Saturday, June 30, 2018

Armed forces Day

This has been armed forces week, and today is Armed Forces day when we remember the work and sacrifices of the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and all the other supporting services.

Without them our country would within living memory have been conquered by the Nazis who were responsible for the murder or violent death of about fifty million people and would have killed far more if they had won.

Thank you to all the brave men and women of our armed forces for all you do to defend our country and help those here and abroad facing dangers or disasters.

Saturday music spot: "Minuet" from Handel's Water Music

Quote of the day 30th June 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

July meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee to discuss cancelled operations.

One of my particular interests in improving the NHS is how we can cut the number of cancelled operations.

Cancelled operations are a triple whammy which is bad news for everyone. They are terribly distressing for the patient and his or her family, bad for staff morale, and represent a waste of resources which has a most unhelpful on the finances of the NHS.

So I am very pleased that the issue of cancelled operations is on the agenda for the next meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee on Monday 9th July 2018.

I have written a piece about the specific issue of cancelled operations on my hospitals blog here and a more general piece about the meeting and the rest of the agenda here.

Music to relax after campaigning: Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony last movement

It is suggested that this final part of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony represents shepherds giving thanks after the passage of a storm.

"Hand of God" discovered near Hadrian's Wall.

Despite coming up during the World Cup this is nothing to do with Argentina's football team. It is a relic of what was probably both the largest military campaign, and the worst massacre, in the history of the British Isles.

Between 208 AD and 2010 AD the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus personally led about 50,000 troops into Scotland on a punitive mission, claiming that Scottish tribes had reneged on a peace agreement. Roman historians recorded that there had been a big increase in Caledonian raids into the Roman province of Britain: the Scottish side of the story might have portrayed a different tale but has not come down to us. This is an example of history being written by the victors (or at least, the survivors.)

The contemporary Roman historian Cassius Dio puts into the mouth of the Roman Emperor a speech to his troops which is tantamount to ordering genocide. Parts of this speech appears to have been lifted from Homer's account of the fall of Troy which was about as far in the past in Cassius Dio's time as he is looking back from ours. However, given the ancient Roman propensity for extreme violence towards peoples they considered rebels or traitors, it may not be far from the truth of the orders he gave. According to Cassius Dio, the Emperor instructed his troops to leave nobody alive, not even the children in their mother's wombs, and that "The whole people must be wiped out of existence."

No credible figures are available for the number of casualties on either side, but given that the death tolls which we do have for other campaigns in which Roman armies were given those kind of orders were sometimes measured in the hundreds of thousands, as in the destruction of Carthage, Julius Caesar's massacre of the Rhineland Tribes, and in putting down the first and second Jewish revolts, it is entirely possible that the death toll may have been even worse than in William the Conqueror's harrowing of the north.

A bronze hand, representing the hand of the god Jupiter Dolichenus, which was recently discovered near Hadrian's Wall was probably ritually buried by one of the Roman commanders who took part in Septimius's invasion of Scotland in thanksgiving for victory, or for the survival of himself and his unit.

This relic of one of the largest and bloodiest campaigns in Roman History is now on display at the Museum on the site of the former Virolanda fort on  Hadrian's Wall near Hexham.

Quote of the day 29th June 2018

"Being lectured on party unity – especially regarding Brexit – by Jeremy Corbyn is like taking advice on harmony and non-violence from Tom and Jerry."

(Guido Fawkes blog, from a piece on this week's PMQs which you can read here.)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Robots are revolting

Had an encounter with a rebellious left-wing machine this evening.

The automated checkout teller at a certain supermarket in Whitehaven didn't like my Conservative party bag.

It kept calling it an "Unidentified object in bagging area" and, when I touched the "I'm using my own bag" option it refused to recognise the bag and summoned a shop assistant. Then did so again after she confirmed that the object in the bagging area really was a bag.

Obviously Labour are doing well among the robots. What a good thing they don't have votes yet.

Quote of the day 28th June 2018

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Midweek music spot: "Sunny Afternoon" by The Kinks

As the heatwave continues, the hot weather inevitably reminds me of some of the music I associate with hot summer days, such as "Sunny afternoon" by The Kinks:

Prince William's message in the Book of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, wrote a powerful message in the Book of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust Memorial Museum, during his current visit to the Middle East.

"It has been a profoundly moving experience to visit Yad Vashem today. It is almost impossible to comprehend this appalling event in history.

Every name, photograph and memory recorded here is a tragic reminder of the unimaginable human cost of the Holocaust and the immense loss suffered by the Jewish people. The story of the Holocaust is one of darkness and despair, questioning humanity itself. But the actions of those few who took great risks to help others are a reminder of the human capacity for love and hope.

I am honoured that my own great grandmother is one of these righteous among the nations. We must never forget the Holocaust – the murder of 6 million men, women and children, simply because they were Jewish.

We all have a responsibility to remember and to teach future generations about the horrors of the past so that they can never reoccur. May the millions of Jewish people remembered by Yad Vashem never be forgotten."

Quote of the day 27th June 2018

"The strongest argument for socialism is that it sounds good. The strongest argument against socialism is that it doesn't work. But those who live by words will always have a soft spot in their hearts for socialism because it sounds so good."

(Thomas Sowell, American economist)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Jaguar to invest £20 billion in Britain

Those companies who wish to invest somewhere other than Britain or think about doing so have every right to follow such a course and no true Conservative should make rude remarks about them for doing so.

But it is worth noting that not every business takes that view. Amid all the doom, gloom, sound and fury it appears t have been missed that Jaguar Land Rover are investing £20 billion over the next five years on their plants making cars and engines in Britain.

Of teeth, diet, and centuries

While I was in the dentist's chair today my memory was cast back to a forty-year old memory which shows something about the impact of the modern diet against the best of the past.

Towards the end of a summer term in the late Seventies, after the exams had finished, an archaeological excavation was taking place in the site of the former Monastery chapter house at what is now a cathedral adjacent to my old school. The Headmaster (no namby-pamby "headteacher" nonsense back then even from thorough-going liberals such as Mr Kilvington in fact was) said that any sixth former who wanted to spend the last two weeks of the academic year as a volunteer on the dig instead of taking part in the usual low value make-work which tended to characterise the post-exam period could do so.

