Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween, Trick or Treat, and evidence that anyone can have a good idea.

Halloween means these days that we seem to have adopted an American tradition, but at least this evening we seem to have adopted it properly.

"Trick or Treat" in America is for small children, who go out in the early evening dressed up in costume, often with a parent or older sibling in the background to keep an eye on them. It is harmless and will not frighten any frail older people.

At one stage the British equivalent seemed to be teenagers in hoodies, which could be frightening in the wrong sort of way.

Well, we did get quite a few trick-or-treaters this evening, but they were mostly little kids (with someone older to look after them) who had gone to considerable trouble over their Halloween costumes.

The one problem this leaves us is that the large supply of sweets which we got in to provide for trick of treaters is an almost irresistible temptation for our own household, sabotaging both the adults' diets for the week and any attempt to persuade our children to eat sensibly.

I shall have to consider for next year a suggestion at the end of an article which was otherwise one of the silliest things I have ever read - for example - it complained that the government has not activated Section 40 (something I think the government was very wise not to do.)

Peter Wilby in the New Statesman, in an article which I otherwise had little time for, suggested keeping a supply of healthy treats to provide for trick or treaters - fruits such as apples for instance.

I think he might well have a point on that one and will have to consider it next year.

Just goes to show that people we violently disagree with on many things can also have ideas we think are very sensible. If everyone took the trouble to listen more to others, they might discover that this is true more often than we think.

Bank of England governor's term extended

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, who was appointed for a five year term with the option to extend for a further three, has announced that he will stay to 2019 e.g. extend the original five year term by one year.

Looking at his overall performance Carney is generally seen by the markets as a successful governor: there had been some speculation in the press, ranging from the foolish to the utterly idiotic (e.g. a joke that Jacob Rees Mogg MP might be given the job was taken seriously in some journalistic quarters - as if the government would want another by-election!) that he might be encouraged to go early but this would really not have been a good idea.

This speculation appears to have come from that part of the Brexit supporting spectrum who imagine that a 52% to 48% victory in the referendum gives them some kind of mandate to drive out of senior public office anyone who has said something they disagree with.

That is really not a good idea. The headbangers on both sides need to come to terms with the fact that the Leave side won, and therefore Britain will quit the EU, but they did not get the sort of victory which would give them a mandate to purge those who were on the other side unless they are actively trying to sabotage the result, which Mark Carney is not.

Alf Williams RIP

Earlier today I attended the funeral of Alfred Williams, a stalwart of the Kells community in Whitehaven, who has died at the age of 74.

Alf was a true gentleman in the modern sense, a polite and courteous man who always thought of others, and was great fun to be with.

He worked at Sellafield for many years, was very involved in raising money for Mayfield School, and was a stalwart supporter of the Rugby team at Kells who formed up to give him a guard of honour as his coffin was taken into and out of the church. He was also a keen golfer, an active freemason, and very involved in a whole range of charitable activities.

His funeral at St Peters' church, Kells was very well attended indeed with dozens of people having to stand, which I think says something about how popular he was with everyone who knew him and how much he will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

Diwali 2016: Theresa May's message

Prime Minister Theresa May's message to mark Diwali.

"I am delighted to send my very best wishes to everyone celebrating Diwali, a festival which holds such significance for so many people.

Indeed, right across the world, lights decorate the streets, flowers adorn homes, treats are served and presents exchanged – all marking the triumph of light over darkness.

But the festival of lights isn’t just relevant for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. It is relevant to all of us, those of all faiths and none. We can all learn from the example set by Lord Rama, whose return from exile is marked by these 5 holy days.

That epic story teaches us about building strong families and communities, shunning wrongdoing and evil, and choosing the right path. It promotes the values of service, responsibility, unity and tolerance.

We need those values more than ever as we build a country that works for everyone – a country where no matter what your faith, your beliefs or your background, you can reach your full potential.

In Britain’s Indian communities, we can see the good that can be done when people’s talents are unleashed.

I think of all those running their own businesses, taking risks and working hard so that they can provide for their families and take on staff.

I think of all those public servants whose hard work and dedication makes our hospitals, schools, police forces and armed forces what they are today.

I think of the volunteers who give up their own time to look after elderly neighbours or help provide food for families who are less well off. These people are the backbone of our communities.

And I will be so proud to highlight the achievements of British Indians next month when I make my first official visit to India as Prime Minister at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, celebrating the relations between our countries and our shared ambitions for the future.

As we start the Hindu New Year, it is an occasion for people to reflect on the 12 months that have passed and look to the opportunities ahead.

So as friends and families come together, in reflection and celebration, let me wish you all a Shubh Deepawali, and send my good wishes to Sikhs celebrating Bandi Chhor Diwas too."

Quote of the day 31st October 2016

"Some Brexiteers flush with victory seem to have forgotten that undermining a Governor of the Bank of England is the markets equivalent of playing with matches in a petrol station."

"They’re loudly unhappy with the Chancellor of the Exchequer too. This combo – trashing the Governor of the BoE and the Chancellor simultaneously – is completely and utterly nuts."

"The situation got so out of hand that what can only have been a (poor) joke in a recent column suggesting Jacob Rees-Mogg as successor to Carney was recycled as a serious runner. It is not. Really, it is not."

"We’re in ravens at the Tower of London territory here with Carney and Hammond. What they symbolise via the authority of their respective offices is stability, relative calm and continuity. Perception and confidence matters, a lot."

(Iain Martin, an intelligent Brexit supporter, responds here in a very well written article at Reactions to the attempt by some journalists and politicians to undermine the Bank of England Governor.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A trip to St Bees

My wife and  enjoyed a trip to St Bees beach this afternoon, and shared a walk along the sand followed by refreshments at the café. I have lived here twelve years now and I never cease to be amazed at how beautiful Cumbria is.

Canadian Trade Deal signed

I am very pleased to see that the comprehensive trade deal between Canada and the EU which I wrote about recently has now been signed.

UKIP in their own words

"a rabble of no-name, no-talent nobodies" ...

"These people would be out of their depth in a paddling pool, and couldn’t be more unfit to run a modern political party."

(Arron Banks, UKIP donor, on most of the candidates who stood for the UKIP party leadership in the first election this year, in a Guardian article called "UKIP is being run by circus clowns.")

"a motley collection of amateurs; leftovers from a bygone age, when UKIP was a ragtag band of volunteers on the fringes of British politics."

Watching them try to run UKIP is "like watching a team of circus clowns trying to carry out a pit stop at the Silverstone Grand Prix."

(Arron Banks was equally scathing about UKIP's National Executive Committee in the same article.)

"opportunist carpetbaggers" ...

leaders of a cabal which "would utterly destroy UKIP"

(Arron Banks wasn't too flattering about UKIP's one MP Douglas Carswell or leadership candidate Suzanne Evans either, in the same article.)

"We've taken a lot of stick in UKIP because perhaps we have had a slightly more toxic image than we should have had."

