Friday, August 31, 2018

Road Closure at St Bees

The Main Street St Bees, the B5345, has been subject to an emergency road closure this week about 50 metres south of the junction with Outrigg while a gas leak is fixed. Work started 28th August & was expected to last 5 days.

Helen Lewis on why political debate has become so toxic

Helen Lewis has an interesting and well argued article in the New Statesman about why the political conversation has become so toxic in character both in the UK and elsewhere.

You can read the whole article here but a few extracts follow to give some of the flavour of the piece.

"Calculated offence (and the taking of it) has always been a part of politics. Seventy years ago this summer, Labour’s minister for health Aneurin Bevan stood up in Manchester to give a speech. In it, he described the poverty and hunger of his early life, adding: “That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.”

Bevan’s remark surely stands out, and is remembered today, because of its relative rarity. Now, if you talk to any MP, peer or special adviser, they will mention the blizzard of abuse that accompanies political life. Journalists feel it too, with the occasional nasty letter now replaced by endless online vitriol. Activists complain that public meetings and closed Facebook groups are mired in sourness and bad-faith arguments. People in the BBC Question Time audience are red-faced with fury. Everywhere you look, politics feels toxic."

"When did the current era of toxicity begin? Robert Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester and the co-author of a book on Ukip, points to the Scottish and EU referendums as flashpoints. They offered binary choices that “massively over-simplified complex questions, and encouraged people to identify with one [side] or the other”.

Both brought discussions of identity – sovereignty, immigration and nationalism – to the surface, encouraging emotional rather than intellectual responses. “Does JK Rowling have the right to comment on Scottish politics?” or “Is the flag of St George a racist symbol?” are more incendiary questions than “What percentage of GDP should be spent on public services?” or “Has outsourcing failed?”

"The roots of the malaise are deeper, however, and some of the current toxicity must be attributed to a vicious cycle between the media and politicians. The 2009 expenses scandal encouraged a mood of “anti-politics”: the lazy but appealing idea that all politicians, not just a significant minority, were “on the take”, or “in it for themselves”. They weren’t public servants, but parasites. A friend who worked on Question Time told me that for years afterwards, the surest way to get applause on the show was to bang the table and say, 'Why. Won’t. The. Politicians. Listen. To. Us.'”

"The anti-politics mood encouraged politicians to fight fire with fire: who were the media to act as moral arbiters, anyway? On both left and right, a narrative has developed that the “MSM” – mainstream media – is out of touch with ordinary citizens’ concerns, in the pocket of billionaires, and is always wrong."

(She quotes some examples of the media getting something wrong and being pilloried for it.)

"There is a fundamentally correct point here, but it has been distorted into something cartoonish and unanswerable. Just as politicians as a class were condemned over expenses, so journalists as a class are attacked as ignorant and useless. Yet any analysis that brackets together a report from Mosul by the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville with Richard Littlejohn’s 9,567th column on “elf and safety” is obviously so broad as to be absurd. That doesn’t stop people trying, of course."

"Why is everyone always angry on the internet? Because it’s the simplest way to make a living. The perpetual outrage machine prints money.

Then comes anxiety. If economic growth is faltering, and social mobility is stalling, then politics feels more like a zero-sum game. It’s no longer about sharing out new goodies but grimly hanging on to whatever you already have." 

"As the amount of information instantly available at our fingertips has sky-rocketed, we have dealt with the overload by extending our tribalism from opinion to facts themselves. This is called “tribal epistemology” – where information is evaluated primarily by asking whether it supports your tribe’s values, and is being pushed by your tribe’s leaders, rather than by appealing to a sense of objective truth.

“There is no single, agreed set of facts on which the various sides hold different opinions,” wrote the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland in the wake of the row over Corbyn’s attendance at a wreath-laying ceremony in Tunis. “Instead, among those most heatedly involved, the facts or evidence people see and don’t see depend on their tribal or factional affiliation.”

"So how do we make our political conversation less toxic? How do we stop bad faith preventing us from discussing politics with people on the other side? How do we stop the current situation, where too many people don’t run for office, or even join the conversation, because they don’t want to step into a swamp? Sometimes, I long for the digital equivalent of Chernobyl’s concrete shell to be built over Twitter, as everyone leaves and we all agree never to mention what happened there ever again.

 The political speechwriter turned columnist Philip Collins thinks that those with a platform have a “responsibility to be civil, as courteous as we can be”, but also that the social networks need to take more responsibility for the phenomena they have encouraged. They are slowly beginning to do so: Twitter introduced a “mute” function in 2014, and now allows users to screen out unwanted replies."

It is a much longer article than the sections I have quoted but worth a read.

Quote of the day 31st August 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Next Saturday Chataway

The news "Saturday Chataway" opportunity for Copeland residents to meet your MP and elected representatives will be at Cleator Moor Methodist Church this Saturday (1st September) at 10am.

Should energy drinks be sold to children?

There have been discussions among Cumbria County council officers and members on whether we should take action to discourage the sale of energy drinks to children.

The PM has now announced that she will hold a consultation on the issue with a view to the possibility of banning such sales.

Key facts: This consultation is part of the second chapter of the Childhood Obesity Plan:

  • One 250ml can of energy drink can contain around 80mg of caffeine – the equivalent of nearly three cans of cola. On average, energy drinks have 65 per cent more sugar than other, regular soft drinks.
  • With more than two thirds of 10-17-year-olds and a quarter of 6-9-year-olds consuming energy drinks, they are likely to be contributing to both obesity and tooth decay in children. Surveys from teachers unions have also suggested that they contribute to poor behaviour in classrooms.
  • While many retailers already have a voluntary ban in place, this consultation proposes a ban that would end the sale of energy drinks to children by all retailers, applying to drinks that contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre.

