Showing posts from February, 2014

Quote of the day 28th February 2014

"For the next three or four years, Germany and the UK look like being the main drivers of the EU economy. That is not a boast, it is an observation ." (Hamish MacRae, veteran economic commentator, writing in the Independent/I)

Britain and Ukraine

In the past few weeks as we watch the bewildering pace of change in the Ukraine, I have been left hoping that it works out better for them than some recent revolutions have - although this one appears to be far better founded in a wish to respect the ballot box than some recent unheavals such as those in say, Egypt. The destiny of Ukraine is for the people of Ukraine to decide and there is not a great deal which the UK can or should do about it, though that has not stopped a range of people putting forward all sorts of different and contradictory criticisms of the UK government. I stopped reading one egregiously silly critique which suggested that Tory Euroscepticism was hampering Britain from adopting an effective policy on Ukraine when I reached the point where the writer suggested that almost any policy which annoyed Vladimir Putin was a good thing. Now I have all manner of serious concerns about President Putin, but the idea of deliberately annoying him for the sake of it, as

Britain and Germany

Hamish McRea, who has been an economics correspondent at various newspapers since I was a sixth former, has a good piece in yesterday's Independent and "i" about Britain and Germany. He points out that for various reasons Britain and Germany are both doing a lot better economically than the rest of Europe, analyses the two countries' different strengths and suggests that both could benefit by learning from the other. He also explains why it is vital for both Britain and Germany to foster economic reform in the EU and other European countries, that the two countries have a lot in common, and it is very important to both that we work together. The "i" version is called  "It's no good glowering at Germany " and the Independent version has the wordier title " Angela Merkel will be welcomed with full honours tomorrow and for good reason: our two countries need each other." You can read the full article here .

Quote of the day 27th February 2014

"I owe all my success in life to always having been a quarter of an hour beforehand." (Horatio Nelson)

Quote of the day 26th February 2014

"Gentlemen, when the enemy is committed to a mistake we must not interrupt him too soon." (Horatio Nelson)

One law for one - and the same law for everyone else.

I was flabbergasted by the two-inch high banner headline in the News and Star today which said that no fewer than 40 officers of Cumbria constabulary had been arrested. But when you actually read the article, it turned out to be saying that 44 arrests of police officers and support staff had been made by their colleagues over the four and a half year period from January 2008 to June 2013. As there are about 1,100 police officers and 650 support staff in Cumbria Constabulary this represents an arrest rate of about half a percent per annum, and the rule that a person is innocent until proven guilty then applies - most of these arrests did not result in convictions or cautions. The chairman of the local branch of the Police Federation put it very well when he said "The public needs to know that complaints against police officers will be dealt with in the same way and with the same vigour as they would be with anyone else."

Quote of the day 25th February 2014

“ The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.” (Senator Daniel Moynihan)

PCC increases Police element of Council tax in Cumbria in line with inflation

I respect the views of those on both sides of the debate in Cumbria about whether the element of council tax which goes to fund the Police should have been increased. I have always wanted to see council tax kept as low as possible. But I also want to see the police service in our county properly resourced. What I find surprising is that nobody has mentioned the context - e.g. the current rate of inflation. The Police and Crime Commissioner, after considerable discussion with the Police and Crime Panel, has decided to proceed with an increase of 1.93% in the Cumbria Constabulary element of the council tax. The current rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index is 1.9% In other words the increase is pretty much in line with the rate of inflation. It does not represent a material change in real terms.

Quote of the day 24th February 2014

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern." ( C.S. Lewis , Preface to The Screwtape Letters)

Quote of the day 23rd February 2014

"In a democracy, you believe it or not. In a dictatorship, you believe it or else." ( Evan Esar )

Change in Ukraine

I have been watching in horror as the events in Ukraine have unfolded over the past few weeks and particularly last week. However, with the vote by parliament to sack the President it looks - please God - as though something may come out of it which means that those who were murdered in the carnage of the last few weeks did not die in vain. Predictably the opponents of the move have called it a coup, but unlike the situation in Egypt, it appears quite different. For one thing, this was based around a vote in parliament, not a move by generals and troops. For a second, one of the first things those who were voting for regime change did was set an early and specific date for new elections. That doesn't sound like a coup to me. I don't see why a more democratic Ukraine cannot be friends and trading partners with both the EU countries and with Russia. It seems to me that for Ukraine to be a bridge between Russia and Europe is far more in the interests of the people who live i

Quote of the day 22nd February 2014

“It has always struck me that one of the readiest ways of estimating a country's regard for law is to notice what arms the officers of the law are carrying: in England it is little batons, in France swords, in many countries revolvers, and in Russia the police used to have artillery.” (Lord Dunsany)

Debating Europe

I was interested to see that Nick Clegg has challenged Nigel Farage to a debate on Europe and that the UKIP leader has accepted. I tend to think public debates are in the interests of democracy provided fair arrangements can be made for the major points of view to be covered. Given that we are in the run-up to a European election, I think it would be better if all four of the major party leaders could take part in any such debate.