I was one of around a dozen boys who took up this suggestion, but if memory serves the only one who continued to work on the dig after the end of term when it was my own time I was giving up.

After a few weeks of work we had got below the chapter house floor and reached the level of a number of graves, the contents of which were removed with great respect and care, and subsequently reburied with due ceremony in the Cathedral. Enough of the monastery records had survived Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries that it was possible to be fairly certain of the identities of several of the monks whose mortal remains we were uncovering.

As one well-preserved and large skeleton emerged from the soil, Mr Martin Biddle, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, pointed it out to several of us as Brother Robert, born Robert Breakspear, father of Nicholas Breakspear, a.k.a. Pope Adrian the fourth.

This man had joined the monastery when we was widowed at a relatively young age with two young sons, and signed both his sons up for the church as well - and one of those sons became the only ever English pope. Hence because of his son's eminence he was buried in a place of high honour and he was one of those whose mortal remains the records made it readily possible to identify,

Martin pointed at the almost complete skeleton, and asked us "Do you notice anything interesting?"

None of us did, so he explained "Look at the teeth" and added that this man had been over eighty when he died and had been in the ground for more than eight hundred years.

And after all that time, I can bear witness that every one of his teeth was still in place in his skull.

He had lived the latter half of his long life in the monastery at St Albans, eating good but simple and evidently healthy food.

Obviously the monastic life could be a very healthy one but I just confess to being terribly impressed with how well he had taken care of himself in general and his teeth in particular.

Quote of the day 26th June 2018

“It’s now time for the UK Government to end its costly prevarication on airport expansion and support Heathrow’s plans to ensure Scotland, and the United Kingdom as a whole, can begin to reap the rewards on offer."

(Keith Brown, who was elected this month as Deputy Leader of the SNP and who has been Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work in the SNP government of Scotland since 2016, quoted in the Scottish Government statement backing a third runway at Heathrow after he signed a memorandum of understanding with Heathrow which both sides argued will create up to 16,000 new jobs in Scotland.

Despite the fact that this is and remains the official position of the SNP government in Scotland, the SNP's members of the Westminster parliament abstained yesterday in the House of Commons vote to approve the principle of the expansion, saying that the UK government had "failed to make the case" for Scottish benefits which their own Scottish government says it has secured.)

POSTSCRIPT 27/6/2018 - describing Keith Brown as Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work in the Scottish government, in which capacity he issued the above quote and a post which he still held at the time I wrote the above post, appears to have been the kiss of death. Nicola Sturgeon's reshuffle this week took him out of the Scottish cabinet to concentrate on campaigning in his role as Deputy Leader of the SNP. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Further thoughts on whether Fermi's paradox has been solved ...

My son, who has an interest in science, exclaimed "that's a huger story" when I drew his attention to the Royal Society paper which argues that Fermi's paradox may have been resolved. (see previous post earlier today or a blog post by one of the paper's authors here

The authors think the probability distribution of the number of high-energy civilisations in the universe is very highly skewed much so that the mean is 27 million and the median about one!

They are not saying we are alone in the Universe. They are saying we may be. Suggested odds are 30% that we are alone in the visible universe and 53% that we are alone in the Milky Way galaxy. Which is another way of saying that the odds of there being one or more other civilisations in this galaxy are approximately 50:50

I'm a little surprised myself that it has not had more attention. This could have huge implications for the survival of the human race. The authors think that their work, while not by any means indicating we can be complacent about our long term survival, makes the probability of some "Great Filter" which wipes out most civilisations at a stage a little past where we are now that much less. It's probably still a good idea not to elect any persons of poor judgement to positions where they will have their finger on the nuclear button. Oops.

Perhaps the attention of the media is too heavily focussed on little matters like the World Cup, Brexit, and the Heathrow vote. And no, when I describe them as little matters in this context I am not being ironic.

Armed Forces Week

This is armed forces week, and next Saturday will be Armed Forces day when we remember the work and sacrifices of the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and all the other supporting services.

Without them our country would within living memory have been conquered by the Nazis who were responsible for the murder or violent death of about fifty million people and would have killed far more if they had won.

Thank you to all the brave men and women of our armed forces for all you do to defend our country and help those here and abroad facing dangers or disasters.

Has Fermi's Paradox been solved?

A paper for the Royal Society argues that the level of uncertainty about many of the assumptions we have made when trying to calculate the "Drake Equation" and work out how many other planets we would expect to develop intelligent life.

Previous attempts to do this have suggested that there are so many, many stars in the galaxy that even if the probability of a star developing one or more intelligent civilisations is very low, there should still be a fair number of them about, leading to the Fermi Paradox.

We have (perhaps very unwisely) made it likely that any high-energy civilisation within about seventy light-years knows that there is an emerging level one civilisation in the Sol system. If there was a civilisation at a remotely similar tech level to ours at Sirius or any of the other nearby stars the SETI programme would have found them. The Fermi Paradox is that we should have observed evidence of other emerging civilisations, and we haven't.

Hence the "Great Filter" - what stops most stars developing a civilisation which would change it's environment in ways we could observe - and are we past it, or yet to hit it?

The great filter could be anything from the benign - suppose for example that all civilisations wise enough to survive long learn to respect their environment, which might include not doing things like wasting vast amounts of energy beaming powerful signals around the universe or enclosing your star even if you could - to the things we might do to ourselves, e.g. most civilisations might blow themselves up in a nuclear war - to external threats - there might be a psychotic supercivilisation which obliterates any potential rivals, in which case we're probably done for.

The new paper argues that previous attempts to build Drake-like equations implicitly assumed certainty regarding highly uncertain parameters. The authors examined these parameters, incorporating models of chemical and genetic transitions on paths to the origin of life, and provide evidence that given extant scientific knowledge there are in fact uncertainties about these assumptions which span multiple orders of magnitude. When the model is recast to represent what the authors think are more realistic distributions of uncertainty, they find a substantial possibility of there being no other intelligent life in the part of the universe we can observe. If they are right that appears to resolve the Fermi Paradox.

The paper is called "Dissolving the Fermi Paradox" by Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord and you can find a listing on the Cornell University site for it here.

Quote of the day 25th June 2018

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Well done England

Congratulations to the England football team for their 6:1 victory over Panama in the World Cup.

