Saturday, March 31, 2018

The RAF anniversary: a hundred years of bravery and service

This weekend sees the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force.

In that hundred years many brave men and women have worn RAF uniform in every part of the world. They have rescued people from the sea and fought off enemy bombers and missiles.

There is much more to the history of the RAF than the Battle of Britain, but I will single it out because as the great statesman responsible for the quote below also said, if Britain lasts for a thousand years people will still describe it as our country's finest hour.

"Let no one say we have not been warned" - George Walden writes

My attention was drawn by a tweet from Nick Cohen to an excellent article in "Standpoint" by George Walden, called

"Presidents for life Putin and Xi menace the West."

Nick summarised the article as explaining that, whether we like it or not and whether we chose this situation or not, we are in a new cold war and anyone under 50 should read this article if they want to understand the problem we in the West now face.

Actually, in my humble opinion, I think anyone aged over or under 50 who wants to think about how we deal with Russia and China would be well advised to read it.

As George Walden points out, Britain and our allies need to recognise that we are dealing with Russian and Chinese leaders who are consciously trying to create what they see as the sources of Russian and Chinese strength during the Cold War era.

Quoting a triumphalist attack on democracy which predicted that the future belongs to authoritarian cultures rather than the ballot box, Walden argues that nobody should say we have not been warned about what the West is facing.

He responds to those - and there are far too many of them on both the right and the left of British politics - who are far too ready to blame our own side and exonerate Russia for bad relations as follows:

How did we stumble into a world that sometimes appears more unstable than in Cold War days?

Historians and commentators who tell you that it’s our own fault are two a penny, with their allegations of Western incompetence, greed, insensitivity and plain stupidity. There was never any lack of that, and there was always an element of hubris in the triumphalism of the Cold War winners.

Of course there were mistakes. Yet it would be another one to indulge in an orgy of puritanical self-reproach. As accusations of alienating Moscow or Beijing needlessly fly around, we should be careful whom we listen to. Not a few of the people who chastise the West for throwing away their victory are the same ones who found an exonerating word for Mao Zedong or the brutalities of the Soviet regime, frequently under the disguise of moral equivalence.

It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now: the West and the Soviet Union were never equally wicked, nor is the West as guilty as Russia for the new tensions. We underestimated the post-Cold War neurosis the Russians experienced as their empire disappeared around them and their country shrank, and we behaved clumsily over Nato, but that is far from explaining aggressive Russian behaviour today.

When you look at the cynicism, mendacity, corruption and official contempt for human rights characteristic of today’s Russia, don’t be surprised. The kleptocracy run for the benefit of its politicians, oligarchs and secret policemen has its antecedents, as does the absence of an effective liberal opposition: look at the historic failure of the anti-Bolshevik politicians in the October revolution.

And as Putin casts about for foreign fall guys for his country’s domestic failings, political or economic, don’t be surprised either. Soviet Russia did the same. You can argue that Western miscalculations since the Wall went down have helped to bring out the worst in the Russian psyche, but you cannot contend that the worst was not already present. And by 'worst', in essence I mean its chronic subservience to power, the strongman syndrome, and its chronic intelligence sickness.

After analysing the policies both Russia and China are following, and the reasons why, Walden argues for great caution towards each, and concludes as follows:

"On policy towards Putin’s Russia, the truth is that the Cold War is pretty much back and we are going to have to soldier on where we left off. If Putin is determined to drag his country back to the 1980s he will drag us back with him. While he and his circle are in power no one will be able to say, as Mrs Thatcher said of Gorbachev, that here was someone with whom she could do business. Doing business means having a degree of mutual trust and respect, and someone with an unreconstructed KGB mindset deserves neither. And if we pretend that Putin can be a reliable partner the day change might finally arrive will be further delayed.

"Soldiering on is not a recipe for mutual isolation. Now as then we must continue to engage with Moscow on all fronts — diplomacy, trade, contacts, culture — though without the slightest delusion. For all its outward changes, in essence our adversary — there is no other word — is the same country as before. Somewhat richer, somewhat freer, but a country whose people remain ultimately in thrall to a corrupt, repressive power. History shows that internal change only comes when Russia has exhausted the alternatives. If there is any scope for optimism, it is there.

"What I see now, in both Russia and China, is the threat of nationalistic self-assertion against a fracturing West. And the worst way to counter that is for the West to indulge in new forms of nationalism itself. The effect can only be to weaken solidarity, as we are discovering."

