Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The New Statesman predicts the top ten Brexiteer excuses ...

I don't necessarily agree with all the implicit arguments underlying Ian Leslie's piece in the New Statesman,

"The top ten reasons Brexit isn't working according to Brexiteers."

It is a prediction of the top main excuses that Ian suggests Leave supporters will use over the next few years if Brexit does not deliver what they want.

Of course, it would have been absolutely impossible for Leave or Remain to live up to all the predictions of their more enthusiastic supporters and neither was their any chance that either Brexit or remaining in the EU could possibly have been as disastrous as the more extreme "Project Fear" stories told by the other side.

(For the avoidance of doubt, to recognise that there were ridiculously overblown "Project Fear" scare stories on both sides is not to deny that there were also certain arguments on both sides denounced as "Project Fear" by their opponents which were perfectly reasonable and some of the Remain ones - the prediction that the pound would fall sharply if there was a Brexit vote, for instance - have already come true.)

I've linked to Ian Leslie's prediction of the top ten excuses that Leave supporters will use when Brexit does not deliver paradise on earth for two reasons:

1) It's very funny, and
2) It is virtually certain that some of these excuses will indeed be deployed in the next ten years.

As a challenge I will supply a free copy of "Better Off Out" to anyone who can supply me within the next five years of a full set of instances (names, dates, which excuse was deployed and at what meeting or in which publication) in which all ten were used.

The ten excuses are:

1. WHITEHALL SABOTAGE. "If we’re making no progress in trade negotiations, that’s because the civil service is doing its best to scupper a successful Brexit. That power-crazed madman Jeremy Heywood will stop at nothing to ensure he is bossed by Brussels, and the snooty bastards at the Treasury are working to subvert the national will out of spite. Even as our finest ministers strive manfully to cut Britannia free of its enslaving chains, all they hear from functionaries is “It’s a bit more complicated than that”. It’s only complicated because they want it to be."



5. MARK CARNEY. "Let’s get this straight: the Canadian governor of the Bank of England doesn’t want Britain to succeed, because then we’d be a direct competitor to his motherland." 
6. EU BUREAUCRATS. "You know those people we spent years attacking for being interfering, self-enriching, incompetent fools? Turns out they are now keen to make our lives as difficult as possible."

8. THOSE OTHER BREXITEERS (i) (This excuse applies where anti-immigration, little Englander Brexit supporters are complaining about the more liberal and less anti-immigrant free market Brexit supporters)

9. THOSE OTHER BREXITEERS (ii). (This excuse applies where more liberal and free market Brexit supporters are complaining that "Brexit got hijacked by the roast beef and two veg brigade" of anti-immigration little Englanders.)

Let's hope we hear that last one most - let's hope all the more that it is actually true. Because I don't want Britain to fail just so I can say "I told you so."

Quote of the day 31st August 2016

"The two contenders to be Leader of the Labour party seem to be having a competition to see who can prove himself unfit to be Prime Minister - and both of them are winning."

(Source here.)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Vote Leave's Lee Rotherham on unpicking Britain's EU links

There are some people on the more paranoid end of the Brexit movement who imagine that the whole thing can be done very quickly and that any suggestion of delay means that someone is plotting to sabotage the country's vote to leave.

That is not the case and the simple fact is that replacing 40 years of integration with the best possible deal for Britain is not a five minute job.

For the benefit of any leave supporter reading this who is not inclined to take the word of a Remain voter like myself, there is an excellent and informative article on the subject on Conservative Home by Dr Lee Rotherham who was Director of Special Projects at Vote Leave, called

"Unravelling the tangled web of EU policies and regulations will take time and careful planning."

The article starts as follows:

"Brexit does not encourage sun tans. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been digging into my Alexandrian-scaled library of EU-themed literature to work on a headline Risk Register for what renegotiation means. Even a fairly coarse whittling of the source material suggests a policy list of several hundred Chinese Puzzles that negotiators now need to play with.

This sounds like a cruel task. The cheery news is that overwhelmingly these problems turn out to be shallow shell scrapes to stumble into rather than Vietcong bamboo pits. The risk in many cases lies more in the embarrassment of failing to prep the plank. Spotting there is a transitional issue, knowing the default and whether it needs to be improved, will often prove the key activity.

Looking at that full and ranging list of Risks though, something else also becomes clear – and it should not be a Jeffersonian revelation to longstanding Eurosceptics. Leaving the EU is not an end in itself. It is a set of opportunities. Whether the UK simply transitions, or now thrives, depends on the capability, ambitions and vision of those implementing change."

Exactly, and that is why we need to take time to get it right and make the most of those opportunities.

You can read the full article here.

Sunday music spot: Allegri's Miserere

This thirty-year old recording is of a slightly different version of Allegri's Miserere from that with which I am most familiar (from an even older recording by the choir of Kings College Cambridge made at about the time I was born) but it is every bit as exquisitely beautiful. Both performances have stood the test of time, with people still republishing and posting them decades after they were recorded.

This performance by "Pro Cantione Antiqua" was recorded in 1985.

Pro Cantione Antiqua (For the Ancient Songs) of London are a British choral group who were founded in 1968 by Tenor James Griffett, Counter-tenor Paul Esswood, and conductor and producer Mark Brown. From an early stage they were closely associated with conductor and musicologist Bruno Turner. Arguably, they were the leading British performers of a cappella music, especially early music, prior to the founding of the Tallis Scholars.

This video celebrates the glory of English Cathedrals, along with the original Latin text and translation.

Quote of the day 28th August 2016

"It is unfair and untrue to say Corbyn is deviating from party policy on NATO. This has been SWP policy for years."

(Former Labour MP Tom Harris @MrTCHarris  on Twitter)

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Owen Smith and the Brexit paradox

I'm going to take the comments on Brexit by Owen Smith MP, candidate for the Labour leadership, more seriously than they probably deserve and stop for a moment to analyse them.

He says that if he becomes Labour leader he will try to prevent invocation of Article 50 until Theresa May commits to a second referendum or a general election on whatever deal emerges from the Brexit process.

This form or words is meant to sound reasonable and to appear to give the electorate an attempt at more democratic oversight on what Brexit looks like. But it's a trick.

The first problem with this is that the overwhelming majority of legal advice is that the PM can trigger article 50 under the executive's prerogative without the need for a vote in parliament. (And I understand that is precisely what she intends to do at the appropriate moment in 2017 - probably after the French and German elections.)

The second problem is this - we can't know what the terms are going to be until we have negotiated them, and we can't get that process seriously under way until we have triggered article 50.

And once we trigger article 50 we have a two year deadline to negotiate a set of terms. Unless the EU states unanimously vote to extend the deadline, and frankly, they are unlikely to do that.

I don't think that the two-year timescale realistically allows both time to negotiate a decent deal and time to put it to the people.

Smith's comment that, whatever the deal, is he will campaign to stay in gives the game away. This is a backdoor attempt to sabotage the electorate's decision.