Fantastic result.

Sunday music spot: "This is the record of John" by Orlando Gibbons

On the day when the church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist this is one of two particularly wonderful pieces of music about him.

(The other is the recit. and aria "Comfort ye" and "Every Valley shall be exalted" from Handel's Messiah. Handel set to music in those works the passage from Isaiah to which John referred when he was asked who explain who he was. in the passage from the Gospels which Gibbons set to music in this anthem.)

Quote of the day 24th June 2018

"There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

(Sun Tzu, the Art of War)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

We had a "people's vote" two years ago

And the people who are calling for one now don't like the fact that their side - and mine - lost.

Two years ago today we had the referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

The campaigns on neither side covered themselves with glory. For the reasons I explained a couple of days ago I don't think it is helpful to throw the accusation of lying at either campaign, but many people on both sides who ought to have known better were certainly guilty of stretching the truth.

There is also reason to think that some people on both sides may have paid less attention than they should have to financial rules, and their is little doubt that Vladimir Putin's operatives attempted to stir the pot, though I don't believe either of those things changed the result.

But we had a vote and it produced a decision, and until and unless much more convincing evidence emerges that either side cheated than anything I have yet seen, we should respect that result.

Those who are calling for a "people's vote" on the final deal have failed to provide an acceptable answer to the question of what should happen if it produces a "no."

There has to be a crystal clear answer to that question before such a referendum is held or we might find that people have voted for the opposite of what they intended.

The one outcome which it is definitely in the UK's power to deliver in the event of a "No vote" and which might be the unintentional result of a "No" vote anyway, is that Britain crashes out of the EU without any deal.

It is very likely that some of the people who are telling pollsters they support a second referendum are hard Brexit supporters who would like precisely that outcome.  But I'm pretty certain that most of the people protesting today for a "People's vote" would not.

I think most of the people who are campaigning for a second referendum think that a "No" vote should mean cancelling Brexit.

This is a strong contender for the most stupid idea put forward during the entire referendum campaign and aftermath, which is a very high bar for stupidity. Whether they intend it or not this would completely sabotage Britain's negotiating position.

If the EU institutions and the other member states know that we will, or even think that we might, hold another referendum on the possibility of cancelling Brexit when we see the final deal on offer, they have a strong incentive to make that deal as awful as possible. If we then ahve a referendum on an awful deal, whichever way that referendum then goes the consequences for this country will be dire.

The only way that it might have been possible to make a referendum on the deal work had article 50 been drafted differently, would be if a "No" vote meant to go back and try to negotiate a different deal. If we had the time, and if it was clear what sort of changes the people who rejected the deal wanted, you might have been able to do that.

But since Article 50 means that Britain leaves the EU two years after giving notice to do so unless the other member states unanimously agree to extend that deadline, the chances that we would have time to renegotiate a better deal are somewhere between slim and none.

The people have voted to leave the EU. It's time to get on with making that result work.

Jesse Norman on Adam Smith

Jesse Norman MP has a superb article in the FT on a transformational thinker who was rightly revered if sometimes misrepresented in previous generations but sadly underestimated and oversimplified in the present era.

I refer of course to Adam Smith, author of "The Wealth of Nations" who is often seen, rightly in my opinion, as the founder of the discipline of Economics.

Smith's views about markets and many other things were generally more nuanced and much more sophisticated than he is usually given credit for by any of his detractors and many of his supporters.

Jesse Norman's article describes Smith's life and his seminal books, and offers a few comments on how he might see our present age.

I particularly liked the point that although markets "are unmatched in their ability to allocate goods and services and encourage innovation and technological improvement"

Smith also argued that

"what matters is not the largely empty rhetoric of  'free markets' but the reality of effective competition."

Norman also draws from Smith the insight that

"Markets constitute a socially constructed and evolving order that exists and must exist not by divine right but because it serves the public good. It follows from this that the modern doctrine of market failure, which derives from academic models assuming perfect competition, needs to be expanded and supplemented. 

The truth is that outside academic models there are few if any genuinely free markets, and the imagined benefits of perfect markets disappear once any imperfections are allowed. Instead, policymakers need to start by asking two much simpler questions: 
  • What is this specific market for? 
  • How is it actually working?" 
You can read Jesse Norman's article in full here.

Embarrasing internet fail of the month ...

You couldn't make this one up.

The Independent has an article on their website,

"11 signs you're a good person."

Most of the eleven things in the article are things that are self-evidently good things to be or do, although in my opinion the checklist does have a weakness that, to paraphrase C.S. :Lewis, it makes it too easy to attribute a good score to oneself on inadequate grounds.

In my opinion most of the items on the list are actions or principle of life which those who are actually very good people implement frequently, good people carry out regularly, and most people other than the 10% of the population who are utterly horrible individuals do or follow at least occasionally. And most of us would least aspire or try to follow them all.

Hence most people will be able to read the list and for the majority of the items on it will be able to think of an occasion in the past year where they've taken an action ticking that box. All but the most self-aware people are likely to give themselves a fairly high score which will not always be appropriate.

But that isn't the classic fail with the article.

Each of the 11 tests is illustrated with a link to a comment on anecdote which amplifies or exemplifies the principle.

Unfortunately one or two of those links don't work or refer to something which has been taken down.

Test six is

"You make sure everyone gets heard."

Unfortunately when I read the article, in place of a post on AskReddit which was supposed to illustrate test six I found a box with the words,

"This comment has been deleted."

Looks like one of the moderators on AskReddit is not a good person …

Music to relax after campaigning: Praeludium from Grieg's Holberg Suite

Quote of the day 23rd June 2018

"Britain … in the passage of Maastricht and the follow-on treaties, lost the EEC it was comfortable with and found itself faced with the increasingly stark choice of membership of a club it didn’t really want to be part of, or leaving a club it didn’t really want to be outside." 

(David Herdson, article on the "Political Betting" site about the consequences of the Maastricht Treaty and on what might have happened if Britain had vetoed or failed to ratify that treaty, which you can read here.

The latter very nearly happened due to an unholy alliance between the Labour front bench who claimed to want the treaty passed without Britain's opt-outs, e.g. even more integration, and Eurosceptic rebels who claimed to want the whole thing thrown out, e.g. less.