(Leadership candidate Suzanne Evans on UKIP's problems as reported here: she also said she "absolutely" thought her leadership rival Raheem Kassam would take UKIP in a far-right direction )

"UKIP needs to come together. At the moment it is looking over the edge of a political cliff and it will either step off or step back. I want to be the candidate who will tell us to come backwards."

(UKIP Leadership candidate Paul Nuttall MEP launching his campaign, source here.)

"riddled with infighting, proxy wars between rival camps and is run by an NEC that is not fit for purpose".

"UKIP is ungovernable."

Former UKIP parliamentarian Steven Woolfe MEP describing UKIP and explaining why he resigned.

"They're basically trying to put Nigel Farage's life on the line."

"Suzanne Evans is the biggest liar I have ever met in my life"

"She's a nasty, nasty human being."

(Some of the accusations Raheem Kassam made against his leadership rivals Paul Nuttall MEP and Suzanne Evans in today's Sunday Times.)

Not one of the above quotes comes from the Remain camp, the Conservatives or any of UKIP's other political opponents. Every one of them is something which has been said or written in the last few weeks about leading figures in UKIP by other leading figures in UKIP. In Steven Wolfe's case I have quoted what he said at the time of his resignation, the other people quoted and described are all still prominent members of UKIP.

Sunday music spot for All Saint's day: Holy is the True Light

The words of this short anthem by William Harris seem particularly appropriate for All Saints' day, which the Christian church celebrates today to remember all the saints.

(Tomorrow is All Soul's day when we remember all the departed, though there is an All Soul's service at St James' church Whitehaven at 4pm this afternoon.)

Sunday reflection spot Hebrews 1, 12.

At St James' Church, Whitehaven this morning the Revd. Robert Jackson used one of my favourite passages from Scripture, the opening words of Chapter 12 of the letter of Paul to the Hebrews.

I have previously told a story about this verse, which I make no apology for repeating:

"I can resist anything except temptation" (Oscar Wilde)

A group of clergy were discussing which biblical quotations were the greatest help to them in avoiding sin. A fiery young deacon, just out of his theological college, quoted Romans 6, Verse 23:

"For sin pays a wage, and that wage is Death, but God gives freely, and his gift is eternal life, in union with Jesus Christ our Lord."

A recently ordained lady curate, while accepting that the passage from Romans reminds us of something very important, preferred passages which concentrated more on the infinite love and compassion of God, and cited John, Chapter 14, verse 15:

"If you love me, you will obey my commands, and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another comforter, who will be with you for ever - the spirit of truth."

An elderly canon, who had been listening in silence, congratulated the previous speakers on being able to quote such beautiful and high-minded passages as a way to avoid sin.

"But for me," he said, "The words which are of most use in resisting temptation come from Chapter 12 Verse 1 of the letter of Paul to the Hebrews:

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses ...."

Quote of the day 30th October 2016

The quote below is usually attributed to Keynes though there is no proof he actually said it.

There is, however, proof that another distinguished economist, Paul Samuelson, who was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in economics actually said something very similar on Television in 1970 and 1978 - and on the second occasion Samuelson attributed the remark to Keynes.

Whether it's really Keynes who first said this or not, it is highly relevant to a discussion I had with friends on Facebook this week, so here is the quote:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The nonsense from both sides continues even after the EU referendum

During the EU referendum campaign I posted a whole series of posts about how too many people on both sides were publishing vast quantities of utter nonsense.

There were honourable exceptions on both sides, but the amount of nonsense written and spoken during the referendum made it one of the most depressing campaigns I've witnessed in my entire life.

I am not sure whether it was more depressing that in many cases people genuinely appeared to believe the rubbish they were spouting, (which is why I have tried to avoid using the word "lie" to describe it) or that others seemed to be cynically manipulating and misrepresenting the facts.

As, for example with the utterly misleading suggestion - and "misleading" is a very kind word, but it was the word used by Andrew Dilnot, the UK statistics boss responsible for the Office for National Statistics who the Leave campaign claimed to be quoting, so we will stick with it - that £350 million a week could be made available for the NHS if Britain voted leave.

And the nonsense still continues.

For example, here is an attack by the Mail on Bank of England Governor Mark Carney because, according to the headline, "his 'Project Fear; predictions were repeatedly proven wrong."

What wrong predictions were those? Well, there is a clip on the website version called

"Mark Carney warns back in May that Brexit could see pound fall sharply."

Oh, wait ...

The actual text of the article says that many of his other predictions "are yet to materialise"

Well of course not - many of them related to things which might happen after Britain actually leaves, and we have not even triggered article 50 yet.

The article also attacks Mark Carney for the measures he took after the vote: it's my personal opinion that those measures were one of the reasons the economy is still going strong and we did not have a "Brexit Recession" after the initial shock of the referendum result.

Another example of overstated panglossian tripe about Brexit is

this article in the express which suggests the economy is "soaring"

when actually the economy has "soared" to growth of 0.5% in the three months after the vote from 0.7% in the three months before the referendum.

Of course, the fact that growth is down, but higher than was expected following the vote has been easy for people to spin whichever way they wanted it to.

Actually, growth of 0.5% in the quarter since the referendum looks pretty reasonable, and does show that the economy is currently strong and resilient and certainly hasn't gone into a recession yet - but those figures provide neither the evidence for Brexit being a great success that some Leave supporters are prematurely trying to claim nor the justification for doom and gloom which is coming from some on the other side.

The same article claims that  "manufacturing has received a big boost from the fall in the pound, which means that British-made products are now much more competitive on world markets."

Oh Foxtrot Foxtrot Sierra. Those British manufacturers whose sales include a higher proportion of exports than the proportion of their costbase which is based on imported supplies or materials will find it easier to export for that reason.

However, those manufacturers who do depend to any significant degree on imported parts or materials, especially if their sales are oriented more towards domestic markets than exports, will have been clobbered by the increase in their costs caused by the fall in the pound.

Any so-called journalist on either side of the debate who gives one side - whichever it is - of that equation without the other does not understand the first thing about economics or is deliberately giving a one-sided picture.

And there is plenty of equally silly premature doom-mongering from the remain side.

The Guardian and Independent newspaper and websites are particularly full of such articles but they can be found in many other places.

It was once suggested that

"Forecasting is the art of saying what will happen, and then explaining why it didn't!"

Some of those who predicted a severe slowdown immediately after any vote to leave, never mind after Britain actually does leave, such as a Politico article,

"Why Brexit hasn't destroyed the British economy (yet)"

have noticed the embarrassing failure of the facts to live up to their predictions but suggested

"What economists appeared to have gotten wrong is the timing of a Brexit-induced slowdown."

which they are now suggesting will happen next year.

An article by Chris Bryant (not the MP), "Brexit's economic windfall is a delusion" falls into the same trap.

I'm really not impressed by this. Anyone who predicts a recession year after year will eventually be right, but only in the sense that a broken watch is right twice a day.

If there was or is going to be a Brexit recession, it would have taken place this year or will take place after we actually leave. If there is a recession in 2017 it is likely to have other causes than Brexit.

Amid all the doom and gloom on the Independent site, there is one very sensible article,

"Forget the Brexit statistics: it's still too soon to know what leaving the EU will do to the economy."

