Monday, August 31, 2015

Principle and Politics - a military parallel

In a debate on social media yesterday one of my friends from University days, Mark, Solomon suggested that what all the people Tony Blair identified as "parallel universe" politicians - Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn , the SNP, Syriza in Greece and Marine Le Pen - have in common is that although he strongly disagrees with many of their opinions, they all have principles. He suggested that a percieved lack of principles and consistency in politicians is one of the main things which is destroying trust and engagement among the electorate and that he would prefer people with principles he disagreed with to those with none.

Leaving aside for the moment that I don't actually agree that all the people on Tony Blair's "parallel universe" list have principles - in my opinion some of them are even worse than Blair is - that does raise an interesting point, one to which there is no simple answer.

Of course, we would all prefer to see people in power who are intelligent, have principles, and whose principles we agree with. But in an imperfect world that's not always going to be the case.

During my time as a councillor, especially when in opposition or on a "hung" council I often had to work with people from other parties. At different times both pragmatism and principle were helpful to getting things done for that people we were elected to serve, which supports the view that there is no right answer.

In general, opposition councillors with high integrity (particularly if one of their principles was sticking to their word) even if they also had low pragmatism or a significantly different worldview, were easier to deal with than opposition councillors with low integrity even if the political difference to the latter group was lower. For that reason I have sometimes (not always) found it easier in the public interest to work with Labour councillors than Lib/Dem ones.

So far that lines up with Mark's opinion. But I've found there is a point beyond which this does not apply and I want to give a military analolgy.

General Baron Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, who was head of the German Army just before Hitler came to power, is supposed to have said that

"I divide officers into four classes -- the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the high staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately."

I think there is a parallel here with politics, but for "industrious" read "principled" and for "lazy" read "pragmatic" and add consideration of "moderate" and "hardline" which will often but not always coincide with "pragmatic" and "principled."

There is nearly always a contribution to be made in politics by those who are clever. Depending on the circumstances, the nation may need intelligent leaders who are more principled or more pragmatic, more or less hardline.

Those who are not as intelligent may still have a part to play if they are willing to learn and willing to adapt.

But there is a category who are as dangerous to the body politic as those who General von Hammerstein-Equord called "stupid and industrious" are to an army.

That category is those who are stupid, hardline, and principled, or to give them the name they deserve, fanatics.

A party whose leadership is captured by fanatics has a problem: a nation where fanatics gain power has a serious problem.

So my answer to Mark Solomon is that principles are usually an excellent thing, but when they are combined with stupidity and hardline views, they can make matters worse.

I look at the views espoused by Trump, Sanders, Corbyn, the SNP, the Front Nationale in France, and Syriza. I look at their supporters. I see principle combined with views which often seem to ignore evidence and rationality and which range from hardline to outright extremism. I see people who might as well be shouting "stop the world, I want to get off."

Quote of the day 31st August 2015

 "If I have done anything noble, that is a sufficient memorial; if I have not, all the statues in the world will not preserve my memory."

(King Agesilaus II of Sparta, when asked if he wanted a statue erected in his memory)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday music spot: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (First Movement)

And don't forget (details of public consultation coming shortly) we still need consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven and FGH in Barrow: #SupportOption1

Blair transforms from Napoleon to Cassandra

Thoughts on Tony Blair's article today,

"Corbyn's politics are fantasy: just like Alice in Wonderland."

The article begins by painting Jeremy Corbyn's support as part of a pattern of absolutist politics of  different political colours on both sides of the Atlantic.

Blair suggests that supporters of Corbyn, Donald Trump, his Democrat equivalent Bernie Sanders, the SNP, Syriza, and Marine Le Pen are all part of

"a politics of parallel reality going on, in which reason is an irritation, evidence a distraction, emotional impact is king and the only thing that counts is feeling good about it all."

He has just enough self-knowledge to ask himself what the effect is when "people like me" try to argue against Corbyn, and answer thus:

"Anyone listening? Nope. In fact, the opposite. It actually makes them more likely to support him."

His response to someone who had said to him, “If you’re writing something again, don’t blah on about winning elections; it really offends them.”

is that "It would actually be quite funny if it weren’t tragic."

I am not Blair's greatest fan and read his article looking for things to criticise, but all I could find to come back on was to make the point that when he was Labour leader and PM, Blair himself was not above appeals to emotion which treated reason as an irritation, evidence as a distraction or something to be manipulated, and support was to be won by making people feel good.

Cardinal Richelieu is supposed to have said

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

Reading Blair's article today, only by challenging the view that TB qualifies as "the most honest of men" can you dispute that he has disproved Richelieu. While we're on the subject of quotes, the best one-liner in Sir Vince Cable's political career was when he skewered Gordon Brown with the suggestion that Brown had transformed "From Stalin to Mr Bean."

Reading Tony Blair's article today, and the comments and reactions to it, I came to the conclusion that he in turn has transformed from Napoleon to Cassandra:

e.g. from an egotistical warmonger to a prophet cursed to tell the truth but never to be believed.

He always talked a good game, and he still does. But because of the gap between what he said and what happened when he was in power, especially but by no means only on Iraq, people on right and left have seen through him.

The irony is that very few people are now any more inclined to believe Tony Blair when he writes and talks good sense, as his article this week does, than they are to believe his defence of the mess he made in government.

"Free to choose" debate continued

From "Free to Choose" - another extract from a 1980 debate in which Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell squared off against Peter Jay and Frances Fox Piven.

During this clip (white left-winger) Frances Fox Piven starts lecturing (black free-marketer) Thomas Sowell about how badly off black people in the US are and what they want. I don't think she gets the best of the argument.

A Debate on Equality: Jay & Piven vs. Friedman & Sowell

From "Free to Choose" - extracts from a 1980 debate in which Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell squared off against Peter Jay (an economist whose father-in-law, Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan had recently made him British Ambassador to the USA) and American socialist Frances Fox Piven

Quote of the day 30th August 2015

"There is no use for bravery unless justice is present, and no need for bravery if all men are just."

(King Agesilaus II of Sparta, when asked whether bravery or justice was a more important virtue)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Margaret Thatcher: There is no such thing as public money

Maggie makes a vital point that anyone who stands for public office should never, ever forget ...

The Falklands: UN has confirmed Britain is not in breach of resolutions

As Argentine president Cristina Kirchner remains in deep domestic trouble, you can expect more silly attempts to distract attention from the utter failure of her administration, accusations of corruption, and the suspicious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman four days after he accused her of complicity in a cover-up of Iranian responsibility for the country's worst ever terrorist attack and the day before he was due to present the evidence for that allegation to Argentina's congress.

Nisman's death initially appeared to be a locked room mystery like something out of Jonathan Creek, possibly as the result of an attempt to make assassination look like suicide; the investigation continues and of course if it was murder there are a number of possible suspects who are entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

Kirchner's woes also include a reference to Shylock from "The Merchant of Venice" giving rise to accusations of anti-Semitism so she has a lot of great and small problems to try to distract attention from.

Doubtless some of those attempted distractions will involve more complaints about Britain refusing to let Argentina take over the Falkland Islands, a refusal which Kirchner describes as "colonialism" although her repeated attempts to claim an archipelago several hundred miles away from Argentina whose inhabitants have voted overwhelmingly against being governed by that country is a far more blatant example of colonialism than Britain's respecting the wishes of the islanders.