I refer to this as an unholy alliance because both groups voted for things which were the total opposite of what they said they wanted: Eurosceptics voted for the Social Chapter and pro-integrationists voted against ratification.  Had their votes successfully prevented the treaty from being ratified as negotiated one of those groups would have caused the exact opposite of what they pretended to stand for.

John Major lost one of the key ratification votes and had to reverse it the following day by proposing a motion of confidence in the government which also endorsed the government position of opting out of the Social Chapter. Defeat on the motion of confidence would have triggered a general election. If John Major had not been prepared to risk this, or the Eurosceptic rebels had, Britain would probably have failed to ratify the Maastricht treaty and thereby killed it.

I mention this because it demonstrates that the leadership of the Labour party being completely untrustworthy on Europe - neither pro-EU nor anti-EU factions in this country have ever been able to rely on promises from the Labour front bench - is something which long-predates Jeremy Corbyn.)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Why the word "Liar" should not be over-used.

There is a good article here on why the accusation of lying should not be over-used - even when one is very angry with someone.

It is my impression that, when the accusation of lying is thrown about during political debate, nine times out of ten what has actually happened is either that someone has said something which is wrong through a silly mistake or a failure to listen properly rather than a deliberate lie, or that two people have views so diametrically opposed that they cannot understand a sincere person holding the opposite opinion.

There are two reasons why a wise person should not accuse another individual of being a liar unless you are absolutely certain that they have deliberately and knowingly made a false statement and you can prove it.

The first reason is that you might find you really do have to prove it - in court. And the consequences if you cannot prove it could be unpleasant.

The second is that if you don't have proof, then there must be a possibility either that people who you think are lying may have made an honest mistake - or that they may be telling the truth and it is you who have made a mistake. The more people you accuse of lying the greater the chance that you have, possibly inadvertently, accused someone of lying who isn't - and this really is not a nice thing to do.

The third is that regular and frequent accusations of bad faith and lying are examples of the type of conduct which is coarsening political discourse in Britain and around the world, making constructive debate more difficult and driving decent people out of politics.

In my time in politics I've been called a liar when I was telling the truth more times than l could keep track of and there are few things more annoying. So I try very hard not to do the same thing to anyone else. If you search this blog or the rest of my social media output, you will find very few cases of my accusing any of my political opponents of lying.

Quote of the day 22nd June 2018

"We must never limit our ambitions."

(Councillor Hugo Graham, speech in the chamber of Cumbria County Council, 21st June 2018)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The government is making MORE children, not fewer, eligible for Free School Meals

I was sorry to hear the Labour party at today's meeting of Cumbria County Council repeating exploded myths about free school meals.

There ARE genuine problems with Universal credit.

The false allegation that the present government is reducing the number of children able to claim free school meals is not one of them.

I challenge any Labour county councillor or activist who claims that the Labour speeches made in the Council Chamber at Kendal today were accurate to find one family in Cumbria who have been and remain on Universal credit whose children in year three or above were getting free school meals this year (2017/8) and who lose that entitlement.

(The reason I say "in year three and above" is that all children in English schools who are in reception and years One and Two are entitled to free school meals. Neither the government or anyone else is proposing to change this.)

Under the plans for rollout of Universal Credit the Conservative government is changing planned eligibility for free school meals for children in year three and above in a manner which INCREASES the total number of children who will be eligible for them compared with the previous benefits system and to focus provision more accurately on those most in need.

No child who is currently able to obtain free school meals under Universal Credit will lose that benefit while their family remains on Universal Credit.

Under the old benefits system - as operated during the last Labour government - children are entitled to free school meals if their parents receive an out of work benefit like Jobseekers’ Allowance. They only lose their entitlement once their parent or parents start working 16 hours a week (if there’s one adult in the house), or 24 hours a week (if there are two).

Since 2013, the government has been rolling out Universal Credit, replacing the old benefits system. Some areas, like Croydon, have already switched; others are still waiting.

As an interim measure to ease the transition, the government has relaxed the eligibility rules for those affected by the rollout of Universal Credit so that during that rollout all families receiving Universal Credit are entitled to free school meals, regardless of income or hours worked.

It was never promised that this interim measure would be permanent, and the government recently announced that a means test will be introduced for new claimants. This will be based on the amount earned from work rather than the number of hours worked because this is likely to be a fairer measure of need.

And I repeat, the means test is for new claimants. Those children who get free school meals under the interim rollout arrangements will remain eligible for them rather than be means tested.

It is expected that compared with the old benefit system, by 2022 the test based on money earned will mean that 210k children whose parents are working more than 16/24 hours a week will qualify for free school meals who would not previously have been eligible, while 160k children, mostly those whose parents work fewer hours but earn more than the new financial threshold, will not.

The total number of children who will be eligible in 2022 will be fifty thousand higher than under the old system, and the new system is better targeted on those most in need: the families which gain access to free school meals will be on lower incomes than the families which would have had them under the old system but lose out.

Labour have been, and Labour County Councillors in Cumbria today still were, attempting to make out that the Conservatives are cutting access to free school meals. Labour's shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, originally tried to imply that the Conservatives had taken free school meals away from a million children.

However, in response to Labour's allegations it was pointed out, and not just by Conservatives, that

The quote in the graphic above and indeed almost everything I have written above does NOT come from a government or Conservative party source. The statement immediately above is a direct quote from a Channel 4 Factcheck investigation into the Labour party accusations against the government on this subject, as you can confirm for yourself by following the link here.

Almost everything else I have written in this post can be confirmed from the same source.

An Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report confirms the estimate that 50,000 more children will be eligible for free school meals under the new system than the old one and gives more detail on winners and losers 

160,000 children who would have been eligible for free school meals in 2022 will not be - but 210,000 children who would not have been eligible under the old sytem now will be. A net increase, as the government has said all along, of 50,000.

Here is an IFS graphic showing the winners and losers (and that there are 50,000 more children who gain entitlement to free school meals than lose them.)

You never please everyone when you try to target benefits more accurately - there is an old saying that the government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul while the opposition gets Peter's vote - but as I have written before, please can we try to have a grown-up discussion about the whole picture and not just an exchange of highly selective quotes?

