Showing posts from June, 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


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 a

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 .)

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


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 f

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)

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

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 h

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

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 "G

Quote of the day 25th June 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)

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 callin

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  

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-awa

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 vo

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 possibilit

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)

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

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

HIGH POINTS 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 too

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!"

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 wh

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 .)

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 brav

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 a

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.)

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 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 morni

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

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 i

Quote of the day 17th June 2018