The most recent attempt to stir things up over the Falklands collapsed in an embarrassing shambles, after Argentina claimed to have formed a common front with Spain and that the two countries would support each others' claims to the Falklands and Gibraltar respectively. However, Spain denied any pact to co-operate with Argentina over the Falklands and Gibraltar and critics of the Kirchner administration pointed out that the Argentine press release had misspelt the name of Spain's Foreign Minister, calling him Jose Maria Margallo instead of Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.

On past form however, as soon as the Argentine government runs into another embarrassment, President Kirchner or one of her subordinates will try to deflect attention by another bout of Brit-bashing over the Falklands.

If, as has usually been the case, this involves accusing the UK of breaking UN resolutions, it is worth remembering that in 2010 and most recently in 2012,  UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has confirmed that Britain is not in breach of resolutions over the Falkland Islands.

He told an Argentine newspaper that

“I don’t think Security Council members are violating relevant UN resolutions. The impression is that people who are living under certain conditions should have access to certain level of capacities so that they can decide on their own future. And that is the main criteria of the main UN bodies. Having independence or having some kind of government in their territories. I don’t think it’s an abuse or violation of relevant UN resolutions."

Andy Burnham wins "Spartan 'IF' of the year award"

Andy Burnham has said in an interview in the Daily Telegraph that

"if he becomes leader he will demand the Prime Minister sets out its in detail the Government’s legal case and evidence for Britain to start bombing Islamic State targets in Syria."

The first word of that quote is the best example of a Spartan 'If' of 2015 to date ...

(For the benefit of anyone who does not recognise the expression, Philip II of Macedon invaded Greece and received the submission of many city states, and attempted to bully Sparta into similar submission by sending the message

"If I invade Laconia you will be destroyed, never to rise again."

The Spartans replied with a single word: "If."

Neither Philip nor even his son Alexander the Great ever attempted to capture Sparta.)

Other spoof articles I've read in the past week

The funniest spoof articles usually have way, way too much truth in them.

That certainly applies to this spoof article about passwords:

If you can remember your password then it's hopelessly inadequate warn researchers.

Given the number of important passwords which I have to use, am required to change at least four times a year, get prompted to make complex so they are hard for hackers to guess and then am discouraged from writing down, I think NewsThump must have based that article on certain IT departments I have to deal with ...

Mind you, I wish there were more truth in another of their spoofs which suggested that

98% of Americans think the internet is not as believable as the bible.

Actually a bit more scepticism about material on the internet would be a thoroughly good thing in both America and Britain.

If I converted to atheism tomorrow I'd still have to admit that I've read more provably false, ridiculous and dangerous nonsense on the internet than in the bible.

Then there was

Conservatives announce plans to privatise the Labour party,


Gordon Brown explains how to win friends and influence people ...

The Funniest spoof article of the year to date

NewsThump have just published a spoof article which had me almost splitting my sides with laughter called

"Stop making personal attacks on those other ***** says Corbyn."

It has lines like

"Corbyn’s fans, who have impressed external observers with the monomaniacal vehemence of their loathing of anyone who isn’t Jeremy Corbyn, have been asked to rein it in a bit for fear of making themselves look bad."

and concludes with

"The Conservative party declined to comment, as they didn’t want to draw attention away from their old foes fighting like rats in a sack on the six o’clock news every night."

Quote of the day 29th August 2015

"This is the political equivalent of KFC basing it's business model on vegetarians"

(Tom Flynn @tom4camberwell on Twitter, responding to this Labour List article about the principle that Labour should concentrate efforts to win the next election on persuading non-voters to turn out and vote for them.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Second quarter growth figures

More details are now available about the British Gross Domestic Product figures for the second quarter of 2015 which were confirmed today by ONS at 0.7%, fuelled by a surge in exports.

Exports rose 3.9%, up from 0.4%, while imports were up 0.6%, leaving the UK with positive net trade.

Year-on-year, GDP growth was 2.6%, unrevised from the first estimate.

The ONS data, published in July, also showed that the production and service sectors lifted the UK economy to pre-crisis levels.

The production sector saw a 1% jump in output in the second quarter, the biggest rise since 2010, when it grew by 0.7%. Agriculture was down 0.7%, compared to a fall of 2.3% in the first quarter, and construction output saw no change.

Samuel Tombs, senior economist at Capital Economics, said: "Investment rose by 0.9%, reflecting a hefty 2.9% increase in business investment, putting paid to the idea that uncertainty about the general election would weigh on capital expenditure."

The Sad Death of Irony

Show me someone who has never offended anyone and I'll show you someone who has never said anything amusing or important.

Human beings are not robots and occasionally we will get it wrong and say things which will be misunderstood. The people who do this least are generally the ones who have least in common with most members of the human race.

But the frightening thing about the age we are living is that one badly tasteless joke can completely wreck the life of the person responsible. As Jon Ronson, author of "So you've been publicly shamed" pointed out, when a mob forms on social media to condemn something, there is a “disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment.”

He gives an example: two men were talking quietly at a tech conference and one made a silly and offensive joke. A woman who was sitting in front of them took offence, took a photo of them and tweeted it with a critical reference to the joke..

There was a twitter storm and the person who had made the tasteless joke, a father of three, lost his job. When this came out, there was another twitter storm, this time against the person who had made the tweets complaining about the joke, and she too lost her job.

Neither party, incidentally, had ever called for the other to be sacked, but it happened anyway.

A major cause of problems when people get themselves into trouble is that some individuals seem to have trouble recognising irony - when you say something which is the opposite of what you mean, often to ridicule a position you disagree with via reduction ad absurdum - and a huge amount of offense-taking occurs when something which was meant as irony is taken literally.

It is probably just as well that Twitter did not exist when Dean Jonathan Swift anonymously published the most extreme work of irony of all time, "A Modest Proposal" in 1729. As it is not for the squeamish I will not repeat what it said (follow the link if you don't know and want to.)

I am sure people would have found out who wrote it and do not think the twitter mob which formed would have been satisfied with calling for him to be sacked as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. In that era he might have been in serious danger of being hanged, drawn and quartered!

Actually Swift did experience the 18th century equivalent of a twitter storm after some of his satirical work and it didn't stop him from writing, though it greatly affected his prospects for preferment and caused difficulty getting some of his work published - including "Gulliver's Travels"  for which he is now best remembered. But Swift was one of a kind: W. B. Yeats poetically translated the latin Epitaph Swift wrote for himself into English as:
Swift has sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveller; he
Served human liberty.

One who did dare to imitate Swift was Larry Niven, who in

"Another modest proposal: the roentgen standard"

suggests using coins made from radioactive nuclear by-products to replace fiat money. This would have such useful advantages as that "Foreign Aid could be delivered by ICBM."

This might be the only form of international aid which UKIP and Tony Blair would both approve of.

(Yes, that WAS a joke.)

I have been reading an article in "Commentary" called The Timothy Hunt Witch Hunt, which should be required reading for everyone, whatever they might think of the rights and wrongs of this issue because it illustrates how easy it is for someone with even a highly distinguished career to destroy it in five minutes. And how much care you should take before assuming that all the allegations against anyone who becomes the victim of a social media firestorm are true.

