Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Seen on the doorstep in Cleator Moor

A notice by a front door, seen while out doing a resident's opinion survey:

"No Trespassers
Violators will be shot
Survivors will be shot again."

We got the message that the householder was not exactly looking for company ...

Quote of the day 31st July 2018

We are facing nothing less than a crisis in our democracy, based on the systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens, without their consent, by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate.”

(Damian Collins MP, Conservative chairman of the House of Commons' all-party Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

He was speaking about the committee's interim report on "Disinformation and Fake News," which calls for updated rules for elections and referenda which take better account of the way social media campaigns now operate and better education about how reliable and truthful online information is - or all too often isn't.)

Monday, July 30, 2018


Tim Montgomerie wrote a good piece on "Unherd" a few weeks ago about the tendency in many parts of the political spectrum to wish not just to defeat but to crush and delegitimise those who disagree with you, a tendency he calls "Hegemonia."

You can see it in those who have been trying to deselect their political opponents whether pro or anti-Brexit. A Labour party with no place for the likes of Frank Field would be much poorer, but a majority of his local party apparently cannot see that.

You can see it in those for whom opponents are to be smeared.

You can see it in those on the leave side for whom any attempt by Theresa May or anyone else to find a compromise which leaves the EU on terms which do not totally ignore the concerns of the 48% who voted differently is "betrayal" or "treason" or a "sell-out"

You can also see it in those on the Remain side for whom the referendum result is not legitimate and must be overturned at any cost.

As Tim asks,

"Can we recognise that attempting to call any and all opponents racists, fascists and bigots – without good cause – is not just offensive but electorally incendiary? 

"And can we be patriotic enough to yearn for minorities to feel that their country’s institutions (whether the US Supreme Court or the BBC or universities) are not closed to them? 

"And can we have the humility to know that victory and vindication are not 100% bedfellows. That political and other opponents who may have lost votes or circulations or professional prestige may still hold useful, insightful opinions and, occasionally, there might be some merit in listening to ‘the defeated’ a bit more carefully – and sometimes changing course as a result?"

I do hope the answer to those questions is yes.

Biggrigg Road closure

Please note that due to drainage works at Pallaflat, Bigrigg, the road will be completely closed from 8am to 5pm for five days starting today (30th July).

Quote of the day 30th July 2018

"One of the scariest aspects of our times is how easy it is for glib loudmouths to turn us against each other, weakening the whole framework of society, on which we all depend."

(Thomas Sowell, American Economist)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Labour accused of training candidates to smear opponents.

A report in the Sunday Times today says that the Labour party has been accused of giving its parliamentary candidates lessons in smearing their political opponents.

Around 60 prospective parliamentary candidates attended an awayday in Nottinghamshire last weekend and were given a seminar on media training, which several sources claim involved a discussion on how to sabotage their rivals.

One attendee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said:

We were told that it was all right to make up stories about our Tory opponents even if they were on the edge of legality. We were basically told we could say what we liked about them as long as it was on the right side of the law.

“I was quite surprised, to say the least, and this certainly isn’t the way the party has previously operated or encouraged us to behave.”

Another source said:

The suggestion was that you could use the media and social media to smear your opponents and that even if you had to later retract your claims the damage would already be done. It was even inferred that you should be prepared to brief against other Labour MPs.

The Labour party denied the allegations.

However, they have "form" for doing this sort of thing. 

Earlier this year a Labour activist, Dan Evans, issued an apology for spreading smears about the Tory Byron Davies during last year’s general election, and paid a "substantial" donation to a charity chosen by the former MP. Mr Davies had been defending the government’s most marginal seat, Gower, which he had won two years earlier with a majority of just 27.

The smears against Byron Davies included baseless slanders that he was under investigation for election fraud, which Mr Evans, pictured with Jeremy Corbyn in the online version of the Sunday Times article, admitted was not true.

In 2009 the then Labour Prime Minister was forced to sack one of his closest advisors, Damien MacBride, for plotting to publish "hugely defamatory" and "obscene" untrue smears about prominent political opponents.

Telling lies to damage your political opponents is wrong whoever does it and whoever it is aimed at. I hope this story is not true and that if it is, Labour thinks better of it.

But I would also suggest that a wise voter should take any derogatory statements made by any Labour supporter about any of their political opponents with a whole truckload of salt.

Sunday music spot: "Lord let me know mine end" (Greene)

Sunday reflection - is it better to avoid "vampires" or avoid being one?

Reflecting that I have heard several times in recent months, most recently on the radio this week, that people can be divided into those you feel energised after talking to and those who leave you feeling as though you have had the energy sucked out of you after a conversation with them.

One speaker on the radio described the latter type of person as "vampires" and suggested that you should try to avoid spending time with such people.

That's one approach.

But actually I can recall different instances in which conversations with the same person have left me energised and perked up or depressed depending on what was going on in their life and how they felt about it, and how they were dealing with it.

Is it possible that when we deal with our problems with humour and a positive attitude, then that is likely to be passed on to the people we are dealing with, and all of us can become a negative influence if we let ourselves get overwhelmed by our problems?

Perhaps rather than avoiding the people we label as "vampires" we should concentrate on being as  positive as we can so that we ourselves become the people who leave others feeling energised and positive.

Quote of the day 29th July 2018

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Saturday music spot: Overture to Thomas Arne's opera "Alfred"

Thomas Arne's masterpiece "Alfred," which was first performed in 1740, contains one movement which is still very well known indeed while the rest of the opera is hardly ever performed and very little known today.

This overture is one of the pieces in the opera which deserves to be heard more often.

(The part of the opera which is most often still heard today is the finale, which is "Rule Britannia.")

