Showing posts from February, 2016

A challenge to Brexit supporters from a floating voter

It's an unusual position for me to be a floating voter in any referendum or vote, but I still have not quite decided how to vote on June 23rd. I would like to know exactly what the comparison is in terms of what the people supporting "Leave" propose Britain should do and what the people supporting "Remain" propose Britain should do before I make up my mind. In the meantime I would like to issue a challenge to all the Brexit supporters who have been flooding my Twitter Feed, Facebook Timeline, and Inboxes with comments accusing "Remain" of following a "Project Fear" strategy,  pictures of various catastrophes with captions like "What George Osborne says will happen if you vote for Brexit" and please to avoid "scaremongering" from the Remain side. This is the second referendum in Britain within two years, and the second time that the side of the argument who want all or part of the UK to leave the present arrangements

A Leap year day paradox from GIlbert & Sullivan

Also for 29th February ...

Also for Leap Year Day

(From the film "Leap Year")

Quote of the day 29th February 2016 - leap year day

"1.Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things." (Set of rules proposed by Douglas Adams on generational attitudes to new technology, quoted in an interesting article on generational differences in the "stumbling and mumbling" blog here . Fortunately this is not an invariable rule and I'm happy to say that at quite a bit older than 35 I can still find new things exciting, but a lot of people do react the way Adams described.)

A six year old explains deficits to a Scottish Nationalist MSP

During a debate on twitter yesterday a Scottish Nationalist member of the Scottish parliament, John Mason, incorrectly referred to the UK's budget deficit as £1.5 trillion. This is actually the approximate size of the National Debt - see Called on this, John Mason MSP tweeted "How is national debt different from national deficit?" Oh my word. To think that it is possible to become a parliamentarian in the UK today without knowing the answer to that question. One of the people who saw the tweet, Mark Brown replied "Hold on, I'll get my six year old to explain it in terms you might understand." Alan Butler said that he already had, posting this: Quite.

Sunday Music Spot: Ombra mai fu (Ode to a tree)

Most people have heard this piece, usually arranged for organ or orchestra, often sounding quite solemn, and referred to as "Handel's Largo" or the "Largo from Xerxes" Here is it in it's original form: the "Ode to a Tree" which starts off a comic opera.

Feeding the Piranhas

John Rentoul has an interesting opinion piece here in which he argued that Ed Miliband "fed the piranhas" by providing support and encouragement to the hard left. He suggests that "Ed Miliband fed the piranhas. He gave some meat to the most dangerous and destructive elements of his party, and encouraged them to think that there would be more. Once the feeding frenzy got going, the only person willing to put a whole cow in the river was Jeremy Corbyn. The piranhas have got what they wanted and all that’s left of the Labour Party is a skeleton."   "Much the same happened to the Republican Party in the US. John McCain and Mitt Romney fed the Tea Partiers and this year the killer fish came for the whole elephant. In Donald Trump they have found a candidate who is most unlikely to become president – a poll last week found 49 per cent of Americans were “terrified” of the prospect – but the piranhas don’t care." He askes whether Boris Johnson has done the

Apparently he didn't get the message ...

Labour MPs were supposed to be campaigning against Brexit yesterday. However, their leader decided to campaign against Trident and it's replacement instead. Evidently treating the party of which he is leader with the same disdain he has for the thousands of people in Barrow and Copeland who would lose their jobs if that policy were accepted. I don't always agree with the GMB union but when they accused him of "playing student politics" on this one they nailed it. The GMB's Scottish secretary told a meeting of the union's members in Newcastle, referring to Corbyn and the anti-trident members of the shadow cabinet, that "They want to cancel the renewal of Trident, whatever the consequences. "For these armchair generals playing their student politics as they sip lattes in Holyrood and Islington, none of this matters." "Well, the GMB says you do matter and we’re going to give these professional posers the fight of their lives.

Quote of the day 28th February 2016

"If we want a simple moral rule to take through the centuries it might be - see who's helpless, and help them. That always looks good in retrospect. Meanwhile, moral curiosity needs to separate itself from moral hysteria, and even as we condemn our moral ancestors, we need to hold our ears to the wind, and listen for the faint sounds of our descendants telling their melancholy truths about us." Conclusion of a BBC "Points of view" article which can be read here and turns from making moral judgements about long-dead public figures like Cecil Rhodes or John Stuart Mill to asking which aspects of present-day society will appear horrific to our descendants.

