Showing posts from July, 2012

Long-lasting flags ...

Apparently five of the six flags planted on the moon during the Apollo landings are still standing more than forty years after Neil Armstrong first took that one small step for a man ... With no wind, rain or biological decay it can be expected that they will stay up much longer than a similar flag would on Earth. It is strange to think what marks we leave in the Universe and what future generations, or a completely different species, may make of them.

Britain keeps triple-A credit rating

One piece of good news on the day of the Olympic opening ceremony was that Standard & Poors, one of the main credit-rating agencies, confirmed that British government debt will continue to enjoy an AAA credit rating. This is an important achievement for the coalition government because it affects the cost of borrowing on the gigantic debts built up by the previous government, who at the time they left office were spending four pounds for every three raised in taxes, with the result that the national debt doubled to well over a billion pounds. The difficulty with this is not just paying back the principal but the interest - when Labour left office Britain was spending more in interest on the money the government had borrowed - £6,000 per minute - than on schools. The coalition's tough and painful decision have moved some way in the right direction - the budget defecit has been reduced by 25% since the present government took office - but we still have a long way to go and

A locked lantern mystery

If there is a God, he definately has a sense of humour. Thriller writers often have fun with "Locked Room" mysteries in which the detective has to work out how the villain arranged for something to happen inside room which appears to have been locked from the inside - usually the death of the victim. But sometimes things can happen inside a closed space without the intervention of a human agency and you think "How did that happen?" This evening I thought I had to change the light bulb on the lantern outside my front door as it had stopped working. The nuts holding the top of the lantern were rusted and it took considerable effort to open it. When I did, as soon as I attempted to unscrew the bulb, it came on. So it was working, but twisted out of alignment. So how did it manage to twist itself inside a compartment which was rusted shut and had not been opened for years? Sometimes odd things happen and we just have to accept that occasionally the Univers

Olympics - the first weekend

Despite a major shift round of furniture in my house this weekend, I found time to enjoy a lot of the Olympics at the weekend. I'm not surprised that the brilliantly mad opening ceremony has been controversial, but I can only say that my family enjoyed it and I'm still chuckling at Rowan Atkinson's hijack of Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO playing "Chariots of Fire" - particularly the expression on Sir Simon's face as Mr Bean comes out of his dream which was as good a piece of acting as Rowan Atkinson's - and the Queen parachuting in with James Bond. (Bet Her Majesty enjoyed the chance to say "Good Evening Mr Bond.") My wife has suggested that the producers of the TV or Film awards for this year could have some fun with the nominations for  a "best newcomer" award from the Olympics. And then to the games themselves and already some fine performances by sportmen from many countries including Britain. Particular congratulations to Li


Have been watching the opening ceremony for the Olympic games this evening. Wow. Bonkers, brilliant, and very British.

Boris's speech on the eve of the games

Just to prove that the relentless pressure to conform, never to say anything off-message, and always to be seen as a safe pair or hands hasn't totally destroyed originality in politics, here is BoJo at his incomparable best with his inspirational "We are ready!" speech in the park on the eve of the official opening of the Olympic Games ... You can see the full BBC clip on the Beeb site here .

Full words to the National Anthem

Some 24 years ago at the close of a conference, at which I was on the edge of the platform as a junior member of the management committee of the organisation concerned, the music of the national anthem began. Everyone was supposed to sing the first verse, and I duly started to do so. Nobody else joined in . I carried on singing and tried to put a "come on, join in" expression  on my face. By now everyone was staring at me but still nobody else joined in . I wasn't going to stop - not least because if I had, everyone would have fallen about laughing, which would have been even more inappropriate, so I carried on to the end of the verse. And sang the entire verse as a solo . With a couple of hundred people all looking at me in with an evident mixture of emotions written on their faces, predominant amonst which was a desperate attempt not to laugh. We reached the end of what seemed like the longest first verse of the national anthem which I can ever recall, and

