Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quote of the Day

"Show me a completely smooth operation and I'll show you someone who's covering up mistakes.

Real boats rock."

Frank Herbert (from "Chapter House Dune" which is one of the "Dune" series of books).

Friday, June 29, 2012

A long overdue memorial

We should have bitten the bullet and put up a memorial to the men of Bomber Command many years ago when more of those who survived the war would have been around to see it.

Regardless of your view on the right and wrongs of the area bombing policy - of which more below - the aircrew of Bomber Command were not responsible for setting that policy. They were doing a filthy and dangerous job in an attempt to stop possibly the most evil and murderous regime there has ever been from conquering the world. Tens of thousands of them, nearly half of those who took part in the campaign, did not come back. It is right and proper that they should be remembered.

It is also right and proper that the long overdue memorial which the Queen opened yesterday afternoon to the heroes of Bomber Command also included a reference to "those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing campaigns of 1939-45" which has been welcomed by the mayor of Dresden. The memorial should be an opportunity to seek reconciliation for the wounds of the war, not inflame them.

The second world war was a ghastly tragedy, and the deaths of all the innocent people who died in it are greatly to be regretted.

The moral responsibility for those deaths lies entirely with Hitler, the nazis, and their supporters. The nazis started the war, they began the policy of mass attacks on civilian populations from the air when they bombed Warsaw at the start of the war, continued it by attacking Rotterdam in neutral Holland, and they had attempted to bomb Britain into surrender by attacking London, Coventry and many other British cities long before the main RAF and USAF attacks on German cities.

One of my relatives by marriage was ironically the only member of his immediate family to survive the war despite serving for most of it in a highly dangerous role. Having lost his brother at Dunkirk he returned from leave as a member of the crew of an RN submarine to find that a Luftwaffe bomb had destroyed his family home, killing his parents and sister. He never forgave the nazis and I don't blame him.

During the blitz, an RAF officer asked Lord Portal to come to the roof of the Air ministry building, where they watched London burning as a result of Luftwaffe air attack. That officer then said to Portal "They are sowing the wind,"  which was an obvious reference to the passage in the bible which says that those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.

The officer who said this was "Bomber" Harris, and he made sure that it came true.

For the future of every decent human being in the world, including German ones, the Nazis had to be stopped, and the people who ordered, led, and took part in the allied bombing campaign sincerely believed that hitting back at Germany from the air was essential to stopping them.

Let us hope we never have to do anything like that again.

As for the brave men who took part in that campaign:

We will remember them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A local tragedy

I hae always tried to support local businesses, and one of the local Whitehaven businesses which I have always used as much as possible in my political campaigns and for certain other printing which I needed was PrintExpress of Hensingham.

It's a company that was run by lovely people who always bent over backwards to provide what we needed, when we needed it, in excellent quality and at very reasonable prices.

So I am most disappointed to learn that PrintExpress have had to close this week after the bank pulled the plug on them.

This is bad news for the people who worked for the company and very disappointing news for Whitehaven.

It is another indication that more needs to be done to support local businesses here in West Cumbria.

Fuel price rise delay

I am delighted that George Osborne has delayed a 3 pence per litre rise in fuel tax.

While it would have been even better if this rise could have been cancelled, at least the delay will give some relief to those who are being hurt by high petrol and diesel prices.

And he made the announcment where it should have been made, in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The politicians who are attacking the government about which minister went on the Newsnight programme to make the announcement might better deploy their energies in discussing how we can get the economy moving again.

It doesn't matter one iota whether it was the Chancellor or the Economic Secretary to the Treasury who went on Newsnight to discuss fuel prices.

It matters rather more that the announcements was made in the Commons rather than to the press.

It matters most of all that fuel prices will not be going up, at least as soon. Let's hope the government can find room for manouver that will allow further changes. U-turns when they can be afforded are not a sign of weakness.

A historic handshake

My wife's family comes from Ireland: several of my close friends and immediate family have had near misses from IRA bombs. I have a perspective from both sides on what it meant when the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness today.