Quote of the day 21st February 2014

"The true test of any scholar's work is not what his contemporaries say, but what happpens to his work in the next 25 or 50 years. And the thing which I will really be proud of will be if some of the work I have done is still cited in the textbooks long after I am gone." ( Milton Friedman )

Osborne warns recovery not secure as growth forecast raised

The Bank of England has upgraded their forecast for 2014 UK economic growth from 2.8 percent to 3.4 per cent. Despite this, and yesterday's good news on inflation and unemployment, chancellor George Osborne has warned that the job is not finished and the recovery not yet secure. "We have to go on dealing with our debt and our deficit - and we have no choice but to do so" he said. "We cannot rely on consumers alone for our economic growth as we did in previous decades. And we cannot put all our chips on the success of the City of London as my predecessors did." He added that his forthcoming budget would be a budget for growth and investment and to help businesses to export.

Inflation and unemployment down

Still much to do, but further good news on the economy this week with both inflation and unemployment down. The office for National Statistics has confirmed that UK unemployment has fallen by 125,000 to 2.34 million in the quarter to December 2013 and now stands at 7.2%, while the rate of inflation as measured by CPI has fallen to 1.9%, hitting the Bank of England's 2% target for the first time in four years. Because the unemployment rate fluctuates from month to month, the unemployment figures are usually calculated on the basis of a three month average. The fall of 125,000 is the drop between the average during the three months to September and that during the three months to December. More women are in work - just over 14 million - than at any time since records began, the total number in work rose by 193,000 between September and December, and the number of people claiming unemployment benefit dropped for the fifteenth consecutive month. Youth and long-term unemployment

Quote of the day 20th February 2014

“The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.”   ( Milton Friedman  )

A wonderful romantic coincidence

Today is my wedding anniversary. Fourteen years ago today, at our wedding reception, I sang my new wife Brigid the song "Where'er you walk" from Handel's opera "Semele." By an amazing coincidence, when Brigid switched on the TV this evening, she happened to notice that one of the channels was broadcasting an Opera, and asked me what it was. After a few seconds I realised that it was in fact Semele - and a few minutes later we were able to listen to "Where'er you walk." I don't know how many thousands to one the odds against that were, but we both enjoyed the song and it was a lovely reminder of our special day.

Green totalitarianism

Let me make quite clear than in my opinion the balance of evidence supports the view that human activity is contributing to climate change and that preponderance of evidence is more than enough to justify restricting carbon emissions and those of other greenhouse gases. That does not stop me being horrified at the suggestion from the Green party that those who don't share this view should be barred from all senior government positions including those not directly affecting the environment. The earth's ecosystem is far more complex than any of us, from the best informed scientist to the most ignorant person, fully understand. We need to monitor and debate what is happening to it with open minds, and sacking anyone who doesn't conform to the prevailing view is not the best way to do that.

Quote of the day 19th February 2014

“A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”   ( Milton Friedman  )

Quote of the Day 18th February 2014

"Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must." (Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington)

Quote of the Day 17th February 2014

"Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won." (Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellesley)

DC on a tough week for Britain

The Prime Minister writes ... "This has been a tough week for Britain. The wettest winter in two and a half centuries, some of the worst flooding in decades, and more severe weather on the way this weekend. We're doing everything we can to help: Delivering extra pumps and sandbags Deploying the military wherever needed Providing additional support for local emergency services We will do what is necessary to help families and communities get through this very difficult time - more information is available on the Environment Agency website if you are affected.   We will also help people rebuild their lives and get back on their feet after the flooding , with repair grants of up to £5,000 for homeowners and businesses affected by the floods, and further support for businesses and farms that have suffered.   Amidst all of this, as is so often the case, in the toughest of times we are seeing the best of Britain. Visiting the affected areas this week, I saw

Nick Cohen and Dan Hodges on "Plebgate"

