Sunday, April 29, 2012

Swimathon 2012 result

I completed the Swimathon this afternoon - 200 lengths of Hensingham pool, which is 5,000 metres - in about an hour and 48 minutes. I was one of seven local swimmers who took part in Copeland today, and of thousands who took part around the country.

Thanks again to those who have already sponsored me to take part in Swimathon 2012 to raise money for Cancer care, and who have helped me to meet and exceed my fundraising target.

You can see my fundraising page on  the swimathon website here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A big thank you

.. to all those who have sponsored me in the Swimathon this coming Sunday and supported Marie Curie cancer care.

My sponsors have included work colleagues, family, friends, and people I know from politics including Conservatives, Labour supporters, and people of no particular political view.

In all cases it is much appreciated.

I had invited people to try to top the gentleman who wrote on my sponsorship page that he would multiply his donation by ten if I did the swim in Whitehaven harbour. My boss duly suggested that the T-shirt I wore in the picture on the sponsorship page should have "Keeping the tories afloat" on it.

Since people whose politics differs from mine have been kind enough to sponsor me I have not taken up the suggestion, though it did make me chuckle!

Swimathon 2012 final reminder

Thanks again to those who have already sponsored me to take part in Swimathon 2012 to raise money for Cancer care.

If anyone wants to try to top the gentleman who posted that if I swim the 5,000 metres in Whitehaven harbour he will multiply the amount of sponsorhip by ten, do go ahead!

This will be the nineteenth consecutive year I have taken part. I plan to swim 5,000 metres at Copeland pool this Sunday (29th April). My son and daughter are also planning to do the "Simply Swim" challenge this year.

The National Swimathon is 26 years old this year and is taking place this  weekend (27th to 29th April 2012).

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

Anyone who would like to sponsor me and support Marie Curie cancer care can do so at the swimathon website here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stadium Fiasco - the latest Copeland Council disaster

I was on record while I was a Copeland Councillor as expressing my concern at whether the stadium proposals were workable, sustainable, or realistic. And I had the greatest doubts over the ability of Copeland Borough Council under its present leadership to deliver them.

I take no pleasure in being proved right in a way which is humiliating for Copeland and West Cumbria.

This week the backers of the proposal for a stadium at Pow Beck - Copeland Borough Council, Whitehaven Rugby League Club and Whitehaven Amateur Football Club - belatedly admitted that their present plans for a stadium at Pow Beck are not cost effective. Both I and Councillor David Moore, leader of the Conservative opposition on Copeland BC,  told them that fifteen months ago.

They have also accepted that it is not possible to deliver the new stadium in time to host planned Rugby World Cup games in 2013. To say that the loss of these games is a disappointment for the area is something of an understatement.

David Moore said this week that

“It is a complete and utter embarrassment. Too many people have chosen to ignore advice, with the result that we have now lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, not only that but two prestigious World Cup matches.

“On numerous occasions I have asked for information to show it would be financially viable and to pull back until proved otherwise.

“We should now start with a blank sheet and have a complete evaluation which would bring back into play the possibilities of moving the project to Copeland Athletics Stadium, which already has fine sporting facilities and room for expansion.

“I take little satisfaction in being vindicated over this but have never wavered from my stance. I have never seen any evidence to show that Pow Beck would be sustainable – but as I say, too many peopled have chosen to ignore advice at some considerable cost.

“Now we have an opportunity to look somewhere else such as Copeland Stadium – but not Pow Beck.”

Copeland's MP described the situation as a "Humiliating shambles." Indeed.

He said that  "There’s no place for amateurism in the development of west Cumbria. Those not up to it should get out of the way and leave it to those who know how to do it."

Does this mean that he will be asking his local Labour party to deselect most of the senior Labour councillors for the area?

Monday, April 23, 2012

How many pass-codes do you have to memorise?

Some twenty-eight years ago, while four digit "Personal Identification Numbers" were new, I remember there being some concern about whether people would be able to remember them. Certainly I used to carry a note of the number of my first chip and PIN card, carefully disguised so that a person who found it would not realise what it was.

