Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas music spot: Bach's Christmas Oratorio, opening chorus

This is usually sung in the original German, even when being sun by English speakers as here, so it was an interesting change to hear this nice cheerful recording in English. (The accompaniment, however, uses period instruments.)

Quote of the day 29th November 2016

Why talk of a further referendum on the EU is a really bad idea

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian makes the interesting argument here that a second referendum which was about approving the terms of brexit, rather than attempting to reverse the previous referendum result, might be a good democratic idea.

He has a point in principle. but we need to bear in mind the impact that any talk of a further referendum will have on the already difficult Brexit negotiations Britain will be holding with the European Union after article 50 is triggered.

If the other EU member states, and the commission, think that Britain will be holding another plebiscite after these negotiations, and that there is any possibility whatsoever that this referendum might result in Britain not leaving after all, they will have zero incentive to offer Britain a deal worth having and a strong incentive to offer us terrible terms.

It is worth emphasising that a significant chunk of the EU's leadership and some important figures in other national capitals do not really get what happened on 23rd June and still think there is a chance that Britain's decision to leave the EU might be reversed. My concern is that anyone who talks of the possibility of a second referendum, even if they don't mean it as a way of cancelling the first one, might give those people a strengthened impression that being as difficult as possible in the negotiations will increase the chance of Britain deciding not to leave the EU after all.

I don't believe that the people who talk of a second referendum are deliberately trying to sabotage the UK's negotiating position. I do believe that if such talk were picked up and taken seriously in Brussels of the other capitals of Europe it would have that effect.

Assuming that the EU negotiators would rather Britain did not leave - a pretty safe assumption - then if we were expected to have a second referendum after the negotiations, and if people on the continent thought there was any chance that the outcome of such a referendum might be the cancellation of the decision to leave, then for the negotiators to offer the UK a truly awful Brexit deal would be the obvious way for them to try to bludgeon people into voting Remain.

The tactic almost certainly would not work, but it is in the UK's national interest to avoid any possibility of giving the impression that this tactic might work. That is why much of the talk from various quarters of a further referendum on the EU, particularly from those who are looking for a way to cancel the result of the one on 23rd June, is potentially very counterproductive.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gove starts rewriting history again

Former Education and then Justice Secretary Michael Gove has been attacking "experts" again though this time he said that his specific targets were economists and pollsters.

Probably the very worst moment during a referendum campaign in which far too many people on both sides of the referendum argument disgraced themselves, was when Michael Gove compared ten Nobel Prize winning economists who supported "Remain" to the Nazi apologists who denounced Einstein on Hitler's orders.

He did at least have the decency to apologise but that does not alter the fact that the comment was inexcusable.

Now he has come out with the following:

"Economists have to recognise that their profession is in crisis: that the economic profession failed to predict the 2008 economic crisis, that economists in the past argued almost to a man and woman that we should enter the single currency, that they were proved wrong, and then professionally they were proven wrong about the impact of Britain voting to leave the European Union."

In the interests of full disclosure let me make clear that I am an economist who was a vehement opponent of British entry into the single currency from the early 90s until the issue was made irrelevant on June 23rd this year, and that I was taught economics by, and have huge respect for, one of the Nobel prize winning economists who Michael Gove compared to a Nazi.

Of the comments he made above, the only one which comes close to being true is that the economic profession failed to predict the 2008 economic crisis. Even this is a gross oversimplification.

There were plenty of economists who warned that the investment of huge sums in markets like the sub-prime market on the assumption that because they were going up they would continue to go up was an enormous gamble. There were also many economists who warned that Britain was borrowing too much and that when a recession came the results would be very painful.

And the majority of economists warned that when Gordon Brown claimed to have abolished Boom and Bust he was talking nonsense and that sooner or later there would be another recession.

So although the economics profession didn't predict the exact date and severity of the crash, they certainly did warn of the rocks that Brown, and some banks, were steering towards.

As for the claim that "almost to a man and woman" economists argued that Britain should scrap the pound and enter the Euro this is a considerable exaggeration - much like the £350 million claim.

As the Economist explained here during the referendum campaign, they were very cautious about joining. They did a survey of 164 economists in 1999 which found that about two thirds of economists were in favour of replacing the pound with the Euro but around a third were opposed.

If Gove had said that "a majority of economists" were in favour of joining that would have been fair enough, but I think most reasonable  people would say that referring to a profession as having supported something "almost to a man and woman" when around a third of them opposed it is a significant exaggeration.

The evidence suggests that those of us who opposed British entry to the Euro were right and those who supported it wrong, but "proved" is, again, stretching the English language a little. And obviously, the third of us who did oppose it certainly have not been proved wrong.

In terms of the consequences of the vote, the great majority of economists were certainly of the opinion that actually leaving the EU would have a net negative effect on the British economy but obviously that has not been proved right or wrong because we have not left yet.

Admittedly, those who suggested that the British economy might go straight into recession merely as a result of the vote were obviously wrong, but they were very far from being the whole economics profession. My recollection is that those who pushed that line were politicians, not economists.

And those economists who said that the vote itself might cause some uncertainty and disruption to the economy have been proved right, not wrong, although the damage has been less than most economic forecasters expected. The pound dropped to a 30-year low immediately after the vote and is 13% lower than it was just before the referendum: economic growth dropped from 0.7% in the quarter before the vote to 0.5% in the quarter afterwards.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I spent the referendum trying to correct some of the most egregious false statements by both sides: there is a set of links to all the posts I published correcting errors by both sides here.

Personally I think the more extreme views from economists and politicians alike on both the Remain and Leave sides significantly overstated their respective cases during and since the referendum and although it is far, far too early to leap to definitive conclusions, what evidence there is so far very much supports that view.

Michael Gove said that the since the referendum he had reflected on his mistakes and encouraged economists and pollsters to do the same. On the basis of what he said today perhaps he should reflect on his mistakes some more.

Ed Balls' extraordinary run on Strictly Come Dancing comes to an end

Ed Balls has provided a huge amount of entertainment on Strictly Come Dancing this year.

Now the first nine words of that sentence are something I had never thought I would write.

But at long last, like the voters of Morley and Outwood, the Strictly Come Dancing voters have failed to save him.

