Monday, June 30, 2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Quote of the day 29th June 2014

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
( Søren Kierkegaard )

Saturday, June 28, 2014

In Praise of John Major

While doing some clearing out today I came across some old maazines including a 2010 copy of the Speccie which included this acticle by Peter Oborne calling for a re-appraisal of the administration of John Major.

The article looks even more apposite today than it did in 2010 as it is obvious that a number of the best reforming ideas not just of Tony Blair's administration but that of David Cameron's as well started off while John Major was in government.

Here are a few extracts from the article.

"It is becoming obvious, especially with the benefit of hindsight, that John Major was a formidable leader with substantial achievements to his credit.
"But the narrative of John Major’s hopelessness was so strong that for many years it was impossible to make the case in his favour. For example, in his Labour conference speech last year Gordon Brown paid tribute to Tony Blair for ‘starting’ the Northern Irish peace process. Actually it was John Major who launched the peace process in 1993 with the Downing Street Declaration, which led to the IRA ceasefire. Politically this was brave, not least because it meant jeopardising the support of Ulster Unionist MPs at a time when the Conservative majority was wafer-thin. Yet his very distinguished role in ending the Troubles has been airbrushed from history.
"Let’s now examine John Major’s economic achievement. He became prime minister at the height of a recession, yet he and Ken Clarke handed over the economy to New Labour in 1997 in faultless condition. Unemployment was 1.6 million and falling, national finances were sound and growth steady. Yet Gordon Brown has never once acknowledged this inheritance — and indeed he has often gone out of his way to deny or distort it.
"Nor is John Major given credit for stopping the euro. It is reasonable to praise Gordon Brown for keeping Britain out of the single currency. But Brown as chancellor would never have been able to prevent Tony Blair taking us in but for John Major’s very brave stand at Maastricht in arranging a British opt-out from European Monetary Union. But for that opt-out, we would today have been unable to use any of the weapons which the government has used to fend off recession: quantitative easing, dramatic currency easing and demand management. And yet Major was slammed for that Maastricht Treaty, both at the time and ever since.
"John Major’s most enduring achievement, however, concerns public services. There is a myth — it was repeated recently by Gordon Brown — that traffic cone hotlines and the citizens’ charter were the limit of his achievement. However, it is easy to show that his government was stunningly radical when it came to education, health and the welfare state. His educational reforms gave schools autonomy from local authority control, encouraged parents’ right to choose and set head teachers free to run their own schools. In health, John Major introduced the internal market, the purchaser provider split and GP fund-holding.
"All of these changes were denounced by Tony Blair. Labour’s 1997 manifesto pledged to ‘restore the NHS as a public service working co-operatively for patients’. Frank Dobson, Labour’s new health secretary, immediately scrapped patient choice and GP fund-holding. Likewise David Blunkett sabotaged grant-maintained schools, ended their financial independence and imposed an array of centrally imposed targets, few of which worked.

"After Tony Blair won the 2001 election he finally realised that John Major’s view of the public services had actually been rather visionary after all. So he set about restoring patient choice, brought back GP fund-holding and recreated the internal market. It was too embarrassing to restore grant-maintained schools so they were reincarnated under a new name as ‘trust schools’. John Major’s derided city technology colleges, which he had personally rescued in July 1991, were relaunched as city academies.
"So the so-called ‘radicalism’ of Tony Blair’s final few years in office was actually a laborious recreation of the John Major reforms that had been reversed by New Labour in 1997. These ‘Blairite’ reforms have now been put on hold by Gordon Brown — but David Cameron plans to implement them in a truly thoroughgoing way after the election.
"Then there were the minor achievements, such as the National Lottery, which has raised £25 billion for good causes.
"... In sharp contrast to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown he genuinely believed in cabinet government ... There was no sofa government and no attempt to establish control from the centre, the misconception that has turned New Labour into such a disaster.
"Major’s government gathered a reputation for division and there was indeed a rather honourable split over Europe. But there was very little of the hatred, the plotting and distrust between the most senior figures of government over narrow personal matters that has damaged New Labour so much in power. Indeed the most senior members of the cabinet — Major, Clarke, Heseltine, Hurd, Howard — got on pretty well.
"The John Major government is remembered as sleazy. But this idea was in part the creation of the brilliant New Labour propaganda machine and in any case Tory sleaze was dwarfed by the systemic New Labour corruption and deceit which has disfigured the last decade.
"And consider Gulf War One in 1990. Under Major it was well-planned, with limited objectives, a considered exit strategy, and no lying. What a contrast to the Iraq invasion in 2003!
"John Major will not go down in history as a great prime minister. He lacked the language and the inner poise and made one reputation-destroying howler — Black Wednesday in 1992, with sterling’s forced eviction from the exchange rate mechanism.
"New Labour ran a brilliant, though unprincipled, operation to discredit him. It became fashionable to mock John Major by imitating his voice and mannerisms, a trend started by Alastair Campbell when he was political editor of the Daily Mirror. Snobbery was part of it. As a youngish and relatively inexperienced political reporter on the Evening Standard at the time, I am afraid that I swallowed this vindictive analysis and feel very uneasy about it today.
"John Major was good at substance, but wretched at spin. New Labour was the opposite. For many years this public relations expertise worked for New Labour. However, over time I believe that John Major will come to be regarded as a more honest, decent and competent prime minister than either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. He left Britain ... a better place than he found it."

Quote of the day 28th June 2014

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
( Albert Einstein )

Friday, June 27, 2014

Now I've heard everything ...

I learn from the Daily Telegraph here that Scottish Nationalist MSP's like Christina McKelvie and for SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars are trying to blame MI5 and MI6 for things going wrong with the "yes" campaign.

Their latest preposterous fantasy is to suggest that British "secret service plants" pretending to be SNP "Cybernats" were responsible for the unpleasant tweets attacking J.K. Rowling for giving money to the "Better Together" campaign.

As Michael McMahon, a Labour MSP, said the remark "would be laughable if it wasn't so serious".

"The nationalists are really starting to lose touch with reality. First Jim Sillars said MI5 was out to get them, now Christina McKelvie blames the Secret Service for the awful abuse directed at JK Rowling by nationalists," Mr McMahon added
"Instead of coming up with ludicrous conspiracy stories, the nationalists should start giving Scots answers about what would replace the Pound or how pensions would be funded if we leave the UK."

I don't often agree with Labour politicians but on this one he's dead right.

Hell has officially frozen over again

Conservative Home, once desribed by the man himself as "That Blasted website" has an article up today called "In praise of Ken Clarke."

Nuclear New Build moves closer

The Whitehaven News is reporting this week that plans for a new nuclear power plant at Sellafield are moving closer and the team behind a proposed multi-billion-pound nuclear new-build will be carrying out surveys in the area by August.
A team from NuGen will begin to carry out geographical surveys at Moorside that, it is hoped, will pave the way for a new power station with three reactors being built.

There is a strong consensus emerging both nationally and locally that Britain needs new nuclear build, with both the Coalition Government and Labour MPs in favour.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) says the project would bring at least £10billion of investment and create up to 21,000 jobs over the construction, including peak on-site employment of more than 6,000. Once operational, the reactors would employ 1,000.

A recent event to promote the benefits of new nuclear build, organised by the Sellafield Workers’ Campaign (SWC), heard from John McNamara, NuGen’s head of corporate communications, who accepted that recent progress on site has been slow, but “momentum will build” starting with the surveys that begin in August.

Mr McNamara added that it is hoped that site suitability will be determined next year, planning permission and licensing granted in 2018, allowing for construction to begin in 2020. The first reactor would go on stream in 2024 and all three, with a combined 3.4GW capacity, operational by 2026.