New renal unit now open at WCH

The brand new renal unit is now open at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven - meaning an extra 16 patients can now be treated in West Cumbria closer to home, rather than travelling to Carlisle for kidney dialysis treatment.

Fantastic news and an example of an improved service in West Cumbria.

Music to relax after a council meeting: Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik"

"A little night music" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ...

High points and low points of today's Cumbria County Council meeting


1) More money to fix potholes

Unanimous agreement this morning by Cumbria County Councillors to spend an extra £1.6 million on urgent work fixing potholes. the government had made more taxpayers' money available for this purpose and although this sum is tiny in comparison with the scale of the resources required to do a complete resurfacing of all the problem roads in Cumbria, it will go some way to helping fix the worst problems.

2) Chasing Highways England to address problems

We have had a fair degree of chaos in the Whitehaven area in the last month caused by poor functioning of the traffic lights at the junctions of the A595 with Inkerman Terrace and Mirehouse Road. The A595 north of the Calderbridge and these junctions are the responsibility of Highways England.

When I raised this at Highways Working Group earlier in the month and asked our local highways team they responded that they had been having difficulties getting hold of  Highways England.

I took the matter up at today's full council meeting with the Portfolio holder for Traffic and Highways, who has a meeting with Highways England tomorrow, and he agreed to discuss this with them and hopefully sort the matter out.

3) Three good speeches by younger members of the council.

At the end of the meeting three councillors, all of whom happened to be on the younger end of the spectrum for county councillors and one from each of the major parties, made passsionate and well-thought out speeches about what they would like to see the council doing to approve the lives of people in Cumbria - one about alleviating poverty, one about aspiring to do better, and one about better regulation. I think it's a good thing that we have a range councillors of different ages and perspectives on the county council and that in different ways these three councillors were willing to put energy into improving services and helping residents of the county aspire to a better life/


I'm tempted to say "most of the rest of the meeting" which would slightly overstate the case, but some of the most egregious exchanges in the rest of the meeting included

4) A ridiculous debate about the impact of Universal Credit on Free School Meals.

There are some genuine and serious problems with Universal Credit.

The impact on free school meals is NOT one of them.

During the period when Universal Credit is being rolled out, as an interim measure, every child in a family who get Universal Credit will get free school meals. This temporary arrangement is more generous than the previous system which was means-tested. Those children who get free school meals during that interim period will not lose them while their families remain on universal credit.

When the interim period expires, a means test will be reintroduced for NEW CLAIMANTS ONLY which is better targeted because it is based on income rather than hours worked and more generous - about 50,000 more children will be eligible than under the old pre-2010 system.

Instead of focussing on the real problems with Universal Credit one of the Labour portfolio holders had repeated some of the misleading accusations previously made by the Labour front bench, and subsequently exploded, about the Universal Credit causing children to lose access to free school meals when the opposite is very much the case. When this was queried today the Labour group doubled down on the allegation even though it is nonsense. More in another post later.

5) More ridiculous arguments about filming council meetings.

The law states that people can film council meetings. Some councils routinely make official arrangements to film their proceedings and put the record on the web so that people who can's get to the meeting can see what is being said and done on their behalf. I think Cumbria County council should do the same so we don't need to waste any more time and money on debates about whether individual councillors can take a record of sections of the meeting on their mobile phones or other electronic devices.

Following an argument at a meeting earlier this year there was an attempt, which I personally think started out with good faith on both sides, to agree a protocol on filming council meetings.

Sadly it has not proved possible to reach agreement because the Labour leadership wants a much more restrictive protocol than the Conservative group can accept. Cue for a very negative argument.

Quote of the day 21st June 2018

The final message from the Commons to the Lords describing the progress of the EU Withdrawal bill through the game of parliamentary ping-pong between the two houses.

A bit like "Cricket explained to a foreigner!"

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thank God that's done: House of Lords passes EU Withdrawal Bill

I make no secret that, after a lot of agonising, I voted Remain. If I were sent back in time to the day I filled out my postal ballot in the referendum knowing what I know now, I would certainly do so again.

But the majority of those who cast a vote ticked the "Leave" box and if democracy is to mean anything at all, that means Britain has to cease to be a member state of the EU.

The EU withdrawal bill is not perfect, there are problems still to solve, the negotiations are very far from done yet, but thank God the arguments in parliament over this bill are completed and we can finish the negotiations.

Midweek music spot: Figaro's aria from The Barber of Seville (Rossini)


If there is a classic example of a difficult problem which does not lend itself to simplistic slogans or one-dimensional solutions it is how society should deal with drugs in general and cannabis in particular.

The most annoying slogan which I heard constantly while a student and has reared its ugly head again to some extent more recently is

"Cannabis is no more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco."

Since both alcohol abuse and smoking can kill, this is not a high bar.

If either the consumption of alcoholic drinks or smoking tobacco had previously been unknown but  were discovered tomorrow I doubt if any government on the planet would licence either activity for general use.

Even the milder forms of recreational cannabis which were around a couple of generations ago could and did cause some people serious damage. The stronger forms which are available today on the black market carry a significantly greater risk.

On the other hand, there are a lot of substances which are dangerous if improperly used but which under medical supervision can be extremely valuable in treating various illnesses and conditions.

Cannabis is one of these substances and I have believed for a long time that the medicinal use of cannabis under the supervision of a properly qualified doctor should be legal.

Recreational use is a lot more difficult. Some people manage to use cannabis for recreational purposes without being harmed, but others do not. Outright legalisation of the drug for recreational purposes would send young people the signal that it's safe, and for in many cases cannabis is nothing of the kind.

Sajid Javid's approach of reviewing the medicinal use of cannabis with the intention of making it available to those such as epileptics for whom it will have genuine benefits while remaining controls on the recreational use of the drug strikes me as drawing a difficult balance in about the right place.

Further problems with CCC IT equipment

I regret to say that for the sixth or seventh time since my election to Cumbria County Council I have run into problems with the IT equipment provided by CCC.

Consequently I am currently unable to read emails which have been sent to me since the weekend via my county council email address (the one on the County council website.)

For GDPR reasons I cannot encourage people to contact me using social media methods such as Facebook or Twitter messaging although I do my best to respond to such messages when I see them.

