Showing posts from May, 2012

Survey shows majority support for MRWS process

The results of the consultation about whether Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria should take part on the process for find a long term solution for the safe management of radioactive waste were presented in public at a meeting in Whitehaven last week. A survey commissioned as part of the consultation showed that a majority of responses from Cumbria as a whole, and a large majority of responses from Copeland, supported taking part in that process. (See note at bottom of this post.) Full details of the consultation responses can be found online at the MRWS (Managing Radioactive Waster Safely) website at . Despite the silly publicity stunts from the Anti-Nuclear lobby, and the much more reasonable concerns of people who are afraid that their immediate localities might be proposed as sites for a repository and do not think the areas concerned suitable, I am quite sure that the consultation responses do reflect majority opinion on the specific questions asked.

Not an easy thing to live with

I have some sympathy for the comments which Prince William made this week about how he regretted that his mother died before he met Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge and his wife, and that Princess Diana had therefore never met her or been able to attend their wedding. As my own mother died some five years before I met my wife I have a good idea how he feels about this. It's a bittersweet thing when one of the best things in your life cannot be shared with your mother. The same thing is true, possbly even more so, with what is likely to come next, which is when you become a parent yourself. Another of the most wonderful things in life: and when you and your partner start your own new family it usually makes you value all the more the family you came from. The flip-side of this, and the biggest regret of my life - something which puts minor agonies like losing an election into perspective - is the fact that my parents, who very much wanted to be grandparents, did not li

Guilty until proven innocent ?

This lunchtime the BBC reported on the arrest of two people in connection with a truly terrible house fire in which six children died. The initial report identified the people who had been arrested. The BBC then cut to a live interview with a senior police officer involved with the case who wa appealing for anyone who knew anything which might shed light on the circumstances of the fire to come forward. He began his remarks by emphasising that the police had not released the identities of the people who had been arrested, adding that it was extremely important not to have the kind of press coverage which might prejudice the minds of potential jurors and make it impossible for anyone who might eventually be charged to get a fair trial. And at the very time that the police spokesman was emphasising that they had not named the individuals who had been arrested and explaining why care was needed in reporting the case to ensure a fair trial, the BBC had a banner up at the bottom of the scr

A question for Alex Salmond & the "Yes" campaign

I see that the campaign for Scottish Independence has been launched by First Minister Alex Salmond. One of the many question that he, and the "Yes" campaign, will need to answer before the vote on whether Scotland leaves the UK is What would an independent Scotland do with the existing nuclear waste from Scottish nuclear power plants? The SNP are anti-nuclear, a policy which I profoundly disagree with, but if Scotland votes "Yes" they will have the right to decide whether to build new nuclear power plants or not. Whatever decision they take would not alter the fact that nuclear power plants which have already been in operation over the past sixty years in Scotland, providing electricity to Scottish customers, have already generated substantial quantities of nuclear material. Personally I am a strong supporter of making our existing stock of nuclear by-products an asset rather than a liability by reprocessing it and re-using it to generate more low-carbon elect

Metal theft: government looking again at tougher penalties

The government has taken some steps on metal theft but I believe that more still needs to be done. I was saddened to see that that commemorative plaques have been stolen from a number of graves in Beckenham cemetary, including that of the father of Croydon MP Gavin Barwell, who is well known to many Conservative activists because he used to have an important campaigning role at CCHQ before becoming an MP. However, I was encouraged by the response from Sir George Young when Gavin raised the issue in the Commons. Hat tip to Conservative Home (see link at right) for drawing my attention to this exchange: Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): "Last night I learned that the plaque marking my father’s grave has been stolen, along with a huge number of other plaques in Beckenham cemetery. I am sure that all Members share my utter contempt for people who would steal, and trade in, such memorials. The Government have taken some action in relation to the scrap metal industry, but ma