Ironically, after the Strictly Judges had made little secret that they wanted rid of him for ten rounds, when he finally faced a run off he lost to another judge - Robert Rinder.

If the voters of Hayes and Harlington show the good judgement at the next election that the voters of Morley and Outwood did in 2015, perhaps we will get to see if the present shadow chancellor is any good at dancing.

One thing is for sure - he wouldn't be any good at running the economy!

Advent Sunday reflection

Today is Advent Sunday. After weeks and weeks of Christmas stuff in some of the shops, Christmas lights going up and Christmas adverts, we are finally really into the Christmas season and these things are no longer jumping the gun.

Every year there are stories - most of them grossly exaggerated - of councils and employers discouraging or amending Christmas celebrations in order to avoid giving offence to religious minorities;.

This year the Chairman of the Equalities and Human Right commission has specifically called on people not to do this: David Isaacs asked for a "Common Sense" approach instead,

"Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and it shouldn't be suppressed through fear of offending" he said the Commission has set out advice on how to deal with the practicalities of how to let those who wish to celebrate Christmas do so without offending others or discriminating.

He is absolutely right. The overwhelming majority of British Muslims, Jews, Hindus, members of other non-Christian religions and indeed atheists not only have no problem whatsoever with Christians celebrating Christmas, most of them enthusiastically take part in and enjoy those celebrations themselves.

I know plenty of Muslims and Jews and I have NEVER met a single believer in either faith or any other non-Christian religion who objects to the celebration of Christmas.

And as someone who tries hard to be a devout Christian I am sure that, despite all the commercialisation of Christmas and however much the secular celebration of that festival can obscure the real Christian message, I cannot believe that people of all faiths and none celebrating a season of peace, goodwill and happiness at the time Christians remember the birth of Jesus is something that He would object to.

The only people who are pleased when well meaning councils, employers, or official bodies try to play down or reinvent Christmas to "avoid giving offence" are far-right extremists, who delight in exploiting such actions to stir up nativism, racial hatred and a persecution complex.

Let Christmas be a season of peace and goodwill, as the early church intended but, surely, this is a message which people of all faiths and none can also sign up to.

Advent Sunday music spot: The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came (Kings)

Quote of the day 27th November 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Foxhouses Road is now open again

Just to confirm, the gas leak in Foxhouses Road Whitehaven has been fixed and the road is open to traffic again.

Second Saturday music spot: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Whitehaven Academy

I was a governor of Whitehaven School, as it was at the time I joined the governing body, for a period of about six years ending twenty-two months ago, in January 2015.

Throughout the time I was a governor the staff and senior leadership team were working hard to face enormous challenges, such as the fact that the buildings were old and in great need of new investment. Ofsted reports and inspections over the period that I was a governor identified a series of challenges though they also recognised the work staff and in particular the then head teacher, Lynette Norris who was in post for the majority of my time as a governor, were doing to improve the school.
Ofsted reports such as this one from 2013 recorded those efforts and made comments like this:

"The school’s leaders and managers, along with the governing body, are very determined to bring about rapid improvements and this is proving very successful.

The monitoring of the progress students make is very rigorous and accurate. This has resulted in a large rise in achievement. Many more students are making progress in line with that found nationally."

That inspection also found that there was much more which needed to be done and the school leadership would have been the first to agree this. All the steps which were taken over the eighteen months between that report and the end of my time on the governing body by the head, the SLT and the governors were intended to deliver those improvements.

At the time the school moved over to Academy status it was indeed recognised, as was mentioned in a statement released yesterday on the school website here, by the Bright Tribe chain who are the Academy's sponsors, that addressing the problems of the school would be a five-year challenge which would require significant investment.

I cannot speak for what has been happening in the school since I stepped down as a governor nearly two years ago, but I can say that in the period immediately after the transition to Whitehaven Academy, Bright Tribe did indeed put significant amounts of money into the school. I have no reason to doubt their statement that they have put £400,000 of investment into Whitehaven Academy and are planning a further £500,000 of investment over the next twelve months.

Everyone who is or has been associated with the school will be incredibly disappointed with the outcome of the most recent inspection, in October 2016, the report of which was also published yesterday and can be found here.

The Ofsted report notes that at the time of their October inspection the new headteacher, Mr W Turner, had only been in post for six weeks. The report says that

"he has worked tirelessly and has already brought about some positive improvements. He has introduced new behaviour management systems, along with intensive, robust monitoring of the school’s work and evaluation of its quality. He has already formed a strong picture of teaching across the school and knows where it needs to improve. The sponsor has had success in supporting the headteacher to raise attendance, which has seen a significant improvement this year to date.

Staff say that the headteacher is already making a difference and that morale has improved under his leadership. New performance management arrangements for staff are rigorous. The headteacher is making strenuous efforts to engage with parents and the local community, and a number of parents expressed confidence in his leadership. Several parents commented on the increased momentum towards improvement in the current term."

I am sure everyone in the local community will wish Mr Turner, the staff, and all those who have the task of supporting the school every success in turning round the issues found by the inspection.

No man is an island: reflections on the death of Fidel Castro

This post is NOT subject to the usual Obituary rules of this blog.

A few years ago when I published an obituary notice intended as a tribute to a public servant who had worked hard for Copeland, an anonymous local resident who disagreed with some of the deceased person's decisions posted comments on the thread critical of the individual concerned which were seen by, and caused offence to, his grieving friends and family.

I deeply regretted that and could see no justification for allowing it to happen again, so I deleted the posts which had caused offence and changed the comments policy on this blog so that when I posted an obituary thread - defined as a tribute to a recently deceased person with RIP in the title then comments on that post critical of the deceased would not be permitted on this blog. "Nisi Nihil Bonum" (do not speak anything but good of the dead) would apply.

But "Nihil nisi bonum" cannot be a universal law. Usually when someone dies, you say good things or you say nothing.

But in some circumstances, such as when the deceased was a murderer, terrorist, or a brutal dictator, this position is not always sustainable.

Fidel Castro was a human being. I consider it wrong to celebrate his death for the same reasons I considered it wrong of certain people to celebrate Margaret Thatcher's death.

As John Donne said in his poem

"No man is an island,"

and so the death of any man or woman diminishes me. And to actually celebrate the death of any man or woman would diminish me far more.

