Wednesday, May 30, 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.

Which were about taking part in the next stage of the process, and not about committing to any specific proposal for a repository in West Cumbria at this stage.

As is pointed out on the MRWS website, "If the area does decide to participate in this process, there would be extensive testing of geology and other factors. It could take around 15 years to find out if there is a suitable site. Local people would also continue to be involved and the Councils would have the right to withdraw while this work is taking place."

It is my opinion that if and when a firm proposal does come forward it should be the subject of a plebiscite in the relevant district area.

But despite the "stop the world, I want to get off" hysterics from those who oppose any or all nuclear proposal of whatever kind, it is in the best interests of Cumbria that the advantages and disadvantages of a respository should be further explored.

Whether we like it or not - and I fully accept that many people don't - the nuclear waste already exists. Whether or not we build new nuclear power stations, we already have the radioactive by products from the nuclear operations of the past sixty years to deal with. And that material is already here in West Cumbria. Starting with more than a hundred tons of plutonium oxide in the containment facility at Sellafield.

I have been shown round the Plutonium containment facility. It is probably the most secure location in the British Isles and makes Fort Knox look like a cardboard box in comparison.  In the unlikely event that Al Queda managed to hijack a couple of Jumbo Jets and crash them into that facility, even such an attack would not result in the rupture of any of the storage vessels.

Nevertheless, when we have tons of radioactive material stored in West Cumbria, it makes sense to examine options for long term storage, and whether any of those options are preferable to the present arrangements. In fact, I would argue that it would be downright irresponsible not to carry out such an investigation.

Let's not kid ourselves that there are any easy answers. And let's make sure that if West Cumbria does agree to host a repository, we get a much better deal out of if than has sometimes been the case in the past.

But refusing to consider any other options simply means that the nuclear waste in Cumbria will stay right where it is now.


Polling company Ipsos MORI surveyed more than 3,000 resident adults in Cumbria on behalf of the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership.

The results show that 51% of people in the area covered by Allerdale Borough Council supported taking part in the search for a suitable site for a deep underground disposal facility for higher activity radioactive waste compared with 37% who were opposed. 4% said they were neutral and 8% said they did not know.

In the area covered by Copeland Borough Council 68% of people supported taking part in the search for a suitable site for a deep underground disposal facility for higher activity radioactive waste compared with 23% who were opposed. 4% said they were neutral and 5% said they did not know.

In the rest of Cumbria 50% of people said they supported Allerdale and/or Copeland taking part in the search for a site for a repository compared with 35% who were opposed. 5% said they were neutral and 10% said they did not know.

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 live to see my children. My mother and father never got to hold their grandchildren; the twins missed out on another set of people to spoil them; and I never got the chance to share with my Mum and Dad how much more I appreciate all the things they did for me having become a dad myself.

But I don't want to end this reflection on a negative note, because part of coming to terms with bereavement is to recognise that you only feel the grief because what, and who, you have lost is something precious to treasure in your memory. There pain you feel when a loved one dies, and the regret at not being able to share things with them, is the price you pay for the fact that the things you wanted to share were good things, and above all, because you loved that person.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

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 screen which did identify the people who had been arrested. The banner stayed up for the better part of a minute, while the very information which the police spokesman was suggesting should not be given repeatedly flashed accross it.

Anyone who thinks back to some of the high-profile criminal cases of the last two decades should have no difficulty in understanding why the policeman was right to make the point that an accused person should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, and we should avoid publicity which might prejudice potential members of a jury.

There have been plenty of examples where a person was arrested in connection with a horrible murder and eventually proven to be completely innocent. In the meantime half the country was being led to believe that the poor devil was a vile killer. The most extreme case was Colin Stagg who was wrongly suspected of murdering Rachel Nickel on Wimbledon Common, until DNA evidence finally identified the real killer.

It is very fortunate that we have an independent judiciary in this country: had a judge not ruled that most of the so-called "evidence" against Stagg was dangerous and unfit to go before a jury, it is only too easy to see how a bandwagon could have developed which resulted in an innocent man going to prison for many years.