It is possible to overplay this sort of thing, but the fact that this could take place was a big deal and the BBC was right to run it as a major story.

There is a lot of work still to do before a fully normal and democratic set of politics has been built in Northern Ireland, but today's handshake would have been unthinkable - on either side - fifteen years ago. To move forward and away from violence we need a greater acceptance of each other, and today proved that we have made some progress in that direction.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Idiot's guide to percentages

OK, even good mathematicians can occasionally make an embarrassing mistake with numbers, but to make the sort of basic mistake for which a ten-year-old child would be told off while accusing your opponent of not being good at maths is incompetence of a high order !

Labour shadow minister Kevin Brennan was speaking in Parliament during a debate on education and claimed that Labour had improved standards of numeracy, adding

''Only three in 10 pupils, that's 60 per cent because I know the Secretary of State is not very good at maths, only three in 10 pupils got a good GCSE in 1997.''

Clearly Mr Brennan is in no position to accuse anyone else of not being good at maths. So to help him, here is ...


Example 1)

Labour doubled the national debt to 1.2 trillion pounds
Labour scrapped the 10p tax band, and so doubled the marginal tax rate paid by the poorest taxpayers

 * If you double something you increase it by 100%

Example 2)

When Labour left office the government was spending four pounds for every three pounds of tax revenue.

 * So the share of the Labour government's spending covered by their income was 75%

Example 3)

Labour's outgoing treasury spokesman left a note for incoming coalition ministers saying that "there is no money left."

 * If you have spent all the money, the percentage left is 0%.

Example 4)

Since taking office the coalition government have reduced the spending deficit inherited from Labour by a quarter.

 * If you reduce something by a quarter, you cut it by 25%

And finally, example 5)

 * Three out of ten is 30%.

The Olympic Torch in Cumbria today ..

The Olympic Torch passed through Cumbria today, including a visit to Whitehaven and a trip over  Windermere.

Despite the poor weather lots of people turned out, and it had an enthusiastic reception.

The BBC suggested that this visit might be good for tourism in the county - as people could see what beautiful views the area has to offer. I do hope so. But in the meantime, good that people could emjoy watching the torch pass.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Short changing policing in Cumbria

Labour's candidate for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner in Cumbria has told local newspapers that if elected he might, subject to the approval of his existing Housing Association employers, combine the job of Police Commissioner with his existing job.

I'm not impressed and I hope the electorate are not impressed either. The first Polce Commissioners will have a big job and big challenges, and be paid a generous salary to do it. Cumbria deserves better than a part-time commissioner.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reality check

The most welcome aspect of the Greek election result is that at least some of the powers that be appear to be resisting the temptation to assume they can now relax.

One of the advisors to the EU Commission President who was interviewed on the BBC this lunchtime described the reaction of European governments and markets as a sigh of relief that the result had not "made a bad situation worse."

Invited by a BBC journalist to suggest that this might represent a corner being turned, he replied that it might be better to think of it as one fewer Sword of Damocles hanging over the European economy.

A very cautious and understated reaction maybe. But I'd much rather hear that sort of reply than any indication that we can afford an atom of complacency about European economies - or our own.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Next year's Whitehaven festival secured by strong support

I've already logged about what a marvellous weekend the "Marratime" festival in Whitehaven was. I am pleased, but not surprised, to learn that the strong support for this year's festival has secured the postition of the 2013 Whitehaven festival which had until the "Glorious First of June" this year been in the balance.

In these difficult times this was a boost that the town of Whitehaven really needed and I am pleased that the work which a lot of people have put into the Festival has been rewarded. I certainly had the impression that a lot of people were emjoying themselves so hopefully they will come again next year.

Thirty years on

I was very moved by the TV reports of the commemoration ceremonies on the Falkland Islands to mark the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the islands from a fascist dictatorship.

I note that the Falklands government is to hold a referendum next year on the future of the islands.

I would be willing to bet that

1) It produces a vote of 90% or more to stay British and

2) The Argentine government will take no notice.