G20 Finance Ministers and The Economist Magazine criticise "The Brexit Delusion"

Finance Ministers and Central Bank governors from the G20 countries do not like the idea of Britain leaving the EU and included in the final communique of their meeting this weekend a comment to the effect that Britain leaving would be a shock to the global economy . George Osborne said he agreed with this but denied that he or his officials had pushed for it to be included in the statement. A senior official from the Treasury told the BBC the chancellor's US counterpart had raised the issue during the meeting, as did others, including senior Chinese officials and Ms Lagarde of the IMF. I'm not sure that "shock" is the word I would use to describe the immediate effect of Brexit on the world economy, although if it resulted in any kind of trade war or started a process which led to the breakup of the EU - neither of which is an inevitable consequence of a vote to leave but might be what they are thinking could happen - the consequences might not be pretty. The

Quote of the day 27th February 2016

A story I was told last night at a dinner: Shortly after the opening of Eurotunnel a resident of Whitehaven needed to go to Paris for an unspecified length of time on business, so he went to the ticket office at Whitehaven (Bransty) station and asked for a single to Paris. "What! Where's that?" "The Capital of France." "How'do you wanna get there, Marra?" After much ado he finally got his tickets to London and via Eurostar France, went to Paris, and set to work on the job there. Some three weeks later he was ready to set up his trip home, so he went to the ticket office at Gare du Nord station in Paris and said, "Can I have a single to Whitehaven, please?" The gentleman in the office replied "Certainly, M'sieur, Bransty or Corkickle?"

Cognitive dissonance

A follow up to my last point. More than half the pro-Brexit tweets in my twitter feed today have been either a) Accusing the Remain side of scaremongering, being "Project Fear" etc, or b) Talking about "the risks of remain" (often linking to an article by Andrew Lilico in the DT called " How the EU would dominate us if we stayed inside. ") Many of the tweets in the latter group have suggested that the risks of remain are being ignored. Are they serious? Leave.EU, Vote.Leave, Conservative Home, Iain Duncan Smith and most of the other pro-Brexit politicians have all run articles, made speeches, or unleased a torrent of tweets and Facebook posts stressing the risks of staying in the EU. The quality of the arguments concerned has varied from reasonable points to baseless scaremonger. I do find it bizarre that the same side of the argument is simultaneously filling my timeline and twitter feed with comments about how disastrous it might be if the


I would argue that a couple of decades ago a large part of the political elites of Europe were infected with the Federalist form of a kind of Euro-madness - a conviction well beyond anything that reasonable evidence suggested that we could build a paradise on Earth through vastly greater Euro-integration amounting to a United States of Europe. True believers in that cause wanted to adopt the Euro, harmonise everything, and transfer as much power as possible to European institutions. It was an article of faith for them that, for example, if Britain did not scrap the pound and replace it with the Euro, our economy might be seriously damaged. Two decades on, and confronted with the reality that in the real world no institution is ever that perfect and that Britain has done very well sticking with the pound, that kind of Federalist Euro-madness is much less universal anywhere in the continent, and almost extinct in Britain, and those who think that way tend to keep their heads down.

Facebook versus Twitter (neither are Britain)

Interesting that my twitter feed has been chock full for weeks of messages from "Leave" supporters (often the sort that make me want to vote Remain) with our excellent MEP for the North West, Sajjad Haider Karim, as almost the only consistent vote for the Remain side. However on Facebook the balance is far more even, and if anything the remainers have it (not by much in numbers, overwhelmingly in quality of argument - which is not to say there are not excellent arguments and silly ones on both sides.) This may be partly a factor of my personal collection of twitter and FB contacts but I suspect it may be a real phenomenon. However, as GE15 showed, neither Facebook or Twitter are perfectly representative of Britain and the only poll that counts is the one on Referendum day!

Quote of the day 26th February 2016


Here is a leave campaigner I respect

To balance my previous post about the silly kind of leave campaigner Andrew Kennedy is a Conservative agent who is currently also campaigning for Brexit in his own time. He's written a superb piece on his blog here responding to an unfair attack on David Cameron and calling on those who want Britain to leave the EU to campaign actively for this in a positive and constructive way. If more of the people who want to leave the EU were campaigning honestly and constructively to that end the way Andrew is doing I think the chances of Brexit would be much higher. (I currently rate the odds at 60:40 for Remain, though it could still very much go either way.) If all campaigners on both sides were like Andrew we would be having a much better and more constructive debate which would do a lot more good for the country whichever way it goes.

Project Fear from the "Leave" side - black propaganda about the NHS continues.