Quote of the day 28th July 2018

In his book A History of Warfare (1968), Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: records that 

"Sir Winston Churchill once told me of a reply made by the Duke of Wellington, in his last years, when a friend asked him: 

'If you had your life over again, is there any way in which you could have done better?' 

The old Duke replied: 'Yes, I should have given more praise.'"

Friday, July 27, 2018

Reminder: an opportunity to raise issues with MP/Councillors tomorrow

The next "Saturday Chataway" opportunity for residents of Copeland to meet your MP and elected representatives is tomorrow morning (Saturday 28th July 2018) at Seascale.

Trudy Harrison MP and elected representatives will be at Seascale Library, Gosforth Road, Seascale (CA20 1PN) between 10am and 12 noon. Councillors of all parties and levels have been invited.

This will be followed by a community litter pick in the afternoon from 12.30pm

Planned arrangements for repair of Meadow Road

As I posted a few days ago, Meadow Road which runs through Whitehaven's Mirehouse estate is in a dire condition and Cumbria County Council's local committee has allocated £120,000 in this year's budget for a full repair job, which starts on Monday (30th July) and is expected to last four weeks.

Here is a summary of what is being done and the arrangements being made during the repair works on Meadow road,

The existing surface is a concrete road with bituminous surface treatment. That current bituminous treatment is now severely worn from the Kinniside Avenue Junction to Uldale Road Junction.

Road markings are also worn and faded.

Repair works are to be carried out for approximately one kilometer North-West and North from the Wasdale road junction under an official road closure (anticipated duration of 4 weeks).

On-street parking will be severely restricted during working hours, but will be available to residents overnight and at weekends.

Existing bituminous treatment to be removed back to existing concrete surface. Concrete structural integrity to be assessed, and existing expansion joints in concrete to be re-treated.

All ironwork throughout the site extent to be renewed, and all damaged kerb items to be replaced.

Existing concrete pavement to be overlaid with 50mm of Heavy Duty Bituminous surface course.

New transverse expansion joints to be cut into new surface course corresponding with existing joints.

Road markings to be renewed throughout.

CCC has agreed with Stagecoach to keep the service bus route in operation to minimise disruption to bus users, notices to this effect have been posted at all stops and on busses.

Copeland Borough Council have been informed about the repair work and their refuse vehicles will have access on the scheduled days.

Access for blue light emergency services will be maintained at all times.

Each end of the road closure will be manned during working hours to liaise with customers and advise on access/alternative routes etc.

Secretary of State praises MP's School sponsor campaign

The MP for Copeland has been praised for her ‘passionate campaign’ to secure a new school sponsor for Whitehaven Academy.

Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, commended Trudy Harrison MP for her consistent battle to remove controversial academy trust sponsors, Bright Tribe from Whitehaven Academy after years of neglect and mismanagement.

Cumbria Education Trust was last week confirmed by the Secretary of State as the new sponsor of Whitehaven Academy following a resolution that was passed by CET’s Board of Trustees.

Mrs Harrison expressed her concern at the Department of Education in a Select Committee meeting which saw members grill the Secretary of State on the conditions at the school, which included pupils working in stifling classrooms due to windows being jammed shut in the middle of a heatwave.

Damian Hinds, said: “I know Trudy is passionate about education, ensuring that young people across her constituency get the best start in life. 

“She has been a strong advocate against the running of Whitehaven Academy by the Bright Tribe Trust. Standing up for concerns of the pupils and parents involved. 

“It is thanks to her campaigning that the school is now going to be taken over by the Cumbria Education Trust ensuring a bright future ahead.”

Trudy Harrison added that “This has been a team effort over many months, and it’s testament to the relentless support and information from parents in particular that we have successfully secured the most comprehensive re-brokerage in the DfE’s history.

“This means that Whitehaven Academy will benefit from short term remedial works over the summer and by the end of 2020, a brand new school. But more than that, it means that the Academy will have a local sponsor, with a track record of transformation who will be easily accessible and accountable.

“A full complement of sixth form subjects will be possible because of a collaboration with Workington Academy and specialist teachers – for me, this package is crucial."

Mrs Harrison also said that,

“Head teacher Warren Turner has worked tirelessly in very difficult circumstances, as have all staff, their dedication and commitment has been significant in securing a new sponsor and I’m really looking forward to the future for Whitehaven Academy with Cumbria Education Trust’s management."

Quote of the day 27th July 2018

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Saturday Chataway" this coming Saturday (28th July) in Seascale

The next "Saturday Chataway" opportunity for residents of Copeland to meet your MP and elected representatives is this Saturday (28th July 2018) at Seascale.

MP Trudy Harrison and elected representatives will be at Seascale Library, Gosforth Road, Seascale (CA20 1PN) between 10am and 12 noon. Councillors of all parties and levels have been invited.

This will be followed by a community litter pick in the afternoon from 12.30pm

Mary Ellis RIP

Mary Ellis, who flew over a thousand aircraft of 67 different types during World War II while serving as a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary, has died at the age of 101.

As Mary Wilkins she blazed a trail for female aviators as one of the first women to fly Spitfires, heavy bombers and jet aircraft. She delivered planes from factories to airfields from 1941 to the end of the Second World War.

The use of women pilots to deliver aircraft ran into a certain amount of prejudice at the time. At one RAF base, the ground crew refused to believe she was the pilot of the Wellington bomber she had just landed. "They actually went inside the aeroplane and searched it," she recalled.

The job of flying a wide range of aircraft was not without dangers and nearly one in 10 of the ATA's 168 female members were killed during the war, including aviation pioneer Amy Johnson.