So I will not celebrate the death of Fidel Castro, but neither will I indulge in the gross hypocrisy of pretending that I approved of him.

Castro was one of the worst warmongers of the 20th century - which I know is a pretty strong claim given the competition - because his role in the Cuban Missile crises was directly responsible for bringing the world as close to a nuclear apocalypse as it has ever been.

Fifty-four years ago my father said to my mother as they went to sleep at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, "I hope to see you in the morning." We now know that Castro actually urged Khrushchev to launch a nuclear first strike against the United States.

Fortunately for the people of the USA, Cuba and indeed the world, Khrushchev had more sense, pointing out to Castro that such an action would have triggered a thermonuclear world war in which the Cuban people "would have perished."

Castro was a dictator by any reasonable definition, including on the criteria he himself used before coming to power to (rightly) castigate the Batista regime which he overthrew. Even his defenders admitted that within weeks of taking power he was arresting and imprisoning members of his own movement, that some of his opponents were executed, that criticising his government could have serious consequences.

I was as horrified to hear or read the words of some of those who defended Castro today as I was to hear that some people in Miami threw parties to celebrate his death.

Richard Gott on the BBC and on the Guardian website was perhaps the worst but as Guido Fawkes recorded here, an number of people who ought to have known better, including Jeremy Corbyn, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jean-Claude Juncker issued statements praising the former Cuban dictator.

Those who apologise for Castro either were either taking diplomatic hypocrisy begond the point where it is wise, or casting doubt on their own judgement.

If Margaret Thatcher had cancelled elections, arrested her political opponents and executed some of them, do you think that that opposing apartheid, improving literacy and training more doctors for NHS would have persuaded any of the people who praised Castro today to issue an equivalent statement praising Mrs T when she died?

I don't think they would have. And if, like Castro, she had done those things, nor should they.

Saturday music spot: Handel's Chandos Anthem 11, "Let God Arise"

Quote of the day 26th November 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

Nick Ferrari should have stopped while he was ahead ...

Nick Ferrari had a go at Tony Blair today on LBC here over the latter's call for another referendum on Europe.

It was originally supposed to be a one word reply: "Chilcot."

I think most people probably got that, although Nick could not resist turning it into a rather longer in case anyone missed the point, especially Blair "In the unlikely event you're listening to this.":

"You were at best economic with the truth," he added, "Many people believe you took us into a calamitous war on the basis of an absolute lie and a fabrication."

Actually there was quite a bit more than that, but you get the drift. And most people would probably agree with Nick, as the saying goes.

But he lost me when he turned on Sir John Major and said "two words: 'Edwina Currie.'"

Excuse me? Is that supposed to be remotely comparable to what Chilcot had to say about Blair?

If every TV or Radio presenter or other journalist who has ever had an affair were banned from expressing an opinion about Brexit, large parts of the media would be silent on the subject.

Actually, perhaps that's not a bad idea ...

Foxhouse Road in Whitehaven still closed to traffic

Foxhouses Road in Whitehaven remains closed this morning (Friday 25th November 2016) while the gas supplier continues to fix yesterday's serious gas leak.
The southern half of the road is still closed to vehicles other than for access by residents between the junctions with Ehen Avenue and Bleng Avenue.
Users of Inkerman Terrace please note that the one-way system in Foxhouses Road has been suspended and there are diversion signs pointing vehicles towards the Northern and of the road, so you may see some cars turning out of Foxhouses Road onto Inkerman Terrace. Watch out for vehicles coming from a direction you might not expect.

As I explained yesterday for people reading this who do not know Whitehaven (residents will know) this closure cuts the main route from the town centre to the Mirehouse Estate area.
Anyone who wants to drive from the centre of Whitehaven to Mirehouse will have to go via Low Road or the A595 Loop Road while the closure remains in place.


The work is complete and the road is now open again.

Quote of the day 25th November 2016


I have spent the past two weeks persuading my wife not to burn her American passport.

If Nigel Farage should be appointed ambassador to the US, I shall have to consider burning my British one."

(Mike Thexton, letter in The Times yesterday.)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How good a negotiating position does Britain have in the Brexit talks?

Most of the articles I had read before today about what Britain's negotiating position would look like in the Brexit negotiations were either absurd Panglossian optimism from Leave supporters or equally absurd counsels of despair from Remainers.

The former were far too inclined to assume that because it is in the economic interests of groups like German car manufacturers to have a good trading relationship with the UK this would necessarily feed through into the EU negotiating position. As was demonstrated recently when the EU/Canada deal was nearly blocked because of objections not even from one of the 28 EU member states but because of two regional parliaments in Belgium, this is very far from being the case. Some parts of certain member states have very narrow interests that they will fight hard to protect even when this is not in the interests of the EU as a whole. And some elements of the EU want to take a hard line against Britain so that other countries do not get the idea that leaving the Union is a good idea. Hence it is by no means certain either that rational arguments will prevail or that they would necessarily help Britain get a good deal if they did.

However, some of those who are pessimistic about what sort of deal Britain will be able to get have gone to the opposite extreme and suggested that Britain has no negotiating leverage at all in the Brexit negotiations, which is equally silly.

A mutually hostile Brexit in which both sides ended up putting up tariff barriers at the World Trade Organisation level would hurt Britain, but it would also hurt the rest of Europe. I don't want to rehash all the silly arguments about relative impact which were thrown about by both sides during the referendum campaign but it is fairly clear that the damage such an outcome would do to the economies of the other 27 EU member states would not be trivial. Sufficiently so that rational EU negotiators should not want such an outcome.

There is an article by James Forsyth in the Spectator here which tries to rationally assess what cards Britain actually holds. Without agreeing that Britain is in as strong a bargaining position as the title of the article suggests - the UK is not "holding all the aces" - our position is stronger than it had appeared a few months ago that it might be.

On the security front, given Donald Trump's election and his clear policy that Europe should shoulder a greater share of the burden of collective defence, it would be insane for the nations of Western Europe not to try to co-operate more closely on defence issues. Britain is arguably the most powerful, strongest, and is certainly one of the top two, military powers in Western Europe and the present British government remains totally committed to the collective defence of Western Europe through NATO. Fighting a trade war against an ally whose co-operation you need more than ever for mutual defence co-operation would be a very foolish thing to do.