The EU referendum was in many ways the largest exercise in democracy this country has ever held. I said before the vote that whichever way it went we should all respect the result and I say the same thing now. If we don't implement the electorate's decision we will shatter, perhaps irreparably, any pretence that the British state respects the views and votes of British citizens.

You would not think it possible that a contender for the Labour leadership could be even more out of touch with the electorate, including many Labour voters, than the current leader but on this issue Owen Smith has managed it.

Saturday music spot: J.S Bach's Concerto for 2 Harpsichords in C Minor

Quote of the day 27th August

Friday, August 26, 2016

The other side of the fence

In my time as a planning councillor I sat on planning committees which determined literally hundreds of planning applications and as planning portfolio holder for three years I had formal responsibility for a system which dealt with something like seven or eight thousand of them over that time.

Having put in an application to Copeland Borough Council today, I am on the other side of the fence - and having read hundreds of application forms, this is the first time I have actually had to fill the forms in myself (On the previous occasion I was an applicant the architect acted as agent, but this one is too small to make that sensible.)

It's interesting to be on the other side of the fence. My reaction to a piece in yesterday's Whitehaven News that Copeland is one of the councils with the highest rate of approving applications is certainly a bit different to how I would have felt about such a description being applied when I was a councillor, and would have said that it was more important to give the right answer on the merits of each individual application rather than to count how many times you say yes or no.

It's probably tempting fate to say anything more than that but it will be interesting to see the system from the other side.

The Irony meter is off the scale ...

Back in April the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage criticised Barak Obama's "meddling" in the British vote on EU membership and added that Americans would "go berserk" if a British PM were to interfere in a US presidential election. Here is a clip from the interview which includes that quote.

So who turned up on the stage, and made a speech, at a Donald Trump rally this week?

You guessed it. And it gets more bizarre.

Farage actually repeated his attack on Obama's "interference" in the Brexit vote, criticising Barack Obama for publicly backing the Remain campaign during the EU referendum campaign, before adding: "So I could not possibly tell you how you should vote in this election."

This was said at a Donald Trump rally!

And was followed by "I will say this, if I was an American citizen, I wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton if you paid me."

It rather reminded my of the late Sir Ian Richardson's line from House of Cards,

"You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment" as code for "YES."

The irony meter really is off the scale.

Quote of the day 26th August 2016

On British Prime Ministers ...

"The idea that there are simple heroes and villains collapses under the weight of evidence.

As does the idea that politicians were so much better in the past.

No, they weren't. They were less experienced, less in touch, less broad-minded and less accountable. We are much better served now.

Reading the history of prime ministers walks you along a long line of people who were elected to parliament in their early twenties, hardly visited their constituencies and had little experience of other social classes. They had no way of gauging public opinion and weren't much interesting in doing so, being pretty contemptuous of it.

The idea that we now have politicians who, unlike in the past, do not have experience of 'the real world' is actually the opposite of the truth."

(Extract from an article by Danny Finkelstein in the Times on Wednesday about a challenge he has set himself to read a biography of every British Prime Minister.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Another alternative to a Labour conference ...

After a dispute when for weeks Labour have threatened to boycott the security firm G4S rather than use them to provide security at their conference, it turns out the Labour have just asked G4S at the last minute, and G4S refused.

That's when they already have the problem of a rival Momentum conference.

G4S said that they had not been given enough time to organise the conference security - they also had problems in previous years with the way some Labour conference delegates treated G4S people.

Apparently some of the comrades who were rather unpleasant to anyone, including journalists, cleaners and caterers, attending Conservative conference last year were also less than polite to security staff at Labour's own conference. I doubt if they were as unpleasant at their own conference as ours (if you only got called "Tory Scum" you were doing well, while spitting, thrown eggs, and threats to rape female delegates were also well attested) but6 I can see why G4S might think themselves well out of it.

Perhaps instead of a conference this year Labour should organise a drinks party in a brewery.

Oh, wait ...

M6 now open again

All three northbound lanes of the M6 are now open again between Junctions 41 and 42 following the earlier vehicle fire.

Team GB Athletes in Cumbria this weekend

Both gold medal winning team sprint cyclist Philip Hindes and taekwondo bronze medalist Bianca Walkden will be at the #IAmTeamGB event hosted by Ullswater Yacht Club on Saturday 27th August.

This is part of the I Am Team GB sports day , put on in association with ITV Border.

The aim of the event is to encourage everyone in the country to take part in a sporting activity, and ITV cameras will be filming at the club all day to catch the action.
The club is also looking for volunteers on the day to help the event run smoothly, and involve as many people as possible. Any volunteers who want to help out for the day should contact

Ullswater Sailing School will be running free sailing taster sessions from 10am-3pm with special sessions for disabled visitors, as well as a range of other sports, both on and off land, from 10am-4pm.

As part of the day, RYA Sailability - which supports people with disability to take up the sport - will be on site with two fully accessible dinghies and a mobile hoist available for use, to enable everybody the opportunity to get involved. Staff from RYA Sailability will also be present to support the event and provide information and advice on the day.

The taster sessions are completely free and there will be lots of other I Am Team GB goodies on offer. The club will provide buoyancy aids and helmets - all you need is warm clothing, waterproofs and shoes you don’t mind getting wet. The sessions are for all ages, and family groups are welcome.

To find out more about other "I Am Team GB" events happening around the country on August 27, click here.

Not a good day to be travelling on the M6 ...

The M6 was closed in both directions near Carlisle between Junction 42 and 43 for a period this afternoon. It was then re-opened about half past four. but in the last few minutes police have announced that the emergency services are now dealing with a vehicle on fire just before Junction 42 Northbound and two lanes are closed.

Not a great day for M6 travellers:

Update  - all three Northbound lanes between Junction 41 and 42 now closed

Further update - they are all now open again

Quote of the day 25th August 2016

As the saying goes, many a true word is spoken in jest ...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Why Jeremy Corbyn should not be Prime Minister

Hat tip to Nick Cohen in the Spectator for this article which collects together in one place a list of problems with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership if the Labour party.

Taken together this ought to be a convincing body of evidence why anyone who wants Britain to be run by a competent democrat, whether you are on the political right, left or centre, should not support Jeremy Corbyn as a candidate for Prime Minister.

The Lord High Executioner's Little List - post Brexit version

A few weeks ago I posted Richard Suart's superb version of Ko-Ko's "Little list" song from the Mikado which was bang up to date as at January 2016.

However, only a few months later so much in politics has changed and a new list is called for.

If I can work out how to post one I may put a sung version on here, but here are some suggested words for a post-Brexit version:

Ko-Ko’s song from the Mikado: 2016 version

If one day it should happen that a victim must be found,
I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list,
Of society offenders who could well be underground,
And who never would be missed, they never would be missed;

The pests who won’t stop phoning about mis-sold PPI,
It’s time to send them all to that call-centre in the sky,
All people who are tone-deaf but keep bursting into song,
John Chilcot who took seven years to tell us Blair was wrong,
And Blair himself, who’ll still that he did nothing wrong insist,
The great denialist; Yes, Tony’s on my list

(Chorus) He’s got a little list, he’s got a little list,And they’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.