Too right!

For reference, here is a full set of links to the articles in which I pointed out some of the most egregious instances of false statements by both sides during the EU referendum campaign. Every one of these posts sought to correct errors from both sides.

The wrong reasons to vote leave or remain

The worst of both worlds

The worst of both worlds part 2

The worst of both worlds 3: a puerile barrage of dodgy statistics

The worst of both worlds 4: cognitive dissonance

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

The worst of both worlds 6: jumping the gun

The worst of both worlds 7: no need for insults

The worst of both worlds 8

Worst of both worlds 9: Juncker and Vote Leave lose the plot again

Worst of both worlds 10

Worst of both worlds 11

Worst of both worlds 12

Comeback of the day

On the subject of Labour leaders killing people.

Yesterday's "comeback of the week" referred to responses to an article on how Jeremy Corbyn could become PM, in which various people had tweeted things like "kill everyone else on earth?"

Today Tony Blair tweeted that

"We need real solutions which provide real change not fake fantasies which make enemies out of neighbours."

The response from @Shy_Society was

"Well you should know all about fake fantasies eh, Tone, given you took our country to war based on one ..."

Clocks go back tonight in Britain

Don't forget that we get an extra hour tonight in the UK as the time changes from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time and therefore the clocks go back an hour at 3am.

Saturday music spot: "You raise me up" (sung by Aled Jones)

Quote of the day 29th October 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

Work starts on Royal Navy's new Dreadnought submarine fleet

Great news for Barrow, Cumbria and Britain as Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announces that work has started on the new Dreadnought submarine fleet with a £1.3 billion investment.

The money will also be spent furthering the design of the submarine, purchasing materials and long lead items, and investing in facilities at the BAE Systems yard in Barrow-in-Furness where the submarines will be built.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

“Britain’s ballistic missile submarines are the ultimate guarantee of our nation’s safety – we use them every day to deter the most extreme threats.

We cannot know what new dangers we might face in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s so we are acting now to replace them.

Along with increasing the defence budget to buy new ships, planes and armoured vehicles, this shows that this Government will never gamble with our national security.

The investment will support delivery of the manifesto commitment on which this Government was elected, to retain the Trident-based continuous at sea deterrent – the ultimate guarantee of our safety –and build the new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile submarines: securing thousands of highly skilled jobs in the UK.

That commitment was underlined in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and supported decisively by an overwhelming majority in Parliament on 18 July 2016, sending a strong message to the hundreds of companies involved in the submarine supply chain that they – and their tens of thousands of employees across the country – can keep planning for the future.”

This Trident Submarine is a Nuclear powered vessel contributing to NATO's nuclear deterrent. It is an advanced, high speed, long endurance underwater sub. These displace over 16 thousand tonnes and offer spacious accommodation on three decks. These carry

Tony Johns, Managing Director of BAE Systems Submarines told the UK defence journal:

“This additional financial investment by the MOD is an expression of confidence in our ability to build these sophisticated vessels.

We have been designing the new class of submarine for more than five years and thanks to the maturity of our design, we’re now in a position to start production on the date we set back in 2011. This is a terrific achievement and I pay tribute to all those who have made this possible.”

The Successor programme already employs more than 2,600 people across MOD and industry, including 1,800 at BAE Systems.

Thousands more will be employed in the supply chain with an average of 7,800 people expected to be working on Successor each year throughout the duration of the programme.

At peak, in the early 2020s, BAE Systems anticipates employing more than 5,000 people on the Successor programme.

More details at the UK defence journal site here.

October's local election results

Indebted to Political Betting for the following roundup of council by-elections:

Last night the Conservatives and Labour both held seats they were defending and an Independent seat stayed Independent (not sure it counts as a hold when one Independent councillor replaces another.)

But the pattern of those seats which did change hands in October is interesting ...


SNP GAIN Garscadden and Scotstounhill on Glasgow from Labour
UKIP GAIN Headland and Harbour on Hartlepool from Labour
Liberal Democrats GAIN Culloden and Ardersier on Highland from Labour
Local Residents GAIN Limpsfield on Tandridge from Conservative
Labour GAIN Witham North on Braintree from Conservative
Independent GAIN Abergele, Pensarn on Conwy from Labour
Liberal Democrats GAIN St. Mary’s on the East Riding of Yorkshire from Conservative
Conservatives GAIN Rothwell on Kettering from Labour
Independent GAIN Heacham on King’s Lynn and West Norfolk from Conservative
Conservatives GAIN Strood South on Medway from UKIP
Plaid GAIN Blaengwrach on Neath and Port Talbot from Labour

Spot the pattern here?

Good for non-party candidates who took seats from the Conservatives and Labour (Net gain three seats).

Good for the Lib/Dems who took one seat from the Conservatives and one from Labour, and for the SNP who took a seat from Labour

Mixed for UKIP who took a seat from Labour while losing one to the Conservatives, net change zero.

Slightly disappointing for the Conservatives who took a seat from UKIP while swapping seats with Labour, but lost seats to the Lib/Dems and non-party candidates, net loss two seats.

Very disappointing for Labour who lost seats to the SNP, UKIP, Lib/Dems, Conservatives, Plaid and Independent candidates, getting just one back, a net loss of five seats and, perhaps more significantly, Labour lost a council seat last month to every one of the main opposing parties and to an Independent.

The electorate in those wards has sent a warning shot in front of the bows of both the main political parties: this picture gives the Conservatives good reason not to get complacent, but it should be a serious warning to a Labour leadership which had any sense.

Of course, council by-elections are not a great guide to general election performance but it is more usual for the main opposition party to be winning seats from all the others than for them to be losing seats to all the others.

Global Warming - or a new "Little Ice Age"

There is evidence that our sun goes through a cycle measured in centuries in which the amount of heat and light it gives off varies slightly, as a result there have been colder centuries which are sometimes known as "little ice ages" and it was during the last such period, in Georgian times, that London could hold "frost fairs" on the river Thames which had frozen over in winter.

The mid 20th-century was one of the periods when the sun gave off more heat and light, making that period much warmer than the previous two centuries, and I recall that during my childhood there were scientific predictions that this phase would come to an end within a century causing the climate to become significantly colder.

Latterly, of course, we have had the opposite fear, that the increase in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere would lead to global warming.

The great majority of scientists believe that man-made global warming is taking place as a result of human emission of carbon compounds into the atmosphere. It is not just an issue of warming: and even if you don't accept the case that the earth is getting warmer there is evidence that the rising amount of carbon in the atmosphere is causing considerable harm to our environment in other ways, such as making the seas more acid, which if it continues will devastate marine life, destroying fisheries and killing the algae which make a large part of the world's oxygen.

However, there is another view, not just among cranks but among some scientists.

I see that one learned professor has published a paper which rejoices in the title of

"The New Little Ice Age Has Started"

This argues that the sun has started another phase when it produces less heat and light and the amount of both we get from the sun has been dropping sine 1990. It is suggesting that the planet will enter a phase of "deep cooling" at the middle of this century - my grandchildren may live to see "Frost Fairs" again if the author is right.