A huge proportion of Britain's income is earned by the international financial institutions which we generally refer to as the "City of London," which is currently not just the largest financial centre in Europe, but on the basis of the Global Financial Centres Index, just pips New York to be the largest in the world. It is also effectively the financial capital of Europe.

It is recognised by the vast majority of people who know anything about economics that failure to agree a suitable "passporting" regime allowing financial institutions based in London to sell services to EU member states would be a significant blow to the UK economy.

However, it is also true that attempting to sabotage London would, in the short term at least, disrupt the financial economy of Europe and thereby do significant damage to other EU member states as well, at a very bad time.

According to James Forsyth's article this particular penny has dropped in most of the capitals of Europe (with the exception of the French government. But as only about 4% of the French electorate are satisfied with the performance of the current French government and it is facing elections next year which it is extremely likely to lose, that situation is subject to change.)

None of this means that we can bank on the UK getting a favourable deal from the other countries of the EU as we negotiate the terms of departure. But it does mean that if we negotiate hard, while doing our best to avoid annoying our neighbours in Europe, a deal we can live with may be obtainable.

Message from the Party Chairman

Conservative Party Chairman Patrick McLoughlin writes:

Were you watching the Autumn statement yesterday? Our fantastic Chancellor, Philip Hammond, was outlining his plan for an economy that works for everyone.

Here are some of the key things that I took away from that speech yesterday:

  • We are open for business with the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world this year.
  • We are building the homes that we need with a new £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund to support 100,000 new homes.
  • We are investing in key infrastructure projects across our country with a new £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund.
  • We are increasing the National Living Wage to £7.50 an hour – a pay rise for 1.3 million working people and a rise of £500 for the average full time worker.
  • We are freezing fuel duty for the seventh year in a row, saving the average car driver £130 a year and the average van driver £350 a year.
What a contrast that is to the situation that we found ourselves in six years ago – an economy on the brink of collapse, a deficit that was soaring and millions out of work. And every step of the way, the Labour Party have been sniping from the sidelines, opposing every decision we’ve taken to fix the economy. They want to raise taxes, reverse savings and spend hundreds of billions of pounds we don’t have.
So as we turn our attention to the New Year and the campaigns that we face across our country next May, I know that all of us will come together, work hard for our party and stand up to our opponents.

By donating to our campaign you will be investing in a party that is going to create the jobs, the economic growth and the investment that Britain needs, and stopping a party that will do the exact opposite.

Patrick McLoughlin
The Conservative Party Chairman

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

Midweek music spot "I Need A Hero" (Jennifer Saunders Shrek II version)

I love both the Bonnie Tyler and Jennifer Saunders versions of "I need a hero."

This scene from Shrek II is very possibly the best movie animated action sequence ever made. (The one thing wrong which bars it from perfection being that the hero is the spitting image of the worst Prime Minister in British history, but you can't have everything ...)

Nick Cohen on the post truth world

There is a depressing but powerful article in Standpoint by Nick Cohen called

"Our world in stupor lies,"

which is a quote from Auden's poem about the outbreak of World War II.

The article describes the changes in the balance of power between mainstream and non-mainstream media and news. It gives a rather pessimistic take on the ability of not just anyone who wants to do so, but anyone is who does not actively seek to avoid such a fate, to shut out news they don't want to hear through the filters of social media.

I think Nick is referring to a real danger, but I don't think we have to be quite as pessimistic as this article. To paraphrase words Lord Hailsham used many years ago about the threat of an "elective dictatorship" the appropriate reaction is as a warning of concern about where we are tending rather than a statement of despair at where we have arrived.

Nick writes

"I accept that as you grow older you run the risk of sinking into pessimism. But I cannot see how print and broadcast journalism for inquiring people can survive anywhere except in specialist niches. In their place are Vladimir Putin propagandists using misinformation as a weapon of foreign policy.

Alongside them, the web honours every variety of crank, nutjob and freak. To call them out is to commit the sin of our age and be an “elitist”. Once I would have said that the insult reeks of condescension because it assumes the masses can only handle lies.

Now I suspect lies is what they want. Maybe I am wrong. Even if I am, it remains true, that the economic model for providing journalism which strives to be more than propaganda is everywhere failing."

I hope he is wrong that the lies are what people want. While lies can win for a time but do not have a track record of convincing people for ever.

Totalitarian regimes had a far more powerful grip on print and broadcast media than any algorithm designed to tell people what it thinks they want to hear has on what appears on people's computers. And yet ultimately their propaganda failed and most of the 20th century's totalitarian regimes fell, because people could see the contrast between what the official channels were telling them and the truths they experienced in their lives and could see with their own eyes.

But perhaps in the 20th century people will have to work harder to see the truth: it is a bigger challenge to see through false information when it comes from a system designed to tell us what it thinks we want to hear than when it is designed to fit someone else's agenda.

Autumn Statement 2016

The 2016 Autumn statement sets out how the Conservatives are providing an economic platform with certainty and stability at its heart. As the UK leaves the EU and as we begin writing this new chapter in our country’s history, we have set out how we will support our economy through investment, job creation and support for working people.

Our economy needs confidence and certainty. That’s why the Chancellor has set out our clear plans for investment in infrastructure, public spending and the tax system. And we will continue the task of bringing down the deficit too, so that we get the country back to living within its means.

This is an Autumn statement that puts working people first, that provides certainty and stability and builds an economy that works for everyone.

More at Share the Facts

Britain needs an opposition

The Political Betting website has an article this week which says that

"Britain needs a better opposition than Labour is providing."

(They also noted that the biggest cheer Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell got in his reply to the Autumn Statement was when he said "in conclusion.")

What would people have said when Ed Balls was shadow chancellor if anyone had dared to predict that in Autumn 2016 Balls would be a national hero on a reality TV dancing contest and there would be a new Labour shadow chancellor who would be far worse and far less popular?

(Probably something like "Yeah, right, and Donald J Trump will be the next president of the USA.")

It may seem surprising that I as a committed supporter of the government would like to see a more competent opposition, but not for the first or last time on this site I will quote the words of Disraeli:

Britain faces strong challenges in the post-Brexit world and it is in everyone's interests including that of the Conservative party that the government faces a constructive challenge in the House of Commons.