Music to relax after campaigning: Bach's Triple Concerto in A minor

Labour peer Lord Robert Winson on why he is ashamed of the Labour party

Friday, March 30, 2018

Psalm for Good Friday: "My God look apon me why has thou forsaken me"

Psalm 22 (from the parish psalter, verses one to twenty-three)

My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me: and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?
2)  O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not: and in the night-season also I take no rest.
3)  And thou continuest holy: O thou worship of Israel.
4) Our fathers hoped in thee: they trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them.
5) They called upon thee, and were holpen: they put their trust in thee, and were not confounded.
6) But as for me, I am a worm, and no man: a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people.
7) All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying,
8) He trusted in God, that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, if he will have him.
9) But thou art he that took me out of my mother's womb: thou wast my hope, when I hanged yet upon my mother's breasts.
10) I have been left unto thee ever since I was born: thou art my God, even from my mother's womb.
11) O go not from me, for trouble is hard at hand: and there is none to help me.
12) Many oxen are come about me: fat bulls of Basan close me in on every side.
13) They gape upon me with their mouths: as it were a ramping and a roaring lion.
14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart also in the midst of my body is even like melting wax.
15) My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my gums: and thou shalt bring me into the dust of death.
16) For many dogs are come about me: and the council of the wicked layeth siege against me.
17) They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones: they stand staring and looking upon me.
18) They part my garments among them: and cast lots upon my vesture.
19) But be not thou far from me, O Lord: thou art my succour, haste thee to help me.
20) Deliver my soul from the sword: my darling from the power of the dog.
21) Save me from the lion's mouth: thou hast heard me also from among the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy Name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23) O praise the Lord, ye that fear him: magnify him, all ye of the seed of Jacob, and fear him, all ye seed of Israel.

Here are these words set to a chant composed by S.S. Wesley and sung about fifty years ago by the choir of King's College, Cambridge directed and accompanied by Sir David Willcocks on the organ.

(The painting is "Christ on the Cross" by Peter Paul Rubens.)

Quote of the day for Good Friday 30th March 2018

Music spot for Good Friday: "Come ye Daughters, Share My Mourning"

From Bach's Matthew Passion. This performance was recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berlin National Cathedral Choir, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, in 1973.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

No party has a monopoly on virtue or wisdom

No political party has a monopoly on goodness or on making the right decision. All get some things right and some things wrong.

The same applies to any other group of people, be it "Independent" candidates, those who voted "Leave" or those who voted "Remain."

This is something we all ought to remember more often.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Midweek Madrigal: John Wilbye "Sweet honey-sucking bees"

Does Britain need our own "First Amendment?"

The First amendment to the US constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Britain has never had such a provision in our unwritten constitution or written laws and for centuries nobody thought we needed one. The events of the past twenty years - and this month - are making me think that perhaps we do.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Freudian slip of the century

The kindest explanation of this extraordinary gaffe by Labour's shadow Leader of the House is that it was the most unfortunate slip of the tongue any British parliamentarian has made in living memory .;.

Alex Massie on the search for scapegoats when people don't like the result of a vote.

Anyone who is involved in politics sooner or later has to come to terms with the fact that the electorate takes a decision you really, really don't like.

It's difficult enough when it's an election - at least then you can try again in four or five years' time, and it is not at all unusual for the electorate to elect someone else at that stage.  Many voters agree with Mark Twain, who said (paraphrasing slightly) that politicians and nappies should be changed often and for the same reason.

It's even more painful when it is a referendum which you have been told will settle the matter for a generation.

Despite having voted Remain myself, I accept the result of the referendum. I accept that Russia may have been trying to cause trouble, but I do not believe that their interference changed the results. I suspect that both sides ran major operations using social media data, and if their methods were as ethically dubious as the accuracy of both side's propaganda - or rather lack of accuracy - was, I dare say both sides went pretty close to the line. But I don't believe that either Remain or Leave had a monopoly of vice or virtue, or that the result if both sides had been perfectly behaved would have been different.

I take allegations of that the Leave won by overspending with a bucketful of salt, because Remain actually spent more than Leave.

Alex Massie has a good article on the seductive simplicity of blaming Trump's win on Cambridge Analytica, which begins as follows:

"For the last two years, on both sides of the Atlantic, liberals and other concerned citizens have spent their time searching for an answer to the agonising, appalling, question “How did this happen?”

How, for the love of God, could the United States have elected Donald Trump president?

How, for crying out loud, could the United Kingdom have been stupid enough to vote for Brexit?

These questions need answers and the simpler they are, the better. Reality is complicated so let’s find some clear-cut solutions that, happily, comfort and reinforce our own happy convictions or, as we call them when we see them in other people, prejudices."

Unless the conspiracy theorists who are peddling all kinds of arguments about Leave having somehow cheated come up with something a damn sight more convincing than anything they have produced yet, we should accept the result of the referendum and concentrate on getting the form of Brexit which works best for the people of Britain.

Quote of the day 26th March 2018

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Enough is Enough

This is a notice which the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews have published about a protest they are organising tomorrow.

There are still decent people in the Labour party who are horrified by what is going on in their party: several of the people from whom I have seen this notice were present and former Labour MPs who shared it and indicated their support for the concerns being raised.

