Saturday, January 31, 2015

One size does not fit all - Greece's Euro agony

I was reading an interesting article from Nick Cohen this evening which you can read on the Guardian website here concerning what is going wrong in Greece: he argues that "respectable fanatics" are destroying Greece and by that he means the ECB and Eurozone governments.

His article was very reminiscent of Keynes' famous dictum about how ideas can often be applied long after they have ceased to be helpful:

"Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."

Much of what Cohen says is dead on. But he appears to have missed a central point.

Where the policies of the European Central Bank and the Eurozone leaders are causing problems for in Greece is absolutely NOT per se in that they are trying to get the Greeks to eliminate corruption, reduce their budget deficit and get themselves out of the cycle of borrowing more and more money.

The problem is that the scale of adjustment they are encouraging Greece to make is incompatible with having your currency shared with more than half the European continent and with having your interest rates and monetary policy set externally by a body which is trying to balance the needs of 19 very different countries.

It's a classic proof of the old point - one size does not fit all.

When Labour predicted that the Coalition's attempts to cut the deficit would lead to a deeper recession and a massive increases in unemployment they were absolutely wrong. Instead we had the highest growth of any major economy last year and British businesses have created nearly 2 million new jobs.

But the doomsayers were only wrong because Britain had our own central bank and our own currency.

If in Britain we had attempted the coalition's policies while within the Euro and subject to the monetary policies which the ECB has been running for the past five years, we would not have the fastest growth of any major economy - instead we would have had exactly the disaster which Labour predicted.

Because you can't attempt a tighter fiscal policy to correct a serious deficit, especially not during a world recession, without balancing it with a carefully judged monetary policy which ensures there is enough demand in the economy to give the private sector a chance to employ the resources you are releasing.

To put it in words of one syllable, if the government is bankrupt and to balance the books you sack a lot of public sector workers, you have to make sure there is enough money in the economy that  private companies can hire them instead. Otherwise you get not just an economic disaster but also a  humanitarian one.

Critics of the government's economic policy can roughly be divided into two categories. The more intellectually challenged don't understand any of this, and nor do they understand that borrowing more and more money gets you deeper and deeper into a hole until you end up having to spend a ridiculous proportion of public spending just to pay the interest on your debts. Which is where Britain is now, and it'll be worse when interest rates finally rise above rock bottom in a year or two's time.

The more intelligent Labour critics of the government's policy thought George Osborne was too thick to understand the point I made above and would allow Britain to get into a deflationary spiral. Fortunately he isn't that stupid, and neither is the Bank of England.

However, there are plenty of people who argue that the European Central Bank (ECB) is making exactly that mistake, and until a few days ago I thought they had a point.

Clearly, the recent decision to adopt Quantitative Easing demonstrates that the ECB is alive to this danger, but there is still a problem.

The level of monetary expansion which is right for those European countries whose economies are not too badly out of whack, such as Germany, is way out of line with what is needed in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

I can still remember the exact "Road to Damascus" moment, at (of all places) a TRG conference in the beautiful surroundings of an Oxbridge college, when my concern about a European single currency shifted to outright opposition and I started thinking of myself as a Eurosceptic. It was when a prominent speaker from the German Christian Democrats was asked about the mistakes made when the Germans unified their currency and all he could do was attack those who had correctly predicted what would go wrong, accusing them of not understanding the political imperatives.

This demonstrated both that he either did not understand the implications of the "one size fits all" problem when uniting the two parts of Germany, which would be a far bigger issue for all of Europe; or else he was not willing to contemplate taking the right economic decision if it was difficult politically.

It was immediately apparent to me that if people with that attitude were to take the decisions about any single currency for Europe, the consequences for jobs, incomes, and ultimately public services in Britain could be completely unacceptable.

And bringing us back to Greece, the point where I knew my fears were justified and went from being against the single currency to red-line, "over my dead body" opposition to Britain, joining was when it became apparent that Greece and Italy would be allowed to join the Euro.

This was a bad decision for the Euro and a worse decision for Italy and Greece. It was a classic illustration of the propensity of some EU institutions to choose the best political course over the best economic course.

A single currency has to have harmonised economies. It was obvious to me from the start, and should have been  obvious to any intelligent observer, that there was a risk of the new European Central Bank having to take decisions which were very bad for some countries in order to accommodate others. At the time, I was afraid that we would end up with excessive inflation being imposed on countries like Germany and, had we joined, Britain in order to accommodate countries like Greece. This did happen to Ireland at one point, and it would have been the general pattern had it not turned out that the European Central Bank is the one EU institution which generally resists the temptation to put politics above economics.

In the event the general pattern has been precisely the opposite and we have had overly strict policies imposed, arguably on most of the Eurozone and certainly on countries like Greece, as the ECB's legitimate fears about inflation have been given priority, possibly too much priority.

Thank God Britain didn't join - whatever mistakes Gordon Brown made, and they were many, at least he stopped Tony Blair from scrapping the pound and replacing it with the Euro (with a bit of help from William Hague.)

The wise course of action now, from the viewpoint of both the Eurozone and Greece, would be negotiate a planned exit, voluntary and agreed on both sides, for Greece from the Euro on non-punitive terms. Ironically this would make the Euro stronger, not weaker.

Sadly it is unlikely to be seen that way and for that reason probably will not happen. Which means instead that we are likely to see either the new Greek government abandoning it's election promises, defaulting on its' debts, or a unilateral Greek exit from the Euro - any of which will do far more damage to the Eurozone and to Greece.

Grant Shapps on Labour's thirty days of Chaos

Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps writes ...

"We're just one month into the campaign. And already we've see 30 Days of Labour Chaos – with total confusion and incompetence from Ed Miliband.

Over the last 30 days:

1) Labour’s plans for £20.7 billion of borrowing
have been exposed;

2) Senior Labour figures have lined up to criticise Ed Miliband’s weak leadership

3) And Labour’s policies have fallen apart – whether it’s their price freeze which would have meant higher bills, or their homes tax which they’ve now spent three times.

You can see the full horror of Labour's 30 days of chaos

Don't let them get away with it. Share the facts with your friends:



Best wishes,

The Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP
Conservative Party Chairman"

Quote of the day 31st January 2015

"As a Muslim, I strongly condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo and those behind it. These terrorists do not represent me nor do they represent Islam. Their wicked ideology is an existential threat to Islam itself. Part of the problem is that these extremists and Islamophobes – responsible for burning mosques and attacking women wearing hijab – need each other in order to exist. We, the majority of ordinary people of every faith, race and colour, should stand together to these extremists and say enough is enough."

(Mohammed Samaana,
Letter in the Independent, January 2015)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Stephen Haraldsen's campaign for Copeland hits the ground running

Following his selection as Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Copeland, Stephen Haraldsen has hit the ground running, organising a series of press releases, interviews, and campaign events from Whitehaven to Keswick.

Stephen is shown here at the play area in the centre of his Hillcrest council ward, where, with other Conservative  councillors at district and county level, he secured £15,000 to provide equipment, fencing and a new path.

Stephen said after being picked by local Conservative members

"I'm delighted to be selected as candidate for my home constituency. Having been born and raised in Whitehaven and working in Copeland I have experienced many of the challenges we face, but also see the great potential in our community. I'm looking forward to setting out my vision for Copeland as a lively and well-connected place where people and businesses have the opportunities to succeed."