Cameron was right to meet the Dalai Lama

A senior Chinese leader has cancelled a proposed trip to the UK. China's chief legislator Wu Bangguo - officially second ranking in China's hierarchy - is on a tour of Europe. According to the BBC "Sources say the cancellation came after China learned that British PM David Cameron planned to meet the Dalai Lama." David Cameron and Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama in London earlier this month. At the time, China's foreign ministry said the meeting had "seriously interfered with China's internal affairs". Personally I think this kind of pathetic gesture politics only serves to make the Chinese government look like a childish and spiteful gang of bullies, as when they compared the Dalai Lama to a Nazi war criminal. Those who want to see human rights and religious freedom in Tibet, China, or anywhere else in the world are not the enemy of the Chinese people, or of the nation of China. If the Chinese government chooses to see people as their

Farewell to the creator of a great modern nuisance

"Any man's death diminishes me" so I will resist the temptation to say anything celebratory about the death yesterday of the creator of one of the two most annoying inventions of the 20th century. Eugene Polley, the inventor of the television remote control, has died at the age of 96. On the Today programme they suggested that if he had gone into the "Dragon's Den" with his proposal for the first TV remote when he first invented it in 1955, they would have laughed him off the show. Oh, how I wish that that programme had been around at the time to do just that and kill the idea. To be fair to Eugene Polly, the aspect of his invention which is such an absolutely infuriating nuisance is not so much the existence of the remote control as the fact that so few Televisions and similar items of equipment have a control panel on them any more. They all depend on the remote control. With the result that when somebody, usually a small person, picks up the wre

The IMF on getting Britain growing

It has been quite interesting to compare what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said about Britain's performance with the headlines in the way it has been reported. The IMF report said that the UK had made "substantial progress" towards achieving a more sustainable budgetary position and reducing fiscal risks. Pointing to what it called the "global importance" of the UK's financial centre, the report praised policies that have helped to build up capital "buffers" at banks, and the strengthening of regulation within the UK. IMF head Christine Lagarde gave a strong endorsement to the coalition government's actions: She said that "The gain that resulted from the fiscal consolidation that was decided two years ago has been that result, the credibility of the UK government and its ability to borrow at extremely favourable rates. "Sometimes you feel like you could look back and wonder 'what if?'. And when I t

Is Tony Blair the right man to keep Scotland in the Union?

I suspect that Alex Salmond will have been quietly chuckling into his porridge at the news of Alistair Darling's comments that Tony Blair will have an important role in the "No" campaign for the Scots independence referendum. There was a time when Tony Blair was popular with many people throughout the UK including Scotland, and the image he presented of a fresh, modern leader, more open and inclusive, honest and free from sleaze, had a great deal of appeal. He maintained that appeal for a long time, which is how he won three consecutive general elections - a feat which only Margaret Thatcher in the modern era ever equalled. Unfortunately for the Blair legend, too much of the reality of his administration eventually seeped into the public awareness for him to retain that popularity - and I suspect that is as true in Scotland as it is in the rest of Britain. I hope for the sake of an honest debate about the best interests of Scotland that the "No" cam

Results of Nuclear Waste Consultation

The results of the MRWS consultation of the views of residents of Cumbria about nuclear waste disposal will be presented at a partnership meeting in Whitehaven Civic Hall on Tuesday 22nd May. The meeting will run from 9.30 am to 4pm and is open to the public.

Feel Free to Insult Me

That's the slogan being used by an incredibly diverse group of people, some of whom are normally "sworn enemies" who are campaigning for a change to Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act. This law is meant to protect people against threatening or abusive behaviour, unjust discrimination, incitement and violence. In practice all these things have always been illegal and rightly so - prior to the act someone who, for example, used language which was likely to cause or incite a riot would probably have been charged with "conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace." This doesn't necessarily mean it was wrong to clarify the law so as to make it absolutely clear that these things are illegal. But protecting people against threats or incitement to violence is one thing: the law should not attempt to protect people against hurt feelings, because such a law is all too easy to turn round and use to attack freedom of speech or belief. And unfortun