If we carry on like this, irony as a means of expression will become unknown. Which would be a shame. But not as much of a shame as the fact that people have had their lives wrecked for comments for which the punishment is utterly disproportionate.


You couldn't make it up. Within minutes of posting this, I noticed that earlier today Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had tweeted that "For Toffs missing hunting let them shoot migrants."

You can take this both ways - yes this was irony but I saw it in a re-tweet asking if we could petition the BBC never to let "this bigot" anywhere near a radio or TV studio ever again.

Then again, I think the person who made that re-tweet was being ironic too ...

Breaking news - UK economic growth for Q2 confirmed at 0.7%

No details yet but the BBC says that a few minutes ago the second estimate of Britain's growth for last quarter was confirmed at 0.7%. Full details expected later today

The case for House of Lords reform

The furore in the press and social media over yesterday's peerages rather misses the point.

This is as good as it gets under the present system.

Lists like yesterday's are the inevitable consequence of Blair's botched and half-complete "Reform" of the Lords and of the fact that an unholy alliance of Ed Miliband and Tory backwoodsmen prevented the coalition government from finishing the job.

Whatever the media thinks, the names put forward by all three party leaders are people who can be expected to turn up and work at the job and most if not all of them have highly relevant experience. No potential PM, not Jeremy Corbyn, not any of the three dwarves, none of Dave's potential Conservative successors will do anything better under present rules.

If you were to say that is an excellent argument for replacing the House of Lords by a largely or wholly elected second chamber I entirely agree with you, as I did when the coalition tried to do precisely that.

You could make a small-C conservative case that the House of Lords worked in practice in its' original form, but by replacing the descendants of Charles II's cronies with those of himself and his successors, Tony Blair destroyed the case for leaving it alone.  He also made it inevitable that until the job is finished the Upper Chamber would grow further after every change of government as each new administration would put more people into it to ensure they could work with the new chamber.

Reform of the Lords has always been Britain's Schleswig-Holstein question which hardly anyone understands and nobody can solve. Many years ago there was a letter in The Times on the intractability of getting agreement on reform through from a hereditary peer who wrote

"My father told me I would never have a seat in the House of Lords and I have now been there longer than anyone else."

The Clegg reforms were not perfect but they could and should have been worked into something which would have been a great deal better than the system which guarantees lists of new peers like the one announced yesterday. The tragedy was that although the coalition's proposals were very similar to the proposal in the election manifesto on which all Conservative MPs had been elected, a large group of Tory backbenchers convinced themselves that this was a sop to the Lib/Dems, and Labour, however many things they are incompetent at, are brilliant at talking the language of reform while sabotaging any actual reform if that will help them embarrass a non-Labour government.

Unfortunately the House of Commons has always succeeded in sabotaging every attempt to set up a robust second chamber with a strong mandate because MPs prefer to have a weak one, or none at all. What the unlikely alliance of Jesse Norman and Ed Miliband did to the Clegg reforms, an even more unlikely alliance of Michael Foot and Enoch Powell had done to Harold Wilson's attempts at reform nearly half-a-century before in 1968.

Jonathan Freedland wrote in The Guardian in 2012 after the failure of the last attempt to reform the Lords about

"the unholy alliance problem. Any proposal of change tends to run into diehard defenders of the status quo joined by passionate reformers who oppose the particular form of change on offer. The unholiest of these unholy alliances, was surely the 1968 partnership of Enoch Powell and Michael Foot, the former determined to keep the Lords as it was, the latter a believer in outright abolition. They came together and won."

The problem is, as the wreckage of attempt after attempt at reform demonstrates, is that it is not very difficult for those who want a weak second chamber and those who don't want one at all to make common cause.

I would like to see the House of Lords replaced by an wholly or largely elected second chamber, but the present government has neither the size of majority nor any electoral mandate to get anything of the sort through unless a cross-party consensus can be agreed. The chances of that are not good.

In the absence of this, some modest reform is worth pursuing by consensus. Local government has a rule that councillors who miss every council meeting for six months without leave of absence are automatically removed from office. The same applies to school governors. Something similar, combined with a retiring age, for membership of the House of Lords would surely be a good idea.

But I won't be holding my breath.

Quote of the day 28th August 2015

"Current flows of people across Europe are on a scale we haven't seen since the end of World War Two. This is not sustainable and risks the future economic development of other EU member states."

(James Brokenshire, immigration minister, on the high levels of net migration announced yesterday.)

He added that the Government had slashed student fraud, struck off nearly 900 bogus colleges and toughened access to welfare and housing.

"But with nearly 100,000 non-EU students remaining in the UK at the end of their courses and British business still overly reliant on foreign workers in a number of sectors, there is much more to do," the minister said.

"That's why our new Immigration Bill will further address illegal working, the pull factors that draw migrants to Britain and the availability of public services which help them to remain here unlawfully."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

BBC issues half-hearted apology to Grant Shapps over wikipedia allegations

During the General Election campaign the Guardian alleged that the then Chairman of the Conservative party, Grant Shapps, had been anonymously editing his own Wikipedia entry to make it more sympathetic to him and that the account he had used to do this had been suspended.

This allegation turned out to come from a Lib/Dem activist, Richard Symons.

Shapps responded that he had openly corrected his entry under his own name in the past to remove false information such as the suggestion that he was a Jehovah's Witness - which is entirely permissible under Wikipedia rules - but strongly denied the Guardian story.

The BBC made much of the allegations, repeating them forty-two times in a 24 hour period.

Wikipedia duly investigated Symonds allegations. The investigating panel found "no evidence" that Grant Shapps had acted in the way alleged by Symonds, and censured Symonds,  whom it said had given the appearance that Wikipedia's monitoring tools were being used to "exert political or social control".

The Wikipedia panel also found that Symonds had been "unable to provide sufficient justification" for his actions, and "did not take adequate steps" before making the information public to make sure that the release of the information was "seen as neutral and unbiased".

The BBC did report this new development - see their website here - but did not give the story that Shapps had effectively been cleared anything like the prominence they had given the original story.

Grant Shapps complained about this, and the BBC issued a very half-hearted apology.

We covered it, but apologised for not doing as much on it as he, or we, would have liked,”

said a BBC spokesman,

Quote of the Day 27th August 2015

"For non-Labour supporters, this leadership election is the gift that keeps on giving which has somehow managed to make the Florida 2000 Presidential election mess look like the epitome of competent electoral practice."

(TSE/The Screaming Eagles on Political Betting here.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dan Hannan on why "Trickle-down economics" is a Left-wing fantasy

I've previously linked to articles by Dan Hannan MEP debunking the caricature of so called "trickle down economics" which is what some people on the left think people on the right believe. We don't.

But he has to keep coming back to it because as he rightly says, it's a "zombie idea" in that no matter how often you kill it, this straw man which is supposed to be what free-marketeers believe keeps coming back. Search on the internet for "trickle down economics" and you'll find many articles  debunking or disproving it, some by authorities as senior as the International Monetary Fund, but you'll have enormous difficulty finding anyone at all who will claim to believe in it.

Economist Thomas Sowell made the case] that no economist has ever advocated a "trickle-down" theory of economics, and that it is rather a misnomer attributed to certain economic ideas by political critics who either willfully distort or misunderstand the actual stated goals of their political opponents.