Mary herself survived being shot at by friendly fire near Bournemouth and a crash-landing when the undercarriage on the Spitfire she was transporting jammed.

Mary's friend Dora Lang died in a crash in 1944. "I missed her terribly", she recalled. "And for two days I was not allowed to fly - I didn't want to. But after that one realised, well, there is a war on, we must get on with our jobs. And we did."

When the ATA was disbanded in 1945, Mary Wilkins was seconded to the RAF, where she became one of the first women to fly Britain's first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor. She went on to become manager of Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight in the 1950s and 1960s, hiring a former ATA colleague, Vera Strodl, as chief flying instructor.

She married Don Ellis, a fellow pilot, in 1961.

Mary Ellis was given the freedom of the Isle of Wight in January this year. Isle of Wight Council leader Dave Stewart described her a "national, international and Island heroine".

He added "She is one of the last of the finest generation who did so much to guarantee our freedom 70 years ago."

Rest in Peace.

Labour MP for Peterborough to stand trial

The Labour MP for Peterborough, Fiona Onasanya, who took the seat from the Conservatives last year by just 607 votes, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court charged with perverting the course of justice on July 12th and will now stand trial with her brother Festus. The case is scheduled  for the Old Bailey on 13th August.

They are accused of conspiring to evade speeding points - a similar charge to the one which ended the political career of former Lib/Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce were both sentenced to eight months in prison for perverting the course of justice after it emerged that Pryce had taken the speeding points after Huhne tripped a speed camera while driving too fast. They each served two months before being released on licence. Pryce's friend Constance Briscoe was subsequently sentenced to sixteen months in prison and sacked as a judge for making false statements to police in relation to the Huhne and Pryce case and submitting false documents to the trial.

If convicted and jailed Onasanya would be subject to the Recall act 2015 which means that if 10% of her constituents signed a petition to that effect she would be removed from her position and a by-election for the Peterborough constituency would follow.

Time to update the Treason act of 1531.

I agree with Policy Exchange who argue, in a new report, that the Treason Act of 1531 is out of date and should be replaced by a new law worded to fit the situation where treason no longer means backing the wrong side in an attempt to change the ruling dynasty. The existing law was written in the age when, as John Harington wrote in his immortal joke,

When that joke was made, "Treason" usually meant attempting to replace the current monarch with another - and of course, if such an attempt succeeded, accusing the new King or Queen and his or her supporters of treason was not conducive to your life expectancy.

The last serious attempt to change the dynasty through rebellion in this country for which the old  definition of treason could reasonably be (and was) applied was defeated 272 years ago at the battle of Culloden. From the American war of Independence onwards - and that too is well over two centuries ago - the old idea of what treason is has looked increasingly outdated.

The need for an updated treason law was highlighted this week by the decision not to object to the suspects accused of being the two remaining members of the DA'ESH murder cell known as "The Beatles" being tried in the USA.

The individuals claim that they have been stripped of their British citizenship, and if this is true, treason would have been the wrong charge anyway had they been tried in this country - though if these suspects are who they are accused of being, they could be charged with the murders of aid workers Alan Hemming, David Haines and Peter Kassig and all the other innocent people killed by the notorious DA'ESH death squad.

Sooner or later the British courts are going to have to deal with a modern terrorist for whom an updated version of treason is the most appropriate charge. It would be as well to have a law which meets the needs of justice in the 21st century, rather than one drafted in the sixteenth, on the statute book for when that happens.

Quote of the day 26th July 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

This is how freedom dies

There was an article in The Times earlier this week by Clare Foges - who used to be a number ten speechwriter during DC's time - which really quite worries me.

The title of the article was

"Our timid leaders can learn from strongmen"

and the subtitle was "Trump, Putin, Erdogan and Duterte are unpalatable demagogues in many ways but at least they get things done."

As I tweeted at the time, "They get things done" like putting children in cages, starting trade wars, cyber attacks on British companies and public services, poisoning innocent people on British soil, bombing Syrian hospitals, shooting down an airliner, and arresting thousands of people on highly dubious grounds.

The article rightly says that "Mussolini making the trains run on time does not excuse fascism" and I think we should consider very carefully before holding any strongman up as a role model.

What happened in Germany and many other countries in the mid 20th century should serve as a terrible warning that democracy and civilisation are not as firmly rooted as we like to think they are.

Clare Foges' article was published in the context that Britain's free press survived by the narrowest of margins earlier this year and free speech remains under threat.

I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that an egregious law passed five years ago would, if implemented, have meant that Britain no longer had a free press, and earlier this year attempts to force the government to bring that law into effect were twice passed by the unelected House of Lords: Britain's free press survived by nine votes and twelve votes in the House of Commons.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts act 2013, which has a strong claim to be the most iniquitous piece of legislation placed on the British statute book in the past hundred years, would have put press organisations which declined to sign up to a government-approved regulator in the position that if anyone sued them over a story they had published, they would have to pay the legal costs of both sides even if they won the case and the story was found to be completely true.

The one fortunate thing about this terrible law was that it did not automatically come into effect unless the government chose to activate it - in effect section 40 was a threat hanging over the heads of the press to try to blackmail them into to signing up to the government regulator rather than something which was necessarily intended to be used.

But a substantial lobby of people who for a range of good and bad reasons had axes to grind against the press, led by the pressure group "Hacked off,"  did try to activate it. A large part of the House of Commons and a majority of the House of Lords tried to amend a Data Protection Bill so as to force the government to introduce a second "Leveson" style inquiry into the press and, far worse, also backed amendments which would effectively have brought Section 40 into force.