Remembering Churchill

This month seems replete with significant dates, and one which many people have been remembering today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

Churchill had an unbelievably complex life replete with triumphs and disasters.

Sometimes he was spectacularly right - at other times he was equally spectacularly wrong. Rosevelt was supposed to have said that WSC had a hundred ideas a day, of which four were good ideas.

His early career showed a spectacular climb to be First Lord of the Admiralty, when he was brought down by the failure at Gallipoli - though I have some sympathy for Douglas Reeman's pithy epitaph on that particular disaster,

"It was designed by a genius, but it was left to bloody fools to carry out."

That one was almost worthy of Winston Churchill's own famous wit. I have already quoted him in today's quote of the day, but cannot resist the temptation to repeat a few more.

When WSC was at school a teacher asked him to decline the latin word Mensa (table) he promptly did so, but only gave the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and ablative cases. The teacher prompted him for the vocative.

"But Sir, I don't intend ever to talk to tables." the boy replied.

On one occasion he and the House of Commons were listening to a long and boring speech from one MP, and Churchill noted that another MP, an elderly gentleman, was using an ear trumpet in an attempt to hear it. He asked

"Who is that fool denying his natural advantages?"

While attending a ceremony surrounding a statue of himself in America, Sir Winston was approached by a Rubenesque lady who told him.

“Mister Churchill, I’d like you to know I got up at dawn and drove a hundred miles for the unveiling of your bust,” she said.

The great man looked over her for a second, and replied: “Madam, I want you to know that I would happily reciprocate the honour.”

I have been unable to confirm either of these quotes, but there are two stories of occasions when he was lying back in the House of Commons benches and the MP who was speaking wrongly assumed he was asleep.

According to one story the MP asked him "Must you fall asleep during my speech?" and he replied "No, it's purely voluntary."

In the other, an MP who had been droning on about the dire wartime situation reached his peroration with something like "And in the face of this crisis, the Prime Minister is asleep" and WSC supposedly opened one eye and drawled "Would to God I were!"

(On one or two occasions when I myself have been wrongly accused of falling asleep I have been tempted to copy one of these lines but have never quite dared.)

He also said

"Mr Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right"

"War is mainly a catalogue of blunders"

"There are a terrible lot of lies going around the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true"

"Criticism is easy: achievement is difficult."

"It is always more easy to discover and proclaim general principles than to apply them"

"Diplomacy is the art of telling plain truths without giving offence."

There were many aspects of Churchill's views and attitudes which would be unacceptable today, but it is unfair to judge a man born in the 1870's by the standards of the 21st century. And it is easy for those who wish to debunk his legend to find things he did which, out of context, appear truly dreadful. But although he only died fifty years ago the changes in attitudes which have taken place in that period were immense: and the period he was in office was an incredibly difficult one in which great and terrible evils threatened to conquer the world and people sometimes had to choose between ghastly options and even worse ones.

For all the triumphs and disasters of his career, the thing for which WSC will rightly be best remembered was this: he was among the first, usually the most outspoken, and always the most resolute of those who realised that Hitler could not be bargained with and any attempt to do so would destroy civilisation, And he had the courage to realise that any price was worth paying to avoid a Nazi victory.

Time to Outlaw Blasphemy laws

I believe in God. I do not believe in laws against blasphemy.

Ether there is a God, or there is not.

If there is no God, those who argue against religious faith are speaking the truth and those who mock the gods have not insulted a real person.

But if there is a God, He would have the power, if He chose to exercise it, to take far more terrible and effective vengeance against anyone who insults religion than any mortal man could even imagine, let alone carry out.

Furthermore, if God chooses to forgive people who have insulted him, what right has anyone else to take it on themselves to punish them?

So if there isn't a God, punishing those you think have committed blasphemy would be both wrong and evil.

But if there IS a God, punishing those who He has decided not to punish must therefore be both against His will, and evil.

Either way laws against blasphemy - provided we are only talking about disagreeing with or even mocking or insulting a religion, as opposed to inciting violence or hatred against the followers of that religion - have no place on the statute book of any civilized country.

And despite the tragic history of persecution by churches or theocratic states of those with different religious opinions, you can find plenty of passages which appear to support the views I have expressed above in both the Bible and the Qur'an.

Jesus famously told his disciples to turn the other cheek and to be "as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).

Similarly Chapter 10, Verse 100 of the Qur’an, reads as follows:
“And if your Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. 
Will you, then, force men to become believers?”
And Chapter 2, Verse 257, “There should be no compulsion in religion."

Where blasphemy laws exist, they can all too easily give rise to open season against religious minorities of any kind, who can find themselves threatened with death for an alleged insult to the majority religion which may have little or no basis in fact.

The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Islamic states, has repeatedly tried to get United Nations support for an international measure to outlaw insults to religion.

It says that such a resolution would protect groups from discrimination.

Personally I think we should do exactly the opposite for precisely the same reason - the United Nations should encourage all member states with blasphemy laws to repeal them, because that is the best way to protect minority groups from discrimination and persecution.

I see that the BBC is reporting a secular, humanist group as campaigning for this, but it should not just be atheists who oppose the blasphemy laws and atheists alone will not win the battle.

Just as comedians, churches and atheists in this country recently came together in a successful campaign for free speech (the "" or "Feel Free to insult me" campaign to abolish the former Section 5 of the Public Order Act which the coalition government removed from the statute book on 1st February 2014) I think it is high time for a broad-based international campaign to outlaw all blasphemy laws.

Postscript on immigration - what planet are the Independent's headline writers on?

For a media group which enshrines a supposed commitment to independence in the very titles of its' newspapers, the publishers of the "Independent" and "i" seem to be taking a very strange approach to the immigration issue this morning.

Considering that it is Labour who caused a storm this week with leaflets announcing "Labour's tough new approach to immigration" and were condemned by some of their own supporters including a prominent MP as trying to out-kip UKIP, it is really quite extraordinary that the front page headlines in the Independent and "i" suggest that a tough approach to immigration might cost the Conservatives the election, or that "Tories Fear Migrant voting power."

What are they smoking?

Surely anyone in their right mind should have noticed that striking the right balance on the immensely difficult and sensitive issue of immigration is going to present challenges for any party which is a serious contender for power?

P.S. Well, they get credit for recognising another point of view: The Independent published a letter from me the following day (31st January) making the point that Labour were also in danger of having a problem.

The real reason you can't trust Labour on immigration

The last Labour government was frequently attacked on one side for promoting high and unsustainable levels of immigration.

Yet they were also attacked from the left by critics such as Nick Cohen (see here for example) for adopting brutal hardline policies towards immigrants which went further than some far-right parties.

Now you would think two such diametrically opposite charges could not both be justified, and it would certainly be difficult for both to be true at any given moment, but here is the amazing thing.

Both charges were accurate at various times during the lifetime of the last Labour government!

The strongest criticism of Labour on immigration isn't that the last Labour government sometimes practiced an "open door" policy and encouraged unsustainable levels of immigration - although at times they did - or that they sometimes managed to quite literally outdo the Daily Mail in taking a ridiculously hard-line anti immigration stance - though this too was true at other times.

For example, they once deported an asylum seeker to Zimbabwe when even the Daily Mail agreed his fears of being beaten up or murdered by Mugabe's regime were well-founded.

