit has fallen by a quarter in just two years and is forecast to go on falling. Exports to emerging markets have doubled and 1.2 million new jobs have been created in the private sector since this Government came to office. "We are doing better than many of our international competitors. We have lower unemployment than in the eurozone or the United States and next year the UK is predicted to grow faster than France or Germany. "We are on the right path, so we are sticking to the deficit plan we set out two years ago. I will not cut spending any further in this Parliament. Because the economic

Net migration has fallen by a quarter

Latest provisional figures from the Office of National Statistics, for the year ending March 2012, show both a fall in inward migration into the UK and a larger fall in net migration.   Inward migration to the UK stood at 536,000 people in the year ending March 2012, which is lower than the 578,000 who immigrated the previous year and the lowest immigration figure since 2004. The combined effect of this fall in inwards migration and a modest rise in emigration in the year ending March 2012, is that the net inward migration figure has fallen by a quarter. This significant fall in net migration shows that government policies are bringing immigration back to sustainable levels and that Britain is on course to bring net migration down from the hundreds of thousands, to the tens of thousands, by the end of this parliament.

Developing the North

  I was interested to read about a study published by a body called "The Northern Economic Futures Commission" which has spent 18 months gathering evidence about how economic growth in the North pf England could be accelerated and how this could help the British economy as a whole. The commission report points out that over the last decade the three northern regions - the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East - have been responsible for a fifth of the UK's prosperity, but London alone contributed more than a quarter. And while countries like Germany, Holland and Spain have several economically-powerful cities, the UK just has London. But above all it was concerned with how the north could help the British economy return to significant levels of growth. Why, the report asks, can't the likes of Newcastle, Leeds or Manchester be as economically significant as Stuttgart, Rotterdam or Barcelona?   The commission says it wants northern

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

I listened to Mr Justice Leveson's presentation today with great interest. The press has been on manouvers for the past few weeks, raising the spectre that if the wrong sort of decisions were taken in response to the disgraceful behaviour of some sections of the media as brought out in the evidence to the Leveson inquiry, the ability of the press to perform its' essential function as part of a free society might be compromised. Leveson said an awful lot of the right things, recognising both the valuable job done by most of the press and the damaging, extreme irresponsibility which other parts of the media have failed to play the role society needs them to play. His proposals would include giving the government a statutory duty to protect the freedom of the press, and that is certainly a good idea. He said that he does not want press regulation by the government. This is undoubtedly the right aspiration. But if may not be easy to acheive in a system set up by statute.

Ir may or may not be legal but you can stll be locked up for it!

I did a double take this morning - a very cold and frosty morning - on the way from the dentist's surgery to my office at the sight of a billboard saying words to the effect that going topless in Whitehaven is legal. I would have thought that women going topless in public except on a designated nudist beach would normally risk prosecution under the laws on decency. However, when I picked up a copy of the Whitehaven News later today there was a story, appropriately on page three (though not illustrated) about a book which has apparently just been published called "The law is an ass" with details of daft or unusual local laws. This book includes the allegation, for which the Whitehaven News was unable to track down a scintilla of supporting evidence, that a local by-law has at some point been passed allowing women in Whitehaven to go topless. Hmm. Even if this is right, someone silly enough to do it at the moment might still find themselves detained as a guest of Her

Superfast broadband comes to Cumbria

A contact signed this week between Cumbria County Council and BT, part of a project also supported by the government and by the EU, will bring superfast broadband to Cumbria. The contract was signed at Ullswater by Councillor Liz Mallinson on behalf of Cumbria C.C. and Bill Murphy for BT (left) in the presence of Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith & the Border (centre), who has campaigned for action to bring faster broadband to areas like Cumbria. This contract is part of the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme – and will mean super-fast broadband will become available to around 93 per cent of homes and businesses in Cumbria by the end of 2015. Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director for next generation access, said: “Cumbria’s scattered population combined with its comparatively large size and challenging geography, means that small business plays a pivotal role in the county’s economy and the rollout of fibre broadband will act as an economic driver for those rura

Don't be conned

One of the curses of modern society is the number of people trying to trick you out of your money by posing as someone else. Some of these attempted frauds are so obvious they wouldn't fool a savvy ten-year old, but some are very sophisticated indeed. Anybody reading this probably finds their email inbox full of messages from people pretending to be their bank (or lots of other people's banks) or their Internet Service Provider  and asking you to confirm your login details or they'll have to cut you off for security reasons. One of the most recent tricks is websites which pretend to be either a large company such as BT, or an agency through which they can be contacted, and which then overcharge any customers or potential customers who used the contact details given in an attempt to contact the company concerned For example. there are a large number of websites which pretend to be BT or associated sites and give phone numbers on which people can supposedly - or actua

Hospice at Home "Santa Dash"

Do take care if you are reading this in one of the parts of the UK which had vile weather today. Fortunately in Whitehaven, though we have had a lot of rain this week and my garden is both sodden and treacherously slippery in places, the rain held off this lunchtime and the Hospice at Home West Cumbria charity run run with the theme "Santa Dash" was able to take place. My daughter was one of the runners: my son and I were among the stewards. Congratulations to all those who took part in the run, sponsored any of the runners or helped in any other way with an emjoyable event which raised funds for this worthy cause. 