"Suicide of the West" by Jonah Goldberg reviewed on CAPX

Jonah Goldberg, author of "Liberal Fascism" and of "The Tyranny of Clichés" has another book coming out on 24th April called

"Suicide of the West."

Having read this review of it on the CAPX site I think I will have to read Goldberg's new book ...

Palm Sunday music spot: Miserere Mei (Allegri) sung by King's College Choir.

Quote of the day 25th March 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Don't forget to put your clocks forward tonight!

Britain moves on to British Summer Time this evening so we lose an hour.

Don't forget to put the clocks forward!

Stephen Pollard and Nick Cohen on the labour leadership

Just to frame the context of the articles I am about to link to.

Yesterday morning a Labour MP, Luciana Berger, posted on social media that she was awaiting a reply from the Labour leader's office to her message asking for an explanation of a comment Jeremy Corbyn had made in 2012 about a mural which just about everyone - including Jeremy Corbyn himself - now admits was Anti-Semitic  and in Corbyn's words, "deeply disturbing"

This is the statement which the Labour leader himself eventually made on the subject,

Even if you take that statement entirely at face value on its' own terms, it amounts to the admission of a colossal error of judgement for a man who was at the time a long-serving MP, is now Leader of the Opposition and who - God help us - about forty percent of voters supported at the last election and a similar percentage of those polled by opinion posters still say they intend to vote for as Britain's next prime minister.

Stephen Pollard, Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, responds here to this statement. His article is one of the most damning indictments of a British party leader I have ever read.

Guardian, Observer and Spectator columnist Nick Cohen has this to say about Jeremy Corbyn in the Spectator.

His article finishes by warning those on the moderate left that they have failed to confront the fact that "the far left is not merely an extension of the centre-left but a malign force which, as Momentum is proving, regards the centre-left as its avowed enemy."

And, I regret to say, also everyone else who dares express a view which is not that of the far-left.

Arnaud Beltrame RIP

Lt. Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, the French Gendarme who offered himself as a replacement hostage to a Da'esh-inspired terrorist in exchange for the civilians the man was holding and and who was subsequently shot and killed, has died.

“In offering himself as a hostage to the terrorist hiding in the supermarket in Trèbes, Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame saved the life of a civilian hostage, and showed exceptional courage and self-sacrifice,” wrote French President Emmanuel Macron.

Theresa May said,

"I am saddened to learn that Lieut Col Arnaud Beltrame, the Gendarme who took the place of a hostage in the attack at #Trèbes, has died. His sacrifice and courage will never be forgotten.

Rest in Peace

Saturday music spot: Steeleye Span "All Around My Hat"

Quote of the day 24th March 2018

"If only Anti-Semites were dealt with as swiftly and severely as Remainers."

(Wes Streeting, Labour MP, on Twitter yesterday, following the dismissal of Owen Smith from the shadow cabinet for supporting a second referendum. For context see previous post and the news reports it links to.)

Friday, March 23, 2018

Labour leadership statement

The leader of the Labour party was challenged by Labour MPs today about comments he had made in 2012 on social media concerning a mural which was accused of being Anti-Semitic and which it was proposed to remove.

In response to today's questions from Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement which included the following:
"I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.
"I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form."

"I wholeheartedly support its removal,"

More details are available here and here.

Should Jeremy Corbyn ever become Prime Minister I hope he looks more closely at the briefings he would be given as PM before acting on them than he now says he looked at this mural before commenting on it.

Canvassing in Broughton this evening

Cumbria Conservatives had a successful doorknocking session in Broughton-in-Furness this evening. (We also had teams out in other part of the county but this was the one I attended.

Issues raised included the proportion of money spent in Cumbria in the West and South of the county, particularly on roads - the need to improve roads in the area such as the A595 and A592 being a particular concern.

(The need to improve roads in Cumbria in general and the A595 in particular is of course an issue close to my heart which is why I have raised it every time the full county council has met since my election to the council last May.)

(Left to right above: my wife Brigid, myself, local SLDC councillor Ann Hall, local county councillor Matt Brereton, Conservative CCC group leader James Airey. Not in picture: Brenda Lauderdale, county councillor Ben Shirley. I would add that nobody has photoshopped Matt Brereton's hat!)

One Million people lifted out of absolute poverty

According to figures released this week by the Department for Work and Pension, a million fewer people in the UK live in absolute poverty than in 2010.

This has partly been driven by an increase in employment and a big fall in the number of workless households, Figures show that children are around 5 times more likely to live in poverty if they live in a workless household, compared to a household where all adults work. The number of children living in a workless household is down by almost 600,000 since 2010.

There’s also good news for household incomes as these have risen to another record high, with income growth continuing to outstrip inflation in 2016/17.

Income inequality – the gap between the richest and poorest – has fallen and remains lower than in 2010. Material deprivation rates for children and pensioners are at their lowest ever.

