Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Midweek Madrigal: "Draw on sweet night" by Willbye

The right and wrong way to respond to Labour

It is right and legitimate that in the debate about what future Britain should follow, people should have the right to make constructive criticism of the parties and policies they don't support as well as advocating those they do.

However, the result of the 2017 general election stands as a dire warning of what can happen if you give the impression of spending too much time trashing your opponents and not enough time putting forward clearly set out positive policies of your own.

Anyone who imagines that the Conservatives can win the next election through a campaign which mainly consists of Corbyn-bashing should read

"Time has let Corbyn off the hook,"

an excellent article by Andrew Stuttaford which explains why a attitudes and a history which would once have made Jeremy Corbyn unelectable outside the most loyal of Labour heartlands - and still do make him unelectable in some areas which used to be Labour heartlands, such as the constituency where I live, which now has a Conservative MP -  no longer act as the electoral millstone they would once have been.

I belong to the generation who lived through the "Troubles" and the associated IRA bombing campaign - during which republican terrorists killed about 1,800 people of whom about 650 were civilians including small children.

In December 1984, two weeks after the IRA attempted to wipe out the British government with a bomb in Brighton which did kill five people, Jeremy Corbyn invited convicted IRA volunteers Linda Quigley and Gerry MacLochlainn to the House of Commons. It caused uproar at the time.

Many people of my generation, including myself, still think of that invitation in roughly the same way that most Labour party members would react if a Conservative MP had invited convicted leaders of "Britain First" to a meeting at the Commons within a fortnight of the murder of Jo Cox by a killer who shouted "Britain First" during his attack - and if that MP had then become leader of the party.

But those electors to whom the Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement are ancient history often do not share that reaction and we will not make a positive impression on them by banging on about it.

I posted a few days ago about the similarities between Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump, but unfortunately a comment which I read last week about what the opponents of both Corbyn and Trump have in common is also true.

Specifically, it has been said that critics of both Corbyn and Trump have such a low opinion of these men that they find it very hard to express their criticism in ways which have any resonance for people who don't already share the same  opinion.

So what should people who want to win an election against Labour do?

Well, for a start, it should be a golden rule of all political campaigning to get your facts right.

It is not necessary to criticise your opponents, but if you do, it is particularly important to make every effort to get your facts right. As was demonstrated only too clearly this month, if you attack someone and make defamatory allegations which you cannot prove, it's only too easy to help them and make yourself look very foolish. Being caught making a false statement also undermines the ability of your side of the argument to be believed when making similar criticisms which are actually true!

To win the next election it is necessary

1) To have good policies which will address the issues people are concerned about

2) To make a positive case for those policies.

3) To listen to people. You can't please everyone but you should try to at least listen

4) To work hard to help those people you can.

5) To explain what you've achieved.

6) If you criticise your opponent at all, do not let it dominate your message, make sure that everything you say is true and do not express your criticisms in a personal or malicious way.

Most of the time the electorate awards victory to the major party which is most positive and least divisive. I suspect that whenever the election comes they will do so again.

Working Together meeting this evening cancelled

Due to adverse weather conditions the NHS "Working Together" steering group meeting which had been due to take place at Allerdale House, Workington at 6pm this evening HAS BEEN CANCELLED.

The meeting will be rescheduled and notice of the new date, time and venue given in the near future.

Snow, Earthquake, school closures

There is snow on the ground in many parts of Cumbria including the West Coast - I've lived in Whitehaven for twelve years and can count on the fingers of my two hands how many times we have had more than trivial amounts of snow settle but that count has just incremented.

More than a hundred schools in Cumbria are closed today because of snow and access issues, the current list is available to read at:

(No point quoting an exact number as it may well change through the day.)

There was also what seemed like a small earth tremor or minor earthquake at about 7.35 am this morning. My daughter and her friends have been exchanging messages and it has been felt all over West Cumbria at least as far as Cockermouth and Gosforth as well as Whitehaven - I have also seen it mentioned on social media. I am told the British Geological Survey has a mention.