Here in Spiked and here on this blog are some of the arguments which were made against Leveson 2 and Section 40 at the time.

As I pointed out back in May, this country has fallen to 40th in the world index of press freedom, partly because the legal environment which the likes of "Hacked off" think is too lax meant that in the first five years of this decade, Britain arrested more journalists than almost any other Western country.

I am becoming more and more convinced that we need a constitutional provision in Britain equivalent to the First Amendment to the US constitution which puts a stake in the ground m protecting free speech and free journalism.

I am not suggesting that free speech should be an absolute and unqualified right, that would be completely unworkable. Inciting people to break the law should remain a criminal offence and if you make defamatory comments about someone which you cannot prove they should be able to sue you for libel or slander.

I also believe that judges should retain the power to delay publication of court proceedings or prejudicial material where this is necessary to ensure a fair trial (the rules, in other words, which Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who calls himself Tommy Robinson, was recently jailed for breaking.)

But there has to be a point where we say "thus far and no further" to state control over what we can say and think. For a start, the law must define "hate speech" much more carefully: threatening someone, or encouraging violence or terrorism should be caught by the law. So should seriously abusive or bullying behaviour although we need to ensure that these are very carefully defined.

Merely expressing an opinion which someone finds offensive or insulting should be a basic right. And yes, that should include the right to say that you believe someone's religion is untrue. and to say it in very blunt language, as long as you don't go on to threaten or incite violence against the adherents of that religion.

Just as the successful "Feel Free to insult me" campaign secured repeal of Section Five of the public order act so that it is no longer an offence to insult somebody, I believe that a similar change should be made to Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 (the law under which "Count Dankula" was convicted) to ensure that making threats or inciting violence online is and should remain illegal but make clear that merely expressing an opinion someone finds grossly offensive should not.

If we do not fight to defend our freedoms, one day we will find that they have melted away.

Maternity at West Cumberland Hospital

I attended a meeting this afternoon of the co-production working group which is developing a plan on how to implement "Option One" for maternity in North. West, and East Cumbria.

As most readers of this blog will probably be aware, "Option one" is not identical to the status quo but does maintain consultant-led maternity units at both West Cumberland Hospital (WCH) in Whitehaven and the Cumberland Infirmary at Carlisle (CIC).

There was a lot of positive progress which I have written about in more detail on my Health service blog here.

Midweek music spot: "Man is for the Woman made" by Purcell - Christine Honein

No offence intended to any gay people reading this, Purcell's 17th century ditty is no longer politically correct and no endorsement of any obsolete world view is intended by posting it. This is an amusing piece of music and is offered for musical entertainment value only.

Quote of the day 25th July 2018

"Complacently, I had always assumed that what happened to my parents couldn’t happen to me or my children. There were too many liberal, progressive people who wouldn’t allow it. 
  I no longer believe this with the same confidence. (I found it really painful to write those words. I deleted the last sentence twice. But I left it in because, sadly, it’s true.)" 

(Lord Danny Finkelstein, whose mother was a holocaust survivor, writing in The Times about the return of anti-Semitism. If you are a subscriber to The Times or have registered to received a couple of free articles per week you can read the whole article here)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Brexit white paper published

Today the government published a White Paper setting out how they will legislate for the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, ensuring a smooth and orderly Brexit. 

  • The government is committed to ensuring that there is proper Parliamentary scrutiny of our withdrawal from the EU so we have published this White Paper now in order to provide Parliamentarians and others detail on the agreements already reached with the EU.
  • This will give Parliamentarians the time to consider these agreements ahead of the Bill’s introduction to Parliament. The Bill legislating the Withdrawal Agreement will only be introduced once negotiations have concluded and Parliament has approved the final deal with the EU.


This is one set of roadworks which I welcome.

The surface of Meadow Road in Mirehouse has been in dire condition for months and I have been arguing at Local Committee and the Highways Working group that it should be given a high priority for repairs.

This was agreed when the budget for 18/19 was set - in fact Meadow road was placed at the top of the list for major road repairs in Copeland - and the work has now been scheduled to begin on Monday 30th July for approximately four weeks.

There will, I'm afraid, be some disruption and a diversion will be in place but it is worth it to have this important bus route through Mirehouse finally brought back the condition that we should expect in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and no longer left in a state which would disgrace a third-world country.

The area to be repaired is Meadow Road, Mirehouse, Whitehaven from its junction with Skiddaw Road extending in a north westerly then northerly direction for a distance of approximately one kilometer.

Alternative Routes: a way through for pedestrians and dismounted cyclists will be maintained at all times and a suitable alternative route for vehicles will be signed and available via the unrestricted section of Meadow Road, St Bees Road, Mirehouse Road and Skiddaw Road.

Here is the plan of the area to be repaired and the diversion.

Quote of the day 24th July 2018

Monday, July 23, 2018

No deal by accident?

Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary, has said that there is a danger of Britain leaving the EU without a deal "by accident."

I think he is right and that would be unfortunate.

Very few people either in Britain or in Europe actually want a "No Deal" Brexit although there is a very outspoken minority who do.

However, some of the things which have been suggested during negotiations - customers barriers within the UK, for instance, e.g. beween Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, which would be complete anathema to most MPs of any party and which no British PM could accept - would be so unacceptable as to be worse than leaving with no deal.

If the EU cannot appreciate this then we are indeed heading for a "No Deal" Brexit.

It is also possible that the hardline Remain faction in Parliament might accidentally trigger a "No Deal" exit by rejecting the deal Mrs May comes back with - assuming she does actually manage to get a deal, as I hope and expect she will.