The other day I tried to come up with a count of how many passcodes, identification numbers, and passwords I have had to memorise for regular daily use - first the ones I use sufficiently frequently that I have actually memorised them, and then the ones which I still have to write down. The first frightening thing is how many there are, and the second frightening thing is that this number of codes is probably not at all unusual for a person in a white collar or management job.

Between work, bank details, and other important systems, I have successfully memorised the following eleven identifiers

* Three PIN codes with four digits

* Two PIN codes with eight digits

* One numerical identifier with nine digits

* Five passwords consisting of combinations of letters and numbers.

One of two of these, of particular importance, have to be changed and re-memorised every few months. Several of them are part of a multiple-check system, e.g. they can only be used in combination with a particular item.

In addition to this, there are another six numbers and codes of significant importance which I regularly need to use but can get away with writing down or letting computers remember for me.

Of those seventeen codes and identifiers, I think I have used at least nine so far today, an average of twice each, and what's more that is probably signficantly lower than my normal weekday average use of these codes.

I doubt if this is terribly unusual among people doing management, professional or other white collar roles in Britain today.

It is nothing short of  amazing what the human brain can do, and come to do without even thinking about it. Indeed, if I did have to stop and think when using Chip and Pin to buy something, using the security checks which I routinely have to complete to get into the building where I work, or log onto any of the computer systems I use, it would probably be far harder.

If you'd told me back in 1984 that in less than thirty years I would routinely expect to have to use nearly twenty codes and identifiers, many of them much more complex than four digits, I'd probably have been horrified. Fortunately the increased number of codes and security checks has increased gradually over that time so it has been possible to acclimatise to it.

I don't see things getting easier any time soon, as increasing threats of cyber-crime will mean that we have to be ever more cautious. Perhaps in my children's lifetime, reliable and secure DNA readers will make it possible to instantly prove who they are without having to memorise large numbers of security codes. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

I'd be interested to hear from any reader of this blog how easy or oppressive they find coping with all the numbers and codes they have to memorise.

Happy St George's Day

If you were setting up a Patron Saint for England today, it is most unlikely that you would select St George.

The strongest contender would probably be St Alban, the first known Christian martyr in these islands, who has going for him that

1) he definately existed
2) he actually lived in England
3) although we know little about him, it is almost certain that he gave his life to protect another individual from unjust persecution and for his new Christian faith
4) the site of his death has been commemorated and has been a continuous place of worship for not far short of two thousand years

By comparison St George may not have existed at all, probably never set foot within a thousand miles of England and certainly never lived here, and the most famous story about him, the story of the dragon, has at best been transformed into legend by a series of distortions and is at worst complete fantasy.

What St George has going for him, however, is that English people have honoured his memory for many centuries, certainly since at least the fourteenth century. And where you have a tradition like that, there is something very sad. almost like vandalism, in ripping it up.

As I know from being married to an Irishwoman, of the four ancient Kingdoms of the British Isles, all the other three take their patron saints, and those saints' days, far more seriously than England currently takes St George or his special day. It's easy to miss St George's day in a way that you would never, for instance, fail to notice St Patrick's day in an Irish household.

Until fairly recently, you never used to see the flag of St George - although these days it is often flown when there is a major sporting event involving and England team.

And this is sad. Although I think of myself as British rather than English - my ancestry is a mix of English and Scot, I have an Irish wife and had a Welsh uncle - it's quite possible to be proud of the English part of my heritage without rejecting the British or Scottish parts.

So let us enjoy St George's day today and remember all the good things about England. Like every nation on earth, the English have their faults, but there are plenty of wonderful things about England.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mayor cleared

I was very pleased to learn that the Mayor of Copeland, Councillor John Jackson, has been cleared of the charges made against him by an anonymous complainant.

I could not believe that John would ever have made the remark he was supposed to have made, and none of the people who were at the event concerned who I have spoken to had heard him say anything of the sort. Indeed, several Labour supporters and councillors have made a point of openly and publicly rejecting the charges against John.