Earthquake Update: BGS has it as a 3.2 magnitude quake centred at Mosser in Cumbria and timed at 7.33.50 am Greenwich Mean Time.

There are no reports of any injuries or damage caused by the quake though it may have been a factor in some minor road accidents which may be contributing to the very heavy congestion on the roads this morning.

Quote of the day 28th February 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Brexit culture war continues ...

As a reminder of where I am coming from before discussing the ongoing Brexit argument ...

I agonised for a long time during the EU referendum campaign about which way was in Britain's best interests before eventually voting Remain.

If I was sent back in some kind of time warp to the day I filled out my postal ballot I would still vote Remain. The events of the past 20 months have demonstrated that, just as I argued at the time, both campaigns were right on some things but wrong on many others and both were grossly overstating their respective cases. Add up the issues on which the Remain narrative appears to fit what has happened so far and those on which the Leave narrative has, and there is enough on both sides of the ledger that it isn't actually surprising that not too many people have changed their minds.

(Of course, one of the things about which hardliners on both sides are selective in the evidence they notice in opposite directions is that, while opinion polls have actually been all over the place, each side tends to remember those polls which suggest that public opinion has moved in their favour and forget those which don't. Hence both sets of ultras share an equally unfounded conviction that a clear majority of the electorate is now on their side.)

What many Remain voters like myself who are also democrats have done is accept the majority verdict of the electorate, something which some of the ultras seem to find extremely difficult to do.

But I will admit to being more frightened by the absolutism which I see in the hardliners on both sides of the argument than I am by anything which Brexit in itself will do to Britain. I have far more in common with those who voted the opposite way to me but are able to debate how we implement Brexit in a reasonable and constructive way than I have with the ultras on either side.

Indeed, I am quite worried by those to whom anyone who puts the democratic decision of the people above their own views is a knowingly sabotaging Britain, or those to whom anyone who uses their democratic and legal rights to fight for what they think is best for our county is an "enemy of the people," those to whom those on the wrong side are stupid, uneducated, racist and xenophobic bigots or arrogant, out of touch, unpatriotic elitists, and in both cases, to whom anyone who takes a different view is deluded and living in a fantasy world, a traitor, or both

What we are seeing amounts to a culture war.

Ed West argues in a worryingly persuasive Spectator article called "Citizenship is Dead" that making common cause based on similarity of beliefs is replacing other forms of community, and that political differences are becoming almost as entrenched as religious ones can be. He writes

"It’s simply impossible to reason with anyone who has entrenched opinions about Brexit, on either side."

a view which I find a lot more accurate than I like.

We need to recover some of the tolerance and respect for different views on which Britons used to pride ourselves. And we need to do so fast.

"Saturday Chataway" to meet your elected representatives in Keswick on Saturday

Trudy Harrison MP is organising "Saturday Chataway" sessions around the Copeland constituency and the next one is this coming Saturday 3rd March at the Crosthwaite rooms in Keswick from 10am to 12 noon. Councillors of all levels and from all parties have been invited and we are expecting a reasonable representation of elected members.

The big freeze begins

The Met Office predictions of a very severe cold spell this week do appear to be coming true. There is ice and snow on the ground in many parts of Cumbria including the West Coast which usually sees much less snow than the rest of the county.

Just to add to the risk, local systems of weather mean that in a comparatively short journey along the West Coast this morning it was possible to start in an area where there was frost and settled snow, drive through an area where there was no obvious sign of either, and then within a few more miles arrive where the snow and ice on the road was much worse.

So if you are either driving, or walking around outside this morning (and probably for several days to come) do take great care. 

Quote of the day 27th February 2018

Monday, February 26, 2018

Health Scrutiny and the "Five Hard Truths"

I spent much of today at the Cumbria Health Scrutiny meeting in Carlisle.

I will have more to write this week about what was an extremely interesting meeting, for which the  full agenda including reports is available here.