It turns out that it is chapter seventeen of a collection of papers called

"Evidence-Based Climate Science (Second Edition)
Data Opposing CO2 Emissions as the Primary Source of Global Warming"


which as the sub-title suggests is written by scientists who don't regard man-made CO2 emissions as the main source of climate change. The editor is a Professor Don Easterbrook.

I am still keeping an open mind on this. The evidence for majority view among scientists sounds pretty convincing to my non-expert brain and certainly strong enough that on the precautionary principle we ought to restrict carbon emissions.

However, it is always a good idea to listen to both sides of the argument. Our earth's ecosystem is a fantastically complex thing and the one thing we can be certain about is that neither side of the global warming argument understands it as well as they would like to. Both sides may have insights which are valuable.

Comeback of the week

The Independent has an article with the title

"There's one thing Jeremy Corbyn could do that would make him the next Prime Minister."

Gareth Soye and several other people tweeted back with variants of

"Kill everyone else on Earth?"

Quote of the day 28th October 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Growth down slighly, but above expectations, in the three months after the Brexit vote.

Good news for all sides of the argument in the latest ONS figures for UK economic growth.

For sensible people who are more interested in the success of the UK than scoring political points, it is good news that the economy expanded by 0.5% in the July-to-September period, according to the Office for National Statistics.

As chancellor Philip Hammond observed,

"The fundamentals of the UK economy are strong and today's data show that the economy is resilient."

The Office for National Statistics says that "the pattern of growth continues to be broadly unaffected following the EU referendum".

Good news also, however, unfortunately, for headbangers on both sides of the Brexit debate for whom the facts are only important insofar as they can be twisted to show that their own side was right all along and everything the other side said during the referendum campaign was rubbish.

For the Remainers, economic grown has dropped from 0.7% in the three months prior to the Brexit vote to 0.5% in the three months after it, and the pattern of growth was a rather unbalanced one: the one sector of the economy which delivered that growth was the service sector, which was up by 0.8%, while agriculture, manufacturing production and construction all shrank.

They were also quick to argue that they had warned about potential damage over a period of several years, that only prompt action by the Bank of England saved deeper damage to the economy and that worse is to come.

For the Brexiteers, the good news is that the drop in growth was nothing like as much as feared and consequently growth over the last month was significantly better than had been predicted (0.5% instead of 0.3%)

The truth is that it is way too early to say what the long-term effects of Brexit on the economy will be - the UK has not left the EU yet and the terms on which we do will be very significant.

The one thing we can say is that the British economy is indeed, as the chancellor says, resilient and most aspects of the economy are still doing reasonably well. That might change in either direction.

As mentioned above, the economy was boosted by a particularly strong performance from the services sector, which grew by 0.8% in the quarter. Transport, storage and communication was the strongest part of the service sector, growing by 2.2%. That was the fastest pace since 2009 and was helped by a healthy quarter for the UK's film industry. The latest films in the Jason Bourne and Star Trek franchises were released in July along with other popular productions, lifting takings at box offices.

While growth in the services sector was robust, the construction sector contracted by 1.4% and industrial production fell 0.4%, with manufacturing output down 1%.

"In manufacturing, the contraction in output should be attributed to some unwinding of the massive growth spike seen in the second quarter, rather than industry scaling back production for any referendum related reasons," said Lee Hopley, chief economist at the EEF, the manufacturers' organisation.

"In line with the raft of survey data the GDP estimates confirm that it has been more or less business as usual but it doesn't tell us, however, if this will continue for the foreseeable future."


More details here.

News Thump on the vandalism of Donald Trump's "walk of fame" star

The News Thump satirical website has an interesting take on the vandalism of Donald Trump's Hollywood walk of fame star.

They have suggested that the real motive behind this was to take Trump down to six horcruxes and the next step is to stab a copy of "The Art of the Deal" with a basilisk's tooth, if anyone knows where in the real world one might find such a thing.

The article concludes by saying that

"when Trump handed his jacket to his spokesman to hold, the spokesman criedDobby’s Free!’, and vanished."

I think someone has been reading a little too much Harry Potter ...

Canada Trade deal back on - progress on issues with Belgian regions ...

It appears that CETA, the trade deal between the EU and Canada, may have been rescued: the BBC is reporting  here that the Belgian PM says an agreement has been reached with the six regional parliaments including those which were blocking the deal and therefore the agreement can be signed next week.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that an agreement" was found after the latest round of negotiations with Belgium's French-speaking communities who had been holding up the deal.

A signing ceremony on Thursday was cancelled after the region of Wallonia vetoed the agreement.

A Belgian deal would still have to be approved by the other 27 EU members. Under Belgium's federal system, the national government cannot sign the deal unless all six regional parliaments approve it.
French-speaking Wallonia, a staunchly socialist region of 3.6 million people, had been leading objections to the deal, demanding stronger safeguards on labour, environmental and consumer standards. However, after the latest round of marathon talks, Mr Michel tweeted:

"All parliaments are now able to approve by tomorrow at midnight. Important step for EU and Canada."

He said regional politicians agreed a revised text that would allay "outstanding concerns" but gave no details. The deal was welcomed by the head of the Wallonian government, Paul Magnette.

Delivering an economy that works for everyone

Quote of the day 27th October 2016

"I want to deliver the will of the British people while the Leader of the Labour party wants to frustrate it."

(Theresa May at Prime Minister's Question Time)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Boris Johnson pinches his new Special Advisor from Nicola Sturgeon

In one of the more interesting turnarounds of the last past week, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has recruited as his new Special Advisor, David Frost someone who was previously advising the Scottish government about BREXIT.

Mr Frost said at the time Ms Sturgeon set up the Standing Council on Europe that it is important to "bring clarity to the transition to Brexit as soon as possible" and that the UK government should work to "ensure the current open trading environment is not affected."

ONS says that earnings are rising fastest for the low-paid

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that over year to April 2016 earnings have risen fastest among the lowest paid, apparently due to the introduction of higher minimum wage levels.

Wages rose by 6.2% for the lowest paid UK workers, above the national average, thereby reducing wage inequality between April 2015 and early April 2016, the figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate.

The pay gap between men and women has also shrunk slightly, it said.

Pay overall rose at its joint highest rate since the financial crisis, driven by wage rises in the private sector. Weekly earnings for full-time workers were 2.2% higher in April from a year earlier, or by 1.9% after inflation.
Despite the increases, the Resolution Foundation think tank points out that typical earnings still remain 6.8% below pre-financial crisis levels. The median average full-time worker was paid £539 a week - or £28,028 a year - before tax in April 2016.

In a sign of the growing "gig" economy - in which workers have a more flexible, short-term, sporadic work pattern - part-time earnings were up by 6.6%.

Generally, a worker in the highest paid 5% of employees saw a 2.5% rise in earnings in the year to April, but it was the lowest paid who have seen the fastest increase.