The best method to get hold of me at the moment is by phone or by email to 

Quote of the day 20th June 2018

"If someone says that you can't be or do something because of your skin colour, and you are racist if you do, the racist probably isn't you."

("Best Mom Eva" @mombot on twitter, who is Japanese, responding to a debate on twitter about whether Sony - a Japanese company - was guilty of "cultural appropriation" by using a picture of a white American who happens to be one of the few living masters of the instrument concerned, playing a traditional Japanese instrument. Context is given at the "i" site here.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Feedback from stroke workship

I attended the public session at Cleator Moor today about care for stroke patients in North, West and East Cumbria.

It was a very well attended meeting with more than a hundred people there, indeed it had to move from the medium-size room where Local Committee meets to the biggest meeting room in the building.

There were a lot of concerns expressed about transport issues involved in getting patients from West Cumbria to the proposed Hyper-Acute Stroke Unit in Carlisle as quickly as possible..

An assurance was given that the new system will not be implemented until hospital beds, staff, equipment and operating arrangements are all in place.

I hope we can make some progress on addressing some of the issues raised today before that point.

Russia increases retirment age above average life expectancy

Retirement ages have been going up around the world, including in Britain, mostly because they have been driven up as increases in life expectancy make it impossible to fund longer and longer periods of retirement.

However, we had better try to avoid doing to pensioners what the Russian government has just put forward.

While many Russians were watching their football team play Saudi Arabia in the world cup, Vladimir Putin's sidekick and musical chairs partner Dmitry Medvedev, who keeps the Presidential chair warm for Putin when the term limit rules force him to drop down to Prime Minister and then swaps back, obviously decided that it was what Blairite spin doctors call "a good time to bury bad news."

So he slipped out some controversial policy announcements such as a 20% hike in VAT and proposals to increase the pension age for men from 60 to 65 years old, and increasing the pension age for women from 55 to 63 years old.

As has been pointed out by some very brave Russians on twitter, average male life expectancy in Russia is only 63 - two years younger than the proposed new retirement age.

Opposition politician Ilya Yashin called the Russian government's proposals "mad" on Facebook. I do hope nothing happens to him.

More services for Kidney pateients at West Cumberland Hospital

Tomorrow (Wednesday 20th June) marks the official opening of the newly expanded Renal unit at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven (WCH), which will enable more people to receive kidney dialysis treatment closer to home.

Dr Andrew Bow, clinical director for Renal services, said:

“Nationally, demand for dialysis services is growing at six per cent per annum. The expansion of our services means that far fewer patients will need to travel to Carlisle for their treatment. Dialysis patients attend hospital for their treatment three times per week, so to have a service that suits them closer to home will make a huge difference to their lives.

“We are also working to provide more home haemodialysis care, to further free up capacity for those who require their dialysis in a hospital setting. This offers many benefits to patients who are suitable to undertake their treatment at home. The Home Therapies team currently provide peritoneal dialysis and plan to expand the service to allow patients the additional option of home haemodialysis, avoiding regular trips to the hospital for their treatment.

More details on my hospitals blog here.

Quote of the day 19th June 2018

"By 2023/24 the NHS England budget will increase by £20.5 billion in real terms compared with today. That means it will be £394 million a week higher in real terms." 

(Theresa May on the increase in NHS spending which she has just announced.)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Well Done England

The result of England's first game in the 2018 world cup:

England 2, Tunisia 1.

A match with a great start, difficult middle, but at the very end Kane was able!

Major grass fire near St Bees last week.

Last week firefighters and no fewer than five appliances were called to a grass fire on Beach Road near St Bees.

A large area of grass on a difficult to reach headland on a rural cliff caught fire, and the flame height reached three metres.

Five fire engines were deployed to the incident – from Workington, Whitehaven, Egremont, Frizington and Keswick alongside the wild fire unit.

The fire is believed to have been started by a discarded cigarette. So if you are going for a stroll in the countryside and can't resist lighting up, please be careful how you dispose of used cigarettes and matches.

Quote of the day 18th June 2018

"The British public voted for £350m a week for the NHS. We will deliver that – and more."

(Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt writing about the boost to NHS spending which the government has just announced. You can read the article here.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Music Spot: "Come Jesus Come" (Bach motet BWV 229)

A video record celebrating the NHS 70 Carlisle parkrun

Ridiculous comeback of the century

Almost every Labour candidate ever has told the electorate that the Conservatives should spend more on the NHS.

There have been a very small number of Labour politicians, of whom the former Labour Health secretary and now Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, is the most prominent, who have said, especially in private or when talking to teachers, policemen, or local government officers, that cuts to the budgets of schools, police services, and local councils governments were exacerbated because of the, quote, "irresponsible" decision to ring-fence and protect the NHS budget.

But I've never seen that view in a Labour leaflet, and most Labour politicians talk at every opportunity about the need to put more money into the health service.

Today Theresa May gave them what they previously said they wanted: an increase of more than 3.5% in real terms, rising  to £20 billion a year by 23/4, in NHS funding.

So what did Labour's Emily Thornberry have to say this morning?

Did she say "I'm delighted that the government have done what we asked for?"

Did she say "The NHS desperately needs more money" (which is what her party had previously been saying) "so we welcome this decision?"

For all I know she may have said more than the BBC quoted her on the radio as saying but I can only tell you what I heard and it was neither of those things.

She was quoted on BBC Radio 4 today as asking where the money is going to come from!

From anyone else in the country that would be a perfectly reasonable question, but from the people who have been screaming for more money for the NHS for approximately seventy years (except when they've been in government themselves) to ask where that money is coming from when the government does what they have been suggesting?

Honestly, that really is ridiculous.

Theresa May announces an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS

Well, you can argue until the cows come home about whether it's a "Brexit dividend" or not, but the important thing is that NHS is going to get the money promised on the side of that bus and a bit more.

My reason for welcoming this is not because I think the message on the bus was right, but because I think our health services do needs the money to cope with increased demand.

Theresa May has announced another £20 billion a year of new money - a 3.6% increase in real terms by 2023/4, slightly more than the £350 million a week on the side of the bus - for the NHS. She writes about it in the Mail on Sunday today, and here is an extract from her article.

"On the day I became Prime Minister, I said my Government would be driven not by the interests of a privileged few but by those of ordinary working people. Nothing matters more to the British people than our NHS. That’s why I will always put it first.