As a taster, here are what the Morecombe Bay NHS (covering an area which includes South Cumbria and part of Lancashire) describes as "The five hard truths" which they are seeking to address and about which they have started a process of "public engagement."

(They are not, incidentally, at this stage making any definitive proposals to deal with this and do not expect to put forward any service closures or redundancies when they do put such proposals forward.)

"The five hard truths are:

1. Too much of the NHS budget is now spent on treating a number of health conditions that are largely preventable and some of these issues lie outside the NHS. We are spending on ‘cure’ and ‘follow up’ rather than prevention.

2. Despite an active recruitment drive the recruitment of clinical staff is challenging, especially in some specialties in the hospital, in community services and in general practice. We spend significant amounts of money on locums, agency staff and have to pay over the odds’ for staff to provide ‘fragile services’ in Morecambe Bay

3. The best bed is often your own bed –for some people being in hospital can lead to deterioration in health e.g. muscle wastage. Some people`s length of stay in a hospital bed is longer than the national average. We also know that there will always be people who do need to be in hospital.

4. The demand on all health and care services continues to increase e.g. on GPs, on community nurses etc. “winter pressures” are often faced all year round. At home not everyone in Morecambe Bay has easy access to transport, good living conditions, or care and support from family and friends. For those family and friend who are carers looking after vulnerable people, this can cause pressure and in turn affect their health.

5. There are areas of waste and duplicated spend in some areas e.g. variations in prescribing, spending on running duplicate clinical and ‘back office’ services across many sites and different buying processes. "

More detailed report on the meeting to follow.

Quote of the day 26th February 2018

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunday music spot: "Salvator Mundi" by Thomas Tallis

Salvator mundi, salva nos,
qui per crucem et sanguinem redemisti nos.
Auxiliare nobis, te deprecamur, Deus noster.

O saviour of the World, save us,
who by thy cross and blood hast redeemed us.
Come to our rescue, we beseech thee, our God.

This recording is of a performance by "The Sixteen."

Quote of the day 25th February 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday music spot: "Rejoice greatly" (Handel)

Yes, you may notice a recurring theme in today's posts ...

Remembering the Copeland by-election and the daft explanations put foward ...

In the week or so after the Copeland by-election there were a large number of barking mad explanations put forward which are still funny a year later.

Even the Daily Mirror was laughing at Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Paul Mason, and other Corbyn apologists over these delusional attempts to shift the blame to anyone other than the Labour leadership.

Here is an extract from another of my posts from a year ago ...

"Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have blamed just about everyone on the planet for Labour's disastrous showing in the by-election except Jeremy Corbyn.

I'm sharing links to some of the most absurd not because I wish to gloat - well not much anyway - but because I think even disappointed Labour supporters, if they have a working brain and are not members of the Cult of Corbyn, will find some of them quite funny.

A strong contender for the most barking mad article on the subject is a piece by Paul Mason called "Labour won Stoke Jamie Reed lost Copeland." which accused Reed and Hunt of being part of

"the Blairite plan to stage two electoral disasters on one night."

It's a little difficult to take this seriously given that it was actually the present leadership of the Labour party that decided to stage the two by-elections together.

While the issue of Brexit certainly did come up on the doorstep I also find it hard to take seriously Mason's argument that a significant chunk of a large part of Britain want to leave the EU so much that they would happily see the NHS destroyed provided we leave.

I don't know how many Leave voters he has ever spoken to but the vast majority of leave voters with whom I have discussed the matter, whether they literally believed the slogan on the side of that red bus or not, either thought that Britain would be better off outside the EU and could therefore afford to put more into the NHS, or that the country would do well enough outside that significant cuts in public spending would not be needed. People who thought Brexit would wreck the NHS voted Remain.