Some Labour politicians managed to exemplify both approaches - for example David Blunkett both famously said in 2003 that there was "no obvious limit" to immigration and yet also imposed or advocated some of the harshest anti-immigration measures including proposals to exclude the children of asylum seekers from mainstream schools.

The really inexcusable thing is that by constantly flipping between these two extremes Labour managed to find the worst of both worlds - with all the disadvantages of an open door policy and also those of a restrictive one but without the benefits of either.

The classic example was the first phase of EU expansion, when at first Labour made Britain the one EU country which offered immediate entry to citizens in the first wave of Eastern European accession countries without any transitional controls.

There were problems with that policy, particularly as Labour massively underestimated the number of people who would come here, but if they had stuck to their guns there would have been benefits in terms of goodwill, and getting first pick of the highest skilled and most hardworking people from those countries.

But what did they do? Maintain a policy of no controls until a few days before the deadline, then panic and attempt to slam the door shut at the very last minute. Which of course didn't work, totally disrupted our border control systems and completely undermined the goodwill we might otherwise have gained. A classic example of the worst of all worlds.

I believe that Britain needs a balanced, firm but fair system of controlled immigration which gives priority to our fair share of genuine refugees and to those who have skills which we need - for example although unsustainable numbers can put pressure on the NHS, it is also true that the NHS would be in grave difficulty without the immensely valuable services of foreign doctors, nurses, dentists and other foreign workers employed in vital NHS jobs. I bet most of the West Cumbrian residents reading this have had their teeth seen to by a foreign dentist in the past five years or have a family member or close friend who has.

The problem with Labour was that half the time they dropped any pretence at balance and fairness, and the other half they dropped any semblance of control.

And whenever Labour's pendulum policy on immigration swung from overly-lax to further-right-than-Ghengis-Khan tough, it seemed as though they were trying to find the very people who even your average UKIP member would welcome to Britain and kick or keep them out.

Did Labour manage to deport Abu Hamza or Abu Qatada? Too difficult, that was left for Theresa May to do.

But when an 80 year old Gurkha war hero who had been awarded the Victoria Cross fighting for Britain wanted to come here, he was initially refused permission to do so under the last Labour government until there was a public outcry. And don't get me started on the idiocy of trying to move the goalposts on genuine foreign medical students and send them home half-way through their courses. This while hundreds of bogus colleges which were little more than degree factories were operating - again, it was left to Theresa May to shut them down.

But the most extraordinary thing about Labour's flip flops from one extreme to the other on immigration is that Ed Miliband is still doing it.

As Dan Hodges points out here in a great Telegraph article which eviscerates Labour's immigration policy, Ed Miliband previously said that what Labour "will never do is try to out-Ukip Ukip"

Except that that is precisely what Labour is now trying to do as leaflets promising, quote,

"Labour's Tough New Approach to Immigration"

start to drop through letter boxes - much to the disgust of some Labour MPs like David Lammy.

Certainly at the moment, Labour appears to be promising a hardline approach. But how much faith should be placed in these promises?

I suspect they are about as reliable as Tony Blair's promise to provide everyone with an NHS dentist within five years or his statement that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction which could be deployed in 45 minutes.

Quote of the day 30th January 2015

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak: courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

( Winston Churchill )

Thursday, January 29, 2015

In defence of Economic Liberalism

Editors of "The Economist" get to write one signed editorial - as a valedictory at the end of their time in the job.

John Micklethwait, who has been editor since 2006, leaves the magazine this week, and his valedictory article, which you can read here, is a robust defence of economic liberalism. And by "Economic Liberalism" I do not mean wishy-washy centrism, but a clear conviction that the best way for countries to be happy economically successful is to help people maximise their potential by getting the state off their backs. The kind of Liberalism defended in this article is certainly not the sort of idea usually associated with the Liberal Democrats today - although some or the "Orange Book" Lib/Dems have not entirely forgotten the true Liberalism that their party supported in the age of Gladstone.

Here are a few extracts from John Micklethwait's valedictory article.

"Washington remains synonymous with gridlock. In every year of my editorship a clear majority of Americans have told Gallup that they are dissatisfied with the way they are governed.
"The only way to feel good about American democracy is to set it beside Brussels. Woefully unaccountable and ineffective, the European Union is often held together only by the woman who has somehow managed to be both the West’s most impressive politician and its greatest ditherer, Angela Merkel. But to what end? The near-permanent euro crisis has proved a classic exercise in shambolic decision-making, consisting mostly of agreeing to kick the can down the road.

"If liberal politics are rightly attacked, the blows that have rained down on liberal economics have perhaps been even more painful. It is now a commonplace to blame the dominant event of this editorship, the 2007-08 financial crisis, on unfettered capitalism. This is mostly a calumny: the epicentre was the American mortgage market, one of the most regulated industries on Earth, and Leviathan’s hand was all over much of the mess that followed.

"But part of the charge against capitalism was true, and it hurts. No liberal can justify a system in which huge banks’ balance-sheets teetered on tiny amounts of capital. In 2006 too much of finance was gambling, pure and simple; and too much of the bill ended up with taxpayers.

"This helps explain why a feeling of unfairness lingers across the West—visible in the streets of Athens, but also in the pages of Thomas Piketty. People blame liberalism for much of what they fear: whether large-scale immigration, technological change, or just what the French call mondialisation.

"Globalisation has indeed brought problems in its wake. But it has also done an incredible job in reducing want. Since 1990, nearly 1 billion people have been hauled out of extreme poverty; and the 75m people who bought an iPhone in the last quarter of 2014 were not all plutocrats. Moreover, open markets could do more, not least in the West. Free-trade pacts across the Atlantic and the Pacific would spur growth, while Mrs Merkel could open up Europe’s single market in services. The magic still works, and liberals should be far bolder in making that optimistic case.

"But that is not enough. Two great debates are forming that will redefine liberalism. The first is to do with inequality. A more open society, where global markets increase the rewards for the talented, is fast becoming a less equal one. As this newspaper pointed out last week, the clever are marrying the clever and manically educating their children, making it ever harder for the poor to catch up.

"Liberals should resist the left’s inclination to punish the talented and somehow to mandate equality. But in the name of equal opportunity, progressives need to hack away at unnecessary privileges (like university places for children of alumni) and wage war on crony capitalism.

"Private equity and Exxon are both clever enough not to need special tax breaks. Four times as much public money goes to the wealthiest 20% of Americans in mortgage-interest deductions than is spent on social housing for the poorest fifth.

"These were causes that motivated Wilson, John Stuart Mill, William Gladstone and the great liberals of the 19th century, who waged war on “the old corruption” of aristocratic patronage and protection for the rich, such as the corn laws this newspaper was set up to oppose. But they were progressives who also believed in a smaller state.

"This is the second debate forming around liberalism, and a dilemma: for although this newspaper wants government’s role to be limited, some of the remedies for inequality involve the state doing more, not less. Early education is one example. Only 28% of American four-year-olds attend state-funded pre-school; China is hoping to put 70% of its children through pre-school by 2020.
"The answer is to scale down government, but to direct it more narrowly and intensely. In Europe, America and Japan the state still tries to do too much, and therefore does it badly. Leviathan has sprawled, invading our privacy, dictating the curve of a banana and producing tax codes of biblical length. With each tax break for the already rich and with each subsidy to this business or that pressure group, another lobby is formed, and democracy suffers.

