Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lest We Forget

While on a visit to British troops in Afghanistan this weekend, David Cameron paid tribute to the British personnel - and sadly the count is now running at 440 - who have given their lives in that country.

We should never forget their sacrifice.

He also said that peace in Afghanistan requires a political solution and not just a military one: and Mohammed Karzai, the Afghan president, agreed with him.

President Karzai also referred to the recent attack by Taleban extremists on his Presidental Palace as "Peanuts" in comparison to the losses which have sometimes been caused in other attacks.

We do need a diplomatic resolution to be part of the solution. Let's hope one can be found.

Of course, most of the military challenge is not coming from Afghans, but from the Pakistani Taleban.

There are massive troubles in Pakistan, but I take some comfort from the fact that the recent election there represented one of the first occasions, if not the first, in Pakistan's history when a government has taken power peacefully through being elected at the ballot box, served one or more full parliamentary terms and then handed over power peacefully through being defeated at the ballot box.  Let's hope this may start the country on a trajectory which may lead to a better Pakistan and give hope torwards peace in Afghanistan.

Quote of the Day

"I like people who refuse to speak until they are ready to speak."

(Lillian Hellman)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

£1000 reward for information leading to cable theft convictions

If anyone reading this was on the A62 near Oldham on Wednesday evening and saw anything unusual, you might like to know that a reward of up to £1,000 has been offered for information leading to arrests and convictions following a major cable theft in the area that evening.

 Several underground cables – a mix of fibre and copper - were damaged in a criminal act in the Oldham area by the A62 just before midnight on Wednesday, causing severe disruption to customers.
Kevin Brown, general manager, BT metal theft task force, said: "I would urge anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area to contact the police or Crimestoppers. Metal theft generates thousands of faults on BT's network every year and remains a priority for BT."
Engineers worked through the night repairing and replacing damaged cables.
Some service providers continued to experience problems with other communications services for several days as a result of the cable damage, and a number of business users were also affected.
Kevin Brown added that additional teams had been sent to the area and were working to restore services to remaining customers as soon as possible.
Ripping cables out of networks, whether it is from the communications networks run by BT and other telecommunications providers or from railway signalling systems is an unbelievably selfish and irresponsible thing to do. It could cost lives and it does cost the British economy a great deal of money in inconvenience to families and companies, lost business and therefore lost jobs.
Anyone with information can call Crimestoppers for free on 0800 555 111. Calls can be made anonymously.

Quotes of the day

"We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be, detested in France."

(Attributed to the first Duke of Wellington in Wellington and His Friends (1965) by his descendant Gerald Wellesley, 7th Duke of Wellington, p. 138, and in The Economist (16 June 2005). The Duke had, of course, spent most of his adult life at war with France, and the statement is quoted to show that disagreements with our neighbours on the other side of the channel have a long history, not to suggest that this is a good thing.)

"I should have given more praise."

(As quoted in A History of Warfare (1968) by Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: "Sir Winston Churchill once told me of a reply made by the Duke of Wellington, in his last years, when a friend asked him: "If you had your life over again, is there any way in which you could have done better?" The old Duke replied: "Yes, I should have given more praise.")

Friday, June 28, 2013

The "Double Dip" that never was ...

Official economic figures going back six years were revised yesterday. Most of the changes were not that dramatic, but the one of the headlines on every news bulletin I heard was that the "double dip" recession apparently didn't happen after all. Hence today's "quote of the day" from Stephanie Flanders, economics editor of BBC Radio 4, who also referred, half seriously, to the second dip as the "recession that never was."

According to the new figures the recession which took place towards the end of the term in office of the last Labour government was even more severe than was thought at the time.

The figures for the first quarter of 2012 have also been revised from a drop of 0.1% to being flat, e.g. neither growing or shrinking.

As the official definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth, this means that what had been the second quarter of the supposed "double dip" is now offically flat rather than pretty flat but marginally negative, which in turn implies that the recession of late 2011 and early 2012 technically never happened. We no longer officially had a double dip recession.

My purpose in posting this to respond to some very confusing statements on the television and radio. It is not, and never was, to suggest that, because a very marginal revision to economic numbers has technically eliminated the "double dip" recession which had previously been recorded, that the economic difficulties the country has been facing have been somehow revised away. They have not.

The changes in the figures do not alter the fact that it is still taking a very long time, and has been a very slow and painful process, to recover from the terrible recession which took place during Gordon Brown's premiership.

The economy is now showing distinct signs of growth, but there is still a lot to do: we need to keep putting downward pressure on the deficit and helping businesses to grow, creating income and jobs. There is no room whatever for complacency.

Quote of the Day

"Well I guess if we made news of the non-event originally, then we do have to now make news of the non-event turning out to really have been a non-event."

(Stephanie Flanders, Economics Editor, Radio 4's "PM" programme, 27th June 2013, referring to the published changes to Britain's economic growth statistics which revised away the second dip of the previously reported "double dip" recession.)


You can hear the full article on BBC iPlayer about 19 minutes into the programme here.

Or see next post.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quote of the Day

"To most men duty means something unpleasant which the other fellow ought to do"

(George Horace Lorimer)

George Osborne writes on the spending review

Today I have published the Spending Round, which sets out our spending priorities and choices for 2015/16.

Labour left us with the largest deficit since the Second World War. We borrowed £1 in every £4 that we spent. We had to take tough decisions to bring our economy back from the brink of bankruptcy.

While recovery from such a deep recession is never straightforward, Britain is moving out of intensive care - from rescue to recovery. The Spending Round sets out how we will secure that recovery.

Of course the choices are difficult, and there is no easy route out of a mess as big as the one Labour created. The departmental settlements I have announced today will reduce current spending by £11.5 billion in 2015-16. But every decision we have taken is based on three principles: delivering reform, prioritising growth and ensuring fairness.

Through reform, we are determined to get more from every pound we spend. We are clamping down on waste across Whitehall - £5 billion of the savings today come from efficiency savings. By reforming elsewhere, we are able to announce that we will not cut the number of soldiers, sailors or airmen. By homing in on efficiency and driving through public service reform, we are delivering better services and bringing down Government spending.

To deliver growth, we are investing in education, enterprise and the economic infrastructure we need so that we can win the global race. Today I have announced there will be over £300 billion in capital spending guaranteed over the next decade. We are setting out long-term funding to science and schools, boosting apprenticeship funding, and prioritising education – we will provide for 180 new Free Schools in 2015-16. I know that Government spending alone cannot create growth. Enterprise does. We need to provide the schools, science, transport links and reliable energy that enable business to grow.