Mr Mason himself appears to be seriously conflicted about the EU - on the one hand he argues that leaving it will go "catastrophically wrong" and cause an "economic disaster" and yet in the same article he simultaneously argues that

"the EU is an economic and political disaster zone: it is a machine for imposing austerity and injustice and will go on self-destructing whatever Labour’s position is in the negotiations. If anything, the Labour position was not critical enough of Europe in the Brexit referendum campaign."

Let's get this straight: Mason thinks the EU is an economic and political disaster zone which exists to impose austerity and injustice, but nevertheless believes that leaving it will also be a disaster?

I can understand either of those viewpoints separately but holding both of them is one of the most serious cases of cognitive dissonance I've ever come across.

Tom Peck's political sketch in The Independent,

"Churchillian Corbyn knows that it is only through failure that you find success,"

givens an ironic roundup of the different excuses put forward for Labour's defeat, as does the Labour supporting Mirror newspaper in their piece,

"Nine unbelievable reasons Jeremy Corbyn allies gave for Labour losing in Copeland - and one they didn't."

But my favourite utterly bonkers explanation of the result came in a "Heavy Metal Politics" piece

"Stoke vs Copeland: why Labour can win again" which blames it in a power cut.

Noting that Electricity North West had confirmed that on polling day Storm Doris caused a loss of power to 7,000 homes in the North West, "Heavy Metal Politics" alleged with a total lack of any supporting evidence "many of which occurred in Copeland."

From this they constructed an elaborate and highly detailed house of cards of an argument that many younger voters in CA28 postcode areas around Whitehaven lost electric power, and therefore access to social media, and thus did not hear Labour's arguments telling them to go and vote Labour.

Now apart from the fact that the people of Copeland have been subjected to such wall-to-wall campaigning by every imaginable channel that more than a few were starting to react like this, and therefore loss of social media for one day should not have had that huge an impact on people's knowledge about the by-election, I live in Whitehaven and spent all day campaigning here and saw no evidence at all of power cuts.

Looking at a wider range of news reports on the Electricity North West  website than the one linked to I discovered that, far from many of the 7,000 homes which lost power being in Whitehaven or any other part of Copeland, most of them were in Lancashire, Manchester and the Peak district as you can read here.

So my prize for the most ridiculous explanation for the Copeland by-election result goes to Heavy Metal Politics and if the person responsible for the article would care to contact me I will arrange to send them their wooden spoon ..."

Remembering Copeland one year on: how remarkable was that result

Here is the text of an article I posted exactly one year ago on just how remarkable the Copeland result was.

"Apologies, this post is for those with an 'anorak' interest in elections only.

Number Cruncher Politics just tweeted this chart which shows how the majority by which governing parties won or lost by-elections changed compared with the previous general election.

Government gains are in the top left of the chart, above and to the left of the "Origin" where the two Zero lines intersect: the Copeland by-election is the only result in this quadrant since 1983.

Government holds are results in the top right, above and to the right of the Origin. A government hold with an increased majority would be in that quadrant and above a line going up from left right at 45 degrees from the origin - which has not happened since 1983.

Opposition holds - or seat changes between opposition parties - are in the bottom left hand quadrant and by-elections where the government of the day lost a seat are in the bottom right.

Markers which are well below the dotted "best fit line" represent results where the government of the day was given a particularly severe kicking in the by-election and those well above represent results where the government of the day did unusually well.

Official Conservative candidates - e.g. not Zac Goldsmith - have been performing at the upper end of this chart in this parliament: the previous by-election result, Sleaford, is one of the two blue diamonds at the top right - the one close to the 40:40 point. Both the Copeland and Stoke results are exceptionally good.

Matt Singh's post at Number Cruncher politics, "Uncharted Territory" describes this result as "catastrophic" for Labour.

If I seem to be emphasising the negative here - e.g. the bloody nose the electorate has handed to Labour rather than a positive vote for our excellent Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison - it is because I think Conservatives would be wise to treat this result as a vote of no-confidence in Labour but avoid getting over-confident about how well we are doing.

Britain has some enormous problems, as does Copeland, and unless we make progress in solving them we might be the next ones to get a bloody nose from the voters."