That challenge is not forthcoming either from the Labour party or from the Lib/Dems as Tim Farron tries to ride the anti-Brexit horse which no party which was serious about forming a government could mount, or even from UKIP as they continue to descend into infighting and farce.

God help us, the SNP's pretensions to be the real opposition look a lot less ridiculous than they should.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If Labour will not provide a constructive, realistic and effective challenge to the government, the electorate will eventually find someone else who will.

Foxhouses Road in Whitehaven closed this morning due to gas leak

The southern half of Foxhouses Road in Whitehaven has been closed off to vehicles at the junctions with Ehen Avenue and Bleng Avenue because of a gas leak.

This cuts the main route from the town centre to the Mirehouse Estate area. Anyone who wants to drive from the centre of Whitehaven to Mirehouse will have to go via Low Road or by the A595 while the closure remains in place.

Quote of the day 24th November 2016

"Those who worry about Trump’s election and what is portends should draw the right lesson.

Condemning the voters for their gullibility or wickedness might make you feel better but it isn’t going to change anybody’s mind.

Real people have real worries. If you don’t respond to them, someone else will – and you might not like what happens next."

(Michael Ashcroft, article "Listen to the voters or someone else will" from his website, also available on Conservative Home here.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fuel Duty frozen for the seventh successive year

One of the things which makes life difficult for many of those families who are working hard but just about managing is the cost of living, and the price of fuel - which impacts both the cost of private motoring and that of public transport - is a major part of this.

So I am particularly pleased that the chancellor has frozen fuel duty for the seventh successive year.

This will help people all over Britain and particularly in areas like Cumbria.

An Economy that works for everyone: the Chancellor writes

Subject: An economy that works for everyone

Philip Hammond, chancellor of the exchequer, writes about his Autumn statement today:
An economy that works for everyone

Six years ago, we took over an economy on the brink of collapse, with the highest budget deficit in our peacetime history. We took the tough decisions to tackle that deficit, rebuilt Britain’s shattered fiscal credibility and created more than 2.7 million new jobs. 
The 2016 Autumn Statement I gave today provides an economic platform with certainty and stability at its heart. As the UK leaves the EU and as we begin writing this new chapter in our country’s history, we have set out how we will provide support for our economy through investment and job creation; and how we will provide help for ordinary working people with the cost of living. 
It tackles the long-term challenges facing the country, by investing in infrastructure and innovation to boost long-term economic growth. Raising productivity is essential to delivering the high-wage, high-skill economy that will deliver more jobs and higher living standards for people across the country. And that’s why we are acting, with a £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund, to invest in our infrastructure, transport, digital economy and to build the homes that we need.
It provides the confidence and certainty that our economy needs with a clear plan to get the country back to living within its means. Our new draft Charter for Fiscal Responsibility will see the public finances returned to balance as early as possible in the next Parliament, with a secondary target for the deficit to be below 2% of GDP by the end of this Parliament, public sector net debt as a share of GDP falling by the end of this Parliament, as well as welfare capped.
And it signals our help with the cost of living for millions of ordinary working people. As well as taking millions of people out of income tax, this Government has introduced 15 hours a week of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, raised school standards and invested in the NHS. But more needs to be done to help families make ends meet. That’s why we are raising the National Living Wage – a pay rise for over a million people, and £500 for a full time worker; that’s why we’ve announced a freeze in fuel duty for the seventh successive year, saving the average car driver £130 a year in total; and that’s why we will reduce the taper rate for Universal Credit, increasing the incentive to work and helping three million households.

This is an Autumn Statement that will build an economy that works for everyone.
As I said at the start, six years ago, the economy that Labour left us was on the brink of collapse. And every step of the way, the Labour Party have been sniping from the sidelines, opposing every decision we’ve taken to fix the economy. They want to raise taxes, reverse savings and spend hundreds of billions of pounds we don’t have. It just shows they couldn’t control the public finances and would crash the economy like they did last time.

Today we resolve to prepare Britain to seize the opportunities ahead, and to do so in a way that builds an economy where everybody has a chance, and where every part of this United Kingdom contributes to, and shares in our future success.

So if you’re not already a member, please join the Conservatives today – and together, we can build a country that works for everyone.

Thank you for your support.

Philip Hammond
Chancellor of the Exchequer

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

Quote of the day 23rd November 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Of Trump and Farage

Can someone please explain to the US President-elect that he does have the power, and indeed the duty, to appoint the US Ambassador to Britain but not the power to nominate or appoint the British Ambassador the USA?

It is in the interests of both countries that the British government builds a good working relationship with the President of the USA, whoever he or she may be and whatever we might think about their election.

To make an appointment as Ambassador to the US on the basis of a tweet from the President-elect would not, however, be a particularly good idea. An Ambassador has to be someone who can speak for the government he or she represents, and there has to be two-way trust between them.

Is Nigel Farage seriously prepared to promise that he would faithfully represent the views, concerns and wishes of the present British government to the US Administration?

The idea is a non-starter.

People who remember a socialist government do not want Corbyn as PM

I am in my mid fifties: I am just old enough to remember what Britain was like the last time we had a government which started out by genuinely trying to be socialist.

Not that Harold Wilson or Jim Callaghan were remotely as left-wing as Jeremy Corbyn, but he considered himself a socialist in a way which Blair did not consider himself and Brown was not.

The collision with reality had already forced that government to change many of its policies by the time I had turned 18 - Jim Callaghan's famous quote " We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession ... " being a classic illustration.

In the light of all the polling failures over the past two years, only a fool quotes unsupported polling data without asking if it makes sense. But the opinion polls which show a catastrophic decline in support for Labour, particularly among older voters, do make sense, because people from their mid-fifties and upwards remember what happened the last time anything resembling socialism was tried in Britain (though a more moderate version than Corbyn wants to try now.)

The most powerful thing about the latest Opinium poll is not the fact that, like every published reputable poll since Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected Labour leader, it has the Conservatives above 40% or the fact that it shows another large Conservative lead.

It is that, as Mike Smithson of Political Betting points out here, Jeremy Corbyn's approval ratings are low, and much worse than Theresa May's, with all groups above the age of 35 and get worse with increasing age of the person polled.

What this basically means is that almost nobody who remembers living under a socialist government wants to experience another one.