To ensure fairness, we are making sure that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden. We are also reforming welfare so that it is fair to both those who need it and those who pay for it. That is why we have announced an overall cap on welfare spending from April 2015 and have set out a package of reforms that will put in place new conditions on people claiming out-of-work benefits: half of jobseekers will have to go to a jobcentre once a week, claimants must do an Upfront Job Search and wait 7 days before claiming benefits, and claimants will be required to learn English if they don’t already speak it.

The decisions we take are not easy, and I know that times are difficult.

But with today’s Spending Round, we make more progress towards an economy that prospers, a state we can afford, a deficit coming down and a Britain that is on the rise.
George Osborne signature
George Osborne
Chancellor of the Exchequer

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Care Quality Commission report on WCH

The Care Quality Commission has released a critical report into the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, known locally as WCH, following an unannounced inspection of the hospital held in May.

The report highlights staffing levels, patient welfare and care and record keeping as areas of concern.

More details on my hospitals blog here.

Schools and Hospitals protected in government spending round

Like almost every other country, Britain is going through tough times and whoever was in government now would be having to make tough decisions.

The coalition government today announced a new round of spending decisions. The country does not have enough money to be able to afford everything we would like and I don't think there will be anyone who isn't unhappy at some of the cuts which have been announced.

But the same would be true of what any other government would have to do. I am pleased that education and health have been protected.

We came into Government to address one of the biggest economic crises since the Second World War. While recovery from such a deep recession is never straightforward, Britain is moving out of intensive care - from rescue to recovery.
The Spending Round sets out how we will secure that recovery. The choices are difficult, and there is no easy route out of a mess as big as the one Labour created.

There will be over £300 billion in capital spending guaranteed over the next decade, while the departmental settlements announced today will reduce current spending by £11.5 billion in 2015-16.

Every decision we have taken is based on three principles: delivering reform, prioritising growth and ensuring fairness.

Through reform, we are determined to get more from every pound we spend.

To deliver growth, we are investing in education, enterprise and economic infrastructure we need so that we can win the global race. We know that Government spending alone cannot create growth. Enterprise does. We need to provide the schools, science, transport links and reliable energy that enable business to grow.

To ensure fairness, we are making sure that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden. We are also reforming welfare so that it is fair to both those who need it and those who pay for it.

The decisions we take are not easy, and we know that times are difficult.

But with today's Spending Round, we make more progress towards an economy that prospers, a state we can afford, a deficit coming down and a Britain that is on the rise.
For more information on the measures in the Spending Round, please visit the Treasury pages on

Quote of the Day

"Taking advice from the Shadow Chancellor on balancing the books is like taking advice from Dracula on how to run a blood bank."

(George Osborne responding yesterday in the House of Commons to an attack by Ed Balls.)

UKIP Leader admits "mistake" setting up trust fund

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has admitted he made "a mistake" by setting up a trust fund in an off-shore tax haven.

Mr Farage, who has previously spoken out against those who evade tax in a speech to the European Parliament, admitted that he paid a tax adviser to set up the Farage Family Educational Trust 1654 on the Isle of Man, according to the Daily Mirror. The newspaper said Mr Farage insisted he had not personally benefited from the account, and that he claimed he had ended up out of pocket.

The MEP told the Mirror: "My financial advisers recommended I did it, to have a trust really for inheritance purposes and I took the advice and I set it up. It was a mistake. I was a completely unsuitable person for it. I am not blaming them, it was my fault."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Quote of the Day

"When one comes down to particular instances, everything becomes more complicated."

(Albert Camus)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Attempted metal theft results in serious accident

One of the reasons metal theft so annoys me is that it can endanger the lives of innocent people. I make no apology for returning to this subject and pointing out - because the knowledge might make potential thieves realise that they would be better off adopting an honest profession - that metal theft gangs often also endanger their own.

This is what appears to have happened recently in Yorkshire when what seems to have been an attempted cable theft ended with a suspected intruder falling from a roof and breaking both legs.

​The incident happened during a break-in at BT’s Sheffield Computer Centre in Tinsley Park, Sheffield, South Yorkshire. A vigilant site security guard was monitoring CCTV screens when he spotted movement in the yard and then saw two people climbing the perimeter wall. He immediately called Yorkshire police, who responded promptly, with officers, including a dog handler, arriving within ten minutes to carry out a search of the site.

At this point the individuals who were on the premises without permission attempted to leave, and one man was seriously injured when he fell 16ft from a roof. An ambulance was called and paramedics treated the man at the scene before he was taken to hospital. Police arrested four people.

As I do not wish to prejudice the trial of the individuals who were arrested or anyone else who may have been associated with what appears to have been an attempted theft involving actual damage to BT's systems I will not say too much more about this incident, other than to say that it appears to merit a severe punishment, though I would prefer that it were imposed by the courts rather than through injury.

I hope the gentleman who fell from the roof will have plenty of time to reflect on the fact that if the BT wires which were cut that evening had included the telecommunications system which was subsequently used to summon the ambulance and medics who treated him, his suffering might have been a great deal worse.

Metal theft isn't just a menace to society - it is an even bigger menace to the people involved in it, and the risks to life and limb far outweigh the returns. Anyone who is competent and careful enough to bring off a series of successful metal thefts could earn far more money for less effort though any of a range of honest jobs.

Quote of the Day

"Whom the Gods would make bigots, they first deprive of humour." (James M Gillis)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Quote of the Day

A quote about my own academic discipline, coined by a University professor before I was born but still a point which anyone addressing the subject needs to bear in mind today ...

"One of the difficulties of economics is that it is too easy to explain after a particular event has happened, why it should have happened; and too easy to explain before it happens, why it should not happen."

(M.G. Kendall, London University, quoted in Montreal Star, December 1960)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A superb morning at the "Marratime Festival"

My family had a great time this morning at Whitehaven Festival 2013. There are four tall ships and two Royal Navy patrol boats in the harbour, all open to the public for a small fee giving access to the relevant "tongue" (jetty), a huge variety of market stalls selling food from all round the world and a variety of other products, display stands from the armed forces and various charities and companies,  and a large number of fairground stalls and rides.

Weather has been quite mild so far - there was some rain in the early morning but from mid-morning to lunchtime it has been dry and quite a comfortable temperature, if a little windy. A large number of visitors are enjoying the festival, which continues until tomorrow (Sunday) evening.

Quote of the Day

"Who does your hair - the council?"

("Titan the Robot" stand-up comedy routine at the harbour at Whitehaven Festival 2013. Whether Copeland Borough Council will be happy to have him invited back in 2014 remains to be seen ...)

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Marratime Festival" in Whitehaven this weekend

Whitehaven Maritime Festival 2013 begins ...