The average household now takes home a record £494 a week, and compared to 2007/08 the poorest fifth of households are seeing an extra £1,000 after inflation added to their annual income.

Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Kit Malthouse, said:

"It’s fantastic news that one million fewer people are living in absolute poverty than in 2010, including 300,000 children.

"It makes sense that poverty rates are falling while the employment rate is increasing, and today’s figures confirm that work remains the best route out of poverty.

We know there is more to do to ensure that every child gets the very best chances in life. Our welfare reforms offer parents tailored support to move into work, ensuring that even more families can enjoy the opportunities and benefits that work can bring."

The news follows statistics released earlier this week which show that the employment rate remains at a joint-record high of 75.3%, with 32.25 million people now in work.

On average, businesses have created more jobs which have made it possible for the number of people in work to increase by a thousand a day since 2010.

Britain spends more on family benefits than any other country in the OECD, at 3.8% of GDP.

Working families are benefitting from the introduction of the National Living Wage, and the rise in the personal tax threshold is taking the lowest paid out of tax.

Through welfare reforms including Universal Credit, the government is making sure it always pays to be in work. The government is continuing to protect all vulnerable groups in society, with disability benefits being exempt from the benefit freeze and the basic State Pension being protected through the ‘triple lock’.

More details of the latest poverty figures and long-term trends are available at

Quote of the day 23rd March 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A new explanation for grade inflation

The Economist magazine reports here on a study by Kieran O’Connor and Amar Cheema of the University of Virginia which suggests a reason why many exams will show a tendency towards grade inflation.

Their research found evidence that judges and examiners tend to become more lenient with experience.

The study looked at the grades awarded in 1,358 university courses that had been offered by the same lecturer for at least three semesters.

They also looked at the marks awarded by the three permanent judges during twenty seasons of "Dancing with the Stars" which I understand to be a US equivalent of "Strictly Come Dancing."

In both cases they found a propensity for grades and marks awarded to rise over time which persisted when they checked for various possible effects which might explain a genuine improvement.

In effect you get a better grade if you are judged later in the process.

The next stage of their analysis will be to establish whether this effect persists when judges and examiners are warned about it and on their guard against it.

One lesson one can definitely learn from this is that anyone setting up an examination system or anything else which judges how well people do needs to make the marking criteria as objective as possible.

Growth in real wages set to resume

The last ten years since the crash of 2007 have seen a prolonged difficult period for many people, with real wages stagnating for the best part of a decade.

Real wages had just begun to grow faster than prices when the drop in the pound after the Brexit vote caused an upward "blip" in inflation which peaked at 3.1% late last year and prolonged the period of stagnation in real incomes.

However, as the latest inflation figures suggest that the "blip" in inflation is working its way out of the system, wage growth has again caught up with prices.

Inflation is now expected to stabilise at the government target of 2% p.a. while wage rates are expected to grow at between 2.5% and 3% per annum. Hence there is good reason to hope and expect that real wages will resume their upward movement. Figures released this week also show record numbers of people in work.

Best spoof posts of the week

You'd think it was difficult for writers of spoof articles to top the events of the past fortnight but these managed it ...

We-shouldn't rush to conclusions about Alderaan says Jeremy Corbyn

Extracts from the above piece on NewsThump ...

“Jeremy Corbyn, a leader from the Islington system, has risked the ire of his own supporters by stating that he had yet to see any conclusive evidence that the planet of Alderaan was destroyed by an Imperial battle station.

Jeremy has always been against conflict and has never hidden that belief. He is on record as trying to stop the X-wing program as he spoke out against attempts to recruit known warmongers like Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Jeremy proposes to lead a peace delegation to Coruscant as he believes dialogue should always prevail over primitive anti-Sith rhetoric.

Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn have seized on this opportunity to call him an Imperial lackey. Several published old photos of Mr Corbyn speaking at an anti-Jedi rally alongside Anakin Skywalker during the eighties.

Like the picture above, presumably, though I understand Owen Jones has accused BBC Newsnight of photoshopping Anakin Skywalker's helmet ...

Other parody headlines this week with links to the relevant stories:

God suffering from existential crisis after meeting Stephen Hawking

Donald Trump appoints Lord Voldemort as new US Secretary of State

Plucky underdog Vladimir Putin wins Russian presidential election against all odds

Russians accused of interfering in Russian elections

Kremlin announces results of 2018, 2024 and 2030-elections

Pay rise for NHS staff announced

Our NHS staff work incredibly hard, day in, day out, throughout the country.

So it is great news that, as the economy continues to recover from the recession and dire budget deficit  inherited by the Conservatives from Labour, Jeremy Hunt was yesterday able to confirm that NHS staff including nurses, midwives, cleaners and porters will receive a pay rise of between 6.5% and 29%.

Remembering the victims of the Westminster Terror attack one year on

Today at 9.30 am I and other members and staff of Cumbria County Council and people around Britain are observing a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the Westminster Terror attack which took place a year ago today (22nd March 2017.)