The gamers who walk round with phones to catch a pokemon,
They’re poke-round the twist, I wish they would desist,

The man who writes for newspapers and always gets it wrong,
The tabloid journalist! I’m sure he’d not be missed,

The clot on email lists who over-uses "reply-all,"
Narcissists who share selfies wearing swimsuits far too small,
Road-ragers who behind the wheel become a dangerous git,
The leader of the SNP, who’s champing at the bit,
For yet another bloody referendum, what a twit!
The Scottish separatist; och aye, she’s on ma list!

(Chorus) You may put them on the list, you may put them on the list,
And they’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.

The Russian athletes doped-up on an industrial scale,
The pharma-medalists; Da, zey are on ze list,
This year for President both parties picked an Epic Fail,
Donald and Hillarist? No, neither would be missed!

Overpaid England footballers, who didn’t understand,
That leaving Europe didn’t mean them losing to Iceland,
The PLP; though Labour MPs know that Jezza’s barmy,
They’re worse at overthrowing leaders than the Turkish army,
I’d Gove and Osborne as the cabinet section of my list,
That doesn’t still exist – they were on Theresa’s list.

(Chorus) And also on MY list! They’re all still on the list,And they’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.

How not to get ministers to visit hospitals in your constituency

I have reported on my hospitals blog here that David Mowat M.P, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Community Health and Care, visited Furness General and Millom hospitals yesterday to see and experience some of the innovative work ongoing as part of the Better Care Together strategy.

Mr Mowat, who has been in the job since July this year, has a brief which includes adult social care, carers, community services, cancer, dementia, learning disabilities and all elements of primary care – including dentistry and pharmacy.

Cumbria is a huge county, and it is ridiculous to suggest that one ministerial visit could possibly cover all the medical issues going on in the county which we might want ministers to come and see. It is fairly obvious that Mr Mowat had a full programme -  see below.

I think it would be an extremely good thing if there were a ministerial visit to West Cumberland Hospital involving as senior a minister as we can persuade to come to Whitehaven.

But it is childish and counterproductive to accuse a minister who does take the trouble to come to Cumbria of "snubbing" a hospital an hour's drive away on one of the worst roads in the country (which was blocked by floods at one point this week) because he did not try to cover every hospital  in this enormous county in one visit.

The Labour MP for Copeland was not acting in the interests of his constituents when he accused the Health minister of snubbing West Cumberland Hospital: he was acting like a student politician scoring childish factional points.

If Mr Mowat had been only a short distance away from WCH it would have been a fair point. A few years ago when Andrew Lansley was in Whitehaven to visit a dental surgery I persuaded him to include a stop at WCH and meet the team preparing the bid for the Hospital rebuild as well.

But we all know what the A595 from Millom to Whitehaven is like and it is not comparable to a trip from the waterfront to Hensingham.

Did the minister already have a full day? I'll let you judge.

At FGH the Minister met Dr John Howarth, Aaron Cummins, and Dr Paul Grout, who are senior managers of the Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust and University Hospitals Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (Dr Howarth is also Professor of Primary Care at University of Cumbria).

His visit took in the Emergency Department where the Minister got to learn about the telehealth scheme which aims to reduce the number of unnecessary patient journeys to the department from Millom. He was shown a high definition camera and monitor which is linked up to a similar facility in Millom and which allows two- way consultations to take place. This means that health professionals in Millom can call on the expertise of senior consultants in the Emergency Department to remotely triage a patient.

Mr Mowat also spent time with staff who are working to reduce delayed transfers of care by partnership working, and met Dr Geoff Jolliffe, GP and Locality Lead for Furness who gave him a tour of the soon to be built Alfred Barrow Primary Care Centre where he was able to view and discuss plans for the new building.

Dr Jolliffe said: “I am extremely pleased that the Under Secretary of State got to see the Alfred Barrow site, which when developed, will make a massive difference for the people of Barrow. It means that primary, community and social care services will be working together from one place which encourages partnership working and consequently an improved experience for patients.”

The Under Secretary of State then went to Millom where he was given a tour of the Millom Community Hospital and GP surgery. He was given a first-hand experience of a teleconsultation appointment using the high definition camera and monitor which is linked to the facility he had seen that morning at FGH.

The minister also met representatives of the Millom Health Action Group who told him about their community led initiatives over a working lunch.

Dr John Howarth said: “It was important for the Minister to meet the Millom Health Action Group as we are working hand in hand with the community who have driven a variety of innovative ideas and projects locally. It’s quite astonishing to see what can be achieved when health and care providers work directly with the community. He also got to see for himself, the working conditions in which the GPs are currently operating and learned about the plans for extending the GP surgery as well as the innovative ways that the health providers are working as partners with the surgery.”

Jenny Brumby, from Millom Health Action Group said: “Millom Health Action Group welcomed the Under Secretary of State for Community Health and Care David Mowat MP to Millom yesterday to see the great collaboration between the NHS and the Millom Community. The new telehealth link in Millom surgery will eventually reduce the miles Millom people will have to travel for care. Our Community is thankful that their ideas are being put into practice and Millom has a very healthy future.”

More details at Cumbria Crack here.

After the Referendum

Yougov asked people whether the result of the EU referendum should be respected. The results suggest that a more than half of the 48% who voted Remain nevertheless think that the majority vote should be respected and Britain should leave (which does not mean that the government has a duty to implement every half-baked idea from the fringes of the Brexit movement.)

Owen Smith and Tim Farron please take note.

Sir Antony Jay RIP

Antony Jay, writer and broadcaster, died on Sunday at the age of 86. He will undoubtedly be best remembered for "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" which he co-created with Jonathan Lynn and was both one of the funniest TV programmes ever created and one of the most perceptive (everyone I knew who had any connection to government at the time said that if people realised how much truth there was in the programme they would be astonished).

Those programmes were, however, far from being his only achievement: he was also involved with some very perceptive studies of the way teams of people work and wrote several excellent books about how companies operate, particularly "Management and Machiavelli" and "Corporation Man" which respectively compared the functioning of late 20th century corporations to that of Renaissance states and showed how the behaviours and team strategies built into our genes as a result of early human evolution still affect the way modern companies and organisations work.

Jay co-founded Video Arts with Jonathan Cleese: this company produced a wide range of training videos such as "Decisions, Decisions" and "Meetings, Bloody Meetings."

He was married to Rosemary Watkins and they had two sons and two daughters.

Antony Jay will be missed both for his humour and his insight into how people operate.

As I have already posted and repeated the opinion poll and Britain in Europe "Yes (Prime) Minister" clips several times on this blog in the last few months, here to remember him is another classic clip, "The Empty Hospital."

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 24th August 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Another Corbyn train crash

Jeremy Corbyn released footage via the Guardian last week which was filmed during a rail journey to Newcastle showing him sitting on the floor because there supposedly were no seats available.