Infrastructure investment to boost the economy

The Government last week unveiled a new UK Guarantees scheme to dramatically accelerate infrastructure investment and provide major support to UK exporters. This support is only possible because of the Government’s hard-won fiscal credibility, which the Government is now passing on to support the UK economy. Applications have opened for UK Guarantees to kick start critical infrastructure projects that may have stalled because of adverse credit conditions. Up to £40 billion worth of projects could qualify and, subject to legislation, the first guarantees are expected to be awarded in the Autumn. To qualify, these projects must be ready to start in the 12 months following a guarantee being given, as well as being nationally significant and good value to the taxpayer. The government has also announced  a new temporary lending programme as part of UK Guarantees will be available to ensure that around 30 public private partnership infrastructure projects, worth an

An example of Polly Toynbee's accuracy

Polly Toynbee recently wrote an article in the Guardian suggesting that "David Cameron's localism" e.g. the attempt by the government to give more discretion to local councils, was a front for an attempt to cut local services and hammer the poor. One of her examples was the allegation that attempts to reform council tax benefit would, according to the Institute of Fiscal studies, cost residents of the London Borough of Haringay £38 per week. The paper had to correct her article a few days later: the IFS had actually said that it would cost them  was £38 per year - one fiftieth as much.

Too many tweets

I set up a twitter account at the weeked, not because I was intending to make lots of tweets but because you have to set up a profile to follow what anyone else tweets. To my complete astonishment, in the following 24 hours and without at that stage having put down a single tweet, I picked up three followers. This says something interesting about the ratings game for social media.

What Brits say and what we mean, continued

Following on from my post about how British people use language, I was very tempted to construct an imaginary open letter from a Conservative cabinet minister to Tory backbench rebels consisting largely of the "What Brits say" phrases in the document. Unfortunately it would have been entirely too easy for an ill-disposed person describing the document to misrepresent me as using words like "insane" and idiot" to describe fellow Conservatives and the joke might easily have lost its' humour in that situation. However, I have received another example of the interesting use of language since making the "What Brits say and what we mean" post. Received an email on Friday from a work colleague who I shall not identify, in response to a message in which I'd asked if it was right to infer certain potentially serious consequences from something he had said. The first line of the reply was "Your points are quite a wild interpretation of what

Congratulations to Bradley Wiggins

What an amazing thing it must be, in a country as sports mad as Britain, to become the first Brit ever to win a famous international competition. The Tour De France is a huge test of fitness, stamina and determination and anyone who can win it must be a truly remarkable individual. Well done Bradley Wiggins for winning the 99th Tour De France. And a one-two for Britain as well with Chris Froome getting the second place.

Post 2000

This is the 2000th post on this blog since I started it seven years ago. (That is, I understand, a great age for a weblog.). So I thought it would be interesting to check and publish a little bit about the blog itself and who reads it. In those seven years there have been 1789 comments posted, and in the past three years for which I have traffic stats available, there have been 74,231 pageviews. Currently the blog averages about 100 hits per day.  There is traffic from all over the world. Unsurprisingly the largest source of traffic is the UK, but only about a quarter of the people who read this blog do so from Britain, and nearly as many were using computers in the USA. The other countries in the "top ten" where people read this are Russia Germany France Norway Poland China Netherlands Indonesia High points: the blog has won three awards, being twice ranked among the "Top 100" Conservative blogs, most recently by Total Politics in 2009. While I

What Brits say, and what we mean

While I'm quoting from Plato at Political Betting, she has just dug up on the internet an amusing guide which appeared in "The Economist" magazine a few years ago which quotes a number of phrases often used in business conversations by Brits, what they actually mean, and what they can all too easily be misunderstood to mean. At the time this first came out I was working in a division of BT in which we had close colleagues all over the world, and my then boss put this table up above her desk - I presume to remind her not to say things which our European, Far Eastern, or American colleagues might misunderstand ... Anyway, here is the table concerned What the Brits say What we mean What others think they hear I hear what you say I disagree and do not wish to discuss it further He is listening to me With the greatest respect You’re being an idiot She respects my position That