We never know when we, or a loved one, might need the NHS, and we all sleep easier in our beds because it is there for us. World-class medical care, free at the point of use, is part of the social fabric of this country.

This year, as we celebrate its 70th birthday, I am determined to take action to secure our NHS for generations to come. To do so, we will deliver a long-term plan for the NHS, and this week I will be setting out the principles that will guide it. It will be a serious plan for the future, led by the NHS itself, backed by new investment.

The NHS budget today is £14 billion higher than it was eight years ago. Even as we have taken the difficult decisions to repair our economy, we have continued to increase NHS spending. But in the meantime, the demands on the NHS have continued to grow. 

We are living longer and asking more of the NHS. New drugs and treatments are constantly being developed that we rightly expect our NHS to provide for us, but which come at a cost. And too often, our dedicated NHS staff are let down by waste and bureaucracy that drain resources that should go to the front line. Our long-term plan for the NHS will address each of these challenges and give doctors and nurses the resources they need to deliver first-class care.

For too long, Governments have funded the NHS in fits and starts, leaving it unable to plan ahead. I am determined to change that. So tomorrow I will set out a new five-year budget settlement, in return for a plan to deliver our vision of a better NHS.

Under our plan, by 2023-24, the NHS budget will increase compared to today by over £20 billion a year in real terms, which is approximately £600 million a week in cash terms.

When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes it came as a shock. I did not know what the impact would be on my life, or whether it would affect my ability to do my job. In that moment, the NHS was there for me, just as it has been for millions of others over seven decades. It helps me every step of the way. With the NHS on my side, I can manage my condition, live a normal life and get on with my job. By delivering a long-term plan for our NHS’s future – and backing it with the money it needs to – we can make sure the NHS continues to be there for all of us. "

Reminder - public workship on Stroke services in two days' time.

No apologies for a repeat post to remind residents of West Cumbria with an interest in health services that the Stroke Services Working Group of North Cumbria NHS's Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is holding public workshops about the provision of care for stroke patients, and the next one is in two day's time.

It will be held in Cleator Moor Civic Hall and Masonic Centre, Jacktrees Road, Cleator Moor, CA25 5AU from 2pm to 4pm on Tuesday afternoon (19th June 2018.)

This is not a consultation about whether or not a Hyper-Acute Stroke Unit should be set up at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. That public consultation has already taken place, eighteen months ago. Whether such a unit should be created was one of the questions asked during the massive public consultation exercise which took place in late 2016 about the "Success Regime" proposals, and following that consultation the decision was taken by the CCG in March 2017 that such a stroke unit should indeed be set up.

This is a workshop held as part of the "working together" programme of meetings to discuss how health care should be delivered in Cumbria, raise issues of concern with the community and consider how they can be addressed. It will be facilitated by the Stroke Association.

Emerging themes from similar workshops held so far have included:
  • The acute phase of the stroke lasts for a short time and the implication and recovery / living life after stroke lasts much longer
  • Concerns about travel for people in west Cumbria
  • Concerns about people in south Copeland / travel times
  • Acknowledging we deserve a modern service 24/7
  • Opportunity to promote prevention and FAST
  • Opportunity to refresh and develop information for people after a stroke which could be ICC specific
  • Pressures on staff within the system at the moment
  • Organisations like the Stroke Association need more support

Details of "working together" meetings on the subject of stroke care and of the activities of the Stroke Services Working Group can be found on the CCG website here.

Quote of the day 17th June 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

When clever people do stupid things

The post below, with a few minor adjustments like putting in the exact date instead of "yesterday" to avoid confusion, is a repeat of an article first posted twelve years ago which I thought was worth running again.

I'm pleased to say that there has been some movement on the point made at the very end of the article about providing more information on statistics for people involved in court cases. 

In November 2017 a UK Supreme Court judge launched the first of a series of scientific guides for the judiciary

Lord Hughes had overseen a project to help the judiciary deal with scientific evidence in the courtroom. The first primers covered DNA fingerprinting and computer techniques to identify suspects from the manner of their walk. Guides on statistics and the physics of car crashes were to come next and one on "shaken baby syndrome" were planned. 

Memo to self - I must find out whether these subsequent guides were issued and whether they were made available to juries as well as judges. Because they should be.

When Clever People Do Stupid Things

On 17th February 2006 a court quashed the disciplinary action taken by the General Medical Council against Professor Sir Roy Meadow, one of the most distinguished children’s doctors in the country. Professor Meadow had acted as an expert witness in the trials of many women accused of killing their own children. Unfortunately his great knowledge of medicine and convincing air of authority as a witness was matched by a gross ignorance of the principles of statistics which would have been unacceptable in a Lower VI former studying for Maths A-Level.

Professor Meadow convinced first himself, and then the juries, that at least three innocent women who were already suffering the agony of having lost their babies, should be jailed for murdering them. He told the trial of Sally Clark that the chances of her having two children lost to cot deaths through natural causes were one in 73 million, and the trial of Donna Anthony that the chances of her two children having died from natural causes were one in a million.

This evidence was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics: Professor Meadow had assumed that the probability of each cot death was independent and had not taken into account the possibility that there could be a genetic predisposition to a higher risk of such fatalities or that the conditional probability of a further case of sudden infant death in the child of a mother who had already suffered one such death could be a lot higher. Other studies by doctors who do understand the relevant statistical principles suggest the odds in the Sally Clark and Donna Anthony cases were more like one chance in 77.

By overturning the finding that Professor Meadow was guilty of serious professional misconduct, the judge has effectively ruled that it is acceptable for a highly skilled professional who is being paid by the state to give expert evidence in one area of knowledge to neglect the basic mathematical understanding required to understand that knowledge. I think there are three implications for our society of this decision.

1) The stupid mistakes which do the most damage are rarely made by stupid individuals, but by intelligent ones – stupid people are rarely in a position to do as much damage as intelligent people.

2) Our society needs to recognise that expertise in one area often does not translate into expertise in others

3) It is high time we ensured that all lawyers, judges, expert witnesses, and juries had access to some basic training in statistics.