Why this matters: The British government's plans to tackle obesity are already world leading, but Conservatives recognise much more needs to be done and as part of our long-term plan to guarantee the future of the NHS, and we are putting a renewed focus on the prevention of ill-health.

Record low number of children in workless households

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of children in workless households is at a record low, as we build a stronger and fairer economy.

·         One of the best ways to tackle poverty and give children a better chance in life is to have a working adult in their household, as it gives them a role model to learn from and brings financial security to the home.


·         The number of children in workless households is at a record low. Compared to 2010, there are 637,000 fewer children living in a workless household – and 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty.


·         Since 2010, the number of workless households has fallen 964,000. Over this period, an average of 1,000 people have entered the workplace every day, as our plans to build a stronger, fairer economy continue to create more jobs across the country.

Labour's antisemitism problem

Prejudice against both Jews and Muslims is growing, and both are unacceptable.

All the major parties have, at least to some degree, problems with both Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and although some of these problems are worse than others, no party can afford to be complacent about either.

"Whataboutery" on either side is no excuse - you cannot defend against a charge of Anti-Semitism in one party by pointing to Anti-Semitism or Islamophobia in another, or vice versa. I may come back to the issue of Islamophobia in another piece but this post is about Anti-Semitism.

If you had asked me four years ago whether any of Britain's major parties have a serious problem with racism of any kind, I would have found the idea so ridiculous that I would probably have laughed. I am not laughing now.

There are two possible reasonable reactions among anyone who is not an Anti-Semite to the video evidence which emerged this month of Jeremy Corbyn's 2013 speech to a meeting convened by the Palestinian Return Centre. On one interpretation it was bad, on the other it was very bad indeed.

Corbyn praised a speech he had recently heard by the Palestinian ambassador to the UK Manuel Hassassian at a meeting in parliament, which he described as an “incredibly powerful” account of the history of Palestine.

Corbyn then said:

This was dutifully recorded by the, thankfully silent, Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said.

He added,

They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either. Manuel does understand English irony, and uses it very effectively. So I think they needed two lessons, which we can perhaps help them with.

Even if you accept the defence which has been offered by Corbynistas that this was a reference to the specific individuals and "Zionist" was a description of their views and not code for "Jews," this was pretty bad - and not just because one of the people who supposedly "don't want to study history" apparently has a masters degree in that subject. I gather from Daniel Sugarman in the Jewish Chronicle that the group of individuals referred to as Zionists are in fact of Jewish origin. As he wrote,

Whether Jeremy Corbyn knows this or not is, to be clear, not the real issue. Because from his language, it's clear that to him, to be “Zionist” in this country means to be foreign, out of place here.

To say, about a group of people who “have probably lived here all their lives” that “they don't understand English irony,” is to define them as foreigners. Not just foreigners, but Bad Foreigners. They don't fit in here. They don't belong. If you watch the video, in the next breath, Jeremy Corbyn turns towards the Palestinian envoy to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, and says “but Manuel does understand English irony.”

For Corbyn, the Palestinian envoy to the UK is the “good foreigner” - he understands, he gets it, he's one of us - while the “Zionists”, who have “probably lived here their whole lives”, are not. They clearly just don't understand what it means to be English.

That is the kindest interpretation. Those who think his comments conflated "Zionists" and "Jews" tend to be even more critical.

Simon Hattonstone, who up to this point had defended Corbyn against all previous allegations of Anti-Semitism, explained why he cannot defend this speech in the Guardian here:

"If there were ever a clear example of somebody conflating Zionist with Jews, this appears to be it. Let’s play the traditional “swap the minority” game. Instead of “Zionists” let’s make it, say, Muslims or African-Caribbeans or Asians or Irish needing lessons in history or irony. Not nice, eh?

"And what exactly does he mean by Zionists who have spent all or most of their lives in this country? Today the party insisted that Corbyn had been quoted out of context and that he had been referring to “Jewish and non-Jewish activists”. Maybe. But it sounds pretty much like he was talking about British Jews to me."

"Let’s look closely at the words used by Corbyn: these British Zionists don’t study history, and they don’t understand irony (ironic coming from one of the greatest literalists British politics has produced). In other words, they are uneducated, they have failed to integrate or assimilate, they are outsiders, they don’t belong, they need to be taught a lesson. Sorry, Jeremy, this is the language of supremacism."

Chaminda Jayanetti has written a good article in Prospect magazine called

“Are they Zionists?”: Understanding the left-wing blind spot on anti-Semitism,

which seeks to explain how people who are convinced that they are passionately opposed to all forms of racism may take their opposition to Zionism

(and let me be clear, opposition to Zionism and making the same sort of criticism of Israel which you would make of any other country can be perfectly legitimate and is not always necessarily racism,)

to a point which can develop into a blind spot which prevents them from seeing that "Anti-Zionism" can also be a cover for racism against Jews.

Not all Anti-Zionists are Anti-Semites. But almost all Anti-Semites describe themselves as Anti-Zionists - and frequently claim to be "anti-racists" as well!

Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks told the New Statesman that he found Jeremy Corbyn's 2013 remarks on “Zionists” to be “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Labour has a problem with Anti-Semitism which, in Her Majesty's official opposition, is sufficiently serious that it is a problem for Britain too. They need to resolve it. It is very difficult to see how this can be done under the present leadership.

Quote of the day 30th August 2018

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Midweek music spot: "Windmills of your mind" Barbra Streisand version

Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher

The Apartheid system in South Africa was a vile and racist system and the overwhelming majority of people in Britain on right and left alike recognised this and differed only on how we should seek to end it.

Many people inside and outside South Africa thought that the rest of the world should impost economic sanctions on South Africa but there were those inside as well as outside South Africa who did not share that view. When Helen Suzman, who was at about this time the only opponent of Apartheid in the South African parliament visited the UK while I was a young man I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask what she thought the West should do to help reverse Apartheid and she replied that we should put on as much moral pressure as possible but that we would not help black South Africans by trying "to wreck the economy."