The National Living Wage (NLW) came into force on 1 April, requiring employers to pay workers aged 25 and over at least £7.20 an hour. This led to an immediate pay rise for 1.8 million workers.

Workers aged 21 to 24 have been paid the National Minimum Wage of £6.95 an hour since 1 October. Previously it was £6.70 an hour.

Hourly earnings, excluding overtime, for full-time jobs among the lowest-paid increased by 5.9% from £6.86 to £7.26 between 2015 and 2016.

Another example of why I called for a moratorium on Nazi comparisons

Here is a classic example of a talented speaker abusing his abilities in a way which discredits both Britain and the arguments which he is making.

It also illustrates the point I made a few days ago when I appealed to people of all parties to hold off on comparing anyone they disagree with to Hitler and the Nazis.

A few years ago I and my Conservative colleagues in Copeland said, as you can read in a letter to the Whitehaven News from our then chairman here, that it was inappropriate for the Labour MP for Copeland to compare David Cameron to Nazi collaborator and traitor Vidkun Quisling.

It was equally wrong for Nigel Farage to compare Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to Quisling in this speech in the European parliament, for exactly the same reasons.

Farage was rightly picked up by the chair for doing this just as Jamie Reed was asked to withdraw his similar comparison by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. As you can see in the clip below, he declined to apologise and tried to justify the comparison.

It takes courage to admit you have got something wrong and apologise. For me the lowest point in the referendum campaign was when Michael Gove compared Nobel Prize winning economists with Nazi collaborators, but I will say this for him - when Gove made an utterly inappropriate Nazi comparison, at least he had the guts to retract it and apologise. That makes him a bigger man than Nigel Farage.

The post-satire era - more true words spoken in jest?

There seem to be more and more posts on "spoof" news websites like the Boris Johnson one referred to in the previous post which have far too much truth in them.

Others have titles like "Paul Nuttall is not leadership material even for UKIP" and Battle of Hastings latest: you lost, get over it, Normans tell Anglo-Saxons" (That one finishes with a Norman saying "It's time to accept the result and shut up about it, I doubt people will still be moaning about Brexit in a thousand years" and getting the reply "Oh yes we will."),

And in amongst them is one called World enters post-satire era from News Thump which is way, way too close to the truth for comfort.

Lines from this include

"The world has entered a new era where it has become impossible to distinguish between satire and reality."

“If a merry online japester makes up something utterly outrageous and unbelievable about, say, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin the odds are now 50/50 that it will come true within 48 hours."

“We can trace this to what we call the Corbyn/Farage event, when reality stopped being something you interact with and became something you stared at in silent, despairing disbelief wondering if it’s all some kind of horrid joke."

The piece concludes with something which actually is, so far, a joke, adding that the UN has appealed to writers of internet jokes not to run any gags about World War III.

Though one is beginning to wonder ...

Many a True Word is spoken in jest

I heard a people talking in the post office yesterday about the fact that Boris has threatened to lie down in front of the bulldozers at Heathrow and suggesting that this was a positive reason to support the third runway.

The article, "Tickets to watch Boris Johnson lie down in front of Heathrow bulldozers sell out in seconds"  on the News Thump site may be an example of  a true word spoken in jest ...

Quote of the day 26th October 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The "Ed Stone" comes back to bite Labour again

You'd think even the Labour party would not forget something as obvious as an eight foot block of granite when submitting their election expenses returns, but apparently not ...
Labour has been fined £20,000 by the Electoral Commission for failing to declare all of its general election expenses - including the stone tablet unveiled during the campaign, the 8 foot so-called .
"Ed Stone", carved with ex-leader Ed Miliband's key pledges.

The commission's investigation was prompted by calls from journalists asking why Labour's 2015 general election return, published in January, did not include the stone carving, which was widely mocked after being unveiled. It turned out that failing to declare  two payments totalling £7,614 relating to the tablet was not the only mistake in Labour's election expenses return. These two payments were  among £123,748 of payments missing from Labour's 2015 election return.

A further 33 receipts, worth £34,392, were missing, the commission said.

The £20,000 is the highest fine it has imposed since it was formed in 2001.


Operation "Nelly the Elephant" continues (goodbye to "The Jungle!")

French officials say that the clearance of the unofficial refugee camp known as "The Jungle"  continues on schedule and will be complete by Friday.

(If the operation has a title it really should be "Operation Nelly the Elephant." after the expression "Goodbye to the Jungle" in that song.)

I hope the people dismantling the camp can make sure that any unaccompanied child refugees - and I mean real children, not me posing as children - in the "Jungle" are treated with compassion. As such children were already greatly at risk as long as the camp was in existence and they were in it, I don't believe that taking action to close it was necessarily heartless or wrong.

However, we should not assume that everything will go smoothly. The French authorities admit that they think 200 people will try to stay. I hope their contingency plans if the number proves larger than that are robust.

Heathrow expansion

There is no ideal solution to the question of airport capacity in the UK.

Even much smaller airports than Heathrow and Gatwick, such as Luton, put enormous pressure on the local road and rail network - as I know because the impact of Luton Airport was an extremely sensitive issue when I was a St Albans councillor.

Both Heathrow and Gatwick already contribute to serious congestion on the M25 and on local rail services.

So it is not surprising that the government proposal today to expand Heathrow was controversial.

However, I don't think we can put our heads in the sand and pretend that the number of runways which was adequate for the South East of England 75 years ago will still be adequate a hundred years later in 2041 (It is 75 years since we built a new runway in that part of the country.)

I am attracted to the "Boris Island" concept for a new airport in the Thames Estuary but unfortunately am not convinced that it is either practical of affordable.

Britain needs to make a decision and the route the government is following - publishing a firm proposal for a new runway today, allowing a year for consultation and debate, then putting it to a parliamentary vote - seems to me to be  both a sensible and a democratic procedure.

I am generally in favour of the principle of collective government responsibility, which I think needs to apply most of the time on most subjects, but I think Theresa May has shown strength rather than weakness in allowing Boris Johnson and Justine Greening a partial exception on this issue.

Zac Goldsmith has honoured his long-standing promise to trigger a by-election if a Conservative government proposed a third runway at Heathrow. This is one of a number of areas where I disagree with him, but I respect Zac for sticking to his principles and his promise.

Let everyone on all sides of the argument put their cases forward and then let parliament decide.

Quote of the day 24th October 2016

"Freed of the brake that Britain put on developments, old integrationist aims have been dusted down.  The core of an EU army has been put forward.  New proposals on Europe-wide insolvency protection measures are being proposed.  The European Commission has sanctioned Apple, and Ireland, for their tax arrangements.  Ten countries are pressing ahead with a financial transaction tax.  Less Europe has so far found no takers.

In Britain the different camps have read into this what they want to see. 

Leavers see this as proof that the EU was always going to integrate further and faster and that Remain’s lies to the contrary have been exposed. 

Remainers see this as proof that without Britain’s influence the EU will develop in a way that is harmful to Britain (and to the EU’s own interests).  Take your pick. 

Both can be true, of course."

(Alistair Meeks, article about current EU attitudes to Britain following the Brexit vote on the Political Betting site.)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Goodbye to the Jungle?