Quote of the day 24 Feb 2018 - a year after Trudy Harrison's historic Copeland victory

It has been very clear talking to people throughout this campaign that Jeremy Corbyn doesn't represent them.”

“They want a party which is on the side of ordinary working people, which will respect the way they voted in the referendum and which will build a country that represents everyone.” 

“That's why they voted for me.”

(Trudy Harrison MP, extract from her victory speech after winning the Copeland by-election one year ago in what the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror described as

"A devastating result for Labour."

The paper added

"The Tories have become the first party of Government to win a by-election from the Opposition for more than three decades."

"Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison, 40, pulled off a sensational triumph in the crunch Copeland poll in Cumbria, triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Jamie Reed."

"The bombshell result, with a majority of 2,147, is a devastating defeat for Jeremy Corbyn."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Whitehaven Town Council - debate on security measures

In May this year I will pass the milestone of 25 years' experience as a councillor on various authorities; and over that quarter-century I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions where a reasonable person might have felt themselves unsafe or threatened in the position I found myself while carrying out council duties or related to them. The number of occasions where there was a need for a police or security presence even on a precautionary basis (other than when they were the people we were meeting to discuss police issues!) at council meetings was likewise very rare.

This week I have attended a number of council meetings and after one of them went on to a meeting with non councillors. They made - in a gently mocking way rather than a nasty one - a number of jokes about councillors needing pepper spray and baseball bats and I didn't have a clue what they were on about.

Then on the way home I picked up this week's Whitehaven News and read this.

I sometimes use the acronym "MRDA" for "Mandy Rice Davies Applies" (He would say that, wouldn't he.)

From now on when I say RWA it means "Richard Wilson Applies" for the best known line that actor uses in "One foot in the grave."

There are people associated with Whitehaven Town Council who are working very hard to make it an effective body which provides a good service to residents of the town, and I feel for the current mayor, Brian O'Kane, who is one of them and was put in the position of having to explain to the paper why a report on security measures is on the agenda.

There have already been some rash things said at and or the Town council and as I do not wish to add to them I am not going to make any further comment at this stage.

Protecting press freedom

As the debate about the media in Britain intensifies, our country needs to decide the answer to this question.

Do we want to have a free press and accept that they will sometimes get it wrong, or do we want to have tight regulation in the hope of tackling press abuses and accept the risk that this will compromise the ability of the press to hold the powerful to account?

A few days ago I used the following Jefferson saying as my "Quote of the Day." I had not realised how relevant it would soon come to be to this week's political debate.

The last thing a society which wishes to be a fully functioning democracy can afford to do is hand government regulators more power over the newspapers. television, or social media.

There have been repeated attempts in recent days by certain rich and powerful individuals, and in the  House of Lords, to press for another Leveson-type inquiry and limit what the press can write. Her Majesty's Opposition has now started down the same track.

I believe Britain should reject this and make a positive case against stricter regulation of the media.

Certainly the media has sometimes got things badly wrong. The whole phone hacking scandal showed them in a very poor light - though it is important to note that the courts dealt with wrongdoing on that issue very severely using existing pre-Leveson law.  A large number of  journalists and freelancers, including several of the most powerful people in the country, found themselves in the dock, and quite a few of them were convicted and went to prison.

It is also worth noting that the most damning single allegation which particularly damaged the reputation of the press - that the News of the World had hacked the phone of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler - was never proved. The evidence to the Leveson inquiry from the senior police officer who investigated this said that

It is not possible to state with any certainty"

whether her messages were deleted or who was responsible if they were.

Are the press biased?

There is a widespread perception among people involved in politics that "the media" are biased against the particular viewpoint of whoever is expressing the opinion, which is not always entirely unjustified but, while we have a plurality of news outlets expressing different opinions, is not a fatal problem either.

Almost every Conservative with whom I have discussed the matter thinks that the BBC is biased in favour of the centre left. However, a great many Labour supporters and just about everyone in Momentum thinks that the BBC is biased in favour of the Conservatives.