However,  Virgin Trains have responded that their CCTV footage of the journey shows that there were unreserved seats available on the train, which the opposition leader walked past before making his film.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson tweeted a link to the CCTV images, saying Mr Corbyn had "walked past empty unreserved seats then filmed claim train was 'ram-packed'".

The company said that after Mr Corbyn's team had finished filming: "The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn's team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey."

"An individual" on Twitter (@Citizen751908) suggested that the gif below could be a metaphor for Corbyn's stunt. (It could indeed be a metaphor for his leadership of the Labour party.)

Alternative medals tables ...

The EU has come in for a certain amount of teasing after someone sent out a tweet on behalf of the  European Parliament to congratulate all the medal winners from the current EU member states. It was probably meant harmlessly but perhaps it is not surprising that this graphic in the tweet

was taken as suggesting that the EU won the Rio Olympics.

The figure of 325 medals includes all the present member states, with the largest contingent being of course Team GB - and Britain has voted to leave the EU, although this has of course not yet come into effect.

The "Guido Fawkes" blog run by Paul Staines did a "Reductio ad Absurdam" parody of the EU tweet by suggesting here  what the figures would have been for the British Empire:

The Guardian and various other people who saw this retweeted (particularly by Heather Wheeler MP) and may not have seen the European parliament original made snooty comments about people who think Britain still has an Empire. That is of course the risk with using ironic humour - there is always someone stupid enough to think or unprincipled to argue that you mean it.

 (Of course, the British Commonwealth of Nations does still exist, and if you calculated the figures for the Commonwealth, which would be at least as legitimate as treating the EU as a unit, it would show about the countries which are members of the British Commonwealth of Nations as winning 166 medals, which represents an awful lot of sporting excellence.)

Of course, as the Telegraph points out here, you can come out with a whole raft of different rankings looking just at countries if you take medals per head of population, or per unit of GNP, or per competing athlete. The Bahamas and Grenada with one gold and one silver respectively still did best in terms of Gold or total medals per head of population. Jamaica, Grenada again, and Chinese Taipei do best in terms of medals per £100 million in annual GDP, and Azerbaijan won most medals per competing athlete.

But almost whichever measure you choose, Team GB did well.

Quote of the day 23rd August 2016

I am indebted to Stephen K Bush of the New Statesman for drawing my attention to the following passage:

(From "Sex, lies and the ballot box" Edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford and published by Iain Dale's Biteback publishing)

As Stephen points out, imagine what it must have felt like for the poor devil who got fewer votes than Mr Carroll. Coming in behind someone who was both aiming for zero votes, and dead, must have been a tad embarrassing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why voters are abandoning Labour

YouGov have done a study which you can read here in which they asked a couple of hundred voters from their polling panel who had been pro-Labour in May this year and have now moved to "Don't Know" or to another party what were the main things putting them off the Labour party.

Not a huge sample I know, but bear in mind that this is a particular segment of a panel of several thousand members which they use to track support. That panel was used for the published YouGov polls and produces results over the past eleven months broadly in line with this rolling average of the work of several pollsters.

They then took a thousand members of that panel who had said in May 2016 that they would vote Labour, and of whom more than 200 were now "Don't know" or had switched to another party.

YouGov then asked the switchers to write a couple of sentences on why they switched and analysed the responses, which break down as follows:


Things can change. But to have a good shot at an outright victory, an opposition is usually regarded as needing to be at least ten percentage points ahead of the government a year before the election. Labour has more time than that, but YouGov's latest opinion poll data here has them eight points behind the Conservatives, with Jeremy Corbyn thirty-two points behind Theresa May and eleven percent behind "don't know" on who would make the best Prime Minister.

The challenge for the Conservatives is to deliver Brexit in a way which maximises the opportunities and minimises the costs, make sure the economy continues to grow, and make a reality of Theresa May's words about making sure that everyone benefits from that growth. If we can do that, nobody will ever find out quite what a disaster the present Labour party would make of running Britain.

Of one thing we can be certain - whether Corbyn or Smith wins the Labour leadership election, Labour is light-years away from being able to form a coherent government.

Flood Warnings in the North West and Wales

The Environment Agency in the North West has warned anyone travelling in the area to be careful. There are still 14 flood warnings and 19 flood alerts in place in England and Wales, most of them in the North West or North Wales.

A595 open again after floods

The Whitehaven news tweets that the A595 is "understood to have reopened after flash floods which led to evacuations and rescues."

A595 closed at Ravenglass

Just seen a note from Copeland Council that the A595 is closed due to flooding at Ravenglass

That's bad news for anyone hoping to travel by road up or down the West Coast of Cumbria today - the A595 is effectively the only road route at that point between the Southern part of Copeland from Muncaster southwards to Millom and Barrow, and the centre and north of the borough from Holmrook and northwards.

Quote of the day 22nd August 2016

"We apologise for the overcrowded train. This has been caused by too many people on it."

(Announcement on a train from Southampton to Weymouth last week)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Haven edge victory over Workington in local darby ...

Whitehaven have won the local West Cumbrian derby by just four points against Workington Town.

The final score was 28 points to 24.

There are no figures available for the number of jam sandwiches consumed at the match.

For those reading this blog outside West Cumbria who have not got a clue what I'm talking about this was a Rugby match and ... never mind.

Congratulations to Mo Farah (again), Nicola Adams, Liam Heath and all the Team GB competitors

It is now mathematically impossible for China, with one athlete still in play on the final day (and with Britain guaranteed another Gold or Silver)  to overhaul Team GB in the medal table - Britain will therefore finish second in the overall medal table for the first time ever. Here is the table as at this morning (the numbers at right are for Gold, Silver, Bronze, and total medals.)

Congratulations to Mo Farrah on his second gold medal, to Nicola Adams for her gold in the flyweight boxing, and to Liam Heath for his gold in the sprint kayak event.

The Today programme had a bit of fun yesterday here on how this is going down in China - with, it is only fair to add, the official Chinese response being magnanimous and sportsmanlike.

Britain has also now surpassed the number of medals won in London 2012 - a most extraordinary achievement for the immediate past hosting nation.

Congratulations to all the Team GB athletes on their incredible performance. And it isn't quite over yet ...

Sunday music spot: Bonnie Tyler's "I need a hero"

Another of my favourite modern songs, "I need a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler,p

Of course, I can never hear it without thinking of Jennifer Saunders as the (evil) fairy godmother singing this version from Shrek II.

Possibly the best ever animated action scene from a family film, the only thing which stops the "I need a hero" sequence in Shrek II from being perfect is that the hero, Shrek in human form, is a dead ringer for the worst and most disastrous British Prime Minister in living memory. Oh well, he is supposed to be an Ogre ...

Quotes of the day 21st August 2016

"1990 should have been the time for NATO to shut up shop, give up, go home, and go away."

(Jeremy Corbyn demonstrating his unfitness to be Prime Minister at a rally in Newport two years ago. You can view the relevant part of his speech here.)