It was revealed in January that Toshiba has joined the NuGen consortium, having acquired, in principal, the 50 per cent stake of Spanish energy company Iberdrola and 10 per cent of the stake owned by the French energy company GDF Suez. GDF retains the remaining 40 per cent.

Craig Dobson, SWC’s secretary, said: “Nuclear is the best option we have to tackle climate change; It can no longer be business as usual and we must act now.

“SWC’s single purpose is to make nuclear new-build happen sooner rather than later.”

Recruitment problems affect local health services

Concerns have been expressed about the effect on local GP services of a shortage of doctors whcih is part of a natioanl problem.

National doctors’ leaders say the lack of GPs means they cannot provide care that is safe and of high quality. And the British Medical Association (BMA) conference yesterday warned the government that GP services across the country are at breaking point, saying they provide “conveyor belt care at breakneck speed”.

Dr David Rogers, Whitehaven GP and medical director for the Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, said there were issues surrounding GP recruitment both locally and nationally.

“There are over 450 GP training places that are not filled across the country,” said Dr Rogers, who is aware of the local practice facing difficulties. “A practice has highlighted concerns – because of staff issues – that they are really under pressure and the potential for serious incidents as a result of that pressure. They haven’t got as many doctors as they have had and they are struggling to recruit.”

A local practice told The Whitehaven News that despite local and national advertising it had been having difficulties recruiting and suggested there is a particular need  to make rural vacancies more attractive. They said

“The practice continues to provide a full service of excellent patient-centred care. Steps are already in place to make sure that we optimise the skills of the clinical staff resulting in better access to our diverse services for patients. There is already a new clinical triage system (most urgent cases dealt with first) to ensure that our resources are optimised in the most effective way. We believe these changes are a response to difficult times and are innovative in their own right.”

Dr Rogers also said that people should be encouraged to talk to their local pharmacist, or book an appointment with a nurse rather than always assuming they need to see a GP.

“There isn’t a pool of staff that we can parachute in,” he said, adding that most other practices will also have experienced difficulties.

“We have agreed to look at how we change recruitment. The biggest risk in the system is recruitment, if you haven’t got the people, you can’t do the job,” he added.

He said help was also being given to the practice from Cumbria Learning and Improvement Collaborative (CLIC) and that there had been discussions with the locality primary care team and area team.

It follows last week’s Whitehaven News which revealed the staffing ‘crisis’ in West Cumberland Hospital’s A&E department this summer unless gaps in recruitment can be filled.

Hospital chief Ann Farrar has written to health trusts across the north asking for help with medical staffing in order to maintain services. It is still unclear what will happen if vacancies cannot be filled. Health chiefs are looking at a more joined up recruitment process for all local health jobs instead of trusts working in isolation.

Quote of the day 27th June 2014

"If we had some ham we'd have some ham and eggs if we had some eggs."

(Frank Herbert, line in the book "The Dragon in the Sea")

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Quote of the day 26th June 2014

"Now he asked a minute ago 'What is weak?' I'll tell you what is weak: attacking Murdoch, and then standing up with a copy of The Sun Newspaper, only to apologise a few hours later."

(David Cameron, in response to a question from Ed Miliband at yesterday's PMQs.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The difference between Gordon Brown and David Cameron's spin doctors.

Gordon Brown employed a spin-doctor who spread vicious personal attacks, a few true, mostly horrible lies, about his boss's political opponents. Initially mostly about Gordo's opponents within the Labour party, although ironically McBride was caught when Guido Fawkes discovered he was planning to do the same thing to prominent Conservative politicians and their wives.

David Cameron employed a spin-doctor about whose conduct in that job there has not been one word of complaint, but has now been convicted of offences committed during his previous job.

David Cameron gave a full and complete apology for employing Andy Coulson yesterday wtihin about an hour of the court verdict.

Gordon Brown took five days to apologise for what Damian McBride did while working for him. And the present leadership of the Labour party were close colleagues of Gordon Brown at the time when McBride was his "enforcer."

All parties need to learn lessons from the toxic culture of spin and unhealthy relationships between politics and the media, starting with the need for a degree of humility. All parties also need to beware of self-righteous hypocrisy.

Quote of the day 25th June 2014

"Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning"

(Desmond Tutu)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Three cheers for HS3

Both the economy of Britain and our transport network are far too London-centric. So I was delighted to hear the chancellor yesterday proposing that we start looking at a High Speed Rail link to connect the great cities of Northern England.
I was delighted to read in the speech George Osborne gave yesterday in Manchester the following about our great Northern cities:
“These cities, in a belt that runs from Liverpool to Hull all have strengths individually – but on a global scale they are also quite small. Manchester’s population is 2.6 million. Leeds’ and West Yorkshire’s is 1.8 million.

“But together our northern cities can be more than the sum of their parts.

“The last census found that the average commute of someone who travels into London from outside is 40 miles. If you make a circle of the same distance, and centre it here on Manchester, you’d have a catchment area that takes in Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire, and contains ten million people – more than Tokyo, New York or London. An area containing nearly two million graduates. A huge pool of talent.”

Furthermore, the Chancellor recognised some of the problems with our transport  infrastructure, saying:

“…today the transport network in the north is simply not fit for purpose – and certainly not good enough, if we want our cities to pool their strengths… Manchester and Sheffield are just 38 miles apart – yet it takes over 1 hour 20 minutes to travel by car. In that time you can get from Southampton to Oxford, which is twice the distance… it’s quicker to travel the 283 miles from London to Paris by train than it is to travel less than half that distance between Liverpool and Hull… bus trips in the capital are up a third over the last ten years, but down by 7% in the northern cities…”

The reaction to his speech was generally and unsurprisingly positive except from (or course) the Labour party and some of the more cynical, mostly London centroc, journalists.

But I think it was a great step forward and hope to see it put into action.

Quote of the day 24th June 2014

"He may be a joke opposition leader, but there is every chance he may become a joke PM. The Labour party finds it almost impossible to dislodge its leaders, no matter how useless, as Neil Kinnock showed. And the arithmetic of parliamentary boundaries is massively skewed towards Labour"

(Stephen Pollard writing in the Daily Mail, quoted in the Independent.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Abominable No-Man and the perfect contrarian indicator

The late C Northcote Parkinson, whose name has entered the language in the expression "Parkinson's Law" (which was "Work expands to fill the time available for its' completion") also wrote some very funny articles with titles like "The Abominable No-Man" which was about people who alwasys say no, and how to make sure that a decision where you want a Yes is taken at a level where you find someone who usually says yes instead of such a person.

Most of his humorous observations actually work in the real world but unfortunately some do not.

For example I have been unable to find a single example of one character in his essays, who would be useful in a sense, but whom I am actually rather glad does not exist. This is the perfect contrarian indicator - the person who is always wrong.

C Northcote Parkinson put forward the hypothesis that nobody is always right but some people are always wrong, and therefore the best way to get perfect advice is to find one of these people and then always do the opposite of what they recommend.

The essay in which he wrote this is most entertaining. However, thirty years after I first read it, and after looking out for such a person both at work and in politics for those three decades, I have to report that every person who I initially thought might be suitable as a contrarian indicator has shortly thereafter come out with something I agreed with.

The first person I thought might be suitable as a contrarian indicator was Polly Toynbee. But then in the aftermath of 9/11, when a significant chunk of the left and one or two people on the cynical or defeatist right were ignoring the most cast iron "cassus belli" the West has had since Pearl Harbour, and making excuses for doing nothing about a truly ghastly regime in Afghanistan which had proved it was a threat and treated women worse than any other government on the planet, Polly Toynbee took what I thought was a brave stand that we could not ignore what the Taleban had done.

When I was a St Albans councillor, there were two or three councillors from other parties, particularly certain Lib/Dems, who I thought at first had a gift for always being wrong.