The victims who died were:

PC Keith Palmer, 48, an unarmed police officer who was on duty with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection command at the Houses of Parliament challenged the terrorist and was stabbed to death. Palmer had 15 years of experience in the Metropolitan Police Service and before that had served in the Royal Artillery.

Aysha Frade, a British teacher, believed to have been walking along the bridge to pick up her children from school, who was struck by the attacker's car and killed.

Kurt Cochran, a tourist from the United States, who was also hit by the car and died. Cochran was visiting London from Utah to celebrate his 25th anniversary with his wife Melissa, who was among the injured.

Leslie Rhodes, from Clapham in south-west London, was hit by the terrorist's car and later died in hospital after his life support was switched off.

Andreea Cristea, a tourist from Romania, fell into the Thames during the attack; she died in hospital as a result of her injuries on 6 April after her life support was withdrawn.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Rest in Peace

Quote of the day 22nd March 2018

The following tributes were paid at the time to PC Keith Palmer who was killed in the line of duty a year ago today in the Westminster Terror Attack:
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Thursday morning, Theresa May called Palmer a hero and paid tribute to his service. “He was every inch a hero, and his actions will never be forgotten,” said May.

She praised the police for stopping the attacker. “We should be clear first of all that an attacker attempted to break into parliament and was shot dead within 20 yards of the gate. If his intention was to gain access to this building, we should be clear that he did not succeed. The police heroically did their job.”

Officers who had worked alongside Palmer also spoke of his dedication to his job. PC James Aitkenhead, who worked with him in the Met’s territorial support group, said:
“Keith was a genuinely nice person, nobody had a bad word to say about him. When I heard what had happened I knew it would be him because that’s just the sort of guy he was, to step straight in when others might step back.”
Among those who paid tribute to Palmer was the Conservative MP James Cleverly, who had served alongside him in the army. Cleverly told the Commons that Palmer was a “strong, professional public servant” and said that it had been “a delight to meet him here again”.

He asked whether the prime minister would consider formally recognising Palmer’s gallantry and sacrifice with a posthumous recognition. Cleverly also wrote on Twitter:

“I’ve known Keith for 25 years. We served together in the Royal Artillery before he became a copper. A lovely man, a friend. I’m heartbroken. My thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of PC Keith Palmer. A brave man.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

MInute's silence tomorrow in memory of the Westminster Terror Attack

Tomorrow (Thursday 22 March) at 9.30am I and other members and staff of Cumbria County Council and people around Britain will observe a minute's silence in memory of PC Keith Palmer, a hero who died in the line of duty, and other victims of the Westminster Terror attack which took place a year ago.

PC Keith Palmer, 48, an unarmed police officer who was on duty with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection command challenged the terrorist and was stabbed to death. Palmer had 15 years of experience in the Metropolitan Police Service.

The other victims were

Aysha Frade, a British teacher, believed to have been walking along the bridge to pick up her children from school, who was struck by the attacker's car and killed.
Kurt Cochran, a tourist from the United States, who was also hit by the car and died. Cochran was visiting London from Utah to celebrate his 25th anniversary with his wife Melissa, who was among the injured.
Leslie Rhodes, from Clapham in south-west London, was hit by the terrorist's car and later died in hospital after his life support was switched off.
Andreea Cristea, a tourist from Romania, fell into the Thames during the attack; she died in hospital as a result of her injuries on 6 April after her life support was withdrawn.

Another Telephone scam

I mentioned earlier this week that I had phone calls recently from incompetent fraudsters claiming to be from "British Telecom" (a trade name which British Telecommunications PLC still owns but stopped using 27 years ago and replaced with the trade name "BT.")

Unfortunately a rather better informed, and therefore more dangerous, group of conmen has also been phoning people and impersonating BT employees. This group of fraudsters claim to be from the BT company Openreach.

Police have warned that callers claiming to offer services from Openreach such as increased internet speeds have been telephoning people at home.

The fraudsters offer a refund to residents as compensation for poor internet speeds and in order to make that payment and to improve internet speeds they are requesting remote access to the computers owned by the people receiving the call.

This is a scam and no refund or improved service is provided.

Instead money is taken from the victim's bank account without their knowledge.

Be vigilant, do not feel under pressure, and hang up the call if you are asked for any personal details, or access to your bank account and to report this to the police and Action Fraud.

Hat tip to Cumbria Crack.

Midweek madrigal: John Wilbye, "The Lady Oriana"

Quote of the day 21st March 2018

This comment by the head of Health Education England is in response to the announcement yesterday that five new medical schools are opening their doors to student doctors starting this September - in Sunderland, Lancashire, Canterbury, Lincoln and Chelmsford.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Hatgate" row continues

There have been important announcements today about Inflation and about training new doctors.