"It's time for Jeremy to take his own advice. He should give up, go home, and go away."

(The Labour MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed, responds to the above comments here.)

If a Conservative MP had made those comments about the Labour leader nobody would think twice.

The fact that Labour MPs are castigating their own leader in such strong language is most unusual: it partly reflects the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is so far off the wall. But there are consequences for parties which are this badly divided and not just for their electability.

Politics is a team activity and the fact that parties which are seen to be very badly divided rarely get elected represents good judgement on the part of the electorate.

The occasional disagreement on an important political issue within a party or government is almost inevitable - if you don't get any disagreements at all within a party you wonder whether they are lacking minds of their own, or backbones, or both. But a party which is fighting the kind of bitter and personal civil war which Jamie Reed's comments illustrate that Labour currently is will not be capable of forming a functional government.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sautrday music spot: Europe - The Final Countdown

Although the vast majority of my favourite music was written in the 18th century or earlier there are just a few pieces of modern music which I really, really like and "The Final Countdown" is one of them.

Help us build a better Britain - a message from the Conservative Party

Over the last month Conservatives have announced policies to deal with modern day slavery; to keep families safe and secure by introducing a ban on ‘zombie knives’; and launched a new ‘Dementia Atlas’ to improve prevention, diagnosis and support for people living with dementia.
While we focus on making Britain a country that works for everyone, this is what our opponents are doing:

  • Labour are fighting their second leadership election in less than 12 months. Totally lacking in ideas and fighting amongst themselves, they are failing to provide the leadership that this country needs.

  • The SNP are more determined than ever to break up the United Kingdom. They are more interested in dividing our country by holding another referendum than governing Scotland so that it works for everyone.                

  • UKIP are also holding a leadership election, settling internal disputes rather than trying to make Brexit a success. At a serious moment in our country’s history, they cannot provide the answers that our country needs.                

  • As for the Liberal Democrats, their only plan for Britain seems to be to ignore the will of the British people and try to overturn the EU referendum result at the next election.
Only the Conservatives understand that Britain needs strong and proven leadership to take this country forward. And only the Conservatives will build a country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few.
So this is our mission, but without you we cannot make it happen.

Thank you,

The Conservative Party

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

On the breadth of team GB's success

It was pointed out last night that Team GB's 24 Gold Medals in Rio so far (that was the score at the time after the Ladies' Hockey win) have come in no fewer than fourteen different sports. as defined within the Olympics.

Six cycling Gold medals,
Three rowing
Two each Gymnastics, Equestrian and Sailing
One each in Athletics, Canoe, Diving, Golf, Hockey, Swimming, Taekwondo, Tennis, Triathlon.

That is a really extraordinary breadth of achievement and I am told that as of last night no other country had yet won gold medals in more than ten disciplines at Rio.

(Postscript 21/8/2016: after day 15 Britain had gold medals in fifteen categories, the USA in twelve,  China in ten, Russia in nine, Germany in nine and Japan in five categories. No other country had won more than ten Gold medals in total)

It is something which will make 99% of Britons very proud of the enormous effort put in by our athletes but of course you cannot please everyone.

This year's "Every century but this and every country but his own" award has to go to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian for complaining because Britain is celebrating Olympic success, which he calls "turning Soviet."

He specifically criticises the BBC coverage of the Rio Olympics, which he appears to think is letting down the principles of the Reith charter by openly being pleased when somebody from Britain does well.

If there is one national broadcaster in the world which has bent over so far backwards to avoid acting as a cheerleader for it's own government, and has if anything erred in the other direction, that they ought to be allowed to cheer on our own athletes in sporting events without being accused of being soviet style state propagandists, it is the BBC.

If Mr Jenkins wants to find a state propagandist to scrutinise I suggest he has a little look at the RT and Sputnik operations for Mr Putin which have a base in Edinburgh. I have my differences with the BBC but to compare them with Soviet-era Russian propagandists is just ridiculous.

Quote of the day 20th August 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

Congratulations to the Brownlee Brothers, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, Jade Jones, Nick Skelton and the British Women's hockey team

The run of magnificent performances from Team GB athletes in Rio just goes on and on.

If I have been counting correctly, Alistair Brownlee has become the third British competitor, after Andy Murray and Laura Trott, to successfully defend an Olympic title in an event in which nobody had ever won consecutive Oympic gold medals before.

And when Alistair and his brother Jonathan won gold and silver in the Triathlon I understand they became the first brothers to win Olympic Gold and Silver medals in the same event.

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark won the gold medal in the in the women's 4.70 sailing event.

Nick Skelton won gold in Showjumping and thereby became Britain's second-oldest Olympic gold medallist in his seventh Games.

The 58-year-old, who initially retired 16 years ago after breaking his neck in two places, claimed individual gold after a six-way jump-off. It is Britain's first individual show jumping medal since Anne Moore's silver in 1972, and adds to Skelton's win in the team event at London 2012.

Jade Jones was yet another British athlete who successfully defended an Olympic championship, winning Gold in Rio in the under 57kg women's Tae kwon do, having previously won the gold medal at London 2012

And the  British women's hockey team have won Gold on penalties at the climax to a superb match against the Netherlands.

This means that in the national league table Team GB has 24 Gold medals and 58 medals in total, putting us in second place behind only the USA, narrowly ahead of China in third place and well ahead of Russia, Germany, Japan, France, Italy and the Netherlands, the other countries in the top ten slots.

Congratulations to all of them for these magnificent performances.

The suicide competition

The two contenders to be Leader of the Labour party seem to be having a competition to see who can prove himself unfit to be Prime Minister - and both of them are winning.

First Owen Smith suggests he would negotiate with DA'ESH.

Then Jeremy Corbyn indicates that, like Trump, he would not necessarily honour the NATO guarantee to come to the aid of a fellow NATO member who had been attacked.

DA'ESH are the worst bunch of head-chopping, slave-taking and completely intransigent rapists, terrorists and murderers the world has seen since 1945, a group that split from Al Qaeda because it isn't bloodthirsty enough. It is sometimes necessary to talk to the bad guys but for a potential Prime Minister to suggest that Britain might talk to the so-called "Islamic State" was a gaffe sufficiently serious to cast grave doubt on his judgement.

The promise that the members of NATO will come to each others' aid if attacked and that an attack on one of us is an attack on all is, along with the nuclear deterrent, one of the main reasons there has not been a Third World War. To abandon that promise would be lunacy.

We are living in a dangerous world and Britain cannot afford a PM who is capable of the poor judgement both these men have shown this week.

The first 100 days

There is an interesting article on the Cumbria PCC website, here, about the first hundred days in the job for our new Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall.

A couple of short extracts:

"As expected it has been a busy 100 days.  I am incredibly impressed by all the hard work and dedication that goes on not just in the police but across other agencies in order to keep us all safe on a daily basis.  Often this is in difficult circumstances and with a real threat of harm.