There is a well established legal principle against printing material which might make it impossible for a forthcoming trial to be fair, which is called the "sub judice" rule. The media have been pushing against that rule for decades, but the BBC's behaviour today was particularly blatant.

In the age of social media, it is becoming increasing difficult to control any information whether for bad reasons, to avoid embarrasment to the powerful or the guilty, or for good reasons, to defend the public interest or ensure that someone gets a fair trial. But the effort has to be made.

Otherwise who knows which of us will be next to be judged guilty until proven innocent?

The arrest of Rebecah Brooks shows only too clearly how the pendulum can swing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

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 electricity. Whether to do this with existing Scottish nuclear waste would be a decision for an independent Scotland. What an independent country which breaks away from the UK could not expect to do, however, is expect to continue to leave their nuclear waste in England while ceasing to pay for the privilege.

Here in West Cumbria we have the principal United Kingdom stockpiles of nuclear by-products, including a hundred tons of plutonium oxide 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. The companies which operate these facilities are funded by contracts, including many paid for by the UK taxpayer, so while the Scots are part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland they are paying their share of this cost.

But if Scots cease to be UK taxpayers this will no longer apply.

When Sellafield stores or reprocesses nuclear waste from foreign countries, these countries pay the British nuclear industry quite substantial 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?

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 may we have a debate on what other measures might be needed, and in particular the proposal raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s question on whether this should be an aggravating factor in sentencing?"

Sir George Young:

"I am very sorry to hear of what happened to my hon. Friend’s father’s tombstone; I understand how distressing that must be. He will know what the Prime Minister said at yesterday’s PMQs. We have already taken some steps in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, but we recognise that other measures may well be needed. The Government are actively considering what further steps we might take, such as increasing the penalties and having a better regulatory regime for scrap metal, in order to avoid distressing incidents such as that which my hon. Friend described."

Friday, May 25, 2012

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 enemies for meeting someone who has differing views to them but has always supported non-violence, that is their loss.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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 wretched remote and goes off with it, and then forgets where they've put the expletive-deleted thing, nobody can use the TV, or DVD player, or whatever until the remote has been found.

Four times the nuisance in the post digital world where some of your TV's require a set-top box, either because they are analogue or because you are using them with a satellite network or BT Vision, or because you might want to use a DVD or Blu-ray player, and every one of them has a remote which can all too easily get lost.

Mind you, of the inventions I wish had never been thought of, the TV remote is not the worst. That dubious privilege goes to the inventor of a device fitted to the steering wheel of cars which makes the indicator lights turn off when the wheel crosses the centre point in the other direction.

The feature is downright dangerous in circumstances which all too often arise. Unfortunately, if the road bends in one direction when one is about to manouver in the opposite direction, this stupid feature turns off your indicator signal, which either creates a hazard by cancelling an important signal to other road users, or creates a hazard by distracting the driver in the middle of a turn and requiring him or her to turn the indicator back on.

Where Eugene Polly's invention of the TV remote is a nuisance, this feature of most if not all modern cars is a downright menace.

Perhaps some day we will learn that some ideas can and should be dis-invented, or at least discontinued.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

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 think back myself to May 2010, when the UK deficit was at 11% and I try to imagine what the situation would be like today if no such fiscal consolidation programme had been decided... I shiver."

The Chancellor, George Osborne, welcomed the IMF's findings, saying

"The IMF couldn't be clearer today. Britain has to deal with its debts and the government's fiscal policy is the appropriate one and an essential part of our road to recovery."

He added that the IMG agree that, in their words 'reducing the high structural deficit remains essential' and make clear in their statement that they consider the current pace of fiscal consolidation to be appropriate."