Lancashire and Cumbrian versions of a Yorkshire ditty

One of the mercifully few things on which my wife and I rather fail to agree is the song "On Ikley Moor baht 'at." I think it's one of the best things ever to come out of Yorkshire: my wife doesn't like it. Although the song was adopted as an unofficial Yorkshire anthem, the tune was originally from Kent. It is called Carnforth, was composed by the Canterbury cobbler Thomas Clark around the start of the nineteenth century and was first published in 1805 as a setting for "Grace 'tis a charming sound" by Philip Doddridge. However, it soon became more widely known as a tune for "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks." The story I have heard about how it came to be associated with Ilkey Moor in Yorkshire is that a choral society was visiting Ilkey, had been practicing "While Shepherds watched" to the tune Carnforth, and that during their lunch break one of the Sopranos and one of the Basses went for a walk together on the moor. The res

Democracy in Copeland

I'm not a big fan of anonymous letters and comments. Unfortunately it is sometimes necessary to listen to them, because there are times when people will only speak up anonymously, it is sometimes the case that people feel that they will be victimised if they openly express their views. The extraordinary letter below which appeared last week in the Whitehaven News from an anonymous Labour councillor is a case in point. "SIR – The frankly shameful way in which Copeland Borough Council’s leadership has tried to absolve itself of blame for the stadium fiasco is almost as embarrassing as the fiasco itself Whatever the rights and wrongs of the scheme, and I feel sure that many others will pontificate about its merits or otherwise, the way in which the Pow Beck scandal has unravelled serves to highlight a problem; namely that the leader of Copeland, Elaine Woodburn, is too powerful and seldom held to account. The Labour group, of which I’m at times like this ashamed to admit I’m a me

Metal Thieves risking lives again

Again the metal theives have been putting the lives of innocent people in Cumbria at risk, this time by nearly causing a gas explosion. At some stage between Saturday and Wednesday, metal theives stole copper piping from the Gospel Hall chapel in Maryport. This resulted in what police described as a "significant" gas leak which could have had "very serious consequences." On this occasion, and by the grace of God, the leak was discovered and plugged before anything ignited the gas. But there could easily have been a devastating explosion. In the early hours of 12th March this year, a bungalow near Wisbech in Cambridgeshire was destroyed by a gas leak caused by metal thieves who had stolen pipes in exactly the same sort of offence. The bungalow was being renovated, and thieves broke in over the weekend to steal the piping, which caused the leak. A police inspector said it was “sheer luck” that nobody was killed or seriously injured in the blast, but the explosion ripp

Police and Crime Commissioner elections

Overview The first ever elections for Police and Crime Commissioners will be held on 15 November 2012. Each of the 41 police force areas in England and Wales outside of London, including Cumbria, will directly-elect a Commissioner. Commissioners are at the heart of the Government's programme of decentralisation, where power is returned to people and communities. Instead of bureaucratic, Whitehall-led control of the police we will see democratic accountability with the public having more say over how their area is policed. What will Police and Crime Commissioners do? Commissioners will be local figures with powerful mandates from the public to drive the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour. Commissioners will decide policing strategy and the force budget. They will set the local council tax precept and appoint - and if necessary dismiss - the chief constable. And all of this will be done on behalf of the public who elect them. Police and Crime Commissioners will replace

Contrived Argument of the week ...

... was presented by Labour's former Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham during an interview on BBC news today. He wriggled uncomfortably as he sought to justify the argument that his refusal to publish "risk registers" when he was a cabinet minister was in the public interest but that the present government's refusal to publish risk registers was to be condemned in the most apocalyptic terms. Although I was not convinced by the distinction Burnham drew between "Strategic" risk registers and "Transitional" ones, this argument might have been worth listening to had it been expressed in more reasonable language, e.g. if he had accepted that there would be legitimate arguments for and against publication for both types of risk register but argued that the balance of public interest might be different from case to case. As it was he sought to present his decision to refuse to publish risk registers as a responsible action but that of his oppone

A good woman sent abroad to lie for her country ...

Argentina has said that the controversial advert showing one of their athletes for the London 2012 Games running up and down on a war memorial in the Falkland Islands and describing the Islands as "Argentine soil" was not designed to antagonise Britain. The advertising agency that are responsible for the advert, Young & Rubicam, have asked the Argentinian government to pull it. But the Argentine ambassador to Britain has defended the advert. When asked whether the advert was meant to provoke Britain, she replied: "I hope not, I really hope not, because this is not meant to be a provocation." In the words of the Duke of Wellington, "If you will believe that you will believe anything."