The existence of the "Jungle" migrant camp outside Calais is not in anyone's interests.

It is not in the interests of the refugees who are there because conditions are terrible.

It is not in the interests of the people of France because the camp has created a serious public order problem.

It is not in the interests of the people of Britain because some - not necessarily all - of the residents of the camp and the "people-smuggler" gangsters who are exploiting them have been using violence and intimidation to try to blackmail tourists and truckers to get them into Britain.

It is not in the interests of refugees still in the middle east because the existence of the camp may tempt them to attempt dangerous and illegal routes to try to gain entry to Britain - which are probably not those most likely to be successful.

So I hope the attempt to disperse the camp this week is successful. But I am not holding my breath.

Britain, while spending more on providing food, shelter and medical care in the Middle East than the rest of the EU put together, had made clear that where we took our share of refugees from the area we would do so directly from the refugee camps in the middle east and on the basis of need. I am convinced that this was the right policy to make sure that we discouraged people from giving their life savings to "people smuggler" gangsters and risking their lives.

It was entirely predictable that after Britain was persuaded to take some child refugees from the "Jungle" camp by comparisons to the Kindertransport which rescued children from the Holocaust, there would be  outrage when photographs of adult males appeared in newspapers with the suggestion that they had managed to get into Britain by abusing this act of charity.

It would probably be sensible to refrain from jumping to the conclusion that everything we read in the papers about this is true.

There are no easy answers. Let's not demonise people who have different views about how to find a compassionate and practical way to resolve this which our country can accept.

Press freedom: government "to examine more options"

Following my blog post yesterday urging the government not to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 it appears that they are still considering the issue and are not falling into the trap of automatic activation of the measure as soon as they are asked to do so.

Ultimately I would like to see the idea of activating this section of the law abandoned, but I am pleased that the government is not making a Gadarene dash to implement it.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has insisted she will not be rushed into activating regulations which could see newspapers face "exemplary" damages if they are sued for libel unless they sign up to a state-backed system of press regulation.

The Press Recognition Panel (PRP) - which was established in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards - is due to rule on Tuesday whether to recognise Impress, a new regulator set up by Hacked Off campaigner Max Mosley.

If it does, Ms Bradley will have to consider whether to activate Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would mean that any newspaper that refused to sign up to the new regulator could have to pay the legal fees of a complainant who sued them for libel, even if the paper won the case.

The threat of that action has concerned many newspapers who have overwhelmingly rejected the idea of any form of state regulation, warning that it would be a threat to press freedom.

Appearing before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Ms Bradley acknowledged that the majority of newspapers were not prepared to consider applying for recognition under the PRP, which was established by a royal charter.

While she said she had not ruled out activating Section 40 at some point in the future, she wanted to consider the options for achieving "appropriate levels of robust regulation... outside the PRP".

She told MPs that there were fears among local newspapers in particular that they could be forced out of business if the Government took an overly "ideological" approach to the issue.

"In 2013 when we debated and passed the Act it was a different situation. We expected and hoped that the press would join regulators that applied for recognition under the PRP. That simply has not happened," she said.

"I could do an ideological position on this but the implications of being ideological on this may be that we see a vibrant free local press being affected.

"It has been put to me very clearly by a number of editors of local newspapers that the exemplary damages section of Section 40 could see them being put out of business and certainly would impact on their ability to do investigative journalism.

"I want to consider those representations, consider them very carefully, and then make a determination. I am reserving judgment at this stage until I have had a chance to consider all the options."

Quote of the day 24th October 2016

"Artificial Intelligence could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation. It could also be the last."

(Professor Stephen Hawking)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Don't activate Section 40

There are a lot of contenders for the description of the most ridiculous or unjust act put on the statute book in the last fifty years.

Some would nominate Section 28: others might nominate Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which until it was repealed in 2013 made it a criminal offence to insult somebody. The ban on Beef on the Bone and the Dangerous Dogs act would probably also get a mention.

One of the daftest has not - yet - been implemented but there is a possibility that ministers might shortly be asked to activate it. They should refuse.

Ironically the very same bill which removed one ridiculous law included another one.

Section 57 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 scrapped the law that meant that it could be a criminal offence to insult someone.

Unfortunately Section 40 of the same act has a serious claim to be one of the most unjust and one-sided laws ever passed.

The Leveson Inquiry into the activities of the Press, and the Phone Hacking trials, demonstrated that there were some serious problems in the way certain journalists were behaving and that some of them had an unhealthy relationship with the police. So it is not surprising that "Hacked Off" and others wanted action.

However, it is important for the workings of British democracy that action does not become over-reaction. Let's not forget that the pre-Leveson law was quite strong enough to bring those accused of the worst abuses exposed by the inquiry before a court, including some of the most powerful people in Britain, and to obtain convictions, and some very rich and powerful people went to jail.

Because of the message sent by those convictions it is much less likely that the worst excesses exposed by the Leveson Inquiry would happen again today, and if they did it is far from obvious that draconian new press laws are needed to deal with them.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is an example of such a draconian law. I very much doubt that it was ever intended to actually be used: it is on the statute book as a threat to newspapers designed to ensure their good behaviour and to blackmail them into signing up to a supposedly "voluntary" regulatory regime. It does not come into effect until the government activates it and in my opinion one of David Cameron's wiser decisions was that he never did activate it.

One of the things which section 40 says is that if you don't like something written about you in a newspaper, and you sue them, they have to pay your legal costs. Not just if you win, which would be fair enough, but if you are proved to be a liar and the newspaper wins, they can still be told to pay your legal bills.

Now I am all in favour of protecting people, whether they are high or low, from having the newspapers write lies about them or invade their privacy. But it is utterly wrong to protect anyone, high or low, from having newspapers tell the truth about them in a matter of legitimate public concern!

It has been suggested that the government may soon be asked by the new press regulator set up under the Leveson recommendations to activate Section 40. For the sake of a free press in Britain, I really, really hope they don't do it.

As DA'ESH falls back more atrocities are discovered

Let us hope that the liberation of Mosul from DA'ESH (the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" caliphate) proceeds as quickly as possible so that the authors of atrocities like this do not have more opportunities to inflict their sick, sadistic and murderous activities on anyone for much longer.

(Warning - the link above is not for the squeamish.)

Sadly many of the fanatics responsible for the genocidal crimes of DA'ESH have no more respect for their own lives than they have for those of the innocent children they have ben murdering in horrible ways, so it is likely that they will resist strongly. But although we have made mistakes when we intervened in the Middle East in the past, helping the Iraquis and Kurds to liberate their country from the monsters of the so-called Caliphate - and don't forget, British forces in Iraq this time are assisting an elected government, however imperfect, to defend itself and rescue its people from probably the most evil regime of the 21st century.

Sunday Music Spot "In native worth and honor clad" from Haydn's Creation

Quote of the day 23rd October 2016

"When people ask me whether I think Project Fear lost us the referendum, I answer that Project Fear did in fact win. Just not ours.

"Our problem is that the other side was much better at fear-mongering.