When I was a teenager, right and left-wing newspapers alike referred to "The British disease" and people openly referred to Britain as "the sick man of Europe." The Chancellor had to come back from the airport when he had been about to board a plane when the pound collapsed. The government ran out of money and had to borrow from the International Monetary Fund, which imposed the most savage cuts ever applied to Britain's public services before or since.

When left-wingers accuse Conservative governments of "starving the NHS of funds" those governments have INVARIABLY over the past thirty-four years been increasing the amount of money going into the NHS faster than inflation but by less than the person making the criticism thinks is necessary.

When I was a teenager under Britain's last socialist government, we saw what savage cuts in the NHS actually means - a reduction in the amount of money spent on the NHS in cash terms at a time when inflation was running above 10%.

These cuts caused strikes in essential services which left the dead unburied, rubbish lying in the streets, and hospital operations cancelled. My father was one of those affected, he was phoned up on the day he was due to go into Guys for heart surgery to be told that the operation had been cancelled because shop stewards representing porters and cleaners had decided that they knew better than doctors whether the operation was an emergency. One such NHS shop steward was quoted in the press as saying "If someone dies, so be it."

I will never forget how thoroughly  even  a mild form of socialism bankrupted Britain and what resulted, and it looks like a lot of other people will not forget either. If that is what the polls are saying, then I think this time they are right.

Quotes of the day 22nd November 2016

The wit and wisdom of cybernetic dog K9 -

K9:             "You have triggered the primary alert function."
Doctor:       "Blast!"
K9:             "Affirmative."

Doctor:       "Ion drive, or I'm a budgie's cousin!"
K9:             "Affirmative ion drive: family grouping negative."

(K9 with the late Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane) in the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion")

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Blair return?

According to yesterday's Sunday Times, Tony Blair is said to believe that Jeremy Corbyn is a "nutter," that the present PM is a lightweight, and that therefore the time is right for the British people to welcome his return to an active role in politics.

As the saying goes. one out of three ain't bad ...

"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future ..."

The above is one of many brilliant quotes usually attributed to Niels Bohr.

I spotted a classic illustration of what Bohr was talking about today while reading a powerful article about the current controversy over cryogenic freezing on the excellent website,

"The Conservative Woman"

(which you do not have to be a woman or a Conservative to find interesting.)

There was a set of links to the most recent articles by their US correspondent.

All six links discussed the US elections and the titles of the four which expressed a view on the likely or actual outcome were as follows:

"Hillary will win and grant an immigration amnesty"

"Trump takes the GOP ship down with him,"

"Trump's troops will rage, rage against the dying of the right."

"In the war on Washington, Trump won."

I have not bothered reading or linking to the erroneous predictions - not because they were necessarily silly, but because they were wrong and are therefore not particularly relevant. The last, however, is a mea culpa and I think this time the author makes some good points about why she and so many other people called it wrong.

Here are some extracts for that article - you can read the full thing by following the link above.

"I confess that Tuesday night did not go as I expected. I also confess that if someone had told me three years ago that Republicans would win the White House and both houses of Congress and that I would find the event unsettling, then I would have dismissed the prediction as I dismiss carnival fortune tellers."

I won’t rehash my objections to President elect Donald Trump ...  I also would have been unsettled by the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency."

"So what just happened? A comment from the thick of the night hit the nub. When the later returns started showing a pattern of Trump outperforming 2012 Romney across various groups, a liberal acquaintance asked: “What does it take to overcome Trump revulsion?”

It takes decades of expansive government power and eight years of an administration unreservedly using that power to do as it pleased. The Obama Administration was bound by neither law nor tradition, or even respect for the opposition.

People were so fed up with having to take whatever Washington dished out that they voted for Donald J. Trump. They found government more repulsive than the man. And the intellectual chattering classes — the media, the ivory tower, the party players —they all completely missed it.

One of the lessons for me today is: I’m a part of the miss. Oh, I saw the issues. My recurring theme of 2015 discussions among writers was ‘you don’t have to like Trump but you must pay heed to the frustration he represents.’ But I didn’t think frustration with federal government was high enough to get enough voters who would endure Trump.

I was wrong. Frustration with government is that high."

Quote of the day 21st November 2016

“The media is even more biased against me than ever before. You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it. It’s fantastic. They think she’s absolutely great.

My wife Melania gives the exact same speech! And people get on her case!”

(Donald Trump, then still a Presidential candidate, jokes about the plagiarism row concerning a speech made by his wife which was copied from one made by the present First Lady. Hat tip to Guido Fawkes)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Shy tories - or busy ones?

Professor John Curtice, who was described shortly after last year's general election as the only pollster journalists still listen to, has produced a study which supports one common anecdotal explanation for opinion polls tending to overstate Labour support and understate that for Conservatives.

He is quoted on the  Guido Fawkes site as saying that Tory voters are not so much “shy” as often “busy“ - e.g. harder for pollsters to get hard of because they are more often out (still at work, for instance.)

As the article on Guido's site continues:

"Curtice’s study found that if polls were based on people who answered the door on a first visit, Labour would be six points ahead. If polls were based on those who needed three to six visits before answering, the Tories had an 11 point lead. His conclusion: Labour voters were more likely to be at home rather than out at work.
“Conservatives are just simply more difficult to get hold of. There is an availability bias. People who you can get hold of first time round, who say, ‘oh yes come in’ are disproportionately Labour voters. The people you can easily get hold of are not representative.”
As the old joke goes, the Tory voters really were still at work."…

All centuries but this, and every country but his own.

In the original version, and many subsequent ones, of the most parodied aria in Gilbert and Sullivan's operas, the Lord high Executioner's song, Ko-Ko includes on his "little list" of people for the chop

"the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own."

That perfectly describes the attitude of a certain type of (small l) liberal.

Where this becomes particularly irritating is when they are very quick to accuse others of racism and prejudice and them say things about their own country which they would be the first to describe in such a way if said about anyone else.

A classic example this week came from Lord Kerr, who has been a British Ambassador, Deputy Chairman of Shell, Treasury mandarin and was one of the authors of the Lisbon Treaty.

At an event hosted by the Institute for Government, Lord Kerr argued for a less restrictive immigration policy on the grounds that

 ‘We native Brits are so bloody stupid that we need an injection of intelligent people, young people from outside who come in and wake us up from time to time.’