Until one evening at a Plans (Central) meeting. At that planning committee meeting I nearly fell off my chair on hearing sound, evidence-based common sense from someone who I had, up to that point thought would be incapable of recognising logic, evidence, or common sense if they physically materialised in front of her.

Sooner or later something like this happened on at least one issue with every fellow councillor of whose judgement I had formed a very negative opinion.

Gordon Brown was a disaster as Prime Minister and made some awful mistakes, but he made two very big right decisions as chancellor. One was giving the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England control over interest rates, and he also stopped Tony Blair from scrapping the pound and bouncing us into the Euro. (He's since put forward an immensely strong argument for a positive "No" vote in the Scottish independence referendum.)

I did at one stage wonder if Yasmin Alabhai-Brown might be a good contrarian indicator, and without wanting to associate myself with some of the unacceptable insults which were written and tweeted about her following the recent Channel 4 debate with Rod Liddle, that programme showed all three participants including the chairperson in the most unfavourable light.

However, she has also written some very brave things as the interview with Iain Dale to which I referred the other day shows. You can read Iain's interview with YAB here.

I know I'm not the only person who has played the game of trying to find rivals, opponents, or pundits who they think are always wrong. On more than one occasion during discussions which measured forecasting accuracy by comparing what people predicted with what actually happened I have heard fellow economists at BT, or read economic commentators, joke about someone "spoiling their value as a contrarian indicator" by getting a prediction right.

But I don't know of any intelligent and honest person, with good enough judgement not to be one of the partisan hardliners in all political parties for whom the mere fact of not agreeing with them makes their opponents into stupidity or evil incarnate, who has ever claimed to have found a perfect contrarian indicator who they can confidently say is always wrong.

Perhaps this is a good thing. Just as it would in a sense, be terrible if anyone could claim a monopoly on virtue or wisdom, it would be a ghastly thing if any human being were entirely lacking in those qualities.

EPP Summit

The European People's Party has press released here that it's European parliament group, national leaders, and leaders of the opposition are having a summit before the next European Council meeting.It says, that, quote,
"The EPP candidate for President of the European Commission Jean-Claude JUNCKER will be present."

This sort of behaviour sheds some light on why the leaders of these parties, including some who are sensible on many other issues, were so angry with David Cameron for pulling the Conservatives out of the EPP and working with other non-Federalist centre-right parties to set up the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) group which is now the third largest in the European Parliament.)

The EPP thinks and acts as if there were a European Demos (a functional, recognisable and coherent political electorate) with itself as the Europe wide centre-right party. If it were, many of their actions - like putting up Jean-Claude Juncker as a candidate for President of the Commission and thinking they have a right to expect people to support him because they came out as the largest group in the European Parliament - would make a bit more sense.

I don't believe there would be a functioning European Demos if the Conservatives and our allies were still in the EPP. But the fact that we're not makes it slightly more obvious that there isn't.

Quote of the day 23rd June 2014

"I remain utterly mystified at how the political establishment, many in my own party included, can still look up to Tony Blair. He is still praised as the great political operator, but being a politician is not the same as being a great servant of one’s country. I cannot imagine that history will judge him as a great statesman.

"I am even more mystified as to how he can be ever have seriously been considered as a “Middle East Peace Envoy”. As Conservatives are fond of saying about the economy, you don’t hand the keys back to the person who crashed the car.

"It was Blair and his actions that destroyed any credibility Britain may have had left in the Middle East, and Blair who has made any major future intervention – even if it was needed - almost impossible. For him now to claim that we should have acted sooner by intervening in Syria is beyond belief. We know he has a high view of his own supremacy and favours articulating it through military muscle, but even if you think we should have intervened, it was his very actions over Iraq that made this all but impossible."

(Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol NW, an opponent of the war in 2003, Conservative Home article today called "How my anger at Tony Blair helped to drive me into politics.")

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The right decision on a vitally important topic.

The vote in Scotland on whether to leae the UK is a matter for Scots but those of us who live in the rest of the UK - including scores of thousands of Scots who live in England and millions of British people like myself with a signifiant proportion of Scottish ancestry - are entitled to take an interest.

The FT's economic commentator Martin Wolf, wrote recently that England and Scotland have made is "the world's most successful multinational state"  whose sum is greater than its component parts and whose shared contribution to the world has been immense. He added that being English or Scots is an ethnic identity, but being

"British a civic one … If Scotland were to depart, I would lose an important part of myself".

I don't often agree with Gordon Brown on anything but he was surely right when he told the Dailty Record that

".. this is a question that really is not just like a general election or one vote – it is about the whole future of Scotland over centuries.

“You cannot stand back when a decision like this is one that affects the children you love and it
affects people you respect and, in my case, you represent.”

Brown added:

“This decision, if it is made in the wrong way, would be irreversible. Therefore, my children and their children’s children have to live with the consequences of the decision we are making.

“It is because other generations are going to have to reap the effect of what we sow that I think it is very important that we take this so seriously and we actually look at what the real issue is.”

Alex Salmond recently said in the London Evening Standard that "Scotland will not be a foreign country after independence".

But in a sense becoming a foreign country is exactly what independence means.

Either way, it is not in the itnerests of Scotland, England, Wales or Ireland for the debate to be accompanied by smears, scaremongering, or vitriol from any direction, and as Alex Massie argues here there has been far too much of that.

The referendum campaign has divided hundreds of thousands of Scottish families and I was quite shocked last week by the degree of emotional discomfort and worry which appeared on the face of one of my Scottish friends when the subject of the independence referendum came up in casua conversation. (And for the avoidance of doubt, he made quite clear that this wasn't because he didn't want to tell me he was hoping for a yes.)

A recent opinion poll suggested that something like 20% of Scottish families have experienced a discussion on the subject of independence which degenerated into a row.

I think both sides of the debate need to campaign in a more positive, constructive and less aggressive way.

Marvellous weekend at Whitehaven harbour continues

For the second consecutive day we have been appreciating the sunshine, and summer fayre at Whitehaven harbour, with the tall ships still here and lots of people enjoying a glorious afternoon.

Ed summonsed over car crash

When I saw the headline I thought "I didn't know you could be prosecuted over a bad interview."

But apparently it was a real one - Ed Balls is alleged to have clipped someone's car when when leaving his constituency offices.

Just as well for the other Ed that you can't be prosecuted over a disastrous interview ...

Quote of the day 22nd June

If I had been able to track down the quote I was looking for, today's would have been a first - a quote from Gordon Brown which I strongly agreed with. Unfortunately I am still trying to track down the exact words he used and do not want to rely on memory.

So instead I am going to use a the first line of a review by John McDermott which you can read in the FT here of two books, "Independence: an argument for Home Rule" by Alasdair Grey, which despite the second half of the utterly misleading title is actually an argument for a "Yes" in the Scottish referendum, and "My Scotland, Our Britain: A Future Worth Sharing" by Gordon Brown. Anyway, the quote is

"One of the authors of this pair of books is a dyspeptic Scottish socialist prone to exaggeration. The other is Gordon Brown."

(John Mc Dermott)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

When "soft" interviews work better than setting up a fight

The media in this country have a lot to answer for, and never more than when they delight in setting up a situation where people are spitting (metaphorical) venom at one another.

A good example was the confrontation between Yasmin Alabhai-Brown and Rod Liddle on Channel 4 a couple of days ago in which the journalist "chairing" the debate certainly didn't make any attmpt to damp down the flames - watch it for yourself on Guido Fawkes' blog here. It was a discussion which shed 100% heat and 0% light, and will have provided great entertainment for those who enjoy confrontation but very little to those who enjoy a constructive debate.

Now the interesting thing is, Rod Liddle's views probably are not as different from Yasmin AB's as my friend Iain Dale's are. And yet Iain managed to post an interview with her today which was not just infinitely more civilised but also extracted some interesting and nuanced views.