Margaret Thatcher took exactly the same view as Helen Suzman. She opposed apartheid and made this very clear to the South African government in private as well as in public, and called on them to release Nelson Mandela. She was never one of the very tiny minority of people on the British political right who took the Apartheid regime's dubious conviction of Mandela at face value.

When Margaret Thatcher was asked by the leading Afrikaans newspaper Beeld, what was the difference between the ANC and the IRA, her answer was:

“The IRA have the vote, the ANC do not.”

So I was very disappointed by Michael Crick, from whom I would have expected better, who suggested this week to Theresa May that Mrs Thatcher thought

Even the New Statesman published an article calling this question "a piece of theatre based on an oft repeated myth, and agreed that Mrs Thatcher never called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

Martin Plaut the author of the article, wrote in the same piece that

"Thatcher resisted the apartheid government’s requests that she crack down on the ANC in Britain, as well as deport the head of the ANC’s military wing, Joe Slovo, who was then living in London.

She also refused to supply new aircraft to the South African Airforce. Little surprise that Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, a founder of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, sent Thatcher a fulsome handwritten thank you letter, praising her stand."

Lord Renwick, who was British ambassador to South Africa between 1987 and 1991, has written a book called "The end of apartheid: diary of a revolution" in which he made very clear that Mrs Thatcher put strong pressure on the Apartheid regime to reform racist laws and to release Nelson Mandela and other prisoners, and that this had all the more impact because it was coming from the main opponent of sanctions. You can read an article he wrote in the Telegraph summarising many of the points in his book here.

After meeting Nelson Mandela when we was eventually released from prison Mrs Thatcher described how she “warmed” to him, writing that he was “supremely courteous, with a genuine nobility of bearing and – most remarkable after all that he had suffered – without any bitterness”.

For his part Mandela declared that Thatcher “is an enemy of apartheid”. Their only differences were over the methods of inducing the South African government to dismantle the system. When she left Downing Street, Mandela gave an interview to the BBC and said: “We have much to be thankful to her for.”

Quote of the day 29th August 2018

"Jeremy Corbyn is to irony what Donald Trump is to feminism."

(Matthew D'Ancona, title of article in the Guardian which you can read in full here.)

Monday, August 27, 2018

Be careful what you wish for

I voted Remain but believe that the decision taken by the majority of British voters should be respected and carried out. The consequences for democracy in this country if it is ignored do not bear thinking about.

Journalist and former MP Matthew Parris would like to stop Brexit, but understands that, in his words,

"In its present febrile state our politics makes overruling the result of the referendum impossible for elected MPs, and calling a second referendum to do the job for them very tricky indeed unless led by an evident public thirst for a new say. For the moment that thirst is simply not there. I enormously admire Remainer comrades who are campaigning for what they call a 'people’s vote' but in the end a defensible new referendum has to feel like a response to popular demand, not a tetchy instruction to voters to think again."

Matthew thinks that, ironically the most likely chance of Britain remaining in the EU lies in the hands of the likes of Boris Johnson and Arron Banks.

In the words of the subtitle of his latest Times article on the issue, "Here’s to the success of Brexit headbangers,"

he thinks that

E.g. He hopes that the faction who are campaigning for the hardest possible Brexit "wins this struggle and wrecks the negotiating strategy launched by Theresa May at Chequers this summer. For in that wreckage lies the last, best hope we have of avoiding Brexit altogether."

He adds that

Contrary to current conventional wisdom, I think the prime minister stands a decent chance of avoiding the cliff’s edge and confecting with EU negotiators a compromise draft deal to be presented to MPs in the “meaningful vote” they’ve been promised, probably around Christmas. 

It will be the mother of all fudges, effectively pushing big decisions forward into the 'implementation period' after March 29 next year. It will be highly unsatisfactory: confusing, decision-ducking and incomplete. 

Serious Brexiteer Tories will hate it. So will Remainers. But some Brexiteers will vote for it. Why? Because this fudge will take us over the line and out of the EU.

I don't agree with every word of this analysis but I think that he's right to argue that the best hope of hard Remainers lies with those who want to wreck the chances of a deal. However, I think this is also true the other way round.

Not for the first time in the recent history of British arguments about Europe, when those who are most in favour of the EU vote together with those who are most opposed to try to defeat the middle, both are playing with fire.

Because the Maastricht treaty as signed by John Major just squeaked through, we never found out which half of the unholy alliance between those who voted against the "Opt-Outs" because they wanted more integration and those who voted against them because they wanted to scupper the whole thing would have sabotaged their own position had they "won." But we can be certain that someone would.

Similarly, just as Matthew Parris argues that those he calls the "Brexit headbangers" are the best hope of the hardline Remainers, nobody on either side can be certain what will happen if those who want a "pure Brexit" and those who want to overturn the referendum result join together in the "Meaningful vote" which MPs have been promised on any final deal.

Just as the those who want a harder Brexit might find out they end up with no Brexit at all if they wreck such a deal, those on the hardline Remain side who join with them to vote down what the government proposes might end up with a hard Brexit.

Those who want to argue for a more clean break with the EU than Theresa May and the cabinet agreed at Chequers have every right to do so. So does anyone who believes it is in Britain's interests to argue for a softer Brexit.

But anyone who thinks that labelling the government's attempts to find a solution as "treachery" is a good idea, or who would like nothing better than to see attempts to reach an agreement crash and burn, should be careful what they wish for.

Neil Simon RIP

Neil Simon, one of the funniest and most successful playwrights of the 20th and early 21st centuries has died at the age of 91. His work gave pleasure to millions.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day for bank holiday Monday 27th August 2018

The quote above comes from an article by journalist Jennifer Williams about the growing tendency on both sides of the Atlantic for politicians on left, right and centre to demonise and delegitimise the press - and of what consequences may follow. The US has joined the long list of countries where journalists have been murdered: in the UK the BBC's political editor needed a bodyguard at Labour party conference.