"I have really enjoyed meeting people across the county and this is something that I am keen to continue to do as I am here to represent the people of Cumbria.  I would like to thank all the people that I have met or that have written to me for taking the time to let me know their concerns or take part in the Police and Crime Plan consultation.  I will use this feedback as I finalise the Police and Crime Plan in the autumn and this will set the future policing objectives for the Police as well as the future direction of my Office and further developing the prevention work.

"I am going to spend as much time as possible out in the community talking to you so please come and let me know your concerns and thoughts on policing.

"Overall, we are incredibly fortunate to have a good police force working hard to make Cumbria even safer. But we all have a part to play in fighting crime and we are much more powerful when we fight crime and criminals together."

Quote of the day 19th August 2016

Of course this quote isn't really by Abraham Lincoln but it "pretends" to be in order to make a point. (This is one of those false statements which avoids being a lie because it is not actually trying to fool anybody.)

And to prove the point: I was looking for a quote on economics and found this image featuring two different people with the surname of Hayek. The quote is by Nobel laureate Professor Friedrich Hayek, from his work "The Fatal Conceit." The picture is of Selma Hayek.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Better to do Brexit right than in a hurry.

A number of people who ought to know better have been arguing that Article 50 of the EU constitution should be triggered as quickly as possible.

Almost without exception they are Brexit supporters who either think there is a possibility that the referendum result will not be honoured or find it politically convenient to pretend this.

Well, the vote will be honoured and the detail of the negotiations matters a lot more than how quickly we leave. If we want to get a deal which delivers progress addressing the concerns of the 52% of people who voted to leave without making the fears of the 48% who voted remain come true, we have to get the details right and negotiate the best deal possible.

We have not sorted out our own policy yet on how we want Brexit to work. When we invoke Article 50 we have only two years to negotiate.

And a lot of next year may be a difficult time to negotiate because of the French, then German elections.

I believe that a better stance would be to get our own position absolutely nailed down first, and then invoke article 50 straight after the German elections.

There is an excellent article by Juliet Samuel in the Telegraph on the subject,

"Ignore the Brexit speed freaks - this is something which cannot be rushed."

As she writes,

"Although it might be frustrating for passionate campaigners, it would be better to choose our moment carefully, rather than rushing to the exit. A serious commitment to leaving does not require the Government to commit to flying out of the union like a bat out of hell."


Britain isn't safe with Labour under Corbyn OR Smith

Labour's political suicide continues - Owen Smith suggests talks with DA'ESH

Just when you think the mess the Labour party is in cannot get any worse, they manage it.

Yesterday on the Victoria Derbyshire programme even Jeremy Corbyn had the sense to see that talking to DA'ESH, the so-called "Islamic State" (also known as IS, ISIS or ISIL) is not a good idea.

But not the supposed moderate Owen Smith.

Anyone who has read the article addressed to the West, "Why we hate you and why we fight you" in the fifteenth issue of the DA'ESH magazine Dabik should be under no illusions that the so-called Caliphate is interested in offering us peace - they want to exterminate anyone who has a different worldview.

As I wrote, here, the Dabik article is completely explicit that all anyone who does not believe in their version of Islam can hope to gain from them is, quote, a "temporary truce."

With some enemies, even very bitter enemies, you can eventually make peace. But there are other enemies, like the Nazis and like DA'ESH where this is just not possible: ultimately they must be destroyed or they will destroy us. Indeed, both participants in yesterday's programme recognised that as Owen Smith put it, "At the moment ISIL are clearly not interested in negotiating."

A candidate who had the political judgement you would expect of a potential Prime Minister would probably have left it there. But no ...

The exchange on the Victoria Derbyshire ran as follows:

VD: Would this process involve anyone from so-called Islamic State, yes or no?

JC: No, they’re not going to be around the table, no.

Owen Smith: My record is I’m someone who worked on the peace process in Northern Ireland for three years. I was part of the UK’s negotiating team which helped bring together the loyalist paramilitaries and the DUP in particular into the process alongside Sinn Fein. My view is that ultimately all solutions to these crises, these sorts of international crises, do come about through dialogue. So eventually if were to try and solve this all of the actors have to be involved. But at the moment Isil are clearly not interested in negotiating. At some point for us to resolve this we will need to get people around the table.

The Corbyn side pointed out - and were right on something for once - that if their man had said this he would have been eaten alive in the media.

"Bonkers" was one of the milder epithets which I have read applied to Smith's comments.

If this is the moderate saviour of the Labour party, God help them.‎

Quote of the day 18th August 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The new "Dead Cat" strategy

I was writing an article for the Whitehaven News this week about the remarkable events of Summer 2016. That article will appear in tomorrow's issue and I'm not going to repeat it here, but I am going to extend a train of thought which came from the article about the tactics used during the Referendum.

Vote Leave produced and successfully used a new version of the dead cat strategy.

The "Dead Cat" strategy, much associated with the Australian campaigner Sir Lynton Crosby, is a means of changing the debate agenda during a campaign. If the media are focussing on an issue which is deemed to be helpful to the other side you distract them by getting someone on your side to say something extremely controversial, if not downright outrageous.

As Boris Johnson wrote in 2013,

"Let us suppose you are losing an argument."

"The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case.

"Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as 'throwing a dead cat on the table, mate'."

Going on to describe the tactic, he wrote

"The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout 'Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!'; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief."

Vote Leave came up with a new version of this tactic for the EU referendum, which we might call "The false £350 million gambit."

How it works is this -

1) you start by taking a true argument for your side which you want to get more attention - the tactic only works if the underlying argument is pushing an important truth on an aspect of the situation favourable to your side - and then

2) you present it in a deliberately extreme form which is not true, and

3) you use ruthless message discipline to promote the false form of your argument where everyone will see it.

What will follow is that

a) your outraged - or unwisely delighted - opponents will be unable to resist firing both barrels at what they will see as a lie or a gaffe,

b) the media, who love a good row, will turn their attention onto this subject, thereby turning the media spotlight away from whatever you wanted to distract them from, and

c) in seeking to be impartial, the media in general and the BBC in particular will report both sides of the row, and if they make any attempt to analyse the situation they will probably point out that the exact form of words you used is wrong, but -

they will also point out the accuracy of the true form of the argument which you wanted all along to get  out there.

In the case of the EU referendum, the true and false forms of the argument were:

TRUE - Britain is a large net contributor to the EU budget, paying about £161 million a week

FALSE - “The EU now costs the UK over £350 million every week – nearly £20 billion a year"

(and even more false was the suggestion that Brexit would enable this sum of money to be spent on the NHS.)

Some opinion polls suggest that a significant minority of the more fanatical leave supporters actually swallowed the false version, but I don't think there is any reasonable doubt that the leaders of the Leave campaign knew perfectly well that the figure they were using was completely misleading and took a deliberate decision to provoke a row by using it.

Before 23rd June I thought that the decision of the Leave campaign to use the false form of this argument rather than the true one was a strategic mistake. They surrendered the moral high ground and damaged the reputation for integrity of all the people they used to push the £350 million figure.