One Lib/Dem wises up

I always try to give credit where it is due and am grateful to Plato on Political Betting for the following account of a Lib/Dem rising star's comments of what she has learned from her party being in government ... (Plato wrote) "Well one LD seems to have got it. Perhaps it'll be catching. Paywall." (She then quoted) "Ms Swinson, who in February was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, admits that being in Government has meant the Lib Dems have had to hit the road running. And if they’ve learnt one thing it’s that broken promises often lead to broken reputations. “In opposition you can just take the purely populist route on every issue and also people don’t in quite the same way make sure that everything stacks up.” She continues: “So you can say one thing on one issue and one thing on another issue that might be actually contradictory. but, in a sense, when you’re in opposition because it doesn’t ha

The politics of hate

You can say that you hate a particular type of food, or a style of art, or a political philosophy, or a type of cruel or wicked behaviour, and in general this will be socially acceptable, though obviously other people are entitled to disagree with your view. But if you say that you hate a particular human being or a group of people personally, you had better have a very good reason indeed, or this will say something far worse about you than about the object of your hatred. Even if you have such a good reason it is more likely to be taken as an excuse rather than a justification unless the objects of your hostility are themselves very obviously worthy of it - if they are nazis or murderers, for instance. Two blog posts about hate - and the reaction to them - rather illustrate how most people usually don't think hate a good thing, but others are frighteningly quick to resort to or defend it. This week Dan Hannan MEP wrote a blog post in the Telegraph about the sort of hatred so

Sign of the Times

The front page of this morning's edition of The Times illustrates an article headlined "Coalition support plunges" with a diagram showing - wait for it - Labour support down 1%, Conservative support up 1% and Lib/Dem support up 3%. I suppose "Coalition support edges upwards, but not by an amount which is highly statistically significant" would not have made such a good headline ...

Richard Rhodes selected as Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner

Richard Rhodes, who has been a headmaster, a magistrate for many years, and is currently chairman of Cumbria's probation service, was adopted last night as the Conservative candidate to be Cumbria's first Police and Crime Commissioner. Having asked everyone at the meetings concerned not to blog or tweet about this until the official announcement had been made, I can confirm that this news was officially released last night. Richard was selected by the combined votes of Conservative party members attending two meetings, one at the Low Wood Bay hotel at Windemere on Thursday night, and one last night at Mungrisdale. There was a strong field of applicants to be the candidate for this important post, and we had to turn down at each stage of the process other people with strong credentials, but Richard impressed me and evidently a clear majority of the people present at each selection event: he won on the first count. The election will be on 15th November. If Richard is elect


Political anoraks and activists like myself tend to get very excited about certain subjects such as reform of the House of Lords. But while a country in which most of those involved in politics paid no attention to constitutional issues would, in the long term, pay a heavy price in lost freedom and worse government, all the polls suggest that those issues are not what most of the electorate are most bothered about at the moment. The polls I've seen suggest that most voters want the government to concentrate on bread-and-butter issues like Jobs, the NHS, and the cost of living (especially fuel prices) such issues. Fieldwork for the most recent poll concerned was a week ago and I dare say that if you repeated it today there would be a lot more concern about sorting out the banks. And with the economy in its' present state, it would be a very arrogant politician who suggested that the voters were wrong to want parliament to focus on getting the country out of this mess and

The Tory Case for Lords Reform

Steven Dorrell, a former Conservative minister, has written an excellent article in the Guardian - yes, I know, but not everything written in the Grauniad is wrong - on why Tories who believe in limited government and checks and balances should support House of Lords reform. You can read the full article here but this is an extract: If Lords reform disturbs the balance in Westminster, all to the good Tories should recognise that a stronger House of Commons would encourage Whitehall to drop its lazy habits. House of Lords reform is not just a Lib Dem policy – it is also a Tory policy ... This is in danger of being lost amid the political rhetoric. Some Conservatives may disagree, but every Conservative manifesto since 2001 has included a commitment to reform the upper house. There are not many obvious arguments in favour of a status quo where one house of parliament has nearly 800 members, the majority of whom were appointed by prime ministerial patronage. There are, on