I don't want a "No Deal" Brexit and I hope we can avoid it. But getting into a panic about the possibility might ironically be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Time for some people to calm down and tone down the rhetoric a bit, methinks.

Hottest day of the year ...

The Met office has confirmed that today has been the hottest day of 2018 so far.

It's not been as warm in Cumbria as in some parts of the country but it certainly has not been cold.

I notice that the "Global warming is a myth" crowd have not been as noisy as usual over the past few months (though of course one very warm year is hardly conclusive evidence on its own).

Quote of the day 23rd July 2018

"As Conservatives, we should know better than anyone what a parliamentary party in revolt over Europe leads to. 

Labour is now leading in the polls and Jeremy Corbyn is so emboldened that he’s summoned his front bench to start planning his first 100 days in power. He has taken advice from former prime ministers and civil service chiefs about which laws to bring forward first. 

If that doesn’t give some of the louder or more tribal voices pause, I don’t know what will. This is a man with a self-confessed Marxist as Shadow Chancellor and outriders who are now wearing ‘I am literally a communist’ T-shirts. A Corbyn government would be catastrophic for our country. 

We have a duty to serve the public in the national interest, to deliver the Brexit referendum result in a way that mitigates risks and maximises opportunities, and keeps the fabric of our own United Kingdom together. 

That means compromise, whichever side of the debate we were on two years ago. And, for all the siren voices, in those two years no one has brought forward a serious, detailed alternative plan. The Prime Minister has one on the table. 

Yes, it requires compromise, but it is now crunch point. 

We are sending our Prime Minister to negotiate on the nation’s behalf against the massed ranks of 27 other countries and the entire apparatus of the EU. It is time to get behind her."

(Ruth Davidson MSP, Scottish Conservative Leader, extract from an article which you can read in full here)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Two accounts of the Yaxley-Lennon appeal

Two interesting reports, one from "The Secret Barrister" and one from "Barrister Blogger" have been published of the appeal hearing by Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon (who uses the name "Tommy Robinson") against his sentences of three months and ten months for contempt of court.

You can read the "Secret Barrister" account in the Independent here,

and the "Barrister Blogger" account by Matthew Scott here.

Judgement on the appeal has not yet been given but is expected by the end of the month.

Sunday Music spot: J.S. Bach's motet "Jesu my Joy" BWV 227

Quote of the day 22nd July 2018

"Until we solve our antisemitism problem, we don't deserve to win."

(Labour MP Wes Streeting, title of article on the LabourList website which you can read here,)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday Music Spot: The Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave) by Mendelssohn

Health Secretary announces new boost to use of Technology in the NHS

Matt Hancock, the new Health and Social Care Secretary announced yesterday that the government is putting half a billion pounds of taxpayers' money into new technological transformations which will improve patient care, reduce workload on staff and make every pound go further.

Key facts:

In his first speech as the new Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock set out his three early priorities
  • technology, the health and care workforce and prevention 
  • to support the long term plan for the NHS, and 
  • to transform health and social care. 
He also announced a £487 million funding package to help make our health and social care system the most advanced in the world.

  • £412 million will be spent on improving patient care, allowing more patients to be cared for at home, and ensuring every pound goes further. 
  • The remaining £75 million will be made available to hospital trusts to put in place state-of-the-art electronic systems. 
Why this matters: 
Our long term plan for the NHS will aim to make it the most advanced health system in the world
- one where technology addresses the user's needs
- making care better for patients, but just as importantly making life easier for staff.

Good news on Borrowing

New figures show that public sector borrowing has fallen to its lowest level since 2007 – demonstrating that the Conservative government's balanced approach is working.

  • ONS figures published yesterday show that public sector net borrowing in the latest full financial year was £6.3 billion less than in the previous financial year and £5.8 billion less than the Office for Budget Responsibiity predicted. This is the lowest net borrowing since the financial year ending March 2007. 
  • Our balanced approach means getting debt falling, keeping taxes low, and supporting our vital public services – and we are at a turning point, with debt due to begin its first sustained fall in a generation. 
  • Labour’s policies would see hundreds of billions added to the debt, and just like the last time they were in power, working families would pay the price through fewer jobs, higher taxes and worse public services.

Quote of the day 21st July 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum RIP

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC, who had been the youngest Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot and was one of the last of "the few" died on Wednesday evening.

The courage and sacrifice of those like him who defended our country and the world from Nazism, arguably the most evil and dangerous threat in history, during the darkest hours of World War two, must never be forgotten.

Rest in Peace.

Another week, another set of resignations from Labour

Racism in all forms is wrong, whether it is directed against Jews, Muslims, those of any particular skin colour, or anyone else.

It is my perception that both anti-Semitism and prejudice against Muslims are on the rise in Britain, and all political parties need to avoid complacency in guarding against both, but I don't think any party has as serious a problem with any form of racism as Labour has with anti-Semitism.

There have been more powerful articles in the press this week from people who have resigned from the Labour party over anti-Semitism. Jane Merrick writes in The Times about her decision to leave Labour. Those who are subscribers or have registered for two free articles a week can read her article here.

And Martin Bright has a similar article in the Jewish Chronicle here.

Brendan O'Neill writes in Spiked that he believes "Labour's problem with Jews is getting worse."

I repeat that no party can afford to be complacent about this. We must all refuse to descend to "Whataboutery," the response when someone raises an allegation of racism against one's one party of saying "What about" and accusing another party of racism instead of dealing with the issue.

E.g. the manner in which too many socialists have avoided addressing the problem with racism in the Labour party has been the "Whataboutery" of accusing the Conservatives of racism (usually, at the moment, Islamophobia) instead of asking themselves whether they might actually have a problem.