However, given the result, it would appear at least possible that it worked because, as they had planned, it diverted attention to the cost of the EU.

Because there actually is a large net payment from Britain to the EU, it seems that the advantage Leave got by reinforcing the message that Britain does pay scores of millions of pounds a week to the EU may have been significant to a majority of voters - 52% of them, anyway - enough to outweigh the disadvantage they got because a majority of people knew the Leave campaign were not telling the truth about how many millions.

This was, of course, in the specific context of a referendum, not the election of a government. Hence most people were voting on which policy they thought was right, not which campaign team had more integrity.

Although the referendum was won for Leave, there was a price, which both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have paid. Before declaring for Leave Boris's popularity ratings had a Teflon quality which defied gravity, but the most recent survey of the popularity of prominent politicians puts him in negative approval territory along with almost everyone else except Theresa May.

It is difficult to separate out the causes of Michael Gove's disastrous performance in the Conservative leadership election - his part in the Leave campaign tactics in general and the £350 million claim in particular, his unfortunate comments about "experts" particularly the comparison of Nobel Prize winning economists with Nazis (for which he rightly apologised, but the damage was done) and the "Game of Thrones" style last minute stab-in-the-back against Boris probably all contributed.

What is beyond doubt is that he has trashed his standing with most of the Conservative party to about the level of popularity he enjoys among teachers.

The new PM might well have sacked him anyway as they are not exactly best friends and she was clearly determined to stamp her authority on the new cabinet, but the catastrophic decline in his reputation made his return to the back benches all the more likely.

Of course, if this tactic were used in an election campaign, it would have been far more risky. Most voters do pay some attention to whether the candidates for their vote have a reputation for integrity and for telling the truth. Most of the leaders of both the "Remain" and "Leave" campaigns took a big hit to their net approval ratings because of the (justified) impression that both sides fell short of the level of honesty that voters were entitled to expect.

Because this new version of the "dead cat strategy" appears to have worked once, it may be that some campaigners on right or left will try a new iteration of the "false £350 million gambit" in future elections.

I don't believe it deserves to succeed and I don't believe it will. I flag it as a trick to watch out for.

Despite the polls, there won't be an Autumn election: and probably not a 2017 one either.

Because of the excellent opinion polls for the Conservatives in general and the new Prime Minister  in particular, there is some speculation among journalists about the possibility of an early election. The people who are suggesting that any such thing is likely do not understand either Theresa May or the implications of the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

There is no prospect of an Autumn 2016 election, and the only scenario in which a 2017 election is likely would be if the House of Lords were sabotaging the process of government.

Certainly this week's opinion polls look excellent for the Conservatives - IF you trust opinion polls.

Today's Ipsos MORI Poll has the Conservatives up to 45% (That's slightly more than Maggie Thatcher got in her 1983 and 1987 landslides) and eleven percentage points ahead of Labour.

Theresa May has opened up a  lead of 68% over Jeremy Corbyn in net satisfaction ratings,

and this is the really amazing result - Theresa May even has higher satisfaction ratings than Jeremy Corbyn among people who told the pollster they were Labour supporters.

So it is not surprising that some people are wondering whether the new PM might try to engineer an early election to take advantage of this. But there are several good reasons why she probably would  not want to do that even if she is in a position to try (which she might not be.)

Firstly, these are "Honeymoon" polls taken in the period when Theresa May has just taken office and has not yet had to do much more than appoint a new government and when there is no election in prospect. Mrs May will be only too well aware that, even if accurate, the polls are not guaranteed to translate into votes in a real election.

Secondly, as Martin Kettle pointed out in one of the few sensible articles on this subject in the MSM, Theresa May quite clearly ruled out the prospect of an early election when she stood for Conservative Party leader and PM. In his words,

"May is on the record as having said there would be no snap election under her leadership anyway. She said it on 30 June at the Royal United Service Institute in the speech that launched her bid to succeed Cameron. It’s there in black and white. She said it because she meant it, and in part because the markets needed to hear her say it so soon after the Brexit vote. Anyone who thinks that May is the kind of politician who says something so important without meaning it underestimates her, as many do."

Thirdly it would be both a massive risk, and entirely inappropriate, to call an election before the government has a clear policy to put before the electorate about what Brexit means in practice. That condition will not be met this year.

Forty years of British integration in Europe cannot be undone in a few weeks, whatever a minority of the more extreme Brexit supporters might think. But when voters are next asked to chose their government they are entitled to be told by the parties standing for election what exactly those parties propose Britain's relationship with Europe and the rest of the world after we have left the EU should be.

The fourth and biggest obstacle to an early election is of course the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, under which the prime minister no longer has the power to ask the monarch for a general election whenever he or she likes (which, of course, used to mean whatever date the sitting PM thought would maximise the government's chances of re-election.)

To call an early election now means one of three routes - the first is a resolution backed by two-thirds of MPs, 433 of the current 650 members. Even supposing that all 330 Tories voted for an early poll, the PM would still need Labour votes to call an election. Why on earth should Labour turkeys vote for an early Christmas if it appeared that the Conservatives would win a landslide in such an election?

The second route to an early election is for the government to propose and pass a motion of no-confidence in itself, and then prevent any other party from forming a majority government. In other countries with constitutional arrangements similar to the FTPA, governments have occasionally done things like this - the then West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl deliberately lost of motion of confidence in 1982 so he could call a new election. This was controversial at the time in Germany and I'm pretty sure doing anything of the sort would be controversial here too. (It would also require a high degree of party discipline, or you can imagine the hysterically funny scenario of the government proposing a motion of no-confidence in itself and losing.)

The third route is to amend or repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act. This would of course require the agreement of the House of Lords.

If there was a very good reason to seek a new mandate -for example, the government was running into serious obstruction in the House of Lords I can see it becoming necessary to use one of these routes, but none of them are exactly easy to implement.

So I don't believe there is any chance of an autumn 2016 election - and the chances of a 2017 election, whatever flights of fancy the media may indulge, are not high either.

Unemployment falls to 1.64 million

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), UK unemployment fell by 52,000 in the lead-up to the EU Referendum, to 1.64 million.

The figures cover the quarter from April to June.

"The labour market continued on a strong trend in the second quarter of 2016, with a new record employment rate," according to ONS statistician David Freeman.

"However, little of today's data cover the period since the result of the EU referendum became known, with only claimant count and vacancies going beyond June - to July for the former and to May-July for the latter," he added.

The jobless total is now at its lowest for eight years, while the unemployment rate is at its lowest since the summer of 2005, according to the ONS figures.

The employment rate reached a record high of 74.5%, with 31.8 million people in work in the three months to June - 172,000 more than the previous quarter.

This tells us nothing about the impact of the Brexit vote, only that the UK economy was in good shape immediately before it.

The most interesting thing about the announcement, however is the confidence limits: The ONS said it was 95% confident that the change in the unemployment total for April-to-June is somewhere between a rise of 25,000 and a fall of 129,000.