Source: here.

This from someone who also accused the Leave side of salving their consciences by ‘cleverly outsourcing xenophobia and racism’ to Nigel Farage.
Not, by the way that I approve of what Farage said during the referendum - I simply think it is hypocrisy to accuse him of racism and then make remarks like the one above about "native Brits" which amount to racial abuse.

I suspect that Lord Kerr's chosen wording as quoted about the case for immigration above may have been intended as a "joke."

But if such a thing had been said, even as a "joke" against almost any other race than "native Brits," what would have been the reaction? He would have been accused of racism in the lead story of the TV news and by virtually every newspaper. 

It's time to retire the use of that kind of comment against everyone - including British people.

Sunday Music Spot: “I saw the Lord” (Stainer)

Sunday reflection spot 20th November 2016

The Reverend Robert Jackson quoted the poem below during the service at St James' Whitehaven this morning. You can find it's provenance on the internet here.

"They were looking for A Lion,
He came as a Lamb,
And they missed Him.

They were looking for a Warrior,
He came as a Peace maker,
and they missed Him.

They were looking for a King,
He came as a Servant,
and they missed Him.

They were looking for Liberation from Rome,
He submitted to the Roman cross,
and they missed Him.

They were looking for a fit to their mold,
He was the mold maker,
and they missed Him.

What are you looking for?
Lion? Warrior? King? Liberator?
What are you looking for?

They were looking for their temporal needs to be met,
He came to meet their eternal need,
and they missed Him.

He came as a Lamb to be sacrificed for your sin.
Will you miss Him?

He came to make peace between God and man.
Will you miss Him?

He came to model servanthood for all mankind.
Will you miss Him?

He came that we might have true Liberty.
Will you miss Him?

He came to give you eternal life.
Will you miss Him?

When we submit to the lamb we will meet the Lion.
Join with the Peacemaker and we will meet the Warrior.
Work with the Servant and we will meet the King.
Walk with the Submitted and we will meet the Liberator.
Concern ourselves with the Eternal and we will have the temporal.

If Jesus is not fitting into the mold you have then come to the mold maker
and get a new one. Submit to His plan for your life and you will see the
eternal need met first then all the other things you have need of will be
taken care of as well."

Matthew 6:33, Ephesians 3:20, Proverbs 3:6, Isaiah 61:1, Romans 8:21, John 3:16

Quote of the day 20th November 2016

"If you'd told me two years ago that the man who stopped Gordon Brown from hitting people would be dry-humping a piece of Russian rump on national television I'd have said, 'Oh yeah, and the next American President will be Donald Trump!'"

(Camilla Long in today's Sunday Times on former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls' appearances on Strictly Come Dancing)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts on the Cumbrian Fells

I have lived with my family in West Cumbria for twelve years now and the beauty of this area still has the power to take my breath away.

We've had some very cold weather and some foul weather over the past few days: and since earlier this week the fells and mountains like Scafell Pike have been snow-capped.

I had a long journey back home this lunchtime after a meeting and after dropping a colleague who had attended it back home. It had been a grey and wet morning but the sky suddenly cleared as I was driving along a very high stretch of road.

I was suddenly presented with an amazing vista of rolling fields, hills and mountains, the furthest of which were more than twenty miles away, gleaming white in the sun. There are no words to describe how beautiful it was, but it reminded me that Cumbria is one of the most lovely places in the world.

When we are trying to recruit people to staff our hospitals we ought to do more to emphasise how fantastically lovely this are is and some of the other very real health and quality of life advantages of living here.

On the subject of the EU accounts ...

I wrote a couple of days ago about the differing reaction of people to comments from EU Auditors.

I have made a number of attempts, most recently here, to explain the truth about the oft-repeated claim that the European Court of Auditors (ECA) have not signed off the EU accounts for twenty-two consecutive years.

You would think that there would be a simple binary yes/no answer to anyone who asks whether this is true, but unfortunately there isn't. There are questions to which it is simply not possible to give a "Yes or No" answer which is not at best seriously misleading and this is one of them.

In terms of the accuracy of the accounts themselves, the EU's auditors "qualified" them as containing material errors for every year from 1994 to 2006.

Since then however the ECA has accepted that the accounts give an accurate picture of the EU's income and expenditure every year from 2007 to the most recent accounts, for 2015.

In terms of what those accounts actually say about whether all EU money was spent properly, however, the European Court of Auditors has found in every year since 1994 that there were material errors in EU spending - specifically that more than 2% of EU expenditure was not correctly spent because it was not spent on the purposes for which the rules allow it to be spent. In 2015 the percentage of wrongly spent money was 3.8%.

On a budget the size of the EU's that represents billions of pounds a year of incorrectly spent money. It's not necessarily all fraud or waste but it is absolutely not right that such vast sums should be spent on purposes which have not been properly and legally approved, and it is an absolute scandal that mis-spending on this scale was not adequately brought under control years ago.

Here is a graphic from the "Full Facts" fact checking website explaining in which years the Auditors said that the EU accounts were not accurate enough, and in which years they said the accounts were accurate but too much money was not being spent correctly.

The article from which this is taken is an extremely good one and you can read it at


Saturday music spot: "Worthy is the Lamb" from Handel's Messiah

To conclude my little selection of extracts from Handel's "Messiah:"

Quote of the day 19th November 2016

I suspect he would argue that the same would apply to Westminster ...

Friday, November 18, 2016

BBC Question time - why did they give a platform to Ms One Percent?

I would not want to suggest that BBC Question Time should not occasionally look beyond the main political parties at people who have interesting things to say. But they do have a duty to be balanced and ought to think carefully about who they give a platform to.

Cat Boyd, who was invited to be a panellist on last night's question time, was involved in putting together a left-wing slate for the Scottish parliament elections earlier this year called RISE, which failed to elect a single candidate. And remember, this was in a PR election: in the Glasgow region where she stood about 6% of the vote would have given RISE a seat. The regional ticket which she headed only got ONE PER CENT of the vote. (Results here.)

This is an image from Twitter showing Cat Boyd, or as I shall now refer to her, Ms One Percent,  at a "Death party" where she danced in the street to celebrate when Margaret Thatcher died.