Monday, May 21, 2012

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" campaign is led by authentic Scottish figures whose personal history does not detract attention from the advantages and disadvantages of staying part of the UK. For Tony Blair to take more than a supporting role would risk just such a distraction.
How to respond to a joke: and how not to
Still on the subject of Scots independence, do you remember that a few weeks ago when "The Economist" magazine published a front cover about the economic consequences with the title "It'll cost you" with featuring a map of Scotland with various pessimistic spoof names like "The Grumpians" and "Edinborrow (twinned with Athens)" the Scots Nats all went ballistic? The usually more astute Mr Salmond even suggested that the Economist would "rue the day" they had a joke at Scotland's expense.
I thought at the time that the Economist cover was a potential own goal but the SNP over-reaction to it was probably a worse one, and was sure that this wasn't the first time that the Economist had run that kind of cover.
Sure enough, during a clearout of my house this weekend what should I find but a back number of "The Economist" from 2011 anticipating the US "State of the Union" address which played exactly the same trick on a map of America: Barak Obama was pictured looking forlornly at a map of the USA with pessimistic spoof names such as "No Hopeshire" for New Hampshire, "Washedup" for Washington (state), "Taxes" for Texas, "Virgin on the ridiculous" for Virginia, etc, etc, etc.
The Economist sells a lot more copies in the USA than it does in Scotland, but funnily enough I don't recall that cover producing anything like the furore than the Scottish cover did. I'm pretty sure President Obama didn't say the magazine would rue the day they made a joke at America's expense.
Nine times out of ten the best way to respond to a good joke is to laugh, and to a bad one, to ignore it. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

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 unfortunately the 1986 act does contain a ridiculous clause making it an offense to use language which anyone in earshot might find insulting.

A number of groups with vastly different agendas, from the National Secular Society to the Christian Institute, Big Brother Watch, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and Conservative MP David Davis have come together to campaign for this clause to be repealed and they are absolutely 100% right to do so.

During the course of my time involved in politics the vast majority of people I have spoken to who disagreed with me did so in a polite and constructive manner. There have also been a tiny minority who have been extremely rude. This is usually water off the proverbial duck's back, but even if I found this extremely hurtful I would not want the right to have those people prosecuted for "abusive and insulting" behaviour because telling the members of a political party that you strongly disagree with them ought to be within their rights. Even if that view is expressed in arguably offensive language provided it stops short of threatening or inciting violence.

The same should apply to the expression of views for or against any religion or religious view (including atheism).

As the ‘Reform Section 5’ campaign said: “The law rightly protects us against unjust discrimination, incitement and violence. It should not be used to protect us from having our feelings hurt.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

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 rest of the choir decided to play a trick on the two singers, so they worked out these humorous words, and when the couple returned from the Moor, they were surprised to be serenaded with the first performance of "On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At."

I was taught the song by my mother, who was a Lancashire lass and could talk with a broad Lancashire accent or in BBC English depending on what was suitable for the occasion, but always managed to sound like a Yorkshirewoman while singing this one. Ikley Moor is cold and windy, and "baht 'at" is Yorkshire for "without a hat."

The words I know to the song (there are other versions) are

1. "Wheer hast tha' bin sin I saw thee (I saw thee)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at?
Wheer hast tha' bin sin I saw thee (I saw thee)
Wheer hast tha' bin sin I saw thee? (bin sin I saw thee)

On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At, On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At, On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At!

2. Thou's bin a-courtin' Mary Jane (Mary Jane)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at?
Thou's bin a-courtin' Mary Jane (Mary Jane)
Thou's bin a-courtin' Mary Jane (courtin' Mary Jane)

On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At, On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At, On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At!

3. Thou's goin to catch thee death o'cowld (death o' cowld)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at
Thou's goin to catch thee death o'cowld (death o' cowld)
Thou's goin to catch thee death o'cowld (catch thee death o' cowld)

On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At, On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At, On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At!