That is quite a range! Initial economic data will be often firmed up later and may be subject to change.

Another reason why neither side should be too quick to judge what the impact of Brexit has been.

Congraultations to Jason Kenny and Laura Trott

After each winning another Gold medal last night in their respective events, it is not hard to see why Laura Trott and her fiancé Jason Kenny have been described as Cycling's Golden Couple.

Five competitions between them, five gold medals won. As of Tuesday night, had the couple been a country they would have placed 13th on the medal table, above Jamaica, Kenya and Brazil.

Jason Kenny now has six Olympic golds from three Games, more than Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Bradley Wiggins. Laura Trott has won four Gold Medals in two Olympics, more than any other British woman.

More on the BBC site here.

What utterly amazing achievements from each of them.

Quote of the day 17th August 2016

From an article in The Times, supposedly in the voice of Owen Smith ...

"I decide to give Jeremy a call.

You must realise,” I tell him, “you can’t win an election.”

Except for this election,” says Jeremy, quite smugly.

I sigh. Then I tell him he should at least fight fair. He’s having these rallies, all around the country. Far more than me. So, he should let me speak at them. To broaden the debate.

Only a complete idiot,” says Jeremy, “would sacrifice an in-built electoral advantage just to broaden the debate.”

But Jeremy!” I protest, “That’s precisely what the PLP did last time with you!”

Exactly,” says Jeremy.

Fair point,” I concede."

(Hugo Rifkin, My week: Owen Smith in The Times this week)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fighting back against DA'ESH

The self-styled "Islamic State" which I prefer to describe as "DA'ESH" (for very similar reasons that  that I describe the party led by Adolf Hitler as the Nazis rather than the National Socialist German Workers Party) has been instrumental in destroying or wrecking thousands of lives and the more powerful it becomes the more lives this utterly evil group will destroy.

So I was very pleased to learn today that hate preacher Anjem Choudary has been convicted of terrorism offences for inciting support for DA'ESh - it is suggested that he may have inspired up to 500 people to join the organisation.

Many of those people will have lost their lives in battle or to airstrikes, and worse, many of them will have killed innocent people. Choudary will be sentenced in September and I hope the judge puts him behind bars for as long as the law allows.

DA'ESH is guilty of the most dreadful crimes against everyone else in the region and even their own people, but their crimes against women in general and Yazidi women in particular have been particularly odious.

Rumour has it that the men who fight for DA'ESH have the childish idea that if they are killed by a woman they will go straight to hell.

This is of course nonsense: any God who acts solely on the basis of justice would send the whole lot of them straight to hell no matter who killed them, but both Christianity and the sort of real Islam which every Muslim I have met believes in (as opposed to the travesty taught by DA'ESH) say that God is also motivated by compassion and love, and has an infinite capacity for forgiveness.

We cannot know all the circumstances which have led these men to be where they are today or know that an infinitely wise, loving and compassionate God might not offer them forgiveness - although I do not think the gender of the person who killed an individual DA'ESH fighter would be one of the criterion such a God would use in deciding whether to grant forgiveness.

Daft though the belief may be, it is something which can be used.

The Kurdish Peshmerga forces who have been some of the most effective opponents of DA'ESH on the ground have included women-only units.

Yazidi women, including some escaped former slaves who have particularly suffered at the hands of the DA'ESH barbarians have also formed a female battalion called the Sun Ladies to fight back against their abusers.

It occurs to me that the West too can use DA'ESH's primitive beliefs against them. I think there is some potential here to undermine their morale.

One of the Western weapons system which Al-Baghdadi's barbarians most fear are drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper drones deployed by both the USAF and RAF. By January 2016, RAF Reapers had flown 1,000 sorties against DA'ESH, and they fired 258 Hellfire missiles in 2015. The RAF has procedures to obtain legal and command clearance before a drone makes a lethal attack.

How difficult would it be to ensure as part of that procedure that the person who actually pushes the button to fire a Hellfire missile is a woman officer? I don't know the answer to that question, but I doubt if DA'ESH do either.

Assuming that it would sometimes be the case that a woman gives the fire order or pushes the button, it would do no harm to let this be known in the Middle East - no need to release precise details, which would never happen anyway for security reasons.

The casualty rate among DA'ESH fighters has been high and there are signs that their morale is under considerable pressure. For many the last thing they ever heard has been the sound of a Hellfire missile approaching. If they can be persuaded that those missiles have been fired by a woman and therefore, in their sick worldview, will not just kill them but deprive them of paradise,  the pressure on their morale will be even greater. If that makes them crack sooner and reduces the number of innocent people killed under Al-Baghdadi's rule, this would be an objective well worth achieving.

Congratulations to Giles Scott

Giles Scott won the gold medal in sailing's Finn class to give Great Britain their fifth successive Olympic title in the event and Team GB's seventeenth Gold of Rio 2016.
The Weymouth-based 29-year-old succeeds Sir Ben Ainslie, who won three previous titles, and emulates Iain Percy in 2000. He will now join Ainslie's 2017 America's Cup team.

"It's not sunk in yet," he told BBC Radio 5 live.
"It's so hard to describe it. You work so hard for so long for just one week in your life."

Congratulations to Giles Scott and good luck to all the other competitors competing today, especially several other British athletes who are chasing medals such as Cycling's golden couple. Laura Trott and her fiancĂ© Jason Kenny both of whom are  one race away from Gold this evening.

The rules of the points system for the Omnium race in which Laura Tross is competing are sufficiently complicated that J K Rowling tweeted

"Don't you DARE tell me Quidditch is hard to understand."

I'm sure Laura understands them and that's what matters!

Tuesday music spot: Village People - In the Navy Music Video 1978

Quote of the day 16th August 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016

Britain's Olympic advance

At the moment Britain is still number two in the Olympic Medals table behind only the USA and slightly ahead of China.

But twenty years ago we were not even in the top ten. The rise of Team GB from 31st in Atlanta in 1996 to third in London 2012  and possible even better this time has been astonishing.

Of course, the main credit for the success of all Team GB's athletes go to the competitors themselves for their years of work and effort.

But the culture of sporting success does not arise from nothing, and includes inspiration from previous sporting heroes and - let's be honest - money and resources.

Hence Paul Goodman (here) and Tim Montgomerie are right to give Sir John Major and the National Lottery some of the credit for the incredible turnaround in Britain's sporting performance.

POSTSCRIPT added 16th August

Hat tip to John Rentoul of the Independent and Janan Ganesh of the FT who have made the same point, about a classic example of a government initiative actually working, as Ganesh writes here:

Meanwhile the egregious Kevin Maguire of the Mirror attacks the lottery funding of British sport, saying

"Loving Team GB's success but hate it's funded by what's effectively a lottery tax on poorer Brits. Nothing fair about that."

Frankly the fact that the policy is coming in from that kind of pathetic attack from the intellectually-challenged left makes me more inclined to support it - nobody forced anyone to buy a lottery ticket.