Despite the fact that Jeremy Corbyn singled her work on deaths among homeless people out for praise in his speech calling for more support for public interest journalism, she explains in the article why she is concerned at the way he, Donald Trump, and others, attempt to deflect criticism by using language designed

"to cement the belief that the media are crooks, while stoking an us-versus-them narrative."

You can read the full article on Medium's "Behind local news" page here.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday Music spot: Mozart, "Requiem Aeternam"

This is the first movement of the Requiem mass which Mozart wrote at the end of his life.

That requiem mass was, as many people know, commissioned by a mysterious masked man. However, the story as depicted in the film "Amadeus" is, despite being fantastically entertaining as fiction, a wicked libel against both the composers concerned.

The masked individual who paid for the requiem was definitely not Mozart's rival Salieri. The real Mozart was nothing like the dissolute rascal depicted in the film.

Far from blocking its performance, Salieri frequently conducted Mozart's work and almost certainly did not murder him. The rivalry between them bore little relationship to that depicted in the popular legend on which the play and film are based.

The mass was actually secretly commissioned by a nobleman who wanted to pass the work off as his own.

At the end of his own life while confined in hospital Salieri did confess to killing Mozart but this appears to have been the deranged ramblings of a sick and dying man and was disavowed during his lucid moments.

Unfortunately the legend of a musical genius murdered by a jealous rival was just too good for people not to repeat, both during Salieri's lifetime and subsequently. But it does not fit the facts.

The lyrics to this first movement mean

"Rest Eternal grant to them O Lord,
And may light perpetual shine apon them."

John McCain RIP

Senator John McCain, perhaps the best leader the free world never quite had, has died at the age of 81 after a long battle with cancer.

As Tim Stanley wrote on twitter this morning,

"The Vietnamese interrogated, cut and beat him. They put him in solitary. Then they discovered he was important and offered him release before those who'd been held longer. 
He refused. 
So they tortured him again. Never mind the politics, this was an incredible human being."

Theresa May wrote about him that,

"John McCain was a great statesman, who embodied the idea of service over self. It was an honour to call him a friend of the UK. My deepest sympathies go to his family, and the American people."

He will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

Quotes of the day 26th August 2018

Four quotes from US Senator John McCain (1936-2018)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Of Bots, Ballots, Babies and Bugs

The British people and the Russian people are not enemies. Over the past two hundred and fifty years we have stood together more often than not, including in both the great wars of the 20th century. British soldiers, sailors and aircrew have fought alongside those of Russia against tyrants and dictators from Napoleon to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

In World War II in particular the Russian people made enormous sacrifices to defeat possibly the most evil cause in history, that of the Nazi regime - and it is sadly all too often forgotten that thousands of British sailors risked their lives in horrible and very dangerous conditions to get supplies to Murmansk to help the Russian people in that struggle. I had an uncle who was a radio officer on a merchant ship on that convoy route.

But although there is no good reason why Britain and Russia should be enemies and I absolutely refute any suggestion that we have done anything since the end of the original cold war to justify Russian enmity, the sad fact is that Russia's President Vladimir Putin has chosen to make an enemy of every nation in the west, particularly Britain. It would appear that he seeks to disguise Russia's relative decline in power and influence by trying weaken and destabilise his neighbours.

For all practical purposes Putin has chosen to start a new cold war in which he has done everything short of starting World War III to destabilise the West. The overwhelming balance of evidence suggests that Russian actions have included at least two murders and at least two more attempted murders on British soil using chemical weapons. Putin's armed forces have bombed hospitals and schools in Syria, and his propagandists have put at risk the lives of heroic local rescue volunteers by falsely labelling them as associates of DA'ESH.

Putin broke the assurances given to Ukraine to respect their territorial integrity if they gave up nuclear weapons - probably thereby ensuring that no nation will ever voluntarily give up nukes again unless they elect a government of complete nutcases - by stealing the Crimea and starting a war in Eastern Ukraine.

Evidence, quote, "which would stand up in court," unquote, suggests that it was a BUK 9M38 Surface to Air Missile from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade which shot down Malaysian airlines flight MH17 during that conflict, causing the deaths of 298 innocent civilians including eighty children and ten British citizens.

I'm prepared to consider the possibility that this was criminal negligence from incompetent and irresponsible idiots who thought they were shooting down an enemy military aircraft rather than women and children, but in that case any regime with an atom of integrity would have helped bring those responsible to justice rather than put out a pack of lies and conspiracy theories to try to blame anyone else for the tragedy.

I don't personally believe it likely that Russian meddling in the EU referendum, or the last US Presidential election, actually changed the result, they certainly didn't manage to get Jeremy Corbyn elected PM when they attempted to interfere in the last UK General election, but again, the balance of evidence is that Russian bots did meddle in all three elections and in all three cases managed to cause trouble and undermine confidence in the results, and if their aim was to damage the UK and the USA the Putin administration probably regards that as a success.

Only one of the charges I have made above is proven beyond any possible doubt, but several more would be tested in court if the Putin regime allowed the suspects to be extradited to face trial, and there is substantial evidence is support of everything I have written. If the overall pattern of behaviour is considered I believe it is impossible for a reasonable and well-informed person to avoid the conclusion that Putin's Russia is a rogue state which is trying to destabilise the West.

While I was attending an NHS conference earlier this year I heard of another aspect of the Putin regime's attempt to damage Western countries which hit the press this week. That is Russia's attempt to undermine confidence in vaccination programmes by programming their bots to repeat damaging lies about vaccination.

This is all the more damaging because a healthy democracy needs to be able to have robust debate about the effectiveness of vaccination programmes like any other aspect of health policy. There are particular patients who may have an adverse reaction to specific vaccinations; they are usually a small minority but they do exist.