MIchael Gove on Rotherham's chilling decision

I think that anyone who votes UKIP is showing a serious failure of political judgement. But that's my opinion, and UKIP supporters are equally entitled to their different opinion and their vote. I also think that anyone who voted Labour in 2010 showed an even more catastrophic failure of political judgement, but democracy means that people have the right to use their votes in ways which I really, really strongly disagree with and I just have to live with it. Just as people who equally strongly disagree with the way I vote and the things I believe in have to live with that. The price of our freedom to hold our own opinions and vote the way we wish is that we have to extend the same freedom to others. Another part of the price of that freedom is that millions of people have fought and died to defend it. Which is why the way unelected council officials in Rotherham have taken an action which appears to strike directly at that freedom is so shocking and alarming. A couple in Ro

Time to vote out the 74 ?

The Church of England was effectively created in its' present form by Queen Elizabeth the First to be a "Broad Church" which as large as possible a proportion of the population of England could identify with and take part in. That tradition has largely been continued down the centuries. Although there have been times when the "Yes Prime Minister" joke about the compromises within the Anglican church including one between those who believe in God and those who don't has had rather more truth in it than was comfortable, the fact remains that the tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness which is an essense of what the Church of England tries to stand for has enabled that church to reach out to and help many people who would be completely unable to identify with a more dogmatic church. But the problem with any organisation built on tolerance and staying in touch with the mainstream of the people of this country is how do you deal tolerantly with those who

In Memory of C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis, best known as author of the Narnia stories though he also wrote some absolutely brilliant books about the human condition from a christian perspective such as The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters , is to get a memorial in Poets' corner at Westminister Abbey, which will be unveiled in a year's time on the 50th aniversary of his death in 1963. Many years ago, having had a letter published in The Times in which I explained why we can be certain that Jack Lewis would have fallen about laughing at some of the speculations about allegories in his writing which had appeared in the letters column, I had a note from the Oxford University C.S. Lewis society inviting me to make a donation to a memorial they were organising for him. I did make a small donation, and was pleasantly surprised a few months later to get an invitation to the unveiling of that memorial in Oxford, which was a very interesting and enjoyable occasion. It will be interesting to see how the

G8 to go to Northern Ireland

Good idea to hold next year's G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Hope one year we might have such an event come to Cumbria. In both cases it would be a big boost to tourism in the area: in both cases the area could do with that boost in these difficult times.

If you have evidence of crime, take it to the police

The whole circus around accurate and false accusations of child abuse has been deeply disturbing in both directions. It is essential to protect children from harm. Therefore anyone who has anything which remotely resembles evidence that children might be at risk should take it to the proper authorities, e.g. the police. If there is any real evidence that the police are failing to properly investigate such accusations, there then might be a role for the media in applying pressure. There is no role for the media in making childish stunts in relation to this terrible and serious crime,  such as ambusing the prime minister live on air with a set of names based on three minutes' research on the internet. Precisely because child abuse is such a terrible crime, those who are falsely accused of it can have their lives destroyed - in some cases literally. People who appear to have been innocent have committed suicide when accusations of this kind have been published. Marriages and fam

Notes from an election count

I am not a big fan of the AV system, or of the second class AV system with a first and second preference vote which is now used to elect Police and Crime Commissioners and directly-elected mayors. By a huge irony, one of the candidates who lost out this week under this system when he would have won on first past the post, John Prescott, was Deputy Prime Minister in the government which first introduced that voting system when elected mayors were first introduced. It was alleged that this was done in an attempt to stop Ken Livingston becoming mayor of London. That worked out well, Tony and John, didn't it? But the system still exists I had a ground level view of just how badly this went down with Cumbrian voters yesterday at the count, particularly when we were checking spoilt votes. I took a lot of flak this week (and earlier in the campaign), on the doorstep and at non-political meetings, from voters who complained that the election had not been adequately explained. The m

Anorak alert - reading the PCC runes

I have been looking with great interest at how the PCC contests came out around the country, and although the turnouts were low there were good things about how the results went, particularly that those who did vote appeared to be paying attention to the merits and relevant experience of individual candidates. It wasn't a particularly brilliant night for any of the political parties, and it was evident that many voters voted against candidates who they saw as too political. Twelve independents were elected. Candidates with a strong background in the justice system, such as the successful candidate in Cumbria, Richard Rhodes, who had been a magistrate for 33 years, and a significant number of former police officers, tended to do well in the election. Former ministers of both parties, such as Labour's John Prescott, tended to lose. I actually think that one of the reasons to support the new system is that it gives the voters the option to choose a non-political representative