Reading this shortly after I watched the Channel 4 donnybrook, I could hardly believe that the intelligent woman being interiewed, who came over as far more open minded and had views which  often did not fit the stereotype people have of her, was the same person who told Rod Liddle that she was proud of how much she loathed him.

The contrast between the way Yasmin AB came over in the Iain Dale interview compared with the Channel 4 confrontation is of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde proportions.

You can read Iain's interview here.

Copeland Mayoral election to take place at same time as General Election

The News and Star reports that the government is bringing forward primary legislation at the request of Copeland Council to allow the election for the new post of Directly Elected Mayor to take place at the same time as the General Election and the election for the other members of Copeland Council.

I am aware that there are now two opinions about this, though in the run up to the referendum there appeared to be a consensus that if there was a "Yes" vote both the council and pro-Mayor campaigners woud prefer the option of a mayoral election on 7th May 2015.

I note that the "Copeland Elected Mayor" website which I referred to in a post earlier today currently (5.35pm on 21st June)  describes this option as having the support of both the petition organiser and the council.

Following on from the size of the "Yes" vote I think a larger number of people wanted to 'get on with it' and to be honest I have some sympathy for that point of view.

But from the government's point of view, they had been asked to hold the election at the same time as the council and general elections by the council, the organisers of the petition, and the local MP: the fact that they are bringing in legislation especially to listen to that request demonstrates that, whether or not we think they should have listened, the government does pay attention to local representations.  

Tall Ships at Whitehaven Harbour

Whitehaven Harbour was looking particularly beautiful this afternoon: a glorious summer day, two tall ships in the harbour, a beautiful place to take a walk with the family.

Copeland Mayoralty information website

One of the people involved in the successful campaign for an elected mayor for Copeland has set up an information website with details of the new office which is due to be created. I was asked if I would consider publicising the site on this blog.

The "Copeland's Future Elected Mayor" site on Wordpress brings together links to a series of sources of information about elected mayors in general and the position for Copeland in particular, mostly official documents on sites like that of the Electoral Commission.

You can find it at

Quote of the day 21st June 2014

‘Who is the biggest opponent of welfare reform? Not a weak Labour Party, but the relentlessly negative BBC.

(Ian Duncan Smith, quoted in the Daily Mail here

Too many tweets ...

Having been extremely careful what I tweeted during the European election camapign, I managed to ruin an owl joke on twitter this morning by mistyping the word "birds" and not noticing.

However, this "owler" was comparatively minor by comparison with what happens to some people.

It is both sad and frightening that on both Twitter and the rest of the internet people are watching to drag people down if they make a serious mistake - including anything which can be selectively quoted to look like a serious mistake.

There is more than a hint in the way the internet is used today which reminds me of the line from If,

"If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,"

It's not enough to avoid, even in jest, suggesting that you might do certain things. It can be dangerous to explain how you would avoid doing them for fear that someone might quote you out of context without the "I would be careful not to" or "I would never" bit.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A new welfare policy ..

Stephen Mosley MP retweets a Peter Brookes cartoon from The Times in which the left hand panel has Ed Miliband saying

"Labour will hit you hard if you have no skills for the job."

The right hand panel has Miliband beating himself up.

Quote of the day 20th June 2014

"We are renewing our commitment to say by 2025 we want to find a cure to dementia. We should treat this as a disease rather than as some natural part of ageing."

(David Cameron at a summit on dementia yesterday)

Tackling Dementia

One in five of those of us who live past 80 develop dementia.

Several people that I knew suffered from this horrible condition, which can be very distressing for the victim and is always excruciating for his or her loved ones who see the person they cared for slipping away while their body is still alive.

So I wa very pleased to see that the Prime Minister promised a "big, bold global push" to beat dementia.

Speaking to an audience of 300 global dementia and finance specialists at a summit in London, David Cameron said he would speed up progress on dementia drugs by getting experts to come up with new proposals on areas such as drug patent extensions, by October. He pledged to accelerate progress on dementia by increasing funding and making new drugs more accessible.

In his speech, the prime minister told experts that dementia is one of the "greatest enemies of humanity".

He said that
"It is important to see dementia as a disease and one that we need to better understand so that we can tackle it”

and added

"We are renewing our commitment to say by 2025 we want to find a cure to dementia. We should treat this as a disease rather than as some natural part of ageing."

He also said there was a need to develop more drugs and get them to patients more quickly. For that to happen, international collaboration and more money for dementia research was needed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Labour hackers "owl" with laughter ...

I do hope the Conservative website gurus have some good security programs up in case the hackers who rewrote Labour's Twitter account to make the party appear to promise that "everyone should have his own owl." inspire a host of copycat attacks on both Labour and all the other political parties.

Doubtless a hunt for those responsible is now under way. Personally I suspect the most likely culprits are despairing Labour supporters, seeking to distract attention from Ed Miliband's real policies which are even more preposterous.

After all, the idea that Ed Miliband know how to fix the economic problems they and Gordon Brown caused for the country is strictly for the birds.

Quote of the day 19th June 2014

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

(Sir Winston Churchill)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Elevating incompetence into an art form ...

It is my experience that almost all parts of the political spectrum contain people of the full range of competence from brilliant and capable through dreamers, competent but dull through to real people who are nearly as inept as the fictional character who the late Rik Mayall's creation Alan B'Stard once told "If your IQ was any lower you'd need watering."

There is a self-comforting myth on the left that their side has the brains and their opponents are fools: John Start Mill, who I will admit was himself one of the cleverest people who ever lived, said in a debate in 1866 that while he did not argue that Conservatives are generally stupid, he did think that stupid persons are generally conservative.

The dead giveaway that even a person of his enormous ability was indulging in unchallenged assumptions is that he went on to add "I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it."

When anyone, even a genius, says that something is so obvious that it should not need to be questioned this is a warning sign that they are very possibly making an assumption they did not regard it as necessary to seriously consider. And in my experience, not thinking through your assumptions is where many people, including very clever people, make their worst mistakes.

Mill lived at a time when there were some very intelligent people involved on the radical and "progressive" side in politics while in his youth political conservatives were those who defended things like rotten boroughs and the Corn Laws. I have my doubts that he would still be of the same view if he were still alive today, but even if he were I certainly don't agree with him.

This week's example of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party indulging in behviour which demonstrates the IQ of plankton comes from Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, while opening a village fete in Ingleton  in her constituency, as you can read here.

In her speech she confused the Ingleton for which she has been the MP for several yeras and where she was speaking with another Ingleton in North Yorkshire about 70 miles away.

According to the BBC, "Organisers said the Labour MP would not be invited back."

Let's hope the voters of Bishop Auckland take the same view next year.

Quote of the day 18th June 2014

"It takes a special talent to endorse the England team in the country's biggest-selling tabloid during the World Cup and then turn that into a political problem. Honestly, I don't know whether to laugh or cry."

(Attributed to a Labour shadow cabinet member, on Ed Miliband's Sun photo opportunity U-turn.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This year's Janus award for facing both ways at once goes to Harriet Harman

In the past the Janus award for facing both ways at once usually went to the Liberal Democrats.

The best example of all time was when the Lib/Dems were arguing in the West country that Trident should be refitted at Plymouth, in the North of England that this should happen at Barrow, in Scotland that it should happen on the Clyde, and at Westminster that Britain should not have Trident at all.

However, Harriet Harman wins this year's award with an argument which the DT summarises as Miliband was right to post with the Sun and right to apologise afterwards.

You really couldn't make it up, could you? If Harriet Harman did not exist Conservative Central Office would have to invent her.

200,000 Not Out

Yesterday evening this blolg had it's 200,000th pageview since the traffic monitors went live a few years ago.

Thanks to everyone who has visited and read the blog in that time and I hope you enjoyed it or found it useful.