There is overwhelming evidence that the majority of vaccination programmes have between them saved millions of people from premature death, improved the quality of life for millions more and massively improved public health.

In particular, vaccination programmes are one of the main reasons that infant and child mortality was massively reduced in Britain in the 20th century. For example, five diseases in particular - pneumonia, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles and whooping cough - between them used to kill in infancy more than a quarter of babies born alive a hundred years ago, and tens of thousands more in childhood. Between the second decade of the last century and the 1970's, infant and child death rates from these diseases had been dropped by a factor of more than ten for pneumonia and factors in the hundreds for the others, with antibiotics and vaccination the most important among a range of improvements in healthcare which drove these improvements.

Overall in England and Wales between 1901 and 1974, infant mortality dropped by 91% and child mortality at ages 1 to 14 by 94%. (Source: Office of Health Economics report 1975.)

I have quoted the figures for the drop in mortality between the early 20th century and the 1970s because, although vaccination was discovered and it's benefits proved to the scientific community by Sir Edward Jenner in 1796, it was in the 1920's that vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and tuberculosis (TB) became widely available and widely used, and therefore it is in the 50 years from that decade that very widespread vaccination is likely to have made it's greatest contribution to the reduction in infant and child mortality.

Between 1956 and 1980 a programme of vaccination by the World Health Organisation eradicated smallpox - one of the greatest achievements in the history of medicine.

It is the view of many medical professionals - and the NHS - that vaccination has saved more lives than any other medical product or procedure.

The belief that vaccination has saved millions and millions of lives and done vastly more good than harm is perfectly consistent with recognising that not every vaccination is the right prescription for every patient and accepting that a proper, grown-up and honest discussion of the impact of vaccines needs to be possible.

There is nothing more calculated to destroy the possibility of any such grown-up and honest debate than a hostile power employing state trolls and programming robots to pump out thousands of anti-vaccination messages on social media to sabotage public health in the USA and Britain, and that, I'm afraid, is one of the things Russian-controlled bots and trolls are now doing.

As the public health official in Cumbria who told me about this latest piece of Russian sabotage said to me, one of the nastier things which can damage the economy of a rival country is a severe flu epidemic.

Scientists at George Washington University in the USA have published a report about anti-vaccination messages, and indeed, pro-vaccine messages written in a divisive way and designed to poison the argument, which they traced back to Russian social media accounts. Their conclusions were reported in yesterday's Guardian as you can read here, and by the BBC as you can read here.

I'm told that these bots have also "piled on" to people in Britain who tweeted anything positive about vaccination - parents who mentioned online that they have been or taken their kids for a jab have found themselves subject to twitterstorms and when investigated the attacking messages have been traced back to Russian-registered social media accounts.

Of the many contemptible things of which the Putin regime is guilty, trying to trick concerned parents into withholding from their infants a treatment which has saved the lives of millions of other children is one of the most egregiously despicable.

I have two conclusions from this.

1) Anyone in Britain, whether they are on the UKIP right, Corbynista left or any other part of the political spectrum who has still not woken up to the fact that Russia under the present leadership of that country is for all intents and purposes a hostile power needs to do so.

2) Anyone who is seeking information about vaccine safety should treat anything they read on social media on the subject with extreme caution unless they know exactly where it came from. Talk to your own doctor or genuine experts whose identity you know and whose interest is your good health.

Music to relax after campaigning: Telemann: Trio Sonata in D Minor

Campaigning in Carlisle

Went to Carlisle today to support Syed Ali (Conservative candidate for Carlisle City Council) and Geoffrey Osborne (Conservative candidate for Cumbria County Council) in the two by-elections for councillors to represent Denton Holme on 6th September 2018.

The by-elections were caused by the sad death of the late Councillor Hugh McDevitt, with whom I served briefly on CCC. I did not know him well or share his politics but I do know that he was widely respected across the political divide as someone who worked hard for Denton Holme.

Whoever wins these by-elections, I hope they will work as hard for the residents of the area as Hugh did, and I went to campaign for Geoffrey and Syed because I am sure that they would do precisely that if elected.

Quote of the day 25 August 2018

Another day, another blog post or article from another person on why they feel they have to resign from the Labour party.

Here are some extracts from "Red Lines" by Douglass Dowell on why he is leaving Labour.

"I cannot and will not go on doorsteps and pretend that a government with Jeremy Corbyn in 10 Downing Street, John McDonnell next door and Seumas Milne whispering in his ear would leave our democratic culture uncorroded. The fabric of our democracy already feels thinner than it did: a Corbyn Government would pull more threads out."

"I do not believe that these people have changed their views after a lifetime of extremism. And I cannot stand behind them. I believe political power derives its legitimacy from our elected Parliament. I believe politicians have no business trying to rouse the streets to eject democratic governments. I believe in liberal constitutionalism and the rule of law. And I do not trust Corbyn, McDonnell or Milne to guard them. Their worldview is profoundly anti-parliamentary and would be dangerous if it ever controlled the state." 

"People should think long and hard about the consequences of a hard left government. The UK has far fewer checks and balances than the US under Trump. We have no written constitution, veto-wielding second chamber or federalist constraints upon central government." 

"Of course I don’t want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister. Of course I don’t want Seumas Milne advising in Number 10 or John McDonnell at the Treasury. The idea sends shivers down my spine. It must not happen. I will not help to make it happen. And if it’s the price of getting rid of the Tories, it’s a price I cannot pay.

"That leaves me no choice but to resign from the Labour Party. Someday, I hope there will once again be an anti-racist, internationalist, reliably constitutional social democratic party worth joining."

Friday, August 24, 2018

On traffic delays ...

Attended two meetings in respect of traffic this week: a public meeting about the planned traffic calming measures in Moor Row on Wednesday evening and an A595 working group in Penrith with highways England today.