One of Cumbria's biggest regular events, the Whitehaven Maritime Festival (sometimes humorously known as the "Marratime Festival" takes place this weekend.

There is an absolutely fantastic programme which starts this evening (Friday 21st June) and continues through to Sunday and includes Titan the Robot (billed as quite literally the biggest entertainer on the planet), Xtreme action jet skis, and nightlight pyrotechnics fireworks on Friday and Saturday. Artists booked to appear include McFly, The Sweet, Slade, and Bruce Foxtons from the Jam.

You can pick up more details here.

Quote of the Day

“Common sense is the most widely shared commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.”
(René Descartes)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

FGH Cover up

The tragedy of a number of deaths of mothers and babies at Furness General Hospital in Barrow was terrible enough.

The emergence of evidence that the Care Quality Commission, the NHS regulator, conspired to cover up what had happened is beyond unacceptable. An independent review has revealed that senior officials at the health watchdog suppressed a report that highlighted failings at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.

It appears that both deaths and severe mismanagement at the Morecombe Bay health trust occurred over a number of years, These deaths are too important and too tragic to be used as a party political football: the cases in the public domain of deaths at FGH which may possibly have been avoidable took place while the previous government was in office but although the top brass at the trust and the CQC have changed since then we cannot afford to assume that the culture has changed.

The new chairman of the CQC, David Prior, has admitted that the breach of public trust was so serious that

“We can have no confidence, I think, not just at Morecambe Bay but across many more hospitals, that we have done a proper job.” He also admitted to the BBC that the CQC was “not set up then, and we’re not fully set up now, to investigate hospitals”.

Apologising in the House of Commons for what had happened, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the failings at Morecambe Bay had been

“a terrible personal tragedy for all the families involved”. “A culture in the NHS had been allowed to develop where defensiveness and secrecy were put ahead of patient safety and care,” he said. “I want to... ensure this kind of cover-up never happens again.”

Names of those accused of a cover-up within the CQC were removed from the independent report, commissioned by the watchdog and carried out by management consultants Grant Thornton.

But Mr Hunt said that neither he nor the chair of the CQC had wanted the names to be witheld and may now ask the Information Commissioner to rule on the decision.

“There should be no anonymity, no hiding place, no opportunity to get off scot free for anyone at all who was responsible for this,” he said.

You can currently see Jeremy Hunt's statement to the House in full on the BBC website here.

Quote of the Day

Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.”
(George Carlin)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Grant Shapps writes on the "Let Britain Decide" campaign for a referendum

On Friday 5th July, Conservatives will vote to give the British public a say on Europe.
This EU Referendum Bill could give us the first vote on the EU in over 40 years, after a renegotiation for a new deal in the EU. It is historic.
Unfortunately the other parties don’t trust you to have your say on Europe. So we urgently need to put public pressure on Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to unite behind a referendum.
That’s why I’m writing to you today. I’m inviting you to be part of history by publicly co-sponsoring the EU Referendum Bill itself right here:
Thanks and best wishes,
Grant Shapps signature
Grant Shapps
Conservative Party Chairman
We’ve got a real fight on our hands which you can help us win. Please remember to ask your friends and family to sign up too.

Let Britain Decide - co-sponsor the Bill for an In-Out Referendum

The Conservatives have opened a facebook page so that those who would like to see an In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership can "co-sponsor" the bill put forward by James Wharton MP which if passed would write into British law a referendum on EU membership by 2017.

If you want to support a referendum and Let Britain Decide, you can do so here. I have signed up and I hope that all those who have been telling me that they would like to see such a referendum will do likewise.

Quote of the Day

“Books and minds only work when they're open.”
(James Dewar)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Language and political debate

Matthew Elliott, the Chief Executive of Business for Britain & Founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, has an interesting blogpost on Conservative Home called "Five language rules for the right."

His basic points are

1) AVOID JARGON - talk in simple terms which sound relevant to the average voter.
"Margaret Thatcher was very good at talking about the economy in terms of a household budget"

2) Don't let the left establish ownership of powerful words and phrases such as "Social Justice", "Fairness" or "Jobs".

3) Use international, outward looking language, especially when talking about the European Union, and not "little Englander" language. For example, make clear that we need build trade with the whole world, not just our immediate neighbours in Europe, but including  high-growth countries outside the EU, such as Brazil, India & China.

"This language wins over floating voters, because it shows that the speaker isn't parochial, uncomfortable with the wider world, or – dare I say it – a "swivel eyed loon".

4) The left are often brilliant at renaming policies to give them a bad name, often with phrases which are highly inaccurate but memorable and therefore stick. Examples - the poll tax, pasty tax, and most recently the so-called "bedroom tax." Several of our more successful election campaigns did the same thing to them - "Labour's tax bombshell" and the "Death Tax" spring to mind.

5) On occasions like a referendum campaign when you ought to be able to win some votes on the opposite side of the left-right divide, don't use language which isolates and alienates potential support on the other side.

An example was the AV referendum, when the pro-AV campaign failed to make any use of the fact that UKIP supported them, and cold-shouldered Farage, while the "No2AV" campaign was very careful not to alienate, and indeed to exploit the support of, the large number of opponents of PR on the left.

You can read the full article "here."

Quote of the Day

“Tis the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Monday, June 17, 2013

Quote of the Day

"The age in which you want Scandinavian levels of welfare but you're only prepared to pay American tax rate is over."

Frank Field MP  "The Week at Westminster" 15 June 2013 (see yesterday's article for link)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A superb, intelligent debate about pensions

Labour's shadow chancellor Ed Balls recently tried to prove Labour would be tough in trying to tackle the government deficit (a huge problem, of course, inherited by the present coalition from the previous Labour goverment in which Ed Ball played a key economic role) by taking on pensioners.

Any pensioner or person heading for retirement age who is thinking of voting Labour has been warned - Labour is looking to save money by spending less on pensioners.

Particularly those who have done the right thing by saving for their old age so they will not be a burden on their families, or dependent on the doubtful generosity of the state in their retirement.

Yesterday morning while travelling I heard a superb debate about Politics of Pensions on Radio 4's "Week in Westminster" programme. The Conservative and Labour speakers were two of the most intelligent people in the House of Commons: former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Lilley MP and one of the very few Labour MPs who I highly respect, Frank Field.

The debate between Peter and Frank, chaired by the Sun's Tom Newton Dunn, was one of the most perceptive and interesting political discussions I have ever heard, packing an amazing amount of common sense and well-informed thought into seven minutes.

As was pointed out by Frank Field in the discussion, the days when anyone in their right mind thought that Britain could hope to provide scandinavian levels of welfare on US levels of taxation are well and truly over. We won't be able to afford any such thing in the lifetime of anyone now alive, either.