She also made herself look rather silly on QT by being severely critical of one side (it would not have mattered which) in the EU referendum and then admitting that she didn't vote.

I do not deny anyone the right to express their views, no matter how distasteful I find them. I also accept that the BBC needs to publicise a wide range of views including some that I disagree with.

But is it really appropriate for the BBC to use a licence-payers' money to provide a platform for someone whose views were not supported by more than one percent of the electorate in the area where she stood for election and whose behaviour will have been highly offensive to a much larger proportion of licence payers and voters?

If the people who run Question Time could not find someone with far more interesting and worthwhile ideas, and much more public support, than Ms One Percent to offer a place on the panel, they do not deserve their salaries.

Quote of the day 18th November 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Double Standards

When European Auditors criticise misspending of EU money contrary to EU rules by anyone other than UKIP ...

Nigel Farage said

"The court of auditors have failed to give the all clear to EU accounts for 19 years in a row.

"This EU fraud is because the EU is institutionally flawed.

"In golfing terms, while the British and European taxpayers are working to keep their families afloat, Barroso and the Commission are sitting happy at the 19th Hole (golf club bar) having an easy life.

"It is about time the peoples of Europe were able to get this EU albatross off their backs, or at least out of their pockets.

"This week, it has been revealed that the EU has just wasted thousands of pounds on studies into toilet behaviour and use of vacuum cleaners – this is a huge waste, but according to the auditors is not counted as fraud. This is an example of a ridiculous waste of money."

(Source: the Economic Voice here.)

When European Auditors criticise misspending of EU money contrary to EU rules by UKIP ...

Nigel Farage said

"This is pure victimisation!"

and other UKIP representatives described the audit report as "obviously a witch hunt."

Double Standards, anyone?

Thursday music spot: RCS sing the 'Hallelujah Chorus'

You guessed it!

Conservatives on track to become party of the working class - says Labour MP

A Labour MP has told her local newspaper that Theresa May's Conservatives are on course to replace her own party as the party of the working class.

Gisela Stuart, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, is reported in the Birmingham Mail  here as saying that Labour is seen to represent London, not the rest of the country.

The Labour MP, one of comparatively few parliamentarians for the red team who backed Leave, said that the referendum had re-engaged a large part of the working class who had become disillusioned with politics.

But there was bad news for Labour, she said.

“Even those who have been lifelong Labour voters do not see the Labour party as speaking for them. Labour is seen to represent the concerns of London rather than the country as a whole.

Many of the messages in Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative party conference, however, hit the precise concerns and aspirations we are hearing from our focus groups."

All-Out War - how Leave won the referendum

There is a fascinating interview on Conservative Home this morning here in which Andrew Gimson talks to Tim Shipman about his book "All out war" on the EU referendum campaign.;

Whether or not you decide to read the book (and it has probably persuaded me to do so,) I think the conversation on the Conservative Home site is interesting and worth reading.

Quote of the day 17th November 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wednesday music spot: more from Handel's Messiah

This is what follows on from yesterday's music spot. Those who are familiar with Handel's Messiah will realise what's coming tomorrow ...

UK Unemployment falls to 11-year low as 350,000 people find jobs

UK unemployment fell by 37,000 to 1.6 million in the three months to September, hitting an 11-year low. This represents a jobless rate down to 4.8% in the same period, while the number of people in work went up by 49,000, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Average weekly earnings grew by 2.3% in the year to October including bonuses and by 2.4% excluding bonuses; with CPI inflation at just under one percent this represents an increase in average real wages.
This continues a trend of increasing employment since 2010 which applies in every part of the country. Here in the North West employment is 172,000 higher than in 2010.
The ONS statistics can be found here.

Quote of the day 16th November 2016

(Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times)

Follow-on comments:

Human brains evolved to a significant extent as pattern-spotting machines - recognising patterns which can indicate danger, and avoiding it, recognising patterns which can indicate the presence of food or shelter and carefully checking them out.

A difficulty this creates for us in the modern world is that the evolutionary penalty for erring on the side of caution when estimating danger, and on the side of checking things out when estimating potential benefit, were far greater than the likely penalties for failing to spot a risk or benefit.

E.g. the potential loss from identifying a potential risk which is not in fact there was avoiding somewhere you did not need to avoid or carrying a weapon you did not need to bring: the potential loss from failing to identify a risk which really is there is getting eaten and/or killed.

Consequently, as a statistician would put it, when it comes to spotting patterns we have evolved to give higher priority to avoiding type II errors rather than type I errors - better to be wary of a danger or look out for an opportunity that does exist rather than

When scientists, test a hypothesis, a type I error is the incorrect rejection of a true null hypothesis (a "false positive"), while a type II error is incorrectly retaining a false null hypothesis (a "false negative"). The "Null hypothesis" is that there is no pattern, or nothing there. So the null hypothesis might be "there is no tiger hiding in that patch of thick grass."

Obviously the consequences for accepting that particular null hypothesis if it is in fact wrong and there IS a tiger were far more serious than those of rejecting it, or even just taking seriously that it might be false, if it is correct and there is no tiger.

The very existence of the proverb about "the boy who cried wolf" is an illustration that humans have understood for a very long time the possibility of making both kinds of mistake. It also demonstrates that more astute humans have been aware for a very long time that one of the most serious potential consequences of repeated type I errors - e.g. crying "wolf" when there isn't one - can be that it subsequently leads yourself or others to make type II errors - e.g. not believing you when you then cry "wolf" when there is.

Which brings me back to Janan Ganesh's point. I picked it as my quote of the day because his point that we tend to ascribe very great significance to current events, and try to fit those events into a pattern which may or may not be there is worth thinking about.

But I do not reach the same conclusion.

I think he is right to warn against being too quick to adopt simplistic and cataclysmic explanations for events like the British general election of 2015 and Brexit vote, and America's election of Donald Trump.

But I think the warning that we should not be too quick to think we understand what caused such upsets applies to other simplistic explanations as well. You have to find a lot of "particularities" to explain the Brexit vote or Trump's election.

And in particular, the idea that you can adequately explain those events by pointing out that Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn and Hillary Clinton were and are very poor standard-bearers for the cause of the mainstream left - although they were - is not remotely credible.