It's my impression that almost every pro "Leave" person I know who is active in politics thinks that the BBC is hopelessly pro-Remain, but I have also read comments from pro-remain ultras like Lord Andrew Adonis who are convinced that the BBC is overly helpful to Brexit supporters.

A YouGov poll reported here finds a similar pattern among voters as a whole.

(Despite the fact that I voted Remain, I actually think the Brexiteers are right on that one, the Beeb IS hopelessly pro-Remain and anti-Brexit, though I also think that they are genuinely trying to cover the opinions of both sides. When Lord Adonis had a go at the BBC's Nick Robinson for this on Twitter recently he merely appeared to be totally detached from reality.

Similarly, of Britain's national newspapers we all know perfectly well that there are about three newspapers which are strongly pro Remain, and which three they are, and that almost all the rest are hopelessly anti EU and pro-Brexit, though the better ones try to give both sides of the story.

Similarly we all know which two or three newspapers tend to take a centre-left view and which are usually on the right (which may or may not mean backing the Conservatives.)

But if you put that picture together most of the political spectrum has outlets which will publish their point of view.

What's the alternative?

Following the row about allegations of Jeremy Corbyn's contacts with a Warsaw Pact spy during the cold war, the Labour leadership and their Momentum allies have doubled down in attacking the press, calling for a new Leveson review, complaining about how much of the press is owned by "billionaires" and "tax exiles" and threatening that "Change is Coming."

I admit to finding this chilling.

First of all, it was legitimate to cover the story: I think Alex Massie was dead right when he argued that "Corbyn may not have been a spy; but he always opposed the west."

Secondly, as Charlotte Henry wrote here in an excellent piece on CAPX, what he is doing amounts to bullying the press.

She wrote

"Jeremy Corbyn has carefully cultivated his persona as a cuddly Left-wing pensioner who has unexpectedly been called upon by the people to lead the revolution, when he would much rather be pottering in his allotment. Well, yesterday, that mask slipped."

"The Labour leader says that the spy story, which he denies, “shows just how worried the media bosses are by the prospect of a Labour government”.

"The Leader of the Opposition is now openly threatening the British press with punitive regulation in direct retaliation for stories he does not like."

As Isabel Hardman similarly notes in the Spectator:
“What the Labour leader is doing isn’t so much threatening the press with Leveson 2, which naturally the press doesn’t want, but undermining the press as a vital part of democracy.”

The parallels between Corbyn and Trump in their treatment of the press and what looks like deliberate strategy of undermining the respect in which the media are held are striking, and - here are some words you won't get from me very often - well described in an article in The Sun here.

If this is how arrogant the Corbynistas are in opposition, God help the country if they ever get into power.

I think Britain as a country needs to make a positive decision to entrench the ability of both mainstream and social media to call power to account.

That means welcoming diversity of publications and being very careful indeed not to introduce forms of regulation which could potentially be abused by a government,  company or wealthy person to punish the media for running true stories which they do not like or reasonable opinions which they disagree with.

Quote of the day 22nd February 2018

"Theresa May was right this week to call for open and transparent statements from the Labour leader.

I doubt if they will come.

What we will get is a steady trickle of new names and old information. And denials, of course.

When they come, remember Mandy Rice-Davies."

(Joe Haines, former Press Secretary to Labour prime minister Harold Wilson during the Cold War, in an article about what the KGB and other intelligence agencies from hostile foreign powers which you can read in full here.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Midweek Madrigal: "Sing Joyfully" by Byrd, sung by VOCES8

Emergency road closure for repairs, Victoria Road Whitehaven

Victoria Road, Whitehaven has been closed today (Wednesday 21st February 2018) near the entrance to the Bay Vista estate for urgent road repairs.

These works are expected to last up to five days.

During this time there will be no through access for vehicles along this road from the Sunny Hill or Pelican to Scilly Bank or Quality Corner.