In a recent post in my "Worst of both worlds" series which criticises ridiculous and inaccurate comments from both "Leave" and "Remain" supporters, I referred here to the scaremongering from  Leave.EU in their attacks on TTIP (the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal) and particularly their attempts to suggest that TTIP might lead to the privatisation of the NHS such as this They have continued this "Project Fear" scaremonger today when they tweeted this graphic - accompanied by the allegation that  "There are genuine concerns that EU/US trade deal TTIP could lead to privatisation  of the NHS." One of the few things which all the competing "Leave" organisations agree on is that if we were to leave the EU we would need to resume using Britain's World Trade Organisation seat and start lobbying on our own for better trade relations. If we were not an EU member our trade links with

US says they are not interested in a bilateral trade deal with the UK

Arguably the worst news for "Leave" since the beginning of the year - and if people voted on evidence rather than their emotions I would have left out the word "arguably" - is that the chief US Trade negotiator says that America is “not in the market” for a free trade deal with Britain alone, as you can read  here . There will be those who say that this is just part of an effort by the Obama administration to persuade us to stay in the EU. They might even be right, though I think there is more to it than that. There will also be those who point out that to talk of "crippling Chinese-style tariffs" being imposed by the USA in the event of Brexit may be overstating the case. The GATT's most favoured nation rule would limit the ability of the USA or any other nation to raise punitive tariff barriers to our trade and it is not in their interests to try to destabilise an ally. However, the fact remains that access to a market of half a billion people

Quote of the day 25th February 2016


Worst of both worlds 7: no need for insults.

Continuing my occasional series of posts highlighting some of the bad arguments or behaviour from both the "Remain" and the rival "Leave" campaigns. Many people on both sides of the EU "Remain" or "Leave" debate have put their case in a courteous and respectful way. Sadly, others have not. The latter hit a new low today, from both sides. One MP tweeted to my excellent Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim today that he should "shush" and "keep out of debate" on Europe - apparently for no better reason than that he is an MEP. Not the best way for colleagues to communicate with one another. But this in the European parliament today, from the last remaining Lib/Dem MEP - the only one to survive what was otherwise a wipeout for her party in 2014 - was far worse: You may have gathered that I don't agree with a lot of the things many supporters of Brexit say, though others have made some good points. I have been tem

It was probably not a good idea to ask the PM about his mum ...

Probably not the most successful heckle in parliamentary history when a Labour MP shouted "ask your mother" at the Prime Minister when the subject of the NHS in Oxfordshire was raised at PMQs ...

Snow joke

Winter appears to be finishing with a cold snap. There was a thin layer of snow on many parts of the ground in Whitehaven this morning - something we have been known to go a couple of years at a time without seeing - and I had to scrape it off the car windscreen this morning.

Quote of the day 24th February 2016

" someone on Twitter had a plan to 'get Alan Johnson to campaign endlessly for the Stay side and then quietly make him Labour leader without telling him. He’ll never notice' . What an excellent idea." ( Craig Brown a.k.a. "Someone on Twitter" quoted by John Rentoul in the Indy here .)

EU referendum 1975: Michael Cockerell - will history repeat itself?

This collection of films by Michael Cockerell, mostly made at the time of the previous "In Out" referendum in 1975 on what is now called the EU and was then called the Common Market, is fascinating. There are an extraordinary number of parallels between 1975 and 2016 - sometimes switched between right and left. I remembered that Mrs Thatcher had been on the "Remain" side at the time but had forgotten how strongly. The main difference is that where forty years ago the whole of the media were strongly against leaving the EU this time most of them are pro-Brexit - although of course the MSM is much less powerful now, and in the media as a whole I think both sides should be able to get a fair hearing. This was the outcome for the last British PM to call such a referendum, as depicted by the cartoonist Cummings. Will history repeat itself?

Quotes of the day 23rd February 2016

"You have to take your hat off to Corbyn. It’s a work of pure and evil genius to be able to say virtually nothing, but speak in such volumes" "Jeremy Corbyn eventually appeared on my screen. He had that look he always has when he’s forced to speak to journalists about issues of national importance – the look of a man who’s just been ordered by his wife to put down the crossword and put the bins out." "Labour’s leader had spoken. He’d spoken utter gibberish, but it didn’t matter because no-one was paying attention. Once upon a time this would have been noteworthy. But in British politics, in 2016, it was just another day with a “y” in it." "One of his staff had clearly also recognised his EU response was cutting through like a cold knife through titanium, and so given it another shove." "Forget Trident. Forget shoot-to-kill. Forget printing money until the presses run dry. Nothing Jeremy Corbyn has done or said since he became leader

A foretaste of the arguments to come

An interesting debate between Dan Hannan MEP and Lord Mandelson about whether Brexit would be good for the British economy. It lasts just under eight minutes and I'd like to have heard it go on longer. Guess which was the first to quote Mrs T and say "I agree with Mrs Thatcher." You can find out at ...