I don't accept for a second that the Conservatives actually have remotely as serious a problem with Islamophobia or any other form of racial prejudice as the Labour party currently has with Anti-Semitism but we do need to ensure that cases of prejudice which do emerge in every party from time to time are firmly dealt with in a way which makes clear that they are not acceptable.

Friday music spot: Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite: Praeludium

The version of this to which I posted a link a few weeks ago has been taken down/blocked so here is another version (played by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle) which as far as I am aware is OK.


I understand there has been a remarkably childish row at Manchester University as a result of which a copy of Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" which was voted Britain's favourite poem a few years ago was painted over and replaced by a piece by Maya Angelou (with whom and with whose poetry I have no problem.)

Surely it should not be beyond the wit of humankind (note careful avoidance of gender-specific language) to celebrate and enjoy new poets from a range of backgrounds without judging those of the past by the standards of today and finding excuses to reject them?

I certainly do not agree with everything Kipling ever said or wrote, but he did come up with some things I do agree with. Today's "quote of the day" that paying "Dane-Geld" or blackmail money never gets rid of the people you pay it to is a good example.

So here is "If," not as any endorsement of Kipling's views in general but because it is a good poem.

Quote of the day 20th July 2018

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Ridiculous fact of the week

The existence of the building now known as the BT Tower, which is six hundred feet high (the main structure is 581 feet high but the aerial rigging above that takes the total height to 627 feet) visible from most of London, and had been open to the public, was once covered by the Official Secrets Act.

The tallest building in the country when completed in 1965 as the Post Office Tower, it is still one of the dozen tallest buildings in the capital. The tower did not appear on Ordnance Survey maps until after its existence was officially recorded in Hansard after it was mentioned in the House of Commons in 1993 by Kate Hoey MP.

More about the BT Tower here.


"Pairing" is an arrangement whereby two MPs on opposite sides of a question agree through their respective party "whips" office that neither will vote, effectively cancelling each other out, to enable them to carry out other work such as a constituency function or representing the country overseas.

Most such arrangements have been honoured but there have been rows going back to when I was at school (and probably well beyond) about occasions when it was alleged that someone broke the deal.

The latest such instance is that during one of the recent Brexit votes, Party Chairman Brandon Lewis was told by the Whips office to vote when he should have been "paired" with Lib/Dem MP Jo Swinson who is on maternity leave. The Chief Whip, Julian Smith, says that this was an honest mistake and both he and Brandon Lewis have apologised to Ms Swinson.

It is important that MPs are seen to be acting with honour and I would always argue that when such arrangements have been made they should be kept.

To put this in context, the Guido Fawkes website has listed here the number of instances when pairs have been broken, writing that

"A former veteran Tory whip texts:

There have been 2,000 pairs arranged since the General Election. 66 have been broken. 14 pairs have been broken by the Government and 52 pairs have been broken by the Opposition (of which 7 were broken by the Lib Dems, despite them having only 12 MPs). 

There is a lot of faux outrage about.

It turns out Labour, and proportionally especially the LibDems, are by some distance the worse offenders when it comes to breaking pairs. It does seem to happen a fair amount – around 3% of pairs are broken, and four-fifths of the broken pairs were committed by opposition parties."

Quote of the Day 19th July 2018

"… the Labour party is perceived by most Jews, thousands of party members and millions of members of the public as an antisemitic, and therefore racist, party."

"I am a secular, immigrant Jew. I have never been active in the Jewish community; my two marriages were to non-Jews. I have visited Israel a number of times and have been a vocal critic of successive Israeli governments on many counts. But I am a Jew. My grandmother and my uncle were murdered by Hitler and many cousins and other relatives were slaughtered in the gas chambers."

"I joined the Labour party to fight racism. In the 1960s the Labour party was the natural home for Jews. To find myself 50 years later, in 2018, confronting antisemitism in my own party is completely and utterly awful."

"Antisemitism has become a real problem in the Labour party. In the last year my colleagues and I have been subjected to a growing number of antisemitic attacks."

"On Tuesday, Labour’s national executive committee agreed its own definition of antisemitism. Instead of adopting the international definition agreed in 2016 in the wake of the rise of antisemitism across Europe, the party chose to omit key examples used in that definition and rewrote the definition to weaken and change it."
"The party thought it knew better than the Crown Prosecution Service, the government, the devolved administrations and local authorities; it thought it knew better than 31 other countries, including Austria, France and Hungary, all of which have adopted the internationally agreed definition in full."
"There was a simple and straightforward alternative that Labour could have chosen. The party could have adopted the international definition in full and it could have launched an inclusive consultation, involving Palestinians and Jews to add to that definition if further clarification of the right to criticise the Israeli government was needed. Instead it chose to offend Jews. It chose to make the party a hostile environment for Jews. It chose to entrench antisemitism."

(Dame Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking, extracts from an article in the Guardian which you can read in full here, called

"I was right to confront Jeremy Corbyn over Labour's antisemitism.")

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Midweek music spot: "I am the Monarch of the Sea" & First Lord's song

From "HMS Pinafore" by Gilbert and Sullivan

Barrow & Furness MP resigns from Labour party

John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness, has today resigned from the Labour party.

Details of his resignation letter can be found on the North West Evening Mail site here.

Anna Firth writes on the Chequers Agreement

Cllr Anna Firth is Cabinet member for Legal and Democratic Services, and Brexit spokesperson, on Sevenoaks District Council. She is a former Parliamentary Candidate for Erith and Thamesmead, and was Co-Chair of Vote Leave’s Women for Britain.

Here is an extract from an article she has written on the Conservative Home site about why she can support the Chequers agreement and does not agree with those who are using the language of betrayal to describe it.