Quotes of the Day 17th June 2014

"I have come to the conclusion that Tony Blair has finally gone mad. He wrote an essay on his website on Sunday (reproduced in the Telegraph) that struck me as unhinged in its refusal to face facts. In discussing the disaster of modern Iraq he made assertions that are so jaw-droppingly and breathtakingly at variance with reality that he surely needs professional psychiatric help."

"The reality is that before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was no al‑Qaeda presence in that country, none at all. Saddam was a ruthless Ba’athist tyrant who treated his population with appalling brutality. But he did not have anything to do with the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre, and he did not possess Weapons of Mass Destruction."

"The truth is that we destroyed the institutions of authority in Iraq without having the foggiest idea what would come next."

"The Iraq war was a tragic mistake; and by refusing to accept this, Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention."

"It would be wrong and self-defeating to conclude that because we were wrong over Iraq, we must always be wrong to try to make the world a better place. But we cannot make this case – for an active Britain that is engaged with the world – unless we are at least honest about our failures. "

"Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it – or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing. The truth shall set you free, Tony."

(Extracts from an artice by Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph. You can read the whole article  here.)

"Iraq was a moral, humanitarian and geo-political catastrophe. You will be hard pushed to find a single respected foreign affairs analyst who argues otherwise. And by trying to argue the opposite, supporters of Tony Blair are merely displaying the same level of ideological fanaticism as their opponents."

"It isn’t that people aren’t listening to him. They’re listening all right. And when they hear Tony Blair say 'we should do X' on foreign policy they say 'Right. If that’s what Blair thinks, we should do Y'."

"This isn’t about Tony Blair. Actually, it is. It’s about doing whatever we can, however imperfect, to try and right Tony Blair’s wrong. Yes, we may fail. But we have a duty to try."

(Of Tony Blair) "He and his supporters need to realise the only thing we need from him on Iraq is silence."

(Extracts from a Telegraph blog by Dan Hodges, normally an uber-Blairite, disavowing Blair's position on the causes of the problem in Iraq. You can read his full blog post here).

Monday, June 16, 2014

On Blair and Iraq

Tony Blair's attempt to distance himself from the current crisis in Iraq contains one argument which is obviously true, although the arguments which have been attributed to him by the BBC and others include several which are equally obvious nonsense.

He has a point when he argues that even if the USA and Britain had not invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussain, the series of revolutions throughout almost all the middle east which is sometimes called the "Arab Spring" would almost certainly still have affected Iraq.

The Syrian Ba'ath party - the sister party to Saddam's Iraqi Ba'ath party - is clinging to power in Syria, and the ISIS faction which has just over-run large parts of Iraq, and claims to have perpetrated the most ghastly and bloodthirsty massacre against the prisoners they took in the process, operates on both sides of the border and has been part of the rebellion against that Syrian regime for some years. This proves Blair's point that leaving dictators in power is no guarantee against violence, civil war, or the rise of extremism. It should also give the lie to some of the more simplistic descriptions which have been voiced in the media about the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars - e.g. those which try to explain what is going on simply as a battle between Sunni and Shiua. It is clearly more complex than that.

Blair would be on much weaker ground if he is arguing, as the BBC and others have interpreted his words, that the violence in Iraq has nothing to do with US and British actions during and in the aftermath of the invasion.

It is extremely difficult not to conclude from even a cursory study of the history of Iraq since 2003  that serious mistakes were made, and these have exacerbated the problems.

Blair's essay on the subject includes the following:

" ... the whole of the Middle East and beyond is going through a huge, agonising and protracted transition. We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven't. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not; and whether action or inaction is the best policy and there is a lot to be said on both sides. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it.

"The problems of the Middle East are the product of bad systems of politics mixed with a bad abuse of religion going back over a long time. Poor governance, weak institutions, oppressive rule and a failure within parts of Islam to work out a sensible relationship between religion and Government have combined to create countries which are simply unprepared for the modern world. Put into that mix, young populations with no effective job opportunities and education systems that do not correspond to the requirements of the future economy, and you have a toxic, inherently unstable matrix of factors that was always – repeat always - going to lead to a revolution."

You can indeed argue whether our policies have helped or not, and I think some of Blair's policies did not.

He's dead right that poor governance, weak institutions, oppression and a poor relationship between religion and government resulted in a toxic and unstable situaton, but I am much less convinced that any outcome was inevitable in a region which is as diverse and hard to predict as the Middle East.

What Blair has actually written is not nearly as indefensible as the views attributed to him by the BBC - who might just possibly have a score to settle where Blair and the invasion of Iraq are concerned- but his words still read to me like someone making excuses for his past actions.

Britain and the West should not ignore the bloodbath in Syria and Iraq - one is tempted to write blood Ba'ath but ISIS appears on the basis of their own propaganda to be even worse than Bashir Assad. However, not ignoring the problem must not mean going down the tramlines leading to the classic "Yes Minister" syllogism of:

"We Must Do Something

This is something

Therefore we must do it."

The West's policy towards Iraq should be aimed at ensuring that anything we do has the effect of  reducing bloodshed and must not exacerbate it. Which may well be easier said than done.

Quote of the day 16th June 2014

“It's an universal law-- intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

( Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn )

Sunday, June 15, 2014

We will remember them

I was pleased to see the dedication today of a memorial for all those who have served in the Royal Navy and associated services which has been unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum. The glass sculpture at Alrewas, Staffordshire, was commissioned by the Royal Naval Association (RNA) which described it as the nation's first "all-inclusive memorial".

Prince Michael of Kent performed the dedication ceremony in front of 1,500 veterans.

It will be known as the Naval Service Memorial. Captain Paul Quinn, General Secretary of the RNA, told the BBC that the navy wanted to create "something for everyone".

He said there was a collection of smaller naval memorials,

"[But] we didn't have anything for the naval service, which is the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, the Wrens and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary," he explained.

Arboretum officials said the idea had been in the planning for several years. It has been created to mark the 60th anniversary of the RNA getting its Royal Charter.

The theme for the memorial was described as being: "At the going down of the sun we will remember them.'

Alan B'Stard MP, Captain Scarlet, and Shaggy RIP

It seems to have been a bad week for the deaths of actors who created some of the most memoprable figures from earlier stages of my TV watching life (not that I was ever much of a telly addict.)

First we had the sad and sudden death of Rik Mayall, star of the Young Ones, and the incomparably nasty but brilliantly funny Alan B'Stard.

I had written a long tribute to Rik Mayall here, but to abide by my own blog rules I have sadly had to delete it unposted. I don't allow anything which could be taken as a partisan attack on a party or a group of people in obit posts on this blog, and unfortunately I can't think of a way to write what I would have liked to post without the risk that it could be misunderstood as such an attack. Rik probably would not have minded but I made the rule for a good reason and I'm going to stick to it.   Let's just say he was incredibly talented and leave it at that.

And then today I heard in seperate news bulletins during the same drive back from Glasgow first that Casey Kasem, the voice of Shaggy in the "Scooby Doo" cartoons in my childhood, dies today aged 82, and then that  Francis Matthews, the voice of Captain Scarlet in the eponymous children's scifi adventure and a regular on the Morecombe and Wise show, had also died today at 86.

Rik Mayall and Casey Kasem have gone to make the angels laugh. I don't expect that the Mysterons will bring back Francis Matthews from the dead in the way their power did for the character he voiced, but I hope that when the last trumpet sounds an even greater power will do so.

Rest in Peace. 

Quote of the day 15th June 2014

"There are good arguments for posing with the Sun. There are good arguments for not posing with the Sun. But there are no – literally no – arguments for posing with the Sun one day and then apologising for it 24 hours later."