UPDATE 22nd February The road was open again at least part of today. I will check tomorrow morning whether the work has been completed and post the answer here.

Quote of the day 21st February 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

By their attitude to press freedom ye shall know them ...

There is a balance to be struck between the imperative need for a democratic society to allow free speech and giving people who have been the subject of lies and defamation to take action to protect their reputation.

The press in Britain is not perfect - by God they're not - but if you ask me to name what sort of press would be worse than the one we have now I'd answer any press accountable to the government.

A pretty good test of how strongly committed to democracy someone involved in politics is where they seek to strike that balance between press freedom on the one hand and regulation and restraint on the other.

An indicator of how strong Britain's libel laws are compared to those elsewhere is the fact that we have had "libel tourism" in which wealthy companies or people from around the world who are trying to take legal action against criticism which they don't like tend to see if the words they object to have been published in Britain, and if so bring their libel action here. Libel tourism has not been quite so common in British courts since early 2014 following a couple of court judgements and a  piece of legislation designed to stop it, which I am about to describe, but it has been enough of a feature over recent years to be a pretty good indication that UK libel laws are

1) some of the strictest in the world, and

2) very possibly too strict, getting that balance wrong.

I was pleased when the coalition government introduced a Defamation bill designed to make Britain's libel laws less of a threat to those who are only expressing legitimate opinion.

The Defamation Act 2013 which came into effect at the start of the following year introduced a new "serious harm threshold" designed to help people understand when claims should be brought and discourage the waste of everyone's time and money on trivial or vexatious libel cases.

Ministers hoped that this legislation would reverse "the chilling effect" previous libel laws have had on freedom of expression and legitimate debate.

The then justice minister Shailesh Vara said that Journalists, scientists and academics have faced unfair legal threats for fairly criticising a company, person or product in the past. He added that 

"As a result of these new laws, anyone expressing views and engaging in public debate can do so in the knowledge that the law offers them stronger protection against unjust and unfair threats of legal action.

"These laws coming into force represent the end of a long and hard-fought battle to ensure a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and people's ability to protect their reputation."

That Defamation Act contained a series of measures, including protection for scientists and academics publishing peer-reviewed material in scientific and academic journals, and introduced a defence for those publishing material that they reasonably believe is in the public interest. It also required people who do not live in Europe and are trying to bring a defamation action in a British court to demonstrate that the court concerned is the most appropriate place to bring the action.

Now compare and contrast with the attitude of the present leadership of the Labour party to press criticism.

Until I learned of the threats against the press issued by Jeremy Corbyn today I was inclined to think that the story of Jeremy Corbyn's contacts with Eastern Bloc agents was merely yet another indication of his bad judgement - and probably nothing like as serious as his invitation to convicted IRA terrorists to visit the House of Commons just after the Brighton bomb, although I do agree with an article in the Guardian by Matthew d'Ancona, in which he argued that the worst response to the story of Corbyn's meetings with a Czech spy during the cold war is indifference.

But the reaction of the Labour leader and some of his acolytes on this issue is actually more worrying than the spy story itself - we already knew that he had met a lot of seriously bad guys, but threatening the press because you don't like what they have written - and for all the attempt to present his attack on the press as a call for higher press standards, that is what is happening - is new.

Mr Corbyn has a lot more in common with Donald J Trump than the followers of either might be ready to believe and one of the pages he seems to be taking straight out of the Trump playbook is attacking the media on Twitter (and elsewhere.)

Corbyn issued statements today saying that the espionage allegations show that the press is worried about the possible election of a Labour government and adds "They're right to be."

He tweeted that

"In the last few days The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express have gone a little bit James Bond. We've got news for the billionaire, tax exile press barons: Change is coming"
Even Labour MPs were concerned by this, with John Woodcock, MP for Barrow, replying

"Are we really threatening the press with more regulation because they printed a story we didn’t like? This is not ok"

John Woodcock also drew some of the same parallels between Corbyn and Trump as I did above, adding

"It's horrible seeing America’s media debased in this way by Donald Trump and we shouldn’t accept it here either.