One Labour councillor - John Kane - who was at the White Mare on the night in question, wrote on the Whitehaven News website that he had not heard anything of the sort, and that the person responsible for the allegation should "hang their head in shame."

The allegations have been investigated and no case to answer has been found.

I have often been involved, in various capacities, in trying to persuade people to put their names forward for public office. We need people with integrity to put their names in the frame if democracy is to work. And one of the most infuriating aspects of the task of persuading people to stand is that I have to admit to anyone who puts their head above the parapet that there is a chance that you might be made the subject of politically moticated false allegations of improper conduct such as corruption or racism. Needless to say, the more honorable a potential candidate is, the more likely they are to really hate the idea of being publicly accused of anything of the sort.

For this purpose I don't care what party someone is a member of, making false allegations of racism or any other form of serious misconduct is not a valid campaign tactic. It brings the whole of politics into even more disrepute than it already is, makes it harder to get good people involved, and indeed, makes it less likely if true allegations should be made on another occasion that they will be believed and acted on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Swimathon 2012 reminder

Thanks to those who have already sponsored me to take part in Swimathon 2012 to raise money for Cancer care.

Even including the gentleman who posted that if I swim the 5,000 metres in Whitehaven harbour he will multiply the amount of sponsorhip by ten!

This will be the nineteenth consecutive year I have taken part. I plan to swim 5,000 metres at Copeland pool a fortnight today on Sunday 29th April. My son and daughter are also thinking about taking part this year.

The National Swimathon is 26 years old this year and will be taking place over the weekend of 27th to 29th April 2012.

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

In West Cumbria you can take part at Copeland pool in Hensingham on Sunday 29th, with sessions starting at 9 am and 12 noon.

Other locations in Cumbria where you can take part include:

* Appleby Swimming Pool

* The Park Leisure Centre, Barrow-in-furness

* In Carlisle you can choose from Morton Pool & Fitness Centre,
Richard Rose Morton Academy, or The Pools Swimming Centre And Health Centre

* Cockermouth Leisure Centre

* Lakes Leisure, Kendal

* Keswick Leisure Pool

* Penrith Leisure Centre

* Workington Pool

Anyone who would like to sponsor me and support Marie Curie cancer care can do so at the swimathon website here.

Anyone who interested in signing up to take part in the swim themselves can do so at the Swimathon 2012 website at

Saturday, April 14, 2012

To split or not to split

I do hope that the debate on the future of the Union becomes a bit more constructive and even tempered - on both sides - than it has sometimes been recently in the run up to the Scottish referendum on Independence.

Both my parents had ancestors on both sides of the border between England and Scotland, and I think of myself as British rather than English. I am proud of both my English and Scots ancestors and would greatly regret the breakup of the UK.

But if a significant part of any of the nations within the United Kingdom wishes to break away, the decision must be made through the ballot box.

Whether the eventual vote is a "Yes" or "No" it is vital that the debate and the final vote are seen on both sides, particularly by whoever loses, as fair.

If Scotland does break away, we need to ensure that the divorce is amicable because an acrimonious split and a poor starting relationship between the two (or more) countries which replaced the UK would have the potential to do great damage to England and Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland). If Scotland votes "No" to independence it is important that the continuing union is not poisoned by cries of foul play from those who had voted unsuccessfully to leave.

Which is why the acrimony over the past few days inspired by the cover of "The Economist" is a bad sign.

Yesterday's issue of "The Economist" magazine published a leader and two further articles about the Scottish economy and the economic case for and against Scots Independence. The articles were interesting and deserved serious consideration by both sides of the debate, but it was the cover illustration and a picture of First Minister Alec Salmond which accompanied the main analysis piece which has provoked the sound and fury.

"The Economist" magazine, which was founded by a Scotsman more than a century ago, has a tradition of deliberately provocative covers which usually turn out to relate to much more balanced articles. Yesterday's front page cover has had the Nats spitting blood and Salmond completely losing it.