(Former Labour offical Dan Hodges, writing in the Daily Telegraph here.)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How not to organise a photo-op

In eleven months' time, Ed Miliband could be the Prime Minister of Britain. This is not by any means certain - thank God - and both Labour and the Conservatives have everything to play for, but for that very reason, you would think he and his staff would be straining every sinew to make him look like someone who could be trusted with the nation's highest office.

Which makes his behaviour over the photo-opp for the Sun all the more extraordinary.

The bacon butty incident could have happened to anyone, although it was a sign of a slack media operation that the pictures were allowed to appear in the newspapers - Campbell and Mandelson, or indeed Sir Bernard Ingham - would have found a way to "persuade" journalists or editors not to use them.

But appearing in a promotion for the highest circulation newspaper one day, and then issuing a sort of not-quite-apology the following day - that is elevating clumsiness into an art form. If this is what he makes of the job of being Leader of the Opposition, God help the country if Miliband ever becomes PM and has to take really difficult decisions.

There is a very telling blog post by Atul Hawtal describing what some of the Labour party's own people thought about this shambles at "Labour Uncut" here.

And as former Labour activist and official Dan Hodges argues in the Daily Telegraph here, it was not Ed Miliband's advisors who fouled up. It was Ed himself.

Quote for the day 14th June 2014

"Religion is like a pair of shoes.....Find one that fits for you, but don't make me wear your shoes.”
( George Carlin )

Friday, June 13, 2014

On Islamophobia

I've been thinking about the contrast between the overwhelming majority of the British Muslims who I know personally and the idea of what Muslims are like which one could so easily get from the press. Not to mention from material like the stomach-churning election election address which the BNP circulated during the european elections.

The two largest groups of muslims who I know personally are those who I met and worked with as colleagues at BT and fellow Conservative activists. In both cases some of these individuals are personally very devout but neither the BT managers nor the Conservatives are obviously different in most of their attidudes, behaviour, or at all in the way they do their jobs, from those BT managers or Conservatives who are Christians, Jews, or atheists.

Back in my days at University - which included a year as Treasurer of the Union at Bristol, which made me the Union sabbatical responsible for dealing with societies - I did find that some of the Islamic societies - though by no means all - for students from middle eastern countries could occasionally display attitudes which made them difficult to deal with. I remember one such society sent an extremely nice "complements of the season" Christmas card to myself and most of the members of union council which initially produced a positive reaction, that sadly was totally destroyed when talking among ourselves we discovered that the three members of union council with Jewish sounding names had been excluded from the circulation.

But these were young men - it always was men - and in my later experiences as a councillor when dealing with planning applications from mosques and with organisations for immigrant communitites from Islamic countries I nearly always found the applicants and other representatives of Islam in Britain to be reasonably polite and constructive.

Obviously people like the 7/7 suicide bombers, the murderers of Lee Rigby, and those who go on dmonstrations with banners like "Behead those who insult Islam." do exist. But if my own experience is anything to go by, the extremists are an incredibly small minority of the communities they come from.

We do need to keep an eye open for the threat posed by the small minority of genuine extremists and guard against things which might result in young men becoming radicalised. We also need to ensure that everyone in our society is treated equally and subject to the same laws, that those laws are even-handedly enforced, and that everyone has the same protection under those laws.

But it is also important not to become paranoid or to scapegoat entire communities because of the actions of a few hotheads.

My uncles' and grandparents' generation had to go to war against a really serious threat in the form of the Nazis. (My father was a year or so too young to be called up in World War II.)

I lived the first three decades of my life under the shadow of the Cold War, when a Russian regime which was far more evil and dangerous than Putin's had a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons and other WMD aimed at our country. Despite what has happened in Iraq this week, and despite the occasional horrible atrocity perpetrated by the likes of Al Queda and the Taleban, the threat posed to Western society by Islamic extremism is utterly trivial compared to dangers which the West has successfully seen off over the last century.

Quotes of the day 13th June 2014

"There is no compulsion in religion"

"Had your Lord so willed it, all on earth together would believe, so can you then force the people to be believers?"

(Holy Koran, first quote is Verse 256, second Sura, second quote is from the tenth Sura. Both quotes are considered by all mainstream Islamic scholars to encourage religious toleration.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

DC writes: two million new jobs

Following the news that the UK unemployment figures are down yet again, the Prime Minister writes:

"We've just heard: 2 million private sector jobs have now been created since we came into government.
That's millions more people with the security of a pay packet, able to support themselves and their families.
"And it's 2 million more reasons to back our long-term economic plan and the important measures we're taking to help Britain's businesses grow and create more jobs.
"Donate £10 today and let's keep working through the plan that is turning Britain around.

2 million more private sector jobs
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"Labour don't have a plan - all Ed Miliband and Labour would mean is more spending, more borrowing and more taxes.
"If we're going to secure a better future for your family and for Britain, we need to keep working through our plan - and we need to win the next election.
"Donate £10 today and together we can secure Britain's future.


David Cameron"
Donate 10 pounds today


Quote of the day 12th June 2014

"Believe you can and you're halfway there"

(Theodore Roosevelt)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hopes of a fair resolution to the Chagos Islands dispute?

I was pleased to see an article on Conservative Home here by David Snoxell, Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, which suggests that after far too many years we may finally be inching towards a fair resolution of the problem of these islands.

Britain has rightly argued that the people of Gibraltar and the Falklands Islands should be entitled to determine their own future.

We need to find a solution for the Chagos archipelago which takes account of the rights and wishes of the people of those islands too.

Quote of the day 11th June 2014

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree"

(Martin Luther)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Theresa May on the launch of the Modern Slavery Bill

On the "Trojan horse" investigation in Birmingham schools

It is very important that the so called "Trojan horse" investigations are completed and the results made public, innocent schools and parties cleared, and action taken if any of the allegations turn out to be true.

Dan Hannan MEP does have a very good point when he asks how the debate, in some parts of the media, has become about faith schools, free schools and academies when the 21 schools actually affected, a mix of primary & secondary, local authority & academies, include schools that are not in any of those three categories?

Good Luck!

Hat tip to Harry Phibbs who has tweeted a photo of a notice pinned to a front door.

The notice warns whoever keeps adding "og" to the owner's doorsign that

"If I catch you, you are dead."

The doorsign is supposed to read "Dr A Hedgeh."

See "A tough - but thus far ineffective - response to graffiti" at ...

Quote of the day 10th June 2014

“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”
Mark Twain )

Monday, June 09, 2014

Quote of the day 9th June 2014

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
( Nelson Mandela )

Sunday, June 08, 2014

What's right with "The Youth of Today"

You can find comments written two or three thousand years ago in which the older generation expressed fears about "young people today" which sound surprisingly similar to the things which some older people will say today.

But I'm not one of those people.

When I was a teenager or in my twenties, I thought that my elders often came out with more wisdom than some of my contemporaries were willing to give them credit for.

I still don't feel old, and I still have a full head of hair and plenty of energy, but the gradual appearance in the mirror of more grey in that hair and the fact that so many of that older generation are no longer with us sometimes forces me to recognise that I am no longer as young as I like to think of myself as being.

One sign of age, however, which I absolutely refuse to exhibit is a loss of faith in the abilities, motivation and achievements of the next generation.

On the contrary, I find many of them inspiring.

Perhaps that partly means that I still have a greater degree of empathy than some with different generations, directed now at those younger than myself instead of those older, but I think it is partly because the use which so many of today's young people are making of the immense opportunities they have been given is truly wonderful.

I've just come back from the Braithwaite Institute on the A66 near Keswick where my son was playing in a Jazz concert with performers of all ages but mostly under 16, to raise money for a forthcoming trip to Cambodia by students at Keswick School. The students who are going out there are planning themselves to build a school for some of the deprived children in that country.