He added that for fifty of the past 64 years, governments of all parties promised and tried to provide a more generous level of state activity than they were prepared to raise the tax to pay for.

I wish every voter in the country could have heard that discussion, if you do wish to listen to it, which I would strongly recommend, it is available on BBC iPlayer here - the "Politics of Pensions" item starts about 14 minutes into the programme and finishes about 21 minutes in.

Fathers' Day

Today is Fathers' day.

It had been something of a sore point for me, long before I actually became a dad myself, that the Church rightly makes a very big thing of Mothering Sunday but all too often completely ignores Father's Day. On the majority of occasions in the past when I went to church on Fathers' Day the fact would literally not get so much as a mention. Once or twice I pointed out to various vicars that the church was seriously missing a trick in this respect: the reponse was to point out that Mothering Sunday was an official part of the church calendar while Fathers' day isn't. which merely demonstrated that the responsibility for the missed opportunity for celebrate the role of dads went right to the top.

Well that wasn't the case today, at least in St James' Church Whitehaven, who pulled out all the stops to make something of the fact that it was Fathers' Day.

Both Mums and Dads have an important role in society, and you don't have to go all the way with Fathers 4 Justice to recognise that a failure, by secular society as well as the church, to pay enough attention and respect to the role of fathers has had a significant social cost, particularly to children who have missed out on the support of a father in their life.

It was nice for once to see that mistake avoided and the role of fathers celebrated.

Quote of the Day

In the early 18th century there was a major dispute between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge over which should receive the Bishop of Ely's library.  Having decided in favour of Cambridge, King George the First's government had to send a troop of cavalry to Oxford to put down the resulting clamour. The incident provoked two alternative humorous perspectives expressed in verse:

"The King, observing with judicious eyes
The state of both his universities,
To Oxford sent a troop of horse, and why?
That learned body wanted loyalty;
To Cambridge books, as very well discerning
How much that loyal body wanted learning."

(Joseph Trapp)

And in response:

"The King to Oxford sent a troop of horse,
For Tories own no argument but force:
With equal skill to Cambridge books he sent,
For Whigs admit no force but argument."

(William Browne, Literary Anecdotes Vol. III.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty

Today is H.M. the Queen's official birthday and sees the publication of the Birthday Honours list.

A total of 1,180 people have been honoured, 72% of whom are actively involved in charitable or voluntary work within their local community, the others for other types of service. 556 of awards go to women, about half the list, and 6% to people from an ethnic minority.

Among the well known people honoured are the actress, Claire Bloom, who receives a CBE as does the actor and comedian, Rowan Atkinson. His Blackadder colleague Tony Robinson gets a knighthood, for which he was recommended by Parliamentary and Political Services Committee, chaired by Lord Spicer, for his public and political service. Other awards recommende by that committee included the title of Companion of Honour for the Rt Hon Menzies Campbell, MP for North East Fife; and knighthoods for Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough; Stephen Houghton, Leader, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council; and the Rt Hon Andrew Stunell, MP for Hazel Grove.

There is also a CBE for Thomas Heatherwick, designer of the Olympic Cauldron; an OBE for the sports presenter, Clare Balding; an OBE for the golfer, Paul Lawrie; an MBE for the actor, director and playwright, David Haig Collum Ward; an MBE for the comedian, Robert Brydon; an MBE for the singer and broadcaster, Aled Jones; and an MBE for the singer and songwriter, Adele Adkins.
Senior women at DBE in this list include Professor Nicky Cullum, Professor of Nursing, University of Manchester; Professor Hermione Lee, President of Wolfson College and Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford; and Diana Ellis, Executive Chair, British Rowing.


In total, about 10% of honours are for work in education. The Education Committee has recognised 28 headteachers in total, including knighthoods and damehoods for the following 5 headteachers; Dana Ross-Wawrzynski, Executive Headteacher, Altrincham Grammar School for Girls; Sue Bourne, Headteacher, The Avenue School, Reading; Kenneth Gibson, Executive Headteacher, Harton Technology College and Jarrow School, South Tyneside; Greg Martin, Executive Headteacher, Durand Academy, London Borough of Lambeth and David Carter, Executive Principal, Cabot Learning Federation.

British Empire Medals include an award to Anisa Haghdadi, a social entrepreneur, who founded a street dance company at 15 for underprivileged young people in Birmingham, and has made a real contribution to education through her voluntary work for Aim Higher, supporting a range of post 16 learners.


Health makes up 7% of all honours. These include 3 nurses, 3 GPs, 2 community paediatricians, a radiographer and a plaster cast technician. In addition to the damehood for Professor Nicky Cullum, there is a damehood for Professor Anne Johnson, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University College London. The other awards in health include a knighthood for Professor Peng Tee Khaw, Consultant Opthalmic Surgeon, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London; and a knighthood for Professor Andrew Hall, lately Professor of Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Industry and the economy

Industry and the economy make up 10% of the awards and include knighthoods for Richard Olver, Chairman, BAE Systems plc; Charlie Mayfield, Chair, John Lewis Partnership; and Brendan Barber, lately General Secretary, Trades Union Congress. Other awards include a CBE for Dale Murray, an angel investor with a portfolio of investments across technology and other sectors; and a CBE for Caroline Cooper, Chief Operating Officer, Big Society Capital.

Science and technology

Science and technology make up 2% of the total. The awards include a knighthood for Professor Michael Stratton, Director, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and Professor of Cancer Genetics, Institute of Cancer Research; and a knighthood for Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of Southampton.

The MBEs include an award to Professor Catherine Martin, Biologist and Editor in Chief, The Plant Cell, whose work has led to fundamental new insights into the production of pigments in flowers and fruit.

The full Birthday honours list can be found here.

Quote of the Day

"There once was a man, who said "God
Must think it exceedingly odd,
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad."

(Limeric on a philosophical problem posed by Bishop Berkely about whether things in general, and the tree in the quad at Balliol college, Oxford as a particular example, still exist when there is nobody to observe them. Both the limeric and this suggested reply, were composed by Balliol-educated Catholic theologian and Bible translator Ronald Knox, the latter more accurately reflecting Berkeley's beliefs:)
"Dear Sir, your astonishment's odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, GOD."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Let Britain Decide

David Cameron is urging people to back Conservative Stockton South MP, James Wharton, in his bid to secure the first EU referendum in 40 years.

On Wednesday of this week the Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, launched a new campaign website, to make it simple for people to back James Wharton's Bill

The site aims to "build public pressure, to give people a voice, and to urge MPs from other parties to listen to their constituents."