4. Then we shall 'ave to bury thee (bury thee)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at (etc)

5. Then worms'll come and eat thee up (eat thee up)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at (etc)

6. Then ducks'll come and eat up t'worms (eat up t'worms)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at (etc)

7. Then we shall come and eat up t'ducks (eat up t'ducks)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at (etc)

8. Thus we shall all have etten thee (etten thee)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at (etc)

9. That's 'ow we get our oan back (oan back)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at (etc)

I was provoked to look for some of an original version of the song today on hearing a news report about how efforts are being made to save the song by reinventing it, because modern children don't know it as very few people sing it any more. Brian Blessed was doing a rap version (and I'm very sorry, Brian but I didn't think it was very good.)

Ironically, when I looked on Youtube for a decent version of the song the best two I found were sung by Lancastrians and Westmorland folk respectively (at some stage I will have to put together a West Cumberland version!)

This is a Lancastrian version of the song, arranged by P.M. Adamson

This is a Westmorland version of the song (sung by Lakeland Voices who are based in Kendal.)

It's a little earthy and politically incorrect for modern tastes but somehow I doubt that this song will ever be entirely forgotten.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

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 member, has some seriously talented people within in. But it also has a lot of people who are happy not to rock the boat, because it really isn’t worth upsetting “our Elaine”.

She has sole control over appointments to all the key positions in the council (those that come with an increased allowance), meaning that most councillors are afraid to stand up and be counted for fear of losing the chance to claim that handy top-up.

And with such a large majority, Elaine can afford to cast aside any members of the group who do put their head above the parapet and oppose her.

Political debate is stifled. The leader sends out a list of permitted questions ahead of each full council meeting, usually all lame attempts to throw brickbats at national government policy, rather than focus on the delivery of CBC. And woe betide anyone who goes off the script – the local party rules prevent anyone from speaking out of turn. A comment to the press is by pain of expulsion from the party nationally.

Should she or shouldn’t she quit? That is the debate in the pubs and clubs and on the streets of Copeland. Nobody can doubt the hard work and commitment she has given; but the reality is she isn’t up to the job, as shambles after shambles (Asda, World Cup, Transport Interchange, Albion Square taking 10 years) proves. Almost universally, people I speak to feel she should go, even within the group. But the debate at Labour Group won’t even arise. It’ll be a case of: how dare the press and local opposition question her.

I hope that the reaction to this letter will be soul-searching by my colleagues, some honest frank debate, and a resolution to improve, with or without Elaine at the helm.

But I won’t hold my breath because what we’ll get will be finger pointing, accusations and recriminations. More shame on us.

A disgruntled Labour Councillor"

Needless to say this has provoked a furious response from various members of Copeland Labour party, who have presented the letter as a personal attack on the Leader of the Council.

It is perhaps a pity that "A disgruntled Labour councillor" gave them the excuse to bad aside his valid criticisms in that way by including the references to Elaine Woodburn personally, because the problem which he correctly identifies goes far wider than one individual.

Like the ruling groups on many councils where one party, whichever one it is, has been in power for far, far too long, Copeland Council's political leadership as a whole is very bad at responding to criticism and has a serious case of "not invented here" syndrome.

And this will continue to get worse unless they come to believe that they might be held to account for it by the voters.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

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 ripped the front and roof off the property, and the fire which followed completed its' destruction. The occupants of the "other half" of the semi-detached property were particularly fortunate not to be killed or seriously injured - one of the was asleep in a room which had a party wall with the building that blew up. Fortunately the fire brigade managed to prevent the fire from spreading.

The devastation was clear in the quiet one-way street, with broken glass and tufts of insulation littering the road, nearby cars and properties.

Inspector Robin Sissons, of Cambridgeshire police, said of the Wisbech incident: “This incident shows how dangerous stealing copper pipes from homes can be.

“This caused an explosion which obliterated the house and it is only sheer luck that the offenders responsible, or the people living nearby, were not killed or seriously injured.”

Sgt Peter Garforth of the Cumbria constabulary told local papers, in relation to the Maryport incident, that it

"showed the offenders' total disregard for their safety and the safety of others"

If anyone reading this saw anyone acting suspiciously in the vicinity of the Gospel Hall in Maryport over the past week, please contact Workington police on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

This demonstrates the need for increased penalties for anyone involved in stealing metal or receiving stolen metal.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Police and Crime Commissioner elections


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 the existing police authorities and have a much larger role.