There is a great video of Thomas Sowell explaining this on the Speccie website at

What free-marketeers on the right DO believe is that if you set tax rates too high you will destroy incentives, reducing productivity and investment. There is lots of evidence that if you reduce taxes from punitive levels - at or above 50% - to levels which still leave the state with a significant share of any extra income people earn but leaves them more than half of it, you can actually increase the amount of tax revenue paid by the rich.

There is strong evidence that this happened after the 1979 Conservative budget which slashed the top rates of tax from 87% and 98% to 40%. The proportion of income tax, and the absolute amount of income tax, paid by the richest 1% of people didn't fall: it dramatically rose. Which meant more money available to spend on things like the NHS.

The difference between the view that there is an optimal rate of tax, and it isn't a punitive rate, and the mythical "trickle down theory" is that the latter suggests that governments don't need to do anything but make the rich richer, and this will somehow magically feed through to making everyone else richer as the rich spend their money (or save it depending on which version of the straw man the left have put up to be knocked down again. As Dan Hannan says at the end of this video, what people who oppose punitive rates of tax are saying is the opposite, that they want the rich to pay more tax - and the best way to do that is not to set ridiculously high tax rates.

"Notes from North Britain" on EVEL

Professor Adam Tonkins, who teaches constitutional law at Glasgow University, and publishes the outstanding "Notes from North Britain" blog has posted an excellent article there this week on

English Votes for English Laws.

There are too many good points in the article for a summary to do it justice but I recommend this article to anyone with a serious interest in the subject. You can read it here.

Quote of the day 26th August

'In 2010 the voters gave the Labour party a warning. “We don’t like or trust the Tories, but after the financial crash we can no longer trust you. We’re not going to give the other lot a majority, but sort yourselves out”.

The Labour Party’s response was to elect Ed Miliband, and shift incrementally to the left.

So the voters gave Labour a second warning. “You didn’t listen to us did you?”, they said. “We still don’t really like that other lot, but I’m afraid you’re treating us like we’re fools. So we’re going to have teach you another lesson. This time we are going to give them a majority, a small one. We’re being serious now. Get your act together”.

And Labour’s response is going to be to elect Jeremy Corbyn.

 I could be wrong. I pray to God I’m wrong. But I’m not sure Labour is going to get a third warning.'

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

All England Stone-skimming results

One of the happy memories of my childhood is my father teaching me to bounce flat stones off the surface of a lake or the sea.

In turn I taught the same skill to my own children when they were small.

I never realised it was a competitive sport, but apparently it is, and the All England championships were held in Cumbria at Fell Foot Park a few days ago. The winner, Kevin Waltham, set a new record by bouncing a stone for 86 metres along the surface of Windermere. Wow!

Correction to Opinion Poll post

Latest opinion poll result, from COMRES for the Daily Mail, should have read as follows.

Conservatives 42%
Labour 28%
Lib/Dems 8%

Conservative lead 14%

Earlier today there were versions of this poll result floating around giving Labour a lower share which I quoted in good faith. I then noted that other people were quoting different numbers.

If you look at the  COMRES's website at

it gives the correct figures as above.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

On the subject of inclusivity ...

Following on from Andy Burnham's gaffe about how Labour will elect a woman leader "when the time is right" here is a little reminder

Britain's first Jewish Prime Minister - Benjamin Disraeli (Conservative)

Britain's first woman MP - Nancy Astor (Conservative)

The Countess de Markievicz (Sinn Fein) was the first woman elected to parliament but she never sat as an MP. Lady Astor was the first woman to actually take her seat in the House of Commons.

First woman leader of the House of Lords - Janet Young (Conservative)

Britain's first Asian cabinet minister - Sayeeda Warsi (Conservative)

First woman of Indian ancestry to serve in a British cabinet - Priti Patel (Conservative)

And here, courtesy of Guido Fawkes is a pie chart even the Westmorland Gazette or Lib/Dems couldn't get wrong ...

Pie chart problems

The Lib/Dems used to be notorious for putting misleading charts into their literature. Hat tip to Sands Media Services for pointing out here the pie chart below in the new Lib/Dem leader's local newspaper, the Westmorland Gazette.

It did make me wonder if the paper were using a former Tim Farron staffer to do their number-crunching for them. You'll never see six to one look so much like 50:50 as here ...

Or did someone just type the wrong data into a spreadsheet? Oops!

Britain's stock market reacts to China's problems

£74 billion was wiped off the market value of Britain's 100 largest companies yesterday as shares in London fell in response to a similar fall in China.

Shares in Shanghai closed down 8.5 per cent overnight as investors grow increasingly concerned about the world’s second largest economy.

The knock-on effect in London saw share prices fall 4.6% to the lowest level since 2009.

Chancellor George Osborne said the plunge was a timely reminder that Britain is “not immune” from what happens in the world and that this illustrates why we need to get our house in order.

“You don’t know where the next crisis is coming from, you don’t know where the next shock is going to come from in the world," he said.

“Britain is a very open economy, we’re probably the most open of the world’s largest economies. And so we are affected by what happens; whether it’s problems in the eurozone, problems in Asian financial markets.”

COMRES Opinion poll puts the Conservatives 14% ahead

Latest opinion poll result, from COMRES.

Conservatives 42%
Labour 28%
Lib/Dems 8%

Conservative lead 14%

OK, I know we've just been given good reason not to put too much faith in the polls at the moment, but I think the size of that drop in Labour support compared with the May 2015 election result and even allowing for methodology change is telling us something.

Specifically, it looks like I'm not the only person looking at the current shambles in the Labour party and thinking, if they can't even manage their own leadership election with anything remotely resembling competence or fairness, how on earth can anyone imagine they could run the country?


Earlier today there were versions of this poll result floating around giving Labour a 25% share and a Conservative lead of 17%, and this post was originally published quoting those figures.

I then noted that other people were quoting 28% for the Labour voting intention share and a 3% lower lead. I checked COMRES's own site and found at that the 28% and 17% figures are correct so I have amended the numbers in this post accordingly.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

Quote of the day 25th August 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

Productivity and Growth: CBI upgrades forecasts

The good news is that the CBI has upgraded UK growth forecasts: the really good news is that one of the main reasons for the upgrade is that, at long last, they see signs of improving productivity.

The CBI now predicts growth of 2.6% this year and 2.8% next year, up from its June forecast of 2.4% and 2.5% respectively.

Increased household spending and "robust" investment growth will drive the improved growth, the CBI believes. They are assuming that interest rates will rise in the first quarter of next year, having previously assumed that rates would begin rising from their historic low of 0.5% from the start of April next year.
But it now says the improved growth picture alongside "more hawkish" comments from the Bank of England's rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee had prompted it to bring its prediction forward.

"We now expect interest rates to rise to 0.75% in the first quarter of 2016, and then rise at a slow pace thereafter," the CBI said. On this basis they projected growth to continue until the end of next year at a similar pace to the three months to the end of June, averaging 0.7% a quarter.

Household spending and business investment would remain the two key factors driving growth next year, the CBI added and that improved productivity had also helped to boost wage growth. This, combined with low inflation, largely due to the drop in commodity prices, meant households had more to spend.

"Strong domestic demand and upbeat official data since our last forecast has boosted our outlook for 2015. We expect this strength to continue into next year," said CBI director for economics Rain Newton-Smith.