"Lessons lie in the private sector. It is often several decades ahead of the public sector in the West. Some of the answer is just good management: if Singapore can pay good teachers more and fire bad ones, so can Stuttgart and Seattle. Other answers lie in experiments at lower levels of government, as among America’s states, and outside the West—in India’s giant heart hospitals and Brazil’s conditional-cash-transfer system.

"The battle for the future of the state is an area where modern liberalism should plant its standard and fight, just as the founders of the creed did. Because, in the end, free markets and free minds will win. Liberalism has economic logic and technology on its side."

Government announces £21 million boost for Cumbria's economy

The government is to put nearly £21 million of taxpayers' money into four new investment projects to improve infrastructure in Cumbria and boost the economy
The projects to be funded are the second phase of the "Connecting Cumbria" superfast broadband project; improvements at the Port of Workington; Carlisle College's Advanced Manufacturing Centre;  and Barrow Waterfront Enterprise Zone. This is new money which will be injected into the Cumbrian economy over the five years from 2016.
Prime Minister David Cameron personally announced the “Growth Deal”, which came after the money was bid for by the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership, which promotes economic growth.

He said that giving local communities the power and the money to unlock growth and development is a key part of the country’s long-term economic recovery.

David Cameron added:

“This is happening right here in Cumbria, with more money announced today for key projects to boost the local economy as part of the multi-million pound expansion of the Government’s Growth Deals.

“And because the money will be in the control of a partnership of local community, business and civic leaders it means it will go on the things that really matter to people and businesses here.”

Wrap up warmly and take care if out and about in Cumbria today

Having been glued to my work computer for several hours, I got up and made myself a cup of tea - and saw a thin dusting of snow on the ground.

If it's like this in Whitehaven where we don't often get enough snow for it to settle, the Met office forecast of heavier snow inland have presumably been accurate.

Very picturesque but a bit of a nuisance - wrap up warmly if you are going outside in Cumbria today

Quote of the day 29th January 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Andy Burnham's car crash interview on Labour NHS plans

Labour think that the NHS is their issue and that they are the only party who will protect the NHS. But if you want a perfect illustration of why Labour is not fit to govern, the internal contradictions and complete intellectual inconsistency of their approach to the NHS, a subject they believe is their issue, provide it. This is perfectly demonstrated if you watch the egregious performance given by  Labour's last Secretary of State for Health and current Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, when interviewed by Kirsty Wark on Newsnight yesterday.

Wark started the interview by asking Andy Burnham about two inconsistent quotes: one from Burnham himself suggesting that Labour wanted to "call time" on private provision in the NHS and one from his deputy arguing that there is a place for it. She asked which was Labour policy?

Burnham could not and did not give a consistent answer to this question or almost any other question he was asked during the entire ten minute interview because at every stage he was trying to have it both ways

He was trying at the same time to defend the increase in outsourcing he himself had made while Labour was in office and the increase for which Labour is responsible in the proportion of NHS care provided by external organisations while also suggesting that in some unspecified way the similar further increase under the coalition was entirely different and unacceptable.

As Kirsty reminded Andy Burnham, during Labour's last four years in government, for much of which he himself was the minister responsible, they increased the share of outsourcing in the NHS from about 2.8% to about 4.4%. The Coalition has increased it by another 1.5% to 5.9% which is a very similar rate of growth.

This modest increase still leaves more than 94% of healthcare directly provided in-house by the NHS. It also means that the great majority of outsourcing which is taking place now was also taking place during the last year of Andy Burnham's stewardship of the NHS.

Kirsty Wark repeatedly pressed Burnham to make clear whether he regretted the fact that, when Labour was last in government, he had presided over a moderate increase in the degree of outsourcing in the NHS, and if not, why was that increase right but a similar moderate increase wrong under the present government?

He defended the increase in privatisation which took place while he was minister but inferred, without clearly explaining why or giving even the most vague indication of by how much, that he would like to reverse it.

Burnham insisted almost in alternate breaths that there was a place for the private sector in health provision but that the market was not the answer.

I have rarely seen a more extreme example of someone expressing two opposite views during the same interview.

Burnham was completely unable to give a clear answer to the question of what services he thought should and should not be outsourced, and explicitly refused to answer the question of what proportion of NHS spending should be delivered by the private sector, saying that there was no right level.

Anybody who is considering voting Labour because they like what they think are Labour's policies on the Health service should watch the Newsnight interview below. And having seen this performance by the person who will presumably be running the NHS if Labour win, ask yourself these three questions.

Is this man unwilling to make clear how much NHS spending he will put out to the private sector or bring back in house because he is afraid that a clear answer will upset potential Labour voters?

Or is it because he genuinely does not know what he would do?

And either way, can you really be confident that the NHS would be safer in his hands than those of anyone else?

Joke of the day - NHS myth explodes

News just in:

Three spin doctors working in the "NHS Propaganda" section of Labour's election campaign were killed today when the myth they were working on exploded.

The three had been trying to convince people that Labour had excellent policies for the NHS, when Labour's former Health secretary Alan Milburn was quoted in today's Times as saying that it would be a "fatal mistake" for Labour to just propose increasing the budget of the NHS without reforming it, and for the party to stick to its' comfort zone.

"You have got a pale imitation actually of the 1992 election campaign" he told the Labour spinners, exploding their myth with fatal results.

A spokesman for the Department of Health described the Labour spin doctors' condition as "satisfactory."

(P.S. Parts of this post are, of course, a joke but the quotes from Alan Milburn in this morning's Times are genuine.)

Yellow warning of snow in Cumbria this morning

Another very cold day, and the met office have issued a yellow snow warning of possible snow in Cumbria this morning.

They say that over ...

"Northern England 3-8 cm could accumulate by Thursday morning, especially over high ground.

Over Scotland and Northern Ireland 5-10 cm may fall even at some lower levels, with more than 15 cm possible over higher ground.

Strong, gusty winds will lead to drifting and temporary blizzards over high ground, while icy surfaces and lightning pose additional risks in some areas.

This is an update to extend the warning a little further south across the Pennines.

Note also that there is some signal that more frequent snow showers may affect parts of southern and central Scotland through the evening peak travel period on Wednesday, and this may lead to eventual issue of an Amber warning."

Brrrrr ...

Quote of the day 28th January 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Party chairman Grant Shapps writes

Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps writes ...

There are now just 100 days until the next election.

100 days before Britain chooses between David Cameron or Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. Between competence or chaos. Between going forward - or going back.

Over the next few months, we'll be giving everything we've got to win the fight for Britain's future.

So today, I'm asking you to support our campaign by giving whatever you can - so we can reach the voters that will decide the most important election in a generation.

We need to tell them about our plan to guarantee a Britain where hard work is rewarded, a Britain where everyone who wants to work can find a job - and a Britain that lives within its means, so our children and grandchildren aren't burdened with mountains of debt.

But we can't do that without your support. So please donate whatever you can today - and let's win the fight for Britain's future:

Thank you,

Grant Shapps

Conservative Party Chairman
PS The choice facing Britain couldn't be more important. Please give what you can so we can secure a better future for you, your family - and for our country.

A hundred days to go and everything to play for

Today's date is significant for a number of reasons.