I find wonderful that teenagers and pre-teens in our country today are willing to think in such ambitious terms of how they can personally help to make the world better by doing something so amazing for less fortunate people on the other side of the planet.

Don't let anybody persuade you to despair of young people today. There are some black sheep in every generation but so the energy, enthusiasm and generosity of spirit of so many of those who are at school or university today or just starting their first jobs gives me great hope for their futures and that of our country.

Damian Green MP on the lessons of Newark

I didn't quite get to speak to Damian Green in Newark, though I did spot him pounding the streets of the town about ten minutes drive from the campaign HQ when I was on my way there to do the same.

However, he gave an excellent speech at a Tory Reform Group meeting yesterday about the lessons of the Newark by-election.

Here are a few extracts.

"One of the lessons from Newark is that the temptation to become UKIP-lite should be firmly resisted. Ed Miliband, our main opponent, would love the Conservative Party to move that way.

"The political battle of our times is between optimists and pessimists. Conservatives should be optimists, believing that free markets and a strong society are the basis for a successful country in the 21st century.

"Nigel Farage hankers after the 1950s, when people knew their place. Ed Miliband, to be fair, is a slightly more modern figure. He prefers the 1970s, with mighty trade unions and high taxes.

"They are both relying on a sense of despair about Britain. They are wrong to despair about this country, which is great and getting better.

"The Newark campaign was important not just for the energy displayed. It was run on the basis of a straightforward Conservative message. Trust us on the economy; we are the only party with a credible long-term plan, and you can see that it is beginning to work. And by the way, we have by far the most credible Prime Minister among all the party leaders. All the literature was in Tory blue, there was no attempt (as in Eastleigh) to put out tricky purple leaflets, and the whole party stuck to the message.

"What we showed was that even in a by-election where people traditionally take the chance to kick the Government of the day, this orthodox mainstream Tory message is the right one.

"This has to show us the pattern for the coming year. A Conservative-led coalition Government has been in power for four years, so the fact that we can show palpable economic recovery has to be the most prominent feature in the political landscape.

"Of course European policy and immigration policy are important but we were elected to sort out the economy and we are doing so successfully, in a way that makes life easier for millions of people. Why would we not want to focus minds on this?

"If this is the main short-term lesson from Newark there are long-term lessons as well. Moderate Conservatism can win us back the votes of the women who deserted us when Tony Blair was in full cry, and it can also do so for the other groups that will be necessary in the decades ahead to provide Conservative majority Governments.

"In the early days of the coalition, I warned that we should not sub-contract compassion to the Liberal Democrats, since the Conservative message should always be hard-headed but not hard-hearted. It is heartening to observe that, for example, the moral purpose behind the welfare reforms has been widely accepted, especially among young people, so that attempts by the left to portray it as cruel Tory cutting have largely failed. But we need to be vigilant that we do not sound carelessly indifferent to the particular concerns of those who want to be part of a successful Britain, but who are not sure they will make it.

"Though there are indeed reasons to be cheerful, there are absolutely no reasons to think that we are heading inexorably for the sunlit uplands. Both in the short and long term, either side of May 2015, there is work to do to convince a largely disengaged public that we have the answers and that we are on their side."

Hat tip to Conservative Home who give a more complete version of the speech here.

Damian has given one side of the argument about how Conservatives should respond to UKIP and it is an extremely important side which needs to be heard. There is absolutely nothing we can do that will make the hardline "Kippers" listen to us and any attempt to get UKIP's "core vote" to move to the Conservatives will merely hand the election to Miliband on a plate by losing us the mainstream, just as the "core vote" strategy in 2001 cemented Blair's hold on Downing street.

There is, however, another aspect of the debate which also needs to be heard, pointing out that those who voted UKIP last month are not a homogenous mass. Their core vote is unreacahable but there are also plenty of voters who lent their vote to UKIP for one election to "send a message" and were always planning to return to their normal allegiance in 2015. There are also a big group of voters - polls suggest it might be as much as half UKIP's current support - who have not definately decided how to vote in 2015 and those people are open to persuasion if we can show that we will take real action on the issues they are concerned about - the cost of living, the economy, the NHS, and yes, immigration.

And taking real action about immigration does not have to mean adopting extreme positions, let alone inflammatory language. What happened to a certain former Labour prime minister at the polls shows that spouting near-BNP rhetoric in public (e.g. "British jobs for British workers") while in private dismissing anyone who asks about immigration as a bigot is precisely the sort of hypocrisy which British voters are fed up with. They are far more concerned that we take effective action to control the borders and bring numbers down to sustainable levels that to hear unrealistic promises of drastic change which they won't believe anyway.

Conservative Home have two more good articles on the subject here and here, both worth a read.

Quote of the day 8th June 2014

“Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.”
Benjamin Disraeli )

Friday, June 06, 2014

Remembering "The Longest Day"

I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for the thousands of men who charged up the D-Day beaches under Nazi fire, jumped out of aircraft in the dark as they parachuted into occupied France, or otherwise put themselves in harm's way seventy years ago today as they launched the campaign to liberate Europe.

I do know that the debt we owe those brave men is incalculable.

Thousands of them lost their lives: the casualty lists (on both sides) from the Normandy campaign were comparable with those at the Somme.

What the world might be like today without their sacrifices is unspeakable.

We have a bad habit in Britain of failing to give our service personnel from the most junior to the most senior the credit they deserve for their sacrifices and achievements. In the case of the D-Day campaign the credit due both to our front-line soldiers, sailors and airmen, and to the often derided staff officers who in this case got almost everything right, is amazing.

The planners knew that they were up against a formidable German army, which if it could have  concentrated quickly on the beachheads before they were properly established, would have rendered the invasion impossible.

So they did two things: they constructed the largest deception operation in the history of warfare, including an entire dummy army, to trick the Nazis into thinking that the attack was aimed at Calais rather than Normandy, and it succeeded brilliantly so that the Panzer divisions were in the wrong place. And  they used the brave pilots of the RAF and USAF, flying thousands apon thousands of sorties, to take out practically every set of railway points in northern France so that the Germans could not quickly move reinforcements against the landing sites.

They learned the lessons from previous attempted amphibious operations by both sides such as the disastrous Dieppe raid and made sure they had specialist landing craft, mineclearing tanks, and the other support infrastructure required to deal with the fortifications on the beaches.

They built two complete artificial harbours - the so called "Mulberry Harbours" to ensure that the bridgeheads could be properly supplied.

A friend of mine who had been one of the D-Day planners, the late Lt. Colonel Jack Fielder, later became leader of Hertfordshire County Council. He used to joke in later life that these days it takes longer to approve and install a pedestrian crossing than it took Monty & Eisenhower's staffs to organise D-Day. I always think of Jack and his colleagues when we remember D-Day - everyone is quick to criticise the staff and administration in war as in civilian life when they get it wrong, but it was very fortunate for the world, and for the PBI on the beaches who had to put their lives on the line, that this particular bunch of Rear Echelon you-know-whats did their jobs superbly. The cost in blood if they hadn't would have been far higher.

The front-line troops don't always get the credit they deserve either. The Germans had designed and built some of the most superlative armoured fighting machines of the war, but fortunately were not able to build anything like as many of them as Britain, let alone America, managed to produce. So the allies usually had the edge in numbers, but the challenge for our soldiers was dealing with enemy panzers which tank for tank were often superior to ours. And yet they did it.