The UK economy has exhibited slow productivity growth for a decade or more, so the signs of improving productivity are particularly welcome.

More details at the BBC website here.

Nothing lasts forever

There is no natural law that says that the Conservative Party, or the Labour party, or the Liberal Democrats, have to be an important part of Britain's power structure (as the third of those parties has just found out the hard way for the second time in a century)

No rule is more true in politics that the three words which began the third "House of Cards" TV series (the UK version): "Nothing Lasts Forever."

Since the first decline and fall of the Liberals, people have been writing books and articles with titles like "The strange death of Liberal England." and inserting the name of various parties in place of "Liberal." Sometimes these articles look a bit silly a few years later, because as parties and movements can apparently be knocked down to insignificance, they can also sometimes come back - but this is not as inevitable as the people in those parties might want to hope.

Peter Franklin has a great article today on Conservative Home which refers to that familiar title: it's called

"There's nothing strange about the death of New Labour."

It begins with a very amusing comment:

"Oh, to be a time traveller!

Imagine, for instance, paying a visit to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown on the 2nd May, 1997. The things you could tell them:
“Well, Tony, the good news is that you get to be Prime Minister for the next ten years… put that Nokia down, Gordon! You get your turn next – though only for three years.
“Yeah, in 2010 the Tories get back in – sort of.”
“Who succeeds you? Miliband.”
“No, not David…”
“Of course the Tories win a second term – this time without the Lib Dems.”
“Oh, did I not say about Nick Clegg?”
“No I don’t supposed you would have heard of him, not yet anyway. But you know who Jeremy Corbyn is, don’t you?”
“You might want to sit down for this bit…”
A mere 18 years after its landslide electoral triumph, everything that the New Labour project fought for stands to be lost. The Blairites are already consigned to the fringes and the Brownites could soon follow. It all seems very strange. Indeed from the perspective of 1997, a description of current events would sound like the ravings of a lunatic."

Indeed. You can read the full article here.

Quote of the day 24th August 2015

"I don't think my offence was sufficient to justify 4,000 people marching on the BBC's headquarters, so that young men and women who are new to journalism have, like they do in Putin's Russia, to fight their way through crowds of protesters, frightened as to how they do their jobs.

"That ... is not how politics should operate either in the UK or in a future independent Scotland, if there is to be such a thing. We should not live with journalists who are intimidated, or bullied, or fearful in any way.

"The idea that before Scotland becomes independent, if she is ever to become independent, that only certain journalists can cover it, who live in certain places and come from certain locations is again dangerous."

(BBC Political editor Nick Robinson on the reaction of the SNP to the row between himself and Alec Salmond during the Independence referendum.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Occasional Sunday music slot: Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater"

Britain's debt passes £1.5 trillion

The UK National debt excluding bank bailouts recently passed £1.5 TRILLION pounds.

As I wrote on a previous post, even with interest rates at rock bottom levels, the amount of interest the taxpayer has to fork out for this national debt is expected to be over £46 billion this year. The interest bill is expected to stay over £50 billion p.a. from next year and for at least the rest of the decade as you can read in a parliamentary report at

In other words, we taxpayers will have to fork out £50 billion next year to pay the interest on the debt accumulated for past spending before there is a penny available to spend on hospitals, schools, policing or defence.

That's after five years of what the left call "austerity" but which, in terms of getting the country back onto an even financial keel, is only now nearing the point where we can start reducing the debt.

Having said that, there are signs that we are starting to get the deficit under control. In fact, figures released this week showed that the government ran a budget surplus in July for the first time since 2012. But there is more to do.

It's why the country can't afford Liz Kendall's programme, let alone Jeremy Corbyn's.

I've used this graphic before and will probably use it again: this is what happens if you ignore the problem if spiralling debt ...

Labour's slow-motion car crash - and a lesson for the Tories

The point is often well made that people involved in politics should concentrate on getting it right and doing constructive things themselves and not spend all their time insulting their opponents.

I started following Labour's attempt to sort themselves out following their defeat in the hope that it would reveal things which all parties including the Conservatives could learn from, and continued out of a horrified morbid fascination.

The main lessons which Labour appears determined to learn the hard way are two which the Conservatives should have already learned the hard way in 1992-97 and even more so in 2001:

1) Don't form a circular firing squad, and

2) Don't pick leaders with massive appeal to your base of support but who at best look odd to the people you would need to win over to win and at worst have weaknesses your opponents can use to tear you to shreds.

All sides in Labour's leadership election have been firing a degree of venom at one another which is going to make it extremely difficult for the party to work together afterwards.

There is a lesson here for the Conservatives

In less that two years the "In" and "Out" wings of the Conservative party may be tempted to do the same thing to ourselves over the European referendum.

I believe it would be a disaster for the country as well as the Conservatives if we tear ourselves apart over Europe while in government as Labour is now tearing itself apart in opposition.

The memory of what we did to ourselves in 1992-7 is seared into my brain and IT MUST NOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

We must agree to differ over Europe, both sides must put their case in a friendly and civilised way, the country must make what the people think is the best choice, and both sides must respect the judgement of the electorate.

Labour will make their decision about their leader and Conservatives should try to stay out of it. I hope whoever they choose turns out to be a strong leader who can hold the government to account. I also hope it is someone who would be a good Prime Minister because nobody can predict the situation in 2020.

If things go well for the Conservatives and the country, we could have a situation in 2020 where the best imaginable Labour leader would have no chance of winning. But if there is a vicious  referendum campaign, another world recession, and a few "black swan" events we could be in a position where even a weak Labour leader could win, and become a disastrous Prime Minister.

And to anyone reading this who is either a Conservative laughing at the prospect that Jeremy Corbyn would be a disastrously weak leader of the opposition (which he probably would) or a Labour person who thinks that the other Labour leadership candidates are all hopeless so they might as well go for the person they like (a position I understand) ..

I would like to remind you in one word what happened, not just to the opposition  but to the country, last time the main opposition chose a leader who appealed to them and not to the centre ground and he became such a weak opposition leader that the government could get away with anything.


If in 2001 the Conservatives had elected the candidate who appealed to the centre ground instead of the one who appealed to the gut instincts of Conservative activists, then in 2003 Britain would have had a Leader of the Opposition who opposed the invasion of Iraq.

It's not an exact parallel, and none of us know all the challenges of the next few years. But it's why I hope, in the national interest, that Labour elects a stronger leader than I think they are going to.

The travails of forecasters

My academic degrees are both in economics and the largest part of my career in BT since leaving University thirty years ago this year has involved using the skills I acquired at university to forecast various numbers of interest to particular parts of the company, such as how many faults we are likely to get, how many orders for new products, how many calls about those faults and orders, how many people we need manning the phones to take those calls and how many engineers we need to have available to fix the faults or install the new kit.

I have a cousin who used to be a senior forecaster at the Met Office. So it is a family joke that my profession as an economic forecaster gives his profession as a weather forecaster something to look down on.

Yesterday the Met Office said that this weekend would see a combination of very hot weather and horrendous storms, and that's certainly what we've had in West Cumbria with a massive thunderstorm last night but a very hot day today so far.

I've used Met Office services during my professional career (weather has a significant impact on telecommunications services) and generally been impressed with them, so I was surprised to see the announcement today that they have lost the contract to provide the BBC with many aspects of weather forecast information. However, the BBC has not said who will replace them so it is of course too early to judge whether the competitor has offered a good deal or just a cheaper one.