Holding the referendum is nevertheless the right thing to do, because instead of people speculating about what the Islanders want we will know for a fact.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Labour and the press

I was one of the people who gasped with astonishment at Gordon Brown's evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

If anyone reading this believed a word he said, I have a really lucrative investment proposition to put to you regarding the Forth bridge ...

As a useful corrective, Jeremy Vine, who is now a radio presenter but used to be one of the BBC's frontline political correspondents, has brought out a book called "It's all news to me" which is being serialised in the Daily Mail.
It has some interesting reflectios on the way in which Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson treated the press:

"At any point, Peter would be involved in about 20 highly personal run-ins with political journalists... The BBC’s Nick Jones pointed out the way Alastair Campbell and Mandelson worked as a pair — the baseball bat and the stiletto. ‘If they don’t like your story, Campbell screams down the phone at you while Mandelson quietly goes to the Director-General,’ he said."

He summarised the personal style of Alastair Campbell with the words

"In a good mood, Alastair Campbell was fun; in a bad mood, he was Ivan the Terrible, Freddy Krueger and Chopper Harris all rolled into one."

Now, when considering the comments which Gordon Brown made to the Leveson inquiry, bear in mind that Gordon Brown's operatives, people like Damien McBride, made Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson look like models of fair-mindedness and restraint.

There is an interesting account in the book of  how Mandelson, while in opposition, managed to sabotage the then government's plans for a national commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

"One day, he asked me what I thought of the Conservative government’s plan to lay on street parties to mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I said I didn’t have much of a clue. It all seemed pretty dull: though there were some fun events — like ‘spam-fritter frying contests’ — and fireworks in Hyde Park. Mandelson said that the Labour leader — then John Smith — had allowed him to ‘see if we can do something’ on the issue. Do something? What was there to do, Peter? ‘Aha,’ he said enigmatically.

Over the next few days the Government’s planning was torn to shreds. From the outside, no one could see fingerprints on the story, but suddenly the Conservatives were being lacerated for ‘trivialising’ the Normandy landings. Veterans’ organisations raged at the plan for street parties and fireworks; even the wartime megastar Dame Vera Lynn waded in to urge a boycott.

Soon, everyone was asking: how can a government be so cack-handed as to think a silly game with spam is the right way to mark D-Day? I watched every step of the story, agog at the way the different ingredients were shaken into the brew.

There were questions in the Commons. Polls that revealed the public felt the war dead were being disrespected. It didn’t matter that the spam contest was the idea of the Scottish Tourist Board and nothing whatsoever to do with John Major — the next report said he was in a ‘crisis meeting’ over the planning, and the Culture Secretary Peter Brooke was facing the sack.

How had Mandelson caused a multiple vehicle pile-up without ever being seen on the carriageway? My admiration increased."

Read more in the Daily Mail or buy the book. Hat tip to Tim Montgomery at Conservative Home for drawing my attention to it.

Friday, June 08, 2012

DC: forced marriage to become a criminal offence

David Cameron announced today that coercing someone into marriage will become a specific criminal offence in England and Wales.

The decision to create a specific offence of forced marriage follows a 12 week consultation which took views from the public, victims, charities and frontline agencies. It is possible to make an argument that in many cases forced marriage would have broken existing laws, but the new legislation will remove any doubt and send a clear signal.

The new law will be accompanied by a range of measures to increase protection and support for victims and a continuing focus on prevention. More than half a million pounds worth of funding, delivered over the next three years, will help deliver measures including:
  • Helping those working in education to spot the earliest signs of forced marriage and what action to take
  • Helping victims receive the right support in a joined-up way by expanding the current training for relevant professional agencies
  • Making the breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order a criminal offence
  • Raising awareness of the risk of forced marriage abroad through a major summer campaign, highlighting the right to choose and the help available
  • Rescuing those who have already become victims overseas and putting in place a comprehensive support package for victims who have been repatriated
  • Engaging communities through a nation-wide programme focussed on prevention and education
The UK is already a global leader on work to tackle forced marriage. The unique cross-departmental Forced Marriage Unit runs a helpline providing confidential support and advice to victims and professionals, and conducts a nation-wide outreach programme in schools and statutory agencies across the country. This year alone (January to May 2012), the Forced Marriage Unit has provided advice or support to nearly 600 cases.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

"To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.