The classic example of a brilliant man who caused a major disaster with a stupid mistake that no stupid person could have made was Admiral Sir George Tryon. He became Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet, then the crack force of the most powerful and professional navy the world had ever seen, and did so purely on ability. His powers of intellect enabled him to best in argument any other officer who ventured to disagree with him. And more than eighty years after the accident in which he died I have met people who still believe that he was not responsible for that accident.

But there is no doubt that Tryon caused the collision which sank his flagship, HMS Victoria, drowned 357 officers and men, and made the world’s most formidable fleet look like idiots, with a basic mathematical error. Tryon was commanding two columns of battleships. Each column was formed in “line ahead” with one ship behind another, and the two columns were heading in the same direction, side by side and six cables or 1,200 yards apart. The turning circle of these ships was 1,600 yards. Tryon ordered the two columns to turn towards each other. Nobody will ever know exactly what he meant to happen, but as one of his officers pointed out, the two columns of battleships would have had to have started with a distance between them more than double that 1,600 yards turning circle to carry out any such manoeuvre safely.

At least four of Tryon’s officers, including the captain of his flagship, HMS Victoria, which was leading one column, the fleet’s second in command in HMS Camperdown at the head of the other column, and two staff officers who queried the orders, realised that they were likely to result in the collision of the leading ships.

Faced with an apparently suicidal order, these officers reacted in different ways. The only person to come well out of the disaster, Commander Thomas Hawkins-Smith, initially pointed out the problem and then queried the order twice. Tryon at first accepted the point, but unfortunately he then apparently forgot that he had done so, brushing objections aside.

The captain of HMS Victoria is on record as saying that “Open criticism of one’s superior is not consistent with true discipline” and said nothing to Tryon until a collision was inevitable. However, he probably saved lives by asking for and getting permission to put the engines into reverse and by closing the ship’s watertight doors.

The Second-in Command, Admiral Markham in the Camperdown, saw the problem but didn’t know what to do, and while he was trying to make up his mind the entire fleet was heading for the Syrian coast on which they would all go aground unless something was done. While he was dithering, Tryon sent the signal “Why did you not obey my order?” and then Markham followed Tryon’s instructions, with the inevitable consequence that the Victoria and Camperdown collided. Ironically, just after the collision, Tryon was handed a note with Markham’s reply, “Because I did not quite understand your signal.”

Admiral Tryon appears to have realised his mistake just too late – his voice was almost a whisper as he gave permission to put the engines “full astern” to slow down the ship. In his last minutes he made no attempt to deflect responsibility for the disaster: his last recorded words were “It is all my fault.”

Tryon made no attempt to save himself and went down with the ship.

Admiral Tryon and Professor Meadow had in common that both were brilliant men at the head of their respective professions and internationally respected in their fields. Both made basic mathematical errors with grave consequences. Professor Meadow wrecked three lives where Admiral Tryon ended more than three hundred. But there are lessons we need to learn from both.

The first is that the more eminent you are the more you need to listen to others. If George Tryon or Roy Meadow had been less eminent, both they and others might have been less inclined to assume they were always right.

The second is that we should be much more careful about assuming that knowledge in one field carries over into another. Angela Cannings, one of the innocent women who was wrongly convicted on Professor Meadow’s evidence, was surely right when she said in February 2006 of expert witnesses that “It’s when they are approached about areas outside their expertise that they should look up and say ‘Sorry, I can’t deal with this’ and step back.”

That principle has much wider application. Let me give just one example. I am an economist by profession and a regular churchgoer. I have heard priests and bishops give sermons in which they talked about spiritual matters, theology or human motivation and I immediately recognise that they are vastly better informed than I about such subjects and I have things to learn from them.

However, when the subject turns to matters on which I have professional knowledge, it readily becomes apparent that neither theological college nor biblical study gives any insight into such matters as the relative merits of competing economic theories or tax rates. It pains me to say it, but when bishops for whom as pastors and theologians I have immense respect are invited to talk about government economic policy they often reveal themselves to be as misguided outside their field of expertise as Sir Roy Meadow was outside his.

I have also heard bishops say very intelligent things about politics and economics. But nine times out of ten, when this happens the idea or concern which is being raised has been put as a question. In other words, the most intelligent contributions often come from a speaker who is acutely aware of the limits of his or her expertise.

The same applies when politicians talk about football, or when successful football managers are invited by the media to talk about business, or when TV soap stars talk about politics, or successful authors are invited to talk about the law. In a democracy we are all entitled to a view about any subject but we should avoid the trap of assuming that an expert in one subject is certain to have valuable insights into another.

My final comment is that, to avoid the risk of sending more innocent people to prison, we must significantly raise the level of statistical expertise available to the courts. Expert witnesses who think they understand maths but don’t are not a problem unique to cases of cot death. Another example is genetic fingerprinting. This is an immensely powerful tool and there is no doubt whatsoever that it has sent many guilty people to justice. But statements of probability in relation to genetic evidence can sound more powerful than they really are unless there is corroborative evidence.

Let’s give an example. Supposing there is a crime for which there are no surviving witnesses, and the police have recovered genetic material which they are absolutely confident belongs to the perpetrator. They trawl through the genetic database and find a villain whose DNA has a sufficiently good match that only one person in five million would have a fit as good or better. They haul the suspect in, and find that he could have been in the right place at the right time and has no convincing alibi.

I hope and believe that most British police forces would do more work than this before bringing a prosecution, but let’s suppose for the sake of argument that we have a rare sloppy example, and they don’t. You are on the jury – you are told that the accused had the opportunity to commit the crime and that genetic fingerprinting suggests it is five million to one that he did it. Do you find him guilty?

If you said yes, I hope you’re not on the jury should I ever be wrongly accused of anything. Five million to one odds means there are about eleven people in Britain with an equivalent match, including about three or four adult males of an age to be strong and fit. I would want to have far more evidence against the accused than just the genetic fit statistics before I would be confident that we had correctly identified the culprit. Genetic fingerprinting evidence is only sufficient to be confident that we were convicting the guilty person if we have the evidence to rule out all other potential suspects with an equally good genetic fit, and that usually means that genetic fingerprinting on its own is not enough.

If we want to avoid such miscarriages of justice, we need to provide lawyers and judges with more training in statistics – and perhaps also provide more support for Juries. How about a handbook, “Probability for Jurors” ? You read it here first.