As per the posts I made this morning, it is Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auchwitz death camp. A day when we should remember that in my parents' lifetime most of the countries of Europe experienced the horror, on an almost incomprehensible scale, of an attempt to wipe out entire categories of human beings.

And then looking to the future, it is a hundred days to the 2015 General Election

An election which I expect to be as close as any election in my lifetime and far and away the hardest to predict.

Latest opinion polls are suggesting that Labour have lost the poll lead which they held for much of the parliament and that the Conservatives are something between neck and neck and a whisker ahead. But all that could change by the time of the election.

There really is everything to play for and every vote could count.

There are four realistically possible outcomes to this election:

* There could be a modest Conservative majority

* There could be a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party

* There could be a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party

* There could be a modest Labour majority

With only a hundred days to go, the polls show the Conservative and Labour percentage scores very close and both in the low 30's region and none of the other parties are consistently scoring more than half the Labour or Conservative share. Realistically that means it is most unlikely that either of the two main parties could win a landslide and even more unlikely that anyone else could get anywhere remotely near to becoming the largest party. Beyond that everyone has everything to play for.

Some people are predicting a Lib/Dem wipeout like the one they suffered in last year's European elections. While I agree that they will almost certainly lose seats, I think one of the biggest surprises will be how many seats the Lib/Dems manage to hold with how few votes. A lot of their MPs are very well dug in locally, and they are not as massively out of line with the views of most British voters on the issues on which the General Election will be fought as they are on Europe.

UKIP may get a few MPs. It is possible if the next parliament is completely hung, that they may have a chance to influence who becomes Prime Minister. But their main influence on the election may be who they take votes from. Labour's so called "35% strategy" which some pundits think they were following earlier in the parliament relied on UKIP taking votes from Tories to help Labour win a majority with barely a third of the vote. If enough people who would otherwise have voted Conservative were to vote UKIP this could still happen, though such a result is certainly not inevitable.

My second biggest nightmare about the coming election is the possibility that Ed Miliband might become Prime Minister - I agree with some people on the political left as well as the right who think he would be a very bad one.

My biggest nightmare is the possibility that no two parties (other than the Conservatives and Labour, which would not work) have enough seats to form a coalition government or other stable arrangement.

Fortunately that is not inevitable either.

There really is everything to play for - every hour of campaigning work, every vote cast, could make a huge change to the election result. And let nobody tell you that the parties have similar policies or that the election will make no difference - to find a time when the Conservatives and Labour were further apart you have to go back at least 25 years and arguably more than 30: to the time of Margaret Thatcher and Michael Foot.

It may not be as exciting  as the "hundred days" of Napoleon's return from Elba or the Battle of Britain. But make no mistake, the next hundred days will be one of the more important such periods in our country's history.

Where is Jonathan Creek when Argentina needs him?

Anyone who has been following politics in Argentina may be aware of the enormous political significance of a death in a locked room which seems almost like something out of a Jonathan Creek TV story. There is a report on the incident on The Economist website here.

Alberto Nisman, an Argentine Federal Prosecutor, was found dead by a single gunshot in his bathroom. There was a pistol by his side and the front door to his apartment was locked on the inside.

A clear case of suicide? Apparently.

Yet there was no suicide note, and a few hours later he had been due to present to a congressional committee evidence for his accusation that Argentina's President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, had tried to obstruct the investigation of Argentina’s worst terrorist act, the bombing of a Jewish centre in 1994.

No one has yet been convicted for the bombing in Buenos Aires, in which 86 people died and hundreds were injured. Argentina’s Jewish community believes that Iran planned the attack and that Hizbullah agents carried it out for them. So does the state of Israel.

Argentina has issued arrest warrants for Iranian officials thought to have masterminded the massacre.

Mr Nisman was the chief investigator of the bombing and had made some serious accusations.  In a 300-page document filed with a court on January 14th, he claimed that Ms Fernández, the foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, and others had opened secret negotiations with Iran to absolve the Iranian suspects in return for a deal under which Argentina could swap grain for oil.

One result of those talks, Mr Nisman said, was the “truth commission” that Argentina and Iran agreed to set up in 2013, which infuriated the Jewish community. For reasons that are unclear, the proposed deal between Argentina and Iran fell apart.

Ms Fernández’s spokesman dismissed the prosecutor’s allegations as “ridiculous”, and Mr Timerman denied them. But before Mr Nisman had a chance to present them in Congress he was found dead in his bathroom, beside a .22-calibre pistol and a bullet casing. Papers related to his congressional meeting were unfurled on his desk.

The investigating prosecutor said that “no other person” had been involved in the shooting, but did not rule out the possibility of “induced suicide”. Associates say Nisman feared for his life but showed no signs of contemplating suicide.

Clearly it is now important that Mr Nisman's death is properly investigated in such a way that everyone can believe justice is done, whatever the outcome of the investigation. That's going to be more than a little difficult,

According to a recent poll by Latinobarómetro, only a third of Argentines have any confidence in the police force and the justice system. This cynicism is mostly justified, Álvaro Herrero of the Laboratory for Public Policies told The Economist. Argentina’s police and judiciary are “passable” at solving simple crimes, he said. “But when power—political or economic—is involved, their efficiency plummets.”

Ms Fernández has been trying to appoint loyalists as judges and prosecutors. In December she replaced the top two officials of the intelligence service, which had helped Mr Nisman, with people loyal to her. That has fed suspicions of presidential meddling in the investigation. Mr Herrero thinks it “very unlikely that we’ll get the truth in this case.”

Argentina’s Jewish community has held demonstrations on anniversaries of the bombing to demand the trial and punishment of the perpetrators. The thousands now in cities across the country represent a broader group, akin to the “pot bangers” who thronged the streets in recent years to protest against corruption and rising prices. If it turns out that Mr Nisman was murdered to stop his investigation the hunt for culprits could lead to social and political chaos, says Sergio Berensztein, a political pundit.

Unsurprisingly, Ms Fernández eagerly endorsed the tentative finding that Mr Nisman had killed himself. “What was it that brought a person to make the terrible decision to take their own life?” she wondered in a rambling Facebook post. She has ordered the Argentine intelligence agency to declassify documents related to the alleged cover-up. That at least is is welcome.

But this is not going to be an easy one to resolve. A pity there isn't a super-sleuth in a duffel coat we can send to help solve this real locked-room mystery.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auchwitz.

January 27th has been designated Holocaust Memorial day when we remember all the millions of human beings who were murdered in the waves of persecution by Hitler's Nazi regime and their allies.

This was not the first genocide or, sadly the last. But it is important that we remember the victims of genocide because the better we remember it, the fewer people are likely to die through such hideous insanity in the future.

Those of us who have not experienced the elimination of our entire communities, of all our families and friends cannot fully appreciate how awful this was for each of the millions of victims. And the sheer scale of the number of victims of Hitler's regime is so vast that our minds cannot begin to comprehend the amount of suffering which those numbers represent. But we can and should remember those numbers because we do have the capacity to understand that they represent a truly enormous evil.

The Nazis and their fascist allies are estimated to have directly or effectively murdered

* About 5.93 million Jews
* 2-3 million Russian prisoners of war
* 1.8 to 2.0 million non-Jewish Polish civilians
* About 270,000 disabled people
* 90,000 to 220,000 Roma or Gypsies
* 80,000 to 200,000 Freemasons
* 20,000 to 25,000 Slovenes
* 5,000 to 15,000 gay people
* 2,500 to 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses
* Thousands of the Nazi and Fascist regimes' political opponents.