Watch this space, I think.

Quote of the day 23rd August 2015

"Just because someone’s right it doesn’t mean they’re not also terribly annoying"
(Quote on the "Evening Harold" website)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What goes around comes around

Yesterday on Facebook I saw a shared link to a web-post, "I've been purged from the labour party leadership election" by a gentleman called Bernard Goyder who had been a member of the Labour party and actively campaigned for them in the 2015 election.

Mr Goyder says that he discovered when checking his eligibility to vote in the leadership election that he had inadvertently allowed his membership to lapse and reapplied. He then received an email which told him, in what reads to me like a standard form or words,

"We have reason to believe that you do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party or you are a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour Party and therefore we are rejecting your application".

My first reaction to this was that Labour's attempt to verify who really supports them and should be allowed to vote for their leader has descended into complete farce, making snap judgements on thousands of people without much in the way of due process or adequate checks, with the result that some "Tories for Corbyn" not to mention some trotskyists, at least one cat, and at least one car were sent ballot papers while some genuine Labour supporters have been blocked from voting.

I still think that, and if they cannot run a leadership election better than this, why on earth should any voter in his or her right mind think Labour can be trusted to run the country.

But when I read Mr Goyder's article a little further, my sympathy for him evaporated. Not because of his views on policy per se but because of he appears to infer support for non-peaceful protest against policies which he disagreed with.

The process Labour has put in place to vet membership applications seems to be summary, arbitrary, and highly flawed.

However, if they had a proper process in place to vet whether people are in agreement with the principles of a democratic socialist party, Mr Goyder's own comments about intimidation and his condemnation of the National Union of Students as "feeble" for disassociating itself from the violent attack on Conservative headquarters by student protesters would have posed reasonable questions for those conducting such an inquiry to ask him about his commitment to the "democratic" bit.

All three main political parties have imposed or increased student tuition fees, but the Conservatives have done it once without breaking an election promise, the Lib/Dems have done it once which was a broken election promise, and Labour has done it twice, breaking election promises on both occasions.

Mr Goyder referred to the arrest of students at his college "for intimidating Vince Cable" in a way which carefully stopped short of expressing an opinion for or against such intimidation, but the only reasonable interpretation of his criticism of the NUS as "feeble" is implicit support for non-peaceful protest.

It's a great pity that there wasn't a proper inquiry into the people Labour is now excluding, as I'd love to know how he would have answered questions which might have been put to him about this, Labour might well have wanted a clarification of his views, though they probably would not have worded it the way I would, e.g. "since you criticise NUS for disowning what you call the 'trashing of Tory Party Headquarters' over an increase in tuition fees which was not a broken election promise, what would you say if someone vandalised Labour HQ over the introduction of fees and then top-up fees which broke two?"

If he said he would support a similar attack on Labour HQ it is hardly surprising that they would not want him: if he didn't he would effectively be saying that he sympathises with the vandalism of rival parties' Headquarters for reasons other than the ostensible cause of the protest. Either way he appears to give reasons for doubt about his commitment to the peaceful expression of divergent views.

So here we have the irony that an arbitrary, incompetent and unjust process designed to prevent saboteurs from joining the Labour party has inadvertently caused the departure from the party of a genuine supporter whose commitment to democracy gives rise to legitimate questions.

What goes around comes around.


According to Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times, 50,000 applications will not be checked because Labour cannot process them in time. Ouch!

DC: How we'll create 3m more apprenticeships

The Prime Minister on how the government will ensure that those companies which invest in training their workforce will be given help to do so.

Quote of the day 22nd August 2015

"His election as leader would be the most extraordinary act of self-harm ever committed by a major British party, and will scar British politics for decades."

(John Rentoul on Jeremy Corbyn, in an article called The Corbyn Calamity)

Mind you, I think the election of IDS by the Conservatives - in many ways a mirror-image decision - would run it pretty close for very similar reasons. And look how well that worked out for us ...)

Friday, August 21, 2015

David Cameron: The first 100 days of this One Nation government

The Prime Minister speaks on what has been achieved in the first 100 days of the Conservative government.

Hell has officially frozen over again ...

We usually associate Guido Fawkes with publishing the naughty secrets of the powerful.

Who would have thought that a politician wrongly accused of doing something dubious could be cleared by Guido Fawkes' blog?

Well, it seems to have happened today here ...

By-election results from around the country

Congratulations to John Herd who gained the Camborne Pendarves division of Cornwall Council in a by-election yesterday (20 August 2015) following the resignation of UKIP Cllr Harry Blakeley due to ill health.

Councillor Herd narrowly pipped the Lib/Dem candidate Nathan Billings to take the seat with Labour third and UKIP in fourth place.

Full result here.

Congratulations also to Carol Reynolds who regained the Witney North ward of West Oxfordshire District Council for the Conservatives in yesterday's second by-election following the resignation of a councillor who had been elected as a Conservative, gone Independent, and then resigned from the council: full result here.

The MP for Witney has been writing a lot of letters of congratulations to successful Conservative council candidates this year, so I suspect there may well be two more letters from Number 10 Downing Street on their way to Councillors Herd and Reynolds in the near future and that David Cameron will not be displeased to have another Conservative councillor in his own patch.

People who have been writing premature obituaries for the Lib/Dems might like to note that they were a close and a respectable second respectively in both those seats.

I am a great believer in Benjamin Disraeli's principle of how democracy should work that

"No Government can be long secure without a formidable Opposition."

If Labour self-destructs following their present leadership election the Lib/Dems might return to prominence sooner than most people might have assumed from the hammering they took in May.

The other by-election yesterday was for the Shotton and South Hetton ward of Durham Council following the sad death of Labour Councillor Robin Todd who had served as a councillor for the area since 1963 - fifty-two years! Labour retained the seat: the result is given in full here.

Quote of the day 23th August 2015

“The consequences of me failing to secure a seat for myself in the Commons would be significant for both myself and the party.

It is frankly just not credible for me to continue to lead the party without a Westminster seat.

What credibility would UKIP have in the Commons if others had to enunciate party policy in Parliament and the party leader was only allowed in as a guest?

Was I supposed to brief UKIP policy from the Westminster Arms? No – if I fail to win South Thanet, it is curtains for me. I will have to step down.”

(Nigel Farage, before failing to win South Thanet, on the ridiculous situation he would be in if he tried to remain leader without a seat in the Commons.

Of course, he is now in an even more ridiculous position having stepped down on the above grounds and then reversed the decision ...)

Quote of the day 21st August 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

UK and France reach agreement on Calais policing enhancements

The UK and France have signed an agreement on new measures, including a "control and command centre," to help alleviate the migrant crisis in Calais.
The centre will be jointly run by British and French police and will "relentlessly pursue" people-smuggling gangs, Home Secretary Theresa May said after signing the agreement with French  Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

She added that she was "well aware" of the risk that Calais security would push illegal migrants elsewhere.

Quote of the day 20th August 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Notes from North Britain

Hat tip to Ruth Davidson and Spencer Pitfield who drew my attention to "Notes from North Britain," a superb blog by Professor Adam Tomkins.

Professor Tomkins has taught constitutional law at the University of Glasgow since 2003. He campaigned for a No vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and was one of the Scottish Conservatives on the Smith Commission, an all-party commission which agreed a package of enhanced devolution for Scotland in 2014.