"I have listened to concerns that criminalisation could force this most distressing issue underground. That is why we have a new comprehensive package to identify possible victims, support those who have suffered first hand and prevent criminality wherever possible.

"We have spent time with those who work tirelessly to raise and address this issue and I want to send a clear and strong message: forced marriage is wrong, is illegal and will not be tolerated."

Home Secretary Theresa May added:

"Forced marriage is an appalling practice and by criminalising it we are sending a strong message that it will not be tolerated. But we know that legislation alone is not enough and we will continue to work across government and with frontline agencies and organisations to support and protect victims."

Thursday, June 07, 2012

21 years for metal theft gang as courts crack down

No apologies for another post about metal theft: it's an increasing scourge of modern society, and it's important to note when the authorities crack down in the hope that the sentences will act as a deterrent. Not that I imagine most readers of this blog are potential metal thieves, but they might say something to other people and the more the word that courts are starting to take the offence seriously is known, the better the chance that it will reach people who we want to hear it.
A judge at Southwark Crown Court has imposed jail sentences totalling 21 years and six months on a gang of seven metal thieves who, amongst other things, posed as communication workers to steal BT cables. At least one of their offences, the theft of a cable connecting two hospitals, had significant potential to put lives at risk by compromising patient care.

​The longest jail terms were imposed on the gang’s ringleader, Stephen Fraser, 52, who was sentenced to five years, and his assistant William House, 45, who got four years.

The court heard that the gang members were arrested after police set up a surveillance operation and found they were operating what Judge Michael Gledhill QC described as a “large, sophisticated, well-managed conspiracy” to steal telecommunications cable and other items.

Passing sentence at Southwark Crown Court, London, the judge said:

 “I have no doubt that it is necessary to impose deterrent sentences in each case.

“The country has a real and very grave problem with metal theft.

“'Whatever steps the authorities take to curb it appear to be having little effect at the moment.

“I must send out a clear message that those who are tempted to make easy money by stealing metal will, when caught, be punished by immediate and substantial custodial sentences.”

Luke Beeson, BT Security general manager for cable theft, said:
“This is the culmination of 18 months’ work in partnership with the Metropolitan Police.

“The sentences reflect how seriously metal theft is now being taken by the courts and should act as a deterrent to others.”

The court heard that by the start of 2011 the theft of BT cable was endemic and led to police setting up a surveillance operation on a farm in Hayes, Middlesex, that appeared to be waste ground being used to park lorries and plant equipment.

In fact, it was leased to Fraser and was the hub of the gang’s activities.

Judge Gledhill told the defendants:
“When you removed copper cable, you had no idea whether it was live, or being kept as a reserve, or was redundant.

“You could not know it's status and you did not care.

“All you were concerned about was to cut it, rip it out, take it to base, and sell it for scrap.”

He said evidence was given at the trial, that one night cable directly linking hospitals in Southampton and Winchester was stolen.

“That severed the direct link that not only connected telephone calls but also data links,” said the judge.

“The hospitals could, of course, have communicated with each other by other means, but the theft had potentially fatal consequences.”

Other gang members to be sentenced were Danny Reynolds, 51, and Craig Jones, 41, who each received three years imprisonment; Alan Punter, 56, and Shaun Blackie, 48, who each received two years; and Steven Bloomfield, 42, described as a former cricketer with Middlesex, who received two years for driving the gang’s lorry.

Four other men who had also stood trial were found not guilty of taking part in the conspiracy.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

30+ arrests as police swoop on rogue metal traders

Metal theft, a rapidly growing crime which can have intolerable consequences, is only possible if someone is willing to buy the stolen metal.

Many metal dealers are honest, but some are not, or are not careful enough, and without the rogue metal traders the crime of metal theft would not continue to exist.