Six weeks ago I published a blog post here in response to an academic study in America which found statistical evidence that even intelligent and numerate people were more likely to make mistakes which reinforced their existing prejudices. The last words of my article were as follows: "The moral of this story is that if you are analysing a set of data and the results come out exactly with what fits your prior beliefs, you should try to check your analysis as carefully and objectively as possible to make sure you are not convincing yourself that the new evidence conveniently fits what you were already disposed to believe." There were two interesting articles on "plebgate" published in the past few days, both by people who appear not to suffer from this kind of confirmation bias as as they are lefties who were effectively coming to the defence of a former Tory cabinet minister. One of these articles, by Nick Cohen in yesterday's Spectator,  concluded with almo

Kendal today - Afternoon briefings ON, delivery CANCELLED

It is pouring with rain in Kendal this morning and is forecast to continue to do so until lunchtime. After consultation with the campaign organisers in Westmorland and Lonsdale we have agreed that the campaign event which had been planned by Cumbria Conservatives in Natland this morning would not be practical. However the briefing sessions at 12.30 for 1pm in Kendal this afternoon are STILL GOING AHEAD.

Quotes of the day 15th February 2014

"It's like the Dunkirk Spirit without the war" Doctor John Pittard who has been seeing patients in the local pub after his surgery was flooded, on the spirit local residents and service providers have shown in helping one another cope with flooding “Why don’t you put your notebook down and give us a hand with the sandbags?” Prince William to Guardian journalists while placing sandbags to protect local residents in a flooded area of Berkshire (hat tip to Guido Fawkes)

Failing the Turing test

The late Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who helped crack the Enigma code and who recently received a very belated posthumous pardon for a conviction under an antedeluvian law, once suggested a test for whether a computer or robot was approaching sentience. He suggested that the machine be put on the other side of a wall, phone line, or similar barrier and conduct a conversation with someone who didn't know whether they were talking to a human or a machine. If the person on the other end of the conversation could not work out whether they were talking to a machine or a human being, then the machine must be approaching sentience. On that basis "SmartBot" which had a conversation with John Humphries on the today programme this morning is light years away from sentience. The only one of its' replies that made much sense was something along the lines of "I am a computer" which was at least accurate but certainly would not pass the Turing test!

Booker on what we need to do to avoid causing more catastrophic floods.

Christopher Booker has an excellent article in tomorrow's Spectator which you can read at (Thanks to Jim King for drawing it to my attention.) in which he suggests some changes which need to be made in the policies of the EU and of the Environment Agency to reduce the chance of future periods of prolonged high rainfall doing as much damage as the present one has. I don't claim to know for certain whether he is right, and now is not the ideal time for a dispassionate analysis for the reasons covered in some detail in the article. But the arguments are very persuasive and I hope that as soon as the crisis is past the government, the EA, and the EU give them very serious attention.

Quote of the day 14th February 2014

"The eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love." (Margaret Atwood.)

DC cancels Middle East visit to deal with flooding

As we cope with yet another wave of dreadful weather, the Prime Minister has cancelled a planned visit to the Middle East, sending his apologies to the heads of government he had been due to visit, to concentrate on dealing with the flooding issue. I'm sure this was the right thing to do. He was also right to say that everyone should stop the point scoring until the crisis is over and concentrate on sorting it out.

Quote of the day 13th February 2014

"Sadly, it's much easier to create a desert than a forest." (James Lovelock)

Quote of the day 12th February 2014

"Character is like a tree and reputation it's shadow. The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing." (Abraham Lincoln: born 12th February 1809)

Quote of the day 11th February 2014

"It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little." (Sydney Smith)

The curse of modern slavery

Slavery was supposed to have been abolished in the nineteenth century and is now illegal in every country - but it sill exists in every country. The British government is planning to introduce a modern slavery bill later this year to crack down on some of the ways people are still trafficked into Britain to work as slaves. Peter Bone MP began his speech at a Conservative function I recently attended in Wigan with a few very powerful words on this subject and I pay tribute to his work in parliament to raise the profile of this problem. The "Walk Free" movement campaigns to eliminate modern slavery: you can view their website here .

B5289 from Keswick to Borrowdale valley to be closed for up to six weeks

The main road into Borrowdale from Keswick is to close in both directions for six weeks, Cumbria Council has said. Saturated foundations are falling away beneath the B5289 near the turn off for Watendlath. The emergency work was due to begin at 10:00 GMT this morning with a diversion set up over the Honister Pass and via Buttermere, Lorton and Whinlatter. (Ouch!!!) Pedestrians, dismounted cyclists and horse riders will be able to pass. The council also anticipates increased traffic along the back road via Portinscale and underneath Cat Bells to Grange. The council's school transport team is liaising with bus operators, Keswick School and Borrowdale Primary to ensure that suitable arrangements are in place for next week.