The country is engaged in a serious diplomatic row with Russia and three people are still seriously ill in hospital after nerve gas was used in an attempted assassination in Britain.

Most people are discussing what we do about Russia, how we handle Brexit, and how we improve the NHS.

But the hard left show their true priorities - celebrating their success in getting rid of the moderate general secretary of the Labour party and his replacement by someone who, according to a Cumbria Labour MP on twitter this evening, "has said she wants all Blairites to leave the party." and working up an amazing head of steam over whether BBC Newsnight photoshopped a hat.

Yes, that's right. There has been a huge fuss on social media and in certain parts of the press about whether the BBC altered a picture of a hat.

Channel 4 factcheck have weighed in with the truth about "hatgate" here ...

Inflation falls by 10 percent or 0.3 percentage points

Latest inflation figures from the Office of National Statistics show a fall from 3% to 2.7% in the annual inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price index.

Or to put that another way, prices rose by 3% between January 2017 and January 2018 but by only 2.7% between February 2017 and February 2018. E.g. a reduction of 0.3 percentage points, or 10% of the previous inflation rate.

Apologies to those readers with a statistical or economics background for somewhat labouring the point but this happens to be a particularly clear set of numbers to use to explain the difference between percentages and percentage points (particularly when you are talking about a change in a figure which itself is expressed as a percentage.)

Describe inflation as having dropped by 10% (of the previous inflation rate) and it sounds like an enormous drop. Describe the change in percentage point terms - as 0.3 of one percent (of the previous price level) and it sounds tiny.

This is why many journalists and commentators ought to be more careful to explain when they are talking about percentages and when they are talking about percentage points. If those listening do not correctly understand which you mean it can cause them to massively misunderstand the size of the effect you are describing.

The truth is that both these figures are relevant depending on what aspect of the figures you are interested in. The difference in impact on your personal purchasing power is the smaller 0.3 of a percentage point figure.

But for the inflation rate to be declining at 10% per month is quite significant in terms of how quickly that sort of change rate can affect, say, the difference between price growth and wage growth which affects whether you are getting richer or getting poorer.

This is good news for the UK economy because it suggests that the inflation blip caused by the fall in the pound after the Brexit vote may be working its way out of the system, and that in turn may indicate that for millions of people, real wages are likely to start rising again.

Key drivers for the reduction in the inflation rate were a drop in fuel prices and a lower increase in food prices compared with the previous year. Petrol prices fell by 0.2p per litre on the month, while diesel dropped by 0.1p. Food prices rose by 0.1% between January and February, compared with a 0.8% rise between January and February 2017, which has now dropped out of the calculations.

Phil Gooding, from the Office for National Statistics, said: "Many of the early 2017 price increases due to the previous depreciation of the pound have started to work through the system."

Mel Stride, financial secretary to the Treasury, added:

"We know families feel the cost of living at the end of every working week.

"We are increasing the National Living Wage which is already helping the lowest earners see their pay rise by almost 7% above inflation."

An easy scam to detect

In the past few days I have had two phone calls from fraudsters claiming to be calling from "The technical department of British Telecom."

Neither conversation lasted longer than a few seconds.

I gave the first twenty seconds to explain to me why he had used a trade name that the company he claimed to be calling from had retired more than 25 years ago and he hung up.

I gave the second a very short and sharp piece of my mind and hung up on him.

As I should know (having worked for companies in the British Telecommunications PLC group since 1985), the company dropped the trade name "British Telecom" on 2nd April 1991 in favour of "BT."

Anyone who calls you claiming to be ringing from "British Telecom" is a fraudster trying to rob you. Hang up.

Quote of the day 20th March 2018

Monday, March 19, 2018

Nick Cohen on conspiracy theories

Twenty years ago the people who thought they were the political mainstream could dismiss conspiracy theories as the beliefs of a small number of cranks and nutters.

I certainly used to take for granted that the majority of people would agree with the rule which I believe was first formulated by Sir Bernard Ingham when he was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary:

(Often expressed as "Nine times out of ten you'll be wiser to believe a cock-up theory than a conspiracy theory.")

The most convincing reason to believe that conspiracy theories are usually wrong has been put forward by many people from the comedian David Mitchell to the journalist David Aaronovitch - you usually have to credit the conspirators with confidence that thousands of people will do their jobs perfectly and that none of them will blab.

I have been quoting the late Stephen  Hawking in my "quote of the day" pieces since his death last week. As professor Hawking said of one conspiracy theory,

"But, but, but and again, but!" (to quote Sir Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," from which the quote is taken.)

Although I still think that Sir Bernard was dead right about the sensible way to judge what is really happening, after 2017 the idea that the overwhelming majority of people agree that conspiracy theories are usually silly is coming to look like somewhere between complacency and arrogance.

These days it is only too obvious that millions of people believe what would once have been dismissed as conspiracy theories by those who thought we were the overwhelming majority but now find ourselves to be one strand of thought in a deeply divided society - and not always the dominant strand.