So I was delighted to see that the police have pounced on scrap dealers suspected of handling stolen metal items such as BT cables. More than 30 people have been arrested in simulaneous raids accross three counties.

​More than 400 officers, including 45 specialist search officers and 50 detectives from three police force areas, carried out simultaneous raids on a series of premises.These included six scrap metal dealerships and eight home addresses of people associated with these businesses.

So far, a total of 33 people have been arrested, but police said the operation is on-going. The operation, one of the largest ever undertaken by Thames Valley Police, is the culmination of a seven-month investigation. The massive police operation also involved the Metropolitan and Hertfordshire forces.

Police unearthed silver from churches, large quantities of cash, stolen vehicles, a container full of catalytic converters and a number of firearms. Property stolen from BT was found at the majority of the sites raided.

Police are looking to seize other assets under the Proceeds of Crime act which were found at a number of the sites and at the homes of some of the owners and directors.

I hope that this action will have a substantial impact on the willingness of dealers to handle stolen goods.

Detective Chief Superintendent Brendan O’Dowda of Thames Valley Police
said that:

“We are totally committed to combating this, one of the fastest growing types of crime - a crime that threatens public and community safety and national infrastructure.

“The more unscrupulous dealers actively encourage the trade of stolen metal for cash without giving any thought and consideration to the impact the theft has on the very communities in which they live.

“We will make these people aware of the ramifications of their actions and relentlessly target them until they choose to operate more responsibly and within the law.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Sixty years of service

Congratulations and thanks today to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Duke of Lancaster, on sixty years of service to the nation.

Few people of any station in life could have given so many years of dedicated service to their country. We have been very fortunate to have a queen who so perfectly exemplifies the principle that the higher the rank, the more it carries duties and responsibilities as well as privileges.

Through good years and bad, she has been a shining example to our nation. Indefatigable and indomitable, for sixty years she has always carried on and done what has to be done.

Today will celebrate sixty years of service from a very special human being as well as a great Queen.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Quote of the Day

Quote from an email today from a friend

"The trouble with socialists is that they always run out of other people's money."

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Whitehaven Maritime Festival: a glorious weekend

This weekend has been particularly special in West Cumbria as the first two days of the four-day Diamond Jubilee celebrations have coincided with the Whitehaven Maritime Festival.

We've been fortunate to have two days of magnificent sunshine, and hundreds of thousands of people have turned out to see the ships, the stalls, the sunshine, the bands and singers, and the air displays. I particularly enjoyed a magnificent display by the Red Arrows.

Congratulations to Gerald Richardson and everyone involved in this year's "Marratime" festival.

Police Commissioner elections in Cumbria

Applications to be Conservative candidate for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner in Cumbria have now closed. Shortlisting will take place the week after next and the candidate will be selected at two meetings in mid July in different parts of Cumbria. All paid up members of the party in Cumbria will be able to choose either of the meetings to attend and vote (obviously you cannot vote at both!) Full details of the meetings will be published shortly. Ballot papers from both meetings will be mixed and counted at the conclusion of the second meeting.

Cumbria is one of sixteen force areas for which applications to be Conservative candidate for the posts of Police and Crime Commissioner closed a couple of days ago, these being:

Greater Manchester
North Yorkshire
South Yorkshire
West Midlands
West Yorkshire

Friday, June 01, 2012

A brilliant speech about the Falklands

Roger Edwards, an elected member of the Falkland Islands legislative assembly, made an excellent speech yesterday to the "decolonisation committee" of the United Nations, meeting in Ecuador, in which he suggested that the only way forward for the UN concerning and debates or claims about the future of the islands is to respect the right to self-determination of the inhabitants.

You can read a MercoPress (South Atlantic News) report which includes the full text of his speech at

Running before you can walk

The front page headline of today's issue of "The Economist" refers to teaching robots about right an wrong.

Perhaps we will be in a better position to attempt this when we have done a more successful job of teaching people the difference between right and wrong ...