He has a particularly good blog post today, One year on (nearly) which reflects on the Scottish political position and particularly support for Independence as it has moved from a month before the Indyref when there was a real possibility that Scots would vote to leave, to where it stands now.

I think this is one of the best argued analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of the SNP position that I have ever read.

You know it's the "Silly season" when ... (Continued)

And now top this one.

Apparently Hamas have captured a dolphin and claim it was spying for Israel ...

"If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken ..."

It never ceases to amaze me how far some people can twist whatever a Conservative proposes, or anyone else to the right of Jeremy Corbyn for that matter, into a vicious attack on women and children.

An egregious article in the New Statesman by Laurie Penny, The Tory rape exception for tax credits is worse than you thought is an extreme example.

Not quite sure whether this lady has ever heard of birth control, but she argues that  those people who are in favour of some restriction on abortion but make an exception for rape, and the government's changes to child support and tax credits in the budget, are motivated mainly by a wish to punish women for having sex.

The remarkable thing about this article is that exceptions to the rules which have the specific effect of preventing families from losing money appear to Ms Penny as "nasty" because she finds ways of putting a cruel and vicious interpretation on them.

There is a significant error in the way the budget changes are described in her article which may be an attempt to simplify the description, may indicate that the author has misunderstood what is proposed, or may be an attempt to wilfully miss the point.

The article says that

"Families with more than two children will lose up to £2,780 per subsequent child from 2017, with an important exception: the government, in its beneficence, has decided not to withdraw support if these extra children, these gurgling drains on the coffers of state, were conceived as a result of rape."

Not quite right. Families with more than two children will lose that money for subsequent children born after 6 April 2017 with a number of exceptions including multiple births and where the extra children were conceived as a result of rape.

E.g. when this starts to take effect in 2017 families do NOT lose support for children born before April that year.

Someone not aware of the facts and read Ms Penny's poison prose about

"the conference rooms where politicians sat down to discuss which children they are going to impoverish this year."

would never guess that not a single family will lose money this year, or that not a single family will receive less support specifically for a child who has already been conceived or who is conceived in the next ten months, when the policy begins to impact in 2017.

Whether you agree with the decision or not isn't actually the point. The aim is to encourage people to think responsibly before bringing children into the world and to use birth control rather than have more than two children if you cannot afford to look after them and are going to have to ask other people to take responsibility for providing for them.

The government bent over backwards to avoid moving the goalposts on people by excluding all children who had already been born at the time of the budget and those who are born over a period of nearly two years afterwards from the impact of the policy. To the extent that there is a small risk of an "Osborne baby boom" between nine months after the budget and March 2017.

And the exceptions to the policy - multiple births, rape, etc - are not about punishing people for having sex, they are about ensuring that the policy does not impoverish people, and even more importantly does not make it difficult to feed their children, if they have three or more children for reasons outside their control.

Watch out for delays on the M6 Northbound from J36 today ...


Highways agency now say Junction 36 Northbound on M6 expected to reopen at about 4.15pm

Until then all Northbound traffic has to leave the M6 at Junction 36 and re-join further North.

You know it's the silly season when ...

The BBC thinks that David Cameron eating pringles on an Easyjet flight is worth reporting ..

Satirical website explanations for non-appearance of the Chilcott report like the dog ate it are more plausible than Chilcott's actual explanations ...

Newspapers run headlines like Police seek stuffed arctic wolf taken from London flat ...

and Man rescued after three hours stuck in washing machine ...

Gordon Brown warns Labour not to choose an unelectable leader

(Adams cartoon from the Telegraph website here)

And the clincher, there does indeed appear to be a possibility that Jeremy Corbyn may become leader of the Labour party.

Are the Trolls killing online comments?

Interesting piece here on the BBC website about how a number of sites have closed their online comments sections.

Personally I find the comments section far and away the most interesting part of some sites, such as, for instance,

The trolls are a nuisance, and I can understand why it takes a lot of effort on some websites to remove offensive or those which might expose the site concerned to legal action.

I suspect that the trolls may end up forcing ISPs and sites to find ways to limit anonymity - people are much less likely to write something offensive, racist, or libellous if they know they can be traced.

But it would be a shame if those who go over the top forced all websites to remove comment facilities and my bet is that it will not happen.

Quote of the day 19th August 2015

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How the press reports nuclear power

In 2011 one of the four largest earthquakes ever recorded caused a massive tsunami - also one of the largest ever recorded - to hit Japan with devastating conseqences.

The number of confirmed deaths caused by the tsunami is 15,891 as of April 10, 2015.

Yet, after the first couple of days of the tragedy, the aspect of this natural disaster which received far and away the largest part of the media's attention has been the fact that it caused a radioactive leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant - a radiation leak which to date has not caused a single confirmed death. (Three people died from the Tsunami at Fukushima, but two of them were drowned and one caught in a crane,)

Worse, a constant stream of hyped and overdramatized reporting of Fukushima caused governments around the world to rein back on nuclear power plans, thereby shifting energy generation to other forms which do more damage to the environment.

A few years back there was a rail crash disaster in Britain which killed four people and generated a mass panic about rail safety. The Economist magazine did an analysis of the extra traffic diverted to roads (a much less safe mode of travel) as a result of the panic reaction to that accident and concluded that the estimated number of extra road deaths because of the reaction was about five - in other words the badly managed reaction to the disaster may well have killed more people in extra road accidents than the disaster itself did.

I've not seen that anyone has done an equivalent analysis in respect of Fukushima and it may be impossible to do it, but it would not in the least surprise me if this was another case where the over-reaction to the accident did more damage in terms of both money and lives than the accident itself.

Now the media are doing it again with the warning from the Japanese authorities that people who live near the volcano Sakurajima may have to evacuate as it is possible that the volcano may be about to become active.

Guess which has been given more prominence in newspaper headlines: the fact that this volcano is 12 kilometres from a city of more than half a million people or the fact that it is 50 kilometres from a nuclear power station.

You've guessed it: there have been headlines like "Massive volcano looks like it's about to erupt and it's dangerously close to a nuclear power plant."

I gather the current received wisdom is that sensitive and important infrastructure facilities like nuclear power plants should be at least 100 km from active volcanoes, so the fact that the plant is 50km (31 miles) away is a legitimate story. But it should have paled into insignificance beside the fact that the city of Kagoshima, (population about 600,000),  is much nearer - to be precise 12 km away.

Certain elements of the media can never resist a good scare story and they seem to recall anything nuclear as fair game.

In the news ...

* An Afghan who worked as an interpreter for the British Army has been executed by the Taliban.

We owe it to people in countries like this who have worked for the British to be sympathetic if they apply to come to Britain.

The authorities in Japan have warned that people in the vicinity of the volcano Sakurajima, near the citu of Kagoshima which has a population of more than 600,000 people, that they may have to prepare to evacuate because it possible that the volcano may be about to become active.

See next post for a discussion on whether it is reasonable that the some of the media have given less prominence to the fact that this volcano is 12 kilometres from a city of more than half a million people to the fact that it is 50 kilometres from a nuclear power station.

* more coverage on whether drones could be used to stop herring gull eggs from hatching.

   See also BBC report here.