Of course, even if they are not responsible for everything that goes on in the world, conspiracies do exist and some crimes are down to them. Somebody conspired to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter and almost any explanation for the attack would be described as a conspiracy theory by anyone who disagreed with it.

I note incidentally the announcement in the past 24 hours that Vladimir Putin has been re-elected with an increased majority, which does at least disprove one argument put forward last week against Russian involvement in the Salisbury attack, namely that the Russian state would have been foolish to carry out an assassination just before a Russian presidential election.

We now know that, if Putin calculated that being accused by the West of trying to murder someone who many Russians would regard as a traitor would not hurt him in the election, he was, sadly, entirely correct.

At the weekend Nick Cohen wrote a powerful but depressing piece in the Observer about the rise of conspiracy theories from the fringes of politics to the mainstream, and what to do about it, which you can read here.

To finish this post on a less depressing note, the medical site "Pulse" has an amusing article here by a Bracknell GP called Dr Nick Ramscar who descibed how he used the "cock-up-theory" to persuade one patient to at least consider taking the antibiotic he wanted to prescribe her ...

Quote of the day 19th March 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Music spot: Stainer’s “I saw the Lord”: sung by Magdalen College Oxford

A little early in the year since this was written for Trinity Sunday, but never mind,

Quote of the day 18th March 2018

"Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious."

Professor Stephen Hawking 1942-2018. RIP.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

From the PM's speech at Conservative Spring Forum:

"When Brexit is done, and Britain steps into the new future that awaits us, I want it to be this party, the Conservatives Party, that leads our country into the next decade and beyond.”

The facts about Free School Meals

There has been a lot of duplicitous scaremongering about free school meals from the Labour party over the past week. Here are the facts about what the government is doing.

As Channel 4 Factcheck confirmed here in an article entitled

"Labour aren't telling the whole truth about free school meals,"

Labour "haven't mentioned two key points:
  • No one who is currently eligible for free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement.
  • In fact, under Universal Credit, 50,000 more children will receive school meals by 2022 than would have done under the previous benefits system.
This is not a case of the government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them: it’s about comparing two future, hypothetical scenarios. Both of them are more generous than the old benefits system"

Saturday Music Spot: Purcell's "Music for a while"

Absolute masterpiece by Thomas Purcell, sung by the countertenor Andreas Scholl. The previous version of this which I posted, some five months ago, was sung equally beautifully by tenor Thomas Cooley and can be found here.

The lyrics are:

"Music, music for a while, shall all your cares beguile:
Wondering how your pains were eas'd,
And disdaining to be pleas'd,
Till Alecto free the dead.
From their eternal bands,
Till the snakes drop from her head,
And the whip from out her hands."

Quote of the day 17th March 2018

"However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. Where there's life, there's hope."

Professor Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018. RIP.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Miriam Shaviv writes in the JC about the rise in antisemitism

I had never expected to see in my lifetime - indeed, within the lifetime of some who still remember the Nazi Holocaust - that tolerance for Anti-Semitism could possibly become as widespread as it appears to be now.

There is an article in the Jewish Chronicle by Miriam Shaviv, called

The future is not looking good for us,

which I think anyone who wants to live in a non-racist society would do well to read.

She compares the gradual rise in public acceptance of Anti-Semitism to the old fable of the boiled frog -

Put a frog in a pot of hot water and it jumps right out, instinctively aware of the danger to its life.

But place the frog in a pot of cold water and bring it to the boil slowly, and the frog will swim around, gradually adjusting his body temperature and acclimatising to the rising heat.

By the time it realises that it is about to die, it is too late. The frog has expended all its energy and can no longer jump out of the pot.

She argues that the present threat of hostility to Jewish people

"is heating up gradually, day by day, week by week, so we adjust to every new horror and live with 'the new normal'. And therein lies the danger. We’re already half-cooked.

Quote of the day 16th March 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Standing together

It may not have escaped the notice of some of the politically conscious readers of this blog that there is one person who I have studiously avoided quoting or referring to in the past 72 hours or so and an open goal that I have pointedly refrained from taking aim at.

That it because this county used to have a tradition - which the majority of MPs of all parties continue to respect - that "politics ends at the water's edge."

According to that tradition, when your country is involved in a confrontation with a hostile foreign power - and sadly, that is what Putin has evidently decided Russia under his leadership will be - you make every effort to stand together, and put together a united front against our country's enemies.

As Labour MP Pat McFadden told the House of Commons yesterday and as I quoted this morning,

"Responding with strength and resolve when your country is under threat is an essential component of political leadership. There is a Labour tradition that understands that, and it has been understood by Prime Ministers of all parties who have stood at that Dispatch Box."

The fact that most Labour MPs have shown that they are willing to support the Prime Minister of our country when we have been the target of a despicable external attack does not make them "red tories" and the fact that I choose to recognise their support does not make me soft of socialism.