Occasional music spot: Francesco Manfredini Concerto grosso in C major


Heckle of the week

I did not quite hear what sent the House of Commons - and MPs on all sides - into fits of laughter early in Jeremy Corbyn's speech today on the EU issue, but you can find the event described on The Sun's website here . The Labour leader outlined his visit to last week's EU summit, saying to the PM: "Last week, like you, I was in Brussels meeting with heads of government and leaders of European socialist parties, one of whom said to me..." At this point Christopher Pincher and Simon Hoare called out together "Who are you?"

Video of Cameron dismissing idea of second EU referendum


Second quote of the day

 "Sadly, I've known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings, but I don't know any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows." ( David Cameron during the debate on the European Council negotiations, dismissing the absurd idea that there might be a second referendum if the first one produces a "Leave" vote.)

Quote of the day 22nd February 2016

"If politicians begin to believe they are celebrities they need to go and sit down in a darkened room." ( Iain Duncan Smith's response when asked during an interview what he thought about Labour's Alan Johnson describing the six cabinet ministers who had come out for Brexit as not being political all stars.)

A vew from over the channel

Here is a roundup of attitudes to the EU summit from other countries in Europe. I respect the views of those who make the argument that David Cameron didn't get enough to persuade them to vote remain, but it is worth noting that there don't seem to be too many people on the continent who think he didn't get anything.

Captain Eric Melrose Brown RIP

The first Sea Lord issued this statement today in honour of Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown who died today. Rest in Peace

Remember, on June 23rd we all have one vote.

When Britain votes on 23rd June whether to remain in the European Union, everyone has one vote whether they hold any office or not. The PM has one vote. Boris Johnson has one vote. I have one vote, You have one vote. And they will all count the same when the contents of the ballot boxes are added up. So we should not get too upset about whether any given MP is voting in a particular way. There was a very silly headline in one of the newspapers today about David Cameron supposedly "going to war" with the cabinet pro-Brexit "rebels." He's suspended collective responsibility on this one issue and given them a free pass to take a different view. They're not "rebels" for taking him up on it. The key thing is that David Cameron has put a law through parliament which gives all of us a vote to decide whether Britain's future is inside or outside the EU. And because EVERY British citizen gets the right to vote, it isn't whether Boris goe

Sunday music spot: Telemann Viola Concerto in G Major, TWV 51, 4th movement

This is the conclusion to the concerto from which the piece I posted on Thursday is taken. (This recording is not, obviously from the same concert!)

The worst of both worlds 6: jumping the gun

Continues my occasional series of posts about the worst arguments and comments on both sides of the EU referendum campaign. Regardless of what you think of the agreement which the Prime Minister secured on Friday after more than 30 hours of intense talks - and I'm one of those who thinks DC got about as much towards reform as we could possibly expect at this time, and that it was a great deal more than nothing, but nobody is suggesting it solved all the problems with the EU - it was pretty damn silly for people on both sides to demonstrate that they weren't paying any real attention by releasing their headlines or statements before the deal had even been done. I have a lot of time for many of the people in "Conservatives for Reform in Europe" but someone in the organisation discredited what might otherwise have turned out to be a good argument when a letter praising Friday's deal was leaked before the deal had actually been agreed. And thereby creating the jus

Quote of the day 21st February 2016

"David Cameron has demonstrated that the biggest mistake in British politics is to underestimate him.   " Admittedly, his deal is not a total overhaul of the European Union . But it’s a far more significant recalibration of Britain’s position within that Union than his critics were predicting. "The “principled and upfront” protection outside the eurozone that Mark Carney, the Bank of England Governor, advocated has been won. So have the guarantees that Britain will be exempt from further “political integration” – the nightmare scenario painted by the Eurosceptics.   "This is not quite the fundamental reform Cameron spoke of in his 2013 Bloomberg speech . But while the Out camp will mock, his assertion that the UK now enjoys “special status” within the EU is entirely accurate. "We were told it would be impossible for him to maintain Cabinet unity through the course of the renegotiations. He did. We were told he would find it impossible to secure agree