The whole site is based on public interaction - encouraging the public to play an active role in the campaign and get MPs from all parties to join Conservative MPs and reflect the views of constituents.

Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said:

"Britain deserves a vote. It's been nearly 40 years since the British people last had their say on Europe. People feel the EU is heading in a direction they never signed up to.

"That is why Conservatives want to give Britain a clear vote - in or out - before the end of 2017, after a full renegotiation.

"A draft Bill to make this happen will soon be debated by MPs - but, crucially, it needs the support of other political parties to pass. Britain needs everyone to build public pressure on this. That's why we are launching today: to give people a voice, and to urge MPs to listen to their constituents."

Gove's speech on exam reform

As my children, currently in Year 7 (which is what used to be known as the first form of secondary school) will be part of the first cohort to sit the new GCSE's it is natural that I am extremely interested to know how they will work. Here is the full text of education secretary Michael Gove's speech earlier this week on reforming the exam system.

"Mr Speaker.

With your permission I should like to make a statement on the future of examinations.

There is now a widespread consensus - underpinned by today’s persuasive report from the Education Select Committee - that we need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence.

That is why today we are publishing draft details of new GCSE content in core academic subjects.

And the independent regulator Ofqual is publishing its own consultation on the regulation of reformed GCSEs.

We are publishing the draft content in English, maths, science, history, geography and modern and ancient languages alongside this statement.

We will consult on that content over the next 10 weeks.

We expect these subjects (with the exception of languages) to be ready for first teaching in September 2015, with the first exams being taken in summer 2017.

Languages and other subjects will follow soon after, with first teaching from September 2016 and first exams being taken from summer 2018.

The new subject content published today has been drawn up in collaboration with distinguished subject experts - whom I would like to thank.

In line with our changes to the national curriculum, the new specifications are more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous.

That means more extended writing in subjects like English and history; more testing of advanced problem-solving skills in mathematics and science; more testing of mathematics in science GCSEs, to improve progression to A Levels; more challenging mechanics problems in physics; a stronger focus on evolution and genetics in biology; and a greater focus on foreign language composition, so that pupils require deeper language skills.

This higher level of demand will equip our children to go onto higher education or a good apprenticeship - and we can raise the bar knowing that we have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools to help students achieve more than ever before.

Our education reforms - the growth in the number of academies and free schools, the improvements in teacher recruitment and training and sharper accountability from improved league tables and a strengthened Ofsted - are raising standards in schools. That means new GCSEs will remain universal qualifications - accessible, with good teaching, to the same proportion of pupils as now.

The specifications we are publishing today also give awarding organisations a clearer indication of our expectations in each subject.

Under the previous system, specifications were too vague. This caused suspicion and speculation that some exam boards were ‘harder’ than others, undermining the credibility of the exam system as a whole.

Including more detail in our requirements for subject content will ensure greater consistency and fairness across subjects and between exam boards. By reducing variability in the system, we can ensure that all young people leave school with qualifications respected by employers, universities and further education. While making GCSE content more rigorous, we must also correct the structural problems with GCSEs that we inherited.

As today’s report from the Select Committee confirms, the problems with English GCSE generated last summer proved beyond any doubt that the current system requires reform.

Both the Select Committee report and Ofqual recognise that controlled assessment (which counted for 60% of the English GCSE qualification) undermined the reliability of the assessment as a whole.

That’s why I asked Ofqual to review the regulatory framework for GCSEs:

To judge how we might limit course work and controlled assessment; and also to reflect on how we could lift a cap on aspiration by reducing the two tier structure of some GCSEs.

I also asked Ofqual to explore how we might reform our grading structure better to reflect the full range of student ability and reward the very best performers.

Ofqual’s consultation sets out how reformed GCSEs can be more rigorous and stretching, and encourage students to develop and demonstrate deep understanding.

It is proposed that course work and controlled assessment will largely be replaced by linear, externally marked end-of-course exams.

It is proposed that the current two tier system will end except where it is absolutely essential - in maths and science.

In those subjects, Ofqual is consulting on how to improve the current arrangements to deal with the concerns we have expressed about capping aspiration.

Ofqual is also consulting on a new grading system which gives fairer recognition to the whole ability range.

Young people in this country deserve an education system that can compete with the best in the world, a system which sets - and achieves - high expectations.

Today’s reforms are essential to achieve this goal. By making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling, and more stretching we can give our young people the broad, deep and balanced education which will equip them to win in the global race.

I commend this statement to the House."

Quote of the Day from Dan Hannan MEP

"As recently as September, my friend Nigel Farage was saying that he would support another party if its commitment to a membership referendum were 'written in blood'. Well, the Conservatives have adopted the policy, moved the Bill, backed it on a Three-line Whip and established a mass campaign to convince other MPs. Short of literally writing in blood, what else can they do?"

(Dan Hannan MEP in an article in the Daily Telegraph which you can read in full here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Quote of the Day

"A joke was no sooner going the rounds in Westminster - that the difference between a New Labour MP and a supermarket trolley is that the trolley has a mind of its' own - when a newspaper report came out that Sainsbury's are planning to ensure they have no more trollwys with awkward wheels.

I thought, 'This man Mandelson works fast!'"

(Rt. Hon Peter Lilley MP)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Quote of the day

My own experience suggests, and I would certainly hope it is true, that the proportion of honest politicians is rather larger than the following quote infers. Nevertheless it contains, unfortunately, enough truth to be funny ...

"Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad."

(Henry Kissinger, form U.S. Secretary of State)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Quote of the Day

“When I'm out of politics I'm going to run a business, it'll be called rent-a-spine”

(Margaret Thatcher)

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Summer is icumen in ...

On Tuesday this past week I spent some time with a work colleague at Penrith telephone exchange.

Ironically it was an absolutely beautiful warm day with hours of bright sunshine but one of the things we were doing was searching through the data for weather in the UK this year to date, trying to establish if there was a correlation with the cold weather we have been having, trying to establish if the fact that on some measures Britain had the coldest spring for fifty years had produced an impact on the number of issues with BT's network.

Today is the sixth consecutive glorious day since then, and I am finally coming round to the view that we may actually get a summer this year.

More astute supporters of the view that government need to take action about the environment have long since stopped talking about "Global Warming" and started talking about "Climate Change" instead - firstly because the potential harmful impacts on the environment which we need to avoid are far wider than just temperature, and secondly because the data on temperature, though it does suggest that some degree of warming may be taking place, as far more complex that the simple story of runaway temperature increases that the most alarmist narratives used to give.

An example of a worldwide environmental problem which is nothing to do with temperature is the slow but steady acidification of the oceans over the past few decades, which if it continues much further will being to have catastrophic consequences for fisheries and communities dependent on them: an example of a potentially serious national environmental problem is the decline in bee populations. (Bees pollinate a lot of our crops.)