"Their threats — of mass immigration, Turkey’s membership, and a European army — were far scarier to the British voters than our warnings of an economic slowdown."

(Daniel Korski, deputy director of the policy unit in David Cameron’s government, in a fascinating article, "Why-we-lost-the-brexit-vote" giving the inside story of the Remain campaign from the Number Ten viewpoint.)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Schrodinger's pardon

Following on from my post earlier today here I have just seen an explanation of the legal issues relating to the so called "Turing Bill" by James Chalmers, Regius Professor of Law at the Unviersity of Glasgow, with the magnificent title of

"Schrodinger's Pardon: the difficulties of the Turing bill."

That title is of course a reference to Schrodinger's Cat in the eponymous thought experiment in Quantum Physics, which manages to be both alive and dead at the same time until you look at it.

Chalmers disagrees with the "Nicholson bill" proposed by the SNP to give people in England and Wales convicted of historic sexual offences a pardon for a different reason from the government, which argued that it might give a pardon for people who had been convicted of something which is still illegal.

He argues instead that it would be completely unclear whether certain people would actually have been pardoned until they checked.

As he points out this, quote "defeats the purpose of the Bill, which was to pardon people automatically without them having to apply to the Home Secretary. We might, in an imperfect metaphor, say that the Bill creates a Schrödinger’s Pardon."

My word. I think I'll go back to trying to work out whether the European Court of Auditors have signed off the EU accounts or not - at least I have a modicum of professional training in understanding that one.

There is another irony. it seems rather ironic that Scottish National Party MPs at Westminster proposed a "Turing Bill" measure for England and Wales and complained about how fast and fat the UK government is moving, when the UK government's proposals would mean that the process is moved forward further and faster than anything which the SNP administration at Holyrood has so far brought forward in Scotland.

Traffic figures

Today this blog passed 600,000 pageviews since the traffic counters went live. Traffic has been running at about 700 pageviews a day for the past few days and just under 15,000 pageviews in the past month.

Thanks to everyone who visited and I hope you found it interesting.

Britain, Ireland and Brexit

There is a fascinating piece in the Irish Times by Fintan O'Toole called

"Britain's Irish question becomes Ireland's English question"

which I strongly recommend as worth a read. The article is about the role Ireland might play in helping Britain to come to a sensible agreement with the EU about what our relationship looks like after Brexit.

This will be anathema to those for whom "compromise" is a dirty word. Personally I do not belong to that group and I think Britain needs all the friends we can get at the moment to come to a workable compromise.

And that does not mean trying to sabotage the Brexit vote, it means trying to build a future outside the EU which retains the co-operation with our neighbours and friends which we need in everyone's interests.

The Turing Bill

It has been proposed that there should be a retrospective pardon for those like Alan Turing who were convicted, which has been called a "Turing Bill," and the government has promised to support this.

(It does not in fact apply to Alan Turing himself as he was given a posthumous Royal Pardon by the Queen in 2013.)

 However, there is more than one different proposal about exactly how it should be done.

Why then did Tory minister Sam Gyimah MP filibuster an SNP proposal yesterday to grant such pardons (in support of which Nigel Adams was speaking in my quote of the day.)

There has been a lot of outrage on social media about this, with the suggestion being made that the government has abandoned the promise. This is not necessarily correct as is explained by Kevin Maxwell in an article in the Independent which you can read here.

As he says,

"It was argued the SNP MP John Nicolson’s Bill would have wiped clean all historical sex crimes, whereas the Government said it wanted to ensure that offences that are still on the statute book today are not pardoned – such as those committed against children."

There was a lengthy and excellent debate the last three hours of which including the minister's speech can be read here.

You can read here details of the government's preferred route to a "Turing Bill" type pardon thorough an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill – now supported by the Government – put forward by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey.

Saturday music spot: Andy Williams sings the theme from "Love Story" (Where Do I Begin?)

Quote of the day 22nd October 2016

"During my first term in office I voted against equal marriage for a whole host of reasons.

"I thought at the time what I was doing was right but having now reflected and seen how that Act has made such a positive difference for thousands of couples around the country, I deeply regret that decision.

"I got it wrong. I can tell you, many in this House will know how difficult it is for a Yorkshireman to admit that they got anything wrong.

"So if I had the opportunity again, I'd vote differently. I want to apologise.

"I want to apologise to my friends, I want to apologise to family members and constituents who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

"I want them to know that I believe in their full equality.

"I won't have the chance to change that previous vote but I'm pleased to have the chance to stand in support of equality before the law today."

(Nigel Adams MP, who voted against the Equal Marriage act in 2013, apologises for and says he deeply regrets that vote while supporting the "Turing bill" to pardon those convicted of gay acts which have since been legalised.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fead God and Dread Naught ...

It was announced today that the first of the new generation of submarines to carry Britain's nuclear deterrent will be given one of the most significant names in Royal Navy history - HMS Dreadnaught.

There have been nine warships in the Royal Navy with this name: one sailed with Drake against the Armada, another with Nelson at Tragalgar 211 years ago today.

Perhaps the most historically significant, HMS Dreadnaught launched in 1906, instantly made every previous battleship in the world obsolete and from that point the name was used to describe all modern big-gun capital ships of the 20th century - but the HMS Dreadnaught launched in 1960 was historically almost as significant as she was Britain's first nuclear-powered submarine.

Let us hope that the ship whose name was announced today is as successful, and more so in keeping the peace through deterrence - and that her weapon systems never have to be used.

When both sides are right and you wish they weren't

UPDATE - since this post it looks like the issues being raised by Wallonia and subsequently another region of Belgium may have been resolved. At the time of putting in this update it is hoped to sign CETA shortly. Of course, the difficulties it faced are still very relevant to Britain as the original post below argues and those arguments largely still stand.  Am putting in a new post here with an update.

Original post follows:

You know what is the most depressing thing about the failure of CETA, the proposed trade deal between the EU and Canada, as Canada walks out of trade talks declaring a deal impossible and Brussels "incapable" after the treaty was blocked by one region of Belgium?

It's the fact that this proves BOTH the Remain side and the Leave side right about things where I'd really hoped they were wrong.

Ironically the vote by the Wallonia regional parliament in Belgium was driven by exactly the same sort of protectionist fears which some factions within the "Leave" side did their best to stir up during our own referendum and which contributed to the "Leave" win.

Nevertheless it certainly illustrates the difficulty which the Leave side's free traders pointed to during the referendum campaign - if the EU can't agree a trade deal with Canada who can it agree a trade deal with?

EU President Donald Tusk this week warned that if the Canadian deal fails then it could mean the EU will never strike another free trade treaty.

“If we are not able to convince people that trade agreements are in their interest .... I am afraid, that CETA could be our last free trade agreement,” he said.

Unfortunately this also demonstrates that one of the arguments made by the "Remain" side is likely to prove all too accurate.

When we leave the EU Britain will have to agree a new trading relationship with them. It never made any sense to suggest that the other EU countries were out to get Britain while we were inside the club but self-interest would force them to offer the UK a great deal as soon as we left.