Take care if out and about today

Another weekend's vile weather - we were fortunate enough not to get rained on in Kirkby Lonsdale this Saturday when I was campaigning with fellow Euro-candidate Kevin Beaty, local activist Kevin Lancaster, Conservative PPC Doctor Ann Myatt, Conservative leader on Cumbria County Council Jim Airey and a good contingent of the the Westmorland & Lonsdale Conservative team, but at times it was like driving through a river wen I headed back to Copeland that afternoon. And no sign of the weather letting up with more storms and rain forecast throughout the country, particularly in the South West. Temperatures in Cumbria remain very cold - it's only a couple of degrees above freezing in West Cumbria at the moment and not forecast to climb above five degrees at any time today - and the Met office is warning of the possibility of ice around the UK, so if you are out and about today, do take care.

Quote of the day 10th February 2014

"Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get." (Mark Twain)

Quote of the day 9th February 2014

“We have come together, as father and son, to lend our voices to the growing global effort to combat the illegal wildlife trade – a trade that has reached such unprecedented levels of killing and related violence that it now poses a grave threat not only to the survival of some of the world’s most treasured species, but also to economic and political stability in many areas around the world.” Charles Prince of Wales (from a video message about the illegal wildlife trade released with William, Duke of Cambridge, which you can view on the Cumbria Crack site   here .)

Quote of the day 8th February 2014

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him participate in synchronized diving.”   ( Cuthbert Soup , Another Whole Nother Story  )

Copeland will vote on 22nd May on whether to have a directly-elected mayor.

On 22nd May voters in Copeland will get to vote on two things 1) Who should represent them in the European parliament, and 2) Whether to replace the existing job of Leader of Copeland Council with a directly elected mayor. A group of local residents who are not connected to any political party secured 3,754 signatures on a petition for the referendum. If the referendum vote is a "Yes" the council is proposing to hold the first mayoral election on or about 16th October. I would have thought it more sensible to hold the election at the same time as the rest of the council comes up for election in May 2015, but the present administration says the law (passed by the previous governent) won't initially let them do that. The council are also quoting highly inflated figures for the cost of an elected mayor, which in my opinion fail to take adequate account of the larger number of postitions an elected mayor would or at least could replace. I can't believe it would

The Platform of No Policy

Possibly the funniest single moment of my entire student career was at a hustings for the election of members of the National Union of Students executive, when one of the SDP members of the NUS exec, Mark Hatton, made an unfortunate slip of the tongue. Those who were around at the time will remember that the SDP was often accused of having no policies. It was Mark Hatton's turn to respond to a question about a problem which had arisen because NUS had a policy of "No Platform for racists and fascists" enabling various people to get themselves and NUS into trouble by banning other people who they accused of being racists and fascists. At about this time one member college, - Sunderland poly as it then was - bought into the slogan that "Zionism = Racism" and took the offensive and ridiculous decision that that meant they could and should ban the college Jewish society in the name of anti-racism !!!" Needless to say this caused outrage and candidates for th

Quote of the day 7th February 2014

"A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds" (Francis Bacon )

Syed Kamall MEP's letter to Gerard Batten MEP

Syed Kamall, leader of the British Conservative MEPs, sent the following letter to UKIP's Gerard Batten this week in response to the latter's request for British Muslims to sign a declaration of opposition to violence: "Dear Gerard, I read with interest your intervention on the subject of Islam, seeking written pledges from Muslims that they will not commit acts of violence or indulge in terrorist rhetoric. Do you have a form I can sign already? I am anxious to assure you that I have no intention of mounting any attacks on unsuspecting infidels, nor of attempting to radicalise you or anyone else. If the forms aren’t ready yet, perhaps you would take this note as my guarantee? My wife and family would be most reassured to know you will allow me to stay in Britain, especially since I was born here. Please feel free to drop into my office to discuss this over a cup of tea. I promise you will be entirely safe. Yours sincerely, Syed Kamall Leader of the Conservat

Quote of the day 6th February 2014

"Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one's government is not necessarily to secure freedom." (Professor Friedrich von Hayek)

Copeland labelled "most overweight" area of England

The Borough of Copeland (which is where I live) has the highest proportion of the adult population overweight or obese of any local authority area in England according to the latest data on adult obesity by local authority released by the government. An eye-watering 75.9% of adults in Copeland have a body mass index of 25 or over compared with a heathly BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9, which is higher than any other council area - though actually the proportions overweight men and women everywhere else are worrying. The average proportion of adults in England with a body mass index of 25 or over is nearly two-thirds: 63.8%. Even the six local authority areas with the lowest proportions of overweight people just scrape below 50%: these are Kensington and Chelsea (45.9%), Tower Hamlets (47.2%), Richmond upon Thames (47.6%),  Hackney (48.7%), Brighton and Hove (49.2%), and Hammersmith and Fulham (49.7%). In other words, there are four local authority areas - the London Boroughs of