Ironically, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for climate change is something which has not happened, namely the big freeze that was once expected to have happened by now.

Historical records and the patterns found in the rings of trees suggest that the world had up until now had a series of temperature cycles lasting several hundred years which alternated between so called "little ice ages" and warm periods. The last "little ice age" lasted from tudor times to the Regency, and the history books tell us that the Thames froze completely over in at least 24 years over those centuries, providing opportunities for "Frost fairs" on the ice. In the year of the last of these, 1814, the Thames was frozen over with the ice sufficiently thick to take the weight of an Elephant which was led over the river just below Blackfriars Bridge.

The mid to late 20th century was supposed to be a warm epoch, and scientists and climatologists expected the temperature to drop sharply again at around the turn of the millenium. I can recall the cover of a "New Scientist" issue in my youth - it would have been some thirty or forty years ago - which showed an image of an icebreaker at work in ths English Channel near the White Cliffs of Dover, with a caption suggesting that such a thing might be seen before the end of the 20th century.

And of course, it wasn't. Temperatures in UK over the 21st century to date have been consistently higher than they were in the last half of the 20th century, although they have not, over the past five years, shown a clear upward trend of futher rises. Climate change experts have revised downwards their forecasts of the rate at which they think global temperatures will increase.

There may be those who see this as evidence to support the view that man-made climate change is a myth. The doom mongers who predicted a big freeze were wrong, they would argue, and the doom-mongers who are predicting warming are wrong now.

That would be a mistake. People who are tempted to look at the evidence in that way should be very careful to avoid clutching at any straws which might give them an excuse to avoid messages they don't want to hear.

There will be others who take the lesson from the fact that scientists have amended their views in the face of fresh evidence, that the earth's climate is far more complex than any of us, even the best informed scientists, understand. That means we would be wise to listen to all reasonable points of view rather than damn those who say something which challenges the current consensus as heretics or, God help us, "Climate change deniers." This time I agree

But that is not an argument for ignoring the environment. If the earth's biosphere and climate are more complicated than we understand, that is all the more reason to be careful about what we release into our ecosystem. "Doctor Who" is fiction, "The Day after Tomorrow" is ridiculous fiction, but the fact that there have been changes greater than we can imagine in our earth's environment, and that we do not fully understand what might trigger them to happen again, or spark off entirely new types of change, is no more than the truth. And under the precautionary principle, it is a reason to watch out for what imact we may be having on our world.

Quote of the day

“There are men running governments who shouldn't be allowed to play with matches.”

Will Rogers )

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Quote of the Day

“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river. ”
(Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev)

Friday, June 07, 2013

Labour confusion on Planning

I served as a member of two different planning authorities at opposite ends of the country for a period of twenty years.

During my sixteen years on St Albans City & District Council I was a planning committee member and then chairman, then the council's first planning portfolio holder: I was later chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny committee which oversaw those aspects of planning not dealt with by planning committees, and served on the Local Development Framework working group.

When on Copeland Borough Council I also served on the Local Development Framework group.

I have vivid memories of the impact of half a dozen secretaries of state, both Conservative and Labour, from Nick Ridley to Eric Pickles.

Nick Ridley is always remembered for his policy of permitting developments in towns, particularly on brownfield sites, but the other half of his policy is not so well remembered: he was equally firm in supporting councils who wished to fight development in the Green Belt.

Chris Patten was the strongest defender of local choice and conservation to hold the office from either party, closely followed by John Gummer.

In terms of their attitude to planning and the amount of development they tried to force through in the country as a whole and the South East in particular, the 1997-2010 Labour government was far and away the most dictatorial, micromanaging, and pro-development of any government in history, and in particular John Prescott made Nick Ridley look like a wishy washy NIMBY sympathising liberal.

Here in the North West, where many people would have liked the development, we got the dictatorial micromanagement but not the development - David Davis famously and accurately accused Labour of the policy of "bulldozing the North and concreting over the South."

Because they have faced the same conflicting pressures, both the last Labour government and the present coalition have made similar and to some degree conflicting noises about planning. Both have talked the language of localism and claimed to be simplifying the planning system while trying to strongly encourage development.

There, however, the similarity ends. Labour's claims to support localism and simplification alike were complete nonsense, their mad dash to develop the South East of England drove them to ride roughshod over councils of every type and political colour, and their rewriting of the planning system, particularly by Lord Falconer, made it massively more complicated.

The present coalition has also sought to remove barriers to development, but where they have aimed to make the planning system simpler they have really done it - reducing the number of pages of central government guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) from more than 1,400 to 52, for example.

Mostly this reduction in central red tape has helped developers, but sometimes the present government has also given more freedom of action to local planning authorities. For example, the government has reduced the extent to which local councils are required to conform to nationally set targets on how many homes they have to give planning permission for. Councils are still required to say in their local plans where new development is acceptable but these plans are far less likely to be over-ridden by the government.

Given Labour's record on planning I am left scratching my head at the statements from shadow planning minister Hilary Benn's statement this week that the leopard has changed its spots and Labour will if elected give more say to local councils.

“Local communities should decide where they want new homes and developments to go and then give their consent in the form of planning permission,” he said.

However, he also agreed with Nick Boles, planning minister in the present government, that

“we can’t carry on moaning about the difficulty our children are facing in finding somewhere to live while opposing all planning applications for new housing”. He added: “To deal with this, we have to make localism really work.”

Which, Hilary, is exactly what you failed to do when you were last in government. And I find it particularly difficult to believe it would be any different if Labour were elected in 2015 given that they have also promised that

"Labour wants to embark on a huge house-building programme if it wins the 2015 general election."

Quotes are from a Daily Telegraph article here which references Hilary Benn's comments in full here.

Incidentally not all the things in Hilary Benn's article should be taken as gospel - for example, it reads as if the coalition has given developers new rights of appeal, when in fact it has been the situation for sixty years that a developer who has had a planning application refused, or not determined within a set statutory period, has had the right to appeal to central government, and that right existed throughout the entire life of the last three Labour governments.

Labour have command and control written into their DNA. All politicians of any party should be scrutinised closely when they claim to be supporting localism, to see whether the claims add up.

Quote of the Day

“It is not power that corrupts but fear.”
( Aung San Suu Kyi)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Communities to have more say over Wind Farms

The coaltion government will give local communities more powers to block onshore wind farms, but also given better community benefits packages when they do agree to accept them, it was announced this week.

Planning guidance in England will be changed to ensure local opposition can override national energy targets. There will also be a five-fold rise in the benefits paid by developers to communities hosting wind farms.