The controversial cover, with the headline "It'll cost you" consists of a map of Scotland labelled "Skintland" and various cities and geographical features similarly renamed - Edinburgh becomes "Edinborrow (twinned with Athens)," Inverness becomes "Inamess," the Highlands become "Highinterestlands" and the Grampians become the "Grumpians." A picture inside the magazine depicts Alex Salmond costumed as a king from the middle ages, against the background of a highlands castle, but with one hand black, apparently from oil, and a petrol pump dripping oil in the other.

You can read the main article on "The Economist" magazine's website here, complete with the picture of Alex Salmond, and an item about the resulting row on the Mail's website, including the controversial cover picture and an abridged version of the Economist's leader article here.

The First Minister, whatever your view of his beliefs, is usually an extremely canny media operator. So I was astonished to read that he reacted by warning the magazine that they would "rue the day" they published this piece. The exact quote, according to the Guardian, was

"They shall rue the day they thought they'd have a joke at Scotland's expense."

Personally I don't think the Economist cover image was particularly funny or clever, although the actual articles, which were much more nuanced, were excellent.

As someone who thinks of myself as British but is part English and part Scot, my reaction to the front cover was "Uh Oh." If they had kept their tempers the nationalists might well have been able to turn the front cover image back against unionism, which is what they are obviously trying to do.

But Salmond's response has made the story about him - in context it sounds like a bit of an over-reaction, out of context the words "rue the day" come close to sounding nasty.

What the First Minister appears to be saying is that the article represents the views of a certain strata of the London intelligentsia who have a "sneering" view of everywhere north of Watford and will be sorry if their arrogance drives Scotland into voting for Independence.

He's dead wrong, not because that stratum of the London elite doesn't exist - they certainly do, and their arrogance is every bit as annoying to many parts of England, such as Cumbria, as to Scots - but because that kind of person would not give a damn if Scotland chooses to walk away. The real Unionists do care about the whole of the United Kingdom and care if Scotland leaves precisely because we do value Scotland - and Wales, and Ireland.

And it would be a tragedy if the debate were framed around insults and spoof maps instead of the real issues of economic gains and losses, and all the knotty legal and practical problems which will have to be addressed if Scotland votes to leave.

One such issue that particlarly occurs to be, perhaps because of where I am sitting while I write this article, is the issues of power supply in general and nuclear power in particular. I live about twelve miles from the main United Kingdom stockpiles of nuclear by-products, including a hundred tons of plutonium and many tons of lower level nuclear by-products. A significant proportion of the nuclear waste at Sellafield and the Low Level respository near Drigg came from nuclear plants in Scotland.

When Sellafield stores or reprocesses nuclear waste from foreign countries, these countries pay the British nuclear industry far from inconsiderable sums of money, and the contracts provide for the eventual return of the nuclear material.

If Scotland becomes a foreign country, are they going to take back their nuclear waste, or are they going to pay the nuclear industry here in Cumbria the going international rate to deal with it, or a mix of both?

If the people of Scotland are to be presented with realistic proposals for independence so that they can make an informed choice, the advocates of independence will need to have answers to many such questions.

Monday, April 09, 2012

How Gordon Brown made us borrow from our children

Opinion polls and the Bradford West by-election suggest that none of the mainstream parties are very popular with the public at the moment and I can fully understand that.

Whoever had won the 2010 election would have been left a terrible mess to sort out and been forced to decided, now whether to kick everybody, including vulnerable people, in the teeth, but how and when to kick everybody in the teeth.

There is a particularly good article in the Telegraph today by Ruth Porter, entitled "Gordon Brown’s poisonous legacy lives on" which describes some of the worst aspects of the situation inherited by the present coalition government, particularly the fact that the benefits changes under Gordon Brown "systematically pulled families with children into the benefits system" with the consequence that by 2010 "the state was the main provider for a third of all UK households."

The first problem with this is that it was one of the major reasons why government spending reached 50% of GDP, the budget defecit reached the unsustainable position where the government was spending four pounds for every three coming in, and the government's debts reached 1.2 trillion pounds.

Effectively the people behind this policy made families with children feel better off for a few years - at the price of running up debts for the country which we will still be paying off when those children, have become adults. Effectively Gordon Brown gave us money by borrowing from our children's future.