Many, perhaps even most people reading this will have disagreed with or disapproved of some of the actions or beliefs of at least one group of people on the very, very long list of those who the Nazis decided were their enemies.

So long as it goes no further than honest disagreement, that is nothing to be ashamed of. Hitler also built Autobahns, and I've rarely heard even the most hard-line green or NIMBY put that forward as an argument against a proposal for a new bypass or motorway.

But it should be a warning to us all of where, when disagreement becomes anger or fear and then hate, such anger and fear can lead.

Quote of the day for Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January 2015

“The question shouldn't be "Why are you, a Christian, here in a death camp, condemned for trying to save Jews?' The real question is "Why aren't all the Christians here?”
( Joel C. Rosenberg, The Auschwitz Escape )   

Monday, January 26, 2015

First woman Anglican Bishop consecrated

More than twenty years after the Church of England began to ordained women as priests, the church has consecrated its first female bishop today at York Minster.

The Reverend Libby Lane, 48, was consecrated as Bishop of Stockport in front of more than a thousand people.

The Anglican Church formally adopted legislation last November to allow women bishops, following decades of argument over women's ordination.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who led the service, said he had been "praying and working for this day".

Congratulations to the Very Reverend Libby Lane on her appointment.

Congratulations to Stephen Haraldsen and good luck in Copeland

Copeland Conservatives have this evening selected Councillor Stephen Haraldsen as our candidate to be MP for Copeland in the forthcoming General Election in a hundred and one day's time.

He will make an excellent candidate and, I hope, MP and will have my enthusiastic and active support.

Stephen was born and educated in the constituency at West Cumberland Hospital and Whitehaven School (now Whitehaven Academy). He works at Westlakes Science Park in the constituency and has represented Hillcrest ward on Copeland Borough Council since 2011. He has also been a school governor of Bransty school.

Stephen has proved himself a tireless fighter for the interests of all his constituents and the people of the borough as a Copeland councillor, and I am sure he will also be a stalwart champion for the people of Copeland if he becomes MP for the area. 

David Cameron on rewarding work

Prime Minister David Cameron writes:

"I believe that if you have worked hard and earned your own money, you should be able to spend it how you like.

It's your money, not the Government's - and so you should keep it. That is why I believe in cutting taxes.

Since 2010, we've cut income tax for over 24 million people, with an average saving of £705 - and after the next election, we'll go further.

We'll take everyone who earns less than £12,500 out of income tax altogether - and raise the 40p tax threshold, so that no-one earning less than £50,000 pays it.

As a result, 30 million people will keep more of the money they earn.

And we will do this while reducing the deficit. Over the last five years, we've halved the deficit while cutting income tax. And in the next Parliament, we'll do the same again: eliminating the deficit while reducing your taxes.

After years of sacrifice, the British people deserve a reward. People whose hard work and personal sacrifices have got us through the difficult times should come first.

But Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have confirmed they will tax people more. Only the Conservatives are committed to cutting taxes and building a Britain that rewards work.

So at this election, we'll be fighting for lower taxes - because the financial security of every family in our country depends on it.

Join the fight by signing up to Team2015 today and taking part in one of 100 action days happening around the country this weekend:

Yes, I'd like to volunteer Not today, but I will donate


David Cameron"

WCH fire update

The Trust has confirmed that the fire which extensively damaged the energy centre of the new buildings at West Cumberland Hospital has not affected patient care in any way.

It will however delay the move into the new buildings and it is not yet clear for how long.

More details on my hospitals blog at

Quote of the day 26th January 2015

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time."

(E.B. White)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Thank our firefighters for saving our hospital

We don't say thank you often enough to the brave men and women of Cumbria's fire service.

Today we owe them our thanks that we still have a hospital.

Thanks, guys, for everything that you do.

Fire at West Cumberland Hospital

The  Whitehaven News Website reports that an investigation is to take place following a fire at the West Cumberland hospital on Friday night. Firefighters arrived at the hospital at 10.45pm on Friday evening and worked for four hours through the night to control the fire.

WCH's biomass fuel plant was destroyed in the fire.

Mercifully there were no reports of injuries and the hospital was not evacuated. It is understood there was no impact on the rest of the hospital.
At the height of the blaze there were five fire engines at the scene. Specialist fire investigators were due to return on Saturday to look into the cause of the blaze.

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust said all services continue to run as normal but there will be a knock on effect for the move in date of services to the new building, which was planned for April this year.

In a statement, the Trust said: 

"This has come as absolutely devastating news to the Trust, to staff and the new hospital project team who were gearing up for a formal handover of keys next week. It is unclear at this very early stage, how the fire broke out or how long the energy centre will take to repair."

Ann Farrar, the Trust's chief executive, added: “This is absolutely devastating for me, the staff and the local community. We must let the investigators do their job to understand why this has happened at this time. We were all looking forward to moving into the new hospital and none of us can believe this has happened."

Les Morgan, project director for the new West Cumberland Hospital said: "The whole team are feeling pretty distraught this morning at this news which will also come as a shock for our staff. The whole organisation was gearing up for the big move in April and we can’t quite believe this has happened.

“It is unclear at this stage the exact circumstances surrounding the fire which will need to be formally investigated by the fire service. The people of West Cumbria can be absolutely reassured that we will work as hard as we possibly can to get things back on track as quickly as possible.”

“We'd like to stress that this has had no impact on patient care and all services continue as normal."

Let's all just be very grateful that nobody was hurt and that there was not too much damage other than to the boiler house and biomass plant - and thank our brave firefighters for their efforts.

Quote of the day 25th January 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Democracy - an extra quote for 24th January 2015

Quote of the day 24th Jan 2015

"Those who believe that liberal democracy and the free market can be defended by the force of law and regulation alone, without an internalised sense of duty and morality, are tragically mistaken."
Jonathan Sacks

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Leon Brittan RIP

Lord Leon Brittan, former Home Secretary, Trade Secretary and EU Commissioner, has died of cancer at the age of 75.

Leon was a very warm and charming man characterised by a most formidable intellect (an ability shared by his brother Sam Brittan, the financial journalist). Lord Brittan had a long and very distinguished career in public service.

As David Cameron said

“As a central figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government, he helped her transform our country for the better by giving distinguished service.”

“He went on to play a leading role at the European Commission where he did so much to promote free trade in Europe and across the world. More recently, he made an active contribution to the House of Lords."

I did not always agree with Leon Brittan but I always found his views interesting and worthy of respect.

The usual obit rules apply to this post - nihil nisi bonum.

My thoughts are with his widow and family at this sad time.

Rest in Peace.

Unemployment continues to fall and is at its lowest for six years

Figures released this week by the Office of National Statistics show that

  • Jobless total fell 58,000 September to November, to 1.91m
  • Number claiming jobseeker's allowance fell 29,600 to 867,000
  • Job vacancies reached a new record - up by 19,000 to 700,000
  • Average earnings increased by 1.7% in the year to November

  • Details here.

    The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance is at its lowest level for almost seven years and is now below 900,000, the ONS said. Long-term unemployment has fallen by 185,000 in a year to 658,000.
    David Cameron said: ‘The drop in unemployment is welcome news.