"I am a committed a Brexiteer. Having campaigned throughout the country for Brexit during the referendum, I was delighted when the result declared that we would be leaving the EU. I have not changed my view.

However, like many, I have followed the ensuing EU negotiations with disgust and disappointment.

Disgust at the way the Commission have exploited the Northern Ireland border issue and refused point blank to settle the rights of EU citizens living here and of UK citizens living abroad to avoid unnecessary stress and upset.

Disappointment also at the Commission’s refusal to discuss the UK/EU future trading relationship upon which millions and millions of businesses and livelihoods depend until the “divorce bill” was settled.

Nothing in Article 50 mandates that money issues had to be settled before human and/or trading issues, and no mature, successful business would treat its single biggest business partner in this way.

I therefore approached the Chequers statement with a bucket full of scepticism. However once I finally managed to escape the shrieking commentariat (who seem primarily interested in driving a pre-determined agenda) and actually read the document, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Is it what I would have drafted? Certainly not. I believe we should have made it very clear from the outset that we were perfectly happy to see a No Deal break with the EU, carrying with it a very modest exit payment. No deal, no payment.

Nothing I have seen in the last two years changes my view that the Commission is an undemocratic group of self-important bureaucrats interested in little more than self-aggrandisement, who were slowly but surely squeezing the life blood from this country.

But I live in a country of 64 million people – and am hugely privileged to do so.

And although I was on the winning side in the referendum, a margin of 52:48 tells me that over 16 million people, a very significant minority, hold the opposing view and believe that we are heading for a disaster.

I am humble enough to know that just because I believe something to the case, doesn’t necessarily make it so. In addition, I have spoken to enough people since the referendum to know that most people did not vote to be worse off, yet common sense tells me that untangling our European ties after 45 years of membership was never going to be simple or cost-free – rather like trying to pick the dissolved sugar out of your cup of tea.

I believe it is therefore beholden on us Brexiteers to respect the genuinely-held views of the opposing side and strive for an agreement that delivers what we voted for, whilst recognising many people’s very real fears and, above all, protecting frictionless trade for the many businesses, jobs and livelihoods that currently depend on it.

And I believe that the Chequers agreement, as amended in the Commons on Monday, does that.

In particular: It clearly aims to provide a common rule book for goods, but “covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border”. Domestic goods and / or those goods destined to be sold outside the EU are clearly excluded. The ECJ is replaced with a joint institutional framework for dealing with UK-EU agreements, including the ECJ for EU rules and UK courts for UK rules.

However it explicitly goes on to state “the court of one party cannot resolve disputes between the two.” The UK Government and Parliament will determine the domestic immigration rules that apply, including the ability to agree a new EU mobility framework no different to that the UK may offer other close trading partners in future.

Huge annual budget payments end and we will regain control of our own waters and be outside the Common Agricultural Policy, as widely reported.

Personally, I am concerned by the practicalities around the Facilitated Customs Arrangement, but if the EU and UK authorities are comfortable that they can make it work it would appear to tick a number of necessary boxes.

But if it does not, we can revisit the terms as an independent state operating in our own interests, at a later date.

It is not the perfect agreement and I welcome the four amendments proposed by the ERG and accepted by the Government. However, it is surely one that ticks the majority of the Brexit boxes whilst recognising the very real fears held by many in our country.

Furthermore, it appears to provide at least a fighting chance of the UK being able to negotiate a trade deal with the US as well.

I never thought that as a politician I would find words of wisdom coming from an England footballer. But as a party we would do well to listen to the words of Kyle Walker, England’s central defender:

'We might live in a time where sometimes it’s easier to be negative than positive, to divide than to unite. But England, let us keep the unity alive.'"

You can read the full article on Conservative Home here.

Quotes of the day 18th July 2018

"I am ashamed to be a member of the Labour party"

Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley, endorsing the following statement by Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard:

"Be clear what has happened. Labour has now formally adopted a position that allows its members to be antisemitic. And it has added in, purely for spin, a post hoc "consultation" that no Jewish rep body can now go near. This is a shameful day for Labour."

Both were referencing a Jewish Chronicle article which you can read here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Good news on Jobs

New jobs figures show that in the past year, the number of people in work has reached record highs, unemployment is at its lowest since 1975, and wages are rising faster than prices. 

We want to help people into work by reforming welfare and delivering our modern Industrial Strategy to help create more, better paying jobs across the whole country.

There are now a record number of people in work and unemployment has fallen to a 40-year low – meaning more people have the security of a job and are able to provide for their families.

The Conservatives will continue to take the balanced approach our economy needs, creating jobs and opportunities to help people get on in life and build a better future for themselves and their families.

 Key statistics 
  • · Employment: 32.40 million (up 388,000 over the last year and by 3.35 million since 2010). 
  • · Employment rate: 75.7% (up 0.7 points over the past year and 5.4 points since 2010). 
  • · Unemployment: 1.41 million (down 84,000 over the past year and down by almost 1.1 million since 2010). 
  • · Unemployment rate: 4.2 per cent (down 0.3 points over the past year and down 3.8 points since 2010) – the joint lowest since 1975. 
  • · Wages: Latest figures show that average weekly earnings for employees in real terms increased by 0.4 per cent excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier. 
  • · Youth unemployment: There are over 415,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010. 