As their title - Police and Crime Commissioners - suggests they will have a broad remit to ensure community safety, with their own budgets to prevent crime and tackle drugs.

Working with local authorities, community safety partnerships and local criminal justice boards, Commissioners will help bring a strategic coherence to the actions of these organisations across each police force.

Police and Crime Commissioners will also have responsibility for strategic policing - they will have to address national issues as well as local concerns.

However, they will NOT have day to day operational control over the police: that will remain with the Chief constable. Police and Crime Commissioners will not have the power to tell a sworn officer of the crown whether or not to arrest someone.

A single and accountable individual

Commissioners will be a single elected individual who will take executive decisions, supported by a highly qualified team.

The principle of one accountable individual, directly responsible for the totality of police force activity is central to the Government's vision of the new policing landscape.

The buck for setting policing strategy will stop with commissioners, and the public will cast judgement at the ballot box, voting out commissioners who don't cut crime or address local concerns.


The Conservative party is looking for very high calibre candidates for what will be high profile and public roles. Applications have closed for 12 Police Authority areas, Cumbria is one of 29 force areas in which applications will remain open for a few more days. However, anyone reading this who is interested in applying and has not already done so would be wise to move quickly.

Police and Crime Commissioners will have to be leaders.

Commissioners will need to work with the police as well as with other local agencies while engaging with the public and the media.

We will be casting the net widely and certainly will look beyond those who have previously worked on police authorities.

Commissioners could come with experience as business leaders, from military or policing backgrounds, from national as well as local politics, or from other fields.

Anyone reading this who is registered as an elector in Cumbria and is interested in applying to be the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for the county can ask for an application form online at the Conservative Party Website here.

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 opponents as a wicked plot to conceal that they are risking the destruction of the NHS.

This is exactly the sort of "when I do this it's good, when they do the same thing they are nasty evil villains" doublethink which is giving politics such a bad name in this country.

Monday, May 07, 2012

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 genuine problem with Kurdish terrorism. A few years ago a couple of Kurdish lunatics threw an improvised Molotov cocktail through one of the windows of a London office block in which I and about six hundred other people were working. (Part of the building was leased to a Turkish bank which appeared to have been their target.) The bomb landed on a secretary who suffered some nasty burns and could easily have been far more severely injured.

I don't think Turkey has quite reached the stage yet where they should be eligible for immediate E.U. membership, but they have made considerable strides towards the position where this could be seriously considered.

And nor am I an automatic fan of Sarah Ferguson.

Nevertheless, the authorities in Turkey should think very carefully about whether their attempt to prosecute the Duchess of York is in the interests of the people of Turkey in general and of children in Turkish orphanages in particular. If her documentary had been about an orphanage in Britain, it would be the people running the orphanage, not the people who made the film, who would have been facing prosecution.

The events of recent years suggest that almost all countries, including Britain, Turkey, and just about everywhere else, need to improve their policies to safeguard vulnerable children from abuse. You don't protect either children or your country's reputation by prosecuting whistleblowers, unless you have cast iron evidence that they have fabricated their claims, which does not appear to be the case here. You protect both vulnerable children and your country's reputation by demonstrating that where evidence of mistreatment is presented you will act to stop it.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

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 which would have been best ignored to something completely out of order, is that it showed him running up and down on a memorial to people killed during World War One.

This sort of display of lack of respect for the dead is something that a civilised government simply should not be seen to endorse.

How would the Argentine government react if the British government sponsored and broadcast a political advert which included a display of blatant disrespect to the graves of the Argentine war dead who are buried on the Falklands Islands? They would be livid, and they would have every right to be.

The parent company of the advertising agency which used Fly Films' footage to create the 90 second video have disavowed and condemned the advert in the strongest terms, calling it "contrary to everything that we as a company stand for."

Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and chief executive of communications giant WPP, told the Daily Telegraph: "The ad is totally, and I mean totally, unacceptable.

"The agency has formally apologised for any offence or pain caused. We are appalled and embarrassed by it."

The last word on the subject should belong to Falklands resident and elected legislator Ian Hansen, who said

"It is deeply sad to see Mr Zylberberg clambering over a war memorial. Sadly this illustrates the disrespect the Argentine authorities have for our home and our people”

Boris is back

London Mayor final result including second preferences:

Johnson (Conservative) 1,054,811
Livingstone (Labour) 992,273

Thursday, May 03, 2012

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 it did, that would give the voters an opportunity to get what the Whitehaven News, the opposition here in Copeland, and even an anonymous Labour councillor have called for - a change in the leadership of one of the three worst-run councils in the country. (That statement is based on the findings of a survey of local voters commissioned by the last Labour government.)

Local polls are an opportunity to vote on the manifesto of local parties for your own community. For example, the policies which the local Conservative team is offering in Carlisle today are

* NO COUNCIL TAX INCREASE for the next two years



* A focus on key projects:

City Swimming pool - Transport hub - City Centre Bid.

Local elections are also an opportunity to keep the good councillors regardless of their party and replace the less good ones. Without wishing to imply anything about the other candidates who are standing today, I'm going to mention two local councillors who particularly impressed me while I was campaigning with them on the doorstep over the past few weeks.

Helen Irving is standing for election in Ulverston, and Fiona Robson is standing for election in Carlisle's Yewdale ward. Both are hard-working councillors: both are caring people who know the wards where they are standing like the backs of their hands, and are liked and respected by many people of all political persuasions.

Ulverston and Carlisle will be well served if Helen Irving and Fiona Robson are elected today: every locality with elections will be well served if more caring, hard-working and sensible people like them are elected.

And whatever your views, if you have elections in your area today, the most important thing you can do is turn out to vote.

People have died for your right to vote: don't waste it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

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 tabloids are saying now, I suspect the new coach will be judged more on what England achieves under his stewardship than an how he pronounces the letter R.

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 EU countries and it has been suggested that it is contrary to E.U. law, but I cannot see that it would be unfair or unreasonable. Perhaps the working of the E.U. law concerned needs to be subject to urgent review.

Lest there be any confusion, my problem is not with the fact that the Scottish government want to subsidise Univesity education for their own taxpayers, but with the ludicrous injustice of subsidising those from Berlin but not Birmingham, Paris but not Penrith, Calabria but not Carlisle, or Warsaw but not Whitehaven.

However, the SNP government appears determined to follow whatever policy, no matter how ridiculous, will enable them to provide free University eduction for students from Scotland while charging fees to students from England.

The latest saga in this shambles is that UK residents who hold Irish passports may be eligible to attend Scottish universities without paying fees - although there is considerable confusion about whether they have to have had an address in Ireland - that is, the Irish Republic - within the past three years.

For the rest of this post when I write "Ireland" or "Irish" I mean the republic and its' citizens unless I specifically put "Northern" in front of it. This is not meant as a snub to those Irish people who live in Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK and do not have Irish passports.

I don't know exactly how many people in England, Wales or Northern Ireland had at least one grandparent born in Ireland and are therefore entitled to Irish passports, but it must be well into the millions. My understanding of the current policy of the Irish government with regard to eligibility for passports is that you can apply for one if you have one grandparent who was an Irish citizen.

In the unlikely event that the SNP's university fees policy has not collapsed within the next eight years or so, and if my children wanted to go to a University in Scotland, they would face an interesting choice. My chldren have two grandparents who were born in Ireland. So they could keep their UK passports and pick up a mountain of debt (currently £27k over three years), or acquire Irish passports, go and stay in Ireland for a few months, perhaps on their own, perhaps with family - long enough to be able to prove that they had had an address in Ireland anyway - and go for free.

Can anyone really believe that the current SNP fees policy is sustainable?