Quote of the Day 5th February 2014

Among the smaller duties of life I hardly know any one more important than that of not praising where praise is not due. (Sydney Smith)

The most overused word of the decade - hate

One of the things which concerns me about the state of political debate not just in Britain but throughout the world is the extent of excessive anger against those who merely have different opinions. I am not talking about those who are angry with the specific individuals who have actually done something which caused harm to themselves, their families, or their country, but those who are angry with anyone who holds a different political opinion. For example, even thirty-five years after the so-called "Winter of Discontent" I still feel a certain amount of anger against those who created the situation where my father was rung up on the morning he was due to go into hospital for a heart operation which doctors thought was an emergency, and told that shop stewards representing porters and cleaners had vetoed that operation as not being enough of an emergency. Any suggestion that these NUPE and COHSE show stewards really thought they knew better than doctors what an emergency

Quote of the day 4th February 2014

"If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves." (Sir Winston Churchill)

Cumbrian Police warn road users and storm chasers to respect "road closed" signs

Cumbria constabulary have warned that drivers who ignore or fail to notice "road closed" signs, and "storm chasers" trying to take close range pictures of rough seas are putting their lives at risk. Due to the vile weather a number of stretches of road along the West Cumbrian coast have been damaged and rendered unsafe pending repairs. Road closure notices have been put up on these stretches but several people who drove past  them had to be assisted to safety. Warning those who have been filming or photographing rough seas not to get too close may sound so obvious that it can almost come over as an insult, but it is important not to underestimate the sea. The force of water has been described as one of the most powerful physical forces on Earth, hence today's quote from Leonardo da Vinci. Those who think themselves safe when observing a rough sea have not always been right - or lived to learn from the mistake.

Quote of the day 3rd February 2014

“Water is the driving force in nature.”   ( Leonardo da Vinci  )

What the Bank of England governor actually said

The recent speech in Scotland by Bank of England governor Mark Carney about what makes an optimal currency union was, of course, reported almost entirely in terms of  what hints could be extracted from it either to support or oppose the case for a "Yes" vote in the Scottish Independence referendum later this year. So pro-independence politicians and newpapers reported it along the lines of "We've known this all along, Mark Carney is confirming what the 'Yes' campaign has been saying" while Unionists have presented his speech as a torpedo which holed the economic case for Salmond's proposals below the waterline. Neither of these interpretations is entirely justified, though the issues which Mark Carney raised about the pooling of sovereignity which is required to make a currency union work need to be more effectively addressed by the Scottish Nationalists than they have yet managed. However, I think that the comments he made, in which he discuss

Quote of the Day 2nd February 2014

“An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation.” ( John Marshall  )

Labour plans would bankrupt the economy again

Labour, like the Bourbons, have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. The last Labour government let spending get out of control with the result that the national debt doubled to £1.2 trillion. When they left office they were spending £4 for every £3 raised in taxes and the country was spending more to just to pay the interest on the national debt than on schools. Have they learned anything from this? Apparently not.   Treasury analysis of Ed Balls’ policies shows that Labour would borrow £166 billion more in the next parliament So having spent, borrowed and taxed our country into a mess, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are proposing yet more spending, yet more borrowing and yet more taxes. It would be funny if there were no possibilty whatever that these people, who wrecked the economy when they were last in office, might be back in government again in eighteen months.   Let us hope the British people have the sense to deliver something closer to the result the Labour party

IFS says squeeze in living standards has probably come to a halt

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the living standards squeeze has now ‘probably come to a halt’. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies make clear, Labour’s Great Recession – the worst in a century – has ‘had a large impact’ on hardworking families’ living standards. And while times are still tough for many people, it’s welcome that the IFS say the fall in incomes has now ‘probably come to a halt’.   Let's not pretend that things are easy. We still have to cut the defecit, cut debt, get more people into work, and get into a postion to start building up real incomes. But at last we can credibly say that the economy is moving in the right direction.   To secure a better future for Britain, we have put in a place a long-term economic plan – cutting the deficit, cutting taxes, creating jobs, capping welfare and delivering the best schools and skills young people need to get on. As we cut the deficit, the IFS have confirmed that the richest households are contribut

Quote of the Day 1st February 2014

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."   (George Bernard Shaw)