The subsidies - worth about £100,000 a year from a medium-sized farm - could be used to reduce energy bills. Alternatively, the money could pay for energy efficiencies in the host community or fund other local initiatives.

The government said the measures would ensure local communities had a greater stake in the planning process. It also said it expected the energy industry to improve its community benefit packages by the end of the year.

The increase in community benefits packages will be from £1,000 per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity per year, to £5,000 per MW per year, for the lifetime of the wind farm.

This means a medium-sized 20 MW wind farm could produce a benefits package to the local community worth £100,000 a year.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said that

"We want to give local communities a greater say on planning, to give greater weight to the protection of landscape, heritage and local amenity”

It will be up to local communities and developers to decide how any money is spent.

Quote of the Day

“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

(Margaret Thatcher)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Theresa May writes on immigration

"Three years ago, we made a promise: to bring immigration back under control.
The latest set of independent statistics show we’re doing just that.
Since the election, we have cut net immigration by more than a third. The number of immigrants coming to the UK is now lower than it has been for over a decade.
After years of uncontrolled immigration under Labour, the Conservatives are building an immigration system which works in our national interest.
We want this country to attract people who will contribute to our national life – but those who will not should be deterred.
bulletWe have closed down bogus colleges and made students who want to come to the UK prove they’re coming here to study, not to work.
bulletWe have made sure people can only bring in a spouse or partner from outside Europe if they can support them financially.
bulletWe have rewritten the ‘Life in the UK’ test for new citizens, putting British values and British history at its heart.
Labour have opposed every single one of these reforms.
But we know there is more to do. It is still too easy for illegal immigrants to access public services which they’re not entitled to – and too hard for immigration officials to remove them from the UK. Our new Immigration Bill will clamp down on those from overseas who abuse our public services, make Britain less of a soft touch, and make it easier for us to remove people who should not be here.
It will take time to clear up the mess we inherited from Labour. But these figures show that we can do it.
Best wishes,"
Theresa May signature
The Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP
Home Secretary

If we had a responsible opposition they would sound like this ...

I don't necessarily agree with everything in the article published yesterday evening on the Telegraph website by Alistair Heath, editor of "City AM." But his argument that "There's a worse crisis on the way unless we get serious about tackling debt" shows him to be far more qualified to be shadow chancellor than Ed Balls or Ed Miliband.

It doesn't make cheerful reading but his basic argument that the government and many parts of the private economy are still borrowing far too much, and that we are still in danger of drowning in debt, has far too much truth in it.

As he writes

"Families and companies have only just started down the long road towards fiscal responsibility, with the belt-tightening likely to continue until the end of the decade; and the public sector is still adding more to the national debt pile every week than the private sector is repaying."

"We still aren’t remotely living within our means ..."

"Household debt has fallen from 111pc of GDP at the start of 2009 to 99pc at the end of last year, according to official data analysed in a recent note by Michael Saunders, Citigroup’s brilliant economist. For private firms excluding banks, debt has dropped from 121pc of GDP to 108pc.

"This is a decent readjustment, with individuals and businesses trying to put themselves on firmer footings – and helps to explain why banks’ net lending remains relentlessly negative – but this process has much further to go.

"Together, families and non-financial firms’ debt is still worth 208pc of GDP and is merely back to levels last seen in mid-2007, a time when leverage was already utterly unsustainable. Current debt levels remain much higher than they were a decade ago (170pc of GDP) and 15 years ago (128pc of GDP).

"Nobody knows what the “right”, sustainable level of private sector debt is, and it depends crucially on expected productivity, wage and jobs growth, as well as on inflation, but it is certainly far lower than today’s levels.

"Only Greece, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Portugal and Cyprus currently have more private debt (as ever, excluding the banking system) than us, a horrible reality which shows that the British should not mock the woes of mismanaged, peripheral eurozone nations."

"We would have gone bust and had to beg for a bail-out had we joined the single currency and been unable to rely on quantitative easing."

He adds that the impact which the interest on all this private debt could have on the British economy when interest rates return to something like normal levels is equivalent to our economy resting on a "bed of nitroglycerine."

Then he gets started on the public debt and defecit and really gets going ...

"It gets worse. The Government has increased its own debt burden so much that this has more than compensated for the deleveraging by families and private firms. General government debt has reached 90pc of GDP, up from 43.5pc when the crisis erupted in mid-2007.

"Combined UK private and public debt (as ever, excluding the balance sheets of City banks) therefore reached a recent record of 298pc of GDP at the end of last year, higher than the eurozone average of 268pc.

"Total debt levels only rose moderately in the UK between 1987 and 1997, increasing from 144pc of GDP to 178pc of GDP. They then started to shoot up, hitting 207pc of GDP five years later and 253pc at the start of the crisis. When Ed Balls insists, as he did this week, that the last Labour government didn’t spend too much and didn’t push the national debt too high, he is focusing exclusively on the government’s official, on-balance sheet national debt prior to the crisis.

"But Gordon Brown fostered an unsustainable private sector credit bubble, grabbing a large chunk of the proceeds as tax. When the music stopped, the economy collapsed and the public finances were left with a gaping hole."

"Unless we become serious about tackling private and public debt, the next crisis, when it eventually comes, will be unimaginably devastating."

You can read the full article here.

If Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Jamie Reed, and most of the rest of the Labour party had the requisite number of working brain cells or reponsibility to be fit to be parish councillors, this is the direction from which they should be criticising the government instead of faffing around with proposals which might save £100 million a year, e.g. 0.01 percent of public spending, while promising £10 billion of utterly unsustainable tax cuts.

The coalition is not perfect. There is still much, much more to do to cut the defecit before we can even start to cut debt to sustainable levels. But at least the present government have cut the deficit and show some signs of understanding the problem. Labour don't. Putting them back in charge of the economy would not just be like handing the keys of the car back to the people who ran it off the road, it would be the economic equivalent of playing Russian Roulette with six loaded barrels. 

Quote of the Day

“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”

(Abraham Lincoln)

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Deja Vu all over again

I was reminded this week when shadow chancellor Ed Balls, promising that if Labour are elected to government at next general election they will take Winter Fuel payments away from some pensioners as part of a policy of "iron discipline", and stick to the coalition government's spending plans for at least their first year in office, of the last Labour shadow chancellor who made almost exactly the equivalent promises.

That's right: it was Gordon Brown who promised "prudence," strict financial discipline, and to stick to Kenneth Clarke's spending plans. Look how that eventually turned out.