    'Behind the statistics are stories of people finding self-respect and purpose in life.’

    Quotes of the day 22nd January 2015

    Some more quotes on democracy, starting with the response given by a great heroine of the movement for democracy to those who suggested that Democracy only works in the West:

    “If ideas and beliefs are to be denied validity outside the geographical and cultural bounds of their origin, Buddhism would be confined to north India, Christianity to a narrow tract in the Middle East and Islam to Arabia.”
    ( Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear )

    “May it please your Majesty I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here.”
    ( William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, to King Charles I who had come to parliament in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest several MPs)

    “Democracy comes into grave danger when truth is no longer spoken to power.”
    ( Paul Bamikole )

    Wednesday, January 21, 2015

    DAESH's latest targets for murder - teenage football fans and pigeon breeders

    When the murderous barbarians of DAESH (see previous posts) who like to call themselves the "Islamic State" are not enslaving and raping any non-Sunni women they can catch, beheading harmless aid workers for trying to help sick children, or throwing gay men off the top floor of the nearest 100-foot tower block, they have apparently found a new set of targets - teenage football fans and young pigeon breeders.

    According to a local activist group called "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" DAESH extremists executed 13 teenage boys for watching the Asian Cup football match between Iraq and Jordan last week.

    The young football fans had been caught watching the game on television in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which is controlled by the so called "Islamic State."
    And now we learn of allegations by a local security official that DAESH fighters have arrested 15 pigeon breeders aged between 16 and 22 in the Diyala province of Iraq after deciding that keeping birds is Haram because it might distract attention from the worship of Allah. Reportedly three of the young men concerned have been murdered.

    Details are given here.

    One should take any news of what is going on in the areas controlled by the so-called "Islamic State" with a bucketful of salt. However, my inclination is to suspect that these stories are probably at least based on truth because no propagandist worth their salt would dare make up a false allegation so totally and utterly ridiculous.

    Of course, they might be hoping people would think exactly that, but there is nothing I would not put past the people who have reintroduced open slavery and industrialised murder on a scale rarely seen since Stalin, Mao, and Hitler.

    If DAESH were only images in a comic cartoon and did not leave behind a trail of real people murdered, real women raped, parents mourning their murdered children and orphans mourning their murdered parents, they would be hysterically funny.

    Quotes of the day 21st January 2015

    Yesterday was the 750th anniversary of the first parliament in Britain, called by Simon de Montfort, and this year also sees the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta

    The BBC designated yesterday as "Democracy Day" so here are some quotes about democracy:

    “People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
    ( Alan Moore, V for Vendetta )

    “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
    ( Winston S. Churchill. But he also said,)

    “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

    (WSC, Speech in the House of Commons, 11 November 1947)”

    “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
    ( James Bovard )

    Tuesday, January 20, 2015

    IMF ranks Britain the fastest-growing major economy last year

    The International Monetary Fund issued their latest growth estimates and projections this week, which continue to show Britain as the fastest-growing major economy in the developed world in 2014.

    They have revised their estimate of the rate at which Britain's economy grew in 2014 down from 3.2% to 2.6% but this is still better than any other major developed world economy, a little bit ahead of the USA and well ahead of the Eurozone, where slow growth remains a concern.

    The IMF continues to project growth of 2.7% for Britain in 2015, which is at the upper end of the range of sustainable growth attained by this country since World War II.

    Chancellor George Osborne said today's IMF forecast showed Britain was pulling ahead, while global growth was being downgraded.
    ‘There's confirmation that we grew faster than any other major economy last year, and we're set to grow faster this year.
    ‘But there are risks out there in the global economy. It's a timely reminder of that and we've got to go on working through our long-term economic plan if we want to stay ahead,’ he said.

    Details of the IMF report can be found online in press reports such as the one here.

    Congratulations to Rozila Kana and good luck in Workington

    I have been following with interest the debate about Labour's all women shortlist in the neighbouring constituency to me, Workington.

    As it happens, both Labour and the Conservatives will be standing women candidates in Workington in May.

    The difference is that Labour will be putting up a quota woman, picked through a contest in which no men were allowed to apply, while the excellent Conservative candidate, Rozila Kana, won selection on merit in a contest in which she competed on equal terms with the male candidates who applied.

    Rozila has 15 years service in the police, during which time she has received national recognition for her work including a number of national awards and commendations.

    She is particularly keen to develop better job and career opportunities for young people and to encourage and improve economic prospects and wealth creation throughout the area.

    Rozila is currently managing a European project on behalf of the police in collaboration with eight European partner countries.

    Quote of the day 20th January 2015

    "It is no use saying 'We are doing our best.'

    You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary."

    (Winston Churchill)

    Monday, January 19, 2015

    Need it be a dirty fight on the NHS?

    Does the debate about the NHS during the coming election have to be a dirty one? No.

    Should it be a dirty fight? Absolutely not.

    Do I think it will be? Sadly yes.

    I referred in a recent post to the Hinchingbrooke hospital situation. The Daily Mail leader writers argued that this stitch-up heralds the start of a dirty fight on the NHS. They appear to have a point.

    But how much better would it be for the NHS and for the quality of debate if we could have a grown-up discussion which

    * starts with an admission that no party could afford to increase the NHS budget by as much as everyone would like to, in order to meet increasing demand for health resources,

    * goes on to discuss how we can fund as much of that increase as possible,

    * addresses what the nation's health priorities should be, and then

    * discusses how we can make the finite resources available go as far as possible in delivering progress on those priorities.

    It would certainly be more edifying and useful that all the lies along the lines of "The Tories are plotting to destroy the NHS" which Labour are putting out for the tenth election running ...

    Another cold night

    Brrrrr !

    Take care if out and about today

    The forecast of a cold night was only too accurate: West Cumbria awoke to a thin dusting of snow and a heavy frost. The cover I put on the windscreen last night kept it clear but I had to spend several minutes clearing ice and snow from the other windows.

    Do take great care if you are out and about this morning in Cumbria or anywhere else in the Northern UK.

    Quote of the day 19th January 2015

    Blow, blow, thou winter wind
    Thou art not so unkind
    As man’s ingratitude;
    Thy tooth is not so keen,
    Because thou art not seen,
    Although thy breath be rude.

    (William Shakespeare, "As You Like It.")

    Sunday, January 18, 2015

    Next phase of WCH rebuild approved.

    North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust has announced that the Outline Business Case  for phase two of the redevelopment of West Cumberland Hospital has been approved by the NHS Trust Development Authority Investment Committee.

    More details on my hospitals blog at

    Advance notice of Swimathon 2015

    There will be a lot more posts on this subject but here is early notice that Swimathon 2015 will be taking place from 17th to 19th April this year to raise money for cancer care.

    There will be sessions at Copeland Pool and Cockermouth  Leisure Centre on Saturday 18th April.

    My son will also be taking part.

    My sponsorship page is at

    A cold night ahead ...

    Have just put windscreen cover on the car and am taking other precautions for a cold night - apparently it is expected to be the coldest night of the year in Scotland with a snow warning in the North East, and it will not be much warmer here in Cumbria

    Quote of the day 18th January 2015

    “A man who trusts everyone is a fool and a man who trusts no one is a fool. We are all fools if we live long enough.”
    ( Robert Jordan )

    Saturday, January 17, 2015

    Lessons from Economic History

    I am writing this post not as a Conservative activist but as a professional economist.