Unfortunately the same sort of problem which has just wrecked CETA could all too easily make it difficult for Britain to get the kind of deal we need with the EU. There were people who said during the referendum that because it is overwhelmingly in the interests of German car manufacturers, French wine manufacturers, and other European commercial interests to have a fair and a sensible trade deal with Britain, the smaller countries of Europe would not dare tell Germany and France that they were blocking such a deal.

Well, it wasn't even a smaller country which just blocked CETA - it was a region of 3.5 million people within one country which has blocked a deal that all 28 national governments would have signed.

Britain cannot turn back now: we are committed by a democratic vote. But we need to be prepared for a long-haul period of hard bargaining and to make sure that the people doing the negotiating and behalf of Britain have as strong a hand as possible and are not undermined.

Trafalgar Day

There are two anniversaries today - I previously posted about Aberfan, but this is also the 211th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Britain - and Europe, and the world - owe a tremendous debt to the men of Nelson's fleet who on 21st October 1805 struck a vital blow against the ambitions of one of the most dangerous men ever to live.

Napoleon was a brilliant tactician and strategist, and not entirely without merit as a lawmaker and administrator, but he was also a ruthless megalomaniac. Any true democrat with a scintilla of imagination who has looked at the image Ingres created of Napoleon on his imperial throne, (below,) or visited his tomb at Les Invalides, should shudder at the idea of the kind of world such a man would have created. He built one of the most overwhelming personality cults which has existed in modern times - and came as close to conquering the world as any dictator in history.

Horatio Nelson and the sailors and marines of the Royal Navy whose efforts and sacrifice gained that overwhelming victory at Trafalgar played a crucial role in sparing the world that fate. Thanks to them there was no possibility that Napoleon could gain command of the sea: which meant Britain and much of the rest of the world was safe from him, and demonstrated that he was not invincible.

(The top picture in this post is by Montague Dawson: apart from Ingres, other artists featured include Stokes and Turner To the best of my knowledge these scans are all in the public domain but if anyone claims copyright on any of those images please contact me.)

Aberfan minute's silence at 9.15 this morning

Fifty years ago today 116 children died in the terrible Aberfan disaster when their school was buried in a pile of mining refuse.

This ghastly tragedy was an example of why people should always be ready to challenge authority and it should never be forgotten.

In memory of those who died and their families there will be a minute's silence at 9.15 am today, fifteen minutes after this post and exactly fifty years after the disaster. I will be observing it.

Rest in Peace

Quote of the day 21st October 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Can we please have a two year moratorium on comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis

I have heard or read dozens of comparisons of various things to Hitler and the Nazis in the past twelve months.

Precisely two such comparisons were, in my humble opinion, reasonable and proportionate:

1) Hilary Benn and others compared DA'ESH (the so-called "Islamic State" caliphate) to the Nazis for the cruel and vicious way, including slavery, rape, and mass-murder amounting to genocide, that they treat people in their power.

2) Andrew Mitchell and others compared the bombing of civilian targets in Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian aircraft to the bombing of civilians in Guernica by Hitler's Nazis.

In these two cases, and these two cases only, specific and proportionate comparisons were made between ghastly crimes against humanity taking place now and similar actions by Nazi Germany.

All other comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis which I have heard in the past year, wherever they came from were at best unfortunate and in most cases were classic examples of Godwin's law.

Former Labour MP Tom Harris wrote an excellent article this week, called

"Can leftists please stop comparing everything they don't like to Hitler"

in which he made very pertinent criticisms of those like Ken Livingston and Britain's youngest MP, the SNP's Mhairi Black, who have effectively trivialised the Holocaust by making disproportionate or just plain wrong comparisons between their opponents, or the state of Israel, and the Nazis.

But it is not just the left who have fallen into this trap. Too many people on the right have done the same thing.

I have written many times before how disappointed I was with the behaviour and arguments put by too many people on both sides during the debate leading up to the referendum in June about British membership of the EU.

In my opinion by far the worst incident on either side in that truly dreadful campaign was when Michael Gove compared Nobel Prize-winning economists whose views on Brexit he disagreed with to German scientists who were paid by the Nazis to denounce Einstein because he was Jewish.

If I live to be a hundred I will never understand how a highly intelligent man like Michael Gove could possibly have imagined that such a grotesque comparison could be seen as anything other than incredibly offensive and grossly unjust.  He did apologise but the damage was done.

Can I suggest that everyone on both left and right, both pro and anti Brexit, should have a self imposed ban on all comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis for at least a couple of years.

An Adam Smith Institute case against "Hard Brexit"

I must take issue with the accusation by some "Remain" supporters such as Ben Chu  that leaving the EU immediately with no trade deal and scrapping all import tariffs is an unworkable "libertarian fantasy."

Because this appears to be unfair to at least some libertarians.

A comprehensive pro free-market demolition of the case for that course of action can be found at the Adam Smith Institute's website, written by Sam Bowman and called

"The free-market case for hard-Brexit doesn't add up.

He argues instead of an "open Brexit" which maximises our ability to trade with the rest of the world including as much access as we can get in reasonable terms to the European single market and which would probably look very much like "Flexcit."

Ben Chu's piece makes a sensible attempt to categorise the possible outcomes Britain could try to negotiate into five categories as follows:

* "Brexit One" the Norway/EEA option)

* "Brexit Two"  Flexcit - adopt the Norway/EEA option for a temporary period while negotiating a comprehensive Free Trade deal

* "Brexit Three" Comprehensive Free Trade deal with the EU

* "Brexit Four" Leave the single market and customs union with no free trade deal in place and trade with Europe under World Trade Organisation rules.

* "Brexit Five" Leave the single market and customs union with no free trade deal – but unilaterally scrap all import tariffs. - e.g. the model which Sam Bowman demolishes in  the ASI blogpost linked to above.

It does to some extent depend what terms are available under each of these, but I cannot see any realistic short and medium term alternative to strategy two. The Norway option is not politically possible as it is basically just second class EU membership with almost all the drawbacks and not as many of the advantages and, in particular, would not allow us to "take back control" of our borders.

However the economic price for models four and five is likely to be unacceptable. Option three is probably our best long-term solution but there is not a snowball's chance in Hell that we will be able to get a comprehensive trade deal in two years.

Canada have been working on their trade deal with the EU for seven years and it appeared to be almost sorted out but there is now a serious danger that Wallonia, a region of Belgium with a population of 3.5 million people, will block the whole thing.

(And before anyone who voted Leave makes any comment about how this shows how difficult it is to get agreement to do things which are needed through the EU's decision making processes are, you might have a point but nevertheless the people in Wallonia who oppose the deal with Canada are making exactly the sort of protectionist and anti-globalist noises which elements of the Leave Campaign in Britain used to stir up opposition to TTIP and to EU membership.)

Hence the option of having the Norway solution in the short term while working on a comprehensive trade deal, and hoping that nobody like the Walloons vetoes it, will almost certainly be Britain's best bet. It won't be an easy two years - or, probably, an easy five to ten years - for the negotiators.

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