Ironically the A66 (which is one of the roads managed by Highways England) completely froze up in the Penrith area making most of the participants in today's meeting late, including myself.

It reminded me of a line which John MacGregor MP, a very polite man, used to use when he was Secretary of State for Transport in John Major's government. I'm quoting from an old memory and may not have the words exactly right but I'm certain I remember the sense correctly.

"This is the first job I've held," he used to say, "in which, if the person I'm meeting is late, I feel I have to apologise."

Fuller reports back on both meetings will be posted over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Quotes of the day 24th August 2018

Here are the responses of three Labour MPs to the video of Jeremy Corbyn, at a meeting five years ago while he was a backbench Labour MP and before he became Labour Leader, saying that a group of "thankfully silent Zionists" at an earlier meeting "do not understand English irony" despite having lived here for a long time and possibly all their lives.

The Jewish Chronicle report on the story is here and includes a link to a recording of a major part of the event which allows you to see the full speech in context. Jeremy Corbyn started speaking about seven minutes into that recording. They have also published here a piece by Daniel Sugarman explaining why he thinks Jeremy Corbyn's comments were racist.

Quote 1

"Just seen the video of Jeremy Corbyn talking about irony and Zionism. 
Scream at me all you want but
   a) yes troubling to see and hear that and 
   b) yes think he should account for tone, content and co speakers. 

We will not heal this pain unless we speak our truths on all fronts. "

(Stella Creasey MP)

Quote 2

"The video released today of the leader of @UKLabour making inexcusable comments - defended by a party spokesman - makes me as a proud British Jew feel unwelcome in my own party. I’ve lived in Britain all my life and I don’t need any lessons in history/irony."

(Luciana Berger MP)

Quote 3

"The language used here is inexcusable and abhorrent. The same old hackneyed quotes from a spokesperson won’t do. 
I wasn’t silent when Boris Johnson insulted my Muslim constituents and I won’t remain silent when Labour’s Leader insults my Jewish constituents. 
This is plain wrong." 

(Wes Streeting MP)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

New Chemotherapy unit at WCH

A newly renovated chemotherapy unit is to open at the West Cumberland hospital.

The Henderson Suite has now moved to its new home at the former special care baby unit on level 2 and will be able to deliver treatment to more patients than before.

Dawn Sanderson chemotherapy lead nurse said:

“We are very excited about the new suite it will benefit staff and patients alike. The new area will allow for up to ten patients to receive chemotherapy rather than the current six, so we are able to treat more people quicker. It is a more calming and relaxed atmosphere and there are also dedicated car parking spaces for chemotherapy patients. 

“We currently see more than 200 patients a month and we hope that this new unit will mean we are able to deliver care to more people locally. It means that more oncology or Haematology patients who live closer to WCH will be able to receive treatment closer to home. 

“For staff the new space is a new fresh environment with space for staff to hold informal meetings or take time out, there is dedicated professional development space for updating patient records and meeting space.” 

The team will also expand in order to deliver this enhanced service. Dawn added:

We have recruited three more trained nurses and two more health care assistants to help deliver more treatments to our patients. Since 2012 we have seen a 65% increase in the numbers of treatments, this is because we offer far more now than we used to for different kinds of cancer. As we advance further we expect to see more patients and this new unit means we can do that.”

The newly refurbished unit is part of the overall development of cancer services for the north of Cumbria which will include a new cancer centre at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. The new unit will begin to see patients from 28th August 2018

Second quote of the day 23rd August 2018

"Well done to everyone collecting their #GCSEresults today. Whether you want to go on to an apprenticeship, study further or start working, we're determined to help you succeed." 

(Theresa May, Prime Minister)

Many a true word is spoken in jest: Tracey Ullman's "Alternative opinions" sketch

Although I find this sketch from Tracey Ullman funny - indeed, when I first watched it I laughed so loudly that my son and daughter came running to see what was going on - that isn't the main reason why I've posted it here.

I've put this up because I think that the theme of the joke - that many people do have difficulty with the fact that others don't see the world the same way, and worse, with the idea that those individuals are not necessarily evil, stupid or even wrong - reflects a real issue. One which is having a damaging effect on politics here in Britain and around the world.

It may well be that imagining that people who think differently are at best wrong, and at worst evil, has historically been the default position for homo sapiens, but I used to think I had grown up in a country which prided itself on tolerance of different opinions. Over the last three or four years that confidence has taken some bad knocks.

This clip has been shared on social media by people who think it takes the mickey out of those with a particular view about Brexit. It can be seen that way, but I think the truth behind the joke is broader.

Quote of the day 23rd August 2018

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Public meeting on Moor Row Traffic Calming

There will be a public information meeting at the club in Moor Row at 6pm tomorrow evening (22nd August 2018) to inform local residents about plans for traffic calming in the village which the County Council is planning to implement in response to local concerns about speeding and safety.

Quote of the day 21st August 2018

Monday, August 20, 2018

From the Edinburgh fringe 2018

"Working at the JobCentre has to be a tense job - knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day."

This line from Adam Rowe was voted the best joke of this year's Edinburgh fringe.

The rest of the top ten were:

2) "I had a job drilling holes for water - it was well boring" (Leo Kearse)

3) "I took out a loan to pay for an exorcism. If I don't pay it back, I'm going to get repossessed"
(Olaf Falafel)

4) "In my last relationship, I hated being treated like a piece of meat. She was a vegan and refused to touch me" (Daniel Audritt)

5) "What do colour blind people do when they are told to eat their greens?" (Flo and Joan)

6) "I've got a new job collecting all the jumpers left in the park at the weekends, but it's not easy. They keep moving the goalposts" (Darren Walsh)

7) "Trump said he'd build a wall but he hasn't even picked up a brick. He's just another middle-aged man failing on a DIY project" (Justin Moorhouse)

8) "I lost a friend after we had an argument about the Tardis. I thought it was a little thing, but it seemed much bigger once we got into it" (Adele Cliff)

9) "Why are they calling it Brexit and not The Great British Break Off?" (Alex Edelman)

10) "I think love is like central heating. You turn it on before guests arrive and pretend it's like this all the time" (Laura Lexx)

Quote of the day 20th August 2018

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sunday music spot: "Now vanish before the holy beams" (from Haydn's Creation)

Quote of the day 19th August 2018

"Easy" and "Solution" are words which should be banned from grown-up political discourse. Only crossword puzzles and the mysteries of Hercule Poirot are amenable to being "solved." Grown-up politics and grown-up government are about wrestling with intractable dilemmas which are almost bound to deliver compromises and fudges.