The Eu Referendum: Michael Gove's position

Whether Britain should remain in the EU is an important decision and one on which honourable and intelligent men and women can differ. I think David Cameron has done a fantastic job in trying to get as much as we could expect at this time in terms of reform of the EU. I think the battle over the last 48 hours was real and that what DC came away with in terms of a clear exemption for Britain from "ever closer union," protection for non-Euro countries, a more competitive EU and a restriction of migrant benefits will be of genuine benefit if we vote to remain within the EU. Equally DC he was never likely to get a complete transformation of the European Union project. He went for objectives which were challenging but just about achievable. It is wrong - and frankly, an insult to the intelligence - to pretend that what the Prime Minister achieved was nothing of consequence. It would be equally wrong if anyone were to pretend - in fact I have not heard anyone in the Conservat

EU referendum on 23rd June: "The choice is in your hands" says David Cameron


Foxhouses Road Resurfacing

Foxhouses Road in Whitehaven is still being resurfaced. The road has been temporarily re-opened today while repair work is paused over the weekend: I presume it will be closed again for a time early next week until the work is complete. The new road surface is not finished and care is needed on this road, so if you are travelling to the Mirehouse or Valley Park area of Whitehaven by road and are easily able to take another route I would recommend doing so.

Quote of the day 20th February 2016

"In a newspaper article, Thatcher made what was really the winning argument. 'In politics,' she said, 'You have to consider " what is the alternative ?" The European Economic Community or what? ' She ridiculed the idea that we would be able to get new trading treaties. "Now we have broken one treaty, we want you to give us another on a different basis - as a free trade area "." ( Danny Finkelstein in today's Times, referring to Margaret Thatcher's contribution to the remain campaign in the 1975 referendum, I'm quoting this because these questions are worth asking today, not because I want to contribute to the irrelevant argument about how she would vote, were she still alive, in the referendum which was called today for June 23rd.)

A reminder - what Corbyn's Britain would be like

  On Thursday 5 May, Britain faces a clear but crucial choice: the continued security, stability and opportunity provided by this Government or the insecurity, instability and incompetence of Labour.   Across England and Wales, we can continue to give our communities the safety and security that Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners deliver. In Wales, we can end 17 long years of Labour rule, and bring real change for the Welsh people. In Scotland, we can provide strong opposition to the SNP, holding them to account and saying no to a second referendum. And in London, we can stop Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn’s man, from becoming Mayor and using City Hall as a four year experiment for Labour’s radical and divisive policies.     The outcome of each of these elections will affect how Britain is governed over the next four years. That is why it is so important that we act now, to ensure security, stability and opportunity for every person. Please donate tod

Occasional music spot: Corelli's Concerto Grosso in G Minor

Perhaps a little out of season as this piece is sometimes known as the "Christmas Concerto" Never mind. It's just too good to only be listened to at Christmas!

Deafening Silence

If Britain or the United States is engaged in military action and accidentally hits a school or hospital, or a wedding, or can otherwise be shown to have killed innocent civilians, you can bet that the Stop the War Coalition, and a very big chunk of the left, will scream their heads off about it. If it's Britain, there will be people protesting outside Westminster and Downing Street, if it is the USA they will be protesting outside the US Embassy. If Israel makes a military response to the people who have fired hundreds of missiles at their civilians, and any Palestinian civilians get killed - which usually happens, incidentally, because the people who are attacking Israel have used them as human shields, hiding their own military assets among civilian targets - you can bet there will be calls for boycotts against Israel, protests outside the Israeli embassy, criticism of the British government for not criticising Israel strongly enough, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And a

Quote of the day 19th February 2016

“If we have that sort of debate over these next few weeks then I think there’s a very real chance that the anti-Europeans will win. “If we have two campaigns that are scaremongering then in that case the biggest fearmongering tends to win. “The real danger is that the pro-European case, the real case about this country’s position in Europe is not being made.” (Former SNP leader Alex Salmond , quoted in  The Scotsman , accused both sides in the EU referendum debate of scaremongering. For the avoidance of doubt I personally have a lot of sympathy for that view but would go further - I don't think a positive case for either side is coming over properly.,)

A Crucial Choice

In May this year there will be elections for the Mayor of London, for the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, for Police and Crime commissioners in Cumbria and many other parts of England, and for many local councils. Here is a reminder of the choice on offer ...