It is about standing together against a bully who is culpable for acts of attempted and actual murder in our country and who is a threat to the country all of us love.

Expressing the point very well, here is a link to an article by Labour MP Anna Turley explaining why she agrees with Theresa May about Russia

Joint statement by the US, British, French and German governments

The governments of Great Britain, the United States of America, France and Germany have issued a joint statement about the Salisbury poisoning.

Here is the full text of the joint statement.

"We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK, on 4 March 2018.

A British police officer who was also exposed in the attack remains seriously ill, and the lives of many innocent British citizens have been threatened. We express our sympathies to them all, and our admiration for the UK police and emergency services for their courageous response.

This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the second world war. It is an assault on UK sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all.

The United Kingdom briefed thoroughly its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack. We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility.

We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury. Russia should in particular provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behaviour.

We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council to uphold international peace and security."

There has also been a White House statement in support of Britain:

Quotes of the day 15th March 2018

"It seems to me, without any access to closed information, that the use of this particularly bizarre and dreadful way of killing an individual is a deliberate choice by the Russian Government to put their signature on a particular killing so that other defectors are left in no doubt that it is the Russian Government who will act if they are disappointed in any way by those people’s actions."

(Kenneth Clarke MP)

"As the Prime Minister has said, the attack on Mr Skripal and his daughter was an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom. There has to be a robust response to the use of terror on our streets. We must act in a measured way to show that we will simply not tolerate this behaviour. In that regard, I welcome, and associate those of us on the Scottish National party Benches with, the measures contained in the statement. On this matter, I commit my party to working constructively with the Government."

(Ian Blackford MP, SNP leader in the House of Commons)

"I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Her conclusion about the culpability of the Russian state is immensely serious. In addition to its breaches of international law, its use of chemical weapons and its continued disregard for the rule of law and human rights, that must be met with unequivocal condemnation.

May I welcome the measures she has taken to downgrade the intelligence capability of the Russian state, and particularly the work that I understand has started with the United Nations?

Within the United Nations, it is important to expose what the Russians are doing and to build the broadest possible support against them."

(Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs select committee)

"I and my party fully support the Prime Minister’s statement and position."

(Sir Vince Cable MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats)

"It is clear that there is almost unanimous support in the House for my right hon. Friend’s proportionate and right response to this crisis. In particular, she is absolutely right to use the mechanisms of the United Nations to make it clear to everyone what has happened in this ​case."

(Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP)

"I assure the Prime Minister that most of us on the Labour Benches fully support the measures she has announced today".

(Labour MP Ben Bradshaw)

"I completely support everything the Prime Minister has said today. The truth is that, under Putin, the Russian Federation has managed to combine all the worst facets of communism and all the worst facets of rampant capitalism, all wrapped up inside a national security state which keeps its people poor and kills his political opponents."

(Chris Bryant, Labour MP)

"Responding with strength and resolve when your country is under threat is an essential component of political leadership. There is a Labour tradition that understands that, and it has been understood by Prime Ministers of all parties who have stood at that Dispatch Box. That means when chemical weapons are used, we need more than words, but deeds."

(Pat McFadden, Labour MP)

"The Russian economy is a fraction but its expenditure on offensive capability a multiple of ours. Is there a lesson there?"

(Desmond Swayne, Conservative MP)

All the above quotes are taken from the Hansard report of the debate following yesterday's statement by the Prime Minister on the Salisbury nerve gas attack and the government's response. That report can be read in full here.

Some further quotes:

"This week, as every week, I oppose Tory policies that I believe are harming my constituents. But today I support the action the PM is taking following despicable Russian aggression against our country one hundred per cent."

(Wes Streeting, Labour MP, on Twitter)

"I expressed my support for the initial steps that the prime minster has outlined in the House of Commons this afternoon.

"Obviously as legislation is brought forward we will scrutinise that carefully.

"But it is very clear that Russia cannot be permitted to unlawfully kill or attempt to kill people on the streets of the UK with impunity."

(Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, SNP, statement outside No 10 yesterday)

I was shocked.”

“I never imagined even in my bad dreams that this chemical weapon, developed with my participation, would be used as a terrorist weapon.”

Russian whistleblower Vil Mirzayanov, who was one of the chemists who developed the Novichok nerve poison during the cold war. He later grew angry that Russia failed to declare the existence of its' chemical weapons when international treaties to prevent the use by any nation of such weapons  were signed after the Cold War.

He was sacked and jailed for going public about what he knew and later moved to the USA.

Mr Mirzayanov, 83, is also quoted by Reuters as saying he had no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible, given that Russia maintains tight control over its Novichok stockpile and that the agent is too complicated for a non-state actor to have weaponised.

The Kremlin all the time, like all criminals, denying - it doesn’t mean anything,” Mirzayanov said.