Time to reform the House of Lords

However undemocratic the House of Lords was before Tony Blair began his so-called "Reform" programme, it was actually fairly good at the job, and reasonably independent of governments of both parties. (Allegations over many decades that the House of Lords was the poodle of the Conservative Party were usually very far from the truth - it certainly inflicted plenty of defeats on Margaret Thatcher.) But the position of the House of Lords as an effective check on the government was wrecked by the  the Blair government's constitutional reforms. These often sounded good but were usually so badly thought through or partisan in impact that they were more like sheer constitutional vandalism. And when Tony Blair removed most of the hereditary peers without making any arrangements to elect their replacements he produced a second chamber which is almost entirely appointed. That is not an effective way to have a chamber which will hold the government to account. That is why the

Summer can start now ...

We had some lovely weather for teh Diamong Jubilee and the "Marratime" festival, buy otherwise it's been a pretty miserable summer marked by torrential rain. And through all of this several areas of the country had hosepipe bans. Now at last they have all been cancelled. So what's the betting that the end of all the remaining hosepipe bans signals that the remainder of the summer will be hot and dry? I'm certainly not going to bet against it.

Quote of the Day

"If it keeps happening, it's not luck." (One of the BBC commentators during this year's Wimbledon men's final.)

Murray marches on

Amazing play by Andy Murray yesterday to become the first British player to reach a Wimbledon men's final in 74 years. Richly deserved as both Murray and his opponent played brilliantly. Five years ago the last Brit to win a Wimbledon title of any kind was also a Murray - Jamie Murray, who won the mixed doubles with his partner in 2007. And  a Brit with very similar surname - Jonny Marray - is through to the 2012 Men's doubles final. Andy Murray will now face six times champion Roger Federer, who is one of the greatest players of all time, in the final. It is seventy six years since a Brit, Fred Perry, actually won the men's singles title. Andy Murray obviously has an attitude which is both realistic and positive: "I'm probably not expected to win the match, but it is one that, if I play well, I'm capable of winning," he said. "His record here has been incredible, so the pressure will be less on me because of who he is." Tim

Metal Thieves use bogus drainage van

The parasites who make their living preying on society by stealing metal from our national infrastructure, ripping out metal cables and pipes or public monuments, sometimes display an inventiveness which would be commendable in a less ignoble activity or which would probably earn them more money if deployed in honest work.   As a case in point, police are searching for a gang who used a bogus drainage company van in a bid to steal cable from the BT network. ​The five men fled the scene in Eltham, south London, when they spotted police approaching their vehicle. It was found have concealed winching equipment fitted inside. Officers recovered a large quantity of BT cable from the rear of the van which the thieves had already removed from the ground. In the past few weeks several rogue gangs have been caught and arrested while trying to pass themselves off as legitimate workmen and using props like the bogus drainage company van in an attempt to attempt to blend into the

Quote of the Day

"This must be the wettest drought on record' (From a BT discussion board)


Yet another set of "a month's rain in a day" weather warnings for today and tomorrow. There does seem to have been a lot of rain this year!

Jack Brown R.I.P.

It seems to be one of those weeks. Jack Brown, a delightful gentleman who had been a stalwart of Copeland Conservatives for very many years has just died. He would have been 100 in January. Rest in Peace.