No deal today should not be seen as a failure

The European Council - formerly known as the EU Council of Ministers which better describes it - does not often manage to resolve difficult matters in one sitting. And the worst possible way to go into a difficult negotiation is to be desperate to get a deal at the present meeting. The more people think you have your back to the wall and have to take whatever is on the table, the worse the deal you are likely to be offered. So the second-worst thing we could do is build up too many expectations that there will definitely be a "deal" at the EU summit which starts today and the worst thing is to say that if there isn't that means it's a failure. If David Cameron gets a good deal, excellent. If he has to walk away and try again in a fortnight, or in April - well, we have until the end of 2017 to hold the referendum.

Occasional music slot: Telemann Viola Concerto, 2nd movement

Apart from being a cracking piece of Telemann's music the other interesting thing about this recording is the collection of instruments on which that music is being played. 25 of Jacob von der Lippe's instruments were reunited for the first time in this concert, played by their respective owners. More info:

Congratulations to Innovus

Congratulations to Adrian Davis-Johnston and the team at Innovus who have scooped the Outstanding Social Enterprise of the Year award after creating hundreds of jobs in Cumbria. Innovus, which invests in innovative local companies, collected the award at The University of Manchester’s inaugural Better World Awards ceremony last week. The awards are designed to showcase a wide variety of social responsibility work which makes a real difference to individuals, communities and society as a whole. Since its launch in 2013, Innovus has attracted and nurtured a diverse pipeline of project proposals from the supply chain. Within its first two years £2.7m has been invested in projects, 283 inventions have been assessed, 56 jobs have been created or safeguarded and a further 315 jobs are currently forecast to result from current projects from investment secured to date. NNL’s Adrian Davis-Johnston, Innovus programme director, said: “We’re delighted by this achievement. Innovus has so

Quote of the day 18th February 2016

Robert Peston on the importance of the negotiations to take place tonight and tomorrow morning, in an article which you can read in full here : "There are three outstanding issues to resolve: Will the independent powers of the Bank of England to regulate and supervise our banks and financial institutions be permanently protected by a promise of future EU treaty reform that would prevent eurozone members from duffing us up in a commercial sense? Quite how far will the EU go in allowing the prime minister to limit child benefit payments to migrants and for how long will it allow him to lessen in-work credits to them? Will the UK have an exemption - also to be enshrined in a future treaty amendment - from the EU precept that all members are on an inexorable journey to "ever closer union" (or less autonomy for national governments). Now I am going to say something deeply unfashionable - which is that these three decisions are more important than most commen

Danny Finkelstein - Business Leaders make Lousy Politicians

There is an excellent article by Danny Finkelstein in today's Times about the problems with bringing business leaders into government. There have been a few people who have had some success at both - Peter Walker, Lord David Young, and Michael Bloomberg come to mind - but the list is surprisingly short. Danny argues that the fact that politicians in Western democracies are seen as weak and unable to get anything done is not primarily due to personal failings by the individuals concerned, but because they are working with constraints which were deliberately written into constitutions like that of the United States, or evolved in constitutions like Britain's unwritten one, for very good reasons. When a businessman turned politician like Donald Trump gets elected - it does occasionally happen - and tries to "get things done" by ignoring those who opposed him or her the result is more likely to be chaos. Finkelstein cites Silvio Berlusconi as the closest parallel

The worst of both worlds 5: trashing Britain, and scaremongering about the NHS

Continues an occasional series of posts which highlights some of the worst points put on both sides of the EU membership referendum debate ... I supported David Cameron in promising the people of Britain a referendum from 2013 onwards because his arguments in a speech that year convinced me that the political establishment could not carry on ignoring the opinions of the British people and the only way to resolve the question of our relationship with Europe was to let the people decide. I still think that was the right thing to do, but by heaven, I am heartily sick of the nonsense coming from some people on both sides of the argument. And this week it has hit a new low. By now there are quite a few people on my mental list of individuals for whom the best thing they could do for their preferred cause would be to go and lie down in a darkened room between now and the day after the referendum. (And in some cases long after that!) I noticed a long time ago that there is an inverse re

Unemployment drops by 60,000

Unemployment in the UK dropped by 60,000 between October and December 2015, and is still at a ten year low, according to the Office for National Statistics. The number in work climbed to 31.4 million, which is (still) the highest since records began in 1971. The number of Britons in work increased by 278,000 in the three months to the end of December, to 28.28 million, while for non-UK nationals, the figure rose by 254,000 to 3.22 million. In other words, the success of the UK economy is sucking in people from other parts of the world, but they are coming to work rather than claim benefits and the majority of new jobs are going to British workers. Pay increased by 2.0% during the period, very similar to the growth rate between September to November 2014 and September to November 2015, which was 1.9% More information on the BBC site at