Almost any boy (or girl) who has studied military history will know about the terrible carnage suffered by 5th London Yeomanry and 1st Battalion the Rifle Brigade near Villers Bocage on 13th June 1944, during the successful ambush of a British armoured and mechanised column by a single Tiger Tank under the command of Michael Wittman. I recall learning the story as a ten-year old in an article about how dangerous an opponent the Tiger tank was. This story is also often told in a way that makes the British troops sound like amateurs outfought by the more professional Wehrmatch and Waffen-SS

Yet the conclusion to the story, which does not fit that picture, is much less often told. The same afternoon the Germans in turn were ambushed by the British, losing six Tiger tanks (out of only 36 in the whole of Normandy) and six Panzer IVs. The British soldiers who organised that ambush needed greater tactical ability and even more courage than Wittman's Nazis. (I'm using that word in a literal sense as we are talking about a Waffen SS unit.)  It took far more skill, and was much more dangerous, to destroy a Tiger with Cromwell and Sherman tanks than the other way round. Yet they did it. The amateurs from the "Nation of Shopkeepers" won and the "Master Race" were defeated.

But it is important that we don't confuse those who fought for Hitler in 1944 either with thsoe who opposed him at the time or with the millions of Germans who had not even been born. A prominent German recently observed that operation Overlord liberated Germany, as well as the rest of Europe, from Nazi rule.

Angela Merkel attended today's commemoration ceremonies. One of the most important legacies of the D-Day campaign is that today's Germans are no longer our enemies.

Statement on ECR enlargement

The ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists)  Group in the European Parliament issued the following statement yesterday:
The European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) group last night grew to 55 MEPs, putting it just four members behind the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group.
With more parties expected to join, it is now increasingly likely that the ECR could be the third biggest group and therefore kingmaker in the next European parliament.
At an ECR Group meeting last night, 10 MEPs from six parties were admitted. Four members from the Danish People’s Party and two members from the Finns Party were admitted although the Finn’s membership is pending a formal meeting with Poland’s Law and Justice Party.
The other parties that were admitted were Nova and OL ‘ aNO from Slovakia, the Independent Hellenes from Greece and The Family Party from Germany – all with one member each.

The membership application from Alternative für Deutschland - a moderate eurosceptic group from Germany which won seven seats last month - is still under consideration.

In many ways it would be daft it AfD were not allowed to join the ECR, but there is a catch - we need Angela Merkel's co-operation to have any chance of co-operation, and to say that her party do not get on well with AfD is an understatement.

This one will run for a while - but actually, the very success of the British Conservatives in persuading others to join the ECR means that would no longer be in a majority within the group even if we hadn't lost a few seats last month. We can't actually stop our allies from allowing the AfD to join even if DC tries to placate Angela Merkel by telling British Conservative MEPs to vote against the application.

Negotiations are also under way with Bulgaria Without Censorship. They have two seats.

Conservatives hold Newark

The Conservatives held Newark in yesterday's by-election, which is the first time we have won a parliamentary by-election while in government for just over 25 years, since William Hague held Richmond in Februay 1989.

There was a swing against us, but  a smaller swing than in previous by-elections in this parliament.

Of course this absolutely does not mean that the Conservatives can take victory for granted in next year's general election - it is still on a knife edge with everything to play for and no room whatsoever for complacency. And you should never read too much into a by-election. But this was a better result for the Conservatives than had been expected.

The fact that Labour and UKIP spokespeople like Chris Bryant and Roger Helmer were reduced to making an issue of the fact that the Conservatives made a huge push to hold Newark and a major effort to get lots of MPs, candidates and activists there - as if any competently-run party aspiring to run Britain could possibly have failed to do that - shows how desperate they both were to find some spin to explain what was basically a decent result for the Tories.

Conservative candidate Robert Jenrick was elected with 17,431 votes. UKIP came second with 10,028 - in some ways a very creditable performance for a party which was nowhere in this seat in 2010, but not the breakthrough they needed.

Labour dropped from second place to third with 6,842 and a fall of 4.6% of their share in the vote. The Lib/Dems came sixth.

Mike Smithson said at the Political Betting site that
"This should have been Labour’s to take."

He adds that

"This is only the third GB by-election this parliament that has not been a LAB defence and EdM’s party should have chucked everything at it. They didn’t and the huge CON campaign clearly convinced anti-UKIP voters that they were the party to stop the purples."

Mike also quotes from Professor John Curtice's comments before the result on the Spectator blog:-

“The truth is that they [Labour] should be on tenterhooks as to whether they will win the seat. That swing that they would need, it is less than the Labour Party achieved in Norwich, less than the Conservatives achieved in Norwich in the last Parliament, less than Labour achieved in Dudley West, Wirrel South just before they won the 1997 election. When oppositions look as though they are on course for government, the kind of swing that is required for Labour to win has been relatively common. To that extent, we have to ask ourselves, why is it we are not asking the question, could Labour win this? It is all of a piece, as a result of the recent elections, Labour do not have the enthusiasm and depth of support in the electorate that make them look like an alternative government.”

and adds

"He’s dead right."

Quotes for 6th June 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day

Two quotes as we remember all those very brave men and women who took part in the crusade to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, which began seventy years ago today with Operation Overlord, the largest, most meticulously and brilliantly planned, and successful maritime invasion of all time.

"I  have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines, and landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time. The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled.

The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved so difficult as was apprehended. The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 firstline aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle. I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are coming in in rapid succession. So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan.

And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.

There are already hopes that actual tactical surprise has been attained, and we hope to furnish the enemy with a succession of surprises during the course of the fighting. The battle that has now begun will grow constantly in scale and in intensity for many weeks to come, and I shall not attempt to speculate upon its course.  

This I may say, however. Complete unity prevails throughout the Allied Armies. There is a brotherhood in arms between us and our friends of the United States. There is complete confidence in the supreme commander, General Eisenhower, and his lieutenants, and also in the commander of the Expeditionary Force, General Montgomery. The ardour and spirit of the troops, as I saw myself, embarking in these last few days was splendid to witness. Nothing that equipment, science or forethought could do has been neglected, and the whole process of opening this great new front will be pursued with the utmost resolution both by the commanders and by the United States and British Governments whom they serve.  I have been at the centres where the latest information is received, and I can state to the House that this operation is proceeding in a thoroughly satisfactory manner.

Many dangers and difficulties which at this time last night appeared extremely formidable are behind us. The passage of the sea has been made with far less loss than we apprehended. The resistance of the batteries has been greatly weakened by the bombing of the Air Force, and the superior bombardment of our ships quickly reduced their fire to dimensions which did not affect the problem. The landings of the troops on a broad front, both British and American - Allied troops, I will not give lists of all the different nationalities they represent - but the landings along the whole front have been effective, and our troops have penetrated, in some cases, several miles inland. Lodgments exist on a broad front.

The outstanding feature has been the landings of the airborne troops, which were on a scale far larger than anything that has been seen so far in the world. These landings took place with extremely little loss and with great accuracy. Particular anxiety attached to them, because the conditions of light prevailing in the very limited period of the dawn-just before the dawn-the conditions of visibility made all the difference. Indeed, there might have been something happening at the last minute which would have prevented airborne troops from playing their part.

A very great degree of risk had to be taken in respect of the weather.

But General Eisenhower's courage is equal to all the necessary decisions that have to be taken in these extremely difficult and uncontrollable matters. The airborne troops are well established, and the landings and the follow-ups are all proceeding with much less loss-very much less-than we expected. Fighting is in progress at various points. We captured various bridges which were of importance, and which were not blown up. There is even fighting proceeding in the town of Caen, inland.

But all this, although a very valuable first step-a vital and essential first step-gives no indication of what may be the course of the battle in the next days and weeks, because the enemy will now probably endeavour to concentrate on this area, and in that event heavy fighting will soon begin and will continue without end, as we can push troops in and he can bring other troops up. It is, therefore, a most serious time that we enter upon. Thank God, we enter upon it with our great Allies all in good heart and all in good friendship."

(Winston Churchill's announcement to the House of Commons on 6th June 1944 about the D-Day landings.)

"If you don't throw the British into the sea, the war will be lost!"

(Attributed to an unidentified German commander the same afternoon.)