If you think it might be ok to threaten newspapers with more regulation after they print a story you don’t like, please read  Why Democracies Die, new book on the parallels between Trump and how other countries slipped into authoritarianism."

I don't often quote Labour MPs and am not the greatest fan of John Woodcock but he's got Jeremy Corbyn bang to rights there. I am genuinely scared, not for myself but for my children's future, of how much damage to democracy and free speech in Britain a Corbyn government could do if they were ever elected.

Social Media crows as the sale of KCF chicken is arrested ...

I'm told police in Tower Hamlets actually had to put out a statement asking people not to call them over the shortage of chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken as it was "not a police matter."

Meanwhile on social media it was suggested that the police elsewhere had been more actively involved and that this picture showed them arresting the person responsible

Someone claiming to be the South African Police Minister had previously threatened to arrest the person responsible for a KFC "Cauliflower and Kale" burger

If it really was the South African Police minister it sounds like his department's resources should have been (and may soon be) better employed investigating his then (and now former) boss ...

Quote of the day 20th February 2018

"Twitter outrage rules:

Rightie says something sexist - cyber-lynch.
Leftie commits sexual assault - understand his journey."

(Twitter post yesterday from the Guido Fawkes website.)

It does unfortunately appear that rather too many people in politics and on social media are more willing to be forgiving of someone who is alleged to have behaved, or even who has admitted behaving, in very inappropriate ways if the alleged or actual perpetrator is perceived to be on their own side of the political divide.

Just to be clear, I think people are entitled to due process and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty - and applying that principle to the accused does not have to mean failing to treat victims with respect or refusing to take what they say seriously - regardless of their politics.

I also think that failure to do this, especially where the accused is someone with different political views to one's own, is a problem throughout the full range of the political spectrum.

Often the problem is being too willing to believe the worst of one's political opponents but sometimes people are willing to defend someone who is or appears to be aligned with their own political party even after they have admitted, or it has been shown beyond reasonable doubt, that they have done something unacceptable.

I would not have believed it had I not heard it with my own ears on the radio yesterday, but a member of parliament was giving credit to someone who had stepped down from positions of responsibility admitting "inappropriate" behaviour towards women, on the grounds that at least he recognised that his previous behaviour had been wrong.

If anyone were to open a book on how long we would have to wait before hearing an MP make a comment that sympathetic towards a political opponent my bet would be "until the heat death of the universe."

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review of Post-18 education launched

The Prime Minister has launched a review of post-18 education and funding which will look at how we can:
  • Make the system fairer for taxpayers and students
  • Create genuine choice
  • Develop the skills our economy needs

An anecdote: what's wriong with communism in one paragraph

Unfortunately this story is far more than a play on words. However noble the ideals of some of those behind the Russian Revolution, what happened was not the lifting up of poor people but the wholesale elimination of whole classes of the "privileged" which even included the killing of millions the slightly-less-unfortunate class of peasants, the "kulaks."

Quote of the day 19th February 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

February meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The next meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will held on Monday 26th February at 10.30 am at Cumbria House, Botchergate, Carlisle, and will be open to the public.

After the usual boilerplate (apologies for absence, minutes of previous meeting, etc) the first major item on the agenda, item six, is the presentation of a report from the Chief Executive of the CCG (The clinical commissioning group) for North Cumbria NHS.

This will include details of the 12 month trial of "Option One" Consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital as reconfigured following the 2016 Success regime consultation:

Report by the Chief Executive, NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group

The other main items on the morning's agenda are as follows:

To consider a report by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

To consider a report by Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group.

To consider a report by Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group.

Then after lunch, resuming at about 1.30pm, the main items for consideration are:

To consider a report by the Programme Director for South Cumbria and Lancashire STP.

To consider a report by the North West Ambulance Service.

The full agenda including reports is available here.