One might have been tempted to describe Ed Balls as the coalition's secret weapon. As Michael Gove recently wrote in the Telegraph,

"Ed Balls responds to every development in the same way – let’s party like it’s 1929. He wants to enlist us all in sponsoring a revival of his one-man show, “Gordon Brown 2 – Return to the Edge of Bankruptcy”, the original of which gave Britain a massive structural deficit, spiralling unemployment and declining competitiveness."

However, Ed Miliband has a strong claim himself to be so considered. As Michael Gove wrote in the same article, Miliband “is as clearly defined as a blancmange in a hurricane”.

Referring to Miliband's attendence at Google’s Big Tent conference, Gove added

"There, he gave a lecture on business ethics that held up Willy Wonka as the model of a successful modern entrepreneur and attacked Montgomery Burns – a character from The Simpsons – as a representative of the predatory capitalism that is our biggest contemporary problem.

With less than two years before the general election, the Opposition has so little of weight to say that it makes a hole in the air seem substantial."

You can read the Michael Gove article in full here.

They STILL don't get it: Doctors and Hacks wrong again on statistics

A minor but infurating mistake was on display in the media yesterday demonstrating once again that too many doctors and journalists are prone to manufacture or repeat ridiculous statistics, most often through a misunderstanding of probability. I am sure that the same is true of many other categories of professionals, making mistakes about statistics when they should know better.

Karen Rodger from Renfrewshire has just given birth to her third set of twins. She is said to be "Over the Moon" about this and I am very happy for her, but I am not so happy that innumerate journalists all over the media are repeating a statement attributed to doctors, statistically illiterate doctors if the attribution is accurate, that the odds against this were half a million to one.

In the great scheme of things, as this is only a newspaper headline, it dosn't make a lot of difference whether the odds against the birth of three sets of twins was ten thousand to one against or half a million to one against. In some circumstances getting a figure wrong by more than an order of magnitude is important - when you're giving professional advice to a jury as an expert witness in a murder trial, for example or making a financial decision - and in others less so.

Why this wrong statistic upset me is that it was a harmless but otherwise egregious example of exactly the same mistake - EXACTLY the same mistake - made by the paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow when he persuaded juries to send women who were almost certainly innocent to jail for murdering babies whose deaths were very probably nobody's fault. You can read a summary of my previous comments on those cases here.

A less serious example perhaps, but it still demonstrates all too clearly that we need to improve the quality of statistical education in this country. For the benefit of anyone who is wondering what the mistake was, it was to treat the combined probability of three linked events as if they had been entirely independent.

Half a million to one is about the odds you would get if you took three specific random pregnancies of three unrelated women, and asked what the probability of all three being twin births would be.

But three pregnancies for the same mother are not three unrelated events.

Some families have a genetic predisposition to "Sudden infant death" syndrome or cot death, and much less tragically, others have a genetic predisposition to multiple births.

Just as a mother who has already lost one baby to cot death has a significantly worse conditional probability of losing more - which is excellent reason to watch subsequent babies very carefully, but not grounds to brand her a murderess if there is a second death unless there is other evidence of neglect or foul play - a mother who has already given birth to one set of twins or multiples has a significantly higher conditional probability of giving birth to subsequent sets of twins or having another multiple birth.

If a mother has already produced two twin or multiple births, the conditional probability of a third is higher still. To produce a three sets of twins in three pregnancies is still a very unlikely event, but it would be at least an order of magitude less unlikely than half a million to one against.

I have only anecdotal evidence for what I am about to write, such as the fact that when my wife and I were members of a twins club hardly any of the twins and multiples in that branch had younger siblings, but I suspect that a major reason families with more than one multiple birth are not more common is that parents who have been through a successful twin or multiple pregnancy are quite prone to decide that their family is now large enough. Certainly any social pressure to have more children stops dead - I lost count of the number of people who made comments when our twins arrived along the lines of "Oh well done, that's your family in one go." Even Margaret Thatcher stopped at one set of twins!

I wrote at the time of the Roy Meadow case that we ought to make a stats book available in jury rooms and give some training in stats to judges and barristers. The misquoting of the odds in the Renfrew twins story is a reminder that this still needs to be done.

Quote of the Day

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you. ”

(Pericles, ancient Athenian statesman)


No serving politician, of whatever party, should take money for lobbying other members of a public authority of which they are a member, for asking questions, or otherwise using their political office in a particular way.

This is already in the rules and, if, I repeat if,  the allegations being made against three peers and an MP are true, it is difficult to see how they could imagine that they have done nothing wrong.

The coalition government announced on Monday that it would bring forward a bill to create a statutory register of professional lobbyists - whose job it is to influence politicians on behalf of companies and other organisations - before the end of July.

This was in the coalition agreement and needs to be done. I hope the section of the coalition agreement about setting up a "recall system" so constituents can force a by-election if their MP has misbehaved can also be put in place soon.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Quote of the Day

“How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”

(Ronald Reagan)

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sixty years of service

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second.

We should all be very grateful for the years of dedication and service that Her Majesty has given this country.

Quote of the Day

“I could end the deficit in 5 minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP all sitting members of congress are ineligible for reelection.”
( Warren Buffett )

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Shapps: support our historic vote on EU membership

Grant Shapps, Conservative party chairman, writes:

"I'm writing to update you on some important developments in our mission to bring the British people a referendum on Europe.

In January, our Prime Minister David Cameron promised that a Conservative government would hold an in/out referendum no later than 2017.

Conservative MP for Stockton South, James Wharton, has come first in the ballot for a Private Members Bill. And James has announced that he will try to use it to put the Prime Minister's commitment into law.

So this is an opportunity for MPs to make this historic referendum on Europe a reality.

But the passage of the Bill won't be smooth. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have put up strong opposition to offering the British people their say - and that's why Conservative MPs need to offer every support they can to James and his Bill.

The vote on this Bill will be on Friday 5th July and our Chief Whip has put in place a Three Line Whip for all Conservative MPs.

Like all of our MPs, I have a busy constituency diary and I place great importance on meeting constituents every Friday.

But this week, I will be asking my Association Chairman, as I am asking you today, to understand the absence of their Member of Parliament on the 5th July while they attend this historic vote in the Commons. We will of course try to keep further Friday disruptions to a minimum, but I suggest that Chairmen are in touch with their Members of Parliament for further information and the passage of this Bill is likely to require further sitting Fridays.

I also wanted to let you know that soon we will be launching a campaign to communicate our message to the country, and put pressure on both Labour and the Lib Dems to make this referendum a reality.

As Conservatives we believe that the British people have a right to decide on our membership of the European Union, and we are determined to show that we mean business - even in the face of resistance from our political opponents.

I will continue to update you on our progress."

Grant Shapps MP

Conservative Party Chairman

Quote of the Day

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
C.S. Lewis