    I am going to try to be as bipartisan as possible, and will not include any cheap jibes at the present leader of any of the main British political parties.

    Obviously, when one sets out to write about the lessons we can learn from the mistakes of the past there will inevitably be comments which could be taken as implicit criticism of previous PMs and Chancellors from all parties which have been in governmentm including my own.

    However, while I am not planning to ask either of them, I suspect both George Osborne and Ed Balls would privately agree with the majority of what I am about to write.

    In his book on "The World's Greatest Mistakes" the late David Frost described three things as "always a mistake" ...

    * Invading Russia
    * Marrying Henry VIII
    * Accepting a cabinet post in Iraq or Liberia

    Many a true word is spoken in jest. Are there things in economics which are similarly proven to be mistakes by any objective look at the past? I believe there are.

    Economists are a disputative lot, and the joke has often been made that "where there are three economists you will find four opinions." This has been known to obscure the degree of consensus which in fact exists.

    Almost all economists would agree that many suggestions made by John Maynard Keynes to avoid or get out of a classic recession work in the sense that they do actually have the effect of preventing or ending a recession, provided you don't over-use them and generate an inflationary spiral.

    Many of those who have heard of the statement "We are all Keynesians now" probably assumed it was a statement from the "Keynesian" school of economists.

    This statement  was actually made in 1965 by Professor Milton Friedman, the arch-monetarist. He meant that all mainstream macroeconomists, regardless of political persuasion, accepted the basic aggregate income-expenditure framework that underlies the so-called "neo-Keynesian" model.

    Similarly the context of the reply "We are all monetarists now" was not a triumphalist claim from one of the "Chicago school" of monetarist economists. It was a complement to Friedman by a prominent Keynesian, Franco Modigliani. One version of the full quote reads as follows:

    'Milton Friedman was once quoted as saying "We are all Keynesians now" and I am quite prepared to reciprocate that "we are all Monetarists now" if by monetarism is meant assigning to the stock of money a major role in determining output and prices.'

    So what can we learn from the lessons of the past? I would suggest four rules as follows

    RULE ONE: Never trust anyone who claims to have found a one-way bet to wealth or any other kind of "magic bullet" which overturns all previous rules of economics or immediately solves all the problems of the past.

    Sometimes there is a genuine improvement in our economic knowledge but there is always a price. Claims of an easy route to an economic miracle have a 100% record of being disasters.

    * The 18th century creators of the "South Sea Bubble" were wrong when they presented investment in this stock as a one-way bet to wealth. The inevitable collapse which followed almost bankrupted the British economy.

    * Over the channel John Law, a scot who was put in charge of France's finances in the same century, was equally wrong when he proposed to stimulate industry by replacing gold with paper credit and then increasing the supply of credit, and to reduce the national debt by replacing it with shares in economic ventures. At first people thought he had found a miraculous solution to the problems France was facing but just like the South Sea Bubble it went up like a rocket and down like a stick, with even worse consequences for France than the South Sea Bubble had for Britain.

    * Towards the end of the last century and at the beginning of this one, people became convinced that investing in "dotcom" shares was a one-way ticket to a fortune. None of them noticed at first that although many millions of people were using the internet, very few internet companies were actually generating a profit. When this reality finally hit home the correction took down several major telecoms companies, a lot of "dotcom billionaire" fortunes vanished and many investors lost out in a big way.

    * Then a short time afterwards, large numbers of banks and investment analysts from America, Britain and much of the rest of the world, who should have known better, became convinced that the latest way to generate wealth from nothing was to invest billions of pounds, dollars and euros in the "Sub-Prime" market e.g. selling mortgages to people who could not afford them. When this in turn collapsed, this of course became the main trigger for the world recession and economic difficulties from which we are slowly, with the greatest of difficulty, emerging now.

     * And of course, you should never trust a politician who claims to have abolished boom and bust ...

    RULE TWO: Never allow your country to suffer a sudden massive drop in the available supply of money. If you do, recession will follow as night follows day.

    The main trigger for the great depression of the 1930's was a series of bank failures following the Wall Street crash which reduced the money supply in the USA by about 30%, and touched off similar problems in much of the rest of the Western world.

    This is why, while we may argue until the cows come home about the extent to which shareholders and senior management in banks should have been supported, the last government had absolutely no choice but to bail out the banks to at least the extent that bank deposit customers were protected. Personally I would have allowed Richard Branson to buy Northern Rock rather than nationalising it, but they could not allow the customers of any major banks to lose all their money.

    If they had, and if other governments had done the same, we would have had a depression as savage as the one in the thirties, and which would have made the problems we actually did have over the last eight years look like a vicar's tea party.

    RULE THREE: Never allow your country to suffer a sudden massive increase in the available supply of money which is disproportionate to the productive capacity of the economy. If the available amount of money increases dramatically faster that the economy can produce goods and services, inflation will follow as night follows day.

    If your economy is in recession and has a lot of spare capacity, a once-off increase in spending power can help get things going again. That's why the recent policy called Quantitative Easing has largely been a qualified success. But if you overdo it, or keep it going too long, the result will be a serious inflation problem.

    Governments putting too much money into circulation is not a new problem. Problems with debased coinage (pretending there was more gold or silver in coins than there actually was) goes back at least as far as Archimedes, two and a half thousand years ago - the problem whose solution caused him to shout "Eureka" in the bath was how to tell whether the gold in a crown had been mixed with less precious metal. Dishonest rulers played the same trick with the coinage of their national currency both back then and subsequently, and when they did it always caused inflation.

    But too much gold can cause nearly as much of a problem. When the Spanish conquered the New World and brought massive quantities of gold and silver back to Europe, at a time when the currencies of Europe were based on these metals, and roughly doubling the amount of them  in circulation, it touched off a century of inflation.

    RULE FOUR: ridiculously high tax rates do not generate more revenue.

    The higher the rate of tax, the more the incentive for people to evade or avoid it, the more high-earning people go abroad, and the lower the incentives to work. Which means that above a certain point, raising tax rates does not bring in more money.

    There is some scope for argument about when this applies, but none about whether it happens. My personal opinion is that the tipping point above which higher income tax rates do not bring in more revenue is somewhere between 40% and 45%.

    When Margaret Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe cut the highest British tax rates at a stroke from ninety-eight pence in the pound on investment income and 83% on salaries to forty pence in the pound, did the amount or proportion of tax revenue paid by the richest people in the country go down? Absolutely not, both went up. Yes, the rich got richer - but they also paid a lot more tax both in absolute terms and as a proportion of total revenues, providing literally billions of pounds more money to spend on the things which everyone needs such as schools and hospitals.

    Similarly the increase in the top tax rate from 40% to 50% under the last government brought in little if any extra revenue: and the partial reversal of that increase back to 45% under the present government reduced revenues by little if anything. It may also have assisted in getting more inward investment to Britain by sending the signal that the country was determined to be more business friendly.

    Provided everyone actually pays the taxes you do impose - and in general more people will pay up rather than try to get out of it when a tax rate is 40% than when it is 80% - there will be more money to provide services for everyone including the poor if the richest 10% are paying, say, 40% of £10 billion rather than 80% of £4 billion.