Defend Free speech: Reform Section 5

I wrote a post on this blog a few weeks ago with the title "Feel Free to Insult Me" which is the slogan for those who are campaigning for reform of Section 5 of the Public Order ACt 1986. In particular, they want the word "insulting" removed from a clause which tries to criminalise "insulting, threatening or abusive behaviour." Absolutely right. Threatening or abusive behaviour should be illegal, but if the trouble is that the expression of almost any controversial opinion is likely to be found insulting by somebody. I'd particularly like to endorse this excellent article on Conservative Home by Simon Calvert, who is director of the campaign to reform section 5. Some of his best points are as follows: "One ... cornerstone of our society is the right to free speech, which is increasingly being challenged by someone else’s right to not be offended. You don’t have to be a student of law to know that we no more enjoy a right not to be offen

Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner elections

All paid-up members of the Conservative party resident in the Cumbria Constabulary police force area should have received an invitation to attend either of two final selection meetings to choose the Conservative candidate in the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner this autumn. The two meetings are to be held in different parts of the county next week: one in Ambleside on Thursday 12th July and one in Mungrisdale on Friday 13th July. If any member of the party in Cumbria is reading this and has not received such an invitation, please contact your local constituency office or email me on

Whitehaven festival put £5.3 million into local economy

Figures published this week in the Whitehaven News suggest that this year's Jubillee weekend Whitehaven Festival put no less than £5.3 million into West Cumbria's economy. Which at this difficult time will have been a potential life-saver for many small businesses. Nice to see something going right. A credit to all the people who organised the festival, which was a great success.

Kenny Wilson R.I.P.

Kenneth William Wilson, who died yesterday, was a true Cumbrian gentleman who will be sadly missed by the very large number of people who knew him. He was an extraordinarily generous man, with a great sense of fun and fellowship: he had been involved in supporting a huge number of charities and other organisations. He was one of those who did most to make it possible for the former Town Hall in Cleator Moor to remain a building which the community can still use, as one of the architects of the purchase of the hall by West Cumbrian Freemasons, who continue to hire it out for public use, when the council would have closed it. Rest in Peace. Update: his funeral will be at noon on Wednesday 11th July at St Bridget's Church, Moresby. Second update: the funeral was exceptionally well attended with people standing outside the church listening via public address system.

Bank inquiry

I think it was the right decision for the CEO of Barclays to resign following the LIBOR rate fixing scandal: firstly because someone senior needs to take responsibility and secondly the bank needs a fresh start to rebuild its' credibility. I was also pleased to see that there is to be an inquiry. Sadly however I was not pleased by the tone of some of the discussion about what form that inquiry should take and the blatant self-serving hypocrisy of some of those taking part in the debate. For example, I was absolutely disgusted by an interview which former Labour City minister Lord Myners has just given on the BBC in which he raised the question of the inquiry. Not because he expressed a view about what form of inquiry would best bring out the truth - that's a legitimate issue to debate even though I disagree with him about it - but because he accused the present government of trying to control the inquiry format in order to prevent "contamination" falling on th

Out of the mouths of Babes ...

Hat tip to The Motley Fool , reposted on Political Betting for the following anecdote. "I recently asked my mate's little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be Prime Minister some day. Both of her parents, Lib Dems, were standing there, so I asked her, 'If you were Prime Minister what would be the first thing you would do? ' She replied, 'I'd give food and council houses to all the homeless people!' Her parents beamed with pride. 'Wow...what a worthy goal.' I told her, 'But you don't have to wait until you are Prime Minister to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you £50... Then I'll take you over to Asda where the homeless guy hangs out and you can give him the £50 to use toward food and a new house!' She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, 'Why doesn't the homeless guy


Just when we hoped that the banking sector might be getting their house in order comes the scandal of interest rate fixing. There are plenty of honest people involved in banking who work hard at jobs which do not attract the huge salaries and bonuses with which Merchant Banking is coming to be associated. It's a great shame that many of them will be tarred with the same brush as those bankers who have been less exemplary in their attention to the rules of sound business or basic ethics. If anyone in Britain - or the other countries affected - were in any doubt that things have gone seriously wrong in the culture of some parts of our banking sectors, the LIBOR scandal would have destroyed such doubts. How can you explain to an unemployed person who has been looking hard for months for a job, or to someone who is working all the hours God sends for £15,000 a year, or anyone struggling to put food on their children's table and pay the rent or mortgage, that people who are pa