(Max Hastings, from an article in The Times called "There's no such thing as easy-peasy politics.")

The article finishes with the following paragraph:

"In an era of doubt about many things, one certainty glistens: any politician who asserts that answers to the problems posed by immigration, education, the NHS, railways, productivity or that interminable cross-Chanel negotiation are easy-peasy should be dismissed as a charlatan."

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reflections following a holiday in Ireland: part one

I have just returned from a brief family holiday in Ireland, staying with relatives in the Western part of the island.

The holiday inspired a number of reflections on various issues, but let me start with a few comments on the border between the United Kingdom and the country of Ireland. In less than a year when Britain leaves the EU this will become the one land border between Britain and the EU.

During the course of our stay in Ireland we crossed over the border in both directions more times than we could count. It was not unusual during a thirty mile drive between the homes of two family members on the same side of the border in places like County Leitrim and County Donegal to find that the recommended quickest route put forward by the satnav took you over the border several times.

It has so often been remarked in recent British political debate by those who pay any attention to what goes on in Ireland as to become almost commonplace that the only way you can tell when you cross over the border is that the speed limit signs change from miles per hour to kilometres per hour.

This is basically true, although it is also a very slight oversimplification - UK and Irish speed limit signs are also a slightly different style, and at a minority of places where the road crosses the border you will also see a sign welcoming you to the particular Irish county you are entering. So if you know which are the six counties in Northern Ireland and which are the 26 in the country of Ireland and you've been keeping track of which county you were in, this may give you an addition means of telling when you move between countries. And if you have a Smartphone it will try to keep you advised of which country you are in, although our experience was that this is not 100% reliable.

What you are most unlikely to see is a sign saying "Welcome to Ireland" or "Welcome to the UK" or any border infrastructure such as customs barriers, although the police on both sides of the border can and will stop and check people they suspect of illegal activity.

The border is three hundred miles long, is not always based on easily identifiable geographical features and is sometimes a very peculiar shape. It runs through farms and homes: during the troubles when there was a "hard border" it was a nightmare for the authorities on both sides.

People on both sides of the border routinely go to the other to shop and many traders take both pounds and euros. We filled up at one petrol station which was quite literally a stone's throw from the border and there were two hoses at each pump, one which you used if you wanted to pay in Euros and the other if you wanted to pay in pounds sterling.

Almost nobody, and nobody at all with any sense, wants a hard border to be re-established and the consequences for both parts of the island of Ireland if either Britain or Ireland did attempt to enforce a hard border would be serious.

Resolving the issues of how this border will be managed after Brexit is quite genuinely an extremely difficult problem, though it is, I regret to say, my impression that some of the EU negotiators have made it even more difficult than it is to increase their bargaining leverage against the UK. If that is true they are playing a very dangerous game.

It is very much in the interests of both Ireland and the UK to get a sensible resolution to the problem of the Irish border, It is impossible for Britain to "take back control" of our borders without either a hard border in Ireland or an agreement with Ireland and the EU.

There are circumstances in which Britain might have to walk away from the EU without a deal. For example, if the EU side were to insist on the absurd suggestion of an effective border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which neither the present House of Commons or any imaginable one would ever vote for, Britain would leave the EU without a deal.

This would, however be damaging for both sides and it is highly desirable to avoid it.

The risk of a "no deal" Brexit is real, but I hope people on all sides see sense and sign up to a deal which everyone can live with.

Saturday music spot: My heart is inditing by G. F. Händel

Quote of the day 18th August 2018

Friday, August 17, 2018

Misquote of the day 17th August 2018

I always include a quote of the day on this blog, but today I also want to refer to a misquote - as Stephen Bush writes in the New Statesman,

"Everyone- is getting very excited about something Margaret Hodge didn't actually say."

The words of a Sky News tweet, which creates the impression that she made a much more direct comparison between the present leadership of the Labour party and the Nazi Regime from which her family fled than was actually the case have been quoted as if it was a fair reflection of her words.

Stephen Bush makes the important point that those of us whose families have never at any time in the last few centuries had to flee for our lives from an oppressive regime can easily miss the point which was being made.

You can read his article in full here.

Quote of the day 17th August 2018

"You can't stop people from saying bad things about you. All you can do is make them liars."

(Thomas Sowell, American Economist)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Quote of the day 16th August 2018

"While it is true that you learn with age, the down side is that what you learn is often what a damn fool you were before."

(Thomas Sowell, American Economist)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Quote of the day 14th August 2018

You may have noticed I have been having something of a Thomas Sowell quote week.

No apology for repeating, not for the first time or, probably, the last, one of his insights which I think is particularly powerful in a whole host of spheres, not just economics and politics.

It is very rare indeed- though when such an opportunity does come along, it should be grabbed with both hands - that you can improve something with no negative consequences at all.

Most opportunities to improve one thing come with a cost in terms of something else. The challenge is to ensure that you pick the trade-offs where the benefits outweigh the costs - and do your best to pay attention to limit the damage in those areas where you lose out.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Quote of the day 13th August 2018

“We should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.”

(Thomas Sowell, American Economist)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday music spot: "Cessate, omai cessate" by Vivaldi

Music by Antonio Vivaldi: sung by countertenor Andreas Scholl.