(Unfortunately some newspaper headlines, not necessarily the articles, are misleading. Neither council involved has said drones "should" be used to do anything, and it is rather emotive to describe considering a spray to stop eggs from hatching as a proposal to "kill baby seagulls."

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am advised by members of Copeland Borough Council that this would require a change in UK law - which I think ought to be looked at, but we can't wait for that before doing something about the problem. I am also advised by Graham Roberts that he was speaking as an individual member of Whitehaven Town Council and did not claim to represent either that council or Copeland Borough Council, or the group of which he is a member on CBC.)

* A man who went to his doctor with a sore leg was told he has only half a brain.

But there are three pieces of good news for him. Doctors have put a halt to the condition which had caused him to lose between 50% and 75% of his brain, his leg is better, and if he has paid his £3, he will still be able to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Leadership election.

Cartoon of the Month

From the Telegraph:

The truth of Newton's apple

A comment on this morning's Quote of the Day from Isaac Newton prompted me to do a search for any evidence on the truth of what I had understood to be an unconfirmed legend, that Newton was prompted to develop the concept of gravity when an apple fell on his head.

It appears that there really was an apple, but Newton is more likely to have seen it fall perpendicularly to the ground, thus noting that it was moving towards the centre of the earth, than to have been struck on the head by it.

The previous classical viewpoint was that the apple and everything else would seeking it's proper locations. The proper location of the apple was on the surface of the Earth and the proper location of the Moon would be its' sphere, a set distance above the Earth. If removed from their proper locations, they would seek to return. Newton wondered why an apple's proper location would be in a tree while it was growing but then on the surface of the earth, and from this thought modern physics developed ...

I found a page on the New Scientist website here which refers to a manuscript now owned by the Royal Society (one of the manuscripts  available on the Royal Society website) which was written by William Stukely and would eventually become his book "Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's life."

Describing a conversation he had with Sir Isaac Newton in 1726, the year Newton died, Stukely wrote

"After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden and drank there, under the shade of some apple trees...he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself..."
The other early references to the apple story (e.g. by people who met him or were at least contemporaries) are as follows according to Simon Fraser University's website, both published before Stukeley's book:

"Voltaire, writing in English in his Essay on the Civil War in France (1727), spoke of 'Sir Isaac Newton walking in his Garden had the first thought of his System of Gravitation, upon seeing an Apple falling down from the Tree'. He repeated the story in his better known and more accessible 1733 Letters concerning the English Nation (Voltaire, 1980) although in this work he spoke not of an apple but of 'fruit falling from a tree'. Voltaire's source was probably Catherine Barton.

The final early source was Robert Greene, on the authority of Martin Folkes, in his Philosophy of the Expansive and Contractive Forces (1727)."

(Incidentally I've taken the above quote about Voltaire and Greene on Simon Fraser University's site from the comments to the New Scientist online article linked to above.)

Quote of the day 18th August 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Here writes a brave man ...

Atul Hatwal predicts here that Jeremy Corbyn will lose the election for leader of the Labour party.

It's an interesting and well argued piece: but here writes a brave man. He might be right, heaven only knows the polls were significantly out at the General Election and polling party members is notoriously difficult. They'd have to be much further out that in May for him to lose though.

If he's right his reputation will be greatly enhanced. If he's wrong people will be laughing at him for years in the same way they are still laughing at Sion Simon for his "We cannot be killed" article in the New Statesman in 2007 in which he predicted that

"Shortly there will be an election in which Labour will increase it's majority."

Mind you, Atul's article is merely brave, while Sion Simon's was mad - in fact, he admitted it was mad in the first sentence and would have been wiser to stop there. Indeed, the Sion Simon article actually looks even more hysterically funny in summer 2015 than it did in summer 2010, because it follows on the prediction that Labour would increase it's majority with this:

"This ought to herald another decade of strong, confident, consensual Labour government."


"The young princes who now stride the parade ground with the confidence born of aristocratic schooling can never be afraid. They never have been. Like latter day Pushkins drilled in the elite academy of Brownian blitzkrieg, they are bursting with their sense of destiny. It’s not the Milibands, the Ballses or the Burnhams who are unconsciously nervous. This is the moment for which they were created. They are ready. "

Gordon Brown's speech set to the Benny Hill theme tune

Hat tip to Harry Phibbs for pointing this out. It probably dates me that I get this joke, but it seems to perfectly summarise the mess the Labour party have got themselves into.

Quote of the day 17th August 2015

"In a dramatic break from the majority of her party, Labour leadership hopeful Liz Kendall has suggested she’d like Labour to win another election, like, ever.

Her statement, described as being ‘unacceptably right-wing’ by opponents, went on to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the electorate might have something to do with who gets to win elections and it might help to listen to what they want from time to time.

“If Liz wants to go round ‘listening to voters’ and ‘winning elections’, why doesn’t she just join the Tory party where she belongs?” a supporter of veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn asked us.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned the Labour Party not to appoint an unelectable leader, although critics of Mr Brown have suggested it would have been really useful if he’d come up with that particular nugget of wisdom eight years ago."

(Extract from an item on the spoof news website NewsThump, "Liz Kendall comes out in favour of winning an election")

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday music slot continued: Phantom of the opera (Sarah Brightman video)

The film version is visually sumptuous. But this version is even more incredible.

Andrew Lloyd Weber said later that, at the time he wrote this, he was in love with Sarah Brightman, (they married shortly after) and he wrote this for her.

I don't know if that is why this is so extraordinary, but I don't have a better explanation.

And by the way, #SupportOption1

Occasional Sunday music spot: The Phantom Of The Opera Theme

This is of course the 2004 film version  with Gerard Butler as the phantom and Emmy Rossum as Christine.

But I also love the trailer version for the stage play ... (see next post)

Labour forms a circular firing squad

"I do not often attack the Labour party.
They do it so well themselves."

Remember who said that? Yes, it was Ted Heath.

Nice to remember him for something harmless and entertaining, though Labour party supporters contemplating the circular firing squad their party seems to have made of their leadership election might not find the joke quite so entertaining.

Hat tip to Alex Carroll for drawing my attention to a list of prominent Labour members and supporters who have been called the ultimate insult in the Labour lexicon (Tory) or encouraged to join the Conservative party in the past few weeks: you can read it here.

Before Gordon Brown had even made his speech today on the Labour leadership, a Labour MP, yes a Labour MP, Clive Lewis, attacked Brown by linking to the Mansion House speech Brown made in 2006 as chancellor - the link goes here - and saying

"Before Gordon Brown makes his speech today, read this. Then decide if he's qualified to lecture on 'economic credibility.'"

The speech talked about how brilliantly Britain's banking industry was doing, and contained a strong defence of Brown's decision not to impose what he called a "regulatory crackdown" on financial services in a speech made just before the banking crash.

This is of course a pretty heavy blow against Brown, but it does appear to confirm at least a substantial measure of agreement with the charge that Brown, and hence the previous Labour government, bears a share of the blame for the banking crash and the recession which followed - something which Labour was vehemently denying during the recent General Election campaign (and most of them are still denying now.)

It would, of course, be a highly positive thing if such a recognition leads Labour to adopt more realistic economic policies. At the moment, however, it looks more like they are grabbing any available stick to beat each other with. Which doesn't exactly make them look like an alternative government in waiting.