Who should be on trial in Turkey?

I was surprised and disappointed when I learned that a court hearing has taken place in Turkey in which the authorities are prosecuting the Duchess of York over her involvement in a TV documentary, broadcast as part of the "Tonight" programme in 2008, which suggested that there was mistreatment of children in state orphanages in Ankara. Now I am not one of those who always leaps to the conclusion that Turkey is in the wrong whenever they are criticised. They are not perfect - what nation is? But they have made enormous strides in the past hundred years. Less than a century ago they still had a society straight out of the middle ages: since them Turkey has become a democracy, however imperfect, which has their own version of the separation of church and state, where the constitution and the rule of law means something. While I would not condone the treatment of moderate Kurdish politicans as though they were terrorists, I know from personal experience that Turkey does have

A childish piece of poor taste

The Olympics are supposed to be above partisan politics whether internal to a particular country or between countries. Of course, that does not stop politicians using the games to get some favourable publicity, but using them to score partisan points is generally, and rightly, frowned on. So the propaganda advert put together by Fly Films and bought and screened by the Argentine government, would have been a bit naughty even without the war memorial scene. The advert showed an Argentine athlete, Fernando Zylberberg, who was secretly filmed training for the Olympics in iconic places in the Falklands Islands, where he was supposed to be taking part in a marathon, with the caption "To compete on English soil we train on Argentine soil." Had the advert merely shown Zylberberg in Port Stanley and outside the Globe tavern, the most sensible reaction would probably have been to ignore it. What moves this advert, however from the territory of a minor act of childishness whi

Boris is back

London Mayor final result including second preferences: Johnson (Conservative) 1,054,811 Livingstone (Labour) 992,273

Local Votes in many areas today

Many parts of Britain have local elections or referenda today. Naturally with our London-centric media, and because it is the biggest single election which takes place in the UK, the most attention has gone to the election for London Mayor. But there are also elections in many other parts of the country - for example, all those English district councils which come up by thirds have an election for one seat in all their three-member wards today. And a number of large towns and cities are voting on whether to replace their council leader by a directly-elected Mayor. These are local votes to decide how the local city, borough or district should be run. Unfortunately it is likely that various cretins in the media will describe these local polls as "this year's main test of the popularity" of national politicians. Well they're not. They are the one real opportunity to hold the LOCAL COUNCIL to account. Copeland does not, sadly, have local elections this year. If

Speech Impediment

The red-top newspapers today have not given the new England football coach the best of starts, making much of his difficulty in pronouncing the letter "R." "Bwing on the Euwos" was the Sun headline. Problems with the aspiration of this particular letter are one of the most common speech difficulties, and I recall that some three decades ago one of Britain's most senior politicians, who indeed had the same first name as the new England manager (Roy), suffered from the same issue. In the mid 70's, having been appointed as President of the European Commission, Roy Jenkins in turn appointed David Marquand as his chef de cabinet. Jenkins then made a valedictory speech to the Parliamentary Labour party, in which he said he was leaving them "without rancour." At least, that's what he mean to say, but the "r" came out as a "w" prompting the wags to comment "I thought he was taking David Marquand." Whatever the tabloi

More SNP Nonsense on stilts

I commented a few months ago that the SNP policy of allowing students from all parts of the EU other than England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to attend Scottish Universities for free, while singling out residents of those three countries for a charge is blatantly discriminatory and, to borrow an old expression, nonsense on stilts. At the time there was a suggestion that this policy would be challenged in the courts. I wrote that I would much rather see even the daftest of government policies, whether in Scotland, the UK, or anywhere else, overturned in the ballot box rather than the courts, but I thought that the challenge would be a strong one. If the Scottish government wanted to make a policy that students normally resident in Scotland should be entitled to free University Education, but that ALL students not normally resident in Scotland should have to pay a fee, that is a decision which they should be entitled to make. I realise that such a policy may be challenged by other E