The second problem is that it enormously extended the dependency culture, e.g. making people dependent on the state instead of themselves.

The third problem is that when economic reality finally bit and a government of whatever colour finally had to move back towards economic balance or face a Greek-style crisis, the massive expansion of such benefits made it certain that any government trying to keep the country solvent would be handicapped by the need to remove benefits from large numbers of people in the "Squeezed middle" and squeeze them even harder.

As Ruth Porter points out, it is vital that any changes to the benefits system must

"take into account how benefit and tax changes alter our behaviour – for example, whether they make us spend more or less, take a job or accept a promotion or decide to employ someone. It is change on this scale that makes the biggest difference to people’s household incomes.

"The big picture is that the Coalition needs to sort out the economy, rebalance the books and wean us all off state dependency. It is families with children who have most to gain here. Surely we want future generations to grow up in a country with jobs, great schools and hospitals and without inheriting debt at dizzyingly high levels."

We must sure that everyone has incentives to work, to save, and to do the right thing for themselves and society.

You can read the full article here.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter to everyone reading this

I realise that some of the people who read this blog have a religious faith and others do not.

To those who do, I pray that the spirit of the risen lord, or whatever is the equivalent in your own creed, will be with you this Easter and evermore.

To those who do not have a religious conviction, can I express the hope that you are enjoying the Easter holiday.

To both groups, I wish you a very happy Easter.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Damned if you do ...

A few weeks ago evidence was brought to the attention of the government which suggested that the correct procedures were not being followed by some abortion clinics.

The Secretary of State for health, Andrew Lansley, asked the relevant inspectorate to carry out spot checks, on abortion clinics, which they agreed to do.

Various people, particularly members of the opposition, have been jumping up and down complaining about the Secretary of State's decision to ask for these inspections, after the details have been published of the alternative inspection work which was cancelled or deferred as a result, and of the opportunity cost of the inspections.

However, the people who are criticising Andrew Lansley about this are not always quite so quick to point out that the exercise found that more than fifty abortion clinics - slightly more than one in seven of those inspected - were not in fact complying with the law. Shadow Health secretary Andy Burnhan was careful to preface his remarks on BBC radio by accepting that the concerns which had been raised with the Secretary of State were serious.

It is always helpful after a job of work to look back at how things turned out and assess whether the action taken was successful and proportionate. I don't have a problem with people asking those questions about the decision to call for inspections. What I do have a major problem with is the people who are imputing a variety of pejorative political motivations to a minister for asking to have a potential problem investigated when he had concerns, the investigation showed he was right to have concerns, that the law was not being followed.

The laws concerned were designed to protect the position of women patients who are sometimes in a vulnerable position. If they are not being followed, that is a problem.

Suppose for a moment that Andrew Lansley had taken no action at all about his suspicions. Suppose it had subsequently come out in, say, two years' time, that over fifty clinics were failing to comply with laws designed to protect patients and staff, that the Secretary of State had been presented with evidence of this but had done nothing about it.

Could anyone reading this blog, if we were in the same physical space, look me in the eye and, with a straight face, deny that if this had been the sequence of events, most of the very same people who this week have been criticising Andrew Lansley for asking for inspections would have been criticising him, and probably demanding his resignation, for ignoring the fact that the law was being flouted,and thereby failing to protect staff and patients?

Sometimes politicians are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Lest we forget

Exactly thirty years ago a murderous fascist regime invaded the Falkland Islands.

Two hundred and fifty eight British men and women were killed in defeating that invasion.

Whatever your view of the merits of Argentina's claim to the islands, the Gatieri Junta were the ones who first resorted to force to prop up their regime, one which had been responsible for the deaths of many innocent Argentine civilians before they started the war in which they sent another 649 Argentinians to their deaths in addition to the British casualties.

The men and women of the British Task force which defeated the Argentinian invasion were not just defending Britain and the Falklands. They did the people of Argentina a favour by defeating, and thereby causing the overthow of, a tyrannical regime who were quite literally no better than criminal gangsters in uniform.

Britain can and should look back with pride on the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who died to liberate the Falklands from that regime.