I understand that the words of this lament for unrequited love translate as follows:

"Cease, henceforth cease, cruel memories of despotic love; 
heartless and pitiless, you have turned my happiness into immense sorrow. 

Cease, henceforth cease to tear my breast, to pierce my soul, 
to rob my heart of peace and calm.

Wretched, injured and forsaken you are, my heart, 
if a tyrannical passion can rob you of tranquillity

because a pitiless countenance, a faithless soul, 
harbours and nurtures nothing but cruelty."

Quote of the day 12th August 2018

"Conservatism at its most powerful has been Reagan pulling down walls, Margaret Thatcher espousing single markets, William Hague insisting on human rights or David Cameron bringing in gay marriage. It’s not my creed, but conservatism at its best and most dynamic has long been a marriage of social and economic liberalism. Orbanisation is the death of conservatism."

(David Aaronovitch in an article in The Times on the difference between liberal and authoritarian types of Conservatism. It's behind a paywall but those who have either paid up or registered to receive a number of free articles per week can read it here.)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Quote of the day 10th August 2018

"For what it’s worth, I don’t think Boris should face an investigation or be suspended. You’re allowed to debate the burqa and ridicule religion. 

Just think he should, as a senior politician, know that his words carry weight, that he has a responsibility to act with sensitivity. 

Boris is a smart man. He should know his comments may inflame tensions and toxify a serious debate. With little real debate about the burqa, he may have had the right to say what he did but whether it was wise and helpful is another question."

(Salman Anwar, from a very intelligent and balanced piece about "Boris, Burqas, free speech and Islam" which you can read in full here.)

Thursday, August 09, 2018

USA to impose sanctions against Russia over Novichok attack

The USA has announced that it will impose fresh sanctions on Russia by the end of August after determining that Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain.

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench in Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door.

European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the attack, in the strongest action by President Donald Trump against Russia since he came to office.

Another two residents of the Salisbury area were subsequently taken to hospital after coming into contact with a container of the Novichok nerve agent used in the attack, one of whom, mother of three Dawn Sturgess, died in July as a result. Her partner Charlie Rowley was also taken ill after being exposed to the nerve agent.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it had been determined that Russia “has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law, or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.”

The sanctions would cover sensitive national-security controlled goods, a senior State Department official told reporters on a conference call, citing the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act. The sanctions are required under this act because it mandates punishment of countries that use chemical weapons in violation of international law. There would, however, be exemptions for space flight activities, government space cooperation, and areas covering commercial passenger aviation safety, which would be reviewed on a case by case basis, the official added.

The US government also said that a second batch of “more draconian” sanctions would be imposed after 90 days unless Russia gives “reliable assurances” that it will no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations or other international observer groups. “If those criteria are not met - it is up to Russia to make that decision - a second round of sanctions … will be imposed,” a State Department official said. “They are in general more draconian than the first round.”

A British government spokesman welcomed Washington’s announcement, saying: “The strong international response to the use of a chemical weapon on the streets of Salisbury sends an unequivocal message to Russia that its provocative, reckless behaviour will not go unchallenged.”

Quote of the day 9th August 2018

"Here’s a rule of thumb: no one asking a think-tank who its donors are is interested in the answer. The question is not meant to elicit information, but to delegitimise."

(Dan Hannan MEP in an article on declining standards in the legacy media which you can read here.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Midweek music spot: Pachelbel's Canon & Gigue in D major (c. 1700.)

Greg Clark visits Sellafield

Secretary of State Greg Clark visited Sellafield's iconic legacy facilities yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was given an insight into the complexities of the Cumbrian nuclear plant.

Mr Clark’s visit included a rare glimpse inside the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP). The open-air pond was originally used to store used nuclear fuel from the Magnox reactors - the UK’s first generation of nuclear power stations that generated low-carbon electricity for more than half a century. Now 66 years old, the FGMSP is one of a number of buildings prioritised for clean-up by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Greg Clark commented:

"Decommissioning is a crucial leg of the nuclear journey and the highly-skilled and committed team at Sellafield are using cutting-edge technology to ensure they meet the highest safety standards and lead the world in decommissioning. This important work is in huge demand around the world and our landmark Nuclear Sector Deal sets out how the government and the sector can work together to target this opportunity."

More information about the visit on the Government website here.

UK manufacturing Exports up by £28.6 Billion

Quote of the day 8th August 2018

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Tom Harris on why he resigned from the Labour party

Former minister Tom Harris did an interesting piece following by an online Q and A on why he resigned from the Labour party which you can read at the Telegraph site here.

The reasons can be summarised in the title of the article:

"I have resigned from Labour because the war is over, and the moderates have lost."

Improvement in life expectancy slows

Throughout the 20th Century and the early years of this one, the UK and many other countries experienced steady improvements in life expectancy at birth.

This has been attributed to better nutrition, healthier habits among the population such as reduced smoking rates and improvements in treating infectious illnesses and conditions like heart disease.

But sine 2011 the progress has slowed, here and abroad, and ONS figures released today suggest that the slowdown is more pronounced in the UK than many similar countries.

Life expectancy is still going up, but not nearly as fast as it was.

The ONS's analysis found the slowdown in life-expectancy improvement in the UK was most pronounced in women, dropping by 90% from 12.9 weeks per year from 2006 to 2011 to 1.2 weeks from 2011 to 2012 - the biggest reduction in all of the countries it analysed. For men, this was down 76% from 17.3 to 4.2 weeks.

That part of the slowdown which is common among all rich countries may simply indicate that there are limits to how long  taking better care of people can increase life expectancy without some major technological breakthrough.

However, the fact that there is a bigger slowdown in the UK may mean that we need to look at whether we could do better.

I suspect that issues like diet, exercise and healthy weight will and should get a lot more attention.