Other useful statistics: 
  • · Wages are rising faster than prices – this is good news, but there is more to do. In the last year, regular pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 0.4 percentage points ahead of inflation. 
  • · The rate of employment is 75.7 per cent – the highest since comparable records began in 1971. 
  • · The unemployment rate is 4.2 per cent – the lowest since 1975. 
  • · The number of disabled people in work has risen by over 830,000 over the last four years. 
  • · Employment among ethnic minority groups has risen by over 1 million since 2010. 
  • · Vacancies are at 824,000 over three months to June 2018, up 30,000 on previous year and by 358,000 since 2010. 
  • · The number of people working full time is at a record high. 
  • · With almost 1.5 million more women in work since 2010, the female employment rate is at a new record high of 71.3 per cent. 
  • · Youth unemployment has fallen by 44.2% since 2010. 
  • · The UK has the third highest employment rate in the G7. 

It was Labour that left people with fewer jobs and fewer opportunities: 

· The number of unemployed people increased by one million in Labour’s last term in office.
· Youth unemployment rose by 44 per cent under Labour – meaning young people were not getting the skills they need to get on in life.
· The number of women unemployed rose by 25 per cent under Labour.
· The number of households where no member had ever worked nearly doubled under Labour.
· No Labour government has ever left office with unemployment lower than when it started.

Labour would put investment and jobs at risk:

Labour have pledged to raise Corporation Tax to 26 per cent by 2020-21 – making it harder for businesses to invest.

The IFS say that working people would be hit with lower wages and higher prices by Labour’s tax rises. ‘In the longer term, much of the cost [of tax rises] is likely to be passed to workers through lower wages or consumers through higher prices’.

Quote of the day 17th July 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

New sponsor and "Substantial capital programme" for Whitehaven Academy

I am delighted to learn that the Cumbria Education Trust (CET) has been confirmed as the new sponsor of Whitehaven Academy.

In a statement, CET said it has been confirmed as the school’s new sponsor by the education secretary Damian Hinds, after its board of trustees passed a resolution to bid to take over at the school.

Lord Agnew, the academies minister, has also confirmed the Department for Education will fund a “substantial capital programme”. The department would not say how much it intends to spend, but the CET says it will see the “majority of the existing school buildings demolished and rebuilt”.

“This agreement will provide a fresh start for everyone associated with Whitehaven Academy and will help ensure students get the education they deserve as part of a strong multi-academy trust,” said Agnew. “

"The academy will be transformed to provide a modern learning environment, and I am confident that the Cumbria Education Trust has the expertise to improve standards for pupils.”

Quote of the day 16th July 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Channel 4 Factcheck evicerates Labour's policy on the NHS.

During last year's General Election the Labour party boasted that they had a "fully costed" plan which included a 2% annual rise in real terms in the NHS budget.

Experts have been saying for some time that none of the parties were proposing to increase NHS spending by enough to cope with the extra demand as people are living longer and new medical techniques give us more opportunities to save lives or improve people's quality of life - at a price.

For example, the British Medical Journal recently published an article arguing that to meet rising demand NHS funding needs to rise by between 3.3 per cent and 5 per cent a year in real terms over the next 15 years.

So the government has produced a new long term plan for the NHS which includes increasing the budget by 3.4% a year in real terms, which would mean £20 billion a year in five year's time.

That's an awful lot of money and from anyone else Labour's initial response - to ask where the money is coming from - would be a fair question. (The government says that some if it will be from the sums we no longer have to pay the EU when we leave and the rest from tax.)

Labour then announced that that this isn't nearly enough extra money - despite it being massively more than Labour themselves promised to spend in their "fully funded" manifesto only last year - and that a Labour government would increase NHS spending by 5% a year in real terms.

To date, when asked how they would fund this further massive increase in NHS spending, Labour merely referred people to the document produced during the last election - which contained proposals to fund the 2% increase in real NHS spending which is much less than what the government is now doing but Labour calls "insufficient" and vastly less than Labour themselves are now promising to spend.

Channel 4 Factcheck points out the problems with Labour's position here.

Saturday music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor RV522

The Incredibles 2

This is mainly a political blog and I don't often do film reviews on it, but I will make an exception for "The Incredibles 2" which I went to see last night with members of my family.

Sequels to really great films are rarely in the  same league but we've had a few lately which were - "Jamanji - Welcome to the Jungle" was in my humble opinion even better than the original Jumanji film and "The Incredibles 2" is as funny and touching as the original.

Other than saying that it had my family and many of the rest of the audience killing ourselves with laughter I'm not going to say too much about the film. It starts almost exactly at the point where the first "The Incredibles" film ended 14 years ago and it isn't so much a superhero film as a story which examines, in a very funny way, issues of family life which affect almost all families, from the viewpoint of a family of superheroes.

It's a genuine family film by which I definitely do not mean it's a film mainly for kids - there are lots of jokes in there for mum and dad and a good chunk of the audience were adults. To start to list the real-life situations which are gently parodied in the film and which I recognise only too well from my own life experience as a son, husband or father would, I think, be a "spoiler" which gives too much away about the film, but let's just say there were a lot of them.

If you saw and enjoyed the first Incredibles film, you will enjoy the second one. I can strongly recommend it.

Quote of the day 14th July 2018

A quote within a quote …

H L Mencken got it in many ways right, in one way wrong. On July 26, 1920 the greatest columnist in the history of English language journalism wrote this in The Baltimore Sun:As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

It would be tempting to say that 98 years later, Mencken’s prophecy has been fulfilled; but that would not quite be right. This president is most assuredly not a moron: it’s far more complicated than that.

“Donald Trump doesn’t care to think too much before he speaks and has a habit of saying what he thinks. And the trouble with us, not him, is that what he thinks is what plenty of more genteel and considered folk do actually think, but don’t like to say.”

(Matthew Parris quotes H. L. Mencken in an article in The Times today, link here.)